Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Larry Damitz: In His Own Words, Jim Pettiit II From 1991, Pit Stops

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Larry Damitz:  In His Own Words From June 23, 1993

Larry Damitz was not somebody I got a lot of interviews with.  Even after a win, he'd smile and give two or three word answers.  He wasn't one to brag and didn't care about any glory either.  As a writer, that made covering him a challenge.  In June of 1993, he opened up a little bit to me, which made it possible for me to write an article about him in The DCRR magazine on June 23rd that year.  It was rare that I got him to speak that much on record, so I was happy to have this.

On when he started racing and what got him started.

"I started running Hardtops in 1953 in Pacheco.  I really don't know (what got me started).  I've always liked cars and I started working on cars when I was nine.  Well, I started driving when I was nine years old.  I've always been interested in automobiles.  Another guy and I knew of a Hardtop that was halfway completed, so we went over and finished it off and started racing.  That's about it."  Larry Damitz

Racing Hardtops in his early years.

"When I started, they had one class, and they had enough cars that they had a C Race, sometimes two C Races.  Even later on, when it got down to where they only had 50 or 60 cars, every car in the Main Event could win the Main Event.  There were always some Main Event cars in the B Main.  If you had an early number to go qualify, a good car, good driver could be in the B Main." Larry Damitz

Competing On the BCRA Circuit.

"When it first started, it was Bay Cities Racing Association, and they ran Pacheco Friday night and Vallejo Sunday night.  That was the circuit.  I never ran every race on it.  That was too much, but I occasionally ran in different places.  Mostly, I was driving Pacheco and Vallejo.  Pacheco was a good track."  Larry Damitz

On finally winning a Main Event.

"I didn't win a Main Event until 1963 (at Vallejo).  Everybody that comes out here and they think in their first year they're supposed to clean house and win a Main Event.  Oh hell, they race all year, two years, don't win a main and they quit."  Larry Damitz

Larry won his first Hardtop Championship at Vallejo in 1965.  Many more championships would come in the years that followed.

"I won the Hardtop championship in 1973 (at Petaluma).  One year we ran there.  Soares (Sr.) didn't have it then.  It was called the Sears Point Racing Association, because we formed an association and had a verbal contract with the guy that owned Sears Point Raceway.    He was gonna put in an oval track there, so we started an association.  He had a partner.  There were two people in on it, and they couldn't see their way clear to get it started right then.  We got in with the guy Corky that promoted Petaluma, and we ran Hardtops over there in 1973.  The end of 1973 is when the fuel shortage hit, and things kind of tightened up.  They decided to put an oval track in at Sears Point.  A couple of years later, they folded.  The year before that, I won the championship at Vallejo in 1972."  Larry Damitz

"We won the (Super Stock) championship at Vallejo in 1978.  In 1979, we ran at Petaluma.  We built our first Super Stock in 1976.  We just fiddled around.  In 1977, we built a little stronger motor, and we went to Chico 11 times that year and won every Main Event we went up there too.  We didn't run every week, because on Friday night, it was a little harder to get up there."  Larry Damitz

The wreck at Antioch Speedway in 1985.

"I broke a shoulder blade in my wreck with Buzz Enea and Mike Walko in 1985.  Back then, the configuration of this track was altogether different than any other track.  It was fun to drive.  It was a lot of fun.  More fun than any of them.  Better than any quarter-mile track just about.  They had it banked right up to the wall, and you had to run right around the wall.  I just wanted to come back and run the track some more."  Larry Damitz

On who he enjoyed racing with.

"There's always been good competition, always.  Sometimes, there's a little more than others.  You'll always have people that race over their head all the time.  That's the only bad thing about it.  When you've got to put up with that."  Larry Damitz  

On the division that almost gained Larry as a competitor.

"We had a Dwarf Car in the works after we heard that Delta was gonna run a Dwarf Car program on early Sunday evenings that year (1991).  We had seen them run in Pahrump with 35 cars and thought they were neat.  We thought this would be a good car to drive when I was too old to muscle the Late Model around the track."   Larry Damitz

Note:  Amazingly enough, Larry continued racing after that interview and racked up ten more of his impressive 17 championships after that.  In fact, his last season ended with him as champion at Antioch Speedway.  In the 1960's, only Gene Dudley earned more points than Damitz at Vallejo, beating him by only 8 points.  One of his biggest Hardtop wins came in 1973 when he won the 100 lap Chet Thomson Memorial.

In 1978, he won the Vallejo Super Stock championship.  He won the 1980-1981 Petaluma Speedway Super Stock titles.  In his first year at Antioch in a Late Model (1984), he was a Main Event winner, and he racked up 10 wins in 1986 after his back injury sidelined him in 1985.  He finished second in points that season.  When Super Stocks ended at Petaluma in 1986, Larry won his first Late Model title in 1987 before taking on the crew chief role for nephew Milt McGinnis.  Milt won back to back titles at Petaluma in 1988-1989.  Larry won the 1994, 2001 and 2002 Petaluma Late Model titles.

