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Gearhart third in Barona's Summer Shootout race

Deprived of lead by yellow flag restart

Joe Naiman

Village News Reporter

Barona Speedway held its Summer Shootout competition July 22-23, and Fallbrook driver Jeff Gearhart finished third in the July 23 Pure Stocks main event.

At one time during the race, Gearhart moved into the lead, but a yellow flag caution caused a restart which reverted the order of cars to their positions at the start of the lap so Gearhart was returned to second. Rick Chavez passed both Gearhart and Joe Malone to win the race, and Gearhart finished third with Malone taking second.

"The track was really fast," Gearhart said. "My stepdad told me to run the high groove. I took his advice."

Gearhart's stepfather, Brian Griffin, had two sons racing July 23. Gearhart's brother, Jake Griffin, races in the IMCA Modified class. Gearhart and his brother are both first-year racers, although Brian Griffin raced at Cajon Speedway in the 1990s.

Chavez also raced at Cajon Speedway, and Chavez's father has raced on oval tracks since the 1950s (he currently drives vintage cars). Chavez and Chris Evans, whose father and grandfather raced at Cajon Speedway, aided Gearhart when Gearhart began his racing career. "These guys gave me advice, gave me parts, helped me work on my car," Gearhart said.

Rolo Zenji is Gearhart's crew chief. Gearhart, who is professionally a carpenter/cabinetmaker, is sponsored by his company Ingrained Woodworking and by his father and brother's company, Griffin Designs, as well as by Dependable Alarm, El Cajon Ford, Guy Smith Welding, Ken Krauss Trucking, and Sam's Alignment.

The 41-year-old Gearhart was raised in Valley Center and moved to Fallbrook three years ago. Although he attended Cajon Speedway races during his childhood, he didn't begin competition as a driver until this year. "I saw a car come up for sale and I bought it," he said.

The car is a 1999 Ford Crown Victoria. The handprints on the car are from Gearhart's two children, 11-year-old Keira and six-year-old Gavin. The beaded cross necklace hanging from the car's roll cage was made by his daughter, and the Paw Patrol stuffed animal attached to the roll cage represents his son's enthusiasm for that show.

Although Gearhart watched his father race at Cajon Speedway, that was an asphalt track. Barona Speedway is a quarter-mile dirt oval. "I had no clue what to do," he said.

Chavez and Evans assisted Griffin in learning about being a Barona Speedway driver. Evans drives in the IMCA Northern Sport Modified class.

The Pure Stocks are called Factory Stocks at Perris Auto Speedway, and Gearhart made his racing debut March 19 at Perris and finished sixth in the main event. In Gearhart's first Barona Speedway race April 2, he was sixth in his heat race and eighth in the feature.

His work prevented Gearhart from racing July 22, so he only competed in the July 23 heat race and main event. He began his heat race on the outside of the front row, but Malone passed Gearhart for the lead in the second lap of the eight-lap race. A yellow flag caused a restart of the final lap, and Griffin fell to third with Curtis Reiter, who started in the back after winning the July 22 main event, taking over second.

"It was a slick track and we were going as hard as we could," Gearhart said.

The multiple yellow flag cautions and restarts along with a red flag stoppage shortened the main event from the scheduled 20 laps. Most Barona Speedway classes run counterclockwise, but because the Pure Stocks are not supposed to be set up for racing, the track has the option of running the cars clockwise to nullify any setup advantages for left turns. The Pure Stocks heat race was counterclockwise, but the July 23 main event was clockwise. "We got turned around backwards tonight," Gearhart said.

Gearhart began the feature on the outside of the third row. He was fourth after two laps and took over third on one of the restarts. Gearhart then passed Brandon Jesina to move into second.

Although Gearhart was able to get by Malone into the lead, the yellow flag caused the restart and put Gearhart back into second. That lap was restarted three times. "I would have been able to pass that first-place car if there weren't so many restarts," Gearhart said.

Subsequent restarts caused the track to declare a green-white-checkered situation where the lap after the green flag resuming the race was the next-to-last lap. Chavez moved from third to first as the race concluded.

"I'll have my day," Gearhart said. "I'll get that win."

Gearhart has a heat race win at Barona, which he accomplished May 28, but had finished no higher than fourth in a main event. The top five finish July 23 was his fourth of the year, and the third-place result moved Gearhart into a tie for ninth place in the Pure Stocks season standings.


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