NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty: 2022 IMCA Winter Nationals at Cocopah

The Headline(s)

Ken Schrader and his Missouri friends made headlines, but little noise on track, during the opening days of the IMCA Winter Nationals at Cocopah Speedway.

How it Happened

2021 IMCA Winter Nationals
Where: Cocopah Speedway – Somerton, Ariz. (streamed on IMCA TV)
Winner’s Purse: $1,000 nightly (IMCA modifieds)

Pahrump, Nev.’s Kollin Hibdon saw his bid to sweep the opening two nights of IMCA modified headline features at the IMCA Winter Nationals disappear only five laps into Thursday’s feature, when contact with Bakersfield, Calif.’s Ethan Dotson battling for the race lead sent the No. 48K spinning.

With the fastest modified in southwest Arizona down for the count, that opened the door for Dotson, who drove away to score his first win of the 2022 season.

As mentioned, Wednesday night’s $1,000 headline event was a rout, with Hibdon wiring the 25-lap IMCA modified feature without any serious challengers. Wednesday’s highlight feature came in the sport mod feature instead, seeing Red Oak, Iowa’s Josh Most come out on top of a three-wide battle for the race lead with five laps to go, then running away on a late restart to the $750 win. 

The sport mod feature on Wednesday also featured the hardest wreck of the program, with Bakersfield, Calif.’s Matthew Mayo ending up flipped in turn 3 after a pile-up. All drivers involved were uninjured.

Success Stories

Despite all that damage, Mayo and team were able to rebuild that flipped racecar, making the sport mod A-main on Thursday.

Princeton, Minn’s Jim Horesji has swept the IMCA stock car features to start the Winter Nationals, and both wins came in his first two career starts in a stock car. The win on Thursday came in a spectacular A-main that saw Horejsi use the bottom lane through turns 3 and 4 coming to the checkers to edge Josh Most, who had been rocket-fast for the entire evening. What’s more, Horejsi’s win on Wednesday came on his birthday, while the win Thursday came on his son’s birthday.

Speaking of Most, he’s qualified for four features across the stock car and sport mod divisions so far during his IMCA Winter Nationals, and he’s scored a feature win with an average finish of 2.5.

By winning the IMCA sport compact feature on Wednesday, Spencer, Iowa’s Kaytee DeVries became the first woman to win an A-main in dirt oval competition in 2022.

Defending Lady Eagle champion Kaytee DeVries earned Mach-1 Sport Compact career win number 77 on opening night of the IMCA.TV Winter Nationals at Cocopah Speedway. (Photo by Bobby McMorris)

Posted by IMCA Racing on Thursday, January 6, 2022

With as many yellow flags have plagued the B-main portion of both nights of the IMCA Winter Nationals, Wednesday’s eighth modified heat stands out because, as the commentary booth stated, “Moses must have been there because the seas parted.” Somehow, despite the No. 33F of Jardin Fuller spinning in front of nearly the entire field in turn 4, everyone avoided the incident without contact. 

Vexed, Villains & Victims

Minot, N.D.’s Brock Beeter had about as rough a start as any driver in Arizona on Wednesday night. After getting dumped by Eric Evans going for the race lead in turn 1, Beeter was allowed to reassume the lead… only to spin himself out in turn 4 on the restart lap, getting clobbered by Craig Zinke in the process. Beeter has missed both sport mod features thus far.   

The second stock car B-main on Wednesday didn’t see any cars go over, but it had one of the more bizarre wrecks in recent memory take place. When Newman, Calif.’s DJ Keldsen spun out, Moab, Utah’s Nugget Shupe dug into the racing surface, and under Keldsen’s car, trying to slow to avoid. The results took 10-plus minutes under red to sort out.

NASCAR Regulars

Former Cup Series competitor Ken Schrader failed to transfer from his IMCA modified B-main on Wednesday despite improving from ninth to fifth, but a third-place finish in Thursday’s B-main landed him a spot in that feature. He finished last.

