Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Pit Stops Column From Antioch And Merced Speedway

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

Additional info on the Short Track History Project  HERE

DCRR Racing Radio Audio Calls From April 4 At Antioch Speedway


For all you race fans wanting to check out some other California racing, Golivestream has begun posting videos of races from Bakersfield Speedway last week, which can be viewed HERE

Also, Petaluma Speedway has some very nice videos of their races from last week, which can be viewed HERE.

 Pit Stops

Families Are An Important Part Of This Sport

Easter Weekend is a time for family, and the Oval Motorsports tracks, Antioch Speedway and Merced Speedway, had a special Family Appreciation Night last Saturday night.  If the racing programs weren't enough, both tracks had little plastic Easter Eggs filled with candy that the kids could search for in the infield of both tracks.  There were also bike giveaways at both tracks and a meet and greet where the fans would get to see the cars up close on the track and interact with their favorite drivers.

These are the types of things that can help build things up in the sport.  It's not so much about having people bring a friend to the track to help save racing, but rather, giving people a reason to want to come.  You are tapping into two key elements with what was done Saturday night. The first is the obvious family connection.  The second is building a connection between the drivers and the fans.  Things like this meet and greet are important to that effort.

The question the new fan asks is, why should I care about all of this?  What's the big deal?  So, even if somebody "brings a fan" to the races, what's going to keep that fan engaged and coming back?  Making them more familiar with the personalities is a start.  Hyping up each of these drivers through the announcing and the various media outlets and establishing the connection between what's happening now and the track's past.  Yes, history matters.  It's all part of establishing the tradition.

Not to editorialize here, but the families that have stayed with the sport through good and bad are part of the reason it survives.  A look through the pits at Antioch on Saturday revealed the Brown family (Ron and Lori), Larry Damitz, Mike Gustafson, Charlie Correia, Melissa and Brad Myers, the Garner family, the Berendsen family, the Swank family and so many more.  Then, there is the Soares family promoting it.  John Soares Sr started it all way back then, and John Jr. and his wife Donna keep it going.

Merced is the same way.  On any given week, you'll see the Williamson family, the Odgers family, the Porter family, the Barcellos family, the Shelton family, the Weaver family and so many more.  As new people come in, it's the established families that often times show the new racers the ropes and hook them further into things.  We become a bigger racing family, and this all matters.  In fact, I think there are ways we can further establish these ties between the track and the racers, grow the fan count further and make more fans want to be a part of all of this.  As with anything, it will take effort and people with the desire to help make it happen.

Dwarf Cars At Antioch Speedway

It was about six years ago when Mike Corsaro visited his friend Charlie "The Hammer" Correia in Tracy.  Charlie has been racing for many years and is sort of the quiet veteran of Antioch Speedway.  He is 77 years old.  Charlie raced Super Modifieds back in the day at tracks like West Capital Speedway, San Jose Speedway and Baylands Raceway.  He got into Dwarf Cars over 20 years ago as this thing was getting off the ground, and he's been there ever since.

Corsaro has been friends with Correia for years, so he showed up one day and invited him to go go-kart racing with him.  Charlie responded with, "I've got a better idea.  How'd you like to race one of my Dwarf Cars out there?"  Corsaro took him up on the offer, and he's been hooked ever since.  Last year, the duo had their best season yet as a team.  Both were Antioch feature winners, and Corsaro ranked second with Correia third.  On Saturday night, Corsaro was third in the feature, while Correia finished seventh.  These two are a threat to win on any given night.

Dana Craig has been involved in the sport for many years.  His mother, Anna Temple, was a big supporter of The DCRR in its early days.  Dana was crew chief for the man who has won more Wingless Spec Sprint races than anybody in Antioch history, Jim Perry Jr.  The two go back to Super Modifieds at San Jose, where Perry won many races.  These days, it's about the Dwarf Cars.  Over the last decade, Dana was crewing for his son, Kurtis Craig.

Now, it's two others Dana is working with, his grandson Adam Teves and Adam's father David Teves.  These two are fast competitors, and young Adam caught the bug early on.  He got into Dwarf Cars at the age of 13 and started making laps at Dixon Speedway.  When he turned 14, Antioch Speedway is where he went, and he's been racing there and Dixon ever since.  David came into the night ranked first, while Adam was sixth.  Both of them won heat races Saturday night.  David would finish second in the Main Event, while Adam placed fourth.

