The 2008 Season Is In the Books
Saturday night, October 25, 2008, brought an end to the 2008 season with the championship going to the Stock Car Racing Association Hall of Famer, Bobby Taylor. Taylor did it in typical fashion, letting the race come to him, staying out of trouble, and finishing third in the main event. On the season, Taylor won only one main event, but he was consistent, and brought home his third championship in a racing career at Manzanita Speedway that spans over 25 years.
The year also brings a disappointing year to a close for Justin, who entered the season with high hopes for a repeat championship. Last season Justin beat Taylor for the championship by 45 points, closing out the year with a spectacular finish by winning five of his last six races. Early this year Justin was diagnosed with an unusual form of Glaucoma, which continues to affect his vision. Justin’s treatment during the off-season will determine his racing future. If the improvement does not come, he will most likely sell off his cars and equipment and settle for becoming a fan.
On another front, Justin Upton Racing, LLC, will continue to participate in stock car racing through story-telling. A few weeks ago, I signed a contract to produce a book with the working title, “Stock Car Racing in Bowling Green,” a book that will tell the story of the beginning of stock car racing in Bowling Green, Kentucky through pictures and words. My co-author will be Jonathan Jeffrey, Manuscripts and Folklore Coordinator, Kentucky Library & Museum (WKU). The book will be published by Arcadia Publishing of Charleston, South Carolina as part of their series, “Images in Sports.” In addition, Justin and I will continue working with Western Kentucky University’s Library and Museum to complete their collection of Bowling Green stock car racing memorabilia and artifacts.
In closing the year, Justin Upton Racing wants to thank the sponsors and fans who have supported its efforts in building, maintaining and racing the best stock cars at Manzanita Speedway. The key to success in racing is having the best equipment, a smart, talented driver, and good luck. Justin Upton Racing has been blessed with all of that and more. A good part of the success goes to those who have given us their unlimited moral support and the sponsors who have provided the best racing equipment in Phoenix. Thank you!
Justin Upton Racing, LLC
I Did Not Die; I Was Not Injured; But I Crashed!
Tolstoy said that the greatest surprise in a man’s life is old age. I think that is true, but Justin and Jane, for one day, stopped the chronometer of time and reminded me of that old 1950’s alien from outer space movie, “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” and for me it did; I will live at least one more day than has been allotted to me.
The training program that I embarked on back on July 26 was a winner for me. I went to the gym almost every day, sometimes twice, resulting in a loss of 10 pounds, improved diet, and a higher energy level. I thank Justin and Jane for providing me with a motivator.
What I really wanted to capture with this experience was the excitement and emotions of racing. At 5 p.m., George Easton, a local appraiser and friend of mine who volunteered to serve with Justin and Jane as my pit crew, arrived at my house to begin the 30 minute trek to Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix. When we arrived at the track, Justin and Jane had the pit set up, the car had been polished with baby oil and it looked great. The oil makes it easier to scrape off the mud that accumulates on the car during mud-packing and the early part of the race. All I had to do was set out my lawn chairs and proceed to engage in the social event that always occurs prior to race time. All the drivers that set up early socialize by going from pit to pit welcoming old friends and slapping each other on the back. After the race many of the drivers are not nearly as friendly. It was a familiar ritual and, since I know many, if not most, of the drivers, I was at home. I had more fun than anyone because there had been some controversy about Anthony Madrid, an 11-time champion, racing Justin’s #66 in his absence from the track. At the last drivers’ meeting on September 8, there was talk of banning Madrid from the Factory Stock Division; he is that good. My story to everybody was that after tonight’s race, they would be wishing that Madrid was back in the car so I could be put on the sidelines. After my performance Friday night, however, the drivers will want to ban both Anthony and myself from the Division, but for different reasons.