Former Cup Series competitor Kenny Wallace led nine laps and lost his IMCA modified heat race by half a car length Wednesday night, but failed to transfer from B-mains on both Wednesday and Thursday. 

Former Cup Series competitor Mike Wallace finished as the last car running in his IMCA stock car heat races both Wednesday and Thursday, finishing outside the top 10 in both B-mains he ran.

Fanning the Flames

The good news? The way 2022 is starting, the proliferation of dirt races being streamed in recent years is going to continue. 

The bad news? It looks like more and more tracks are going to be doing their own thing. For comparison, super late model fans last year would have been able to take in the Hangover at 411 Motor Speedway and the upcoming weekend’s Ice Bowl at Talladega through their Flo Racing accounts. This year, 411’s home-produced broadcast of the Hangover set fans back $39.99, with the Ice Bowl requiring a $29.99 monthly subscription to the new-formed TalladegaShortTrack.tv. Dirt world problems.

In case you haven’t heard, next week’s Chili Bowl Nationals has already set an entry list record for the event, with the potential for 400-plus cars to be on-site come race week on Monday; such a huge car count will necessitate a P-main to mark the start of Saturday’s “alphabet soup.” 

While it’s exciting (and shocking) to hear the likes of even former Formula 1 drivers like Romain Grosjean hoping to give midget racing’s biggest event a try, I get the feeling that the Chili Bowl is a year or two removed from becoming dirt racing’s Burning Man… getting too big and too bourgeoise for it’s own good. 

Two rules of note from this week’s IMCA Winter Nationals that I’m a HUGE fan of. One, the heat races in all classes were “one and done;” if a driver brought out a yellow, they were done for the race. Maybe this isn’t realistic for weekly entry-level classes, but any traveling series/national event should use this rule without exception.

Second, as I wrote last week, I still hate passing points with a passion. BUT, the way the IMCA Winter Nationals are handling it, which is to guarantee that heat race winners transfer to the A-main regardless of passing points, solves a lot of the issues the format brings with it. I will never advocate for a race format that makes it impossible for fans in the stands to not know where the transfer spot is in a heat race, but a passing points format that rewards winners as they deserve to be is a lot more palatable.

One thing that certainly would not have been palatable to the powers that be at NASCAR was the first row of the third IMCA sport mod heat on Thursday. A picture’s worth 1,000 words.

I don’t know if it’s the camera IMCA TV is using or something unique to Cocopah Speedway, but the turn 3 camera the week’s Winter Nationals telecast is using has had better image quality than The Cushion, Dirt Track Digest TV and every other dirt race streaming service that tries to use such a camera. The jump in quality of IMCA TV’s Winter Nationals broadcast compared to last year is night and day.

Lastly, on a serious note, Wednesday’s marathon racing program that lasted eight hours was sadly delayed in part because a tow truck driver on site at the Cocopah Speedway suffered a medical emergency. All of us at Frontstretch wish the driver in question a full and complete recovery.

We apologize for the issues tonight and we will have our other tow truck repaired for tomorrow. Please keep our Tow truck driver Lloyd in your prayers as he has been flown to Phoenix.

Posted by IMCATV Winter Nationals on Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Numbers Game

5 – classes being contested during the first week of the IMCA Winter Nationals.

21 – car count in each IMCA SportMod B-main at Cocopah Wednesday.

72 – IMCA modifieds in the pits at Cocopah Wednesday.

433 – pre-entries filed for the IMCA Winter Nationals at Cocopah. 

Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six cans with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): The first midweek events of 2022 net a healthy four Jailbait Blondes from Yuma’s Prison Hill Brewing Company. The feature races have been very good on a beautiful Cocopah racing surface, it’s just taking an eternity of yellow-filled B-mains to actually get to said feature events.

Up Next: The IMCA Winter Nationals continue on, but all eyes will shift to the super late model world this weekend with the kickoff of the Wild West Shootout at Vado Speedway Park and the annual Ice Bowl at Talladega Short Track. Coverage will be available on Flo Racing and Talladega Short Track TV, respectively. 

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