DON PRICE

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At Redwood Acres he was known by various nicknames:  Frito Bandito (“I had the big mustache”), Duck (“Donald Duck – that came from Jerry Koval”), Capizone (“that came from Gino Marcelli”), Ralph (“I never heard that one”), and Don Price In Living Color.  (There were others that he didn’t want to share with me).  He’s been a car mechanic, a builder (he even built the track flag stand), a welder, a commercial fisherman, off-road race race promoter, and a race car driver.  He is the all-time ‘character’ of the track, or as Strother Martin said in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – “You probably think I’m crazy, but I’m not; I’m colorful.”  He’s Don Price – In Living Color.

Originally from Porterville California, in the foothills between Bakersfield and Fresno, in the family were a cotton farm, alfa alfa, and a chicken ranch.  “I quit school when I was 16 years old because I was smarter than everyone else,” he says with a sly grin.  “I was a farm boy.  My uncle and dad spent 14 years hunting and would never get a buck because they were all drinking.  Partied hearty.  Most of their pack was whiskey.  First time I ever got to go I killed a deer the first day- first time we had ever brought any meat home from a hunting trip.”

“We had a fun life, you couldn’t have a better life.  We were free, worked on a farm.  I had a ’48 Ford coupe. We had those straight roads in country, and we’d build cars and drag race.”

1972 Don Price SRRA Yearbook“I moved up to Eureka in ’61 or ’62 when I was around 21.  I had been visiting my uncle Paul Price who ran Paul Price Tires up there.  Later Danny Bradbury’s sister and I were an item. Danny was racing, and I had never been to a stock car race before.  I was telling her ‘I gotta do that!  I’m ready to get me a car!’  A week later I was at the track with a car.”  This was 1971.

“You just went and got an old car, a car that was halfway whacked up, and put bars in it.  I got ’56 Chevy, #70, painted it metallic brown.  Mixed up a bunch of paint, that’s what we got.  We had a body shop, there was nothing to it, always had extra paint around.  We were painting used cars for the car dealers for $25 each.  My first car was in the Street Stocks; they were always beat to death, they beat each other up.”

1972 #70 SRRA Yearbook Car and Ad

“I then got a car from Rich Hansen that had previously been the car driven by Dave McMurray, a ’64 Chevelle which was basically a Grand National car when McMurry bought it.  We painted it black and white with red trim, #70.  It was sponsored by Vista Del Mar, which was owned by Bill Christensen, my roommate back when and friend to this day.   Vista Del Mar was the hangout for drivers after the races.”

Don Price, Rocky Peterson, Dennis Martin, brother James Price, Bill Gillespie

Don Price, Rocky Peterson, Dennis Martin, brother James Price, Bill Gillespie

In 1973 Don brought a striking new white Chevelle Super Stock car to the track with a flag colored #11 on the side.

1973 Driver Photo“Somebody had wrecked a 70 Chevelle, I incorporated newer trim, a 72 grill, etc.  So it really was a ’70 Chevelle body but we put all ’72 stuff on it, the newest car on the track at the time.  I was the first guy who ever had a car less than two years old out there.  Body was pretty good.  The front end was gone, annihilated, but we put front end clips on anyway.  Nothing underneath it was Chevelle, all of the chassis was modified.  For all apprearances here was Joe rich guy with a Chevelle, that’s what it appeared.  In all reality it was a bunch of junk parts put together.”

“The #11 came from Tom Dilling. He raced motorcycles and his number was 11.    He gave up the car number so it was given to me.  My girlfriend at the time had shirts and big floppy hats her sister made that had all red white & blue on them.   I’m a redneck from the git go, I don’t care –  it should be God bless the flag, etc.  It was the Bicentennial coming up at the time.”

“We won with that car.  I was always in the mix, let’s put it that way.  You don’t win them all, but a lot of the time I was the first loser”,  Don says laughing.

scan00023 ChevelleAmerican Auto Body

“I had various businesses, (some with driver and SRRA president Joe Hamilton), including American Automotive, American Auto Body, American Auto Racing.  I’d take a van to the track and sell fuel, gaskets, misc. race parts to sell drivers.”

