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Remembering Phil Pedlar,
Antioch and Merced Playday Musings
Well, it's early Wednesday morning as I begin this column, and I can't sleep. Got a lot going on in my mind, and I suppose that's why I can't sleep. It is what it is. I started thinking about Phil Pedlar. We just lost another legend yesterday. My quest has been to honor the greats of the past. I devoted my life to studying the history of our sport. In the end... Okay, I'm not going there. Trying to stay positive. I know people appreciate it. I'm trying to get back to appreciating it myself, and it's hard sometimes.
They called him Phil "Bang Bang" Pedlar. I heard about him through my dad. My dad went to Vallejo Speedway back in the day and Contra Costa Speedway before that. Phil was one of the racers there. The way dad tells it, Phil was an aggressive racer. He was coming from the back of the pack one way or the other. If you didn't get out of his way, you might pay the price. He was a big man, and let's just say people didn't mess with him. I'm told my mom was a big fan, which dad didn't particularly like. Dad was a Larry Damitz fan, Chet Thomson and Leroy Geving, if I recall.
I sort of pictured him as a Dennis Furia "type" racer. Dennis was aggressive, won a lot and didn't always make friends with the way he drove. I wasn't a fan as a kid, but when I met the man, that changed. I grew to respect him. Another great who is no longer with us. Well, Phil won a lot of races in Hardtops and Open Comp races. He was a champion at Vallejo, and my chance to watch him race was at Petaluma Speedway in Super Stocks. That division was a site to see. So many greats, and Phil was one of them. Not surprisingly, Phil won a title there as well.
I just learned from Southern Oregon Speedway Promoter Mike McCann that after Phil won his Petaluma championship, he made a bid to buy Cottage Grove Speedway. It was going to be Phil and his son Robbie, who also raced Super Stocks. Heck, by then, Phil had done it all, so what was left to prove as a racer? He had the knowledge, and I don't think too many racers would get in his face about a bad call. Call it a hunch. Mike ended up promoting the track, and he was honored at the RPM Promoter's Workshop as Promoter Of The Year for turning that track around. Anyway...
I sort of lost track of Phil for about a decade when he returned in a Modified. Not surprisingly, he was winning again. I heard rumors around 1997 or so that he was building an NCMA Modified. I saw him at Petaluma one night, went into his trailer and asked him if this was true. He just smiled and asked me where I'd heard that. I have my sources, Phil. He was vague, but I think he was looking. The NCMA just wasn't the right time and place for him.
When Don O'Keefe Jr. and I started Wingless Spec Sprints with John at Antioch, Phil decided it was time. Not surprisingly, he was a winner again. I was in awe. Phil Pedlar was in a division that I helped start. He's one of the reasons it made it. He was in a hard flip after contact with O'Keefe. Don related a story where he could hear Phil was hurt, and it messed with Don's mind for a while. I mean, you're in a wreck with a legend, and maybe it's the last time that legend races? I can see that messing with you. Phil had a bad back, but he wanted to race. And, he raced again after that. It was finally the time and place as he won the NCMA dirt series championship a year later.
Phil raced a bit more in Modifieds and then he left the state. Man, it makes me sad to have lost him. It's been a rough off season . Jerry Hetrick, Dave Gonderman, Joe Fore Jr., Larry Rodriguez, Jimmy Lavell, Bob Hansen... I'm growing numb with the news. It hurts too much, and I'm already sad enough as it is.
I'm just gonna come out and say it... I don't care. All of the racers I've met through the years, even the ones who weren't so nice to me, I love you guys. I see Larry Damitz out there racing at 86 years old. Appreciate that, folks. Go up and say hi and have a conversation with him, Don't take it for granted. Charlie "The Hammer" Correia, Mike "The Blue Knight" Gustafson... I love that these guys are still able to race. Ken Gonderman is still pits with his son Dan. The man is a legend, and I'm damn proud to know him. Ron Brown is still doing it out there... I saw J.D. Willis last year... Saw Keith Brown, Debbie Clymens, Tommy Clymens, Terry DeCarlo. So many, even at Merced. I love you guys.
