For 29 years, the October Classic at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, CA was the cornerstone of the racing season on the West Coast. It was an event that many drivers and fans set their schedule around each and every year. In 2005 that tradition came to an end with the closing of the high banked, half-mile paved oval due to the growing urban sprawl surrounding the facility. On October 27 & 28, that tradition will resume in Bakersfield with the October Classic at Kern County Raceway. The SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour and NASCAR K&N Pro Series West invade the state of the art facility for a pair of 175 lap features.
The same two divisions that closed out the October Classic era in Bakersfield will headline the restart of a grand old tradition. The NASCAR West Series will compete on Saturday in the, “NAPA Auto Parts 175 presented by The West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame.” The SRL series will headline Sunday’s action in the “Bulwark FR’ 175 presented by Coleman Powersports,” with the Street Stocks joining them in action. It was a tradition that legendary and visionary Mesa Marin Track owner Marion Collins started back in 1977.
“It was just one of those things we were working on, and we felt we needed a big event for the fans and the racers,” the senior Collins told Speed51.com. “We called it the October Classic because you have to have a name for every race that is a big deal. It just kept growing and growing over the years, and everyone looked forward to coming to that event because it was something special. If you were a stock car racer, you needed to come to the October Classic because you were going to see some good stock-car racing.
“It got so big and just got bigger and bigger. We started off as a two-day event, then a three-day event, and then it got to be a four-day event because we couldn’t take care of all the activities in such a short period of time. It got up to four days because it got so popular, and then Speed Sport News Magazine voted it the “Short Track Event of the Year” in the nation.”
But all was not rosy, as Marion recalled with a chuckle.
“I’ll tell you something funny. My wife and all the ladies at work in the office started to get very tired after having to run around from eight a.m. in the morning, to almost midnight every day for four days in a row. So, my wife comes to me and says, ‘You have got to cut it back to three days, or all of us aren’t going to work on that weekend.’ So, the word came down from up above and we cut it back to three days.”
Larry Collins is now the General Manager of Kern County Raceway and the Managing Partner for the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series. But Larry was just a boy when the October Classic’s began at Mesa Marin Raceway. He has a unique perspective when it comes to the event’s history and its future.
“For me as a kid working at Mesa Marin Raceway, I remember the October Classic as the only daytime race of the year, which I thought was cool,” the younger Collins began. “In the early years of the October Classic, I remember over 100 cars in the pits with all the top short track drivers at that time coming from around the nation to compete. I remember guys like Larry Detjens, Dick Trickle, Mike Miller, Mark Martin and Dave Watson. Those drivers cleaned up the first few years, but then the West Coast drivers like Jim Thirkettle and Joe Ruttman became unbeatable at Mesa Marin, and the drivers from the Midwest and Southeast stopped coming to the October Classic.
“The October Classic became the event not to miss on the West Coast; the race teams wanted to be part of it and the fans didn’t want to miss it. The event grew from its original single-day format into a four–day event that featured everything from Street Stocks to the Camping World Truck Series, with hundreds of campers, all night parties and big barbecues.”
Collins hopes that a look back to the past will help build the event with the young drivers and fans on the West Coast.
“I think bringing back the October Classic will spark some nostalgia with those who were part of it back in the day, and I hope the younger generation can get a better understanding of our sports heritage and what helped us get to this point in short track racing on the West Coast.”
One of those younger competitors is SPEARS Southwest Tour Series Rookie of the Year candidate Kyle Neveau. Neveau is currently 10th in the championship standings and second in the rookie points. Kyle’s father Ray was a competitor in the NASCAR Southwest Tour Series and made three October Classic features in his 48 career starts. Ray was able to garner a Trophy Dash win in one of those appearances, and he looks back fondly at the October Classic.
“I remember the October Classic and the Copper World Classic (from ISM Speedway, AZ) being the two premier short track events on the West Coast,” the elder Neveau recalled. “We usually had over 70 cars show up for each of those races in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The best short track racers from all over the country would make the trip out here for those races, so it was a pretty big deal. The Collins family always did a great job with Mesa Marin, and I think all of us who care about this sport should be grateful for what a great job the SRL does with the Southwest Tour.”
Kyle, on the other hand, is looking forward to this weekend’s event and getting back on the race track. Neveau’s night ended early due to contact with another competitor in the last event at Madera Speedway, which resulted in an 18th-place finish.
“I'd be lying if I said what happened at Madera wasn't frustrating, mostly because we had a really good long-run car, and I wanted to see what we could have done later in the race,” Kyle recalled. “But that's racing and I'm over it. We went to Vegas this last weekend for the Fall Classic and we have the October Classic this coming weekend, so we’re excited about getting back to the grind.”
The October Classic will be the only event of its kind on the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series championship schedule. The event will feature 175 laps of competition with “controlled” cautions and an eight-tire rule. It is something that the younger Neveau is aware of and looks forward to participating in.
