Wednesday, November 26, 2008
BY DON MARTIN II
BAY POINT, CA...Tradition in racing is a good thing. All too often at race tracks, they are dropping traditional big races or not taking a time during the season to honor their past greats. Well, the main focus of the Jack London Bash for the Bay Cities Racing Association is to honor those who helped make this nearly 60 year old organization last as long as it has. For the latest event at All Pro Series sanctioned Antioch Speedway, the BCRA had all three of its divisions, the Midgets, Midget Lites and the Vintage Midgets, in actions along with the tracks regular Dirt Modifieds and Pure Stocks. That put roughly 100 cars in the pits for the night.
The BCRA is better known for its Midget division, but along the way to its current lineup of divisions, they had the Hardtops. BCRA has inducted several of its former Hardtop champions into the Hall Of Fame, including John Soares (1949-1950), Johnny Franklin (1955), Leroy Geving (1959-1960), Wally Baker (1958) and Dave Logan (1966). On this afternoon, the late Gene Dudley, better known to his fans as the "Napa Flyer", was inducted. Gene's car-owner was there to accept the honor for the 1957 and 1961 BCRA Hardtop champion. Jack Davis, a car owner from the Hardtop era, and the late Joe Valente, a former Hardtop driver better known as the flag man for BCRA for many years, were also inducted. Davis was there to accept his honor, but family members, including his wife, were there to accept for Valente,
Throughout the years, many, many great drivers have jumped behind the wheel of the a non-winged or winged Midgets and competed with the BCRA. Former many time indoor and outdoor champions like Johnny Baldwin, who was in attendance, Johnny Boyd, Mike McGreevy, Burt Foland, the still competing Floyd Alvis, Hank Butcher, Dick Atkins and Gary Koster have been inducted into the Hall Of Fame. In fact, Baldwin was in attendance at this gathering. Drivers getting inducted into the Hall from the Midget ranks this year included Dee Hileman, the late Woody Brown and Davie Moses, while car-owners inducted included Harry Schilling, Jerry Boaz and the late Abdo Allen. Working tirelessly behind the scenes for 25 years to help promote and keep BCRA going was Virginia Palmer, and she was among the ten inducted into the Hall this year. Her speech was one of gratitude for being a part of this nearly sixty year old association and the friendships she's been able to make.
BCRA is an organization that is proud of where they've been and where they are going. They've seen the glory days of racing as much as five or six times a week, both indoor and outdoor, and they remain a regular visitor with their Midgets and Midget Lites at tracks in Antioch, Petaluma, Placerville, Marysville, Lakeport and Stockton 99, among others. What has kept this organization going, you ask? Family. First, second and even third generation racing family members have competed with the BCRA, and just the BCRA as a whole has become a family of its own with friendships formed that will last a lifetime.
After Hall Of Fame ceremonies were completed and it was time to race, the BCRA went out with their roughly 50 cars among three divisions and reminded everybody what good racing is all about. The Vintage Midgets came out a couple times for exhibition races in their open cockpit racers. The BCRA Midget Lites showcased the talents of rising young star Ryan German. The defending champion led the point race going in and maintained that with a flag to flag victory ahead of 1997 Northern Stars champion Ted Harrison and Greg Sheehan. The BCRA Midgets then put on an entertaining race with no rollovers and great, wheel to wheel racing, won by back of the pack starter Scott Nail with a late pass on early leader Floyd Alvis, who was second. Mini Sprint graduate John Sarale was third. All in all, BCRA had a good night.
At Antioch Speedway, a track that has been open to weekly racing now for 38 years, the family has been at the heart of things for the entire run. All you need to do is look at who the promoter is for one prime example. Back in 1961, when the track opened for weekly races, and even in the mid-fifties, when the track ran a few special events, the man promoting the races and establishing a solid foundation for a good program for years to come was John Soares Sr. Fast forward to this season, and John Soares Jr., who is not only a past racing champion like his father, is promoting the speedway. Two generations of Soares who have been a big part of Antioch Speedway through the years.
One of the families racing at Antioch in the fifties was the Robbins family. A man by the name of Clyde "Reverse" Robbins, competed in that very first first season, and he got his nickname by finishing a race in reverse. Clyde had a short racing career, but his son, Don Robbins, was the track's Stock Car champion in 1974. In 1986, Don's son "Wild" Jim Robbins began racing Street Stocks, winning a main event that year before making a name for himself as one of the top drivers in the Figure 8. Jim won three Figure 8 main events one season driving three different cars for three different car owners as a top five point runner and recently came out of retirement to drive for Deep Pockets Racing, who are hoping to run the Figure 8 again at the Speedway in 1999 if Soares does decide to add the popular race to the schedule once again.
About the time Clyde Robbins was racing those races during the track's very first season, another of the Speedway's racing families was getting their start at Pacheco's Contra Costa Speedway. Dean "The Blinker" Cline began racing Hardtops at Pacheco in 1955 with the BCRA before joining up at Antioch for its first full season in 1961. Cline went from the Hardtops to the Stock Cars, where he won a championship in 1979, and then tried the Sportsman Division for its last couple seasons before returning to the Stock Car division for a couple more years. Dean had established himself as one of the top divers at the track in whatever car he drove with numerous feature and dash wins, and his last seasons in a Street Stock in 1985 and 1986 saw him win several main events, while opting to stay out of points because of his previous experience. Dean, in fact, never really cared about point racing and has always been quick to offer his advice or help to those who needed it.
Dean's only son Lance's first racing effort was in a memorable pink #18 Street Stock in 1983, a car that came equipped with a stereo. Over the next few seasons, Lance may have raced a few times, but he began to get more involved in building cars. He and his father put together that fast Street Stock that Dean raced before retiring in 1987. From there, Lance started building Street Stocks with Kent Bickford being his first customer and a top 20 point runner. More success in Cline cars was achieved by drivers like Jackie Frye, David Rosa and two-time champion Jason Mincey. Numerous main event wins in the Street Stocks have come in cars Lance built and he has even stepped up his services to include Dirt Modified chassis as well. Lance started driving briefly from 1996 to 1997 and even won his first career main event, but he decided to focus more on building cars this season. However, in doing so, he got his father back into the racing scene at Antioch, after an 11 year absence, in a Pure Stocker. When Dean isn't racing, you can find him in the pits working with his son at the Cline Racing Supply parts trailer.
Before Dean Cline and Clyde Robbins, Charles "Red" Garner, who owned a gas station, was competing with the BCRA Midgets in the forties, after the war, and the fifties. His son Jerry wasn't old enough to remember much more than the race car and the trophies, but that still made an impression on him. In 1967 Jerry "The Maverick" Garner started racing a Stock Car on the circuit, going from Petaluma to Antioch and wherever else he could find a race. Jerry became very competitive in 1968 and won several main events in a row at Petaluma that year. A year later, he brought home the prestigious State Championship trophy. Jerry would move up to the Sportsman division in the seventies and won some main events in that class as well before it ended in 1981, forcing him to return to the Late Model division. Jerry won his last main event in 1982, a 50 lapper that saw him hold off the practically unbeatable Dave Byrd, but he remained a top 20, at times top ten or even five, point runner throughout the decade and led several weeks of the 1986 point race driving for father in law, Nick Burcher, who himself had been a competitor and car owner at the speedway since 1961.
When the Dirt Modified division at Antioch began in 1990, it didn't take long before Jerry had a car. Though on a shoestring budget, Jerry kept the family name involved at the speedway, and his son Mark was soon ready to drive a car himself. Not long after Mark's cousin (Nick's grandson) Jimmy Ford took his Modified and moved up to Oregon and raced, Mark joined the class in a home built car, built by Al Artero. Underfunded, but with his knowledgeable father Jerry as a crew chief, Mark plugged right along and soon began winning heat races and making main events. He made the top 20 for the first time in 1996 and vastly improved last season with his first two top five finishes. This year has seen Mark realize a plethora of dreams as he has won several trophy dashes, ranks in the top five in points and won his first main event in the last race after a good battle with Chris Wadsworth. More importantly, he has kept the Garner family name as a supporter of Antioch Speedway and returned it to the main event winner's circle for the first time in 16 years.
In 1961, when Antioch was just starting its weekly program, there were many drivers coming in from out of town, but the local roster was just beginning to get filled. One of those local drivers was L.D. "Merry Go Round" Maupin. L.D. quickly established himself as one of the top local drivers at the track in his Hardtop before switching to the Sportsman division and remaining competitive as a feature winner. L.D. switched back to the Stock Car division and had his last top ten season in 1982. He remained active at the track in his familiar red, white and blue #7a car until 1985. It was during the seventies when his son Mel began racing at the track in a Sportsman, and the low dollar racing Maupin even enjoyed a top 20 season in Sportsman competition before switching to Stock Cars in the eighties and doing it again. Mel was one of the last local drivers to run the track's Stock Car class before switching the car to the Dirt Modified division and twice ranking top 20 there. Mel is very much in contention for a top five point season, but even if he doesn't do it, a top ten season would still be his best ever.
