Racers Compete for $11,000 From NASCAR as Saugus Season Begins
Saugus Speedway continues a 28-year-old tradition Saturday with its first night of the regular season, starting the 1986 points race in modified, sportsman and street stock classes.
NASCAR, the racing world’s largest sanctioning body, will sponsor the sportsman division at the one-third mile oval for the first time since 1977.
NASCAR will award a $2,000 bonus to the top five drivers in the sportsman class at Saugus. The track champion will walk away with $1,000; the other half will be divided among the other four top drivers.
In addition, the sanctioning body will award a $10,000 bonus to the top sportsman division driver from 19 NASCAR tracks on the West Coast. The award is based on points taken from the top-20 finishes by a driver between April 18 and Sept. 14. Because there are only 18 sportsman events at Saugus, drivers must travel to other tracks to make up the other races.
The new sponsorship is welcomed by both Saugus track officials and drivers. It is expected to draw more drivers to the sportsman class, while new rules will make the cars faster. Several Saugus street stock drivers are building sportsman cars in hopes of grabbing this year’s sportsman title from defending champion Larry Adams of Sylmar.
That’s no easy task. Adams never finished worse than seventh last year, frequently placing in the top three. Dave Phipps of Reseda was the points leader for most of the season, but consistent finishes by Adams gave him the championship.
“I was consistent all year long,” Adams said. “I finished on the lead lap all season. I’m going to try and win a few more races this year. We tried a few things and the car ran faster than it did last season, so we must be doing something right.”
Some of those changes include a new body on a 4-year-old frame. Adams cashed in a 1975 Buick Regal body for a 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass, which is 200 pounds lighter.
While some drivers have gone to bigger engines, Adams plans to stay with a smaller motor. Under the rules, several drivers may show up with engines with up to 410-cubic inches of displacement or more.
Other faces to watch in the sportsman competition include Phipps, who was sportsman runner-up last year, Jeff Phillips of Camarillo and Jim Kent of Canyon Country.
Phipps, who is building a late-model car that he’ll debut next month, starts the season in an 1965 Plymouth that ran the track 10 years ago.
“It really belongs in a museum,” Phipps said. “I went over and saw this car and thought I was in the Twilight Zone. I saw it race the track when I was back in high school.”
Not that the car can’t win. Phipps took some test runs last week and is confident the car will run well--at least until he gets the new model on the road.
Another familiar racer at Saugus is Gabby Garrison of Long Beach. The 69-year-old driver again will break out the old Dodge and hit the track for another season of racing.
Although he finished sixth in the sportsman standings, Garrison was voted the most popular driver at the track last season. Garrison has raced at the track since 1958 and was a charter member of Pacific Racing Assn., the track’s original sanctioning body.
Heading the premier modified division is Ken Sapper, who won his second straight championship last year in easy fashion. The La Crescenta resident was the point leader from the opening race to season’s end, winning the division by 230 points.
His philosophy at the track is simple and effective: jump out to the biggest lead as fast as possible. That strategy won’t change for 1986.
“That was a good feeling,” Sapper said of last year’s success. “We’ll have the same kind of attitude this season. We have to. Everybody starts out with a fresh sheet.”
Sapper has replaced the front frame section on his 1982 Durrant/Speedway Engineering Camaro and expects even better results. Sapper finished second behind Jim Thirkettle of Sylmar at an open competition race at Orange Show Stadium in San Bernardino on Saturday. Both cars had frames by Speedway Engineering, the company Sapper works for.
Sapper won’t have to worry about Thirkettle for the points race at Saugus. But he will have to keep an eye out for John Covan of Simi Valley and Chuck Pittenger of Northridge. Another driver that could take the championship is Rialto’s Tom Finneran, who has posted fast practice times.
But a fast lap time isn’t the only factor. Maintenance also counts.
“The maintenance gives us the edge,” Sapper said. “Whoever maintains their car has a definite advantage at that track.”
Sapper added welder Frank Gaffney to his crew. Gaffney will work under crew chief Scott Crosby along with Bruce Allen and Saugus veteran Mike Bowman.
“Everybody maintains their cool and works together,” Sapper said. “We have the best crew out there. I can’t say enough about them.”
The street stock oval class is void of a returning champion; Jim Gardella of Valencia will not run this season, leaving an opening for 1985 runner-up Bryan Hayden of Canyon Country and Kevin McCurdy of Oxnard.
Other strong contenders are John Cran of Reseda, Rodney Peacher of Sepulveda and Rob Henson of Sylmar.