A few thoughts on Merced Speedway, bringing back Racing Wheels, the latest race at Orland and the recent Okie Bowl Hardtop Race at Santa Maria.
The hypothetical Over/Under number for the season opener at Merced Speedway (reportedly in June) is 42.
Dirt Modifieds (12), Street Stocks (10), Hobby Stocks (10) Sport Compacts (5) and Sportsman (5).
Okay, I may have jumped the gun on this one, but I'm excited for Merced Speedway. First of all, it has yet to be announced what divisions are running there that night. I'm guessing the five main classes that were there before, but we don't know that for sure. It just makes sense to start with what was there last and go from there. There is already a buzz from the racers about getting back out there and racing again, and who can blame them? When the place closed, rumors began that racing was over for good at the track that had been in operation since the 1950's..
Obviously, the Fair Board had other ideas. Sure, the track hasn't been the money maker that other fairgrounds tracks have been, but it was still a steady stream of income. In the fairgrounds business, every little bit matters. This is why they never gave up on Chowchilla after the disaster that was the 2008 season. This is why Glenn County Fairgrounds never gave up on that track after the off year of 2008. Of course they weren't giving up on Merced Speedway. It just took a while to get it figured out and make the best deal for the fairgrounds.
One thing that seems obvious. There had been talk of big improvements to the facility, and perhaps what they wanted was for the track to be reopened as soon as possible. Gotta generate that revenue, and a year off for renovations doesn't do that now, does it? The other obstacle to be overcome was the that last I heard it's a three year deal. I have a feeling some potential promoters were looking for a bigger commitment if they were going to take the risk of investing.
So, it goes without saying that the racers better bring their cars out and go racing. They wanted change and now they have it. John Soares Jr. was willing to take that risk for the racers. The real question is who was left with any money willing to bid if John had backed out, because I have a funny feeling everybody else had done just that. So, again, I hope the racers give this a chance. For years, people asked for change, and now it's here.
The other question is, who is running the day to day? I believe it's Tom Sagmiller, but I don't have confirmation of that. Okay, I haven't gone into hardcore reporter mode, but that was never my intention. I simply wanted to get the word out that the track will be reopened, and I've done that. I'm happy to have been able to do that, but I'm still retired. I admit it doesn't look like it, but I am. I'm not being paid a dime for anything, and I haven't asked. At any point, I can stop. I would love for there to be somebody picking up the ball when that time comes, but the likelihood of that may not be so good. It's work for some people, and people like to be compensated. I'm just doing it on my time because (A) I'm bored and felt like using this as a creative outlet and (B) I thought I could be helpful. I had some other ideas on research and stuff, but funds are low at the moment, so it's not a priority. As I said, at any time, this could stop.
But getting back to the John's Track Manager, I hope that this person is revealed to the public soon, because it's needed. The racers need to know who they will be dealing with, and if it is Tom, that may just inspire more to come racing. Plus, this person can get the word out on all important information, and racing can resume. Using the internet is key, though I know some shy away from that. Tom never did, because he recognized how valuable a tool it could be. So if it's Tom or whomever, I hope we find out soon.
One thing that threw me off a couple weeks ago was a certain Hardtop driver who showed up out of the blue at Antioch. This particular driver has a history of not just promoting race tracks, but reopening them and making them bigger and better than they were before. It made me wonder if there was anything going on there, but I dropped that line of thinking. We do need to know who it is. Not that this person would be bad, because he wouldn't, but I hope John's man on the scene in Merced is indeed Tom, as I suspect it is. I hope we get an announcement soon.
The thing I want to see at Merced is as many of those names we know and love as possible, back in action once again. Give me one of the best and underrated Dirt Modified racers out there "The Big Dog" Ramie Stone and his brother Troy Stone, another good driver. Give me Raul "Showtime" Rodriguez. Let's see "The Organic Man" Randy Brewer. How about two of the best Street Stock drivers in the state, Darren Thomas and Tim Ragsdale? How's Larry Folkner doing these days? Do you suppose the Stofle family would be up for another running of the Ted Stofle Classic? Can you tell, I'm ready for Merced Speedway to open again?