Another family that got its start at Antioch in the sixties was the Brown family. In fact, there were two Brown families. Both got their start with Bill Brown. The more familiar Bill Brown started out in the Sportsman division in 1965 and became track champion in 1972 and 1974 and State champion in 1974 after four straight seasons as runner-up in that race. Bill won numerous main events in the Sportsman division, but he moved on to the Sprint Car division after his second track championship, where he became the head NARC official for several years. Bill's sons Keith and Dale started out running Go Karts in the late sixties at the old Stoneman track in Pittsburg. Keith was the first to graduate to the Sportsman class with Dale to follow in 1973, his senior year in High School. Running against their legendary father, both Brown boys won their share of races and ranked in the top ten in points. By the end of the seventies, both retired from Antioch, but Keith was coaxed out of retirement in 1988 by a ride in John Procopio's Dirt Modified.
Keith started driving for Rich Richards in Late Model competition and won his share of races once again and even became a top five ranked driver. In fact, Keith started driving his own Dirt Modified as well as the Late Model and won both main events at Antioch one night in 1992. That Dirt Modified was parked before at the end of the 1995 season, but Keith's brother Dale came out of retirement a year later to drive the car. This season, Keith's son Keith Jr. is enjoying his rookie season and ranks just outside the top 20 while the elder Brown is again in the top five. Also joining the family fun this year is son in law Ed Davies, who ranked 11th in Dirt Modified points after the last race.
The other Bill Brown ran the Hardtops at Antioch. In the mid seventies, his son Ron Brown began racing Stock Cars and ranked top 20 for two seasons before moving up to the Sportsman division. Ron was a low buck racer and not one to chase points. After a couple years in the Sportsman division, Ron switched to the Stock Car division. It was also during that time that Ron's brother Randy had a brief career in the Street Stock division, and Ron and Randy actually shared driving duties in a Stock Car in 1983 and 1984. When Ron wasn't racing, he could usually be found helping somebody else, and he returned for a brief run in the Street Stocks and Figure 8 division. In 1992, Ron got his wife Lori into the Street Stock division, and she enjoyed a top ten season in 1994. Ron has dabbled in Street Stocks and Dirt Modifieds since then with some success, but he has a Late Model he hopes to have ready for September 12th event at Antioch, while Lori continues to rank top five in the Street Stocks. Ron's son Ryan and his stepson Vince both got to race a Pure Stock a couple times last season, making it three generations for this Brown family racing at Antioch as well.
"Wild" Bill Waldrop ran the Hardtop division at Antioch when it first started and then crewed for other drivers, including 1975 Sportsman champion Doug Shearer. Bill's son Rob began crewing for J.D. Willis in the late seventies and started racing the Street Stock division in 1980 in a car painted like Willis' #2a car with the flames on the side. Rob stayed active at Antioch either driving or pitting for somebody, and he sold Dirt Modified point leader Don Shelton his first car in 1984, appropriately nicknamed "The Tank" Rob started having some point racing success as the 80's came to an end and he was able to race more, ranking in the top ten in points in 1996. Rob also played a part in helping Bob Newberry and Larry Cates become more competitive and currently leads the Modified Street Stock point race ahead of another second generation racer, Daniel Hodges.
Many great racing families got their Antioch start in the sixties. Henry Coelho Sr., better known as Butch to the racing fans, started racing the Sportsman division in the sixties and was one of the top drivers in the class and a main event winner. Butch had disappeared from the scene by the mid seventies, but his son Brad, who had gotten his start in Motor Cycles, joined the Street Stock division in 1986. Brad showed how much he had learned from his father by winning a main event in that rookie season, and "Hollowood Rad" Brad Coelho was born to the fans. A year later, Brad's brother Butch Jr. and his father joined the Street Stocks and shared a car with both winning main events that year. After an impressive top five point season, Brad kind of faded from the scene, but when he returned, he shocked the Dirt Modified division by winning several main events and winning "Rookie Of The Year" honors. A car accident a year ago has kind of derailed Brad's career as a driver, at least for the time being, but he remains active as a car builder, recently building a frame for Dan Gonderman.
The Gonderman family got its start in racing with Ken Gonderman running a Sportsman at Petaluma Speedway in 1965. Ken soon began racing at Antioch and was the only driver keeping Gary Pacheco from winning four championships in a row when he won the title in 1970. Ken remained a tough competitor and main event winner throughout the seventies, and he got his oldest son Dave Gonderman started in racing in a Sportsman in 1978 when the two drivers traded off. A year later Dave won his first main event and ranked top 20, and he liked it so much he accomplished both feats again the next year. Ken remained active in racing helping Al Nordstrom build his cars and occasionally getting behind the wheel and driving. In 1985, Ken finally got another car, a chassis he was helping Al build. Also that year, Ken's son Dan Gonderman made his first Street Stock start in a car owned by "The Galloping Grandpa" Henry Lentz.
Ken remained competitive in that car he would eventually sell to Doug Timmons a couple seasons later. Both Dan and Dave Gonderman got Street Stocks and became very competitive in 1990 and the next couple seasons. They both won several main events and ranked top five, but while Dave would park his car and retire again, working with drivers like Gary Harvey and Dave Zahn, Dan ended up building a Dirt Modified and moving up. Dan's ability to charge to the front in just about every main event he was in that first year (1995) was impressive despite the fact that things had a tendency to break on the car. He won his first main event in the class in 1997 and has another win this year as the #2 driver in points with a shot at first as this is being written. Though Dave only spectates these days, his son Nathan made his first start in the 1997 Enduro and could be a future star of the Gonderman Racing Team.
Though there are many great racing families sill involved at Antioch Speedway, many have come and gone, and missing them in this story is not intended to be a slight on them. In the sixties, a man by the name of Joe Furia began racing at tracks in Vallejo and Petaluma, to name a few, and his brother Dennis started racing at Petaluma in the seventies, racking up more Antioch victories than anybody in the Sportsman division from 1969-1981 and winning the 1979 championship. After 1980, Dennis was done with racing, but his son Dennis Jr. began building a Dirt Modified that had its roots with Len Mello and the 1981 Sportsman title at Antioch. Dennis Jr. had been pitting for another famous racing family member, Rob Roy--of the famous Roy Boys (Rob, John and Jerry) and was also building a car. During that time, Dennis Sr. decided to buy a car off of Tom Williams and rejoin Antioch's racing wars in 1993. Since that time, Dennis Sr. has racked up several victories and a top five ranking. Both his sons, Dennis Jr. and David, joined the Dirt Modified ranks a year later, and David became a top five point racer in 1995 with two impressive feature wins over Scott Busby. David has moved on and is one of the top racers on the asphalt of Ukiah while Dennis Sr. and Jr. are both racing at Petaluma and Antioch. A hard luck racer from the start, Dennis Jr. came within a whisker of winning his first career main event at Petaluma this year, leading several laps before his motor let go.
About 1977, Terry DeCarlo Sr. started racing a Hardtop at Vallejo Speedway, and he became a top five point competitor at that track. Terry joined the Stock Car division at Antioch in 1983 and became a fixture in the top 20 in points there in 1984. Terry even led several weeks in the point standings in 1987, another top five point year. He eventually switched to the Dirt Modified division and continued to be a main event winner and ranked third in points in 1996. In 1989, Terry's son Mike DeCarlo bought an NCMA car that Terry spent part of the year dialing in for him. 1990 saw Mike lead the first half of the point season and win two main events before quitting as the point leader to go Dirt Modified racing. Mike soon won a main event in that division as well before quitting. Terry's youngest son Nick began racing Box Stocks at Delta Speedway last season and has won several main events this year as the current point leader. Terry's youngest daughter Teri also started running the Box Stock division this year and won her first heat race recently. Also starting his racing career this year is Terry's namesake Terry Jr., who currently ranks top ten in Pure Stock points after an impressive heat win and top five finish last time out.
Right around 1977, Buzz Wadsworth began racing Stock Cars and was a top 20 competitor. He and "Vicious" George Viscia owned the car driven to the 1978 Stock Car title by the late Bob Meeker. Wadsworth and Viscia again teamed up in 1981, and they played a big part in ending J.D. Willis' retirement as he became their driver for a while. It was in 1989 when young Chris Wadsworth began racing Quarter-Midgets. Buzz could see that his son had talent, and George again lent his support as young Wadsworth graduated to the Micro Midgets, where he won main events, and then the Street Stocks, where the kid was an instant front runner. Chris ranked top five in his first full year in Street Stocks at Antioch in 1996 with several feature wins, graduated to the Dirt Modifieds, where he again ranked top five with several feature wins and then ranked second at San Jose this season until deciding to switch back to Antioch. Having successfully tested a Winston West ride on a few occasions, it may be that Chris isn't through moving up in divisions just yet.
