Let me check the calendar. Yep, it is the first day of the new year, January 1st. While most of the country is dealing with flooding rivers, inches and feet of snow, Yuma, AZ is the showcase for sprint car racing. Yes you have read it correctly. It is the heart of winter and most of the country is bundling up dealing with all that winter deals them, but in the Southwestern Arizona it time to go sprint car racing with The Winter Heat Sprint Car Showdown. Many of the big names in the world of sprint car racing loaded up their hot rods in their haulers and headed for warmer weather and Big dollars! So it was Dale Blaney that kicked off the new year in style as he led all 30 laps of the opening feature for the 2nd annual Winter Heat Sprint Car Showdown on Friday at Cocopah Speedway.
Blaney bested 45 other competitors to claim the $12,000 top prize and take the lead in the points standings after Round 1. Action continues on Saturday with night #2, which also pays $12,000 to win and $1,000 to start the A Main.
“It definitely paid for most of the trip tonight,” Blaney said. “This track really suited our style. It was smooth and it was slick. I almost felt like I was back in Ohio. This is a great facility with great people running it.”
The opening night victor earned the most combined points throughout heat race and qualifier competition, which put him on the pole for the main event. After an opening lap crash, which resulted in Rico Abreu and Bill Balog flipping in turn one, (Rico rode the top of the fence inverted before finally going over the wall to land outside the track) the race went green until lap 28 of 30.
However, Ryan Smith had a flat tire on lap 28 to bring out a caution. That set up a green-white-checkered finish with all of the competitors tightly bunched behind Blaney for the restart.
When the green flag flew, Blaney powered away from Justin Henderson, who started the feature on the outside of the front row and pursued Blaney from the runner-up position throughout the entire race.
“We got beat by a heck of a good race car driver and a really good team,” Henderson said. “We were lucky when he finally got by the lapped cars they were out of the way for me to get by.”
Blaney had two close calls, however, that almost provided the opportunity for Henderson to steal the lead. On Lap 7, a half a lap after reaching traffic for the first time, Blaney bumped the backstretch wall exiting turn two. Approximately a dozen laps later he got into the back of D.J. Netto, who was trying to stay on the lead lap.
“After that happened I just kind of backed up and got enough distance,” he said. “It was two close ones, but we’ll take it.”
Despite the incidents Blaney maintained the lead to become the sixth different winner in six Winter Heat Sprint Car Showdown features. Henderson held off Greg Hodnett for second place in a tight race between two drivers making their debut at the 3/8-mile oval.
“We only really had one opportunity in that whole 30-lap race to maybe squeak by Justin,” Hodnett said. “He kind of blew it in and hit some dust and scooted out. I had a little bit of a run, but it wasn’t worth crashing him or I trying to shove it in there. We felt it was better to finish and come back tomorrow. We’re pretty happy with it. Overall, the guys did a great job getting acclimated to unfamiliar territory. We just have to continue to work toward getting our car a little better.”
Roger Crockett advanced from eighth to fourth place with Bud Kaeding rounding out the top five.
Jason Solwold, Joey Saldana, Daryn Pittman, Kyle Larson and Terry McCarl finished sixth through 10th, respectively.
Austin McCarl, Henderson, Crockett, Danny Lasoski and Logan Forler each won a heat race with Bill Balog, Smith, Larson, Solwold and Christopher Bell claiming a qualifier. Craig Dollansky and Abreu were the B Main winners.
NOTES: D.J. Netto was awarded a $250 gift card from SpeedMart and a $75 certificate from TiLUBE Motorsport Lubricants for being the Hard Charger Award winner. … Netto qualified for the feature when Tanner Thorson was disqualified from the final transfer position in the second B Main because he was too light at the scales. … Logan Forler earned a $50 certificate from TiLUBE Motorsports Lubricants for being the first non-qualifier.
Tonight the action resumes at Cocopah Speedway for night number 2 of the five nights of racing.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!