Friday, September 9, 2016

John Soares Sr. Memorial Race At Antioch Speedway Announced, Plus Pit Stops

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John Soares Sr. Memorial Race Set For October 8th
At Antioch Speedway

Antioch, CA...There was a man who did many great things for the sport of auto racing in the Bay Area. First, as a driver, he won many races and championships. He even won a NASCAR race. He opened up a couple of race tracks and played a part in building a few other ones. He promoted many big races through the years, and he was the man who brought the popular Dirt Modified division to California in 1987. His name was John Soares Sr.

In the 1950's, John and another one of the racing pioneers, Jerry Piper, opened up Antioch Speedway for two seasons. At the time, Bob Barkhimer & Associates was the big promotional body, and guys like Soares, Piper and Bert Moreland were the promoters in the group along with Barkhimer. In 1961, Soares returned to Antioch Speedway open again. Though getting it opened was a struggle in the beginning, car count flourished by the end of the season.

John ran Antioch Speedway for 20 years. During that time, he also opened the gates at Petaluma Speedway and promoted various indoor races during the off season. When you competed at one of his race tracks, you know you were going to get a fair shake. In fact, he inspired such loyalty in his racers that when he left Antioch Speedway at the end of the 1980 season, about half of the Sportsman division followed him to Petaluma.

At Petaluma, he was still setting trends. He had one of the most competitive Super Stock shows you would find anywhere in the state in the years immediately after he left Antioch. He promoted a big blowout race called in M. Maseli & Sons race. This race was one of the biggest Stock Car races for many years. It was in 1987 when John made the first of two of his biggest moves, and both had a big impact on the sport.

In 1987, after going back to Iowa and witnessing the IMCA Modifieds, Soares started a class at Petaluma Speedway. In 1988, he had his first Modified point race and crowned his first track champion in Joe Carr. One by one, race tracks all up and down the West Coast started Modified divisions of their own. In 1989, John made another big move. After the popular Baylands Raceway was closed down, he invited every division that raced at that track to be a part of his show. The All Pro Series was born, and over 150 cars were there in those early years. Soares saw to it that all of the races got done before curfew most nights. John was known for running an efficient program.

It was a few years later when John did his usual trend setting thing and gave Dwarf Car racing its first race in California on a big track. A few years after that, he began promoting the Top Dog Nationals, one of the biggest Dirt Modified races in California. He would get 60 or more cars for some of those shows. During a remarkable career, John received numerous awards, including an induction into the West Coast Stock Car Hall Of Fame and the Bay Cities Racing Association Hall Of Fame. He's also a member of the Motoring Press Association Hall Of Fame and a recipient of the DCRR Racing News Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 1998, John watched as his son, John Soares Jr., followed in his footsteps and become the promoter of Antioch Speedway. John is now in his 19th season as promoter and will tie his father next year. On October 8th, the younger Soares had a date to the schedule that was to be announced. For a few years, he has been trying to figure out the right place to put a big race on his schedule in honor of his father, and that's where this date comes in.

John has just announced the John Soares Sr. Memorial Top Dog race. Four divisions are part of this October 8th show, including Late Models, A Modifieds, B Modifieds and Hobby Stocks. All divisions compete for bigger money purses. The Late Models and the A Modifieds will pay $1,500 to win, while the B Modifieds and Hobby Stocks pay $850. The idea is to award the racers who have been supportive of the race track and end the season on a high note.

More importantly, the idea is to honor one of the founders of the Bay Area racing movement. The reality is that there are many fans who have no idea of the great racing that happened in those early years. And, it was people like Soares who helped make it happen. Without his efforts in the early days, there might not even be an Antioch Speedway. So, while this race is a big show for the drivers to win, it's also a celebration of one of great innovators of the sport. Saturday, October 8th should be a great night at Antioch Speedway. For more information, go to

Pit Stops

The beat goes on at Antioch Speedway. Promoter John M. Soares continues to keep the show going with a roster of eight divisions under the All Star Series banner. Usually, you can see six of them competing on on any given weekend. Car count numbers have maintained at least minimum levels all year. There are some divisions doing better than others.

