Jim Inglebright has been racing upend down the West Coast for years, but there he was Thursday in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West rookies meeting.
Inglebright, 50, was leading the meeting, however, telling the young drivers what they can expect at the challenging 10-turn, 1.99-mile road course in Sonoma this weekend.
"I'll tell you what to do to try to finish the race. If you need help, see me. I'll help them out," the Fairfield resident said.
"Back in the Southwest Tour days, NASCAR didn't let you go out with a veteran driver to show you where to shift and which turns to watch out for. Things are better now."
Inglebright qualified 14th in the No. 1 Federated Auto Parts Chevrolet after he "broke the rear end" on his car Friday. He'll start from the back of the field in Saturday's Pick-n-Pull 200 To Stop Hunger. His best lap was 89.402 mph at 1 minute, 20.132 seconds, more than 3 seconds off the pole.
Veteran Greg Pursley of Newhall took the pole with a time of 1:17.331, followed by the young challenger from Las Vegas, Dylan Kwasniewski, who clocked in at 1:17.981.
Inglebright finished sixth in last year's West race. Inglebright's last win at Sonoma came in 2002 in the Southwest Tour race.
"It's been a long time… I remember the first time I raced here (in Sonoma) in 1993. Ron Hornaday, Jeff Gordon, a lot of guys were there and they were still young guys. It was a big series. We had 71 cars show up, so it was harder to qualify," Inglebright said.
Inglebright could drove the wheels off any kind of car. He competed in trucks and just about every series NASCAR has to offer, even taking on some of the sport's legends. He became a fan favorite for his daring driving style — and a sponsor favorite for his success and his winning personality.
"I actually led that race (in 1993) for awhile. I was running in the top five about two-thirds through the race when I lost the motor. I spun Jeff Gordon out too," he recalled. "Gordon's radiator came off and he was right in front of me, so the water saturated my windshield. I misjudged things and spun him out. He was done anyway, but he was mad at me. … I think he's either forgotten or forgiven me by now."
Inglebright's only other West race this year will be in Portland, Ore., in July. He keeps himself busy racing go-arts and riding his bike, however. Is he slowing down? Not quite, but he is looking ahead to the day when he'll go from part-time driver to full-time instructor/owner.
"If somebody comes along looking for a team, you bet I'll think about it," Inglebright said. "That's a role that some of us (veterans) need to take, to teach younger guys coming up through the sport and teach them what we know. It's not all about the points. There's more to racing than steer and stab the gas pedal. There's racing etiquette, too.
"No, it wouldn't bother me to step aside."
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