When the Sprint Car Challenge Tour rolled through Calistoga for the Wine Country Classic in mid-June, it was just one of a few special event races held each year on the Napa County Fairgrounds half mile.
But for a pair of Calistoga racers is was a special treat, one of the few opportunities to race at home in front of families and friends.
Driver Mike Benson grew up just blocks from the track. Crew chief Mark Porter and Benson live close enough that they could almost push their race car through city streets to get to the speedway. It was a rare Saturday when the pair didn’t leave the city limits.
Benson normally travels 100 miles to Placerville Speedway to race every Saturday night from March to September, but decided to race at Calistoga that night instead.
“We normally leave around noon and get back home about 2 in the morning,” he said. “It’s the first Saturday night championship points night I’ve missed up there in seven years. It was a tough decision to pass up a night to gain those championship points, but it was awesome to race here. When I’m here I think of Louie Vermeil and what he meant to this sport and to this track.”
Like Benson, Dan Monhoff also grew up at Calistoga Speedway.
“I’ve been coming here since before I could remember, because my dad (John) was the photographer for NARC,” said Monhoff, referring to the Northern Auto Racing Club that sanctioned sprint car races at the track for more than 20 years and in an era when sprint cars raced at Calistoga about 11 times a season.
Monhoff, who now lives in Woodland, owns a sprint car and races about two dozen times a year while sharing his driver, Sean Becker, with another car owner. For the Wine Country Classic, he relished the opportunity to race in front of family and fans who have known him all his life.
“I still consider Calistoga my home track and I still need to get another win here,” he said.
With Becker, Monhoff won the race that celebrated the track’s 75th anniversary – a feat he said is difficult to repeat since there are only a few opportunities each year. “It’s hard to put into words, but everybody wants to win at Calistoga.”
“There’s a lot of history here and it’s the only big half mile race track in this part of the country,” he said. “To get a win at Calistoga is just extra special.”