By Mike Adaskaveg
Matt Sotomayor is the fox the dogs are chasing for the championship in Merced Speedway’s International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) SportMod division. Harley Turner of Los Banos is surging, and has become a threat to Sotomayor’s season long lead in the race for that division’s championship.
Sotomayor, of Madera, is trying not to let the pressure affect his driving.
“I’m going to stick to my game plan,” he said this week. “I need to stay consistent, and keep the top five finishes coming.”
Only one championship in the Speedway’s five divisions has been won. Rodney Freitas of Merced took the IMCA Modified Stock Car Division’s crown. There are two more IMCA point races left for the SportMod drivers, the first one being Saturday night.
“Success is hard fought in the SportMod division,” said Turner. “I have taught myself to be patient on the track. You have to finish up front if you want to win the championship.”
Turner has a win, two seconds, and a fourth place finish this season. The weekend racer works as an auto-cad designer for a plumbing company. Racing was part of his life as his dad Steve raced at Merced Speedway for many years. Steve maintains the car for his son, and his mom, Susan, rarely misses a night of racing.
Harley Turner credits his dad’s skills for helping him be competitive. The Turners race in a car powered by a junkyard engine, rebuilt in their home garage. Others in the division race with engines purchased new from General Motors. The Turners save two-thirds of the cost of buying an engine while remaining competitive.
Sotomayor, an IT consultant, maintains his own car and loves driving in the division. He advanced from the Hobby Stock division two years ago.
“The SportMods are great race cars and they are affordable,” he explained. “They are faster, lighter, and much more agile than a Hobby Stock.”
There is also a dark horse in the race for the championship. He is Merced veteran driver Tim Elias, who holds down third place.
“I’m just happy to be out there running with them,” he said. “I’m not even trying to win the championship. I’ve had some bad luck, some good luck, and a whole bunch of fun this year.”
Elias prides himself in making every race at the speedway this season, despite bad crashes that made him burn the midnight oil to make the following week’s event.
He and friend Paul Espino share a garage in the Santa Fe Business Park, where you can find them working nearly every evening.
“I’ve raced every type of car under the sun,” Elias said. “I’m learning to be faster in the SportMods by racing every race. Keeping the car straight on the track is important.”
Elias started racing at the speedway in the 1970’s. He took a few years off to be crew chief for his daughter, Catherine, who is a champion quarter-midget driver.
“She decided to get out of racing a few years ago, so I decided to get back into racing,” he laughed. “Fun is the key word. I’m in it because it is fun to drive a race car.”
Racing gets underway Saturday night at 8 p.m. Complete qualifying races and features for the Hobby Stock, Super Stock, and Mini-Stock divisions will compliment the SportMod races.
Cars will be on the track warming up after 6:30 p.m. This week’s special admission price is $10 for adults, $8 for senior citizens and $5 for children. A family four pack of tickets is $28.
Merced Speedway is located at the Merced County Fairgrounds, 900 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in Merced, Calif.