ALGER, Wash. — California might’ve claimed round one of the 50th annual Jim Raper Memorial Dirt Cup, but Washington would not be denied as the bell rang for round two.
Fireworks boomed above the backstretch, and the Northwest crowd roared as Puyallup, Washington’s Trey Starks climbed atop his car in Skagit Speedway’s victory lane having emerged as Friday’s winner of the second and final Dirt Cup preliminary with the NARC Fujitsu General Sprint Cars.
It was a special night for the 26-year-old. While he’s won dozens of races in his home region, Starks had never taken a Dirt Cup checkered flag in the finale or a prelim. It also marked his seventh win in 10 races this season and his second in three races with NARC this year.
As a bonus, Starks got to battle his good friend, Dominic Scelzi, for the victory.
“It was a really good race,” Starks said. “I’m so happy to be back up on stage in front of the hometown crowd.”
Starks began the race outside the front row with Garen Linder on the pole. Starks ripped the outside in his T&C Concepts No. 55 to lead the opening circuit as Scelzi quickly jumped from sixth to third in the opening laps.
A red flag flew with 36 to go as Tanner Holmes made contact with another car out of turn four, sending Holmes on a wild flip, his second nasty crash in as many days. Holmes walked away under his own power.
On the restart Scelzi wasted no time clearing Linder with a slider to move into the runner-up spot and setting his sights on Starks. As the lead duo began to work through traffic 10 laps in Scelzi closed in. Scelzi threw his first slider attempt at Starks but couldn’t clear him.
Then, Scelzi regrouped and sent another slide job, making the pass this time and leading lap 15. Starks, though, rallied and returned the favor with his own successful slider to take the lead back.
Starks began to build a small advantage over Scelzi, but with 19 to go the red flag flew again as Zeb Wise got above the cushion in turn three and climbed the fence before getting upside down.
On the restart, Scelzi slid Starks in turn three, but Starks again answered, perfectly rolling the bottom in turns one and two to edge ahead of Scelzi.
“I saw Dominic more than a few times,” Starks said. “And we were able to combat every one of his moves.”
Starks took off after snagging the lead back from Scelzi. He found himself in heavy traffic as the race dipped inside 10 laps to go. Scelzi took a peek to his inside on multiple occasions in traffic but couldn’t quite challenge him.
A couple of late yellows bunched things up, but Starks pulled away each time and ultimately held on to win by just under eight tenths of a second.
“I knew starting on the front row we were basically going to have to win to put us in any decent position for points tomorrow,” Starks expiated “It was a hard-fought race.”
Scelzi held on for second in his Red Rose Transportation/Whipple Superchargers No. 41, his 10th NARC podium of the year. Scelzi thought a longer green flag run might’ve allowed him a chance at the lead.
“I would’ve liked to have seen traffic stay,” Scelzi said. “I think in open air he (Starks) was probably better for the first four or five laps, and then I seemed to start coming back to him. The car was perfect tonight.”
Completing the podium was Shane Golobic in his NOS Energy Drink/Elk Grove Ford No. 17W. While he would’ve liked to win, Golobic stayed focused on the big picture.
“Third is not exactly what we came for,” Golobic said. “But in this format points are everything and we had a decent points night, going seventh to third. We’ll take it.”
Tyler Courtney, who raced from 20th to finish fifth, is the high point man heading into Saturday’s finale and will be guaranteed a front row starting spot in the 50-lap main event.
Feature (37 laps): 1. Trey Starks 55 2. Dominic Scelzi 41 3. Shane Golobic 17W 4. Corey Day 14 5. Tyler Courtney 57W 6. Tim Kaeding 42X 7. Jason Solwold 18 8. Justin Sanders 2X 9. Greg Hamilton 96 10. Jesse Schlotfeldt 21 11. Kerry Madsen 83JR 12. Tanner Carrick 83T 13. Max Mittry 2XM 14. Willie Croft 29 15. Jonathan Allard 0 16. D.J. Netto 88N 17. Blake Carrick 38B 18. Garen Linder 22 19. Tyler Thompson 7 20. Logan Forler 2L 21. Cory Eliason 26C 22. Mitchell Faccinto 21T 23. Zeb Wise 26R 24. Tanner Holmes 18T