I'm not okay with the way things were left at Antioch Speedway between John and I. It's something I'm living with, because I sort of had a belief that, since I was back, I'd be there working with him until he walked away or tossed me out on my ass. But, I waited and waited and waited as my life went to hell. Lo and behold, things are what they are, and it bleeping hurts. I'm a Soares fan. Always have been. I don't carry any negative feelings towards John, just hurt. I wish John and Donna nothing but the best, and I love them for the good they have done. I'm a little worried about them and hope they are doing well.
I'm telling you folks, since I lost my dad, I don't take it for granted that anybody is gonna be here. Mark Garner knows the pain now, and it hurt watching what he was going through last year. Jerry Garner was a good man, Never let an opportunity pass to let people know how you feel. They may not be there tomorrow. As for Phil Pedlar, he was a good racer and a good man I'm proud to have known him. He will forever be "Class of 1999 Wingless Spec Sprints" to me. Without racers like him, it never would have made it. Thank you Phil.
Merced And Antioch Racers, Get Ready To Play...
It looks as if the weather will cooperate, and that means playdays should be happening at both Merced Speedway and Antioch Speedway on Saturday night. It's the perfect opportunity for the drivers to dust the cobwebs off of their race cars and make sure things are working right. Antioch Speedway will be opening on the 26th, and Merced will have one more playday before their opener on April 2nd.
If what I'm reading right, the Antioch opener on March 26th is Late Models, Limited Late Models, B-Mods, Dwarf Cars and Hobby Stocks.
Merced on April 2nd is IMCA Modifieds, IMCA Sport Mods, Hobby Stocks and Mini Stocks.
The Antioch chatter has been interesting. Aaron Crowell has a nice looking Modified ready to go. Could this be another championship season for him? He looked real good at times last year. The Slaney cars have been seen on Facebook as Mikey and his son Anthony are racing Modifieds this year as well.
B Mod season has already started for Fred Ryland, and not surprisingly, he's won a few races already, most recently at Marysville and Kern County. Patti Ryland even had a Top 5 run at Marysville.
Hobby Stock photos have circulated from Steven Rogers and Dan McCown as their cars are being prepared for the coming season. It looks like Chris Long is ready to go too with Joey Ridgeway coming on board as part of the team. Guy Ahlwardt has lots of pictures. With a car that beautiful, who can blame him for sharing them? Chris Soresenen is ready to go too from what we're hearing. It's gonna be a good year for Hobby Stocks, I think.
Speaking of which, Robbie Waldrop has been showing off his daughter's Hobby Stock. I know Natalie Waldrop will do just fine out there. Robbie is looking forward to wheeling Bill McLaughlin's Hardtop on the dirt. I noticed pictures of Bill's pavement car as well. Almost forgot that Bill has two cars. The beautiful #1 Dudley tribute car of Dave Mackey is ready to go as well. Doug Braudrick, Jason Armstrong and Ken Retzloff's cars have been shared on Facebook. Retzloff is getting help from Nick DeCarlo, who owned the car before. Not sure if Nick will be driving. I've also noticed Ken and Jason Clifford have said they are ready, and Tommy Thomson as well. CHA President John Philbert has a busy schedule for Hardtops, and Antioch has them five times. Dirt races for this class also include races at Placerville, Chico, Marysville and the night of the Johnny Soares Classic at Petaluma.
I was surprised by the announcement from Danny Chappa that his daughter Miranda has a Spec Sprint. He shared pics. And, yes, I think she is ready for the move. I know Adam Teves is, and that young man has quite the honor. He's driving what is basically a tribute car to a true legend, Lloyd Beard. Beautiful race car. I thought I saw Alan Miranda mention he's ready to go, and teammates Marcus Smith in the Richard Basden #20 car and Dan Gonderman have already made starts at Marysville. Also, word out of the Perry Racing garage is their two cars, to be driven by Jim Perry Jr. and Jimmy Perry III, will be ready to go.
