David Robinson Jr. wins 2004 Civil War championship title...barely
Series title comes down to the final nail biting lap at Placerville Speedway
In preliminary competition, Robinson picked up three points towards the championship with a third place finish in his heat race to bring his lead up to 12 entering the feature event. Gurney, who had clocked a new track record in qualifying earlier with a 10:413, finished seventh in his heat race and earned a starting spot in the money race after winning the 12-lap B-feature. With Gurney starting in the third position and Robinson starting tenth in the final race of the evening, the championship title was far from determined, farther than Robinson ever imagined it would be.
At the waving of the green flag Roger Crockett took the lead from the pole position and was joined by the likes of Joey Magaruh and Gurney. On the fourth lap Magaruh brought the near capacity crowd to the edge of their seats with a daring pass on Crockett in the fourth turn. One lap later the crowds attention was back on the battle for the championship as an incident t occurred that both teams admit falls under the category of bizarre and unbelievable. Going into the third and fourth turns, Gurney was running in the top four when his car slipped out of gear and began to slow. As the driver they call Lil’ Rim fell off the pace and crawled around the top of the track trying to get back in gear, Robinson was charging through traffic in the same driving line and collided into the rear of Gurney just as he powered ahead into the top ten. The collision broke Robinson’s brake line and drew the yellow flag.
“I could not believe it,” said Robinson. ‘There I was on my way to the front, we clearly had a strong car tonight. I’m going towards the front up high and the next thing I know I run into this big red car with a guy named Gurney in it and cut my brake line. I thought it was over right there.”
During the yellow flag, Robinson’s car was towed to the top of the south ramp of the pit area where his crew and many others scurried to repair the FnF Racing #x1 in time for the restart. Just as the yellow light was being shut off the drama began to build as Gurney stalled and came to a stop on the track just as Robinson rolled down the entry ramp, backwards to return to the line up.
“I have to thank my whole crew and everyone that pitched in,” said Robinson. “We were trapped in the pits up there and had no choice but to just roll down backward. I have to really thank a guy named Kenny from Ray Rust’s crew. That guy jumped on the side of my car and steered it down that ramp with me and I had no brakes at that point. That guy was crazy but if he hadn’t helped I would have crashed coming back out like that.” As Robinson returned, Gurney was able to restart as well but lost his top ten position for the restart and the dueling top runners took the green flag from the rear of the field as Crockett and Magaruh dueled for the lead, trading the position several times in the next 10 laps that saw their share of yellow flag delays much to the satisfaction of Robinson who was clearly having mechanical woes while Gurney was charging back towards the front and stealing the championship lap by lap.
During the multiple caution periods, Robinson made several trips to the pit area to continue repairing his brakes and making the needed adjustments. With every return to the track, Robinson’s car appeared to perform better but not near as well as that of Gurney’s who was riding the rim of the track passing car after car and driving as high as the eighth position.
“I don’t know what we would have done without those yellows,” said Robinson. “There was no way I could drive the car well the way it was and I just knew someone was helping me out a little bit tonight, it was pretty incredible” On the 20th lap, Magaruh spun and fell out of the lead in the fourth turn. As Crockett powered ahead Gurney was running strong in the eighth position and moving forward. As he traveled into the first and second turns he drifted high on the track, caught the top birm and flipped over all on his own to bring even more drama to the championship soap opera that was taking place. During the red flag, Robinson was able to go to the pit to make additional repairs while Gurney’s car was uprighted and he was able to restart with a damaged top wing. Both drivers restarted the event from the rear of the field once again as Crockett set the pace with Stephen Allard and Brad Sweet in tow.
“The tension in the pits was incredible,” said Steve Tuccelli, co-owner of Robinson’s team. “First we see Gurney slow down and we take a deep breath, then off all people to run into him it was Dave. After that I was thinking this championship is gone and Chuck flips over, it was great for the fans but tense for us.”
In the final laps, Crockett drove his way to his third victory of the season while Gurney and Robinson battled from the back. When the checkered flag flew it was Crockett with the win followed by Allard and Sweet. Gurney had rebounded to the 13th position while Robinson finished 16th, won the title and for the first time climbed on his top wing screaming in celebration.
“What an incredible year and an incredible night,” said Robinson. “I really thought this championship was over tonight, many times I thought that. Every time I had to go to the pits in fact. But it was a team effort and I never want to race for any other team, Steve Tuccelli and Alan Bradway, I love these guys to death. It was them and the crew that got it done tonight. Hats off to Chuck Gurney, he is one heck of a driver and he let it all hang out tonight.”
Following the race, Gurney paid a visit to Robinson’s pit area for sportsman’s handshake and congratulated the team on their victory. Although he appeared a bit disappointed, the third generation driver was still able to cast his familiar smile as he talked to fans near the damaged car that drew so much attention on this night.
“I gave it everything I had tonight, “ said Gurney. “This car was so perfect and so fast I was going to the front and I just let myself get a little too high. My congratulations to the FnF team, we put a show on for the fans and that's what its all about. I’m a little bummed but I gave it my best.”
Robinson first won a Civil War title in 1999 aboard his family owned team. This is the first Civil War title since teaming with Tuccelli and Bradway two years ago. Last month he won the his third driving championship at Placerville Speedway, the second title with the team and now holds a total of five driving championships in the winged sprint car division. In the 2004 Civil War, Robinson garnered four heat race wins, nine top ten finishes, six top five's and one feature event win. Auto racing will now conclude at Placerville Speedway until March of 2005. A special rock climbing competition is slated for Saturday, October 16th with further details to be released.