Thursday, January 21, 2010

Looking Back: What Might Have Been

Would NASCAR still be at Antioch and Watsonville right now had the Antioch bid gone differently in 1997? Would West Coast Speedways still exist? Might San Jose Speedway still be here? Did the loss of Antioch Speedway as a West Coast Speedways track kill San Jose Speedway? What about NARC?

Okay, I'm bored. I should be moving on from the racing stuff, but the mind has been going on and on about it for some reason. It's not so much a desire to be in the game for me as a nostalgic look back. I recently dug up some of my oldest, hand written magazines from 1985 and 1987. Wow. I was still learning. The desire and passion was there, but I had a lot to learn. I was on a crusade for racing. Sometimes I'd like to go back and slap that kid and tell him to focus on something else, but I do recall having lots of fun back then too.

I'm a Pro Wrestling fan. Yeah, I know, Pro Wrestling? By the late 90's, it had peaked in popularity with WWF against WCW, and ECW trying to make a name for themselves. By the early part of the last decade, WCW and ECW were gone. This has led to many discussions among fans as to what happened. My personal opinion was WWF killed ECW by taking their network deal right out from under them. WCW ended because of that stupid AOL merger with Time Warner. But, anyway...

I still feel West Coast Speedways leadership was just not very attentive to the needs of the individual tracks, for one thing. I may be crazy, but had Brynda been in charge, things might very well have been different. She had some good ideas, but she wasn't in a position to make some of them happen. Rick, I just don't know. A nice guy, but he oversaw the sinking of the good ship WCS, in my opinion. The legacy of "Barky" finally came to an end under his watch, and I'd be hard pressed to explain what, if anything, he did to try and prevent it.

You have to understand, the mid 80's were a happening time with the Late Models. The last really amazing time period. A guy could run his Late Model three nights a week. Watsonville on Friday, a choice of Antioch, Merced or San Jose on Saturday and Baylands on Sunday. They even had a North Vs South deal with the guys down in Santa Maria and Bakersfield. Track unity existed then and made things better.

The bid came up in 1987 at Antioch, and what people don't know is who really won Antioch at the time. John Soares Sr. actually won that bid. There was no newspaper coverage of this at the time. John's wife Gladys was not happy with him for doing that. This is an interesting story, actually, but the result was John got a NASCAR sanctioning at Petaluma for a year and West Coast Speedways (I think it was Cars Inc. at the time) would make sure track management at Antioch was based in the area.

Dennis Huth from Oregon and the late Bert Moreland from the Watsonville area had been overseeing the day to day for NASCAR at Antioch. People were crying for a change and wanted somebody more in tune with the area. Can you imagine what might have been had John kept the track? I mean, he could have easily put Jim or John Jr. in charge at Antioch.

So, WCS had Antioch, Watsonville and Merced as Stock Car tracks and San Jose for Sprint Cars and Stock Cars, at least for a while longer. It was the WAM State Series for Late Model Stock Cars and Street Stocks, plus the occasional Tri Track Series weekends with individual champions for the three race series.

Merced had begun having races for the VMRC Sprint Cars, which at that time may have included carbureted Sprint Cars. The VMRC was based in Hanford, and within a year or two had become a 360 Sprint Car class. Chuck created the California Modified class, and it sort of stayed under the radar for a while.

What was interesting was Rick's assumption that if he just had certain tracks drop Late Models, all of the cars would be forced to go to Antioch. San Jose was first and Merced followed suit. It wasn't as big a deal at San Jose, which was a Sprint Car track anyway. They added 360 Sprint Cars, and the show was fine. Merced, on the other hand, was a different story, but let me back track a bit.

Around 1986, race tracks had begun looking for the next big thing. At Baylands, they had already begun looking at 360 Sprint Cars, which would become huge. At Santa Maria, they tried something called California Dirt Cars, based on the DIRT Modifieds out of Pennsylvania. Without this class, I don't know if Wingless Spec Sprints would even exist today. At Petaluma, John Soares Sr. brought back the Dirt Modified, based on the IMCA Modifieds of Iowa. This would become the next big thing, but it took a while. IMCA came to California and got involved before NASCAR did.

The reality of the situation was had Moreland still been track manager at Antioch in 1988, Dirt Modifieds would have been on the schedule a minimum of 12 times. It took a new management who knew nothing about the area, though they would relocate there, to add California Dirt Cars. This is an example of Rick not being in tune with things. Had he been aware, he would have added the class that people in Antioch wanted as the intermediate class between Late Models and Street Stocks.

People in Antioch were asking for that. There was a complaint that rules were getting too out of hand in the Late Models. Local support fell after 1984 rule changes. As long as the Regional players supported, those concerns were ignored. So, people began talking about bringing a Sportsman class back or Limited Stock Cars that allowed just a little more for Street Stocks. That's one thing Antioch had at that time, a ton of Street Stocks. When car count is in the 40's, you're doing something right.

By 1990, Rick decided he couldn't ignore the Dirt Modified division anymore and they were added at Antioch, Watsonville and Merced. The problem was Merced had little interest, and Rick wanted Late Models dropped to try and increase Antioch car count. We gained one, sometimes two, cars at Antioch from that. This move was clearly a mistake.

What truly needed to be done was to focus in on Late Models, making them more affordable and attracting new racers. I know the talk of there only being 10 cars per week, but if fans are given a choice of ten Late Models or two Modifieds at Merced, what do you think they will want to see? Chuck countered by making his Cal Mod class the headline class for Regional points, a move that did not please the Regional Late Model players or WCS. This was the beginning of the end of Merced as a NASCAR track.

The sad thing was it didn't have to be that way. The Dirt Modifieds should have been gradually introduced there, rather than pushed as hard as they were, and Late Models should have remained on the card, at least until things were in place for Dirt Modifieds. They reintroduced Late Models in 1991 and grew it back to ten cars, but just as buzz was recreated, it was dropped. I'll put that one on Chuck.

So, WAM was no more, and Antioch and Watsonville both had Late Models, Dirt Modifieds and Street Stocks. Antioch, since 1984, had not had the car counts that Watsonville and even Merced had at times. It was still respectable, but B Mains were not a regular occurrence. In 1990, car count had a surprising resurgence. This wasn't due to Merced, but rather because more locals were getting cars. People like Corky Pattrick, Doug Timmons, Mike Gummus and Mark Schrader had cars, and B Mains were needed again.

Meanwhile, Dirt Modifieds were taking off. Curl Racing was there to help get cars together the first season, but Busby Motorsports at Antioch and Bowman Racing at Watsonville were dealing the Harris Modified chassis. By the second or third season, we were having B Mains. The division also served as a place for Street Stock drivers to move up more affordably. While this was nice, nothing was being done to encourage guys to move up from there to Late Models.

When you look at one reason the Petaluma All Pro Series was so successful, it was the fact that drivers moved up and new drivers filled their spots. The Late Model surge at Antioch was dead by 1992, and nothing was being done about it. Car count was even hurting at Watsonville, though both places still had two heats, a dash and a feature.

I heard the argument that if you tweak the rules too much for the little guy, the major players would just leave. That seemed like b.s. to me, because those guys would be there for Regional points. They always were. If any of them were even saying that the rules shouldn't be touched to make it more affordable for the little guy, it was a selfish attitude. I didn't hear much of that, but I did hear the bit about a purse increase. I agreed that at that time, $100 to start the main should have been a guarantee.

But, nothing was done. Rather than top drivers in the Modifieds wanting to move up for the next challenge, they were looking for a way to bring the Regional points to themselves. At Petaluma, meanwhile, John did have a guaranteed pay schedule for not just Late Models, but all classes. Give me this many cars, you get this. Drivers took notice and started supporting Petaluma.

One thing I liked about John was that even when it was down to six or eight cars, he kept the division. Those drivers had always been loyal to him, and the fans still wanted to see those cars. But, doom and gloom greeted Antioch when they dropped below ten cars. The push was on for a change, lead by the top Modified car seller at the place. He helped schedule a big show that produced a still record 83 car field at the season's end, and he went to San Jose, put fenders on his car and showed that the Dirt Modified was ready for headline status.

This was a sad time, a changing of the guard. Could Late Models have been saved? In my opinion, yes they could have. It is my opinion that WCS lacked the leadership to take that stand. At Antioch, however, Brynda wanted to make something happen. She understood the importance of the class and was a fan of the racing it produced. So, she had talks with Sandy at Bakersfield. It's just too bad it wasn't her decision to make.

Rick talked with John at Petaluma to form a Late Model series between the tracks, and John was all for it. It could have been huge. At that time, however, John's division was stronger, and he was concerned when drivers were given conflicting rules and told they would still be legal. He withdrew. It was another disappointment, but I still don't see John as the villain that others painted him to be.

