By Randy Hoeft
In the end, Adolfo Noriega was faster on the draw, and he came with more bullets to Saturday night’s much anticipated shootout at Cocopah Speedway.
The two-time and defending Street Stock Division champion was on target as he ran away with the season’s final feature event win and in the process stole the spotlight that was supposed to be shining on the battle between Alpine’s Mike Harlan and Brawley’s Steven Daffern.
Harlan entered the final night of the season with a one-point lead over Daffern, and after the two won their respective heat races they lined up side-by-side in the fifth row for the 16-car feature event. In that race Harlen needed to finish one position ahead of Daffern to win the 2013 championship in the Cocopah Speedway Racing Series, and Daffern needed to finish at least two positions ahead of Harlan for him to win the title.
But when the green flag flew the two seemed to be stuck in traffic, with Harlan settling in behind Daffern and looking content to stay there while Noriega, who started in the fourth row in front of Harlan, went to the front in a hurry and checked out.
As the raced progressed and Noriega stretched his lead, Harlan eventually got past Daffern before Daffern, the 1998 Factory Stock champion, exited the track and never resumed the hunt.
At the checkered flag Noriega had notched his third straight and seventh feature event win of the season while Harlan finished third and was crowned the series champion.
It was a trend that race fans saw repeated in all five divisions, as not one driver who was crowned a 2013 Cocopah Speedway Racing Series champion won a feature event on the last night of the season.
In the IMCA Modified Division, Mike Corning, from Minneapolis, Minn., won the feature event while the new division champion, Russell Allen, from Brawley, settled for second place; Pro-Stock Division champion Mike Lerwill, from Lakeside, finished second behind Yuma’s Brett Simala in that season-ending feature event; Ty Rogers, from Yuma, won the IMCA Sport Mod championship after finishing second to Holtville’s Ty Rogers in the feature event; and Yuma’s Mile Morris sealed the deal for the Factory Stock Division championship after finishing fourth behind Saturday night race winner Jordan White, also from Yuma.
And in the evening’s special event, Brawley’s Lavonne Daffern bested a field of 10 entries in the Powder Puff race, while Stephanie Beshears, from Yuma, who finished fifth in the race, claimed the mini series championship.
Allen, Lerwill, Harlan and Morris also won the track’s 2013 Winter Series championships in their respective divisions, while Simala took the Pro-Stock Division Winter Series with Lerwill finishing second.
Harlan said afterward that before the Street Stock feature started he would have not been upset if Daffern took the crown.
“Those guys are good guys,” said Harlan who was in only his second season of dirt track racing. “They taught me a lot. The harder they raced it made me race that much harder so I was happy either way.
“But once we got under way of course the competitiveness took over and I just held my own and ended up winning (the championship).”
Noriega had been in the title hunt before problems with his race car put him realistically out of reach late in the season. Still he used his setbacks as a learning opportunity which paid off in three straight wins.
“Having not been in the championship hunt for the last few races … that let us experiment with some changes that proved to be very helpful,” said Noriega. “Winning these last three races really does prove to me that the changes we made were positive in the right direction.
“I think having gone back to the old drawing board with this car and making some adjustments really paid off.”
IMCA Modified champion Allen came from out of nowhere to win the 213 crown, without winning a feature event.
“I just fourth and fifth-placed them to death, I guess,” he said with a grin. “Consistency, that is what wins them, I guess.”
Saturday night’s feature event winner, Corning, had his hands full with Allen, Imperial’s Steven McCollough, Surprise’s Brian Schultz and Yuma’s Kent Rosevear all running close together at the front of the field, exchanging the lead repeatedly.
Plus, Corning said his helmet visor started to fog up with five laps remaining.
“I thought I was blacking out or something, everything was blurry,” said Corning. “I thought, ‘What’s going on man?’ And with three laps to go I kicked the shield up. I wanted to make sure I hit my line. If I get something in my eye that’s one thing but I’m not going to miss that line.”
Toth, the IMCA Sport Mod feature event winner for the third race in a row, had only one problem, getting around the early race leader, Brawley’s Cody Daffern.
“Cody was pretty fast but I was catching him a little bit, and I just waited it out, and he made a mistake and I drove around him,” said Toth.
“I knew Ty was coming and I’m glad I held him off. He got the Winter Series championship out of it but you know what, I can’t complain; three main event wins in a row, I’ll take that any day.”
Conversely, Rogers said he would have much rather had three wins than the Winter Series championship.
Factory Stock Division champion Morris said he was happy to see the season finally end so he can now focus all of his energies on his IMCA Sport Mod. On a typical race night Morris would drive the Bob Horton-owned Factory Stock, then jump from that car into his Sport Mod for the very next event.
“It’s a lot of work, going back to back races,” said Morris.
“I’m glad we saw the end of the points race, not because it wasn’t fun, but it was just so much pressure, so much pressure to make every race and finish well in every race.”
From the start it was the goal to win the 2013 championship, he said, “and you start to think it’s going to be easy after the first two races. We won them … and you start to think this might be easy.
“Then those race car demons got into that car and if it wasn’t one thing it was another and it got really hard to get a good finish, especially racing with Jordan White. That kid is fast, there is just no doubt about it.”
White’s win on Saturday night was his eighth of the season.
Lerwill, in comparison, won only one race in 2013 on the way to claiming the Pro-Stock crown. It is Lerwill’s first career championship.
“I finally did it. It took me 25 years to do this,” said a smiling Lerwill. “I’ve got so many seconds it’s not even funny.
“I would have won one, but I forgot to go to the scales and it cost me the championship.”
He compared that mistake to Simala’s being penalized 40 points earlier this season for unsportsmanlike conduct on the track, which knocked Simala out of first place and essentially handed the championship to Lerwill.
“He gave it to me, he actually gave it to me,” conceded Lerwill. “But I lost a championship because I didn’t go to the scales one night. I lost a championship because of that. So it’s basically the same thing.
“But I’ll take it, just because I’ve lost one like that, I’ve been there before. I feel bad for him because actually it was his all the way.
“And I think God just gave it to me because I’ve been doing it for so long.”
Simala, who finished second behind Lerwill with a division-best eight feature event wins in 2013, admitted he was disappointed in the outcome.
“It’s not what we wanted, but you can’t let it eat you up,” said Simala “It’s not the end of the world.”
In Saturday night’s finale Simala had to get around Lerwill on the last lap to get the win, which was decided by a drag race out of Turn 4 to the finish line.
“Brett is an awesome driver and we had a really good race at the end and he beat me by a bumper you know,” said Lerwill. “It was just good racing.
“This is a really, really fun track, I had a good time and we were just talking about it and we’re coming back next year. We’re coming back to see if we can beat Brett the right way.”