Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Houston, we have a winner

By Matthew J. Sullivan

Racing returned to Redwood Acres Raceway this past Saturday night after a two week layoff. Joining the four local divisions of real stocks, roadrunners, thunder roadsters and sportsman cars was the Airport Auto Brokers Late Model series for their second and final points visit to the 3/8-mile paved oval. After rear end issues in practice prevented him from qualifying, Randy Houston came from the rear of the field to handily win the 75-lap AABLM feature. Other main event victors on the night included Larry Pries in the sportsman division, Paul Peeples, Jr. in the thunder roadsters, Ryan Ahrens in the roadrunners and Donnie Hyman in the real stocks.

The real stock trophy dash went to Hyman over Ryan Robinson. Hyman then took the victory in the heat race beating out Wyatt Roach, Robinson, Bob Lima and Doug Way. Roach took the lead in the early going of the main event before falling victim to Hyman and Dustin Walters who was making his first start of the season driving the car normally piloted by his brother, Ryan. Walters looked as if he would be a serious contender to Hyman but misfortune struck. Coming off the fourth turn, it appeared as though something broke as Walters’ car went into the wall hard. Roach was collected in the process taking both drivers out of action. Hyman was able to take the win without serious threat over Robinson, Lima, Chris Naughton and Dax Kinsey.

The roadrunner division had its biggest turnout of cars ever with 16 total. Brett Murrell took his first ever victory in the trophy dash over Ryan Ahrens who was making his first start of the season after racing in the mini stock class last year. Dylan Cook won the faster heat race while Ken Barrett won the slower heat. The main event proved to be an example of 25 laps of controlled chaos. Rick Crawley held the lead early before giving way to Kolby Jackson. Jackson’s time didn’t last long as Dylan Cook took the top position. After a lap 13 caution, racing resumed with Cook still in the lead however going into the first turn he and the other three cars behind him got loose all at the same time. Several cars spun resulting in a yellow flag. Ahrens inherited the lead and was able to take the victory followed by Brian Murrell, Jr., Greg Mattox, Barrett and Cook.

Bruce Ziemer held off Paul Peeples, Jr. to win the thunder roadster trophy dash. Peeples beat Rob Nelson to the line by inches in the main event followed by Thomas Payne, Allen Olson and Chris Sarvinski. Nelson led the early laps of the feature from pole position before Ray Elliott took over the top spot. It didn’t take long for the fast cars of Peeples, Ziemer and Olson to move up to second, third and fourth behind Elliott. The only major incident of the race occurred when Sarvinski spun off the fourth turn collecting Payne. Fortunately both drivers were able to continue without damage. After the restart, Elliott did all he could to hold off Peeples, but eventually Peeples was able to get by for the lead. Elliott’s good night went bad when his engine soured, forcing him out of the race. Peeples cruised to the victory over Payne, Ziemer, Olson and Nelson.

The trophy dash in the sportsman division went to Brandon Barnwell followed by Larry Pries. Barnwell then took the heat race win followed by Kenny Demello, Angelo Marcelli, Dennis DelBiaggio and Pries. Demello led from pole early but was overtaken by Pries and DelBiaggio for position. After a spin on lap 12 by Joe Bonomini, the field tightened up and racing resumed. DelBiaggio did all he could to find a way by Pries for the lead but Pries was able to withstand DelBiaggio’s challenges to win. Marcelli took third with Demello fourth and Barnwell fifth.

Junior Roddy won the six-lap trophy dash for the AABLM series beating Northern California racing legend, Jim Walker who was racing for the first time in a year. The first 20 or so laps of the 75-lap main event proved to be late model short track racing at its best. With a full field invert, Allen Gibney started from pole and used it to his advantage as he led from the start. However, outside pole sitter, Mike Neilson kept fighting and was able to take the lead. Neilson built his lead to nearly a straightaway as Gibney did all he could to hold off the rest of the pack in second.

The eyes of the partisan crowd were firmly fixed on the blue 48 of Walker and he proved to still have some of the same magic that’s made him a fan favorite all along the west coast. After starting from seventh, Walker methodically picked his way through the field. Walker used the high line and was able to pick off Donahoo for third and then Gibney for second. Following in Walker’s tracks was Howard Ford who had set fast time earlier in the day.

The lone caution flag of the race on lap 15 took away Neilson’s large lead and gave Walker a chance to really get the local crowd on their feet. Neilson and Walker fought a hard but clean battle side-by-side until Neilson was able to take control. Walker’s car slowed dramatically and he fell back through the pack and eventually pulled into the pits for the rest of the night. At the same time, Randy Houston began to make his move for the lead. He quickly passed Ford on the high side, then did the same to Neilson off turn two. From that point on, Houston was absolutely dominant as he built up a substantial lead and was able to more or less cruise to the victory. Ford took second while AABLM points leader, Trevor Cristiani took third, the last car on the lead lap. Mike Doss and Neilson rounded out the top five finishers.

