As always, check out the Merced Speedway Website for all the official track information...
Legendary announcer Johnny Sass had a saying at Merced Speedway. He called Merced Speedway the place "Were action is the attraction" each and every Saturday night. Antioch Speedway announcer John Meyers borrowed the saying and admitted he got it from Sass. We all borrow ideas from each other as announcers. I closed the shows with "may you live as long as you want to and want to as long as you live" when I announced. I borrowed that from Butch Althar.
Anyway, the money is on the line at Merced Speedway tonight, and there will be plenty of action on tap. They go to Chowchilla Speedway the next night. It's fitting that Merced, like Antioch, will offer the biggest Sport Mod first prize in California that I know of, $1750 to win. Merced is actually the first track in the state to run Sport Mods, about nine years ago. A kid named Neill Barcellos won a championship, then came Shawn Bryant. Car count wasn't great, but you gotta start somewhere, right?
As Merced went through it's issues, Chowchilla Speedway did something unusual. They completely dropped Dirt Modifieds at the time to give the headline status to Sport Mods. Sure, it was a money saving move by the track. You don't have to pay as much. However, they worked their way up to double digit car counts. Only Victorville, which had started a class of their own, could compare in car count.
Thanks to that little move, other tracks got into the class. I'll admit I'm not a fan of the teams using the latest and greatest equipment in Sport Mods. I didn't think that was the point when they sold us this idea. Suddenly, every track started a class. Santa Maria, Hanford, Bakersfield, Watsonville, Antioch. Sport Mods have taken hold. The fact that Antioch, Merced and Chowchilla are putting the money into big races for Sport Mods is further proof that this division is taking off. I still wonder what things will look like with respect to the two Modfified classes in the future, but it's good now.
A Merced racer, Bruce "Bubba" Nelson led off Antioch's opening night with a win on Thursday. Now, he's coming back to the track where he won back to back Hobby Stock Championships. Last season, he was third in Sport Mod points, so he's ready to rock and roll. The two drivers in front of him are about as fast as they come. You have Ramie Stone, a four time Merced IMCA Modified, one time Street Stock and one time Little Truck Champion. Then, you have the guy who forced him to settle for second in points last season, 2014 Sport Mod Champion Rick Diaz.
I'm thinking Ramie might want that big trophy. I have no idea who has signed up to defend the local honor. A few brave souls like Nelson, Michael Shearer and Ryan Larimer, came to Antioch. Shearer was one of the four to lock up a starting spot for the big money race at Merced. In fact, Antioch's big money winner Jeremy Hoff, Nick Spainhoward and Richard Mueller are also in tonight's Main Event.
What the car count will actually be is the question. There were 23 cars on Thursday, which dropped to 17 on Friday. Several of these guys, I suspect, will be in Merced tonight, including Spainhoward, Hoff, Shearer, Mueller and last nights runner up, Fred Ryland. The question is, who else is coming? Merced is a little closer, so this may entice more Bakersfield and Hanford guys to come. I expect that Merced will do alright.
There are some key names we didn't see at Antioch in Dirt Modifieds, not the least of which is Ramie's cousin, 2014 Merced champion Paul Stone. Also absent was 2013 champion Rodney Freitas. Let's not forget other area racers Bob Williamson, Bill Egleston and Jeff Streeter. Williamson and Egleston are also past Merced Champions. Again, being that this track is closer for some racers, might we see some guys pull in from further south? That is the question, and it will be answered in a matter of hours.
Merced is a track that is very much worthy of having big events like this. I recall the 9/11 Memorial Race that attracted over 40 Dirt Mods in 2002. Is that still the record for this class at Merced? It's cold and I know some people don't want to come out yet. Even with points and big money, some may stay away. However, they came out and raced a year ago at this time in Chowchilla and had an amazing race too.
The bottom line is there's no reason to expect this won't be a great race. Will Paul Stone come out to play, and is he the man to beat? I tend to think he may be. But there's some guys named Troy Foulger, Nick DeCarlo and Kellen Chadwick who may disagree. This is one of those races you want to win for the bragging rights. Some talented racers will be in Merced, and the racing is sure to be intense. Only one driver can hoist the big trophy being offered up to the winner in the Modified and Sport Mod races, so who will it be?
In case you are wondering, Foulger, 2014 Willamette Speedway Champion Collen Weinbarger, Chris Clark and John McDougall have already qualified for this race after their Top 8 finishes on Thursday at Antioch.
Lest we forget, the Northern All Stars Hobby Stocks are also racing. There have been inquiries from Bakersfield and Watsonville. It's not a big money race for them, but there is one point that could lure them in. The winner will be the first Hobby Stock feature winner of 2015. Past Antioch Champion Brad Myers is said to be coming, and he'll be fast. Speaking of fast, "Fast" Freddie Ryland has a Hobby Stock, but I'm not sure he'll be bringing it with his Sport Modified. This is a man who has been known to bring a Four Banger to the area to win races in that class.
Who will win when it's showtime? Perhaps the man with "Showtime" as his nickname, many time champion Raul Rodriguez? Kristie Shearer may be gunning for that win, and she wasn't second in points last season for nothing. Josh Hensley, Robbie Loquaci, Ty Shelton or 2012 Chowchilla Champion Chris Falkenberg? We'll just have to see.
I just know that there is money on the line. That's $2500 to win for IMCA Modifieds and $1750 to win for IMCA Sport Modifieds, and they will be racing hard to collect that paycheck. It's sure to be a good show. As Johnny Sass would say, "Action is the attraction" at Merced Speedway tonight.