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Black flag decision deprives Gearhart of top-five finish in $1,000 Pure Stocks race

Joe Naiman

Village News Reporter

A Barona Speedway driver who causes two yellow flag cautions in a main event is given a black flag which requires him to exit the track, although his finishing position is based on the number of laps he completed prior to the black flag. The caution is assessed to the driver who causes the spin or collision which leads to the yellow flag and not necessary to the driver who spins.

In the 26th lap of Barona’s 30-lap Pure Stocks main event Sept. 3, Fallbrook driver Jeff Gearhart and El Cajon racer Joe Malone were battling for fifth place. Malone, who was ahead, spun. It was not disputed that Gearhart hit Malone. Whether Malone gave Gearhart room to avoid contact was the decision the track officials had to make, and the decision that Gearhart caused the contact and thus the spin gave Gearhart his second caution assessment of the main event and sent him to the pits.

“I still got a top 10 out of it. Not the best race, but I did better than a lot of other ones,” Gearhart said.

The Sept. 3 Pure Stocks race paid $1,000 to win – Ramona driver Brian Fitzgibbons not only earned that first-place price but also the $100 payoff for the Hard Charger Award given to the driver who gains the most positions – and the class had 18 cars that night including one that was unable to start the main event.

The Pure Stocks were divided into three heat races with six cars each. Gearhart began the third heat race on the pole with Jashua Wipperman of Poway beginning on the outside of the front row. Wipperman got the jump and after the first lap Gearhart was third behind Wipperman and Lakeside’s Jayson Aldridge. Aldridge took the lead from Wipperman in the fifth lap of the eight-lap heat race. Wipperman was in second place when he crossed the finish line and Gearhart finished third with Lucas Bond of Imperial Beach taking fourth.

“We made some changes to the car and it wasn’t running quite right in the heat,” Gearhart said.

“I believe that it was running a little too rich,” Gearhart said. “At the start I wasn’t able to go. I’d mash on the gas and it would choke itself out.”

The ability to identify the problem led Gearhart and crew chief Polo Zetina to adjust the carburetor between the heat race and the main event. Gearhart began the feature on the inside of the fourth row, although he fell back to 11th by the end of the first lap. An early spin caused a yellow flag; since it was the first caution assessed to Gearhart, he remained on the track but took the restart in the back and had to move up from the 17th position. He gradually gained positions and was in 10th place after an 18th-lap restart.

“I was working my way up the field,” Gearhart said.

Some of the positions Gearhart gained later in the race were due to drivers ahead of him having trouble. Rick Chavez had been in second but, with five laps remaining, the Santee driver had to make a trip to the infield pits and returned to the track in back.

The 30 laps do not include laps driven during yellow flag cautions. Eric Evans of Imperial Beach had the initial lead and was in first for most of the race, but his car was emitting smoke. During a 26th-lap yellow flag, Evans’ car stopped, and Fitzgibbons inherited the lead. Gearhart began that restart in the sixth position, immediately behind Malone.

With Malone taking an outside line on the restart, Gearhart sought to advance another position. “I was in that low line. I was trying to pass him,” Gearhart said. “I had him going into turn one.”

Gearhart believes that Malone moved in front of him. “He just came down and I tapped him and around he went,” Gearhart said. “He spun. I kept going, and they charged me with the caution.”

The spin occurred in turn two. Gearhart’s exit left nine cars on the track.

Gearhart doubts that he would have won the $1,000 first prize even if he hadn’t received the black flag. “I wouldn’t have won the race, but I would have finished in the top five,” he said.


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