LAKE HAVASU CITY, Arizona – Series promoter Greg Scheidecker didn’t need many words to sum up the opening race of the season for the Lucas Oil Modifieds presented by LoanMart.
“This is Chris Gerchman’s house and he reminded everybody of it tonight,” Scheidecker said after hometown favorite Gerchman dominated a strong field and won the LoanMart Arizona 100 presented by Optima Batteries on Saturday, March 2, at Havasu 95 Speedway.
The first of this year’s nine events attracted 33 entries, an indication the ultra-competitive series is building on the momentum created by a record 48 entries for last year’s finale at Las Vegas in mid-November.
The only one of the series’ top 10 finishers from last year not in the Havasu field was 2012 champion Austin Barnes, who will be racing in another series. But he was on hand to lend support to rookie Jessica Clark, who bought Barnes’ title-winning car. And among those joining Gerchman, two-time champion Jim Mardis, Doug Hamm, Roger Brown and the other top 10 returnees were 2012 ASA national champion Shelby Stroebel of Meridian, Idaho, Northern California newcomers Nik Romano of Menlo Park and David Crouch of Manteca and five-time Lucas Oil Modifieds winner Jason Patison, who is back in the series after a four-year hiatus.
“I’m really pleased with the car count,” said Bill Rozhon, who was wearing two hats as the Havasu 95 Speedway promoter and the director of racing for the series. “The quality of the cars is really good, too. The teams and the cars are well-prepared.”
The newcomers were a factor in qualifying. Las Vegas resident Hamm drove his Chevrolet-powered Traction/GEICO STR to his second straight Budweiser Fast Time award at the scenic quarter-mile oval, with Gerchman second, but Patison, Romano, Stroebel, Crouch, Clark and Taylor Miinch all were among the 16 who qualified for the main event. That forced Mardis and Tim Morse to take provisionals and put Scott Osborn on the pole for the 20-lap B main, which he won.
It was a different story in the 100-lap main event, however. With television cameras recording the action for future viewing on the NBC Sports and MAVTV American Real networks it was the veterans who took spotlight.
Hamm drew an 8 for the starting field inversion. That put he and Gerchman in the fourth row and Aaron McMorran and Brown on the front row. Brown got his Lucas Oil/JE Pistons entry into the lead when the green flag waved and he and McMorran ran one-two for the first 13 laps while the field got shuffled behind them.
Gerchman took fifth away from Bilstein Trophy Dash winner Patison on lap 6, got by Chris Cook for fourth on lap 8. Using the outside or high line, Gerchman passed Romano for third on lap 12, moved McMorran out of second on lap 14 and got the Peggy’s Sunrise Café colors into the lead on lap 15, just ahead of the first of the night’s six caution flags.
Once in front on a track where he jokingly said he has driven “too many” races, Gerchman stayed there while spotter Mike Price kept an eye on the field and let his driver know what was happening behind him.
Brown was closest for awhile, then faded to fourth and said he got “outhandled. The car was pretty good for 75 (laps) and then it fell off. It started getting free off (the corners) and once you start spinning these tires it goes downhill after that. I was just hanging on the last 20 laps or so.”
Hamm moved into second on lap 40 and stayed there to finish 1.385 seconds behind Gerchman, and after qualifying sixth Romano finished third in a GTSI/Romold STR that had never turned a wheel until the open practice the night before the race.
“The car ran good, but Chris was a rocket out there,” Hamm said. “We’ve got a little bit more homework to do to hang with the big dogs. I’m happy just to be in the same zip code as Chris.”
Romano, who made his series debut in last season’s finale, said his focus was on saving tires. “We knew the only way to be there at the end was to be easy on the tires,” the 22-year-old Garcia Racing driver said. “I lost a few spots at the beginning, but I saw everybody using more throttle and slip angle and I knew they were overheating those tires. I was just being easy on it, biding my time, and it worked,” along with a move to the high line that Gerchman eventually abandoned in favor of the inside line.
Gerchman had one scare on the track and gave his fans another when he stopped his car on the backstretch with about 35 laps to go to “check my brake gauges. I had to readjust the brakes and I think that paid off. I was getting a little free going in (the turns) so I cranked some rear brake out of it.”
