As a young boy, I can recall hearing the Indianapolis
500 being broadcast every May in my father’s garage. My dad was an auto
mechanic and a race fan. I can go way back in time and recall my first
ever visit to a race track. We lived in Sunnyside, Washington at the
time (late 1950s or so) and there was a small dirt track located between
Sunnyside and the neighboring community of Grandview. I remember going
with my Dad, on at least one occasion, to watch my brother-in-law race
the hard tops or jalopies at a track that is no more.
We moved and I grew up in Tracy, California and like most of us was
influenced by my father when it came to auto racing. As a young man in
1967, I attended a few races at Stockton’s 99 Speedway where track
management would allow us to bring in our own coolers filled with beer.
Can you imagine? My friends and I had a blast. We would yell drunkenly
for our home-town hero Fred Hunt and boo track favorite Johnny Brazil
because he was from Manteca our high school’s traditional rival.
Coincidently I made several more trips to the 99 Speedway, and something
inside of me took hold; I guess it is like the old-timers used to say,
“racin’ gets in yer blood.”
Ironically enough, I never had any ambition to be a driver or work on a
race car. I am just a fan of a great sport. Like I said, my Dad was an
auto mechanic and I couldn’t even change the oil in my car.
I always liked going to the races with my Dad, and the times he did go
he would always say, “We have to get there early for time trials.”
Looking back at it now I remember those words and always try to make
qualifying. He didn’t go that often. The times he accompanied me were
One fateful day I came home to have my father greet me at the front door
with my draft notice in hand. I had been 1-A, which meant that I was
more than draft eligible. A draft notice at that time of course meant
one thing – a free ticket to South Vietnam. And that’s where I ended up.
Upon my safe return, it was 1970, I bounced around a little bit and
finally ended up with a good paying seasonal job at the old H.J. Heinz
plant in town. This is about the same time I started to get reacquainted
with the wonderful 99 Speedway in Stockton. During my brief tenure at
the H.J. Heinz plant, I was in constant fear of being placed on the
night shift thereby ruining my renewed affair with the 99 Speedway.
Most of my friends had avoided the draft and gone on to college while
others who were drafted were busy raising families. My girlfriend was
the draw of the open wheel Modifieds at 99 Speedway. On Friday I
couldn’t wait to get off work and head out to see her.
I think it was a combination of different things that drew me to the
track. Loud open wheel cars, the Friday night lights and the role those
lights played off of each car’s paint, the track announcer, the
atmosphere and smell of burning rubber and the old fashioned, almost
Midwest look and feel of the speedway. I sat every Friday night near the
top of the turn four corner. Every week I would see the same folks and
soon I became a regular. An elderly handicapped gentleman became a
friend and we would part at the end of the night by saying, “see you
next week.” I think he was a Brazil fan.
Johnny Brazil was by far the most popular driver at 99. Car owner Pete
Winters had two race cars – the Modified that Johnny drove on Friday
nights and the Super Modified that Brazil ran on Saturday night at San
Jose. Brazil holds the Modified track record of 61 main event wins at
the 99 Speedway. He was without question one of the top race car drivers
in Northern California having won track championships at West Capital
Raceway in Sacramento and hanging tough with the big boys of NASCAR at
San Jose and Clovis Speedways.
My favorite of course was Tracy’s Fred Hunt. He drove the low bucks,
orange eight-ball car that came up short on appearances when placed next
to Brazil’s or Queirolo’s rides. Hunt was a cagey veteran who had won a
championship with the Northern Auto Racing Club (sprint cars) in the 50s
and had claimed track championships at 99 Speedway as well. The team
would have the orange eight-ball car dialed in every week, and as a
result challenge Brazil or Queirolo in the main event.
The one thing that always perplexed me about Hunt was his ability to
show up late, and still qualify as one of the fastest cars right off the
trailer. The race track was located off Wilson Way in Stockton. The
four-lane city street ran parallel and west of the 99 Freeway with a
huge auto salvage yard sitting as a buffer between Wilson Way and the
track From my perch atop the grandstands in turn four I could easily see
the traffic on Wilson Way. With 15 minutes left in qualifying I would
finally spot the orange eight-ball car, sitting atop its hauler, heading
down Wilson Way and into the pits at the racetrack. This seemed to be
the case each week. I would always sweat it out hoping that the crew and
Fred could make it in time to qualify. They would roll it off their
truck and with no warm-up lap’s get out just in time to make the show.
He was always one of the fastest qualifiers. . Hunt was a truck driver
and each year was heavily involved in moving the area’s different crops
to San Joaquin county canneries. It was grueling work involving many
long hours. It was difficult for him to get to the track during his busy
season. Hunt had thirteen fast times and nine wins in 1968 and twelve
fast times and ten feature wins in 1967. He also ranks fourth in all
time feature wins at the speedway with 39.
