Friday, March 11, 2016

Merced Speedway 2016 Season Previews

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In case you missed Mike Adaskaveg's article about the management change at Merced Speedway from the Merced Sun-Star, it's right HERE

Well, there is a lot of buzz and excitement in the air about the coming season and the management change at Merced Speedway.  I decided to put a little something together to support the cause a little bit.  It's really only a snapshot season preview for a race track that I happen to love...

IMCA Remains At Merced Speedway

When Merced Speedway started running Modifieds back in the early 1990's, they had a problem. Drivers were a little slow to join up. In fact, car count was an issue for a few years. Then, the promoter at the time, Chuck Griffin, decided to go with an IMCA sanctioning. Things started to change.

As the car count started the grow, one driver rose above the rest as a champion throughout the 1990's, and that was past Late Model racer Larry Folkner. In fact, few would argue against the fact that he was the greatest driver in Merced Modified racing in the 1990's.

As the decade ended and we entered the 2000's, the Modifieds at Merced were one of the best shows in the state of California. Some of the many big names that come to mind include Paul Stone, Ramie Stone, Bob Williamson, Jack Stanford and Marcus Aue.

By the midpoint of the decade, Griffin had seen this division have much success with IMCA sanctioning. For starters, he began to have B Mains at regular point races. Back in 2002, there was a record 40 car field for this division at the 9/11 Memorial Race. But, Griffin had something else on his mind as a way to try and keep Modified racing going.

Enter the Sport Mod division. This division began in California at Merced Speedway. Though the class has somewhat evolved from its origins, the idea was to get the old modified chassis back out there again and give them new life. Two of the stars who immediately come to mind back then are Neill Barcellos and Shawn Bryant.

Merced Speedway planted the seeds that grew the Sport Mod division, but the success at Chowchilla Speedway and Victorville Raceway are what really created the boom we saw in Sport Mod racing in California. Merced Speedway was a part of it. And, they now have a Sport Mod division with many talented racers.

In 2016, under the promoting of Ed Parker and general manager Doug Williams, Merced Speedway is proud to announce that IMCA sanctioning will continue for the Modified and Sport Mod divisions. In fact, the change in management at the speedway has created an air of excitement throughout Merced County. Some racers who haven't been seen at the speedway in a while are planning to come back this year.

In the Modified division, the brother act of Alex and Kyle Wilson ranked first and second in the point standings last season. Alex won the state championship with IMCA last year, an honor that fell to his brother Kyle the year before. The two brothers won several Main Events at Merced Speedway and had established themselves as the drivers to beat last season.

However, things have changed this year. Some very talented racers will be a part of the field, and car count is expected to more than double. It's not just a question of the cars, but who some of these drivers are

In Merced Speedway Modified racing, it doesn't get much better than "The Big Dog" Ramie Stone. Ramie set the track on fire in the previous decade with multiple Modified championships at the track and also state titles. Championships are nothing new to Ramie, who also won a Mini Truck championship and a Street Stock championship before moving up to the Modified class. Ramie bought his car from cousin Paul and made his debut last season with a strong third place finish.

Speaking at the talented Paul Stone, another multi time champion at Merced Speedway, you can expect that you'll see his #66 car at the track at least a time or two. The only thing that might prevent Paul from winning the championship this year may be the fact that he prefers to go out and race at other race tracks for bigger purses. The last time Paul went for a Merced championship he was successful in winning it in 2014.

Another big name of Merced Speedway throughout the years is Chris Shannon. Shannon has been a long time supporter of the race track with his Shannon Pump business. Chris won the championship at the track back in 2011, and he was also a past front runner in the Late Model division at Merced Speedway many years back. Word is that both Chris and his son on D.J. will be racing this season. A junior in high school, D.J. is already a go kart champion, and he's making his Dirt Modified debut.

When you're talking about champions, you should not forget "Bullet" Bob Williamson or Bruce "Bubba" Nelson. You're not likely to see the driver of the red and white #19 car talking about points this season. Williamson prefers to just go out there and race and let the points fall where they may, but he was top 5 in points last year. In fact, Bob has had several top five point seasons and two championships, winning several main events along the way.

