The recent series of rain showers cleared out just in time to allow the Stockton 99 Speedway to open its 2019 season on Saturday night, March 23.
Race fans who braved the chilly conditions saw a respectable 16 cars line up to take the green flag in the 36-lap Stockton Late Model feature. Veteran drivers Gary Shafer Jr., of Stockton and Justin Philpott, of Tracy, led the field to the green flag and stayed out front for the entire race while waging a constant battle for the lead.
Philpott stayed glued to Shafer’s tail for the entire race, making contact with Shafer’s back bumper on more than one occasion, but was never able the navigate his way by and ultimately was forced to settle for a hard earned second place finish while Shafer took the checkered flag.
“Philpott raced me hard, but clean. Anytime I can beat him I feel I have really accomplished something,” said Shafer.
Philpott, a former two-time Late Model track champion, was also complimentary of Shafer.
“Gary and I have always raced clean. I could have been a little bit meaner, but I don’t like to race that way plus I know what it takes in time and money to put a car back together,” said Philpott. “I don’t like finishing second, it is the first loser, but we will take it.”
The victory was even sweeter for Shafer considering he was able to come back after being involved in an accident in both the practice session and trophy dash.
“My crew did an outstanding job and I can’t thank them enough. I tried to tear the car up twice and I was ready to put it on the trailer and go home, but each time they just put it back together and made it better and better.”
Christian Roche of Escalon made a late race pass underneath of 2017 track champion Arron Shankel, of Lodi, to capture the third position and Larry Tankersley, of Gridley, rounded out the top five.
Stockton’s Ben Lewis started from the pole and dominated the opening portion of the 25-lap Bomber feature until he suddenly pulled over on the front stretch when a fire burst out under the front hood of his car due to a broken fuel hose.
Track workers quickly put out the inferno, but Lewis was done for the night as he parked his car in the infield and brought out the s’mores.
Stockton’s Rodney Tripp grabbed the lead when the race finally resumed, but he was soon overtaken by Tyler Guzman of Oakdale on lap 15.
Guzman was never seriously challenged the rest of the way as he cruised to the victory ahead of Linden’s AJ Ryder and Lodi’s Harrison Stone.
“It was nice to see Lewis drop out, but I was going to catch him anyway,” said a confident Guzman after the race. “I just tried to race clean and give it all we had.”
A wild opening 10 laps of the Legends main resulted in a profusion of fender bumping, daring passes and even some four-wide racing in the corners before the dust settled with Luis Tyrell, of Brisbane, finally emerging with the lead.
No one could touch Tyrell over the next 25 laps as he cruised to a half lap win over Groveland’s Sheldon Crouse and Santa Clara’s Peter Soto.
“I had to keep my head straight those first few laps because it got pretty hairy. I was amazed there weren’t any cautions,” said Tyrell. “Once I got in front I just tried to drive hard and focus on what was ahead of me.”
An injection of new participants produced a nice field of 13 cars for the B-4 25-lap event.
Josh Cross of Manteca looked to be in control of the race through the first 22 laps before both Joe Flowers, of Manteca and Joshua Brown, of Stockton drove around him in one sudden swoop to take the top two spots.
Flowers would go on to hold off Brown for the first feature win of his career.
“Josh’s car started to get loose and his motor began to cut out. All of a sudden I was right up on him and then going around,” explained Flowers. “That was exciting!”