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Fueled by Fun : Saugus Speedway introduces inexpensive Pure Stock racing night, often a family affair.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dennis Wood, 23, wearing greasy clothes and a smile that has earned him the nickname “Brad Pitt,” was chatting with a visitor at Saugus Speedway when a lithe woman in a body-hugging jumpsuit, Marian Deist, ambled up to a bright yellow Camaro and stuck a long leg in the window.

Wood, of Tujunga, raised his voice over the roar of race car engines revving up under the lights. He was in the crowded pit area, a chaotic, oily asphalt acre of haphazardly parked trailers and brightly painted sedans, each with a mechanic working excitedly under the hood. “Excuse me,” he shouted. “I have to help my grandmother into her car.”

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This is Pure Stock night at the speedway--when dedicated amateurs bring along their families and friends and take over the one-third-mile flat oval track for 15 laps of adrenaline-pumping racing in passenger cars with only minor modifications. It’s a hobby, they say, that costs about the same as jet skis but offers a wealth of thrills.

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“We call it affordable racing,” said Karen Goldman of Reseda as she took a wrench to the front end of a 1991 Thunderbird for her friend, Daryl Lockyer of Agoura.

Track spokeswoman Kay Sedgwick agreed: “This [class] is so people who don’t have a lot of money to spend can get out there and race.”

The speedway introduced Pure Stock this season as a low-cost entry level for drivers who want to see if they have what it takes to go on to the speedier cars--which are also pricier, customarily costing upward of $30,000. Pure Stock cars have had inexpensive chassis modifications, they aren’t allowed to have costly high-performance engines, and entry fees are nominal. Moreover, winners take home modest trophies instead of big cash prizes.

Choosing not to lay out wads of money, the drivers instead spend their spare time tinkering on their cars with their friends and relatives. Then they round up their home-grown pit crews for racing night every other Saturday, turning the event into something of a buddies-and-kinfolks night.

Wood’s grandmother, Deist, 65, was at the wheel of a late-’60s Camaro with “32” on the door. Her daughter, Dee Hansen, 47, of Tujunga, was climbing into her own race car, No. 31, a yellow and silver Camaro. “We just do this for grins and giggles,” Hansen said. “If we had to pay for it, there is no way we could afford it.”

Hansen, who is Wood’s stepmother, works with her mother in a family business, Deist Safety Co. of Glendale, a safety equipment supplier. She said that all you need to race are a regulation helmet, a tight-fitting fire-protection suit and a car with relatively inexpensive modifications.

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Drivers build sweat equity by doing their own work, cutting sheet metal away from tires and welding doors shut. They also strip off excess weight by removing seats, instrument panels and side windows. Whereas cars in other classes are required to use wide, smooth racing tires, Pure Stock cars ride on cheaper street tires.

Under rules of the track, licensed by the national stock car racing organization, all parts must meet standard factory or “stock” specifications--hence the name of the class. Drivers describe frequent visits to discount auto parts stores and trips to a popular Sun Valley wrecking yard, Memory Lane. Costs of required equipment include about $400 for a protective roll cage with seat and about $200 for a fire-safety fuel cell, a box installed in the trunk with a rubberlike bladder that keeps gasoline from exploding in a collision. Drivers can hire people to do some of the work for them, or cajole skilled friends to lend a hand.

Even the car itself need not be a major expense. Longtime speedway fan-turned-participant Scott Bentley of Saugus said that he and a friend, Tony Tierno, found a 1969 Chrysler Imperial for $880 through a newspaper ad and spent $2,300 to get it ready to race. “We were spectators for three or four years and just thought we’d like to try this,” Bentley said.

After racing at Saugus for more than 15 years, Dave Phipps of Simi Valley said he has found that a typical day for a driver goes like this: “You come home from work, have dinner, go out to the garage, work on your car until after midnight, go to bed, get up, go back to work and repeat that cycle endlessly.”

And Elizabeth Nielsen of Thousand Oaks is painfully aware of the attractions of a metal rival, her boyfriend’s purple 1970 Chevelle with the number 78 fashioned from duct tape. “I’ve barely seen him for five weeks,” she moaned.

Kevin Fleischer, a Thousand Oaks welder, just patted the Chevelle. He recently made a lot of money working overtime, he said, and planned to use it so he could peel off the duct tape and get the car a pretty new paint job.

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The sharpest-looking car in the class one recent night was a 1979 Camaro, No. 94, that brother and sister Amy and Brian Horst of Reseda take turns racing. A shiny white sedan bearing the names of more than a dozen sponsors, it was the only car in the race so adorned.

“I guess we’ve spent more than 1,000 hours on it,” said Amy, 23, who is tall and willowy with a sparkling blue eyes and a blond ponytail. She has quickly attracted a following, winning races at record speeds. Disc jockeys read her name over the radio and children cheer for her. “It’s kind of nice to hear the kids yell when I drive by,” she said.

Brian, 19, loves the track. “If I had the opportunity, I’d love to make a career out of motor sports,” he said. He grew up shadowing his father, Ed, who has raced here for about eight years.

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Tonight was Amy’s turn at the wheel and she won again, drawing lusty cheers from the grandstand crowd of more than 2,000.

Hansen, who spun out on a turn, pulled back into the pits, and her husband, Don, popped off the hood and reached for the steering linkage. “I learn something every time I go out there,” she said.

Her mother finished last but didn’t let it bother her. She pulled off her helmet and the two shared a good laugh. “Maybe we’ll do this for the rest of the summer,” Deist said, “or maybe for the rest of our lives.”

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WHERE AND WHEN

What: Pure Stock Racing at Saugus Speedway.

Location: 22500 Soledad Canyon Road, Santa Clarita.

Hours: Gates open at 2 p.m. Racing continues until about 11 p.m. Dates include July 22 and Aug. 12. Call track for other dates, through Sept. 30.

Price: $9 to $17 for adults, $4 to $5 for children.

Call: (805) 259-3886.

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