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John Fore Jr. Memorial Sport Modified Race
Closes Merced Speedway season
Merced, CA...About ten years ago, Merced Speedway was at the forefront of the latest big racing movement in California, the IMCA Sport Modifieds. IMCA Modified car count was perhaps at its strongest point in it's history at the track as they were even running B Mains to fill the remainder of the Main Event field. The promoter at the time, Chuck Griffin, could see costs escalating in the IMCA Modifieds, and he was also aware that there was a bounty of older chassis out there that were just waiting for new life.
Perhaps Griffin was just a little too ahead of his time with this division. Though the track did have point races and crowned Neill Barcellos and Shawn Bryant as its first two champions, car count just didn't take off. The IMCA Modifieds were fine. Why add this? It was in 2011 when two unlikely tracks, Chowchilla Speedway and Victorville Raceway, were starting to get noticed for car counts that reached into the double digits. Chowchilla made the class its headliner and Victorville had an even bigger car count.
It took a few years, but Griffin proved to be right. The Sport Modifieds were indeed the next big craze and the insurance policy that the Dirt Modified's already long life would be extended for the foreseeable future. Suddenly, tracks in Hanford, Bakersfield and Watsonville just had to have this class, and now the Sport Modifieds rival the Modifieds in car count. Up north, Chico Silver Dollar Speedway has even dropped the Modifieds in favor of the Sport Modifieds.
Merced continues to run both classes, though the Sport Nodifieds routinely outdraw their faster and more expensive counterparts. One of the drivers who competed at both Merced and Chowchilla in recent seasons was John Fore Jr. Fore even had a Top 5 season at Merced, and he became one of the more popular drivers among his peers. Prior to this season, the Merced racing community was rocked by the news that John had died in a work related accident.
Merced Speedway promoter Ed Parker made two big announcements prior to the season. The first was that all heat races would be for 9 laps, in honor of Fore, who ran that car number. Secondly, the season would close with a John Fore Jr. Memorial race. That race is this weekend. The event will run 50 laps and pay $1500 to win, making this the biggest IMCA Sport Modified race in California this year.
Since the race was announced, Rick Diaz has had this event circled on his calendar. Fore was a good friend of Rick's, and Diaz set about winning the championship this year running Fore's colors and number and dedicating it to him. When Rick lost his ride during the year, people were saying it was over, but that was a motivating factor for the 2014 champion. Rick found another ride, regained the point lead and won this year's championship by such a margin that he didn't even need to be at the final point race.
This is the race for the Sport Mod stars of California. The $1500 first prize is a season maker for the driver who wins it, and already the driver to beat would have to be Diaz However, the new track champion knows he'll have some talented racers coming to town to get the big victory. Topping that list will be 2015 State champion Fred Ryland. Diaz may top Merced's win list with seven victories, but Ryand has scored four wins of his own at Merced and has long since established his reputation for winning big races. Further making that point was Ryland's $850 win last week at Antioch Speedway.
The Antioch contingent will reportedly be represented by likely new Antioch champion Trevor Clymens. Clymens has scored seven wins this year at his home track and will be hoping to add a Merced victory this week. Other Antioch regulars who could show include Shane DeVolder, Brian Pearce and Al Johnson. Jim DiGiovanni is actually a past Merced champion who just wrapped up the championship at Ocean Speedway. It's possible he might be among a contingent of Watsonville representatives, along with 2015 Watsonville and 2016 Santa Maria champion, Matt Hagio
It's unknown who might come in from the south, but 2014 IMCA State champion Nick Spainhoward has been known to come to town for the bigger races. Bud Nationals winner Jason Nation is another possibility. Plus, Diaz and Ryland won't be the only Merced regulars looking to keep the money from going to a visiting driver. Veteran Gary Tucker recently won a Main Event and maintained third in the standings. He'll be one of the drivers to watch this week, as well as the driver who held down second in the standings, Mike Drake. There's also Top 5 ranked Tim Elias and 2015 champion Josh Hensley to consider.
