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
Additional info on the Short Track History Project HERE
DCRR Racing Radio Audio Calls From Antioch Speedway
DIRTcar Late Models, Northern All Stars Dwarf Cars and IMCA Sport Mods
Northern All Stars Winged 360 Sprint Cars and Wingless Spec Sprints
Rumors Regarding Closing Tracks
This week's column starts with a few rumors before we again walk the pits of Antioch Speedway. The rain came early Saturday morning and claimed the races in Petaluma, Merced, Placerville, Tulare and Dixon. The pits were only a little wet at Antioch, and the show went on there.
The nasty little rumor that won't go away is that Petaluma Speedway is running its last season. I will believe that when I see it. It's already been reported that Petaluma Speedway is being threatened and that the fairgrounds may either lose a lot of space or close altogether. The lease is good through 2023, and there are business people who want to close it now.
The track has been threatened a few times during the past decade. At one time, there was a push to build a minor league baseball stadium. Thankfully, the movement was crushed and racing continued. Right now, all they can do is run the races they have booked, and Rick Faeth is doing a good job of promoting things this season.However, the rumor was all over the pits this week, which spawned more rumors that are interesting. None of this has been confirmed. One source said that the stores across the street are not happy with the race track. Sure, build right across the street and then bitch about the people that were there first. Sound familiar?
The track has provided business for one or two of the restaurants across the street, and I doubt anybody there is complaining about things. It's rumored to be one of the big chains doing the sniveling. You'd think something could be worked out. They say racers and race fans are loyal to companies who support racing.
Now, there are people who are rumored to be waiting to make a move should something happen at Petaluma. There will be a lot of displaced racers should the gates finally close. This is not unlike what happened when Baylands was closed. Many divisions found a new home at Petaluma Speedway. Winged 360 Sprint Cars and Mini Stocks are still there.
One rumor is that management at Ukiah is considering converting to a dirt track. I'm both happy and saddened by this rumor. Ukiah is a really nice paved track that has held some good racing through the years. On the other hand, I can see where they might think some racers will go North on 101 to Ukiah.
Another rumor is that a dirt track could open rather quickly at Sears Point Raceway. They've been saying that for years. Rumor was a dirt track was built in the early 1970's when Vallejo Hardtop drivers went on strike, but nothing ever came of it. Were Petaluma to close, a move like this might just make perfect sense.
As it is, however, racing is still happening at Petaluma. The best thing to do now is support the cause and fight for that track as long as there is still a chance for a 2016 season. Petaluma Speedway is a track with a great tradition and some great people who have raced there through the years. That tradition needs to continue.
As long as people can bitch about racing, they will continue to do do so. All American Speedway in Roseville is being threatened. There are still people trying to close Ocean Speedway in Watsonville. Ventura Raceway has people wanting to close that track. As long as the community is there to rally support, we can keep those places alive.
I hate dormant race tracks. I want to put cars back on Altamont Raceway again. Rumor has it that it could happen. I want Pearsonville Speedway to roar to life again. Sacramento Raceway's Stadium Oval once had some good racing there, and I'd love to see it return. Since tracks are there, you can never say never.
Some places are better off than others. Orland Raceway is a track that has opened and closed a few times. Mike McCann gave it a good shot for two years, and it should have worked. In his case, he wasn't receiving a lot of cooperation from the fairgrounds. One person from the area I spoke with last week had the opinion that there are people wanting to close the track once and for all to build houses on it.
Orland has reopened again under new management, and we've had other tracks close and reopen with new management. In The Valley, Chowchilla Speedway has closed repeatedly, but the fairgrounds wants racing there. The Merced Fairgrounds is in a similar situation. They want races there. Part of what got Oval Motorsports that track was their ability to open it in mid 2010 when it looked like it was done.
We in California are luckier than we realize when it comes to race tracks. Despite the threats against several of these tracks, racing continues at most of them. Some of the threatened tracks have wisened up and formed organizations to keep them alive. Yes, that sort of thing does make a difference.
The key thing is that racing continues. Petaluma Speedway should live on, so people need to be ready should there be any public meetings. It's not about being belligerent, but about speaking up for a race track that has been around since the early 1960's.
It is true that race tracks need to inspire the community to be willing to stand up for them too. If people don't feel a part of something, why should they care if it's being threatened? This is where I think even some of the tracks who aren't under threat should be building that community.
