(STOCKTON, CA--September 14, 1997)--With "double-points" and a 50-lap Late Model Sportsman feature event, the crowd at NASCAR-sanctioned Stockton 99 Speedway showed up with great expectations Saturday night and was not disappointed as three champions were crowned. Harry Belletto's Winston 50 triumph enabled the veteran of 27 seasons on 99's Budweiser-sponsored quarter-nnile paved oval to win a season championship for the second time while Stockton drivers-Jerry Tripp and Steve Stacy--popped champagne in celebration of their first crowns in the Street Stock and Grand American Modified divisions.
Rookies Nathan Tucker of Sonora and Jeff Belletto of Modesto--the younger of two Harry Belletto racing siblings--got the luck of the draw that placed them in the front row for the 50-lap feature with Belletto jumping to the early lead and holding on for 14-laps. On the next circuit, Ron Strmiska, Sr. of Manteca got the inside line as the two blasted into turn-one side-by-side with Strmiska sliding high and making contact with the leader. Both cars slid high off turn-two enabling "Papa" Harry to dip to the low side and take the lead. The 54-year old season long point leader was hardly threatened the rest of the way as fellow Modesto driver Mike Terpstra took third on lap-43. That order--of Belletto, Strmiska and Terpstra--reflected the top three in the season point chase with John Gaalswyk of Ripon and Stockton's Larry Tankersley completed the top five at the checkered.
Belletto came into the Winston 50 with a 194 point lead over Strmiska and by winning it (his 61st career main event triumph)--as well as his heat (a track record 99th) and the trophy dasl~ (another track record of 44)--proceeded to expand his margin over the ''Manteca Missile" to 215 (1454- 1239) with only 204-points available over the season's final two races. Having won his f'rst title in 1995 and adding to his collection of Stockton 99 Speedway records since, Belletto reacted to his second crown in a controlled manner: ''I appreciate the attention. At my age, any win is sweet and I am really enjoying running with my boys (Steve and Jeff) and, as long as we can stay competitive, we'll probably stay with it."
Steve Stacy of Stockton entered the night's Grand Am action with a point lead of 219 over Robert Knittel of Lodi and proceeded to nail down the division championship in grand fashion. Initially, Stacy set quick time--tying a division record of 18 season quick trips with two events left to establish a new mark--then took the dash win. His second place heat finish was the only flaw to keep him from a total sweep for the evening.
Danny Contessotto of Stockton took the first lap lead but bowed to Knittel on lap three after two quick yellows for minor spins. A 15th lap re-start saw the lead fall into the hands of Howard Hoffman of Tracy as Stacy made steady progress from his eighth place starting position to take the point on lap-18. The event ran smoothly to the checkered as Stacy posted his sixth feature win of the season ahead of Hoffman, Knittel, Bob Reichmuth of Manteca and Jim Geiger of Stockton. Stacy's margin over Knittel is 260 (1588- 1328) with only 204 available over the final two events.
The Street Stock division was a yellow flag nightmare as seven "cool-it" flags fell with more body parts left on the track than on the cars by the time the checkered flag was displayed. Four cars piled up in turn-two on the first green; and, as the remaining cars ran to the yellow, two other locked up on the front straight-away with Dewayne Apedaile of Lodi taking a hard shot from the retaining wall. Dan Dabbs of North Highlands got the best of the melee by progressing from 19th in line to eighth in a single lap. Incoming point leader Jerry Tripp of Stockton was the next to suffer misfortune as he and Mike Piona got together under the flagstand with Tripp going to the pits and losing a lap in the process. Lap-five saw early leader Ted Haflich of Stockton head to the pits giving the point to another Stockton driver, Mark Hernandez, as the yellows continued to fly.
Dabbs grabbed the lead on lap-seven as the field finally settled in and pulled off a smooth run to the finish for his seventh feature win of the season to add to his fast time on the night. Heat winner Cary Treadway of Stockton ran second followed by John Vanderwerff of Manteca, Pete Anderson, Sr. of Stockton and heat and dash winner Jerry Crawford, also of Stockton. Despite his rough night, Tripp's ninth-place finish gave him a 230-point lead (1717-1487) over Dabbs to secure his first division championship.
The Pure Stock division produced a first lap feature lead by Donna Treadway of Stockton, who quickly bowed to David Houck of Turlock on lap two, who in turn never looked back as he recorded his second season feature win. Stockton drivers filled the next three slots in the form of Gary Shafer, Jr., Kannai Scantlen and Kevin Touchstone with Aaron Mundello of Denair completing the top-five.
Incoming point leader Doug Lane of Stockton won the dash, but fell
victim to an early crash and did not finish the event. As a result, Lane holds a 135-point
margin (1087-952) over Shafer, Jr. with two events to go.