Wrecking his No. 1 car in practice may have been a blessing in disguise for Blaine Rocha.
The Oakdale, Calif., driver climbed behind the wheel of a dominant backup car and led nearly all 150 laps in the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series feature at the West Coast Short Track Championships at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Saturday night. Rocha guided his No. 21 car to the front early, led at the midway pit stop and took the checkered flag 3.778 seconds ahead of Brandon White.
"This race car was really good the whole race, but it was a little nerve-racking leading the whole thing," said Rocha, who earned $10,000 for the victory. "I knew that, as long as I could stay out front after the re-starts, I'd have a good chance of staying there. It's really exciting, and I'm really happy."
Christian McGhee, the 2016 SPEARS Southwest Tour Series rookie of the year, was third, nearly five seconds back. Derek Thorn, who broke his own track record from 2014 with a 14.165-second lap in qualifying, finished fourth and secured his third career season points championship.
"We hoped to be there in the points at the end, and it's a big testament to this team and how hard they've worked," Thorn said. "There's a lot of blood, sweat and tears that goes into this, and I'm honored to be behind the wheel for this team."
Lucas Oil Modifieds driver Ryan Partridge decided to double down in Las Vegas. After improving on his divisional track record with a 14.935-second lap in qualifying, the Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., resident led most of the second half of the 101-lap feature en route to the victory.
Partridge took the race lead on lap 38 shortly before the mid-race break, then held on after weathering a number of re-starts in the second half on his way to the checkered flag.
"I thought it was obvious that we had the car to beat today," said Partridge, who pocketed $4,000 for the win. "We were trying to conserve (the car) in the first half of the race, but the Lucas Oil Modified Series cars are so competitive that you have to run hard and try to stay up front. We were able to make a pass for the lead before the break that we were ecstatic about and were able to stay up front."
Robby Hornsby of Yucaipa, Calif., won the 30-lap Race Car Factory Spec Late Models feature after a strong run at the 3/8-mile paved oval. He finished 1.301 seconds ahead of Dylan Garner of Yorba Linda, Calif., to earn the hardware.
"The car was just great all weekend," Hornsby said. "This was my first time racing at The Bullring, and I've got to say this is a track that's a lot of fun to race on. It was awesome, and I can't thank everyone enough who helped me."
Todd Conrad of Sierra Madre, Calif., won the Race Car Factory Spec Late Models series season title just by starting the race and finished fourth.
Caitlin Stroebel of Meridian, Idaho, and Justin Simonson of Wheat Ridge, Colo., won B features in the Lucas Oil Modifieds and SPEARS Southwest Tour Series, respectively, earlier in the night.
The event put a cap on an exciting season at The Bullring that included 14 event weekends and plenty of nail-biting action. Racing will return to the short track in March 2017.
West Coast Short Track Championships
SPEARS Southwest Tour Series 30-lap B feature
Race Car Factory Spec Late Models 30-lap feature
Lucas Oil Modifieds 101-lap feature
SPEARS Southwest Tour Series 150-lap feature