Three drivers are jockeying for the track championship in the IMCA Modified division at Merced Speedway, each hoping to out-fox the other for the prestigious title.
Points mean everything with the first of the last two races of the season on deck this Saturday night. Defending track champion Randy Brown of Chowchilla is aiming for a consecutive crown. Brown won two weeks ago at the quarter mile fairgrounds oval.
Second place Mike Villanueva of Atwaterr, 28 points behind Brown, says he’s going to attend fellow driver Rodney Freitas’ wedding on Saturday, and he may not be at the show. Rumors are flying that his statement was a decoy move – trying to get point leader Brown to stay in Iowa, where he raced in the IMCA Supernationals and could race in other major events.
Third place Bruce “Bubba” Nelson, 52 points behind Brown, was hoping neither driver would show – so a win could thrust him into second, which he could then parlay into the championship the following weekend.
Brown changed the game by driving 2700 miles to be home Thursday - in time to prepare his car for Merced Speedway. He’s gunning for his second straight track championship.
“Yes, I was going to stay for a big IMCA race in Marshalltown, Iowa, but when I heard Mike (Villanueva) may be throwing a fake pass, I decided to pack up and come home,” Brown explained. “We just put too much effort into winning the championship in Merced this season to let it slip away.”
VILLANUEVA TO MISS RACE?
“I was counting on Randy (Brown) staying in Iowa so I committed to going to the wedding – I think that is the right thing to do since Rodney (Freitas) is a longtime friend,” Villanueva explained.
Brown’s local intelligence was contradictory.
“I got more than one call in Iowa that said if I wasn’t there, Villanueva would show up,” Brown said. “I couldn’t chance that happening.”
A win is worth 40 points, which cold seal the deal for the driver who was there when the other one wasn’t.
NELSON PUTS THE PRESSURE ON
“I don’t know how this will unfold – but I kind of knew Randy would pull into the pits at the last minute,” Nelson said. “We’re going for the championship – we raced a full season and we are going to race it to the end, whether Randy or Mike are here or not.”
Nelson races in two divisions. He’s at home in his Hobby Stock just as much as he is in his IMCA Modified car.
“I know my hobby stock like the back of my hand. I can put it anywhere I want to on the track and it does well there,” he says. “The modified car is a lot tougher to drive. One little mistake on the ‘set-up’ and you could be out to lunch.”
The modified cars have a complicated suspension, with a myriad of adjustments for each corner of the car. Reading track conditions prior to the race is how drivers ‘set up’ their cars.
“Every night is different,” says Nelson. “If the track is sloppy and wet in the heat races, there will most likely be moisture in the surface during the feature.
Moisture makes the track ‘hooked up.’ Anyone could run on a hooked up track – no talent needed.”
It’s when a track is dry and slick that driving talent takes over.
“It is more than an educated guess - it is driver feel, knowledge of your race car, and talent that is needed to do well on a dry slick track,” explained Nelson. ”I’ll wash my car at the end of the week and make sure I’m ready for anything the track has for me on Saturday night.”
This Saturday Night at Merced Speedway
The IMCA Modified and IMCA SportMod Divisions will headline the show after taking a week off for the IMCA Supernationals in Iowa. The final race of the season for the Mini-stock Division will see reigning champ Chris Corder of Modesto fight off a challenge from his sister, Jennifer.
She is only six points behind him in the point tally. The Mini-Late Model Division will complete the card. All divisions have a complete program of qualifying races and a feature event.