(STOCKTON, CA--September 29, 1996)--Once defending Late Model Sportsman champion Harry Belletto of Modesto failed to set fast time, 1994 title winner Dave Byrd of Los Gatos re-claimed the coveted NASCAR Winston Racing Series crown Saturday night at Stockton 99 Speedway. Byrd arrived at the track with a 122-point lead--the maximum available for the ''double point" Taco Bell 100 dedicated to the memory of former track champion and premier car builder Ivan Baldwin who lost his life a week ago in North Carohina. The issue was settled quickly as Belletto's son Steve, also of Modesto, took quick-time honors giving Byrd his second title in three years on Stockton's quarter-mile paved oval.
When the 18-car field lined up for the Taco Bell/Baldwin memorial event, the two Belletto's occupied the front row and it was dad who jumped to the early lead. The field was cut to 15 on lap-eight as Todd Knox of Wallace got turned sideways in the first corner, collecting the cars of Greg Kamper of Ripon and Mike Terpstra of Modesto in the process. The senior Belletto continued to lead as another car fell by the wayside on lap-17 when Jason Fensler of Wilton and Larry Tankersley of Stockton got entangled on the back stretch and took a ride into the infield tires. Tankersley continued, but Fensler moved to the infield and watched Byrd move into second behind Belletto on lap-22.
The potential first place duel for the most recent track champions never developed as Belletto lost a transmission on the back straight and pulled off the track to hand the lead to Byrd on lap-28. At that juncture, Eric Holmes of Escalon assumed the second slot followed by Manteca's Ron Strmiska, Sr., four-time track champion Ken Boyd of Ceres, who started 10th, and Steve Belletto. Another go-slow flag came out on the 41st lap as John Gaalswyk of Ripon spun Stockton's Johnny Unger on the back stretch. Both ended up at the back of the field--rnger due to his spin out and Gaalswyk at the behest of t-he NASCAR officials.
The top five remained the same through the next 32-laps until the race was red flagged to enable infield ambulance attendants to minister to a fan injury in the stands. The ensuing re-start set up the worst crash of the night as Strmiska and Holmes came together on the front straight with Strmiska nearly climbing the wall towards turn-one. With the laps running down and the adrenalin running high, four more cars--Troy Emish of Fremont, Modesto's Mike David and Tankersley and Gaalswyk--collided on the next re-start. Once order was restored, Ermish and Tankersley were towed to the pits while David and Gaalswyk were able to remain in the fray.
The now nine-car field provided plenty of excitement for the crowd of 2,563 over the final 10 laps as the younger Belletto, running second, got under Byrd down the backchute and while the two forced up in turns three and four, Boyd shot low to grab the lead. Like a man possessed, Byrd stood on the throttle and charged back towards the front to engage in a three way battle. On lap-97, the new champion gathered in both Boyd and Belletto with an outside pass on the front straightaway leading to his eighth feature triumph of the season. Next in line at the final flag was Boyd followed by Belletto, Holmes and David.
Tracy's Howard Hoffman was the early leader in the 25-]ap Grand American Modified main. Hoffman succumbed to Paul Guthmiller, who earlier had won his first trophy dash of the season, on lap-l0. Two quick yellows on laps l6 and l7 slowed the pace with 1996 champion Robert Miller of San Jose pulling off one of his patented re-starts to grab the lead on the 18th circuit. As Miller passed the flagstand, Bill Ereth of Lodi spun at the back of the pack, ending up near the crash wall. While racing to the yellow flag, Ereth was hit hard by Jason Kerby of Stockton who had no place to go, and no time to brake. The hit by Kerby turned Ereth sideways into the oncoming car of Darren Halterman of Stockton who piled into Ereth's driver door bringing out a red flag. As an effort was being made to re-line the cars on the front straight, veteran NASCAR official Nate Stoller was clipped by a car resulting in a broken leg and a trip to the hospital. Once racing resumed, it was downhill for Miller as he posted an unprecedented l 9th feature victory in 25 starts--finishing ahead of Guthmiller, Tony Silva of Sacramento, Hoffman and Steve Stacy of Stockton.
The parade of champions continued in the Street Stock division as the newly crowned champion Dan Dabbs of North Highlands posted his third season feature win. Victor Machado of Escalon was the early leader until bowing to Dabbs on the 12th circuit. Only one minor yellow slowed the torrid pace as Dabbs led Machado to the checkered. Next in line came Bud Beltrama and Jerry Tripp of Stockton with John Vanderwerff of Manteca finishing fifth.
The Pure Stock division put on its normal--but wild--show to delight the fans with Stockton's Jerry Tripp III taking the initial lead. Another Stockton pilot, Kevin Touchstone, took the point on the 11th circuit and in turn bowed to Rick Bentz of Lodi on lap-14. With only two laps to run, Tripp pressed Bentz for the lead making the pass on the white flag lap down the backchute to register his second win of the season by the narrowest of margins over Bentz. Touchstone ran third with two other Stockton drivers--Mark Youngblood and Kannai Scantlen-taking the fourth and fifth positions.