Lucas Oil I-10 Speedway
Saturday, November 8, 2008
The Super Clean Modified Series Season Finale: Gerchman Wins the Battle, Dickerson Wins the War
by Dave Grayson
BLYTHE, Calif. -- Lake Havasu City-Arizona's Chris Gerchman won the R&L Carriers 75 and his first SuperClean Modified Racing Series event of the year, November 8th at the Lucas Oil I 10 Speedway, in rather convincing fashion. But it was Jimmy Dickerson winning the series championship, and the unexpected circumstances that led to it, that was the subject of conversation during the night.
(Dave Grayson photo)
When the series' teams arrived in Blythe-California, where the race track is located, for their season finale there was one basic belief in place: the 2008 SuperClean Modified Series championship was Andrew Phipps' to either take home or give away. Phipps arrived at the Lucas OIl I 10 Speedway with a slim 16 points lead over season rival Dickerson. The Simi Valley-California driver basically had to finish ninth or better, even if Dickerson won the race, to lock up the title. Based on the quality and consistency of the Phipps 2008 season it was generally believed that his impending championship was signed sealed and delivered.
But the one element that makes auto racing so extremely popular are those surprising and unexpected moments that changes the final outcome of the events. In other words: absolutely nothing is what it seems to be until the checkered flags flies through the air.
When the green flag fell on the R&L Carriers 75, and its 22 car field, Andrew Phipps roared out of the front row and immediately jumped into the lead. It was apparent that Phipps wasn't planning on spending his evening at the Lucas Oil I 10 Speedway running a conservative campaign to collect the points needed for the championship. It was completely apparent that the Phipps game plan was to collect all of the points that comes with winning the race. The Phipps modified racer was formidable from the very beginning and set a fast and furious pace while, at the same time, making quick work of slicing and dicing his way through lapped traffic.
Much to every one's total amazement, the Phipps championship run completely unravelled on lap 37 under some rather bizarre circumstances. The scenario began when James Cole spun out in turn four to bring out a caution flag. Then all of a sudden the yellow flag became a red flag and the field was brought to a complete stop. It turned out that the speedway's ambulance service was needed in the pit area to treat a spectator who had been struck in the face by flying debris from a race car. Fortunately it was a minor injury that was quickly treated and the command to re fire the engines was given. Under yellow caution flag speed again, the field motored its way around the quarter mile oval preparing for the ensuing restart. It was at this point that Phipps was observed stopping his car at the top of turn two, and again at turn four, so he could ask race officials to examine the left rear portion of his race car. Surprisingly, Phipps drove is car to the pits with plans to prepare what was reported to be a broken trailing arm.
Absolutely no one wanted to see the SuperClean Modified Racing Series championship end in this manner and a lot of crew members from the other teams converged on the scene with offers to help. In a gesture truly based on class and good sportsmanship, the members of Jimmy Dickerson's STR team were the first at the scene to offer assistance to Phipps. There were two basic reasons why those crew members wanted to help get the Phipps car back on the race track.As badly as the Dickerson team wanted this championship, they also wanted to see it settled between the two drivers on the race track. The second reason was the fact that the racing community, that comprises the SuperClean Modified Series, regards Andrew Phipps as a class act and one who would be more than worthy to represent them as the series champion. It's also well known that if the situation had been reversed the Phipps team would have been the first on the scene to offer assistance.
After obtaining the loan of a welding unit the work began but unfortunately that process was reportedly hampered by the presence of grease around the car's axle housing. Meanwhile out on the track the race was back under the green flag and the laps were turning quickly to the point that time just simply ran out for Phipps and with that passage of time went the championship that everyone felt was his. After the race was over, and in a classy gesture that surprised no one, Andrew Phipps was one of the first to congratulate Jimmy Dickerson and his team.
Making this scenario so unusual were the circumstances that a surprise mechanical failure came right after the issuance of a red flag. It was in effect a reversal of fortune. Last summer Dickerson and Phipps were racing each other hard and were in the midst of a very tight championship run. On July 12th, during a race at the Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino, this event was red flagged. When the command to re fire the engines was given Dickerson's car would not start. He had to be pushed behind the wall and lost a large of amount of laps before the problem could be repaired. Phipps finished second in that race and left San Bernardino with a huge points lead. Over time Dickerson chipped away at that lead, on the strength of his five series wins, but every time he won a race or scored a top five Phipps was always close to him in the final race standings. Going into the final race Dickerson knew that it was going to require Phipps experiencing some form of bad luck for him to win the championship. It was just amazing that Phipps' problem in Blythe featured the same red flag scenario that Dickerson experienced in San Bernardino.