Once I am on the track, however, I slightly open the face-shield to let in some fresh air. The cars are moving slowly to pack the water into the clay, so it’s OK. I enjoy the mud-packing because I am experiencing the car, but I realize that what I really need to experience are the “hot laps” which will come later. I need to see how the car handles under speed. Justin never runs “hot laps” because he believes that the engine only has so much life, and he wants to save it for the race. On the other hand, I need to push this car as I have never been in it before. Soon enough, the track is packed, and the green flag drops to give us six laps of real action. Suddenly, the car’s rattles and creaks of the slow pace are gone, and the track seems smooth when the car is under acceleration. After the practice is over and I return to my pit, I am disappointed to see that I hit only 4800 rpms on my tach. That will not cut it with these big boys.
My plan was to tag the field, take it easy, and accustom myself to the car. The pill draw changed all that. I drew second row outside in the second heat race. That is a good spot, because a win puts one in the front row outside for the main event. How silly of me to even think such a thing could happen, but already my brain was beginning to atrophy from the excitement of competition.
It was easier crawling into the cockpit for the heat race. The difficult part was sitting in the staging area with the seven other cars awaiting our turn to take to the track. I was sitting there with sweat running down my face even though my face-shield is open, listening to the rumble of the engines of all eight cars in the heat. I can feel my heart rate going up and I don’t know what to do with my hands: should I put them in my lap, hold the gear shifter, or put them on the steering wheel; so I continually shift from one position to another. The heat in the fireproof suit is almost unbearable. What am I thinking: I’ve got to keep my tongue from between my teeth so I don’t bite it off.
Several years ago, I took a class in the “Psychology of Sales” in which we learned the techniques of achieving peak performance. Part of the class was to learn to measure one’s SUD level (sorry, I can’t remember what SUD stands for); in other words we had to record how we were feeling 10 times per day on a scale of 1-50 with one being that you are just barely awake and 50 meaning your emotions are off the chart. The ideal range was 30-40 which meant that one was fully focused, engaged, and under personal control in whatever activity was going on. This was the point at which you were most capable of achieving peak performance. Over the past several years, I have noticed that the best race car drivers have this unique ability to operate their race cars in peak performance mode. As I sat in staging, I thought about this technique and tried mightily to calm myself; then the traffic light at the end of the staging area began to flash green, which meant that we were to pull onto the track for our parade lap.
As we slowly circled the track at about 15-20 mph, my brain became totally dysfunctional and did not recover until the night was over. As the green flag waved, I stomped on it, determined to stay on the bumper of car #3, Danny Pearson. He is a good driver and I knew he would bolt into the lead by the end of the straightaway, going into turn one. I didn’t count on Bob Millan, who started inside of me, pushing over at the turn into my lane and moved into the space behind Pearson, which wasn’t big enough unless I braked, which I did. I didn’t want to wreck the car within the first 300 yards, so I gave in. I held my position for the remainder of the heat race but my finish consigned me to the semi-main event, with the other door slammers and fender bangers.
Nevertheless, I did discover that Justin’s car had plenty of speed and power to win, assuming I could control it. I did have some problems getting through the turns. I tended to over-accelerate in the middle of the turn and almost spun out more than once. One comment about my SUD level: during a caution flag, I noticed that I was almost hyperventilating and pulled up my face-shield as we all jockeyed back into position for the restart. I had to consciously make myself breathe slower to regain control. I figure that my SUD was near 50, which meant that I was about to blow off the top of my head.
In the semi-main, I was lined up on the third row outside, another pretty good position. My thinking about tagging the field was now completely in the past. I felt sure with the power and handling of Justin’s car, I could make a run to the front and make the main event. That’s all I could think about.
