Friday, July 30, 2010

Dirt Modifieds, Hobby Stocks Back At Antioch This Week

I considered leaving the pre race thing alone this week since I was left with so little information last week, but I'll jump right back in for another week. To the readers here who attend Antioch, if you want to help keep the results out there, feel free to comment on this post with unofficial finishes from Saturday, or even post on the various forums. If nothing is posted on the official track page again, at least we'll have something. It's an idea anyway.

Five divisions are in action at Antioch Speedway this week, and I'm setting the Over/Under number at 54 cars. We didn't even hit 50 cars last week from what I could tell, so I was over, but I think it should be better with Dirt Modifieds and Hobby Stocks back on the card.

The Wingless Spec Sprints (14), Dirt Modifieds (16), Super Stocks (8), Hobby Stocks (10) and Mini Trucks (6) will share the spotlight this week.

LaLiberte Goes For Six, Who's Ready To Step Up And Beat Him?

Tommy LaLiberte is on a roll at Antioch Speedway. His last seven starts have been a second, four straight wins, a second and another win. With five wins he tops the field, and, not surprisingly, he leads past Watsonville and NCMA Select Series champion David Press by 30 points going into this week's race. When you think about it, though, that's not a very big lead, and that's because Press has been consistently finishing in the top five to lessen the point damage of LaLiberte's success.

Success, however, comes at a price for LaLiberte, and it's the same old story. Two time Spec Sprint champion Darrell Hanestad heard it. Spec Sprint original and many time NCMA champion Darryl Shirk heard it. Stock Car champion Bobby Hogge heard it. They all hear it when they win enough. Tommy's cheating. As with most winning teams, however, success comes for LaLiberte through all the preparation, getting the car set up just right, watching videos of his races, having a dedicated pit crew and good sponsors. This all pays off on race day when he can put the car wherever he wants and it sticks.

It's not a foregone conclusion that Tommy will win this week, and with 12-16 cars anticipated, if he has a bad night, all of the winning he's been doing won't matter. That lead could go away in one night. With two wins himself, Press could make it to the winner's circle again. A man who is no stranger to winning at Antioch, third ranked Jim Perry Jr., finished second again last week, but he is due for his first win of the season.

Fact is, at least half of this field is capable of winning, and fifth ranked Jeff Kindt does have a win this season. With a couple preliminary wins this year, 1999 champion Dan Gonderman could be ready to win. It could be somebody like Jeff Lee, Gary Nelson or Chuck Bradshaw, who have had some good runs of late. It could also be one of the rookies, such as Tyler Henriquez or Trevor Press, who has quietly worked his way into fourth in points. Whomever it is, they will have to earn it, as the competition at Antioch is among the best in the state in this division.

Dirt Modifieds Hope To Recover With Another Big Race Coming Soon

Last time out, it was heavy carnage for the Dirt Modified division. Bobby Motts Jr. and Troy Foulger crashed on the back stretch battling for the lead, resulting in a horrendous crash behind them that sent Joe Carr rolling and put him on the injured list. It also left top ten ranked rookie Sean Wilson with a badly damaged race car that he said he may be unable to repair. The winner when it was all said and does was Dan Gonderman, who lost a season opener that he had dominated when a car got into him in Turn 1 and sent him rolling.

The good news in all of this is that Foulger and Motts got their cars back together and competed last week in Placerville. Also, Carr is hoping to recover in time to enter the $3,500 to win shows August 28th and 29th and Antioch and Merced. The bad news for Nick DeCarlo was after his tangle with Aaron Crowell on the back stretch that left Crowell sideways in front of the pack a few laps before the big crash, he ended up being penalized to last place. The damage was such that he is now over 40 points out of the lead. Foulger now leads Jeff Thomas by 38 with DeCarlo 42 points back. This could well be the moment that ended DeCarlo's title hopes, but we shall see. Foulger is consistently at the front every week, so it will be a challenge reeling in 42 points on him.

Meanwhile, Norm Boeck, working on another top five season, is ten points behind DeCarlo, while Motts fell to sixth behind Rick Karnes after his crash. Last time out, Motts had looked faster than ever as he beat Gonderman to win his first heat race of the season, and he was in contention for his first feature win until the brutal end. Through it all, though, the top six drivers haven't missed a race yet this year, and any one of them could be in line for this week's feature victory. It's also very possible that some visitors could be at Antioch this week to get a look at the track before the big show at the end of the month. It should be interesting.

The Blue Knight Rides Again

I don't believe John Meyers calls him that, but back in the days of the Sportsman division, they called Mike Gustafson "The Blue Knight" due to his blue race car and firesuit. He was a champion then (in 1980), and he won championships in the Limited Late Models twice during the last decade. But, points have never been what Mike has been about, or it's likely he'd have another championship or two to his credit in Super Stocks and Late Models at Petaluma. He certainly won his share of races back then against such front runners as Mike Chisholm, Lee Olibas, John Soares Jr., Jim Tryon, Rod Aronld and Jack Dempsey.

Mike missed a few races at the start of the season as income tax season always keeps him busy, but he has closed to within 44 points of Lloyd Cline. Cline finished fourth in points last year and is looking for back to back top five seasons. His win in a heat race last week and third in the feature the previous race shows how much he has improved since the start of the season.

Meanwhile, when the points were added up last week, Mitch Machado's lead over Larry Damitz remained at 14 points after Machado was second ahead of Damitz in the Main Event. This is the battle that has kept this division interesting when car count was really low at the start, and it just may go down to the wire. Not to be forgotten is the nice job rookie two time winner Fred Ryland and the steady Eric Berendsen have done this year, ranked third and fourth, respectively. To date, we have seen 12 different cars this season, and a double digit car count is entirely possible this week.

Bentley's Surprise Performance

Last time out, Wes Bentley had the crowd on their feet in the Hobby Stock division as he competed for his first feature victory. Wes has a heat race win this season, but in the Main Event, he definitely looked like he had the car to beat. Every time he got a little ahead of second place, however, he, made little mistakes to allow them to catch up. When he felt the pressure, he'd start to pull away again, almost as if he was learning how to lead a Main Event. Unfortunately, past champion Dan McCown did know how to lead the Main Event and has won in previous seasons. Bentley's last mistake proved costly as McCown pulled along side him and beat him by inches to the line for his first win of the season.

It was valuable lap time for Bentley, and when he's in this position again, the outcome may be different. A pat on the back should also go to sixth ranked Joe Cancilla, who ran second for much of the race before getting a flat tire. Joe is six points behind Mike Rydman in the battle for sixth. It's been mentioned here before, but there are some good racers in this class searching for their first win, and a new winner could emerge this week.

At the front of the pack is the team #33 car of Melissa Hansen and Brad Myers, who both have won this season and lead two time winner Chris Sorensen by 26 points in the championship chase. McCown is actually within striking distance, 43 points out of the lead. The Team 99 car of Jack Jonker and Jim Freethy are 26 points ahead of Rydman. Car count was down a little last time out, but with a few weeks off, it is expected to rebound this week.

The Travis Dutra Show

Travis Dutra has done a nice job in a short field of Mini Trucks. The 2009 point runnerup has won the most Main Events this season and is leaving little doubt at this point that he will win the championship unless something happens. After his win last week, Dutra's lead is now 60 over Ray Bunn, who is still searching for his first win of the season. However, Dan Wagner has won this season, and if Bunn's not careful, he will lose second. Wagner trails him by just 16 points at the moment.

Coming between Dutra and Wagner in the most recent Main Event was an impressive effort by Ron Mayberry. That second place finish was a season best for Mayberry, and it moved him into fifth in the standings. Mayberry will move into fouth just by starting this week's feature, unless two time winner Tom Brown brings his truck back this week. If Brown doesn't show, Greg Williams will pass him by starting as well, finally bumping Brown out of the top five. Though truck count has been in the 6-8 truck area in recent races, there have been 16 trucks to compete this season. It would be nice too see more of them in action this week, and it would surely make the racing better.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Random Thoughts

Lots of different things happening to comment on, and this column could go on and on if I let it. Don't think that's going to happen, but I'll pick some topics and dive right in on some of the things happening in California.

Big Weekend Coming To Antioch & Merced in Late August

Never let it be said that John Soares Jr. doesn't put his money where his mouth is when it comes to racing. The son of a California racing Hall Of Famer has done it again. The Dirt Modifieds seem to be the division getting "the love" this season, and you really can't blame John for that. His June $5,000 to win race at Antioch was a resounding success. In fact, a few weeks prior, John held a $1,000 tuneup race and had a full enough field of Dirt Modifieds that a B Main was needed.

Well, John decided it was time to do it again. $3,500 to win, and from what I'm hearing, $300 to start Main Events on August 28th at Antioch and August 29th at Merced. If the same driver wins both events, a $1,000 bonus. This is another big opportunity for the racers to win some money and prestige racing a Dirt Modified in California, and it's John Soares Jr. promoting the deal once again. In fact, unlike Antioch, where the newspapers have all but forgotten there is a race track there, the Merced Sun-Star ran another big story, breaking the news.

I think it's great that Merced Speedway is getting so much love. Wish Antioch could even get half as much. I'll leave my criticisms out, but I would hope they would focus on things the fans at Merced will actually see there, or this will be more material for the bashes to use against an effort that I believe is really trying to make thing better. John is quoted saying 80 cars will show for this event, dubbed the West Coast Nationals. Well, 80 cars SHOULD show up for this one, but it's more likely to be in the 40-50 car range. Still, that would have to be considered a success.

I'm a little nervous about this one, but hopefully it should work out. I've noticed at times in the past down there that when big money is offered, the locals stay home thinking they have no chance. Lat me tell you locals a story about a guy named Mark Keyes, who once beat the POSSE Super Stocks in his NASCAR Late Model Stock Car at a race in Merced. That was huge. It can happen.

John says, and of this I have no doubt, it is his goal to put Merced Speedway back on the map and make it a place the racers want to be. I just hope the locals get on board with him. This race should be, and better be, huge. That's up to the racers.

It Would Be Nice To Get Spec Sprints A Big Race Too

Quietly, and without much fanfare, the Wingless Spec Sprints have been doing solid numbers at Antioch, a tick below Dirt Mods, while double digit turnouts also happen at the regular shows in Watsonville, Petaluma, Marysville and Chico. It wasn't that long ago when Chico booked a race that had 70 cars. So, I would love to see a $3,000 pay check waved in front of these drivers and see LaLiberte, Bernal, Schank, Howard, Wallace, Pettit, Press and so many other top notch racers get their chance to shine. Will it happen? I'm not holding my breath, but if I had the money to put up, THAT is where I'd put it. Well, that, and maybe a lisle something special for the Hobby Stocks as a companion class.

While we're at it, I'd love to see another track or two join the Hunt Magneto Wingless Spec Sprint Tour. Antioch would be nice. I noticed the Petaluma names in the field up north last week and have to wonder if maybe they will be the next track added. If "Dr. Dirt" Jim Soares did get involved in that series, it would not surprise me a bit. The man doesn't get enough credit for the good he's brought to the sport, but Petaluma was fading fast before he took over the place. The Sprint Car program they have there now is pretty good from what I've read, AND they have Late Models and a competitive Street Stock program as well. But, I digress.

Car Count Lower Than Hoped For At Merced

From what I've been able to deduce, Merced's Sunday program had less that 30 cars. I had worried that the IMCA Stock Cars were not a good idea. Turns out, I was right. I'm sure they learned a lesson there. I'd love to know what they were thinking on that one. I was also worried how running the night after a Chowchilla show that included all the regular classes would effect Merced since they draw from pretty much the same car pool. Chowchilla's car count wasn't huge either, but it turns out that it may have effected Merced's numbers. With no Chowchilla race this week and Street Stocks and Dwarf Cars as part of the six division show at Merced this week, car count should bounce back.

