Friday, March 22, 2013

Saturday Nights Should Mean More Cars At Merced Speedway

     A view of the Merced Speedway pits at playday. More pictures are on their website.

Merced Speedway opened for the first of two practices last Sunday.  I believe it was Mike Adaskaveg (I didn't see a byline there) who filed a report on the official Merced Speedway site, so I'll let that speak for itself.  From the looks of it, they had a bigger car count than many of their races last season, which is definitely a good sign.

My other thought was that Merced will be seeing some Watsonville (Ocean Speedway) driver support this season.  This is further evidenced by the fact that some of their drivers showed up for this practice.  Merced was once the strongest supporter of IMCA in the state with more races than any other track.  Drivers have been asking for it, and now they will get it.  It will be interesting to see just how many old familiar names return under the IMCA banner.

The Sport Mods are sure to see an increase in car count, and I won't be surprised to see double digits.  The Friday-Saturday Watsonville-Merced combination used to be heavily supported back in the day,  and it could be again.  The reason John Soares Jr. went after Merced Speedway in the first place was because he felt he could restore the track to glory.

Some amazing things have already happened, and it's only the beginning.  The World Of Outlaws are coming again soon.  With Doug Williams now acting as General Manager, IMCA sanctioning the Modifieds once again and the track returning to Saturday nights, Merced Speedway is poised to have its best season in several years.

A Look at some key dates in Merced Speedway 
(from the old Merced Speedway website with updates)

* April 13, 1946 Late Joe Herb requested to start motorbike races but withdrew request.

* May 25,1946 Billy Hunefold requests for midget auto racing and Board was to take the matter up with the state. 1946 Fair, September 11 would eliminate the 3 nights horse show.

* July 20, 1946 denied midget car racing, due to the costs involved in preparing the track.

* August 24, 1946 Mathewson and Joe Herb requested budget races. September 11th and September 24th, 1946 for Living Memorial Benefit Fund and weekly midget races, providing divisions of fairs.

* September 7, 1946 Promoters, Mathewson and Joe Herb - secured insurance for auto racing.

* November 23, 1946 Joe Herb's request denied for auto racing during regular schedule fair only.

* November 29, 1947 again a request presented by Joe Herb and Mathewson.

*January 28, 1950 Board to relocate Barns and Race Track.

* July 15, 1950 Authorized Hard Top Races after the verification of the proof of financial insurance.

* August 18, 1950 Request to rent arena for Hard Top Auto Races beginning early 1951.

* September 30, 1950 Agreement with Auto Racing Insurance for Hard Top Races beginning May 1, 1951.

* November 29, 1950 Joe Herb and Harold Mathewson request to hold Jalopy and Hard Top Races during the 1951 Auto Racing.

* March 16, 1951 Joe Herb and Harold Mathewson hold Jalopy, Hard Top, Stock Car, Midget and Motor Cycle Races.

* April 16, 1951 Work started on track and the Crash Wall.

* July 17, 1951 Joe Herb, President of Merced Racing Association wanted a new agreement and extension for races after the fair. The extension to conduct races and run any day of the week.

* April 14, 1952 Motor Cycle Races, acts and Firework Sunday at the Fair.

* October 13, 1952 Renewed Merced Racing Association contract to Joe Herb and Harold

* June 29, 1953 Contract with Merced Racing Association for stock car or Other Racing.

* July 13, 1953 Cable and Fences.

* August 26, 1953 Permission to have one or two extra races after the regular season.

* November 2, 1953 Harvey Harson V. F. W requests for V. F. W to sponsor Jalopy races in 1954 season. He stated the race drivers and owners were dissatisfied with the deal they were getting from the Racing Association.

* February 4, 1954 Joe Herb agreed to sell the goodwill to V. F. W so that they could contract for Racing at the fairgrounds for 1954 season.

* June 3, 1956 Herb Thomas won a NASCAR Grand National race.

* June 29, 1957 Clyde Palmer wins NASCAR Pacific Coast/Short Track race.

* 1970's and 1980's Bob Barkhimer associate had the racetrack.

* 1985 Chuck and Marylee Griffin started managing and promoting for Barkhimer until 1991 Chuck and Marylee R/C bid on Merced Speedway.

* January 1991 with volunteers the track was extended to a 3/8-mile track.

* Chuck and Marylee's 22st year begins in March 2006.

* September of 2009 Chuck and Marylee finish their 25th and final year.

* Oval Motorsports wins the bid for the track and begins an abbreviated weekly schedule in July of 2010.

* April 1, 2011 World of Outlaws Sprint Cars make first Merced appearance, won by Sammy Swindell.

* March 30, 2012 World of Outlaws return and Sammy Swindell wins again.

* 2013 Former Merced Speedway champion Doug Williams begins his first year as the tracks general manager.

A Brief Look At The Old Champion Speedway In Brisbane, CA

  "Champion Speedway was patterned after the famous Ascot Park in Los Angeles, and Included a ¼ mile oval on the inside of the bigger track, " 
From The Jim McLennan page.

One of the tracks that is getting lost in the sands of time is Champion Speedway in Brisbane, California.  The location of the track is not far from Candlestick Park, where the San Francisco 49ers still play football for a little bit longer anyway.  There is a nice little story about the building of this dirt track on the Jim McLennan web page (scroll about two thirds of the way down).

They had a dirt oval track and a one-eighth mile drag strip and held many events at this facility.  The track featured Hardtops, Stock Cars, Midgets and Sprints Cars at one time or another and held some of the biggest open wheel and Stock Car races in the state.  This included NASCAR and CRA sanctioned races.

In fact, NASCAR Pacific Coast Late Model races were won at Champion Speedway in 1964 by Ron Hornaday Sr. and by Marvin Porter in 1965. 

I don't have too many details from the past on this track, but I have some.  I did an interview in the early 90's with Jerry Garner, who raced at this track in the 1960's.  Jerry told me stories about racers like Joe Roletto and George Tietjen.  If I manage to dig this story up, maybe I'll add it to this post.  I also found a forum with some information in one of the threads.

