EL CAJON, CA (09/29/01). It was champions' night at Cajon Speedway. Three titles were on the line on the final points night of the season. When the dust finally settled (and there was a lot of dust), three veterans had added championship trophies...
EL CAJON, CA (09/29/01). It was champions' night at Cajon Speedway. Three titles were on the line on the final points night of the season. When the dust finally settled (and there was a lot of dust), three veterans had added championship trophies to their already crowded mantles. Ron Brown earned his fourth Grand American modified title after being number one in the divisions first three years (1990, 91, 92). Ed Hale grabbed number three in the pony stocks. And Bob Wickey outlasted Mark Holland in a spirited battle to claim his third bomber championship (1988, 1989, 2001). Rich Green had previously sewed up his first title in the street stocks.
None of the new champions ended up in victory lane following their respective main events Saturday night. Mike Salm ended up second in the modified standings and won their 30-lap feature. Ivan Harrison broke a season long string of bad luck by leading all 30-laps of the street stock finale. Andy Papp slipped past Hale late in the pony stock season closer that ran 25-rounds. And Eric Seene concluded the bomber stock season with his first win of the season in their 25-lapper. Gary Britton took honors in the 20-lap affair for factory stocks.
Brown shadowed Salm, who started the night third in points, throughout the Grand American modified feature. The pair started 11th and 13th and picked their way carefully through the traffic. After cracking the top five, they moved to the high groove and gained a couple of spots. Then they dipped down to the bottom to move by Randy Keatts and Lou Tompkins into the top two spots on lap 7. Brown made a few stabs at the lead, but seemed content to follow. The victory did move Salm past Ron's nephew Scotty into second place in points. The younger Brown was the victim of a lap 25 tangle with Ron Esau and ended up sixth. Doug Carpenter was third on the track followed by Mike Jackson and Randy Keatts, who was making his first start of the year.
For Harrison, the street stock main event concluded just in time. Just after taking the checkered flag, his distributor broke and his Taurus coasted to a stop on the backstretch. In fact he had to be pushed to the scales for the post-race inspection. Harrison paced all 30-rounds of the contest after starting on the pole. The race had to be stopped on the 16th lap when the bottom end of Keith Altig's engine grenaded in dramatic fashion at the end of the front stretch. Altig's Monte Carlo was a ball of fire for a time until he came to a stop in the infield. The former Cajon bomber champ was making his first start at the track in about four years; he was uninjured. Neil Rodvold followed Harrison nearly the entire distance but was only able to eat into the former Englishman now American's lead when the pace was slowed. Rodvold was seven lengths back at the finish. Jason Pontsler, Richard Hinze, and Rob Freeman followed him.
Papp came on like gangbusters to overhaul Hale four circuits from the checkered flag in the pony stock 25-lapper. Hale was dogged most of the way by Douglas Wright Jr., who was the only driver with a mathematical shot at denying Hale his sixth track championship. But he needed to finish six spots in front of Hale to overtake the 63-year-old. At the stripe Papp was in front by two lengths with Wright on Hale's bumper. Hale's previously won the super stock championship in 1970 and 1983 and the sportsman title in 1993 before taking pony honors in 1998 and 2000. As usual the pony stockers had a real barnburner of a race with the top eight to ten positions in doubt on every lap. Like Brown and Salm, Wright followed in Hale's footsteps as they threaded their way forward from 14th and 16th starting positions only to be overtaken by Papp who had started in front of them. The event ran nearly non-stop with the only caution flag being thrown just after the leaders got the white flag. Ken Wikoren got out of shape exiting turn four and nailed Kenny Hall, sending him spinning wildly into the infield. Cajon's oldest rookie, 64-year-old John Swink also got caught up in the melee. The field went green-white-checkered after the cleanup. Wright got Hale just a tad bit sideways in the final turn and then backed off and they followed Papp across the stripe. Jimmy Kyte and Mike Weimann took fourth and fifth.
All eyes were on Wickey and Holland in the bombers. Holland needed to beat Wickey by two spots to claim the title. If he beat him by only one position, they would have tied. But in that case Wickey would still have been champ since he had more main event wins. Here too the pair were like peas in a pod. They started 13th and 15th and were never separated by more than a couple of feet. When Wickey went to the high side, Holland followed. When Wickey dropped low, Holland followed suit. Meanwhile Pat Garity had gotten out front and looked to be en route to victory number six. But all of a sudden here came Eric Seene, who mowed down the Professor with relative ease. This race too was stopped by a blown engine that caught fire. Mark Wendell went up in smoke and flame on lap 9 right where Altig had his misfortune. He too escaped harm. Seene pulled away from Garity after passing him on lap 19. In the final turn, Holland ducked under Wickey and almost beat him to the line.
The usually talkative Wickey had trouble finding words more than an hour after climbing from his cockpit. His season-long battle with Holland had been very spirited, but very friendly. "It was good hard racing all year. Mark deserved first. I deserved first. We both had great years," Wickey sighed. "I congratulate them too. He had an unfortunate deal last week (broke a distributor midway through the race). We had a couple of bad weeks too. I have to hand it to my guys. They busted their butts. We changed motors twice in two weeks. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here."
When asked how close Holland came to getting by at the end, Wickey just smiled. "Maybe I beat him by a bumper," the new champ said. "It made it exciting though. We did what we had to do. I'm at a loss for words."
"A couple of weeks ago, it really looked dim," Wickey finally went on. "We weren't qualifying good and tonight luckily we qualified fourth. He qualified second. It was my race to lose. I talked to Mark afterward and he told me he was waiting for me to make a mistake. I didn't. He was deserving of it also. Just luckily for me, we won."
PIT NOTES: Next week's Coors 100 open comp for late model sportsman has drawn a bunch of out of town entries. There is expected to be a quintet of cars from Vegas with champion Jason Allen and our buddy Chuck Trickle being joined by regular Coors entrant Ray Hooper Jr., Lance Magin, and Darren Michels. Gary Tamborelli is coming home after his successful championship season at Orange Show Speedway. Former Orange Show titlest Roger Brown has also filed an entry. Greg Voight, the 2000 Irwindale champ, should be making his first trip south from his home in Goleta.