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June 7: Fair Race Draws IMCA SportMod, Hobby Stock Fields

(050617) Merced Speedway - Merced, CA - Shannon Nelson has returned to competition this season after taking a break to raise her children. The Merced mother of two and wife of IMCA modified driver Bruce "Bubba" Nelson has a third place finish in the Merced Speedway Hobby Stock division. She'll be cheered on by her children at the Merced County Fair Wednesday night. Photo by Mike Adaskaveg (Merced, CA)

Shannon Nelson has returned to competition this season after taking a break to raise her children. The Merced mother of two and wife of IMCA modified driver Bruce “Bubba” Nelson has a third place finish in the Merced Speedway Hobby Stock division. She’ll be cheered on by her children at the Merced County Fair Wednesday night.

By Mike Adaskaveg

Merced Sun-Star

The spinning lights of carnival rides are enhanced by the screams of their occupants.

The smells of cotton candy, pizza and hot dogs are blended together to form an unforgettable aroma.

The cheers of the crowd are louder than he 22 stock cars rubbing fenders as they race full throttle around the quarter-mile dirt oval.

The sights, smells and sounds of Merced County Fair’s traditional Wednesday night opening beckon fairgoers from across the Valley. Racers, too, are attracted to the special trappings of opening night at the fair.

“It’s tradition – the fair race is part of the excitement of one of the biggest events in the community,” says IMCA SportMod driver Tim Elias. “It draws the second biggest crowd of the season at the racetrack.”

Merced Speedway’s action-filled two-hour show will feature the IMCA SportMod and Hobby Stock divisions, each having a full program of qualifying races and a feature event.

“I like to see the little kids in the stands – especially the ones who never saw a stock car race – watching, standing, and pointing with wide eyes,” says mother and Hobby Stock driver Shannon Nelson of Merced. “After the race, there are new fans who want autographs. Strangers walk up and say – hey, was that you out there? We cheered for you.”

The event will draw drivers from tracks as far away as Bakersfield and Chico because there aren’t that many chances to race on a Wednesday night throughout the season.

“The fair race has a special feeling – just seeing that large local crowd and knowing that some are experiencing their first dirt track race is important,” explains Merced SportMod driver Paul Espino. “The reaction to my first time seeing cars racing on dirt was ‘here I go – I want to do this’.”

CLOSE COMPETITION IN BOTH DIVISIONS

(050617) Merced Speedway - Tim Elias of Merced (44) races the outside groove as Merced's Cody Parker (28) and Mark Odgers of Mariposa hug the inside of turns three and four during IMCA Sportmod at Merced Speedway. IMCA SportMods will headline the Merced County Fair races on Wednesday night. Photo by Mike Adaskaveg (Merced, CA)

(050617) Merced Speedway – Tim Elias of Merced (44) races the outside groove as Merced’s Cody Parker (28) and Mark Odgers of Mariposa hug the inside of turns three and four during IMCA Sportmod at Merced Speedway. Visitor Mike Merrit (58) is sandwiched in between. IMCA SportMods will headline the Merced County Fair races on Wednesday night. Photo by Mike Adaskaveg (Merced, CA)

The International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) SportMod division has emerged as the speedway’s largest racing class. The cars have purpose-built chassis to race on dirt, and are powered by powerful V-8 engines.

Elias, Paul Espino, and his son Gavin, share a garage bay in the Santa Fe Industrial park where they work on their three SportMods nightly to prepare for race day.

“Competition has become so good – the drivers have raced together for some time now and there is respect for each other on the race track,” explains Elias, who recently retired from his job and will pursue his racing dreams this season. “The track has been great this year – its smooth, with two grooves (lanes) that allows for close side by side racing.”

Elias has a new car this year. He purchased the car that track champion Rick Diaz drove last season. He’ll hit the road with his purple number 44 SportMod and race in Oregon, Iowa and Nevada later in the season.

“My wife, Joann, actually owns the car and she’s a big fan of purple,” Elias adds. “The car has a whole new body and the color scheme attracts attention.

Espino is looking forward to racing with his son Gavin, 16, a sophomore this past year at Merced High School.

“The fair race will be Gavin’s first race of the season,” Espino says. “There will be family and friends watching. It will be a strange feeling being out there racing with him.”

Gavin Espino will drive the number 33G, and his dad the number 33P, to note their first names. They chose the number to similar to friend Elias’ number 44.

“I’ve been preparing my tires and making sure the car is ready for the fair race,” says Gavin Espino. “My car was wrecked pretty bad from racing last season, but now its ready.”

NELSON’S LIFE CENTERS AROUND THE SPEEDWAY

Hobby Stock driver Shannon Nelson is married to Bruce “Bubba” Nelson, an IMCA Modified division driver whom she met 12 years ago, thanks to the races. They have two children – Bently, 4, and Bryce, 1.

“My future husband sat behind me in the grandstand when we were teen agers, but we didn’t talk much,” she says of the years spent watching uncle Tommy Bostic drive his modified. “Then, Ramie Stone (also a modified driver) had a party we both attended and he got us talking.”

Nelson got back into Hobby Stock racing this season. She finished third in a feature event last month. Family brought her children to the speedway to watch their mom race.

“When that big audience at the fair sees us race – and sees how much fun we are having, we’ll have new fans and maybe some potential drivers,” says Nelson. “It’s great to get new people involved in racing.”

 

Merced County Fair Opening Night Races

When: Wednesday, June 7

Where: The Merced County Fair, 900 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, Merced, CA

Starting Time: 7 p.m.

Admission: $5 with Fair Ticket