Friday, April 5, 2013

Remember The Good Times, Look Forward To More

I had an important day on Sunday that I was dreading.  This was when we would lay my father to rest.  I was hoping to do this on his birthday weekend next month, but we made arrangements so that my brother and my aunt could be there.  My concern was that it would be raining Sunday, and it did.

I was not looking forward to it.  In fact, I didn't really want to go.  As a good friend told me, my dad would want me to do this for my aunt.  I've pointed this out elsewhere, but I blew off a lot of family moments to be at the races over the years.  This includes weddings, reunions and graduations.  Being at the races was more important to me.  I'm not bragging about that.  It's just how it was.

I hate funerals.  I don't see the point.  As the song I played for Mel Maupin says, "Do not stand at my grave and cry.  I am not there, I did not die.  I say to you I will see you again on the other side some day."

I used to say that when I die I want to be cremated and my ashes spread over Antioch Speedway.  That track meant everything to me from the time I was a kid.  My thinking was instead of being sad, everybody could go to the races and have fun and be happy.  I know I was happy there.  I loved the people there, reporting on everything and announcing.  I loved trying to make a difference.

Now, I don't know if I even care what happens when I'm gone.  Does it matter?  We have one life to live.  We are here to make friends and have a family and make a difference in their lives.  That's all that matters in the end.  All of this fake stuff they have people believing on TV and the internet is a lie.  It doesn't matter.  You can't take it with you.

The races are happening throughout the state, or some tracks are doing playdays.  Merced had the big World of Outlaws show last Friday and Antioch managed to run a Civil War Series Sprint Car race Saturday.  It's time for new memories to be made, new champions to be crowned.  Just enjoy these times with family and friends.  Who knows what craziness you will see this year.

It makes me think of the things I saw at the races through the years.  There are so many that it's impossible to name them all.  I'm sure there are some good ones that I'm not remembering at the moment.  Here are some that come to mind.

Gordon Chappa Wins NCMA Race:  Darryl Shirk owned the NCMA in the early 1990's.  He won all the time.  It was Antioch and he was so fast he could see second place in front of him.  That's when Darryl hit a tractor tire exiting Turn 2 as he tried to lap third place.  Suddenly, Jim Booth was the leader, within a lap and a half of victory.  He got conservative, and Gordon Chappa caught him in the final turn and beat him in a race to the line.  One of my favorite memories.

John "Boom Boom" Bellando Wins Enduro at Antioch:  John Bellando was an amazing racer, maybe the best Street Stock driver ever.  I remember him driving up on the wall in Turn 4, rolling his car and still finishing sixth.  In 1986, he was four laps down in an Enduro with 100 laps to go.  He unlapped himself all four times and won that race.  I've got more to say about John, maybe in another post.

The Berth Of A Heated Rivalry:  John Keldsen and Brian Holden were battling for a Figure 8 win at Antioch in 1987, and they crashed at the finish.  Keldsen was none too thrilled with the way Holden raced him, and this escalated as they got out of their cars.  Holden played to the crowd that was obviously on his side.  Brian may have been the best local Figure 8 driver ever, but he never was allowed to win the championship.  It started because of what happened that night.

Mel Maupin Wins Dirt Modified Trophy Dash:  I had a top racer tell me Mel would never be anything at Antioch Speedway, but I knew what a good driver he was.  In his last two years, Mel was a top ten driver, and he won his second career Trophy Dash.  This win meant a lot to him, and he even had tears in his eyes.  Moments like that are why I loved the sport as much as I did.

Darcie Odgers Scores Upset Win At Merced:  I announced this show at Merced where two Merced Street Stock champions, Jimmy Lust and John Clarke, were fighting hard for a win, but there was a problem.  Darcie Odgers was the leader, and that lady drove a flawless race.  She earned an impressive victory that night, and it's safe to say that nobody saw her coming.

The Byrd-Willis-Petttit Rivalry:  On the heels of dropping the Sportsman division, Antioch Speedway needed something to keep the interest up.  Having a local legend like J.D. Willis battle Dave Byrd and up and comer Jim Pettit II for the Late Model championship for two seasons was just the ticket.  All three divers led the points both years.  In the end, Byrd won two championships by a combined total of ten points over Willis.

Super Stocks At Petaluma Speedway:  I usually got to make one trip to Petaluma Speedway a year, and when they had Super Stocks, it was one of THE best programs in the state.  I mean, Mike Chilsholm, Lee Olibas, Mike Gustafson, Jim Tryon, Phil Pedlar, Larry Damitz, John Soares Jr., Rod Arnold.  Any of these guys could win.  If you won at Petaluma, you were one of the best.  That Street Stock show was top notch as well.

