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SPORTS WEEKEND | MOTOR RACING

Woodside Experiences Downside in Starting Over

March 24, 2000|SHAV GLICK

When NASCAR runs its second Winston West race of the season Saturday night at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, the defending series champion will be at Irwindale Speedway in a super late-model main event.

Sean Woodside, a two-time Saugus Speedway late-model stock car champion before the track closed, expected to have a NASCAR Craftsman Truck contract, or at least defend his Winston West championship this year. But after being let go by team owner Bill McAnally last year, he has had to drop down a notch or two and race in Featherlite Southwest Tour and super late-model races.

"It's frustrating, not getting a chance to move up, or at least stay even," said Woodside, 29, who will be driving his father's No. 45 Chevrolet Monte Carlo at Irwindale. It is the same car in which he won Saugus championships in 1994 and 1995.

"I thought after I won Winston West, even after McAnally changed his plans, that I could find a sponsor and a new team, but so far it's been no luck," Woodside said. "I'll run the entire Southwest Tour for Bob Farmer and the super late models at Irwindale and keep looking for sponsors."

Farmer's No. 4 Pontiac Grand Prix was driven last year by Dennis Dyer of Palmdale, who finished sixth in points.

Woodside was told two weeks before he clinched the Winston West title that his contract with McAnally would not be renewed. McAnally decided to join forces with Las Vegas casino-hotel owner Michael Gaughan to form Orleans Motorsports, with Gaughan's son Brendan as the driver.

Woodside finished fifth in the 1999 season finale at Twin Ring in Motegi, Japan, on Nov. 21 to beat Austin Cameron by 94 points.

"The biggest problem I had was not knowing what the Winston West schedule would look like," he said. "NASCAR dragged its heels and by the time they finally announced its dates, it was too late to put a new team together."

Woodside will race tonight at Mesa Marin in the Featherlite Southwest Tour 100 and Sunday in a Craftsman Truck race. He will qualify the truck Saturday afternoon before driving to Irwindale. Another driver will qualify his car for the super late-model race.

"It was time to either stop racing, or keep chasing the dream," he said. "I haven't given up yet. I decided my best chance was to drop down to Southwest Tour because its champions seen to have better luck moving up. Kurt Busch won last year and he got a truck ride with Jack Roush."

If genes mean anything in racing--and apparently they do, as witness the Unser, Andretti, Petty and Earnhardt families--Woodside is well endowed. Both his mother and father raced at Saugus and Mesa Marin.

"I used to tag along to all the races when I was little, and when I was older I was crew chief for both their cars. Racing has been a family thing as long as I can remember. And now I'm back racing with my dad in super late models."

Even though this is his first year in the Southwest Tour, Woodside is not eligible for rookie honors because he won a championship at a higher level. He was Winston West rookie of the year in 1997, when he also was voted the series' most popular driver.

"While I'm looking, I'll keep sharp racing at Irwindale and earn a living in TV as a camera technician," Woodside said. He works regularly on "The Jamie Foxx Show" on the Warner Bros. network.

"Irwindale is the most demanding short track I've run on," he said. "You have to have your act together to run a solid program there."

The Home Depot 100 for super late models will open Irwindale's second season Saturday night with more than 65 cars expected to battle for 30 starting positions in the 100-lap main event.

MESA MARIN RACEWAY

The half-mile paved oval in Bakersfield will be a beehive of NASCAR stock car activity this weekend, with a Featherlite Southwest Tour race tonight, the Winston West 200 Saturday afternoon and a NASCAR Craftsman Truck race, the Dodge California 200, on Sunday.

Joe Ruttman, 55, who calls himself "Granddad" around his Dana Racing crew, brought Dodge its first NASCAR truck win of the season last Saturday at Phoenix and will be back hoping for two in a row in Sunday's Dodge-sponsored race.

To celebrate the first victory for Winston Cup driver Bobby Hamilton's team, the winner's trophy and the entire crew were flown to Charleston, S.C., to celebrate Monday at a corporate meeting.

And as a reward for the team's first win, Ruttman and the crew were given substantial shares of Dana Corp. stock.

For the win, Ruttman collected $55,804, including $10,000 for winning from the pole. It was the third consecutive race that the former Upland driver started in the No. 1 position.

Before Ruttman went to NASCAR's truck series in 1995, he had driven in 218 Winston Cup races and a variety of other stock car events over a 30-year career.

"I've won in every kind of racing I've tried, except Winston Cup," Ruttman said during a visit to Los Angeles. "I've won nearly $2 million and have been second three times and was third once [1982] in the Daytona 500 but I never got the checkered flag.

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