The season started with Kyle Busch winning one of the richest short track races in the nation, ended with the fastest cars to circle the paved half-mile — winged sprints — and saw Bakersfield native Kevin Harvick compete there for the first time.
Those were just some of the highlights from the 2018 season at Kern County Raceway Park.
Certainly having NASCAR star Kyle Busch on hand for his second straight Winter Showdown kicked the season off in fine fashion but it was local product Buddy Shepherd stealing the early thunder as he qualified No. 1.
But come race day it was all Busch, as he led 238 of the 300 laps for his first Showdown win. Shepherd outdueled NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Daniel Hemric to finish second.
But no doubt about it, Havick competing in a NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race on March 15 was the high-water mark for the the track.
Harvick, a North High grad, started racing Late Models at the old Mesa Marin Raceway across town and this was his first appearance at KCRP.
“Going back-to-back like that, having two marquee events like that to kick off the year was amazing,” said Steve Hughes, director of marketing and communication for the track.
The K&N West event, right before the NASCAR race in Ontario, brought national media attention to the track and Harvick used it to promote short-track and grassroots racing.
“If you don’t keep the grassroots system alive and well you’re only hurting yourself,” Harvick said of why he was competing in the event. “Not only are you trying to find the next generation of great racers, but you’re also trying to find the current generation of fans.”
Harvick dominated much of the race, but 16-year-old Derek Kraus bumped him out of the way on lap 175 and went on to victory in the 200-lap race.
As for the regular racing season, the Super Stock division was the most competitive with Roger Holder holding off Paul Ebersbacher in the dash for the checkered flag of the final race to win the championship by one point.
“That certainly was phenomenal,” Hughes said. “When you come down to the final turn of the final lap to determine your champion … you couldn’t script it any better.”
The Legends championship was also close with Josh Ayers coming out on top by five points over Colton Page. And in Spec Mods, just 11 points separated champion Jim Coffey and Jason Galvin.
The K&N West Series came to an end at KCRP with Kraus winning that race as well. But it was Bakersfield’s Derek Thorn celebrating his second series championship when the night ended.
Thorn finished fifth in the finale to end the season with two wins and 13 top fives in 14 races.
As for the Dirt Track at KCRP, the third-mile clay oval was reconfigured before the start of the season and the racing was expanded to include NARC winged Sprint Cars, which opened and closed the season at that track.
KCRP has not yet finalized its 2019 schedule, but it will include a lengthy summer break. The track will hold its annual race and fireworks show to celebrate the Fourth of July on June 29 and does not have another race scheduled until Sept 7.
“It’s not only the heat, but folks want to get out of town and do their family vacations,” Hughes said of the break. “We’re respecting that.”
- Mike Griffith