News and Notes: NWSLMS Desert Star 80 at Tri-City Raceway at RMEC
The Desert Star 80 will be held under the lights at the tricky triangular shaped half-mile for the first time in 20 years.
Event: The “Desert Star 80” will take place at Tri-City Raceway at the Red Mountain Event Center (RMEC) in West Richland, WA on July 8th. The annual event was last run in September of 2003, with Scott Walker claiming the victory. The “Desert Star 80” will be held under the lights at the tricky triangular shaped ½-mile for the first time in 20 years. It will pay $5,000 to the winner and $500 to start. The Northwest Super Late Model Series presented by RaceCals (NWSLMS) will highlight the action, which will also feature the Elite Five Modified Challenge Series, and the Bettarel Hobby Stocks.
Former Winners: Four previous Northwest Super Late Model Series winners are entered for this weekend’s action. Haeden Plybon leads the list with five series victories. Jason Jefferson has two series wins, one at Yakima Speedway (WA) in 2016 and the other at Hermiston Raceway (OR) in 2021. Max Schroeder was a winner at South Sound Speedway (WA) in 2021. Kasey Klein grabbed a victory earlier this season at Findlay Stadium Stateline Speedway (ID).
Strong Field: 22 Super Late Model competitors are currently entered in the “Desert Star 80” from three different states; Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. There are no previous NWSLMS champions entered. Eight drivers have Super Late Model touring series wins. Those include Jonathon Gomez, B.J. Tidrick, Andy Beaman, Mike Zamora, Haeden Plybon, Max Schroeder, Jason Jefferson, and Kasey Kleyn.
We Have Light: For the first time in 20 years, Tri-City Raceway at the RMEC (TCR) will be lighted for an evening race. The night-time race will add yet another dimension to Saturday’s event, after the facility had been closed in 2004 and reopened in the Fall of 2021.
Desert Star Returns: The Desert Star was an annual event at TCR, which reached its conclusion in 2003, beginning in 1999. From driver’s memories and some photo documentation, Scott Walker was the winner of the last edition, with Rick Allison earning the victory in 2002. Jason Jefferson was the winner in the 2001 event, and Jeff Bailey was most likely the winner in 2000. Jefferson is entered for this weekend’s sixth edition, after a 20 year hiatus.
Championship Standings: After his victory at Hermiston Raceway (OR), Haeden Plybon extended his championship lead in the NWSLMS to 34 points over Wyatt King (200-166). The battle for second is razer thin with King leading Max Schroeder by one point with Zach Riehl another two points back. Dave Garber and Ken Bonney are tied for fifth with 144 points. Christopher Kalsch (136), Kasey Kleyn (130), Nick Gibson (121) and Garrett Evans (115) round out the top-10.
Rookie Chase: Wyatt King leads the Rookie-of-the-Year Standings over Zach Riehl by three points, with Kasey Kleyn 36 points behind the leader. King has a season best finish of second at TCR, Riehl has a best of fourth, also at TCR, while Kleyn picked up a win at Findlay Stadium Stateline Speedway, in Round #3 of the season.
SRL, RMCS Champ: 2010 Spears SRL Southwest Tour and 2015 Rocky Mountain Challenge Series champion Jonathan Gomez will make his second career start at TCR. During the “Apple Cup 125” in April, Gomez took the lead on lap 112 for the first time and looked to have the upper hand, to win the $10,000 prize. Contact in the final corner of the race, however, sent him spinning and out of contention. The eighth-place finish was a disappointment, but it doesn’t change his desire for a win Saturday night.
“Well, I'm always determined so that doesn't change”, Gomez stated about his will to win, after the last turn incident. “I definitely feel more confident headed back there. We had a fast car all weekend and paced ourselves right, but I caught lapped traffic at the wrong time. I feel our car is even better than it was then, so I'm very excited for the night race.”
Tidrick’s Time: B.J. Tidrick is a three-time “Montana 200” winner, two-time “Apple Cup” winner, and a “Fall Classic” winner at Yakima Speedway (WA) in his Super Late Model. But he has yet to grab a win at TCR since its’ reopening during the Fall of 2021. He has been fast in each of those four events, but luck has not been on his side, when it comes to getting to Victory Lane, for various reasons. He was 16th in the 2021 Fall Classic, with a right front hub failure. He finished 21st in the 2022 “Apple Cup”, after a car spun in front of him early in the race. He managed a fifth in the 2022 “Fall Classic” after losing a thumb two weeks before the event. This April he improved to a third-place finish in the “Apple Cup”, but the Kennewick, WA racer has been frustrated with his results.
“Honestly, I have no clue what I'm doing wrong there”, Tidrick explained about his lack of a victory at TCR. “We have had good speed, but we have had ZERO LUCK at TCR. I'm not saying my bad finishes are all due to bad luck, most of my own poor luck has been self-induced. Poor decisions on setup changes, poor timing with on track contact, cutting fingers off in the shop... There are several reasons for our poor performances, but in the end, we've been fast.”
