Sunday, March 28, 2010
There were plenty of thrills and spills to be witnessed Saturday night as the 50th season of racing action continued at Antioch Speedway. When it was all said and done, there were four new winners in the winner's circle.
After having his clean sweep effort thwarted by newcomer Ryan Risconi's feature victory last week, 360 Sprint Car veteran "Cowboy" Craig Smith was not to be denied as he won the Trophy Dash and heat race and capped it all with a Main Event victory. Smith battled it out with 2009 Wingless Spec Sprint champion Billy Aton in his two preliminary victories. Aton ran third in the feature as Jeremy Burt scored the runner up finish behind point leader Smith. Art McCarthy and Brandon Davis completed the top five finish. Coming off of his surprise win of last week, Risconi's bid for another victory ended abruptly with his flip.
In Wingless Spec Sprint action, 2007 champion Jim Perry Jr. held off David Hays Jr. in winning his heat race and grabbed Trophy Dash honors with his victory over point leader David Press. Tommy Laliberte battled Press to win his heat race. Two division racer Aton's hard luck start in Spec Sprints continued as he scratched from the feature. Like the 360 Sprint Car feature, this race was not without incident as former Marysville champion Chris Magoon flipped. Meanwhile, 2008 division champion "Bullet"Billy Macedo halted Perry's bid for the sweep with an impressive Main Event victory. Rick Sharp grabbed the third podium position as Press and Gary Nelson rounded out the top five at the finish.
Now racing in his seventh decade, "The Sundrop Kid" Larry Damitz remains one of the top drivers in any division he competes in. After placing second in the season opening Super Stock Main Event to former Petaluma champion Mitch Machado, the ageless veteran turned the tables on him with the feature victory. Machado, who beat Damitz in the heat race, settled for second ahead of Eric "Bad News" Berendsen. "Rookie Of The Year" hopeful Fred Ryland and Brent Lawrence completed the top five at the checkers.
The season opener for the Hobby Stocks produced a 15 car field, but former division champion Dan McCown scratched before the feature. The night was not without a highlight for McCown, who held off Erik Schantin in winning his heat race. Jeff Bentancourt claimed a heat race victory ahead of Chris Sorensen in the only blemish of the night for Sorensen. Sorensen turned the tables on Bentancourt with a victory in the Trophy Dash and followed it up with a win in the Main Event. Paul DeLucca brought it home in second, followed by Michael Rydman, Brad Myers and Schantin.
On the schedule for next Saturday night is the Golden State Challenge Sprint Car Series for their first of two scheduled appearances, along with the Dwarf Cars. On April 10th, the Dirt Modifieds return to action along with the Wingless Spec Sprints, Super Stocks, Hobby Stocks, Mini Trucks and Four Bangers.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
It could be worse. Merced Speedway sits idle at the moment. Will there be races again on the track that goes back to the 1950's? I sure hope so, but it's gonna take some effort and patience. If it happens, it's going to take somebody who can regain the confidence and trust of the racers. I know money is tight down there, but let's be honest. That wasn't the only factor in the decline of car count in recent years.
Seems like when "they" have their way and shut down our beloved race tracks, the property just sits dormant for years afterward, leaving people to wonder what might have been. One of the things I've been working on in recent days is some history research through my old records. Baylands Raceway Park has been the subject. By the way, I think I have managed to track down the names of most of the champions and some point standings there from 1982-1988. Something may turn up here in a future blog.
They didn't just start building there when they closed it down. Makes you wonder what could have been. People worked hard to try and relocate, and it just wasn't to be. Vacaville, site of the old drag strip, was one of the prime locations. In the end, many of the divisions from Baylands found a home at Petaluma as the All Pro Series was born.
A writer/announcer I have a lot of respect for, Ron Albright, wrote a column about the time of the closing of Baylands talking about how he would drive past the old site of West Capital Speedway in Sacramento on his trips to Baylands. He mentioned that only then, in 1988, were they starting to do something with the property. So sad. It also really disappoints me that Sacramento Raceway didn't step up and make a home for the drivers. This simply should have happened, and there was plenty of room for it. Still is.
Back in 1993, I walked the track at Vallejo Speedway, almost 14 years after the roar of the engines died on that beloved race track. I had started attending races while Vallejo Speedway was still alive, but I never made it there. This was my first experience there. I actually made a web page about it with pictures of how it stood then. I need to put that back up. I really breaks my heart to think about a place with such a proud tradition ending up like that. Again, what could have been?