In 1976, a man by the name of Tom Clymens began racing Stock Cars at Antioch and ranked top 20 and top ten in successive years. Tom was a top 20 driver in the competitive Sportsman division in 1979, but an injury to his back saw him decide to become a crew chief. He talked his wife Debi into running the Street Stock division, and that 1980 season saw Debi do everything from stand her car on its nose, to win main events and eventually rank second in points. Since that time, Debi, with Tom as her crew chief, has ranked top ten in Stock Cars, Figure 8 (Second) and Dirt Modifieds, which she is well on her way to doing again this year. Late in the 1996 season, son Trevor Clymens bought Tom Lewis' car and joined the Pure Stock division for the last couple races. Tommy Jr. joined Trevor in Pure Stocks last season and ranked top 20 on his limited schedule while Trevor finished third and won his first main event. This season younger brother Todd has joined Trevor and Tommy Jr. as the whole family races very competitive at the speedway. Trevor ranks third at the moment with three wins, Tommy is ranked just outside the top ten and Todd is just getting started, but he is proud to be a part of the first brother trio to win a race at Antioch all on the same night as he won his heat, Tommy a heat and Trevor the B Main. The Clymens family plans to be at the speedway for years to come and Trevor and Tommy are contemplating a move up to the Dirt Modifieds.
In 1982, Duane Hodges had just missed racing with Debi Clymens as he got started racing a Street Stock. Duane managed to win a few main events in his five year Street stock career, but he was a consistent top ten feature finisher even when he didn't win and was one of Antioch's top Street Stock point earners of the eighties. Duane moved up to give Late Models and Dirt Modifieds a shot with some success, and his son Daniel decided to give Motor Cycles a rest and go Street Stock racing in 1997. With two feature seconds and a dash win that year, young Hodges showed much potential as a top 20 driver, and he ranks just 25 points behind Rob Waldrop in the hotly contested Modified Street Stock point race after his fifth feature win.
The Curl family has been a part of the the speedway since the seventies, when Bruce "The Phantom" Curl Sr. raced the Stock Cars and then the Sportsman division. Bruce won the 1981 Stock Car title driving the red, white and blue #66 House Of Wheels Special for Pete Paulson. He remained a top 20 driver and even made it as high as the top five with a feature victory in 1987. Bruce's son Bruce Jr. gave the Stock Cars a brief shot in 1983 and his brother Bill started racing Stock Cars in 1981 as a top ten driver. Bill ran Stock Cars until it got too pricey in 1984 and then won several Street Stock main events in 1987 before stepping down as a tittle contender. Both Bruce Sr. and Bill tried their hand as officials, and both were talented in the art of car building with Bill building some fast Street Stocks, including cars for Kurt Breuker and Tom Adair Jr. Bruce played a part in getting the Dirt Modified effort going at Antioch as he started building cars along with Tony Pato in 1989 and 1990 before closing his Curl Racing shop. Though Bill hasn't been going to the races much these days, Bruce Sr. can be seen in the Antioch pits helping Ed Leis, among others.
Many other good racing families have been involved at the track, including the brother teams of the Bellando's (John and Dave), the Brown's (Dennis and Bob, whose son Bobby now runs Pure Stocks), the Arth's (Ron and George), the Ackerman's (Tim and Robert) the Skaggs's (Vince and Jeff) and the Martin's (Tim, Billy and Vince). Most of those drivers had at least one top 20 season and, in the case of both Bellando's and Bob Brown had a title contending seasons. Gene Dothage had three straight runnerup point seasons in the Sportsmans in the early seventies and his son Brent can be seen winning 360 Sprint Car features at Petaluma these days. The late Roland Lokmor (Hardtops and Midgets), son Mike (Midgets) and grandson Brian have all competed with the NCMA. Many good husband and wife teams like Richard and Gloria Johnson, Mike and Leslie Green, Terry and Loretta Schneeberg, Steve and Terri Wacht (and son Matt) and Don and Linda O'Keefe have competed at Antioch through the seasons.
When you ask the question of how could Antioch Speedway last 38 years as a weekly race track, many answers can come to mind. The racing has been good. True. The management has done a good job. True. However, never downplay the importance of family in the role of keeping this thing going all these years. There are first, second, third and even fourth generation racing fans attending the races through the years, and while many good racers have come and gone, the families that have stuck around, through thick and thin, families like the Garner's, Gonderman's, Clymens's, Brown's and the Cline's, are the foundation of this great racing tradition in Contra Costa County.
Also, Don O'Keefe Jr. has an excellent Jim Booth tribute page with lots of pictures located HERE.
BY DON MARTIN II
ANTIOCH, CA...When you take a look at the car counts of the Northern California Modified Association in this their 11th year of existence and see them in the twenties and see top drivers like Mike McCreary, Don Hicks and even club founder Mike Johnson racing along with NCMA stars like Scott Holloway, Ed Amador Sr., Duane Watson and Don O'Keefe Jr., it's easy to be impressed. The NCMA has emerged as one of the top three touring support divisions in California. Things are going well now, but it wasn't always that way. In fact, if it wasn't for the leadership of former club President Jim Booth from 1991 to 1994, perhaps this whole club would have went away quietly.
Jim had been a Stock Car racer in the seventies and in the early eighties. In fact, he won the 1982 track championship at the old Baylands Raceway Park in Fremont. "I only won one race there, " Booth admitted. "It was done with consistency. I had a lot of top fives."
Even then, Jim was one of the true sportsmen of racing and that came more to the forefront in 1983. Jim gave up a shot at second in the standings that season. "It was between me and Bill O'Malley for second, and I loaned him my good tires for the final race, " said Booth. "My car was only running on seven cylinders, and I knew I wasn't going anywhere. So, I loaned him my tires so he could try and catch Larry Lundin. I used his old worn out tires."
Booth was still one of the top five that year, but he gave up Stock Cars during the 1984 season. "It was fun running at Baylands until NASCAR came in, " claimed Jim. "I ran one year with them until I got tired of the b.s. and sold the car."
In 1985, Jim returned to Baylands as the track got in on the ground floor of the up and coming 360 Sprint Car division, which ran 360 c.i. cast iron motors at the time. The class was thrown out there with the 410 Sprinters, but Jim emerged as the top 360 point getter and won the first track championship there. "That year was funny because we had a lot of cars some weeks and other weeks we had only three or four, " Booth explained. "They used to run us with the 410's and score us separately. I had a couple of top ten finishes with them in my 2,000 pound old Super Modified. They never hit me out there, because if they did, it would bend their cars pretty good."
A year later, the growing 360 Sprint Car class ran their own races, and Booth was faced with the competition of future Petaluma champion Gary Geving, Don O'Keefe Jr., Brian Gray, Keith Shipherd and future NCMA founder Mike Johnson, to name a few. The steady Booth ended up ranking second to Geving. In 1987, as the division continued to grow with the addition of such drivers at Pat Scilley, Dale Johnston, Charlie Correia and David Vodden, Jim ranked second again, this time behind Scilley. Jim was a consistent top five and top ten finisher in the 360 division at Baylands, but as it began to take on a new direction and growth, he decided to stop racing it for points in 1988. "The 360 Sprints at Baylands were a lot of fun to race, " Booth admitted. "Unfortunately, it started to get a little to expensive for me with all the things they were allowing for the cars. I couldn't afford to do it anymore."
However, during the 1988 season, Mike Johnson and the NCMA Modifieds paid a visit to Baylands, and Jim was interested in what he saw. A year later, he had a car of his own. "The NCMA came around at the right time for me, " said Jim. "In talking with Mike about it and seeing the rules, I knew I had found something I could afford to race and have fun doing it."
Showing just how well he could adapt, Jim hit the NCMA with the same kind of consistency he'd displayed in Sprint Cars. Though he had no feature wins, he had several top five finishes and even had a dash victory in ranking third in both Overall and Antioch points in the 1989 season. His year had many ups and a few downs, including a spectacular flip in Cottage Grove, Oregon, but perhaps the one memory that sticks out is the main event that got away. Jim was a distant second when the leader, Darryl Shirk, was trying to lap a couple of battling cars and crashed.
Suddenly, he had the lead, but he was not expecting the drag race to the checkered flag that he would lose to Gordon Chappa. "I knew where everybody else was out there on the track and I knew I had 'em covered, " Booth recalled. "I didn't know Gordon was still out there. I was just taking it easy in the corner, making sure nothing went wrong, and the next thing I knew, he was driving by me."
The question in the NCMA pits in the future would be, when will Jim finally get his first feature victory with the club. In 1996, he finally got that win at Merced and also won a shortened race there a year later. In fact, Merced has been Jim's best track in recent seasons. Since 1989, Jim has ranked top ten almost every year and was top five in the 1991, 1995 and 1996 championship point races. This year, Jim has run a more relaxed schedule and is not running for points, but he has long since established himself as one of the best and most knowledgeable competitors in the club. After running a good race with Darryl Shirk at Antioch in 1992 that was filled with many side by side laps, race winner Shirk said of runner up Booth, "Jim is one of the best drivers out there. I wasn't worried at all about him crashing into me. I knew I could trust him running alongside me and we had a good race."
