Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Random Thoughts

I have a few different subjects to touch on here, so I guess I should just jump to it. It's going to be another long column. Like that's something new from me.

Merced Has Playday And High Hopes For Season Opener

Just a quick note about the reopening of Merced Speedway. I have a post I will be posting later today. In the meantime, some 20 cars came out to play on Wednesday, and reports are that the racers loved the new quarter-mile clay oval. A couple comments about the track over at the Late Model Racer forum were that Alex Stanford timed in with laps in the 14.8 range in his Dirt Modified on the stop watch and this track will certainly offer close racing.

A press release was issued by the track and posted over at Racing West, stating, among other things, that promoter John Soares Jr. is "expecting 80 or more cars". If that turns out to be the case, this will be a huge success for the track. Our own expectations for the opener are in the 40-50 car range, but we certainly hope for as many cars as possible. There is a lot of excitement in the air, and Sunday's opener is sounding like it will be big for the track. Also, At the Merced Fairgrounds web page, there is a story talking about the improvements to the facility as they prepare to reopen.

Kings, I Mean, Giant Chevrolet Speedway Still Hanging In There

They are racing at Giant Chevrolet Speedway in Hanford this season. There's not a lot of hype there so far, but they are racing. Who is winning the races and who are the point leaders, if there are points, is not as clear. The only consistent bit of information coming from the track these days seems to be very nice pictures from Paul Trevino Photos and news releases from the Sprint Car groups racing there. In fact, Sprint Cars will be there Saturday night as USAC Sprint Cars headline along with the Dirt Modifieds and Mini Stocks.

For years, the track ran an IMCA sanction with their Modifieds as the first track in California to use IMCA sanctioning for the class. They still run an IMCA sanction on their Stock Car class, but the Modifieds are run with a set of rules that allow the cars to go from Hanford to Chowchilla and Tulare. Car count has gone up and down, and while not consistently where it was in the IMCA days, the Modifieds have had their moments and generally get enough cars for two heats and a main.

The IMCA Stock Cars came to the track a few years ago, and the sanctioning was brought in to attempt to keep the costs in line. The car count has been 6-10 per race. The Mini Stocks are also part of the show with 3-5 cars showing up. The low numbers here could be partly because new management has moved in and are reestablishing things. Thousands of dollars have been spent bringing the track up to date, and as they get things situated, those numbers should get better.

From everything I'm hearing, they are doing alright with the Sprint Car classes that have come to town, but we'll be taking a look at the Stock Car portion of things here.

Back in March on the 13th, the show opened with Dirt Modifieds, and IMCA Stocks and Mini Stocks as part of the show. Alex Stanford won the 20 car Modified feature ahead of Greg Mancebo and (Ryan?) McDaniel. The IMCA Stock Cars had seven cars and the Mini Stocks had five, including two trucks, but information on who won those events was never released.

On April 24th, the three divisions were back again along with the Street Stocks. The Dirt Modifieds produced a 22 car field with past track champion Paul Stone winning ahead of Mike Villanueva and veteran Steve Smothermon. Loren DeArmond has been the driver to beat in IMCA Stocks, and he bested a nine car field ahead of Robert Sylvester and Redding. When four Street Stocks were all that showed, the IMCA Stocks ran with them, and Chris Smith won an 11 car feature ahead of 2009 champion Tim Randolph and Lonnie Welch. This is the first season for Mini Stocks, and a short field saw Mezyk score the win ahead of Fagundes and Mendosa.

May 8th was a big night for the speedway as Late Models headlined the show along with the Winged Sprint Cars (Won by Tommy Tarlton) and IMCA Stock Cars. Mike Johnson won the 12 car Late Model feature ahead of John Lowrey and Robert Sanders. Ten IMCA Stock Cars competed with 2009 point runner up Loren DeArmond winning ahead of Ron Hurt and 2009 champion Troy Patee.

On a Friday, May 21st, the Golden State challenge Series headlined a show with the Stock Car portion of the show represented by the IMCA Stock Cars. Results of the IMCA Stock Car portion of the show were not released, but there were at least six cars with Loren DeArmond winning again.

