When Dan Press found a road race on the stock car schedule of the NASCAR Southwest Tour, he enrolled in Bob Bondurant's high-performance driving school at Sears Point Raceway--the site of what was to be the first road race in Press' long career.
"I needed someone to show me the line," Press said. "I didn't have the foggiest notion of how you got around a track where you had to turn both directions."
Press, 40, learned well. He qualified fourth and finished fourth in last Saturday's Sears Point 200, increasing his lead to 157 points over Chuck Pittenger in the All-American Challenge series for late model cars.
But Press will need no one to show him the line Saturday night when the Southwest Tour visits Saugus Speedway for the Miller 125, a spin of 125 laps around the flat one-third mile paved oval--a total of 41.6 miles.
He was rookie of the year at Saugus in 1973 and won his first main event there April 27, 1974. He won track championships there in 1978 and 1982, and also holds the one-lap qualifying record of 15.571 seconds, or 76.186 m.p.h., which he set last September in the same Camaro he will be driving Saturday night.
"It's going to be fun going back to Saugus," Press said. "Basically, it's our home track although we haven't run a full season there in five or six years."
The Saugus 125 was originally scheduled as the season opener but was postponed by rain.
In 1978, Press so dominated racing at Saugus that the track promoter, the late Marshall Wilkings, posted a bounty for any driver who could beat Press. He put up posters around town asking for challengers. Press won eight consecutive races before Tru Cheek collected the bounty.
"We had a great setup that year," Press recalled. "We won 15 main events and Marshall (Wilkings) had a lot of fun promoting the bounty idea. The fans really loved it. Some of them were rooting like crazy for us to keep winning, and some were rooting for the other guys to collect the extra money."
Between his two track championships, the 5-foot-6, 160-pound driver survived two crashes that nearly ended his career.
Late in 1980, he was leading in the modified division at Saugus when the throttle stuck on his Camaro one night and he smacked the wall, shattering his left leg.
Then for the 1981 season, Press built a new car and was running in his second race, at Bakersfield's Mesa Marin, when he lost his steering and hit the wall in Turn 1. The impact re-broke his leg and Press sat out the entire season.
"Winning in '82 meant a lot, coming back after those injuries," he said. For the last couple of years, Press entered only a few races, most open-competition events at different tracks, until he decided to take at shot at the Southwest Tour championship this season and run the full 20-race schedule.
"Having a goal (the championship) got me and all the guys on the crew pumped up and we've been working on the car more, getting a stronger engine and getting to the races with a positive attitude," he said. "Then we've had a lot of luck go our way, too."
Press, after finishing third in the season opener at Cajon Speedway, had his only poor finish the following week at Mesa Marin when his tires weren't sticking. But then he broke out of the pack with three straight wins, at Shasta Speedway, Stockton 99 Speedway and the Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino.
"The car seemed to like those little third-mile and quarter-mile tracks," Press said. "I hope things are the same at Saugus."
Press, however, is most proud of his performance at Sears Point.
"A lot of the guys were figuring it would be our weak point," he said. "It turned out most of the (series) leaders had bad luck and we had good luck. Taking those two days off from work to go to that school really helped. I learned how to downshift and, most important, I got time on the track to help learn the line."
Press was running second late in the race when a rock went through his radiator and he spun off course and finished fourth. Jon Pacques of Albuquerque, N.M., was the winner.
"The good luck was that the rock didn't get us earlier in the race," Press said. "If it had, we'd never have finished."
Press has $13,825 in earnings after seven of the 20 races.
"It's nice to be winning because it means we can spend more on the car," he said. "We put all the money we make back in the car and we do all our own work nights and when we can steal some time from work."
Press lives in Frazier Park and runs his own machine shop in Lebec, a food-and-fuel stop at the top of the Ridge Route, about midway between Saugus and Bakersfield.