In 1990, Jim had become more involved with the NCMA and was paying close attention to what was going on with the Board Of Directors and offering up ideas that would prove very helpful. One such idea was the body rule change that took the NCMA away from the California Dirt Car idea and brought it to it's current Modified look, more closely resembling the classic style non winged Super Modifieds of the seventies. In 1991, he was elected President by the membership.
He spent that first season defusing several tense situations and co-ordinating the NCMA towards it's future goals. The club nearly died that year, but thanks to Jim dealing with the things that were upsetting club members to the point of quitting, all the membership responded by supporting the final few races of the season in force. That, more than anything, saved the club from ending after only four years of existence.
Jim brought the NCMA into new relationships with tracks in Petaluma, Grass Valley and Merced, which was another key factor in the club's survival. In 1992, the NCMA actually fielded a couple car counts in the twenties, securing the club's future at its home track in Antioch as well. It is true that this club would never have had a chance to begin with if not for the tireless efforts of Mike Johnson and it is also true that Duane Watson's presence as Race Director in the last three seasons has made these 20 races per year schedules possible. However, if not for Booth's hard work as President, these last six seasons may never have happened. One thing is for sure, both on the track and off, Jim Booth is a winner.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
With Holden being taken out on a regular basis in 1988, Keldsen cruised to an easy title, but new competition emerged in 1989. Along with the new competition came a new chief steward, Ken Taylor. The cries of favoritism by some of the drivers became even louder, and that was what would put an end to Bob Brown's run at the championship. During the course of the season, Brown had had run ins with both Mike Conley Sr. and Jim Robbins on several different occasions, and both drivers felt that the officials were favoring Brown in his title run.
There was tension in the air on that final night. Word was out that Conley was going to get Brown. Bob was well aware of the threats, but he was not about to just run and hide. When the race finally happened, there was a close race for the win with Brown, Conley, Robbins and Keldsen all running up front in tight formation. Coming out of the X, a Robbins tap on Keldsen put Keldsen into Brown and sent Brown spinning. Bob recovered but lost enough track position to lose the title to Keldsen.
If there ware troubles in the Figure 8's first three seasons, they were nothing compared to what happened in its final season. Perhaps the biggest indication of the problems occurring in the division was the frustration vented by Bert Bockover. Bert, who was acting chief steward after Ken Taylor was struck by a Stock Car during mud packing a few weeks earlier, had to make a ruling on an incident involving Brian Holden and John Keldsen. Holden had been on a three race winning streak and was leading the point race. Keldsen had been concentrating on winning the Watsonville title, but he decided to start racing at Antioch again in an effort to beat his old rival and try to win the State championship.
There were some concerns among competitors and fans that something was going to happen. It seemed like old times as Keldsen and Holden ware running side-by-side in their battle for the lead. As the two leaders were lapping Rich Irwin on their way through the X towards Turn 3, they ran out of room. Keldsen found himself running into a tractor tire, and Holden found himself in the lead all by himself. Meanwhile, Irwin's car was crunched. Keldsen backed his car up and started towards Turn 3 again. However, Keldsen would hit the rear end of Holden's car in the X, knocking him out of the lead.
Bockover was forced to make a call on this situation, and he disqualified both drivers, suspending Holden for the remainder of the season. It is rumored, though it has never been confirmed by the DCRR, that Bert said on the officials radio that Holden would never race at Antioch again. What happened next was an indication of the confusion that was going on in the Figure 8.
Bockover told Holden after the races that he would be suspended. The suspension was reported in the DCRR the following week, but track manager Brynda Bockover denied a suspension had ever taken place. When Holden called NASCAR during the week after his talk with Bockover to protest his suspension, he was informed that no paper work had ever been filed on the incident. However, a conversation with Bert before the next Figure 8 race revealed that something had indeed occurred. "The next time I set somebody down, they'd better stay set down, " complained the acting chief steward. "I didn't have this (officials) suit on until ten minutes ago. Nobody else wanted the job."
One of the biggest complaints by several of the Figure 8 drivers was that they felt like Debbie Clymens was getting favored by the officials. The incident that triggered other incidents involved Larry Rapp and Debbie's husband Tommy. After one of the races, Tommy Clymens reportedly got into Larry's face about his driving on the track. Clymens maintained that Rapp, who had just had a cast removed from his hand a day earlier so he could race, hit him in the face. However, Larry denied doing anything. Rapp was suspended for one race. It is said that that was the beginning of the end of Debbie's title run. "It's funny how Kenny Taylor incriminates Someone when he doesn't even ask why, " remarked an unhappy Rapp that night.
A few weeks later, Mike Conley Sr. and Jr. were both suspended. The elder Conley was suspended for banging on Clymens during the race, the younger Conley for banging on her car in the pits in front of the scales. The latter suspension was changed after Conley Sr. argued his son's case. Originally, Conley Jr. was suspended for knocking the right rear tire off of her car during the race, but it was discovered that the tire came off because the rim cut the studs, due to loose lug nuts.
Mike Sr. talked about the incident that led to his suspension. "You know, all I did was bump Debbie. I never took her out. I never crashed her car. She never lost a spot. What I would do is I would sit next to her, and I knew she couldn't handle her car. I just held my line and let her cross right in front of me. I wouldn't give her no brakes, because breaks were over."
Emotions were high at this point, but they were stirred to a fever pitch by remarks made by Taylor a week later. Mike Conley Jr. was trying to get an official reason for his suspension, and he was talking calmly with Taylor about the race. The culmination of this conversation had Taylor saying, "If that had been my car, I'd have had my kid flip you the next week."
During this period, Clymens was finding it increasingly difficult to get any good results. Most of the anger directed towards her, she felt, was brought on by her husband and the officials. She once told the DCRR, "The officials and Tom are making me look bad, and that's why people hate me."
Also during this period, Mike Sr. tried to get Debbie to arrange a meeting between them and Brynda Bockover to try and get things resolved. Mike even tried to talk with Brynda on the phone, but he was cut off at every avenue and then accused of threatening her. "I tried to speak to her one time, " said Conley. "She called here. She cut me off on everything I had to say, shut me down, changed the subject and then told me I was threatening her. I said, 'What? I didn't threaten you. I told you what was gonna happen, and it happened.'"
"I couldn't get Brynda to even listen to me, " he continued. "I was gonna try and iron this whole thing out. So, I called up Debbie and told her what was going on. I said, 'Look, all these guys are gonna drill the hell out of you. I'm the only one that's slowing these guys down on this.' They were all pissed. All of us just wanted to race for it. We didn't care. All of the trouble came from the officials. John Meyers didn't want the Figure 8 there either, and he was there to put it down too."
The last hit in this feud might have been a bit misguided, but it was fired by Debbie at Loretta Schneeberg. When it was all said and done, the ending to the story had an ironic twist. At the final race, Clymens, Schneeberg, Andy Faust and Larry Rapp had a shot at the title. Faust retired from the event early and Clymens lost a lap, but the top five run that Schneeberg was having would earn her the title. However, Clymens felt that all the troubles she was having were brought on because the other drivers wanted Schneeberg to win the title, and she nailed Loretta in the X, giving the track championship to Rapp.
It is interesting in that the "incident" with Tommy is what people thought started all of Debbie's troubles. It is also interesting to note that Holden fired the last shot in his battle with Keldsen. Brian nailed Keldsen as the two drivers were coming out of the X towards Turn 1 of the final lap. The impact knocked the rear end out of Keldsen's car. However, Keldsen still won the State championship.
In looking back at the Figure 8 and the incidents he was involved in, Mike Conley Sr. makes no apologies. "I never came out here and started any trouble, " claimed Conley. "I finished it. I might have been wrong, but what else are you gonna do? We're never gonna win. We're always gonna lose. That's one reason the Figure 8 isn't there. It wasn't the insurance. It wasn't any of that stuff."
After that season, the Figure 8 was quietly swept away. The X was replaced by advertisement signs. Why was the Figure 8 ended? Why was it taken away from its loyal fans? Was it taken away for insurance reasons, or was it too out of control for the officials to handle anymore? Perhaps these questions have been answered in this story. Then again, maybe not. One thing is for sure, the Figure 8 stirred up emotions at Antioch like no other division ever has.
The Figure 8 was introduced to Antioch Speedway in 1987 by promoter Bert Moreland, the man who brought the wild race to Watsonville. The race was introduced to Antioch in the hopes of attracting more fans, and it did just that. Though it only lasted for four short seasons, people still talk about the race and recall the crazy things that could and did happen, like the night Brian Holden and John Keldsen crashed across the finish line in their battle for the win (The birth of the biggest rivalry in the division's history), the wild circumstances behind Corky Pattrick's win in the only 100 lap Figure 8 main or the battle of the lady drivers in the final Figure 8 race of 1990.
