Thursday, August 27, 2015

Pit Stops From Merced Speedway And Antioch Speedway

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Weekend Preview Edition

Pit Stops

It's definitely a different time in racing where points are almost a secret.  We are heading into the last race of August with just a few races remaining in the 2015 season.  The year seems to have blown by.  Antioch Speedway is coming up on it's annual "kitchen sink" race in which Oval Motorsports has thrown everything onto the schedule.  Winged 360 Sprint Cars, Wingless Spec Sprints, IMCA Modifieds, IMCA Sport Modifieds, Limited Late Models, Hobby Stocks and Dwarf Cars are all on the schedule.  Meanwhile, Merced Speedway has a more modest IMCA Modified, IMCA Sport Modified, Hobby Stock and Mini Stock show scheduled for Sunday.

The DIRTcar Late Models have two point races to compete for this season.  There's the Antioch Speedway battle that people know about, but there is also the Northwest Regional race that is lesser known.  Nothing has been made over the fact that the Regional title is worth $2500 to the champion or the fact that John M. Soares booked his schedule with the thought that his drivers would have the best shot of winning that money.  The only team this writer knows of that was aware of that money prior to Saturday night was the Richard Papenhausen team.

The UMP DIRTcar website hadn't even updated their website after the 12th race at Antioch, which was won by Papenhausen ahead of Jeff Decker.  At that point, Papenhausen led Decker by three points, and that increased to eight after his eighth Antioch win.  However, Decker still held a ten point lead in the track's point race.  This meant Papenhausen was leading with the money on the line, and Decker led in the quest for a second Antioch Late Model title.  Decker had said a month beforehand that points were not on his mind due to the stress and the lack of a reward at the end of the season.  His attitude was about to change last Saturday night.

As the previous winner, Papenhausen started back in tenth in the Main Event, while Decker shared the front row of with Soares.  Decker led immediately, while Papenhausen had worked his way to fourth for an early restart.  Moments later, Papenhausen got into the front wall attempting to make a pass and spun into Turn 1.  The result was a multi car pileup that brought out a red flag.  Papenhausen's Warrior chassis was dragged into the infield with a flat tire, rather than taken to the pits for the crew to make repairs. 

Because points were on the line and the Papenhausen Construction/Mohawk Trading #4p car was not dragged to the pits, Papenhausen's crew threw a tire and a jack over the fence and went to work on the car in the infield.  To the letter of the rules, that was illegal, but the crew's concern was they wouldn't have a chance to work on the car with enough time to get it back out there otherwise.  When Richard returned to the track entrance, he was informed that acting chief steward Steve Southerland made the decision to disqualify him from the race.

Decker easily led the rest of the race for his second win and tenth Top 3 finish of the season.  After points were calculated, Decker emerged with a 26 point lead at Antioch that will be tough for him to lose unless he doesn't finish the final race on September 19.  Current DIRTcar Regional points were not available at press time, but Decker unofficially leads by 25 points in that race.  Jeff admitted that he had no idea about the prize money at stake, and he's now very interested in it. With just the one Antioch race left, Papenhausen may have to find another DIRTcar sanctioned race to get more points, which seems unlikely.

Decker wasn't the only driver in Late Models making a move in the standings.  Coming off of his Top 5 finish last time, Danny Malfatti took full advantage of David Newquist's struggles on the night.  Malfatti held off a fierce challenge from Paul Guglielmoni most of the race for a season best second place finish.  That effort catapulted Malfatti past Newquist and into third in the standings.  Danny now has a four point advantage going into the September finale.  He's also enjoying a Top 10 season as a Winged 360 Sprint Car rookie at Ocean Speedway in Watsonville.  All in all, it's been a good season for Malfatti.

The closest championship battle for Oval Motorsports this season can be found in the Northern All Stars Mini Stocks at Merced Speedway.  This is a division that has seen its struggles, but two racers have not missed a race yet.  They find themselves tied at the moment.  That would be 11 time winner Darren Miguel and three time winner and defending champion Chris Corder.  Corder didn't even get his first win of the season until four races ago, but he has won three of the last four races and trimmed down Miguel's 30 point lead during that time.