Ed Jacobs ran a Dirt Modified at Antioch and Watsonville in the 1990's, and his parents gave me several issues of Racing Wheels.  His mother covered the races at Champion Speedway, so I got some information, especially on the 1966 season.  What's interesting to note is Gene Hoffman was the Limited Sportsman champion in 1966.

Gene's son Howard actually raced Late Models for a brief period at Antioch in 1986 and 1987 in a Ford Thunderbird.  Following Gene in the Top 5 in 1966 were Jim Burdick, Richie Smith, Butch Bishop and Joe Roletto.  Bishop also won back to back Petaluma Speedway titles in 1963-64 and was also the champion at Alviso Speedway during that time, beating Roletto by just one point for the 1963 championship.

It's sad to me that so much racing history here in California is fading into obscurity.  Either tracks close and nobody keeps the history or tracks have been open for years and the track management hasn't bothered to keep the records.  I guess the history may be nice, but it doesn't pay the bills.  For a while though, Champion Speedway had some great racing, or so I've been told.  I just wanted to put that on the record here.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Good things Happened At The Local Race Track - Where Was The Media Then?

I will not be referring to the local racing news we've seen recently on TV.  Chances are you've seen it anyway, and that's not really the point of this article.  Did you ever notice that the best way to get the TV Media to cover something at a local race track is when something terrible happens?  Then, they circle it like vultures.  I could go on about the media, but this isn't the place to do it.

If something goes wrong, they are there.  My problem is, where are they when things are going right?  Thousands of people on any given week here in California, I would venture to say it reaches into the millions on any given week in this country, attend an auto racing event.  Motorsports brings families and friends together, and it's not reported.

With so much going wrong in this country these days, it would be nice to see some of what's going right.  Now, with auto racing, I know there's only an hour of news time two or three times a day, so they don't always have the time.  Still, I think they can make the time now and then.  For instance, they can make a brief mention at the end of a sports cast about a nearby track's feature winners. 

Just as many people care about that as high school sports results.  No, I'm not knocking high school sports.  I'm just saying they can make time for local auto racing.  10, 20, 30 seconds and a few winners mentioned.  I have seen occasions where they do something, but it's rare.  In Petaluma, they used to get results mentioned on a local TV station and a mention of next week's race too.

Even if that is asking too much of their precious time, you can't tell me the local media can't come to the track once during the year to report on an event.  There are lots of angles they can play.  Women race at these tracks, and the media loves to play that up.  Somebody is racing for a cause they can report on.  A high school student, an old man whose been there forever.  The fact that a track has been a part of the community for decades.

So tell me, where was the TV Media when Bakersfield Speedway ran the Bud Nationals and had a huge field of cars?  Where was the media when one of the biggest California Stock Car Tours, the SRL, went to Stockton or Roseville or, most recently, Madera?  Where was the media when Marysville paid tribute to a great promoter, Mel Hall, or when they remembered a champion last year, Billy Knoop?

Where was the media when Petaluma and BCRA honored the legendary John Soares Sr. with a 101 lap race?  Where was the news media when John Soares Jr. brought WoO Sprint Cars to Antioch and Merced for the first time ever, when he paid $5,000 to win and had a huge Dirt Modified field at Antioch or when he got NASCAR names to run his Late Models shows?  Where were they when Watsonville ran the Johnny Key Classic?

Where are they when these tracks have big shows and pack the stands and people see great racing?  Are they so fixated on misery and negativity that they can't come out to cover something good and positive?  Auto racing has been around for over a century, and many people love it.  Sure, it's not perfect, but it teaches us many lessons.

We learn about dedication and hard work through racing.  You learn about how to build and maintain a car and fund it through sponsors.  You learn how to be a true sportsman and set an example for the children.  As a child, some of your first heroes are race car drivers.  Some kids grow up to become racers.  As a family, going to the race track to spectate or compete can be a bonding experience.  Friendships and memories made at these races last a lifetime.

I don't understand why it takes tragedy most of the time to get the big news coverage at the local race track.  It shouldn't be that way.  Our sport deserves more than that.  I don't know if this will ever change.  Probably not.  Still, I have to ask the question to the media.  Where were you guys during some of the biggest moments of the past several seasons?  Probably chasing an ambulance some place.  Unfortunately, pain and misery sells and gets the ratings.

Some Sad News To Report

It's been quiet over at the Dirt Stars forum for a while, and I noticed a question being asked as to whether they should close the place down.  I'll answer that one.  No, they shouldn't.  If a promoter has hurt feelings over opinions, that's their problem.  As long as personal attacks aren't part of the equation, let them opine away.

You see, during really good times in racing, we've had message boards.  Some of them got stupid, but guess what?  They cared enough to talk about the sport.  Those people would be at the races every week.  Would you rather have that or nobody talking or showing up at all?  It's not bad that this board of mostly Watsonville racers and fans wants to talk racing.

Plus, that forum has also been used to help sell cars, help clear up rules issues, help spread the word about recent and up coming races and build a community.  These are all positives for the sport, so I hope they post on.

A little known fact is this forum was actually originally created by Joe Martinez when we were doing California Racing Online.  I think he and I shared similar views about creating a buzz in the sport.  When Joe brought CRO back as a Sim Racing site, he handed this site off to active racers.  It continues on, and I think it's had a positive legacy.  I say, rock on Dirt Stars.

I am saddened by the news of Marco Bertozzi passing away, as reported at Dirt Stars.  All too often, these guys pass away without a thought.  I didn't want to do that with Marco, because I always liked the man.  I had my issues with NASCAR officiating at Antioch and Watsonville back then.  I sometimes felt games were played.