Last year, management made waves when announcements were made of rule changes in the Wingless Spec Sprint and Hobby Stock divisions about a month before the season was to start. Car count took a hit in both classes. However, the intent of the rule changes was always to keep costs in line, and the biggest issue with the rules was probably more to do with the timing of the changes. Drivers generally have what they have when racing season is a month away, and changes forced many teams to scramble or just park.

The Spec Sprints, now in their 18th season at the track that got this division started, has went as high as 17 cars this season and is generally in the 10-12 car range. This is up from last year. Again, there has been a good point battle between veteran Jim Perry Jr. and Marcus Smith, who landed the ride in the Richard Basden car just before the season started. Smith has earned three wins at this stage of the season, but it looks as if the championship hopes are over for Smith after the last race.

There was drama earlier in the evening in the heat races that saw Perry get black flagged for excessive noise. Smith blew a motor in the Basden car to end his night. Smith owns a car that has generally been driven by Dan Gonderman this year, but he put young Adam Teves in his car last time. Teves responded with his first heat race win. When he saw that Smith's night was over, he turned the wheel of the car he was driving back over to Smith. He wasn't asked to do so. Smith drove the car to a second place Main Event finish, but word was that he would only get money and no points due to the fact that he did not qualify the car in a heat a race.

What is interesting when you talk about racers like Perry, Gonderman and Rick Panfili is that all three of these drivers were on the original roster in 1999. Even Smith has a connection, though the 2015 "Rookie Of The Year" is just getting started. He drives the #20 car for Basden, and the #20 was used by Keith Shepherd, who was an original in this class in 1999 and retired this season. Shipherd even gave his blessing to run the number.

The non point night of Smith throws him down to Pamfili, and that means there will be a battle between these two for second in the standings once again with veteran Roy Fisher lurking closely in fourth.  These two drivers battled for second with Smith was coming out ahead in the end last year. Panfili has come off of back to back third place point seasons and would love to take it up a notch in second. Even more so, Rick is still looking for his first career Main Event win.

The Spec Sprint division has been very competitive this season, and the same can be said for the Hobby Stock class, though a good portion of wins have been gobbled up by Guy Ahlwardt and Danny Jones. The championship battle took on a similar complexion to that of the Wingless Spec Sprints. Jones is a veteran of Stock Car racing who started racing at Antioch Speedway in the 1970's. Ahlwardt is in his rookie season and is the son of former NASCAR official Steve Ahlwardt. Both drivers have been strong all year long and have battled adversity.

Alhwardt was disqualified in a controversial decision earlier this season as there were some people questioning his legality, but he came back, passed tech and won the next race. Unfortunately, a week after that, he ended up being put into the wall, leaving the crew with much damage to repair. This also opened the door for Danny Jones to grab the point lead in the Ryan Thomason owned car. Things were going well with Jones as he started winning and hitting stride. Then, two races ago, Jones was hit with a disqualification that was seen as controversial as well. The car owner decided to park the car, ending what could have been his first championship season.

Who is right and who is wrong in this instance is subject to interpretation. The Jones disqualification came on the night of a Unique Breedz sponsorship of $1,000 to the winner. In this case, it was Ahlwardt who won with Jones in second from a back of the pack start. He would have maintained his point lead. After the disqualification and losing the point lead back to Ahlwardt, the team decided not to continue to battle for the championship despite the fact that there was time to get the lead back.

Unfortunately, car count dropped from 20 cars on what was actually a brutal night of racing to about half of that last time. It was a time for different stars to shine as rookie Anthony Vigna, who has flown in somewhat under the radar, led the race impressively for 17 laps with the steady Frank Furtado having a career best run in second. On lap 17, Vigna's motor led go in a ball of fire. Furtado was there to lead the final three laps in what was a very popular first career victory

The Hobby Stock Main Event at Antioch Speedway will remind people of the great Street Stock racing the track had during the 1980's and 1990's. Several drivers have taken their turns in the winner's circle, including Kimo Oreta, Melissa Myers, Chris Sorensen, Chris Long, Michael Cooper, Jones and Ahlwardt.

