A few years back it was often joked that Watsonville’s Bobby Hogge IV had the keys to Bakersfield Speedway.
Especially when it came time for the annual Budweiser Nationals.
That’s the type of reputation one earns when doubling down — winning Late Model and Modified feature on both nights — and adding to his seemingly ever-growing collection of unique Bud guitars given to feature winners.
On Friday Hogge was among more than 150 drivers taking to the third-mile clay oval for opening night of the 33rd annual event.
“We try to come to the track prepared, obviously today it’s not looking that way with the Late Model, but this track just tailors to how I like to drive,” he said of his success here. “It’s kind of round, it can get kind of a cushion built up even when it’s slick. It just makes for a good, fun racey place.”
Hogge, 41, had one win in last year’s Bud Nationals, on Friday night in the Late Model race. But he was not happy with his car after his first heat race this year.
“This is the first race we’ve ran with it all year and the motor don’t want to run right for some reason,” he said. “This is one of the bigger shows we go to every year and Bakersfield puts on a great race. Unfortunately, we’re really struggling with the Late Model right now. It won’t run.
“We always like coming and supporting these shows. We get two days out of one (event). It’s four hours for us to get here, but we love to come race here, especially with the two-day show.”
Hogge will have to wait for Saturday night to try to add to his guitar collection as he finished fourth n the Modified feature and pulled off the track while leading in the Late Model feature.
Cody Laney, who was running second, had some contact with Hooge when Hogge pulled into the infield just past the star/finish line as Hogge was coming fast down low.
A caution flew at that pointy Laney was put back to the front and led the rest of the way for the win.
"I had a run (coming off turn four) and I think something broke on his car," Laney said. "That was wild."
There were no other close calls for Laney, who led the final 20 laps for the win.
Tony Toste was second, followed by Jason Papich, Joey Tanner and Ethan Dotson, who came all the way from last to fifth.
Dotson went from third to first on the first lap of the Modified race and led all the way in the 30-lapper that finished just before the Late Model feature.
There was one fast way around, up high, which made passing on the third-mile clay oval difficult.
Dotson worked his way through heavy traffic as the laps wound down, clearing that bottleneck with three laps to go and sailing to victory by three seconds.
Troy Foulger was second, followed by Brad Pounds, Hogge and Collen Wattenbarger. The top four in their same positions from the fifth lap on.
Michael Johnson capped a rough season with a victory in the 25-lap Sports Mod feature.
Johnson rolled a car earlier this year but the new car has proven to be plenty fast.
“This is a brand new car and it’s awesome,” he said after leading all but the first 10 laps.
Rick Childress Jr. made a bid for the lead on a restart with 18 laps to go, diving low in turn four and sliding in front of Johnson. But Childress slid into the front of Johnson’s car, spun, and brought out the caution.
Johnson powered away on the subsequent restart and was not challenged the rest of the way. Jason Nation was second, followed by Austin Manzella, Kyle Wood and Billy Simkins.
In American Stock action, Rich Deman of Paso Robles passed Dakota Brown with seven laps to go to win the 25-lap feature. The first nine laps were slowed by seven cautions but the race ran caution free after that.
Brown started on the outside of the second row and took the lead on the third lap but had nothing for Denman, who dove low out of turn four to take the lead on the 19th lap and pulled away for the win.
Brown finished second, followed by Kenny White, Tyler Johnson and Kody Sly.
Track champion Zach Forster took the lead early in the 20-lap Mod Lites and easily raced to victory. JD Brown was second with Anthony Balcazar third.
Nicholas Johnson won the 12-lap Hobby Stock qualifiers race to earn the pole position for Saturday night’s feature.