But Marco was a nice guy.  He wanted to explain any decision he made to me.  He didn't have to do that.  He could have said it was because he said so and had an ego like some who've held his position.  You may disagree with a ruling, as I did, but you could hardly hate a guy who wanted you to understand why the decision was made and cared enough to let you know.

Being a chief steward is not an easy job, and that person can be the most hated guy at the track when calls go against you.  They certainly let Marco have it, and I'm sure I did too.  But, he always carried himself with class.  I know making a call wasn't easy sometimes.  I know he hated to do it when it effected points.

Marco had to DQ racers at Antioch for illegal aluminum pulleys in the Street Stocks one night in 1991.  One of those drivers was Don Shelton, and it cost him a championship to Bart Reid.  The rule was there, but he knew it was harsh taking away those points on a pivotal double point night when that's not what won the race.  He paced the pits for at last a half an hour that night before making the call.  I know he hated to do it, but he had to.

Marco was called "Uncle Marco" at times because it seemed like he sided with Rick Petruzzi in any incident he had with other racers.  He caught the wrath of a certain TV show, which spent many minutes on some shows slamming him as an official, and still he carried himself with class.

Marco loved the sport of auto racing and worked to try to make things better.  He held the head official position at a time when the Street Stock division was averaging car counts in the high 30's at Antioch, the Late Models still had a couple solid seasons and the Dirt Modifieds were added to the NASCAR tracks.  He became the head official at the big George Steitz shows.

I recall many pleasant conversations with Marco through the years, and he became somebody in the sport I liked and respected.  We may not have always agreed, but we were both out there trying to help the sport we loved.  Marco spoke of the racing community as a family and how he didn't like making calls unless he had to.  He even told me that when he made calls, it wasn't because he hated anybody.

So, as with most of the guys as they pass on, Marco might not even be noticed by the community, but I had to say something.  Thanks for everything Marco.  You made a difference while you were here.  My condolences go out to his family during this difficult time.

One of the drivers who competed at tracks in which Marco was Chief Steward was "Farmer" Joe Esperanca.   It was also reported on Dirt Stars that Joe passed away recently.  Joe raced Stock Cars for years at San Jose and Watsonville and even picked up some Main Event wins.  His name appeared in the Top 20 or even Top 10 in points several times during his career.

Joe was the 1969 runner up in Stock Car points at Watsonville, but he won that championship a year later.  In 1979, he finished fifth in points at San Jose, seventh at Watsonville and ninth in the state.  I may have seen him race once or twice, but his name came up in conversations with racers at Watsonville from time to time.  People always had nice things to say about him.  So, I want to offer my prayers and well wishes to Joe's family.

I'll end this by saying my dad told me stories of racing at Pacheco and Vallejo.  One of those names was Johnny Franklin.  He won a lot and they played "Johnny B Good" for him.  He was a true champion, and I'm sure I would have been cheering for him.  I want to offer my thoughts and prayers to the entire Johnson family during a difficult time that I will not get into out of respect to them.  They are a true racing family with an emphasis on family.  May The Lord be with them during their difficult time.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Some Playday Notes From Antioch And Other Stuff

Gonna try to do a quick update (yeah right!) if I can.  Antioch Speedway had their first playday of 2013.  Looks like the weather will be perfect for Antioch and Merced to hold playdays this weekend.  As reported on the official site, Antioch and Merced are running Saturday nights this year, and Doug Williams is general manager at Merced Speedway.

To the second point, I don't know if John could have picked a better person to oversee the day to day at Merced than Mr. Williams.  Doug hods the distinction of being the only driver from the four dirt tracks (Antioch, Merced, Watsonville and San Jose) to win the regional title who was not based in the Watsonville or San Jose area.  Of course, I'm not counting out of state guys.  This just speaks to the Watsonville domination and how special Doug's accomplishment was.

Doug has won many championships and knows what it takes to get it done.  Having raced all over California, he knows a thing or two about what it takes to run a race track.  Now, if some of the area drivers who can race will just get off of their high horse, shut up and support the track, maybe Merced can get back to the kind of car cunts they had around 2005.  Remember the B Mains in the IMCA Modifieds?

To the first point, it's disappointing to see that both tracks are Saturday nights, but this may be good news for Ocean (Watsonville) Speedway racers.  I would anticipate they will support some races.  With Chowchilla now dark, Merced is well within their rights to take back the night that belonged to them for years anyway.  Of course, this means there won't be as much back and forth between Antioch and Merced, but I would expect to see some.

Now, another point is IMCA sanctioning.  Now that the vocal critics have their precious IMCA back at Merced, this will mean more cars again, right?  I would hope so.  I won't deny that it helped Merced in the past, but I've read the comments about how no IMCA is keeping racers away.  Well, they'll have to come up with a new excuse this time.  Of course, even back then, some drivers had a tendency to do their IMCA racing at Hanford, rather than Merced, so we'll see.

Antioch did open their gates for playday last week.  It's a shame the grandstands weren't open for a free preview as Brynda was known to do when she ran the place.  I might have even come for a peak myself.  From the pictures, there were some pretty race cars.  I noticed the Russell Shearer #84 car out there.  Not sure if he's driving or his son, but I'm sure the car will be fast either way.

Chris Brown's #11 car was there.  I must be getting old.  I remember the days when Bob Brown and his brother Dennis raced Street Stocks at Antioch back in the early 80's and would sometimes work on their cars a few doors down from me at their parent's house.  Those were the days.  I'm telling you, Dennis and Bob were hard chargers and could run door to door with those amazing Bellando brothers (John and Dave).  Now, if I could just find my time machine.

Anyway, Bob is crewing for his son, and I'm sure Chris made him proud with his top ten season last year.  It's great to see new competition in the Hobby Shock division, which has been growing over the last two years.  Promoter John Soares Jr. is even holding a 150 lap race for the class for big money this season.  They deserve it.  Now, if we could just get John to book a big show for the Wingless Spec Sprints.

