Don's California Racing Recollections: Best Of The Blog And Beyond
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Just A Kid From The Grandstands: My Time In Auto Racing
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Reposting this about the late June big money races coming up at Antioch Speedway
The buzz probably hasn't been out there about the late June Summer Nationals races at Antioch Speedway, but here's what is on the schedule:
June 26 (Friday):
Antioch – Summer Nationals – IMCA Modifieds, Limited Late Models, IMCA Sport Mods (no track points but there will be national, regional, and state points), Hobby Stocks, Dwarf Cars.
June 27 (Saturday):
Antioch – Summer Nationals – DIRTcar Late Models, IMCA Modifieds, IMCA Sport Mods.
NASCAR racer Kenny Wallace will be driving a Modified and a Late Model that weekend and is willing to drive any other race car made available to him. He'll compete in every class he can. The track traditionally runs a big race on the weekend of the Sears Point NASCAR race, and this is no exception.
Questions were asked to this reporter about the purse, and this is the word we got from John Soares Jr. at Antioch Speedway. The Friday night IMCA Modified race will pay $1500 to win and a minimum of $125 to start, which could end up being $150. The Sport Mods will race for $500 to win. Expectations are for good car counts in both classes, and we are already hearing rumors of cars coming down from Oregon for this event.
The Saturday night IMCA Modified feature will pay $2500 to win and will pay the same to start as mentioned above. Sport Mods get $750 to win. The Late Models get a minimum of $1500 to win and $150 to start regardless of car count. John would like to pay $2000 to win if he can get 20 cars, and I'm thinking that will include an increase in the start money, though I didn't get clarification on that part. However, these two races should be big.
For more information, go to the official Oval Motorsports Website.
Back in July of 2013, I started writing like crazy. I think this all happened after I got the call from Mike McCann about Orland and the things he was trying to do there. It was a good conversation with a man I have a great deal of respect for. The next thing I know, I'm up at all hours doing heavy research, compiling stats and writing. I made a couple of attempts at an article. At one point, I had written so much that I had a good portion of what has become the auto biography of my time in racing.
This was written during that time frame and for some reason not posted here until now. It is in The Best Of The Blog And Beyond book along with several other things I have yet to post here (and lots of pictures). I think you might enjoy it, so I'm sharing it now. It's still only a little snapshot of about a ten year period of Antioch Speedway history. It was definitely a time of many changes at the track, which is now in it's 55th season.
Looking Back At Antioch Speedway Through The Years
When I look back on my time at Antioch Speedway and my involvement in racing, a few things stick out with me. I can vaguely remember coming out to the track in 1776 or 1977. My sister may have been the one who pushed the family to go to the track back then. Dad used to go to the races at Contra Costa Speedway in Pacheco and then Vallejo Speedway. He used to tell me stories about those days.
When I started researching the history that went along with the names he gave me, I became really fascinated with that era. My goodness, Vallejo Speedway in the early 1960's must have been something to see. There were some fast drivers back then, and just being a top 20 driver at the end of the season was an accomplishment.
All of the top drivers had nicknames. The announcer actually played songs for some of those drivers. Songs like "Johnny Be Good" and "Purple People Eater" played over the PA for that driver. Dad told me the first one was for Johnny Franklin, a driver I would have loved to watch. He was the man back then. He and Leroy Geving were two of the greatest Hardtop drivers in Northern California history.
So, that era was always pretty special to dad. He would tell stories of the checker board car, Ted Gratriex, Hugh Purdy, Johnny Franklin, Leroy Geving, Larry Damitz, Rich Govan, Phil Pedlar. It was pretty cool to see Pedlar and Damitz racing at Petaluma in the early 80's later on when I finally got the chance to watch them.
I had a memory of being at a 200 lap race at Antioch. Yes, they used to have those races back in the day. Dana Auger won that race ahead of Len Mello. This would put my time at the track at least to 1977, but as a kid, I ran around like kids do. I couldn't appreciate J.D. Willis winning a close battle with Jerry Roy for the Sportsman title and Marv Wilson having his best season to that point in third.