Racing Tradition Matters
Oval Motorsports has three great race tracks in Chowchilla Speedway, Merced Speedway and Antioch Speedway. All three of these tracks matter. They will all have races this weekend. We have a promoter trying to preserve these three racing institutions, and that's a good thing.
More can be done to build things up, and individually, they each have certain needs to be addressed. I think it comes down to ties with the community, making drivers feel welcome and honoring the traditions that all three places have. Sure, Merced and Antioch have been around longer, but even Chowchilla Speedway is 15 years old.
Merced will be doing a Legend's Night where some of the past greats will be on hand. There's also the Ted Stoffle Classic. Antioch needs this too. I still go back to the fact that Bert Moreland and Bob Barkhimer have nothing being run in their honor, and John Soares Sr. founded Antioch Speedway. Not to mention all the greats who are no longer with us. It would be easy to book a special race or two.
Then, there's the Hall Of Fame. Merced and Antioch should have one. I can think of a case for one or two people at Chowchilla as well. Somebody told me they wanted to do a Hall Of Fame at Merced, but they didn't know where to start. Oh really? At Merced? You really don't know where to start?
Let me make it easy for you. I see a Mt. Rushmore over Merced Speedway, four legends to start with. Look no further than Dennis Moomjean, Vern Willhoite, Ted Stofle and George Steitz. Numbers don't lie. These are four of the greatest to ever race at that track, AND they won at other places too. Start there. Oh, and Johnny Sass as a member at large. How could you not put him in?
I still like the pre race picnic gathering before the show, then we go have a big race and introduce the new Hall Of Fame class to the fans. BCRA laid the blue print for this, and it is a winner in my opinion. This is how I wanted to do this at Antioch Speedway.
As for Antioch Speedway, put John Soares Sr. in. He started it all and deserves the honor. I favor putting in Gary Pacheco, Dennis Furia Sr., J.D. Willis and Richard Johnson, the Mt. Rushmore of Antioch. I fluctuate between Johnson and Dean Cline as the fourth, and I could easily put Cline in the first class. Some are going to push for John Soares Jr., and I'm not against him going in the first year either.
Editor's Note: I am punishing myself over the glaring omission of Bill Brown from my Antioch Hall Of Fame talk. Truthfully, Bill is on my Mt. Rushmore along with Willis and Pacheco. A strong case can be made for Furia as the fourth. I was trying to put a Stock Car name in there, and Johnson and Cline are the two who come immediately to mind. So many greats to chose from.
As for Chowchilla... Well, we wouldn't be having this discussion if not for Tom Sagmiller now, would we? Just saying...
Back At Antioch Speedway
When John & Donna Soares pulled into the pits at Antioch Speedway Saturday morning, they fully expected to be canceling the show. It had rained at their house, and they thought there would be enough water in the pits to keep the show from going on. However, the well groomed pits withstood an hour of hard rain that morning and the track looked just fine. The show would go on.
The Northern All Stars Winged 360 Sprint Cars were headlining a show along with the co headliner DIRTcar Late Models. Also on the card were the Wingless Spec Sprints, Dwarf Cars and IMCA Sport Modifieds. Running two big purse divisions is not something you see very often, and it was a risk to book them on the same night.
The track has made a commitment to try to build a Sprint Car show, and there is already a nucleus forming of track regulars. Because of the rain out of the Civil War Series race at Tulare, car count increased to a more respectful 14 cars, and that included some competitive racers such as Alissa Geving, Bradley Terrell and Justin Sanders. Terrell was unsuccessful in trying to cancel his hotel reservations in Tulare.
Brett Lay actually owns the #24b car that Geving was driving, and the car owner has family living in the area. Brett expressed the desire to compete at Antioch whenever scheduling will allow as he fields his car at Petaluma Speedway regularly. Last year, he put Terrell behind the wheel for the big money race in June and left with the $3,000 winner's share of the purse.
He was after the win last week, but he had a different driver behind the wheel. This time, it was third generation racer Alissa Geving. Geving pilots the car for Lay at Petaluma and is still in the hunt there in fifth in the standings. As a three time Petaluma champion and a past "Rookie Of The Year" in the King Of The West Series, this talented young lady is a fierce competitor.
