Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Few Things That Could Have Been In The New Book

As if this post isn't long enough, there is a DCRR Racing Radio Show at the bottom...

So, you know how it is when you work on a big project or presentation and you put all of that thought into what you want to do and stress out at the last minute?  You work on those precious details, while really wanting to finish it.  But, it needs just one more touch.  I did this with the Best Of The Blog And Beyond Book, but it was 524 pages.  I had to end it even if I had more ideas.

Well, the same thing happened with the next book.  I added a few chapters at the very last minute.  One of them dealt with a certain announcer.  Actually, the tracks I visited and memorable racers and races chapters were late additions too, which I'll get into in a moment.  Only two chapters intended for the book missed the cut as I felt they were irrelevant.  I may share those here, though I already have well over 30 unposted articles ready to go.

I was thinking about what I could have written in the book as I made that comment in my announcement post.  Let me see if I can give a glimpse of what could have made it.  Maybe this will be in the 2nd Edition....  I wouldn't count on it, but I guess you can never say never.  Hey, isn't there a Styx song of the same name?

By the way, Dennis DeYoung and his lovely wife Suzanne just celebrated another anniversary recently.  They have been married for over 40 years.  Yeah, Babe may be a corny song to some, but he wrote it for Suzanne from the heart. 

By the way, the books are available now on Lulu...

Just A Kid From The Grandstands:  My Time In Auto Racing

Available on Lulu in Paperback And Hard Cover

Don's California Racing Recollections:  Best Of The Blog And Beyond

Available via print on demand at Lulu in Hard Cover or Paperback

Anyway, here's a sample of some of the stuff that could have been in the book...

My Trip To Tulare

You know, it just occurred to me that I didn't include that in my tracks visited chapter.  Duh!  It was kind of relevant.  Gary Jacob (who else) used to send me stories of the Thunderstock, Mini Stock and I think Dirt Modified shows they had there in the 1990's.

So, a promoter (I forget his name but he used the name Speedway Enterprises) was trying to restart that program in 2001.  He was struggling to get any cars and barely had enough for a Mini Stock race. I was in the stands at Merced before I got the gig, and George Steitz gave me a job there  He was sponsoring the new promoter.

So, I went there and gave them the full effort.  I even sang the National Anthem and started off the show with a prayer as we did at Chowchilla.  Mini Stocks, Street Stocks and a Hobby Stock Class.  I have an audio call of the Mini Stock show somewhere.  That was the third attempt at a race  I think this track would have aligned with Chowchilla had we made it work, but it was over after that.

Making matters worse was Johnny O'Brien Jr. drove his big Ford to a Street Stock feature win at Merced.  Yeah, the one time I miss the show that year, and he wins.  That figures...

Stephen Veltman, SORA And The Other Traveling Support Clubs

When it came time to create the All Pro Series from the abandoned Baylands classes, two groups said no thank you.  There was the Mini Outlaws group that ran a lot at Merced and the Sprint 100's.  In an interview I did with "Weavin" Stephen Veltman, he recalled how David Vodden said this group would not make it as a touring class.  Hell, I probably would have said the same thing.

Veltman was the leader and put his own racing on the back burner to prove his point of how good this group was.  He booked them at several tracks.  They came to Antioch about once a month, ran pavement and dirt.  There's more.  Unlike the NCMA, Veltman was getting sponsorship for his races and paying better than the NCMA.  He even had Corn Nuts as a title sponsor for the club and would hand out free Corn Nuts to the fans after the races.

Hm...  What do we call that?  Oh yeah. Promoting!  They could learn a thing or two from Veltman.  The racing was actually good.  They had a mixture of fast, moderate and slow racers on that track and somehow could log lots of laps without a yellow flag.  SORA was an amazing group with a top notch leader in Veltman.

By contrast, the NCMA seemed content to just have a race and then there were the Dwarf Cars.  I was in favor of Nor Cal, because Frank Munroe was another man who knew how to promote.  I met him at Delta Speedway.  Within a couple years of him joining that club, they were getting huge fields and working with other groups for big 80 car blow out races at tracks like Marysville.

By contrast, I stared in disbelief one night in the parking lot at Antioch as Jim Soares and Ray Etherton of the Pacific Coast group plotted how to run off the Nor Cal guys if they dared show up that night.  And the thing is, with guys like Rick Rogers, Billy Wright and Jim Saitone, they had racers who could hang with Frank and the boys.   But, Nor Cal had more cars.  It was an interesting year, even more so when Pacific Coast was messing with an up and coming racer named Damion Gardner of Nor Cal.  You may have heard of him.

