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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!!

The end of an era
Longtime legends join crowds of emotional fans
bidding farewell to one tiny oval and the enormous void it leaves.

Record Staff Writer
Published Sunday, Sep 17, 2006


Whitey Rich, track manager of the Stockton 99 Speedway for 32 of its 60 seasons, returned to the track from his home in Oregon on Saturday for its final night of racing, joining thousands of fans saying goodbye. “We wanted to come down and take one more look at the old place,” he explained. “This is quite a loss. I think Stockton 99 was the last decent short track on the West Coast.”

Credit: Victor J Blue/ The Record

STOCKTON - Whitey Rich stood on the hill at Stockton 99 Speedway and gazed down toward the track and the overflowing crowd.

The old track had changed a bit over the years, but it was still Stockton 99, and he was glad he was there to say goodbye.

Rich, who spent 32 years as the manager of the speedway, drove from his home in Oregon to attend the final race program in track history on Saturday. He was joined by emotional fans, determined drivers and a large array of former competitors representing Stockton 99's many eras of racing.

"I'm very happy that I decided to come," Rich said. "I heard a lot of people were going to come, and we decided we should be here. After all, this place was always about the people."

The speedway finished its 60th and final season with two 100-lap races and a fireworks display in front of a standing-room-only crowd. There was a line several hundred yards long at the time the first races began. Attendance was not available at press time, but track officials estimated more than 5,000 fans attended the final event.


"I've never seen a crowd like this," Stockton driver Ron Strmiska Jr. said. "But I'm not surprised. You knew everyone would show up for this one. They know what it means."

Owners Bob Hunefeld and Ken Clapp are in the process of selling the 20-acre site to real estate developers and announced the 2006 season would be a celebration of the history of Stockton 99.

Rich, 82, was at the track for much of that history.

He managed Stockton 99 from 1959 to 1990 and lived in a mobile home on the property for the last 15 years of his tenure. He and his wife, Ann, made the 450-mile trip from their home in Grant's Pass, Ore., and were greeted by several old friends.

"I noticed they all got old, and so did I," Rich said with a laugh. "We wanted to come down and take one more look at the old place. This is quite a loss. I think Stockton 99 was the last decent short track on the West Coast."

Among the former drivers who greeted Rich was Chuck Tatum, who was a fan at the first event at Stockton 99 on May 27, 1947.

"When I came over here (on Saturday), I was recalling that first race and so many more memories," Tatum said. "I'll miss this track. It's going to leave a big void in Stockton."

Janet Vukovich King, the niece of the first winner, Billy Vukovich, was in attendance to represent her family.

The former drivers mingled with the fans, many of whom were contemplating how they will spend their Saturday nights next season.

"It's really sad; my whole family is into it and loves coming here," said Stocktonian Tiffany Cosby, 34. "We all work hard during the week and then come out here on Saturday nights to be together and watch the races. I feel at home here."

Mark Wyrick, 40, said he'll miss the track but understood that the owners felt it was time to sell.

"You don't want it to happen, but I knew it would eventually happen," Wyrick said. "I'm just glad we had the track as long as we did."

The drivers, crew members and officials tried to concentrate on putting on one more show. Program coordinator Ron Roach, who has been at Stockton 99 for 34 years, said he was trying to concentrate on doing his job.

"When the final checkered flag falls and you walk away, then I guess it will hit you in a few days," said Roach, 60. "But the main thing is to put on a good race for everyone."

Mike Shafer, a Stockton car owner who has been coming to Stockton 99 for 42 years, said he also expects the loss of the track will affect him sometime in the future.

"I know I'll drive by someday and realize that it's closed and it's not coming back," Shafer said. "I don't know if I'll really feel it until next year."

But many people were already feeling the loss of the track on Saturday night. Stockton 99 race director Earl Summers has been involved with the track as a driver and an official for five decades.

"It's tough to walk out of here," Summers said. "All you can do is remember the good times."

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