Jeff Gardner had good reason to smile back on Aug. 11 after he finished second in the USAC Western Sprint Series main event at Champion Speedway.
After all, the performance had pushed the Fresno, Calif., driver back into the lead of a season-long duel for the series championship with Tony Hunt. Would he be back on the Carson City track when the series returned in another month?
"Unless they fire me, I'll be here," Gardner said, flashing a wide grin.
No doubt about that. After all, Gardner has posted three victories on the 1/3-mile Champion track - the only driver since the series began in 1997 to accomplish that - and he figures to be one of the favorites tonight when Western Sprint Series action returns. Drivers from six states will compete, with gates set to open at 5 p.m. and racing at 7. The main event will be a 40-lap race.
Amy Barnes of Minden will be one of the crowd favorites. The 20-year-old Barnes is currently tied for 12th in the series points, but has set her sights on winning in front of the hometown crowd and becoming the first female driver to win a USAC sanctioned main event.
"Being our home track, just minutes from my house, in front of all my friends, that motivates me to go that extra mile and want to win it more," Barnes said.
At the same time, a lot of eyes will be focused on Gardner and Hunt, who are running 1-2 in the season points. Gardner holds a 630-611 lead over Hunt, who resides in Fair Oaks, Calif. Bryan Bullard, who held off Gardner to win the Aug. 11 main event at Champion, is third in the standings with 494 points.
"Tony and I are having a really competitive battle," Gardner said after the Aug. 11 race. "I think this is the sixth race in a row that we've literally switched the points lead back and forth."
Both Gardner and Hunt are seeking their second wins of the 2001 campaign. Gardner won July 14 at Boise, Idaho, while Hunt won July 3 at Dodge City, Kan.
Gardner won twice in Carson City in 1997 and once again in '98. Hunt's best previous Carson City finish came in 1998 when he scored a second, fifth and eighth in three starts there. In 1999 he finished last in both appearances, but came back with a fourth in 2000.
In the last series stop, Sept. 1 at Tucson (Ariz.) Raceway Park, Rick Hendrix of Simi Valley, Calif. led the final 10 laps to win and become the first driver to win races in all three USAC Western series - Sprint Cars, Midgets and TQ Midgets.
USAC Western Sprint Series
Points standings: 1, Jeff Gardner 630; 2, Tony Hunt 611; 3, Bryan Bullard 494; 4, Ryan Flynn 492; 5, Troy Cline 468; 6, Damion Gardner 447; 7, Bobby McMahan 422; 8, Kevin Kierce 367; 9, John Ryals 352; 10, Scott Hansen 322; 11, Shauna Hogg 313; 12, Amy Barnes and Randy Mello 281; 14, Ray Evans 264; 15, Randy Bauer 235; 16, Brian Evans 229; 17, Rick Hendrix 199; 18, Tom Stansberry 182; 19, Dave Fitzgerald 157; 20, Chuck Maddox 147; 21, Michael Aaby, Jr. 145.