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Local motorsports action heats up

POSTED April 6, 2012 8:12 p.m.

Following a one week delay due to the weather, the new Stockton 99 Speedway is set to kick off its 2012 season tonight with the Spears Manufacturing 125 for the SRL Late Model Southwest Tour Series.
For the defending SPEARS Southwest Tour Series champion, the off-season for Jim Pettit II and his team has been about change. Even before the 2011 SRL Championship Cup was awarded to the Prunedale driver, he and his crew had already created a new alliance and formed a new team with car owner Quentin Bammer. The changes for Pettit entering the 2012 season include; switching from Ford to Chevrolet engines, a change from Port City to a new Hamke chassis, a new car number and a new look for the 2012 season.
"It feels really good to have our new team with Quentin as the car owner," said Pettit. "I told Quentin, I don't know how many races we will win, but I assured him we would have a good time at the racetrack."
Pettit, who has two wins in his last four SPEARS Southwest Tour Series starts at Stockton, is optimistic despite the changes.
"We have all of our guys back from the 03 team, who have been with us over the years, plus a few of Quentin's guys on board," Pettit added. "We've had a couple of opportunities to shake down the new car, so everything's looking good as we approach the first race at Stockton this weekend."
Some of drivers that will be looking to dethrone Pettit this year include veterans MK Kanke of Frazier Park and Seaside's Dave Byrd as well as Manteca young guns Ross Strmiska, Michael Sandoval and Jacob Gomes. Gomes, who placed second in the 2011 SRL standings, will be making his first start for JRC Motorsports in the brand new No. 16 Sunny Valley Meats TOYOTA. The 19-year-old had three wins last season including Stockton.
Next Saturday, the 99 will host its NASCAR Whelen All American Racing Series regular season opener with twin Modified mains, Late Models, Super Stocks, Bombers and Basically-4s.
Tennessee Sprint car legend Sammy Swindell posted his 277th career World of Outlaws feature win at last Friday's World of Outlaws feature at Merced Speedway.
Although Swindell also won the first-ever World of Outlaws race at Merced Speedway last season, he encountered a completely new track - reconfigured from a quarter-mile bullring to a one-third miler with wider turns and much slicker than last year's heavy track.
Swindell, who started on the pole of the 40-lap feature after winning the dash from the pole, was challenged the entire race by Cody Darrah. He stayed within striking distance and even pulled within a car length on several occasions, but Darrah was unable to make a move for the lead despite pulling to the bumper of Swindell on a couple of occasions, including the second-to-last lap.
"It was definitely a tough race track," Swindell commented. "You had to be real patient and stay on line. I was watching some of the guys when we got to traffic and it still looked like the bottom was probably a little bit better lane. So it was just making sure I didn't miss my marks and I just tried to stay down there."
Merced will be back in action Friday night with a program that includes the Wingless Sprints, Super Streeters and Valley Sportsman.
The annual Smokey Hanoian Classic kicks off the local racing season at the Madera Speedway tonight with a program that includes the LunkerDaddy Late Models, Sport Mods, Mini Super Toyotas, Hobby Stocks, Toyota Sedans and 4-Bangers.
Chowchilla Speedway will also open its season tonight with a program that includes the Modifieds, Sport Mods, American Stocks, 4-Bangers, Dwarf Cars and Enduros.
There will be a new look to the IZOD IndyCar Series when it returns to the 1.97 mile temporary street circuit in Southern California for the 38th Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 13-15. Turbo charged engines are thankfully back (2.2 liter twin-turbocharged V6) and a brand new Dallara chassis highlight the changes. The new bodies look a little strange - sort of an open-wheel and American LeMans Series hybrid - but the new aerodynamic package made last week's race at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama was one of the most entertaining road races in years with an abundance of passing.
While there are plenty of changes in the series some thing remain the same as Team Penske drivers Helio Castroneves and Will Power captured wins at the first two events on the 16-race 2012 schedule held at St. Petersburg, Fla. and Barber.
Tickets for the 2012 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, featuring six races, are available now at gplb.com or by calling the toll-free ticket hotline, (888) 82-SPEED. Live coverage of Sunday's race will begin at 12:30 p.m. on the NBC Sports Network.
For those that receive the Velocity TV Channel, you absolutely do not want to miss the mesmerizing special now running titled "Grand Prix -The Killer Years." With graphic footage and compelling interviews it chronicles the grim fight to improve car and track safety standards in Grand Prix racing during the 1960's and early 70's when driver (and spectator) fatalities were almost as commonplace as Danica Patrick complaints about having an ill-handling car are today. The special will next air at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. today.

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