(11/5/2022 – Alex Nieten) Stockton, CA… On Saturday night in Stockton, two of the best sprint car drivers in California shared a jubilant victory lane celebration.
The Central Valley 3/8ths mile hosted the 39th edition of the Tribute to Gary Patterson, and Aromas gasser, Justin Sanders, dominated the Fujitsu Feature en route to his 13th career series victory while Dominic Scelzi sealed his second straight NARC Fujitsu General Sprint Car championship.
For Sanders, the outcome was rarely in doubt as the pilot of the Farmers Brewing Co./Mittry Construction led all 25 laps and didn’t face much of a challenge on the hooked up Stockton surface. The victory marked his second at the track and second in the Tribute to GP after claiming the 2020 edition, as well.
“This car was great all night,” Sanders commented. “From the minute we rolled out of the box and hot lapped the car felt really good. In qualifying we turned a good lap and that kind of sets you up for the night.”
In what’s been a year defined by his unflinching consistency, Dominic Scelzi fittingly capped his title campaign with his series-best 13th podium of the season by finishing third. The Fresno driver of the Red Rose Transportation/Whipple Superchargers No. 41 became the first driver since Kyle Hirst in 2013-14 to win two straight championships. He also became just the 10th driver in series history with multiple titles.
“Our consistency, I think, speaks volumes for this 41 team,” Scelzi said of his season. “Everyday I want to continue to grow our success. I want to be back here every year and try and do this again and again. We’ve got a long time to worry about the next championship, but back to back is pretty damn special.”
Scelzi was quick to credit his crew, led by Jimmy Carr, for his success.
“I want to thank my guys so much,” Scelzi said. “Jimmy, he came on board there in 2020, and he changed my entire career. You look at the record books from 2012 to 2019, and you don’t see a whole hell of a lot of success, and he turned us into a race team, and he turned us into an operation that could win night in and night out. Lukas (Steward) came on board last year, and he’s done a great job. My father-in-law, Mike (Patterson). Todd (Jorgensen) comes to every damn race. My good friend, Scott Martzen. It takes an army to win a championship.”
The race began by providing the only issue Sanders would face during the tilt. He led the field to green from the pole and slipped out coming out of turn four on the race’s initial start, getting sideways on the front-stretch and nearly falling out of the top-10.
However, a yellow flag for said start proved to be his savior as the caution allowed Sanders to reclaim his pole position for the complete restart.
“Man, I’m so glad that first start got called back,” Sanders said. “I hit the grease all the way on the bottom and spun down the front straightaway. Thank god there was a yellow because I wouldn’t have won this race if it wasn’t for that.”
Given a second chance after the opening start issue, Sanders would not be denied. He darted ahead on the second attempt and opened an early advantage until Willie Croft went for a nasty ride on the second lap in turns three and four after contact with Colby Copeland. Croft exited the car unharmed.
After another quick yellow for a spinning Bud Kaeding, the race entered a long run with Sanders driving away from the field on the restart.
Second starting Tim Kaeding looked as if he may present Sanders a challenge as the leader entered traffic. Sanders got stuck behind a slower car for multiple laps just before the halfway point allowing Kaeding to close. Before the Roth Motorsports driver could pounce, Sanders expertly sliced by a pair of lapped cars to give himself some breathing room as Scelzi slipped by Kaeding for second.
TK wheeled back around Scelzi just before one last yellow flew for a slowing Max Mittry with 7 circuits remaining.
The caution made no difference, though, as Sanders powered ahead on the restart and won by nearly three seconds.
“I tried to go where the lapped cars weren’t,” Sanders said of his race. “I tried to power through the holes as best as I could. My car was really good everywhere I went. I just tried to keep my foot down and the car as straight as possible. This is awesome. It feels really good to get another win before the end of the year.”
Tim Kaeding and Dominic Scelzi chased Sanders to the line to round out the podium, and the balance of the top-10 included Bill Balog, Shane Golobic, Ryan Timms, Tanner Carrick, Colby Copeland, Mitchell Faccinto and Justyn Cox.
Max Mittry finished 11th and claimed 2022 Rookie of the Year honors.
FUJITSU GENERAL USA FEATURE (25 laps): 1. Justin Sanders 2X 2. Tim Kaeding 83 3. Dominic Scelzi 41 4. Bill Balog 7 5. Shane Golobic 17W 6. Ryan Timms 57 7. Tanner Carrick 83T 8. Colby Copeland 5V 9. Mitchell Faccinto 21 10. Justyn Cox 42X 11. Max Mittry 2XM 12. Austin McCarl 88 13. Bud Kaeding 69 14. Dylan Bloomfield 83V 15. Billy Aton 26 16. Blake Carrick 38B 17. Richard Brace Jr. 2R 18. Josh Young 1 19. Willie Croft 29
SWIFT METAL FINISHING HARDCHARGER: Colby Copeland
ARP FAST QUALIFIER (19 Cars): Justin Sanders – 12.812
BROWN AND MILLER RACING SOLUTIONS HEAT ONE (8 laps): Golobic, Sanders, Timms, T. Carrick, B. Kaeding, B. Carrick, Young
KIMO’s TROPICAL CAR WASH HEAT TWO (8 laps): Balog, Mittry, Scelzi, Croft, Aton, Bloomfield
DIRT.TRAVEL CLUB HEAT THREE (8 laps): Cox, T. Kaeding, Copeland, McCarl, Faccinto, Brace Jr.
SUNNYVALLEY “POWERED BY BACON” TROPHY DASH (6 laps): Sanders, T. Kaeding, Scelzi, Balog, Cox, Golobic