Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Thoughts On Chowchilla Speedway's 15th Anniversary

I look back at the late 70's and throughout the 1980's with fondness.  This was the "Golden Age" of dirt track racing for me.  It peaked around 1985 with three night a week racing, though there were good years after that.  Just think, 1985 was 30 years ago next year. 

I actually have all of my line scoring notes in a book from that year and was considering a weekly "real fantasy" broadcast of the season at Antioch Speedway.  Real because they are based on statistics, but fantasy because how those outcomes occurred are based on my interpretation of the score sheets.

Anyway, 2015 is the 15th anniversary of another occurrence.  This was the year Tom Sagmiller opened Chowchilla Speedway.  I have a crazy idea, but I'm just gonna say it.  I nominate Tom Sagmiller for the Chowchilla Speedway Hall Of Fame.  He more than deserves it, and I'll tell you why.

Chowchilla Speedway never would have happened without him.  Those first years were challenging.  They had a shoe string budget.  It was a crazy dream.  He and Cindy and that crew made it happen.  It was special.  It mattered.  People came to Chowchilla to have fun.  I went there to find my smile in 2000.

Now, we all know how Tom was "back doored" out of the track by politics played by a certain other promoter who is no longer in the game.  A funny thing happened.  He created a dream that was so special that people keep coming back to try to make it happen again.  It's hard to put a finger on what makes this track so special.

Antioch, Merced, Petaluma, Watsonville, Stockton...  They all have longer and more storied pasts, and yet Chowhilla is held as dearly to some racers as these tracks.  Maybe it's the Dirt Track Nationals, the Hobby Stock $500, the Open Wheel Round Up, The Freedom Series, the Dykstra/Odgers Memorial Mechanics & Ladies Race and the many things Tom tried.  I don't know.

Other promoters keep coming back to recapture the magic.  They do okay.  There have been some good races there, but Tom's legacy set the bar high.  With new management taking over, this is the chance to make a statement.  I would recommend getting Tom involved, but even if not, honoring him with a Hall Of Fame induction would be deserved.

I was going through my old notes yesterday, and I found this little column from the night Don O'Keefe Jr., and I went there in support of the Winged 360 2 barrel carb. Sprint Cars.  I'll share it again here.

Pit Stops Visits Chowchilla

The racing weekend for this reporter began on Friday.  South on Highway 99, just inside the Madera County Line, there is a town called Chowchilla.  There is the Madera County Fairgrounds, and it is a place where cars last raced regularly in the 1950's, according to Promoter Tom Sagmiller.  Sagmiller is the promoter of the new one-third mile clay oval called Chowchilla Speedway, and it is thanks to the help of several volunteers that racing began on schedule in late March of this year.  The track will run mainly on Friday nights and features the lowest fan admission prices in the state.

Sagmiller, a former Merced Street Stock track champion, has raced more recently in Hanford and Madera.  However, he has parked his race car to promote the new race track.  It's a challenging endeavor, but one that Tom is up to.  Several drivers and local business men have gotten behind this new track and pitched in where they could.  The featured divisions include the Modifieds, Super Street Stocks, Hobby Stocks and Winged 362 Sprints, but there will be several visits from groups like the NARC Sprint Car Tour, NCMA Modified Sprints, Northern Stars Lightning Sprints and Outlaw Sprint Buggies during the season.  In fact, Sagmiller has been willing to try anything that might be entertaining to the fans.

With 70 cars in the pits, it's obvious that more and more competitors are getting excited about racing on the new track.  The Modifieds accounted for 23 of those cars with the Super Street Stocks bringing in 19.  The Hobby Stock car count in the area has been less than expected in recent years, and this has caused track management to allow Camaros and Firebirds to compete in an effort to draw more cars.  There were just ten in the pits on this night, but several new cars are being built for the entry level division.  The Winged 362 Sprint Car class, a group headed up by 1999 Wingless Spec Sprint racer George Terry, made their debut with the help of several non winged NCMA Modified Sprints.

It was not a good night for point leaders, at least in the Modified and Super Street Stock divisions.  Bob Hotchkiss didn't even make it to the heat race in the Modified he has put up for sale.  Nathan Corn, on the other hand, finished second to title contender Steve Stone in his Street Stock heat race to make it to the trophy dash.  Corn was battling with Ramie Stone in the trophy dash when they made contact on the back stretch and Corn crashed.  Nathan suffered a shoulder injury and was done for the night.  S. Stone would win the feature, which should put him into the top point position when the standings are released. Meanwhile, R. Stone would come back from an early race spin to finish second.  Ramie came into the night a distant tenth in the standings, but he was just fine with that.  At this point, Ramie leads the Street Stock point battle at Merced Speedway. 