I think the divisions that raced most recently are where it needs to start. I'm a Wingless Spec Sprint fan. I make no secret of that, but unless it were just one race and Antioch and Watsonville cars were willing to come, now isn't the time. The Dwarf Cars, perhaps, though I suspect you'd need to bring in either BADCA or NCDCA for a car count. Better to start locally and build it back up. And get those cars back out there people.
Another thing John has done with an eye towards spreading the word about racing is acquire Racing Wheels. He has the archives and all of that good stuff. I have my concerns about the printed media, obviously, since my own magazine also went down after 18 years. But Wheels wasn't so much about getting to the fans (I know many subscribed) as it was about making sure the racers knew what was happening and what big shows were coming up. What Gary Jacob didn't cover in his trips to race tracks with fliers on the big shows, Wheels covered with the big ads. Can printed media still make a difference in the age of the internet? Perhaps. Does John need help getting it off the ground. I believe so.
While we await word on when Merced will run, what divisions are running and who the track manager will be, Orland Speedway ran their second race last Saturday night. I'm still trying to get details or I'd have considered another small story for them. Dirt Modifieds were there with seven cars. Two things I have heard are that Richard Papenhausen had them covered until mechanical problems took him out, and the track ended up paying a fine due to noise in the division. They are still looking forward to the next event and paid the drivers a purse. I'm looking for official confirmation on who was in the #62 car (Jeremy Newberry?), but the finish had him ahead of Nick DeCarlo and a #67 car I don't have a name for.
Spec Sprints were light with three cars and Josh Tucker beating Josh Jacobo for the win. Newberry was there and won the dash earlier in the evening. At least the track bothered to put up results on their web page, regardless of the car count. Chowchilla Speedway could learn from that. I've had to deduce who the winners were of their first two races based on photos and the point standings and a post at dirtstars.net. How are you gonna get cars if nobody knows you are even running the class? So, I'm happy Orland is at least posting something.
I will again point out that Orland Speedway needs to keep a point list for it's divisions. I think it's important in gaining cars, and if there is a concern over banquet money, start getting the word out that you are looking for sponsors now. You know, worst case scenario, you hand out trophies at the season finale and do it in front of the fans in the grandstand. Just a thought. I know running a track isn't easy, and I'm not trying to be a jerk. I want Orland to be successful, and I'm pulling for them. Running Dirt Modifieds there (perhaps for the first time ever) was a cool move. They plan on doing it again too.
Anyway, I'm still waiting on Pure Stock results from Orland, but Tyler Pebley had a good night in Mini Trucks by winning the dash and then scoring a Main Event victory in front of Ross Vige and Richard Gale. Dan Webster beat Pebley in the heat to prevent the sweep. The Mini Stocks had seven just like the trucks, and Ken Johnson won the feature ahead of Sean Perry and Don Runkle. Ken Hammond won the dash and heat race but was apparently unable to start the feature.
I throw this last news item in because I think it's pretty cool. You don't hear much from the Okie Bowl Hardtop group, but they are alive and well. They ran in April at Santa Maria, but I can't find any details on that event. Many of their past results are listed on their web page. Well, on Saturday, they were at Santa Maria, and here's a little something about that:
Northern California racer "The Green Hornet" Tommy Thomson invaded Santa Maria Speedway and left with the Hardtop Main Event victory. The victory came after a battle with Matt McCaslin, who would settle for second. James Casey grabbed a third place finish with Tyler Weeks and Marc McCaslin rounding out the top five.
Okie Bowl Hardtops Main Event
The fact that you can still run a Hardtop in California with either the Okie Bowl group or the Nor Cal group is pretty darn cool. Add that to the fact that you can still run a Sportsman at Chowchilla and it's even cooler as far as I'm concerned. Fans can at least get a taste of what it used to be like. It's a shame people can't go back in time and really see what it was all about first hand. Ah, the good old days.