(STOCKTON, CA--July 27, 1997)--It took 112 events dating back to August 8th of 1992, but 1978 and '79 Late Model Sportsman track champion Ron Strmiska, Sr. of Manteca finally returned to the victory circle Saturday night at NASCAR-sanctioned Stockton 99 Speedway. Coming into the event running second in season points behind 1995 champion Harry Belletto of Modesto, the two went head to head in the prelim events setting the stage for a showdown in the 30-lap Winston Racing Series feature.
Troy Ermish of Fremont was on the pole for the 12-car finale, but Strmiska blasted to the first lap lead from his third starting position. Two early race yellow flags slowed the action as Nathan Tucker of Sonora saw his new engine erupt in smoke into turn one, followed by a spin on the next re-start by Rocklin's Tim Bost. The field then fell into single file and ran smoothly until the half-way point when a yellow flew for a spin off turn two by Mark Youngblood of Stockton.
Belletto, after starting eighth, finally moved into second on lap-16 with Mike Terpstra of Modesto hot on his heels putting the top three point leaders out in front. Though Belletto did an occasional tap dance on Strmiska's bumper, the 56-year old "Manteca Missile" was not to be denied as he held off Belletto for his 28th career main event victory. Bost returned from his early spin to finish fourth with Ermish completing the top-five. Unfortunately for Strmiska, his long sought feature triumph had little effect on the season point chase as Belletto--through his fast time, heat win and second place dash effort--was able to amass one more point on the evening than his closest pursuer. With nine more races to go, Belletto's margin over Strmiska is 143 (960-817).
Another Manteca pilot, Paul Guthmiller, continued his mid-season mastery of the Grand American Modified division--as he posted his third straight $300 victory in a wire to wire run. Starting on the pole for the 25-lap romp, Guthmiller survived four yellows for minor spins that eventually enabled season point leader Steve Stacy of Stockton to move into second for a final battle to the checkered flag. The winner was able to resist all of Stacy's efforts in registering his fourth 1997 and seventh career victory. Third place fell to first-time Stockton runner and former Roseville champion Eddie Laws of Yuba City, who was followed by Robert Knittel of Lodi. Fifth went to defending GAM champion Robert Miller of San Jose, who after qualifying changed his complete motor and was forced to fight his way through an eight-car semi-main and start at the rear of the 18-car field.
Guthmiller's three-race streak--giving him four wins in nine starts--has enabled him to move into the top-ten Grand Am point standings for the first time on the season. The one-two point runners--Stacy and Knittel--also have four feature wins. Stacy's margin over Knittel is 133 (1147-1014).
Jerry Davis of Modesto was on the pole in the 16-car Street Stock main event, but was overpowered by Dewayne Apedaile of Lodi when the green flag was displayed. Apedaile held tough and gained ground on the field several times only to have his lead cut due to several
yellows for spin outs. On a lap-12 re-start, Apedaile gave way to Cary Treadway of Stockton with season point leader Jerry Tripp progressing to second on the next go-round. Apedaile's night ended moments later when he spun sideways in turn one and was T-boned by Davis.
On the ensuing re-start, Tripp outraced Treadway for the point and the Stockton pilot was able to cruise home with his ninth feature win in 16 starts. Treadway was able to hang on to second; while third went to dash winner and defending champion Dan Dabbs of North Highlands. The top-five was completed by Stockton driver Jeny Crawford and John Vanderwerff of Manteca.
With eight Street Stock events left, Tripp has a legitimate chance of matching the division record of 13 wins set by Paul Guthmiller in 1993. Tripp currently holds the record for heat wins in the division at 20 and is tied with Robert Knittel for dash wins in a season at eight. His dominance is reflected in the season point standings where he holds a 291-point lead over Dabbs (1329-1038) with Vanderwerff third at 1031.
16 cars answered the bell for the 20-lap Pure Stock main event. In a class where bumping and grinding is the norm' John McCarty of Stockton was the early leader before bowing to Alan Ward of Modesto. Ward ran unmolested until lap-13 before being passed by Doug Lane of Stockton, with Scott McHale of Modesto taking second one lap dater. Lane picked up his second win of the season but first since April 12 as he was followed to the checkered flag by fast timer McHale, Ward, and two Stockton drivers--Kannai Scantlen and Brian Castillou. Lane's win also enabled the first year driver to wrest the season point lead from Stockton's Gary Shafer, Jr., who was forced to watch from the sidelines while serving a suspension. Lane's margin over Shafer is 26 (774-748).
The Mini Cups cars were back in action for the fourth time in the '97 season with fast time going to Donnie Cannell of Riverbank. Heat wins fell to Jason White of Stockton and Larry Hoover, Jr. of Turlock. Hoover also collected the dash win, then found himself on the front row for their 20-lap feature event. Hoover led rather handily for the first 15 laps, but a yellow flag set up an exciting finish that saw him nip Cannell and James Wright of Tur]ock at the checkered flag. The top-five was completed by White and Jetf Womack of Modesto.