PETALUMA, CA, June 2—Smooth, fast and tacky are three words that resonate deeply and are music to the ears of nearly every driver who races at Petaluma Speedway. They’re the words that describe the condition of the three-eighths-mile adobe race track that opens the door for greater speed and more passing. Saturday’s track, perfectly groomed by promoter Jim “Dr. Dirt” Soares, had a wide multi-groove smooth surface that offered plenty of passing opportunities resulting in four of five of the night’s feature race winners coming from the second row or further.
Among the standouts were Geoff Ensign, who fought back from third place to win his second straight Pit Stop USA winged 360 Sprint Car feature, Mike Learn, who charged from 11th place to notch his fourth Lumberjacks Restaurant Super Stock victory, and Oreste Gonella, the triumphant fourth and final driver to lead the Carr Racing Chassis Dirt Modified feature. Joining them in the spotlight were Mark Biscardi, who led the final 11 laps to prevail in the Dwarf Cars, and Keith Benson, who won his third BPT Carburetors Mini Stock feature.
“I love this place. I could run the top, the bottom or the middle, anywhere I wanted,” said an emphatic Ensign after outlasting David Lindt Jr. and the rest of the 15-car field. “That’s racing right there, it sure was fun.”
Art McCarthy Jr. had set the tone in qualifying with a speedy 13.108-second clocking. Ensign, Billy Butler, and Bradley Terrell followed up with a blistering start in the 15-lap feature where they set themselves well in front of the pack with Butler leading the fray until Lap 9 when Terrell took charge. Former track champion Terrell lost the lead when he hit the wall on Lap 10 but clawed his way back to finish fourth and take over the points lead in the division.
Ensign got by Butler for the lead on Lap 12 and managed to get into lapped traffic as the seventh-starting Lindt climbed to third. Lindt passed Butler on Lap 19 and set his sights on Ensign, whose first job in racing was in Lindt’s pit crew, but the flawless Ensign was not to be denied. “Brett Lay gave me a great car to drive and my crew chief Joe Stiles helped set it up. Once I got past Butler it was a rocket ship,” declared Ensign after the race.
Second place went to Lindt, third to Butler, and fourth to Terrell. Tenth-starting Matthew Haulot finished a career-best fifth, followed by Art McCarthy, Kenny Drew, Ivan Worden, Chase Johnson, and Chase Wood.
Super Stock driver Learn has been a surprising force this season with a Speedway leading four victories and while all those victories have been well-earned few have been as deserving, and exciting, as this one. Starting 11th in the 14-car field, Learn methodically, “took what was given to me” as he rose to the top behind early leader and very fast David Spriggs.
A feeling of déjà vu swept over the crowd when defending champion Steve Studebaker got caught up in an early incident and was sent to the rear. Some were wondering, others expecting, if this would be the perfect scenario for Studebaker to storm back from 12th place to victory like he did two seeks ago with a last lap pass. Although it didn’t materialize, Studebaker didn’t disappoint as he roared back to a third place finish.
But it was Learn’s race to win which he did after getting past Spriggs on Lap 8 and leading the rest of the way. “This is a great handling car and for that I owe thanks to Harvey Ballestrini Jr., he’s by far the best crew chief out here regardless of division,” said Learn.
Spriggs finished second, Studebaker was third, Nate Schleth a season-best fourth, and “Ironman” Shawn McCoy finished fifth for the third straight race. Rounding out the top 10 were Michael Drew, Michelle Byron, Paul Hanley, Stan Devore, and Trevor Brady.
A dearth of race cars in the Dirt Modified feature was more than compensated for by the intense competition on the track where four of the six entries led the event. After Chris Sieweke, Joel Myers, and Michael Paul Jr. took a turns at the front, Oreste Gonella took charge on Lap 11 and was never seriously challenged as the Petaluma driver drove mistake-free to his third career victory and first of the season. As a bonus, Gonella also became the division’s championship points leader ahead of defending champion Paul Jr., who finished second over Myers, David Lindt II, Michael Paul Sr., and Sieweke.
More than half of the 13-car field in the Dwarf Car feature failed to complete the first four laps and just five cars were on the lead lap when Mark Biscardi of Campbell took the checkered flag for his first win of the season. A second row starter, Biscardi followed early leaders Danny Wagner and John Peters to the front but once he took over the front spot on Lap 5 the race belonged to him. Seventh-starting Travis Dutra managed to steer clear of trouble to finish second. Third place went to Adam Johnson, followed by Wagner, and Scooter Gomes.
The ongoing battle between Keith Benson and John Veeninga in the BPT Carburetors Mini Stock division resumed Saturday with Veeninga leading early before Benson got underneath him to take the lead on Lap 10. Benson led the final 11 circuits to win for the second straight time and third time this year. The victory also vaulted defending champ Benson back into the points lead over Veeninga. If the top two should ever falter Kimberly Ramirez, who finished third, and Josh Williams, who was fourth, are eager for a victory.
Results for June 2
360 SPRINT CARS
Fast time—Art McCarthy Jr. 13.108.
Heat 1—Adam McCarthy; Billy Butler; Art McCarthy; Dusty Green; Trent Canales.
Heat 2—David Lindt Jr.; Roberto Kirby; Kenny Drew; Chase Wood; Kirk Simpson.
Heat 3—Geoff Ensign; Chase Johnson; Matthew Haulot; Bradley Terrell; Ivan Worden.
Main—Ensign; Lindt; Butler; Terrell; Haulot; Art McCarthy; Drew; Worden; Johnson; Wood; Kirby; Green; Canales; Simpson; Adam McCarthy.
Heat 1—Steve Studebaker; Michael Drew; Paul Hanley; Michelle Byron; Mike Learn; Trevor Brady.
Heat 2—David Spriggs; Shawn McCoy; Nate Schleth; DW Drew; Shane Brandon; Stan Devore; Anthony Matthias.
Main—Learn; Spriggs; Studebaker; Schleth; McCoy; M. Drew; Byron; Hanley; Devore; Brady; DW Drew; Roger Miller; Brandon; Matthias.
Heat 1—Joel Myers; Chris Sieweke; Oreste Gonella; Micheal Paul Jr,; David Lindt II; Michael Paul;.
Main—Gonella; Paul Jr.; Myers; Lindt; Paul Sr.; Sieweke.
Heat 1—Carroll Mendenhall; John Peters; Tommy King; Danny Marsh; Mark Mendenhall; Travis Dutra.
Heat 2—Richard Klinetobe; Jack Haverty; Mark Biscardi; Danny Wagner; Scooter Gomes; Adam Johnson.
Main—Biscardi; Dutra; Johnson; Wagner; Gomes; Kaitlyn Mendenhall; Peters; King; C. Mendenhall; Haverty; Klinetobe; Marsh; M. Mendenhall.
Heat 1—John Veeninga; Keith Benson; Josh Williams; Kimberly Ramirez; Bradley Clark; Snazzy Duckworth.
Main—Benson; Veeninga; Ramirez; Williams; Clark; Duckworth.