The final 30 laps of the race the top six ran in order, but the fact Mardis was the guy in sixth earned him the Optima Batteries Hard Charger award. He said after qualifying 19th that the Bluewater Technologies/JAM Sportswear/K&N Filters STR wouldn’t turn and “this is probably the worst I’ve ever been.” Then, he said, “we went back to our notes. We threw what we knew worked back in it with a few things we thought would work better and it was pretty good.”
It was not a good night for Stroebel, who was involved in an early incident in Turn 1, got caught in a multi-car incident in Turn 4 and eventually finished 6 laps behind, in 19th. That was one spot behind Clark, who lost a power steering belt on lap 16.
A bit of Lucas Oil Modifieds history was made on lap 58 when a spin by Randy Ussery brought out a caution flag and Michael Zimmerman became the first beneficiary of the Canidae Lucky Dog award program that awards $100 to the first driver a lap down when the race ends. Miinch got that bonus after finishing 11th.
Scheidecker was happy with the race overall, but felt it had been a bad night in another area, too.
“In our series,” he said, “we officials pride ourselves on consistency and having no gray area (in their decisions) and that’s not what happened tonight. We really let a couple of race teams down (through indecision). I’m not proud of that at all. We will make the necessary changes so this never happens again.”
Round two of the series, the Next Era Energy 75 Laps to Victory presented by E3 Spark Plugs, is scheduled for Saturday, April 6, at Lucas Oil I-10 Speedway in Blythe, California.
The Lucas Oil Modified Series presented by LoanMart is supported by a potent marketing concept known as “Team Lucas” whose members include Lucas Oil Products Inc., E3 Spark Plugs, General Tire, GEICO, Canidae All Natural Pet Food, MAVTV-American Real, Speedco Truck Lube and Tire, Optima Batteries and LoanMart.
Additional sponsorship is provided by Bilstein Shock Absorbers, K&N Filters, Hoosier Tire West, Budweiser, Blue Water Resort and Casino, Sunoco Race Fuels, Frank's Radio, Racing Plus, Five Star Race Car Bodies, Aero Racing Wheels, DJ Safety, ASI Racewear and Protect the Harvest.
Stay up to date on the series by visiting us at www.LucasOilModifieds.com.
LUCAS OIL MODIFIEDS PRESENTED BY LOANMART
LoanMart Arizona 100 presented by Optima Batteries
Havasu 95 Speedway, Lake Havasu City, Arizona
Saturday, March 2, 2013
Main event (100 laps of 1/4-mile oval)
1. Chris Gerchman, Spring Branch, Texas; 2. Doug Hamm, Las Vegas; 3. Nik Romano, Menlo Park, Calif.; 4. Roger Brown, Corona, Calif.; 5. Aaron McMorran, Las Vegas; 6. Jim Mardis, Yucaipa, Calif.; 7. Larry Gerchman, Lake Havasu City, Ariz.; 8. Jason Patison, Corona; 9. David Crouch, Manteca, Calif.; 10. Tim Morse, Burbank, Calif.;
11. Taylor Miinch, El Cajon, Calif.; 12. Chris Cook, Tabiona, Utah; 13. Michael Zimmerman, Hemet, Calif.; 14. Dave Arce, Santee, Calif.; 15. Keaton Swane, Gilbert, Ariz.; 16. Elliott Stjerne, Madera, Calif.; 17. Randy Ussery, Salome, Ariz.; 18. Jessica Clark, Ventura, Calif.; 19. Shelby Stroebel, Meridian, Idaho; 20. Doug Carpenter, El Cajon;
21. Devin LaHorgue, Grants Pass, Ore.; 22. Scott Osborn, Las Vegas.
Margin of victory – 1.385 seconds. Average speed – 28.823 mph.
B main (20 laps)
1. Osborn; 2. Swane; 3. LaHorgue; 4. Stjerne; 5. Daniel Williams, Glendale, Calif.; 6. Vanessa Robinson, Las Cruces, N.M.; 7. Pat Petrie, Henderson, Nev.; 8. Jerry Toporek, Venice, Calif.; 9. Robbie Brand, Barstow, Calif.; 10. Thomas Pfunstein, Las Vegas;
11. Brian Collins, Camino, Calif.; DNS – Garrett Yamada, Van Nuys, Calif.; DNQ – Jentry Pisca, Nampa, Idaho; Terry Thomson; Barry Conover.
Margin of victory – 0.996 seconds. Average speed – 19.426 mph.