Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Antioch Gears Up For Final Race Of May

Looks like the clouds are rolling in, but racing should go on as scheduled at Antioch Speedway for their Four division show Saturday night. There will be no Memorial Day Weekend races, so this is a chance to check out the races at the track for the final time in May. I'm sure track management will use the down time to get ready for the big Dirt Modified show coming in June and to work on details for when Merced Speedway will be opening. We might even finally hear some details on that front.

But, back to Saturday. The Over/Under number is 46. The track has been out performing these numbers lately, which I like to see.

Wingless Spec Sprints (16), Dwarf Cars (12), Mini Trucks (10) and Super Stocks (8). That last number would be a season high for that division. It should be at least ten, but it is what it is. Still some good drivers in the class.

Here's an interesting fact. This is the 20th season of points racing for Dwarf Cars in Northern California. Has it really been that long? Yes it has. The first champion was crowned at the one-eighth mile dirt oval in Stockton, known as Delta Speedway. The division exploded from there. Who was that champion? It wasn't Doug Philpott or Doug Williams, though both are champions in the division. We'll get back to this.

Ricardo Rivera is the real deal, just in case you didn't know. Whenever he's behind the wheel of the #4 car, he is a threat to win. He's that good. His victory in the previous race was a thing of beauty. He started back in the fourth row, there were no yellow flags in the race and he still managed to make a late race pass to claim the victory. Drivers have been asking the question for the past six years. How do you stop this guy?

Rivera has posted over 40 wins at Antioch, putting him atop the division's all time win list and certainly making him at least top ten on the track's all time win list (I really need to update that list). He has even won a Main Event in Wingless Spec Sprint competition. For his off week, Ricardo headed down to Bakersfield Speedway and placed fourth in the CDCRA Dwarf Car race. He was driving the #12 car. I'm not sure if that was a local car or the #12 of Antioch regular Dan Liston, who currently sits sixth in points.

Ricardo knows point racing. He should. He's won five of the last six titles at Antioch, and the one he didn't win (2008) he wasn't racing for. He's had to fight for those championships and has had good challengers. This year is no different. Since he missed one race, he's third in the standings behind Nick Squatritto and Jerry Doty. He is 40 points out of the lead, a gap that has narrowed over the last couple of races despite the fact that Squatritto is picking up good finishes as well. He has to. One little slip up, and he could fall. This trio of drivers will be among the favorites to win come Saturday night.

Breaking through to pick up a victory is the big challenge for the rest of the pack. Ed Johnson would seem to be the next pick. After all, Ed is the only driver over than Rivera to win the division's championship in the last six years. Ed seems to be doing the same thing as veteran Charlie "The Hammer" Correia, running a relaxed schedule, but he is a threat to win when he's there. Correia has won his share of races through the years and was one of the top stars of the NCDCA Dwarf Car group in the 90's. Some people might not be expecting it from him with the way things have been going lately, but that would be a mistake. His next win could happen at any time.

By virtue of their top five rankings, Mike Corsaro and Clayton Dortzbach would seem to be prime candidates. You've got to be there to win, and this duo hasn't missed a race. The lap time could pay off in the long run. What's really nice about this division is that whoever wins, it's sure to be a good race.

The Dwarf Cars sort of took California by storm in the early 90's. In Northern California, it started at Delta Speedway in 1991. A year later, racers from Delta started racing at Merced and elsewhere and formed NCDCA. In 1992, Petaluma took a good look at the class and ran them as part of the Masseli & Sons Race. What a wild race that was. In 1993, the Dwarf Cars had a home at Petaluma under the All Pro Series banner (Jim Soares was the first champion there). By then, the Nor Cal Dwarfs were in full swing. Then, the PCDCA was formed. By the 2000's, Antioch and Petaluma both had Dwarf Car programs and BADCA was formed from the ashes of PCDCA. Nor Cal is still going strong, but the Delta Speedway Dwarf Car effort, unfortunately, is long gone.

So, who was that first champion at Delta Speedway?

It was Scotty Hoff.

Dwarf Cars won't be the only division in the spotlight Saturday night. The Super Stocks will also be on the card. Anticipation is in the air for some more new cars to show for this one. The ones who have been racing, however, have put on some good races for the fans. Something interesting has happened in this division in recent weeks. Somebody has emerged to take the focus off of Mitch Machado and Larry Damitz. This appeared to be an unlikely task, and yet it has happened.

Considering all the titles Damitz has racked up in his long and storied career, it was a given that "The Sundrop Kid" was going to be a force. That man is amazing, and fans should appreciate him while he's still out there doing his thing. If you have an opportunity to go up to him after a race and say hi, do it. It doesn't matter who he has raced through the years, he has found a way to beat them. And, he's still winning races and threatening to win a championship again.

Machado could have even bigger career numbers if that was what he wanted, but what he has is pretty impressive. This includes track championships at Sacramento Raceway and Petaluma and an eight point lead over Damitz going into this race. It's no surprise to see Mitch's #22 car in the winner's circle.

When the third member of the "Superstar" group, three time Antioch champion Mike "The Blue Knight" Gustafson didn't show for the first few races, it may have been assumed that this would be a two car race for the championship. Well, that assumption was incorrect.

