TULARE, Calif. (March 13, 2015) –In Western superstition, Friday the 13th is considered an unlucky day, but one lucky driver and team competing in the World of Outlaws event at Thunderbowl Raceway would walk away with the trophy and $10,000 in prize money.
Joey Saldana, driver of the Motter Equipment HE&M Saw Beltline Body Shop 71M Sprint Car, owns the most victories at Thunderbowl, claiming four (2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011). The Brownsburg Bullet has had a stellar start to the season and led the point standings coming into tonight’s seventh race of the season. Though he had notched a second and third place finish this year, the Bullet was eager for a victory.
Saldana excelled in qualifying, blistering the track in 12.620 seconds, establishing a new track record that held through half of the session until it was lowered by Brad Sweet (12.582). Saldana was the impressive No. 2 qualifier at the conclusion of time trials.
Eleven cars rolled to the green flag in the second heat race. Saldana started fourth but was running second, putting pressure on leader Terry McCarl on the first lap. The Tulare track was fast but not wide. McCarl won the heat with Saldana finishing second, transferring to the dash and the feature.
A ‘zero’ ping pong ball was pulled in the inversion draw, indicating a straight up start in the dash with Brad Sweet on the pole and Saldana on the outside of the front row.
“This is a fun track and you can really get after it with your race car but you have to be smart at the same time,” said Saldana right before the start of the dash. “You have to just enjoy it and have fun. This is a track similar to the tracks I grew up on so maybe that’s why I like racing here. It always seems to have a great surface and I think you’re going to see that again tonight.”
When the green flew it was Sweet and Saldana racing side by side in turn one, but Saldana took the lead coming out of turn two. At the end of six laps it was the Bullet with the wire-to-wire win, and along with that victory, he captured the pole for the A Main. Saldana was the seventh different dash winner in as many races.
Saldana paced the field, bringing the 26-car field down for the start of the 35-lap feature.
The track wasn’t green for long before the red was displayed for third-place starter Carson Macedo who got into the wall and collected Donny Schatz who had no place to go. A complete restart was called by Outlaws officials. Schatz’s team made repairs and sent him to the back of the field.
Back to green and Saldana assumed the lead followed by Terry McCarl, Sweet and Tim Kaeding. On lap four Saldana approached traffic and methodically picked his way through the lapped cars. There was no change in the running order for the top four, but disaster struck with 12 laps complete. Ian Madsen flipped and began to bounce. Saldana, with no place to go, slammed into Madsen, making hard contact with the Motter sprint car’s right rear tire, damaging the 71M’s rear end and frame, shocks and driveline. Then Sweet, also with no place to go, collided into Saldana, flipping over the 71M’s front end, bending the front end, the front frame, front axle and nose wing. This incident took out two of the top three in the running order (Saldana and Sweet) and the first (Saldana) and second (Sweet) in point standings.
Sweet was able to make repairs and return to the field, but the damage on the 71M was too extensive for the Motter team to fix. Thankfully, Saldana was able to walk away. Maybe there is something to the Friday the 13th superstition.
For the restart, it was McCarl, Tim Kaeding, Shane Stewart and Kerry Madsen. Competition stayed green for three more laps before the red was displayed for Bud Kaeding who hit the wall and began to flip. Then separately, David Gravel, Willie Croft and Daryn Pittman flipped.
The green came out for the final time after this restart. McCarl led the pack followed by Tim Kaeding and Kerry Madsen. With four laps to go, Kaeding was able to pass McCarl for the lead. Stewart and McCarl battled to the finish line with Stewart coming home second and McCarl third.
Saldana led laps 1-12 and is credited with finishing 23rd.
“We were so optimistic about the race tonight and we definitely had a winning car,” said team owner Dan Motter. “We did very well in the dash and we were actually working our way through traffic very well. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The accident did a tremendous amount of damage to a car that had been running so well for us. It hurt us considerably in the point standings. The team will put together a new car for tomorrow and we will fight our way back.”
The Outlaws have an encore performance tomorrow night at Thunderbowl Raceway.
Tomorrow is Saldana’s birthday. Cake and trophies would be nice.