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June 6: Annual Merced County Fair Race Night a Family Tradition

By Mike Adaskaveg

Merced Sun-Star

For stock car racers, The Merced County Fair is more than livestock competition, cotton candy and colorful whirling rides. Race night at the fair is showcase of the sport they love.

On Wednesday night, the Merced Speedway IMCA Modified, Hobby Stock, and Mini-Late Model Divisions will be featured a non-stop, action packed two-hour program.

(051918) Merced Speedway - (Merced, CA)

Ramie Stone celebrates another in the IMCA Modified Division victory lane two weeks ago. (Mike Adaskaveg Photo)

“Back in the day – and even today – the fair races are considered premier events in the Merced Speedway season,” says six-time track champ Ramie Stone of Winton. “The fair is a homecoming – half of the friends you grew up with in Merced County are up there in the stands, having a beer and cheering so loudly you could hear them when you are driving.”

Stone, who scored his first win as rookie 2001, stood on his car to celebrate in victory lane for the 147thtime two weeks ago. Along the way, he’s held the checkered flag in front of the packed grandstand of the Merced County Fair several times.

“Excitement for the fair race builds for two weeks because there is no racing the weekend before, when the Fair is being set up,” Stone, who is 52 years old, says. “During that time I do everything in my power to prepare my car. I spend countless hours in the shop.”

On the night of the Fair race in 2005, Stone worked late at his name appropriate job – he manages crushed stone at five plants for Calaveras Materials. He arrived to the track late, started the event in last place, and still won.

“Those hours in the shop showed up for me when I showed up late,” he says.

GATHERING STONES

Some of Ramie Stone’s toughest competition comes from cousins Paul and Troy Stone. Yet, Ramie Stone entrusts the building of his car’s shock absorbers to Paul. Shock absorbers help time the car’s reaction to entering and exiting the quarter-mile track’s turns. Internal valves control fluid to create and release pressure during turning, acceleration and deceleration.

(051918) IMCA Modified racer Paul Stone of Winton. (Photo by Mike Adaskaveg)

IMCA Modified racer Paul Stone of Winton. (Photo by Mike Adaskaveg)

“If the track changes a little bit, the way a driver sets up his car’s suspension makes all the difference in the world,” Stone explains.

The track surface is constantly evolving.

“The goal is to get the track configured so the drivers have two or three lanes to race in,” says speedway owner Ed Parker. “We have a grader, a water truck and a “sheep’s foot” compactor preparing the clay for more than a week.”

Parker wants the Fair race to be a hit.

“The IMCA modified division is our premier division and the hobby stock division has primarily local drivers. The Mini-Late Model division gives young drivers a chance to experience racing on the quarter mile,” Parker says of fair program. “We’re showcasing a sample of our weekly program.”

Paul Stone has been racing in front of the fair crowd since 1996, and welcomes the interest he sees from future drivers and new fans.

“You want to put your best show on  – you’re racing in front of people who normally don’t go to the racing,” Paul Stone says. “You want to build the fan base up. You want to see people get hooked on racing. It’s fun and exciting, and as a driver you want to share that it is with someone new to the sport.”

Ramie Stone prefers to be challenged, and relishes side-by-side competition. He and cousin Paul will often help other drivers with car set-up or driving advice.

“As racers, we want competition. We want a track where two or three cars can race side by side for the win,” Ramie Stone says. “I want to beat other drivers by passing them, and I think most drivers want the same.”

(060118) Merced Speedway - In route to victory, Ramie Stone (06) races Troy Stone in IMCA modified competition on May 19. The Stone family will be well-represented at Wednesday night's Merced County Fair racing event. (Photo by Mike Adaskaveg)

In route to victory, Ramie Stone (06) races Troy Stone in IMCA modified competition on May 19. The Stone family will be well-represented at Wednesday night’s Merced County Fair racing event. (Photo by Mike Adaskaveg)

MERCED SPEEDWAY AT THE COUNTY FAIR

The Wednesday night Merced County Fair program at the speedway begins at 6 p.m. and will last less than three hours so fair visitors can enjoy rides and fair programs before and after racing.

Admission to the fair is $9. The speedway program is an additional $5.