Merced's Ryan Larimer may not be on top in the point standings for the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) SportMod division at Merced Speedway, but he's won half of the 20 races he's entered in a year's time.
Larimer will be racing tonight when the SportMods join the IMCA Modified Stock Cars, Super Stocks and Mini-Stocks in a four-feature show at the speedway.
"I've missed a few shows earlier this season, so I decided not to chase points," Larimer explained. "I would have to finish well every race to be in contention for the championship."
Instead, he chases wins. He's won the last two events he entered at the speedway, and two more at other tracks in the Central Valley. A fabricator of fire safe doors and windows, Larimer is a natural to maintain the race car he owns.
"With more and more cars competing in the division, racing has become a little rougher," he explained. "It takes a toll on the equipment."
Metal fabrication is a needed skill if you own your own race car. Larimer spends his weekday evening hours working in his garage to prepare for a weekend at the track. His silver car, emblazoned with a blue number 47, is near perfect at the start of every race.
"The car keeps me busy — every day," he laughs. "On these hot days I miss the lake. I keep reminding myself how much fun racing is."
Larimer has a growing fan base. A group of a dozen followers — mostly family — has grown over the weeks as friends, and friends of friends, join the contingent. It was Ryan's dad, Gary, who introduced him to the sport. Gary Larimer retired when his son's driving career got under way.
Now with seven seasons under his belt, Ryan, 28, is happy in the IMCA Sport-Mod class.
He went for the top in 2009, buying a new modified stock car to race with the upper echelon of dirt oval racing. After two seasons in the high-powered, expensive cars, he decided to convert his car to race one level down.
"I changed the engine to a less expensive one, set up the suspension to the specifications of the SportMod division, and changed a few things on the body," he said. "Then I started having fun."
Larimer missed the Merced Speedway SportMod feature two weeks ago, when rookie Alex Odishoo of Merced passed some stiff competition to bring home his first victory.
Odishoo battled with Alex Wilson of Salinas early in the feature, then led for the final nine laps, fighting off challenges from point leader Matt Sotomayor.
"It was a relief to win," said Odishoo, who was championship in the ministock division last season. "It was a big step up to the SportMods. We had so much learning to do and we had so much bad luck."
He credited his crew chief, Don Hiser, for getting the car "drivable."
The incredible point battle for the Merced Speedway IMCA Modified track championship has tightened further. Mike Villanueva and Rodney Freitas are tied for first with 323 points. Moving into third, a mere two points from the leaders, is Chowchilla's Jeff Streeter.
Streeter nosed out Atwater's Ryan Porter in a near photo finish in the modified feature event two weeks ago. Bill Egleston was third.
Egleston, the modified stock car track champ, will attempt to climb the ladder in the speedway's "King of the Hill" competition this week. He faces Mike Shearer of Los Banos.
Four special "King of the Hill" match races will be on the program.
In the SportMod division, it will be Larimer squaring off against Bob Smith and Odishoo will face Matt Sotomayor of Fresno.
The second modified stock car match will see Streeter taking on Merced's Robbie Jeppesen.
The racing program will get underway promptly at 8 p.m. The starting time is later because of the summer heat. Admission will be $12 for adults, $10 for senior citizens. Children, who must be accompanied by an adult, will be admitted free.
Merced Speedway is located at the Merced County Fairgrounds, 900 Martin Luther King Way in Merced.