That should come as no surprise to anybody considering her family tree. Her grandfather is who some say is the greatest Hardtop driver in Vallejo Speedway history, Leroy "Go Get 'Em" Geving. Her father is Gary Geving, who has Sprint Car championships at Petaluma, Baylands and Antioch. Gary just came out of retirement. If not for his concern over the safety of his trailer, he may have brought his car to Antioch, but he was on hand to crew for his daughter.
We had a little streak of ten different feature winners in the previous ten races, and it was extended to 11 as Alissa held off the threats of Watsonville regular Justin Sanders for the victory. Sanders was coming off of a Top three finish at his home track, and he did everything he could to get past Geving. He ran such a high line in Turns 3 and 4 on the dry slick, yet smooth race track that his rear wheel bumped the wall on occasion.
The Geving family wasn't the only family with three generations to have competed. Ryan Timmons was making his first Antioch start. His father Dave raced Street Stocks and Late Models at the track in the 1980's and 1990's. Dave's uncle Doug raced Late Models as well. Doug got his first car from Ken Gonderman, and he was actually there in the pits to offer his assistance.
Dave got Ryan into the sport at a young age racing Quarter-Midgets and Mini Sprints at tracks up and down the state. After a pair of championships last season, Ryan was ready for a move into the 360 Sprint Cars. Ryan has actually taken the wing off the car for some races this year as well, and it sounds like we could see him back at Antioch for more races. Unfortunately, he retired from this race early and watched the finish from the sidelines.
The highest finisher of the track regulars was second generation racer Jake Haulot, who won a three car duel with Marysville competitor Peter Paulson and Shawn Arriaga. The third generation racer Arriaga was not thrilled with the late race contact, but it was still a good night for the past Petaluma champion. The finish could put Arriaga into the point lead and shoot Haulot into second. A former Spec Sprint racer at his home track, Paulson had to be pleased with a Top 5 finish in his first Antioch appearance.
The reason Arriaga will move into the lead is the crash that took out Art McCarthy and Chris Magoon early in the race. Both drivers have an Antioch championship to their credit in this division, and they were tied after McCarthy's win in the season opener over Magoon. Neither driver was happy about the outcome this week, but both will come back strong next time.
Roy Fisher made his first start of the season in his Winged Sprint Car. Roy had a win a few weeks ago in Wingless Spec Sprints. In the process of winning that race, he discovered he had water damage to one of his heads, which resulted in his decision to take the last Spec Sprint race off. Running the winged car this week was always in his plans, and he grabbed a checkered flag in eighth. Another Spec Sprint alumni, Rick "Doc" Brophy, also took a checkered flag in ninth.
The Wingless Spec Sprints bounced back from five cars to 13 this week. A couple others were looking to come, but the rule changes implemented just prior to the season meant that they would have to change things to be legal according to the new "Econo" rules set. There were still a pair of Hunt Series racers in the field with Cody Fendley and Zachary Kavert, an Orland competitor in that track's 2014 champion Bill Hopper and the season debut of Al Ghiorso Jr.
Hopper has been racing for several years and has tried to be a supporter of this division at Orland. He was a bit concerned after his second place finish to Gary Higgenbottom last week at his home track. The win paid $150 with second receiving $70, and some drivers felt the purse should have been higher for the eight car field. With Hopper was a two time Top 5 ranked Winged Economy Sprint driver, Shawna Overton. Shawna also has wingless experience and just enjoys racing these carbureted Sprint Cars. Hopper's night wasn't all that good as he DNF'ed outside the Top 10.
After some experience in Dwarf Cars, Cody Fendley moved up to Spec Sprints this season. He's been racing at Petaluma Speedway. With the rain out there, he decided to come to Antioch. Cody admitted that racing a Wingless Sprint was something he never really considered until he watched the class at Petaluma. He's been enjoying this class so far. The rookie was about to be a part of a wild and controversial Main Event finish.
Last time he was in Antioch, Alan Miranda ended up taking a wild ride on the back stretch as he flipped his car. The damage was enough that he needed a week off to make the necessary repairs. He got a good indication that things were better after winning his heat race, and then he led the Main Event from the start with Jimmy Perry III providing the early pressure.
Miranda saw a white flag and figured he was a lap away from a much needed victory. That's when Fendley thought he would make his desperation move to try and take the lead. Fendley made a move on the inside and pulled even at the end of the back stretch. There was no way he could make that stick. There was contact in the final turn, resulting in both drivers spinning.
