Champions Paul Stone and Rick Diaz will have their titles challenged when the local stock car racing season gets into full swing this weekend.
Stone is the 2014 champion in the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) Modified division, and Diaz is the champion in the SportMod division. There are a number of drivers already eyeing their top spots as they head to Chowchilla Speedway on Sunday and Merced Speedway the following Saturday.
The 2014 champions were honored Saturday night at Merced Speedway’s annual awards banquet. Over the winter, Chowchilla Speedway came under the same management as Merced Speedway and Antioch Speedway, with an integrated schedule beneficial to drivers seeking state and regional IMCA championships.
Winton’s Bruce “Bubba” Nelson already has momentum, coming off of an Antioch Speedway win on Jan. 2. Nelson was third in SportMod points last season, behind Chowchilla’s Diaz and Ramie Stone of Winton.
“My goal is at least 15 wins and track championship at Merced Speedway,” Nelson declared at the banquet. “I already have one down and 14 to go. Wins, points, trophies and money – that’s what it is all about.”
Nelson is a member of fifth-place finisher Michael Shearer’s team. Shearer, from Los Banos, will be racing in both IMCA divisions. His wife Kristie will return in the Hobby Stock division, as well as Nelson’s wife, Shannon, who took a parental break from the racetrack.
Diaz takes defending his title very seriously.
“Bubba says he is running for the championship, but I’ll have something to say about that,” Diaz said. “I will give him a run for the title.”
Cousins to battle again
Five-time Merced Speedway Modified champion Ramie Stone came back from a six-year hiatus to race in the IMCA SportMod division in 2014. This season, he’s vowing to give cousin Paul Stone competition in the Modified division.
“I’m not too sure why I went down to the SportMod division – it was mostly because my old car fit best in that division,” Ramie Stone said. “Skill comes with age and experience. I belong in the top division. I will return to the Modified division with a new car this year.”
The Stone family battles are legend at Merced Speedway.
“We battled side by side for a lot of years,” Ramie Stone said. “I am looking forward to doing it again. It’s no problem racing with my cousin. He wants to beat me as much as I want to beat him.”
Champ Paul Stone came back from a bad wreck in Arizona a week earlier.
He has been busy getting his cars ready for the local tracks.
“I love racing with the older guys. Respect is missing from racing today. We had that respect for each other years ago,” Paul Stone said. “I like running with Ramie – there will be wheel-to-wheel racing for sure. And, we can still make it through the season without having to change a bumper.”
Paul Stone, who feels it is important to race at other tracks to improve his skills, will take the speedway’s July 4 break to venture to the Dakotas, Canada and Iowa, where several major IMCA races will take place.
Merced Speedway Awards Banquet notes – Raulie Rodriguez of Atwater accepted the Hobby Stock championship for his dad, Raul, who was away on family business. Raulie said he and his dad have rebuilt their car for the new season – complete with new engine, transmission and drive train. Raul hopes to repeat as champion.
Friendly foes Mike Henault of La Grange and Tim Prothro of Merced were on hand to reflect on a thrilling point battle that saw the top spot traded all season. In the last race of the year, Prothro dove under Henault to go three cars wide when the two touched, causing Prothro to spin to the infield. Prothro lost by two points.
This year, Prothro will move up to the IMCA SportMod division, while Henault will continue to race with his retro 1962 Mercury Comet in the Valley Sportsman division. Also moving up to the SportMod division will be Ronnie Cole of Mariposa, who finished third in the Limited Late Model division in 2014.
Joy Alger of Merced was all smiles after receiving her first trophy in the Mini-Stock division. Alger finished fourth behind Chris Corder, Jennifer Corder and Brian Widdowson.
Alger’s first year of racing had special personal meaning. She was born at the speedway when her mother went into labor while watching her dad, Robert, race in the same division.
Chowchilla Speedway Sunday – Chowchilla Speedway opens at 2 p.m. Sunday with a full racing program headlined by IMCA Modifieds and SportMods, Hobby Stocks, and Mini-Stocks. Hot laps are at 3 p.m.; racing begins at 4 p.m.
Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for senior citizens and $8 for children 6-12. A family four-pack of tickets is $30. Chowchilla Speedway is at the Chowchilla Madera County Fairgrounds, with entrance on South Fifth Street.