(7/16/2022 – Alex Nieten) Watsonville, CA… After winning the Sunnyvalley Bacon Dash to position himself on the pole of Saturday’s Howard Kaeding Classic finale, Justin Sanders simply said all that was left to do was for him to “get it done.”
The 29-year-old has had a trying season at times as a win with the NARC Fujitsu General Sprint Cars had eluded him in seemingly every way possible. Heading into Saturday’s main event, Sanders owned seven top-fives in 13 NARC starts in 2022 including four in the top-three, just none atop the podium.
Sanders’ frustration has been evident in post-race interviews where he’s reflected on a move or two that might’ve led to a win on a night he had to settle for second or third or an unfortunate dash draw set him up unfavorably. After the checkered flew Saturday at Ocean Speedway, though, the only emotion Sanders displayed was pure joy.
The Mittry Motorsports pilot took advantage of his starting position and led all 30 laps of the Fujitsu Feature on his way to victory, the 12th of his career with NARC. In other words, he “got it done.”
The joy came out in the form of a superb set of donuts on the backstretch, slapping the panels and wings as he emerged from the car, and a wing dance where Sanders climbed atop his machine and simply laid on the wing, soaking it all in.
“It’s been such a long time since I got a big win,” Sanders said in victory lane. “I just kind of needed a break, and I just let loose on those donuts. Sorry, Demo (car owner Demo Mittry), for your motor.”
Sanders’ adjective choice to describe the win, “big,” might be an understatement. The victory earned him $7,200 total, $6,900 for the winner’s share and $300 for the Mettec Titanium laps led bonus. Sanders is also a native of nearby Aromas with countless wins at Ocean, but none had been in the NARC finale of Howard Kaeding Classic, perhaps the most prestigious event his home track hosts. Sanders had ran second twice in the race before Saturday.
Racing began with Sanders leading the field to green in the Farmers Brewing Co./Mittry Construction No. 2X, and current NARC points runner-up, Willie Croft, to his outside. A collection of cars made contact near the back of the back resulting in a flat right right tire for 2021 HK winner, Sean Becker, and necessitating the race’s first caution.
Under the yellow, NARC point leader, Dominic Scelzi, joined Becker in the work area as he suffered a flight right rear of his own.
The complete restart saw Sanders jump ahead and fourth-starting Joel Myers Jr. slide by Croft to snag the runner-up spot. Sanders found himself mired in traffic early on lap five, allowing Myers Jr. to close in.
“It’s so hard to not get worked up and start doing dumb stuff (in traffic),” Sanders said of his mindset as he navigated slower cars. “And I did that when I first caught traffic. I was sliding through the middle, kind of trying dumb moves.”
On lap 10 Myers gathered enough momentum to throw a slider at Sanders but couldn’t clear him, and the yellow flag flew just as the rest of the top-five was closing on the lead duo for Max Mittry who stopped on the exit of turn four.
Racing resumed with 21 laps to go, and Sanders wasted no time stretching his advantage to roughly two seconds. He found himself in traffic again quickly but utilized a more pragmatic approach this time around.
“The second time I got to traffic I was watching them,” Sanders explained. “I’m trying to watch, and I could see that they were kind of the same speed, so if I thought a guy was slower and going to go to the top, I’d try to roll the bottom and try to hit it and try to be methodical about my moves.”
As Sanders negotiated slower cars, his biggest challenger was working his way forward in the form of 12th-starting Blake Carrick. The Carrick Motorsports driver expertly rolled the bottom of the track, cracking the top-five on lap 14 and prying the runner-up spot from Myers Jr. just seven circuits later.
Carrick closed in on Sanders and even showed him a nose a couple times, but the duo caught slower cars at times that favored Sanders, allowing him to ease back ahead.
“I saw Blake Carrick stick his nose in off of (turn) two,” Sanders reflected. “And I was like ‘I know I didn’t lap him, so he’s got to be in second.’ So, I know he’s really good at rolling the bottom, and I knew once I got by that last car on the last lap I’d be good.”
