Baja Team Wins California Racing Championship
Street stock cars at Barona speedway
CAPTAIN LONNIE RYAN

It was a great season at the Barona Speedway for the local Baja Mighty #29 race team. The Baja Mighties are a gringo racing team hailing from Punta Banda, competing in the Street Stock class. An Ensenada gringo ex-surfer is the sponsor, and a Punta Banda gringo surfer and dive shop owner is the driver and car owner. Barona is the most prestigious racetrack on the West Coast, located near Lakeside east of San Diego. The old timer rednecks at this track had a few lessons to learn from Baja’s upstart rookie team this year. In 14 races, the team took home the coveted 2007 Points Championship trophy, after a hotly contested battle of horsepower and track politics.

Team members Dale Erwin and Lonnie Ryan met at the San Miguel beach surf spot. Ryan was doing some winter surf photography, and Dale was out ripping the waves with the kids at the ripe “old” age of 51. The conversation turned to auto racing, and Dale said he had a car at a track up in California. Lonnie had always enjoyed the sport and they cooked up a scheme to get the car ready for the first race in May. With fuel costs nearing $10 a gallon for specialized high octane race fuel, and tires costing $130 each, a sponsorship alliance made sense. They would be competing against well established and fully funded San Diego cars and pilots that had been racing for the last five years. The Barona Speedway is a 1/4 mile clay oval with speeds of up to 80 miles per hour on the straights, located on the Barona Indian Reservation.

Staging the races and working on the car was the first big challenge. Joined by Punta Banda resident J.I. Yarber, the team traveled back and forth from Baja to the auto shop in Santee, eating junk food and sleeping in their vehicles. Jason Pontsler, who had built the car and raced it previously at the now defunct El Cajon Speedway, mentored the crew. Before, the car raced on pavement. As the team’s Crew Chief, Jason had to set up the car for dirt racing, a whole new science for him. Jason and Dale together worked to learn the art and Zen of oval clay track racing, and slowly made both the car and driver more competitive.

By mid season, the crew had established an overall points lead over the other competitors through a combination of speed, consistency and grit. From midsummer to September, Dale won five heat races in a row, collecting valuable points, but his first main event win still eluded him. Always finishing in the top five places in main events helped him gain the points lead margin. By September, the Mighty #29 team possessed a commanding 63 point lead!

Then the politics of racing struck the crew’s fortunes. After a second place main event finish on September 15th, the team was deemed to be in violation of one of the track rules, a 200 pound compression limit in the engine’s cylinders. The ruling was suspect, because the test gear was found to be “defective”, but after repairs the engine tested within the limit. After wrangling until 1:00 am with track officials, they ruled that the second test would not be allowed. This ruling caused the team to forfeit the 98 points that the team had scored from the second place win, dropping the team to 20 points behind the other competitors in the points total for the season! With only three races to go in the season, it seemed impossible to again gain the lead.

But, karma came through! Winning was the #29 team’s destiny! In the next race after the disqualification, Dale won his first main event! His closest points competitor had tire problems and finished second to last. In the following race, his closest points competitor blew his engine, and Dale finished second in the main event with enough points to gain back a 4 point lead in the Championship! The last race of the season was delayed a full month due to the fires in San Diego county. On November 17th, Dale Erwin finished third in the main event after both of his closest competitors developed serious problems. The Baja Mighty #29 team claimed the 2007 Barona Speedway Championship! The biggest trophy of the race year awarded by the Barona Speedway is at a Punta Banda dive shop owner’s casa, collectively celebrated by the entire local gringo, surfing and racing communities.

The 90 Day Yacht Club Guide to Ensenada is a product of True Traveler Publishing written by Captain Lonnie Ryan. Visit his website at http://www.truetraveler.com/ for more information about Ensenada and this informative Ensenada general travel guide.

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Gringo Gazette, Baja's English Language Newspaper

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