Fireworks Fly on Hot July Nightadmin
With a scorching sun overhead Meridian Speedway celebrated Independence Day with the Stinker Stores Firecracker 50 Saturday. Braving a hot, greasy track were the Washington Econo Sprintcar Organization Sprintcars taking on the local Pepsi and SPI Super Six Sprintcars, along with the Domino’s Pizza Legends and the Tates Rents Hornets. With afternoon track temperatures topping 120 degrees conditions could not have been more challenging for the nearly 90 competitors that crowded the pit area Saturday.
Due to the vast field of WESCO sprintcars some competitors had to battle their way into the feature through a B-main event. The top two finishers would earn their way into the 20 car A-main event. On the green Dan Darrow and Michael Ortiz ran hard into turn one and toughed wheels. One lap later Darrow would surge ahead of Ortiz to grab the lead. Paxton Kautman would follow to second and Jimmy Gross would claim third. Kautman would charge around Darrow on the high side on lap number five, but get loose and slide back into the clutches of Gross. At the halfway point Darrow and Kautman held the two transfer slots, but Kautman’s car started to slide loose. But Kautman used the loose, fast car to muscle around Darrow for the lead on lap twelve. From there he never looked back en route to the B-main event victory.
The Domino’s Pizza Legends Young Lions and Semi-Pro divisions combined for a 22 car main event. When the green flag fell Cortaberria ran out to an early lead. Chase Gilbertson settled in second and Tristan Haider fought Jose Zamudio for third. Gilbertson overpowered Cortaberria on lap three to take the top spot early. Aubree Wartman had worked her way up to seventh in five circuits. Wartman worked the high side to third, then dove beneath the Cortaberria machine for second with just eight laps of the feature down. After a two-car spin in turn two the field was realigned and set loose again, now with Wartman on the outside of leader Gilbertson. Gilbertson surprised Wartman on the restart to maintain the top spot, but she would battle back to Gilbertson’s rear bumper. This battle was cut short by a multi-car crash again in turn two involving California racer Tim Mangini and Washington’s Alex Ludemon.
Now with 24 laps to go the field went green again. Again Gilbertson got the jump, but Wartman was able to hang close and Zach Blume joined the top two for a three way fight at the front. Wartman worked Gilbertson from the high line while Blume tried to position himself beneath the second place runner. The fun lasted until, with seventeen laps to go the three came together in turn four. Blume and Wartman spun and were sent to the back of the pack. Gilbertson was sent to the pits with a dragging bumper and was forced to join the others at the back of the pack on the restart. Sixteen cars took the green flag with seventeen circuits remaining, led by Cortaberria and Chance Davis. Only fourteen would make it through turn one as Wartman and Gary Wegener came together and smacked the concrete.
Once the smoke cleared Cortaberria held the lead, followed by Jake Woods and Brooke Schimmel. Local racer Cody Hollis found himself fourth with Neena Kik fifth. On the break Blume shot to the high side and charged to fourth, bringing Gilbertson along to fifth. With ten to go it was Gilbertson’s turn to take the high line, and he worked up to third behind Cortaberria and Woods. Blume followed suit as the fight for first became a four-way affair. With five to go Gilbertson jumped low and took second by force from Woods. One lap later with the same move Gilbertson grabbed the lead. Then Schimmel drove deep into turn three from fourth and collected the entire front pack in a huge wreck. Mid-race leader Cortaberria was driven into the concrete hard enough to roll his racer. Cortaberria would be okay, but his car was badly mangled. Blume also received race-ending damage to his right front suspension. In the ensuing sprint to the finish Gilbertson lined up ninth, but launched himself through the pack and around leader Hollis on the last lap to claim victory.
“I decided this race was mine,” said Gilbertson in Arctic Circle Victory Lane. “We had a lot of troubles tonight, but I can’t thank everybody in my pit enough.”
