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Don's California Racing Recollections: Best Of The Blog And Beyond
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Short Track History Project at Go Fund Me
Additional info on the Short Track History Project HERE
DCRR Racing Media And PR Consulting HERE
Bako Motorsports Power Hour covers Bakersfield Speedway going into this week's point finale HERE
Foothill TV has coverage of the Al Hinds Memorial race at Placerville Speedway HERE
Some racing videos from Bakersfield Speedway last week are viewable at golivestream.tv HERE
No commentary, but a decent video of last week's Hobby Stock feature at Rocky Hill Speedway HERE
DCRR Racing Radio Show
Weekend Preview Edition
Weekend Preview Edition
Two historic dates occurred in the month of September at Antioch Speedway, and both closed the season. Probably not too many people at the races these days remember them, but we go back to 1985 for the first one. Ed Sans Jr. was on a roll late in the season, but the man who had won three San Jose Speedway Late Model championships in a row missed the first race or two of the season. He knew he had to win to catch Bobby Hogge III in points that night, and he did what he had to do. The pressure was on Hogge not to blow it.
But, Bobby is a hard charger. This is where his son gets it from. Bobby was running all out, trying to win, but he spun exiting the final turn. If he sits there, we have enough cars on the lead lap that he will lose the track championship. Bobby is aware of the fact that he could lose it all, so he hits reverse and backs across the finish line. That move saved his first Antioch championship, and it added to his legend. Bobby was an amazing racer, and some of us still recall the patented “thread the needle” moves he would make between cars on his way to the front.
Ten years later in 1995, it was the Street Stocks. The moon was full. We talk a lot about second chances, and David Rosa was a driver who got one. He also had a 100 point lead about a month earlier that slowly disappeared to the surprising Phil Torres. Torres had been disqualified earlier that season and had ground to make up. He also managed to grab the lead from Rosa by three points going into that final race. It was simple. Whomever could beat the other driver on double points night would win the championship.
Rosa was in prime form and leading the race. Torres was racing his heart out trying to catch him. Torres had built up a reputation as one of the cleanest drivers out there, which made his move a bit surprising. He misjudged Turn 3 and got into the infield trying to pass Rosa. He ended up making contact with Rosa and grabbing the lead. Rosa gathered it back up and made a move on the inside. It was a drag race back to the checkered flag a couple laps later.
That's when it happened. Torres beat Rosa back to the line by inches, but it didn’t end there. Rosa’s foot remained on the accelerator. The two went crashing out the exit gate and over the fence, right next to the track manager’s office. Rosa maintained that his throttle had stuck, but officials were not convinced. They also felt Torres made an overly aggressive move to take the led. Both drivers were disqualified, and Torres won the championship. Rosa did get another chance and would go on to win two championships and more Main Events than anybody in Street Stock history.
Back in those days, winning a championship was special. Being a Top 5 driver was almost like being a champion, being a Top 10 driver was still very good, and you weren’t a Top 20 driver simply because you showed up every week. You still had to race for your ranking. There were many, many talented drivers, and even winning the “slow heat” and B Main in one night was a good night for the low dollar guy. Gradually, those days have faded away.
However, we still have drivers who are racing hard for points, and our best example is from the Mini Stocks at Merced Speedway. It’s actually a friendly rivalry between Darren Miguel and 2014 champion Chris Corder. Corder started out the season being very consistent and leading the point race. It seemed like he could get seconds and thirds, but when it came to winning, he hit a brick wall.
Miguel suddenly hit his stride and seemed to win all the time. At Chowchilla in a reverse direction race, he won. In a Hobby Stock at Merced, he won. Then, he started piling on the Mini Stock wins. The last count was 12 wins at Merced. He even won the big $1000 to win Mini Stock race and $200 Dash For Cash at Potrterville. He returned recently and won there again. He also had other wins at Chowchilla. Gradually, even with Corder finishing second all the time, Miguel grabbed the point lead at Merced and built it up to 30 points.
But, Corder wasn’t done yet. He bought Alex Odishoo’s headache, a fast #48 car that seemed to suffer a motor problem at the end of every race before he could win. Chris experienced that first hand as Miguel raced by for the win one night. But, then he started winning. He grabbed three wins in that car and had pulled into a tie with Miguel for the lead. It was at the previous race where Miguel won for the 12th time as Corder struggled in fourth. Miguel carried an eight point lead into Sunday.
It was a tall order to expect that Corder could gain eight points on Miguel. A tie in points would go in favor of Miguel based on wins, so he needed to gain ten points. Chris had a surprise for the field as he debuted his red #68c car and won his heat race. Miguel was in for another surprise as newcomer Jason Womack passed him for second in their heat race. Womack has only made a few starts at Bakersfield and Santa Maria and actually won at Bakersfield on Saturday. The lead was now four points for Miguel.
Both Corder and Miguel came through the ten car field quickly in the feature as Corder had the lead. Womack was giving Miguel a challenge, but he was the only one close to him. Miguel did pass him for second, but Corder won for the fourth time. A tally of the points found Miguel winning the Merced championship by just two points. It was still a good race between the two, and Corder ends the season knowing that he did win the Chowchilla championship with three wins along the way.
These two champions will move up in 2016. Corder joins fellow Mini Stock graduate Odishoo in Sport Mods, while Miguel will have a Hobby Stock. Both drivers will still have Mini Stocks and may pop in from time to time to make things interesting in that division. The Mini Stocks will continue on at Merced next year, and Womack has already indicated that he plans to race at Merced at least some next season. Is he an early favorite for the championship?
