STOCKTON — Dominant performances were the theme of the night in all four divisions racing at the Stockton 99 Speedway on Saturday night.
Entering the night only 37 points separated the top five drivers in the Stockton Late Model season standings.
Arron Shankel, of Lodi, held the lead, but his once sizable margin had dwindled to a slim 347 to 344 edge over Salida’s Seth Holman with defending track champion Larry Tankersley, of Gridley, lurking just behind at 331, followed by Stockton’s Jeremy Tucker at 325 and Brandon Jones, of Lodi, at 310.
“We won two right out of the gate and then we hit the summer stretch and had a bad run of luck,” explained Shankel, who had not even planned to run for the championship before the start of the season. “We seemed to have shaken the gremlins and we seem to be back on the path of doing the right things now.”
For Shankel, who has never won a championship in any form of racing, winning the Late Model title at the 99 is now his primary goal.
“This is uncharted territory for us and it has been a lot of fun,” added Shankel. “It would be crazy awesome to win the championship, but I know it is going to be a dogfight.”
Dominic Lopez, of San Leandro, led the 15-car field to the start the 30-lap Late Model feature, but Chris Lyon, of Greely Hill, dislodged him from the top spot before the end of the first lap.
Starting well back in the fifth row, former two-time champion Justin Philpott, of Tracy, calmly maneuvered his way up to second by lap 8 and began to stalk Lyon for the lead.
It took Philpott five laps to set up his prey as he dove to the inside of turn #4 to easily move under Lyon for the top spot.
He would never be challenged for the remainder of the caution free race as he cruised to his second win of the season well ahead of Lyon and veteran Salida driver Sam Solari.
“I planned on driving real easy in the beginning and bide my time, but things opened up and we were able to get to the front quickly,” Philpott said. “Lyon overdrove it a bit going into the corner and went high so it was pretty easy to clear him for the lead. It all worked out.”
Shankel came home with a hard fought seventh place finish which should be good enough to retain his points lead over Jones, who finished in eighth and Tankersley, who struggled to a tenth place showing. Only Tucker, with a fourth place finish, was able to gain any ground.
Perennial front runner Dave Kong, of Stockton, held the early lead in the 20-lap B-4 main while Josh Cross, of Manteca, sat on his tail in hot pursuit.
Cross moved past Kong for the lead on the third lap and never looked back as he sailed to his first win of the year.
“It is exciting. Kong is the guy to beat out here so it great to finally get by him,” said Cross, age 31. “The tires made the difference tonight. The car handled great the whole race.”
Luis Tyrell, of Brisbane, was simply in a class by himself in the 40 lap Legends of the Pacific feature.
Starting from the fifth row, Tyrell moved into second on lap six and grabbed the lead on lap later on a caution restart.
“Someone didn’t go at the start of the race and I moved around and found myself in second,” said Tyrell. “Once I had the lead I got into a nice rhythm and stayed clear of everything.”
He would check out on the rest of the 12-car field and only three yellow-cautions kept him from lapping most of his competitors by the finish.
Chad Nascimento, of Manteca and Peter Soto, of Santa Clara, completed the top three.
Season points leader Ben Lewis II, of Stockton, started from the pole and led the entire race in the 30-lap Bomber feature.
A last lap caution allowed the 14-car field one last shot at Lewis, but he was more than up to the task as he once again pulled away when the track went green to take the checkered flag over Stockton’s Roy Luft and Linden’s Makala Stearns.
Racing returns to the 99 Speedway on Saturday, Sept. 3, with third and final leg of the 2017 Tri-Holiday Classic. The four division program will feature the Pacific Challenge Series Late Models, along with the Stockton Late Models, Bombers and B-4s.
Also next Saturday, Aug. 26,, the Stockton Dirt Track, located at the San Joaquin Fairgrounds, will be hosting the Salute to Leroy Van Conett featuring Elk Grove Ford 360 Sprint Car Challenge Tour and BCRA Midgets.