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Some Familiar Faces Are at Fontana for Cameo Appearances

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Drivers in the Winston West stock car series, who used to race as part of Winston Cup events at Ontario and Riverside tracks, have their own event when NASCAR comes to California Speedway.

Butch Gilliland of Anaheim, who won last year’s series championship in a Ford Thunderbird; and Kevin Harvick of Bakersfield, this year’s points leader in a Chevy Monte Carlo, head an entry list of West Coast drivers who will try to defend their honor against veteran Cup driver Ken Schrader, who won last year’s race.

Harvick, 22, drives for the Spears Motorsports team, which fielded cars driven by Bill Sedgwick in winning the Winston West championship in 1991 and 1992. The only driver to have led in all three races this year, Harvick has a 494-point lead over Canadian Gary Smith after finishing second to Rich Woodland Jr. of Templeton, Calif., two weeks ago in Phoenix.

“We’ve had an awesome car every time we’ve showed up at the races,” says Harvick, who won on the superspeedway at Las Vegas after winning the pole with a lap of 163.820 mph. “Our goal is to be in the top five in every race, but you never know what’s going to happen. There are a lot of stout cars in the series.”

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Qualifying for the Auto Club 200 pole and the first 20 starting positions for Saturday’s 100-lap race will be held today. But the qualifying and IROC practice today are closed to the public. The race will start at noon Saturday.

Schrader, of Fenton, Mo., averaged 110.311 mph in a duel with fellow Cup drivers Mike Wallace and David Green to win last year’s inaugural race at California Speedway. Gilliland finished fourth, the first West Coast driver.

Schrader is also one of three Winston Cup drivers committed to racing in the Featherlite Southwest Tour race around the Coliseum on Labor Day. The others are Ford drivers Mark Martin and Chad Little, a former Winston West champion.

Several other outsiders are entered in Saturday’s race, although one is an old favorite among Southland stock car racing fans.

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Ron Hornaday Jr., who left his home in Palmdale three years ago to move to North Carolina and drive a Chevy truck for Teresa Earnhardt--Dale’s wife--in NASCAR’s Craftsman truck series, will be in the Bill Strauser-owned BMR Motorsports Monte Carlo. Hornaday, the 1996 truck series champion, is a former Saugus Speedway champion and also a two-time Featherlite Southwest Tour champion. He drove for Spears Motorsports.

Mike Dillon, a regular on the Busch Grand National circuit from Welcome, N.C., will be doing double duty this weekend. In addition to Saturday’s race, he will run Sunday in the California 500, substituting for Mike Skinner on Richard Childress’ team. Skinner was injured in an accident at Atlanta. It will be Dillon’s Winston Cup debut.

Another surprise entry in Saturday’s race is Ron Esau of Lakeside, who is taking over Kenny Smith’s Quick Pick Motorsports Chevy, a car financed by Smith’s 1994 winning lottery ticket. Smith, after crashing at Phoenix, decided to retire as a driver and concentrate on helping his wife, Marylou, run the team. Marylou Smith is the car’s listed owner.

Also not racing this week is former NFL coach Jerry Glanville, who broke several ribs and his left ankle when he wrecked his Ford during a qualifying run for the Winston West race at Phoenix.

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When the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the series sponsor, announced an increase in its points fund bonus from $50,000 to $300,000 this year, it stimulated interest and attracted larger entries.

Although the West Coast series has been known as Winston West since 1971, it started in 1954 as the Pacific Coast Late Model circuit when promoter Bob Barkhimer ran a nine-race series. The first event, on a dirt half-mile track at Oakland Speedway, was won by Indy car veteran Dick Rathmann.

Lloyd Dane won the first championship and won again in 1956 and 1957. Ron Hornaday, father of this year’s entrant, won in 1963 and 1964.

The most successful West Coast driver was Ray Elder, the racing farmer from Caruthers, a tiny agricultural community in the San Joaquin Valley. Elder, driving a family car owned by his father, Fred, and prepared by his brother, Richard, became the only West Coast team to win a Winston Cup race.

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Running against Richard Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Allison and all the NASCAR regulars, Elder won the Motor Trend 500 in 1971 and a year later won the Golden State 400, both on Riverside International Raceway’s road course.

Elder also won the West series’ most popular driver award 10 times, but fell short of the record of 12 years in which Hershel McGriff, a lumberman from Bridal Veil, Ore., received the award. McGriff, who was still racing on the circuit in his 60s, also won the championship in 1986.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

California 500 Schedule

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* Today: IROC practice, 8 a.m., noon and 4 p.m.; Winston West practice, 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., qualifying, 3 p.m. for positions 1-25.

* Friday: Winston West practice, 8:30 a.m., qualifying, noon, for positions 26-38; Winston Cup practice, 9:30 a.m., qualifying, 1 p.m., for positions 1-25.

* Saturday: Winston Cup practice, 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., qualifying, 11 a.m., for positions 26-36; Auto Club 200 Winston West race (100 laps), noon; Pontiac True Value IROC race (50 laps), 2:30 p.m.

* Sunday: California 500 (250 laps), 12:30 p.m.

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