I have looked on the web, and houses fill that property now. Of course. Gotta build more houses and make more money. Who can even afford a new house these days? Now, Vallejo is going through rough times these days. I have to believe having a race track to attend would be good for people. Even bringing back the little track at the fairgrounds would be a good thing. Many times, you never get them back after they close them.
The one that really disappoints me is San Jose Speedway. Can you believe after all of the b.s. that went on there, somebody has built a 1/8th mile dirt oval on the property? Unbelievable. Take note Mini Sprint/Modified Midget clubs, maybe you can make a name for yourself there and help rebuild a great San Jose tradition of racing. Maybe.
It just pisses me off. I never felt like the last promoter there went down with a good fight in the end. At least it didn't seem that way to me. There were fans trying to take their case to the fair board, but track management seemed resolved to their fate. They were gonna start having rave parties on that property or some such nonsense. Yeah, just what the youth of today needs, but anyway...
What's funny is I caught word that people from the fairgrounds had approached Jim Soares about reviving the place a year or so after it was closed, so he went and took a look. Too much stuff had been removed and the place was a mess. Jim declined. Can't say I blame him. It would have been costly, and there would have been a lot of challenges.
You know, honestly, I think I used to sort of underestimate Jim. I always found him to be a hard guy to talk to, at least for me, with an interesting sense of humor. Some of the things he's said to me still stick with me. But, the man has been around, and I think that with the right backing he could have made it happen. A lot of racers have respect for him. Fortunately, he's at Petaluma keeping that tradition alive in the face of threats it has against it. If you live in the area and love racing, support Petaluma Speedway. It really is a nice race facility with a wonderful history.
So, two or so years later, they bulldoze those beautiful grandstands and San Jose Speedway is gone again. Why a 1/8th mile dirt oval now? Why not put something bigger in there? Of course, I know, property values. There's money to be made. Forget about a tradition of racing that goes back over a century in San Jose.
As I was looking at old stats and stories, I realize how many race tracks the Bay Area has had and lost. Even the memories and point standings are fading away. Places like Bayshore Speedway, Champion Speedway, Oakland Speedway, Contra Costa Speedway, Vallejo Speedway, San Jose Speedway and Baylands Raceway are all gone. If the ground those tracks were built upon could talk, think of the stories they could tell.
Who remembers any of this stuff anymore? I've been researching the Baylands information recently, the names on the Watsonville Hall Of Fame list. I don't even know why the hell it matters to me anymore, to be honest, but it does. I doubt many people even know who won the championships at these tracks 30 years ago, or even care at this point. What does that have to do with now?
But anyway, if you love racing, and I mean if you really do, take time to appreciate it while you can. You never know when it can be taken away. I guess one of the reasons I like this history stuff so much is that it adds a sense of importance or value and continuity to what is happening at the tracks on any given weekend. It can cause racers and fans to care about it just a little bit more, and maybe inspire them to be there more often. I don't see that as a bad thing.
Before I start to ramble on and on, I'll end this here. Just wanted to share a little of what is on my mind at the moment. Until next time...
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Roughly 60 cars in five divisions rolled into Antioch Speedway last Saturday night to begin the 50th consecutive season of championship racing on the quarter-mile clay oval. The evening featured plenty of exciting, side by side racing with lots of thrills and spills.
In one incident, shortly after a restart, leader Dan Gonderman rolled his Dirt Modified. The 1999 Wingless Spec Sprint champion was uninjured in the incident, and the crowd donated over $500 in rollover money for his damaged race car.
Former Petaluma Dirt Modified champion Joe Carr would take the checkered flag in that event, followed by Nick DeCarlo and 2004 Antioch champion Aaron "Crazy Man" Crowell. The Modifieds are off this week, but they return on April 10th, following the April 3rd appearance of the high powered Golden State Challenge Series Sprint Cars.
There will be Sprint Cars in action this Saturday night, including the winged 360 Sprint Cars and the Wingless Spec Sprints. The 360 Sprints are booked for several races this season in response to driver interest for dates at the track.
Following his strong showing last week, veteran Sprint Car racer "Cowboy" Craig Smith holds a two point lead over Ryan Rusconi, 52-50. In the event, Rusconi a newcomer to the speedway, scored the feature win, ending Smith's bid for a clean sweep after Smith had won the dash and heat race.
