Sunday, November 23, 2014

Orland Raceway Will Rise Again With New Promoter

In July, Mike McCann had to step away from Orland Raceway after promoting the races for a season and a half.  He gave it a good effort and made some improvements to the track, but it never quite got off the ground.  The are too many obstacles that seem to have challenged all of the promoters there since the Turners ended a successful decade long run.

In September, Adam Zachary was named the new promoter by the Fair Board after winning the bid.  Zachary intends to have a new web page up and make use of social media as he reopens the track in 2015.  On the Glenn County Fairgrounds Facebook page, he was quoted saying,"I am still planning on running most of the previous classes with variations." 

Most likely, the divisions will at least include Mini Trucks, Mini Stocks, Pure Stocks and Wingless Spec Sprints, but some announcements will be forthcoming following Thanksgiving weekend.  A special meeting has been scheduled to meet with the racers on December 6th at 1PM at Mountain Mike's Pizza on Mangrove in Chico.

I have to admit I was a little worried it might be the end of the track after McCann walked away.  It's nice to know that Adam is stepping in and giving it a go.  He faces some challenges.  For instance, because of the difficulties the track has had over the last five years or so, Chico has added some of the classes that Orland has.  This has led to drivers switching tracks.

The challenge will be to create some stability for the racing program and to inspire some driver loyalty at the track.  Who knows how many chances the track will get before nobody wants to promote it anymore.  We'll see what kind of driver support the track gets this time.  I wish Adam the best as he tries to make a go of it in 2015.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Williams Out As Merced Speedway GM

There seems to be a bit of turmoil brewing at Oval Motorsports Inc's playground.  I'm a little baffled as to what has gone down here, but it went from really good news to not so good.  It started with the October announcement of the big IMCA Modified events at Antioch and Merced.  John was putting up big money, and this at a time when I don't think it was a great season at Antioch statistically.  John did what he always does, he doubles down and commits to it.

Well, there should have been talk about who is coming to the New Years Events at Antioch and Merced and who will win the money.  That's not what happened, because Merced Speedway was rocked with huge news.  Doug Williams resigned as General Manager.  This was big news, because Doug is one of the people at Merced, one of the racers.  A racer's racer.  The guy who shocked the Watsoinville guys by winning a NASCAR Regional title and bringing it to Merced.  A BCRA Hall Of Famer. 

Doug is a Merced Speedway legend and on the list of the first dozen racers I would put into the Hall Of Fame there.  John picked the right man for Merced, but here's a news flash.  Doug wasn't the first choice according to my sources.  Mike McCann was the first choice, but Mike loves the challenging causes.  He gave it a go at Orland.  He had to deal with some of the elements that threaten Merced Speedway, and it ended his Orland run in July of this year.

So, Doug stepped in and began the effort to strengthen Merced Speedway's ties with the community.  He brought Legend's Night to the track to honor greats from the track's past.  He gave us back The Ted Stofle Classic.  Doug, by all accounts, was loved as General Manager.  A local guy.  As October came to a close, Doug resigned from Merced Speedway.  I was a shocked, and people are not reacting well to the news.

Why did he do it?  Immediately, John is painted as the bad guy.  Doug doesn't do anything to discourage that line of thinking, citing John and the PR Guy and plans for 2015 that he didn't like.  I have theories about what is going on, but for now will keep them to myself.  I think I've been in a similar environment, and it's not fun.

One thing I do know is John has a PR problem with his racers in The Valley that must be addressed or he will be hurting for cars.  I know a little about the racers at Merced.  They are good people.  They can be loyal, but they can also be stubborn.  If they feel wronged, they will park.  They want to know that their voices will be heard.  For a long time, they felt they were being ignored.  They parked in big enough numbers to nearly destroy that track.  John saved it.  Nobody wanted it.  That's a fact.  Some pretty big names in racing promotions looked and passed on Merced.  John was all that was left, and he wanted to save it.

So, how do you fix it?  The first thing I do is pick up the phone and call Doug Williams.  Let's talk and see if this can be resolved.  Maybe it's too late, but maybe not.  He is the leader down there that the racers rally behind.  If it's to late to salvage, a local Merced racer would be the best place to start, but I can only think of a few names that fit the bill.

The one with the experience is Tom Sagmiller.  He and John get along, last I heard.  I think Tom is liking just coming in and doing track prep, so I don't know if he would want the job.  I do know he is all about the community, and that is needed.  This needs to be resolved and publicized as soon as possible to put the racer's minds at ease.

Some are talking of selling their cars, and others were talking about going to Chowchilla.  Well, that was before John got Chowchilla too.  He has two tracks 16 miles apart, and a group of drivers that are a little upset with him right now.  The racers are stubborn.  They will park and worry about having no track when it happens.  It sounds crazy, but it's true.  We've all seen it happen there before, and it doesn't need to happen again. 

I don't know what happened between John and Doug.  We all have things that we believe strongly in and will stand up for.  I've worked with John, and looking back, the biggest issues he and I really had was a communication breakdown and other people in our ears feeding us bad information about each other.   What happened between John and Doug is unknown to me.  I only know that Doug felt strongly enough in his position to walk away. 

