(STOCKTON, CA--August 24, 1997)---"So close yet so far"--an apt description for the effort of Stockton 99 Speedway rookie Jeff Belletto Saturday night after the 30-year old led 24 laps of the 30-lap Late Model Sportsman main event before succumbing to the relentless pursuit of his 54-year old father, Harry. For "Dad", the feature was his 60th career Stockton 99 win and his fourth of the '97 season in which he maintains a 123-point lead in his quest for a second track championship.
Jeff, a former go-kart champion, brought the field to it's first green and took the first lap lead with fellow Modesto driver Mike Terpstra virtually glued to his bumper. The only passing for the first 20 laps took place from third place back as 1978 and '79 champion Ron Strmiska, Sr. of Manteca traded spots with the senior Belletto before Harry finally flip-flopped back and also passed Terpstra for second on lap-22. "Dad" then slipped under his youngest son on lap-25 and never looked back. It was a good thing as the action got wild on the final lap as Terpstra and the Junior Belletto got together between turns one and two with both sliding high allowing Strmiska and two other cars to move past. At the checkered, it was H. Belletto, Strmiska, another Manteca pilot, Greg Potts, dash winner Nathan Tucker of Sonora and Terpstra.
The BCRA Midgets were on hand for their third and final 1997 Stockton showing and provided a field of 22 cars--including two-time Indianapolis 500 competitor Paul Durant. The 10 year Manteca resident was making his first appearance on the Budweiser-sponsored quarter-mile paved oval and posted the second fast qualifying effort before starting ninth in their 30-lap feature.
Bobby Boone of Palmdale took the early lead with Mark DeBeaumont of Clayton moving to second on lap-six. Boone and DeBeaurnont got side-by-side on lap-10 with DeBeaumont taking the point on the next circuit followed closely by San Carlos' Chad Nichols, who won the two prior BCRA Stockton events. Nichols slipped under DeBeaurnont on lap-20 before the race was halted three laps later when Jim Silva of Manteca spun in turn-one and was hit by Doug Dewitt of Sunnyvale with Dewitt taking a nasty upside down ride onto and off the second turn wall. Fortunately, Dewitt walked away uninjured, and, when racing resumed, it was all Nichols as he made it three-for-three. DeBeaurnont hung on to second with Jimmy Screeton of San Carlos third,, dash winner Floyd Alvis, also from San Carlos, fourth and Sterling Pratz of Mill Valley fifth. Durant, who was the first Indy driver to appear at Stockton since Bill Vukovich, Jr. in 1969, at one point was fourth before succumbing to mechanical ills and ending up 14th.
The Street Stock division produced one of the tightest battles of the season and a first time career win for Dewayne Apedaile of Lodi. Rookie Gered Neely of Tracy took the early lead before bowing to Apedaile on lap-three. John Vanderwerff of Manteca pulled to second and pressured Apedaile until his motor went away in turn-one bringing out a yellow on lap- 14. Pete Anderson, Sr. of Stockton was second when the green was displayed again and took the lead on the next circuit and held through a brief yellow on lap- 17. Anderson and Apedaile then ran side-by-side for three laps before Apedaile took command for good on lap-20. Anderson eventually fell by the wayside and finished out of the top-five. When the checkered was waved, Apedaile was followed by Ted Haflich of Stockton, also with a career best, fast timer Dan Dabbs of North Highlands, and two rookies--early leader Neely and Scott Chappell of Lodi.
Season point leader Jerry Tripp of Stockton finished seventh; but still enjoys a comfortable margin over Dabbs, the defending champion (1506-1232).
The Pick-n-Pull Pure Stock division fired off a non-yellow main event with dash winner Scott McHale of Modesto and point leader Doug Lane of Stockton running one-two for the entire 20-laps. At the checkered, third place went to Gary Shafer, Jr. of Stockton, followed by Alan Ward of Modesto and Stockton's Kannai Scantlen. With four races left including a pair of "double pointers," Lane holds a 114-point lead over Shafer, Jr.