By Mike Adaskaveg
Ted Stofle’s car is an artifact from a time in Merced’s history that race fans feel should never be forgotten. Saturday night, the old stock car roars to life as Stofle is memorialized at Merced Speedway’s Ted Stofle Classic.
Stofle’s ‘65 Chevelle brings back memories of a young racer, face shielded from dust by his signature red bandana, as he dominated huge fields of stock cars nearly four decades ago. Residents of the City and its surrounding farm communities were amalgamated every Saturday night – all witnessing the talents of a young phenom whose life was to be cut short in a hunting accident.
The car that helped make Stofle famous is still in the condition it was when he raced his last race in September of 1980. Only one driver in today’s International Motor Contest Racing Association (IMCA) actually raced against Stofle 36 years ago.
“I’m not the racer Teddy was – I would say he was a natural,” says Merced
‘s Bob Williamson, 63, who remembers 36 years ago like it was 36 months ago. “Teddy was patient. He was a student of the sport. He knew everything about his competitors and predicted every move they would make. He started last week after week and wound up winning.”
Doug Williams, Le Grand High School classmate and best friend of Stofle, is now the race director at the speedway. He recalls when the two had worn a trail across a neighbor’s yard between their humble family homes in Planada.
“His car remains a constant in a drastically changing world,” Williams explains. “Every part, every dent, is the same as it was when it was parked in 1980.”
Brother Gary Stofle will be driving his brother’s car on Saturday night. Three divisions will race – IMCA Modified and SportMod drivers will compete 30 lap features, and the Hobby Stock drivers will race 29 laps – totaling up to 89 feature laps. Ted Stofle’s car number is 89.
“I’m in awe that people get excited for this race,” Gary Stofle says. “I’ve seen tears flowing on the faces of men and people have gotten choked up when they talk to me.”
Each year the car draws the familiar but aging faces from the past back to the grandstand of the speedway – a former trophy queen, Ted’s co-workers from Merced Datsun, his crew chief Tom White, and racing friends like Mike Palmberg.
“Some of the drivers today are the children and grandchildren of the drivers who raced with Ted – now they are driving in the modified and hobby stock classes, which evolved as the top divisions,” points out Gary Stofle. “Late model stock cars were the top class at the speedway in1980. They were considered a step to NASCAR.”
Ted Stofle’s red bandana continued to be a familiar site at the speedway long after he passed on.
“Ted’s family gave me his bandana,” says Williams. “I was a mid-pack runner at the speedway in 1980. The next season, I wore Ted’s bandana andI began winning.”
Williams went on to win four championships and 19 feature events, all while wearing Ted Stofle’s famous red bandana over his face.
Ted Stofle Classic Night
A large crowd is expected for Saturday’s Ted Stofle Classic. Terry Campion will sit on the pole of the 29-lap Hobby Stock main event, followed by Dexter Long, Andrew Krumm, Garrett Corn, and Kristie Shearer. George Silva, Kodie Dean, Cody Parker, Jennifer Corder and Austin Van Hoff comprise the remainder of top 10 cars qualified from last Saturday night’s feature.
Regular prices will be in effect even though the Ted Stofle Classic is a special event. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for Senior Citizens 65 and older, $10 for students with a valid student identification card, $5 for children 6-12 and $30 for a family four-pack of two adult and two child tickets. Children 5 and younger are admitted free.
The grandstand opens at 5 p.m., with racing beginning at 7 p.m. Merced Speedway is located within the Merced County Fairgrounds, 900 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in Merced.