San Jose, Antioch and Watsonville still kept their dates. This was a golden opportunity for Rick to create the WCS Late Model Series, one last attempt to save the class. The fans still loved the division. There was a night when close to 40 cars raced between San Jose and Petaluma, showing that both efforts could survive. However, Rick did not seize the moment to try and create a series, no points were kept and it was dropped for good at the end of the season.

Both Watsonville and Antioch added Pure Stocks to make a new entry level class and Modifieds carried the banner. Street Stocks remained strong. But, there were kinks in the armor people didn't notice. San Jose wasn't pulling it's weight on a consistent basis. Antioch was the money maker and Watsonville did pretty well, making up for San Jose's short comings. He also had to deal with a fair board that was looking to drop the track and outrageous parking fees for the fans.

Still, as long as Antioch and Watsonville were there, San Jose was safe. This was also good news to the NARC Sprint Car Tour, which relied heavily on the three tracks and generally sold very well. Fans loved then and if there was a fault with NARC, it was that they knew that fact. That arrogance was at least part of the reason for their downfall, in my opinion, but that's another story.

I don't believe Rick's "open the gates and run the show" policy was enough to keep things going at Antioch. Things needed to be improved more, and the fair board knew it. The renovation of the grandstands was done because the fair board had high expectations for the place. There's a certain logic to the way WCS did things. Hey, it had the NASCAR banner on it, and people came on that basis. It didn't matter how little that organization really gave to the local cause, it was still a banner. People in the Pure Stocks, fans in the stands, could say, "I'm at a NASCAR track!"

The perception was that they were a part of something special, but just that was not enough to keep Antioch. They needed to offer something tangible. When John Soares Jr. went after the track, he knew that fact well. It's what won him the bid. He was willing to spend big to improve the facility and make it better for years to come. It wasn't just an "open the gates" policy.

I wasn't talking with Brynda that much at the time, but I believe she was keenly aware of that fact. I believe she knew they needed to make something more than the standard bid. Had they offered even half of stuff that John had, who knows what might have been. Yes, it would have been an investment, but if you are committed for the long haul, it wouldn't have mattered. Money would have been recouped in the long run. Was Rick truly committed or just doing what family expected of him? I don't know.

It's difficult to know what might have been. NASCAR really could give a flying freak about these little dirt tracks. That's my opinion, but I think I'm right. Either one of the Bills might have cared, but not Brian. They don't want you to go to a race on Saturday night. Just stay home and watch the "big boys" on TV. That philosophy will do nothing for the sport in the long run. The grass roots dirt tracks are what built NASCAR.

I could guess that NASCAR would still be a part of the track through that five year bid. It's just a guess. NARC would still be around, because they'd have those three tracks, and Chowchilla might even be on the NARC schedule for a date or two. And Chowchilla in NASCAR? Who knows? There would have been a push for Saturdays and NASCAR by some though. San Jose? That's a difficult one to answer.

The writing was on the wall for San Jose. People wanted it closed. If Rick had Watsonville and Antioch money coming in, it would have had a fighting chance at least. They could have kept it as a Sprint Car headline track, instead of trying to use it to replace Antioch, which didn't go over very well. They would have needed to focus more heavily on public relations there. New interest needed to be created. It almost certainly would have lasted longer than it did, but how long? Who knows? Maybe long enough to form a real game plan, maybe not.

The other thing people forget was there was interest in making the San Jose Mile a paved race track and bringing the big boys of NASCAR to town. The plan was rejected, but oh what might have been? When that plan was rejected, did NASCAR even care about the place anymore?

It's an interesting thing to look back on. Hindsight is 20-20, and you just never know what might have been. Maybe Antioch and Watsonville would still be NASACAR right now with drivers winning Regional championships. Maybe WCS would still be around. Maybe there would be another track or two involved. Maybe. Who knows? It does serve to remind us that it can all change just like that.

Tracks close in California all the time. They reopen with new management. Sometimes that's it for them. There is so much more that a promoter has to look at than what banner is hanging over the track. There's more to it than people realize. We all think we know something, just because we have an opinion. Maybe we do, and maybe we have a lot to learn. But we should all be thankful that at least we have race tracks to go to on any given weekend. You never know when that can change.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Using The Internet To Create Hype For Racing

Ah, the wonderful internet. Everybody is an expert. Everybody can offer an opinion, and many of them do so anonymously. Yes, I know the negatives. But, guess what? It can be a positive too. It's all in how you use it. I hear all this talk about no publicity and no hype. I have spoken with John about this, and he's told me his ideas. One of them is he is the new owner of Racing Wheels Magazine.

This is a magazine created by the late Gary Sterner back in 1960 or so. Actually, I believe Gary used to do the souvenir programs in the 50's for tracks like Vallejo Speedway and Contra Costa Speedway. They had little stories in them from other tracks. So, the history is there. People used to get that magazine to find out what happened at other tracks, check out the classified section in the back and see what tracks were advertising the big race. This was long before the internet.

Gary Jacob had a huge influence on me, and he wrote for that magazine for years. When I read Gary's stories, back in 1984, I knew how I needed to write a race review. Gary's stories took you to the races, and you got the play by play. The man could write. True, it wasn't in the format Wheels preferred, but the readers loved it. I did it that way and tried to add my own touch, because that's the way it needed to be done.

Printed media is still important, in my opinion, but it's being hit hard by the internet. I had DCRR Racing News for 18 years, but by the end of the 90's, the internet was breathing down our necks. I felt I had stuff the net didn't, but you can still go to a track web page and get the results for free. How do you compete with that? Wheels tried printing in color. That was a money loser. The road is littered with many magazines that have tried and failed. Can a printed racing magazine for our area even survive now?

The internet can be used for a positive effect on racing. Let me take you back, and I'll tell you a story about how it was done before.

In 1998, John had Antioch Speedway for his first season as promoter. I had looked around, and Altamont, Watsonville and San Jose had web pages and message boards. Yeah, sometimes the boards got out of hand, but it created interest. I decided The DCRR needed a web page. I even created a page for Antioch Speedway and Petaluma Speedway before the official pages were created.

The DCRR page had the occasional story and snippets from the magazine that I added to every week Then, I decided to do something different. I knew how to record a wav file, and I figured that I had enough space for 11 minutes. The DCRR Racing Radio Show was born. It's funny, because I'd have to rush those last two or three minutes to get that show all the way in. At that point, I don't even know who was listening.

As Don O'Keefe Jr. and I started Wingless Spec Sprints for John, Don decided to start a Spec Sprint page. At the time, there was nothing else there, but Don made it something others wanted to do.

During the 1999 season, I had corresponded with a guy named Jim in Merced about what was going on at Merced Speedway and efforts to bring about change. I was privy to a lot of information at the time that I kept under wraps by request. Jim eventually broke the news to me of what Tom Sagmiller was doing at Chowchilla, and I knew I'd have to go check it out.

When 2000 came, I made it for the second or third race of the season. I don't know if I missed a race there the rest of the season, because I was hooked. That first night, I met Jim. He was filming the races then, and he gave me a copy. Walking across he track, I met Joe Martinez. Joe and his wife Lynn were the photographers. I gave him a copy of my magazine and went on my way.

It was a few weeks at the latest when Joe called. We ended up having a lot of late night conversations about the state of racing. Not long after that, Joe created California Racing Online in a section of the L&J Photography page. He felt that there was something to this news thing, and he was right about that. I hooked him up with the sources I had, and that page began to grow. It didn't do a lot for The DCRR, but I think it helped the sport.

Joe confessed to me that he had listened to my little audio shows when he was in LA as a way to keep track of the racing scene here. He suggested we should do a show with more production to it. The radio show was reborn. I recoded my bits, sent them to him, and we'd have an hour long show streamed using Real Audio. The show was filled with race results, schedule updates and my sometimes controversial observations.

Next, Joe started doing post race interviews and posting them and we opened a chat room. That chat room became big in a short amount of time, and it produced results. The Hobby Stock $500 and Open Wheel Round Up at Chowchilla were born in that chat room, and both were successful. Joe got into hyping up the big shows at CRO as well.

At the end of 2000, I had the bright idea of doing a State point race to see who was the best in the state. We used the open comp season as a test model. Bobby Scott was our Modified champion, and Street Stock escapes me at the moment. While up in Reno, we settled on the name, California Racing Alliance. We were hoping to get sponsorship for this, and Spec Sprints were added to the mix to make it three divisions. Joe and Lynn landed big trophies for the champions.

By the end of 2000, I was also doing audio calls people could listen to at the site. At CRO, you could come chat about racing, get the latest news, listen to the audio show, audio calls, post race interviews, see a few photos and more. We kicked butt. It was a lot of work, but it promoted the sport better than anything else in the area.

The down side is the same thing that happens when people have success. There is always that small minority that wants to be petty and take you down. The imitators that aren't happy just putting something else out there, they want to make it personal. Who isn't important. We lost our focus. Joe had started the sim racing thing in place of the chat. The attackers really got to him and I'm sure took a lot of the fun out of it for him. I didn't care much for it either. Plus, for all we did, there was no sponsorship coming in.

