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Local track nears finish line
Next season will be the last for NASCAR racing at Stockton 99

Record Staff Writer
Published Thursday, Sep 22, 2005


The race official signals the end of a 100-lap race at Stockton 99 Speedway this season


STOCKTON -- Stockton 99 Speedway is scheduled to take its final lap next season.

Track co-owner and promoter Ken Clapp announced the 2006 would be the 60th and last full-time season at Stockton 99, the oldest member of NASCAR west of the Mississippi River. The property will be sold to land developers, and there's a slight chance racing could return in some form if its still standing in 2007 or beyond.

But the days of weekly, Saturday-night NASCAR racing at the rough-and-tumble, quarter-mile oval on Wilson Way will be over.

"This will be the final season," Clapp said. "And we plan to make it a grand season, we're pulling out all the stops. This will be a season-long celebration of racing at Stockton 99."

The celebration will be heartfelt and bittersweet for members of the local racing community, many of whom have supported the track for decades.

"It's going to break my heart, but I guess money talks," said Stockton race team owner Mike Shafer, who has been involved with the track for 41 years.

"I know I will be here, and I think a lot of drivers and will come back to take one more run at it. It's sad it's ending, but it could be a huge season."

Eventually, Stockton 99 is expected to join a growing list of California tracks that have been torn down to make way for progress. Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield and Silver State Speedway in Carson City closed at the end of this season. Bakersfield was a NASCAR-sanctioned track, but there's not a facility on the West Coast that rivals Stockton 99's tenure with the organization.

Racing began at track in 1946, and it became the first NASCAR track in the Western United States in 1955. Among the drivers who have begun their careers at Stockton is Ernie Irvan, the 1977 track champion who would go on to win the Daytona 500.

"It's been a NASCAR stronghold for 50 years, and it will be tough to see it go," Southwest Region director Mike Verlatti said. "But the problem is that land in the West is worth so much now, and it becomes good business to sell."


13-year-old Zachary Beard waves his own set of race flags during a recent event while mimicking the race official at Stockton 99 Speedway


Clapp, a former vice president of NASCAR, has been involved with Stockton 99 as a minority owner for 29 years. His 10-year contract as promoter ends in 2006 and there has been talk of selling the track for years.

"To tell you the truth, it's time," Clapp said. "We've had offers for years, and now it's being actively pursued."

Majority owner Bob Hunefeld said there's a possibility the track could host some races if it isn't sold promptly.

"We have no plans past next season at this time, and we'll just have to see," Hunefeld said. "We don't know what will happen yet."

The closest NASCAR asphalt oval to Stockton is Shasta Speedway in Redding, and the dirt track in Watsonville is also under the organization's banner. Altamont Raceway and Arena, located in the foothills south of Tracy, has been a NASCAR track in the past, but is currently a member of the American Speed Association ASA.

"Altamont is completing the first year of our ASA sanction and we plan to continue it well into the future," Altamont general manager Dennis Ortoland said. "I will say that we are in no way happy to hear that Stockton will eventually close. I think it hurts racing in this area to lose a track with its historic significance."

Stockton's final NASCAR schedule begins April 2, 2006, and Clapp said he plans to run several major races. He's hopeful some of the bigger names in track history will return to compete in the premier Western Late Model division, and at least one local legend has vowed to return for one more run at Stockton 99 Speedway.

Harry Belletto, the all-time track leader with 84 victories, will be back on the track because that's the best way to say goodbye.

"I started out there in 1969, and that place means a lot to so many people," said Belletto, 62. "So I know I'll be a part of it. I'm going to definitely put in some farewell laps at the old place."

Contact reporter Scott Linesburgh at 209 546-8281 or slinesbu@recordnet.com

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