It would be nice if cooler heads could prevail here if possible.  I don't know what the sticking point between them was, so it's hard to say.  However, John needs to set people's minds at ease in The Valley that what they want does matter and that somebody who knows the area will be the next GM.  Either way, they need somebody who is fair and understands the issues that racers face.

John and Oval Motorsports Inc. has doubled down again.  Antioch, Merced and Chowchilla make three tracks under the same umbrella.  My guess is John will keep promoting racing until he is unable to do so, and he's prepared to put his money where his mouth is.  In 2014, that is a huge risk.  Racing is still alive and well, but it's seen it's better days in California.  If a track closes now, there is no guarantee anybody will come in with money to reopen it.

I am disappointed to know that Doug isn't involved at Merced.  He was good for the track.  Whatever John's next move is, I hope he puts the word out sooner versus later.  If the weather holds up, Merced is scheduled to have a race the first week of January, so it's just around the corner.  Personally, I am hoping for a strong year for all three race tracks and I'm hoping John can make it happen.  I've always had the belief that he and his father were good for racing.

Merced needs some good news, and I'd also add that their drivers deserve a banquet in their own area, rather than driving to Antioch for it.  Regardless of what happened with John and Doug, the racers shouldn't have to suffer for it. Hopefully, things will clear up in a positive way by the time the Promoter's Workshop comes around.

A Look Back At The 2000 Darryl Shirk Memorial Race

Back in 2000, The Darryl Shirk Memorial Race ended the season at Antioch Speedway with a $1,000 to win race for the Wingless Spec Sprints.  It was another full field with enough cars for a B Main.  Not bad for the division's second season at the track.  They were settling into their role as co headliners at the track.

One of the things I love about the division was how it brought open wheel veterans together with newcomers and racers with stock car back grounds.  Anybody who had it together could compete in this division and challenge for victory.  In fact, that point was highlighted well by two drivers who led several laps of the big race.

To my knowledge, this was "Rockin" Richard Panfili's best ever finish, and he's still competing in the Spec Sprint Division.  In fact, Rick was top five in the points this season.  Way to go Rick.  I'll admit I tended to get excited when some of the "little guys" started to get competitive.  Those two leaders in this race were two I enjoyed seeing do well, and I may have been shaking the recorder a little as I held it and the microphone while announcing.

We had three drivers with a shot at the championship.  There was a young up and comer named Travis Berryhill.  We had Eric Mentch, who had raced at the track through much of the 1990's.  And, there was the open wheel veteran Jim Perry Jr.  With double points on the line, Mentch's point lead was not safe.

So, who won this race?  How about you listen to the call everybody heard that night and relive the excitement.  The call was later featured on California Racing Online.  I'm hoping to have more classic audio calls up here in the future.

2000 Antioch Speedway Darryl Shirk Memorial Race by GenWhat

Friday, November 21, 2014

Through All The Changes, Racing Has Continued To Endure

Things change in racing.  You can count on it.  Back in the late 1950's and 1960's, tracks in Oakland and Pacheco closed.  These two tracks were extremely important to the Bay Cities Racing Association and the legendary Hardtop and Midget divisions they had at the time.  It was the end of the great BCRA circuit of Pacheco, Vallejo, West Capital and Oakland.

Of course, BCRA survived and adapted as they always have, but by the mid 1960's they had gotten out of the Hardtop business.  The Midgets of the 1970's were still an amazing show.  They ran on any track they could get.  There was Fremont, which became a home track for them.  They ran indoors.  They raced where they could, and there was still no shortage of race dates.

In the 1960's, Bayshore Speedway gave way to Champion Speedway, and then Champion Speedway was closed before the 1970's came along.  By then, NASCAR had become THE sanctioning body in Northern California.  Bob Barkhimer saw to that when his CSCRA merged with NASCAR.  The man had many tracks when he made that move in 1950, another key moment in racing history.

In the 50's, NASCAR and BCRA ruled Northern California.  To show you the kind of guy Barky was, he loaned BCRA money to keep them afloat in hard times in the early 70's.  It wasn't about competition between them, and he was quick to point out his love of Midget racing.  He was a top driver before he was one of the greatest racing promoters to ever live, and he is in the BCRA Hall Of Fame.

In the 1970's, the racing climate changed again.  Clovis and Kearny Bowl closed, and then Tully Road San Jose Speedway closed.  It was in 1978 when the drivers went from the pavement to the dirt of San Jose Speedway at the Fairgrounds.  In short order, Vallejo Speedway was closed and West Capital Speedway ran it's final race in 1980.

It was also during this time when Barkhimer retired and sold BBA.  His legacy of tracks was still strong, but changes were in the wind.  Many of Barky's guys ended up out of NASCAR, the first being John Soares Sr., who had the foresight to get Petaluma and make it an independent track.  His promoting career was already more than two decades old, and he ran Petaluma until retiring at the end of the 2002 season.

The Barky Legacy tracks had a boon period in the 1980's, peaking around 1985.  At it's height, the Stock Car and Street Stock circuit ran Watsonville on Friday, Merced, Antioch or San Jose on Saturday and Baylands on Sunday.  There was lots of good racing to be had.  I call it the last "Golden Age" of Nor Cal racing, but that's just my opinion.  Racing went on regardless.

