April 6, 2004
auto racing speeds past 50
Jo Shiels knows everyone at Stockton 99 Speedway.
my job," she said. "I keep track at the track."
weekend from spring through fall, the 59-year-old Lodi
resident zips around the pits on her scooter before race time,
answering questions, assigning car numbers and helping people
find each other.
Stationed by the gate on her scooter, she greets them --
drivers, mechanics, families, owners. They all call her "Jo."
you're looking for people over 50, there's a lot of us out
here," she said as a handsome driver in his 20s walked by.
Jo," he said, and put his arms around her.
hugged him back. "Hi, sweetie."
walked away, she lowered her voice and confided, "I get my
hugs every week at the front gate, or they don't get in."
races start, Shiels heads for the press box, where she tallies
winners' points for NASCAR and provides statistics to sports
her, she said, reporters would never know what lap it is and
squawked over Shiels' walkie-talkie, summoning her somewhere.
"Gotta go," she said, as her scooter sped away. "But check out
Stocktonian Buzz DeVore owns and drives car #45, a Harris
Grand American Modified. He's been racing since 1974,
and DeVore doesn't think 53 is too old to be driving. There
are drivers in their 70s, he said, and age doesn't mean much
speed thing. People think one way: If you're fast, you win.
You don't quit by age; you quit when it quits being fun."
is the most intergenerational sport there is, racers say, and
families are the backbone. Every car needs a mechanic. And
every pit crew needs someone to wash the car or run over to
the next pit to borrow a gasket. It's about the only sport
where everyone in a family can contribute to a win.
Glenn, 64, of Orangeville owns eight race cars. He and wife
Delores, 63, enjoy racing and sponsoring their sons and
grandsons as drivers.
Gary Glenn, 23,Western Late Model #50, values what Grandpa
knows. "My grandpa raised me since I was 3 ... I've been
racing eight years now, and it's his encouragement that keeps
Generations working together create success, says Daniel Hood,
24, whose 360 ci Chevrolet methanol-injected Sprint Car took
second in the main event at Altamont Raceway's season opener
March 21. His father, Jamie Hood, 64, used to drive; his 30
years of racing experience are Daniel's foundation. Daniel
Hood wouldn't drive without Dad as his crew chief.
to the pits at any racetrack will bust a lot of stereotypes.
People Daniel Hood meets think race car drivers are one of
three types: Daredevils with a death wish, rednecks who drive
drunk, or snobby, yuppie Formula One types.
none of the above. He's halfway through college, majoring in
theology and teaching part time at a school for autistic
children in Santa Cruz. The young speedster belongs to "Wheels
for the World" and delivers wheelchairs he's collected at
racetracks to Third World countries.
19-year-old Nick Hutto, #64 Pro 4 Truck, of Modesto is an
example, young racers aren't shy about honoring their
grandparents in public.
could never have afforded gasoline, let alone a car, so he
went to his grandfather, Gene Hutto, 68, and asked for help.
grandfather said, "I don't know how far my Social Security
check will stretch, Nick."
Hutto always says that when his grandchildren ask for
something. "It's a running joke in our family," he said. But
like any grandfather, he spoils the grandkids. He gave Nick
Hutto the money for a car, which Nick painted black and, on
the side that's visible from the grandstands, also painted, in
big, pink letters: "Pops Social Security Check -- your tax
dollars at work."
time the car goes by the grandstands, Grandpa Hutto smiles.
as racing attracts people who want to drive race cars, there
are racing addicts who have never raced and have no intention
Houston is 69, and he's been addicted since he was 16. He
couldn't afford a dragster, but he belonged to a
club in the days of drag strips. "I started out in 1951
starting drag races at Kingdon Drag Strip, between Stockton
then, Houston has started races at more than 90 different race
tracks in eight states and Canada. He flagged the first NASCAR
Winston Cup race, and he's still going strong.
Houston is race director for the Legends division of racing in
California. He spends every weekend making sure things go
smoothly at Stockton 99 Speedway, unless he's on the road with
you could call me a racetrack junkie," Houston said. "It's my
hobby and a job. At any age, you can't ask for more than that,
reach Steve Barkhurst, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org