Close Finishes, Surprise Winners Highlight Open Wheel Opener

Close Finishes, Surprise Winners Highlight Open Wheel Opener

Young Riley Rogers claimed victory over a stacked sprintcar field Saturday at Meridian Speedway

Young Riley Rogers claimed victory over a stacked Pepsi and Super Six Sprintcar field Saturday

The open-wheeled stars of the Pepsi Sprintcar and SPI Super Six divisions battled the elements and each other Saturday as Meridian Speedway hosted the season’s debut sprintcar race.  A deep field of twenty racers packed the pit area for their chance to pick up 2015’s first trophy.  Joining the open-wheelers Saturday were the Domino’s Legends, the College of Western Idaho Professional Truck Driving Program Street Stocks, the all-new Claimer Stocks, and the Junior Stingers.  As the sun dropped and storm clouds gathered the on-track action heated up.

The Junior Stinger division welcomed a special guest Saturday as Reed Elementary student Caesar Lopez won a chance to ride in the Kendall Ford of Meridian pace car.  Lopez earned the honor through his performance in a racecar-themed math lesson.  When the green flag fell on the Junior Stinger main event Evan Brown wasted no time moving through the pack.  In one lap Brown sliced his way from sixth to the lead in his Pro Power Clean, Adrenaline Truck Performance machine.  Behind Brown the battle for second was intense as Adalin Sharp and Bryce Edwards dueled door-to-door for six circuits before Edwards claimed the spot.  Taylor Occhipinti marched his way from the back and reached third with ten laps to go.  Occhipinti didn’t stop there as he pinned his Marv’s Tire Service, Bearclaw Graphics car to the low side and tore his way through to the lead three laps later.  Occhipinti wouldn’t waver on his way to the victory.

Fifteen Domino’s Legends rolled onto the quarter-mile for a 35 lap feature.  On the green flag Daynna Skiver rolled her Hefener’s Classics, Classic Gutter of Idaho racer around Jamie Hyde on the high side to take the early lead.  Meanwhile, Las Vegas racer Peyton Saxton chewed his way through the field.  After starting dead last Saxton piloted his top-qualifying Legend to the lead in just three laps.  Local racer Casey Tillman followed Saxton to the front while Zach Blume, Aubree Wartman, and Trevor Cristiani rounded out the top five positions on Pepsi-Cola scoreboard.

A restart on lap ten saw Saxton sprint away from the pack while Blume worked Tillman over on the low line for second.  Blume would make the short way around the quarter-mile work as he took second place and brought Cristiani along to third.  While Blume, Cristiani, and Tillman banged bumpers for second Saxton entered lapped traffic.  While the traffic cleared beautifully for Saxton, Blume wasn’t so lucky as he caught traffic mid-corner and lost second to Cristiani, but was able to fight his way back into line in front of Tillman.  The vicious battle for second raged until with eight laps to go Tillman lost his front bumper.  Tillman repaired the damage and rejoined the race, but couldn’t overcome the poor track position and settled for fifth place.  When racing resumed Cristiani battled Saxton on the high side, and when that didn’t work he dove to the low groove and moved Saxton out of the lead.  After four hard-fought laps Saxton powered around and away from Cristiani to claim victory.

Racing in the Claimer Stock division was close all night.  The racing was so close, in fact, that the heat race saw Steve Hansen Jr. and Casey Hart tangle on the front stretch while battling for the lead.  Hansen Jr. barrel rolled twice down the straightaway before coming to rest in the water barrels in turn one.  Hansen Jr. emerged from his twisted racecar unscathed but would retire for the evening.  Hart also headed to the pit area early, but returned to finish the race.  Due to this accident and the inclement weather in the area the Claimer Stocks joined the College of Western Idaho Professional Truck Driving Program Street Stocks for a 30 lap feature event.