In the late 1980's, there were two major changes that happened.  We lost Baylands, which had become a very important track not just for Sprint Cars, but Stock Cars as well.  They raced everything there.  For a time, David Vodden and investors tried to relocate, looking at the site in Vacaville of the old Vaca Valley Drag Strip.  It would have been a good site, but you know how politics are.  Soares brought all of those divisions to Petaluma in 1989, and the All Pro Series was born.

I would be remiss if I didn't point out that even during that time, the track in Vallejo still sat dormant.  Some 15 years later (in 1993), I walked that track and the houses were just starting to encroach on the territory in Turns 1 and 2.  Makes you wonder about the racing seasons that could have been, but you know how politics are.

Speaking of which, NASCAR had an ambitious plan for San Jose Speedway in the late 1980s.  They still ran the San Jose Mile for AMA Motorcycles and Silver Crown cars, and the thought was that this could become a one mile track for the Sprint Cup and other special events.  NASCAR wanted this, but the powers that be did not.  The idea was shot down.

Some cite this as the beginning of the end for San Jose Speedway.  Maybe it was.  The track lasted for over a decade after that, but things began to change.  Super Modifieds were done and replaced with Sprint Cars before the end of the decade.  In the 90's, it was the closing of the mile track and then a falling off of 410 Sprint Car count.  Then came rumblings of a proposed concert amphitheater.

In the 1990's, an effort came about to bring racing back to Altamont Raceway Park.  It was grass roots, and it was successful.  It began the most successful run for the track, despite the intense heat during day races and heavy winds and cooler temperatures at night.  Many champions were crowned in it's decade plus run.

Merced had pulled out of NASCAR at the end of the 1991 season.  I was aware that the powers that be didn't care for the Cal Mod division that nearly produced a Regional champion in Gordon Rodgers for two straight years.  In any case, Chuck Griffin made the track independent in 1992, and they later became a big IMCA supporter.  This left three tracks in the Barky Legacy, Antioch, Watsonville and San Jose.

San Jose was falling on hard times.  It cost $5 just to park there.  The 410's faded and gave way to 360 Sprints, and Dwarf Cars, Mini Sprints and NCMA Modifieds took turns as the support class.  The Late Models had long been gone from the card there and were replaced by Dirt Modifieds at the other two tracks.  It was a change that some liked and some hated, but racing went on.

Then, change was in the air once again.  It's my belief that Antioch and Watsonville's success under NASCAR propped San Jose up during the hard times.  Had Antioch still been in the fold, who knows what may have happened in 2000, but John Soares Jr. swooped in and grabbed Antioch with a successful All Pro Series program that gained Antioch its biggest car counts ever early on.

This change created a major problem that changed the face of the racing scene once again.  Rick Farren, who had been in charge of the BBA tracks since 1988, struggled mightily to maintain San Jose in 1998 and 99.  Plus the Board Of Supervisors were busy sharing the pipe dream of an amphitheater.  One has to wonder what might have been if Rick could have guided San Jose through just a season or two more and outlasted the threat.

As it was, he walked away.  Can't say I blame him, but in taking his stuff and leaving, it became harder for those looking or who were asked to come in and take over to want to invest in the place.  It looked like the end of weekly racing in San Jose, which went back many decades.

It also spelled the end of NARC, the premiere Sprint Car tour in Northern California since 1960.  NARC found themselves dis invited from Antioch and Petaluma when Soares Jr. took over Antioch.  People cite that as the cause of NARC's downfall, but Golden State Challenge Series promoted tracks would give them the boot as well, leaving San Jose, Watsonville, Tulare and Bakersfield.  NARC was doomed.

Nobody wanted to see San Jose close.  This was a game changer.  There were people at the fairgrounds frantically fighting to save the track and bring somebody new in, but it was too late.  Within a couple years, the board had those huge grandstands demolished for the amphitheater that was never to be.

In the late 1990's at Merced, there was a rumble in the area.  The promoter was not on the "most liked" list of many racers.  There were years when drivers came all the way to Antioch or Hanford rather than race at Merced.  Car count would start to grow there and the collapse after an official decision or rule change was made.  The list of unhappy racers grew with each passing week.

In 1996, Tom Sagmiller won the Merced Street Stock championship.  In 1997, he was well on his way again with an over 100 point lead, but track management was not happy with him.  Sagmiller began getting penalized and disqualified repeatedly until one night when he lost his cool from the harassment in a very public scene.  Sagmiller was black balled from the track he loved.

In much the same way I would be at Antioch when I got tossed, Tom wouldn't go away.  He fought for the racers and for change from outside the gate, and some of the stories I've heard still make me laugh.  I sometimes wish I could have been there for that.  The first thought was to make a promoter change, but winning the bid proved unlikely.

However, Tom and friend Jim Sanders of the Merced Community Action Network were able to go over the numbers and gain an understanding of what went into running the track.  Tom wanted to help Jim raise money by running a special race at Merced for the MCAN at the end of the 1998 season, but track management shot that down when it looked like it wold be the biggest race at the track in years.

