EL CAJON, CA (06/14/03). A year ago Danny Gay was virtually unstoppable at Cajon Speedway en route to the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series title. He won 5 times during the season and finished top-five 15 times in 19 starts. Until Saturday night in 2003,...
EL CAJON, CA (06/14/03). A year ago Danny Gay was virtually unstoppable at Cajon Speedway en route to the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series title. He won 5 times during the season and finished top-five 15 times in 19 starts. Until Saturday night in 2003, the youngster was winless and buried back in sixth place in points though he had made improvement in recent outings, finishing fifth, fourth, and third in the last three main events. Saturday night Gay regained his championship form and easily paced the late model sportsman field home on the 3/8-mile paved oval.
Gay had no problem mowing down and passing polesitter Mike Mendenhall seven laps into the 40-lap contest. Mendenhall ran in second the remainder of the way. Stephen Peace, who joined the division two years ago, had the best drive of his career. After having fast time, he moved from 12th starting position in the feature and was pressuring Mendenhall at the finish. Bob Wickey, the third quick qualifier, was fourth. Claude Bell was spun out on lap 23 but passed a boatload of cars to claim fifth.
Ryan Gay, Danny's cousin, bested the factory stock field. John Luecht nabbed his second Grand American modified main event triumph of the season. Kevin Gantz picked off his first career bomber stock main event trophy. Point leader Hector Leon stormed through the field to win for the fourth time in seven outings in the pony stocks.
Mendenhall had the pole for the sportsman contest after only getting one qualifying lap for being late to the scales (again). Most picked him to be a runaway victor. But he had his hands full with rookie Scott Moses early on and then Gay just motored underneath him. Once Gay got out front there was no stopping him. Meanwhile Peace was on the move from deep in the pack. He and Bob Wickey ran side-by-side for four circuits following a lap 24 slowdown. After working his way past Wickey he dipped under Moses and steadily moved forward into third. Four laps from the checkered Moses got nudged and went around in turn two, erasing his fine ride. On the restart Peace started jousting with Mendenhall but just ran out of time. Peace however did pick up the $200 Sid's Auto Body Hard Charger award for earning (and he earned every one of them) the most passing points. He also secured his first fast time honors.
Gay credited a change in temperature for the change in his racing luck Saturday night. "We didn't change anything from last week when the car was really, really good on the bottom. But the car was brutal (tonight) in hot lapping and qualifying. We did all kinds of things to get the car to come around -- it was just too loose. When the heat race came around, all we did was just give it a hair less stagger and a half a turn of cross. The car was back (for the main event). The only real difference as far as we were concerned was the temperature. It seemed like the temperature went down about 30 degrees (actually it was probably only 10 degrees). I think the weather just went in our favor."
Gay then went on to point out that he has been running an old street stock motor in his unsponsored Monte Carlo sportsman. "This is the actual motor that was in my car from my last (street stock) championship (in 2000)," the winner explained. "That's the one we won all the races (14) with. The one we broke at the very beginning of the season was the original street stock motor that we used in the car when we went out of town. When that one broke, all we had to go back on was that heavy, old crank and rods and pistons. I think what is going on is that we're able to get the power that we have to the ground. And the guys that have a lot of power, they're having a harder time getting it to the ground. It's helping us out and at the same time it's not costing us any money so we can continue racing."
Peace, who pits right alongside Gay, was obviously ecstatic with his run. Even Gay was quick to point out, "he did an awesome job."
Ironically it was just racing misfortune a few weeks back that led to the chain of events that have helped Peace's confidence and on-track performance. On May 17, Peace broke the motor in his car. He borrowed Mike Hagerman's rent-a-racer for the night and ended up 6th. That drive showed Peace and his team what the kid could do with a car that had a good set up. He borrowed the car again a week later and had a sixth and a fifth in the twin races. His regular ride was back ready to go last week with a new James Weston motor and the Hagerman-improved setup on the chassis. The former Allison Legacy champ finally had the tools to show what he could do.
"The last two weeks, this thing has come alive," the 23-year-old third-year sportsman racer beamed. "I'm stoked about it. We have a list of goals on the toolbox in the van. We got to check two of them off tonight (fast time and hard charger). Now (a main event) win is not too far away at all. We could have had it tonight if we had another ten laps. I was coming on pretty strong."
"It's been very frustrating," Peace said of his first two-and-a-half years in the division. "There has been nights we have just wanted to cut up this car and throw it away. But we have found some things the last couple of weeks and this thing is just flat hooked up."
Luecht started on the pole and led all the way in the 25-lapper for Grand American modifieds. But he had his hands full with Jimmy Dickerson in the middle stages of the contest and then Mike Salm took up the charge. Dickerson was sidelined when he got sideways in turn two on 15 and then overcorrected, causing him to nose head-on into the crashwall. Salm sat second on the restart and pressured Luecht to the finish. Luecht was three lengths ahead of Salm at the checkered. Doug Catania, Dave Williams, and Steve Dickerson rounded out the top five. Jimmy Dickerson had started seventh. By the time he worked his way up to the second spot on lap 6, he was a dozen lengths behind the leader. Dickerson then reined Luecht in in just a half dozen rounds.
Leon showed once again that he is the class of the pony stock field in 2003. Starting 15th in the 22 --car field, Leon wasted no time moving forward. He zipped past rookie Darrell McKee into the lead on lap 14. Ty Tipton started 12th and was eating into Leon's margin in the last few laps but fell four lengths short. Rounding out the top five were Marty Schmidt, McKee, and rookie Bud Brant. It was Brandt's initial top five finish. He was relegated to 21th starting position for the 20-lap feature after getting the mechanical black flag for a rubbing right front tire in his heat race.
The bomber stock feature was interrupted by a four-car incident on the sixth circuit when Mike McGlone tried to duck under Thomas Osborne entering turn three. Osborne tagged Scott Denton. In short order Brian Fitzgibbons ended up buried in the turn three cement while Osborne tried climbing on top of Denton, who was pinched into the wall. None of the drivers was injured. Gantz led all 20 rounds from his outside front row starting position. Rookie Randy Hart had another fine ride, coming home second. Darrell Moore was third, but was disqualified at the scales for having too much left side weight. That moved Bob Blew up to third. Jeff Coskey, in his second start of the year after a deployment on the USS Constellation as part of Project Iraqi Freedom, was fourth. Point leader Greg McCown retook the number one spot in the standings over Rick Hagen by taking fifth. Hagen was ninth.