Richard Johnson won the 1977 Stock Car crown ahead of David Brightwell, then Bob Meeker won the 1978 title ahead of Jim Tryon. What's funny is I do remember being with friends that year talking about top ten driver Corby Davis being bad for something that happened on the track. I don't remember what he supposedly did now.
Dana Auger had won a few features in a row in 1978. He ended up ranked in the top five by season's end, while three of the biggest stars at that time, Marv Wilson, Dennis Furia and J.D. Willis, finished in that order. I'd love to be able to tell you memories, but I was just a kid who barely paid attention at the time. The track held its first Street Stock races that year, but no champion was crowned that I know of.
In 1979, I finally started gong to the track pretty regularly. I picked my favorite driver, a yellow Pinto #4a driven by Len Mello. He wasn't winning Main Events back then. In fact, he was mainly in the B Mains and the slow heats back then, and I got a bad time from a few people for cheering for him. I didn't care. I was a loyal fan.
What I mostly remember about racing back then was we had two divisions. The Stock Cars and Sportsman division. The Street Stocks were just getting started, and pretty much during 1979 and 1980, it was Street Stocks and Sportsman. I think at the time this had to do with the fact that San Jose Speedway had moved to the dirt after the closing of the Tully Road track, and they were trying to build Stock Car count there.
I attribute this to why it took a few years for Antioch to establish the class in the early 1980's while Watsonville and Merced had solid car counts. Other than a six or eight race season (Dean Cline was the champion) in 1979, there were no Stock Cars at Antioch during that period until 1981.
So, I remember Debbie Clymens, Chuck Carter and Chuck Smith were three drivers who got in early with Street Stocks. I vaguely remember Debbie's husband Tommy racing the Sportsman division. He was actually top 20 ranked in Stock Cars and the Sportsman division in his career.
We only had two divisions, and we were generally in the 40-50 car range at that point. All divisions qualified on the clock, and the races were fully inverted. I loved that promoter John Soares Sr. did that because it made for better races. Drivers ran with others in their speed, so a slower driver could still have a two win (Heat and B Main) night.
Inverted Main Events meant a few things. The faster drivers had to start in the back with just the two B Main transfers behind them. There was sand bagging, and a few drivers were good at it. The problem is it's a fine line between the pole of the Main Event and the rear of the B Main.
Harry Osbourne was the announcer and is one of my all time favorites. Like Speed Reilly at Vallejo, he had a nickname for everybody. Early on, I memorized these names. "Chargin" Marvin Wilson, J.D. "You Betcha" Willis, Dana "Always On It" Auger, Mike "The Blue Knight" Gustafson, "The Flying Dutchman" Keith Brown, Willie "The Silver Fox" Myatt and on and on.
They would line the cars up on the front stretch side by side. Drivers would get out of their cars for the introduction. It made it more special to me. You never knew who would win. Dennis "Foot In It" Furia won a lot, and you knew he was going to the front. Drivers better watch out. Dennis was aggressive, but he was also the 1979 champion.
As I recall, Dennis, Marv. J.D. and Gene Millard parked together in the pits. Len Mello, Sal Belleci and Buzz Enea parked together. I think Mike Green, Mike Gustafson, John Soares and Al Nordstrom parked together. I was just a kid in the grandstands at the time, but I would talk about the races all the time. I kept a scrap book, which is something I actually lost when I moved from Concord.
Back then, there were some fast guys. Wilson, Willis and Furia won a lot, but Gustafson, Green, Soares, Enea and Jerry Hetrick were among other winners. I remember Osbourne starting a collection to get Hetrick's car a paint job. For a time, Jerry was the track record holder for fast time.
Now, John Soares Sr. brought in special attractions, like Orville The Daredevil Clown and stuff like that. There were match races, hot dog races, powder puff races, mechanic races and things like that. Nothing has compared to the races at that time for me. Maybe it's the first impression on a kid, I don't know. I've certainly seen good races since then, but that era will always be special to me.
One thing that annoyed me was the mad dash to the parking lot after the Sportsman Main Event. Even dad was in a hurry. There was just one problem. I wanted to watch the Street Stocks. There was Scott Busby, Joey "Runaway" Rodriguez, Julio Jones, Keith Shipherd, Debbie Clymens, Mike Pugh, Rob Waldrop and perhaps my favorite driver at the time, Chuck Carter.