“I promoted motocross with Joe Hamilton.  We built and promoted an off-road track at French’s Camp in the woods behind Garberville in the middle 1970s.”

“Jim Shipley took a photo of me at the buggy races at French’s Camp.  I’m sitting there half drowsy with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth, full of mud.”    In the photo Don is looking like a turn of the century flight pioneer, or mad inventor.  The photo looks like it is from another time.  Don says, “Kinda is….”

Don Price Off Road Buggy

“When Joe Hamilton was Six Rivers Racing Association President and I was Vice President, we kind of run the thing with an iron fist to be honest with you.  When it was time to pack the dirt track –  some Goody Two Shoes didn’t want to get their cars dirty.  If they didn’t go out we punished them, made them start in the back.  The Fairgrounds didn’t want new lights.  Howdy Thurston brought their equipment out, poles, lights, we made it all work.  It wouldn’t be there if we didn’t all do it. Clay was going away, we had to get clay. We worked together to make the track.”

“We had so many cars back then.  A, B, and sometimes C Mains.  Back then you qualified first, you started in the back.  You learned to drive in traffic.  Some drivers are good qualifiers but poor racers.   Out by themselves you give them the track, they’re great.  Me, I was a shit qualifier, very seldom was I fast time.  But when it come to traffic, I could maneuver traffic.”

Don in traffic, Shasta program circa 1975

Don in traffic (Shasta race program circa 1975)

Goofy The Clown Photo

GOOFY THE CLOWN

In 1975 at Fair Nights races one of the surprise attractions was Goofy the Clown who started a race in Don’s car while flailing his arms out the window in a panic trying to get out.  It was one of the more memorable moments in the track’s history, and the behind-the-scenes story found its way into Tom Dilling’s book Dirt Trackin’ At The Acres (subtitled History, Memories and Related B.S.) (1979), and is an excellent example of his colorful writing style –

Goofy the Clown, oh, yes, Goofy the Clown. He was supposed to be some kind of racing entertainment specialist. This cat showed up at a Board meeting one night and we fell for his Iine – hook and sinker. We hired him for two Fair nights and I would be ashamed to tell you what we paid him.

Coincidentally, just a short time before Goofy’s appearance, my wife and I had discussed and decided that it would be hospitable to offer some of the out-of-town racing people our extra bedroom, since her daughter had eloped with an unemployed, semi-professional quail hunter. So Tom offered. Goofy accepted.

Goofy showed up about four days before his scheduled performance and Aldyne was just a little surprised when a plump little man walked in the back door of our house with a suitcase in one hand and a rubber chicken in the other and said, “Where’s the bedroom?” (I had neglected to tell her that we were going to have company.)  So, old Goof got settled and started making long-distance phone calls all over the God-damned country.  He reassured me that he would pay us for them and I was not concerned as I knew that he had a bundle of money coming for his performances.

The first night he was to perform he informed me that he had invited his girl friend to come up and catch his act and would I pick her up at the bus depot?  Sure.  I had to leave my job as lap counter just before the B Main started to go retrieve Goofy’s financee, Angel. Well, she got off the bus with a real good-looking dude that she had met on the ride up. He came equipped with a God-damned bicycle that he was going to ride someplace.  He needed a motel room and could I give him a ride?  Sure.  I drove to the nearest motel and unloaded new boyfriend and God-damned bicycle. We all said our goodbyes and I was about to drive off when he came back out and reported that the room was too expensive and could I take him to another motel?  Sure.  About the third motel, the son-of-a-bitch broke the inside door handle of my pick-up, so at each stop I had to get out, unload bicycle, open the door, and then stand there like a damned fool while he and Angel tried to swallow each other.  He would trot into a motel office, trot back out with the same complaint, throw the God-damned bicycle in and get right back to trying to chew Angel’s face off.

