ELMA — In the first of two scheduled championship racing weekends, the 360 Sprints and Ford Focus Midgets have closed their seasons. J.J. Hickle was crowned this year’s Grays Harbor Sprint champion and Jared Peterson took the top spot in the Midgets.
With a full schedule of racing in all classes, two divisions finished their seasons Sept. 29. Originally scheduled for a full night of Championship trophies in all divisions of racing, track officials divided the end of the year championships across two separate weekends due to earlier season schedule changes. The last race for titles in the Modified, Hobby and Hornet classes is scheduled for Oct. 6.
For the second time this season, racing was stopped to re-fuel cars based on length of the race due to cautions. During the midseason Speed Week, a Modified race was stopped to re-fuel on the dirt oval of Grays Harbor Raceway; this time, it was the 360 Sprints.
But even with a caution-filled race — some drivers were told to leave the track after being the cause of their second caution — and an on-the-track re-fueling stop, the leader never waned and led the pack from start to finish. J.J. Hickle, sitting outside at the start, quickly took an inside track over his closest points contender, Reese Goetz.
With less than 20 points separating the pair at the start of the race, both were in a must-win situation to ensure a season victory in the 360 Sprint Class. The duo ran one-two for the first eight laps until Henry VanDam, third place in points, got into the mix and tried to take the season for himself.
Even with the several opportunities and seven cautions that re-packed the cars into a tight starting formation, VanDam could not quite catch up to Hickle. Goetz had to bow out of contention after the final re-start of the night, as something came loose on one of his trips around turns one and two, and had to pit for the rest of the night.
The hole was quickly filled by Trey Starks, who had recently taken his first career win at Grays Harbor, hunting down the more experienced VanDam. The three held the line for the last half of the 30-lap race, taking the checkered flag in that order and awarding enough points to Hickle to be crowned the 360 Sprint 2012 Champion.
The number three seems to be the apparent number of champions so far this season. Hickle took the championship in his No. 3 car in the Sprints; Jared Peterson took the Ford Focus Midget season crown with his No. 3s car by winning the race.
The win was Peterson’s fifth on the Harbor. With the victory, he jumped over points leader Jeremy Miller to take the season crown.
Chase Goetz was the second Goetz of the night to place in second trailed Peterson for the majority of the race in second place, but lost a little space when Madison Heiss tried to wedge in for a chase on Peterson, leaving room for Reese Goetz’s younger brother to swoop in.
The race had all the elements of a season-ending suspense story. At the start of the race, Miller had secured himself the outside pole position next to Peterson. Peterson had blown away the group in qualifying to be at the head of the pack at the start. Through the first four laps it was Peterson, Goetz and Miller tightly around the track.
On lap six, Miller bumped Garrett Johnson in turn two; Annika Johanson smashed into them and officials brought the race to a full stop. Johnson and Johanson couldn’t resume racing. On the re-start, officials issued the black flag to Miller, ending his race on lap six, and effectively taking him out of the point race.
Only one additional caution was brought out for the Midgets when Garrett Thomas lost power and had to be pushed off at the conclusion of lap 11.
Running clean the rest of the race, Peterson never gave up ground to Goetz, who eventually regained his position over Heiss. By lap 18, the leaders started to create lapped traffic that gave Peterson additional room to capture the checkered flag at the end of the 25-lap race.
Hobbies, Modifieds and Hornets
Running as a regular season point race, the night started with the tight battle in the Hobby Stock class. Jason Tole and Brian Harding have both taken the lion’s share of wins this season and sit one and two, respectively, in points. But the night would not be an easy win for either of the top two contenders.
Eddie Blood, sitting in fourth place in points at the start of the night, took control of the race early and led through the first and only caution of the night for the Hobbies raised on lap 11 of the 25-lap race. On the re-start, Harding took his turn at the helm but was quickly replaced by Cory Sweatman.
Tole was sneaking up on Harding from third place. Harding was able to keep him in check until lap 17, when Tole finally made it around him. After that, the race settled down into Sweatman, Tole, Harding and Blood, looking to finish in that order.
Just two laps from the end of the race, the leaders started to engage the end-of-the-pack litter, and used lapped traffic to their advantage. As they came around for their final pass of the grandstands, Sweatman had a slim edge over Tole, but as he kept an eye on field traffic, Tole slipped by coming out of turn four and heading for the gate. Tole took the win, leaving Harding in third place and increasing his points standing.
The Modified class was a bit reckless from the start. Raising a total of eight cautions in the run, the group had a total re-start when it could not make it out of the first turn safely. Alan Munchoew got loose going into turn two, bringing the rest of the field with him. Munchoew was one of three drivers to be pulled from the field under the two-cautions-you-are-out rule.
Will Taylor and Carl Larson also were sent packing from the dirt oval. In the field of 17 starters, 10 finished the 30-lap race. Canadian Lawrence O’Conner took the win. The top three points leaders — Joe German, Craig Moore and Scott Miller — completed the race with Moore taking second, Miller third and German finishing sixth. Tom Sweatman edged out German, finishing just ahead and keeping him in the points race at fourth.
The Hornets ran quick and dirty with Willie Wright leading the entire race. Wright’s win keeps him at third in the points race, but right behind him was Jesarae Norton, second in points and taking third, Chad Norton, currently leading the Hornet points race.
The Modifieds, Hobbies and Hornets will conclude their season Saturday, Oct. 6. On the race card will be a showing of the Sportsman Sprints.