Locals drivers overcome penalties to get wins in IMCA Winter Nationals
Zeros to heroes.
That would sum up the two nights a couple of the feature event winners experienced in the fourth annual IMCA Winter Nationals presented by Alexander Auto Centers at Cocopah Speedway.
Brawley’s Sean Callens waged a thrilling back-and-fourth battle with Yuma’s Timmy Reese in the Friday night IMCA Sport Mod feature event before eventually settling for second place, then getting disqualified in post-race technical inspection.
He then regrouped, came back Saturday night and drove off with the win in convincing fashion. And more importantly, he passed the tech inspection.
Leonard Manos, meanwhile, drove to a second place finish in the Friday night IMCA Hobby Stock feature event and then, like Callens, failed the post-race tech inspection and was also disqualified.
So Manos did what he had to do between Friday night and Saturday, came back out, overcame some huge odds and rolled to the feature event win.
The two performances put an exclamation point on two milestone nights of racing that saw a track record 66 IMCA “A” Modifieds in the pit for Friday night’s show, and another 54 on hand for Saturday night’s show.
And unlike the 2014 and 2013 events, which saw one driver dominate the “A” Modified field, sweeping the feature event wins, the first two nights’ feature event wins in the 2015 event went to two different drivers.
Also, the 2015 event marks the first appearance by the IMCA Stock Car Division, and it did not disappoint.
“We had two fabulous nights of racing,” said Greg Burgess, Cocopah Speedway’s director of operations. “Man, after what we saw Friday and tonight (Saturday), I know I can’t wait to see what happens next weekend.”
The event concludes with two more nights of racing on Friday and Saturday, with a bowling tournament and car show scheduled in between on Tuesday and Thursday. The Winter Nationals Bowling Tournament is set for Tuesday night at Wild River Entertainment Center, and the Winter Nationals Fanfest and Car Show is Thursday night, also at Wild River.
“We had 104 cars in the house Friday night, and 94 on Saturday, which tells me this event is really starting to take off,” said Burgess.
On Night 1, Tucson’s R.C. Whitwell emerged from the 65-car field as the best of the best, winning the 25-lap event after starting 12th on the grid.
Afterward he said he was only hoping for a top-five finish.
“With all these fast cars here, I was like, ‘If I can get in the top five that would be an awesome night,”‘ said Whitwell.
The Sport Mod win went to Reese after battling Callens the whole way, with Reese riding the high line and Callens in the low line.
“I kept my head on for most of the time,” said Reese. “I had a couple of bobbles, but as long as you don’t over drive it on the way in, which I started to do a couple of times and then I just backed off and ran my race.”
In the Stock Car feature, Chula Vista’s Manny Baldiviez started outside on the front row, grabbed the lead when the green flag flew and never looked back.
And in the Hobby Stock finale, Scott Shaw, from Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, drove a car he had just purchased all the way to victory lane.
“I thought I might as well take my car down here and learn all of the tricks of it down here, and it worked out good,” said Shaw afterward.
Manos tried to catch Shaw and settled for what he thought was second place. But in the post-race inspection his new car was found to be missing some door bars, and he was disqualified.
So, he went home, installed the bars, came back for Night 2 and was again in the mix at the front when he was told to go to the pit because sheet metal was hanging from the rear of his car.
Fortunately, he was able to rejoin the race without losing a lap, and he made his way back to the front where he watched Shaw and Yuma’s Brent Wofford trade paint at the exit to Turn 2.
“As soon as I seen it, I knew that I had it,” said Manos, who drove to the outside, around the pair and into the lead.
“When I buzzed past them I just thought, ‘Man, just keep it clean, keep it clean, keep going forward.”
Callens, meanwhile, replaced a broken rev limiter that cost him a second place finish on Friday, came back Saturday and drove to the Sport Mod win after starting fifth on the grid.
“I just tried to keep my cool and not get flustered and have fun,” said Callens afterward.
In the Stock Car feature event on Saturday night, Baldiviez got into a wreck on Lap 3 and his car wound up being locked up with the car of Yuma’s Jordan White. After the front cowl on Baldiviez’ car was removed, along with part of his front bumper to get free, he went to the back of the 11-car field and drove all the way back to second place.
The win went to Andrew Altenburg, of Truman, Minn.
And in Saturday night’s “A” Modified finale, Hunter Marriott, from Brookfield, Mo., drove a flawless race, starting on the outside of the front row and leading every lap of the 25-lap event that went flag to flag without a caution flag.