STOCKTON — A large crowd was on hand at the Stockton 99 Speedway Saturday night to see the return of one of its most famous stars — Ernie Irvan.
Irvan won the 99 track championship in 1977 before moving on to NASCAR Winston Cup fame where he won 15 races including the Daytona 500 in 1991. He also won twice at Sonoma including the Save Mart 300 in 1992 where he was black-flagged for jumping the start and sent to the back of the field only to pass all 41 cars to claim the victory.
Billed as the “Night of Champions” by track promoter Tony Noceti several other past champions were on hand for the special event including Ken Boyd, Ron Lyon, Steve McGovney, David Philpott, Dan Reed, Harry Belletto, Dave Byrd, Tim Gillet and Jim Reich
Fans were overjoyed to be given the opportunity to talk to their idols, take pictures and get autographs under a tent set up near turn #1.
Also on hand was Jared Irvan, Ernie’s 19-year-old son, who participated in the Stockton Late Model race in a car prepared by the Strmiska family painted to replicate Irvan’s famous yellow #4 car.
“I am grateful to be racing where my dad got his start,” said Jared, age 19. “I want to thank the Strmiskas for making this possible.”
The Irvin’s reside in Charlotte, N.C., although Jared briefly lived in Manteca.
Jared is hoping to follow his father into NASCAR. He has driven midgets on quarter-mile tracks and the CARS Super Late Model Tour at Concord Speedway.
Irvan had the fastest car in practice at 14.562 seconds and started the 100-lap Late Model feature in eighth after a drawn invert.
Manteca’s Pete Anderson led the 22-car field to the green flag to start the race with Tracy’s Justin Philpott and Modesto’s Nic Belletto all in hot pursuit.
Meanwhile Irvan meticulously guided his car through the pack and took over the lead just six laps into the race.
Philpott would eventually fall out of contention when a flat tire forced him to the rear of the field.
Driving as if the 99 was his home track, Irvan would never relinquish the top spot despite numerous restarts due to wrecks within the pack to take the win over Lodi’s Robbie Knittel and Belletto.
“I had a great time and really like the track,” said Irvan in victory lane. “It was a lot of fun to race everybody here.”
Point’s leader Ben Lewis II, of Stockton, won the 30-lap Bomber main over Stockton’s Roy Luft and Elk Grove’s Kelly Fensler. Luft would later be disqualified after failing post-race inspection moving Fensler to second and Ben Lewis Sr into third.
Chad Nichols won the 30-lap Tom Manning Memorial Bay Cities Racing Association Midget race.
Racing next returns to the 99 Speedway on Saturday, Aug. 19, with the Stockton Late Models, Bombers and Legends of the Pacific.