The Four Bangers are doing their job, which is producing future talent for the other divisions.  This is as it should be.  Word is that Mike Shapiro and Sarah Leslie, the 2012 champion, are both moving up to Sport Mods this year.  Look out Phil Indihar, you're getting more competition.  Somehow, I doubt the Enduro star and defending Sport Mod champion would have it any other way.  The more competition, the better.

2008 Dirt Modified champion Rob Norris was back for playday.  Could he be the driver to beat Troy Foulger?  While I'm not sure how IMCA sectioning will help the car count, which really wasn't that bad as it was, the point system could keep it close as long as the competition shows up for every race.  Foulger is champion because he is a good driver, driving for a good team (Bowers Racing).  I'm hoping for a close race, regardless of who wins in the end.

Last season's Super Stock runner up, Jim Freethy, made some laps and could be the driver to beat for that championship.  Former Marysville Spec Sprint champion Chris Magoon was one of the Spec Sprint drivers getting some practice, while former Figure 8 champion and top ten Hobby stock racer Jim Robbins was back in action.  Top five 2012 competitor Taylor Culbreath and Heath Culbreath brought their new trucks, which were as yet unnumbered.

There were 360 Sprints, Spec Sprints, Trucks, Super Stocks, Super Hobbys. IMCA Modifieds, Hobby Stocks and even a Hardtop making laps on Saturday.  The weather made it a perfect day to put your car through the paces, and it looks like the weather may be accommodating for the next couple of weeks at least.  Here's hoping this leads to a great 2013 season at Antioch Speedway and Merced Speedway as well.

Chowchilla Speedway To Rise Again?

I once joked about a statue they needed at the entrance of Chowchilla Speedway.  Picture Tom Sagmiller with his hat turned backwards, pointing the way to the gates.  Inscribed at the bottom of the statue are the words, "Give us your tired, mistreated, suspended, disenfranchised and under appreciated racers, and we will give you a fun place to race.  At Chowchilla Speedway, we put fun first, and there's a $25 fine if you're not having fun."  

Just when you thought you heard the last of Chowchilla Speedway, it looks like it may be back again.  That's the report that first surfaced on the Late Model Racer forum today (March 14).  I'm going to say a few things here that I think are useful, but they are also just my opinion.  Others will disagree.  Most importantly, I endorse and support the idea of opening this track again, and I hope it happens.

It was reported that "The Flying Cowboy" Jack Stanford is behind this idea along with Dale Ferriera of Hondo Boats.  The idea is for eight races this year to get it going, and they are trying to find out who is willing to get on board with this effort so they can plan accordingly.  Dale has driver contact info cards on the counter at his business to further gauge driver interest.

Tom Sagmiller and his investors really started something here. It was amazing to see what this unlikely race track managed to accomplish under Tom's leadership.  Nothing since he was there has ever come close.  Tom periodically asked me to come back, and I always appreciated that he took time to contact me just to say hi and see how I was doing.  I was tempted when he called last year, and if the track had been down the street, you probably would have heard me announcing there again.

Tom and I had our disagreements.  I won't get into the Spec Sprint thing.  He did it his way and still had success with it.  My way would have been better in the long run, but there's another thing we discussed.  I wanted to see more emphasis on local involvement from Chowchilla.  When Antioch started way back in the 60's, John Soares Sr. made a big deal out of locally based racers and had a local point race.  This was important, because Antioch needed to establish a local base of cars, so John went so far as to have a local point race and crown a local champion.

Immediately, Tom saw locals like the Tatum brothers, Chuck Crews, Joe Smith Jr. and Jack Van Hoff, to name a few.  By year two, there were about a dozen local Hobby Stock racers.  I wanted to see a locals race for local bragging rights, some involvement with the local high school, cars on display in town and anything to get this wonderful little town behind the track.  The newspaper supported us from the moment I started submitting stories, and I always appreciated that.

Opening that track in Chowchilla was huge for the town and showed great leadership on Tom's behalf.  They absolutely blew it by letting him go.  That too is my opinion.  Chowchilla Speedway was successful partly because it wasn't run the traditional way.  If it had been, it might have closed that first year.  Chowchilla defied tradition and put on some of the best races you would see anywhere in the state.  It was about fun.  Remember that?

Chuck Griffin came in and tried to do things in a more traditional manner, even bringing IMCA with him.  He was rejected.,  Kenny Shepherd wanted to do the same thing, and though it got a little bigger than Chuck had it, he was never fully embraced as the promoter.  John Prentice came in and I think it was a case of trying to do too much too soon.  Kenny dropped Modifieds in favor of Sport Mods for a reason.  Back to the basics.

But, I'll just say that if they couldn't have Tom back after Chuck gave up, it should have been Chowchilla Barnburner promoter Joe Diaz Jr.  Why?  The man comes from a racing family.  He knows what it takes.  He was successful in promoting his winter racing series AND he's based in Chowchilla.  Let a guy who knows the community run the track.

I'll never forget the complaints we had at Antioch in the mid 80's about wanting a local person to run our beloved track.  Somebody who knew the community.  We nearly got John Soares Sr. back at that time.  When the NASCAR establishment got the contract, they moved people to the area to oversee the track. 

Now, Chowchilla's Jack Stanford steps into the picture and there's hope again.  You're dealing with a poor economy, so I think you need to keep that in mind when putting it all together again.  The Hobby Stock rush of 2000-01 showed that locals wanted to race, but they wanted to stay on budget and learn.  In this day, that means Four Bangers and Hobby Stocks should be a big part of the equation.

We shouldn't underestimate the Sport Mods at Chowchilla.  You know how we have the class at Watsonville, Antioch, Petaluma and Hanford now?  Those double digit car counts at Chowchilla helped make that happen.  Sport Mods may need to be the top class at Chowchilla with Hobby Stocks and Four Bangers also on the card.

