Ocean Speedway 2018: The Year in Reviewracepmg
Watsonville, CA – Ocean Speedway celebrated another great year of auto racing at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds Saturday night at the Seascape Golf Club in Aptos, and with that came time to reflect on the 2018 season.
The season started the way that no one was hoping for with the World of Outlaws date getting rained out. A week later than anticipated, the season kicked off with the Ocean Sprints pres. by Taco Bravo, with Aromas’ Justin Sanders picking up the win. A week later, rain would once again interrupt the season and action would resume on April 13th, where Bud Kaeding would collect the win. The series would get into its stride, with Sanders, Stockton’s Brad Furr, and Kaeding winning the next three races. On June 15th, longtime track supporter Koen Shaw of Fresno, broke through for his first career Ocean Sprints victory. Sanders and Furr each won again, with Minden, Nevada’s Tanner Thorson grabbing the win at Night #1 of the Howard Kaeding Classic with the Civil War Sprints. Sanders won his fourth and final Ocean Sprints main event on July 27th, and Brad Furr took his third and fourth wins of the year together leading up to the 58th Johnny Key Classic on August 25th. Tanner Thorson wheeled the legendary Tri-C machine entry to victory lane taking the big win, worth a nice payday of $5,000. At the two final Ocean Sprint shows of 2018 in late September and early October, Bud Kaeding won for the third time and Fresno’s Dominic Scelzi came back strong from injury to win his first Ocean Sprints race of the season and the second of his career. Brad Furr and Koen Shaw traded the lead in the point standings several times, but Furr came on strong towards the middle part of the year and won his third track championship. San Jose’s Gary Nelson Jr. was awarded Rookie of the Year.
The IMCA Modified division featured six different winners in 15 races. The year started off in an unfortunate fashion, as Pacifica’s Shane DeVolder biked hard and Alex Wilson of Salinas flipped in the feature. 2008 champion Robert Marsh, also of Salinas, worked his way through the rough spots and picked up the Opening Night victory. Perennial favorite Bobby Hogge IV won the next two events, with Cody Burke taking his first of two feature wins on May 4th. On May 18th, Alex Wilson broke through and finally took home his first career Modified feature at the track. Bobby Hogge IV won again on June 1st and 2017 champion Martinez’s Nick DeCarlo won for the first time on June 22nd. Robert Marsh and Cody Burke both grabbed their second and final feature wins of the year the following weeks, with Bobby Hogge IV winning on July 21st, the final tune-up before the Mike Cecil Memorial. At the Cecil, Bobby Hogge IV won once again in the $1,500-to-win race, his fifth of the season. Alex Wilson won the following week and proposed to his girlfriend, Ashley Schnorf, on the infield. For the record, she said, “Yes!” Santa Rosa’s Chris Sieweke made an especially rare appearance to tune up for the Pettit and wound up in victory lane. At the Pettit, Bobby Hogge IV took the win on Night #1, with Nick DeCarlo coming out on top on Night #2. Cody Burke joined his brother, Austin, as track champions. Austin won his championship in 2008 in the American Stocks. Jeff McCoun of Prunedale started off the year quite shaky, but slowly started to gain speed and confidence throughout the year and was rewarded with Rookie of the Year honors.
Consistency proved to be the key to success in the IMCA SportMods. The 2018 champion Jim DiGiovanni of Morgan Hill and the Rookie of the Year, Gilroy’s Austin Williams, both couldn’t find victory lane, but were able to do enough to come home with their respective awards. This was DiGiovanni’s second track championship in the division, joining Matthew Hagio as the only multi-time champions in the division since it was added to the track’s weekly lineup in 2012. A massive field of 24 cars came out to the track for the SportMod’s first race of the year on April 13th, with Brentwood’s Fred Ryland emerging victorious. Watsonville’s Adriane Frost won her one and only feature of 2018 on April 20th, with Tulare’s Jack Aguiar winning two races in a row in early May. Prunedale’s Matthew Hagio won for the first time on May 18th and Antioch’s Guy Ahlwardt won for the first time at the track on June 1st. Hagio went on to win the next two races before Bakersfield’s Austin Manzella broke through for his first career win at the track on July 6th. Manzella would win again on July 20th, with Grass Valley’s Andrew Peckham winning on July 21st. This was Peckham’s first win in the SportMods at the track to go along with a couple stock car victories from back in the early 2000s. Austin Manzella would return to victory lane on July 27th, the last race before the 21st Annual Mike Cecil Memorial. In the $1,250-to-win race, Austin Williams came oh-so-close to breaking through for his first career win, but it wasn’t meant to be and he wound up third behind winner Fred Ryland and Bakersfield’s Matthew Mayo. Then, Prunedale’s Igor Gandzjuk, Morgan Hill’s Anthony Giuliani, and San Martin’s Justin McPherson all went on to win their one and only 2018 A-Main victories. At the Pat and Jim Pettit Memorial, Bakersfield’s Kevin Johnson and Antioch’s Brent Curran picked up the big wins. These were the first career victories for the drivers at the track. The year came to a close with TJ Etchison of Prunedale taking the win, less than three weeks removed from the unexpected passing of his father. On his way to the championship, Jim DiGiovanni had 11 top fives and 17 top tens out of 19 main events.
