Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The End Of The Sportsman Division: A What If Scenario

I had an interesting thought last night that I thought I'd share here. Looking at the state of racing the way it is now, had the 8-10 car Sportsman field we had in 1981 occurred in the last couple years at Antioch Speedway, it probably would still be a part of the program. Back then, it had to go. Car count wasn't considered to be high enough. The Street Stocks, in their third full season back in 1981, had about 20 cars. The Stock Cars, absent during the 1980 season, still had about the same car count as the Street Stocks. Paul Bender had also brought in the BCRA Midgets that year, and they had a good car count as well.

Car count started going down as they went to the full bodied cars, and during the last couple of seasons, some of the cars didn't even run wings on them anymore. The first track to drop the division was Merced. Jim Soares was track manager at that time, and he has told me in the past that he told the drivers there that if they couldn't give him ten cars, he'd have to drop the class. Well, it happened. Ironically, according to Jim, Chuck Griffin was one of the racers missing when the count dropped under ten, but years later, Chuck brought the division back to Merced.

It was 1998 when the Limited Sprints completed about a decade long run at Merced. That group became a club, and Mark Amador took the newly formed Renegade Sprints to the pavement of Altamont, Madera and Stockton. Enter Luis Miranda, a Pure Stock champion in the past at Merced. Luis was the early leader in the effort to get the Sportsman division back at Merced, and they started having races at Merced in 1999.

Just a couple years later, I had heard buzz that Chuck was planning to pay this division more and make it the headline class. You'd think this would go over well, but instead, the Central Valley Sportsman club was formed. There were a dozen cars, and the guys wanted to take the show on the road. Chowchilla gave them dates and Antioch brought them in for an exhibition race. This was at the height of the comeback, with guys like Miranda, Kevin Freitas, Keith Van Houton and Robb Schropp among the competitors.

You know, there are times for clubs, and there are times to just shut up and race. That may have been one of those times. I was talking with Don O'Keefe Jr., and we both agreed that it was the right move to keep Wingless Spec Sprints as a division at the track, not a club. But, that's a side issue. Let's get back to the Sportsman division.

Almost all of the "big stars" had retired or headed elsewhere. 1977 champion J.D. Willis was brought back from a short retirement by Buzz Wadsworth and George Viscia to drive a Stock Car. 1979 champion Dennis Furia had retired. 1978 champion Marv Wilson won his final race, a 50 lapper, at Petaluma in 1979 and sold his car to Sam Houston. Buzz Enea and Sal Belleci retired at the end of the 1980 season. Then you had the drivers who followed the man, John Soares Sr., to Petaluma Speedway and the Super Stock division.

But, a few drivers were willing to go down with the ship in 1981. Having narrowly missed winning the championship in 1980, Houston decided to come back. Coming off of a State championship, Richard Johnson returned. Jerry Garner was ready to step up and be counted. Al Nordstrom was hoping to get a little glory having been a B Main runner the previous few seasons. Then there was Len Mello, a competitor at the track since the early 60's, who only had one feature win in that time. Len's son in law, Buzz Enea, offered his support in a bid for Len to try and go out a champion.

A few stars of the past, such as Dana Auger, Mike Green, Gene Millard, John Soares Jr. and 1980 champion Mike Gustafson, came back occasionally, while racing at Petaluma some as well. Street Stock graduates L.C. Green, Tom Leopold and Frank Blasquez joined the class, and 1980 rookies Scott Busby and Keith Shipherd ran some races at Antioch and Petaluma. We also saw the occasional visit of veterans Henry Lentz, Jerry Hentrick and Dean Cline.

It was a bittersweet time for me and other Sportsman fans. Car count, as I said, was generally in the 8-10 car range. Mello, Johnson, Houston, Garner, 1980 Street Stock champion Joey Rodriguez and Nordstrom generally made every race, and then you saw different drivers. Depending on who showed up, you could see a dozen cars or more.

