GIBSONTON, Fla. — Pulling off the biggest win of his career, Matt Cooper survived 11 caution periods to win Saturday night’s finale of the 14th annual Open Wheel Modified portion of the 37th East Bay Raceway Park Winternationals.
“This is the biggest win of my life,” he said in victory lane collecting the $5,000 check for his first win at East Bay driving for his father Ronnie Cooper sponsored by Ronnie Cooper Trucking.
His brand new Mark Bush Racing Bandit car with a Mullins engine was the class of the field, performing flawlessly staying in front all the way having no trouble pulling away on each and every restart and seemingly getting faster as the laps counted down to 75.
Even more remarkable on the lap-37 fuel mandatory fuel stop, his pit crew surprised him with the news that his Hoosiers had such good tire wear, that he could run as hard as he wanted to the end.
The race took one hour and 17 minutes and included 11 drivers from Florida but also had l3 states and Canada represented in the starting field.
Seventy-one-year-old Buzzie Reutimann who started 15th and was 10th at the fuel stop, restarted 15th and caused a caution on lap 60, restarted 15th and finished sixth.
Cooper and Bryce Jewell started in the front row with Dale Mathison and Kevin Adams in row two. Row three showed Devin Dixon and Roger Crouse followed by Kenny Wallace, Kyle Bronson, Austin Sanders, David Reutimann,Richard Michael and Bart Hartman in the front 12.
With Cooper leading Adams and Jewell the field went 20 laps before the first yellow and Mathison then used the outside line to take over third. But Jewell fought back and recaptured third until until David Reutimann broke a rear end on lap 37 which turned into the mandatory fuel stop.
By lap 50 Cooper led Adams, Crouse, Bronson, Hartman, Dixon and Wallace. A rash of yellow flags followed on laps 58,60,61 and 67 with Crouse now up to second, followed by Hartman and Bronson. At the 70-lap mark, Cooper pulled away to a 10 car-length lead over Crouse, Adams, Hartman and Bronson.
Just as Cooper was working on half a straightaway lead, the final yellow flew for Bronson. With a green, white, checkered finish Cooper won by three car lengths over Adams, Hartman, Crouse and Wallace.
James Hill won the Mod Lite feature.
Matt Cooper, Buzzy Adams, Bart Hartman, Roger Crouse, Kenny Wallace, Buzzie Reutimann, Bobby Dixon, Dale Kelley, Jeff Curl, Austin Sanders, Joey Galloway, Richard Michael Jr., Devin Dixon, Greg Amick, Michael Turner, Kyle Bronson, Bryce Jewell, Brad DeYoung, Matt Miller, Masen Bigeagle, Dale Mathison, Rick Weekly, David Reutimann, Nate Bregenzer, David Pollen Jr., Shon Flanary.