Merced, CA…There’s just one event left on the 2018 schedule at Merced Speedway, and it is a big show. This Friday and Saturday night, the track will have the Third Annual John Fore Jr Memorial Dirt Track Nationals. Four divisions will be competing during the weekend, including the IMCA Sport Modifieds, IMCA Modifieds, Hobby Stocks and Mini Stocks.
This race was added to the 2016 schedule after John Fore Jr died in an unfortunate work-related accident in March of that year. Fore competed in the Sport Modified division and was a Top 5 driver and “Rookie Of The Year” award winner. He was also a beloved member of the racing community. The track decided to have a special race for the Sport Modified division. The first race was won by Bakersfield area competitor Clint Reichenbach, and the race was won by Fred Ryland last season.
When promoter Ed Parker was booking the 2018 schedule, he had plans to make this event bigger and better than before. It was decided to add the IMCA Modifieds to the program. There will be a special two day format in which the drivers will do a pill draw on Friday for their qualifying heat races. They run two sets of heat races with their lineup from the first heat race inverted for the second heat race. Finishing and passing points will be scored, and the Top 12 point earners from the heat races will run a qualifier on Friday night. The Top 6 finishers in those races will line up in the first three rows of Saturday’s big money Main Events.
The drivers will be competing for bigger prize money. The IMCA Sport Modifieds and IMCA Modifieds will be racing for $2,000 to win. The Hobby Stock racers will get a $1,000 first prize and the Mini Stocks, which normally do not even run for a purse, will get $300 to win. Because of the increased purse money, car count is expected to grow in all divisions.
Parker booked this race to make it possible to get some of the top drivers from Watsonville and Bakersfield to come to town for the money. Merced Speedway stayed off of the big events for the other two tracks at the end of the season to allow all three tracks to have a shot at a big show.
Two drivers leading the charge in the IMCA Sport Modifieds will be the previous two winners, Ryland and Reichenbach. In fact, Ryland also has a Hobby Stock that he will likely bring to Merced as well. New Merced Speedway champion Jeremy Hoff will be out to get the win as well as division runner-up Danny Roe. After winning the point season finale, Bruce Nelson is another driver who hopes to make a run for the big money. Hard-charging teen competitors Tanner Thomas and brother Chase Thomas are two others who could bring home the money. Tanner picked up three feature wins at Merced this season.
Top drivers from Antioch, such as Trevor Clymens, Todd Gomez and Guy Ahlwardt, are also expected. Clymens has just recently secured his second Antioch championship in the past three seasons. Hard chargers from Bakersfield, such as Kevin Johnson and Nick Spainhoward, are also anticipated for the race.
The IMCA Modifieds are also expected to have a huge turnout. After picking up four consecutive feature wins to end the season, Darrell Hughes II wrapped up his first career championship at Merced Speedway. He may head into this race as the driver to beat, but other hard chargers such as Bobby Hogge IV, Antioch Speedway champion Nick DeCarlo, four-time Antioch champion Troy Foulger and Bakersfield star Robby Sawyer are expected to come to town. Local stars Ramie Stone, Paul Stone and Ryan Porter are other track regulars who should be strong contenders for the win. It should be a star-studded field of IMCA Modified competitors.
For the fans of fendered racing, the Hobby Stock division should not disappoint. With nine feature wins this season, Kodie Dean wrapped up his second consecutive Merced Speedway championship. He and fellow Chowchilla resident Austin Van Hoff may be the top track regulars with the best shot at winning. From the Watsonville area, three-time champion Billy Nelson and two-time champion Rob Gallaher are both anticipated. It’s not often that the Hobby Stock division gets a $1,000 to win race anywhere, and that is sure to attract some fast runners. Fred Ryland had a car built specifically for the $1,000 to win race held recently at Antioch Speedway, and he won that race in dominant fashion.
After winning the Merced Speedway Mini Stock championship with his second victory of the season, Allen Neal hopes to bag the winner’s prize in their special race. Lee Ragsdale will be looking for a bit of redemption after an unfortunate incident cost him a shot at the championship at the last race. Three-time champion Chris Corder is expected to field a fast car for this show, and Watsonville stars Dakota Keldsen and Abigail Kennedy are two others anticipated for the big money. Central Valley Mini Stock star Dan Myrick could be another contender for the win.