Bring it on – Yuma looks to end Turkey Bowl drought
In the short history of the Turkey Classic at Cocopah Speedway, no local driver has fared any better than seventh in the annual holiday affair.
As a matter of fact, one driver said he’s been entering the Thanksgiving weekend race since the late 1960s at then-Yuma Speedway, and he hasn’t finished one of them.
But that could all change in 2012.
A handful of drivers, some with new or borrowed cars, some with a new sense of determination, who all call Yuma home, are primed and ready for the two-day event for Pro-Stock Division dirt cars, which kicks off Friday night at Cocopah Speedway.
“This is the event where I believe our local drivers can really shine,” said Greg Burgess, director of operations at Cocopah Speedway. “Unfortunately for them, it is also the event that attracts a lot of fast cars from throughout the Southwest, which makes the field pretty strong.
“I don’t mean to take anything away from our guys, but winning it all is a pretty big job for anyone, whether they’re from around here or from California or Texas or Colorado.”
The program begins Friday night with a full program for the Pro-Stocks, climaxing with a 25-lap feature event.
Saturday the Pro-Stocks take the track again for a full program, this time climaxing with a 35-lap feature event. Saturday night’s winner will pocket $3,000.
The format has changed from years past with the 50-lap feature event on Saturday night being eliminated. The 35-lap feature event and a long list of preliminary races take its place. Also, in the last two years since Cocopah Speedway reopened, there was never a separate program on Friday. This year there is the 25-lap feature, with the top two finishers guaranteed starting positions in Saturday’s main event.
“More than ever drivers will see the importance of taking care of their cars early so that they can be there at the end for the big show,” said Burgess.
Yuma’s Brett Simala figures he will be one of those drivers. And he has the credentials to back it up, namely six Pro-Stock Division feature event wins so far in the 2011-2012 Cocopah Speedway Racing Series.
A year ago Simala finished sixth in the Turkey Classic, in a car he had raced only three times prior to the event.
“This year the car is a whole lot different,” he said. “Last year, when the Turkey Race got here, we were still making adjustments. The car is completely different now from where it was last year at this time. Right I now feel more comfortable than I’ve ever felt in the car.”
Simala said the key to getting the big payday is to be focused.
“No matter if you’re in a race with 10 cars or a big race, you have to stay focused on yourself,” he said. “Go out and run your race, staying focused. If the car is prepared, no excuses; stay focused and do your job.”
Kent Rosevear said the key for him will be if he can keep his car together. He will be a hired gun this weekend, driving the Pro-Stock owned by Joe Haines.
“The key for me is to not break the car. I have the ability for some reason to break it,” said Rosevear, who finished 12th in another car that broke in 2010. “So I’ve tried to go through everything to make sure it’s perfect. I think I’ve prepared the car to where it can take it. So I’m not worried about it.”
That concern aside, Rosevear said his strategy is simple: Full speed ahead.
“I’m not messing around. I want to set the fastest qualifying lap and I want to win,” said the hard-driving veteran. “I’m not going to run top five. If I knew I was going to run fifth, I wouldn’t even go. I’m going to win.”
In contrast, Adolfo Noriega says he doesn’t have the equipment to make a charge to the front. But that’s not a concern.
His strategy, he said, “is surviving toward the end, and if the tires are in good in shape and the car is in good shape we can start working on some cars. It’s not going to be as easy as the Street Stocks because everybody comes with something to the big race, everybody has a fast car.”
In 2010 Noriega finished seventh and he was 12th in 2011.
This season, in the track’s Street Stock series, Noriega has won 12 feature events. But in his Pro-Stock, “If we can get the car handling right, I know the track pretty well and we might be able to get it toward the front. That’s what we’re shooting for, a good respectable finish. We don’t have a winning car for this show but I think we have a car that run respectable.”
Shane Darnell, meanwhile, brought a new Pro-Stock for the Dec. 3 show, and retired early with a broken transmission. But he’s not letting that little setback curb his enthusiasm.
“I’m just there to race,” said the Pro-Stock rookie. “We’ll be testing the new car out and see what we can do.
“Everybody’s got money except for me, so I’m going to go show them what no money can do.”
A driver who is no stranger to the Turkey Classic is David White, who, like Noriega, is taking a wait and see, patient approach to the race.
“My strategy is to just survive,” he said with a laugh. “I want to log some laps and see if the other guys take themselves out like what normally happens with these big money races. I just have to survive the early mayhem and see what happens at the end.”
He’s also a little apprehensive because he is using a motor loaned to him by local race car fabricator Scott Jeffery.
“Scott convinced me that I don’t have to worry about it, if it blows up, it blows up,” said White. “He said it’s no big deal.
“I’ll probably be under-horsepowered,” continued White. “I know there are guys who have much bigger motors and much more horsepower, like Simala and (Frankie) Rascon and those guys. I’m just hoping to get some laps in, just go have fun.
“I just want to place up as high as I can, do the best I can with what I have.”
A year ago White got in one lap when his motor expired, leaving him with a 22nd place finish.
Dan Westbrook knows all about bad luck in the Turkey Classic.
“I’ve never won one. I’ve never finished one,” he said.
“I’m just trying to finish. I’ve been in a lot of Turkey Classics but I always break down before it’s over with, you know.”
Westbrook, 69, said he raced his first Thanksgiving show in 1969 at then-Yuma Speedway.
“I’m going to be out there with all the young boys,” said Westbrook, “trying to give them a hard time, trying to win.”
Missing from the lineup is the race’s defending champion, Lance Mari, from Brawley. Mari instead is headed to an IMCA Modified show at Casa Grande.
A year ago Mari won the Turkey Classic in a car owned by Brawley’s Tim Allen. This year Allen’s son, Russell Allen, will drive the car.
Also in the lineup will be 2010 champion Brent Ashurst, from Brawley.
Friday night’s show will also include the track’s Factory Stock Division as the undercard event, and Saturday night’s show will include the Street Stocks as the undercard event.
Racing both nights begins at 7.
SPARE PARTS: Cocopah Speedway is located at U.S. 95 and County 15th Street; general admission gates open at 5 p.m.; tickets are: adults – $12; adult military with ID – $10; seniors (55 and older) – $10; children 12 years old and under – free; family pass – $305; pit pass – $30. Fans can get live racing lineups during the races and results afterward by going to www.cocopahlive.com; Fans can also access live in-race scoring and lap times by going to mylaps.com. For more information call 344-1563 or go to www.cocopahspeedway.com.