Three-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion Eric Holmes of Escalon grew up watching his father Steve Holmes compete against local legends such as Ken Boyd, David Philpott, Ron Strmiska and Harry Belletto at Stockton's 99 Speedway so, naturally, the closure of the historic short-track at the end of the 2006 season was a very big disappointment to him.
In 2009 plans to replace the treacherous high-banked quarter-mile oval with homes fell through and the track re-opened under the direction of promoters Tony and Carol Noceti. This week marks the welcome return of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West to the 99 Speedway following a six-year absence with the Pick-N-Pull Self-Service Auto & Truck Dismantlers150 today.
Now Holmes, who scored 13 of his 16 career West Series wins on short-tracks under a half-mile in length, wants to finally notch a West Series win at his home track.
"I've won a lot of late model races there and modified races and Southwest Tour races, but not a NASCAR K&N race," said Holmes, who drives the No. 20 NAPA Toyota for Bill McAnally Racing. "The last time we ran there, was my first (full) year in 2006. I came close to winning it, just had to beat Mike David. We won the pole but finished second to him in the race."
Getting that win and adding Stockton 99 Speedway to the list of tracks where he has won in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West is "very important," to Holmes.
"Back in December, I went to their banquet to help them announce that we were having the event," he said of the track's announcement. "I told them, 'you guys are doing this just for me, so I can get a shot at winning one here.' We've won at a lot of short tracks on the West Coast in the K&N cars. We definitely have got to get one at our home track at Stockton. I'm glad I get the opportunity."
Competing so close to home, Holmes also gets a lot of support from the fans that turn out at Stockton.
"It's nice, because everybody comes out to watch - friends and family, some of our customers and employees," said Holmes, who runs a nearby NAPA Auto Parts Store. "We kind of get that opportunity in Roseville, but this is an hour and a half closer to my home and 15 minutes from Escalon. It's definitely fun, because everybody comes out. And being in May, it will be great weather and a great weekend. We're looking forward to it."
Holmes has yet to win in three starts in 2012, but is in the thick of the hunt for his fourth West Series championship.
Last Saturday Newhall's Greg Pursley, the 2011 Series champion, rallied from a flat tire to claim the Utah Grand Prix over Holmes at Miller Motorsports Park to become the third different winning driver in three races this season..
Pursley dominated the early portion of the race and led the first 21 laps before stopping for fuel, but a flat tire on lap 39 nearly put him out of contention.
After the near disaster, Pursley wasn't sure if he could make it back to the lead, but a yellow flag came out on Lap 44 when Jack Sellers suffered an ignition problem. The caution tightened up the field and set up a four-lap dash to the finish line which allowed Pursley to wrestle the lead away from Austin Dyne when several of the leaders tangled up coming to the white flag.
Holmes, like Pursley, was able to make up some ground on that final restart and had to overcome some adversity of his own to take the runner up spot behind Pursley.
"We had some sort of penalty with the catch can when we stopped for fuel," lamented Holmes. "I'm still not sure what that was about, but we were able to overcome that and get a solid finish."
The 2012 championship fight is ultra tight heading into Stockton today with Atascadero's David Mayhew (126 points) holding just a one point margin over Dylan Kwasniewski (125) of Fair Oaks, four over Pursley (122), seven over Lakeport's Derek Thorn (119) and eight on Holmes (118) in the current point standings.
Twenty-six cars have pre entered for today's race from all over the western United States and Canada. Other local drivers include Tommy Regan and Ryan Philpott of Tracy and Manteca's Jacob Gomes, who will be making his third start in the series driving in the No. 16 Sunny Valley Smoked Meats Toyota. Gomes, 19, was 2009 NASCAR National Rookie of the year in his late model and has already posted a win this year at the Stockton 99 in the SRL Spears Southwest Tour Series Race in April.
Also on the bill at Stockton today will be the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, Modifieds, Super Stocks, and Legends of the Pacific. You can get a $5 off coupon at participating Pick N' Pull locations in Stockton, Sacramento and Modesto.
Stockton 99 Speedway is also helping the Pitman High School "Marching Pride" band from Turlock raise funds for its trip to Washington D.C. to march in the Fourth of July parade. Band members will be selling souvenir programs at the race and will receive a portion of the proceeds.
After having its first scheduled Super Saturday event rained out, the Madera Speedway returns to action on today as its hosts the Vukovich Classic in Round #1 of the Super Saturday series, presented by Coors Light, featuring a great open-wheel program that includes the 410/360 Super Modifieds, USAC Sprint Cars, BCRA/USAC Midgets, NCMA Sprints Cars, Southwest Tour Truck Series, Vintage Super Modifieds, Valley Sportsman, BCRA Vintage Sprints & Midgets.
There will be plenty of local drivers from the Central Valley taking on the speedway's newly paved track for 50 laps of Super Modified racing including Tanner Swanson of Kingsburg, Kyle Vanderpool of Madera, Jim Birges of Fresno and A.J. Russell of Clovis.
Racing starts at 5:20 p.m. including a 75-lap main for the Southwest Tour Trucks. General admission is $25, senior and military are $23 and children ages 6-12 are $17 while kids 5 and under are free. The new "Cheap Seats" are only $15 for adults, $13 for seniors and $10 for juniors (ages 6-12). Go to racemadera.com for more information.