It was in 1999, when word was already out that San Jose was doomed, when Tom had that fateful meeting with investor Charlie Ruth at Chowchilla.  It was the berth of Chowchilla Speedway.  Investors, led by Ruth, got behind Sagmiller, who was the promoter.  Chowchilla Speedway became the little track that could, and we needed something like this.

But, with volunteer labor and donated equipment, Chowchilla Speedway opened in 2000.  NARC got on board in an effort to save the group, but they were done before season's end.  Some thought the speedway would close, but they underestimated Sagmiller's determination and the loyalty he inspired.

Car count grew as the season went on.  Then, George Steitz brought his Dirt Track Shoot Out race to Chowchilla in 2000 for the season's end.  Some of the biggest races in the state took place at Chowchilla, and Sagmiller fast became one of the more popular promoters with the racers.  And this was a positive for Merced Speedway as Griffin had some of his best years in this decade and also promoted some huge events, even giving some big races to the fans for free.

So, the first decade of the 2000's got off to a good start.  By mid decade, car count was up at some tracks.  In 2002, John Soares Sr. stepped down at Petaluma, but it was his son Jim who took over and guided the track through a bit of a come back.  Watsonville had a bit of a hard time for a year or so, and then Farren announced his retirement.

There was speculation as to who might get the track, and Sagmiller was an interested party.  He and Steitz had taken a look at Hills Ferry in Newman as a place to run car races, but that idea was abandoned after they promoted a few motorcycle and go kart shows there.  Some welcomed the news that Tom would get Watsonville, others hated the idea.

Then, Dwarf Car ace John Prentice entered the picture and won the bid for the track.  This ushered in big changes for what is now called Ocean Speedway, including the addition of a Sprint car program and the return of the Johnny Key Classic that ran for years at San Jose.  IMCA came in to sanction Modifieds, and car count grew.  All car counts did initially.

The decade wasn't without threats to the tracks.  Jim Naylor's Ventura Raceway was threatened by an amphitheater, but the track fought it off.  Antioch Speedway was threatened for a time by the BART extension, but that too failed.  Petaluma has outlasted the threats of a minor league ball park and a shopping mall.  Why the threats against fairgrounds when these places bring people together in the community is beyond me.

The days got even darker, and it looked like doom and gloom for racing.  Stockton 99 Speedway was closed for future redevelopment.  Madera was closed for a future shopping mall.  Altamont was closed when the promoter went beyond the agreement and pissed off the neighbors.  Hanford was closed when Dave Swindell walked away.  Orland was closed when the Turners walked away.

The old feud at Merced resurfaced when Tom Sagmiller was booted from Chowchilla and Chuck Griffin took over.  Griffin had good numbers at Merced at the time, but Chuck's Chowchilla bombed faster that the movie Gigli.  Chowchilla closed within a year, and Merced was next.  I'm looking from the sidelines at the time, and I thought things were doomed.

But, they weren't.  Only Altamont has been unable to reopen since then.  Kenny Shepherd stepped in to save Madera and did the same for Chowchilla for three seasons.  John Soares Jr. and Mike McCluney attempted to fight the negativity and reopen Hanford.  Though it failed after a few races, Bob Dias managed to end that season with races.  Scott Woodhouse runs things there now.

We got Stockton back with Tony Noceti at the helm.  Tony even opened up the Stockton 99 dirt track inside the horse racing track at the fairgrounds. and Orland came back through a group effort for three seasons.  Last year, veteran promoter Mike McCann took the reigns in an effort to try to take things to the next level.

Change happens as legends pass away.  John Padgen retired, handing the reigns at Placerville to Allan Handy.  Dennis Gage is in charge of Chico, and both tracks live on.  Sadly, John has passed away, but he has left a legacy of great racing memories that fans and drivers will never forget.

The man who brought us Santa Maria Speedway, Doug Fort, passed away.  They've had a few management changes there since then, but fans have been enjoying great racing there in the years that followed.  Bakersfield Speedway hasn't struggled all that much through the last two or three decades and has some of the best racing in the state.

Mel Hall promoted Grass Valley's track for years and moved to Marysville in the 90's when Grass Valley's track was closed by the fairgrounds.  He passed away in the early part of last decade, but racing has continued.  They honor Mel with a race every year, which is much deserved.

In the last decade, we had to say goodbye to true legends Bert Moreland, John Soares Sr. and Bob Barkhimer.  Racing fans owe thanks to these three for all they did to build up our sport.  I wish there were races held in their honor, because they truly deserve to be remembered.  Petaluma finally had the first Johnny Soares Classic for BCRA Midgets.

Two people active in the sport to the end who passed away were Gary Jacob and George Steitz.  As a racer, George had a Hall Of Fame career at Merced and Watsonville.  But, he is also remembered for his big "family reunion" type races at the end of year at San Jose and later Chowchilla, called the Dirt Track Shoot Out.  These were some of the biggest racing events ever in the state.

If you read about a race in Wheels, DCRR Racing News or one of the many publications out there, chances are Gary Jacob wrote it.  He loved racing and he loved spreading the word about it.  He was a hard core fan who dedicated his life to the sport.  He worked hard to increase car counts in big races and let people know about races at tracks that had no writers.  When he passed away, it left a void in the sport that may never be filled again.

