Friday, March 27, 2015

Sport Mods Join Outlaws At Antioch, Modifieds Star At Merced

First of all...

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

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

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

Available on Lulu in Paperback And Hard Cover

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

Short Track History Project at Gofundme

Here is a new DCRR Racing Radio Show leading into this weekend's racing.  We're doing this one in house while we get out audio sorted out and contemplate a move in host sites.

If you missed the Audio Calls from Antioch Speedway, you might want to check them out.  I did all five Main Events, and that post can be found HERE. has a video of the Southwest Tour race held recently at Madera, and it can be viewed HERE.

Sport Mods Join Outlaws At Antioch, Modifieds Star At Merced

Sunday is the World of Outlaws at Antioch Speedway.  I already wrote some about that in an article that you can read HERE.

Originally, Wingless Spec Sprints and IMCA Sport Mods were on the schedule for Sunday night at Antioch, but the Spec Sprints were given a break.  I totally agree with that decision.  Guys are still getting situated with the new rules that were announced weeks before the season opener.  Cars are coming. I heard from the division's all time win leader, Jim Perry Jr., that he is working on a car, and his son, Jimmy Perry III, made his season debut Saturday night.  So, giving them this race off, even though it would have been held in front of a Sprint Car crowd, was the right move to make.

Besides, the Sport Mods are just getting started.  We had a few interesting things to talk about last week.  First of all, there was IMCA National Championship contender Fred Ryland.  Ryland was leading the points at Merced, but he walked away to make the commitment to his home track.  Keith Brown Jr. did likewise.  While Brown had absolutely miserable luck all night long, Ryland did just the opposite.  He led most of the Main Event to collect his fifth win of the year on the IMCA Sport Mod circuit. He will be tough to beat this year.

Ryland may have won his heat race too, but rookie Tim Hammett spun out right in front of him in the final turn.  I can see where people were getting frustrated with the rookie who spun a few times, but he's just learning the ropes.  Tim brings a lot of enthusiasm with him, and I think he will get better with time.  Joining Hammett on the rookie list is two time Four Banger champion Patti Ryland and KC Keller.  Patti may be the favorite in the rookie race, and she finished second in her heat race.  After running second early in the feature, she fell back to eighth.

Al Sotomayor seems more comfortable behind the wheel of his #65 car.  After his impressive Mini Stock championship season at Merced in 2013, he spent last year getting acquainted with his Sport Mod and finished third in points at Antioch.  He missed the two January races and finds himself back in 19th in the standings as a result.  Al Johnson seems to be one of the drivers to watch to challenge F. Ryland, a task that may be easier said than done.  Johnson gained the win in the heat in which Ryland had his lapped traffic issues and then finished fourth in the Main Event.  Megan Ponciano fared well with a heat win of her own and a fifth in the feature.  She's actually third in the standings behind Keith Brown Jr., who had a miserable night in last in the Main Event.  Brown trails Ryland by two points, Ponciano is five points back and Johnson is 16 points behind the leader.

It's anticipated that car count will increase on Sunday with drivers visiting from Merced or even Bakersfield for State and National points.   So, a car count in the mid or high teens could be on hand.  Who might show is subject to speculation, but drivers like 2014 State champion Nick Spainhoward, Jeremy Hoff and Bruce "Bubba" Nelson could be among the drivers to watch for.

Back at Merced, there may be reason for concern over the car count situation.  At Antioch, Chief Steward Brad Coelho was passing along word from management that they wanted to know who in the Dwarf Car division might be interested in supporting Merced Speedway for some races.  Considering that Merced could draw from other groups, properly scheduled Dwarf Car dates could help, but scheduling will be important.  Nor Cal or South Bay drivers might come if they know about it or are able to.

This is something that could go for Chowchilla Speedway as well.  Other divisions that could be available include the IMCA Stock Cars.  That division ran Chowchilla several times last season and seemed to enjoy it.  When the start time was adjusted, the drivers balked at supporting the cause.  It's not a big car count as it is, but it can bring 6-8 cars to Chowchilla if done right.  BCRA Midget Lites or even the Midgets could be pursued for a date or two.  Then, there is the Okie Bowl Hardtops for a possible Chowchilla or even Merced and Chowchilla visit.  Better yet, a venture between the northern and southern groups, if the drivers are open to it.

However, the bigger priority should be getting the local drivers back on board with Merced Speedway.  To this reporter, the best approach might be to call a meeting in the Merced area on an off night, either at the track or maybe a local pizza parlor.  This probably should have happened when the previous General Manager, Doug Williams, walked away.  Anybody could see that Doug was a very popular man in Merced with the racers and the fans and a past Regional Champion and BCRA Hall Of Famer to boot.  People were already reacting badly to his departure.