I had to watch the Street Stocks. And I did. Busby won a lot. Big surprise, huh? But Shipherd, Clymens, Carter and Jones all had their moments. There was no official point race in 1978 or 1979 that I know of. I've since found out that Merced and Watsonville had point races back then, so I'm not sure why this was. I was told that Busby was awarded the top performer trophy in 1979, Clymens was second and there was a third place. Carter? I Don't know.
The cool thing was drivers moved up into the Sportsman division. I think Jones was first to do it, but Shipherd and Busby weren't far behind. Rodriguez won the 1980 championship and moved up for "Rookie Of The Year" honors a year later. Frank "The Wall Banger" Blasquez and Mike's brother L.C. Green had top five Street Stock seasons in 1980 and moved up a year later.
Clymens didn't run the Sportsman division, but she was second in Street Stock points and had the memorable flip where her car stood on it's nose for several seconds. This made national and even world wide news at a time long before the internet and earned her the nickname "Rowdy Rollover" Debbie Clymens.
A year later, Jeff Rhoton, who was a feature winner in 1980, mimicked the dominant performance of Rodriguez by dominating the 1981 season with over ten wins. Future Stock Car racer Dick King managed a second place season just ahead of the tied Bellando brothers (John and Dave) and Ted Ferre. I recall rookie Stan Holmes winning a feature and his season ending in a hard crash.
I had no idea the Sportsman division was in trouble until 1981 came along. We still had B Mains at Antioch in 1980 and a good championship battle between Houston, who had purchased Marv Wilson's car, and Gustafson. Gustafson won by a slim margin despite Houston gaining major ground by winning the season finale 100 lap Main Event. Mike was very consistent and a driver I enjoyed watching. But, I loved that candy apple red paint job on Houston's car. Beautiful car. Also loved the Ford Mustang body on Dave Gonderman's car. Dave was a feature winner in 1979 and 1980 and was every bit the driver his brother is today.
Down at Merced, they dropped the class early in the season. Jim Soares was general manager at the time and told the drivers that it would be dropped if they brought him less than ten cars. It's Ironic that Merced was the first to go, but a little under 20 years later, they brought it back. This is because top five driver Chuck Griffin was promoter, and he loved the class.
Even Watsonville wasn't doing so well with the class. We'd see State champion Duane Noe, Phil Holley, Walt Rizzo and Bob Dalton drop in from time to time, and Antioch was still getting B Mains. Then, Soares Sr. "retired" due to health issues. Really, he just focused on building that amazing Super Stock show he had at Petaluma. If you were there, you know how truly amazing it was.
I wonder what politics led to John going? Not that it matters now. I found it interesting that Bert Moreland faced a similar situation about a decade later, and who was there for him to keep him in the sport for a few more years? That's right, it was John. I have a list of reasons I respect John, and this is another example. He was there for his friends, and he inspired loyalty.
You see, another longtime NASCAR guy, Paul Bender, stepped in and took over general manager duties at Antioch. NASCAR had taken a billy club and beat the Sportsman division to death because it wasn't "Stock Car" enough. Maybe that's a blunt way to put it, but it's pretty close. It was the "skinny car" division until about the mid 1970's, before my time there, and it became fully bodied with some cars not even running wings.
So, Paul had to reestablish the Stock Car class and bring an end to the Sportsman class. It helped that BCRA was given a home for the Midgets that season while Stock Cars built a car count. Debbie Clemens, Willie Myatt and J.D. Willis were a few to join Stock Cars, others like Hetrick and Furia retired.
But, another thing happened that saw the Sportsman division struggle to field ten cars. A number of racers went to Petaluma. Guys like Soares Jr., Gustafson, Jim Tryon, L.C. Green and Dennis Hollingsworth, followed Soares Sr. to Petaluma. That was it. At least the Sportsman division knew what was coming, unlike the Late Models a decade later.
