It’s an up-close-and-personal night at Cocopah Speedway

It’s an up-close-and-personal night at Cocopah Speedway

Fan appreciation event precedes Round 5 in 2015 racing series —
Helmets, fire suits and gloves will not be required.

But a camera might be a good idea.

It’s the fans who will take the track Saturday at Cocopah Speedway in an annual event at the Somerton oval dubbed Fan Appreciation Night 2015. The event will allow fans to come down from the grandstand onto the front straight, where the cars entered in Saturday night’s show will be parked. Fans will have the opportunity to talk with the drivers and crews, get autographs and snap as many selfies as they wish.

“I love this event,” said Greg Burgess, Cocopah Speedway’s director of operations. “This is a great opportunity for the fans to get some one-on-one time with the drivers, to meet them, talk with them, get someone’s autograph, or take a picture with someone like Manny (Baldiviez) or Chris (Toth).

“The only downside is the track will be ready to race on, so everyone should be prepared to be scraping some mud off their shoes.

“But then again, this is dirt track racing. It’s all part of the ambiance, the experience,” said Burgess with a laugh.

The program begins at 7 p.m. and along with the Fan Appreciation event, there will be a full schedule of racing in all four divisions in the 2015 Cocopah Speedway Racing Series.

“It’s going to be an awesome night,” continued Burgess. “Where else can you stand right up next to and talk with the stars and then get to cheer for them? I can’t think of anywhere else in any other sport.”

After the fans are ushered back into the grandstand, the focus will shift to the drivers trying to take another step toward winning a season driving championship.

The only trouble is, no one is sure where the spotlight should shine brightest.

The biggest point difference among the four racing divisions is in the IMCA Sport Modified Division where Toth, from Holtville, currently enjoys a six point edge over Somerton’s Joshua Cordova.

“What I find interesting in that division,” said Burgess, “is the drivers in second through fifth place were not title contenders a year ago. So the complexion has sure changed.”

Looking at the numbers, fifth place belongs to rookie Kyle Smith, from Yuma, who is 13 points behind Toth.

In the IMCA Modified Division, Jeff Sheppard Jr., from Golden Valley, is on top, with a four-point advantage over Brawley’s Steven McCollough. Two weeks ago Sheppard was six points out front, “so Steven is doing everything he can to take over the lead,” said Burgess.

One of the most notable developments in this division, however, is the report that the defending track champion, Yuma’s Bobby Horton, has chosen to step away from racing for a while.

“You know me, I’ll never be done racing,” said Horton, who confirmed the report. “I’m just done for right now. I have a lot of things gong on right now.”

Through the first four races of the season Horton had not won a feature event and is currently 14th in the standings, 66 points out of first place.

In the IMCA Stock Car Division, Baldiviez, from Yuma, fell out of the top spot two races ago when he rolled his car during the feature event, then came back two weeks ago, won his third feature event of the season and reasserted himself as the driver to beat atop the standings.

Entering Saturday night’s Round 5 in the championship series, Baldiviez is two points ahead of Yuma’s Joey Essary, with Yuma’s Jimmy Davy lurking two points behind Essary.

On the IMCA Hobby Stock level, meanwhile, the division has had four different feature event winners in four races, and has had three different point leaders.

Heading into Saturday night’s racing card Yuma’s Leonard Manos is the latest driver to lead the title chase. Manos, who has won one feature event so far in 2015, is three points ahead of Yuma’s Leonard Jones, and four points ahead of Yuma’s Jason Beshears.

Jones, Beshears and Yuma’s Brent Wofford are the winners of the other three feature events.

Defending champion Craig Ebers is yet to win a feature event.

“This is turning into a fun division to watch,” said Burgess. “A year ago, in the first year the Hobby Stock Division existed, we had a low car count, but now we’ve got enough to run a 20-lap feature event, and each time we do, it’s anybody’s guess who will be the winner.”

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