Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Look At Some Of The Families Of Racing At Antioch

This Article Appeared In DCRR Racing News in 1998

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.