2009 Wingless Spec Sprint champion Billy Aton made his 360 Sprint Car debut with a top five finish and sits four points arrears of Devon Osthermer, 48-44, in the battle for third.
A good field of Wingless Spec Sprints opened their season last week, and following his impressive showing, Arvo Backholm holds a four point lead over former Watsonville champion David Press, 54-50. Backholm nearly had a clean sweet of dash, heat and feature, but he was penalized one position for a rule infraction on a restart, making Press the winner of that race.
One of the top drivers of the last ten years in the division, Jim Perry Jr., was in action last week, but the 2007 champion finished outside the top ten.
Super Stocks return this week, following former Petaluma champion Mitch Machado's victory over ageless veteran Larry Damitz. Damitz won the dash and heat race and carries a four point lead into this race.
With his third place finish, second generation racer Eric "Bad News" Berendsen holds a four point lead over 2009 Pure Stock champion Fred Ryland, 48-44, in the battle for third.
After Nick Squatritto's season opening victory over Jerry Doty, last week, the the Dwarf Cars are off this week, but the always exciting Pure Stocks make their season debut. With Ryland moving up, it appears we may be headed for a new champion in the division.
Grandstands open at 5:00 p.m. with the first race to start at 6:00 p.m. General admission is $12 for adults. A family ticket good for two adults and two children is $30, while seniors 65 and older pay $6.
Dirt Modifieds-Joe Carr, Nick DeCarlo, Aaron Crowell.
Wingless Spec Sprints-David Press, Arvo Buckholm, Rick Sharp.
360 Winged Sprint Cars-Ryan Rustoni, Devin Ostheimer, Craig Smith.
Super Stocks-Mitch Machado, Larry Damitz, Eric Berenden.
Dwarf Cars-Nick Squatritto, Jerry Doty, Tony Carmignani.
Orland Speedway is a track that has always intrigued me since I first heard about it in 1989. I'm trying to recall who the promoter was and the name Doc Bogart, a star with the SORA Sprint 100's at the time, jumps out at me. Anyway, I was on board with the NCMA and had been elected secretary for the first time that year. I was handling publicity for them in 1988 and ended up being elected from 1989-1993, while also handling publicity.
Not trying to turn this into an NCMA article, but club founder Mike Johnson had been removed from his elected Business Manager post, where he was handling booking race dates. One of the issues was he had landed a date at Mike McCann's track in Cottage Grove, Oregon. It was a nice deal, but some of the racers didn't think so.
Anyway, Darryl Shirk and I had sort of planted the seed in conversations with Chuck Prather at Marysville in 1988 to get dates for the NCMA in 1989, and club president Paul Nelson landed dates there. The other thing Nelson did was get some races at Orland. So, I knew about the track, and I had heard through the years that it had been a struggle keeping that track going in the shadow of Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico.
When Paul & Carol Turner came on the scene in the late 1990's, things changed. The track gained some stability, and I would guess entered it's most successful period. Put it this way, people outside of Orland started hearing about the racing up there on a regular basis.
Don O'Keefe Jr. and I met the Turner's at the RPM Workshop in Reno in 1999. I knew they had Street Stocks, Mini Stocks and Mini Trucks among the show there. Four cylinder classes have usually done well there, and the Turner's nurtured that. They were also looking at other things, including 4 Cylinder Modifieds and Wingless Spec Sprints.
Actually, they had a couple cars in 1999 that would come out and hot lap for the fans. I believe one or both were owned by the Jacobo family. I may not have that correct, but going from memory. One car was purchased from NCMA competitor Bill "Highwall" Hopkins, or "Hoppy" as some of his friends called him.
The Turner's were considering what to do, and I suggested they start this class. If cars are going to show, I told them, run a heat race and a Main Event and pay what you can. It doesn't have to be big money. My thinking was if you start running the class, more cars will come and it will grow. The Turner's were pretty friendly, but I can imagoine they were thinking, "who the hell is this person telling us what we should do?"
We had just come off of the successful first WSS season at Antioch, and I wanted to see this class grow and branch out. I wanted it for the racers, noit just for one group. It's interesting to point out that many time NCMA champion Scott Holloway was handling the Business Manager duties for the club at that time, and this is probably how I came across the Turnerls. Scott is somebody I've always liked, and despite whatever the club in general may have thought of me, there was mutual respect.
