It's a level playing field -- the new shape of Merced Speedway will challenge drivers of both World of Outlaw Sprint Cars drivers and International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) modified stock cars tonight in the speedway's biggest event of the season.
Veteran "modified" drivers Bobby Hogge III and his son, Bobby Hogge IV, considered the top team in California, are up for the challenge.
Hogge III will be making the chassis adjustments on his son's car. Between the two of them, there are decades of experience from racing at tracks throughout the country.
"It may come down to if we adjust the car to the track better than everyone else we can win," said Hogge III. "I think we can figure it out."
Defending champion Bill Egleston of Atwater says practice makes perfect.
He got a hometown advantage on the season running on the new track during practice sessions.
"Practice helped quite a bit," Egleston revealed. "For the most par, the track is back to like it was 15 years ago. There's more dirt and that's what it needed."
Egleston feels most of the drivers will over drive the track.
"They'll think it was like last year," he said. "But now it is a racers race track. It has two lines because of width -- cars can race side by side."
Veteran sprint car driver Sammy Swindell will be looking for a "hat trick" when he takes to the track this week. Swindell won the first two World of Outlaws events ever held at the quarter-mile clay oval.
"The best thing is to start up front, so you can control the race," Swindell said earlier this week. "As long as there is room to pass, it doesn't matter how big or small the track is."
Swindell has the experience to adapt.
"In 38 years of racing, I've been everywhere," he explained. "California tracks tend to be a little tighter than many of the tracks we race on. You have to set up your car and go to the front in qualifying."
Swindell is second to Steve Kinser in career wins in the World of Outlaws, and has three championships. Five championships have gone to Donny Schatz, who has yet to find luck at Merced Speedway.
"Merced Speedway is a real nice, clean race track," Schatz explained. "But, it is tricky to race on. If it goes dry early enough you can get an opportunity to capitalize on another driver's mistake. If it stays wet, there is no chance to do so."
Jonathan Allard of Chico is looking for a World of Outlaws win, after coming close in the past at Merced Speedway.
"We've got the equipment, now we have to see what the track has," he said. "Our team will pull together to see if we can get a good assessment of the changes in the track."
Coming off of a big win at Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico, Paul McMahon of Elk Grove is another Californian traveling with the World of Outlaws.
"We ran fifth in the first race at Merced," he recalled. "It's an hour from home, so a win would be great there."
Kyle Larson of Elk Grove would also like a win close to home. Larson, the most talked about driver in all of racing is planning to fly to Merced after Las Vegas Motor Speedway test sessions this morning. NASCAR is off this weekend because of the Easter holiday.
Fans can see the World of Outlaws event up close in Merced Speedway's big grandstand. The track offers one of the best views on the national circuit because the stands rise high from the front stretch of the track. The Outlaws will have time trials, several qualifying races and a trophy dash.
The track is located at the Merced County Fairgrounds on Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in Merced. Parking lot entrance is on West 11th Street. Gates open at 1 p.m. Cars will be on the track at 6 p.m. General admission seats will be available at the gate. Prices are $35 for adults and $15 for children.
Special prices at area hotels are available by checking in the Merced Speedway drop down menu at: www.ovalmotorsports.com.