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.