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September 26, 1997     Cape Gazette
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September 26, 1997

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.... r ........ '"  -,- " " 82 -CAPE GAZEIgE, Friday, Septemlr  26- October 2, 1997 A race of firsts ends in a M 00rtin win at Dover Downs By Jen Euingsworth The checkered flag fell on a race of firsts for the Dover Downs International Speedway and the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR). For starters, it was the first time in the history of Dover's "Monster Mile" that the race was shortened from 500 to 400 laps, and the first time that MBNA was the anchor sponsor of the event. The race was shortened in hopes of a more competitive and safer event. Dri- vers reported smooth sailing for Friday qualifying and Saturday's Busch Grand National race. Sunday's MBNA 400 was also Mark Martin's first win in Dover, as over 80,000 spectators watched the Batesville, Ark., driver beat out Dale Earnhardt and Kyle Petty for the trophy and the $195,305 purse. Martin edged second place Earnhardt by a margin of 10.334 Jen EIIingsworth photo "King Richard" Petty, a re- tired NASCAR driver and a member of racing royalty, follows the race from his perch in pit row. Petty was one of the original drivers on the NASCAR circuit before handing in his checkered flag a few years ago. seconds. Petty seemed the obvi- ous winner for 191 circuits, but had to pull into the pits for a gas stop with 21 laps left to go. Since Petty had committed to four pit stops during the race (Martin and Earnhardt both used a ' fuel-conservation strategy that on- ly allowed for three stops), his last pit stop had to be made late in the race and made it impossible for him to regain the lead. Mart'in, who had led the first 150 laps before Petty surged from the 23rd starting position to gain the lead, reclaimed first place and led for the remainder of the race. Third place finisher was Petty, who led for a total of 19t laps, fol- lowed by Bobby Labonte in fourth, Dale Jarrett in fifth, Ricky Rudd in sixth, Gordon in seventh, Bill Elliott in eighth, Ernie Irvan in ninth and Rick Mast rounding out the top 10. In winning the event, Martin al- so achieved another, more unusual feat. Traditionally, the driver who earns the pole position does not take the checkered flag of a NASCAR Winston Cup race. That was not the case, however, for Valvoline Ford-sponsored Martin this past Sunday. In his fourth win of the season, he defied "the infamous "pole-sitter's jinx," finishing the 400-mile race in three hours and 50 seconds. By taking the victory after win- ning the pole, Martin also clinched the Unocal 76 Challenge prize of $114,000. It was a rather atypical Dover NASCAR race for the most part, with no major accidents and only one caution period slowing the ac- tion for a mere 11 laps. The lead changed hands 10 times among four drivers, and 38 of the 42 starters were running at the finish. With the win, Martin inches 185 points closer to Jeff Gordon in the season points race with 3,833. Kerry Kester photo NASCAR Winston Cup driver Mark Martin, driving his Valvoline Ford (No. 6), heads to the finish line to win the MBNA 400 in a time of three hours and 50 minutes. Below, the crowd on a spectacular day filled every seat in the grandstands. Local fans have mixed reactions to shorter race By Jen Ellingsworth Race fans are very passionate about their sport. It doesn't take much provocation for Kerry Kester photo After the NASCAR race, Jason Wy- att, 10, of Milton Middle School, wait- ed expectantly on the infield for dri- vers to exit the garage area and auto- graph his shirt or program book. NASCAR fans to tell you their opinion, good or bad, about a driver or a race. A few local race fans were polled about what they thought about the shorter race, and they readily handed over their impres- sions. "It made it a little bit boring, but I thought the race overall was a good one," said Harold Wingate, owner of Racing's Total Image in the Shoppes of Camelot on Route 1 in Rehoboth Beach. He said he had to work on race day and was unable to make the trek to Dover but that he listened to the entire event on his ra- dio. "Also, there was only one caution [flag] thrown, so that made it even shorter." Wingate, a NASCAR fan from way back, said he doesn't have one favorite driver but several. "Oh, I like Bill Elliott, Rusty [Wallace] and the Labonte boys [brothers Bobby and Terry]," he said. "They're all good." Wingate also owns another Racing's To- tal Image Store in Seaford on Route 113. His shop's inventory is a virtual utopia of NASCAR-related merchandise for fans to stock up on for race day and throughout the year. "There are lots of race fans here [in the Cape Region]," said Wingate. "Lots of them come down here during the summer and during race week. Christmas time is good, too." Race fans who did attend the event said reducing the length of the race made a dif- ference in more ways than one. "It went real good," said Rehoboth Beach Volunteer Fire Company member Charlie Martin, a member of the NASCAR fire and rescue crew. "They [the drivers] liked the 400. They wanted to cut it to 400 because it's the last 100 miles that tears the cars up. Usually at Dover its the last 100 miles of the race when you destroy a lotof equipment, and the driven wear out." Pat Smith, owner of the Sears Roebuck and Co. in the Midway Shopping Center, said she wasn't happy with the results of the race - for only one reason. "I'm a Kyle Petty fan," she said. "If it had been 100 more laps, it would have made a huge difference for me. It broke my heart." Smith said she was disappointed with the pit strategy of Petty's pit crew but that any- thing can happen dur- ing a race. "They were trying to maximize what they had," she said. "If they'd have pitted SMITH sooner they would've been able to stay out there in the end." Pat said she and her husband, George, sat in the grandstand between the fourth turn and the flagman during the race. The Smiths are huge NASCAR fans who attend several NASCAR races around the country each year.