Gardner Claims First Sprint Car Win at Calistoga Speedway 05/05/01 By, Bill Sessa Calistoga CA. ...A young lion roared Saturday night as Bay area driver Damion Gardner claimed one of the most impressive wins in his sprint car career and his first on the Calistoga Speedway. Gardner, a driver from Concord whose previous best finish on the high speed half mile oval was ninth, led all 25 laps from the pole, but the win was far from a cakewalk, as he held off challenges from more seasoned drivers who have already seen victory lane at Calistoga. "This is the biggest track we run on and we don't get to do it very often," said an elated Gardner, who celebrated his win with a fist-pumping victory dance on the top wing of his sprint car in victory circle.

"When you come here and win, it says that you're the fastest of the fast drivers. " Gardner"s biggest challenge came from Clovis' Jason Meyers, a multiple winner at Calistoga, who flew from Nebraska to drive his family-owned sprint car when rained washed out the national World of Outlaws tour in the Midwest. Gardner sped to leads as large as a dozen car lengths on an open track, only to have Meyers reel him in when the pair hit lapped traffic. Spins and other minor accidents brought out a series of timely yellow flags, giving Gardner time to regroup and hold off Meyers on restarts. "To be honest, I didn't know who was behind me," said Gardner about the single file restarts. "I just reminded myself that we hadn't yet taken the checkered flag and we had a race to run."

He said his newfound speed at Calistoga was the result of getting better acquainted with a new car. "By the end of last year, I started getting to the front in races," he said, 'and it's carried on so far this year."

Meyers conceded that he just didn't have enough speed to catch the winner because his chassis set-up made the car a bit slow in the corners. "He was very good on an open track, but he would make mistakes in traffic,"  said Meyers. "I was better in traffic, but every time I caught him it seemed that the yellow flag came out." Even so, said Meyers, second place was worth the plane ride half-way across the country "because I love to race." Besides, he said, "we tried some new set-ups on the car tonight that will help us later in the year, " when the World of Outlaws tour returns to Calistoga for the Harvest Classic.

Tommy Tarlton finished third after starting sixth. The night's fastest qualifier, Brian Coelho, finished fourth after starting seventh and four-time Calistoga Speedway champion Steve Kent moved through heavy traffic in the early laps to finish fifth after starting twelth. The Golden State Challenge Series returns to Calistoga for two nights of racing on Saturday and Sunday evenings of Memorial Day weekend.

Calistoga Speedway, Golden State Challenge Series sprint cars, (Sat. 05/05/01).

Fast qualifier; Brian Coelho, Tulare (17.169 sec).

Heat 1(8 laps)----Jason Stattler, San Jose; Brent Kaeding, Campbell; Mike Faria, Tipton; Johnny Rodriquez, Sacramento.

Heat 2---Jonathan Allard, Chico; Jason Meyers, Fresno; Rob Johnson, Santa Rosa; Tommy Tarlton, Tulare.

Heat 3---Tim Kaeding, Campbell; Gary Farravante, Paso Robles; Peter Murphy, Sydney, Australia; Blake Robertson, Hanford.

Heat 4---Lee Brewer, San Leandro; Eric Rossi, Gilroy; Steve Osbourne, Cupertino; Damion Gardner, Concord.

Semi-Main (12 laps): Coelho; Steve Kent, Fresno; Ronnie Day, Salinas; Mike Skinner, Discovery Bay; Kevin Pylant, Santa Cruz; Tony Lutar, White Rock, British Columbia.

MAIN EVENT (25 LAPS): Gardner; Meyers; Tarlton; Coelho; Kent; Murphy; B. Kaeding; Pylant; Rossi; Allard; T. Kaeding; Skinner; Day; Rodriquez; Brewer; Osbourne; Lutar; Johnson; Faria; Stattler; Robertson; Farravante..

The Golden State Challenge victory was the first for Gardner on the historic half-mile. If the company you keep is any indication, Gardner has "HERO" written all over him. If you consider that the five previous first time Calistoga winners are named, Danny Lasoski 09/04/99, Jason Meyers 05/01/99, Randy Hannagan 05/24/98 Stevie Smith 08/31/96, , and Mark Kinser 08/30/96


Flips - Dave Lindt #52 - Okay.