Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Parker Era Begins With A Bang At Merced Speedway

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Parker Era Begins With A Bang At Merced Speedway

People were asking for change at Merced Speedway, and what they got was far beyond what they expected.  A new promoter stepped in to bring change to the speedway, and that man is Ed Parker. While engaged in lengthy negotiations with Oval Motorsports, Parker was already putting together his crew. From the moment he thought about becoming the promoter, Parker had a definite game plan in mind.

Three of the first people that he recruited were General Manager Doug Williams and Announcer Dale Falkenburg, who has helped put some promotional things together for the speedway. Parker also enlisted good friend Tim Ragsdale to handle the track preparation. All three of these moves have paid off pretty well for the speedway so far.

In Ragsdale, the racers have been given a smooth racing surface. In Falkenburg the speedway has an enthusiastic promotional guy. This has led to candy giveaways for the kids, concerts underneath the grandstands and other fun stuff. In Williams, the racers have a General Manager that they respect.

There were no big changes when it came to the divisions at the speedway. When Williams was the General Manager a couple years ago, the speedway had solid car counts in the IMCA Sport Modifieds and the IMCA Modified divisions. The expectations were that the car count would come back in both classes, and the Sport Modifieds have delivered big time.

Indications were that car count was improving in both the Hobby Stock and Mini Stock divisions last year under Oval Motorsports. Those trends continued under Parker and Williams. In fact, like the Sport Modified division, the Hobby Stock division has needed B Mains on several occasions this year.

Parker attempted to secure dates from one of the two traveling Dwarf Car associations, but the schedules were already booked. Rather than try to keep the track's Dwarf Car division that Oval Motorsports had instituted last year, Parker decided to wait until next year. While the track continues to try to work to revive the Valley Sportsman effort, The Limited Late Model division has been shelved. Focus has been put on the core four divisions.

The IMCA Modified division has been very competitive this year, and feature wins have been shared among five different drivers.  It was 2014 Champion Paul Stone kicking off the season with a win, and 2012 champion and current point leader Bill Egleston has a win as well. Jeff Streeter and Bakersfield visitor Ethan Dotson are both winners this year, and it was Ramie Stone finally getting his car sorted out in the biggest race of the year, the All Star Modified Tour race.

Though there are a few name drivers missing from last year's roster, that has been more than made up for with new additions to the roster this year. Rookie Bruce "Bubba" Nelson has done quite well this year with multiple top 5 finishes. Late Model veterans Chris Shannon and Derek Nance have been competing this year, and Chris's son D.J. Shannon has also debuted his own ride. Past Antioch Speedway Sport Mod champion Jeremy Hoff recently made his Modified debut as well.

While the Modified division has been very competitive this year and will probably see a few more winners before the season is up, the Sport Modified division has been off the chain. After John Fore Jr. passed away prior to the season, 2014 champion Rick Diaz took John's car number as a tribute to him and is making an effort to win the championship. He is already a two time feature winner this year, but he's found some competition in one time winner Steve Stone and the very consistent Mike Drake. Though Drake is without a win yet, he has two top three finishes driving for George Medeiros and seems poised to get a win soon.

Past IMCA State and Bakersfield champion Nick Spainhoward was a recent Main Event winner on Ted Stoffle Classic night. The competition in this division is intense just to make the Main Event, and there are some drivers without a win who you should be seeing get a win at some point this year. On the list of likely feature winners are Chris Falkenburg, Gary Tucker and defending champion Josh Hensley.

It is rare in this day and age to have divisions that needs B Mains, and Merced Speedway has two of them. There are some pretty darn good racers on the roster of Sport Modifieds, including 2015 point runner up Mark Odgers, Dwayne Short, Alex Odissio, Nick Tucker, Danny Roe and Tim Prothro. Several drivers are just getting into the Sport Modified division, including young guns Gavin Espino, Tanner Thomas and his brother Chase Thomas. The Thomas boys have a good teacher as their father is three time Street Stock champion Darren Thomas.

Speaking of Street Stocks, the Hobby Stock division is the heir apparent to the Street Stocks. Just as the Hobby Stock division was last year, it has been a wide open race this year with multiple feature winners. Raul "Showtime" Rodriguez Sr., a multi time Hobby Stock champion, picked up his second feature win of the season last time out. Rodriguez is joined on the feature winner's list this year by recent Ted Stofle Classic winner Phil Vaughn, point leader Michael Shearer, two time Watsonville champion Terry Campion and Bubba Nelson.

Still looking for wins and likely to get them are current second ranked driver Kristie Shearer, the wife of Michael, and 2015 champion Kevin Joaquin. Joaquin finally grabbed his first top three finish of the year last time out. 2015 third ranked driver Austin Van Hoff should be a winner at some point this year, but as a recent high school graduate, he already is a winner.  Other drivers looking good so far this year are the surprising Dexter Long, Robby Loquaci, Kodie Dean, Garrett Corn and George Silva.

Many times, the Hobby Stock division steals the show. The racing is close and sometimes a little bit too close, but the Hobby Stock division always seems to entertain the fans. It will not be a surprise to see another half a dozen or more new feature winners before the season is done. And, you never know when somebody unexpected will get a win. Keep an eye on Chris Williams, Adam Reed, Cody Parker, Gary Hildebrand, Darren Miguel and John Hensley as drivers who could win at some point this season.

Chris Corder will probably win the Mini Stock division championship. It's not necessarily a knock on his competition, it's just a tribute to the skill level of Corder, who is the 2015 point runner up and 2014 champion. Corder knocked out three Main Event wins in a row before finally being beaten last time out by Jason Lewis.  Corder actually didn't finish that Main Event.