It may come as a surprise, because Miguel was so hot at one point that he went to Rocky Hill Speedway and won $1000 for a feature win there and an additional $200 in the Dash For Cash.  The lower car count during his streak probably didn't work in his favor as he was only gaining a little at a time on Corder, who wasn't far behind him.  For Corder's part, he made the move to Alex Odishoo's car and inherited the motor problems that came with it  The #48 car is fast.  Once Chris figured out what was causing it to miss late in the race, he started winning.

Last week started off with Corder winning a heat race, but Miguel shot out of the gate like a cannon ball to grab the lead.  Just when it looked like he would get a much needed win, his transmission let go on him six laps in.  Corder had the lead then and fought off the efforts of the surprising Mike Germait to win again.  It's anybody's guess who will win this battle, but it makes Sunday's race all the more interesting.  It looks like both Miguel and Corder will be moving up to Hobby Stocks next season, so you know both of them would like to move up as the 2015 Mini Stock champion.

IMCA Sport Modifieds are a different story at Merced Speedway.  Josh Hensley will likely be the champion and "Rookie Of The Year" all rolled into one.  Nobody else launched a title run, but occasionally the heavy hitters show up to make things interesting.  Last week, that meant Fred Ryland was adding a much needed win to his National point effort as he came into the week ranked third.  Bruce "Bubba" Nelson finished second.  Santa Maria winner Jason Nation was third with 2014 Merced champion Rick Diaz fourth.  Had Diaz and Nelson been there all season, the points might look much different.

Mark Odgers was not looking at points either.  Given his experience and even in the oldest car in the field, Odgers might be making things very difficult for Hensley had he wanted to run for the title.  However, he did admit a few weeks ago that making a move on second in points was very appealing to him.  That position is currently occupied by the steady Dwayne Short, but Odgers has been trimming what was roughly a 30 point advantage a little at a time every week.  Both drivers are dealing with problems.

If you've been paying attention, you've noticed Short's black #27 car has been fast at the start and started slowing down during the last ten laps in recent weeks.  It turns out that he discovered a problem with one of the heads going into the latest race.  Unfortunately, the new head didn't come in in time, forcing him to patch up what he had and make do for another week.  Odgers, meanwhile, was running on a prayer last week with a broken rear end.  It somehow held together for a seventh place finish, while Short was outside the Top 10.  Short now leads by just three points.  Mark will get things fixed, but he's unsure how it will handle this week.  Short is likely to have the new head for this race and will be hoping it will run strong for a complete race this time.

While Merced was having a strong 17 car showing in its Sport Mod division last Sunday, Antioch was doing pretty well with its own class.  Fred Ryland has the championship well in hand at the moment, leaving Al Johnson and Paul Mulder to battle it out for second in the standings.  Johnson has picked up the pace in recent weeks, despite still searching for his first feature win.  Johnson drove his white #43 car to a respectable sixth place finish last week, while Mulder was a disappointing 13th in the 15 car field.  Johnson now leads the one time winner Mulder by seven points in a good battle for runner up honors.

The name Clymens has been a fixture at Antioch Speedway going back to the 1970's when a driver named Tommy Clymens raced in both the Sportsman and Stock Car divisions.  Then, we had his wife Debbie, who proved that women could race with and beat the men as she was not afraid to get in there and trade paint with the best of them.  Tommy and Debbie's three sons all started racing when the Hobby Stocks came along in the 1990's, and it was Trevor Clymens who really showed his abilities as a Top 3 point runner and feature winner back in those days.

Trevor recently returned in a beautiful, blue race car that was fast right out of the gate.  Last week was his night to shine, and Trevor shined brightly in the lead from the start.  Anthony Giuliani had won his last three starts at Antioch, though a disappointing night on Friday saw him lose his point lead at Watsonville to Matt Hagio.  When Anthony gained second, some may have thought he would catch Trevor, but that didn't happen.  Trevor won the race with three of the top division racers behind him in Giuliani, Rick Diaz and Fred Ryland.  To win the way he did and with who was behind him had to be a satisfying moment for Clymens.  It might give hope to the rapidly improving K.C. Keller, who finished fifth.

