(Cypress, CA, May 26, 2021) Thirty-three years ago this coming October, Kirk Gibson hit one of the most famous home runs in World Series history at Dodger Stadium. The blast prompted Hall of Fame announcer Vin Scully to say, “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.” If Scully had been at Perris Auto Speedway last Saturday night and seen the predicament Brody Roa was in at the 70th Salute To Indy, he may have quipped, “In a main event that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened,” as the Garden Grove, California racer came from dead last to win the 30-lap main event.
The Salute to Indy is on most west coast traditional sprint car driver’s bucket list including Roa. Four years ago he came close to only finish second. Last Saturday, the 30-year-old racing veteran finally added the Salute to Indy trophy to his already crowded mantelpiece in storybook fashion.
After setting fast time at the Bakersfield Speedway two weeks earlier, Roa timed in seventh fastest at the 225th USAC/CRA race on the famous Riverside County half-mile clay oval. That did not bode well because if everyone who qualified faster transferred out of their respective heat races, the best Roa could start in the finale would be seventh. Of course, that is exactly what happened.
Before the main, Roa flexed his muscles in the night’s first heat race. His flashy green #91R was starting on the outside of the second row. Using the wide line, he swept into the second-place spot coming off turn two on the opening lap. A lap and a half later he changed lines. He went to the bottom of the track and coming off turn four, he moved into the lead. By the time the race ended, “The Pride of Garden Grove” was about ¾ of a straightaway ahead of his closest pursuer.
For what turned out to be one of the wildest and most dramatic main events in the track’s 25-year history, Roa began the race on the inside of the third row. By the end of the third lap, the affable racer had passed three cars and was up to fourth. He remained fourth until disaster struck in turn four on the eighth circuit. He missed his mark going into the corner, got tapped from behind and slid to a stop.
Roa had to restart at the back of the 22-car field with 22-laps to go. Chances were, he would not get back to the top five and winning to most sane people was out of the question. However, he surprised a majority of the grandstands by coming from last to third two weeks prior at Bakersfield. So, nothing was out of the question.
Once the green light came back on, Roa went to work. In the first two laps he passed five cars. Three laps later he was already back to 15th and when the race reached the halfway point, he had advanced 12-spots and was in 10th. The streaking green #91R continued its push forward and by the start of the 23rd go around, he was in seventh and challenging for sixth. However, time was running out fast. Suddenly, the opportunities changed in a flash when the lead car tangled with a lapper heading into turn three. In the ensuing chaos, seven cars got tangled up including five of the top six.
When the mayhem began happening, Roa headed for the inside and stayed completely out of the mess. And that meant he was going to be second on the restart. On the first lap back under green, more action occurred when Roa and the leader tangled in the fourth turn. The result saw Roa continue with his competitor tagging the wall and ending up out of the race. That put Roa, the 2019 USAC Southwest Series champion, into the lead for what turned out to be the final restart. He dominated the final eight laps and powered to the win with a half straightaway to spare.
“We won the Salute to Indy,” a grinning Roa told the big crowd after the race. “This thing was good enough where I could pound the cushion just outside the rubber and get a run on everybody coming off the corner. In the off season we were kind of scrounging around looking for a car we were going to run as we did not have any cars. My dad called Frank from E.M.I. and he said he had a Helix sitting there that someone had canceled on and he could ship it. I said all right, let’s give something new a shot. Let’s start over. I am glad I did.”
The triumph in the historic race vaulted Roa from fourth to third in the USAC/CRA standings. Heading into the next race at Perris on June 19th, he is only 19-points out of second.
While Saturday’s victory was Roa’s first in USAC/CRA competition in 2021, it was his third in 10 total sprint car starts. It was also his sixth top three finish and seventh top 10 result thus far this year.
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