Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dirt Modifieds, Spec Sprints Headline Antioch Show

Antioch Speedway approaches the halfway point of August with another five division program and looks ahead towards the West Coast Nationals $3,500 to win Dirt Modified race on August 28th. As the weather has been unseasonably cool this month, so too has the car count, but the show has gone one. Last week's event produced 50 cars for the five division show, coming in just under the Over/Under number again, but there was still some excitement, particularly in the Dwarf Car and Super Stock classes.

The Over/Under for this race is 52.

Dirt Modifieds (14), Wingless Spec Sprints (14), Hobby Stocks (10), Mini Trucks (7) and Four Bangers (7).

Those numbers are again lower than what these classes can potentially produce, and hopefully all divisions will field bigger car counts. Before looking at the races coming up, we'll take a quick look at some things that people are talking about.

On August 28th, The Big Show Will Go On

The Dirt Modifieds this season have generally fielded the biggest car counts, and promoter John Soares Jr. has gone with this division for the big shows. In June, he held a $5,000 to win event that produced a field of over 40 cars. Having recently reopened Merced Speedway, Soares is going back to the Dirt Modified well once again with two events paying $3,500 to win and $300 to start. The Antioch race will be on August 28th, and Merced's race is August 29th. It is anticipated that fields at least in the 40's will be produced for both races, and if a driver wins both of them, there is a $1,000 bonus. That means somebody could potentially walk away with $8,000 that weekend.

Some of the best racers in the state are anticipated for this big weekend, which will kick off the "Big Money Season" for the drivers willing to do a little traveling.

Getting The Car Count Back Up

I hesitate to get into this too much as I don't want people to think I am being negative or bashing the track, but car count at Antioch Speedway has been on a steady decline over the last four or five years. This was something that I was concerned about during the last couple years I was out there, but when I spoke of it, some people thought I was being negative and bad for racing. The car count wasn't so bad then, so what was I talking about? Well, last week was another five division show at the 50 car mark, and if you think those numbers are great, you simply haven't been around long. In the early 90's, we had a Street Stock class that could have just about produced that number all by themselves.

I'll spare the argument of too many division. If you've been reading my posts, you know my thoughts on the subject. The real problem is that for what you see on the track, there's at least that many cars parked in each division at home, if not more. Some people can't afford it, some people have lost interest and some simply don't want to race at the track. Finding out why these drivers are parked and how to get them back should be a priority. You will never make everybody happy, and it's futile to try, but building a positive general consensus is possible and would be a step in the right direction.

I have commented on this in the past, but then I noticed the guys at Bakersfield Speedway put it into action. They offered free entry to any Hobby Stock or Mini Stock driver who had not raced yet this season last week. Both divisions produced double digit car counts . I believe there were 50 cars between those TWO classes. I'm not sure how many drivers "dug their cars out of mothballs" to go racing as Gary Jacob would say, but I bet they gained a few. They do alright with many of their classes anyway, but promoting like this is key to that success.

You see, the theory is you get that driver who hasn't raced to come out and give it a shot. Sure, you allow a free entry that week (I think Bakersfield offered two entries that night), but there are other crew and family and friends in the grandstands, plus food consumed at the track. If you are running the show right, that driver has fun, and they come back at full price next time. This is something that can be useful towards getting cars out in all classes, particularly the lower divisions, but you have to let the racers know this is happening. That means through your publicity director, the track announcer, the grapevine and any other way.

I understand that we are in tougher economic times these days, but that's not an excuse to accept failure. It's hard times in Watsonvillre, Santa Maria, Balersfield and Roseville too, but they are getting cars. There's more to it than that. I can't comment about race procedure and officiating, because I'm not there. If I'm not seeing it, it's not fair for me to say anything, but I will say that this effects car count too. If a driver feels they aren't being treated fairly, their car gets wrecked at the track too much or whatever their concern, they are more likely to not come back. If you are going to factor in economy, you need to include this too.

Fact is, there are many factors in car counts at a race track, and it's up to those in charge to figure out what is working and what isn't. The more cars you have at the track, the more successful the show. Looking at the Dirt Modifieds in the area, for instance, just imagine the show that could be happening if the racers were inspired to race more often. The roster of names is still very impressive. And, this goes for every division at the track. There are some good cars not racing at the track, and we need to start trying to get them back.

It's obvious why the Dirt Modifieds have been given all the love for the big shows. I think the Wingless Spec Sprints could produce a good field if given the chance, and people will pay to watch them, but nothing is on the schedule this year that I know of. The Dwarf Cars could have a huge show if booked right, but I'm not sure the stands would reflect that, unfortunately. I say unfortunately, because these drivers consistently put on a good show, but they don't rank in the top three for many fans. Hobby Stocks and Super Stocks simply haven't put up a car count to even be considered, but again, I know the cars are out there. Getting them back at the track should be a priority.

