EL CAJON, CA. (April 14, 2001). Danny Gay came oh so close to be being victorious in his very first late model sportsman start at Cajon Speedway. But some motor woes and then perhaps a bit of overdriving led to his undoing just three laps from...
EL CAJON, CA. (April 14, 2001). Danny Gay came oh so close to be being victorious in his very first late model sportsman start at Cajon Speedway. But some motor woes and then perhaps a bit of overdriving led to his undoing just three laps from the finish. As a result Mike Mendenhall, who was willing to settle for fourth just six laps from the end, picked off the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series opener on the 3/8-mile paved oval Saturday night.
Instead of being in victory lane or even earning a top five finish, Danny Gay was in the pits with a torn apart racecar when the checkered flag was thrown after 40 rounds. Defending champion Jerry Gay was five lengths back of Mendenhall at the finish. Ron Overman ran third ahead of Rod Hildebrand and rookie Steven Peace.
Scott Holmberg outlasted fast qualifier Rich Green for honors in the street stocks. Ed Hale picked up right where he left off a year ago and dominated action in the pony stocks. Pat Garity, who took the bomber championship last year, came back from a hot lapping wreck and captured the 20-lap bomber stock finale. John Isabella got spun out twice but still came home first in the Allison Legacy cars.
Gay the Younger paced the field from the third through the 37th circuits of the sportsman feature. On lap 35 just after a restart, his rotor broke and his motor started backfiring. Mendenhall, who started eighth, was running third at this point and dipped under second running Todd McLauchlan as the trio came off turn two on lap 38. Trying to hold onto the lead, Gay appeared to drive hard into turn three, lost just a bit of control, and got sideways right in front of McLauchlan. Mendenhall meanwhile slipped by both the first and second place runners on the low side. When Gay got sideways, McLauchlan, who had nowhere to go, rode completely up over Gay's car, peeling much of the sheet metal from it.
The race had been relatively clean until that point. Five yellow flags were spread throughout the first three-quarters of the race. All were for single car incidents, none of which was serious.
Mendenhall and the elder Gay raced side-by-side for third and fourth positions for many rounds on three occasions in a stirring duel before the eventual victor was finally able to inch past in the low groove on lap 34. The younger Gay and McLauchlan, the night's quick qualifier, were sitting one-two about five lengths ahead the whole time. But then came the lap 35 slowdown that changed the complexion of the race.
Mendenhall's victory though was not without its controversy. When his car was first pushed across the scales, it was noticed that the scales were out of alignment. Then there was some miscommunication among the officials when they reweighed the winner's Monte Carlo. The scales first read 58.2% left side weight, but by the time the tape was punched, the number came up 58.1%, right at the limit allowed.
"We do have one," Mendenhall smiled when asked if he had a weigh slip that showed his car was legal. "The right rear scale was crooked somehow. They had to weigh it twice. Then he (Ron Ferguson, the weigh master) said it weighed 58.2 but when he printed it, it said 58.1."
"It almost doesn't feel like we won though," the winner sighed. "It was a fun race. I was sure I was going to be fourth. I could not get by Jerry. I didn't want to rough him up and it was fun racing him. I don't know what it looked like from the outside but it was fun from where I was sitting. When I finally got by him and it stuck, he pulled up alongside me on the next yellow and was giving me thumbs up and I was cracking up. Then on the restart I'm thinking Danny has this in the bag. When Danny broke, that slowed Todd down. I thought look what just fell into my lap."
Holmberg inherited the point in the street stocks after Brian Brown blew up on lap 6. Holmberg put it on cruise control the rest of the way to earn his second career win. Fast qualifier Rich Green ran second ahead of Rick Hagen, Frank Stielau, and Dave Arce. Richard Hinze lost his third place finish when his new car came up with 55.2% left side weight.
The pony stocks saw one yellow after another in their 20-lapper. Nothing could stop Ed Hale however. The ageless veteran stormed from tenth to the lead in less than three laps. Jimmy Kyte, who lost the championship to his teammate Hale on the final night of the season a year ago, finished seventh lengths behind the 63-year-old Cajon legend. Mike Weimann ran third ahead of Neil Rodvold and another ageless one, George Behlman.
Pat Garity's night in the bombers almost ended before it started. He got hooked up with first nighter John Aganowski at the turn three track exit in hot laps. His crew went to work making repairs and Garity still timed in seventh best. He took over from pacesetting Joey Schneider 14 rounds into the feature and was six car lengths in front of Eric Seene at the conclusion of the 20-lapper. Randy Wallace, the 1999 champ, beat out second-generation racer Marty Lehrke for third. Mark Holland was fifth.
PIT NOTES: Mendenhall also picked up the $200 Hard Charger Award donated by Vans Automotive for picking up the most passing points for the night in the sportsman. ... 88 cars were in the pits for the opener. Included in that total were 14.015 sportsman, 20 streets, 24 ponys, 23 bombers, and 6 legacy cars.