Wes Miller knew if he was going to have any chance of winning the Desert Rose 100 Series Late Model race at Champion Speedway on Saturday night, he needed to be patient, avoid any collisions and make sure he finished the race.
Mission accomplished. The Turlock, Calif., driver went the distance and was alone out front as he won the 100-lap race, which marked the second leg of the Desert Rose Series and the fourth stop of the season for the WESTCAR Late Model Series.
Miller passed Shane Kline to take over second-place on Lap 86, a move that proved to be a winner moments later when front-runner Byron Gonzales was involved in a three-car collision that knocked him out of the race on Lap 88.
It was a heart breaker for Gonzales, who won the previous WESTCAR Series event two weeks before in Roseville, Calif., and had finished a solid third in the first Desert Rose race on May 21. He was in control of this race, having led for 55 laps. The Carmichael, Calif., driver was out front by at least a quarter-lap with just 12 to go.
Miller, who drives for Mike Garcia Racing, knows the feeling all too well.
"I've had some really bad luck lately," he said. "Last week I was leading my race in Stockton and got taken out. The same thing happened in the race before that, so I was getting tired of getting taken out. This time, I said, 'I'm going to finish behind the guy before I wreck it.'
"I've been racing 14, 15 years. I've been around and I knew this was a 100-lap race. I wanted to be patient ... I knew that my opportunity would come and I would get results. And that's what happened. It was kind of like, if I don't wreck, I win."
Gonzales narrowly avoided a mishap when he got into lapped traffic and nearly hit Melissa Davis on Lap 37 after she spun out between turns 3 and 4. Miller, who started fifth in the field, moved into third-place on the restart and began a pursuit of Kline that would last nearly 50 laps.
Brake problems proved to be the undoing of Kline, who was driving Dean Heller's Blackjack Motors No. 20 car.
"We had no brakes at the end," Kline said. "That's when No. 18 got underneath me. At that point, I was just trying to make sure we came home in one piece."
Miller finally got his chance coming out of Turn 4 on Lap 86.
"No. 20 got a little high," Miller said. "He gave me a hole and I jumped on it."
At that time, Miller was in second-place behind Gonzales. But as Gonzales tried to work through lapped traffic two laps later, he came together in turn 4 with the cars of Rich Lawlor and Al Draper. Gonzales' No. 98 car was towed to the pits with severe front end damage - and would eventually drop to 16th in the final results.
Kline settled for second-place in the race, but the Carson City driver had no complaints considering he never even got away from the starting line at Champion on May 21 after getting caught in a nine-car pile-up.
"At least we finished this one," he said. "First off, I want to thank my whole crew. As of Tuesday night, we had no suspension and no body. These guys busted their butts, they worked countless hours to get the car ready for tonight. We had no idea what to expect when we got out here at 4 o'clock today. Then to go out and set fast time (13.63 seconds). That's how good these guys are."
Kline encountered more problems during the dash for cash.
"The right front caliper broke and we blew the radiator," he said. "I have to thank Henry Hodges - that's his radiator in our car."
Eight of the 21 cars that started completed the 100-lap distance in a race that saw six yellow flags (two red).
Chuck Glick, who started 17th, worked his way through the field and finished third right behind Kline. Gary Glenn took fourth and Steve Gannon, who won the May 21 race at Champion, rounded out the top five. Chet Danburg of Carson City was sixth.
Unfortunately, Miller wasn't able to get off the track completely unscathed when the car's transmission broke after his victory burnout in front of the homestretch grandstand.
"I'm a little embarrassed," Miller said with grimace afterward. "I'm just glad it didn't happen in the race. This was a great win for me and for the owner of this car, Mike Garcia. We've been having some bad luck, so we're real excited about tonight.
"This was my first time here. I'd never seen the track before, so it took me a while to figure things out," the three-time Stockton 99 Speedway champion added. "This place is a blast. I had a great time."
The WESTCAR Series has now had four different winners in four races, as Miller joins, Tim Bost, Gannon and Gonzales as winners. The Series returns to Carson City for the third of four races on July 9.
Note: Carl Davis of Carl's Readymix, Windsor, Calif., recently put up a sizable donation towards the purchase of high tech fire protection for the WESTCAR Series. Wes Hunter from Fire Solutions, a Washington based company, that has been building a foam fire suppression equipment for over 20 years together with WESTCAR promoter, Jeff Macey, have designed a scaled down version to be marketed directly to the racer. This system will provide the racer with fire suppression while testing or at events where equipment is not readily available. These units will be affordable, selling for about the price of a trick pair of shocks. For more information about the equipment, contact Macey at (530) 846-4545.
n Contact Dave Price at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 881-1220.
WESTCAR Late Models
Main event (100 laps): 1, Wes Miller, 2, Shane Kline, 3, Chuck Glick, 4, Dan Knight, 5, Steve Gannon, 6, Chet Danburg, 7, Bobby Butler, 8, Travis Combs, 9, Shannon Mansch (99 laps), 10, Melissa Davis (99), 11, Kenny Crome (99), 12, Don Lehman (99), 13, Rich Lawlor (99), 14, Scott Chappel (95 laps), 15, Gary Glenn (90), 16, Byron Gonzales (88 laps), 17, Al Draper (87 laps), 18, Mike Mansch (73 laps), 19, Craig Paulsen (19 laps), 20, Mike Garcia (19 laps). Yellow: 6. Red: 2.
Semi-main: (20-lap, 2 transfer to the main) 1, Draper, 2, Garcia, 3, Virgil Miller, 4, Mike Lehman, 5, Jay Bradley. Yellow: 3.
Dash for cash: 1, Gonzales, 2, Miller, 3, Glenn, 4, Paulsen.
Fast time: Kline 13.63.