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See You At The Races!!!

 Spec Sprints At Chowchilla
by Norm Bogan

Usually I cover the SCRA or VRA sprints and witness these high horsepower beasts at venues like Perris and Ventura.  One of the enjoyable parts of my writing is being able to travel to new tracks and report on different classes of cars, mostly at the grassroots level.  After following the IRL at Phoenix and Fontana, just a couple of weeks ago, now I have arrived at a little fairgrounds track to watch some of the entry level racers and competitors with limited budgets, who still have the fire burning within, to race against their peers for bragging rights. 

This was my first visit to Chowchilla, a community near the geographical center of California, where I found a typical fairgrounds motif, with the stands along the main straightaway and pits beyond the back straight.  The track was listed as a third-mile oval, but it appears larger with long straight-aways and tight turns, which are banked with no crash wall.  Cars enter the racing surface from the pits into turn three and exit off turn one.

Joining the sprints this evening were IMCA Modifieds, Street Stocks and Ladies Hobby Stocks.  Friday nights have been a difficult promotion at most venues, since the racers and fans have employment, which makes it touch and go getting off work, packed up and to the track in time for the races.  Tonight’s crowd in the stands was sparse and the car counts appeared low.  Racing this night were 16 sprints, 12 street stocks, 8 ladies hobby stocks and 14 modifieds.

The sprints run under the auspices of Northern California Modified Association (NCMA) and are officially called Modified Sprints.  One of the objectives is to have the cars resemble the old Modified Hardtops that ran through the Central Valley back in the sixties and seventies.  Each car is basically a dirt sprint car with a fiberglass roof fastened on giving the look of an old Modified.  The engines are 360 cubic inch steel block with steel heads.  Only flat tappet cams are allowed, no rollers, using either alcohol or gasoline through a 500 cfm two-barrel carburetor.  Racers must be self-starting, which speeds the show and reduces the need for push trucks.  There is a minimum weight of 1750 pounds including the driver after the race.  A McCreary MC3 Spec tire is required for the right rear on dirt, with a McCreary 17 right rear and eventually McCreary on all corners for pavement.  One car owner said that he put together his racecar for about $15,000, while another said that they had just insured the inventory of parts in their trailer for about $70,000.

NCMA’s schedule shows 27 races total on both asphalt and dirt, with fifteen dirt shows and twelve on pavement.  They race at the following tracks, Chowchilla, Merced and Reno-Fernley for dirt and Altamont, Ukiah and Lakeport for pavement.  Some of the racers here this evening will race at Antioch on Saturday in a similar class of car that runs there regularly.  The sixteen-car field included one distaff member with Brandi Ford, wheeling the #24 Budweiser car along with four-time NCMA Champ, Scott Holloway and current champ and NCMA President, Ed Amador.

There is no qualifying, but a pill draw, which determines the staging for the heat races.  Heat race results determine the line up for the feature with a draw for the inversion of the field.     

I spoke with one of the drivers, Russ Wullenwaber, who had been working as a crewman and got the bug to drive.  This would be his first race in a car purchased from last year’s champ.  Russ hails from nearby Gustine and prepared a good-looking machine to run as a rookie.  Wife, Kasondra said that she was probably more nervous than Russ.  As the night went along, Wullenwaber started at the rear of the fields and ran in place during the heat.  Again, starting at the rear of the feature, getting a little bolder, the car got away once plowing into one of the big implement tires that edge the infield.  Russ recovered to finish the race and related that it was much harder than expected.  Kasondra was elated that the car and her husband had finished the night in one piece.

The promoter, Tom Sagmiller and wife Cindy, were very cordial and did their best to move the show along, with the final checker falling before Ten P.M.  One of the things that I noted was the prices at the concession stand were very reasonable, probably less expensive than most any West Coast track. 

Chowchilla is another gem in the rough, which is building a program with many local racers and gaining a following of fans to fill the stands.  Hopefully, the word will get out and the crowds and competitors will find this to be a viable Friday night venue.   






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