David needed to be at his best, because two time defending champion Danny Wagner was on the front row for the Main Event.  Beating him isn't always so easy, but the two have enjoyed racing together.  In 2013, Wagner won the championship ahead of David.  Occasionally, these three drivers can be found racing together at Dixon when they aren't at Antioch.  Wagner was joined on the front row by Jerry Doty, who was in the #55 car and celebrating his 55th birthday.  He might have been hoping for a little synchronicity, but what he got was beat by Wagner at the start.  The man they call "Captain Chaos" led all 20 laps to win, and the points will be tight between Wagner and D. Teves.  Doty, meanwhile, settled for tenth.

A pat on the back goes to Kevin Miraglio.  Kevin came into this last race in a three way tie for ninth in the standings, ten points out of fifth.  He helped his effort with a heat race win and then paced tenth in the Main Event.  Of course, fifth is where he ranked last season, and he would like to improve on that a little bit if he can this year.  With the competition out there in the Dwarf Car division these days, being a Top 5 driver in the points will not be so easy, but he is up to the challenge.

BCRA Midget Lites Come To Antioch

The BCRA Midget Lites were in Antioch, and there were plenty of questions as to who would be showing for this race.  As it turned out, there were 14 of these fast Mini Sprint Cars, including a few Southern California visitors.  BCRA has been sanctioning these cars as a second class in the historic organization since 1994.  Antioch Speedway has given the group two race dates, and the first was held last Saturday night.

One of the more enthusiastic teams was the Lopez Racing Team.  Car owner Lonnie Lopez was fielding three cars on Saturday.  Lonnie himself has driven Mini Sprints for several years.  He stepped out of the action for a bit to go back to Idaho and care for his ailing mother.  When he returned, he decided to give the car owner thing a try.  He's giving some talented young drivers a chance, including Logan Seavey, Kayla Evans and Brad Dillard.

Seavey was driving the #11 car normally piloted by Scott Kinney, who was in Placerville racing with the BCRA Midgets.  Having Seavey, a feature winner last season, behind the wheel meant that Lopez would likely still have a car up at the front of the pack to maintain car owner points.  As it turned out, Seavey drove to a third place finish, and the 11b car of Brad Dillard also had a top five finish for Lopez in fifth.

The newcomer to the team is Evans, who was driving the #11vp car.  Kayla is a rookie in Midget Lites, though she has past experience in a 600 Mini Sprint.  She was basically making her laps and taking a Main Event checkered flag at the back of the pack.  Lopez also commented that plans are in the works to enter a car in the big shoot out race later this tear with NASCAR driver Kyle Larsen behind the wheel.  That wouldn't be the first big named driver in a Lopez car as Brad Sweet has also taken the wheel for him.  Some of Brad's first wins came with the BCRA Midget Lites over a decade ago.

Australian Scott Males wanted to make sure it was known that the #9 car he is driving is a Fonseca Racing ART Chassis, sponsored by Red Hawk Casino.  He was rather enthusiastic going into the night and did finish fourth in the Main Event.  That was a race that looked like it would go to Craig Dillard, but he threw a chain with two laps to go, handing the lead to Cori Andrews. This talented young lady is currently second in California Lightning Sprint points behind open wheel veteran Bobby Michnovicz, of CRA and SCRA fame.  Cori was a happy winner of the BCRA Midget Lites feature on this night.

Not so happy was Craig Holsted, who took a nasty tumble in his heat race after getting together with another car in Turn 4.  He watched from the sidelines the rest of the night as his #74 car was done for the night.  Andrews also won that race ahead of Joe Provost, who didn't seem to be up to speed most of the night.  However, Provost also took a checkered flag in the Main Event, finishing seventh.  That's better than second generation racer Hunter Kinney could manage in the #25 car.  Hunter had a Top 5 run going, but he fell out and would end up ninth.