About the seventh motel, I unloaded the God-damned bicycle, opened the door for lover boy, and drove off and left him – and the God-damned bicycle.  Angel and I arrived at the track just in time for the end of the A Main.  There stood Angel with lipstick smeared all over her face, there stood my wife with a strange look all over her face, and there stood yours truly with a stupid look all over my face.  I couldn’t tell what kind of look Goofy had on his face as he was wearing all that clown makeup.  It took me quite some time to get things half-way straightened out.

In the meantime, Goofy and Angel moved right in with us and played huggie bear all night and half the day.  When they weren’t trying to wreck the mattress on the bed they were taking turns seeing who could make the most long-distance phone calls.  We tried every excuse in the world to get rid of them (we even discussed murder).  Then, just about in the middle of the honeymoon, Bicycle Lover-Boy hit town again.  He had made it up the road a piece and someone had run over him (wished it could have been me).  He was on death’s door in a motel (low priced I would imagine) and could Angel come down and help sooth his terrible injuries?  Sure.  Away she went, while Goofy napped the rest of the day to regain his strength.  He sure as hell could use a little rest.

Well, after five or six days, they finally left.  Aldyne and l sealed off the extra bedroom.  And, Goofy, if you are out there, we are still waiting for you to pay the phone bill, plus interest.  Don’t bring it in person—just put it in the mail.

On the infamous Goofy The Clown race, Don sets the record straight-

“It was a Trophy Dash.  Kind of a one lap thing.  We fictitiously started the trophy dash, I might have been in the lead.  All a put-on deal, all for show.  Never really raced with him in the car.  Come around and started the race, he leaps out the window, waving his arms, if you didn’t pay attention you missed it.  Me, Joe Hamilton, all the rest put that thing together, a funny bit.  We did one lap, came back around, he got out.  Just a show to get the people excited.  We thought we were promoters.  There was a danger factor to what we did, but then again there’s a danger factor when you go out the front door.”

1976 PRICE HALF BREED WINS

In September 1976 Don brought a new car to Redwood Acres, a “Mustang with a Camaro-Conversion kit” as the Stock Report put it, and in his first race with it he managed to “sift through perpetual clouds of dust that made racing miserable for all the rest of his competition”, winning a heat and his third main event trophy of the year, sitting 2nd in points to out-of-towner and eventual ’76 track champ Tom Wyatt from Medford.

1976 Half Breed Wins Trophy“It was a Camaro body with a Mustang motor in it.  Joe Hamilton had a Mustang.  I probably did some really goofy things, but I look back on it and it was cool; anything I could do to put something together.  You couldn’t integrate parts- Ford/Ford, Chevy/Chevy Studebaker/Stude was how it had to be.  The rule was you had to have a 115 inch wheelbase.  Camaros are 108.  Had to modify the rules to do that, or stretch the frame and build it accordingly.  Things evolve as time goes on.  I changed many of the rules.  Because I had some hair-brained idea in my head…”  Ultimately the power band of the Mustang engine was not getting the job done so the hybrid car was another creative (though somewhat successful) experiment that was finally dropped.

Nuts N Bolts 980 left

A regular feature in the Stock Report was a piece called ‘Nuts ‘N Bolts’, mostly cryptic one-liners that only those behind the wall in the pits could truly appreciate.  In a 1981 issue appeared the line:
-The hell with Price and all his funky ideas!

“I hate to say it but it’s true” he smiles.

“I was the first guy who ever run a powerglide transmission at the track.  Tried to kick me out – no automatic trans in those days.  There was a big debate in the SRRA meeting, finally got it approved.  I’m the guy they talk about – pushing the rules…  I’m that guy.  I built all my own stuff.  Everything was hand made, that’s just how we did it.  Walker and McMurray buy all the fancy stuff from stock car products.  I had the welder and the piece of iron, put it all together.  I did pretty well actually, when I look back on it.”

Don and his friend Paul Masten, who owned a logging company in Hoopa and sponsored his cars.  They traveled to Daytona in 1976 to watch Jimmy Walker race, and Don ended up being the lap counter.

Don and his friend Paul Masten, who owned a logging company in Hoopa and sponsored his cars. They traveled to Daytona in 1976 to watch Jimmy Walker in the Parmatex Late Model race, and Don ended up being the lap counter.