I started putting up a page in memory of the division when I was doing my DCRR page. The purpose of the page was to recall some of the more memorable drivers the division had. My own Personal top ten consists of John Keldsen, Brian Holden, Mike Conley Sr., Jim Robbins, Loretta Schneeberg, Debbie Clymens, Andy Faust, Henry Leyenberger, Bob Brown and Steve Torres. I wrote about four of them briefly for the page.
Since Keldsen is already at the top, I'll start with him. The reason I have him as #1 is very simple. I've never seen a Figure 8 driver as talented as John. This guy could win a Figure 8 blind folded. We had some big fields at times, and it didn't matter if John started last or wherever, he was going to the front. He almost never got hit in the X either. To me, John is "The King" of the Figure 8.
There simply could not be a top ten Antioch Figure 8 driver's list without the name of Jim Robbins on it. The man truly earned his nickname, "Wild Jim", but he could run wheel to wheel with the likes of John Keldsen and come home the victor. Jim was a low buck racer, and that kept him from really running for points, but car owners like Rick Linscheid and Bob Givens recognized his talent and gave him rides. In fact, Jim won main events in three different cars one year and one of them was a Charger in a field of Street Stocks. Jim was a top five ranked driver, and for his good driving and the crazy things he sometimes did, he is truly one of the ten most memorable Figure 8 drivers ever at Antioch Speedway.
"Bouncin" Bob Brown had come very close to winning a Street Stock championship at Baylands Raceway Park in 1985 when he ran out of funding. However, he had caught the attention of George and Judy Arth that year, and they put him behind the wheel of Judy's red #74 car for Street Stock races in 1987. It was an old car, but Bob got the most out of it. On a whim, Bob started racing in the Figure 8 that year and became instantly competitive. Bob was a natural in the class and didn't resemble his old conservative racing self of his earlier Street Stock days. He took chances and won races. In 1989, Bob led several weeks of the point race and came the closest of any Antioch driver to ever beating John Keldsen for a championship. He led going into the final race but was taken out of contention. Still, Bob has established himself as one of the best Figure 8 racers to race at Antioch.
Monday, November 17, 2008
D. Speedway Contract 2009-2013
Manager Marshall stated that the Speedway Contract was scored yesterday and handed out a copy of the proposal. Manager Marshall stated that the Long Term Contracts Committee scored and accepted a 5-year contract with Oval Motorsports, the current promoter.
President Parsons asked members if there were any questions or comments regarding the Speedway Contract.
There being no questions or comments regarding the Speedway Contract. Director Busby made a motion to approve the Speedway Contract, as submitted. Director Rubay seconded the motion. Motion affirmatively voted upon by all members present. Motion carried.
Friday, November 7, 2008
I grabbed this from the September minutes of the Contra Costa County Fair Board Meeting:
I. Long Term Contracts-President Parsons
President Parsons stated that the RFP for the Speedway went out and asked Manager Marshall to comment. Manager Marshall stated that three RFP’s went out. Manager Marshall stated that the bid packets are due back by October 2nd and scoring is tentative for October 7th. Manager Marshall stated that a $15,000 contract reduction had been granted to the current promoter, so the same numbers were used as a minimum guarantee for the new RFP.
Manager Marshall stated that she estimated approximately $80,000 in revenue.
Director Spinola stated that the current promoter seems to run a single minded venue. Manager Marshall stated that he does offer a variety of races throughout the season. Manager Marshall stated that it is hard to recoup the cost for specialized events but the possibility of doing so next year has been discussed.
Take out of that what you will. Would anybody want the track at this point? They mention three RFP's went out, but were three returned? I fully expect John Soares Jr. to remain in charge for the next five years. I just don't think anybody cares at this point. Those left out there just want to race. In this economy, local race enthusiasts should just be happy they have a place to race. It's not 1988 anymore, it's 2008. Times have changed.
I was looking around the web last night out of boredom and found this column that talked about the struggle coming into the 2008 season. Observations to follow:
Antioch track tries to weather storm
By Curtis Pashelka
JOHN SOARES JR. had to postpone last year's season-opening race card at Antioch Speedway twice due to rain. The year before, the season-opener had to be pushed back an incredible seven times because of bad weather.
The speedway's owner and promoter didn't want to risk the same thing happening again this year and scheduled the start of the season for Saturday. Ironically, the weather has been ideal three of the past four Saturdays, and there's a chance of showers for the Bay Area this weekend.
Any postponement would be a bad beginning to what looks like a make-or-break season for Soares and the 56-year-old facility. Attendance was down last year as the speedway struggled to attract first-time fans from East Contra Costa County.
"It's the last year of our (five-year) contract (with the Contra Costa County Fairgrounds)," said Soares, whose company, Oval Motorsports Inc., has owned the speedway since 1997.
"As bad as things are getting for motorsports at short tracks, we really need to have a good season to even consider re-upping. It's tough to keep going if you can't make a living at it."
Soares said he faces many challenges. The local economy is in a rut (East County is one of the state's hardest hit areas in the subprime mortgage crisis), newer residents are less aware of the facility's history or location (1201 W. 10th St., Antioch) and televised motorsports on Saturday nights has kept some race fans at home.
"They don't have to leave the house, and that's killing local speedways," Soares said. "(Televised) Saturday night racing totally kills Saturdays for the local tracks."
To keep Antioch Speedway competitive, Soares kept ticket prices the same as last year ($12 for adults, $6 for kids and seniors for most events). Next weekend, a large field is expected for the Golden State 410 winged sprints race and in June, a yet-to-be-determined NASCAR Sprint Cup driver will race in the Western All Stars Late Models event.Okay, cue the violins.
Seriously, people aren't aware of the track? Who's fault is that? It isn't the people's fault John. It's yours. Simply put, if you want people to know about this track, than YOU have to do something about it. It's that simple.
It starts by hiring somebody to get the word out. No, I'm NOT lobbying for a position for myself. I don't think I want to go back out there, and my price would probably be to high at this point. I like Jack Menges. He's a nice guy, but he has never demonstrated since John hired him that he can get the job done.
When I worked in publicity at Antioch (handling the racing publications), I heard Jack tell John how we could never get the newspaper coverage, and John believed it. That right there is the problem. The Contra Costa Times traditionally did cover the track for decades until John came in and barred Tim Tyler from the track.
I'm not saying removing Tim was a problem. But replacing something with nothing was a problem. Suddenly you don't read stories about the track in the local newspaper. NOTHING. The Publicity Director at ANY race track should do whatever it takes to get the track covered in every newspaper possible.
When I went down to Chowchilla, Tom never really asked me to do all the newspapers, but I did. I knew if we were going to build support from the people, they needed to know we were there. In 2000, I think I focussed on the Chowchilla News (They printed my full race review stories), Merced Sun Star, Fresno Bee and Modesto Bee.
Tom can attest to this, I was known to rip newspapers at our post race dinners sometimes if I didn't see our track covered. Buddy used to laugh at that. I didn't always get printed, but in 2001 we started getting coverage in several newspapers. Attendance that second season went up too.
Now, we didn't always get printed, but I sent a race review story immediately following the races to several papers and a hype story on Wednesday to those same papers. By doing that, they knew what was coming on a regular basis and the track started getting better coverage. that is what it takes.
There are other tactics that need to be employed, but that's a good example. It's not up to the newspapers to just realize you are there and respect you with coverage. There are dozens of other events competing for that ink. It's up to the track to show the newspapers why they should be covering them. And IT CAN BE DONE. Any PR guy at my track that told me they couldn't do it would be fired.
Don't even get me started on people not being aware of the history. I lobbied hard for a Hall Of Fame night at the track in 2000, only to be put off on the subject because John basically wasn't impressed with the list of potential inductees. Jackie and I were prepared to organize the first pre race picnic and induction ceremony.
I also had the Antioch library ibnterested in featuring the track in their display case for all to see. Ariel shot of the track, story of the history and list of past champions would have been included. As I could see track management's attitude changing, I backed off and just did the basics that were expected. That was a lot in itself.
But, I don't want to get off subject. I see the bit about people staying home and watching the races on TV. This is true. People have other options, and they are exploring them. What the track promoter has to come up with is the even ideas that will make the races a must see for the race fan.
Back in the day, the NASCAR banner and Regional and State points were an attraction. Special events, like 100 lappers that attracted the out of towners, were a factor. When John first got Antioch, huge car counts drew in the fans.
These days, (I'll use the words of a former local car builder) you get a "cookie cutter show" with too many divisions with not enough cars in most. You need more than that. Fewer divisions with more of a traditional show would be a positive change. Time trials, trophy dashes for all (with trophy ladies presenting).
So when you book the show, you need to ask if this will be good enough to draw a few people away from the TV race or the movie theater or whatever to check out the action? Be honest. Also, are you doing enough, or is your PR guy doing enough, to get the word out?