But back to Veltman, he knew what it took to make SORA fly, and there was never a doubt in his mind that he could do it.  After he left, they managed to make it a little further, but they have since faded away.  Guys, it's no secret how to make something work.  Just use your head and make a commitment.  I mention in the book how Veltman surprised me by cutting me a check for an article I wrote about SORA in Wheels Magazine.  Interestingly enough, he did run a few races with the NCMA after he left SORA.  He was a fan of the new look Jim Booth brought to the NCMA cars.

There Is No We

I can't sit here and tell you that Jim Soares was my favorite person.  I did respect him, but there were things I didn't care too much for.  The Dwarf Car thing mentioned above always bothered me, I have to be honest. I know this was about protecting Jim's group's home track, but I realized later it was never in jeopardy.  Nor Cal may have been a better group at the time with more cars, but Jim was Pacific Coast's ace in the hole.

I've heard it said that NASCAR considered him "The Good Soares" or something like that.  He was welcome, because they could call on him when they inevitably screwed up their race tracks.  They didn't call him "Dr. Dirt" for nothing.  Jim would whip that track into shape in no time.  So, Nor Cal was never coming to Antioch, San Jose or Watsonville unless Pacific Coast wanted them.

Antioch had an amazing year in 1999, and we needed B Mains in most of our classes.  I happened to walk by at the awards banquet as Jim was boasting to somebody that all we really needed was 15 cars per division.  We had too many cars according to him.  I kid you not.  I was shocked to hear that as it was about the stupidest thing I had ever heard.  I simply replied, "I disagree, Jim.  If you promote for 15 cars, you'll end up with 12."  Judging from the numbers these days, that might have been a bit high.  I never heard John make such a comment though.

I'm at the pizza parlor with my friend Chris sometime in 2000.  Now, Jim has an interesting sense of humor, and I'm sure he was very amused at the time.  John was pissed off at me, and I suspect Jim didn't particularly care much for me to begin with.  He walks over, eating a piece of pizza and comments matter of factly, "So Donny, are you still in the family?"

I can laugh at that now, but at the time I was in no mood for that.  Jim knew John  was upset with me and felt the need to rub it in.  In 2002 I think it was, John Soares Sr. had finally been convinced to retire.  I used to joke that Pops was negotiating with God to take it with him.  When you are 80 something and you've been doing this most of your life, how do you walk away from it?  I suppose it's not something you can truly appreciate until you are there.

I know John wanted that track, and he was prepared to buy it from his dad.  Antioch and Petaluma would be united.  John and his dad had already been sharing some divisions, but we could take it further now.  Well, Jim ended up with the track.  I've heard his mother stepped in on his behalf, but I don't know the details for sure.  Point is, we knew it was Jim's track next year.

So, Jim is talking about his plans with John, and it sounds like we may still work together.  I'm chiming in with my two cents on how we can do this or that and build up the alliance when Jim looks at me like Daffy Duck looked at Bugs Bunny when they found the treasure in that cartoon.  He says, "What do you mean we?  There is no we."

I couldn't appreciate what that comment truly meant at the time as John was also a part of it.  I took it personally. In the first place, I was going to be at Antioch and occasionally Merced.  I didn't work for Jim and barely worked for John at that point.  Secondly, all I saw was how this might be good for racing and the racers, which is what my "we" really meant.  I told Jim as much.

Gradually, as I walked away from the sport, what little alliance there was between the tracks broke away.  John tried to run Late Models and 360 Sprints more and Jim started Spec Sprints and Dwarf Cars.  This move led to the loss of regular B Mains in Dwarf Cars and Spec Sprints at Antioch.  Yeah, I get what he meant now, and I doubt it was a comment that was directed at me at all.  There truly was no "we" in this situation.

I don't want to insinuate that Jim didn't have a heart and didn't care about the racers.  That would be a lie.  Even if I wasn't a fan of his at times, I did have good conversations with him.  Jim was somebody the racers liked, and as promoter at Petaluma, he did things like spaghetti and chili feeds for his drivers after the races.  He cared about the guys.  When good friend Jim Booth died, he put up a sign at the track in his honor.  He was the one who worked with BCRA to honor his father with the 100 lap Johnny Soares Classic.  These don't sound like the actions of a bad man to me.

When Jim died last year, I saw what tracks bothered to acknowledge his passing on their pages and which ones didn't.  I said it while Jim was still alive when I had a chance to talk to racing people and I'll say it again.  I don't get the feeling that Pops would have liked the way things went down here between his sons.  I can see both sides.  Though John would have done just fine if he had Petaluma, it wasn't bad that Jim got the track.  He did a lot of good things and he deserved the chance.  There are reasons I feel this way despite not being his biggest fan, but I will just say Jim was a real racer and did a lot of good for racing.

More About Steve Torres

I wrote a bit in the book about Steve Torres and left a few things out. I saw much potential in Steve.  He could drive as well as anybody in Street Stocks, but his equipment sucked. He also had no budget or place to work on the car.  Honestly, he probably shouldn't have been trying where he lived.  He had no garage, but he had a love for racing. 

