by Mickey Dale
IMPERIAL – After many years of coming close but agonizingly ending up short, Alex Grigoreas sped to victory in the California Lightning Sprints at the California Mid-Winter Fair Saturday night. Bobby Brown, Jr. of El Cajon won the accompanying Dwarf Car main event.
“My name is on the winner’s list at Imperial,” a jubilant Grigoreas exclaimed as he climbed out of his car. “Oh man, I tell you that start was awesome. I looked up there, the Dale brothers and all the other Imperial guys gave me a top to run on, went around the top up there and I’m like, Lord this has to be the night”.
Grigoreas came within a handful of laps from a victory at the fair in 2014. Mechanical issues while leading snatched the win away. His futile attempts at entering victory circle continued as recently as last November, when he dropped from second to seventh on the last corner of the main event, sending him to third in the season points instead of the second ranking he had coming into that night. A stripped gear slowed his effort.
But, Saturday night belonged to the Grigoreas brothers.
“The car was perfect,” the excited winner said, crediting his brother Mike in setting it up. “I couldn’t ask for a better car. Couldn’t ask for a better track. Couldn’t ask for better fans to start the year off with. I tell you, I wanted this one bad”.
Grigoreas referred to co-promotor Geoff Dale (part of Imperial Motorsport Promotions along with Joseph Dhalliwal) and his son Austin Dale for preparing the track, which stayed smooth and fast all night long. It made for an extremely fast and exciting evening of racing.
James Heling of San Bernardino and Anaheim’s Dale Gamer brought the CLS field to the green flag, with Heling getting the early jump. It wouldn’t last long, however, as the fifth starting Grigoreas set his car to the upper side of the race track and sailed around Heling on the second lap. He would extend his lead until getting into lap traffic, allowing defending series champion Bobby Michnowicz to close in.
The skilled veterans, who won their heat races earlier, sliced and diced their way through the back marker cars until Michnowicz brought out the caution on lap 13 as his recently purchased motor blew up. This ended a chance at three wins in a row during the Fair races for the three-time CLS Champion from Lomita.
After that caution, it was all Grigoreas, who lapped the entire field with the exception of runner-up Heling in his best career finish to date. Darren Hillberg of Corona finished third with Pat Kelley of Chino and Gamer rounding out the top five. Mike Kotlinski (Nuevo), Jon Robertson (Torrance), Cody Nigh (Camarillo), Jon Squire (El Cajon) and Michnowicz finished out the top 10.
Hillberg won the four-lap Don Templeton Memorial Dash for Cash involving the top four qualifiers on the night. Templeton was a long-time race fan from Imperial who passed away two years ago and whose memory lives on through the generosity of fellow racer Ron Pegues.
In qualifying, 14-year-old Aiden Lange thrilled the crowd when he circled the quarter-mile clay oval in a record blistering lap of 12.081 seconds to out-time the 17 cars in attendance. Lange’s emotional high was quickly shattered in the Dash when his engine detonated on the back straight, engulfing his car in flames. Thankfully, the teenager from Lakewood climbed out without suffering injury.
In the Dwarf Car main event, Brown used a front-row start in the second of two 10-lap segments to cash in on his second consecutive victory at the Fair. The defending Champion at Lakeside’s Barona Speedway who lives in El Cajon was followed by 2014 Fair winner Darren Brent of Lakeside, Pauma Valley’s Phil Confer, David Taft of Ramona, Lakeside’s Robert Freiheit, Holtville’s Cole Mamer and last November winner Austin Weiland of El Cajon.
Brown also won the Dash and Brent bested the field in the heat race. The two competitors build Dwarf Cars as B & B Innovation Chassis and show their speed with much success.
But the biggest excitement of the night had to be in the winged lightning sprints and the story of a family that has tried to win a race at Imperial since the early 1970s, when patriarch George Grigoreas fielded sprint cars on the half-mile track with former California Racing Association Champion Jack Brunner and Frank Secrist as drivers.
“The history that’s in this race track,” reflected Grigoreas. “You know, it’s not the big half-mile. It is a lightning-fast quarter mile, one of the best tracks we race at.”
The racer known as the Flying Greek due to his proud ancestry did exactly that, soaring his winged racer to the front of the pack and keeping it there, placing his name as a winner at the historic Imperial Fairgrounds Raceway alongside famous names like 1963 Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones.
“We finally did it.” Simply said, but speaking volumes.
California Lightning Sprints Results:
Heat Race 1: 1. Alex Grigoreas (Upland); 2. James Heling; 3. Cody Nigh; 4. Aiden Lange; 5. James Squire; 6. Jon Robertson
Heat Race 2: 1. Bobby Michnowicz; 2. Dale Gamer; 3. Jeffrey Dyer; 4. Darren Hillberg; 5. Jon Squire; 6. Mike Kotlinski.
Don Templeton Memorial Dash for Cash: 1. Darren Hillberg; 2. Alex Grigoreas; 3. Bobby Michnowicz; 4. Aiden Lange.
Main Event: 1. Alex Grigoreas (Upland); 2. James Heling (San Bernardino); 3. Darren Hillberg (Corona); 4. Pat Kelley (Chino); 5. Dale Gamer (Anaheim); 6. Mike Kotlinski (Nuevo); 7. Jon Robertson (Torrance); 8. Cody Nigh (Camarillo); 9. Jon Squire (El Cajon); 10. Bobby Michnowicz (Lomita); 11. James Squire (Lakeside); 12. Wyatt Downing (Lakewood); 13. Jeffrey Dyer (Victorville); 14. Dan Hillberg (Placentia) DNS: Chris Dickey (San Diego); Aiden Lange (Lakewood); Zach Zauss (Murrieta).
Heat race: 1. Darren Brent; 2. Austin Weiland; 3. David Taft; 4. Bobby Brown, Jr.; 5. Phil Confer; 6. Robert Freiheit; 7. Cole Mamer.
Dash: 1. Bobby Brown, Jr.; 2. Austin Weiland; 3. Darren Brent; 4. David Taft.
Main Event: 1. Bobby Brown, Jr. (El Cajon); 2. Darren Brent (Lakeside); 3. Phil Confer (Pauma Valley); 4. David Taft (Ramona); 5. Robert Freiheit (Lakeside); 6. Cole Mamer (Holtville); 7. Austin Weiland (El Cajon).