BLYTHE, Calif. – The drivers in the Lucas Oil Modified Series presented by LoanMart are going topless Saturday night at Lucas Oil I-10 Speedway.
That includes 2008 series champion Jimmy Dickerson, who will make his first start in three years in one of the Garcia Racing entries.
Before anyone gets too excited about the topless part, however, it needs to be made clear that this doesn’t mean the series’ regular drivers will race with bared chests or that a bevy of Playboy centerfolds have been recruited for a special event.
The Topless 100 presented by Canidae All Natural Pet Foods is so named because the race teams will remove the roofs of their cars. That’s a relatively simple procedure that will result in the spectators getting a unique look at what the drivers are doing behind the steering wheels of these fast, nimble vehicles during 100 laps of the tight, demanding quarter-mile oval.
The race, on opening night of the 2013-2014 season for the track on the Colorado River Fairgrounds, will be the seventh of nine on this year’s Modified schedule and the second at Blythe.
Two-time series champion Jim Mardis dominated the first race, in April, setting fast time in qualifying and winning the 75-lap contest by more than three seconds over Dave Arce, with Tim Morse third. That event was notable because Vanessa Robinson became the first woman driver to start a race from the pole and Arce built the Chevrolet engines that powered the first three cars.
Mardis would like to have a repeat of that weekend for another reason, too. His victory and the bonus points he earned for the win and fast time gave him 54 points for the night and a four-point lead over Chris Gerchman, who finished sixth, in the Hoosier Tire West point standings. Now Mardis needs a similar finish to keep the title fight close for the final two races.
Gerchman, the runner-up to Austin Barnes last season, enjoys a 16-point lead after gaining 10 by setting fast time and finishing second to Mardis’s sixth in the most recent race, at Irwindale, Calif., on Aug. 17. And the next race is at Havasu 95 Speedway in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., Gerchman’s hometown and home track.
The 26-year-old Gerchman, who’s now living in Texas, is the series’ leader in single-season and all-time wins and career earnings, but he’s still looking for his first championship, having finished third three times in addition to his second last year, when the fall race at Blythe was a major factor.
Gerchman went into that race with a two-point lead over Barnes, but confusion over a black flag resulted in his finishing 14th and leaving the track 26 points behind Barnes, who had won the race. Gerchman made up eight points in the next race, at Lake Havasu City, but was sidelined by engine problems early in the season finale at Las Vegas.
This season, Gerchman has three wins, two seconds and the sixth at Blythe. Mardis, who is the only driver with at least one win in each of the past five seasons, has two seconds, a third, a fifth and a sixth.
Those two are the only ones in the championship picture, and Doug Hamm is a solid third in the standings, but there’s still a good deal of incentive for the other drivers – like the $1,300 that goes to the race winner, the cash awards that go to the driver posting the fast time in qualifying, winning the Trophy Dash or earning the Hard Charger award, and potential points fund bonus money for those still battling for positions in the top 15. That list includes Nik Romano, Shelby Stroebel, Roger Brown, Tim Morse, Jason Patison and Aaron McMorran, who currently are fourth through ninth, respectively, but separated by just 20 points.
There’ll be an opening on the list, too, because Larry Gerchman, who is 15th, has sold his car and likely will spend the rest of this season helping son Chris and building a new car for 2014.
Robinson, who started on the pole in April, won’t be competing, either. Her season came to a premature end in July due to back problems.