Sept. 25: Battle for the Championship In IMCA Modifieds Resumes Saturday Night

Brothers Ramie, left, and Troy Stone talk racing strategy in the pits at Merced Speedway. Ramie Stone is in third place in the IMCA Modified point standings and is a long shot for the championship.

 

By Mike Adaskaveg

Merced Sun-Star

Veteran driver Ramie Stone of Winton doesn’t like giving up home turf.

A six-time Merced Speedway track champ, Stone finds himself in third place with two point races left to decide 2018 IMCA Modiified Division Champion. He’s following relative newcomers and “out-of-towners” Darrell Hughes of Manteca and Brian Pearce of Oakley in a three-way battle for the coveted title.

“With two races left, I’ve only got a hope and a prayer,” says Stone, who is 38 points away from first place Hughes and only 11 points behind second place Pearce. “I’ll be looking for that an ace in the hole.”

Stone won’t give up until the end. It’s in the DNA of his racing family. He, his brother Troy and cousin Paul have a long list of wins and top finishes at the quarter-mile fairgrounds track since the late 1990s.

“Darrell (Hughes) has got to really mess up for me to even have a chance at the championship,” admits Stone. “I’ve raced him hard and clean all year long. His game plan is right on the money.”

Sx time Merced Speedway champion Ramie Stone is at speed in his green and purple IMCA Modified.

Stone won’t expect anything less of Hughes for the final two races. Yet, hee won’t let up the pressure on Hughes.

“Not only is he the point leader, but he is the driver to beat,” Stone says of Hughes. “I’ve tried different things on my car every week. I feel I am getting faster and faster. The weather at night is cooler – the track is different on cool nights because of the moisture it holds. I could become the guy to beat.”

Stone sees himself with a slight handicap because of his age. His competitors see that as years of experience.

“I’m the older guy – I’m 52 – but I’ve got the best technology I have had in my entire career,” he says. “I race to win. If I finish second and I know I tried my best to win, I’m happy that I gave it my all.”

PEARCE WILL BE IN THE RUNNING TO THE END

 Oakley’s Brian Pearce has raced to second place in the IMCA Modified point standings with two weeks left in the regular season at Merced Speedway. He is 29 points behind leader Darrell Hughes.

He could of raced at another Northern California speedway this weekend, but Brian Pearce will be at Merced because of two reasons – a commitment he made to the late Ed Parker and the chance that he could beat best friend and rival, Hughes, for the title.

“If I have a chance to win the championship, Darrell would have to struggle and my team would have to be real good,” Pearce says. “I also may have a challenge for second place.”

That is because Stone is coming on strong for second.

“Both Darrell and Ramie have been top notch all year – Darrell is so consistent and Ramie has the experience none of us have – he’s right there in the mix,” Pearce explains. “I am going to try a few new things with my car – to see if I could be faster –  and battle all the way to the finish for the track championship.”

Pearce’s weekly on-track scenario is nerve-wracking.

“Every week I’m looking for the blue car (Hughes) or the green car (Stone) while I’m racing in the feature,” he says. “If one of them is in front of me, I’m trying to keep pace with them and hopefully be able to make a pass. If either of them are in back of me, I’m trying to figure if they are gaining on me – and I try to make my car as wide as possible (hard to pass in the turns) without making contact.”

HUGHES TAKES IT IN STRIDE

 IMCA Modified championship point leader and three time feature winner Darrel Hughes (28) passes Mariposa’s Ricky Thatcher (61) and Chowchilla’s Jeff Streeter at Merced Speedway. Saturday, August 18, 2018. 

Three feature winner Hughes has a  secret weapon – his dad, Bill, who is the 2002 Chowchilla Speedway modified championship. Bill Hughes gave up his driving career to help his son campaign their IMCA modified

Father and son work together at home and in the pits, preparing the car for the changing track conditions every night. It was NASCAR racing on pavement that first attracted the younger Hughes.

“I raced for points at Stockton 99 in 2006 and it wound up costing me the championship,” Darrell Hughes says. He switched to IMCA dirt modified stock cars in in 2009. “Now, I race to win. It just happened that I’m the championship points leader this year – so I’m going for it.”

Now that he has that point lead, Hughes is giving up a plan to race in Arkansas next week – so he could be at Merced Speedway to protect his lead.

“Think about the thousands of drivers that have raced in the IMCA. There is only a small percentage of those drivers that are listed in the IMCA records as track champions. It is a special list – a real cool deal if your name is on it.”

