Wednesday, December 30, 2009
The idea intrigued me and I was in support of Chuck for this. They were gonna be driving the Pure Stocks at Merced, not to be confused with the Hobby Stocks. This was a non Camaro or Firebird class. Unfortunately, it never really got off the ground. There was at least one car fielded, but it didn't have an impact.
Ideally, you teach these young boys and girls about race cars, building and maintaining them, painting them and maintaining a good appearance for the car, how to race and sportsmanship at the track. Art class at that particular school could be involved in the paint job of the car. The students could ultimately treat it like a High School event, such as football or baseball, meaning they come to the track and cheer their team, bring banners with the school colors and that sort of thing.
In theory, this is a pretty neat deal. I've recently had some conversations with Jim Robbins at Antioch Speedway on this very subject. He's been looking into doing something with Four Bangers, the entry level class. Picture the high schools in Antioch, Pittsburg, Concord and Oakley competing in this thing for what school is the best. It supports school spirit, encourages potential new fans and drivers. It seems like a win-win situation.
It creates more buzz at the schools with the kids. Picture the school newspapers feauring stories on their team cars and pictures at the races, maybe even radio coverage at the school radio station at Clayton Valley. From that, maybe you even get the next writer or track announcer. Well, maybe.
Jim tells me there is concern over liability and that sort of stuff. Yeah, her comes the legal garbage. A student can get hurt playing any sport at school, and seriously at that. These cars are pretty safe, and Four Bangers aren't going that fast compared to the other classes. It's entry level.
If something like this could be pulled off, it further promotes the track as part of the community, but I know it's a long ways from ever becoming reality. I can picture it, though. A few hundred screaming teenagers or so, cheering their school on, and a half dozen or more schools taking part in this thing.
Another problem, though, would be funding. Let's face it, money is tight for many schools these days, and sports and the arts are the programs feeling the axe at the budget meetings. This program would require a coordinator who would keep in touch with all of the schools and would help bring in sponsorship for the school. But, yes, students would be encouraged to take part in fund raising efforts. It's another lesson in life they would need to learn.
Well, it sounds good on paper, but a lot of work would be needed to really make it fly. Will that ever happen? Probably not, but it is one way to attract new interest in the track. That makes it something to at least look at it. Nothing wrong with that. There are other ideas that need to be considered, but that's for another column.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Back in 1988, racing lost one of it's best, most open to anything, race tracks in the Bay Area. We lost Baylands. The things they did at that facility. You could race just about anything there, and they had immense driver support. The Stock Car program, billed as Automania, and the open wheel Sprint Car nights were mainstays, and they had cars. It was huge. Baylands gave us the 360 Sprint Car Class, Enduro races and the Enduro inspired American Stock class.
So, when the gates closed for the last time, they had huge fields of Sprint Cars and American Stocks with no home track, Mini Stocks of different varieties and a Sprint 100 class. The Outlaw Sprint Buggies and Sprint 100's formed clubs and traveled, but David Vodden negotiated a deal with John Soares Sr. to give the rest of those racers a home at Petaluma Speedway. The car counts Petaluma had for the next few seasons were huge, and they usually got it all in before curfew too. It was amazing.
Sure, Pops made a lot of money on the deal, but he also did it for the racers. If he hadn't stepped in, where would they have gone? Nobody was interested in Mini Stocks back then, and most tracks already had the slightly faster Street Stocks and didn't need American Stocks. I'll grant you that San Jose would have gladly filled the void for the 360 Sprint class. So, the All Pro Series was born at Petaluma in 1989, a brilliant move by Vodden and Soares, in my opinion.
What sprang from that, however, was promoters deciding to add divisions to increase the pit gate, rather than maintaining the car counts in the divisions they had. First, they did it with traveling support classes. There were the NCMA Modifieds, SORA Sprint 100's, Northern Stars Mini Sprints, PCDCRA and Nor Cal Dwarf Cars and the grand daddy of them all, the BCRA Midgets, who could still headline at the time.
Another thing that promoters have usually been on top of through the years is putting that next big division out there. From Midgets and Jalopies in the early days, to Hardtops and Super Mofidieds in the 50's and 60's, to Stock Cars, Sportsman and Sprint Cars through the 60's and 70's, to Late Models, Sprint Cars and Street Stocks in the 80's, to Dirt Modifieds, Sprint Cars and Street Stocks or Pure Stocks in the 90's.
One thing I have noticed in this last decade, however, is that this"next big thing" in short track racing never really happened. It did? Name the division? I'd love to say Spec Sprints, and they have been a great class, but it still hasn't spread as wide as the last "next big thing" the Dirt Modifieds. Folks, that was 20 years ago. It's well past time for the thing that will take us through the next decade as the "must see" in racing. As is, Dirt Modifieds, Sprint Cars and some variation of Street Stocks have filled the void.
Promoters have tried to reinvent the Late Model division, but it just isn't happening. In fact, they tried throughout the last decade. Do you really think it's working?
In the last decade or so, I've witnessed all these new divisions added to the show. The only one to have an immediate impact was Spec Sprints. That's not just the ego of knowing I was a part of it. Just a fact. It debuted with 12 cars at Antioch and never had anything less until some ten car shows two years ago. Limited Late Models, Pure Stocks, Mini Trucks and Four Bangers all debuted with four cars or less. You might think that wouldn't be the case, but it was. Why do you suppose that is?
Here's my problem with this whole deal, and I will not name names. It seems to me that some of these divisions were backed by drivers who couldn't get it done in the division they were in and needed to start a class they could be the champion in. This is particularly the case in Limited Late Models and Mini Trucks. I don't want to be a jerk about it, but it's true as far as I can see.
So, Antioch starts fragmenting divisions and dividing car counts. I could understand in the NASCAR days adding Pure Stocks to be the entry level class. Street Stocks were evolving and the Modifieds were headlining. We had three good classes. The racing, quite frankly, sucked in the Moidifieds with all the crashing, but there were still some good racers in the field. Too many yellows, particularly when Regional points were at stake.
I stand by Spec Sprints, and history has proven me right about that. It's still Sprint Car racing for the working man or woman, and even if that driver next to you spends twice as much as you do, you can compete with him if you know what you are doing.
In theory, Limited Late Models seemed like a good idea. Take old chassis and bring them out of the weeds for one last run. Problem was, it served to take drivers out of a competitive Street Stock class, and this division never grew beyond 16-18 cars at it's best. Now, the two divisions have merged.
Pure Stocks hit a brick wall in the last few years, but I really think rule changes in the early part of the decade didn't help either. Plus, new drivers came in and ran the Mini Truck division instead, and then Four Bangers were added as well.
There's an identity problem at the track, and there should be fewer divisions with sensible rules. We've effectively fragmented divisions to a point where, rather than have two or three divisions with 25-30 cars and full programs, we have 12-16 car fields or less and shows that aren't as good as they could be. Fans want more cars and less divisions, a sense of competition and more of a sense of excitement.
Drop the Four Bangers? Well, when this class was first added. I hated it. It felt like a money grab to me and didn't add value to the races. People in my section, at least, didn't like them. But, I still supported it and tried to help it grow. At it's height, there were about 20 cars, but then things happened and John Soares Jr. dropped the class. I know a little of what went down, but that's not important. The thing is, it easily would have had a 30 plus car count by now if that hadn't happened. So, I can't blame him for trying again this year.
Pit car count is important, because that's where the purse usually comes from. The more cars, the better. Problem is, six divisions is too much. Somebody once used the phrase "cookie cutter" divisions. Seems about right to me.
At the moment, the Dirt Modifieds and Spec Sprints still top the list. Super Stocks, the marriage between Limited Late Models and Street Stocks, have a decent car count for the intermediate class. Then, you have Pure Stocks, Mini Tricks and Four Bangers. I'm not sure where you put the Dwarf Cars, but I disagree with the assumption they need to be dropped.
What I would do if it were my call and I could afford to is cut down to three, no more than four, divisions per week and rotate. Dirt Modifieds and Spec Sprints never on the same night, Super Stocks and Dwarf Cars never on the same night, Pure Stocks, Four Bangers and Mini Trucks, never more than two of these on the same night.
We'd have time trials to establish the starting grids and set new tracks records so the fans could get into just how fast these cars are going. Trophy dashes for all. I'd prefer fully inverted heat races, but I suppose staggering the heats to set a main event grid if we have enough cars for a B Main would be acceptable. I'd have drivers out of their cars before the main event sometimes to do autographs. I'd do special races for mechanics, driver's wives. a reverse race, hot dog races and other fun things the fans can get into.
And, I'd have at least one 100 lap Main Event for two divisions and one 50 lap race each for the other classes. We'd make them special races and honor somebody from the track's past.
Crazy ideas, I suppose. I just don't think you can cut divisions now. Cut race dates for drivers in this economy to make it possible for them to support all the races they have. They are more apt to make every race if we're talking 12-14 races, than if it's 18-20 races. And, did you look at the point standings at Antioch last season? No disrespect to the champions who earned what they got, but what snooze fests. Are fans supposed to be excited about that? The best championship battle they had was in the Dwarf Cars, a division that has been a positive part of the program since John added them to the regular rotation in 1998.
Anyway, that's just my opinion on the matter. I'm for anything that will attract more cars and make for better racing. Putting more people in the grandstands is what it's really all about.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
This was a decade that saw our country change "forever" in an instant. Not gonna get into politics here, but I always suggest people look, listen, read and think about what is going on and not let people tell you what to think.
