In only its third year, the annual Night of Champions race at the Stockton 99 Speedway has quickly become one of the most popular events on the season schedule.
Once again a huge crowd packed the grandstands on Saturday night, Aug. 3 to see the return of some of the greatest drivers in the long history of the quarter-mile oval. Among the returning alumni were former track champions Ken Boyd, Harry Belletto and his sons Steve and Jeff, Dave Byrd, David Philpott, long time track promoter Ken Clapp and Steve Johnson.
Both the fans and their driving heroes were thrilled to take pictures and swap tales in an autograph session before the night’s main events.
One new twist in this year’s event was that several of the veterans elected to compete in the Stockton Late Model feature.
Steve Johnson was back behind the wheel in competition for the first time in 18 years and the Belletto’s prepared two of their old cars, including Harry’s fabled #74, for Jeff’s son Nic Belletto, who qualified seventh of the 25 late models trying to make the 100-lap main event. Family patriarch Harry Belletto supervised the action as the crew prepared the cars.
“It is always a thrill to come back here. I love the smell of the smoke and tires and I still love to see the cars go fast,” said Harry, a former four-time track champion who is currently confined to a wheelchair as he recovers from recent back surgery. “I wish I could be behind the wheel of a car tonight.”
The fans were especially thrilled to see five-time track champion Ken Boyd, of Ceres, return to competition for the first time in almost 15 years in his beautifully prepared #9 blue and white Coors Light Chevy.
A pair of Manteca drivers, Jacob Gomes and Guy Guibor, led the field, trimmed to 18 cars with a B Main, to the opening green flag.
Guibor was able to wrestle the early lead as Gomes, Philpott and third generation driver Ross Strmiska of Manteca all barked at his heels. Guibor was able to hang on to the top spot until Gomes got to the inside of him on lap 72. Following a multi lap side-by-side battle Gomes was able to finally gain the upper hand and take the lead, which he held to the checkered flag.
Veteran John Moore, of Granite Bay, was also able to slide past Guibor to finish second, while Guibor, Philpott, Nic Belletto and Ross Strmiska rounded out the top six.
Joey Stearns, a teen racer out of Linden, went wire-to-wire in the 17-car Bomber feature to pick up his second consecutive victory.
The economic B-4s continue to gain popularity as a season high 17 cars took the grid for their 25-lap main.
Joe Flowers of Manteca picked up his third win of the season by holding off a determined Dave Kong, also of Manteca, throughout the second half of the 25-lap race.
The 99 Speedway will be hosting a program featuring the Gun Slingers Wing Sprint Car Series, Legends of Kearney Bowl and BCRA Midgets on Saturday, Aug. 10 and Stockton Late Models, Bombers and Grand American Modifieds the following Saturday, Aug. 17.