“I really like that it's 175 laps on a Sunday afternoon because that makes it completely unique from any other SRL race,” he said. “I remember going to this race as a kid and hearing stories about what a big deal it was. One of my favorite things about the SRL Southwest Tour is the rich tradition of West Coast short track racing it carries, so it’s pretty cool to have events like this. I feel like I’ve come full-circle with racing, where I enjoy it more now than I probably ever have. So being able to race in these kinds of events is just a lot of fun.”
The SPEARS Southwest Tour Series boasts a pre-entry list of 30, with drivers from as far away as Georgia. That detail is exciting for the competitor in Kyle.
“I think it's great because it shows that there's still a lot of life left in short track racing”, Neveau said. “The fact that guys are willing to travel for this race shows that the series has done a great job promoting it, as usual. The October Classic will be special to me regardless of how many cars show up, but I'd like to see the entry list as long as possible because I want short track racing to thrive. More competitors makes for more exciting racing and it tends to bring out the best in everyone. What makes Super Late Model racing so great is how competitive it is, and hopefully we’ll see the car counts continue to grow in the future.”
The SPEARS Southwest Tour’s Brian Olsen is also excited about this weekend’s race and what it may predict for the future of the track and the series.
“The SPEARS Southwest Tour Series is very excited about the return of the October Classic at Kern County Raceway,” Olsen began. “For so many years, Mesa Marin Raceway’s October Classic was the marquee event on the West Coast and for KCRP to bring it back to life is really cool. I think this year’s event is going to see a strong car count and teams are going to use it as a warmup for the 2019 Winter Showdown (February 1-2, 2019). With the controlled pit stops and 175 laps of racing, the format is going to be great for the fans. The plan is to build upon the October Classic, so hopefully this year is a great foundation for many years to come.”
The penultimate round of the SRL schedule will see a strong field of champions and touring series winners. The champions include Derek Thorn (four-time SRL Champ), Eric Schmidt (2006 SRL Champ), Jacob Gomes (2015 SRL Champ), Craig Raudman (2001 NASCAR SWT Champ), John Dillon (1990 NASCAR NWT Champ), Jeremy Doss (two-time PCS Champ) and John Moore (2015 PCS Champ). Additional touring series winners include Matt Wendt (PCS), Dylan Lupton (NASCAR West), Cole Moore (PCS), Blaine Rocha (SRL), Dan Holtz (SRL, NASCAR SWT), Spencer Davis (NASCAR East, PASS PLM), Bob Lyon (NASCAR SWT), Ricky Schlick (SRL), Carlos Vieira (PCS) and Jeff Bischofberger (SRL, PCS). In addition, NASCAR Whelen All-American Series 2017 National Championship Runner-up Trevor Huddleston is also entered.
Two-time SRL championship runner-up Jeremy Doss will enter the event 40 markers in front of 2006 series champion Eric Schmidt. Jeff Bischofberger sits third and is followed by Carlos Vieira, Ricky Schlick, Cole Moore, John Moore, Blaine Rocha, Jacob Gomes, Kyle Neveau, Craig Raudman and Jack Wood, who rounds out the top 12 in the standings.
Saturday’s action gets underway for the fans with spectator gates opening at 3:30 p.m. Open ceremonies are slated for 5:45 p.m., with NASCAR K&N Pro Series Group Qualifying at 6:00 p.m. The SPEARS Southwest Tour Series Single-Car Qualifying is to follow, with an on-track autograph and ‘Trick or Treat’ session set for 7:15 p.m. Driver Introductions are scheduled for 8:05 p.m. and the “NAPA AUTO PARTS 175 presented by The West Coast Hall of Fame” to follow at 8:30 p.m.
Sunday will see spectator opening at 11:00am, with Super Stocks practicing from 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. The Super Stock will qualify at 12:30 p.m., followed by an on-track autograph and ‘Trick or Treat’ session. The Super Stock “Duel Sunday Championship” will roll off at 1:30 p.m. with the “Bulwark FR’ 175 presented by Coleman Powersports” for the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series to follow.
Former Southwest Tour Winners of the October Classic at Mesa Marin Raceway: 1988; Gary Manlow, 1999; Mike Chase, 1990; Mike Chase, 1991; Mike Chase, 1992; Rick Carelli, 1993; Steve Portenga, 1994; Doug McCoun, 1995; Sean Monroe, 1996; Chris Raudman, 1997 Steve Portenga, 1998; Kevin Harvick, 1999; Kurt Busch, 2000; Auggie Vidovich, 2001; Darrell LaMoure, 2002; Eric Holmes, 2003; Kevin Vernon, 2004; David Gilliland, 2005; David Gilliland, 2018; ???
-Story by Kevin Peters, Speed51.com Southwest Editor
-Photo credit: Speed51.com