I'm not saying Modifieds shouldn't be there, but as a promoter, you have to consider what you can afford to race.  This thing needs to be grown from the bottom up to form a solid foundation.  This means Spec Sprints, Dirt Modifeds and Limited Late Models probably don't fit in at the start unless they are okay with a low purse.  You may be able to call in the Sportsman class or Okie Bowl Hardtops for an appearance or two.

Resort to gimmicks used in the past, like grudge matches, mechanics races, hot dog races and that sort of thing.  Community outreach will be important.  Heck, consider getting a high school racing program with Four Bangers.  If you build it, they will come.  You see, Tom bucked the trends to make it happen, and Jack could use a similar mindset to rebuild this program.

I've even looked at radical measures for holding races if you have car counts in the 4-8 car range in some divisions.  If you can't get two heats and a main out of a division, run a Heat race (6-8 laps), invert it in a semi final (8-10 laps) and then average the points straight up for a 15 lap final heat.  Total the points and there is your winner for the night.  It makes each race that night important towards having an overall winner and can make that small field more interesting.  You can still award your points based on total points for the night for your overall point race.  Just a thought.

What I do know is getting local support behind the program is a good idea, and having somebody based in town running the track ties in perfectly with that.  If you work on establishing a program with your core classes, within a few years, you will have a solid foundation, and it won't cost too much in purse money to get it started.  Occasionally, you can get sponsors to increase the those purses.

I would guess the Sport Mod class could be in the 8-12 car range, Hobbys are in the 6-8 car range with Four Bangers about the same.  Hype these guys up everywhere you can.  Spread the word, create the excitement.  Make that fan sitting in the stands want to come back, or better yet, get a car of his or her own.  With affordable classes you can do this.  Bring in bigger classes on occasion, but don't forget the classes that got you there.

Well, that's just my opinion, and you know what they say about opinions.  I just want to see this work out.  I see where things went wrong in recent years, and fighting a tough economy is part of the problem. If you want to make it work long range, you must think outside the box and you must start with classes people can afford.

While I'm hoping this all works out, I should point out that this track has held races since 2000.  That would make this the 14th season.  Here's a crazy idea.  If you open those gates, how about a Hall Of Fame night?  It's not so crazy when you think about it.  I could think of a few people deserving of such an honor at Chowchilla Speedway, but that's for another time.  We'll see how this story develops.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

New Tracks, Big Races And Other Cool Stuff

This post was to be written near the end of the 2012 season, but it never made it out of my head. I did have a few ideas that I wanted to use for it, but that's as far as it went.  I write and post it now, just because I wanted it on the record here.

Hayfork Speedway Finally Opens

Back in July, Hayfork Speedway held it's first practice. Several cars showed up from different divisions to take a run at the new quarter-mile dirt track at the Trinity County Fairgrounds.  We broke the news on the DCRRBook Blog a few years ago that they were opening this race track.  It amazed me that in a time when tracks were closing, this new track was opening.  Actually, even if car count hasn't been that great at some places, tracks are opening everywhere.  Another track to hear the roaring of the race car engines in 2012 was the legendary Rocky Hill Speedway in Porterville.  This was amazing news to me as there have been rumors for several years.  With the right effort, they made it happen.

And that's what they did in Hayfork.  Undoubtedly, people told them they were crazy, but guess what?  They weren't.  They were dreamers who love racing.  There isn't a big racing community in the area.  People race at Shasta on the pavement or Yreka on the dirt.  So, it was probably a good thing that this thing did take some time to get going while racers prepared their cars.  However, the enthusiasm was evident in the small but dedicated group of races who put the first laps on the track into the record books in July.

It wasn't a big group of cars that raced in the first event, the Clyde Cordell Memorial Bomber Race, but eight drivers came to put on a show.  Larry Leach wrote his name into the record books as the first feature winner ahead of Ryan Wynia and Chuck Hackbarth.  Three Dirt Modifieds were also on hand with Susanville stars Nevin Kennemore and Wade Kennemore grabbing first and second.  Shasta veteran Stan Gunderson was third.  In October, they put up some good money for a regular show.  It was a pair of Orland Mini Truck aces, Jim Davis and Ross Vige going, 1-2 to collect $300 and $200, respectively.  Bill Noble was a $100 third.   The same money was on the line for Bombers, and Wayne Lowe collected first prize ahead of Ryan Wynia and Kevin Kasper.

First, I offer my congratulations to the entire staff of Hayfork Speedway for making their dream a reality.  To open a new track that didn't have a recent history (not sure about the distant past) in auto racing and successfully hold races in this day and age is huge.  The only story I can think of that was bigger was Tom Sagmiller and Chowchilla Speedway back in 2000, but this is pretty damn cool.  Now people can ask, where the heck is Hayfork?  Head up to North Western California to Trinity County, and you'll find it.

My thinking is they should stick with entry level stuff to build it up.  Things like Mini Stocks, Hornets, Bombers and that sort of thing.  If you are to get locals to build cars, this is how you do it.  Having a Lance Cline type of person building cars and helping get things going would be a plus.  Fortunately, this is what they are doing.  Start slow, build it up, don't get in over your head and make it happen.  And to racers and fans, get out there and support the track when there are races (there aren't too many scheduled this year) and be positive about things.  Help them out if you can with things that need improvement and make this a community environment.  You do this, and I  see good things in the future for Hayfork Speedway.

Speaking Of New Tracks And Change 
(This wasn't part of the planned post, but to heck with it.  I'm on a roll here)

First, the change.  Orland Speedway is under new management.  First, I want to congratulate the team that reopened Orland.  You are probably hearing the negative crap if I know the racing community.  Maybe things weren't perfect, but you made it happen again.  Thank you for that.  People in Orland know that this track has a pretty good racing tradition over the last 30 years or so, and you made sure it continued.  I remain a fan of what the Turners did with Orland during their tenure.  Even if it didn't end strong, look at the cool things they accomplished.  I mean, Spec Sprints and a big show with nearly 30 cars on that track?  Orland is a track of great potential, and the new management knows this.