IMCA Modified Battle Is Taking Shape At Antioch

The IMCA Modified division appears to have four drivers interested in the 2015 championship, though one team is still being non committal.  A conversation with Terry DeCarlo revealed that his son, the talented Nick DeCarlo, isn't really committed to every race on the schedule, though that doesn't mean the #17 car won't be there.  Nick finally gave the family their first championship on a big track after several close calls through the years when he won the 2014 Petaluma championship.

Terry says that Nick really likes running the bigger races to test his skills against the best the division has to offer.  That led him to New Mexico last month, and there will be other big races in the weeks ahead.  This doesn't mean Nick doesn't want to race at Antioch.  It simply means that if the right big race comes along, he may go there instead.  Nick has had Top 3 seasons at Antioch in the past, and he currently leads Scott Busby in the Antioch point race.  His fourth place finish last week kept his status in tact, and he started in the back of the 16 car field to earn that finish.

Meanwhile, Scott Busby confirmed that he's planning on making every race he can make.  That could mean that the familiar #73 car will be in the hunt for a fifth championship, but not if nights like last week keep happening.  An early race tangle nearly derailed his race, and as it was, he never seemed to be quite up to speed.  Busby would take a checkered flag in eighth.  If you know Busby, you know that he was not happy with that.

Nick Viscusi III was making only his second start in Dirt Modifieds as he debuted his beautiful red, white and blue #13 car.  Nick is a past Top 5 Hobby Stock driver and a feature winner in that class.  It's interesting to see the new drivers like Nick, as well as Josh Combs, giving these Modifieds a chance.  This was only Josh's second start in this class aboard his Evolution Chassis.  He had been racing on the pavement for a while, but he sold all of that equipment four years ago.  Of course, driving these cars is a whole new challenge, and they take some getting used to.  Unfortunately for both Combs and Viscusi, they were eliminated in an early Main Event crash.

Speaking of crashes, Carl Berendsen II was involved in a hard crash at Chico back in March that left his #88 car damaged.  With Antioch coming up the next week, he had to borrow the car of Jake Dewsbury to make the show.  He was back last week in his familiar #88 car.  Of course, that was the number his dad raced in the 1980's, and Carl and his brother Eric have run that number since they started.  Being the 2014 IMCA champion was something he likely didn't expect, but anybody could see back when he was finishing second in Street Stock points for a couple seasons that this guy has the talent to do it.  Carl was also involved in the early race crash with Combs and Viscusi, but he somehow managed to survive and take a checkered flag on the lead lap in 12th.

Mike Ferry is just happy to be alive, much less with his good friend Bobby Motts Jr. at the race track.  The two have been working together on the race cars since Bobby hit the scene in his famous blue #u81 Street Stock, a car that he still owns.  The Motts-Ferry connection led to over 20 Antioch wins and a Street Stock championship, leading to the two getting a Dirt Modified after that success.  However, the team had a scare that forced them to park the race car last year.

Ferry ended up in the hospital with pneumonia and that resulted in a coma and more complications when he woke up, including a stroke.  The doctors were full of the usual negative projections, but they didn't know Mike Ferry.  Bobby was there for his friend during his recovery, and the two returned to Antioch Speedway in January.  When you see names like Busby and Foulger and DeCarlo at the front, you may forget that trademark blue #u81 car out there on the track, but that's not wise.  Bobby drove to a fifth place finish this last week and is one of the four drivers very much in contention for the 2015 Antioch track championship.  More importantly, Mike Ferry is still alive and a part of the reason Bobby is able to be as successful in racing as he is.  Ultimately, it's the friendships that matter even more than those results.

The talent level in IMCA Modifieds on Saturday night was impressive.  Between Troy Foulger and Michael Paul Jr. alone you have ten championships.  Foulger made a name for himself in the Bowers Racing #49 car by winning four straight Antioch championships from 2010 through 2013.  What Paul was doing at Petaluma was nothing short of amazing.  His father had already racked up three championships of his own when Jr. demonstrated how much he had learned from his father.  The younger Paul proceeded to win six straight championships at Petaluma.

