Tucson’s Whitwell has eventful weekend at Turkey Classic
On a holiday weekend when it is tradition to pause and give thanks, R.C. Whitwell was most thankful for having a race car with four wheels.
On the opening night of the sixth annual Turkey Classic at Cocopah Speedway, the veteran from Tucson drove to a second-place finish in the 25-lap IMCA Modified Division feature event with a race car that had a broken left front spindle, then came back for the 35-lap Saturday night feature event and with all four wheels intact drove to the win.
“I knew if I kept the left front end on it tonight I’d have a real good piece,” said a smiling Whitwell from Budweiser Victory Lane on Saturday night.
He was right. Whitwell started eighth on the 24-car grid, was in first place after two laps and began lapping slower cars on the eighth lap. Not even a handful of caution flags which regrouped the field could slow him down. At the finish, Whitwell as a full straightaway ahead of his nearest challenger, his car owner, Mike Wedelstadt, who one of the cars Whitwell passed on the way to the front.
On Friday, Whitwell said he had a fast car too, but his haste to get from 14th on the grid to the front did him in.
“It was early in the race, the second lap, and I should have been more patient and I was trying to get into a hole I wasn’t going to fit,” Whitwell said. “And I got sandwiched and my front end got smashed real hard and the next thing you know the left front spindle broke and I’m dragging my left front across the track the whole night.
“My car was so good still and I was able to drive up from 14th or 16th up to second and was right there with the leader at the end.”
The leader was Imperial’s Lance Mari, who led every lap from start to finish to win the race and said afterward he knew Whitwell was coming.
“When you have Mr. R.C. Whitwell behind you, Whitwell on the black means you don’t have much time,” said Mari, referring to the track surface during the race. “You give him something that is slick, you better get on the gas and haul ass because he’s coming. That’s about all I can say.”
Apparently it works both ways. Whitwell said when he got into the lead on Saturday night, “I kept watching the scoreboard … making sure no numbers were moving up on there, making sure no one was coming through the field, and I was really worried about that Lance Mari who won last night. He’s been super good down here.”
In other Turkey Classic action, Yuma’s Leonard Manos won both of the IMCA Hobby Stock Division feature events; Andy Altenburg, from Truman, Minn., won both of the IMCA Stock Car Division feature events; and Yuma’s Kyle Smith won the Friday night IMCA Sport Modified feature event while Brawley’s Sean Callens won the Saturday night feature event.
The closest race of the weekend was Saturday night’s Hobby Stock finale, which saw Manos dice it out with another Yuma driver, Bob Horton for a number of laps, exchanging the lead until Manos got the win.
“I knew Bob was going to give me a run of my money. He’s gotten quick with that car of his,” said Manos after taking Saturday night’s win.
“When I got here tonight, and when I knew who was here, I knew Bob was going to be the guy to contend with.”
When the 15-lap race started, Horton was on the pole and Manos was on the outside of the second row.
“I wasn’t going to let him get away from me, I knew I had to reel him in quick,” Manos said. “ I had to get up to him on the first lap and I did, I got to his bumper coming off of two on the very first turn.”
After that what had started as a seven-car race turned into a two-car event as the two pulled away while battling for the lead.