James Bickford, the 16-year-old high school student from nearby Napa, is gaining more attention as he continues to rise in the standings of NASCAR's K&N Pro Series West.
Now, after five 2014 oval track races, in which he has three top-10 finishes including a top-5, Bickford will make his first road course run at the 1.99-mile Sonoma Raceway on Saturday, June 21. The race, billed as the Carneros 200, will be 200 kilometers (127.36 miles) with a break in the action at the halfway point.
Winner of the 2013 NASCAR Whelen Late Model championship at All-American Speedway in Roseville, Calif., Bickford finished sixth in the Armed Forces 150 K&N event at Kern County Raceway in Bakersfield last Saturday night to grab the lead in the Rookie-of-the-Year standings and move up to seventh in the overall series standings. (His progress can be followed by visiting his Twitter site: @Bickford_James)
"We had a good shot to finish third, but I missed a shift on a restart with 18 laps remaining and lost some positions," said the driver of the Sunrise Racing Ford owned by Bob Bruncati. The race was won by Greg Pursley who leads the point standings. Bickford had run third most of the last half of the race. "We struggled in practice but Bill (crew chief Sedgwick) made some adjustments and we were able to qualify fourth," Bickford said. "The car remained strong throughout the race and we were able to gather another top 10 despite the late problem."
Bickford, who won seven of his last eight Late Model races in 2013 and finished in the top five a total of 12 times, has nine K&N races remaining this season - the next one at Sonoma.
Asked about his chances at Sonoma's winding road course, Bickford replied, "That is one really tough track. There are only two places you can pass without the possibility of getting into a lot of trouble, but I've had some good instruction." That instruction came from Jeff Gordon, Bickford's cousin, who recently toured the course with James in a passenger car and pointed out where to brake, accelerate, shift and pass. Gordon has five victories at Sonoma in the NASCAR Cup Series - more than any other driver.
"James has a great future," said team owner Bruncati who is legendary for finding young talent. "He is the best young driver I've seen in years."