DAYTONA BEACH, Florida -- For 28 years, Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif., has been the cornerstone of the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series and a place where several of NASCAR’s superstars cut their teeth. Mesa Marin Raceway is known for action and has become the most prolific track on the West coast. This Saturday, October 15 the Southwest Series returns for the 64th time in the running of the Star Nursery. Com “300” before the gates close for good at this storied facility.
Former Southwest Series standouts Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Matt Crafton, Ron Hornaday Jr., and Rick Carelli have all conquered Mesa Marin Raceway before moving up to NASCAR's top three national series'. Mesa Marin Raceway has been the launching pad for drivers in the West looking for NASCAR stardom.
Mesa Marin Raceway will close its gates for the final time at the conclusion of the 28th annual October Classic, marking the end of an era in short track racing in the Western United States.
“We can’t thank Craig Keough of Star Nursery, the great people at Ford and Green Frog Markets enough for their support in making the final October Classic a truly great way to end Mesa Marin’s run,” said Larry Collins of Mesa Marin Raceway.
“Star Nursery really stepped up to help us present the 300 lapper for the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series, and we can’t see a better way to close our curtain than with a Grand National West and Southwest Series nationally televised double header on October 15th.”
“My family can’t express enough gratitude to our sponsors, the competitors, the race fans and our community for the pleasure of hosting such a great event for 28 years.” Collins concluded.
For 2004 series champion and current Southwest Series point leader Jim Pettit II, who resides in Prunedale, Calif. a win at Mesa Marin Raceway holds special meaning. “This track has been the main track on the series for years,” Pettit said. “This is a track a driver needs to win at when you run on the Southwest Series and I would love to win the final race at this great race facility.”
More than 40 drivers are expected to attempt to qualify for one of 30 starting positions in Saturday’s 300-lap race and vie for their share of $71,694 in posted awards in race thirteen of the 14-race championship series. The race will feature live pit stops, which are not a common practice for the series.
“The pit stop(s) are going to be critical,” said championship leader Pettit. “This series is so competitive on the track that the race could be lost with a bad pit stop.”
M.K. Kanke of Frazier Park, Calif. leads the elder statesmen of the series into Mesa Marin and is looking for continued success at the track where he has scored four victories and 12 top five finishes.
Kanke scored his 20th career series win earlier this season and know sits second on the all-time career win list behind Rick Carelli who has 21 triumphs.
While wiley veterans like M.K. Kanke, Bob Lyon, and Doug McCoun are the wise masters of the series with a combined 695 series starts, and each has claimed victory on the high-banked half-mile, young protégé's like Burney Lamar look to upstage the veterans and etch his name in the series record books.
Lamar has had great success this season in a handful of NASCAR Grand National West Series starts where he ahs two victories. He has also competed in ARCA where he finished sixth at Talladega, and made starts in the NASCAR Busch Series and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
"This has really been a great year for me,” Lamar explained. "Les (Denherder) has provided me with a championship winning car and team, and to work with Kevin (Harvick) is really a dream come true. I am not giving up on this championship, but Jim is the best and he will be hard to catch.”
Chasing Pettit in the championship and trailing by 109 points is Lakeside, California’s Auggie Vidovich. Vidovich has been one of the hottest drivers on the Southwest Series this season picking up four wins in the first twelve races including the last event at Shasta Raceway Park last month.
Vidovich also was selected to compete in Roush Racing’s “Gong Show” where Vidovich was one of the final six candidates in the national talent search that began with over 1700 drivers.
“The experience, I will never forget and I thank Jack Roush and his panel of judges for considering me out of the 1700 possible submitted resumes,” said Vidovich from his race shop. “The whole experience, including making it down to the final six, was an opportunity of a lifetime and it reconfirmed too many that I was able to once again handle a Craftsman Truck (heavy car) with positive results.”
With the “Gong Show” behind him, Vidovich looks to close the gap between he and Pettit even more at a track where he has had a lot of success headlined by two wins and six top five finishes.