But, somewhere, I bet Chuck Griffin is saying, "I told you guys it wasn't gonna be easy."

Chuck gets lots of blame for everything bad that ever happened at Merced these last 25 years, and he's not entirely blameless. But, to pin the car count demise of the last two years entirely on him would not be fair either. Fact is, had he been able to hold onto half the sponsorship his track had, things may have turned out differently. Plus, there are several racers who ran last year that are still absent this year, some who were pretty darn good supporters of that track during the past decade. Times are tough, and there are lots of factors at play.

Having said that, I still believe Soares is doing right by Merced and making every move he can to bring things back. It won't be easy, and there are speed bumps ahead. The August show is a gutsy move by John considering everything, but he's gambling on Merced being a hit with the racers and the fans in the long run. If the racers don't come out and show support, they have only themselves to blame if the track fails. I believe Sunday was not a great day to race weekly, but it was the only real choice the track had under the circumstances. It really was. So, I hope everybody makes the best of it and the racers come out and support when they can. What goes on in 2011 will depend on how things go now.

The quarter-mile is tight, and racy from what people are saying, and it's only going to get more dialed in and faster in the weeks ahead. With Dirt Modifieds, Street Stocks, Hobby Stocks, Four Bangers, Dwarf Cars and Sport Mods on the card this week, it should be a good show with a much better turnout this time.

Sport Mod Drivers Have Spoken, Um.... Whispered

Well, Merced Speedway held it's first Sport Mod race last Sunday. Ten different cars have raced at Chowchilla so far this season. They didn't run this class the night before, and only two drivers bothered to show for this one. Seems like there's a lot of TALK about this class so far, and it's not like this is a new deal in the area. The previous management started this class at Merced four years ago, so take that information for what it's worth. The up side of this is the track ran these two cars with the Dirt Modifieds, and they got the $100 to start, the same as the rest of the Dirt Mod class. Plus, these two drivers earned Sport Mod points.

Not much of a statement by the drivers this time as to why other tracks should start this class, but a nice statement by track management about taking care of the drivers. The division gets another shot this week. We'll see how it goes.

Orland Speedway's Nice Rebound

A lot of tracks are struggling these days, so even the ones struggling the hardest are doing something just by opening up and having a race. At least 30 drivers competed in the four divisions last week at Orland Speedway, one of the best turnouts of the season, if not the best. A couple of nice things to report. There was a season best 11 Mini Trucks in action. The Mini Stocks reportedly paid a purse for their seven cars.

The one that caught my eye was seven Wingless Spec Sprint drivers in action. It was looking bad for a couple of weeks there, and I was wondering if the things that went down a few weeks back may have had something to do with it. As it turns out, Josh Jacobo was back and the four time champion won this race. There have now been 13 different cars in this class at Orland, and the four regular divisions have all had at least ten cars with several different feature winners this season.

It's not easy during any time period to run a race track, but these days especially. I do get a sense that the racers in the area are rallying behind this track, and if they keep at it, it will only get better. I still see some sort of deal hatched between Chico and Orland as a good thing in the future as Orland gets stronger. Both tracks do have Spec Sprints and Hobby Stocks, so something could be worked out where both tracks could gain a few drivers a couple times during the season. Perhaps at some point as things get better, Orland could become a part of the Hunt Series for Spec Sprints? Just a thought.

More information on the latest race at Orland can be read further down on this blog. An Enduro and Destruction Derby headline this week at Orland, but they have Dirt Modifieds races scheduled in August. I'm thinking the one on August 28th may need to be moved in light of the big announcement at Antioch and Merced.

Misty Wins Again At Marysville

Just passing along the information that Misty Castleberry won her tenth straight Mini Stock race at Marysville Raceway Park. The defending champion and current point leader has commanded this division, prompting the usual jeers from people claiming cheating, which always seems to happen whenever somebody wins a lot at any race track, but could it be that this lady can drive? In this case, she beat veteran Jeff Olschowka, who was making a surprise start to try and beat her. He settled for second. As Misty has proven her point in this division, hopefully she'll have the sponsorship for a move up next year, and I wouldn't be surprised if she was a top competitor in the next division she raced too.

While We're Mentioning The Ladies

Adrienne DeSousa did it again. Now in her third season in Four Bangers, she won her first feature at Ocean Speedway in Watsonville Friday night. This earned her a visit to The Motor Sports Show with Tony Karis on KNRY 1240 AM on Wednesday night. DeSousa is currently running second in points, not too far behind Sean Markley Jr. In addition to this win, she has also claimed wins at Antioch, Chowchilla, Madera and Merced. Adrienne's win at Merced came ahead of the 11 car field last Sunday.

Meanwhile, Michelle McClure won the Pure Stock feature Saturday night at Placerville Speedway. Like DeSousa, she ranks second in her division and within striking distance of the point leader, Chris Curtiss.

Placerville's Mixed Results Saturday Night

In a bit of a disappointment, the Placerville Speedway show Saturday night saw no Chico regulars support the $800 to win Dirt Modified race. What saved this race from complete disaster was the fact that a half dozen Antioch racers, and a past Late Model champion, who used to live in the Bay Area, were in action. It was that driver, Robert Miller, grabbing the win over Antioch point leader Troy Foulger and two time Antioch champion Kenny Neu. Fresh off a top three finish at Watsonville in the Mike Cecil Memorial Race, Junior Dawson was fourth.

The good news was that 25 Spec Sprints raced at Placerville as part of the Hunt Series, and it was Terry Schank Jr. adding to his point lead by besting the 25 car field. With 32 cars on hand on Friday at Chico, Schank won that race too. In an interesting stat, the Hunt Series race for the Spec Sprints on Friday outdrew car counts for the Golden State Challenge Series race at Marysville and the Civil War Race at Petaluma. Nice to see the Spec Sprints are alive and well in California and doing their part to represent Sprint Car racing.

By the way, Kyle Larson won the GSC race to take a slim point lead over 13 time Series champion Brent Kaeding. Larson is in a position to win not only the GSC title, but the Tao Bravo Series at Watsonville as well. Not bad for a driver who will be turning 18 soon. It will be interesting to see if he can pull of the double championship win, but it won't be easy. I'm sure Kyle wouldn't have it any other way.

Hayfork Speedway Finally Opens?

Hayfork Speedway was set to get things started last Sunday. Not sure if this has happened or not. With the two play days scheduled, they canceled them and mentioned it on their web page prior to the day. This was not the case with the opener. If we find any information, we'll pass it along here. Hayfork intended to run Mini Stock and Hobby Stock divisions to try and get things up and running. I will say one thing, the speedway put Hayfork on the map for me, as I had never heard of the place before news of this track surfaced. I'm hoping things work out for them as it's always nice to see a new race track open.

Free Passes For New Racers At Bakersfield Speedway

Bakersfield Speedway Management posted the following on the Late Model Racer forum:

Saturday August 7th I will be offering up again this season two FREE pit passes for this event to any STREET STOCK, HOBBY STOCK or MINI STOCK team that has not raced with us yet in 2010. Pit gates open at 2:00pm, drivers meeting at 4:30pm, racing at 6:00pm. We will also be having our first ever Spectator Eliminator Race and it’s FREE PEPSI night. Come join us for a fun night of racing. Scott

I mentioned something about this on the DCRR Racing Radio Show earlier in the season. I think I mentioned discounted prices, but they are going the extra mile with free passes to drivers making their first start of 2010. Other tracks should try something like this. Get these drivers to "dig their cars out of mothballs" as Gary Jacob would say, and once they race that first time, hopefully they come back next week and pay full price.

Late Models Need To Regroup And Come Back Stronger

Seems to me Sandy Bainton wasn't the "evil witch" some people made her out to be when she ran the CarQuest Late Model Tour for several seasons before stepping away a few years back. I recall when Brynda wanted to work with her on something at Antioch back in the early 90's. Oh, what could have been, but could the male ego handle TWO ladies at the head of the premeire Dirt Late Model Tour of Californoia? Alas, we never found out.

But, Sandy ran that deal like clockwork. She always had more race date requests than she had dates to give, but she always tried to bring new tracks into the deal to see how it would work. She was one of the people who saved the division as far as I'm concerned, though Santa Maria and Petaluma NEVER gave up on the class either.

The point is, the leadership. whomever they are, need to regroup and put this thing back together. Several dates have been dropped this year. I'm not sure why, and at this point, I just don't care. What's done is done. Going forward, they need to fix this. It's nice to hear the Limited Late Model talk, but there are still several full on Late Models out there, and racing fans want to see them.

So, whomever takes charge of the Late Model Tour and whatever they call it in 2011, they need to check on what the schedules are at the tracks that still run the class, put this thing back together again, and make it a deal promoters can't refuse. I'd try to include the tracks that do still have Late Model races of their own with at least some visits as they are still keeping it alive, aren't they?

So, come on guys, use some commons sense and make this thing happen. There's no substitution for the real thing, and though I have nothing against Limited Late Models, let's keep the Late Models alive. If we can have a good Winged 410 Sprint Car Tour in this day and age, we can have a good Late Model Tour too.

Ventura's Neat Little Show

Somebody commented on the possibility of Ventura having a Late Model show on the Late Model Racer forum, and somebody commented on Jim Naylor "hating" Late Models. I highly doubt he hates them, but Midgets and Sprint Cars put that racy litle 1/5 mile clay oval on the may. Anybody remember Thursday Night Thunder and USAC Midgets and TQ Midgets at Ventura on ESPN? I do, and it was pretty darn cool. I miss the days when ESPN would actually show "good" racing. Calm down NASCAR fans, I just think they could use some good old fashion dirt track racing on the nation's #1 sports network.

These days, Naylor is streaming his racing live on the internet, and this is one heck of a show. The Wingless Sprint Cars are absolutely amazing the way they go 2 and 3 wide on that little track, and do so for several laps without crashing. Now THAT'S what I call racing. IMCA Modifieds, Mini Stocks, Dwarf Cars, Jr. Dwarf Cars and Go Karts are just some of the classes they have there. They even have senior (55 years and older) Sprint Cars ad Dwarf Cars there. They are planning a Mini Modified (think smaller version of the old California Dirt Car class) division for next season.

I don't think Jim hates Stock Cars, but I do believe he's looking for classes that can give him a car count and put on a show. If he did add a Stock Car class, I'd expect it to be Hobby Stocks at this point, but the thought of a Late Model show on that track is intriguing. My first thought is the cars are too big and fast, but IMCA Modifieds do alright there, so who knows? At any rate, Naylor has things running well at Ventura Raceway, and that is infinately better than the stupid Ampitheater they were talking about putting in there about a decade ago. Good things can happen when people stand up together and fight for a good cause.

Mike Cecil Would Be Proud

We close this long winded column, but not before giving a pat on the back to Ocean Speedway for the Mike Cecil Memorial 50 lap race, won by Cody Burke ahead of Junior Dawson and Todd Hermosillo. So many cars were there that they even ran a pair of B Mains to fill the remainder of the Main Event field. Over 30 cars. A bit rough with 22 cars starting and 8 finishing. They ran 2 25 lap segments and the top 2 drivers at halfway had the option of restarting at the back in the second segment. If either won that way, they would receive a $1,000 bonus. Neither leader Burke nor Jim Pettit II would take that challenge.

Burke claimed he was prepared to if Pettit would, but Pettit felt the risk wasn't worth the reward with the level of competition out there. Unfortunately, Pettit still had problems and fell out, but his night was not a total loss. He won $500 in the special Dash For Cash ahead of Kenny Nott Jr. and Jim DiGiovanni, who won $300 and $200, respectively. Nott reclaimed the point lead from Brian Cass, and he was lucky to get the top five finish in the Cecil Race as he ran the last two laps with a front flat tire.

