2016 IMCA Winter Nationals at Cocopah Speedway set to begin
Local racers begin their quest tonight for what has been an elusive prize over the last four years – a feature event win in the annual IMCA Winter Nationals.
The 2016 event unfolds tonight at the Somerton oval, kicking off five nights of racing that features some of the nation’s best IMCA Modified drivers and machinery.
The program continues with another full schedule of racing Saturday night, then hits the track again on Tuesday night, and finishes up with another Friday-Saturday show on Feb. 12 and 13.
Each racing program begins at 7 p.m.
The full card features the Modifieds along with the Sport Modifieds, Stock Cars and Hobby Stocks, all IMCA sanctioned divisions. All four divisions racing at the same time is a first for the Winter Nationals.
It would also be a first if a driver who calls Cocopah Speedway his home track were to win a Modified Division feature event. Since the Winter Nationals’ inception in 2012, the closest a local driver has come to stepping up to the top spot on the podium in the showcase event is third place.
As a matter of fact, in 13 Winter Nationals feature events, that third place finish and an eighth place finish are the only times a local driver has cracked the top 10.
“I think you have to be 100 percent ready and focused on being as fast as possible,” said Imperial’s Lance Mari, who won the 2015 IMCA Modified Division championship in the Cocopah Speedway Racing Series. His best finish in the Winter Nationals, however, was third place on the opening night of the 2013 event, and eighth place on the third night of the 2014 event.
“Anything helps against the level of competition that will be there,” said Mari.
R.C. Whitwell, from Tucson, is one of those top tier drivers Mari was referring to. In 2015 Whitwell drove off with two feature event wins, and has his own ideas about what it takes to be at the front.
“The level of competition is very high, with the best drivers from different parts of the country, in the best equipment,” said Whitwell. “In order to run up front in these races you have to show up prepared, and be confident in your equipment.”
Whitewell, however, might not be in the 2016 linuep because of his equipment, or the lack of it. He said earlier this week that he was hoping to race all five nights of the Winter Nationals, but as of Tuesday he didn’t have a ride.
“I was planning on racing all five, but I’m not sure if the car I’m driving will make it from Wisconsin or not,” said Whitwell. “If something does happen, it will be last minute.”
In contrast, Yuma’s Brett Simala got his first taste of IMCA Modified Division racing in 2015, and although he didn’t qualify for any of the four Winter Nationals feature events, he did go on to be named the Rookie of the Year in the Cocopah Speedway Racing Series.
Approaching his second Winter Nationals, Simala said this week, “I think luck alone will play a big role on how the locals and everyone does. With the luck of a front row spot in a heat versus the back row, that’s huge at a race like this.
“I think depending on where you are in traffic and other circumstances, there needs to be a good balance of being aggressive and staying out of trouble. This division, especially at this race that is so competitive, the car needs to be almost perfect and the driver needs to be perfect. It’s tough running against guys that do this for a living.
“We plan to have the car as good as we can, me drive to the best of mine and the car’s ability and be in as good a position as we can at the end.”
Cocopah Speedway is located at U.S. 95 and County 15th Street; the general admission gate opens at 5 p.m; first race is at 7 p.m. Tickets are: adults (13 and older) – $15; adult military with ID – $13; senior (55 and over) – $13; children 12 years old and under – free (main grandstand); family pass (two adults, four children) – $30; Skybox – $30; pit pass – $30 (per person). Tickets can also be purchased on-line at www.cocopahspeedway.com or at Cocopah Wild River or at the main gate on race day. Fans can get live racing lineups during the races and results afterward by going to www.cocopahlive.com. Fans can also access live in-race scoring and lap times by going tomylaps.com. For more information call 344-1563 or go to www.cocopahspeedway.com.