By Vincent Delforge, special to KickinTheTires.net
The 700th race in the history of the current ARCA Menards West Series, then called the NASCAR Winston West Series was held on May 1, 1999 at California Speedway located in Fontana, CA. This large 2-mile oval hosts the fourth race of the season, the California 200. The West Series has been coming here since 1997 and will remain there until 2006, the last season with large ovals over a mile long.
40 drivers were entered for 36 positions on the starting grid. The pole, with track record, is signed by Austin Cameron, his first in his career. In 1999, he drove for the family team. He is ahead of Ken Schrader by just a thousandth of a second! Note that among those that failed to qualify, we find the folkloric St. James Davis, whose his very last appearance in the series. Learn a little more about him here.
Among the 36 qualified, in addition to the regular West and Schrader drivers, there are some Cup stars with Ricky Craven and Mike Wallace. There is also the rookie Kurt Busch who is starting his second career NASCAR Winston West Series race.
Even though the temperatures are cool, it is sunny and beautiful when the start is given for a 100-lap race. Cameron seems to have anticipated the return of the pace car in the pitlane a little and accelerates well before the starting line. This will surprise Schrader a little who is overtaken by Rick Carelli, third at the start, before the line. The officials wave the black flag to Carelli for jumping the start, the penalty is severe with a stop and go Carelli will make it at the end of the second lap. By directly observing his penalty, he manages to get back on track without losing a lap on the leader.
In front Schrader has caught up on Cameron and takes command on the third lap. Craven, fifth at the start overtakes Mike Chase for third position. These four are part of a small group of six pilots, along with Wallace and Butch Gilliland, who are escaping.
On lap eight, Craven grabbed second position. He tells his team on the radio that his engine is extraordinary. For the record, his team, led by Scott Barbour, bought the engine from Harry Melling’s team following the breakdown of their engine in Las Vegas. A great engine since with it, Jerry Nadeau had just won this second race of the season at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The first yellow flag was waved on lap 11 for David Starr, who, on the other hand, was not at all happy with his engine. The latter had just passed away when Starr was in eighth position. It’s a boon for Carelli who can pick up at the end of the pack and erase the 30 seconds behind the leaders. Gilliland, who was sixth, returned to his pit box, the needle on his water temperature gauge was at zero.
The restart is given in single file because all the drivers still on the track (34) are in the leader’s lap. Craven attacked the leader Schrader directly from the outside line and the two drivers remained side by side for nearly two laps. Craven leading by the nose of his car on lap 14 before Schrader managed to gently pull him out of the way on the next lap to regain control.
Note the superb comeback from 23rd position to 14th by Joe Bean who is driving Joe Nava’s No. 77. It is a Cup car bought from Roush Racing and which still wears the yellow and blue colors of its former sponsor when it was driven by Johnny Benson, Jr. Carelli has also made a good comeback and is now in 22nd position.
Meanwhile Schrader and Craven do not let go. Never separated by more than two tenths for the next eight laps. Rookie Jason Small’s engine broke on lap 21. It rolls for more than half of the lap at idle but without causing a yellow flag.
On the 23rd lap, Ricky Craven regained first position. Cameron, who leads the chasing group in third position, is more than three seconds away. A group of which Mike Wallace no longer belongs, which is losing positions. If he was third at the restart, he is now eighth. He complains about his right rear tire which is deflated. His crew chief, Tim Kohuth, shouts into his helmet to try to stay on track. Wallace struggles to maintain his Ford as he desperately waits for a yellow flag.
With his tire in agony Wallace joined the pitlane on lap 26 and lost a lap to the leaders. Bad luck because two laps later the yellow flag he was waiting for was waved following contact by Jerry Glandville against the outside wall at Turn 2. The leaders took the opportunity to return to the pits.
Craven only changed the right side tires in 9.2 seconds against 15 seconds for Schrader who changed his four tires. But Craven’s catch can got stuck on his car and he lost it in the pitlane. Normally it is a penalty but the officials will not see it! Craig Raudman will leave dead last. Dave Reed its owner declaring that he does not know what to do anymore because everything has been changed on this car since happy hour except the paint job but that whatever they do, nothing is going right..
