Early Saturday morning the 26th of June, 2010 I was at the Chowchilla Speedway meeting with our race director going over the schedule of events for the BCRA race. I left the dirt track in route to the Madera Speedway to meet with our track manager to go over the details we had planned for the stunt show, fireworks and race activities for the Southwest Tour event.
I merged onto highway 99 and changed the radio station to one of the channels I prefer, after a rockin country song by Jason Aldean I heard a bang and then a booming voice “ladies and gentleman, looking for a great way to celebrate the 4th? How about doing it a week early at the Madera Speedway” as the radio spot continued my mind drifted thinking about plans we had for the evening, then to the fact that my favorite race car would be racing in the tour race that night, then back to entertainment plans for the evening.
Before I knew it I was at the Cleveland off ramp in central Madera, as I got to the end of the ramp I looked over to the race track and I could see the big haulers lined up one after another. I pulled into my parking space and went to the office for our meeting, after which I went for a walk in the pits. This was about the same time the Southwest Tour cars started their first practice.
When the tour cars finished their practice there were twenty five cars lined up on pit road. I walked pit to pit visiting old friends from the NASCAR touring days and meeting some of the young hot shot drivers from the new era.
One thing that really stuck out was the amount of local drivers that have moved up to the tour, most of these drivers I saw come up in late models, drivers like Jacob Gomes, Ross Strmiska, Kyle Gottula, Justin Philpott, Justin Westmorland, and Carlos Vieira.
I walked up to the number twenty car of Jarod Vorse and even though the car had a new number and a different look I could still tell it was one of my favorite races cars of all time.
I stuck my head inside the car and saw familiar bars and sheet metal patterns. This was the same race car I led about three quarters of the race in at Infineon Raceway in 2002, I ended up second that day only because of a right front tire going down in the closing laps.
Here is a side note on that event, Mike Kanke pulled a Watkins back up engine out of his hauler and we put it in my race car after I blew my engine up in the final practice.
Mike was leading the race as I was working my way past everyone on the race track going towards the front, I passed Kevin Harvick, Robby Gordon, Eric Holmes and Paul Menard to name a few on the way to the front. Mike had an engine or ignition problem, I don’t recall which it was, but he was going to be tough to get the lead from. I had just taken second place when Mike gave me lead as he pulled into the pits. Mike is a class act and is a good example of the character of these drivers.
I was standing by the number twenty tour car and I looked across the pit lane and there sat the number seventy two LunkerDaddy late model driven by Kenneth Johnson. That car has the roll cage in it from my second favorite tour car I owned, it was the car I finished second to Kurt Busch on the Southwest Tour points championship. I wrecked that tour car at PIR, and it sat in my shop until I gave it to the young driver to help him get out to the track.
I will fast forward to the big part of the June 26th show. It all began with the LunkerDaddy late model main event as they warmed up the crowd with some great racing action that included a three wide pass or two. Matt Erickson won with an impressive back to front drive.
Wild Wayne the announcer had the crowd fired up as the stunt driver went airborne upside down in the roll over stunt, then as they were cleaning up the accident scene twenty five SRL Southwest Tour cars lined up at the start/finish line.
As soon as the last car was parked and the lights were turned off, the words “American Girls and American Guys we’ll always stand up and salute, we’ll always recognize, when we see Old Glory Flying” came flowing out of the speakers. When the song got to “We lit up your world like the 4th of July” we tried to set to sky on fire with our fireworks show, I knew what was coming and I was still impressed!
The fireworks display ended and the spectacular new Spears stage was put in place for driver introductions, after introductions it was time for the lap4littleones.com 125. What a race it was, the cars flew around the third mile of Madera Speedway nose to tail.
Thomas Martin held the lead for most of the race, talk about a driver that can make a low buck car fly! I gave him an old pair of headers many years ago he used for his first race at PIR, the headers were about five years out of date at the time, but he qualified up front with a car that was pieced together from old hand me down parts.
Auggie Vidovich fought his way past Martin, then it was M.K. Kanke, Eric Holmes, and Jim Pettit that got past Martin. Kanke looked to be the man that was going to fight Vidovich for the win, but his car broke with a few laps remaining in the race (sorry Mike, it must have been the combination of my favorite race car on the track and my memories flowing from Sear Point?). It was Holmes that took the lead with Pettit right on his back bumper. Holmes got to the checkered flag first with Pettit behind him. Holmes was disqualified in post race tech causing another lead change giving Pettit the win.
I watched the Southwest Tour with a pounding heart in my chest, the memories flowing like white water down a river, and with the visual of the stunt jump and fireworks fresh in the mind I knew we had just seen a show that would stick in the memory banks for a long time to come.
I walked to the front gate to say thank you to the fans as they left the speedway. The smiles I saw, the “great show” comments, the high fives and hand shakes confirmed what I felt we had just witnessed. One fan that has been to just about every Southwest Tour race in history summed the night up well, “It seamed like you were trying to outdo the Collins Family, and the Collins Family was trying to outdo you, and the fans got the show of a lifetime!”
Other comments I heard were “we have never been to a race before, and that was a great time.” Another one was “we normally go to the baseball games, but we heard the commercial and decided to give this a try, great show and great fun!” These are gold to the ears of a guy trying to help our sport get back to headline status.
As I finish writing this, I’m thinking, how can we make the September 25th Southwest Tour event at Madera bigger and better than this one was? It will be tough, but we will do it.
See you at the races – Kenny Shepherd