By Troy Hennig
The California Sprint Car Civil War Series made its lone appearance of the year at the famed half-mile Calistoga Speedway on Saturday night. Calistoga is at the North end of the Napa Valley. According to Wikipedia, 4.5 million visitors yearly flock to the Napa Valley in search of relaxation and good wines. While Calistoga is noted for having some wineries within close driving distance, the town itself is known for their hot spring spas. However, on this the night, the bright lights came on at the Calistoga Speedway and winged sprint cars were the main attraction. After a long night the main event was halted on lap 21 when Jim Richardson slowed on the race track and came to a stop. Stephen Allard won his first career Calistoga main event. It was not without a little controversy but we will get to that later in the story. Herman Klein finished in the second spot and Robbie Whitchurch scored a career best third place finish.
A light field of 20 winged sprint cars were on hand to compete during point race number 11 for the traveling series. The previous night, the series raced at nearby Petaluma Speedway. A total of 29 cars were reported at Petaluma. With the shortage of cars, the officials decided to change the format and run a heat race, passing point based system to set up the main event. Qualifying was scratched. Each driver was given two heat races to earn finishing points and passing points. After the heat races, the points were calculated and the top ten drivers were placed in a five lap dash. The finish of the five-lap dash would determine the first five rows of the scheduled 25-lap main event.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, the track prep crew anticipated a larger field of cars and the racing surface had more moisture in it than usual. This set back the racing schedule for awhile as the cars came out to wheel pack but were sent back in to let the track “air” out. It gave us some down time that we nicely filled with on track interviews. Ron Lingron jumped at the opportunity to take off his head set, he was part of the score keeping team, and grab the cordless microphone. All of the drivers he interviewed were positive and stated at times this happens in our sport. In fact, all drivers were excited about the chance to get a track that would hold moisture all night. The fans also seemed to understand and hopefully enjoyed some of the banter between the drivers and Lingron over the public address system.
Heat races were lined up a little after 8 pm and the night of racing was kicked off with Cody Lamar leading all eight laps of the first heat race. The second heat race went non-stop as Andy Forsberg picked up the win over Herman Klein. For the second round of heat races, the field was completely inverted. Jeff Griffin led all eight laps to win the third heat race. Hometown hero Mike Benson grabbed the top spot in heat four.
After the heat races were completed, Herman Klein was the high point driver. The top ten in points did a random pill draw to decide the line-up for the five lap dash. Mike Henry grabbed the one pill and would start from the pole position. Starting outside of Henry was Sean Becker. Becker came into the night fresh off his win at Petaluma Speedway the night before. With the win Becker now held a nice lead over Forsberg and Klein for the championship title. Becker cruised to the five lap win over Stephen Allard, Henry and Willie Croft.
This led us to the scheduled 25-lap main event. Becker would lead the field down to the first green flag attempt. Yet, it was Allard who stole the show and motored past Becker. Before the first lap was complete local hero Mike Benson flipped in turn one. The red was needed. Benson’s car was smashed and unable to continue. Benson did walk back to his pit area and seemed to be just fine. During this time problems arose on Andy Forsberg’s #47. He had caught the tale end of Benson’s flip and damaged some parts in the front end. This sent him to the work area. Another car with problems was Willie Croft. Some sort of fuel pick up issues was reported. Croft had a great run in the dash and seemed like of the favorites to win but parked the car before the first lap was completed.
The next start might play the biggest factor when it comes down to deciding this years Civil War Champion. Sean Becker’s night ended when his car stopped coming out of turn two with rear end damage. During the problem, Becker’s fuel from his car began to leak and make its way onto the racing surface. The officials decided to throw a red flag and allow the competitors to stop on the front stretch and top off fuel. Becker’s car was towed back to the pit area and his night was done.
On the next restart, Mike Henry was called for a false start. This slowed the race again and it was the third failed attempt at a green flag start. Now the racers were told to get into a single file formation. Allard would start the race up front as the leader. The green flag came out and Allard motored away from second place running Jeff Parady. Herman Klein was in the third spot holding off Henry. On lap eight disaster struck for Parady. Going through turn three something happened and Parady flipped upside down. The red was out and Parady emerged uninjured but done for the night.
A few laps later Geoff Ensign crashed in turn two and ended up on his side. The yellow came out. On the restart, it was Allard followed by Klein and Henry. This is the point that caused some controversy. When Allard picked up the throttle for the restart, Klein stumbled a bit. Henry decided not to wait and went to go around Klein. This was deemed a “jump” by the officials. It was decided that the race would not be halted to move Henry back at that moment but wait until the next stoppage.
For the next eight laps Henry closed in on Allard. Allard had caught the tail end of some slower cars and at one point had to adjust his line which slowed his momentum. This was Henry’s chance and he took advantage of it. Henry moved around Allard going down the back stretch. As this was happening Jim Richardson began to slow on the front stretch. Soon the yellow was waived the race was slowed again. Under the yellow, Henry’s penalty was enforced. He was moved back to the fourth spot. Once Allard was back up front the checkered flag was waived and the race was halted on lap 21 due to surpassing the State mandated curfew. Allard pulled into victory lane and grabbed the first Calistoga win for himself, car owner Steve Smith and Darin Smith. It was a joyous time for them. On the other hand, Henry was noticeably upset. I think anyone is his position would also have felt the same way. Allard was thankful of the fans for coming out and sitting through a long night of racing. Allard also thanked his beautiful fiancée and his crew for their support. Klein admitted his car did not pick up right away at that final restart but was happy to finish in the second spot. Robbie Whitchurch had a great weekend. He won the Friday night main event at Chico and scored a podium finish at Calistoga. Henry was officially scored in fourth. He was followed by a strong performance by Jeff Griffin. Andy Forsberg, to the team and drivers credit, roared through the field and came home sixth. The championship point battle is going to be a fantastic thing to follow with just three races to go. As of now, and unofficially, the top three drivers should be separated by less than five championship points. Unofficially, Becker should be ahead of Klein and then Forsberg. The next stop for the series is at Silver Dollar Speedway on Wednesday night, September 8th.
Full results will be up at our website www.civilwarsprints.com