Saturday, June 9, 2012
Barnes Scores Again in Lucas Oil Modified Action in Blythe
by Dave Grayson
BLYTHE, Calif. -- The Lucas Oil Modified Racing Series, presented by 1 800 Loan Mart, dropped the green flag on round four of their 2012 season, June 9th, at one of the series' most challenging venues: the tightly wound quarter mile bullring at the Lucas Oil I 10 Speedway in Blythe-California. When the checkers fell on the CANIDAE All Natural Pet Foods 75, it was Austin Barnes who parked his car in the Sunoco Fuels victory lane for the third time this year.
At the very beginning of the race, the capacity crowd rose to their feet while the drivers did the series' traditional display of holding American flags out of their windows. Very few of those fans sat down again once this race started. The CANIDAE 75 was packed with action from the initial green flag to the conclusion of the 75th lap. This race featured intense racing action from the leaders at the front of the pack all the way to the rear of the 22 car field.
Austin Barnes' excellent weekend in Blythe began on Saturday afternoon during qualifying. The Escondido-California high school student easily swept the session by turning a lap of 14.201 seconds. In the process of that hot lap, Barnes set a new track record which he already owned. The lap also earned him the $100 bonus from the Budweiser Fast Time Award as well as two additional championship points from the E3 Spark Plugs Bonus Program. This accomplishment was quite remarkable in light of the fact that Barnes was ill, due to heat stroke, while he was in the car qualifying.
The pre race inversion ceremony turned up the number three and that put reigning series champion Jim Mardis on the pole position. Chris Gerchman moved up to the outside position of the front row while Barnes lined up in third.
When the 22 starters took the initial green flag, Jim Mardis made quick work to take the lead with Gerchman right on his rear bumper. Mardis led the first 16 circuits before Gerchman and Barnes found a way to pass him to take over second and third.
From that point it was Gerchman and Barnes locked together. The only time this two man run to the checkers slowed down was for the event's seven caution flags and the presence of lapped traffic that, towards the end of the race, occasionally resembled a bad day on the Los Angeles freeway system.
The last of the yellow caution flags came out on lap 64. The anticipation level was extremely high among those watching this race because everyone knew the restart was going to be go time for Gerchman and Barnes.
The two drivers did not disappoint anyone. Under green for the final time, Barnes put on a furious charge and made every move possible to get around Gerchman. The opportunity presented itself while the pair of leaders were racing off of turn four en route to completing lap 70. There was just barely enough room available for Barnes to work his car underneath Gerchman coming off of the corner. As they entered the front stretch, their two front tires collided. Both drivers did an outstanding job of car control following that hit. By now the capacity crowd were literally jumping up and down while watching Barnes make the race winning move heading into turn one. Five laps later Barnes, Gerchman and Mardis drove under the checkers while Matt Hicks and David Lord completed the top five.
After parking his modified racer in the Sunoco Fuels victory lane, the happy race winner said "we had to put a new carburetor on the engine following Friday's practice and it worked out really good. We were able to break our own track record in qualifying and that turned out to be a good thing because Chris Gerchman and Jim Mardis also broke the old record. In the main event, Chris and Jim were having an intense battle and Chris managed to get around him and I followed him. Then, for about 50 laps of the race, I kept trying to get around him. It seemed like every chance I had to pass him we would either get caught up in lapped traffic or we would have another yellow flag."
Commenting on the race winning move, Barnes said: "by lap 70 both of our cars seemed to have developed a little push. He started to slide up the track a little bit and I was able to take advantage of that. Coming off of turn four, about a lap later, I was pinned low and I ran over the curb which caused me to push him a little after I came off of the curb. We touched wheels but fortunately there was no damage. From there I cruised the rest of the way for the win."
Barnes made it a point to thank those who support his family owned team including "Impact Safety Products, MasterCraft Safety Products and 1 800 Loan Mart who came on with us this year. Colby Estes and everyone there are great people. I'd also like to thank About Service Automotive, Electro Tech Powder Coating and Monument Machine Tech. These are the people who have helped create our perfect season and we couldn't ask for anything more."