This was a decade that saw my sister pass away. I lost my dog earlier this year. He was really a member of the family. My time in racing came to an end, which I know surprised a lot of people. Nobody thought it would end like that, but I have no regrets. My eyes were opened, and I could see clearly on my way out.
My last bit of involvement in racing centered around simulated auto racing with my friend Joe Martinez at CRO. We started that page as the best dam racing news site on the web as the decade began. Along the way, simulated racing became a part of it. At the time, I felt it was a detriment to the news aspect of what we were doing.
When I came back to it a year after leaving the real racing scene, the message board at CRO was dead. There had been a thread about a month before about reviving the sim racing league. Well, I assumed a fake identity, CW. That stood for both Charlie Watkins and Column Writer, and there's reasons for both that a few people know.
The big reason I chose to go anonymous was because I didn't want to talk about real racing. I wanted to have fun and build the league up. The mistake I made was that since I chose not to really chat with people and use my voice, I didn't fight for what I believed in and watched it all go away as the people I enjoyed racing with left one by one. There were some good newcomers there.
Long story short, I wrote stories, opened up my own server for practices and Joe and I built this thing into something truly awesome from a car count perspective. We were promoters in a away. When I finally revealed my identity, I started doing videos and announcing. From 2004-2006, this league was huge, and everybody seemed to want in. I left because it wasn't fun. I wanted simplicity, and it just got more complicated.
I can remember talking with John Soares Jr. about the bid being put up against him for Antioch Speedway prior to the 2003 season. George Steitz wanted in. He was a little concerned about things. I'll leave details out, but our last phone conversation had to do with him knowing he had the track. I recall him saying,"I'll see you at the track."
There were no hard feelings. Okay, I wasn't happy, but there were lots of reasons why. The last two years of The DCRR were losing money left and right. If it weren't for people like Don & Linda O'Keefe, Bill Bihn, J.D Willis and others, who sponsored here and there, it wouldn't have made it.
You've got to understand, I had achieved my dream. I was a track announcer and PR guy. Well, the dream of being a promoter never happened, but that takes money. I'm not naive. But, I was as close to being a promoter as one could get without having the official title. By 2002, I was back to just my magazine and the fledgling DCRR State point race.
I had hopes of getting the microphone again. You don't realize how much you love doing something until you aren't doing it anymore. I used to look up and thank God when I walked down from the booth at the end of the night. In 2003, I had my tape recorder and did audio calls from the races that I streamed on my web page or Don's web page. People used to listen to that and my audio show, and I was always getting positive feedback.
In 2004, I was under the impression that I might be back in the booth again at Antioch. Maybe I was misinterpreting what I was hearing in my conversations with John. I don't know. But when he said, "see you at the track" at the end of that conversation, I said to myself, "I'm done. I have nothing more left."
Trying to remember when Dave Lewis and Mike McClunney made the offer for me to go to Watsonville. Was it 2003 or 2004? Mike made the call. At the time, it was still a NASCAR track, but in it's waning stages. Rick Farren had the track. Now, there's a certain amount of irony in the offer. Not too many years before, I was vocal in Farren losing Antioch. Some people weren't to happy with me, but I don't blame them.
Watsonville was on hard times, but there was a chance to turn it around. Mike and Dave had ideas, and they wanted me to announce. Joe offered me a place to stay. I think it was Ken Bonnema who offered me the same. All I needed to do was take Amtrak as I had to Merced and Chowchilla so many times. But that was very stressful at times. I just didn't want that. I could do it, but I didn't.
I felt bad for Dave and Mike, because they were getting hammered by their critics from the very start. They needed some support in helping build the excitement and at least give their plan a chance. It didn't come. There was one web page that was particularly nasty and one respected columnist who could have been more supportive. I don't think he meant anything by it, but it wasn't helpful.
We all know the history. Mike and Dave made it a year and Farren gave up the track. It's Ocean Speedway now, and they seem to be doing great by all accounts. Part of me wonders what might have happened. I'm still trying to picture myself wearing NASCAR colors. I think the writing was on the wall though. Back in the day, though, the NASCAR banner meant something at the little dirt tracks.
In 2004 or 2005, Tom Sagmiller called. He was looking for an announcer and PR person. I was a bit surprised by that, but I shouldn't have been. Any ill feelings Tom and I had for each other, are water under the bridge. I could have done this, but I just didn't have it in me. Plus, I didn't want to choose sides in "the war", and I wasn't a fan of Chowchilla running the same night as Merced. I had to decline.
There's always that question of what might have been. But I also wonder what might have been if Spec Sprints had been part of the program in 2002 as we had discussed, and also what might have been if we'd have kept the Hobby Stock class in check. Tom had a great run there, though, and I respect him for making that track go. What more can be said? He's a racer, so he knows what it takes to make the racer's happy.
So, you're probably wondering what my point is. That is, if you are reading. Nobody may care.
Well, there was a point to the Jim Robbins visit a while back. I sort of had that feeling, but I wasn't really looking at a comeback.
John Soares Jr. called me up after his trip up to Reno for the Promoter's Workshop. He is keenly aware of the problems Antioch Speedway has. It's not the track. The track itself is fine. It's the image of the track. The lack of publicity. The lack of that sense of anything really mattering. The things that cause a family to go see a movie instead of a race with their entertainment dollar.
Concerns include publicity, announcing, the web page and there was this other thing. As I understand it, John now owns Racing Wheels Magazine. It's been out of business for a few years now, but he's looking to bring it back. He spoke of bringing back the news and emphasizing the classified ad section. Also, it would be a biweekly magazine. Can a printed racing magazine make it in this age of the internet?
So, after six years, the door is open for a comeback to Antioch Speedway. Would I be willing to come back and try again? There was always such a rush to announcing. Get those sponsors for the track and cars plugged, knowing interesting facts for all the racers, knowing the nicknames and just getting into it. Letting the people know we're watching a competitive sport and that the results matter in the big picture of this sport. The history of the track.
I think back to the announcers who meant something to me, like Butch Althar, who taught me the importance of the sponsorship. Harry Osbourne, who taught me why nicknames for the drivers are important, because they endear the drivers to the fans. They inspired me, and I'd like to think I added something to the show when I was up there.
Writing, announcing and reestablishing Antioch Speedway as THE place to be on Saturday night. It matters. John even spoke to me of the Hall Of Fame as the track turns 50. Yeah, 50 years, can you believe it?
So, how do I feel about it? Do I want to come back? I'll be honest with you. I don't think about it a lot. It's not something that drives me like it used to. I'm aware of it, and I read things when I can find them. It bothers me that the track has no publicity. I don't want to rip on the guy announcing, because he enjoys what he does and has become part of the tradition. But, the track can do better.
What saddens me is that nobody has been inspired to step up. I recall that the terrible souvenir programs of 1982 and 1983 inspired me to start writing and eventually make The DCRR. Where is that person at? Every track has somebody who thinks they can do it. Usually it's somebody young who thinks they know it all. But if the passion is there, they can be molded. Racing needs those people, because the ones you rely on won't be there all the time.
I mean, Stockton lost two great promoters of racing in Jim Shiels and Duane Borovec, both of whom passed away. Ron Albright could announce and write, and he retired. I'm not sure how Butch Althar is doing these days. And, Gary Jacob is gone. I warned of this during the last two years I was doing my magazine. What happens if somebody quits or passes away? Who will do it then?
So, the question is, would I come back? The answer is, I doubt it. I just don't know if I have it in me anymore to do this. I'm not the same person. I would have to have a good reason to want to do it again, and right now, I just don't know that I see it.
One thing is for sure, though. After six years, it was good to know I'm still remembered for the good that I can do. Sure, it's a little late, but better late than never. That, at least, is a positive note to end this decade on.
Happy New Year to all of you, and may this coming decade be kind to you and see lots of good things come your way.
Monday, December 21, 2009
As a fan, I knew about Merced Speedway when I first started attending the races at Antioch Speedway. There was a guy named Duane Noe who came to race. He was pretty fast. I'm ashamed to admit I didn't know of George Steitz or Ted Stofle or Vern Willhoit or any of the many great stars of Merced until years later.
My introduction to the track came in the form of Merced visitors who came to Antioch and kicked a little butt in the 90's and stories written by Gary Jacob. Merced had a similar makeup of racers as Antioch. It was where "the little guy" raced. We always viewed the Watsonville guys as the "big buck guys" though I must admit those boys could drive.
We had a guy named Chuck Carter in the Streets Stocks early on in a yellow #66a car that won quite a bit. One night, a yellow #66m car showed up from Merced and won. It was Grant Ford. Stock Car racers like Regional champion Doug Williams, DeWayne Blundt, Ralph Beck, Andy Ferris and Billy Corn came from Merced and raced. Jeanette Gomes came out in her Street Stock and won. Matt Costa, Duke Haas, Bobby Smith, Greg McDonald, Greg Schwergdfeger, Mark Condell and Darren Thomas also fielded Street Stocks from Merced out at Antioch.
Merced was part of the NASCAR thing. They were in the State point race. Being a Saturday night track, I didn't get a chance to visit until the late 1980's, but I always felt they were a part of my racing family, if that makes sense. Merced, Antioch, Watsonville, San Jose and Baylands in the mid 1980's. That was the stuff.
