ALGER, Wash. — Just one month ago, Tim Kaeding wasn’t sure he’d ever climb back in a sprint car.
Three straight incidents in a week span left him bruised and battered, but not broken.
Kaeding took a month off to heal up, contemplating whether or not racing sprint cars, something he’s spent the last 25 years doing, was something he’d be able to continue.
Not only did he return, he came back in ideal fashion, leading flag to flag in Skagit Speedway’s 50th annual Jim Raper Memorial Dirt Cup 30-lap opener Thursday night.
Kaeding held off D.J. Netto to win in thrilling fashion.
Emotions flowed after the checkered flew. TK gave the fans a show with some donuts on both ends of the track, car owner Josh Bates shook with excitement, and the rest of the Bates-Hamilton crew celebrated with shouts and hugs.
The victory marked Kaeding’s 72nd NARC Fujitsu General Sprint Car victory and his first prelim win at Dirt Cup since 1999.
“To win, knowing a month ago I possibly wasn’t ever going to get back in a race car, means so much,” a choked up Kaeding said in victory lane.
The field was led to green by polesitter Joel Myers Jr. with Kaeding to his outside. Kaeding rocketed around Myers Jr.’s to lead the opening lap. The San Jose native wasted no time in building a wide advantage, stretching his lead to nearly two seconds just a few laps in.
Just as Kaeding was about to encounter traffic, the race’s first caution flew on seven for Jonathan Allard slowing in turns one and two with front end issues.
On the restart a quick red flag on the next lap brought things to a halt as Cory Eliason, Ryan Robinson, Jesse Schlotfeldt tangled in turn three.
Kaeding got a solid jump on the restart, jumping ahead as the race established a rhythm. After a couple of laps, Myers Jr. began to reel Kaeding as the race approached the halfway mark. With traffic looming and Myers Jr. on TK’s tail, a battle for the lead seemed to be brewing.
However, that potential duel was derailed when Myers Jr. got above the cushion in turn three on lap 14 and hit the wall, sending him flipping and ending his night.
The incident gifted Netto the runner-up spot.
When racing resumed the action was again quickly halted for a violent crash. Austen Wheatley made contact with Kerry Madsen on the backstretch, causing Wheatley to get upside down and leaving Tanner Holmes nowhere to go as Holmes came into turn three and slammed into
One last caution for a spinning Willie Croft on lap 20 set up an 11-lap sprint to the finish.
Kaeding initially jumped ahead to a comfortable advantage, gapping Netto by over a second as the race dipped inside 10 laps to to go. As the duo approached the tail of the field, Netto began to cut into the lead each lap, until finally pulling right on Kaeding’s tail tank as the white flag flew.
Netto dipped to Kaeding’s inside in turn one, but Kaeding powered ahead down the backstretch. In turn three Netto threw one last haymaker, sticking the bottom perfectly and even inching ahead about midway through turns three and four.
As the two exited turn four Netto drifted high, and Kaeding slipped through the narrow gap between Netto’s machine and the wall to win.
“I knew D.J. was back there, I heard him coming,” Kaeding said. “I’ve got to thank the entire Bates-Hamilton team, Brad, Roger and Lori Hamilton, and Josh Bates. These guys bust their butts.”
With a prelim victory under his belt, Kaeding now has the ultimate goal in the crosshairs. The two-time NARC champ has yet to win a Dirt Cup championship,.
“I can run second at this place better than anybody,” Kaeding said. “This year I’m going to win this son of a b***h because I’m taking it back to California.”
Netto, making his Dirt Cup debut this week, brought his Netto Ag No. 88n home in the runner-up spot.
“We needed traffic to start moving around,” Netto explained. “We got to it right there at the end, and I was like, ‘well, I’ve got one shot at this’ when I was coming to the white (flag). I was able to hit the bottom really good in (turns) one and two, which I was doing early in the race, so I knew the speed I could carry. And I thought I could get him cleared down there (turns three and four), but the top was still really fast.”
Completing the podium was Tarlton Motorsports pilot Mitchell Faccinto.
“I was really happy with it,” Faccinto said of his night. “It’s miles ahead of where we’ve been the last couple weeks. We’ve just been struggling a little bit, but I felt really good all night.”
Jake Helsel won the Northwest Focus Midget feature.
Feature (30 laps): 1. Tim Kaeding 42X 2. D.J. Netto 88N 3. Mitchell Faccinto 21T 4. Justin Sanders 2X 5. Corey Day 14 6. Tyler Courtney 57W 7. Tyler Thompson 7 8. Zeb Wise 26R 9. Kerry Madsen 83JR 10. Jason Solwold 18 11. Shane Golobic 17W 12. Dominic Scelzi 41 13. Nick Parker 115 14. Trey Starks 55 15. Blake Carrick 38B 16. Willie Croft 29 17. Bud Kaeding 69 18. Jonathan Allard 0 19. Austen Wheatley 44W 20. Tanner Holmes 18T 21. Joel Myers Jr. 46JR 22. Ryan Robinson 56 23. Cory Eliason 26C 24. Jesse Schlotfeldt 21