A huge crowd poured into the Stockton 99 Speedway on Wednesday night, July 3 for a long, long evening of racing featuring the annual Ron Strmiska Memorial/Firecracker 125 for the Stockton Late Models.
One of the most anticipated events of the year, the annual 4th of July race was named the Strmiska Memorial to honor the Manteca racing legend Ron Strmiska who passed away in late 2014.
Always a fan favorite, Strmiska, nicknamed the “Manteca Missile” began racing at the 99 Speedway in 1969, winning back to back track championships in 1978 and 1979. His son Ron Jr. and grandson Ross have followed in his footsteps to continue the proud Strmiska family legacy of racing at the historic quarter-mile oval.
“Obviously this is a big night for our family and it is amazing tonight to see so many people out here for this race,” said Ross Strmiska, after he put up the fastest time in qualifying for the 25-car field. “I won last year and it meant a lot so I would really like to do it again.”
Unfortunately, a Drift Car exhibition, fireworks and crash-filled Late Model B and Bomber mains delayed the start of the Firecracker 125 until about the midnight hour.
When the race finally began veterans Blaine Roche, of Oakdale and Guy Guibor, Strmiska’s teammate out of Manteca, led the 18-car A main field to the green flag. The pair slowly pulled away from the rest of the pack which was headed up by Strmiska and Tracy’s Justin Philpott, another third generation driver with an equally long family history of racing at the 99.
Roche would lead the first 43 laps before Guibor was able to snake by him with the help of lapped traffic.
Guibor was in cruise control until a lap 65 yellow-caution closed up the field. Shortly after going back to green Roche would retire with a transmission failure while Philpott slowly began to reel Guibor in and once on his bumper probed for a way to get around the leader.
“I over drove it in the beginning and I thought used up the tires, but they came after the yellow,” admitted Philpott, a two-time track champion. “Then I changed my line a bit going into Turn #1 and found a little more speed.”
Philpott would finally get his opportunity on a lap 102 restart where he was able to muscle his way to the front after going side by side with Guibor. He then held off the hard-charging Guibor for the remainder of the race, including getting the jump on Guibor after the final yellow-caution restart of the night with 15 laps to go, taking the checkered flag well after 1 a.m., with Guibor finishing second.
“The Strmiska’s are a great family and Ron was a great driver so winning this is really special to me,” Philpott explained.
Rounding out the top five were Manteca’s Eric Nascimento Jr., Stockton’s Gary Shafer Jr. and Lodi’s Arron Shankel.
Following the race Justin Philpott celebrated the victory on the main straight along with his dad and crew chief, David Philpott, a former two-time track champion himself who has competed against all three generations of Strmiskas.
Manteca’s Joe Flowers picked up his second win of the season by staving off both his son AJ Flowers and stepson Josh Cross throughout the entire 20-lap B-4 feature.
“I’m really excited. We built all three of these cars together so this has been fun,” said Flowers. “Plus, I get to show them my trophy. I am top dog, at least for this week.”
The 18-car Bomber main was bizarre even by 99 Speedway standards.
The race, which was called after just 10 laps, included eight yellow-cautions and two red flag stoppages, one a lengthy interruption for a dumpster fire in the track parking lot.
Makila Stearns of Linden and Joey Sarafin of Stockton staged a race long battle for the lead which culminated in both cars spinning out in Turn #2 at which point exasperated officials mercifully put out a checkered-yellow to give a very surprised Harrison Stone, of Lodi, the win.
Racing returns to the 99 Speedway on Saturday, July 20 with a program featuring the Gun Slingers Wing Sprint Car Series, Legends of Kearney Bowl, Bombers, B-4 Cylinders, BCRA Vintage Midgets and Stockton Grand American Modifieds.
The Stockton Dirt Track, located on the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds, will be hosting the Tri Sate Pro Stocks, Bombers, B-4s and B-Modifieds on Saturday, July 13.