OGDEN -- Ekstrom and Gift's return to the state chariot racing winner's circle took 14 years to complete, but it was still just as sweet for driver Greg Gift.
Gift piloted Celebration for Cash and Seizure to a nip-and-tuck victory over two other teams on Sunday afternoon to claim the Utah State Chariot Racing Association first division championship at the Weber County Fairgrounds track.
"We ran a good race today," said Gift, whose West Weber County family has been involved in chariot racing for several generations. "It feels great. And to have family and friends here to enjoy it makes it special."
The Golden Spike Association team's time of 22.36 seconds over 440 yards was enough to outlast KBG Racing (22.49) out of the Nebo Association, and Jess and Grant (22.52) out of the Bear River Association.
On a beautiful still day for racing, all three teams broke well and the Jess and Grant team was even for the first 350 yards. But Ekstrom and Gift, which tied Jess and Grant for the best time on Saturday, finished with a flourish on Sunday to earn the top trophy.
Ekstrom Stables won the state championship in 1997 as Gift drove Don Ekstrom's team to the winner's circle. The two have another solid pair primed for a run for the World Cutter and Chariot Racing Championships, set to be decided over five days -- March 17-18 and 23-25 -- on this same track.
"There are so many good teams at worlds," said Gift as one of the 2012 frontrunners. "We'll have to have a lot of luck over five days to win there."
Other division winners included Vane Racing (22.18) out of the Skyline Association in the second division; Rowdy Friends Racing No. 1 (22.32) from the Tooele Valley Association in the third division; Tyler Gibbs Racing from the Skyline Association, who posted the top time of the day (22.10) to win the fourth division; Jenson, Ropelato and Wright (22.61) out of the Skyline Association in the fifth division; Double N Ranch (22.83) out of the Wasatch Slopes Association in the sixth division; Wasatch Pallet No. 2 (22.40) out of the Skyline Association in the seventh division; and Strong Family (22.88) out of the Golden Spike Association in the eighth division.
* CHAMPIONSHIP NOTES: The best finishers in the top seven divisions all qualified for the world championships. ... JRW Racing (Skyline) earned the best groomed team, driver Dale Leavitt (Bear River) earned the sportsmanship award, and the Skyline Association won the top association trophy.