The decision to drop IMCA from the Modified divisions never really had much impact at the track. Racers would support the track either way. Car count has maintained in both the A and B Modified divisions. The bigger question at hand was could a busy schedule that had B Modifieds on the card every week work? In this day and age, it is very difficult to be able to make a schedule of 12-14 races, and this schedule was double that.

What is interesting is the B modified division has seen several new drivers during the course of the season, so some might say a more strategically scheduled season could have seen this division in the 16-20 car range weekly. As it is, generally they're good for 10 or more cars. Topping the list of drivers are Trevor Clymens, Al Johnson, Shane DeVolder and K.C. Keller.

Clymens is in the midst of a career season with seven Main Event victories. Despite missing a race, he managed to reel in Al Johnson and get the point lead back. Barring anything major happening to the car, Trevor would seem to be headed for the championship. However, the persistent Johnson, who was second in the standings last year, is holding down that position again this season. Johnson has multiple second place finishes, but he is still looking for his first career win. DeVolder, who is 14 years old, was another driver looking for his first win after several second place finishes, but he finally got it. Another driver who was looking for that first win, Keller, has won on two occasions this season. Could Johnson or Brian Pearce be the next in line for a win?
The A Modified division is being led by the consistent Carl Berendsen II, who himself is still looking for a Main Event win. In what would be a rare occasion, Berendsen would hold the distinction as being the first driver in Antioch Speedway history to win two championships without a Main Event win if things don't change before the season ends. Berendsen is also the 2014 champion. Scott Busby was battling Berendsen when he had motor issues take him out of the action and dropped him to a second place battle with Sean O'Gara, Trent Wentworth and Bobby Montalvo. Busby has won two Main Events to hold second in points as he gets closer to J.D. Willis for the track's #1 all time winner's position.

The popular division, which has been at the speedway since 1990, has had 10 different Main Event winners in 12 races. Brian Cass was the first driver to get a second win as other notable winners include 2004 champion Aaron Crowell, Petaluma title Contender Oreste Gonella, three time Antioch champion Bobby Hogge IV and recent winner Duane Cleveland. Modified veteran Randy McDaniel picked up the big bucks with his $2,500 win in the Jerry Hetrick Memorial Race.

Unpredictability is also the name of the game in the Winged 360 Sprint  Car division. Given the fact that the track is offering $1,200 to the winner, there has been a steady stream of visitors coming for a run at the money. What has happened is several of the young drivers up from the 600 Micro Sprints are coming to Antioch for the opportunity get their first win. Some notable winners include Caleb Montgomery, Shawn Conde, Braydan McMahon and Koen Shaw. At this point, over 40 different drivers have competed at Antioch Speedway, and usually you get at least 10 competitors in the field.

It was hoped that Antioch would begin to form the nucleus of its own division, and now there are two drivers you see showing up consistently. They are Art McCarthy and Billy Aton. These are the two drivers battling seriously for the championship. McCarthy was the first two time winner of the year and now has three victories to his credit. He trails Aton by 11 points after Aton won the most recent Main Event. Long time speedway supporter Dan Gonderman is currently third in the standings ahead of Burt Foland Jr., who finished third last time out after winning his heat race. Because of the steady stream of visitors coming to Antioch Speedway to race, this division has been very entertaining to watch.

The Limited Late Model division is now in its 17th year and struggles at times, but the show goes on. Some of the track's loyalist supporters continue to support this class, including Larry Damitz, Mike Gustafson and Lori Brown. Kimo Oreta joined the ranks this season after three straight Hobby Stock championships, and Mark Garner has been battling hard with multiple wins again this season. It looks as if 87 year old Damitz will win his fifth championship in six seasons as he closes in on Gustafson as the division's all time win leader. Gustafson has over 40 victories and two championships to his credit.

The Limited late model division was seen initially as an attempt to bring back the old Late Models that ran at area Speedways during the late 1980's and into the early 1990's. At times, the division looked like it was going to take off, and during a particularly low time, the Street Stock division was sacrificed to keep this division alive. Though there are known to be somewhere in the area of 14-20 cars, car count has not risen above ten on any given night this year.

