West Coast-schooled Competitors Eager to Make California Speedway Visit
This week’s trip to California Speedway for Friday night’s Racetickets.com 200 will be the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series’ first and only journey to a West Coast location until late September.
For that reason, competitors whose NASCAR careers began on the “left coast” are excited about their brief homecoming and an opportunity to perform before family and friends.
Three Californians – Matt Crafton (No. 88 Menards/Energizer Chevrolet, Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 33 Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet) and Mike Skinner (No. 5 Toyota Tundra Toyota) head California’s fulltime driver contingent along with Nevada resident Brendan Gaughan (No. 77 Orleans Casino Dodge).
Bill Lester (No. 22 Bill Davis Racing Toyota) also will return to where he learned sports car racing.
A victory at California Speedway would be the first for any of the five. All would find a win in their home state extra special.
“I ran my first race ever for ThorSport Racing there,” said Tulare’s Crafton, last year’s sixth-place finisher. “I have friends and family there and they get to come out and support me.”
“Last year we led a few laps and finished in the top 10,” said Palmdale’s Hornaday, who is four-for-four in top-five finishes at California Speedway events with a best of third in 1998, “…so (crew chief) Chris Rice and I are really looking forward to improving at this race from our run at Daytona. It’s great to see many of my friends I went to school with.”
Gaughan has the best record of the group – second in this event in 2002 and third in 2003. Better yet, the Las Vegas resident is driving the truck that went to Victory Lane a year ago with teammate Steve Park.
“California’s treated us well ever since the (NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series) days,” Gaughan said. “We finished third behind (Johnny) Benson and (Ken) Schrader one year and I was crushed. I thought I should have beaten them but they taught me a lesson on restarts that I’ll never forget.
“The next year we came from a lap down to pass Jon Wood with one lap to go to win the race.”
Gaughan spent much of the decade between ages 15 and 25 in nearby Riverside as he learned off-road racing under legend Walker Evans.
“I went to the old Riverside (International Raceway) races when I was younger to watch my father race,” said Gaughan, whose father and Orleans Racing owner Michael Gaughan competed in Riverside’s off-road events. “To have so many fans from the Walker Evans days, have so many fans being the West Coast guys, it’s almost like Vegas for me.
“It’s a second home.”