It was probably Late Model racer Al Nordstrom that got me to Merced the first few times. Might have been a "Tri Track Challenge" series race. Ah, the days when tracks worked together for the good of car count. Bobby Hogge III and Jim Pettit II were locked in a tight battle for Regional points. Pettit had gotten hot lately, but Hogge clinched the title that night. I recall Bobby not being really sure he had won it all. I have a picture of Bobby from that night and one of the Pettit crew getting things together for the feature.
I think Larry Folkner, Bob Williamson and Mark Keys were among the elite of Merced Late Model racers at that time. The Griffins were in charge as part of the NASCAR team at that time, but Merced had certain needs that didn't fall in line with NASCAR, or maybe I should say Scotts Valley. They jumped on the Pure Stock bandwagon before Antioch and Watsonville, and it worked for them. They started this old Super Mod type class called California Modifieds, and that worked too.
People criticize Chuck, and I can't blame them. Like all of us, he has his flaws, but he had some good ideas back then too. NASCAR wanted Merced to jump into the Grand American Modified class, but Corn and Folkner were the only ones ready. The thought was that the Merced drivers would bring their Late Models to Antioch if forced to, but that didn't happen. Sometimes the big wigs in Scotts Valley were clueless. We're talking low buck racers, and a lot of Merced racers didn't have the money to do that.
The Late Models and Street Stocks at Merced had B and even C Mains into the mid 80's, and even at the end, the Late Models had a dozen or so cars. So, what's better, 10 Late Models or two Grand American Modifieds? Had it not been for Griffin's move to the Cal Mod class with Regional points, there would have been problems. And the Cal Mods were a good class that could hold their own with the NCMA.
Mike Palmberg had one. Gordon Rodgers, Dave Laughton and even Stock Car mainstay Ray Morgan. What happened back in those days was Gary Jacob had a list called the "Realistic" Regional point sheet. The list NASCAR released every week didn't tell the real story, but Gary's list projected what drivers were on a pace to do. With only 22 races, Merced's Cal Mod guys had no margin for error. They had only two bad races to lose, where the two track racers at Antioch and Watsonville had over 20 to get rid of to make their best 20.
Well, Rodgers won a lot. He was on a pace to win it all the two seasons Merced used the Cal Mod division for this. He finished second one year and third the other, and Late Model guys did not like this. Scotts Valley didn't like it much either and wanted a change. Merced didn't have many options though. They did bring Late Models back for no Regional points the last year they were in NASCAR. Car count grew, but Merced dropped the class a year later for good, to the disappointment of many. They also dropped NASCAR.
Considering the financial situation, they had no choice at the time. Being on an island of his own, Griffin had to do what he thought would work. It was not a perfect situation. There were driver boycots, rule changes that cut car counts, the dropping of Limited Sprints for the Sportsman class and on and on. Some people got mad, but the show went on. The Griffins loved what they did, and they tried to keep it alive at a cost to them.
For many years, Merced Speedway had a rich tradition of great racing, from the Hardrops to the Sportsman division to the Late Models. So many memories. Some of Merced's top drivers would go to other places and win too.
In the 90's, it seemed sometimes like the track struggled to find itself. The Little Truck division was added. Chuck was so proud of this class, he tried to sell Antioch and Watsonville on it, but both tracks turned a blind eye to it. But you know, this division gave Merced the Stone family, Jack Stanford, Marcus Aue, John Clarke and other new blood that moved up in divisions, so it had a huge impact on Merced Speedway.
IMCA sanctioning was added to the Modified class, and car counts were good there. The legendary Johnny Sass not only announced, but he brought in sponsorship for each race that had a positive impact on purses. Griffin made the track bigger, but the down side was the inside back wall that scared some people off from racing there. But man, the grandstands there, that place was a palace. So much potential.
People were frustrated though. You can talk about positives, like the big special races that continued, free admission to the fans on 4th of July and continued efforts to promote family and community, without talking negatives.
The drivers did strike, and then headed elsewhere to places like Hanford, Madera and Antioch. Chuck stepped in and claimed Larry Folkner's motor one year, costing Folkner the title. Strong track supporter and sponsor Mark Condell attempted to claim a motor in Street Stocks, as per the rules, but he was denied. Tom Sagmiller, a big booster for the track, ended up leaving and becoming one of the loudest voices of management change as the track headed into the new millennium.
Through it all, the show went on. Whether it was 4 cars or 24, races were held, points were kept and champions were crowned. The promoter's grandson, Timmy Post, died, and the track honored him with it's biggest race. Everybody wanted to compete in the Timmy Post Memorial race, which was set up for just the CCMR and IMCA members as it was felt Timmy would have wanted the locals to benefit from the extra money in the purse.
Some criticized the Griffins for not being welcoming to out of town racers, not just in that race, but in general, but it was real simple. Know the rules when you come, play by the rules and there wouldn't be a problem. But that rule book will bite you in the butt, and sometimes it may seem very trivial. Some visitors had no problems, but others did. It depended on who you talked to.
Merced welcomed Rick Petruzzi with open arms. I was amazed. They would boo that guy walking around the grandstands at Antioch, but at Merced they cheered him. He won a championship there.
Before Antioch racer Bob Hansen became a Street Stock State champion and top runner in Modifieds, he brought his big old "tuna boat" race car to Merced and had his first top three future finish. Heck, low buck racer Mitch Enos won a Late Model feature there. I had some fond memories in my early visits to that track. The people were friendly, the racing was good and it was fun.
In 2000, after efforts to make a change at Merced had failed, Tom Sagmiller and his investors managed to open Chowchilla Speedway some 16 miles or so down the road on Friday nights. Despite that, there weren't too many people who ran both tracks. The thinking was one of the tracks might go under, but it didn't happen. Both tracks had something to offer, even if working together was out of the question. I was in the middle, and getting a compromise was next to impossible. I tried.
In 2001, three of us walked the fence, Joe Martinez, Doug Laidlaw and me. Tom never asked me to pick a side, and I never heard it from Chuck either. All I wanted to do that year was help BOTH places, and at the time I had hopes of track unity. I was naive, I admit it, but I am a dreamer.
A week after I received my walking papers from the grandstands at Antioch for my opinion in The Editor's Viewpoint column, I went to Merced Speedway and sat in the stands with Tom and Cindy. It was bittersweet. We had everything going at Chowchilla at the time, growing car counts and attendance. It was a great show. But at Merced, it was doom and gloom. We were cracking jokes, but for me, part of that was to keep the tears out of my eyes.
There were 18 cars that night, ten IMCA Modifieds, 4 Pure Stocks and 4 Street Stocks. A tow truck tows a car off the track and the funeral procession plays over the PA. Somebody says, "I wonder if that's for the crashed car or the track itself?"
It was bad. Looking at the four car fields, I think I quipped, "Somebody's taking the Food 4 Less sponsorship a little too seriously."
But I knew then that I had to help. I love getting into projects that build things up and make them better. I'm pretty good at hype. I think I had done a little something to help the NCMA in it's early years and the Spec Sprints. Joe and I were still doing CRO together and kicking some butt with the news. Both of us were on the same page at the time. I remember the after race meals we had with Tom, Cindy and Buddy where we were talking about what we could do to make things better.
Tom never said he didn't want me to do this. Why? Tom has Merced Speedway in his heart, despite what some people may think. He let me stay at his place a day later so I could do this. Other promoters held me up to certain standards where I had to make choices or I was being bad, but not Tom. He even drove me to Merced Speedway or Cindy would.
I'll tell you something else, as far as this silly feud goes. Tom chose to open Chowchilla on Fridays so as not to hurt Merced, and he could have if he wanted to. He even moved a race in 2001 that cost him thousands, but he only did that to help Merced. I never heard him tell anybody not to go to Merced, and he allowed me to hype Merced races on the PA at Chowchilla.
So, I go to Merced Speedway with my recorder, camera and paperwork and get to work. I start writing about Merced and hyping any point battles, any drivers having good runs and just building things up. I'm in the grandstands announcing these races into the tape recorder for CRO. I started the CRA State point race with Joe that saw two championships won by Merced racers Jimmy Lust and Jack Stanford. I'm doing what I can.
Not long after I started announcing for CRO audio, Matt of Matt & Glass decided I needed to be in the booth with Johnny Sass. What a great honor that was to me. Johnny's the real deal. He's no phony. Matt tells the Griffins he'll pay me for a month, and if they like what I'm doing, they can pay me. Well, they liked what they heard. Thanks Matt. You're awesome.
Now, I can really help make a difference. I'm hyping everything I can. Me and Johnny work good together. I'm noticing car counts are growing, and attendance is growing a little as well. People are starting to get into this thing. The Pure Stocks had been down for a few years, but that year saw it reach double digits regularly. I was pretty excited, and it felt good to be a part of it. We had a good show. Car count wasn't spectacular, but we got two heats, a dash and main event for our three main classes and some good races. Even the Sportsman division was doing okay. Chuck really had that high groove dialed in for the racers too.
At the end of the year, I missed the banquet, but this was because Chowchilla was running big races I needed to be at, not because I didn't want to be there. I'll never forget calling Marlyee on opening day 2002, getting ready to catch a train down there, only to find out I wasn't being brought back. I felt so crushed that day. It hurt. Merced Speedway was in my heart. I felt like the Merced/Chowchilla thing may have had something to do with it, so I withdrew from Chowchilla.
