Southern Oregon Speedway Racing Discussion
Can Be Heard HERE
Modifieds, Sprint Cars Part Of Season Opener
At Southern Oregon Speedway
White City, Oregon...Southern Oregon Speedway is set to have it's season opener this Saturday night. The 24th season for the 3/10 mile clay oval will include the popular IMCA Modifieds, Kendall Oil Winged Sprint Cars, IMCA Sport Modifieds, Bobbio's Pizza Mini Stocks and JOAT Labs Hornets. This begins a season that will offer plenty of excitement for the fans.
Last Saturday, the speedway held a practice session where over 30 competitors took advantage of the opportunity to test their cars. Five of those racers are part of the Sprint Car roster. Three of them are new drivers to that division, led by last season's IMCA Sport Modified champion, David Marble. Having also won a Mini Stock title, Marble is excited about the move up and the challenge it presents. He has the car that was driven by Calvin Hibbard last season.
Jared Hood and Anissa Curtice were joined last week by Enrique Jaime and past Sprint Car champion TJ Winningham. Hood is the grandson of Southern Oregon Racing Hall of Famer Don Hood. Though he's a rookie in Sprint Cars, he's raced competitively in boats and motorcycles. Curtice has been racing in recent seasons on the Outlaw Kart circuit in California. All drivers looked good in practice, and Curtice and Jaime got around particularly well. Reigning champion David Hibbard and son Bailey Hibbard are among those anticipated for the opener this Saturday.
Only a couple of IMCA Modified racers took advantage of the practice session. Zach Fettinger and Brian Bowman both put their cars through their paces. Fettinger had a breakout season last year with three feature wins and a second place championship ranking. Several drivers are excited about racing this season, led by three-time reigning champion Albert Gill and seven-time champion Mark Wauge. Wauge has indicated that he is racing for points this year. The Modifieds have been a regular part of the roster at the speedway since it opened in 1996.
The best represented group at practice were the IMCA Sport Modifieds, and 10 drivers were on hand Saturday. It's an indication that this division is growing in numbers. Last season's championship finale had a strong 24 car field. The practice saw two of this year's likely front-runners in the point race, two-time champion Mike Medel and Branden Wilson. Medel isn't making any predictions, but he is excited about racing locally this year. Wilson was a feature winner last year in his second-place championship season, and he has a new car for this year's campaign.
Two-time champion Dwayne Melvin, Joby Shields and newcomer Wyatt Westfall made appearances last week. The division will be without one of last season's top drivers, Tony Bartell. Bartell sold his car to Austin Petrey and has purchased a Late Model for this season. The Late Models, who will be racing on May 11th, were represented at the practice by Bartell, Brian Bowman, Jason Schultz and Cliff Massey. That division will have a new look with several drivers joining the roster this year.
Only rookie Dylan Irving and Ashtin Hedges were representing the Mini Stocks for practice. Both drivers have moved up from the Hornets division. Irving had a bit of a rough start at practice, but he was getting around much better as the day went on. He was one of the top five point competitors last season, and both drivers were Hornet feature winners last year as well. Reigning champion David Steele, previous champion Kristopher Mix and Hunter Magnan are among those anticipated for this week's opener.
In the Hornet class, the Hedges Team will be well represented as 2016 champion Tim Hedges and wife Jenna Hedges both have new cars this year. Likewise, reigning champion Bree Tritchler has a new car, and she was joined in practice by teammate Lacey Sauer, who is making her first laps ever. The Nelson family was also on hand for practice with father Derrel Nelson Jr and son Zach Nelson. Ryan Nelson hopes to have his car ready to join his father and brother at the opener.
Drivers are excited about finally getting to go racing. Once things get going, the season runs all the way through September 14th with plenty of big events happening along the way. Gates open for this Saturday's five division show at 5 p.m. with racing starting at 7. Adult General Admission is $13 with Seniors, Veterans and Juniors 6 to 12 $7. Children 5 and under are free. For further information, check out the new website at www.southernoregonspeedway.com.
It seems like when you get within a couple of weeks of the racing season beginning, the work seems to intensify. Racers need to make last-minute preparations on their cars. The track crew needs to make sure everything is ready for having the actual race. It's certainly been busy at Southern Oregon Speedway as we prepare for our 24th season, the fourth under KJE Enterprises and Mike McCann.
The weather has been merciful to us after a bit of rain eliminated the first scheduled practice day on April 13th. There was a good sunny week leading up to the next scheduled practice on April 27th. Despite that, there were still concerns about whether the track would be ready or whether the trailers would be able to make it through the pits okay. There were a few moments of concern for some of the drivers, but everybody made it in and out okay.
Almost every practice scheduled by Mike McCann has been rained out, but the shakedown run before the season opener this week went off without a hitch. Roughly three-dozen competitors in various classes took their turns on the Jim Rogers prepared 3/10 mile clay oval. It gave drivers an opportunity to find out if there were any problems they should fix before actual racing begins.
During the offseason, you hear many rumors. The beautiful thing about a day at the track is that the rumors get separated from the facts. One bit of news that didn't seem to travel very far was the fact that Tony Bartell has made a move up from the IMCA Sport Modified class after finishing in the Top 5 last season. Tony found a deal on a Late Model down in Bakersfield to be too good to pass up and has made the move back to fendered racing. His beautiful blue #27 car looked good on the track with the other Late Model competitors.