During staging, I had the same feelings and experience as I did in the heat race; it’s hot, where do I put my hands, and what do I think about. When the green flag dropped, I was more prepared for the initial burst of speed than I was in the heat race, flying into turn one in the middle of a three-wide pack. That was fun as none of us touched each other, although I could have reached out with my left hand and touched the car going through the turn next to me. Ultimately, I passed two cars and moved into fourth place which would have put me in the 20th spot for the main event. Again, I struggled through the turns and would lose some ground, but I saw that I was making it up on the straightaways because the car was fast; I hit 6500 rpms in the semi. Also, I noticed that my heart rate was slower than before, and I thought I could at least hold my position in fourth, but it was not to be. A little over half-way through the race, I backed off the gas as I went into turn one, then punched it hard, too hard, and I felt the rear-end going around on me. As I slipped down a little on the banked turn, Joe Peterson in #85 comes ripping through on the bottom of the track just as my car is dropping down. Pow! I am hit in the left-front fender and spun back so that my front is now pointing toward the top of the track when, Pow! I have now been thrown into #52 Troy Mangano’s path. I think Troy finished the race, but Joe was out as his axle came out of its housing. I limped off the track with a broken steering mechanism, broken front bumper, smashed fender and hood; Joe had to be towed off. But do you know what was most embarrassing? Joe’s pit was next to mine, and he was so generous and kind to me, while I was thinking that he probably wanted to wring my neck. I know he has a lot of work to do to prepare for the next race. I didn’t see Troy after the race, but he is on my e-mail list, he’s a good friend, and I hope he forgives me for driving like a rookie.
As I motored back to my pit under the caution flag, Justin and Jane couldn’t have been more forgiving. Justin loves his #66 and is so careful with it that I felt terrible about tearing it up. But I was assured and reassured that the damage was minor, and the car would be ready to race again on October 3. But I could see it only one way: what began with hope, ended in disaster. Nevertheless, perhaps I will try again and add another day to my life.
Justin Upton Racing, LLC
The day draw near, but I feel no tension - yet!
Justin will not know if he can race until Friday, Sept. 12th. Nevertheless, he has gone the extra mile to ensure that I will have a first-class experience. The car, #66U, has a new seat, paint job, decals, and new engine. Just listening to the engine rumbling sends a shiver up my spine. In about 48 hours I will have the car in a heat race.
I don’t feel any tension at this point; however, I anticipate it will pick up about noon on Friday. I have no fear of anything other than getting in somebody’s way as they run for position and points. I’m just there to have fun. I really have no hope of winning; maybe I won’t even be competitive. That will not be the car’s fault. I just haven’t had any seat time for over three years. Justin says the car is so good that it will almost drive itself. It is the “almost” that worries me.
I have been faithful in following my training program since July 26, resulting in a loss of 10 pounds. When I tried to get into my racing suit, which I had fitted for me in 2003, it was just fine except that I could not move my arms and legs or bend over. So I had to buy another suit, which is big enough to hold the Pillsbury Dough Boy. As I write, my wife is hemming up the pants legs so that my feet will actually show at the bottom of the legs.
I realize that I am risking your ridicule, but come out to Manzanita Speedway on Friday, Sept. 12, 2008, at 7:30 p.m.
Justin Upton Racing, LLC
We just wanted to give our fans and friends an update on the progress of the Justin Upton Racing team as our reentry to the track takes place on September 12, 2008. Justin’s eye is still questionable. He still goes to the doctor weekly, and he is hoping that he will be ready to go on the 12th.
This opportunity has been a great motivator for me. Since July 26 when Justin offered me his new race car, I have kept a diary of my daily activities, including my exercise program and my diet. I have lost 8 ½ pounds and have gone to the gym for a workout almost every day. My plan is to record every step along the way, including the emotional experience of getting back in the race car. All of you will experience the details with me as we go along.
Justin has gone the extra mile for me with a new engine, a new racing seat designed for me, and a new paint job on the car to make it look like his #66. I told him not to spend so much money on a guy who may finish last, but he wants me to have a quality experience. As you can see, both of us are crazy!
Another week goes by and Justin and the #66 car remain on the sidelines. It’s anybody’s guess as to how long the treatment on his eye will take; it is a week to week affair.