There really was something special about this class. I can't explain it. It was unique. But, one by one, they all fall down, Hardtops, Super Modifieds, Sportsman and even the Late Model Stock Car division, as we knew it at least. Those old feelings resurfaced in 1993 when we had 8-10 Late Model Stock Car drivers again willing to go down with the ship and a fan base that didn't want to see it go. When I look at Petaluma and John Soares Sr. deciding that 6-8 Late Model Stock Cars was still worth fighting for, I can't help but smile. He never gave up on them.

The thing about John was there was a loyalty. Not that there weren't problems, but he was loyal to his guys and they were loyal to him. At least that's the way it seems to me. Had he still been at Antioch in 1981, I wonder what direction things would have gone. Certainly there would have been more Sportsman divers willing to race weekly. That didn't happen, unfortunately.

We knew it was the end of an era, so we enjoyed it for what it was. Mello came out and drove the season of his career with 7 feature wins. Houston had five and might have been a stronger force had he not elected to miss a couple of races getting a new car ready. Johnson provided the stiffest competition to Mello, but the State champion came up short in the end. Garner had a strong showing in fourth with three wins to his credit.

When I look at it now, it makes me wonder if it could have been saved. I felt the same about the Late Model class, but this one really stuck with me. Maybe as fans we look at that first division we fell in love with with a fondness above all of the others. I wasn't always thrilled with the way things had gone at the track in the early years following the loss of the Sportsman division, and it just seemed to me like the place had lost something when Soares Sr. left. I don't know.

In this day and age, there probably would have been a follow up season to that last season. There is nothing out there really strong right now, or nothing that looks like it's going to get really big, at least not at Antioch. So, why wouldn't it be back? I can just imagine it. Mello would have came back. He had the car, so why not? Rick Bollinger was his crew chief. And making it more interesting would have been Buzz Enea returning to run wheel to wheel with him. Belleci would have been looking at it real hard and may have fielded a car before the end of the season.

Nordstrom would have been back going for his first win, maybe in a new car that he and Ken Gonderman built. Ken would have raced a little as well. The Green brothers would have been back. Auger would have raced a little in a car he would end up selling. Rodriguez would have stepped it up a little more. Garner would have remained a force. There would be new names in the field. Car count would have bumped up slightly, maybe 12-16 cars per week. Not big, but a nice little show to compliment the Street Stocks and the Byrd-Pettit-Willis battle in the Stock Cars.

Stock Cars would have been called the "headline" class, but the purse wouldn't have been all that different. It's just that the Regional points would have gone to the Stock Cars. It would have been a period of adjustment for sure, but fans would have still enjoyed the Sportsman division. The occasional visits of guys like Soares Jr. and Gustafson would have been welcomed as they left the track with the hardware that night.

And who would have won the 1982 Sportsman title? Probably Buzz Enea. Buzz was due, and he was fast. Houston would have probably been his nearest contender. I'd say Johnson, but he ended up going to Sprint Cars. Mello would have won a race, but staying in the top three would have been hard. Top five maybe. Mike Green would have been a factor, and there's probably a name I'm not even thinking of who would have been a factor, but what the heck. It's all just speculation. I'm thinking Enea wins in 1982, Mike Green wins a year later, Houston wins a close battle with Auger a year later.

Then we have a champion I'm not even sure about. It might be John Bellando or Ted Ferre from Street Stocks. Maybe one of the Curl brothers. I'm not sure, but car count gets to the point where there is a B Main again. Maybe a Regional point chaser is put in a Sportsman. Pettit seems a likely candidate at that time. He did win a Figure 8 championship at Watsonville in 1984. Perhaps Willis is back in the familiar #2a car with the flames on the side. Oh well, it never happened. But it sure would have been cool if it had.

From $99 Hardtop Auto Claimer Cars to Limited Sportsman and finally just the Sportsman division, these cars had a heck of a run at Antioch from 1961 to 1981. It was a sad day to see it go, and it's too bad the Sportsman revival of Merced never caught on here. The Hardtops are certainly a neat division, but man, those Sportsman cars were something to see.

