By Mike Adaskaveg
A Merced Speedway race team experienced the agony of defeat and the thrill of victory in a matter of minutes during the recent Ted Stofle Classic. For Merced drivers Phil Vaughn and Dalton Chiesa, and their crew chief Donnie Hiser, that night’s experiences have since been talked about every day.
Early in the evening, the trio of co-workers at Shannon Pump in Merced helped each other prepare for the 29-lap Hobby Stock feature, which comprised one-third of the Classic. Vaughn is an operator of a deep well turbine-drilling rig. Chiesa, 20, is a helper and Hiser is the company’s veteran electrician.
“We were having a good night on the track, then things suddenly turned for the worse,” explained Chiesa, who qualified for the feature event. “I tried to leave enough room for the guy outside of me, but suddenly the lane closed.”
That’s when Chiesa’s car came together with a competitor’s car and barrel rolled down the backstretch of the speedway.
“I was in the first turn when the red flag came out,” Vaughn said. “I looked and saw that it was Dalton’s car on its side. I started to release my seat belts to get to him. He’s like a son to me – he grew up with my son, Kyle – they’ve been friends since they were toddlers.”
Minutes seemed like hours as the track crew tried to free Chiesa from the wreck. The crew steadied the car as he freed himself from his seat. Chiesa, a third-generation driver, remembered advice his father, David, and grandfather, Butch, gave him.
“I was shaken up. First, I checked to see if my body was ok. I tried to move all my limbs – and they moved,” Chiesa said. “Then I went through a lot of emotions. I was angry, so I decided to take a deep breath and calm down, and escape the car.”
Chiesa quickly popped up from the door of the car, which was sitting on its side. He raised his fist to the air, as the crowd responded with a deafening roar.
“My mom, Jil , was sitting in the first turn grandstand. I thought she would be freaking out. I did what I did for her. I wanted her to know I was O.K.,” Chiesa explained.
VAUGHN A DRIVEN DRIVER
When the wreck was cleared, and the green flag about to fly, Vaughn became a changed man.
“I was upset – it made me want to drive harder to win,” he explained. “I drove so hard I almost spun out a couple of times.”
Waiting to make his move, Vaughn was positioned to take the lead with three laps to go. Chiesa was in the pits, lamenting his misfortune.
“I was wondering how I was going to bring my car back to life – everything was damaged – the whole front end of the car was twisted,” Chiesa said. “Then, someone yelled out that Phil was winning. I was as excited as much as I would be if I was winning.”
Chiesa ran to the fence to watch his teammate take the checkered flag.
It was Vaughn’s first Merced Speedway win, and it was an important one to the drivers and their crew chief.
“To win the Stofle classic – it is an unbelievable honor. Don (Hiser) has pictures of himself as a small child sitting on Ted Stofle’s car. He made his mom buy him the same tennis shoes as Ted wore,” Vaughn said as he smiled in victory lane.”
Chiesa was there to hug his teammate.
“One driver wins, the other one wrecks,” Chiesa summed it up. “Everyone wants to be a winner, but only one driver can win. I’m glad it was Phil.”
Though he wrecked and finished next to last, Chiesa was a winner with the fans. The hat was passed in the stands, and a rollover prize of $800 was donated to Chiesa to help him get back on the track for the next event.
SATURDAY NIGHT ACTION
Merced Speedway returns to action on Saturday night after being rained out last weekend. International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) SportMods will hold the top spot on the four-division card. The SportMod, Hobby Stock, Mini-Stock, and Valley Sportsman divisions will each have qualification races and feature events.
Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for Senior Citizens 65 and older, $10 for students with a valid student identification card, $5 for children 6-12 and $30 for a family four-pack of two adult and two child tickets. Children 5 and younger are admitted free.
The grandstand opens at 5 p.m., with racing beginning at 7 p.m. Merced Speedway is located within the Merced County Fairgrounds, 900 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in Merced.
(All Photos courtesy of Mike Adaskaveg)