While there was more than enough drama unfolding in the pits, there was also plenty of drama developing on the race track. Following the lap 37 restart Mike Salm was now in the lead. But that restart made less than one lap before the third yellow flag of the race came out due to a turn four spin. On the restart Chris Gerchman managed to work his way underneath Salm's car. The two race leaders rand door to door for two laps before Gerchman cleared Salm with a low line pass coming off of turn four. It would turn out to be the race wining move.
Gerchman paced the field for one lap before another turn four spin brought out the fourth yellow flag of the race. Two green flag laps later the fifth yellow flag, along with the second red flag, of the race presented itself under some more bizarre circumstances. It began with a bright orange traffic cone, used to mark the bottom of the backstretch, getting collected by a set of left side tires which sent it flying across the track and up against the outside retaining wall. The restart effort was foiled by the three car pile up in turn four that impacted the efforts of drivers James Cole, Randy Forbis and Mike Schmidt. In what turned out to be a tough night for plastic cones, yet another one slammed up against the front stretch wall. By now many of the spectators were looking upward and were surprised to see that there was no full moon hovering in the Blythe skyline that night.
The final caution flag of the race, due to a stalled car on lap 54, again bunched up the field and put Mike Salm right behind the rear bumper of the race leader Chris Gerchman which set up a highly anticipated shootout to the end of the race. But it turned out that the real excitement came from behind Salm's car instead of from the race leader in front of him. In the final laps of the race Salm found himself in a torrid duel for second with Jim Mardis. On the final lap of the race the two cars made contact going into turn one and Salm's car went sailing up the high line of turn two. The result was a loss of four positions and the loss of a solid runner up finish.
The final rundown of the R&L Carriers 75 saw Gerchamn leading the pack under the checkers with Mardis and Dickerson behind him while Billy Johanneck and Larry Gerchman completed the top five.
In victory lane a very happy Gerchman began the process of celebrating his first series win of 2008 and said "I'm really happy to win one. Just one out of this entire SuperClean Modified Series. I'm glad it was the last one too because now we get to go back to our houses to figure out how to catch up." Regarding racing plans for the immediate future Gerchman said "I definitely planning on running the fall and winter modified season both at the Havasu 95 Speedway and here in Blythe and then return to the SuperClean Series in 2009."
Meanwhile Jimmy Dickerson seemed to be amazed regarding how he became the 2008 SuperClean Modified Series champion and said "I just don't know what to think right now, I'm still in awe of it all. I hate to take the championship that way but we too had some bad luck at the Orange Show race. Phipps is a good guy and he's fun to race with and the Gerchmans are fun to race with. We really had a good time with everybody in the SuperClean Series." The new series champion said that he would like to return to the series next year to defend his title but that decision will be based on available sponsorship money.
Jim Mardis was making only his second start in the series this year and was extremely happy with his second place finish. "we had a real racy car tonight," he said adding "but the funny thing was we showed up today and couldn't buy tires, (the tire distributor had sold out), so we figured we're just going to have to do the best that we can. We set the car up to the point where it was as good as we could get it and it worked well for us. We just bided out time out there and everything just worked out for us tonight." Mardis is really looking forward to returning to the series full time next year and said "we actually took most of this year off so we could scale back and get ready for a full time run next year. I'm looking forward to racing with guys like Jimmy Dickerson and Andrew Phipps while giving them a good run for their money."
Greg Scheidecker, SuperClean Series co promoter as well as promoter of the Lucas Oil I 10 Speedway was thrilled with the conclusion of the R&L Carriers 75 as well as the resolution of the series championship. "There were surprises all the way from first all the way to the driver 15th in points. There were cars that were tore up that normally doesn't happen to those drivers and then it ended with Andrew, (Phipps), having his problems and the championship points lead changing hands. Wow, what a night."
As a long time race driver and promoter, Scheidecker knows talent on the track when he sees it and after the race he gave a shout out to Jim Mardis and his second place finish. "The man can drive a race car. He gets up on the wheel and he's had some success in the short amount of time that he's ran with our series.He's already indicated that he going to run the full season with us next year. He's definitely somebody who's going to be a player" Scheidecker said.
A television crew was on hand to videotape the race for presentation on "The Lucas Oil Motor Sports Hour." Coverage of the R&L Carriers 75 will be aired nationally on the Versus Network on November 30th beginning at 6 pm eastern time with a re air scheduled for December 4th at 5 pm eastern.
In addition to the title sponsor the SuperClean Modified Racing Series is supported by a highly potent marketing campaign known as "Team Lucas" which includes Lucas Oil Products Inc, Hoosier Racing Tire, Jim Beam, K&N Performance Filters, Blue Water Resort and Casino, General Tire, Fatheadz Sunglasses, Dixie Chopper, Sencon Concrete LLC, Poly Dome Plastic Products, Sunoco Race Fuels, R&L Carriers, E3 Spark Plugs and Budweiser.