On June 5th, the track ran a four division show, headlined by the USAC Sprint Cars, along with Dirt Modifieds, IMCA Stock Cars and Mini Stocks. The Dirt Modified field slipped to eight cars with Alex Stanford winning ahead of Greg Mancebo and Bryan Burnes. Results weren't released on the other two classes, but at least seven IMCA Stock Cars competed with Loren DeArmond winning again. At least five Mini Stocks raced with the truck of Mendoza winning. There were at least three Mini Trucks in the field.

On June 26th, the Dirt Modifieds and Mini Stocks were part of the show and the Dirt Modifieds rebounded with 15 cars in action. Alex Stanford continued to be the driver to beat, scoring another victory ahead of Bobby Hogge IV and Rich Denman. Results were not released on the Mini Stocks, but at least 5 cars, including two Mini Trucks, were in action with an unidentified driver in the #3 car winning.

On July 9th as part of the county fair, the track held an Enduro and a hot lapping session for drivers who wanted to come out and hot lap. The Enduro was won by Rodney Angelo ahead of Craig Redding and 14 year old Tres Tadlock. Not sure how many cars competed in this race, but Hanford has had a long tradition of Enduro racing, which has included 3-4 races per season and track champions being crowned.

In June, the track canceled a Late Model Show that included the track's regular three Stock Car classes to make improvements to the facility. Also during this time, Scott Woodhouse, who had been very active in hyping up the track on message boards, became an investor in the track to try and help keep things going.

The people at Giant Chevrolet Speedway have a desire to keep this great tradition of racing at the Hanford Fairgrounds going strong, and they have spent plenty of money trying to build the foundation for a great future. It is with that desire that racing continues Saturday night with plenty more racing on tap for the remainder of the season. Hopefully, more information on race results we be made available, possibly even press releases, on the track's website.

Another Look At Sport Mods

While I still remain skeptical about the Sport Mod division, I will not ignore the small, but growing movement to bring this class to more tracks in California. I believe it was Merced Speedway that started the class back in 2006 after looking at some tracks in other states having success with it. The thinking being that even though the IMCA Modifieds have tried to be about affordable, but fast stock car type racing, the costs have steadily gone up for these cars. Perhaps not just because of motor, but costs for chassis and other parts.

But, at Merced, this class limped out of the gate. Even when the Modified car count started to deteriorate there, the Sport Mods didn't seem to take up the slack. Last season, Chowchilla Speedway got on board with this "gateway" class. Perhaps "entry level" is not a fair description for Sport Mods, but "gateway" in that it's a place for drivers looking to move up from Pure Stocks, Mini Stocks and that type of class. You can even run a Sport Mod and move up to the Dirt Modified ranks, as John DiGiovanni did this year.

The voices are getting louder, and a few racers in the Petaluma area are sounding off about a Sport Mod class being needed there. A couple racers are even building cars that would be legal according to Chowcilla or Victorville rules. At Victorville this season, 14 cars have competed this season, and eight have run all 4 events. One of the track's top racers, Danny Quinn, has even spoken about wanting to make a trip up from Victorville to Chowchilla with a few drivers to provide some new competition. More on that in a moment.

What some of the Bay Area racers are saying in their quest to get the class started, possibly at Petaluma, is that there are plenty of older chassis sitting out there that may not be competitive against the newer cars in the Dirt Modified division, but they would be perfect for a Sport Mod class. Former Mini Stock racer Ford Cook is one such driver looking to get this class started, but there are others. One stumbling block could be the concern over the division dividing an already hurting Dirt Modified division, but proponents of Sport Mods will cite that most of the cars they will bring to their class are cars that you wouldn't have at the track otherwise.

With the addition of three new cars last week at Chowchilla, the Sport Mods now have over ten cars that have competed at Chowchilla, meaning a double digit car count could happen there before the season is out. Fielding a car for the first time was 2009 Merced IMCA Sport Compact champion Marissa Odgers. As numbers rise at Chowchilla to a certain point, promoters may begin to take notice. Some have even suggested the Sport Mod class could follow the path that the Wingless Spec Sprints laid out in bringing older chassis back to the track.

