Once again, Phil Perry proved himself the master of Desert Rose 100-lap races at Champion Speedway as he drove to a convincing victory Saturday night to keep his 2004 win streak alive.
Perry was fast qualifier, but started outside the fifth row when he drew a ten from the deck of cards which determined the number of cars to invert for the start.
Henry Hodges grabbed the lead at the green flag, with Dan Knight and Byron Gonzales in hot pursuit. Knight squeezed by Hodges on the sixth lap, and by the 10th circuit. Gonzales had moved into second.
Knight took advantage of lapped traffic, building half a straightaway lead by lap 15. Five laps later, Gonzales had closed up on the leader, with Hodges holding off Dave Sciarroni for third, followed by Randy Hedrick and Rich Lawlor.
Perry had not yet begun his charge, maintaining eighth position ahead of Chet Danburg. Knight suddenly slowed on lap 24 and pitted as Gonzales sailed by into the lead. Gonzales built a huge lead while Sciarroni took over second ahead of Hedrick and Lawlor battled Perry battled for 4th.
Hedrick took over second just before a yellow flag bunched the field a couple of laps later. Somehow the scorers missed the fact that Gonzales was the leader, putting Hedrick at the front of the field on the restart.
Perry moved to third behind Sciarroni, taking over second place on lap 33. Traffic was heavy all around the track, and Perry used it to close on Hedrick, dogging him mercilessly.
The dueling pair opened up nearly half a lap lead on Sciarroni in third until Travis Combs and Chuck Glick collided on the front straight at the halfway point, putting Glick into the wall and bringing out a caution. Knight, who had rejoined, pitted again along with Mike Mansch, while Chris Baker stopped on the back straight with a carburetor fire, which track officials quickly extinguished.
At this point, the scoring folks reviewed their stats and put Gonzales back in front for the restart. When the green waved, Gonzales, Hedrick, and Perry formed a freight train pulling away from the pack. Perry nosed out Hedrick after two laps, and started to put pressure on Gonzales as the leaders again encountered traffic.
Perry snatched the lead away on lap 56, and that was the race.
"My car was good early on, and got better after that first yellow," said Perry after the race.
Indeed, he was in a class by himself in the second half of the event. Sciarroni brought out a brief caution when he stalled on track, then pitted. He was able to rejoin before the restart. Perry pulled away easily on the restart, then again after a yellow for a spin by Glick in turn four. Behind him there was a tight three-way battle for second between Gonzales, Hedrick and Lawlor.
Another yellow on lap 77 led to an instant replay of Perry's restart dominance, as he seemingly could open a gap on the field at will. Hedrick finally got by Gonzales on lap 81, but Lawlor was unable to follow him through. The leaders encountered traffic again, but the race ran green to the finish. The order at the checker was Perry, Hedrick, Gonzales, Lawlor, Mansch, Danburg and Hodges, all on the lead lap. Dean Heller finished eighth, one lap down, followed by Combs. Glick recovered from his two incidents to capture 10th, two laps in arrears. Baker and Sciarroni also finished two laps behind in 11th and 12th. Perry cruised to an easy victory after starting on the front row of the six-lap Dash for Cash. He has won all three of the Desert Rose races run so far at Champion for 2004.
The Western Modifieds were the only other division on the card, with a 100-lap race of their own, to be punctuated by a fuel stop scheduled for the halfway point.
It was a pretty good race for 98 of the 100 laps. Bu that's when things got weird.
Actually, the strangeness began in hot laps before the race when Russ Cazier smacked the front-straight wall and had to be taken to the pits by a two truck and a tractor.
The Modifieds also had a 10-car invert for the start, with pole sitter Mike Morrissey gridded outside of row five and multiple main winner Sammy Solari alongside. Gary Glenn took the lead from the pole, but a multi-car incident in turn three on the second lap put Matthew Collier out of the race. When the race restarted, it was Glenn and Jason Philpot battling for the lead for the early stages.
Philpot took over the lead on lap 21. Morrissey had picked up a couple of spots by lap 15, when the leaders started to encounter traffic. Morrissey worked his way through the lapped cars masterfully, picking off his competitors one by one in traffic. The yellow flag flew on lap 25 when Craig Swim punted Dean Heller into the infield, sending both cars to the back of the pack. By this time Morrissey had advanced to fourth-place and was in contact with the leaders.
Philpot opened up a lead on the restart, while Morrissey harried Dan Jinkerson for the third spot. By lap 40, Morrissey had taken Jinkerson and Glenn, and was in second, while Solari had moved up to fifth.
Morrissey grabbed the lead from Philpot on lap 45, and two laps later caution was displayed again, this time for Stewart Cullom and Ryan Baumgartner. Cullom went airborne and hit the tire wall on the outside of turn four, scattering tires far and wide.
Track officials took the opportunity to throw the red flag so the cars could be refueled. Solari took third on the restart, with only Philpot between him and the flying Morrissey.
Morrissey had built a 10 car-length lead by lap 50, and carved easily through the lapped traffic. During the long green run, Solari caught Philpot and took over the second spot on lap 71.
By lap 77, Morrissey had built a full-straightaway lead on Solari and looked to have the race in hand. Behind him, the order was Solari, Philpot, Mike Regelman, Jinkerson, Swim, and Glenn.
With only four laps to go, Chris Mays spun and brought out a caution, putting Solari right on Morrissey's rear nerf bar for the restart. When the green waved, the pair bumped as Morrissey shut the door on Solari in turn one. They battled for two laps, when contact off of turn two put Morrissey into a wild spin and off the track.
Officials judged the incident to be deliberate on Solari's part and issued orders to have him black-flagged. Before he could pit, Morrissey re-fired his car and came charging across the infield to chase down Solari and hit him. At this point officials ordered both drivers sent to the pits, but neither responded to the black flag.
A red flag ensued, and Morrissey stopped on the back straight, then spun several "victory" donuts before driving into the pits, where Solari and his crew were already involved in an altercation with Morrissey's contingent.
Order was restored and the race restarted. The rather anticlimactic two-lap dash was won by Philpot, who philosophically opined, "I got lucky tonight."
Regelman came home second, with Jinkerson third and Swim fourth, the last car on the lead lap. Fifth, one lap behind, was Ryan Peter, followed by Dean Heller, Glenn and Mays. Scored two laps behind were Jeff Stephens, Mark Thompkins, Alan Gibney, Morrissey and Solari in ninth through 13th respectively. Earlier in the evening, Solari won the six-lap dash.
Next Saturday night, the CASA Sprint Cars again take to Champion's high banks for their second 100-lap race of the season. Call 888-9777 for further information.