Alex Schutte wins his second race in a row at Petaluma Speedway
Following the annual Jack London Bash Picnic and Bay Cities Racing Association (BCRA) Hall of Fame Induction ceremony, 24 BCRA and United States Auto Club (USAC) midgets and 10 BCRA midget lites racers put on an action packed racing program for the fans at the 3/8-mile Petaluma Speedway on Saturday night July 16 2016,
The picnic and Hall of Fame induction ceremony held in the afternoon at the AP Behrens Park on the grounds of the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds, honored six new members of the BCRA Hall of Fame; championship car owners Jim Fowler, Lonny Lopez, and Ted Hunting, two-time driver champion John Sarale, and long-time photographers/writers Mark and Matt Sublett of M&M Photos.
After a delicious barbeque luncheon, emcee Floyd Busby presented brief biographies of each inductee and then conducted the raffle that followed the program. All but two of the deserving inductees were on hand to receive their plaques and see their names placed on the BCRA Hall of Fame trophy; Lonny Lopez could not attend due to recent health issues, while John Sarale was racing with his son Caleb at the Clay Cup in Deming Washington.
Fourteen BCRA midget regulars where joined by ten USAC midget competitors in a diverse field that featured a wide variety of engines, chassis, and drivers, as the field of entries included three lady racers- Shannon McQueen, Courtney Crone, and Maria Cofer – as well as a visitor from New Zealand Taylor Clark, who made his first midget start on US soil.
Clarke and Crone were teammates in pair of identical beautiful black #25 Toyota powered midgets owned by Jerome Rodela with sponsorship from Tom Malloy’s companies- Ed Pink Racing Engines and Trench Shoring. The appearance of the pair of “Malloy Specials” is reminiscent of cars owned by Tom’s father the legendary Emmett Malloy, the man who provided cars for drivers that included Troy Ruttman and who also built Carrell Speedway in Gardena California. Clarke plans on returning to the US for the Turkey Night Grand Prix in November at Ventura Raceway.
One of the first group of cars in the group qualifying time trial format on the tight heavy track set the evening’s fast time. Dustin Golobic in the Doug Bock Racing #26 posted a best lap of 14.216 seconds, which nearly eclipsed Ronnie Gardner’s existing track record of 14.200 seconds. Golobic’s teammate Britton Bock suffered mechanical problems and did not post a time, while Bobby Wilson’s car lost its transponder and did not record a time.
The first of three midget heat races was won in dominant fashion by current USAC Western States point leader and defending champion Ronnie Gardner over Brian Gard and Clarke. Victory in the second heat race was claimed by Cory Elliott over Michael Faccinto and Cody Swanson, and the third race which featured all three lady racers was claimed by Frankie Guerrinni III over Alex Schutte and McQueen, who piloted her #7 Kara Hendrick tribute Spike/Esslinger.
Maria Cofer daughter of 1994 USAC Western States midget champion Johnny “the Flying Farmer” Cofer suffered a mis-firing engine in her heat race which was later diagnosed as a crank trigger sensor problem, and other competitors which included Ronnie Gardner, pitched in to help make repairs to the #57 car’s Esslinger engine so Maria could start the feature.
The first 8-lap midget lite heat win went to Kyle Offill in just his second non-winged race over Scott Kinney and Hunter Kinney, with the second heat race win going to Chris Hansen followed by Craig Dillard and Emilee Lindgren. The 20-lap BCRA midget lites feature was won by pole-sitter Dillard who fended off repeated challenges all race long from Offill as Hunter Kinney finished third followed by Hansen.
Gardner and McQueen shared the front row for the start of Petaluma Speedway’s evening’s finale, the 30-lap BCRA midget feature, which started just 23 cars after JR Williams’ car broke a heim joint after it was pushed off and had to be towed back to the pits. At the drop of the green flag, Gardner shot into the lead with McQueen in hot pursuit. By lap seven the leaders were in lapped traffic, with the two leaders joined by Schutte who had moved up quickly from his twelfth starting position.
On lap 15, Schutte moved past McQueen into second place then just one lap later used a daring move in traffic to slip past Gardner for the lead through turn three. The racing action came to an abrupt stop with the red flag displayed with twenty laps completed. Robert Dalby’s #4D and Golobic’s #26 tangled after the left rear tire on Golobic’s car failed and pushed both cars into the backstretch wall and fence.
Both cars and the chain link fence sustained heavy damage but both drivers quickly emerged from their respective cars uninjured. On the restart, Schutte got a big jump and then held on through lapped traffic as the top four cars all ran together on the race track. Alex Schutte led the field under the checkered flag to claim his second straight Petaluma feature win over Gardner, McQueen and Faccinto.
The BCRA midget competitors will return to action on Saturday night July 23 at the ¼-mile clay Placerville Speedway as part of the track’s “Big Trophy Night,” with a field of 360 cubic winged sprint cars. The BCRA midget lites racers will be in action with their wings at the same Placerville Speedway one week later, on July 30 for the Wayne Albright Memorial as part of a joint program with the King of the West 410 cubic inch winged sprint cars.
All photos by the author