Bakersfield, CA – Jace Hansen has been knocking on victory’s door for several years in the Spears Srl Southwest Tour Series. Saturday night he knocked a little harder, and the door was opened in front of a large crowd at Kern County Raceway Park. The last lap fireworks led to some bent feelings from the Bakersfield area fans, and one of its fan favorites, but in the end, Hansen was $10,000 richer in the “JM Environmental Inc. Wild West Shootout Flick the Switch – Bulwark ‘FR Firecracker 100”.
“We were just trying to set the pace, and obviously those guys were just trying to go faster” Hansen recalled about an early-race incident that was a setup to the final lap maneuver. “I was a little free in, so I couldn’t get into the corner as hard as I wanted to. We were just rolling, and Buddy Shepherd peaked inside of us a couple of times, and then he got into us going into (Turn) 1 and knocked us out of the groove. We were 15 to 20 laps in, and I feel like that is way to early, so we had an opportunity and got to him at the end there, and I had to race him the same way he raced us. I just wouldn’t feel right. He has got to know what comes around goes around, and maybe next time he won’t move us out of the way when there are 80 laps left in the race.”
Earlier in the day, Hansen earned the PFC Brakes Zero Drag Fast Time Award, over the 22 competitors who made round number five of the 2022 season. With a straight-up start, Hansen chose the preferred top groove to begin his assault on the ½-mile tri-oval. He got a good start, but the race was slowed on lap number one, as a multi-car accident in Turn #3 eliminated Austin Herzog Motorsports and Andre Prescott.
The restart found Hansen and Shepherd battling side-by-side for the lead, before Hansen finally moved ahead on lap seven. He couldn’t get away however, as Shepherd and a charging Dan Holtz pressured the Colorado driver. Lap 17 saw Shepherd get into Hansen entering Turn 1, pushing him up the track. Shepherd and Holtz both went by in a three-wide move. Shepherd was able to fight off Holtz in the upper groove, as the field took the Competition Caution on lap 27.
The restart saw Jeremy Doss take advantage of the upper groove to battle his way to second, getting around Holtz, with Hansen back to fourth. The next 27 laps found Holtz pressuring Doss on the inside nearly every lap, as Shepherd pulled out to a comfortable lead. The second Competition Caution fell on lap 54, as Doss, Holtz and Hansen finished under a blanket. Holtz fine run ended at that point however, as brake issues ended his day. Shepherd led Doss, Hansen, Jacob Gomes and Dustin Ash Motorsports on the restart.
That restart found Shepherd out to a comfortable lead, as Doss battled with Hansen for second. Hansen was finally able to complete an inside pass on lap 68, as Gomes battled with Ash, Jake Bollman, and Linny White, who had recovered from the lap one incident. Over the run, Hansen began to close on Shepherd, from nearly a straightway back. By lap 80, Hansen reached the back bumper of Shepherd and began to pressure the 2021 Rookie-of-the-Year on the inside. Just when it looked like Hansen was going to secure the lead, the caution flew on lap 86 for another multicar incident that resulted from Jake Bollman laying down fluid on the track. Several cars were involved with Trevor Huddleston Racing getting the worst of it. Andy Allen also retired, with Joe Farre’ returning with damage.
Hansen recalled running down Shepherd on the 32-lap green flag run.
“We worked hard and were free in the beginning, those cautions really helped us cool the tires off. We were able to change our line a little bit and we were able to come back through the field from fourth” Hansen stated. “We ran Buddy down and got a yellow with about 20 to go. I knew that we were going to have to work our butts off, because he is always good on the short run.”
On the restart, Shepherd fought off Hansen, as Gomes used the outside line restart to move by Doss, pressuring the lead duo. Dustin Ash also got by Doss when he bobbled in Turn 2. Shepherd began to slowly pull away to a three-car lead, but Hansen once again began to close, reaching Shepherd with seven laps remaining. Hansen shot to the inside on several occasions, but was unable to clear Shepherd, nearly leading lap 98. On the final lap, Shepherd cleared Hansen down the back straight, but Hansen drove it in deep, making contact with Shepherd’s left rear quarter panel. The contact loosened Shepherd up, allowing Hansen to make the winning pass, as the two drivers banged fenders exiting Turn #4.
