Thursday, July 6, 2017

Hornets Nest Stirred Up At Southern Oregon Speedway, Pit Stops

Southern Oregon Speedway Racing Discussion 
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Hornets Nest Stirred Up At Southern Oregon Speedway

White City, Oregon...Through the years, the Four Cylinder division has sometimes been an after thought at Southern Oregon Speedway. That's simply not the case anymore. The Mini Stocks and JOAT Labs Hornets are putting on some great races, and that's expected to be the case when these two classes join the Kendall Oil Winged Sprint Cars, IMCA Sport Modifieds, Valley Stor-All Late Model Lites and SODCA Dwarf Cars for a six division program this Saturday night. It's also a double header weekend as the Outlaw Kart track will have races on Friday night.

The Hornets division had everybody talking last week, and the talk started before the racing even happened. Reigning champion Tim Hedges is excited about the growth in this affordable, entry level class. In it's fifth year at the track, this division has never looked so good, and Hedges would like to keep that momentum going. He's even fielding four race cars this year. "The key is that I don't have to spend a lot of money on these cars, " said Hedges. "The rules are such that I can afford to do this, plus I get to race with my family."

Tim's wife Jenna and son Ashton drive two of the cars, and he has a guest driver in the fourth car. Tim's concern for the division is that cars are built legal to the rules. "There are a couple of things that need to be monitored with these cars, " says Hedges. "A few guys have played around with the rules a little bit, and this could all be sorted out with tech. We're just starting to get a good car count, and I want to see that continue."

JOAT Labs came on board this season as the title sponsor. Miles Deubert has been building safe, reliable roll cages for this class to get more cars out on the track. We've seen 16 different cars compete in the first three races, and JOAT Labs has built cages for David Coggins, point leader Jason Stoutenburgh, Christian Listro and the new Hedges car, among others.

Hedges believes the simple rules package, enforced properly, is key to the success of this division. "The cars are all pretty close on speed, " Tim observed. "That puts it in the hands of the drivers. There was a car out there that wasn't quite in the spirit of the rules. When the rules were enforced, suddenly that car wasn't as fast. We need more of that to keep everybody honest."

Hedges is definitely one of the more enthusiastic supporters of this class, but his night took a somewhat controversial turn in last week's Main Event. An official call was made to black flag David Coggins after he and leader Jason Stoutenburgh got together on the back stretch. The two drivers had a few lapped cars behind them and were behind slower cars when this happened, causing a moment of confusion as to who the leader was. It was Hedges, but the Stoutenburgh car was picked up as the leader. This caused Hedges to be scored twice on lap 18, and he ran his 20th lap on lap 19.

Hedges had actually won the scheduled 20 lap race, but he and Zach Nelson were still battling after completing their 20th lap. Nelson made a Turn 4 pass on the non existent 21st lap and was initially declared the winner when it was quickly discovered that Stoutenburgh was not the leader. Hedges, however, was treated like the final lead lap car in sixth, rather than the winner that he was. Officials resolved the matter on Sunday and declared Hedges the winner over Nelson and Stoutenburgh. It was his first career win.

With an extremely close Mini Stock point race, emotions boiled over a little bit after a heat race last week. The division now has six drivers within 19 points of the lead, and it is rookie Dillen Lausen leading two time winner David Steele by a mere point. Six points back in third is Kristopher Mix. Both Mix and Lausen are searching for their first career feature wins, but fourth place Gary Anderson won a few weeks ago. 2014 champion Anderson is 12 points out of the lead. Meanwhile, 2013 champion Steve Goetz grabbed his first win since his championship season to tie Michael Johnson for fifth, 19 points back. 15 year old Johnson won his first career heat race last week and went to Yreka on July 4th for his first ever Main Event win.

David Hibbard was within two laps of becoming the fourth different Kendall Oil Winged Sprint Car feature winner last week, but traffic gave Kyler Barraza the opening he needed to race by for his second win. Barraza has a 31 point lead over impressive rookie Merissa Henson. Merissa is just 16 years old, and she's done a good job of getting her car to the finish line in all but one of her races. She leads D. Hibbard by only three points in the battle for second. The Hibbard team, including David's son Bailey and family patriarch Calvin, are anticipated this week along with Enrique Jaime and Dwarf Car ace Camden Robustelli.

