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Calistoga Opener to Eric Rossi - HD Staff 05/04/02 - Calistoga, CA. ...Gilroy, CA.'s Eric Rossi led every lap of the Golden State Challenge feature at Calistoga Saturday night to win his first A-main at the historic half-mile that started racing in 1936. Driving the Family Auto Service #98x, Rossi held off the late challenges of eventual runner-up, Kevin Pylant, and Jason Meyers.

Pylant dogged Rossi throughout the race, and closed in for a possible pounce as the leaders encountered rear pack traffic. As Pylant was catching up to Rossi, Meyers was closing on the leaders with a flurry. Meyers, who started 13th, reeled in the top two in the late going, at one point looking like he might just drive around Pylant and Rossi. That never materialized, as Pylant engaged Meyers in a spirited duel for second, complete with backmarkers providing "jam car" status. The three were all tightly grouped heading for the white flag. Pylant and Meyers both tried mightily in deep traffic on the last lap to make a run at Rossi. However, Rossi diced through the traffic to see the checkered flag first.

“It was just like being in a traffic jam on the freeway,” said Rossi. “I just punched my nose into a hole and waited until I could get back on the gas. I just had to protect the inside line because I knew those guys (chasing me) weren’t going to try the outside and pass us all.” But things were just as hectic over the next three turns as lapped cars crowded the racing line, cutting short two other challenges to Rossi’s lead before he took the checkered flag. “I think he almost drove into the infield to get around lapped cars and keep me behind him on the backstretch,” said Pylant. “It was wild.”

Meyers, who has been racing on the national tour the last two years, easily hacked through the traffic to the third spot by the half-way mark of the feature. “He’s been running on big, fast race tracks like Calistoga 100 nights a year for two years, “ a rival car owner commented. “He’s the guy to beat.” That experience showed, with Meyers repeatedly getting a run on the two leaders, only to have his path cut off by a lapped car. In a pattern that repeated itself several times, Meyers would catch the two leaders, see them pull slightly away as they cleared the traffic first, only to have the group catch another traffic jam as Meyers was ready to make another move. “If it hadn’t been for a lapped car, I could have passed both of them,” said Meyers, who went into turn three on the high side and was running much faster than the front runners with the checkered flag in sight when he had to hit the brakes to avoid a slower car that was running in his racing line. “It was all about timing…and I just didn’t’ get a break in traffic and Rossi did,” said Meyers. “It’s part of racing and that’s why he won.”

The win at Calistoga made Rossi, who has won many races at other tracks, “doubly happy because we’ve been struggling. We’ve already wrecked one car this year and the one I drove tonight has close to 90 races on it,” he said. “Our team is family owned and we don’t have the resources that some of these other teams have.” The Golden State Challenge Series sprint cars return to Calistoga Speedway on Memorial Day weekend.

Finishing fourth was defending series champion, Brent Kaeding, just ahead of 2001 Calistoga track champ, Steve Kent.

Brian Coelho continued his Golden State mastery of time-trials. Coelho, who led the club in quick-times in 2001, was the only driver in the 16 second bracket. Series points leader heading into Calistoga, Tim Kaeding suffered a steering pump malfunction, and was the second car out of the race, finishing 20th.

Jim Skinner escaped serious injury when his car caught fire after he won his heat race. Skinner bailed out of the car, with his uniform on fire, but later returned to run the feature. A total of 21 winged sprint cars showed up for the race, which was bolstered by the WRA and BCRA Vintage Divisions.

Golden State Challenge Series // Calistoga Speedway, Season Opener, May 4, 2002

Fast Time: Brian Coelho 16.963

Heat 1: 1. Jason Meyers, 2. Jason Statler, 3. Doug Lippencott, 4. Brent Kaeding, 5. Tim Kaeding, 6. Coelho

Heat 2: 1. Kevin Pylant, 2. Garrett Ishii, 3. Tommy Tarlton, 4. Steve Kent, 5. Johnny Gray, 6. Rob Johnson, 7. Danny Ochs

Heat 3: 1. Jim Skinner, 2. Toni Lutar, 3. Pete Murphy, 4. Eric Rossi, 5. Craig Stidham, 6. Dennis Binstock, 7. Stuart Krum

A-Main: 1. Rossi, 2. Pylant, 3. Meyers, 4. B. Kaeding, 5. Kent, 6. Tarlton, 7. Murphy, 8. Stidham, 9. Coelho, 10. Skinner, 11. Statler, 12. Ishii, 13. Lippencott, 14. York, 15. Binstock, 16. Lutar, 17. Krum, 18. Ochs, 19. Johnson, 20. T. Kaeding, 21. Gray

Thanks to Bill Sessa - who contributed to this report.

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