Mike Germait and James Stockton both supported the last four races this season. Germait had a season best second a couple races ago, and Stockton had a third two races ago. Last week, Germat couldn’t quite hold off Natalie Waldrop in the battle for fifth. Waldrop came within five points of third in the standings, but that honor went to Dennis Copus. Dennis originally hoped to finish third in the standings before work took him out of the action. Because he managed to make the final two races, he was able to achieve that goal after all.
Two others in the Mini Stocks helped put on a show for the fans. Steve Johnson ran his neon green glow stick on the back of his car and led the first three laps before mechanical issues again took him out of the action. Like Germait, Johnson will still be a Top 10 driver in points.. Alisa Caldwell grabbed a checkered flag in seventh, but the night couldn’t start without her. Alisa sang the National Anthem before the races to get things started.
Earlier in the evening, there was a moment of silence for Dawn Carter, who passed away during the two week break. She and her daughter Destiny have been going to the races for several seasons, and Destiny has been a positive voice on social media and willing to help racers when she can. Before the Mini Stock feature, as the drivers circled the track before the green, the fans stood in loud applause in one more remembrance of Dawn Carter.
The Sport Modified division has a couple of things at play, and Fred Ryland is in the middle of one of those story lines. Ryland has been fading in the National points in recent weeks, but what he did last week could see him climb back into the Top 3. On Saturday night at Antioch, Ryland went from nearly being lapped to winning his seventh main event there. Fred never waits for a yellow if he happens to spin, so he had leader Trevor Clymens on his back bumper, trying to put him down a lap. A series of yellow flags later and Ryland was lined up next to Clynesn on a restart.
Trevor had things in hand, and it may be that he had some rear suspension issues at the end as he spun in the final turn. Whatever the case, Ryland completed a nice comeback with the victory. His championships in the State and at Antioch are in hand, but this was helpful to his National effort. Clymens salvaged a fifth place finish behind four time winner Anthony Giuliani, and he did win his heat race earlier in the evening, There are rumors that another car is in the works for the talented third generation racer.
Meanwhile, after winning his heat race, Al Johnson finished third in the feature. This means that unless he has a really bad night, Johnson should end up second at Antioch. The question is, who is third? The IMCA site will show likely “Rookie Of The Year” Patti Ryland in the spot following her second straight second place finish. The track point list still shows that spot belonging to Chuck Golden.
Feeling good about his chances, Fred Ryland loaded up and went to Merced where there were 18 cars in action. It wasn’t a pretty race, but Ryland’s pass of Chris Falkenberg on lap ten was good enough to get him the victory. That means two full field victories on the weekend and 27 total wins on the season as he still holds out hopes of improving his status in the Nation. Ryland is also fourth in points at Merced Speedway, which goes nicely with the Chowchilla Speedway championship he already won.
Josh Hensley’s night came to an abrupt end in a lap three crash in the Main Event. He had earlier finished fourth in the Mini Stock feature in Chris Corder’s #48 car after winning his heat race. But, Hensley already knew he was the champion and “Rookie Of The Year” all rolled into one. The question is, who will finish second? Dwayne Short’s #27 car seems to be running better, and he started the night off by holding off his chief point rival, Mark Odgers, for another heat race victory.
In the Main Event, Odgers struggled just a bit as Short competed for a Top 5 finish. In fact, Short seemed to have that fifth place finish in hand before he spun on the back stretch. Odgers wasn’t far behind him and spun to avoid the crash. When the race was recapped, Odgers was in eighth and managed to cut Short’s lead down to three points according to the Oval Motorsports website. It could go either way, but there is sure to be another big field as the finale is also Day 2 of the Delta Valley Classic with $500 on the line.
All Chris Falkenberg could do is wonder what might have happened had the race been restarted once again. He was a bit of a surprise entrant in his #3 car, which he had driven to a Top 3 finish earlier this year at Chowchilla. However, Chris recently won a Hobby Stock Main Event at Merced and enjoys racing at the track. He settled for second, while Hanford regular Kelly Wilkinson managed to drive from 17th to third. Kelly led several laps at Hanford Friday night before settling for a third place finish as he continues to improve.
New drivers showing up helped the Merced car count. There was 2000 Chowchilla Street Stock champion Steve Stone, who bought this car to come play around and have some fun. Cousin Ramie Stone’s old car resurfaced in this race with two time Street Stock champion Tim Ragsdale behind the wheel. Neither driver had much luck, but it was their first starts in the division. Matt Zelinsky plans to race more next year as he was making his debut with a respectable sixth place finish behind early leader Jarred Tickel and fifth ranked Gary Tucker. Despite an early spin, second generation racer Chase Thomas managed to get the #209 car to an eighth place finish. Honorable mention goes out to two time champion Shawn Bryant, who won his heat race.
Alex Wilson is the Merced Speedway IMCA Modified champion and the State champ as well. But, if you think he’s content to just rest on those laurels, think again. You know the smile on the faces of Alex and his brother Kyle Wilson had to be ear to ear as the two started the most recent main event with a side by side battle for several laps. As 2014 champion Paul Stone raced by for the lead, Alex dropped back a few spots, but he still came back with a late pass on past Hanford and Santa Maria champion Jimmy Reeves to finish second.
Wilson will be after the big money this week, but the two names he knows will be there are Bobby Hogge IV and Paul Stone. We'll get to Hogge in a moment, but Stone was back in his own #66 car and he looked unstoppable on Sunday. There was never any doubt that he would win the Main Event, and he appears to have things set up for Sunday’s $2000 to win race. If Wilson or anybody is going to beat Stone, they'd better do their homework this week.
There is still the matter of who will finish second in points this season. Three time Street Stock champion Ricky Thatcher is not about to give up without a fight. A top name to consider for the “Most Improved Driver” award, Thatcher started his night off with a heat race win over Reeves. Ricky got it to the line in seventh in the Main Event as Kyle Wilson struggled to a tenth. Thatcher now holds a 12 point advantage in that battle. With a sixth place finish, Bill Egleston hasn’t completely given up on passing Wilson for third. He trails Wilson by 12 points.