Taco Bravo Sprint Cars, IMCA Modofieds, Wingless Spec Sprints and American Stocks are all part of the show this Friday night at Ocean Speedway. The Johnny Key Classic for the Taco Bravo Sprint Cars looms in the near future, August 28th, and it's sure to be a must see race.

And He Was Also Fast In His Simulated Car

Okay, one more thing. After winning for I believe the third time in his American Stock this season, 2009 Ocean Speedway Four Banger champion Matt Sotomayor was a guest on the Motor Sports Show with Tony Karis on Wednesday. Matt gained very little ground on seven time winner and point leader Billy Nelson, who finished second. Whether Matt can catch Nelson at this point or not, he needs to be on top of his game, or Matt Kile and second generation racer Nick Silva are sure to pounce on him in a close race for second.

While Matt is the top rookie in the American Stocks this year, the second generation racer has actually been racing on line in a simulated race car for years. In fact, some of his online championships came in the CRO Racing League, which Joe Martinez and I started not long after we started CRO in 2000 as the best darn racing news site in the state. Matt was fast, if a little bit cocky back in those early days, but when I came back and helped refire up that league six years ago, I was impressed with how much he had matured. I knew when he got his first race car that he would be a winner.

On Tony's radio show this week, Matt commented that he would really like to get into a Sprint Car. I would love to see that happen, and perhaps that could come together at some point. In the meantime, look for him to battle Nelson, Kile, Silva, Tony Olivera and the rest of the competorors for more wins before the season is done.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Good Night At The Races At Orland Speedway

Perhaps the best night of racing of the 2010 season took place Saturday night as the action resumed at Orland Speedway. The Wingless Spec Sprints were back in action, along with a solid turnout of Mini Trucks, Hobby Stocks and Mini Stocks. When the checked flag flew on another exciting evening of racing, it was Josh Jacobo (Wingless Spec Sprints), Keith Ross (Mini Trucks) and the hard charging duo of Rich Hood (Hobby Stocks) and Eric Hammond (Mini Stocks) collecting the victories.

The Wingless Spec Sprints rebounded this week as seven drivers competed in the popular division. A pair of racers from the Emery family were back in action for the first time since the season opener, and Dave Emery chased Josh Tucker across the line for a second place heat race finish. Pat Bisio was third in the heat race, but he was a feature scratch. A feature winner this season, Tucker continued his pursuit of a clean sweep with a Trophy Dash victory. However, it was four time division champion Josh Jacobo adding another feature win to his impressive Spec Sprint racing resume. Tucker settled for second. The third ranked driver in 2007, Don Emery, finished third in the feature, followed by newcomer John Hopkins, Dave Emery and Brian Kerby.

The Mini Trucks boasted a season high 11 truck field for this event, and they ran two heat races to qualify the four drivers for the Trophy Dash. Last week's feature winner, Richard Gale beat the combined Mini Truck/Mini Stock winner from last week, Dan Webster, in the first heat. Making his second start of the season, 2002 point runnerup Keith Ross won the second heat ahead of Clinton Earl. Earl won the Trophy Dash. Last time out, Ross finished a disappointing seventh, but he collected the feature victory on this occasion ahead of the hard charging Webster. Earl wrapped up a solid night in third as recent feature winner Jim Davis and the #22 truck completed the top five. Steven Woods was sixth ahead of Gale, Ross Vige, John Blevins, the #27 truck and Zack Webster.

Jimmy O'Reilly won the Hobby Stock Trophy Dash. At least five different drivers have enjoyed Main Event glory this season, and recent winner Rich Hood grabbed another win this week, followed by a driver with at least three second place finishes this season, Earl Adams. O'Reilly finished third as the #10x car and the #4 car completed the finishing order.

In Mini Stock action, the seven competitors all ran the one heat race, and Eric Hammond scored the victory ahead of Jarod Flower. Pole sitter Ken Johnson claimed Trophy Dash honors and provided some good competition for Hammond in the Main Event, but the two time winner Hammond would take the checkered flag in first. Johnson settled for second with Barbara Crain driving the #23 car to the final podium position in third. Joe Kneip finished fourth ahead of Flower, Don Runkle and Chad Arnold.

Next week, the track holds an Enduro Race and Destruction Derby. Regular racing resumes on August 7th with Wingless Spec Sprints, Mini Trucks, Hobby Stocks and Mini Stocks. A week later, the Dirt Modifieds will join those four divisions for their second appearance of the season.

These are NOT official points for Orland Speedway. To my knowledge, they are not keeping points this season. Using Antioch Speedway's Main Event point system (50, 48 46...), I took the Main Event finishes I had (a few are missing), just to get an idea how drivers might rank this season. Here's a look at the top five, but remember, they are not official.

Wingless Spec Sprints (6 Races) *

69-Josh Jacobo 284
74-Josh Tucker 228
7x-Brian Kerby 224
4xl-Pat Bisio 136
50-Don Emery 92

* At least 1 finish missing

Mini Trucks (8 Races)*

62-Dan Webster 360
97-Ross Vige 342
23-Richard Gale 314
00t-Tyler Pebley 240
5-Jim Davis 216

*1 Race Missing

Mini Stocks (8 Races)*

23-Don Runkle 318
86-Eric Hammond 242
93-Ken Johnson 192
82-Chad Arnold 170
14-Jarod Flower 168

* 1 race missing

Hobby Stocks (6 Races)*

12-Rich Hood 230
22-Earl Adams 192
2-Jake Van Tol 142
18-Brian Compton 138
44-Jimmy O'Reilly 136

* 2 races missing

LaLiberte, Gustafson, Dutra & Ryland Win Again At Antioch

I didn't have much information to work with, but I did what I could. I found some information and compared point listings from last week and this week. This is all unofficial. I debated whether to even bother, but I decided to go ahead and do it for whoever might give a darn at this point.

Another five division show entertained the crowd Saturday night at Antioch Speedway with some familiar faces collecting the victories. At the end of the night, it was Tommy LaLiberte (Wingless Spec Sprint), Mike Gustafson (Super Stocks), Patty Ryland (Four Bangers) and Travis Dutra (Mini Trucks) picking up the wins.

Jason Sneep grabbed the victory in the BCRA Midget Lites one appearance of the season ahead of Brian Corso, Dakota Albright, Joey Hoover and Zack Beard. The 11 cars ran two heat races with Sneep and Scott Kinney collecting the victories.

The big car count of the night belonged to the Wingless Spec Sprints, where 15 competitors were in action. They ran two heat races to set the grid for the night, and wins went to current point leader Tommy LaLiberte and 1999 division champion Dan Gonderman. LaLiberte continued his race towards the championship by holding off past champion, Jim Perry Jr. for his fifth feature win of the season. Gary Nelson was third, and Jeff Kindt and David Press finished in or near the top five. Press lost more ground to LiLiberte in the championship battle, now trailing by 30 points.

There were eight Super Stocks in action for this event, and the night started off well for fifth ranked Lloyd Cline, who won his first heat race of the season. Late starter Mike Gustafson, a three time champion at the speedway, picked up his second feature win of the season as he slowly gains ground on Cline for fifth in the standings. In the Main Event, Gustafson's closest rivals were this season's championship contenders, Mitch Machado and Larry Damitz, who finished second and third, respectively. Machado's lead over Damitz still sits at 14 points. Eric Berendsen, Fred Ryland and Jon Haney had top six finishes.

The Mini Truck field increased to seven trucks for this race, and Travis Dutra continued his dominance of the division with a heat race win and then another feature victory. Dutra's nearest rival, Ray Bunn, trails by 60 points. Ron Mayberry enjoyed his best finish of the season in second, propelling him into fifth in the standings, while Dan Wagner finished third. Wagner trails Bunn by 16 points for second in the standings. Despite rolling his truck, 2009 champion Gene Haney had a top five finish, as did Bunn.

The Four Bangers continue to have an interesting point battle. After missing a race for vacation, 2009 champion Patty Ryland dropped back to third in the standings, but she has steadily worked her way back towards the lead. 2009 runner up Ken Radabaugh won the heat race, but he was no match for Ryland, who held him off for the victory behind the wheel of her newly painted car. Mike Felt placed third in his first start as Devon DeOdosso and top five ranked Justin Silveira had top five finishes. Incoming point leader Dayna Andreesen was in action for the night but is not listed as having earned any points. Radabaugh now leads Ryland by 20 points.

Five divisions will be in action next Saturday night in a show headlined by Wingless Spec Sprints, Dirt Modifieds, Super Stocks, Hobby Stocks and Mini Trucks.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Looking Back: "The Big Dog" Ramie Stone

Ramie Stone #06 won the 2000 Street Stock championship at Merced Speedway. Photo by L&J Photography

Ramie Stone #06 won IMCA Modified four championships at Merced Speedway.
Photo by L&J Photography

When it comes to talking about the greats of Merced Speedway through the years, there are names that will immediately come to mind. Racers like Dennis Moomjean, Vern Willhoite, George Steitz, Ted Stofle and George Steitz are sure to come up from the 1960's and 70's. Doug Williams, Ray Morgan, Doug McCoun are a few who will be mentioned from the 1980's. Larry Folkner, Gordon Rodgers and Darren Thomas are a few who will surely be mentioned from the 1990's. Then, it really gets fun when you start talking about who was the greatest to race at the track. That, of course, is a matter of opinion.

But there are a few drivers from the last decade who deserve to be in that discussion, and one of those is the man they call "The Big Dog" and "Godzilla". He stood taller than about anybody in the pits, and behind the wheel of his green #06 car, he was hard to beat. That man is Ramie Stone, and he was part of the Stone Family invasion of valley racing that happened at the track in 1996. All four of the Stones went on to win at least one championship in their careers. Ramie became a champion in every division he competed. In 1996, Merced Speedway was in the second year of it's Little Truck division. Ramie and his brother Troy Stone were joined by cousins Paul Stone and Steve Stone.

That first season, he was eighth. A year later, his brother won the championship, while he was fourth behind Jack Stanford and cousin Paul Stone. A year after that, Ramie won the championship. While Troy and two time Merced champion Paul Stone had moved up to the IMCA Modified class, Ramie opted to go Street Stock racing in 1999, finishing second and topping the rookies that season. A year later, the Stones ruled the Street Stock division as Ramie won the Merced championship, while cousin Steve won the Chowchilla title. Ramie even ventured down to Chowchilla on occasion and won a feature there.

And Ramie would win several Main Events in his career. In 2001, he opted to go IMCA Modified racing, and he finished fifth, again topping all rookies in the class. It seemed like it didn't matter what kind of car you put him in, Ramie was going to find his way to the front of the pack. For the next two seasons, he dominated the IMCA Modified scene at Merced with back to back championships, ranking in the top five in the region, winning the IMCA State championship and even winning the DCRR State championship twice.

Having the honor of announcing the races at Merced during that time, I can tell you a win by him was something to see. While others were content to run down low on Chuck Griffin's smooth, dry slick 1/3 mile dirt oval, Ramie would put his car up on the outside and start driving his way to the front. It didn't matter where the green #06 car was starting, if things held together, it was going to the front of the pack. He continued to race at Merced for the rest of the decade.

In the most recent three seasons in which Ramie has chased points, he won championships in 2006 and 2008, and finished a close second to Garrett Steitz in 2005. He didn't chase points last season, but he was still a feature winner.

Looking at the impressive numbers of Ramie Stone, he won six championships at Merced Speedway among three divisions and ranked second twice, and he did all of this in 15 seasons of competition. He definitely belongs in the conversation of who is the best in track history at Merced Speedway, and even if you don't believe he's #1, it would be hard not to put him somewhere on the very impressive top ten list.

