No matter what the race, it's never easy to lead from the front and take a wire-to-wire victory.
Steve Gannon came pretty close on Saturday night when the 21-year-old Redding, Calif., driver made it through a wild start and then led virtually all the way to win the 100-lap Desert Rose Series Super Late Model feature race at Champion Speedway.
Aside from two lead changes with Dan Knight (Kelseyville, Calif.) between the 77th and 81st laps, not to mention serious challenges from Byron Gonzales (Carmichael, Calif.) throughout the race, young Gannon managed to stay out front and take the checker flag in the second leg of the West Car Super Late Model Series.
Gannon, Gonzales and Knight staged a stirring battle for the lead throughout a race that started with 21 cars - seven of which were lost after a pileup in front of the grandstands that occurred on the opening green flag, including two of the leading qualifiers, Craig Paulsen and Shane Klein.
The pileup resulted in a 35-minute delay on the track, but at the end of 100 laps, it was an exciting down-to-the wire race. So, was it as much fun to drive as it was to watch?
"It was fun, to a point," Gannon said afterward. "It was pretty stressful. One hundred laps is a long time to hold the lead, especially when you consider I had two real quick guys on my tail. The car wasn't handling as well as I would have liked, so I knew I was going to have my work cut out for me. I just tried to hold my line and stay out front."
In the end, Gannon was able to outlast both Knight and Gonzales, who finished second and third respectively, followed by Melissa Davis (Santa Rosa, Calif.) in fourth-place, Mike Garcia (Lodi, Calif.) and Carson City's Chet Danburg.
Klein, who was driving in Dean Heller's racecar, posted the fastest time in qualifying (13.54), never made it past the start. Gary Glenn, who started from the inside of row 3, appeared to get loose and came together with Klein in a collision that sent Paulsen into the wall and ultimately involved seven cars. After a 35-minute delay, 14 cars were on the track for the restart.
Gonzales passed into second-place on the 16th lap and led a four-car pursuit pack that included Knight, Glenn and Garcia.
Glenn went to the pits with engine failure on Lap 38 which left Gannon, Gonzales and Knight to battle for the lead.
Knight passed into second-place on Lap 70 to set the stage for an exciting sequence of events. First, Knight made an outside move and passed into the lead on Lap 78, only to see Gannon surge back to the front on the backstretch of Lap 79. Knight came back to regain the lead on the next lap, but then got loose going into Turn 4 on Lap 81, and Gannon moved back to the front for the last time.
"I thought he had me," Gannon said. "He had me cleared, he could have come down and it would have been all over. But then I got a break when his car got loose."
The race still remained in doubt because Gonzales tried to make a pass on the inside on Turn 2 of Lap 90, but was unsuccessful. He tried again, this time on the outside, on Lap 96 only to get cut off by Gannon. The pass attempt failed, Gonzales tapped the wall on the homestretch, but recovered well enough to hang on for his third-place finish.
"I saw where his car was loose so I sat back and waited for him to make a mistake," Gonzales said. "Then I realized I was running out of time and I knew I had to do something. I went high, his spotter didn't see me and I got mooshed into the wall. It wasn't intentional. We talked after the race and he told me it wasn't intentional.
"He just did a good race," Gonzales added. "Overall, I had a good race. Third is pretty good for having as much fun as I did."
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