YAKIMA — Garrett Evans took the kids to task again on Saturday. And the schooling was fairly easy for the 63-year-old wily veteran, whose biggest challenge came from his own dang feet.
Wenatchee's patriarch of regional circle-track racing, Evans dominated the early wide-open stretches of the 52nd annual Apple Cup and then fended off five restarts, including two in the final 10 laps, to capture his fifth career victory at Yakima Speedway's season-opening main event.
Evans lost his lead on one of the restarts after a 75-lap break for fuel, but he seized it back on lap 105 and then didn't miss a beat — or gear shift — on either of the late restarts in the 125-lap Northwest Super Late Model race.
But while it looked easy enough from the grandstands, Evans was having issues. Serious ones.
"I've been on this low-carb diet that sometimes gives me cramps in my lower legs and feet, and those yellows and reds (flags) were killing me," Evans said after his $5,000 victory. "I'm supposed to be taking all these electrolytes and stuff, but on a really hot day like this it was tough. I kept having cramps with my feet going to sleep on me, and on the last one I onestly didn't know if I'd finish or not."
With Apple Cup victories in 1997, 2000, 2001 and 2016, Evans always has the equipment and experience to contend and on a hot spring day with the temperature at 87 for the late-afternoon rollout his No. 64 blue machine was not only fast but consistent.
Yakima's Chad Hinkle and Naches' Tayler Riddle, who joined Evans in the winner's circle, may have lacked the consistency but they sure had the speed.
Hinkle was sent to the back of the 18-car field thanks to an early spinout but he charged into second by the fuel break and held that position to the finish.
"I messed up there a little bit early, but we had a really good car," said Hinkle, who lives locally but does most of his racing at South Sound Speedway near Olympia. "We had to use up the car coming through the field, so we really didn't have enough left to go for Garrett. That's OK, we had a lot of fun today."
Riddle, with a new chassis this season, was dialed in with qualifying's fastest time, but his luck took two weird turns on Saturday. The top eight qualifiers drew random starting positions as per NWSLM rules and he drew eighth. He then deliberately stayed off the hard pace for the first 75 laps, a move meant to avoid last year's late fade in the Fall Classic.
Coming out of the break, Riddle looked poised for a serious charge but on the second restart, which came on lap 80, he suddenly dipped into the pits and his chances appeared done.
"A shock bolt fell out of the right rear," Riddle said, shaking his head. "That kind of stuff happens."
Except he was not done. With the problem quickly fixed by his crew, Riddle reentered the race at the back of the field but still on the lead lap. When racing resumed he was flying, recording the race's fastest circuit on lap 97 and reaching third with five laps left.
An impressive charge for sure, but Riddle is still chasing his first Apple Cup victory after a second and two thirds since 2015.
"Yeah, we had the car and it was a strong finish," he said. "But we also caught a bad break, too. We'll just keep building as we go with this new car."
Monroe's Trenton Moriarty, who tightly dueled Evans in three of the restarts and led the race for 25 laps, slipped back to fourth place, and Moxee's Mike Longton settled for sixth in his debut with a new machine.
In the Pro Late Models 100-lap main event, Selah's Buck Noel Jr. continued to own the event, winning his third consecutive race on the Apple Cup undercard. Randy Marshall Jr. of Moxee was in charge initially, setting fast time and then dashing off to a commanding early lead. But a flat tire sent him to the pits and Noel took over from there.
"Apple Cup and Fall Classic races are always special because you put so much work into them," he said. "It's our Super Bowl."
Woodinville's Doni Wanat attempted a double up of 225 laps and started with a second-place finish in the Pro Late Models, but after running as high as second in the Super Late Models he encountered engine problems and was only able to complete 74 laps.
Jason Huffines outlasted Jeff Stevenson in the 50-lap Hobby Stocks race and Jeff Mullins picked up third.
The Apple Cup, which was originally scheduled for April 7 but postponed due to weather, opened the Speedway's new season. Action resumes next Saturday with a show highlighted by the West Coast Open Wheels.
Northwest Super Late Models: 1, Garrett Evans; 2, Chad Hinkle; 3, Tayler Riddle; 4, Trenton Moriarty; 5, Trevor Cristiani; 6, Mike Longton; 7, Mike Holden; 8, Alen Cress; 9, Tristan Haider; 10, Christopher Kalsch; 11, Chad Fitzpatrick; 12, Tim Babcock; 13, Todd Connell; 14, Mitch Kleyn; 15, Jim Franklin; 16, Ed Thomsen; 17, Tyler Tanner; 18, Doni Wanat.
Pro Late Models: 1, Buck Noel Jr.; 2, Doni Wanat; 3, Garrett Huffines; 4, Trevor Flora; 5, Andy Beaman; 6, Kyler Conduff; 7, Jarrett Bonn; 8, Cody Denton; 9, Rich Peters; 10, Justin Dunagan; 11, Jake Woods; 12, Matthew Stephenson; 13, Mike Brooks; 14, Jason Berg; 15, Randy Marshall Jr.; 16, Max Schroeder; 17, Erick Hargraves.
Hobby Stocks: 1, Jason Huffines; 2, Jeff Stevenson; 3, Jeff Mullins; 4, Erick Ray; 5, Don Klang; 6, Jerry Miller; 7, Bobby Stewart Jr.; 8, Billy Scribner; 9, Max Cook; 10, Casey Merrill; 11, Terry Osborn; 12, Chris Schlaht; 13, Mike Denton; 14, Dillon Huffines; 15, Matt Chappel.