STOCKTON – He’s revived asphalt racing in San Joaquin County, introduced a dirt track to its fans and may one day lay down a drag strip.
“People want a place for entertainment,” dead-panned Tony Noceti, track promoter for The New Stockton 99 Speedway.
Noceti has big hopes for his racing franchise, a virtue born in the pits of his asphalt race track nearly four decades ago.
Back then, Noceti was a wide-eyed child with a back-stage pass at the oldest NASCAR-sanctioned track on the West Coast. He walked the pits, shaking the hands of his favorite drivers, running his fingertips along the bodies of his favorite cars.
“That’s where I started a longtime ago, going down to meet the drivers when I was a youngster,” said Noceti, who along with his wife Carol re-opened the 99 Speedway in 2009.
“That’s what got me started. That’s what got me where I am today – 38 years in this business. Young people want to see it … want to smell it … want to taste it.”
Noceti does his best to deliver, using the adolescent version of himself as a barometer for his track’s triumphs and failures.
So far, he says, he’s winning.
The fabled quarter-mile, high-banked asphalt track along Wilson Way is viable once again, and though it hasn’t made Noceti filthy rich, it has opened up other avenues of interests.
“It’s paying its way. In this economy we’re dealing with, if you’re breaking even and paying your way, you’re doing OK,” Noceti said. “Things are tough. It’s nothing like it was in the past. I’m proud to say we’re making strides and making fans.”
The New Stockton 99 Speedway offers its race fans two tracks – asphalt and dirt – a full calendar of racing, big-ticket events like World of Outlaws and the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, and a fan-friendly, families-first environment.
Like Noceti did as a child, fans have pit road access to the drivers and cars.
“There’s live entertainment here. This is home-track racing; home-style cooking,” he said. “This is where it all starts. Come hang out under the stars with your neighbors. See the cars. We let the fans see their drivers.
“Young people want to see it, smell it and taste it. You got to get ’em started early. You can’t wait until your 40 years old. It’s too late for you.
“Jacob Gomes (of Manteca) started when he was a baby. Ross Strmiska (of Manteca) was born and raised at the race track. Kyle Larson – watch – he’s going to be the next Dale Earnhardt as hungry as he is.”
Larson is a household name for Northern California racing fans. He drives on the NASCAR Nationwide Series for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and is considered one of the sport’s rising stars.
A native of Elk Grove, Larson returned the Northern California in March for the debut of Noceti’s newest venture – Dirt 99, at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds.
Larson didn’t come alone. He brought a friend. Better yet, a friend brought him.
With NASCAR in Fontana, Larson hopped aboard Tony Stewart’s jet, joining the future Hall of Famer on one of his small-track getaways. The two would highlight the World of Outlaws Sprint Car race, with Larson taking the checkered flag.
Dirt 99 continues its 10-date calendar with a motorcycle showcase and tractor pull on June 13-15. The tractor pull coincides with the San Joaquin County Fair.
Noceti said Dirt 99 will return next year, too, with another 10-date calendar. He is in negotiations with World of Outlaws, Stewart and fellow NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne.
“It’s different,” Noceti said of the dirt-track experience. “We run multiple divisions out there – World of Outlaws to AMA motorcycles to tractor pulls. My concept there is, with motorsports in Northern California, I want to bring multiple divisions and put the spotlight on San Joaquin County.
“The dirt track has been fun – a different deal altogether – but the Stockton 99 is the root of our company.”
Ah, yes, asphalt.
The New Stockton 99 Speedway continues its calendar tonight with the first leg of the Tri-Holiday Classic Race. The evening will also include the track’s weekly races: Western Late Models, Modifieds, Super Stocks, Pure Stocks and Basically-4-Cylinders.
The Tri-Holiday Classic is one of three races that mark three major American holidays: Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day.
The grand stands open at 4 p.m. on Saturday. Come down to the pits and experience racing on the ground floor, Noceti says, it’s worth the price of admission.
Pit gates open at 1 p.m.
“It’s very important to be fan-friendly and family-oriented. That’s the whole concept,” Noceti said. “We understand there are rivalries out there. But when someone gets hurt, rivalries go out the window and caring is put in its place. We’re all like kids in the sand box playing.”
By JAMES BURNS
209 staff reporter