Jesse James Burks . Saturday, October 07, 2017. Photo by Mike Adaskaveg

Jesse James Burks

By Mike Adaskaveg

Special to the Sun-Star

In the grandstand of Merced Speedway, Ian Shearer and Jesse James Burks are larger than life competitors. They drive 600cc motorcycle engine powered Mini-Late Model cars, screaming down the straightaways and sliding through the turns of the quarter mile oval as fast as full size cars

In real life, they are 13 year old seventh grade students, honing their racing skills in the Mini-Late Model division by racing with drivers years older than they are.

Burks, who attends LeGrand Elementary School, won last weekend’s Mini-Late Model division feature race during the Ted Stofle Classic. It was only the second race he entered after buying the car Shearer drove last season.

“It was exciting to take a feature in one of the biggest events of the season,” said Burks of his win. “After our car overheated the first night of the season and we dropped out of the race, it was a great comeback.”

Burks’ dad, Bobby, put a larger radiator in the car after the overheating incident. The father and son team work nightly to make sure the car is ready for the weekend.

“We worked hard for the win and we earned it,” Jesse Burks said with the authority of an adult. “We put in long, hard hours working on the car. We wash it, wipe it clean and make sure every nut and bolt is tight. We put the car on the scales and set it up for what we think the track will be like. We check the toe (measurement between front wheels) to see it hasn’t been knocked out of alignment. We check the oil and antifreeze – we do total service on the car every week.”


Where Burks has his dad’s racing experience in driving several types of cars to draw upon, Shearer has both his mom and dad’s experience – they race in the Hobby Stock division at the track.

Shearer, a student at McSwain Elementary School in Atwater, has also become a student of the Merced Speedway oval. His dad, Michael, gives him pointers to improve his driving skills.

“He has a lot of good tips – and the best ones are when to get off the gas, turn and get back on the gas,” says Shearer. “He showed me points around the track to look for, so I can do these things consistently.”

Mom Kristie stresses safety. The Shearers chose the Mini-Late Model class because the cars have more safety features than the go-karts Ian previously drove.

“Mom is right there making sure my seat belts are tight and my helmet is fastened correctly,” Ian Shearer says. “She makes sure my car is safe and I’m secure.”

Shearer finished third in last week’s qualifying race. He didn’t fare well in the feature event, but Burks offered him praise.

“He had a little bad luck in last week’s race – it happens to the best of us,” Burks said. “Ian is doing really well and his new car seems to be good for him.”

Ian Shearer, 13, of Atwater is in his second year of competition in the Merced Speedway Mini-Late Model division. Photo by Mike Adaskaveg

Ian Shearer, 13, of Atwater is in his second year of competition in the Merced Speedway Mini-Late Model division. Photo by Mike Adaskaveg


Burks and his sister Courtney are both regulars at Merced Speedway. Courtney is racing in the IMCA SportMod division. They are following in their dad’s footsteps.

After his driving career, Burks was last on Carlos Vieira’s pavement late model crew, following Vieira on the Southwest Tour

“It’s far easier to help my son and daughter,” Burks says. “Courtney will be a great driver with a little more seat time in her race car. Jesse has a little more experience, and wants to get into an IMCA modified.”

Burks sees the Mini-Late Model Division as a stepping stone to racing in the IMCA classes. Jesse Burks will be eligible to move up to IMCA racing when he turns 14 in September.

For Ian Shearer, the Mini-Late Model car will lead him to the Speedway’s Hobby Stock Division, where he will wind up racing with both his parents.

“I’m having fun now, and racing in a hobby stock will be even more fun,” says Shearer.  “I can’t wait.”

(081217 Merced, CA) BCRA MIDGET LITES - BCRA Midget Lites race out of the second turn at Merced Speedway during the traveling show's appearance in August 2017. . Saturday, August 12, 2017. Staff photo by Mike Adaskaveg.

) BCRA MIDGET LITES – BCRA Midget Lites race out of the second turn at Merced Speedway during the traveling show’s appearance in August 2017. photo by Mike Adaskaveg.


Bay Cities Racing Association’s (BCRA) Midget Lites will be part of Saturday night’s Merced Speedway program. The 1,000 CC motorcycle engine powered winged sprint cars will make two appearance at the speedway this year.

Brad Dillard, of Oakdale, the tour’s point leader and winner of last weekend’s feature event at Placerville Speedway, is looking forward to racing at Merced Speedway.

“Merced Speedway is one of the best tacks for our type of car,” Dillard says. “The speeds are high and there will be plenty of passing. You can race on the inside or the outside of the track and be fast.”

Dillard is a third generation driver. His grandfather, Gary Dillard, raced against his other grand father – his mom’s dad, Dean Nelson. Brad Dillard’s  dad, driver Craig DIllard and friend Ron McBride. own the car Brad Dillard drives.

“The field of cars is highly competitive,” says Brad Dillard. “We have talented drivers as young as 14 years old and former sprint car drivers in their 50s.

Dillard, 25, who won ten features since starting his Midget Lite career in 2013, had lap times that  four tenths of a second slower than the sprint cars at Placerville last week. His Midget Lite weighs only 950 lbs. with him in it. The car has 186 horsepower.

Yet, Dillard wants to step up for that extra half second of time on the quarter mile.

“Midgets and sprint cars will be my ultimate goal,” he says


The Hobby Stock and Mini-Stock divisions will compliment the Mini-Late Model and BCRA Midget Lite classes in Saturday night’s program. Each division will have qualification races and a feature event.

The speedway’s pit area will open at 2 p.m. The grandstand gates will open at 5 p.m. Cars will be on the track at 6 p.m., with racing beginning at 7 p.m.

Admission is $12 for adults, $10.00 for Military and Students with school ID, $5 for children 6-12 years old. Children under 6 years old are free. A family four-pack of ticket is $30.

Merced Speedway is located within the Merced County Fairgrounds, 900 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in Merced.