By: Brad Kennedy*
Placerville, CA (7/23)…A total of 62 cars packed the pits for the 14th round of the 2016 Red Hawk Casino Championship Season, for the annual “Big Trophy Night” at Placerville Speedway.
With 18 Thompson’s Auto Group 360 Sprint Cars lined up for the 25 lap main event, Placerville’s own Andy Gregg and Fair Oak’s Jake Morgan led the field to green. Gregg got the initial jump over Morgan into turn 1, but 4-time and defending track champion Greg DeCaires lived up to his nickname the “Catfish,” and used the bottom of the race track to pass both to take command coming off of turn 2. DeCaires stayed ahead until lap 8 when ironically, Gregg used the low line off of turn two to drive back by DeCaires and reclaim the lead.
Meanwhile, the battle for third heated up as Jake Morgan and Sean Becker duked it out for position. On lap 12, Justin Dill made heavy contact with the turn three implement tire, ending his night with a folded up front end. During the caution, Morgan pitted with a flat left rear tire, but did not return in time for the restart.
When the race resumed, DeCaires threw a slide job on Gregg, but Gregg returned the favor off of turn four to complete lap 13. Shortly thereafter, Mason Moore went from fourth to second driving around Becker and DeCaires, with Becker also getting by DeCaires to take over third.
On lap 18, Gregg jumped the cushion off of turn two allowing Moore to reel in Gregg for the lead. A lap later, Gregg again tripped up on the curb in turn three as Moore would shoot by like a missile into the lead on lap 19. Gregg again jumped the turn two cushion, allowing Becker to get by for second as the leaders again entered lap traffic. In the closing five rounds, Moore stayed glued to the bottom as Becker hammered down the cushion all away around the speedway. Becker made a bid for victory on the final lap, but stumbled off of four against the cushion, allowing Moore to lock down his third win of the year at Placerville, stretching his points lead over DeCaires. Gregg finished third, while DeCaires and Michael Kofoid rounded out the top five.
In victory lane, Moore admitted, “Jake Morgan showed me the bottom earlier in the race before he got that left rear flat. I knew I was good on the bottom as well, so I thought I might as well run it. Late in the race, I saw the 35 (Becker) on the board, and I thought, not again, he is going to pass me on the last lap. Unfortunately for him, he jumped the curb and we got the win.”
Andy Gregg was the fastest car in time trials, earning his 6th ADCO Transmission Quick Time Award of the year with a time of 10.682. The three heat races were won by Becker, Billy Butler, and DeCaires. Moore also claimed the AL Driveline Hard Charger Bonus for starting 7th and winning.
18 BCRA Midgets were on hand, as Michael Kofoid and Randi Pankratz paced the field to the green flag. However, before completion of the first lap, Kofoid got his midget on two wheels and flipped hard in turn three. Meanwhile, Brian Gard also turned over trying to avoid Kofoid’s flipping car. Kofoid was checked out by the speedway EMT and was released to start the 360 race later in the evening, while Gard restarted the race at the rear of the field.
When the race resumed, Pankrantz and Nick Foster led the charge, with Pankrantz taking the lead. Two laps in, the yellow lights flashed around the speedway for Dustin Golobic who came to a stop while running third.
On the restart, 7th place starter Alex Schutte took the lead, but Pankrantz fought back hard and the two jockeyed for position for many laps until the yellow lights came back on for Dustin Golobic who lost power again aboard his Doug Bock racing #25G.
When the field fired back off, Schutte checked out with a big lead, while Cory Elliott got by Pankrantz for second. Simultaneously, Brian Gard had battled his way back up to fourth after his opening lap crash, and race side by side with Pankrantz during a long green flag run in the middle portion of the event. The race was slowed on lap 24 for Maria Cofer as she spun off of turn two, collecting Floyd Alvis.
When green flag racing resumed, Brian Gard hit the tractor tire off of turn two, bringing out another yellow and ending his night. From there, Schutte led without challenge, while Pankratz repassed Elliott for the runner-up position. Taylor Simas and Sean Dodenhoff rounded out the top five when the checkered flag fell.
