Monday, November 23, 2009

Looking Back: The Early Days Of The Street Stocks At Antioch Part 2

While I attended the races at Antioch back when they started the Street Stock class, I have no memories of the very first races for them in 1978. The first name that stuck out with me was a Stock Car driver named Corby Davis. I recall he had done something bad and was booed for it. The Stock Car division served well as the entry level class, and such stars at J.D. Willis, Darryl Shirk, Richard Johnson, Mike Green and Willie Myatt started in Stock Cars.

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.