2008 Local Tracks



Racing returns to Stockton 99 amid uncertain times

Economy, Tracy track closing among concerns


Record Staff Writer

March 20, 2009 6:00 AM

STOCKTON - Stockton 99 Speedway's new promoters are confident they can be successful in a changing auto racing world.

But there's no doubt there are challenges to selling tickets in a struggling economy.

Stockton 99's official Grand Opening will occur at 2:15 p.m. Sunday, completing its return from a two-year hiatus. Promoters Tony and Carol Noceti held what they dubbed a "soft opening" last Saturday featuring a demolition derby and believe everything is ready to go.

"There are challenges, but we expect we'll do well," Carol Noceti said. "We absolutely think we can be successful in this economy."

Carol Noceti said they realize the local racing scene isn't the same it was at the end of the 2006 season. Altamont Raceway is closed and the economy will make it tougher on drivers to compete. Stockton 99 will try to stand out to get its share of the entertainment dollar.

The closest racing facility to Stockton 99 will not run races, at least for now. Altamont, the half-mile asphalt facility that is technically in Tracy but under the jurisdiction of Alameda County, has suspended operations indefinitely, according to owner Mel Andrews, and is awaiting the completion of an environmental report before seeing if it will continue to pursue a full-time license. Altamont had been operating on a temporary use permit from Alameda County for three seasons, and last season ran under several restrictions, including only racing during daytime hours.

Andrews said a decision about Altamont's future will be made after seeing what changes have to be made to satisfy the county. There is no date set for the competition of the environmental report.

"Last season the county put on some temporary restrictions which were more financially detrimental than anticipated, but I wouldn't say that we've written off the year," Andrews said. "We're kind of in the midst of deciding what options we have, even if it means proposing to that we run four or five major shows instead of a full season. We'll see."

With Altamont at least temporarily off track, there are just four NASCAR-sanctioned short tracks remaining in California, down from a high of 19 in the early 1990s. Three of the tracks are in the Central Valley - Stockton 99, Madera Speedway and All-American Speedway in Roseville. The other is in Irwindale.

While it's unclear if Altamont's closing will affect attendance, it could impact the car counts.

Kenny Shepherd, who runs Madera, said he believes tracks can keep fan and driver enthusiasm high, and he sees improvement from last season in at least one way.

"I believe the $4 a gallon gas made it tougher last year than it is now," Shepherd said. "It crushed the fan; it crushed the sport. I'd rather have the $2 gas even with the pessimism about the economy."

Driver and car owner David Philpott of Tracy said the economy will have an effect. He owns an auto garage in Tracy and admits business is down. So is sponsorship.

"It's going to be tougher to get money all around," Philpott said. "You'll see people cut where they can, maybe only testing one day instead of two or buying four new tires instead of eight. Some are going to have to run on a budget, and if that stuff breaks, that's it. I expect good car counts at the openers, then we'll see how it goes."

Tony Noceti said he has had a good turnout at recent practice sessions at Stockton 99, and a large crowd is expected Sunday. Carol Noceti said she's working to make sure they keep coming out.

A standard ticket for a Saturday night race at Stockton 99 will be $15 for an adult. Children ages 10 and under will be admitted free. Track officials have also worked to make the facility family-friendly, and there are plans to put in a children's play area.

"We're striving to offer family-oriented, economical entertainment," Carol Noceti said. "We have to be able to offer people the best deal for their money. I think we're helped by the fact that so many people are excited that the track is back."

Contact reporter Scott Linesburgh at (209) 546-8281 or slinesburgh@recordnet.com.


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