Manteca’s Eric Nascimento, Jr. muscled past California State champion Trevor Huddleston, then fended off 2019 Nut Up Pro Late Model champion Austin Herzog, on the way to his first career MAVTV-televised Pro Late Model win at Madera Speedway on Saturday night.
The April 3 event marked the first in 18 months with fans in attendance at the one-third mile speedway.
Nascimento started on the pole position with fast-time qualifier Herzog advancing from sixth to fourth quickly at the start while Huddleston moved up from tenth to fifth by lap 16. Third starting Jason Aguirre used the outside line to move past Nascimento for the lead on a restart with Herzog sticking his nose inside Nascimento for second place before a red-flag stoppage brought things to a halt on lap 24.
A two-by-two duel for the top spot ensued on the restart when Aguirre, Nascimento, Herzog, and Huddleston stayed under a blanket for numerous laps. The thrilling dogfight saw Nascimento take over the top spot by a nose on lap 28 only to see Aguirre retake it on lap 30.
The four drivers continued the battle for the top spot until the scheduled lap 50 mid-race break where Nascimento led Huddleston, Herzog, Aguirre, and Las Vegas’ Kyle Keller as the top-five.
When racing resumed following the break, Nascimento and Huddleston went side-by-side for the lead through lap 56 before Nascimento cleared Huddleston. Nascimento had a strong restart following a lap 61 yellow-caution, leaving Huddleston to fight with Herzog for second. Another caution on lap 64 gave Huddleston a second shot at Nascimento, which he took advantage of to lead lap 65. Herzog and Nascimento had a furious battle for second, which included some heavy contact in turn four on lap 73, before yet another yellow-caution came out.
With seven to go, Huddleston restarted outside of Nascimento in a shootout for the win. Nascimento worked him up the race track, knocking him back to fifth spot while driving ahead for the lead. A Shelden Cooper spinout on the next lap led to more drama as Huddleston took advantage of the situation to retaliate on Nascimento under caution. As a result of the incident, Huddleston was parked into the infield by officials while Nascimento was returned to his place at the front.
Nascimento defended a late run up the inside by Herzog on the final turn to take the checkered flag for his first Nut Up Pro Late Model win just ahead of Herzog and Napa’s Dylan Zampa.
“It was tough. I apologize to (Herzog) for running him hard a little. With (Huddleston) I just ran him the way he ran me,” said Nascimento.
Nascimento, the defending Stockton 99 track champion, also gave thanks to his crew which includes veteran driver Eric Holmes, of Escalon.
“These guys here put in so many hours at the shop and so many hours at the track for free. I learned from Eric Holmes, my uncle Mike, and my dad. This is the car Holmes ran and won two Short Track Shootouts. If it wasn’t for him and all these guys I wouldn’t be where I’m at.”
Racing returns to the Stockton 99 Speedway on Saturday, April 17 for the regular season opener with the Stockton Late Models, Bombers, B4 Cylinders, Junior B4 Cylinders and Mini Cups.