By Mike Adaskaveg
Opening day jitters aren’t just for beginners.
All eyes will be on the veteran drivers of Merced Speedway’s semi-pro division Saturday night.
The International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) Modified Division draws a national following, and the first race of the
season is the IMCA All Star Tour- thanks to rain that canceled two programs at the fairgrounds oval this season.
“The first race is always a jittery one,” says Ramie Stone, who won last year’s IMCA All Star Tour at the speedway. “I’m kind of nervous about that – I don’t want to see everyone tearing sheet metal off of each others’ cars.”
Stone, of Winton, first raced at Merced Speedway in 1996 and has four Modified Division championships. He charged from the back and won last year’s race by riding on the outside groove of the quarter-mile oval
“Knowing the track is important. I also had the advantage of starting behind the fastest cars,” Stone explains. “The cars in front stayed on the bottom. I just drove around them – you can’t pass them on the same spot they are on.”
This year, the track will most likely have a “heavier” surface – meaning the clay surface will hold moisture from rainwater.
“I perform better on a dry track,” Stone says. “My car is faster this year than it was last year. I’m hoping for a good run.”
The Stone family rivalry will also play a factor. Ramie Stone’s brother Troy and cousin Paul will most likely be in the mix.
“Paul was blistering fast last year,” Ramie Stone adds. “It would be great to have me and Paul battling it out to the finish – like in the days of old.”
PAUL STONE HOPES FOR SMOOTH ROLLING EVENT
With a racecar based in the Midwest and one locally, Paul Stone is hungry to race. His first big IMCA event in Iowa was rained out. Then, the All Star Tour opened in Chico last week with unwanted results. He was crashed into and did not finish the race.
“Hopefully, the rest of the drivers will get their heads on straight,” Stone says after his car was wrecked in Chico. “I’m spoiled by racing in the Midwest. I raced 11 weeks there without a dented wheel or a ruined body panel.”
Stone is looking forward to Saturday night.
“I’m itching to race and as a racer I’m looking forward to driving at my home track, racing with my family and friends,” he adds. “I just dread getting wrecked. I’m looking forward to racing.”
BIG NAMES IN CALIFORNIA RACING CONVERGE ON MERCED
Bobby Hogge IV of Salinas hasn’t raced at Merced Speedway for two seasons. He’s considered to be one of the top stars of California IMCA Modified racing.
“The added incentive of the All Star tour will make the competition better,” Hogge IV says. “I’m looking forward to racing at Merced Speedway again – it’s always a lot of fun to race there.”
Hogge IV cited the track’s quarter mile track – which is smaller and tighter than many of the state’s tracks.
“It’s really busy on the track,” Hogge IV reasons. “The track is small and tight – that’s what makes dirt racing fun. A driver really has to stay on top of things.”
Troy Foulger of Martinez agrees with Hogge IV.
“The IMCA All Star Tour is growing bigger and bigger,” says Foulger. “The cars are competitive, which makes racing as much fun for the drivers as it is for the fans.”
CHRIS SHANNON RETURNS TO RACE AGAINST SON DJ
Merced High School senior DJ Shannon will have an entirely new perspective on racing this season.
His dad, Chris Shannon, who began racing in 1981, returns to the modified division after a short hiatus. He is the 2011 track champion, winning 10 races that year.
Chgris Shannon took time off to work with his dad, Jerry, at their pump business during the drought crisis. They returned last year to coach son DJ who began racing in the IMCA Modified division.
“He was giving me advice last year and this year I have to race against him,” laughs DJ Shannon. “He told me that he would put my grandmother into the wall for a win, so he would definitely do it to me. I hope he was just kidding.”
The Shannons have different racing styles.
“My style is a little ore aggressive than his,” DJ Shannon says. “He picks and choses when he wants to pass someone. He waits and makes his move. I throw my car into the turn and hope to make the pass. I’m learning what I can and can’t do – what abilities my car has and I have.”
The Shannons watched the IMCA All Star Tour last season. This year they’ll hopefully both be in the feature event. More than 40 cars are expected. Only 20 will be in the feature. There will be a “B” main event for the excess cars.
“I was racing with DJ last week in Bakersfield and he was in front of me. I caught myself watching him and forgetting that I was racing,” says Chris Shannon. “One of the greatest things for me is to see my son out there in front of me. His grandfather is a racer, too, and he drove and owned cars in the 70’s and 80’s.”
For Chris Shannon and DJ Shannon and their crew, Saturday night will be a memorable one – no matter what happens on the track.
“It’s n honor for me to get to race with my dad, along with the best of the best drivers in California,” DJ Shannon says.
SATURDAY NIGHT AT MERCED SPEEDWAY
On the Track: A large field of cars is expected, as IMCA SportMods, Hobby Stocks, and Mini-Stocks will join the IMCA Modifieds. The IMCA SportMods will have an increased purse, which will draw cars from afar. Each division will have qualifying heat races and a feature event. Depending upon car counts; there could be two features for the IMCA Modified and IMCA SportMod divisions.
Gates Open: Pit Area – 1 p.m., Grandstand 5 p.m.
Racing: Starts 7 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 fewer than six are free.
Location: Merced Speedway is within the Merced County Fairgrounds 900 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Merced, Calif.