By Mike Adaskaveg
No Car. No Money. No worries.
College Student Mike Drake’s laid-back demeanor hides a burning desire to win the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) SportMod Championship at Merced Speedway.
Drake, from Turlock, doesn’t have a job. He doesn’t own his own racecar. He’s a single, full-time student at Modesto Junior College. Yet, he sits in third place among 45 divers who compete in the speedway’s SportMod division.
What he does have is a friend in George Medeiros. A perennial car owner who has raced in hobby stocks and SportMods, Medeiros saw the potential in Drake and turned over his steering wheel to him.
“”He’s a great driver, he’s a hard worker, and he’s smart,” Medeiros said of Drake at the start of the season.
Medeiros is pretty smart himself. His plain, low cost SportMod, with Drake behind the wheel, is just four points behind second place Steve Stone of Winton, who has 307 points. First place Rick Diaz of Chowchilla has 332 points.
Drake has developed a cult following. He and Medeiros are the “little guys” that fans are cheering for. They are lined up to see him and his car after the races.
Can they top Diaz and Stone?
“All kinds of new people greet me every week in the pits,” he says of his newfound popularity. “They all ask ‘can you do it?’ I tell them ‘of course I can’. I still believe I have a chance to win the championship.”
An IMCA SportMod championship brings its owner more fame than fortune. To be ranked as a track champion puts the winner in an exclusive category within the history of the organization. That record is preserved for eternity.
Like many of the racers in the Valley, Drake’s interest was passed down from his dad. Dan Drake raced through the 1990s at the speedway. Son Mike took up the sport in 2008, at age 16.
“I watched my dad race as long as I can remember. The day I said I wanted to race, he told me he would retire,” Mike Drake said. “I was sad, but he did that to help me.”
Dan Drake became part of his son’s crew, and now joins Medeiros to maintain the car at home and in the pits on race night.
“We need a win and we need to run up front the rest of the season to beat Rick (Diaz),” Drake said. “He’s a really smooth driver and he doesn’t make many mistakes.”
Drake has caught the attention of Diaz and Stone.
“They stop by my pit stall to talk every week,” Drake said. “I must be in their minds.”
Luck plays a major role in racing. Incidents happen on the racetrack. Cars break. Perfect maintenance and driver’s skills can be negated by a number of unforeseen events.
“I had my steering box blow out. I had my transmission stick in second gear. Thank God I’m in third place,” Drake said. “We’re hoping for good nights when the other guys have bad nights, and not the other way around. That’s the way for us to win the championship.”
THIS WEEK AT MERCED SPEEDWAY
It paid off for Chowchilla’s Randy Brown to fly home from North Dakota to compete in last Saturday night’s IMCA Modified feature event. Brown drove to victory and now leads the championship point standings in that division. Brown (281) has a four-point lead over Atwater’s Bill Egleston. Ramie Stone is third with 266 points
The IMCA Modifieds and SportMods will headline the program Saturday night at Merced Speedway. It will be the last show prior to a two-week summer break. Mini-Stocks and Junior Box Stock Go Karts will also race in a full program of qualifying races and feature events.
Merced Speedway is located within the Merced County Fairgrounds, 900 Martin Luther King Junior Way in Merced.
Racing begins at 7 p.m. Grandstand Opens at 5 p.m.
Program will be approximately 3 hours or less.
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