I'm not sure whether Ramie will be racing at Merced this season or in the future, but I can tell you if he does, watch out. This is a man who brings his best to the track, and he'd be almost certain to be a top contender on the quarter-mile dirt oval, no mater who he was racing against. Plus, he's always been one of the racers the fans enjoy watching at Merced Speedway.

No Results For Antioch Yet

Nothing is posted on the Antioch Speedway page as of yet as far as results. Jon K hasn't put his stuff up either, and no results are in the paper for the second straight week. At this point, I may not mess with anything as I'm so far behind on things now it messes with my schedule. Not sure why results couldn't have been posted Sunday morning like everybody else, but oh well. It's not really my problem now, is it?

Gaspar Photography did another great job with the photos, so it looks like at least 47 cars were there, maybe a few more? I count 15 Spec Sprints (Tommy Laliberte is in the winner's circle), 11 BCRA Midget Lites (Jason Sneep in the winner's picture), six Four Bangers (Patty Ryland with a new paint job), eight Super Stocks (Mike Gustafson) and seven Mini Trucks (not a clue who won, but it looks like the Haney truck rolled).

Merced has had excellent hype from right out of the gate with newspaper coverage all over, radio station crews at the track, TV station crews at the track. Results were posted on their page with a story a couple hours after the race, and the twitter account had some updates too.

Antioch had Jack.

So, my question to any Antioch racer is, how do you feel about that? Do you even care at this point? Does it mater? I'm not asking this to hate on Merced, because I love that the track is getting what it's getting. Just wondering about Antioch. I know it's just racing. There are bigger things in the world. There really are. But, once upon a time, it mattered who won at Antioch. It mattered who was doing what in the points. It mattered when somebody got their first heat win or top five. There were stories in the newspaper. There were people making an effort.

I'm just asking truthfully, not to dump on anybody. Please don't attack anybody. I'm not doing this for that. The reason I started posting here weekly with stories and hype was because I thought it was needed and that I could put out something to help spread the word.

So, I ask anybody who is racing or a fan there or wants to race there, how do you feel about things? What do you like? What do you not like? What needs improving? Is it okay with you that the man in charge runs two tracks and one of them seems to be getting all the attention? Be nice in your response.

I'll be honest. I don't like the fact that a man was brought in at Merced who seems to be getting things done, but at Antioch there is virtually no effort being made officially to spread the word. It seems wrong to me. I don't see how this can be. I'm not asking for the powers that be to be removed, though I know there are some who are. I am asking for the powers that be to do something about this. It's really not that hard. Spend the money and hire somebody.

We have battles in most of the divisions that are pretty close. Hype them. We have a great history at this track. Tell people about it. There are people in the stands interested in going racing. Show them why they should. There are many newspapers in the area, inform them about this place. Even if you hear no from them, keep after them about it. It is my belief that the racers and the fans deserve better than this, and NO, that does not mean I am advocating change at the top, just change in certain people doing certain jobs.

How do you feel about things? Is it okay with you? That's fine if you are. This isn't 1980 or 1990. It's 2010, and times have changed. Racing at Antioch Speedway used to bring excitement. It was looked forward to. People cared about what went on. Maybe apathy is the way things are now.

I don't believe for a minute that John doesn't care, or he wouldn't be investing in Merced and Antioch and he wouldn't have bought the rights to Racing Wheels Magazine. But if he doesn't get the right people in place, will it matter in the end?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Once More Into The Sport Mod Debate

Just sitting here not seeing any results from Antioch Speedway while most of the other tracks have reported already, and I noticed the Sport Mod Thread on the forum over at Late Model Racer had a question posted by learnlozinto (Mike Learn?). Now, maybe I'm just bored, I don't know. I'm not a huge advocate of this class as I'm still not convinced it won't divide an already hurting car count. Anyway, he posted this:

what would it take to get petaluma and antioch to run sport mods.....I have 2 chassis that would work for this......if petaluma or antioch wont do it then I know of a couple of asphalt tracks that would do it.....

Of course, Bap33, (Johnnie Baptista) posted a lengthy post, advocating IMCA sanctioning as usual. As John and Jim both had IMCA sanctioning on their Modifieds and dropped it, I just don't see that happening, but really, a good car count does not require that particular banner. For instance, Antioch has a slightly better UMP Modified car count than Bakersfield does with IMCA. The secret may be in the beter purse? I will aknowledge, however, that Watsonville and Santa Maria are doing quite well with IMCA. Though I'm not on the IMCA banner, I understand why some would be. I still think California needs something better than that, but this is another topic.

Johnnie did make an interesting statement in that post:

While we are at it, the IMCA 4bangers should be the companion class. Tracks are doing the "just like iMCA" thing to 4bangers and it will just keep the numbers low and the cars tied to particular tracks.

I disagree, and anyway, John was the first person to start this class in California without IMCA sanction. His hasty (to put it nicely) decision to drop the points from the class, which ultimately did it in, is the only reason it's not in the 20's now, in my opinion, but it should get better. The IMCA banner isn't needed here with all due respect. Show me an IMCA that actually cares about California and promotes that way, and I'll reconsider my stance, but they do not impress me. They are not even half the sanctioning body NASCAR was back when NASCAR actually cared about our little tracks. We need something better, but that (track unity) post will have to wait for another day.

Johnny also said:

I personally know 11 mod drivers in Merced County ready to follow the IMCA NSM rules right now. They just want some type of guarantee that a track wont just drop the sanction and change the rules once the class is built (ahem - like Antioch and Peteluma did with IMCA mods).

Okay, let's be honest here. IMCA didn't build anything at Antioch or Petaluma. John Soares Sr. is the man who actually started this clas in California in 1987, and he did it without IMCA. When he got into this deal, IMCA and NASCAR followed him. It took NASCAR a little longer. Once he started building a car count, he gave it a shot, even participated in a cool thing IMCA once did called the Great Western Classic. The only thing IMCA really did at Petaluma was cost a driver a championship on the stupid claim rule. "I can steal your motor for a mere $400." Get a real motor rule. It's not that hard. Wingless Spec Sprints anyone? Claims are for crybabies, in my opinion. I'm sure I'll piss somebody off with that opinion, but I've seen nothing but crap come from that claim in 20 years. It did not make things better.

As to Antioch, IMCA did NOTHING for car count there. NOTHING!!! NASCAR actually built that car count to the highest point it ever had, 30 or more cars per week for a few seasons and the most competitive point racing throughout the top 20 the division has EVER seen. Now, the racing on the track was an entirely different story. If you like weekly crash fests with ten cautions or more for a 30 lap race most weeks, the NASCAR Grand American Modified show at Antioch once Regional points were added to the equation would be for you. That's not to say there weren't some damn good drivers out there, though.

IMCA saved Merced Speedway. I will grant you that. The division was going nowhere until Chuck added the sanction, and he used it for everything it was worth. Sunday races that attracted top drivers from all over. It was a good thing. They seldom dropped below double digits and had a time when 16-20 cars raced per week. Not where Antioch or Petaluma was, but a decent show. In the end, even IMCA couldn't save that deal, but blaming it on IMCA wouldn't be fair. IMCA could have done the right thing a few years earlier when a certain track wanted in, but having a strong California has NEVER been on their agenda, in my opinion. Again, I know I will ruffle some feathers here, but it's just my opinion based on what I've seen and heard through the years.

If there are 11 cars in the area, bring them out. Look, it's very simple, when John Soares Jr. green lit the Spec Sprint deal back at the end of 1998, he did so after Don O'Keefe Jr. and I put the rules together and 12 racers committed to it. You claim you have 11, so what could it hurt to put a proposal together and go to John with it? If you have 11 cars, I guarantee you he will listen. Chances are good that you'll either get him to commit to IMCA or to not tweak any rules not associated with safety for a certain amount of time. If nothing else, you can say you tried. I don't see anything with the Sport Mod class at Merced being set in stone if a real proposal was there from the racers starting in 2011 and going forward.

Really, I thought I'd throw a few more thoughts in, because the answer to the question that started this post is real simple.

What would it take to get this class at Petaluma and Antioch?

Get the cars to Merced. NOW. You want John to notice, then get the cars. I don't know where Jim would stand at Petaluma, but if there was enough interest, I'm sure he would listen. Ford Cook is already building a car that should debut at Petaluma soon from what I've heard. But, John runs Antioch and Merced. If he sees enough cars out there putting on a good show at Merced, that has to increase the chances of a bay area track getting into this deal. I'm not a huge fan of it, but it could happen. John has taken chances on other classes in the past. If he see's ten or more cars at Merced before the season's end, that has to be a factor in any decision. So basically, a good car count at Merced can only help the bay area Sport Mod cause.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Five Division Show Will Be A Test Of Car Count At Antioch

Four of the track's regular division and the BCRA Midget Lites are on tap for Saturday night's show at Antioch Speedway. With all of the excitement down the road at Merced, it may seem like the 50 year racing tradition that is Antioch Speedway will get lost in the shuffle, but that is not the case. Actually, the grandstands were packed for last week's Golden State Challenge Series race.

I would love to see some of the hype effort that has been made at Merced lately be made at Antioch, because the track deserves it. This isn't to be a critic. John Soares Jr. has done some really amazing things this year, and he deserves credit for it. However, he seems to have hired some people who are already doing some amazing things to build the excitement at Merced. Isn't it time Antioch had the same? Just a thought.

No, I'm not lobbying for anything, but they can do better than what's there now. Don't you think?

Anyway, let's get to it. I'm a little worried about this one, and I'm trying to figure out who will produce the cars. It's definitely gut check time for a few divisions. You can't claim race fatigue at this point. Drivers have had a week off or more at this point.

They should make it into the 50's at least. It should be bigger than that really. I will put the Over/Under number at 52.

Wingless Spec Sprints (14), Super Stocks (10), Four Bangers (8), Mini Trucks (8), BCRA Midget Lites (12).

Contrary To Rumors, LaLiberte & Press Aren't The Only Spec Sprint Drivers

Tommy LaLiberte's recent win at Ocean Speedway moved him into a tie for second in points there and earned him an appearance on The Motor Sports Show with Tony Karis on Wednesday night. The man is probably in the top five or even top three of Wingless Spec Sprint drivers in the state. Some will argue whether he is #1, and after his four race win streak at Antioch, who could blame them? Two time feature winner David Press is no stranger to championships himself. At 20 points behind LaLiberte in the title chases at Antioch, it may be a bit early to start fitting Tommy for that championship jacket.

While past champion Jim Perry Jr. sits comfortably in third in the standings, a couple of up and coming racers have moved into the fourth and fifth spots as the division continues to create new stars. In fourth with a 22 point lead over fifth is Chuck Bradshaw. Bradshaw is also top ten ranked at Watsonville. Riding in fifth is Trevor Press. These are the top two newcomers in the class at the moment, and both have enjoyed recent top five success in the Main Event. Press actually started out in a Four Banger a few years back and was a Main Event winner at Antioch. Another division newcomer, Tyler Henriquez, is 14 points behind Press in seventh. Henriquez has some top ten feature finishes (finishing as high as sixth) and is a heat race winner as well.

One of the nice things about the Spec Sprint division is it continues to offer racers a reasonable way into Sprint Car racing, and it produces a field with a nice mixture of veterans and young up and coming racers. One racer who could be back in the field is one of the track's top five point runners of the past, Roy Fisher. Roy took a nasty, life threatening tumble on the front stretch last season, but he was at the track a couple of weeks ago hot lapping his race car. As one of the drivers who has supported this division the longest, he would certainly be a welcome addition if he shows up.

