DAYTONA BEACH, Florida -- The NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series event at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif., originally slated for Sunday, Oct. 16, has been moved to Saturday, Oct. 15, as track officials prepare to wave the checkered flag for the final time.
Mesa Marin Raceway Vice President Larry Collins announced last month that 2005 would be the final season of operation for the popular high-banked, half-mile facility. The final event is to be this year's October Classic, with three days of racing - including a big NASCAR doubleheader with the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series race and a NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series race on the same night.
The West Series race, which marks the season finale, is scheduled to be televised to a national audience live in high definition on HDNet. In addition, SPEED Channel will provide an enhanced replay.
Mesa Marin Raceway - which opened in 1977 - has hosted 44 NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series races and 61 NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series races.
Jim Reich led wire-to-wire in taking the win over Chuck Wahl and Chuck Bown in the first West Series race there on May 28, 1977. Many nationally known drivers have since competed at Mesa Marin Raceway in West Series action - including Davey Allison, Donnie Allison, Neil Bonnett, Rick Carelli, Derrike Cope, Harry Gant, Kevin Harvick, Ron Hornaday Jr., Ken Schrader, Jimmy Spencer and Rusty Wallace.
When the Southwest Series made its first visit to Mesa Marin Raceway in 1987, that year's eventual champion Mike Chase was the top qualifier and took the victory over Rick Carelli on Sept. 19.
The announcement of plans to close the track has provided an added emphasis among drivers from both divisions who want to capture the final win in their series at Mesa Marin Raceway.
"We want to win everywhere we go," said defending West Series Champion Mike Duncan of Bakersfield. "There's probably some added pressure with this. It would be nice to win our final race there," said Duncan, who won the late model division championship at Mesa Marin Raceway in 2000.
Another driver who calls Bakersfield home is Steve Portenga, who won two championships in the Southwest Series before joining the West Series. "It would be a big honor for me if I could bring the NAPA Chevrolet across the finish line in first on that night," Portenga said. "That's going to be big. It's not just because Mesa Marin is one of my favorite race tracks, but it's a long era that's coming to an end. Once that chapter is closed, your name is in the record book forever. That means a lot. I've been coming to Mesa Marin since 1988," said Portenga, who won a West Series race there in 2001. "It's going to be sad. I won my first tour race there. That was always sentimental to me."
Defending Southwest Series Champion Jim Pettit II of Prunedale, Calif., visited victory lane in the most recent visit by his series to Mesa Marin in May. He would like to close out his experience there with another win. "It would be something to win it and we will do everything we can to do that," Pettit said. "It would be special to win the last race there. It's really sad to see it close. It's going to be an emotional day."