In hindsight, Tom deserved better than that. Sure, there were some things I was unhappy with him about back then, but he deserved a face to face meeting. When I lost Merced, I just didn't care anymore. I spoke about reacting to things and not being happy in another post, and this has everything to do with that. The crusade was over. Had I still had the gig at Merced and been allowed to do both, I would have returned. I love it down there.
And I never had any problem with Chuck or Marylee. Do I agree with everything they did? No I do not. Nobody will agree with anybody on everything. But, what I saw in them when I was down there was two good people trying to do their thing and keep the race track going. They were trying, and they were having a little success in the early part of the decade.
So, I came back a few weeks into the season in 2002. Johnny Sass is at the gate and wants me up in the booth with him. Do the Griffins mind? They don't, and I would love to work with Johnny again. I'm in the pits and people are happy to see me. They want me back there again. I felt welcomed. I'll be honest, the last two years I was doing my thing in racing, I went to Merced when I needed something to make me feel good about being in racing. The Valley is good for that, at least for me.
So, I came back several times that year, and the Griffins invited me to the banquet. I go and present several DCRR State awards plaques. They even awarded me as part of the crew. Then, Johnny put some pictures from the banquet of me handing out awards from the State deal in the track program, along with State points listings. What an honor. Things weren't going all that well for me at that point, so this meant so much to me.
I came back to Merced my last season in racing whenever I could. My friend Chris usually drove, and we always had fun. Things were holding steady with drivers like Ramie Stone, Bob Williamson, John Clarke, Randy Brewer, Raul Rodriguez and so many talented racers putting on a good show. It's real easy to write and announce when you have these guys inspiring you. But, things were falling apart for me. I could feel myself ready to walk away, always going back to Merced for my smile.
When the season was up, I only had one thing that I was looking forward to that could have made a difference for a possible 2004 in racing for me. The Merced Banquet. Well, there was one more thing, but I won't get into it here. Anyway, I had the awards all ready to go and my ride was set. I don't drive, which is ironic when you think about it, but I can get to the train station if I need to. But, I had a ride set up for that night.
So, I'm getting ready with the cheap suit I have. Jim Soares saw it on me at Reno one year and asked me if I was there to take his order. Jim's sense of humor sometimes, but that's another story. Anyway, the time comes, and there's no ride. I never heard from him, and then it was too late. I was crushed. I really was. My heart wasn't in it anymore, but I had taken a box of awards for John Trussler to hand out at Antioch. I decided to go there and do it myself.
The DCRR Sweet 16/Terrific 12 State point race had already seen awards handed out in Orland that year, and that night was gonna be Antioch and Merced. I really felt like I was building something that year that I could make into a big thing for the racers. I could ultimately promote track unity in my own way, through my actions and not just with words. That State point race was pretty neat, and people were definitely into it.
I'm pretty sure the pictures taken at the Merced banquet in 2003 would have gone into the program again, and that would have been a big deal for the State points. Johnny gave away so many prizes for the programs that they sold quite a few. I was a no show, but not out of choice. Then, I get a call from Joe Martinez, telling me I had been awarded a "Team Player" award for my efforts. A trophy actually. I was crushed.
I know the Griffins probably took it personally. I e-mailed them, because I had no phone number to call then. I tried to explain what had happened, but I guess it didn't matter. What more could I do? As the last award I ever won in racing, I can tell you it would have been displayed with pride here had I been able to get it. I know they don't hand those out lightly.
This was when I decided to skip Reno that year, though Don O'Keefe Jr. had suggested I go. I should have, but I was just not into it. John Soares Jr. and I had a few phone calls when it looked like somebody had been trying to get Antioch from him, and after the call letting me know it was okay, I was relieved that I could walk away. I'm sure he thought I'd be there opening day, but I didn't want to just continue as things had been. I needed to go.
And Merced Speedway continued. I know about Chuck's move to grab Chowchilla, and it wasn't cool in my book. It failed, and maybe that impacted the demise of Merced? Adding divisions didn't help things either, I'm sure.The numbers were dwindling over the last two seasons especially. Even the IMCA Modifieds weren't reliable anymore. So sad to see it end like this.
Maybe it should have ended years ago. Perhaps the feud should have ended years ago. Who won in the end? How would things have been now if both sides had buried the hatchet? Woulda coulda shoulda...
I can say that you don't last for some 25 years running a race track without doing something right. I can't fault them for that. They made some big mistakes, but they had some big successes too. I just wish they would have left things in good enough shape that somebody could have taken the ball and ran with it. Who knows what a fresh mind would have brought to the table if given that chance?
Can it be saved even now? I know it seems unlikely. Then again, did anybody think Chowchilla would get another chance? Or Stockton? Orland? You never know. Maybe the final chapter in the history of Merced Speedway isn't written yet. I can only hope.
Let me end this with a thank you to Chuck & Marylee Griffin. Maybe you weren't perfect, but you gave people a place to race all these years.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Figure it out folks. At least you have a track. It may not be perfect, but at least it's still there. Do you want to see it closed? Take a good hard look, because it can happen. Down the road a ways at Merced, we lost a track with a longer history than the one Antioch had. Sure, it didn't have the car count Antioch had, but racers and fans still called it home. It meant something to them.
It meant enough to a guy like Tom Sagmiller that he stood up and tried to do something about it. He was a racer seen as "hot headed" to some people, but judge a man by his fruits. He tried to bring change to the track. When he was not on the outs there, he did things to help promote it. When he finally realized he couldn't do anything, he got investors behind him and founded Chowchilla Speedway. And then, he opened on Fridays and ran that night for a few years so as not to hurt Merced Speedway.
I'll tell you what bothers me. Merced Speedway is closed, and I hear all of this sniveling and crying at Antioch. Cry me a river people. I really don't care. Is Antioch perfect? No. It's far from perfect. But, at least it's still there. At least you have a track to race on. At least you have a promoter who has made improvements. Has he made mistakes? Yes. Will he make more mistakes? Yes. But at least he's there.
Merced lasted for 25 years under Chuck Griffin. Sure, he screwed up. Sure a lot of racers refused to race there because of him. His effort to make the track bigger created conditions that scared off some racers because of that inside back wall. But, at least he opened the gates each week, and people had a place to race. They may have bitched about Chuck, but at least they had a place to bitch about. Now, it's gone. The time for placing blame is over.
What bothers me is there is still a facility to hold races on, an amazing grandstand for the fans and the track will be silent. Nobody wants it now. I have heard of one interested party who wanted to come in and spend big dollars on the place to turn it into something special. I even heard talks of paving the place, which makes me want to throw up. But, at least somebody was interested. Apparently the fair board wasn't.
I hear talk of people wanting to go to the Antioch Fair Board Meeting over what's been happening lately. Fine, do it if you feel you must. It's your right. I'm looking for the outrage in Merced. Those people lost a race track. Unless somebody gets really stupid, the gates will open at Antioch this season, and they already have a schedule.
I would love to see a Save Merced Speedway effort by the fans and racers. If investors can create Chowchilla Speedway, they can do it in Merced. I'd love to see people go to the meetings there and voice their disapproval. If it's going to be a soccer field now, as rumored, then so be it, but otherwise people should be outraged. Chuck may not want the place, but it doesn't have to be over.
Where are all the people who wanted Chuck out of Merced? You have your chance now. Make a move. What are you waiting for? Has everybody lost the desire to do anything at this point? That's just sad, but I guess I understand.
At this point, maybe the track won't be a Late Model or 410 Sprint Car track, but so what? It was good enough for IMCA Modifieds, Street Stocks and Hobby Stocks before, so why not now? Open the gates, and you're already one step ahead. People couldn't use Chuck as an excuse not to race. All of those cars parked in the garage can come out and race again. It's safe now, right?
Forget any grand plans for big facility improvements at the moment, pursue the contract, open the gates and go racing. I don't know if any one individual would want to do it without being given the green light to do everything they want, big changes and a guarantee for 10 years due to big investments. That likely won't happen.
But what about a group effort such as RACE at Chowchilla? Investors and people pitching in? I remember that spirit at Chowchilla. It was something to see. It was something special. It mattered. Bring that spirit back to Merced Speedway, where there is a great tradition of racing. Where "Action is the attraction" as Johnny Sass would say. A track where family and community matter.
I guess it just bothers me that Merced Speedway is going dark after all of these years. The track of George, Ted, Vic, Dennis, Vern, Larry, Ramie and so many other greats. The races on TV are not personal, and more like reality TV. There's something phony about it to me. But you can be a part of a place like Merced Speedway. You can be a part of something special. People have a chance to make a difference now, so what are you waiting for?
If you want to step up and make a difference, do it. Jump in. I'm sure the help would be appreciated.
Do you remember what drew you to the races? Why it was the place you had to be on Saturday nights, or Friday as the case may be? Why this was the most important place to be for your entertainment dollar? Why you and your crew spent all that time working on the car during the week for those few precious moments on the race track? Why you spent all that money to be a part of it all?
Along the way, we all lose sight of it. We all get cynical. We all start looking past the things we enjoyed about it all and looking at the things that bothered us. Maybe those flaws became more obvious, but through the, years it's always been the same complaints. It doesn't matter what track we're talking about. The promoter is greedy and making money hand over fist. We aren't being paid fairly, but we are charged too much. There's too much favoritism. And on and on...
I've only been looking at it from a distance, but I'm not surprised to see the things being written online lately. Not at all. I complained about some of those things years ago, and I was called every name in the book, told I don't understand, told I'm too much into the politics. I was only trying to make a difference. Guess what? The critics were right in a way. I'm not saying I was wrong, because things I predicted have come to pass. But, I was too negative. You can fight for things that are right without getting overwhelmed by the negativity. If it gets to be too much, you should walk away.
