NASCAR’s Southwest Tour All-American Challenge Series for stock cars, a 20-event schedule that will be contested on a dozen tracks in California, Arizona and Nevada, kicks off Saturday night at Saugus Speedway, which is celebrating its 50th year of racing.
The traditional season opener on the third-mile paved oval has been increased to 125 laps this year. In the past, it has been only a 100-lap race. The series, which begins its fourth season, is expected to top last year’s total of $470,000 in posted awards by the time it winds up with the AC-Delco 300 at Phoenix International Raceway on Nov. 4.
Among the 50 entries expected to compete Saturday night are all three previous Southwest Tour champions--Roman Calczynski, the 1988 champion from Sepulveda; Mike Chase, the 1987 title-holder from Bakersfield, and Ron Esau of Lakeside, who won the first championship in 1986.
Also entered are two former Saugus champions, Dan Press and Ron Hornaday Jr., as well as Saugus regulars Ray Hooper Jr., Bob Lyon, Chuck Pittinger, Bill Sedgwick, Charlie Asied and Rod Johnson. Also competing Saturday night will be the regular Saugus NASCAR street stock racers who will compete in a 35-lap oval and a 25-lap Figure 8 open competition events.
Saturday night’s race will mark the first of three consecutive events in Southern California for the Southwest Tour. After Saugus, the Tour moves to El Cajon Speedway in El Cajon on April 1 for a 100-lap event on the 3/8-mile track and then to Bakersfield’s Mesa Marin Speedway for the Bakersfield 100 on April. 8.
MORE STOCK CARS--Marcus Mallet, who is expected to stage a two-man fight with defending champion Fred Estrada for the season championship, got off to a fast start last Sunday night with a victory. He will try for another this Sunday night in the Curb Motorsports Winston Series for pro stock cars. , Estrada, who was running third when he spun on the final lap, backed across the finish line and had to settle for ninth place. Four other divisions--bomber, street, figure 8 and hobby cars--also will be contested on Sunday night’s program. . . . Both El Cajon Speedway and Ventura Raceway will hold open practice sessions Saturday night. The regular season opens at El Cajon on April 8, and Ventura commences on March 31. . . . Saugus Speedway, which last held a Winston West Series late-model event in 1977, will return to the schedule this year with a 200-lap event scheduled for Aug. 12. It will be the Series’ only Southern California appearance.
SPRINT CARS--Depth in the field, something that has been missing in recent years in the California Racing Assn., appears to have returned as the sprinters head to Ascot Park Saturday night for the fifth program of the year in the Parnelli Jones Firestone Series. In last Saturday night’s CRA opener at Ascot, veteran Eddie Wirth became the fourth different winner as he drove his Jack Gardner, Curb Motorsports Shrike to victory, his first in 11 months. Another new challenger, Mike Kirby of Paramount, finished second, after leading for the first 18 of the 30 laps. John Redican finished third, followed by Brad Noffsinger, who moved from ninth to fourth. Jerry Meyer finished fifth with Arizonans Ron Shuman and Lealand McSpadden, who dominated the winner’s circle last year. Another potential winner will join the group in the next couple weeks when Mike Sweeney, runner-up the past three years in the season standings, debuts in the Jerry Meyer-owned car. Other interesting performances in the Ascot opener were turned in by Clark Drake, who ran the first 18-second lap, and Jimmy Oskie, who took the trophy dash, his first since 1986 and his 54th overall to break a longtime tie with retired Dean Thompson.
INDY CARS--Geoff Brabham, the current International Motor Sports Assn. champion who was a member of last weekend’s winning Nissan team in the Sebring 12 Hours, will drive a second car for Patrick Racing in three 1989 PPG Indy Car World Series races. Brabham, 37, will join No. 1 Patrick driver Emerson Fittipaldi for the Indy 500, May 28, the June 18 Detroit Grand Prix and the Aug. 6 Marlboro 500 at Michigan International Raceway. Brabham’s car will be a Penske PC18 with Chevrolet power. Brabham has driven in 85 Indy Car events and has finished second six times, the most of any driver without a victory. His best finishes at Indy were a fourth in 1983 and a fifth in his rookie year of 1981.
OFF-ROAD RACING--After three years of running on a course south of Las Vegas, the 22nd annual Binion’s Nissan Mint 400, scheduled April 20-23, will return to its original course north of the city. “I am pleased we are going back to the old course,” veteran Rod Hall said. Hall is one of the two winningest drivers in Mint 400 history with nine class triumphs and the only driver to compete in every race since the 1968 inaugural. Drawing for starting positions for the rocky 105-mile race will be held at Binion’s Horseshoe Hotel and Casino Friday night.
ROAD RACING--More than 200 cars of various vintages will be on hand Saturday and Sunday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the first national Formula Ford race at Willow Springs Raceway. The first FF race was held March 23, 1969, and was won by Southern Californian Jules Williams in a Lotus 51. Williams will be on hand as well as drivers such as Pete Halsmer of Anaheim, Bob Earl of Larkspur, Calif., the 1973 champion, and Eddie Miller of Denver, who was the champion in 1972 and 1974. The races, sponsored by Ford Motor Co. and Goodyear, will be held both days with competition in four different vintages on the Antelope Valley road course at Rosamond, Calif.