Monday, November 3, 2008

Why I Left The CMA After Just 1 Season

I find it truly fascinating to see Hardtop racing growing here in California with the Okie Bowl Hardtops in Bakersfield and the Nor Cal Hardtop effort. Meanwhile, the Sportsman effort in Merced still lives and just completed it's tenth season. I may have to do a blog about that sometime.

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.