Tuesday, June 9, 2009

From The DCRR Archives - Chowchilla Speedway 2000

What I remember most about the 2000 season was the fun I had at Chowchilla Speedway. Things in 1999 ended on a rather frustrating note and I was not a happy camper at that time. Maybe the writing was on the wall and I was on my way out anyway, but I never expected I would find my smile at a track in Chowchilla of all places. But from the moment I got there and this radical promoter named Tom Sagmiller was talking on the pit PA system and telling people there was a $25 fine if you're not having fun, I was hooked.

Tom did things differently. A $5 adult ticket for the weekly show. Needing point fund money, he shaved his head for donations. On a rainy night, he was about to cancel a show. I recall him asking the fans if they would like the drivers to come back and mud pack the track and race. They loved the idea of course, and the drivers came out and did just that. Tom was always doing things like that that were outside the box. I'm of the opinion, though, that his particular style was needed or it never would have flown.

Tom also liked to come into the California Racing Online chat room and talk with whoever was there on our weekly chats. The Hobby Stock $500 (40 cars the fist year) and Open Wheel Round Up were born in that room. I have respect for Tom and Cindy and what they did at Chowchilla, and they are two of the nicest people in the sport. Did you know that at a time when he and the Merced promoter weren't getting along, Tom let me stay at his place an extra night and even drove me to Merced Speedway so I could announce report there?

Anyway, here is a story from the 2000 Chowchilla Speedway Awards Banquet:


CHOWCHILLA, CA...NOVEMBER 12...Just a year ago at this time, the work crews were just breaking ground on the new race track at the Chowchilla Fairgrounds. Now, roughly 250 drivers, crew and officials gathered to honor the accomplishments at the First Annual Chowchilla Speedway Awards Banquet. It was a happy occasion for all who worked so hard to make this dream a reality.

After the Chowchilla Speedway tradition of the invocation before the event, done by Steve Stone Sr., and a delicious roast beef dinner, it was time to get into the awards ceremonies. Handling the Master Of Ceremonies duties were Promoters Tom & Cindy Sagmiller. Charlie Ruth received the "Best Idea" award for providing the inspiration that led to the effort to open the track. Charlie, Kenneth Stone, Leonard Burnett, Perry Thomas, Tom Sagmiller, Mike Bettencourt, Roy Hart, Mark & Regina Fleming were acknowledged for their investments that made opening the race track possible.

Over 30 special awards were then handed out to all the track officials, sponsors and investors for their very important contributions to this special season. The investors had the guts to take a chance on the track when some people were saying it wouldn't happen. Many of the sponsors and track officials worked during the weeks leading up to the season opener and throughout the year to make sure things went off as planned. The track officials worked on a volunteer basis to help the track get started. Without the support of all these people, the 2000 season at Chowchilla Speedway would not have been possible.

A few special awards were then handed out to the drivers. Monty Tomlinson Jr. received the award for "Having The Most Fun" every week. His crew then received the "Golden Wrench" award, and it was pointed out that Monty was the only driver to race regularly at both Chowchilla and Merced this year. Popular Hobby Stock racer Craig Tatum received the award for "Most Dents On A Race Car", and it was jokingly pointed out that Craig had managed to hit every car in the division at least once. The "Most Confused" award went to veteran Larry Folker for the time he spent in a Street Stock before returning to the Modified division, where he has won several championships. Brad LeDuc received the award for "The Most Air Time" after his crash off of Turns 3 and 4 nearly landed him in the airport next door.

"Rookie Of The Year" awards were next, and Brad LeDuc (Winged Sprint), Red Williams (Hobby Stock), Steven Williams (Modified) and Nathan Corn (Street Stock) collected that hardware. The "Most Improved Driver" plaques went to Phillip Lust (Street Stock), Brian Folkner (Modified), Roger Dory (Hobby Stock) and Joshua Lefler (Winged Sprint). Though there were several Mini Stock drivers during the last couple months of the season, only three time feature winner Bob Terry actually joined the track's R.A.C.E. Association, and he was crowned champion. Terry actually beat a field of Hobby Stocks in his Little Truck at the season opener, and he plans to return next season as the division is expected to grow considerably.

