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Strmiska Jr. keeps trophy from switching hands

Record Staff Writer
Published Monday, Apr 10, 2006

Cars line up for the main event Sunday in Stockton 99 Speedway’s opening day

Credit: Michael McCollum/The Record

STOCKTON - Wanting to do something to honor the final season at Stockton 99 Speedway, Ron Strmiska Sr. decided to donate an old championship trophy to this year's first winner.

He had no idea that his son was going to win it back for him.

Ron Strmiska Jr. took the lead with 22 laps remaining in the in the 100-lap NASCAR Western Late Model main event in front of a crowd of 1,981 as Stockton 99 began its 60th and final season of racing Sunday after rain postponed the opening day last weekend.

The WLM feature was the first event in the Hotwood 1,000 Laps of Racing series, and the winners of each of the 10 races in the series will receive a vintage trophy donated by a former champion.

Strmiska Sr. gave away his 1978 track championship trophy, which was kept in a dusty box in the attic of his racing shop in Manteca.

He didn't think he'd see it again after he handed it to the winner.

"Well, I guess we're taking it back," Strmiska Sr. said with a laugh. "I said to an official that it would be something if Ron won it back."

Strmiska Jr. has not won at Stockton 99 in two years, but he took the lead after Guy Guibor and Dave Byrd crashed while battling for first place. He said he had no intention of putting the trophy back in the box.

"We just added a little history to it, and I think we'll find a place for it," Strmiska Jr. said.

Julia Padilla, 5, and her sister Maggie,11, enjoy a snack during Stockton 99 Speedway’s opening day

Credit: Michael McCollum/The Record

The Strmiska family had another reason to be happy Sunday. Ron Jr.'s nephew, Ian, 6, underwent chemotherapy at UC Davis Medical Center to treat his cancer but was able to get to Stockton to see the end of the race.

"He just loves racing," Strmiska Jr. said. "It was great he could make it."

Strmiska Jr. admitted he needed some help.

Guibor seemed to have control of the race, taking the lead from defending WLM champion Pete Anderson of Stockton on lap 48. Guibor was next to Byrd on a lap 78 restart when the two cars collided.

Byrd swerved off the track, through the grass in turn one and back on to the track before hitting Guibor. The result was a five-car accident that Guibor shook off as a "racing incident."

Strmiska took over the lead. "Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good in racing," Strmiska Jr. said. "(Guibor) was better than everyone; he had the race won."

Byron Gonzales of Carmichael won the WestCar Late Model Series 100-lap main event in his first race at Stockton 99. He said he had heard how tough it can be.

"I heard all about the buildup, how this is a premiere track to race at," Gonzales said.

Joe Allen, #1, of Stockton won the American Limited Stock Car feature, and Bryan Hitchcock, #38, of Manteca won the Pro 4 Truck main event.

Contact reporter Scott Linesburgh at (209) 546-8281 or slinesbu@recordnet.com

Philpott follows dad's lead

Published Monday, Apr 10, 2006

STOCKTON - Sunday afternoon at Stockton 99 Speedway was just another season opener, not unlike any of the others Dave Philpott has seen since 1967 when he sat in the grandstand and watched his dad's first race.

Well, OK, his 16-year-old son, Justin, was making his debut on the track in a Late Model stock car, so he was more nervous than he ever was before one of his own races. And, the facility's 60th season opener will be the last, but other than that, the opener was strictly routine.

He wasn't sentimental about the old oval because he refuses to believe the Speedway's heading down the backstretch.

"I have faith it's not coming to an end," Dave Philpott said. "Until I see the bulldozers..."

Well, until that day, the quarter-mile track on Wilson Way will continue to be the Philpott family's second home.

And just in case Philpott is wrong and the track owners are right when they say a sale of the 20-acre property is pending, Justin is racing there for the sake of his career.

"It's the toughest place you can go to race," Philpott said. "Most tracks are symmetrical but here, turn one and two is different from turn three and four. If you can race here, you can race anywhere."

Justin Philpott, a Tracy High sophomore who didn't get his driver's license until January, already showed he can race. He was the rookie of the year in Super Stocks at Altamont Speedway last year, finishing third in the point standings. In his first race of the season, he was the fastest qualifier. He won one race and finished second 12 times.

"There was no use keeping him down. I decided to move him up," Dave Philpott said.

Dave Philpott envisions his son racing far beyond the confines of the San Joaquin Valley. Stockton 99 is just the first stop.

Justin Philpott has been headed to this rookie season at Stockton 99 Speedway since he was a 4-year-old hanging around the track. He loved to play with the jack, earning him the nickname "Jackman."

To keep his hands off the tool, his dad would put him in the car.

"That was our baby-sitter," Dave Philpott said.

"It's something I always wanted to do, to be like him," Justin said, pointing to his dad. "To be better than him."

His dad was good enough to win Stockton 99 titles in 1992 and 1993. An opportunity to move up, to race on the Winston West circuit, arose around that time, but Dave Philpott declined.

"I had to go to work on Monday," he said.

He may regret that decision at times, but Dave Philpott is content with helping Justin move up the racing ladder, perhaps into the Busch Series within a couple years.

Justin shares his dad's desire for race track success. He also has access to the knowledge that comes from years of racing, information also available from his grandfather John, his cousin Ryan, who also raced on Sunday, and uncle Steve, a former driver at Stockton 99.

"It's part of my family. It's like going to church every Sunday," said Justin, whose first race ended early with engine problems. "We came to this race track every Saturday night. It's burned into me. It's in my blood. I love it."

Tempers at Stockton 99 Speedway are known to flare, but because either it's the final run of the place or a little mellowing has occurred with time, former fierce rivals Harry Belletto and Dave Philpott had their trailers parked side by side for Sunday's opener. Philpott pointed to Belletto and told of how the racer had passed him as though he were standing still in his first race there in 1976, and 16-year-old Justin Philpott pointed to Belletto as he walked by and called him "great."

Contact columnist Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-82824 or lgilbert@recordnet.com


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