SATURDAY NIGHT AT MERCED SPEEDWAY

The IMCA Modified, IMCA SportMod, Hobby Stock, Mini-Stock and Mini-Late Model divisions will each have a complete program of qualifying races and a feature event on Saturday night.

Merced Speedway is located within the Merced County Fairgrounds at 900 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in Merced.

The racing program begins at 7 p.m. and usually concludes at 10 p.m.

The pit gate opens at 2 p.m. and the grandstand gate opens at 5 p.m.

Admission is $12 for adults, $10.00 for Military and Students with school ID, $5 for children 6-12 years old. Children under 6 years old are free. A family four-pack of ticket is $30.

 

 

 

August 25: Three-Way Mini-Stock Battle

By Mike Adaskaveg

Merced Sun Star

 High school senior Allen Neal of Los Banos is a rookie tied for first with rookie Lee Ragsdale in the mini-stock division. (Mike Adaskaveg Photo).

 Lee Ragsdale of Winton shares the top spot in the championship point battle with another rookie, Allen Neal. Ragsdale has a photo of late Merced Speedway promoter Ed Parker and his son, Cody, the hood of his car. (Mike Adaskaveg Photo)

Two rookies, 20 years apart in age, are tied in points for the championship in the Merced Speedway Mini-Stock division. Lee Ragsdale, 36, of Winton and high school student Allen Neal of Los Banos are locked in a dead heat going into the home stretch of the season.

In striking distance of the top two is second season driver Tyler Jackson, of Sanger, who scored his first career win last week.

The speedway’s Mini-Stock division, which is for four-cylinder sub compact cars, has grown to a record 32 drivers this season. Mini-Stocks are on the program on Saturday night, along with the IMCA Modified, IMCA SportMod, Hobby Stock and Valley Sportsman divisions.

Ragsdale and Neal met for the first time this year in the pit area of the speedway.

“He’s a quiet kid with a great future in racing,” Ragsdale says of Neal. “He’s a dominant driver out there. Its pretty cool to have two rookies tied for first.”

INEXPENSIVE AND FUN

The late Timmy Post, whose grandfather Chuck Griffin previously operated the speedway, introduced Ragsdale to racing.

“I moved from Stevinson to Atwater, and Tim was my first friend,” says Ragsdale. “He got me a job as the turn two official.”

Life’s twists and turns took Ragsdale to Tennessee for a decade. He returned, contacted Post’s brother Neil Barcellos, who landed him a job at the speedway as a push truck operator.

“I paid my dues and became friends with many racers,” Ragsdale continues. “Through building friendships I was able to get sponsors and secured a ‘ride’ for this season.”

Ragsdale, who is a State Certified Welder by trade, was offered that ride in a car owned by Jennifer Rogers and Jerry Tubbs. Midway through the season, Ragsdale’s sponsors, Nick Baballe of Stevinson and Rick Paglino of Atwater, bought the car for him.

“I’m out there having fun,” he says. “That is what racing is all about.”

NETWORKING FOR A CAR

Neal is a senior at Pacheco High School in Los Banos. He was racing karts but had to quit because he did not have the money.

He met Merced Speedway driver Nathan Corn as 10 year olds kart racing at the Chowchilla Barn Burner, and the two boys became friends.

“Nathan said he had a mini-stock sitting at his home in Catheys Valley. It belonged to Merced Speedway announcer Dale Falkenberg,” says Neal. “I called Dale and asked if I could drive it – and he said sure.”

With the help of his grandpa, Glen Forman, who used to race in Utah, Neal rebuilt the ’89 Honda Prelude to prepare it for racing.

“We got new rims and tires, went through every connection, checked the fuel injection and replaced gaskets,” he says. “It was a fixer-upper because it just sat outside too long.”

With no budget, Neal was not able to afford a trailer. Corn offered him the use of his trailer for the season. Neal, his mother Christina Payton, and Forman haul the car to the track being towed behind an old 1980 Chevy motorhome.

Neal is still searching for that first win – his best finish was a second.

“We don’t race for money. We race to win a trophy. Sponsors are important – we want to show them a win because they cover our expenses,” Neal adds. “It feels good being in the lead for the championship after coming in as a rookie and not knowing what to expect. Now, we need that win.”

 Tyler Jackson of Sanger lines up to race in the Mini-Stock division, his car flying a flag honoring his late uncle, Robert Jackson, who also drove in the same division. Jackson won his first feature last Saturday night. (Mike Adaskaveg Photo)

MAN ON A MISSION

Jackson won driving his late uncle’s Acura. Robert Jackson, who raced with his nephew at the speedway, was killed in a street accident in June. Tyler Jackson flies a flag in his honor from the back of his car.

