Competitors Brave Storm for Meridian Speedway Championshipsadmin
Those hearty fans who weathered the early autumn rains Saturday at Meridian Speedway were rewarded with spectacular racing action from the Meridian Speedway and Budweiser Modifieds, Winged Pepsi Sprintcars, Junior Legends, Junior Stingers, and Tates Rents Hornets. With championships on the line the final races of the 2014 asphalt season delivered intense, wheel-to-wheel action.
Tensions were already high in the Junior Stinger division before the green flag fell on their final main event of 2014. During their heat race championship contenders Daytona Wurtz and Taylor Occhipinti tangled in turn one. While no real damage was done the message was sent that no holds would be barred in the night’s closest title fight.
When the green flag fell on the 25 lap main event Bryce Edwards made an early move to put his BC Towing and Recovery, Garion Designs car in the lead. Deep in the pack Occhipinti and Wurtz pushed their way to the high side of the track to work through the field. By lap three Wurtz held fourth place in her Curtis Clean Sweep, All Makes Auto Salvage car while Occhipinti held station in sixth. In front of the field Noah Capps and Edwards battled door to door for the lead in front of the championship battle when there was contact in turn two. Edwards spun low, but Capps shot up the racetrack toward Wurtz and Occhipinti. Wurtz slammed the brakes to avoid the out of control racer, as did Occhipinti. Capps was unable to stop his slide and endured a head-on collision with the turn two concrete. Capps would be okay, but his Boise Bath and Kitchen Company, Parks Royal Body Works car was not as lucky. After the skirmish Wurtz and Occhipinti found themselves in positions two and three on the Pepsi-Cola scoreboard behind leader Chad Duval.
On the restart Wurtz rocketed around Duval to snag the lead while Occhipinti worked his Marv’s Tire Service, Bearclaw Graphics car methodically around Duval for second. Now Occhipinti set his sights on Wurtz. The caution flag for a Jacob Thompson spin would bunch the field once more. Before the race could resume Mother Nature would intervene, dumping rain around the quarter mile. The race was paused after eleven of 25 circuits. When the points were tabulated during the rain delay Wurtz was ahead of Occhipinti by just two markers. The decision was made that if Meridian Speedway could be dried out the race would resume so that a winner and champion could be crowned.
With racing suspended for all other classes the Tates Rents Hornets pulled onto the soaked asphalt of Meridian Speedway for their final race of the season. Benson Atkinson led the 25 car field to green. With rooster tails flying title contenders Rob Powers and Kodi Newberry gently pedaled their racecars through the gaggle of starters. Newberry held fifth spot in his Disaster Kleen-up, Rocky Mountain Lawn Co. car on lap eight before the handling on his racer went south and he began to fall through the field. Three laps later it was Powers in his Vapology, Aerial Rentals racer and Mike Vester battling for a top five position. With water pooled on the apron of turn four several inches deep several racers got hooked into the infield in the early going, but even after these issues no cars had retired from the event by lap 25.
On lap 26 Lynn Sharp passed early leader Atkinson and began to pull away from the rain soaked field. Two laps later Sharp’s car would succumb to a mechanical problem, giving Atkinson back the top spot and moving Vester to second and Jim Longden to third. By the 50 lap mark Longden had wrestled the lead from Atkinson while Newberry ran two spots ahead of Powers in his quest to take home the hornet championship. Now leader Longden began lapping top ten runners in his Vapology car. As Powers fell further and further back in the pack Newberry began to figure out how to run in the rain. Though sixth, Newberry began to pick his way through lapped traffic. Lap 75 saw Longden holding a full straightaway lead over Vester’s Discount Tire, Bender Electric entry and a half a lap over third place Atkinson. Newberry was still outside the top five, while Powers struggled to keep his racer in the top ten. Atkinson used lap 85 to sneak around the outside of Vester for the runner up spot.