The Stock Car Racing Association’s points chase has turned into a donnybrook. All the top drivers have been up and down from one week to the next. Going into last Friday’s race, Ron Poe, who has led the way most of the season, had an eight point lead over Bobby Erdman. Erdman, who won three titles in 10 years, two in the Factory Stock Division and the last one in the Super Stock Division in 1998, was inducted into the SCRA Hall of Fame in 2007. Near the end of 2007 Erdman came back to Factory Stock racing after 10 years on the sidelines. After some tough times trying to regain his touch, it appears that he is getting back in the groove, taking over first place in the standings on Friday night.
Although Erdman took over the lead, he appeared to fight success all night long. In the trophy dash, Bobby jumped out to an early lead only to slide off the track coming out of turn two on lap two. Deciding he was out of it, Erdman drove leisurely around the track. The first two cars spun each other coming out of turn four for the checkered flag, and there was Bobby cruising past them for the win. Going into his heat race, he needed to finish sixth or better to take over the points lead; instead, it appeared that he spun out on his own and finished last to tie for the points lead. The main event was a demolition derby with only nine cars finishing out of the 21 starters. Bobby was in the work area of the pits three times and he still finished third, putting him in the points lead. Ron Poe had a terrible night, losing his engine, and dropping to third in the points standings.
Justin Upton Racing, LLC
Upton Still on the Sidelines; #66 Pulls Off a Clean Sweep
Justin’s eye continues to improve, and he has high hopes that he will return to the track in the near future, but for now, Anthony Madrid remains behind the wheel.
It is natural that Anthony is driving the #66 car inasmuch as he has been Justin’s mentor for the last two or three years. In addition, #66 was built by Anthony in 2005 with which he won a championship. Justin bought the car in the off-season, held it out in 2006 and used it for public appearances, billing it as the “Stock Car Racing Association’s 2005 Factory Stock Championship Car.” It was not mentioned that Madrid had raced the car to the championship. Then in 2007 Justin brought the car to the track and immediately dubbed it “the magic car” for the terrific way it handled. As you know, Justin went on to win his own championship in the car for 2007.
Early in 2008 Justin determined that the suspension must be worn out on #66 and replaced all suspension parts. This was just in time for his eye problem to appear and Anthony to take over. Anthony stated that the car had never handled so good. He told Justin that when he gets back in the car to not change a thing, it’s perfect.
To top the night off, Becky Madrid drove #66 in the Lady Stock event and won.
The next race will be on Friday, June 27, 2008, at Manzanita Speedway at 7:30 p.m.
Justin Upton Racing, LLC
Car #66 is the Winner; Upton Stays on the Sidelines
Friday night’s action went on with Justin in the grandstands again. The doctor is keeping him on the sidelines while the medication does its work. The next doctor’s appointment is Monday, June 9, so we will see what happens then.
In the meantime, Anthony Madrid, a 10-time champion and member of the SCRA Hall of Fame, continued to drive Justin’s #66 car, racing to an easy win in the main event for his 116th career win, fourth on the all-time Manzy win list, and he’s still in his early thirties. Madrid opened up a half lap lead by lap ten when a yellow flag wiped it out with a two-by-two restart. He again pulled far away from the field when another yellow came out at lap 17. Madrid beat Ron Poe, the points leader, to turn one on the restart and he was gone. The car looked terrific. Poe increased his points lead as Matt Martinez, in second place, did not finish the race.
Stay tuned for further reports.
Justin Upton Racing, LLC
Race fans were treated to one of the most aggressive and exciting weekends of racing in the 2008 season. The disaster is that Justin Upton was not part of the show.
For most of his life Justin has had 20/10 vision, dropping to 20/20 in the recent past. This past week, however, he developed severe pain in his left eye. After an exam by an ophthalmologist that showed pressure building up in the eye, he was instructed not to race. Although his vision was still 20/20, if the pressure could not be released blindness could ensue. So for the first time in seven years, Justin was in the grandstands learning what it means to suffer through the races as I have for the past three years. He will continue to be treated with medication until the doctor gives him the go ahead, which he hopes will come soon.
In the meantime, the racing was exciting and dramatic. On Friday night, Bobby Erdman, a former three-time champion, won his first main event since coming out of retirement late last season. Ron Poe, who was leading in the points chase going into the night, blew an engine and watched as the field of leaders closed in on him. At night’s end, his lead was down to three points over Matt Martinez.
