NO PAIN FOR WELCH
BY: JIM SHIELS
Facing possible surgery for growths on the tendons of his feet, heavy pain, and the threat of an end to his 2002 racing season, Two-time NASCAR Regional champion Mark Welch of Orangevale found a way to somewhat erase the pain with a solid win in the HOTWOOD Western Late Model competition in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series presented by DODGE at Stockton 99 Speedway.
Starting fourth on the feature grid, Welch, a heat winner on the night, chased early leader Joe Hylton on Manteca to grab the lead on lap-four, with incoming point leader and dash winner Dave Byrd of San Jose coming to third behind Hylton. Harry Belletto of Modesto, the fast timer on the night, moved to Fourth on lap-5, while Byrd moved to second on the next pass.
By the 10th circuit, the lead pack consisted of Welch, Byrd, Hylton, Belletto, and the hot rookie runner Pete Anderson, Jr., of Stockton. The pack held firm to the end with Wes Miller of Delhi getting by Anderson to finish fifth. Only one minor yellow slowed the feature action Tracy Bolin of Valley Springs was the other heat winner on the night as Byrd increased his current point lead to 27-marks over Belletto with Miller sitting in third.
Grand American action on the night saw fast time man Steve Stacy of Stockton and dash winner Sam Solari of Salida on the feature pole with Stacy taking the first lap lead. A second-lap yellow fell as Jason Philpot of Sacramento got spun off turn two, and incoming point leader Danny Contessotto of Stockton had a tire cut in the resulting check ups, sending him to the infield and the back of the pack for the restart.
By lap-5 it was Stacy, Solari, Gary Glenn of Orangevale, Jay Linstroth of Citrus Heights, and Jason Kerby of Galt. The only man on the move was Kerby as he moved to fourth on lap-6 and 3rd on lap-12 after Ben Lewis of Manteca took a wild ride into the front straight tires on lap-10. Lap-13 saw a yellow as Aaron Young of Stockton got spun and Jason Philpot wound up against the wall off turn two with Mike Regelman of Ripon swept up in the melee.
A 15th-lap yellow for spins in turn-three set up a restart that saw Solari grab the lead from Stacy and holding strong through a 22nd lap-yellow as first time runner James Wright of Turlock tasted the wall off turn-two. Kerby ended his night with mechanical problems on the next lap as the checked yellow fell to end the event on lap-24 with Solari picking up his second season win over Stacy in second. Gary Glenn of Orangevale picked up his best finish to date with a strong third place run over yet another strong finish for rookie runner John Moore of Granite Bay in fourth. First time Stockton runner Hap Ferree of Nevada City rounded out the top five.
Stacy regained the current point lead by 12 slim points over Contessotto with Solari holding tight for third on the list.
Aimee Sullivan of Lodi got the attention of the female fans in the stands as she took the Pure Stock feature lead and did a masterful job of holding off "the boys" for nine-laps until Tom Bolin of San Jose edged past to take the point on lap10. Undeterred, Sullivan kept pace, chasing Bolin home for second and her best career finish, with Kannai Scantlen of Stockton running third. Cindy Freitas of Lodi and Johnny Bird of Stockton rounded out the top five.
Heats were won by Stockton drivers Ray Bird and Gary Shafer, Jr., with fast time going to Michael Wendt of Lodi, and the dash falling to Danny Guibor of Manteca. Guibor continues to hold the current point lead by 34 points over Chad Holman of Stockton and Johnny Bird. Brian Miller of Railroad Flat took over the B-Main point lead with Dustin Himes of Stockton holding second. Jeff Saunders of Salida earned a main event transfer ticket with his B-Main feature win.
The Baby Grand drivers were on hand with Mark Smith of Tracy putting on his usual job of dominance by setting fast time, winning the dash, and running away with the feature win.
Vickie Simmons of Brentwood was the early feature leader, bowing to husband Ron on lap-three with Smith already up from ninth to second. Two yellows slowed the action with Smith taking control on lap-five. Only one additional yellow fell as the field marched to the checkered with Smith in control over Don Houston of Patterson. Third place fell to a racer this reporter was overjoyed to see, in the form of "Doctor" Don Hicks of Patterson. Hicks has won many his share of events and has raced for many years in Sprints and is now loving life in the Baby Grands, a division he calls "Fun, competitive, and "Baby safe" compared to the high-powered monsters of his past.
Ron Simmons, the other heat winner, finished fourth ahead of Dave Figuerido of Tracy.
Stockton Speedway will be dark next week as the NASCAR Winston Cup stars perform at Sears Point. Racing will return on June 29th with a special twin 50-lap contest for the Grand Americans paying $1,000 per feature win, and a return to action of the USAC/BCRA Midgets