In a race that pits local talent against the top Late Model drivers in the Northwest, the NAPA Auto Parts Idaho 200 did not disappoint as J.C. Wofford of Wapato, Washington, held off Spokane native Joey Bird for the win Saturday night at Stateline Speedway.
Three-time champion Gary Lewis, Medical Lake’s Braeden Havens and Ephrata native Josh Roberts rounded out the top five.
Wofford picked up $8,000 for his first Idaho 200 victory.
Bird, who was looking to cash in on a “double-down” bonus put up by Stateline Speedway promoter Larry Bertrand, made Wofford work hard for the victory in the closing laps of a race that was filled with action from the drop of the green flag.
Bertrand’s offer was simple: Set the fast time or be second in qualifying and elect to start at the rear of the field, and the driver would double the pay of his finishing position.
For Bird, who was second fastest to Lewis in the qualifying session, the choice was simple.
“We haven’t run a lot this year so it was worth the challenge to go back there (to the rear of the starting grid) and see what we could do. The goal is to win the race and with $16,000 (the amount given if he’d won) out there we’re up to that challenge,” Bird said.
For Lewis, who has struggled with a new Late Model this season, the offer to take the money and stay on the pole versus the risks of another sub-par run by coming from the back of the pack were as simple as Bird’s choice.
“My guys have worked hard all year to get this car going and I owed it to them to go out there and try and pick up a win (from the pole) and our fourth Idaho 200. The chance to go after the big payday is nice but we felt good about starting up front and going from there,” he said.
Of the 24 cars to start the event, 21 were still running at the lap-100 break with Wofford in the lead.
With teams having made adjustments, Havens appeared to have gone in the right direction as he retook the lead on lap 102. Wofford was equal to the test and moved past Havens on lap 111 with Shelby Thompson, Garrett Evans and Lewis all lurking several cars lengths behind the front pair. Evans got his Chevrolet to second place 10 laps later and crept to Wofford’s back bumper over the next 20 laps.
The tight racing among the leaders was a benefit to Bird who marched toward the front and at lap 154 was third with Wofford and Evans in reach. Evans lost a motor on lap 168, moving Bird to second and setting the stage for a late battle to decide the night’s main event.
Both Wofford and Bird had a car powered by engines built by Jeff Bird, Joey’s uncle, and with what appeared to be equal horsepower, it was Wofford’s handling package underneath his Ford Fusion that proved the difference over the final 30 laps en route to the victory.
“This is an awesome win for me and my team,” Wofford said.
Bird, who also netted an $8,000 payday with the Bertrand bonus, was happy with the result.
“We battled there at the end to get up and chase (Wofford) down. My uncle builds great motors as (Wofford) and I are here in the top two, but I just needed a little bit more time to try and catch him. What a night, though, to come from the back to second.”