The first of these other drivers to hang with the leaders was Eric "Bad News" Berendsen. Eric picked up a pair of third place finishes to start the season third in the standings. Eric's father and brother, Carl I & II, have turned many laps at the speedway, and he learned much from them before hopping into a Pure Stock about a decade ago. Eric would become a star and feature winner in that class. While still learning, he is running with the leaders when things are right with the car. Unfortunately, back to back DNF's dropped him a position in the standings. A second in his heat and fourth in the feature last time out was a sign that maybe he's back on track.

But the driver sitting just 18 points out of the lead is "Fast" Freddy Ryland. Ryland has never done anything second rate with his racing since he came to Antioch Speedway, so seeing the 2009 UMP Hobby Stock champion running this well shouldn't be that much of s surprise. If some felt he lucked into his first win, they couldn't say that last time out when he held off Damitz and Machado for that victory. If he keeps this up, the question won't be can anybody hang with Machado and Damitz in the championship battle, but can they hang with Ryland.

Lloyd Cline would just like to have things hold together for him. After a top five point season last year, bad luck has him sitting eight points behind "The Mean Kitty" Natalie Perry in the race for fifth. Lloyd would just like to see a checkered flag at this point. Perry, meanwhile, raised a few eye brows when she held Damitz off for a top three spot in her heat race for four impressive laps last time out. She also has a second place finish to her credit this season.

If Gustafson can keep it all together this week, he undoubtedly will give the leaders somebody else to contend with. He does have a heat race win, but his first two Main Event outings have ended on the sidelines. Hopefully, these drivers will receive some new competition as there are known to be at least a dozen more cars in the area.

Somebody has to beat the #99's in Mini Truck competition. It hasn't happened yet. Late starter Jon Haney and "Rockin" Ray Bunn are both chomping at the bit for their opportunity, and it could be this week. Point leader Travis Dutra and Tom Brown have split the feature wins at two a piece. This has given Dutra a six point lead in yet another tight battle at the speedway.

The Bunn family name has been a force in Mini Stock racing going back to the 80's when David Bunn was a champion in NASCAR Mini Stock competition. Ray was no slouch himself and was top three ranked a couple times at Delta Speedway, while also a top runner at Altamont and Baylands. He's even seen the winner's circle on more that one occasion at Antioch. Though he's had his share of bad luck this year, Ray has still managed to hold onto third in the standings.

It's the other driver on the move who has people taking notice. In the #45 truck this season is Jon Haney. He wasn't ready for the season opener, but three straight top three finishes have moved him to within just 14 points of Dan Wagner for fifth in the standings. Hes definitely on the move, but more importantly, it may be Haney who finally breaks the steak of the #99 trucks of Dutra and Brown.

In their tenth season at Antioch after enjoying success at Altamont, Orland and Merced throughout the 90's, the Mini Trucks are capable of putting on a good show for the fans. Others, such as Wagner, Ron Mayberry, Dean "The Blinker" Cline and Pete Paulsen could also be a threat to win come Saturday night.

I bet you thought I forgot about the Wingless Spec Sprint division huh?

Yeah, right.

It's hard for me not to smile when I look at the numbers and see that there were four Wingless Spec Sprint winners at four different venues last week, and all produced double digit car counts. Over a decade after we started it at Antioch, the division is still going strong. The thing that appeals to me is the way open wheels veterans, Stock Car racers, newcomers and drivers moving up from the Modified Midget ranks blend together in this class and put on such a good show. Sprint Car racing for the working man and woman. I sort of look at it as Sprint Car racing for the Stock Car fan since they are self starting.

But before all the other tracks got on board, it was Antioch Speedway that started the movement. This is the 12th season for a division that has only had one repeat champion during that time (Darrell "The Hammer" Hanestad). With five races in the books, just 24 points separate the top four of David Press, Tommy Laliberte, "Jammin" Jim Perry Jr. and "Bullet" Billy Macedo. Perry and Macedo would join Hanestad as two time champions if either of them could win it this season.

Though Press, a former NCMA Select Series and Ocean Speedway champion, leads the way, Laliberte is closing in fast. Tommy is on a roll with two wins and a second in his last three starts and an amazing ability to pull off late race high groove passes for the win. Laliberte is only four points behind Press with momentum on his side. Press may need to deliver a big performance this week to get out of the night with his lead in tact.

While Press, Laliberte, Jeff Kindt and Macedo all have feature wins, Perry is still looking for his first of the year. Earlier this season, he was working on a clean sweep, only to be beat by Macedo in the Main Event. As competitive as this class is, many of the racers in the field have a legitimate shot at winning on any given week, and Perry has racked up several wins through the years.

Adam Kaeding, who is currently sixth in points at Watsonville and tenth at Antioch, has looked very impressive at times in his Antioch appearances. A win for him wouldn't be a surprise. Former Dwarf Car standout "Stroker Ace" David Hays Jr. also ran strong last time out and could be a threat if he shows again this week. "The Piledriver" Dan Gonderman, the 1999 champion, was a welcome sight in the pits last race and won his heat race. Seeing him pick up a victory wouldn't be a big shock.

With not much else happening on the circuit, turnout could be big for this race. The Wingless Spec Sprints have been putting on some good shows this season, and their sixth event of the season this Saturday night should be no different.