SWS: Stockton: Round four preview

For NASCAR Elite Division, Featherlite Southwest Series drivers: Speed + Skill = Stockton Success STOCKTON, Calif. (April 21, 2003) - For 58 years Stockton 99 Speedway has delivered unique motorsports events to area race fans and this ...

For NASCAR Elite Division, Featherlite Southwest Series drivers:
Speed + Skill = Stockton Success

STOCKTON, Calif. (April 21, 2003) - For 58 years Stockton 99 Speedway has delivered unique motorsports events to area race fans and this Saturday, April 26, the NASCAR Elite Division, Featherlite Southwest Series returns for the 20th time since 1986 in the running of the Budweiser "125" presented by Havoline.

Stockton 99 Speedway was a mainstay in the series' early years running two events per season from 1986 to 1993. The series made single visits to the quarter-mile oval from 1994 to 1996 but then was absent from the track's schedule until 2002 when local hero Ron Strmiska Jr. stole the show as the Featherlite Southwest Series returned to one of the West's oldest continually operated racing facilities.

Stockton 99 Speedway is a track that can reach out and bite you if a driver makes the smallest of mistakes. Track experience and good corner speed will mean the difference in qualifying when more than thirty-five drivers of the Featherlite Southwest Series attempt to qualify for one of 22 starting positions in Saturday's 125-lap race and vie for their share of $44,871 in posted awards in race four of the 14-race championship series.

The tight confines of Stockton 99 Speedway's quarter-mile would leave the casual observer thinking that passing would be at a premium, but just ask Ron Strmiska Jr. of nearby Manteca, Calif., winner of last year's event, and you'll find out just how much side-by-side racing is in store at Stockton.

"Stockton is an action track," said Strmiska. "The track is so different at each end that it creates a lot of passing opportunities. You can have your car set up to get through turns one and two, but then you give up something three and four. So somebody is always getting passed."

Strmiska goes on to add that qualifying will be tough, especially for the local guys. "I have been going to Stockton for 30 years," Strmiska said. "I started out as a crew chief for my dad, then later started driving, and all the experience in the world will not mean a thing if you don't qualify. I know I can race well, but it is qualifying that is going to make the difference."

Last year Strmiska may have stunned the series regulars, and those drivers are anxious to write a little bit of history themselves. One driver who has raced a lot of laps at Stockton, and enjoys his second year on the Featherlite Southwest Series, is Steve Belletto from Modesto, Calif. Belletto, a two-time track champion at Stockton and son of Stockton 99 Speedway icon Harry Belletto, would like nothing more then to win his first series race in front of his hometown fans.

"Winning at Stockton would be pretty special," Belletto said. "I have had success here in the Late Models over the years, and to win a Featherlite Southwest Series race at Stockton in front of the great fans we have here would be big in my career."

Craig Raudman of Bakersfield, Calif. missed last season's event but has won at Stockton back in 1996 and likes racing on the tight and tricky ovals. "Stockton is a blast to drive," Raudman said. "There is a line around that place and if you're on it, then you are going to be fast. The entry into turn three is the most important. If you get a good run on a guy into three, then you'll make the pass out of turn four."

"The local guys like Strmiska will be hard to beat," Raudman said. "They have a lot of laps around that place and that will make it tough for the rest of us."

Defending Featherlite Southwest Series champion Eddy McKean from Jerome, Idaho likes his chances at Stockton. "We continue to learn new things about our car," McKean said. "We went to Stockton last year with the wrong set up and just chased it all day. We are ready this year. You have to have your best stuff at each race, and I am bringing the best."

Other notable drivers that have experience at Stockton include Jim Pettit II of Prunedale, Calif. who won last year's Bud Pole Award and has tallied several wins in Late Model competition over the years. Escalon, California's Eric Holmes who sits fourth in the series standings has had success on the historic oval, and local legend Dave Byrd of Hollister, Calif. is a driver that everyone never counts out.

The Budweiser "125" presented by Havoline is set to take the green flag at 8:30 pm PST this Saturday with the Ron Strmiska Jr. looking to see if lightning indeed strikes twice.


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Drivers Eric Holmes , Jim Pettit II , Craig Raudman , Steve Belletto , Dave Byrd