Thursday, April 29, 2010

Drivers Battle To Add Names To Championship List At Antioch Speedway

With all the excitement happening down in The Valley thanks to recent news, let's not forget there is some good racing going on at Antioch Speedway this week.

It's a stacked card this week with the Super Stocks taking a week off to regroup. The 360 Sprints hit double digits last week and provided lots of thrills and spills. The Wingless Spec Sprints turned in an outstanding performance with a strong car count, and the overall show provided a car count above our expectations. Lots of drivers making season debuts, and that is awesome news.

This week's Over/Under number is 64.

Dirt Modifieds (16), Pure Stocks (12), Dwarf Cars (12), Mini Trucks (10), Four Bangers (8), Nor Cal Hardtops (6). With the weather looking good, I anticipate those numbers should be slightly higher.

Anyway, let's get down to some talk about the racing and the point battles, because good things are happening at Antioch Speedway.

Despite the rains that hit this week, racing at Antioch Speedway will continue Saturday night with a full slate of six divisions that offer something for everybody. The high powered Dirt Modifieds headline the show as they contend for their 21st championship season with a strong possibility that a first time champion could be crowned. Stock Car fans can also take pride in the fact that the fender pounding Pure Stocks are on the card once again. Not to be forgotten are the hard charging Dwarf Cars. The entry level is well covered with the competitive Mini Trucks and the Four Banger divisions. Bringing it home will be the NorCal Hardtops division, which hearkens back to the division that started it all for the track in the 1950's.

When you take a look at the list of past champions in Dirt Modifieds and see the names of Scott Busby, Bobby Hogge IV and "The Rocket Man" Don Shelton, you realize some great drivers have competed in this division through the years. At the moment, it's looking like a good bet that a brand new name will be added to the list of champions, and who that will be is still very much in the air. At the top of the list at the moment is open wheel racer Troy Foulger. After four races, Troy has collected two victories in the Bowers Racing Modified.

You might think that Troy has built a good lead, but that is not the case. With a couple of top five finishes, second generation racer Nick DeCarlo is in hot persuit and trails Foulger by just four points. Following in his father Terry DeCarlo's footsteps, Nick started racing in the Mini Sprints ranks at tracks like Delta Speedway, Vallejo Speedway2 and CORA Speedway and won championships along the way. At Antioch, Nick gas driven Late Models and Dirt Modifieds and came within a shout of the Dirt Modified championship, finishing second. That second is the highest ranking of any of his family members at the track.

Nick and his father both raced last week, but while he was finishing fourth, his dad's race ended with an engine fire as his hard luck season continued. Terry has been switching driving duties with Tom Thomson in the green #39 Hardtop and has two wins in that division, which he used to race in the late 70s at Vallejo Speedway. With the Hardtops coming to Antioch this week, it may be two DeCarlo's going for different feature wins, though it's unclear to this writer who gets to drive #39 this week. Regardless, Nick is fast and getting better with every start in his #17 Dirt Modified. A win for him in the near future seems a very good possibility.

A Petaluma connection fills out there mainder of the top five, and all three drivers are within 28 points of the lead. Jeff Thomas (six points back), Rick Karnes (12 points back) and "Stormin" Norman Beock (28 points back) complete the top five. Boeck is coming off of a strong second place showing last week in front of Thomas. It was Boeck's best Antioch effort so far. As he continues to get lap time at Antioch, this former Petaluma Pure Stock star could stake his claim on the Main Event winner's circle soon. Karnes, son of former Petaluma Super Stock champion Dick Karnes, has won races before, including a Stock Car feature during a very competitive 1984 season at Antioch.

While those three drivers have to be considered contenders, it was "The Outlaw" Kenny Neu debuting a new car and picking up the big win last week. Kenny, who got his start in the Outlaw Sprint Buggies in the 80's and is a former State champion, has racked up two championships and several feature wins at Antioch in the last three seasons. Though he is off to a late start, he is not to be counted out in the battle. In any case, his #99 car is a threat to win in any race he appears.