The George Steitz Shows At San Jose:  Okay, the racing was unorganized.  Main Events were usually shortened due to time.  There were many yellows, but so what.  Between 200 and 300 cars would show for these races, and there were some of the best drivers throughout the state and even outside the state.  It was like a big family reunion where the camaraderie in the pits was probably more important than the actual race.

The West Coast Nationals At Antioch:
  Scott Busby had a dream of a big show for Dirt Modifieds, and he talked track management into adding this race in 1993.  Scott was the main promoter.  We had a division record 83 cars for this race, won by Mark Welch.  This was the race that sealed the deal for Dirt Modifieds and ended the Late Model run.  While I disagreed with dropping Late Models, you couldn't argue that the Dirt Modifieds had the car count.

Ramie Stone At Merced:
  I can't name the one race, but if you were there, you know what I mean.  Ramie Stone had a knack for taking his IMCA Modified to the front with high groove passes.  He won championships in three divisions at Merced.  When I did the DCRR State point race, he won that too.  He flew under the radar of most people, but he is one of the best IMCA Modified drivers I ever saw.

Chowchilla Speedway in 2000:
  It's not about one race.  It's about a season.  What Tom Sagmiller and the inverters did there was amazing.  I saw some things there I doubt I will ever see again.  He even restarted a race that was to be canceled due to rain after consulting the drivers.  He gave the Steitz race a new home that year.  It really was a great place to race, and it bucked the tradition.

The DRA At Delta Speedway:
  What can you do on a 1/8th mile dirt oval?  Well, Stockton Delta Speedway ran Mini Sprints, Dwarf Cars and an amazingly action packed Mini Stock program for several years.  It was an awesome show to watch.  I only saw a few races, but they always stuck with me.  The Mini Stocks were surprisingly good.  In fact, I have an article I want to write on the subject eventually.

230 Car Enduro At Baylands:  I got to go to several races at this track when they were NASCAR.  It was the first track I got to be in the pits at.  They ran just about everything there.  Lots of fond memories.  The last time I went was for the big farewell Enduro that had 230 cars.  We lost a good track when Baylands closed.

Darryl Shirk's Last Win:  Darryl Shirk won many races throughout his career.  He won several championships, many with the NCMA.  His last year, he ran a Wingless Spec Sprint.  He won a race that season.  Sadly, he passed away that year.  In typical Shirk fashion, he was the point leader when he retired.  He is only the second person in the Antioch Speedway Hall Of Fame.

Those SORA Sprint 100's Aren't Too Bad: 
Stephen Veltman and the boys formed SORA and went on tour rather than joining the All Pro Series at Petaluma.  Some of us were skeptical, but there were some good races in this well promoted group.  What you had was groups of drivers in fast, average and slow in the main event, leaders to heavy traffic by lap 7.  Amazingly, their races at Antioch were very entertaining.

The Birth Of The Hardtop Revival In California:  It was my birthday, and Don O'Keefe Jr. and Jim Booth brought me to Sacramento Raceway for a special Cascade Hardtops visit from Oregon.  As I recall, Ken Bonnema had a ride that night too.  Steve Limley won the race.  A year later, Chuck Prather started a Hardtop effort at Sacramento and Roseville.  It wasn't too many years later when the NorCal and Okie Bowl Hardtop efforts were born.

Bobby Hogge Puts It In Reverse:
  It was 1985, and Ed Sans Jr. was closing in on Bobby Hogge for the Antioch Late Model championship after a late start.  In fact, Ed won that last race.  Bobby, meanwhile, spun out coming out of the final turn.  If he stays there, he will lose the championship.  Thinking quickly, Bobby put it in reverse and backed across the finish line.  He won the championship that year.

The Final Night Heartbreak: 
Bob Hansen had the 1993 Antioch Street Stock title won, and then he got a flat tire in the final race.  He won the State title, but Mickey Hill won the track championship.  A year later, Jackie Frye controlled his own destiny, but then he got too conservative on the final night.  Doug Henry didn't hold back, and he won it all.

The Greatest Comeback In Antioch Dirt Mod History:
  Chad Chadwick held an 80 point lead entering the 1999 Dirt Modified finale.  Bart Reid barely made the main and started last.  Chadwick was eliminated in a crash.  Reid racked up all of the passing points and tied Chadwick for the point lead in the double point finale.  Reid won the tie breaker.  There's a story about this that I want to tell.  It's already written, so I hope to post it in the future.

