USAC Southwest Series invades Somerton Oval

USAC Southwest Series invades Somerton Oval

By Randy Hoeft @YumaSunSports

Greg Burgess might have a problem.

The director of operations at Cocopah Speedway has only one spotlight, and he will most likely need two Saturday night. 

That’s because the racing program at the Somerton oval is supposed to feature a special appearance by the USAC Southwest Sprint Car Series, but the high-octane, non-winged sprinters will be hard pressed to steal the show from what is supposed to be the undercard event, Round 4 in the 2015 Cocopah Speedway Racing Series.

“If there is going to be a problem, it’s certainly the kind of problem I’m happy to deal with,” said Burgess this week as track personnel prepared for the much anticipated show.

“If there is a problem, it’s exactly what we’re hoping for, as in the show is going to be so good, the fans can’t decide which part of it they enjoyed most.

“That’s the kind of problem I’d like to deal with every weekend, if you want to know the truth.

“The bottom line is, we’ve got a great show, the weather is going to be great, we’ve got a great facility … this is the place to be Saturday night.”

The program is scheduled to get under way with the first green flag at 7 p.m. and will include the USAC sprint cars and all four of the Cocopah Speedway Racing Series divisions – IMCA Modified, IMCA Sport Modified, IMCA Stock Car and IMCA Hobby Stock.

The marquee event is billed as the sprint car battle, featuring veteran Stevie Sussex, from Phoenix, the current Southwest Series point leader, and defending series champion R.J. Johnson, also from Phoenix, who is second in the points.

Johnson is coming off a win in the “Hank Arnold Memorial” event on March 28 at Canyon Raceway Park, in which he passed Sussex for the win on the last lap of the 30-lap race.

“There might be a score to settle there. I’m not sure,” said Burgess. “Let’s leave it at that, and see what happens Saturday night.”

The sprint car field is also expected to include Yuma driver Mike Martin, who is currently sixth in the series standings.

The “undercard” meanwhile, is dotted with a number of dramatic scenarios.

Starting from the top, the IMCA Modified Division features a point leader who is making a 4 ½-hour drive, one-way, to be in each show. Jeffry Sheppard Jr., from Golden Valley, which is west of Kingman, enters Saturday night’s show with a six-point lead over Imperial’s Steven McCollough.

Sheppard said after the March 28 show that he is committed to racing in the Cocopah Speedway Racing Series.

“I do plan on running your guys’ full season,” said the multi-time champion at Mohave Valley Raceway and former Arizona state champion. “I love the track over here; I do. I love the promoters and their attitude … and I like the atmosphere over here.

“In 2005 and 2006 I won the Arizona state championship twice, and I’ve won Mohave’s championship five times, so I would really like to try and go for a championship somewhere else, like here. So hopefully we’ll have a good year.”

McCollough appears determined to not let that happen. In fact, he is so determined he borrowed a car for the March 28 show at Cocopah Speedway after his own car was badly damaged in a race the night before at Imperial Valley Speedway. Not wanting to lose any points in the title race and maintain pace with Sheppard, he finished fifth in the car owned by San Diego’s Larry Corning.

“I don’t know if Steve is on a mission, but he’s doing what he can to stay in the race,” said Burgess. “You have to admire that.”

In the Stock Car Division, there is a new leader who, for the first time in a long time, is not Manny Baldiviez or Adolfo Noriega.

Yuma’s Joey Essary assumed the top spot after the conclusion of racing on March 28, and takes the track Saturday night with a one-point edge over Baldiviez, who finished second to Noriega in the title chase in 2014.

“That is good top see, new faces rising to the top,” said Burgess.

Baldiviez, the winner of two feature events so far in 2015, was involved in a roll-over crash on March 28. He was not injured and said this week, “It’s been a busy two weeks for a new body. We will be ready for Saturday night.”

Also in the title hunt is Yuma’s Jimmy Davy, who won the March 28 feature event and is four points out of first place.

On the Hobby Stock level, “we’ve got a great race for the championship developing” said Burgess. “Look at what has happened so far this season – three feature events, three different feature event winners. You can’t ask for more than that. Right now, with the way these guys are going, you have no idea who is going to win next.”

Yuma’s Jason Beshears, the winner of the March 28 feature event, comes back to the track Saturday with a three-point lead over Yuma’s Leonard Manos, and a four-point lead over Yuma’s Leonard Jones. Manos and Jones are the other two feature event winners in 2015.

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