By Mike Adaskaveg
Back at the start of the 2016 racing season, driver Rick Diaz set out on a mission to win the Merced Speedway IMCA SportMod division championship in honor of friend John Fore, Jr. – a fellow driver who died in a workplace accident just weeks before.
On Saturday night, at the Merced Speedway 2016 Awards Banquet, Diaz was crowned champion of his division – and he immediately carried the large trophy he won to tearful widow Lisa Fore, who was seated with her family at a nearby table.
“I won the championship for him – this year was not about me,” Diaz explained. “I was looking forward to racing with John this season. He took a big part of a lot of us with him when he died.”
For Diaz, the road to the championship was a rough one – but he persevered to accomplish his goal. He drove three different cars – one a “loaner” from a Bakersfield competitor – so he wouldn’t miss any races and could tally up enough points for the championship.
In 2014, Fore, Jr. was Rookie of the Year, and Diaz the champion of the SportMod division. This year, Diaz started driving a car owned by fellow Chowchilla racer Randy Brown. Midway through the season, Brown and Diaz parted, with Wayne Dotson of Bakersfield offering his car to Diaz in order for him to continue on the championship mission. Diaz had a chassis of his own on order from and Arkansas company, and was awaiting its delivery.
“It was a hiccup in the plan, but we did not give up,” said Diaz of the car changes. When the new chassis arrived, crewmembers Chuck Crews, Joe Gonella and Mark Morton worked day and night to turn it into a racecar. Diaz drove it in the season’s last three races.
Diaz’s new car was on display, along with the championship cars of each Merced Speedway division, along the “red carpet” entrance to the banquet at Half Dome Hall in the Merced County Fairgrounds. A remembrance to Fore, Jr. is prominently emblazoned on the nose of the car.
“That memorial will be on every car I own – forever,” Diaz vowed. “No sponsor could pay me enough buy that space.”
BROWN WINS IMCA STATE MODIFIED DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIP
Randy Brown’s dedication to his hometown track saw him racing his IMCA Modified in the organization’s Dakota Tour on a Friday night, jumping on a plane and driving a back-up car at Merced Speedway on Saturday night. He did the same when on an IMCA tour in Oregon.
His returning to California not only enabled Brown to win the Merced Speedway Championship, but the California Championship.
“Winning the track championship was hard – considering that we were doing what we set out to do this season – driving everywhere and anywhere the IMCA was racing,” Brown said. “Winning the state championship was icing on the cake for a great season.”
For the Brown family, life on the road is enjoyable. Sabrina Brown, and the couple’s children Kaylin 13, and Kennzziie [cq] love racing. Both children race go-karts.
“Randy had 70 races on the schedule this year and I only missed the six races on the Dakota tour,” Sabrina Brown proudly said.
Randy Brown wanted a racecar when he turned 15. His dad, D.C. Brown, made him build an IMCA modified car from the ground up. At age 16 he won the 2006 IMCA Western States Rookie of the Year title. Since then, he’s captured four IMCA track championships – two at Merced Speedway and two at Chowchilla Speedway.
SHEARERS RACED SIDE BY SIDE AND HAD FUN
Michael and Kristie Shearer raced side by side, with Kristie making a run on her husband for the Hobby Stock division championship early in the season.
Starting the New Year with a win, Michael Shearer had consistent top finishes that enabled him to maintain a season long lead.
“Kristie got close – within a few points – but I wasn’t going to back off,” Michael Shearer said of his first championship. “We had a lot of fun. Now its her turn to win a championship.”
Surprisingly, Michael Shearer won’t be racing in the Hobby Stock division next season. He’ll be crew chief for Kristie Shearer and friend Shannon Nelson.
“It’s time for the women to win,” he said. “I’d like to see them finish one and two.”
BIRDSONG DRIVES CHILDHOOD DREAM TO CHAMPIOSHIP; CORDER’S LOVE OF SMALL CARS HELPS WIN CHAMPIONSHIP
Merced’s Kenny Birdsong built a replica of the car he saw Rod Poor drive in 1969 and drove it to the 2016 Valley Sportsman division championship. The original car, built by Johnny Freitas, still sits in a local wrecking yard.
“I was raised around that car and always dreamed of driving it,” said Birdsong, who is 60 and in his third year of racing. “I wouldn’t drive anything else.”
Birdsong’s son, Christopher, painted his replica car in the original 1969 scheme – complete with local sponsors of the era.
“I can drive my car with one finger,” said Mini Stock division champion Chris Corder of Modesto. “I love my Acura. I’ve always been into small cars. Mini-Stocks handle like road race cars.”
Corder started racing on pavement, then switched to racing on dirt at Merced Speedway.
“It’s more fun sliding sideways through the turns,” Corder said.
Rookie of the Year honors went to Garrett Corn of Cathay’s Valley in the Hobby Stock division, Chase Thomas of Atwater in the IMCA SportMod division, Bruce “Bubba” Nelson of Atwater in the IMCA Modified division, Paul Lauretti of Watsonville in the Mini-Stock division and Shannon Fry of Corralitos in the Valley Sportsman division.
First-year owner and promoter Ed Parker celebrated a successful season at the gala – which was complete with a “red carpet” entrance, tables with fresh flowers, door prizes and a live band.
Parker announced plans for the new season, which will include a wider variety of racing events and even a new division – mini late models, powered by 600cc motorcycle engines. Sprint Cars and a National Dwarf Car race will be added attractions in the new season.