John Spivak Photo
CALISTOGA — After being bitten by the high line around Calistoga Speedway on Saturday night, Rico Abreu doubled down on the bet Sunday night and it paid off, as the Napa Valley driver won both the midget and sprint car feature races to sweep night two of the Louie Vermeil Classic.
Throughout the first half of the midget race, Abreu and Shane Golobic battled for the lead, often running side by side on the straightaways, but with Abreu running the high line around the half-mile oval in the turns and Golobic holding the lead by running a tight line on the bottom of the race track.
Abreu took the lead at the half-way point of the 30-lap race when Golobic bobbled in turn four as his brakes began to fade. His most serious challenge came with three laps to go, when the field was regrouped after a red flag. But on the restart, Abreu again chose to run up against the clay cushion along the wall and rocketed away to a full straightaway ahead of the field, leading Spencer Bayston and last year’s midget winner, Mitch Faccinto across the finish line.
Sacramento driver Holly Shelton finished fourth after starting 10th and Santa Rosa driver Frankie Guerrini finished fifth after starting 15th.
“He was really fast and I didn’t know if he was even on the race track because he was so far ahead,” said Bayston.
“On that last restart, he got a good one and I stumbled,” he added, surrendering any chance he had of keeping up with Abreu.
“I was hoping the two of them would get to racing each other and I could sneak by,” said Faccinto, hoping to repeat his win of last year. “But these are two of the best in the country and they don’t make mistakes.”
But the one mistake Abreu made over the weekend was sticking with a fast-fading high groove of the race track during Saturday night’s sprint car feature. After stalking Abreu, Kevin Thomas, Jr. found a faster line around the middle of turns one and two to steal the lead and the win. On Sunday, the high groove paid off for Abreu.
Cory Eliason paced the first seven of 30 laps in the sprint car feature from the pole, building a lead as big as half a straightway over the field as Abreu, Ryan Bernal and five-time USAC/CRA champion Damien Gardner fought for the runner-up spot. On a restart after a yellow flag, Bernal dove under Eliason in turn one to take the lead, bringing Abreu with him.
The pair then ran away from the rest of the field, running nose to tail through lapped traffic with both drivers dancing on the edge of traction as the faster high groove of the racetrack got dry and slick. With five laps to go, Abreu dove underneath Bernal and slid up in front of him to take the lead.
With three laps to go, Abreu wove his way past two lapped cars, but Bernal got caught behind them, giving Abreu a clear run to the checkered flag.
The weekend sweep marked Abreu’s 10th and 11th victories at Calistoga Speedway, putting him fourth on the track’s overall winners’ list.
“That was fun,” said a joyous Abreu in victory circle.
“We were on the fence about running this race,” he added, since his team had to travel from the Midwest for what turned out to be a victorious homecoming.
“I cheated the middle of the corner,” he said, to get by Bernal.
“I just get more aggressive on those long runs through traffic,” he added. “It’s what makes a good driver, plus I had a fast car.”
“Our car was on rails,” said Bernal, “but at the end he chose a smarter line to get through the traffic.”
Gardner, who is in contention for his sixth series’ championship, was content with a solid third-place finish.
“We just didn’t have anything for the fast guys who were running up against the cushion,” he conceded.
Racing continues at Calistoga Speedway on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 15 and 16, when the national World of Outlaws sprint car tour will race on the half-mile oval at the Napa County Fairgrounds.
Bill Sessa firstname.lastname@example.org
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