He was the kind of driver who could have won in good equipment, but he had no work ethic on that car back then.  His nickname was "Mad Mex" but I thought of him as "Saturday Steve" since most his work on the car happened on Saturday.  You don't make Main Events in 30 plus car fields that way. In fact you end up in C Mains like be did.  The reason I believed in his talent is because he ran competitively in that group of drivers, had some good B Main finishes and won some heat races and C Mains when that car held together.

I didn't have much money at all, but I helped him get a car that had won a Main Event from Corky Pattrick and bought him a battery very early on when I first met him.  I was already helping the kid who pitted for him get into the races, because he only got one comp pass and it went to his wife. Danny couldn't afford to get in all the time, and I thought he deserved to get in. 

Now, the battery probably came into play in a Figure 8 race.  It may have been the reason I got it for him.  He was running competitively in that barely bolted together race car of his when Brian Holden slammed him.  I admit I wasn't a big Holden fan, which is why what the boys did to him back then didn't bother me too much at first.  I felt he was favored too. Hey, he was damn good, and I said he was the best local Figure 8 driver ever at Antioch in my book.  I was fair to him in my reporting.

So, Steve's car dies and he pulls into the infield.  He's pissed.  I think Holden knocked the battery loose or something.  Brian won and then Steve jumped out of his car and attacked him after the races. He was suspended for his actions as he deserved to be.  He was a pretty good Figure 8 driver, but I wish he would have stayed away from the race when he got Corky's old car.  He ended up bending the frame in that race.

Steve never climbed up the ladder, but he had other commitments that kept him from doing what needed to be done to be a winner.  He had a car and had fun racing, which I realize was what was more important to him.  When I was doing my magazine at my first good printer's place, they offered to blow up a photo to try and entice me to use the color printer.  It was a picture of the car Steve drove around the time he was working with the Martell Racing Team.  It's actually still on my wall some 20 years later. 

Steve has since returned to run Hobby Stocks at Merced and sometimes Antioch.  Judging from the results, I think he's just out there trying to have fun like he did back in the day.  I don't know if we'll see the day he wins, but if that thing holds together one night, you never know.

Shame On Me For Not Talking Enough About The Sportsman Division

In my memorable racers and races chapter I really didn't talk a lot about the Sportsman division.  It was the headliner class when I first started going to Antioch Speedway.  My memories on race results are sort of sketchy.  I clearly remember pointing to the track at a yellow #4a Pinto driven by Len Mello and saying, "I want him to win.  He's my favorite."

In the book, I say this may have been a B Main that he won or got second. I ran around a lot as a little kid.  Another name that has always stuck with me is Dana Auger and that #101 Orange Blossom Special.  First of all, it was the number.  You didn't see a lot of triple digit cars.

My parents were still together when I had that "Mello moment" and I'm almost tempted to put myself at the scene of the big 200 lap race at the end of 1977.  I know Len did well in the race I saw, and he happened to finish second in that 200 lap race to Auger.  Was I there?  I don't know.

I do know I saw Dana win some Main Events when I was first there and during that final season in 1981.  "Always On It" they called him, because he was fast.  He was a Top 5 driver that could have been a champ.  At one point, he won two or three races in a row and sold his car.

John Soares Jr. sold his cars too.  I think he had sold three of the cars he had driven during the time I was out at the track, one of them to a Street Stock front runner named Scott Busby.  Getting back to John, he generally avoided running too hard for the points, part of which was because he raced Winston West races.  Also, there were people saying he was favored because of who his dad was.  John built some fast race cars as some people who have bought them from him would attest.

Only one driver in Antioch Speedway history has won Main Events in every decade since the track opened for weekly competition, and that would be John.  So, I'm waiting for him to get a ride and make it another decade with a win.  John is in the conversation for the greatest Sportsman driver ever at Antioch Speedway.  That's a tough call. His championship came at Petaluma, but he was top five at Antioch too.

But, really, there were some great drivers, starting with "The Mighty Mite" Gary Pacheco and Bill Brown. Pacheco had three titles in four years and Brown was a  two time champion.  Gene Dothage had no titles but ranked second three straight years.  He won his share of races as did Tom Abreu, who was a title contender in the late 1960's.  Dave Logan was another fast runner and champion.  I never saw Pacheco race, but it would be difficult for me say he wasn't the greatest.  The numbers don't lie. 

Now, there was this clique that parked together.  Perhaps you've heard of them.  Dennis Furia, Marv Wilson, J.D. Willis and Gene Millard.  Only Millard never won a championship of these four, and he was top five.  He was good.  J.D. is a legend.  Furia was fast and very aggressive, and then you have Marv.  I'm almost inclined to say he was the best of the Sportsman drivers I got to watch.  I loved the look of that #19a car and I was definitely a fan.

