March 25: Season Opener – West Coast IMCA SportMods AND IMCA Mods, Hobby Stocks, Mini-Stocks

(031117 Merced, CA) Rick Diaz of Chowchilla, the reigning Merced Speedway IMCA SportMod champ, welcomes the competition coming to the speedway as it hosts the West Coast SportMod Tour on  Saturday, March 25. (Mike Adaskaveg Photo)

 Rick Diaz of Chowchilla, the reigning Merced Speedway IMCA SportMod champ, welcomes the competition coming to the speedway as it hosts the West Coast SportMod Tour on Saturday, March 25. (Mike Adaskaveg Photo)

By Mike Adaskaveg

Merced Sun-Star

Merced Speedway opens Saturday night with the first of several big events planned for 2017 season.

More than 100 cars are expected as West Coast SportMod Tour joins the IMCA Modified, Hobby Stock and Mini-Stock Divisions for the first event of the year. The event is sponsored by D and L Pumps.  Because of the anticipated turnout, the Merced County Fairgrounds oval will open at 4 p.m., with racing starting one hour earlier than normal at 6 p.m.

Local drivers practiced on the ¼ mile track for the past two weekends. The International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) sanctioned track regularly features SportMods, but the tour race is a new event that will see drivers from six California tracks competing against each other. Merced Speedway will host the tour twice this season.

(031117 Merced, CA ). Saturday,  March 11, 2017.  ©2016 Mike Adaskaveg.

SportMod standout Fred Ryland looks forward to the West Coast SportMod tour. 

“Yes, the SportMods can be the main attraction – this race will prove it,” says Merced Speedway’s 2016 SportMod champ Rick Diaz of Chowchilla. The IMCA SportMod division is often seen as the secondary division to the IMCA Modified class. “You’ll see at least 50 SportMod cars here – I want that at my home track. The SportMod feature will be the night’s big event.”

Local racers welcome competition from other tracks.

“I can’t wait for Saturday night,” adds SportMod driver Fred Ryland of Brentwood, who has made Merced Speedway his home track. “If you do well in a West Coast SportMod Tour race, the bragging rights will go a long way.”

(031117 Merced, CA . Saturday,  March 11, 2017.  ©2016 Mike Adaskaveg.

Diaz at Speed in his IMCA SportMod during a practice session earlier this month. (Mike Adaskaveg Photo) 

BEGINNING OF AN EXCITING SEASON

Coming off a very successful season, sophomore promoter Ed Parker of Merced has broadened the 2017 schedule to include a variety of events and car classes that haven’t been seen at the quarter-mile cay track in recent history.

In addition to the West Coast SportMod tour, there will be visits from the IMCA All Star Modifieds. Open-wheeled Race Saver Winged Sprint Cars and Bay Cities Racing Association (BCRA) Midget Lites will each have events at the track.

Merced Speedway will host for the first time the Dwarf Car Nationals, a two-day event for the motorcycle engine powered cars. A new regular class powered by motorcycle engines, the Mini-Late Models, will offer young and new drivers a way to economically break into oval racing.

Memorial events this season will include the Ted Stofle Classic on May 6, The Timmy Post Memorial on July 1, The Matt and Glass Cancer Fund Raider on Sept. 23and the John Fore, Jr. Sport Mod Nationals on October 7.

Last year’s inaugural Golden Valley FFA Tractor Pull was so successful that the FFA will make it an annual event beginning on October 21. Also back on the schedule for the second year is the American Motorcycle Association (AMA) Flat Track Motorcycle Races on June 24.

(031117 Merced, CA ) IMCA SportMods line up in the pit area of Merced Speedway during this year's  practice Session. The West Coast IMCA SportMod Tour opens the season on Saturday, March 25. Drivers from six California tracks will compete at Merced Speedway as part of the event. (Mike Adaskaveg Photo)

Growing in numbers, IMCA SportMods line up in the pit area of Merced Speedway during this year’s practice Session. The West Coast IMCA SportMod Tour opens the season on Saturday, March 25. Drivers from six California tracks will compete at Merced Speedway as part of the event. (Mike Adaskaveg Photo)

FAN EXPERIENCE IMPROVEMENTS

In addition to cleaning and painting the concession stands, race fans and drivers alike will be able to see real-time scoring during racing events by using their cell phones or tablets.