Though he continued to drive a Late Model, Larry went on to race Limited Late Models mostly during the final decade of his career.  His Antioch numbers had him second in points twice and champion five times in his last seven seasons.  He added two more championships at Merced during that time,  Only Mike Gustafson has more wins in his Antioch career in that class.  Damitz has over 100 wins just between Antioch and Petaluma.

There are many competitors out there who Larry influenced throughout a career that lasted over 60 years.  He was a mentor to Kimo Oreta last season.  About 30 years prior to that, he had a major impact on the career of one of Antioch's best ever Late Model racers, Jim Pettit II.

Jim Pettit II:  Reflects On His Late Model Success At Antioch

Late in the 1991 season, I stored a few interviews for the off season of The DCRR magazine.  However, some poor decisions led to me selling the magazine to Scott Holloway and rebranding it as The Pacific Coast Report.  The day I put the finished copy of the first edition on Holloway's desk for printing, I gathered my things and left, intending not too return and to leave the sport.  Obviously, that didn't happen. 

Dad encouraged me to go back, and thanks to some supportive racers, I created a new DCRR, named slightly different (eventually, I bought it all back from Scott).  The problem was I did an interview with Jim Pettit II that I am rather proud of that never saw the light of day in The DCRR.  The article was only in the PCR that to my knowledge was never printed.  I could have rewritten it, but Jimmy had made the move up to pavement in 1992.

In the interview, Jim talked about his Late Model efforts after his 1984 NASCAR Regional title and the impact Larry Damitz had on the success he had at Antioch.  Jimmy won three Antioch titles from 1987 to 1991.  He also made the announcement of his future plans.  I share Pettit's quotes here for the first time.

Jim Pettit II talks about the beginning of what would be a successful pavement career with many championships.

"If everything goes right, I'll run the Southwest Tour.  We've got a brand new car and everything.  We've got three motors.  They're all store bought motors.  I'm not real thrilled about V-6's, but it's a brand new car."  Jim Pettit II

On his love of dry slick racing surfaces.

"I love the drys slick.  When it dries out, I love the dry slick.  It's just like pavement.  (Some of) These guys don't understand it, especially Bobby Hogge.  You've got to have finesse.  When the track turns black and dry, you can't drive it in the corner and throw it like you would on a wet track.  You've got to have a lot of finesse and a lot of patience.  You can't get excited in the car.  You've got to get into the corner.  You've got to keep the car straight, get it turned and ease on the throttle.  You've got to feather it"  Jim Pettit II

Jimmy shows Larry Damitz some finesse.

"It's like the day race that I won here in Larry's car.  Larry comes up to me and shakes his head and says, 'I don't know what you get out of running these kinds of tracks, ' because you know these day races are normally dry slick.  He says, 'If it wasn't for you driving my car, I wouldn't even be here, ' because he doesn't like dry slick slicks.  Then, he's shaking his head.  He says, 'Why do you like running them?'  I look at him and I laughed and said, 'To see who has the most finesse.'  He says, 'What?'  I say, 'Finesse.'  Now, Larry is real quiet.  So, he's buckling me in for the Main Event.  He hooks the window net in for me, and I'm getting ready to start the car.  He leans down and looks at me and says, 'Go show me some finesse.'  I come in after (winning) the race.  We're in the pits and I say, 'What do you think about that finesse Larry?'  He says, 'You know that move where you passed (Jeff) Silva on the outside?  That was the best move I saw the whole race.'  Then, two weeks later, he got one himself.  He said I was making him look bad, so he had to go out and win one." Jim Pettit II

On switching to Merced Speedway after his NASCAR Regional championship.

"After I won the Region, I had a car that just was done.  The car that I won the Region with, we came back with it in '85.  The first five races with it, we had three wins, a second and a third, and then we had motor problems with it from then on.  Then, after I got the motor problems solved, I got the car bent real bad.  It was all down hill from there.  Then, in '86, we had the same car.  We didn't buy a new car, and the chassis was all messed up.  It was a backward battle.  The car was messed up.  It didn't matter how I drove or however I set it up, the car just wouldn't go.  I ran Merced for two years, and when Merced didn't run, I'd come up here and have to run the semi.  It's like, 'Damn, I used to dominate up here, and now I'm in the B Main.'

No guys, you don't get it, we're here to win.

"In '86, the crew that I have with me now, they were new in '86.  It was there first year of racing with me, and they had no idea who I was.  It was word of mouth.  'Yeah, we'll go racing with him.  We'll help him.'  I go out to Merced, and I drove my you know what off.  I drove so hard, and I got tenth place.  They were stoked.  'Hey, tenth place, we're hooked up.  We're flying.'  I'm going, 'No, you guys don't understand.  Tenth place don't cut it around here.'  I got out of the car and I said, 'I have never driven so hard in my life to go so slow.'" Jim Pettit II

On buying a championship car from  Larry Damitz.

