Thursday, April 2, 2015

Easter Egg Hunts, Driver Autographs And Racing At Antioch And Merced

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

A New DCRR Racing Radio Show

From the book of "How To Properly Promote Your Race Track" comes a video from Placerville Speedway that you can find HERE.

Also, The Bakersfield Motorsports Power Hour featured Bakersfield Speedway in a video you can see HERE.

Mr. Ron Rodda has his From The Grandstands column available to read up on Hoseheads website,  He talks about the threat to Irwindale Speedway, and you can read it HERE.

Tony Karis filed a report with the Santa Cruz Sentinel for the coming season opener at Ocean Speedway, which can be found HERE.

Easter Egg Hunts, Driver Autographs And Racing At Antioch And Merced

The Easter Weekend plans for the Oval Motorsports race tracks call for a Family Appreciation Night at both Merced Speedway and Antioch Speedway Saturday night.  The festivities include an Easter Egg hunt for the kids and driver autograph sessions.  Both tracks have a full slate of racing action planned as well.

Over the past two weeks, the IMCA Modifieds have come to Merced and taken the position as the division with the high car count.  However, they are off this week.  Last year, the Mini Stock division was bringing car counts comparable to Antioch Speedway, which dropped its class this season.  However, the first two races have seen 11 and 12 cars in action as more drivers have come

This makes the Mini Stocks an important division on Saturday night as they could have the biggest car count of the show.  A good portion of the drivers on the list have run both races and are contenders for the championship in the early stages.  This also means the Mini Stocks could have the point battle of the year.

At this point, just 12 points separate the Top 9 drivers in the standings, led by defending champion Chris Corder.  Corder's two second place feature finishes have him four points over past Mini Truck champion Kevin Lockerby.  Lockerby has two Top 5 finishes so far and is coming off of a third place finish last time out.  These two could be the drivers to watch in the battle this season, but there's still some question as to whether Lockerby may take off for Madera at some point.  There's no doubt he can be a serious contender if he chooses to commit.

Also within eight points of C. Corder are Matt Schlessinger, Joy Alger, Darren Miguel, Jennifer Corder and Steve Johnson.  Alger is coming off of a Top 5 season, and J. Corder is attempting something very challenging.  She is trying to be a Top 3 point runner in both Mini Stocks and Hobby Stocks.  Jennifer is currently second in Hobby Stocks, and she's run slightly better in that class.  Miguel has joined the ranks of the double division racers and won a Hobby Stock feature two weeks ago.  Darren has run strong in Mini Stocks as well, winning one feature each at Merced and Chowchilla.

Schlessinger has gotten off to a strong start this season, and after going winless in his appearances last season, a feature win is at the top of his list this year.  Alger and J. Corder both had wins last season, and Corder won on multiple occasions.  Widdowson was the third place driver and a two time winner last season.  However, he blew a motor in this year's opener for the division, and he'll be looking for a win to establish some momentum in his quest to dethrone the reining champion.

While Mini Stocks are hoping to continue their good start, the Hobby Stocks are doing well in some areas and need improvement in others.  In five races this year, incoming point leader Kevin Joaquin is the only repeat Main Event winner.   He won the Main Event last week to increase his point lead over rookie Jennifer Corder, who finished third.  Joaquin and Corder are the only drivers to make all of the point races, which is a contributing factor to why the class still hasn't hit double digit in car count for any of their point events so far.  However, there have been 15 different cars at the track in the four point races so far.

Ty Shelton was missing at the previous point race after collecting three straight Top 3 finishes counting the non point January race.  He might have wished that he had stayed home last week after a disappointing sixth place effort.  Ty was a feature winner last season, and it's unlikely that he will go winless this season if he continues coming back.  Meanwhile, Watsonville competitor Jill Merlin may have found the track to her liking.  She came to town to tune up for her track's coming season opener and went home with seconds in the heat race and Main Event.  Merlin enjoyed Top 10 seasons in 2013 and 2014 at Ocean Speedway.