There were some great drivers back then. In addition to Hunt and Brazil
there was Henry Brown, Johnny Pearson, Mike Andreetta and Dennis Hicks
all from Stockton. Lathrop’s Tony Queirolo raced the famed #100 car that
was owned by a Tracy rancher and later sold to another Tracy rancher
Nelson Santos. Brazil’s car owner was Manteca’s Pete Winters – another
rancher. Pearson and Andreetta went on to drive sprint cars throughout
Northern California. Andreeta had left Stockton in 1971 to concentrate
on the Super Modifieds at West Capital Raceway in West Sacramento.
Pearson became a yearly visitor to Australia during the racing off
season and was very popular as a driver down under. Hicks won a track
championship one year and Brown was always a contender and later an
official at the track.
Other fan favorites included Joe Rushton, one of the track’s top shoes
from Hughson, Modesto drivers Ed Amador, Don Hickman, Neil Muncill, Pete
Dalla, Bill King and Vel Rogers, Turlock’s Bill Bryan and Manteca’s
Queirolo and Brazil formed a great rivalry and the stands were divided
into two camps. Depending on whom you spoke to one or the other was the
hero or the villain. It was great excitement.
Hickman made his debut at Stockton in a beautiful candy red car, with a
Ford engine in 1971. Hickman made it known that he would compete against
Brazil, Queirolo, Rushton and Hunt for the track championship. He was
definitely an exciting driver to watch and the race car was stunning in
looks. His actions caught the attention of the race fans. But he was
never consistent and his drives were sometimes disappointing. But he
sure made an impression.
In addition to Hunt, Tracy drivers included John Philpott, Stamati
Gaglias and Leonard “Pappy” Collins. Marty Martin made the long tow from
Los Banos each Friday night.
By the time I had arrived back from overseas duty the great Joltin’ Joe
Giusti was in the twilight of his career, but the few times he showed up
to race with the Modifieds were memorable. The fans always liked Giusti
and he was one of the living legends at the track. He had won 38 main
events in both the Hardtops and Jalopy Divisions that ran at the track
in the 50s. Running with the Modifieds, at an age where most men would
be sitting in the grandstands, he was still able to win 20 heat races.
Jack McCoy of Modesto was just making the switch from the Modifieds to
the NASCAR West Late Models and was driving a beautiful Dodge Charger at
tracks in the West. So I had just missed his time as one of the best
open wheel drivers at 99 Speedway. He was my Dad’s favorite and we made
every NASCAR event that was anywhere near Tracy. At 99 Speedway, McCoy’s
resume at the 99 Speedway includes 48 main event victories, second only
Queirolo was an amazing driver who always managed to create excitement
when he wheeled #100 car on the track. He captured 45 main events at the
speedway during his career and set three qualifying records. One time,
when I was working part-time at a local liquor store, an Old Italian
farmer stopped by and spoke highly of Queirolo. The farmer, who knew
practically nothing about racing, but everything about farming, could
never figure out why Tony never went back for the Indy 500. My favorite
memory of Queirolo was on a Saturday night at the famed San Jose
Speedway. Nelson Santos owned the car then as Queirolo took on the big
boys with big engines with his normal 99 Speedway motor. Stockton’s Ray
Rigetti had the 292 cubic inch Modified with a single two-barrel
carburetor finely tuned for a win. Queirolo took the early lead in the
Super Modified main event and was never headed as he blew away some of
California’s best open wheel drivers in his one and only appearance at
San Jose. Man, was that excitement.
Sadly, my love for the 99 Speedway would wane, when in September 1972,
the Modified drivers told track management that they wouldn’t race that
night if a bigger pay-out wasn’t agreed upon. Track management refused
their demand and locked the Modifieds out. Sound familiar? Needless to
say it was a sad state of affairs for me. Gone were my beloved open
wheeled Modifieds and in their place came the Early Model Division (tin
tops, taxi cabs, stock cars). The Modifieds were shut out never to
Hunt moved to Carson City and did some driving up there, Queirolo and
Rushton retired and Brazil continued on at San Jose
I vowed never to return to the speedway and I pretty much stuck to it
through all these years. A few years ago I made an exception and
returned for a USAC Sprint and Midget doubleheader that featured Kasey
After my personal loss at Stockton, I began to travel on Saturdays to
either San Jose or West Sacramento with an occasional trip to Calistoga.
Auto racing for me returned to normal as the racing action at all of
these famed ovals was unbelievable. Last year the 99 Speedway closed for
good – victim to real estate developers. No matter how I felt about the
place so many long years ago it is always a sad day when any race track
is forced to close.
Today, we live in fear of losing the small town race track due to the
changing economy, tree huggers and wide spread growth of communities. As
for me, my time and memories spent at the small racetrack in Stockton
will last a lifetime.
I married and have two children and three grandchildren. Due to work
commitments I moved to Southern California. My Dad passed away in 1984
and my Mom only a couple of years ago. Oh, and the Indy 500 is now on
Television and I still don’t change the oil in my car.
Thanks to Stockton 99 Speedway’s History – 58 years and still turning