By Kevin Triplett
After the cancellation of the co-sanctioned event at Bakersfield Speedway two weeks earlier, the mighty midgets of the Bay Cities Racing Association (BCRA) opened the 2018 season at Madera Speedway the day before Easter. The BCRA Midgets were joined at the Pombo-Sargent Classic by the USAC Western Midgets, Legends of Kearney Bowl, 360 supermodifieds, Pacific Challenge Series super late models and the BCRA Vintage Midgets.
Unfortunately, two of the midgets entered in the program driven by Nick Chivello and David Prickett suffered mechanical problems during the Friday afternoon practice session, which reduced the BCRA entry list to seven cars. In single car qualifying, Chad Nichols in the #17 Shanonian Esslinger edged Scott Pierovich in the Morris #17P by just 5/1000 of a second to grab the top honors with a best lap of 14.014 seconds. Jerome Rodela in the #25 Trench Shoring Toyota-powered machine timed third, with Cody Gerhardt fourth, followed by Mark Malipaard, 13-year old Jesse Love in the Van Dyne #5 and defending BCRA champion Maria Cofer rounded the field in the Arata Racing #88.
Cofer started the heat race from the pole position alongside Malipaard, who jumped into the lead at the start but Rodela soon took the lead and began to pull away from the rest of the field. On lap six of the 8-lap heat race, Rodela’s car suffered a braking problem and he spun to a stop inside turn two. Rodela’s brake problems forced his retirement, and Malipaard led the final two circuits to claim the win ahead of Pierovich, Gerhardt, Nichols, Cofer and Love. Rodela made repairs to his car in time for the feature.
The redraw for the lineup for the 30-lap feature event resulted in a full invert, with the young rookie Love tagging the back of the field for the flying start. At the drop of the green flag, Malipaard grabbed the lead into turn one with Rodela, Nichols and Pierovich in hot pursuit. On lap 10, as the field entered turn three, Rodela’s car swung high out of the groove as his braking problems resurfaced, and Jerome pulled into the infield and retired from the event. Five laps later, the yellow flag flew for the first time as Gerhardt spun to a stop in turn two because of a blistered right rear tire which forced his subsequent retirement.
When the green flag flew again, Malipaard continued to hold his leading position and he set the race’s fastest lap on lap 21 with a blazing 13.679 second, while Nichols and Pierovich battled for second position. Scott began to look to the outside of Chad’s orange machine through turns one and two beginning on lap 24, but was unable to make the pass. On the final lap as the trio entered turn three, Nichols braked late to try to move around the outside of Malipaard’s #51 car, but Chad’s move fell short and Pierovich cut underneath Nichols to grab second place, but Chad recovered to claim second place at the checkered flag.
Mark Malipaard jubilantly celebrated his first career BCRA feature victory on the main straightaway ahead of Nichols, Pierovich, rookie Jesse Love, and Maria Cofer, while Gerhardt and Rodela failed to finish. The BCRA midgets will return to action on April 7 for the first dirt track event of the 2018 season on the exciting 1/3-mile dirt Merced Speedway on the grounds of the Merced County Fairgrounds.