STOCKTON — Stockton’s Larry Tankersley locked up the 2023 Stockton 99 Speedway track championship in style by outlasting Donny Darter, of Valley Springs, to earn his fifth victory of the season in the 100-lap finale for the Stockton Late Models at the quarter-mile oval on Saturday night.
Starting from the third row of the 15-car field, Tankersley methodically worked his way up to second place behind pole sitter Sam Solari, of Escalon, over the opening 15 laps of the race. He then spent the next 55 laps trying to chase Solari down, as the two bobbed and weaved their way through traffic until the first caution of the race flew for a spinning back marker.
Tankersley moved to the inside of Solari on the restart, and the two touched in Turn 2, which sent Solari into a slow spin. Tankersley eased off the throttle to allow him to recover, but the rest of the pack plowed into Solari, causing a massive pileup that required a lengthy red flag stoppage to clean up and resulted in six cars, including Solari’s, being out of commission for the night.
"My tires were pretty used up, and I was trying not to spin them on that restart, but I felt that this might be the only shot I had, so I tried to stay with him and unfortunately I ended up turning him around. It was my fault,” admitted Tankersley. “I respect Sammy a lot; we are friends and I would never mean to do that on purpose. I sure didn’t want it to go that way.”
When the race finally resumed, Darter seemed to have the only car remaining that could stay with Tankersley, who, in addition to his worn-out tires, was also dealing with a faulty radio and an overheating engine. However, Tankersley was able to nurse his wounded car to the checkered flag about five car lengths ahead of Darter for a hard-earned win. Arron Shankel, the 2017 track champion out of Lodi, finished a lap down to capture third place in his final race at the 99 Speedway before his impending move to Tennessee.
"To close out with a victory and the championship, it doesn’t get much sweeter than that. Everything came together this year, and you could not ask for anything more. I love racing out here,” said Tankersley, who also won the track championship in 2016. “I really have to thank my crew. My guys have this car prepared for every race and they are the backbone of this car. They are the best!”
The B-4s never fail to deliver plenty of excitement and Saturday’s feature was no exception as 2023 division points leader Jordan Mast and 2022 defending champion Joe Flowers, both of Manteca, battled it out the entire 20-lap distance.
Mast, age 16, was able to hold Flowers off through the first half of the race until he got caught behind slower traffic, which opened the door for Flowers to slip under him and take the lead. The pair continued to go nose-to-tail for the remainder of the race, each giving the other the chrome bumper on several occasions, including a couple of taps during caution laps. Flowers managed just hold to notch his fourth victory of the season, while Mast’s second-place finish locked down the 2023 B-4 crown.
“That was a wild race. He (Mast) is a young, good driver and he is learning,” said Flowers, who opted to only compete in a limited schedule this season. “I didn’t really go for points this year, so to finish second overall is pretty good.”
The on-track fireworks continued after the race as several crew members began to exchange pleasantries while both teams celebrated on the front straight. Luckily, calmer heads prevailed before things got out of hand, and the two drivers eventually shook hands and congratulated each other.
“It was just hard racing. Things happen on track that you can’t always control. We are both tough competitors and we are both just racing for the win, so hats off to him and his team because we both work our butts off for this,” said Mast diplomatically. “I am just happy we won this championship exactly 10 years after my dad did it here, so it means a lot to do the same as him.”
Brandon Jones, of Lodi, dominated the early going of the Street Stock main until his engine suddenly blew up at midrace, allowing season points leader Brian Miller, of Railroad Flats, to gladly take over the top spot.
However, Miller’s good fortune quickly changed when he also began to fall back due to a mechanical issue that allowed Stockton’s Danny White to move to the front of the field. While White cruised to the win over Cash Holman of Valley Springs, Miller staggered to the finish line in fourth to wrap up the Street Stock title.
"I went into the corner and all of a sudden I had no brakes. It is a scary feeling, but luckily I didn’t hit anything,” explained Miller. “At that point, we decided just to slow down and make it to the finish because this championship is something I have wanted for a long time.”
Natalie Harper, age 15, of Stockton, went wire-to-wire over Linden’s Leilani Sprenkel in the B-4 Juniors feature to claim her eighth win of the season and clinch her second consecutive division championship.
"I have won three go-cart championships and now two times in a car. It takes a lot of dedication to the sport and a lot of time and effort, so this means a lot,” said Harper, who will be moving up to the B-4 division next season.
The 99 Speedway awards banquet will take place from 1-4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 11, at the Roberts Union Farm Center in Stockton. For more information, visit the track’s website at www.stockton99.com.
The local racing season will conclude on Saturday, Nov. 4, at the Stockton Dirt Track, located at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds, with the 40th Annual Tribute to Gary Patterson, featuring the NARC King of the West Fujitsu 410 Sprint Car Series, Elk Grove Ford Vineyards 360 Sprints, Hunt Magneto Wingless Tour finals, and Wingless Tour Championship finale.
Spears SRL Southwest Tour Series
Jacob Gomes, of Manteca, claimed the Spears SRL Southwest Tour Series championship by finishing fifth in last weekend’s season finale in the 35th Annual "Bulwark/TenCate October Classic 135” at Kern County Raceway Park near Bakersfield. Gomes, along with Seaside’s Jim Pettit II, are the only two drivers to have won three titles in series history. Gomes ran away with the points by posting five victories and finishing inside the top-five in eight of nine events.
Hard luck Blaine Rocha, of Oakdale, led the race with just seven laps to go but suffered a flat tire while holding a lead in excess of four seconds, giving Buddy Shepherd, of Bakersfield, his third career win.