While Kimo Oreta has racked up his seven wins this season on the way to his third straight Hobby Stock championship at Antioch Speedway, it can't be said that nobody wanted second place.  Stock Car veteran Danny Jones, rookie Jordan Swank and Michael Cooper have been racing hard for that honor all season long.  Jones had racked up five second place finishes, but his quest for a win had him dealing with one problem after another.  After his motor issues in the previous race, Danny took last week off.  Sometimes taking a step backwards is the only way you can move forward.

Cooper had finished a strong second while Jones was having his problems, and that gave him second in points coming into last week.  If anybody was wondering how much improved the 2014 Mini Stock point runner up Swank is at this point in the season, he showed them with one of his best efforts yet.  It's not just that Jordan won his heat race and finished third in the Main Event.  He beat Oreta to get both finishes.  With Cooper struggling back in eighth, Swank now leads his brother in law Cooper by 13 points.

Jones has dropped to 61 points behind Swank.  Despite finishing last in the latest race, Frank Furtado is only two points behind Jones.  The Swank team has indicated that they will have to miss another race due to another wedding in the family.  While the status of Jones may be a mystery, it's likely that Furtado will keep plugging away in his #81 car.  Jordan's cousin, Cameron Swank, continues to look good in his #21 car as he finished fifth last week to maintain his Top 10 point effort.

The star of the night at Antioch was Merced and Chowchilla champion Kevin Joaquin.  He was flying that night, which makes Richard Shearer's heat race win ahead of him all the more impressive.  Come Main Event time, nobody was going to beat Kevin.  He had a half lap lead by the time a late yellow flag flew, and he easily won ahead of another Merced Speedway regular, "Mr. Excitement" George Silva.  It was revealed earlier that night by Kevin's grandfather that the team has a BCRA Midget Lite for next season.  If that is his move, it won't be a surprise to see him race the Hobby Stock occasionally unless he sells it.

The Merced Hobby Stock point race is not a mystery.  Kevin is the champion.  It looks as if the steady Jennifer Corder is second and "Rookie Of The Year" as well.  Austin Van Hoff may have third unless he is unable to get his race car, which was damaged in a hard heat race crash, repaired.  In which case, three time winner Kristie Shearer may have a shot at that spot if she wants it back.  Even rookie Dexter Long may have a challenge from Silva, who trails him by 21 points for fifth.  But, there is another thing happening in this division that is even more interesting than the points.

Past Chowchilla Hobby Stock and Merced Sportsman champion Shane Hausmann was back for the first time this year, and he meant business.  Shane led the entire race ahead of Marc Key, who we haven't seen in while.  Key is the nephew of the only Street Stock driver to win a Ted Stofle Classic, Tom Key, and he ran strong for a second place finish ahead of Joaquin.  However, Hausmann was not to be denied victory.  Even with his car smoking late in the race, Hausmann became the 15th different winner in the 20 races held so far this season.  That speaks to how competitive this division has been all season long,  You never know who will win on any given week.

The winner's list is led by three time winners Joaquin and Kristie Shearer, who finished fourth last week ahead of a season best fifth for Phil Vaughn.  The only other multiple winner is two time winner Austin Van Hoff, who sat out the feature after a hard heat race crash with Bobby Williams.  The other 12 drivers on the win list this year are Hausmann, M. Key, Gary Hildebrand, Joe Willoughby, Darren Miguel, Shannon Nelson, Cody Parker, Kodie Dean, Chris Falkenberg, Chris Mayer, Ryan Hart and Ted Stofle Classic Winner Michael Shearer.  Can somebody else add their name to this list before the end of the season?

The IMCA Modified division at Merced is a bit of a mystery at the moment.  Car count was holding steady at 10-12 cars until recently, but now it's struggling at 7-8 cars.  Bob Williamson had remarked when he competed the last time that he would be missing races.  A frustrated Bill Egleston decided to park from second in the standings.  We basically have Alex Wilson and his brother Kyle Wilson showing up along with Ricky Thatcher and whomever else wants to race.  This may be a cause for concern.

