By Mike Adaskaveg
The season-long battle between rookie SportMod stock car driver Rick Diaz of Los Banos and former track champion Ramie Stone of Winton will be settled Saturday night at Merced Speedway. Diaz enjoys a five-point lead over his rival going into the race.
Saturday, the quarter-mile fairgrounds oval will hold its last program of the season where track championship points are awarded. The following week, the track will host drivers from across the state for the Delta-Valley Classic. The International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) sanctioned event will offer a large purse for the Modified Stock Car and SportMod divisions.
Diaz, in his first full year behind the wheel of an IMCA SportMod, wants to be track champion – and he wants a win this Saturday for a special reason.
“It would be just awesome to be champ in the first full year running,” he said. “But more importantly, Saturday night is a big night for my daughter. I want a win for her.”
Ellie, Diaz’s 17-month-old daughter, has been in remission from neuro blastoma for one year on Saturday.
Diaz faces a driving style dilemma.
“I really have to play it safe if I want the championship,” he said. “I can’t charge to the front to win. I can’t make any risky moves.”
Despite running for points, Diaz has five wins this season in the highly competitive SportMod division, which has 20-30 drivers competing.
“Sometimes, I think running for points is a bad deal,” he explained. “Driving to win is part of a racer’s nature.”
On Saturday night, Diaz will keep his season-long goal in sight.
“I’ll be in protective mode,” he said. “I’ll try to be consistent, stay out of trouble and finish ahead or real close to Ramie (Stone).”
For Stone, it’s business as usual. He left racing as a Merced Speedway track champion, raised a family, and he wants his return this year to come with a championship.
“I’ll give it my all,” he said. “It’s racing. I have my own personal quest.”
Stone is hoping for a clean race.
“May the best driver win,” he added.
Paul Stone is IMCA Modified Champion, Looks Ahead to Big Events
One of the other members of the racing Stone family, Paul Stone, won the IMCA Modified Stock Car Track Championship at Merced Speedway last weekend, despite smacking the front stretch wall in the feature.
“I had a lot of work to do on the car this week,” he said. “It was pretty bent up. There are three weeks of big events coming up.”
Stone is relishing his Merced Speedway championship. His last track championship came in 1999.
“I ran for the championship in my rookie year (1998) and won both the Rookie of the Year and the championship,” he smiled. “To show it wasn’t a fluke, I backed it up with the 1999 Championship.”
He says the feeling of winning hasn’t changed.
“Now, I have a young crew and I feel the excitement through them,” he explained. “The championship is as good now as it ever was.”
Stone makes it no secret that he likes to travel to far away tracks. He equates it with going to school.
“You learn a lot about racing. It makes you a better racer,” he explained.
He’ll need that knowledge in the biggest race of the season, the Delta-Valley Challenge on Sept. 27 at Antioch Speedway and Sept. 28 at Merced Speedway.
Each leg of the race will have a big purse, drawing the top drivers in the west. Salinas driver Bobby Hogge IV will be tough competition at Merced Speedway.
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Stone said. “And, I only beat Hogge IV a couple of times.”
This Saturday Night at Merced Speedway
The IMCA SportMod division will be in the spotlight, but the retro-racing Valley Sportsman Division also has a close point battle for the championship. Mike Henault of LaGrange is two points ahead of Merced’s Tim Prothro. The two run close all season long.
A complete program of qualifying races and features will be held for the SportMod, Valley Sportsman, Mini-Stock and Dwarf Car divisions.
Merced Speedway is located inside the Merced County Fairgrounds, 900 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in Merced, Calif.
Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for senior citizens and $5 for children 6-12. A family four-pack of tickets admits two children and two adults for $30. Racing begins at 7 p.m. The grandstand opens at 5 p.m.