Dave Duste, Sr. had come to terms with the possibility — or probability — that he would go the rest of his stock car racing career without another main event victory.

Dave Duste, Sr. had come to terms with the possibility — or probability — that he would go the rest of his stock car racing career without another main event victory.

After all, it had been three years and nearly 50 races since the once-dominant modified division driver had last snagged a win at the Southern Oregon Speedway.

But with the stars aligned just right last Saturday, the 55-year-old transmission service shop owner whipped the field for his 120th career win but first since June 2004.

"Those last two laps were probably the most nervous I've ever been in a race car," Duste says. "I kept saying, 'Oh my god, don't screw this up now.'"

Duste started fourth but grabbed the lead on the third lap and retained it to the finish of the 25-lap feature event. He beat a strong field that included former points champions Mark Wauge, Dan Estremado, Dennis Silva and Brian Poppa.

Afterward, he partied with friends and fellow drivers in his pit area until track officials ushered out the celebrants well after midnight.

"That's the most excited I've been in a long time," Duste says. "To be honest, I didn't expect to win again, not against the field of drivers that's out there now."

Duste says his reflexes and endurance are still sharp enough to keep pace with the younger drivers, but admits the drive and determination that carried him to six points titles over his 36-year career has waned in recent years.

"I just don't have the intensity I once did," he says. "I still want to win, but it's not a do-or-die approach anymore."

Another reason for Duste's slow slide from the top: his equipment. Duste is driving a 1994 Dirt Works chassis that he re-acquired from a man in Rogue River last winter. The car had sat behind a barn for the past decade, but when Duste totaled his newer car last season, he inquired about the old Dirt Works and picked it up for $2,000.

"It didn't have a motor or transmission anymore," Duste says. "But it was still a good car."

With help from good friend and former racer Butch Parier, Duste installed a 406 Chevy engine and got it ready for the 2007 season. He painted it green — once thought to be an unlucky color in racing — and assigned it No. 13 to boot.

Despite the car's age, cursed color and unlucky number, Duste has advanced it to the A main in seven of eight races this summer at the White City oval. His best finish prior to Saturday was a fifth on May 19.

"I still love the sport," says Duste, whose sons, Dave Jr. and Matt, also compete. "As long as I can stay competitive and run in the top 10, I'll keep racing. But I don't want to become a joke out there."

The modified drivers have this weekend off before competing in the $10,000-to-win Lon Skinner Memorial Sept. 1-2. Duste will be a huge long shot to win that race, but he came oh-so-close in 2002 when he led it from the 42nd to the 97th laps, only to blow a right rear tire.

Duste mounted the shredded rubber in his transmission shop, where an accompanying sign reads, "2002 Lon Skinner 97-lap winner."

After his win last week, Duste may have to post another memento.

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HE COULDN'T SCRAPE all the rust from his reflexes, but for several laps Jim Walker Jr. flashed some of his old magic at the Southern Oregon Speedway last Saturday.

Walker, one of the Rogue Valley's all-time winningest drivers, appeared at the track for the first time in more than a year and finished seventh in the pro stock feature race.

Walker led the race for 12 laps and was in third place with two laps to go before fading at the end.

"We had a yellow flag at 23 laps and I shut it down two laps later, but everyone else kept going," Walker, 42, says. "They went an extra lap. (Track officials) have a board that shows how many laps are left, but I didn't even look at it or pay attention to the flagger. It just shows how rusty I was."

Walker, who has claimed 147 main event wins and eight points titles, plans to race the rest of the summer after putting the finishing touches on what had been his No. 2 car, a 1981 Camaro. He sold his other car last year.

"It's going to take me another couple weeks to get my old form back," says Walker, who won pro stock points titles in White City in 1997, 1998 and 2001. "But to go out and lead for 12 laps right off the bat is encouraging."

Walker will drive John Skinner's modified car in the Lon Skinner Memorial race Sept. 1-2.

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TWO MORE BIG-NAME drivers have announced plans to compete in the Lon Skinner race: Californians Bobby Hogge and Kellen Chadwick.

Chadwick, of Oakley, Calif., led last year's spectacle from the 61st lap to the 82nd lap, when mechanical woes knocked him from contention. He looked to be the fastest car on the track.

Hogge and Chadwick will join other out-of-town standouts such as Allen Sharpenstein (Texas), Ron Jones (Minnesota), Eddie Martin (Oklahoma), Brian Cass (Livermore, Calif.), Dustin Jenks (Chico, Calif.) and the father-son tandem of Randy and Ryan McDaniel (Olivehurt, Calif.) for the 100-lap event, which will feature more than $40,000 in purse money.

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail dhunt@mailtribune.com