On the internet, people expect it to be free. Charge any kind of fee for this stuff, even $5 a month, and people will stop coming. No sponsorship didn't help. The fact that I left Chowchilla after 2001 didn't help. CRO's two year run as a top notch racing news site was over, but it still showed what can be done. It costs nothing or very little to do it, and it helps create hype. CRO made a difference.

I refocussed on The DCRR in 2002. I renamed the State point race, The DCRR Sweet 16/Terrific 12 and expanded to 6 divisions. I scrolled the feature winners on my page as soon as possible and put links up on my page to newspaper stories. The audio show moved to Don O'Keefe's page along with the audio calls. Dana Craig would step up and sponsor the DCRR web page for me to host my own stuff.

For my final two seasons in the sport, I still had a pretty good news page, though the CRO page was more polished. The point is, I used the internet to create hype.

Where is that page that is willing to cover the tracks in this area the way CRO did? Not just message boards, but a news page? I've seen a few pop up, but they disappear just as quickly as they came. It's work to do it right, and people like to get paid for work. Passion and love for the sport only get you so far.

Still, it's not that hard to do something. With the technology we have now, it's easy to be a broadcaster. An audio show wouldn't be that hard to produce, once you know what you're doing. An audio race broadcast wouldn't be that hard to do recorded. You could even set up for a live broadcast. Anything to create buzz.

What amazes me is how little these race tracks do to remember the past. Past champions aren't even listed on most of these web pages beyond maybe the last few seasons. Some web pages don't even archive race results so people can look back during the season. I guess it's all about doing the bare minimum needed.

You want people to get excited about things, give them a reason to be excited. I know people were listening to the things I did. When they come up and tell you they like what you're doing, you'll know you are making a difference.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Moving On: Who Will Make The List?

Since this blog is about my recollections of racing and a future book project, I'm going to attempt to steer things back towards that. The politics of what's going on today is just not something I want to keep diving into. I admit I've been observing things, but I want to get away from that. Somebody else can have that battle. This doesn't mean I still won't comment on things, but I want to look elsewhere.

Who are the top 50 Street Stock drivers of all time at Antioch Speedway? Top 25 Dirt Modified drivers? Top 25 Late Model drivers of the modern era (1981 on)? That's subject to opinion. I can make a list based on my thoughts, and I'm working on it, but I know others will disagree. Everybody will have a different opinion.

What I find interesting about these types of lists is that they open up debate and get people thinking. I have been bouncing around this idea in my head for a while. I threw together a list of 80 plus Street Stock drivers, right off the top of my head. Making a list of 50 will be challenging and fun. I have to ask myself, who is the greatest of all time?

A pioneer in the division like Chuck Carter? Joey Rodriguez? Maybe the man who first set the bar for all time wins in the class, John Bellando? Does a driver have to have won a championship to top this list? Can it be a Figure 8 driver? How about Darryl Shirk? Maybe the driver he groomed to be champion, his son Troy Shirk? Rick Petruzzi? How about the consistent Walt Haas? Who says it has to be a man? What about Melissa Hansen or Debbie Clymens? The all time winner in the class, David Rosa? Tough call.

Then, we get into Modifieds. Scott Busby, right? Not so fast. What about Bobby Hogge IV? Bobby's father makes a compelling case for top Late Model driver. But then, what about Dave Byrd, Jim Pettit II, J.D. Willis and Steve Hendren? This could be fun. There could be other lists too.

The other thing I'm considering is a DCRR Northern California Racing Hall Of Fame, starting with an Antioch Speedway wing. Okay, it would only be a list of who I think are Hall Of Famers and why and would only be names in their own section of this blog, but it would still be a way of acknowledging the greats.

So, this is what I'm looking at now. I'm still thinking about it. We have nothing like this going on in the area that I know of, so it could be fun and interesting. I'd love to hear people's thoughts on who should make the list and who should go in the hall. This seems like more fun to me than complaining over politics.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Standing Up For Change In Racing

Being upset with the promoter is nothing new in racing. It is a part of the business. Sometimes the promoter may have actually done something, and other times it's just perceived that way. Driver boycotts happen. I recall one at Merced in the 90's. It went on for two weeks. The third week, they offered double points and that ended that. Gotta earn enough of those points to go to the point redemption window for the bigger trophy at the end of the season.

I touched on the story of the near boycott we had at Antioch with Street Stocks in the 90's in another post. They wanted more money, but the meeting was broken up when the drivers were called to an early pit meeting. The point leader left and that pretty much killed that.

In 1988 or so, the Late Models at Antioch protested. I think it was about the purse money too. The locals were planning to no show, and only two of them came out. I believe even one of the top regional guys opted to race Merced that night in support of the Antioch boycott, but the track managed to get a decent car count due to some San Jose support.

In 1979, when I was still just getting to know the track, a driver boycott happened. I think this stemmed from a penalty against one of the top Sportsman racers who had been suspended for rough driving. Feeling that those drivers didn't give a damn about them any other time, some of the lesser known drivers still raced and the show went on.

You can never make everybody happy. Should people just shut up and accept it? No, but they should use their heads. If you know what to do and how to do it, it can be effective. Just know that not everybody will be united. People will always look out for their own self interest. It's human nature, and that is what leads to the divide and conquer method.

I wasn't as involved in things and didn't understand all of the ins and outs early on when I came out to the track. I was still pretty young. I knew John Soares Sr. ran the track, and I liked the way the program was run. I also knew he had Petaluma Speedway. This was the end of the "Barky Era" and people forget how important Bob Barkhimer was to racing in California and NASCAR in general.

I think the idea going into the 80's might have been to put the "old timers" out to pasture, but Pops was one step ahead of them. He took Petaluma out of NASCAR. Antioch may have been next if given the chance. Who knows? For two decades, John Soares Sr. had run that track, growing it from the track in the shadows of Pacheco and Vallejo to the last track of the three still standing. Who knows what would have been without him?

They wanted him out. I don't know the whole story, but they did. But John loved racing, just as his sons both do. The Soares family is a racing family. So, he stepped aside for "health reasons" at the time. I believe his son Jim was running Merced, and John Jr. had his eyes on moving up, having already won numerous races on the dirt of Antioch, Petaluma and elsewhere.

So, Pops was at Petaluma, and a lot of racers followed him. He was respected. From the early 80's, that Super Stock division was something to see. I got to see it once a year when we'd go to Petaluma during the Antioch fair, and it was a great show.

Antioch was going through many changes at the time. The Sportsman division was fading due to the rule changes and the Stock Car class was moving up. Jim used to talk about cutting the Sportsman class in 1980 at Merced when his minimum car count was not met and pointed out that Chuck Griffin was one of the drivers on that roster. I recall those conversations, because Chuck had restarted the Sportsman class at Merced after dropping the Limited Sprint class. I lobbied for a Sportsman date at Antioch and got one in 2000, but the fan response was lukewarm at best.

So, Paul Bender had to oversee the transition of the track from Sportsman to Stock Car, and it really ushered in a new era where the local drivers had a harder time competing. There were Regional points now, and the guys from Watsonville came to race. It wasn't just about them having money, though they had the best cars. They could race too. That Dave Byrd, Doug McCoun and Jim Pettit II never got a shot at the big times is disappointing to me. It's one of the failings of the Regional point system, in my opinion.

By 1983 and with Dennis Huth in charge, Late Model Stock Cars and Street Stocks were the show at Antioch, and both classes were finally capable of getting B Mains. It got even better in 1984 as both classes had regular B Mains. We had time trials, full shows, special big races and did it all with just two divisions. Imagine that? It was a good show too.

But, as always, people have to try and make it "better" by tweaking the rules. 1985 was an amazing year for Street Stocks. It gave us new racers like Don Shelton, Steve Waggerman, Ron Murray and Corky Pattrick and so many different feature winners. Car count in the Late Model division fell, and many local drivers were forced to park because they couldn't afford the new rules. Still, it wasn't a bad show.

The contract was up in 1986, and people were interested in running the track in 1987. Tom Adair Sr., whose son had just won the Street Stock title, had been involved in racing for several years and had a good idea what needed to be done. The name kept out of the newspapers was John Soares Sr. Not only did he want the track, but his bid earned him the track. He was coming back home.

People at that time were calling for somebody based in the area to run the track, and John had a place in Bethal Island. Heck, he ran the track for 20 years. He knew what he was doing. He was gonna take care of the local racers. Had this come to pass, the "NASCAR dream" at Antioch may have ended. But what did that dream ever really get us? How much money ever came back to the racers in the form of point funds and purse money?

