MADERA, Calif. – Fourteen-year-old Jesse Love came back home to Madera Speedway and grabbed a surprising victory in the 17th Gerhardt Classic 50 for BCRA Midgets on Saturday.
Love, the two-time 51FIFTY Jr. Late Model Series champion, added to his already long list of “youngest ever” accomplishments, including youngest BCRA champion and youngest POWRi Midget podium finisher, by becoming the youngest winner of the event.
Defending Gerhardt Classic and ’18 and ’19 Vukovich Classic winner Jerome Rodela led the field to green. Love tried to diamond the corner to knife inside Rodela on several occasions but couldn’t complete the pass.
Fred Gerhardt’s great grandson Cody passed teammate Dylan Nobile for third behind them. The advantage for Rodela over Love seesawed by a few car lengths before things tightened up in lapped traffic on lap 19.
The race remained an all-green flag affair with the leaders continuing to run times within a tenth of their best lap throughout the 40-lap run. Love pounced on an opening underneath Rodela on the front stretch on lap 40, but the gap closed entering turn one.
He slid onto the rumble strips to bring out a caution, giving Rodela sole possession of the lead.
Rodela’s car stumbled on the restart, however, handing the lead to Nobile while Love swept around the outside into second position. Rodela came to a stop in turn one with six laps to go in the feature for a caution.
Love moved underneath Nobile with four laps to go to take the lead and grab the coveted Gerhardt Classic. Love thanked his team in an emotional victory lane celebration.
Nobile finished second with Gerhardt third.
Bakersfield’s Buddy Shepherd outlasted a tough race for the California Challenge Cup cars to win the 50-lap contest. After taking fast-time, Shepherd raced side-by-side with fellow two-time Pro Late Model champion Matt Erickson.
Shepherd led the opening three laps before Erickson edged forward on the outside to lead lap four.
Shepherd then took the lead back by a nose on lap five to clear Erickson a few laps later. Erickson went upstairs to follow Shepherd on the highline. The first caution fell on lap 17 for tire trouble on Thomas Martin’s car.
Erickson suffered tire trouble of his own on the restart, spinning in a shower of sparks in turn two for a lap-21 caution.
Erickson and Martin eventually succumbed to further issues, allowing Shepherd to top Paradise’s Camp Fire survivor Justin Funkhouser at the finish.
17 Central Valley Mini Stocks made their debut appearance on asphalt with Joshua Cross of Manteca topping qualifying, his heat race, and the 25-lap feature. Cross’ victory came after numerous cautions and restarts in the rough and tumble event.
Randy Brown Sr. and Darren Wilson were involved in two separate incidents, the second of which nearly involved third place running Joe Flowers as he attempted to lap them.
A caution for Ryan Doglione spinning into the turn three wall set up a five lap run to the finish with Joseph Reichmuth and Flowers going back and forth for second.
Cross took the victory ahead of Reichmuth, Flowers, Greg Baronian and series points leader Dan Myrick.
Joey Iest of won his third consecutive Focus Midgets feature, leading the final 26 laps for the victory. Derek Loweree fended off a race-long charge from Joseph Holliday for second.
Justin Kawahata won the 20 lap NCMA Sprints feature comfortably after starting third. Kawahata took the lead on the second lap of the feature leaving the battle between veterans Denny Burrell and David Burchett.
Kawahata lapped the field, while Burrell hung on for second over Burchett.