Jeremy Hoff of Copperopolis finds himself sitting on the top of the mountain. There are 48 other drivers below him, clawing their way to the summit of the IMCA SportMod division.
Hoff jokes that his racing career has been all downhill – literally – as he has made the trek from the Sierra foothills to the Central Valley for more than 20 years. It’s actually been a steady uphill climb since he started go-kart racing when he was 12 years old. He then raced a pavement track hobby stock when he was 15, and left his
hometown when he turned 18 to enroll in the NASCAR Technical Institute of Mooresville, N.C.
“I really enjoyed racing as a teenager, but did not have a full understanding of race cars, which I desired to learn about as much as I could. So, I headed East,” he says. “When I graduated from NASCAR Tech, I found out there were many students like me, taking a seat on the sidelines, hoping to work on someone’s car.”
Hoff came back home and got a job in his hometown. Today, he is a heavy equipment operator and mechanic. His racing career began its climb when a stranger showed up at his door and said he needed help with his race car. Hoff soon found out that the car was not a pavement stock car, which he was used to, but a stock car raced on dirt.
With great interest, he took to the dirt track.
Hoff wound up at Merced Speedway in 2009, racing a street stock against the late Ed Parker. Hoff’s dad, Scott, joined his crew, and later joined him as a driver in the IMCA SportMod division.
“We adapted to the dirt very well,” Hoff says. “I was hooked.”
In his rookie year, Hoff took four heat races, two features and six trophy dashes. He was Rookie of the Year at Merced Speedway, and finished second in points.
Since then, Hoff has finished second in points five times. He won the Antioch Speedway championship in 2013, and then flipped two cars in races three weeks apart in 2014, destroying the cars.
THE QUEST FOR A MERCED SPEEDWAY CHAMPIONSHIP
The road to the top spot hasn’t been easy for Hoff. In the last IMCA SportMod feature two weeks ago, he worked for 17 laps to get by Tanner Thomas of Atwater in the Tim Post Memorial. On the next lap he passed Thomas, only to have a caution flag come out.
Since a lap only counts after the last car in the field passes the start-finish line, it was scored as an incomplete lap. Hoff was put back to the position he held a lap earlier – behind Thomas.
“That’s racing – sometimes you win, sometime you lose,” he says. “I ran the race clean and had to settle for second.”
Hoff has Turlock’s Danny Roe four points behind him and Thomas, seven points behind. Bruce “Bubba” Nelson of Winton is in fourth, 10 points out.
“It’s nerve racking being on top,” says Hoff. “Tanner Thomas is coming on strong – he has a win at Antioch Speedway and one at Merced Speedway. Danny Roe does racing right – he is out to have fun, but he’s really turned it on this year. It’s my friend, Bubba, I’m most concerned about – he is one of those drivers who will sneak up on you.”
Nelson bought champ Rick Dias’ SportMod, and it’s the same brand car as Hoff has – a PCD, made in Arkansas.
“I’ll have to start deeper in the field each week because of where I am in the point standings,” says Hoff. “I’ve changed my driving style and learned how much faster the car can be. I’m adjusting the car to find that sweet spot – that happy medium.”
It’s all because Hoff wants to make a run on the track championship. He’s got his dad, his wife Alishia, and son Luke cheering him on at the track every week.
“I don’t like tearing up cars. I like running door to door with another driver without the cars hitting. I want to respect others and have them respect me,” he says. “I will still stand my ground. If I deserved a win, I’ll let you know. If I didn’t
deserve a win, I’ll be the first to admit it.”
THIS SATURDAY NIGHT AT MERCED SPEEDWAY
Four classes of racing will be featured Saturday night beginning at 7 p.m. The IMCA SportMod, Hobby Stock, Valley Sportsman and Mini-Late Model divisions will each have a complete program of qualifying races and a main
event. The pit gate opens at 2 p.m. and the grandstand gate opens at 5 p.m. Racing begins at 7 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults, $10.00 for military and students with school ID, $5 for children 6-12 years old. Children under 6 years old are free. A family four-pack of ticket is $30.