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.