By Mike Adaskaveg
There’s no place like home for Winton racer Paul Stone.
The wandering modified stock car driver will be back where his career started 15 years ago when Merced Speedway presents the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) Central Valley Clash this Saturday night.
The idea of a “Clash” was spawned over the winter by Kings (Hanford) Speedway’s race director, Doug Lockwood, and promoter Scott Woodhouse, who approached Merced Speedway’s new general manager, Doug Williams. They wanted to shake things up on the racing scene by having the two rival racetracks’ drivers compete in a challenge series.
Saturday night is the first race in the four-race series.
Stone sits in a unique position out of all of the drivers in the series. He’s the current Kings Speedway track champion. Merced Speedway is his home track, though he hasn’t raced In Merced regularly.
“The series is a great idea,” Stone said. “I don’t like to be stuck in one place, racing against the same drivers. This mixes things up and makes the racing better.”
Stone was the Rookie of the Year and the champion in the modified division at Merced Speedway in 1998. He grabbed another championship in 1999.
Then he hit the road.
“Running for points is stressful – you have to be there every week, you have to have good finishes – all to be titled a champion,” he explained.
Stone ventured to far away states that are hotbeds of his type of racing – like Nevada, Oregon, and Arizona. He makes the yearly pilgrimage to Iowa, home of the IMCA Supernationals. He’s made friends all across the country.
“When you travel to a distant track, everyone loves you,” he laughs. “They roll out the red carpet. If you stay too long, you have less friends.”
He explained that friendships were taxed when he became a regular at Kings Speedway last year and eventually won the championship.
“At the same time, drivers are territorial,” he continued. “Some stay at one track forever. You wear your welcome when you start winning regularly.”
This year, the arrival of his first grandson has kept Stone closer to home.
“I planned to race more in Merced this season,” he said. “I’m trying to do the family thing.”
He counts the local competition among his best of friends. Rodney Freitas, current point leader and Mike Villanueva, four points out of first, both hang out with him.
“I love to race with those guys. They’re old school,” Stone said. “Some of the newer drivers are still learning to drive a modified. The cars have a lot more power and are a lot more fragile than full – fender cars. It takes a while to make the transition between different classes.”
Kings Speedway’s most experienced drivers, like Jimmy Reeves, are looking forward to the “Clash” in Merced.
“It’s great to see the tracks work together,” Reeves said. “I haven’t been there for a while, so I don’t know what to expect.”
Reeves explained that Kings Speedway’s large, 5/8-mile size is quite different than Merced Speedway’s quarter-mile layout.
“We’ll have to tighten the car down for those tight turns. We’ll have to change gears, too,” he explained.
With 20 years experience, he’ll have a lot of information to draw upon to make his car fast at Merced.
“Track surfaces change, so we have to see what we have to do to be competitive,” Reeves said. “I won’t be counting points for the series championship. I’ll be running as fast as I can.”
What will Stone have to beat both his fellow Kings Speedway drivers and his hometown friends at Merced Speedway?
“Big show experience and racing against a large variety of drivers over the years has helped me,” he said. “If it’s a good clean race, I’d be happy for whoever won.”
SPEEDWAY NOTES: Merced Speedway modified stock car point leader Rodney Freitas is looking forward to the “Clash”. “With two second place finishes, I’m looking for a win. It’s due,” he said. “There’s no psychology to racing at Merced Speedway – just go fast and stay ahead.”
Joining the IMCA modifieds this Saturday night will be the IMCA SportMods, All Star Wingless Sprint Cars, and Mini-Stocks. The current top All-Star Wingless Sprint Car driver, Gary Nelson, Jr. has confirmed he will be at Merced on Saturday night.
Admission is $12 for adults, $6 for children, and $10 for senior citizens. The family four-pack of tickets is $28. Racing begins at 7 p.m. The speedway is located at the Merced County Fairgrounds on 900 Martin Luther King Way in Merced. Parking is on West 11th St.