Sept. 24: Matt Van Hoecke Remembered – Fundraiser for American Cancer Society; Championship Night – Last Points Races

Randy Brown Leads the pack in the race for the IMCA Modified Championship.

Randy Brown Leads the pack in the race for the IMCA Modified Championship.

By Mike Adaskaveg

Merced Sun-Star

Matt Van Hoecke will live on in the memory of Merced Speedway racers and fans, as Saturday’s program raises funds for the American Cancer Society in his honor. A speedway fixture for 30 years, he passed away from prostate cancer nearly three years ago.

Van Hoecke found a way to become a racing innovator. While working in the Sun-Star mailroom and advertising departments for 20 years, he nurtured his hobby of shaping fiberglass, honing his skills until he could begin a side-business.

Van Hoecke learned his craft at a local boat shop. Then he began making fiberglass pieces for Foster Farms to earn some extra money.

“He was on the pit crew for driver Andy Ferris at Merced Speedway on Saturday nights, when he put two and two together – fiberglass could be used to make car bodies,” brother-in-law Dell Humbert recalled. “In no time, he was shaping wooden molds that would be used to make fiberglass car bodies.”

Van Hoecke creatively dubbed his business “Matt and Glass”. It is a play on his name, using the two components that comprise fiberglass – the woven fiber matt and the gel coating that turns hard and becomes glasslike.

“Within five years he was able to quit his job at the Sun-Star and make his skill a full time job,” Humbert explained. “He was making fiberglass bodies for kiddy-car rides, go-karts, and every type of full size car that raced-especially sprint cars. The wooden molds he carved were stacked with a forklift, as high as the ceilings, in three buildings across the street from the fairgrounds. There were hundreds of them.”

Matt and Glass Bodies were so in demand that they were being rushed to drivers across the country underneath Greyhound busses that departed daily from Merced.

Cancer Challenges Van Hoecke and He Beats It for 10 Years

            Van Hoecke was 50 when he learned he had prostate cancer trying to challenge him. Like a racer, he put his foot down on the pedal harder, and didn’t let up.

“We’d be on the way to cancer treatment in Fresno, and he would demand I stop at Hoosier tires to pick up some tires for a guy who needed for Saturday’s race,” Humbert said. “He branched out – he had a full speed shop in a trailer and would never let down any racer who needed a part.”

As cancer continued to spread within him, Van Hoecke was still trying to work – even from his wheelchair. When Humbert and Van Hoecke’s wife, Debbie, decided to shut his business down, Van Hoecke would still get calls for parts.

“He couldn’t tell anyone no – he would send me to the trailer to find that part,” Humbert added.

It was 10 years after being diagnosed, that the race with cancer ended for VanHoecke.

His hundreds of softwood molds, which had to be waxed regularly to be preserved, rotted from neglect after the business closed.

Remembering Van Hoecke on Saturday       

“As a family, we’re thankful that the track, its drivers and fans are remembering Matt,” Humbert said. “It’s wonderful that this race program is happening and that it will benefit the fight against cancer.”

Dell Humbert, his wife Janice, and sons Robert and Geoffery will be selling ribbons that Debbie Van Hoecke made, to raise funds for the American Cancer Society. Merced Speedway promoter Ed Parker will donate one dollar to the organization for every ticket sold on Saturday night. 

This Week at Merced Speedway

One and Two in the Hobby Stock Championship Battle - Michael Shearer (67) passes Kevin Joaquin on the inside. (All photos courtesy of Mike Adaskaveg)

One and Two in the Hobby Stock Championship Battle – Michael Shearer (67) passes Kevin Joaquin on the inside. (All photos courtesy of Mike Adaskaveg)

            The weekly racing season at Merced Speedway comes to a close on Saturday night. The next race program will be The SportMod Nationals on Oct. 15. It will be the speedway’s biggest event of the season.

This Saturday night, the track champions in the IMCA Modified and SportMod divisions will be celebrated with champaign and trophies. Randy Brown (438 pts.) of Chowchilla leads Winton’s Ramie Stone (407 pts.) in the IMCA Modified division. In the IMCA SportMod division, it is Rick Diaz (530 pts.) of Chowchilla who leads Merced’s Mike Drake (477 pts.).

Double points will be up for grabs in the speedway’s Hobby Stock division. Michael Shearer (229 pts.) of Atwater leads Sonora’s Kevin Joaquin (186 pts.).

(081316 Oakley, CA) 305 Parts - .  Saturday,  August 13, 2016.  Staff photo by Mike Adaskaveg.

Rick Diaz (714) changed cars mid-season, but maintained the IMCA SportMod point lead. Here, he passes Patti Ryland.


Racing begins at 7 p.m.

Grandstand Opens at 5 p.m.

Program will be approximately 3 hours or less.

Adults  $12.00

Seniors 65 and older $10.00

Students with an ID – 13 to 17 –  $10.00

Children 6 to 2 $5.00

Kids 5 and under FREE

Family Pack 2 adults and 2 children  $30.00




Fred Ryland Finds Makes Merced Speedway His Home

By Mike Adaskaveg

Merced Sun-Star

Home is where the competition lives.