But, the previous management crowned champions in 2012.  When they opened up, they didn't do points, because the priority was just to open the gates and make it happen again.  But, they kept points last year, and Robert Hunt (Mini Stocks), Ross Vige (Mini Trucks), Steve Martin (Pure Stocks), Felisha Jacobo (Lady Spec Sprints) and Mike Gomez (Street Stocks) topped the point earners list in their respective divisions.  I found it interesting that the guys all turned their Spec Sprints over to the ladies.  Great way to make it more of a family affair.  So, the previous management left the incoming management with some positive things to build on.

And, who is that new promoter?  None other than Mr. Mike McCann.  I've got to tell you, if you want a man to build things up at a race track, you can't do much better than Mike McCann.  His record at tracks like Cottage Grove, Eugene and Banks, to name a few, speaks for itself.  He is a former "Promoter Of The Year" award winner, and deservedly so.  Mike has been rumored to be coming to this place or that place.  I'm sure he was looking, but he'll go where he feels he can make the most difference.

With Orland, there is a lot of potential.  The first thing to change was the name.  It is now Orland Speedbowl.  I'm just speculating, and I'm sure details have been revealed at meetings already held with the racers, but I'd bet he's working on the racing surface and already has improvements in mind or in the works.  Now, Orland has a strong tradition with Mini Stocks, Mini Trucks and Hobby Stocks. Those divisions will continue.  I would hope all of the racers take note of that and get behind the new management.

When the Turners started holding Spec Sprint races over a decade ago, it may have surprised people.  The Jacobo family was an instigator in this with the first two cars, but they knew a good thing when they saw it.  Cars were built and big races happened, including a big money race with nearly 30 cars.  Mike undoubtedly sees the potential to get that division back to strength, and I think it can happen for Orland.  Plus, he's already booked a Hunt Series race which should mean quite a few cars that night.

Mike's appreciation for open wheel racing means 600 Mini Sprints will be there.  When you think of all the talent that has come up through that division in the past decade or two, this is a good move for Orland.  Orland will run some Limited Winged Sprint Races and will welcome the BCRA Midgets for a visit as well.

But Mike, and his friend and another respected promoter, Chuck Prather, are partly responsible for something that has been gathering momentum California for the past decade.  Mike had a Hardtop division when he promoted the track in Banks, Oregon, and I happened to be in Sacramento the night they invaded there.  Immediately, the talk began about starting something in California and people started hunting for old Hardtops.  Mike will be booking several Hardtop races at Orland this season.

So, I believe Orland Speedbowl is in very good hands with Mike McCann.  I felt like the track was on the cusp of something big in the last decade, but hard times came with the declining economy.  I think if the racers get on board and support the effort, things will only get better.  Isn't that what any race fan wants?

In recent years, John Soares Jr. has started something big by booking World of Outlaw races at Antioch and Merced.  I know, WoO in California is nothing new, but the organization has shown lots of interest in increasing it's presence here.  What John has done by booking them and the King Of The West Series has helped the cause of 410 Sprint Car racing in the state, and booking WoO was beyond amazing.

Now, we get word of the next new dirt track to open, and that is Stockton 99 Dirt Speedway.  Stockton fans now have three tracks, thanks to the efforts of Tony Noceti.  Tony, who has been running Stockton 99 Speedway in recent years, decided to make use of the dirt at the horse track on the fairgrounds property.  One of the big motivators was the WoO date he will be hosting very soon, but that's not all.

Stockton 99 Dirt will run a limited schedule of special events, and this will include some special series events that will link Stockton, Antioch, Petaluma and Chico for a special series of Modified races with it's own championship fund and special purse.  I know Antioch racers always wanted a track a little closer to visit from time to time, and this track isn't that far away.  This is an exciting time to be a race fan, and I certainly wish Tony well with this new endeavor.  Hopefully, the racers and fans show their support.

Hardtops With BCRA

I'm still figuring all of this out, but there appears to be a splinter group of Hardtops in California.  It was Conrad Cavallero, the veteran of the Sportsman and Super Stock divisions, who spearheaded the effort to give this division a comeback after what McCann and Prather had been doing with their own effort up north.  Conrad's leadership saw Hardtop racing return to several venues on the pavement and dirt.  I'm not sure if it influenced the Okie Bowl Hardtops effort in Bakersfield, but they certainly have a good thing going there as well.

Now, there is a new group claiming race dates.  I understand Petaluma, where several dates are booked, has said that all Hardtops are welcome as these are Petaluma races.  That, at least, is good news.   Now is not the time for a rift.  BCRA, which sanctioned Hardtops from the late 1940's through the mid 1960's, is planning to do so again.  One has to wonder if they should concentrate more on making a stronger Midget division, but you do what you have to do to stay afloat.  BCRA was there to pick up the pieces and give the Mini Sprints a home, so we'll see.

One thing I will say is regardless of what people may think of Conrad, they should appreciate that he got this ball rolling and was the main representative when it started.  It may be that leadership is changing.  This happens sometimes, but I will just say thanks to Conrad and Mike McClure and all of those who jumped on board early to make it happen.  Your efforts made it happen.  As far as everything else goes, I hope that we can keep everybody on the same page, because this thing is on the verge of getting huge.  I noticed a similar thing happen with the Sportsman class in it's third year back at Merced, and it took a while for that class to recover after that.  Remember, it's all about having fun, not politics.

Dwarf Cars At Dixon

Back to what I planned to post last year.  This is old news, but I stumbled across it when somebody (probably one of the DeCarlo clan) posted on a forum that CORA Speedway in Dixon wanted to host Dwarf Cars and Four Bangers around Memorial Day Weekend last year.  I loved the idea.  This probably comes from the opportunities I got to see racing at Delta Speedway when it was Mini Sprints, Dwarf Cars and Mini Stocks (Something I want to do is a special post about in the future).  The first thing I did was look around, and I discovered Dwarf Cars raced at Dixon in February on 2012 with about a half dozen cars.

