STOCKTON — Young gun Joey “Jo Jo” Stearns, age 17 of Stockton, extended his narrow points lead in the Stockton Late Model season standings by driving to a convincing victory in Saturday night’s 50-lap feature on First Responders Night at the 99 Speedway.
Acting as the pace car for the evening, a California Highway Patrol cruiser led front row starters Stearns and Larry Tankersley, of Stockton, to the opening green flag of the feature. Directly behind them sat defending track champion Gary Shafer Jr. and Ty Carlson, both of Stockton, and Escalon’s Sam Solari, all of whom entered the evening within 21 points of Stearns in the season point standings.
Stearns immediately jumped into the lead at the drop of the green flag while the others fought for position behind him.
After settling into fifth, Solari methodically began to move towards the front over the next 18 laps. Unfortunately, after he seemed to clear Tankersley for second place the two touched, sending Solari into a spin and the rear of the eight-car field for the race restart.
It took Solari only 10 laps to climb back up to second, but he was unable to make up any ground on Stearns, who cruised to his second victory of the season in wire-to-wire fashion.
“We had a great car right out of the trailer tonight. Our plan was to get out front, stay out front and we executed it just like we hoped,” Stearns said. “He (Solari) was in the back of my mind, but I got out there and never looked back.”
Solari would hang on for second — putting an end to his three-race winning streak — while Shafer, Tankersley and Carlson rounded out the top five.
“We were pretty beat up by the time we got back to second. If I got a yellow I may have been able to do something with him, but we never had the chance,” said Solari in frustration.
It was the end of a very busy week for Stearns. In addition to prepping and racing at the 99 Speedway, Stearns is the starting quarterback at Linden High, for which he threw for 350 yards and three touchdowns in a 48-28 loss to Liberty Ranch on Friday.
“Football and racing are similar in a way. Both are physically and mentally demanding and require making the right decisions,” explained Stearns. “Doing both is kinda hard. I am shy of time and miss just hanging with my friends, but I just do it.”
Stearns unofficially now holds a 478-467 advantage over Carlson, while Shafer and Solari sit just 23 and 24 points back, respectively, with four races remaining in the 2022 season.
The powerful North State Modifieds made their second and final appearance of the season at the 99 Speedway with a 60-lap feature.
Keith Bloom, of Anderson, charged to the early lead until Lakeport’s Ian Elliot clipped him from behind, causing them both to spin and allowing Cameron Austin, of Lakeport, to take over the top spot.
Austin remained in total control of the race until a yellow-caution came out with only five laps left in the race. Elliot got the jump over Austin on the restart and began to pull away before mysteriously spinning out three laps later.
With Austin now back in the lead the race was red flagged just one lap after the restart when officials realized that the track was covered in fluid from a leaking car. The race was called complete two laps prematurely, with Austin being declared the winner over Tracy’s Scott Winters, after it was determined that a lengthy cleanup would be needed to get the track back in shape.
As Austin celebrated his victory on the front straight a puddle formed under his car which turned out to be the culprit of the leak and Elliot’s misfortune.
“My car was really good, but it started falling off late I guess because I was leaking something,” Austin said. “I think that is what caused me to lose the lead on the restart, but he (Elliot) eventually spun in it and I feel bad about that. I don’t know how I didn’t spin also.”
Manteca’s Joe Flowers was looking for redemption after losing his B-4 division points lead to Stockton’s Andrew Rumsey when he crashed out early in the previous race three weeks ago.
Flowers used his pole position to jump into the opening lead of the 20-lap feature as Rumsey and Manteca’s Josh Cross, the defending division champion who started well back in the eighth spot, tried to chase him down. Cross was able to dive under Flowers with five laps remaining to earn the win.
“That was exciting. I knew people would make mistakes and if I waited I would be there at the end,” said Cross, who posted his fourth win of the season and first since the 4th of July race. “It has been a rough couple of months and I am glad to be back in victory lane finally.”
Despite his second place finish, Flowers was able to get a boost in the points when Rumsey came to a stop and left the track with a blown engine just two laps short of the checkered flag. As a result, Rumsey now holds a 525-500 advantage over Flowers in the unofficial current standings.
Despite having to switch to his backup car prior to the start of the evening’s action, Donnie Darter, of Valley Springs, continued his mastery of the Bomber division by cruising to his eighth win of the season over Stockton’s Jerry Crawford in their 15-lap main.
Manteca’s Jordan Mast had victory clearly in his sight until he spun out coming off the final turn of the final lap in the B-4 Juniors main handing the victory to a surprised and delighted Scottie Crawford. It was the fourth consecutive win for the Stockton driver.
Racing returns to the 99 Speedway on Saturday with a Kids Night program that includes the Stockton Late Models, Bombers, B-4s, B-4 Juniors, Pro 4 Mods and Legends of Kearney Bowl.