First of all...
Just A Kid From The Grandstands: My Time In Auto Racing
Available on Lulu in Paperback And Hard Cover
On Sale At Reduced Price
Don's California Racing Recollections: Best Of The Blog And Beyond
Available via print on demand at Lulu in Hard Cover or Paperback
Also, what could be a series of informative books...
Short Track History Project at Go Fund Me
Additional info on the Short Track History Project HERE
DCRR Racing Media And PR Consulting HERE
The DCRR Racing Radio Show
The Editor's Viewpoint For Thanksgiving Can Be Viewed HERESaturday Night Main Events From Porterville Turkey Shoot Races Can Be Viewed HERE:
Thankful, Not Complacent On Thanksgiving Can Be Viewed HERE
Saturday night IMCA Modified Main Event From Bakersfield Thanksgiving Thunder can be views at golivestream.tv HERE
Thankful, Not Complacent On Thanksgiving Can Be Viewed HERE
Saturday night IMCA Modified Main Event From Bakersfield Thanksgiving Thunder can be views at golivestream.tv HERE
Two things attempted to derail this particular column. The first was pretty big. Since we spent the season using this laptop and carrying it around to hot spots at the track so we could file our articles after the races, it's pretty beat up. Well, the screen just broke apart. The part where you put it up or down broke last night, and now I must lean it against something to use it. The OS has been acting up since the end of the season, so this laptop's days are numbered. As I have no place to set up my work station, when this computer breaks, I am off line.
Secondly, As I was dealing with the first problem, I managed to lose the article I had written. This should not have happened as I had saved it on my blog first, but it did. I won't get into how it happened, but suffice it to say, I was not pleased. So, I had to start over from scratch.
I am going to repost the link to the Go Fund Me page.
I really hate doing this, but I can use any help I can get. It will go towards essentials I need as I try to pull myself up back on my feet. Things could be a lot worse right now, but they also aren't as good as they could be. It's work in progress. Anyway, funds will go towards essentials needed for my day to day and possibly replacing this laptop so I can keep writing.
In the meantime, there's a few things to talk about, including banquet news for Oval Motorsports, race track news and a bit regarding my future in racing. Also, I managed to use my smart phone to successfully do a racing radio show, which is included in the post along with a second column I had written about a week ago.
With no publicity team in place at the moment, removal of the social media pages and a myriad of questions regarding next season, Oval Motorsports put the word out through Ron Brown on Facebook that there would indeed be a banquet celebrating this season's accomplishments. Brown made the announcement that the banquet would take place on January 23rd at the Contra Costa County Fairgrounds and would be an overall banquet that would include Antioch, Merced and Chowchilla drivers.
There have been questions as to why this was the case and some unhappy responses from the Merced area. One of the biggest reasons was because having it all in one place would be easier to coordinate, plus the fact that last year's banquets were a money loser. In fact, promoter John M. Soares wasn't planning to have a banquet at all this year but decided to give it a chance due to repeated inquiries from the racers.
Brown indicated that drivers needed to make their reservations by January 1st so that management could determine how much food to order and what awards to purchase. He added that a low number of reservations could still mean a cancellation. As of this writing, at least 40 tickets have been reserved so far, and that is probably a low estimation. Antioch Speedway contact information is still available on the Oval Motorsports Page HERE for those looking to buy tickets to the banquet.
Brown also mentioned that any rules announcements would be made by Soares himself at the banquet. Not much is anticipated in that area, but the banquet provides Soares with an opportunity to address the racers on the state of Oval Motorsports.
And, that is the big question on people's minds. What is happening with Oval Motporsports? It is anticipated that as of this writing Soares has declared his intentions to not return to Chowchilla Speedway. The fairgrounds had given him until the end of last month to give them official word, and and fair management claimed that there had been interest expressed by others in running the track in 2016. Whether Chowchilla holds at least some races for the 17th straight year remains to be seen. If somebody is stepping forward to run the track, we should hear something in the near future.