Saturday night was more like a demolition derby than a race. Among the top five leaders, only Poe, who installed a new engine overnight, was happy at the end of the event. Poe picked up his second win of the season, joining Matt Martinez as the only multiple winner of the year. At one point Larry Price got tangled up in lapped traffic, hit Bobby Taylor at an angle that sent him airborne and into the pits for repairs. Later in the event, Bobby Taylor and Daren Olney, who were both contending for the lead, touched coming out of turn four and hooked up, sending both of them into the wall. At the end only ten of 20 cars were running.
Matt Martinez entered the night only three points behind Poe but his car problems put him in the pits early. Poe retained his lead with Erdman moving into second place, 31 points out. Justin, who was one point out of third, dropped out of the top ten by missing both races.
The next race is Friday, June 6, 2008, at 7:30 p.m. at Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix. Justin’s medical progress was reviewed today, and he will not be back on the track this weekend. This situation takes him completely out of the running for a repeat championship, leaving him to lick his wounds while he contemplates his racing future.
Justin Upton Racing, LLC
Three new springs and a little good luck was all Justin Upton needed last Friday night to post his first main event win of the year. For the past four weeks Justin has been struggling with the way the race car handles. After the decision was made to replace the suspension, we discovered that China’s increased imports of steel have affected the availability of racing springs in the United States. As a result, the race car has raced on the old springs, then two new springs and, finally, last week we added a third spring. There’s no telling what might happen when all four springs are in place.
The Ship Has Righted Itself
The “Good Ship, Justin Upton Racing,” has stabilized; however, before we go into that, tonight’s preliminary races featuring the Dwarf cars, reminded us once again that racing is a dangerous sport. Dwarf cars are 5/8th scale cars of the type that originally raced at Manzanita Speedway at its beginning in 1951. The cars are production-model 1928 to 1948 vintage coupe, sedan and pickups powered by four-cycle, four-cylinder biker engines. Jim Gemmell, driving #84, tangled with Chuck Vallone, #83, coming out of turn four. As the two cars veered toward the wall on the front straightaway, they made heavy contact, sending Gemmell nose-first into the wall at the flag stand, with Vallone spinning sideways, resulting in a series of barrel rolls along the wall. Vallone was rolling right in front of me and, while the car was rolling fast, I was so close that it seemed to slow down, coming closer to me as in a 3-D movie, and I could see Vallone’s head being jerked back and forth as the car rolled. There was an audible gasp as the crowd sensed the danger, and I, along with them, felt that this could be serious. Nevertheless, when the dust settled, both drivers popped out of their cars to the cheers of the crowd.
As reported last week, Justin lost his fan belts in the main event, giving him a DNF for the first time in two years. Later, while he was checking out the car, he discovered that he had also lost his left rear spring. Lastly, during the off-season, Justin replaced his gage panel, and it paid off last week. All last season Justin had what he thought was a carburetor problem as the car would hesitate when he punched the accelerator. The new fuel pressure gage has a light that comes on when the pressure is too high or low and records the reading. This is critical because the driver cannot watch the gages during a race. After the race, the fuel pressure gage displayed a low reading. After replacement of the fuel pump, the car was perfect.
Now, tonight’s action in the stock car division: luck is good or bad depending which side one is on. Last season, Justin’s worst pill draw gave him a third row outside starting position in the heat races. Tonight, he started eighth in a ten car race in the third heat. While the action was furious with Ron Poe and Bobby Taylor banging for the lead, Justin was blocked at the back of the field for a couple of laps until the field spread out. Patience was the watchword to get to the front. Finally, he began to pick off one car and then another, passing Danny Pearson coming out of turn four for a third place finish.