Through ups and downs and major changes in the sport, auto racing endures.  The worry has been about tracks closing down, and it's very real.  People want to take it away from us and replace it with nothing.  But, there are some good promoters out there taking the financial risk to keep tracks open and racers supporting the cause, so tracks have been brought back from the brink.  Tracks that were closed have come back again.

In the last few years, we've heard the story of Hayfork Speedway opening in Trinity County and holding it's first races.  After being closed in the 1990's, Rocky Hill Speedway in Porterville came back.  John Prentice opened and closed Chowchilla Speedway last season, but local racer Jack Stanford brought it back.  Now, John Soares Jr. and Oval Motorsports Inc. will promote the track.

Racing is alive and well in California in 2013.  Maybe car count isn't what it once was in some places, but we still have races every week.  There are still big money shows and new track champions being crowned.  It's something to be appreciated and not to be taken for granted.  It can always be taken away.

I don't know where it's going next, but I hope for the best.  I say if you are a fan and see something that you think you can help improve, let them know.  Maybe you want to sponsor.  Maybe it's a race idea.  Maybe you can help them spread the word with hype, written articles, a web page or fliers.  Don't be afraid to offer.  You never know what can happen.

This is all just a rough look at some of the history and some of the moments that changed the sport.  But the great part of it all is there is still history to be made at a track near you.  A new winner, a new champion, a veteran driver winning another title, a photo finish.  Who knows what will happen next?  Maybe a new track will open up.  Who knows?  Here's to the many great moments in racing, past, present and future.

Clearing Up A Rumor Before It Goes Any Further

It's not true...

Something got put out there in the rumor mill and already made it back to me, and I feel the need to address it.  It happened twice.  Apparently, the word is that I was asked to come back and announce at Antioch Speedway again.  Fortunately, I only saw an e-mail and a message regarding this rumor, and it's not spreading across the net.

First of all, I would like to see some respect shown to John Meyers.  This is a man who has announced at Antioch Speedway longer than any other announcer.  He loves what he does, has fun with it and he's been there when nobody else wanted the job.  His style is his own, and yes, I do respect him. 

I'm not interested in stepping over anybody for that gig.  This happened at Merced with a man who I felt really tried to help them.  I never felt right about that.  That man actually started one of the first race track web pages, updated it regularly with points, stats and his own articles and I don't think he got the respect he deserved.  I LOVED working with the legendary Johnny Sass, but I never felt good about stepping over Jim to join Johnny in the booth.

Secondly, I have not been offered any gig at Antioch Speedway.  This was discussed about five years ago.  We never really got into details enough too get me to step back into that arena, so I respectfully declined.  Caring about Antioch Speedway and California racing as I did and do, I stepped in to ghost write some stuff for them that season.  I actually felt pretty good about my work and felt I made a difference, but it was a lot of work.

Thirdly, I've changed a lot since I walked away.  I'm not sure I could go back again.  I have no doubt I could do the job.  You don't forget how to do this stuff when it was a part of your life for so many years.  I know my ability.  I could do the job, and I could do it well.  But this is all just speculation.  They have their announcer and need to focus on the amazing show they plan for next January.

So, let me clear it up before any rumors get stared.  Oval Motorsports has a lot of good things happening and needs no silly rumors.  I have not been contacted, nor have I contacted Antioch Speedway or any other track concerning announcing, writing or anything else.  There is nothing to report here.  I am planning to get more active with this blog, but that is unrelated to anything.

I wish John Soares Jr. and his staff all the the best.  And that goes for John Meyers as well.  I don't think I could have predicted that he would have gone as far as he has with announcing, but that is because he is dedicated and good at what he does.  Antioch Speedway doesn't need me.  They already have one of the best announcers in the state.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Jim Soares, An Update And An Auto Biography

For some reason that has me somewhat surprised, the viewership of this blog has been high.  I don't know what has caused it since I have been focusing my writing efforts in other areas over the past year or so, but it seems to indicate that I need to write more here and post some of the things I have already written.

I realize I have lots of things to write.  Not all of them fit into this page, which is why I write elsewhere.  However, I do have things to post here.  I have written some racing posts this year, though they were posted elsewhere.  Which reminds me...

Jim Soares

I want to offer my condolences to Jim Soares' family on his passing.  I can't say I was buddies with Jim.  I wasn't.  He was brutally honest and at times his humor wasn't really what I wanted to hear.  But, I respect him for what he brought to racing as a promoter, track prep man and a championship winning driver.  This is how I choose to remember him.  The sport of auto racing was better for his involvement.

Mike McCann And Orland Raceway

I was also disappointed to hear how Mike McCann had to step away from Orland Raceway.  He made it work for a year and a half, but his budget ran out.  At that point, he had to walk away.  I spoke with him back in July of last year.  He had an uphill battle, and I learned of some of the things he was struggling with.  He was getting grief from people he shouldn't have.  I offered my opinions and was looking forward to doing what I could to help.

A few years ago, I ghost wrote a whole season for Orland Raceway on this blog as a way to help the track.  I even created a point series since they had no points.  I've always had a soft spot in my heart for that little track.  They gave the NCMA some races once upon a time and jumped on board as the second track to run Wingless Spec Sprints in 2001.  I'm not sure what I could have done (if anything) to help Mike, but I was ready to try.

