The Dodgers, the Lakers, the 49ers, Roman Calczynski--all will be trying this year to repeat as champions.
Most fans probably would admit that all are bucking the odds. Even Calczynski, a 37-year-old stock car driver from Sepulveda, acknowledges the difficulty of the task before him.
“There are not too many repeat winners in anything,” Calczynski said.
Which makes Calczynski the driver to watch as the NASCAR All-American Challenge Series Southwest Tour kicks off its fourth season at 7 tonight with the Miller 125 at Saugus Speedway.
Calczynski, who is rapidly becoming the tour’s Mike Tyson, Wayne Gretzky and Joe Montana--all rolled into one and stuffed inside a stock car--won the tour championship last season after two runner-up finishes.
Calczynski posted three victories and 12 top-five finishes, setting tour single-season ($35,501) and career ($72,115) earnings records, on his way to the title.
Yet, he is as humble as the 24 Hours of Le Mans is long.
“I don’t really know what to say,” Calczynski said, “except that the way the competition is, it’s awful hard to win this thing.”
The tour, which will include a second race at Saugus on Sept. 9, consists of 20 events on 12 tracks in California, Arizona and Nevada. It concludes Nov. 4 with the AC-Delco 300 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Calczynski’s toughest competitors also will be back on track. Troy Beebe of Modesto, who battled for the lead throughout the season before finishing second, tied Calczynski with a tour-high three victories last year.
Mike Chase of Bakersfield, tour champion in 1987 and the tour’s career leader with 10 wins, finished third and will be back, as will Ron Hornaday Jr. of Palmdale and Ken Pedersen of Sausalito, who finished third and fourth, respectively. Hornaday and Pedersen battled for rookie-of-the-year honors with Pedersen eventually claiming the award.
Loran Kelley (sixth) of Vacaville and Ray Hooper Jr. of Palmdale (seventh) round out the top seven returnees.
“There’s a lot of tough competition,” Calczynski said. “Two second-place finishes and one first--that speaks pretty highly of the crew I have. It’s the same one we’ve had for three years. We should be pretty well intact.”
Calczynski is no stranger to Saugus, which is celebrating its 50th season. A regular at the one-third-mile oval from 1979-83, Calczynski posted championships in Street Stock, Sportsman and Modified divisions, the only three-division champion in track history.
Calczynski has won three of the past four Southwest Tour races at Saugus, where the tour begins for the fourth consecutive year.
“It’s my home track,” Calczynski said, “so maybe I have a little bit of an advantage.”
NASCAR promoter Owen Kearns Jr. gives Calczynski a decided edge entering the tour.
“But you never can tell what’s going to happen,” Kearns said. “You can’t control the variables.”
Calczynski fell victim to variables last season at Silver State Raceway in South Lake Tahoe. Leading the pack with 11 laps to go, his engine blew, forcing him from the race.
Beebe held a late lead at Phoenix International Raceway when a car spun into him and knocked him out of the race. Kelley fell victim to five flat tires during the season.
Tires, Calczynski said, might be the determining variable tonight. Ordinarily a 100-lap race, tonight’s 125-lap event might boil down to whose tires boil first.
“You’ve got to get the guy in front of you to burn up his,” Calczynski said, “by staying on his butt. Brakes and tires--whoever has the best. You’ll have to be a little smarter on the tire selection and change the car accordingly.”