The Pure Stock Connection In The Super Stock division

At the top of the Super Stock standings, you will find a good battle raging on between Mitch Machado and Larry Damitz. Machado leads the division in feature wins and carried a 30 point into the last race. However, a flat tire for Machado and a second win of the season for the ageless veteran Damitz cut that margin down to 14. No doubt Machado, who spent years racing at Petaluma and watched Damitz win several championships there as well, is enjoying racing with him for this season's title. At 80 years old, Damitz is still going strong and proved that by winning his heat race and finishing third in the Main Event at Merced last Sunday in a surprise appearance there. Seeing Machado and Damitz battle every week is a definite highlight at the speedway.

But there are more drivers than them in this class, and if you look closely, you will see a Pure Stock connection in this division. Rookie Of The Year contender Fred Ryland won the Pure Stock crown last year in dominant fashion. About 34 points behind him, you'll find a past top five Pure Stock point runner and feature winner, Eric Berendsen. Eric is definitely fast in his #88 car, but though Ryland has two victories, the second generation racer Berendsen is still looking for his first. He does have some top three success, but he'd like to take it up a notch.

Todd Gomez and Michael Newman both started out in Pure Stocks, and Newman was a top ten point runner his first season. Both have won Street Stock championships and have looked fast in their appearances in the Super Stock division so far. Natalie Perry is also a past top ten Pure Stock point runner and has finished as high as second in the feature this season. Her absence last race cost her fifth, but it's likely she would have been passed for that position by Lloyd Cline anyway as he finished third in the feature.

The question will be whether a new name will be added to the feature winner's list this time. Jon Haney, a top ten ranked Dirt Modified racer last season, looked like he was headed for the win last time out, but a yellow flag bunched the field and provided Damitz the opportunity he needed to get the win. Haney settled for a solid, but likely disappointing, second. It will be interesting to see who shows up this week.

It's Nice To See That More Four Bangers Are starting To Show

Defending champion Patty Ryland leads the Four Banger division in wins and trails two drivers who have yet to win this season. She'd likely be leading now, but she missed a race. As it stands, Dayna Andreesen leads 2009 runnerup Ken Radabaugh by just four points with Ryland 20 points back and closing in fast. What Andreesen and Radabaugh would both like is to finally get a feature win this season. Both drivers have won heat races and finished as high as second in the Main Event.

With over 15 competitors to earn points, it's nice to see the division gaining a little ground. Divers like Jeff Browne, Devon DeOdosso and Laura Crabtree have made their first appearances in recent races, and as more cars start showing up, it's going to get even more interesting out on the race track. Despite a hard crash earlier this year, Dominic Myers continues to hang in there and is just five points behind Justin Silveira in the battle for fifth. Silveira is rapidly improving out there, and if he can improve on his restarts, he may be in line for a feature victory in the future.

In watching the races at Golden Triangle Speedway in Texas, I've noticed the Jr. Mini Stock class that has about a half dozen young teen aged competitors. It's a nice approach to getting young racers out to the track, where they can race against each other. Even if it's not a big car count there, it's still a nice concept to bring in young racers, plus a High School Racing program can be worked right in there. In any event, the Four Banger show will go on Saturday night at Antioch, and a double digit car count is entirely possible.

Where Have All The Trucks Gone?

Not that long ago, the Mini Trucks produced 14-16 truck fields, and things were getting interesting. After starting in double digits this season, count fell to just six last time out. Racers like Frank Rosa and Pete Paulsen haven't been seen in weeks. After winning two features early on, Tom Brown moved up to the Dwarf Cars and took his truck with him. The Mini Truck division appears to be falling apart, as it did in Merced after a good run of seven or eight seasons there. The trucks are out there, but will they show up for the next race?

In the meantime, Travis Dutra is on his way to winning the track championship as he also tops the winner's list. His closest rival is Mini Stock veteran Ray Bunn, who is still in search of his first win of the season and is 48 points back. Bunn may need that win soon as one time winner Dan Wagner is just 18 points behind him in third. The absent Brown still sits in fourth, waiting for Jerry Carpanello, Ron Mayberry and Dean Cline to pass him. The racing in the Mini Truck division can be good, but they need more trucks on the track to make it interesting.

BCRA Midget Lites Are Coming To Town

Mini Sprint racing has been a part of the scene at Antioch for nearly two decades, starting in the early 90's with the Northern Stars Mini Sprints and such stars as Ted Harrison, Bob Robicheaux, Mike Benson and Harley Van Dyke. The racing was good, and they brought a lot of cars to the track. As BCRA got into sanctioning Midget Lites and the NST' hit rough waters, the show still went on. One of the biggest stars to come out of the BCRA Midget Lites was a young leadfoot by the name of Brad Sweet. Brad seemed to win every time they came to Antioch for a while there before moving up to race Sprint Cars all over the country. In fact, Brad recently came back to Placerville to win the Sprint Car WTF Cup.

These days, some of the names at the top have changed, but the competitive fire burns just as brightly. Jason Sneep leads the championship charge by 59 points over Brian Corso. BCRA also keeps a car owner point list, and Corso leads Sneep's car owner Lonnie Lopez by 19 points. Scott Kinney, Richard Hoover and Dakota Albright round out the top five. It should be a double digit car count for the Midghet Lites, and the balance of the top ten in the standings coming into this race is made up of Craig Holsted, Doug Nunes, Joey Hoover, Rick Holbrook and Pete Paulson.

The group was last at Antioch in July of last season, and Sneep collected the victory over Doug Nunes and Chris Glass in a 13 car field. Nunes won the championship last season ahead of current point leader Sneep.

In Closing

With the Dirt Modifieds off and licking their wounds from the last time and Dwarf Cars and Hobby Stocks taking a much needed break, this will be a test for the rest of the track's regular divisions. Can they produce the cars? The Super Stocks and Four Bangers have been adding a few more cars as of late, but the trucks are struggling. The two open wheels classes should still be good for double digits and at least two heats. There's enough here to produce a good show, and if people step up a little and bring more cars, it will be even better. It should be interesting to see what happens.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Random Thoughts

I wasn't planning to write anything this week, but here I am again for another week. Once again we reach into the grab bag as we look at a few different things going on. We have Dwarf Cars racing in Turlock, Mike Cecil Memorial race at Watsonville, a lady looking for ten wins in a row at Marysville and more, so let's dive in.

Dwarf Cars Come To Turlock

We found out a few interesting tidbits about the Dwarf Car race at the fair in Turlock last Sunday. Reports we saw indicated the drivers were offered $200 per car to race, regardless of finishing position. It's basically an exhibition type race on a hastily made dirt oval track that's probably 1/10th of a mile. They are racing, but obviously not so hard that they risk crashing too hard. It's more about putting on a show for the fans who pack the area for the various motor sports events.

There were 12 cars in action, and we did catch results for the first of three heat races. Charlie "The Hammer" Correia won that heat with Neil Stinson passing Curt Jordan on the last lap for second. Alan Heeney was fourth. In the Main Event, Brett Barstow collected the victory ahead of Josh Hiatt. A driver named Duane (Didn't catch a last name, maybe Daniel?) was third ahead of Sam Westhorpe. Correia apparently tangled with the #3n car in the Main Event. I'm thinking Mike Corsaro was was probably racing there as well, but not sure who the other two racers were. Car count was up two from last year.

By the way, Correai won the Dwarf Car fair race in Turlock about a decade ago. Dwarf Cars and Legend Cars competed back then, as did Quads. This time around, the Dwarf Cars were part of a card that featured Monster Trucks. Being that he lived around the corner from the fairgrounds, I'm thinking Gary Jacob would have gotten a kick out of this race, but, knowing him, he likely would have skipped it to go to Merced Speedway.

Merced Speedway Gets Set For Round #2

Well, the Timmy Post Memorial Race may be off, but racing is still on at Merced Speedway. The appearance of over 60 cars last week made the opener a success. The Modifieds were boosted by the appearance of the McDaniel father-son duo. Randy McDaniel just retook the point lead at Chico that Friday night with a second place finish as he pursues another championship. Ryan McDaniel, meanwhile, came into Merced gunning for a rare three win weekend. Ryan held off his father to win the Modified race Friday at Chico, then jumped behind the wheel of Billy Knoop's car and won the Stock Car race Saturday at Marysville.

So, the Dirt Modifieds boasted a 16 car field for Merced's opener, including Ryan Porter and Alex Stanford, who are competing for the championship at Chowchilla, defending champion Jim DiGiovanni and past Merced champion Paul Stone. Paul's cousin Ramie Stone, a champion in three different divisions at Merced and probably the top driver at the track in the last decade, was not in the field. No word on whether Ramie intends to race this season, but he would definitely be a welcome addition. However, the 16 racers who did show in this division were definitely a welcome site.

Past Dirt Modified champion "Bullet" Bob Williamson was in action Sunday behind the wheel of the #00 Street Stock, and he ended up caught between a pair of #15 cars. The #15 of Chowchilla point leader Mike Shepherd was doing his usual thing and beating the competition, while Antioch title hopeful Larry Damitz made a surprise appearance and ended up third after winning a heat race. Back at the site of his first career feature win when he drive a Late Model in the early 90's, Mitch Enos finished fourth. With new track management at Merced, Roy Hart Jr. was back and finished fifth.

Merced boasts some of the best Street Stock drivers in the state, include past champions Tim Ragsdale, Darren Thomas and Randy Brewer, and though they weren't in action Sunday, it is hoped that they will be back in the near future. Meanwhile, two time defending champion Ricky Thatcher and his father Buddy Thatcher did compete as did second generation racer George Lefler Jr., whose father is a past champion at the track. It was indeed a good opener at the Speedway.

In an interesting bit of booking, the Dirt Modifieds, Hobby Stocks, Four Bangers and Sport Mods will be joined not by the Street Stocks, but the IMCA Stock Cars this week. I'm really not sure where this class runs in California, other than Giant Chevrolet Speedway in Hanford. There have been car counts as high 10 or 11 cars in Hanford this season, where Loren DeArmond has been the driver to beat. I believe one of the reasons Hanford went to this division in the last few years was in an effort to try and build up a car count. Whether Merced might get on board with this class or it's just a special appearance remains to be seen.

Once one of the top drivers in the non Camaro Pure Stock division, Shane Hausman returned and won the Hobby Stock season opener ahead of second generation racer Raul Rodriguez Jr. and the rapidly improving Ryan Hart. The Hobbys delivered 12 cars for the opener, while Four Bangers produced a similar car count. The driver taking the win in that race was Watsonville racer Dan McCabe. I do recall a Dan McCabe racing Stock Cars at San Jose Speedway in the 1980's, but I'm not sure if there is a relation.

Wrapping up, the Sport Mod buzz continues to get louder as drivers push for this class in more venues. Chowchilla Speedway had seven cars at their most recent race and now have seen ten different cars compete. This means double digit cars counts are possible, and if that starts happening, you have to wonder if Antioch or even Petaluma might get on board. Drivers fighting for the cause should also consider that John Soares Jr. now runs both Antioch and Merced, and he will be paying attention to the numbers. The reason Petaluma comes into the debate is former Mini Stock racer Ford Cook, who intends to debut a Sport Mod legal car in the Dirt Modified field at Petaluma in early August.

So, Round #2 of racing comes to Merced Sunday, July 25th. Promoter John Soares Jr. is starting to hear something he used to hear in his early days as the man in charge at Antioch, praise from the racing community. I'll add to that, because he and his entire crew did an amazing job getting Merced up and running on the old quarter-mile clay oval in just a couple month's time. Sure, there's work to be done, but who would have thought things would have gotten this far so quickly?

