Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Hobby Stocks Are Coming To Merced On January 3rd

The crews at Antioch Speedway, Merced Speedway and Chowchilla Speedway are working hard to get everything set for the big four race event that will ring in the new year.  It looks like everything is coming along nicely, and Antioch on January 1st will kick 2015 off right.  The Oval Motorsports Website is the place to go to find out all the details.  The excitement begins tomorrow!


I was just watching a video on YouTube.  Hansen Racing does some real nice videos of their Hobby Stock racing.  In fact, when I was "ghost writing" the 2010 season at Antioch Speedway, their videos were useful to my effort.  They make excellent use of the in car camera. 

I'll give you an example at the end of this post.  This was from the 100 lap race last season at Antioch Speedway.  I'm not really a fan of the whole redraw after 72 laps concept.  It pretty much handed the race to Fred Ryland, who wasn't even in the top three at that point. I give him credit for leading the rest of the way.  I say run the deal straight through, but that's my opinion.

For each of the big events this week at Antioch, Merced and Chowchilla, they have a third division in support of IMCA Modifieds and IMCA Sport Mods.  Antioch's dates will include Limited Late Models (Day 1) and Late Models (Day 2).  Four Bangers make their Chowchilla return on (Day 4).  Saturday's race at Merced has Hobby Stocks.

It's a rather interesting story of the Hobby Stocks that goes back to the 1980's.  The three Northern All Stars (I kind of like referring to them as The CAM) tracks figure into this story.  It begins at Baylands Raceway Park.  I miss that place.  I had some good times there.  Got to score the last Enduro for Jim Robbins and his team.  Anyway...

In 1985, Baylands was running these wild and crazy Enduro races with a Destruction Derby to finish the show.  It was a popular concept, and soon all of the tracks followed their lead.  Antioch had its first Enduro in 1986, won my John "Boom Boom" Bellando.   He came from four laps down to win it too.

I think it was Truck Rodrigues who won the first one at Baylands.  He won races there that year.  What they decided to do was run these Enduro cars in a regular program with heat races and Main Events.  I don't know if they actually kept points that year.  Pat Scilley won the championship in 1986.  He was good.  He won the 360 Sprints title a year later.

John Wycoff and this guy named John Silva won the next two.  Silva?  Hmmm...  That name sounds familiar.  He became quite a Late Model driver in the years that followed.  He won the last Enduro at Baylands too.  This class had a ton of cars.  C Mains were needed.  The Straymeyer family, The Cummings family, an up and comer named Jimmy Lavell.  This old man from the days of Champion Speedway named Joe Rolletto.  The list goes on and on.

The NASCAR tracks took notice in 1988.  Watsonville and Antioch both had a Charger class that ran 20 laps, no yellows (only reds when needed).  A guy named Ron Yetter won the championship ahead of this new racer name Fred Lind at Watsonville.  Antioch kept no points, but The DCRR did.  Some new guy named Bart Reid was the top point earner.  Hmmm...  That name sounds familiar too.

Petaluma wasn't going to be left out of this.  John Soares added his own Charger class, and Gary Bonds won that deal.  Then, Baylands closed, and Soares welcomed the American Stocks to Petaluma.  It was a little strange since they already had a 25-30 car Street Stock Show, but now they had an American Stock class that was even bigger.  Guys like Norm Johns, Tim Haskins, Steve "Bubba" Dempsey and Shawn DeForest came up through the Pure Stock ranks.  Sadly, the division didn't make through the last decade at Petaluma for some reason.

Antioch and Watsonville dropped it in 1989.  That made sense at the time.  Both tracks had strong Street Stock car counts, though that class was definitely evolving.  In its last year as part of the NASCAR family, Merced started a Pure Stock class.  They had a big Street Stock show too, but Chuck Griffin saw need for this entry level division.  Alice Hotchkiss wrote her name in the books as the first champion. 

Technically, Pure Stocks don't share the same heritage as Hobby Stocks at Merced.  Technically, that is  It was seen as an entry level class and a step below Hobby Stocks when Merced added that division.  I'll get there in a moment.  A couple of Camaro drivers, Luis Miranda and Andy Welch, dominated the Pure Stocks and won championships, causing Griffin to ban Firebirds and Camaros in 1995.  Lee Willhite won that championship in his big orange car, nicknamed "The Flying Pumpkin" by legendary announcer Johnny Sass.

Ed Marion, Aaron Days, Nathan Corn and a returning racer named Wes Hogan were a part of this deal.  Only Days wasn't a champion, but he went on to bigger things at Altamont Raceway after getting his start in Merced Pure Stocks.  The class never really got huge, and lack of the Camaro's and Firebirds was blamed.  It did get into the high teens, and you could tell the difference between a Pure Stock and a Street Stock by the looks of the cars.

In 1994, Antioch Speedway wanted to start a Pure Stock class, and Turkull Racing and Henry Racing were on board with the idea.  Track management was hesitant to do it and only booked one race that year.  Those two teams fielded three cars if I recall correctly, and Cecil Henry was one of the first competitors in 1995.  He gave it a good effort, but Terrie Wacht wrote her name in the record books at the first lady to win a track championship at Antioch Speedway.  Tom Flanary, Rich "Mad Dog" Gardner Jr. and Donny Babb were other champions that followed.

