MERCED SPEEDWAY: DWARF INVASION; FREITAS LONGSHOT OVER PAUL STONE IN IMCA MODIFIEDS

A full field of dwarf cars from California and Nevada is expected at Merced Speedway Saturday night.

A full field of dwarf cars from California and Nevada is expected at Merced Speedway Saturday night.

By Mike Adaskaveg

Merced Sun Star

There will be a Dwarf Car invasion at Merced Speedway, and Gene “Punky” Pires of Los Banos will be leading the charge.

Pires, like the majority of the tiny Dwarf Car drivers, has never raced at the quarter mile dirt track. With cars and drivers from as far away as San Diego and Nevada expected on Saturday, Pires will have plenty of competition.

Punky Pires

Punky Pires

“Dwarf car drivers are like one big family,” Pires explains about the people behind the steering wheels of the little cars capable of speeds up to 100 mph. “Everyone helps eachother prepare for the race. Competition is always close, that is one of the major attractions to driving this type of car.”

Pires is president of South Bay Dwarf Cars, a club boasting 34 members. Other California clubs have similar counts in their membership rosters. The drivers compete at a wide variety of racetracks in the Western states.

“With hardly anyone having experienced Merced Speedway, there will be a scramble to set up suspension on the cars after hot laps,” Pires continues. “These little cars are one of the toughest race cars to drive. They’re twitchy – they respond quickly to the track and driver because of their short wheelbase.”

Big 1,000 cc motorcycle engines power the little cars. They blast through the turns of dirt tracks four abreast, providing a thrilling experience for drivers and fans.

Pires has been behind the wheel of his dwarf cars for 11 years. He learned about the cars from an employee, and found them to be an affordable vehicle to race.

“They look small, but they are roomy enough for a full sized driver,” says Pires of the Dwarf Cars. “They provide all the thrills and more that you would expect from auto racing. They are a whole lot of fun.”

Rodney Freitas (25) is the reigning track champion in the IMCA modified division. He races Karl Rose. Both drivers have given Paul Stone a run for the money this year, but Stone has a healthy lead in the IMCA modifieds.

Rodney Freitas (25) is the reigning track champion in the IMCA modified division. He races Karl Rose. Both drivers have given Paul Stone a run for the money this year, but Stone has a healthy lead in the IMCA modifieds.

IMCA “Modifieds”, Hobby Stocks and Valley Sportsman Saturday Night

The winged retro cars of the Valley Sportsman division join the Dwarf Cars in headlining Saturday night’s Merced Speedway four-division program. Each class of cars will have qualifying races and a feature event.

Mike Henault of LaGrange leads Merced’s Tim Prothro by a mere five points in the championship battle for the Valley Sportsman Division. Newcomer Marcus Lung is in the hunt for the championship, 24 points out of first. He’s driving the sportsman owned by his dad, Jim, of Mariposa, raced in the 1970s.

The battle of the season is taking place in the Merced Speedway Hobby Stock division. Raul Rodriguez of Merced is barely ahead of Los Banos schoolteacher Kristie Shearer, who trails by seven points in championship points.

In the IMCA modified stock car division, Paul Stone of Winton is well on the way to accomplishing his goal of winning the track championship. Defending champion Rodney Freitas of Merced is 31 points out of the lead.

“There’s not 31 points to be had in the three nights of racing left for IMCA modifieds,” lamented defending champion Freitas. “Stone would have to miss a race for me to be able to win the championship. I’ll fight for second.”

Jeff Streeter of Chowchilla is 18 points behind Freitas in third place.

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. A family four-pack of tickets admits two children and two adults for $30.

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

 

HOGGE IV STARS IN DODGE LATE MODEL; THEN TAKES MODIFIED MAIN

Bobby Hogge (0) took the Ssoared in the Soares Longhorn Dodge Late Model, fighting off Jeff Decker (84) in the high-speed thriller.

Bobby Hogge (0) took the Ssoared in the Soares Longhorn Dodge Late Model, fighting off Jeff Decker (84) in the high-speed thriller.

Bobby Hogge IV of Salinas starred in both Northern All Star feature events Saturday night at Antioch Speedway. Hogge won the 25 lap main event for late model stock cars, and then went on to win the 50 lap special event for “modifieds”.

Bobby Hogge IV

Bobby Hogge IV

A statement was made as Hogge IV drove a Dodge to victory in a field of California’s best Chevrolet powered stock cars. It has been many years since a Dodge powered car has won.

“What else can I say,” Hogge IV said in victory lane. “First night out for this car and it was that good.”

