Friday, December 5, 2014

The Nostalgic Valley Sportsman Division Continues At Merced Speedway

I was looking through some photos I had scanned last year and it inspired me to write this little piece about a division I love.  I know some of these pictures and the stats included here haven't been seen in quite some time...

It's fitting that Keith Van Houten #35 is pictured in front of the other cars here.  As the 2001 runner up and 2002 champion, he spent a lot of time at the front of the pack.

Gary Hildebrand #10, Ed Marion #33 and Robb Schropp #19.  Another Pure Sock graduate, Hildebrand had a strong third place season in 2000.

People will say a lot of things about former Merced Speedway promoter Chuck Griffin, but he was a man who tried different things at his race track.  He was one of the first promoters in California to run Pure Stocks at his track while he still had a thriving Street Stock division.  One of the stars of that division was a driver named Luis Miranda, who won a championship.  Luis is an important name in this story actually.

Griffin also started a division called Little Trucks and lobbied unsuccessfully to get Antioch and Watsonville to give the division a chance.  This class produced some of the biggest stars in the track's history, including Ramie Stone, Paul Stone, Jack Stanford and Marcus Aue.

Griffin also started the Cal Mod division in the late 1980's while Merced Speedway was still a NASCAR track.  He awarded Regional points to that division the last two seasons the track was sanctioned, and his champion, Gordon Rodgers, nearly won the prestigious title both seasons despite only racing at Merced.

The #19 of Robb Schropp may be my favorite car.  Perhaps that's because it made me think of Marv Wilson at Antioch Speedway. Robb was top three in four of the first five seasons, including back to back second place seasons.

When Chuck used to race in the 1970's, he ran the Sportsman division.  He loved the class and was one of the drivers who went down with the ship when it was canceled during the 1980 season.  Merced actually dropped the division a year before Antioch and Watsonville did, but an interesting thing was about to happen in 1999.  Mark Amador had taken the reigns of the Limited Sprint division in 1998 and opted to make the division a pavement only class in 1999.

Chuck got together with Luis Miranda, who built an old Sportsman.  Luis always loved the class, and his father had painted some of those old race cars back in the 1970s.  Luis was on board with this and was a leader in reviving the division for the 1999 season.  Among those who would get on board were former Limited Sprint champion Mike Friesen and a legend from the track's past, "Rapid" Rod Poor. 

Former Pure Stock champion Ed Marion #33 had three top five seasons in the Sportsman division.

They had a show, and Poor was one of the early stars.  Cars were being built and the class started to grow.  There were already ten cars that first season, and they managed to get them all out to the track in 2001.  There had been rumors that this would become the headline class at Merced if the drivers were ready to make the commitment.  This meant bigger pay and more races.

However, the drivers were looking at other options at that point, including racing on the pavement.  They formed a club in 2000 and made appearances at Chowchilla and Antioch.  I have always loved this division, and I lobbied for that Antioch date.  Sadly, the fans weren't as in love with this class, which wasn't helped by the fact that Mike Chandler dominated that race.

However, the division has put on some thrilling races at Merced.  There are still over a dozen active cars in the area, and Merced has held 16 championship point races since 1999 with another season planned. They have even had championship point races at neighboring Chowchilla Speedway.

Kevin Freitas #62 was a force to be reckoned with, racking up three championships in a four year span.

In the early years, Mike Friesen was a back to back champion before moving on to become a top racer in the Hardtop revival that started a few years after the Sportsman division returned.  Poor wasn't top three his two seasons back in the class after his lengthy retirement, but he won his share of races.  The only thing keeping Kevin Freitas from four straight championships was the title that was won by Keith Van Houten.  Van Houten was also the Chowchilla champion the year before. 

The car count dipped a bit as Dennis Barcellos won back to back championships before passing the baton to his son Neill Barcellos, who won the championship after winning the Sport Mod crown.  A three time Street Stock point runner up, Mark Odgers won the 2008 Sportsman titles at Merced and Chowchilla before Watosnville racer Rich Alatamirano won his lone championship.

Tim Prothro may not have won a Merced championship, but he has been top four in each season since 2008, including three runner up point seasons.  Shane and Mike Hausmann hit the scene in 2010 with Mike winning three titles in a row before Shane grabbed a championship.  Prothro made a run for last season's crown but lost out by six points to Mike Henault.  Like Mike Shearer, Prothro is a Chowchilla Sportsman champion.