Harley Turner was involved in an early race crash that took out heat winner Troy Foulger and Ryan Porter. Porter was heard saying that his season was probably over due to the damage from the crash. But, the Sport Modified graduate Turner made a charge back through the pack, which ended with his most impressive pass of all. Turner moved by four time champion Ramie Stone to grab fourth at the checkered flag. Stone settled for fifth, but he has to be pleased with the way things have gone in his two starts in the former Paul Stone car.
Two Antioch regulars in the field were Josh Combs, who finished ninth, and heat race winner Chester Kniss. No doubt, Kniss was riding high following his strong run at Antioch. It started off with Chester leading ten laps, but the mid race restart proved to be his undoing. The car didn’t respond quickly enough as Brian Cass and Bobby Hogge IV both got by before Kniss recovered in third. Chester really looked fast last week, and he did salvage a third place finish out of that. He has a bit of damage to repair from Merced if he’s to race again this week, but it’s a good bet that he’ll be back to try again.
Hogge was a bit of a surprise in the field at Antioch. In fact, he was offered the ride in the House Late Model upon arrival. Bobby wanted to get a little practice in for this week’s big races, which he won at both tracks last year for the big payoff. He may have followed Cass into second, but he didn’t follow him for long before making his winning pass. Hogge remains third on the all time win list behind just J.D. Willis and Scott Busby, and he may be the driver to beat on Saturday. Cass shouldn’t be taken lightly. He finished second last week, and he is a past champion at both Wastonville and Hanford.
Speaking of Busby, he did manage to at least finish fifth in the latest Main Event behind heat race winner and 2014 champion Carl Berendsen II. Busby is headed for his fifth track championship as he leads Bobby Motts Jr. by 25 points. It’s not likely that Motts can make a move now. However, if car count requires a B Main this week, anything is possible. The Motts team had reason to celebrate. Joining them in the pits was Bobby’s long time partner in racing, Mike Ferry. Mike was badly injured in a motorcycle accident back in June, and it was a real morale boost for the team to have him back again. Motts finished sixth ahead of Stephen Hopf, in his first visit of the season, and Trent Wentworth.
Getting back to Hogge, he had been given the driving opportunity in the House Car last year and promptly won back to back Late Model Main Events. With the money on the line at the Summer Nationals this season, Hogge collected a $2000 victory that night in his own Late Model. He had no idea he would be driving a Late Model when he pulled into the pits, but he got comfortable with the #7 car rather quickly. Also making a surprise appearance was 2008 Antioch champion Andy Obertello, son of past Wastonville Modified and Street Stock competitor Ron Obertello. This duo figured to throw a monkey wrench in Richard Papenhausen’s plans to go to the front.
Papenhausen was still reeling from what happened at the previous race. The DNF that night all but ended his championship hopes at Antioch or in the Region. Truth be told, his absence from the Summer Nationals due to a back injury didn’t help matters as he lost the point lead back to Jeff Decker that night. Decker came into the night leading the Region and Antioch, and he knew that all he needed to do was stay close to Papenhausen to secure those championships. Decker finished fourth and is the Antioch Speedway champion for the second time.
Obertello and Hogge raced out the gate in first and second, but Obertello really seemed to have the #29 car dialed in. Papenhausen was on a rail, and he shot from the back of the pack to third like a cannon ball. In fact, Papenhausen did manage to get by Hogge and briefly took the lead from Obertello. That lead didn’t last long, and Hogge got by for second. Hogge would also briefly take the lead from Obertello, but slower traffic hurt his momentum. This Main Event was a crowd pleaser, but in the end, it was Obertello winning over Hogge and Papenhausen.
The other battle we’ve been watching in Late Models was the race between Danny Malfatti and David Newquist for third. Malfatti was carrying the momentum of back to back Top 5 finishes into this race, including his season best second place finish last time. His night didn’t go so well, but Newquist failed to finish. This meant that Malfatti would finish third in the standings as Newquist settled for his second straight fourth place finish. Malfatti ran fifth for several laps before one time winner Paul Guglielmoni got by, Making his first Antioch start, Top 5 Merced IMCA Modified racer Bill Egleston would finish a lead lap sixth.
The Hobby Stock battle for second at Antioch had to wait a week. Another wedding in the Swank family meant that Jordan Swank and brother in law Michael Cooper could not race last Saturday night. Swank is the likely “Rookie Of The Year” and has a 13 point lead over Cooper, who is making a strong case for “Most Improved Driver” honors, as is the driver behind him, Frank Furtado. Furtado finished sixth last week to close to within 12 points of Cooper in the race for third.
Danny Jones had second in hand when his motor woes and other mechanical issues started to hit him relentlessly. Danny was patching it up and coming back, looking good for a bit and then having more problems. Finally, the Stock Car veteran decided to park until a new motor was ready. On Saturday, he was back, and he led 14 laps of the Main Event. It might have been his night, but that familiar grey #97 car from Sonora was back in town, driven by Chowchilla and Merced Speedway champion Kevin Joaquin. Kevin moved past Jones on the back stretch on lap 15 and went on to his third win in as many appearances. He now has three wins each at Antioch, Merced and Chowchilla as he prepares for a move up to the BCRA Midget Lites.
