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Source — Janet Peery
Date Posted — October 15, 2004
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Jim Burke Ford in Bakersfield celebrated the grand opening of their beautiful new dealership, which is housed on a commanding spread on Gasoline Alley, with a ribbon cutting ceremony. The city mayor recognized the dealership for their commitment and contributions to the community and then with a snip from the giant scissors the ribbon was sliced to the sound of loud applauds from the attending guests, including employees, the Collins family and the Mesa Marin “gang”, NASCAR drivers and team members and of course media - lots of it.

What made this event a standout were the people behind Jim Burke Ford. The name Jim Burke Ford is familiar to anyone that attends Mesa Marin Raceway. The name is on the track’s vehicles, on the track walls and announced at every event. This celebration gave many a chance to meet the people behind the name, the people that care enough about racing to put their money where there mouth is, as the saying goes.

Most impressive was Mr. Burke himself, who when offered the microphone explained he would like every gathering to start with an invocation, but since this one didn’t he would like to say a prayer. It was refreshing to know that in this one slice of America a businessman was not afraid to thank the Man. And then Mr. Burke drew laughter from the crowd when after explaining all that had been done to the dealership such as the improvements, the new location, the interior design and such, he said “maybe now we can stop spending the money and start earning it”.

What looked to be the typical pat each other on the back type of luncheon wasn’t. There was a humanness that made Jim Burke Ford more than a name on Mesa Marin’s wall.

The dealership and Mesa Marin have been in a partnership for more than a few years, so it was no surprise that some NASCAR drivers were seen attending. On hand were Craig Raudman, Burney Lamar and Dan Holtz. The car that NASCAR Northwest Series Rookie-of-the-Year, Travis Bennett, will drive this Saturday in the NASCAR AutoZone Southwest Elite race, The FORD MOTORCRAFT 150, was parked on the lot; along side some other NASCAR Elite Series cars.

The drivers addressed the guests with mini interviews. They were asked what they thought it would take to win, Raudman said, “It will come down to who prepares the car best and who has the best luck”.

When asked about the tight point battle he is involved in with fellow competitor, Jim Pettit II, Raudman replied, “The last 3 races will be critical. We figure we will go for the wins and let the points take care of themselves. Jim has been a great competitor all year.”

Lamar felt going over “every inch of the car” would be critical to a good finish. He also complimented the Collins family for offering a multi-groove track, one that allows passing.

Holtz discussed changes he and the team made over the winter that led to a bumpy start of the season. He described how the team went back to the drawing board, reworked what they did over the winter and is now very pleased with the car and how it handles.

As for the winning race strategy, Holtz said, “Qualify well and pick it up on the last 30-40 laps.” He also mentioned that with the top three or four cars so equally matched, passing would be a challenge.

Then the drivers were asked to sum it up in 2-3 words what their line of attack would be to win. It was Lamar’s answer that got the most attention and laughter from the crowd when he said, “Haul Ass!”

Later a guest teased him that if NASCAR heard him say that to the press he would lose 25 points and be fined $10,000 like NASCAR had penalized Dale Earnhardt, Jr. with after his use of a four-letter word. But Lamar was clever enough to stick to 3 letter words.

As the guests were mingling in the showroom several walked up to a stand to admire what might be one of the most impressive trophies offered for a NASCAR Late Model Race. The trophy, which featured an incredible American eagle with extended wings, will be presented to the winner of the NASCAR Late Model race this weekend at the Mesa Marin October Classic. The remarkable trophy was very generously donated by Tim Huddleston at High Point Distribution.

The drivers and teams looked in envy at the trophy saying, “Man, why don’t we get trophies like that”.

There is no doubt the trophy is spectacular. Huddleston went above and beyond and there was no shortage of “oohs” and “ahhs” from the admirers.

The luncheon and grand opening was a success, as will be the races this weekend at Mesa Marin Raceway.

The big question now, is who will be the lucky NASCAR Late Model driver to win that trophy?

Racing starts tonight at Mesa Marin Raceway with the Cal Spas Supermotos, West Coast Pro Trucks and the NASCAR Street Stocks. The NASCAR Late Model Cleavage Creek Twins and the Ford Motorcraft 150, Southwest Series will race on Saturday. The NASCAR Late Model and Grand National West races are Sunday.

And…Sunday is the day we get to see who will win that incredible trophy so proudly displayed at the Jim Burke Ford showroom.####