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Speed to make Indianapolis 500 debut
Defending 2010 Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti will be aiming for his third Indy 500 victory. - photo by Photo by Dale Bosowski

Although the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 is still more than a week away, this weekend’s qualifying for “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” is causing quite a buzz.

The format has been reduced from the previous four- and three-day trials in past years to just two days in 2011 as a cost cutting measure.

The new abbreviated format combined with one of the largest and deepest fields in decades will create plenty of excitement all weekend as 45 car/driver entries battle for the pole on Saturday and then scramble just to make the 33-car starting grid for the May 29 race on Sunday.

Once again, Team Penske drivers Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe along with Team Target Ganassi drivers Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti (the defending series and 2010 Indy 500 champion) are expected to be the top contenders for the pole and in the race.

One recent entry to watch is Manteca’s Scott Speed, age 28, who will be making his Indy Car debut after signing on last week with Dragon Racing — owned by Jay Penske, the son of Indy Car owner/icon Roger Penske, to drive its No. 20 car.

Speed’s contract with Dragon Racing also has him in the car for the 2011 IZOD Indy Car Series finale at Las Vegas on October 16.

Speed honed his skills in carting and gradually moved up the European racing chain, ultimately landing a ride in Formula One ride. Speed then spent the last four years in NASCAR before being let go by the Red Bull Sprint Car team last December.

With his vast open-wheel background Speed should be able to adapt quickly to Indy Car style racing.

If he qualifies for the Indy 500, Speed would become the first American and the third driver in track history to compete in the three biggest races at Indy — the 500, the Brickyard 400 and the U.S. Grand Prix — joining Canadian Jacques Villeneuve, the 1995 Indy winner, and Colombia’s Juan Pablo Montoya, the 2000 Indy winner.

Speed still has his feet in the stock car racing also. He has signed on to run two NASCAR Nationwide races for the team owned by Kevin Harvick.

You can watch the time trials for the pole at Indy this Saturday beginning at 8 a.m. and the high anxiety of “Bump Day” on Sunday beginning at 9 a.m. on the Versus network.

The three-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion Eric Holmes, of Escalon, is looking to turn his early-season woes around this Saturday at the Goodyear Dealers of Iowa “175” at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa.

The race combines both the Eastern and Western divisions of the NASCAR series.

“I look forward to racing in Iowa because it’s with the best teams from each side of the series,” said Holmes, the reigning champ currently sixth in the chase for the 2011 West Series points. “We will have a good NAPA Toyota Camry for this race. I feel very confident that we have worked out the kinks and we look forward to bringing home the trophy.”

The race can be seen on Thursday June 2 on SPEED Channel at 3 p.m.

Locally, the New Stockton 99 Speedway will be hosting “City of Manteca Night” this Saturday evening. The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series program will feature the Ford Focus Midgets, NCMA Sprint Cars, Pro-4 Modifieds, a Powder Puff race, and Enduro Series Race No. 2.

The grandstands open at 4 p.m., and racing begins at 6 following practice and qualifying. General admission is only $15, juniors (11-15) $10 and kids 10 and under are free.

Chowchilla Speedway will feature the Sport Modifieds Hobby Stocks, Super Stocks, 4-Bangers and Valley Sportsman this Saturday evening on “Fair Night.”

The grandstands will be open for free with a paid admission into the Chowchilla Fair.

Madera Speedway will also be in action on Saturday night with a program featuring the LunkerDaddy Late Models where the points are as tight as a Boy Scout knot.

Four drivers — Howard Holden, Bill Nason, Aaron Mullins and Ray Mayer — are just a handful of points apart as they chase division leader Matt Erickson, of Coulterville, who will not be racing this weekend at the Madera Speedway due to a suspension.

On Sunday the Merced Speedway will present the UMP Dirt Modifieds, Super Stocks, Hobby Stocks and 4-Bangers.

To contact Dale Bosowski, e-mail