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Reopening of legendary ‘99’ brings hope to local race fans

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POSTED March 19, 2009 4:47 a.m.
For local operators navigating the world of short track, racing has always been difficult one, but in recent years it seems that recovering an AIG bonus payment would be far simpler.

The turbulence continues in 2009, as once again there has been a major shake up at the area’s tracks.

First the bad news.

The Altamont Motorsports Park will not be operating this season, as promoter Jeff Macey moved on, along with his Westcar Late Model Series, to the All-American Speedway in Roseville.

Also, Riverside Motorsports Park, the new state of the art multi-track facility planned near Atwater appears to be deader than Napoleon, a victim of the economy and various legal entanglements.

However, there is good news also, most notably the welcome return of the legendary Stockton 99 Speedway.

After a 60-year run, the quarter-mile paved oval closed its doors following the 2006 season to make way for future housing and business development. Dubbed the “Little Bristol of the West” by racing aficionados for its tight confines and high banks, the historic facility was stripped of most of its assets such as the bleachers and lights.

When the economy crashed the buyout fell through, and the facility has sat dormant and overgrown with weeds the past two summers.

Originally opened in 1947, the speedway joined NASCAR in 1955 and was the longest-running NASCAR-sanctioned track in the West until it closed in 2006.

Last year, Grand American Modified driver Tony Noceti and his wife Carol, of French Camp, worked out a five-year agreement with owners Bob Hunefeld and Ken Clapp to take over the operation of the track, which will now be known as the New 99 Speedway. 

Following a feverish winter of renovation work to bring the site back to life, the 99 will officially reopen its gates this Sunday afternoon, March 22, with a traditional afternoon opener featuring the NASCAR Whelen All-American Racing Series Late Models, Grand Americans, Street Stocks and Bombers.

On Saturday, the 99 will be have a free open house with a variety of activities including a car show, drifting, motorcycles and practice beginning at 9 a.m. and lasting throughout the afternoon.

“People are really excited that the track is back,” said Carol Noceti last week as crews worked behind her to put finishing touches on the buildings. “A lot of drivers and fans call this place home.”

Much of the renovation labor came from volunteers who donated their time and skills by working at the track on the weekends in return for free passes to racing events. In all, over 500 people came out to help this past winter including one fan that spent over 700 hours helping at the speedway.

“It has been a long road to get here, eight months of really hard work. I never imagined all the hard work it would take to open this place back up, but businesses and the whole community at large have all been there for us,” explained Noceti. “I never anticipated there would be such a huge support system for us. I can’t thank them enough.”

A total of 32 dates are currently on the 2009 schedule including 22 NASCAR headlined events and various other cards featuring the SRL Southwest Tour Late Models, USAC, Capital City Midgets and the NCMA Sprints.

Madera Speedway

The Madera Speedway returns under the leadership of Merced’s Kenny Shepherd, who rescued the 1/3-mile oval from being turned into a department store parking lot three years ago.

The 2009 Madera schedule could perhaps be the strongest and most ambitious in the 50 plus year history of the legendary track.

The 24 racing dates include the NASCAR Whelen All-American Racing Series Western Late Models in 24 races spread over 14 dates, beginning with twin 50 lap mains in this Saturday’s 20th Annual Smokey Hanoian Classic season opener, a return of the SRL Southwest Tour for the three round Holiday Classic Series and a NASCAR Camping World Grand National Series date on April 25 for the NAPA Auto Parts/Toyota 150.

Madera’s long tradition of open-wheel racing will also continue this season as the SUPER Saturday Series returns for six special events that will feature a variety of open-wheel classes including the pavement pounding 410 and 360 Modifieds, USAC/BCRA Midgets, USAC Sprints, USAC Focus Midgets and NCMA Sprints.

“I am really proud of the diverse and exciting schedule that we have put together for this season,” commented Shepherd. “I think we will be putting on a great, quality show every week that will leave our fans eager to return to our track.”

It has been a very busy off-season for Shepherd who expanded his operations by taking over the Chowchilla Speedway. It will not be an easy task. The track has ceased operations in the middle of the past two seasons under its two previous operators.

Shepherd and his team have been working feverishly the past two weeks refurbishing the dirt track facility in preparation for the season opening race on Sunday afternoon. Paying fans at Saturday’s Madera opener will get a free ticket for Chowchilla on Sunday.

Merced Speedway

The Rock of Gibraltar amid all the chaos has to be the Merced Speedway. With long time promoter Chuck Griffin back at the helm, the 1/3-mile dirt oval will settle into its normal Saturday evening schedule beginning this weekend with a Central California Motorized Racing program featuring the IMCA Modifieds.

To contact Dale Bosowski, e-mail

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