The Lucas Oil Modified Racing Series, presented by 1 800 Loan Mart,
officially kicked off their 2012 season, March 24th, with a 75 lap
feature at the Havasu 95 Speedway, a quarter mile paved oval, located
in Lake Havasu City-Arizona. From the very beginning of the weekend,
it was apparent that this very popular series is going to enjoy a
highly competitive season. Their season opening race boasted 29
By the time the checkered flag fell on the
Hoosier Tire West/Sunoco Race Fuels 75, it was also apparent that
Austin Barnes was going to be picking up where he left off last
year. The young driver, from Escondido-California, finished the
series' 2011 season with six wins, including five in a row. He started
the 2012 season by winning at Lake Havasu City. Barnes took the lead
for good on lap 37 and held off a late race challenge by Chris
Gerchman to earn the winner's check from the Hoosier Tire West/Sunoco
Race Fuels 75.
With 29 entries vying for the 22 starting
positions in this race, qualifying was, understandably, somewhat
intense. Surprisingly it was Barnes and Gerchman running one-two on
the qualifying speed charts with identical lap times. Both drivers
toured the Havasu 95 Speedway's quarter mile oval with a lap of 15.427
seconds/58.339 MPH. Because the qualifying line up order was based on
the 2011 points standings, Barnes turned the fast lap first and that
factor earned him the Budweiser Fast Time award. The separation in
qualifying times, from first to 22nd, was only 1.6 seconds and it was
an early sign of the competitive race that was still to come.
Unfortunately for Barnes, the pre race
inversion ceremony was not very kind to him and he found himself going
from first to eighth in the starting line up. The eight car inversion
placed series veterans Larry Gerchman and Tim Morse on the front row
for the 75 lap feature race.
Four of the 22 starting positions were
determined by a 20 lap B main which was won by Spencer Gallagher.
Johnny Luttner, Keaton Swane and Dennis Lovelady earned the other
three transfer spots from this event.
When the green flag fell on the Hoosier
Tire West/Sunoco Race Fuels 75, Tim Morse made very quick work of
jumping into the lead and paced the field for the first circuits
before being overtaken by Matt Hicks.
While Matt Hicks is certainly not a racing
rookie, he was making his debut in a modified race car at this event.
It was evident early on that he had figured out the transition. He was
ranked fifth on the qualifying chart and then won the six lap Dart
Machinery Trophy Dash along with the $200 bonus that comes with it.
It was apparent that the 24 year old
driver wanted to collect his second win of the night by using a rock
steady sense of rhythm with his lap times. Hicks led the field from
lap three to 37. During this time of the race Austin Barnes was
methodically working his way to the front. He only needed ten laps to
advance his very fast modified from eighth to second.
There were only three caution flags in
this race, due to minor single car incidents. Barnes caught a break
from the first yellow flag, on lap 23, because it allowed him to
eradicate the real estate between himself and the race leader. From
that point it was a game of chase with Barnes working both the outside
and inside racing lines trying to claim the race lead while Hicks did
everything possible to prevent it from happening. On lap 36 the two
leaders were now side by side with the capacity crowd cheering them
on. Barnes found just enough racing room, on the lower groove in turn
two, to complete what would turn out to be the race winning move.
However, Barnes run to the checkers wasn't
quite home free just yet. On lap 59, Lake Havasu City's Chris Gerchman
moved around Hicks to take over second and began the process of
chasing down the leader. Needless to say, the packed grandstands
filled with Gerchman fans went wild over this development. On lap 67,
the presence of lapped traffic almost became a huge factor in the
Hoosier Tire West/Sunoco Race Fuels 75. While Barnes was carefully
trying to work his way through the traffic maze, Gerchman was coming
on strong and worked the deficit between them down to two car
However, time and laps just simply ran out
and, just like they did in qualifying, Barnes and Gerchman topped the
charts in the one-two positions. The final margin of victory was 1.315
seconds. Hicks completed his sensational modified racing debut by
finishing third, Doug Hamm, a series veteran driver from Las Vegas,
finished fourth while reigning series champion Jim Mardis completed
the top five.
Barnes collected $1,000 for winning the
Hoosier Tire West/Sunoco Race Fuels 75 plus a $100 bonus from the J E
Pistons/Roush Yates Performance Parts Winner's Program. Making the
night even more lucrative were additional $100 bonus
checks for the Budweiser Fast Time award, the Optima Batteries Hard
Charger award and the GEICO Clean Pass award. All of these bonuses
came on the heels of Barnes recently celebrating his 17th birthday.
After parking his MasterCraft Safety/1 800
Loan Mart modified in the Sunoco Race Fuels victory lane, it was time
for a very happy race winner to enjoy a very successful weekend in
Lake Havasu City. "We started out the night by winning the pole again
and that was pretty nice," Barnes said adding "but unfortunately I
drew an eight, (in the inversion procedure), so we had to start pretty
far back. We started on the outside groove and, when everyone else was
shuffling around, we moved to the low line and in a matter of laps we
were up to third place."
Commenting on the presence of lapped
traffic during the waning laps of the race, Barnes said " they were
racing two wide and sometimes even trying to peek in a little three
wide action but luckily no one made that move. There was some bumping
and banging but luckily we had a pretty good size lead by then and
that allowed me to be able to pick and choose when I wanted to pass
and that made it kind of nice."
