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(Lakeside, CA, March 13, 2023) Rising USAC/CRA Sprint Car star AJ Bender kicked off the fourth season of the POWRi Southwest Lightning Sprint Car Series with a hard-fought win in the main event last Friday night at the Imperial Valley Raceway. The race was round #1 of the six-race "Best of the West Series" and was co-sanctioned by the California Lightning Sprint Cars.

Winner AJ Bender, center, with 2nd place finisher Bobby Michnowicz on the right and 3rd place
finisher Eric Greco on the left. Kim Arringdale-Unipan photo.

The co-sanctioned event pulled in a strong field of 19 cars during the California Mid-Winter Fair. Escaping the harsh winter weather of the upper Midwest for an 80-degree day suited Dexter Dvergsten as the Greenbush, Minnesota racer turned the quickest lap of the 19 cars in qualifying when he stopped the clocks at 12.286. The second fastest driver was legendary Bobby Michnowicz of Oak Hills, California. The five-time California Lightning Sprint Car Series champion clocked in with a time of 12.442. Palmdale's Eric Greco had a time of 12.485, which was the third-best of the session.

A pair of heat races proceeded the first main event of the 2023 campaign. Lakeside veteran Brent Sexton, the defending POWRi Southwest Series champion captured the first heat by beating San Diego's Kevin Bates and Greco to the checkers. A few moments later, Yucca Valley's Jeff Dyer, who was also competing in the Southern California Non-Wing Sprint Car Open Competition side of the show, won the second heat. "Rockstar" Jon Robertson of Torrance ended up second. Brent Sexton's oldest son, Dalton Sexton, who finished second to his father in the SWLS championship standings last year, finished third.

When the main event rolled onto the racetrack, Greco was on the inside of the front row with Bates alongside. Row two was made up of Robertson and Brent Sexton. The third row featured Dalton Sexton and Dyer. Sixteen-year-old Seth Dyer, who is running for the SWLS Rookie of the Year award in 2023, and MinKota Series regular Dvergsten were in row four. Bender began the main in the second half of the starting field in sixth.

When the green flag signaled the start of the first main event of the year, Greco, driving the beautiful #8G, burst into the lead. Bates and Robertson gave the initial chase. Going into turn number one on the opener, Brent Sexton bubbled and went wide. A great save by the wily veteran only saw him lose one spot.

The first of three red flags in the 25 Lapper flew when contact with another car saw Robertson turn over coming off the fourth corner on the fourth circuit. The veteran racer climbed out of his number 42 car uninjured, but the car was done for the night.

When the race restarted, Greco was in the lead and was followed by Bates, Jeff Dyer, Brent Sexton, and Bender. Moments after the restart, Dyer relegated Bates back to third on the back straightaway. At the same time, Bender shot by Brent Sexton for fourth. By the seventh lap, Dyer was inching closer to Greco while Bender was launching an all-out assault on Bates for the third position. However, the proceedings came to a screeching halt again on lap eight. With a car that was "way too tight," Jeff Dyer spun coming out of turn four. At the same time on the other end of the track, a three-car tangle saw Seth Dyer, and the El Cajon duo of Dejay Dumas and Robby Brockman mix it up. Dyer and Brockman got upside down. Fortunately, all three walked away but like Robertson earlier, they were done for the night.

The lineup for the restart had race-long leader Greco still out front with Bender second. Bates was third with Michnowicz, who was forced to start 15th after getting clobbered in his heat race, fourth. Brent Sexton rounded out the top five. This time when the green light flashed back on, things changed. Bender dove to the inside in turn one and took the top spot away. Soon thereafter, Michnowicz continued his forward progress when he flew by Bates for third. Another driver, San Diego's Ryan Dumas, was making an impressive charge from 16th and was up to fifth.

The race was finally able to string some laps together before another red on lap 14 for a Landon Dalton flip on the back chute stopped the proceedings again. Like the others before him, the Ramona, California driver escaped unscathed. However, unlike the others, his car was able to continue and he rejoined at the back of the pack.

The final restart of the night had Bender in the top spot with early leader Greco second. Michnowicz was in third with Dumas, the only newcomer to the top five in fourth. Brent Sexton was fifth. When the action restarted, Bender streaked away. Greco did not get a good restart and was passed by Michnowicz and Brent Sexton. Michnowicz quickly reeled in Bender and they pulled away from a third-place war that was heating up between Sexton and Greco.

Michnowicz remained close to Bender until the waning laps when the leader pulled away for a season-starting full straightaway win. Michnowicz stayed in second with Greco crossing the line in third. Brent Sexton and Ryan Dumas rounded out the top five.

