Veteran “Slammin” Sam Solari, of Escalon, drove a near flawless race to capture the checkered flag in Saturday’s 100-lap Stockton Late Model season finale at the 99 Speedway while Eric “Bubba” Nascimento Jr., of Manteca, finished in second to secure the 2020 track championship.
Nascimento started the day, Oct. 24, with a 27-point lead over Solari and with double points on the line Nascimento needed to finish within six spots of Solari to clinch the title.
The Oct. 17 race winner Larry Tankersley, the 2016 track champion, sat on the pole as the 17-car field got off to a shaky start with two yellow-cautions in the opening three laps. Amazingly the track would stay green for the remainder of the race as Tankersley, Gary Shafer Jr, and Ty Carlson, all of Stockton, along with Solari and Nascimento battled it out for the early lead, sometimes going three-wide in the corners.
After getting roughed up a bit, Nascimento wisely back off, dropping down to fifth, until the front runners sorted things out with Shafer emerging with the lead.
“They were pushing hard in those first couple of laps, but I knew where I needed to finish so I was just kinda riding it out and cruising,” explained Nascimento after the race. “I didn’t want to touch anybody or get involved in anything. I just wanted to finish the race.”
Shafer would continue to hold down the top spot until Solari swept by him with 20 laps to go when his tires began to fade.
As the laps wound down Nascimento began to cautiously move his way towards the front, passing Shafer for second and settling in behind Solari with nine laps remaining to lock down the championship. Shafer would hold on for third while Tankersley and Carlson completed the top five.
“This feels so great. My family has been racing here for two decades and to have my name up there with the likes of the Belletto’s and Philpot’s is amazing,” said Nascimento, a seven-time race winner this season. “I can’t thank my crew and sponsors enough. They work so hard to give me a bad, fast race car every week. We are going to be celebrating tonight!”
It was the third win of the season for Solari, the 2018 track champion, and despite finishing second overall in the standings he was satisfied with the result.
“I had a great car and I was really determined to do well tonight,” Solari said. “You can’t win the championship in one race and Eric was a class act all season. I didn’t win a lot, but I had fun all year.”
Joe Flowers, of Manteca, put the finishing touches on his near perfect season by rolling to his tenth win in 11 starts for the B-4s.
In a near repeat of the race last weekend, Flowers started the 25-lap main from the second row of the 20-car field before passing early race leader Andrew Rumsey, of Stockton, on lap 10 and cruising to the checkered flag.
“This feels great! I wanted to win this one so bad and I had a blast tonight. It was so fun to win one with people in the stands,” said Flowers, giving tribute to the 600 plus fans spaced out in the grandstands.
The 2020 championship was especially satisfying to Flowers after his bad luck last season when he tied with Josh Cross, of Manteca, for first in the points, but lost the championship due to having fewer wins than Cross which was the tiebreaker.
The Bomber division featured Stockton’s tightest championship battle where Mikala Stearns of Linden entered the race just seven points behind Jeanna Ramos, of Lodi.
Stearns’ race almost came to an end on the opening lap when Troy Walz, of Valley Springs, tapped her from behind, sending her out of control and into the wall on the front straight. Luckily, Stearns’ crew was able to make repairs and return her to the back of the pack before the race resumed.
By midrace Stearns was able to claw her way back to third behind Ramos and race leader AJ Rider of Linden but she was never able to get any closer as Ramos held her off over the final laps to pick up the first championship of her career.
“All I thought about was not crashing, dodging the lapped traffic and staying ahead of Mikala,” confessed Ramos. “Mikala was tough all year and I am honored to compete with her.”
Evan Laires, of Linden, capped off his Mini Cup championship by picking up the victory in the 15-lap feature after race leader Jordan Mast overcorrected coming out of turn #4 and spun himself out in the closing laps.
The North Star Modified Touring Series also concluded their abbreviated five race season in Stockton on Saturday with a 60-lap main that brought out a strong field of 20 cars.
The battle for the North Star championship was completely up for grabs when all three of the title contenders – Scott Winters of Lodi, Kyle Tellstrom of Eureka, and Mike Sullivan of Kelseyville – spun out in the early going.
Winters was able to regroup, make his way all the way back to the front and take the lead with 15 laps to go only to pit under green two laps later with a flat tire, handing the top spot over to Cameron Austin, of Santa Rosa. Austin stayed in front the rest of the way while Sullivan fought his way up to third which was good enough to earn him the season title.
As improbable as it may have seemed back in March when the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the 2020 race schedule, on Sunday promoter Tony Noceti was able to hold the annual season ending banquet in the track’s outdoor pavilion to honor this year’s champions and participants.
Although racing at the 99 Speedway has concluded for 2020, the Stockton Dirt Track, located at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds will be hosting the 37th Annual Tribute to Gary Patterson, featuring the King of the West NARC 410 Sprint Cars and Winged 360 Sprint Cars on Saturday, Nov. 7; the Dirt and Sport Modifieds on Sunday, Nov. 8; and a six division program featuring the Winged 360 Sprint Cars on Saturday, Nov. 14.