Talk to any IMCA Modified driver who has been to Boone, Iowa, for the Super Nationals and they will tell you just making the 33-car field for the championship race is a huge accomplishment.
To actually win it, well, that’s often a dream come true.
That dream became a reality for Bakersfield’s Ethan Dotson last Saturday night when he started on the pole and led all 40 laps to become the first IMCA champion from California.
“It’s the biggest dirt track race in the world and a big deal to win the Super Nationals, for sure,” said Dotson, 20, who has spent a fifth straight summer competing in the midwest. “But the top-10 guys behind me, I race with them weekly.
“Every race here is a big deal and the top-10 guys at the Super Nationals are at every race I’m at.”
The victory was worth $5,800 plus merchandise, including an engine and transmission, that Dotson figures is worth about $20,000.
“I’ve got a trailer-and-half full of stuff,” he said. “Pretty much enough stuff to put together a new car.”
Nearly 230 Modified racers from throughout the country descended on the central Iowa town for the annual event, where Dotson said it helps to be both good and lucky during a week that often tests both man and machine.
Luck comes in the form of a draw for one of the 30 heat races which started the festivities last Wednesday and for a pair for 30-lap qualifying races (only the top-two heat finishers advance to those).
Dotson drew the fourth starting position for the eight-car heat race and drove to victory. He started seventh in the first off the twin qualifier races race which set the stage for his big win three nights later.
Dotson was fourth on the first lap of the qualifier, third a couple of laps later and powered into the lead on the 18th lap.
Ricky Thornton Jr., the 2016 Super Nationals champion, won the second qualifying race and Dotson bested Thornton in a bag toss (think cornhole) to secure the pole position.
By winning both races on Wednesday, Dotson avoided the heat race/qualifying race format over the next two days as drivers continued to secure spots in the championship race.
“Winning that first qualifier was huge,” said Dotson. “You can win from farther back in the field but it’s so tough to pass because the competition is so good. Last year I started seventh and finished fourth.
“It’s a lot easier to start from the pole than the eighth row.”
The 40-lap feature starts three-wide on the third-mile Boone Speedway and Dotson got a good jump on the start and immediately moved up to the high groove as he powered into the lead.
Luck came into play around the 14th lap when Dotson jumped the cushion in turn two and Thornton drove low and edged ahead. But a caution fell before the lap was completed and the field reverted back to the last lap, which meant Dotson retained his lead.
Dotson was leading but several car lengths when a rain shower brought out the red flag after 21 laps.
“I just tried not to think about (the race),” Dotson said of the delay which lasted about 15 minutes. “I just waited it out.”
Once the race resumed, it was just a case of Dotson doing what he did before as he kept Thornton and the rest of the field, including Cody Laney of Torrance who finished fourth, at bay.
“Unbelievable, probably the best day of my life,” said Doton’s father, Wayne, who watched his son drive to victory.
The elder Dotson has competed in a variety of classes at Bakersfield Speedway and got his son started in the Mini Dwarf division at the track. Ethan Dotson stepped into a Mini Stock at 13 and a Sports Modified at 14, winning the first race he entered in that division.
“He did a heck of a job to win that race,” said Bakersfield Speedway promoter Scott Schweitzer, who watched via the internet. “I was thinking back to how he started in Mini Dwarfs in the infield with my middle son Brody … I’m really excited for Ethan. It’s a cool deal.”
Ethan Dotson started the year off with a win at Bakersfield Speedway and added a runner-up finish there before heading back east.
“We’re lucky that Bakersfield Speedway is just 30 minutes from our house at home,” he said. “But going anywhere else is a long haul. It’s 3½ hours to Merced. I can race four nights a week out here and never travel more than an hour and half.”
Being able to race that often over the past few summers has honed his skills and Dotson said he’s eager to get back home and defend his Modified championship in the 34th annual Bud Nationals (Oct. 11-12 at Bakersfield Speedway).
“I'm going to race two more big races back here then come home,” he said.