Friday, September 4, 2015

In Memory Of Jerry "The Maverick" Garner

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In Memory Of Jerry "The Maverick" Garner

I am saddened by the news that Jerry "The Maverick" Garner has passed away.

This isn't an easy time for me lately, and sometimes I struggle just to be here. I know when I'm at the race track, I am seem happy, and I am to an extent in that moment. It's the being with the people that matters, and it's the one take away I have from that. Seeing everybody again and knowing that I can still be a part of this and make a difference is something that I am grateful for, even if I may move on again.

But one of the things I have witnessed during this time is the struggle the Garner family has been through in their difficult time. It resonates with me because I lost my father in a similar way almost three years ago. I still grieve for him. I've seen how they have made the most of it and cherished each day together. I mourn for the fact that I really didn't get that with my dad. Once they decided he wasn't gonna make it, I didn't even have a day with him. I won't get into that here.

Jerry Garner was one of the first racers I got to hang out with. It's interesting that I had met Dave Oswald before him through Marion Heaton and Dan Hatfield. To a little kid wanting to get closer to the racers and the cars, that was special. I moved and lived around the block from Jerry. I got to go talk to him a bit when he was working on his last Sportsman. He was a feature winner that year. I raced bikes in front of my house with Mark.

Through the years, I got to talk to Jerry at the races and he was one of those guys who did more with less and defended the honor of the A. One of the top locals. In 1986, Bert Moreland asked me to write an article about Jerry that was to run in the newspaper. I wrote it, but it wasn't used. I remember being so happy and telling Jerry about it and then telling him how it wasn't going to be used. He was good about that. He could have won the championship that year. He certainly got off to an amazing start.

I remember Jerry coming back in another Late Model, even winning a Trophy Dash with it. I would visit with him in the pits about every week, sometimes briefly and other times he would talk about how things were going or tell old racing stories. Then, he got the Modified and ran it for a bit before Mark was ready to race.

I mostly remember how proud he was of Mark and how we would talk about Mark's latest improvement, how he would get a Top 5 finish, that win was around the corner, he won, he was Top 5 in points, all of that. Jerry was a proud father. Well, Mark would be the first to tell you what a good teacher his father was, and he had the ability to drive a race car like his dad. I know how proud he was to be able to see his son winning races. Even though his health wasn't good this year, Jerry still came out to watch Mark race almost every week at Antioch.

When I reappeared at the races again this year, I was hanging out in the parking lot that first night. I saw through the fence that Mark won that race. I'm standing at the gate, and there's Jerry on the opposite end with Dave Oswald, looking over at me. He sends Dave over to ask if I am Don Martin. I confirm it and Dave introduces himself. It was almost a full circle moment for me. Jerry and Dave were the first racers I talked to in my return.

It was a pleasant conversation about racing and stuff. Really, Jerry just wanted to get in the pits to celebrate that win with Mark. Now that he's gone, I am reminded more about why I want to see the past greats honored at the track. Guys like Jerry made Antioch Speedway special, and I want to see the ones who are still here reminded of what they meant to the track. Without the Sportsman division and racers like Jerry, I don't know if I'd have been hooked on the sport.

The Antioch Speedway in the sky just gained another racer. They are having a heck of a show these days. Can you imagine? Pops Soares is running the show. Harvey Mason is prepping the track with Pops. Charlie Zeno is filing the reports, and Gary Jacob shows up to write about the big races. And the racers? Darryl Shirk, Dennis Furia, Bill Brown, Gary Pacheco, Len Mello, Willie Myatt, Mel Maupin, L.D. Maupin, Bob Meeker, Mike Conley... Then, there are the nights the drivers from the other tracks come to challenge our racers. And now, that 76a car is out there. Better watch out. I think Jerry could win tonight. My dad is gonna be there watching too.

There was a song by a group called Echolyn that had the lyric, "Do not stand at my grave and cry. I am no there, I did not die. I say to you I will see you again on the other side some day."

It's hard to go on at a time like this. I know the pain the Garner family is feeling. Though time passes, we will all miss Jerry. Just as I miss my dad and my sister. The only comfort I can offer is to say that as long as you keep him in your heart, he is never far away. I will miss Jerry. I am happy that I got to know him. To everybody else I remind you to never forget to tell the loved ones in your life how you feel about them. You never know when that will be your last time together.

 From The DCRR Files: Jerry Garner

Jerry "The Maverick" Garner raced at Antioch Speedway from the late 1960's through the early 1990's.   He started back in 1968 as a Top 5 Stock Car driver.  He was second at Antioch in 1969, third at Petaluma and the State Champion.  He would move up to the Sportsman division and was eventually a feature winner there was well.  He ranked sixth in 1980 and fourth in 1981.