They made the most of it. Mello, State champion "Rapid" Richard Johnson, Jerry "The Maverick" Garner and "Sudden" Sam Houston and the rest of the guys put on a show. It still went down to the wire before Mello wrote his name into the record books as the last Sportsman champion at Antioch.
Times change in racing. While this was going on, we saw the end of an era with the closure of Vallejo Speedway and West Capital Speedway in the previous few seasons. Both were iconic tracks that were so beloved that there are active communities online talking about the "good old days" more than three decades later. That is a legacy to be proud of.
In 1981, Stocks Cars were back at Antioch with Bruce "The Phantom" Curl winning the championship in Pete Paulsen's House Of Wheels Special. "Gentle Ben" Gary Ehrlich, "Rookie Of The Year" Bill Curl, Debbie Clymens and former champion Willie "The Silver Fox" Myatt were also top five ranked, and a 16 year old from Seaside named Jim Pettit II visited and won two Main Events.
I wasn't happy to see the Sportsman division end, and even more disappointed that the local boys were finding it harder to win a race, much less a championship, but the track lived on. It's interesting to note that the only local driver to win a Late Model championship at Antioch Speedway was J.D. Willis. Interesting, but not surprising. He's a Hall of Famer, plain and simple.
Willis was there to battle young up and comer Pettit and this talented driver from Los Gatos named Dave Byrd. Garner won a Main Event in 1982, and a newcomer to Antioch (familiar name at Vallejo) named "Gentleman" Don Robinson won fans instantly with his silver and black #12a car. Don won several races that year. Then, there was L.D. "Merry Go Round" Maupin. He was one of the original local drivers in the 1960's and this was his last top ten season.
Willis and Byrd were heated rivals. Both had vocal fans in the stands. Byrd's fans sat right behind me. One of the loudest was Billy Foote, who went on to race Street Stocks for a couple seasons. The Willis camp had a button made by the Nifdee Speedo Buttons people that read "Today is Thanksgiving, stuff a Byrd." Dave beat him both seasons by a combined ten points. Just ten points. I can still hear Foote yelling, "Who loves ya baby!"
While the Stock Cars spent the 1982 and 83 seasons trying to build enough of a car count to get B Mains, the Street Stocks grew quicker. Paul Bender found a guy to wear the black hat named John "Boom Boom" Bellando. John may be the greatest Street Stock driver ever to race at Antioch, despite never winning a championship. He was certainly the most exciting to watch. His brother Dave "Bang Bang" Bellando was no slouch either.
You see, the Bellando brothers, "Terrible" Ted Ferre, Dennis Brown, Bob Brown and Duane Hodges all got involved in Street Stocks around the same time, and all were fast. John Bellando was the fastest, but he wasn't somebody you messed with. We had two drivers from Watsonville, Steve Wilson and Kevin Pylant, who came out and won the 82 and 83 championships, respectively.
There was an incident, and my memory fails me on this one. It resulted in a big fight in 1982. John Bellando ended up suspended and raced at Baylands the rest of the season. Dave Bellando kept the family name up in points with his second place season. John returned a year later to rank second to Pylant, while the division was joined by the likes of Walt Haas, Steve Huelsmann and Steve Jones.
By season's end, the Street Stocks had their first B Main (I want to say John Sameron won that race) while Stock Cars also had a B Main. Stock Cars were exploding in car count. We had Sportsman drivers like Al Nordstrom, Mark Largomarsino, Mike Green, Gene Millard, Ron Brown (and brother Randy) joining the class. Darrell Dotson bought Bill Curl's car as Bill built a new one, Randy Dahl joined the class. Mike Walko had the famed "Car 54" and so on.
B Mains were a regular part of the Stock Car program. Vallejo names like Larry Damitz, Phil Holden, Terry DeCarlo and Bob Richardson raced at Antioch in 1984. Rich Richards fielded a car at the track in 1983 with Bill Black his driver for a few seasons. Bill actually won the Jerry Delanoy Memorial race in 1983 just ahead of Merced's Ralph Beck.
We used to have nights where Merced and San Jose didn't run Stock Cars, so the field swelled into the 30's with great competition. The 1984 season may have been the high water mark for Stock Cars at Antioch. No season since then was able to equal it in car count, though that period from 1988 through 1991 wasn't bad.
