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Capacity crowd sees Statler take $3k to win Tribute Al Hinds

From Bill Sullivan, Handy Racing Promotions

PLACERVILLE – When the late Al Hinds was involved with the operation of Placerville Speedway back in 1968 he was best known for bringing the community together with the speedway. Hinds maintained an uncanny ability to go out and educate the public on the sport of auto racing and in doing so he and his partner, Rich Hirst brought record crowds to the El Dorado County Fairgrounds back in the day.

Saturday night, Hinds’ legacy continued to roll on at Placerville Speedway as the grandstands once again reached their capacity for the 7th Annual Tribute to Al Hinds to witness a new name become added to the prestigious list of winners. In a rare appearance with the Civil War Sprint Car Series, Jason Statler of Grass Valley took home the $3000 victory before an energetic crowd Saturday night in the Family Auto Center Tribute to Al Hinds. A total of 37 cars turned out for the event and produced a night of racing that kept the fans on the edge of their seats all evening.

“I always love coming to this place,” said Statler, after climbing down from the week of his car where he celebrated his return to victory here. “We always run good here, I’m sure when the last time was I won here, it’s been awhile. That was a great race tonight and I hope the fans loved it as much as I did, we’ll be back here in a couple of weeks for the GSC race and hopefully can do this again.”

Statler raced his way to the front on Saturday night but it didn’t come without a high speed journey through the field. The former King of California champion started the race in the eighth position and tactfully worked his way towards the top three at the waving of the green flag. Pole sitter James Sweeney took command of the field for much of the race and dueled with numerous drivers for the position for the majority of it’s laps.

Sweeney inherited the pole position after an initial start saw Ryan Gomes of McKinnleyville and Stephen Allard of Chico tangle on the backstretch, sending Allard upside down with a red flag and Gomes to the rear of the field for the complete restart.

Once the event resumed, Sweeney shot into the lead and was soon challenged by sixth place starter Andy Forsberg of Auburn, the point leader of the Civil War Sprint Car Series and Placerville Speedway along with Herman Klein of Sacramento, winner of the opening night Civil War event who is in a heated battle for the point lead with Forsberg as the tour winds down to it’s final events.

Forsberg and Sweeney dueled for the lead for several laps until Klein moved in and took several swings at Sweeney for the lead. Klein overtook the top spot a pair of different times, only to have unrelated caution flags withdraw the present lap and place him back behind Sweeney.

With 20-laps down, Statler had worked his way into second place and began challenging Sweeney for the lead. The two drivers raced side by side for the lead while the action right behind him was just as hot. Nicole Miller of Loomis, Shane Golobic of Fremont and defending two time champion Sean Becker were all slicing and their way amongst one another in a mad dash to get to the front.

After drifting high on the track, Sweeney’s rear wheel became lodged with clay from the track surface, causing a visible vibration in the rear end of the car. The former rookie of the year gave it his all to continue his dominance in the closing laps but Statler and Becker both had different ideas.

On lap 23, Statler attacked his prey and finally edged his way past Sweeney for the lead and was soon joined by Becker who was able to muscle around Sweeney in the closing laps. At the checkered flag Statler picked up his first Civil War win of the year followed by Becker and Sweeney. With the win Statler picked up $3000 which included a $1000 bonus from Family Auto Center of Shingle Springs, supporters of this event since it began back in 2004 following Hinds’ passing.

“I was doing everything I could to hold on to it,” said Sweeney. “But the vibration was really bad, I’m surprised I didn’t break anything pushing it so hard. I’m still happy with a podium finish in this race. We know we could have had it if that didn’t happen. It’s been a tough year and hopefully we can carry this momentum through the rest of the season.”

For Becker, Saturday night was a strong points night as he looks to become the first ever driver to win three straight championship titles. Forsberg finished 11th Saturday night and Becker entered the night just 13 points behind the leader and a single point behind Klein.

“This was a really good points night for us, we need a few more of these to get where we need to be,” said Becker. “Sweeney was running strong tonight, this was his race to win and I’m not sure either of use could have caught him if he didn’t have the mud in his wheel. The track was great tonight and I really want to thank all the fans and Family Auto Center for putting this race on.”

Saturday night a surprise visitor congratulated the top three drivers on the front stretch along with track promoter Alan Handy. Richard Hirst, who operated the track with Hinds in the early years returned for the first time in decades to witness the event that pays tribute to his longtime friend and former business partner. Hirst traveled to El Dorado County from his residence in Corona and took the time to address the fans from victory lane.

“Now that was a great race,” he said. “This night reminds me of when we brought midgets to this place for the very first time, it was an incredible display of talent. I know you have the midgets coming here next week and I bet that’s going to be a great show. I really enjoyed coming back here tonight, Al was a great guy, he revolutionized this place.”

Hirst had many longtime fans shaking his hand Saturday night, some who remembered him and others that had read about the days when the track operated under the Hirst and Hinds name. “A lot has changed through the years. I think the highest ticket prices back then were $2.75 and beer was cheap to buy back then. We certainly sold a lot of it too. But the racing is incredible. Running a deal like this isn’t an easy venture, we worked hard back in the day and didn’t make much money doing it but we always loved it”

Prior to Saturday’s event, Family Auto Center in Shingle Springs hosted a large race car show and bbq with free food for the fans and live music. The event was the largest known race car display in El Dorado County and nearly 700 race fans and teams enjoyed a complimentary lunch courtesy of Tony Montalbano and his dedicated staff.

Next week, the Bay Cities Racing Association Midgets and Midget Lites return to Placerville Speedway along with the Wingless Sprint Cars of the Hunt Magnetos Wingless Shootout Series and the Nor Cal Dwarf Cars. The event includes the annual BCRA Hall of Fame Picnic prior to the event. Tickets to the picnic will be available through www.bcraracing.com. Further information on the upcoming race can be found at www.placervillespeedway.com.