Ronnie Cole and Frank Cole - the father and son team will be competing in the Mini-Stock and Late Model

Ronnie Cole and Frank Cole – the father and son team will be competing in the Mini-Stock and Late Model and Mini Stock divisions Sat. Night.

By Mike Adaskaveg

Merced Sun-Star

Last Saturday’s feature win in the Merced Speedway “Mini-Stock” division was a personal milestone in the young sports career of Mariposa High School sophomore Ronnie Cole.

“I had nothing but bad luck the last couple of years,” the 16-year-old explained when talking of his baseball and racing careers. “Winning changed things. It finally happened.”

Cole broke his hand playing baseball and will put that career on hold for another year. He hopes to try out for the high school team again next season.

The broken hand curtailed his racing endeavor. When he came back in the fall he had a new car and was running in second place in the feature event- until his car’s rear axle broke.

On Saturday, Cole beat his bad luck by installing a new engine in his Acura Integra at the last minute. He and dad Frank were working on the car right up to race time.

“I’ll have more time to concentrate on racing this year,” he explained. “The win took the monkey off my back. I feel confident now – we have a win, and I’m looking for more wins.”

Cole raced go-karts when he was “a kid” and started racing in the four-cylinder, front will drive, “Mini-Stock” division at the speedway three seasons ago. His best finish prior to the win was a third-place finish before he broke his hand.

The only student racing stock cars at his high school, Cole has begun to have a following. A teacher and several students have attended the races at Merced Speedway to cheer for him and his racecar, numbered 2x.

Cole would like to see more high school students racing at the track instead of on the streets.

“I don’t see any street racing up here (in Mariposa) but in some of the Valley cities it is popular,” Cole said. “It is much more  fun and safer to race on a track, with the proper safety equipment installed. It would be great to have more competition from people my age.”

One friend Cole races against is 15-year-old Alisa Caldwell of Turlock. Cole, who wants to make a profession as an automotive technician, has helped Caldwell in her racing endeavor. When he moves up a division, he will offer his “Mini-Stock” for her to drive.

Soon, Ronnie Cole will be behind the wheel of one of dad Frank’s more powerful, rear-wheel drive racecars. He may even drive his father’s stock car this Saturday night.

“I’m ready,” Ronnie Cole said. “I’ve practiced in his street stock and drove his modified stock car. I have experience with rear wheel drive cars from racing go-karts all those years.”


Late Model Stock Cars and Easter egg Hunt Featured Saturday Night

            The powerful late model stock cars – full bodied cars that race at special events throughout the season – will visit Merced Speedway for the first time as they share the spotlight Saturday night (April 19) with the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) SportMod division.

Local drivers Frank Cole of Mariposa and Randy Brown of Chowchilla will field cars in the event. Jeff Decker of Morgan Hill is the man to beat in the division, coming off of a win at sister track Antioch Speedway last week.

Also competing with a full program of qualification races and feature events will be the Hobby Stock and Mini-Stock divisions.

Ronnie Cole will try to make it two in a row in the Mini-Stocks, and Winton’s Josh Hensley, who has won two weeks in a row in the Hobby Stock division, will try to keep his streak alive. Ramie Stone of Winton leads in points in the SportMod division, and he will be trying for his second win of the season

The Easter Bunny will hand out candy to children and there will be an Easter egg hunt in the infield of the speedway as part of Saturday night’s program.

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 $5 for children 6-12. Family pack of two kids, two adults is $30. Racing begins at 7 p.m. The grandstand opens at 5 p.m.



Dean DeVolder rolled his new modified at the start of the Northern All Star Main event. He was o.k. after being checked by EMTS

Dean DeVolder rolled his new modified at the start of the Northern All Star Main event. He was o.k. after being checked by EMTS

Bobby Hogge IV, of Salinas, proved again that he is the master of the 3/8 mile Antioch Speedway clay oval as he out-dueled rival Kellen Chadwick of Oakley in the 20 car Northern All Star Modified Stock Car feature event Saturday night. Hogge IV is undefeated this year in the elite series.

With the high-banked oval still seeping moisture from the spring rains, drivers were faced with a choice of riding high on the track for better traction or staying low where it was smooth. With 12 laps to go, a restart after a caution flag saw Chadwick out-power Hogge IV down the front stretch to steal the lead.

Kellen Chadwick (83) pulled ahead of Bobby Hogge IV on  a lap 12 restart.  But, Hogge got him back on the next restart.