As the first 100 laps fell so did the rain, which came down in sheets of cold, heavy drops. While the track once again turned ultra-slick Longden continued to lay down laps over one second faster than the rest of the pack. Now attrition began to strike as third place Vester’s front bumper detached from his car and became lodged beneath the chassis. Vester’s top five position was saved by the halfway caution, but this saving grace had a catch. The field was now turned around to complete the next portion of the race in the opposite direction.
Now making right-hand turns around Meridian Speedway leader Longden began to give some time back to the field. Now Atkinson flexed his muscles, making his way easily around Longden on the low side on lap 103. Four circuits later Powers would pull into the pits on a caution to repair his racer. Now a new contender surfaced as Colton Nelson stormed around the outside of the quarter-mile to challenge Atkinson for the lead. With 90 laps left Nelson took the lead, but Atkinson wouldn’t surrender and battled back from his spot in the inside line. In lapped traffic Atkinson would switch lines and move to the outside of Nelson for the top spot, but lapped traffic would stymie this run. For the next dozen laps Atkinson and Nelson would duck in and out of traffic, swapping the lead back and forth.
With 66 to go Atkinson darted high and was able to trap Nelson behind early leader Longden to move his way back to first on the Pepsi-Cola scoreboard. Nelson would wheel his hornet hard in pursuit of Atkinson, and this hard charge would lead to handling issues moving into the final quarter of the event. Again attrition would rear its ugly head as second place point man Newberry limped his car into the pit area with mechanical issues on lap 150. Just four laps later caution would come over the speedway again, turning the field around a final time.
With the final 46 circuits run with the traditional left hand turns Atkinson resumed his healthy lead over Nelson. Further back Longden encountered more difficulties as his brakes erupted in smoke and flame and he pulled his stricken racecar to the infield. With 25 to go Newberry sat eight in the scoring with Powers in seventh and Atkinson pulling away from a soaked field. But a caution with ten laps to go would bring the field back together and set up a ten lap sprint for the win.
When the green waved Atkinson used his front row starting spot to establish himself out in front of Nelson, the only other car on the lead lap. With the track drying out Atkinson lost some of the edge he’d had previously. But Atkinson was still strong enough to pull away from Nelson late and claim the checkered flag. Atkinson would later vacate the win per class rule after refusing to accept a claim for his car post race. While Atkinson drove a flawless wet weather race it was Powers who claimed the overall Tates Rents Hornets championship, defeating Kenny Driebergen by 98 points.
After exhaustive efforts to dry the racing surface the Junior Stinger competitors took to the track to complete their main event. With the green flag back in the air Wurtz used the low line to pull away from Occhipinti. Within three laps Wurtz had worked her way out to a one second lead. After navigating lapped traffic Wurtz laid down fast lap after fast lap to pull to an over two second victory. Not only would Wurtz win the race, but also the inaugural Junior Stinger championship. Collecting her race trophy was enough to bring a smile to the usually stoic Wurtz.
Though the modified main event was rained out, champions were crowned Saturday night in both the Meridian Speedway and Budweiser divisions. After a dominating season behind the wheel of his Boise Spring Works, Lamb Race Engines modified Rus Ward claimed the Meridian Speedway Modified honors. Taking second place was Shelby Stroebel, who beat out Dennis Wurtz II by just one point in the final tally. In the Budweiser Modified ranks Darvin Ackerland was crowned champion, with Rick Baldwin second and Scott Durbin third in the standings.
In heat race action Chris Ratterree piloted his Winged Pepsi Sprintcar to an exhibition win, followed by Ward and Justin Segura.
With the 2014 Meridian Speedway asphalt season concluded the winter work can begin for speedway competitors. However, with the end of one season comes the beginning of another. The Dirt Track at Meridian Speedway is currently under construction, and will spring into action with the season opener on Sunday, October 19. Be sure to check www.meridianspeedway.com and www.racewinter.com for more information about Dirt Track at Meridian Speedway karting events, and thank you for a great 63rd season under the big yellow water tower at Meridian Speedway.
As always this week’s action was sponsored by Contingency Connection, which offers nearly $2000 in awards each week from NATIONAL manufacturers. These contingency awards are in addition to cash purse payouts. See Meridian Speedway officials for more information about Contingency Connection.