It wasn't always like that though. So, what changed? Maybe we're just getting older and have lost some of that passion we had when we were younger. That sense of wonderment we felt each night we were at the race track. I do know that the track is never quite the same as it was when we first started attending the races. Nothing will compare to those early days, for me at least. I love Late Models and Spec Sprints, but the Sportsman division will always be my favorite. I loved those cars.
1980 was the first year I never missed a race. It rained before the races one night, but I convinced dad to go anyway. John Soares Sr. made sure the show went on that night. Some of the guys had stepped aside, but I remember "Sudden" Sam "Remember The Alamo" Houston and Mike "The Blue Knight" Gustafson. What a battle they had. Sam, winning so many races in "Chargin" Marvin Wilson's old car with the candy apple red paint job, and Mike, a picture of consistency, in his blue Vega. That was a close battle, but Gustafson won in the end.
Joey Rodriguez winning everything in sight in Street Stocks, Debbie Clymens standing her car on it's nose. I loved the Street Stocks back in those days.
Not a huge car count, maybe 30 Sportsmans and 15-20 Street Stocks. Full time trials, fully inverted heats and Main Events. Not a rushed program. Qualifying was fun, because there was the drama of who would get bumped from the main and have to run the semi. Heat races with drivers in your speed bracket. First time winners. Main Event winners from the back of the pack. A program that wasn't rushed. Drivers out of their cars for the introductions before the races. The nicknames for all the drivers.
It was the early years that really hooked me on the sport. Watching Len Mello go from B Main racer to champion had a huge impact on me. It made me believe anything was possible if you put your mind to it and make an effort. If Len could do it, anybody could do it. I always told racers that. David Rosa was once a B Main, no, C Main racer and won two championships. I always liked to see those drivers you'd never expect to do anything go out there and win.
The smile on a racer's face when I was reporting and they just got their first top ten or top five finish or won that fist heat. The people around them all happy because they made their presence known that night. I NEVER got tired of that stuff. Those were the moments I lived for. Not that I didn't appreciate what the big stars did, because I always made sure they got that ink and space on the cover of the magazine. But it takes EVERYBODY to make that show happen.
I recall a low buck racer named Steve Torres, the "Mad Mex". Wasn't a great mechanic and didn't have two pennies to rub together. I was a fan though. My friend Danny worked on the car. Good kid, and he's still crewing on cars, I think. Steve won a few heat races, but I recall one night in a 21 car B Main. Steve barely even gets out there and takes the green a half lap in back of the pack. He charged to third in that race. He could drive, just not the best mechanic. Don't even get me started on the night the body parts were falling off the car in the Figure 8.
The season begins. Is there anything more exciting? The points are tied. Everybody is a contender for the championship in that moment. Hopes are high. Tonight's the night. Grass is growing in the infield and parts of the pits. The cars are all painted beautifully. Some of the racers really made an effort for this, which was always nice. New cars, no dents, the green flag flies, who's it gonna be? Remember that?
Sitting in the stands with my brother and sister and some of the Nordstrom family, betting quarters on the races. I won some and lost some. Bragging when you won, laughing and having a good time. My driver's better than yours. Getting that hot dog and soda. I had so much to spend, so it was a hot dog and soda after time trails and then another soda later. Those were the days. Sneaking into the races when I could get away with it. Hey, I was a kid back then.
Watching those cars go charging into the first turn. The race was on. It meant something. You could read about it. Regional points. State points. Local points. 100 lap special races. Remember those? I loved those. Bob Meeker Classic. Jerry Delanoy race. Even the Coors 100 races. Guys coming from all over to run in those races. Top two finishers for the previous four or five weeks automatically qualify for the big race. Those were the days.
16 second times. A new track record. 15 seconds. 14 seconds. Wow, they are really flying out there. Mike Green gets sent over the fence. Al Nordstrom is gonna win his first ever Main Event, then Pettit crashes into him on lap 22 or so. No brakes. The night I saw Len Mello win his first main event that championship season. He won a race years earlier, but I wasn't there. David Rosa and Phil Torres and Turn 1. Only at Antioch.
Rick Petruzzi. Really need to write about him. Love him or hate him, he was fast. But they used to boo him walking down the front of the grand stands. J.D. Willis vs Dave Byrd. Troy Shirk follows in his father's foot steps and wins back to back championships. John "Boom Boom" Bellando. The Figure 8. Johnny Keldsen, Brian Holden, Jim Robbins. "The Master Of Disaster" Mikle Conley. Those were the days.
People I miss dearly. Mel Maupin. A better driver than he gave himself credit for. Darryl Shirk. Gary Jacob. Racing lost one of it's biggest boosters when Gary died. Cousin Will. Yeah, he was a hell raiser, but he was still good people. Rich Richards, an advocate for the little guy. So many people who are not here anymore, and I miss them all. When people like John Soares, Mel Hall, Doug Fort, Bert Moreland and Bob Barkhimer pass away, who do you replace them with? Remember George Steitz? Racing needs people like those guys.
It's not just about the racing on the track. We enjoy it and we're there for it, but there's more to it than that. It's the build up to that moment. Hanging out with friends in the stands. I miss you Anna, and thanks for everything. Talking racing and life in general. Cherish those moments, because before you know it they are gone. Then what?
It's about the camaraderie in the pits and in the garages in towns all over the country. Friends working together for a common goal, but there in friendship as well. In a lot of shops it's about having a beer or two and working on the car, and just being among friends. Then at the track working on that car to get it right, maybe capturing a checkered flag and having some "glory" for the night. Either way, it's okay. If you crash, it's back to the shop for repairs for next week.
If your rival needs a part to stay at the track that night, you loan it to them, because it's all about sportsmanship. Remember that? After the races, it's off to the pizza parlor for some beer and pizza as they talk and watch the video from that night, while telling stories about how it would have been their night. But it was. Don't you see? The memories were created, and that's something that can never be taken away. When it's all said and done, that's what we have. Friendship, family and the memories we made.
Racing is the back drop to it all. It's the foundation upon which we use to build those friendship. I look back and sometimes I probably could have made myself more accessible. I was invited to a barbecue or two that I never attended. Gotta work on the magazine was my excuse. Sorry Bill, but it was appreciated.
I remember partaking of a barbecue or two in the pits. Phil Torres and Glenn Martell always had the best. Those were the days. I'd be walking in the pits, roasting in the heat, but too busy to stop and get a drink. Somebody always offered a drink from their ice chest, and I usually took it. Then I'd enjoy some good conversation, discussing what might happen that night and that driver's goals for the night. Thank you to all of you.
Merced is gonna have a soccer field next year, instead of a race track, or so I've heard. If that's true, I'm sorry to hear it. It does serve as a reminder to those who choose to complain all the time, while offering no solution. It could be worse. You could have nothing. Would you like that? You could bitch about what used to be instead.
The world has changed in the last 20 or 30 years, and it seems more rapid over the last decade. I'll leave it up to you to decide if it's a good or bad thing. This isn't the blog for that. The one thing to remember is the races should be a place to get away from all of that, if only for a few hours. The drivers can be stars for that moment, and the fans can feel like they are a part of it, which they are. It's one big community. Everybody's in it together.
So, really, just remember what it's all about. Remember why you are out there in the first place. Something drew you into it. Something made it special to you, a moment, a driver, a particular race, whatever. Try to keep that in mind. Even if things aren't what they used to be, that doesn't mean they have to be bad. Tomorrow is another day, and the potential will always be there to give us more fond memories and new friendships. In the end, that's what it's all about.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Once in a while, I see Jim. He's one of the very few people I hear from. I cherish the friendship. Jim and the whole Figure 8 crew will always have a special place in my heart. Back in 1988, as I was completing the first year of The DCRR (Delta County Race Report at the time), my typewriter was broken. Okay, I had a temper. Maybe I broke it. I had been kicked out of the pits late that season as I recall, second or third time. I lose track.
I was seriously contemplating walking away from racing then. Well, the awards banquet comes up that year, and who should come knocking on my door but Jim. "Don. Where were you? We have something for you at the banquet."
Well, I was probably sitting around feeling sorry for myself that day, but I go. To my surprise, the drivers had taken up a collection and made a plaque for me. Plus, they gave the rest of the money raised for the plaque to me, which went towards a new typewriter. I still have that plaque on my wall with all of the driver's names on it who sponsored it. Those were just the names that could fit on it.
Basically, Jim gathers all the racers around who cared about this, and he presented me with the plaque. I had my picture taken. This was the first award I ever received in racing, and it came at a time when I needed something like this, something that would give me a reason to come back. That was it. I knew I'd be back.
I was happy when John brought the Figure 8 back that one season, because I know how much it meant to Jim. I wish the race had a fighting chance, but I understand the economics behind John's decision to drop it.
Jim's working at Antioch Speedway these days. Times are tough out there. We're talking about things and I'm giving him my observations on how I see things. I've posted some here about it, but I'll get into that more in a moment. I can see Jim is concerned about things. He's third generation Robbins to race at the track, and a fourth generation actually did race there this year.
That's the stuff that resonates with me.
Jim asks me if I want to go out to the track. Do I? I had to think about that. There's a lot of old memories for me there. I'm actually trying to decline this invitation. You can't go "home" again, and I don't think I ever will. But, I go.
