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New Mexico driver leads winged sprint cars to Cocopah Speedway
The road to the 2012 Lucas Oil ASCS Sprint Car Dirt Series, Southwest Region championship runs right through Cocopah Speedway.
And New Mexico's Rick Ziehl is hot on the trail.
The driver from Las Cruces will lead the winged sprint car troupe into the ninth race on the series schedule Saturday night, ranked as the driver to beat.
“But that shouldn't surprise anyone,” said Greg Burgess, Cocopah Speedway's director of racing operations. “I'm not real familiar with Rick Ziehl as a driver, I mean I watched him for the first time during the National Tour event here in March, but I know enough about him to know he is pretty much the best of the best in this corner of the country.
“Look at his career stats. There is no other word but ‘awesome.'”
And even that might be an understatement.
To date, Ziehl, 45, has driven to no less than 14 driving championships, including back-to-back-to-back-to-back ASCS Southwest Region crowns in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.
And a 15th title is certainly within grasp.
“He's the man to beat,” said Burgess. “I don't know how else to say it.”
Ziehl and the winged sprint cars will be joined on the Saturday night card by the Cocopah Speedway Racing Series, Street Stock Division. The event is the first since the track closed for the summer break in June.
The first green flag is scheduled for 7 p.m.
A practice session is also scheduled Friday night. The pit gate will open at 4 p.m. The fee is $20 per car. The grandstand will also be open. Admission to the grandstand is free for fans but no concessions will be available.
“This is a great show to start off the last half of the season,” said Burgess, “winged sprint cars and one of our most exciting, if not the most exciting local racing division.
“We all had a nice break, but I'm ready to get back to business.”
A field of 20 winged sprint cars is expected to be on hand, including local favorite Mike Martin.
And no one should expect Martin or any of the other sprint car drivers to let Ziehl have his way just because he is the perennial region champion.
“It's going to be a good show,” said Burgess. “There are some very good, young drivers in this region. Look at the last two races. Both wins went to drivers who hadn't won a race.”
Those wins came over the Labor Day weekend at Aztec Speedway in Aztec, N.M., where Joshua Hodges, from Tijeras, N.M., won on Sept. 1, and Lance Norick, from Cave Creek, won on Sept. 2.
Ziehl finished second in both races.
Billy Chester III, from Chino Valley, has also notched a feature event win in the Southwest Region.
“So, you really don't know who's going to come out on top,” said Burgess. “It comes down to who gets the track figured out, and of course a little luck helps, too.”
A little luck is what Yuma's Adolfo Noriega is looking for.
The Yuma driver, who entered the 2011-2012 season as the defending Street Stock Division champion and has reeled off nine feature event wins, seems to be stuck in neutral.
It is possible the veteran could eclipse the record for feature event wins in a single season — 13 — but time is running out. The last time Noriega won a feature event was on April 21. He has tried and failed to get back into victory lane three times since.
Doing the math, there are only six series point races remaining on the schedule, which means for Noriega to set a new record he will have to win five times. But that, too, is not out of the realm of possibility. From Dec. 3, 2011 to March 24, 2012, Noriega won five straight.
“A lot of people talk a lot about Adolfo,” said Burgess. “Some of those people think he's having trouble handling the pressure. I think he's just had some bad breaks, and too we've got two drivers who have really come on, who are making life on the track tough for Adolfo.”
Those two drivers are Yuma's Bobby Horton and Brawley's Tommy Daffern, who have won four of the last five feature events.
“Like I said, this is one of, if not the most exciting local racing division we have going,” said Burgess. “Put Adolfo, Bobby and Tommy Daffern out there together, battling for the win, and I'll guarantee you nobody in the grandstand will be going to get a hot dog until that race is over.”
SPARE PARTS: Cocopah Speedway is located at U.S. 95 and County 15th Street; general admission gates open at 5 p.m.; special event tickets are: adults – $14; adult military with ID – $12; seniors (55 and older) – $12; children 12 years old and under – free; family pass – $30; fans can get live racing lineups during the races and results afterward by going to www.cocopahlive.com; for more information, call 344-1563 or go to www.cocopahspeedway.com.