Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Chowchilla Speedway Closed

Just read this over at the http://www.chowchillaspeedway.com/ forum:


That post was from Tom Sagmiller

I can't believe what I'm seeing. I hope this isn't the way it ends. I'm composing my thoughts on this and will probably add something more to this post.

Where do I even start with this? There is so much about Chowchilla Speedway that I loved. It rekindled my interest in racing and kept me involved in the sport. This track must be a part of my book for all the good that came from there. I was well aware of Tom Sagmiller. I knew of what went down in Merced. Not getting into it now, but I'll admit one thing. I felt that Tom was a kindred spirit when it came to standing up for what's right and just taking a stand. Enough said.

The track opened in 2000, and Don O'Keefe Jr. and I showed up to support George Terry and the Greer's Winged 362 Sprints effort. It didn't look like your typical track. It was low buck. But there was something about this place. Then, a guy came riding by on a golf cart and said, "$25 fine if you're not having fun." That was the mantra of Chowchilla Speedway, have fun. I was hooked. I had to get down there. This was also the night in which my partnership with Joe Martinez and CRO was born.

For the rest of the season, I took a train, hitched a ride with anybody from Antioch I could get to go. I had to be there. I was not happy with things at another track I was at that year (not getting into that here), but I was loving what I was seeing in the valley. Chowchilla was the racing equivalent of the Field Of Dreams to me. If you build it, they will come. I wanted to help make it grow.

Tom believed in giving everybody a chance. There were some racers who had messed up at their track, but Chowchilla became a second chance. Tom believed in making things affordable. How's $5 spectator tickets and no membership required to race grab you? At that point, it was about having fun, not about beating people over the head with rule books and making the racers OBEY.

And guess what? Car count grew. Hobby Stocks went from single digits to B Mains in a year and the Modifieds had a car count from the start that rivaled other area tracks. Even the carbureted Sprints hit double digits by season's end. I did my best to spread the word in newspapers and racing publications. The people came. It was not uncommon for a racer to tow 2 or 3 hours to race, even for less money than their home track. Why? It was fun, and Tom treated the racers with respect.

Chowchilla changed the landscape of racing in the area. Tom green lighted two races, the Hobby Stock $500 and Open Wheel Round Up, based on conversations that took place in the CRO chat room. Both races were successful. Other area tracks ended up starting Hobby Stocks based on Chowchilla success.

And, you can forget about some plot to put other tracks out of business. Anger may have played a part in opening Chowchilla, but it was business time when the gates opened. The track chose Friday nights to not conflict with others, and I witnessed Tom altering programs to help tracks that didn't want him in business, just because it was the right thing to do. Bear in mind, you are talking about a low dollar track losing money by doing that.

2000 Chowchilla was a miracle in a time when we lost San Jose Speedway. We needed something positive like Chowchilla. This gave berth to the racer's question, "Just where the hell is Chowchilla anyway?"

By mid 2000 or so, George Steitz, God rest his soul, decided he wanted to keep the big San Jose race alive, and he wanted to do it at Chowchilla. Tom could have easily done this race himself. His reputation at the time was growing, but there was a respect for George. The partership paid off in a huge car count close to 200 that year. Man, cars were parked in the field across the street, and I had to walk all over to get the names to announce that weekend. Still a fond memory, and I still have my hat for that race.

By the end of 2000, it was time to plan an even bigger 2001. Tom adjusted Mini Trucks to be a Mini Stock class, gaining cars. Chowchilla locals poured into the Hobby Stock class, Street Stocks maintained and Modifieds got bigger. IMCA still sucks, but as Tom so aptly put it, "Who needs the IMCA." Okay, that was unnecesary, but IMCA could have stepped up here and been a mediator, intead of the second rate, wanna be NASCAR but can't even be WISSOTA organization that they are, in my opinion.

I was and still am proud to have been a part of the crew for those two seasons. Still have two plaques to comemorate it. Tom and Cindy took me into their home that second season, and didn't complain that I went to Merced every Saturday to help that track out. Yes, I was staying at Tom's house and helping BOTH Chowchilla and Merced, and he supported it. If things had remained that way, I don't think it's a stretch to say I'd still be involved in the sport. I loved it down in the valley.

Chowchilla had a laid back, have fun mentality. People were nice. Come race time, it was all business, and the racing was good. Tom may not have received any awards for running Chowchilla, but those first two seasons rocked the racing world. I fondly recall the after race meals and discussions of what to do next. Those were some great times. If I played any part in helping Tom get things established, it was my pleasure and honor to do it.

7 years is not enough for Tom & Cindy to run that place. It's just not. There's a passion there to run a fun, family friendly place. I'm not sure why it would close now. I have ideas, but I won't speculate. Hopefully, things can be salvaged, and more racing history can be written in Chowchilla. It truly was a great place to race.

I used to joke that there should be a statue of Tom at the entrence to the track, hat on backwards and pointing the way to Chowchilla Speedway. Inscribed on it:

Give us your tired, disenfranchised
suspended and downtrodden,
leave your troubles at the gate,
come join us for the race
don't forget to smile and remember
it's a $25 fine if your're not having fun

Something like that. It's been a while since I spoke the words.