MERCED — There's no place like home for Winton racer Paul Stone.
The wandering modified stock car driver will be back where his career started 15 years ago when Merced Speedway presents the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) Central Valley Clash on Saturday night.
The idea of a "Clash" was spawned over the winter by Kings (Hanford) Speedway's race director, Doug Lockwood, and promoter Scott Woodhouse, who approached Merced Speedway's new general manager, Doug Williams.
They wanted to shake things up on the racing scene by having the two rival racetracks' drivers compete in a challenge series.
Saturday night is the first race in the four-race series.
Stone sits in a unique position out of all of the drivers in the series. He's the current Kings Speedway track champion. Merced Speedway is his home track, though he hasn't raced regularly in Merced.
"The series is a great idea," Stone said. "I don't like to be stuck in one place, racing against the same drivers. This mixes things up and makes the racing better."
Stone was the Rookie of the Year and the champion in the modified division at Merced Speedway in 1998. He grabbed another championship in 1999.
Then he hit the road.
"Running for points is stressful you have to be there every week, you have to have good finishes all to be titled a champion," he explained.
Stone ventured to states that are hotbeds of his type of racing such as Nevada, Oregon, and Arizona. He makes the yearly pilgrimage to Iowa, home of the IMCA Supernationals. He's made friends all across the country.
"When you travel to a distant track, everyone loves you," he laughs. "They roll out the red carpet. If you stay too long, you have less friends."
He counts the local competition among his best of friends. Rodney Freitas, current point leader and Mike Villanueva, four points out of first, both hang out with him.
"I love to race with those guys. They're old school," Stone said. "Some of the newer drivers are still learning to drive a modified. The cars have a lot more power and are a lot more fragile than fullfender cars. It takes a while to make the transition between different classes."
Kings Speedway's most experienced drivers, like Jimmy Reeves, are looking forward to the "Clash" in Merced.
"It's great to see the tracks work together," Reeves said. "I haven't been there for a while, so I don't know what to expect."
Reeves explained that Kings Speedway's large, 5/8-mile size is quite different than Merced Speedway's quarter-mile layout.
"We'll have to tighten the car down for those tight turns. We'll have to change gears, too," he explained.
"Track surfaces change, so we have to see what we have to do to be competitive," Reeves said. "I won't be counting points for the series championship. I'll be running as fast as I can."
What will Stone have to beat both his fellow Kings Speedway drivers and his hometown friends at Merced Speedway?
"Big-show experience and racing against a large variety of drivers over the years has helped me," he said. "If it's a good clean race, I'd be happy for whoever won."
Joining the IMCA modifieds Saturday will be the IMCA SportMods, All-Star Wingless Sprint Cars, and Mini-Stocks. The current top All-Star Wingless Sprint Car driver, Gary Nelson, Jr. has confirmed he will be at Merced on Saturday.
Admission is $12 for adults, $6 for children, and $10 for senior citizens. Racing begins at 7 p.m.