A weekend of racing Nov. 6 and 7 in The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will include Winters’ run for a three-peat in the speedway’s Fall Classic.
His season finish at Stockton 99, where he claimed the track championship in the Grand American Modified division, gained him invitations to that and other season-end races. So far, going up against track champions from around the Western U.S., he has come through for his team — Ferrari-Kramer Racing of Linden — with a win at Shasta Raceway Park at the end of September and another at Sacramento’s All-American Speedway earlier this month. For the past two years, he has concluded the race season with wins at the Las Vegas Fall Classic.
After 19 wins this year, including 13 of the 17 races he ran at Stockton 99, one more win in Las Vegas will match his 20-win record from 2008.
This year’s Stockton 99 championship is Winters’ fifth track title since 2002. He took top points at Madera Speedway in 2002 and in 2003, and at Sacramento’s All-American Speedway in 2007 and 2008.
“I would say, since we’ve won five championships now, when it comes down to the last few races, that’s when the pressure starts increasing,” Winters said.
In addition to making sure his car is in top condition, he said, a driver also has to know just how hard to push for the lead.
“You need to race as hard as your equipment will let you to race, because if you wreck, you know you can’t win it,” he said. “My approach is to know the limitation of the equipment and utilize it up to that limit to put it in a position to win.”
The number of wins Winters recorded this year shows the persistence needed to take a track championship. In the Grand American Modified division at Stockton 99 this year, he raced against 20 drivers who could win or place high in any given race, and he had to do well every time.
“Really, to win a championship, you have to run all of the races,” he said. “If you don’t run all of the races, you put yourself in a position where if you have a bad night or have a (did-not-finish) or something, combined with missing races, it’s very unlikely you would win the championship.”
Winters was among four drivers — along with Michael Ostrowski of Salida, Larry Tankersly of Stockton and David Crouch from South Africa — who had a shot at the title at season’s end. Winters had the lead going into the last race Sept. 26, but Ostrowski could have taken top points had Winters not finished.
Winters, 41, got into go-cart racing at the age of 8, and by age 16, he was into mini stock cars.
He put racing on hold while he went to Shasta College and then University of California, Davis. After he earned a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, he got into racing on a whole new level. While he had developed knowledge of cars and engines as a driver, his academic knowledge took racing to another level.
“At a point I realized, when I was in high school and racing, that it was important to understand how the car worked and understand the dynamics of it and understand the mechanical aspects of it. That’s what motivated me to become an engineer,” he said.
“Going through all of the academic training after learning the gut instinct, the seat-of-the-pants ability to drive … I could combine the two, and it’s a good combination.”
In 1997, he returned to racing in the Grand American Modified division at Altamont Raceway Park and took Rookie of the Year honors. By 2001, he started racing for other teams, and today he drives for Ferrari-Kramer Racing.
“Beyond the expense, there’s having a team that has the experience, that can build the car, do the fabrication, build the motors, do all the things that allow you to have a reliable, fast race car,” he said.
Grand American Modified cars occupy their own niche in motorsports. It’s one of the older NASCAR divisions, and the cars are a contrast to the smooth-bodied Western Late Model cars that run in the main events at Stockton 99.
“In terms of speed getting around the track, the late models, even though they have less power, they’re able to go faster because they give them a grippier tire,” Winters said. “They’re all fun to drive. The late models, because of lack of horsepower, they tend to be a more stable car to drive, whereas the modifieds, because of the horsepower and the lack of grip on the tire, they’re much more on the edge. They’re a pretty exciting car to drive.”
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