There was just one problem. John's wife Gladys, the Glad in Glad Enterprises, wanted nothing to do with the track. Petaluma kept them busy enough. So, John had NASCAR people calling him, telling him they would be more local oriented and have people based in the area running the place. Nothing in the newspapers mentioned any of this, probably because John didn't want anything said. The paper simply said that the track may go dark. Apparently, Adair had the next highest bid and felt it should have been awarded to him. Sounds fair to me, but I'm not sure how the procedures go for that.

In the end, Cars Incorporated was formed, basically a name change from Bob Barkimer & Associates that was run by Ken Clapp. Rick Farren was set to take the helm of a group of tracks that once was bigger but at that time included Watsonville, San Jose, Antioch and Merced. Watsonville's Bert Moreland remained involved, but Adair was brought in to help get it going before being released halfway though the year. If Tom was upset about it, I never heard him complain.

A year later, the late George Stiles and his wife Brynda were brought in. In an effort to keep it local, they moved to the area after successfully running tracks in Nevada and Southern California. Now George was one of the people involved in setting up the Southwest Tour, which is where Pettit, Byrd and McCoun all moved up to at one time or another. They didn't know a lot about the area, but they were willing to come in and be a part of the community.

Sadly, George passed away, and Brynda was ready to step in. She went from running the concessions to running a race track in a male dominated field. She made it ten years, so I think it's fair to say she did something right. The critics, including myself, could be very harsh at times, but she continued fine tuning the program and fans and racers continued to come. I look at George's decision to add the (NCMA) California Dirt Car division as very important, because would we have Wingless Spec Sprints now without that?

But, to say that was a controversial decision would be an understatement. Mike Johnson had the gift of talk, or BS if you want to put it that way. Moreland had verbally agreed with John Procopio to add the Dirt Modifieds for 12 dates in 1988, and several of us looked at this class as the second coming of the Sportsman division. Pops had added the class in 1987 at Petaluma and was the first promoter in the state to do it.

Antioch still had Late Models, a huge Street Stock division, the wild Figure 8 and visits from the NCMA and SORA Sprint 100's. Around 1990 or 91, the Late Model class peaked for the final time. It was able to get B Mains again. But car count dropped after that. I don't believe Brynda wanted to give up on the class, because she knew it was important. It just wasn't her call to make. That Street Stock count, however, was so big we needed C Mains and even had a D Main on occasion.

It seemed that it was time to start looking at the future again, so the Pure Stock class was added in 1996, giving the track three primary divisions and the traveling visitors. Again, the critics would come out, and that would include me. But, I stayed out of the challenge that came to the Fair Board's attention in 1996, concerning safely and health issues. I was warned to stay out of it, and I chose to heed those warnings.

Lonnie Fish had some concerns about officiating, and neither track officials nor NASCAR would address them. He took those concerns to the Fair Board and was told they couldn't address anything concerning the track, unless it had to do with health and safety. Fact is, the track had become a bit of a cash cow for the organization in charge, and if you look very carefully, you'd understand just how important Antioch and Watsonville together were responsible for keeping San Jose Speedway alive.

But, no money was being dumped into the track, and it was beginning to show. So, Lonnie went about his work preparing a case for safety and health violations at the track, and that move shocked a lot of people. Some accused Lonnie of wanting to close the track. Personally, I believe he wanted to change the way things were done there, and if going about it this way was the only way he could do it, than that's what he was going to do. I have a lot of respect for Lonnie, and don't kid yourself. If this was about closing the track, it would have happened.

But the track was exposed. Changes were needed to the facility, and there didn't appear to be any willingness to do anything from the management at that time. I had been working at Altamont as the "unofficial" writer at that time when I saw John Soares Jr. and Brian Gray racing a Dwarf Car. That seemed unusual to me. Also, I had heard rumors that John was bidding for Antioch. Could that be true? A Soares at Antioch? I absolutely loved the idea.

Pops remains a hero of mine and I was aware of what John had done in racing. He confirmed that he was looking at the track, and I knew he was serious. He also wanted it to be hush hush until just the right time so no sabotage could occur. And, yes, those games are played all the time. He went on to say he was looking at what he could add to the facilities that wasn't already there that could seal the deal for him.

Armed with what I knew, I began writing about an anonymous bidder who wanted to get the track. I knew what he wanted to do. As an aside, I spoke very highly of the NCMA and keeping them at the track. They were the only traveling club that came to Antioch in 1997 that was brought back in 1998. The Dwarf Cars became All Pro, and NARC shot themselves in the foot with a scathing article bashing John. For the record, if they had kept their mouth shut, they would likely have been back at Antioch and Petaluma, in my opinion. All they needed to do was respectfully renegotiate.

So, while I'm writing about this mystery guy, I'm getting all kinds of inquiries. Who is he? Oh, he's somebody who cares about the track. We're gonna lose NASCAR, they said. What does NASCAR really do for this place? Hey, it's a fair question, and by the way, where is NASCAR when short track America could use the help? They are telling you to stay home on Saturday and watch their race on TV. Oh yeah, after using short tracks across the country to build themselves up, they told them to all go to hell. Thanks a lot guys.

At Altamont, I was told by Andy Herbst about a higher up in NASCAR who wanted me fired. I wasn't on the official staff. Andy didn't want me to leave, because he knew that I was doing what I could to help Altamont. They got all sorts of ink because of me. I was feeling the heat though. I'm not kidding when I say that had the bid gone the other way, my butt would have been kicked out of Antioch. And, I doubt I would have come back outside the fence in 1998.

But, that's not what happened. I recall announcing in the magazine, once John gave me the green light, that he was bidding for the track. Pops told a story of how he ran into Brynda at the post office or some place. She called him a lair, because he had said he would never do this. Honestly, he wasn't doing it for himself. He was doing it for his son. Call it a lie if you must, but as I told him, I saw no problem with it. Most fathers will do what they can for their sons. It wasn't personal.

Man, it felt like the world was against us. They were rallying the troops against us at that last banquet, which I write about elsewhere. I believed in Antioch Speedway. I believed in John. I stood up for what I believed in. John was totally up front with me, and when I told drivers what was going to happen, I knew that was going to be the case. They knew they were getting the truth from me. Me and Jackie were totally committed to the cause.

The newspaper slammed John without even coming to him for any information. They talked to the few drivers who were leaving, without getting a balanced story about how others felt. It hurt. We never had the ink in the paper after that, although part of that was because of who we had sending stories to the newspapers. I'll leave it at that.

We had meetings at a pizza parlor before the year was even up. John told everybody what was to come, and it happened that way. He answered all questions, and it started to feel like we had a fighting chance. Some of the troops were staying put and fighting for Antioch Speedway under the All Pro Series banner. Oh yes, we have a chance.

1998 starts off with rain, and lots of it. We had something like five weeks in a row of rainouts. John is making improvements with lighting, new clay, pit concession stands. A new pit restroom was coming. Complete reworking of the pits. And, he's doing it with a smile on his face. Then, leading up to the season, Joe does his TV show. One episode with soft ball questions for Rick at Watsonville, and another with hardball questions for John at Antioch. John just hits them out of the park.

Opening day finally comes. Maybe we should have waited, but we couldn't. Drivers were getting impatient. So much was being spent on improvements that money needed to be recouped. The show went on. It was a mess, and it got even uglier come main event time. Jack and I were to share the announcing, but Jack didn't get the memo and took the microphone for the whole night. So, I get to talk with Joe during yellows and between races. Antioch is to be his center piece for the show, but the mains were an absolute mess.

I can't even defend that, but this was not a show representative of what it would be like. The Dirt Modifieds, yellow checkered. Street Stocks, yellow checkered. Joe is furious. His precious show is ruined. The Pure Stocks roll out with a ten minute time limit to get ten laps in, and he's packing his cameras. I tell him to film, but he declines. He never liked the class anyway, and his bitterness over the track management change is showing. This is really what it's all about now. Joe had long since turned the show into his own bully pulpit, but that's another story. The Pure Stocks go flag to flag with no yellows, close race, best race of the night, and he's not filming it.

What am I gonna do, he asks me? It was a mess. I advised him to pick out highlights, show finishes, use any interviews he had before the races and come back again. It will get better. But, he can't do that. He trashes the show on TV. This was indicative of the attacks we had to deal with. I recall walking up the stands during an intermission early that season and being handed a flier expressing disapproval of track management. Some people weren't gonna give us a break, no matter what.

We just kept plugging away. John kept preparing good race tracks, I kept writing and announcing, everybody did what they had to do. If I had another job handed to me, I did it. We were a team. Racers saw what was going on, and they couldn't deny it was good. Fans kept coming. It wasn't so bad. It was actually pretty good. The show was going on, every bit as good as before. A few names at the top changed in the Modified class, but so what? We were making new stars.

I recall a night when we were having PA problems and Kevin Beard adjusted things to make it better. We ended up with no sound for the stereo. I didn't know what all the dials did yet, but we didn't have a National Anthem that night. I ended up signing it, and the crowd joined in. What a moment that was. I bought a new wireless microphone so I could do on track interviews. We were fine tuning everything.