At Watsonville, they started a division of their own in 1996, and Ken Jepsen staked his claim as the first champion.  Jimmy Bowman  Jr. and Mike Meazell were also on the champion's list before Sam "The Man" Kennedy proceeded to dominate this division.  Pure Stocks were ready to take over as the entry level class that the Street Stocks really weren't anymore.

In 2000, this guy named Tom Sagmiller opened Chowchilla Speedway.  People called him crazy.  On the heels of the closure of San Jose Speedway, this was needed.  What was needed to make this track work was non traditional thinking and a willingness to think outside the box. Sagmiller was the man to do it.  One of his first moves was to start a Hobby Stock class.  Unlike the Pure Stocks at Merced, Hobby Stocks would allow Camaros and Firebirds.

Needless to say, Chowchilla outdrew Merced's Pure Stocks with their Hobby Stocks rather quickly.  Guys were coming from Stockton, Watsonville and Antioch to race.  In fact, a dozen Chowchilla locals built cars for 2001.  "Rebel" Red Williams bested Jerry "Hood Pins'  O'Hagan to win the first title.  O'Hagan won it the next year, and Sagmiller created the Hobby Stock $500, a 50 lap race for $500 to win.  The class was finally getting paid in the state, but not much.  This was one of the bigger races of the year for the class, and Sam Kennedy came down and won this race.  It just so happened he was suspended for a week at Watsonville.  Chowchilla was drawing B Mains for this class in 2001. Antioch was into C Mains by then.

Merced was running Pure Stocks.  Chevy Monte Carlos, Buick Regals and a big old Ford owned by Wes Hogan.  "Rockin" Robin Fast and "Mighty" Mike Hamilton had a great battle for the 2001 championship, won by Hamilton .  There was this new guy named Raul "Showtime" Rodriguez who was rising up the ladder.  The class made it back into double digit car counts again, and Rodriquez was the 2002 champion.

About this time, Griffin could see that Chowchilla had bested him in promoting Hobby Stocks, so Merced added Hobby Stocks as well.  Mark "Freight Train" Funkhouser and "The Ice Cream Man" Marshall Weaver had a good battle that year, won by Funkhouser.  This wasn't the first time Merced had copied Chowchilla, but it helped turn things around for a track that was close to shutting its gates.

The Merced Pure Stocks died for a rather silly reason.  Pure Stock drivers were not allowed to race for money at Merced.  If they did, they were ineligible for Pure Stocks.  Griffin was rather uncompromising when it came to rules, and Chris Shelton and others ran their Pure Stocks in a Hobby Stock race on an off night for their class.  They just wanted to race.  They were out of the Pure Stocks after that, and the class just sort of died with Deak Sherrell as the point leader.  Dan "The Man" Holcomb was the last Merced Pure Stock champion as the age of Hobby Stocks at Merced was beginning.

Gradually, Hobby Stocks have evolved as drivers like Jeremy Prince, Robert Coe, Megan McCown, Denise McCown, Dan McCown, Melissa Hansen, Brad Meyers, Fred Ryland and Kimo Oreta have had their run at the top at Antioch.  At Merced, It's hard to beat the multi time champion Rodriguez for the honors, but drivers like Bruce Nelson, Rich Altamirano, Dave Coleman and Andrew Krumm were others who have won championships.  Ryan Hart has won Merced and Chowchilla titles, and others on Chowchilla's Hobby Stock Champion's Honor Wall include Kevin Pettit, Ryan Larimer, Shane Hausmann, Jarod Fast and Farren Steitz.

The Hobby Stocks aren't really that "Hobby" class anymore.  At Antioch in the 100 lapper from last year, Brad Myers and Fred Ryland were both clocking in with laps in the 17's, and that was on the expanded track.  Street Stocks during Don Shelton and Bart Reid's day were doing 17's.  This is basically just the Street Stock division with a different name.  This is no Hobby Stock in reality. 

Perhaps it's time to start a new class...  Oh, um, on second thought, we have too many divisions already.  For one thing, if you make a bone stock class, people will push for rule changes and track management will cave.  It won't be a "Pure" Stock class for long.  Also, we have Four Bangers.  So far, that division has stayed somewhat true to it's intent for over a decade.  They aren't running wings on them like at Baylands....  Yet.  Oh, I better not give them any ideas.  The Four Bangers are fine as they are.

Saturday afternoon, January 3rd, will be a time for the Merced guys to shine.  I don't know who will be coming for this first point race of 2015.  Rodriguez might be the man to beat as the defending champion.  Marshall Weaver still comes out to play now and then.  Former Chowchilla Champion Chris Falkenberg, Kristie Shearer, Kevin Joaquin, Robbie Loquaci, Ty Shelton and Josh Hensley are others who could show.

Freddie Ryland has been known to travel, so he could be there.  Brad Myers has indicated he'll be coming.  Jim Freethy?  It's hard to tell, but Hobby Stocks will race at Merced once again on Saturday.  This tips off the 2015 season, the 14th year for the division at Merced, now under the Northern All Stars banner.