Tuesday, June 26, 2007

An Old Article About NCMA From 1988

I was there that first season when the NCMA was known as California Dirt Cars as far as anybody but the drivers in NCMA were concerned. Oh, the stories I can tell about that exciting time of getting that deal started. The club is in their 20th season now, if my math is correct. Back in those days, Mike Johnson was creating something out of nothing. I'll have to post more about that. There are several interesting stories to be told about that and my other experiences on the carbureted Sprint Car scene in Northern California.

Anyway, I started putting a web page together back around 1998 for NCMA, an unofficial deal. Of course I upset a couple people by doing it, which was not my intention. I could tell some stories there, but I'll leave it at this. Bill Ivins and his daughter Vicky did good things for the NCMA and genuinely cared about that group. I don't know if the NCMA is still doing a Hall Of Fame, but Bill would be a guy I would love to see inducted.

Anyway, on to the story of NCMA 1988. The year "The Conord Desperado" Mike Johnson won the championship.


If the above picture (not included here) could tell a story, it would be about Mike Johnson and the NCMA's search for respectability. It was from the Northern California Modified Association's (NCMA) First Annual Awards Banquet in 1989 at the Concord Holiday Inn. Mike Johnson got the championship trophy that year, but he was more concerned with the NCMA's image after that first year than any of his accomplishments. In fact, the costly banquet that saw several VIP's from race tracks and well know reporters as well saw the NCMA borrow money from NCMA member Mike Lokmor to put on the awards ceramony. It was the first of many proud moments for the NCMA, but Johnson's last as part of the club as he left the post of Race Director in early 1989.

With years of Sprint Car exerience (11 wins as a professional from 1983-1986) and numerous other accomplishments, there was no doubt Mike Johnson would be tough to beat. He started racing his Modified (Dirt Car) at Santa Maria in 1987, where he got the idea to form the NCMA closer to home. He had mostly bad luck that year, which he later said was a factor to his 1988 success as he got all of his mechanical woes out of the way at Santa Maria. Johnson spent the better part of 1987 trying to convince a promoter to give his Modified idea a shot before the new Antioch promoter gave him a home track to race at.

With a club record 11 main event victories (including seven in a row), Mike's title was never in doubt as he won the first ever NCMA crown by over 200 points ahead of rookie Keith Collins. Collins cut his teeth at Antioch Speedway in the Street Stock division, where he was a former top twenty driver and DCRR Racing News B Main Champion. Collins, in turn, beat Jim Berryhill by over 200 points for second in the standings.

There was a bit of controversy when the club's first Antioch race had only 2 cars, and they fielded only four cars for the next few races as well. Jim Berryhill was a late starter, but with some trophy dash victory success and a few good main event efforts down the stretch, Jim ranked third. Meanwhile, Berryhill's teammate, Chuck Murch, ranked fourth in the final rundown. The Murch-Johnson rivalry was the NCMA's first, and it sometimes got a little heated. NCMA General Meetings could get very heated when Chuck showed up. Chuck held the distinction of being one of only two NCMA Member to beat Johnson in a main event that year, though Johnson did lose to Santa Maria Speedway racers Bill Floyd (twice in the club's two joint efforts with the SMS Dirt Cars at Baylands) and once to Gary Knight (The original California Dirt Car driver, who had the first car in a 1986 Demo at Santa Maria, attended by Johnson). The whooping taken by the NCMA California Dirt Cars by their Santa Maria counter parts was enough to convince the club to break off from the Souther California group. Part of the reason was the fact that Santa Maria drivers were leaning towards the bigger wheel based chassis run by the DIRT Modifieds in Pennsylvania, while the NCMA was leaning towards the smaller wheel based cars and going after the older Super Modified chassis. In fact, the NCMA voted to outlaw the bigger wheel based cars.

One of the smaller wheel based SMS cars, that of Tim Elias, made the trip up from the Santa Maria area several times to rank fifth in points as Paul Nelson, Dave Johnson, Darrell McCarl, Darryl Shirk and Scott Holloway completed the top ten drivers in points in that sometimes difficult first season. Elias didn't win a feature, but his three seconds, one dash win and one fast time were impressive. His car ended up getting sold to Jeff Pike, who brough Vallejo Speedway legend Ken Gandy out of retirement to race.

The extremely low car count that year saw Johnson take a lot of heat from people in the pits. The IMCA type Modified division had reached a verbal agreement with the former promoter in 1987, but that deal went with the new promoter and Johnson took the heat from people for making it happen. In fact, Mike would have to race an IMCA type Modified, driven by Keith Brown, on one night, but he just managed to beat him in a close race. The car count went from 2 at the first Antioch race to 12 at the final race at the track. On that disasterous opener with two cars, the class caught the eye of veteran Darryl Shirk, who was quoted in the newspaper saying he might put a car together. Darryl quit the Street Stock divion at Antioch Speedway later that year as the point leader to join the NCMA, but he had a rough first few races, including a hard crash that knocked him out. Meanwhile, Darryl McCarl suffered a broken leg in a crash at Baylands. In an early season feature at Antioch and probably in an effort to get the crowd into their low car count race--though he flatly denies it--Mike Johnson lost a photo finish for a main event win to his father Dave.

The 1988 season for the NCMA was undeniably Mike Johnson's in more ways than one. Not only was he the club's first chapion, but if not for his initial efforts, there would have been no NCMA. In fact, Mike began campaigning for the NCMA to get a home track as early as the end of 1987, when he raced in Santa Maria, advertising the formation of the NCDC in at least one prominant racing publication, a move that met with negative press from well respected writer Ron Albright. After over a year, Mike finally met with success by convincing new Antioch Speedway track manager George Stiles to give it a shot in 1988. At the end of the '88 season, Mike stepped down as club President with Paul Nelson being voted in, but he remained the club's Race Director ntil his unfortunate departure in February of 1989. At that time, there were roughly two dozen drivers ready to race with the NCMA, but the turmoil surrounding Mike's departure saw many of them either sell their cars or race with the 360 Sprint Car division.
Pl. No. Driver Pts.

1 2x Mike Johnson (11) 1,092
2 10 Keith Collins 854
3 11 Jim Berryhill 655
4 23 Chuck Murch (1) 495
5 5 Tim Elias 482
6 28 Paul Nelson 477
7 66 Dave Johnson (1) 452
8 37 Darrell McCarl 451
9 86 Darryl Shirk 334
10 4 Scott Holloway 234
11 17 Steve Clevenger 190
12 84 Gary Lee Kanawyer 168
13 69 Bill Floyd (2) 136
14 51 Mike Lokmor 135
15 24 Gary Knight (1) 128

Wins in ( )
"Rookie Of The Year" Keith Collins
"Hard Luck Racer" Darrell McCarl