Sweet Home – Olympia, Wa…As we left home and headed to the beautiful Skagit Speedway for round three of the Summer Thunder Series and Dual Track Series my mind wandered as the miles ticked away on I-5. The northwest season is just getting going but I feel the tone of the season and drivers to be beat are becoming apparent. So far northwest racing has been dominated by Jason Solwold who had scored four wins in four starts (sweeping weekends in Yakima and Cottage Grove). In addition JJ Hickle and Devon Borden had claimed Dual Track series races . Tonight it was time to see if a new winner would emerge on the season as all three winners would be present as well as host of other contenders. Or would one of the previous winners cement their status as contender in the northwest.
As we pulled into the Skagit parking lot at about 6:15 we could hear the 360 sprint cars working through their hot lap sessions. A quick look into the pits confirmed a strong field with seemingly all the usual suspects in the pits. We continued along to a familiar camp site and parked. My partner headed in as the sprints got ready to qualify but I stayed by the camp gabbing a little bit and stretching my legs after the two hour plus drive up. As qualifying for the sprints winded down I headed up and purchased my ticket and entered the hallowed grounds. As I walked in qualifying was just ending and 18 of the 20 cars present had taken qualifying laps. Solwold had set fast time in the Shalen Raye #18. Notably second place in points Logan Forler and last years runner up and Summer Thunder regular Oregon’s Garen Linder were not in the field.
After opening ceremonies the the show proceeded in rapid fashion with ford focus midget heats, sprint heats and the outlaw tuner heats. The midgets had a 12 lap b main and the sprints had a pill draw for the fastest eight qualifiers to see where they would start the A main. When Solwold drew the one pill it seemed that we had seen the end of the movie. Who was going to beat him? Linder and Forler were not present and defending champion Colton Heath had struggled in qualifying and was starting 10th. Cam Smith who has been running strong was starting 6th but would he be able to catch and then pass Solwold. And surely 16 year old Devon Borden who was starting second would not muster much resistance? Would he? As the A pushed off the I openly opined I thought that Borden would at least lead early. But even I kind of assumed Solwold would track him down at some point and that would be that.
Skagit Speedway has been the subject of much criticism over the years – some earned for sure but much more of it made up and completely unwarranted. But one thing was for sure – for much of then 2000’s and 2010’s Skagit Speedway would get super dusty. And I mean SUPER DUSTY. Only the most loyal and dedicated fans (yes I was one of them) would tolerate this. The conundrum was the dustier it got the better it got – the ultimate catch 22. But in middle of 2015 Steve Beitler flipped the script to bring in some new clay. It took some time for it to pay dividend but a year later at the 2016 Summer Nationals it was apparent the new clay was a difference maker as it had provided a dust free version of racing that included slide jobs and multiple grooves. By the time the World of Outlaws left in 2017 even long time critics from that series had been transformed into believers. Why does this matter? Because as Solwold and Borden raced into turn one and sliding to the top of two it was obvious Skagit Speedway was in peak form this night.
Borden would take the initial lead and even as Solwold waged relentless pursuit he seemingly had no answers for the young emerging star. About lap 11 Solwold started to work his patent bottom groove as everybody else banged the cushion but even as he pulled next to Borden on a few occasions the youngster was not be deterred and Solwold was now dealing with onslaught from Brock Lemley. At one point Borden, Solwold and Lemly were nose to tail as they raced through turn two. By lap 15 though Borden had reestablished control as Solwold and Lemley continued to battle. On lap 17 a caution flew as STSS regular Chris Schmelzle found the wall – unfortunately at the same time Lemley was spinning in turn two. Now Solwold was behind the youngster and as the green flew the crowd assumed Solwold would make a move but again Borden was up to the challenge. As the laps waned it was obvious Solwold was up in the saddle as he tried to desperately to make one last move but Borden had all the answers and held the late charge to finish a car length ahead of Solwold for the $2000 win.
In victory lane Borden stood next to his Borden #8 and was beyond elated as all the hard work and time he and his father had put in during the last year plus was being realized. Borden has had his up and downs in both the sprint and 600s during the last year and their has been plenty of nights as I cruised the pit area and his pit was thrashing as they rebuilt a race car. But the talent that was so evident is now coming through. After a win a week earlier that some critics had said was against a weaker field and thus for not legit Borden had proven it was no fluke and that he is now a player in the northwest. We have had many teenage sensation in the northwest including Kasey Kahne, Travis Rutz and Trey Starks. Looks like it is time to add a new one to the list. And like all the previous their was some equipment torn up along the way.
As we made that familiar drive home and cruised through Seattle and the lights shined bright I wondered if the world of Sprint Car Racing had just found another shining light tonight at Skagit Speedway.
Northwest Sprint Notes: The Summer Thunder Sprint Series (STSS) in the brain child of Steve Beitler and is in the long line of 360 sprint touring series in the northwest. It provides a chance for drivers in the northwest to chase a touring series that races at four different tracks…In a weird turn of fate Saturday’s race had no drivers that lived out of Washington as Oregon regular Garen Linder and Canadian regular Luke Didius were not present…Travis Jacobson making another appearance in the Cook #22x was fast and competitive and brought the car home fourth after some impressive slide jobs through traffic that caught the attention of a more than a few spectators…Cam Smith continued his consistent ways to start the season in the Smith #17 and rolled home third – he inherited third after the Lemley spin and kept Borden and Solwold in sight but could never quite mount the challenge I thought he might…After starting 10th Colton Heath in his LAW Motorsports #33 used his experience to navigate to fifth – I look for Heath to pick up the pace as the summer months and big money shows arrive…Elma’s Jason Reed always seems to have an interesting night at Skagit and on this night he missed qualifying but finished fourth in his heat then started 12th in the A and finished in the top 10…In seven main events this season in the northwest the win count is as follows: Solwold – 4; Borden -2; Hickle 1…Speaking of Hickle he finished 7th and was never really a factor all night after a strong opening night at Skagit…Former track champion Eric Fisher was one spot ahead of Hickle in the A but after qualifying a stout third didn’t seem to have the same speed the rest of the night…29 Northwest ford focus midgets were on hand to support the night…Former Skagit Speedway Sprint driver Nick Evans lead the whole way but the race was far from eventful…Mini Sprint star Chance Crum, Ford Focus Midget hot shot Tristan Thomas, and midwest transplant Ross Rankine went wheel to wheel to settle second through fourth…I have been a critic of the ford focus midgets in the past but I have to say that they have joined modified as my favorite support division in the northwest.
Before I head out I only want to say that I wish all Summer Thunder Series main events were 40 laps – especially the races at Skagit and Cottage Grove. But this is just my little rant as overall the Summer Thunder Series is a great series that provides some extra money and prestige to the northwest sprint car scene with racing at four very different tracks: the big track in Yakima, the super fast and scary track in Elma, the comfy confines and top to bottom action of The Grove and the legendary and unpredictable Skagit Speedway.
Headed out to Grays Harbor Raceway in Elma this Saturday. One thing is never forget your sweatshirt when going to GHR. This track is one of the true hidden gems in the dirt track world. The sprints can really fly at this wide sweeping 3/8 mile oval.
As always if I am not swimming or running I am chasing races and on my way to track near you.
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