But, enough of this. I'm sure the races will still be good this weekend, and the thing to keep in mind is the show still goes on.

The Battle Behind Foulger Continues

A former Sprint Car racer, Troy Foulger has used that experience well in becoming one of the top Dirt Modified drivers at Antioch. Troy's third place finish last week enabled him to stretch his lead over Jeff Thomas. However, this doesn't mean there aren't spots up for grabs in the top five. In fact, Thomas will have to stay on his game, or Norm Boeck will move around him for second. At the moment, Thomas unofficially leads this Battle by 32 points. Thomas is a past point runner up in Street Stocks at Petaluma. One of the former stars of the Pure Stocks at Petaluma, Boeck is working on a second straight top five season at Antioch, and third or second would be his best ranking in the division.

Nick DeCarlo's decision to abandon point racing after the controversy three races ago, and the two week absence of Bobby Motts Jr. has opened the door for others to have a shot at a top five season. Actually, second generation racer Rick Karnes, a heat winner last week, is 26 points behind Boeck for third, while Sean O'Gara was able to leap frog over the absent DeCarlo for fifth. With a season best fourth place finish last week, O'Gara is within eight points of Karnes, meaning some positions could still change hands within the top five before the season is done. Even Gene Haney, the 2009 Mini Truck champion, is within striking distance of fifth now.

One driver just making his way into the top ten is second generation star Dan Gonderman. Dan's most recent point success includes championships in a Wingless Spec Sprint at Antioch in 1999 and a title on the pavement with the NCMA, but he had been a top driver at the track long before jumping into a Sprint Car. Dan was a top five Street Stock racer before getting into a Dirt Modified and ranking second in 1998. Despite a rollover that cost him almost certain victory in the opener, Dan got the car back together and eventually did win a Main Event. Last week, he passed Troy Foulger to finish second, and that moved him into tenth in the standings. Interestingly enough, Dan is also top ten in Spec Sprint points, and last week at Merced, he drove the Sam Davies Spec Sprint to s second in the main after winning the heat race.

Perry Still Looking For First 2010 Spec Sprint Win

Whether or not Gonderman pulls double duty this week remains to be seen, but 2007 Wingless Spec Sprint champion Jim Perry Jr. will be gunning for his first win of the season. Through the last decade, Perry has won his share of Main Events, but with three second place finishes so far this year, the third ranked driver is getting so close to winning he can see it right in front of him. Could that win come this week? At this point, Perry's absence from two races has eliminated him from title contention, but he has a good hold on third at the moment.

It is Tommy LaLiberte leading David Press by 32 points following the most recent event, where only Press was able to reach the Main Event podium. LaLiberte was working on a sweep that night with heat and dash wins before it all went south. With an off week at Antioch last week, both drivers raced elsewhere. LaLiberte was working on a win at Petaluma when more problems struck. For Press, however, it was the opposite. He got the problems out of the way early at Merced when he flipped in his heat race, but come Main Event time, the #41 was was back together, and he picked up the victory.

But, David isn't the only Press in the top five in the standings. Trevor Press has steadily worked his way into fourth and is the top newcomer in the division at this point. Trevor is one of the drivers who has benefited by starting out in the Four Banger class at Antioch, and he was a feature winner there before moving up. His lead over Chuck Bradshaw, however, is not that big at 16 points. Both drivers have earned top five feature finishes this season. Bradshaw does quite a bit of racing around the Bay Area, and the driver of the #63 car is top ten ranked at Watsonville and Petaluma at this point in the season.

It was nice to see Roy Fisher back in action. A perennial top ten point runner in the division, Fisher's career seemed over after his horrendous flip on the front stretch last year, but he has battled back. Showing that he's not intimidated after that crash, Roy even won a heat race last week. The division has seen some tough competitors visit the track recently , including BCRA Midget and Sprint Car ace Scott Nail. Nail has just slipped into the top 20 as the 19th ranked driver after joining the division a few weeks ago. Last time out, in a bit of a surprise, top five Chico competitor Rowdy McClenon paid the track another visit and picked up a surprise victory. In a handful of visits, McClenon has managed to earn enough points to rank 14th at Antioch.

