A general upgrading of the track is done in the off-season this year with new asphalt being laid down, and the current front straight line-up area being created. Track Manager Whitey Rich undertakes the heavy effort to have the large tires dug in and stood on end as they now appear. Retired late model driver Orvil Norton takes over the Chief Steward position, and retired modified driver Earl Summers signs on as the head tech man.
As would be expected the new track surface allowed the drivers to go wild with records, including the first ever all-14 second L.M.S. field. Ivan Baldwin, Norman David, Ron Lyon, Ken Boyd, Phil Tilbury, and Jim Reich all set track records, with Tilbury becoming the first driver into the 13 second bracket and Reich holding the final best number at 13.916. 'Big Al' Gard of Stockton becomes the first hobby driver into the 14 second bracket with a 14.968 clocking on May 12th. Gard lowers the mark four more times in 84 to the current unbroken 14.734 level.
Current defending 1996 late model champion Dave Byrd of Los Gatos makes his first appearance at Stockton this season, as does a racer who will become a living legend over the years, Rip Van Winkle.
A near tragic and freak accident took place on June thirtieth, as Kevin Gottula and John Unger made contact off the fourth turn on the start of the night's fourth heat. Unger's car came up the front straight wall destroying the flag stand and inflecting major injuries to flagman Ron Roach of Stockton. Unger's car continued down the front walkway ripping up yards of fencing without additional major fan injury. For only the second time in the division's twelve year history, the track was closed for the night.
Just seven day later, after repairs were made and the year's Firecracker 100 was run, Louis Fry of Stockton took a wild ride and impaled his car on the front straight fencing just short of the flagstand. Stand in flagman Jack Houston was ten rows into the grandstands before the car stopped, showing his still famous reactions. Retired Late Model driver Dean Hendricks of Stockton took over the flag duties for the remainder of the season due to Jack's busy schedule.
On-track competition this year was a mixed bag, with Baldwin and Tilbury sharing seven fast times each. Bob Strandwold mastered the dash wins with five. Tim Gillit notched twenty main top five finishes, with Baldwin notching the season title ahead of Gillit and first season performer Troy Beebe of Modesto. Gottula and Belletto also looked good in season ending number for the year.
Al Gard Sr. put on a show in the hobby ranks that looked like Sherman's march to the sea in civil war days as he set a division all time standard of twenty-four fast times, along with thirteen main wins, nineteen main top five runs, and nineteen total wins. The only driver to outpace him in the stats was Tony Pasada, who cracked eleven dash wins, including a record setting five in a row. Gard took the division championship with Patty Clement of Stockton, Scott Tavares of Sacramento, and Sal Rubio of Modesto also scoring well.
Chuck Bailey of Stockton is the year's semi main champ, with season rookie honors going to Troy Beebe. Dave Irwin lands the most improved award, with Stockton's Jerry Crawford landing the Sportsman award.
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