The Finish:  David Rosa dominated much of the 1995 Street Stock season and had build a 100 point lead over Phil Torres.  However, that lead disappeared, and he went into the finale knowing that whomever finished ahead of the other was champion.  An uncharacteristic aggressive pass gained Torres the lead, and he beat Rosa to the flag by inches.  It didn't end there as the two drivers crashed out the exit gate in spectacular fashion.

Furia Gets In Trouble:
  Dennis Furia won the 1979 Sportsman championship and built a reputation as an aggressive racer.  The faster drivers back then started in the back, so that's usually where he was.  On one night, Furia crashed with Mike Green, who went over the wall.  The resulting penalty on Furia led to a driver boycott a week later, but 17 racers felt the call was fair and put on a show for the fans.

Watching Excellence: Larry Damitz in 1986 (10 Antioch Wins), Bobby Hogge III threading the needle as only he could, Ed Sans Jr. (the "bad guy" but one heck of a racer), Darryl Shirk (need I say more), Dennis Furia's return as a front runner, Jeff Rhoton and Joey Rodriguez dominating Street Stocks at Antioch, John Bellando putting on a show, Rich Richards and the drivers who raced for him.  Scott Busby in the Dirt Mods.  Joe Carr, Randy Larsen and Dan Clary (three stars that put Dirt Mods on the map in the late 1980's).

They Booed Him Walking In The Grandstands: Many Fans hated Rick Petruzzi.  He was aggressive on the race track and was there to win, not make friends.  This led to several altercations with other drivers and the other driver usually getting in trouble.  Fans loved to boo him, but he won his share of races.  He was a champion at Antioch and Merced in Street Stocks.

The Sportsman Division At Antioch:  It made me a fan.  I loved those cars.  I loved the inverted field format that promoter John Soares used.  Slow to fast heats, fastest cars in the back of the feature.  Sandbagging to get up front.  The intros with cars lined up one at a time on the front stretch, and all the nicknames.  "Chargin" Marvin Wilson , J.D. "You Betcha" Willis, Dennis "Foot In It" Furia, Mike "The Blue Knight" Gustafson , Dana "Always On  It" Auger and so on.  Those were the days.

The Emergence Of The Underdogs: That driver nobody gave a chance that won his or her first race.  Seeing the look on their face when I went to interview them, even if it was just a first time top ten finish or heat race win.  Making sure these drivers got recognition.  Mel Maupin's last three seasons.  Len Mello wining the Sportsman championship from being a B Main driver, and cheering him every step of the way.

My Trips To Watsonville:  Getting to see the Figure 8 for the first time.  Watching the amazing competition that was the Street Stocks and Stock Cars there in the 1980's.  Getting a win there was not easy, and it meant something to win at Watsonville.  The Tim Williamson Classic 100 lapper, The Pettit Auto Wreckers 100, the Nifdee 50 (Their buttons were awesome).  The two and three race weekends began at Watsonville.

Being A Part Of The Valley Racing Scene:  I enjoyed being a part of things at Chowchilla and Merced Speedway while I was there.  Walking the tightrope at the time to try and help BOTH tracks, doing everything I could to try and bridge the gap between the two promoters.  The people down there are awesome.  The races were enjoyable.  I had fun while I was there, and I hope I made a difference.

Starting The Spec Sprint Division:  Working with Don O'Keefe Jr. to start this division for John Soares Jr. at Antioch was an experience that I will write about elsewhere.  We had to work on every aspect of this division to make it happen.  We had goals and we achieved them all.  Seeing this division in it's 15th year at Antioch and racing at other tracks as well is something that makes me proud to have been a part of it in the beginning.

Going To The Races With Dad:  Dad told me stories of Pacheco and Vallejo racing, but we went to Antioch together for many years.  It led to my involvement in the sport, and he used to wait for me to finish my post race interviews in the early days of the magazine.  He had many friends there.  Betting nickels, dimes and quarters with my brother, sister and some of the Nordstroms.  Those were the days.

That's only some of the things I recall witnessing at the races, but there are many more.  You just never know what you're going to see at a night at the races.  Anything can happen.  There's drama, dominance, surprising winners, heart breaking losses, high emotion, heated rivalries, and so much more.  Plus, you get to share the experience with family and friends.  So, here's not just to memories past, but memories future.