It's anybody's guess who may show up this week to test their luck.  Chances might be pretty good to see 2014 point runner up Kristie Shearer, who is already a feature winner this season.  The yellow Mustang of Steve Rodgers, a heat winner a couple weeks ago, could also be in action.  If he has his motor problems situated, four time champion Raul "Showtime'" Rodriguez could even make an appearance.  As the 2014 champion, Raul topped the win list with about a half dozen feature triumphs, and he's usually among the leaders when he's there.  Hopefully, there will be a little bump in car count this week.

The IMCA Sport Modifieds can say the same thing.  They started the point season with the high car count, but cars have been disappearing in recent weeks.  That's a bit of a surprise as this was the division that frequently brought the high car count last season.  The big surprise came two races ago when Fred Ryland and Keith Brown Jr. had to make a choice and went back to Antioch. 

Rick Diaz, the 2014 champion, seemed poised to take the point lead, but he was a no show.  In fact, he skipped last week too.  Past champion Neill Barcellos and Mark Squadrito also bowed out that night and skipped last week, although Squadrito showed up at Antioch a night later.

This opened the door for rookie Josh Hensley to walk on through and take the point lead.  Josh has spent the last two seasons as a Top 5 driver in the Hobby Stock division at Merced and seemed like he would be the top candidate for "Rookie Of The Year" honors.  It turns out the division championship may be within his reach as well. 

The man in second, Fred Ryand, will not be a regular, although he will be tough to beat when he comes.  Ryland won another Main Event last week ahead of Keith Brown Jr. to stay ahead of Jeremy Hoff for second in the standings.  Actually, Brown moved back by Hoff to grab third in points.  The real question is what will car count be like this week.  Ryland and Brown should be there again as Antioch is dark to the division this week.

Should Squadrito, Hoff and Barcellos return from their two week break, it's very likely that the car count would return to double digits.  Hoff just remarked that he will come back at least for some races after his appearance last Sunday at Antioch didn't go so well.  It's likely that Tim Prothro would have been at Merced, but he clobbered the Turn 4 wall a week earlier and had to miss the next show with a damaged race car.  This all helped open the door for John Gish to have one of his better finishes in third ahead of long time Merced competitor Gary Tucker and Mark Odgers.

The Valley Sportsman division took enough of a car count hit this year that only Marcus Lung and Kenny Birdsong were present at the first two races.  Last time out was a bit better as Jeff Bristow, Mark Odgers and Eric Seeley joined the duo to make it a five car show.  The roster for this class is at least 14 cars at this point, but we'll just have to see who wants to go racing on the eve of Easter. 

Back at Antioch, there is a five division show on tap for Saturday night, featuring IMCA Modifieds, BCRA Midget Lites, Northern All Stars Limited Late Models, Hobby Stocks and Dwarf Cars.  Expectations are that car count should be okay for this one.  The track is welcoming back the BCRA Midget Lites, who were not a part of things a year ago, but have generally been on the schedule since BCRA added the division to its roster in 1994.

Once upon time, the Midget Lites, or Mini Sprints as they are known in most places, ran on the one-eighth mile dirt oval in Stockton.  They had a nice car count there, and the drivers banded together to form the Northern Stars Mini Sprints.  One of the leaders of the group back in those days was Bob Robicheaux, and car count was so good that they often needed B Mains.  Antioch Speedway was one of their main tracks.  Of course, the Northern Stars faced a challenge that they eventually couldn't overcome.

The historic Bay Cities Racing Association needed more cars and had their sights set on the Midget Lites as a feeder class into the full on Midgets.  Two success stories were John Sarale and David Goodwill.  Sarale eventually became a Midgets champion, while Goodwill became a champion in the NCMA while still racing with the Midgets when he could.

It's hard to believe that the Midget Lites are coming off of their 20th Anniversary season as a part of BCRA.  Many champions have come through their pits, including such standouts as Hall Of Famer Doug Williams, three time champion Doug Nunes (three years in a row) and two time champions Scott Kinney, Jason Sneep, Greg Dennett, Pete Stoher and Doug Hunting.

This season, Kinney is after his third championship, but he can expect some stiff competition from the likes of Joe Provost, Steve Brown, Dakota Albright and incoming point leader Cory Andrews.  This weekend is the first of two scheduled Antioch appearances for the Midget Lites.  These cars will be the fastest on the track on Saturday, and it should be a pretty good show.