Bubba Nelson made his mark in other divisions, but he is making his division debut in a former Paul Stone car this year. He will probably be the driver to beat for top rookies honors. Nelson left the Sport Mod division last year as a multi time feature winner and top five point runner, and he also has two Hobby Stock championships at the speedway as well.

Speaking of champions, it doesn't stop there. We also have Ricky Thatcher to consider. Thatcher is a three time Street Stock champion at Merced Speedway, and he's coming off of his best Modified season to date with a second place point ranking last year. Though the main event win eluded him last year, you better believe that Ricky will be racing hard to try and get it this year.

Speaking of main event winners, Karl Rose was a feature winner last year, and we expect to see him out there again sometime this year. We also have to consider Late Model veteran Derek Nance, who was convinced to come out of retirement by Sport Mod racer Tim Cecil last year. Another champion from the Hanford race track is Aaron Barnell. Barnell, who raced for several seasons at Merced Speedway, made his return to the track last year.

Two other stars of the speedway last year that we should continue to see this year or Ryan Porter and Bill Egleston. Porter, a fourth generation racer at the speedway, impressed with three main event wins and his top 10 season last year, including a surprising victory over the talented Bobby Hogge IV. Egleston, meanwhile, is a past champion of the speedway who had a top five season again last year.

There are just too many talented racers to name in this one article, but you can believe that you'll be seeing names out there that you haven't seen in a long time. Some of the racers we should be seeing this season include veteran Alan Pace, Bill Osgood III, Harley Turner, Derrick Colvin and many others.

There are just so many drivers to talk about in the Sport Mod division that it's hard for us to figure out where to even start. Some drivers who weren't really making their presence known last year are sure to be back racing hard this year. This means that 2015 champion Josh Hensley will have his work cut out for him if he hopes to repeat as champion. Hensley made his division debut last year and was the top rookie in addition to champion, winning a couple main events at the speedway along the way.

Driving a team car to D.C. Brown, you can't count out Rick Diaz. Diaz was fast when he showed up last year and was a main event winner, following up on his 2014 championship. There is also the talented Dwayne Short, who enjoyed a top 3 season in the standings last year after a long battle with runner up Mark Odgers.

Though we're not sure that the Odgers team is going to be chasing points, we expect to see a couple of Odgers cars out there this year, driven by Mark and his daughter Marisa. Odgers has been fast in whatever division he has competed, including winning a Sportsman championship at the speedway in the past and also a three time point runner up in Street Stocks. He does have a new car for this year, and even if he's not running for points, he's going to be racing hard to try to get into the winner's circle. Daughter Marisa, meanwhile, is a past Mini Stock champion at the speedway who finished in the top five in points at Chowchilla last year.

Champions like the aforementioned Barcellos and Bryant and past Antioch champion Jeremy Hoff are also expected to be in the field. Hoff was top 10 in points at Merced and a feature winner last year. Speaking of champions, we have a couple of past Street Stock champions in this field this year, while we also have a couple of past Mini Stock champions joining the fray.

A three time Street Stock champion, Darren Thomas has been running a Sport Mod, and he had a feature win at Antioch Speedway last season. While Darren continues to be a front runner when he's behind the wheel, he's planning on putting his sons Chase and Tanner behind the wheel on occasion this year. Chase had some good results in his first starts last season.

Last season saw the return of Steve Stone and Tim Ragsdale. Ragsdale raced Late Models at Merced several years back and has two Street Stock championships to his credit. Stone, like his brother and cousins, got his start in the Mini Truck division at Merced Speedway before winning the Chowchilla Street Stock title in 2000. Meanwhile, Chris Corder and Alex Odishoo are both getting into this division this year. This duo both has one Mini Stock Championship at Merced. Odishoo actually ran the Sport Mod division briefly before returning to the Mini Stocks and doing a bit and announcing at Merced Speedway last year.

The reality is that the Sport Mod division car count was strong and needed B Mains several times in 2014 before things took a nose dive with the departure of Williams as GM prior to last season. Many drivers should be returning this year, and we'll also see some new faces. Mike Drake ran this class briefly before he went out and won the Nor Cal Dwarf Car "Rookie Of The Year" honors and the Dwarf Car championship at Merced last season. He will be driving a Sport Mod for George Medeiros this season.

