Five drivers shine in Speedway opener

Petaluma Speedway lifted the curtain on its 51st season of auto racing in dramatic style on Saturday with three first-time winners joining a pair of 2011 track champions in opening night victory celebrations at the storied race track.

An early-night thick and gooey racing surface became a signature hooked-up track by main event time to significantly raise top speeds for the 78 cars and drivers in five divisions on hand to kick off the new racing campaign.

Reaping the rewards of opening night triumphs were Billy Aton in the 360 Sprint Cars, DJ Johnson in the Wingless Sprints, veteran Mike Learn in the Super Stocks, defending track champ Shawn Jones in the Dwarf Cars, and defending champion Keith Benson in the Mini Stock division.

In the inaugural event of the Pit Stop USA Sprint Car Series, Benicia’s Aton catapulted from third place into the lead 12 laps into the 25-lap 360 Sprint Car feature when Richard Bailey, who had led from the start, attempted to get around a lapped car but ended up striking the crash wall. Second-running Shawn Wright of Lodi then clipped the same lapped car, cutting his right rear tire and elevating Aton into the front spot. Aton led Jeremy Phillips, Adam McCarthy, and Trent Canales over the next six laps before McCarthy dropped out with mechanical failure. Aton was declared the winner after a three-car pile-up on Lap 24 ended the event one lap early. Second place went to eighth-starting Phillips, third to 11th starting Canales, and fourth to fast-qualifier Brett Rollag. Rounding out the finish were Billy Butler, Kirk Simpson, Kenny Drew, heat winner Bradley Terrell, Matthew Haulot, and Art McCarthy Jr.

“You always need some luck in racing” declared Aton, after notching his first winged sprint car victory at Petaluma.

In the Wingless Sprint Cars, DJ Johnson made the trek over from Stockton well worth it by gathering a clean sweep of fast time, heat race win and a dominating performance in the feature in which he led every lap. The 25-lap feature seemed made to order for the dialed-in Johnson who led Napa’s Joe Stornetta for the first 10 circuits and eventual second place finisher Zack Lynskey of Fairfield over the final 15 laps.

“I just tried to keep buried in lapped traffic, that was the key,” said Johnson, of his first ever victory at the Petaluma oval. Stornetta finished third, followed by Klint Simpson, Scott Hall, 15th starting Bill Cornwell, Scotty Dupont, Gary Nelson Jr., Dustin Baxter, and Bret Barney.

In the Lumberjacks Restaurant Super Stock feature, former Dirt Modified racer Mike Learn made the switch to Super Stock look like a brilliant move as he turned his front row start into a hard fought victory by outlasting DW Drew and John Haney. Haney and Drew battled it out for the early lead before Learn grabbed second place from Drew on Lap 6. On Lap 12, as Drew began to fade, Learn took over the front spot ahead of Haney and fast climbing Steve Studebaker, who started last in the 14-car field. Studebaker moved past Haney on Lap 17 and had his sights set on the leader when, on Lap 18, fourth place Larry Drew of Petaluma brought out a red flag when his car burst into a fireball. Its unclear whether the enigmatic Drew didn’t see, or ignored starter Scott Irwin’s black flag, but thankfully he was unhurt in the fiery eruption that ended the race after 18 laps.
Learn was declared the victor over Studebaker, Haney, Michelle Byron, Michael Drew, Shawn McCoy, and Gene Haney.

Defending track champion Shawn Jones of San Jose made it clear he’s the man to beat in the Dwarf Car division again this season by winning his heat and posting a flag-to-flag victory over a 12-car field in the 20-lap feature. A race-long battle for second place between Richard Klinetobe and Chris Sieweke went to Klinetobe after Sieweke slipped to fourth place on the final lap. Seventh-starting Travis Dutra finished third, Sieweke placed fourth, and Carroll Mendenhall claimed fifth place.

In the BPT Carburetors-sponsored Mini Stock feature, John Veeninga of El Sobrante, after taking the lead on Lap 10, seemed headed for his first-ever Mini Stock triumph but instead of a trophy Veeninga ended up with a big disappointment after his car developed a flat tire resulting in a black flag one lap from the finish. The beneficiary of Veeninga’s misfortune was defending champion Keith Benson, who led the final lap and captured the win and his 12th career victory. Veeninga finished fifth behind Kimberly Ramirez, Snazzy Duckworth, and Josh Williams. Bradley Clark was sixth.

Results for April 7
360 SPRINT CARS
Fast time—Brett Rollag 14.565.
Heat 1—Billy Aton; Trent Canales; Brett Lay; Jeremy Phillips; Richard Bailey; Rollag; Chase Wood.
Heat 2—Bradley Terrell; David Lindt Jr.; Art McCarthy Jr.; Billy Butler; Chase Johnson; Kirk Simpson.
Heat 3—Geoff Ensign; Shawn Wright; Cole Wood; Adam McCarthy; Kenny Drew; Matthew Haulot.
Main—Aton; Phillips; Canales; Rollag; Butler; Simpson; Drew; Terrell; Haulot; Art McCarthy; Johnson; Adam McCarthy; Chase Wood; Ensign; Bailey; Wright; Cole Wood; Lay; Lindt.

WINGLESS SPRINT CARS
Fast time—DJ Johnson; 16.345.
Heat 1—Johnson; Zack Lynskey; Bret Barney; Klint Simpson; Tim Barber; Scotty Dupont; Kyle Bakkie; Trevor Schmid.
Heat 2—Billy Aton; Donny VanLare; Scott Hall; Joe Stornetta; Bob Newberry; Nick Larsen; Gary Nelson Jr.; Colton Slack; Dustin Baxter.
Main—Johnson; Lynskey; Stornetta; Klint Simpson; Hall; Bill Cornwell; Dupont; Nelson; Baxter; Barney; Barber; Larsen; Schmid; Aton; Bakkie; VanLare; Slack.

SUPER STOCK
Heat 1—Mike Learn; Jon Haney; Michael Drew; Anthony Matthias; Gary Adams; Trevor Brady; Larry Drew; Stan Devore.
Heat 2—DW Drew; Michelle Byron; David Spriggs; Shawn McCoy; Gene Haney; Paul Hanley; Nathan Schleth; Steve Studebaker.
Main—Learn; Studebaker; J. Haney; Byron; M. Drew; McCoy; G. Haney; L. Drew; DW Drew; Devore; Spriggs; Adams; Matthias; Schleth.

DWARF CARS
Heat 1—Richard Klinetobe; Carroll Mendenhall; Matt Hauff; Travis Dutra; Scooter Gomes; John Gomes.
Heat 2—Shawn Jones; Chris Sieweke; John Peters; Sonny Calkins; Jack Haverty; Tommy King; Danny Marsh.
Main—Jones; Klinetobe; Dutra; Sieweke; Mendenhall; Calkins; Peters; J. Gomes; Haverty; Marsh; Hauff; S. Gomes.

MINI STOCK
Heat 1—Snazzy Duckworth; Kimberly Ramirez; John Veeninga; Josh Williams; Keith Benson; Bradley Clark.
A Main—Benson; Ramirez; Duckworth; Williams; Veeninga; Clark.

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