Jones lost second to Kimo Oreta, but Oreta had contact with a slower car on the front stretch as they took the checkered flag. Jones ended up with his sixth second place finish, but that’s not much consolation to the driver still looking for his first win of 2015. Oreta finished third as he has wrapped up his third straight championship. He will be moving up to Limited Late Models next season, but can he add to his 21 career wins this week? Back in fourth was Jim Robbins, who had the car’s regular driver, Lindsey Buirch, in the passenger seat as she learns a little more about the car and how to drive it. Robbins had driven the car to a second place finish earlier this year.
Russell Shearer cemented his Top 10 status by finishing fifth in the Main Event. Natalie Perry’s string of strong Main Event efforts ended but, not before she went out and won her first heat race. Brian Keith hadn’t raced at Antioch since ranking Top 5 in Street Stock points back in 1986. He got to drive the Mitch Locicere car. Though he struggled at times, Brian got it to the finish line in seventh. Not bad for having not driven a race car in 29 years.
Hobby Stocks were off the charts at Merced Speedway as the division flirted with something it hadn't seen in a while, a B Main. There were 24 cars in action. The streak of 16 winners in 21 races was on the line, and that has been the underlying story as the Top 5 drivers of new champion Kevin Joaquin, top rookie Jennifer Corder, Austin Van Hoff, Kristie Shearer and Dexter Long appear to have spots in the Top 5 locked up.
A past Hobby Stock champion, Andrew Krumm was the latest to attempt to add his name to the winner’s list, but he had two people there trying to prevent that. There was 2011 Hobby Stock champion Ryan Hart and 2014 Chowchilla Hobby Stock champion Shane Hausmann. Hausmann simply put on a driving clinic in his #55 car as he came from the ninth row. Krumm was doing okay, though he lost the lead to Hart for a couple laps early on following a restart. When Hausmann finally got to second, Krumm looked to be in trouble. Unfortunately, Hausmann’s motor let go in Turn 3 on lap 16.
Krumm’s relief turned to disappointment when Hart passed him on the restart. Fifth place contenders Donnie Shearer and Ty Shelton crashed on the back stretch to force the yellow and checkered flag finish. Krumm settled for second, while Hart won his second feature of the season. Hart also races the Loan Mart Late Model Series at Madera and is currently third in the standings. He was leading the points until a bad night last time out. His next race there is coming up this weekend.
Young Cody Parker was back in his Hobby Stock, and he drove well all night with a heat race win and third place feature finish. Another heat winner, Watsonville racer Matt Kile, was making his first Merced start of the season and would finish fourth ahead of Austin Van Hoff. It actually wasn’t a bad night for Watsonville regulars as Katie Briggs and Charlie Hunter finished sixth and seventh, respectively. Briggs came up from the ranks of the Mini Stocks and won the 2012 Chowchilla Mini Stock title before moving up. She is currently fifth in points at Watsonville and only 15 points out of third.
An impromptu addition to the schedule last week at Merced was the Valley Sportsman division. Kenny Birdsong and Mike Palmberg had organized a meeting, and there were to be six cars on Sunday. Management placed the stipulation that there must be four cars to race, and that was in danger. Mike Friesen needed an answer on this race date by Thursday. It wasn’t confirmed by then, so he backed out. A family medical emergency caused Palmberg to miss the race. He was considering Chris Birdsong as a replacement driver to get the car to the track but Chris was out of town. Eric Sealy was running late, but he did show up to give them four cars.
Mike Hausmann commented about his concerns with the division and wasn’t ready to bring his car to the track. Mark Odgers voiced his concern that if the drivers are left waiting outside the fence to get enough cars to come in, he wasn’t prepared to tow from Mariposa in the hopes that he might get to race if there were enough cars. Management had said before the night that this wasn’t a points race and that there were no points for this season, despite the fact that there is a point total listed on the track's website. To say the least, this division’s back is against the wall, and it will take effort to save it. One driver remarked that this was just like 35 years ago when drivers waited outside the gates to see if they could get the Jim Soares mandated ten cars to race.
The four who did show up gave it a good run. Marcus Lung has been the top competitor this season, and he won the heat race with a last lap pass on the man who’s car has been at every race this year, Kenny Birdstong. Lung won the Main Event by a straightaway over Legend’s Night feature winner Sealy, Jeff Bristow and K. Birdsong. What is the future of this division and will there even be an 18th season next year? Who knows, but this writer hopes they are back again.
The other division that will be in it’s 18th season next year is the Wingless Spec Sprints. The division limped out of the gates at Antioch Speedway this year due to late rule changes, but it ended with the most cars in any division last Saturday. One of those cars was driven by Billy Macedo. The two time champion wasn’t going to race this year at Antioch, but he had people working to convince him to give it a try. He may be happy that was the case after his second win of the season last week. Billy was fast and was also a heat race winner.
The competition is on notice. The Perry Racing Team will be out in force next season as Jim Perry Jr is building a car and he has also bought the car built originally by his uncle, Earl Perry. That car hadn’t seen the track in a few years, but it was very fast. The all time winner in this division’s history and a past champion, Perry Jr. won his heat race and managed to finish third in the Main Event ahead of another driver from the 1999 roster, Keith Shipherd. Shipherd started his career at Antioch in Street Stocks back in 1979 and has indicated that this may be his last season. His third and fourth place finishes in his last two starts show that he can still drive a Sprint Car. He held off two time winner Roy Fisher for that fourth place finish
With four time winner Kyle Bakkie having already wrapped up the track championship, the matter of who would finish second in points was still at hand. Rick Panfili was six points ahead of Marcus Smith, but Panfili’s night was not one to be remembered. Even if he had finished, it may not have been enough to hold of Smith, who drove to seconds in his heat race and the Main Event. Smith, who has some experience with the BCRA Midget Lites and has had help getting into Spec Sprints from two time champion Dan Gonderman, had a fantastic first season in this division to rank second. Panfili can hold his head up high after finishing third in points for the second straight season.