All the drivers who were members received trophies and point fund money, and each champion received two jackets in different styles. 16 year old Doug Fisher received the 13th place Hobby Stock trophy and is expected to return in a new car with his sister Amy also getting a car. Kevin Anderson was 12th, Red Williams' crew chief Jaye Aguero was 11th and Scott Van Gelder tenth. The Ford driving Dale Falkenberg was ninth, and both he and wife Tami are planning to field cars next year. Billy Alvis was eighth and two track racer Dan Holcomb seventh. Roger Dory was sixth and Chowchilla based rookie Craig Tatum received the fifth place trophy. Two time winner Sydney Finn was fourth, and Charles Seals enjoyed one of his most successful seasons in third. Five time winner Jerry O'Hagan, who also won the preliminary feature at the big open show, received the second place trophy and is already being tabbed as the driver to beat in the 2001 championship race. Seven time winner Red Williams won the championship in an impressive rookie season to receive the big trophy and jackets. He sold his car to Jay Connelly and is building a Street Stock for next season.

16 year old Joshua Lefler picked up the seventh place trophy for the Winged 362 Sprint Cars. The steady Joe Diaz Jr., who has sold his car to Jim Myers and is looking for another one, finished sixth. All of the top five point runners won at least one feature, and veteran Roy Winters finished fifth. Brad LeDuc claimed the fourth place trophy. Roy Greer ended up third behind his father, two time winner Richard Greer. George Terry, who led the effort to get the carbureted and winged Sprint Car effort going in Chowchilla, won the track championship to receive the big trophy and Jackets. George is hoping to have a new car for next season.

In the Street Stock division, Kevin Pugh earned the 13th place trophy. Robby Jeppesen settled for 12th, Dennis Corn was 11th and Larry Folkner managed a tenth place trophy in the short time he competed in the division. Speedy Davis sold his car to Andrew Krumm during the season and debuted a new car to maintain ninth in points. 65 year old Al Loewen finished eighth and "Mr. Excitement" George Lefler, who definitely lived up to his nickname, finished seventh. Sixth went to Merced champion Ramie Stone, who had some impressive results in his Chowchilla visits and intends to race here full time next year. Phillip Lust grabbed the fifth place trophy and brother Jimmy Lust was fourth. Monty Tomlinson Jr's solid season, which included two feature wins, earned him third place. The consistent Nathan Corn used his two feature wins and six trophy dash wins to finish second. Steve Stone Sr. proved to be the man to beat and won the championship jackets and trophy with ten heat wins and eight feature victories. In receiving his trophy, Steve was quick to give credit to his pit crew and said he couldn't have done it without them.

Monty Tomlinson Jr. received the 18th place Modified trophy for his two appearances in a car that was last run on the asphalt of Madera. David Jelen was 17th, Michael Jiminez 16th, Chowchilla's Wayde Stockton 15th, former Hanford champion Jimmy Reeves 14th, Mike Dinublio 13th, top five Merced racer Troy Stone was 12th and Robby Jeppesen 11th. Late starter Larry Folkner managed to climb to tenth in points and impressive rookie Steven Williams grabbed the ninth place hardware. Early season point leader Bob Hotchkiss was eighth with Merced champion Jack Stanford seventh. Jack plans to race more at Chowchilla in 2001. Brian Folkner struggled at times but still managed to earn a sixth place trophy. Veteran Bob Williamson was fifth and Chowchilla's Dennis Clay fourth. A one time feature winner, Dennis plans to build a Street Stock for next year, but if he can land the sponsorship he may stay with the Modified. Two time Merced champion Paul Stone, who had two feature wins this year, finished third and plans to have a new car for next year. Two time feature winner and six time dash winner Fred Lind earned the second place trophy. Six time winner Mike Johnson won the champion's jackets and trophy, and he is preparing for a move up to Late Models next season.

