By: Gary Jacob|
Where: Watsonville, CA
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Watsonville, CA --
The only car in the event representing Bakersfield Speedway, James Hammons fought off the strong challenges of Santa Maria Speedway regulars Brandon Cortner and Joey Silva to win Friday night's 30 lap main event as leg 3 of the four-track California State Street Stock Championship Series was held at Watsonville Speedway. None of this threesome had ever seen the 1/4 mile clay oval prior to tonight's racing. Hammons was quick to thank crew chief Mike Letcher for coming up with a perfect setup for the unfamiliar track. His car's chassis by JRT Racing and sponsorship comes from Dave's Lock and Key, White Lane Automotive and MMI Oilfield Services. Hammons' win was worth $500, Cortner won $350 and Silva $250. Chuck Harrell battled back from an early flat tire to finish fourth. The battle for the series championship has come down to two players with Cortner, the winner of the Santa Maria leg, holding a five point advantage over Hammons. The Series ends in Hanford on August 26.
With several of the Watsonville Speedway's top point racers sitting the event out, a 29 car field was on hand. Cortner posted fast time as he ran a 16.491 lap. Fellow Santa Maria racer Billy Simkins turned a 16.553, Livermore's Mickey Hill a 16.617 and Steve Dietrich a 16.641. Silva was fifth and the 16 second qualifiers were rounded out by Watsonville's ace rookie Steve Ewbank, Greg McGregor and Hammons. Coming off a clean sweep at the Merced Fair on Tuesday night, Tim Ragsdale suffered a disappointing night as he broke in hot laps along with Tony Oliveira. The field was divided into four heat races with the top four finishers in each advancing into the 30 lap A Main. Silva inherited the win in heat 1 when Cortner was turned by Ed Perry on lap 8 after he had passed him for the lead. John Harville ran second ahead of Travis Sugden with Cortner battling back for the important 4th. NASCAR Southwest Tour racer Todd Souza made his first dirt appearance in 2000 and wheeled the Eric Jacobsen car to a win in heat 2 ahead of Jason Rood and Ewbank with Simkins gaining a fourth despite damage in a tangle. Hill came from sixth starting to win heat 3 over Ben Roland and McGregor as Rich Firato settled for fourth after spinning while 2nd. Mitch Lettunich broke to end his night. Hammons quickly came from fifth starting to win heat 4 with Dietrich second ahead of Chuck Harrell. Santa Maria's Chris Lange was also sidelined in the heat action. Patrick Sandoval led all 11 laps to win the B Main. Ken Gregg made a bid to pass him on lap 11, but they made contact and Gregg spun to force the checkered-yellow finish. Perry ran second over Rich Barbaccia.
The inversion for the feature came up a 12 and that put Rood and Harville on the front row. Simkins was running a brand new motor and it went to 240 degrees on the pace lap, so he parked it and was pushed to his pits. Harville led the first five laps with Souza second until a lap 2 red flag when McGregor, Dietrich and Perry crashed hard in turn 1. Only McGregor was able to return to the action and Harrell restarted in the rear after pitting with a flat. Firato was also sidelined. Hammons leaped from 4th to 2nd on the restart and he used an outside groove run to take the lead from Harville on lap 6. Souza beat Harville to a lap 7 yellow flag when Barbaccia broke. Unfamiliar with the double file restart procedure, Hammons still made the right choice when he elected to restart on the outside, but he still lost the lead to Souza. Silva took third from Harville on lap 10 and the race was again red flagged on lap 12 for a multi-car tangle in turn 4. When green flag racing resumed, Silva ran off the end of the track in turn 4 and dropped out of the top five with Harville now third over Hill and Cortner. The race's complexion changed on lap 17. An out of shape Harville drilled Hill on the front stretch and Souza, battling brake problems, spun in turn 1. Hill survived the Harville incident, but crashed hard into the spun Souza to end the night for both. Hammons found himself back in the lead over Cortner and Harrell. Silva raced back into contention by taking fourth from Sugden on lap 21. The final caution came on lap 25 when Kelly Knight spun. Hammons picked outside on his restart option with Cortner and was able to maintain the lead. Silva found an extreme outside groove working and he passed both Harrell and Cortner to gain second on lap 27. Cortner regained second on lap 29, but could only chase Hammons' flawless run to the checkered flag. Hammons, Cortner, Silva and Harrell were followed at the checkered flag by Chris Messmer, Sugden, Knight and Jim Gillespie as Ewbank spun on the final lap.
Summary Fast Time-Brandon Cortner 16.491 Heat 1-Joey Silva, John Harville, Travis Sugden, Cortner, Chris Messmer. Heat 2-Todd Souza, Jason Rood, Steve Ewbank, Billy Simkins, Kelly Knight. Heat 3-Mickey Hill, Ben Roland, Greg McGregor, Rich Firato, Kenny Neville. Heat 4-James Hammons, Steve Dietrich, Chuck Harrell, Darrell Hughes, Ken Gregg. B Main-Patrick Sandoval, Ed Perry, Rich Barbaccia, Knight, Messmer, Jim Gillespie, Chris Kulvicki, Gregg, Neville. A Main-Hammons, Cortner, Silva, Harrell, Messmer, Sugden, Knight, Gillespie, Ewbank, Harville, McGregor, Rood, Hughes, Souza, Hill, Sandoval, Barbaccia, Roland, Firato, Dietrich, Perry, Simkins.