That suited Perry just fine. Jimmy has been struggling to get a motor running right under the new rules set, and he had a third place run going when the crash happened in front of him. The past champion was all too happy to drive by and take the victory. Not to be outdone, rookie Marcus Smith made a move from sixth to a career best second by the time the checkered flag fell. With point leader Kyle Bakkie failing to finish, the points between Bakkie, Rick Panfili and Smith will get that much closer.
Zachary Kavert is another rookie up from the Mini Outlaw ranks at Red Bluff. He's been running the Hunt Series races, but the most recent event was rained out. This led to his decision to come to Antioch for the first time. Zachary stayed out of trouble and would end up in fourth behind Ghiorso. All in all, not a bad night for the team, and the best night of the season so far for the division at Antioch.
IMCA Sport Mods continue to have an interesting story at play in Fred Ryland and his quest for a National Championship. Fred is racing anywhere and everywhere that he can to get his points. He had a rare non Top 3 night at Watsonville Friday night, but he was back with a vengeance on Saturday. Fast Freddy led most of the way and won the race by a half lap at the checkered flag. He now has 11 wins on the circuit as the National point leader.
The win last time went to Fred's wife, Patti Ryland. While he may be closing in on the top 10 on the all time win list, Patti has had her moments as well. She revealed that becoming a racer was not something she thought about. Her husband was the one into cars. When he got his Hobby Stock and won his championship, she rode along with him. Soon, she was in a Four Banger and winning back to back championships.
Next came Hobby Stocks, where she was a feature winner again, ranked Top 5 her first season and second last season. She was ready for Sport Mods, and she's already shown a knack for winning heat races. Her first career feature win in the class the last time out moved her into the thick of the battle for a Top 5 point position once again. She is also the driver to beat in the "Rookie Of The Year" race. Patti did pretty well this last time out with another heat win and a fourth place finish.
She finished behind Paul Mulder, who was thrilled with his double podium weekend. Paul is one of Patti's rivals in the battle to make the Top 5 in points at Antioch, but the highlight of his weekend came on Friday night when he won his first Main Event at Watsonville. Paul wasn't the only driver enjoying a little glory. Chuck Golden won his heat race at Antioch and then enjoyed a career best second place finish in the Main Event. Chuck is also in the battle for a Top 5 finish.\
Note: According to the Ocean Speedway Press release HERE, Paul Mulder ended up being disqualified from the Watsonville win for failing to report to tech, handing Gary Vincelet the win.
Ron Brown thought he might be able to make a step up from last time out when he finished second. Ron led a couple laps before spinning. The car seems like it is very competitive, but Ron struggled a bit with the handle before finishing sixth. Keith Brown Jr. would have loved that, but last weekend was another example of the up and down season he's had. Keith finished second at Hanford on Friday, but he lost a motor in his heat race on Saturday. Keith continues to ran second in the state point battle.
Josh Hensley is in his rookie season in Sport Mods and leading the points at Merced. He's been struggling a bit in the car, but it's not a big surprise. The two time Top 5 Hobby Stock driver at Merced is driving an old home built car that he bought from George Medeiros. He did take a checkered flag at Antioch in his first visit, placing eighth.
The Dwarf Cars made a big statement with 19 cars. The good news is that most of the drivers were actually Antioch regulars. and three cars came in from the 3 Nuts Racing Team. David Teves and his son Adam were joined by John Davis, who was driving Al Ghiorso's #111 Dwarf Car. Dana Craig had put the finishing touches on that car and reported that the team had some steering issues in David's first start in his new car last time out.
When you consider that David's car wasn't just right and he still managed a third that night, you had to wonder what the 2013 point runner up had in store for the competition on Saturday. As it turned out, he was about ready win his first Main Event of the season. As it was when his son Adam won a few weeks ago, David had that familiar #11d car of Danny Wagner right behind hm, Well, David wasn't any more intimidated than his son was. The father-son duo are now both feature winners this season.
When you are wining with Wagner right behind you, you really are doing something. Unfortunately, David wasn't gaining much ground on the two time defending champion. Wagner had won his heat race and actually added a little to his lead over D. Teves. The season is still early. The important thing now is that Teves left the track feeling that he finally had something for his rival. Even Adam did well with a heat win and a fourth in the Main Event.