Also with a big smile on his face was Jimmy Dickerson, the team's spotter and Barnes' driving mentor. "From what I saw of tonight's race, Austin was really smart about what he was doing, he thought about it while trying to set Chris up. He was patient and waited until he had a good shot at him and then drove underneath him while doing what he had to do to get by him," Dickerson said.
Yet another member of this team, with a huge smile on his face, was Ted Barnes, the team owner and more importantly proud father. "Austin was pretty sick all day and got heat stroke. We were just worried about him finishing. We could see him looking at Chris on every lap while trying to figure out his line, and where he was going, to be able to make his move. There was just enough room and if that wasn't a clean pass then I don't know what is. He really did an awesome job, especially under the circumstances. We have learned so much over the past three years in this series. Hopefully, this is our year. We're working really hard at it. We love this series, there's none better. Greg Scheidecker, Bill Rozon, Allan Brown and all of the rest of them do such a great job and we're just proud to be in the series," he said.
Chris Gerchman scored another second place finish in his Peggy's Sunrise Cafe/G&G Automotive ride. After the race the Lake Havasu City-Arizona native, now commuting from the state of Texas to the series races, shared some thoughts on the CANIDAE 75.
"I was running really good until those last few laps," he said adding "the car seemed to be getting a little bit tighter on me but I knew that was coming. Somehow Barnes found something during the last few laps and he got around me and I lost some more points to him."
After finishing third in his Blue Water Technologies/1 800 Loan Mart modified, Yucaipa-California's Jim Mardis said: "in the end it turned out to be a fun race. We only put one tire on the car, which is kind of funny. Our mission for coming here was to get at least a top three finish and not tear up our equipment. We've had two really bad races coming into this night and we just wanted to get a decent run for ourselves to get our confidence back. Blue Water Technologies and 1 800 Loan Mart really puts a lot into this and it's could to come out of here in the top three. We went back to using alcohol which we know so well. We have our Arce Engine, that same old bullet, that keeps running strong. If I would have had tires then things might have been a little different. Chris, I don't think, raced me with any finese but that how he races and it is what it is. We'll go get them at Madera and try to put on a good show."
Series race Bill Rozhon was very pleased with the running of the CANIDAE 75 and called it a huge improvement over the carnage that occurred during the series' previous event at Las Vegas. "The respect that our guys have for each other really showed tonight," he said adding "the guys raced each other really well tonight and the racing was really good from the leaders to 22nd place. There was a lot of heavy traffic from the lapped cars tonight but, as a whole, I think everybody did a good job. There was, again, a lot of respect tonight and I don't think anyone seemed to be very upset tonight."
Series' General Manager and Promoter Greg Scheidecker was also very pleased with the CANIDAE 75 and said: "At one time tonight I looked through the field, when we were about half way through the race, and 21 race cars, of the 22 starters, were still on the race track. We had considerably less carnage that we did at our Las Vegas event at a race track that is wider with longer straightaways. In a lot of ways I was very proud of our drivers tonight, there was a lot of give and take which you have to have on a bullring type of race track. This is the toughest track that we race on with the Modified Series. Blythe is the toughest period."
In the series' special awards categories, Las Vegas driver Aaron McMorrin won the Dart Machinery Ltd trophy dash and the $200 bonus that comes with it. Matt Hicks won $100 bonuses for the GEICO Clean Pass award and the Optima Batteries Hard Charger award. Josh Gross won the B main held earlier in the evening.
The series returns to action on July 28th at the Madera Speedway. For more information dial up their official website at www.lucasoilmodifieds.com.
The Lucas Oil Modified Racing Series is powered by a highly potent marketing concept known as "Team Lucas". Team members include: Lucas Oil Products Inc, E3 Spark Plugs, General Tire, GEICO, CANIDAE All Natural Pet Food, MAV TV, Speedco Truck Lube and Tires/Firestone and Optima Batteries.
The series is also strongly supported by a group of associate sponsors featuring: Eibach Springs, Hoosier Tire West, Budweiser, Blue Water Resort and Casino, Sunoco Race Fuel, Frank's Radios, Racing Plus, Dart Machinery LTD, Go Pro Cameras and 1 800 Loan Mart.