To earn his first NWSLMS victory, Tidrick puts the emphasis on his own shoulders and his ability to get the job done behind the wheel.
“I really need to show up as a driver, and I can not afford another half a**ed performance”, Tidrick admitted. “I need to maximize my on-track performance. It's very easy to make excuses, but in reality, I just need to perform better.”
Rookie Leader: Wyatt King continues to lead the ROTY standings after his season opening second-place finish at TCR. King is only in his second season of Late Model competition, after multiple successful seasons and wins in the Modifieds. King finished a season high second in the “Apple Cup 125” and will be looking to follow up that effort with a win on the tricky ½-mile triangle, where the old surface seems to agree with the Boise, ID racer.
“I am not sure exactly, but I believe growing up racing karts, we were almost always racing on older surfaces, where the grip was low and tire wear seemed to be the key factor to being quick at the end”, King speculated about his success at Tri-City. “We have been able to transfer that over to tracks like Tri-City and Hermiston, to have quick cars and pretty decent finishes, for the little bit of time we have been in the Late Model division.”
Rookie Winner: Kasey Kleyn has been a winner in his rookie season with the NWSLMS. He grabbed the win in Round #3 of the season, but he nearly accomplished the feat in the season opener. He led for a race high 40 laps, he but found himself second, as the field took the white flag. Klein got into the side of Jonathan Gomes in the final turn, spinning the race leader. He crossed the line first, but was relegated to ninth in the rundown, the final car on the lead lap. With his show of speed at the ½-mile, he is excited for his return this weekend.
“I'm super excited about going back to Tri-City after almost winning the “Apple Cup”, Kleyn stated. “Tri-City has become one of my favorite tracks in the two races I've raced there, so we'll definitely be looking for the win under the lights this weekend.”
Return To Supers: Glen Knutson has recently made his return to Super Late Model competition, competing in the “Fall Classic 125” at TCR last October. He finished fourth in the event, in a 33-car entry. The 2015 and 2019 Pro Late Model track champion at the Wenatchee Valley Super-Oval will make his 24th appearance with the NWSLMS at a track he is looking forward to competing at.
“I love racing at Tri Cities”, Knutson exclaimed! “Each of the three corners are a little bit different than the other, which adds a lot of character. I feel like our program for this track is strong, and I got the best driving coach and chassis man, with having Garrett (Evans) helping me. I'm excited to race at this place at night for the first time! It’s a big track, with a lot of speed, and you're up on the wheel the whole time. I'm looking forward to the challenge!”
Schedule: Admission Gates will open at 4:00 PM with Qualifying for the Elite 5 Modified Series, Bettarel Hobby Stocks, and NWSLMS beginning at 5:00 PM. Fanfest is scheduled from 6:00 PM to 6:40 PM. Opening Ceremonies commence at 6:50 PM with Racing beginning at 7:00 PM. It will be the first time under the lights for the “Desert Star 80” in 20 years.
Live Broadcast: For those unable to attend the “Desert Star 80”, catch the Live Stream broadcast of the event with your paid subscription to Racing America at RacingAmerica.TV.
Expected Entry List: (as of 7/5/2023)
1 Kasey Kleyn Quincy, WA
021 Todd Connell Yakima, WA MAYBE
3 Andy Beaman Selah, WA
3K Ken Bonney Hermiston, OR
7 Zach Riehl Corbett, OR
8 Tyler Brown Kennewick, WA
15 Jim Franklin Kennewick, WA
16 Glenn Knutson Quincy, WA
17s Max Schroeder Tacoma, WA
21 Travis McKinney Yakima, WA
22 Jonathan Gomez Twin Falls, ID
24 Tim Babcock Kennewick, WA
27 BJ Tidrick Kennewick WA
33 Christopher Kalsch Hillsboro, OR
42 Garrett Huffines Selah, WA
55 Haeden Plybon Spokane, WA
57 Mike Zamora Kennewick, WA
60 Scott Graf Toledo, OR
71 Matt Chappel Yakima, WA
80 Wyatt King Boise, ID
83 Jess Havens Spokane, WA
97 Jason Jefferson Naches, WA
ABOUT THE NORTHWEST SUPER LATE MODEL SERIES
The Northwest Super Late Model Series is the premier regional touring Super Late Model series in the Northwest. The series has many valued partners including RaceCals, Hoosier Racing Tire, McGunegill Engine Performance, Gibson Diesel Performance, AR Bodies, Joes Racing Products, Penske Racing Shocks, Five Star Bodies, AFCO/Longacre Racing Products, Atomic Screen Printing and Embroidery, Franks Racing Radio, BLP, Jefferson Racing, Impel Motorsports, and The Ti Company. For more information on the series visit www.nwslms.com or on Facebook and Twitter.
-Story by: Kevin Peters/Northwest Super Late Model Series