Logan Zampa scored the biggest win of his young career when he took the checkered flag first in the Sixth Annual “Nut Up Short Track Shootout 150” Saturday night at Madera Speedway (CA). The win was worth $10,000 for the small budget team out of Napa, California that bested a field of 26 RPM Mortgage Pro Late Models on the “Fastest One-Third Mile in the West”.
“This is by far the biggest win of my career because of the budget that my team and I run on,” Zampa told Speed51.com. “We work day in and day out in the garage at my house, five days a week. I’m going to college full-time, playing sports and all that stuff, it really means a lot. I came into this race just hoping to place in the top-ten, because I knew the quality of the teams and drivers in the field were just stacked. It just feels really good to come out on top in this race.”
The weekend began with 40 Pro Late Models in attendance, with 38 surviving to take qualifying laps. Now four-time RPM Mortgage Pro Late Model Champion (Open Series Era) Matt Erickson set the pace with a lap of 15.119. Eric Holmes, Randy Hedrick, Carlos Vieira and Racin Vernon rounded out the top five. The highly competitive field found NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Rookie and 2017 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Championship runner-up Trevor Huddleston missing the field on time. Huddleston, however, would earn a transfer spot through the “B-Main” along with Chris Scribner, Tyler Herzog and Jarret Gilmer.
The top-ten qualifiers all redrew for position at the front of the field, with Racin Vernon snagging the pole position. Randy Hedrick lined up second, followed by 2017 Shootout race winner Buddy Shepherd, Ross Strmiska, Erickson and Austin Herzog. On the initial green, Vernon jumped to a quick lead, followed by Shepherd and Erickson. A quick yellow on lap six was the result of an incident between Austin Herzog and Randy Hedrick, sending both drivers to the rear.
The ensuing restart foreshadowed a race-long pattern as the race leader chose the upper groove and the second place vehicle struggled to maintain pace on the inside. Vernon once again jumped to the lead, while Erickson applied heavy pressure to the leader over the next series of laps. A lap 34 yellow set Zampa up in the preferred outer line and he was able to rocket from fourth to second around Erickson and Shepherd to take up pursuit of Vernon.
A trifecta of yellows set up the longest green flag run of the race on lap 52, with Shepherd showing strength passing Vernon on the inside groove. The top contenders ran in tight quarters, with three-time Shootout winner Eric Holmes beginning his run to the front from the tail end of the top five. Holmes used the low groove to pass Erickson, Zampa and Vernon as Jessie Love advanced to fourth when Vernon lost positions sliding high in turn three. The top four separated themselves from Vernon, as Holmes, Zampa and Love closed on the bumper of Shepherd.
As the pack navigated lapped cars, Holmes was able to get his nose under Shepherd and trap him behind traffic. On lap 96, Holmes was able to lead for the first time with Shepherd fighting back on lap 97. When Shepherd decided not to take a risky three-wide move as the field completed lap 98, Holmes was able to lead to the lap 100 break. Shepherd was followed by Zampa, Love and a hard charging Austin Herzog.
“My car was really good on the bottom, but I was having difficulty advancing early on with the traffic on the restarts, and not being in the right line,” Holmes recalled. “Once we got that long green flag run, I was able to work my way up through the traffic on the bottom. I was just able to take advantage of the lapped car, to trap Buddy and take the lead.”
“I was just saving my tires and cruising up front,” Shepherd said. “We just got caught behind that lapped car, and I didn’t want to risk it and go three-wide, so I just settled for second at the break, so we could make a few minor adjustments.”
Although Zampa was third at the break, he and the team made a few adjustments that initially concerned the young driver.
“Our car was pretty good, just a little tight on drive off,” Zampa said. “So we made a change and I was a little iffy on it at the beginning of the run. But it definitely came in at the end of the race, because it was a rocket ship at the end.”
