Lucas Oil I-10 Speedway
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Phipps Wins Superclean Modified Series Title During a Crash Filled Night in Blythe
by Dave Grayson
BLYTHE, Calif. -- The SuperClean Modified Racing Series officially closed out its 2009 season with a championship night held October 17th at the Lucas Oil I 10 Speedway in Blythe-California. This series is well known for its hard charging, door to door, open wheel racing with very few on track incidents. Somehow that fell apart on this night in Blythe. There were a whopping nine yellow caution flags and four red flags. At one point series co promoters Greg Scheidecker and Bill Rozhon were actually seen examining the Blythe skyline checking for the presence of an unscheduled full moon.
(Dave Grayson photo)
There was drama long before the green flag fell on the series' 75 lap feature that night. There was a skin tight points battle for a rather lucrative points championship. Andrew Phipps came to town with a six point lead over James Cole and a 16 point lead over Chris Gerchman in third. It was a points race that was too close to call in a racing environment where literally anything could alter those points numbers without warning.
However Phipps came up with the right solution to the points race. In an effort to protect his points lead, he simply led the last 72 laps of the race for his third win of 2009 and his first championship worth $3,500 in post season cash bonuses and sponsor merchandise.
But this is not to imply that the new champion had an easy night of it. Far from it. This race was loaded with drama from Saturday afternoon qualifying all the way to the 75th lap of a wreck marred feature.
It all began Saturday afternoon with qualifying when 14 year old Austin Barnes made it very clear that his track time during the practice session held the night before paid off in a very big way. The Escondido-California driver toured the Lucas Oil I 10 Speedway's quarter mile paved oval in 14.617 seconds. But the pre race inversion ceremony turned up the number four. That put James Cole and Tim Morse on the front row of the 75 lap feature.
Prior to the start of the race, the field observed their recently established tradition of doing some parade laps while carrying small American flags. With patriotic music from the track's public address system, this really was an awesome sight and the fans in the packed grandstands stood and cheered loudly.
Unfortunately it would turn out to be the last positive thing that happened in this race prior to the crowning of a new champion.
Even starting this race was not going to be easy. Before the field could complete the first lap there was a caution flag due to a turn four spin out. That necessitated a complete restart. But once again the complete field failed to make a complete lap. This time the problem was a multi car crash on the frontstretch.
The third time was the charm and the SuperClean championship night was finally underway. James Cole jumped into the lead and paced the field for the first three circuits. After that Andrew Phipps made what would turn out to be the race winning move and took a lead that he never relinquished.
Throughout this race there were all those yellow flags with the causes running the gamut from single car spins to multi car crashes. Again, totally out of character for this series. There was even a yellow flag to remove a lapped car from the track because the driver refused to heed the move over flag and would not get out of the way of the leaders.
There was actually a very large reason for this unusually high level of intensity. The SuperClean Modified Racing Series awards post season bonuses to the top 15 drivers in the standings. Going into this final race the points spread among the top 15 were even closer than the championship contenders. For example there were three drivers tied for seventh with a fourth driver only eight points behind them. There were two drivers tied for 15th, the final post season bonus position with a driver in 17th only six points away from them. This was the final night for drivers to improve on their points status and the cash bonuses that came with that.
During the late stages of the race the yellow flags were being replaced by red ones bringing the field of cars to a complete stop. There were two reasons for this. First, it allowed the track safety crew to complete clean up duties unobstructed. Secondly, it prevented the element of fuel mileage from becoming a factor in this race. When the SuperClean Modified Racing Series promotes a 75 lap feature it means 75 laps of green flag racing. They do not count caution laps. But on this night there were so many caution laps there was a genuine concern by officials that some of the cars might actually run out of fuel before the race was over.
The final caution flag of the race came out on lap 69 and, once again, Phipps watched his lead over the field evaporate. By now 2008 champion Jimmy Dickerson was in second and a late race showdown for highly anticipated. But on that final restart the rear of Dickerson's modified wiggled to the right. It only took a fraction of a second to straighten out the situation but that's all the time Phipps needed to open up a three car length lead as he came across the start finish line.
