PLACERVILLE, CA – During his days beneath the helmet and thereafter, the one thing the late Donnie Tilford truly loved was an exciting race night for both drivers and fans. Saturday night at Placerville Speedway there was undoubtedly a bit of magic in the air as a grandstand packed with fans was treated to thrills, spills and emotion for the inaugural Tribute to Donnie Tilford presented by Handy Racing Promotions and Domco Plumbing.
With added cash on the line for each division, Saturday’s race produced exactly what the late racing patriarch use to live by. “Drive fast and take chances,” was the motto that Donnie Tilford told so many during and after driving days. For some, such chances didn’t pay off well Saturday night but for others is surely did as point leader Greg DeCairies of Elk Grove tooks home a boosted $2000 victory in the Sprint Car Division while Matt Micheli of Live Oak claimed the $1500 to win Late Model feature and Eddie Gardner of Citrus Heights grabbed $500 in the Pure Stock division.
While all divisions benefited from added winnings Saturday night, the center of attention surrounded the Limited Late Model division, a class in which the late Tilford truly had a passion for and worked in recent years to help develop both the class and the drivers within it. Among those drivers, his own nephew Tom Tilford, the defending track champion who started on the pole of the event that kicked off with a first class introduction of the drivers from the front stretch which was once a weekly routine long ago.
Appropriately, Tom Tilford started on the pole of the 20-lap feature that paid tribute to his lost uncle and mentor. As the field entered the first turn, Tilford’s car pitched sideways in a near spin as a multi car collision broke out in his wake. The started resulted in a red flag when Jeff Olshowka went upside down in turn two, a rarity in this division. Nobody was injured in the incident and all returned to the line up with the exception of Olshowka.
“When we did the introductions I couldn’t hold back the tears, my emotions we so high and my hands were still shaking when we took the green flag,” said Tilford. “I completely over drove into that first turn and lost it. I feel bad about it and the cars that got torn up, I’m glad Jeff and everyone was ok. This was a tough night but a great night for Donnie. He loved an exciting race and the fans got that tonight.”
The opening lap incident wasn’t the only red flag of the night in this class. With the added money on the line and 16 drivers giving it their all, accidents were par for the course Saturday and former champion Dan Brown Jr. of Rocklin was the second rollover victim of the night after a brush with Auburn’s Matt Davis that sent im into a pile up and upside down without injury later in the race.
Through it all, 2012 champion Matt Micheli drove his way to the checkered flag for the biggest win of his career at the track he calls home. Micheli held off the challenges of Ryan Randy McDaniel to the finish line to pick up the $1500 win. Tilford finished in fourth followed by Jay Norton of Shingle Springs.
“This is really a special for me, the biggest I’ve ever had here,” said Micheli, who earned not only the added bonus but the four foot tall trophy and a one of a kind commemorative helmet custom painted in memory of Donnie Tilford. “All of out here tonight can’t thank Domco and Alan Handy for what they’ve done here tonight to remember Donnie. He was a great driver, all of us traded paint with him and respected him on and off the track. He was a great loss to the sport and winning this here tonight, well, the extra money is great but that’s not what its all about. It’s an honor for sure.”
In the Sprint Car division, $2000 was on the line to win Saturday night as Handy Racing Promotions increased the winnings across the board to honor Tilford. When the checkered flag waved it was Greg DeCaires of Elk Grove picking up the win. Over the last year DeCaires may earn the knick name of “old money” as the veteran driver has had a knack for picking off high paying victories at Placerville including the Tiner Classic, the Mark Forni Classic and now the Tribute to Donnie Tilford.
“I watched many laps that Donnie Tilford turned at this track and spent a lot of time with all of them at this place, they are like family here at Placerville and this is an honor to win this first race for him tonight,” said DeCaires. “Tonight we a little more lucky that we were good. I lost my brakes midway through the race and fortunately Andy Gregg got caught up in some traffic there and fell back. If that hadn’t happened I think we would have got me because he was coming back for the lead for sure.”
DeCaries took the lead at the green flag over second place started Jimmy Trulli when the green flag waved. After working his way around Trulli, Gregg moved into the bridesmaid position and shot around DeCaires for the lead at the 10 lap mark in the second turn when the two were racing in heavy traffic.
After a red flag on lap 15 when Sacramento’s Bobby Butler flipped over in the second turn a restart put the top runners bumper to bumper and the dogfight for the lead resumed with DeCaires redeeming it in traffic once again. On the 22nd lap, Gregg spun off the second turn and fell back several positions and out of contention and it was Trulli that was then pressuring DeCaires all the way to the checkered flag. James Sweeney of Placerville finished in third followed by Justin Sanders of Prunedale and defending track champion Andy Forsberg of Auburn who recovered to a top five after starting deep in the field and fighting motor issues all through the night.
In the Pure Stock division, 2003 Placerville Speedway Pro Stock champion Mike Nuss of Pollock Pines returned to the spotlight Saturday night with a crowd raising run to the finish line. Despite sparks showering from his #57 car for the first half of the race, Nuss took the lead from early front runner Lonnie Leonard of Elk Grove on the seventh lap.
In the last two laps of the race, lapped traffic slowed Nuss and a three way battle broke out as Leonard and Eddie Gardner closed in. Gardner took the lead from Nuss on the backstretch until Nuss muscled into the final set of turns and crossed the line just inches ahead of Gardner in an exciting finish. Unfortunately the veteran driver learned the wheel base in his converted street stock was shy of the minimum in post race inspection, making him ineligible for the win.
“That was a bummer tonight, but man was this fun coming out here and racing like that in memory of Donnie,” said Nuss, a longtime competitor that is well known for his appreciation of fellow drivers, fans and officials through the years with a humble attitude regardless of a situation. “We hadn’t known the wheel base was an issue as this was just the third race since we came back and we just came out for fun. The last two races we weren’t running up front so it was never looked at. I kind of wish I had known about it before I won but this was fun and I think we’re ready to put together a car and come back for next year. I miss this place.”
After the ruling, Gardner was awarded the win and the $500 bonus along with the big trophy. Gardner has been racing alongside the Tilford family for several seasons and was honored with the victory over Leonard, Rick Grunert and Scott Grunert of Woodland.
“That was a fun race out there it’s a bummer that it came down to a ruling but rules are rules and we’re happy to be here again,” said Gardner. “This is definitely a big win for me. The Tilford family has helped me out here and there’s a great amount of respect for them by all of us. I’ll remember this one for a long time for sure.”
Placerville Speedway will go dark next weekend at return to action Saturday, September 13th with the final points race and the Thompson’s Auto Center Tribute to Al Hinds that begins with a big race car show and BBQ at Thompsons Auto Center at 126 Forni Road from 11am until 2 pm on race day. Watch the track website for further information on this event.
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