Monday, January 5, 2015

Sometimes The Smaller Tracks Can Do Big Things

I've probably shared some of this here before, but there's also some new news to add to the subject.  I think it was 2001 when Don O'Keefe Jr. and I were coming home from the Promoter's Workshop in Reno.  During that trip, we headed to the site of the legendary West Capital Speedway in Sacramento.  The West Capital Alumni had recently been formed as I recall, but The Monument hadn't been erected on the site in tribute to the track at that time.

Don and I spoke of this track in Dixon on the way back.  I had heard a story of somebody having rolled the Bill Fairhurst Street Stock at this track, and my curiosity was piqued.  A dirt track in Dixon?  There had been rumors of Mini Stocks, Pure Stocks and Sprint Cars having practiced there, so we decided to go check this place out.

We found the track. I wish I had my camera, but I had lost it at Chowchilla Speedway earlier that year.  It was just a one-fifth mile dirt oval.  No grandstands, no walls.  Lots of work to do to make it happen.  You have to understand the chatter going on at the time.  With Merced and Chowchilla as close neighbors, there were some who liked the idea of a Friday Night or Sunday afternoon track within distance of Antioch.

At that time, believe it or not, there was a push to build a dirt track in Martinez at the site of the old dump.  There were people involved who had the resources to make it happen too.  The problem was, the city didn't go for the idea.  Environmental concerns.  Kind of ironic when you consider the area, but the idea was shot down.

Then came the talk of Sand Hill Raceway out there in the Brentwood-Bryon area.  Interestingly enough, about a decade or so earlier, there was a push to build a NASCAR quality asphalt track at the site of the airport.  Again, it was an idea that was shot down.  It figures.  Generally, you'll have an easier time closing a track than opening one.

The grandstands of the The Sand Hill Raceway of the early 1990's
Out of Turn 4 and headed down the front stretch
One of the Karts practicing that day hits Turn 1

Well, Sand Hill Raceway was there.  Mostly, there were the trails in the hills for the motorcycles and the famous Hill Climb, but it was in the early 1990's when they built a little one fifth mile oval track.  They ran Mini Sprints, Karts and that sort of thing.  There was a smaller one-eighth mile track for motorcycles next to it.  I walked on both tracks in a visit in 1993. There were Karts out there practicing.

I was told that Dwarf Cars had even practiced there, and there was a push for a race.  It may have even happened, though I have no information if it did. However, the newspaper was even writing about the races there.  That oval track, of which I was told was built by John Ford, was popular, because people were talking about it in the pits at Antioch.  An up and comer named Chris Wadsworth and young Brandi Ford were there.  Brandi tried to start a Street Stock race at Antioch and was denied a couple years later.  She was underage, so she did some racing in her Street Stock at Sacramento Raceway at that time instead.

Well, I loved the idea of this Sand Hill track, but it seemed to come and go in a flash.  There may have been a couple of seasons there, but noise complaints saw it get closed down.  That was too bad as it had potential.  I happened to return to the site around 2000 when there were rumors of somebody trying to run cars on the new quarter-mile they had built elsewhere on the property.

A bigger new track emerges at Sand Hill Raceway about 15 years ago

The space was there, and the track had been cut.  There was lots of work to do, but nothing that a determined promoter couldn't handle.  Of course, there was a catch as the maintenance man told me when I visited.  Nothing over 1200cc engined cars were allowed.  This would mean Sprints and Dwarf Cars, Legends, Slingshots (remember those) and that sort of thing could race.  It would be a start. I'd bet Four Bangers could happen over time, but there is no effort to even run Mini Sprints there last I heard.  It's a shame, because it would work there.  Sunday afternoon or Friday night, all the little classes.  It would take a big investment though.

So, there Don and I stood at Argyle Park in Dixon looking at this track. There was room to do something.  It's only a one-fifth mile oval, but so are Sacramento Raceway, Ventura and Orland.  They run Sprint Cars on those tracks, so is it really out of the question for Mini Stocks and Pure Stocks to run there on a Sunday Afternoon or Friday night?.  No, and that has been proven.  I actually want to do an article about that, but this is a snapshot article of these little tracks and why I feel they are important.

