By: Gary Jacob|
Where: Petaluma, CA
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Petaluma, CA -- A veteran of many divisions on both pavement and dirt, Petaluma speed parts dealer Randy Larsen decided earlier this month to put together a Dirt Works modified that he had taken in trade over
a year ago. Saturday night, he found himself counting $3,500 in winnings as he led just the final straight to win the curfew shortened 40 lap Top Dog Nationals at Petaluma Speedway. Ironically, Larsen passed veteran Larry Damitz in the last corner for the win. In 2001, Damitz edged out Larsen for the track's dirt late model championship in a season long duel. Larsen thanked fellow racer David Press for loaning him an engine for his car and fellow racer Steve Mossiman for the use of his tow vehicle, trailer and crew. Early in the scheduled 50 lap event, Larsen suffered a damaged front suspension, but his crew was able to make repairs at the lap 25 work period. On lap 36, Bert Elworthy, Scott Busby, A J Kirkpatrick and Jeff Decker were involved in a turn 1 tangle with holding 3rd through 6th. At the lap 38 caution, the field was given a two laps remaining sign as the 11 o'clock curfew had come. On the restart, second place Mike Sohnrey forced leader Randy McDaniel into the back fence handing the top spot to Damitz. Larsen drove by Damitz for the win in the final corner. The officials first awarded the win to Watsonville champion Bobby Scott Jr, but discovered that he had missed a lap with a pit stop on lap 7. Larsen was then posted the $3,500 winner with Damitz a $1,750 second. J D Willis collected $1,000 for third with Kirkpatrick was a $500 fourth. Sohnrey crossed the line fifth, but was penalized to finish behind McDaniel. This moved Petaluma regular Art Azevedo into the $400 fifth. It was the second straight year that a late race incident has kept four time Chico champion McDaniel out of the Top Dog Nationals winner's circle as a lapped car took him out with 3 laps remaining in 2001 when Bart Reid won.
With it's one day format, the $12,500 special continues to be attractive as a record 73 cars checked in for the action. The fastest six qualifiers earned the right to race in a fast heat to determine the starting order for the front three rows in the A Main. Having finally figured out his Cobra Chassis, NASCAR Southwest Series top runner Jim Pettit II posted fast time with his 16.97 qualifying run. Another driver who had a lot of success in the dirt late model ranks at the 3/8 mile clay oval, Ed Sans was second fast at 17.06. Having won the Medford track title in his rookie season, former dwarf car star Jon DeBenedetti was third quick at 17.20 and modified legend Scott Busby ran a 17.21 lap. Chico star Sohnrey ranked fifth at 17.25 with recent Santa Maria Open winner Dave Soito Jr of Watsonville sixth. After tangling with DeBenedetti and Pettit on the first start, Sohnrey won the six lap fast heat to sit on the pole with Busby alongside. The cars timing from 7th to 50th were divided into four heat races with the top 3 finishers in each advancing into the A Main. In the first heat, Kellen Chadwick had a flat and Susanville ace John Sloan broke a motor with Larsen overcoming a crash to win ahead of Damitz and Don Camilli. 2000 race winner Elworthy won heat 2 as he outdueled pole starter Michael Paul Jr with Norman Beck third. Paul Jr was 2002 Petaluma Speedway track champion as a 35 year old rookie in the car that his father Michael Paul Sr won the 2000 championship with. Randy McDaniel won heat 3 in front of Watsonville Speedway star Decker and three-time Watsonville champion Scott. Kirkpatrick won heat 4 with his Fegers Chassis as Azevedo ran second ahead of young Ryan McDaniel.
The scheduled 50 lap feature had 22 starters with the 12 heat races transfers lined up by their qualifying times behind the six fast heat participants. Four transfers from the B Main made up the rear of the pack. Busby led the first two laps from his outside front row start with DeBenedetti falling back to fifth with wall contact. Pettit and Soito both passed Sohnrey on lap 2 as Sans spun for a lap 3 yellow flag. Pettit drove by Busby to take the lead at the caution flag with Sohnrey and DiBenedetti getting by Soito for the 4-5 slots. on the restart, DiBenedetto used the favored outside starting spot to charge into second. Sans spun again for a lap 5 yellow and Camilli had to pit with a fire. Busby made contact with the back fence and dropped back with Sohnrey now third over Randy McDaniel and Soito. Scott stalled for a lap 7 yellow flag and did not return until lap 9 as Soito stalled for a lap 8 yellow with Sans out. Beck crashed for a lap 12 yellow. Pettit was dominating the event when he lost his power steering belt on lap 17 and dropped back to fifth behind new leader DiBenedetti, Sohnrey, Randy McDaniel and Elworthy. Sohnrey took the lead from DiBenedetti on lap 19. DiBenedetti's race ended when he got out of shape and clipped Randy McDaniel on lap 23 for a yellow flag. Paul Jr dropped out with rear end problems and Richard Papenhausen missed the final two laps of the first segment when his car lost fire on the caution. Pettit was hoping to make it to the half-way mark and correct his belt problem, but contact with Damitz left him sitting on the backstretch with a broken rear suspension. The teams were given ten minutes to refuel and repair their cars on the back stretch before the final 25 lap segment. Both Paul Sr and Willis restarted in the rear after pitting during this work stop. The midway standings had Sohnrey leading Randy McDaniel, Elworthy, Kirkpatrick, Busby, Decker, Azevedo and Damitz.