The popular Late Model division remains a part of the schedule, but after the progress that seemed to be made last year, car count has taken a bit of a hit this year. The Soares family were the last promoters to support Late Model racing in Northern California at Petaluma, and when  new promoter Rick Faeth dropped the class a few years ago, John M. Soares called to get his blessing before adding the division at Antioch Speedway. Antioch, and altering races at Santa Maria and Bakersfield down south, are the only places for Late Model racing these days, although there is a growing Crate Late Model movement in Chico and Placerville. Car count isn't doing any better down south this year.

It isn't a surprise at this point and that two of the biggest supporters are reigning champion Jeff Decker and 2015 champion Richard Papenhausen. Papenhausen currently leads the championship battle with Decker not too far behind him. After he lost the title last year in dramatic fashion, it appears as if the two time feature winner Papenhausen is headed for the championship this season. The real question is is can this division last in 2017?

One thing Late Model racing at Antioch Speedway has going for it is the support of Soares, who also fields a car with various drivers behind the wheel this year. Since the track gets support from racers like past champion Andy Obertello, four time A Modified champion Troy Foulger, two time Petaluma champion Paul Guglielmoni, Dennis Souza, Mike Hynes, Rob Norris, Danny Malfatti, David Newquist and Chester Kniss, this division has a fighting chance.

Dwarf Car drivers were said to be a little bit unhappy with things at Antioch Speedway, and that led to several drivers racing elsewhere this season. The good news is that two of last year's front runners, Kevin Miraglio and Mike Corsaro, continue to support this season. Several new drivers have supported the show this season, including recent winner Davis Rosa, his son David Michael Rosa, rookie Buddy Kniss, Robert Coe and Jenna Frazier.

The Dwarf Car division is that class that always flies in and under the radar. People don't go into the show with high expectations, but they generally leave having seen a good show from these guys. There's also been the excitement of the various different winners who have put on a show, including Frazier, Mark Biscardi, Miraglio, Corsaro and the elder Rosa.

It takes strong commitment from a promoter to make racing happen. Especially when it comes to a track with as high a price tag as Antioch Speedway. Soares will complete his 19th season as the man taking the risks and suffering the losses when things don't go right. He's also the man who has brought some big races to the track during his time and has been showing a dedication that few promoters have. There are still many good things in store for Antioch Speedway, and Soares will head into his 20th season. He won't be the first Soares promoting the track for 20 years. That honor goes to his legendary West Coast Stock Car Hall Of Fame father, John Soares Sr.

Some people seem to take racing for granted like it's always going to be there and focusing on every bad thing that happens. We sometimes forget that with all the things happening in the world and the changing times, people start looking at property values and thinking something else can go where the track is. We should always appreciate the tracks we have. Never take them for granted.

Up in the northwest area of California is a track called Hayfork Speedway. It is located at the Trinity County Fairgrounds. This track has only been open for about five years, and it is still a struggle to put cars on the race track. However, the show still goes on. If they have a night where there are just four or five Hobby Stocks and three or four Mini Stocks, the show still goes on.

You have to start somewhere. Building a racing program in Hayfork is a slow process. The actual roster of cars known to be in the area is probably somewhere in the 18-22 range combining the Hobby Stock and Mini Stock divisions. Occasionally, the Fair Board will add money to the purse. If the car count in any of their primary divisions reaches 10 cars, they throw $1,000 into the purse, and drivers make the trip from Orland Raceway to compete.

In racing, you have your mainstay families. In fact, there are three generations of the Kasper family in Bill, Kevin and William racing at Hayfork. William competes in the new beginners Pure Stock division against another new driver named D.J. Case. They have a special race every year in honor of Clyde Cordell, who played a big role in getting the race track open in the first place. Last year, that race was won by Burl Richardson, who continues to be one of the competitors this year. There is also recent winner Russ "The Newmanator" Newman.

It's all about making it happen. Gradually, new fans realize there is racing at Hayfork. As the season has worn on, new racers have brought their cars to the track. Even the Mini Stock division has been entertaining. Reigning champion Jack Turner, 2015 Enduro champion William Young and past Orland Mini Truck champion Ross Vige compete on a regular basis. Andy Blackburn has made this an entertaining show for the fans, and he won the race last time out.