Well, Don and I are always willing to help people willing to,listen and make the effort, and we gave Scott our opinions on things and suggestions. It may have helped in getting a date or two, but I was hoping the NCMA would come in and work with Orland. In my opinion, the NCMA has never really been about helping other groups or racing, but rather themselves. This is not a knock against them as they are still going, aren't they?
The point that broke the deal was the matter of $5 or $10 per car more that they wanted from Orland. I recal thinking at the time, just get a sponsor Scott. What are we really talking about here, anyway? $200? $300.? Make it happen. It gets the word out about the club, grows a new group. It's win win. Reminds me of the CMA going to Yreka in 1994, allowing their carbureted Sprint Cars to get out of the injected race. That went on for a few years after too.
Anyway, the deal with the club never happened, but the Turner's jumped right in and had a championship season in 2000 for their Wingless Spec Sprint class, won by Josh Jacobo. In 2003, Jacobo ended up winning the DCRR Terrific 12 State Championship, and he was presented with a plaque at their banquet too. Somewhere around here I have the pictures.
The Turner's continued to do their thing until the end of 2007. Finances got a little too difficult, forcing them to step aside. Still, they made their mark on the track during that time. “It was a gut-wrenching decision for us to make,’’ Carol Turner said in a Nov. 15 interview with the Orland Press-Register. “But it needed to be done.’’
According to the Orland Press-Register, the track had been in operation 20 years and normally has a 23-race season starting in April and ending in October. The races are on Saturday nights and are canceled only by the occasional rain out.
After a dark 2008, the roar of the engines returned to Orland Speedway in 2009 when a new promoter emerged. Racing enthusiast Dan Ochs of Los Molinos made a presentation Jan. 20 to the Glenn County Fair Board about his plans for the race track in Orland that’s been empty since the fall of 2007.
“We are going to try and get at least 18 shows this year,” Ochs told the Orland Press Register before the 2009 season. “I don’t have a firm schedule ... There are still a lot of ifs, (but that is the plan).”
Interim Fairgrounds CEO Jake Walgenbach told the Press Register that the fairgrounds did an RFP in 2008 and received a bid from a five-person partnership made up of local car racing enthusiasts. They went through the process and were tentatively awarded a contract, he said, but delays in completing the paperwork derailed the program for 2008.
As a result, the fair board canceled the RFP and decided to open the competitive bidding again for the ’09 season, he said.
However, racing returned in 2009 and the plan calls for more in 2010. There has already been some buzz created by Antioch and Vallejo Speedway veteran Terry DeCarlo. I'm not sure what Terry's involvement is in the track, but I know he was on the Board Of Directors as President of CORA Speedway in Dixon and is a man respected by many in the racing community. If Terry is involved in any capacity, it's a good thing for the track, in my opinion.
The plan calls for more Mini Stock and Mini Truck racing. Wingless Spec Sprints will be back. There is a Pro Stock division, patterned after the Street Stocks that run in Chico on Friday nights, much like the Turners had before that. Hobby Stocks will be there, along with some Dirt Midifieds using IMCA rules and V-6 Sprint Cars.
The track will be running from April to October and the Orland Speedway web site will have all the details on the coming 2010 season. I wish them luck. When tracks close, they don't always reopen, so it is nice to know this one is getting another chance to make new racing memories. The real winners will be the fans.
Below are some race results from Orland Speedway last season, just for the record.
Tuesday, Sep 1 2009
Wingless Sprints – 1. Josh Jacobo; 2. Mitchell Miller; 3. Ken Webber Jr.; 4. Pat Bisio; 5. Joe Dalman.
Pure Stocks – 1. Kevin Pendergrass; 2. Paul Stephens; 3. Gary Newman; 4. Jake Van Tol; 5. Richard Workman; 6. Steve Martin; 7. Rich Shires. This marked Pendergrass’ fifth main win in a row.
Trucks – 1. Jim Davis; 2. Richard Gale; 3. Tyler Pebley; 4. Dan Webster; 5. Steve Barbo; 6. Bob Ralls; 7. Tracey Barbo.
Bombers – 1. Jake Van Tol; 2. Tony Hobbs; 3. Mark Culp; 4. Karl Brummet; 5. Kevin Kampschmidt.
Midgets – 1. Lonny Alton; 2. Rick Young; 3. Ken Buman; 4. Dillon Silverman.
Mini Stocks – 1. Bub Walberg; 2. Kevin Pendergrass; 3. Eric Hammond.
