Originally Published Friday, August 31, 2001 --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Belletto shoots for three titles
By Bill Poindexter
Record Assistant Sports Editor
Steve Belletto's racing career is like a three-course meal at the moment.
When he straps into his Late Model Sportsman racer Saturday at Stockton 99 Speedway, he'll be trying to: a) win his third Tri-Holiday Classic points championship in the seven-year history of the event; b) extend his points lead in his bid for a second consecutive track championship; and c) move up in the NASCAR Pacific Coast Region standings.
One result will accomplish all three: Win.
Belletto leads Dave Byrd by five in Tri-Holiday points and brother Jeff Belletto by 32 in track points, and he's fifth in the region.
''I'd love to pull off another win, win the Tri-Holiday again,'' said Steve Belletto, who has six victories this season and 15 in his career. ''That would be nice.''
''He has a big month ahead of him,'' Stockton 99 general manager Ken Gross said Wednesday. ''There's the regional title on the line, the track championship on the line.''
But first, there's the Tri-Holiday to be won.
There have been 20 races in Tri-Holiday Classic history. Belletto, 36, has won five and finished in the top five in 10. But a big car count is expected for this Labor Day weekend show, and everyone will be gunning for him. That includes Belletto's little brother and his dad. Harry Belletto, a two-time track champion, trails Steve by nine in Tri-Holiday points, and Jeff trails by 21.
The Modesto family has been hot. Jeff Belletto and Harry Belletto won the twin 38-lap mains on Aug. 11.
''My brother has been coming on strong the last couple of weeks, both of them,'' Steve Belletto said. ''I don't know what's going on over there. I want to sneak over there when the lights are down, see what's going on.''
The list of potential hitmen extends outside the family. Offering $2,000 to win tends to motivate drivers.
Byrd, a two-time track champion from San Jose, can win the Tri-Holiday title and is third in the track points race, 48 behind Steve Belletto.
''I talked to the zero car, and they feel like they got their ducks in a row, so they're ready,'' Gross said of Byrd and car owner Tim Gillit.
Gross also said Bob Strandwold of Modesto, Greg Potts of Morada, Ron Strmiska Jr. of Manteca, Troy Ermish of Fremont and Bobby Hogge IV of Salinas are scheduled to race. Strandwold started his season late but had a win and a second in twin 38-lap mains June 9. Potts will run Late Model and Grand American Modified machines. Strmiska has missed considerable time since a fire destroyed his car, but he'll return with a new racer. Hogge is second in points at Watsonville Speedway.
Stockton 99 rookies Joey Zampa of Napa, Eric Schmidt of Roseville and Chris Wadsworth of Oakley are waging a war of their own, and they could get in Belletto's way. They're 1-2-3 in track rookie points. Zampa leads Schmidt by 10 and Wadsworth by 81. The top rookie in points will win $2,500.
Steve Belletto is aware of their presence.
''At the beginning of the year, they took their lumps. But they hung out. They've stuck with it,'' he said. ''There are a lot of guys that are flat out gettin' it. Who's to say Saturday night won't be that night?''
* To reach assistant sports editor Bill Poindexter, phone 546-8289 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Tri-Holiday Classic Past champions
1995 Bob Strandwold
1996 Steve Belletto
1997 Dave Byrd
1998 Ken Boyd
1999 Steve Belletto
2000 Jim Pettit II
2001 points standings
1. Steve Belletto 113
2. Dave Byrd 108
3. Harry Belletto 104
4. Jeff Belletto 92
5. Ron Strmiska Jr. 83