The American Stocks had a great season dominated by three drivers, who collected 16 of the 22 A-Mains in 2018. The year started off with two Watsonville drivers taking their lone wins of the year. Jerry Skelton took the win on Opening Night and DJ Keldsen scored his first career feature win with a thrilling last lap pass on Tony Oliveira the following race. San Jose drivers Matt Kile and Robert Gallaher both won for the first time in the new season on April 20th and 27th. At the next race, last year’s Rookie of the Year JC Elrod of San Martin won his first career feature. Over the next four races, Matt Kile and Robert Gallaher would win two each, followed by the first win of 2018 for Watsoville’s Billy Nelson. Matt Kile and JC Elrod picked up one more win each on July 13th and 20th. Corralitos’ Norm Ayers returned to victory lane for the first time since 2012 on July 27th. At the 80 lap, $1,000-to-win Mike Cecil Memorial, Billy Nelson took the win at the division’s marquee event. Gallaher, Elrod, and Kile shared wins over the next five weeks, with Gallaher and Elrod grabbing a pair of victories. At the Pettit Memorial, Robert Gallaher won his sixth feature of the season on Night #1 and Billy Nelson won at the race honoring his grandparents on Night #2. The season came to a close with JC Elrod taking his fifth feature win of the season. Matt Kile was incredibly consistent throughout the year, only finishing outside the top five once in the 22 race season and won his second career track championship to go along with his 2012 crown in the same division.
The Four Banger division was statistically the most competitive weekly class at the track. In ten races, there were eight different winners and the championship wasn’t decided until the last lap in the final race. Watsonville’s Dakota Keldsen won Opening Night for the division and looked poised to make a run for the championship. Complete racing newbie, Nate Teramo of Santa Cruz, shocked the world and won in his very first appearance on April 13th. Logan Doglione of Hollister, who initially started the year in a SportMod, decided to go back to his front-wheel-drive car, where he was rewarded with a victory on May 4th. This was his only appearance in the division in all of 2018. The following week, Kate Beardsley of Felton grabbed her first win of the season then Morgan Hill’s Justin Williams won his first career feature on June 1st. A week later, the other Beardsley sister, Nicole, won for the first time in 2018. This was followed by two more first-time winners with Watsonville’s Abigail Kennedy on June 15th and Gilroy’s Tom Summers on July 6th. Nate Teramo became the first repeat winner in the division on July 13th before an extended break before Championship Night on September 7th. Going in to the final night, Abigail Kennedy had a seven point lead on Dakota Keldsen, with Kate and Nicole Beardsley lurking in third and fourth. Kennedy and Keldsen both had disastrous nights and Kate Beardsley was able to cash in on some late-race drama and take her second feature win of the season and in doing so, her first career championship. The final margin of victory in the championship was just one point, with Kate Beardsley coming out ahead of Abigail Kennedy.
The South Bay Dwarf Cars had ten races in 2018, with four different drivers going to victory lane. The first two races were essentially carbon copies of each other, with Los Banos’ Gene Pires Jr. and Gilroy’s Zach Price going 1-2 in both events. Santa Cruz’s Terre Rothweiler won for the first time in 2018 on June 1st, with Price breaking through for his first career win on June 8th. This would be the first of three races in a row Price would win at the track. Rothweiler would grab his second win of the season on July 20th, with Pires back in victory lane on August 10th. The last two races of the year went to the winningest driver in the division’s history at the track, San Jose’s Shawn Jones.
The ninth year of Police-N-Pursuit featured six races with five different winners between four different agencies. The annual fundraising event for Northern California Special Olympics raked in $35,000 in 2018, with donations totaling around $200,000 since its inception. Jesse Mueller of the California Highway Patrol took the win on their first night out on April 27th. The very next week, Capitola PD Sergeant Cliff Sloma took the win, with Mueller heading back to victory lane on May 18th. Mike Mount from the Sand City PD won his first PNP feature on June 8th and Chris Murphy of the CHP won his first main event on July 27th. Jason Kelly from the Task Force Racers team won the division’s finale on September 7th with an impressive outside move around Jesse Mueller in the waning moments of the race. Mueller was the 2018 champion in the division with a final winning margin of 13 points over the Task Force Racers. A total of 29 drivers took part in the series, representing ten agencies.
The King of the West/NARC 410 Sprints visited three times in 2018, with Kyle Hirst of Paradise winning on April 20th. Justin Sanders won at the Pombo/Sargent Classic on June 22nd and Roseville’s Colby Copeland won for the first time at the track at Night #2 of the Howard Kaeding Classic on July 21st. The BCRA Midgets made a single appearance, with Penngrove’s Chase Johnson grabbing his first career victory at the track. The track hosted Night #5 of California Sprint Week on September 7th, with Buena Park’s Brody Roa also collecting his first career victory at the track with the USAC/CRA Sprints. History was made on July 27th when the IMCA Western RaceSaver 305 Sprint Cars visited for the first time ever. Visalia’s Blake Robertson took the inaugural win and Riverdale’s Grant Duinkerken won with the series on August 25th as part of the Johnny Key Classic.
In total, 385 drivers competed at Ocean Speedway in 2018. Also of note, 38 Sprint Cars were in attendance for the Johnny Key Classic. The Mike Cecil Memorial had a total of 97 entries between three divisions. The Pat and Jim Pettit Memorial attracted 123 cars on the first night and 127 cars on the second night.
The season opener for 2019 is tentatively scheduled for March 15th, with World of Outlaws at the track on March 22nd. Tickets for the World of Outlaws race are now available by clicking HERE. A complete 2019 schedule will be released in mid-to-late January.