"Larry really didn't want to sell me that car.  He told me the last race of '86, 'I sell it to you and this is what I want.'  I said, 'Okay.'  So, then I called him up and I said, 'Well, I'm ready to buy the car.'  He said, 'Well, I don't know if I want to sell it.'  I said, 'What do you mean you don't want to sell it?  You told me you'd sell it to me.'  He said, 'Well, where are you gonna run? next year?  I said, 'Antioch.'  The whole reason he didn't want to sell me that car was because he thought I was gonna go to Merced, and he says, 'The car doesn't work well on a dry slick.  I could never get it to work on a dry slick.  On a heavy track, it'll work good.  I value our friendship more than to sell you this car and you go to Merced and the car doesn't work good and you're unhappy with the car.  I'd rather not sell you the car and keep our friendship, but if you run Antioch, I'll sell it to you.'"  Jim Pettit II

On winning with Larry's old car at other tracks.

So, then we go to Merced a couple of times when Antioch was shut down.  A dry track at Watsonville, and I was kicking their butts in a 100 lapper.  I'm lapping Milt, and Larry comes down and asks, 'What are you doing to make this thing work on a dry track?'  I was up front.  I told him the last year they ran the Williamson Classic 100 laps.  I always save Larry a spot, and we park next to each other.  We were pulling out our little black books for the cars, and what we had to setup for, and I said, 'I have the thing set up for the Main Event.  I ain't worried about the dash.  I ain't worried about the heat race.  I've got it set up right now for the Main Event.  I may be slow in qualifying, but come Main Event time, I'm gonna be fast.'  He looks at me and he laughs.  They had their car within a couple points of the same percentages.  They had it set up for the Main Event too.  I went out there and got fourth quick, won the dash and won the main.  I lapped Milt twice.  Larry comes down and says, 'What are you doing to get this thing hooked up on a dry track?'"  Jim Pettit II

On the role of Larry Damtz in winning the 1991 Late Model championship.

"The goal to winning the championship was everybody put in a lot of effort, time and money into it, and it definitely wouldn't have been possible without Larry Damitz and everybody's involvement in the group, Tom and Milt and the whole Sundrop Racing Team.  I mean, there were no balks or anything about me driving their car.  They were really enthused about getting it together for me.  He tore it up one night at Watsonville pretty bad and wasn't gonna show up here.  Due to the fact that I blew up, Larry don't get up before 10 on Saturdays, but he was down there at 8:30 or 9:00 getting that thing together, putting the rear in the car and getting it fixed up, just because he knew I didn't have a car.  Larry had offered it to me before, because he knew I didn't have a car."  Jim Pettit II 

On What Larry wanted for Jim borrowing his car.

"I never gave Larry any money for renting the car or anything.  He didn't want anything.  All he wanted was the earnings.  If we got $60, he was happy with that.  If we got $500, he was really happy with that.  If we got $60 or $100 and lost two tires, he didn't even want the tires.  When I kept getting Hendren running over the top of me and tearing tires off the cars, I felt obligated to buy the tires for him.  He didn't want it.  I still ended up forcing it on him.  He's one hell of a gentleman." Jim Pettit II

And Effort To Save Late Models in 1993?

When I dug up the quotes from Larry Damitz, I found this little gem from that same week.  Late Model numbers were down and there was talk about dropping the class in favor of Dirt Modifieds.  That happened at the end of the season.  Brynda Bockover had other ideas.  In fact, if it were up to her, I believe they would have been back in 1994.  Alas, that was Rick Farren's decision to make. 

Brynda let me in on the fact that she was working on something.  She was actually in contact with the Bainton's in Bakersfield, who later formed the successful Car Quest Late Model Tour.  Brynda asked me not to say anything.  I wanted this story.  Hell, I wanted to help and would have worked with her on this.  Late Models needed to live, and how many top Modified drivers ended up running Late Models anyway?  Can you say feeder class?

So, I did as asked.  Hey, I wasn't always the pain in the ass with her that people might think.  But, this one bit me in the ass.  Imagine my surprise when John Cardinale scooped me with a big Late Model article in the local paper.  I couldn't be mad, because I respected John.  Brynda had him call me when he first started covering the track, and I helped him with advice here and there.  John was a quick study, a total pro and future Sears Point Speedway Public Relations Director.  Sadly, he passed away, but he's been inducted into the West Coast Stock Car Hall Of Fame.

This never ran in the magazine, though I did eventually do an article about The Late Model situation and where are the cars were.

Shh, don't tell anybody, but...

"This is not for publication because the Grand Am drivers will automatically think I'm doing something against them, but I'm working very seriously with a couple drivers on a new set of rules for the Late Models.  I don't want to lose the Late Models.  Something is wrong.  I know the rules shouldn't have been opened up during the off season, and I didn't have anything to do with it."  Brynda Bockover June 23, 1993

Note:  What this comment shows is what a tight rope that woman had to walk.  I've mentioned in my book, or at least I hope I got the point across, how I have more respect for her now when I look back at what she went through with critics like me on her case.  Isn't hindsight wonderful?

