2016 Cocopah Speedway Racing Series underway

2016 Cocopah Speedway Racing Series underway

2016 Cocopah Speedway Racing Series underway

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Or something like that.joeybob35

Take Cocopah Speedway, for example. On Saturday night, during Round 1 of the 2016 Cocopah Speedway Racing Series, Lance Mari, the defending IMCA Modified Division champion, showed up with a car he said he worked on all during the offseason and won for the third straight time since 2015.

Adolfo Noriega, the owner of three Stock Car Division series championships, on the other hand, showed up with a new IMCA Sport Modified he bought out of North Dakota during the offseason, and drove off with the feature event win in his first time in the seat.

Then there’s Bob Horton. The 56-year-old driver who says he’s still learning how to drive a race car but finished off the 2015 season by winning two straight IMCA Hobby Stock Division feature events made it three straight Saturday night.

And there’s Joey Essay, who built a new IMCA Stock Car car during the summer of 2015, and got his first feature event win in the fresh ride.

Is it a sign of things to come for Essary, who also won one feature event in 2015?

“I hope so. We need free pizza every night,” said Essary, referring to the pizza feature event winners receive from Wild River Entertainment Center.

If Essay keeps driving the way he did Saturday night, there is a good chance he might soon get tired of the dish. In the nine-car feature event Essary started outside on the second row, made his way to the front in a hurry and then steadily drove away from the field, which included defending champion Manny Baldiviez and 2013 champion Mike Harlan.

Not even two yellow flags that erased Essay’s lead made a difference as he pulled away from the challengers both times.

“That’s how it’s supposed to be,” Essay said.

Just like Mari is supposed to be winning.

“With the amount of work we put in at the shop I expect to do good, I expect to win, I expect to be up at the front,” he said from atop Budweiser Victory Lane. “I didn’t go to football deals or bars or anything, you can ask my wife, I was barely home during the offseason.”

And it showed. Mari, from Imperial, Calif., marched from his starting position inside the fifth row to the front, passed Yuma’s Bobby Horton for the lead, and was never heard from again.

“Tonight was good,” said Mari, the master of the understatement. “We had a better car once we started truckin’. If we didn’t have those cautions, we had a pretty good rocket.”

Like Essary, the cautions didn’t phase Mari, who won two straight to finish off the 2015 season and win the championship.

“Hopefully we make it four and five and six and seven and eight (in a row),” said Mari with a laugh.

Noriega, meanwhile, brought out an IMCA Sport Modified for the final race of the 2015 season, but it wasn’t the car he showed up with Saturday night.

The winner of three Street Stock Division championships said the deal to buy the new car was in the works late in 2015, but when it was delayed he purchased the car he drove back on Dec. 5 to a fifth-place finish.

“We got that car dialed in pretty good. I think we would have been very good in that other car,” Noriega said.

“Then this deal materialized,” he said, motioning to the car he drove to Saturday night’s win. “This is a championship car from North Dakota. It’s been to Vegas, (for the Duel in the Desert). It’s been to Boone (for the Supernationals), so it’s good stuff, and it showed tonight.”

Indeed. While a lot of attention Saturday was focused on the 2015 Rookie of the Year, Kyle Smith, who too had won the final two races of last season, Noriega checked out. Not even caution flags, which helped Smith close on Noriega, could slow Noriega’s charge.

“I think I need to make a few changes to it and it’s going to be faster,” said Noriega, who also indicated he will be racing the full 2016 series after spending most of 2015 on the asphalt.

In the Hobby Stock finale fans witnessed perhaps the most exciting piece of driving as Horton started dead last in the 15-lap event and steadily made his way to the front.

While Horton was doing that, however, Jason Beshears, who finished second in the 2015 title hunt, was pulling away to a huge lead.

Then a yellow on Lap 7 bunched the field and Horton was in position to make his move for the race lead.

And after he got it, he approached slower traffic, including the car driven by Francisco Cordova, who tangled earlier with Horton during a heat race under the same circumstances, causing Horton to spin and lose the race.

This time, however, Horton was more patient, made an outside pass with ease and sped off with the win.

“I gotta learn how to pass traffic. That is my biggest problem,” Horton said. The crash with Cordova during the heat, “was my fault. I need to learn how to pass on the outside. Believe it or not I’m still learning. It’s a learning process for me, I’m still learning.”

Four wins in his last five starts might indicate otherwise.

“For not knowing what I’m doing, I’m doing something right, ain’t I?” Horton said. “ Sometimes I don’t know what I’m doing. You can tell when I get all stupid in the car.”

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