The sport is constantly evolving, and it's a vicious little cycle. Racers are always pushing the rules, and the rules get modified to allow more. It becomes more expensive to be competitive on a consistent basis. Drivers end up parking. Once upon a time, the Stock Cars were the Street Stocks, but they evolved just in time to take over for the Sportsman division. The Street Stocks were born, though they are pretty much the Pure Stocks of today. The Super Stocks aren't that much different from the 80's version of the Stock Cars.

By the end of the 70's, the writing was already on the wall for the Sportsman division, but it just didn't get bad at Antioch until 1981. We still had B Mains just a year earlier. It's funny, though, because had the 8-10 car count existed now, it would probably still be here. I don't know why, but it was just a thought that hit me last night, so I thought I'd put it to words. Sometimes, timing is everything I guess.

Antioch Speedway
Final Sportsman Points 1981
1--Len Mello-----------499 (7)
2--Richard Johnson----426 (1)
3--Sam Houston-------409 (5)
4--Jerry Garner-------393 (3)
5--Joey Rodriguez-----313
6--Al Nordstrom-------202
7--Dana Auger---------189 (3)
8--L.C. Green----------159
9--Jerry Hetrick-------133
10-Dean Cline----------117
11-John Soares Jr.-------91 (1)
12-Keith Shipherd-------76
13-Tom Leopold---------70
14-Scott Busby----------68
15-Mike Green----------65
16-Henry Lentz---------57
17-Gene Millard---------47
18-Rob Amerime-------42
19-Mike Gustafson------37
20-Frank Blasquez------35

Back When The Stock Cars Came Back To Antioch In 1981

It really doesn't surprise me so much that the Late Model Stock Car counts were big enough to generate C Mains at times during the 80's at Watsonville, Merced and San Jose, but not at Antioch. Antioch always was more of a Sportsman track. It's more than that, though. In 1980, the Stock Car division was dropped from the Antioch schedule, while Street Stocks ran for points for the first time.

I'm really not sure what the thinking was. 1978 was Bob Meeker's championship season. It wasn't that long after that when he passed away, and Antioch ran several 100 lap races for him in the 1980's. The Bob Meeker classic was a big deal because it honored one of the greats, and it was a race everybody wanted to win even more than a usual Main Event.

The division ran a limited schedule in 1979. I'm not sure what the thinking was on that. Perhaps they were trying to generate bigger car counts at Petaluma and San Jose? If you're keeping notes, 1979 was the year Dean Cline won the Stock Car title by just two points over Donna Walton.

So, the division lost two years of momentum entering the 1980's, and they were set to become the headline class in 1982. Could they even get a good enough car count? Well, of course they could. Then, there was the matter of the NASCAR Pacific Coast Regional point race that was coming. The local racers were in for a storm of the toughest competition they could handle. The reality of the situation was that there would only be one locally based Stock Car champion during the Regional point era at Antioch.

Who was that guy? Oh, you betcha, it was J.D. Willis. It wasn't easy for one of the greatest drivers in Antioch Speedway history. Nobody won more features at the track than he did, but Willis had to contend with two of the best drivers NASCAR ignored from the West Coast. Of course, I'm talking about Dave Byrd and Jim Pettit II. Both drivers gave a preview by visiting the track in 1981 and scoring feature victories. Pettit was just 16 at that time, and he would do a lot more winning after that.

The battle in 1982 and 1983 went about the same each year. Pettit shot out of the gate as the early point leader, was overtaken by Willis and Byrd and Willis loses close in the end. Byrd won both titles by a total of ten points. This was a great rivalry. I recall Billy Foote carrying a banner in front of the stands on the final night in 1983 declaring Byrd the champion, to the anger of die hard Willis fans. Billy could get pretty loud in his cheers for Byrd. The Willis fans had a pin created by the Nifdee Speedo button people proclaiming, "Today is Thanksgiving, stuff a Byrd."

But, let me get back to 1981. The question of whether there would be a car count was answered with a yes. Pete Paulsen, who had Danny Jones driving his car to a top five season a few years earlier, put local ace Bruce "The Phantom" Curl behind the wheel of his familiar red, white and blue chrome wheeled #66 car. Bruce's brother Bill Curl made his Stock Car debut, along with John "Chad" Chadwick. "Gentle Ben" Gary Ehrlich was a part of the show as well.