This season, many time Merced IMCA Modified champion Larry Folkner is driving the #007 Street Stocker.  As Larry explained, this is partly due to the fact that he still has a $1,000 fine against him from IMCA for refusing the promoter's engine claim at Merced last season.  Larry's closest Modified tracks, other than Chowchilla, are Hanford and Merced, both IMCA sanctioned.  After blowing a motor in the opener, Larry was trying a new motor and admitted he was under powered at this point.  Larry also added that he's just out having fun and not worried about points.  Larry had a rough night when he lost a tire in the feature.  He finished the race, but not on the lead lap.

Tires were a problem for several of drivers running up front in the Street Stock feature.  Contact racing between Bryan Burns and Monty Tomlinson sent Burns to the pits with a flat.  Don Holleran faded back from the top five with a flat.  Race long leader Dan Baldridge Jr. lost a tire, and that tire problem became Tomlinson's when he ran it over on the last lap, giving him a smoking problem as he limped across the finish line.

Getting back to Holleran, he was a bit of a surprise to see in the field.  Don has built a new Street Stock with specific plans to race it in the coming four race series being held between Santa Maria, Watsonville, Hanford and Bakersfield.  This was Don's shakedown run in the car, and he had to be encouraged with how strong it was running before he pitted.  In the pits with him was another former Antioch racer, Dave Johnson.  Holleran had driven Johnson's Pure Stock to a win last season, and that car has since been sold.  Johnson is also building a Street Stocker.  Holleran will likely be doing more racing at Chowchilla this season.

Others in the field included Hanford racers Craig Fromme, Roy Hart Jr. and Ken Noland, and Merced racers Phillip Lust, Jimmy Lust, Mike Shepherd and Tim Ragsdale.  Noland, no relation to the Noland's from Porterville, is a former Off Road racer who has been out of racing for about 25 years.  Shepherd is the younger brother of Southwest Tour racer Kenny Shepherd.  Hart would finish third in the feature, P. Lust fifth and former Merced Late Model star Ragsdale sixth.

The Modified division had some of the best drivers in the state on hand, including rising young star Steve Williams, IMCA star Mike Johnson, Merced champion Paul Stone, Merced veteran Bob Williamson, Hanford racer Jimmy Reeves, Joel Hannagan, Jeff Decker and Fred Lind.  Williams will be running roughly 60 races this season between his Modified effort, a BCRA Midget Lite and a 600 Mini Sprint.  Unfortunately, his main event was not a pretty one as he was involved in two of the yellow flags that contributed to the early yellow-checkered finish and didn't finish the race.

Williamson had gotten up to the top five before being eliminated in a crash.  It was the Hanford racers, Reeves and Johnson, who would finish in the top two positions.  Reeves led every lap, while Johnson took a different path.  He had to pit during the race and was as far back as 20th.  The last restart saw him get by both Decker and Hannagan before the checkered and yellow flags flew.  The way Johnson was running, it's likely he would have passed Reeves, but with a slight bit of smoke coming from his Larkins Chassis, one would have to wonder how far he could have gone.  As it was, Mike made a good case for himself to be the new point leader, which may be the case when points are released.

Third through fifth of Hannagan, Decker and Lind was a bit of surprise.  This isn't because they aren't good, but because these are drivers you might expect at Watsonville.  Lind is actually top five in points at the moment and is chasing points.  Late Model racer Hannagan will probably continue to race here and there, but he will be a racer to contend with wherever he goes.  Decker is currently third in points at Petaluma.  A former Watsonville Figure 8 champion, Lind is also the only driver to go from the Street Stock D Main all the way to the A Main at Antioch Speedway.

It seems in this area of the state, the Stone family is everywhere.  Not to be outdone by the Street Stock division, there are two Stones in the Modifieds, 1999 Merced champion Paul Stone and his cousin Troy Stone.  Troy and Street Stock racer Ramie Stone are brothers, while Steve Stone Sr. and Paul Stone are brothers as well.  Steve Jr. races Trucks.  The four Stones are also cousin to Jack Stanford among others who race at Merced.  The Four Stones started out racing trucks at Merced during the division's strong growth period, when car counts in the mid teens were a regular thing.

