Family brings three-time champ back to Merced Speedway

Special to the Sun-StarMay 30, 2014 

Merced’s Raul Rodriguez is back from retirement. The three-time Merced Speedway champion has moved up to within five points of Hobby Stock division leader Josh Hensley.

MIKE ADASKAVEG — Merced Speedway

Merced stock car driver Raul Rodriguez loves even-numbered years.

Before Rodriguez “retired” from racing, he captured Merced Speedway championships in 2002, ’04 and ’06. He hung up his helmet in 2008, helping son Raulie drive to the Hobby Stock division championship in 2010.

Now, in another even year, Rodriguez, 49, is back. He’s behind the wheel of a 1976 Chevy Nova, five points out of first place in his division.

Josh Hensley of Ballico has led the quest for the championship this season. Los Banos school teacher Kristie Shearer is three points behind. Shearer’s husband, Michael, sold his old stock car to Rodriguez at the start of the season.

“I’m hoping to catch both of them (Shearer and Hensley) real soon,” Rodriguez said. “I would just love to win another championship.”

Coming out of retirement was easy for Rodriguez. He and Raulie work at Merced’s Safety First Company, and they share a common drive to race.

“Racing is in our family blood,” Rodriguez explained. “We just can’t stay away.”

The late Rudy Rodriguez was crew chief for his son and grandson’s cars. He wanted them to continue the family tradition of winning races in front of future generations. Raulie Rodriguez married a Hobby Stock competitor, Shannon Porter. Starting a family with new baby Olivia, the couple decided to give up driving – but not racing.

“Raulie announced to me in the beginning of the season that he had just bought a Hobby Stock car,” Raul Rodriguez said. “He said, ‘Dad, don’t you want to race again?’ 

At first, Raul said no.

“He said I should talk to mom,” the elder Rodriguez said.

Pauline Rodriguez is actually a bigger race fan than her boys.

“She told me to go for it – my granddaughters never saw me race,” Raul Rodriguez said. “That hit me in the heart.”

Now, granddaughters Sarah, 9, and Lily, 3, are in the grandstand with the extended Rodriguez family, cheering on their grandfather.

“It’s fun all over again,” he added. “The whole family is involved.”

Daughter Alicia Rodriguez and her boyfriend help prepare the car for the weekend. Nephew Estevan Maldonado works on the car nightly and is the crew member.

Friends Ron Drew of Safety First and George Perez of Producers Dairy help keep the car going with financial support. Rodriguez’s car sports the number 10M.

“It’s even numbers again – our cars are always numbered 10 because Raulie’s birthday is 10-10-84,” Rodriguez said. “The M is for Merced, our hometown.”

Will all those even numbers add up for Rodriguez?

“There is still a lot of season left. Anything can happen, and we have the numbers on our side,” Rodriguez said with a laugh.

Speedway schedule

Tonight, the speedway will have a full program of qualifying and feature events for the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) Modified Stock Cars, SportMods, Hobby Stocks and Mini-Stocks. Full fields of cars are expected, since the speedway will be closed for the Merced County Fair the following weekend.

Merced Speedway is located inside the Merced County Fairgrounds, 900 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in Merced. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for senior citizens and $5 for children 6-12. A family four-pack of tickets admits two children and two adults for $30.

Racing begins at 7 p.m. The grandstand opens at 5 p.m.

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