MADERA, Calif. – Forgive Chris Gerchman if he was feeling like it was déjà vu all over again Saturday night when the Lucas Oil Modifieds presented by LoanMart reached the halfway point in their season at LoanMart Madera Speedway.
Gerchman qualified fourth, started on the outside of the front row in the inverted grid and led every lap of the ProtectTheHarvest.com Summer 75 presented by MAVTV American Real en route to his second straight win and third of the season, by .166 second over rookie Chase Catania.
Two-time series champion Jim Mardis was third, Nik Romano fourth and Jason Patison fifth in the short-track touring series’ third visit to Madera.
Gerchman’s win at Madera was a virtual replay of his win at Rocky Mountain Raceways in Utah June 15. He qualified seventh there, but started on the outside of the front row and led all 75 laps under almost constant pressure to beat Mardis and Catania to the finish.
This time the pressure came primarily from Catania, a 22-year-old from El Cajon, California, who stepped into the driver’s seat of owner Dean Kuhn’s car for the third race of the season and has finished sixth, third and second in his three starts.
Catania started sixth, after qualifying sixth and winning the six-lap BILSTEIN Trophy Dash, and worked his way up during the ragged early portion of the race that saw the caution flag wave six times (of nine total) by lap 13 and officials abandon the double-file cone restarts due to continuous problems.
Catania moved into third on the back straightaway on lap 13, took second on lap 21, and made Gerchman work extremely hard after caution flag No. 7 wiped out the leader’s almost two-second advantage.
When the green flag waved after the final caution, with eight laps to go, Gerchman was leading Catania, Romano, Patison and Mardis. They stayed that way until Catania got inside Gerchman in turns one and two on lap 71. Gerchman barely held on then, but Catania wasn’t done. He tried to take away the inside line again in turns three and four on the final lap, but Gerchman was able to close the door and take the checkered flag before spinning in front of the grandstands.
The win, the series-best 16th all-time for Gerchman, unofficially gives the Spring Branch, Texas, resident an eight-point lead over Mardis with four races remaining.