I Could Write A Book

This happened at a time when I was writing and researching for book material and post material.  I even wrote a post that will go up soon.  It inspired the absolute flood of words that led to a few days of non stop writing.  There are almost 60,000 words that are the auto biography of my involvement in auto racing.  Why I did it, what I tried to do, the good, the bad and the ugly.  I am critical of people in this honest book, including myself.  I certainly screwed up enough along the way.

The book needs some editing and proof reading.  I wrote it and moved on from it.  I think I did it more for the therapy, and it felt good.  I don't know if anybody really cares at this point.  I'm sure people will disagree with things I wrote in it, but it's my honest opinion.  So, it's there if I want to do anything with it.  It would be ready for print sooner than the history book.  I did work on that as well, but the writing is done on the auto bio.

Here is a look at the chapter titles and a brief description of what they are about:

Working Title:

Just A Kid From The Grandstands:  My Time In Auto Racing

Dedications:  Family and friends who made it all possible for me.

How I Got Hooked On Racing - Some of the first garages I got to visit, meeting Len Mello

My Time With The Nordstrom Family - I learned a lot from them

My First Big Opportunity - BCRA offered me a score keeping gig that I declined, Bert Moreland let me in the pits for cleaning mud off the fence every week, but this is about Brynda's husband George Stiles hiring me

The Column That Launched And Doomed Me - The Editor's Viewpoint

Meeting Mike Johnson And Joining The NCMA - The year the NCMA was founded, I was a Dirt  Mod supporter, but Mike won me over

The Magazine And Opportunities Blown And Never Given - Kind of about Brynda Bockover not giving me a real chance, but I didn't blame her

Meeting Mike Conley - The instigator of the Figure 8 controversies, but he was also a cool guy

Random Thoughts - Thoughts on Mel Maupin and others

Meeting Dennis Furia - Furia was a villain in Sportsman racing that I wasn't a fan of as a kid, but coming back to Dirt Mods was a new deal.  I was in awe of him.

Of Soft Drinks And Free Magazine Promotion - People who gave me sodas in the pits on hot days, advertised DCRR on their race cars for free

Car Builders And Parts Dealers - Some thoughts on Curl Racing, Cline Racing and others

Can I Get A Ride? - The people who drove me to the races

Can I Quote You? - How I went about quoting people

Lonnie Fish And Not So United Drivers - In some ways the beginning of the end for NASCAR at Antioch

Backing John Soares Jr. - The risk I took for John, the final NASCAR banquet at Antioch and going into that hostile environment for John

The Beginning Of The Soares Jr. Era at Antioch - The excitement of the beginning of it all.  1998 was magical

When Sweet Turns Sour - Then came 1999

Working With Don O'Keefe Jr. On Spec Sprints - The one good thing from 1999.
An Ill Fated Night In 1999 That Changed It All For Me.  The point controversy and what really happened.

Trying To Smile As Things Get Worse - Things keep getting bad at Antioch and my sister gets caught in the middle

Chowchilla Speedway And Tom Sagmiller - 2000's breath of fresh air

Wanting To Walk Away From Antioch Speedway - It was hard to keep going to Antioch

Goodbye Dear Friends - Some people I cared about passed away

The Sportsman Division Returns to Merced - Playing a part in getting them at Antioch for a race, my thoughts on them trying to be a club

The End For Me At Antioch Speedway - Deciding I wasn't coming back as announcer because of the attitude it got after all I did there

Working With Joe Martinez And Starting CRO - What we did

Going To One Banquet And Avoiding The Other - Going to Chow, but skipping Antioch in 2000

Getting Banned From Antioch Speedway - The Viewpoint column and deciding I wouldn't fight it

Why Announce At Merced Speedway? - My love for that track and its history

Tom Sagmiller Said What? - Who needs the IMCA?

Of Hobby Stocks At Chowchilla - The car counts, the Hobby $500

Walking The Fence In An Ugly Feud - Not picking sides in the war

Sagmiller's Risk Was Spec Sprint's Reward - The Open Wheel Round Up changed the landscape for Spec Sprints, and Tom gave me credit

Sweet Turns Sour Again - My issues with Tom

In Reno For A Reconciliation That Never Happened - Almost paying Tom's fine for him.  Buddy's comment

Does It Mater Who Won The Feud? - After both Tom and Chuck were gone

Picking Up The Pieces For A Final Push - Going back to Antioch and trying to build the Sweet 16 point race

On The Road With My Friend Chris - Chris and me on the road to the tracks

The DCRR State Point Race - How it had so much potential

Good Bye Del Quinn And NCMA Frustrations - I was in Hanford when he died, the NCMA's lack of support at big shows

Burning Out Fast - How I was on edge and taking crap from people and getting tired of it

The Last Straw - No ride to Merced banquet

Looking From Afar - My observations on the state of things now

Chuck Taylor & The Figure 8's Demise - A look at the way the Figure 8 ended at Antioch and
Taylor being caught in the middle though he never ran that race

Barkhimer, Clapp, Farren and Bockover And The End Of "The Barky Legacy" - Honest opinions here.  I take myself to task too when it comes to Brynda.

