MERIDIAN, Idaho—Meridian Speedway’s top competitors tested their mettle Saturday in honor of Emergency Medical Service, Police, Fire, and Correctional Officers. Tested they were by a track whose conditions changed drastically with the day’s shifting cloud cover.
“It was loose in practice with the sun, but went tight when the clouds came over,” said Budweiser Modified competitor Randy Keckley with a shrug. “Now I think it’ll go back loose.”
Loose, tight, or otherwise the action was lightning quick and wheel-to-wheel throughout every division. The slam-bang racing led to some bad blood, and none was worse than the ongoing disagreement between Meridian Speedway Modified contenders Rodney Houpt and Brent Collins. On the Trophy Dash green flag Collins pushed Houpt wide into the front stretch wall. Houpt retaliated to take the lead and the win. Then, in the heat race, nerf bars were traded again on the start. Houpt would again wheel his racer to the top spot while Collins faded to fourth due to the contact.
The Pepsi Sprintcars also saw their share of beating and banging during Heat Race action as Tyler Barrow and Drew Crenshaw played a tough game of bumper tag off turn two. The shenanigans wouldn’t end there as Barrow and Crenshaw battled for the early main event lead. Behind that battle second place points runner Colton Nelson mounted a run through a tightly bunched pack. Not to be outdone points leader Ryan Newman followed Nelson’s every move, working to preserve his points advantage.
“The points are definitely tight,” said Newman after a non-points Trophy Dash win. “They’ve got me a little on edge for sure.”
At the halfway point Nelson and Newman were batting for fourth on the Pepsi Cola scoreboard when Nelson slid into the front stretch concrete. Nelson’s night would be over and Newman would breathe a little easier. With the pressure off Newman would pounce, working his way to second behind young Justin Segura. Segura would fend off every charge Newman put together, taking him to the backstretch wall with ten to go. Difficulties for fast qualifier Ryan Wiederich would bring out a caution late in the going and leave Segura, Newman, and Tony Ackerland to tussle for the point. In the ensuing battle Ackerland and Newman would outmuscle Segura and settle the race between themselves. Ackerland was able to hold off Newman’s charge while Segura held onto third.
“We fought this car all day,” said Ackerland. “These guys fought and I just did my job out here.”
Twenty TEAM Mazda Subaru Mini Stocks roared onto the quarter-mile oval for a hard-fought forty lap main event. A jam up on lap two threatened to change the complexion of the entire race as early-season winner Mary Johnson went around in turn one and collected Brandon Shira, Drew Crenshaw, and Jonathan Hull. In front of the action Amber Rogers would jump out to a healthy advantage over Roseville, California racer Kyle Clayton. Ten laps into the Main Event Rogers’ lead was erased with a caution flag, bringing Jayson Wardle, Crenshaw, and Clayton to her back bumper. On the restart Rogers would fade and in the ensuing back-up Trophy Dash winner Keri Ballard found herself pushed into the turn three wall.
The field would find its race rhythm after this caution. Drew Crenshaw used superior cone restart strategy to gain the lead. Donovan Parker found himself second and Wardle held third. Lapped traffic proved to be too much to handle as Wardle and Monica Heath found themselves synchronized spinning in turn one with 23 laps down. Hull would use this restart to work on Parker for second while Crenshaw opened a full straightaway lead. Five fender-to-fender laps later Hull cleared Parker and set his sights on Crenshaw. The added pressure got to Crenshaw, who broke loose and lost the lead with six to go. Hull made the pass for the point, but both he and Crenshaw would come to grief with two laps remaining. Crenshaw was pushed to the grass by Casey Lebold and Hull pulled off for a pit stop. When the lineup was set Parker was in front again for a green, white, checkered finish. Finally Parker would fend off a hard charge by Hull to win.
Modified racing returned as sixteen drivers crowded the speedway for a mixed Main Event. It didn’t take long for the crowded confines to turn tumultuous as four modifieds found themselves in a heap before the start finish line on lap one. Scott Durbin took the brunt of the impact as both Keckley and Darrell Dolling piled into his walled racer. A shaken Durbin exited the car under his own power, as did all other drivers involved. This wasn’t the end of the mangled sheet metal as another calamity struck on the restart and swept Rick Moran, Scott Thomas, and Sharlet Wilson.
After these two quick cautions action settled down and Rick Baldwin surged out to an early lead. Rus Ward and Abe Carter worked to put their cars in the lead. Carter’s run would be blunted as he and fourth place Darvin Ackerland came together at the flag stand with thirty laps to go. Things settled down for a few moments, until Rodney Houpt went around in turn two and triggered another yellow flag. The remaining fifteen laps were a slug fest as Baldwin and Carter traded blows for second after Ward took the top spot. After that battle settled Baldwin and Ackerland came to bumper blows over second and third. Ackerland would use the low line and a healthy amount of nerf bar to pull off the pass for second. He would pull the same move on the last lap on race leader Ward, who never saw it coming. With surprise on his side Ackerland sprang off turn four for the win.
“I got to hand it to the guy,” said Ward in Arctic Circle Victory Lane.
Just when the action couldn’t get more exciting, a huge field of Tates Rents Hornets took the track for a thirty lap, second-across-the-line wins race. Three-wide racing was the rule on the green flag as the competitors positioned themselves to be second across the line and claim the victory. With all the action behind him TJ Labronte piloted his Warhawk-themed car to the front. Somehow, with so many cars in so tight a space the first fifteen laps clicked off caution free. Only an expiring engine on Rick Howe’s racer slowed the torrid pace of the action, setting up an eight lap shootout for the second-place-to-win trophy. On the three-wide restart the inevitable calamity was somehow avoided as Labronte and Rob Powers pulled ahead of the paint-swapping pack before intentionally fading so as to not finish first. Out of the chaos emerged Charlie Atkinson, who ran hard until turn four, where he applied the brakes just in time for rookie Mitch Parker to sail across the line first. Atkinson coasted across second and collected the Disaster Kleenup-sponsored hardware.
“I’ll take a second place win tonight,” said a baffled Atkinson.
With another exciting chapter in Meridian Speedway racing written fans have but seven days until more edge-of-your-seat action returns. Next Saturday, June 14, Meridian Speedway hosts the third race of the NAPA Auto Parts Big 5 Latemodel series. The Gem State 75 will headline the night, while the Domino’s Pizza Legends, TEAM Mazda Subaru Mini Stocks, College of Western Idaho Professional Truck Driving School Street Stocks, the return of go-karts, and Meridian Speedway’s annual Preacher Feature, a race to find the Treasure Valley’s faster pastor.
Gates open at 4 p.m. Saturday, and engines fire at 6:30. General admission is $10.25 for adults, $7.75 for seniors and members of the military, and kids six and under are always free. Advanced tickets are available online at meridianspeedway.com, and be sure to text “meridianspeed” to 84483 to get special information. As always the action this week was sponsored in part by Contingency Connection. For more information about Contingency Connection, see Meridian Speedway Officials.