Jim Pettit II scored a top five finish, in what may be his last race, at the
Toyota All Star Showdown Saturday night on the half-mile oval at Irwindale Speedway.
The event brought together for the last time, forty of the top short track drivers from around the country, in what was the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, comprised of ten entries each from the Northwest, Southeast, Midwest, and Southwest Series.
Finishing second in his twenty-car qualifying heat race on Friday night, Pettit started the 125 lap feature race on Saturday night in the third spot. However, by the seventy-five lap ten minute break, he found himself in eighth. Unlike the previous year in the Showdown, the re-start for the final fifty laps placed the front-runners on the outside row, with lapped cars on the inside row. "So instead of restarting outside of the fourth row, I found myself outside the eighth row. It really made it tough getting by the lapped cars towards the front", said Pettit. With twenty-four laps to go, he had worked his way up to sixth, and with two to go, moved into fifth where he finished. "If we could have had the car we had in the first seventy-five laps, I think we would have had a car to be in contention. But, all in all, it was a good weekend for us".
Part of the good weekend came during the Banquet for the Division, in which Pettit received two awards, one as the Southwest Series Most Popular Driver of the Year Award and the George Stiles Achievement Award, given yearly to the driver exhibiting outstanding achievement both on and off the race track. An example of the latter might be his involvement in inviting some 15 United States Marines to the feature race Saturday night. According to Jim, "They made quite an impression on everybody. All of the guys had been to Iraq. And when they came marching in formation down through the pits to my car, it really caught your attention. Myself, it gave me goose bumps, you know? They may be warriors, but the politest group I ever met. Everything was "sir, yes sir, sir". They wanted to know what we wanted them to do, and I told them to just have a good time, you're our guests. "sir, yes, sir". They met with a lot of the drivers and got to see the cars up close and personal, and had a really good time. They kept thanking me, and I said, no, thank you for what you do for us. It was a great experience".
During his twenty-five years of sitting behind the wheel of a race car, Pettit has compiled quite a record. Before racing full-time in the SWS in 2001, he raced at numerous tracks throughout California. In 1984 he was named a Regional Champion in the Winston Racing Series, and this year was named one of the top twenty-five drivers in the nation in that Series over the past twenty-five years. During his career in the SWS, besides the two awards he received this weekend, he has won the Power Aide Award, Sportsmanship Award, and two Series championships. "I'm pretty proud about that", said the forty-two year old driver from Prunedale, California.
The Southwest Series has a non-points race coming up next month at Phoenix International Raceway. "No, I'm not going to Phoenix", said Pettit. "The Showdown was my last Series race, and may have been my last race. For the first time in my racing career, I have no idea, or direction, of what's going to happen. I hate to think that way, but you have to be realistic. What are they going to do with the Series type of cars? Until they come up with some direction, what is it going to cost to go Grand National West? I know a lot of guys would like to go there, or somewhere else. No one wants to quit. But West is so much money to move up to, and going out of your own pocket, well, you start out at ground zero. This weekend may very well have been my last race".