SPRING VALLEY, Minn. – Jacob Bleess drove the race of his life Saturday night in the finale of the 21st annual Featherlite Fall Jamboree at Deer Creek Speedway.
Bleess took the lead at the waving of the green flag and went on to pace all 50 laps in securing his first USMTS win on the world’s biggest stage for dirt modified racing.
“I’m speechless right now. It feels good,” said the 22-year-old from nearby Chatfield, Minn. “We won here in the B-Mod like five years ago and it feels good to be back.”
The main event kicked off with 32 of the planet’s best racers lining up three wide and 11 rows deep. Bleess rolled off from the outside of the front row with fellow Chatfield resident Lucas Schott on the pole and track champion Brandon Davis the man in the middle.
Bleess may have been the leader, but he was never able to rest during the contest.
Schott and Davis threatened throughout the race and pulled alongside several times-occasionally three wide with room to spare.
The leaders reached the back of the field by lap 12 and had to deal with heavy lapped traffic.
Meanwhile, Ryan Gustin-who used a past champion’s provisional to earn the 31st starting spot-had passed half the field by the ninth lap.
When the race’s first caution waved with 26 laps in the books, Bleess was still clinging to the lead with Schott, Davis, defending Jamboree champ Rodney Sanders and Friday’s runner-up, Jake O’Neil, filling the rest of the top five.
With half of the race complete, deep-in-the-field starters Dereck Ramirez (17th), Terry Phillips (14th), and Zack VanderBeek (18th) had also cracked the top 10.
Another yellow came out six laps later, but Bleess wasn’t rattled by either pause in the race.
In fact, he said, it allowed him to get back into clean air where his No. 21 VanderBuilt chassis was better.
“I just stayed consistent and tried to keep the tires under it,” Bleess said. “The yellows kind of helped me. I wasn’t able to go through lapped traffic good.
“Pull a tear-off… Cool down… Clean track… Just hit my marks.”
Davis has four USMTS triumphs at Deer Creek, but none during Featherlite Fall Jamboree week. This year, he won the Labor Day race and came into Thursday’s show riding a seven-race win streak here.
Sanders, who had a championship to be aware of as well, came up to make it a three-way battle for the lead over the final 15 laps but eventually Bleess and Davis pulled ahead to make it a two-way race.
Over the final three laps, Davis pulled even with Bleess on at least six occasions. In the final turn on the final lap, the opportunity was there for Davis to slide up and execute a checkers or wreckers pass of Bleess, but left enough room for Bleess to scream past on the outside and beat him to the finish line by eight one-hundredths of a second.
Bleess’ first USMTS win was also his first win anywhere this season. His take-home pay came to a cool $12,700 with $2,500 in bonus money from Tralo Companies plus a slew of contingency awards including a new driveshaft from Fast Shafts and the Swift Springs Four Corners Award.
Davis had to settle for the $5,000 runner-up paycheck and Sanders came across the line third to score $4,000. VanderBeek was fourth and netted $3,300 while Schott held on for fifth which added $2,700 to the newlywed’s bank account.
Jacob Bleess, Brandon Davis, Rodney Sanders, Zack VanderBeek, Lucas Schott, Terry Phillips, Dereck Ramirez, Jason Hughes, Jake O’Neil, Joe Duvall, Cory Crapser, Brad Waits, Dustin Sorensen, Ryan Gustin, Josh Angst, Jason Cummins, Joe Horgdal, Alex Williamson, Hunter Marriott, John Doelle, Chris Oertel, Brady Gerdes, Al Hejna, Travis Saurer, Austin Siebert, Kenny Gaddis, Ethan Dotson, Devon Havlik, Erik Kanz, Mark Motl, CHet Atkinson, Joel Alberts.