by Mike Adaskaveg
The jury is in.
The modified stock car drivers who will compete regularly on the newly shaped Merced Speedway say it’s faster, wider, and packs a punch as it challenges their skills. They’re looking forward to tackling the track again this week.
Saturday night is the first weekly program of the season at the speedway, which opened with the “World of Outlaws” special event a week ago.
Merced’s Dereck Colvin, 22, had three seasons of driving experience on the track, but he was not prepared for the changes that were made over the winter.
He led the prestigious International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) main event for the “modified” division, only to be passed by eventual winner Austin Burke of Salinas.
“I got passed cleanly by Austin because there was a lot of room to race on the wider track,” Colvin explained. “It wouldn’t have happened that way last season, we probably would have run into each other.”
Surprisingly, Colvin was candid about his giving up the lead.
“I hadn’t driven all winter. I was rusty. I actually got tired because the track was a lot better – it was faster and more demanding,” he explained.
Colvin led from a lap one restart through lap 12 of the 20-lap feature. That’s when he realized he didn’t have the strength to keep up the pace.
“The forces of constantly accelerating and turning made it hard to hold my head up at that point,” he said. “I just wasn’t prepared.”
Personal trainer Ryan Porter of Atwater also found the new track faster.
“You just have to drive hard all the time,” he said. “There is no relaxation. Friday night’s race was a 20-lap workout. It was a blast racing on the new track.”
Porter finished fourth in the feature. Antioch Speedway three-time champ Troy Foulger was third.
Both Porter and Colvin said they would make Merced Speedway their home track this season. Porter’s dad, Tim, will also race in the “Valley Sportsman” division Saturday. The “retro” racing division features modern versions of the cars that raced at the speedway in the 1970s.
For the Porter family, Merced Speedway has been a tradition for many years. The late Denise Porter cheered for her husband Tim, son Ryan and daughter Shannon at the track until cancer ended her life in 2009.
Now, Ryan Porter has made it his mission to bring awareness to prevention of cancer. His car carries an eye-grabbing masked expletive that had fans lined up last week to take pictures – which is the attention he wanted to bring to the disease.
“The reaction to the message was overwhelmingly positive,” Porter added.
The saying displayed is actually linked to the organization “letsfcancer” which publicizes the need for early cancer detection.
“My mom didn’t want to go to the doctor. If she did she would be here to see us race on the new track,” he explained. “You can survive cancer if it is caught early enough. Ninety per cent of cancers are curable if caught in stage one.”
Porter’s message – in black and white on his car – will stand out in the field as he hopes to be challenged by good competition.
“I hope we have a full field of cars, and we should,” he said. “It was great racing with 19 drivers last week.”
SPEEDWAY NOTES – The new season at Merced Speedway opens Saturday night with IMCA Modifieds, Hobby Stocks, Mini-stocks, and Valley Sportsman on the schedule. Pit gates will open at 2 p.m. Racing will start at 6:30 p.m. Ticket prices are $10 for adults, $6 for children, and $8 for senior citizens. Merced Speedway is located at the Merced County Fairgrounds, 900 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in Merced. The parking lot and pit entry is located on 11th St.