(STOCKTON, CA--March 29, 1998)--Stockton 99 Speedway celebrated the start of it's 52nd season with twin 50-lap main events for Late Model Sportsman and Grand American Modifieds Sunday as part of the Budweiser Cavalcade of Racing. The NASCAR Winston Racing Series action saw Jason Fensler of Wilton top a 22-car Late Model field; while Mark Welch of Orangevale bested a 27-car Grand Am gathering.
The GAM feature was first off the grid and it did not take long for the venerable Speedway's new retaining wall to be tested as outside pole sitter Cole Tiwater of Modesto was pinned against the back straight as Paul Guthmiller of Manteca raced back to the yellow to become the first of many front runners. Lap-two saw another change at the point in favor of Darren Thomas of Atwater. Defending division champion Steve Stacy of Stockton was next as he took charge on the ninth circuit and held forth through lap-16 when Welch got his turn.
The two stayed close to a 20th-lap yellow for a stalled car. However, on the re-start, Stacy and Fensler, who was doing double duty in both the Grand Am's and Late Models, got together off turn-four forcing Stacy to the back with Welch and Guthmiller occupying first and second. On the ensuing re-start, racing luck went Stacy's way as Guthmiller and Welch tangled in turn-one and collected eight cars in the process. Stacy avoided the mess and circled back to a red flag in third behind Fensler and Walt Haas of Antioch.
When those two collided and spun on lap-27, it was Stacy's turn again. This time, he was able to hang on until the 45th circuit before Welch once again regained the lead to come home a winner and pick up the $750 first place money. Stacy ended up second, followed by Guthmiller, Robert Knittel of Lodi and Danny Contessotto of Stockton.
The Late Model 50-lapper started with a bang, too, when Troy Ermish of Fremont got loose on the back straight on the green flag lap and collected Bob Strandwold of Modesto as both cars slammed into the newly reinforced pit gate exit. Ermish's new mount suffered serious damage and, although the darnage was less to Strandwold's Tim Gillit owned Chevrolet Lumina, both were done for the day. Buddy Dold of San Leandro, making his Stockton 99 debut, took the point on the re-start and ran unmolested to lap-25 when Fensler, who started sixth, closed and began to apply pressure. The two bobbed and weaved for 13 laps before Fensler got under Dold as they approached slower traffic. Unfortunately, Dold got pinned against the back stretch wall when the two front runners sandwiched Mark Youngblood of Stockton, who was trying to get out of the leaders' way.
With 10 cars remaining, Fensler cruised to the final flag gaining his first Stockton feature triumph since September 24 of 1994 and pocketing the $1,500 first place money. Second place went to John Gaalswyk of Ripon with Manteca's Greg Potts, Ken Boyd of Ceres and Rocklin's Phil Perry completing the top-five.
The twin 50-lap feature opening day program was complemented by 25 lappers for the Street Stock and Pure Stocks. Ted Haflich of Stockton was early Street Stock pacesetter from his outside pole position but gave way to another Stockton pilot Pete Anderson, Sr. on lap-three. Anderson was never headed as the 25 laps were run with only a single caution flag. North Highlands's Dan Dabbs was second with Dewayne Apedaile of Lodi third. Haflich hung on to fourth with last year's Rookie of the Year Greg Albiani of Modesto completing the top-five.
A 27-car Pure Stock field was on hand to contest for opening day honors. Mike Graham of Manteca was the initial leader of an 18-car main event fray that saw him surrender the point to Joe Allen of French Camp on lap-seven. Rookie Sam Solari of Salida moved past Allen on the next go-round and looked like the man to beat before Jeremy Davis of Tracy spread water from a broken radiator hose collecting Solari and six others in a melee between turns three and four. Allen escaped the carnage to regain the lead and never looked back to post his first-ever feature win ahead of defending 1997 champion Doug Lane of Stockton, and Jeff Lovelace, also of Stockton. Solari bounced back from the multiple car incident to end up fourth in front of early leader Graham.