Mike Cecil Memorial Race Friday Night

Ocean Speedway is not likely to jump on the bandwagon for the Sport Mod class, but for good reason. Set aside how strong some of the divisions are there, the IMCA Modifieds are still solid and likely to produce another B Main Friday night. The IMCA sanctioning is working well for them as they do get visitors from other tracks, and their drivers go to places like Santa Maria, Victorbville, Bakersfield and Ventura for IMCA points.

On Friday night, the IMCA Modifieds will run a 50 lap race in honor of Mike Cecil. Cecil was a second generation racer who had big shoes to fill as his father Jerry Cecil was a past Sportsman champion and won more Sportsman features at the track than anybody. But, Mike did make a name for himself, winning a Street Stock championship and winning the big 100 lap race the track had for that division twice. Fact was, Mike loved the 100 lap race, and it was something he looked forward top every year.

He also became one of the track's more popular and respected drivers, and his passing in 1997 hit a lot of people hard. Track management at the time renamed the 100 lap race the Mike Cecil Memorial Race in his honor. The event continues to be a "must race" for the all of the racers, and a race that everybody wants to win. Yes, there will be points in a hotly contested championship battle and extra money, but just winning this one is a career highlight for anybody.

Less than 40 points separate point leader Brian Cass, defending champion Kenny Nott Jr., Victorville point leader Larry Hood, Michael Dalton and Cody Burke. The pits are likely to be filled with cars, causing the need for a B Main, and that means these five drivers will need to bring their A Game to this one.

Also on tap Friday at Ocean Speedway will be the Ocean Late Models, Dwarf Cars, American Stocks and Four Bangers. These divisions all put on a good show, so this would be the perfect time to check out a race at Ocean Speedway in Watsonville.

Dirt Mods At Placerville

Up north, Placerville will be racing Dirt Modifieds. The division is a regular class at Chico on Friday nights, where Randy McDaniel and Darin Ruley are having a good battle for the championship. McDaniel has won several championships in his career, but this would be Ruley's first in this division if he can make up the nine point deficit on McDaniel. The Placerville race is a special event, but most of the Chico regulars are anticipated for this race as well as a few visitors. Placerville used to have point racing for this division in the past, and Antioch Speedway Hall Of Famer Darryl Shirk is one of the past champions there in this division. The Placerville race will pay $800 to win.

Placerville's headliner that night will be the Hunt Magneto Spec Sprint Series with a car count in the 20's anticipated as Sprint Car veterans Terry Schank Jr. and Billy Wallace battle for that championship. Also in action will be the Pure Stocks and Limited Late Models. The track had run what they called Pro Stocks for years, but switched over to a Limited Late Model rule set similar to that of Ocean Speedway. It's generally an 8-12 car show. The division has been booked several times at Chico, but drivers have been slow to support that effort there. In fact, a race for this Friday night has been canceled.

This will be a key we4ekend for the Hunt Magneto Spec Sprint Series as they will be a part of Chico's open wheel night that also includes 410 Sprints and ASCS Midgets. The track has booked the new ASCS Midget effort for several races this season, and the last race saw a season high eight cars show up with Rick Young collecting his first win.

Beat Misty For Me

On the Sprint Car Fan forum, somebody put up a bounty of $500 to anybody who could snap Misty Castleberry's win streak cleanly. Castleberry has dominated the action in the Mini Stock class at Marysville with nine feature victories. The Mini Stocks were added to Saturday's Golden State Challenge 410 Sprint Car Series race to make up for a rain out. According to the track's recent press release, a tenth straight win for the current point leader and defending champion would be a new track record. So the question is, can anybody beat Misty Castleberry? And you thought the GSC Sprint Cars were the only reason to go see this race. It should be a good show at Marysville.

Orland Speedway Still Hanging In There

On the Sprint Car Fan forum, there's been some talk about Orland Speedway. Some people are even offering help, including one person who offered to donate new clay for the track if they could pay for it to be hauled. The track's Mini Trucks, Mini Stocks and Pure Stocks have made it for all the shows, though car count is a little less than hoped for. What is nice is that several drivers have been winners in all divisions this season. As an added feature to give the fans one more race to watch, the Trucks and Mini Stocks ran a combined feature last week. All feature winners last week picked up their first wins of the season, which hopefully will provide some incentive for other drivers to get out and race.

If you're keeping track, Ryan Compton (Hobby Stock), Richard Gale (Mini Truck) and Don Runkle (Mini Stock) collected the regularly scheduled feature victories, while Dan Webster won the combined Mini Stock/Truck race.

The track has been trying to keep the Mini 4 cylinder Modified division alive. This 4 Cylinder version of Dirt Modifieds had a good run in the last decade and even ran some races head to head with the group from Lakeport at one time. As the cars at Marysville are a little more modified than the Orland Mini Stocks, those drivers have run with the 4 Cylinder Modified class when they've visited with the track's Mini Stocks encouraged to run if they want to.

The division that has fallen on hard times in recent weeks in the Wingless Spec Sprint class. Over ten cars have competed this season, includimng eight on opening night, but it appears as if not enough cars have shown up to race the last two events. This, coincidentally enough, follows on the heels of Ralph Jacobo's departure as a track official. Whether this has anything to do with things is unknown to this writer, though two Jacobo cars had appeared at most of the events this season.

One fan of the division appeared appeared on the forum recently and pointed out that a five car field races for $250 to win in this division, hoping to stir up some support. I'm curious what that would be to start as most of these drivers would have to tow a good distance from out of town, and that is a factor in getting them to come. I've always appreciated how Orland was the first track to follow Antioch and start it's own class, and I envisioned a day when this effort could have been involved with any future multi track series, maybe even the Hunt Series. However, car count has to get back at least to where it was a few seasons ago.

This might be a good time for the track to call a meeting with the drivers at a local puzza parlor to discuss things going forward. I know the cars are still up there in this class, and this could help put things back on track. In fact, it might not be a bad idea to do this for all divisions in the interest of ending the season strong and building things up for next year.

At any rate, I'm hoping for the best for Orland. This is a neat little race track that gives fans and racers something fun to do on any given Saturday night. Racing resumes at Orland this week with all of the regular classes in action.

Chowchilla Speedway Resumes Saturday Night Racing

The show goes on at Chowchilla Speedway as Dirt Modifieds, Street Stocks, Hobby Stocks and Four Bangers, the back bone of the track's schedule, are all in action. The battle between Alex Stanford and Ryan Porter will likely continue in the Dirt Modifieds, but if these two slip up even a little bit, Andrew Krumm is right there to try and stake a claim on the point lead. These four divisions would be enoigh to put on a show as it is, but there's more.

The Vintage Supermodifieds will be in action as well. These cars will put people in mind of Supermodified racing from the 60's and 70's, and racers like Everett Edlund and LeRoy Van Connet are expected top be among a field of 10-12 cars. This show is sure to be a good one, and it's great to know that classes like the Sportsman division, the Hardtops and Supermodifieds are still around to give people a taste of what racing was like in the past.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Rivera Continues Climb Towards Antioch Point Lead

The Dwarf Car division ran a show in conjunction with the Golden State Challenge Series Sprint Car race Saturday night at Antioch Speedway. Despite missing a race, five time champion Ricardo Rivera continues his climb towards the Dwarf Car point lead at a rapid pace. Rivera gained even more ground with his fifth feature victory of the season.

The Golden State Challenge Series Sprint Car feature event went to young Kyle Larson ahead of Brent Kaeding, Bobby McMahon, Ryan Kaplan and Evan Suggs. The 19 cars ran three heat races with wins going to Brent Bjork, Larson and Andy Gregg, while McMahon won the dash. Despite not winning a feature this season, 13 time series champion Kaeding holds a slim four point lead over Larson with three races remaining.

There were 16 Dwarf Cars in action, and they ran two heat races. Incoming point leader Nick Squatritto won his heat race with Tony Carmignani grabbing second from Rivera, who settled for third. Past champion Ed Johnson outdueled Tom Brown to win the second heat race.

Only 12 points separate Squatritto, Rivera and Jerry Doty in the track's closest point battle. Rivera continued his heat race battle with Carmignani in the Main Event, but this time, Rivera came out the victor. The top three finishers received plaques as top five ranked Clayton Dortzbach enjoyed one of his better nights in third. Doty kept in the championship battle with a fourth place finish as Dan Liston had one of his better nights in fifth. Completing the top ten were Joel Osias, Squatritto, Charlie Correia, Mike Corsaro and Chris Lloyd.

Regular championship racing resumes at Antioch Speedway next Saturday night with a five division show featuring Wingless Spec Sprints, Super Stocks, Mini Trucks, Four Bangers and BCRA Midget Lites.

New Feature Winners At Orland Speedway

Racing resumed on the one-fifth mile clay oval at Orland Speedway Saturday night. When the checkered flag flew on the Main Events, it was Brian Compton (Hobby Stock), Richard Gale (Mini Truck) and Don Runkle (Mini Stock) collecting the victories. After the Mini Stock and Mini Trucks ran, a combined feature was run with Dan Webster picking up the win in that race. All four drivers collected their first feature wins of the season.

Brian Compton has had a fast car lately and won a Pure Stock Trophy Dash not too many weeks ago. In the heat race, Compton finished second to Earl Adams. Adams was looking for a win after placing second in last week's feature, but it was Compton grabbing his first win of the season, forcing Adams to again settle for second. A #3 car(possibly Bob Bennett?) was third ahead of a #4 car (driver's name not abailable). Last week's winner, Rich Hood, ended up fifth.

In Mini Truck action, Tyler Pebley was looking to repeat his feature winning performance of last week and got things started off with a heat race win ahead of Ross Vige. However, the Main Event produced another new winner as Richard Gale held off Pebley for the win. Vige brought it home third ahead of Dan Webster, Wendy Miller and Steven Woods.

A feature winner earlier this year, Eric Hammond won the Mini Stock heat race ahead of Don Runkle. Runkle is a heat winner this year and has finished as high as second in the Main Event, but he finally grabbed a feature win on this night ahead of Preston Irvin, Jess Garland and Hammond.

The track gave all of the Mini Trucks and Mini Stocks a chance to race in a combined Main Event, but though all of the trucks chose to compete, only Runkle entered from the Mini Stocks. Like Runkle, Dan Webster has won a heat race and finished as high as second in the Main Event, but Webster would collect the victory in this special feature with Runkle wrapping up a good night in second. Gale finished third ahead of Vige, Miller, Pebley and Woods.

Wingless Spec Sprints were on the card, but it appears as if nobody came out to race. For next Saturday, the track hosts Wingless Spec Sprints, Mini Stocks, Mini Trucks, 4 Cylinder Modifieds and Hobby Stocks.

Thoughts On Merced Speedway Season Opener

Merced Speedway is back, and so far most of what's being said about things is pretty positive. I'm happy to hear that. I'm not going to be doing a race review of this event. Why? Mike Adaskaveg is handling publicity for the track, and I, for one, think that's a good thing. Since that is the case and he has released a press release from the season opener, I will let him do what he's paid to do. I'm happy to see the track has a publicity director who seems to know what he's doing. Every track should have one.

For those curious about the finishes. here are some results:

Dirt Modified
Main Event: Alex Stanford, Randy McDaniel, Chris Shannon, Ryan Porter, Derek Colvin. Heat Winners: Randy McDaniel, Ryan McDaniel.

Super Stock
Main Event: Mike Shepherd, Bob Williamson, Larry Damitz, Mitch Enos, Roy Hart Jr. Heat Winners: Larry Damitz, George Lefler Jr.

Valley Sportsman
Main Event: Tim Prothero, Mike Shearer, Mike Hauseman, Mike Henault, Donny Shearer.

