By Mike Adaskaveg
Special to the Sun-Star
Surprise endings to the three feature events comprising Merced Speedway’s Ted Stofle Classic had fans and drivers on the edge of their seats last Saturday night.
Cars and drivers from as far away as Arizona trekked to Merced for the legendary memorial event honoring one of the speedway’s top drivers. Stofle’s racing career ended when a hunting accident claimed his life in 1980.
Bakersfield drivers Ethan Dotson and Nick Spainhoward joined Merced’s Phillip Vaughn to become the three champions of the 2016 Ted Stofle Classic.
THE BIGGEST SURPRISE
A lap after the checkered flag flew for the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) SportMod 30 lap main event, Bakersfield’s Spainhoward slowly coasted to the start-finish line.
He leaned out the window and asked “Who won?”
The reply “You did” took a moment to sink in, then Spainhoward popped from his car’s window, fist raised in the air to the roar of the Speedway’s largest crowd of the young season.
Until the last lap of the race, Spainhoward played the bridesmaid role to fellow Bakersfield drivers Jordan Hagar and Matt Lewis. Hagar, who appeared to be in route to victory, tangled with lapped traffic on the backstretch. His car limped to a halt in the fourth turn as the checkered flag flew 100 feet in the distance.
“Most of the race, I could make my car dive into the turns and I would be equal with the top cars as we exited the turns,” Spainhoward explained. “But I didn’t have the speed to make a pass. So, I chose to hang in there.”
Hanging in behind the top cars paid off for Spainhoward.
“It’s terrible that (crash) happened to Jordan (Hagar), but it is all part of the game in stock car racing,” Spainhoward said. “I’ve been there. I’ve been taken out on the last lap. I’ve spun out on my own on the last lap. Now, for the first time, I’ve won because the leader had some last lap bad luck.”
Lewis was second, with Merced regulars Mike Drake, Tim Elias, and Gary Tucker rounding out the top five.
DOTSON NATION SENSATION
Teenage sensation Ethan Dotson has attracted national attention in the ranks of the “Modified”, which is the IMCA’s top class. His unexpected appearance at Merced Speedway and his domination of the feature event earned him a standing ovation from the packed house.
“I felt I knew what the race track would be like as the race wore on, and my prediction was right,” Dotson said as he explained the adjustments he makes on his car’s chassis before a feature event.
“I was searching for the right spot on the track early in the race – the car was snug, so I had to drive hard and slide sideways early in the race,” he continued. “As the surface changed, my car turned into a rocket ship.”
Dotson’s most serious challenge came from 2013 Merced Speedway champ Bill Egleston of Atwater. Egleston, who won the IMCA Modified feature two weeks ago, was able to get the nose of his car inside of Dotson’s car a few times in the waning moments of the race.
“He (Ethan) was fast. I tried to keep the pressure up on him, waiting for one mistake,” Egleston said. “It was a clean race – he held his line as I tried to get underneath him on the inside.”
Local top runner Bruce “Bubba” Nelson took an early lead in the race, and tried to defend home turf from the attack by Bakersfield’s Dotson. Nelson, who finished third, was able to hold the lead until a 13th lap restart in the 30-lap feature.
“Seeing the caliber of racers here tonight, I think we did very well in taking third,” Nelson said. “My car started fading half-way through the race. I’m happy with the outcome tonight.”
CHARGE TO THE FINISH
Phillip Vaughn of Merced took his black hobby stock to the outside groove of the race track and charged by Dexter Long of Balico and Merced’s Andrew Krumm, as Michael Shearer of Los Banos steamed forward from the back of the pack to join the lead cluster.
Shearer was leading on the 20th lap of the 29 lap feature when a lapped car got in his way, tangled with his car, and caused him to spin. Starting from last position with nine laps to go, he was soon running in third.
“I knew Michael (Shearer) would be hot on my tail,” Vaughn said. “I made my move for the lead on the last lap. I waited all race for that moment.”
Long and Krumm chose the inside lanes, but Vaughn had the momentum to edge them and take the checkered flag.
Shearer, on the other hand, was not happy.
“That is what happens when a lapped car tries to race the leader – he wound up being everywhere I wanted to be on the track,” Shearer explained of the incident that set him back.
Krumm brought home fourth, followed by Matt Kile of San Jose.
IMCA RACING CONTINUES SATURDAY NIGHT
Four divisions of racing are on the card Saturday May 14 at Merced Speedway. IMCA SportMod, Hobby Stock, Valley Sportsman and Mini-Stock drivers will compete in a full program of qualifying heat races and feature events for each division.
Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for Senior Citizens 65 and older, $10 for students with a valid student identification card, $5 for children 6-12 and $30 for a family four-pack of two adult and two child tickets. Children 5 and younger are admitted free.
The grandstand opens at 5 p.m., with racing beginning at 7 p.m. Merced Speedway is located within the Merced County Fairgrounds, 900 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in Merced.