Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Pit Stops: Notes From Sunday's Antioch Event

First of all...

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

Also, what could be a series of informative books...

Short Track History Project at Gofundme

Wanted some reading material to go with the DCRR Racing Radio Show.  Ended up bringing back an old staple from DCRR Racing News, Pit Stops.  Because I'm still working through issues with my audio, the show is again hosted here.  There was some minor static and a rough moment I caught before I completely messed things up.  Gonna keep working on this...

DCRR Racing Radio Show

Pit Stops
Notes From Sunday's Antioch Event

I'm doing this DCRR Racing Radio show for Antioch Speedway and the Ventura results and I had a dilemma.  What article do I post with it?  I had this article sitting from 2010.  This is when I ghost wrote the entire season at Antioch Speedway.  I think it could be interesting just in looking back at my thoughts from five years ago.  I recall not running it because, since it wasn't glowing about everything, it would be viewed as negative by some.  Nope.  I was only doing my stuff that year to help the track, so I held that post.

There's another one I called Who Killed NARC.  Now, this article discussed the end of the 40 year old Winged 410 Sprint Car organization.  Yes, The Outlaws were just in town, and they are amazing, but NARC was a site to see back in the day too.  I've heard people blame John for killing them, which is just silly.  I remember that ill fated Jim Allen column that killed any chances they had to stay at Antioch, so that inspired the column as I broke it down point by point.  This article may yet run on the blog.  I'm just picking the right time.

So, what do I talk about?  Well, for starters, I was at Antioch for the show on Sunday.  WoO is truly amazing.  Those car haulers are immense.  They took up so much room.  WoO officials started to worry when a wave of late arrivals nearly pushed the car count to 40.  These guys were waiting to get in, and they all did.  They made it work.  The pits were over flowing with people.  In fact, people had blankets laid down on the pit benches to reserve their spots.

That made it difficult for me to find a seat once I realized I was not going to be sitting in my usual spot in the grandstands.  Plus, the press box was filled.  Actually, as I watched from the pits, I realized there was room for me where I'd usually sit.   I'm glad I didn't go there.  After I sat down in a different spot, who should approach me but J.D. Willis.  This is the same man who helped me last a little longer with The DCRR.  This is the man who will be in the Antioch Speedway Hall Of Fame when its restarted.

We're chatting, and he is surprised when I told him he is still the all time win leader.  He expected to be passed.  Two active drivers could get by him.  You know who they are, Scott Busby and Bobby Hogge IV.  Regardless, J.D. is the greatest in my opinion, and that's saying something.  Bobby is pretty amazing himself.  Then, there's Bobby's dad, Jim Pettit II, Ed Sans Jr. and so on.  Nobody won more Modified features than Busby, though Hogge is right behind him.  J.D. had 19 or more wins in three divisions.

My Mount Rushmore of Antioch Speedway is J.D. Willis, Gary Pacheco, Bill Brown and...  That's a tough one.  I bounce between Dean Cline and Richard Johnson for that one.  It's not like Merced Speedway where, without question, it's Dennis Moomjean, Ted Stofle, Vern Willhoite and George Steitz.  Why only the older era guys?  Because, at Merced, it's almost impossible to argue against the body of work of those four.  They were so good, they kicked butt at other tracks as well.

At Antioch, you can make a strong case for Bobby Hogge III or Jim Pettit II for that fourth spot.  Pettit is the all time win leader in Antioch Late Model history, and Hogge is second.  Pettit won three track titles to Hogge's two, and both were Regional champions.  But, again, Cline and Johnson were great.  Dean just won races, but never really chased points.  Johnson is a two time Stock Car track champion, a two time Sportsman State champion and he was the first Dirt Modified champion at Antioch.  People forget that.

Can you believe we have had Dirt Modifieds at Antioch Speedway since 1990?  This is the 25th anniversary of this division, and they have been at least co-headliners at the track since 1994.  That's staying power.  The racing hasn't always been stellar, but the division has been reliable.  And now, we have Sport Mods poised to take over.  The only problem with that scenario is if they ever do drop the Dirt Mods for the Sport Mods, the cost of Sport Mods will go up. 

