Merced Speedway’s Scoreboard Operator, Ashleigh Nance, presents Eric Hamilton with his IMCA Central Valley Clash Trophy. (Mike Adaskaveg Photo)
By Mike Adaskaveg
Two teenagers stole the show Saturday night at Merced Speedway.
Eric Hamilton, a 16-year-old driver representing Kings Speedway in Hanford scored his first career victory by winning the first race in the “Central Valley Clash” for International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) modified stock cars.
Chowchilla High School Senior Christian Hickman, reigning track champion in the All Star Wingless Sprint Car division, was untouchable as he aced that main event.
Hamilton’s win did not come easy. A full field of the Valley’s top modified drivers was on hand for the first big battle of the summer. As skirmishes in the 30 lap “Clash” main event pushed top runners to the back of the pack, Hamilton held steady and fought off challenges on the last three re-starts.
“Is this my first win in Merced?” Hamilton answered an official’s question. “No, it’s my first win ever.”
Some interesting twists made this season’s road to the track championship exciting.
Local favorite and Merced Speedway point leader Rodney Freitas had engine problems early in the evening. It was young Hamilton who donated his spare engine to Freitas so that he may run the main event. Nearly seven drivers helped Freitas take the engine out of his car and replace it with Hamilton’s in time for Freitas to start the main event.
Rodney Freitas (25) got a spare engine from Eric Hamilton, worked his way up to fourth only to have the night end when he and Ryan Porter Tangled trying to avoid a spinning Jeff Streeter. (Mike Adaskaveg Photo)
Freitas worked his way back through the pack, only to get tangled up with Atwater’s Ryan Porter on the last lap. With Hamilton in the lead, Jeff Streeter, Porter and Freitas were moving in for a last lap challenge. Chowchilla’s Streeter spun out between the first and second turns forcing Porter and Freitas into evasive maneuvers.
The thrilling finish saw Mitch Enos of Manteca scramble into second, followed by Nick Silva of Aptos. Freita’s hometown rival, Mike Villanueva, brought home fourth and regained the point battle lead over Freitas, who was in 11th place at the fall of the checkered flag. Mark Odgers of Mariposa was fifth.
“I’m only a couple points ahead of you,” Villanueva said as he consoled Freitas after the race. “There’s still a lot of season ahead of us.”
Hickman fought lap after lap with Danny Malfatti of Hayward before pulling away at the end of the wingless sprint feature.
The IMCA SportMod feature was a thriller with Chris Falkenburg (3) pressuring Bakersfield’s Piker to the finish. (Mike Adaskaveg Photo)
Bakersfield Drivers John Piker and Nick Spainhoward were at the head of the class in the SportMod feature, but Chris Falkenburg of Turlock didn’t let the first and second place finishes come easy to them. Falkenburg, in his most impressive run of the season, was in the mix for the top spot throughout the race.
The SportMod feature was closely contended, with Rick Diaz of Los Banos right behind Falkenburg and Matt Sotomayor of Sanger on his rear bumper to bring home fifth.
Al Sotomayor of Watsonville stopped Mercedian Josh Strickland’s streak in the mini-stock division. Strickland was right behind him for second. Tina Perez of Merced came on strong for a third place finish.
There will be no racing on Memorial Day weekend. Merced Speedway returns to action on Saturday night, June 1 with the first “School’s Out IMCA SportMod Spectacular.”
It was like choreography – Mike Villanueva (69) danced with Jimmy Reeves lap after lap in qualifying. (Mike Adaskaveg Photo)