Sunday, June 30, 2013

The 1990 NCMA Controversy

In a way, I like the racing club idea.  The drivers vote, they make the rules by vote, they have to promote themselves.  Rules don't always change because the parts man has something to sell.  Clubs rise and fall on what the members do.  It's pretty neat.  It can also be a big pain in the butt.  You'd be amazed at the petty nit picking that goes on at meetings.  I had a front row seat with the NCMA for six seasons.  I know what goes on.

This was the reason that when Don O'Keefe Jr. told me Spec Sprints would NOT be a club, I was fine with it.  It's better off as a division at the track.  I felt no need to be the leader, nor did Don, but we guided a class in the beginning that's now in it's 15th season.

But, the NCMA blazed the trail for carbureted Sprint Car racing.  There were Merced Winged Limited Sprints and Santa Maria California Dirt Cars, both of which were done by the end of the 1990's.  Meanwhile, the NCMA was still pretty well off.  But, this story takes place in the third season.  It was a make or break time.

I've written about all that Mike Johnson had done to start this class, and how it could have failed in 1988.  A year later was the fall out from Johnson being thrown off the board as Business Manager.  President Paul Nelson guided the club through a pretty good second season, bringing the club to such tracks as Marysville and Orland for the first time.

In 1988, Johnson had taken a vote of who was interested in racing pavement.  It was 10-2 in favor.  I'd name the two no votes, but I won't.  The little rivalry between Johnson and these two was an interesting one.  I even drew ire from Johnson for writing about the rivalry he and one of them had in the short lived NCMA Weekly magazine I did.  Mike felt there was more money in pavement, and he was correct.

I think one of the reasons SORA ran pavement was that very reason.  Stephen Veltman was an excellent leader, and he even raced with the NCMA for a season.  But, Darryl Shirk was elected president of the NCMA in 1990.  In short order, he booked a 20 race schedule with ten races each at Marysville and Roseville.  The money at Roseville was too good to turn down, and Shirk believed the guys wanted that.  At that point, no Antioch was booked.

So, Shirk wasn't president for long.  The 1989 champion had to go back east that year on family business.  When he came back a year later, he blazed an incredible trail of victory in the 1988 Tobias chassis he had picked up.  But, it was Chuck Charles who replaced him and did his best to guide the ship in his brief time as club leader.  The Roseville dates were dropped, and dates at Antioch and Orland were added.  Then, Chuck stepped down.

It was Del Quinn who would become president for the remainder of the season.  A long forgotten fact is that "The Mighty Quinn" actually won the NCMA Marysville championship in 1990.  With Shirk out of the picture, 1989 NCMA Antioch champion Scott Holloway had his sights on the Overall title, as did Quinn, Jim Berryhill and second generation racer Mike DeCarlo.

A year after having his father Terry set that car up for him, Mike DeCarlo went full time in 1990 and was a force.  Nobody saw him coming.  He was not just the driver to beat for top rookie honors, but the Overall championship as well.  He was a feature winner and led several weeks in the standings.

Getting ten cars to the track was a struggle.  Shirk's two cars were gone, and there weren't many new drivers showing up.  One night when running late for Antioch, Berryhill sent his car ahead with Rod Avilla driving until Jim could get off of work to race.  He just wanted to make sure the car was there for the show.  Avilla qualified for the Trophy Dash, and Jim drove that race and the rest of the night.

The NCMA had appointed two point keepers who as far as I know never collaborated on the standings.  In fact, only one of them submitted any point sheet most of the season.  After the Antioch race, the Berryhill matter was brought up at a general meeting.  Though no official vote was taken, it was decided by president Quinn that the points would stand as they were.  The matter seemed closed, but one driver never really let it go away.

It might not have mattered.  Only DeCarlo could stop himself from winning it all.  Mike seemed destined to win the championship until a flip at Marysville damaged his car.  Mike walked away from the club, rather than rebuild and try to win that championship.  He would become a competitive Dirt Modified racer for a year or two before leaving the sport.

Suddenly, Berryhill was the leader over Holloway and Quinn.  Quinn was a mathematical contender overall, but Marysville seemed to be his to lose.  Berryhill knew that unless he messed up badly, he had Holloway beat.  Then, the club started seeing a second point sheet at the last race or two that showed a slightly different take.  Berryhill's Antioch points from that night earlier in the season showed no qualifying, dash or passing points.

At Marysville, Berryhill did what he had to do, winning the race in Chuck Murch's car.  There was a celebration.  Jim appeared to be the champion.  The Holloway pit was somber.  Scott felt it was his championship, and he would take the matter up with the board.  He maintained he wanted the points to reflect what was earned.

What happened next could have killed the NCMA then.  A point audit was scheduled at the Lokmor house.  The races were gone over week by week.  I recall Berryhill and Murch were there and Holloway, among others.  I knew what was coming.  I had thought the way to handle it would be to take away points not earned by Berryhill, meaning no qualifying points, and leave the rest.  You would have had co champions and avoided what was to come.

When they got to that week, Berryhill lost his qualifying, dash and passing points.  Needless to say, Berryhill and Murch were not pleased.  Holloway won the title by the stroke of a pen.  Why he waited until it got this far, I will never know.  It should have been discussed at that earlier meeting when Quinn had declared it would stand.  Sure, no votes were taken, but there was still an understanding.  Nobody complained then.

Well, Berryhill went on thinking he had what he had, and when that meeting came up, he lost a hard fought championship that way.  Technically, Holloway was right, but this situation was handled in the worst way possible.  It was a complete mess.  Berryhill had been an original member, even brought sponsorship to the club and negotiated a place for the 1989 awards banquet.  His sponsor even fielded a car.

While Holloway would celebrate the championship, Berryhill, Murch and Joe Klenginsmith all left, costing the club three cars.  Holloway made a move for 360 Sprints that next year, while Shirk returned and dominated.  But, the club was a mess when Jim Booth was elected president.  Jim got the club back to basics, eliminated board meetings that seemed to cause the problems and stopped the collapse.

1991 was a make or break year for the NCMA, but it was made worse by the mess left behind at the end of 1990.  This was an interesting time in the history of the club that fades from memories as most of those involved have either passed away or moved on.  But, what's interesting is the club survived it all and still races mainly on pavement to this day.  It's just one of the many stories that can be told about the club in that interesting time.