Because of NASCAR Regional Points, there were always drivers from either the San Jose or Watsonville area racing at Antioch from 1982 through 1993. Merced's Doug Williams bares the distinction of being the only California driver not from those two areas to win that prestigious title while Stock Cars headlined. I recall him being slammed into the wall in a 1983 visit and some unflattering things being said. I don't recall who caused it, but it wasn't Doug's fault. Byrd was the 1983 Regional champion.
The thing that was frustrating was the track championship steadily became less important, almost an after thought. Like a consolation prize. Again, it's just my opinion based on observations. Sure, a guy might like winning that title, but the Regional and State championships were the goal. I know Willis was happy when he held off Peittit for the 1984 crown. But, Pettit had bigger goals.
Jim used to haul two cars to the track sometimes. The backup car was the one he won the 1984 Watsonville Figure 8 championship with. Now, that year saw Pettit race anywhere and everywhere he could. If Regional points were on the line, he raced. Nearly twice as much as rival Ray Morgan did. Rules at the time allowed you to count every start, and Pettit took advantage of that.
It still came down to the last night at Baylands and Stockton to determine who would win it all. Despite the controversy of that night with Pettit winning it all, had Morgan made just one more start anywhere during the season, the outcome would have been different. Both drivers gave it a good run.
This is my frustration with the Regional point system and NASCAR in general. They should have been doing more to promote these guys. I was always under the impression Regional points were to be a stepping stone to the next level. At the very least, a ride for one race in the Winston West should have been offered to the champion. Again, just my opinion.
Think of the talent we had. Bobby Hogge III, Doug McCoun, Dave Byrd, Jim Pettit II, Ray Morgan, Ed Sans Jr. I don't know that Hogge or Sans or even Morgan was that worried about it, but Byrd, McCoun and Pettit were certainly interested. At one point, Pettit had landed sponsorship and McCoun had a ride that disappeared at the last minute. These guys were that good. If they were given just one real shot, we might still be watching some of them on TV now.
The locals still gave a good accounting of themselves and won features from time to time. For whatever reason, NASCAR made engine rule changes during the offseason in 1984. I don't know what all was done, but I know two things. The changes were stupid and they cost Antioch it's car count. It took a big hit at Antioch, though Watsonville, San Jose and Merced seemed to do okay.
We lost our B Mains. Willis moved behind the wheel of the Bruce Curl car. Others retired. Green sold his car to DeCarlo. Hogge was a regular at Antioch in 1985, but he still had to deal with Sans, who started the season late and won often. Hogge's spin on the last lap in Turn 4 on the final night, which led to him hitting reverse and backing across the finish line to preserve his championship, is still one of the craziest moments in track history. Even with fewer cars, the racing was good.
It was 1986 when three time San Jose champion Sans made his push to be Antioch track champion. San Jose always gave regional points to Super Modifieds, which is what led to Sans racing at Antioch in 1985 for the next challenge. Ironically, it was a late start by Larry Damitz that may have kept Sans safe for the track championship. Damitz won ten Main Events that year, having just entered his sixties. So much for being too old. Now, he's in his 80's and still winning races.
We started seeing more Sportsman names enter the picture in 1986. Buzz Enea began racing again in 1984 and was a feature winner. In 1985, Richards needed a new driver to replace Bill Black, so Enea moved over to that car. Len Mello came out of retirement to drive Buzz's car and nearly won a Main Event in 1986. He finished second after a yellow flag wiped out a straightaway lead over eventual winner Hogge.
Sam Houston, Sal Belleci and Jim Tryon also reentered the picture. 1986 also saw the return of John Soares Jr. and Mike Gustafson as the two switched driving duties for Sal & John Procopio. John actually won a feature, while Mike came close with a second place finish. Willis was a feature winner and top five driver in Curl's car in 1985 and 86. However, the Regional champion both years was Doug McCoun, who raced at Merced. McCoun even won a National Championship.