Mike Medel's disastrous night during Speedweek enabled Rich McCoy to close in on him in the IMCA Sport Modified point battle. Willie McFall is also off to a good start. These two drivers are within 15 points of Medel for the lead, but Medel is the only one of the three to win so far this season. These three are anticipated for a great night of racing along with two time champion Dwayne Melvin Jesse Merriman, A.J. Parker, Tony Bartell, Kalvin Morton and others.

Lee Doty has been the driver to beat since the Valley Stor-All Late Model Lites returned to the speedway. The reigning champion has six wins in nine starts, but the most recent race saw the return of Bob Westcott. Westcott has won many races in this class through the years, and he battled Doty to win the Main Event that night. These two may be at the front of the pack this week, but they can expect Bob Burkett, Charlie Eaton and Danny Prewitt to make their presence known as well.

So far, reigning champion Brock Peters and son Cody Peters have been two of the fastest competitors at the track after three SODCA Dwarf Car races. Brock has led Cody across the line for the 1-2 finish these past two races, while Camden Robustelli won the first race. These three have been putting on a great battle up front so far, but you can expect Rob Gergel, Chad Cardoza, Josh King, Randy Slater, Ryan Smith and Fred Hay to be among those giving them a run for their money this week.

Friday night will offer Outlaw Kart racing on the smaller track. There are four classes of racing, and the most recent winners were Tanner Holmes (500 Open), Carley Holmes (250 Karts), Trevor Grimes (Box Stock) and Jacob James (Beginners Box Stocks). Car count is expected to increase this week for the second event of the season. Gates open a 5:00 PM with the first race at 7:00 PM. General Admission is $10 for the Friday night races.

On Saturday night, gates open a 5:00 PM with racing on the big track starting at 7:00. Ticket prices for the six division program are $12.00 for General Admission, $6.00 for Seniors, Juniors and Military and children 5 and under free. For further information, go to

Pit Stops

There is a bit of excitement surrounding the Southern Oregon Speedway Late Model effort.  The fact is, this track has never really made a serious effort to start it's own division until Mike McCann became promoter last year.  If you go back to the old Medford Speedway, Late Models were the class.  When Southern Oregon Speedway opened, much like the Street Stock division, the Late Models were conspicuously absent from the roster.  There's always been rumblings about this division through the years, and the track did book special Late Model tour races.  The ill fated revival from seven years ago was marred by the fact that you didn't know what the purse might be from race to race.

The last two races have had eight car fields.  While that may not be huge, it is progress from where it was last year.  We saw the return of Trent Elliott, who made appearances when the class had race dates seven years ago.  Championship contenders Nathan Augustine, Dustin Knight and Kristy Grout were also among the field.  Knight arrived a bit late and gave up his starting spot in the Trophy Dash, which was won for the second time by Augustine.  However, Knight won his heat race to keep pace with fellow heat winner Elliott.

What was interesting was Knight gave up a front row spot to start back in the fourth row of the Main Event.  He wanted to give the fans a little show, and he did.  The past Dirt Modified and Pro Stock champion quickly worked his way up to second.  The problem was Elliott had a straightaway advantage, and no yellow flags flew to bunch the field.  Elliott became the third different winner of the season, while Knight used his second place finish to take the point lead.  The other factor in that was Kristy Grout.  After Augustine spun from second, it seemed like all wasn't well with his car.  Augustine was lapped late, but he made a move to pass Grout.  While the eyes might have judged it in Augustine's favor, the scoring loop saw Grout taking fourth by a very slim margin.  That .001 second margin cost Augustine two points.

You can ask Bob Dees how every point matters.  Dees was trailing two time 2016 feature winner Mike Linder last year until making his move in the season finale to win the championship.  For this season, Bob got a newer 2009 chassis, but he wanted to make it just right.  He did all of the interior, while Bruce Rayburn did the body.  He missed the season opener, but the car turned out beautifully.  After watching his son Garrett lead two laps of the Trophy Dash, Bob battled Augustine for the win before settling for second.  It's also worth noting that Garrett Dees had the body of his car done by Rayburn, and it too is a nice looking car.  Bob Dees ran a good Main Event and was a lead lap third.  He's hoping to get a win this year, and he might just do it when the division returns on July 22nd. 