We're talking old "war" stories on the way out there. As we go down 10th Street, (I think), I see buildings with boarded windows. I'm hearing about friends who have lost their homes in these tough times. That "change" in the last election seems to be working beautifully, and no, the guy before him was no better.
We're having a good conversation. Jim gets it. He knows what it's all about. Sure, like me he raised some hell back in the day, but he's one of the good people out there who understands what the tradition of racing at Antioch Speedway is all about. They need more of that out there. It wasn't that long ago that it was there. In fact, when this decade started, that track was THE place to be.
He wants to know what's needed. That's kind of how this thing started. I lived and breathed this sort of thing for a long time. I know I got gloomy and negative in my Editor's Viewpoint column when this decade started, but do you think I wanted to see bad things happen? NO!!!
It was a warning. That's all. Things were headed down hill, and I saw it. I tried to offer suggestions. I tried to make a difference. I went to tracks people gave up on and tried to help there too. In fact, I did make a difference in those places. But, I saw the writing on the wall and tried to warn people.
Look at things now. I hope people in Chowchilla appreciate the miraculous comeback of that track. After Tom was removed, it could have been over. I hope the people at Watsonville appreciate what they have. They are very lucky, because it was dying not too long ago. I hope the people at Petaluma appreciate what they have. I hear rumors, but people, if Jim Soares wants to keep running things there, let him. He's earned that right. Don't try to bid it away from him.
Pray for Merced Speedway. I've been down there, and that track is worth saving. It doesn't look good folks. It may be over for them.
So, Jim and I walk through the side gates, and he shows me where Roy Fisher crashed his Spec Sprinter. I hope Roy is doing okay these days. Roy always was a class act in my book. "Rallying" Roy Fisher, as I called him. I gave him that nickname because he always seemed to come from the back of the pack for decent finishes.
Jim's pretty proud of the track in it's configuration. They lengthened it this year. I look up at the grandstands to see Hall Of Famer Harvey Mason is still honored with his section. This is great. Aside from being one of the original local drivers, some would still call him the greatest track prep guy in track history. I'm not going there, but he was darn good.
So, I'm standing on Antioch Speedway. Hallowed ground. I used to say I wanted to be cremated when I die and have my ashes spread on the track and some in the pits. I loved that place. Still do, even though I moved on. Jim and I are telling war stories. Remembering those no longer with us, like Mike Conley. We probably could have spent the day just talking about the good old days.
I'm on the track over in Turns 1 and 2. Wow! There's banking. Guys and gals can really get hooked up out there and go racing. Where was this track a few years ago? John spent some money on this deal. From what I've read on the track's results page, car count stabilized. It didn't grow by leaps and bounds really, but car count loss seemed to stop. That's a positive sign. But guess what? Nobody knows. Therefore, nobody cares.
That's what's sad. Remember when I said good old days? Well, next year is the 50th anniversary of the track. We should be talking about the good new days. We only have the legend of guys like Bill Brown, Gary Pacheco, Darryl Shirk, Dennis Furia and so many others, but you know something? New legends can be built. I know I look at that list of newer names out there and want to know who some of those people are.
Somebody is dropping the ball. These new drivers are already doing awesome things, but nobody knows. No hype. How many nicknames are there that endear them to the fans? Okay, I suppose John is dropping the ball, and this one is so easy to work on fixing if an effort would be made. I know who is announcing. He's okay, but he lacks that something special to really get people excited. I don't know who is writing. Is there a writer?
Hey John, how are you gonna build a crowd up without any hype? Yes, the track looks great, but do you really expect people to come if they don't know anything about it?
So, what's lacking? No publicity and no sense that any of this matters. With Year 50 coming up, now's the time to kick it into high gear. Special memorial races. For who? Well, there was a guy who put that track out there and ran it for 20 straight years. Who was it? Oh, yeah, John's dad. Other special races. Bring back the Meeker Classic? The Shirk Memorial? A race for Dennis Furia? Lots of options. Hall Of Fame night?
Point is, there is a lot of potential. That's the problem. Fans aren't inspired to spend their hard earned dollar there, and there are some names people know who don't race there now, some of whom might be enticed to come race if given a reason to. Public relations. A feeling of being appreciated. That's what's missing. It's real easy to walk away if you don't feel you're wanted or appreciated or that it's just not worth it.
And, the thing is, I doubt John would spend the money if he didn't care.
Now, I'm on the sidelines. I haven't attended a race there in five, make that six years. I don't have plans to, but I see people ripping on the track's lack of publicity who do still attend. So, I'm gonna ask you something. Have you ever thought about picking up a pen and paper and trying to do it yourself? Wanna know a secret? That's how I started. That's how the late Gary Jacob started.
Now is the point where I go into what may seem a defense of John, but it's not. Some people are backing a change. What makes you think it will be any better? Who's gonna do a better job? What exactly are they gonna do after John moves all of his property and leaves the place no better off than it was when he came? Do they have a plan?
I can hear it now. "Oh, you are supporting John."
No, I'm supporting racing. I'm not saying it can't be done, just that you need somebody who has an idea what this whole racing thing is all about. If you were to tell me that a guy like Scott Busby was looking, I'd listen to what he had to say at least. Somebody who has been around. The other thing to consider is what rule changes would come and what divisions would be left homeless. What would be the format?
Honestly, I look at John as a legend in this sport. He learned from the master. But, he got lost along the way. Maybe the haters made him jaded. Some of you have no idea what he dealt with in the first couple years, but I do. It wasn't a big majority, but they made their presence known. Some time midway through the 1999 season, the man lost his smile. He changed. It got to him. Now, this is my opinion.
Why stay then? Isn't it obvious? Money? Get out of here with that. John had other ventures making him money that were much easier on him. He stayed, because racing is in his blood, and he was trying to make a difference. To some, it may not feel like that. To some, he's just a jerk. Until you walk in those shoes, you have no idea. Again, I'm not defending him, just making a point.
Do I have stories I can tell? A few, but what's the point? I don't hate John. Fact is, we can both look back and see the places where we could have done things differently. Life is too short for that. After I was given the boot in 2001, as I wrote about in an earlier post, we spoke and shook hands at the Chowchilla Open Wheel Round Up later that year. Water under the bridge. I left racing on good terms with him, or so I thought. I wasn't officially employed, and I needed to get out. It wasn't fun anymore, and I couldn't do it.
I don't hate John. I still consider the man a friend, and what his family has done for this sport means something to me. Yes, Jim (at Petaluma), even you. Lots of people love to talk, but they'll never do half of what John and his family have done. That's the truth. I would hope that John looks back on the good I did and has some positive memories of me. I will always be grateful for the opportunities he gave me. In the beginning, it was us against the world, because nobody thought we could do it. We showed them.
So, the day with Jim Robbins was pretty cool. I know he cares. I would hope somebody else does too. It's time for somebody out there who is tired of the lack of press and hype to do something about it. Apply for the position and help make a difference. Now is the time.
Complain about the track all you want, but at least you still have a track to complain about. If it's not fun, leave. If you can't do that, offer to help. You just may be surprised. Remember, the guy announcing there now didn't start out as an announcer, but he seized the opportunity when it came. Who will be next?
I understand my name has come up in conversations when people talk about what can help Antioch Speedway, and I appreciate that. It means a lot to be remembered for the good you do, and I thank everybody who has had something positive to say. I always tried to bring something positive and good to the races.
Over at Late Model Racer, I noticed some people already recommending me for PR and announcing at the track. Some nice comments there, like this one by Johnnie Baptista:
Don Martin II (Delta County Race Report) did the job before he was 86ed by Soares. Just like the IMCA rules, Don helped build the track's car count and crowd draw while at Antioch.
and this one by hookdup:
Don spent a considerable amount of his time and his own money promoting our sport. Was an asset to the Speedway and was treated like the dirt John Soares Jr. walked on.
You know, Johnnie at one time helped save The DCRR with a donation in 1992 when I was trying to get my act together. The man didn't really know me that well, but he wanted to support somebody who supported racing. I will always remember that gesture and what it meant to me. Plus, Johnnie is an advocate for the low buck racer as I am and have always been.
As for hookdup, I don't feel "walked on" anymore. That was back in 2001 when I felt that way. I see a lot of things more clearly now, and I'm over most of the bad feelings I harbored. When I was in the middle of it all, it was hard to see things straight. Sometimes you need to walk away and look at it from a distance for better perspective. I do appreciate the sentiment though, and investing in the sport when I could was never a problem to me. I wouldn't have been where I was without the racers.
I rambled on far more than I planned to here. People, it all boils down to this. Life is short. The world is changing fast, and you can judge for yourself if it's better or not. Sometimes I'd like to go back, just to the 80's again. The whole point of racing is to have fun, make friends and build up memories. Talking with Jim today about the old days reminded me just how much fun we did have back in the day. Racing shouldn't be about politics and crusades, but about the fun times.
