NASCAR & Auto Racing

Dirt-track race fans from Chico to Marysville benefit from two tracks remaining open

Dennis Gage and his crew have been busy for weeks preparing for Friday and Saturday night’s annual Silver Cup Race of Champions at Chico’s Silver Dollar Speedway.

The race comes after another successful Sherm and Loree Toller Memorial race last weekend at Marysville Raceway (it’s no longer called Marysville Raceway Park with Gage now the promoter), which saw more than 60 drivers race.

Gage, who takes over from Paul and Kathy Hawes at Marysville, has been the promoter at Silver Dollar Speedway since 2011.

“Looks like we’ll have great weather, and the track is perfect,” Gage said. “The ‘Master of Dirt,’ Lowell Moural, has been doing dirt in the North (San Joaquin) Valley for 30 years. He owns Cycleland Speedway, where Outlaws winged go-karts race. It’s where (NASCAR driver and Elk Grove native) Kyle Larson got his start behind the wheel of a sprint car.”

A big part of this weekend’s action in Chico will feature the 360-cubic-inch winged sprint cars, and Gage has come up with a special twist that will add some excitement and quite possibly a lot of cash to the pocket of Watsonville driver Justin Sanders, who won the Toller Memorial.

Sanders can pocket a $10,000 bonus if he wins tonight and Saturday, then takes the checkered flag March 14 at the Gold Fever Open in Marysville, the Civil War Series event on March 20 in Marysville and regular Friday night 360 racing March 27 at Silver Dollar.

Each main-event win is worth at least $2,000, Gage said, so Sanders has a chance to earn at least $22,000 in March. There is still plenty of bonus money to go around if Sanders gets beat tonight. Winning at least three of the six races would be good for a $2,000 bonus. Four of six wins would earn $3,000 and five of the six victories would mean a $6,000 bonus.

As race fans would expect, the best 360 sprint car drivers in the state are entered.

“We’ve already had 50 pre-race entries in our three divisions – the 360s, wingless sprints and modifieds,” Gage said. “And we’ll always have people come the day of, so we’ll probably have 60 to 80 cars.”

Paul and Kathy Hawes wanted to concentrate on fielding their own race teams and step away from track promotion. Gage stepped forward when it became clear nobody else would. For a while, it was feared the Marysville track could go dark after more than 50 years of racing.

“It’s really a self-preservation thing,” Gage said. “It’s a neighboring track, and the overall (negative) impact (on) local racing would have been devastating. It works out for a lot of drivers that we go back-to-back on most weeks. They can race Friday in Chico and Saturdays in Marysville, and then we have all the special shows for the 360s and the 410s.”

One of those special shows is the annual appearance of the World of Outlaws, which comes to Silver Dollar Speedway on March 28 for the Mini Gold Cup. The 2014 race was rained out.

For more information, go to www.silverdollarspeedway.com.

Sonoma Raceway repaves drag strip – A repaving project on the drag strip at Sonoma Raceway began Tuesday and is expected to take a week, according to track officials. It’s been a decade since the strip had a new surface.

Home to the NHRA Sonoma Nationals each summer, the last half of the quarter-mile strip will be refurbished.

The existing asphalt will be removed and 21/2 inches of high-grade asphalt will be dumped, smoothed and rolled. The 660-concrete launch pad, which sees 8,000-horsepower Funny Cars and Top Fuel dragsters top 300 mph, will not be affected.

Drainage around the track also will be improved.

Mark Billingsley covers local motor sports for The Bee. Reach him at editorwriter@att.net or @editorwriter001.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP

AT A GLANCE

KOBALT 400

Track: Las Vegas Motor Speedway (oval, 1.5 miles).

Schedule: Today, practice (Fox Sports 10 a.m.), qualifying (FS1, 4:30 p.m.); Saturday, practice (FS1, 11:30 a.m.); Sunday, race (12:30 p.m., FOX40).

Race distance: 500.5 miles, 325 laps

2014 winner: Kasey Kahne

Next race: Kobalt 400, March 8, Las Vegas Motor Speedway

XFINITY SERIES

Boyd Gaming 300

Track: Las Vegas Motor Speedway (oval, 1.5 miles)

Schedule: Today, practice (1:30 p.m., FS1); Saturday, qualifying (9:30 a.m., FS2, 9:30 a.m.); race, (FOX40, 1 p.m.).

–The Associated Press

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