Few people know the significance of the old blue Ford farm tractor stoically sitting in the center of the infield at Merced Speedway.
A baseball cap is permanently mounted to the front of that tractor. It is the same cap Timmy Post wore the last time he drove the tractor. For the past 16 years, different workers have jumped up on the tractor to respond to the disabled race cars – the tractor’s big grappling hook easing the task of separating cars and towing them to the pits.
Post meticulously cared for his cherished tractor, which was a gift given to him by his grandfather, then-speedway promoter Chuck Griffin. The tragic death of Post rocked the Valley’s racing community 17 years ago this July.
On Saturday night, the tractor will be the centerpiece of the greatest tribute to Atwater’s Post, whose promising life was focused on being a baseball star or a race car driver. Admission to the track is free. There will be live musical entertainment and a large fireworks display. Track promoter Ed Parker hopes to fill the speedway with thousands of fans to celebrate the life of a teenager many felt destined for stardom on the diamonds or ovals of the Valley.
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A mother’s sorrow
Kim Barcellos fought back tears as she spoke of the fateful night when she received the call no parent should have to endure. Post, who was helping his grandfather during the Merced County Fair, was heading home at 8 p.m. when he was in a car crash.
“The years have been rough,” Barcellos explains. “But this year is incredibly tough. It is now 17 years since he was 17.”
Barcellos introduced her son Tim to the races before he was born.
“He was there with me when I was pregnant. When my dad Chuck (Griffin) took the track over, the whole family worked there,” she says. “Grandmother Mary Lee Griffin had Tim selling programs at the front gate when he was 10 years old. He ran the scoreboard from the announcer’s booth when he was 12.”
At 13, Post’s grandfather introduced him to the track equipment. He quickly learned to drive the grader, water truck and the beloved Ford tractor.
“Tim was an avid baseball fan, playing catcher in the Atwater Mitchell Senior League right up to the time of the accident. He was a shy boy – until he went to the race track.”
There were 10 memorial races honoring Tim Post in the last 17 years.
“I stopped the memorial races – I just couldn’t do it anymore,” Kim Barcellos explains. “There were new people at the track. Many had not known my son.”
Current promoter Ed Parker was racing in the former California Little Truck division when he met Post. He was so impressed, he planned to let the youngster drive his race car the following season.
“Tim was there week after week. He knew every driver. He told a joke or two and then he was all business,” Parker says. “He was a true racer.”
Post’s younger half-brother, Neil Barcellos has fond memories of his big brother.
“He was so ambitious,” Neil Barcellos says. “He was gung-ho about racing. That’s why Ed (Parker) was in awe of him.”
Parker feels the resurrection of the race is important historically. Enthusiastic fans and businesses have donated funds, gift baskets, and trophies for the event.
“The support has been overwhelming for this race,” Kim Barcellos says. “I feel very honored that Tim has made a difference in the racing community and his life is being remembered by the track.”
Racers touched by Post’s enthusiasm
The International Motor Contest Association Modified and SportMod racing divisions, as well as the Merced Hobby Stock division will be part of the special event.
In the premier “modified” division, Winton’s Ramie Stone is one point behind Atwater’s Bill Egleston in the championship battle. Stone is one of the few racers that were on the track when Post was sitting on his blue tractor.
“He was such a good kid,” Stone says as he recalls scenes from two decades earlier. “He was around the track working since he was little. He had all kinds of duties and he just loved working with his grandpa. We expected he would be running the speedway someday.”
Stone won two of the 10 Tim Post Memorial races.
“Tears were streaming down my face when the cars were being introduced. I’m sure this race will still have that effect on me,” Stone says. “When I put my helmet on, it’s time to race. Winning this memorial has very special meaning to me.”
Celebration begins at 3:30
The grandstand of Merced Speedway will be open to the public at 3:30 p.m. Live entertainment will take place in the cool concession area underneath the grandstand.
Racing begins at 7 p.m. and will continue until the 9 p.m. fireworks show. Each of the three divisions – IMCA Modified, IMCA SportMods and Hobby Stocks will have a complete program of qualifying events and a feature. Any feature events not completed by 9 p.m. will be run after the fireworks show.
Admission to all of the events is free.