Ryan Dumas was the SWLS Hard Charger.

The POWRi Southwest Lightning Sprint Car Series would like to thank Sexton Fire Protection, RTL Traffic Control & Equipment, Victory Graphix, BK Wing, and A.M. Ortega Construction Inc. If you or your company would like to become part of the series in 2023, please contact Brent Sexton at (619) 454-6945 or mailto:sextonfire@cox.net

March 10, 2023 POWRi Southwest Lightning Sprints/California Lightning Sprint Car Results From The Imperial Valley Raceway

Qualifying: 1. Dexter Dvergsten, 12.286; 2. Bobby Michnowicz, 12.442; 3. Eric Greco, 12.485; 4. Jeff Dyer, 12.769; 5. Aiden Lange, 12.870; 6. Seth Dyer, 12.834; 7. Landon Dalton, 13.191; 8. Brent Sexton, 13.195; 9. Jon Robertson, 13.256; 10. Kevin Bates, 13.375; 11. Cody Griggs, 13.417; 12. A.J. Bender, 13.675; 13. C.J. Marin, 13.675; 14. Connor Speir, 14,009; 15. Pat Kelley, 14.494; 16. Robby Brockman, 14.699; 17. Mike Kotlinski, 14.716, 18. George Wolf, 19.985; Dalton Sexton, No Time

Heat #1: 1. Brent Sexton, 2. Kevin Bates, 3. Eric Greco, 4. Dexter Dvergsten, 5. Seth Dyer, 6. Connor Speir, 7. Robby Brockman, 8. AJ Bender, 9. George Wolf

Heat #2: 1. Jeff Dyer, 2. Jon Robertson, 3. Dalton Sexton, 4. Landon Dalton, 5. C.J. Marin, 6. Pat Kelley, 7. Mike Kotlinski, 8. Cody Griggs, 9. Bobby Michnowicz

Imperial Valley Raceway Main Event (with starting positions)

1. A.J. Bender, San Diego, CA - 12th

2. Bobby Michnowicz, Oak Hills, CA - 15th

3. Eric Greco, Palmdale, CA - 1st

4. Brent Sexton, Lakeside, CA - 4th

5. Ryan Dumas, San Diego - 16th

6. Dexter Dvergsten, Greenbush, MN - 8th

7. Connor Speir, Fillmore, CA - 11th

8. Kevin Bates, San Diego, CA - 2nd

9. Landon Dalton, Ramona, CA - 14th

10. Jeff Dyer, Yucca Valley, CA - 6th

11. Pat Kelley, Chino, CA - 9th

12. Seth Dyer, Yucca Valley, CA - 7th

13. Robby Brockman, El Cajon, CA - 17th

14. Dalton Sexton, Lakeside, CA - 5th

15. Deejay Dumas, El Cajon, CA - 18th

16. Jon Robertson, Torrance, CA - 3rd

17. C.J. Marin, Imperial Beach, CA - 10th

18. Parker Dumas, San Diego, CA - 19th

19. Cody Griggs, Lakeside, CA - 13th

DNS Mike Kotlinski, Nuevo, CA

DNS George Wolf - Santee, CA

2023 POWRi Southwest Lightning Sprint Car Series Schedule and Results

March 10 Imperial Valley Raceway Winged - AJ Bender

March 11 Imperial Valley Raceway Winged - Braden Chiaramonte

April 1 Mohave Valley Raceway Winged

April 15 Perris Auto Speedway Winged

April 22 Imperial Valley Raceway Wingless

May 13 Barona Speedway Winged (TBD)

May 20 Bakersfield Speedway Winged

May 27 Perris Auto Speedway Winged (TBD)

June 10 Colorado Nationals Winged (TBD)

July 8 Barona Winged (TBD)

Deming Speedway Clay Cup Winged (No Points)

July 22 Ventura Raceway Winged

August 5 Barona Speedway Wingless (TBD)

August 19 Perris Auto Speedway Winged

August 10-13 13th Minkota Nationals Winged (Non-Points)

September 2 Barona Speedway Winged (TBD)

September 23 Imperial Valley Raceway Winged

October 14 Mohave Valley Raceway Winged

October 20 Imperial Valley Raceway Winged

October 21 Imperial Valley Raceway Wingless

October 28 Barona Speedway Winged (TBA)

November 11 Perris Auto Speedway Winged

POWRi Southwest Lightning Sprint Car Series Champions

2020 Chris Crowder

2021 Grant Sexton

2022 Brent Sexton

This release was produced by Scott Daloisio (909) 226-7768 sdaloisiosports@gmail.com