By Mike Adaskaveg
When Les Friend of Galt won his first race ever in IMCA modified stock car competition Saturday night at Merced Speedway, he had no idea who the driver was that challenged him at the finish line.
“I always dreamed of driving a modified and racing against the big names – Bobby Hogge, IV, Paul Stone, Scott Busby,” said Friend, whose first race was at Merced just two months earlier. “I didn’t know who was trying to pass me until after the race.”
That driver trying to pass Friend would be Merced Speedway champ and Valley racing legend Paul Stone, driving a friend’s car because his was destroyed in Arizona a few weeks earlier.
“I never met Paul Stone, and I knew it wasn’t the car he drives that was on my tail,” laughed Friend on Sunday, as he hoisted his trophy at his birthday party. “When he shook my hand I still didn’t know that was him.”
Stone, from Winton, was invited to drive the car owned by Merced’s Jack Mounce and Will Davis.
“I was going crazy not being able to drive,” Stone laughed. “I could only take sitting on the couch so long.”
Stone came from the back of the pack to get behind Friend with five laps to go. That’s when the steering box failed on the car, and Stone was forced to strong arm the steering wheel all the way to the finish line.
“I was worn out by the last lap, “ Stone explained. “I used every bit of strength I had left to try to make a clean pass going to the checkered flag.”
Stone had the fans cheering louder than the sounds of the cars.
“I just couldn’t pass him clean, and I didn’t want to chance wrecking him or me,” Stone said. “Better being second than wrecking.”
Friend’s birthday party was in full swing with the win.
“I’m pretty stoked. It’s my birthday and all my family was able to see me get my first win ever,” Friend said. “This is a dream come true. I’ve raced all kinds of cars and always had the modified division as my goal. The road to this win took 26 years, and it was well worth it.”
Fred Ryland Eying National Top Spot
Fred Ryland of Brentwood and Keith Brown, Jr. of Pittsburg thrilled the crowd as they battled side by side for most of the IMCA SportMod feature event, with Ryland making his move from the top of the track with two laps to go. Ryland is second in IMCA national points, and he’s out to be the first Californian to win the title.
“The bottom of the track was greasy – a real tough place for me to run,” Ryland said in victory lane. “Keith (Brown, Jr.) was protecting it, so I had no choice but to take him from the outside.”
Ryland worked his magic lap after lap, getting along side Brown, Jr. several times while riding the outside cushion. Finally, he was able to nip Brown in the turn.
“I lost a left rear spring with eight laps to go,” Brown, Jr. said in victory lane. “That amplified any mistake I made. I couldn’t make a single bad move on the track without loosing momentum.”
Brown kept it up for the remainder of the race, showing his skill in running the same line.
“Just that little bit of lost momentum – that tenth of a second – made the difference between winning and finishing second,” Brown said.
Kevin Joaquin of Sonora has a Hobby Stock that he says runs like “a Timex”. Joaquin won the Hobby Stock main event handily. Mike Hynes traveled all the way from Suisun to win in the Limited Late Model Division, and ended the winning streak of Antioch’s Mark Garner.