At the restart, Mike Duncan, who did not stop, was leading. Wallace is the only one lap down in 30th position. He takes advantage of being alone on the inside line to overtake the leader as soon as the green flag is waved. Duncan blocks a little the drivers who have new tires. Carelli and Bean continue their recovery and are in ninth and tenth position.
Craven was about to take a lap back from Wallace when the yellow flag was raised for the third time on lap 36. Rich Bogarts crashed on Turn 2. Wayne Jacks who arrives at full speed manages to avoid the Chevrolet No. 83 by miracle! Wallace takes the opportunity to make a fuel top off. This will be important for the rest of his race.
At the restart, Craven and Schrader resumed their fight. But Cameron has picked up and will take advantage of Schrader’s draft to overtake Craven. During this time the rookie Billy Turner receives two black flags in quick succession. The first, a stop and go, for jumping the restart. And the second a drive through for having left the pitlane in excess of speed! Hard to learn! Too bad because until then he was in twentieth position.
Craven will first take second position from Cameron and the first from Schrader just before the fourth yellow flag. Following contact with Brandon Ash, Brendan Gaughan spun off and hit the outside wall on Turn 4. But on the way down he was violently hit by Canadian Gary Smith, whose Pontiac immediately caught fire. The entire rear is destroyed and the fuel tank pulverized. Smith comes to a stop in the grass on the frontstretch and pulls himself out of his car just before help arrives. More fear than harm, fortunately. Gaughan, shocked, lies in the grass with the rescuers.
This incident marked the halfway point and the leaders took the opportunity to refuel. The strategies differ. Craven taking on four new tires. Wallace complains about his alternator and we hook up his backup battery. Kurt Busch has engine problems and will retire.
Eric Norris remained on the track and leads during the restart. Not long because he was overtaken on the next lap by Schrader, John Metcalf who had a superb race, Cameron, Craven, Busch and the others. Tony Toste with a lap down on the inside line makes a “mess” by joining the group of leaders. This will cause the accident between Metcalf and Cameron in turn 4. The drivers are unscathed but the cars are destroyed. Steve Portenga and Kevin Richards are also involved, but to a lesser extent.
At the restart, led by Schrader and Craven, they are still 20 in the leader’s lap. Wallace goes back very quickly and rejoins the top10. Christian Elder is slowing down on the 66th lap but without causing a yellow.
Craven took the lead on lap 73 shortly before the last yellow flag of the race. Darrel Krentz hit the wall on turn 2. Schrader and Gilliland are the only leaders to go through the pitlane to change tires.
There are 20 laps left at the restart. Craven leads ahead of Mike Chase, Wallace, Carelli, Bean, Sean Woodside, Ash, Portenga, Norris and Ross Thompson. Schrader and Gilliland are 16th and 17th. Their strategic bet seems to be the wrong choice.
At the restart, Craven took advantage of the fight between Chase and Wallace to widen a gap of more than a second and a half. 13 laps from the end, Carelli took third position from Chase then second with 10 laps from the end from Wallace. With his four new tires, Schrader goes up like a rocket. He will eventually take second position with four laps to go but he is 3.5 seconds behind Craven.
Ricky Craven who crosses the finish line 2.6 seconds ahead. It’s his first West Series victory in his second career start. But he will never have the opportunity to improve his stats because he will never return to the series.
It should also be noted that Craven’s engine won its second victory in as many races in the West Series. He would be reconditioned and finish his career in the Cup Series before breaking at the hands of Hut Stricklin later in the season.
With his fifth position, Mike Chase consolidates his position as leader in the championship ahead of Brandon Ash and the future 1999 champion Sean Woodside. Woodside who would go on to win the first championship for Bill McAnally Racing.
The recap of the 600th ARCA Menards Series West race can be found here.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by NKP / NKP Photo.