I think it was seven or eight years earlier, I was clued in on what can happen on a one-eighth mile dirt oval.  I went to Delta Speedway in Stockton for a DRA event.  This was Mini Sprints, Dwarf Cars and an amazing Mini Stock show.  All the way around, great show.  I fell in love with the concept of smaller tracks and Mini Stocks. I wish I had gone there more than a couple times.  When I got a chance to be at a Friday night race, it was Watsonville or Altamont.  I couldn't convince anybody to go to Delta Speedway.  It was lesser in their eyes.  Oh well...

So, I'm standing there at Dixon, and the wheels are spinning in my mind.  We could do a playday there.  At the time, I was willing to invest a little something in an idea I had.  I really couldn't afford it, but I would have done it. The idea was to get 10 or 12 drivers to come in from Antioch and play there.  Just hot laps, run a stop watch on cars for time trials, set new track records, start some buzz about what's there.

Now, the drivers' input was what I was counting on.  They would talk to the property owner about their thoughts and see where his mind was on the idea.  This would be about fun and a sort of get together.  My commitment was I was going to pay the food tab as we supported the concessions stand on the property.  Seemed fair to me.  The drivers get a free meal and the property owner (Bill Campbell) makes more money.  We begin a movement that can lead to another place to race within Antioch range.

I was really into this idea  I recall Todd Henry was behind the idea at that point.  There were racers like Alvin Lewis and Kevin Beard.  I had Dwarf Car drivers and Street Stock racers, even a Dirt Modified driver, showing interest.  This could happen if I stepped up and went for it.  The real problem was I had doubts that the support was there from some people.  I think there were three or four I could have counted on, because they continued asking me after I dropped the idea.  I just didn't want to put myself out there and not be supported on this. 

I believed very strongly that they had something at Dixon.  Not a doubt in my mind, and that's been proven over time.  Down the road in Vallejo, Steve Hazelton was succeeding against the odds with Vallejo Speedway 2.  I will tell you that the fairgrounds out there had no idea and no appreciation for what Steve was trying to do for the community there as well the fairgrounds.

This was a one-eight mile dirt oval like Delta, and he ran all of the divisions Delta ran.  I never had the pleasure of going there, but I wanted to go when he started running Mini Stocks.  I think it was a Sunday deal, and if memory serves, he was looking at two classifications of Mini Stocks.  Of course, the fairgrounds was being a pain in the rear.  He had to change locations of the track, but he did. Racing returned.  Steve and his crew worked hard at that track, and it should still be there.

He did run some Mini Stocks and ran a big Enduro race for them, but keeping that place going was a struggle.  From this came rumors of a track in the American Canyon area.  A dirt track, but a bigger track.  Again, it met opposition as these deals often do.  So, Steve started looking at Dixon.  However, a group of drivers had already gone down there under the new CORA banner.

This was a volunteer effort.  I think they still have volunteers doing work as officials.  They built things from the ground up.  The stands, the walls around the track, the lighting.  Everything.  They did an amazing job.  I recall talking to Russell Shearer about a year after I had left racing.  He was helping them build this thing.  In fact, he brought his two Hobby Stocks to the track just to play around one day. 

From the CORA Newsletter, a couple Pure Stocks on the track at Dixon.
At that point, I don't believe the track had opened yet.

Well, CORA and Dixon Speedway was a true family effort.  The Rosa family, the DeCarlo family, the Slaney family, Moore, Kaiser.  There were quite a few families from the Antioch and Petaluma Speedways.  All the classes you would see at Delta Speedway these days were represented at Dixon Speedway.  It was happening, and it's still happening.

This is important to racing, because the next generation of stars comes from this type of racing.  Some tracks, like Ventura Raceway and Bakersfield Speedway, have cut smaller tracks inside the big tracks and run various Mini Sprint and Mini Dwarf Car classes.  The next stars of the bigger tracks are coming from this.  Just as I am a fan of building a High School racing program and doing it right, I am absolutely in favor if this.