Debbie Clymens and Vince "Beep Beep" Mills moved up from Street Stocks, while former champion Willie "The Silver Fox" Myatt returned after racing in the Sportsman division. Newcomers like Larry Rapp, Chris Morgan and Jeff Skaggs, brother of former Sportsman and Stock Car racer Vince Skaggs, joined up, and car owners Buzz Wadsworth and "Vicious" George Viscia fielded a car that would end up being the ride for J.D Willis.

While visitors like Pettit, Byrd and John Keldsen raced and won features, the local racers were the stars of the championship race with Bruce Curl winning seven times on his way to the track title. Runner up Ehrlich had four victories, while Myatt had two. Consistency led to a 3-4 point finish for Bill Curl and Clymens, ahead of Myatt. The division was strong enough to make it, already out drawing the Sportsman class. They even ran some races head to head with them.

With the carrot of Regional points dangling over the head of the division, racers from the San Jose and Watsonville areas pretty much had their way with the show from 1982 to 1993 with Willis the lone exception in the track championship battle. Other locals, like Buzz Enea, Sal Belleci and Bert Elworthy, came within shouting distance of the title during that time. Nobody from the area launched a serious run at the Regional championship in the Stock Car era.

One of the things that hurt the Antioch Stock Car run during the 80's was the lack of new local entries as the decade came to a close. By 1984, it looked like things were picking up, and the track started running B Mains on a regular basis, but rule changes in 1985 put an end to that. Street Stock drivers started retiring rather than moving up and giving this division a try, cost being one of the factors. However, there was enough support coming from out of the county that the races were still good and the fans enjoyed the show.

It really wasn't until the Dirt Modified division debuted in 1990 that the local drivers started getting behind a new division, and several Sportsman drivers returned. But, that's a story for another time.

I'll just point out that the chain of order in divisions works best when drivers can move up without spending an arm and a leg to do it. Speed costs money, but budget should be kept in mind too. If the locals don't get behind it, it's likely it won't work out in the long run. The lure of the NASCAR Regional points drew the competition from out of town and kept it alive. Some might say it was needed, but had it not been there, things may have progressed in another direction with a more wide open and unpredictable outcome.

I recall conversations with people, such as Stock Car and Sportsman racer Ron Brown, who were pushing hard for a Limited Stock Car division in the late 80's. The Street Stocks were drawing huge fields and it was becoming a division of haves and have nots. So, the thought was to create a division that allowed a few things in the Street Stocks, such as bigger tires and creating this Limited Stock class, while still keeping a Street Stock division too. Many of the top drivers of that time were definitely interested.

I think at that time it might have been a good move. We could have seen Limited Stocks as a good middle division and drivers may have been more inspired to move up from this class to the Late Models Stock Car class. Of course, middle divisions have a way of taking over when their car count surpasses the top class. The Dirt Modifieds were the class we added, and they ultimately did just that. If you look at quality of race and total car count, was it the right move?

I'm not going there. What's done is done. Change always comes to racing and always will. Some changes aren't good and some are, but when it's done right, it can be the best thing for a track. And, the Late Model Stock Cars worked into the #1 spot at the track and earned that status. Their return in 1981 was just the signal that changes were coming and this division was ready to take the lead at the track.

Antioch Speedway
Final Stock Car Points 1981
1--Bruce Curl Sr.-------444 (7)
2--Gary Ehrlich--------370 (4)
3--Bill Curl-------------348
4--Debbie Clymens----330
5--Willie Myatt--------270 (2)
6--John Chadwick------236
7--Larry Rapp---------233 (1)
8--Vince Mills----------189
9--Chris Morgan-------150
10-Jim Coleman--------134
11-Jeff Skaggs----------133
12-Buzz Wadsworth----131
13-Jim Booth-----------114
14-Jim Pettit II---------106 (1)
15-J.D. Willis-------------98 (1)
16-Joe Garza-------------86
17-Dave Byrd------------79 (1)
18-George Viscia---------79 (1)
19-John Keldsen---------68 (1)
20-Dave Edjecomb-------54

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Few End Of The Season Observations

I know it's hard to run a race track these days. Heck, it's hard to run a track in any era, but times have changed. There are too many things out there to take the race fan's money before they even have a chance to decide to go to a race. There are too many bills for the race car driver to pay before they even get a chance to decide to build or race that car. Antioch Speedway seems to be in the 50's for the average five division show these days. Go back 25 years, and you'll see they did that with two divisions.

