RODDA: Enjoying The Wild West

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Ron Rodda

APACHE JUNCTION, Ariz. – The big final weekend of the Wild West Shootout was a successful buffet of racing with four complete shows in three days, with only a little rain added.

Since it was rain the prior Sunday that created the racing bonanza to end the series, it was almost fitting that moisture would make a return visit.

The effort on Saturday by track crew, officials, race teams and event promoters to race two shows after a night race the day before cannot be appreciated unless you were part of those groups.  We had it easy in comparison, although seeing both shows meant 12 hours at the track.

Many people left after the Noon show on Saturday, but they were replaced by fans arriving for the late show. Crowds seemed larger to us than ever before and our feeling is that the Wild West Shootout reached a new level of stature.

Between the excellent Pay-Per-View production from DirtonDirt, full fields of talented drivers and exceptional race management by the crew of officials, this year’s series was perhaps the best ever.

It seemed every late model main event was dramatic, X mods and modifieds put on some exceptional heat racing with their passing/finishing point format and several of their mains were particularly good.

The four races from Friday evening until Sunday’s finale were an excellent way to close things out with the late models getting more dramatic with each successive main event.

Friday night Kyle Beard looked like a rocket ship as he established a significant lead, but two-time winner Bobby Pierce closed and eventually made the winning pass on the topside of turns three and four.  His third win meant a $10,000 bonus with increased bonuses possible with additional wins.

Pierce then had a $25,000 carrot dangling in front of him with one more win in the remaining three races, much more with a pair of wins or a sweep. Saturday’s noon race turned into a fifth place finish for him while Ricky Weiss used a low line pass to win over Brandon Sheppard.

Saturday’s night race had light rain and wind as main events were ready but the late models got their race in with a potential Pierce fourth win erased by a flat just before the halfway point. Chasing Pierce at the time, Cade Dillard was the beneficiary of the flat and claimed the win.

That left Sunday’s concluding 50 lap, $14,000-to-win race as Pierce’s last chance to up the bonus.  Again bad luck, this time a failed rear end, while leading also ended the Wild West Shootout for the three-time winner.

In a fitting finale, the ultimate bad luck befell leader Scott Bloomquist when he ran into a spun car in turn three on the final lap.  Ricky Weiss was in second at the time and handled things on the restart to win his second.  Sheppard won the point title despite Pierce winning half the races.

The modifieds were controlled by Rodney Sanders on Friday night while Dereck Ramirez took the day show with a low line pass in turn three.  Two mains with no heats filled the early Saturday show and D.J. Shannon won the second modified main.  Starting ninth, Shannon’s win matched his 2018 win total. The nightcap was delayed by increasing rain and became the opening race on Sunday.

The better late than never modified race Sunday was one of the best mains of the 18 features run. Ricky Thornton Jr., Rodney Sanders and Darrell Nelson had a furious race for the win.  Thornton failed to finish because of an overheating issue and Nelson barely bested Sanders at the line.

Their second main of the day and final of the series was another three-car tussle and Thornton solved his engine temperature problems to win over Sanders and Ramirez.  A low line pass was the winning move for Thornton who mirrored Pierce’s series.  He still managed to finished second to Darrell Nelson in points for the series.

The X mods were the yellow flag champions of the series but ended their part with a very good main event. Cole Searing claimed his fourth win, an impressive series for the South Dakota driver, and was also named the series champion.

While the weather could have been a little more cooperative, series promoters Chris Kearns and Kevin Montgomery did whatever was necessary to run all the races.  It will all happen again Jan. 11 to Jan. 20 in 2020, hopefully this time without any rain.