Trucks, Heat 1
1. Buddy Walberg; 2. Jim Davis; 3. Dan Webster; 4. Jared Flower ; 5. Andrew Grader ; 6. Zack Webster.
Trucks, Heat 2
1. Richard Gale; 2. Paul Stevens; 3. Maria Romano; 4. Brandon Miller; 5. Tracy Barbo; 6. Tony Billotti.
Trophy Dash Trucks
1. Paul Stevens; 2. Buddy Walberg; 3. Richard Gale; 4. Jim Davis.
1. Buddy Walberg; 2. Kevin Pendergrass; 3. Richard Gale; 4. Paul Stevens; 5. Mario Romano; 6. Jim Davis; 7. Isham Griffith; 8. Brandon Miller; 9. Tony Billotti; 10. Tracy Barbo; 11. Zack Webster; 12. Jared Flower; 13. Andrew Gryder; 14. Dan Webster.
Stock Cars, Heat 1
1. Kevin Pendergrass; 2. Willie Horn Jr.; 3. Gary Newman; 4. Rich Hood; 5. Jimmy O’Reilly; 6. Jose Ramirez.
1. Kevin Pendergrass; 2. Gary Newman; 3. Rich Hood; 4. Willie Horn Jr.
Main Stock Cars
1. Kevin Pendergrass; 2. Gary Newman; 3. Rich Hood; 4. Jimmy O’Reilly; 5. Willie Horn Jr.; 6. Jose Ramirez.
Wingless Sprints Heat 1
1. Josh Jacobo; 2. Josh Tucker; 3. Pat Bisio; 4. John Despees.
1. Josh Jacobo; 2. Josh Tucker; 3. Pat Bisio; 4. John Despees
1. Josh Jacobo; 2. Josh Tucker; 3. John Despees; 4. Pat Bisio.
Wingless Sprints – 1. Josh Jacobo; 2. Kenny Webber; 3. Rowdy McLoen; 4. Jeff Banbury; 5. Ken Webber Jr.
Mini-Stocks and Trucks (Mini-Stocks and Trucks raced together) – 1. Kevin Pendergrass (MS); 2. Josh Tucker; 3. Bob Ralls; 4. Dan Webster; 5. Steve Barbo; 6. Richard Gale; 7. Eric Hammond (MS); 8. Bud Walbergh (MS); 9. Fred Gonsalves; 10. Olin Crain; 11. Jared Flower.
Bombers – 1. Kevin Kampschmidt; 2. Fred Fermond; 3. Jimmy O’Reily; 4. Karl Brummet; 5. Mark Culp; 6. John Kirkpatrick; 7. Anthony Sharp.
Power Puff’s All Women:
Bombers – 1. Anne Ladtka; 2. Shelly Martin; 3. Susan Bailey; 4. Nina Friermood; 5. Kathy Kampschmidt; 6. Diana Barker; 7. Jennifer Deroy.
Mini Trucks and Stock Cars – 1. Tracy Barbo (MT); 2. Barbara Crain (SC); 3. Brenna Johnson (SC); 4. Jamie Gale (MT); 5. Jennifer Deroy; 6. Stacy Stephens (MT).
Wingless Sprints – 1. Josh Jacobo; 2. Josh Zander; 3. Ken Webber Jr.; 4. Kenny Webber.
Pure Stocks – 1. Kevin Pendergrass; 2. Gary Newman; Paul Stephens; 4. Terry Lawrence; 5. Steve Martin.
Trucks/Mini Stocks (Mini Stock class raced with Mini Truck class) – 1. Jim Davis; 2. Eric Hammond (Mini Stock); 3. Richard Gale; 4. Dan Webster; 5. Steve Barbo; 6. Brandon Miller; 7. Leonard Burrows; 8. Tyler Pebley; 9. Tracey Barbo; 10. Bob Ralls (Mini Stock); 11. Andrew Gryder (Mini Stock).
Bombers – 1. Tony Hobbs; 2. Kevin Kampschmidt; 3. Rich Hood; 4. Scott Yancy; 5. Jimmy O’Reily; 6. Mark Culp; 7. Steve Kincaid; 8. Joey Gilmore; 9. John Kirkpatrick; 10. Karl Brummet.
Monday, March 22, 2010
In the hype story, John Soares Jr. indicated that he might add more dates for the 360 Sprint Cars if car count was strong enough. Now, I have heard that John was hoping to land a Civil War date or two, but was unable to. This is likely due to the fact that he didn't have his own class. The Civil War relies on each of it's tracks to have a division and for all tracks to be dark to the class on the night the series is at whatever track it's scheduled to appear.
