As the dog days of summer begin, the state sprint car championship of California pulls into Santa Maria Speedway with plenty of interest on just who will be named "King of California."
The Golden State Challenge returns for its second and final appearance at SMS on Saturday, marking the 19th of 23 rounds in the search for the King of California, and six drivers have their eyes well-set on the prize, all within 100 points of the leader.
The man currently on point is San Jose's Jason Statler, who sits atop the standings with 1,270 points for the year. Statler, a former Division I football recruit out of high school, has made his way to the front on the strength of a series-high 12 top-five finishes, inclduding wins at Placerville on March 27th and at Chico's Silver Dollar Speedway on May 8th.
The man chasing Statler in the points, Auburn's Andy Forsberg, was the victim of a brilliant passing move in the final 200 feet of the GSC's first visit to Santa Maria, back on April 24th. Forsberg led the entire race before Tim Kaeding ducked underneath him coming out of turn four on the last lap, edging past at the line. Statler finished third in the main event that night after being passed by Kaeding two laps from the finish.
Despite missing out on the victory, Forsberg still has been able to stay with Statler, only 40 points off the lead (1,230). Forsberg has nine top-fives to his credit this season and one victory, coming at Hanford's Kings Speedway on May 22nd.
Behind Statler and Forsberg, four other drivers sit within 82 points of the leader: Visalia's Blake Robertson sits in third at 1,218, a mere 52 points behind Statler despite being the only driver in the top six without a victory. Kevin Pylant of Santa Cruz is fourth at 1,199, followed by Sean Becker of Oroville (1,196) and 12-time and defending series champ Brent Kaeding of Campbell (1,188).
Kaeding comes into Saturday's race fresh off his 64th win in GSC history, coming last weekend at Antioch. Robertson finished second, followed by Robertson, Jim Skinner, Pyland and Statler; Forsberg ended up sixth.
Tim Kaeding still leads the series in victories, scoring six so far this year, but he missed five starts while racing in open-wheel action in the Midwest.
Joining the GSC on the 1/3-mile clay oval will be the J.B. Dewar/Bandit Sprints series, making their second straight visit to SMS.
Santa Maria's Danny Sheridan - the 1998 Bandit series champ - scored the victory in last week's 30-lap feature by getting by Australian Peter Murphy with seven laps to go and storming to the victory. Series point leader A.J. Burgin saw his lead shrink after his fourth-place finish, due largely to Davey Pombo's third-place finish. Gary Rayburn Jr. rounded out the top five.
July 9, 2004