2003 99 Schedule

Stockton driver enjoyed his racing
John Unger, 48

By Scott Linesburgh
Record Staff Writer
Published Sunday, March 16, 2003

For John Unger, few things in life were better than a night at the race track.

Surrounded by family and friends, he would happily toil in the pits at Stockton 99 Speedway, fixing and racing his cars. His wife, Terry, said he loved the sport, and he got to enjoy it through his final season in 2002.

Unger, a veteran Stockton racer who competed for nearly three decades, died Friday at his home after a five-month battle with liver cancer. He was 48.

''Racing and family were John's passions,'' Terry Unger said. ''He loved racing on all levels. It meant a lot to him.''

Unger spent many years as a NASCAR Late Model Sportsman competitor and raced in the Grand American Modified division since 1998. He was diagnosed with cancer shortly after the 2002 season.

''I remember Johnny being a calm gentleman and a fine man,'' said veteran driver Harry Belletto of Modesto. ''He never got excited, and he always had something nice to say.''

Unger never had the big-name sponsorship some of his competitors had, but he and father-in-law Arnold Phillips would build their engines and prepare their cars. Unger proved he could be competitive.

In 1995, Unger, Belletto and David Philpott engaged in an exciting three-way duel for the Late Model title. Belletto won the championship, but Unger had his best season in the division, winning three races and finishing third in points.

In 2001, Unger won the first 50-lap Gold Cup race in the Grand American division.

''John took great pride in what he accomplished,'' Terry Unger said. ''He just got so much enjoyment out of it.''

Steve Stacy of Stockton remembered when he was in the Street Stock class and Unger owned a local auto parts store, The Auto Stop. Unger later worked for San Joaquin County.

''John had his own racing program, but he and Terry would put up prize money for some Street Stock races,'' Stacy said. ''I was the recipient a few times. John supported this sport on many levels, and he was one of the most easygoing guys you could meet. He will be missed.''

Unger also is survived by daughter Shelby, 9, and brothers Ed Unger of Stockton and David Unger of Lodi.

There will be a celebration of his life at noon Thursday at the Italian Athletic Club, 3541 N. Cherryland Ave. Memorials may be made to the trust fund of Shelby Unger at Union Safe Deposit Bank, 1340 El Dorado Street, account No. 2069100350.

* To reach reporter Scott Linesburgh,
phone 546-8281 or e-mail
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