In 1993, she couldn't make a big decision like this without approval, and she was smart enough to know fans wanted this.  She was also smart enough to know there were people like Scott Busby making the case for the Dirt Modifieds to be #1 with NASCAR and Regional points.

She had to be careful.  I said it before and I will say it again, she was right about Late Models.  I'll have to dig up the Jim Bowman quotes that got me criticized by a certain Dirt Modified driver back then.  Jim was right too.

In Memory of Larry Damitz

You can never take life for granted.  Tomorrow is not promised.  Today, our racing community is mourning the passing of Larry Damitz.  They called him "The Sundrop Kid" though he was 87 years old.  He was also the Antioch Speedway Limited Late Model champion for the third straight year and fifth in the last six years.  He had a pair of Merced championships during that time as well.

Larry was an icon, a role model, an inspiration.  Drivers seem to come and go through the years, but he was still there.  From the era that gave us Leroy Geving, Johnny Franklin and Gene Dudley to the era of Mike Chisholm, Lee Olibas and Jack Dempsey to the era that gave us Jim Pettit II, Ed Sans Jr. and Bobby Hogge III and into the current era, Larry has been there.  He's beaten them all, and he's done it with class.

Larry was not braggadocios.  He was one of the nicest guys at the track, but he was reluctant to talk about his accomplishments.  His presence at the race track was a testimony to his love for racing.  He didn't do it for points and championships.  He won a lot, but he didn't do it merely for the wins.  He did it because he enjoyed it.  He liked being a part of the community.  He liked working on race cars.  He liked being at the race track with his friends.

I realized over the past few years how we should appreciate what he was doing out there.  Most racers would have retired 20 years before he did, and there he was.  He was planning to come back again this season.  It brought a smile to my face to see him do it and do it so well.  There was no decline.  He was the champion his last season at the track.  He went out a champion.

He ranks in the Top 10 on Antioch's All Time Win List and is second only to Mike Gustafson in Limited Late Model wins.  He won an amazing 10 Late Model features in 1986 at Antioch.  Going over my notes, he won two Super Stock and four Late Model championships at Petaluma and ranks high on the win list there.  He won 11 Super Stock features at Chico one year and won championships at Vallejo.  I mean, everybody knows how good the Hardtop racers were in the 1960's, and Larry beat them all for his first championship.

I'll tell you my biggest failure in racing was that I was unable to convince John to start the Hall Of Fame at Antioch Speedway in 2000.  I know Larry knew how much he was loved and how important he was to our sport, but it would have been nice if we had acknowledged that officially.  Not just him, but other legends who are still with us. People like Larry were the ones who made others want to go racing.  He was one of my racing heroes and my dad's as well.

To be honest, one of the reasons I hated coming up here is because I wouldn't be seeing Larry race.  And, if I ultimately don't leave the sport when I move my life forward, it's hard for me to imagine I won't be back there at Antioch Speedway one day.  If/when that day comes, I won't get to see him race.

To the critics, let's see you wheel a car at 87 years old the way that man did.  There may have been a bump here or there, but the man could drive the wheels off of his car.  The Limited Late Model division just became a wide open championship, but the racers, even his critics, are still sad.  They may win a race, and somebody else will win the championship, but they won't have to earn it by beating the legend himself.

I can't imagine what awaits us beyond this life, but I'm pretty sure that if there's a race track there, that's where Larry will be.  He'll be out there racing Del Quinn, Leroy Geving, Phil Pedlar, Gary Pacheco, Mike Chisholm, Vern Willhoite, George Steitz and so many other greats who are no longer with us.  And no matter what, win lose or draw, he'll have a smile on his face.  He'll be doing what he loves to do.  We should all be so fortunate to find that thing we love that makes us happy and be able to enjoy it for as long as he did.  For those of us who are still here, racing won't be the same without Larry Damitz.

Pit Stops

It awfully quiet out there...  Maybe too quiet.  California has taken a pounding from the rain, causing levee and dam issues.  Will they still say it's a drought?

On the last Saturday of February, playdays were happening in Bakersfield and Madera.  Out at Merced Speedway, Ed Parker gave us an update on what's happening in Merced.  There was a driving school/seminar taking place all weekend, and we watched a live feed for a few minutes as a few cars made some laps.  Ed was quick to point out all of the hard work Tim Ragsdale has put into preparing that track so this could happen.  The playday at Merced is scheduled for just two weeks from now on March 11th.

After giving the live stream update, Ed was going to talk to the new EMT's.  They are part of Merced Speedway's new safety crew that will be there this year.  Ed is working on lots of things to put the touches on the coming season.  He had a successful first year, and he wants to carry that momentum into this year and make it even bigger.  The one thing about Parker is he's always willing to attend meetings that can help make things better, and he's constantly updating everybody on social media as to the latest happenings.  There isn't a promoter out there on the West Coast doing personal updates like he does.

