Merced Speedway: Back from Break with Big Show on Saturday May 30! Nick Tucker: From Wrench to Driver

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Nick Tucker in action at Merced Speedway.

By Mike Adaskaveg

Merced Sun Star

When Nick Tucker of Hilmar was just a toddler, his dad Gary immersed him into the world of stock car racing. Always a helper, he made the transition to driver last year and now competes in the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) SportMod division at Merced Speedway.

“I was a little bitty guy – helping the big guys back in the ‘80’s,” Tucker smiled as he was preparing his car in the Merced pit area. “Then, as I grew up in racing, I was always the ‘wrencher’ (crew member), not the driver.”

Tucker.jpg    The IMCA SportMods will be part of the Merced Speedway program Saturday night, as the speedway returns to action from its holiday break. Tucker races his SportMod whenever his work schedule at Hilmar Cheese allows the time.

“I’m hoping to be in twice as many races this season,” Tucker added. “It was a long road to being a driver.”

That long road included a move to Arizona 15 years ago. Once there, he continued to feed his racing appetite at Casa Grande Speedway, a dirt track similar to the tracks back home – Merced and Chowchilla Speedways.

“The best thing about Arizona was meeting my wife, Nicole Harrison, at the race track,” Tucker said. “She was good with my needing to be part of the racing scene.”

The couple has three children – Makenna, 10; Payten, 8; and Brody, 2. They left Arizona to return to the Valley.

“This is where I came from, and the family loves it here,” Tucker continued. “Now, Brody follows every footstep I make with a wrench and screwdriver in his hands, just like I followed his grandfather years ago.”

Expanded Program, Big Field Expected

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Darren Miguel (86) and Chris Corder are always in a heated battle in the Mini-Stock division. (Photo by Mark Brooks, Track Photographer)

Merced Speedway’s sister tracks are dark this weekend, meaning visiting drivers will be making their way to the quarter-mile clay track this weekend. Joining the SportMods will be the IMCA Modified stock cars, Limited late Models, Hobby Stocks and Mini-Stocks.

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The Leading Women At Merced Speedway – Kristie Shearer (73) and Shannon Nelson (67) battle it out in the last Hobby Stock feature. Shearer won, with Nelson taking third. ( Photo by Mark Brooks, Track Photographer)

Darren Miguel of Merced continued his winning ways in the last Merced Speedway Mini-Stock feature. Miguel’s archrival, Chris Corder of Modesto was second in that feature. Kristie Shearer stopped streaking Kevin Joaquin in the last Hobby Stock feature. Joaquin, still holding the lead in the season’s points, was second in the feature, with Shannon Nelson of Turlock finishing third.

Rookie Josh Hensley proved he is a force to be reckoned with the IMCA SportMod class, as he picked up a win in the event two weeks ago, topping Shawn Bryant of Los Banos and IMCA national contender Keith Brown of Pittsburg.

Antioch drivers are expected to compete in the IMCA Modified and Northern All Stars Limited Late Model divisions – since that speedway is closed for fair weekend. Mark Garner of Antioch leads the Limited Late Model division point standings at Merced, with Mariposa’s Buddy Thatcher in second and more than 100 points out.

Atwater’s Bill Egleston, a former Merced Speedway track champ, is only seven points away from the top spot in the IMCA Modified class. Antioch’s John MacDougall is trying to maintain the lead he grabbed with an early season win.

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IMCA SportMod point leader and feature winner Josh Hensley. (Photo by Mark Brooks, Track Photographer)

Merced Speedway is located inside the Merced County Fairgrounds, 900 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in Merced, Calif. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for senior citizens and $8 for children 6-12. A family four-pack of tickets admits two children and two adults for $32. Racing begins at 7 p.m. The grandstand opens at 5 p.m.

 

 

 

Antioch Speedway: Jake Haulot, Kyle Bakkie, Jeff Thomas and Mike Gustafson with Commanding Wins; Kimo Oreta Surprise Victor

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Jeff Thomas (07) takes the inside as he passes Bobby Motts in IMCA Modified competition. Thomas was back with an old engine after breaking down twice in his last two Antioch outings. The old engine propelled him to a wire-to-wire run! (Photo by Paul Gould, Track Photographer) 

Young drivers Jake Haulot of Cotati and UC Davis student Kyle Bakkie shared the sprint car winner’s circle Saturday night at Antioch Speedway. Haulot led start to finish in the Northern All Stars Winged 360 Sprint Car division, with veteran driver Art McCarthy of San Jose chasing. A long time driver also chased Bakkie, as Roy Fisher finished second in the Econo 360 Sprint Car division.