Why?  Two words.  Kellen Chadwick.  Two more?  Nick DeCarlo.  Jimmy Christian, Ryan Bernal...  You get the picture.  Now, Dixon is taking it up to the next level.  They are adding to the program.  I first noticed about three years ago when Terry DeCarlo was pushing for Dwarf Car and Mini Stock races there. Well, it started happening a couple years ago.  Last year, they ran a 100 lap Mini Stock Enduro to start the New Year.  They had 12 cars for this race, won by Bobby Huckaby Sr. over Bobby Huckaby Jr..

They've gotten a few big names in Mini Stock and Dwarf Car racing over the past two years.  They've even run Four Bangers.  It's a work in progress.  I'm surprised they haven't started points racing for these classes, but I'm guessing they want to make sure they have the cars.  I'm sure there will be drivers in all three divisions that would support this effort.  The Dwarf Cars even got a chance to run the Kaiser Memorial race in 2013 (won by David Teves ahead of Shawn Jones and Antioch Champion Danny Wagner).

Small fields of Dwarf Cars and Mini Stocks ran a New Years race again this year with wins being scored by Danny Wagner in Dwarf Cars and Kyle Cheney in Mini Stocks.  As I mentioned above, I intend to make a post about what the track is doing with these divisions at some point in the future.

This brings me to what inspired me to type this on my busted keyboard when I have a book to finish editing.  I think it's important, and as usual, I have a back story.

When John Soares Jr. came to Antioch Speedway, I recall talking with him that year about the fact that he had looked at a second track. I think this is where I got into hot water with John when I got it in my head that he could be a leader in track unity and was pushing for Chowchilla and Antioch to become partners a couple years later.


John revealed that he had looked at a little track in Newman.  This track has held some huge Kart races through the years.  Of course, that track is Hills Ferry Raceway.  He was interested in making it into a bigger venue.  The location might have made this a nice meeting place for drivers from the Antioch, Merced and Stockton areas, but there was a lot that needed to be done.  John elected not to pursue it.  I believe John Ford owned the place at the time.

So, it was 2002 or '03 when George Steitz stepped up with Tom Sagmiller to promote a series similar to what they did with the Chowchilla Barnburner Series. You know, Steitz had attempted to help a new promoter try and get a Stock Car program going at Tulare. I announced one of the three races they attempted, but it never got any traction   George had even said he was considering car races at Hills Ferry at one time.

From what I heard, the Barnburner style shows didn't do too badly the times they tried to run them, but there was a lot of work to do.  In the years since, there has been an effort to get things going there.  Then, somebody stepped up to try and rebuild the track last year.  It was pretty run down.  The man started a Facebook Page for updates.

From the Hills Ferry Facebook Page, a look at the front stretch in 2014

From the pictures, I can see the progress he has made, but there's lots to do.  He plans to run the classes they used to run and that includes the Mini Sprint Classes, but he'll have more to do to make that happen.  It sounds to me like Hills Ferry is a track that could use the support of others.  This is where people can step up and make it happen with him.

Another shot of the progress made at Hills Ferry Raceway in 2014.

Wanna know why Chowchilla Speedway happened?  Tom Sagmiller may have been the leader, but there were lots of volunteers and investors too.  Dixon took a community of racers to make happen.  That crazy dream called Hayfork Speedway?  A community of people helping out made it a reality. 

I don't know if he can bring Hills Ferry Raceway to life again, but I can see he has already worked so hard.  The place is shaping up.  With a little help from others, they may be racing on that track yet again, and it could be the beginning of something really nice.

These little tracks are capable of doing big things.  They create new stars in the sport.  Even more important than that, these tracks bring families together doing something they all enjoy.  For those reasons, I am 100% for making as many of these places happen as possible.  I'm also in favor of them doing some of the things Delta Speedway was doing with Mini Stocks.  One way or another, racing continues to thrive.

 Some footage from the Hangover 100 Mini Stock Enduro from Dixon Speedway last January.