CALISTOGA, Calif. – Napa Valley driver Rico Abreu, racing in front of a hometown crowd after a summer in the Midwest, won the midget main event Saturday on the opening night of the Louie Vermeil Classic at Calistoga Speedway.
Polesitter Bud Kaeding won the companion sprint car main event on the half mile oval, but only after he faltered on the start, muscled his way back from sixth and won a wheel to wheel duel with Damien Gardner that included a last lap restart caused by a faulty safety light on the track.
Abreu took the midget lead for the first time on lap seven, after starting fourth, only to have his pass of Shane Golobic called back for a yellow flag. Two laps later, Abreu dove under Golobic coming off turn four and took a lead he would keep to the end of the 25 lap race.
“To win in front of my family and friends is fantastic for them,” said Abreu, who recently returned to the Napa Valley after racing in the Midwest most of the summer.
“Damien and I ran side by side for 20 laps and never touched each other,” said an excited Kaeding n victory circle. “Damien is a hard racer who doesn’t give you more than an inch and you have to take advantage of that.”
Gardner led the first half of the race while Kaeding was rebounding from a bad start. Kaeding methodically picked off Mike Spender, Ryan Bernal and Nick Faas and then swept past Gardner by running the top half of the track.
Throughout the last half of the race, the pair dueled through the corners and drag raced down the backstretch, with Kaeding maintaining a thin one car length lead each lap.
With the white flag flying, the red safety lights inadvertently came on, forcing officials to stop the field, setting the stage for the green, white checkered finish that Kaeding won a half a car length while Gardner narrowly held on to second by a nose as a streaking Mike Spencer closed down from the outside groove.