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Schmidt spoils Belletto family’s Season debut at Madera track

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POSTED April 16, 2009 5:07 a.m.
The NASCAR Whelen All-American Western Late Models were out in full force for special events at both the Madera and Stockton 99 Speedways last Saturday.

Three generations of the legendary Belletto family out of Modesto — 65-year-old Harry, his son Jeff and his grandson Nic, the son of Jeff’s older brother Steve — made their season debut at Madera for the first 111-lap leg of the “HotWood 333” Series.

The feature got off to a ragged start as opening lap mishaps caused two yellow cautions and sent four cars scrambling to the pits for repairs including 2007 Madera track champion Mark Holeman of Los Altos and 2008 HotWood champion Kyle Gottula of Modesto.

The third try at the green was the charm as the 17-car field finally made it through the opening lap without incident. Jeff Belletto used his pole position to jump into the lead, but Roseville’s Eric Schmidt was able to overtake Belletto following a lap 23 restart and then hold off the hard charging Gottula for the win.

 “It is really hard to get wins down here. Kyle is really tough here. This is his house and he just never goes away. Luckily, I was out front so he had to pass me and I didn’t have to try and get by him,” said Schmidt.

Another local legend showed that it is possible to go back home again ad as former two-time track champion David Philpott, of Tracy, grabbed the checkers in the special 99-lap feature for the late models at the Stockton 99 Speedway. Making his victory even sweeter was the fact that his son Justin finished right behind him in second place.

The Western Late Models along with the Grand American Modifieds, Street Stocks and Bombers will be back in action this Saturday at Stockton while Madera will go dark for the weekend.

Also on Saturday Chowchilla Speedway will be hosting a huge racing double header featuring the Western All Star Super Dirt Late Models and the Western Modifieds. Over 30 cars from all over the Western United States have all ready pre entered in each class and promoters are expecting over 120 cars in total will be competing in the five division show.

IRL returns to SoCal
The Indy Racing League returns to Southern California this weekend for the granddaddy of all North American street races - the 35th Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

The race will mark the official conclusion of the unification between the IRL and Champ Car following their 13 year open-wheel war. Although last years Long Beach race was run under the IRL banner and points were awarded in the IRL standings after a last minute merger was agreed on just a few weeks before the race, the turbo charged Champ Car Series cars and drivers were used for the final time due to the and an unavoidable scheduling conflict with the IRL’s Japan Grand Prix.

Twenty-two cars were on hand for the opening race of the IRL season at St Petersburg, Florida two weeks ago and officials are hopeful of at least few more in the near future. The indomitable Paul Tracy of Canada is expected to make an announcement this weekend that he will be heading back to the series in some form and Helio Castroneves, the former two-time Indy 500 winner and 2007 “Dancing With the Stars” champion, has a third car waiting for him at Penske Racing should he be cleared of tax evasion charges in his Miami trial which is now in deliberations.

With the charges carrying a maximum penalty of six years, Castroneves could next be “Dancing Behind Bars” should a guilty verdict be rendered in the case.

The Long Beach GP can be seen live on VERSUS beginning at 1:30 PM this Sunday. For more information visit the race website at www.gplb.com.

Manteca’s Speed feeling heat in Pheonix
Manteca native Scott Speed will be back in action this weekend as the NASCAR Sprint Cup series heads to Phoenix International Speedway for the Subway Fresh Fit 500.

Speed is hoping for better results than he had in his one previous visit to the tricky 1-mile flat track in the desert last November when Speed was logging laps only to be collected in a nine-car crash late in the race. When the smoke cleared under a red lag, Speed found himself staring up at the fuel cell under the rear end of David Gilliland’s No. 38 which had come to rest on the hood and windshield of Speed’s Red Bull Toyota.  

 “We saw a spin and we all started stopping. I tried to slow down, closed my eyes, screamed a little bit (joking) … and it was all over,” Speed remembered. “I got out of the car as quick as I could because the 38 car had landed on top of our car and David was still trying to get it going. As I was climbing out, he was pinning his wheels and burning rubber all over me.”

After failing to qualify for the April 5 race at Texas, Speed returns to Phoenix with his No. 82 Red Bull Toyota sitting 38th in both the driver and car owner standings.

Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race will be shown live on FOX beginning at 5 p.m.

McCoy passes away
Some sad news to pass along, Modesto’s Jack McCoy, a two-time champion and the winningest driver in the NASCAR Camping World Series West, died Tuesday at the age of 72. McCoy, who won series championships in 1966 and 1973, registered a record 54 series wins and a record 57 career poles in the series.

McCoy was among the dignitaries on hand for the reopening of the Stockton 99 Speedway on March 22.

To contact Dale Boswoski, e-mail dalebosowski@yahoo.com.

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