Sacramento's Croft stuns fans, himself
with prestigious Mini-Gold Cup victory by Bill Sullivan, John Padjen
Motorsports CHICO - ...Earlier in the day Sacramento driver Willie Croft
and his team were faced with a financial dilemma. They were in need of right
rear tire late in the day and had simply spent every dime they had just
to get to the 18th Annual Mini-Gold Cup. After several friends and family
members pitched in with donations to buy a new tread, Croft and company
managed to yield a return on their investment by leading every lap and posting
$6000 victory in this event that officially opens the season in Northern
California with the sprint cars of the Golden State Challenge Series.
"Oh my god, I cannot believe I won this race,"
said an emotional Croft, covering his eyes in disbelief and choked for words
in victory lane. "This is the biggest win of my career...the biggest of
my life. This is incredible."
Croft could not of asked for a better starting
position in Saturday's finale of the two-day event, leading the field from
the pole position. At the waving of the green flag the 32-year-old veteran
driver took a a lead he would never relinquish aboard the #35m owned by
Grass Valley residents Tom Fischer, a 38-year old former track champion
here and Kyle Main, one of the sports youngest co-car owners at the early
age of 18. In the opening laps, Croft was chased by another driver who opened
some eyes Saturday as Mike Henry of Sacramento advanced from third into
second at the opening light. Henry is a a regular in California 360 competition,
winning the last two Civil War championships and a track title at Placerville
Speedway in 2002. Driving his Angus Motorsports owned #93 in this event
under a one time sponsorship of the popular fan based internet group known
as "Hoserville," Henry displayed his under rated driving talents as he wheeled
with the best, holding off the big names of this series like Kaeding, Statler,
Pylant and Moore for nearly half of the 40-lap affair.
Despite closing in on Croft several times
in a race of their own, both Henry and his fellow unexpected front runner
had several guests begin to crash their party just after the halfway mark.
With 17 laps down Santa Cruz driver Kevin Pylant overtook Henry for second
place while Croft continued to maintain a healthy lead. After falling to
third, Henry still had the attention of the fans as he played the role of
rodent in a classic game of cat and mouse with none other but Tim and Brent
Kaeding, both previous "King of California" Champions. After darting high
and low, swapping positions and racing three-wide the battle for the coveted
third position came to a close on the 22nd lap when the father son duo split
Henry in the fourth turn, Tim taking the low side into third third place
with Brent on the outside and moving into fifth. Joining the crowd raising
slugfest behind the leader was fan favorite Jason Statler who also passed
Henry and Pylant and moved into second place behind Croft on the 24th lap.
With the race just half over, the dancing
for position was far from complete as the last half of the event saw Statler
close in on Croft in lapped traffic to no avail while the the Kaeding clan
dueled for the fourth position for several laps in traffic. Tim Kaeding
eventually prevailed over Brent and then overtook Pylant for third place
followed by a pass on Statler that placed him second place. Too few laps
remained for Kaeding to close in on the leader by the white flag lap in
which Statler stepped up to overtake Kaeding exiting the fourth turn and
approaching the finish line where Croft posted the win followed by Statler,
Tim Kaeding, Pylant, Brent Kaeding, Dennis Moore Jr. and Henry.
Climbing from his car, Croft was immediately
greeted by Tim Kaeding, who won on Friday night, and awarded not only a
handshake but a supportive hug for a race well driven by a driver who makes
various events throughout the season including the Civil War series, weekly
races at Placerville Speedway, Twin Cities and Silver Dollar Speedway on
a sporadic schedule. Victory lane was an emotional atmosphere as Croft was
somewhat speechless with the accomplishment.
"We needed a right rear before the race or
there was no way we would even finish the race on the one we had," explained
Croft. "I was out of money, the owners were out of money, we spent everything
we had to get this deal going and get here. We didn't even know they were
collecting for a tire until they did it, it was all about our friends and
family members, they got us here tonight."
A total of 43 cars competed in Saturday's
event. Preliminary action had Jason York of Chico posting the fastest time
in qualfying with a 12:203. heat race victories went to Billy Wallace, Craig
Stidham, Andy Forsberg and Roger Crockett. The C-main event was claimed
by Jayme Barnes who finished ahead of York and Doug Lippencott. In the B-main,
York got the win followed by Barnes, Brent Kaeding and Tim Kaeding.
Race Summary, Silver Dollar Speedway, Saturday,
March 13, 2004
FAST QUALIFIER: Jason York, Chico 12:203
HEAT 1: Billy Wallace, Grass Valley; John
Gray, Chico; Bob Maiwald, Gilroy; Brad Sweet, Grass Valley; Garrett Ishii,
Carruthers; Travis Rutz, Langley; Kevin Lovell, Kevin Lovell, Yuba City;
Carl Enns, Magalia; Eddie Lewis, Chico; Dan Ochs, Los Molinos; Jason York,
Chico; Jim Skinner, Byron.
HEAT 2: Craig Stidham, Fresno; Blake Robertson,
Visalia; Willie Croft, Sacramento; Kevin Pylant, Santa Cruz; Dan Menne,
Fort Jones; Sean Becker, Oroville; Korey Lovell, Yuba City; Heath Hall,
Redding; Jayme Barnes, Everett, WA; Stuart Krum, Sacramento; Kevin Sharrah,
HEAT 3: Andy Forsberg, Auburn; Colby Wiesz,
Colfax; Randy Hannagan, San Jose; Jason Statler, San Jose; Brent Kaeding,
Campbell; Stephen Allard, Chico; Robert Stice, Grass Valley; Ivan Worden,
Cotati; Matt Shelton, Chico; Pete Johnston, Princeton; Jeff Hallieb, Auburn;
Rick Fauver, Everett, WA (DNS)
HEAT 4: Roger Crockett, Eugene, OR; Bud Kaeding,
San Jose; Dennis Moore Jr, Grinnell, IA; Mike Henry, Sacramento; Tim Kaeding,
San Jose; Wayne Williams, Monterey; Shain Matthews, Marysville; Pat Harvey,
Grass Valley; Doug Lippencott, Minden, NV; Beau Perkins, Gerber; Jon Maiwald,
C-MAIN: Barnes; York; Lippencott; Ochs; Johnston;
Lewis; Shelton; Skinner; Sharrah; Hirst; Perkins; Jon Maiwald; Stuart Krum.
B-MAIN: York; Barnes; Brent Kaeding; Tim Kaeding;
Allard; Becker; Ishii; Menne; Matthews; Enns; Korey Lovell; Stice; Harvey;
Kevin Lovell; Rutz; Williams; Worden; Hall.
A-MAIN: Croft; Statler; Tim Kaeding; Pylant;
Brent Kaeding; Moore; Henry; York; Robertson; Hannagan; Bud Kaeding; Korey
Lovell; Allard; Sweet; Wallace; Wiesz; Barnes; Crockett; Forsberg; Becker;
Stidham; Bob Maiwald.