One of the first drivers on board in the Hobby Stock class when the track opened was Josh Smith. Smith was one of the front runners at that point. During the off season, Josh got on board with the new Outlaw Pro Stock division. He and cousin Tressan Smith have been very dedicated to getting this class going.   Josh Michaels has competed in the division in the first season for the class. Considering the location of Hayfork, they are doing pretty well.

You have to start somewhere. There are people up there who believe in this race track and continue to make the effort to try and establish a program. This is what it takes in racing. Dedication from the racers and the people behind the scenes make this thing happen. The people in Hayfork prove that you can make a new race track happen in this day and age. As long as they stay dedicated and committed to the cause, this thing will continue to grow and blossom.

The reality of a track closing is very real. Orland Raceway has been teetering on the brink of extinction for the past few seasons. In fact, this season at the track looked to be doomed after a rocky 2015 season. A soccer field was built off of Turns 3 and 4, and the people who were behind building that were looking for more. The days of Orland Raceway appeared to be over.

But, there is a Hobby Stock racer who has supported the show over the past several seasons. He did not want to see this race track go away. His name is Rich Hood, and though he'd much rather be behind the wheel of his #12 Hobby Stock racing for a win, he knew that he needed to step up and make things happen or there might not be a 2016 season. In mid April, Hood was awarded the contract for his 10 race season with an option to add more races.

Orland is not a very rich town. A decision was made from the get go to drop the Wingless Sprint Car class. The track has traditionally been a Mini Truck, Mini Stock and Hobby Stock track. There was also an effort to bring more community involvement to the speedway. Whether this has been a night where money was raised to fight Cancer or help a local Girl Scout Troop or last week's kids bike races and bike giveaway, things have been done by the race track to work with the community of Orland.

Orland Raceway has had a difficult time since the Turner family walked away from the track at the end of the 2007 season. In fact, there was a rift developing between the race car drivers and the track during the last couple of seasons that they had it. The track was dark for the entire 2008 season, and suddenly drivers headed to Chico Silver Dollar Speedway in the Wingless Spec Sprint, Mini Stock and Hobby Stock divisions. Chico was not known for running the latter two divisions until Orland started having its problems. When Orland Raceway reopened in 2009, it was still a struggle to get some of the drivers back.

Despite the struggles that the track has gone through to open every year since, the racers who have been competing on the one-fifth mile oval in recent years know it is a very special place. The racers don't want to let this race track go. People who have been around the track for years know how good it can be. The car count they had 12-14 years ago shows what this race track is capable of. There is also the concern with the departure of each promoter that the track might not open again. When it closed last year it looked doomed.

This might be why everybody is rallying around the track now. There is a desire to bring in new fans and to strengthen the ties with the community and there is a belief that this is the key to the longevity of this race track. There are several people doing their part to help the cause. Considering the lateness of the agreement between Fair Management and Hood to bring the track back, it has done well. This season is all about re-establishing this race track and building a future.

It's not surprising to see some of the names in the field fighting for the cause, such as Mini Truck point leader Dan Webster, Mini Stock point leader John Kirkpatrick, Hobby Stock point leader Steve Martin, Robert Hunt, Nathan Skaggs and Williams Fogel. These are just some of the people who know the struggles that this track has been through, and these are the people who want to make sure that Rich Hood and his team become the most successful promotional team the track has ever had.

There are lots of ideas about where the race track will go in the future, but the idea is to get this thing going now. Bring out what the people are used to and what is available and build on that. It is known that the three core divisions all have rosters somewhere in the 20 car range. They just need to get them used to coming out and racing again.

Labor Day Weekend at Orland Raceway was the ninth of 10 scheduled events, and they made sure this was a special night at the track. Rich Hood has indicated that after the point season is over, a date or two may be added. The important thing is that things are happening now and there are many things to learn from. Management will take inventory of all that has happened in planning the 2017 season. As the saying goes, as long as the gates continue to open at the race track there's a chance for good things to happen. Racing lives in Orland and Hayfork!  You can go to and for more information on these tracks.