Hansen recalled the last 14-lap run to the checkers, for his first series win.
“He got away from us on the last restart and we ran him back down and got inside of him. We were a little free off, so we door-banged a couple of times coming off of (Turn) 2. Going into (Turn) 3 on the last lap, I just had to do something. I couldn’t let him win without at least giving him a little love tap. We got him and he gathered it up, he’s a wheelman. We just got a better run off of (Turn) 4 and got it done.”
Hansen continued, “I hate racing that way, it’s not usually how we race, you can ask anyone here, we are one of the cleanest guys here, but when you get pushed around, you gotta push back or else you they are always going to push you around. So, we had to show we are not here to mess around. These guys work to hard to lose races like that. That’s just what we had to do, I hate doing it that way, but we had to win this deal because we have worked too hard and really had to redeem ourselves from Irwindale, and I think we did that tonight.”
The victory came in Hansen’s 21st series start, but it was still in doubt even after the race, given his disqualification at the last event and the last lap incident with Shepherd.
“I don’t know, I had mixed emotions when I took the checkered, because I didn’t know if we had won”, Hansen replied about his feelings about the win. “I didn’t know if they were going to penalize us for rough driving. So, I was a little worried about that. But at the same time, I knew that the officials saw how he raced us in the beginning, and they knew that I didn’t try to wreck him. We just had to nudge him a little bit and screw up his run off of (Turn) 4. We ended up getting it. It still hasn’t set in yet, but it is awesome to win one of these. We needed to win really bad, and it really boosts our motivation for the rest of the year. Hopefully, it is one of many.”
Shepherd was obviously disappointed, and he expressed his frustration to the crowd after the event.
“I was just mad there. I gave him the inside line for 10 or 15 laps, and he couldn’t get by me clean, and he pushed me up on the straight away and drove into me on the straight away. It is just uncalled for. We are taking cheap shots with these $100,000 racecars and we don’t need to be doing that.”
Shepherd explained the contact with Hansen early in the race, as he was receiving pressure from the #23 of “Hollywood” Dan Holtz.
“I got into him there at the beginning, Shepherd explained. “I had Dan Holtz on the inside of me and I just can’t stop. He was holding me up and with Dan Holtz inside of me, I had to do something. I was just rolling, and I was on the brake pedal. I can’t just stop, or Dan Holtz would have just driven right by me. I just can’t thank my awesome crew enough. We had an awesome car this weekend and what an awesome crowd. Thank you for all showing up! I’d like to thank my sponsors. I can’t thank them enough.”
Jacob Gomes had won the previous three events, and battled hard to come home third, as he recalled his evening’s run.
“We were a little free all night. We battled tight in practice and maybe we just went too far. Overall, it was really good. We held it together and was hoping there on the last restart, because it was starting to come in pretty good there at the end, so I thought we were going to have a shot, but third is pretty good.”
Gomes had the best seat for the last green-flag segment, but felt he, himself, might have gotten the win if things had worked out a little differently on the restart.
“We got a good restart, and we got down into (Turn) 1 and they were battling a little bit. I got to them, but I had to check up for Buddy. In half my mind I wanted to try to figure something out to get around both of them, but they were side-by-side, and I couldn’t get around them. I feel like if we could have got around them on that restart, we could have held them off, maybe. But overall, it was a really good night.”
1. Jace Hansen, 2. Buddy Shepherd, 3. Jacob Gomes, 4. Dustin Ash, 5. Jeremy Doss, 6. Linny White, 7. Blaine Rocha, 8. John Moore, 9. Keith Spangler, 10. Jim Wulfenstein, 11. Joe Farre’, 12. Scott Sanchez, 13. Jake Bollman*, 14. Andy Allen, 15. Trevor Huddleston, 16. Zach Telford*, 17. Dan Holtz, 18. Cale Kanke, 19. Sean Hingorani*, 20. Austin Herzog*, 21. Andre Prescott, DNS. Ross Strmiska