On Saturday, Paul and Foulger set the stage early on when each of them won a heat race.  The Main Event had an amazing side by side battle between the two before Foulger nosed ahead.  Paul would chase Foulger the rest of the way, but it was Foulger picking up his 25th career Antioch victory.  Trying to figure out what this team is going for this season has been a challenge, because they missed a race to fall from the point lead.  Despite the slight advantage DeCarlo and Busby have over him in points now, Foulger has the skills and the car to catch them both in the point race.  However, that Late Model division has a lot of appeal to the team as well.  Troy got his first Late Model win last year, and he's wanting to get more.  So, if they have to make a choice between cars, it seems like the Late Model may win.  Either way, you know Troy will be a force in whatever he drives.

With Petaluma dark to Modifieds last week, Paul, Oreste Gonella, Norm Boeck and Jeff Thomas were all at Antioch.  Boeck and Thomas have actually had Top 5 seasons in Dirt Modfieds at Antioch, and Gonella is a Petaluma champion in the division.  Actually, his father Victor Gonella is both a Modified and Mini Stock champion, and some have said he was the best Mini Stock driver ever at the track.  Well, Oreste isn't too bad himself, and he finished third last week to prove it.  Boeck was a bit further back in tenth, and Thomas somehow managed to get a checkered flag in 13th, though it wasn't really his night.  The Antioch-Petaluma connection has always been pretty strong, and drivers usually go back and forth between the tracks despite the fact that it's not really promoted.  Paul and Gonella certainly look like two drivers who could make a serious run for the Petaluma championship this season.

Damitz Still Not Slowing Down, Garner Doing It For Dad

The Limited Late Models were a little light on cars.  Ryan Cherezian brought his pickup back to Petaluma as that track's Super Stock division is evolving quite nicely into Limited Late Models.  In her bid for more seat time, Peggy Sue Jarred was back at Merced the week before and ended up blowing a motor before the racing had even started.  Top 5 ranked John Keith was there, but motor problems in his heat race sidelined the #77 car.

This left seven drivers for the Main Event, but attrition kept striking.  Two time division champion Mike Gustafson started the night off with a heat win just ahead of Damitz, and you might have thought that #2 car was dialed in for the night.  Unfortunately, moments after he lost fourth to Mark Garner in the Main Event, he pitted with mechanical issues.  Mike is generally very cautious with his equipment, and if one of those gauges is even the slightest bit off, he won't hesitate to park the car to avoid further damage.  Of course, when it's working right, Mike does things like win more Main Events in Limited Late Models than anybody in division history.

John Evans was making his laps in the red #48 car.  Maybe he's not the fastest, but he, like Peggy Sue Jarred, has a desire to improve.  In fact, he towed to Merced twice in recent weeks to support that cause.  On Saturday, he did spin out, but he also took a checkered flag in fourth, behind Lori Brown.  A past Limited Late Model champion, Brown had a difficult start to her season last time out and barely made any laps at all in that beautiful #65 roses car, which is a tribute to Kimberly Myers.  This time out, things were dialed in a bit better, and she happily grabbed a podium finish in third.

Some things don't change at the race track, but we shouldn't take it for grated that a legend like Larry Damitz is racing at 86 years old.  It brought a smile to this reporter's face to see "The Sundrop Kid" relaxing in his trailer before the races, so we made sure to say hi and give him the same praise he's probably heard a million times before.  Larry is a man of few words, but it's an honor to watch him race.  He's won three of the last four championships, but that's not why he's out there at this point.

Mike Hynes has been making a name for himself in that #05 car.  Last season, he stepped up his game and finished second to Damitz in the point battle.  He made the last Merced race and snapped Mark Garner's win streak.  He has also purchased a full Late Model, and all of this while coming into last Saturday night tied for the point lead with Damitz.  Yeah, Mike is enjoying this racing stuff, but he also did something nice for the kids when he donated some bikes for Saturday night's bike giveaway.

Hynes led a few laps of the Main Event, but then Damitz did his thing and made the winning pass.  In the point racing game, you make your laps and get the best finish you can.  For Hynes, that was a second place finish, which still helps his cause early in the game.  The DNF Mark Garner suffered was still a fifth place finish.  It may have been a good thing for him that car count was down a bit, which lessened the damage he took.  Garner also leads the points at Merced.

