Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Vallejo Speedway Hall Of Fame

Pat Hughes just tracked down an article that Mike McCann had written for Vintage Oval Racing  Magazine.  This article discusses a Vallejo Speedway Reunion held in Napa on September 4, 2000.  Now, this event is historically significant in that it honors some of the legends who made that track so special.

Pat further confirmed that there was a gathering in Napa in 1984, and I'm pretty sure there was another one, possible two, in the years that followed.  Whether any drivers or behind the scenes people were honored, I am not certain.  However, I think this September 4, 2000 event in significant enough that it needs to be acknowledged here.

There was a committee formed over a year prior to that 2000 date in which to track down various people and discuss who should be honored.  Several people were actually nominated, and Hughes says that several certificates were handed out to those nominees.  Ultimately, 17 people were presented with plaques proclaiming them, "Legends Of Vallejo Speedway" at this event.

Technically, it wasn't called a Hall Of Fame induction.  I knew about this event when it happened, and I've always felt that these people were Vallejo Speedway Hall Of Famers.  The article was in Racing Wheels as well, but in my laziness, I never dug through the boxes to put an article together here.

So, at this time, The DCRR would like to acknowledge these people as Hall Of Fame Members with a brief summary of their accomplishments.  Obviously, more can be written than I will write here, but I want this to be out there to at least show something.  I consider this to be the Vallejo Speedway wing of The DCRR California Short Track Hall Of Fame.

Julian Castro had the nickname "Catch em" Castro" and was a front runner at Contra Costa Speedway in Pacheco and then Vallejo Speedway.  Though not a champion in the Hardtop ranks at Vallejo, he was one of the top racers of the 1960's and was a Top 5 point runner.  When he was 80 years old, his son actually got him a Dirt Modified, and he ran a few races at Petaluma and Sacramento Raceway.

Larry Damitz was called "The Sundrop Kid" and was one of THE stars of Vallejo Speedway Hardtop racing in the 1960's.  Larry actually started in the 1950's and ran the circuit of Pacheco, Vallejo and West Capital.  He won the 1965 Vallejo Hardtop Championship and also won in 1972.  In 1973, he won the Petaluma Hardtop crown as there was a strike at Vallejo, and then he was the 1978 Vallejo Super Stock champion.  To this day, he continues to race Limited Late Models at Antioch Speedway.

Gene Dudley was called "The Napa Flyer" and lived up to that nickname as THE star of the Hardtop division as the 1960's came to a close.  After winning three straight Hardtop titles from 1969 to 1971, he retired from racing.  He was also the 1960 champion.

Leroy Geving had the nickname "Go Get Em" Geving, and he collected back to back Hardtop titles in 1962 and 1963.  Some people call him the greatest Hardtop driver in the track's history.  Few will argue what an amazing driver he was, and he passed down that ability to his son Gary and grand daughter Alissa, who are multi time Sprint Car champions.

Phil Pedlar was nicknamed "Bang Bang" Pedlar and had a reputation of being one of the more aggressive drivers out there.  He won a lot on his way to the 1967 Hardtop championship and the 1974 Open Comp title.  Phil continued to race for years after Vallejo closed, and like Damitz, won more championships.

Tom Million was one of the first big stars of the track's Early Model Stock Car division when it was added in 1967.  He was hard to beat.  In fact, from 1968 through 1971, only the 1970 championship eluded him.  He added a fourth division title to his mantle in 1974.

Bob Owen emerged on the scene as a Stock Car star in the mid 1970's.  He won the track championship in 1975 and 1977 and would continue to race Stock Cars at various tracks after the speedway closed.

Wink Winkekotter was one of the men who kept Million from completely taking over the Stock Car division.  He won back to back championships in 1972 and 1973.

Darrell Dudley kept the family name in the spotlight as the track had a Super Modified division.  He won back to back championships in 1977 and 1978 and won many races along the way.

Pat Hughes provided some good competition in the Super Modified division and won the 1976 championship.  Prior to that, he also competed in the Hardtop division for a number of years.

Bob Crane, Fred Grzelak and Bob Thomas.  There may have been many talented racers with the skills to bring their cars to the front, but many of them drove for somebody.  These three car owners were three of the best.  Among the competitors who drove for Grzelak was champion Larry Damitz. Among the drivers who drove for Thomas was 1962 Hardtop champion Chet Thomson.

A&D Auto Wreckers was a mainstay at the speedway with tow trucks.  They also provided sponsorship and support for several of the track's competitors.

Butch Althar is somebody many people, including myself, consider to be one of the best announcers ever.  He actually started as one of the first competitors in the track's Stock Car division in the 1960's.  In the 1970's, he started announcing.  He was so good that other tracks brought him in to announce once Vallejo Speedway closed.

Joe Valente had the nickname "Jumpin" Joe as the track's flagman.  The racers regarded him as one of the best.  Actually, Joe raced Hardtops and was even a feature winner before retiring and becoming the flagman.

Bob Bockover and his wife Jane were the photographers at Vallejo Speedway.  Their amazing photographs remain to document all of the great competitors at the track.  Their photos were featured prominently in several publications.  They were also car owners for many years.  When Vallejo Speedway closed, Bob and his sons went to other tracks, such as Petaluma and Antioch, and continued to take amazing pictures.  One of those Bockover photos has the power to start hours of conversation among Vallejo Speedway die hards to this day.