Make no mistake about it, Rafael Gomez may like to race for enjoyment, but the Carson City driver is out to win anytime he goes on the track at Champion Speedway.
On Saturday night, Gomez took care of business in the hobby stock class and also threw in an early birthday celebration with his main event victory during competition on a full-moon night.
Meanwhile, Al Goss posted his 10th sportsman class victory of the season, while Jim Klopp won the Legends main event as part of the evening's five-division lineup at Champion.
The show also included an appearance by the Pro-4 Truck Series, which normally races out of the Central California tracks at Madera, Stockton and Altamont, made its debut at Champion - "They wanted to have a Nevada racing weekend," according to track promoter Les Kynett - and Randy Jahodalay of Tracy, Calif., emerged with victories in the main event.
Even though Gomez actually turns 38 today, he wanted to celebrate his birthday on the track.
"I've won a couple of races before, but like tonight, I wanted to win the race because it's my birthday and I had a lot of family and friends in the stands," said Gomez, who has won seven main events in 11 starts this season. "I wanted to win for them, so that was cool."
Gomez doesn't feel a year older, by any means.
"I'm still having too much fun racing here and stuff," he said. "Like tonight, I was just picking off the cars one-by-one and pretty soon I was in the front and I said, 'Well, this is where I wanted to be,' and that was it."
Then again, being out front is always his goal.
"I come here every Saturday night thinking I'm going to win," Gomez said. "I like the competition. I don't come here to play around. I come here to win the race."
Gomez had a feeling he was in for a good night when he blazed to a qualifying time of 15.98 seconds - just off his own track hobby stock class record of 15.92.
"The car really didn't feel like it was fast, but when I saw the time, I said, 'Man, that's pretty good,'" he said.
Gomez worked his way from the back of the pack and finally seized the lead midway through the 30-lap main with a move on Turn 4.
"I went down and saw the two cars coming in so I went on the outside and I picked them off," Gomez said. "A lot of times, that's how you do it. You go in, you see two guys kind of fighting, so you just go on the outside and just keep going, and it worked out for me tonight.
"That's how I race. You need to take your time and not be in a hurry because 30 laps, that's a long time," he pointed out. "I can hold back a little bit, then 4 or 5 laps into it, I start picking off cars."
Kris Pfalmer finished second, Hill third and Hunter fourth. Hill also won the trophy dash.
Despite his high winning percentage, Gomez still only stands seventh in a close hobby stock points race. Bill Gould led the pack with 628 points coming into Saturday, followed by Allen Hunter with 607 points, Joel Worley with 602 and Don Hill with 580. Gomez had 414 points coming into the night.
"I started kind of late this year because I was building a new car. I'm not going for points or anything, I just want to bring my car racing and see what the car can do," said Gomez, who finished third in the street stock class last year. "Chet Danberg, I have to thank him because he's helped me with a couple of things, and it's worked out pretty good because he's got a lot of experience in racing. I know he's been a very good teacher for me."
Goss continued his domination of the sportsman division as he posted the fastest qualifying time (14.79), won his heat race and won the 25-lap main. Goss has won 10 races in 17 starts and finished in the top five in 16 times.
Goss was back near the back of the pack after a yellow flag on lap 12, but he quickly made up the gap and surged past Stuart Moon into the lead coming off Turn 4 on lap 21 and held on the rest of the way. Goss was followed to the checker by Moon, who was bidding for his first main event victory of the season, while Virgil Miller finished third and Thom Eldridge fourth. Moon won the trophy dash.
Klopp won the Legends main event to complete a near perfect night. The South Lake Tahoe driver turned the fastest qualifying time (15.03) and won his heat race before winning the main. Jovon Halen finished second in the main, followed by Mark Bailey of San Leandro, Calif., and Denny Hadler. Klopp had to settle for second in the trophy dash, which was won by the 16-year-old Hadler.
Jahodalay of Tracy, Calif., won the 30-lap trucks main event to go along with his first-place in the trophy dash. Dave Daniel of Salida, Calif., was second in the main and Robert Harrison took third.