Alex Wilson is well on his way to IMCA State and Merced championships.  Even Ryan Porter and hard charging visitors Troy Foulger and Robby Sawyer couldn't challenge A. Wilson in his third win last week.  Now, both Wilson boys have three wins and seem to be the drivers to beat on race day.  Porter may have something to say about that as a three time winner himself, but the division needs the return of Egleston and Williamson and such hard chargers as Paul Stone, Karl Rose and Ramie Stone now more than ever.  R. Stone is said to be about ready to make his return to the division he has won four championship in throughout his career.  As far as points, Egleston will fall from second if he misses this week, and Thatcher is clinging to a 15 point lead over K. Wilson in what would be the new battle for second.

The future of the Sportsman division at Merced Speedway will be another question on people's minds, but their return on Legend's Night gives hope that there can be a 2016 season.  Five of the six drivers who have competed this year showed up and were joined by two time division champion  Mike Friesen.  Mark Odgers commented before the races that he nearly brought his car despite his concerns over keeping the Vern Willhoite tribute body in good shape.

Before the races, Mike Palmberg optimistically spoke of next year and a couple drivers who are working on cars.  Most of the drivers there felt that this division will perform better next season if given a chance.  The Birdsong car has been at every race, and Marcus Lung and Jeff Bristow have been at most of them.  Eric Sealy has made a few, and he was the class of the field on Sunday in an impressive victory.  He was beat by Palmberg in the heat race to prevent a sweep.

Palmberg ended up second in the feature, but that was aided by the right front flat tire Friesen suffered on the last lap as he fell back to fourth.  Marcus Lung was third and should be the champion, though Kenny Birdsong is listed as the point leader.  Chris Birdsong earned some of those points, which should be discovered on point audit.  The important thing is that the Sportsman division got to finish out their 17th season since Chuck Griffin brought the class back in 1999, and there is hope for an 18th season.

Speaking of nostalgia classes, if the California Hardtop Association's return to Antioch was an audition for 2016 race dates, it would have to be considered a success.  There were 12 cars on hand for this race, and it came together in a little over a month's time thanks to Mike McCann and John M. Soares having discussions.  There had been a lot of misconceptions about the Hardtops and Antioch that just were not true, chief of which was the false rumor that the drivers didn't want to race there.

McCann did a poll of the racers that saw Antioch as the second most desired race track behind only Placerville.  The long time promoter decided to step in and organize this race on the heels of a Califstoga race in July that saw 14 drivers show up to race, only to find out they would not be allowed on the track.  Mike didn't want to see the division fragment and fall apart, and he saw the Antioch date in August as an opportunity to bring some stability back to the situation.  He also conducted the poll to find out where the drivers stood on certain issues.

There were a few other drivers committed to race on Saturday who had last minute problems take them out, including local division booster Dave Mackey and Zach Frazer.  George Conner had been trying to get Mike McClure's beautiful Leroy Geving tribute car to the track, and now George is talking about building a new car for next year.  This only shows that there are other cars out there, and Antioch saw 12 of them from an estimated roster at least in the 20's.

Rob Waldrop came into the night as the driver to beat in the Bill McLaughlin car.  Tommy Thomson had the beautiful green #39 car that he won the final Hardtop race at Vallejo Speedway with in 1979.  Dan Williams was back, and of course you know Larry Damitz came to play.  Mike Friesen brought his two cars, the #00 and the #77m Sammy Huff tribute car.  The two Armstrong cars and the two Clifford cars were there.  Dan Whitney made the trip from the Orland area and John Turner was there as well.

Turner influenced Ron Ruiz's decision to get a Hardtop.  Ron was in Stockton in 2013 when he heard Turner's name announced as part of the Hardtop race.  He went to school with a John Turner, and when he went to meet the man, he found out that was the same guy.  Soon, Ron got his own car.  It wasn't pretty, and he crashed, but he got the bug to race these cars.  He got another car, which he is still fixing.  His motor is in the #7 Jason Armstrong car while he finishes his car.  Ron found himself battling Turner on Saturday, but Turner held him off for the sixth place finish.

