Bill Poindexter’s roots run deep at Stockton’s 99 Speedway.
As a young reporter with the now defunct Manteca News in 1980 he was given the assignment of covering racing at the 99. He quickly fell in love with all of the sights, sounds and dynamic personalities that came alive every Saturday night from early spring through the fall at the paved high banked, 1/4-mile oval.
“I was a kid of the 1970s so I was already into hotrods, noise, smoke, the smell of fuel and everything else about cars,” explained Poindexter, a Lathrop native and East Union High School graduate. “That was how I got going out there and I really came to enjoy it. It was a ton of fun.”
Poindexter’s journalistic career has included stints at the Modesto Bee and Stockton Record where he continued to cover the 99 on a regular basis. More recently he migrated up north to work for the Roseville Press Tribune and Sacramento Bee where his sports desk duties included covering the All-American Speedway in Roseville.
That led to a call in August 2012 from Arcadia Publishing, which had been contracted by NASCAR to produce an Image of America book on all of the NASCAR sanctioned short tracks across the United States. When the people at Arcadia learned of Poindexter’s close ties to the 99 Speedway the project quickly expanded to two books.
“They loved the story I told them about ‘Wild’ Bill Ferran speeding down Wilson Way in his Late Model Stockcar to race at the track that night,” laughed Poindexter.
Working on two books at once in addition to his regular newspaper duties proved to be a formidible task, but an enjoyable one at the same time.
Poindexter spent months researching the book, combing through old photos and reminiscing with dozens of drivers and others involved in the speedway to gather tidbits of information and stories.
“It was open arms with anyone I talked with. When I went to someone’s home we almost always ended up in their shop or garage,” Poindexter said. “When they tell those stories their eyes would light up. They loved to relive those moments and talk about them.”
In early September of this year the 128-page, softbound book, simply titled Stockton 99 Speedway, was released. Packed full of photos, stories and anecdotes, the book is a fascinating trip through the past that is guaranteed to invoke fond memories for any 99 Speedway aficionado.
The book covers the entire 67 years of the track’s glorious history — from its construction in 1947 thanks to the dreams of William Hunefeld; through 1950’s when daredevil drivers raced in open cockpit roadsters and the fans were entertained between events by the drive in theater built adjacent to the track; to the golden era of the Late Models in the 1980 and 90s when local legends such as Dan Reed, Harry Belletto, Ron Strimska, David Philpott and Ken Boyd would trade paint every weekend; to the track’s sad demise in 2006 and its rebirth in 2009 thanks to the racing passions of Tony and Carol Noceti and local fans who generously volunteered their time and muscle to help bring the badly decaying facility back to life.
“I was stunned when it closed. I just never envisioned that happening,” remembers Poindexter.
One special chapter in the book is devoted to the many drivers who have passed their racing passion down the line to their offspring. The Shafer, Philpott, Belletto and Strmiska families are among the elite fraternity to have produced three generations (and counting) of drivers at the 99.
“I got to really know a lot of the drivers over the years. They were all great to talk to. Then to see some of their sons and then their sons race has been really special.”
The book also pays homage to some of the colorful personalities that where part of the 99 Speedway racing experience off the track such as the long time public relations and statisticians Jim and Jo Shiels, racer turned announcer extraordinaire Wayne Pierce and NASCAR vice president of Western Operations Ken Clapp, promoter and co-owner of the track from 1977 through 2006.
Some of Poindexter’s fondest 99 memories include Ken Boyd’s amazing streak of 39 straight fast qualifying times and whenever the NASCAR West Series or Southwest Tours rolled into town.
The NASCAR AutoZone Southwest Series 100-lap event in April of 2002 particularly stands out in his mind.
Manteca’s Ron Strmiska Jr. was one of the few local drivers who had entered a car to take on the big boys in front of the packed grandstands that night.
He started from the very back of the field, biding his time in the early stages of the race to save his car. As the laps wound down he methodically began to weave his way through the pack towards the front before passing race leader Burney Lamar with one lap to go for an improbable David versus Goliath victory.
“The place just came apart. The fans just went nuts and Strmiska was overcome with emotion,” recalled Poindexter. “All of the local drivers were rooting hard for him too. It was like ‘tonight we are not racing against you, we are with you.’ It was such a cool deal!”
Stockton 99 Speedway can be found at many local bookstores and online outlets such as Amazon. Poindexter will also be appearing for a book signing at Costco on Sunday, Nov. 3
His companion book “Roseville All-American Speedway” is due for release on Nov. 4.
Fall Classic at 99
The championship season at the Stockton 99 Speedway will come to a conclusion at the upcoming “Fall Classic” on Saturday with double points on the line for all divisions.
The fifth annual “Fall Classic” will see the winner of the 125 lap Western Late Model race take home $2,000. Matt Scott, of Pine Grove, holds the season point’s lead over Stanisluv Osterlund of Los Gatos and Tracy’s Justin Philpott.
The Grand American Modified main event will pay $1,000-to-win. Leading the GAM point standings going into the night is Ripon’s Mike Regelman, who holds a narrow 10-point advantage over Sacramento’s Jason Philpot.
Other classes competing at the “Fall Classic” will include the Pure Stocks, Super Stocks (Atwater’s Jason Aguirre holds a 504 to 489 lead in the points over Manteca’s Chad Holman), Basically-4s (Manteca’s Brad Mast leads Dave Kong by a 599 to 585 margin) and the Pro-4 Modifieds.
The Stockton Dirt Track, located at the San Joaquin County fairgrounds, will be back in action on Saturday Nov. 2, with the 30th annual “Tribute to Gary Patterson” featuring the powerful King of the West 410 Sprint Car Series and Open Winged 360 Sprint Cars in an exciting double-header night of racing.