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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!!

Racing into history

Published Friday, Sep 15, 2006


The sun sets on the Stockton 99 Speedway during races on Sept. 2.

Credit: Victor J Blue/ The Record

The smell of burning gas and rubber mixes with the sight of greasy hands working fast and the growl of racing engines for the last time Saturday at Stockton 99 Speedway.

The crowd will roar, the green flag will drop and the stock cars will rumble into action during the final night of races at the quarter-mile asphalt oval.
Sadly, the speedway, a landmark on North Wilson Way since 1947, will race into history.

Saturday nights in summer never will be the same for the drivers, auto racing fans or the San Joaquin County sports scene.

Closing after its 60th year in operation, the well-worn track has been the scene of skilled and competitive driving, lots of fender-banging and a lifetime of victories and defeats.


It's also provided an occasional training ground for the increasingly popular NASCAR circuit.

Ernie Irvan, the 1977 champion at Stockton Speedway, who became a Daytona 500 winner, said, "If you can win at Stockton, you can win anywhere."

Billy Vukovich, a two-time Indianapolis 500 victor, won the first-ever race at Stockton 99 Speedway on May 27, 1947, in front of a crowd of 8,000.

It's always been a unique place - in its original dirt-track incarnation and as a higher-speed asphalt oval often described as a bull ring, because its narrow confines make it tough for drivers to avoid contact with other cars. The fans love that.

Spin-outs are routine. The track's low walls are scarred from thousands of scrapes and more than a few scary and unwanted escapes. Over the wall, that is.

In 1954, the speedway became the first NASCAR track west of the Mississippi.

During its years of operation, other tracks came and went. Good old 99 just kept on rolling and still ranks right up there as a pioneer of Western racing.

The speedway's history is linked to one family. Billy Hunefeld, a boxing and wrestling promoter who moved to Stockton in the 1930s, owned a bowling alley and ran a small amusement park.

Before World War II, he promoted auto races at the College of Pacific's Baxter Stadium. After the war, he built the speedway.

He died in 1969 at age 71. His son Bob, now 77, the majority owner, and Ken Clapp, 67, the minority owner and promoter, have sold the 20-acre site near Highway 99 to a housing developer.

"It was an awfully tough decision to make," Clapp told The Record.

The family-friendly track has been home to some pretty darn good racing clans - the Philpotts of Tracy, the Andersons of Stockton, the Bellettos of Modesto and the Strmiskas of Manteca.

It's appropriate that 10-year-old Billy Hunefeld, great-grandson of the founder, will be involved in the final night of racing. Another family touch.

He'll get to declare, "Start your engines."

The original Billy, ever the promoter, would have liked that.

When the final checkered flag is waved and the last engine shuts down, the drivers, pit crews and fans will go home - some happy, others disappointed - never to return.

Fittingly, the lights will be turned off by Bob Hunefeld.

The darkened track will symbolize yet another Central Valley void being left in the wake of progress.

There'll be no Stockton 99 Speedway when the 2007 racing season begins. Which is sad.