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Christmas comes early at Cocopah Speedway
Santa made an early stop Saturday night at Cocopah Speedway and didn't leave behind any lumps of coal.
Apparently the girls and boys were on the nice list as the leaders in the four 2011-2012 Cocopah Speedway Racing Series division championship races all survived a hectic last night of racing to claim their respective hardware.
Imperial's Duane Rogers won his first career track championship in the Modified Division; El Centro's Travis Dove took home the Pro-Stock Division championship; Yuma's Adolfo Noriega won his second straight Street Stock Division championship and tied a track record in the process; and Yuma's Jimmy Davy won the first driving championship of his career, taking the Factory Stock Division title.
Oddly, of the four championship winners, only Noriega won his feature event Saturday. Rogers settled for eighth place in the Modified feature, Dove was fourth in the Pro-Stock feature and Davy was third in the Factory Stock feature event.
The feature events were won by Yuma's Bobby Horton (Modified), Yuma's Brett Simala (Pro-Stock) and Brawley's Joey Teague (Factory Stock).
“I felt everything went about as smoothly as it could. It was a great finish to a great season,” said Greg Burgess, Cocopah Speedway's director of operations. “We had a great car count, some very exciting racing, a great crowd, lots of excitement, even in our special event, the Powder Puff race.
“I couldn't have asked for a better way to end the season.
“Now it's on to 2013. We don't have a lot of time to catch our breath. We've only got 28 days to get ready.”
The 2013 season begins Jan. 5.
On Saturday night, however, nobody was looking that far ahead as the title holders celebrated the moment with champagne, smiles, handshakes, hugs and kisses.
“This championship validates the previous one,” said Noriega, comparing his new crown with the one he earned in 2010-2011. “It proves that we didn't win with any asterisks or special circumstances.
“The people who understand racing know how and why championships are won. Winning races is absolutely fantastic, but winning back to back championships makes a statement that our team is the best right now and that if another team is going to challenge that, they will need to have all their ducks in a row.
“I'll never say that we can't be beat or anything like that, but when somebody beats us, we will make them earn it.”
Noriega's feature event win Saturday night put an exclamation point on his title. Lining up 11th on the 19-car grid, Noriega demonstrated why he is the division champion by working his way through traffic in trademark style, getting to the front, overtaking the leader, Yuma's Bobby Horton, on a restart and never looking back.
Noriega's win was his 13th of the season, which tries the record for most feature event wins in a single season, set by both Steven Daffern and Tony Lentz, both from Brawley, in 1998.
“I'm proud to have my name alongside those two heavy hitters,” said Noriega.
Ironically, Daffern was in the Street Stock lineup Saturday night, driving his brother Tommy Daffern's car, and finished second behind Noriega. Third place went to Mike Harlan, of Alpine, Calif., with Yuma's Pat Stuebs finishing fourth and Yuma's Dave Amos rounding out the top five.
In drastic contrast to Noriega's march to his championship, Dove did not win a feature event during the season. Instead, he relied on consistency as he was able to consistently finish races.
In the end that was the key to his being able to hold off a determined charge by Yuma's Brett Simala, who won seven feature events during the season, including Saturday night, and finished second in the title chase by 12 points.
Simala again appeared to be on a mission Saturday as he ran off with the division heat race win and was untouchable in the feature event.
Finishing second in the feature was Brawley's Jason Hickingbottom, with San Diego's Steve Jonas third, Dove fourth and Yuma's Dan Westbrook fifth.
Rogers also had his hands full in the race to the track Modified title, with youngster Cody Grabbe, from Yuma, applying the pressure.
Rogers found wins hard to come by too, with one feature event trophy to his credit.
In the final tally, Rogers beat out Grabbe, who did not win a feature event, by 14 points. Saturday night Grabbe finished one position ahead of Rogers in the feature event, in seventh.
At the front of the 19-car field was Horton who notched his second feature event win of the season. He started ninth on the grid, moved through traffic and reeled in race leader Chris Toth, from Holtville.
Then on a restart Horton, in the bottom groove, got a slight edge on Toth as they entered Turn 1, didn't blink, stayed on the gas and by the time they exited Turn 4, had pulled ahead. After that, Horton was in full control.
Second place went to Mohave Valley's Bill Meyer, followed by Brawley's Russell Allen in third, Imperial's Steven McCollough in fourth and Ramona's Klye Morris in fifth.
In Factory Stock action, Davy's drive to the crown was not highlighted by a high number of feature event wins, although he did win a division-best five, or by pressure from another driver. What made him sweat was his own car.
A multitude of problems haunted Davy after he entered a Street Stock Division race in May and crashed. The car sustained severe damage and was never the same afterward. Consequently, his once comfortable 69-point lead was cut to 31 at one point.
But he persevered and when the checkered flag flew Saturday night, Davy had the title firmly in hand with a 70-point margin over Brawley's Amy Teague, who sat out the final feature event.
“Hindsight is always 20/20,” said Davy, reflecting on the season, “so it's hard to say that we would done anything differently. Of course looking back, a guy could say, ‘If only we didn't race that Street Stock race it would have been all easy.'
“At the same time though, being a new to car racing team, we learned so much. So looking back, I think all things happen for a reason. I wouldn't change a thing.”
Saturday night Davy was hard on the gas early in the feature event, but a throttle problem sent him briefly to the pit. He came back out without losing a lap and managed to pull out a third place finish.
The win went to Amy Teague's husband, Joey Teague, in his wife's car. Second place went to Alpine's Wayne Rebello, with Yuma's Jason Beshears finishing fourth and Yuma's Steve Anthony finishing fifth.
In the night's special event, the Powder Puff race, Whitney Williams-Stuebs climbed into her husband's car and took the win.
But it wasn't without some excitement as the early race leader, Brennan Grissom-Amos, in her husband's car, spun as she and Stuebs approached the finish line. Amos actually took the checkered flag while going backward, finishing second, while Heather Raley-Harvick finished third.