Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Speedway Willow Springs Opens 2016 Season With A Strong Show

By Dave Grayson

With a strong showing of racing divisions, Speedway Willow Springs officially opened it's 2016 racing season this past March 26th. Seven different racing divisions delivered the thrills and spills much to the delight of the fans. The quarter mile paved oval is located within the 600 plus acres of the Willow Springs International Raceway complex in beautiful Rosamond, California. This Saturday afternoon of fun and excitement was presented by Platinum Loan and Jewelry of Lancaster and Pinnacle Peak Steak House located in Colton and San Dimas.

First on the track, to officially open the 2016 season, were the Skid Plate cars. This division features basic mini stock cars with one distinctive change. The rear tires are removed and replaced with hubs welded to steel plating. This creates a tendency for the rear of the car to slide back and forth. It takes some good driving to avoid complete 360 degree spin outs. The Skid Plate division is extremely affordable. The cars can be built for approximately $1,000. From the track management point of view, this racing division is extremely popular with the fans.

In the Skid Plate main event, Brady Mertz had the pleasure of leading the first official lap of the Speedway Willow Springs 2016 season. Mertz, with a display of good car control, enjoyed the pleasure of leading all of the laps in this race to become the first winner of the new season. Corey Carter, Jon Carter and Nate Van Deventer followed him under the checkers.

In Lucas Oil Mini Stock action, John Dunlap used an extremely consistent driving rhythm, with his Ford Mustang, and more than earned his first ever win at Speedway Willow Springs. After winning the division's heat race earlier in the day, Dunlap led the 25 lap main event flag to flag for the very popular win. Tim Ogdon and Randy Hannah followed the race winner under the checkers.

Without question, one of the major highlights of the day was the main event presented by the Platinum Loan and Jewelry Street Stocks. After winning the division's heat race earlier in the day, 71 year old racing veteran Bruce Secord also won the main event while taking some drivers, considerably younger, to school in the process.

Unfortunately the early stages of this race turned up one of the more severe wrecks of the day when drivers Jerry Baxter and Richard Selph tangled at the bottom turn two. The race cars slid into the infield and the Selph machine wound up with his right side tires on top of the Baxter car. Fortunately Selph's Camaro didn't roll over but did sustain some major damage. Surprisingly, Baxter's car was able to continue.

That incident placed Secord and Tony Forfa IV on the front row for the restart. Under green again, Secord took the lead with Forfa right behind him. Lap after lap Forfa did everything he could to pass Secord on the high side of the track but the race leader clearly wasn't going to have anything to do with the move. By now time and laps were running out and Forfa was well aware that it was go time or accept a second place finish. On the white flag lap, Forfa tapped Secord's bumper in turn three and repeated the procedure in turn four. The move was made in hopes that he could wiggle Secord's car and cause it to slid just high enough for him to take the inside line away. Coming off of turn four it almost worked. Secord's car did indeed wiggle but the veteran driver did a masterful job of getting it back under control. However, Forfa created just enough room to take the inside line and, with the checkered flag flying in the air, the two drivers roared to the start finish line side by side. Secord just managed to inch ahead of his rival and crossed the start finish line first. The margin of victory was approximately one half of Secord's left front fender. Dwight Kelly finished third with Jerry Baxter overcoming his early crash to take fourth. Needless to say, the crowd went wild following that close finish.

Next on the track was the Wayne & Dave's Automotive Hobby Stocks. Joseph Pablo started the race on the pole position and soon found himself dueling, and swapping the race lead, with Brandon Fisk. However, late in the race Johnny Troesch became a major player in this event and, during the final laps of the race worked his way into second place and set his sights on Pablo. In the final laps there was some contact between Troesch and the race leader which unfortunately sent Pablo's car sliding down the front stretch and sustaining a hard hit into the retaining wall. In the final analysis, Troesch won the race followed by Fisk while Corey Carter took third. Earlier in the afternoon Pablo won the division's heat race.

The Hooper's Rear End Service Elite Division is a very unique series created by Speedway Willow Springs that allows Late Models, Super Late Models, Modified and racing trucks to race against each other under the auspices of a single rule book. Needless to say, this unique idea quickly has become a fan favorite.

Chris Douglas, in a Late Model, and Tony Forfa, in a Modified, comprised the front row. At the drop of the initial green flag, Forfa jumped into the lead. Unfortunately, it was not going to be a good day for Douglas. First off, he tangled with Chris Peedan on lap four and both cars went spinning to the bottom of turn two. A hand full of laps later, the pair of drivers tangled again in turn four. Douglas now had significant crash damage in the front and rear areas of his car in what turned out to be a tough evening for both drivers.

All this while, Logan Mainella was the race leader and was busy clicking off the laps only to find himself frequently having to deal with restarts due to spin outs. On a lap nine restart Mainella found himself having to share the front row with Jered King and the result was some very intense, but very good, racing between the two. This intensity unfortunately came to an end on lap 38 when contact was made between the two cars that send them sideways into turn four. At this juncture Alex Anderson was running third and made a razor sharp move on the high side of the turn to avoid the spinning cars and became the new race leader. Following a green, white, checker restart, Anderson made quick work of running out the final laps to take the win. David Brandon, John Penning, Tony Forfa and Chris Peedan completed the top five. In the division's preliminary events Mainella and Forfa won the heat races.

The special guest division on this opening day was the Pick Your Part Southwest Tour Trucks. For many years now this regional touring series, for full sized racing trucks, has been collecting fans at every race track they visit. The division's main event got off to a tough start when, on lap two, Dan Coburn spun out at the top of turn two. Steve Reeves put his truck into a slide in an effort to avoid hitting Coburn. Unfortunately there was contact with the very front of Coburn's truck with the result being a massive amount of engine fluids getting spilled onto the track which took quite a while to clean up.

Meanwhile, Lucas McNeil was having the best day ever at Speedway Willow Springs. He began the day by setting the fast time in qualifying after turning the quarter mile paved oval with a hot lap of 15.40 seconds. He assumed command of the race lead, following the lap two caution, and kept that lead all the way to the checkers. Roger Harder, Rodney Peacher, Hiroyuki Ueno and George Perret completed the top five. Earlier in the day, Peacher won the division's trophy dash.

Another major highlight of the season opener was the presence of the So Cal Enduro Series which was presented by Kenny Harwood from Snap On Tools of Ridgecrest. This race was ran under some rather bizarre set of circumstances. The track's lighting system was recently badly damaged due to an extremely strong Antelope Valley wind storm. The only set of lights working was above turn four. A check into the use of generators turned up the fact that nearly every generator unit in the valley was being used at a nearby Poppy Festival. Despite the fact that the season opener was a day race with a 1pm start, some of the aforementioned wrecks required lengthy track clean up time and that threw the overall race schedule into overtime.

The bottom line was: the So Cal Enduro Series ran their main event under a cloak of darkness and did an outstanding job. The race featured intense driving without a single caution flag and the fans were going wild watching it. Nate Van Deventer dominated much of the event only to get passed late in the event by Joe David who led the field to the checkers. Unfortunately for David there was a problem in post race tech regarding the width of his tires which led to a disqualification and a 13th place finish. Van Deventer was declared the winner while Pete Chilbes, Michael Walters, Jake Basham and Kenny Harwood completed the top five. Drivers Tim Ogdon, Randy Hannah, Corey Phillips, Andrew Delgado and Dalton Houghton rounded out the top ten. The effort by the drivers from this series was simply amazing.