At one time, the divisions two biggest races were the 100 lap Bob Meeker Classic and the 50 lap salute to Jerry Delanoy, but both races would eventually be dropped. The 100 lap races continued, but they were usually named after the track's beer sponsorship. This disappointed me as Merced had the Ted Stoifle Classic and Watsonville had the Tim Williamson Classic. I remember McCoun had a knack for winning these long distance races.
From the moment the Street Stocks started getting B Mains, they didn't stop having regular B Mains until the mid 1990's. 1984 saw the likes of "Big" Ed Shepherd, Bert Elworthy and Jess Guitrierrez join the ranks. The father son team of George and Ron Arth had fielded cars in 1983. Really, there were several talented drivers in the field. Don Shelton started his first race in 1984.
Walt Haas was not always the fastest driver in the field, but he was consistent. He had a knack for staying out of trouble. Steve Hueslmann, on the other hand, was fast, but he had his problems. In the end, it was Haas who won the championship ahead of Hueslmann, Elworthy beat Shepherd for top rookie honors and both were top five ranked. Several drivers won features that year.
In fact, in 1985, I think we went ten or so races before the first repeat winner. Everybody seemed to get a turn. Elworthy, Ferre, Shepherd, Shelton, rookie Ron Murray, Steve Wagerman, John Keith, John Humphrey, Mike Gummas, Dean Cline and Mike Martin come to mind. Cline won several races, but he didn't get points. Dean never cared about that anyway, but he sure won his share of races in his impressive career.
Elworthy won the 1985 championship. We didn't see too many drivers move from Street Stocks to Stock Cars during that time. Elworthy moved up in the old Steve Skarry car in 1986. Huelsmann moved up too. When I think of the talent that didn't (probably for budget reasons), it make me wonder what could have been. Both Bellando brothers, both Brown bothers, Ferre, Haas, Shepherd, Murray. They were all good.
In 1986, we had an amazing point race again, and several feature winners. I recall Tom Adair Jr., Mike Martin, Duane Hodges, Ed Shepherd, Steve Wagerman and Brian Keith as part of a six car championship battle. Martin was a talented driver and maybe the best that season, but he got suspended. The consistent Hodges did as well. In the end, Adair held off Wagerman for the big prize.
I also recall the "Rookie Of The Year" battle because it featured a couple of drivers who were sons of stars of the past and a newcomer. It was Glenn Swank, third generation racer "Wild" Jim Robbins, whose father is 1974 Stock Car champion Don Robins, and "Hollywood Rad" Brad Coelho. Well, he wasn't "Hollywood" yet though. Anyway, Robbins and Coelho were feature winners.
Robbins seemed poised to win rookie honors until being penalized on double point night for spinning top ten point runner Brian Holden out. A sign of things to come for Holden? Holden showed them all by breaking Bellando's track qualifying record at the season finale. With the loss of those points, Robbins fell to third and Coelho claimed the prize.
When 1987 came along, the question was whether there would even be a season. The story was all over the paper, but that was only part of it. Four people had bid for the five year contract, and BBA Inc. didn't even come in second to keep the track. Tom Adair Sr. was the best of what was left, and Tim Butterick also submitted a proposal. Adair anticipated it would go to him after the winner withdrew, but it didn't happen that way.
The name missing from the headlines at the time was John Soares Sr. He actually won. The story goes that his wife Gladys (The Glad in Glad Enterprises) was none too pleased. I suppose John felt he could handle two tracks since he still had a place in Bethal Island and had a trailer office at the Petaluma track. One can only imagine what might have been then.
John's own situation at Petaluma was changing due to fact that Petaluma was dropping Super Stocks. The Super Stocks from Petaluma, Chico and whatever was left in California were forming an amazing touring division with the Oregon drivers called POSSE. I didn't get to see much of it, but the tour kicked butt in the early days.
I was at Petaluma during the 1986 Antioch fair break when Petaluma ran it's first stock front clip race. I believe it was Larry Damitz who beat Kevin Pylant in that race, but this is from memory. Stock Cars were to be the new headline class at Petaluma, a solid Street Stock class would be there, a new Charger division and this crazy little class from Iowa he brought to California called Dirt Modifieds.