Twenty WESCO Sprintcars took on a 35 lap main event as the skies above Meridian Speedway began to darken. Ryan Wiederich couldn’t hold off Danny Matthews from the pole position on the green flag. Following Mathews around the outside was Ben Hinkle and Jasen Skyberg. Colton Nelson quickly grabbed fourth and Ryan Newman took only five laps to make his way onto the Pepsi-Cola scoreboard. Hinkle would ride the high line to the point on lap six, bringing Skyberg and Nelson with him. Skyberg would wrestle the lead away from Hinkle on lap twelve. Further back in the pack Newman would spend the first eighteen laps trying to dispose of Matthews, and once he did has an over two second deficit to third place Nelson. With ten to go Hinkle pulled back within striking range of Skyberg, but couldn’t find a way around the leader. In heavy lapped traffic Skyberg held off Hinkle to claim victory. Nelson nursed an ailing car to fourth behind Dean Waltman.
Finally it was time for the Stinker Stores Firecracker 50 as twenty Pro and Master level Domino’s Pizza Legends stormed the quarter-mile. When the green flag fell Duane Swanson jumped to the lead from his outside front row starting spot. Camron Madsen did a masterful job of working traffic, taking only three laps to knife his way to fifth. Soon Randy Schaaf and Peyton Saxton would join this race as you could throw a blanket over third through ninth. That’s when disaster struck as Schaaf, Saxton, Tony Mangini, Bill Kik and Rick McNeil came together in turn one. All involved parties were sent to the back with 41 laps to claw their way back up front. On the restart Madsen worked Swanson over for the lead, but in the altercation that ensued Madsen’s rear bumper was torn off and he was sent to the pits for repairs. This left Robert Cayton and fast qualifier Jason Irwin one-two, with Casey Tillman third and Johnethan Davis fourth. Schaaf had muscled his way back into the top five.
With the field regrouped the green flag fell again with Cayton taking the lead. Tillman frantically worked the high side trying to make his way to the front of the pack, but there wasn’t enough grip to make the move. With eighteen circuits complete Irwin dove to the lead while further back Saxton had worked his way into the top five. Madsen, rear bumper reattached, was unable to make good progress as the field spread out under a long green flag run.
At the halfway point Schaaf had worked his way to the rear bumper of Irwin, but a spin four laps later would remove him from the top runners. On this restart Irwin held the top spot, while Saxton wasted no time shooting up to the second spot. Tillman shadowed Saxton and found himself third. With fifteen to go Tillman jumped below Saxton out of turn two, and not a moment too soon as Saxton’s engine gave way in an enormous fireball. Saxton was okay after the detonation, but his night was finished. That left Irwin, Tillman, and a resilient Madsen the top three, with James Ingham in fourth and Tony Mangini rounding out the top five.
On the restart Schaaf thundered to fourth and wasted just three laps in working around Madsen. Next it was Tillman’s turn to fight off Schaaf, but he was unsuccessful as Schaaf used the inside lane and a little contact to reclaim his second position. Now it was a matter of time to see if Irwin could maintain the lead over Schaaf’s charge. While the margin shrank it wasn’t enough and Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Irwin claimed the trophy.
“We had a long drive and it’s been a long day but this pays off,” said Irwin.
The Tates Rents Hornets brought 24 competitors to their main event. Monica Heath pulled ahead of the swarm early as back in the pack point leader Jim Longden avoided catastrophe in turn three on lap one after being put five wide. As the pack settled down somewhat Rob Powers and Al Russell hooked up to move into the top five. Russel surged past second place Sean Young on lap ten, then dispensed of Heath two laps later. After thirteen laps calamity finally took center stage as Mike Vester, Linda Parkkila, and others rearranged fenders in turn three. On the restart Russell pulled out to the lead, and try as they might Heath and Powers were unable to catch him.
“Thank you very much everybody,” said Russell.
After the fireworks on the track the packed grandstands turned their eyes skyward as the City of Meridian’s fireworks display lit up the summer sky. But that was just the first night of Meridian Speedway’s Independence Day double-header. Saturday night the concrete jungle roars back into action with a second round of WESCO Sprintcar and Domino’s Pizza Legends racing. Joining these divisions are the College of Western Idaho High School Tuners, Thunderdogs, and Old Fart Karts. Gates open at 4 p.m. with racing at 6:30 p.m. General admission for Saturday is $12.25.