Gene Romero’s nationally acclaimed professional championship motorcycle races will take place at Antioch Speedway for the first time on Saturday night. Both fans and drivers are anticipating a wild night of racing on the 3/8-mile high-banked clay oval.

The series, which last raced in Las Vegas, has West Coast Series champion Tony Meiring, of Tracy, preparing to race at a track he never visited – even though it is in his own “back yard.”

“I’ve been calling friends who race cars at the track to get a hint of what to expect,” Meiring said. “I’ve been racing motorcycles since I was four years old – that’s 26 years now, and I’ve never been to Antioch Speedway.”

Meiring, who races in the top “Open Pro” division, tried racing cars, but it didn’t work out.

“I’m not a car guy,” he laughed. “I’m way too brave when I have a roll cage around me.”

Driving at 90 miles an hour side by side in a pack of 16 motorcycles that are inches apart may seem extreme to most racers.

“Fitness is a big part of motorcycle racing,” Meiring added. “You’re controlling a speeding bike with your whole body.”

A personal trainer by trade, Meiring now manages a large fitness center in Tracy. His workout routine equals what is necessary for many professional sports.

“You have to be 100 per cent mentally and physically,” he explained. “A lot of daily cardio – it is necessary to get oxygen to the muscles, and to eliminate stress for mental strength.”

He follows up with weight training so he could control his Honda 450 racing bike. He also tried to keep excess weight off of his body.

“The lighter you are, the more horsepower you have,” he reasoned.

Drivers, who are coming to California from many states West of the Mississippi, are not familiar with racing on a high-banked oval like Antioch Speedway. Most tracks they race on are flat.

“There will be a whole different set-up and strategy,” Meiring explains.

“The G-forces will be intense. The speeds will be faster.”

Meiring knows no fear. He’s survived many spills during his career, the worst leaving him with a steel plate screwed to the bones in his arm.

“Spills happen – it is part of motorcycle racing,” Meiring said. “Keeping yourself fit is keeping yourself safe.”111710AntiochSpeedwayMotorcycles001lores


Antioch Speedway to Open Early

The Gene Romero West Coast Pro Championship Motorcycle Races at Antioch Speedway will begin with time trials at 5:15 p.m. The first race will be ay 7 p.m. There will be four divisions of motorcycles racing. A total of 80 motorcycles is expected. Heat races and features will take place for each division.

Practice for the drivers will take place at 4:30 p.m. The grandstand will be open at 4 p.m. for fans wishing to arrive early.

Admission is $14 for adults, $10 for children 6-12, and $8 for senior citizens. Children under six years old are admitted free. A family four pack of tickets is $40.

Secured parking is offered by the Fairgrounds for $5. Racing begins at 6:30 p.m. Antioch Speedway is located within the Contra Costa County Fairgrounds, 1201 W. 10th St. in Antioch, Calif.Gene Romero Schedule01lores







Ramie Stone (06) races the modified Matt Van Hoecke help him buy and build a decade ago. It is a winning SportMod at the track this year. (Diane Ratzlaff Photo)

By Mike Adaskaveg

Merced  Sun-Star

When Matt Van Hoecke learned he had prostate cancer, he tried to beat it like a stock car driver fighting for the lead on the way to the finish line.

There was a race every day of Matt’s life for nine years. Matt won all of them – until one day in January this year, when the odds turned on him. The former Sun-Star mailroom worker was just 60 years old by a few days when cancer grabbed the checkered flag.

Saturday night, his friends and family at Merced Speedway will remember Matt. The racing community will be racing against cancer, just like Matt did. Funds will be raised for “Relay for Life.”

“Racing kept him going – it was remarkable,” his wife, Debbie (Humbert) Van Hoecke said Tuesday. “He lived nine more years because of his love for racing. Helping drivers out was all he wanted to do. He was at the speedway for all the races – in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and right up to this year.”

Matt Van Hoecke moved to Merced from Sacramento to work at J.C. Penney Co. Soon, applied for a job and was hired at the Sun-Star. He sold ads, and settled into the mailroom, where he worked to get the paper out to its readers for 19 years

Matt Van Hoecki

Matt Van Hoeck

After his career at the Sun-Star, he opened a small shop on Childs Ave., called “Matt N’ Glass”, where he worked on boats and racecars.

“He became paralyzed from the cancer, but he wouldn’t stop working. He sold parts at the speedway.” Debbie Van Hoecke explained. “His friends in racing – he had so many of them – kept him involved for those nine years, despite his condition.”

Ramie Stone, one of those close friends, is the current point tally leader for the 2014 International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) SportMod division. Remarkably, Stone is still driving the car that was bought with Matt’s sponsorship a decade ago.

“There were times I couldn’t afford parts, and Matt bought them for me,” said Stone, the track’s multiple time champion. “He not only helped me, he helped 100s of drivers.”

Matt helped Stone and local racer Hank Silva convert a pavement car to race on the dirt of Merced Speedway. Stone came out of retirement, along with the famous car, to race in the SportMod division. Like Matt, the car is a winner – Stone driving it to victory and top finishes over many of the newer cars.

“Matt liked hard racing, but not aggressive racing. He liked the drivers he helped to be humble – ‘beat ‘em the right way’ – is what he would say,” recalled Stone. “I told him I would kill the competition with kindness.”

This weekend’s event has already filled Debbie Van Hoecke with emotion.

“I haven’t seen many of his racing friends since the funeral,” she said. “I’m already nervous. Matt would be so amazed, and thankful that the speedway would help fight cancer in his memory.”

This Weekend’s Special Event at the Speedway

            Merced Speedway will honor Matt Van Hoecke with extra distance races for four divisions of stock cars. Fans and racers will be asked for donations to “Relay for Life”. Special T-Shirts and a 50/50 raffle will help raise funds for the organization.

There will be extra purse money for all divisions. The IMCA Modifieds, IMCA SportMods, and Hobby Stocks will race in 40 lap features. The Mini Stock feature event will be 20 laps.

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.