Saturday, July 20, 2013

Orland Speedbowl's Best Days Can Still Be Ahead

I've been away for a bit.  Sorry about that.  It's late or early.  You don't want to know what time it is here, but I felt I needed to make a post.  My mind hasn't been on racing lately, and I'll admit that I've been so unfocussed that I didn't even feel like posting one of the things I have archived.  There's a lot there too.

But I feel I needed to make a point.  If you're an Orland Speedbowl competitor, I'd like you to pay close attention.  It's been tough times for racing over the last decade.  You guys know this.  Actually, one of the posts I've been saving talks about that very fact.  Many tracks have closed during the last decade and most reopened, including Orland.

We've even gained a couple tracks, like Stockton 99 Dirt, Hayfork Speedway and Rocky Hill Speedway in Porterville.

Here's the thing, Orland Speedbowl is a little gem that people tend to forget.  Racing in Orland goes back at least to the 70's, and this particular track started in the late 80's from what I've been told.  It has endured several promoter changes as well as closings and reopenings during that time.

The track's rep has been built on Mini Stocks and Street & Hobby Stocks during the last 25 years, and it was the first track in California as far as I know to feature the Mini Trucks.  In the late 1990's and on into the 2000's, the Turner family took the track to new heights, including adding the Spec Sprints and holding some big end of the year events.

In the end, the economy got the Turners, and some people conveniently forgot all the good they had done.  After a dark year, the track reopened and has endured a few promoter changes in the last five yeas.  The show has managed to go on, though the previous three seasons have seen maybe some things get less attention than needed.

Lest you think I'm attacking anybody, I'm not.  I appreciate all who tried to promote this little race track and keep it alive.  It's just that the enthusiasm of the racers and the desire to support the track has faded.  Enter a man who had been watching this place for several years, Mike McCann.

Let me tell you something about Mike.  I'm probably forgetting a lot, because he's done so much in the sport through the years.  He raced Super Modifieds for years, among other divisions.  And this Hardtop revival in California was sparked by he and Chuck Prather. 

Mike featured that division at Sunset Speedway in Oregon and was so proud of it that he brought the cars to California a little over a decade ago.  I was at Sacramento Raceway that weekend.  The next stop for the guys was, you guessed it, Orland.  Prather started a class the next year and groups in Northern and Central California started after that.

Mike was a Promoter Of The Year award winner at Cottage Grove Speedway in Oregon in the late 1980's.  He's had a hand in building up programs in Eugene and Banks, Oregon as well as Marysville.  He came back because he wanted to make a difference.  He could have walked away, but he loves building racing programs.  It's what he's all about.

And, he wanted Orland.  It was his choice to go after this track.  He looked at other opportunities.  He had a pretty good one with a rich tradition offered to him last year.  Where isn't important.  What is important is he came to Orland for one reason.  He wanted to restore the glory to where it was a decade ago and beyond.

But, this can't happen without the racers.  Mike has shied away from working series deals with other tracks, mainly because he's trying to build up Orland's base first.  When that happens, BIG things will happen at this race track.  He has a Hunt Series Spec Sprint race this weekend, and the plan is to get more in the future.

The problem I've noticed from afar is the drivers were given no real incentive to come back in recent seasons.  After the Turners moved on, the closest track, Chico, gradually added more of what Orland had that was unique to them.  First it was Spec Sprints, then Mini Stocks and then the Hobby Stocks.  The tracks ran on opposite nights, but drivers started choosing tracks.

This is not a knock against Chico.  In fact, who could blame any racer for wanting to compete at that track?  Adding to this problem was the fact that Orland wasn't keeping points until last season.  So for three years there were no champions crowned.  On this very blog, I did my own point race in 2010 to help hype this track.

I've been a fan of Orland Speedbowl since the NCMA was booked to race there in 1989, and that enthusiasm was heightened when they were the first track to follow Antioch by adding Spec Sprints in 2001.  The track is almost forgotten, but it shouldn't be.  There have been some good races and racers there through the years.

