RODDA: Chowchilla Back In Action Again

Ron Rodda

LINCOLN, Calif. – Now there are six. That is the number of promoters who have opened (or mostly reopened) Chowchilla Speedway.

This coming Sunday, Chowchilla opens for the sixth time when Joe Diaz and Kris Koontz present their first program.

Five open-wheel divisions will end the two-year break since racing last occurred on the three-eighths-mile fairgrounds track.  The current oval opened in 2000 and has gone through five promoters, closing for periods of time between each.  The fairgrounds has had mile, half-mile and fifth-mile tracks, dating back to 1927, but the three-eighths-mile is all that remains.

Chowchilla Speedway is conveniently located close to Highway 99, but also has two track neighbors that are among the closest of any track in the country.  Just 16 miles north along Highway 99 is Merced Speedway, a Saturday night quarter-mile dirt track.

South of Chowchilla, also 16 miles, is Madera Speedway, a third-mile paved track that also races on Saturday.  Merced had its challenges, but seems to be doing well under its current promoter while Madera has many high profile shows on their schedule every year.

Squeezed in the middle, Chowchilla Speedway has tried different race nights over the years and will focus on Sunday afternoons starting this weekend. Diaz was approached by the fair board about promoting the track but it took time to reach an agreement. These two men have been around racing a long time and they realized what the track’s history reads like, so some consideration was necessary regarding a contract.

A five-year lease was agreed upon and it became time to get the track back into racing condition. Two years of idle led to more issues than just tall weeds, such as a vandalized PA system and track lighting that needed reworking.

Diaz started racing in 1950 in quarter midgets before moving to go-karts. His first full size car race was at Belmont Speedway in a hard top, ending when he unsuccessfully tried to squeeze between a wrecked car and the wall.

He also raced hard tops at San Jose Speedway as well as the Alviso track and eventually moved to super modifieds. Diaz won two B main championships at San Jose and drove about everything with time in midgets, trucks, legends, sprints, and now vintage sprints and midgets.

Racing at many now closed tracks such as Kearny Bowl and Clovis Speedway as well as San Jose, Diaz drove the three race weekends among the trio of tracks before moving to Chowchilla.  Another now closed track, Altamont Speedway, was the site of a victory in the legend nationals.

Koontz drove stock cars and sprint cars while running his construction business in Coarsegold. He has the necessary equipment for track preparation and won a sprint car title at Chowchilla.

Chowchilla’s opening race will pay $1,200 to win for winged 360 sprint cars and $1,000 to the non-wing spec sprint car winner.  Alternating weeks with the open-wheel show will be a stock-car event with $500-to-win A mods and $400 for the B mod winner.

Racing during the afternoon will make track prep more challenging as summer nears, but the promotional team will make every effort to provide a racy surface.

As hotter weather approaches, the potential of starting later will be considered and it will be up to the drivers to make that decision.  As of now, the early season plan is to race at 1 p.m. and finish in time for everyone to get home in consideration of the next day being a workday.

Racers and fans are the beneficiaries of this latest attempt at racing in Chowchilla.  If the support is there, maybe it will be sixth time charm for Chowchilla Speedway.