Meanwhile, the IMCA Modifieds will be the headliners, and there are still some questions regarding who is actually pursuing the track championship this season.  After winning the 2014 Petaluma title, Nick DeCarlo is the current leader by 18 points over Scott Busby.  Nick doesn't have to make a choice as there is no Petaluma race for the division this week.  Busby mentioned before his win last time out that he was coming back in April, but he neglected to say which April race or whether he was pursuing a championship.  Chances seem pretty good that both cars will be there Saturday night.

"Tricky" Troy Foulger was a bit of a surprising no show for the last race, raising some speculation as to what the Bowers Racing Team would be doing with that #49 car.  He had won the first Main Event on Silver Cup weekend at Chico, and Troy did come back with his Modified for some hot laps a couple weeks ago when he finished third in his Late Model.  Chances seem pretty good that the #49 car will be on hand this weekend, which could mean a shoot out between Busby, DeCarlo and Foulger that would surely entertain the crowd.

Bobby Motts Jr. is the third ranked driver at the moment, though Foulger is only three points behind him.  This means both drivers are still in contention for the championship.  After that, drivers are just jockeying for position to move by drivers who competed in January and aren't likely to be there Saturday night.  Who might be there is subject to speculation, but at least 10-12 cars are anticipated and that may include 2014 champion Carl Berensen II, current Merced title hopeful John MacDougall, the hard charging Sean O'Gara, Clay Twigg, Terry Kaiser and Josh Combs.  This division is capable of producing an even bigger car count depending on what local drivers are up for a race.  We'll just have to wait and see who's ready to give John Soares Jr's fast one-third mile clay oval a go on Saturday.

Limited Late Model drivers have been itching for a chance to get back on track.  A few drivers have been supporting the Merced races in recent weeks, and they have shut out the locals completely in the win column as Mark "Go Get Em" Garner has notched two feature wins and three heat wins.  His only blemish was last week when Mike Hynes beat him in the Main Event.  Hynes surprised a few people when be debuted a full Late Model during the Limited Late Model break at Antioch, but he intends to run both cars.

When last the Limited Late Models were at Antioch, it was Garner claiming the victory to serve notice that he wants to make a run for the Antioch championship.  With Larry Damitz in the field, he knows that will not be an easy task. Larry won the January opener and currently finds himself in a tie with Hynes for the point lead, four points ahead of Garner.  At this point in the game, it's a little early to be counting points.  It's better to just go out there and try to win a race or get a good finish.

Last time out, Mike Gustafson seemed poised to grab the lead on a restart, but he found himself shuffled back to fifth by the time the checkered flag flew.  It was his second Top 5 of the year, leaving the two time Limited Late Model champ and all time leader in feature wins in the division 12 points behind Damitz in fifth.  His third place finish in January has helped keep former Top 10 Street Stock driver John "The Bear" Keith in fourth in the standings, ten behind the point leaders.

After her fifth place season in points last year, Peggy Sue Jarred knows that one of the keys to her improvement as a driver is seat time.  This caused her to make two trips to Merced Speedway, where she finished second both times.  The second time out was more gratifying as she finished ahead of that track's 2014 champion, Roy Hart Jr.  The competition will be a little bit tougher, but she'll be out there giving it her best effort.

It seems like you can't keep Danny Wagner down for long in the Dwarf Car division, and the nickname "Captain Chaos" seems to suit him quite well.  After a heat race tangle last time out, Wagner's #11d was stuck in the last row of an 18 car field, and yet he still managed to work his way into a Top 5 finish by the time the checkered flag fell.  There's a reason Danny is a two time defending champion.  He's good.

The first two races of the season have been exciting for the Dwarf Cars. Wagner produced last lap drama in the first race when he took the lead from a fellow division champion, Travis Dutra.  The 2013 Petaluma champion Dutra thought he had it until Wagner made that late move. Likewise, Thomas Leiby seemed headed for a win last time out, but a late race pass netted the victory for Jack Havarty instead.  The Dwarf Cars will surprise you if you give them a chance.

