(STOCKTON, CA--September 22, 1996)--Dave Byrd is a single point away from clinching the NASCAR Winston
Racing Series Late Model Sportsman championship at Stockton 99 Speedway. The Los Gatos driver put on an impressive show Saturday night forging from a seventh-place starting position to post his seventh feature victory of the season--leaving him on the doorstep of regaining the title he first won in 1994. With one week left, the "double point" Taco Bell 100 on September 28, Byrd leads defending champion Harry Belletto of Modesto by 122 points--the exact total of points that will be available in the season finale. In order for Belletto to salvage a tie, Byrd would have to get shutout, while Belletto would have to sweep the field--be the fast qualifier, win the trophy dash and Taco Bell, an unlikely occurrence.
Two time champion (1978 and '79) Ron Strmiska, Sr. of Manteca was the initial leader of the 30-lap feature. The pace was slowed by a pair of early caution flags; however, the action heated up as Byrd made a move from second under Strmiska to take the lead as they passed the flagstand on lap five. Byrd's move was duplicated by Belletto setting up what appeared to be a 24-lap chase to the checkered flag. The race went sour for Belletto on the 22nd go-round as a tire went down coming out of turn four and he was hit from behind by his son Steve dropping both to the back of the field. It was all downhill for Byrd from that point on as he sailed home ahead of Strmiska, two Stockton pilots--Brent Seitz and Larry Tankersley and the first top-five effort by rookie Randy Liles of Dinuba.
Steve Stacy of Stockton was the unlikely winner of the 25-lap Grand American Modified main--unlikely only because his car was seemingly bent beyond repair a week ago. After working all week and completing repairs just in time to qualify, the first-year GAM competitor drew the pole starting position. Only one brief yellow flag was displayed on the third circuit as Stacy led Paul Guthmiller of Manteca and Wes Miller of Turlock on a wild run until Miller pulled-up lame in the late going allowing Tony Silva of Sacramento to grab third slot at the finish. Robert Miller of San Jose and Stockton's Geano Contessotto completed the top five.
Stacy's triumph was his second of the season; while Miller's effort enabled him to wrap-up his first ever paved track championship. After winning the NASCAR Pacific Coast Region crown while racing on dirt at Watsonville and Antioch in 1993, Miller moved to Stockton's Budweiser and Plummer Pontiac sponsored quarter-mile paved oval in 1994. In 24 1996 starts, Miller has registered 18 wins while finishing outside the top-five only once. With a single event left, Miller leads runner-up rookie driver Silva by 146 points (1612-1466)
Jarvey Whatley, Jr. of Ceres took the early lead in the night's Street Stock action as 19 drivers packed the track on the initial start. A red flag flew on the first attempt to start as Jeremy Hammon of Lodi took a hard hit into the front wall and careened into Richard Gunter of Stockton and Scott Hoffman of Tracy. As a result, all three were trailered before the second green was waved. Fourth place starter Victor Machado of Escalon worked to the inside of Whatley on the seventh lap and took the lead on the next pass.
During the meantime, Jerry Tripp of Stockton was slowly working his way toward the front. A lap-15 yellow slowed the pace and Tripp overpowered Machado to move to the front on the following pass to register his 11th feature win of the season. Whatley, Jr. hung on to third with John Vanderwerff of Manteca and Bud Beltrama of Stockton completing the top five.
While North Highlands Dan Dabbs clinched the Street Stock championship a week ago, the second, third and fourth positions are still up for grabs between Tripp (1370), Vanderwerff ( 13 l 2) and Machado ( 1302) with one race to go.
Pure Stock division action was wild and crazy as 24 cars competed for 20 laps. The melee produced a first time win for Rick Bentz of Lodi after he moved from fourth to first in just two laps. His initial victory did not come easy however, as two Stockton drivers Gary Shaefer, Jr. and Kevin Touchstone played bumper tag with the front runner for most of the race. Touchstone eventually fell by the wayside enabling Shaefer to post his best finish with Dave Wiles of Denair cracking the top-three for the first time. Next in line when the checkered was waved came Alan Ward of Modesto and Richard Teicheira of Manteca.