The Stone family is one of the most supportive racing families in the area.  While the status of Ramie and Steve was mentioned above, Paul remains in the title hunt at both Chowchilla and Merced.  He finished 11th behind Troy in the most recent Chowchilla race.  Troy, meanwhile, trails 1999 Merced point runner up Stanford in the Merced championship race.  Stanford’s lap six crash in the main event at Chowchilla ended what could have been a top five finish.  One of the reasons Chowchilla Speedway is experiencing such early season success is because of the support of families like the Stones, Corns, Folkners, Harts and Hotchkiss', to name a few.

The Hobby Stock division, like the Little Truck class, doesn't seem to be getting too much switching between tracks.  In fact, Bob Terry is the only Little Truck driver to compete at Chowchilla so far, though word is that more new trucks are in the works.  The only Pure Stock driver listed in the top ten at both Merced and Chowchilla, Daniel Holcomb, indicated he may drop out of the Chowchilla as soon as he has a bad night to concentrate on the other track.  After DNF'ing from a top three run, Daniel headed to Merced and won his first career feature.

However, new cars, like the one debuted on this night by second generation racer Steve Hotchkiss, are being debuted every week.  Hopes are high that this class will grow into the 20's, and the division is halfway there.  Red Williams is the point leader and kept that status intact by winning his heat race and the trophy dash before finishing fifth on the main event.  Driving the #23 car campaigned by Kevin Anderson at the opener, veteran Jerry O'Hagan seemed headed for the main event victory and a positive night that would have gained him ground on Williams in the standings.  However, that ended when he and eventual winner Bill Fredrick got together on the back stretch and he spun off the track.  Fredrick is not currently a member, and second place finisher Sydney Finn moved by O'Hagan for second in points.

At this point, Chowchilla Speedway has a pretty good field of Modifieds and Super Street Stocks, and the Hobby Stock field should continue to grow.  Visits from the NARC Sprint Cars, NCMA Modified Sprints, 362 Sprints, Northern Stars Lightening Sprints and Outlaw Sprint Buggies help make this a show worth seeing.  On non NARC nights, the $5.00 adult and $3.00 children's tickets make this the lowest priced racing program in the state, but with as much racing action as most tracks.  If you haven't checked out Chowchilla Speedway on a Friday night, you might want to make plans to do so.

Greer Wins 363 Sprint Chowchilla Debut

CHOWCHILLA, CA...APRIL 21...The Winged 362 Sprints made their Chowchilla Speedway debut Friday night with the help of several non winged NCMA Modified Sprints.  Taking advantage of his front row starting position, Richard Greer led all 15 laps in his Winged Sprinter to win his first career main event.  1999 Renegade Sprint champion Don Hicks dug his old dirt track car out of mothballs to tune up for the coming big money NCMA races and finished a strong second in front of 1999 NCMA champion Del Quinn, who celebrates his 67th birthday on Easter Sunday.  The night's action was sponsored by Art's Towing of Turlock.

Greer and Steve Amador shared the front row of the 12 car 362 Sprint Car feature with Hicks starting seventh.  Greer quickly built a huge lead and Chris Stevens' Winged Sprint and Hicks raced by Steve Amador for second and third on lap two.  Greer had a straightaway lead in three laps, and an out of shape Stevens was passed by Hicks and Quinn on lap five.  Mark Smith pitted his Modified Sprint, and Stevens spun in Turn 2 for a lap ten caution flag.  Greer continued to lead Hicks and Quinn on the restart as Scott Holloway and Ed Amador Sr. ran fourth and fifth.  Contact between Sam Davies and the Winged Sprint of George Terry saw Davies flip in Turn 2 for a lap 13 caution flag.  Greer continued to command the race ahead of Hicks on the restart as Holloway made a high Turn 4 pass to take third from Quinn.  However, Quinn made an inside pass in Turn 2 a lap later to reclaim third.  Greer brought it home a happy winner ahead of Hicks, Quinn, Holloway, E. Amador and Stevens.

There were a combined 12 cars between the 362 Sprints and the NCMA Modified Sprints.  Holloway won a good battle with Quinn to win the first six lap heat with Terry's Winged Sprint winning the second one.  Holloway came back to claim dash honors.  The Winged Sprints return to Chowchilla on May 12th, and the NCMA will run a race for $1,000 to win at Hanford on April 29th before doing the same at Chowchilla on May 5th.

H 1-Scott Holloway, Del Quinn, Chris Stevens, Don Hicks, Ed Amador Sr.  H 2-George Terry, Jim Janssen, Steve Amador, Brad LeDuc, Richard Greer.  DASH-Holloway, Quinn, Janssen, Terry.  MAIN EVENT-Greer, Hicks, Quinn, Holloway, E. Amador, Stevens, S. Amador, Janssen, LeDuc, Terry, Sam Davies, Mark Smith.