A point of controversy in the division is the #100 car of Larry Damitz.  Larry actually raced Hardtops in Pacheco and Vallejo and even Petaluma for 20 years before moving to Super Stocks.  When this class came to Antioch, he wanted to play, so he put this car together.  It has a Hardtop look, but it's not quite as authentic as most of the cars in the class.  The 86 year old Limited Late Model point leader charged to the lead by lap 12 and won the first place trophy provided by McCann.

Rob Waldrop led very early on and set a good pace as he was in traffic by lap six.  However, he couldn't hold off Damitz and had a brush with the back wall.  Waldrop's car was sparking underneath, but he still got it to the finish line for the second place trophy.  He also won a heat race winner's plaque, as did Jason Armstrong, who was subbing for his father in the #77 car.  Jason had third place in hand, but motor issues arose on lap 12 to put an end to that.  That put Tommy Thomson in third.  Tommy battled with Dan Williams and Ken Clifford before grabbing the third place trophy, while Williams and Clifford completed the lead lap finishers.

The racing was good, and the Hardtop drivers put on a good show.  While they are now talking about next year and more races at Antioch, the next date on the calendar is the Louie Vermeil Classic on September 5-6 at Calistoga Speedway.  This big Sprint Car event has other festivities, including a Hall Of Fame gathering that will induct BCRA Midget legend Norm Rapp into the Calistoga Speedway Hall Of Fame.  But, the big question is what is in store for the Hardtop drivers who show that weekend?

CHA President John Philbert, who plans to race that weekend, has reassured the drivers that heat races and Main Events will happen for the Hardtops on both nights.  Thomson still had some questions, so he made a call to USAC's Tommy Hunt since the Sprint Cars are the weekend headliners.  According to Thomson, Hunt said the Main Events and heat races will happen, and he apologized for the issues that occurred the last time.  Last time out, 14 Hardtops were there and didn't get to race.  What will the turnout be this time?  Considering the legacy of the track, it won't be a surprise to see a good turnout again.

It's not USAC, but Antioch Speedway has two Sprint Car classes this weekend and a couple of point battles to keep an eye on.  The closest championship battle at the track is happening in the Winged 360 Sprint Car division as third generation racer Shawn Arriaga leads Art McCarthy by 20 points going into this point finale.  Arriaga doubled a ten point lead with his dominating performance last time out in a flag to flag romp.  He will have to start no better than tenth this week, but there is a question of what car count will be like.  A good car count gives the past Antioch champion McCarthy a fighting chance to regain the lead.

Arriaga might have a challenge coming from the back.  Jake Haulot found that out last time as he started in the fifth row of the non stop race.  He managed to make it all the way into second with a late traffic pass on Jeremy Burt, but that's as far as the two time winner could go.  Haulot now leads 2014 champion Chris Magoon by 22 points in the battle for third.  Word was the Haulot team was considering fielding a car for Jake's brother Matt, but that's unconfirmed at the moment.

The Top 5 drivers, which includes fifth ranked Dan Gonderman, along with Top 3 Marysville racer Jeremy Burt might be there, but who else might compete is a mystery.  In Watsonville, they are running the 55th annual Johnny Key Classic which pits the track's Taco Bravo Sprint Car competitors against the Civil War Series drivers, and car count is expected to be huge,  A few teams could still skip the big show as Antioch does see drivers who choose not to race the Civil War events.  Just who that might be is anybody's guess.  A good car count would add to the drama of the championship point race.

Meanwhile, the Wingless Spec Sprint championship is Kyle Bakkie's to lose.  The 2014 point runner up now leads Rick Panfili by 64 points.  The three tine winner added to his advantage with a second place finish last time behind the welcome return of two time champion Billy Macedo.  If first is in the bag, second is up for grabs.  Neither Panfili nor rookie Marcus Smith has a feature win this season, but both have finished as high as second.  Panfiili struggled a bit last time, while Smith drove to a fourth place finish, right behind Alan Miranda.  That finish now has Marcus just 16 points behind Panfili.