Among the names on the talented Sport Mod roster this year will be Tim Cecil, Mark Squadrito, past Watsonville Mini Stock champion Dan McCabe, Michael Aldrich, Danny Roe, Eric Rose, Tim Prothro, Matt Pedroni, Ashley Pedroni and many others.

There are many good reasons to be excited about the 2016 season at Merced Speedway. Two big reasons are the IMCA Sport Mod and Modified divisions and all of the talented drivers that will be competing on the one quarter mile oval. The season opener is set for April 2nd, and the first big race is coming on April 30th, the 50 lap Ted Stofle Classic, which will be 50 lap races for the Sport Mods and Modifieds as well as the Hobby Stocks. For further information, check out the official Merced Speedway webpage at

 Hobby Stocks Poised For Big Season At Merced Speedway

In the midst of everything that was happening at Merced Speedway last season, there was the Hobby Stock division. While the other divisions had their ups and downs, car count began to get big by season's end for the Hobby Stocks. This is not a trend that is expected to change with the new management team of promoter Ed Parker and general manager Doug Williams.

The Hobby Stock division is filled with much talent, and that is borne out by the fact that there were 16 different feature winners in 23 races last season. In fact, only five drivers won more than one main event. The only drawback to the whole thing was the fact that only one driver was seriously competing to win that championship.

The champion in question is Kevin Joaquin. In the previous two seasons, you could see that Kevin was working his way towards the championship, and last season saw him kick the door in with an impressive season. Kevin still has his Hobby Stock, but there was word that the team was considering a move up to the BCRA Midget Lites division. Kevin's grandfather raced with the BCRA Midgets several decades ago.

Picking a driver to beat in the Hobby Stock division this year is a daunting task. There are just too many talented drivers on the roster and not enough information at the moment as to who is going for the points and who is not. The best we can do here and speculate.

The Shearer racing team would be one team to consider. Kristie Shearer had a solid top five season despite missing some races last year, and that included three feature victories. Meanwhile, her husband Michael picked up the biggest win of them all with his victory in the Ted Stofle Classic last season.

Austin Van Hoff had an impressive season that netted him a third place point ranking as well as two feature victories. He's also the son of a past Street Stock champion, Jack Van Hoff.  Fellow second generation racer and Chowchilla resident Kodie Dean was top ten last season and a feature winner, and he could be ready to make a move this season.

Two drivers with past Hobby Stock championships who could be drivers to watch this year are Shane Hausmann and Andrew Krumm. Krumm has been putting together a sponsorship proposal to get the backing he needs to run for points this year, but he is a two time champion. Hausmann, meanwhile, has won championships in Hobby Stocks and the Sportsman division. He also impressed with a win last year and nearly won another one from the back of the pack before blowing a motor late in the race going for the lead.

Ty Shelton and George Silva are certainly two drivers you would have to keep an eye on. Silva is one of the more exciting drivers to watch on the track, and he's either going to the front or getting caught up in a crash. Shelton started off the season pretty strongly last year with a few top three finishes, but he missed some races and faded back. With his experience, you'd have to consider Shelton a title contender if he were to chase points.

Drivers like Robbie Loquaci, Dexter Long, Adam Reed and Phil Vaughn will be a few to keep an eye on. Long will be in his second season and coming off his top 5 ranking.  Reed didn't run the full season, but he had several top 5 finishes. Vaughn impressed with a top 3 finish late in the season. Loquaci was fast when he raced last year, and he could be factor in the battle this year.

There is also rookie Darren Miguel and the Hensley Racing Team car that saw drivers like Miguel, Gary Hildebrand and Josh Hensley drive it last year.  2015 Mini Stock champion Miguel has a car of his own for his rookie season, but he impressed with a win in the Hensley car in a rare start last season.  Hildebrand is a past Chowchilla Sport Mod champion, and he did have a win in his own Hobby Stock last year before mechanical woes derailed his effort.

