CALISTOGA – Calistoga Speedway is close enough to Rico Abreu’s home in St. Helena that it seems like it’s in his back yard. On Sunday night, Abreu drove like he owned the half-mile oval, thoroughly dominating the winged sprint car portion on the final night of the Louie Vermeil Classic.
Abreu showed his muscle early in the night, setting the quickest qualifying time, before running away from the field to lead all 30 laps from the pole to claim his third “Louie”, the iconic trophy cast in the image of the late Louie Vermeil, who directed sprint car racing at Calistoga for nearly 50 years.
The win was Abreu’s 12th career victory at Calistoga Speedway, making him the fourth-winningest driver in the track’s 82-year history.
“Being the leader is tough because you can’t know if the track is changing and the guys behind you are using different lanes,” said Abreu. “So, I just based my speed on the lapped cars I was passing. I knew if the faster guys came up behind me, I could move to the top or the bottom of the track to defend my line.”
But none of the so-called faster guys could even get close to Abreu who, at one point, lapped two-thirds of the field while others raced for the runner-up spots.
“He was definitely fast tonight and I wasn’t going to catch him,” said Bud Kaeding, who took advantage of lapped traffic to take the second spot away from Shane Golobic in the closing laps.
“Abreu was in a class by himself tonight,” said Golobic, who started the race on the outside of the front row. “Early on, we could hang with him, but later in the race, I was just hanging on.”
Dominic Scelzi finished fourth and D.J. Netto, the current championship points leader in the King of the West series, finished fifth after charging through the field from his 13th starting spot.
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Jake Swanson won the USAC/CRA portion of the Louie Vermeil Classic for non-winged sprint cars, but only after surviving a tough battle with Ryan Bernal over the last half of 25-lap event. Swanson led from the outside pole position at the drop of the green flag and held off charges by Austin Liggett, Austin Williams and Chase Johnson though the early race laps.
At the halfway point, Bernal charged from fifth to second in two laps and took the lead a lap later after a deep dive underneath Swanson, who gave Bernal an opening when he got into turn one a bit higher than he had all night. The pair ran away from the field in a battle of their own, before Swanson re-took the lead by moving to the top groove to pass Bernal and a lapped car with seven laps remaining and led to the checkered flag.
“I was just a sitting duck out there,” said Bernal about leading the field through lapped traffic. “I stayed on the bottom lane too long and Jake has been fast all night.”
Swanson, who lives in Corona, conceded that slowing down on the half-mile oval was the key to his win.
“It’s hard to be the leader because the racetrack changes so much,” he said. “When Bernal passed me for the lead, it told me I had to slow down and hit my marks. Then, when he got trapped by lapped traffic, I saw my opportunity.”
Jason McDougal, who normally races in the USAC national sprint car series, took advantage of bad weather in Illinois to race at Calistoga, where he finished third on Sunday night.
Geoff Ensign, a former Petaluma Speedway champion, earned the hard-charger award by passing 10 cars to finish seventh from his 17th starting spot.
Racing will return to Calistoga Speedway on Saturday, Sept. 14, with the touring World of Outlaws national sprint car series.