Miranda and Jimmy Perry III are not in danger of losing fourth or fifth in the standings at the moment, but that doesn't mean they aren't gonna race hard for a win.  Miranda has extra incentive.  He's finished as high as second this year.  He led for 19 and a half laps one night before being taken out when second went in too hard trying to get underneath him.  Perry, on the other hand, leads the division with four victories.  Two time winner Roy Fisher is ten points ahead of one time winner James East in the battle for sixth.  What's interesting is that only one driver (Chase Wood Jr.) in the Top 10 has not earned at least one second place feature finish in the competitive division this season.

Larry Damitz continues to amaze.  Last week, the Limited Late Models were off, so he went out and won the Hardtop feature and finished fifth in the Late Model Main Event after grabbing a heat race win.  In 11 Limited Late Model races at Antioch,  Larry has six wins.  Even when he's not winning, he's running up front.  Larry was third last time out and maintains a 48 point lead over Mike Hynes in what may end up being his fourth championship season in the last five years.  It's a little too soon to make that declaration.'

The battle for second is sure to go down to the wire, and Hynes served notice that he's not going away just yet.  Hynes also enjoyed a Top 5 Late Model run last week in fourth, but the week before, he was finally winning his first Limited Late Model Main Event ahead of Jim Freethy.  The win moved Hynes two points ahead of the man he once crewed for, Mike Gustafson.  Mark Garner is now 14 points out of second, and both Garner and Gustafson have two feature wins this season.  The last race produced a ten car field, which was the best seen in the division all season.

It's hard to say if the competition ran in fear when David Teves started winning in the Dwarf Car division at Antioch.  When David gained the point lead, his closest point rival decided to bow out of the race.  Teves is still running strong as his big Dwarf Car victory last week at Petaluma shows.  In fact, his son Adam finished fifth, and both Teves's won heat races.  With first and second seemingly in hand for the father son-duo, the battle is for third.

At the moment, two time champion Danny Wagner has third, though it's anybody's guess if he will choose to race at Antioch this week.  If he doesn't, Mike Corsaro and Kevin Miraglio are ready to move by him as they battle for position.  Corsaro ran away and hid from the competition last time the class ran at Antioch as he grabbed his second victory.  He has also won at Merced since then.  Mike trails two time winner Wagner by 14 points with Miraglio ten points behind him.  Miraglio has won a Main Event at Watsonville this year, but it won't be a surprise to see him win at Antioch.

The IMCA Modified division is interesting not so much because it's a close race, but because of the man leading the points.  That would be Scott Busby, who is second only to J.D.Willis on the track's all time win list with 68 victories.  Scott leads Bobby Motts Jr. by 27 points on the strength of his four victories to one for Motts.  Busby has not raced for points at Antioch since 1997, the last time he won the championship.  He is currently tied with Troy Foulger with four Modified championships, and this title would put him back on top in that category as well.

While the IMCA invert keeps putting Busby deep in the pack in the Main Event, Aaron Crowell has been on a roll.  Crowell has won the last two Main Events with sixth ranked Shawn DeForest winning the feature before that.  If you know anything about Busby, you know he's not happy being stuck in the back and not being part of the battle for victory.  But, if he's in the battle this week, he'll likely have to deal with Crowell, DeForest and the hard charging brothers, Alex and Kyle Wilson.  The Modified show this week should be interesting.

Once again, Antioch Speedway has a loaded program this Saturday night that will include Winged 360 Sprint Cars, Wingless Spec Sprints, IMCA Modifieds, IMCA Sport Modifieds, Northern All Stars Limited Late Models, Hobby Stocks and Dwarf Cars.  On Sunday night, Merced Speedway will host IMCA Modifieds, IMCA Sport Modifieds, Northern All Stars Hobby Stocks and Mini Stocks.  For further information, check the official Oval Motorsports Website.