Hobby Stock
Main Event: Shane Hauseman, Raul Rodriguez, Ryan Hart, Shannon Porter, Danny Van Tassel. Heat Winners; Shane Hauseman, Ryan Larimer.

Four Banger
Main Event: Dan McCabe, Mike Pickering, Dustin Donathan, Greg Mead, Ashlee Cole.

It wasn't the 80 cars John predicted, but it wasn't the 40-50 I predicted either. From what I'm hearing, there were 16 Dirt Modifieds, 16 Super Stocks, 12 Hobby Stocks 11 Four Bangers and 6 Valley Sportsman. That's at least 61 cars and a nice opener for the track. I'm one who wants every car you can get, but this was probably about right for an opener in which they needed to put the new quarter-mile through it's paces. Too many cars and it could be a mess, but this gave four of your divisions two heats and a main with enough time for track prep to handle things without taking up too much time.

I'm hearing the racing was good. The track needs some tweaking, but that's to be expected. That will be handled in the weeks ahead. What was important was the show went on, and people have racing in Merced once again. There is a 2010 season after all, and who thought that would happen a few months ago?

There were some names I thought or hoped to see in the field that weren't. Much of the field has been racing at Chowchilla this season with some surprise visitors thrown in there. The reason this is important is because you want to know who will be there after the novelty of a track reopened wears off and it's back to business as usual. Chowchilla will be running their main classes next Saturday (they didn't last week), so who will be coming to Merced on Sunday?

Next week was originally scheduled as the Timmy Post Memorial race, but now I see that has been removed. I'm not surprised to see that. Some things will NEVER change, but the intentions were honorable in my opinion. I said it before and will say it again, they should have contacted the Stofle family about bringing THE race of races back to Merced. Maybe we will see a Ted Stofle Classic at Merced next year?

So, who will be racing in the next few weeks? That is the question, and I hope there's not a big drop off of racers. That is why I felt it was important for certain drivers to be back in the pits again. Maybe they will begin appearing. I certainly hope so. I also hope the lack of IMCA on the Modifieds doesn't hurt things in the long run. Up until last year, IMCA worked well with Merced. Time will tell, but I'm hoping for the best. From what I've heard, there was a good turnout of fans looking for some good racing.

It appears the Tom Sagmiller question has been quietly answered. He's helping with the track prep and answering questions on the internet for John Soares Jr., who doesn't like to do much talking on the net. But believe me, he is looking, and I hope he's pleased that the racers have been behind him so far. This is sort of how it was when John stepped into Antioch. Though there were critics (there always are), there were a lot of people pulling for him to be successful. I hope he can inspire people the way he did back then. The first couple of years at Antioch were pretty amazing.

And I will again give credit to John and Donna Soares for stepping in and reviving Merced Speedway. I highly doubt there would be racing there otherwise, at least this year. I hope people remember that, and I also hope it's not forgotten that racers are pulling for John. There WILL be critics and people who are just negative in attitude, but most will be pulling for John and Merced Speedway. I also know how a few very vocal negative people can get to a person and effect their attitude. What is needed now is positivity on ALL sides.

Merced Speedway has more potential than some may realize, and John knows this. Somebody asked on one of the forums about Late Models coming to Merced again in the future. Knowing John, I believe that is one of the intentions. In addition to Late Models, I believe he will also pursue Sprint Cars. So, yes, there is a lot of potential here. It will be interesting to see how things go this year, but I will say I am pulling for Merced Speedway. I remain a fan of that race track and it's drivers.

In closing, I read the comment in the latest release about the Sportsman division. I just want to say there is NOTHING wrong with being a nostalgia division. Yes you can be a nostalgia division AND race hard. It is possible. The Hardtops do it at Antioch. I guarantee you when Terry DeCarlo, Tom Thompson and Dan Williams are out there, they are racing. I love the Sportsman division and the Hardtop division. The first division I ever saw race was the Sportsman class, and I have loved it ever since. I was bummed for a few years after it was dropped at Antioch.

I say, embrace the nostalgic past and be proud of it, while being a division that races hard. I'd also love to see more cars come out. I believe there are probably somewhere between 16-20 cars in the area, so let's get them out there.

But, you know, if the track were looking for Hardtops, I'm sure the Okie Bowl guys could deliver the cars if the Nor Cal guys didn't want to come out and play. Better yet, maybe a clash between the two groups?

Anyway, next race for Merced Speedway is Sunday, July 25th. Dirt Modifieds, Sport Mods, Hobby Stocks, 4 Bangers and IMCA Stock Cars. I'm assuming it's the IMCA Stock Car drivers from Hanford, where Loren DeArmond has been winning. They have 12 or so cars, so it will be interesting so see who comes out to play. I'll be looking forward to Make's press releases as the season moves along.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Merced Speedway Ready For Season Opener On Sunday

Come One, Come All

To Merced Speedway
Where Action Is The Attraction.
Gates Open Again On Sunday, July 18

A few photos I took They are actually from my vintage collection of pictures from 1983-1986.

Some of the Merced racers who came to Antioch. From the top, though based in the Watsonville area, Doug McCoun #(54) called Merced his home track on Saturdays. Doug was the 1983 Merced Stock Car champion and would win back to back NASCAR Regional titles in 1985-1986. The #23m car of Billy Corn from the famed Corn family that has long supported racing at Merced. Billy was 14th in Stock Car points in 1983 and 7th in 1984. The #47m of Merced Street Stock star Gary Larimer. Gary was runner up in points in 1982 and fifth in 1983.
Keith Van Hounten #35m was third in Merced Stock Car points in 1983 after being the Street Stock point runnerup in 1981. He went on to race with the Southwest Tour, became one of the top car builders in the area and won a Sportsman championship. Another driver based in the Watsonville area who proudly called Merced his Saturday night home track was Ray Morgan #(20). Ray won the 1984 Stock Car championship, the same year he was second in NASCAR Regional points. A champion in Stock Cars in the 70's, George Steitz #7x was fifth in Stock Ca points in 1985 and would be a champion at Hanford later in the decade.
Andy Ferris #33m was 7th in Stock Car points in 1985 and sixth a year later. He won the Antioch season opener in 1986 and later went on to become a top Sprint Car competitor from the area. Doug Williams #1m won back to back Stock Car titles in 1981 and 1982, winning the 1982 NASCAR Regional title. He later went on to become a champion in Mini Sprints and Dwarf Cars. Larry Folkner #7m was 4th in Stock Car points in 1983 and 6th in 1984. He went on to become a many time champion in IMCA Modifieds.

Welcome Back Merced Speedway

Back in the day, I used to look forward to the days when the big Stock Car shows came to Antioch. The 100 lappers or double point races sometimes brought more (circle) cars from Watsonville, m cars from Merced and the guys who didn't have to run a letter after their number from San Jose. The good old days. That was the way for years. It really didn't even require a "special" race to bring in the out of towners. If a track didn't have a race that night, some of the drivers would just load up and come for a visit. The rules were such that it happened every year, plus you had those "State" point races.

Yes, Watsonville drivers won a lot, but those drivers from Merced would come to Antioch and win as well. Grant Ford came to town in his Street Stock in 1980 and won. About 1986 or 87, Jeanette Gomes collected a win. At the 1986 season opener, a future Sprint Car star named Andy Ferris got a win. Watsonville based racers Doug McCoun and Ray Morgan raced regularly at Merced, but they came to Antioch on occasion and left town with the winner's purse. Some people don't realize how good some of the Merced racers were. The fist NASCAR Regional champion was Merced star Doug Williams.

It remains true to this day that the Merced area has some of the best drivers in the state. Drivers like Ramie Stone, a champion in three divisions at Merced, Randy Brewer, Tim Ragsdale, Darren Thomas and Ricky Thatcher (All four Street Stock champions), Marshall Weaver and Raul Rodriguez Sr. (two more champions who came up from the Hobby Stock ranks), Mark Odgers and his daughter Marissa Odgers (both champions at the track). And that's only a small sampling of the top drivers at the track in the last ten years. There's more where they came from.

When last we left Merced Speedway, Randy Brewer won the last Street Stock Main Event with questions as to whether or not that would be the final race ever at the beloved race track. The good news is, the speedway will celebrate 60 years of racing when the 14 race schedule kicks off Sunday with a program featuring Dirt Modifieds, Street Stocks, Hobby Stocks, Four Bangers, Valley Sportsman and Mini Trucks. They will compete on a newly reshaped and resurfaced quarter-mile clay oval. It's the first time they have raced on the quarter-mile track in nearly two decades. New track records will be set.

Last season, things sort of unraveled for the track by the end of July, and it was all down hill from there. That July race, which I believe was the night of the Timmy Post Memorial race, was the final time of the year that IMCA Modifieds, Street Stocks and Hobby Stock each reached double digits on the same night. Ramie Stone won the IMCA Modified race over Randy Brown and Mike Villanueva. Michael Baballe won the Street Stock race over the father-son duo of Buddy Thatcher and Ricky Thatcher. The Hobby Stock race went to Tommy Bostic over Marshall Weaver and Rich Altamirano. Other wins that night went to Marissa Odgers (IMCA Sport Mod), Greg Evans (Valley Sportsman) and Shawn Bryant (Limited Modified). By the way, the Timmy Post Memorial race is slated for July 25th this year.

Though the previous management's era ended on a low note, they did have a good run of 25 years with plenty of positives to look back on. As Chuck & Marylee Griffin walk away, they can take heart that the show will go on under new management.

John & Donna Soares enter the picture with 12 years of experience running Antioch Speedway, and many accomplishments achieved there with an eye towards revamping things at Merced to take that track to the next level. No major changes have been made as far as divisions being run. The big change is switching the track from the 1/3 mile clay oval back to the inside quarter-mile clay oval. More clay has been brought in and more banking in the turns. For most in the field on Sunday, July 18th, this will be their first experience racing on the smaller track.

The other change is the track will no longer be IMCA sanctioned after spending over 15 seasons with that sanctioning. The Modifieds and Sport Compacts (Four Bangers) were the two classes running under the IMCA banner, which helped provide incentive for many top drivers from out of town to visit through the years. While it's not expected to have any effect on the Four Bangers, some will wonder what effect it may have on the Modifieds. One of the area's biggest boosters for IMCA, past IMCA State champion Johnnie Baptista, didn't compete last season but remains a vocal supporter of IMCA.

The championship last season went to Jim DiGiovanni, who actually didn't compete that much as the season made it's stretch run. The three who did race the most down the stretch in the slim fields were Mark Odgers and the Bay Area based duo Willie Frychman and Rick Rogers. Odgers ended up third in points behind William Egleston, while Rogers and Frychman completed the top five in the standings. Ramie Stone, Bob Williamson and Jimmy Lust, all of whom have won championships at the track in the last ten seasons, were top ten ranked, and they are three of the biggest local names in the field. While we have seen Williamson in action down the road at Chowchilla this season, we haven't seen much of Stone or Lust. Support from these drivers, and others who have been part of things in recent years will be important to the success of the track.

Ricky Thatcher closed the 2009 season with another championship, and it's anticipated that the Mariposa based racer will be in action again this season. Ricky won the title by a wide margin ahead of Jeremy Hoff as George Lefler Jr. was a close third. Lefler and Thatcher both have raced down the road a bit this season as did fourth ranked Bob Williamson, who drove the #00 car of Bob Terry. Buddy Thatcher was fifth, and I don't believe he has raced this year.

Two families who have been a big part of things at Merced in the last decade are the Shelton family and the Rodriguez family. Ty Shelton wrapped up one of his better seasons in sixth and was a feature winner last season. His brother Chris Shelton also raced and was 11th. Though the Shelton's are far from a high dollar team, they managed to field at least one car throughout the last decade, if not three or four cars. If they have raced this year, they haven't raced much, but hopefully that changes when the gates open at Merced. There were 21 point earners last season, including veterans Tim Ragsfdale, Darren Thomas and Randy Brewer, all of whom haven't raced much this year if at all. Tee Street Stock class at Merced has had a respectable run over the last decade, and it will be interesting to see who gets on board this season.