As the season ended, nobody could deny that the track was better than ever. John decided I should MC the banquet. I can't tell you what a nervous wreck I was. I sponsored several special awards that I felt were important. I recall how the people at that banquet were totally into what we were doing. It felt so special. And it was like, you ain't seen nothing yet.

As happens with success, everybody wants to come on board. Why not? It's successful now. That's okay, we welcomed everybody who wanted to come. In 1999, we added Spec Sprints. The work involved in that meant no time off during the offseason for me and Don O'Keefe Jr., but the results speak for themselves. I was still loaded with things to do that year, even more than a year earlier, but I didn't mind. Jackie was on board full time too. It was for the team.

But, I did see the smile fade from John's face that year. You have no idea the hate that was thrown at that man. Words are one thing, but actions are another. Some people definitely crossed the line. There was also back stabbing going on behind the scenes. Who isn't important, but it got worse in 2000. It bugged the hell out of me, but it took a heavier toll on my sister at times. I think she was just trying to protect me.

What's funny is 1999 was probably our best season with 2000 a close second. We had so many cars we had to open a new section of pits. Four divisions regularly needed B Mans. It should have been a happy time, but by the end of the season the negative stuff was getting to me. I know it was bothering John too. How could it not? You put your heart and soul into this, and this is what you get?

I had full announcing duties at that time, the points, designing and sending the ads to the paper, the programs, other odds and ends and I MC'ed the banquet again. This included even more special awards that I sponsored. Two years in the books. Could I handle a third year? Did I want to? I made a commitment, so I came back.

The show was still good. Lots of cars, lots of fans in the stands. Everything appeared to be okay. I know the track hasn't seen such success since, but there were problems. More backstabbing. People trying to stir the pot. I continued to do my job to the best of my ability, but I went elsewhere for fun. Why not? Work was done. I'm going to this new track in Chowchilla, where you get a $25 fine for not having fun. It still amazes me what Tom accomplished there. People may have seen him as just an angry race car driver, but he brought about change because he stood up for what he believed in.

I rarely missed a race at Chowchilla, and I had to find rides every week. No, Don didn't take me all the time and neither did Johnny, the person I used to travel with. I had to get there. I wanted to help. It felt like they had hit on something down there that was good for racing. It also felt like maybe we could make a connection between Antioch and Chowchilla somehow. I was naive. My eyes were opened wide the last five years that I was in the sport. I think maybe I needed to learn those lessons, but it changed the way I looked at things.

The biggest problem in 2000 was John and I didn't talk. Maybe at the track, but not as much on the phone. He was pissed at me, and I was pissed at him. I felt like I had done so much for the place and was being treated like I owed more. I was being held up to higher standards than anybody else. And, people were bad mouthing me to John. Why? They wanted me gone. My attitude, quite frankly, was if what I had done wasn't good enough, then to hell with them. I'll leave. Maybe not the right move, but it was where I was at.

The thing is, we should always be willing to communicate, especially when we feel something is bothering us or somebody is bothered by us. John and I should have talked. I admit I am sensitive and can be reduced to tears easily sometimes or even pissed off, but when I think about what is said, I will understand if it comes from the right place.

People wanted us to fail, even then. Sure, it was far from failing, but what goes up, must come down. For the next few seasons, car count dropped slowly. It was so gradual that some people probably didn't even notice at first. Things weren't being done that had been before. That's part of the reason. But attitudes contributed to it. Us against them will not build a community, and both sides were guilty of that.

I understand people being upset. There are people right now who want to help, but they don't even know what to do. You can see it in the pits and the stands. What happened to this place? Yes, it looks nice, but what happened? How did we get here? Can we even get it back? These are the questions that need to be answered. Every track will have it's ups and downs, but that's how it goes.

I'll tell you part of the problem is selfishness. Everybody needs to look in the mirror on that one. Maybe it's the driver who chooses to "retaliate" on the track for what was really just an accident. Maybe it's the guy who chooses not to race because one call went against him. Maybe an official is out there playing god instead of doing their job. Maybe John let anger or frustration push him into a decision. Maybe it's a little of everything.

It's all about whether or not the cause is worth fighting for. If you love being at the track, then fight for it to make it better. Would you rather have John running the track or no track at all? If he is back this year, can you support racing for the good of that track? When the next opportunity comes for change, can you be prepared to make it happen? It starts with you.

I'll make it real simple. I'm nobody special. I was just a fan in the stands who wanted to make a difference. I got lucky, but it took some neglect on most other aspects of my life to get me where I did. I had no life. Racing was my life. If I made a difference, then great. I'm just somebody who thought he could help bring positive changes to the track. I chose to act on my ideas, and put forth the effort. That's what it takes.

I don't know what else to add to this long rambling post of mine. Not even sure why I wrote all of this, but if you read it, you are a real trooper. Remember to love your family, enjoy yourself and bring something positive to whatever you do. In the end, that's all that really matters.

Some Things Never Change

I'm sitting here, not feeling too well at the moment. Normally, I probably would have moved away from the racing stuff. I'm already getting tired of it. I simply wanted to post some recollections here when my name started coming up in conversations. I wasn't looking for the attention, but it came anyway.

I once felt the passion over racing that some of the posters out on the web feel. My life centered around the races, so I felt the need to get political sometimes. Just remember when politics overtake the love of the sport, you will burn out. The actual sport becomes less important. Suddenly, you'd rather do something else with your time. Then, you don't even go to the races anymore.

Is it perfect out there at the races? Clearly it's not, or people wouldn't be running their mouths. As to Antioch Speedway, the real time to speak up was last year, WHEN THE TRACK WAS UP FOR BID. What we have now is a pissing contest. The "current" promoter, John Soares Jr., no he's not the "ex" promoter at the moment, attempted to negotiate. That's all.

The comment, "I may have to move on" or however it was phrased in his letter was clearly an attempt to renegotiate. The Fair Board was not going to budge. They have a certain expectation of what they will get from the track, and that's that. Oh, and the $5 parking fee, that's the fairgrounds, not John. Wanna complain about something, start with that. $5 parking certainly didn't help San Jose Speedway, did it?

Now, I'm not a Board member. I don't know what, if anything, may be going on behind the scenes that led to this current situation. Obviously, somebody in power doesn't like John and felt this was their chance, and others stepped in to try and use the opportunity to get the track. A connection between the two? Not my call to make as I'm unfamiliar with it, but it's obvious somebody who tried to get the track hates the man enough to throw the idea of a personal boycott around.

I know people are complaining about John saying he isn't making any money. I have yet to meet a promoter who claimed to be making money. You never want people to know just how much you are making. How many people go around bragging about what they make at their job? This is just an observation. Is John making money or not? I'm not going there, because I couldn't even make a guess. Judging from the car count and grandstand photos I've seen, it doesn't look good.

So, people are complaining and bashing. There are some people stirring the pot, not really picking a side but stirring the pot. Not gonna say who, but it doesn't surprise me. Vent on the board if you want to, but what good will it do you in the end? The decision will still be in front of you, to race or not to race. What will you do when the time comes?

What are you even gonna say at the fair board meeting this week? Will it even matter? I'm sorry to inform you that the decision will probably be made before things open to the public. Then what? Voice your concerns? What are you gonna say? I don't believe your opinion will make one bit of difference when they make the decision, and the promoter will be the same.

So, what are you gonna say? I'm not happy and I'm gonna quit? He's not fair and he's mean? It used to be this way, but now it's that way? I doubt they will care. I'm not telling you not to say anything. It's your right to speak during public comments. Just don't be mad if it doesn't do you any good. I know a man who went to the fair board for change during the 90's and managed to get their attention. Some hated him, but I respected him because he didn't blow hot air and leave. He was part of the reason change came.

So, what are we mad at? He won't listen? Have you tried to talk to him? Have you thought about forming a driver's group and electing a representative? Have you thought about whether there was anything you could do to help? There's lots of room for improvement, and you CAN make a difference if you choose. Or, you can choose to bitch and moan on a message board where nobody cares. It's up to you.

Want a change? There will be another bid in four years, and the time to start planning is now. Not a back door policy, but a submitted bid through the proper channels. If that is the change you seek, it starts now. I'm not gonna tell you how to do it, but it's fairly obvious.

This is part of the reason I burned out. I fought for change. I fought for a better race track. I didn't feel like I had the support on either side in the end. What's the point? People will tell you you suck when you try to do something, but when the benefit comes, they are at the front of the line talking about what "we" did. I still recall when the man once told me, there is no "we".

Whether I come back or not, I want the track to be there. I want little kids to learn to love the place as much as I did. I want new legends of the speedway to be made. Whether I'm there to witness it or not doesn't matter. What matters is we still have a track to go to on Saturday nights. That could change at any time, so enjoy it while you can.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

From The DCRR Archives


This one comes from 1998 and the May 9th edition of The DCRR. Track management had just changed and we were in the beginning of what was a special season. People thought new Antioch Speedway promoter John Soares Jr. would fail. Instead, we had a season that led to many people coming back in 1999.