When he managed to grab a third pace finish last time out, David Teves used it to take the point lead by two over Wagner.  There were times in that race when it looked like Teves would actually win.  In fact, both Teves cars are fast.  Adam Teves ended up sixth last time out and ranks sixth at the moment.  These two have been known to make trips to Dixon to race there when something is scheduled, and like Wagner, they have done well. 

There was no real indication as to what car count might be like for this division this year.  When car count hit 18 last time out, management had to be pleased.  Having 2010 champion Jerry Doty in the field is a welcome sight, and Travis Dutra may be back making a point run at the track in which he won his Mini Truck championship.  With Petaluma Speedway running its Dwarf Car division, we'll have to see what effect that has on car count.

Rumors and untruths threatened to derail the Hobby Stock division after an amazing 20 lap Main Event went flag to flag for the 15 car field last time out.  It turns out the rumors were untrue, and there have been no last minute rule changes forced on the division.  Oval Motorsports made rules adjustments before the season to allow for some visitation from Bakersfield area drivers, which is more likely to happen at Chowchilla than Antioch, and some people have misinterpreted what all of this meant.

In the meantime, the pre season speculation of a Melissa Myers-Kimo Oreta-Nick Baldwin battle for the championship seems to be coming true after three races.  Myers has a pair of wins and a second so far, but her flag to flag win last time out has everybody talking.  She repelled a serious threat from Chris Brown and then had to deal with two time defending champion Kimo Oreta.  Oreta gave it a good shot, but Myers made him settle for second.  What do you expect?  She's a two time division champion herself.

Oreta is still looking for his first win of the season, but his two seconds and a fourth have him six points behind Myers and two ahead of Baldwin.  Baldwin's third place season of a year ago had him thinking this could be the year he takes it up a notch and wins it all.  In between a third and his drive from the back to a third last time out, Baldwin went flag to flag in a non stop race for an impressive win of his own.  He may be the one of the three who has no championships yet, but it would be a mistake to think he can't make it happen this season.'

The lead trio seems destined to run off and hide from the competition, leaving the battle for fourth and fifth.  Michael Cooper had to be frustrated last time out when he started in the back, the race went non stop and he ended up lapped in tenth.  However, his two Top 5 finishes have him 20 points ahead of the rookie Jordan Swank, who sits in fifth, 18 points ahead of Russell Shearer, 20 in front of Jeremy Jennings and 22 ahead of Calvin Louis Jr., who drove an inspired race for a 4th place finish ahead of veteran Danny Jones last time out.

One thing is for certain, there are some talented drivers in the field.  Though the Top 3 drivers are fast and will win races this season, there are some others in the pack who will have their moments as well.  It will be interesting to see who will grab the winner's share of the purse Saturday night.  One driver to watch for is 2010 champion Chris Soresensen, who was back in action and had a Top 10 finish last time out.

Add in all the other festivities, and this Saturday night at Antioch and Merced should be interesting.  For all official information pertaining to these tracks, check out The Oval Motorsports Website. 

Five Final Thoughts

Petaluma Speedway is having their first regular point race of the season, and Winged 360 Sprints, Wingless Spec Sprints, Super Stocks, Dwarf Cars and Mini Stocks are all on the card.  We've been reading of some old names from the past coming back to 360 sprints, including the return of Gary Geving and Norm Johns, while current stars like defending champion Herman Klein and three time champ Alissa Geving are expected to be in the field this week.

With Antioch making its rule changes and Watsonville dropping Spec Sprints as a regular class, Petaluma Speedway is poised to be the big show for the class this year.  Rick Faeth already gave this division a vote of confidence when he made the Johnny Soares Classic for this season a Spec Sprint race.

With Late Models dropped last year at Petaluma, the Super Stocks are evolving nicely into a Limited Late Model class.  We'll have to see if the rumors are true of two time champion Mike Learn returning this season, but last season featured a three car battle between Brent Blackwood, past champion Steve Studebaker and Matt While for the title.  Only 11 points separated the three at the end, in favor of Blackwood.  This is a competitive class, and yes, division iron man and past champion Shawn McCoy is still out there racing.

