From Gary Thomas, image courtesy of Paul Trevino
Tulare, CA – April 10, 2010…Over the last year or so Elk Grove’s Kyle Larson has quickly positioned himself as one of the very best sprint car drivers on the west coast and on Saturday night he certainly solidified that honor by racing to an impressive victory in the main event with the Golden State Challenge 410 Series at the Groppetti Automotive Thunderbowl Raceway. Also claiming Chris & Brian Faria Memorial wins during the night were Fresno’s Craig Stidham and Chowchilla’s Alex Stanford.
The victory for Larson was his very first at the Tulare Thunderbowl and the second of his career with the Golden State Challenge Sprint Car Series. “This has always been one of my favorite tracks to race at and it feels awesome to get a win here,” said the 17-year-old driver of the Stadelhofer Construction, Peppermill Casino, Kaeding Performance No. 99. “I really have to thank Rich Stadelhofer, all my sponsors and my whole team because we had a great car tonight and it was fun being able to race with some of those guys up front and get around them for the win.”
The 30-lap GSC main event started off with Campbell’s Bud Kaeding jumping into the lead on the extremely slick and hard packed surface. For the night of racing the three-time & defending USAC Silver Crown champion sat behind the wheel of the locally based Roth Motorsports, HR Cattle No. 83jr. and looked very strong all evening long. As drivers used every inch of the 1/3 mile clay oval searching to find the best spot to put their 850 hp machines, current series point leader Jonathan Allard of Chico began his march forward by dispatching of Elk Grove’s Bobby McMahan to claim the fourth spot on lap two.
The following lap McMahan would slow as problems arose on his Racing for the Troops No. 26b that unfortunately put him out of the race while running in the fifth position. On the restart things would heat up as Larson attempted to power his way by Easton’s Tommy Tarlton for second, but the driver of the Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino, Corporate America Lending No. 21 would return the favor and hang onto the spot. As Larson and Tarlton were battling it out, Allard made it a three-car fight and the two-time King of California proceeded to make a terrific move up top in turn four to rocket around both drivers and take the runner-up spot.
Just after that wild exchange the caution lights would flash on and create a restart with Allard lurking in second as he looked to make it three wins in a row to begin the Golden State Challenge season. When the green flag came back out Allard dove to the bottom and finessed his Williams Motorsports, Sharp Insurance No. 0 under Kaeding to claim the top-spot. Kaeding wasn’t going away easy however and the pair ran side-by-side in the fight for the lead until contact in the second corner resulted in Allard spinning to a stop, which brought out the caution flag once again and ultimately ending his chances at a three-peat.
For the restart Bud Kaeding continued to sit out front, but now had father Brent Kaeding running in second with Larson in third and when flagman Willie Williams unveiled the green flag it was all about the 17-year-old from Elk Grove. Larson would jump to the high-scary-side and charge by his team owner Brent Kaeding, before going after Bud Kaeding for the lead, but just as Larson looked to make his way by for the top-spot the yellow lights came on for a spun car on lap seven to make it all for naught. The stoppage marked the final yellow of the night and when racing when back to the green for the final time Bud Kaeding, Brent Kaeding and Larson thrilled the fans by going three-wide for the lead in the first set of corners.
The exciting wheel-to-wheel battle saw Larson come out in second and just miss out on completing the pass of the Roth Motorsports sprinter for the lead. Following this the racing up front would string out a bit, but the drivers racing for fifth on back continued to run side-by-side on the slick and treacherous surface. As the laps ticked off it looked like the younger Kaeding would be headed for victory as he held a commanding lead, but Larson wasn’t done just yet and began to slowly reel him back in and make it a battle for the lead. With 10-laps remaining Kaeding and Larson would go three-wide as they split the lapped car of Pat Harvey, which saw Kaeding hang onto the point momentarily as he held the momentum up high.
The following circuit however, Larson was able to slice to the bottom and make a sweet move to slide in front of Kaeding and take over the lead, which he would never relinquish. The defending GSC Rookie of the Year would pull away over the remaining laps and flash by the checkered to tally his first victory while driving under the BK Motorsports banner. Bud Kaeding hung on for second with Tarlton crossing the stripe in third and Brent Kaeding in fourth aboard the Al’s Roofing Supply, High Five Pizza No. 69. After the early race incident while battling for the lead Allard was able to rebound nicely as he blasted back through the field to score fifth by the finish. Rounding out the top-10 were Scotts Valley’s Evan Suggs, West Linn, Oregon’s Zach Zimmerly, Grass Valley’s Jason Statler, Caruthers Garrett Ishii and Placerville’s Andy Gregg.
The USAC West Coast 360 Sprints opened-up the first race of the Southwest Contractors 360 Clash Mini-Series and for the second week in a row at the Groppetti Automotive Thunderbowl it was Fresno’s Craig Stidham standing in victory lane aboard the KRC Safety Company, Brad Johnson Trucking No. 3. “This is a fun little series and we’ve had a lot of success running without the wing so far even though I don’t have all that many starts in a non-wing sprint car,” said Stidham. “It’s pretty cool to get another win here and I just tried to drive as hard as I could because I knew there would be some fast cars coming after me.”
The main event for the USAC West Coast Sprints saw Hanford’s Jonathan Logan lead the field into the first set of corners and pace the first couple laps, until Stidham made a strong move up high in the fourth corner to move into the lead. Clovis, CA’s Peter Murphy showed speed early on and was able to charge into the second spot on lap five getting by both Logan and Bakersfield’s Rusty Carlile in one fell swoop. The driver of the Tachi Palace, Tarlton & Son No. 21 tried desperately to do something with Stidham for the lead as he closed in a few different times, but Stidham would run mistake free out front and score the victory after 30-laps of racing.
Murphy would finish second with Carlile, Davey Pombo, Logan, Justyne Hamblin, Jesse Mack, Andy Ferris, Ronnie Case and Jared Little completing the top-10 in the opening round of the Southwest Contractor’s 360 Clash. The next West Coast 360 Series event will be held on April 17 at the Santa Maria Speedway with the next edition of the Southwest Contractors Clash taking place on May 29 at the Bakersfield Speedway.
A 10-car modified field was also on hand for the Chris & Brian Faria Memorial and saw Chowchilla’s Alex Stanford dominate the 25-lap feature event. “It was nice to come back here this week to win after we had some bad luck and broke the previous Saturday here,” Stanford said. “I want to thank everyone that helps us out and want to thank all the fans for coming out and watching us tonight.” Rounding out the top-five in the main event were Ryan McDaniel, Mike Johnson, Greg Mancebo and Steve Smotherman.
Results from all the night’s racing at the Groppetti Automotive Thunderbowl Raceway will be available at http://www.thunderbowlraceway.com