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Motor Sports / Vince Kowalick : Utts Rides Out a Wave of Protests

June 24, 1989|Vince Kowalick

Charles Utts of Camarillo must be walking around these days with a "Who, me?" kind of look on his face. Seems like the competition hates Utts' guts.

"It's frustrating," said Utts, 28, a four-year veteran of Ventura Raceway. "If I was running at the back of the pack, nobody would be paying any attention to me."

But he's not. And they are.

Utts twice was at the center of controversy last week when he swept the trophy dash, heat race and 15-lap Street Stock oval main event Friday night, then drove to an impressive second-place finish in the 15-lap oval main event Saturday night.

For Utts, the current points leader, the performance was not unusual. Three weeks ago, he set a one-lap track qualifying record with a time of 16.37 seconds, the first sub-17-second qualifying time in the four-year history of the one-fifth-mile dirt oval.

Although Friday night's main-event victory was only his second of the season, Utts has finished in the top three in all 11 main events.

In fact, Utts was so impressive Friday night an official protest was filed against him at the end of the evening by fellow driver Pete Marcus of Ventura. Marcus reportedly contended that Utts' engine operated with an illegal amount of compression.

Upon having his engine "torn down" and inspected, Utts was vindicated.

"He's been torn down a couple of times," track publicity director Cliff Morgan said. "And he's always found to be legal."

Reasons for postrace inspections of cars vary from night to night, Morgan said. Sometimes they are conducted at random, sometimes when a driver is conspicuously outclassing the pack.

But most commonly, Morgan said, another driver initiates the protest at a cost of $100. If the engine belonging to the driver in question proves to be illegal, he loses his points for the season and the $100 is returned to the driver making the protest.

If the engine is found to be legal, the driver making the protest forfeits the $100 to the other driver. Which is why Utts not only pocketed the $60 first-place prize but an extra hundred as well.

"I am 100% confident that I'm legal," Utts said. "I'm more than confident."

So confident was Utts that he headed for home moments after the checkered flag of Saturday night's race. More controversy developed, however, because Utts later was found to be in violation of track rules for leaving the raceway less than 15 minutes after the final event.

"Nobody bothered to tell me," Utts said, "so, I left. There were guys who left before me. It wasn't like I scooted out of the gate."

Track officials are undecided, Morgan said, whether Utts will face disciplinary action. Utts, however, said he is not concerned.

"If they go ahead and penalize me, then they go ahead and penalize me," he said. "I'll take the heat and keep smilin'. In some ways it's flattering. I must be doing something right."

See you in September: Steve Burdett of Canyon Country has been suspended from the Saugus Speedway Sportsman division until Sept. 2 for deliberately causing another driver to spin out during a 40-lap main event, Saugus racing director Monte Monteleone said.

Burdett, 13th in the points standings, led the race in the early going but spun out after making contact with Gary Sigman of Carson, who is second in the points standings.

Later in the race, Burdett's car swerved into Sigman's on the front stretch, forcing Sigman into the infield. Neither driver was injured.

Carson was not faulted, but Burdett's move was ruled deliberate.

"He brought his car out here and used it as a weapon," Monteleone said of Burdett. "You can't take a 3,200-pound car and run it into someone any time you get an inkling to.

"He took it upon himself to do the job of the officials and take another driver out of the race. You can't do that."

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