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SPORTS WEEKEND | Motor Racing

They Keep On Truckin' in Bakersfield

October 16, 1998|SHAV GLICK

Four years ago, at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, NASCAR began the Craftsman Truck series for American-made full-sized racing pickups. It started with a demonstration race won by PJ Jones and included only seven races in its first season.

The fledgling series has grown to 27 races with $7 million in awards. Mesa Marin's high-banked half-mile oval is still part of the schedule.

NASCAR will be back in Bakersfield this weekend, not only for the Craftsman Trucks on Sunday, but also for the Winston West on Saturday night and the Featherlite Southwest Tour tonight.

The truck series has become the most closely contested in NASCAR with defending champion Jack Sprague and 1997 winner Ron Hornaday Jr. swapping the lead at nearly every race. With three to go--Mesa Marin, Phoenix and Las Vegas--Sprague leads by 18 points.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 17, 1998 Home Edition Sports Part D Page 11 Sports Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Motorcycle racing--Scott Parker rode a Harley-Davidson to his ninth national championship Sunday at Del Mar. His motorcycle was misidentified Friday.

When Sprague finished ninth last week at Sears Point, he regained the lead for the fifth time this season. Hornaday was 23rd as sports car veteran Boris Said scored his first win.

Hornaday, who grew up racing at Saugus and Mesa Marin, has a pole and a win on the Bakersfield track, where Sprague's best finish is a fourth. Both drive Chevrolets.

"The track itself is a typical old short track," Hornaday said. "There are a couple of lines you can run around the place. I am sure it will be one of the best races of the year. It will probably be the tightest pit road we see all year and that in itself will make things interesting.

"I always enjoy Bakersfield. I have family in the area [Palmdale] and a lot of my fans from Southern California always come to the races. It's always nice to come to a place where you have a lot of fans."

The truck race will be shown live at 2 p.m. on TNN.

Kevin Harvick, Winston West points leader from Bakersfield, has entered all three events. He led only one lap in last week's Winston West race at Sears Point, but it was the last--for his fifth victory of the season in 12 starts.

Steve Portenga, winner of last month's L.A. street race, can clinch the Southwest Tour title by finishing fifth or better in the remaining three races, starting with tonight's 200-lap Coors 200. M.K. Kanke, his main challenger, has won three times at Mesa Marin.

A NIGHT IN DAYTONA

What could turn out to be a preview of the future of major league motor racing is scheduled Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway--three months after the NASCAR Pepsi 400 Winston Cup race was postponed by fires that raged around central Florida on the Fourth of July weekend.

It will be the first oval race under the lights on a 2.5-mile track. Night races have been held on shorter superspeedways, such as Las Vegas, Texas and Charlotte, but never on the grand scale of Daytona's historic facility.

One result of the postponement is that the race will not be televised live on CBS in prime time, as it would have been in July, but it will be shown on TNN at 5 p.m.

The Pepsi 400 has attracted a sellout crowd of more than 150,000 and reviews from drivers and spectators will be studied closely. If they are favorable, motor racing may go the way of baseball, which was strictly a daytime sport until the lights went on one 1935 night in Cincinnati. Baseball has never been the same, with even the World Series now a night event.

Night racing has been a staple of short-track racing for years, but not until Musco Lighting set out to create what the Iowa firm calls "the largest lighted sports complex in the world," has it been attempted on such a grand scale.

"It is not only the largest project we have ever undertaken, it's the largest project ever, anywhere in the world," says Joe Crookham, president of Musco Lighting.

To put the task in perspective, Crookham said the wattage necessary to successfully light Daytona's track would equal that needed to light a two-way street from Daytona Beach, Fla., to Musco's offices in Muscatine, Iowa.

"We expect it to be one of the greatest spectacles in motor racing," said John Graham, speedway president. "It is definitely a breakthrough event for Daytona and NASCAR."

Jeff Gordon, who needs only to finish fifth or better in the four remaining races to win his third Winston Cup championship, is an enthusiastic supporter of the experiment.

"I'm very excited about racing under the lights there," he said. "I grew up racing at night on the short tracks, but to have lights all the way around a 2.5-mile superspeedway is really unbelievable."

Bobby Labonte didn't seem to mind the lights Thursday night, winning the pole for Saturday's race by piloting a Pontiac Grand Prix around the oval at 193.611 mph in front of an estimated 100,000, among the biggest crowds ever to watch a NASCAR qualifying session.

Not everyone is looking forward to racing under the lights, however, especially on a track where carburetor restricter plates cause the cars to bunch together much of the time.

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