STOCKTON — Veteran driver Jason Romero, of Cameron Park, took advantage of a late-race caution to pick up his first career victory at the Stockton 99 Speedway, as the track launched its 73rd season of racing with a six-division open program on Saturday.
Starting the 50-lap Pro Late Model main from the third row behind pole-sitter Ross Strmiska, of Manteca, Romero quickly found himself engulfed in a four-way battle for second place with Stockton’s JoJo Stearns, Oakdale’s Blaine Rocha and Danville’s Jason Gilbert.
After a 25-lap struggle, Romero was finally able to clear the pack and begin his attempt to reel in Strmiska, who had taken advantage of the fight to build a solid lead when the lone yellow-caution flag of the race popped out on lap 29. Restarting on the outside of Strmiska, Romero was able to gain the advantage and slip into the top spot after a lengthy side-by-side battle that lasted for several laps.
“The yellow flag really helped me. Ross had a pretty good lead, and I would have had to really burn my stuff up to try and chase him down,” explained Romero. “We had a great battle for the lead, and my hat is off to Ross, who raced me really clean.”
Romero was never challenged over the remaining laps, as he cruised to the victory well ahead of Rocha and Strmiska.
“My crew worked their tails off to prepare the car and give me a real rocket ship tonight,” said Romero, who has primarily competed in various West Coast touring series and Roseville’s All-American Speedway for the past 20 years. “This feels good to finally get a win here after many, many tries and frustrations. I hope there are more to come now.”
It was a similar story in the 50-lap Legends feature, where Sean Hingorani, of Newport Coast, held the lead over Tracy’s Brenden Ruzbarsky, Sebastopol’s Cody Winchel and the rest of the 22-car field from the opening lap when the race was interrupted by the fifth and final caution of the night on lap 40.
Ruzbarsky was able to move past Hingorani on the restart, but Winchel took advantage of their battle to dive underneath both of them to snatch the lead. Despite a determined effort by Ruzbarsky to get under him over the final laps, Winchel was able to hang on and take the checkered flag by a nose.
“That is probably the most fun I have had in a long while,” Winchel remarked after the race. “I don’t know what else to say. I am speechless.”
Defending champion Josh Cross, of Manteca, held the lead in the opening half of the 20-lap B-4 main when he mysteriously slowed down and ducked into the pits at mid-race, handing over the race lead to a surprised Ethan Rumsey, of Stockton, who was sitting well back in second. Rumsey never looked back, as he happily cruised to the checkered flag over Woodbridge’s Michael Hill and Stockton’s Rod Previtali.
“I will take it. They don’t call me daddy shark for nothing,” joked Rumsey, who has a menacing, teeth baring shark painted on the front of his car.
Donnie Darter, of Valley Springs, showed he will be a force to deal with in the upcoming season as the 2007 Stockton Street Stock champion sailed to an easy win over Manteca’s Joe Reichmuth and Troy Walz, of Valley Springs, in the 20-lap Bomber main.
A scary moment occurred in the prerace warm up for the powerful 800-hp Super Modifieds when Art McCarthy, of San Jose, slammed hard into the Turn 1 wall after his throttle stuck. Luckily, McCarthey was not hurt, although his car was pretty much destroyed.
Austin Carter, of Clovis, would go on to win the Super Modified 20-lap main and Rob Hammond, of Morgan Hill, would claim the victory in the 20-lap NCMA race which followed.
The first of 12 regular-season points-paying racing programs at the 99 Speedway will take place on Saturday, April 9, with the Stockton Late Models, Bombers, B-4s and B-4 Juniors. In addition, the 2022 calendar includes two dates for the Spears SRL Touring Series on Saturday, July 16 and Saturday, Oct. 1.
The Stockton Dirt Track, located at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds will be hosting the 37th Annual Asparagus Cup — featuring the NARC 410 Sprint Cars, NorCal Dwarf Cars and Legends of Kearney Bowl — on Saturday, April 2.
The 47th Annual Acura GP of Long Beach for the NTT IndyCar Series returns to the streets on April 8-10. For more information visit www.gplb.com or call (888) 827-7333.