The next question is about Merced Speedway. Word is that there are two potential parties interested in buying Oval Motorsports out and taking over the track. Negotiations have been ongoing with one of these groups since September. As of this writing, no announcement has been made. Will a deal even be done, or will Oval Motorsports return to Merced for a seventh season? Again, if something is going going to happen here, a deal will need to be made soon. Racing season typically starts in March, and that's not including all of the preparations that are needed to get ready.
There have been rumors concerning Oval Motorsports and an unnamed track. What will happen there is still unclear, but a move to leave Merced might signal that something could happen in the not too distant future. All of this is speculation, and that doesn't even address the questions about the schedule for 2016. Word is that it is still in the works and could be announced at any time, likely before the banquet. As mentioned before, Oval Motorsports is currently without a Publicity Director, which is effecting the release of information.
Getting back to the banquet announcement, one of the things that Brown suggested was the possibility that the drivers, crews and fans might get a chance to vote on awards for Best Appearing Car and Most Improved Driver. Including the Rookie Of The Year Awards, that would make three special awards for the divisions. For years, The DCRR made its announcements on who we thought deserved the awards, and we even sponsored awards at multiple banquets. It's been a while, but here are our award winners for the Oval Motorsports tracks in 2015. We'll just have to wait until January 23rd to see who officially wins.
Rookie Of The Year
These are the drivers who had great debuts in their respective divisions. At Antioch, we had Marcus Smith (Wingless Spec Sprint), Danny Malfatti (DIRTcar Late Model), Nick Viscusi III (IMCA Modified), Patti Ryland (IMCA Sport Mod), Jordan Swank (Hobby Stock), Miranda Chappa (Dwarf Car), Ricky Brophy (Winged 360 Sprint Car) and Ryan Cherezian (Limited Late Model).
At Merced, we had Harley Turner (IMCA Modified), Josh Hensley (IMCA Sport Mod), Jennifer Corder (Hobby Stock), Natalie Waldrop (Mini Stock) and Chester "Buddy" Kniss (Dwarf Car).
At Chowchilla, Danny Luukkonen (IMCA Modified), Josh Hensley (IMCA Sport Mod), Bobby Williams (Hobby Stock) and Mike Congdon (Mini Stock).
Notably, Malfatti had rookie seasons simultaneously in Late Models and Winged 360 Sprints (at Watsonville) and did well in both classes. Smith and Swank ranked runner up in their respective divisions, while Ryland ranked third in her division. Corder followed up her Mini Stock runner up season by finishing second in Hobby Stocks, while Hensley was Merced's top rookie and track champion. Waldrop came on late to make the Top 5 in points. Like Hensley, Luukkonen was also a rookie champion.
Most Improved Driver
At Antioch, we had Bobby Motts Jr. (IMCA Modified), Al Johnson (IMCA Sport Mod), Mark Garner (Limited Late Model), Chester Kniss (DIRTcar Late Model), Adam Teves (Dwarf Car), Frank Furtado (Hobby Stock), Jake Haulot (Winged 360 Sprint Car) and Rick Panfili (Wingless Spec Sprint).
At Merced, we had Ricky Thatcher (IMCA Modified), Mark Odgers (IMCA Sport Mod), Austin Van Hoff (Hobby Stock) and Darren Miguel (Mini Stock). At Chowchilla we had Nastasia Dodd (IMCA Sport Modified).
There were some drivers making really great strides this season, and some of these choices weren't easy ones. Garner had an amazing season with his best ranking ever at Antioch, and he did it while his father, Jerry Garner, battled Cancer and passed away. His efforts were dedicated to his dad, who was on hand to celebrate his Merced championship. Teves, Motts and Haulot were so impressive that they all could have won their respective championships. Though Panfili was third a year earlier, this season saw him win his first heat race and enjoy a career best second place feature finish.
At Merced, Thatcher climbed from 13th to a tie for a second in the Modified standings as he emerged as a threat. Miguel went from seventh to the most dominant Mini Stock racer at Merced this season, while Van Hoff climbed from 19th to third with a pair of feature wins. Odgers ranking second was no big surprise, but it was his best Sport Mod season to date.