Jeff Thomas of Petaluma came back to Antioch Speedway after his new engine failed two weeks ago, installing old engine to win the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) modified feature event. He also led the race from pole to checkered flag. Kimo Oreta of Vacaville scored his fourth win of the year in the Hobby Stock Division and veteran driver Mike Gustafson was victorious in the Limited Late Model Division.

Haulot Hauls

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Jake Haulot of Cotati scored his first winged 360 win.

            “I had a broken torsion bracket in the front end, and had all I could do to hold on to the car,” Haulot said of his first win at Antioch Speedway. “The track was so fast, I was worried that someone would catch me.”

That someone would be cagey veteran Art McCarthy.

“I’ve been around long enough to see the kid had something broken on his sprint car – I could see his wheel hanging,” McCarthy said. “Experience told me to stay behind him. No sense losing both cars if something went wrong while I tried to pass him.”

Third place Shawn Arriaga of Antioch was in the mix, and had a big smile on his face after the main event.

“We were fast tonight – everyone was,” he said. “It was a thrilling night and a great finish for us.”

Fourth place finisher Chris Magoon of Oakley echoed the thrills.

“The track was so smooth and so fast, it took the breath right out of me,” he laughed. “It is quite an experience to feel that much speed.”

Chase Wood of Milpitas brought home fifth.

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More exciting than the Vancouver Canucks and the Calgary Flames combined! Fourth place Winged 360 finisher Shawn Arriaga signs autographs for Canadian fans from B.C. and Alberta. They will be back! 

Bakkie Back for Another Win

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Kyle Bakkie takes the high groove as he wards off Roy Fisher (21) and passes David Dias. (Photo by Paul Gould, Track Photographer)

 

            Student Bakkie took a break from his studies to make continue his A+ season at Antioch. His third win of the year, backed up with all top five finishes make him the racer to beat in the Econo 360 Wingless Sprint Car division.

It did not look as though Bakkie would win because former San Francisco 49ers pro Jeremy Newberry of Brentwood led the first 14 laps of the race. Newberry was sidelined when it looked like he would have his first Antioch Wingless Sprint car win.

“The car had some damage unknown to me when it came in contact with another car in practice,” Newberry explained. “On the fourteenth lap, the rear axle tube came apart.”

“I was able to stay ahead but I knew there were some experienced drivers behind me.

Fisher and Rick Panfilli of Antioch were right there, waiting to make a move. Discovery Bay’s Ricky Brophy IV and Chase Wood, Jr. followed to complete the top five.

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While Jeff Thomas was driving like he stole it, Carl Berendsen was flying the Golden State Warriors colors. Kellen Chadwick, was too, though the gold was a shade off!. (Photo by Paul Gould, Track Photographer) 

No Game for Thomas 

            It was no game for Jeff Thomas of Petaluma, one of the developers of the Grand Theft Auto video game, as he was all business in leading the IMCA Modified race from start to finish. Thomas had been denied victory while leading by failing engines on his previous two Antioch outings this season.

“I had no engines left but this eight year old one that I put in the car for tonight’s race,” a happy Thomas said in victory lane. “It proved to be just right – and it lasted the whole night.”

Kyle Wilson of Salinas had his best run of the season as he chased Thomas.

“I was waiting for him (Thomas) to bobble,” Wilson said. “But, it never happened.”

California legend Scott Busby of Martinez was third, with Oakley’s Kellen Chadwick fourth. Michael Salazar of Antioch rounded out the top five.

Kimo is King in Hobby Stocks

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Kimo Oreta (03) snatched the win in Hobby Stock main when Robert Niven (69) and Tony Jennings made contact.                                                           (Photo by Paul Gould Track Photographer)

 

“I didn’t think I was going to win tonight,” admitted Oreta. “I worked my way from the back up to third and watched the battle for first.

That was when the cars of Pittsburg’s Tony Jennings and Robert Niven of Concord came together and spun out. Oreta found himself in first.

“A win is a win,” Oreta said. “No matter how surprising it is.”

Brentwood’s Brad Myers was second, followed by Jordan Swank of Concord, then Jennings and Niven.