On the green Jeff Meads and Shawn Hansen paced the CWI Street Stock field for the first eight laps.  Something had to give, and it was Hansen in the inside groove that yielded to Meads.  This broke the pack apart and allowed Marv and Melissa Weaver to race their Marv’s Tire Service, Dillon Performance Engines cars free of traffic.  Meads pulled away from the Weaver Racing duo until a caution on lap eleven took away his nearly three-second lead.  When the green flag waved again Melissa Weaver thundered around the outside of Meads to take the top spot.  Two laps later Daniel Johnson worked his way to second and made his move to track down the leading Weaver.  Johnson worked his Darlene’s Printing, Dillon Toyota Lift racer on the low side as he hoped to use the short way around speedway to take victory.  Weaver was equal to the challenge and fended off the charge.  Now Johnson worked the high groove, using caution flags and bouts of lapped traffic to keep contact with the lady racer.  But there was no way around Weaver, who roared to another Meridian Speedway victory.

In the Claimer Stocks lap one saw Josh Hale and Casey Hart run three-wide around Amanda Vestal in their fight for the lead.  Hale would prevail two laps later as Hart fell into the clutches of Johnny Ford.  As Hart slid his damaged pickup around the quarter-mile Ford faded from third and collected Ben Crow in a scuffle on the backstretch.  All parties would keep their vehicles off the wall and continue.  After a mid-race caution Hart found new speed as he muscled his way around the outside of Hale for the lead.  But the heavy truck’s handling took a toll on his tires and allowed Hale to close the gap to mere inches with eight laps remaining.  Hale used a late caution flag to move to the high side and take the lead back from Hart.  Hart wasn’t able to wheel his racer back into contention as Hale pulled away or the win.  However, Hale’s early three-wide dive drew the ire of speedway officials and he was penalized two positions, giving the victory to Hart.

The Pepsi Sprintcars and Super Sixes joined forces for a fast forty lap main event.  The early running saw Dean Bachman set the pace in his Super Six.  Riley Rogers worked his Extreme Towing and Recovery, H and H Accounting sponsored Pepsi Sprinter to second and Stacey Jensen had his Super Six up to third.  Roger thundered to the lead in the low line as the action got physical deep in the pack.  Mired in the jostling pack was Ryan Newman in his Ashley Heating, Katco Promotions sprinter.  Newman had a great view of the tire-bumping third place fight between Jasen Skyberg and Ben Hinkle.  All of this took place four seconds behind leader Rogers who raced his way into lapped traffic with 23 circuits remaining.

As Rogers caught traffic Hinkle emerged from the battle with Skyberg and raced his way into second.  From seconds behind Hinkle pulled to Roger’s rear bumper as the two worked a constant string of traffic.  Rogers used the lapped vehicles to his advantage and warded off Hinkle’s challenges, but Hinkle closed the gap as the pair reached open racetrack.  On the last lap Hinkle made his move and dove low in turn number three.  The momentum carried Hinkle to Rogers, but Hinkle’s Super Six was outmuscled by Rogers’ Pepsi Sprintcar at the line and the teenage competitor raced his way to Arctic Circle Victory Lane.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for this,” Rogers said.  “I mean, this is amazing.”

“I saw Riley out there and said, ‘Oh, man, I have a lot of work to do to catch this kid,’” said Hinkle.  “Next time it might be a different story.”

While Hinkle must wait until June 13th for his next shot at victory, Meridian Speedway fans need only make it to next Saturday for more open-wheeled action.  May 2 the speedway hosts the Mountain Dew Winged Sprintcar Opener and Ladies Night.  Joining the wicked fast Mountain Dew Sprinters are the CT400 Sprintcars, Budweiser Modifieds, Project Filter Pro-4s, Kendall Ford of Meridian Mini Stocks, Claimer Stocks, and the first Rookie Hornet event of the season.  Admission for a full night of racing is free at the gate for ladies, $10.25 for adults, $7.75 for seniors and Military members, $6.25 for kids 7-11 and as always kids 6 and under are free.  Be sure to check for all the latest news from Meridian Speedway and text ‘meridianspeed’ to 84483 for exclusive news and notes.  As always we’ll have a seat for you next Saturday, May 2 under the big yellow water tower at Meridian Speedway.