Basically, it's about tracks working together, which has made this series something to see since Day 1. When John first got Antioch, he was given one of his dad's dates at Petaluma. Back in the mid 1990's, Brynda Bockover experimented with adding the class at Antioch with some good results. Fact is, there are drivers interested in this class in the area, and cars will come. Is it a 20 car show now? Probably not, but 10-12 is totally doable if booked properly. I can't blame John for giving this a shot. Racing fans love Sprint Cars.
Now, having said that, it is a shame to me that Antioch and either Petaluma or Watsonville wasn't included in the Spec Sprint series happening at Chico, Marysville and Placerville. I'm not sure why, but it should have happened. This series will be huge if they get the right tracks involved in it. I have always believed this. And, Antioch should be included. After all, we got the ball rolling there in the first place.
Anyway, according to Debbie Shipherd, there were 12 Spec Sprints at Antioch and David Press (a past Watsonville champ if I recall correctly), picked up the feature win ahead of Arvo Backholm, Rick Sharp, Tommy Laliberte and Tim Green. Backholm actually finished in 1st but was penalized 1 spot for passing before the cone on a restart.
Former Petaluma champion and car builder Joe Carr picked up the victory in the Dirt Modified feature ahead of rising young star Nick DeCarlo, and former champion Arron "Crazy Man" Crowell. Former Spec Sprint champion Dan Gonderman led much of the way until a rollover ended his run. Fans collected over $500 for Gonderman for the "Rollover Fund".
Former Petaluma champion Mitch Machado picked up another win in the Super Stock Main Event ahead of ageless veteran Larry Damitz. Second generation racer Eric "Bad Boy" Berendsen grabbed the third and final podium position.
These results are unofficial from the Late Model Racer message board. I'm sure results will appear on the Antioch page soon.
What will it pay? The purse needs to be laid out now. If Jim is spear heading this thing, I'd advise him to get sponsorship now. Make it special. Make it big. Get a Keldsen involved. Gillespie would be nice too.
What are the rules? People need to know what the rules are for the cars.
When will this happen? My advice would be to set a date for later this season, July or August. Don't worry about series or any of that stuff. Much too soon for any of that. Make a race happen first.
Personally, I felt the plug was pulled much too soon on this the last time, so getting drivers to get on board now may be difficult if you are talking series, but a race may be possible. We gave it a shot seven or eight years ago. Car count wasn't great, but the crowd response was good. I felt we were building towards something. John had a decision to make and he chose to focus on other things. I can't blame him for that, but given time it would have worked.
As I was getting rid of more extra magazines from 2002 today, I noticed Jim Robbins on the cover of one issue for a Figure 8 win and Cliff Hampl on the cover of another one. Robbins, Hampl, Cody Frades and the late Brian Davis were feature winners that year and 18 different competitors participated in that short season. Robbins was crowned champion. As I said, fields were usually 5-8 cars, but the crowd was enthusiastic about it.
Will this Figure 8 thing happen at Antioch again? Who knows. But if people want it, now is the time to step up. John is looking for things that will put people in the grandstands and create new interest in the track. If a Figure 8 will do that, then I have no doubt John will get behind it.
Opening day is a special time of year for the wonderful sport of auto racing. It's a clean slate. New hopes for a new season, goals to accomplish. The cars all nice and clean, new bodies and paint. Grass growing in the infield. The familiar smell of the concession stands and the cars on the race track. Who's gonna win it this year?
The 50th consecutive season of Antioch Speedway kicked off Saturday night with a five division show. John Soares Sr. opened the gates in 1961 and the track has run every year since. Actually, in 1952, Jerry Piper opened the track for some events as part of the California Stock Car Racing Association run by Bob Barkhimer. No champion was crowned that season that I know of, but in 1953, John Soares Sr. took over the track and they did have a point race. To my knowledge, there was no racing there from that point until 1961. We still had Contra Costa Speedway in Pacheco during that time.
My history notes are always a work in progress. I have a complete list of champions and feature winners (as far as I know) for the track from 1961 to the present (excluding 2008). This has come from my time at the track and hours at the library doing research and people donating information here and there. It's a shame that history for the track was not important. In the 80's, Watsonville seemed to make an effort to document some stuff, but Antioch was oblivious. This prompted me to do the research I did. I had to know.
