MADERA, Calif. — With the 2012 racing season in the books for the Madera Speedway, an assortment of drivers from all nine of its classes gathered Friday evening at the Hatfield Hall for the end of year awards banquet and dinner.
During the ceremony, individual drivers along with Speedway crew members were recognized for their outstanding work and set of accomplishments throughout the eight-month long season that included 22 spectacular racing events.
From the Coors Light Late Model Series to the 4-Bangers, each division’s honorees took to the stage and received trophies/plaques for certain categories including Track Champion, Rookie-of-the-Year and Most Improved Driver along with the Sportsman of the Year.
Emotional recipients of the well-earned hardware also used the platform to thank everyone involved in their racing success from Speedway management to family and friends.
It was a very memorable season filled with big-time shows put on by those drivers who were also the first ones to race on the Speedway’s newly paved track surface.
“It was the most important year in the history of the Madera Speedway,” said Kenny Shepherd, CEO of Short Track Management. “This place opened in 1971 and we repaved it this season. We put so much energy back into the place and you could see it tonight with how positive it was in this room with racers. We’re just one big team and it’s great for our track.”
The season officially ended on Oct. 20 in the 6th Annual Pumpkin Smash and Blow Up featuring Race No. 6 to win $1,000 in the Open Late Model Series along with 18-Second Bracket Race, Hobby Stocks open, and 4-Bangers open.
When it was all said and done, there was one driver that topped them all after the points were tallied up for the Coors Light Open Late Model Series championship.
That Late Model driver was Matt Erickson, who earned the most points out of six 100-lap races this season on “The Fastest Third-Mile in the West” to clinch his first ever championship in that class.
Even with the sixth-place finish in that final race, Erickson edged out Dallas Montes — 273-268 — in total points to clinch the Coors Light Late Model Series track championship.
Taking the title wasn’t even a thought for Erickson when he entered the season but with some early success and help from a big-time sponsor, a track crown became highly possible.
“The first two races we were going to go out and just have fun with those guys but we ended up with a third place finish and a win with the street stock, so I figured I might actually have a chance at winning this,” he said.
Erickson’s first win of the season was on April 28 on Gene Adams Paving Night after taking third place in the season opener.
“After those races, I put together our Late Model and kind of struggled ever since we built it but then we had some help from the NASCIMENTO motor sports and some extra help with racer Greg Potts,” Erickson said. “After winning in that street stock, I figured we could actually pull off a championship but knew it would’ve been tough without sponsors. Before them, I’ve been putting every dime into my car. They’ve been helping me get the car dialed in by giving me some extra advice and I’ve been taking it in.”
For Erickson, it’s a title he will cherish after taking second to Kyle Gottula in the 2009 Late Models class.
“This championship means a lot, especially with all those high-dollar teams that showed up all year long and got more motor than my car,” said said. “But we got the car to rotate in corners and if you can be better off in the corners than the other guy, it makes it look like you got more motor than them and just beat them down the straightaway. Pretty much without my sponsor help, that car would’ve only made two races. So they helped make it better each week, it’s like night and day.”
It was also a very exciting racing season for the local classes as five drivers earned track championships back on Sept. 29.
In the LunkerDaddy Late Models class, it was Tony Schmitz that capped off a near perfect season with a win in the 30-lap main and claimed his first title.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Schmitz proclaimed after he won the last race of the season. “We’ve been in this for 26 years and we finally won a championship. It’s finally here, I started racing 26 years ago and we just put a good season!”
After Jason Aguirre won the first two races of the season, it was Schmitz that won nine out of the last 10 races including seven in a row to finish first in points with 903.
“You just have to keep trying every year,” Schmitz said in his post-race speech. “We love racing and enjoy it because it’s so much fun. First time we’ve ever chased points all the way until the end and we made it! It feels really good and we wanted to win the championship. When we started the season, I told my wife that I’m going to win the title this year and showed up here with the thought that I’m going to win every race so I can be the champion.”
Local high school student Emma Tucker was named the Rookie of the Year in the class and was very grateful for the honors, thanking everyone involved in her young racing career. Tucker led in some races throughout the season and proved she could hang with the rest of the field.
The most competitive division by far this season was in the Toyota Sedans class won by Jarred Tickel, who narrowly edged out his dad, Bud Tickel, in points 1042-1031 for the title.
“It’s great and a good deal to win, I’m stoked about it,” Jarred Tickel said. “I love racing with my dad and coming out here, it’s just a family deal with my cousins also pit crewing for us. It’s just a family-oriented activity and coming out here on Saturdays was fun.”
