A Track Triangle Full of Turns : Sedgwick's Change of Crew Chiefs Sparks Intrigue for Winston 200 at Saugus Speedway

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bill Sedgwick knows Saugus Speedway.

Chris Robinson knows Saugus Speedway.

Leon Ruther knows Saugus Speedway.

The question is: Who knows Saugus Speedway best?

The answer could be forthcoming Saturday when the Winston West Tour roars into Saugus Speedway for the $35,901 Winston 200, an annual stop and the fourth on the tour's nine-race schedule.

For Sedgwick, Robinson and Ruther, the stop in the Santa Clarita Valley represents a homecoming of sorts--all three have extensive experience with the one-third-mile paved oval.

The trio are also linked in another way.

Sedgwick, 36, of Granada Hills, is a former Saugus Street Stock champion and 1989 Winston West rookie of the year. His strong driving continued last year when he lost out on a coveted 1990 Winston West points championship to veteran Bill Schmitt of Redding by one point in the final race of the season.

Currently, Sedgwick (469 points) is third in the points standings behind leader Mike Chase of Bakersfield (516) and John Krebs of Roseville (471). Sedgwick drove well in last week's combined Winston West/Winston Cup race at Sears Point Raceway, finishing 15th overall and second among West cars. He also finished on the lead lap in a combined event for the first time.

Adding to Sedgwick's momentum is the fact that he has won the past two Winston 200 races at Saugus Speedway, including a wire-to-wire victory last year as the pole-sitter.

But here the plot takes a turn.

Both of those 200-mile races were won with Ruther serving as Sedgwick's crew chief. Ruther, 52, also of Granada Hills, knows Saugus Speedway intimately. He has owned and worked on cars at Saugus since 1962 and has served as crew chief for such West Coast legends as Jimmy Insolo and Hershel McGriff.

Ruther, however, is no longer Sedgwick's crew chief.

Sedgwick and the car owner, Spears Manufacturing of Agua Dulce, made a change over the winter, opting for Robinson, 42, another local who has worked and raced around Saugus for the past 20 years.

Ruther said it was "a disagreement between Spears and myself." Sedgwick said it was a step forward.

"Leon is a good friend of mine and he is an expert on race strategy," Sedgwick said. "But Leon never set the cars up. I did the chassis and we felt we could have somebody more capable to help."

That said, Ruther took on another job--as the crew chief for points leader Chase. Ruther said it wasn't until mid-April, three weeks before the Winston West's opening race in Monroe, Wash., that he knew he couldn't sit on the sidelines. He now is directing Chase's Freymiller Trucking Buick in what could be a championship season.

"I figured I'd let it ride," Ruther said. "But racing season got closer and closer and I said, 'I want to do this.' It's been a real pleasant experience."

Despite a trip to the winner's circle at Saugus in 1984, Chase, 39, the 1990 Winston West rookie of the year, has had trouble at the short track and has yet to return to his winning form there.

But with Ruther on his side, Chase feels the tide might be turning. "(Leon) is a magician with the car and I'm confident he'll have it set up right at Saugus," Chase said. "We tested there last week and I feel a lot better about it than I did . . . last year."

Sedgwick is eagerly awaiting this homecoming, confident that his crew, under Robinson, is perfectly capable of maintaining his winning ways at Saugus. He has heard the noises coming out of the Chase camp, and he is ready to meet the challenge. "We tested there two weeks ago and I went 16.37, a tenth of a second below the track record," Sedgwick said. "The fastest Chase went was 17.0. This is our living, we keep close tabs on things like this."

In fact, Sedgwick insisted, were it not for engine trouble at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, he would be atop the points standings with Chase chasing.

"I got involved in an incident at Bakersfield where we had to repair the car," Sedgwick said. "But we had the fastest car out there."

But Chase will not be the only obstacle Saturday. Schmitt, McGriff, Krebs and Anaheim's Butch Gilliland all figure to make the Winston 200 less than a jaunt for the defending champion.

"I figure the odds are against me because I've won the last two," Sedgwick said with a chuckle.

"Saugus Speedway is my home track. I enjoy the fans and the people associated with the track. I'm just hoping we can do it again this year."

And this year, Leon Ruther is hoping, will be different from last year. "Bill and I are friends," Ruther said. "But I'd like to win. Then maybe they will realize that they made a mistake."

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