I would guess Antioch in 1987 would have Dirt Modifieds since there were cars being built in the area that year, but the NASCAR sanctioning might have been gone. Do I know that for sure? No, and this is because John had NASCAR briefly for his Stock Car class in 1987. But, this may have been a result of John's discussion with top NASCAR execs in California at the time.
There was a complaint at Antioch at the time that there wasn't local representation in charge of the track. You did have Harv Mason doing his usual awesome job of preparing the track, but people were calling for a local track manager. The story goes that John was promised that this would happen and he gave his word he wouldn't bid for the track again. Whatever happened, John stepped away from the deal and his name was kept out of it.
But, the word was the track would be closed, and the news didn't sit well with anybody. The parts man at the time was Steve Fensler, who raced for several years himself. Steve wanted to see the track run in 1987 and was worried that if it closed even for a season it might be closed for good. He stepped in and tried to broker a solution that upset the people at BBA who thought he was back stabbing them.
The phrase "Mickey Mouse outlaw track" was quoted in regards to Antioch's future if Steve was allowed to move in. I remember not caring about that in the least. There were plenty of tracks in the state that seemed to be doing okay without sanctioning, and maybe the locals could have a chance to win on their budgets. Just my opinion, of course.
Well, the people involved in bidding resolved the issue. Adair came on for half a season before being let go. He was there to help get things up and running. This was the last year Bert Moreland was there, but one of his last decisions was to add a Figure 8 to the mix to increase attendance. It worked. His final decision to add Dirt Modifieds in 1988 never took place as he was replaced.
So, the show went on in 1987 after all of that worry, and Jim Pettit II elected to return after racing at Merced and making some Southwest Tour starts during his two seasons away from Antioch. Ed Sans Jr. and Bobby Hogge III raced elsewhere most of the time but were still top ten ranked at Antioch. Sans won the Regional title that season. This left it up to local talent to try and stop Pettit.
In this case, it was Buzz Enea, Terry DeCarlo and Bruce Curl who battled at the front of the pack. Meanwhile, Debbie Clymens enjoyed her best season in fifth. DeCarlo was an early threat a year earlier before he dropped out of action, but this third place season was his best ever. Enea nearly won the crown, but he settled for second to Pettit after motor problems late in the season.
In the Street Stocks, we saw the return of a name that would become familiar to the winner's circle once again, Darryl Shirk. His son Troy Shirk and Bill Curl also joined the fray, while Corky Pattrick became one of the front runners. Newcomer Kelly Dauksch had an impressive season, his first at the track, but he settled for second ahead of Linda Warner. The talented Steve Wagerman won the title, but he retired after that (another who could have been a Late Model star).
Bert Moreland had introduced Figure 8 racing to Watsonville, and he was looking to do the same at Antioch. It started with an exhibition where he started cars in opposite directions and ran races to see who would make it through the X first. That went over well, so he decided to run a short season and crown a champion.
This led to the return of 70's Stock Car star Mike Conley and "Bouncin" Bobby Brown as well as a decision by Brian Holden, Jim Robbins and Steve Torres to go Figure 8 racing. Ron Brown built a car for this. Of course, Watsonville was well represented by Figure 8 legend John Keldsen, Henry Leyenberger, Chris Stuttleworth and Carl Lollar Jr. Figure 8 racing was a huge hit with the fans.
Holden painted his car red, white and blue and was a big fan favorite. Unfortunately, a controversial finish with Keldsen one night early on led to a rivalry that lasted the entire four year Figure 8 run. Holden may have been the best local Figure 8 racer, but he was never allowed by the competition to win the championship. His loss by 26 points to Keldsen the first season was as close as he came.
BBA became Cars Inc. and later West Coast Speedways as new management took the reigns over the four dirt tracks that were a part of what was left of "Barky's" legacy at the time, and this meant a new general manager for the track in 1988 and some big changes ahead. That story is for another time.
Honestly, this isn't what I sat down to write. I wanted to talk about last decade and some of the turbulent times California racing has struggled through, as well as some of the key people we've lost. I sit down here and write and then my mind goes in other directions. I can continue this line of writing if there's an interest. I guess we'll see. I hope you enjoyed this little walk down memory lane.