Lucas Oil Modifieds set to make final trip to RMR

18 Jul

Dylan Cappello and Austin Barnes spin out and cross the finish line at the end of the 2015 Lucas Oil Modified stop at Rocky Mountain Raceways.

The Lucas Oil Modified Series presented by MAVTV had its first look at Rocky Mountain Raceways in June of 2013, and since then the annual event at the track on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, Utah, has been one of the most anticipated races of the season.

That won’t change on Saturday, when the 3/8-mile banked oval is the site of the Lucas Oil Products 75 presented by General Tire. But this time the enjoyment will be tempered by sadness at knowing this will be the final visit to the facility in West Valley City.

Rocky Mountain Raceways is closing at the end of the 2018 season. That means the Lucas Oil Modifieds are saying goodbye to the track where they had the wildest finish and biggest crowd in series history, and Garcia Racing teammates Shelby Stroebel and Chris Cook are losing their hometown race.

Cook lives in Tabiona, Utah, about a two-hour drive from West Valley City.

It takes Stroebel five hours or so to drive from his home in Meridian, Idaho, to the race track, but since it takes him 10 hours or more to get to all the other tracks in the series RMR easily qualifies as a hometown event. That’s especially true since the track was the site of Stroebel’s first series win, on July 26, 2014.

That was a year after since-retired 2013 champion Chris Gerchman won the first race at RMR, on June 15, 2013, and a year before Dylan Cappello and Austin Barnes produced the most unforgettable finish in series history on July 25, 2015.

Cappello, the series champion as a rookie in 2014, had taken the lead from RMR regular Lynn Hardy on lap 43 and was in control of the race until 2012 champion Barnes began pressuring him during the final five laps. On the final lap their cars touched several times and as they exited Turn 4 for the final time they got together and stayed that way.

They slid across the finish line in almost perfect synchronization, their cars at a 30-degree angle on the track. Barnes was on the inside and Cappello was on the outside. That put the transponder on Cappello’s STR Chevrolet closer to the scoring transponder at the finish line and made him the race winner, by an official margin of 0.977 seconds that seemed unbelievable to those who had watched from the grandstand.

Dylan Cappello talks with a reporter and camera man from MAV-TV after winning the 2015 Lucas Oil Modified stop at Rocky Mountain Raceways.

In a way, though, it was a case of winning the battle but losing the war for Cappello. The runner-up finish gave Barnes the lead in the Hoosier Tire West point standings and he went on to claim his second title, with Cappello second.

The carryover from that entertaining finish was obvious in July 2016, when the largest crowd in series history – approximately 8,000 spectators – was on hand to watch Scott Winters take an 0.312-second win over Doug Hamm.

Last year, Cappello got back into the winner’s circle without the drama of 2015. The Peoria, Arizona, driver led all 75 laps and took the checkered flag 4.640 seconds ahead of Jason Irwin, who earlier had posted the fastest time in qualifying for the third time in four years.

Cappello will be back. Irwin will too, his confidence buoyed by a dominant win at Bakersfield, California, three weeks ago, and so will reigning champion Taylor Miinch, who had a five-race win streak snapped by Irwin. Miinch has been third twice and fifth once and Irwin has been second twice and third once at RMR.

In addition to four winners in the five races, there have been 10 different drivers with top three finishes, 16 different drivers in the top five and 30 in the top 10.

The Lucas Oil Products 75 will open the second half of the 10-race championship season with Miinch leading the point standings by 32 over rookie Justin Johnson, 63 over Irwin, 66 over Cappello and 86 over rookie Cody Kay.

Saturday’s Horsepower Heaven program will include Hornets, Mini Cup and Figure 8 Trains in support of the Lucas Oil Modifieds on the oval and Jet Cars and Jr. Dragsters on the adjacent drag strip, with fireworks to end the evening.

The Lucas Oil Products 75 is scheduled to get under way at about 8:45 p.m. MDT/7:45 p.m. PDT.

Gates will open at noon and racing begins at 6:15 p.m. Tickets are $30 for adults and $10 for children 5 to 12. Those 4 and under are admitted for free.