The Interviews & Conversations - Some anecdotes on moments I found interesting

Mike Johnson And The CMA - Getting Mike Johnson back into Modifieds again and how this benefited the NCMA in its mid 90's renaissance

My Family's Support - How much they meant to me

The Art Of The Magazine - How The DCRR evolved through the years

There are a few blog posts I would consider for the book too, but this is it.  An honest look back from my perspective.

Oval Motorsports Gets Contract For Chowchilla Speedway

John Soares Jr.'s quest to take over racing in Northern California just added another track to the mix.  This time, it was announced that Soares and Oval Motorsports Inc. was awarded the contract through 2020.  I'm not sure how he maintains his passion for the sport when things sometimes don't look so good, but I respect what he's trying to do.

Jack Stanford and his team should be proud for not letting Chowchilla die.  They went against the odds by even reopening it, and they've had some good races there from what I've heard.  I don't know what Jack will do next, but he is a man I continue to respect as a racer and promoter.

I find it interesting how they laughed when Tom Sagmiller said Chowchilla Speedway would be a great place to race.  That was back in 2000.  We've been through a few promoters there, but racing will continue in 2015.  Chowchilla will race on Sundays. Antioch and Merced will run of Saturdays.  This is according to Antioch Speedway's Facebook Page as of this posting.

There are people worrying what this means, but they are already saying they will allow guys some grace period for all the cars to conform to the rules.  Chowchilla was already IMCA with Modifieds and Sport Mods, so that shouldn't be an issue.  I don't think Mini Stocks or Pure Stocks were that much different than Merced since the drivers ran at both tracks.

As an advocate and activist for track unity the last half dozen years that I was involved in the sport, this could be a good thing.  The problem we had was different people running different tracks wanting different things, and nobody was too willing to compromise.  This is something I cover in my auto biography that I would like to publish if I am able to.

I was in the middle and spoke face to face with several of the principle players back then.  I was ridiculed for caring, and that led to my burnout on the sport along with other factors.  Looking back now, there was too much drama that had to be settled first.  In the Valley, I only saw real compromise attempted on one side by Mr. Sagmiller.  Chowchilla and  Merced NEEDED unity and I will always wonder what would have happened in 2002 if Merced management had given it a chance for the good of racing.

John was skeptical, and from his perspective, I totally understand why.  I think he later came to know that Tom was a good guy, but I did catch a lot of grief from him at the time for taking my stance in trying to unite Antioch and Chowchilla.  From John's perspective as the one who pays the bills, I get it.  It was somewhat ironic to see the two promoters work together later.

Now, John has Antoch, Merced and Chowchilla.  He saved Merced Speedway from extinction, and Chowchilla needs that kind of leadership.  Does he have all the answers?  Who does, but he is a man with money to invest in trying to help a sport that is on the decline.  I respect John for doing what he's doing and uniting three tracks under the same rules.

Does anybody want to sit down and talk with him now?  I know two promoters I can think of who should want this, but one of them is probably too stubborn to do it.  The other tried a little bit.  The stronger in unity the tracks are, the better it is for the sport.  However, they all need driver and fan support to really make it fly.

John is now the fifth promoter since 2000 to give Chowchilla Speedway a go.  I would love to see a return of at least a couple of that track's traditions started by the original promoter.  In any case, racing will continue, and I salute John & Donna and Oval Motorsports for being real promoters who love auto racing.  I hope everybody bands together.

Oh, and drivers, it's legal to run CAM (Chowchilla, Antioch, Merced) in 2015...

Thoughts On Dirt Mods & Spec Sprints At Antioch Note

Note:  I wrote this probably back in July this year, but I think many of my thoughts are still relevant.  I'm aware that John is planning a big show at Antioch and Merced for IMCA Modifieds and Sport Mods.  Knowing his success and his willingness to pay, these will be huge as long as the weather permits it.  I hope so.  I'm not a big fan of racing in winter, but I hope this succeeds.

I've been lurking on the sidelines for a while, but I've been watching the numbers at the tracks with interest.  Can you believe it's 2014?  It seems like the time has gone by so quickly, but most of the race tracks we've known and loved in recent years are still around.  I want to comment on the track that was my home track for most of my time in the sport, Antioch Speedway.

First, I am a Soares fan.  Always have been, always will be.  John and his dad....  Not a big fan of Jim, but I do respect him.  The legacy that John Soares Sr. left us is that long after he's been gone, Antioch Speedway and Petaluma Speedway, the tracks he guided for years, are still around.  I can't help but think he'd be proud of that.  At this rate, John Soares Jr. may end up running Antioch Speedway as long or longer than his father's 20 year run.

Nobody thought John Jr. would last.  I was there, and the critics kept hating him for everything.  I knew what he wanted to do with the place.  That's why I supported him at great risk to my own status in the sport before he even won the bid.  Before anybody knew he was going after the track, I was there supporting him in every way I could.  I want John to run Antioch Speedway as long as he wants to, and I hope that the track will continue after he leaves. 