G. Dees and Dave Foote took checkered flags in sixth and seventh last week, but Mike Linder retired early in the race.  Part of the reason for the optimism for the Late Model division has to do with the fact that there are other cars being built.  Don Garrett Jr. discovered a motor issue two days before the race and and to miss the week, while John Dees missed the show due to his work schedule.  Steve Lemley has had a busy work schedule, but he's planning to make the 22nd with his new trailer bringing the car.  We've heard rumors of a few cars being prepared, one of which will be piloted by Sport Mod and Modified ace Rich McCoy.  Are we entering a new Late Model era at the speedway?  It might be too early two say, but it's looking better than it has in a long time.

The Pro Stock division is a bit of a mystery.  There is a question about who is willing to support the Medford effort at the moment.  Both drivers who were present at the first two races this year were absent last week.  Josh Kralicek was the leader coming into the night.  Derrel Nelson Jr. had been driving the Hackworth Racing #30 car, but word is that this car was sold to Chris Silva.  Silva had the #203 IMCA Modified at the speedway earlier this year.  The Association group, which is largely based out of Klamath Falls, originally only committed to four dates.  When a rainout occurred earlier this year, they chose to move that race to another track, rather than reschedule a later Medford date.  They supported the Roger Haudenshild Tribute and are only planning to support two more races at the moment.

It was anticipated that there might only be 6-8 cars from the Medford area supporting the effort to bring the class back under the track's umbrella, but that support hasn't come despite an increased purse.  Racers such as Tyler Lockwood, Brian Johnsen, Dave Everson and Darron Arnold haven't been seen yet, while we've seen Ken Irving and Dan Randall once.  Irving commented that he prefers racing here and he will support the association races at the track.  Eventually, his son Dillon Irving will be taking the wheel of the #1 car.  Saturday saw the return of Dr. Scott Lenz, who is hoping for the division's inclusion at the R. Charles Snyder Salute.  However, lack of support from a division capable of bringing 12-16 cars leaves that possibility in doubt.  Lenz is definitely an asset to Pro Stock racing, and he won the heat, dash and Main Event ahead of Miles Deubert and Tom Hackworth last week.  What happens to this division in the future depends on the support of the racers, but the purse has not been cut due to low turnout.

OTRO Hardtops fielded five cars this past week.  Jamie Britton looked pretty fast when he showed up out of nowhere for the opener.  He wasn't even an OTRO member.  He just wanted to race on the dirt.  He's since joined the group, and he drove the #11 car to a heat win and a third in the feature at the second race.  Jamie took it up a notch last week in winning his heat race, the dash and feature, snapping a two race winning streak for Mark Minter.  He also joins Trevor Thomason as the only other OTRO driver to score a sweep in their eight appearances.  Thomason is no longer driving the Vic & Louise Bridges #63 car, but past Marysville Raceway Stock Car competitor Bruce Wilkerson is now driving.  Bruce had a good battle going with Minter last week before settling for third as Bill Trotter and Ken Lerwell both took checkered flags.  OTRO comes back on July 22nd and will race on Night #2 of the Dwarf Car Nationals on August 5th.

Also competing at those two events as well as this week will be the Kendall Oil Winged Sprint Cars.  We haven't gotten the chance to see much of Camden Robustelli in his Sprint Car, but scheduling is such that he can race both his Dwarf Car and Sprint Car at all three events.  Camden has missed a couple of Dwarf Car point races, but the two race throwaway rule allows for that.  He's very much interested in winning the SODCA Dwarf Car championship after back to back runnerup seasons.  It's the last accomplishment left to be had on that level as Camden is also an Outlaw Kart champion.  Robustelli started racing in the Sprint Car class two years ago and already has two wins at Cottage Grove to his credit.  Still on the horizon is his first Medford win.  What he needs is more seat time at his home track, and as he gets comfortable, he will be a factor in the battle for victory.

