Early in the evening, Nicholas Johnson stood solemnly next to his car parked along the front straight as the 32nd annual Bud Nationals at Bakersfield Speedway started with a memorial for Bailey Schweitzer
A few hours later, he was the first driver to win a feature race, leading all 25 laps of the American Stock race.
“I’ve got to thank everyone who helps me get to the track,” he said. “This one’s for Bailey.”
Brody Schweitzer, Bailey’s brother, started on the outside pole and powered into the lead heading into turn three. But he got loose in turn four, spun sideways and was collected by Dakota Brown, who could not avoid the collision Brown’s car ended up with the right front wheel on the crash wall but he was able to continue.
Schweitzer’s emotional night came to an end without completing a lap.
After another rough try at a start, officials ordered a single-field restart with Johnson at the point.
Johnson edged ahead and stayed there, despite some pressure and bumping now and then from Jimmy Satlawa, who wound up third.
“I got hit in the left rear and the right rear and the car was squeaking so I made the track as wide as I could so it would be tough to get around me,” Johnson said.
A spin set up a two-lap dash to the checkered flag and Johnson held off a late challenge from Brock Crawford, who made a run on the high side of the track but had to settle for second.
Zach Forster got plenty of practice on restarts in a caution-filled 25-lap Mod Lite feature as there were seven of them.
It didn’t matter.
Forster was never challenged as he led every lap for the win.
“I ran out of fuel on the last lap, if it had gone another lap I wouldn’t have made it,” he said.
Jeff Thompson was second, J.D. Brown third and Anthony Balcazar fourth.
Local drivers turned out to be the cream of the crop in the 30-lap Modified feature with Cody Laney pulling away in the later stages of the race for the win.
Laney and Robby Sawyer swapped the lead five times over the first 19 laps before Laney took the point for good and went on to win by several car lengths.
Sawyer finished second, followed by Ethan Dotson, Scott Pounds and Bobby Hogge.
The Late Model race was not complete at print deadline