The 125th Merced County Fair may be fun for some, work for others – but it’s both fun and work for Merced High School junior D.J. Shannon.
Wednesday is Shannon’s big day. He’ll show swine in Future Farmers of America competition at about 1 p.m., then run to the pit area and jump into his Modified stock car to compete in the International Motor Contest Association races two hours later.
“The Merced County Fair isn’t a big event – it’s a huge event,” explains Shannon, who is named after his grandfather, Delbert Jerald, a supporter of the fair and its racetrack for most of his life.
Shannon made his first appearance in Merced Speedway’s top division two weeks ago. His was behind the wheel of his dad Chris’ old Modified. The car was immaculate at the beginning of the night and wrinkled at the end of the night. Shannon finished 21st in the 24-car feature event field.
“I would say it was a good night,” Shannon says. “I felt pretty comfortable driving the car. I just lost (control) in the first and second turn and my car got a little banged up. But, I learned a lot.”
Angry with himself as he headed home after his first night of racing, Shannon listened to a critique from his dad’s crew chief, Tom White.
“He told me that most of the time it is better to come home with the car in one piece than try to force your way to the front – and crash,” Shannon recalls. “I should have held my line and not rushed out to the front. I would have finished much better and would have a lot less body work to complete before the fair race.”
Last weekend, Shannon was at a race in Santa Maria, picking the brains of top drivers Bobby Hogge IV of Salinas and Kellen Chadwick of Oakley. Shannon made the “B” feature events in two nights of racing there.
“Again, I learned a lot. I’ll bring that experience back to Merced Speedway for the fair race,” Shannon says.
The fair racing event will be a two-division show, drawing the best Modified and Hobby Stock drivers in the region. Drivers love the chance to be seen by the biggest audience of the year.
Shannon is working on his car and the FFA swine this weekend. The swine will have to be fattened up a bit, hair trimmed and a coat of “show shine” applied to make glossy skin. The car’s sheet metal will have to be straightened and trimmed, and a coat of “mud off” applied to keep its body shiny.
Wearing traditional FFA show clothing, Shannon will have perfectly pressed black slacks, a white button-down shirt and an FFA jacket when he enters the swine ring. He’ll rip off those clothes to slide into a one-piece, fire-resistant bright blue driver’s suit as he heads to the pit area.
In Shannon’s pit stall will be a young crew – Rene Pantoja, John Rowe, Thomas Flores and Matt Sailing. His crew chief is Matt Bremen. Pantoja and Flores play baseball for Merced High, and all of the crew is involved in the school’s FFA program.
The big crowd on hand will include FFA teacher Steven Mua, along with many students from the high school.
“That crowd will help me keep calm,” Shannon says. “I’ll try to qualify through my heat race. If I start in the back, I’ll be sure to take it a lot slower. If I have to start in the front or middle of the pack, I’ll just hold my line and then work my way up through the cars in front of me in the pack.”
Shannon gets plenty of support from his dad and mom, Betty. He can race as long as he keeps his grades up. He wants to pursue a career in ag business.
“They tell me they are proud of me, which I appreciate, but I’m self-motivated and I always want to do better. I tend to get frustrated,” he admits. “Tom (White) will coach our crew until my dad starts racing again, then he’ll be dad’s crew chief.”
Races and fireworks – Admission to the races is $5 after entering the fair on Wednesday. The grandstand will open at 5 p.m. and racing begins at 6:30.
The IMCA Modified and Hobby Stock divisions will each have a complete program of qualifying races and a main event. The show will be two hours long.
The track and pit area will be cleared at 8:30 for the fireworks display.