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Stockton 99 Speedway – April 9, 2006

Courtesy of Kelly Jones/Modesto Bee

 Western Late Models Finally Kick-Off 2006 with 100-Lapper
Up for grabs Sunday in Stockton 99 Speedway's opener was the championship trophy Manteca's Ron Strmiska Sr. won in 1978.

The hardware gets to stay in the family as #90, Ron Strmiska Jr. led the final 22 laps to win the Western Late Model main - the first in the Hot Wood 1000 series - to kick-off the track's 60th and final season.

 A past champion will donate and present one of his old trophies to the winner in each of 10 Hot Wood 100-lappers this year. Strmiska Sr. picked his first of two title trophies, thinking it sure would be something if his son won it back.

"I'll be darned if he did," Strmiska Sr. said. "He ran a smart race today."

Strmiska assumed the lead after race leaders Guy Guibor of Manteca and #21, Dave Byrd of San Jose took each other out in the 75th lap.

Guibor was holding his own in a race full of heavy hitters. He had taken the lead in Lap 48, getting by defending track champion #5,  Pete Anderson Jr. of Stockton on the front stretch.

Guibor stayed ahead of two-time champion Byrd in two restarts and was door-to-door with him in Lap 75. But Guibor said the drivers got sideways and touched wheels, sending Byrd onto the infield grass and back up into Guibor's car on the track.

"Guy's car was fast," Byrd said. "He kept up with us on those restarts, but I thought I'd get it one of those times. His left front hit our right back. When I got on that grass, I was along for the ride."

The Western Late Model race was slowed by two red flags and six yellows.  Strmiska Jr. drove with a bent hood from the Lap 19 on. A handful of cars got banged up on a restart, including that of Strmiska, three-time champ Harry Belletto and Peter Hernandez of Chicago. Of the 22 cars that started the race, only 14 finished.

Chowchilla's #32, Eric Humphries finished second. Anderson Jr., who had led 39 laps, finished third after changing a flat right front tire in Lap 71. Guibor finished seventh.

Strmiska Jr. said he just tried to hold his line, staying out of trouble low on the track.

Twenty-eight years of dust had to be wiped off his dad's trophy. Strmiska Jr., who last won at Stockton 99 in 2003, said the family will find a more illustrious place than storage for it now.

"We get to take home that same old trophy," Strmiska Jr. said with a smile. "It's better to be lucky than good in racing sometimes. I had the fastest car a lot of times and didn't win."

Each past winner's trophy will be outfitted with a second plaque to mark their victory, as well as a gold-plated chunk of the wall in Turn 3. Strmiska Sr. had one of the track's more memorable wrecks at that spot in 1982.

Strmiska Jr. was twice as happy with the victory when he found out his nephew, Ian, was in the stands. The 6-year-old has been battling cancer and had come from a chemotherapy appointment at UC Davis Medical Center to catch the end of the race.

It finished minutes before a light rain began to fall on the track. It let up enough for the West Car Series to celebrate its first winner of the season.

 Defending Champ Earns First Victory for West Car Series

Defending champion Byron Gonzalez, #98, won the 100-lapper in his first time at Stockton 99. The Carmichael driver said he had been nervous about it, especially since the car didn't test well on the quarter-mile.

 "It's supposed to be a premier track to do well at," Gonzalez said. "Honestly, I didn't think I would. We have a lot of new guys this year and a lot of Stockton regulars were in the race. The track's got a lot of character. I really like it."

Stockton's #1, Joe Allen won the 30-lap American Limited Stock Car main.

Manteca's #38, Bryan Hitchcock won the Pro-4 Truck 15-lap race.

A crowd of approximately 2,000 ventured out to the historic quarter mile on Sunday despite the threat of rain. More Coverage....

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