Milestone events mark 2013 opening weekend at Cocopah Speedway
There were firsts, and then there were not-so-firsts.
That was how the opening weekend of the 2013 Cocopah Speedway Racing Series at the Somerton oval played out with Round 1 on Friday night and Round 2 on Saturday.
On the list of firsts, Yuma’s Joey Essary won his first career feature event on Friday night, the same night the track’s new main grandstand was put into use for the first time, and Yuma’s Ty Rogers won the first two IMCA Sport Modified Division feature events ever run on the track.
Also, Yuma’s two-time defending Street Stock Division champion, Adolfo Noriega, finds himself not atop the leader board for the first time ever after he blew a motor on Friday night. He salvaged the weekend though by coming back to win Saturday night’s feature event.
On the list of not-so-firsts, Yuma’s Brett Simala picked up right where he left off in 2011-2012, winning the weekend’s two Pro-Stock Division feature events, while Yuma’s Miles Morris won back-to-back feature events in the Factory Stock Division, proving the driver who won four feature events last season is going to be a force to be reckoned with in 2013.
And in the two IMCA Modified Division feature events, Imperial’s Lance Mari won the Friday night feature while Chandler’s Ricky Thornton Jr. drove off with Saturday night’s feature event win.
“Except for some problems with the racing surface on Friday night, I don’t think I could have asked for a smoother or better opening program for the season,” said a smiling Greg Burgess, Cocopah Speedway’s director of operations, after the last checkered flag flew Saturday night. “We had a great car count, 70 on Friday and about the same tonight, with a bunch of Modifieds in the house who were here to get ready for our next event, the Winter Nationals (Feb. 7, 8 and 9).
“And judging by what I saw in our two Modified racing programs, it’s going to be a great Nationals.”
On Friday night, Morris won the first feature event of the 2013 season when he drove away from the field in the 11-car Factory Stock finale.
Saturday night he came back and did the same thing, besting a 10-car field to take the win.
He was rewarded for his efforts with the No. 1 spot in the series standings after two races.
Friday night’s IMCA Sport Modified feature was the first for division, which is new to the Cocopah Speedway Racing Series lineup this season, but Rogers made it look easy as he powered away from the six-car field to take the win. On Saturday, with the field up to seven cars, Rogers did the same thing and revealed afterward that while living in the Midwest until moving to Yuma recently he had been racing in the division for some time.
When Friday night’s 15-car Street Stock Division feature event field rolled out onto the track, the question on most everyone’s mind was if anyone could stop Noriega, who tied the track record for feature event wins in a season (13) in 2011-2012. And when he moved out front early on, it didn’t look that way.
But a trail of smoke from Noriega’s car and an expired motor ended his night early.
And another top contender, Brawley’s Steven Daffern, saw his bid for the win go flat, literally, when a flattened right rear forced him to duck into the pit for a new tire.
When everything was sorted out, Essary, the division’s Rookie of the Year last season, found himself at the front of the pack, with two, more experienced drivers, Dave Amos and Mike Harlin, breathing down his neck.
“I felt like an antelope with a lion chasing me,” said Essary afterward. “I could feel them back there.”
But Essary refused to flinch and drove flawlessly to the checkered flag.
“I guess hard work pays off,” he said.
Noriega will attest to that. He and his crew left the track, went directly to his shop and began the process of removing the spent motor and installing another one, finishing up about 2 a.m., he said.
The new motor, however, is not new, but a reliable power plant he has used since he raced at Imperial Valley Speedway in the early 2000s. It is so reliable, that when the green flag flew for Saturday night’s 16-car feature event, he moved out front early and was never threatened.
But the damage had already been done. Coupled with his misfortune on Friday night, Noriega left the track Saturday night ranked fifth in the series point standings. He had not been out of the No. 1 spot ever, since the track re-opened in September 2010.
The lead is shared by Daffern, on the strength of coming back to finish third on Friday and finishing second on Saturday, and Amos, who finished second on Friday and was third Saturday.
Essary, who finished sixth on Saturday night, is ranked No. 3.
“See, I told you this might wind up being our showcase division,” said Burgess. “These guys are going to put on a great show every time they are out there.”
In Pro-Stock action, Simala, who won seven feature events last season, proved he can win from just about anywhere in the lineup. On Friday he lined up for the feature event in the second row, and on Saturday he was ninth in the 10-car field.
Both nights he weaved his way through traffic and except for a late scare from Joseph Altig on Saturday night, was the dominate driver.
He explained that when Altig closed in on him late in the Saturday night feature, it was partly due to the fact that Simala had quit watching his father’s hand signals while exiting Turn 4 and was “pretty much in cruise control.”
That won’t happen again, he said.
The two IMCA Modified features saw the lineup dotted with drivers who were on hand for the 2012 national event, who were back to get a feel for the track leading up to the 2013 showdown.
On Friday, North Dakota driver Marlyn Seidler seemed to have the race won before Mari pulled off a slick pass for the lead in the final turn to steal the win.
On Saturday, Thornton, who was not heard from on Friday night and sought out advice from Seidler on Saturday, checked out early and was never challenged.