If anybody thinks there is animosity on my end, there is none.  Broken hearted?  Maybe.  I was offered a spot not too many years back and would have had a lot of responsibility on my plate.  I could handle it, but I didn't quite hear what it would have been worth to him to have me back.  I still love the sport, but the time of doing it for love ended when I walked away.  I stand by my record, I am proud of what I achieved, proud of my sister and proud of John and Donna.

That said, I look at the numbers and wonder what has happened this year.  I have theories, and this is not a rip of John.  Believe me, if he wasn't paying the bills there, racing would be done.  This was always my defense of Chuck Griffin at Merced.  I didn't agree with all he did, but the show went on until the end while he and Marylee ran that place.  And wouldn't you know, John brought it back.  John's legacy as one of the best promoters of short track racing is secure, just as his father's reputation is secure.

Four words;  Spec Sprints & Dirt Modifieds. 

As I see it, John's ace in the hole for big shows since he took over was Dirt Modifieds, but he's been hurt in the last year or so.  IMCA sanctioning is not conducive to big money shows, in my opinion, and the class I really am not a fan of, Sport Mods, has hurt the cause.  On Sport Mods, I bet John really didn't want to add the class, but he had to.  The numbers down south forced him to.  The problem is, this class divides the car count, and ultimately, it will win.  It's a good and bad thing.  Will cars come to Antioch?  Yes.  But, the Dirt Mods will suffer for it.

John tried to do a work around with his series races on non IMCA nights, but he's hurting on two levels.  First, some IMCA Mod guys will not support this show, because they don't want to race against the big dollar teams for no IMCA points.  This would be okay if there were enough "outlaws" out there.  There are not.  IMCA has taken over...  for now.  It's a good and bad thing.  Certainly it's good for the little guy and having a universal rule set.  It's bad for the special big shows during the season that john likes to run.  He's had some big shows in the past.

So, John will have to make a decision to either fight for the big show or give it up and just do the IMCA thing like everybody else.  The 14 car show for the money recently was a disappointment.  Not to mention only 14 360 Sprint Cars.  I know he pays as advertised, so guys are staying away for other reasons.  That's another topic I'll avoid for now.  I believe John is frustrated about the situation, because this show was usually one he could count on for cars.

The Dirt Mods have gone as low as 8 cars at Antioch.  The Spec Sprints have as well.  The Spec Sprints felt the wrath of John this season with an impromptu cancellation due to a low car count of 8 cars.  Interesting that the lows of both divisions at Antioch are similar, but the Spec Sprints were signaled out.  This is where I get critical.  Maybe I'm biased, because if Don O'Keefe Jr. and I hadn't started this class to begin with back in 1999 with all the work we put into it, racing in Northern California would be different.  No, I don't take all the credit.  John paid as advertised.

Anyway, John missed the boat on Spec Sprints.  I've had it suggested to me that maybe John didn't really want this class to begin with.  Sounds silly to me, but I know he hasn't had the passion for the big show when it comes to Spec Sprints.  There's every indication he could have had a big event or two to rival the Dirt Mod shows.   It was said to me by a friend that John just wanted to end the NCMA, and he didn't care if Spec Sprints had been as successful as it was in 1999.  Hmm...  I can only say that I personally didn't want to end any class.  I simply wanted to end the politics that had held back this class for far too long, and this seemed like the way to do it.  I have to wonder if, when the dust all settles, the NCMA will be all that's left.  That would be an ironic ending.

I can't help but be disappointed in John's lack of desire to start a Spec Sprint series.  Oh, the NCMA had their Select Series and there's the Hunt Series, but the series I called the California Spec Sprint Revolution never happened.  It should have.  I've long felt that Antioch, Chico, Marysville and Watsonville should have started this deal with Petaluma getting on board.  Had Tom gotten serious and started his own class at Chowchilla back then, I would have loved his involvement.  Chowchilla's Open Wheel Round Up put this class on the map as far as a division capable of big events.

John hesitated to do anything here.  He instead did some Modified series stuff and Limited Late Model series stuff, but nothing for Spec Sprints.  It was a missed opportunity, in my opinion.  At the least, there should have been big end of the season stuff for this class with a real attempt to get the cars to come.  However, that's not where is passion lies.  I understand that, and it's okay.  The Dirt Mods have a good record, but who ever said it had to be an either or situation for big events?

In the end, it's John's money, and he has to decide where to spend it and where he thinks he can make it back.  He's been there since 1998, so he's dong something right.  I don't know where Spec Sprints fit in all of this, and what the future holds.  Don and I said if it got to 10 years, we'd consider it a big success.  Well, it's the 16th year now.  Plus, all other tracks that jumped on board here, took their cues from Antioch.  A few even remember the word Spec in the name.  Chico once had an event with over 70 cars.  So, I'd say it's safe to say it's a success.

I'm not writing this to be a jerk or to even put anybody down.  I respect John.  If his goal is to have the track longer than his dad, I hope he does.  I hope he keeps the track thriving enough that somebody can come in and run it when he leaves.  It looks like he's setting things up that way at Merced, and I love that John had the guts to take a track people claimed was worthless.  Merced is an awesome race track, and John was the only one willing to stand up for it and bring it back to life.  So, yeah, I'm a fan.  I love love my Spec Sprints too and think about what could have been.