Parker invested in “My Laps”, a system that will electronically show the lap times of the cars and their positions in real time throughout the night.

SATURDAY OPENING NIGHT AT MERCED SPEEDWAY

On the Track: Four Divisions of cars, with total car count of more than 100 entries. IMCA SportMods, IMCA Modifieds, Hobby Stocks and Mini Stocks will each race in qualifying “heat” races and a feature event.

 

Gates Open: Pit Area – NOON, Grandstand 4 p.m.

 

Racing: Starts 6 p.m. will end approximately 10 p.m.

 

Admission: Adults $12.00; Children 6-12 yrs. old $5.00; Family Four Pack of tickets is $30. Children under six are free.

 

Location: Merced Speedway is within the Merced County Fairgrounds 900 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Merced, Calif.

 

 

 

Champions Honored at 2016 Merced Speedway Awards Banquet

(111916 Merced, CA) Merced Speedway Banquet - Saturday, November 19, 2016. ©2016 Mike Adaskaveg.

Rick Diaz presents the IMCA SportMod Championship Trophy to Lisa Fore, widow of John Fore, Jr. who died in a work-related accident just before the start of the 2016 season. Photo by Mike Adaskaveg

By Mike Adaskaveg

Merced Sun-Star

Back at the start of the 2016 racing season, driver Rick Diaz set out on a mission to win the Merced Speedway IMCA SportMod division championship in honor of friend John Fore, Jr. – a fellow driver who died in a workplace accident just weeks before.

On Saturday night, at the Merced Speedway 2016 Awards Banquet, Diaz was crowned champion of his division – and he immediately carried the large trophy he won to tearful widow Lisa Fore, who was seated with her family at a nearby table.

“I won the championship for him – this year was not about me,” Diaz explained. “I was looking forward to racing with John this season. He took a big part of a lot of us with him when he died.”

For Diaz, the road to the championship was a rough one – but he persevered to accomplish his goal. He drove three different cars – one a “loaner” from a Bakersfield competitor – so he wouldn’t miss any races and could tally up enough points for the championship.

In 2014, Fore, Jr. was Rookie of the Year, and Diaz the champion of the SportMod division. This year, Diaz started driving a car owned by fellow Chowchilla racer Randy Brown. Midway through the season, Brown and Diaz parted, with Wayne Dotson of Bakersfield offering his car to Diaz in order for him to continue on the championship mission. Diaz had a chassis of his own on order from and Arkansas company, and was awaiting its delivery.

“It was a hiccup in the plan, but we did not give up,” said Diaz of the car changes. When the new chassis arrived, crewmembers Chuck Crews, Joe Gonella and Mark Morton worked day and night to turn it into a racecar. Diaz drove it in the season’s last three races.

Diaz’s new car was on display, along with the championship cars of each Merced Speedway division, along the “red carpet” entrance to the banquet at Half Dome Hall in the Merced County Fairgrounds. A remembrance to Fore, Jr. is prominently emblazoned on the nose of the car.

“That memorial will be on every car I own – forever,” Diaz vowed. “No sponsor could pay me enough buy that space.”

(111916 Merced, CA. Merced Speedway Banquet - Saturday, November 19, 2016. ©2016 Mike Adaskaveg.

The memory of John Fore, Jr. is celebrated on the hood of Rick Diaz’s SportMod. Photo by Mike Adaskaveg

BROWN WINS IMCA STATE MODIFIED DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIP 

            Randy Brown’s dedication to his hometown track saw him racing his IMCA Modified in the organization’s Dakota Tour on a Friday night, jumping on a plane and driving a back-up car at Merced Speedway on Saturday night. He did the same when on an IMCA tour in Oregon.

His returning to California not only enabled Brown to win the Merced Speedway Championship, but the California Championship.