Garner's opportunity came as a result of an offer from Chester Kniss.  The owner of Delta Transmission in Antioch had his Limited Late Model just sitting there, a car that just happened to belong to Steve Hendren during his 1992 NASCAR Regional championship season.  Needless to say, Mark jumped at the chance to go racing again.  He has a special reason to do it this year.  He wants to win it for his dad, Jerry "The Maverick" Garner, who is not in the best of health.  That didn't stop Jerry from coming out on Saturday to cheer on his son.  Mark revealed that as nice as that purple body is on his #76s car, he has a new pink body to debut in the future.  He's hoping to promote Cancer awareness and a cure for the disease that has has taken so many people away from the ones who love them.

Jones Getting Closer To Beating The Big Three For Victory

Family is what racing is all about, and the Swank family is back at Antioch Speedway in the Hobby Stocks.  Back in the 1980's, it was Glen Swank and his brother Kenny racing Street Stocks.  In the last couple years, Glenn's son Jordan and daughter Taylor started racing Four Bangers, and they finished second and third, respectively, last year.  Of course, Jordan is using the #73 that his uncle ran, and his sister is using her father's #26.  Taylor will be in a Hobby Stock this year, and a younger brother will be joining them at some point too.  On Saturday, Jordan reached another milestone as the fifth ranked driver led his first two Main Event laps.  Unfortunately, the "Rookie Of The Year" hopeful spun, but he came back to take a checkered flag in eighth.

Motor bugs have bitten two of the division's regulars, Natalie Perry and Danny Jones.  This has kept Steve Perry busy tying to get Natalie back up and running in that beautiful #40 car.  She has proven she can do it, finishing second in Super Hobby Stock points in 2011, and Steve had proven his ability as a car owner with Jim Robbins as Super Hobby Stock champion in 2013.  So, Natalie and Steve make a great team.  She just wanted to get back out there and race and get a finish, and Natalie did just that with her ninth place finish.  It will get better for her from there.

If the red, white and blue #66 car looks familiar to long time race fans, there's a reason.  Danny Jones used to drive his step father Pete Paulsen's House Of Wheels Special in the 1970's and early 1980's, and he was a Top 5 Stock Car driver back in those days.  In recent years, Danny has won Hobby Stock and Super Hobby Stock features in his Wheels By Paulsen cars, and his decision to go back to #66 was intentional.

It makes this reporter smile to see that car, and it made Danny smile when he collected a second place feature finish.  He had a fifth place finish the last time out, but his motor wasn't quite right then.  It appears to be getting better now.  Danny revealed that Jessica Jones has a Hobby Stock in the works to debut at some point later in the season, so there are more cars coming out for Hobby Stocks in the weeks ahead.

It won't be a big surprise if Jones is the first driver to break the strangle hold of the "Big 3" drivers and get a feature win.  Contrary to rumors, Melissa Myers, Kimo Oreta and Nick Baldwin do not own the win column for Hobby Stock feature victories.  Actually, Oreta might have been just a bit frustrated with two seconds and no wins in three starts, but he took the lead on lap 3 last week and led the rest of the way for the victory.  He was brilliant in traffic.

Even Jones was comfortably in second, but Myers, Baldwin and Brian Zachary had a good battle for third.  Myers had to come from 10th to make a challenge, and Baldwin did too after spinning from third.  Zachary has had the good fortune of getting to drive 2013 Limited Late Model champion Jim Freethy's #99 Hobby Stock, and he had third until Myers and then Baldwin got by.  Baldwin wasn't done as he surprised Myers to grab a third place finish, forcing the two time division champion to settle for fourth.  Last starter Robert Niven had fifth for a while and still finished a lead lap sixth.

Freddy Who? Spainhoward Comes To Merced

Back at Merced Speedway, the IMCA Sport Mods were back to a more normal 16 cars, and the race had a bit of a wild finish.  Bruce "Bubba" Nelson and 2013 Antioch Sport Mod champion Jeremy Hoff had the last row for the Main Event, and eventually the two made their way to the front.  The two time Merced Hobby Stock champion Nelson nearly spun in the last turn.  Though he saved it, Hoff beat him to the checkered flag.  It was an exciting finish, to say the least.

All this talk of "Fast" Fredy Ryland appeared to have awaken the beast in 2014 IMCA State champion Nick Spainhoward.  Nick returned to Merced and passed Ryland and Keith Brown Jr. for the lead.  Once he got it, there was simply no way anybody was going to pass the #40 car.  Ryland tried, but all he could do was chase him until his self spin, which unfortunately collected third place Brown in the process.  Brown ended up tenth with Ryland 11th.

