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Stock car excitement at the I.V. Expo

February 18, 2002|By RICHARD MYERS

Sports Editor

IMPERIAL — Whining engines. Smoking engines. Screeching tires. Banging metal. Trading paint. Loose fenders.

This weekend was a big one for stock car racing enthusiasts. After all, NASCAR's Daytona 500 was run Sunday.

For several hundred local die-hard racing fans, Daytona was just the dessert. The main course was served Saturday night as the Southwest Racing Association staged another program at the Imperial Valley Expo.

"We're just out here to have some fun, make sure no one gets seriously hurt and not tear anything up," said Imperial's John Seaman, defending factory stock champion at Imperial Valley Expo.

Seaman was one of more than three dozen drivers competing in one of three classes Saturday night. This is his sixth season of racing.

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Racing was big in the Valley years ago.

"Way back when it was real popular," said Brawley's Vern Lentz, who raced in the 1960s. Now he watches his son Tony race.

But it died locally as other tracks, such as one in Yuma, opened.

The Yuma track has since closed and the Imperial Valley track has reopened. This is the second season the SRA staged a campaign at the Imperial Valley Expo.

"The fair board treats the racers good," Vern Lentz said of the group that controls the track.

The board treats the racers so well that drivers come from all over to race here, said SRA president Mike Wood of Brawley, including Las Vegas, Bakersfield and Tucson as well as San Diego and Yuma.

"They run a good show here," said Mark Allison of Las Vegas.

Allison is a distant relative of the renowned Allison racing family. He noted he drove 300 miles just to race in the Imperial Valley on Saturday.

"There was a race in Mojave and it was only 100 miles away. But I passed Mojave to come race here," he said.

Allison said the Imperial Valley Expo track is a great facility and the SRA stages a quality program. The local venue is a three-eighths mile dirt track oval.

"It's one of the fastest three-eighths mile tracks in California," said Vern Lentz. "It's also got perfect banks."

Two programs are run each month during the season, which is from October to May, said SRA secretary Pam Wood of Brawley.

During most programs, the modifieds run as well as pro and factory stock cars.

Modifieds can reach speed of in excess of 100 mph. Pro stocks usually turn a lap at 70 to 80 mph and factory stocks are a little slower.

"Look at them," Seaman said as he stood in the pits watching the modified turn hot laps. "That's the way you are supposed to do it."

The modifieds screamed around the oval, gliding through the turns.

"See, they never let off the gas," Seaman continued.

Some less-accomplished drivers drifted up in the turns. Some even had the back ends of their cars wash out and slide.

Not the veteran racers.

"The whole idea is to not let up and go full throttle the whole way around," Seaman said.

On this particular night it was easier to do because the track was wetter than some nights. Even a wet track can make for some racing excitement.

Several times Saturday cars got into a wall or each other. One even flipped in front of the main grandstand.

"All I saw was someone sliding down the track upside-down" said Mike Wood.

There also was some close, exciting racing, led by the modifieds.

"They put on a very good show," Seaman said of the modified racers. "We (factory and pro stock) try to compete with them. We try to hold our own."

The stock classes have their own brand of exciting drivers, such as Seaman and Brawley's Tony Lentz, who has won eight straight pro stock championships in the SRA.

Lentz is fun to watch, Seaman said. "Tony makes it look so easy."

Seaman said people come to the races and watch Lentz pick off drivers one by one as he passes from back in the pack to the front.

"They say it looks so easy that they should be able to do it," Seaman said.

Tommy and Steve Daffern, of Brawley also make racing look easy, Seaman said.

There is a nice mix of racers at the Imperial Valley Expo track. Wood noted they come from many professions, including plumbers, mechanics, civil engineers and construction workers. There is even a retired schools superintendent from San Diego.

There are racers in their 50s and as young as 16. One is 16-year-old Bobby Horton of Yuma, who has won a couple of programs this season in the factory stock division.

Another top driver is Yuma's Doug Peterson, the defending modified champion.

"I used to race quads, boats, rails, but this is the most fun," he said.

The Imperial Valley Expo track has hosted several top-name drivers, including defending NASCAR Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, Kenny Schrader, Robby Gordon, Al Unser Jr. and Tony Stewart. Jeff Gordon used to race sprint cars in the Valley.

People flocked to the races years ago. Promoters of the rebirth of racing in the Valley hope for the same enthusiasm.

"We really hope the people here come out," Vern Lentz said. "I know they will enjoy the racing."

With good support from fans, Mike Wood said, the SRA hopes to return for a third season.

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