The Limited Late Model championship will belong to Larry Damitz if he just starts the Main Event this week. The 86 year old, who has been racing since the mid 1950‘s, will then be the champion in four of the last five seasons. If not for Jim Freethy beating him in 2013, that would be five years in a row. Damitz didn’t take the checkered flag first last week, but a tech disqualification of the apparent winner gave him his seventh win of the season. Damitz doesn’t have the winner’s plaque from that race, but it’s doubtful that he even cares at this point.
The driver crossing the finish line first, to the roaring of the crowd, was Eric Berendsen. Eric has been trying to make his Super Hobby Stock work in this class and knows he probably has the fifth or sixth fastest car at best. The observant fan knows this as well. It just so happened that the planets aligned in his favor. Three time winner Mike Gustafson had a brush with the wall and fell out early. Mike Hynes spun. On a restart, Mark Garner’s motor started going away as Berendsen raced into second. Then, Damitz did something he usually doesn’t do. He made a mistake in traffic and made contact with a pair of slower cars.
Damitz’s car slowed noticeably, and Berendsen found himself with a chance to win. With a Turn 4 pass a lap later, Eric was racing into the lead that he would take to the checkered flag. After tech inspection on his car, the win was taken away. Berendsen still feels strongly that he won that race and is keeping the plaque. Either way, it was a good race that gave the fans something they hadn’t seen all season long.
With Damitz on his way to the championship, Hynes suddenly finds himself with a chance to repeat as runner up in points. The one time winner leads Gustafson by ten points and two time winner Garner by 20. This week’s race will settle the matter. Lori Brown had crossed the line with her fourth third place finish of the season, which was elevated to second after the official ruling on Berendsen. She finished right in front of Garner and Jim Freethy, and she will be somebody to watch in the race to win the final event of the season.
The two Oval Motorsports tracks wrap up their originally scheduled 2015 season this weekend with IMCA Modifieds paying $2000 to win. Sport Modifieds will pay $500 to win and there will also be Hobby Stocks and Limited Late Modes on the card. On Saturday, it’s Antioch and on Sunday it’s Merced. For further information, check out the official Oval Motorsports Website.
The laptop that I use to do my writing at the the tracks is showing wear and tear. The keys are worn out, and that’s not the worst of it. On Saturday, moments before the heat races at Antioch were set to begin, I realized that the laptop was not even attempting to find a wifi signal. I attempted a reboot and it wouldn’t shut off. Then, it wouldn’t reload the OS. I thought I had a hard drive crash. Fortunately, I didn’t, but I know the laptop is in rough shape. Just another thing that went wrong, but I salvaged it in the end. This one may be all over the map, but I’m going with it.
There was more confirmation through the grapevine this week that there are people looking to reopen the “Stadium Oval” next to the drag strip at Sacramento Raceway. It’s a very interesting story about that track through the years, but the current buzz is it could be a Friday night venue. That would probably be for the best. For starters, it works with Marysville and Placerville that way, as well as Antioch, Petaluma and Merced. These were the five main supporting tracks when they ran weekly races there on Fridays back in the mid to late 1990‘s.
The other reason for Friday nights is it works in conjunction with the drag strip, which usually has something going on that night as well. This way it can all happen at once. Negotiations are said to be in the early stages, but it is too early to name names. The main thing is what sort of schedule Dave Smith would prefer and all of that. Smith brought racing back to that track last decade with the Hardtops and CSRA Spec Sprints, but things sort of fell apart with the Spec Sprint effort as club leadership started looking at other venues and not honoring scheduled dates. The Hardtops went to the Bay Area under the new leadership (at the time) of Conrad Cavellero.
Interestingly enough, the buzz is that these two divisions could end up with race dates at a reopened Sacramento Raceway oval. One would speculate that Mini Stocks and 600 Mini Sprints would also be possible, but again, it’s very early in the process. Anything could happen in the future. It really seemed like the run the track had in the 1990‘s had a chance to get bigger, but it came to an end with the decade. At that time, Street Stocks, Hobby Stocks, Mini Stocks, Modifieds and various visiting groups were part of the schedule. Something could be happening here, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
Some will say that we have too many tracks, but others will counter by saying that it’s better than not enough tracks. The reality is we are lucky to have what we have. When you consider environmental issues, noise issues and all of the things people will use to close tracks, we are lucky. Petaluma and Wastonville are under constant attacks, and it’s hard to think about our racing community without these two very important racing venues. We’re lucky to still have them, and both tracks still have a worthwhile program.
When you look at car counts at tracks like Orland and Porterville, you wonder how they manage to hang in there. Well, they do it because there are promoters there who are still willing to take the risk to keep the race tracks going. The bills still have to be paid, so if attendance or car count numbers aren’t at a desired level, the promoter is the one who covers the cost. Both of these tracks aren’t where they could be in car counts, but it can get better with time. Who even thought we’d get Porterville back after it had been closed for so long? And, Orland racing still continues despite the changes in promoters that have happened in the last decade. It can get better.
Track unity is a key in all of this, and it’s a challenge. Each track has their own needs, and there are only so many cars to go around anyway. You take a class like Mini Stocks, for instance. Some of the Northern California drivers are willing to travel, so if something could be worked out between Orland, Chico and Marysville, it might benefit all three tracks. They all have Hobby Stocks and Spec Sprints as well. Things can be done.
There are rumors of another series in the works between at least three race tracks. It could be a good thing. The real question is what tracks are doing it, and will it truly pop? Antioch Speedway has ventured into the 360 Sprint Car business. This was inevitable. Oval Motorsports has always wanted a class, but John M. Soares wanted to work with his father, John P. Soares. When his father passed away, John didn’t have the same working relationship with his brother Jim. Hence you have Spec Sprints and Dwarf Cars at Petaluma when those were Antioch Speedway classes that Antioch shared with them in return for Late Model and 360 Sprint Car dates at Antioch.
