(STOCKTON, CA--May 25, 1997)--Defending champion Steve Belletto of Modesto led the first 94 laps of the first leg of the third annual Budweiser/ACDelco, I.B. Benedict Tri-Holiday Classic series for Late Model Sportsman at Stockton 99 Speedway Saturday night before succumbing to red hot Dave Byrd of Los Gatos. Byrd applied tremendous pressure to Belletto from lap-90 before the leader suddenly lost control and climbed the turn three-four retaining wall enabling the track's 1996 champion to collect his third win in as many appearances in 1997. As a result, the veteran driver, who is in his third year of piloting the Tim Gillit owned Conti Trucking sponsored Monte Carlo, took home the $2,000 winner's purse and a three-point lead towards the $5,000 to be shared by the top-10 runners after the final Tri-Holiday event on Labor Day.
A field of 20 cars took to Stockton's quarter-mile paved oval with 27-year track veteran Harry Belletto on the pole alongside son Steve, who posted fast qualifying time for the evening. The stage was set on the opening lap when the senior Belletto tried to hold off Steve for the initial lead. With Harry on the inside, contact was made coming off turn-four resulting in a spin by "dad" who was forced to hurry to rejoin the field before losing a lap under the yellow flag scoring in place for the event. The early leaders included the younger Belletto, followed by Byrd, Mike Terpstra of Modesto, Nathan Tucker of Sonora and Ron Strmiska, Sr. of Manteca.
On lap-16, Larry Tankersley of Stockton climbed into the fourth spot before the first yellow flag was displayed two laps later for a spin by John Gaalswyk of Ripon. By lap-23, Tankersley was third, but the biggest move was being made by the 54-year old Belletto, who regained eighth by the quarter mark.
The most serious problem of the night occurred on lap-27 as Terpstra, running fourth, lost the rear end in his Pontiac Grand Prix which in turn broke the drive shaft and ripped through the car's floorboard severely cutting his right arm. Under the ensuing red flag, Harry Belletto made his way to the pits for yet another back of the pack re-start. With 16 cars still running, by lap-44, "dad" Belletto was back to fifth within eyesight of the battle up front between son Steve and Byrd. Their tete-a-tete was interrupted momentarily following a lap-59 yellow for a minor tangle. On the re-start, the crowd of 2,267 came to their feet as Tankersley out shot Byrd into the first turn to take over second. The two then ran several laps side-by-side before Byrd reclaimed the number two spot.
With 70 laps in the books and a normal 30-lap main event left, 15 cars were still running. Eight laps later, it was still Steve Belletto and Byrd but Harry Belletto passed Tankersley for third. Entering the final 10 laps, Byrd began to put the pressure on the younger Belletto, tapping him several times down the front chute and off turn-two. As Steve dove into turn-three, his overheated tires appeared to let him down and he took a nasty ride up onto the outside walk Fortunately, Belletto's California Hot Wood sponsored car was not seriously damaged, but the way was cleared for Byrd to register his first ever Tri-Holiday victory. At the checkered, the senior Belletto was second followed by Tankersley, Tucker and Greg Potts of Manteca.
Byrd's Tri-Holiday standing margin is only three over both Harry Belletto and Tankersley (51-48) with two other drivers--Tucker and Potts--tied for fourth with 45 points. The senior Belletto, meanwhile, widened his Winston Racing Series season long point lead over Prunedale's Jim Pettit II to 57 (438-381).
17 cars lined up for the Grand American Modified feature with fast timer Steve Stacy of Stockton, the incoming point leader, in the 10th starting spot, and Jeff Thomas, also of Stockton, on the pole. Thomas led two laps before spinning out on his own on the front chute surrendering the lead to Mike Summerlot of Turlock. On the next go-round, Summerlot and Greg Potts of Manteca rubbed together going into turn one with Potts, who was driving in two divisions on the night, taking the lead. By lap-15, Potts led trophy dash winner Howard Hoffman of Tracy, Chris Saxon of Sparks, Nevada, Bud Beltrama of Stockton and Bob Reichmuth of Manteca in a non-yellow romp with the only change at the final flag being fourth and fifth which went to Reichmuth and Stacy. A post race motor claim took place as Thomas put up the money to buy the winner's motor.
A 16-car Street Stock field fired off for their 25-lap feature with Bob Hogue of Stockton on the pole and fast timer Jerry Tripp of Stockton in the 14th slot. David Stricklin of Stockton took the early lead as a second-lap yellow jammed up the field and allowed Tripp to execute a daring move to jump to sixth. By lap-five, Stockton drivers Jerry Crawford and Kim Mountjoy held second and third, with Crawford taking the point one circuit later with another Stockton pilot, Pete Anderson, Sr., sliding to second on lap-nine. Tripp took fourth on lap-10, third a lap later and second the following go-round. On a 14th lap re-start, Tripp took the lead and racked up his fifth win of the season followed by Anderson, John Vanderwerff of Manteca, Crawford and Mountjoy.
A 13-car Super Mini-Cup fneld put on one of the best battles at the track this season. Larry Hoover, Jr. of Turlock led the first six laps before falling off the pace and eventually into the pits. That set up a battle between record setting fast qualifier Jeff Womack of Modesto and Tommy Bostic of Turlock, as the two swapped the lead six times in 13 laps with Bostic taking the checkered. Both were disqualified, however, following a post-race inspection giving the win to Jason White of Stockton. Next in line came James Wright of Turlock, Brian Bettencourt of Modesto, Donnie Cannell of Riverbank and Tim Treat of San Ramon.