Merced Speedway was one of the last hold outs when it came to live scoring and MyLaps.  One concern was the cost for the track and the racers, who will be required to buy a transponder and pay a yearly subscription fee on top of that.  However, many of the track's IMCA Modified and Sport Modified drivers already had them, and some Hobby Stock racers do as well.  The Mini Stock drivers are not required to get them at this time, though drivers might want to get one if they can.  The benefits of live scoring are the drivers will know how fast they are going and where they are in real time, and if Parker uses the free Race Monitor app, as Watsonville, Petaluma and other places do, the fans will be able to keep up in real time as well.  You still need a scorer up there to make sure things are going right, but this should help keep scoring straight and get people the race results quicker.

Parker has a loaded schedule with IMCA back again for Modifieds and Sport Modifieds.  The Hobby Stocks, Valley Sportsman and new Mini Late Models are part of the Merced roster, but fans will get to see the BCRA, Dwarf Cars, RaceSaver Sprints, Vintage Super Modifieds and AMA Flat Track Motorcycles as well.  Parker let it slip that C33 Painting will be painting the walls on the track and the main entrance entrance.  Little touches like that make a big difference.

Back in January, Speedway Illustrated's Mike Adaskaveg was on hand for a special photo shoot and article for the new California Sharp Mini Late Model class.  The article should appear in April.  Back east, this division is starting to catch on.  It's a smaller scale Late model class with a 600cc engine.  Past Merced Speedway Street Stock champion Robby Jeppesen is the authorized Sharp Chassis Dealer in the state.  We've heard that there were six cars here already, and Ian Shearer and Riley Jeppesen made some practice laps on the track in January.

Michael Shearer owns two of the cars, with Ian Shearer and Timmy Vaught set to drive them.  Riley Jeppesen will be diving the Robby Jeppesen owned entry, while Timmy Crews is piloting the Mark Morton owned car.  Morton won the free car drawing at the awards banquet last November.  The Crews family was an early supporter of Chowchilla Speedway with Chuck Crews racing Hobby Stocks.  Merced Speedway came on board with the new class and booked them for six races this year, including April 8th.  It's already generating lots of buzz in Merced, while Dixon Speedway is putting the classs on their schedule for some races as well.

The rumor mill hasn't let too much info come up our way.  We do know that Zoe Sandoval will live out her dream and join Destiny Carter as part of Chris Corder's Mini Stock team this year.  We've heard past Sportsman champion Mike Henautlt is returning, and Robby Giorgi will join his Mariposa Mafia teammates in his Hobby Stock debut.  We'll be watching for more news, but most of last year's stars are anticipated this season.  The track's website is www.racemerced.com.

Back at Antioch Speedway, we waited a few days after releasing our schedule article, but we didn't get answers to the questions we had.  In the interest of getting the word out, we released what we had.  Speedway Webmaster Mike Kord clarified our question regarding the John Soares Sr. Memorial Race.  This will happen on September 16th when Late Models and A Modifieds are part of the program.  We speculated that the big money race on September 30th might be it, but Soares has made that the Fall Brawl.  It's $1500 to win the Late Models, $1000 to win the B Modifieds and $850 to win Hobby Stocks.  Soares actually has some big shows sprinkled throughout the season.

Not mentioned on the original release was the Jerry Hetrick Memorial Race for A Modifieds, but it's happening again on July 8th.  Last year, that race paid $2500 to win and didn't even require a special entry fee or higher ticket price for the fans.  The race follows a $1000 to win A Modified race on July 1st.  The Larry Damtiz Memorial Race, which appears to be a Limited Late Model race at this point, is set for May 13th.  Interestingly enough, the division is dark that night at both Petaluma and Marysville, two places with good drivers willing to travel for the money.  We'll be trying to track down some information on this race so that we can spread the word.

Bay Area Hardtops are a thing now.  This is an offshoot of the California Hardtop Association with five dates set for Antioch.  This includes the big Chet Thomson Memorial Race on September 9th.  Antioch is where the Bay Area Hardtop movement was reborn about ten years ago when the California Hardtop group was founded by Stock Car veteran Conrad Cavallero.  Dave Mackey informed John M. Soares of the desire some drivers had to build a group that would be there to support Antioch.  Mackey is joined by Rob Waldrop, Bill McLaughlin (car for sale), Ken Retzloff, Tommy Thomson, Dan Williams, Doug Braudrick and Steve Cloyes.  The Sun Drop Racing Team #100 car and Pete Paulsen could make appearances as well.  Mackey reports that several people have expressed interest in building cars.

Meanwhile, John Philbert has not walked away, but he has given the California Hardtop Association drivers a nice schedule of dates at Chico, Placerville, Marysville, Orland, Calistoga and Roseville.  Jason Armstrong may be at the head of the pack on race day, but he's also a guy keeping some of these cars together.  The CHA roster includes hard changers like Dennis Armstrong, Ken Clifford, Jason Clifford, Joe Hopp, John Turner, Rick Ruiz, Joe Shenefield, Dave Reed in the old Philbert car and Philbert in another car.  If this isn't enough, California still has the Bakersfield Hardtops, who will have a championship season with dates between Bakersfield and Kern County Speedway.