It's a different world than it was 10 or 20 years ago, and if you want the fans (Or the racers for that matter), you need to do what it takes to get them to come out and support your show. They aren't coming out just because it's been there for 56 years.
Please don't misunderstand me I wish nothing but the best for the race track and continued success to come. I just wanted to put a few thoughts out there for consideration. Here's to a strong 2009 season.
Monday, November 3, 2008
It was maybe six years ago, on my birthday, when Don and I went to Sacramento Raceway. The occasion was a visit by Mike McCann's Cascade Hardtop group holding an exhibition race. The next night they were off to Orland. I actually have a story floating out there on the net about that race, won by Steve Lemly by a wide margin if I recall. Chuck Prather would then attempt to get a Hardtop movement going in California the next year.
A couple years earlier, Mike Johnson brought one of his Hardtops to the BCRA Hall Of Fame picnic. Now, Mike has always been a good talker, some would say bs'er. I can't really argue that.
Mike will always be the founder and driving force that made the NCMA happen. I doubt anybody else would have started that class in the Bay Area if not for Mike, but it took people like Jim Booth, the Lokmor family, Gordon Chappa, Duane Watson and Del Quinn to keep it going.
Things behind the scenes led to Mike's "departure" from the NCMA at the end of just one season, just when it looked like car count was ready to really explode. Maybe that's why I got behind Mike a few years later to right what I perceived to be a wrong that was done to him. I don't know.
It's my belief that if not for all the turmoil behind the scenes in 1988, NCMA would have had car counts in the teens that second year, but people were put off by what was going down at NCMA meetings and car count stayed about the same for two years until Jim Booth made some key changes. This could also be a good topic for a blog.
I was a big believer in what Johnson talked about. Big car counts were possible for this class, and I never wavered in my belief in that. Under Booth, the NCMA got it's first car count into the 20's, but it stalled from there. I've been told by somebody who may not want to go on the record that all the NCMA wanted was 12 car shows. I never wanted to believe that, but around 1993 I felt like the class needed something if it was to ever get going.
It wasn't until Don and I got the ball rolling for John at Antioch with Wingless Spec Sprints that things began to truly take off. Again, another subject for a blog sometime as there are some interesting stories to tell about what we had to go through to start so successfully in 1999.
But in 1993, Mike Johnson resurfaced with another idea on how to get things going. His idea was a new Modified class called California Modified Association, and it had an ambitious and controversial goal, a bigger series called the California Modified Series. Mike looked at the NCMA, Santa Maria California Dirt Cars and Merced Limited Sprint Car classes with a eye towards a series of big rosters. I liked what I heard and decided that 1993 would be my final year as secretary and publicity director for NCMA.
Mike, as I've said, had a flair for talk, or bs as I'm sure some will say, and there were some well known names interested in what he was talking about. By the time 1994 came along, these people decided against the CMA, and I can't say I blame them. I won't speak for them here as to why they didn't stay, but I know some of the reasons. I decided to stay and see what we could do.
The first indicator that we were up against the wall was a meeting at then NCMA Business Manager Gup Turner's house. Mike and I and Don O'Keefe went together and were surprised to see Mike Lokmor there as well. I think we knew what was to come nexe. Mike and Mike did not see eye to eye on things, and anything Johnson proposed was shot down by Lokmor. This resulted in a shouting match. I'm not sure if Don or I was the first person to leave, but it was close either way.
As 1993 came to a close, Mike had set up agreements with the leaders of all the groups, and I put together a roster showing how many cars these groups represented. I believe it was over 60 at the time. This was never an attempt to say CMA had that many cars, but that a Cal Mod Series could have cars from all groups for bigger shows. The roster was made available to all the leaders.
Mike and I went to Reno to set the wheels in motion. We landed several CMA dates, including joint races with the NCMA at Antioch and Grass Valley and were also penciled in at Santa Maria. I'd have to dig the schedule up for specifics, but it looked good. Of course, by the time Turner returned to the NCMA with the news, the effort began to destroy the CMA. What they didn't count on was the lengths that Mike would go to to keep the CMA alive.
The first driver outside CMA to join the CMS as a member was Mark Nation of Santa Maria. I'm not sure how many cars were there that night, maybe a dozen, but Nation stomped the field. It wasn't even close. Tom, the chief steward of Antioch, advised Nation not to pour it on the rest of the field, so he won just ahead of Scott Holloway.
For the record, Brynda Bockover acknowledged the CMA by cutting a check to CMA both nights we were there for the cars we brought (four each night), but announcer John Myers refused to call the CMA members CMA members either night. In fact, in 1999, he basically accused me of trying to kill the NCMA with WSS.
Maybe I'll have to tell the story of all I tried to do to help the NCMA when we started WSS that year. If the NCMA had tried to perform to the level they were capable of, I never would have looked elsewhere to try and promote this class. All I ever wanted was more cars and better shows, and I stand by my decisions to promote CMA and WSS. I think I helped leave the situation in much better shape than it was, AND the NCMA still lives.
But after two races at Antioch, Mike decided he could not trust the NCMA. He was not happy with interactions with NCMA and decided to break all dates he had with them. As had happened before, I was the one left having to face the NCMA members who chose to bitch at me, and there were a few.
One of the last interactions CMA had with NCMA until the end of 1994 was a meeting in which my sister, of all people, volunteered to speak with NCMA leadership. Now, Jackie went into that room with Quinn and Lokmor and the others and explained what a full invert was and the concept of slow heat and fast heatm rather than the staggered heats NCMA ran at the time. It was no use.
Mike broke away from Merced as I recall because to bring CMA cars there would have meant joining CCMR. He had no problem putting wings on the cars. Knowing the advantage the bodies had on the Santa Maria Dirt Cars, Mike wanted to be able to run wings on the CMA cars to make the trip down to Santa Maria worthwhile After Anthony Pombo finished second at Santa Maria with a wing on his Limited Sprint Car, the idea was nixed by Santa Maria.
So, where the hell was CMA gonna race? Grass Valley, Antioch, Merced and Santa Maria were out the window. But Mike always seemed to have his eyes open. An idea he proposed for the NCMA in 1988, racing on pavement, returned to the table, and we pursued two lesser known tracks in Sacramento Raceway and Yreka. CMA and CMS lived, and we even had groups to run with. Plus, better purses than the NCMA at that time.
Mike also took the purse and distributed it more equally among the members, rather than as top heavy as NCMA was at that time. This MAY have been a catalyst towards the NCMA doing the same. My concern was aways to make sure the little guy had enough money to pay something for his night's effort.
One group we opened up to was the SMRA 360 SuperModifieds of Madera. The first date was Roseville, where we had 10 cars as I recall. This was billed as an exhibition date, though series points were available. There was no purse, but the crowd donated the equivalent of $50 per car which was paid evenly. Mike's car was not at this race, leaving the CMA championship to be fought between Mikie Esseltine (Mike's nephew) and Dave Johnson (Mike's dad).
We went to Lakeport for a show where Roger Galleano beat Mike. At Yreka, we helped open the door for carbureted Sprint Cars. They had a winged four barrel class called Sportsman Sprints that ran with injected Sprints and looked like a slow car. When we arrived, the Sportsman Sprints had their own show with guys like Ron Godwin, Cale Carder and Carl Tresser. Mike grabbed a win there in one of our visits on his way to the CMS title. And yes, we ran wings there. On one weekend when we were in Yreka in 1994, NCMA was in Susanville, which I found interesting.
We did what we had to do to keep this thing going, and in this case Mike was trying to milk the nostalgia angle. During this time, the lone car outside Mike's garage, Rick Young, crashed in his visit to promote the CMA at Sacramento.
I was beginning to get frustrated with the CMA not having cars outside Mike's garage. We had Mike and Dave and Mike and two cars being built. One was to be driven by John Burton. Steve Woodburn had two cars of his own, but Steve was more of a car collect0or. He bought the "blue goose" from Lee Jennings and the old Darryl Shirk car from Ray Aydelot, but both cars ended up parked. Ray's old car could have made an appearance, and it would have been a sign of growth.
Not only that, Steve was upset with Mike. Why? I'm not sure, but it threatened to take Dave's car out of the equation. That never happened, thankfully. Ricky Young's car ended up in Mike's possession as the fifth car. The problem with having five cars in one shop is being able to afford to put them out there.
We came to Sacramento with Mike and Dave and Mike's cars along with NCMA visitors Henry Mitchell III and Duane Watson. I had been trying to get Duane signed with CMA, but we never seemed to connect. Anyway Duane was to become one of the more successful NCMA Business Managers. On this night, Duane won his first feature to go with his NCMA "Rookie Of The Year" honors. Meanwhile, Dave passed his grandson Esseltine to win his first championship. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
So, with the season done, what next? It seemed like doors were open at Yreka, Sacramento and
Lakeport. Burton would have a car in 1995, but we had work to do for recruiting. Mike and Duane were talking about the possibility of NCMA/CMA dates in 1995. There appeared to be some potential. And then, I got a phone call.
