Paden Masters Oildale Clay, Bragg Focus Hero - By Bobby Gerould - May 15, 2004 - Bakersfield, CA. ůSteven Paden took on all comers in the United States Auto Club Western States Midgets 30 lap feature event at Bakersfield Speedway Saturday night. The Downey, California resident took the lead on lap four and once in front was never headed. "I want to thank my crew," said Paden. "We made bar changes and chased the track all night."
The 30 lap headliner took awhile to get sorted out. Rick Hendrix and Dallen McKinney paced the field from the front row, and Hendrix led lap one. Matt Mitchell dropped from the action at the same time after being 'pinballed' amongst the 22 cars fighting for space on the tight 1/3-mile clay oval. Lap three was a disaster. Josh Wise got sideways in turn one as he fought for the lead with Hendrix. When Wise couldn't save his Mike Sala owned #19 from spinning; he was drilled by teammate Robby Flock. McKinney and Wally Pankratz were also in the tangle. Jerome Rodela stopped on the backchute too. All the cars returned to race except for McKinney.
Hendrix was being scored as the leader for the restart with two laps down. However, Hendrix had a damaged right rear that was rubbing on something on his #12 midget. The resulting smoke caught his attention and Hendrix pulled to the pits, surrendering the lead to Steven Graves. Paden dusted off Graves as soon as the green flag appeared but Kirk Kubik stopped on the backchute forcing a caution, and the negation of Paden's pass. The next restart produced another yellow, this time for Josh Lakatos who spun in turn four trying to get to the front. Wise then dropped out of the race, as Graves anticipated a third restart with the 2003 series champion, Paden, on his backside.
Graves held off Paden for a lap but could not hold him back any longer. Diving low in turn one Paden pulled even and then passed Graves in turn two on the slippery surface. On the same lap, Danny Stratton made his presence known by stealing the runner-up spot from Graves. Stratton quickly closed up on Paden and nearly spun him on the front chute at the completion of lap five. Quick reactions by both Paden and Stratton kept both cars somehow pointed in the right direction.
After that initial challenge, Paden settled into a groove and ran away. Tyler Brown passed Stratton on the frontchute on lap nine to take second place. Jimmy Christian was driving a good race, running fourth on lap 16 when he retired from the race with mechanical ills. Meanwhile, Rodela was making his way back through the pack, and muscled up to third by circuit 18.
Paden hit traffic on lap 24 with a three-quarter straightaway lead. Brown and Rodela provided the best racing of the night on laps 25-27. Rodela finally moved by Brown on the low groove in turn four with three laps to go. At the checkered flag it was Paden followed by Rodela, Brown, Stratton, and Garrett Hanson. USAC Western States Midgets points leader, Johnny Rodriguez brought his car home cleanly in sixth.
Paden, Stratton, and Brown were victorious in heats. Hanson tipped onto his side during the second heat. Hendrix won the semi main. Ford Focus heat winners were Audra Sassellli, Bobby Michnowicz, and Lakatos. Cal Smith earned quick qualifying honors for the full bodied midget cars with spec Ford Focus engines. Smith however spun twice in one lap in the 20-lap Focus Feature and was sent to the pits.
The 20 Lap Focus feature was won by Greg Bragg of Visalia who was making his first start ever in a Ford Focus Midget. Bragg lost an early lead to Lakatos on lap ten but Lakatos was black flagged during a lap 12 caution for losing a muffler on his number 4. Bragg inherited the lead and then held back the challenges of Chase Barber to score the win. Barber was runner up, with 13th starting Sasselli doing a fantastic job to take the final podium spot. Michnowicz finished fourth and Ryan Pace rounded out the top five.
Driver / Hometown / Car Owner / First Time / Quick Time
Heat One: - 1. Paden, 2. Wise, 3. Rodela, 4. Christian, 5. McQueen, 6. Hendrix, 7. Miller, 8. Howard.
Heat Two: 1. Stratton, 2. Rodriguez, 3. Mitchell, 4. Flock, 5. Graves, 6. Hanson, 7. Pierovich
Heat Three: 1. T. Brown, 2. Lakatos, 3. Pankratz, 4. McKinney, 5. Simpson, 6. Ellis, 7. Kubik
Semi: 1. Hendrix, 2. Pierovich, 3. Ellis, 4. Miller, 5. Kubik, 6. Howard
Main Event: 1. Paden, 2. Rodela, 3. T. Brown, 4. Stratton, 5. Hanson, 6. Rodriguez, 7. Hendrix, 8. Flock, 9. Ellis, 10. Graves, 11. Lakatos, 12. Howard, 13. Miller, 14. Christian, 15. McQueen, 16. Pankratz, 17. Simspon, 18. Kubik, 19. Wise, 20. McKinney, 21. Pierovich, 22. Mitchell.
Lap Leaders: 1-2 Hendrix. 3 - Graves, 4-30 Paden.