When the Sportsman division was dropped, Jerry returned to the Late Model Stock Car division in 1982.  He was the winner of a big 50 lap Main Event, and he ranked filth (1983), sixth (1984) and fifth (1985).  In 1986, he had an amazing start and led the points two months into the season before he ended up turning over the wheel to his nephew. Jimmy Ford.  Within a couple years, he was back in a Late Model and ranking sixth in points in 1989.

Jerry eventually found a ride in a Dirt Modified, but it was a low dollar, just for fun, situation.  By the mid 1990's, Jerry put his son Mark Garner behind the wheel.  Mark was a quick study and was a Top 20 driver early on.   He improved a year later and then  was Top 5 in 1998 and a feature winner.  With a teacher like Jerry Garner, Mark was bound to be successful.

DCRR Racing News ran an article about Jerry back when he ran the Dirt Modified, and here are his quotes from the article.

On how many wins he had and a favorite on track memory of his:

I've been trying to figure out how many main events I've won over the years.  I probably have 50 or 60 wins because every year I was winning back in '68, '69, '70, 71.  I was winning five or six main events a year.  I quit running Petaluma in 1970.  In '70, I went over to Petaluma.  I got a car that I bought from Dean Cline, and I won five Main Events in a row over there.  Soares wouldn't let me run anymore.  In 1970, we had a 100 lap race that Fred Helberg and I ran wheel to wheel for 100 laps and we lapped all but the third place car more than once.

On going out to Champion Speedway in San Francisco and getting his start in racing:

It was like Bob Englund, Bob Ensign, I knew a lot of these guys, because I was from San Francisco.  I used to go out there to Champion before I started racing.  I started racing on a bet.  This guy that owned a 76 station, he had this old Ford behind the station, and he built an old Sportsman.  I lived around the corner from him in San Francisco.  He says, 'I'll tell you what, let's put this together as a Stock Car.'  I was 24 or 25.  That was old to get into racing.  We started messing around with it and built it up, and the first motor I built for it, we fired it up and smoked all the main bearings.  Back then, we had a lot of fun.  We had a lot more fun than we do now.

More memories of Champion Speedway: 

Champion was right across the street from Candlestick Park, where the garbage dump is.  That was a half mile track.  There was a guy down there that I knew.  I used to go to the wrecking yard down there a lot, because a buddy of mine had a wrecking yard.  He was one of my sponsors.  The guy at the next wrecking yard, he used to run there at Champion all the time, and he was killed there in a Figure 8 car.  He went through the screen.  The belts broke.  Back then, they didn't run very good belts.

They had guys like Joe Roletto and George Tietjen.  I remember, I used to come out here in 1963.  These guys used to have the exhaust come out of the hood and run up the top of the body.  They were all big full bodied cars with no fenders on them, and they used to come out here.  They used to do some weird stuff.  Tietjen had his old '49 Ford, brand new parts.  It was a $99 claimer, and this thing had that much money in one wheel.  If you claimed his car, he would kill you.  There were a number of them like that, a lot of guys that ran.

On Old friends from his early days in racing:

I still hear from these guys.  I get Christmas cards from them.  We used to have so much fun back then.  There would be 15 of us going down the highway, and we'd stop at every underpass and have a few beers on the way to the race track.  We were running three, sometimes four nights a week (Stockton, Watsonville, Merced, Altamont).

On running the circuit and the cost of racng in the late 1960's:

I would leave here Saturday and I was working graveyards.  I used to run Friday night at Petaluma, and I'd have to leave there at midnight and go to work until 8 in the morning.  I'd get off Saturday, go home and work on the car all day long to run up here.  Then, maybe I'd sleep Saturday night if I didn't have to work.  Then, I'd get up Sunday morning and go to Altamont running the half mile with the dirt tires.  We didn't have (asphalt) tires back then.  They had 'em, but we couldn't afford them.  I used to run a tire that cost me $15 to $18 a piece, something like that.  I had a couple of sponsors for tires and shocks, and then this guy from Creola Motors every week.

The engine and tranny out of the motor that I won the state championship with came out of a Sportsman that belonged to an old guy that raced out here years ago.  He was 75-80 years old.  He came out here for a couple races.  Anyway, we got this engine and tranny out of a Sportsman, and it was a legal motor, 292 inch flattop, automatic transmission.  We put it in the car, and I ran 63 races with that motor and never broke.  It failed to finish, I think, 2 races that year.