2015 Cocopah Speedway Racing Series gets under way Friday
Here are the straight facts.
No, there won’t be any 13-second, 100-mph laps.
However, what the Cocopah Speedway Racing Series may lack in raw speed, it more than makes up for in drama, storylines and bumper-to-bumper driving.
Less than a week after watching the inaugural Winter Heat Sprint Car Showdown and the 800-horsepower, winged sprint cars fly around the Somerton oval, race fans will return Friday night for the 2015 season opener in the local racing series, “which is going to be the best one we’ve seen since this track re-opened,” said Greg Burgess, Cocopah Speedway’s director of operations.
“And even though I was not here when the track was open in the 1990s, I would be willing to go as far as to say this season is going to be the best ever at this track. Yes, it’s going to be that good.”
And he’s got plenty of facts to back up his claim.
For example, this will be the first official season for the IMCA Stock Car Division, formerly known as the Street Stock Division.
This will also be the first year the track is entirely IMCA sanctioned, meaning all four of the racing divisions in the year-long series are IMCA classifications. The showcase division is the IMCA Modified Division, also known as the “A Mod” division. It is complimented by the IMCA Sport Mod Division, also known as the “B Mod” division; the aforementioned IMCA Stock Car Division; and the IMCA Hobby Stock Division.
Next, gone is the Pro-Stock Division.
Also gone is the track’s three-time Street Stock champion.
Coming back are drivers with scores to settle, points to be earned and some who have never sat behind the wheel of a dirt track race car.
“I don’t know where to begin when someone asks me what is going to be so special about the 2015 season,” said Burgess. “Pick just about any driver, in any division and there is a story to be told, or a story that’s not yet written, but you know it’s going to be good.”
The biggest change in the track’s annual racing series is the elimination of the long-standing Pro-Stock Division. It is the division that the annual Turkey Classic in November was built around, but a steadily dwindling car count led to its being left off the lineup in 2015.
“Realistically, we cannot continue to pay a purse in a division that regularly fields no more than seven or eight cars,” said Burgess. “It’s just the way it is.”
That means the 2014 division champion, Brent Ashurst, from Brawley, has to find a new division to race in at Cocopah Speedway, or another track at which to race his Pro-Stock.
The same goes for seasoned Yuma driver Brett Simala, who racked up double-digit wins in the division over the last three seasons.
Ashust has reportedly decided to get into an IMCA Sport Mod, and Simala is bringing out an IMCA Modified.
Yuma’s Steve Anthony, meanwhile, another Pro-Stock competitor, has purchased the IMCA Stock Car of another Yuma driver, Adolfo Noriega.
But there is no word on the plans for Yuma’s ageless racing veteran, Dan Westbrook, who campaigned a car at then-Yuma Speedway when it opened in 1968 and raced in the 2014 Cocopah Speedway Racing Series.
“Wherever these drivers wind up, I know they will be successful,” said Burgess. “And I hope they choose to race with us, because no matter what division they choose, they will certainly raise the level of competition.”
The Street Stock Division, meanwhile, began the transition to IMCA Stock Car in 2013, but by the start of 2014 many of the drivers had already made the switch. Those drivers included Noriega, who won the last “Street Stock” championship, which was his third, and then decided to hang it up – on the dirt.
Noriega, who did not miss a race at Cocopah Speedway from when it re-opened in 2010 to the final race in 2014, has decided to go asphalt racing in 2015.
“The thought of taking on a completely new challenge is exciting. I think it’s what my team and I needed,” said Noriega this week. “Even though we’re planning on running a limited schedule in 2015, there’s already a sense of renewed enthusiasm in my shop.”
Still, the thought of not loading up for a race at Cocopah Speedway this weekend is going to be different, admitted Noriega.
“It’s going to feel a bit odd, driving north to watch a race at Havasu 95 Speedway when we would normally be heading to Cocopah Speedway. We had quite a streak going.”
But the cupboard is not bare, by any means. Returning for the 2015 IMCA Stock Car campaign are a number of drivers who contended for the Street Stock title in 2014, including Chula Vista’s Manny Baldiviez, who missed winning the championship by two points, and Yuma’s Jimmy Davy, Joey Essary and Jordan White, and Brawley’s Tommy Daffern and Steven Daffern.
And then there’s the newcomer, Anthony.
In the year-old IMCA Hobby Stock Division, formerly the Factory Stock Division, Yuma’s Craig Ebers will be back to defend his championship, along with Yuma’s Brent Wofford, who came close to winning the 2015 title.
Other top contenders include Yuma’s Brian Johnson and Jason Beshears, and Brawley’s Amy Teague.
Also, Yuma’s Leonard Manos, who exploded onto the racing scene in 2014 by coming out and running away with three straight feature event wins before a freak accident ended in a head-on collision with a concrete safety barrier, will be back out in a new car.
And the IMCA Hobby Stock purchased by 2013 Factory Stock champion Miles Morris, will be driven by his 14-year-old son Mason.
“I’m bolting his custom-made seat in tonight,” said Miles Morris on Tuesday. “He’s gonna drive it around the vacant subdivision Wednesday or Thursday, but I got the green light from his mom, and all the safety equipment, so he will most likely tag the back and give it a go. He’s nervous though.”
“That’s a great story,” said Burgess. “We’re talking about a driver introducing his children to the sport, which is awesome. This is how this sport survives, with young drivers coming in and feeding the talent pool.”
Not that the talent pool is running dry, however.
On the IMCA Modified level, Yuma’s Bobby Horton will be back to defend his first-ever championship won in 2014, and the talented wheelman will no doubt find the going tough with a field of other strong drivers looking to take his throne away, including Somerton’s Ty Rogers, Imperial’s Lance Mari and Brawley’s Steven McCollough and Russell Allen, who finished second through fifth, respectively, in the final standings and won six feature events between them.
Missing is hired gun Brain Schultz, from Coolidge, who was driving for car owner Les Evans in 2014 and won the Fall Series championship. Evans has reportedly sold the car to another Yuma driver, David White.
On the IMCA Sport Mod level, Yuma’s Josh Wood returns to defend his first career championship, also won in 2014, on the strength of four feature event wins. Finishing a scant two points behind Wood was Holtville’s Chris Toth, who won five feature events in 2014, including three of the last four.
Yuma’s Timmy Reese, who also won four feature events in 2014, will figure into the mix as well.
“It goes without saying that this division is going to be an absolute dog fight,” said Burgess. “These guys, along with other drivers like Miles Morris, Cody Daffern and James Dupre, were so close last season I do not see how they could race any closer in 2015.”