AZ (July 3) Bob Ream, Jr. became the first four time sprint car
winner of the season when he edged Mike Martin of Yuma in Saturday night’s
Firecracker 50 at Manzanita Speedway. Ream assumed the lead on the 40th lap when
runaway leader Eric Wilkins cut down his right rear tire after running over
debris on the track. Wilkins made a quick pit stop under yellow to replace the
tire, tagged the field and roared back to a fifth place finish.
The races, from the trophy dash through the main event, were something to behold
as the track was near perfect and the 33 car field performed flawlessly with
only two yellow flags displayed all night and those were for a mechanical
problem that sidelined Chris Bonneau and brought out a lap 20 caution flag in
the feature and the lap 39 yellow for the debris on the track.
Several drivers led their first main event laps with the heat races providing
some surprises and the field, with the top two drivers from each heat inverted
by point average, putting the favorites back in the pack.
Second generation driver Brian Swinehart lead the first four laps and then Willy
Grombach took over and led until Nathan High, up from ninth, took control for
two laps. Mike Leslie slipped into the lead for laps 13-15 and then it was
Wilkins flying by.
Eric, who had run away with his heat race, handled heavy traffic well and built
a 3.38 second advantage over Ream who had started 11th. However disaster struck
the three time winner when a kickout bar was knocked off a lapped car and
Wilkins ran over it, cutting down his tire.
Ream then assumed the lead but all eyes were on either Mike Martin or Wilkins.
Martin had been spectacular in the semi when he drove from eighth to second to
earn the 18th starting berth in the feature. He found a fast way around the one
third mile track and was trying to find a way past Ream in the closing laps.
“I tried to move to the outside once but Nathan (High) almost got by me and I
knew I had to follow Bobby and hope that he would make a mistake. As usual, he
didn’t”, Martin said in a post race interview”
Wilkins was far and away the fastest all night long and especially in the final
ten laps as he put the Ahern Rentals Buckley on the top of the track and set
sail toward the front. He finished fifth and almost nipped R.J. Johnson at the
wire for fourth and just behind Nathan High who took third.
The rest of the top ten were Josh Pelkey, who was the alternate car and made the
feature when Marty Miller was unable to start, Leslie, Andrew Reinbold, J.T.
Imperial and Brandon Lane.
“The Bullet’ was his usual gracious self in his post race interview praising
the track maintenance crew for the great track, the crew on his B&R
Automotive Buckley and also having kind words for those in pursuit. “I knew
after watch Mike (Martin) make that run in the semi that he was going to be
tough. When he pulled alongside on the cool off lap I knew he had finished
second. It was tough for Eric and I know he is going to be hard to beat every
time we run.” He then gave his thoughts on the prospect that the schedule
would probably allow the Tony Smiley team of Charles Davis, Jr. and Rickie Gaunt
to compete in the July 24th Hank Arnold Memorial. “I hope they make it, I love
competition. With the field we have in the ASCA, I think we can handle them,”
he said in more or less laying down a challenge to the top two SCRA drivers.
Wilkins opened the night with a strong run in the Arizona Race Mart trophy dash
with a narrow win over R.J. Johnson and then, turning laps as low as 14.82
(80.971 m.p.h.) made it look easy in winning the second heat over Chuck Buckman,
Miller and Chris McArthur. Wilkins started in the second row.
Jeff Henry scored his first heat race win of the year with a drive from fourth
to beat Swinehart, Ricky Johnson and Ream in the first eight lapper. Reinbold
also became a first time winner with a wire to wire win in the third heat.
Behind him and also making the feature were Jesse Dunham, High and Ashley Corey.
The fourth heat added another new name to the winner’s list as Grombach beat
Leslie, Imperial and Ryan Linder.
Sixteen cars took the green flag for the 12 lap semi main and only the top four
were scheduled to make the main. Ben Gregg, a prime candidate for Most Improved
Driver, sped away from the field and then had to hold off a fast closing Mike
Martin who tried to steal the win after starting eighth. Chris Bonneau and
Brandon Lane earned the other berths in the feature.
Lane edged Josh Pelkey for the fourth spot but Pelkey, who disputed the finish,
was put into the feature, first as a promoter’s option but officially as the
After putting his car in the feature, six time champion Ricky Johnson stepped
aside and put his 17 year old son R.J. in the seat for the feature. The
youngster was involved in a 1st lap tangle in his heat race and failed to
finish. He then missed qualifying for the feature as he could do no better than
eighth in the semi after starting 14th.
A spectacular fireworks show, generally acknowledged as the best ever at Manzy,
took place during intermission.
The ASCA will have a week off and return for a doubleheader with the J.D.
Byrider Barnett Dirt Modifieds on July 17th and then run on the half mile track
in the Hank Arnold Memorial a week later, again with the Modidieds.
ARIZONA SPRINT CAR ASSOCIATION FIRECRACKER 50
1. Bob Ream, Jr. 2. Mike Martin 3. Nathan High 4. R.J. Johnson 5. Eric Wilkins
6. Josh Pelkey 7. Mike Leslie 8. Andrew Reinbold 9. J.T. Imperial 10. Brandon
Lane 11. Jeff Henry 12. Chuck Buckman 13. Willy Grombach 14. Brian Swinehart 15.
Jesse Dunham 16. Ashley Corey 17. Chris McArthur 18. Ben Gregg 19. Ryan Linder
20. Chris Bonneau
Lap leaders: laps 1-4 Swinehart, laps 5-10 Grombach, laps 11-12 High, laps 13-15
Leslie, laps 16-39 Wilkins, laps 40-50 Ream.
1. Jeff Henry 2. Brian Swinehart 3. Ricky Johnson 4. Bob Ream, Jr. 5. Travis
Cooley 6. Jay Ervine 7. Josh Pelkey 8. Bruce St. James (8 laps, time: 2:07.23)
1. Eric Wilkins 2. Chuck Buckman 3. Marty Miller 4. Chris McArthur 5. Ben Gregg
6. Brandon Lane 7. Shon Deskins 8. R.J. Johnson (Time: 1.59.15)
1. Andrew Reinbold 2. Jesse Dunham 3. Nathan High 4. Ashley Corey 5. Bernie
Smith 6. Bugs Norbury 7. Jeff McDonald 8. Steve Sandrolivi (Time: 2:06.59)
1. Willy Grombach 2. Mike Leslie 3. J.T. Imperial 4. Ryan Linder 5. Chris
Bonneau 6. Mike Martin 7. James Aragon (DNS-Paul Norbury, Michael Bryan (Time:
1. Ben Gregg 2. Mike Martin 3. Chris Bonneau 4. Brandon Lane 5. Josh Pelkey 6.
Jay Ervine 7. Travis Cooley 8. R.J. Johnson 9. Jeff McDonald 10. Bernie Smith
11. Shon Deskins 12. Bugs Norbury 13. James Aragon 14. Bruce St. James 15. Steve
Sandrolivi 16. Paul Norbury (12 laps, time: 3:08.94)
1. Eric Wilkins 2. R.J. Johnson 3. Ben Gregg 4. Bob Ream, Jr.
UNOFFICIAL ASCA POINTS
Bob Ream, Jr. 2545
Eric Wilkins 2381
R.J. Johnson 2081
Ricky Johnson 1851
Chuck Buckman 1707
Nathan High 1614
Marty Miller 1571
Jeff Henry 1506
Josh Pelkey 1427
Bugs Norbury 1402