Dickerson quickly closed that gap and did everything he could to steal the win on the final laps but Phipps wasn't going to have anything to do with that. Tim Morse, Doug Carpenter and James Cole followed them under the checkers to complete the top five.
After parking his Spartan Trucking-Ron's Rear Ends modified in the Lucas Oil I 10 Speedway's victory lane. It had been a long race. He was very tired but very happy.
After the race the very happy winner said "our goal was to come out here and win the race. We said from day one that we wanted to win races and the points will fall where they will. It's been a tough year. This series is so competitive and the guys here are really tough. The roll of the dice on the pre race invert and how that falls can be huge. There's so many guys driving at the same speed that sometimes it's really hard to pass them. I got lucky tonight and had a good starting spot. I was able to get into the lead and I took care of my tires while everyone else had to race their butts off to try and get to me. It worked out. I can't believe that we finally won one here at Blythe. It's a tough little track. I've just got to thank all of my guys who worked really hard. It was really a lot of fun."
This championship is sweet redemption for Phipps. This time last year he arrived in Blythe poised to take the title home. But a late in the race mechanical failure sent him home empty handed. Commenting on his reversal of fortune he said "I was sitting in the car thinking this is deja vu all over again. I was in the lead and it was about lap 20 and I was thinking man I hope this car doesn't break. Around lap five I came over the radio to ask if I had a problem with the right front tire because it didn't feel right. I think it was just in my head but I was afraid it was going to go away again. I was happy to be able to bring it home in one piece."
Commenting on the unusually high number of caution flags in the race the new champion said "I thought it was getting ridiculous at the end. It took about 15 minutes to run the final ten laps. It was getting frustrating. But this is a hard track. It destroys the tires. The cars don't drive that good when the tires are cooked. It's a tough situation. I was really hoping they would call the race around lap 65. I saw Dickerson coming like crazy there at the end and I thought man they need to end this race."
Despite having to settle for second Dickerson was all smiles after the race. "We were just hanging out," he said adding "our car was a little loose and all we could do was just pick them off one at a time. I want to congratulate Andrew Phipps and thank my sponsors: Arce Engines, Applied Decorative Concrete, the Brucker family for giving me the opportunity to drive the car, Competitive Metals and of course the crew who were just awesome tonight."
When asked for an opinion on the unusually high number of caution flags in the race Dickerson said "it's the end of the season, everyrone's hungry and wants to win one. They just weren't giving an inch out there. Tough night, everybody wants to win."
Burbank-California's Tim Morse had a solid third place finish in his #10 modified sponsored by Sunoco Fuel, CMJ Racing Inc, Ron's Rear Ends, Burbank Speed and Machine and Lee's Power Steering. "This was one great race. I felt like I was in the thick of things. At the beginning of the race the car just didn't feel right. It had no bite, it wouldn't turn right and it was really loose in the center of the corners. But with tonight being the wreck fest that it was, all of a sudden the car came back to me. I think it may have had something to do with the heat cycle in the tires. But it was a great night, I was in the thick of things and to get a third place out of this what a battle." Morse said.
Doug Carpenter made everyone smile with his fourth place finish a series personal best for him. "It was a really good run. We tried to run on old tires and backed it into the wall during the first two laps of practice so we didn't get much practice at all. We had to straighten up the back quarter panels, take the bumper off and basically repair it completely. It was a lot of work to do before we could get back out there," he said.
Carpenter made it point to thank his sponsors during the 2009 season which included: Ball Renegade, Pro Gear, crew chief Doug Kirstie who puts a lot of money into the car along with Napa Auto Parts.
Carpenter said it's been a long time since he's seen a series race with that many caution flags adding "It's never been this bad in years. It was pretty bad out there tonight."
