STOCKTON — Once again, proving the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree, Jared Irvan, the son of former NASCAR Cup star Ernie Irvan, outdueled a stellar local field to capture the 100-lap feature for the Stockton Late Models in the annual “Night of Champions” event at the Stockton 99 Speedway on Saturday night.
It was the third time in five years that Jared accompanied his father from their home in North Carolina to be part of the track’s tribute to its past champions and second time he has won the race.
The 99 Speedway will always hold a special place in Ernie Irvan’s heart. After winning the track championship in 1977, Irvan would move on to compete in the NASCAR Cup series where he won 15 times, including twice at Sonoma Raceway and the 1991 Daytona 500.
“It is a lot of fun to be back here, talk with the fans and sign some autographs,” said Irvan. “It looks pretty much the same although there used to be a bar down the street somewhere we used to go to that I think is gone now.”
Irvan explained how his time racing on the tricky quarter-mile oval was instrumental in advancing his career.
“I learned how to race here and if I had gone somewhere else I am not sure how things would have turned out for me. The competition was so good here, it was a great experience. I also made a lot of connections here that helped me along the way. I am so fortunate. It all worked out for me.”
Other alumni at this year’s celebration included Modesto’s Jeff Belletto, Seaside’s Dave Byrd, Tracy’s David Philpott, Modesto’s Mike David and NASCAR West Coast Hall of Fame member Ken Clapp, the track’s promoter through 2006.
Once again driving the iconic Strmiska Racing prepared black and pink No. 90, Jared Irvan started in the third row of the 17-car field from where he quickly moved up to challenge early race leader Sam Solari, the 2018 track champion out of Escalon
Irvan kept the pressure on Solari, but it was Stockton’s Gary Shafer Jr. who would move methodically through the field to eventually get by both of them to take over the top spot on lap 27. Irvan would finally get by Solari three laps later and soon began to hound Shafer.
At mid-race, Solari was turned by previous race winner Colby Potts, of Stockton, who in turn gave Potts a shot during the caution. The two drivers briefly stopped inches apart on the front straight to discuss the matter, but order was restored without further incident.
When the race resumed, Irvan began applying pressure on Shafer, remaining glued to his rear bumper for the next 25 laps. With Shafer’s car gradually losing grip, Irvan was able to slide underneath him for the lead on lap 75 where he remained until the checkered flag.
“It was interesting out there, for sure. I think at one point we were actually four-wide, which is something that usually doesn’t work well here,” said Irvan, as he celebrated the win with his father and Strmiska team members on the front straight. “I rode behind the 21 car (Shafer) and tried to make him burn himself up a bit and it worked well enough for us to get by him.”
Although it was an amazing performance for someone with minimum experience at the track, Irvan was quick to give credit to crew chief Ron Strmiska Jr. and the team.
“The Strmiskas know everything there is to setting up a car here so the car is pretty close to perfect when I get here and it is up to me to not mess it up.”
Shafer would hold on for second just ahead of Stockton’s Joey Stearns, Solari and three-time track champion Justin Philpott, of Tracy.
The 25-lap Bomber feature proved to be a nail-bitter from beginning to end as Manteca’s Joe Reichmuth scored his second win of the season.
Justin Scantlen, of Valley Springs, Allen Rider, of Linden, and Reichmuth spent the first 20 laps of the race locked in a tight pack, often going side-by-side, as the battled it out for the lead.
Scantlen held a narrow edge when the only yellow-caution of the race came out after defending division champion Jeanna Ramos, of Lodi, and Kayci Phillips, of Stockton, tangled. Reichmuth was finally able to power his way under Scantlen after the restart and then spent the final laps fending off Scantlen’s counter-attacks to secure the hard-earned win.
“That caution benefited us because I had smoked my right rear tire and I was loose, loose, loose,” explained Reichmuth. “It cooled down during the caution and when we went back to green I knew I had to go for it. We touched a little and I apologized, but I was racing for the win.”
Manteca’s Joe Flowers and Josh Cross continued their season-long fight for control of the B-4 division with Saturday’s round going to Flowers for his second win of the season.
The pair started from the front of the 17-car field where Flowers used the inside lane to grab the early lead with Cross in hot pursuit. Cross tried everything in his arsenal to make a pass for the lead, but Flowers was able to successfully hold him off while maneuvering through numerous back markers, splitting a pair cars on a couple of occasions, to secure the wire-to-wire victory.
“Oh man. I had to push the whole way because all I saw was Josh right behind me in my mirror. He got beside me a couple times, but I held my line and was able to fend him off,” Flowers said. “I had to really work to get through the lapped traffic, but it was the same for everybody.”
Stockton’s Jordan Lovelace drove away from Manteca’s Jayden Cross to pick up his fifth win in the B-4 Juniors feature and third generation driver Kash Holman, of Salida, drove around early leader Evan Laires, of Linden, midway through the 15-lap Mini Cup main to capture the win.
The 99 Speedway will be back in action on Saturday, Aug. 14, with an SRL doubleheader featuring the Spears SRL Southwest Tour Series and Spears Pro Late Model Series.
After recently signing a three-race deal to drive for the Rackley W.A.R racing development program in Tennessee, 23-year-old Blaine Rocha of Oakdale, picked up the victory in the Pro Late Model feature at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway on Saturday. Rocha’s final two starts will come at Pensacola on Aug. 20 and Dec. 5.