Of course, the modern California Hardtop revival traces its roots to 2002 and a Cascade Hardtops visit one weekend to Sacramento Raceway and Orland Raceway.  Mike McCann and Chuck Prather led the Oregon based group into California as past Cottage Grove Street Stock champion Steve Lemley won both races.  Lemley's old car is now the Jason Clifford car.  Prather's old car is the John Turner car.  Prather spent the next couple of seasons building a group in Roseville and Sacramento.  Cavallero took the reigns in the northern half of California, with Ken Bonnema actively seeking cars and supporting Chowchilla races.  In Bakersfield, Kenny Farris and Marc McCaslin started their group, and McCaslin has been a driving force in keeping it going.  McCann, meanwhile, features the 6-Cylinder OTRO Hardtops eight times at Southern Oregon Speedway this year.

Getting back to Antioch, this is John and Donna Soares' 20th season at the helm of the 57 year old racing facility, and they are excited about all of the things happening from Playday on March 11th and 18th, to the opener on March 25th and all the way to the big season ender on September 30th.  They kick off the new Sprint Car Challenge series with the first of two appearances on April 1st along with the first of two BCRA Midget Lites visits.  The King Of The West/NARC Sprint Car Series is back for two appearances as well.  And, Soares' All Star Series roster of divisions includes Winged 360 Sprint Cars, Wingless Spec Sprints, Late Models, A Modifieds, B Modifieds, Limited Late Models, Hobby Stocks and Dwarf Cars.  All eight divisions are competing for 2017 track championships.

Rumors?  The grapevine hasn't yielded too much.  We're hearing reports that three time Hobby Stock champion and 2017 Limited Late Model "Rookie Of The Year" Kimo Oreta has been picked to drive the Sun Drop Racing #15 Limited Late Model and Late Model.  We've already seen the racing debut of former Antioch announcer Chris Bennett.  Past Hobby Stock champion Chris Sorensen is making good progress on making the former Ed Leis Modified ready for B Modified racing.  We certainly hope he is able to get out there as much as he wants to.  Robert Monroy will be making his Dwarf Car debut.  We're also hearing that past Mini Stock champion Brent Curran is going Hobby Stock racing this year.  We're not sure if Brent is still considered a rookie (we'll have to check notes on that), but he'll be fast either way.  New Years Bash winner Chris Long is also ready to go.

As a division carrying the work load at Antioch, some of the B Modified drivers are signing up for the Sport Modified Series that was put together by Chico and Marysville racers Brian Cooper and Jerry Bartlett.  These two have brought in some amazing sponsors for increased purses for the eight race series that will pay extra money when it comes to Chico, Merced, Marysville, Stockton and Petaluma.  Word is they intend to pay at least the Top 10 in point fund money and will have trophies for the Top 15.  Where does that leave Antioch drivers?  Cooper and Bartlett, by the way, wanted a date at Antioch.  At this point Fred Ryland, who has shifted his regular racing to Merced, is in along with rookie Guy Ahlwardt.  We've also heard that Mark Garner and Trevor Clymens want to support this series.  Antioch's roster is such that this class could be getting 16-20 cars per race with the right scheduling, but a heavily booked 2016 season still had at least ten cars most nights.  Management is happy with that.

We're also anxious to see what is happening with Limited Late Models, where a car count is definitely needed.  We've only heard rumors that Buddy Kniss may end up in this class.  Lori Brown, Mike Gustafson, John Evans, John Keith and hopefully Jim Freethy could be there.  If Kimo Oreta is behind the wheel of the #15 car, who will be the driver of the #03 car?  Mark Garner has a B Mod, but we haven't heard if he's still running the Limited Late Model.  He is poised for his first Antioch championship if he does come back.  As for Freethy, he's the only driver in the last six seasons to beat Larry Damitz for the championship at Antioch.  Past Antioch Late Model and Modified star Mike Walko is rumored to be coming back.  News trickles our way slowly, so we'll have to see.  For the last decade, Limited Late Models have struggled to reach the ten car mark, and even merging the popular Street Stock class into this division in 2009 didn't solve that issue.

There is plenty of reason to be optimistic that most of last year's stars in the various divisions will still be a part of the 2017 All Star Series program at Antioch Speedway, along with some new drivers.  The show continues to go on, and this track has hosted and will continue to host some of the biggest races in the Bay Area.  For further information on the happenings at the track, go to www.antiochspeedway.com.

Despite what the rumors might say, John Prentice continues to be a player in the promoting game in California, and he just recently debuted his new website at www.racepmg.com.  The off season saw Prentice make some changes designed to get the ship pointed in the right direction through rough waters.  Prentice decided to walk away from the Hunt Wingless Spec Sprint Series, but that series found a new home with Petaluma Promoter Rick Faeth.  A few promoters opted to break ranks with Prentice, and nothing was more bombshell than the big announcement by Promoter Scott Russell of the new Sprint Car Challenge Series.  With Abreu Vineyards and Elk Grove Ford coming on board, that series has a nice weekly purse ($2500 to win) and a point fund paying $10,000 to the champion and $1000 minimum for tenth.  Placerville has teamed up with Stockton, Petaluma, Antioch and Reno-Fernley to make this happen.

