Stockton 99 Speedway 1946
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
sun sets on the Stockton 99 Speedway during races on Sept. 2.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.