Harry Gant, who announced last week that he would retire from stock car racing after the 1994 Winston Cup season, is keeping busy in the meantime. With a rare week off from this year's 30-race NASCAR schedule, Gant, of Taylorsville, N.C., will be at Bakersfield to drive in Sunday's Winston West race at Mesa Marin Raceway.
The Meineke Discount Mufflers 300 on Sunday will climax a $200,000 NASCAR October Classic weekend at Mesa Marin that includes the Texaco/Havoline 100 for Southern California late-model cars tonight and the Community First Bank 200 for Featherlite Southwest Tour late-model cars Saturday night.
Car owner Bobby Allison, a former Winston Cup champion who still holds the Mesa Marin lap record of 79.769 m.p.h. set in 1980, will be grand marshal of the 18th annual stock car extravaganza. Allison's regular driver, Jimmy Spencer, will also run in the Winston West against defending series champion Bill Sedgwick of Acton, points leader Rick Carelli of Denver, Ron Hornaday Jr. of Palmdale, Mike Chase and Gary Collins of Bakersfield and other track regulars.
Spencer joined Allison's team at the end of the 1992 season. His best finishes have been a second in the Winston 500 at Talladega, Ala., where he was only a car length behind Ernie Irvan and a third in the Goody's 500 last month in Martinsville, Va., also won by Irvan. Earlier, Spencer won Winston modified championships in 1986 and 1987 and earned the nickname of "Mr. Excitement."
Sedgwick has won four of the last six races on Mesa Marin's half-mile paved oval, among them last year's Meineke 300. This year, with one victory and one pole, he is third in the standings behind Carelli and rookie of the year Dirk Stephens of Tumwater, Wash. Carelli has won seven of this season's 11 races.
Hornaday needs only a sixth-place finish Saturday night to become the first driver to repeat as the Southwest Tour champion. He leads Doug George of Atwater, Calif., by 213 points.
Tonight's race is the final of a four-race Southern California Challenge Series. There will also be qualifying for the Winston West.
Gant, at 54 the oldest driver to win a Winston Cup race, said he thinks he's close to his peak because he got such a late start in the sport. After driving late-model stock cars for years as a hobby, Gant moved up to the major league circuit in 1979.
"I figured I'd run 10 or 11 years and call it a career," he said. "Then I kept adding another year or two, but now I think it's time to set a definite date. Next year, we hope we'll have our greatest year yet.
"I'm sure some of the guys, like Dale Earnhardt, can run until they're 60 because they were raised in that environment. Nobody in my family had anything to do with racing. We were farmers and builders, so racing has always been hard work for me.
"You really, really miss things when you're racing, too. I've had daughters get married, and they had to set their marriage date to a day I could be off.
"My daughter's graduation, I was racing in Bristol, Tenn., in a Busch car. We were running for the points. I had to finish the race, run across the track, fly back to Taylorsville--this was a long time ago--jump out, run to the house and put on a tux. I'm putting on a tie, and I'm still sweaty and dirty.
"I go to the school, park in a no-parking zone, jump out of the car and run to the top of the hill just as they're coming through with their caps and gowns. I don't want to do that with my grandchildren."
Motor Racing Notes
SPORTS CARS--Mike Lewis, defending Sports Car Club of America GT-3 champion from San Diego, will head a delegation of Southern California drivers to the SCCA's Valvoline Runoffs this weekend at Road Atlanta. Lewis will also drive in GT-2 along with Chuck McKinney of Pasadena. Others entered include Wolfgang Maike of Santa Barbara, GT-3; Frank Monise Sr. of Pasadena, C Sports Racing; Leo Sismani of Rancho Santa Fe, Shelby Can-Am; Dan Vosloo of Irvine and James Bunce of Corona, Formula Atlantic; Sam Schmidt of Long Beach, Formula Continental; Bob Kirby of Oceanside, E Production; James Hlivko of Rosamond, H Production; and Tony Swan of Marina del Rey, Bill Hagerty of Oceanside and Larry Cress of Torrance, Showroom Stock A. The runoffs, scheduled today through Sunday, are the national championship for amateur sports car drivers. This will be the final event at Road Atlanta, longtime home of the runoffs. Next year they will move to Mid-Ohio.
MOTORCYCLES--Doug Polen, American Motorcyclist Assn. superbike champion, and Ricky Graham, the Grand National dirt track champion, have been nominated for AMA MotoWorld athlete of the year. When Graham won last Saturday night at Pomona, it was the Salinas rider's first victory on the half-mile horse racing oval and his only one in California among a record 11 victories this season. . . . The 10th round of the Willow Springs Motorcycle Club's road racing series will be run Sunday on the 2.5-mile course at Willow Springs.
MOTOCROSS--Damon Bradshaw, 21, among the sport's brightest prospects after winning nine supercross main events on a Yamaha in 1992, has announced that he will discontinue riding indefinitely because of personal problems, which include a serious knee injury. . . . Ventura Raceway canceled its motocross/off-road racing programs scheduled for Saturday night and Nov. 13.
MISCELLANY--Sand drags will race Saturday at Glen Helen Park in San Bernardino. . . . Blythe Speedway will hold its final street stocks points race Saturday night.