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Sprint Races

Sprint cars race through the first turn of the track Tuesday at Coos Bay Speedway during their practice period before the racing began. 

COOS BAY — Willie Croft is a business owner in Roseville, Calif., so he can’t always get away for the annual Western Sprint Tour’s Northwest Speedweek.

He might want to try to get to Coos Bay more often after winning Tuesday’s main event that kicked off this year’s Speedweek.

“I’m a small business owner and I have a family,” Croft said. “I was able to sneak away for a few nights this week.”

Croft had only once before come to Coos Bay Speedway, several years ago.

“This was the best track of Speedweek that week,” he said. “I knew we were going to have a racy track (tonight).”

Croft won the trophy dash Tuesday, which gave him the pole position for the 30-lap main event. And he stayed in front the entire way.

“Any time you can pick up a win is great,” he said. “The car was great all night.”

Croft negotiated a few restarts after caution flags and worked his way safely through lapped traffic to easily win the main event ahead of DJ Netto and John Carney, who finished second and third among the 19 drivers from four states and one Canadian province.

“I’ve lost races lately in traffic,” he said, referring to mistakes he has made trying to get through lapped cars. “Tonight I was confident in the car. We were just ripping the whole time.”

Tuesday was not supposed to be the first race of Speedweek, but a wildfire near the Oregon-California border led to cancellation of a stop at Siskiyou Speedway in Yreka, Calif.

The drivers head to Willamette Speedway in Lebanon for Wednesday’s race, followed by a race at Sunset Speedway in Banks on Thursday and back-to-back nights at Cottage Grove Speedway on Friday and Saturday to finish the week.

Tuesday was a good night for drivers from California, who took six of the top seven spots. It also was a good night for drivers without a lot of experience at Coos Bay Speedway.

Netto, who is from Hanford, Calif., was making just his second trip to the speedway and first in recent years.

“I came here when I first started racing sprint cars in 2012,” said Netto, who is now 22.

He had hoped to catch Croft, but never got a chance.

“You had to hope the guy out front was going to make a mistake and you were able to get by him,” Netto said. “Willie ran great.

“You’re never happy with second, but it definitely could have been worse.”

Like many drivers from outside the area, he was struck by the beautiful setting of the track, nestled in a valley between tree-covered hillsides.

“It’s one of the most beautiful tracks I’ve been to — and I’ve been to quite a few tracks across the nation,” he said.

Carney, who lives in El Paso, Texas, had similar observations.

“The scenery here is unreal,” he said. “You see stuff like this on TV, and now we’re here.”

Carney was racing at Coos Bay Speedway for the first time, and said he looks forward to returning.

“The red clay always leads to good racing,” he said of the surface on the oval. “I knew it was going to be a lot of fun when we pulled through the gate.”

Lucas Ashe of Cottonwood, Calif., was fourth, followed by Steven Tiner of Visalia, Calif.; Justyn Cox of Clarksburg, Calif.; and Billy Aton of Benicia, Calif.

Kelly Miller, the one Canadian in the field this year (he’s from Lethbridge, Alberta), was eighth, followed by the first Oregonian, Jake Wheeler of Central Point. Zach Lynskey of Fairfield, Calif., rounded out the top 10.

Sports Editor John Gunther can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 241, or by email at john.gunther@theworldlink.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jguntherworld.

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