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99 Speedway 1946
(before completion)


Billy Vukovich at Stockton 99 Speedway in 1947.

Stockton 99 Speedway, Early Race. Note the goal posts in the infield, St. Mary's High School played football there!!

Memories at Stockton 99 will never run out of gas

Record Staff Writer
Published Thursday, Sep 14, 2006

Stockton 99 Speedway has always been the place to go for a good race and an honest opinion.

I learned this a dozen years ago when I was leaving the track after another marathon night of racing and crashing. A man approached and asked if I was the reporter from The Record.

Assured of my identity, he said, "Hey, I read you every week." Before he could be thanked, he quickly added, "You stink!"


Yep, it's a tough crowd. But that's fitting, because Stockton 99 has long had a reputation as one of the most challenging and exciting little tracks on the West Coast.

On Saturday, the checkered flag will wave for a final time and 60 years of racing on Wilson Way will end.

It's going to be tough to say goodbye, but you do get to keep your memories. And after 18 years and more than 280 trips to Stockton 99 Speedway, there are plenty to choose from.

The most enduring memories have little to do with simple wins and losses. Stockton 99 has always been fueled by personalities and passion.

The paydays aren't always great at Stockton 99, and there are dangerous risks. But for some, racing is everything.

Picking the best driver of the past two decades is difficult, but Ken Boyd dominated Stockton like no other driver over that time. A quiet, unruffled perfectionist, Boyd won four track titles from 1988-91 and set a national short-track record with 39 consecutive fast qualifying times. That mark will outlive Stockton 99 by many years.

Some of the best moments were watching drivers finally achieve goals that had eluded them for so long.

It's hard to forget the look on Pete Anderson Jr.'s face last year when he became the first Stockton resident in more than three decades to win a title in the track's premier division. He beamed with hometown pride.

And no one waited for their glory longer than Harry Belletto of Modesto, who started racing at Stockton 99 in 1969. "Hard-luck Harry" had a frustrating run of near misses before he finally became a champion in 1995 and received one of the loudest ovations in track history.

People appreciate a guy who just won't give up.

Another driver who would never give up his racing dream carried the best name in track history. Cecil "Rip" Van Winkle was a World War II hero who was awarded five Purple Hearts and participated in the invasion of Normandy. He did not begin racing at Stockton 99 until he was 63, but he brought his determination and many cigars with him.

At 67, he won the 1988 Charger division crown to become the oldest driver in NASCAR history to win a title and won it again the next year. He celebrated both by sitting in a lawn chair near his car and holding hands with his wife. He retired in 1995 and passed away four years later.

The desire to compete and win can lead to trouble. Stockton 99 has long had a reputation as a track where disputes are sometimes decided with fists.

One of the biggest brawls involved Kevin Gottula and Ron Strmiska Sr.

The trouble started with the two drivers playing bumper cars on the track and turned into a battle royal between the pit crews.

In the pits, one of Strmiska's crew members jumped up and down on the hood of Gottula's car. After he was suspended, Strmiska simply said, "I guess I'll take my grandson fishing."

Strmiska usually had a pretty good perspective on things. So did Dave Philpott, a two-time champion from Tracy. Whenever a ruling would go against him, he would grit his teeth and say, "You can't fight city hall."

But many drivers tried to fight city hall. Cheating was never accepted, but that didn't stop people from trying. A driver who long ago requested anonymity once said that whenever he was accused of cheating, he always admitted it and accepted the punishment.

His reasoning was that by pleading guilty the officials wouldn't check his engine and see all the other illegal parts he was using.

Stockton 99 has had many controversies and long nights. The longest was in 1998, when Mike David was not declared the winner of the late model race until 4 a.m. Les Scott, a longtime sponsor and the founder of the Hotwood 1,000, remarked, "Who would have thought when we came here on Saturday, that we might miss church on Sunday?"

As the final race approaches, you think of the good times, but also the somber moments when we were unfortunately reminded that auto racing is a dangerous sport.

A driver was never killed during a race at Stockton 99, but there were two deaths at the track.

Rene Bourgois, a popular car owner from Modesto, became the first person killed at the track when a car ran through a fence in the pit area in 1993. J.D. Moore died at age 16 while testing a car during a practice session in 2004.

Stockton 99 could be a dangerous, wonderful place and at times a little bizarre. But mostly it was an important part of San Joaquin County's racing community and a place where local folks could live their dreams.

It's sad when you lose such a place. But it's been a heck of a ride.

Contact reporter Scott Linesburgh at (209) 546-8281 or

Final race

Green flag: 6:10 p.m. Saturday
Program: 100-lap races for NASCAR Western Late Model and StockCar Racing League; American Limited Stock Car, Powder Puff, school bus demolition derby and fireworks
Ticket prices: $35 for adults; $25 for seniors (65-over); $20 for juniors (13-17) $5 for children 6-12 and under 6 are free. A family pack (two adults, four children) is $69.99.
Info: (209) 466-9999;