Odgers hope to carve out race victory

Special to the Sun-StarOctober 19, 2012 

— Special driving skills will be needed for the Valley’s most unique stock car race this Saturday night at Madera Speedway.

Driving in a pack of cars at high speed on the 3/8-mile high banked asphalt oval may test driver agility on any weekend, but once a year the track is covered with smashed pumpkins and soap in honor of Halloween.

It sounds silly, but it is serious business for racer Marissa Odgers. Odgers, who graduated from Mariposa County High School last year, is geared up for the Pumpkin Smash.

“It’s a way to improve your driving skills,” said Odgers. “You have to keep the car from spinning out. You can’t over-correct.”

For Odgers, improvement has been a constant goal. She started her teenage years racing and winning in a four-cylinder “Four Banger” car. She raced on both pavement and dirt. Now, she is focused on her sport-modified stock car, which she raced at Madera this past season.

“The Pumpkin Smash is a longer event, 300 laps, with a lot more cars on the track,” she said. “If you make even the slightest mistake and start slipping, there’s another car to take advantage of that.”

Odgers will have the support of her dad, Mark, who she has raced alongside since she was old enough to drive.

“My dad was racing when I was born,” she explained. “When I started to drive, he would pass me and I would follow him, driving the same line on the race track.”

This season, the father-and daughter-team built her “dream car” — a black- and pink-striped sport modified.

Over the past winter, Marissa and friends compared ideas using fabrics and patterns before applying paint to her new car. Then, she added another personal touch by adorning her racing helmet with a “Mohawk” brush.

Success followed Marissa when she moved up to the faster cars. She won a feature event, finished fourth in points and will race in Las Vegas in a couple of weeks.

Saturday the focus is on the “Pumpkin Smash” - and the “Mariposa Posse” will be there with Marissa. She’s only raced once before in an “enduro” style race - which doesn’t stop unless the track is blocked.

“We have about six friends from up here in the mountains that will be racing at Madera,” Marissa added. “We pit our cars next to each other, and we have one big combined pit crew. If one of us needs work done on a car - there’s plenty of help.”

The event has become a battle of the “mountain people” and the “valley people” all in good fun.

“The strategy is survival,” Mark Odgers explained. “Keep your car clean and be there at the end of the race.”

Because of the length of the event, there are opportunities to make up lost laps or time.

“You could be five laps down and make it up by the end,” Mark Odgers said. “With soap and pumpkins on the track, there’s no telling what can happen. You’re not supposed to take anyone out by hitting their car with yours, but it happens.”

For Marissa and Mark, it is serious racing. There’s $2,000 to win. “We may bicker during the week when we are setting up the cars,” Marissa added. “But there is none of that at the race track. We work together to win.”

What: The 6th Annual “Pumpkin Smash”

Where: Madera Speedway, 1850 West Cleveland Ave., Madera, Calif. (At the Madera Fairgrounds)

When: Saturday, October 20

Additional Activities: Hay Rides, Trick-or-Treating in the pits, before the main event (6:30 p.m.)

Racing Card before the “Pumpkin Smash” :

Gates Open: Noon

Qualifying: 2 p.m.

100 Lap Coors Light Late Model Championship race, Hobby Stock, Four-Cylinder, and 18-second bracket races.

After the “Pumpkin Smash”: Boat drags (cars pull boats with no trailers, trying to knock other drivers’ boats off.)

Admission: Adults $15, Seniors $13, Children 6-10 years old, $10.

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