Merced Speedway has perhaps the most competitive IMCA Sport Modified division in the state, and this talented roster has many drivers capable of scoring the victory. Drivers like Chris Falkenberg, Danny Roe, Mitch Enos, Dwayne Short, Mark Odgers and Andy Welch are just some of the competitors to watch. The hard charging siblings, Chase Thomas and Tanner Thomas have made their presence known this season, and Chase is a Main Event winner. The track has made it clear that the IMCA Modified teams are welcome to adjust their cars to Sport Modified rules, meaning there could be a few of them among the field.
The IMCA Sport Modifieds will compete for 50 laps to see who can win the $1500 prize from an increased purse of over $6000. The field will take the Top 22 qualifiers, but the roster could reach well into the 30's by the time you factor in visitors from various tracks. The Marysville cancellation could bring some heavy hitters to town from there. We're not sure who will be there, but we know this will be the race of the year for the growing IMCA Sport Modified division. A multitude of sponsors have come on board to make this such a big race, including long time racer Bob Smith of Smith Truck Repair and Steitz Towing. John's son Haden Fore will be driving his #9d Sport Modified for the pace lap of the race.
As if that's not enough, the Hobby Stock division was added for a $500 first prize. The track has been getting 20 cars or more for most races and this will likely be a show that includes some visitors from other tracks. Michael Shearer has been in a bit of a dry spell lately, though he is the 2016 champion. The winner of the 2015 Ted Stofle Classic will be hoping to get the victory this week. Wife Kristie Shearer should also compete, but the team could have a couple other cars there as well. Bruce "Bubba" Nelson has won on multiple occasions this year and would have to be considered a factor if he is in one of the cars for this race. Wife Shannon Nelson returned recently, and she was a feature winner last season.
It's just possible that multi time winner and multi time champion Raul "Showtime" Rodriguez could be back for this race. Another past champion, Kevin Joaquin, won a late season race to solidify his second place point ranking. This talented group of drivers includes 2016 feature winners Robbie Loquaci, Garrett Corn, Darren Miguel, Dexter Long, Ben Lewis and Ted Stofle Classic winner Phillip Vaughn. That's not even counting other fast competitors like Austin Van Hoff, Kodie Dean and Cody Parker, all of who were feature winners last season.
It's an old school double division show with big money on the line in both classes. The John Fore Jr. Memorial race is an event that his fellow competitors have been looking forward to all season long. Who will win the big prize? Come on out Saturday night and find out. For further information, go to www.racemerced.com.
The challenge of running races in mid October is that you are technically into the rainy season. California tracks have been able to get away with this over the past two decades or so, but rain will come in and wash out a race every so often. The threat of rain was so great that the Placerville Posse Shoot Out Weekend was canceled on Wednesday and rescheduled for one night, October 28th. This is because Marysville's Open Wheel Gold Fever race is set for October 29th, which still makes that a big weekend for Sprint Car enthusiasts.
Marysville, meanwhile, was still fighting for this Saturday night until canceling a few hours ago. This was to be an All Star Series IMCA Modified race along with IMCA Sport Modifieds, Hardtops and Super Modifieds. Marysville hasn't had it's own A Modified class for years, but there are still some very competitive racers who live in the area. The All Star Series started this year and is generally fielding 20 cars per race. Understandably, the track wanted to make this race happen. Plus, there is the Sport Modified factor.
Marsyville is only a few seasons into Sport Modified racing, but this class has grown by leaps and bounds to become one of the top efforts in Northern California. There are drivers in the area who would love to see this division added as a support to the All Star Series in 2017. Will that happen? Who knows? But, if there is a promoter who would do it, it's John Prentice of Prentice Motorsports Group. As it is, some of the best IMCA Sport Modified racers support Marysville, including new State champion Brian Cooper, Todd Cooper and Jerry Bartlett.
What is happening with Sport Modifieds here is pretty amazing. Chico dropped the A Modifieds this year to start Sport Modifieds and pretty much match Marysville in car count already. Placerville has been testing the waters on off nights for Marysville, and the result of that means a driver from the area is already competitive in the IMCA State point race. The bigger question is what A Modified drivers left homeless at Chico might join Sport Modifieds next? Past Chico champion Mark Abouzeid is already in the class. What happens if a McDaniel, Kennemore or one of the other big names joins next?