Can you even run a two or three division show in California these days? Well, maybe you can, but it's gonna take lots of effort to get a car count. Plus, what about those divisions you shut out? Do you think those drivers are magically gonna decide to build cars for the divisions the track will run? Not likely. So, basically, you run them all X amount of (not too many) times per season in hopes of getting the best count possible. You do what you can, and it is better than nothing.

I've been watching quietly from the sidelines all season, taking note of some of the things going on. I give ALL of the promoters credit for keeping the tracks open to allow the racers to put on a show. This is not the 50's or 60's, where Midgets, Hardtops or Super Modifieds put on one division shows with huge fields. This is not the 70's or 80's, where two divisions put on those entertaining shows of the day. Nor is it the declining, but still solid, car counts of the 90's that still entertained.

It dwindled gradually in the last decade to a point where most tracks are lucky to have one B Main where drivers earn Main Event starts not just by showing up, but by racing. It's a good bet that with all the divisions tracks are running there are divisions the fans really don't care for, but they put up with them for the cars they do want to see.

What is the Next Big Thing in racing. Hardtops and Supers were king in the 60's. Supers, Sportsmans and Stock Cars ruled in the 70's. Don't want to forget Sprint Cars. The Sportsmans gave way to Late Models in the 80's while Street Stocks were added to the mix. Sprint Cars took over for Supers. In the 90's, as Late Models became a tour, Dirt Modifieds were added to the mix. This was perhaps the last "big thing" in racing, but at the risk of offending some, the racing sucked pretty bad at times. There were good drivers in the mix, but this was not Late Models.

Still cars showed up in droves, and fans and promoters want to see that. Thank you Mr. Soares for having he foresight to bring this to California. It took NASCAR three years to get on board with this and IMCA came to California two years after the Petaluma debut. A lot of people swear by IMCA, 25 years after John Soares Sr. brought the class to the state, IMCA still promotes here. John's son Jim will crown the track's 25th Dirt Modified champion next season if he keeps the class there, as I'm guessing he will. Word is Jim will add Sport Mods next season, which I'll get into later.

For those wondering where I've been hiding, I'm here, just being quiet. I never left. I actually wrote something a week before Antioch started the season, but I opted not to post it. I didn't want to rope myself into a weekly thing. Too much effort for no money. This column is supposed to be a fun thing. I was greatly relieved to see Mike take over publicity. He was needed. Still hoping to see the track get coverage in The Times, but it will take work.

I'm also happy to see John Meyers announcing. He has become part of the tradition, and I know he loves what he's doing. I respect that about him. He's also able to distance himself from the politics and enjoy himself. I take that stress home with me and it eats me up. Now, announcing, writing, doing a web page and restarting Racing Wheels were all tempting, but even if I had said yes, I don't think I could have done it long term. And there are reasons I won't get into here why I couldn't come back. I'm not the same person I was.

John did one thing I was skeptical of this year. He started Super Hobby Stocks. How about a name change to Street Stocks next season? The reason I had my doubts was Hobbys were only getting 10-12 cars per race down the stretch last year. It worked out though. Drivers moved up, new drivers came in and car count grew in the Hobbys. The Super Hobbys have a shot at double digits next year. The other thing I liked was several drivers moved up from Four Bangers, yet that car count grew. This was a positive step, and perhaps Four Bangers could be a 20 plus car show next year.

