After an exciting and amusing 12-laps of racing under the lights, CHP officer Bryce Danenhauer can call himself king of the dirt track for now after winning the third annual event at the Ocean Speedway in Watsonville on Friday night.
“It was fun,” said Friday night’s winner Danenhauer. “This is one of my hobbies so I enjoy doing it.”
After a couple of laps it looked as if Scotts Valley Police Lt. John Hohmann was going to be champion for a second consecutive time, but Danenhauer quietly crept up into first place and left everyone in the dust before he crossed the checkered in his Acura Integra.
Lt. Hohmann couldn’t repeat last year's performance and came in second place in his Nissan 240 SX. Not far behind in third place was Watsonville Police Sgt. Mike Ridgway in his a Ford Crown Victoria police cruiser.
“I feel like we’re going fast,” said Lt. Hohmann. “It uses everything in your body muscle wise to control these things and at the end I couldn’t even talk, it’s intense.”
Duke Heberling from California State Parks drove a 1975 Dodge Power Wagon and held an early lead but spun out on a corner where he almost took out one of the photographers that stood on the grass area of the track.
Also in the race was an 80s Honda Civic driven by Sherriff’s officer Kenney Besk and honorary guest Ruth Sanchez from Concord, Calif. who represented the Special Olympics Northern California in a Pontiac Bonneville with a permanent back vent thanks to a broken window.
“It felt good,” she said about racing in the event. “I felt like I was racing my self because I was like ‘I’m not going to keep up with some of these guys.’ Just before the race ended, that’s when I felt like I started to get used to the track, so I wish it would have been a little longer because I think I would have caught up to some of these guys.”
Ruth’s son Paul Sanchez, 29, has participated in the Special Olympic games since he was 9-years-old and plays softball, basketball, as well as track and field. However, it’s not all about staying physically active for Paul. The SONC also helped him get a full time gig at Fry’s grocery store in Phoenix, Ariz., Ruth’s former hometown.
“It’s actually helped him with his confidence, his self esteem, and his socialization,” said Ruth. “You find out when people with intellectual disabilities participate in Special Olympics, the higher percentage of them will get full time jobs.”
The Police In Pursuit is just one of the hundred fundraisers by the Law Enforcement Torch Run that helps raise money for the Special Olympics Northern California and according to Sgt. Ridgway, the race is bigger than what it seems.
“A portion of the gate fees goes to the Special Olympics as well, so this is their top fundraiser for northern California,” he said. “And it just started three years ago on ‘Hey that sounds like a neat thing.’”
But in this hectic time of people barely getting by financially to survive, it wasn’t easy for Sgt. Ridgway and his fellow racecar track stars to raise the money for the $750 entry fee. In fact, this year’s race was cut down to six cars versus the usual ten.
And according to Lt. Hohmann, the racecars he and the rest of the crew used these past two years were unavailable which meant each driver had to come up with a car of their own to participate in the race.
Yet, that didn’t stop these six fierce competitors from getting out on to the track. They were fully determined to find a set of wheels along with raising enough money for the Special Olympians, especially Santa Cruz CHP officer Danenhauer.
“They asked me if I would be willing to go ahead and raise money for the Special Olympics using my racecar and I said ‘Sure, that would be great.’ I went around and raised the money up and wanted to help out the Special Olympics as best I could.”
And even though the race lacked the larger amount of cars from the last two years, he believes the future events will be bigger than ever.
“This was great,” he said. “I just think next year’s going to be probably twice as many once the word gets out what a great time the officers had.”