Guys like Jimmy "The Jet" Pettit, Mario Romano, Ken Lewis, Brad Ray, Zach Hackett, "Gentleman" Jerry Bartlett, Josh Jacobo and Jake Van Tol come to mind, but there are many others.  Lots of history.  Lots of great racing.  Excitement and drama.  It happened on that little one-fifth mile dirt oval.

Mike McCann wants to make it happen again.  He's followed through on the things he told the drivers he would do going into the season.  He resurfaced the race track and it's better than it's been in a long time.  He's open to suggestions on how to improve things further, and all options are on the table.

But, he needs the drivers support.  This is a new era in Orland racing history, and it could become the best one yet if the drivers come on board.  There are several good racers already on board, and the track will again crown champions at season's end.  But, more racers are needed and more support from the community in general.

This doesn't mean everybody has to suddenly do all the work for the track.  It simply means spreading the word about the races.  If you know of a car that needs work, help if you can.  Got a parked car?  Consider getting it out there.  Going to watch?  Bring a friend.  A race track is a community.  This means it needs EVERYBODY to make it work.

I think in many ways the track is going great.  It had fallen on tough times, so it's almost like it's at Square 1 at this point.  I'm hoping more momentum can be built as the season heads towards the stretch.  I think Mike has done some good things so far, but it can only get better.  More improvements can and will come if people rally behind the track.

So come on everybody.  This is your beloved Orland Speedbowl we're talking about.  Many great days are ahead if you give it a chance.  It's up to you!

Looking Back At The Mike Cecil 100

The Street Stock 100 lap race at Watsonville ran throughout most of the 1980's (it was a 50 lapper in 1987) and into the 1990's with various sponsors on the title of the race. This was the only regular 100 lap race for the Street Stock division in California. In 1995, track champion Mike Cecil scored his first of two consecutive wins in the race.

The son of Watsonville Speedway Hall Of Famer Jerry Cecil, Mike Cecil was one of the more popular and respected competitors among his peers. He loved to race and particularly enjoyed the special long distance events. In 1997, Mike lost his battle with Cancer. The following year, the track named the special 100 lap race in his honor as the Mike Cecil 100. When the track dropped Street Stocks from the program in 2006, the Dirt Modifieds competed in the special event, which has also been run as a 50 lapper.

Street Stock 100 Lap Winners

1984 Kim Beard
1985 Ken Morgan
1986 Todd Souza
1987 Lloyd Antonetti Jr. *
1988 Darryl Shirk
1989 Mike Brumit
1990 Bobby Large
1991 Kurt Slama
1992 Ron Parker
1993 Darrell Hughes
1994 Joe Antonetti
1995 Mike Cecil
1996 Mike Cecil
1997 Ralph Sampson

Mike Cecil Memorial Winners

1998 David Soito Jr.
1999 Tim Clark Sr.
2000 Dennis Pelphrey
2001 Steve Ewbank
2002 Dennis Pelphrey
2003 Mark Cooper
2004 Dennis Pelphrey
2005 Mark Cooper
2006 Bobby Hogge IV *
2007 Bobby Hogge IV
2008 Bobby Hogge IV
2009 Jim Pettit II

Looking Back At The Tim Williamson Classic

Tim Williamson (January 13, 1956 - January 12, 1980) raced the Sportsman division at Watsonville Speedway in the 70's and spent five consecutive seasons ranked inside the top 20 in points, four of those in the top ten and one in the top five. In 1978, he began running the Winston West Series and was a winner in that once that season. He also won a race in that series in 1979, while ranking second in the standings.

Tim seemed destined to make it to the Winston Cup Series. He managed to start some races in that series at Riverside Speedway and Ontario and had a top ten finish at Riverside. He was killed at Riverside International Raceway during the companion NASCAR Grand American event the day prior to the 1980 Winston Cup Series opener. In an attempt to pass competitor Glen Steurer through the esses (turns 2-5) early in the race, one side of Williamson's car left the track surface which then caused the car to slide out of control back across the track, as well as an additional run-off area before hitting a retaining wall. The driver's-side of the car hit the retaining wall broadside with enough force to careen the car back across the run-off area and onto the track surface where it came to rest just before turn six.