Mike Corsaro seems to have hit his stride as well. The 2014 point runner up collected another podium finish in third to maintain his hold on third in the standings. Teammate Charlie Correia wasn't as fortunate as he had problems earlier in the race for a disappointing DNF. Meanwhile, Kevin Miraglio had a good night with a heat race win. He led some laps in the Main Event before finishing fifth, which should help his effort to move into the Top 5 in the standings.
The Dwarf Cars have been working hard this year and are in the midst of a six race streak at Antioch (seven if you count the upcoming race at Merced), and seeing this car count was actually very encouraging. Chris Kenner had himself a nice debut in sixth, which was the spot Miranda Chappa held for several laps until spinning. The top ten ranked Chappa got it back on track and would finish eighth behind Chuck Weir. It was a much better outcome for Weir, who recently flipped his car at Watsonville. Honorable mentions go out to Michael Crommie and Brian Gray, who finished ninth and tenth, respectively.
The last time Late Models were at Antioch, Chester Kniss had to be encouraged by the Top 5 run he was having up until his car died on him. He had a fuel pump problem that night, but it was all fixed for this race. The bad news was he barely got one lap in before he and Jeff Decker crashed in Turn 4. Both drivers ended up in the pits, but Decker somehow managed to return without getting lapped.
All this talk of purse money has been buzzing on social media, but the reality is even the tracks offering guaranteed purse money aren't always delivering the car count. Decker, who is working on a new car, admits he would like to see more money in the purse but he also wants to go racing, It's not cheap to run these cars, but he also knows the catch 22 situation. Drivers want more money, promoters want more cars and promoters aren't always willing to pay more unless the cars show up and race. Antioch management indicated the win money jumps to $1500 at 16 cars, and Antioch has had as many as 12 this year.
This race was the first count under ten as nine cars showed up. Previous winner Paul Gugliemoni was a surprise no show. The David Newquist cars showed up late, and once again, Newquist was beat by his teammate, Mike Hynes, who finished fifth. Hynes was coming off of a Limited Late Model effort he would just as soon forget. He ended up getting into Mark Garner, resulting in major front end damage to Garner's car. His latest Top 10 finish in Late Models should bump him into the Top 10 in the standings. Hynes is actually working on his own Late Model, but the #04x car of Newquist has gotten him out there so far this year.
Billy Bowers offered some clarification on his team's plans. We'd sort of drawn conclusions that they were focusing more on winning Late Model races and running the Modified second. Actually, Billy says they have plans to start hitting the money races and have a new car in the works. They plan to leave the state for some of these races, and that may mean missing two Late Model races this year. With 26 wins for Troy Foulger and four championships, they have nothing to prove in Modfieds at Antioch, but the #49 car may still be there for the coming race. They also expect to run the next Late Model race.
Last year, the team demonstrated what they are capable of with a feature win in Late Models. Some are saying that if the previous Late Model race was 25 laps, Troy would have won. The third he got was still a brilliant comeback. He had a fuel pickup problem that the team fought all the way through the heat races, but it was ready come Main Event time as he came from last starting to that third place finish.
Bowers commented that the team is running an old (2002 GRT) chassis and are down a bit on horsepower to some teams, but he believes it actually works to their advantage a bit in how Troy can drive the car on the track. On Saturday, Troy led most of the way with 2014 champion Richard Papenhausen in close pursuit. Anytime you can hold off Papenhausen, who has two wins this season, you know you are doing well. Decker salvaged a third place finish after his early tangle with Kniss.
Antioch's sister track, Merced Speedway, called their races off due to the wet pits. Options were considered to try to get the race in, but it was decided that it would be better to try again this week. It's actually a double race weekend in The Valley. IMCA Sport Mods, Valley Sportsman, Hobby Stocks and Mini Stocks will race at Merced on Saturday, and IMCA Modifieds, IMCA Sport Mods, Hobby Stocks and Mini Stocks race at Chowchilla on Sunday.
The Vintage Hardtops were to be a part of Antioch's show this week, but the group is booked as part of the nostalgia program happening at Madera on Saturday. So, Antioch Speedway will feature IMCA Modfieds, Northern All Stars Limited Late Models, Hobby Stocks and Dwarf Cars. For more information on Antioch, Merced and Chowchilla, check the official Oval Motorsports Website.