In 1977 Don took his Chevelle down to race in the Permatex 300 at Riverside.  “I heard Jimmy was going down and I thought hell, I want to go down too!”

“We had watched the race somewhere down the line before.  I mostly remember Jimmy Wilson (of Wayne Wilson’s Radiator) at the club that night when they had the hypnotist there.  We were all in the audience.   Jim Wilson had been at Redwood Acres track officiating.   Jim was used to going fluffo.  We all did a little bit of drinking in those days…”  [Looking through the old Riverside program Don’s attention was taken away from telling this story and unfortunately, or fortunately for Jim, we never returned to find out the conclusion of Jim going fluffo and the hypnotist in the night club.  You will have to fill in the story yourselves.  My version involves a chicken impersonation.]

“I remember going around the Riverside track the first time, and it’s a mile on the back straightway.  It has a hook that goes like this, then a big sweeper.  Beginning of practice I was going down that straightaway, balls out pedal to the metal.  They have these signs that say 4-3-2-1 and it makes this little dogleg, and I’m going down there and I see these signs there so I let off the gas and about five guys go by me!” he says, laughing.  “Because I thought I’d have to slow down for this little curve in the track.  It didn’t take me long to figure it out, by the second lap I was into it.   You just don’t know what you can do until you get out there and do it.  I’ve never been anywhere that was so fast- average speed was just over 100 miles per hour a lap.”

“I was last qualifier.  Transmission was going out, and I managed to qualify.  The drive line was the problem and virtually broke the transmission, I barely qualified – 40th – I was on the bubble.  In the race I was running very good, was carving through the field, passing cars.  Went to 17th when I finally broke.  Had never been in a road race.  I did good, for me.”  (smiles)

“Bobby Allison was there, cool to go into the pit meeting in there with Richard Petty and all those guys – ‘Hi, I’m Don!’,” he laughs.

“Coming back from Riverside with Dusty Mausa and some others, the hitch come off the motor home, struck the car and trailer sent over, on the long stretch on I-80.  There was some truck parked alongside the freeway with a bunch of pallets on it, trailer hits the truck, trailer separated from the car.  Trailer sitting in lane 5 or 6 or whatever.  Jerry Holtz with his ten cell flashlight trying to flag traffic down.  Some drunk comes down, hits the side of the trailer, jumped, landed on the trailer.  Dusty’s tool box was on the trailer; we picked up sockets a half mile down the road the next day.”

“You talk to guys who went traveling with me, we never went to a race and nothing happened.  We’d all pile in the motor home going to Shasta or Oregon.  We are going to Carson City once and the wheel on the trailer comes off, I yell to everybody ‘WATCH THAT TIRE!’.  At Susanville got a guy to weld the axle so we could get to Carson city and go racing.  I had forgotten my fire suit, had to borrow one. In the race I got into an accident or something.  The tow truck guy stuck the hooks through the radiator, had to borrow a radiator to get racing again.  We all celebrated in Reno, some went to the whore houses, some drank and gambled, we didn’t have any money left.”

1976 Stock Report cover after A-Main (note Don's ever-present boots he wore instead of driving shoes)

1976 Stock Report cover after A-Main win (note boots instead of driving shoes)

MAYHEM ON THE TRACK (and in the bar)

“The only guy I ever had an issue with at Redwood Acres was Ed Tanferani.  We were in a bar after a race talking about what had happened and he asked me what I thought and I said “I think you are the worst driver we got on the track” and he popped me.  Hit me.  I never even dropped my drink though.  I fell back on the bar, and I still had my drink.  Then I got up and we went at it.  If you don’t want to know what I think don’t ask me.”

“One time I was ahead of  Mike Chase in the Open and he started banging into me.  So I came out of turn two and I powered out and I just locked it up, smashed the whole front end of his car.  If you can pass me, you pass me, but don’t beat me up.  I don’t like it, I don’t do it to people, I don’t want it done to me.”

