Mendenhall cruises in Cajon opener. EL CAJON, CA (04/12/03). Mike Mendenhall figures to one of the drivers to beat at Cajon Speedway this year. He got his season off to a good start Saturday night by taking the victory in the season opener for...
Mendenhall cruises in Cajon opener.
EL CAJON, CA (04/12/03). Mike Mendenhall figures to one of the drivers to beat at Cajon Speedway this year. He got his season off to a good start Saturday night by taking the victory in the season opener for the late model sportsman. It marked his fourth opening night victory since moving up the sportsman in 1995.
The race was called after 38 of the scheduled 40-laps due to a pending 11:00 curfew. The start of the race had been delayed one hour and 15 minutes when some of the lights at the track failed. Portable lighting was brought in from the neighboring motocross track to allow the show to continue.
John Manke took the early point lead by running second to Mendenhall. Manke was also the night's quick qualifier and earned the Sid's Auto Body Super Hard Charger Award for earning the most passing points. Rounding out the top five were Stephen Peace, Ron Overman, and Jerry Gay. Overman and Gay had frustrating evenings. Overman's crew fought mechanical ills all night. Gay was running fifth in the feature when he was tagged and spun out of fifth lap on lap 7. There was no yellow flag thrown and he lost nearly a lap. Running just ahead of the leaders, Gay finally was able to get back in the hunt when the race was finally slowed just seven laps from the checkered.
Rob Freeman outlasted defending champion Rich Green in the 25-lap street stock main event. Hector Leon got around Marty Schmidt in the final circuits to take honors in the pony stocks. Brian Fitzgibbons led wire-to-wire to score his first triumph in the bomber stocks.
Mendenhall led all the way in the sportsman contest in his Carl Burger Dodge. He was pressured much of the way by David Beat. Mendenhall ceded the low groove to Beat and the two touched in turn two on successive rounds on laps 24 and 25. But Beat backed off each time and allowed the leader to gather it back up. Beat's fine ride ended when he looped it in turn 3 on lap 31. The race had run non-stop until that point. Then five rounds later Beat and first nighter Scott Moses got together exiting turn four. Moses ended up in the crashwall. Two rounds later the race was called after Bob Wickey slapped the wall in turn three.
The race winner admitted after the race that his came had come to the track unprepared. "I have to thank Jeff Seifert for his help with the shock settings and Bobby Roland and Jeff Wade for figuring out why the motor was missing," the winner noted. "We changed so many things. It missed on Wednesday when we were out here (practicing). We thought we fixed it. Then we thought we fixed it before qualifying. We thought we fixed it before the heat race." "I can't believe how many little things we messed up," he continued. "I forgot my radio (when he went on the track for the main event). We were really rusty -- just not prepared."
Mendenhall knew he had his hands full with the veteran Beat, who says he may race as many as ten times this year. "I was worried about him," Mendenhall stated. "I was having problems down in one and two after halfway. In three and four I was really good. David was getting me in one and two. I kept telling myself don't overdrive it getting into the corner. I wasn't going to give it away. He was going to have to pass me. But David was nice to me and next time I will return the favor. At halfway, I was thinking what am I going to do with this guy for twenty more laps. He had problems with his brakes and that worked out for me."
Freeman had his hands full with Green in the closing stages of the street stock contest. After starting fifth Freeman slowly worked his way forward. He overhauled pacesetting Ivan Harrison on lap 19. Green put up a valiant effort in the final corner but fell a car length short. Another half a car length back was fast qualifier Eric Ferguson, who grabbed the point lead after round one of the Shortrack Series. Harrison slipped to fourth by the checkered while sophomore Eric Seene took fifth.
In the pony stocks perennial top runner the story was that Ed Hale didn't win, but his old car almost did. Ed built a new Mustang in the off-season. His teammate Marty Schmidt moved into Ed's old car. Well Schmidt came within just a few laps of putting that machine that carried Hale to so many victories into victory lane again. After a stirring duel with George Behlman and Hector Leon, Schmidt ended up second to Leon, who was the division's fast timer. Behlman was a close third. Second year racer Thomas Winter was fourth while Tim Beeney rebounded from a couple of mid-race incidents to finish fifth.
Brian Fitzgibbons was a rookie last year in the bombers. But the 20-year-old didn't run enough races to be eligible for rookie of the year. Still he was the division's top finishing first year racer and nearly won a main event. Fitzgibbons drives an early model Chevelle that was one of Ron Brown's original street stocks before John Ahrendt campaigned it in the same division for many years. The pretty purple car was resurrected as a bomber for Brian last year. Fitzgibbons wasted no time making his mark in 2003 as he led all the way in the 20-lapper for bombers. Scott Denton, who still is hunting for his first elusive victory, pushed him hard the entire distance. Hayden Smith was third ahead of Perry Humphries and Thomas Osborne.
"On the first start, the 44 car (Gary Lamb) and Scott (Denton) got by me and just took off," Fitzgibbons explained while his young niece was trying to get his attention with a purple balloon. "I was thinking I wasn't going to do very good tonight. Then when the race was restarted, I was thinking I had another shot at it. The 44 car wasn't giving me a line at all. I was rubbing him down. Then when he got on it the last time, I just jumped on it and got a run on him."
"Scott pressured me pretty good (for most of the race). I could see behind him that there were no cars for a straightaway or so. I was ready to settle for second. But with five laps to go I was thinking I could win this thing." Fitzgibbons' is a small family operation. His brother-in-law Norm Fingers works as his crew chief. His dad Ed and mom Sue both raced at the track for years and pitch in wherever possible. His stepmom Jackie is one of his biggest boosters and helpers.
The evening started with the track paying tribute to its family members serving in the military and fighting in Iraq. All active military were on the track for the playing of the National Anthem. Amber Lee Harmon, whose husband Chad was a rookie in the pony stocks last year, took a ceremonial lap. Chad Harmon is a United States Marine helping fight the war. Amber intends to field the pony stock this year until her husband returns home. Having not driven the car until the second hot lap session Saturday night, she stayed out of the way in the main event and was credited with 12th place. Way to go Amber.
PIT NOTES: Joe and Robby Totten came home first in the train race. There were two rollovers in that contest -- Danny Hildebrand and Travis Johnson went over first followed a few laps later by James Boissier and Brian Vahalik. There were no injuries.