“His loss was devastating,” Tyler Jackson says. “He found a car for me to drive and then we wound up buying it.  I have two mini-stocks sitting at home – his and mine. Now, I’m driving his.”

The season started off rough. Jackson ran out of gas his second night out and finished 12th. Months later, he was raising the checkered flag in victory lane.

“It felt unbelievable to win. All through the race I was expecting someone to come around and pass me at any minute, but no one ever did,” he says. “I felt my uncle was watching over me. He would have been proud to see me win.”

Now that he has a taste for winning, Jackson wants more.

“I’m going to try to continue my winning ways,” he adds.

Lee Ragsdale at Speed on the backstretch of Merced Speedway (Mike Adaskaveg Photo) 

SATURAY NIGHT AT MERCED SPEEDWAY

The IMCA Modified, IMCA SportMod, Hobby Stock, Mini-Stock and Valley Sportsman divisions will each race in a complete program of qualification heats and a feature event.

The pit gate opens at 2 p.m. and the grandstand gate opens at 5 p.m. Racing begins at 7 p.m.

Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for Military and Students with school ID, and $5 for children 6-12 years old. Children under 6 years old are free. A family four-pack of tickets is $30.

Allen Neal (5) passes Bryant Desaire of Denair on the backstretch of Merced Speedway (Mike Adaskaveg Photo) 

 

Highlights from “A Tribute to Ed Parker” Special Event on Saturday, Aug. 18

More than 90 cars were in the pits at Merced Speedway Saturday  as California drivers paid a fitting tribute to the late Merced Speedway promoter Ed Parker. Merced Speedway regulars captured all four features.

Darrel Hughes of Manteca topped Bobby Hogge IV from Salinas n the IMCA modified feature. Nick Tucker of Delhi out-ran invader Nick Spainhoward from Bakersfield  in the IMCA SportMod division. In the Hobby Stock feature, Austin Van Hoff of Chowchilla held off Kevin Joaquin from Sonora. In the Mini-Stock feature it was Tyler Jackson of Sanger over Shawn DePriest of Dinuba.

Each of the winning drivers were given a commemorative door panel honoring Ed Parker.

IMCA Modified Point leader Darrell Hughes (28) takes the outside lane as he battles Ricky Thatcher and Jeff Streeter in a heat race. Photo Courtesy of Mike Adaskaveg. 

In victory lane, Hughes receives a commemorative door panel honoring Ed Parker. Photo by Joe Martinez L and J Racing Photos

 Nick Tucker takes the inside as he passes Brent Curran in the IMCA SportMod division. Photo courtesy of Mike Adaskaveg.

Nick Tucker in victory lane after the IMCA SportMod feature holding a door panel trophy inl tribute to Ed Parker. Photo by Joe Martinez L and J Racing Photos

 

Hobby Stock feature winner Austin Van Hoff (44) goes side by side with Danny Holcomb. Photo courtesy of Mike Adaskaveg

A very proud Austin Van Hoff in Victory Lane with the Ed Parker tribute door panel. Photo by Joe Martinez, L and J Racing Photos

Tyler Jackson (T77) races down the backstretch with Troy Tatum in the Mini-Stock division.  Photo Courtesy of Mike Adaskaveg.

An ecstatic Tyler Jackson in victory lane after winning Mini-Stock Feature. Photo by Joe Martinez, L and J Racing Photos

A CELEBRATION OF ED PARKER’S LIFE

Racers, fans, friends and family gathered at Half Dome Hall in the Merced County Fairgrounds Friday morning to celebrate the life of Merced Speedway promoter Ed Parker, taken from us at the young age of 51.

Ed Parker 1967-2018

                                                   Brother-in-law Rich Pfau speaks of Ed’s life.

          Half Dome Hall is fulled to capacity. Ed’s Brother in Law, Rich Pfau, shares personal remembrances of Ed.

                    Merced Benevolent Protective Order of Elks honors member Edward Parker with a tribute.

                       Beth Pfau, sister of Ed Parker, shares stories of growing up with her little brother.

                 Merced Speedway Race Director Bill Volz Speaks about Ed and his love for racing.

           Friends of Ed and the Speedway pass Cody Parker’s SportMod on the way into the Celebration of Ed’s Life.

A Wrap with a Portrait of Proud Father and Son adorns the hood of Cody Parker’s Sport Mod.

 

Photos by Mike Adaskaveg