Taking the effort to thank his supporters,
Barnes said "1 800 Loan Mart came on board with us this year and I'd
like to thank them. There also returning sponsorship from MasterCraft
Safety and Impact Safety Products as well as Electro Tech Powder
Coating and About Service Automotive. I also need to thank my family
for their support as well as my amazing spotter the great Jimmy
Dickerson and Steve Teets, at STR Race Cars, for building and crew
chiefing this amazing car."
Now living in the state of Texas, the
Havasu 95 Speedway event was an opportunity for Chris Gerchman to
visit family and friends while turning some laps in his Peggy's
Sunrise Cafe/G&G Automotive/Bridgewater Homes modified. "We had a damn
good car tonight," he said adding "but we still need to do just a
little extra homework to make it just a little bit better. Austin
seemed to be really quick tonight. But, it's a good start for a
The following day the Gerchman boarded an
airline to return to Texas. However, he made it clear that he will be
back in California for the series race at the Lucas Oil I 10 Speedway,
a track where he's won a few races at in the past. With a big smile on
his face, he said "I've already gotten my airline tickets for April
It really wasn't that long ago when
California driver Matt Hicks was sitting behind the wheel of a much
smaller Legend Car. That successful venture led some seat time in the
Late Model and Super Late divisions. The decision to take on the open
wheel modifieds was quite a contrast for the 24 year old
driver. Commenting on his evening, Hicks said "it was our first race
ever. I've got Dean Kuhn working on the car for me and they call him
the Mod Father."
Commenting on the difference between
driving a Super Late Model and a Lucas Oil Modified car, he said:
"they've got pretty much the same horsepower, but a lot less tire. I
had to learn not to wear out my tires at the end of the race while in
the super late you can drive them to the wall. You just have to be
easy on these cars to make them last. Also, getting the power to the
ground is another big thing. In a Super Late you can just hammer down
and it goes. But the eight inch tires on the modifieds will not take
all of that abuse." Let the competition beware: Matt Hicks announced
his intent to run the full 2012 modified schedule. Expressing
gratitude to his supporters, Hicks said "I need to thank Dean Kuhn
with RBK, my parents who pay all of the bills, Wilehunter Tax Service,
my best friend Darren who helps us, my wife and Tonopah Batteries.
These Lucas Oil guys really puts on a great racing division. Without
them, and 1 800 Loan Mart, we wouldn't have this racing division."
Following the conclusion of the Hoosier
Tire West/Sunoco Race Fuels 75, there were a lot of visible smiles
seen in the pit area of the Havasu 95 Speedway. Probably smiling the
most were Greg Scheidecker, series General Manager and Promoter, and
Bill Rozhon, the series Race Director.
After the race Scheidecker said "it's the
kind of night that you always hope for. We had an excellent car count
with a ten car B Main and 22 modifieds starting our A Main. There was
more passing tonight than we've every had. I realize that we had some
drivers who were upset about our invert being so large tonight. The
invert was eight cars tonight and I really don't see any reason to
change it. It really made a show. In 37 laps, that Austin Barnes took
the lead and he was on it tonight. Look at Chris Gerchman, he started
seven cars back and drove through the field, It was pretty
Scheidecker also noted the impressive
performance of first time series driver Matt Hicks and said "that
young man, from what he has learned from driving through the ranks of
the various racing divisions, has become a real deal. He's sure to be
a player in our series."
Rozhon, who is also the Promoter of the
Havasu 95 Speedway, said " we had a lot of modifieds here tonight, 29
I believe it was, and I'm very excited about that. At tonight's opener
we had a lot of new faces, many of them driving a long haul to get
here, There's a lot of interest in our series and I'm really happy
about that. It was a good race tonight, I thought the guys put on a
good show. It was really a good kick off for our 2012 season."
Commenting on the race winner, Rozhon
said: "what can you say about Austin Barnes? That little varmint
hasn't forgot lessons learned from last year. He's getting tougher and
tougher and he has a lot of patience. When he first started with us he
went home with that car wadded up nearly every night and now look how
good he is. His car didn't have a mark on it and he went through some
of the toughest racers around. Starting eighth and winning the race,
that's pretty impressive."
"I was really glad to see Chris Gerchman
out here tonight," Rozhon noted adding "he recently got married and
moved to Texas and really put a lot of effort to be here. His Dad,
Larry Gerchman, and his guys are working hard to keep that car ready
and obviously did a good job on it. Chris ran really good tonight.
Then there was rookie Matt, (Hicks), he's really not a rookie driver
but he's learning our series and I was very impressed with him
The series returns to action on April
28th, with the running of the General Tire 75, at the Lucas Oil I 10
Speedway in Blythe-California. For more details dial up the series'
official website at www.lucasoilmodifieds.com.
The Lucas Oil Modified Racing Series,
presented by 1-800-Loan Mart, is powered by a highly potent
marketing concept known as "Team Lucas." Team members include: Lucas
Oil Products Inc, E3 Spark Plugs, General Tire, GEICO, CANIDAE All
Natural Pet Food, MAV-TV, Speedco Truck Lube and Tires/Firestone and
The series is also strongly supported by
the presence of associate sponsors featuring: Eibach Springs, Hoosier
Tire West, Budweiser, Blue Water Resort and Casino, Sunoco Race Fuels,
Franks Radio, Racing Plus, Roush Yater Performance Parts, J E Pistons,
Dart Machinery LTD, GoPro Cameras, and 1-800-Loan Mart.