These cars are a throwback to the glory days of the 1970's, when Vern Willhoite, Rod Poor, Doug Henkle, George Steitz, Dennis Moomjean and Duane Noe were among the top stars battling for victory.  For those fans who witnessed the glory days, seeing these cars racing closely on the quarter-mile clay oval is sure to bring back happy memories.

Billy Mattos #25 had three top five seasons, including one second place effort.

Past Point Races

1999 California Sportsman
 Mike Friesen    366
Luis Miranda    331
Rob Schropp    269
Rod Poor    210
Bobby Smith    94
Bill Mattos    40
Gary Hildebrand    31
Eddie Dixon    22
Ed Marion    20

2000 California Sportsman
Mike Friesen    483
Billy Mattos    397
Gary Hildebrand    354
Rod Poor    350
Ed Marion    346
Luis Miranda    320
Kevin Freitas    135
Mike Chandler    134
Ed Hughes    120

2001 California Sportsman
Kevin Freitas          503
Keith VanHouten     476
Rob Schropp         364
Bill Mattos         269
Ed Marion         209
Mark Jump          177
Luis Miranda         140
Gary Hildebrand      84
Jason Belton          50
Eddie Dixon           39

2002 Central Valley Sportsman
Keith VanHouten     518
Robb Schropp         403
Kevin Freitas         341
Ed Marion         310
Bill Mattos         294
Jason Belton         263
Gary Hildebrand     152
Luis Miranda        139
Tim Leidich         133
Tim Goodson         102

2003 Sportsman
Kevin M. Freitas    715
Rob Schropp        591
Gary Tucker        584
Tim Goodson         542
Jason Belton         491
Timothy Leidich        355
Brad Goodson         315
Bill Mattos          2
Luis Miranda          0
Mario Neido           0
Mike Friesen          0

2004 Sportsman
Kevin M. Freitas     750
Tim Goodson         745
David Todd        636
Jason Belton         529
Dennis Barcellos    369
Greg Gonzales Jr.     88
Timothy Leidich         40
Bill Mattos         29

2005 Sportsman
Dennis Barcellos    616
Andrew Odgers        585
Junior Zike         277
Neill Barcellos    256
Tim Goodson        242
Jason Belton         93
Pisha Harvey          41

2006 Sportsman
Dennis Barcellos    749
Neill Barcellos     594
Junior Zike         513
Mark Odgers        432
Tony Valencia        401
Jason Belton         35

2007 Valley Sportsman
Neill Barcellos        486
Tony Valencia        452
Bert Lopes         384
Junior Zike         266
Mark Odgers         239
Richard Scott         153
Joe Anderson          89
Leroy Coberly          29
Brian Jantz         28
Nathan Staiger         19

2008 Valley Sportsman
Mark Odgers         455
Mike Henault        397
Tony Valencia        345
Tim Prothro         173
Joe Anderson         152
Chris Parrigon        128
Ron Altimarano         118
Bert Lopes          65
Richard Scott          49
Don Epps          45

2009 Valley Sportsman
Richard Altamirano     475
Tim Prothro          403
Mike Henault         393
Don Epps         324
Michael Shearer     274
Justin Shearer         221
Greg Evans         101
Bert Lopes         101
Larry Pierini        60
Ron Altimarano         45

2010 Sportsman
Mike Hausmann     402
Tim Prothro    382
Mike Henault     218
Mark Odgers    208
Ray Christenson    172
Tim Porter     160
Michael Shearer 152
Duane Fast    142
Gary Tucker    96
Justin McCann    72   

2011 Sportsman
Mike Hausmann    572
Shane Hausmann    353
Tim Prothro    298
Duane Fast    274
Eric Shelton    262
John Goodson    252
Mark Odgers    200
Buddy Thatcher    180
Ray Christenson    173
Mike Henault    109

2012 Sportsman
Mike Hausmann        504
Shane Hausmann        467
Jeff Bristow        442
Tim Prothro        376
Mike Henault        263
Tim Porter        198
Buddy Thatcher        140
Ty Shelton        92
Neil Bedford        38

2013 Sportsman
Shane Hausmann     154
Jeff Bristow     149
Tim Prothro     122
Mike Hausmann     110
Tim Porter     84
Gary Hildebrand 81
Michael Henault 77
Jeanne Canepa     59
Mike Friesen     52
Ricky Thatcher     36

2014 Sportsman
Mike Henault     228
Tim Prothro     222
Marcus Lung     147
Tommy Bostic     146
Jeff Bristow     122
Chris Birdsong     112
Michael Shearer 79
Mark Odgers     76
Shane Hausmann     71
Mike Palmberg     47

And now, let's go "old school" with a glimpse at some of the stats from the 1970's at Merced Speedway.