Prentice didn't just lay down and give up.  The Civil War Sprint Car Series, which has been the leader of the 360 Sprint Car movement for some 25 years, is back.  They also pay $2500 to win.  While the championship isn't as big at $6,000 and a payoff down to tenth, it's still good money.  Racers have two good 360 Sprint Car series now, and that means everything should still be fine.  Civil War tracks still include Watsonville, Chico, Marysville, Hanford and Tulare.  Furthermore, it's been announced that NARC is back.  It will be the King Of the West/NARC 410 Sprint Car Series in 2017, and the schedule and purse and point funds are still very impressive.

Prentice continues to offer the All Star Modified Tour.  The sale of the Hunt Series affords him the opportunity to do more to build up the state's premiere IMCA Modified Series.  All of last year's tracks are still on board for this, including Watsonville, Merced, Tulare, Petaluma and Marysville.  Some people are calling for a Speedweek, like they have up North.  You never know what can happen.  However, with NARC coming back as part of the KWS, there is every intent to bring back the Sprint Car Speedweek that disappeared when NARC went away back in 2000.

Prentice still promotes Ocean Speedway in Watsonville and has for over a decade.  Taco Bravo Sprint Cars headline along with IMCA Modifieds and Sport Modifieds, Hobby Stocks, Mini Stocks, SBDCA Dwarf Cars and Police In Pursuit Cars.  The schedule is up, and the key dates are still there.  This includes the Johnny Key Classic and Marshall Sargent Memorial for Sprint Cars, the big Mike Cecil Memorial Race for Hobby Stocks and the end of September Pat Pettit Memorial Shoot Out.  There's also visits by BCRA and USAC Sprint Cars sprinkled in there.  It may have been rough going there for a bit this past off season, but Prentice is at the helm keeping it all together.  The Watsonville opener is set for April 7.

Rick Faeth wasted no time with the announcement of the C&H Veteran's Services Presents The Hunt Wingless Spec Sprint Tour.  The 12 race series will take place between the tracks in Petaluma, Chico, Placerville, Stockton and Marysville.  The pay is an impressive $1200 to win and $175 to start, the highest ever for a Spec Sprint Series.  The champion wins $1500 and the Top 10 drivers get point fund money.  Also, there is no membership fee.  With all of this incentive, it will be interesting to see how well the active Spec Sprint roster of somewhere around 70 drivers supports the tour.

As for Petaluma Speedway, it doesn't matter to Faeth that every year there seems to be a discussion over what to do with the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds property.  There's a race track there now, and as it was with Jim Soares before him, he will continue to do his best to schedule a good season for the racers and fans.  Preparations are already underway for the coming season.  The roster of classes includes PitStopUSA.com Winged 360 and Wingless Spec Sprints, McLea's Tires IMCA Modifieds, Lumberjacks Restaurant Super Stocks, Jake's Performance Hobbies Mini Stocks, General Hydroponics Dwarf Cars and Santa Rosa Auto Body 600 Micros.  As usual, Faeth has hustled to get many good local business on board as fine sponsorship partners.

The PitStopUSA.com four race series for both Sprint Car classes returns with extra money involved in this point series within a series.  These two classes again join the Super Stocks for the end of the season Adobe Cup in October.  The Johnny Soares Classic is back for Wingless Spec Sprints, the BCRA London Bash Hall Of Fame night returns, there's big USAC, King Of the West/NARC and Sprint Car Challenge events, a Dwarf Car Regionals and lots of excitement for all to enjoy. In fact, the first of the four PitStopUSA.com Sprint Car Series races kicks things off on April 1st.  For further information on upcoming events, go to www.petaluma-speedway.com.

Bakersfield Speedway continues to be a hotbed of IMCA sanctioned racing.  Between there and Hanford, you have Modifieds, Sport Modifieds, Stock Cars and RaceSaver Sprint Cars all under the IMCA banner.  The Modified classes have been strong for a while now, and between Hanford, Bakersfield and Tulare, the RaceSaver Sprints seem too be on the verge of an explosion.  The Stock Cars have just sort of cruised along at Hanford in the past, but the Bakersfield contingent wants this thing to catch fire across the state.  These Metric Stock Cars were pretty much getting ten car minimum fields last year, and the car count is expected to get bigger.  Pat Biggs and Dave Bauer have certainly been doing what they can to grow the class, and all of the racers deserve credit.  It's only a matter of time before a third track enters the picture.