You may not see them every race, but racers like Chris Falkenberg, Marc Key and Ryan Hart will be drivers to watch. Past division champion Falkenberg will probably concentrate on his Sport Mod after buying the former Fred Ryland car as he sets his sites on another feature victory, but he won a main event in this class last year. Hart is another past champion and was a two time winner last year, though he's more likely to concentrate on his pavement Late Model effort and race Hobby Stocks occasionally. We're not sure how much we'll see Key, but he was also a main event winner last season.

There are so many drivers on the roster that it's hard to name them all here. Last year's "Rookie Of The Year", Jennifer Corder, will be hoping to get her first taste of victory after her second place point effort last year. Other drivers to keep an eye this season include Steven Rogers in a new car, top 10 ranked Bobby Williams, Steve Torres, Jerry Tubbs, Jesse Ruckman, Jeff Lacy, Josh Strickland, Donnie Shearer, two time 2015 feature winner Cody Parker and many more.

With the talent pool we are looking at for the Merced Hobby Stocks, it won't be a surprise to see a multitude of feature winners once again. The big question is who will be the driver to beat in the championship battle? Basically, the Hobby Stock division will be another reason to go out and watch the races at Merced Speedway each and every Saturday night. For more information on this division and other happenings at Merced Speedway, go to the track's official website at

Mini Stock Division Embarks On 10th Season 
At Merced Speedway

When the season roars into action at Merced Speedway this year, they will begin their 10th season of Mini Stock point racing. Here's a little trivia for you all. Can you name that first champion from 2007? Back in those days, it was IMCA sanctioned and went by the name Sport Compact. The first champion won the first two track championships, and that would be Melanie Stone. Current IMCA Sport Mod competitor Marisa Odgers won the third championship season.

The division had some good races at the beginning of last year but the mid season point saw car count really struggle. Throughout the season, 2015 champion Darren Miguel and 2014 champion Chris Corder battled tenaciously for the championship. In the end, Miguel won by just two points.

During the season, Corder and Miguel carved up most of the feature victories amongst themselves. Only Robert Alger, Dan McCabe and Kevin Lockerby managed to get feature wins other than those two drivers. This left the rest of the pack to basically battle for second and third place finishes.

Miguel's status in the Mini Stock division is uncertain as he has a Hobby Stock for this year and there was a rumor that he'd sold his championship car. Corder and another past Mini Stock champion Alex Odishoo are both moving up to the Sport Mod division this year, but Corder has several Mini Stocks in his racing stables. It's likely that you will see him race at least a little bit. That being the case, you'll probably also see his sister, Jennifer Corder, race in Mini Stocks some as well as young Destiny Carter, who will be making her racing debut in one of the team's cars.

Meanwhile, after selling his car last season, past Mini Truck champion Kevin Lockerby will be back with another car. It didn't sound like he was going to be chasing points, but he will certainly be a threat for wins when he shows up.

This begs the question, who will be the driver to beat in the championship battle? If Corder and Miguel are truly out of the picture at this point, it's anybody's guess who will win it. That makes this season very exciting going in.

Manteca resident Jason Womack made a late season debut on the heels of a feature win down at Bakersfield Speedway. He would seem poised for a good season at Merced Speedway if he intends to compete there regularly.

Coming off of a third place point season last year, Dennis Copus has indicated that he will return. He didn't have the most luck last year, but he's anxious to go out there and give it a go in the quest for some main event wins.

Teammates Mike Germait, James Stockton and Steve Johnson should all be back out there this year. Johnson certainly made it interesting out there as he made some late season starts. Germait and Stockton are two drivers who could very easily be serious contenders for the championship.

You certainly can't count out the ladies of racing at Merced Speedway, and there will be a few out there giving it a go. This includes past top five point runner Joy Alger, who will be fielding a brand new car. Not to be forgotten is Alisa Caldwell, who continued to race hard last year and didn't let the bad crash at Chowchilla keep her away. Lucy Falkenberg has a car sitting at the Falkenburg racing shop, and we should see her at least a few times. Also, there's the aforementioned Destiny Carter, who is excited to be making her first start in the Mini Stock division.