Rich Altamirano, who raced at Watsonville for several years, went down with the ship at Merced, and his continued support of the cause earned him the points to win championships in two divisions. Rich won the Hobby Stock crown by nearly 100 points over Ray Christensen as Tommy Bostic was a distant third ahead of Brandon Owens and Brandon McCollum. Most of these drivers haven't raced much this season. As with the Street Stocks, 21 Hobby Stocks earned points last season. While some of these drivers have raced elsewhere this year, many have not. Past Hobby Stock and Pure Stock champion Raul Rodriguez and his son Raul Jr. were among the field last year, and both would be welcome additions this year. Who will be racing this year is the question, but there are plenty of cars out there.

On the schedule for their fifth season will be the Four Bangers. Last season, 17 drivers earned points, and second generation racer Marissa Odgers captured the division championship. Marissa has been racing in this division at Chowchilla, but she also recently made her first start in a Sport Mod. Curtis Thornhill, Steve Johnson, Alysan Widick and Opie Donaldson made up the balance of the top five in the standings, but they haven't raced much, if at all, at Chowchilla this year. Donaldson has moved out of the area.

Last season was the best year yet for this class at Merced in terns of total cars competing, and judging from the fact that some two dozen cars have competed at Chowchilla this season so far, it looks like there are even more cars in the area. The economy entry level class is actually a good fit for the area and could turn out to be a big car count at the track. Just who will be racing is anybody's guess, but there should be a decent car count to get things going.

In 1999, Merced Speedway reintroduced the Valley Sportsman division to the area, and 12 seasons later, people are still racing. The championship battle in this division last year was close until drivers stopped coming at the end of July. It looked at that point as if Tim Prothero or Mike Hanault might have a good shot at the title, but both stopped racing to fall to second and third, respectively. Rich Altamirano continued to show up and earn points, becoming the division champion at season's end. Don Epps and Mike Shearer completed the top five as 12 drivers earned points. Altamirano and Epps haven't raced this year, but the other top five point earners have been racing at Chowchilla. The drivers have a chance to come back to the track that gave this division it's second chance, and their first opportunity is Sunday.

Booked for some races this season will be the Sport Mod division, meaning this will be their fifth season at Merced Speedway. I believe Merced may have been the first track in California to start this class, and Shawn Bryant won his second straight championship last season, not too far ahead of Mike Medrano. John DiGiovanni and Duane Short made up the top four as the only point earners in the class. Bryant continues to race at Chowchilla this year, DiGiovanni has moved up to IMCA Modifieds at Watsonville and the other 2 haven't raced too much this season. Chowchilla has now seen ten different cars compete. There has been talk that some Victorville area racers are considering a trip to run Chowchilla and Merced on the last weekend in September as this class continues to try and earn some respectability in it's fifth season.

Merced will also try some new things for the track this season, including Mini Trucks, which race Sunday, Dwarf Cars, IMCA Stock Cars and Wingless Spec Sprints. I don't now who in the area has a truck these days, but Merced ran this division for several years and it brought several new drivers into racing. Dwarf Cars actually raced for a few seasons in the early 90's, and Merced helped launch the oldest Dwarf Car organization in California, NCDCA. It's likely that the track will see cars from Antioch, the Bay Area Dwarf Cars and perhaps a few drivers from NCDCA when this class comes to town. The IMCA Stock Cars run at Hanford, which I believe was the first track to bring in the IMCA sanctioned class to California. They have about 10-12 cars, and I'm guessing those will be the drivers who come for the first race July 25. As for the Wingless Spec Sprints, there are probably 6-10 cars in the area, though the racers seem to be getting discouraged with Chowchilla. This will be their chance to make a statement for the class, but I'm also guessing the track is hoping to see visitors from Antioch, Watsonville and possibly tracks like Petaluma and Marysville as well.

Sunday will be the time to get it all going again when Merced Speedway reopens as a quarter-mile clay oval. Dirt Modifieds, StreetStocks, Hobby Stocks, Four Bangers, Valley Sportsman and Mini Truck are in action. I would anticipate 40-50 cars will be there, and if they are in that ball park, it's not bad for a mid season opener. On the 25th of July, the track runs the Timmy Post Memorial Race.

So, the good news is Merced Speedway is back. People thought it was over, but the powers that be would not let it end that way. Lots of work has been done by John Soatres Jr. and his staff to get things ready, and the show will go on. The fans and racers have another opportunity to go out there and have fun at Merced Speedway. It opened in 1950 and 60 years later, it's still going strong. How many other dirt tracks in California can make that claim?

Final 2009 Merced Speedway Points

IMCA Modified

Pos Driver Car # City, State Points Behind
1 James DiGiovani 75X Morgon Hill Ca 329.00 Leader
2 William Egleston 15 Atwater CA 241.00 -88
3 Mark Odgers 57MO Mariposa CA 190.00 -139
4 Rick Rogers 52G San Pablo Ca 168.00 -161
5 Will Frychaman 25F Oakland Ca 159.00 -170
6 Robert Williamson 19 Merced CA 106.00 -223
7 Ramie Stone 06 Winton CA 105.00 -224
- Jimmy Lust 77 Mariposa CA 105.00 -224
9 Hank Silva 57R Atwater CA 98.00 -231
10 Ray Mayer 81 North Fork CA 66.00 -263
11 Andrew Odgers 57 Mariposa Ca 65.00 -264
12 Chris Harrell 105
64.00 -265
13 Karl Rose 5R Merced ` 63.00 -266
14 John DiGiovani 75 Morgan Hill CA 62.00 -267
- Ivan Scorsur 29 Raymond Ca 62.00 -267
16 Randy Brown 16B Chowchilla CA 39.00 -290
17 Mike Villanueva 69M Atwater Ca 38.00 -291
18 Ryan Larimer 47M Merced CA 37.00 -292
19 Cody Burke 20 Salinas CA 35.00 -294
20 Jeremiah Vanscoy 12 Typman Ca 33.00 -296
- Evan Craig 17K CA 33.00 -296
22 Derek Colvin 21C Merced Ca 32.00 -297
23 Tony Hornyak 11 Merced Ca 31.00 -298

Street Stocks

Pos Driver Car # City, State Points Behind
1 Ricky Thatcher 61 Mariposa Ca 664.00 Leader
2 Jeremy Hoff 5 Copperopolis c 523.00 -141
3 Geoge Lefler Jr. 71X Waterford Ca 507.00 -157
4 Robert Williamson 00 Merced CA 466.00 -198
5 Buddy Thatcher 88 Marisposa CA 357.00 -307
6 Ty Shelton 4M Merced Ca 338.00 -326
7 John Murrieta 46 Merced Ca 197.00 -467
8 Michael Baballe 3M Hilmar CA 163.00 -501
9 Sandra Sandoval 3 Merced Ca 151.00 -513
10 David Affonso 9 Los Banos CA 133.00 -531
11 Chris Shelton 8,3,46S Merced CA 102.00 -562
- Robert Dias 07 Stevinson Ca 102.00 -562
13 Darren Thomas 14T Atwater Ca 86.00 -578
14 Wes Kanawyer 1 Los Banos CA 83.00 -581
15 Jimmy Lust 77 Mariposa CA 50.00 -614
16 Michael Shearer 67 Los Banos Ca 47.00 -617
17 Tim Ragsdale 28,28 Merced CA 44.00 -620
18 Ed Parker 28 Merced CA 23.00 -641
19 Randy Brewer 87 Hilmar CA 21.00 -643
20 Matt Pedroni 32,12P Sonora Ca 16.00 -648
21 Ramon Neilson 23 Merced CA 14.00 -650

Hobby Stocks

Pos Driver Car # City, State Points Behind
1 Richard Altamirano 07 Morgan Hill CA 560.00 Leader
2 Ray Christensen 39 Merced CA 484.00 -76
3 Tommy Bostic 18T Turlock Ca 331.00 -229
4 Jacob Owens 77X Merced Ca 280.00 -280
5 Brandon McCollum 23 Watsonville Ca 242.00 -318
6 Christy Shearer 56 Los Banos Ca 208.00 -352
7 Shannon Marlow 4B Turlock Ca 178.00 -382
8 David Soares 7 Merced Ca 124.00 -436
9 Roy Stephens 27 Escolon Ca 104.00 -456
10 Jason Fisher 72 Ripon Ca 91.00 -469
11 Aaron Widick 78,87 Merced CA 87.00 -473
12 George Silva 8 Merced CA 82.00 -478
13 Randall Hoppe 68 Chowchilla Ca 59.00 -501
14 Chris Parrigon 1X Atwater Ca 47.00 -513
15 Raul Rodriquez 10M Merced Ca 28.00 -532
16 Danny Roe 03 Turlock CA 21.00 -539
17 Brandon Speck 87 Merced Ca 18.00 -542
18 Mark Odgers 57 M Mariposa CA 15.00 -545
19 Danny Richardson 21R CA 2.00 -558
- Raul Rodriquez Jr. 0 Merced Ca 2.00 -558
21 Brad Stowell 10S CA 1.00 -559

IMCA Sport Compact

Pos Driver Car # City, State Points Behind
1 Marisa Odgers 57 Mariposa CA 617.00 Leader
2 Steven Johnson 7J Merced Ca 493.00 -124
3 Curtis Thornhill A1 Merced Ca 425.00 -192
4 Alysan Widick 83 Merced ca 296.00 -321
5 James Donaldson 0 Madera Ca 293.00 -324
6 Neill Barcellos 7X,1X,50 Atwater CA 208.00 -409
7 Chris Parrigon 1X Atwater Ca 135.00 -482
8 George Davis, Jr. 1XD Merced CA 100.00 -517
9 Brandon Leonard 2
71.00 -546
10 J.C. Elrod XX San Jose Ca 69.00 -548
11 Bert Henry Jr. 1X,50 Merced Ca 67.00 -550
12 Steve Leonard 2L CA 35.00 -582
- Nicholas Robinson 5H CA 35.00 -582
14 Gerado VelezSolis 23
33.00 -584
- Richard Scott 50S Atwater Ca 33.00 -584
16 Rebecca McLaughlin 25 Merced Ca 32.00 -585
17 David Coleman 88 CA 31.00 -586

Valley Sportsman

Pos Driver Car # City, State Points Behind
1 Richard Altamirano 6,07 Morgan Hill CA 475.00 Leader
2 Tim Prothro 23 Merced Ca 403.00 -72
3 Mike Henault V8 La Grange Ca 393.00 -82
4 Don Epps 8 La Grange Ca 324.00 -151
5 Michael Shearer 67 Los Banos Ca 274.00 -201
6 Justin Shearer 53 Merced Ca 221.00 -254
7 Greg Evans 72 Merced Ca 101.00 -374
- Bert Lopes 69 Delhi CA 101.00 -374
9 Larry Pierini 41 Madera Ca 60.00 -415
10 Ron Altimarano 7 Morgon Hill CA 45.00 -430
11 Ray Tevis 7 Los Banos Ca 36.00 -439
12 Mark Odgers 57 Mariposa CA 29.00 -446

California Limited Sportmod

Pos Driver Car # City, State Points Behind
1 Shawn Bryant 99 Los Banos Ca 441.00 Leader
2 Mike Medrano 3K Los Banos Ca 357.00 -84
3 John DiGiovani 75X Morgan Hill CA 270.00 -171
4 Duane Short 27M Ceres Ca 73.00 -368