The Dirt Modifieds have been producing car counts in the 14-18 car range and are a crowd pleaser at Antioch. Regulars like former Street Stock champion Bobby Motts Jr., Gene Haney, Sean Wilson and Sean O'Gara will likely be in action, and you never know what "name" drivers will stop in and race. In recent weeks, four time champion Scott Busby visited, but his luck has stayed home. With over 50 feature wins in the Dirt Modified division at Antioch, nobody has won more races in this class that Busby.

The Pure Stock division has been a wide open and unpredictable battle so far this season, not without it's share of controversy. In the second event, while Melissa Hansen, a champion in two divisions at Antioch, was speeding off to victory, the second place battle took an unfortunate turn as second place Jim Freethy had his bumper hooked by third place Eric Schantin, causing both to spin from contention on the last lap. In the latest race, Freethy appeared to be the winner, but he was disqualified in post race tech. Ironically, this handed the win to Schantin.

One of the faster cars in the field is the orange and white #45 car of Schantin. As this division figures to be one of the closest battles through the season, those ten points lost in his previous crash are the total Schantin now trails Chris Sorensen. Sorensen started out in this division ten years ago and was one of the top contenders before trying his hand in the Street Stocks, where he had some success. Chris won the opener this year and seemed like he had a good shot at #2 in the next race. Unfortunately, he had made contact with Brian Beard on a restart, and the contact resulted in a flat tire a few laps later as he had just passed Hansen for the lead.

While Sorensen and Schantin hold the 1-2 spots, they won't be the only stars shining at Antioch Speedway Saturday night. Paul DeLucca sits in third, just 18 points out, while Michael Rydman and Brian Beard complete the top five after three races. Beard rebounded nicely from his tangle with Sorensen in the second event by grabbing a top three finish in the most recent event. These five drivers have never won this division championship. In fact, only Rich "Mad Dog" Gardner Jr. has won two Pure Stock titles at Antioch.

There is a driver in the hunt, back in sixth, who could become a two time Pure Stock title winner. He's Dan McCown. The McCown family has been a mainstay in this division at Antioch, and three of them are former champions. In addition to Dan, his wife Denise and Daughter Megan Ponciano are former champions, making them the only father-mother-daughter combo to win championships in Antioch Speedway's 50 year history.

This really is a wide open division, and anybody could be the next winner, including regulars such as Garret Mayberry, Pat Gooding and "Smokin" Joe Cancilla. People may ask where the Street Stock division went, but really it's alive and well. We just call them Pure Stocks now.

The Dwarf Cars are back for their fifth event of the season, and the early stages of the season suggest another new driver could be crowned champion. However, the season is far from over. Having missed a race, five time champion Ricardo Rivera has spotted the leaders some points, but he still sets 50 point back in fourth with one feature win to his credit this year. Rivera actually has over 40 of them in his career at Antioch.

This time, however, Nick Squatritto seems intent to bring the championship hardware home with him. With two feature wins aboard his #96 car, Nick might hold a commanding lead. However, this is not the case. Coming off of a feature win of his own last week, the green #55 car of Jerry Doty trails by just four points in the championship battle.

It's still early in the game, and plenty of things can happen. Mike Corsaro rode a top three finish at the previous race into third in the standings, but his #00 car finished out of the running last week. Corsaro is running strong enough that he he could be in line for a win soon, and he may need that. Rivera is only six points behind him in the race for third.

The Dwarf Cars are sometimes the forgotten class on the card in that some people don't expect much from them, but these drivers sometimes end up putting on the race of the night. Others to keep an eye out for this week include Clayton Dortzbach, Joel Osias, Dan Liston and Nick Davis. Liston and Davis both enjoyed top five finishes last week.

The Four Banger division is a work in progress. After being dropped from the program for a couple of seasons, this entry level, front wheel drive Mini Stock class was brought back for a point season last year. The top two drivers from last season, "Pepperint" Patti Ryland and Ken Radabaugh, are both back this season, and Ryland is your point leader after winning the season opener and finishing second to Watsonville visitor Adriane DeSousa last week. DeSousa is currently second in points at her home track Ocean Speedway, meaning it's possible the ladies could win Four Banger championships at two tracks this year.

Ryland leads Dana Anderson by four points after two races and is one of only two drivers in any of the track's division in contention at the moment to repeat as champion. Anderson had a strong run of her own last week by winning her heat race before finishing third in the all lady sweep of the top three in the Main Event.