That whole rift has not been repaired since Jim passed away, and it’s something that needs to happen. There were several people who came with Sprint Cars for an April race at Antioch due to a rainout at Petaluma. They all mentioned that they’d visit more if Antioch and Petaluma would just work out the dates. It’s a natural fit as these two tracks are close enough that we’ve seen lots of travel back and fourth in several divisions through the years. Historically, these two tracks shared a connection in a similar way that Merced and Watsonville did. The problem now is there’s a rift so big between Oval Motorsports and Prentice Motorsports Group, that it looks unfixable at the moment.
But, can the same be said for Glad Enterprises at Petaluma and Oval Motorsports? Put these two tracks together in Spec Sprints, Winged 360 Sprints, IMCA Modifieds and Dwarf Cars and watch out. Rules are a bit different between Limited Late Models and Super Stocks, but that can be worked on. If this were to happen, the building blocks are there for things to happen. This would be four tracks united as Oval Motorsports currently represents Merced, Chowchilla and Antioch.
If we can’t get Watsonville invited to the party, who is the next best possibility. Up north, you have Dennis Gage representing Chico and Marysville. We do see drivers from there coming to Antioch and Petaluma, and vise versa. With just these three entities, you are representing six race tracks. Chico has a 410 Sprint car class, but Maryville has 360 Sprints. Both have Spec Sprints. So, the possibilities open up. There could be a Winged 360 Sprint Car Series that would be huge, and six race tracks available for dates. Chico also has IMCA Modifieds, Marysville has Sport Modifieds and both have Hobby Stocks.
Then, there’s Placerville. We can’t forget Alan Handy Motorsports. Handy is having a “Promoter Of The Year” worthy season this year, in case nobody has noticed. Good car counts in 360 Sprints and Pure Stocks. They were so good that both have had several B Mains this year. Plus, there’s a solid Limited Late Model (Crate Late Model) division. Handy has done many things this year thanks to bringing in good sponsorship. Were he to meet at the table with Oval Motorsports and Glad Enterprises, the 360 Sprint Car Series would be huge.
The other track in the area is Stockton 99 Dirt Speedway. Tony Noceti made this thing happen, and I don’t think anybody expected that the dirt track would be used for race cars. The plus is that the track has held huge Sprint Car, Dirt Modified and Late Model races since opening. The down side is that this track depends on other tracks and clubs bringing in the cars. Noceti has done nothing to establish a program of his own for any division. It seems like it would be a natural, even if it started with Hobby Stocks, Mini Stocks and Sport Mods while bringing in touring classes. The track itself gets good reviews from racers, so that makes it a possible player.
The biggest obstacle to track unity is the fact that you don’t have an overall guiding sanctioning body in the way we had with NASCAR through the 1980‘s. Though IMCA has a rule book for Modifieds, Sport Mods and other classes, they don’t have the clout NASCAR had back in the day. They aren't trying to be that either. They like what they have. So, in the absence of a dependable sanctioning body, promoters schedule what they do. They make divisions with rules that aren’t always in line with other tracks. It keeps drivers at one track, which is also the intention. It’s harder to book a big race for some divisions because of this, and most tracks only try to do it for Sprint Cars and IMCA Modifieds.
The fact that there are said to be some promoters set to sit down and discuss rules and a possible series at all is a good thing. Where Antioch is concerned, if they are a part of this discussion, it would be even better if Petaluma was in the conversation as well. It just makes sense. Antioch means that dates can also be possible at Merced too. Petaluma is Antioch’s real sister track. Things can get better from there when you add Placervile or Chico and Marysville to the mix. This means that you can really have a Sprint Car series to be proud of. Then, all you have to do is book the dates, let the drivers and fans know what’s going on and just make it happen. It will be interesting to see what comes of this.
As the season comes to a close, it’s time to start thinking about 2016. Hopefully, if anything is going to be tweaked with rules, it happens very soon. Let the drivers make their off season plans, budget their money and come into 2016 ready to go. January or February rule changes will not be conducive to good car counts at any track, and things are starting to look up now. Unless it’s a safety issue, maybe it should be left alone. One area that could use improvement is making these divisions attractive enough that drivers are willing to commit to racing more of their schedule and running for points.
You do that by not over booking any division. There has been some interesting social media conversations about running just three divisions at a track. We’ve coined the phrase “Divisionitis” around here because of the glutton of divisions we have at Antioch. The problem is, you can’t just drop a division and expect racers to go into the other classes. You can try to build up what you have and give divisions more nights off as you rotate the divisions. It might also be a good time to view certain divisions under the microscope to determine who is producing and who isn’t.
There’s a lot here to look at, and an area that is important to consider when it comes to building car count is what is the incentive for a racer to run more often? What is the purse and what is the point fund? At Placerville, for instance, they have a $2000 championship for Pure Stocks and have some $500 to win races. The division also has B Mains often. They accomplish the money through sponsorships. Some tracks have title sponsors for divisions, so Mini Stocks might become the McDonald’s Mini Stocks or the Lumberjack’s Restaurant Super Stocks. Things like that and not booking too many race dates can make for more cars when the races are scheduled.
There has been some talk in recent weeks at Antioch from people wondering about Super Hobby Stocks (Why can’t we call them Street Stocks) and Mini Stocks. The biggest issue was neither class had a consistent car count. When Super Hobbys were forced to run with Limited Late Models, that chased the racers off, in much the same way it chased off Street Stock drivers when they were merged with the six car Limited Late Model division of the time. Too much difference in speed. But, if it’s only gonna have six or eight cars what do you do? This is a purse paying division.