The skies were cloudy, it had rained the night before and it even sprinkled off and on all night, but the show went on at Antioch Speedway under the All Pro Series banner. It was a night that left some fans scratching their heads in wonder. The Pure Stocks and Modified Street Stocks put forth their usual solid effort, while the Dirt Modifieds seemed intent to make up for the cancellation of the Destruction Derby by staging one of their own. The only problem is that with all the money the drivers spend on their cars, it was a costly Derby at that. In fact, it will end up costing drivers even more as fines and even a couple suspensions will be handed out as this is being typed.

Just a week earlier, the Dirt Modifieds put forth one of their better main events in a while with only a few caution flags and a late challenge from Dan Gonderman on Don Shelton. Gonderman seemed to be gaining on Shelton there at the end, but settled for second in the 25 lapper. “Donny just wouldn't give up on that top (groove), “ claimed Gonderman. “It was going away. I don't know. A couple more laps and maybe we would have made it.”

Shelton maintained that he was just being careful at the end. “It was a lapped car, “ said Don, who finally gunned it and got sideways on the front stretch lapping the slower car. “I got caught up to a couple cars. I don't know who it was and I really don't want to name names. They were kind of in the way and I couldn't get around them. I was trying to save it. I figured if I got second, I got second. I just didn't want to lose and crash the car or anything. It's brand new, so I don't want to wreck it.”

Don is pleased with the way things have gone so far in the Gary Dauksch-owned Pro Chassis, which had him ranked a close third behind Bob Newberry and Gonderman going into the fourth night or racing. “We're happy, “ Shelton admitted. “I don't like the way it handles yet, but we'll get it. Making me happy is the hardest thing for them guys to do. They're trying to change me to make the car work better. We're fighting each other is all we're doing. We're having a good time. Between Tom and Gary and all the guys that come out and help me, we have a strong team. That $600 (for the win) here and there helps out a little bit. It's a lot better than last year when they were paying $400 or something to win.”

It’s been a long time since he has run for points. In fact, it goes back to the Street Stock days when Don ranked second in the standings in 1991. Is he thinking about points and a championship this time around? “We'd like to try to run for points, but there's 20 something races left, “ Shelton admitted. “You can’t run for points until there's like five or six to go. You can't come out every week expecting to finish just to get some points. You've got to try and run and get wins. That's what I'm trying to do. It's been a long time since I've won a main event. I want to win some more. Towards the end, of the season, if we're close, then we'll start point chasing. There's a different way of doing it. People have their way about doing it. I'm gonna point chase it my own way. We're just gonna take it one week at a time. We've been fortunate. We got wrecked the first week, but we got a top ten out of it.”

There’s been a lot of talk about the competition level in the Dirt Modified division this year, and Shelton feels it’s more competitive than ever right now. “I'm running with the same guys I ran with last year, “ said Shelton, a 13 time main event winner in his days in the Street Stock division. “Granted, there's a lot of guys that ain't out here, but who's to say they're gonna do any better where they're at. They could come out here and win like Scott (Busby) did the first week, but he started up towards the front. It was a short race and everybody crashed. He was lucky enough to be there. I'm not saying he wouldn't have won that race, don't get me wrong, but it was an 11 lap race. That wasn't fair for anybody, but it was the first time we tried to do this (after all the rain).”

“The second week, Keith (Brown Sr.) won, “ Don continued. “He's been running good for years. He runs good all the time. You can't take anything away from him. He does what he needs to do to win. There's probably gonna be eight to ten cars that have been here every week that can win a main event. Last year, there wasn't that many. That makes it more fun for everybody, because you have a better chance. There's not a couple guys here that have more money than they know what to do with and can just go out and kick everybody's butt every week. You've got guys like Keith, (Bob) Newberry, (Terry) DeCarlo, Dan Gonderman and people of that caliber.”

Money is the thing. The field at Antioch now is made up of people on a tighter budget, and Don is no exception. “We've got X amount of dollars to play with, “ Shelton noted. “We've got to pay our bills, and if we've got any money left to go play with the race car, let's go play with the race car. That's just the way you've got to do it. You can't have a car budget. All I've got is $10,000 to spend on the race car. If you've got it, go ahead and play with it. We don't have a spare motor or anything. So, that money I got last week is gonna go towards putting a motor together. You can see in the back of the truck, we don't have anything. We've got a couple jugs of fuel.”

Point leader Bob Newberry is on a tight budget as well, and in the past, that has kept him out of the action. This year has been a complete 180 for Bob, who is more closely resembling his Street Stock self, when he was a title contender and a big threat to win main events. So, how does this complete turnaround feel? “Good, “ Newberry admitted. “It's shocking. It's nice to finally have my luck change and to be able to get into the car and feel confident that I'm gonna be able to finish a race with it. We've learned a lot and changed a couple things on the car. It seems to be working, so we're not gonna make anymore changes on it. If we need to go another step higher, than that's what we'll have to do. The way everything is going right now, I'm just ecstatic to be doing as well as we are. It's a five year old car, and it's just awesome.”

Like Shelton, Bob is enjoying the competitive level at Antioch Speedway under the All Pro Series banner. “With everybody we have now, it's anybody's ballgame, “ said Newberry. “You bobble in the corner, and there's somebody right no your tail end that's gonna take your position away. There's still a couple guys out here that are learning about the Modifieds and trying to get them to go around the corners and setup and all that, but hey, we were all there at one time. Right now, it's anybody's ball game. It's just amazing that I'm able to be in the front.”

Kent Bickford may not have been talking about winning a championship in the Cline Chassis he co-owns with Bob Jones, but he did expect to be top ten competitive. However, the first three weeks have been a struggle. “Two weeks ago, that was kind of a freak thing, “ said Kent, a two time top ten ranked driver in Dirt Modified points at Antioch. “We took the lead on the first lap, only to get caught in (Bert) Elworthy and (Mike) Murphy's wreck at the beginning. Last week, the game plan was since we had to start in the back, just sort of cruise along and finish the deal. That's all we were doing. Then, there was that big pileup in the corner. I actually got it stopped before it hit anybody. Then, Ed Daviess came in there and tore the left front off and that was pretty much it for the night. I don't know. It's just one of those things. It's got to get better, because if it gets worse, I won't be here.”

It’s been a crazy season so far for Mark Garner in his new Cobra Chassis, but he came into the night ranked in the top ten. Though he’s had his struggles in the main event, Mark has won a pair of heat races so far and felt he was getting things dialed in. "We're getting all the bugs worked out of it, “ claimed Mark.

“It's starting to come around. It looks like we've got the brake problem worked out. We're getting there. We're staying out of trouble. We're not getting blasted anymore. The track is a little bit wider, so there's more room to race around people. The car is starting to come around. Hopefully, he'll (Bart Reid) be able to sell a few cars and we'll be able to sell this one here. This is a good Cobra Chassis. If I can sell it, I'll buy another Cobra.”

Mark’s two heat race wins have come ahead of top five ranked Dave Rosa, and he admits he enjoys racing with the two-time Street Stock point runnerup. “I like racing with David, “ Garner admitted. “Some people don't like racing with David. They say he doesn't know how to drive a Modified, but he's doing a damn good job. I like racing with him. There's only a few people out here that I have trouble with, but me and David run great together.”

While Rosa is hoping to stay in the top five in the standings, veteran Mel Maupin would just be happy with another top five feature finish. Mel had a rough debut in the season’s third event after placing second in his heat race. “The track has really changed a lot since the last time I was on it, “ said Maupin, a former top twenty competitor in Stock Cars, Dirt Modifieds and Sportsmans at Antioch Speedway. “The setup on the car was way off. I was trying to drive down low, but the way the track is packed now, I think the fast way around now is up a little bit. About halfway through the heat race, I started pulling up a little bit, trying to hold on to Tryon a little bit. I switched some weight around a little bit and changed things around a little bit. I think it might help a little bit. I think it took everybody a few weeks to get the hang of the new track.”

Two late arrivals on the night were Phil Pedlar and Gregg MacElhenney. Pedlar had spent most of the day putting a motor in his Carr Modified to go racing and arrived late. MacElhenney, a former crewman on Dave Zahn’s Street Stocker, was making his Dirt Modified debut in the former Chris Elby Harris, but he would not make it out of the B Main.

The format for the night called for four heat races, and Gonderman picked up the first heat in a flag to flag run ahead of the returning Kenny Neu and Newberry. Bickford picked up the next heat ahead of rookie Jason Mincey to at least temporarily end his slump. Keith Brown Sr. was in his usual form with a win in he next eight lapper ahead of Garner and Shelton. Jim Tryon picked up another heat race win in the third ahead ahead of Ed Leis and Terry DeCarlo Sr., but it was Brown Sr. edging Gonderman in the dash. Pedlar’s poor heat race effort put him in the B Main, which he ran away with. Meanwhile, rookie Ed Daviess won an entertaining last lap duel with veteran Maupin for second and Keith Brown Jr. also transferred.

