Michael Leach Wins East Bay UMP Modified Winternationals Friday

 It took Michael Leach over a year to get his first career DIRTcar UMP Modified win, but only 24 hours to win his second.

The 20-year-old racer from Sun River, MT, passed for the lead with five-to-go in Thursday’s main event for the win and did it again in similar fashion Friday night – getting around race-long leader Kyle Strickler with four laps left and driving off with his second Winternationals Feature win in two nights at East Bay Raceway Park.

Leach, a fellow pilot of Longhorn Chassis, knows of the accomplishments that make up the careers of the veterans of the sport like Strickler and was overjoyed to not only race with Strickler, but to drive around him for the win at the historic Tampa oval.

“That’s the crazy thing about it – on every restart I’m like, ‘Man, I’m following Kyle Strickler around East Bay right now at the Winternationals, this is like one of the craziest [things],’” Leach said. “I’ve never been in a position like that.

“By far, these last two nights are the biggest wins of my career, and to do it against a guy like Kyle tonight is just extraordinary.”

Unlike his charge from 14th to the win the night prior, Leach took the green flag from fifth on the grid after a Heat Race win and immediately moved to third in the opening laps.

While Strickler was in command from the pole out front, Leach had made the move around outside polesitter Jason Garver to take second and began stalking Strickler as the race approached halfway.

Several caution flags dotted the midway portion of the 30-lap main event, providing Leach with ample opportunities to get a run to the inside of Strickler on the restarts. But the 39-year-old veteran held strong and forced Leach to think about other means of trying to make the move.

“It definitely was a thought in my mind, for sure, especially when [Strickler] wasn’t screwing up for the longest time,” Leach said. “If those cautions wouldn’t have come out, I for sure would have went to the top.”

After swapping the runner-up spot with two-time Winternationals champion Rodney Wing in the closing laps, Leach had P2 back for the final restart with six laps left. He cleared Wing when he stumbled on the top through Turns 1-2 and made a beeline for Strickler’s rear bumper.

They crossed the flag stand less than a half-second apart, and when Leach launched off of Turn 2 on the bottom, Strickler could not muster the speed he needed to keep the spot as Leach got underneath going through Turn 3 and secured the lead out of Turn 4.

“It was just a matter of waiting on a mistake, that’s all it took,” Leach said. “We followed him for probably over 20 laps. I knew it was gonna happen eventually, even with a guy like Strickler on a track like this.

“It just took the one time and I just happened to be in a position to take it over.”

“I should’ve just stayed in that middle,” Strickler said. “I went to the top trying to protect and Michael drove underneath me.”

From there, Leach drove away and led the rest of the way unchallenged to bag the $1,500 grand prize.

Though he came up one spot short, Strickler was still in good spirits afterwards, considering how his week started with three-straight DNFs.

“I’m happy that we finished two nights in-a-row, because it’s been a disaster the first couple nights here,” he said. “It’s cool for [Leach] to win; he did a hell of a job last night and tonight, and it’s great for Longhorn to be one-and-two. But tomorrow’s the big night.”

UP NEXT

The final edition of UMP Modified Winternationals at East Bay Raceway Park arrives at the grand finale Saturday night, Feb. 3. The top-six drivers in event points will be locked into the 75-lap, $5,000-to-win main event, while all other entrants will be seeded by points into Heat Races, followed by Last Chance Showdowns and the Feature.

Tickets will be available for purchase at the gate. If you can’t be at the track to watch in person, follow along on X (formerly Twitter)Facebook and Instagram for live updates.

RESULTS

A Feature 1 (30 Laps): 1. 09-Michael Leach[5]; 2. 8S-Kyle Strickler[1]; 3. 99J-Treb Jacoby[3]; 4. 33W-Rodney Wing[6]; 5. 21CZ-Cole Czarneski[15]; 6. 12L-Lucas Lee[7]; 7. 26G-Ryan Gierke[13]; 8. 205-Travis Varnadore[23]; 9. 24-Zeke McKenzie[22]; 10. B69-Bryan Bernhardt[14]; 11. 0-Damian Kiefer[20]; 12. 20-Brian Skaggs[8]; 13. 33-Jeff Mathews[18]; 14. 2-Devin Dixon[19]; 15. 8A-Austin Holcombe[11]; 16. 1H-Ben Harmon[17]; 17. 18C-Miles Cook II[24]; 18. 64-Austin Sanders[21]; 19. 88-David Pollen[9]; 20. 9-Cory Balkey[10]; 21. 82-Gary Dillon[16]; 22. 27G-Jason Garver[2]; 23. M20-Mike Potosky[12]; 24. 11R-Jeremy Rayburn[4]

DIRTcar Series PR