Monday, March 22, 2010

The Green Flag Waves

Aaaaaand there off aaaaaaand rolling!!!!

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.
Harvey Mason
Darryl Shirk

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.