The only one I know who had information, very extensive, on the history of Antioch and so many other tracks was the late Gary Jacob. Gary had several filing cabinets with information, notes he had taken and programs from the many race tracks he had visited. He knew. It was a snap for him to put together a story with important information from the past, and the book that man could have written would have been amazing. It's a shame it never happened.
It frustrates me that some tracks have lost track of their heritage. Even looking on the web is irritating. For these web pages that tracks have had for the past decade plus, there is no reason that that history shouldn't be documented for people looking on that page. Watsonville, for instance, has had a web presence since the mid 1990's. All of the past champions and feature winners, at least from that time period, should be documented on the current page.
Over at the Dirt Stars forum, I noticed a thread somebody started a while back asking who was in the Hall Of Fame there. Yes, they have a Hall Of Fame at Ocean (Watsonville) Speedway. Apparently, it has already been forgotten.
Why is history so important? I mean, what does that have to do with the 2010 season? Heck, most of those great names from that past don't even race anymore and have been all but forgotten. The thought of that makes me sad. Where would the sport be without those who blazed the trail for others to follow? Why is it important? Tradition. It's a generational thing. Remembering the greats of the past. Striving to be next next champion. Wanting to move up on the all time winner's list and pass one of the legends in the process. Seeing all the names who have won before and just wanting your name to be among them.
To that child in the stands watching for the first time. He sees his favorite driver win and it hooks him. Ten years later, he remembers that night as he comes back with his girlfriend. He's building a car to be a racer like that driver before him. It matters. The history, the legacy. It matters. We can earn all the money in the world, but our memories are the only thing we'll take with us when it's all over. It's that simple.
I do intend to work on a DCRR Northern California Racing Hall Of Fame. It will just be names listed here on the blog and why they are there. Antioch will be the starting point, but it will branch out. Why? Just spreading the memories.
In 1999, I proposed a list of ten drivers to induct. My sister and I were intent on organizing the whole event as a pre race thing at Antioch. It never happened for reasons I won't get into. I sought input from several racers who had been a part of the track, and here's what I came up with:
John Soares Sr. (Founder)
Jimmy Stewart (1961-62 champion)
Bill Brown (1972 and 1974 champion)
Gary Pacheco (1968-69 and 1971 champion)
Richard Johnson (three time track champion)
J.D. Willis (five time champion, track's all time feature winner)
Dean Cline (1 time champion, top five on all time winner's list)
Dave Logan (1965 champion)
Burt Jeffries (crew chief on championship cars, first African American to win a race at Antioch)
The last person was nominated by several people I respect. Now, as I said, this was the list I had at the time and in seeking input from the higher ups, it seemed I had hit a brick wall. No suggestions on how to improve this list were forthcoming, and I dropped it. Seemed like the right thing to do at the time under the circumstances, but I sure wish this could have happened.
One of the things I'm proud of is the fact that I got to hand out Lifetime Achievement awards to three people at Antioch and one (Johnny Sass) at Merced. Willis and Ken Gonderman were two of them and John Soares Sr. was the other. Without John where would Antioch Speedway even be?
The DCRR acknowledges two who were inducted by the track in the past. The late Harvey Mason, one of the top locals in action at the track when it first opened and a long time track prep man. Very deserving inductee. Also, the late Darryl Shirk. I'm proud to say my sister and I helped make that night happen. Darryl won races at the track in a variety of different classes.
Let me just end the debate about Soares Sr. right now. He's in. It's that simple. I wish they held a big 100 lapper in his honor as I can think of none more deserving. In many ways, he inspired me to get involved in the sport. Really, the Lifetime Achievement award was my way of taking the first step towards putting people into the Hall Of Fame.
The DCRR Nor Cal Racing Hall Of Fame (Antioch Wing) now has three members:
John Soares Sr.
I want to ad more names after more consideration. I don't have the ways and means to begin an exhibit or some sort of display for fans to look at. I wish I did. What I can do is write about it here. It may not be much, but it is something. Maybe a few people will care.
Another project I will continue is my lists, starting with Top 50 All Time Street Stock drivers at Antioch. I compiled a list of over 80 in just a few minutes. Very interesting. Sure, everybody won't agree on who goes where, but it inspires discussion about the sport. That's one of the reasons I wanted to do that.
I'm giving some thought to a few other things, but that will have to wait. Anyway, from what I have heard, the season openers for Antioch, Watsonville and Chowchilla all went well, and that is great news to me.
Also hearing more rumors on the Merced Speedway front. We may not have heard the last from that track just yet.