Hogge IV, with a family history of racing excellence, is driving a new Dodge powered late model stock car owned by former NASCAR driver John Soares, Jr. Soares and his late father were both legendary Californian Dodge drivers in NASCAR’s top division from the 1950’s through 1980’s.

Soares bought a brand new 2014 chassis made by Longhorn – a company founded by NASCAR legends Terry and Bobby Labonte. Hogge IV built the shocks package for the car and worked with Soares, who set up car’s suspension for Antioch Speedway. Local engine builder Skip Govea of Hayward built the 800-plus horsepower Dodge power plant for the car.

Hogge IV’s win was not without challenges. Early leader Paul Guglielmoni of Vacaville held off Challenges from Richard Papenhausen, Jeff Decker, and Troy Foulger as Hogge IV joined in the fray.

When Hogge IV grabbed the lead, Decker, from Morgan Hill, took up the chase. He was at Hogge IV’s back bumper in the final moments of the 25-lap feature.

“My car started to shut off every time I let off on the throttle,” Decker explained. “I think I could have caught him if I did not have that problem.”

It was Chico’s Papenhausen, Foulger of Martinez, and Guglielmoni crossing the finish line right behind Decker.

Hogge IV passes Megan Ponciano in the 50 lap IMCA modified main event.

Hogge IV passes Megan Ponciano in the 50 lap IMCA modified main event.

Hogge IV Again in “Modified” Division

            The 50 lap modified division feature event was divided into two 25-lap segments. The second segment went non-stop, with Hogge IV continuing his lead from before the break.

“I put it on cruise mode for the first 25 laps, keeping the car on the bottom where there was some moisture,” Hogge IV. “The second half of the race I spent looking ahead to slow moving traffic. The drivers were good in letting the faster cars by.”

Hogge iV was looking ahead because four-time champ Troy Foulger was honing in on his lead. Foulger followed Hogge IV for the last half of the race.

“Bobby has a few laps around this place,” Foulger laughed. “He got through the traffic pretty freely. I tried to stay close to him. I was looking for that chance to pass him – I was staying snug to the center of the track. One of these day’s I’ll get him.”

Brian Cass of Livermore came on strong late in the race to close the gap between he and Foulger. Papenhausen followed for fourth. Shawn DeForest of Livermore, who won the last all-star race, finished fifth.

Top Notch  - modified competitors Shawn DeForest (72) and Richard Papenhausen battle it out.

Top Notch – modified competitors Shawn DeForest (72) and Richard Papenhausen battle it out.

Hoff Wins in IMCA SportMods, Then Destroys Car

Jeremy Hoff and the first turn of Antioch Speedway didn’t get along on Saturday night. Hoff, in the lead on the white flag lap of the feature event for IMCA Sport Mods, tangled with his dad, Scotty, sending his car into the exit lane guardrail.

The race was red flagged, and Jeremy Hoff declared the winner.

After winning the IMCA SportMod feature, Jeremy Hoff advanced to the IMCA modified feature, only to nearly destroy his car with an airborn hit to the first turn wall.

After winning the IMCA SportMod feature, Jeremy Hoff advanced to the IMCA modified feature, only to nearly destroy his car with an airborn hit to the first turn wall. He was not injured.

Fred Ryland of Brentwood was second.

“Cars were all over the place on the track,” Ryland said. “I was trying more to avoid contact than to go fast.”

Fred Ryland (7) passes Rob Gallaher.

Fred Ryland (7) passes Rob Gallaher.

Hoff found it hard to enjoy his win.

“It is hard to be happy when you put your father out of the race,” he said.

Hoff and several other SportMod drivers opted to join the Northern All Star modified field. On the first lap he hit the first turn wall, destroying his winning car.

Brent Curran outside of Jordan Swank (73) on the backstretch.

Brent Curran outside of Jordan Swank (73) on the backstretch.

Curran Takes Fourth “Four Banger” Win

Brent Curran of Antioch scored his fourth win of the season in the “Four Banger division for four-cylinder street cars.

“It was rough early in the race,” he said standing next to his damaged, steaming radiator. “It overheated with six laps to go. I didn’t think I would make it.”

Jordan Swank, finishing in second, battled Curran most of the feature. Michael Christopher, Janelle Barlow and Tayler Swank rounded out the top five.

Early feature leader Paul Guglielmoni (22) battled Troy Foulger (49) throughout the feature.

Early feature leader Paul Guglielmoni (22) battled Troy Foulger (49) throughout the feature.The late Models return on Saturday night!