Madera Speedway kicks off its 2014 season Saturday night with the Spears SRL Southwest Tour Series Melo’s Gas & Gear 125. Fans can expect another close battle for the championship between defending champion Jim Pettit II of Prunedale, Lakeport’s Derek Thorn the 2012 champion and 2009 series champ MK Kanke of Frazier Park.
Two years ago, Pettit made a major change from driving for his own operation to a car owned by Quentin Bammer, but the 30-year racing veteran never missed a beat. After finishing second in the SRL standings in 2012, he rolled to three wins and five runner-up finishes in 10 races last year to clinch the series title.
“Our first year with Quentin (Bammer) was great, but it took some time for us to figure the new Hamke chassis,” explained Pettit. “In 2013 we felt prepared for the season to start and for this year we’re just really confident in our program and our equipment.”
Pettit gives much of the credit for his success to his team and especially his crew chief of 13 seasons Duane Sharp. Together they have amassed two championships in the NASCAR Southwest Series in 2004 and 2005, and three in the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series in 2008, 2011 and 2013.
“Duane and most of our team have been together for a lot of years, and that’s the key to us being in the championship hunt each year,” said Pettit. “Quentin provides us with what we need, HUR has done a great job with the motor program, so it’s up to us to put it all together and go after that fourth SRL championship.”
Pettit has career wins at each of the racetracks on the 2014 SPEARS Southwest Tour Series schedule except Rocky Mountain Raceway, where he finished second last year.
“Well, if you’ve raced as long as we have, you’re bound to win at a lot of tracks,” Pettit said with a laugh. “The schedule the series has this year is the best we’ve ever had, we always do pretty well at tracks like Stockton and Madera, but tracks like Irwindale, Kern, and Pikes Peak are where we feel our team really excels.”
Jacob Gomes and Ross Strmiska, both of Manteca, are two of the younger drivers looking to unseat the veterans in 2014.
Gomes, with 13 years of racing already under his belt at the age of 21 finished third in the 2103 SRL standings while Strmiska, a third-generation driver, placed seventh overall despite missing a race.
With the season opener at Madera Speedway less than week away Strmiska and his Mainline Equipment/ Jack Tone Vineyards team are ready and confident heading to the Madera 1/3-mile oval.
“We finished second at Madera last June and we always seem to have a good car there,” said Strmiska. “This series is tough, if you’re inside the top 10, you have to battle hard for every position, but that’s why we choose to race in this series, it’s the toughest competition anywhere.”
Strmiska had just one finish outside the top four in the first five races of the 2013 season before falling off late in the year.
“Last year we had a great first half of the season, but we lost our momentum in the second half of the year,” he said. “Our plan for 2014 is to stay strong all season.”
The Madera regular season will begin on Saturday, March 22 and will once again feature the LunkerDaddy Late Models and a wide variety of supporting classes.
The track will continue its long and proud tradition of open-wheel racing with six big open wheel events featuring the Super Modifieds, Winged Sprints, USAC/BCRA Midgets and NCMA Spec Sprints.
The regular season concludes Sept. 27 followed by three special events – the California Gold Classic on Oct. 19, the 8th Annual Pumpkin Smash Halloween Bash of Oct. 25 and the Marshall Sargent Classic/King of the Wing National Sprint Car Series on Nov. 21.
The LoanMart Madera Speedway is located on Highway 99 at the Cleveland exit in Madera California. For more information visit www.racemadera.com.