The second segment started with a tangle as Azevedo spun and was hit hard by Ryan McDaniel. McDaniel pushed his Harris into the lead on lap 29 with an outside move on fellow Chico star Sohnrey. Busby took fourth from Kirkpatrick on lap 33 and Camilli spun for a lap 26 yellow flag. The standings were shuffled on lap 36 when Busby broke involving Elworthy, Decker and Kirkpatrick. Elworthy was able to drive through this incident, but broke on lap 38 to force another yellow flag. With the 11 o'clock mark having been hit, the officials signaled the field that only two more laps would be run. Sohnrey tried to make an inside pass on leader McDaniel, but they got tangled and McDaniel made heavy contact with the back fence. Sohnrey was able to drive through the tangle, but Damitz and Larsen got by him. The lapped cars of Scott and Papenhausen paced the field to the checkered flag, but finally scoring was sorted out and Larsen awarded the rich victory after he passed Damitz in the final corner. Willis was awarded third ahead of Kirkpatrick, Azevedo and Decker. Camilli was scored 7th in front of Scott, Papenhausen and McDaniel with Sohnrey penalized back to 11th place.
Michael Paul Sr led all 15 laps to win the B Main with Papenhausen a race long second. Willis ran third all the way but Brad Coelho battled from deep in the pack to claim the final transfer slot. K Chadwick broke running fourth on lap 9 and Marcus Aue just missed the transfer in fifth. Defending race champion Reid was sixth ahead of Oregon's Mark Wauge and Nick Perivolaris. Oregon's Tom Glover led all 10 laps of the C Main with Petaluma car builder Joe Carr battling to second as D Main winner Brian Poppa ran third. Carr was unable to repair his rear suspension problem in time to start the C Main. The other D Main winner Bill Henry was fourth ahead of Todd Tadiello. The first 10 lap D Main had a huge first lap tangle and Henry ran away to win by 1/2 lap over Oregon's Ron Possenger Jr and Chad Chadwick. Oregon's Poppa won the second 10 lap D Main with John Pierce second ahead of another Oregon star Dennis Silva and Nevada's Glen Plake.
The Petaluma race is linked with an Oct 5 show at Antioch and the Oct 11-12 race at Bakersfield. The top 3 in points will share a $1,500 point fund.
Summary Fast Time-Jim Pettit II 16.97 Fast Heat-Mike Sohnrey, Scott Busby, Dave Soito Jr, Jon DeBenedetti, Ed Sans. Heat 1-Randy Larsen, Larry Damitz, Don Camilli, Jeff Thomas, Joe Antonetti. Heat 2-Bert Elworthy, Michael Paul Jr, Norman Beck, Michael Paul Sr, Nick Perivolaris. Heat 3-Randy McDaniel, Jeff Decker, Bobby Scott Jr, Bart Reid, Don Shelton. Heat 4-A J Kirkpatrick, Art Azevedo, Ryan McDaniel, Mark Wauge, Phil Indihar. 1st D Main-Bill Henry, Ron Possenger Jr, Chad Chadwick, Ed Davies, Mike O'Reilly Jr, Gary Fleisch, Gary Durbin, Bob Skellen. 2nd D Main-Brian Poppa, John Pierce, Dennis Silva, Glen Plake, Brian Pearce, Ward Amberson, Richard Mueller, Scott Foreman, Nick Ayers. C Main-Tom Glover, Joe Carr, Poppa, Henry, Todd Tadiello, Eli Zucker, Possenger, C Chadwick, Anthony Restad, Bill Pearson. B Main-Paul Sr, Richard Papenhausen, J D Willis, Brad Coelho, Marcus Aue, Bart Reid, Wauge, Perivolaris, Poppa, Antonetti, Shelton, John Toolanen. A Main-Larsen, Damitz, Willis, Kirkpatrick, Azevedo, Decker, Camilli, Scott, Papenhausen, Randy McDaniel, Sohnrey, Elworthy, Busby, Paul Sr, Beck, Ryan McDaniel, Pettit, DeBenedetti, Soito, Paul Jr, Coelho, Sans.