Saturday was a day of firsts at Utah Motorsports Campus.
The ARCA Menards Series West competed at the Grantsville facility for the first time under its current name, with stock car racing making its first appearance at the track since the K&N Pro Series West hosted a two-day event in 2016. After being shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ENEOS/Sunrise Ford Twins represented UMC’s first major event of 2020, and its first with spectators allowed to attend.
And, for a pair of up-and-coming drivers from the Golden State trying to work their way up the stock car racing ladder, Saturday brought the most important of firsts — the first victory of their ARCA Menards Series West careers. Jesse Love, a 15-year-old from Menlo Park, California, won the first of two 30-lap races on UMC’s East Course on Saturday afternoon, while 20-year old Blaine Perkins of Bakersfield, California, led wire-to-wire in the nightcap.
Perkins earned the pole position for the first race, but was unable to maintain his hold on the top spot. After the caution flag waved on Lap 6 for an incident involving Takuma Koga, Love’s No. 19 Bill McAnally Racing Toyota Camry passed Perkins’ No. 9 Sunrise Ford Racing Ford Fusion on the ensuing restart and never relinquished the lead. Perkins stayed within striking distance throughout, and had one final shot at the win after Lawless Alan suffered transmission problems and brought out the yellow flag with four laps remaining.
That forced the race into overtime — a two-lap shootout under green-flag conditions to determine the winner. Unfortunately for Perkins, he cut down a tire in Turn 5 on the second-to-last lap, causing him to slide off the course and dropping him into 11th place. Love finished 1.154 seconds ahead of runner-up Kris Wright, with Gio Scelzi finishing third after a tough back-and-forth battle with Wright and fourth-place finisher Taylor Gray. Will Rodgers was fifth, with former UMC race winner Todd Souza sixth and Gracie Trotter in seventh. Brian Kaminsky, Holley Hollan and Bobby Hillis Jr. rounded out the top-10. Perkins, Alan, Trevor Huddleston and Koga were 11th through 14th.
“I’m super blessed and super fortunate to be blessed by the Lord above to be able to come here and do what I love to do,” Love told NBC Sports after the first win of his career. “Overall, it was a team effort.”
Half an hour later, the drivers took to the track for another 30-lap race, with the lineup set based on each driver’s fastest lap from Race 1. That put Perkins on the pole yet again, with Love next to him on the front row.
This time, Perkins made no mistake. He pulled away from Love in the first corner of the opening lap and cruised to victory in the caution-free race, winning by 9.398 seconds as Love admitted to driving too hard and wearing his car out.
“They started telling me distance (to Love), and it felt pretty good,” Perkins said. “I started driving a little bit slower and trying not to make a mistake, but it worked out in the end and we got the checkered flag.”
Wright finished third in Race 2, followed by Scelzi and Huddleston. Souza, Trotter, Rodgers, Kaminsky and Hollan completed the top-10, with Gray, Alan, Hillis Jr. and Koga completing the field.
The event was open to 500 spectators under health rules and regulations put in place by state and county health officials. It was the first professional sporting event in the state with spectators in attendance since March.
The ARCA Menards Series West, the fourth tier in NASCAR’s ladder below the Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, will be back in action Saturday at Irwindale Speedway in Irwindale, California.