Buzz Enea was back to back top five in points and won a lot.  He's the son in law of my childhood hero, Len Mello.  After 1980, a case could have been made that Buzz was the man to beat in 1981.  The very talented 1980 champion Mike "The Blue Knight" Gustafson would be headed for Petaluma.  "Sudden" Sam Houston had bought Marv Wilson's 1979 Petaluma Championship car and finished a strong second in 1980 to Gustafson.

It was quite an improvement for Sam.  Yeah, he was fast, and that candy apple red #80a was a pretty site to look at.  He was mixing it up for that 1981 championship, but he switched to a new car that year.  So, that opened the door for a Stock Car champion named "Rapid" Richard Johnson. Richard was a State Sportsman Champion, but there was an obstacle in his way in 1981.

Enea could have and probably would have been champion that year, but he stepped aside and focused on Mello's effort that season.  Len had been racing at the track since it opened, was Top 20 a few times and even managed to get one win.  However, he reeled off seven wins that year  There were some bumpy moments, of which I allude to in the book, but Len brought down the curtain on my beloved Sportsman division as its final champion.

I'm not sure where Sal Belleci was that final season, but he had his moments the year before.  He was a feature winner.  He kind of reminded me of Mike Green in that he was fast, was a winner and probably could have been champion in this division had it continued into the 1980's.  It's over 30 years later, and I'm still annoyed at the end of the division at Antioch.

There were those moments, like when Steve Skarry got into it with J.D. Willis in a Trophy Dash in 1980.  Skarry won, and the crowd roared their disapproval.  Harry Osbourne called him Steve "Boo Boo"  Skarry.  There's an interesting anecdote regarding that, which I shared in the book.  If memory serves, there was a Watsonville racer named Walt Rizzo in the black #3 Chuck E Cheese car who had an incident with somebody in 1981 and heard the boos as well.

You don't paint a car green.  That's the superstition.  You don't run a #13.  You don't eat peanuts by a race car.  All bad luck.  Well, to the first two, we had a guy out of Santa Rosa in the car dubbed "The Mean Green Machine" with the #3n.  That would be Rob Roy of the famous Roy Boys.  He was fast.  John Roy was a Sportsman Champion in 1976, before Willis, Wilson and Furia all followed.  As for #13, that would a guy by the name of Bill Silveira.  I don't know how much luck he had, but I seem to recall he won a B Main or something.

From what I have uncovered in my research, NASCAR was not fond of the Sportsman cars, which led to rule changes in 1975 that brought about an end of the "Skinny Cars'" as they were called.  We started seeing cars with full bodies in the years that followed, some of which didn't run wings.  The thing is, Antioch was a Sportsman town.  It was Jim Soares who had to cancel the class a few races into the 1980 season at Merced.  By then, Watsonville couldn't even get a B Main, but Antioch still could.

The car count didn't fall in the division at Antioch until John Soares Sr. left.  Yeah, that always stuck with me as guys like Soares Jr., Gustafson, Jim Tryon, Scott Busby, Keith Shipherd and L.C. Green left with him.  It really sucks when things drop off like that so quickly.  I know the cars were still out there too.

There were so many racers who made up that show and never got a lot of recognition. I wish I could have been there as a writer.  I'd be hying up the B Main point race or creating one as I did for Street Stocks in the 1980's.  Guys like Ron Brown, Don O'Keefe Jr., Rick Brophy, Dan Hatfield, Marion Heaton, John Gurnsey and Allan Nordstrom.  Some of this stuff is covered in my book. I knew Dave Oswald, and I'll never forget when his Top 10 season ended after a crash with Nordrstrom. I recall his "friendly" gesture to Al on the front stretch as he drove by.

I recall seeing Julio Jones win a Street Stock feature and then moving up to the Sportsman class that same season.  Jim Coleman had done that a year earlier, and guys like Scott Busby, Keith Shipherd, L.C. Green, Frank Blasquez and Joey Rodriquez also moved up from Street Stocks to Sportsmans.  I think Tom Leopold was the last driver to move from Street Stocks to Sportsmans.  He earned the nickname "Loopin" Tom for driving up on the Turn 1 wall and doing an easy roll  He went back to Street Stocks and was a front runner.

I talk about some of this stuff in the book.  The fully inverted starts, guys getting out of their cars for intros, the nicknames, just the look of these race cars.  Even with Vegas, Pintos, Gremlins (Jerry Hetrick) and Camaros, this class was it for me.  I remember the names and the look of those cars, which I can still picture in full color in my mind.  These are memories that will always be dear to me.

DCRR Racing Radio Show: Episode 9 by GenWhat