by Tyler Schild, MERIDIAN, Idaho—Former stars, superstars, and even child stars took center stage Saturday night at Meridian Speedway. Even heavy rain clouds and cold temperatures couldn’t dim the racing action as over forty racers battled for the win on Project Filter All-Star Challenge night. Competitors were challenged early and often by track conditions, mechanical issues, and each other.
The first competitors to battle on the slick racing surface were the College of Western Idaho Transportation Programs High School Tuners, a new division aimed at grooming future Meridian Speedway standouts. As the green flag flew Stafford Smith dove 3 wide into turn one, but wasn’t able to make the move stick. On the restart CJ Stirm surged to the lead while Kendra Occhipinti and heat race winner Peter Woog began their steady march forward. By halfway in the twenty lap feature Occhipinti had the lead, but an Alex Hibbert spin with five laps to go would bunch the field up once more. Occhipinti was able to fend off Woog for two laps, but eventually broke loose in turn one, allowing Woog to take a lead he wouldn’t relinquish. Occhipinti would settle for second while fast qualifier, and track record holder for the High School Tuner division Jordan Harris came home third.
The Pepsi Sprintcars had thirty laps to determine if the youth of Justin Segura and Colton Nelson could outmatch the experience of Tony Ackerland and Chris Fenton. Early it looked as though Ackerland would resume his winning ways from last year, working his way from last to third in only six laps. At the halfway point Segura, Ackerland, Nelson, and Fenton had formed a hornet’s nest battle for the lead. Segura defended his lead from a series of Ackerland challenges until, with five laps to go, the two made contact. Segura weathered the contact, which shot Ackerland up the racetrack and dropped him from second to sixth. Fenton was next to mount a challenge, but couldn’t find his way around Segura, who took his first checkered flag of the season.
The College of Western Idaho Professional Truck Driving Program Street Stocks ran an orderly main event. After a hard-fought victory in the trophy dash, Chad Bess’ chances to score a main event win ended after he and Melissa Weaver tangled trying to avoid a spinning Destiny Huber in the heat race. During the main event, Weaver wasted no time in wrestling the lead from Shaun Bush. Once in the top spot Weaver would cruise to her second win of the season. Bush would fend off a late charge from Marv Weaver for second.
The Meridian Speedway Modifieds and the Budweiser Modifieds combine their forces for a forty lap main event which more closely resembled a forty round heavyweight fight. Meridian Speedway and former ASA Champion Shelby Stroebel was quick out of the blocks, charging through the mixed field to take the lead in just five laps. As Stroebel worked to build a lead on other Meridian Speedway Modified competitors Rus Ward, Abe Carter, and Kyle Latham the battle for Budweiser Modified supremacy heated up as Randy Keckley rocketed to the lead with a three wide move around Rick Baldwin.
With both races hotly contested something had to give, and just one lap past halfway contact between Gene Stroebel and Rick Baldwin sent both cars spinning in front of the field. The ensuing log jam would involve Meridian Speedway Modifieds competitors Kyle Latham, Rodney Houpt, and Shelby Stroebel and Budweiser Modified competitors Baldwin, Stroebel, Scott Durbin, Chase Hanish and Rick Moran. Thanks to stellar pit work all competitors minus Gene Stroebel would rejoin the field in various states of disrepair.
On the restart Carter found himself in the overall race lead with Ward second. Looking to distance himself from those collected in the first turn melee Carter laid down seven fast laps, until he caught the rear of the field. There Moran and Carter tangled. Unable to check up in time Ward slid into the pile. Though contact was slight he was forced to the back of the pack due to his involvement. On the restart Shelby Stroebel was able to dash around an overheating Keckley for the overall race lead. Ward mounted a furious charge from the back of the pack trying to catch the leader, but ran out of laps and crossed the line second behind Stroebel. Latham’s demolished racer placed third and Carter was unable to rebound from his late race tangle and settled for fourth. Scott Durbin was able to outlast Keckley, Sharlet Wilson, and Rick Baldwin for the Budweiser Modified win.
“It was just a rough night of racing,” said Stroebel after surveying the damage in Artic Circle Victory Lane.
The Project Filter Pro-4s took to Meridian Speedway for a two-part, fifty lap main event to settle the battle for the traveling Project Filter All-Star Challenge trophy. Joe Barton looked poised to breeze to another Pro-4 victory as he made quick work of the field in the first main event. Even as a late restart proved Hull III a chance to challenge, Barton walked away with the first segment win. The second race would look much different. On the start Bob Coply and James Cloud tangled. While everyone was able to gather their cars without a caution, the shunt slowed Barton. Once things sorted out Barton found himself over a straightaway behind leader Donavon Parker.
As Barton pushed his car to make up the lost time, he and Cloud would come together and Barton went around. With just twenty laps to go Barton found himself at the back of the pack, a pack led by Hull III. In just five laps Barton had carved his way through the field and locked his attention on getting around Hull III. The high line, which propelled Barton to the lead in the first race, had no grip. Hull III occupied the low line. So, Barton took every opportunity to duck his nose inside Hull III. Contact was made on several occasions, but both drivers held control through the final ten laps. When the checkered flag flew Hull III held the lead and the Project Filter All-Star Challenge trophy.
“Man, that was a really fun race,” said Hull III. “[Barton] was going a little faster than me, but we won.”
With five more barn burning main events in the books Meridian Speedway sets its sights on next weekend’s Military Appreciation night. Active Duty military members and their families will get in free by showing their military ID, and will be treated to the season debut of the Domino’s Pizza Legends, Coors Super Stocks, Team Mazda Subaru Mini Stocks, Project Filter Pro4s, Rookie Hornets and Thunder Dogs. Gates will open at 4 p.m. and the green flag drops at 6:30 p.m. More information is available at meridianspeedway.com.