STOCKTON — After leading Linden High to a San Joaquin Athletic Association win over Cesar Chavez High as the starting quarterback on Friday, Joey “Jo Jo” Stearns, age 17 of Stockton, changed helmets and capped off a busy weekend by taking the checkered flag in Saturday night’s Stockton Late Model 50-lap feature at the 99 Speedway.
Starting in the second row of the 12-car field alongside of defending track champion Gary Shafer Jr., of Stockton, Stearns quickly moved into second on the opening lap and began stalking Stockton’s Larry Tankersley, the early race leader.
After a couple of three-wide skirmishes, Stearns was finally able to gain the upper hand and slip ahead of both Tankersley and Shafer on lap 10 to assume the lead where he remained in control until a midrace caution forced a restart.
Shafer got the jump on the first try at a restart, but since it is up to the race leader to set the pace Stearns wisely let him go, forcing officials to wave it off and try again. Shafer gave Stearns a strong challenge on the second attempt, but Stearns was able to successfully fend him off and regain the lead.
“You can get into other people’s head and sometimes you have to play some games on the restart,” Stearns confessed. “He (Shafer) is definably a threat, and he is always in the back of my mind that he will be there.”
Like a hungry dog that had just robbed the meat market, Stearns steadily pulled away from the pack to claim his second consecutive victory and third overall of the season, while Shafer was forced to spend the remainder of the race holding off the hard-charging Ty Carlson, of Stockton, for second place.
“We are still running on our energy from the last race and we kept that momentum going. Our goal was to get out front and lead them all and we executed it tonight,” explained Stearns, who widened his points lead to 21 over Carlson and 26 over Shafer with two races left on the schedule.
Just as in football, Stearns was also quick to stress that his recent racing success has been a total team effort.
“Winning races starts in the shop. If you put the time in at the garage it is going to show. We have been busting butt, and it is really showing right now for us.”
Manteca’s Josh Cross used the B-4 main to shake down the car his son Jayden will be driving before the end of the season, but an unfamiliar car made little difference to the defending division champion as Cross rolled to a wire-to-wire win in the 20-lap feature.
“It was pretty easy tonight, especially since they didn’t invert us,” admitted Cross, who now has five wins this season despite not running a full schedule. “It is a totally different setup on this car. We switched it up from our original build and it seems to be working out.”
Starting in the front row of the 12-car field alongside of his son-in-law Joe Flowers, of Manteca, held off Stockton’s Jordon DeVore for second to make up ground in the season points on Stockton’s Andy Rumsey, who came home in sixth. Unofficially, Flowers now trails Rumsey by just 13 points in what has boiled down to a two-driver battle for the B-4 title.
Lodi’s Brandon Jones grabbed the lead from pole sitter Chad Holman, of Salida, on the opening lap of the Bomber main and never looked back to earn his first victory of the season. His task was made easier when Donnie Darter, the runaway season points leader out of Valley Springs, elected to only run a couple of laps before retiring early in the main after getting involved in a bumping match with Jones in the Bomber trophy dash.
“I raced Donnie a lot last year and we have had some good races together,” said Jones. “I have not been out here much this year, and I wasn’t sure what the car could do so it feels good to win again.”
Despite his early exit, Darter still holds a mammoth 50-point lead over Galt’s Nicholas Mello in the Bomber standings.
Stockton’s Natalie Harper held off Manteca’s Jordan Mast in the 12-lap B-4 Juniors feature to chalk up her third win of the season and extend her advantage in the point standings over Stockton’s Scottie Crawford.
Despite a small field of only five cars, the visiting Pro-4 Mods put on an exciting 20-lap feature where Sebastopol’s Marty Lewis and Lakeport’s Johnny Barker went toe-to-toe the entire distance. Lewis slipped into the lead with nine laps to go and the pair duked it out side-by-side to the checkered flag where Lewis took the win by about a foot.
“That was probably the best race we have had all season,” Lewis said. “I’m glad we could go door-to-door and put on a great show for all of you fans.”
At Madera Speedway last Saturday, Manteca’s Ethan Nascimento persevered over a wild battle with Washington’s Kasey Kleyn for his fourth consecutive 51FIFTY Jr. Late Model Series win in a 70-lap feature.
Racing returns to the 99 Speedway on Saturday, Oct. 1, with the Spears SRL Pro Late Model Series Bischofberger Brawl 100. In addition, the B-4s, B-4 Juniors and Nor Cal Mods will be in action.
The Stockton Dirt Track, located at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds, will host the Monster Trucks on Friday, Sept. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 1.