The Corder team brings out three cars and sometimes four to the race track. Chris's second team car has been driven very well by Joy Alger, who has two third place finishes. It was Robert Alger who drove the second Corder car to a feature win last year, and it won't be a surprise to see Joy get one this year. After selling her Hobby Stock, the car she finished second in points with last year, Jennifer Corder has returned to the Mini Stocks. Jennifer chased her brother in the points in 2014 to finish second in the standings. Not to be forgotten in the mix is top five ranked "Rookie Of The Year" hopeful Destiny Carter, who continues to improve with each race in another Corder car.

Mike Germait and James Stockton are two drivers who seem to be in the hunt for a feature win. Others, such as Brian Widdowson, Paul Lauretti, Curtis Thornhill, Steven Johnson and Tony Peffer, are drivers who could pick up a win at any time. They might need a little help from mechanical failure on the number #68 car of Corder.

The renaissance of the Mini Stock division is a good thing for Merced Speedway. You need a division that brings new drivers into the fold, and this division fits the bill. It was another four cylinder division, the Mini Trucks of the 1990's, that brought Merced Speedway some of the best drivers that it's ever had. Two of those drivers, Paul Stone and Ramie Stone, continue to run strong in IMCA Modifieds to this day.  One of those drivers, Ed Parker, is the track's promoter.

Despite its difficult time, Ed Parker and Doug Williams continue to hang in there with the Valley Sportsman division. Right now, there seems to be at least ten cars available, but the highest the division has gotten so far this season is five. The man who has been really boosting the division and trying to get support for it, Kenny Birdsong, finally got his first two feature wins in the last two races. Kenny wheels the #25m car, reminiscent of the car driven by Rod Poor in the 1970's. When he finally won his first race, he dedicated it to Poor.

Two time champion Mike Friesen made his return to the division in a newly painted race car. Mike hasn't been racing so much at Merced Speedway in recent years, and he is a definite welcome addition to the class. Mike loves the nostalgia thing and has competed in Hardtops and Super Modifieds as well. Eric Sealy, Jeff Bristow, Mike Palmberg and Tim Prothro are other drivers who have competed this year.

The Valley Sportsman cars are some of the neatest race cars that you're going to find, and hopefully more cars will be returning to the speedway in the weeks ahead. If they do, they're going to find a promotional team that cares about them. Back in the 1970's, General Manager Doug Williams even drove one of these cars.

The track continues to try different promotional ideas all the time. Ed Parker treats the community at the speedway like they are family, and he is constantly looking for new ways to honor the past. One of the big ways is Legends Night on August 13th, which was reestablished a couple years ago by Williams. Parker has confirmed that there will be a Hall Of Fame in Merced Speedway's future, though he's still figuring all of that out at the moment. First to appear will likely be a collage beneath the grandstands of pictures and past champions through the years.

Still to come on an action packed schedule will be the Timmy Post Memorial Race, complete with Fireworks Show, and the Matt Van Hoecke Fight Against Cancer. On any given Saturday night, as Johnny Sass would say, action is the attraction at Merced Speedway. The season is off to a really good start right now with no signs of letting up.  Next up will be this Wednesday's fair race, featuring IMCA Modifieds and Hobby Stocks. For further information on Merced Speedway and its happenings, check out the official website at www.racemerced.com.

Note:  Not long after the Timmy Post Race was announced, things really started to come together.  The July 2nd event will now have a Fireworks Display and that's not all.  An anonymous sponsor has come forward to offer free admission to the fans.  This was something that past Promoter Chuck Griffin would do for 4th Of July races in the past, even though this is typically one of the biggest attended races of the year.  Timmy's Race has always been very special to the competitors, and this is a race that you won't want to miss.

Another of the big races happens tomorrow (June 8th).  The Annual Merced County Fair Race is one the racers like to attend because of the increased fan attendance.  The Hobby Stocks are already a packed show that could need a B Main this week, but word on the Modifieds is that several drivers are making returns.  This includes the return of Troy Stone, a past top 5 driver and multi time feature winner in IMCA Modifieds, three time 2015 feature winner and past Hobby Stock champion Ryan Porter, past Sport Mod champion Ryan Larimer and Karl Rose, who also had a win last season.

Merced Speedway Points
IMCA Modified
Bill Egleston     151
Randy Brown     139
Bruce Nelson     138
Ramie Stone     135
Ricky Thatcher    132
Jarod Fast     126
Paul Stone     116
Jeff Streeter     111
T.J. Etchinson III 103
Jerry Corn     88

IMCA Sport Modified
Rick Diaz     185
Steve Stone     184
Mike Drake     178
Josh Hensley     168
Tim Elias     166
Gary Tucker     149
Alex Odishoo     139
Chris Falkenberg 133
Dwayne Short     129
Andy Welch     117

Hobby Stock
Michael Shearer 113
Kristie Shearer 101
Dexter Long     98
Phillip Vaughn     88
Garrett Corn     86
Kodie Dean     82
Robbie Loquaci     80
Austin Van Hoff 79
Kevin Joaquin     73
Andrew Krumm     70

Mini Stock
Chris Corder     69
Joy Alger     66
James Stockton     59
Mike Germait     57
Destiny Carter     56
Paul Lauretti     46
Dennis Copus    44
Curtis Thornhill 39
Jason Lewis    39
Lucy Falkenberg 32