Alex Schutte dominates Gold Cup Midgets

By Kevin Triplett

Twenty midget racers were on hand at the famed Sliver Dollar Speedway in Chico California on Thursday night September 7 for a joint Bay Cities Racing Association (BCRA)/United States Auto Club (USAC) Western States midget race. The mighty midgets were part of the second night of racing for the four-night 64th annual “Gold Cup Week” non-winged program together with the USAC/CRA sprint cars.

Following the three preliminary hot lap sessions, the #3 machine of Sparky Howard and the #35W car of Nate Wait were both withdrawn from further competition due to terminal mechanical problems. Shane Golobic topped the field in single car time trials with a best lap of 14.256 seconds in the Wood #17W, followed closely by Courtney Crone at 14.275 seconds in the Jerome Rodela owned #25 Toyota-powered machine. Chad Boat in the Tucker/Boat #84 was a just tick behind at 14.318 seconds, followed in fourth by Ronnie Gardner the only one competitor signed up for “double duty” with both a sprint car and midget ride in the Ted Finkenbinder #3F at 14.379 seconds with BCRA points leader Maria Cofer fifth fastest at 14.435 seconds.

In the first 8-lap heat race, Alex Schutte who started on the front row by virtue of his sixth-fastest qualifying time out-dragged pole sitter Randi Pankratz into turn one and never looked back as he streaked to victory over Golobic, Pankratz and Robert Dalby. Post-race inspection found that Golobic’s #17W car had lost its muffler during the race and the car was disqualified, which moved Pankratz and Dalby up to second and third place respectively with Gardner and Cody Hodgson rounding out the top five finishers.

In the second heat race, front row starter Michael Faccinto jumped in the lead ahead of pole sitter Frankie Guerrini and led all eight circuits to finish ahead of Crone, Cofer, the #63 of Guerrini, Cory Elliott’s #11E and Floyd Alvis who celebrated his 83rd birthday on September 1.

Oklahoma’s Michele Decker in Shannon McQueen’s Spike/Esslinger #7D continued the night’s trend of front row domination as she led wire-to-wire in the third heat race from her pole starting position. Behind Michele at the finish were Boat, Mason Daniels, David Prickett, McQueen and JR Williams still on the comeback after his traffic accident following the Stockton dirt track race.

The re-draw for the eighteen-car starting field for the 30-lap BCRA/USAC “Light up the World Beverages” feature race put Alex Schutte on the coveted pole position in his family’s #28 midget with Michael Faccinto alongside, while the second all-female row was comprised of Decker and Pankratz. The third row was all Toyota power with Crone and Boat while the fourth row was shared by young guns Dalby and Cofer. By virtue of his heat race disqualification, Shane Golobic was slotted sixteenth on the grid alongside Shannon McQueen in her trademark pink blue and black Boss chassis #7.

As the field charged into the first turn at the drop of the green flag, chaos erupted back in the field which eliminated the top two drivers in the BCRA points chase. Maria Cofer lost control due to a deflating right rear tire and spun in front of Floyd Alvis; both cars suffered heavy damage and were moved to the infield by the track safety crew, finished for the night. The first ragged restart attempt was called back, but the second attempt was clean as Alex Schutte shot into the lead over Faccinto. On lap two, Decker got around Faccinto to claim second place.

The red flag flew on lap five after a serious crash in between turns one and two that involved fourth-place driver Chad Boat whose car half-spun to a halt and was struck by the machines of Pankratz and Dalby. Boat’s chassis suffered a broken left front shock absorber mount so Chad was done for the night. The cars of Dalby and Pankratz went to the work area and with the concerted volunteer efforts of the members of several crews both cars were able to restart at the tail of the field. When racing resumed within a few laps Dalby’s machine pulled into the infield with a battery problem while Faccinto’s machine retired with an apparent engine failure

On lap eleven the running order remained Schutte, Decker, Crone and Pickett as those front four cars had separated themselves from the pack. By lap 16, Golobic had gained ten positions to run sixth, and two laps later Shane caught a pair of breaks as Courtney Crone brought out the caution flag with power steering problems for the second straight event. Courtney’s retirement moved the #17W to fifth and bunched up the field for the single-file restart.

On lap 19, Gololbic’s blue #17W machine moved past Mason Daniels’ #33M to claim fourth, then two laps later, Shane made a daring outside pass around Prickett through turns one and two to claim third place. On lap 28, as Schutte continued to lead, Golobic made another turn two outside pass, this time on Decker to claim second, and then Prickett passed the #7D which dropped Decker to fourth place.

At the drop of the checkered flag, Alex Schutte picked up the wire-to-wire Gold Cup win trailed by Shane Golobic, David Prickett and Michele Decker as Mason Daniels rounded out the top five finishers. Sixth through tenth finishers were Frankie Guerrini, Shannon McQueen up from fifteenth,  USAC Western States points leader Ronnie Gardner eighth with USAC Western States runner-up Cory Elliott ninth and Randi Pankratz who recovered from her lap five accident and finished tenth. The non-finishers in order were Cody Hodgson, Courtney Crone, Robert Dalby, Michael Faccinto, Chad Boat, JR Williams, Maria Cofer and Floyd Alvis.

The BCRA midgets return to action on Saturday September 16th at Madera Speedway as part of the 45th Annual Harvest Classic presented by Midland Tractor and John Deere.  In addition to the mighty midgets, the Western Winged Super Sprint Series, USAC HPD Midgets, Super Hobby Stock Series, NCMA Sprints, CSS/360 Super Modifieds, Legends of Kearney Bowl, and the California Hard Tops will all be in action, with a special added feature multi supercharged engine pulling tractors.