I do hope Antioch Speedway can continue to be a fun place that builds new legends in the sport for years to come. That's what it's all about.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
PTS CAR DRIVER
1. 510 28 BILLY ATON
2. 374 20c TOMMY LALIBERTE
3. 362 50 DEVON OSTHERMER
4. 362 8 DAN GONDERMAN
5. 357 41 DAVID PRESS
6. 356 23 RICK SHARP
7. 342 8X ANTHONY RYAN
8. 306 21P JIM PERRY III
9. 285 22 ROY FISHER
10. 240 87 RYAN BERNAL
11. 221 M1 BILL MACEDO
12. 221 14 JEFF KINDT
13. 192 77 CHRIS MAGOON
14. 160 111 AL GHIORSO
15. 148 0 SCOTT HOLLOWAY
16. 120 33 JASON MCINTOSH
17. 116 44 RICHARD PANFILI
18. 104 11 RICARDO RIVERA
19. 102 10S BRANDON POLLACK
20. 98 3X SCOTT DUPONT
PTS CAR DRIVER
1. 852 99 KENNY NEU
2. 816 17 NICK DeCARLO
3. 536 49 TROY FOUGLER
4. 529 68 NORMAN BECK
5. 497 2 MIKE LEARN
6. 488 44 JON HANEY
7. 456 73 SCOTT BUSBY
8. 374 81 BOB MOTTS
9. 349 12 JOE CARR
10. 347 66 KEVIN FITZGERALD
11. 324 82 SEAN O'GARA
12. 278 83 KELLEN CHADWICK
13 268 27 BRAD COELHO
14. 268 28 CHESTER KNISS
15. 262 4 BILL WALLACE
16. 250 2C DUANE CLEVELAND
17. 236 71 ROB NORRIS
18 .234 16 MICHAEL PAUL
19. 206 25DD DANNY DOZIER
20. 204 2A ANDY ANGELO
PTS CAR DRIVER
1. 822 3 DANIEL MENDES
2. 684 2 MIKE GUSTAFSON
3. 558 40 STEVE PERRY
4. 542 11 LLOYD CLINE
5. 538 90 JEREMY PETRELL
6. 447 22M MITCH MACHADO
7. 441 80 MATT PETRELL
8. 402 15 LARRY DAMITZ
9 311 24 FRANK FURTADO
10. 272 8 ALAN BEASY
11. 231 10X ERIC VAN HOOSER
12. 206 19 BRUNO KORBMACHER
13. 206 1 CLINT CARDONA
14. 196 65 LORI BROWN
15. 152 38A TODD GOMEZ
PTS CAR DRIVER
1. 986 7 FRED RYLAND
2. 892 24 NICK DeLUCA
3. 787 45 ERIK SCHANTIN
4. 690 57 CRAIG EBERT
5. 628 11 JOANNA KUJULA
6. 437 98 JOE CANCILLA
7. 418 99 JACK JONKER
8. 415 03 COLE ORTEGA
9. 404 03 PHILLIP GIBBER
10. 404 99F JIM FREELEY
11. 368 87 WES BENTLEY
12. 245 15 DAVE TIESSO
13 214 22 DAN MCCOWN
14. 187 24X DAVE BENTANCOURT
15.158 87 BRANDON TAYLOR
PTS CAR DRIVER
1. 818 45 RICARDO RIVERA
2. 806 11 TONY CARMIGNANI
3. 718 55 JERRY DOTY
4. 520 12 DAN LISTON
5. 443 3 DUANE JORDAN
6. 428 96 NICK SQUATRITTO
7. 384 00 CHARLIE CORREIA
8. 318 30 JOEL OSIAS
9. 312 83 JOHN HILBECINK
10. 306 38 BOB ACCARDO
11. 211 64 TROY WAGNER
12. 170 44 ROGER INGALLS
13. 164 70 MICHAEL CROMMIE
14. 162 21 BILL WAGES
15. 133 3S CHUCK GOLDEN
PTS CAR DRIVER
1. 608 45 GENE HANEY
2. 582 99 TRAVIS DUTRA
3. 570 99X TOM BROWN
4. 560 4 RAY BUNN
5. 539 66X JOE CAMBRA
6 480 51 MIKE HARMON
7. 460 37 GARRETT MAYBERRY
8. 431 73 RON MAYBERRY
9. 388 11D DANNY WAGNER
10. 362 66 PETE PAULSEN
11. 346 21 FRANK ROSA
12. 334 42 DOMINIC LOPEZ
13. 309 88 BEN POMEROI
14. 299 3B JIM BROOKS
15. 220 5 RANDY DENSEN
PTS CAR DRIVER
1.392 7 PATTY RYLAND
2. 260 12 KEN RADABAUGH
3. 192 5 DIANA ANDERSON
4. 176 71 ASHLEY COLE
5. 154 X JIM ROBBINS
6. 134 22 ADRIEN DESOUSA
Monday, November 23, 2009
When Street Stocks came along in 1978, it really served notice that racing evolution was about to come. The Sportsman division headlined since 1965 (following the Hardtop division) and were ruling the roost throughout the 70's. What a great division, nicknamed the "Skinny Cars". Of course, in the late 70's, they became more of a full body class, and car count slowly died. It was still okay until 1981.
So, in 1979, you had Sportsmans, Stock Cars and Street Stocks. The Stock Cars didn't run full time that year, just 8 or 10 races, if that. Deal Cline won his first championship by a mere two points of Donna Walton. You'd think Deal would have won a title before that, but he's never been about points. Dean had the 1968 Stock Car title in hand when he sold his car to eventual champion Wayne Price. Also notable in the Stock Car field that year was David Rosa's brother Anthony.
They were called Hobby Stocks briefly, then Pure Street Stocks and then Street Stocks by 1981. The cars were kind of beat up, as you'd expect from a car not built to be a high performance race car. It was designed to be the entry level class, and drivers were encouraged to move up once they got the knack. The Stock Cars were being groomed to take over headline status, which happened in 1982 with the introduction of the NASCAR Regional points deal.
Rob Waldrop was another of the early competitors in the class. Years later, in 1998, he earned a much deserved championship. Back then , he drove a white #2a car, painted similar to that of Sportsman star J.D. Willis. If I'm not mistaken, Rob may have been a Willis crew member before getting his own car. He would eventually sell this car to Joe Ortiz.
People may know Chuck Smith as the guy who built those cool push buggies, but in the late 70's, he raced Street Stocks. He actually raced before that. Now, Chuck was a feature winner. He also won several Enduro and Charger races in the late 80's. Another of the early competitors was Dave Fletcher, in a car painted like David Pearson's car. His father butch was a track official. I don't recall if David won a feature, but he was competitive.
The Sportsman class could wreck with the best of them. Keith Brown was nicknamed "The Flying Dutchman" for his rollover crash with J.D. Willis. The most famous flip in Street Stock history may be Debbie Clymens and her rollover in Turns 3 & 4. Dianne Mills was the passenger as they were allowed back then, and the car stood on it's nose for a few seconds before coming down.
We had brothers who followed their older brothers into the sport. After Scott Busby moved up to the Sportsman class, his brother Phil earned the name "Flipover Phil" Busby for his Street Stock rollover on the front stretch in which he still kept going. In 1983, John Bellando was leading a race, drove up on the wall and rolled over and still went on to finish sixth.
While on the subject of brothers, Mike Green's brother L.C. Green was a top Street Stock driver and I believe even a feature winner in 1980 before moving up to the Sportsman class. While Ron Brown was in the Sportsman division, his brother Randy had a brief run in Street Socks. Stock Car and Sportsman racer Jim Coleman's brother David Coleman was a Street Stock feature winner in 1980. Lots of drivers came out and tried their luck in the Street Stocks in those early days. People may not recall Kelly Sanders, Chuck Jacobs or Bobbi Carter, but they helped keep the class going in those early days.
Two drivers who come to mind as top competitors and feature winners in 1981 were Vince "Beep Beep" Mills and Stan Holmes. Mills got the nickname as he was sponsored by AAMCO Transmissions (Double A, beep beep, M C O). Mills made an attempt to move up to Stock Cars, but it didn't last long before the car was sold to Norm Wielsch, who had been sharing driving duties with Steve Huelsmann in Street Socks in 1983. Despite a hard crash at the end of the 1981 season, Holmes moved up and ran Stock Cars briefly at Baylands.
It's common place to see women not only winning races, but championships as well. In the 60's, this was pretty much only done in "Powder Puff" races, and it was a big deal at that time. The women competed with each other, and it was publicized. Doors started opening in the Stock Cars with ladies like Leslie Green, Gloria Johnson and Donna Walton. Debbie Clymens is probably the most famous. After husband and Sportsman racer Tommy had injured his back, Debbie started racing Street Stocks in 1979 and was competitive immediately. You couldn't intimidate that woman.
From the Myatt-Skaggs camp, Barbara Skaggs and Mercury Skaggs raced Street Stock in 1980, and both were feature winners. Sportsman and Stock Car racer Don O'Keefe Jr. put his wife Linda behind the wheel in 1981, and she was top five in points for a while there. It's because of these early pioneers that ladies like Megan McCown, Melissa Hansen and Joyce Ford would go on to have successful championship seasons at Antioch in later years.
Slowly, it became less taboo for women to race. So what if a woman is racing, she's still kicking your butt. Of course, this didn't sit well with some guys, but most were accepted. Lori Kearns and Candi Boyer came along in 1983, and both were competitive. The ladies of Antioch could easily have their own story, and in fact, The DCRR did do such a story back in the 90's. Perhaps I should dig it up and post it here or something.
By 1981, it was obvious this Street Stock division would last, and be just as entertaining. What it lacked in speed, it made up for in close and competitive racing. If there is a shame in the whole deal, it's that there were some talented drivers who never had a chance to move up. Not everybody had the money. Bob "Speedy" Cassillas and Larry Baird came along in 1982. With the Bellando brothers, they had cars number 56 through 59, so I'm assuming they were a team or at least buddies. Baird was a feature winner and ended up selling his car to Dave Bellando.