The defending champ Tickel opened the season with an emotional win and won four mains throughout the year while having constant top three finishes.
“It goes to back to the beginning of the season, we had rough times with my aunt passing from cancer and it feels good to win it for her,” he said after the race. “She was a big fan of mine and wouldn’t miss a race ever, so I dedicated the win to her.”
Bud Tickel finished the season with five main wins overall in a class with the featured healthy competition while Tim Curtis was the Most Improved Driver.
“It was a blast and good clean fun,” Jarred Tickel said. “It wasn’t like somebody just dominated and won all the races, everybody was fighting and battling it out just to try to come out with a win. Everybody was getting faster and faster throughout the year, it was just fun.”
Kyle Fortney doubled up as the Toyota Sedan’s Rookie Driver of the Year and also won a championship driving that Sedan in the first-year of the 18 Second Bracket Race division.
Another close chase for the points was in the Hobby Stocks Class as Rookie of the Year and Most Improved Driver Ryan Hart battled Frank Mazzei all season long.
Mazzei assured himself the track title after winning the first six races of the season and the final one to finish with a total of 1,158 points.
“It was a great year,” Mazzei said as he was dosed with champagne after celebrating in the winner’s circle in the championship race. “Winning the title after coming back my first year with my crew, you can’t ask for much more.”
Hart, who started the year slow but picked up a full head of steam midway through the season with the help from Mazzei, also won six in a row as both drivers had the same amount of main wins heading into the final race.
“I wanted to help Ryan,” Mazzei said. “He’s a likable kid and I didn’t want to dominate the field. I won six and he won six, tonight was the tie-breaker and I told him that no matter what happens, me and him became good friends. Ryan was a special guy and I helped him.”
Like the Hobby Stocks and Toyota Sedans class, the MST division was down to the wire between drivers for points.
It was John McCollum Jr. topped the division in points with 1,067 to win the championship.
Sportsman of the Year driver Kevin Thompson, who won his first six races of the season and seven overall, finished second in points with 1049.
McCollum’s dad, John Sr., was named the Most Improved Driver as it was a successful season for the McCollum’s who combined for eight wins this year.
“It just means the world to me to win the title,” John McCollum Jr. said. “I grew up watching my dad race and were big NASCAR fans. By watching everyone win championships, the main goal of mine was to just win a championship once. To be able to race my dad and actually beat him on the track is just tremendous. I look up to him, he’s my hero and to be able to beat him at something he does best is a great feeling.”
McCollum Jr. was clearly the season’s most consistent driver in the class.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to win the title but I knew anything can happen,” he said. “It was the last night of racing and people kind of go crazy, so I just had to focus on my race and I was able to do that and keep all four tires on the track.”
One of the most dominant drivers of the season was Tyler Johnson, of Dos Palos, in the 4-Bangers division.
Johnson won the track championship and voted as the Most Improved Driver of the Year in the 4-Bangers.
Johnson, owner of seven mains this season, finished with 1,199 points.
“We set the season off with the goals to be champion and we just really wanted stay active and consistent,” he said. “We just kept the car together week to week and came here to race every time and have fun and win as much as we could. All in all, it came out to be a great total of being a champion, so it feels awesome.”
With a title under his belt, what’s next for Johnson?
“I’m thinking we’re going to try to run some more bracket racing with the new 18 series that Kenny (Shepherd) started and see if we can run an exact 18 second time,” he said. “If not, we’ll try to run some 4-Bangers and see where it takes us.”
Nastasia Dodd was named the Rookie of the Year in the class. Dodd won two races this season as she finished ahead of Johnson in both of those main victories.
410/360 Super Modified champion Kyle Vanderpool was also presented with the track champion trophy as he out-gained Lance Tatro, 90-72, in points.
But it was made clear at the banquet that there was absolutely nothing but mutual respect for the two drivers as the multi-champion veteran Tatro congratulated the up-and-coming race star Vanderpool on a great season and further success.
The banquet also doubled up as a charity event and auction that raised a nice amount of money for children’s causes.
Though the track will go dark for the winter, expect even more amazing shows next season.
“2013 will be the biggest season in the history of the Madera Speedway,” Shepherd said. “From the Bigfoot Monster truck coming to the winged-world series that we’ve created that is coming out. The new sponsor that will replace the Coors Light Series with eight races, two SRL Southwest Tours, we just can’t wait to go.”