Brian Bowman was making the most of the practice opportunity as he brought both his Late Model and IMCA Modified. With longtime Southern Oregon Speedway competitor Jon DeBenedetti helping tune things up, Bowman looked good in both cars. Also taking the opportunity to make some laps were Jason Schultz and Cliff Massey. Massey is piloting the car driven by Eric Massey last season. Word from Dustin Knight is that both he and Eric Massey have new cars this year. Knight's old race car is now in the possession of Pro Stock racer John David Duffie.
Knight reported that they have been very busy at Rapp Racing as several racers have been getting their motors done by Rick Rapp. He further adds that Rapp Racing is happy to see things going as well as they have been at the track as it's good for business at the shop as well. Furthermore, because they have been so busy, Knight doesn't anticipate his Late Model seeing the track until June or July. When he gets there, you know he will be fast.
Knight is both a Modified and a Pro Stock champion at the speedway, and there were a few surprise Pro Stock competitors making practice laps. That would be three of the four cars from the Hackworth team. Tom Hackworth had his beautiful blue #34 car out there along with Dean Hackworth and Phil Pipgrass. The team has made no secret of their desire to see more Pro Stock races at the speedway and continues to speak up to try and rally other Medford area drivers to bring their cars to come support. In 2017, Dean Hackworth finished second in track points and supported every race that he could.
The only other IMCA Modified aside from Bowman was the fast #88 car of Zack Fettinger. Coming off of his strong runner-up season last year that saw him score three victories, Zach is excited to get back out there and see if he can take it up another notch. He looked very fast at practice and should be among the contenders to get the win at the season opener.
The big support came from the IMCA Sport Modifieds where ten drivers took advantage of the practice opportunity. Chris Silva has made the decision to move down from the Modified class and is piloting the former Tony Duste car. We haven't heard if Tony will be in another Sport Modified after his Top 5 season or whether he might actually move to the Modifieds. Austin Petrey was behind the wheel of the former Bartell car.
Mike Medel has spent last year on the road for several races, but he's planning to race regularly at his home track again. His beautiful #30 car was looking faster than ever, which may be a warning to the rest of the competitors. Branden Wilson needed no warning. He already purchased another car to up his game after his second place season and "Rookie Of The Year" effort last year. Branden intends to compete for more than just one win this year, and Medel will be one of those drivers up there at the front of the pack as well.
Medel wasn't the only two-time division champion at the speedway as Dwayne Melvin was a late arrival. Melvin likely enjoyed the dry slick conditions he saw for practice. However, he has shown in the last year that he can still run with the leaders when it's a hooked up track as well. Melvin should not be counted out.
Other drivers, such as AJ Parker, Steve Lysinger, Joby Shields and newcomer Wyatt Westfall, were out there making laps. Shields had kind of a rough start to his Sport Modified career last year, but he had his car hooked up on Saturday. Westfall is one of the rookies this year, but he certainly didn't look like it. From the moment the team had the car in the pits, it was up on jack stands as they made adjustments. It seemed to show as he had a good handle on things on the track.
We didn't see too many Bobbio's Pizza Mini Stock drivers making laps, but Ashtin Hedges and rookie Dylan Irving didn't waste the opportunity to come play. Irving looked like he was dealing with mechanical issues early on, but he got better as the afternoon progressed. If his time spent in the Hornets as a Top 5 driver is any indication, he will be a quick study. Being the son of two-time Pro Stock champion Ken Irving certainly helps as he has a good teacher to learn from. Hedges isn't a rookie and probably would have won the top rookie honors last season if he appeared at the start of the season. After winning two Hornet features last year, he has moved up.
However, his parents Tim Hedges and Jenna Hedges were both driving new Hornet race cars. Jenna was sporting a purple cage and lettering on her car and was pleased with the way it came out. Both of the Hedges team cars were fast as was reigning champion Bree Tritchler. We know that with Tim Hedges and Tritchler we have two champions in the field, but we haven't heard if 2017 title winner Jason Stoutenburgh will be back. We do know that rookie Lacey Sauer was there making her very first laps in a team car with Tritchler. Tritchler further reports that her championship winning car will be driven by her dad.
The Nelson team had two of their cars out there. 2016 point runner-up Derrel Nelson Jr was happy to report that his shoulder surgery went well and he will be back full-time. Nelson was a two-time winner in 2016, and he'd like to get back to the winner's circle again this year. One of the people who will be trying to stop him will be as own son, Zach Nelson. Zach was among the Top 10 drivers in points last season, and he's hoping to get his first win. We further heard two other tidbits from the team. Zach has a Sport Modified in the works for a debut in that class some time this year. Brother Ryan Nelson should have his Hornet ready to go soon, perhaps at the opener.
The Kindall Oil Winged Sprint Cars were well represented with five drivers turning laps on Saturday. We heard that Enrique Jaime might not be ready for a while, but that wasn't the case. Not only was he there, but he was turning the fastest laps of the five drivers on hand, which included 2004 champion TJ Winningham. Actually, all five drivers looked good.
The three other drivers were rookies. David Marble has already made some practice laps at Yreka a couple of weeks ago, but these were his first laps in his Sprint Car at the track in which he's won both IMCA Sport Modified and Mini Stock titles. Jared Hood was there as well. If his #A1 looks familiar, there's a reason for that. He is the grandson of Hall Of Famer Don Hood. Jared has competed in motorcycles and speed boats, but these were his first laps behind the wheel of a Sprint Car.
The other new driver was Eureka, California's Anissa Curtice. Anissa comes from the Outlaw Kart ranks, where she completed at such tracks as Red Bluff and Cycleland. Anissa actually did turn some laps in a Winged Sprint Car last season in California, but word is that she will be a regular in the Medford effort this year. She got around the track quite well and will definitely fit in nicely with the rest of the group.