When the action resumed after the lap 100 break, Holmes continued to lead through several slowdowns but Shepherd appeared to have the best car. The turning point of the race occurred on lap 115, with Shepherd pressuring Holmes down low. As Holmes took to the low groove to slow Shepherd’s advance, Zampa jumped to the high side and pulled alongside Holmes exiting turn two.
“I feel like [Holmes] was guarding the bottom because he knew that [Shephard] was going to get him on the bottom,” Zampa said. “My dad was like dig, dig, dig, and I was going to try that in the first half, but my dad told me ‘no’. I just dug on the outside and he couldn’t clear me because he would have been put in the wall if his spotter cleared him because I was at his rear quarter panel. That is what I feel won the race for us.”
Once in the lead, Zampa had to withstand challenges from both Holmes and Shepherd over several more restarts. Shepherd’s chance for victory was severely hampered after the lap 125 restart, when he broke a sway bay while challenging Zampa. Holmes run ended when he spun on lap 132 after battling Matt Erickson and Jessie Love in a three-wide effort to get back to the leaders.
Upon that final restart, Zampa was able to slowly pull away from the field as Erickson and Love moved around the struggling Shepherd. At the checkered, Zampa won by 1.5 seconds over Erickson, Love, Shepherd and Blaine Rocha. Garland Tyler, Dillon Tucker, Ryan Hart, Randy Hedrick and Kolby Berry completed the top-ten. Herzog’s strong effort ended on the lap 132 restart as he pulled to the infield with a rear end issue, guaranteeing Erickson the RPM Mortgage Pro Late Model Championship.
“I can’t thank my sponsors enough and I couldn’t do this without the help of Fluidyne, AR Bodies, Swift Springs, M.J. Gilbert Construction, Joes, Stop Tech, Nice Ride, Safecraft, K1, Butler Built and everybody who helps us,” Erickson said. “I think this is four championships for us throughout the “Open Show” Series. To take home that $5,000 check will be a big blessing for us.”
Erickson’s runner-up race finish was also impressive, after having to deal with some issues that occurred during the first half of the race.
“The first part of the race, my car was pretty good everywhere on the race track,” Erickson said. “I was picking them off one by one. About lap 60 or so, the car was getting pretty loose. Towards the end, the last 20 laps, I had absolutely zero brake left and the front was glowing white. We pulled the calipers off of our back-up car and barely got it out in time for the second half.”
Jessie Love had a great day, after the 13-year-old won the Junior Late Model race, and the championship earlier in the evening. Love finished a strong third in the Pro Late Models, an accomplishment that is impressive for the young and upcoming star.
“It has been cool even running this series the last few races being a year younger than the age limit, which is pretty cool,” Love said. “I’m just grateful to be out here to begin with. To get two podiums in three races is really cool. Hopefully next year we will be even stronger.”
In other action, Travis Milburn was credited with winning the “B”-Main and $1,000 for finishing first among the non-transfer cars for the RPM Mortgage Pro Late Models. Jessie Love was the Junior Late Model winner, with Justin Johnson taking the Lucas Oil Modified feature. In the Mini Cup vs Bandolero feature, Kercie Jung won the Bandolero portion while Kale McClenny scored the Mini Cup victory.
Unofficial Results: 1. Logan Zampa, 2. Matt Erickson, 3. Jessie Love, 4. Buddy Shepherd, 5. Blaine Rocha, 6. Garland Tyler, 7. Dillon Tucker, 8. Ryan Hart, 9. Randy Hedrick, 10. Kolby Berry, 11. Racin Vernon, Anthony Guaimano, 13. Chris Scribner, 14. Eric Holmes, 15. Austin Herzog, 16. Garret Gilmer, 17. Christian Roche, 18. Carlos Vieira, 19. Cole Moore, 20. Rick Thompson, 21. Tyler Herzog, 22. Trevor Huddleston, 23. Nick Grossi, 24. Adam Lemke, 25. Jagger Jones, 26. Ross Strmiska
-Story by: Kevin Peters, Southwest Editor
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com