The fans that turned out in droves to pack the grandstands at the 99 Speedway on Sunday night, July 3 were treated to a spectacular fireworks show and a sparkling victory by Escalon’s “Slammin” Sam Solari in the annual Fourth of July Ron Strmiska Memorial Firecracker 125 for the Stockton Late Models.
The race is run in honor of Ron Strmiska, nicknamed the “Manteca Missile” who began racing at the 99 Speedway in 1969 before winning back-to-back track championships in 1978 and 1979. His son Ron Jr. and grandson Ross continued the family’s racing legacy at the 99 when Ron retired from the cockpit and the popular Fourth of July race was renamed in his honor after he passed away in late 2014.
Young guns Jo Stearns and Colby Potts, both of Stockton, led the strong 20-car field to start the main event while veteran drivers John Moore of Granite Bay, 2020 track champion Eric Nascimento of Lathrop, Solari, defending track champion Gary Shafer Jr. and Ty Carlson, both of Stockton, and the familiar Strmiska family-prepared pink and black #90 entry driven by Manteca’s Guy Guibor, were all stacked right behind them.
Solari bolted into the lead on lap 11 and slowly began to pull away as the other contenders fought for position behind him. Solari seemed to be virtually untouchable when a yellow-caution bunched the field up for a crucial restart on lap 56.
As the pack accelerated towards the start line to resume racing, Solari touched Stearns and slowed up causing the pack to accordion into each other behind him, which caused the track to be completely blocked and immediately brought out a red flag. In all, ten cars were involved in the mayhem, including Shafer, Nascimento and Colby, who were all done for the night.
“I got together with Stearns and my steering wheel jerked and I missed the shift,” Solari explained. “I hated to see that happen, but there was nothing I could do.”
After a lengthy cleanup the race would finally resume, where Solari once again pounced into the lead. The race would conclude without any other serious incidents although Guibor and Carlson spun each other out on lap 80 while battling for third, putting them to the back of the pack and ending their chances for the win.
Solari was never pressed over the final 45 laps as he cruised to his second win of the season, finishing well ahead of Stearns, Moore, Stockton’s Kimberly Rouse and Lodi’s Brandon Diede.
“This one is important. The Strmiska family is one of the main reasons I got into racing. I spent a lot of time with them and I always looked up to them,” Solari said as he received a congratulatory handshake from Ron Strmiska, Jr. in victory lane after the race. “All I kept thinking about was the trophy I have in my garage for winning this race two years ago and how cool it is. Now that I have two of them it is even cooler.”
The 25-lap B-4 main had the fans out of their seats when Manteca’s Joe Flowers grabbed the early lead and then spent the remainder of the race fighting off the repeated challenges of Manteca’s Josh Cross and Stockton’s Andy Rumsey.
Cross, who is Flowers’ stepson, repeatedly tried to go high and then drop low to get around Flowers and on several occasions bumped him, all to no avail as Flowers barely held on for the victory.
“When you have your stepson running into the back of you trying to get around you and I am blocking him, it gets pretty wild,” Flowers said, before adding, “He sets my car up though so it is all good.”
After dominating the first six races of the season in the Bomber division, Donnie Darter of Valley Springs was given a 250-pound weight penalty by track officials this week. It had no effect as Darter sailed to his seventh consecutive win of the season in the 25-lap Bomber main, finishing well ahead of Salida’s Seth Holman and Valley Springs’ Justin Scantlen.
Manteca’s Jayden Cross held a comfortable lead in the 15-lap B-4 Juniors feature when his car broke with three laps to go, handing the win to Stockton’s Natalie Harper, her second of the season.
Racing returns to the 99 Speedway on Saturday, July 16, with the Spears Southwest Tour Series and Spears Pro Series Late Models, along with the B-4s and B-4 Juniors.