Since his death, there has been a Tim Williamson Classic memorial race held each year at Watsonville Speedway (now Ocean Speedway) in Watsonville, California. The first race in 1980 was a 100 lapper for the Sportsman division. The race became a Stock Car 100 lap event the next year and throughout that decade. At various times, the race's distance has been altered in the last 20 years, twice to run twin features to make up for rain outs as the drivers were competing for NASCAR Regional points and needed that makeup race.

In 1994, the race was moved to the Dirt Modified division, where it stayed until switching to the Street Stocks in 2004. Since 2006, the American Stock division has competed in the race that has become a tradition at Ocean Speedway.

Below is a listing of past winners of the Tim Williamson Classic winners:

1980 J.D. Willis *
1981 Ralph Beck **
1982 Dan Simkins
1983 Orval Burke
1984 Ray Morgan
1985 Doug McCoun
1986 Kevin Pylant
1987 Jim Pettit II
1988 Bobby Hogge III
1989 Jeff Silva
1990 Steve Hendren
1991 Jeff Silva
1992 Robert Miller & Jeff Silva
1993 Steve Hendren
1994 Jeff Botelho & Mike Brumit ***
1995 Bobby Hogge IV
1996 Bobby Hogge IV
1997 A.J. Kirkpatrick
1998 Jim Pettit II
1999 Eric Jacobsen
2000 Jim Pettit II
2001 Eric Jacobsen
2002 Bobby Scott
2003 Jim Pettit II
2004 Darrell Hughes ****
2005 Danny Scott
2006 Tim Clark Sr. *****
2007 Kyle Camperud
2008 Bill Sorg
2009 Tony Oliveira

* The Sportsman division competed in this race in 1980
** The Late Model Division began competing in this race in 1981
*** The Dirt Modifieds began competing in This Race in 1994
**** The Super Stocks began competing in this race in 2004

Looking Back At The Ted Stofle Classic

Perhaps the greatest stock car driver in Merced Speedway history, Ted Stofle won the track championship in that division an amazing six years in a row from 1975 through 1980. He also collected three state titles along the way. Wherever Ted went in his #89m car, Merced, Watsonville, Madera, Antioch or elsewhere, he was one of the drivers to beat that night. He was still a young man in his 20's when his died in a tragic hunting accident in 1980.

A year later, Merced Speedway began holding a race in his honor. The Ted Stofle Classic ran 89 laps as a tribute to the man. The Stofle family also had his last Stock Car on display every year for this event, and it also served as pace car for the race. Everybody wanted to win this race

Doug McCoun, who won two straight Regional titles (1985-1986) and a National title along the way won the first event in 1981. He was on his way to doing it again in 1985 when a last lap pass netted Ray Morgan his second of three straight Stofle Classic wins. Jeff Silva used a last lap pass on Steve Hendren to win the 1989 race, his second straight win in this race.

In 1990, Chris Shannon drove Mike Palmburg's Cal Mod to a feature win and then jumped into his Late Model and won the big race as well. After Hendren won this race and the Tri Track championship in 1991, the race was switched to the Street Stocks in 1992. In what is probably a good trivia question, Pure Stock graduate Tom Key won that race in 1992 as Dell Humbert spun from second in the final turn going for the win.

Ted Stofle Classic Winners

1981 Doug McCoun
1982 Rene Krumm
1983 Dewayne Blunt *
1984 Ray Morgan
1985 Ray Morgan
1986 Ray Morgan
1987 Kevin Pylant
1988 Jeff Silva
1989 Jeff Silva
1990 Chris Shannon
1991 Steve Hendren
1992 Tom Key

* My records don't have most of the 1983 season, but according to a thread on Racing West's forum from early 2010, a poster (Otis Gleason?) indicated Blundt won this race for the biggest win of his career. He was top ten in points that season. If this information is incorrect, I'd welcome the documentation with the correct information. The idea is to keep the memory of these great racers and events alive.