Racing returns to Redwood Acres Raceway this week with Fan Appreciation night. Fans who’ve saved ticket stubs from any five races this season can enter the event free. Those who haven’t will only have to pay $5 to get in. Prior to the races, drivers in all divisions will pull their cars onto the front stretch and fans will be allowed on the track for a meet and greet.

AABLM Race Results
Fast Time: Howard Ford 15.724, 87.811 MPH
Trophy Dash: Junior Roddy, Jim Walker, Mike Doss, Corey James, Trevor Cristiani, Howard Ford
Main Event: Randy Houston, Ford, Cristiani, Doss, Mike Neilson, Jeremy Donahoo, Allen Gibney, Roddy, Jim Stillman, Jr., Walker, James.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Northern California racing legend returning to the track?

By Matthew J. Sullivan

Saturday July 23rd marks the second of two visits for the Airport Auto Brokers Late Model series at Redwood Acres Raceway. Among the names expected to show up are AABLM points leader and winner of the first race at the Acres just a few weeks ago, Trevor Cristiani, David Miller, Corey James, Howard Ford and Randy Houston among others. There have been rumblings that a particular driver might show up to race his late model for the first time this season. According to two-time Redwood Acres Raceway track champion, Mic Moulton, this driver tested his car last Friday on the 3/8-mile paved oval. His name: Jim Walker.

The name Jim (or Jimmy) Walker is highly regarded and respected amongst race fans all over Northern California and Southern Oregon. For over 40 years the Ferndale, California dairy man has raced a baby blue (aka Walker blue) and silver numerated 48 car first on dirt then later on pavement tracks all over the west coast. The bulk of Walker’s early racing career with the latter stages in recent times has been focused on racing at his home track in Eureka, California, Redwood Acres Raceway.

It is rather unfortunate that younger generations of race fans did not get to see just how great of a race car driver Jim Walker was when he was in his prime. It is even more unfortunate that documentation of so many of Walker’s victories are only left to race fans who were witness. In the 1970s, Walker was a terror on the dirt at the Acres winning numerous main events and several track championships. For a time, Walker was booed by local fans because of his monopolization of race victories. However, that did not last long as Walker’s quiet manner and clean but hard driving won over those who were once not fans of his.

From the mid 1970s on through the mid 1980s, Walker progressed from racing on the dirt to racing on the pavement, a change that occurred seamlessly. Walker’s biggest and most prestigious victory came in the 1976 Permatex 200 at Riverside International Raceway in the sportsman division, better known today as the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Among those whom Walker outlasted that day include Bobby Allison, Neil Bonnett, Ivan Baldwin and Hershel McGriff. Just a few weeks later, Walker made the long trip to Florida to race the Permatex 300 sportsman event at Daytona International Speedway. Unfortunately, he was caught up in a lap 30 wreck and suffered a fractured left knee. Even so, Walker was able to come through to win the NorCal 150 Spring open competition event at Shasta Speedway that year.

Walker turned in two of his biggest race wins in the 1977 season first by holding off Joe Ruttman in inferior equipment and winning the Rose Classic 150 open comp race. Later in the year, Walker took home his only NASCAR Winston West victory winning the Winston 100 at Shasta Speedway in a race that featured the talents of Donnie Allison, Chuck Bown and Bill Schmitt. Throughout the 1980s, Walker continued his winning ways claiming victories in the 1981 Evergreen Speedway leg of Speedweek, the 1981 and 1984 Western 150 events at Shasta Speedway. In 1985, Walker narrowly lost the inaugural NASCAR Northwest Tour event at Evergreen Speedway to Garrett Evans. Keep in mind that these are all events that are documented on the Internet, it does not include numerous other races and wins that happened.

When Redwood Acres Raceway was paved for the 1988 season, Walker moved his focus back to racing locally while also racing open comp and other late model touring events sparingly. Walker fought off Randy Olson in both the ‘88 and ‘89 seasons to win the track championship. Though Walker’s win count was low in the 90s, he was still a major factor in every race he ran. In 1995, Walker took home the Laura Robinson 100 open comp victory at Shasta Speedway. Walker’s two most recent main event victories came in the Tri-State Challenge Series at Ukiah Speedway in May of 2002 and at Redwood Acres Raceway in the second night of the 2003 Fair Classic for the North State Challenge Series.

Since 2006 Walker has raced only four touring series events, all at Redwood Acres Raceway. The major factor in this is likely due to the unfortunate accident Walker endured a few years ago while working on his property when his Caterpillar rolled causing serious injury. Should Walker race this weekend’s AABLM event at the Acres, it quite possibly could be one of the last times that race fans can see the legendary Northern California racer behind the wheel.

Along with the visiting AABLM tour cars will be the regular schedule of real stocks, roadrunners, thunder roadsters and sportsman cars. Do not miss out on what promises to be an exciting night of racing at the Acres!