By Vincent Delforge, special to KickinTheTires.net
The 600th race in the history of the current ARCA Menards West Series, then called the NASCAR Winston West Series was held on May 17, 1992 at Mesa Marin Raceway located in Bakersfield, CA. It is therefore the legendary half-mile oval that hosts this race. Now defunct, it was replaced by Kern County Raceway Park. Mesa Marin held 45 races between 1977 and 2005.
If the 500th race was the final of the 1981 season, the 600th, the Vons 300, marked the start of the 1992 season. A season which included 11 races in the championship. Exactly the same number of races as this year. Note the parallel between the 1991-1992 seasons with 9 and 11 races respectively and the 2021-2022 seasons with also 9 and 11 championship races respectively.
Gary Collins takes his first career pole position driving his own Oldsmobile No. 28. It is also a first for his crew chief Donnie Hubble. Together they broke the track record in 18.978 sec or 94.847 mph! But due to an injury, Collins will not take the start and it is the driver from Tumwater, WA, Dirk Stephens who will take over for the race.
In qualifying, Collins had edged out Rick Carelli. Bill Sedgwick, champion in 1991, is third ahead of the late Bill Schmitt. A total of 18 drivers will take the start.
Stephens won’t be able to do anything as soon as the green flag is waved. He tries to contain Carelli by widening the trajectory in turn 1, leaving the door open to the two Bills, respectively Sedgwick and Schmitt. Behind Dan Fisher, for whom this will be his only career race, joins the pitlane definitively with the backup car of Bill Schmitt.
Schmitt who will manage to take the lead of the race very momentarily on Sedgwick but very quickly the quadruple champion of the West will understand that he will not be able to do anything. The victory will not be for him. As for anyone other than the Sedgwick-Carelli duo. These two are going to dominate this race head and shoulders.
Despite a yellow flag from the 14th to the 18th lap, they will succeed in putting the whole field one lap behind at… the 47th lap out of the 300 of the race! Once Schmitt is relegated to one lap the fight between Sedgwick and Carelli will intensify. There will never be more than a second of difference between the two. And again, it should be noted that contact is only briefly lost due to overtaking on latecomers.
Halfway through the race, they have already exchanged first position four times. And in the end they will exchange leadership 10 times. Note that Bill Schmitt, isolated in his third position, is already two laps down at the halfway. And in the end he will be five laps behind the winner!
A long and difficult race with half of the drivers retiring due to a mechanical problem. Among them, big guys like Hershel McGriff or Ron Hornaday, Jr.
On lap 289, the yellow flag was raised for the ninth and last time of the race. And this is where the victory will be decided. Indeed Carelli, who has been leading since the 247th lap, plunged into the pitlane, followed by Sedgwick. The tire allocation being limited, they have no choice but to change their tires on one side only.
The strategy of David Ifft, the crew chief of Carelli, to have preserved a set of rightside tires will prove decisive. In the other box, that of Sedgwick, there remains a set of new leftside tires and a set of run-in rightside. Chris Robinson, the crew chief of the team is betting on changing the left side to save time. It seems to be the right choice because Sedgwick emerges at the head of the pitlane.
The pace car joins the pitlane to offer us a last run of five laps. Bill Sedgwick will heroically try to contain Rick Carrelli’s assaults while maintaining the inside line. But two laps from the finish, Carelli manages to get out of turn 4 better and crosses the line in the lead. Sedgwick did not give up and managed to regain a few inches ahead by blocking the inside trajectory at the start of the last lap. But Carelli can attack harder with his new outside tires and will complete the overtaking by the outside line to finally receive the checkered flag with barely half a car length ahead!
The top-five is completed by Bill Schmitt at five laps, John Krebs at six laps and Butch Gilliland at nine laps!
Carelli takes his first career win in his third West Series race. With his team led by Marshal Chesrown, they will dominate the start of the season by winning the second race in Saugus, CA. But in the end it is Bill Sedgwick who will have the last word and win the championship for Wayne Spears for the second year in a row. He will be ahead of Bill Schmitt who will return to the fight and Carelli will fail in third position. The 1992 season was one of the most intense in history in the fight for the championship.
Race results : www.racing-reference.info/race-results/1992_Vons_300/P/
The recap of the 500th race can be found here.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy of the Mesa Marin Raceway Program via Vincent Delforge’s Archives.