With plenty of good food, conversation and awards, a good time was had by all. It was the perfect way to wrap up a fun and exciting season at a new track that everybody worked so hard to make reality. Promoter Tom Sagmiller is now working on the schedule for an even better 2001 season under the Racing At Chowchilla Enterprises banner.

Where's The Press?

It bothers me that I can't pick up my Monday morning newspaper and see some results and a little story about Antioch Speedway. For years you could get that. Heck, back in the 70's, those stories would appear in the Sunday paper with at least the top ten feature finishers listed. It bothers me that it doesn't seem to bother track management. I've read comments about low attendance and revenues that management has made. Does it not occur to them that the biggest newspaper in the area isn't covering the races? This has an effect on attendance. I don't care what they say.

I hear can't, or I used to hear that when I was at the track. My PR duties were confined to racing publications and internet, while the other guy handled newspapers. We had discussions about this where he said "can't" and I just thought "b.s." at the time. As the designer of the ad my sister faxed to the paper back then, I recall her conversation with the paper where they told her the track should be getting coverage in that paper. But, it never happened. I should have tried harder on my own, I suppose, but I had a full plate and half the salary of the newspaper PR guy. Was it my duty to do his job?

When I went to Chowchilla the first year, I faxed newspapers all the time, and we did get ink in the local paper every week as well as Merced and Fresno papers and smaller papers. There were times I was ignored and it definitely pissed me off. Buddy Cox used to get a kick out of what I would do to a paper that ignored me. But, we got ink, and it's a reason attendance went up that second season. Nobody's coming if they don't now about it. My work in the papers at that time is something else I'm proud of.

I don't know if John has that guy working for him or somebody else, but if he's paying somebody, he's getting screwed. They need a PR guy getting stuff to all the area papers (Even ones that may not be likely to print at first) and they need to send stuff every week to show they are serious. I suggested at the time a phone line be put back in the booth to give the track a shot at making deadline on a Saturday night. I had other ideas that could help, but I don't want to drag this out too much longer.

Even though I'm not involved in the sport, there are names I am familiar with and new names that pop up that I like to read about. It bothers me that Antioch Speedway gets no love from the newspaper, when it was far different not that long ago. I wish it would bother John a little more than it seems to. With the improvements he's made to the track, maybe it's time to let old fans and prospective new fans know what's going on again.

By the way, this is not me hinting at wanting to come back. I'm just offering an opinion. Not trying to bash anybody either, so I hope it's not taken that way.

It occurs to me as we reach the half way point of this year that the decade is almost over and we are also approaching another anniversary of something that was near and dear to me, the birth of California Racing Online as a racing news website. Might make for a good column at some point.

Anyway, I'm sorry I've been bad with updates here. I hope all is well with you, and I wish you all the best.

A Little Recognition Can Be A Good Thing

I'm sorry I haven't been motivated lately to post anything here. I have older DCRR stuff I could post and haven't even done that. I've wanted to check in and say something, so now is a good time I guess.

I've spoken with Don O'Keefe Jr. recently about an article Norm Bogan has written for Flat Out Magazine. It details the beginnings of the Wingless Spec Sprint division here in California. I've seen the story, and I appreciate Norm's effort to report the truth. With Don in Indiana and me out of the sport for five years now, Norm could have just went to John Padjen or John Soares Jr. and gotten a different story.

I guess thank you's are in order to Don for being so thorough in details he gave to Norm, Keith & Debbie Shipherd for helping make sure the truth got out and Norm for an excellent job. I've NEVER considered this to be about me. That this division is alive ten years later at Antioch Speedway and so many other tracks is all the recognition I need. Every time a race is held in this class, a new memory for the racers and fans is made.

Still, it is nice to have something in a national publication that mentions that I played a part in all of this and I announced and did publicity at Antioch Speedway. People will come in and try to take it away from you, but the facts are the facts and I'm proud of what I did.

