There was just no catching the kid last Saturday at Stateline Speedway.
Even some of the best late model drivers in the Northwest didn’t have the answer and 18-year-old Blake Williams from the Spokane Valley became the youngest driver in the 14-year history of the NAPA Auto Parks Idaho 200 to win the race.
Taking the lead back seven laps into the second 100-lap segment, and again with 26 to go, Williams, a West Valley High School student headed off the challenge from veteran David Garber to take the victory and a big handful of $8,000 in cash, crossing the finish line at half-past midnight.
“I was just trying to get out ahead without burning my stuff up, saving my right rear (tire),” Williams said in victory lane. He qualified on top with a best lap of 13.255 seconds.
Andy Brown of Spokane finished third for a second straight year with Alex Lessor of Kalispell, Mont., fourth and former three-time winner, Gary Lewis of Snohomish fifth.
“I was hoping the outside would work,” Williams said. “It obviously took a couple of laps to make the outside work.”
Garber, driving the Pend Oreille Machine Pontiac, who won $6,000, survived the ragged and rugged first 100-lap portion of the race and emerged as the leader at the break after taking the lead on lap 57 and kept it until the break. Drivers then had about a 30 minute break in the pits to make adjustments – and hydrate heavily after more than an hour in the hot driver’s seat.
As the field of 16 remaining cars got the green flag for the second 100 laps, Garber kept his No. 93 in the lead over Williams, ironically until there were 93 laps remaining.
That’s when Williams took his favorite route – the outside groove – on the front stretch and looked like he would drive away to an easy win.
Williams slowly drove his stealth black Ford Fusion into as much as a full straightaway lead with 40 laps remaining.
“We kind of missed the setup on the second half,” Garber said. “It wasn’t as good as the first half.”
After the problem plagued first 100 1aps that never even got started until 10 p.m. and had a number of caution flags that interrupted the flow, the second half of the race ran flawlessly, until just 10 miles remained.
The yellow flag flew for the first time in the second 100 laps after a spin by a non-contending car and that gave Garber new life. With the field once again bunched up, drivers had an option to do what is called a cone start where Williams chose the outside – and a longer trip around the track – while the wily Garber took the low groove and the shorter lap.
“I was hoping that there wouldn’t be a caution, that’s pretty hard to hope for,” Williams said.
The two had a cat and mouse battle for four laps until Williams finally powered past Garber on the outside at the start-finish stripe, staying there to the end. He finished his victory lap with a smoky burnout on the infield’s figure-8 track.
“I kind of hung back hoping he’d burn up his tires,” Garber said, but that never happened to the McKlintock and Turk entry.
Another Valley teen, 16-year-old Nicole Behar, a sophomore to be at East Valley High School, had a strong run in the first 100 laps, leading the first 38 of the first 40 circuits around the quarter-mile oval.
But following a caution flag when Joey Bird spun out, Behar and Lewis got together in the middle of turns one and two. Behar suffered some heavy damage to the right side of the car that later required a heavy application of racing tape to keep the parts in tact.
After she and Lewis were relegated to the back of the pack, Behar tried to cover lost the ground but finished ninth.
Defending champion Garrett Evans from Ardenvoir, Wash., needed a last-chance race to make the main event. He ran with the leaders periodically in both halves and finished seventh.