Teenagers steal the show on "Grad Night"
The racing was as hot as the air temperatures Saturday night in the annual “Grad Night” short-track racing action at the Bullring at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway when teenagers Tanner Reif and R.J. Smotherman put on a show in the 105-degree heat at the fast, paved 3/8-mile oval.
It was the fifth round and halfway point of the 10-race Bullring short track campaign in 2021.
The event which saluted recent graduates with free admission Saturday saw some impressive wheel-to-wheel competition including in the Signa Performance Service Pro Late Model 50-lap feature with Reif, age 15, and Smotherman, age 16, as the highlighted pairing for the majority of the main event.
Reif, the Foothill High student from Henderson, NV, came from behind in his No. 43 Boulder Boats late model race car to join a five-car battle with Smotherman, two-time Bullring feature winner Jeffrey Peterson, Jaron Giannini and Kyle Keller. With Giannini out early, the four-car train continued to lap 25 as Reif passed Peterson for second with a track surface reading at nearly140 degrees.
Smotherman, the Pahrump high schooler, held the advantage from the start to lap 43 when constant pressure from Reif allowed Tanner to slide inside of turn two for the race lead. But R.J. didn’t back down and pressured Tanner to the checkered flag in the 50-lapper that had the crowd on its feet.
Reif won his first Sigma Performance Service Pro Late Model feature of the year by just 0.568 seconds over Smotherman with Peterson third, Keller, also 16, fourth followed by Mike Weimann, Johnny Spilatro, Scott Gafforini and David Anderson.
“I had a blast tonight,” said Reif, the night’s fast qualifier. “We had a fuel pump going out all weekend and the engine started leaning out. Everything got really hot inside the car. In fact, I think I burned my feet. I had to take my shoes off right when I jumped out of the car. It was hot in the car, but we worked hard to get the car handling well. And we finally pulled off this win.”
Smotherman scored his second consecutive runner-up placing in the SPS Pro Late Model main event with another very close finish in his No. 24 machine. R.J. was second to Peterson last week.
“Man, it was hot out there,” said Smotherman. “We had another good run with this car thanks to Chris Clyne and Tony Jacks at Jacks Race Cars. I wouldn’t be able to do this without my family and friends who help on the race car. We were close again tonight in the main.”
In the popular 30-lap Power Grade Inc. 602 Modified finale, Justin Johnson of Las Vegas drove to his second 2021 Bullring feature victory in his No. 17J Mojave Masonry car as he started from the pole position and never looked back. The veteran racer halted the three-race winning streak of multi-time Modified track champion Doug Hamm, who placed second Saturday night in his fast No. 4X machine.
Johnson took the checkered flag by 1.008 seconds over Hamm followed by Jaron Giannini, K. Keller, Scott Osborne and Kayli Barker.
“I want to thank all of the fans for coming out on this very hot night,” said Johnson. “We greatly appreciate your attendance for our racing. I also want to thank Al Budd and Mojave Masonry for giving me the chance to drive this car. Also thank John Boy Keller for getting this race car right. I was actually hoping Doug would get close and we could duke it out. But I will take this win.”
In the USLCI M&H Building Specialists/JBM Underground Legend Cars action, Branden Giannini, the mechanical engineer from Henderson, dominated the 30-lap feature Saturday night with a wire-to-wire, 4.783-second victory over Enzo Lalama and Cody Brown. The Lalama/Brown matchup was the highlight of the Legend car final as they battle nose to tail from lap three to the checkered flag. Rounding out the top five in the Legends division was Branden Ruzbarsky and Amileo Thomson.
“I got a good start tonight and I was able to hold off the young guys and drive away from them,” said Giannini. “I want to thank my dad, my brother Jaron, Peyton Saxton for helping on the car and my family for putting up with my time working on the car. And thanks to the fans for sitting in this heat. We really appreciate you coming out tonight.”
Adam Simon scored another main event victory Saturday night in the 25-lap NASCAR Nostaglia Street Rod Bombers division with a .0583-second win over veteran Court Connell and Jacob Quartaro. Simon took the lead on the opening lap but had to hold off various contenders including Connell at the checkered flag as he battles for the Bombers track point lead.
Fourth went to last Saturday’s winner Michael Miller with Pete Meyer rounding out the top five.
“Wow, it was hot in the car tonight,” said Simon. “It was very hot. I’m so glad to take the win over Court at the end.”