Team Work Is Key To Hobby Stock Point Leaders

The question was asked at the start of the season when Brad Myers jumped behind the wheel of the #33 Hobby Stock. Could the rookie hold up his end of the bargain in a team effort with two time Antioch champion Melissa Hansen? The duo would alternate driving duties, and there was no doubt about what Hansen could do. However, at this point of the season, both drivers have earned two Feature victories, and this has enabled them to carry a 42 point lead over Chris Sorensen into this race.

A two time winner himself, Sorensen has done all the driving of the #00 car to be the top point earning driver by just 19 points over a previous Pure Stock champion and one time feature winner, Dan McCown. McCown missed one Main Event this year after mechanical woes in his heat race, or he would be second in points right now. The Team #99 car of Jack Jonker and Jim Freethy is a comfortable fourth at the moment. They might be in the middle of the second place battle right now if not for Freethy's disqualification after an apparent win earlier this season. Jonker has put the car into the Main Event winner's circle once this year.

While Mike Rydman's recent absence has enabled Joe Cancilla to gain fifth in the standings. Cancilla now has company. The rapidly improving Wes Bentley has closed to within 12 points of Cancilla following second and third place finishes in the most recent features and a heat race win last time out. Bentley is looking more and more like he could be headed for his first feature victory in the #77 car. Rydman, meanwhile, is still within striking distance of a top five point position should he return to action.

The question on some people's minds is where are some of the top drivers from earlier this season? Missing in action in recent weeks are Paul DeLuca, Eric Schantin and Brian Beard. All three were top five ranked before stepping aside. In the early goings this year, DeLucca had two second place finishes and Beard had one, while Schantin was a feature winner. The absence of racers like these three has made it harder for the class to reach double digit cars counts, though the racers who have been showing up are putting on a good show.

Ryland Closing In On Radabaugh

Patty Ryland took a vacation with her husband Fred during the season and missed a Four Banger race. That is the only reason the defending champion is not leading now, The only driver in the division with more than one Main Event win to this point in the season, Patty is now just 12 points behind Ken Radabaugh after winning the heat and Main Event last week. Radabaugh's third place finish helped lessen the point damage. Though Ken has won heat races and finished as high as second in the Main Event, the 2009 point runner up has yet to win one this year in his yellow #12 car.

The last couple races have not been kind to Dayna Andreesen, who entered July as the point leader. In the most recent race, motor problems sidelined her black # 5 car for the heat race, forcing her to merely take the green flag in the feature with a severe smoking problem in an effort to get starting points. This was something she had to do in her effort to protect the third podium position in the standings. With his season best second place finish, the rapidly improving Justin Silveira is 54 points behind her, and he would be much closer had she not started the race.

The track is hoping to see more cars come out as the season is in it's stretch run, and Mike Felt is the newest driver in his black #76 car. Mike already has a top three finish and finished a lead lap fourth last week. Mike is now ninth in the standings, but it appears possible for him to gain a few more positions by season's end if he keeps racing. Meanwhile, it appeared by the paint job as if Fred Radabaugh was celebrating his 50th birthday last week by making his first start. I believe he was in the car Devon DeOdosso was driving, so I'm not sure if Fred owns it now, or what Devon's plans will be if he has sold the car.

There have been at least 15 different cars to compete this season, so a double digit car count is possible this week if some drivers from Watsonville come out. The thing is, those drivers have discovered Merced's Four Banger class on Sundays, so it remains to be seen who will come. And, will somebody step up and beat Ryland this week? Stay tuned.

Dutra Continues To Roll

The same question can be asked of Travis Dutra in the Mini Truck division. Other than Tom Brown, who started the season with back to back wins before moving up to Dwarf Cars, runaway point leader Travis Dutra is the only other driver in the class with more than one win. Dutra leads the class in wins, and his most recent victory last time out gave him a commanding 88 point lead over one time winner Dan Wagner. Wagner, meanwhile, took over second in the standings with the absence of Ray Bunn, who fell to third.

Two other drivers hot on the trail of a victory in this class are Ron Mayberry and veteran Dean Cline. Cline earned his season best second place finish last time out, and the race before that, it was Mayberry picking up a season best second. In fact, Ron continued to run well last time out with a third place finish, which gave him a 48 point lead over Jerry Carpanello for fourth in the standings. Carpanello made his first appearance in the top five in the points after the last race, but it's still close. Just 11 points behind him is Wagner's teammate Greg Williams, while Cline is 30 points behind him. Who will fill out the remainder of the top five in the standings is still anybody's Guess at this point.

As with the Four Bangers, the potential is there for double digit truck counts as over 15 have competed to this point of the season. It will be interesting to see who shows up and if we see any difference trucks this week. It will also be interesting to see if anybody has anything for the #99 truck of Dutra.