As I walked the pits looking at those Sprint Cars, I was amazed.  These guys really have the best of everything.  They travel in comfort.  Some of those enclosed trailers are air conditioned. They have all of the state of the art tools and everything, back up chassis and motors.  They come very well prepared.  They are professionals.  They demand a high purse, but that's because they deserve it.  They are the best of the best that Winged Sprint Car racing has to offer.

Obviously, WoO has the media covered.  Gary Thomas and whomever else is working the beat knows all the ins and outs, so I didn't go into the day trying to do their gig.  I'm not as familiar with the names in the field.  I did see Rico Abreu.  What an amazing talent.  This guy is going places.  He rode the same wave that has taken Kyle Larson to the top, and he may not be far behind.  Rico's Chili Bowl win helped get him a NASCAR East Stock Car ride.

Then, there's the #49 car of Brad Sweet.  I was impressed with this guy since he emerged on the scene with the BCRA Midget Lites.  He actually won several races at Antioch, and I have audio calls of most of them.  He was smooth, but he seemed rather young.  I mean, I wondered if he was even over 14.  I became a fan, and I followed him in the Trucks and the Xfinity Series.  He should still be there, because he was showing a lot of potential.

I looked on in wonder at the Roth Racing Team as they had both of their cars stripped down and seemed to be going over each of them very carefully.  Tim Kaeding, who has won a WoO race at Antioch, finished tenth, while his teammate, David Gravel, was back in 21st.  The good news, I guess, was he was a lead lap 21st.  Only one yellow and the leaders caught traffic in their battle.

Daryn Pittman became the sixth different feature winner in WoO action at Antioch.  The a fore mentioned Brad Sweet was fourth, and in between those two were Paul McMahan and Kerry Madsen.  There was a WoO REPORT on Late Model Racer's forum.  It was interesting to note that Sweet had the fast time, though I didn't know that as I couldn't hear the announcer in the pits.  I'd love to see Antioch do the same thing they did in the pits at Petaluma and have the speakers tuned in to the announcer when the Pit Board operator isn't calling the next race to staging or whatever.

Speaking of Petaluma,  Chase Johnson was within a spot of making the show.  The fourth generation racer finished a strong fifth in the B Main.  Of course, people may know that Chase is the great grandson of the legendary Johnny Franklin of Hardtop fame at Contra Coast Speedway in Pacheco.  The kid has potential, he just needs the right opportunity to let it show.

If your name is Kaeding, you are usually a force in whatever division you are running.  Generally, that's Sprint Cars.  It started with "The Campbell Comet" Howard Kaeding in Supers at San Jose.  Brent Kaeding won how many NARC and King Of California titles in his illustrious career?  Tim Kaeding has done his share of winning.  Bud Kaeding has done some great things with USAC, and I admit I was surprised he was back with the Winged Sprinters on Sunday.  I wasn't surprised that he won a heat race and finished fifth in the feature.  Talent just runs in the family.

It was interesting to see the NARC connection on Sunday night.  Jason Statler just barely eked into the feature with a fourth in the B Main and then placed 14th in the Main Event.  When the #3c car showed up, my first thought was that it was Paul McMahan. He certainly won in that car a lot.  On this night, it was Jonathan Allard.  Jonathan is certainly a star at tracks like Marysville and Placerville, and he placed 20th in the show.

McMahan was in the #51 car, and as I mentioned, he finished second in the Main Event.  He certainly shined in preliminaries, where he beat eventual feature winner Daryn Pittman in the Trophy Dash after winning his heat race.  Chasing him in the heat was a past Antioch WoO winner, Shane Golobic.  I had a chance meeting with Shane when he and his father John Golobic where in Indiana watching a race at Kokomo that Don O'Keefe Jr. and I were spectating.  It doesn't surprise me to see him doing as well as he does.  He had potential then, and he's only gotten better.