There were only two leaders in the 25 lap main event as Neu led the first six circuits before Shelton took over. Newberry ran second for most of the race to finish there behind Shelton. Debi Clymens was a career best third ahead of the hard charging Maupin (fifteen cars passed) and the debuting Brian Curran in the Gary Michelson car. The bigger story was a complete disregard for each other that some of the drivers show by spinning each other out. The worst incident was Gonderman’s rollover on the back stretch, which resulted in no injury. The rough night of racing is sure to see some fines levied against some competitors.

As it turned out, the Gonderman incident happened on a restart that had Brown Sr. in the pits. No laps were scored, but under All Pro Series rules, a driver automatically loses a lap if he or she doesn’t take the green for the restart, even if that lap doesn’t count due to a red flag condition. Brown raced hard, thinking he was still on the lead lap and took second from Newberry with an aggressive pass in Turns 1 and 2, apparently finishing there. After the race, things got a bit ugly in the pits with a confrontation between both drivers and pit crews. Promoter John Soares Jr. wasted no time reacting to the situation as he suspended both drivers for two weeks.

This is not the first time serious title contenders in Antioch’s premiere division have come to blows, but this is the first time in a long while that something has been done to deal with it. Newberry ended the night with a six point advantage over Shelton, 130-124, as Brown ran third, but the two week suspensions are sure to shake up the point battle and may have eliminated both drivers from contention.

Over in the Pure Stock division, rookie driver Donny Babb held a slim lead over Trevor Clymens in the battle for the championship. Babb would be a late arrival on this night after flying in from San Diego. However, a week earlier, Babb was the first one across the finish line for his second win of the year. Trevor was disappointed to lose, but the second place finish he earned kept him in the battle. “I got whooped, “ Clymens admitted. “It hasn't been too bad a year so far. We got off to a real good start. We'll see what happens. The only way to win anything is to finish the race.”

Meanwhile, Chris Lancaster was trying to get back on the right track, and his heat race win and top five feature run in the division’s third race was a good start. However, he couldn’t help but be a little discouraged by his bad luck in week two. “Things are good except for week two, which destroyed the season so far, “ said Chris. “I jumped in the car (before the main), I shifted, the transmission broke and the shifter wouldn't work. Everything else was great, and the shifter wouldn't work. So, that's one night. You give me that night back, and I'm somewhere near the front (in points). That may have destroyed the season. Other than that, right now, we're not quite as fast as some of them are, but we're working on it. Hopefully, we'll run a little quicker.”

Though Babb was in the process of building his rookie point lead with that second win, fellow rookie Robert Taylor was making his move into the top five in the standings with an impressive sixth place run from the back of the pack. “That was a blast, “ Taylor admitted. “I don't know how many (consecutive) green flag laps of racing we had. That's when I actually did some full speed passing. That was kind of fun, instead of passing on a restart or something like that. It's a lot different. I had a lot of fun. I'm starting to drive it into the corners a lot harder. It's fun, a lot of fun.”

Ron Schnars took a positive step that night with his second place finish in the heat, and he was hoping that finish would signal good things to come. “That was a fun race, “ said Ron. “It felt good. Last year, it was just worrying about learning about how the car handled and what the dirt track was like and having fun with it. This year, I kind of have it figured out. Jack's (Aiello) doing a real good job of setting it up. He sets it up and I aim it.”

Meanwhile, Issac Neiger was making his first career start in the former Tom Flanary car, most recently owned by Ron Brown. As for what he hoped to accomplish on this night, Neiger hoped to keep it simple. “I don't want to crash too hard, “ said Issac. “I don't want to spin out too hard and crash. That's about it. This is my first race, my first car. I've been wanting to race for a long time. Finally, the opportunity came up and here I am”

Lancaster opened the night for the Pure Stocks with a heat race win ahead of Terry DeCarlo Jr., who seemed to be having some mechanical problems all night, and Joel Kramasz. Trevor Clymens won the next heat ahead of Matt Wacht and Tommy Clymens Jr. After taking a couple weeks off, Fred Baker came back and won the third heat by holding off teammate Babb and Mikey Slaney. Wacht appeared to be on his way to the dash win, but Babb passed him late for the victory.

In the main event, while Babb and Tr. Clymens would lose laps, Baker would settled into a comfortable lead with Taylor second. Lapped traffic gave Taylor a shot at Baker on the last lap, but Baker held on for the win. Meanwhile, rookie Mike Palladino snuck up on a third place finish from the back of the pack. Palladino made a late pass on Clymens Jr. for third as Schnars impressed with a career best fifth. Hard luck racer Wacht and Lancaster were sixth and seventh, and a check of the points after the night found Babb leading Tr. Clymens by 15 points, 117-112.

In the Modified Street Stock division, Daniel Hodges came into the night holding a slim point lead over Lori Brown and Rob Waldrop. Meanwhile, Todd Tadiello is still trying to come back from his disqualification of the second week, and he got that effort started off right with a second place finish the following week. Though it was gratifying for Todd to come back so strong after the DQ, he couldn’t help but be a little disappointed. “Too bad I couldn't do a little better, “ said Todd. “I was hoping to end up winning it, but we got second. That was sure nerve racking, because I sure wanted to try and win it again, just to prove a lot of people wrong, that I can win. I'll take a second. We'll get a win. It's just gonna take time. I'm hanging in there. I know when it's my turn again, It'll come around.”

Todd came into the season with one of the nicest looking cars out there, complete with a Late Model style body. It was the culmination of some hard work during the offseason. “It's mostly new, “ Tadiello explained. “We redid a lot of things. We cut a lot of weight out of it and made it so it would handle a little bit better than it did last year. We put a new frame under there. I wish I could have kept my (Late Model) body on there. It just goes to prove the body doesn't make the car fast.”

Right behind Todd at the finish was the much improved Charlie Bryant. Charlie came into the night as a top five ranked driver, giving him high hopes of achieving some career firsts. “We keep making little changes, getting a little bit faster, “ said Charlie. “I messed up a little bit last week. A couple of times I hurt myself. We keep plugging along here. We'll get up there eventually and win one of them I think. I had second there for a while. I had nothing for the 49 car (Jim Woodward), the one that got shut down. He was real fast. He was real smooth. Todd (Tadiello) is real fast, and he's gonna be hard to beat. Hopefully, one night, we'll get lucky and get one. I'm just looking for one.”

Second year Antioch racer Jim Capoot opened his season with a top five finish in the opener, but his heat race win in week three was only his second Antioch heat win. Jim is hoping the win was the first of many wins to come. “It was great, “ said Jim. “We won a heat race at the end of last year, but this one was pretty cool. Well, we have a first, two thirds and a boo-boo last week, and that's only in two nights of racing. We're gonna be missing a lot of racing this year because of commitments. I think we're gonna be competitive when we are here. That's something where these guys worked hard on the race car along with Scott Busby telling them what to do, sort of. It made a whole world of difference on the car.”

After three races, Billy Fraser was the rookie point leader in the former Tom Flanary Cline Camaro. How does he like the division so far? “I like it great, “ Fraser admitted. “I've raced Go-Karts in the past and Quarter-Midgets and this is a lot tighter competition. You go out there and might bang a little bit. You don't have to worry about hitting tires. You go out there and really race hard. Go-Karts are a real fun thing to get into. It was a great start for going into this. I could feel the competition of people around me, and it prepared me well to come out here.”

Did he have any thoughts of winning the rookie title coming into the season? “I just came out here to get some laps, “ Billy replied. “With no experience out here before, I just came out here to get some laps. Whatever happens happens really.”

Not too far behind Fraser is Dennis Moore in Dan Newberry’s old Cline Camaro. It’s been an exciting first three races for Moore as he learns the ropes in the division. “I like it a lot, “ claimed Dennis. “It's been going pretty smooth so far. I'd like to win the rookie title, but I don't know. I'm just happy, finally, to get my car working right. I'm going to Busby (Motorsports) Monday. He's gonna help me set it up, put the weight jacks in it and stuff. We're gonna go with that. It's all new to me. I'm learning everything. I hope to get it set up right so it'll work better. The car is running good. We're just getting it set up right.”

A little further down in the top twenty is fellow rookie Al Munthar. However, Munthar is taking a beating, but he’s not getting discouraged. “I'm having fun, “ said Al. “I love it, even though I've been getting beaten up too much. I'm just trying to get into it. It's hard. The car has been beaten up big time. I bought it like that. Every week, we try to fix something and try to eliminate problems every week. Hopefully, I'm not doing the same mistakes over and over. I've been breaking mufflers every week, but hopefully not any more.”