“Cory (Elliott) did a great job, and showed his nose on that restart”, Schutte admitted in a post-race interview. “Luckily for me the yellow came out, because I think he really had something for me. But, I guess he struggled on the restart and that helped us out, and we went on to win.”
Earlier in the evening, Dodenhoff, Schutte and Golobic won the three heat races.
15 Jay’s Mobile Welding and Fabrication Pure Stocks started the night’s 20 lap feature, with points leader Nick Baldwin and Loren Chitwood leading the 15 car field to green. Baldwin jumped to the early lead, but had to fend off Scott Grunert and Dan Jinkerson. The three simultaneously fought for the lead over the opening eight laps until the caution flew for the 44 of Toby Mcintyre.
On the restart, Baldwin ran the middle of the track as Scott Grunert and Dan Jinkerson threaded the needle to split Baldwin off of turn two with Grunert taking command. Grunert and Jinkerson battled side by side for two laps until the 43 of Sam Bernstein came to a stop after looping his car in turn two.
During the yellow, Jason Palmer and Dan Smith made heavy contact causing Smith to retire. Smith showed his displeasure with Palmer as the two continued their rivalry from previous weeks.
When the green flag dropped again, Dan Jinkerson slid by Grunert on the bottom of the speedway, but the yellow flag waved as Jeff Gavard came to a stop, nullifying Jinkerson’s pass for the lead. However, upon the race resuming, Jinkerson once again took the lead. Third running Nick Baldwin got sideways which allowed Rick Grunert to sneak by into 3rd.
Coming to the checkered flag, Grunert tried one more time to get a shot at Jinkerson but the #29 of Jinkerson proved too tough to tame and went on to win his 4th feature in 2016 at Placerville. Baldwin finished third over Rick Grunert and Orville Owens.
“The race was pretty exciting up front between myself, Scott (Grunert) and Nick (Baldwin)”, a happy Jinkerson stated in the winner’s circle. “I just was in search mode and knew if I could get in the moisture off the exits of the corner then it would be hard to get around me tonight. I just want thank everyone for coming out and to thank (Promoter) Scott Russell for making tonight a racers type of track.”
Dan Smith and Orville Owens won the two heat races, while Jeff Nuss grabbed the RMI Hard Charger Bonus with his 7th place finish, after starting 13th.
11 Domco Plumbing Limited Late Models began their 20 lap feature with point leader Eddie Gardner and Ken Michelli setting the pace into turn 1 with Gardner taking command. The yellow flag was quickly drawn when Joey Olschowka spun and collected Mike Lightfoot.
Gardner led the field back to green over Will McMillan who then dispatched Gardner to second off of turn two. Matt Michelli followed suit into second and quickly challenged McMillan for the lead. The two battled hard for the lead for multiple laps until contact was made off of turn two on lap 12. Michelli’s right rear greeted McMillan’s right front, sending Micheli upside down. Fortunately, he was uninjured.
However, officials penalized McMillan for rough driving, sending him to the back of the field for the restart, and handing the lead to Tyler Lightfoot, who had moved to third prior to the crash, up from his 9th starting spot.
When the race resumed, Lightfoot checked out on the field, as Gardner and Ken Michelli battled back and forth for second over the remaiing 8 circuits. Tyler Lightfoot cruised on to get his first career win over Gardner, and Ken Micheli, while Mike Lightfoot rebounded from his opening lap incident to finish 4th, and Jay Bryant came home 5th. .
“It’s such a great experience to get my first win here at my home track”, said a very proud Tyler Lightfoot in victory lane. I have to give big thanks to my dad, and to all my sponsors for their support.”
McMillan and Matt Michelli won the two heat races, while Tyler Lightfoot’s win from 9th earned him the RMI Hard Charger Bonus.
Placerville Speedway returns to action with the King of the West Sprint Car Series along with the BCRA Midget Lites next Saturday, July 30th. Pit gates open at 2PM with the front gates opening at 3PM. Racing begins at 7PM.
For complete details of the 2016 Red Hawk Casino Championship Racing Season, visit Placerville Speedway’s official website at www.placervillespeedway.com.
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* Additional writing contributions by Dean Mills