Rac­ing Leg­ends Bring Crowd Out To Speed­way

Riverbank News - - NEWS - By DALE BOSOWSKI

A huge crowd packed the grand­stands to see the re­turn of sev­eral driv­ing stars from the past in the an­nual Night of Cham­pi­ons event at the Stock­ton 99 Speed­way on Satur­day night, Aug. 4.

Among the re­turn­ing alumni were Ken Boyd, Harry Bel­letto, Jeff Bel­letto, John Gaal­swyk, Dave Byrd, David Philpott, Dan Reed and spe­cial guest Ernie Ir­van, who won the 99 track cham­pi­onship in 1977 be­fore go­ing on to win 15 times, in­clud­ing the 1991 Day­tona 500, in the Mon­ster En­ergy NASCAR Cup Se­ries.

“It is a lot of fun to be back here,” said Ir­van. “It is great to be with all these peo­ple I have not seen in a long time, talk with them and sign some au­to­graphs.”

The fans were de­lighted to get up close and per­sonal with their heroes in an au­to­graph ses­sion be­fore the night’s main events which, judg­ing by the smiles on their faces, was equally en­joyed by the guests of honor.

“I love com­ing out and see­ing our old fans. I have lots of great mem­o­ries here,” said Boyd. “Stock­ton will al­ways have a spe­cial place in my heart.”

There was an abun­dance of present and fu­ture driv­ing tal­ent on hand as well for the Stock­ton Late Model 100-lap fea­ture which paid $10,000 to the win­ner.

Be­sides draw­ing all of the top 99 Speed­way reg­u­lars, the field of 24 cars in­cluded Jarod Ir­van, Ernie’s son who won the Night of Cham­pi­ons race last year, and for­mer Mon­ster En­ergy NASCAR Cup and NASCAR Xfin­ity Se­ries com­peti­tor Kenny Wal­lace, who won at a dirt track in St. Louis the night be­fore.

“It is so cool to race on the same pave­ment where my dad raced and won on,” said the younger Ir­van, now 20-years-old.

Jarod, driv­ing a car pre­pared by Man­teca’s Str­miska fam­ily, set the low time in qual­i­fy­ing, but started from mid-pack in the 20-car field for the main due to an in­vert draw of 10.

“I think he is a bet­ter driver than I ever was, but I am his dad,” ac­knowl­edged Ernie Ir­van with a smile. “I have run against him in a Leg­ends car and he beat the pants off of me.”

Thanks to the in­vert, de­fend­ing track cham­pion Ar­ron Shankel of Lodi and Adam Coon­field of Modesto shared the front row as the field roared to the open­ing green flag.

The first third of the race was or­derly un­til Shankel be­came sand­wiched be­tween Gri­d­ley’s Larry Tankersley, who was des­per­ately try­ing to stay on the lead lap and the hard-charg­ing Kyle Got­tula, of Modesto, while try­ing to pro­tect his lead on lap 37.

Shankel went un­der Tankersley in turn #4, but the two touched bounc­ing Tankersley high into the air and then the outer con­crete wall. Shankel was able to con­tinue, but was forced to re­tire sev­eral laps later due to da­m­age from the in­ci­dent.

Once in the lead Got­tula put the whip to the horse as he slowly pulled away while the rest of the field jos­tled for po­si­tion be­hind him.

The fi­nal 15 laps saw five dif­fer­ent yel­low-cau­tions as sev­eral con­tenders, in­clud­ing Ir­van, Sam So­lari and Chris­tian Roche, both of Escalon, suc­cumbed to ac­ci­dents or fad­ing tires.

Got­tula was able to get the jump on each restart to re­tain the lead and had vic­tory in his grasp when Modesto’s Mike David went hard into the turn #3 pit exit gate on lap 99.

Luck­ily David was not hurt, but the scary ac­ci­dent brought out a check­ered-yel­low-red to fi­nally hand Got­tula the win.

“Those fi­nal laps and restarts were nerve-wrack­ing,” ad­mit­ted Got­tula. “This is so cool to beat a field like this. This is prob­a­bly the big­gest win of my ca­reer. It is cer­tainly the big­gest purse.”

Kenny Wal­lace, who moved up sev­eral po­si­tions in the fi­nal laps with­out mak­ing a pass, fin­ished in sec­ond and Chris Lyon, of Gree­ley Hill, com­pleted the top three.

“Those fi­nal laps were like throw­ing a piece of raw meat to a pack of hun­gry dogs. I just kept mov­ing up as they wrecked and I was wait­ing for them to give me the win,” ex­plained Wal­lace. “Like my friend Dick Trickle used to say ‘you must first fin­ish, to fin­ish first’ and we al­most pulled it off.”

Man­teca’s Robert Dueck led for 29 and three-quar­ters laps, but Stock­ton’s Joey Sarafin was able to inch un­der and pin him to the wall com­ing out of the fi­nal cor­ner to steal an ex­cit­ing vic­tory in the 30lap Bomber main while Stock­ton’s Bar­rett Sug­den cap­tured the B-4 win.

The 99 Speed­way will be host­ing a pro­gram fea­tur­ing the Gun Slingers Wing Sprint Car Se­ries on Satur­day, Aug. 11 and the SRL South­west Tour Se­ries the fol­low­ing Satur­day, Aug. 18.

JES­SICA MCANELLY/JESSIE’S FAST PHO­TOS

Night of Cham­pi­ons hon­orees are shown on the main straight­away dur­ing spe­cial cer­e­monies on Satur­day night in Stock­ton, hon­or­ing top 99 Speed­way driv­ers of the past.

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