JRCS: Mesa Marin opens season

Bakersfield, CA - It will be baptism by fire for all but one of the drivers in tomorrow night's Russell/USAC Triple Crown Pro Series opener at Mesa Marin Raceway as they race under the lights as part of the show that is the NASCAR Weekly Racing ...

Bakersfield, CA - It will be baptism by fire for all but one of the drivers in tomorrow night's Russell/USAC Triple Crown Pro Series opener at Mesa Marin Raceway as they race under the lights as part of the show that is the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series.

Only Paso Robles, California driver Randi Pankratz has ever competed on an oval before, but it will be only her second opportunity to drive a mid-engine formula car. Randi is the daughter of 2000 USAC Western States Midget Champion Wally Pankratz. Although new to ovals, almost all her competitors, including the husband and wife team of Christine and JoJo Saunders, are familiar with the heavy g-loading of the Formula Russell cars from racing in Russell's amateur series based at Sears Point, the USAC Formula Russell Championship.


"USAC champion, Wally Pankratz, center, discusses car set-up with his daughter Randi and her mechanic Chris Nelson during practice for the first Russell/USAC Triple Crown race at Mesa Marin Raceway." Photo: Kjell Kallman

Included in the 15 car field is 2000 Jim Russell Rookie of the Year, Ross Fonferko of Wheaton, IL. The 19-year-old began his car-racing career last year, earning the title with two wins and podium finishes in each of the last nine races, placing Fonferko second among 135 drivers participating in the series. The karting champion received a racing scholarship for last year's series as part of his third place finish in the Jim Russell Graduate Run-Offs.

The Triple Crown for 2001 boasts other karting stars that have excelled on three continents. Last year's third place driver in the series and hometown favorite, Cory Turner returns. He and David Mayhew, Atascadero, California, earned their initiation into racing full-sized cars as finalists in the Series to Advance American Racing Talent, S.T.A.A.R.T., a driver development program co-sponsored by Horstman Manufacturing and the Jim Russell Racing Drivers School. Turner and Mayhew each won scholarships for two three-day courses and two weekends in USAC Formula Russell Championship in 2000. Mayhew also earned two starts in the US F2000 series as part of his S.T.A.A.R.T. prize and took his first pro victory in his very first race at Road America in the ACC class.

Phil Kopp of San Diego has two road racing starts in the 175 HP single-seater cars. Kopp moved to Europe when he was just 14 to race karts in the CIK World Championship for Juniors. In a preliminary race he led a field that featured current Benetton Formula 1 driver Jenson Button. South American driver, Victor Hugo Queiroz, finished second in 1990 in the Brazilian Junior A championship to current Arrows Formula 1 driver Enrique Bernoldi.

The season opener at Mesa Marin is the first of three races in the Triple Crown, which is presented by Yokohama Tires. The other two events are on the Winston Cup weekend at Sears Point June 21-23, and with the American Le Mans Series July 20-22 also in Sonoma. Each race has a cash purse of $3,500 including a $200 check for the fastest qualifier of each race. Ten thousand dollars will be divvied up between the top three drivers of the series with the champion receiving two free races with a Speedvision in-car camera in this year's season-ending US F2000 weekend at Daytona, as a supporting event for the Grand American series in September.

<pre> Entry List - Race 1 Russell/USAC Triple Crown Pro Series Mesa Marin Raceway, Bakersfield, CA

Car # Driver Hometown Sponsor 1 John Knudsen Ontario, CA Knudsen Construction Group, Inc. 2 Ross Fonferko Wheaton, IL 3 Taylor Fletcher San Clemente, CA Olive Crest Homes for Abused Children 1-800-4-FOSTER, Global eSoft Inc. 4 Victor Hugo Queiroz Goiania, Brazil 8 David Mayhew Atascadero, CA Precision Polishing, Race Kart Engineering Bieffe Helmets 9 Cory Turner Bakersfield, CA YBN Paint Designs, Allstate Moving Systems, Gemini Moving Specialist 11 Stephen Hill Los Gatos, CA 12 Randi Pankrats Paso Robles, CA TRC Trench Shoring Nohl Ranch Pool Supply 14 Phil Kopp San Diego, CA Technology Financial Services 15 John Shafer Seattle, WA John Shafer, CPA, Edward Jones Investments 16 Kevin McQue Cornwall, NY 17 Bob Hagerty La Porte, TX 18 JoJo Saunders Truckee, CA Tahoe Extreme Sports Camp, Squaw Soccer Camp 19 Tim Butler San Francisco, CA 20 Christine Saunders Truckee, CA Tahoe Extreme Sports Camp, Squaw Soccer Camp

-USAC-

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Series Other open wheel
Drivers Jenson Button , John Knudsen , Wally Pankratz , Taylor Fletcher , Randi Pankratz , David Mayhew , Ed Jones