(081316 Merced, CA) Merced Speedway - Fred Ryland. Saturday, August 13, 2016. Staff photo by Mike Adaskaveg.

Fred Ryland and his familiar smile –  in the Merced Speedway Pits, 

That’s why Brentwood driver Fred Ryland travels two hours to race at Merced Speedway even though there are racetracks closer to where he lives.

Ryland will be at his home away from home Saturday night when the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) Modified and SportMod divisions headline the program, which includes the Valley Sportsman and Mini-Stock Divisions.

Transplanted Ohio as, Ryland and his wife, Patti, haul their SportMods to Merced every weekend. Fred Ryland is on the track every week – Patti Ryland joins him with her SportMod whenever her schedule allows.

“The racers are great at Merced, and so is the competition,” Fred Ryland says. “There are more top notch SportMods at Merced than any other track in California.”

Ryland seeks competition – he doesn’t want an easy win.

“As a driver, I want to race where there are more drivers,” he explained. “If you run away with win, it doesn’t help you grow as a driver. You need to race with drivers who can beat you or at least run side by side with you.”

Ryland even relishes getting beaten after a clean side-by-side battle for the checkered flag just as much as he enjoys a win.

“Merced Speedway regulars Rick Diaz, Josh Hensley, Nick Spainhoward, and Levi Kiefer – are just a few of the rivers whom I raced side by side with and whom I have respect for,” Ryland added. “When you are beaten fair and square by another driver, you have to look in the mirror – and go back home and think about how you can improve your car or your driving.”


Short History, Long List of Cars and Races

After moving to the Golden State 15 years ago, the Rylands discovered racing in Chico. It was there that Fred bought Patti a ride in a two-person sprint car.

“She loved it so much she wanted to drive a mini-stock,” Fred Ryland says. “I went out and bought a hobby stock for myself and she was not happy.”

Fred got to race his hobby stock, but not until he promised to built Patti a mini-stock. In 2008, Fred built a new hobby stock from the ground up for Patti. As Patti found success in the hobby stock division, Fred continued successfully moved up to other divisions.

Fred Ryland’s hobby stock is still alive today. When he decided to race in the Super Stock division, he sold his hobby stock to Merced driver Ryan Hart, who drove it to championships on pavement and dirt – and even drove it this season at Merced Speedway.

“Race cars keep changing hands and keep on being raced – that is how a division grows,” explained Ryland of Merced Speedway’s success in building a large IMCA SportMod division.

The next car that Ryland fielded was a 2015 Harris brand. At the end of the season a year ago, Ryland sold it to up and coming SportMod driver Chris Falkenberg of Turlock.

(081316 Merced, CA) Merced Speedway - Fred Ryland in his IMCA SportMod at Merced Speedway. Saturday, August 13, 2016. Staff photo by Mike Adaskaveg.

Fred Ryland’s colorful IMCA SportMod at Speed on the Merced Speedway quarter-mile.


Passing the Torch

“If you are a racer, you want to share what you have with the next generation. You truly want racing to continue in the years to come,” Ryland said.

Ryland often helps drivers young and old who are seeking advice.

He and his wife have gone to the fence after receiving a plaque for finishing in the top three – and calling for a young fan to take home a special souvenir of that night’s racing.ryland_lores

“I always thank the fans. Then I look for that kid with awe in his or her eyes, and give that kid my trophy,” Ryland explained.

Last race, a seven-year-old girl came up to the Rylands for an autograph. She was particularly fascinated with “the Joker” logo on Ryland’s car. He took the piece of aluminum off his car and gave it to the girl.

“She wanted to actually touch a race car. We gave her a tour of the cars and the trailer,” he said. “When I took the panel off and handed it to her, she was so excited she cried and kept thanking us. Someday, she may be racing alongside me.”


This Week at Merced Speedway

            After a two-week break for the IMCA Supernationals in Iowa, the final leg of the Merced Speedway season begins with Saturday Night’s Gary Brown Youth Appreciation Memorial Race. Brown passed away last month.

All children 12 and under will attend for free thanks to the Brown family. The program will feature the IMCA Modifieds, IMCA SportMod, Mini-Stock and Valley Sportsman divisions in complete programs of qualifying races and feature events.

“Gary Brown was well known and well liked in the pits and grandstands of Merced and Madera Speedways,” Merced Speedway promoter Ed Parker said. Brown was a longtime crewmember for Madera promoter Kenny Shepherd of Merced, who was previously a NASCAR late model driver.

“Gary (Brown) was a super great guy – everyone in the Merced area seemed to know him and he knew everybody,” added Parker.


Racing begins at 7 p.m.  Grandstand Opens at 5 p.m.

Program will be approximately 3 hours or less.

Adults  $12.00

Seniors 65 and older $10.00

Children 12 and under FREE

Students 13-17 with ID $10.00