James Cole described his night as a roller coaster ride after bringing his Mission Auto Parts-Swenson Racing-Screen Pro Graphics-Fly Navy modified to a fifth place finish. "We knew coming into this race that we had to do something a little bit special to be able to catch Andrew. He had a couple of points on us, we knew we had to take a baseball bat and take a big swing at it and hoped that it all turned out. So we got really aggressive from the time we rolled off the trailer. We had a really fast car but we struggled a little bit and just had some bad luck. We got sent to the back and then came back up. To finish fifth tonight with the car we had is just awesome. We still have a lot to learn and this car is still very new but we're learning every time we come out with it. All these people here who are involved in this team are the ones who really deserve the credit. We've improved so much over last year and I think we'll have something really strong for them in the future and have a chance to win every time. Andrew really deserves this. This is a tough group of guys to run with and he deserves this," the Texas based driver said.
Series co promoter Greg Scheidecker, after reflecting on the race, said "I really don't want to say I expected it but I just had a feeling. When you've got 17 positions that can change in the points, and did, then every body's fighting to move up one position and that's exactly what we saw tonight. This was probably one of the more difficult nights we had trying to put on our show. There was a lot of pushing, a lot of shoving and not a lot of patience."
The complexion of this race may likely implement a location change for next year according to Scheidecker who said "I was talking to (head tech inspector Allan Brown) Brownie and Bill, (Rozhon series co promoter), and we agree that Blythe is not your typical race track. This is a very tight bullring. Next year we do not want the championship race held at a place that doesn't allow that extra two inches where the Havasu 95 Speedway does. So next year we're going to finish our season at a race track that is probably more favorable for our type of racing. All in all my God what a night. There was even racing in the pits tonight I mean it was all over the place."
But Scheidecker was very happy for his new series champion and said "it really makes me feel good to see all of these competitors come over to congratulate him. That's what this is all about. The man has paid his dues. Last year he was leading in points and suffered a part failure. Then this year he comes back leading the points but this time he finished it off. The man earned it, he really put it to them."
Scheidecker was also happy to see his good friend Doug Carpenter have such a good run and said "Doug's last race was really terrible. I was talking to him tonight before the main event and said every time you have a bad run the next race is a good run. Just go do it and he did. He started somewhere around 18th I think and finished fourth. That's a drive to the front and the man should be congratulated."
Three weeks ago head tech inspector Allan Brown said that his crew would be taking a stronger look at the cars prior to the championship race. "The tech process went really good tonight," Brown said adding "we did check the cars for unlocked rear ends and everyone of our cars didn't have one. They were locked up solid."
Commenting on the aggressive nature of the race itself Brown said "these guys, from first to 15th, were running for points and they were just running hard. You make a little mistake and with a split second blink of an eye cars start spinning and it becomes a mess."
Offering his assessment of the evening was series co promoter Bill Rozhon who said "I've got to congratulate Andrew Phipps. They unloaded and worked hard on their car last night as well as today. Andrew whipped them tonight. He had to endure a part failure that cost him the title last year but he won his championship tonight. I'm very proud of Andrew."
Commenting on the hard racing Rozhon said "the guys were just racing hard. The first impression might be that we had a horrible race but there was so much tight racing. This is the toughest race track that we race on. The guys just raced hard. There was a lot of stuff tonight and some tempers flared but it's understandable. They worked hard all year and a lot of their cars got tore up tonight. But I'm really proud of our guys. They really do get along with each other and they help each other and I feel like that's always going to be a part of our racing atmosphere. They're really a good group of people and I respect each and every one of them."
In addition to its title sponsor the SuperClean Modified Racing Series is supported by a highly potent marketing concept known as "Team Lucas." Team members include: Lucas Oil Products, E3 Spark Plugs, R&L Carriers, Dixie Chopper, General Tire and K&N Performance Filters.
There is also the strong support from the official series sponsors which includes SuperClean Products, Hoosier Tire West, Budweiser, Blue Water Resort and Casino, Sunoco Fuel, Frank's Radio, DJ Safety, Steve Teets of STR-Short Track Race Cars, Poly Dome Plastic Products, Racing Plus and Mac Tools.