The Sport Mods were the strongest class at Merced last year, so everybody knows the cars are out there.  There's been some talk about certain drivers being unhappy, but all Mark Odgers wants to do is race and have fun.  The Odgers family is involved as a team, and Mark's daughter Marissa was out there spreading the word on social media as "The Missle" drove his #57 car to a fifth place finish.

Mark reports that he'll be absent from Merced for a couple weeks.  There's an Enduro race coming to Madera this week, part of a six race series, and he wants to compete.  Mark has a special place in his heart for Enduros and Destruction  Derbies, and he recently got his Enduro car back.  A week later, he won't be at Merced, but he will be supporting racing and Oval Motorsports at Chowchilla Speedway, April 19th.

New Faces And A New Winner In Merced Hobby Stocks

There was also better support for the Hobby Stocks as ten drivers took a green flag in the Main Event.  This class has been really competitive this year with five winners in six races.  The latest winner was Shannon Nelson, who led every lap, leaving a wide open battle for second, which changed hands several times before the matter was settled.  A late pass gave second to Travis Avila, who was making his first appearance of the season.

It was a bit of surprise to see that Christopher Brown opted to race at Merced Speedway Saturday night in his pretty red #11 car.  Christopher lost a third place finish at Antioch last time out when he failed to report to tech, and he had been running strong that night.  It was no surprise to see the second generation racer making his late move to grab a third place finish at Merced.  It goes to show that you never know who will show up where and how they will do.  With IMCA and the Northern All Star rules the same between the Oval Motorsports tracks, anything is possible.

The Shearers were back in force on Saturday night.  2014 point runner up Kristie Shearer ran up near the front most of the race and ended up fourth at the finish as she works her way back into the Top 5 in points.  Donnie Shearer, meanwhile, had an eventful night as he spun and had to come back up through the pack.  He eventually ended up fifth in front of point leader Kevin Joaquin, who was also a heat winner.  Jennifer Corder might have gained on him in points the way she was running, but she pitted her smoking car in the midst of a good run.

Miguel Challenging Corder, Where Are The Merced Sporstman Racers?

Kevin Lockerby was not a happy camper after contact with a slower car in the Mini Stock division sent him into a tractor tire and put some marks on his white #54 car.  Apparently, he ended up fifth for this race, but he felt he had a car that could have won.  He also said he wasn't going out like this, and that means he will be back on Saturday.  Reportedly, Dale Falkenberg, a long time racer and supporter of the cause, is considering an appearance in his daughter's Mini Stock.  Since she's not currently around, the car is available.

Darren Miguel, a rising star who is affiliated with IMCA Sport Mod point leader Josh Hensley, was back in form and leading the way for another Mini Stock victory last week.  Miguel recently got to drive the old Hensley Hobby Stock and won a feature with it, so he is obviously a quick study.  The most recent Chowchilla feature winner gained little ground on Merced point leader Chris Corder, who finished second ahead of Joy Alger.  Miguel is likely looking forward to the coming race at Chowchilla on April 19, but he should be back at Merced in the meantime.

There has been some concern about where the Sportsman drivers are this season.  Up until the last race, Kenny Birdsong and Marcus Lung were the only two drivers to support every race, but Lung was absent on Saturday night.  Eric Seely and Jeff Bristow made it a three car field, but there is a bit of disappointment over the drop off in cars this year.  Word from long time division booster Mike Palmberg is that more cars are coming, and hopefully that will be the case.

Next up at Merced on Saturday will be IMCA Modifieds and Sports Mods along with the Northern All Stars Hobby Stocks, Mini Stocks and Limited Late Models, the latter of which is another division with car count concerns.  At Antioch, IMCA Sport Mods and DIRTcar Late Models headline a show that also includes Northern All Stars Hobby Stocks, Dwarf Cars and Wingless Spec Sprints.  Chowchilla Speedway's next Sunday race is coming on April 19th and will include IMCA Modifieds and Sport Mods, along with Northern All Stars Hobby Stocks and Mini Stocks.  For all the official information on these events and more, check the official Oval Motorsports Website