It was no accident that Rodney Freitas parked his International Motor Contest Association modified stock car next to Mike Villanueva's in the Merced Speedway pits last Saturday.
Freitas and Villanueva had been buddies since they were 14 years old. Villanueva used to be on Freitas' pit crew. Freitas, who had taken a six-year hiatus from racing, was now catching up on technology he missed -- with Villanueva's help.
But it was an accident when the two friends collided in the feature event, causing Freitas to start from the rear of the pack. Villanueva won. Freitas worked his way back to sixth.
Tonight, the friendly foes will be at it again.
"We're best of friends, but when we are on the track it's a battle," Frietas explained. "It's going to be a battle after battle throughout the year. We'll see who wins the war by September."
Neither friend will give up.
"He's not going to lay down for me, and I'm not going to roll over for him; it's been that way since high school," laughed Freitas.
Villanueva, who made public his quest for a championship last week, worked his way up to the top of the feature event from the sixth starting position.
Right behind him was Freitas. When Villanueva "checked up" to miss a car spinning in front of him, Freitas drove his car into Villanueva's, flattening his own front tire.
Freitas' comeback was exciting for him.
"At least I'm consistent," he added. "Three races and three sixth-place finishes this season."
Villanueva had a year between wins. But the win might jeopardize his five-point lead in the point standings for the championship. Yes, it's Freitas who is in second place.
"Because I'm the points leader, I will have to start behind everyone this week," he said. "If Rodney starts in front of me, and if I'm not able to catch him, he may become the point leader."
The drama in point standings has also started early in the Hobby Stock division, where Merced's Andrew Krumm is tied for the top spot with Robbie Loquaci of Madera.
"It's going to get more exciting through the season," Krumm said. "We're close to having the car set up perfectly. Competition between Robbie and I will get more intense."
Krumm, a 13-year veteran of the track and its 2003 Hobby Stock champion, had compliments for Loquaci.
"He's a really good guy, and we've raced side by side many times without any incidents," Krumm said. "My strategy is to keep the car in one piece," offered Loquaci. "It's better to have good clean racing and close competition rather than crash someone out."
As far as a championship run, the drivers said it was too early to tell what will happen in the weeks to come.
"Every driver is fighting for the same piece of real estate on the race track," Freitas added about racing at the speedway this season. "But, it's a good time. The atmosphere is great. Most of us even help each other out."
Oval Motorsports, Inc., which operates Merced and Antioch Speedways, announced Wednesday that there would be an All Star Challenge Series between the tracks on the weekends of Oct. 5 and Oct. 19. Merced Speedway General Manager Doug Williams said the races would be "big money events held in the tradition of past post-season autumn races."
The Merced Speedway events will take place on Saturday nights, Antioch events will be on Sunday.
On Saturday night, all children wearing a sports uniform will be admitted free to the speedway as part of the Merced Golden Lion Youth Sports Night. Special pricing will be in effect for this Saturday night's racing card at the speedway, which will feature IMCA Modifieds, Hobby Stocks, Mini-Stocks, and Valley Sportsman -- each in a complete program of qualifying and feature events. Adults will be admitted for $10 and senior citizens $8. Children not wearing sports uniforms will be admitted for $6.
The Speedway is located at the Merced County Fairgrounds, 900 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in Merced. Parking is on W. 11th Street.