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May 5: Memories of a Red Bandana – Annual Race Honors Ted Stofle

By Mike Adaskaveg

Merced Sun-Star

A dust covered red bandana worn by legendary Merced Speedway driver Ted Stofle became an indelible symbol in the minds of race drivers and fans whose lives were touched by the driver who lost his life 38 years ago.

On Saturday night at the Speedway, Stofle will be honored in the event that keeps his name alive year after year.

Most of he drivers at the track were not born when Stofle raced. He was a NASCAR prospect, destined to be a star, and he was the pride of Merced.

Stofle’s family attends the event each year. His last car, a ’65 Chevelle, has been kept in race-ready condition by crewman Tom White and Stofle’s brother, Gary, who bring it to the track to pace the field before the feature event each year.

Like farmers wore for years, and cowboys wore before them, Stofle wore a red bandana to cover his mouth and nose. It protected him from inhaling the dust kicked up from a herd of roaring stock cars.

That red bandana was visible from the speedway’s grandstands by fans  and glared at by drivers being passed by Stofle on the track.

(050617 Merced Speedway - Gary Stofle drives his late brother Ted's stock car on the pace lap of the IMCA Modified feature at Merced Speedway last May. The car, preserved in race condition since 1980, will pace the field again Saturday night. (Merced, CA . Saturday, May 06, 2017) Photo by Mike Adaskaveg.

Gary Stofle drives his late brother Ted’s stock car on the pace lap of the IMCA Modified feature at Merced Speedway last May. The car, preserved in race condition since 1980, will pace the field again Saturday night. Photo by Mike Adaskaveg.

Today, the memory of the bandana is a reminder of simpler times.

“I was 11 or 12 years old, and like other kids, I got dropped off in front of the Fairgrounds Saturday night to go to the Speedway and watch the races,” recalls Tim Ragsdale, a former driver and in charge of track preparation at the Speedway today. “I thought Ted Stofle was so cool because he wore that red bandana.”

Ragsdale’s dad ran the dairy at Borba Farms in El Nido. Bobby Borba built racing engines for Stofle.

“I lived on the farm and once in a while Stofle’s car would show up there to have an engine installed or worked on,” he says. “It made my day.”

Ragsdale became such a Stofle fan that when the races were over, he ran around the speedway to the pit area and asked Stofle for a ride in his stock car to the start-finish line, where the night’s winnings were distributed to the drivers. Stofle always obliged.

“One night, the speedway cleared out and I was about the last one to leave,” Ragsdale said. “I stood at the big iron gate, waiting for my dad to pick me up. Stofle came around, on his way out, and asked if I needed a ride,” says Ragsdale. “I told him I had one coming, but he waited there until my ride showed up. He wanted to see that I got back to the farm safely.”

Stofle had a big influence on Ragsdale’s life. In 1983, three years after Stofle’s death, Ragsdale was 15 years old and put together a ’68 Chevelle stock car to race at the speedway. From his first race on, he wore a red bandana. Three years later, he was a top contender, at the top of the NASCAR point tally for California drivers.

Today, Ragsdale’s son Richie drives a SportMod at the Speedway. Sons Chad and Teddy are on the race crew. Teddy was named after Ted Stofle.

 

Retired Merced Speedway Race Director Doug Williams was a lifetime friend of Stofle.

“He started winning in his second season – he was a natural,” says Williams of young Stofle. “He graduated Le Grand High in 1971 and was winning races in ’72.”

`Merced racer Odell Brewer got both Stofle and Williams interest in racing. They learned about cars by helping Brewer. They searched local junkyards for ¾-ton pick up truck rear ends, and suspension parts. Stofle built his first car off of a ’55 Chevrolet junkyard chassis.

Ted Stofle, left and Doug Williams, right in 1978

Ted Stofle, left, and Doug Williams in 1978

“Ted was a disciplined driver. We raced on 8” tires that were recaps. The cars slid through the turns,” says Williams. “Cars would race at the bottom of the track. When someone made a mistake, Ted would dive in there and pass him.

The track was smaller at that time and cars were plentiful.

“Merced was in good times. Castle Air Force Base brought in the flyboys. Farming and industry were prosperous,” says Williams. “And the grand stands were full.”

Stofle and Williams took their dirt stock cars, put slicks on them and raced at Madera Speedway. Stofle won.

“The Valley Sportsman class was growing and I decided to switch over to driving in that class,” Williams said. “Ted was content driving in the stock car class. Soon, NASCAR was looking at him for driving in Winston West.”

Then, in 1980, Stofle was killed in a hunting accident.

“ I was given his red bandana by Ted’s mom, Harlene,” says Williams. “I wore it in 1981 and I won the track championship.”

 

Saturday Night At Merced Speedway

The IMCA Modified, IMCA SportMod, Hobby Stock, Vintage Hard Top and Mini-Late Model divisions will each have qualifying races and a feature event. The features will add up to 89 laps in remembrance of Stofle’s car number.

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.