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August 26: Rick Diaz, Fred Ryland in Showdown for IMCA SportMod Championship with Three Races Left!

Fred Ryland arrives early and checks out the competition as he is preparing his and his wife Patti's IMCA SportMods.

Fred Ryland arrives early and checks out the competition as he is preparing his and his wife Patti’s IMCA SportMods.

By Mike Adaskaveg

Merced Sun-Star

Merced Speedway’s 2016 IMCA SportMod division champ, Rick Diaz, often gets questioned as to why he is second to Brentwood’s Fred Ryland in this season’s championship battle. Diaz, of Los Banos, is 32 points behind Ryland’s 376 points even though he has six wins to Ryland’s single win.

“Over and over again I hear ‘how can that be right?,” Diaz says. “Well, it is correct.”

Diaz has three races left to catch Ryland in the highly competitive SportMod division, with a record 68 drivers competing at the Fairgrounds quarter-mile this season. Diaz has followed up his wins with seven top five finishes. Ryland has nine top five finishes.

All it took was Diaz missing one race put him behind Ryland. He missed that race for a good reason.

“My daughter, Ellie, was in a dance competition in San Jose. It was on a race night,” Diaz explains. “We talked about our schedule at the beginning of the season and we knew we’d miss one – or maybe two races.”

Diaz hasn’t yet missed that second race – not even when his wife and racing partner, Farren, was giving birth to their third child last week.

“Our son Grayson was born last Wednesday. Saturday, Farren was released from the hospital at 2:30 p.m. She dropped me off at the track and brought Grayson home,” Diaz says.

He won the feature event.

(060717 St. Louis, MO) MikeMittler - . Wednesday, June 07, 2017. Staff photo by Mike Adaskaveg.

Diaz at speed in the first turn of the quarter mile with Merced Speedway’s famous wall of flowers in the background.

RYLAND LOOKS TO CONTINUE CONSISTENCY

Ryland, the 2015 IMCA SportMod track champion, wants a repeat championship badly.

“It’s not for me as much as it is for my fans at Merced,” Ryland explains. “I’ve raced at a lot of tracks, and there are no greater fans than Merced fans.”

Ryland and his wife Patti race matching SportMods, and after the races their cars are usually surround by a ring of followers. On a recent night, Patti Ryland was doing jumping jacks with young fans, while Fred was giving his trophy away to a beaming child.

“There is a special bond between the fans and drivers who are there every week,” Ryland explains. “To win a track championship is special. It means you were at the track every week. You miss one, it’s hard to catch up.”

After coming home from their day jobs, the Ryland’s work nightly on their cars in preparation for racing at Merced Speedway on Saturday night.

“Outside of Bakersfield Speedway, Merced Speedway has the best SportMod competition in California, Ryland continues. “The difference is that the competitive spirit doesn’t go overboard here, as it often does in Bakersfield. The drivers get along well in Merced.”

The IMCA SportMod battle of the season - Fred Ryland (7J) in side by side action with Rick Diaz.

The IMCA SportMod battle of the season – Fred Ryland (7J) in side by side action with Rick Diaz.

DIAZ ON RACING TO WIN

Shane Devolder

Shane Devolder

Knowing he would miss a race, Diaz kept his eye on the weekly prize, letting the season’s point tally fall where it may. Ryland made every finish count – even if he didn’t win.

“This season has been so much fun for our team,” Diaz reflects. “We haven’t focused on points, we focused on winning – and we’ve been successful.”

Diaz, like Ryland, arrives at the track with a well-prepared car.

“With work, a newborn, a four year old and an eight year old son, Brayden, who is focused on football, there’s less time for racing,” he says. “My team stepped up – my car was ready and waiting for me when I arrived from the hospital last Saturday.”

(070117 Dixon, CA) Dixon Speedway - . Saturday, July 01, 2017. Staff photo by Mike Adaskaveg.

Diaz makes a pass on the backstretch.

THRILLS ON TAP

Whether you follow Ryland or Diaz, there is sure to be excitement during the feature event. There are many drivers who could pull off a win.

“Don’t forget the young drivers having impressive runs this season,” Ryland says. “It is pretty cool to see young drivers become rising stars. Shane Devolder, and Chase and Tanner Thomas are the most improved this season.”

For Diaz, there’s hope to give Ryland a run on the championship.

“If we can pull it off, it will be a huge victory,” Diaz says. “Anything is possible. You just never know.”

Ryland, right, is impressed with the young talent at the speedway including Chase Thomas, left, and Cody Parker, center.

Ryland, right, is impressed with the young talent at the speedway including Chase Thomas, left, and Cody Parker, center.

This Saturday At Merced Speedway:

            The IMCA Modified, IMCA Sport Mod, Mini-Stock, Mini-Late Model and Valley Sportsman divisions will each have a complete program of qualifying races and a feature event.

 

Gates Open: Pit Area – 1 p.m., Grandstand 5 p.m.

 

Racing: Starts at 7 p.m. ending 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.

Ryland (7J) runs the far outside grove coming out of the fourth turn.

Ryland (7J) runs the far outside grove coming out of the fourth turn.