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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!!

Last lap for a family tradition

Record Staff Writer
Published Sunday, Sep 17, 2006

Above the roar of the engines that emanated from Stockton 99 Speedway's oval one final time on a beautiful Saturday night rose a groundswell of emotion.

From longtime drivers reminiscing about their white knuckle days behind the wheel to fans young and old savoring the finale of the 60-year run, Saturday night was bittersweet.

None could have felt that more than the members of the Hunefeld family.

If the end of racing at the speedway meant no more Saturday nights of fumes, fights and frantic finishes, for the Hunefelds it meant the end of a legacy, the closing of the family business.


"I'm happy; I'm sad," Chris Hunefeld said. "I'm putting off thinking about it. It hasn't hit me yet. It will probably be awhile before it does."

Let's hope so, for his sake.

Giving up the raceway is like giving up a piece of family lore.

Bill Hunefeld, Chris's grandfather, bought the property on Wilson Way and opened the track in 1947. He was a man with a vision, along with an uncanny sense of timing and promotion.

Hunefeld had promoted boxing in the 1930s when the sport was at its popularity peak. He promoted wrestling in the 1940s and 50s when it enjoyed a great following.

He'd put on midget-car races at old Baxter Stadium in 1940 and 1941, and jumped into the car racing game when it regained its footing after having been stopped by the lack of rubber and gasoline during the war years.

His son, Bob, returned from his stint in the Navy in time to watch the end of that 1947 debut season, and in 1948 his dad told him he wanted him to run the concessions.

"I didn't want to do that, but he said he'd give me $25 a show, so I said OK," Bob Hunefeld said.

His future wife worked in that concession stand, earning enough money to buy his wedding ring.

His memories of working at the track may not be as precious as that, but he's been part of the operation ever since.

"It's very emotional," Bob Hunefeld said. "I have mixed emotions about it. My son (Chris) has been handling it for so many years, there's not much work for me.

"Chris will really miss it. He's into the racing. I'm more into hot dogs and beer."

No question, Chris is the racing fan of the family.

"I wanted to come out and watch the races. I used to beg him to bring me with him when he came to work," Chris Hunefeld said.

A trip to the track became an annual postseason trip for his Little League baseball teams, beginning when he was 8.

Other times, he just sat in the stands and watched by himself as his dad sold hot dogs, beer and popcorn.

"One time (Bob) sat me down next to someone I didn't know who looked kind of rough," Chris said. "He said he'd watch out for me. I was eating a hot dog and it fell on the ground, in the peanut shells. I remember this guy pulled out a pocket knife, which surprised me a little, and he cut off the part that fell on the ground and I ate the rest of the hot dog."

Chris graduated to selling those peanuts whose shells collected under the bleachers.

At age 12, he had a Social Security card and earned 15 percent from every 100-bag carton of peanuts he sold for 15 cents a bag.

He spent those profits on model cars that he'd put together.

Chris left the speedway business after graduating from University of the Pacific to pursue a musical career. After nine years on the road playing guitar for various bands, he returned to the family fold, taking over concession sales at the speedway in 1984.

Although weekends at the track became a job for him, as it was for his dad, Chris never lost his love for the sport.

He even got in a car and drove practice laps one time.

"Talk about a rush," Chris said. "It's totally different from the go-karts you drive at an amusement park. That's fun. This was like driving on ice. The cars don't react like passenger cars. The way you use the gas and brake can make you spin out. You have to hit the exact right spot, and if you do, you don't have to turn the wheel or use your break."

The experience that had him gagging on dust after spinning out in the infield was enough for him.

He contented himself with the more profitable speedway ventures of selling concessions, billboard signs and programs, and operating the track's Web site.

They're various jobs he's done - some for 20 years - and the thought of no longer tending to them was too much to comprehend on the final night.

He planned to spend today recovering from having served the biggest crowd in recent memory. Come April, when another season of racing would normally start, he said he'll be found watching a Giants game at AT&T Park, where he marvels at concession prices.

Gouging the public was never his style. Carrying on a tradition, providing family entertainment in the fashion first envisioned by his grandfather was his mantra.

To that end, it was a true Hunefeld event, right down to Chris' children, 12-year-old Allie and 9-year-old Billy making the final, "Gentlemen, start your engines," call.

It was a poignant, sweet ending - one that brought the track full circle.

Their great grandfather, Bill, had uttered the same words, at the same track, 60 years earlier.

Contact columnist Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or