Teammates Charlie Correia and Mike Corsaro have shown off their Dwarf Cars on Facebook as they prepare for the coming season. Great guys, and I know they will do well. David Teves's car is ready to go, and "Captain Chaos" Danny Wagner has already been racing this year. I know Kevin Miraglio will be ready to go. Dwarf Cars will be reliable and entertaining as always.
Not much chatter on Sprint Cars or Late Models, but I'm hopeful. On the Limited Late Model front, four time division champion Larry Damitz already went out to play at Maryville last month. Also, Kimo Oreta has his #03 car painted and lettered. He's ready for his rookie season. Of course, Mark Garner has shared some pictures. He'll run the Delta Transmissions sponsored car again. Not sure what number he's going with. Mark had announced last year that he was retiring his dad's number. He's also been sharing pictures of Billy Garner's Hobby Stock. Did I mention Natalie Perry's Hobby Stock should be ready?
Doug Williams has been getting drivers to share pictures on Merced Speedway's Facebook page. They are doing so much right now, and I am amazed at Williams and Ed Parker. There are 9 lap heat races this year in honor of John Fore Jr. and Ed just announced open grandstands for the fans to watch the March 26th playday. Is that awesome or what? I have a feeling Merced is gonna be just fine this year. Can you say B Mains needed? I have a feeling a couple divisions will need them on occasion. I hope so, because that would be awesome.
As I said, Doug and Ed have been posting pictures, and there are lots of Sport Mod drivers taking advantage of it. Past Street Stock star Danny Roe will be back with his car, and its looking good. Speaking of which, the returning Alex Odishoo's car looks great as the past Mini Stock champion comes back to this division. I think the blue #07 Sport Mod of George Medeiros looks great. Blue #07, just like Ken Gregg. George has 2015 Dwarf Car champion Mike Drake driving, and Mike already got some seat time to shake out the bugs at the Maryville's opener.
Isn't Tim Prothro part of the Mariposa Mafia? I know Ricky Thatcher is, and his A Mod is ready for a run at a win. Being a three time champion in Street Stocks, I know what Ricky can do. Prothro was Sportsman runner up two years ago, but his Sport Mod effort was cut short last year when he "said hello" to the Turn 4 wall. Car looks good. I'd love to see the Sportsman if he still has it. Charter Mariposa Mafia member Mark "The Missle" Odgers has that Vern Wilhoite tribute Sportsman, and I hope we get to see it some. He also has a new Sport Mod in the works, a newer chassis. Plus, Marisa Odgers returns to the track of her Mini Stock Championship. Love that beautiful race car, and she's a good driver too.
Matt Pedroni will be joined by his wife Ashley this year in Sport Mods. Ashley will be in Chris Falkenberg's old car for her rookie effort. Falkenberg, meanwhile, is set to debut his new car, which is the former Fred Ryland car. Dale Falkenberg has been helping get these cars together, and there is the Hobby Stock and Mini Stock. Lucy Falkenberg will run the Mini when she gets the chance. As for the Hobby Stock, might the "Rock & Roller" himself, Dale Falkenberg, take the wheel again? We can hope.
The only Mini Stock I saw pictured for a while there is the car of Joy Alger, but there has been a lot of buzz. I think car count will be back up in double digits. Chris Corder posted pictures of the car he has prepared for Destiny Carter this year. I'm anxious to see Destiny live out her dream in one of the Corder Racing cars. Dennis Coups is ready to roll, and Kevin Lockerby had been waiting on a motor, but he has it now. Things are coming together.
Andrew Krumm is hoping to bring it all together for his Hobby Stock. He's looking for sponsorship, and I say this guy is worthy. He's a two time division champion already, and he's a winner. I'm not sure what the status is on his daughter's Mini Stock, but I think it was a question of getting the teen used to driving a stick. I do hope Andrew gets the backing, because it would be good to have him back out there regularly again.