Sonny Nabers seems to be a qualified replacement from all that this reporter knows, but he should have been introduced properly to the racers in a meeting within a week or so of the announcement that he would be GM at Merced and Chowchilla.  Considering the uncertainty of the game plan at the track or what the future was, this would have been a good time to assure the racers that things would be okay and discuss the future with the new GM.  None of this happened, and the lack of support at the banquet was further proof that people were unhappy.

The purpose of this is not to slam Oval Motorsports.  John Soares Jr. actually cared enough to reopen this track when it appeared dead it 2010.  He managed to get it up and running for a 14 race season that year and it's still going.  It's unlikely a season would have happened in 2010 otherwise, and who knows beyond that.  At this point, it may be in the racer's best interest to support the show if they can and deal with 2016 when it gets here.  The desire to make Oval Motorsports fail could lead to the failure of the track itself.  John was in Merced last week trying to reassure the races of his commitment to them and that track.  Will it make a difference?

Going into last week, the IMCA Sport Mods were set to take a car count hit.  Point leader Fred Ryland and Top 5 ranked Keith Brown Jr. would be heading back to Antioch, and Mark Odgers was parking the Modified and dusting off his Sportsman after his fifth place Sport Mod feature finish a week earlier.  It was hoped that a few other racers would be returning, but what happened was not good news for the track.  The man poised to take the lead, 2014 champion Rick Diaz, and fellow Top 10 racers Mark Squadrito and Neill Barcellos were also absent from the field, leaving six cars for this show.

The show went on, and past Antioch champion Jeremy Hoff was there to win the Main Event from his pole position start.  Hoff had also won the heat race over Josh Hensley.  Hensley figured to finish second in the Main Event, but a last lap pass from two time Hobby Stock champion Bruce Nelson dropped Hensley to third at the finish.  Hensley now leads the standings by 18 points over the absent Fred Ryland.  Hoff is the next driver up, 28 points out of the lead.  The news doesn't get any better for the division as last place finisher Tim Prothro clobbered the wall in Turn 4 before he could take a checkered flag.

What will car count look like this week?  With Antioch dark on Saturday night, a driver or two might go back.  Hopefully, it will double from the six that appeared last week and we can look at that low turnout as an anomaly.  We'll find out on Saturday.

IMCA Modifieds were back, and we had a bit of a clarification from a source as to what Stone Racing will be doing.  Paul Stone is gearing up for the big one week event taking place from Yreka up through Oregon at various tracks.  He has a new car he will be running.  It's likely that he'll need to shake it down some place beforehand, but we haven't heard where or when that will be.  He's not defending his Merced crown, obviously, and we'll just have to see if he's interested in running for the Hanford championship again. 

Cousin Ramie Stone, meanwhile, has Paul's old car, which took some damage in an open show.  Ramie has been working on getting it back together for a return.  We'll spare you the names of others who haven't been seen yet, but Bill Egleston, Alex Wilson and John MacDougall are the three who have stepped up after three races.  Only five points separate Egleston from third ranked MacDougall.  As there are no date conflicts on the horizon for MacDougall as far as Antioch is concerned, he's poised to make a run at his first championship at Merced.

As a past champion, beating Egleston won't be easy, but none of these three were on the podium last week. Egleston was the closest in fourth.  The Main Event featured two of the track's past champions doing battle with perhaps the best Dirt Modified driver ever, Bobby Hogge IV.  Multi time Street Stock champion Ricky Thatcher looked great leading early from the pole.  If not for the yellow flags early on, he could have won this race instead of settling for a respectable third place finish.

Past Hobby Stock champion Ryan Porter was on a mission to get to the front, and Bob Williamson was a casualty of that mission as he ended up taking a ride into the infield.  Once Porter got the lead from Thatcher, he had to try to keep it.  Hogge was coming from the back, and he was soon on Porter's back bumper.  Any time you win a Main Event ahead of Hogge, you know you did good, and Porter scored an impressive victory Saturday night.  Since Porter and Thatacher both missed one of the three races, they rank fourth and fifth, respectfully, but the season is still early.

It's anticipated that the IMCA Modifeds should see a car count in the 10-12 range, but whether it can go higher than that depends on who is motivated to tow from Antioch or what locals will decide to go racing.  It's not likely that Hogge will show up, but you never know.

One thing that monitoring the point races at Antioch and Merced in 2015 has taught this reporter is that you can't assume anything.  Drivers aren't running every race this season.  Hobby Stock ace Kevin Joaquin appears to be all in in his quest for a championship, but chief rival and 2014 point runner up Kristie Shearer was a no show last week.  In fact, incoming Top 3 drivers Ty Shelton and Dexter Long were also absent, opening the door for Jennifer Corder to climb into second.

