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Big win makes this driver a proud Poppa

Brian Poppa thought twice about making the long trek to Elma, Wash., last weekend for the second annual CenturyTel Northwest Modified Nationals.

Poppa's new car had been performing so poorly at the Southern Oregon Speedway this summer, he questioned the logic of matching it against many of the top modified drivers in the Pacific Northwest.

But Poppa headed north, anyway.

And wouldn't you know it, the 31-year-old Central Point resident won the 40-lap feature event and collected the $5,000 in first-place prize money.

"It took almost two months to get this car figured out, and we did it in the nick of time," Poppa said. "It felt great to win a race like this."

Poppa and his pit crew were having all kinds of trouble properly setting up the 2001 D & M chassis. The spring rates and spindles were out of sequence, which caused the car to push toward the top of the track on corners.

Poppa had gone winless in his first six races at the Southern Oregon Speedway. He finally seemed to have the kinks ironed out on June 9, but a controversial ruling by flagman Maury Skaggs sent him to the back of the pack and he wound up in seventh place.

Irate over the ruling, Poppa verbally attacked Skaggs after the race, leading to a two-week suspension.

Thus, Poppa will sit out tonight's action, which kicks off at 6 p.m. at the White City track.

But Poppa is still riding an emotional high from last Saturday's breakthrough victory and happy to have solved the setup woes that had plagued his vehicle.

"It was getting to the point where I was ready to cut the car up," Poppa said. "I wasn't driving as aggressively as I like to because I didn't have faith in what the car was doing.

"We had to step back, analyze the situation and make some changes."

Poppa ran strong in a preliminary race at Elma the night before the main event. He started 14th, finished third and was closing hard on Dustin Jenks and Scott Busby, the drivers in front of him.

"I had a winning car that night, too," Poppa said. "I just ran out of laps."

Poppa was more aggressive during the big race. Starting in the fourth position, he shot past Richard Papenhausen on the first lap, overtook Busby on the fourth circuit and overhauled early leader Bruce Rayburn after catching a perfect corner on turn three of the seventh lap.

Once he got the lead, Poppa put the pedal to the metal. He finished more than a half-lap ahead of runner-up Busby by the end of the 40 laps.

"I had no idea I won by that much until the race was over," Poppa said.

Poppa joined the modified division last season after winning the 1999 pro stock points race. He promptly claimed rookie-of-the-year honors and finished third in points in one of the smoothest transitions from pro stocks to modifieds in the six-year history of the Southern Oregon Speedway.

"The modifieds are tougher to handle, especially on the corners," Poppa said. "And you've got to react quicker."

The modified class has been so competitive this season that five different drivers have made it to the checkered flag in first place - Jay Hinton, Dave Duste, Jr., Dan Estremado, Mark Wauge and Dennis Silva.

Poppa hopes to become the sixth, but he'll have to wait until next Saturday for another opportunity.

In addition to the modifieds, other classes running tonight are the mini stocks, pro stocks, dwarf cars and super trucks.

The sprint cars have the night off, returning to action next Saturday when the Northern Sprint Tour comes to the speedway.

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail