BAKERSFIELD, California -- When the teams of the NASCAR Autozone Elite Division Southwest Series rolled into Bakersfield's Mesa Marin Raceway October 16th, for their portion of the 27th annual October Classic, they were planning on running the Ford Motorcraft 150. What they actually did was run the Ford Motorcraft 167:a race that served up a wild climax that required two green-white-checker attempts to reach a conclusion.
Frazier Parks M K Kanke set the fast time in qualifying but had to start tenth due to the series' policy of field inversion. This time out the inversion dice rolled ten and that put Burney Lamar and 2002 series champion Eddy McKean on the front row to lead the 30 starters under the initial green flag.
The Southwest Series drivers set up an early race rhythm with some very exciting racing. Lamar and McKean traded the lead back and forth three times during a long, 62 lap, green flag run.
The first sign of trouble, and the first yellow flag, came on lap 63 when Brett Thompson spun and got collected by Darell LaMoure. The green flag did not last a lap before the yellow returned when Thompson's car died on the backstretch.
The race resumed with Lamar in the lead who now had team mate Craig Raudman on his bumper. Ten laps later the yellow returned again when Nick Lynch's Dodge spun on lap 84.
The Lamar-Raudman battle resumed all the way to lap 111 when Lamar's Chevrolet began belching white smoke forcing a series of pit stops. A faulty power steering mechanism was reported to be the problem. Raudman inherited the lead and paced the field through another long green run all the way to lap 147.
That's when the complexion of the race turned bizarre and it became painfully obvious that Raudman, from Bakersfield, was going to be denied a victory at his home track.
On lap 147 the Chevrolet of Thomas Martin stalled on the high side of turn three. Just as the yellow flag came out, Martin's car refired and continued around the track. There was also a need to clean up sheet metal debris in turn three. The late caution turned the race into a green- white-checker finish on lap 156.
The grand conclusion featured Raudman still in the lead, the Ford of Jim Pettit II on his bumper, followed by the Chevrolets of David Gilliland and 2003 series champion Auggie Vidovich Jr.
The grand conclusion lasted exactly a half lap due to the worst accident in the race. The field roared down the backstretch where Raudman and Pettit touched while racing for the lead. Pettit checked up to avoid an accident. Gilliland made a quick defensive move to avoid Pettit and then passed Raudman for the lead. Vidovich, who had no place to go, was not so fortunate and hit Pettit's Ford. The pair hit the wall with a bone jarring crunch. Pettit, following a series of pit stops, was able to continue. Vidovich's Chevrolet sustained major front end damage and came to a rest on the infield grass below turn three.
The accident set up the second green-white-checker finish. The time needed to clean up the track made crew chiefs very nervous because all of a sudden fuel mileage became an issue in a race where no pit stops were planned.
While still cruising under the yellow flag Craig Raudman's luck ran out, and so did his gas tank, on lap 161. His team mate, Burney Lamar, had returned to the race from earlier engine woes and attempted to push Raudman to the pits. Unfortunately, Lamar's front bumper did not match up with his team mate's rear bumper and the only thing that got accomplished was Raudman rear wheels were lifted off of the ground. That meant a tow truck had to push Raudman to the pits for a race ending splash of gas.
The final green-white-checker finish came on lap 165 and Gilliland took the silver platter win followed by McKean, Kanke, Dan Holtz and Eric Schmidt.
In victory lane the Riverside driver said "I was running around tenth about 50 laps into the race and I was just cruising around the track to see what was going to happen. In these Southwest Series races you have to take what comes up and fortunately everything worked in our favor tonight. We were very lucky on the backstretch incident. When that sort of thing happens you have to make a split second decision about what to do. Fortunately we got through it."