Nebraska driver cashes in on final night of Winter Nationals

Nebraska driver cashes in on final night of Winter Nationals

By Randy Hoeft @YumaSunSports

It’s all in the timing, says Dylan Smith.

The driver who won everything in 2014 but had been shut out of victory lane through the first three nights of the 2015 IMCA Winter Nationals presented by Alexander Auto Centers, finally got the job done

Saturday night, taking the $3,000-to-win, 30-lap Modified Division finale.

“I had to get the big money. If I had to pick one to win, I had to pick the right one, right?” said a grinning Smith from atop victory lane.

A year ago it was the Dylan Smith Show as the former IMCA national champion from Osceola, Neb., won all four of the Modified Division feature events. But up until Saturday night Smith’s best finish in 2015 was a fifth the night before after finishing sixth and 11th during the first weekend of racing.

“To tell you the truth we didn’t plan it this way but we were kind of setting up for tonight,” said Smith. “We went aggressive with the setup. We were kind of pussyfooting it all week. We tried a bunch of different stuff last weekend and last night just to try to see what all we could do with the car and tonight it was pretty good.”

The final race of the 2015 Winter Nationals saw Phoenix’s Ricky Thornton Jr. bolt out to a huge lead from this starting spot outside on the front row. Smith started fourth and when he took over second place, Thornton was a half straightaway ahead.

But a caution flag erased Thornton’s lead, and Smith was there to take over.

“When I got to second, I knew we had a lot of laps left, so I was just kind of biding my time,” said Smith. “But when the yellow came out I knew I had to do something then. The way the track is, you have to utilize those cautions.”

What he didn’t know as that R.C. Whitwell, from Tucson, had maneuvered his way to the front as well after starting 14th. And as the race entered the final stages Smith and Whitwell waged a fierce battle with Smith running the top line and Whitwell on his bumper, diving low into the corners to pull ahead by inches, lap after lap. But each time Smith refused to blink, held his line and powered away at the exit of Turns 2 and 4.

“I knew neither of us was going to lift,” said Smith. “R.C. might have been a little faster but we held on for the win.”

Whitwell settled for second after winning the feature even on Friday night. In victory lane on Friday he said he hoped he hadn’t used up all of his luck before Saturday night’s finale.

Whitwell also won the opening-night feature event on Feb. 6.

On the Sport Modified level, four different drivers stepped into victory lane during the Winter Nationals, with Nick Spainhoward, from Bakersfield, winning Saturday’s night’s feature event after Holtville’s Chris Toth won on Friday night. A week earlier Yuma’s Timmy Reese won the opener and Brawley’s Sean Callens won on the second night.

In Stock Car action, Chula Vista’s Manny Baldiviez won Saturday night’s finale that at one time featured up to four cars battling for the lead all at once. One of those was Truman, Minn., driver Andy Altenburg, who was gunning for this third straight Winter Nationals win before contact with Baldiviez on the back straight resulted in Altenburg flipping over, his car sliding on its roof, then flipping back over, landing on its wheels. Altenburg walked away from the crash uninjured.

On the Hobby Stock level, Yuma’s Leonard Manos was able to make it three wins in a row, overtaking Yuma’s Jason Beshears early in the race then driving away from the field on Saturday night. On Friday night he came back from a spin early on the race to take the win.

Manos also won the Feb. 7 feature.

“We got ‘er done, three in a row,” said Manos from victory lane.

IMCA Winter Nationals Notebook

Another 57 IMCA “A” Modifieds were on hand for Saturday night’s finale. The lowest car count in the division for the four-night show was 55 on Feb. 7. The highest was 65 on Feb. 6.

Four different “A” Modified drivers parked their cars in Budweiser Victory Lane during the 2015 program after one driver won every night’s showcase race in 2014 and 2013.

Saturday night’s “A” Modified feature event paid $3,000 to the winner, Dylan Smith. The three other feature event wins were worth $1,000 each.

Nick Spainhoward’s nickname is “The Bakersfield Bullet.” Spainhoward, from Bakersfield, won Saturday night’s Sport Modified feature event.

Nick Spainhoward, from Bakersfield, who won Saturday night’s Sport Modified feature event, raced 63 races in 2014. This year, he said, “is the year to take it easy.”

IMCA “A” Modified driver Mike Jergens, from Plover, Iowa, goes by the nickname “The Flying Banana.”

Cocopah Speedway has a new IMCA “A” Modified track record: 19.274 seconds, by Gilbert’s Ricky Thornton, Jr., turned in during Saturday night’s first heat race.

Yuma’s David White became the first local driver to win a Winter Nationals heat race in the “A” Modified Division. He pulled off the feat during Friday night’s second heat race.

Yuma’s Bobby Horton became the first local driver to win a Winter Nationals “A” Modified Division, “B” main qualifier. He drove away with Saturday night’s third, 12-lap, 15-car qualifying win.

IMCA “A” Modified driver Robert Miller, from Gardenville, Nev., was pressed into service to sing the National Anthem during Saturday night’s opening ceremony. He demonstrated that if this racing gig doesn’t work out, he can definitely make a living singing. Yes, he was that good.

– Randy Hoeft

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