By Steven Blakesley
WATSONVILLE, CALIFORNIA (August 28, 2011) – Salinas’ Ronnie Day stormed past Prunedale’s Justin Sanders with six laps to go in the 51st Johnny Key Classic to take the $5,000 victory before a huge crowd at Ocean Speedway in Watsonville on Saturday night. The win marks Day’s second of the 2011 season and his second Key win to go along with his 1998 victory at San Jose.
With the victory, Day also takes over the points lead in the Ocean Sprints presented by Taco Bravo with just three races left in the championship.
Two-time Johnny Key Classic winner Chuck Miller paced the field to green in a vintage race car and more than a dozen former winners were in attendance including six who competed in the event.
2009 Johnny Key Classic winner Tommy Tarlton won the $751 to win Dash for Cash to grab the pole position for the 50 lap feature. But Tarlton stumbled on the start allowing outside polesitter Kyle Larson to take the lead. A four car pile-up on the initial green ended the night for Tommy Laliberte.
When the race restarted, Tarlton continued to backpedal as he fell back to fifth place. A serious fire for Orval Zane Burke brought out the red flag on lap eight. As the #OB1 car came to a stop in turn two, Burke emerged from the car engulfed in flames. Fire crews quickly put the fire out and Burke walked away with reported second degree burns.
Tarlton got past Sanders on the restart for fourth and Day began to apply pressure on Golobic for fifth. The race stayed green through lapped traffic up to lap 23 when Rico Abreu tangled with the lapped car of Kurt Nelson in turn three. Abreu, who was running second, and Nelson were both able to continue on but the stoppage ended up marking the “halfway” break for the race.
After a 15 minute break for crews to work on their cars, the race resumed with 27 laps remaining. On the restart, Golobic and Scotts Valley’s Evan Suggs engaged in a back-and-forth battle for sixth while Larson drove away from second place Tim Kaeding.
Art McCarthy spun to a stop to draw the next caution and on the restart Kaeding began to challenge Larson for the lead. The top-three cars of Larson, Kaeding, and Tarlton closed up in lapped traffic by lap 36.
The exciting battle for the lead continued until lap 41 when all three were eliminated in a surprising crash in turn three. Larson slowed in lapped traffic while Kaeding drove in deep, resulting in a hard collision that collected Tarlton. Nick Ringo, Jr. ended up on his lid in the ensuing accident.
Larson, Kaeding, and Tarlton all restarted the race at the rear with young Justin Sanders now leading over Day and Suggs. 1999 Johnny Key winner Eric Rossi flipped on lap 42 but was uninjured. Day and Sanders raced side-by-side with Day taking the lead by a nose down the backstretch before the caution flew again on lap 44.
Day finally seized the lead on the restart, sweeping by Sanders on the outside to officially lead lap 46. Day continued to lead all the way to the double checkered flags with Sanders finishing second. Golobic passed Suggs to take third and Bud Kaeding fifth.
2010 USAC National Drivers Champion Bryan Clauson won the $200 DDNi Hard Charger award, driving from 18th to sixth in his first career winged start. Abreu drove back to seventh while Eric Humphries, Jason Statler, and Tim Kaeding rounded out the top-ten. Incoming points leader Tarlton finished 11th.
A pair of 12 lap b-main events set the 22 car field for the feature, with the b-mains won by Suggs and Laliberte. Qualfying for the 24 cars that had to race their way into the feature was led by Eric Humphries at 11.699 for the Ray Scheidt’s Electric Fast Time Award.
Two-time Johnny Key Classic winner Brent Kaeding had a serious accident in qualifying, hitting the wall in turn one at nearly full throttle. Kaeding eventually walked into the ambulance after a few tense moments but was transported to the hospital for observation with undisclosed injuries.
Day leads the Ocean Sprints presented by Taco Bravo standings by eight points over Tarlton with three events to go. The series continues September 23 against the California Sprint Car Civil War Series.
For more information on the Ocean Sprint Cars presented by Taco Bravo log onto http://www.oceansprints.com and for more on the Ocean Speedway visit http://www.oceanspeedway.com