While Marysville has given up on the fight for Saturday, Roseville's All American Speedway is fighting for the Bill McAnally promoted NASCAR West race this Saturday night. The advantage Roseville has is that they are a pavement track, the pits are paved, and they can always dry the track if the rain doesn't get too bad. We'll see what happens here. Roseville is not done yet as the Vintage Classic is in town next week for Hardtops, Super Modifieds, Vintage Midgets and all of that. It has become the race for lovers of the classic cars.
Down south, Hanford will be running the 31st Annual Cotton Classic at Keller Auto Speedway. King of Kings Winged 360 Sprints headline Friday along with IMCA Modifieds and Mini Stocks. Sprint Cars get $2000 to win, while the Modifieds are racing for $750 to win and $125 to start both Friday and Saturday. This is half the purse Bakersfield ran last week, but drivers love racing on this track. Mini Stocks get $300 to win and $30 to start, which is better than they get at most places.
Saturday night is King Of The West Sprint Cars as the Kyle Hirst-Bud Kaeding battle continues. IMCA Modifieds and IMCA RaceSaver 305 Sprint Cars are also part of the Saturday night program. Overell, it should be a great night of racing. The Prentice Motorsports Group divisions, which includes King Of The West 410 Sprint Cars, Civil War 360 Sprint Cars, Hunt Wingless Spec Sprints and All Star Modifieds, will be ending their season at the Stockton 99 Dirt Track on November 4-5 as part of the Gary Patterson Tribute Weekend.
While Hanford prepares for their Cotton Classic Blowout Weekend, Merced Speedway will host the John Fore Jr. Memorial 50 lap, $1500 to win IMCA Sport Modified race, along with a $500 to win Hobby Stock race. It is the perfect way to end what has been an amazing first season under the promotion of Ed Parker. Ed jumped into this situation with a love for this race track and its great tradition of racing, and this has shined brightly all year. There is no reason to believe that this good vibe won't continue at the track into the 2017 season.
Car count has remained solid in IMCA Modifieds, IMCA Sport Modifieds and Hobby Stocks this year, Mini Stocks have maintained and the Valley Sportsman class rebounded a bit from last year. People want to race at Merced Speedway again. Management is taking a look at what can be done to improve on things for next year, which might include additions to the program, promoting big races and working their schedule around established big races at other tracks. Anybody who knows how this business works knows that this is a challenge. Parker and Doug Williams are more than capable of doing the job.
On Saturday night, $100 raffle tickets are being sold for a special November 19th awards banquet drawing for a race ready Mini Late Model race car. The idea is sort of a take off from the Mini Cup cars that run on the pavement, but with a Dirt Late Model look. They run motors you would find in a Micro 600 Sprint and boast a price tag of less than $10,000 to go racing. FND Motorsports is giving away the car, and past Merced champion Robby Jeppeson is the authorized dealer of the Mini Late Model. Parker announced late in the season that he will add this class for next season.
While they are looking forward to this weekend and the future at Merced Speedway, further south at Ventura Raceway Jim Naylor has a regular show booked for this weekend. The fast, one-fifth mile clay oval by the beach has had a stronger season this year, especially when it comes to Dwarf Cars. Count has also been solid in IMCA Modifieds and Hobby Stocks, and all three divisions are part of Saturday's program as the Dwarf Cars hold the George Calvo Sr. Memorial race. As if Naylor doesn't have enough to smile about these days, Ventura landed the 76th Annual Turkey Classic on November 23rd and 24th for USAC Sprint Cars and Midgets. Don't let the one-fifth mile size fool you. Ventura Raceway has had some exciting races for both classes through the years, and this should be no different.
We don't always mention what is happening at Perris Auto Speedway with all that we have going on with The DCRR these days, and that's a shame. Some might hold this track up as a shining example of how you promote racing. Perris promotes Open Wheel nights, Stock Car nights and those exciting Eve Of Destruction nights and does well with them all. This Saturday night is another Open Wheel night featuring USAC/CRA Sprint Cars, October 29th is another Stock Car night and then comes the big Oval Nationals three day event, November 10-12 for USAC/CRA Sprint Cars. Perris Auto Speedway truly is one of the best tracks going today in California.