One weekend that looms on the horizon as a possible "coming out" party of sorts for Sport Mods is September 25-26. Chowchilla will run the class on Saturday and Merced on Sunday, and Quinn has indicated his interest in coming up to race that weekend along with a few others from Victortville. The stumbling block could be the $25 to start money. As it is quite a tow from Victorville, Quinn would like to see that money bumped up a little bit. If that can be worked out, this could be a big weekend for this division getting a little recognition.

The desire for more cars led to this division being added, and there are tracks across the country that do well with Limited Modifieds. I remain somewhat skeptical that this will do anything more that fragment the car count further among more divisions, but if numbers hit a certain level at Chowchilla and Merced, other promoters will take a look at things.

Orland's Car Count Concerns

Actually, the Sprint Car Fan forum had a thread pop up talking about car count at Orland. Some of the Marysville Mini Stock racers would love to run with Orland's Mini Stocks. The stumbling block being that Marysville's rules are open a little more than Orland, but Marysville's cars are welcomed into the Modified 4 Cylinder class at Orland. The problem is that this class is not the double digit car count that it was a few years ago, meaning the Marysville guys race against each other at another track with maybe two or three other cars.

I've seen it suggested that the guys just let them race and if they can['t do that, they should just park and watch from the stands. I've seen it said that you need to open the rules up to let the other guys come race, because you need the out of town cars to make a show. I've also seen it suggested they should switch to Sunday afternoons.

Well, the first suggestion is just ignorant. Rules are rules, and the local guys built their cars according to those rules. They aren't the ones with the problem. To the second point, you need locals to build the bulk of you car count, especially when we are talking about classes like Mini Stocks and Hobby Stocks. Classes like Sprint Cars and Late Models are another story, but for the other classes, the majority of your cars should come from a 20-30 mile radius of the track. Visitors should ALWAYS be welcomed and treated fairly as long as they race within the rules. Bending or switching the rules for them is NEVER a good idea and only leads to pissing off the locals.

Thirdly, Sundays aren't a bad idea on paper, but there are two problems. You'll need to run afternoons to get people home early due to work on Monday, and it's very hot up there in the afternoon during the summer. Plus, some people won't race anyway because they would rather relax on Sunday as they are working on Monday.

I've said it before, promoting will be the key to things at Orland. Maybe people see how well they really had it there a few years ago, and this is not meant to be a knock against the current leadership. Having a race track is still better than having no race track. It looks like the Spec Sprint thing is falling apart there, which is disappointing, and the Modified 4 Cylinder class is doing no better.

The classes that seem to have the most right now are Mini Trucks, Pure Stocks and Mini Stocks. It would be a good idea to step up now and get these drivers energized about racing. Contact anybody known to have a car in the last five years that has not raced and find out why. See if anything can be done to get the other two classes back on track, while you are at it, but strengthen the other three classes.

How? I've talked about some of this already. As a man I know used to say, what does it pay? Are the purses reasonable? Make the presentation a little better, meaning results posted and archived, press releases, race stories, driver profile stories. Racers do like to see their names in stories. Send the stories anywhere they can get printed. Get the point racing back. Even if there isn't a big point fund, though there should be something for the top drivers, racers do like competing for points.

And, just talk with the racers and see what they think. If there's something you can do to make it better, do it. Talk to the fans too and see what they think. It all adds up. As I said, I'm not out to criticize Orland management, because they brought a track back from the brink and have promoted some 25 events so far. But, polishing things up a bit and providing racers more reasons to go racing will make a difference.

Prentice Purchases Five Four Bangers

By the way, Ocean Speedway has a Taco Bravo Series/Civil War Series Sprint Car race Friday night, and it should be huge. This season has been a good one for the track, and credit should go to John Prentice and his crew for providing a track people want to race at.

After the Faster Pastor race last week, Jerry Supernaw's car was totaled, but Prentice stepped in and set Jerry up with a new car. He then put out a call for five race ready Four Bangers and has four of them as of this writing. John reportedly plans to have a race for some of the legends on Johnny Key Classic night, and they would drive these Four Bangers.

