Rodgers, Sanchez win Tufco Enduro at GoPro Motorplex

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By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer

MOORESVILLE, N.C. – Celebrating a successful second season, the Monday Night Racing presented by Tufco Flooring iRacing league hosted a banquet and one-hour endurance race at the GoPro Motorplex.

Season two champion Will Rodgers teamed with ARCA Menards Series driver Nick Sanchez, naming themselves ‘Team Try Hard.’ In total 18 teams of two, made up of Monday Night competitors and sponsors participated in the endurance karting event. The event was broken up into four 15-minute segments. At the end of each segment, a driver change took place in the paddock area.

Among the real-life pros and Monday Night competitors that competed in the endurance race were ‘The Peach Mafia’ (Garrett Smithley and Ryan Vargas), Rajah Caruth who formed one-half of ‘Team Podium’ with Podium eSports’ James Pike. Chad Reed teamed with Off Axis Paint’s Greg Stumpff, and Robby Lyons teamed with FOX 46 Charlotte’s Brett Baldeck.

Although Rodgers and Sanchez claimed the victory in the endurance race, they had a spirited battle with Smithley and Vargas. A miscommunication from race officials saw Vargas speed into the paddock for a stop-and-go for a different driver. After being waved through, Vargas quickly made up the ground he lost before the first driver change.

That late first segment charge was in vain. A wreck in segment two allowed ‘Team Try Hard’ to extend their lead to over a full lap en route to the top step of the podium.

“My partner in crime, Nick Sanchez did a good job,” Rodgers explained. “I think we tried too hard (winning by over a lap). Nick and I have got a lot of laps here and we team really well together. We knew that as long as we executed, hit our marks, and got out front that it was all wrapped up from there. Honestly lap one I said that we got it in the bag.

“I need to thank Monday Night Racing and all of the partners, Spacestation Racing, Spacestation Gaming, my partner. We’re doing big things in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series and Road to Pro. Got a lot of things going on and I’m excited to be a part of it. I’m really happy to have brought them into Monday Night Racing and get them one of their first championships.”

The battle between ‘Team Try Hard’ and ‘The Peach Mafia’ came to a screeching halt in the second half of the race. eNASCAR and iRacing reporter Justin Melillo spun in turn two after getting his kart on the curbing. His kart first spun to the left, off the racing line, before it backed across the track into the path of Vargas. The impact was hard enough that Vargas’ kart briefly came off the ground before it slammed back down onto the pavement.

“That was the single hardest hit at GoPro I’ve had,” Vargas explained shortly after the second driver change. “I sat there for half a lap trying to catch my breath and make sure I was okay. I saw Justin spin to the left and thought he was going to stay off track. Then the kart rolled back into the racing line and I was like ‘oh god.’”

Due to the wreck between Melillo and Vargas, ‘Team Try Hard’ cruised to victory lane with over a one lap gap to Vargas’ ‘The Peach Mafia.’

“I think the name lived up to itself, Team Try Hard” admitted Sanchez. “The car was good all night. We just executed flawlessly and here we are (on the top step of the podium). I just want to give a shout out to Ryan Vargas; he was in the lead for maybe five feet and didn’t even make it to the first corner. We love you Ryan, it’s a bit of friendly competition.”

Both Melillo and Vargas were sore after the wreck, but relatively okay. The two drivers talked about the incident in the paddock, admitting there was little that could have been done to avoid it. One lap prior to the wreck, Melillo had run his fastest lap of the race.

Despite the wreck, Smithley was able to hold off team ‘Off Axis Paint’ to earn ‘The Peach Mafia’ a second-place finish.  

While the on-track action was the main event of the night, Monday Night Racing hosted a short banquet to celebrate two successful seasons in the iRacing league’s first year. League co-founder Ford Martin and Podium eSports’ Pike awarded Rodgers with the trophy for winning the championship. He also received a Big Green Egg grill, although Rodgers explained that will be going to fellow driver Preston Pardus.

“My buddy Preston Pardus gets that Big Green Egg because halfway through the season I promised him that I would give it to him if I won the championship,” Rodgers stated. “I may have brought home the hardware, but Preston brought home the Big Green Egg.”

A light-hearted moment took place during the banquet between JD Motorsports tire specialist Gabe Wood and NASCAR Communications’ Matt Stallknecht. The two drivers had several run-ins on track throughout the season. That culminated in carnage at the virtual Richmond Raceway. An incident led Wood to dump Stallknecht mid-race. Stallknecht retaliated after the virtual checkered flag waved.

During the banquet, Wood presented Stallknecht with a fender from Vargas’ Phoenix Raceway NASCAR Xfinity Series stock car. The JD Motorsports crew member proclaimed that it was “what was left, from Richmond, with love.” Stallknecht was left speechless by the gesture as the two laughed about the various virtual antics throughout the season.

Matt Stallknecht and Gabe Wood pose with “What was left from Richmond, with love” at the GoPro Motorplex. Photo courtesy of Ford Martin / Monday Night Racing.

This was the first in-person meeting for much of the Monday Night Racing competitors. The race at GoPro also marked the first live-action broadcast for Podium eSports. Podium covered the event with Devon Henry, Jeff Maconi, and others broadcasting the race both remotely and on-site at the Mooresville, N.C. track. The GoPro Motorplex is co-owned by Trackhouse Racing team co-owner Justin Marks and NASCAR Cup Series driver Michael McDowell.

Season 3 of Monday Night Racing starts Monday, May 3 at 8:00 p.m. ET at the virtual Daytona International Speedway. Podium eSports will continue their coverage of the league on the Twitch channel, twitch.tv/podium2 and their other social channels.

Feature Photo Credit: Photo by Erick Messer 

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