Not too many years ago, Mini Stocks were an endangered species.  This class has its origins going back to Fremont Speedway in the 1970's.  Thanks to drivers like the Drew family, it was brought back from the brink.  Last season, Jake Fernandez beat Snazzy Duckworth by 23 points in a good battle.  The division makes a nice training class and a competitive class as well.

Bakersfield Speedway has USAC Sprint Cars, a revitalized Street Stock class, Hobby Stocks, Mini Stocks and Okie Bowl Hardtops.  Ryan Bernal won the USAC race last week at Hanford with 17 cars in action, so this should be good.  I say revitalized Street Stocks, because it was nearly dead a few years ago.  When they ran at Bakersfield a few weeks ago, there were 18 cars.  A real effort has been made to promote these guys, and they now go by the Western Pro Stocks name.

The Okie Bowl group, which is probably the most authentic Hardtop group in California, boasts that they have some new names and numbers in the field for this week.  It's a neat class, and I don't think it would be a bad idea for Merced and Chowchilla management to get these guys on the phone and see if they'd be interested in making a trip for a weekend at both tracks.  If those guys are on board, a field of 10-12 cars both nights is a good possibility.

Chico Speedway has Limited Late Models on this Friday's card along with 410 Sprints, Street Stocks, Mini Stocks and Hobby Stocks.  You can thank John Padjen for never giving up on 410 Sprints as to why Chico is the only track in California with a regular 410 Sprint Car show, and it's a good one too.  Padjen has since passed on, but Dennis Gage is keeping it going.

One of the challenges they have in Orland when it comes to getting their show going is the fact that Chico is running Mini Stocks and Hobby Stocks, two staple classes for Orland.  This happened after the Tuners had stepped away from Orland and the track was closed.  Drivers needed a place to race, and Chico opened its gates to them.  Both divisions have reached double digits in car counts and they get a decent show from them.

But, Limited Late Models are Chico's return to what used to be the #2 class there in the 1980's and early 1990's.  Ryan McDaniel is the defending champion as he is one of those racers who does double duty in Modifieds and Limited Late Models.  His father Randy also races, as does the father-son duo of Ken and Matt Micheli and Duane Cleveland.  This is another class that has made it to double digits. 

One might say Chcio is becoming more Stock Car oriented for its regular shows, but maybe the struggles they are getting from the divided Spec Sprint and Economy Sprint classes make it seem that way.  Either way, Friday night at Chico ought to have enough appeal for fans of Stock Car racing and Sprint Car racing alike.

And finally, Ocean Speedway in Watsonville opens its gates this week for four divisions of racing, featuring the 360 Sprint Cars, IMCA Sport Mods, American Stocks, Four Bangers and Dwarf Cars.  Prentice Motorsports Group has received a lot of buzz for taking the reigns of all three top Sprint Car Tours of Northern California, and they already had a top notch 360 Sprint Car group.

Sport Mods are evolving into a nice class at Watsonvlle, and that has effected the regular Modifieds a little bit.  IMCA State Champion Nick Spainhoward managed to beat 2014 Merced champion Rick Diaz by two points last season in the closest point battle at the track.  Anthony Guiliani was third ahead of IMCA National "Rookie Of The Year" Rob Gallaher, and all four drivers might be there this Friday.  We'll just have to see, but it should be a good race regardless.

The American Stocks are pretty much what they call Hobby Stocks elsewhere and are really more like the Street Stocks of the early 1990's when it comes to speed.  These aren't hobby cars anymore, and Billy Nelson is now a three time champion in the track's #1 fendered class.  He beat veteran Ron Bonnema and 2013 champion Terry Campion to win his most recent championship.  The division had a pretty good season last year and is hoping to carry that momentum into this season.

Most of the other tracks in the state are racing this weekend, playing or will open soon.  Rocky Hill Speedway in Porterville returns with their program of Hobby and American Stocks, Mini and Super Mini Stocks and Mini Dwarf Cars, and in the weeks ahead, Santa Maria and Orland will be racing as well.  This is the time of year all racing fans look forward to.  Why watch the sanitized racing they have on TV when you can get out to your local race track, where the real action is?