This is something you'd expect from 2014 Cottage Grove champion David Hibbard.  Hibbard has won his share of races at both Cottage Grove and Medford through the years.  When the rules were open last year, David beat some 360 Sprint Cars in a thrilling battle for a win.  This year has been a mixed bag for the man who has gone above and beyond in the effort to grow this class at his home track.  He fell out of the opener with motor problems and was eliminated in an opening lap crash at the next race.  He finished second to his son Bailey in Race #3, but last week's win had David's name written all over it.  He won his heat race and the Scramble and for 23 glorious laps led the way in the Main Event.  He wasn't putting a lot of distance between himself and point leader Kyler Barraza, but barring any mistakes, David was going to be the fourth different winner in four races.

Unfortunately, in a 25 lap race, anything can happen.  Enrique Jaime was having an overheating issue during the race.  He went to the high side and ran about five laps at a reduced speed in an effort to cool off his engine.  Once the numbers read a but lower, he got back on it, but leaders D. Hibbard, Barraza and B. Hibbard were approaching fast.  As they exited Turn 2 on lap 24, Jaime was in D. Hibbard's path.  This opened the door wide, and Barraza drove by for his second win of the season.  D. Hibbard was a disappointed second.  It was still a solid point night that moved him to within three points of Merissa Henson, but if you know the competitor that David is, he really wanted that win.  It would not be wise to count him out this week.

The points may be shuffled further.  With a special Wingless Sprint Car race being sponsored by Mark Herz of Herz Precision Parts at another track this week, Barraza may make a run for a big payday this Saturday.  He ran the July 4th Extreme Sprint twin features at Cottage Grove and had a fourth and a third that night.  If Barraza skips this week's race, it will not end his championship effort by any means.  He could still be leading, and he'd only be a few points behind if not.  Impressive rookie Merissa Henson is the next in line, and she has done a good job of staying smooth and getting good finishes this season.  She was a lead lap fourth last week, which helped keep her in second in the standings.  "Rookie Of the Year" was her first goal for this year, but the other two possibilities should not be dismissed.  She could win the championship, and she could also win her first race before the season is over. 

We've heard some Sprint Car news on two fronts moments before this column was to run.  The Shawna Overton Sprint Car has just been purchased and should see it's first Medford start on July 22nd.  However, the bigger news is the return of reigning champion Jake Wheeler to the fold this week.  Wheeler will be using a motor from the Hibbard Racing Team as he returns for a couple of races.  The Wheeler family has been strong supporters of Sprint Car racing in Medford through the years, and both he and his father Vern Wheeler were Main Event winners last season.  Having Jake in the field is good news for the fans as this kid is a hard charger and a threat to win when he's racing at his home track.

The "always exciting" Mini Stocks lived up to their name last week.  With points as close as they are, there were a few animated discussions taking place in the pits after the races.  The motor problems encountered by 2015 Yreka champion David Steele have been the difference after four events.  Steele shot out of the gate like a cannon ball with back to back wins to kick off the season.  He started encountering motor issues in his back to back visits to Yreka, and he missed both of those Main Events.  In the third Medford race, Steele knew the motor wasn't long for this world, but he gave it one more effort to get a feature start.  It lasted a lap before it let go.

While David has been working out his own motor issues, he's also been working on teammate Steve Goetz's motor.  He encountered a change in the way the oil pumps are made that has forced him to change the way he's been doing his motor, but all seemed well last Saturday.  As for Goetz, a rocker arm needed replacing following his third start.  The race was going well in the Top 3, but it didn't end so well.  Both Steele and Goetz had their fingers crossed last Saturday, and Steele started things off with a heat race win.  Unfortunately, after getting as high as second, Steele ended up watching the finish from the sidelines.  He was still scored in fifth, meaning it was an acceptable point night.  It certainly could have been much worse.

For Goetz, it was time to end the streak of only five different drivers to win Main Events since 2014.  The 2013 champion led from the start and won his first Main Event since 2013.  He had to beat the guy wheeling his old championship car, 2014 champion Gary Anderson.  Both Goetz and Anderson are back in the championship hunt now.  Anderson can relate to the motor problems as he had back to back bad nights before putting it together for his first win of the year in the third event.  Anderson decided to go back to his motor from last year, which served him well in his runnerup point season last year.  The fact that these two are now running strong is bad news for the hungry young drivers seeking their first feature wins.  By the way, the Goetz win now means there are eight different winners since 2013.  Only Steele, Goetz, Anderson and reigning champion Bob Burkett are left on the roster from the list of eight, and Burkett is expected to be in the Valley Stor-All Late Model Lites field this week.

