By Dean Reynolds
NICHOLS, SC – Zach Sobotka’s status in the DIRTcar Sportsman Modified division has skyrocketed in a matter of months. Along with his track championships and NAPA Super DIRT Week Chevrolet Performance 75 title last year, the Mexico, NY driver won big again Saturday night during the South of the Border Showdown finale.
The numbers in the box score will indicate an easy victory. The drama on the final lap said otherwise.
Coming out of Turn 4, with the double checkered flags waving, Sobotka’s right rear tire blew, throwing his car into the outside wall. The blood was in the water and the sharks behind him were full force after it. Determined to hold the win, Sobotka manhandled his machine down the front stretch and guided it to the $3,000 payday at Lake View Motor Speedway.
“I just don’t know what to say. I guess it does pay to have some good luck on your side,” Sobotka said. “The tire didn’t give any warning and then it just gave out. I just held the foot to the floor hoping that I would hang on as I didn’t know where anyone was behind me.”
Luck first found Sobotka before the 50-lap Feature when he drew the pole. Once he led the field to the green, his #38 car was fast out of the gate. He didn’t let early cautions and a red flag hinder his performance, maintaining the lead throughout the race. By the halfway point, slower traffic became an unwanted factor.
“It was a little hairy there, even though my car felt good in all lanes,” Sobotka said. “The bottom was preferred, and I just tried to hit my marks. I wasn’t sure if I wanted that yellow or not (on Lap 36). You’re in a groove and feeling comfortable. Even with slower cars sometimes you just don’t want to get out of a rhythm. But on the other hand, having an open track can be good, too.”
His car was superior to his rivals all night, allowing him to open another sizable lead. It was big enough for him to hold on at the fateful last corner to the finish. Then, going over the scales also turned into a scare. The reading came up 2402 – two pounds over the legal limit.
“That got my attention, but with the fuel, we burned and also the tire I guess it wasn’t a surprise,” Sobotka added. “I’m just glad it all worked out. We had a tough first night but this made up for it and I can say this is one of my biggest wins. I love this place and if they keep this event going, we will always be here until I move up to the Modifieds.”
While it wasn’t a victory, Chris Johnson’s second-place finish may feel like one. Brother of Big Block Modified star Marc Johnson, Chris rarely travels outside his Albany, NY area. But his 12-hour foray from home resulted in a head-turning performance and $1,500 payday.
“This feels really good,” Johnson said. “I mean, finishing second to Sobotka is nothing to be ashamed of and to travel outside our area and do well shows what kind of team we have put together. We just decided that we could do the trip and we gave it a shot. I’m glad we did. Having a run like this is special. It shows that we are getting there.”
Johnson admitted to not having much for Sobotka, he did have enough to keep Brian Calabrese and Joe Toth behind him.
“I was just concentrating on hitting my marks,” Johnson said. “Was the track a bit locked down and tricky? Yes. But it had speed and you really couldn’t make any mistakes.”
Toth won the battle against Calabrese to claim the final podium spot by the end of the race. The strong finish for the Newtown, PA driver came on just his fifth time running Hoosiers and first time running a DIRTcar sanctioned event.
“I’m happy with our results tonight, especially after struggling on the first night,” said Toth with a smile. “I just haven’t had the opportunity to come to New York, but we made the decision to come here, and we’re glad we did.”
Richard Murtaugh III backed up his fourth-place finish from Friday night’s opener with another fourth. This time, however, he did so by making a charge from the 18th starting position. Calabrese rounded out the top five.
South of the Border Showdown Finale Feature Finish: 1. Zach Sobotka ($3,000), 2. Chris Johnson ($1,500), 3. Joe Toth ($1,000), 4. Richard Murtaugh III ($900), 5. Brian Calabrese ($800), 6. Cedric Gauvreau ($700), 7. Robert Delormier ($600), 8. Andrew Buff ($500), 9. Mike Bruno ($400), 10. Justin Buff ($300), 11. Jim Nagle ($200), 12. Dylan Madsen ($200), 13. Jamy Begor ($200), 14. Zach Buff ($200), 15. Chris Jakubiak ($200), 16. Tanner Siemons ($200), 17. Jeff Watson ($200), 18. Marty Kelly ($200), 19. Seth Zacharias ($200), 20. Dane Hedlund ($0), 21. Ricky Thompson (4200), 22. Steve Davis ($200), 23. Brock Pinkerous ($0), 24. Blayden Arquette ($200), 25. David Boisclair ($200). DNS – Bentley Gray ($50). Did Not Qualify – Kelly Smith, David VanBuren, Brandon Gibbons, Mike Ballestero, Jake Mason, Eric Loyer
Hoosier Tires Award – Dylan Madsen & Dane Hedlund.
$50 VP Fuel Award – Kelly Smith, Jeff Brown, Mike Bruno