Sutton back in driver’s seat
If South Lake Tahoe owned a race track, Lee Sutton might have won the Nor Cal Best of the West Series opener Saturday in chilly Eureka.
The conditions were ripe for someone who spends most of his time in the mountains. But the 45-year-old racing veteran, like the other 15 drivers in the field, struggled with the Northern California coastal town’s unseasonable 40-degree temperatures, which caused inconsistencies in the cars’ handling.
Still, Sutton wound up fifth and earned $600.
“The pavement was sucking the heat right out of the tires; all the cars were slipping around,” Sutton said. “There was a 150-degree swing between tire temperatures. We have bleeder devices built into the rims and when the tire gets hots they go off and you get into a super cooler condition. The tires cooled down instantly and because of the stagger of racing, the car was all messed up until the tire heat built up again.”
Sutton, who is a full-time Nor Cal Series racer for the first time since 1993, started on the pole after finishing fourth in the heat run.
However, a cautious start quickly dropped Sutton to seventh in the 60-lap main.
“It was weird. On the first green flag they said I had too big of a start … a two-car jump on the field, so they told me if I messed up again I’d go to the rear.”
Consequently, the faster drivers sensed Sutton’s overcautiousness and quickly pinched him out of the lead and to the bottom of the oval track .
“We got pretty far behind, and then we just started picking them off one at a time,” Sutton said. “I was with the lead pack at the end. The top five cars drove away from the rest of the field by the time we passed the checkered flag.”
Eureka’s Randy Olsen won the race while defending series champion Mike Walker of Rocklin came in second.
Sutton returned to the Nor Cal Series because of the enormous cost of running the NASCAR Southwest and Northwest Series.
“That’s the whole reason for this series; there are so many guys like myself that can’t afford to go to the big tracks,” said Sutton, whose return to the Nor Cal has been financially assisted by Sharpe’s Auto and Tire. “Maybe next year we’ll get a (major) sponsor, but this year we’ll concentrate on the ovals. This will be the first time I won’t run at Sears Point since it started and I’m sad about it. But I’m also excited about getting the car ready for a weekly series. We’ll spend less and run more.”
Local racing fans can watch Sutton in action at Silver State Speedway on April 26 in Carson City.
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