Brandon Speck is coming back, and his Hobby Stock is gorgeous. I can't wait to what he can do. Last year's runner up, Jennifer Corder, has new paint and better numbering on her #13 car. I see a podium finish in her future, and could a win be far behind? Kodie Dean won once last year, and his #7 car looks nice and new. Oh, the punishment that car took late last season. He just couldn't catch a break, but he'll be back at it this year and tough to beat. Donnie Shearer will be back this year as well and has put a picture up there. There was also a Jeff Lacy sighting at Hanford in February as he was putting his Dan Marino/Miami Dolphins #13 car through its paces.
Chris Shannon has a gorgeous Modified, and the Late Model veteran will be racing along with his Go Kart champion son, D.J Shannon. Robert Dias also has plans to race, and his car is looking good. Two time Hobby Stock champion and Top 5 Sport Mod racer last season, Bruce "Bubba" Nelson has shown his new car on social media. It's a Michael Shearer owned entry, and I'm betting that means we get to see Michael and his wife Kristie racing Hobby Stocks again this year. Nelson's car looks good, and I bet he'll still be a hard charger this year.
Last I heard, the plan was for Ramie Stone to race, and I sure hope so. I always enjoyed watching him race his way to the front. Ramie is one of the best, and there are gonna be some good racers in IMCA Modifieds at Merced Speedway this season. These are just some I know of based on social media chatter and the pictures I've seen posted so far.
Then, it gets better. Paul Stone's picture was just posted on the Merced Speedway Facebook page. Paul is a multi time Merced and Hanford champion, and it sounds like he may be making a return for another point run. If that happens, watch out! You already know how good he is. Paul and cousin Ramie in Modifieds at Merced Speedway? It doesn't get much better than that, but yet it does. Just go see for yourself.
They play this Saturday, and the man dropping the green flag on the field will be none other than Doug Laidlaw. What a great choice for flagman. Doug is one of the best, and he is respected by the racers. I've been hearing some rumblings by the Sportsman drivers, well Kenny Birdsong anyway. He has accounted for 13 different cars in the group, and I hope we start seeing all of them during the year. The goal should be making those eight races pop, and then we can go from there. Merced brought the class back, so go out there and make Merced proud.
And finally, While Bakersfield has a show Saturday that will headlined by USAC West Coast Sprint Cars and IMCA Sport Mods, Rocky Hill Speedway is coming back at you with new management. They've already made improvements and cleaned up the facility a bit. I have a good feeling from all that I am hearing that this will be a better season. Hobby Stocks, Mini Stocks, Pro 4s and American Stocks are back, and Mini Dwarfs and Mod Lites are running this week as well. American Stocks struggled last year, and I'm hoping this class gets better this year. I have a feeling it will be a little better, but we never know until it happens. We'll find out on Saturday.
I'll probably ghost write stuff this year for all three of these tracks as I do my best Gary Jacob impression. Can you believe that we lost that man ten years ago in June? Where the hell does the time go? I miss him, and so does the sport. He was an asset to racing, and I suggested him for the West Coast Stock Car Hall Of Fame last year. I'm sure Ken filed it some place. I'm not holding my breath on that one, but there is no question Gary was all about the Stock Cars and could help make a race with his efforts. If it was Late Models, he was there. Gary should be in the Hall Of Fame. I nominated John M. Soares too, and after Ken saw that name, he probably didn't look anymore. Call it a hunch. But, both are worthy inductees in my opinion.
Anyway, with Gary gone, there is a major void in motorsports coverage in California. Nobody is dedicated and crazy enough to do this like Gary did. The hours he put in to do that AND work a regular job probably contributed to his early demise. And, to my original point, folks, don't take any of this for granted. Don't let anything go unsaid. If you care about somebody out there, say it. No day is guaranteed. Enjoy watching these veteran racers, and when one of them stops by the track, say hi. Let them know. Cherish watching a guy like Larry Damitz. That man is inspiring to me. He was one of my dad's favorite drivers too.
Guys like Phil Pedlar made this sport special. I'm saddened that we lost him, but at least I got to see him race and talk to him. I guess God needed another hard charger up there at the speedway in the sky. This column is dedicated to Phil Pedlar with some good news. I just got word that for his racing accomplishments, Phil is being induced into the Calistoga Speedway Hall Of Fame this year. A fitting way to remember a legend!