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Dan's the man at speedway

After breakout

year, Estremado

eager to race again

Dan Estremado didn't just win the modified division points race at the Southern Oregon Speedway last season.

He owned it.

Estremado claimed 15 victories in 22 starts, finished second once and third once.

When the exhaust fumes cleared and the dust settled, the Gold Hill logger had beaten modified runner-up Dave Duste Sr. by 103 points.

He was the class of the field -- he flat-out kicked our butts all year long, Duste says.

Truth be told, the modified division was down a bit last year, with former points champion Tom Glover and veterans Dane Smith and Bruce (the Rabbit) Rayburn running abbreviated schedules at the White City track.



Saturday night. — Gates open at 4 p.m., racing begins at 6.


$8.50 for adults, $7 — for seniors ages 62 and over and children ages 7-12. Children under 6 — are admitted free of charge.


Southern Oregon — Sports Park near White City. To get there from Medford, take Highway — 62 north and then head east on Highway 140 to Kershaw road. Turn right — and follow signs. — —

Estremado will likely find the quarter-mile dirt track more crowded with talented drivers when the 2000 stock car racing season kicks off Saturday night.

Jon DeBenedetti, the defending West Coast national dwarf car champion, and Brian Poppa, the defending pro stocks champ at the Southern Oregon Speedway.

Estremado welcomes the more formidable competition.

I welcome anybody and everybody to come out and give it a try, the affable 48-year-old says. But right now I'm the man on top and they're going to have to take it (the points title) away from me.

Estremado garnered only a couple of wins during his first four seasons at the Southern Oregon Speedway. But he made marked improvement toward the end of the 1998 season, consistently finishing in the top five, and then took off like a rocket last year when promoter John Skinner decreed that wings be added to the modified cars.

For whatever reason, I adjusted to having the wing on better than the other drivers, Estremado says. The wing allowed me to be in better control and not be sideways so much.

In turn, that allowed me to be more aggressive, and I just took it from there.

Estremado will continue to drive the same car as last year, a Dirtworks chassis featuring a 406 cubic inch Chevy engine.

DeBenedetti, meanwhile, will be among the busiest drivers at the track. The 26-year-old heavy equipment operator from Rogue River will be back to defend his speedway and national points titles in his dwarf car.

And now DeBenedetti will regularly climb into a modified car with an Ellis chassis that is owned by Skinner.

DeBenedetti got a taste of modified racing last year when he finished second to Estremado in the second leg of the Lon Skinner Memorial race.

My trademarks are being smooth and patient, and we'll see if that works in the modified class the way it has in the dwarf class, DeBenedetti says. Venturing into Estremado land will be quite a challenge.

DeBenedetti says his priority will be to defend his national title in the dwarf car division, but as long as his equipment holds up he'll be pulling double duty almost every weekend.

Poppa has the credentials to be another strong contender in the modifieds after registering third-place finishes in the pro stock class in 1997 and '98 and then winning it last year.

Poppa, 30, will drive Ron Martin's car -- the same Dirtworks chassis that Glover guided to the modified points title in 1998.

I want a new challenge, Poppa says. I may go back to the pro stock class next year, but right now I want to try something different and test my skills against some of the other good drivers.

Poppa spent all winter rebuilding Martin's car after it got into a bad wreck at Antioch, Calif.

Two other modified drivers who can't be overlooked are the Dustes -- Dave Sr. and Dave Jr. The elder Duste, 48, has finished second in points all four years that the Southern Oregon Speedway has been in operation. He registered four wins last year -- no one else besides Estremado had more than two -- and added nine seconds.

Duste Jr., 30, came on strong last summer to finish fifth and appears destined for a breakout year.

Also back is Mark Wauge, last season's rookie of the year.

Competing along with the modified, pro stock and dwarf divisions will be the mini stock and truck classes.

Some 27 race dates are on tap at the speedway. The major events will be the Northern Sprint Tour on May 6 and July 17, the Art Pollard Memorial on May 27, the Fireworks Spectacular on July 1, the Dwarf Car Nationals on Aug. 11-12, the Lon Skinner Memorial on Sept. 9 and the Bud Cup on Sept. 29-Oct. 1.


Trophy girl Lori Harris returns for her fifth season, flagman Maury Skaggs is back for his fourth year and public address announcer R. Charles Snyder is back for his second at the speedway. Snyder's smooth voice, quick wit and sense of humor -- without excessive cheerleading and grandstanding -- is appreciated by many fans.

Speedway fans will see a familiar face near the admittance gate this season. MaryAnne Petersen, otherwise known as Granny Dollar on local auto TV commercials, has been hired by Skinner to press flesh and hand out a racing newsletter to fans coming through the gates. Petersen has gained fame for her six-word command: Don't you buy no ugly truck!

Special events are scheduled for every week, including lawn mower races and mud races.

Dan Estremado won 15 of the 22 races he started last year. - Photo by Jim Craven