The grandstands were packed full on a perfect summer evening at the Stockton 99 Speedway on Saturday night for the Firecracker 100 program featuring the Ron Strmiska Memorial for the Pacific Challenge Series (PCS) Late Models and four other divisions.
One of the biggest events of the season, the race was renamed last year to honor the racing legend nicknamed the “Manteca Missile” who passed away in late 2014. Strmiska began racing at the 99 over 45 years ago, winning the track championships in 1978 and 1979, and spawning two more generations of drivers with his son Ron Jr. and grandson Ross who qualified 4th for this year’s 15-car PCS race.
Jeremy Doss, of Upper Lake, earned the pole for the 100-lap PCS main, but it was Manteca’s Jacob Gomes, who lined up outside of him to complete the front row, that was able to grab the early lead in the race.
Despite several yellow-cautions for minor incidents which caused multiple restarts Gomes was able to successfully beat off all challenges and retain the top spot with relative ease as his car performed flawlessly.
As the race wound down Gomes looked as though he would cruise to an easy victory when John Moore, of Granite Bay, had his right front tire blow in a spectacular shower of sparks on lap 97 to cause the sixth yellow-caution of the night.
Gomes lined up alongside of Modesto’s Mike Beeler for the green-white-checker. The two rubbed and banged their way around the track for two laps before Gomes spun out on the back stretch while simultaneously Modesto’s Kyle Gottula and Strmiska, who were battling for third place right behind them, tangled up and crashed hard into the turn #3 exit gate.
“We had it tonight so this really sucks. If these guys can’t win it they try and wreck you out,” said a very frustrated Gomes, who fell out of last year’s Firecracker 100 due to a faulty ignition while leading. “Ron Strmiska is such a legend in Manteca so it would have been awesome to win this, but this is the second year in a row we lost out right at the end. Me and the Firecracker just don’t mix I guess.”
Beeler was able to hold on to cross the finish line for the win ahead of Doss, Moore, JR Courage, of Manteca and Mike Hite, of Elk Grove.
“We got spread out and we got to run quite a few laps end to end, but it got pretty rough right at the end. People wanted those positions and they fought hard for them,” said Beeler, who also won the Firecracker 100 in 2014. “Had we not had that yellow at the end I am sure we would have finished second, but we got it and it gave us the opportunity to do something and we did.”
Strmiska, who was credited with 7th place, was disappointed to just miss out on winning a race that means so much to him and his family.
“I was trying to save my car for a late yellow and we finally got one, but it came pretty late. I saw the 6 and 16 (Beeler and Gomes) beating and banging each other so I tried to split them and I was there but then I got hit by Kyle. I thought at the end that grandpa was looking out for me and giving me a shot to win, but it just didn’t work out.”
A pair of Stockton drivers, Gary Shafer Jr and Joey Stearns, led the 15-car field to the green flag to start the Stockton Late Model 50-lap main.
Shafer, the winner of the previous week’s crash marred race, jumped into the early lead only to find a hard charging Chad Holman, of Salida, filling his mirrors. Holman took advantage of a lap 10 restart to slip past Shafer and he seemed to be in total control of the race until an engine problem sent him sputtering to the pits on lap 32.
With Holman done for the night Shafer moved back into the lead where he cruised to a convincing victory over Stockton’s Dennis Byers and Gridley’s Larry Tankersley.
“I am so excited. I’m the first member of my family to win this race,” said Shafer. “I have to say that it sucks that Chad (Holman) broke because, although it was to my benefit, he is a good friend of mine and we had nothing for him tonight. He had us covered, but I will say that we had everyone else covered.”
Shafer dedicated his win to another Stockton 99 legend, Lathrop’s Tim Gillit, the 1986 and 1987 Stockton Late Model champion, who amassed 24 feature wins at the 99.
“I fell in love with him watching him when I was a kid in the grandstands, “explained Shafer, who changed the number of his car to “0” to honor Gillit, who also raced with that number for years. “He was tough and he was usually up at the front.”
Lodi’s Robbie Knittel was running a distant second to Kris Price, of Rio Linda, early on in the 50-lap Grand American Modified feature, but a lap 20 restart enabled him to wrestle the lead from Price. He spent the rest of the race fending off repeated charges by Price to take a well-earned win.
“We have been struggling with the car since we had a wreck in Madera a couple of weeks back, so it is good to know we are back on the right track,” said Knittel. “I thought he (Price) was gone at the start of the race, but that yellow saved us.”
Kannai Scantlen, of Valley Springs, moved ahead of Stockton’s Allan Rider III nine laps into the 25-lap Bomber main and never looked back as he cruised to an easy win over runner up Brad Mast, of Manteca, last week’s race winner.
“We have a borrowed motor that we keep winning with so I hate to give it back,” Scantlen joked. “The car was actually pretty loose in the afternoon, but I knew it would come to us when it cooled off and it did just that.”
Scantlen proudly announced that it would be his final race behind the wheel as his 15-year-old son, Justin, would take over the driving duties while he slides over to the passenger side of the car to copilot.
Adam Lemke, of Hollister, took the checkered flag over Joshua Terry, of Modesto, in the Mini Cup feature.
The Stockton 99 returns to action on Saturday, July 16th, with the Stockton Late Models, Bombers, Grand American Modifieds and B-4s.
After spending the first half of the 2016 Global Rallycross season playing second fiddle to his Andretti Autosports Volkswagen teammate Tanner Foust, Manteca native Scott Speed, the defending series champion, notched his first win of the season on a rain soaked track in Jacksonville, North Carolina on Saturday.
Engine issues kept Speed out of the Heat and Semifinal rounds which forced him to start ninth in the 10-car final, but the slick conditions were to his liking and as the other drivers spun out, broke down or crashed Speed was able to make his way to the front for the win.
The event was scheduled to be a doubleheader, but a prerace deluge turned the track into a lake forcing the cancellation of Sunday’s race.
With six of 12 events now in the books, Speed sits third in the season points, trailing Foust by a mere 16 points and Steve Arpin by 7 points.