Corder has been a busy woman this season driving both a Mini Stock and a Hobby Stock.  Her previous outing found the Hobby Stock rookie having her best finish in third. Last week, she finished fourth to pull within five points of Joaquin, who was a disappointed sixth.  Meanwhile, George Silva, a Top 5 point runner in 2013, was credited with a fifth place finish despite being knocked around like a pinata when he crossed paths with the bumper of William Kennedy on a restart.

Kennedy, a past Watsonville Hobby Stock champion, briefly had grabbed the lead before the incident and had to charge back through the pack, taking second from long time Merced Speedway competitor Gary Hildebrand.  However, the star of the show was rising star Darren Miguel.  Miguel was coming off of a win in Mini Stock action a week earlier and also has a win at Chowchilla in which the race was run in the opposite direction.  Being a winner in two different divisions in the early goings of the season shows just how much potential the driver of the #86 car has.

The Hobby Stocks have run four races with four different winners so far, Joe Willoughby, Joaquin, Shearer and Miguel.  Will there be a fifth different winner this week?  We shall see, but the competition has been so close in this class that it could happen.

The question in the Limited Late Model and Valley Sportsman divisions going into last week was who wanted to race at this point.  Limited Late Model star, Mark Garner may have been wondering if the locals were running scared of his fast purple #76a car.  This time, he was met at the gates by Top 3 2013 competitor Scott Van Gelder and defending champion Roy Hart Jr., but neither was a match for him.  In fact, they weren't even a match for 2014 Antioch "Rookie Of The Year" Peggy Sue Jarred.

Peggy Sue has been anxious to get more seat time in her #313 car, so she followed Garner to the track again, only this time they were joined by another Antioch racer, John Evans.  Jarred chased Garner in the heat race for the second place finish and then did the same in the main Event.  Needless to say, she was very pleased, though maybe a bit surprised that the track's 2013-14 champion was not a threat.  In fact, Hart was also unable to beat Evans to disrupt an Antioch 1-2-3 finish.  So far, this Merced-Antioch "Shoot Out" has yielded nothing positive for the Merced side of things.

When the division returns this week, Garner and Jarred could be there again.  The question is, will Hart, Van Gelder and Buddy Thatcher be there?  Will any other locals or Antioch and invaders be there?  And, can anybody stop Garner on his mission for Limited Late Model domination?  The eyes turn towards Vallejo and a certain 86 year old leadfoot and past Merced Speedway champion.  We'll just have to see who might want to come play at Merced this week.

A few drivers got tired of watching Marcus Lung and Kenny Birdsong playing with their Sportsman cars, which led to Eric Seely, "The Missle" Mark Odgers and Jeff Bristow joining the fun Saturday night.  That didn't matter to Lung, who led all the way for victory.  Like the Limited Late Model class, this was the first event in which the class actually registered any points this season, and that makes Lung the leader.  Hopefully, the cars will continue to show up as this is an enjoyable division to watch, especially for fans who remember those days gone by when this division ruled the track.

Seely had the second spot for the start of the race, but it was 2013 point runner up Jeff Bristow giving chase early on.  Bristow was trying to make a move, but it was not to be.  Unfortunately, he ended up pitting his #9 car, which gave the third spot to past division champion Odgers.  Odgers gave it a valiant effort in his pretty #4m car, which wasn't as pretty after an unfortunate encounter with Birdsong in the battle for fourth.  However, Mark settled for third at the finish behind Seely.

The Odgers Racing Stables added an old friend to its collection, Mark's old Street Stock.  Where that car will end up seeing the racing surface again is the question, but rumors are it could be Madera, where Mark has enjoyed the occasional race in the past.  Mark is a man who will drive anything, and usually very well.  He's done Hobby Stocks, Limited Late Models, Modifieds, Sport Mods, Sportsmans, Street Stocks and even Destruction Derbies.  In fact, Mark and his family are proudly a part of the sport.

His daughter Marissa, like him and his wife, is a champion.  Marissa is a past Four Banger champion at Merced and has done alright in her Sport Mod as well.  Wife Darcie is a Chowchilla Ladies Series champion and won a battle with past Merced Champions Jimmy Lust and John Clarke for a surprise Street Stock feature win one night at Merced in the early 2000's.  This writer had the pleasure of calling that race.  Even son Andrew Odgers has gotten into the act in the sportsman division.  As the saying goes, the family that races together, stays together.  With the Sportsman division off this week, we'll see if the team returns this week with a Sport Mod or two.

And, it is a four division show at Merced Saturday night, featuring IMCA Modifieds, IMCA Sport Mods, Hobby Stocks and Limited Late Models.  The Sunday night show at Antioch will be World of Outlaw Sprint Cars and IMCA Sport Mods.  For all of the official information, check the Oval Motorsports Website.