Monday, March 18, 2013

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.