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Originally Published Sunday, April 28, 2002
By Bill Poindexter
Record Assistant Sports Editor
And to think Ron Strmiska Jr. almost watched the Stockton 125 on Saturday night.
Involved in a crash late in the B main event, a red light, a little rain and a review of a NASCAR rule helped Strmiska transfer to the first NASCAR Southwest Series main event at Stockton 99 Speedway since 1996.
The Manteca driver started the Stockton 125 in the back, but he finished in front for his first Southwest Series victory and second consecutive win at Stockton 99. Strmiska also won the SRL Wild West Shootout opener on April 7.
Strmiska led the final three laps of the 125-lap battle royal, which saw 22 cars bump and grind from start to finish. He slipped inside of Burney Lamar of West Sacramento for the lead on lap 122.
"We had a great car. The guys did a great job putting the car back together after the B main," Strmiska said.
Sixteen drivers qualified through qualifying and four through provisionals. Strmiska wasn't one of them.
He was part of a 17-car B main that included popular locals Steve Belletto and Mike David of Modesto, David Philpott of Tracy, and Eric Holmes of Escalon.
It was late in the B main that Strmiska and Adam Andretti of Brownsburg, Ind., came together along the frontstretch. Strmiska got turned around. Andretti got turned belly up in a wreck that had a crowd estimated at more than 4,000 jump to its feet.
Andretti walked away from the crash. Strmiska was left sitting on the frontstretch while Holmes and Philpott slipped by.
Then the red light came on, and rain followed. It was light but enough to wet the track and halt racing for close to an hour.
Southwest Series officials pulled the plug two laps before the end of the scheduled 25-lap race. After checking and confirming a NASCAR rule that called for officials to revert back to the last completed lap, Strmiska gained the second transfer to the main with Belletto, who won.
"It was a surprise to me we made the show," Strmiska said.
But Strmiska did, then he stole the show from Lamar, who took the top spot from early leader John Baker of Tucson, Ariz., on lap 48.
Lamar led for the next 74 laps, and it didn't look anyone had anything for him. And no one did. But Lamar developed a problem late, and Strmiska began to reel him in after slipping inside of Todd Souza of Watsonville for second place on lap 118.
"We had an awesome car," said Lamar, who had consolation in knowing he took over the Southwest Series points lead from problem-plagued Eddy McKean of Jerome, Idaho. "I think a tire or something was going down. It's just one of those deals."
Souza finished third, Bob Lyon of Aqua Dulce fourth and Belletto seventh in a near repeat of his performance April 6 at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield. Belletto won the B main that night and finished fourth in the 125-lap feature.
"When you're running those qualifying races, anything can happen," Belletto said. "We survived. We passed a few cars, not many. Coming out of our home track fifth, we're happy."
Belletto also was happy for Strmiska.
"How about Strmiska?" he said. "I'm happy for him. Good for him."
Harold Rieker of Orangevale broke the Western Late Model track record held for a whole seven days by Wes Miller of Delhi, then won the main.
Rieker, who set the pace in qualifying at 14.174 seconds, took the lead on the second laps of the 30-lap feature.
The Pure Stock main event wasn't completed at press time. Michael Wendt of Lodi, the 2001 rookie of the year, was the only driver under 17 seconds in qualifying at 16.925.
* To reach assistant sports editor Bill Poindexter, phone 546-8289 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org