Kellen Chadwick (83) pulled ahead of Bobby Hogge IV (2) on a lap 12 restart. But, Hogge IV  got him back on the next restart.

Two laps later, another caution flag gave Hogge IV a chance to take back what was his.

“The track was so rough up on top, I decided to keep the car pinned on the bottom,” Hogge IV explained in victory lane. “If you can beat the guy next to you to the first turn, you can choose whatever lane you want.”

Hogge IV did just that on the second restart.

“I thought I would have better traction at the top of the track,” Chadwick said. “That last caution did me in. I didn’t clear him (Hogge IV) enough to get in front of him. He took the bottom of the track away from me.”

Duane Cleveland of Plumas Lake was right behind Chadwick, fighting off challenges from four-time Antioch Speedway track champ Troy Foulger, who finished fourth. Nick DeCarlo of Martinez rounded out the top five.

Jeff Decker was masterful in having his car prepared to ride smooth on a rough track.

Jeff Decker was masterful in having his car prepared to ride smooth on a rough track. He won the Northern All Star Late Model feature. 

Decker Untouchable

Jeff Decker of Morgan Hill had the smoothest running car in the Northern All Star Late model feature event and he easily cruised to victory.  His only challenger, Richard Papenahusen of Chico, spun coming out of the second turn early in the race.

Papenhausen was second at the line but was far behind Decker.

“When I realized it was going to be a rough track, I made changes to ‘free-up’ the suspension so the car would not have as much forward traction,” Decker explained.

Decker’s technical expertise gave him the advantage over his competitors. Papenhausen, also with a well handling car, finished second. The remainder of the field struggled with the rough track surface.

Larry Damitz (15) battles Cecil Henry for the lead.

Larry Damitz (15) battles Cecil Henry for the lead in the Limited Late Model Division.


Damitz Celebrates Another First

            Larry Damitz of Vallejo, the oldest driver in the United States continuously racing in a competitive division, proved he’s still a force to contend with at age 85. He won his first feature of the 2014 season in the Limited Late Model division.

Damitz began his racing career in 1952, and credits his daily exercise and workout routine in keeping himself fit.

Larry Damitz - winning since 1952!

Larry Damitz – winning since 1952!

“I’m happy being here and being able to race,” Damitz said in victory lane after topping a field of drivers whose parents were children when he started racing.

Damitz uses leaf springs in his stock car.

“They are far more forgiving on a rough track,” he explained.

Second place Cecil Henry of Oakley congratulated Damitz after a hard fought battle.

“It is great racing with you,” Henry said to Damitz. “It is the ultimate honor to be beaten by Larry Damitz.”

Former pavement stock car driver Peggy Sue Jarred of Stockton had her best finish on dirt in taking third. Jarred converted her heavier pavement car to a dirt car, which puts her at a slight disadvantage when competing with the Antioch regulars.

Fill-in McCown Takes Hobby Stock win

            Dan McCown of Oakley hasn’t driven a Hobby Stock in three years. He’s been busy as crew chief of daughter Megan Ponciano’s SportMod. Since her class wasn’t running this week and Oakley neighbor Steve Rogers was sick, he jumped at the chance when Rogers offered him a “ride.”

Dan McCown

Dan McCown

McCown, a retired machinist, fought off Kimo Oreta of Vacaville and Patti Ryland of Brentwood in a closely contested race. The leaders weaved through lapped traffic at the finish testing each other’s skills.

“All I needed was a few more laps,” third place Ryland laughed in victory lane. “It is so frustrating to be right there, with no chance to pass Kimo.”

Oreta was disappointed with second – mainly because he wanted a special win.

“It is my daughter’s birthday. She wanted me to win, but second two weeks in a row is not a bad thing,” said Oreta.

“Four-Banger” Mentor Wins First Main Event

When Carlos Gonzalez of Bethel Island pulled into victory lane, second place Brent Curran of Antioch ran up to him and gave him a big hug.

“He’s my mentor. He gave me pointers last year when I was a rookie,” Curran explained as he told Gonzalez he was proud of him.

Despite five years of trying, Gonzalez had never won a race. Yet, he had helped previous victors, like Curran become winners.

“It’s my first first-place,” were the only words Gonzalez could utter in the emotional win. “I am so happy.”

And so was Curran.

Brent Curran (89) raced his mentor Carlos Gonzalez right to the finish in the "Four-Banger" main event.

Brent Curran (89) raced his mentor Carlos Gonzalez right to the finish in the “Four-Banger” main event.

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