Clovis driver Jason Meyers scored the biggest victory of his 15-year sprint car career Saturday night in Chico, winning the 57th annual Gold Cup Race of Champions at Silver Dollar Speedway.
Meyers earned $50,000 for the win and also gained ground in the World of Outlaws standings as he chases his first season championship in the nation's top sprint car series.
The list of Gold Cup champions is laced with national and state dirt-track racing stars including Al Pombo of Fresno, who won it four times, the last in 1970 when 40 cars started the 100-lap race on the half-mile oval at Capital Speedway in West Sacramento.
Big-money purses and the emergence of the Outlaws touring group helped turn the event, which was moved to the quarter-mile oval in Chico in 1980 and shortened to a 40-lap sprint in 1985, into a playground for national stars. Meyers is only the third Californian to win the event since 1978.
"To win the Gold Cup is absolutely awesome," Meyers said in the winner's circle Saturday night. "To be on the list of drivers that have won this prestigious race over the years is pretty incredible."
Meyers became the 35th winner in the history of the race, which also has been run at Hughes Stadium in Sacramento and the quarter-mile oval at Capital Speedway (renamed West Capital Raceway, it closed after the 1979 race).
Pombo won in 1961, '64, '66 and '70. The first three were 200-lap races on the half-mile at Capital.
Other winners include Red Mulligan of Porterville, in 1959 and '62; and Mark Ward of Fresno, who (according to a history of the event) hadn't won a main event in a three-year career before he beat a 60-car field in 1963 and earned a $1,000 first-place check.
Last week, it was Meyers' turn to represent the Valley. He dominated qualifying events Thursday and Friday to earn the pole position for Saturday's 40-lap feature, a 24-car field set on a combination of qualifying points for the top 12 and advancement from two B-mains Saturday for 12 others, including Tommy Tarlton of Easton.
Meyers led all 40 laps, rebuffing Elk Grove native Paul McMahan on each of six double-file restarts. Meyers chose the inside position for each restart.
Twelve-time Gold Cup champion Steve Kinser of Bloomington, Ind., got past McMahan on the final restart to finish second. Kinser won his first Gold Cup in 1978, the first year that the Outlaws sanctioned the event.
Tarlton finished fifth in his B-main to join the A-main field, where he finished 21st for a $1,000 payday.
Meyers' first sprint car victory was in the 1999 Mini Gold Cup, the traditional season-opening event at Silver Dollar Speedway. He has won 45 features in his Outlaws career, one away from 11th on the all-time series list.
Saturday's victory was his 10th A-main win of 2010, a career-high for him with the Outlaws.
He's a rarity in the Outlaws -- a driver who also owns his car, with co-owners Chris Luck and Guy Stockbridge. Their team is called Elite Racing, named after Stockbridge's landscaping business.
"We are having fun right now and winning races, and that's what it's all about," Meyers said in the winner's circle. "I can't say enough about this team and am excited for what we are capable of the rest of the year."
Meyers is just two points behind leader Joey Saldana (7,916-7,914) with 10 races left in the Outlaws season. Meyers, 31, has finished runner-up each of the past three seasons.
The next Outlaws event is Friday at Clay County Fair Speedway in Spencer, Iowa. The season ends Nov. 6 at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in Concord, N.C.