Sunday, May 2, 2010

Ten Cool Facts About Merced Speedway in the Griffin Era

As we close the chapter of Chuck & Marylee Griffin's leadership at Merced Speedway and open a new book, I thought it might be fun to look at some of their finest moments, in no particular order. They did some good things that I want to highlight here.

1-Mini Trucks: Hey, this divisions was pretty cool, and it had it's moments. Now, tracks like Antioch and Orland have the class, but they were first. The racing was good. Not convinced? Take a look at the list of names who came through this class. "The Little Man" John Clarke, "Awesome" Marcus Aue, "The Big Dog" Ramie Stone, Paul Stone, Troy Stone, Steve Stone, "The Flying Cowboy" Jack Stanford, veteran Bob Terry and several others. This class gave the track the injection of new talent that it needed. Chuck even tried to get Antioch and Watsonville on board with this class in the 90's with special appearances at both tracks.

2-Free Admission 4th Of July Races: This was pretty cool. It's one of the biggest nights of the year at the track with the fireworks and Chuck gave it away for free. Being at that track with those big grandstands packed the way they were in the early part of the 2000's was an amazing experience. Making it possible was the sponsorship, which announcer Johnny Sass had a hand in putting together for many years.

3-IMCA Modifieds: That little sanction stablilized a car count that had struggled in the early 1990's, and it gave them consistent numbers in the mid to high teens. Merced drivers won the IMCA State title on more than one occasion and ranked high in the Western Region as well. Merced became an important piece in IMCA's California puzzle.

4-California Modifieds: People forget that Chuck's attempt at bringing the old Super Modifieds back under a budget resulted in Merced nearly bringing the NASCAR Regional championship home twice with Gordon Rodgers finishing second and third for two years. Even Dave Laughton competed for a top ten position one season. Late Model stars Ray Morgan and Chris Shannon even competed in this class. Rules changed as it evolved into Limited Sprints and this class had a decade long run.

5-California Sportsman: Chuck raced in Merced's old Sportsman class when it ended in 1990. Nearly two decades later, he replaced the Limited Sprint class with this nod to the good old days of racing, and it's still alive and well in it's 12th season. Veteran Rod Poor, Mike Friesen and Keith Van Hounten are just three of the top drivers who have competed in the revival of this division.

6-The 9/11 Memorial Race: When Rich Firato came calling and suggested Merced could run a big open show in September, Chuck rolled the dice. People doubted he could pull it off, but he had big fields in both Modifieds and Street Stocks. It was a success. It might have been a bigger success financially, but Chuck did something unheard of in racing these days. He gave it away to the fans for free that first year.

7-Family Atmosphere: From kids bike races to Easter Egg hunts in the infield, The Griffin's prided themselves on making Merced Speedway a place to bring your family. Things like this helped Merced stand out above the others in that regard. Chuck was also involved in trying to establish a high school racing division during the 2000's.

8-Honoring Timmy Post: The Griffin's grandson was tragically taken from us at the young age of 17 in an auto accident. Timmy grew up at the race track and worked at the track, eventually becoming an official when he was old enough. After his passing, The Timmy Post 99 lap race was held with extra money for all divisions, and everybody wanted to run that race, especially the drivers who knew Timmy.

9-The Show Always Went On: Through tough times and good times, the show went on. I know there were always critics, but the races continued. At various times, different traveling groups came though, including a $10,000 purse race for Midgets, POSSE Super Stocks (won by local Late Model racer Mark Keys in a surprise one year), Sprint Cars, Dwarf Cars, Legends in a rare dirt appearance and all the local classes. Through good car counts and not so good, the show always went on.

10-Pure Stocks: The Street Stock were generally a solid division and put on a great show. As the 1990's began, Chuck added Pure Stocks to the mix to bring in new drivers. Racers like Johnny O'Brien Jr., Nathan Corn, Sportsman booster Ed Marion and final Ted Stofle Classic winner Tom Key came through the ranks. When a pair of Camaros dominated the class in the first couple seasons, a decision was made to make this class unique from Street Stocks by banning the cars. The division ran for over a decade and put on some great races.

Obviously, I am not including all of the exciting finishes that happened during that time. The first time winners, the new stars created and all the happy memories that were made during that time. We can easily dig up the negatives and be mean spirited about it, but as we embark on a new era at Merced Speedway, I want to remember the positives and thank the Griffins for keeping the track going and giving the racers and fans a place to go for as long as they did.