 

Gustafson Great in Limited Late Models

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Driving the perfect line, like he has done year after year, Mike Gustafson brought home another win in the Limited Late Model Division. (Photo by Paul Gould, Track Photographer)

            Mike Gustafson of Concord won his second Limited Late Model feature of the year, topping Jim Freethy of Danville, and Vallejo’s Larry Damitz. Mark Garner of Antioch was fourth, chased by Mike Hynes of Suisun City.

Antioch Speedway on Memorial Day Break

            Antioch Speedway will be closed for two weeks, with the next event being on June 6, when IMCA Modifieds, Winged 360 Sprint Cars and Econo 360 Wingless Sprint cars again headline the show. Limited Late Models and Hobby Stocks will complete the five-division card.

Young drivers Jake Haulot of Cotati and UC Davis student Kyle Bakkie shared the sprint car winner’s circle Saturday night at Antioch Speedway. Haulot led start to finish in the Northern All Stars Winged 360 Sprint Car division, with veteran driver Art McCarthy of San Jose chasing. A long time driver also chased Bakkie, as Roy Fisher finished second in the Econo 360 Sprint Car division.

Jeff Thomas of Petaluma came back to Antioch Speedway after his new engine failed two weeks ago, installing old engine to win the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) modified feature event. He also led the race from pole to checkered flag. Kimo Oreta of Vacaville scored his fourth win of the year in the Hobby Stock Division and veteran driver Mike Gustafson was victorious in the Limited Late Model Division.

 

Merced Speedway: Darren Miguel Winning and Having Fun in Rookie Season

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Darren Miguel

By Mike Adaskaveg

Merced Sun-Star

When it comes to being a winning stock car driver, Darren Miguel calls himself a “late bloomer.” Miguel, from Ballico, is riding high on his rookie season success at Merced Speedway.

Saturday night, Miguel will leave his day job in almond processing far behind when he dons a fire suit and helmet to hop into his ’94 Acura Integra at the quarter-mile clay track.

“I always wanted to drive a race car, but never had the opportunity,” Miguel, 28, explains. It was his cousin, Josh Hensley, who gave him a shot at being behind the wheel late last season.

“Once I strapped in, I was hooked,” Miguel says. “I bought the Integra, stripped it down over the winter and made it into s race car.”

Miguel is racing and winning in the highly competitive Mini-Stock Division at the speedway. It is an entry-level class of compact four-cylinder powered cars affordable to just about anyone who wants to try racing.

Hensley and Miguel’s cars carry the number “86”, a number which has been in the family for three generations of Merced Speedway racers.

“Having that number is a legacy for our family,” Miguel points out. “It is the number that gives us luck.”

Miguel is riding second in the point tally that determines the track champion. He’s just eight points behind Modesto’s Chris Corder, a veteran Mini-Stock driver.

“Even though we are rivals for the Mini Stock championship, we talk on the phone a couple of times a week,” Miguel says. “He offers me advice – he knows I am new to the sport.”

Miguel has a crew comprised of family members helping him work on the car during the week and performing pit duties at the track. In the stands are his brothers, sisters and cousins to cheer him on.

“I look forward to Saturday night,” Miguel says. “It is exciting to race and hear the cheers of the crowd. I can’t thank my family enough for their help and for their support.”

When Hensley moved up from the Hobby Stock division to the IMCA Sport mod division this season, it opened up a second opportunity for Miguel. He put an exclamation point on his rookie season when he jumped into Hensley’s Hobby Stock car and won the feature on the his first night out.

“I’ll be driving the Hobby Stock again,” Miguel adds. “And, I’ll be definitely chasing the championship in the Mini-Stock Division.

Two Classes of IMCA Racing Saturday Night

The International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) Modified and Sport Mod classes will headline Saturday night’s program at Merced Speedway.

The Northern All Star Limited Late Model Stock Car division will visit Merced to continue the challenge between the drivers of Antioch Speedway and Merced Speedway. Along with the other three classes of cars, the Hobby Stock and Mini Stock divisions will each compete in a complete program of qualification races and a feature event.

Merced Speedway is located inside the Merced County Fairgrounds; 900 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in Merced, Calif. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for senior citizens and $8 for children 6-12. A family four-pack of tickets admits two children and two adults for $32.

Racing begins at 7 p.m. The grandstand opens at 5 p.m.