Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Tenth Anniversary Of Wingless Spec Sprints

Sorry for the absence, but I guess I've been focusing on other things. As they say, life goes on. The book isn't at the top of my list at this moment, but it is on the list. All I can say is I have some notes on what I want in it, but have not started writing it. Need to finish other stuff first. I can say that when I do start writing, I don't anticipate it will take too long.

I had two other blogs written last November, and for whatever reason, I didn't do anything with them. They have been posted and are beneath this one. They are about Jim Booth and the families of racing at Antioch Speedway. Both appeared in DCRR Racing News in 1998 originally.

I guess if I had to think about what was my legacy in racing that people still remember, it's Wingless Spec Sprints. Most people probably don't know who I am, but if they are watching the division wherever it's at here in California, I'd like to think I helped get the ball rolling. When I think about it, it's pretty cool. Five years after attending my last race in California, Spec Sprints live on.

Don O'Keefe Jr. told me that we'd be pushed out of the way if this thing took off, and he was right. I hate when that happens, but with Don, it happens a lot. He's about the smartest and wisest man I know in racing and a man I'm still proud to call my friend.

Ego is not why we did this. I'd been associated with the carbureted Sprint effort since 1988 with the NCMA and Mike Johnson, but I know all I was to them was a column writer. I never really fit in there, but I tried my best to help the cause. I did my best, but I know I pissed people off. I could have done a few things differently, but I'm proud of my work. I'm a link in the chain that is Wingless Spec Sprints and the NCMA, which still lives.

I know Bill Ivins (NCMA Hall Of Famer and deservedly so) thought I was trying to destroy the NCMA when I got involved with the WSS, and so did others. Poor Bill got caught in the crossfire and blamed for things that I know were not his fault. Bill is a good man and I respect him regardless of our disagreements. I could have been less of a prick sometimes, but we live and learn. Nobody is perfect.

What people may not know is I fought hard for the NCMA when John Soares Jr. got Antioch Speedway. As traveling clubs were removed from the schedule there, and virtually every other one was, the NCMA was on the schedule for 1998. John and I talked a lot about the NCMA and I assured him they were worth it and would give him a decent car count. There were those who were worried when I endorsed John, but I always intended to fight for the NCMA.

I further lobbied for an NCMA point race at Antioch so they could get honored at the banquet in 1998. I was asked by the NCMA Business Manager to start keeping track of those points as I was doing it for Antioch Speedway at the time. Out of respect for the NCMA, I used their point system. I still caught a ration of crap from Ivins about that and was called a liar, but I understand the fear. There has always been a rally around the NCMA banner attitude from the die hards, but that is also why there is still an NCMA. I respect that.

I should also point out that while I was speaking up for the NCMA, Soares is the one with the power to make it happen, and he did. John gave me opportunities I never dreamed I would have, and I will NEVER forget that. He didn't have to take a chance on a loser like me, but he did.

Now, John was worried. He liked the NCMA Modifieds, but there were scheduling conflicts in 1998 that could have ended badly had Don and I not stepped in and let him know what was going on. John's first offer to the NCMA for 1999 was the purse structure enjoyed by the WSS in the beginning as long as they joined All Pro Series, plus they could still be the NCMA on the road. It was rejected. Again, I understand why, but the fact was John wanted a new division. Don and I were the two who could make it happen.

First order of business was to find out if there were 12 or so drivers interested in a wingless and carbureted Sprint Car class (not with the coup or sedan bodies of the Modifieds). There were, or course. Secondly, what was the purse gonna be? As Doc Brophy would say, "What does it pay?"

John quoted us a purse on a 12 car minimum with an increase at 17 cars, and he never wavered on that number. It made the job Don and I did so much easier. It was the cornerstone of our effort. Well, that and rules. I still have the hand written, pizza stained original draft of the rules.

