Five divisions are in action at Antioch Speedway this week, and I'm setting the Over/Under number at 54 cars. We didn't even hit 50 cars last week from what I could tell, so I was over, but I think it should be better with Dirt Modifieds and Hobby Stocks back on the card.
The Wingless Spec Sprints (14), Dirt Modifieds (16), Super Stocks (8), Hobby Stocks (10) and Mini Trucks (6) will share the spotlight this week.
LaLiberte Goes For Six, Who's Ready To Step Up And Beat Him?
Tommy LaLiberte is on a roll at Antioch Speedway. His last seven starts have been a second, four straight wins, a second and another win. With five wins he tops the field, and, not surprisingly, he leads past Watsonville and NCMA Select Series champion David Press by 30 points going into this week's race. When you think about it, though, that's not a very big lead, and that's because Press has been consistently finishing in the top five to lessen the point damage of LaLiberte's success.
Success, however, comes at a price for LaLiberte, and it's the same old story. Two time Spec Sprint champion Darrell Hanestad heard it. Spec Sprint original and many time NCMA champion Darryl Shirk heard it. Stock Car champion Bobby Hogge heard it. They all hear it when they win enough. Tommy's cheating. As with most winning teams, however, success comes for LaLiberte through all the preparation, getting the car set up just right, watching videos of his races, having a dedicated pit crew and good sponsors. This all pays off on race day when he can put the car wherever he wants and it sticks.
It's not a foregone conclusion that Tommy will win this week, and with 12-16 cars anticipated, if he has a bad night, all of the winning he's been doing won't matter. That lead could go away in one night. With two wins himself, Press could make it to the winner's circle again. A man who is no stranger to winning at Antioch, third ranked Jim Perry Jr., finished second again last week, but he is due for his first win of the season.
Fact is, at least half of this field is capable of winning, and fifth ranked Jeff Kindt does have a win this season. With a couple preliminary wins this year, 1999 champion Dan Gonderman could be ready to win. It could be somebody like Jeff Lee, Gary Nelson or Chuck Bradshaw, who have had some good runs of late. It could also be one of the rookies, such as Tyler Henriquez or Trevor Press, who has quietly worked his way into fourth in points. Whomever it is, they will have to earn it, as the competition at Antioch is among the best in the state in this division.
Dirt Modifieds Hope To Recover With Another Big Race Coming Soon
Last time out, it was heavy carnage for the Dirt Modified division. Bobby Motts Jr. and Troy Foulger crashed on the back stretch battling for the lead, resulting in a horrendous crash behind them that sent Joe Carr rolling and put him on the injured list. It also left top ten ranked rookie Sean Wilson with a badly damaged race car that he said he may be unable to repair. The winner when it was all said and does was Dan Gonderman, who lost a season opener that he had dominated when a car got into him in Turn 1 and sent him rolling.
The good news in all of this is that Foulger and Motts got their cars back together and competed last week in Placerville. Also, Carr is hoping to recover in time to enter the $3,500 to win shows August 28th and 29th and Antioch and Merced. The bad news for Nick DeCarlo was after his tangle with Aaron Crowell on the back stretch that left Crowell sideways in front of the pack a few laps before the big crash, he ended up being penalized to last place. The damage was such that he is now over 40 points out of the lead. Foulger now leads Jeff Thomas by 38 with DeCarlo 42 points back. This could well be the moment that ended DeCarlo's title hopes, but we shall see. Foulger is consistently at the front every week, so it will be a challenge reeling in 42 points on him.
Meanwhile, Norm Boeck, working on another top five season, is ten points behind DeCarlo, while Motts fell to sixth behind Rick Karnes after his crash. Last time out, Motts had looked faster than ever as he beat Gonderman to win his first heat race of the season, and he was in contention for his first feature win until the brutal end. Through it all, though, the top six drivers haven't missed a race yet this year, and any one of them could be in line for this week's feature victory. It's also very possible that some visitors could be at Antioch this week to get a look at the track before the big show at the end of the month. It should be interesting.
The Blue Knight Rides Again
I don't believe John Meyers calls him that, but back in the days of the Sportsman division, they called Mike Gustafson "The Blue Knight" due to his blue race car and firesuit. He was a champion then (in 1980), and he won championships in the Limited Late Models twice during the last decade. But, points have never been what Mike has been about, or it's likely he'd have another championship or two to his credit in Super Stocks and Late Models at Petaluma. He certainly won his share of races back then against such front runners as Mike Chisholm, Lee Olibas, John Soares Jr., Jim Tryon, Rod Aronld and Jack Dempsey.
Mike missed a few races at the start of the season as income tax season always keeps him busy, but he has closed to within 44 points of Lloyd Cline. Cline finished fourth in points last year and is looking for back to back top five seasons. His win in a heat race last week and third in the feature the previous race shows how much he has improved since the start of the season.
Meanwhile, when the points were added up last week, Mitch Machado's lead over Larry Damitz remained at 14 points after Machado was second ahead of Damitz in the Main Event. This is the battle that has kept this division interesting when car count was really low at the start, and it just may go down to the wire. Not to be forgotten is the nice job rookie two time winner Fred Ryland and the steady Eric Berendsen have done this year, ranked third and fourth, respectively. To date, we have seen 12 different cars this season, and a double digit car count is entirely possible this week.
Bentley's Surprise Performance
Last time out, Wes Bentley had the crowd on their feet in the Hobby Stock division as he competed for his first feature victory. Wes has a heat race win this season, but in the Main Event, he definitely looked like he had the car to beat. Every time he got a little ahead of second place, however, he, made little mistakes to allow them to catch up. When he felt the pressure, he'd start to pull away again, almost as if he was learning how to lead a Main Event. Unfortunately, past champion Dan McCown did know how to lead the Main Event and has won in previous seasons. Bentley's last mistake proved costly as McCown pulled along side him and beat him by inches to the line for his first win of the season.
It was valuable lap time for Bentley, and when he's in this position again, the outcome may be different. A pat on the back should also go to sixth ranked Joe Cancilla, who ran second for much of the race before getting a flat tire. Joe is six points behind Mike Rydman in the battle for sixth. It's been mentioned here before, but there are some good racers in this class searching for their first win, and a new winner could emerge this week.
At the front of the pack is the team #33 car of Melissa Hansen and Brad Myers, who both have won this season and lead two time winner Chris Sorensen by 26 points in the championship chase. McCown is actually within striking distance, 43 points out of the lead. The Team 99 car of Jack Jonker and Jim Freethy are 26 points ahead of Rydman. Car count was down a little last time out, but with a few weeks off, it is expected to rebound this week.
The Travis Dutra Show
Travis Dutra has done a nice job in a short field of Mini Trucks. The 2009 point runnerup has won the most Main Events this season and is leaving little doubt at this point that he will win the championship unless something happens. After his win last week, Dutra's lead is now 60 over Ray Bunn, who is still searching for his first win of the season. However, Dan Wagner has won this season, and if Bunn's not careful, he will lose second. Wagner trails him by just 16 points at the moment.
Coming between Dutra and Wagner in the most recent Main Event was an impressive effort by Ron Mayberry. That second place finish was a season best for Mayberry, and it moved him into fifth in the standings. Mayberry will move into fouth just by starting this week's feature, unless two time winner Tom Brown brings his truck back this week. If Brown doesn't show, Greg Williams will pass him by starting as well, finally bumping Brown out of the top five. Though truck count has been in the 6-8 truck area in recent races, there have been 16 trucks to compete this season. It would be nice too see more of them in action this week, and it would surely make the racing better.