STRAIT TAKES TALLADEGA; BAIRD WEARS THE CROWN Talladega, Ala, 10-16-99, by Don Radebaugh - Dehydrated, but way too determined, ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series veteran Bob Strait, at 50 years young, rolled past the final stripe under caution Saturday...
STRAIT TAKES TALLADEGA; BAIRD WEARS THE CROWN
Talladega, Ala, 10-16-99, by Don Radebaugh - Dehydrated, but way too determined, ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series veteran Bob Strait, at 50 years young, rolled past the final stripe under caution Saturday afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway as winner of the Winn Dixie 300 taking his 15th career ARCA victory and first-ever superspeedway triumph in 30 years of trying. After posting 50 laps up on the leader board, more than any other contestant, Strait was still up front when both the yellow and checkered flag waved signaling the end of the crash-filled 300 mile high-speed grind that sent 14 drivers to the infield care center for attention including the winner who toasted the crowd with an oxygen mask before someone popped the top on the nearest Gatorade. With thumbs up, defending ARCA champion Frank Kimmel escorted his good friend home in second ahead of Kevin Harvick, aboard a Richard Childress prepared Chevrolet in third, with 19-time ARCA winner Bob Schacht in tow for fourth. Mark Voigt, who led eight laps in the 113 mile event, maneuvered his Fan Smart On Track Store Chevy to fifth in the final running order from the 32nd starting position. It was Voigt’s best-ever superspeedway finish and good enough to earn the Hoosier Tire Midwest Hard Charger award to compliment his stout performance.
Strait’s victory was bigger yet considering it came from the Talladega Pole aboard Mark Thompson’s #66 Midway Islands Ford in front of an ARCA/Talladega record crowd of 80,000-plus. "I owe it all to the crew," said the still-smiling Strait upon his release from the care center. "My crew chiefs’ Bob (Bissinger) and Don (Strait) leveled-up the perfect race car. If we wouldn’t have won, it would have been my fault because they gave me the best superspeedway handle I’ve ever felt. And that Joe Rhyne engine reigned superior today. He also spotted for me today and that helped a ton. With all the bent race cars, we needed all the help we could get out there today. Most of all, I wanted to thank Mark Thompson for the opportunity. Everything about that man spells pure quality. I always dreamed about winning on a speedway, now I guess I’ll get to read about it." Strait chased Tim Steele and Mike Ciochetti early on, but with the aid of a right-side-only tire stop, the Mokena, Illinois driver got up front and stayed there for the duration. Seven cautions for several multi-car crashes slowed the event for 47 laps eliminating more than a few strong contenders including the newly crowned ARCA champion Bill Baird. Baird was one of six drivers that got caught up in the turn three wreck with less than 10 laps remaining setting up the final curtain call for the crash-fest. Regardless, and by virtue of starting the race, the former stunt pilot from Sturgis, Kentucky secured the ’99 ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series title in only his second full season on the tour. "We were having a ball before we wrecked," said the seemingly satisfied champion after the race. "But I can’t complain. It’s been a dream season for the Saturn Machine-Spee Dee Pop-Valvoline crew. We won five races and had a blast doing it. And we all worked super hard for it all, which makes it all the more worthwhile. Anyway, we’ll pack it up and get ready for Atlanta."
Ciochetti, who dominated the early going with 41 laps led, got caught up in the same mess becoming one of five drivers on the day who were transported to Carraway Methodist Medical Center for treatment and evaluation. Others on the list included Anthony Lazzaro who was held over night with a fractured vertebrae, defending race winner Tim Steele who, while leading, crashed just 24 laps deep into the race, Norm Benning and Mark Stahl. With the exception of Lazzaro and Steele, who was treated for concussion, all were treated and released. For Stahl, it meant leaving with broken ribs while Benning got out with a bruised foot, and Ciochetti, a bruised shoulder. 1995 ARCA champion Andy Hillenburg, who the day before secured a starting position in the Sunday afternoon Winston 500 in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, finished sixth in the Roulo Brothers’ Jim Dandy Dog Food Chevrolet while Joe Cooksey posted his career-best superspeedway finish in seventh and moved to within 25 markers of Bobby Gerhart for third in points with just Atlanta remaining on the schedule. Mike Swaim, Jr. finished eighth in the Xlerator Pontiac in front of this year’s Kendall Indiana Late Model Series champion Brian Ross, who in only his second ARCA start, recovered from an early-race spin to finish a career-best ninth ahead of Laurel, Mississippi driver Robert Burroughs who completed the top ten in his first ARCA start. Shawna Robinson had James Finch’s Bob Evans Chevrolet in the top ten all day long until a turn three accident near the halfway point stopped her charge to the front.
UNOFFICIAL SERIES POINT LEADERS: BILL BAIRD 5470, FRANK KIMMEL 4810, BOBBY GERHART 4465, JOE COOKSEY 4440, MARK GIBSON 4200, ANDY BELMONT 4155, BOB SCHACHT 4070, RON COX 3935, CAVIN COUNCILOR 3920, NORM BENNING 3755.