As soon as Arnie Kunka crossed the finish line Saturday, he did a few wheelies on the asphalt to celebrate as smoke filled the black, dusty midnight air.
Eventually, Kunka turned the street stock car around on the track and slowly manoeuvred his way back to the finishing area to accept the Twin Rivers Tri-Cities Street Stocks Invitational trophy at the Prince George Auto Racing Association speedway.
Kunka, a 47-year-old who drives his own independent logging truck in Williams Lake, had reason to celebrate.
"I'm most definitely happy about it," he said shortly after midnight. "Usually I'm in 10 to 12 races a year. This is only my third one this year. I went to the back (of the pack) twice. It was pretty tough. But that's all behind us now and I thought it was a good race."
Kunka also set a track record earlier in the night in qualifying.
The Prince George race was the third stop of the Tri-Cities series. Others were in Williams Lake and Penticton. The series wraps up in Quesnel on Sept. 26.
Prince George driver Wayne French finished second, followed by P.G.'s Cole Jefferson in third.
A total of 25 cars from Prince George, Quesnel, Victoria, Williams Lake and the Okanagan took the green flag in the 50-lap main event. And one by one, they fell out of contention in the race featuring six caution flags.
Defending champion Brian Clutchey of Victoria, who earlier set the track record in qualifying, was an early front-runner until he got into a wreck which damaged his radiator, which then overheated and blew his engine.
In another battle for the lead, Prince George's Lyall McComber had an incident with fellow PGARA driver James Lewis. After McComber pitted to change a flat tire, he returned to the track and wound up ninth. Lewis got back into the race and finished sixth.
Another favourite, Prince George driver Danny Arronge, drove hard, but his brakes overheated and he had to return to the pits for good.
Eventually after the carnage cleared, Kunka took the checkered flag, followed by French and Jefferson.
Besides taking time out for family this year, Kunka, a long-time stalwart in the racing community, could not race after losing his engine during the season-opening Tri-Cities race at Thunder Mountain Speedway in Williams Lake on June 27. Kunka, who described his car as a mix of a Pontiac, Ventura and Nova, among others, did not race in Penticton on Aug. 1.
With a car count of almost 50, which included the super minis, minis and hornets, Saturday was one of PGARA's biggest events in 20 years, organizers said. But it also caused delays.
"The racing was clean, tight and enjoyable to watch," said Tri-Cities Race Series vice-president Bill Klugh. "Mostly happy fans got to see a great bunch racing. PGARA and Tri-Cities executives will be meeting and going over how we can improve the time of next year's show to have the event (conclude) at a more reasonable time."
Sunday's races featured the PGARA Invitational. Chris Arronge, battling with French, won Sunday's main street stock event. French suffered engine problems but still managed second place.