2009 Local Tracks
STOCKTON 99 SPEEDWAY
STOCKTON -- It may be The New Stockton 99 Speedway, but familiar faces and the same ol' hard racing was back and roaring Sunday.
Two years after the one-third-mile oval shut down to make way for a housing development, it re-opened with competition, an exhibition and goodwill all around.
"It was wonderful," new promoter Tony Noceti said. "There was some adrenaline high with this thing. People would stop and shake my hand over and over again."
There was much to rejoice about, especially for Western Late Model driver #86, Tim Spurgeon. The Danville resident said his greatest racing disappointment was not winning at Stockton 99 before it closed.
Given another chance, Spurgeon led the final 26 laps of the 50-lap main event to beat 2006 champion Guy Guibor of Manteca.
"At first I didn't believe it," Spurgeon said of the track re-opening. "Then the rumors started getting out. The Noceti family got it done.
"It was really fun racing in front of a big crowd. I've been racing a lot of other places and there were not this many people."
The official attendance in the stands and pit area was 4,200. Carol Noceti said she thought the number would have been greater if not for the dark clouds that threatened to rain on the action, but she was delighted with the response.
The smell of kettle corn and grease filled the air from the deep-fried funnel cake stand.
Children ran around with checkered flags and balloon animals. Fans in race-team shirts and jackets yelled for their favorites on a mostly sunny, breezy day.
Being able to return to the original 60-year-old facility was a "blessing" for fans like Larry and Mikki Otto of Sacramento. The couple were regulars at the track and returned with smiles Sunday.
"I don't think there are words to describe it," Larry Otto said. "I saw some people up there, some hard-core fans, crying.
"I think it's just going to be the most positive thing ever to come to Stockton."
The scoreboard wasn't working because of an electrical problem discovered Sunday morning.
That was no problem for the drivers. Stockton's Chad Holman, #75, who won the last American Limited Stock Car event of the 2006 season, claimed the first race of the new era.
Scott Winters, #24, a 2002 California regional champion, won the Grand American Modified race after Turlock's Wes Miller won the pole.
Fans were treated to something not before seen on the track -- a drifting show with drivers sliding in and out of turns -- and motorcyclists popping wheelies up and down the front straightaway.
The Western Late Model main was marred by six caution flags, including two complete stops to clear debris from wrecks.
Modesto's Jeff Ford was part of the competition, but mercifully not the accidents after breaking parts in practice the last three weeks.
The first-time Western Late Model driver raced street stocks at Stockton 12 years ago. He pointed to his dark green Toyota Camry and thanked his parents for their support.
"This is supposed to be my mom's kitchen," Ford said with a laugh. "I love racing here. It's closer to home."
The track re-opening was a dream scenario for the Nocetis, French Camp residents who were determined to run a track in Stockton.
When the planned development didn't take off, the Nocetis agreed to lease the existing property from owners Bob Hunefeld and Ken Clapp, who were on hand to see the renovations.
Longtime racer Johnny Berndt of Clements said he doesn't know how much he'll be back, but wouldn't miss the opener.
"Where else is the community going to go with all these old cars," Berndt said. "We got to bring out our old toys and play."