MERIDIAN, Idaho—A hot night of action made up for the chilly June temperatures Saturday as the NAPA Big 5 Latemodels stormed Meridian Speedway for the Gem State 75. A full field of thirteen latemodels jammed the pit area for the special event, along with a huge field of TEAM Mazda Subaru Mini Stoccks, Domino’s Pizza Legends, and College of Western Idaho Professional Truck Driving Program Street Stocks. Also on display Saturday were some Tates Rents Hornets specially prepared to duel in the Preacher Feature, Meridian Speedway’s annual race that seeks to find the Treasure Valley’s faster pastor. With cars crowding the track and fans filling the stands the action didn’t take long to hit high gear.
First to take the speedway was a go-kart exhibition race. The four kart pack battled side-by-side for all twelve laps of the main event, with the lead battle culminating in a last turn scuffle as the karts of Parker Rich, Lonnie Chavez and Danael Chavez came together. Once the dust settled Rich had his kart pointed the right direction and ran to the finish line. Kane Thomasson finished second, while Lonnie Chavez claimed third.
Next, seven brave worship leaders squared off with the quarter-mile. On the start Mark ‘Tiger’ James of Racers for Christ pulled to an early lead while a mad scramble in the pack went three-wide. Kalen Hruza made the most of that scrum as just one lap in he found himself representing Valley Church in second. Hruza would work the low side of James and take over the top spot one lap later. James would continue to backpedal as his car took a long, lurid slide during a battle with Josh Gilbert. Up front Hruza would soon have company as Neil Evans pulled to his rear bumper with just five laps remaining. Evans peeked high and low looking for the top spot, but in the end Hruza would walk away with the Racing for Smiles trophy.
The CWI Professional Truck Driving Program Street Stocks set their sights on the checkered flag for a twenty-five lap main event. On the start Shaun Bush and Marv Weaver claimed the top two spots on the Pepsi-Cola scoreboard. After three nose-to-tail laps Weaver pulled high and wrestled the lead away from Bush. The elder Weaver brought daughter Melissa Weaver with him to the front of the field. Bush tried to fight back from the inside groove, but was overpowered by the Weaver cars. For the fifth straight event Melissa Weaver found her way to the Arctic Circle Victory Lane.
“Dad’s got this car hooked up,” said an uncharacteristically chatty Weaver.
The Domino’s Pizza Legends ran a wild thirty-five laps as the sun sank low behind turn four. On the break Daynna Skiver sprang to an early lead while Cody Hollis was slow to go. The resulting chain reaction sent some cars to the grass to avoid trouble. Even this agricultural racing wouldn’t be enough to dodge the inevitable as just one lap in Chase Gilbertson and Johnethan Davis tangled on the front stretch. The contact sent Gilbertson to the wall, ending his night. Having used cone restart strategy to perfection Zach Blume found himself working the high side of the racetrack on the restart to hunt down leader Camron Madsen. Bumper to bumper Madsen, Blume and Aubree Wartman battled for the lead until Darin Turpen’s engine expired in stunning fashion on the back chute. In a ball of fire Turpen rolled to a stop in turn four and exited his hot vehicle. The Carl’s Cycle Sales safety crew quickly had the fire extinguished.
With tires and tempers cooled the field restarted with twenty-eight laps to go. Madsen sprinted to the point, but wasn’t able to shake Blume, who looked high, low, and in between for a line around Madsen. Each attempt to gain a foothold was thwarted and Madsen’s rear bumper only caught a break when lapped traffic momentarily divided the leaders. Once clear of the traffic Blume once again filled Madsen’s mirrors, sticking his red racer first high, then low. The duel raged for a full five laps until Blume got the break he needed. Negotiating lapped traffic with six laps remaining Madsen had to check up and relinquished his lead to Blume. Eager to regain the point Madsen dove below a lapped car, made contact, and spun his fellow racer. The result was a back of the pack starting position on what would prove to be the final restart. With Madsen out of the way Blume motored to another Meridian Speedway victory, followed by Wartman, Davis, and Madsen.
“It’s a tough field,” said Blume as he collected his trophy. “I love racing with them.”
The excitement was just beginning as the TEAM Mazda Subaru Mini Stocks rolled twenty competitors onto the quarter mile for a marathon forty-five lap main event. Polesitter Antonio Ryska used his starting spot to occupy the early lead as the field sorted itself out in the early going. Blake Coria was on the move early as he took his lime green car low on Ryska for the lead on lap three. Also making moves was Jonathan Hull as he carved his way through the field . Third place saw three drivers lock into a serious battle early as Brandon Hild, Mary Johnson, and Donavon Parker went bumper to bumper. Parker would win that dispute and after the first group of lapped traffic was dispensed with he’d find himself second behind Coria. With fifteen circuits down Parker moved to the high side of Coria and blasted around him for the lead, bringing Hull with him. Hull’s charge to the front was momentarily blunted by lapped traffic, but picked right back up once the leaders were in clean air. Something had to give, and it was Hull’s patience as he tried a daring move to get inside Parker. Both men ended up in a heap in the turn two grass, but would continue.
