A daring three-wide pass propelled veteran driver Derek Thorn of Lakeport to victory in the Ron Strmiska Holiday Classic JM Environmental Wild West Shootout “Shoot to Thrill 127” presented by 51 FIFTY for the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series at the Stockton Speedway on Saturday night.
Although the planned fireworks show was cancelled and general admission tickets were not sold due the heightened concern by the county over the spread of COVID-19, several hundred spectators were scattered throughout the grandstands for the main event as crewmen from earlier races and diehard fans who paid for pit passes made their way to the bleachers.
Before the race, SRL driver Jacob Gomes, of Manteca, talked about the effects the virus has had on racing.
“It has really knocked the atmosphere out of racing. It is usually built around watching racing, drinking beer and having fun,” Gomes said. “It is also strange to not see many of the people that you have been around your whole life at the track.”
Carlos Vieira, of Atwater, led the 20 car field to the opening green flag of the SRL feature and held the lead over the first 60 laps as Eric Schmidt, of Roseville, Thorn and Gomes packed in right behind him.
On lap 61, coming into turn No. 3, Schmidt ducked low on Vieira while Thorn moved up to the top resulting in the three charging through the turn side-by-side-by-side. When they emerged on the front straight, Thorn had the lead over Schmidt while Vieira fell back to sixth as he fought to retain control of his car.
“I was committed to the bottom and Derek committed to the top. Neither of us lifted and luckily somehow we came out of it clean,” Schmidt said with a smile.
Although Schmidt pressed Thorn for the remainder of the race, he was never able to make a serious attempt to take the lead as Thorn captured his third straight SRL victory in three races this season.
“I was working on Carlos most of the race, but I could never quite make it work to get by him. When Schmidt got under me and went low on Carlos it gave me the chance to roll up high and get by him on the outside,” Thorn explained. “Eric definitely kept us honest tonight, no doubt about it. He had the speed, but I think his car just wore down a bit at the end.”
Completing the SRL top five were Linny White, of Fontana, Vieira and Gomes.
Sam Solari, the 2018 track champion from Escalon, held the pole for the 75-lap Stockton Late Model feature and used it to full advantage to take the early lead over Manteca’s Guy Guibor.
Guibor stayed on his bumper for over 50 laps before slowly fading back with worn tires, allowing Eric Nascimento Jr., of Manteca, to take over second place in the closing laps.
Nascimento quickly closed on Solari, smacking hard into his back bumper which caused Solari to get loose entering the white flag lap. Although Nascimento crossed the line in first, track officials deemed his move excessive and awarded Solari the win, dropping Nascimento back to second place, ahead of Guibor in the final running order.
“Crazy night. That is not the right way to try and win a race. At least try to pass me legit,” Solari said afterward. “But it is really cool to win tonight. I grew up down the street from the Strmiskas and Ron Strmiska is the reason I got into racing to begin with. They are such a class act and they have taught me so much over the years.”
Joe Flowers, of Manteca, started the 17 car, 30-lap feature for the B-4 class from the back of the pack, but he quickly knifed through the field to take the lead just before the halfway mark of the race.
Once he was out in front Flowers never looked back as he cruised to his fourth straight win this season.
“We had such a good car. We had no problem moving through the field.” said Flowers. “We won the Firecracker last year too and it just feels so great.”
Rodney Tripp, of Stockton, was equally as dominate in the eight-car Bomber main, taking the lead on the second lap of the 25-lap race and finishing well ahead of runner up Mikayla Stearns, of Linden.
At this time, track officials are planning on running races the next two Saturday nights, July 11 and 18, with both programs featuring the Stockton Late Models, DHL Northern Late Model Challenge for the Roseville & Madera Late Models, Bombers and B-4s.