Imperial’s Mari leads march to crowns at Cocopah Speedway
In all of the pre-race hype, there was no exclamation point in “Championship Night” at Cocopah Speedway.
So, Lance Mari added one.
The veteran from Imperial started the last night of the 2015 Cocopah Speedway Racing Series in second place in the race to the IMCA Modified Division title, seven points out of first place. Before the night started he said he would do all he could do, but the rest was out of his control.
He then drove off with the feature event win in convincing fashion and in the process caught and overtook his Imperial Valley neighbor, Steven McCollough, to win his first series title at the Somerton oval.
McCollough, who was faced with having to finish no more than seven positions behind Mari in the final race of the season to secure his first title, ran into trouble early in the 25-lap event, hitting the wall at the exit to Turn 2 and later coasting into the infield. He then walked to top of Budweiser Victory Lane where he stood and watched Mari drive off with the race win and the championship.
“It feels good, comforting,” said Mari after parking his car near where McCollough had been standing. A disappointed McCollough had walked back to his car before Mari got there.
“It’s about time, right?” said Mari, who has been in position to win a Cocopah Speedway Racing Series title in previous years but fell short for one reason or another.
“I didn’t know if the 15 (McCollough) got into a wreck. I was hoping someone didn’t get into him, I was hoping that wasn’t the case,” he added. “But I’ve had that happen to me. I should have been way far out of this and it should have been sewed up before I even got onto the track, but I’ve been taken out, DNF’d, yadda, yadda, yadda.”
McCollough said afterward, “I had a little help finding the back straight wall and broke my ‘J’ bar. I knew it was broke for a few laps, but I wanted to run it until the wheels fell off.”
In other racing action Saturday night, the point leaders in the other three divisions also did not drive to a feature event win, but each of them still accumulated enough points to secure their individual titles.
Yuma’s Manny Baldiviez won the IMCA Stock Car championship after finishing fourth in his feature event, while his nearest challenger, Yuma’s Jimmy Davy, did not finish the race, although he led it for a short time.
Holtville’s Chris Toth won the IMCA Sport Modified championship despite being scored as a DNF in seventh place. His nearest challenger, Imperial’s Corey Clayton, finished second in Saturday night’s feature, but the effort only cut Toth’s 23-point lead to 18.
And Yuma’s Leonard Manos took home the IMCA Hobby Stock title after finishing third in his feature event. He started the night seven points ahead of Yuma’s Jason Beshears and had an eight-point lead when it was over after Beshears finished fourth.
The night’s feature event winners, aside from Mari, were Yuma rookie Kyle Smith in the Sport Modified Division; Truman, Minn., driver Andy Altenburg, in the Stock Car Division, and Yuma’s Bob Horton in the Hobby Stock Division.
In the Modified finale, Mari started eighth on the grid, made his way to the front and diced it out with Yuma’s Bobby Horton and Brett Simala before taking control of the race. When a yellow flag on the 18th lap flew, Mari had almost a full straightaway lead, which was then erased. That allowed Tucson’s R.C. Whitwell, who had moved through the field, to start in second place. But Mari did not flinch and drove away from Whitwell, who just one week earlier had dominated the final night of the Turkey Classic.
The Street Stock finale held the night’s most drama, and it had little to do with Baldiviez’ trying to hold on and win the championship. The focus instead was on Andy Altenburg, from Truman, Minn., and Troy Jerovetz, from Green Bay, Wisc. Earlier in the day the two drivers and been at Canyon Speedway Park outside of Phoenix, competing in the Holiday Hustle 100. When they were done there they loaded up and made the three-hour trek to Cocopah Speedway.
They did not arrive in time for heat race action and consequently were forced to line up at the back of the Stock Car feature event. That made little difference though as the two motored to the front and when the 20-lap event was over, Altenburg, who won both feature events in the Turkey Classic, had won for a third straight time with Jerovetz finishing second.
“What the hell, we were in the area,” said a laughing Algtenburg afterward when asked about the road trip. “We came to race. I love this place. It’s pretty obvious.”
“Those boys from the Midwest are fast this year, really fast,” Baldiviez said. “They were pushing me around like I was nothing. But I won the championship. That was all that I was worried about.
“But on a restart, here’s the double zero (Altenburg) next to me … I didn’t think he made it from Canyon, and I said, ‘What the hell?’ And I said ‘Oh boy.’ I didn’t even know he was in the lineup. So I said, ‘OK, let’s see what the car can do,’ and these guys were crazy fast. But it was fun.”
Baldiviez’ title is his first in the Cocopah Speedway Racing Series after finishing second in 2014.
It is also Toth’s first title in the Cocopah series, in which he won four feature events in nine starts. He thought he was good enough to win Saturday night too, “and we came through the field, and then the transmission went out with four or five to go.
“It was a long season. We had some ups and downs, but we were pretty consistent most of the time. We got the (track) IMCA championship, the state championship and the Cocopah Speedway championship. We swept all three. That was my goal going into this year.”
Manos said it was his goal to win the Hobby Stock crown since last year.
“I really wanted to come out and win tonight and I’m a little bummed that I didn’t,” Manos said afterward. “But we won the championship and that’s what we wanted when we came out here last year when I started this whole thing.”
It appeared Manos was in position to win the season finale, starting outside on the front row. But when the green flag flew, Horton got past the pole sitter, Yuma’s Jim Robinson, took control and was never heard from again.
“I got jammed up in traffic there,” said Manos, who lost a few positions on the start, “and those guys got in front of me and started tussling and I didn’t want to wreck the car trying to plow my way through that mess. And once I was able to clear one or two of them it was just … Bob had checked out and was gone.”