Hard Luck Driver
At Antioch, we had Danny Jones (Hobby Stock), Mike Salazar (IMCA Modifed), John Keith (Limited Late Model), Jack Haverty (Dwarf Car), Dennis Souza (DIRTcar Late Model), Tim Hammett (IMCA Sport Mod), Chris Magoon (Winged 360 Sprint Car) and Alan Miranda (Wingless Spec Sprint).
At Merced, we had Scott Van Gelder (Limited Late Model), Tim Prothro (IMCA Sport Mod),Kevin Lockerby (Mini Stock), John MacDougall (IMCA Modified) and Robbie Loquaci (Hobby Stock).
At Chowchilla, we had Randy Brown (IMCA Modified), Keith Brown Jr. (IMCA Sport Mod), Gary Hildebrand (Hobby Stock) and Alisa Caldwell (Mini Stock).
Jones had a fast car and had several second place finishes. However motor problems always ended his bid for victory and eventually dropped him from second to fifth in the standings. Haverty had a hard crash and a flip sideline him for several weeks. Miranda had a flip sideline him for a week and led a race for 19 and a half laps before being taken out by the second place driver. Souza had all kinds of bad luck but came back most every race even after a rollover. Hammett was a rookie who never could get a handle on his car.
Prothro probably would have been a regular at Merced, but a hard crash in Turn 4 destroyed the front end of his car. Van Gelder lost second in points and fell out of the Top 3 after injuries sustained in a heat race crash. MacDougall dropped out of the point lead after destroying his car in a crash at Petaluma. At Chowchilla, K. Brown was the only driver with a shot at Fred Ryland, but his season ended when he blew his motor. R. Brown had a nightmare night that saw him flip his car and take a piece of the pit gate home with him on the way out. Caldwell was another driver who destroyed her car in a crash.
Best Appearing Car
This was difficult to pick with the beautiful cars we had out there in some classes
At Antioch, we had Natalie Perry (Hobby Stock), Ron Brown/Al Sotomayor (IMCA Sport Mod), Lori Brown/Jim Freethy (Limited Late Model), Billy Macedo/Keith Shipherd (Wingless Spec Sprint), Dan Gonderman (Winged 360 Sprint), Travis Mayerhoff (DIRTcar Late Model) and
At Merced, we had Rick Diaz (IMCA Sport Mod), Jeff Lacy (Hobby Stock), Jennifer Corder (Mini Stock), Bill Egleston (IMCA Modified) and Mark Garner (Limited Late Model).
At Chowchilla, we had Marisa Odgers (IMCA Sport Mod), Josh Vogt (IMCA Sport Modified), Alex Odishoo (Mini Stock) and Robbie Loquaci (Hobby Stock).
Really, there were several drivers who made the effort to have a nice looking car, and it's a shame that the tracks didn't do a Best Appearing Car contest at the start of the season, when the cars were not bent. Any choices made for winners will upset some who felt there were better looking cars. The fact is, there were several drivers who deserved this honor, and we gave it our best in making our choices. A few times we couldn't make a decision and made it a tie.
For efforts that helped make the season better
Destiny Carter, Zoe Sandoval, Jim Thompson, Robert Kempf, Carl Johnson, Brad Coelho, Dale Falkenberg, Jim Robbins, DNF Crew, Paul Gould, Sonora Sports Photography, Racing Edge Videos.
There are many people who play a part in making the show happen, and the fact is there are names we are probably forgetting here. Still, we want to try to acknowledge some of them. Carter and Sandoval were Merced and Chowchilla's two biggest boosters as these two posted pictures and news to spread the word and create some excitement. Thompson was a man behind the scenes sponsoring things, often times anonymously, but it's people like him who make this sport successful.
Kempf was not just a popular flag man at Antioch, but he coordinated the candy and Hot Wheels giveaways at the track. Falkenberg did the giveaways at Merced and is another person who has helped out several racers with sponsorship. Johnson did more than just flag the races at Merced and Chowchilla, he was the go to guy in The Valley for Oval Motorsports. Coelho's style as chief steward created a positive environment at all three tracks. Robbins helped at all three tracks in addition to his work a maintenance man at Antioch and as somebody who lent a hand to help get cars to the track.