Truthfully, Don and I and John Soares Jr. were just taking the carbureted Sprint Car class in a new direction. Judging by the way things are, it was the right thing to do. For over a decade, this class lived in different forms as the California Dirt Cars of Santa Maria, Limited Sprints of Merced and NCMA Modifieds, so pat those guys on the back too. They played a part in it, and the NCMA lives today.

This may shock some people, but I am and will always be a fan of the NCMA. It's been a love-hate relationship at times, but it's a fact. From the moment Mike Johnson converted me from a Dirt Modified lover and NCMA hater (as a lot of people were at the time), I wanted to see this class reach the heights he always maintained it could. I believed whole heartedly in what he was saying. You could find me at times talking with Late Model drivers about the NCMA and why it was a good group (as if they wanted to hear that).

Fact is, I spent six seasons as NCMA Publicity Director and five as NCMA Secretary. I devoted many columns in Wheels, Veach Racing News, DCRR and other publications making sure people knew they were out there. When car counts were low at the start, those columns would also include paragraphs about drivers who would be joining the club in the future. I wanted people to know more cars were coming. I also played a part in helping them get race dates.

I have been honored twice by the NCMA under presidents Paul Nelson and Jim Booth with awards for my contributions to the cause, and I still have those awards on my wall. I doubt I'll ever receive an invite to the NCMA Hall Of Fame, and I'm okay with that. To any who remember me there, I'm the jerk who "ruined" it for them. Believe it if it makes you feel better. But the fact is, the NCMA still lives. I credit Ed Amador's leadership as well as the late Del Quinn for that.

Ed made a comment to me once that I thought was pretty cool. He said,"The NCMA will live even when it's just a bunch of old men sitting around the table talking about the old days."

That's really what it's all about. It ain't who wins or loses. I know it's nice to win and all, but it's the memories and the friendships that matter.

I wanted to comment on the NCMA Hall Of Fame for a moment, and names that should be on that list. When I see Linda Bosenecker and Bill Ivins are in, I agree with that. Those two never raced (Linda may have once or twice), but they fought so hard for the cause. If there can only be one NCMA PR person inducted, I'm glad it's Bill.

Roland Lokmor, Darryl Shirk and Del Quinn were all inducted after they passed away, and deserved to be in. Shirk is without a doubt the greatest driver to ever race with the NCMA. Quinn is a legend in his own right. Lokmor did so much behind the scenes to make sure cars were running on the track.

Mike Johnson got in last year and that surprised me. Not because he didn't deserve it, because he did. I'm just surprised they inducted him. I'm doing this from memory, but Burt Siverling, Amador, Don Hicks and Scott Holloway are in as well. For about a five or six year stretch, Siverling had a better attendance record than anybody. I believe Holloway has more feature wins and championships in the NCMA than anybody. I don't question that these guys belong, although Hicks is debatable to me. I just wonder why certain others weren't inducted first.

The NCMA would not exist without Johnson and his crazy ideas. That is a fact. However, it may not have made it through the 90's without Jim Booth. Jim took over as president at a time when leadership was sorely needed. He calmed down the infighting, stabilized the club and saw it reach it's fist car count of over 20 cars. Not to mention his status as a top five driver in points. Jim should be in.

Mike Lokmor should not be ignored either. His efforts behind the scenes helped keep it alive, and he was all about helping that club survive. The man owned two cars, and he and his father also helped get a third car to the track when it was sorely needed. Also, he's a point runner up. Mike deserves to be in.

Duane Watson should be in. DW is a former champion who opened doors to other tracks the NCMA had never raced at. Car count was at it's highest when he was Business Manager of the NCMA and Gordon Chappa was president. Duane belongs in. I could make the argument for Gordon as well.

Well, that's the way it seems to me anyway. You may disagree. At any rate. Long Live Wingless Spec Sprints, and long live the NCMA.