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