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
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.