The fact is, I know nothing about what makes a car work, but I have a simple philosophy. It has to be as affordable as possible for the working men and women who race. My expertise is hype and writing to get people excited about it. Don knows the rules inside and out and can quote them all without looking at the book. He knows why the rules are that way and how it all works. He took time to explain each and every one of them to me as we wrote them, answering any questions I had.

That was an interesting August afternoon in 1998 at that pizza parlor, and it was the beginning of one crazy, stressful and exciting year of building a new division. We only had so many months to get it ready for an April 1999 launch date. I could tell you so many stories, but that would make this column way too long. I don't want to bore you.

Don answered all of the questions any potential racer had and had the phone and printing bills to prove it. I hyped every little thing about the class in The DCRR, Racing Wheels, MotoRacing and any other publications or online sites I could think of. If a racer was thinking about running this class, I wrote about it. I know it pissed some people off, but I wanted this to be a success and this needed to be done.

The job of starting this class and doing all the little things to put out the fires paid nothing, but that was never the point. By the way, there were fires to put out, egos to deal with and rumors to put an end to. We made a joke of it to relieve stress. Hence, Don became "The Rumorman". There's a story behind that, but I won't go there.

I recall a night that Darry Shirk came walking from way across the booth area at the Placerville swap meet to ask me about a rumor he'd heard that was incorrect about the WSS. What a great man and racer Darryl was, and I was so proud he was on that initial roster and a feature winner. The late Andy Archer had just won "Rookie Of The Year" with NCMA and was prepared to jump ship to the WSS. Two racers taken away from us before their time.

The veterans, the new guys, Stock Car racers, people who always wanted to run a Sprint Car but could not afford it. The Spec Sprint class brought it all together. Don't let the carburetors fool you, these guys were putting on some great Sprint Car racing, and it didn't take long for die hard Sprint Car fans to take notice. One ally to the cause and a man I respect was From The Grandstand columnist Ron Rodda. I can tell you he made a difference to the cause very early on with his fair and informative columns.

I'm still accused of trying to destroy the NCMA, but the fact is I personally lobbied for NCMA dates not only at Antioch in 1999, but Petaluma as well. There were at least 7 dates, but it fell apart due to more scheduling conflicts. I'm not thrilled at that, but I did what I could to help them. Speaking up any further could have been damaging to my own situation, so I had to let go. Fortunately, the NCMA booked dates at Altamont that year and continues to live.

Even after all of the hype and rules clarifications and the stuff Don and I did, we didn't know what to expect. We thought we should hit 12 cars minimum, but you never know until the races come. As it turned out, we had 12 cars on April 3, 1999 for the opener, and there was nearly 14 but for last minute problems. I believe 1999 champion Dan Gonderman won that race, but I'd have to check my notes.

There were a lot of things that we did to try to make things special and make the racing exciting, like encouragement heat races to produce first time winners and fully inverted fields for more passing. We never had less than 12 cars that year at Antioch and as many as 19. The season opener in 2000 had a B Main. A year later, I worked with Tom Sagmiller at Chowchilla to produce a then record 32 car field for the Open Wheel Round Up.

So this is the tenth anniversary of Spec Sprints at Antioch, but the division didn't just take off there. Chico, Placerville, Watsonville, Marysville, Orland and Petaluma have all started their own classes, and the NCMA still lives as well. I'm not so sure what would be there had we not gotten the ball rolling at Antioch, and I'm proud to have been a part of making it happen and what Don and I did for the cause of promoting racing.

Announcing, handing track publicity, doing my own publication and the other opportunities I've had to make a difference are all things I'm proud of. But, the Wingless Spec Sprint class is the one thing that has had a more lasting impression on the sport. It still lives, and I was a part of making it happen. Not many people get an opportunity to do something like that, and I'm grateful to have had the chance to make a difference. Hopefully it's around for many years to come, and I see no reason why that won't be the case.

To everybody, past and present who has been a part of this thing from the beginning of the NCMA to this coming season of Wingless Spec Sprints, thank you and be proud. It couldn't have happened without you.