Mike had a new pitch. He wanted to introduce Hardtops to the equation. He had two of them. By this time, Mike sort of fancied the Modidieds as a low buck SuperModified and Hardtops would fit right in. We would run them together. Steve would bring a car and Mike knew others who would do it too. Well, it's not that I was against Hardtops, but we had work to do on Modifieds. It felt unfocussed to me, and I didn't like the idea. I walked away to await the next opportunity to make a difference.
In the end, I think CMA had a positive influence on NCMA, because it forced them to step up and make a few changes. Four of Mike's cars made appearances with the NCMA in 1995 with Mike, Dave, Mike and John all getting to drive. NCMA held their first races at Yreka. NCMA purses actually grew and for a few seasons, NCMA car count grew.
It's just another piece of racing history, I suppose. One thing CMA allowed me to do was excersize my skills at promoting and hyping. By the time WSS was being conceived, I was ready to make something big happen. But that's for another blog. I've bored you enough here.
Friday, October 31, 2008
If you are really craving a look at some cool Hardtop photos, check out Don O'Keefe's page, which is linked on the right. There are tons of photos and some stories as well, along with plenty of links. As far as I can tell, Don was about the first person doing a page to remember the Hardtops of California, and now there are other cool pages out there as well. This is very important. Why?
Because racing should honor it's past and the great tradition that it is.
As far as the California short track scene is concerned, it has failed miserably for the most part with exception of a few places. One of my disappointments was I was unable to get John to sign off on an Antioch Speedway Hall Of Fame night. Would have been great for the track, and my sister and I were willing to put the whole deal together with a pre race picnic induction ceramony at the fairgrounds as BCRA has done for years for their guys.
Don't want to go off on a rant here.
The California Sportsman effort at Merced has wrapped up it's 10th season of the old 1970's style racing (Congratulations to new champion Mark Odgers). Don and I had frequent discussions after Merced got going on the subject of Hardtops. I made a trip to Sacramento Raceway on my birthday about 6 years ago for a Hardtop race there.
Over the last couple of years, Hardtops have made a comback in California, first with Chuck Prather's goup in the Sacramento area, then with Okie Bowl Hardtops and this year with the NorCal Hardtops. Let me just say there are some nice cars out there and more coming.
The NorCal Hardtop page is here:
I have grabbed 7 pictures in the hopes of spreading the word about this cool Hardtop effort. The first 5 are from http://sports.webshots.com/album/567294173CYjwov and were posted by
The last two are from http://rides.webshots.com/album/567276779RtkygO and posted by hotrodbob46
With Antioch Speedway's website being run by a new webmaster, results aren't as easy to come by. I tracked down some of the more recent results and thought I'd post them here just in case anybody was interested. Looks like the season may have ended with some good car counts.
Following are the final results for races held at Antioch Speedway on Oct. 11.
DIRT MODIFIED: Heat winners — Brian Pierce, Scott Busby, Duane Clevland, Kellen Chadwick. (B Main First Flight) Richard Papenhausen, Ty Duggins, Jimmy Coppin. B Main (Second flight) — Nick Caughman, Travis Perry. Main event — Ryan McDaniel. Kenny Neu, Nick DeCarlo, Pierce, Jerry Movrich.
SUPER STOCKS: Heat winners — Jeff Oschowka, Jermey Petrell. Doug Haigo. Main event — Olashowka, Mitch Enos, Ricky Thatcher, Eric Berendsen, John Haney.
PURE STOCKS: Heat winners — Fred Ryland. Billy Barnes. Dave Lincoln. Main event — Megan Ponciano. Ryland, Joshaua Davis. Dan McCown, Brian Beard.
Following are the results from the Sept. 27 races at Antioch Speedway.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
I voted absentee yesterday to avoid the lines on election day. Sometimes I wonder why I bother. I guess maybe because I still have a right to, but I wonder sometimes what difference it really makes. Don't want to go there. I wrote a book about some of my thoughts on things anyway.
What I do want to say is vote, because you can. And vote for what you believe in. If you don't like what you hear from either party on the news, do some research on the other candidates that they don't show on the news. I know, I know. If you don't vote for one of the two, you throw your vote away. WRONG!!!
You throw your vote away only if you can register to vote and don't or if you are registered to vote and don't. So, whatever you believe in, take a few hours to get informed and vote, because you still have a right to.
Are you as bored as I am with NASCAR? I don't even watch. It just isn't racing to me. I could enjoy Cup racing 20 years ago, but The Chase has ruined it for me. The passion is gone, but they have a guy leading it now who they like, so that's all that matters. I happened to be watching a NASCAR Now show on ESPN (I miss the days when Speed Week actually covered the whole world of racing).
What I saw was a report on an unbelieveable ending to an ARCA season. The point leader got taken out by the guy in second. His championship hopes were killed, so he came back out and took that guy out, handing the point lead to the guy in third. This is right out of Days Of Thunder and totally a Saturday night dirt track move.
Stuff like that isn't really cool, but it does get people talking and keeps them coming back. Back in the mid 90's, Antioch had a similar deal where David Rosa and Phil Torres were battling for the championship under the back drop of a full moon. David had the car to beat all year long, but he stumbled down the stretch. This allowed the consistent Torres to close the gap.
Torres was normally a very clean racer, while Rosa was more aggressive. However, it was Torres who made a bump to pass move cutting slightly into the infield to do this. Rosa had one more shot coming out of 4 on the last lap. He went for it, but fell just inches short at the line.
It wasn't over there. Being on the inside, Rosa took Torres right out the exit gate in Turn 1 at full speed in a spectacular crash through the fence. David always has maintained publicly that his throttle stuck. Did it, or was he just unhappy with the bump to pass move and the fact that he lost the title by such a slim margin? It's a racing memory most people who were there won't forget.
The interesting side note to that was Tom Manning was Chief Steward and a law and order guy in his second year in that post. He cleaned things up with a hard line approach. I've always believed he would have made the call, but as track manager Brynda Bockover said, they didn't have to after that crash. Tom just smiled at me when I asked him back then, but I know he would have done the right thing had the crash never happened.
But who knows? Moments like that are what add to the mystique and make the sport so special to racing fans. The ups and downs, the come back stories, the first time wins and on and on. Rosa had been kicked out of the track at the end of a season that had seen him make Top 20 for the first time in his career after he fought the track champion for wrecking his car (Maybe I'll do a post about that driver as there's a lot to say of that controversial figure).
I saw David go from a C Main racer who ran Figure 8 races to get more track time. His first Top 5 finish was in the 8. Under the guidance of Tim Martin, David grew into a title contender. I have respect for him, because he overcame a lot and became a champion and the all time winningest driver in Antioch Street Stock history, going back over 25 years.
I meant to to acknowledge another milestone last post. This is the 20th Anniversary of not only the NCMA and DCRR Racing News (It was Antioch Speedway Magazine before that), but the Dirt Modifieds. At Petaluma Speedway in 1988, John Soares Sr. had his first full season for Dirt Mods (won my Joe Carr if my memory serves).
That's right folks, IMCA didn't start the Dirt Mod effort in California and neither did NASCAR. It was John Soares Sr. at Petaluma. In a trip back east in 1986 or 87, "Pops" was watching the class and decided he should bring it to California. The first Petaluma Dirt Mod races happened halfway through 1987.
It's at this point where the Dirt Mods cross paths with the NCMA. In 1987, one of the Dirt Mod car builders was a man named John Procopio. John had been crewing for Al Nordstrom for a few years and decided to get in on the ground floor of the new class. There was a growing interest in getting the class at Antioch, and then Antioch promoter Bert Moreland had John bring his car out for a demo at the end of 1987.
As the story goes, and I had heard this first hand, Dirt Mods would get a 12 race deal in 1988, but Moreland was released from Antioch in favor of the late George Styles. Styles had earned a lot of respect in NASCAR as a guy who could get things done and turn things around. He relocated from Nevada for this job.
It's at this point that a Concord based California Dirt Car racer named Mike Johnson entered the picture. Mike had raced a hand full of races at Santa Maria in the division's first year in 1987, finishing as high as second. After a special Dirt Car race was arranged for San Jose with Styles and Rick Farren among those in attendance, Styles was convinced to give California Dirt Cars a chance.
This led to animosity by those who felt Dirt Cars had stolen the spot from Dirt Modifieds, which some thought of as the second coming of Antioch's beloved Sportsman class of the 70's. I was among those for a while at least. It wasn't until a conversation with Mike a few weeks into the season that I was convinced I should support this cause, which I did for several years.
Mike held a meeting at a Concord pizza parlor that had about 100 people, and he gave a presentation on this class. While Petaluma was already in double digits with it's class of Dirt Mods for the first full season, only two cars showed up for Antioch's California Dirt Car class on opening day. Oh, and by the way, unbeknownst to Styles, Johnson had formed the NCMA in his garage before the season started.