This is why you see the next generation racers getting into Sprint Cars.  We had the Hirst family being represented by Kyle Hirst.  You may remember Rick Hirst making his presence known with NARC back in the day.  Then, there was JoJo Helberg making laps.  JoJo didn't make it out of the B Main, but good seat time was logged and that makes a difference.  Of course, the Helberg family had their moments with Fred Helberg in the 1960's and 1970's at Petaluma and then Joe Helberg in Late Models in the late 1980's and early 1990's. 

I've said it before, but families in racing are what keep the sport going.  The Kinser name remains represented in WoO with Kraig Kinser, who was 11th in the feature.  I'm sure I don't do WoO justice in my writings here, but I thought I'd say something before I get to the regular Antioch racers and the visitors who challenged them on Sunday.

The IMCA Sport Mods were a part of this show.  Originally, the Wingless Spec Sprints were booked as well, but it may have been a good thing they were taken off the schedule.  The guys needed time to get situated and work on rebuilding car count.  What interested me was the little tidbit I heard about a Rosa wanting to go Sprint Car racing.  No, not David.  He's happy with the Stock Car stuff.  I'm talking about Victoria Rosa, and I think that young lady has potential.

When David Rosa had put his win total in Street Stocks up around the 40 win mark, he chose to do something pretty cool.  He stepped away from Antioch and headed to a little track called Dixon Speedway.  David was pretty active there, and I believe he even served a stint as president of CORA, the group that promotes the little one fifth mile dirt track.  Terry DeCarlo has served in that capacity for a while now, and his family has been a driving force in making things happen there.

You see, Rosa wanted to get his kids, David Michael and Victoria, into the sport.  So, he put them in Box Stocks and they worked their way up.  Both of these kids have talent.  Victoria started demonstrating that when she had back to back third place seasons in Super Hobby Stocks at Antioch.  She lost the battle with Natalie Perry by a mere two points that first year.  David says she will be back racing again, and that may eventually be in a Limited Late Model.  However, Victoria says she wants to race Sprint Cars.

I'm sure there's a mixture of pride and nervousness when he hears that from her.  Victoria sometimes can be a bit stubborn, like her dad, but she developed her love of the sport from him. It was her birthday, and where was she on Sunday?  Helping her dad with his Sport Mod.  There will be another Modified from Rosa Racing very soon, and that would be the car driven by David Michael.

Back in 2013, young David debuted in the Modifieds to a Top 5 season with "Rookie Of The Year" honors.  He was running in the Top 3 until missing a race for a bowling tournament in Reno.  He's a little more willing to listen to dad's advice, and that could serve him well in the races to come.  And, the older Rosa points out there is another racer waiting in the wings as another daughter will be racing Dwarf Cars when she turns 14.  I suppose David is taking a cue from friend, Chester Kniss, who will put his son in a Dwarf Car when he turns 14.

The results on race day weren't so rosy for David as he had motor problems and didn't finish the Main Event.  But, there's always next time.  I was saddened to hear that David's old car owner, Carrigan "Brownie" Brown, passed away in recent years.  He was a good man who put together some nice race cars.  Racing is losing too many good people it seems, and we need to keep encouraging the next generation to take an interest in the sport if we want it to survive.

Ron Brown has raced about everything, it seems.  Back in the 1970's, that included Stock Cars and the Sportsman division.  By the time the Sportsman division ended, Ron had been Top 20 in both divisions.  He dabbled in Late Models with his brother Randy before that became too costly, and then he did some Street Stock racing. He married his wife Lori Brown in the 1990's, and they are still going strong.  She steadily became a better Street Stock driver, ranking Top 10 and even winning Main Events, and then she did the same in Limited Late Models, where she is a champion.

During all of that time, Ron went from trying to run the figure 8 to Dirt Modifieds and eventually landed with Limited Late Models.  One of the reasons that class took off was because it had a guy like Ron behind the scenes helping others.  He has received awards in the past for his sportsmanship.  Ron started the Limited Late Models with back to back championships, but he also worried that people thought he was in it only for himself.  Anybody who would say that simply doesn't know Ron Brown at all.