Mini Stocks were not, which is what made the decision to drop them at Antioch so confusing. There was no difference in car count at Antioich or Merced. It’s understandable why the class was needed at Merced as Antioch has more divisions as it is. In fact, a goal should be to figure out what it will take to get more driver support at Merced in 2016. But, that still leaves the matter of should this class be given another chance at Antioch? A half dozen cars in a heat and feature, but running for no money, isn’t hurting resources. It’s a class that can get new racers into the sport, which is needed right now. Will it happen? Don’t hold your breath.
The other rumor out there that always lurks in the shadows is the Figure 8‘s return. Well, it’s just a rumor at this point, though racers are starting to chime in by saying they would run the race. The problem is it raises insurance rates to a point where a promoter isn’t going to look at it unless they see it as a draw for fans and racers. Six cars in a race won't do, but 12 cars in a race is a possibility. This might be an idea that needs to be studied more closely to see if a big race or anything is viable, but it’s also another case of don’t hold your breath. But, never say never either.
Antioch Speedway did two things last year that they continued this year. Late Models and Winged 360 Sprint Cars are a part of the show. It was a risky move when you consider the purse involved. From an attendance standpoint, the numbers should show a bit of a spike in attendance for 360 Sprints, despite car count not really growing. Then again, more efforts can be made that would grow the car count and attendance numbers with this division. There is something here to work with, but Winged 360‘s are a division that needs to be handled with care.
As for Late Models, it’s a bit surprising that in a 14 race season, car count only dropped below ten cars twice. That’s actually pretty good for this day and age. It’s also a bit surprising to consider that attendance numbers didn’t consistently pop with this division. That’s not to suggest that this division isn’t working. It simply means it’s time to look into how this division was promoted to the fans. Was enough word put out about it? Are the fans familiar enough with the racers? The bottom line is you book this division to bring in fans. Late Models are another division that needs to be handled with a little TLC.
One of the things that hurt Antioch this year was the rule changes announced in Late January for the Hobby Stocks and Wingless Spec Sprints. Car counts in both divisions went down initially as some drivers had illegal motors. Others raced and took their chances. At its low point. the Spec Sprints fielded just five cars, while the Hobby Stocks were down to eight. Considering the fact that the Hobby Stocks had over 20 races and rarely had a night off, the fact that they usually had at least ten cars was pretty good. However, that was still down a half dozen or so cars from where it should have been. In the case of Spec Sprints, car count started to go up as the season ended. Indications are that both divisions should start out okay in 2016 as long as rules aren’t adjusted at the last minute again.
The best supported division at Antioch this season was the Dwarf Cars with usually 12-16 cars at the track, and sometimes more. The thing about this division is that while some people may not go there looking to see them, they leave the track having enjoyed their race. Also, the potential is there for a big race. There are lots of Dwarf Cars in Northern California, so a field of 30-40 cars is reachable. And, there is an occasion that could get racers to the track. “Dr. Dirt” Jim Soares was a strong supporter and champion of Dwarf Car racing, and a memorial race in his honor could be a winner.
The IMCA Modifieds are 25 years old at Antioch Speedway, and this division has held headline or co-headline status for most of those seasons. In recent years, the attempt has been made to get older cars back to the track via the Sport Modified division. Antioch sort of had to get involved in that class or be left behind. On the heels of success at places like Victorville and Chowchilla, Antioch started the class in 2012. The good news is that some drivers have moved up to Sport Mods. The bad news is the Modified car count has dropped and the track’s ability to book a big blowout race for them has been impeded.
Not too many years ago, a big money Modified show at Antioch could bring 50-60 cars. Those numbers have dropped, and now you pretty much have to have a big Sport Mod show in conjunction with the Modifieds. Modifieds can still get into the 30‘s, while Sport Mods flirt with the 20‘s. The real problem with Modifieds hasn’t adequately been addressed, and it’s a problem not unique with Antioch. It has to deal with cost of the car and the purse money they are racing for. Sport Modifieds are sort of a band aid fix to the larger problem. The Sport Mods aren’t just a division with older cars, as was advertised in the beginning. People are getting newer chassis for this class. Should the Modfieds fade, those same problems will creep into Sport Modifieds.
In the meantime, Modifieds are usually in the 10-14 car range right now. It was even lower at times last year, but it has gone up slightly this season. Sport Mods are an 8-12 car division. Management added race dates to the schedule for Sport Mods this year, and it hurt car count slightly as some drivers had other commitments. There are other Sport Modifieds in the works. Speculation is that this division may surpass the Modifieds in car count next season, but that’s just speculation. It’s bound to happen sooner or later if trends continue. Without a little more promoting, the Modified class will struggle. Also, the Modifieds are Number 1 or Top 3 on many fan’s lists of favorite divisions
This leaves us with the Limited Late Models, which is a division now in it’s 15th year at the track. The idea behind it was sound. There are old Stahl and Howe chassis out there that weren’t competitive with the Late Models of the time. Why not bring them back? At the time, John M. Soares wanted Late Models at Antioch, but his father, John P. Soares, had the class. So, John started Limited Late Models, but to get the division past his father, he named them Super Stocks. One of the reasons this division started taking off was because Ron Brown was active in finding cars for other racers.
It started as most divisions do, with four or five cars showing up. However, it grew to where there were as many as 20 cars showing up within a few seasons. But, as always seems to happen, some racers wanted more. Chowchilla and Watsonville had started classes, and there was a series. Drivers at the other tracks were pushing the rules a little more. It faded at Chowchilla. There were similarities in the evolution at Antioch and Watsonville. In both cases, Street Stocks were merged with Limited Late Models, and gradually the Street Stock racers parked due to not being competitive. Both tracks started running Late Models and began running them together at times. The Limited Late Models died at Watsonville, but Antioch fought for the five or six drivers left.