Now, Johnson had to deal with a lot of crap that year There are stories I could tell you and some rather interesting quotes. Meetings at that time in the NCMA could get vocal. I really credit Jim Booth with getting the NCMA on the right path. One of the things Johnson had to deal with was comments from those who said he only did the NCMA to get himself an easy championship. There were also very real threats to sabotage the division.
One night, Procopio (with Keith Brown driving) and John Buccellato managed to get invited to race at Antioch against the NCMA in their Dirt Mods. Buccellato was involved in a crash with Hall Of Famer Darryl Shirk that saw Shirk knocked unconscious, and Brown lost the main event by mere inches to Johnson. Some wonder what could have happened for the Dirt Mods at Antioch had Brown won.
Well, the NCMA voted to outlaw the Dirt Mod from future races. Within a year, they also outlawed Santa Maria's bigger wheel based California Dirt Cars as the NCMA went down the old Super Modified chassis path for a while. Procopio lobbied unsuccessfully to get a special demo race for the class at Antioch that year where he said 10 cars would appear. The class didn't finally get it's first season at Antioch until 2 years later in 1990.
The NCMA rose above the problems to have 20 seasons with lots of good racing memories, and the Dirt Mods basically unseated the Late Models as headline class at several tracks. It all started in 1988.
I go on and on, and I'm probably boring you again. I don't write in months, and then two long winded posts.
I'll just wrap it up with this. I think John's son Jim Soares has done a nice job of turning things around at Petaluma. This year, car counts looked pretty good, and it really amazed me what he did with Spec Sprints. Over at Antioch, John Soares Jr. completed his tenth anniversary season as promoter. The "Sons Of Soares" are still continuing the family legacy.
Just one question boys:
We don't have a race for Barkhimer or Moreland, which we should. I leave you out of this, but John is your dad. Where would you be without him? He is worthy of a big race, and I'm not really talking open show. Back in the day, we used to have 100 lappers, they were part of the point deal and they were special. How about a John and Gladys Soares Menorial 100 for your mom and dad? Just a thought
That's all for now. Until next time...
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
It's been a while since I've posted anything here. Sorry about that. My mind has been elsewhere. Plus, I haven't been to a race since I visited Don & Linda in Indiana last year. For the most part, I haven't even been tempted, other than a Freedom Series race at Antioch, a trip to one of Jim's Petaluma shows or the big Spec Sprint bash at Chico. It's been five years since I attended a race here in California. Will I finally go next year? Can't really say for sure. It's not something I think about that much, but anything is possible.
I made AIDS Walk in July. I even participated in Trans March a month earlier. I'm proud to have been a part of both events. I didn't made "Star Walker" for AIDS Walk, but I raised over $300 for the cause, was among thousands of others walking through Golden Gate Park that day and I enjoyed the 6 mile walk. I walk a lot anyway, so 6 miles is no big deal.
Special thanks goes to Don & Linda O'Keefe for their sponsorship and helping get me going. I've been wanting to do the walk for a few years now, and their support is what put it all in motion.
Belated Happy Birthday wishes are in order for Don and an old friend, Dan Nordstrom. Their birthdays both came within the last week of this writing, but I'm lagging and it's taken this long. Really don't know where my head's been at lately. I can't state enough the support Dan's family gave me early on when I was just getting started as a racing reporter. Dan's father and former Stock Car and Sportsman racer Al used to sneak me into the pits at Baylands back in 1984 and 85. And me and Dan used to have a lot of fun hanging out back in the day.
I see Don has been racing more this year and making plans for Chili Bowl '09. This is just awesome news to me, because I know how much he's been itching to get back behind the wheel, only to have one thing or another stop him. Don & Linda are enjoying life in Indiana, and I'm so glad they are. Sometimes a change of scenery can be just the thing a person needs in their pursuit of happiness.
I don't have to tell you how my friends Don & Linda have supported my efforts to be a part of helping the sport of racing. DCRR would have folded two years earlier if not for them. Some may think that would have been a good thing. Can't say I blame them for that as I was pretty grumpy the last year. I'm sad to see nothing other than John Kelley's MotoRacing magazine is left standing in the age of the internet. The sport really needs a weekly publication on the dirt track level. There are still plenty of things happening.
This year marked the 10th season of Wingless Spec Sprint racing at Antioch (Thank you Jim at Petaluma for understanding what we were saying with "Spec" and keeping that in the name at your track). Ten seasons at Antioch, and a new champion crowned this year. I'd say it was a success. It could have been more successful under different circumstances these past few seasons, but the show went on regardless.
I'm proud of what Don and I accomplished putting the class together. He had the rules covered and I had the hype. If a racer sneezed, I wrote about it to get the word out. It's no different than what I was doing for the NCMA before that. People won't give a damn if they know nothing about what's happening. That's a problem at some tracks these days. No publicity.
Anyway, Don and I had several fires to put out that first year from people who would see us fail, but the proof is in the pudding. Look at the roster of new Sprint Car racers and returning veterans. Guys who never thought they could do anything winning their first races. 12 cars opening day, never anything less at Antioch that year and 29 total cars. Enough for a B Main opening day the next year.
Petaluma, Chico, Placerville, Marysville and Watsonville joining Antioch with their own classes. Open Wheel Round Ups at Chowchilla. Big shows with huge fields (52 cars this year) at Chico. Would this be happening had we not started Spec Sprint a Antioch?
Now, I'm not about to put down the NCMA. They still live, and it's 20 years old this year. There are things I didn't like about what they did on their path, but I respect that they made it here through all the tough times. They aren't the carbureted Sprint Car class that started it all, but they are the one that made it (Santa Maria Dirt Cars and Merced Limited Sprints both folded).
So, congratulations to the NCMA on 20 years and all the exciting races that you've had. Here's to the future.
As I said, I haven't been to a race here in 5 years, but I do look at the numbers and names. Many new faces among some familiar ones. I don't think the sport is where it could be, but we are in tough times. We're lucky it's here at all, so enjoy. And, you really never know. The promoters may hit on something that will get big and create new excitement. As long as tracks are open and trying to do something, there is a chance.
I did notice a couple things that brought a smile to my face. While looking through results in my local newspaper not that long ago (We get results sometimes, but no stories), I say Hardtops had visited Antioch and an old Hardtop, Sportsman and Super Stock racer named Conrad Cavallero had won. I though that was cool to see him and the NorCal Hardtop effort putting on a show.
Secondly, Mark "The Missle" Odgers is the Sportsman champion at Merced. Yes, the Sportsman class still lives there, and it's Mark's first championship.
Actually, Mark is listed as the point leader at Chowchilla before the plug was pulled on CCMR's first season trying to promote there. They made it to August, but I don't know if the drivers there will be honored in a banquet for their accomplishments.
Now, I think the Chowchilla Fair Board needs to understand something. Making a track even happen at that place in 2000 was an absolute miracle. What Tom and Cindy Sagmiller did probably couldn't have been done with ANY of the other promoters in the area. Why? Because Tom & Cindy bucked the trends and what other promoters considered "the way to do things".
Why? They had to, or they would have failed at the start. They had plenty of bumps along the way and made mistakes, but their successes far out weighed those mistakes. A lot of racers considered Tom & Cindy friends (I know I do), because they know they were appreciated. It was nothing for a racer to drive 3 hours or more just to get there, losing money in the process. Why? Because they knew a fun time as waiting for them when they got there.
It ain't the money. It ain't the winning. It ain't any of that in the long run. If it ain't fun and you don't feel like you are among friends, you ain't staying.
Now, Tom & Cindy kept the Freedom Series alive this year at Antioch, and from what I see, it was a success. The George Steitz Memorial Shoot Out at Hanford is next. They need their track back. I read Ken Bonnema's comment on a forum that the Chowchilla Fairgrounds will only have one shot at this, and I agree.
What I'm trying to say is they need to look at what they had and realize they did make money with Tom & Cindy. Maybe not as much as some of the other tracks, but more than they had before the track opened. Tom has kept the big races alive and in the people's minds. The racers still remember him and they will support him. Any promoter that comes in there expecting a "traditional" show will fail, because that's not what this place is all about. Tom & Cindy know what it takes and they put their hearts into that place.
Bottom line is the fairgrounds needs to get on the phone with Tom and made a deal and make it happen. Otherwise, I don't see that race track having much of a future, and that would be a shame.
I haven't been doing much with the book at this stage. I was working on other projects, but recently not doing much at all. I have decided, due to the lack of information from places I need information from, that the history covered in the book will go to 2007. Antioch is a central part of the book (not the only part) and information has sort of dried up since Dennis Daniel retired as Antioch Speedway Webmaster. I can't understate how important his work was on that page. We may have disagreed occasionally, but I respect his work, especially on the web page.
I wrote a couple blogs a year or so ago that were controversial but covered topics I wished to clarify. I may dig them out and post them for some offseason material if anybody is reading. And if you did read this and care to reply or just say hi, post a comment. It's nice to know if anybody is reading.
Until next time, my best wishes to all of you.