The fact is, getting that beautiful #3 Sport Mod to the track was a team effort, and Ron has said he couldn't have done it without all of the help he had.  Chief among them was Vince Pokwyrka, who logged a lot of hours working to get this car ready.  Ron was nervous coming into the night, but who can blame him?  That first hit was coming.  You just hate to blemish the look of a race car when it could win a "Best Appearing Car" contest, but that's inevitable.  Though his results weren't great, Ron will be back to try again.

From Marysville came three of that track's racers.  That track had a playday on Sunday night, but this trio was ready to actually race.  There was Jimmy Ford, Jason Ferguson and Jim Waller.  Ford and Ferguson were factors in the race.  Actually, Ferguson might have won the race if not for late motor problems.  Ford, on the other hand, finished second in his heat and the Main Event.  It was like coming home for him.

Jimmy grew up at Antioch Speedway watching his uncle Jerry Garner driving for his grandfather Nick Burcher.  He started racing Street Stocks and even raced Late Models for a time as well.  Eventually he moved up north, but he found the race track up in Yreka and made trips to Antioch to run when he could.  He has since relocated to the Marysville area and started racing there.  He ran Sport Mods at Antioch when the division launched in 2012, and continued racing his Mini Stock, where he was 2014 Marysville champion.  Jimmy was delighted when the Sport Mods were added to Marysville this season, giving him a place closer to run. As his finish at Antioch indicates, he is fast and will be tough to beat wherever he races.

It's been interesting watching Al Sotomayor become more competitive.  The brother of past Top 3 Watsonville Street Stock racer Art Sotomoayor, Al got into racing when his nephew Matt Sotomayor sold him his Watsonville championship wining Four Banger.  When Matt moved into Sport Mods, Al started bringing his Four Banger to Merced so the two could race at the same place.  As luck, and skill, would have it, Matt and Al won their respective division championships at Merced in 2013.

Naturally, Al wanted to see how he could do in a Sport Mod, so he moved up in 2014.  He ended up being Top 5 ranked at Antioch.  With back to back Top 5 finishes, including his fourth place finish on Sunday, Al seems poised to win a Main Event soon in that beautiful #65 car.

Speaking of firsts, rookie Patti Ryland won her first Sport Mod heat race Sunday night.  That's not surprising when you consider she has won everywhere she's gone.  The two time Four Banger champion had many wins in that class before going on to back to back Top 5 seasons in Hobby Stocks and winning races there as well.  Patti got more seat time and drove to a Top 10 finish on Sunday.

It would be easy to get frustrated if you are Keith Brown Jr.  He has been very fast in his #128 car this year, but his efforts at all three Oval Motorsports tracks have not yielded any feature wins yet.  He won his heat race on Sunday and seemed poised to win the feature after Ferguson had his problems.  Unfortunately, He saw that familiar #7j car of Fred Ryland drive by him and steal the victory.  Keith settled for third and should remain second in IMCA State and Antioch points to, you guessed it, Fred Ryland.

The reality is, Fred Ryland makes it his mission to have a competitive and winning race car in every division he enters.  He's already in the Top 20 in wins at Antioch in less than ten years, which means his win total has surpassed 30.  In fact, a half dozen wins at this point, and Ryland will be in elite company as he moves into a tie with none other than Bobby Hogge III for tenth on the win list.  At this rate, he may even pass him before the year is out.

Ryland will be headed to Merced Speedway on Saturday night to try for another win, and it's anticipated that Brown will be there with him.  Considering the fact that you don't get full points unless you have a ten car field, one has to wonder if the team may be considering bringing Patti Ryland's car with them as well.  Back in the early 2000's, the Williamson team did a similar thing as title contender Bob Williamson was joined by his son Bobby in the other #19 car.

Merced was represented by Mark Squadrito on Sunday.  Mark was also among the Top 10 at the checkered flag, but 2013 Antioch champion Jeremy Hoff wasn't as lucky as he had a bad night.  It's nice to know that Hoff has said he will still race at Merced, though he wants to travel too.  The reality of the situation is that Hoff is third at Merced with Ryland between he and point leader Josh Hensley.  Hoff basically spotted Hensley a race, but he has the talent to make up that lost ground and reel him in if he should decide to go for it.  In the absence of that's, it's Hensley's championship to lose at this point.

