Sam Solari, of Escalon, proved to be virtually untouchable as he rolled to his third victory of the season in the 100-lap feature for the Stockton Late Models in Saturday’s annual “Night of Champions” event held in honor of the past champions over the 74-year racing history at the 99 Speedway.
“We felt good about tonight right from the start when we got to the track this morning,” said Solari, a former two-time track champion. “Mike David gave me a really good car. It performed great.”
Solari started in the second row of the 14-car field behind pole sitter Justin Philpott, the former three-time track champion from Tracy who was making his first start of the season at the 99, but he got caught up in the opening lap traffic and was quickly shuffled down to the sixth spot.
While Philpott checked out on the field, Solari began to slowly work his way up the order eventually passing Stockton’s Larry Tankersley on lap 18 to take over second place.
With a clear track and the leader in his sights, Solari steadily reeled in Philpott over the next 20 laps, finally slipping under him to take over the top spot on lap 38. Philpott slowly began to fade, allowing Tankersley and Stockton’s Jo Stearns to also move by him, before pulling into the pits and retiring on lap 58 with a mechanical issue.
A late yellow-caution on lap 81 gave Tankersley one final opportunity to start alongside Solari, but as soon as the green flag fell Solari once again pulled away with ease and cruised to the checkered flag about a dozen car lengths ahead of Tankersley and Stearns.
“I just was not quite there tonight. We have had some problems with the brakes and we had a few other issues,” admitted Tankersley, the 2016 track champion who continues to hold a comfortable 40-point lead over Solari in the current standings. “Sammy was just faster than us tonight and there was nothing we could do about it.”
After the race, Solari was presented a beautifully refurbished trophy that was originally won in 2002 by former two-time track champion Steve Belletto, who died tragically in 2021, at age 56, due to COVID-19.
“This is really special. In fact, the motor we are using was worked on by Steve, so that is pretty cool,” explained Solari as he proudly accepted the trophy.
Scott Winters, of Tracy, has been virtually unbeatable in the North/South State Modified Series in 2023. With four wins in five starts, he held a solid 50-point lead in his quest for a fourth series championship heading into Saturday’s 60-lap race
After starting from row four of the 12-car field, Winters calmly sliced his way up the order before overtaking Lakeport’s Ian Elliott for the lead following a lap 27 restart. At that point it looked like Winters would sail to the win until another caution came out on lap 38.
When the race resumed Brandon White, of Eureka, looked like he had a JATO engine strapped to his car as he bolted from the outside lane to jump in front. Winters tried to chase him down for the remainder of the race, but he could never mount a serious challenge and was forced to settle for a disappointing second place finish.
“It has been frustrating because Scott has got the best of me over the last several races, but I finally got him tonight and I am pretty stoked about that,” White said. “I touched the wall at one point, and I think it might have helped because the car really came alive at the end of the race.”
Brian Miller, of Railroad Flats, snared the lead on the second lap of the 20-lap Street Stock main and never looked back as he captured his third win of the season over Stockton’s Jerry Crawford.
Oakley’s Rick Brophy moved to the inside of Fresno’s Wayne Kalastian on the final lap and nipped him by inches at the finish line to claim an exciting victory in the Legends of Kearney Bowl 10-lap feature.
Two-time series champion Jacob Gomes, of Manteca, will be looking to extend his 2023 season points lead when the Spears SRL Southwest Tour Series rolls into the 99 Speedway for Round 7 of the JM Environmental Wild West Shootout on Saturday, Sept. 2.
The Super Late Models will be joined in Stockton by the Spears Pro Late Models, presented by Sigma Performance Services, and the Spears Modified Series, which will be making its first appearance at the historic ¼-mile oval, and the NCMA Sprint Car Series.