What this also does is gives Prentice the opportunity to have special media racers, races for track sponsors and local politicians or community leaders and that sort of thing, maybe even rent cars to fans. It's just another little touch in promotion that will help then track in the long run.

Dwarf Cars Come To Turlock

At The Stanislaus County Fair in Turlock on Sunday, the Dwarf Cars will be making another appearance in the little rodeo arena, maybe an 1/8 mile track if that. They brought ten cars last year and have raced there in the past as well. I know Antioch racer Charlie Correia has a win there. It's basically drivers from the Bay Area Dwarf Car Association, thought I'm not sure if BADCA sanctions this exhibition race. If I find any results, I'll probably post them. What I really think is cool about this is it's in Gary Jacob's old town of Turlock. Gary's probably looking down and smiling knowing they are doing this Dwarf Car exhibition race again.

Racing Wheels Could Be Easier To Bring Back Than You Think

I've given some thought to this recently, and I believe Racing Wheels Magazine could be brought back. I know Gary Jacob is gone, and that means dozens of stories weekly are gone too, but it's possible. What hurt Wheels really was two things. One, weekly full color covers was a bad idea and too expensive. Occasionally, maybe, but not all the time. Secondly, the internet took a lot of these magazines down. People didn't want to pay for something they could get on the net for free. Sound familiar?

One thing I have thought about is that if the net goes the way I've heard it could in the next few years, a weekly or bi weekly magazine will be very possible. Even if not, a joint effort marrying the magazine to the internet with exclusive content only available to subscribers is doable. You just have to figure out what you can offer that others can't, and I have a few ideas. Had we done this at CRO back in the day...

Anyway, as far as the printed magazine, several tracks still have publicity directors and weekly stories, and most have results and points available regardless. There are columnists out there who could provide more material. Several good photographers are out there too. Add the classified section and the all important ads for the big races coming up, and it can be done. The trick would be to do this on the most affordable budget possible, while making it something people want to subscribe to. Plus, getting it on sale at as many tracks as possible is a must.

It will be interesting to see what John does with this. Once Merced Speedway gets into a groove, he'll have a chance to take a look at things and put people into place to make it happen.

In Closing

When certain people came knocking on my door late last year, it got me thinking. I was worried about Antioch Speedway. I was worried about Merced Speedway. Even though I didn't hear a good enough offer and declined, I couldn't shut my brain down to racing. I think sometimes people know that about me. Once I get going, I get focused, maybe too focused. So, this blog became a place for current news, rather than looking back at things as it was intended to be. That's okay though. I think I've done alright, and hopefully one or two people agree.

But, Antioch Speedway will live. Things are going okay there. Merced Speedway is back. Everything isn't as dire as it once looked. That is good news indeed. I am now looking for the exit. I need to step back here. This is becoming more work that I intended, and the pay sucks. Okay, I didn't do this for the pay, which is good or I'd be miserable. I only wanted to help a little and on my terms. The hours are now approaching what it took to do the magazine, and I'm not even going to the races. I'm fine with that though.

My main concern was that racing at two of my favorite places was in trouble, and things seem to be okay. Maybe not what they were in the past, but that's okay.

I again point out to anybody who cares that you can be a writer for your track. You really can. I've seen quite a few people who write four paragraph posts on message boards. If you can do that, you can write a story for your track. You've seen what I do here. My most recent review of Antioch was in the old "Gary Jacob Style" with my own touch to it, but you don't have to do it that way. Just find your own style.

Take notes at the track. Get all of the drivers names. Top threes in heats and dashes and B Mains and top 5 in the Mains. Note when the leader took the lead on what lap and where was the pass made. An interesting fact or two about the races, when the pass was made for second (if you want), how many cars started, how many yellows and that sort of stuff. Each division can have a paragraph. Lead with a paragraph mentioning who won the mains and end with a paragraph on when the next race is and any important information. You now have a story. It's not that hard.

If/when I do slow down here, and it may be soon, the blog is not going anywhere. I will refocus on past stuff and comment occasionally on current things too, but it will probably be more relaxed. I just wanted to let you know what was going on here. Hopefully, some of the things posted this year have been helpful to the cause as that has always been my intention.