What is nice is Hoff's attitude that if the fans want to see him at Merced Speedway, he will show up and make the effort if he can.  Merced Speedway has been ridiculed and put down by some racing snobs for years, and that always annoyed this writer.  That track has a proud racing tradition and has produced some of the best racers in the state.  People pull into Merced and think they are racing with pushovers, and yet they leave having been beaten by one of those drivers.

So, at the risk of editorializing, I salute local drivers like Kevin Joaquin, Darren Miguel, Ty Shelton, Mark Odgers, Josh Hensley, Jeremy Hoff, Bill Egleston, Alex Wilson, Jennifer Corder, Chris Corder, Kevin Lockerby, Brian Widdowson and just all of the racers who are hanging in there and fighting to keep racing alive at a track that was all but abandoned in 2009 before Oval Motorsports came in and gave it new life.

People don't know all of the details and the full story of last year, and the purpose of saying that here is not to name names or place blame.  What's done is done, but there are two sides, sometimes more, to every story.  So, getting upset about any of that when it only involved a select few people to begin with is not only pointless, but it's destructive to the track.  Maybe it's better to concentrate on the positive and the future and work on making that better.

Sometimes people are going to have opinions that aren't popular, and they can be construed as being bad or against the track.  I've witnessed that from a certain racer who I believe doesn't have a car at the moment.  But, it's important to know that while he says some of the things he has said, he has supported the tracks as a spectator.  Is this a bad person or a passionate fan who cares about the sport and thinks things can be better?

Well, things can be better, but if people just walk away and give up on it, it won't have a chance.  If they come back and communicate where they think things can be better, but also listen to what is being said, common ground can be found and we can get past the hurt feelings.  And, that's what I'm hoping for.  I want more cars and better racing at Merced Speedway, and I believe the current promoter can help make that happen if given a chance.  I also believe there is room for improvement in that area.

We'll see what happens at Merced and Antioch this weekend, but we'll save the pre race talk for another article.  This one has gone on long enough.  Whatever you do, have fun and try to keep smiling.  Real life is annoying enough at times, but this sport we all love is supposed to be there to help give us a break from all the bad things that may be bringing us down in our day to day lives.

Note: The following is only speculation at this point and has not been announced.

Mike Conley Memorial 30 Lap Figure 8?

Okay, there's been some talk about a Figure 8 race at Antioch, possibly a year end show or maybe at the County Fair race.  Nothing has been announced, and it might take work to make it happen.  It might also be difficult to reach the minimum car count required to get it booked.  We're talking 12 cars minimum, $500 to win and $100 to start.  The minimum is a hard minimum.  That means, 12 cars minimum are needed to make this thing happen, more cars are preferred.

The challenge in making this happen is that Hobby Stock car count isn't what it once was, and some drivers are averse to taking the risk to their cars.  Plus, the race has sort of been abandoned.  Why run a race like this?  Bragging rights.  A successful race that provided cars and really entertained the crowd would be a positive for the track.  The winner has won something very challenging and becomes the race champion until next time.

Who is Mike Conley?  Mike was one of THE biggest boosters of this race at Antioch Speedway.  He was a Top 5 Stock Car racer at Antioch in the early 1970's who came out of retirement when the race was brought to Antioch in 1987.  He loved Figure 8 racing.  He ranked Top 10 in this race in three of the four seasons, making it as high as fifth one season.  He fielded two cars and helped others get their engines ready with his Conley's Machine Shop business.  He supported that race from 1987 until it was done to the end of its run in 1990.

There is no official date set for any of this, and it's only a rumor at this time.  One way to make it happen is to start getting commitments from racers to take part in it.  And for those who know Mike Conley, there's no better tribute we could pay him than to have a big Figure 8 race to honor his memory.  Could a big Figure 8 race happen again at Antioch?  You never know.  Time will tell.