And that’s exactly what Sanders did, clearing one final lap car before taking the checkered flag with a nine tenths of a second advantage.
“I’m just pumped to get this win,” Sanders said. “I’m just kind of speechless.”
Carrick held on to the runner-up spot. The second-place effort marked his best career NARC finish in the CVC Concrete/Carrick Motorsports No. 38B.
“I didn’t actually know I was in second until I was catching the 2X, and I figured I’d check the leaderboard,” Carrick explained. “I saw I was in second and we had nine (laps) to go, I think. I got right to him, and it was just tough on lap traffic. I went to the top a couple times to try to get around him, and I just wasn’t too good up there. I just can’t thank my guys enough. I’ve been super good the past five or six races.”
Completing the podium was Joel Myers Jr. in the All About Fire Protection/Amerikote Powdercoating No. 46JR. The effort equaled the Sebastopol native’s best finish with NARC.
“Lap traffic was pretty sketchy,” Myers Jr. said. “Everyone was everywhere. Justin had to go where they weren’t and we caught up to him. I was able to try and slide him and unfortunately couldn’t clear him and then a yellow came out. After that we just started getting tight in the cushion, and. Blake snuck by us on the bottom.”
The balance of the top-10 included Tim Kaeding, D.J. Netto (from 22nd), Shane Golobic, Willie Croft, Colby Copeland, Bud Kaeding (from 18th), and Landon Brooks.
FUJITSU GENERAL USA FEATURE (30 laps): 1. Justin Sanders 2X 2. Blake Carrick 38B 3. Joel Myers Jr. 46JR 4. Tim Kaeding 42X 5. D.J. Netto 88N 6. Shane Golobic 17W 7. Willie Croft 29 8. Colby Copeland 01 9. Bud Kaeding 69 10. Landon Brooks 5V 11. Mitchell Faccinto 21 12. Ryan Bernal 22 13. Sean Becker 83V 14. Craig Stidham 36 15. Chase Johnson 24 16. Kevin Thomas Jr. 73 17. Caeden Steele 121 18. Dominic Scelzi 41 19. Kalib Henry 17 20. Kaleb Montgomery 3 21. Nick Parker 115 22. Kurt Nelson 72W 23. Max Mittry 2XM 24. J.J. Ringo 2K
METTEC TITATIUM LAP LEADERS: Justin Sanders 1-30
SWIFT METAL FINISHING HARDCHARGER: D.J. Netto 22nd to 5th
ARP/NORM MARTIN MOTORSPORTS FAST QUALIFIER (38 cars): Willie Croft 11.498
BROWN AND MILLER RACING SOLUTIONS HEAT ONE (10 laps): Golobic, Croft, Henry, Copeland, Thomas Jr., Sanders, Bernal, Pombo, Ringo, Nelson
KIMO’s TROPICAL CAR WASH HEAT TWO (10 laps): Steele, Mittry, Nelson, Kaeding, Brooks, Netto, Becker, Aton, Dillard, Bell
DIRT.TRAVEL CLUB HEAT THREE (10 laps): Sanders, Faccinto, Scelzi, Myers Jr., Stidham, Ancona, Chisum, Kaeding, Strole
KAEDING PERFORMANCE HEAT FOUR (10 laps): Carrick, Kaeding, Parker, Ringo, Johnson, Kent, Montgomery, Shaw, Foland Jr.
SUNNYVALLEY “POWERED BY BACON” TROPHY DASH (6 laps): Sanders, Croft, Kaeding, Myers Jr., Scelzi, Nelson
WILLIAMS ROOFING SEMI: Netto, Montgomery, Becker, Bernal, Ancona, Chisum, Pombo, Dillard, Strole, Shaw, Foland Jr., Kaeding, Aton, Ringo, Kent, Sanders, Nelson, Bell