The main event featured Anthony Madrid on the pole with Larry Price on the outside with perennial contender Ron Poe on the second row inside and last week’s winner, Matt Martinez, the teenage whiz, next to Poe. Justin was on the fifth row inside. Madrid had indicated that he might set a new track record due to excellent track conditions tonight; however, Price beat him off the first turn and took the lead. With Martinez and Poe pressing Madrid, Price held all of them off and appeared to be on his way barring a miscue. Upton was pinned to the inside rail through turn one and half-way down the back straight on lap one, dropping to thirteenth. The fight was all up front with Price holding back Madrid, who was looking for his 113th main event win at Manzanita. Finally, Price blew a tire on lap five and went to the pits. Madrid took over the lead and would not be denied, putting him only five wins off the all-time Manzy record held by Hall of Famer Lealand McSpadden. With the field spreading out, Justin began moving up. Again, patience was the key as was demonstrated when Matt Martinez and Bobby Taylor crashed each other as they battled for third. Hall of Famer Bobby Erdman was in second place when he went to the pits with car problems. When it was all over, Madrid prevailed for his 113th win with Poe a second behind. Justin was happy with his sixth place finish, the solid performance of his car, and his movement from 12th to eighth in the points standings. It was not a spectacular night, but a solid performance. We’ll be back next Friday, March 28, 2008
A Championship Doesn’t Buy You Any Luck
Justin Upton, the 2007 Stock Car Racing Association (SCRA) champion, was in a position to win last night, but ended up having more bad luck on opening night than he had all last season combined. After 16 top five finishes in 17 starts in 2007, Upton did not finish the main event and was credited with a 16th place finish. It was a short night that seemed very long.
Upton’s luck started in the first heat as he was on the outside front row with Ron Poe on the pole. As the green flag dropped, Poe moved up the track toward Upton, forcing him to slow down or go into the wall. This opened the door for Anthony Madrid, a ten-time champion and the first driver elected to the SCRA Hall of Fame, and arguably the best stock car driver in Arizona, to shoot from the second row inside and take the lead coming out of turn one. He was gone! Upton battled back, took Poe, and finished a distant second to Madrid. This put Madrid on the pole for the main event. Jody Henderson won the second heat, placing him out the outside front row while William McCullough’s heat win gave him the second row inside for the main event. Other big names like Ron Poe, Matt Martinez, Bobby Taylor, along with Larry Price, who was late getting his car inspected, started farther back in the field.
Upton’s second place in the heat race placed him on the second row outside for the main event, right behind Jody Henderson who was on the front row with Madrid. As they roared into turn one, Madrid jumped in front followed by Henderson and Upton, bumper to bumper. They raced this way for nine laps, finally coming up on the back of the field, which sounds like fun until you realize there’s a reason they are running in the back of the pack: they’re running slower than the lead cars and they’re bunched up! Madrid got to the pack first, charged in, and found himself surrounded by slammers and bangers. Almost immediately, Madrid is hit, and brushes the wall, moving away with two flat tires. With the yellow flag out, Madrid goes to the pits while Henderson takes the lead with Upton in second. At the restart, Madrid comes out of the pits and is placed at the back of the field in 20th place. On restarts in the stock car division, the cars line up double-file; although Upton was in second place, the officials placed a lapped car in front of him for the restart. Guess what? The lapped car was slow, causing Upton to lose ground immediately. It really didn’t matter because he was overheating. At the same time Troy Mangano and Mike Lilly got tangled up, bringing out another yellow. The defending champion, Upton, pulled into the pits; all the belts had popped off and he had no power steering, water pump, or fan. Mangano’s car was used up in the crash while Lilly was taken to the hospital with a possible broken collar-bone.
At the end, Matt Martinez, the teenager, who has always been tough competition, won the race, followed by Price from the back of the field, with McCullough, Henderson, and Madrid respectively, claiming the remaining top five spots. Upton was philosophical, saying that he knew he couldn’t be lucky every night, but he felt very good about the car’s overall performance. He never was in a position to use all of his speed and power and believed that with just a little more luck, he could have won the main event. If only all of us had just a little more luck, life would be great!
We will be back to the track on Friday, March 21, 2008, and we’ll be looking for you there.