Remember, it's all about the fun times, friendships and memories made. So I hope everybody has a great time at the races this season.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Fact is, I've moved on. I considered the possibility, because it was for John and a track that has been a part of my life for many years. I respect the Soares family. Always have, even when we disagreed. That John came calling spoke to the fact that he respected what I brought to the table and that maybe I did a few thing right. To reject it out of hand maybe wasn't fair, so I didn't.
I have a post in my archives where I talk about my feelings on the matter. I have no real reason not to post it. What do I care, right? But, I decided not to ramble. I've moved on. For me and my desire to be involved, this offer would have probably been taken six or maybe even five years ago. It was not forthcoming, and that's just the way it is. As for now, I've moved on.
I decided to decline the offer. Most of you who know me know how much of myself I put into what I did. I lived it. I went to bed with it. I woke up with it. I was pretty much married to it. Kind of sad when you put it that way, but it's the truth. In some ways I'm proud of it all, but in others I'm not. I almost regret it. To jump back in again for me and do it the way I need to do it would require that sort of commitment, and I just don't have it in me.
I did consider it, because like seven years ago when I left the sport, I know what is at stake. The times are changing, and the sport either adapts or slowly fades away. It's that simple. People are mad at John and want him gone. I understand. He's not the easiest guy to deal with sometimes, for some people, but he's not the monster people make him out to be either. Sort of in the middle.
He complains too much about money, but then again, do you have any idea how much money is at stake? I understand the problems the racers have to deal with in these tough times to keep a car together and manage their every day life with the family. I understand the fact that disposable income is a concern for the family deciding to attend a race. Times are tough. Even more money is at stake at the track. Yes, it's true. Running a race track now versus 20 years ago is a whole different ball game.
Just consider the idea that John really does care about the sport and the race track that his father founded some 50 years ago. He grew up in a racing household. He learned from a man who was one of the best. He went out on his own and learned more, ran Winston West races competitively and even flirted with a move to Winston Cup. He's done this racing thing all his life. He does give a damn, though sometimes people find it hard to believe. John, like his father, can be somewhat of an unsympathetic person to people.
You'll get the whole "that damned Soares" comment. He's an easy target, and to be honest, sometimes maybe he has it coming to him. He screws up, just like any of us, but he came back to the track because he thought he could make a difference. He invested a lot of money into it to make it better, but he also pissed a few people off along the way. Some had reason to be mad, others really didn't. But, whatever.
For my part, I wanted a chance to try and make a difference. I wanted to announce. I wanted to handle publicity. I wanted to fight for the cause, not just run my mouth and never do anything but bitch and moan. John was the one who handed over so many responsibilities and told me, "Go do it."
That means a lot to me. Who the hell am I, anyway? I'm nobody. Just a fan in the stands who dreamed of being a part of it. He gave me that opportunity, and I think the results were pretty positive. During those three years I was part of it, we reached heights at that track we never reached before, or since. Maybe that has something to do with being asked to come back? Maybe.
I don't want the track to fail. I want it to get better. I want to pick up my newspaper on Monday and read a story and some results. I want more people in the stands, and I want the kind of races and car counts that make those people want to come back every week. From everything I read last year, I think things leveled off a little, and maybe this year can be bigger than last year. I hope so.
This depends on if John can provide the kind of atmosphere by putting the right people in place. It depends on if the racers give it one more chance. It depends on good communication and give and take. Respect is a two way street, and I certainly hope that's understood by all. Nobody who loves racing wants to see the track close.
So, as I take my seat over on the sidelines, I wish for a strong 2010 season at Antioch Speedway. Though I declined the offer to come back, it was appreciated. It sort of feels like it all came full circle. For my part, I will try to make sure to keep new blog material flowing and give more thought to the book.
I've been doing reorganizing around here and getting rid of stuff, including boxes of old DCRR magazines. I need to make room, and I've waited long enough. I will be keeping anything relevant to local racing history, but things are going to be different around here.
I'll end this on more hopeful news. Apparently, there is some talk about Merced Speedway still having a future. I hate to be cryptic, but I've heard things. The recent Fair Board meeting had the track high on the agenda, but I know little else at this moment. Guess we'll have to wait and see.
Can it be done on late notice? Yes. If something is decided immediately, it can. Merced is about the local scene. If you bring in new management and keep the same basic rules and divisions, racers will come back. Time will tell, but I sure hope for the best.