After fighting for change in Merced, Tom and Cindy Sagmiller headed to Chowchilla to try and make a difference in racing. Most people would agree he accomplished that in his eight year run as promoter at Chowchilla Speedway. Here's a look at ten cool facts, in no particular order.
1-Hobby Stocks: Some people felt that the track down the road needed to allow Camaros and Firebirds into the mix, but it didn't happen. When Tom opened Chowchilla, the cars were allowed. Immediately, the car count grew into the teens and B Mains were needed a year later. In a chat at CRO, Joe Martinez suggested a $500 50 lap race for the division. The only big show for this class during the year was at Lakeport at that time. Tom booked it, and 40 cars came. It was a success. The Hobby Stocks in the early days were a jewel in the Chowchilla crown.
2-Sprint Cars: Some people may not give Tom credit for his Sprint Car support, but the man did give NARC a home in it's last season in the hopes of saving the 40 year old touring group. He also gave the Limited Sprints a home. In that very same chat room at CRO, the idea for the Open Wheel Round Up was born with over 100 cars that first year, including a then record 32 Wingless Spec Sprints. The impact of that show and the effect it had on Spec Sprints in California should not be underestimated.
3-The Steitz Race: With San Jose closed, the Dirt Track Shoot Out needed a new home, one that was located in the right spot to attract cars. That home became Chowchilla Speedway, where some 200 cars came to race that first year. For the first two or three years, this race was as big as ever, and it helped put Chowchilla Speedway on the map as racers came from all over to be a part of it.
4-$5 Admission: In the beginning, it was just $5 to attend a regular race at Chowchilla, the lowest price in the state for a four division show that produced car counts comparable to many other tracks. Tom was NEVER afraid to think outside the box when it came to promoting, and those ticket prices helped create an immediate fan base.
5-What Feud: Sagmiller was advised to go Saturday from the start so he could attract more Watsonville cars, but he chose Fridays so as not to hurt Merced Speedway. Tom did want to establish a relationship with Merced and forget about the past, and he went so far as to allow Merced races to be hyped on his PA system, he encouraged his racers to go there and he even moved a Dirt Modified date from his schedule, at a big financial loss to him, so as not to hurt Merced. It's an interesting fact that should not be forgotten.
6-Freedom Series: When it became obvious early on that visitors were willing to support the holiday races, Sagmiller and George Steitz created the Freedom Series. This was a special three race series that had its own point fund. Even NASCAR stars like Jim Pettit II and Dave Byrd came out to be a part of this Series, which was very strong the first few years.
7-The Uncanceled Race: On a rainy Friday evening in 2000, the races started, and then the rains fell for about ten minutes. Tom announced, as the rains ceased and the skies cleared that the races had been canceled, to the booking of the crowd. Thinking quickly, he told the crowd that he would ask the racers if they still wanted to mud pack the track and go racing. The racers said yes, and the show went on after a brief delay.
8-Hair For A Point Fund: Chowchilla was definitely the working man's track. Drivers did not have to be members to race every week, though it cost a few bucks more. Back then, most tracks required membership for more than one visit. Seeking point fund money, Tom volunteered to have his head shaved to raise money. The fans got behind the idea, and it was another success.
9-The Accessible Promoter: Back in 2000, not too many promoters in the area used the internet very much, but Tom did. Chat rooms, message boards, whatever it took to get the word out. He was always willing to answer people's questions. The idea of Chowchilla Speedway even existing back then was thought to be impossible, and yet he made it happen. It grew week after week, and suddenly, everybody wanted to race there.
10-The Dykstra/Odgers Memorial Race: Tom & Cindy had the idea to hold a special race in all divisions just for ladies and crew members, in honor of Dick Odgers and Dave Dykstra. The idea seemed crazy, but it worked. Several racers were willing to let others drive their cars as the point racing was over, and the racing was pretty good. The idea of the Ladies Series that ran for a few years was born from this special event.
11-Who Needs The IMCA: Tom made that comment on a night his car count reached into the 20's in the Dirt Modified division in 2000. The fact was that he wanted in, but the move was blocked by another promoter. IMCA rep Paul Vetter was in the stands that night as well as a year later when Tom said it again with another big car count on hand. This was partly in frustration due to the fact that Chowchilla had long since proven that they could get the support from the area drivers who wanted the sanctioning for Regional and National points. Sadly, it never happened while Tom ran the track, but the Dirt Modifieds still produced good fields for the most part.
There are so many things that can be said about Tom and all he's done for the sport. Chowchilla Speedway never would have happened without him, and the fact is he never should have lost that deal in the first place, in my opinion. As Merced Speedway embarks on a new chapter, I can think of nobody more qualified to help John Soares Jr. rebuild that program than Tom Sagmiller.