In the popular 15-lap Skid Plate race to kickoff the night’s action, Dennis Dowell notched another main event victory in his red, white and blue No. 17 car, as he started last on the field and took the lead by lap 5 and recorded a 3.194-second triumph over Ben Williams, R.J. Smotherman, Dylin Smotherman and Robert Leany.
“We had to start at the back of field since we won previously,” said Dowell. “That means you have to work for the win now. I want to thank the fans for coming out and watching us race tonight in this heat.”
One of the hottest drivers on the track in a hot night was the youngster, Ashton Leonard, who won his fourth USLCI Bandoleros feature Saturday in his No. 17 machine over Keller Meechudhone, Logan Gresser and Caden Cordova.
“I lost one race to Quinn (Davis) earlier this year, but we have been winning a lot,” said Leonard, who holds a massive lead in the USLCI Bandoleros point standings. “It is fun to get to victory lane.”
In the early action at the Bullring Saturday, Barker won the Modified Dash and $100 from the Late Model Truck Series with heat race wins going to Branden Giannini and Brown in the Legends, M. Miller and Simon in the Bombers and R.J. Smotherman in the Skid Plates.
The fastest qualifiers were Jaron Giannini in the Modifieds at 15.707 seconds and Reif at 15.756 in the Pro Late Models.
NEXT RACE: The annual Chris Trickle Memorial Night is set for Saturday night, June 19, which salutes the promising young Las Vegas racer who was tragically killed in a road-rage incident. The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway event will be highlighted by the Modifieds, Pro Late Models, Legends, Bombers and other classes beginning at 7 p.m. Gates will open at 5:00 p.m. with qualifying set for 5:15 p.m. Opening ceremonies will take place at 6:45 p.m. Children 12 and under will be admitted free with a ticketed adult through the 2021 Bullring season. Tickets may be purchased in advance by visiting or calling the LVMS ticket office at 800-644-4444 or online at LVMS.com.
37th Short Track Season Opener at The Bullring at LVMS
Saturday, June 5, 2021
NASCAR Skid Plate 15-lap feature
1.Dennis Dowell; 2.Ben Williams (-3.194 seconds); 3.R.J. Smotherman (-17.842); 4.Dylin Smotherman (-1 laps); 5.Robert Leany (-1 laps).
USLCI Bandolero Bandits 12-lap feature – RACE 2
1.Ashton Leonard; 2.Keller Meechudhone (-1.776); 3. Logan Gresser (-4.872); 4.Caden Cordova (-5.339).
NASCAR Nostalgia Street Rods Bombers 25-lap feature
- Adam Simon; 2.Court Connell (-0.583); 3.Jacob Quartaro (-3.733); 4.Miichael Miller (-8.025) 5.Pete Meyer (-8.440); 6.Dylan Reinke (-10.405); 7.Rob Pfaffly (-14.055); 8.Carl Duryee (-9 laps).
USLCI M & H Building Specialists/JBM Underground Legends 25-lap feature
1.Branden Giannini; 2.Enzo Lalama (-4.783) 3.Cody Brown (-5.003); 4.Branden Ruzbarsky (-9.342); 5.Amileo Thomson (-111.592); 6.Lonnie Hochstetler (-15.090); 8.Landon Gresser (-16.019); 8.Jeff Regier (-16.291) 9.Brendan Tracy (-16.834); 10.Chloe Lynch (-1 lap).
NASCAR Sigma Performance Services Pro Late Models 50-lap feature
- Tanner Reif; 2.R.J. Smotherman (-0.568); 3.Jeffrey Peterson (-3.821); 4.Kyle Keller (-6.567); 5.Mike Weimann (-13.219); 6.Johnny Spilatro (-14.651); 7.Scott Gafforini (-1 lap); 8.David Anderson (-1 lap); 9.Matt Frady (-1 lap); 10.David CampVerde (-3 laps); 11.Hailey Lyles (-4 laps); 12.Charlie Pike (-41 laps); 13.Jaron Giannini (-45 laps); 14.Houston Simonette (-45 laps).
NASCAR 602 Power Grand Inc. Modified 30-lap feature
1.Justin Johnson; 2. Doug Hamm (-1.008 seconds); 3.Jaron Giannini (-1.889) 4.Kyle Keller (-2.353); 5.Scott Osborne (-5.823); 6.Kayli Barker (-6.371); 8.Cheyanne Schindler (-1 lap); 9.Jim Petrie (-1 lap); 10.Jacob Bishop (-29 laps).