“Winning the track championship was hard – considering that we were doing what we set out to do this season – driving everywhere and anywhere the IMCA was racing,” Brown said. “Winning the state championship was icing on the cake for a great season.”

For the Brown family, life on the road is enjoyable. Sabrina Brown, and the couple’s children Kaylin 13, and Kennzziie [cq] love racing. Both children race go-karts.

“Randy had 70 races on the schedule this year and I only missed the six races on the Dakota tour,” Sabrina Brown proudly said.

112216mercedspeedwaychamps01

The 2016 merced Speedway Champions were honored at Half Dome Hall in the Merced County Fairgrounds on Saturday. From left to right are: IMCA SportMod Champ Rick Diaz, Hobby Stock Champ Michael Shearer,IMCA Modified Track and State Champ Randy Brown, Mini-Stock Champ Chris Corder and Valley Sportsman Champ Kenny Birdsong. Saturday, November 19, 2016. Photo by Mike Adaskaveg.

Randy Brown wanted a racecar when he turned 15. His dad, D.C. Brown, made him build an IMCA modified car from the ground up. At age 16 he won the 2006 IMCA Western States Rookie of the Year title. Since then, he’s captured four IMCA track championships – two at Merced Speedway and two at Chowchilla Speedway.

SHEARERS RACED SIDE BY SIDE AND HAD FUN

Michael and Kristie Shearer raced side by side, with Kristie making a run on her husband for the Hobby Stock division championship early in the season.

Starting the New Year with a win, Michael Shearer had consistent top finishes that enabled him to maintain a season long lead.

“Kristie got close – within a few points – but I wasn’t going to back off,” Michael Shearer said of his first championship. “We had a lot of fun. Now its her turn to win a championship.”

Surprisingly, Michael Shearer won’t be racing in the Hobby Stock division next season. He’ll be crew chief for Kristie Shearer and friend Shannon Nelson.

“It’s time for the women to win,” he said. “I’d like to see them finish one and two.”

BIRDSONG DRIVES CHILDHOOD DREAM TO CHAMPIOSHIP; CORDER’S LOVE OF SMALL CARS HELPS WIN CHAMPIONSHIP

Merced’s Kenny Birdsong built a replica of the car he saw Rod Poor drive in 1969 and drove it to the 2016 Valley Sportsman division championship. The original car, built by Johnny Freitas, still sits in a local wrecking yard.

“I was raised around that car and always dreamed of driving it,” said Birdsong, who is 60 and in his third year of racing. “I wouldn’t drive anything else.”

Birdsong’s son, Christopher, painted his replica car in the original 1969 scheme – complete with local sponsors of the era.

“I can drive my car with one finger,” said Mini Stock division champion Chris Corder of Modesto. “I love my Acura. I’ve always been into small cars. Mini-Stocks handle like road race cars.”

Corder started racing on pavement, then switched to racing on dirt at Merced Speedway.

“It’s more fun sliding sideways through the turns,” Corder said.

(111916 Merced, CA. Merced Speedway Banquet - Saturday, November 19, 2016. ©2016 Mike Adaskaveg.

(111916 Merced, CA. Merced Speedway Banquet – Saturday, November 19, 2016. ©2016 Mike Adaskaveg.

SPEEDWAY NOTES

            Rookie of the Year honors went to Garrett Corn of Cathay’s Valley in the Hobby Stock division, Chase Thomas of Atwater in the IMCA SportMod division, Bruce “Bubba” Nelson of Atwater in the IMCA Modified division, Paul Lauretti of Watsonville in the Mini-Stock division and Shannon Fry of Corralitos in the Valley Sportsman division.

First-year owner and promoter Ed Parker celebrated a successful season at the gala – which was complete with a “red carpet” entrance, tables with fresh flowers, door prizes and a live band.

Parker announced plans for the new season, which will include a wider variety of racing events and even a new division – mini late models, powered by 600cc motorcycle engines. Sprint Cars and a National Dwarf Car race will be added attractions in the new season.