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Blankenship Shows No Sign of Flagging at Saugus Track : Motor sports: Reseda driver, 32, on verge of adding a second Street Stock points title to pair in Hobby Stock class.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Back in the mid-1980s, when Saugus Speedway ran races on Friday and Saturday nights, a teen-ager named Larry Krieger used to go with his buddies to take in the action.

As the Hobby Stock cars lined up to race, Krieger invariably would point to one machine. “See that car?” he’d ask. “That’s my buddy Dave Blankenship. Watch him win this race.”

By the time the checkered flag dropped, Krieger remembers, “sure enough, he’d win.”

The ‘80s have turned into the ‘90s, and that awed teen-ager is now a 25-year-old Sportsman racer at Saugus. And Dave Blankenship is still winning.

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Heading into Saturday night’s penultimate Street Stock race, Blankenship holds a 30-point lead over rookie Scott Dinger. Barring disaster, he will win his second Street Stock championship.

That lead is also part of another chapter in a fine racing career for Blankenship, a legacy of winning accomplished out of the main spotlight at Saugus, in the Hobby Stock and Street Stock classes.

Should he hang on to his lead as expected, Blankenship will have won two Street Stock points championships and finished second in another while winning two Hobby Stock points championships and finishing second in another. His lowest finish at Saugus since he started there in 1985 was fourth in the Jalopy points standings his rookie season, in which Blankenship admittedly wasn’t too serious about racing and even missed a couple of nights to go water skiing.

Blankenship’s record proves him the best driver at Saugus not behind a Sportsman wheel. And should he ever land a Sportsman ride?

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“I keep asking when he’ll do it,” said Krieger, who lived next door to Blankenship in Reseda for 10 years. “I’d love to see him get somewhere where the appreciation of his driving will really show.”

For the easygoing Blankenship, 32, who still lives in Reseda and owns an automotive repair shop, such talk of a leap in division need not be so urgent. But he will listen if the right offer comes along.

“It would take some financial help for me to do that,” he said. “But, oh, definitely, I’d try it.”

Blankenship’s championship effort this year proves one other thing for the Valley native: He hasn’t lost his touch after sitting out 1989.

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That year, Blankenship took a sabbatical to buy his first house. He sold his Street Stock car and used some of the money for a down payment.

Racers, however, are racers. A year off didn’t remove the bug from Blankenship’s system and, well, his house was all settled, so why not race in 1990?

Blankenship learned that an old friend, Ken Maler, was planning to build a new Street Stock car.

“Well, what are you gonna do with the old one?” Blankenship asked.

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“Sell it,” Maler said.

“I’ll buy it,” Blankenship shot back.

Before the deal was closed, real life again intervened. Blankenship’s former boss was selling his business.

“I ended up begging, borrowing and stealing money to buy his business from him,” Blankenship said. “And there went the money for Maler’s car.”

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The enterprising Blankenship then returned to Maler. How about if he just drove the car for free? Maler, exhibiting sportsmanship and friendship in one handshake, agreed.

Blankenship set a track record in 1990, set six fast times and won six main events. But two nights of bad luck cost him, and he wound up 13 points behind champion Craig Rayburn.

This season Blankenship has traded the ups and downs of last year’s performances for duller but longer-lasting consistency. He has won just one oval main and one figure-eight main in 1991 but has finished in the top 10 every race, in the top five 10 times and, most important, has finished every race.

Helping all that success is Blankenship’s prowess in the figure-eight races. While some drivers shy away from this event, Blankenship flourishes. His finish of every main this season in a sometimes-sloppy and often-dangerous event is testament.

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“It’s a real fun course to drive,” he said. “But I do have mixed emotions. It’s a car-killer, that’s for sure.”

Blankenship may be leaving figure-eights as early as next season. He is considering building a Grand American Modified car to race at Saugus after observing the debut of that class this summer.

“They look like a lot of fun to drive, and they’re not as competitive as the Sportsman class,” he said. “Plus, they’re fairly reasonable to build.”

Fun alone would seem reason enough to draw Blankenship, who has been addicted to water skiing since buying his first boat at 19.

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He has a place on the Colorado River and can be found there any weekend he’s not at Saugus.

Relocation is not under consideration, though.

“My house is here and my business is here,” Blankenship said.

Besides, he’s somewhat of a local treasure to racing fans. Krieger harks back to 1984 when he and Blankenship first shared a Jalopy at now-closed Indian Dunes in the Santa Clarita Valley.

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Passengers were allowed to ride with the drivers back then, and Blankenship chose his next-door neighbor to sit shotgun.

“I remember sitting in the car that first night and thinking to myself, ‘I’ll never be able to drive like this,’ ” Krieger said. “I thought, ‘This boy can drive.’ ”

He still can.


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