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Philpott takes third Strmiska Firecracker 90 title
99 Speedway
Justin Philpott celebrates after winning the Strmiska Firecracker 90 Wednesday at 99 Speedway. JESSICA McANELLY/Jessie's Fast Photos

STOCKTON — Justin Philpott, of Tracy, survived the sweltering heat and the repeated challenges of newcomer Kyle Keller to earn a hard-fought victory in the prestigious Strmiska Firecracker 90 for the Stockton Late Models at the 99 Speedway on Wednesday night.

Annually held in celebration of the Fourth of July holiday, the race honors the late Ron Strmiska. Nicknamed the “Manteca Missile” and driving his signature pink and black No. 90 Chevy, Strmiska began his 30-year racing career in 1970 competing against the likes of local legends Dan Reed, Johnny Brazil, Ken Boyd, David Philpott and Harry Belletto. Strmiska picked up his first victory at the 99 Speedway in 1971 and captured back-to-back track championships in 1978 and 1979, succeeding soon-to-be NASCAR Winston Cup star Ernie Irvan.

It was the third time Philpott, a former three-time 99 track champion, has won the Strmiska Memorial race, and afterward he explained what the win means to him and his family.

“This is so special. I dedicate this win to him,” he said. “Our families go back further than most people even know. We are all really close, and we still miss Ron. I grew up watching Ron Sr. racing my dad, so for us to win this one means the world. I have the utmost respect for that whole family. I always have and I always will.”

Philpott wasn’t even sure if he would make the race after tearing up his car in a wreck a few weeks back.

“We have torn this car up multiple times, but somehow it seems like every time we fix it, we make it better,” Philpott saod. “I called my dad and told him this is the Ron Strmiska race, and this is the one we want to come and win. It means everything to us.”

Starting alongside Ripon’s Mike Regelman, Philpott immediately jumped into the lead over the strong field of 21 cars. Within a couple of laps, he was challenged by Keller, age 19 of Las Vegas, who was making his racing debut on the Stockton 1/4-mile oval.

Philpott and Keller would battle it out for the rest of the race, going side-by-side for multiple laps on several occasions following caution restarts. Philpott would relinquish the lead for a few laps following one mid-race restart, but he quickly recovered and then managed to fend off Keller the rest of the way to capture the checkered flag by about four car lengths.

“This is the first time I have raced Kyle, and I was trying to race him as clean as possible,” said Philpott as he celebrated the win on the front straight by drenching himself in cold water. “It seemed like our tires started to go away near the end, but I was able to hold him off. My crew was on the radio trying to tell me how many laps were left, and I just told them to shut up and let me do my thing.”

Oakdale’s Blaine Rocha drove a steady race, moving up from the ninth starting position to finish behind the leaders in third, while two former track champions Eric Nascimento and JoJo Stearns, of Ripon and Stockton, respectively, rounded out the top five.

The race was red-flagged for about 45 minutes due to a frightening crash on lap 36 that began with a pair of cars getting together coming out of turn 4 and ended up with Granite Bay’s John Moore flipping his car and sliding down the front straight backwards on his roof in a shower of sparks.

It took several minutes for track officials to extricate Moore from the car, who was unhurt, but securely belted in and hanging up-side-down like a side of beef.

“That was awesome,” shouted Moore after he finally emerged from the car with his arms raised triumphantly high in the air as the large crowd on hand roared in appreciation. “That was more fun than any ride at Disneyland!”

99 Speedway
Manteca’s Joe Flowers with son-in-law/teammate Josh Cross a convincing win in the Mini Stock feature. JESSICA McANELLY/Jessie's Fast Photos

Joe Flowers, of Manteca, would not be denied as he drove to a convincing victory in the 30-lap Mini Stock feature.

Flowers, a former two-time division champion, steadily worked his way up through the field from his third-row starting position to take over the race lead from his son A.J. Flowers, of Stockton, on lap 13.

Unfortunately, that lead would be short-lived after he was ordered to the back of the field just three laps later for running into a back marker that he was attempting to put a lap down. The penalty proved to be just a minor setback, however, as Flowers quickly roared back through the field, once again passing A.J. Flowers and son-in-law/teammate Josh Cross, of Manteca, to regain the lead for good.

“I fixed the clutch in my car, and it was working great tonight,” explained Flowers. “I got out front, set sail and then I ran into the back of the last place car, and they put me to the back. I had to work my way back up and I drove like a man possessed, because I have not won this year and I wanted it bad.”

The 15-car Legends main quickly turned into a three-way battle royal between Tracy’s Brenden Ruzbarsky, Upper Lake’s Jeremy Doss, and Donnie Darter, of Valley Springs, as the trio traded the lead throughout the opening half of their 40-lap feature.

Darter would get punted from behind by Linden’s Zach Samson on lap 20, leaving it to the other two to settle the matter. Doss would reclaim the lead on a lap 26 restart, and although Ruzbarsky was able to get side-by-side with him on several occasions, Doss never faltered as he desperately held on over the final laps, working his way through heavy traffic all while keeping Ruzbarsky at bay, for a very hard-earned victory.

“Man, that was a great race. We are still shaking this car down, so I thought I had to beat him to the front to even have a chance tonight,” said Doss, who now has three wins this season. “He got me on that one restart, but we got another chance. Luckily, I had just enough to cover him coming out of turn 2 to where he couldn’t slide back up in front of me. After that I just tried to stay out ahead of him enough so he couldn’t bump me from behind.”

Lodi’s Brandon Jones moved under early race leader Jeremy Tucker, of Stockton, on lap six of the 20-lap Street Stock race and never looked back as he cruised to the win over Stockton’s Jerry Crawford. Tucker failed to finish after he retired with a broken tie rod on lap 9.

The Stockton 99 Speedway will continue a busy month of racing with a Saturday, July 13 show featuring the Stockton Late Models along with the Mini Stocks, Legends of 99, Modifieds and Street Stocks.