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April 29: Vallanuevas Ready for Action in IMCA Mods

(041517 Merced, CA) Father Knows Best - Mike Villanueva, left, talks to his son Justin, a rookie in the IMCA Modified division this year at Merced Speedway . Saturday, April 15, 2017. Staff photo by Mike Adaskaveg.

Father Knows Best – Mike Villanueva, left, talks to his son Justin, a rookie in the IMCA Modified division this year at Merced Speedway . Saturday, April 15, 2017.

By Mike Adaskaveg

Merced Sun-Star

Most people would be terrified of hitting a wall at 80 miles per hour.

Justin Villanueva did just that – and chalked it up to a learning experience.

The 19 year old Merced driver was competing in his first event for the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) Modified division at Merced Speedway two weeks ago when a brush with the wall took him out of competition.

Saturday, the “modifieds” compete in their second event of the season, and Villanueva will be back on the track.

“Racing in a field of cars is a lot different than practicing on the track by yourself,” Justin told his dad, Mike Villanueva, who is a seasoned driver in the division.

The younger Villanueva started racing this year. Being a rookie at 19 isn’t all that uncommon. But, being a rookie in the top dirt modified class in the country is a big deal.

“He wanted to drive for quite a few years,” Mike Villanueva said. “But, I insisted that his education come first.”

Father was teaching son by immersion in the tough field of competitors. There were 48 top cars from across the state competing for a spot in the 22 car main event. Justin made it into the “B” Main event – an event where only the top two cars make it to main feature of the night.

“Before the day started, I told Justin – a crash may happen – its part of racing,” Mike Villanueva said. “You’ll make mistakes. That’s because you are trying to push the limit – that is what you do in racing.”

The elder Villanueva has worked on cars and helped other drivers for nearly 35 years. He hopped into the driver’s seat 15 years ago. His wife, Charice, got a call from her cousin, driver Marcus Aue, who was looking looking for someone to drive his car at Merced Speedway.

Mike Villanueva began his driving career that day and for the past 15 years has been a top competitor. He won numerous races and the 2007 Kings Speedway (in Hanford) Championship since then .

TEACHING A NEW DRIVER

(041517 Merced, CA) Mike Villanueva at full speed through the turns of Merced Speedway during IMCA Modified competition. Saturday, April 15, 2017. Staff photo by Mike Adaskaveg.

Mike Villanueva at full speed through the turns of Merced Speedway during IMCA Modified competition. Saturday, April 15, 2017.  

            Father and son were glued together in the pits the night of the IMCA All Star event. It was Justin’s first race night, since two rainouts canceled IMCA modified events at Merced Speedway earlier in the season.

“Pick a point on the infield or along the fence line,” explained Mike to Justin. “That will be the place to lift your foot off the gas every lap. If you can drive the car on the outside lane of the track, you can drive in a little deeper. If you are on the inside lane, you will have to ‘lift’ sooner.”

Justin, who works for Merced Irrigation District, will when his work schedule allows. After competing in his first “heat” qualifying race, he was beaming as he drove into the pits.

“Driving in the heat race was more exciting than I ever imagined,” Justin said. “And it was more fun than I expected.”

He kept up with the pack of cars and even moved up a few spots. Dad Mike went out and won his heat race, qualifying for the main event.

“You wait for the car to roll (transfer weight to the right side as it enters the turn) then get back on the throttle easy,” Mike said. He explained how he set up the car to be easy to drive for his son.

As Justin gets faster, adjustments could be made to the suspension to “tighten” or “loosen” the car to meet the conditions of the track. “Stagger” – the difference between the circumference of the left and right rear tires, is also adjusted to help the car go through the turns quicker.

“My goal this season is not to wreck – to finish every race,” Justin explained. “I need seat time. When you wreck your car that is seat time lost – laps you are not learning to drive faster.”

Both father and son have the same brand of car – BMS – and use the same parts. The uniformity will help them get through the season with the spare parts needed for either car. Mike drives a car owned by friend Mike Shearer of Atwater, and Justin drives the car owned by his dad and mom.

During the week, they wash the cars and go over every nut and bolt to make sure they are ready for Saturday night.

“I’ll lay low until I get good at driving,” Justin added. “Then I’ll make small adjustments a little bit at a time.”

His mom, Charice, will be there to nervously cheer him on.

“And I’ll be more nervous than her,” proud father Mike admits. “It’s a very different feeling when you are racing with your son.”

SATURDAY NIGHT AT MERCED SPEEDWAY

On the Track: The IMCA Modified division will headline the show. The IMCA SportMod, Mini-Stock and the all-new Mini-Late Model divisions will each have qualifying races and a feature event on the quarter-mile clay oval.

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.