There is actually a YouTube video of that race, and they were getting around the one-fifth mile dirt oval pretty well.  From what I gathered, NorCal Dwarf Car competitors topped the field as Shawn Jones won ahead of Brian Quilty and Kevin Bender.  I wanted to put that on the record here too.  I tracked down some results from Turlock's Dwarf Car event in an older post.  Never could find the results from Salinas from a few years back, but I love this obscure stuff. 

I love the idea of these dwarf cars drivers trying to put on a show on these smaller tracks.  On an unrelated note, I was searching YouTube for a video of a guy named Hoagland from a radio show I listen to on occasion, and I found the coolest thing.  This place called Hoagland Arena, I guess, holds Destruction Derbies where the derby cars race around a Figure 8 in a tight rodeo arena, trying not to get hit.  They race that way quite a bit, I guess, and that type of race was an inspiration for a video game I used to play called Destruction Derby and Figure 8.

Anyway, I applaud the staff at Dixon for doing this.  I should point out that before CORA came to be, I had an occasion to stop by and check out the one-fifth mile dirt oval.  This was on the way home with Don O'Keefe Jr., from the RPM Meeting in Reno in 2000, I think.  I had heard rumblings of the old Bill Fairhurst Street Stock being run on that track as well as a few other cars from various divisions, and it got me thinking.  I had the bright idea of having a gathering of racers there to practice and set some track records, see what they thought of the place's potential and maybe approach the property owner.  I wrote about it in a post I never put up.  Maybe I finally will.

Anyway, no Four Bangers showed up for the race as far as I could tell.  I actually think they would be perfect for that place, and I would just say if they want to add this class they should just schedule it.  If they are serious about it, cars will get built and cars from other tracks will visit.  If you book it, they will eventually come.  I'd love to see them run four bangers and stuff like that there.  It worked so well for Delta Speedway in Stockton.  I think even Vallejo Speedway 2 had a go at Mini Stocks for a while.  The thing you encounter is the micro midgets have problems with the track on those nights from what I hear.  But all of that can be worked out with the right amount of effort.

Finally, John Soares Sr. Gets His Race

I should have known Jim Soares and BCRA would be the first to step up and do a Johnny Soares Classic.  It happened last September, and Shane Golobic wrote his name into the record books as the first winner.  It also figures that BCRA would be involved.  They are the only group in NorCal that I know of that cares about racing history.  It doesn't surprise me that Jim would make Petaluma Speedway the track that held the event either.

Honestly, guys, I don't just ramble on about tradition for nothing.  I know it sounds corny, but it means something, dammit.   I personally feel that any track that has been active for at least 20 years should start a Hall Of Fame and have special races to honor competitors from the past.  This is also a way to tie a track in with their local community.  Like saying, "We're a part of Antioch (or wherever) and our racers are a part of this community."

In my opinion, Petaluma and Antioch should have held races for John a long time ago.  Maybe even a weekend with one race at Antioch and one at Petaluma. Congratulations on Jim and BCRA for putting on a big 100 lapper for the Mighty Midgets to honor a great man.  Not to mention "Pops" was a two time BCRA Hardtop champion.  May this continue to be a traditional race at Petaluma Speedway.

But, honestly, we should never forget a man like John Soares Sr.  Marysville has it right with the Mell Hall Memorial Race for all he did for that track and Grass Valley.  Santa Maria honors the late Doug Fort for what he meant to that great race track.  This is how it should be.  I would love to see a whole series named after Bob Barkhimer, a man who practically put California racing on the map.  While we're at it, how about a big race at Watsonville for the late Bert Moreland.  Guys like these paved the way to make short track racing here in California something special and we should NEVER forget them.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Just A Thought Before Playday At Antioch Speedway

I have another post, but I was just looking at the Antioch Speedway Facebook page and something struck me.  They said that John was on the grader getting things ready for playday, and somebody popped off with the comment that at least it's not intermission.

See, the problem with that comment is some people don't understand why John and his dad before him would do that during a race night.  It's really very simple.  Sometimes problems start to develop with the track, and a good track prep man can see them coming.

You ether let it develop and let what happens happen, or you try and make it better for the racers.  John chooses to try and make to better.  Problem is, people only want to talk about when that fails, not when it saves the track.  He wouldn't do it if it didn't save the track.

It got me thinking of five typical responses from critics when track promoters or officials do something to try and make it better.

1.  Paying $150 to start instead of $100:  It figures the cheap bastard wouldn't pay $200.

2.  Black flagging a guy for wrecking somebody:  They never should have let him race at all.

3.  Making big improvements to the facility:  He's making so much money, he'd better do it.

4.  Bringing in the sanctioning body people wanted:  He should have done it years ago.

5.  Adjusting the rules to get more cars:  The dummy wouldn't have done anything if we hadn't asked.

6.  Reduced entry/ticket fees:  He can afford it.  He owes us.

Two words, just words, can make a difference.  When you aren't happy, you are more likely to say something.  When you are happy, those words often go unsaid.  Whatever the reason.  Often times, we just don't think about it.  It's nothing personal.  However, a simple thank you could go a long way.

I witnessed first hand how the negativity can destroy the good mood and the desire to do more.  It's hard work and a thankless job a lot of the time to run a race track.  Whatever money there may be, they work hard at this because they love it.  This is their way to give back to the racing community and make a difference.

This isn't just for John, but for all promoters out there at our weekly race tracks across the country, and I mean it from the heart.  THANK YOU for all you do to keep the sport alive.

Now, playday is here at Antioch Speedway.  Let the madness begin.  Remember that this is supposed to be fun, so have fun. When the green flag officially files in a few weeks, may the best driver win.  Race hard, race clean and remember to put on a good show for the fans. That's what it's all about.

As it used to say on Mike Green's race car, "Let The Good Times Roll."

