Spokane, WA - Haeden Plybon had been winless in his Super Late Model in 2022, but that all changed Sunday night at Hermiston Raceway (OR). The 2022 Kulwicki Driver Development Program finalist has been strong in the Pro Late Model ranks, with multiple victories, but had struggled to put together a full race winning effort in the Northwest Super Late Model Series presented by Racing Dynamiks (NWSLMS), after two victories in 2021. The Spokane, WA racer grabbed the lead from 2019 NWSLMS champion Trevor Cristiani on lap 74 and never looked back to gain the $4,500 win in the “Atomic 125”.
The win was a relief for the NWSLMS Rookie-of-the-Year competitor and was just what the doctor ordered, heading into the final two races of the season.
“It feels really good and hopefully we can get on a roll here and get some more wins. It gives us good speed and momentum heading into the Wenatchee (Valley Super-Oval) race in a few weeks. It is definitely cool getting another win, that is what we come here to do is win. I’m glad we came here and did what we wanted to do with fast time and the win. It leads to a good night.”
Plybon opened the evening by earning the AFCO Racing Products / Longacre Racing Products Fast Time Award with a 14.862 second lap on the 3/8-mile paved oval. But it was 14-year-old competitor Kasey Kleyn that drew the pole position for the Feature Event. Former SRL champion Jonathon Gomez drew the number two position with Trevor Cristiani, BJ Tidrick, Plybon, Cory Allard, Max Schroeder and Andy Beaman the remaining redraw participants.
Gomez got a great start and battled his way to the lead in the slower upper groove to lead lap number one. Cristiani was able to get under Kleyn a lap later and Plybon followed to move to third. It took Plybon only two additional circuits to get under Cristiani for second and set his sights on Gomez. By lap six, Plybon reached the back bumper of Gomez, making short work of the veteran racer to take the lead. By lap 10, Max Schroeder had made his way to second as Gomez slipped back through the field, caught in the upper groove.
Schroeder, the 2021 series Rookie-of-the-Year runner-up, had his strong run end when electrical issues once again plagued the Racing Dynamiks team, dropping from contention on lap 25, eventually dropping out. Evan Goetz then took up chase of Plybon, with Cristiani in tow. The trio raced to a lap 32 caution for Tom Abercrombie. As the field slowed, Corey Allard and championship runner-up Nick Gibson got together, moving both to the rear of the field. Allard finished only 10 additional laps.
On the restart, Cristiani used the dominant lower groove to get by Goetz for second, but a red flag incident slowed the field six laps later with Gomez and Tidrick now making up the remainder of the top-five. Another restart found Goetz back to second, but Cristiani would fight back, resecuring the runner-up position. Cristiani then closed on Plybon and moved under the rookie on lap 56 to take the lead. Cristiani would pull out to a one second lead, but Plybon began to close again, getting by the former champion with the help of lapped traffic on lap 74, as he described the move and the action.
“It was fun. He got into that lapped car a little bit and I tried to take advantage of it, because I knew it would kinda knock him off a little bit and he wasn’t as fast afterwards. I got in there and was trying to plug the hole. My crew was telling me to try to get past him as fast as I could because Evan (Goetz) was coming. I tried to plug the hole, but I got into him a little, but he got it gathered back up, which is good, but it was a fun race.”
Cristiani’s fine run would come to an end just a few laps later, as contact with Tom Abercrombie ended his night with suspension damage, leaving Plybon, Goetz, a charging Kaiden Anderson, BJ Tidrick and Casey Kleyn the top-five on lap 77.
The restart saw Anderson jump to second with Goetz hanging on for third before another yellow on lap 92 swapped their positions again after the restart. Anderson would retake second a few laps later, but a yellow on lap 96 trapped Anderson in the outside groove again for the subsequent restart. This time both Goetz and Ashton Cristiani were able to drop the championship leader to fourth, as Plybon cruised in front.
The younger Cristiani continued his charge from 19th starting, getting under Goetz for the runner-up spot on lap 100. Anderson was also able to get by Goetz several laps later, but neither he nor Cristiani had anything for Plybon, as he cruised to a 1.6 second victory over the 23-car field.
For Cristiani, it was a great ending to a challenging weekend that began with his Pro Late Model effort the night before, and the challenges that effort presented. Sunday night he was able to overcome several tests that found him a lap down at one point.
“It was crazy, we had such a bad weekend”, Cristiani recalled. “We got the nose knocked off twice, got a lap down and made our way back up. It was pretty insane and just crazy.
Despite starting 19th in the field, Cristiani was able to save enough tire to come on strong at the finish.
“I think at the halfway point everyone was driving a little hard and I was just trying to save my tires for the end, because I know that this track does no good on tires”, Cristiani opined. “I was just trying to save them a little bit, and it worked out for us in the end.”
Championship leader Kaiden Anderson also had a poor qualifying effort, coming from 14th on the starting grid.
“We messed up there in qualifying, so we put ourselves in a position where we had to use our tires up to get through the field”, Anderson described. “By the time we got through the field and caught the leaders we didn’t have anything left for them. Other than that, it was a good night and a good points night, so we will head on to Wenatchee.”
Despite the poor qualifying effort, Anderson had a shot at the victory late in the race. He was set to earn a second-place result, but multiple starts in the outer groove was detrimental to tire wear, dropping him to third at the finish.
“I think we really had a good car there for a majority of the race. Unfortunately, we got stuck on the outside in second place and really hurt our tires. We lost traction and weren’t able to keep up there at the end.”
Evan Goetz finished fourth after battling in the top-five all night. BJ Tidrick drove the Derek Ball Super Late Model home to a fifth-place finish. Jim Franklin came home strong late in the event for sixth, followed by Nick Gibson, Jonathon Gomez, Todd Connell, and Terry Halverson. 14 of 23 starters finished the event with 10 on the lead lap.
The next event for the Northwest Super Late Model Series will be at the Wenatchee Valley Super-Oval and the traditional “Neal Newberry 125” on September 18th. It will be Round #6 of the seven-race schedule. Anderson will enter the event with a 22-point lead over Plybon after both Nick Gibson and Max Schroeder both had difficult nights.
Results: 1. Haeden Plybon*, 2, Ashton Cristiani, 3. Kaiden Anderson*, 4. Evan Goetz*, 5. BJ Tidrick, 6. Jim Franklin, 7. Nick Gibson*, 8. Jonathon Gomez, 9. Todd Connell, 10. Terry Halverson, 11. Dave Garber, 12. Andy Beaman, 13. Wyatt King, 14. Jeff Mullins*, 15. Kasey Kleyn*, 16. Ken Bonney, 17. Trevor Cristiani, 18. Tom Abercrombie, 19. Clint Habart, 20. Christopher Kalsch, 21.Corey Allard, 22. Max Schroeder, 23. Mitch Kleyn.