ELMA — Sixteen of the Northwest’s best 360 sprint car drivers took to the clay oval at Grays Harbor Raceway to debut the Summer Thunder Sprint Series on Saturday.
Driving in front of a large graduation weekend crowd, Enumclaw’s Henry VanDam made it two big feature wins in a row by going wire-to-wire to win the 25-lap A-main series event.
Hoquiam’s Jason Tole got his first win of the 2014 season by surviving seven yellow-flag restarts to win the 25-lap street stock A-main event.
Ocean Shores’ Jeff Daniel went wire-to-wire in the hornets/tuners class A-main event for his second straight win of the season.
“It is always great to win here at Grays Harbor; it is one of my favorite tracks,” VanDam said. “It feels good to be back. It seems like it has been a long time, so to be racing again, it is awesome.”
To debut the newest Northwest regional sprint series, 16 experienced sprint drivers took to the track and the large crowd on hand was not disappointed.
VanDam, a former Grays Harbor Raceway 360 sprint car season champion, won the inaugural Marvin Smith Memorial race at Cottage Grove Speedway in Cottage Grove, Ore., last weekend for a big payday against a big field.
On Saturday, he was in the right spot in the middle grove all night.
On the pole position after finishing second in qualifying and winning his heat race, VanDam had his challenger right next to him — Issaquah’s Tayler Malsam. Malsam had a quick car and a long trip to get to Elma via Fort Worth, Texas.
On Friday, Malsam finished 13th overall in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race — the WinStar World Casino &Resort 400 — after getting into the top-five spots before a late pit stop for gas brought him back. It is the third of 12 races Malsam will run in the series.
For VanDam, he didn’t make a mistake with Malsam on his back tires the entire 25-lap race. The feature was run quickly, with just two yellow flag cautions to bunch up the field.
The second caution flag came on lap 18 and VanDam used the middle groove of the track to run away from the field en route to the victory. Malsam easily cruised into second place, with Everett’s Jayme Barnes, Marysville’s Colton Heath and Stanwood’s Jared Peterson rounding out the top-five spots.
“I always prefer to be on the outside; it gives you more options,” VanDam said. “On the inside, you are pinned in. I’ll take the outside every time. During the heat races, I wasn’t sure if the outside was going to be available, but I tried. It worked out tonight.”
After two rainouts on the schedule, this series race represented the first 360 sprint car program of the season at Grays Harbor Raceway. The program also represented the largest 360 sprint car count — 16 cars — for a non-ASCS/Outlaw event at the track since 2011.
The 19-car field was a Twin Harbors stacked affair on Saturday, starting with Tole, the reigning street stock track champion, on the outside front position for the A-main.
Tole took off for the lead, with Aberdeen’s Shane Kerrigan, Olympia’s Eddie Blood and Hoquiam’s Jack Parshall right behind. Shane Kerrigan won the A-main event last weekend at Skagit Speedway in Alger
Unfortunately, the race never had a sustained flow of action — seven yellow flag cautions made life tough for the drivers up front. But, Tole made the most of it.
On each of the restarts, Tole took the outside position, went higher than the rest of the field and found enough traction to keep Kerrigan at bay. Also, Tole took advantage of lapped cars to gain distance away from Kerrigan.
With the wire-to-wire win, Tole picked up his first win of the season. Kerrigan edged out Wishkah’s Don Briggs Jr. at the start-finish line for second.
Parshall worked his way back up from the rear of the field with the restarts to finish fourth. A flat tire early on after contact with another car set him back. Austin Kerrigan, Shane’s son, finished fifth to round out the top spots.
“The high side was really working well for me and I kept seeing (the Kerrigans’) Mustangs rolling up on me from behind,” said Tole, who won nine races in claim the track championship last season. “They were pinned down at the bottom. We were only running on seven cylinders — I could imagine everyone heard the eighth one pop. In fact, it ran really well with just seven.”
“We’ve been working on the car and Jason (Tole) and Jack (Parshall) gave us a little bit of help on it,” Kerrigan added. “We’ve been trying to get this Ford in the winner’s circle a little more often than not. It was a good time out there tonight.”