By Mike Adaskaveg
Merced Sun Star
There will be a Dwarf Car invasion at Merced Speedway, and Gene “Punky” Pires of Los Banos will be leading the charge.
Pires, like the majority of the tiny Dwarf Car drivers, has never raced at the quarter mile dirt track. With cars and drivers from as far away as San Diego and Nevada expected on Saturday, Pires will have plenty of competition.
“Dwarf car drivers are like one big family,” Pires explains about the people behind the steering wheels of the little cars capable of speeds up to 100 mph. “Everyone helps eachother prepare for the race. Competition is always close, that is one of the major attractions to driving this type of car.”
Pires is president of South Bay Dwarf Cars, a club boasting 34 members. Other California clubs have similar counts in their membership rosters. The drivers compete at a wide variety of racetracks in the Western states.
“With hardly anyone having experienced Merced Speedway, there will be a scramble to set up suspension on the cars after hot laps,” Pires continues. “These little cars are one of the toughest race cars to drive. They’re twitchy – they respond quickly to the track and driver because of their short wheelbase.”
Big 1,000 cc motorcycle engines power the little cars. They blast through the turns of dirt tracks four abreast, providing a thrilling experience for drivers and fans.
Pires has been behind the wheel of his dwarf cars for 11 years. He learned about the cars from an employee, and found them to be an affordable vehicle to race.
“They look small, but they are roomy enough for a full sized driver,” says Pires of the Dwarf Cars. “They provide all the thrills and more that you would expect from auto racing. They are a whole lot of fun.”
IMCA “Modifieds”, Hobby Stocks and Valley Sportsman Saturday Night
The winged retro cars of the Valley Sportsman division join the Dwarf Cars in headlining Saturday night’s Merced Speedway four-division program. Each class of cars will have qualifying races and a feature event.
Mike Henault of LaGrange leads Merced’s Tim Prothro by a mere five points in the championship battle for the Valley Sportsman Division. Newcomer Marcus Lung is in the hunt for the championship, 24 points out of first. He’s driving the sportsman owned by his dad, Jim, of Mariposa, raced in the 1970s.
The battle of the season is taking place in the Merced Speedway Hobby Stock division. Raul Rodriguez of Merced is barely ahead of Los Banos schoolteacher Kristie Shearer, who trails by seven points in championship points.
In the IMCA modified stock car division, Paul Stone of Winton is well on the way to accomplishing his goal of winning the track championship. Defending champion Rodney Freitas of Merced is 31 points out of the lead.
“There’s not 31 points to be had in the three nights of racing left for IMCA modifieds,” lamented defending champion Freitas. “Stone would have to miss a race for me to be able to win the championship. I’ll fight for second.”
Jeff Streeter of Chowchilla is 18 points behind Freitas in third place.
Merced Speedway is located inside the Merced County Fairgrounds; 900 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in Merced, Calif. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for senior citizens and $5 for children 6-12. A family four-pack of tickets admits two children and two adults for $30.
Racing begins at 7 p.m. The grandstand opens at 5 p.m.