In a few other Street Stock notes, Tom Flanary was on hand and said that he’ll be doing his next effort in a Cline car without the backing of Dave Valentine, who owned his car last season. It should be ready in the next few weeks. Brian Curran, who was driving the Gary Michelson Dirt Modified to the best finish it ever had, said his Cline Camaro is for sale. Dave Rosa, meanwhile, said there was a good chance Carrigan Brown will have his car ready for Dave to drive this week.

In the first heat race, Rob Waldrop used a pole position start to score a win ahead of Lori Brown and Bob Motts Jr. Capoot scored another heat win in front of Bryant and Fraser. The final heat went to Chester Kniss ahead of Mike Mendenhall and Chris Davis, but it was Bryant continuing his string of impressive efforts with a first career dash win ahead of rookie Mendenhall.

With his pole position start, Fraser got to lead his first three main event laps before Kniss took over ahead of Waldrop. Waldrop was the first to a lap 14 yellow flag to gain the lead he would take to the checkered flag. Kniss had second until cutting a tire as Capoot raced by at the checkered flag. Kniss settled for third ahead of Moore and Davis in the former Dave Rosa car to complete the top five finishers in the well run event. Waldrop used the win to gain a 16 point lead over Kniss, 118-102.

The Dirt Modifieds, Street Stocks and Pure Stocks will be back for Round 5 of their All Pro Series championship point races this week. Joining them for their first event at Antioch this week is the NCMA Modified division. The NCMA was scheduled to race Merced last week, but many of their racers arrived at the track in time to get rained out. The two events run so far have been won by early season point leader Scott Holloway and former club champion Duane Watson.
There is a buzz in the air in the NCMA about racing at Antioch, and the drivers can’t wait to get on the track for their first race on their home track. Defending NCMA Antioch champion Stan Cargo is expected to be on hand for the show along with defending overall champion Del Quinn, Holloway, Watson, Ed Amador Sr., Don O’Keefe Jr., Bill Felver, Andy Archer, Henry Mitchell III, Mike Lokmor, Jim Booth, Jeff Pike, Jim Janssen, Warren Dorathy and several others. It’s sure to be a show you won’t want to miss!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Looking Back: The Curl Racing Family

I heard the Curl name mentioned again recently, and it makes me think of another racing family that supported racing at Antioch Speedway that is no longer there. From the mid 70's though the early part of the 00's, the Curls raced at the track and made their presence known. If they weren't racing, they were building cars for people, or both.

Bruce "The Phantom" Curl was a sportsman racer in the 70's, but it's in the 80's when he gained some recognition. He was one of just two drivers from the Antioch area to win the Stock Car championship in the 80's. He drove for Pete Paulsen in the famed "House Of Wheels Special" and won the 1981 championship, a year before Regional points became a part of the deal.

Pete's care were beautiful, red, while and blue paint job, chrome wheels and #66. I believe there were two cars that year with Pete's other driver being Danny Jones. If memory serves, Jim Booth's #72 car was sponsored by Pete as well.

Anyway, the locals had a hard time keeping up with the "big buck" guys who came in from Watsonville and San Jose, but Bruce had his moments. He was even a feature winner during a time when the local guys didn't win many. In 1982, Bruce's son, Bruce Curl Jr., raced, and I believe "Gentle Ben" Gary Ehrlich and Nick Arrington even had cars as part of the team.

Bill Curl didn't race as much, but he did have a competitive car. His rookie season in Stock Cars saw him rank third in the points while his brother was winning the championship. He also enjoyed a top 20 ranking during the very competitive 1984 Stock Car season.

Bill even put 1981 Sportsman State champion Richard Johnson in his car, and I recall them having some good finishes. Johnson was even a top 20 point runner. Bruce ranked much higher. If memory serves, Johnson had some top five success in Bill's car in 100 lap Main Events. I recall the Curls had a hand in getting other local drivers out to the track, and Randy Dahl and Darrel Dodson come time mind for some reason.

Though the Stock car class didn't always have huge car counts at Antioch, they did well in 1983 and 1984. The Curls were a part of that. 1984 was the year local legend J.D. Willis finally won the Stock Car championship after close battles with former Regional champions Dave Byrd and Jim Pettit II the previous two seasons.

Since Willis and Curl were the only local drivers to win Stock Car championships that decade, it made perfect sense for Bruce to team up with Willis in 1985 and put him behind the wheel of his #25a car. The teaming lead to top five point success over the next couple seasons with Willis winning Main Events on more than one occasion. The Curls know a thing or two about building fast race cars, and Willis can drive the wheels off of anything.

Around that time, Curl's teammate, Tony Pato, fielded a car. Tony had his moments, and though maybe he didn't get the results Bruce did, he was there every week. I believe it was Tony's brother Bob Pato who went on to be a respected official at the track. They even recruited Tony after a hard crash into the front wall sidelined him from driving. People respected Tony too, because they knew he was fair.

When the Dirt Modified class was in it's infancy, Bruce and Tony got on board. He had long since established the Curl Racing shop, which many racers used. Since NASCAR was finally getting on board with this class, Bruce started building cars for racers like former Street Stock "Rookie Of The Year" Ron Murray and Tom Williams. Bruce was in the championship battle that year and even led, but it was Johnson who would win the first title for the class. Can you believe that was 20 years ago? Where does the time go?

Bruce had pretty much retired from racing, but he'd come back out and help people get things dialed in from time to time. He helped Ed Leis as I recall. What I recall about Curl Racing was they were poised to be the top shop for building Dirt Modifieds in the area, and at a reasonable price. They were good cars too. However, during that first season, Scott Busby came on board with the Harris Chassis and started his successful Busby Motorsports business.

Soon, everybody had a Harris, which lead to attempts by Bart Reid and Cobra Chassis, and Chad Chadwick and Pro Chassis, to grab some of that business. Don't want to forget about Cline Racing, as Lance Cline had some success as well. Lance Cline and his legendary father Dean "The Blinker" Cline would be a good subject for a column.

Bill came back in a Street Stock in 1987. Money was tight and a Late Model was simply not an option for him, so he had a Street Stock. If memory serves, it was Brian Keith's old car. There was some concern over whether he could run for points as Dean Cline's Street Stock effort a year or so before was stricktly a non point affair due to his previous Stock Car and Sportsman seasons. Bill was top three throughout the first half of the season. He ended up selling the car. Bill still ranked top ten that season.

Bill would jump back into the game as a car builder in the 90's, building for Kurt Breuker, Mark Paulson and Chris Lancaster. Bill even had an occasion to put J.D. Willis behind the wheel of his car, and Willis finished second one night after having been away for several years. Willis came close to joining John Soares Jr. as the only drivers to win features at Antioch in the 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's and 00's. I wonder if John will go for a win in this decade? Curl could have been top ten that season had he wanted it, but both he and Willis finished in the top 20 in the standings.

Breuker ran a Machine shop in Concord and had a reputation for making fast motors. He was top ten in points and a feature winner. The team of Curl and Breuker was fully capable of winning a championship. Though it never happened, they certainly made their presence known.

Through the years, another Curl made her presence known at the track, Bill's wife Sue. The Powder Puff races happened about every year during the 80's and Sue was one of the top drivers. She may have won in the 90's as well. I don't have records of that, but I think she did.

So, Bill decided to put Sue in a Pure Stock and turn her loose on the competition. Well, she won her share of races and even came within shouting distance of the championship. To my knowledge, this is where the Curl involvement at the track ends. Bill and Sue moved from the state, and I'm not sure whatever happened to Bruce. I know I'm probably forgetting a thing or two, but the Curls were definitely an important part in the evolution of the track.

In fact, let me go some place people might not want me to go. It was the late 80's, and Bill and Sue were track officials. Bill's knowledge of race cars made him a good tech official and Sue ran the pit board. The chief steward was John Meyers, who had crewed for drivers like Jerry Garner and Mike Walko in the past.

What happened one night shook things up big time. A tech inspection on the motor of one of the top drivers found that motor to be illegal. Who was that driver? Let's just say not a local driver, but somebody in the Regional point battle. This was to be swept under the rug but for one problem. Bill Curl was one of those guys who wanted to see fair treatment for all and was an advocate for the little guy.

Bill spoke up. I recall writing a column in The DCRR at that time called "And The Knife Was Passed" or something like that. The fallout from that was the Curls were fired and Meyers was removed from his duties. He resurfaced as an official, but that didn't last long. The up shot for John was that when track management decided not to rehire respected announcer Butch Althar, a big mistake in my opinion, they hired John instead. After all, John was a "team" player.

I respect Bill, because he's generally been somebody looking out for the racers. The Curl family contributed to what made Antioch Speedway such a great place to race. These are the type of people who made this race track. Families who spent their Saturday nights at the track and their weeknights building race cars. Where would we be without them? I don't know, but I do know things wouldn't have been the same without them.