“Double Down” Willie Croft Wins July 4th Special at Chico

By: Troy Hennig

(Chico, CA 7-04-04)… “Double Down” Willie Croft of Sacramento won the 25 lap 410 sprint car main event at John Padjen’s Silver Dollar Speedway on Sunday night, July 4th.  Whether he is sitting at a black jack table in Reno or inside a race car, “Double Down” Willie Croft is as cool of a customer as you’ll ever see.  Croft dominated the race and won the popular victory in front of 4, 300 fans who packed the grandstand and bleachers of Silver Dollar Speedway.  The 35m sprint car that Willie drives is owned by Tom Fisher and Kyle Main of Grass Valley who spent all week putting together a brand new sprint car for Croft to race with.  Croft took the lead away from Gerrold Hopping on lap eight and led the final 17 laps for the victory.  It was the team’s second victory of the year at Chico while it marked Croft’s third win of the year as a driver.  Also winning during the nights racing action were Mike Sohnrey in the dirt modifieds and Jim Neher in the pure stocks.  A total of 31 sprint cars, 21 pure stocks and 14 modifieds helped celebrate American with racing and fireworks at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds.

            A strong start by Carl Enns gave him the lead of the 20 car sprint car feature event.  Enns led the first six laps until Gerrold Hopping made a nice move to the inside and grabbed the lead.  Croft followed suite and was now in second.  On lap seven Croft made his bid for the lead and was the official new leader on lap eight when Chico’s John Gray came to a stop in turn two.  Gray had moved into the top five until the spin.  With Croft as the new leader he quickly left the rest of the competition behind.  Hopping, Enns and Kyle Hirst were having a heck of a battle along with Blake Robertson.  On lap 16, Robertson entered turn three on the top and drifted off the edge as he lost valuable track position.  The next lap Jason Statler did the same thing; however, Statler would crawl to a stop and bring out the yellow.  As Statler stopped in turn two, Robertson spun off turn four and each would restart in the back.  The race restarted with six to go and there was nobody who could touch Croft.  He and his team had dialed in the brand new sprint car to perfection and picked up the much needed victory.  Enns drove as fine of a race that we’ve seen him run at Chico and finished second.  Shain Matthews scored an impressive third place finish with help from Brian Cannon as his new crew chief.  Rookie phenomenal driver Kyle Hirst picked up another top five by placing fourth.  Hopping scored his best finish to date as he came across in fifth.

            Earlier this week Mike Sohnrey added a baby boy to his family as Mason Sohnrey was born at nearby Enloe Hospital.  So Sohnrey went out and dedicated this race to his new born son and won the 20 lap non- stop dirt modified main event.  Sohnrey, who has struggled the last two months at the track, dominated the racing action and held a comfortable lead over Ryan McDaniel at the finish.  McDaniel was able to close in on Sohnrey the final five laps but there was too much distance between the two.  Following the top two of Sohnrey and McDaniel were Matt Micheli, Randy McDaniel and Travis Peery.  Tonight’s win was number two on the year for Sohnrey.

            Paradise driver Jim Neher led all 20 laps in the pure stock main event.  It was his first win of the season.  Neher held off great challenges from Jim Thomas and Joe Flower.  Also in the mix was current point’s leader Andy Aust. Hard charging Wes Dinsmore made a run to the front but made contact with another driver that ultimately cost him many positions in the end and in fact, had to be towed off the track after the checkered.  It was a tough way to end the night as he was celebrating his 15th wedding anniversary with his wife at the track.  Up front Neher was untouchable and had a couple car lengths on second place finishing Jim Thomas and third place Joe Flower. 

            A 12 lap B main event was run and Beau Perkins was the winner.  A lap one wreck took out five cars including pole sitter Pete Johnston and second row starting Stuart Krum.  Finishing second was Danny Ochs, Bernie Sloop was third and Heat Hall earned the fourth and final transfer spot.

            Sprint car heat races were won by second year driver Matt Shelton in heat one.  Blake Robertson came from row three to win heat two.  Sean Becker won heat three and Willie Croft won heat four after starting outside row three.

            Jim Tomas, Wes Dinsmore and Chris Warner won the three pure heats.

            Mike Sohnrey completed a lean sweep by wining heat on of the modified division.  Heat two went to Mike Haemmig of Grass Valley.

            The night started off with a bang as San Jose stud driver Jason Statler broke the regular season track record with an 11.504.  He broke the mark just set by Andy Forsberg on June 11 with an 11.684.  Statler is now the second fastest driver to hold a qualifying mark in the sprint car division at Chico.  Jeff Shepard holds the all-time mark at an 11.477.




Sprint Cars

Fast Time: Jason Statler: 11.504

Heat 1: Matt Shelton, Statler, Shain Matthews, Mark Abouzeid, Robert Stice

Heat 2: Blake Robertson, Eddy Lewis, Steve Ferhman, Kyle Hirst, Travis Moore

Heat 3: Sean Becker, John Gray, Carl Enns, Brian Boswell, Pete Johnston

Heat 4: Willie Croft, Tim Gibbons, Gerrold Hopping, Tommy Fogarty, Heat Hall

B Main: Beau Perkins, Danny Ochs, Bernie Sloop, Hall, Stice, Brandon Dozier, Tim Barnes, Claudia Hughes, Kevin Sharrah, Johnston, Daniel Becker, Stuart Krum, Dave James

A Main: Croft, Enns, Matthews, Hirst, Hopping, Becker, Perkins, Gray, Abouzeid, Shelton, Robertson, Boswell, Statler, Sloop, Lewis