Second-generation driver Gary Shafer Jr., of Stockton, continued his late season surge by driving away from the field to score his second consecutive victory in the 50-lap feature for the Stockton Late Models at the Stockton 99 Speedway on Sept. 18.
Starting alongside of Justin Philpott, the three-time track champion out of Tracy, in the front row of the 13-car field to start the main, Shafer quickly settled into third as the rest of the field sorted itself out. His attempt to move by Philpott for the lead on lap 10 was interrupted by a yellow-caution, but he was able to successfully complete the pass nine laps later.
With clear sailing ahead of him, Shafer slowly began to pull away from the pack. The remainder of the race went caution free forcing Shafer to maneuver through the lapped traffic he encountered over the final 20 laps to chalk up his third win of the season.
“We had a great car so I took my time and tiptoed by the guys in front of me and then we pretty much checked out. I was just praying there would not be a caution,” said Shafer. “We have been fine tuning the car over the last several weeks and it just keeps getting a little better and better.”
Stockton’s Ty Carlson turned in another solid run to finish the race in second just ahead of Joey Stearns, who entered the night just 14 points ahead of Shafer in the battle for the 2021 track championship, while Stockton’s Joey Sarafin and Philpott rounded out the top five.
Once again the B-4 feature turned into a dogfight between Manteca’s Josh Cross and Joe Flowers.
The pair sat on the front row for the start of the 16-car main where Cross jumped into the early lead at the drop of the green flag. He would then spend the remainder of the 25-lap race weaving through back markers while desperately keeping the hard-charging Flowers at bay.
Despite making several attempts, Flowers could never execute a pass for the lead as Cross took the checkered flag for his eighth victory of the year before slowly coming to a silent stop on the front straight.
“Man that was close. The car was sputtering at the end because I lost the battery,” explained Cross. “I was really worried because it kept cutting out more and more and then the lights went out.”
Dave Keller, of Stockton, finished third and Nick Hall, of Stockton, who entered the night with a narrow 5-point lead over Flowers and 7-point lead over Cross in the B-4 season standings, finished in fourth.
The 25-lap Bomber main quickly turned into a three-car shootout as Lodi’s Brandon Jones, Linden’s Allen Rider and Manteca’s Joe Reichmuth fought it out like a trio of feral cats on catnip from start to finish.
Jones would go on to take the checkered flag by about a foot over Rider as the pair completed the final laps side-by-side while Reichmuth, who entered the night with a 20-point lead over Rider, settled for a hard-earned third.
“It was getting really close at the end. Those guys were all over my back bumper and I was doing everything I could to stay ahead of them,” said Jones. “We have been struggling so this feels really good.”
Jordan Lovelace, of Stockton, continued his season long domination in the B-4 Juniors division by grabbing his eighth win of the season over Manteca’s Jayden Cross and Gage Wicke scored an upset victory over season points leader Kash Holman, of Salida, in the Mini Cup main.
The next event at the 99 Speedway will be the Fall Classic on Saturday, Oct. 2, which will feature the final appearance of the year for the Spears SRL Pro Late Model series along with the Bombers, B-4s and B-4 Juniors.
Before the start of the evening’s racing, long-time track announcer and former driver Wayne Pierce shared some of his memories of Modesto’s Steve Belletto, 56, who sadly passed away on Sept. 11 after losing his battle with COVID-19.
The Belletto family has a long and distinguished history of almost 50 years of competing at the Stockton 99 Speedway which began in 1970 when Steve’s father Harry Belletto started racing at the quarter-mile oval. Fierce competitors on the track and gentlemen off of it, the Belletto’s were always fan favorites and remain so today.
Harry would go on to win three 99 Speedway track championships while Steve and his younger brother Jeff would capture two track championships each. The three also posted 1-2-3 finishes on several occasions. Steve’s older brother Rick was also involved, building and preparing the family owned race cars.
“My best memories are racing with my dad and brother,” Pierce recounted Steve telling him.