“The 300-lap race is going to be a test,” Vidovich said. “We have a great team and I feel that we have momentum on our side. We are just going to have to have good pit stops and keep the fenders on the car.”
Leading a contingent of racers from the Northwest Series is three-time defending Northwest Series champion Jeff Jefferson of Naches, Wash. Jefferson was honored last weekend with his third consecutive Northwest Series crown and is ready to carry his momentum at Mesa Marin.
"The Southwest Series runs at some real great racetracks," Jefferson said. "we won the Northwest Series championship, now it is time to win a Southwest Series race. A 300-lap race is something we have never done before and we are looking forward to a great weekend.”
Joining Jefferson this weekend will be former Northwest Series champion Gary Lewis from Bothell, Wash. Lewis won a Southwest Series event at MMR back in 1999, and Northwest Series championship runner-up Brandon Riehl. Riehl won the Southwest Series event at Colorado National Speedway back in June. The Star Nursery.Com Chassis "300" is set to take the green flag Saturday, October 15 at 6:00pm PST at the famed high-banked half-mile of Mesa Marin Raceway.
* Race fans are encouraged to drop by the AutoZone store located at 1615 Brundage Lane in Bakersfield on Thursday, October 13 from 5-7 pm. Several drivers from the Southwest Series will be on hand to sign autographs and meet fans and talk about the upcoming race at MMR.
* Alumni Spotlight: Kevin Harvick, former Mesa Marin Track Champion and Southwest Series Rookie-of-the-Year, has provided Burney Lamar with the opportunity to compete in NASCAR’s big leagues. Lamar has starts this season in the NASCAR Grand National West Series, NASCAR Busch Series, and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
* 1999 Southwest Series champion Kurt Busch is currently 10th in the Chase for the Cup in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series after a 14th place finish at Kansas this past weekend. Busch is currently featured in a national ad campaign for the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division.
* Mike Chase won the first Southwest Series race at Mesa Marin back on September 19, 1987. Chase went on to win the title that year. Chase holds the Southwest Series record for wins at MMR with nine trips to victory lane.
* Current drivers with victories at MMR include: Bob Lyon (1), Doug McCoun (3), Craig Raudman (2), Auggie Vidovich (2), and M.K. Kanke (4).
* The 2004 NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series National champion Greg Pursley is piloting Craig Keough’s Star Nursery Motorsports car this season. Pursley has two runner-up finishes at MMR and currently sits 8th in the Southwest Series standings.
* Both Series - The second time this season, the half-mile oval will host both the NASCAR Grand National West Series and NASCAR AutoZone Southwest Series on the same night.
* Craig Raudman holds the race record for a 300-lap race at Mesa Marin. The race was completed in 2 hours, 13 minutes, and 25 seconds back on May 26, 1996. Raudman topped Frank Adamo, Darrell LaMoure, Mark Groskreutz, and Mark Wilson.
* Mesa Marin will hold a special race practice on Friday, October 14 from 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm. Haulers will park at 12 noon. All members of the media are invited out to the track to conduct interviews and meet the teams.
The race: Star Nursery.Com 300. (Race No. 13 of the 2005 NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series season.)
The track: Mesa Marin Raceway, Bakersfield, Calif. (Half-mile paved oval.)
The date/time: Saturday, October 15, 6:00 p.m. (PT).
Race length: 300 laps, 150 miles
2004 Race Winner: David Gilliland (150-lap race)
2004 Bud Pole Winner: M.K. Kanke 18.324 seconds
NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series Top 10: 1. Jim Pettit II 1913; 2. Auggie Vidovich 1804; 3. Burney Lamar 1739; 4. Eddy McKean 1695; 5. M.K. Kanke II 1682; 6. Greg Voigt 1633; 7. Nick Lynch 1592; 8. Greg Pursley 1590; 9. Rip Michels 1489; 10. Thomas Martin 1431.
The next race for the NASCAR Southwest Series will be the season finale at Phoenix Int’l Raceway in a 125-lap showdown in the desert sponsored by the Arizona Lottery.