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

It's A Shame NASCAR Doesn't Care About Our Local Short Tracks Anymore

Almost forgot I wrote this, but I found it at the bottom of a Jim Bowman post that will also be released soon.  It was written probably three years ago.  Better late than never I guess.

What happened to you NASCAR? You used to so cool. It wasn't that long ago that we had a NASCAR circuit. We had Antioch, Watsonville, Merced, San Jose and even Baylands for the dirt track racers.

Okay, it's been over 20 years since we had all of that. Has it really been that long? Where does the time go?

As it came to a close, the legacy that Bob Barkhimer started had Antioch, Watsonville and San Jose remaining. We know the rest of the story. When the contract was up at Antioch, a new promoter won the bid and elected to leave NASCAR. San Jose closed within the next couple years and Watsonville left next.

As the 90's were coming to a close, NASCAR had 100 tracks and a very nice Regional point system. So, what happened? Obviously, there was a reason that all of these tracks left.

It's really very simple. NASCAR no longer cared enough about these tracks to try and make it work. Oh sure, there are some tracks left, but it's not anywhere near where it once was.

Times have changed. Let's take a look back.

In the 40's, Northern California had BCRA. Why does that matter? You know that "Hall Of Fame" that BCRA has? Well, Barkhimer, Bert Moreland, Jerry Piper and John Soares are all in there. They got their start with BCRA.

Before NASCAR was the big deal, it was BCRA. They sanctioned Midgets, as they still do today, and the legendary Hardtops. They sanctioned several tracks.

When "Barky" and Piper left, they founded the CSCRA and started sanctioning races themselves at many tracks. In fact, there were over 20 at one time. During the early 50's, the CSCRA and BCRA sanctioned just about everything and you could race about every day of the week and sometimes twice in a day.

Barkhimer met with Bill France Sr. and soon brought his tracks into NASCAR. You might say he brought California into NASCAR. That's not just the tracks for the big tour that became the Sprint Cup that we know today, but those little short tracks where racing dreams are born.

Promoters like Soares and Moreland helped it grow in those early days. There was a Hardtop circuit and a Super Modified circuit, and drivers competed up and down the state.

It's my belief that it's these little Friday and Saturday night tracks that helped make NASCAR who they are, and Bill France and Bill France Jr. knew that. Not everybody could attend a Cup race or be a competitor on the circuit, but they could do the next best thing and go to their local NASCAR track. It mattered.

The golden age continued through the 80's, but things would decline from there. Why did it have to happen?

For several reasons, really.

For one thing, the sanctioning fees weren't getting any cheaper. After a while, promoters began to wonder if the cost was really worth it. It's not as if that many drivers at any track were reaping the benefits.

Plus, the Winston sponsorship was gone by the late 90's, and that sponsorship paid the point funds for the Regional point races.

Also, NASCAR was shifting it's emphasis to running more night races for it's top two series. This move has not been a good one for short track America.

It's my opinion that NASCAR has lost touch with its roots. It's kind of like the man who dated and even married a supportive woman. She is there for him, helping him achieve his dreams, and when he does, he leaves her for another woman.

The short tracks deserved better than that.

Now, I'll be the first one to admit I've been a critic of NASCAR through the years, but you'd be a fool not to realize what that banner flying over the race track meant.

Just the fact that it was NASCAR and part of the Weekly Racing Series made it special. It gave it more meaning to fans and racers. It's hard to explain why. It just did.

Universal rules. A driver knew that the Street Stock or Late Model they had was legal at the other tracks. It was track unity.

Getting promoters these days to agree on anything is next to impossible it seems. But it happened under NASCAR. Barky made it happen, and those in charge after him still kept it going for years until it started falling apart in the 90's.

The Regional points gave top drivers the opportunity to compete against other top drivers in their region and across the country for bigger championships.

There's also the insurance. NASCAR had a top notice insurance policy for the racers.

Also, the possibility of appealing official decisions to NASCAR. Sometimes mistakes are made, and it was nice to have the option to go to the people at the top for a second look.

All of that is gone, and I can't help but wonder why it had to happen. I think greed had something to do with it. I'm not pointing any fingers, but I will say if NASCAR wanted it to stay together, they could have found a way.

Will we ever get it back?

It's hard to say at this point, but it doesn't look like it.

Oh sure, people will point to other organizations, such as IMCA. I don't want to offend anybody, but it's not the same. It just isn't, and it never will be anything close. It's not that they are bad either, so don't think I'm saying that. There are a lot of things I could say about IMCA, good and bad, but at least they are there.

But, NASCAR could have it all if they wanted it. They could put it back together.

You have the top three touring series on TV. The Regional touring series are still there, but the weekly short track program is lacking.

Why does it mater? For the reasons I have laid out here, but it would be good for NASCAR in the long run too. Short track racing is important to the health of the sport, plain and simple, and NASCAR should care about that. Fans of the local tracks become fans of the product on TV too and loyal supporters.

Not everybody can make it to a Cup race and not every racer will make it there either. But they can be a star at the local level and do it under a NASCAR banner. It can be profitable for both the track and NASCAR if it's done right.

I'm of the opinion NASCAR would need to appoint people to positions for the Weekly Racing Series and set up offices in several areas to help oversee the regions. The goal would need to be to lure tracks back into the fold.

I'm sure cost of sanctioning would be a concern, luring sponsorship money, ascertaining what divisions are viable for sanctioning and that sort of thing. If they wanted to do this, they could.

But, it's probably a pipe dream. Most of the leaders who made it happen before are no longer with us, and I'm just not so sure there is that type of leadership anymore. I suppose you never know, but it seems like there are too many who are out for themselves and not enough wanting to play for the team.

It's a shame. The sport will continue. Though tracks will continue to close, others will survive, and the show will go on. It could be so much better.

I feel for racing fans today, especially the newer ones. If they think things are great now, they would absolutely love the sport 20 or 30 years ago.

But, who knows? Anything is possible. As long as people still have places to go racing, anything is possible.