By Mike Adaskaveg
Mid-season drama is building in the International Motor Contest Association SportMod division at Merced Speedway. One point separates Chowchilla’s Rick Diaz (185) and Winton’s Steve Stone (184) in the chase for the championship.
Diaz, dedicating his season to late friend and fellow racer John Fore, is now faced with completing his championship run in a different car. Stone, cheered on by his seven grandchildren, announced this week he will focus his efforts on competing in every race has he battles Diaz for the title.
The story’s next chapter will be written Saturday night, when the IMCA SportMods have top billing in the four-division program. A large field of drivers is expected because the division has been on a four-week break due to the Merced County Fair schedule.
Diaz Parts Ways With Brown Team
During the break, Diaz and his car owner, Randy Brown, parted ways. Diaz had to scramble to find a loaner car for this week’s race – but he won’t say where it came from.
“Things just didn’t work out with Randy (Brown) and me. It happens in racing all the time,” Diaz said. “I’m still dedicating my season to John Fore. I won’t let the cat out of the bag as to whose car I’ll be driving on Saturday. I don’t want there to be any controversy. I have to race every event.”
Diaz ordered a new car from a dealer in Arkansas. It is the same brand as the car he drove for Brown. The loaner car will get him through the races until his new car arrives.
“I’m really trying to win the championship. People don’t think I can’t do it without Brown. We’re going to show them we can,” Diaz said.
Diaz and his wife Farrin bought the new car, and they are securing sponsorships from area businesses to help defray the cost.
“Steve Stone is just a point behind, so we have to give him all we have -we can’t slow down,” Diaz continued. “Steve is fast, he’s a great driver. He’s not going to let us have it easy. We have to put up a fight.”
Oldest Stone is Rock Solid
“I’m hopefully going to stay in the hunt until the end of the season and make Diaz work for the championship – if he wins it,” Stone said. “I thought I’d have a seven event season, but now I’m in the thick of it. It’s hard to stop racing when you are having such a great time doing it.”
Stone, 56, is a grandfather of seven and older brother of Paul Stone. He began racing in 1995. He’s been in a one-point battle for the championship and has won. Diaz is more than two decades younger. Stone was once there, battling older drivers like Bob Terry – who raced at Merced and was competitive – at 70 years old.
Stone worked his way up from street stocks to the top division – IMCA Modified – and now he’s taken one step back to the SportMod.
“The SportMod cars are a second slower, which gives a driver a little more reaction time,” Stone says. “My old mind can handle a SportMod better.”
It will be youth vs. experience in the championship battle.
“He’s quick. He’s good. I have to stay on his bumper as long as I can and hope for an opening,” Stone said of Diaz. “You can have skill and talent, but you need a lot of luck to win a championship battle that is this close.”
Stone’s secret weapon is his family. His wife Tammy used to be on his pit crew. Now, she’s keeping the grandchildren under control, as they tend to get over-enthusiastic cheering on their grandfather from the grandstand. Son Steve II is his dad’s pit crew.
“It’s a tougher job handling the grandkids than it is working on the car,” Stone laughs. “I wouldn’t be racing if it wasn’t for Tammy and the grandchildren.”
This Week at Merced Speedway
The IMCA SportMod, Hobby Stock, Mini-Stock and Vintage Valley Sportsman divisions will be on the card Saturday night. Each will have a complete program of qualifying races and a feature event.
Racing begins at 7 p.m. The grandstand Opens at 5 p.m.
The program will be approximately 3 hours or less.
Seniors 65 and older $10.00
Students with an ID – 13 to 17 – $10.00
Children 6 to 12 – $5.00
Kids 5 and under FREE
Family Pack 2 adults and 2 children $30.00