The DNF Crew worked hard at Antioch and in visits to Merced and Chowchilla to keep the races moving. Gould and Sonora Sports Photography did a great job of documenting the action in pictures and video. Racing Edge Videos was there to to take it up a notch with quality video of the action at Antioch and Watsonville as well.
Honestly, there are many other names that are probably worthy of mentioning, particularly down in The Valley, that we're not remembering. Without each and every one of them, the show wouldn't have been as good as it was. It takes a team to make it happen.
Sportsman Of The Year
Chester Kniss, Josh Hensley.
Kniss was one of those guys who stepped in and made a difference when called upon. In addition to sponsoring a couple races through his Delta Transmission business, Kniss sponsored several race cars and generally brought a positive attitude to the races. At Merced, Hensley's team fielded multiple cars every week, and he also sponsored several teams through his Main Street Garage business.
DCRR Award Of Excellence
Without the people who put the cars together and sell the parts, this sport wouldn't happen. At Antioch, we have Ryland Racing. Fred tries to make good deals for the racers to keep them coming back to the track, and he had an amazing season in the Sport Modified division. The Ryland's have been a positive part of racing at Antioch since they started racing.
Jerry Garner, Debbie Clymens, Bob Williamson, Doug Williams
Racing lost a legend this year in Jerry Garner. In addition to all his feature wins in Sportsman and Stock Cars and 1969 State championship, Jerry's legacy in racing continues with his son Mark in Limited Late Models. Debbie Clymens started racing about the time her husband Tom retired in the late 1970's, and she had a reputation for not backing down to anybody. A front runner in Street Stocks, Late Models, Dirt Modifieds and Figure 8's, Debbie has since retired, but her son Trevor still races and her grand daughters are just getting started. As we often say, families are a vital part to keeping the sport alive today.
There's not a lot of fanfare behind Bob Williamson. He's not really seen as the big star at Merced Speedway, but he's been running up front for years. He started racing back in the 1970's, and his red and white #19 car is still a fixture in the Modified division, where he has won two championships among several Top 5 seasons.
Doug Williams is a legend at Merced Speedway. He's the only Merced Speedway regular to win a NASCAR Regional championship, and to this day, he is one of the most respected people in the area. Doug's tenure as GM at Merced was very popular as judged by the high Modified and Sport Mod car counts he maintained in his last season.
These are the people high on our list for awards this season. With the banquet coming up on January 23rd, we'll find out who takes them home. We had intended to do an Oval Motorsports Yearbook, but we are unable to do so as our editing tools are not readily available at the moment. In fact, given the state of this laptop computer, our updates on the blog could also come to a halt unless our situation changes.
At this point, most of the tracks are finalizing their schedules for the coming season and should be releasing them within the next few weeks. The World of Outlaws recently announced their schedule for the new season, and no Antioch dates were listed. There are also reports that the Gold Cup Race Of Champions could be moving from Chico to Calistoga next year, which could be a contributing factor as to why the September date at Antioch may not happen. What role Sprint Cars will play at Antioch next year remains to be seen.
Perris Auto Speedway is the second California track to announce a 2016 schedule as Hayfork announced its schedule a few weeks ago. PR man Mike Adaskaveg had hinted back in October that Oval Motorsports might release its schedule in November. Negotiations regarding Merced and the Chowchilla decision may have contributed to the slight delay. Last report was that no major changes in divisions competing at Antioch were forthcoming. Time will tell.
The West Coast Nationals event also remains a mystery following Brown's Facebook post a couple weeks ago that suggested the January 1 race was still a go, weather permitting. That is all we currently know about the race as this reporter is not officially involved as of this writing. Two offers have been made for 2016, and once we get all of the details and make a decision, we will report it here. Of course, lack of a working computer may prevent that.
For whatever reason, Porterville flew in under the radar in November. We are still waiting for results from last week, but indications are that they did all right with the Hobby Stock-American Stock-Mini Stock program. Merced Speedway was represented, and we can tell you that Chowchilla champion Chris Corder scored the big Mini Stock victory, while Merced champion Darren Miguel's race ended early after leading several laps. The win for Corder, who was also the Merced point runner up, paid $600 and was the biggest win of his career as he prepares for a move up to Sport Mods.
