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 Santa Maria Speedway 2002 Recap
 By: Jim Pluhar (courtesy

Santa Maria, CA - October 23, 2002...The 2002 racing season at Santa Maria Speedway opened on April 12. Eventual champion Steve Drake, of San Luis Obispo, broke on top in the Century 21 Filer Realtors Late Model Stock points chase, a position he would never relinquish. Strangely enough Rick Coffey, of Santa Maria, and Doug Jeffers, of Nipomo, were second and third in points that first night, and that's where they wound up at season's end.

"Rookie of the Year" honors were taken by Craig Gardner of Paso Robles. The first appearance of 2002 for the J.B. Dewar/Bandit Non-Winged 360 Sprint Cars came on May 11. This was the second season for a combined series with Kings Speedway in Hanford and, once again, it brought strong car counts and exciting racing to local fans. Two races at Bakersfield Speedway were added to the Series schedule as well. Like Drake in the Late Models, Fresno's Gene Manhire took an early lead in the Series and held it throughout the season. However, the local J.B. Dewar championship was a different story, as Nipomo driver Jimmy Thompson methodically worked his way up the points ladder to eclipse Manhire by 4 points on the final night of the season, October 5, and take his third straight SMS crown. Stock car driver turned sprint car driver, Steve DeMott of Santa Maria, earned the "Rookie of the Year" award.

Larry Mickey, of Nipomo, looked like a force to be reckoned with at the beginning of the season, but some differences of opinion with officials over car construction cost him valuable points. By the third race of the season Elton Shaffer, of Santa Maria, had taken over the point lead, a position he would hold for only one race before being overtaken by Brandon Cortner, also of Santa Maria, who then went on to his second Diamond Jewelry & Loan Street Stock championship. Shaffer was able to hold on for second, with Mickey third. Rick Wilkinson, of Paso Robles, teammate of Gardner in the Late Models, claimed "Rookie of the Year". It was the first time in Speedway history that team cars earned that distinction in their respective divisions.

Mini Stocks had a season long two-car struggle between Brad Smith, of Lompoc, and Tom Grzincic, of Atascadero, that went on until the final race of the season. A two-bit part may have cost Grzincic the championship when he failed to score any heat race points, after the linkage broke on his throttle pedal.

Grzincic won the final main event of the season, but Smith's second place finish gave him the crown by 6 points. Atascadero's Darrin Davis, Grzincic's teammate, finished third in points to win "Rookie of the Year".

Crossroads Community Church Factory Stocks featured the same two Santa Maria drivers vying for the title as they had in 2001. Thad Bennett and Scotty Preast were once again the guys to beat for the championship and no one did. Bennett came away with his second consecutive crown, beating Preast by 18 points. This time though, the first place owner's award went to Preast, due to the fact that Robert Mathews, of Santa Maria, drove the car to second in the main and first in a heat race opening night, picking up an additional 50 owner points for Scotty's car. Tim Breshears, of Santa Maria, came home third in the standings and earned "Rookie of the Year" laurels. 

The new Campus Motorsports Program championship, for Factory Stocks built and raced by area high schools, was won by Cabrillo High School, with the Campus Motorsports car second, and Lompoc High School third.

Specials during the season included: Budweiser Golden State Challenge Winged 410 Sprint Cars, SCRA Non-Winged 410 Sprint Cars, California Rebel Cup Winged 360 Sprint Cars, USAC & BCRA Midgets, USAC Ford Focus Midgets, NMRA TQ Midgets, The CARQUEST Late Model Tour, IMCA Type Modifieds, and CDCRA Dwarf Cars. The California Street Stock Championship, raced at SMS and two other tracks, was won by Brady Bell, of Bakersfield, by just 3 points over Santa Maria's Joey Silva.

The next event for the Speedway will be the Annual Awards Banquet held in January at the Santa Maria Elk's Club. The 2003 racing season is scheduled to start in early April.






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