By DALE BOSOWSKI
Special to the Bulletin’
STOCKTON — After a month long hiatus the Stockton Late Models returned to action in a 50-lap, double points feature at the 99 Speedway on Saturday night.
Escalon’s Christian Roche and Lodi’s Arron Shankel led a quality field of 16 cars to the opening green flag where Shankel quickly motored into the lead.
Shankel was able to hold onto the top spot through several early caution restarts, but his luck ran out following the fifth caution of the race when Guy Guibor, of Manteca, rolled underneath of Shankel coming out of turn #2 to take the top spot.
The race would take a very ugly turn on the following lap as Roche and Chad Holman, of Salida, were engaged in a side-by-side battle for third.
The pair drifted high coming out of turn #2 causing Roche to push Holman into he outer wall setting off a spectacular shower of sparks.
When Holman’s damaged car came to a stop in turn #3 he suddenly flipped it around and charged back up the track ramming hard into Roche’s car near the driver’s door as Roche circled around under the yellow-caution.
The track immediately went red as the stunned crowd stood and watched in silence until it became clear that neither driver was injured.
When the race finally resumed after a 30 minute delay to clean up the mess, officials elected to go with a single file restart
Guibor would remain ahead of Shankel over the final 25 laps without any other incidents to claim his first win of the 2019 season.
“We were just biding our time waiting for the right opportunity to take the lead and we were able to check out and cruise after that,” said Guibor. “These guys are really stepping up their game and we need to keep working to make the car better.”
Following Guibor and Shankel across the finish line were Stockton’s Gary Shafer Jr, Tracy’s Justin Philpott and Roseville’s Justin Lovelace to round out the top five.
“Hats off to Guibor and his crew. He was so fast and had the car to beat so I don’t mind running second to him,” admitted Shankel, the 2017 track champion. “It was a good run for us and we brought it home in one piece so it was a good night.”
While Christian Roche, who is a teammate to Guibor, did not care to comment after the race, Holman did give his take on the red flag incident.
“I can’t explain it. I just lost my head out there,” said Holman solemnly. “I didn’t mean to do that and I didn’t want to do that, but I just lost it in the heat of the moment.”
After meeting with all those involved, track director Tony Noceti has suspendered Holman indefinitely.
Stockton’s Joey Stearns grabbed the opening lead in the 35-lap Bomber main, but quickly found himself under attack by 2017 division champion Ben Lewis II, also of Stockton.
Stearns finally succumbed to the constant pressure on lap 11 where Lewis slipped under him to take the lead. Things then went from bad to worse for Stearns when he pulled off the track with a broker tie rod a lap later.
Lewis never looked back as he cruised to his second victory of the season ahead of Oakdale’s Tyler Guzman.
As he was awarded the winner’s trophy, the always amicable Lewis explained that he gives his trophies away to little kids and then invited any kid who wants one to come down to the pits afterward and claim it.
A field of 15 cars, the largest in several seasons, took the green flag to start the 30-lap B-4 feature.
Garland Powell, of Stockton, held the lead in the early going until Josh Cross, of Manteca, roared under him on lap nine.
Cross would hang on for his second straight win despite several yellow-caution restarts and steady harassment by Manteca’s Joe Flowers.
“It seemed like there was caution after caution. I kept hoping for a long green, but we finally got the win anyway,” said a relieved Cross. “It was great to see so many cars. It is getting back to what it was like five years ago.”
Racing returns to the 99 Speedway on Saturday, May 18,with a program that will include the Stockton Late Models, Bombers, B-4s and NorCal Dwarf Cars.