Out at Orland Raceway, we can report that the Enduro has been canceled due to rain. This might be a good thing as there was no telling what the car count was going to be. The fact is, the days seem long gone where you can book an Enduro and even get 20 cars to show up. Could it be because cars are harder to come by? Could a compact Enduro work better? Who knows? Orland has successfully reopened when it looked done, and they ran all ten point races this season with Mini Stocks, Mini Trucks, Hobby Stocks and Micro Sprints.
It might be better for Orland promoter Rich Hood and his crew to celebrate this success with an awards banquet and get to work planing the 2017 season. The core three classes are known to have enough vehicles in the area to hit double digits, so the plan should center around finding a way to make that happen along with building the Micro Sprint class. Hobby Stocks did have multiple nights with 10 or more cars, which they accomplished last year as well. The building blocks are there for Hood to work with, but it will take a team effort to make it happen.
One has to remember that Hood had less than a month to get ready for the season opener, and the real goal this year was just to make racing happen. With the benefit of an offseason for planning, this can and will get better. The track will hopefully look at adding special attraction races as part of the regular program. These may just be classes that visit once or twice, such as Street Stocks, Sport Modifieds, Wingless Sprint Cars, Hardtops or Dwarf Cars. Making that happen requires planning and making sure there will be support. One thing Orland Raceway has going for it is the fact that Hood has raced there for years and genuinely cares about keeping the track alive.
We close this column by commenting on the future of The DCRR. We will be back in 2017. This much we can say. Our philosophy will change somewhat in how we cover things and certain stances we have taken may change as we evaluate the racing landscape and contemplate the future of the sport. At this time, we're not saying anything else due to certain factors. We want to make sure we have all of the correct information in front of us before we comment, because once we come out with any position on anything, we're going to stand by that position for reasons that we will make clear.
In the meantime, we have been looking at something Steve Kerstulovich has been doing in the Pacific Northwest called the Sport Modified Challenge Series and Modified Cup. You may recall that at one time The DCRR did a State point race that covered a multitude of tracks and divisions. The idea behind what we did was to create a level playing field where the best drivers competed in a close point battle. Also, we promoted our ever optimistic goal of track unity. At this time, we are considering a return of this point race for 2017. There may be another announcement coming in the future.
There have been rumors surrounding Antioch Speedway. One that crossed out desk and is sure to peak people's interest is that a well known and respected racer has expressed an interest in buying the lease at Antioch Speedway from Oval Motorsports. Are the rumors true? Well, at this time, we can't comment, but we can say this. Promoter John M. Soares has announced the New Years Bash for January 1, 2017 to kick off his 20th season of promoting the track, and the event will include A Modifieds, B Modifieds and Hobby Stocks. Word is the A Modifieds could pay $2017 to win, while the B Modifieds could be half a much.
The question becomes, will drivers support this race? Antioch is coming off of the John Soares Sr. Memorial Race, and to say car count under performed, even with Bakersfield doing their thing that weekend, is an understatement. There weren't many Antioch names on the list at Bakersfield, meaning many racers among all four divisions simply parked. The one thing Antioch had going for them two years ago when they attempted a race on New Years was IMCA sanctioning. The carrot of an IMCA point race and a big money payout on top of that was too much to resist. Will the drivers be as motivated to support a non sanctioned race? We don't know. Can they be motivated to support a New Years race? We don't know, but we hope so for the good of the track.
The two events remaining on the Antioch calendar this year are the point finale on October 22nd and the awards banquet on November 19th. Seven divisions are on the card for the point finale, and the track had to issue a clarification that this is not a double point race. Apparently, that rumor had circulated. There have been drivers voicing frustrations that management chose to add the two rain makeup dates in October, but management wanted to make sure they got their full season in. At this time, the B Modified point race is the only one that could change hands, and that won't be the case once Trevor Clymens takes a green flag in the Main Event.
For those wondering, this is a "kitchen sink" race with A Modifieds, Wingless Spec Sprints, B Modifieds, DIRTcar Late Models, Limited Late Models, Hobby Stocks and Dwarf Cars all on the card. Car count should reach into the 70's, and depending on the magnitude of support, it could rise significantly higher. It should be a good show and a nice end to the 2016 season. For further information, go to www.antiochspeedway.com.