Drivers like Matt Schlessinger, Brian Widdowson, Jeff Amos and Speedy Davis did some racing last year, and we'll probably be seeing them a little bit as well. The fact is, there are several Mini Stocks in the area, and there's no telling who may bring cars out of the woodwork with the change in management at Merced Speedway.

There might be a tendency from some people to forget about the Mini Stocks in the shadows of the IMCA Modifieds and Sport Mods and the Hobby Stock division, but that would be a mistake. As car count began to rebound last year, the racing got more entertaining. It's expected to grow this year, and the division should be exciting to watch. For further information, check out the Merced Speedway webpage at

Sportsman Division Back At Merced Speedway

The rumors of the death of the Sportsman division at Merced Speedway have been greatly exaggerated. The nostalgic division, which was restored by promoter Chuck Griffen back in 1999, seemed like it was on its last legs last year. Midway through the championship season, promoter John M. Soares decided to cancel the point race due to low turnout.

After Mike Palmberg and Kenny Birdsong negotiated with Soares, the division was added last year for Legend's Night, and they produced 6 cars for that event. Overall, it was the best showing of the year for the division, and the race was won by Eric Sealy. Soares even gave the division one more race before the season's end, and the drivers decided that they weren't going to let this division go.

Former promoter, Chuck Griffin, had been a driver in the division when Jim Soares, the general manager of the track at the time, canceled the division during the 1980 season. Merced had some very fast competitors in the Sportsman division back in the heyday, including "Rapid" Rod Poor, Dennis Moomjean, "Mr. Dirt" Vern Willhoite and George Steitz.

When Griffin saw the Limited Sprint Car division leave Merced for the pavement at the end of the 1998 season, it was decided that he would add the Sportsman division. Luis Miranda was one of those who got on board early and helped get this division started again, and the division had several other fast competitors, such as the return of Rod Poor and Mike Friesen, take part in the beginning of the new era of Sportsman racing.

At one point, the division grew to have over a dozen cars in the pack, and Griffin had considered making the division the headliner before the drivers formed a club and started racing at Chowchilla as well. Though car count dipped down to 5 or 6 cars showing up at some races, Griffin was never going to give up on this division.

When Soares took over Merced Speedway in 2010, he continued to keep this division out there. A champion was crowned in Mike Henault in 2014, but there began to be some disgruntled racers over rules changes with the motors. At times, only two cars showed up to race last season, and Soares was not pleased.

However, Palmberg and Birdsong convinced Soares to add the Sportsman division to Legend's Night again so that the legends could have cars to drive onto the track for the interviews. 1999 and 2000 champion Mike Friesen even made a rare appearance to support the cause with both of his cars.

The statistics will show that Marcus Lung was the top point earner over Birdsong, though no champion was crowned for the season. Lung and Sealy won most of the races last year with Jeff Bristow the other winner. These three are expected to return along with Birdsong, Palmberg and past champion Mark Odgers, at least a time or two.

Odgers is building a new Sport Mod, but he enjoys driving the Sportsman from time to time and may find an opening in the eight race schedule that works for him. Another Sportsman driver with a new Sport Mod is Tim Prothro, who was ranked second in Sportsman points in 2014.

The rest is speculation, but we've heard Jeannie Canepa is returning after a few seasons away. Mike Hausmann revealed last year that the team still has one of their championship cars, but he was debating what to do with it.  After winning the 2014 championship, we haven't seen Henault.  Might he return this season?

There are eight dates this year, and optimism is high for a rebound from last season. These beautiful, sleek machines bring back memories of some great days in racing, and it's great to see this division still a part of the show.

It's hard to believe that this is the 18th year of the revival. Some great drivers have been a part of this 18 year run, including champions like Kevin Freitas, Keith Van Houton in the Bill Baker car, Dennis Barcellos, Neill Barcellos and other hard chargers like Robb Schropp, Ed Marion, Tim Goodson, Tony Valencia and so many others.

What's nice is that the new season means new opportunity to add new stars to the mix. As long as they keep the rules in check and affordable, there's a chance that this division will grow and get stronger. For more on the Sportsman division and Merced Speedway in general, check out the track's official website at