Bakersfield, CA – In what proved to be an emotional win, Buddy Shepherd earned his first Spears SRL Southwest Tour Series victory at Kern County Raceway Park (CA) in the 35th Annual “Bulwark / Tencate October Classic 135”. For Shepherd, it was his third series victory, but the first time at his home track. Blaine Rocha led with seven laps to go, but suffered a flat tire, while holding a lead in excess of four seconds. The loss for Rocha was equally heart breaking, as the Oakdale, CA driver has been fast all season, but winless on the “Tour” since 2017.
Rocha started off the afternoon with his third PFC Brakes “Zero Drag Fast Time Award” of 2023, and second at KCRP. He would pull the “3” pill to start in the third position, with Buddy Shepherd on the pole and Cody Dempster lined up alongside. Jacob Gomes would roll off fourth with John Moore and Jake Bollman the top half-dozen.
Shepherd jumped to the lead on the opening green flag, but Rocha moved under Dempster and raced side by side under Shepherd for the lead, before finally settling into single file order on lap eight. As Rocha sat on Shepherd’s back bumper, Dan Holtz was the man on the move, after starting seventh post-redraw. Holtz picked off one car after another before running down Rocha for second on lap 28. It took Holtz another four laps to supplant Shepherd from the lead, getting under the 2021 series Rookie-of-the-Year on lap 32. Rocha also got by Shepherd on lap 34 as the field raced to the Competition Caution on lap 40. Holtz led Rocha, Shepherd, Jacob Gomes, and Austin Herzog.
The restart saw the top-two remain the same as Gomes moved to third in the preferred outside line, around Shepherd. The second caution of the day flew on lap 57, for a possible oil leak for the leader Dan Holtz. But he was cleared and maintained the lead. The restart saw Shepherd back to third around Gomes, with Herzog gaining position on the 2023 champion on lap 72 for fourth. Herzog made an inside move by Shepherd to regain third, as Dylan Zampa dropped Gomes out of the top-five, just as the field took the lap 85 break. Holtz now led Rocha, Herzog, Shepherd, Zampa, and Gomes.
Restart number three found Rocha power past Holtz on the inside, as Shepherd once again took advantage of the outside line to regain third from Herzog. Lap 99 found Zampa into the top-five, with Cody Dempster dropping Gomes to seventh two laps later. Dempster closed on Zampa and the duo battled side by side and nose to tail until lap 126, when Dempster finally cleared Zampa. But Zampa re-grabbed the spot in Turns 1 & 2, before the caution flew on lap 128. The caution was for Rocha, who lost his four second lead with a flat right front tire, ending his stellar run, in heart-breaking fashion.
With nine cars still on the lead lap, and Holtz back to the lead, the restart found Shepherd taking advantage of an outside restart, grabbing the lead from Holtz. The veteran racer was not done however, closing on the bumper of Shepherd, and driving to the inside quarter panel of the former track champion. Holtz drove Shepherd clean however and crossed the line second behind the now three-time series winner. Austin Herzog had his second consecutive strong run finishing third, with Colorado’s Cody Dempster earning his second 2023 top-five in fourth. Jacob Gomes clinched his third series championship in fifth, with Zampa earning the Rookie-of-the-Year title in sixth. Jake Bollman, Nickolas Cooper, and John Moore rounded out the lead lap finishers with Cassidy Hinds 10th, one lap back.
Shepherd’s entry to the October Classic was a late decision, after his father’s surgery earlier in the week. The team decided to make the effort after all went well, and the sun seemed to shine on the team, with the late race caution.
“I’m Glad we got that late race caution”, Shepherd stated in Victory Circle. “I was kinda riding and hopefully waiting for a caution. I don’t think we had anything for the 98 (Rocha), but we were good there. I can’t thank the fans enough for coming out on a Sunday, but this one was definitely for my dad, after a rough week. But it was definitely good to get one here.”
Dan Holtz earned his third top-five finish of 2023, after leading 54 laps during Sunday’s event at his adopted home track. The veteran racer pushed his career total to 336 laps led, taking 15th on the all-time list from Jeff Belletto. He was happy with the result, and the racing with Buddy Shepherd, but will be looking for just a little more speed to grab his third overall Southwest Tour win.
“I love racing against Buddy all the time, he is great, and it was a lot of fun”, Holtz told the crowd at Kern County Raceway Park! “We weren’t fast, but were good, very good. I have got to give credit to all my guy’s Charlie Price, Rip Michaels, Sean Dickens, and Wild Bill on the tires. The guys did such a great job all weekend. Willie Allen had great input. We are getting closer, but we’re still kinda missing a couple of little things. But we are gonna find them and we will be back, and we are going to try this some more. We are having a good time trying.”
“The saddest day in my life is the day I no longer get to do these events. I’m counting them down and I’m 62 years old and I’m not a kid anymore. But I’m probably gonna have to stop this in 40 or 50 years, and it’s getting to be a concern”, Holtz chuckled.
By finishing fifth, Jacob Gomes clinched his third Spears SRL Southwest Tour Series championship and second in-a-row. Dylan Zampa claimed the Rookie-of-the-Year honors with his sixth place run after earning two 2023 victories.
In other action, Sean Woodside claimed the $5,400 winner’s share of the “Sigma Performance Services 54 presented by Motor City Buick GMC” purse, for the Spears Pro Late Models. 2023 series champion Linny White was second followed by 2022 champion Seth Wise. Christian Bazen earned fourth, with Holly Clark rounding out the top-five. 14 of 20 starters finished all 54 laps of the season finale.
The next event for the Spears SRL Southwest Tour Series will be the “All-Star Showdown” at Irwindale Speedway, as the 2024 season opener.
Celebrating its twenty third season in 2023, the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series is a regional stock car series competing on paved ovals in the southwestern portion of the U.S. “The SPEARS Southwest Tour Series…Where the Champions Race”.