Daring driving defines Speedway's Gerhardt Classic
By Mark Smith
The Madera Tribune
In a once-a-year LoanMart Madera Speedway race that runs 70 laps longer than the circuit's norm,
it's undeniable that absolutely anything can happen.
Such an adage was more true than ever Saturday night during the Gerhardt Classic 100-lap United States Auto Club/Bay Cities Racing Association Midgets
race, which saw Chad Nichols easily hold the lead for more than 50 laps, but - to the gasps of the crowd - drop out in the last five.
The race - like all others Saturday - was held in tribute of legendary auto racing engineer Fred Gerhardt and, fitting to a mechanic who built cars in the wild
days of racing's past, packed with awe-inspiring moments.
Whether it was Jerome Rodella in the electric blue five car making a potential suicide dive through five opponents in lap traffic to hold onto his then-lead,
David Goodwill and Michael Snider exchanging the second-place spot three times in one lap, or of course, Nichols cruising to a lead measured by seconds,
there was something for every fan in what could, without a doubt, be called a truly classic event.
Within four laps, Nichols found himself in second place behind Rodella, who put on a great display from the lead position for 42 turns around the "Fastest
One-Third Mile in the West."
However, in that 42nd lap, Rodella - who spent the last several laps fending off the rising Nichols - made contact with the 98 car of Jarred Bondel, which sent
him to the back of the pack.
That put Nichols firmly in the lead as several other strong contenders, such as Tanner Swanson and Cody Gerhardt, were already out due to motor troubles.
For the next 53 laps, it looked to be all Nichols for the checkered, though Goodwill and Snider battled for second behind him.
But in lap 95, everything changed when Nichols's engine apparently blew and forced him from the race.
"I'm pretty sure it's my motor," Nichols said. "The car was running perfect until ten laps ago … I was hoping it would limp across for five more but it just
Ultimately, it was Snider that took home the checkered flag and the annual race's coveted silver trophy.
"I feel so good," Snider said with a sheepish grin in the winner's circle. "I'm amazed because I thought (Nichols) had it in the bag and then I look up and see I'm
on top … I was like alright, I can't spin out, I can't make any mistakes, I have to have the smartest race I can with five to go."
The USAC/BCRA midgets wasn't the only race with their share of excitement Saturday, of course.
In the 360/410 race, which pits super modifieds against winged sprint cars, Jim Birges - like Nichols - looked unbeatable.
But in lap 34 of the 50-lap event, Birges's car failed him too, and he was sent to the infield as smoke billowed forth from his engine.
That left Kyle Vanderpool, a perennial contender and Madera native, in a comfortable lead to the easy finish.
Vanderpool said he was disappointed Birges had to drop out but pleased with the win all the same.
"It sucks to see him get out because it was good racing but it is what it is," Vanderpool said. "Racing's racing and anything can happen." Vanderpool remains the
points leader in the speedy series.
In the USAC HPD Midgets, top qualifier Dylan Nobile proved unstoppable once he overtook Tom Patterson in lap three.
After Nobile swiftly swooped past Patterson in turn one, he increased his lead by as much as two-tenths of a second each lap on the way to a victory nearly
three seconds ahead of all challengers.
"I feel great," Nobile said. "Last race we had some trouble with my brakes but they held up for today and I was just on it. Feels good."
Behind him, though, the battle for second place raged on.
For much of the 30-lap event, Patterson fended off the seven car of Shawn Buckley until lap 19, when Buckley spun out in turn two for the event's lone yellow
On the restart, the double-zero of Cody "Slim Shaggy" Jessop and three car of Duke Love zipped past Patterson.
Jessop, a 14-year-old Maderan who consistently finishes in the event's top three spots, kept Love at a distance until lap 22, when Love pushed hard for second
Love moved right up to Jessop's bumper for five laps, and in lap 27 made a clean move onto the inside line of turn one for a second spot he wouldn't
"I just knew right then I had to get around Cody Jessop," said Love, happy with the finish in only his third race for the HPD class. "I've known Cody for 10 years,
he's a great driver, he's not going to make a lot of mistakes. So at a certain point I had to stick to it and wait for my shot."
