Third generation driver Ross Strmiska, of Manteca, was able to hold off a stellar field of contenders to earn his first win of the season in the Stockton Late Model race on Saturday night at the Stockton 99 Speedway.
A season high 21 late models packed the pits at the start of the night and even their three preliminary heat races were hard fought brawls that produced more bumping and grinding than a packed disco.
The main event got off to a poignant start as the cars lined up in a three abreast formation in tribute of Louie “Hot Lap” Sartain, the longtime track announcer who passed away just over a year ago.
Returning to the normal two wide configuration, Escalon’s Sam Solari and Strmiska led the impressive field to the opening green flag for the 30-lap race
Solari, the winner of the first two races of the young season, was under constant pressure from Strmiska. The two went side by side for two laps before Strmiska was finally able to slip by Solari to take the lead on lap 6.
Two second generation drivers, Stockton’s Gary Shafer Jr. and Modesto’s Kyle Gottula, soon joined in the fray that would last to the checkered flag.
Following a lap 19 yellow-caution restart the crowd was on its feet as Solari and Gottula drove under Strmiska and the trio went at it three wide for a couple of laps before Strmiska was finally able to muscle his way back into the lead.
“We had such a great car. I knew Sammy and Kyle were going to give me a battle and luckily we were able to hold them off,” said Strmiska. “It was crazy when we were three wide.”
Strmiska would survive one last late race caution to take a dramatic victory over Gottula, Solari, Shafer and defending track champion Aron Shankel of Lodi.
“We raced hard, but clean. If we had crashed it would have been accidental because we have a lot of respect for each other,” explained Solari. “Ross was better than us tonight so I backed off a bit because I knew we would have a good point’s night and I was looking at the big picture.”
After winning his heat and the dash Justin Scantlen, of Valley Springs, appeared to be the driver to beat in the Bomber division feature.
Scantlen led the 13 car field from the pole and held the lead for the opening 10 laps while Kimberley Rouse, of Stockton, nipped at his heals. The two reversed roles when Rouse finally got underneath of Scantlen to take the lead.
Three laps later Hunter Medina, of Galt, blew an engine causing both Rouse and Scantlen to spin out when they hit the oil slick. Rouse was able to just remain in control to hold the lead while Scantlen went completely around and out of contention.
When the race resumed Rouse was able to easily outdistance Stockton’s Darin Adler and Roy Worthy, of Valley Springs, for her first win of the season.
“We came out here tonight not expecting to win and I just drove the wheels off of it,” said an elated Rouse. “The car started to go away near the end, but we stuck with it and made it happen.”
Alan Flowers, of Manteca, held the lead for the opening laps of the 20-lap B-4s feature while Barrett Sugden, Andrew Rumsey, Josh Cross and Joe Flowers all battled it out for second place behind him.
After jousting for 13 laps the four drivers eventually tangled up on the front straight with Flowers climbing over the top of Sugden’s front hood. Miraculously they were all able to continue on.
Following the restart Rumsey, of Stockton, outdueled Josh Cross, of Manteca, to take a hard fought win.
The Mini Cup feature belonged to Napa’s Aaron Thomas, who led all 15 laps, easily outdistancing Livermore’s Jon Wolfson to the checkered flag.
The 99 will be back in action Saturday, June 2, with a six division Kids Night program featuring the Stockton Late Models, Legends of the Pacific, NorCal Dwarf Cars, Bombers, B-4s and Mini Cups.
The Stockton Dirt Track, located on the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds, will be hosting a 360 Sprint Car 360 Open $5,000 to win plus the Hunt Magneto Wingless Sprint Car Series and BCRA Midgets next Saturday, May 26.