ELMA — Nick Trenchard had a pretty good weekend in Elma, no matter how you looked at it.
On Friday night, Trenchard worked through the field and won the Shipwreck Beads Northwest Modified Nationals Race of Champions at Grays Harbor Raceway. He then returned on Saturday night to defend his 2016 Nationals title and did so with a wire-to-wire victory in the championship feature race.
The victory on Saturday night was his third career Northwest Modified Nationals title and his second straight at the three-eights of a mile clay oval. In the last four Modified Nationals, Trenchard claimed the checkered flag.
Cory Estaban, of Gaston, Ore., literally took away victory from Ryan Martinez on the last turn to claim the PHRA Dwarf Cars 30-lap feature race win on Saturday.
It all went pretty well for Trenchard on Saturday night. As one of the top-eight points leaders after Friday’s heat races and the Race of Champions, the Klamath Falls, Ore. driver just waited for the top-eight pill draw to find out where he’d start for the 40-lap championship feature.
He picked the top spot and started on the pole position with Jesse Williamson, of Coburg, Ore., right next to him on the front row. Williamson is the 2009 NW Modified Nationals champion in his own right.
The race was an endurance test for the field, with enough cautions to pull Trenchard back into the pack and enough racing to showcase a very talented field of drivers in tight quarters. Trenchard had to work just as hard from the front and many others did inside the large and suspense-filled pack.
“With all of the guys charging, I was pretty nervous,” Trenchard said. “It was scary out there in the lead. You don’t know what isn’t going to work, so I decided to use up the entire track.”
Williamson, Mathew Drager and Collen Wineburger were the main three drivers up front to challenge Trenchard, with Yakima’s Blair Shoemaker making some noise early on and Cosmopolis’ Tom Sweatman getting into the action late.
Drager and Wineburger each made attempts to get past Trenchard on yellow caution restarts, but none of them stuck. Once the race stretched out the field, Trenchard deftly maneuvered around lapped traffic to keep the lead.
Late in the race, Williamson was close enough to Trenchard to make his really nervous, even in lapped traffic. However, a slow car at the top of turns 1 and 2 brought out a caution flag with five laps remaining. On a restart, a big wreck in turns 3 and 4 slowed the field and knocked four cars to the back of the pack.
Sweatman, sitting in sixth at the time, avoided the big wreck. He was fortunate because, on the next restart, Sweatman took a low line and passed two drivers into fourth place, with Wineburger and Drager in sight for a possible top-three finish. Trenchard blasted away on the same restart and easily outdistanced Warburger for the win.
Sweatman, the current Grays Harbor Raceway season points leader, finished fourth after working through the field from his 19th starting position. Sweatman won the B main race to get into the championship feature and seemed to have had a lot of fun doing so.
“The B main was good and we made our changes for the A main; this is just a fast field, man,” Sweatman said. “You aren’t racing some donkey. You are racing someone who is really good. But wow, that was a lot of fun. We were three a-breast, two a-breast and five a-breast at times there.
“You are burning up your junk and your tires to get up to the front; it was hard out there,” Sweatman added. “Everyone out there has a fast car. There are no slow cars. Everyone was pretty equal, so it was hard to pass. I had to find a way to manage whether to save my tires for a push at the end or burn through my junk and tires to get to a position to make a push at the end. It worked out.”
During the Race of Champions on Friday, Hoquiam’s Zack Simpson led the field for the start of the 20-lap main event. Trenchard, in the middle of the pack, moved up toward the front during the first half of the race. By the 10th lap, Trenchard used a passing attempt in turn four to take the lead.
Simpson, who got into the race to fill out the 20-car field by race organizers, kept in contact with Trenchard for most of the second half of the race. However, Trenchard’s car showed on Friday what it would do on Saturday — navigate lapped traffic easily — to pull away for the win.
Fighting off Williamson in the final laps, Simpson took second overall. Sweatman took fifth in the ROC.
“Last night, we were at the back of the field for the Race of Champions and we had a pretty good car then,” Sweatman said. “I felt we had the best car last night. Tonight, we made a couple of changes and it really worked out for us.”
Portland’s Ryan Martinez had his first car of the weekend go up in smoke early on Saturday, which led many to believe he was done for the day. However, Martinez got into a backup car, which was running with another driver, and worked his way from the back of the main feature race to make life interesting for the field.
In this 20-lap feature race, Martinez negotiated the field to move toward the front. Doug McVae took the lead to start, with Jake Vanorquick getting a turn at the front on the fifth lap. Leo Ward grabbed the lead on lap 12 and Martinez got his chance when he made the move on a caution restart on lap 16.
Tigard, Ore’s Shane Youngren was involved in a flipping accident in turn 3, hitting the wall and delivering a hole and dent big enough to warrant a red flag to check on Youngren and the wall. Youngren climbed out of the car and the wall was deemed structurally strong enough to keep the racing going.
With the delay, the race was shortened to 20 laps, leaving three laps for Martinez to hold onto the lead. However, Estaban had made his way into second before the crash and was on Martinez’s back bumper for the restart. The duo jousted for the lead before Estaban took advantage of the low track line to pass Martinez in turn 4.