Jessop said he was glad to take third as he almost wasn't in the race at all.
"Yesterday the drive line and everything was all bent, my clutch was kind of messed up, so we didn't know if we were going to race," Jessop said. "But we pulled
the motor out, put it back in, and top three today. I can't ask for more than that."
For the Northern California Modified Association sprints, Audra Sasseli used consistent, solid lines to overtake Eric Humphries in the race's last five laps to
the cheers of the crowd.
Humphries, for his part, used a courageous maneuver in the very first lap to snag the lead when, in turn three, he darted underneath two cars in a very short
window of opportunity.
However, though Sasseli was about eight-tenths of a second behind, she made up the difference little by little - a half-inch or so each lap.
By lap 25, she pulled the trigger on a daring move of her own and went underneath Humphries on turn one and, in a flash, the win was hers.
"I got an icky start there but I was kind of pacing myself," Sasseli said. "So I tried a few different lines and I saw (Humphries) was getting a bit looser. So I knew if
I hit my marks perfectly every time I was going to catch up … I looked up, had five laps to go, and so I thought I'm just going to nail in and see what happens.
And it worked!"
Other winners on the night included Courtney Burks in the USAC HPD restricted midgets, and Ohio driver Ricky Bowers in the Twisted Tea Modifieds.
The Speedway will go dark next week and return July 26 for a jam-packed night.
Races scheduled for that evening include: Race #5 of the $1,000-to-win LoanMart Open Late Model Series; Race #5 of the Hobby Stock Open Series; Legends
of the Pacific; MST's; Toyota Sedans; 4-Bangers; Mini Cup; and the 18-Second Bracket Race.
360/410 Super Modifieds/Winged Sprints (50 laps)
Ken Hamilton-(1 lap)
Eric Humphries-(1 lap)
Joey Aguilar-(2 laps)
Art McCarthy-(3 laps)
Donnie Large-(3 laps)
Steve Johns-(3 laps)
Jim Birges-(16 laps)
Jeff Collins-(22 laps)
Chad Nichols-(44 laps)
USAC/BCRA Midgets (100 laps)
Jarred Bondel-(1 lap)
Gary Conterno-(1 lap)
Chad Nichols-(5 laps)
Floyd Alvis-(7 laps)
David Pricketts-(7 laps)
Jerome Rodella-(47 laps)
JR Williams-(53 laps)
Lauren Snider-(63 laps)
Cody Gerhardt-(80 laps)
Tanner Swanson-(86 laps)
Rick Holbrook-(97 laps)
Twisted Tea Modifieds (60 laps, 30-lap split)
Kevin Nichols-(20 laps)
Robbie Knittel-(29 laps)
USAC HPD Midgets (30 laps)
Joel Rayborne-(1 lap)
Christine Breckenridge-(12 laps)
USAC HPD Midgets (Restricted, 15 laps)
Jesse "James" Burks-(-0.757)
NCMA Sprints (30 laps)
David Burcett-(1 lap)
Steve Amador-(1 lap)
Bud Trumble-(28 laps)
QUALIFYING (2 LAPS):
360/410 Super Modifieds/Winged Sprints
Twisted Tea Open Modified Series
USAC HPD Midgets
Jesse "James" Burks-16.066
360/410 Super Modifieds/Winged Sprints (Heat 1, 6 laps)
360/410 Super Modifieds/Winged Sprints (Heat 2, 6 laps)
Donnie Large-(3 laps)
USAC HPD Midgets (Heat 1, 8 laps)
USAC HPD Midgets (Heat 2, 8 laps)
USAC HPD Midgets (Heat 3, Restricted, 8 laps)
Jesse "James Burks
NCMA Sprints-(Heat 1, 8 laps)