With the two dominant cars relegated to the back of the field Coria again held the lead over Jayson Wardle and Johnson. Robbie Hyde knew a good opportunity when he saw one, and on the restart he immediately charged to the front. With a bonzai dive inside Hyde surprised Coria for the lead with eighteen laps to go. Behind Hyde and the other leaders Parker was mounting a furious dash back to the front. Using every available piece of paved real estate Parker cracked the top five again with ten laps to go. Parker’s cause would be helped by a huge front straight away dust up that saw Coria and the lapped car of Nathan Dearing collide with disastrous results. Coria’s car hopped Dearing’s exposed right side tires and pitched over in a violent tumble. Once the car righted itself it backed into the turn one wall. Coria would climb out and wave to the Meridian Speedway crowd, but his night was over. On the restart Hyde again pulled to the lead, eager to claim his first Meridian Speedway main event trophy. In his rearview mirror Johnson, Jason Sanders, and Parker went side by side for second. Hyde’s luck would run out just two laps later as the Twin Falls, Idaho driver found a patch of oil in turn one and spun from a comfortable lead. This left the race in the hands of Sanders and Parker who would spend three laps side by side for the top spot. Finally Parker was able to break away from Sanders and claim his second Meridian Speedway victory in a row.
In keeping with the theme of the night a savage, one-on-one duel would emerge in the NAPA Auto Parts Big 5 Latemodel Gem State 75. Patrick Tulley sprang out to an early lead while points front runners Lee Hackney and Brett Thompson wove their way through the field. It took only fifteen of the seventy-five laps for both men to find themselves running in the top five. Five laps later the old adversaries would find themselves second and third while Trevor Cristiani pulled out to a commanding lead. Behind the battle for second Dennis Wurtz II held fourth and a fading Tulley fell into the clutches of John Newhouse. The top five would hold station past the halfway point as the drivers waited for the track to cool and their set-ups to come in. The long green flag run began to take a toll on Hackney’s car, which started to slide off the corners. A timely caution would allow Hackney’s tires to cool and leave just a thirty-two lap sprint to the finish.
Thompson would set to work on Hackney’s rear bumper immediately off the restart. For four solid laps Thompson and Hackney were in constant contact, but no matter how much Thompson knocked on the door Hackney refused to open it and hung on for second. Hackney would go on the offensive after a restart with twenty-five to go as he left his mark on Thompson’s left rear quarter panel. The contact put Hackney firmly in second while Thompson was relegated to a battle for third with Wurtz II. With the points lead on the line Thompson would climb back to the outside of Hackney and the two would trade paint again. This time the body blows were too much for Thompson’s car to absorb. Thompson’s racer would fade in the final fifteen laps while Cristiani lengthened his lead and Hackney maintained his advantage over Wurtz II for second place. As the checkered flag flew Cristiani pulled his NAPA Big 5 latemodel into Arctic Circle Victory Lane, followed by Hackney, Wurtz II, and Thompson. And the fun didn’t stop there as Thompson and Hackney exchanged pleasantries and sheet metal in turn three on the cool-down lap.
Hackney wore a demure grin after the race. “It was very exciting. It got a little crowded there, but we got a good finish out of it,” said Hackney.
“I didn’t know if they were going to take each other out or what,” said third place finisher Wurtz II, who had a front row seat to the Hackney, Thompson battle.
While the NAPA Auto Parts Big 5 Latemodels have six weeks until their next appearance for the Treasure Valley 125, Meridian Speedway fans need only wait until Wednesday for more racing action. The speedway kicks off Dairy Days with the Mountain Dew Winged Sprintcars, Budwiser Modifieds and Coors Super Stocks, Project Filter Pro-4s, Thunderdogs, and a 100 lap Tates Rents Hornets race. Wednesday’s racing and trophies are presented by Fire Extinguisher Company. Gates open at 4 p.m. and racing roars to life at 6:30 p.m. General admission is $10.25 at the gate. As always this week’s action was sponsored by Contingency Connection, which offers nearly $2000 in awards each week from NATIONAL manufacturers. These contingency awards are in addition to cash purse payouts. See Meridian Speedway officials for more information about Contingency Connection.