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Street Race, or Demolition Derby?

Motor racing: Raudman prevails in L.A. event hampered by accidents, stalled cars, pit fires and even a wayward dog.

July 17, 2000|SHAV GLICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lori Jennings' name won't appear in results of the Ford L.A. Street Race, but she led more laps Sunday than anyone else.

Jennings, a professional stunt woman and former sprint car driver, drove the pace car for the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Series race.

Twelve caution periods put her in front for 49 of the 125 laps--nearly half the race--around an eight-turn, one-mile course in Exposition Park that circled the Sports Arena. When the grueling race was over, Craig Raudman of Bakersfield collected a series record $18,175 for his eighth career win.

The pace was so slowed by accidents, stalled cars, debris, pit fires and a dog that ran on the track, that Raudman's average speed of 46.272 mph was slower than that of some cars just beyond the Sports Arena parking lot fence on Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Series leader Matt Crafton of Tulare, Calif., finished second, two seconds behind Raudman. Eric Holmes of Escalon, Calif., was third and Tim Woods of Chino, the only African-American driver, was fourth.

Attrition was so high that only nine of the 36 starters were running at the end and only six were on the lead lap.

The win was particularly gratifying for Raudman, who suffered severe foot injuries in an accident last April during a Winston West race at California Speedway. This was only his second race since the accident and the first time he finished.

Brake problems, which plagued nearly every starter, gave Raudman his major concern. He had to pit three times to bleed the brakes on his Chevrolet Monte Carlo and toward the latter stages of the 2-hour 42-minute race he pumped them repeatedly at every turn.

"Those last few laps were a handful," he said. "I was slipping and sliding a lot. My spotter kept me informed how close Crafton and Holmes were to me, but I kept asking, 'How many laps left, how many laps left?' The surface was slippery, but I knew I had to drive hard all the way and still keep something for the end. I had the brake pedal flat on the floor on every turn."

On the final lap, after taking the white flag, Raudman scraped off some of the No. 2 on the side of his car when he slid coming out of the tight Turn 1 and brushed the retaining wall, but not enough to slow him down.

"I kept thinking I didn't want what happened last year to happen again," he said. In last year's L.A. Street Race, Raudman lost by about a fender length to A.J. Alsup, with Holmes third, as he was Sunday.

Pole-sitter Greg Pursley led the first 31 laps before he was passed by Jim Inglebright, who led for another 31 laps before a fire broke out in one of his wheels.

"My wife is my spotter and she said my brakes were on fire," said Inglebright, winner of the Sears Point road race. "I guess a piece of rubber must have got in there."

This put Holmes in the lead with Raudman pressuring him. After several challenges, Raudman finally squeezed past on lap 76, just before the dog brought out an unusual caution flag when he raced through the dogleg before scampering through the pits.

Holmes, Pursley, Woods and Crafton kept pressure on Raudman, but none were able to pass him.

Parnelli Jones had an easier time waving the green flag to start the Southwest Series race than he did driving an Ultra Wheel spec truck. After being taken out by another truck during Saturday's practice, nothing went right Sunday for the 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner.

During morning warmups, his brakes failed and he stuffed the front end into a tire barrier. Because he had been unable to qualify, Jones had to start last, 27th. In the first three laps, he passed four trucks, but when a yellow caution flag came out, he stalled in Turn 7. After nearly half an hour in the pits, Jones returned to the race to the cheers of fans.

The excitement was short-lived. On the same Turn 7, the first of two hairpin parking lot switchbacks, his truck stalled again, this time for keeps.

"It just hasn't been our weekend," Jones said. "The truck got torn up worse than we first thought on Saturday and we've been fighting it ever since."

Vince Little, 36, a painting contractor from Clovis, won for the fifth time in 12 races, beating Mike David of Modesto.

Other winners were Harry Rady of San Diego in PRO Racing, Dennis Olthoff of Mt. Ulla, N.C., in the Cobra Cup, and Ron Swartzbaugh of Brea in the North-South road trucks.

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