Michael Johnson has everybody taking notice of him in the #777 car.  The son of past division champion Mike "Zeus" Johnson is just 15 years old, but he's been getting up on the wheel and running the high groove lately.  Johnson needed help getting pushed off and nearly did not start his heat race last week.  Fortunately for him, the car finally started and he battled fellow championship hopeful Kristopher Mix for his first career heat race win.  It gets better for Johnson.  After a career best third in the Main Event, his team headed to Yreka to tackle the dry slick conditions there on July 4th.  Michael was working the outside groove like nobody else, but third generation racer Mix was getting it done on the inside until a mistake with two laps to go cost him the lead and forced him to settle for third.  Johnson made no such mistakes, even with 2014 Yreka champion "Magic" Mike Whitaker trailing him.  He made Zeus a proud papa by bringing the winner's trophy back to the Johnson house.

Is Johnson going to be the driver to finally break the strangle hold of the veterans for a Main Event win at his home track?  Mix is hoping to have something to say about that.  The same can be said for 16 year old Dillen Lausen, who currently leads the points.  These three have to be considered threats to win now.  Andrew Hall seems to be as fast as any of them in his Pinto Wagon.  He won his first career Trophy Dash at the third event of the season, but he got caught up in a tangle that left him with a damaged front bumper in last week's feature.  He came back after losing laps, but it was a disappointing night for both he and Neon Mafia teammate Mix.  It certainly wasn't a night that had rookie Hunter Magnan turning cartwheels either.  He was out of the race early with front end damage.  There might have been a question of whether Hunter would have the #33m car ready for this week, but he was in Yreka on July 4th and finishing a career best fourth in the Main Event that was won by Johnson.

In the JOAT Labs Hornets division, it has been a wide open battle after three races with three different winners in Joby Shields, David Coggins and Tim Hedges.  Shields sold his #555 car prior to the most recent race as he has begun working on an IMCA Sport Modified.  Last week, he took the wheel of the JOAT Labs #553 rental car.  What is interesting to note is the point leader so far is Jason Stoutenburgh.  Jason is still looking for his first feature win, but he can also point to 2016 champion Tim Hedges, who won his championship without a Main Event win.  Stoutenburgh won both his heat race and the Trophy Dash last week.  He was leading when the moment occurred that thrust the finish of the race into chaos.  Up until that point, he and Coggins were in heavy traffic in a battle for the lead.

When Coggins and Stoutenburgh got together on the back stretch, resulting in Jason spinning, David was given the black flag.  With several of the cars running close together and a few getting their laps back, there was confusion as to who was leading the race.  It was Tim Hedges, but the scorers picked up on Stoutenburgh.  This resulted in Hedges and Zach Nelson both being scored twice on lap 18.  They both ran their 20th lap on lap 19 with Hedges in front, and the non existent 21st lap was where Nelson made a pass for the lead.  Unfortunately for Hedges, Nelson was honored as the winner, but it was determined on Sunday that Hedges was the actual winner.  This was his first win, and his stable of four cars were all in the Top 6 at the finish.  Tim is now in second and zeroing in on Stoutenburgh in the championship battle.  Jenna Hedges has been quietly lurking in this point battle and enjoyed a fourth place finish last time.  She is currently third in the standings.

We're still seeing new drivers joining the ranks as 16 cars have competed after three races.  In the third event, young Dillon Irving was there in his red #11 car.  The son of two time Pro Stock champion Ken Irving is being groomed for his eventual Pro Stock ride.  Brandon Wonsyld and Matt Butler were two new competitors last week.  Wonsyld was making his first start, while Butler has been competing at Coos Bay Speedway this season and was running in the Top 10 in points there.  All three of these drivers grabbed a checkered flag as 10 of the 11 starters finished the competitive race.