AUTO RACING ROUNDUP: Penn Valley’s Mike Utley races to victory in Nevada state |

AUTO RACING ROUNDUP: Penn Valley’s Mike Utley races to victory in Nevada state

In the moments just before drag racer Mike Utley goes ripping down a quarter-mile strip at 170 mph, a certain calm washes over him.

“I found that the less stuff I think about, the better I am,” he said. “I just try to relax and focus on the job at hand.”

That calm and focus coupled with years of experience landed Utley in victory lane recently, as the 60-year-old from Penn Valley won his class at the 2020 NHRA Pacific Division National Open, held June 13-14 at Top Gun Dragstrip in Fallon, Nevada.

“It was incredible,” said Utley, who started racing again three years ago after a long hiatus.

As for the key to victory, Utley said, “consistency and a lot of practice. … I practice almost daily and there’s no replacement for seat time. It’s hard to win without that seat time and experiencing a lot of losses, correcting your mistakes and figuring it out better.”

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Utley grew up around the sport, spending time at the track with his father Merle Utley, who was also a driver. Mike first started racing at age 18 and competed for more than a decade before hitting the brakes and focusing on his family. But the love of the sport and desire to compete never went away, and three years ago Mike got back in the driver’s seat.

Since returning to competition, Mike has driven his 2002 Spitzer chassis, Corvette replica roadster with a 550-cubic inch all-aluminum motor to three wins, claiming two of the coveted NHRA Wally trophies along the way.

“It’s a labor of love,” said Mike, who owns Mike’s Auto and Marine Repair in Penn Valley, “It’s something I’ve loved doing for years and I’m not done yet.”

Mike added he couldn’t do it without his team and supporters, which include his wife Diane Utley, his sister Laurie Utley, his brother/crew chief Jeff Utley and other crew chief Mike Keckta. He also thanked his sponsors: CED Antioch, Square D, Players Pizza, Motor Electric and Riebes.

Mike also competed in a race in Sacramento last week and reached the semifinals. He has another race coming up in mid-July at Sonoma Raceway.


Brad Sweet opened a three-race slate at Jackson Motorplex in Minnesota with a victory Friday night.

The reigning World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series champion took the lead on the first lap and cruised to his series-best fifth win of the season.

“We were slow in qualifying and had to make up for it,” said Sweet, a Grass Valley native. “Luckily we got the win.”

It was the fourth career win for Sweet at the Jackson Motorplex.

“I’ve felt comfortable here,” said Sweet, who drives the No. 49 NAPA Auto Parts Car for Kasey Kahne Racing. “We have a good package here. Hats off to my guys.”

Sweet went on to finish third and second, respectively, in the other two feature races at the track, and remains atop the overall points standings with 2,270. Donny Schatz is in second place, 66 points back. Logan Schuchart won the second two feature races in Minnesota and is now in third in the standings, 72 points behind Sweet.

Next up for the World of Outlaws Sprint Car circuit is the Independence Day Spectacular Thursday through Saturday at Cedar Lake Speedway in Wisconsin.


Grass Valley native Matt DiBenedetto and the rest of the NASCAR Cup Series fired up their engines for a doubleheader at Pocono Raceway last weekend.

DiBenedetto, who drives the No. 21 car for Wood Brothers Racing, finished 13th in Saturday’s Pocono Organics 325 on Saturday, and then took sixth in the Pocono 350 on Sunday. Denny Hamlin won Sunday’s race, and Kevin Harvick took the checkered flag Saturday.

For the season, DiBenedetto has started 16 races, has four top-10 finishes and one top-five finish. He is currently 14th overall in the NASCAR Cup points standings.


After a 15th place finish at the Genesys 300 June 7, IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi will be looking for a better result this Saturday the GMR Grand Prix.

The Grand Prix, to be held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is just the second race so far this season for the series. The race is set to start at noon and will be broadcast on NBC.

Since joining the IndyCar circuit in 2016, Rossi, a Nevada City native, has seven wins, including the 2016 Indianapolis 500, and finished among the top-three in the overall points race the past two seasons.

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, email or call 530-477-4232.

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