There were several Merced racers in Porterville, but one disappointed racer was Steven Rodgers, who brought his yellow Mustang to the Hobby Stock show. Rodgers has had his struggles this year and certainly wasn't expecting to set the track on fire. He just wanted to have a fun weekend, but he was denied the opportunity to race by tech officials, who reportedly claimed his car was too unsafe. We're all for building the racing program in Porterville, but this was a bid disappointing. The Rodgers car was legal to race at several tracks this year. By all accounts, however, the big Turkey Shoot race was once again a success, another bit of news we're happy with.
The Challenges Of Building Things Up
Can Be Rewarding And Frustrating
One of the opportunities that is opening up for me, should I return for a 2016 season somewhere in racing, is sort of a project. It's a racing program in need of a little TLC. I'm hesitant to get too much into the details as of now, but it's a challenge with lots of potential. I'll be honest with you, I like the challenge. I know the risks involved.
First is the obvious. You can fail and fall flat on your face. People will laugh at you and say, "I told you so." Some people will put you down every step of the way while you are doing it. You're doing it wrong, you see. Or, you screwed up somewhere, so it must have been intentional. As they say, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." I love the challenge of building something up, especially if nobody thinks it can happen.
The other thing that happens that I have first hand experience with is that people want to be on the bandwagon when it starts to take off. It costs nothing to get on board once it's proven to be a good thing. Some of those very "nay sayers" are the ones who want to enjoy the success. The bad part is when they start pointing a finger at you as the person who is messing it all up when you were one of the ones in the trenches fighting the hardest to make it special.
I've written about this in Just A Kid From The Grandstands, so I won't go into it too heavily, but I was hooked on the NCMA from the moment Mike Johnson told me what could be. I liked the rules set, the idea of open wheel racing for the working man and woman. They only had two cars at the time. There was no bandwagon then. People hated Mike. That's another story, but I admired Mike's tenacity, even if he gave me grief at times. Mike was a racer and a hustler. To race where he raced, he had to be. I did it for no pay, and none was offered either. I did it for the love of the sport.
What do you do when you have no cars? How do you build it up? I wrote a lot about any car, even the ones rumored to be coming. I wrote about the ideas being proposed for the future. I wrote about interesting things on the track. Cars came. Under the Jim Booth presidency, some of what Mike always talked about happened. Cars started coming. Jim's leadership made a difference. Of course, this is where some of the disrespect started coming. One of the racers brought a guy in from Nevada to report on the then record 20 car show. I wasn't happy about it, but I didn't throw a fit about it the way another PR guy in the group would have a few years later. I was happy knowing I played a part in building it up.
But, the NCMA was never quite what it could be. Don O'Keefe Jr. had been called upon to start a class for John M. Soares at Antioch, and that, as you know, is the Wingless Spec Sprints. But, it wasn't as simple as just taking over the NCMA. It could have been. There are some who wanted that group destroyed, but not Don and I. We wanted a new class of Sprint Cars. So, we started from the ground up. Line by line, we wrote the rules. Don and I had specific duties we needed to do from conception of the idea through that first season. Plus, we had people trying to sabotage us. I'm convinced that this would have failed had Don or I walked away that first year.
Why did we do it? We wanted to make a positive difference in racing. We wanted to make a class of Sprint Car that would appeal to Stock Car people too, a division for the budget minded. I wanted to give Antioch Speedway something that would become a part of the track's great heritage. I think we accomplished that and then some. What eventually happened was Spec Sprints caught on at several tracks and are still there. There have been some big races for this type of racing since then. I'm very proud of what we did then, and I know the part I played in the PR department and announcing the first two seasons made a difference.
I watched Don pretty much get run out of the deal and have since heard his role in this thing down played by people who really know better. I've even been told that I should "throw Don under the bus" to get ahead. Sorry, I don't do that to my friends. Besides, there would be no Spec Sprints without Don, plain and simple. Who do you think came up with the name, which is still used in some places? We didn't do this for ourselves. We did it for racing.
