Jerome Rodela wins the 2018 Gerhardt Classic

By Kevin Triplett

On a warm July Saturday, the mighty midgets of the Bay Cities Racing Association (BCRA) invaded the lighting fast 1/3-mile Madera Speedway for the annual Fred Gerhardt Classic. Jerome Rodela paced time trials in the Trench Shoring-sponsored Toyota with a best lap of 14.150 seconds trailed by Mark Maliepaard in the Morris Insurance/Hot Rod Interiors Esslinger at 14.203 seconds. Young phenom Jesse Love in the 51 Fifty sponsored Van Dyne midget was third fastest at 14.209 seconds with Chad Nichols in the Shanonian Esslinger fourth at 14.234 seconds.

Rookie Cody Jessop qualified fifth fastest in the #00 midget, followed by defending BCRA champion Maria Cofer in the Arata #88 in sixth place, and David Goodwill seventh in his own #3G midget.  Nick Foster Junior, with only two laps of practice in the #08 Jessop US Western midget, timed in eighth at 15.289 seconds and the ageless JR Williams qualified ninth in his own #74 car. Cody Gerhardt’s #29 midget was unable to make the call for qualifying as the result of an engine issue uncovered during routine maintenance.

During the Western US Midget feature, the Jessop entry suffered an ignition failure which forced Nick Foster Junior to scratch from the evening’s feature starting field. The BCRA midgets arranged in the traditional rows of three abreast took the green flag for the 50-lap feature, and Chad Nichols grabbed the lead from his outside front row starting position trailed by Goodwill, Rodela and Love as middle front row starter Maria Cofer fell to fifth place. The yellow flag flew on lap four as Maria spun the black #88 midget to a stop inside of turn two following contact with Mark Maliepaard. Cofer restarted at the tail of the field but had lost a lap to the leaders.

After the lap seven restart, Jerome Rodela began to pressure Goodwill for second place as Nichols sprinted away to a five-car advantage. Rodela got past Goodwill on lap 18 and began to carve away at Nichols’s advantage as the handling of the #17N appeared to erode. Over the next handful of laps, attrition from the heat claimed two cars, as Cody Jessop retired with overheated brakes, followed a few laps later by Cofer with engine overheating issues. On lap 32, Rodela ducked the #25 Toyota-powered midget underneath Nichols’s orange #17N through turn four took the race lead and began to pull away.

After Mark Maliepaard retired the #51 with apparent fuel issues, on the lap 37 restart, Nichols looked low underneath Rodela’s #25 through turn one but was unable to make the pass. Jerome pulled away built a straightaway lead and won by 2.86 seconds over Chad Nichols, followed by David Goodwill in third, Jesse Love in fourth place and JR Williams finished fifth. Non-finisher Mark Maliepaard was credited with a sixth-place finish, trailed by Cofer and Jessop.

The BCRA schedule will remain pavement focused as the next stop for the BCRA midgets is July 14th at the historic high-banked Stockton 99 Speedway in a program that also includes the Gun Slingers Winged Sprint Car Series, the BCRA Vintage Midget Division and the California Hard Top Association. The pit gates are scheduled to open at 1 PM, with the racing action set to begin at 6 PM.