Stockton 99 icon Jim Shiels dies at 59

By Scott Linesburgh
Record Staff Writer
Published Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Jim Shiels knew every driver who won every race at Stockton 99 Speedway for almost a quarter of a century. But to him, auto racing was about the people involved, not just the statistics.

The longtime track historian and statistician made sure racing fans knew as much about the driver as they did the car.

Shiels passed away Monday at Mercy Hospital in Merced following a lengthy illness, and an era ended at Stockton 99. He was 59.

''He was an icon when it came to the history of the speedway,'' Stockton 99 co-owner Ken Clapp said. ''He knew more about the race track than any human being ever has.

''There will be somebody to take his job, but they will never replace him.''

Shiels, whose birthday was Saturday, worked at many tracks -- including Altamont Raceway Park and Delta Speedway -- but he's best known for his time at Stockton 99. Shiels' job was to promote the events at the track, and he had his own unique way of doing it.

When a new driver showed up at Stockton 99, Shiels wanted to know more than what they drove.

''Jim respected everyone, and he wanted to know about everyone,'' said three-time Stockton 99 Late Model champion Harry Belletto. ''It was always more than just his job. Jim wanted to know about you, your wife and your kids. He really cared, and we're going to miss him.''

As much as Shiels cared about the drivers, the drivers cared about him. In 1996, he became the first non-driver to win the sportsman of the year award and last year was the first recipient of the Boro Award, named after late track manager Duane Borovec and signifying exemplary service at Stockton 99.

Shiels wrote three books about auto racing. In ''Stockton 99 Speedway: 50 years And Still Turning Left'' he chronicled the history of the quarter-mile, high-banked asphalt oval.

''He painstakingly went back and reconstructed the history of the track,'' Stockton 99 managing partner Chris Hunefeld said. ''It was amazing. He knew it all. He loved the track, and it was very apparent.''

Shiels was ill for years, and in 1998, he had his left leg amputated below the knee because of complications from diabetes. But Shiels always came back to the track, and he spoke recently with Stockton 99 general manager Ken Gross about filming a living memorial at the track. Shiels also wrote his obituary.

''It was Jim's idea to tape something at the track, but unfortunately, he didn't get the chance,'' Gross said. ''Jim always planned to come back next season. He had a hard time climbing up to the press box. It came to the point where he planned to sit at track level or find a way to build a hydraulic lift to get upstairs. But he always wanted to be at the track.''

Gross and Belletto visited Shiels at the hospital Monday.

''We talked about everything, and I told him that I would come visit him when he got home,'' Belletto said. ''I think we won't know how much we'll miss him until we got to the track and he's not there.''

A memorial service is being planned.

Record assistant sports editor Bill Poindexter contributed to this report.