Of course, Bakersfield has lots of variety.  In addition to the IMCA classes, there's Hobby Stocks, American Stocks, Mini Stocks, Mod Lites, Pro Stocks, Late Models and Mini Dwarfs.  Plus, special visits from other classes.  The big Richie McGowan night for Hobby Stocks and Bud Nationals at the end of the season highlight the schedule along with Racing For Ronald and Camp Out For Cancer fund raising nights.  We didn't see the Mike Mosier Memorial Race listed, but this may have been missed.  As usual, Scott Schweitzer is doing an amazing job of promoting things here, and the site is www.bakersfieldspeedway.com for more info.  YouTube is the place for the very informative Bako Motorsports Power Hour.  That show also includes news from Kern County Raceway, which has a NASCAR program on pavement and a Friday night dirt track that is supported by many Bakersfield competitors.  Their website is www.kernraceway.com.

There are more cool news items from the area, including the addition of the Central Valley Mini Stocks to the program at Lemoore Speedway.  It's a six race season that begins on April 23rd.  The class actually had some cars last season, and there's video footage of four cars racing on the Outlaw Kart track.  A serious effort is being made to get cars for this group, which is your basic 4 Banger division.  The racers really want to make this thing pop, and we won't be a bit surprised to see them get a ten car field or more this year.  They have a Facebook page for more information right HERE

Speaking of Facebook, we saw word as we were making our most recent DCRR Blog update that there are eight races scheduled for Rocky Hill Speedway in Porterville this year.  Considering the word we were getting was that the track might close, this is good news.  March 11th is the scheduled opener, there's the Annual Veteran's Day Race and Thanksgiving Thunder also on the schedule with the possibility that more dates and divisions could be added.  Hobby Stocks, Mini Stocks and Super 4's are the core three classes, and the Rocky Hill Speedway Facebook Page should have more updates HERE.

Honestly, if this reporter were to head back to California and was involved in helping establish a racing program, Rocky Hill Speedway, with its great heritage stretching back decades, along with Orland Raceway, would be high on the list.  If a Chowchilla/Merced deal were possible, we'd easily slip back into "Valley Racing Mode" again.  Chowchilla Speedway is back, thanks to veteran racer and past Barn Burner Promoter Joe Diaz Jr. and Kris Koontz.  The two are bringing racing back to the big track.  Since Evan Sanders managed to book some Kart races on a special track in front of main the grandstands last season, there's been oval track racing at least once a year there since Tom Sagmiller promoted races in 2000.

Diaz is an open wheel minded guy, which is not surprising considering his Super Modified back ground.  But, he's driven just about everything, and that includes Mini Trucks.  Diaz plans to feature Sprint Cars, both winged and non winged, 600 Micros and Vintage Supers.  However, he also knows that the base of cars in the area is A Modifieds, B Modifieds, Hobby Stocks and Mini Stocks.  That may be where the strongest support comes while they build something up in Sprint Cars.  Dias and Koontz want to bring family fun back to Chowchilla again.  If we are able to get information on finishes, we will include Chowchilla news here this season.  They have reopened the official Chowchillla Speedway Facebook page HERE.

Orland Raceway is going for 12 races this year, and the roster features Hobby Stocks, Mini Stocks, Mini Trucks and Micro Sprints.  On Glenn County Fair Night on May 19th, they have added a special Figure 8.  Promoter Rich Hood wants to try something different.  If interest is there, something more may come of it.  Hobby Stocks are legal for this.  Considering there are people in Antioch, such as Jim Robbins and Bob Brown, and the Keldsen family probably has at least one car available, there's the possibility of some Bay Area support for this.  For further information on happenings at the track, check out www.orlandraceway.com.

We did get a report that 66 cars made practice laps at Bakersfield Speedway's playday.  Can you tell they are ready to race there?  We saw some streaming video of about a half-dozen Hobby Stocks making laps, and there were Wingless Sprint Cars getting laps on Sunday as well.  They actually did race on February 4th at Kern County Raceway, and Brad Pounds bested a 21 car A Modified field ahead of Bret Bennett and Cody Laney.  An equally impressive 22 car B Modified field saw Gary Dutton win ahead of Michael Johnson and Nick Spainhoward.  Don Mead won the 11 car Hobby Stock race ahead of Michael Scruggs and Ken Irwin. Lance Gonzales beat Andy Boydstun and Kit Murphy in the 12 car Mini Stock feature.  D.J., Labow won the American Stock feature ahead of Skip Spiller and Dakota Brown.  A nice opener for the dirt track.

The Sherm and Loree Toller race opened the Marysville Raceway season on Saturday.  Perhaps overshadowing the Winged 360 race was the 28 car turnout on hand to open the Hunt Wingless Spec Sprint Series. There was late race drama when Klint Simpson and D.J. Johnson tangled battling for the lead as Johnson flipped.  A surprised Cody Spencer got the win ahead of Terry Schank Jr., Troy DeGaton, Austin Liggett and Geoff Ensign.  DeGaton had to earn his feature start with a second in the B Main behind Thomas Leiby.  This was an impressive start for the Hunt Series.  Meanwhile, D.J. Netto drove the Tri-C car to the Winged 360 Sprint Car feature win ahead of Justin Sanders and Andy Forsburg.  Howard Law picked up the IMCA Sport Modified win ahead of Phillip Shelby and Todd Cooper.