By DALE BOSOWSKI
Special to the Bulletin
STOCKTON — Third generation driver Justin Philpott, of Tracy, went wire-to-wire in the 35-lap Stockton Late Model feature at the 99 Speedway on Saturday for a victory that was anything but easy.
Before the main events track announcer Wayne Pierce paid tribute to former track champion and local racing legend Johnny Brazil, of Salida, who passed away earlier in the week.
Philpott and Waterford’s Carl Pearce led a strong 17-car field to the opening green flag of the main, but Pearce saw his chances for the win evaporate on the second lap when he spun after tangling with Stockton’s Greg Potts.
Manteca’s Guy Guibor, driving the familiar pink and black #90 Strmiska family entry, quickly locked on to the tail of Philpott and continuously harassed him over the next 20 laps.
The hard charging Guibor seemed to have a golden opportunity for a pass as the pair began to dodge lapped traffic on lap 24 when a yellow-caution flag came out after Stockton’s Danny Devore clipped the wall giving Philpott a reprieve.
“I was actually glad for that yellow,” admitted Philpott. “They were racing hard and changing lines ahead of me and it would have been tough to get by them and stay ahead of Guibor.”
On the restart, Philpott managed to stave off Guibor from the outside lane after a two lap side-by-side battle.
Guibor remained glued to the back of Philpott’s car like a bad 80’s mullet, but he was never able to find a way to get past the former two-time track champion despite numerous attempts over the final laps.
“I did everything I could to wear him out or to force him into a mistake so I could get by him, but I just couldn’t do it,” said Guibor. “He drove a good race.”
Afterward, Philpott relished his second feature win of the season.
“That was the hardest 35 laps I have ever driven in my life,” said a sweat drenched Philpott. “I knew I had to stay in front because if he got by me I would never be able to repass him so I made the car as wide as I could.”
Veterans Jason Philpot, of Sacramento and Robbie Knittel, of Lodi, lead a 15-car field to the start of the North State Modified main that was scheduled for 60 laps.
Starting position turned out to be crucial when Cloverdale’s Dustin DeRosier blew an engine at the beginning of the third lap while running in fifth.
The resultant oil slick acted like black ice as every car behind him slid up to the wall, piling into and on top of each other.
It took nearly an hour to clean up the mess as track workers painstakingly untangled the heap of cars like a huge Jenga puzzle.
“It will be alright, it is just metal,” shrugged Sam Solari, last season’s late model champion out of Salida, after watching his car exit on the hook. “It was a brand new car so we needed to slap some used parts on it anyway.”
When the race finally resumed, only four of the 11 cars involved in the wreck were able to rejoin the four cars that went unscathed as the race was shortened to 30 laps.
Knittel would lead the remainder of the way, finishing ahead of Kelseyville’s Darin Knight and Santa Rosa’s Cameron Austin.
“My crew made this car a rocket ship,” said Knittel, who normally drives in the late model ranks at Stockton.
The 25-lap Bomber main quickly turned into a three-way battle between Oakdale’s Tyler Guzman and Stockton pilots Joey Stearns and Rodney Tripp.
Guzman and Stearns were wheel to wheel coming out of the final turn when they touched. Stearns went for a spin on the front straight and Guzman wobbled as he tried to retain control of his car, giving Tripp just enough room to slip past them both for the win.
Tripp and Guzman became tangled up just after the checkers which resulted in Tripp’s car being hauled off behind a wrecker as he walked back to the finish line to accept his trophy.
”They were racing hard and when I saw them make contact I figured this was my opportunity to make a move,” explained Tripp. “What a wild finish!”
Pete Soto, of Santa Clara, led the entire distance of the 35-lap Legends of the Pacific feature for the win over Stockton’s Keith Clement.
Manteca’s Jacob Gomes was moving up through the 12-car field when he hit the turn #3 wall on lap 29 putting an end to his night.
Alden Phillips, of Atwater, dominated the 15-lap Mini Cup race cruising to the win over Linden’s Wyatt Samsun.
Racing returns to the 99 Speedway next Saturday, June 8, with a six division program that includes the Gun Slingers Winged Sprint Cars, Bombers and Grand American Modifieds.