By Mike Adaskaveg
It’s midway through the racing season, and two local drivers are duking it out in the premier stock car racing division at Merced Speedway. Only one point – a rarity in racing – separates Mike Villanueva and Rodney Freitas. They are at the top of the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) Modified Stock Car standings at the track.
Stock car racing is a sport where there is a battle and a war. Winning a battle is taking the checkered flag at a weekly event. Winning the war is contingent upon scoring enough points at the weekly races to be crowned the season champion.
“I may be one point behind him (Villanueva) but from where I sit, second place looks like a pretty good spot to be in,” Freitas said. “I’m happy to be where I am after returning to Merced Speedway after taking a few seasons off.”
Villanueva will have his work cut out for him on Saturday night. He competes in the first round of the Dale Ferriera Racing “King of the Hill” match races before racing in the IMCA feature event.
He will race in three rounds of “green-white-checkered” (flag) matches against Robert Marsh of Salinas. Winning two out of three will advance a driver to the next round a few weeks later. Drivers drew for their bracket positions.
Freitas sees Villanueva’s early draw as his own advantage.
“Those extra nine laps could be a deciding factor,” Freitas chuckled. “Mike only trains for 25 laps. The heat will be a factor.”
Villanueva wishes he hadn’t come up against Marsh in the first round.
“I got a heavy hitter right off the bat,” he said. “He’s a fast guy.”
Villanueva knows those extra laps could help Freitas, but he downplayed the scenario in which they would.
“The only way Freitas could have an advantage is if the extra laps caused a mechanical failure in the car,” Villanueva said. “I see those extra nine laps as better preparing me for track conditions that night.”
Villanueva appreciates the hot temperatures.
“When the track is dry and slick it is all about the driving,” he explained. “The best driver wins. My car is an open book. He can set his up the same way. I have no tricks or secrets.”
Freitas says he has no tricks, either.
“Consistency is key in racing,” he said. “I’ll keep doing what I do. I’ll strive to eliminate mechanical issues. With that factor eliminated, driving skill will play into who will be the leader at the night’s end.”
IMCA SportMods, Hobby Stocks and Valley Sportsman will be part of the four-division program on Saturday night. Each division will have qualifying races and a feature event.
Racing will begin at 7 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for senior citizens, and $5 for children. The Speedway is located at the Merced County Fairgrounds, 900 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in Merced.
The “King of the Hill” IMCA modified bracket races will feature two pairings each Saturday night. Atwater’s Ryan Porter will face Jim DiGiovanni of Morgan Hill in the second pairing this Saturday.
Merced’s Andrew Krumm sits on top of the Hobby Stock division standings with a 22-point lead over second place Kevin Joaquin of Sonora.
A 22-point lead also separates first place Matt Sotomayor of Sanger from Darren Thomas of Atwater in the IMCA SportMod division.
It’s a family affair when it comes to the two top spots in the Valley Sportsman division, where Mercedians claim the top three positions. Shane Hausmann now leads his dad, Mike, by three points. Tim Prothro is eight points out of first and sitting in third.
This Saturday (June 29) night’s big event for the IMCA modifieds and SportMods will be repeated in two weeks. The Speedway does not have racing on July 6, due to the 4th of July holiday weekend, when fans and racers prefer to spend time with family in the mountains or lakes.