If there was a Next Big Thing of the last 15 years, it may be Wingless Spec Sprints. Car count has gone into the 20's this year, but was generally low to mid teens. This is a division I would have liked to see John book a big race for, but the Dirt Mods get all the love. Not that they don't deserve it, but the Spec Sprints could have had a big show somewhere and produced car counts. Either that or getting into the Hunt Series would have been nice.

But, come on. If you think I'm gonna get down on John for the few things I'm not thrilled with, forget it. He booked three big money Modified races at Antioch, the biggie in August hitting into the 50's, brought the Late Models back and continued to support the King Of The West Series. Oh, I'm almost forgetting something. He brought in the World Of Outlaws. The freaken Outlaws. At Merced too. John did that. Last year I said I'd probably give the Top Promoter award to John Prentice, but this year it's John Soares Jr. Maybe things aren't perfect, but damn, he did some good things this year.

John is taking the risk at two tracks this season. Lots of little things being done too. An Antioch racer will benefit some for the UMP Modified sanctioning. Things like that. If it fails, he loses money on the risk. I don't know if anybody is looking these days, but tracks are still being threatened. Watsonville is the latest under attack, but they'd love to close them all. This is why I say it's better to have something than nothing. The WoO thing still blows me away. I doubt the previous management would have done that.

Now, John started 2011 with Kenny Shepherd at Chowchilla supporting UMP at his track too. I think I posted that Chow should join IMCA, not that I'm a big IMCA supporter. The reason I said that is because that area has IMCA supporters and Merced has left that building. It would have been the perfect opportunity. I know Johnnie Baptista would echo that sentiment. What disappointed me was Chowchilla didn't give UMP a full season. I'm sure the situation was pretty dire, but you weren't going to see an increase in cars that quickly.

By the way, Johnnie likes to say another thing that I don't always agree with, but it makes sense at one track I noticed. He claims that tracks go to IMCA to get a car count and then drop them when they do. When Watsonville went IMCA, car count was low. By last season, B Mains were the norm. They dropped IMCA and then what happened? What was the reasoning again? Why do promoters mess with divisions with car counts? More often than not, they lose cars when they do. If a driver starts claiming to want more if they are going to race, tell them to go race elsewhere. When you have a car count, just open the gates and run the race. You don't need to tweak it.

The "Evil" Chuck Griffin had a good IMCA Mod count not too many years ago. Generally in the high teens and even needing B Mains. But, he saw the need to try and get older cars out there and budget racers. So, he added Sport Mods. I didn't think it was needed, and I know I was not alone in that. But, he'd been around long enough to see the cycle of divisions play out. He was one of the last Sportsman drivers at Merced when Jim Soares dropped that class due to low car count in favor of Late Models. This is probably why Chuck eventually brought the Sportsman class back to Merced.

By the way, look at the numbers at Merced a couple years before Chuck held up the checkered flag on his promotional effect. It wasn't that bad. What did him in was loss of big sponsorship due to poor economy. Merced Speedway up until that time had some of the best sponsors you would find anywhere in the state. A bank, a car dealership and a grocery store chain, all gone. If not for that, the man might have still retired, but his hand picked successor would have been there, which I know is what he was hoping to accomplish. That's not a shot at Anybody, because I think John is dong a heck of a job at Merced now.

When Kenny came to Chowchilla, he got on Merced's Sport Mod bandwagon as well as the Sportsman division. In that area, you have to take your cars where you can get them. Now, for a few years, Merced and Chowchilla seemed to be wasting their time. Last year, the roster grew to double digits. Victorville had a slightly bigger count. Suddenly, people were looking at this new Modified class. I saw comparisons to Spec Sprints. Well, yes and no. Everything in Sprint Cars in Nor Cal to the point where Don and I came in were winged and injected. We really created a new class that even Stock Car people could get into.

But, the fact is there are lots of old cars out there. What concerns me is that people think this is a real low dollar alternative to get away from the "big boys" and the fact is that this can divide the Modified count. That may be happening in the Merced-Chowchilla area now. Bakersfield was next to get on board with this class, and I've already seen some rumblings from people about cars being brought by some of the front runners. This is where it starts folks. If you've been around the sport for a while and you have a brain, you know this.

