Wednesday, November 19, 2008


A top 5 point competitor in Stock Cars in the early 70's, Mike Conley ends up on top of tractor tires in this Figure 8 raxe3 in 1987. Mike led several laps of Figure 8 races and finished as high as second, but a feature win eluded him.


This article appeared in DCRR Racing News in 1991

In 1987, it was hailed as a big reason for the increase in attendance. When it was quietly discontinued after the 1990 season, not much was said officially. However, insiders said the main reason it was dropped from the program was the officials' inability to control the drivers. The division that earned the praise of the fans and criticism of track management was the Figure 8. What started out as an exciting brand of racing turned into a war zone.

What was it that turned the Figure 8 into a racing form of a Destruction Derby? Why were drivers going out there with the deliberate intention of taking each other out? Could anything have been done to ease the tensions on the track and keep this form of racing alive at Antioch? Whenever a conversation is struck in the grandstands or anywhere else concerning the Figure 8, these are just some of the questions fans of this division ask.

Brian Holden revitalized his racing career in the Figure 8 at Antioch Speedway and may have been the best locally based driver in the four year history of the division.
When Figure 8 racing began, the crowd took an immediate liking to Brian Holden. Brian had revamped his image, taking the red, white and blue colors on his racing uniform and car and adopted the nickname "Flyin Brian". In the point race, Brian became the local hero in a battle against seasoned veteran John Keldsen. In a way, the seeds of conflict were sown in that first season, but harvest time was the following year.

"The Little Indian" John Keldsen may be the greatest Figure 8 driver in Watsonville and Antioch history with numerous championships and well over 100 victories to his credit.
The incident that stirred the anger in some of the drivers Brian was competing against involved Keldsen. Brian and John were staging an exciting door-to-door battle for the win as they came down the stretch to take the checkered flag. As they crossed the start/finish line, Brian's car made contact with Keldsen's, forcing Keldsen to slam hard into the front straightaway wall. The two drivers got out of their cars and exchanged a few words as Holden was declared the winner of the race. It was at this point that many people felt that Brian was playing the crowd's reaction and trying to make a fool out of Keldsen.
As a direct result of his actions in the Figure 8's inaugural season, Holden was never allowed by the competition to be a factor in the point race again, and it became a regular sight to see Brian get taken out of the action, many times by Keldsen's friend Henry Leyenberger. Legend has it on one night that Leyenberger jumped into Jim Robbins' ride one night, nailed Holden in the X halfway through the race, went to the pits and turned the car back over to Robbins, saying he'd done what he set out to do.

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.

"Wild" Jim Robbins #80 and Chris Shuttleworth #84 get close in the X. Over a decade later, Robbins won the Figure 8 championship when Antioch brought the class back for a season.
The run ins between those drivers culminated into an accident that cost Brown the title. Brown held the lead going into what was to be the final point race of the season. The heavy rains of September flooded the track and forced the race to be postponed for a week, much to the disappointment of Brown, who felt the season should have been called complete.

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.

Mike Conley Sr. gets interviewed by legendary announcer Butch Althar after a Trophy Dash win.

Conley, who never actually touched Brown that night, recalls those events. "Ken Taylor gave me hell over Bobby Brown. Bobby Brown took me out three times. They came up to me and told me if I touch that car I'll never race again. I said, 'Well, I don't care. Screw you. Get away from me. You pull this crap. You pull this crap. You pull this crap.' Actually, we didn't take him out. He took himself out. He hit the brakes, and everybody ran into him. Jim did not hit Bobby Brown. Jim hit Keldsen, which knocked him into Bobby Brown."

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.
Later on in the pits, Debbie was seen holding a piece of Schneeberg's car over her head in a sign of victory. She may not have won the title, but neither did Loretta. When she was informed that her move gave the title to Rapp, Debbie replied, "I hope so, because if he does, I'm gonna be the first one to congratulate him. Other than that incident with Tommy, he's the only one I haven't had any trouble with."

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.

Brian Holden joined the Figure 8 division after going through a sometimes humiliating season that saw him get spun out of the lead a few times. Brian was the Street Stock division's whipping boy in 1986, but with a new red, white and blue paint job and a new attitude the next year, he emerged as a star in the Figure 8. His popularity rose to a fever pitch when he ran door-to-door with Keldsen in a race that saw them crash across across the finish line with Holden the winner. However, Brian's playing off the crowd that night gained him a few enemies, and though he won several main events in his time and ranked second twice in the standings, there were drivers out there who would see to it that Brian never seriously challenged for a championship. Still, Brian never gave up and fired the final shot at Keldsen in their rivalry in the division's final race, knocking the rear end from under Keldsen's car.
Mike Conley Sr. never won a Figure 8 main, though he came close twice before falling back with a flat tire. He only won maybe a dash or two and he never seriously challenged for the title. If you talk to him, he'll tell you he wasn't that good of a driver, but he sure had a lot of fun. However, Mike built the engines for several of the competitors and was known to officials as a hell raiser. He was often accused of being the leader of a movement to undermine the track officials (or fight favoritism), but nothing was ever proven. I like to think of him as "The Master Of Disaster". Mike would do anything to help a fellow competitor and friend, is one of the nicest guys you'd want to meet and he's not somebody I will soon forget.

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.