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Sept. 22: Heated Battles in Hobby Stock, Mini Stock and IMCA SportMod Divisions On Championship Night

Merced Speedway – Shannon Nelson of Winton is in contention for the Hobby Stock division Championship. She would be the first woman to win the title.

By Mike Adaskaveg

Special to the Sun Star

Three drivers in three different divisions will be looking to upset the points leader in their quest for a track championship Saturday night at Merced Speedway. Hotly contested points will make or break a champion in the IMCA SportMod, Hobby Stock and Mini-Stock Divisions.

The speedway will conclude its regular season Saturday with a special “Championship Night” program. Drivers in each of the five divisions will line up for the feature events according to their current point standings.

The event is the annual memorial to Matt Van Hoecke, a 19 year employee of the Sun-Star, who built a side-business, “Matt and Glass”, making fiberglass race car bodies. Van Hoecke passed away from cancer in 2014.

HOFF LOOKS FOR FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP

Merced Speedway – Jeremy Hoff of Copperopolis is the current point leader in the IMCA SportMod division.

IMCA SportMod division leader Jeremy Hoff of Copperopolis holds a slim four-point lead over Danny Roe of Turlock. Bruce “Bubba” Nelson of Winton is 10 points away and a long shot to win.

“I plan to drive a smart, safe race,” says Hoff, who is hoping for his first championship. “Merced Speedway has been my home track since 2009. That championship would mean a lot to me.”

Hoff was the Rookie of the Year in 2009. He took the championship at Antioch Speedway in 2013.

“I think it is key to set the car up correctly for the track conditions on Saturday.  I have to feel it out – and make the right adjustments,” he says. “We found some speed the last few weeks. The car is good. I just have to stay out of trouble on the track.”

Roe would have to catch and pass Hoff at the get-go. Then, Hoff will have to race ahead of other drivers – like Nelson – who will be racing hard for the win. Hoff must finish no less than fourth position to win the championship.

“It has been a long week,” says Hoff. “I just can’t stop going over little things that could go wrong. I’ve replaced brackets on the car that I think may have been weakened – just because I don’t want them to fail on race night.”

DEAN VS. NELSON

Merced Speedway – Reigning track champ Kodie Dean from Chowchilla hopes to have back to back championships in the Hobby Stock division at Merced Speedway.

Reigning Hobby Stock division champ Kodie Dean of Chowchilla is just five points ahead of Shannon Nelson, who hopes to become the first woman champion of the division.

“I think I am a long shot to be champion. I have to beat Kodie by six positions, which is doable,” says Nelson. “I never thought I would be in the position to win the championship.”

Nelson started racing in 2007. Over the years, she took time off to give birth to sons Bentley, now five years old, and Bryce, who is two years old.  Her husband, Bruce “Bubba” Nelson works on her car more than his own.

“Bubba comes home from work and gets right to working on the car every night. He wants to make sure everything is perfect for me,” she says. “In the last few weeks, my car has come alive. I feel good about Saturday night.”

Merced Speedway – Shannon Nelson (4) of Winton passes Robbie Loquaci of Madera on the backstretch of Merced Speedway during a Hobby Stock division heat race.

Dean has finished ahead of Nelson in the races he hasn’t broken down. A flat tire and a distributor coil failure sidelined him from two races, allowing Nelson to catch up in the point standings.

“It would be nice to win back to back championships,” Dean says. “Last year, racing for the championship was fun. This year it has been tougher while on the track. The competition is serious. I’ll just do what I did all season long to prepare for Saturday’s race – why change now?”

MINI-STOCKERS THREE POINTS APART

Winton’s Lee Ragsdale is going back to basics for this week’s race because Allen Neal of Los Banos is coming on strong.

“He (Allen) got a point on me last weekend,” Ragsdale says. “I’m changing the car – using the same set-up I had earlier in the season. I’m a little worried – you never know what can happen during a race. One lapped car can change everything.”

Neal was busy rebuilding his car all week.

“I’ve replaced the entire front end of the car. I found parts that were broken – the sub frame was hanging on by a quarter inch,” he says. “Dale Falkenberg (the track announcer and former racer) helped me find a sister car – another 1989 Honda Prelude – to get parts off of.”

Neal is confident of his rebuilt car.

“I’m going for the win,” he says. “What position Lee (Ragsdale) finishes in is up to him.”

THE UNTOUCHABLES

Darrell Hughes of Manteca has a 32 point lead over Brian Pearce of Oakley in the IMCA modified division, and will most likely be crowned champion.

Tim Crewes of Chowchilla is 21 points ahead of Bakersfield’s Carson Guthrie in the Mini-Late Model division, and is favored to become champion.

SATURDAY NIGHT AT MERCED SPEEDWAY

“A four lap Dash for Cash” will be held for the IMCA Modified, IMCA SportMod, Hobby Stock, Mini-Stock and Mini-Late Model divisions prior to feature events on Saturday night.

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

The racing program begins at 7 p.m. and usually concludes at 10 p.m.

The pit gate opens at 2 p.m. and the grandstand gate opens at 5 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.