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Ladd Finds Prosperity on Track


Dollars and sense are indelibly linked in the minds of race car drivers. Spending too much of one doesn't make a whole lot of the other if you're not winning races.

Fortunately, for the members of Ladco Racing, a financial windfall has led to similar fortunes this season at Irwindale Speedway.

Two years ago, Lee Ladd made more than $25 million by selling his Thousand Oaks equipment-leasing company. Since then, Ladd, 60, has lived comfortably and raced successfully. Along for the ride are three of Ladd's racing buddies from his days as an also-drove at Saugus Speedway.

Ladd, who won only one main event and never was track champion at Saugus, is the Mini Stock points leader after two main events. Gerrit Cromsigt of Pine Mountain, Rip Michels of Mission Hills and Brian Kelley of Arleta also are enjoying prosperity on the track.

Cromsigt, a two-time Saugus champion, leads Irwindale's Late Model division. Michels is a close second in the Grand American Modified class.

Kelley, overwhelmingly successful at Saugus, has yet to take a checkered flag but is entrusted with the team's flagship Super Late Model entry after winning a track title last season at Bakersfield's Mesa Marin Raceway.

"I'm truly blessed," Ladd said. "This is something I've always wanted to do. I had the opportunity to take on these three guys."

Any driver worth his weight in motor oil knows the importance of financial backing--even in entry-level divisions that define short-track racing. Keeping a car on track, let alone ahead of the pack, requires money.

For that reason, Cromsigt said, the racers are grateful to Ladd.

"Racing through the years, you always struggle to fund a team," Cromsigt said. "You have to be able to put the parts in the car that you need and to replace parts. Your talent will take you anywhere, but if you don't have the cash, you can't move up. The steps are too big."

Racing became more affordable for Ladd after he sold the business he started in 1979. Then he started a racing team and hired three of the best drivers at Saugus, as well as three of his best friends.

But money, as the saying goes, isn't everything. Certainly not in racing.

"You can only spend so much money," Ladd said. "The rules are very strict, you can't do too much [to your car]. The first thing I told the guys is, 'We will not cheat.' These guys are gentlemen racers."

Next season, Ladd's racing holiday may come screeching to a halt. Interestingly, Ladd remains president and chief executive officer of the company he formerly owned. Retirement is still a ways down the road.

"We'll wait and see how it turns out," Ladd said. "I might do it again. But I don't want to give anyone any guarantees."


The Winston West Series--for many drivers, the West Coast stepping stone to the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit--makes its only appearance of the season at California Speedway in Fontana this weekend as part of a racing tripleheader.

The Winston West 200 on Saturday, the fourth of 14 scheduled races this season, will take a back seat to Sunday's California 500 and Saturday's Busch Grand National Series Auto Club 300.

For Sean Woodside of Saugus, Winston West runner-up each of the last two seasons, it provides a precious opportunity to sharpen his skills on a super speedway.

Woodside will race for the fourth time at Fontana, having finished third and fourth, and falling out of another race because of mechanical failure. He ranks fourth in points this season, his only victory coming in the season's opening race at Tucson.

For Woodside, a former track champion at Saugus Speedway, the goal is predictable: a leap to a larger circuit in which short tracks are the exception rather than the norm.

"It's the direction you want to go," Woodside said. "If you want to go to Cup racing, you have to go to the bigger tracks."

Fontana's two-mile banked oval, however, provides a formidable challenge.

"It's not very forgiving for mistakes," Woodside said. "If you can be precise, you can learn a lot fast. The biggest adjustment is setting up the chassis and knowing what the car feels like on the big track."

"To me, the sensation of speed isn't really there. On a short track, you feel the acceleration. On the big tracks, you don't really feel that. You're averaging 170 mph."

Woodside, with two top-10 finishes, trails leader Mike Chase of Redding by 26 points.

Bill Sedgwick of Acton ranks 19th in points.


The 16th Rim of the World Pro Rally, a two-day event blending off-road and street racing, with drivers competing against the clock, makes its annual Southern California visit this weekend in the Angeles National Forest near Antelope Valley.

The rally is scheduled to begin Friday at 7 p.m. at Highway 14 and Palmdale Boulevard.

In Pro Rallying, also known as stage rallying, a driver and navigator are given route instructions just before departure, then race between stages, stopping only at designated checkpoints for rest and repairs.

Five stages are scheduled for Friday, seven for Saturday.

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