Track management is optimistic about building a strong car count in this class, which provides an affordable way for the new racer to come into the sport. Last week, two new local area drivers debuted with Justin Silveira and Clayton Groves. Silveira turned in a solid effort with a fourth in the feature and a second in his heat race.

Before the season started, there was talk of getting high schools involved in racing at the track through the Four Banger division, and the Concord High School Minutemen were respresnted by the green #50 car of Groves last week. Groves finished seventh in his maiden voyage behind the wheel. Ideally, the track would love to have all of the high schools in the area represented and establish a seperate deal for them. A series like this would be mutually beneficial to the race track in bringing in new fans and racers and the high schools in promoting school spirit and teaching the students about the dedication it takes to be a racer. Hopefully, this effort will continue to grow.

As for the Four Banger division, it is known that a car count at least in the high teens is available in the area, and it is hoped that these drivers can be enticed to come back and compete in the fun and affordable division. Others to watch for are veteran Frank Rosa, Dominique Myers and hopefully some other drivers debuting new cars.

Rosa, meanwhile, could end up seeing double duty as he also has a Mini Truck. The brother of two time Street Stock champion David Rosa, Frank had a heat race win and finished third in the Four Banger season opener and had a top five run going in his truck the last time out before fading with mechanical woes. It will be interesting to see what Franck can do in his #21 truck if things hold together for him.

The trucks through the years have provided some stiff competition, and this year is no different. With Gene Haney apparently not defending his championship this season, Tom Brown and Travis Dutra have stepped up in their #99 trucks to try and stake a claim on the title. Brown, who finished third in the standings last season, won the feature last time out ahead of Dutra, last season's point runner up. Both will be fast this season.

The Bunn name has been a factor in four cylinder racing for over 30 years, whether it's been Baylands star David Bunn or Ray Bunn. Ray's #4 truck collected a top five finish at the the opener and sits third in the current standings. Eight points separate the top three of Brown, Dutra and Bunn. As with most of the divisions at Antioch this season, it's anybody's guess who will win from week to week and what drivers will emerge with the championships when it's all said and done.

Two legends of the sport, Pete Paulsen and Dean "The Blinker" Cline, have been known to race in the truck division from time to time. Paulsen was at the race the last time out, but mechanical woes sidelined him before the feature. Other drivers to look for this week include Jim Davis, Dan Wagner, Mike Harmon and Ron Mayberry.

The Northern California Hardtop division is scheduled to make their first of three appearances this week. A former Sportsman and Super Stock star at Antioch and Petaluma, Conrad Cavallero started this division revival with Mike McClure. Rumblings of a Hardtop rival began around 2002 when Chuck Prather started organizing races in California, and then the Bakersfield based Okie Bowl Hardtops began their effort.

It wasn't long before Cavallero and McClure decided they needed to put their effort together. The cars of Cavallero and McClure have special meaning. Conrad's car is a replica of a car Johnny Franklin raced at Vallejo in the early 1960's, and Mike's car is a replica of a car raced by Leroy "Go Get Em" Geving in the 60's. Conrad's brother Carmen came out of retirement with a car of his own, and drivers steadily started getting involved.

Last season, the #6 of Dan Williams and the green #39 of Terry DeCarlo and "The Green Hornet" Tom Thomson were the drivers to beat, claiming four of the five races. Williams won two while Thomson and DeCarlo each claimed one. DeCarlo and Thomson were two of the Hardtop stars at Vallejo in the late 70's. Another star of Vallejo, "The Sun Drop Kid" Larry Damitz made an appearance last season and won the other feature.

Cars fielded by these drivers and others, such as John Philbert, Jack Low, Leland Smith and DuWayne Rottier are a site to see and will bring back fond memories to those who may have been to Hardtop races back in the day. Mini Truck racer Pete Paulsen has a replica car of his 1966 Vallejo Hardtop with the familiar red, white and blue #66 paint job. No word on whether Pete will be debuting it, but he did an outstanding job of putting that car together. It would certainly be a welcome addition to the field.

With warm weather on the forecast for Saturday and six divisions on the schedule, Antioch Speedway will be the place to be for some exciting racing on the John Soares Jr. prepared three-eighths mile clay oval.