If you keep a tight grip on the rules and don't pay too much, decent starting money and not too much to win, you might have a chance. Now, other tracks are at least looking and IMCA may even get a sanction on one of them. I'm hearing Petaluma, Watsonville and Hanford are looking. My concern is car count being divided. I've noticed a few names at Chowchilla who ran regular Mods within the last couple years. Chowchilla has in fact given up on the full Modifieds and Merced can't seem to get over ten on a regular night.

That may cause some people to wonder why John insisted on a ten car minimum for a Sport Mod show he wanted to run Sunday. But, I can see the argument on one front. It is effecting the Modifieds, so if you want dates, you'd better have a bigger car count. As far as the thought that Merced would be stealing Chowchilla's cars. I reject that notion as whole heartedly as I did when people accused Chowchilla of stealing Merced's cars when Chowchilla opened. They are the driver's cars, and it's up to promoters to make the drivers want to race there.

John has a vested interest in Modifieds right now. He's running big races for the class at both tracks, and it's important to let the racers know they have a home. But, the economy may dictate he get into Sport Mods, at least at Merced. I've no doubt there are a few racers already wanting this class at Antioch, but with 15-20 cars showing up in Modifieds, I can see where he wouldn't want to go there. With Spec Sprints and Four Bangers, John has already been at the front of some trends, so he doesn't have to be a leader in the Sport Mod movement.

However, Jim Soares is looking. Jim took a huge risk last week with a Sport Mod show for $750 to win. First, other than Ford Cook, there are no cars in the area for this class. Second, Chowchilla was booked for a race. Four cars showed up, which seems to be the norm for many new divisions not named Spec Sprints, and Jim did something real crazy. He paid as advertised. Combining the three classes that night, he may have had 20 total cars, so this one hurt. I can see why Jim would look at Sport Mods, given the low Dirt Mod counts. Promoters have to do things like this when there is a car count concern. I also hear IMCA could be sanctioning this. May not be a bad idea to put the sanction on the full Mods too if they return.

Now, if Sport Mods take off at Petaluma, I won't be a bit surprised to see Antioch join in. What I'd really like to see is the brothers working together the way I've no doubt Pops would have wanted. There's plenty of opportunity and it should happen. More importantly, there should be a big race remembering John Soares Sr. So, which one of the brothers wants to book it first?

And Now For Something Completely Different

Now, I'm going to throw something radical out there. You may know that last year I was offered a job at Antioch as announcer, publicity, web master, reviving Racing Wheels. A lot of things. I was unclear on what it would have been worth financially for all the work, but I don't know that I could have gone back again anyway. However, It was nice to be remembered.

I am happy that an Antioch Speedway icon, and yes I said icon, John Myers, returned to announce. The man loves that race track, and I respect his dedication to the sport. We have different styles, but so what? Keep on rocking John, and feeling the need for speed.

I'm also pleased Mike is doing publicity both tracks now. I believe John still announcing at Merced too. It's a lot of effort working at two tracks, and it can be very stressful. That Mike is giving the same effort at both tracks is awesome in my book.

One of the radical ideas I had was to make more use of the internet in selling the track. For one thing, there should be a store selling Antioch Speedway merchandise, extensive history, a track history book and that sort of stuff. An archive for people to look back on. Anywhere that is willing to print information on the track should be sent information. Local community forums would be joined as a way to get information out there.

Another thing I'd use the internet for is video and audio. Having watched the Texas Dirt Network and Ventura Raceway on the internet, I have to say it would be very cool to have that for Antioch. The problem is that it takes money to do this, and the other outlets do it for free. I enjoy the Ventura broadcast. It's pretty amazing to see a California track broadcasting, and I have a lot of respect for Jim Naylor in the way he promotes that track. Now, Jim did attempt to charge one week for video before going back to free. My guess is people didn't really want to pay. It was $20 for the broadcast, so I can understand that.