Two of the biggest cars in the field were "Ever Ready" Everitt Brice and Frank "The Snake" Breckenridge. I don't recall either winning a main event, but Breckenridge had his moments in his brown #82 car. A yellow #83 car came along in 1983, driven by Tim :"Wacky Acky" Ackerman. Tim's high water mark was second. I recall him leading the feature on at least one occasion before being spun out. This seemed to happen to him a lot, as it did to Brian Holden when he first started racing in 1985.
I recall Holden being spun out in a Main Event that year by "Rookie Of The Year" hopeful Jim Robbins, causing Robbins to get disqualified and ending those rookie hopes. Whether that had anything to do with things that happened between these two in future Figure 8 races, I can only speculate. There was a time where Holden had cracked the 18 second barrier in qualifying for the track record in 1986.
"Loopin" Tom Leopold was a Street Stock driver in 1980 before moving up to the Sportsman class. He earned the nickname for a slow rollover in in his Sportsman car in 1981. Tom came back to Street Stocks and was a top driver in the late 80's. Steve Jones had a red #7a car in 1983 and was very fast, a feature winner in fact. There was talk of a move up to Stock Cars, but it never happened and he retired.
Jessie Gutierrez won a main event in 84 or 85 as I recall and was another fast competitor. He ran a trucking company I believe, and his #91a car was one of the fastest cars out there. The #97a car of Andy Canessa came along in 1983, and he would become a top ten driver and feature winner. He really had something, and he's another driver I'd have to believe could have been a top Stock Car competitor. Some people never got those opportunities.
Don Mauls and a teammate I don't recall at the moment shared driving duties in the #01 car, painted like the General Lee of the Dukes Of Hazard. The car was nicknamed "The General Hazard". I recall them having a top five finish at some point in 1984. Wayne Estes was a top driver in 1982 and a feature winner before moving up to Stock Cars for a couple years. Two others from the early days who made their mark were top ten ranked driver Ross Lindbloom in 1983 and Stan Tittle, a feature winner in 1984.
Ray Crosetti, George Arth and his son Ron Arth came along in 1983 and all had their moments. Ron was a feature winner and top five point runner in 1984. I believe Judy Allison was part of the team in her red #74 car in 1983. Like Crosetti, she was a top 20 point runner, and Bob Brown drove her car to an early season point lead at Baylands. Judy dug the car out of mothballs, as Gary Jacob would say, and put Bob Brown behind the wheel for Figure 8 races in 1988, and I think Bob actually won a Figure 8 feature in that big old beast.
So many names I can recall, like "Bonsai" Bob Walker, Allen Lumsden, Jack Shelloe. All three were ranked in the top 20 at some point from 19982 to 1983. I suppose I'll end this trip down memory lane with another Street Stock star named Mike Gummas. Mike came along in 1983 and he would rise through the ranks to become a top fiver racer, winning some features along the way. He was another driver would could have made his presence known in Stock Cars with the right backing. He did briefly move up, but that didn't last long. I also recall him doing some racing at Altamont.
So many drivers and stories to talk about with the Street Stocks. I've done two columns without even going past 1985. Maybe I'll have to continue this. But I will say that those early days were special. The division was defining itself, and you really never knew what was gonna happen next.
Then, Troy Shirk came along and rewrote the record books, but that's for another column. I'll end this here.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
I'm sure the fast guys complained a little, but then they drove to the front. Guys like Marv Wilson, J.D. Willis, Dennis Furia, Dana Auger, Mike Gustafson, to name a few. When 1979 came to an end, some of those drivers retired. The era of the Sportsman division was coming to an end, but something pretty neat was just beginning. It was the Street Stock division.
After the Sportsman division feature ended, some people rushed to the exits. What they missed was a pretty good race in this new entry level division that had started at Merced and Watsonville as well. We had drivers like Scott Busby, Keith Shipherd, Julio Jones, Debbie Clymens and Chuck Carter, all battling just as hard as the Sportsman drivers for the win. Dad always wanted to leave early too, but I didn't. I came to watch this division too.
They didn't do a standard point race that year, but Busby was honored as the top performer. Busby, Jones and Shipherd wasted little time jumping up to the Sportsman class, but Carter and Clymens stayed put. Debbie might have won the title that year, but for a hot shot out of Hayward by the name of Joey Rodrigues. The guy was fast, and he won most of the features that year. Carter was no slouch. To me, he was one of the best drivers never to win the championship in his beat up yellow #66a car. I recall a beat up yellow #66m car out of Merced winning a feature at Antioch, driven by Grant Ford.
Vince Mills, Mercury Skaggs, Barbara Skaggs, another Hayward leadfoot, Jeff Rhoton, Ted Ferre and a guy named John Bellando also joined up that year. The class was growing fast and more people were staying to watch that year. 1980 was the first year I never missed a race at the track. I couldn't. I had to be there. As Rodrigues moved up to make a run at Sportsman "Rookie Of The Year" honors, Rhoton was there to take over, battling Dick King for the championship.
1981 was a interesting year for the Street Stocks. We had the Bellando brothers, John and Dave, and the Brown brothers, Bob and Dennis. Ferre was not to be ignored, and there was this very consistent driver named Duane Hodges, another one of those drivers who never won a championship but was still quite good. This was the final year of the Sportsman class, the return of Stock Cars and BCRA Midgets were a regular attraction as well. It was a year of transition.
I was told by John Bellando, nicknamed "Boom Boom" for good reason, that then track manager Paul Bender told him not to be afraid to wear the black hat. He wore it well. I have a Bellando story from an old DCRR I need to dig up. John claimed in that story that he was not credited for all of his points in 1983, costing him the championship to a talented young Santa Cruz racer named Kevin Pylant. A year earlier, a Watsonville regular named Steve Wilson won the Antioch crown. That was a year noted for a fight in the pits and a suspension for the remainder of the season for Bellando.
Let me tell you, John was probably THE best Street Stock driver at Antioch never to win the title and he would be on my top five of all time division greats. Until Troy Shirk came along, John's 17 wins were the most of all time in the division. Of course, David Rosa surpassed Shirk and is still there to this day. I once saw Bellando come back from four laps down to win a 200 lap Enduro. It so happens I kept score in 1983, and according to my stats, he has a point about the championship. Back in those days, I kept track of the race results, but not points. It wasn't until I went back and added things up that I realized he may have had a good argument.
Fact is, there is such a thing as "NASCAR material" as they used to say, and John probably wasn't it. While the black hat might have worked for Bender, for Dennis Huth it was another story. Therefore, John's high water mark in points was second. He did come back a few years later and won a 50 lap Figure 8 race. There was a rivalry of sorts between the Browns and the Bellandos. All four were fast and competitive. Dave may have seemed to be in John's shadow, but he could kick a butt or two on the track and had the wins to show for it.
Bob Brown was more the conservative one on the track in those days. His Brother Dennis was not afraid to let it all hang out. Dennis visited the winner's circle on more than one occasion in bis battered white #27a car and top fived in points in 1982. Bob went on to contend for the 1985 Street Stock title at Baylands and nearly won the 1989 Figure 8 title at Antioch.
1984 was the year B Mains became a regular part of Antioch's Street Stock show. An up and coming racer named Walt Haas stepped onto the scene a couple years prior, but through consistency, he won the 1984 title. In later years, Walt ran Antioch Parts Depot, where many racers went to get parts or engine work. He went on to be a top star in Street Stocks and Modifieds at Stockton and Altamont. In 1984, Steve Huelsmann won many features, but he was no match in the point race to the consistency of Haas.
A big and talented racer named Ed Shepherd burst upon the scene in 1984 and top fived in the points, as did that season's top rookie, Bert Elworthy. Elworthy was good. He won the title a year later before moving up to a successful Late Model and Dirt Modified career. Back in those days, you never knew who would win. It was wide open. This was before the talented trio of Shirk, Bart Reid and Don Shelton took over.
Shelton actually ran his first race in 1984 is Rob Waldrop's old car, which was nicknamed "The Tank". This was also the year a racer named Joe Morganstern came out and won a B Main and feature in the same night before selling the car to Kelly Daukrsch (I'm sure I butchered the spelling here). Kelly's dad Gary was a Stock Car racer at Antioch in the 70's. IN 1985, we had a string of several different winners in a row to start the season. How many, I don't recall at the moment, but it was high. Shelton, 1987 champion Steve Wagerman, Jim Robbins, Ron Murray, John Humphrey, Duane Hodges and John Keith were among them.
Humphrey was a bit of a local celebrity in that he ran Destruction Derbies and was on TV 20 at one point, dressed as Darth Vader for a Derby. John and Brian Keith were another brother duo at the track, and both had their moments. John had a car that was so beat up that even Bellando drove it in hot laps one night and remarked he was amazed he could win with it. John won several races and is another one of those great racers to never win the title.
The early years of the Street Stock division were an interesting and wide open time. I don't now how many people even remember them, but I do. The division was a doorway for people to get into the sport. Some hit, some missed. It was always nice to see drivers move up and become stars in other divisions. Sometimes things got a little crazy, but it was never boring. Well over 100 drivers won at least one feature, and it was nice to watch the division become something people wanted to stay and watch.
Talking about this makes me nostalgic, and I could go on and on, but I'll end it here. Until next time...