“I went to Roseville the only time they qualified, they had a draw every year except one, and I set fast time so started on pole.  Oren Prosser wrecked me third or fourth lap.  I had a crew guy Bob Griffitts, it was all we could do to keep him from killing him.  Another one of the highlights” he says laughing.

“Come to Medford one time, got off the trailer, running around like a bunch of maniacs, qualified and got fast time.  In the race this guy was pounding me around the track from behind, spun me out, and back in the pits Ron Marcelli was running around the car with the jack, I yelled ‘Just put it under the bumper!!’, and he yells back ‘THERE AIN’T NO F^@&ING BUMPER!!!'”

1981 NCDTC Crash quad

Speaking of bumpers, there was a very memorable incident at Redwood Acres involving Don Price, a bumper,  and Bill O’Neill,  at the 1981 North Coast Dirt Track Classic.  After an absence of several years O’Neill was driving Randy Olson’s car and won the Day Two 2nd Heat, with Don Price finishing 2nd behind Harold Hardesty in the B-Main, transferring on to the main event.  Paraphrasing the story in the Stock Report – In the A-Main on lap 54:  ‘Don Price dropped his bumper on the track.  Bill O’Neill ran over it.  The bumper had cut his brake lines.  O’Neill’s car climbed right up on top of Price’s and the two of them slid off the end of the track between turns three and four.  Price, who just recently rebuilt his car after a roll-over and fire, was left with nothing but the chassis of his car intact.  Fortunately no one was injured but the cars were heavily damaged.’

Don’s in-car view of the action was different.  “The bumper didn’t fall off until he hit me!  He ended up on top of me.  Holtzy and the guys run out to see what was going on.  The bumper wasn’t laying there.  We were in traffic.  Into turn three and he just never stopped, ended up on top of me.   That’s my story.  We’ll always live with that story, my opinion and his opinion.”

1981 May A Main Win injury photo1978 Track Champion Car

1978 Don PriceIn 1978, in the words of Tom Dilling, “My hero, Don Price, ended up SRRA Track Champion.”  He finished just ahead of Larry Pries by 11 points.  “You never know you are there until they boo you.  I won the championship and I hear these boos,” Don says, adding that he remembers his crashes more than his wins.

Throughout Tom’s book, in detailing the nicknames, the wins, ribbing him about his rough days at the track when he ‘forgot to turn left’ and found every wall, Tom just loved writing about Don.  “I always thought he didn’t like me.  It took me a while to figure Tom out.”   But it all came out in the book, it was pretty clear there.

There was something in Don’s mad inventor personality and disaster-filled road trips that appealed to Tom’s borderline Gonzo writing style, and the appreciation went both ways.  “Tom was the world’s best.  He had such a way of telling stories.”   Don also appreciated Tom’s character.   “He was just that guy- a gruff character.  I pride myself on being up front and saying what I think.  That’s Tom – if he had something to say to you he didn’t hold back, an up front kind of a guy.  Nobody like him I’ve ever seen.”

1981 Redwood Acres Memorial Race Winner

1981 Redwood Acres Memorial Race Winner

Olympia car with Jody (Bill Gillespie's son, on left) and Billy (Don's Price's son)

Olympia car with Jody (Bill Gillespie’s son, on left) and Billy (Don’s Price’s son, on right)

The Chevy Lumina owned by Al Berkey, shown here driven by Angelo Marcelli  (photo courtesy of Angelo Marcelli)

The Chevy Lumina owned by Al Berkey, shown here driven by Angelo Marcelli (photo courtesy of Angelo Marcelli)

“Last time I drove was for Al Berkey in ’89 or so.  Bought my boat in ’88, I was commercial fishing, would take off in the Summer.  I would come up for three or four races.  The car was fast, I was fast in it, but something always broke.  Angelo Marcelli ran Berkey’s car a couple of times.  I ended up in top 10 that year.  Just couldn’t finish races, the SOB would break all the time.  Had a good motor, I set the thing on fire, it was fast.  My last race started in back, passed almost all the field going into turn four and got up in the marbles and hit the wall” he says, laughing.