I'd set it at $10 to start with. Some money is better than none. Ventura has over 200 people watching the main event most weeks. There's profit to be had. What I would consider is showing heats for free to start with and charging for the Main Events. Another possibility would be a monthly fee and access to archives. This way racers have videos to watch when they get home.

With a live broadcast, you can attract viewers from all over the world, family members of racers who can't be there and other fans. It's a whole new audience. With this being a somewhat new idea, I'm not sure where it fits into the deal at the fairgrounds, which could be a good thing. This could put another couple hundred fans in the stands, or more. This means more money to work with. It doesn't have to end here. You can do a weekly show with interviews and that sort of stuff too.

It's a crazy idea, I know, but I think there is potential. You need a good camera and cameraman to work it, a line to the PA for clear audio and a good internet connection and computer to run it. Another thing to consider in this day and age is the NASCAR TV broadcasts at night where fans just stay home. With the new TV's and everything, you can hook it up to your TV and there you go, Antioch Speedway on your TV. I also think that as people see this on TV, the people close enough to the track will show up and watch. It's an idea anyway.

I could ramble on some more, but I'm gonna end it here. Until next time.

Monday, September 26, 2011

82 Years Old? Are You Serious?

Has there ever been a track champion in the United States older than 82 years old? How about an 82 year old who won two track championships in one season? Well, we have one in California. He's Larry Damitz. Larry won the Limited Late Model championships at both Antioch and Merced this season.

My first thought is that this is what is right with racing on the short track. Drivers who have been doing it for years. If you leave the track and come back a few years later, you still have that driver to cheer on. Honestly, I wouldn't know most of the drivers at Antioch if I did show up to watch, but I would know Larry.

But, it's more than that. He's 82 years old, and he still races. And he wins. 82 years old. Larry is a hero of mine. When you hit your 60's, some might say you start to slow down. But, age doesn't mean what it once did. Larry gives hope to all of us that we can do the things that we love to do when we are in our 80's. It's hard to imagine anybody booing that man. If they do, they are morons, and their opinion doesn't count.

As a young fan going to Antioch late in the Sportsman era, my dad told me stories of Vallejo and Pacheco in the 50's and 60's. He'd name the names, and Larry was one of them. He was on the top ten of point earners at Vallejo in the decade of the 60's and a track champion. Yes, he had to pay his dues in the 50's, but it wasn't long before he was winning. As time went on, he won championships at Vallejo, Petaluma and Chico. This was before he came to Antioch in 1984.

He was a feature winner in 1984. In 1986, he dominated the scene as far as wins. A back injury sidelined him as his nephew Milt McGinnis took over for a couple years and won championships at Petaluma. But, Larry wouldn't quit. He continued winning races and championships at Petaluma. Shoot, in his late 70's, he was racing competitively in full Late Models. I believe his decision to go back to Limited Late Models was based in part on the idea that he would be racing with Chevy McGinnis. He continues to be a force in the division.

It's amazing to contemplate the fact that he's been racing since the 50's. There have been breaks, but not long breaks. I think racing is part of what keeps him young. It's true of all the guys from his era who raced, such as Roland Lokmor, Del Quinn and Phil Pedlar, who raced for years. Roland and Del have since passed away, but it's hard to imagine there'd still be an NCMA without their contributions.

I can imagine what it felt like for Larry to jump back into a Hardtop again this year and win races. He won the last one this year at Antioch. It's like coming full circle to the division that started it all. I know car count is nothing compared to what it was, but still, it's Hardtops.

And the championships? Knowing Larry, though I'm sure he's proud of them, that's not what drives him. It's more than that. It's the camaraderie of the team. It's the friendships made at the track. It's the excitement of being out there competing. It's the memories made. It's all of that and more.

I don't know how long he plans to continue. I've said before that people should appreciate what they are seeing with him out there racing, because it's one of those things you will miss when he's gone. For my part, I wish him continued good health so that he can continue to do what he loves. If he's 90 and he can still do this competitively and he wants to, I hope he does.

Thanks for all the great memories Larry, and I hope you can continue to do what you love for years to come. You truly are an inspiration to everybody.