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MOTOR RACING : Carelli Drifting Toward Title on Southwest Tour

Up around Denver, where Rick Carelli hangs his hat, they call him the “High Plains Drifter” after the way he drifts from one racing hotbed to another, searching for new stock car racing challenges.

“One thing about Denver is that it’s about a thousand miles or a little more to just about anyplace in the country where they race stock cars,” Carelli, 35, said as he prepared to load his rig for the drive to Saugus Speedway, where he will race Saturday night in the Miller Genuine Draft 100, a NASCAR Southwest Tour event. “I can go to Los Angeles as easy as to Charlotte or Milwaukee or somewhere in the East.”

Saturday’s race, No. 11 on a 15-race schedule for All-American Challenge series cars, is 33.33 miles, or 100 laps on Saugus’ one-third-mile paved oval. Racing starts at 7 p.m.

Carelli, who seldom settles down long enough to go for a season championship, leads the Southwest Tour with 1,755 points to 1,705 for Jon Paques of Albuquerque, N.M. Former Saugus track champion Ron Hornaday Jr. is third with 1,679.

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“I was set to run this year in the All Pro series down south when NASCAR increased the schedule to 22 races, and we felt it was too many races to haul our car that far, so we decided to try the Southwest Tour,” Carelli said. “I’d driven in a few (Southwest races) before, so I knew a lot of the tracks, and now we want the championship.”

Carelli won at Saugus in the final 1987 Southwest Tour race. He has six victories in his career, including three this season: at Cajon Speedway, at Las Vegas Raceway and, two weeks ago, at Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino.

His most dramatic race was this year’s opener at Bakersfield’s Mesa Marin Raceway.

“My wife, Cathy, went along, just like she does for every race,” he explained. “She was expecting our first child about a week later, but apparently the ride from Denver made her ready early. About 5 o’clock Saturday morning, she said I’d better get her to the hospital. She had the baby, our son Dominic, at 11:01 a.m. I just got to the track in time to hot lap before qualifying. I finished second behind Mike Chase, and the headlines the next day said: ‘Baby first, Dad second.’ ”

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Carelli won the Copper World stock car feature at Phoenix in 1982 and again in 1988 and would have won again this year but for his generosity. He finished second to Junior Hanley.

“Junior’s car was illegal, according to the Copper World rules, so I told him he could drive one of my cars, and darned if he wasn’t the only one to beat me,” Carelli said.

Winning the Southwest Tour would be a springboard for Carelli and his car owner, Marshall Chesrown, into Winston West competition next season and perhaps the Winston Cup a year or two later.

“Winston Cup, that’s the ultimate. We hope to enter the race at Phoenix (on Nov. 3) to get our feet wet and see what happens. I’ve been with Marshall for two years, and things have been getting better every year.”

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First, though, there’s Saturday night’s race at Saugus, a unique track.

“When I first went to Saugus in 1984, a friend told me it was like going to a parking lot and racing around it. But it has four corners, like every other place, and you’ve got to figure out how to get around them. There’s nothing similar to it, though. I’ll vouch for that.”

Motor Racing Notes

POWERBOATS--Unlimited hydroplanes, the most exciting powerboats in racing, will compete Sunday in the Budweiser Cup on Mission Bay in San Diego. Featured will be a duel between individual points leader Mark Tate, driving Winston Eagle, and the boat leader, Miss Budweiser, driven by Scott Pierce. After qualifying Friday and Saturday, three three-lap heats and a five-lap championship race on the 2.5-mile Bill Muncey Memorial Course will determine the winner.

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STOCK CARS--Lance Hooper, 1990 rookie of the year at Saugus Speedway, won the 1991 sportsman car championship with his seventh victory last Saturday night. . . . The Cajon Speedway title will be determined Saturday night between Chuck Miinch and John Borneman. Miinch holds a 20-point lead with 52 points up for grabs in the season’s final race on the Gillespie Field oval. . . . Other stock car action Saturday night includes the 14th annual Bill Baker Memorial on dirt at Santa Maria Speedway, the Skoal Bandit season finale for late model stocks at Mesa Marin in Bakersfield and an event for Winston Racing Series sportsman cars at Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino. . . . Mini stocks and modified minis will run Friday night at Ventura Raceway.

MOTORCYCLES--Wayne Rainey’s third place in the French Grand Prix last Sunday at LeMans clinched a third consecutive world road racing championship for the Downey rider. It is the 11th victory for the United States in the 14 years since Kenny Roberts won in 1978. Roberts owns the Yamaha team that includes Rainey. . . . The American Road Racing Assn. will hold its monthly Grand Prix sprint series this weekend at Willow Springs Raceway. . . . The 39th running of the San Jose Mile, one of the fixtures of the American Motorcyclist Assn.'s Camel Pro series, will be held Sunday at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. Scott Parker, on a Harley-Davidson, is the defending champion.

SPEEDWAY BIKES--Glen Helen Speedway in San Bernardino, which closes its regular season Wednesday night, will be the site of the California State Championships on Sept. 28. . . . Points races leading to berths in the Oct. 12 Coors Light U.S. Nationals will be featured Friday night at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.

SPRINT CARS--Ron Shuman will continue his quest of a fourth consecutive California Racing Assn. championship in a 30-lap main event Saturday night at Bakersfield Speedway in Oildale. Shuman leads Lealand McSpadden by 137 points as the season nears its end.

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DRAG RACING--The National Hot Rod Assn.'s Pacific Division series, with more than 450 sportsman drivers, will return to the Los Angeles County Raceway in Palmdale this weekend. It is the fourth of six events in the $91,000 series to determine division champions of eight non-professional classes. Qualifying will start at noon Friday, followed by NHRA national record runs and final qualifying Saturday. Side-by-side eliminations are set for noon Sunday. . . . Brad Anderson of La Verne, a seven-time alcohol funny car champion, will drive his Jolly Rancher Candy Racing entry and also will field an alcohol dragster to be driven by his daughter, Shelly. . . . Jim Maher of Whittier was reelected president of the California Independent Funny Car Assn. for a fourth term.

MIDGETS--Four drivers separated by 16 points will battle for the United States Auto Club’s three-quarter lead Saturday night at Ventura Raceway in a doubleheader with Western States full midgets. Defending three-quarter champion Jay Drake has 456 points to 452 for Frank Deiny Jr., 448 for Gary Schroeder and 440 for Cory Kruseman. Sleepy Tripp is 89 points ahead of Robby Flock in search of his sixth regional title.

ROAD RACING--The Sports Car Club of America’s Pacific Coast Championships will be held Saturday and Sunday at Sears Point Raceway near Sonoma, north of San Francisco.

DRIVER OF THE YEAR--Michael Andretti, on the basis of five Indy car victories, was a runaway winner in third-quarter balloting for driver-of-the-year honors. Second was NASCAR driver Harry Gant, winner of consecutive races at Darlington, S.C., and Richmond, Va. He was followed by drag racer Joe Amato and sports car driver Davy Jones.

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