Merced Speedway Sportsman Feature  Winners 1968-1978
Rod Poor 38
Vic Irvin 32
Dennis Moomjean 21
George Steitz 19
Dave Chiesa 19
Tom Barbour 13
Duane Noe 12
Vern Willhoite 10
Tim Williamson 10
Doug Henkle 8
Ray Cambpbell 7
Rene Krumm 6
Jerry Cecil 6
Lloyd Beard 6
Mickey Shaw 4
Steve Lustrie 4
Jerry Holzer 4
Al Balding 4
Ron Gravelle 4
Bill Scyphers 4
J.D. Willis 2
Chalker 2
Ron Yetter 2
Fred Nunes 2
Jim Reich 2
Olen Davis 2
Tom Friesen 1
Ralph Beck 1
Rob Roy 1
Davey Pombo 1
Lon Williams 1
Gary Pacheco 1
Don Bloom 1
Sam Huff 1
Ray Donaldson 1
Arquette 1
Howard Kaeding 1
Bruce Mann 1
Bill Antonelli 1
Patterson 1

Sportsman 1967 *
Ralph Arnold 779
Vic Irvin 706
Rod Poor 673
Dennis Moomjean 574 **
Jack Kistler 491
Irv Eldridge 377
Jerry Holtzer 358
Vern Porter 343
Don Bloom 325
Bill Phillips 277
* As of June 25
** Eventual Champion 

Sportsman 1969
Dennis Moomjean 1124
Vern Willhoite 1039
Vic Irvin 1014
Jerry Holzer 928
Roy Large 788
Dallas Bache 650
Roy Pruett 635
George Steitz 568
Fred Nunes 538
Rod Poor 499

Sportsman 1970
Jerry Cecil 1049
Vern Willhoite 1024
Dennis Moomjean 833
Doug Henkle 827
Roy Pruett 727
Vic Irvin 691
Ken Wheeler 672
George Steitz 671
Rod Poor 621
Roy Large 600

Sportsman 1971
Dennis Moomjean 999
Vern Willhoite 913
Tom Barbour 868
Ron Gravelle 826
Roy Pruett 820
George Steitz 814
Roy Campbell 765
Rod Poor 689
Jerry Holzer 677
Doug Henkle 584

Sportsman 1972
Dennis Moomjean 1117
Ray Campbell 1067
Rod Poor 1042
Vern Willhoite 1008
Tom Barbour 951
George Steitz 844
Olen Davis 774
Jerry Holzer 745
George Pacheco 665
Fred Nunes 660

Sportsman 1973
Ray Campbell 1178
Rod Poor 1041
Bill Scyphers 1012
Dennis Moomjean 1009
Vic Irvin 924
Vern Willhoite 924
Tom Barbour 838
Jerry Holzer 752
George Pacheco 631
Gary Miller 616

Sportsman 1974
Vern Willhoite 1157
George Steitz 1108
Vic Irvin 1043
Rod Poor 939
Dave Cheisa 870
Rene Krumm 838
Steve Lustre 757
Dub Hardy 695
Phil Green 638
Gary Rocha 599

Sportsman 1975
George Steitz 1173
Tim Williamson 1013
Dave Chiesa 871
Steve Lustre 650
Gary Rocha 747
Dave Martinez 736
Tom Barboir 724
Vern Willhoite 714
Mike Holzer 673
Phil Green 652

Sportsman 1976
George Steitz 1309
Dave Chiesa 1209
Tom Barbour 1227
Rene Krumm 1172
Duane Noe 1113
Tim Williamson 914
Steve Lustre 890
Tom Friesen 802
Gary Rocha 659
Mike Holzer 618

Sportsman 1977
George Steitz 1262
Tom Barbor 1249
Duane Noe 1131
Rene Krumm 912
Tom Friesen 905
Dave Chiesa 803
Mickey Shaw 707
Jim Hartman 673
Doug Williams 626
Phil Holley 565

Sportsman 1978
Doug Henkle 500
Mickey Shaw 476
Steve Lustre 306
Jim Hartman 269
Duane Noe 255
Tom Friesen 251
Tom Barbour 250
Doug Williams 218
Claude Ludwig 175
J.D. Willis 164

Sportsman 1979
Duane Noe 571
Doug henkle 488
Mickey Shaw 448
Mike Friesen 345
Chuck Griffin 338
Doug Williams 318
Tom Barbour 242
Jim Hartman 239
Bill Vieselmeyer 239
George Steitz 234