The Street Stock merger with Limited Late Models happened after that at Antioch, but it was the same result with the Street Stock drivers parking within a year. Since then, the track has struggled at 6-10 cars most races. There have been some bigger car counts, and there have been ten cars at the last three Antioch races. After the strong ending the class had last year, it was hoped it would continue this year. But most nights have only had seven or eight cars. So, how will this division perform next year? There is no question that the racing is good when there are enough good cars at the track. But there is a question about how many people want to build cars. There are at least two new cars on the way for next year, and the Limited Late Models will be at Antioch in 2016.
John has attempted to start the class at Merced, but it has thus far not gone over very well. Not too many years ago, Merced Speedway had a thriving Street Stock division, but the drivers are not building Limited Late Models. The question is, what is next for this particular form of racing there? If Limited Late Models aren’t coming, do you give up on the class and try to get Street Stocks back? Drop it all, or do you just give it another year of wait and see?
The Mini Stock division is the one Oval Motorsports hoped would come around this year with a strong car count. Antioch’s class was dropped in the hopes that cars would come to Merced, but they didn’t. Car count still hit double digits early in the season before nosediving. Interestingly enough, it started coming back around when Merced went to Sunday nights. Does that mean there is momentum being established that will see this car count rise even higher in 2016? Hopefully, that is the case as this is a good entry level division. With the top two drivers in points both moving up, it could be a very competitive season.
Oval Motorsports knows there is need for another division. The Valley Sportsman class dropped so badly in car count that it is now on the chopping block. The racers are rallying to try to save the 2016 season for them. In the meantime, Dwarf Cars were added, and progress has been slow. There was, however, enough success this season that it should continue for another season. The thinking is that with a schedule announced at the start of the season, Dwarf Cars may begin to take hold at Merced Speedway. Enough cars on that track will make a good race.
The Hobby Stocks are the work horse division at Merced with 23 races scheduled. In the 22 races held so far, there were 16 different winners, and there have been over 50 different cars. The average has been in the 10-14 car range, but last week popped to 24 cars. The reality is there is potential for that to be the car count every week in 2016. But, a heavy schedule makes it harder for some drivers to race every week. This is a popular and entertaining form of racing, and it looks like things are going to be fine for next year.
Merced Speedway is the first place in California that had the Sport Modified division. It never started to pop there until Victortville and Chowchilla started having success with it. Last season, car count was in the high teens and low 20‘s, but this year the average has been 8-12 for most races. There have been over 50 different cars this season. This appears to be a case where some racers are holding out for a bigger purse, but there’s also another thing to consider. Cars are getting torn up on nights where car count does get bigger, so the racing has to be cleaned up a bit. Sport Mods work at Merced, and there are drivers out there running older cars as the original rules intended.
The Modifieds are the division that has really been hurting. The first half of the season saw double digits most nights, but it went down from there. Some drivers just can’t afford to race much and others only want to run special races. However, car count will have to get better next year. The racing is good when the cars are there, and we’ve seen some big name drivers re-emerge in recent weeks. The division will be back next year, and it’s anticipated that car count will rebound. There’s been some talk about sanctioning, but Merced Speedway has been one of those tracks that seems to have benefited from IMCA through the years.
What we did learn from Merced Speedway last week was the cars are still out there. There were strong car counts in both Modified classes and Hobby Stocks last week. In fact, you could have run a traditional program with these three divisions (qualifying and dashes included) and it would have been entertaining. The question is, can you maintain those kind of numbers (18 Modifieds, 18 Sport Modifieds and 24 Hobby Stocks) on a regular basis?
The sponsorship idea spoken of earlier would be a good place to start. Establish point funds and special races during the year, including purse increase incetives that drivers know they will get if they start so many cars in the Main Event. But, you also have to find a way to get fans back to the races again. Some will say it’s a Sunday thing at Merced. While it’s true that Sunday may not be the preferred night, attendance wasn’t exactly through the roof on a Saturday night either. So, things need to be tried to reverse the trend.
In fact, both tracks need this as Antioch isn’t performing as well as it could be either. It comes down to a combination of things, not just one thing. The written word in printed form and on the internet is one aspect. There are other aspects of the internet to explore with regards to social media, audio, video and sales. But, you also have to get out to the people and make them aware of racing. Doing things within the community, a possible bill board ad, fliers, having teens holding signs directing people to the races or whatever it takes. Most race fans know that if you can get people to the track and they enjoy what they see, they will be back.
It’s true that racing isn’t where it once was. It’s 2015, not 1985. There are other things to do with your entertainment dollar, and racing fans can sit at home and watch the NASCAR race on TV. So, we either change with the times and adapt or we fade away. What Antioch and Merced Speedway have going for them is both are great racing venues with lots of potential. We may not have B Mains in all divisions and the economy may not be great, but as we just saw last week at Merced, we can still get drivers to bring their cars.
The best way to do that is to do very little tweaking with the rules unless there are safety issues that need addressing. Let the racers rebuild what they have at a minimal cost and come back next year ready to go. Let’s establish some momentum and focus on making these tracks places the racers want to be. And, with an improved car count, lets sell our drivers to the fans and make them want to come watch them. If some of the “big stars” aren’t there, let’s make new stars, new heroes for the kids to cheer for.
We made it through 2015 and had some good and some bad to take away from it. Next year is a new opportunity to make it better. And, as long as the gates continue to open at these race tracks, there’s a chance for good things to happen. It will just take a little effort from the powers that be to inspire everybody to be a part of something special in 2016.