Cocopah Speedway Racing Series resumes with new boss

Cocopah Speedway Racing Series resumes with new boss

Cocopah Speedway Racing Series resumes with new boss

When Tom Dalen threw the last checkered flag Saturday at Cocopah Speedway, it came on his first night as the new boss at the Somerton oval.

And when Dalen, who also serves as the track’s head flagman, climbed down from the tower and walked into Budweiser Victory Lane, he was all smiles.

“It was everything I hoped it would be, it was fun,” said Dalen, who has been picked to step in as the interim general manager until the Cocopah Indian Tribe, owner of the facility, picks a full-time general manager.

Former general manager Greg Burgess resigned the position in February to accept a job in Oklahoma. Saturday night’s show, Round 2 in the 2016 Cocopah Speedway Racing Series, was the first event since Burgess’ departure.

Earlier in the evening, shortly before speaking at the drivers’ meeting, Dalen said he was approached by the tribe about stepping in as interim general manager and gladly accepted the offer.

“I’m steering the ship for the next couple of weeks until the board makes a decision,” he said with a smile. “I’ve been around racing for 30 years or better, and been involved in everything from rock picking to selling advertising to you name it, so I’ve done all parts of it.

“Greg encouraged me to go for the position. He felt I could do it. He said he wanted me to be able to lead his organization, and that’s what I want to try to do.

“This is all I do. Racing, it’s my passion; my life, actually.”

Dalen said he’s also applied for the full-time job.

In the meantime, he said it’s business as usual at the “Diamond in the Desert.”

“Nothing is changing. All of our staff is the same, everybody is the same, we’re all on board, we’re a team,” he said. “I’m still flagging, and the water truck boy and whatever else doesn’t get done.

“I just want to keep it going. Greg started a great thing here and we want to continue on with the legacy that is second to none. We’ve got the nicest track anywhere and the best people, as far as I’m concerned, and this is where I want to be.”

Almost three hours and a dozen races and a little drama later, he was just as enthused.

“We had a little controversy here and there, but it’s definitely something I’m going to deal with and we’ll get through it,” Dalen said.

The controversy centered on IMCA Hobby Stock driver Bob Horton, from Yuma, appearing to intentionally crash into Yuma’s Jason Beshears during that division’s feature event, causing Beshears to leave the track. The move was apparently in retaliation for earlier contact between the two drivers at the start of the feature event, when Horton had to exit the track with a flat tire.

Horton, who was the division’s point leader in the Cocopah Speedway Racing Series at the start of the night, was disqualified for his actions.

Other than that, it was a smooth evening as Yuma’s Leonard Manos dodged the bumper cars in the Hobby Stocks and drove off with the feature event win; Brawley’s Russell Allen dominated the field on the way to winning the IMCA Modified Division feature event; Yuma’s Adolfo Noriega was equally as impressive in winning the IMCA Sport Modified feature event; and Yuma’s Manny Baldiviez drove to a thrilling win in the IMCA Stock Car Division feature event.

Manos said the key to winning the Hobby Stock feature was patience.

“I wait until everybody thins out and then pick them off one at a time if I can,” he said. “Everybody went into (Turn 1) and I saw the mess and I hit the brakes for a second and they just kind of moved out of the way and I took off behind Jimmy (Robinson).”

Following the ensuing restart, Manos got around Robinson, who won the final feature event in the 2016 IMCA Winter Nationals, on the fifth lap and drove unchallenged the rest of the way to the checkered flag.

In the Modified feature, Allen started on the front row and led the 25-lap race from green to checker, holding off a determined Bobby Horton, from Yuma, in the process. Horton had started at the back of the field and finished second behind Allen.

Noriega’s convincing win in the Sport Modified feature was his second straight in the 2016 racing series, and is quite possibly a sign that he will be as dominate in the division as he was in winning three Street Stock championships at the track.

“I hope it becomes a habit,” said Noriega, who won 13 Street Stock feature events during the 2011-2012 season.

“All of these race cars have a setup that is best suited for my driving and the challenge is trying to find it. That’s why we used those five races at the Winter Nationals to experiment with different things. Even though we looked bad and we went backward a few times, by the last night of the Winter Nationals I knew what we needed to do to come back pretty good. I think we found a good combo.”

As easy as Noriega made it look in the Sport Modified feature, Baldiviez had his hands full in the Stock Car finale.

The defending champion first had to find a way around the early leader, Yuma’s Joe Haines, and when he did that, he had to not only hold off Haines, but another Yuma driver, Joey Essary.

“Both Joe and Joey are going to be trouble this year,” Baldiviez said.

“Joe, I knew he was going to be trouble because … he had the right package, he was very difficult to pass, and I had to stay on his butt until he made a mistake. And Joey Essay is fast. If he gets in front it’s going to be very hard to pass him.”

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