Doug Williams manages one of the largest fields of oval race cars in Central Valley, yet few people know about it.
The model track at his house has a perfect clay surface, and is banked to allow remote-control cars to slide through the turns faster than the blink of an eye.
Racing takes place under the lights, nearly every evening and year-round, with the competitiveness and attention to racing protocol exhibited at the best of the nation's stock car tracks.
Williams steps out the back door of his Merced home or into his garage to race. His track has a roster of 86 cars. He competes with his kids and his friends, just for fun.
But things changed for Williams earlier this month. The real-life NASCAR champion is going to drive a mile down the road to the real racetrack now. John Soares, promoter of Merced Speedway, tapped him to be the new general manager of the fairgrounds oval.
A lifelong love for racing reunited Soares and Williams in recent months. They raced against each other decades ago. Soares rose to fame traveling the nation in big-time NASCAR racing. Williams stayed close to his lifelong home -- Merced -- and conquered NASCAR's Western Region, being crowned champion in 1982.
"It's been my life since I was 9 years old," Williams, 64, explained. "The desire to race still burns deep inside of me."
In his racing career, Williams raced at 35 different tracks and brought home nine championships. He's a Bay City Racing Association Hall of Fame driver. The 1982 Buick Regal that he raced put him in the NASCAR national record books.
"Back then we had huge fields of cars here in the valley, which drew big crowds and brought drivers notoriety," he explained. "Merced Speedway had so many cars that there were B and C features every week. ... My goal is to see 20-car features every week."
Soares brought his tracks back under the sanctioning of the International Motor Contest Association for the 2013 season. It was Soares and his dad, John Sr., who introduced the IMCA modified stock cars to California in the late 1980s.
IMCA sanctioning means the drivers racing in the modified stock car and sport modified stock car divisions at Merced Speedway will conform to nationwide rules, and race for national and regional championships.
"The sport-modified is the up and coming class of car," explained Williams. "It is more affordable, more economical and more environmentally friendly. It's the class of car that is needed for the economy of this area."
Williams also sees growth in the Hobby Stock Car division, the entry-level rear-wheel drive class of race car.
Merced Speedway will have racing Saturday nights for the first time since Soares re-opened it three seasons ago. A few special Sunday events will be included on the schedule, possibly at the beginning and end of the season.
Williams, who is retired, will draw upon his years of experience as Vice President of Operations for Sysco Foods in Modesto to help Merced Speedway develop a schedule upon which drivers can rely.
Williams will retain track preparation specialist Tom Sagmiller of Chowchilla and starter Carl Johnson of Los Banos. He will bring in announcer Patrick Bradley of Merced, who has hockey and football experience. He's even tweaking the layout of the track to eliminate the severity of the angle coming off the third and fourth turns. The track width will be increased by 50 feet.
"I plan to be there Saturday nights," said Merced businessman Eric Rose, who sponsors five stock cars. "Officiating that is fair and straight to the point is needed. Rules have to be enforced in every sport, including racing."