My venture into The Valley was about making a difference at a time when I knew help was needed. I knew Merced was in danger in 2001. I attended the 18 car show in the stands with Tom Sagmiller. But, I couldn't just laugh at the promoters and let a great tradition die. I started writing articles then and started doing my audio calls until Matt of Matt & Glass got me the announcing gig with Johnny Sass. My goal was to help make Merced a fun place to race again. Car count more than doubled by season's end, attendance was up. I'd like to think I played a part in that.
The sad part was being told before the 2002 season that my services were no longer needed. I knew the war going on between the two tracks down there. I just wanted to help them both and to heck with the feud. I did it to make a difference in racing, not for the glory. People wanted Merced to fail. I didn't. I wanted to be a part of the comeback. I still announced there about once a month for the next two years and was to receive the Team Player Award in 2003. Some people thought the track was inferior. I heard the talk, and I strongly disagreed.
Chowchilla Speedway was the miracle that came in the wake of the loss of San Jose Speedway. I took a lot of heat for going down there. I was somehow betraying certain promoters for going there, even though it was my free time to use as I wanted. I won't deny that I wanted to go there because it was fun at a time when I wasn't having much fun. But, the idea that this track needed help to build up its name was my motivating factor. Most of the surrounding promoters did not like this track or its promoter, but I saw the good in all of it. Racing needed it.
The Valley was my racing sanctuary. What undid it all for me was the feud that nobody would let go of. We needed to get past it and build a working relationship between the two tracks for the good of racing. That was one of my biggest disappointments in racing, that I couldn't help broker the peace. I tried. I wanted to build a two track series that would rival any place in the state. It could have been big. It should have been big, but it never happened. Still, I'm proud to know I was a part in doing something good for racing.
Antioch is my home track, but going to The Valley showed that I could do what I do anywhere in racing and make a difference. This is why anything is possible if I were to go elsewhere. But, Antioch is the site of my biggest accomplishments. Wingless Spec Sprints and the beginning of the Oval Motorsports era are my two proudest accomplishments. Both didn't come easy and met with a lot of resistance. Both were worth the effort.
People hated the loss of NASCAR and hated John M. Soares before he ever showed up to promote. It was my job to show them that it would be alright. John gave me a lot of good things to work with. Those three years were the most successful time ever at that race track. Record car counts, good crowds and even the nay sayers ended up getting on board in the end. I loved the "us against them" vibe that first season, because we were building something they would become a fan of. I was taking on more responsibility than ever, and I felt that what I was doing was an important ingredient in the track's success. It drove me to work harder.
As I mentioned, it is when it becomes successful that others want to come on board and be a part of it. In this case, people wanted me out of the picture because they had a guy they thought would make it better. Of course, that didn't happen. It started going down hill. They found out two things. It's not as easy as it looks, and it takes effort and passion to really make it pop. I could be bitter about how it ended, but I'm not. If I had it to do over again (and I decided I was going down the racing path), I'd still do it.
The thing about building something up is that it's up to you to do the things that create the vibe that makes people want to be a part of it. People aren't just going to come because it's there. You have to give them a reason. You have to make the right moves and you have to be ready to do what it takes, even when you may be getting tired or frustrated. It can be exhausting, but when it's successful, it is an amazing feeling. It's your reward. The people that were in the trenches with you all share in that feeling of what you overcame to achieve the success.
There are some racing programs that need the TLC to get bigger and better. I've been trying to help a few of them. The offer that may be coming my way very soon is a definite challenge in a place I am not as familiar with. However, I know what I would do to prepare myself for the challenge. I've already formed a few ideas in my head, in case this is what I do. It will take work, but the person I would be working with is good at what they do too. Like me, this person tends to gravitate toward the challenges that people don't give a chance. Sure, it could build my name if I am successful, but I look at it this way. If we succeed, a racing program gets stronger. Racers and racing fans could benefit from that for years to come.
I remain very proud of the good things I have been a part in helping create during my time involved in racing. I believe I have more in me if the opportunity presents itself. We'll just have to see what the future holds.