“Angelo and I became friends through the racing stuff.  To this day we are still buds.  He still harasses the shit out of me,” Don says laughing.  “Angelo always talks about beating me in that 1978 B-Main.  I don’t even remember.  He’s shown me this article for the past 10 or 20 years.  Highlight of  his career.  That race means more than any of his championships.  He thinks he can bug me.  We’re like brothers from different mothers along the way.  It’s an ongoing rivalry and it will probably go on until we’re a hundred.” [By the way Angelo, Don told me to tell you he still has that race engine in his garage that you want; I saw it and it looks really nice.]

In the years since racing, true to his nature, Don has continued to be a jack of all trades.  “I was a commercial fisherman out of Humboldt and Bodega Bay. Met my wife while fishing in Fort Bragg.  The fishing business got whacked, so in the early 1990s I started a computer business in Santa Rosa, ran that for 11 years. We had checked out Medford and bought property in 2000, and moved permanently to Eagle Point in 2009.”  For the last several years he has been caring for his wife Kriss who was diagnosed with cancer.

Don is currently owner and operator of Rock N Tractor and Custom 4 Less in Eagle Point.  If you want something hauled, cut, or built, Don’s your guy.  He still stays in touch with Humboldt via Facebook; with his old racing friends and on the Remember In Eureka When page.  One of his many projects is a 1960 El Camino restoration that has been in the family forever that he finally has in his home garage.

Once out of the driver’s seat, Don stopped following racing, local and national, and only began watching again in recent years.  “Once he pulled the pin, that was it” his friend Angelo says.  He did return to the Redwood Acres pits in 2012 to visit old friends, and has been following the weekly soap opera that is Nascar again the past couple of years.

When asked if he ever thought anyone was going to track him down looking for car photos and asking a bunch of questions about racing, he replied “Truthfully…..no.  But I think it’s pretty freakin’ cool myself.  I’m amazed anyone remembers me.”

As Don’s favorite saying goes, something he would proclaim throughout my weekend with him, “There’s An Ass For Every Seat”.  And I guess I was happily sitting in mine, taking it all in.

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Don Price next to his 1933 Chevy 1-ton truck in Eagle Point, Oregon.

Besides calling Don his hero, in Dirt Trackin’ At The Acres Tom Dilling also described the haul back from Riverside and wrote that he wanted to go on one of Don’s famous road trips some time, and that he could probably get an entire book out of it.  While we didn’t get into the RV, I did go with Don on a road trip of the mind.  It was a privilege hearing about his journey from there to here.

For me growing up, it was always about that #11 Chevelle, forever frozen in black and white photos in the old Stock Report programs, and I finally got to find out what the driver of that car was really all about;  Don Price – In Living Color.

Unless otherwise noted, all photos courtesy Don Price or from the Stock Report (thanks Fergy!)

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ANGELO MARCELLI

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Angelo Marcelli is part of the heart and soul of Redwood Acres Raceway.  He’s one of a select few active drivers still racing at the track for more than 35 years.  A four time track champion (2000, 2002, 2004, 2013), he has a unique perspective spanning his early days as a youngster attending the Hard Top races in the 1950s to being a driver in the technical paved racing of today.

A native of Eureka, Angelo is the owner of Marcelli’s Ravioli and Sausage Factory, a business first established in 1927 by his grandfather on 3rd & G in what is now called Old Town Eureka.  They moved the deli to the current location on 5th street in 1953, and opened the cafe around 1973.

“I grew up close to the track.  Went to a lot of the midget races.  I went to the Grand National race they had there in the 50s that went around the big horse track. We had a pizza place in the 60s and a lot of the Hard Top drivers including Harold Hardesty came in there when I was 14.”

Earlty Cars Montage 2

The first race behind the wheel for Angelo at Redwood Acres came during the mechanic’s race in Manuel Arruda’s #84 in 1976  (top left).  By the end of the season he had his own car at the track, a brown primer colored ’57 Chevy (top center), and by 1978 he was driving a silver-gray ’64 Chevelle (top right).  “The cars were right out of the wrecking yard so it didn’t take much to get going, so I got one.  Each year it keeps evolving and next thing you know you’re there.  As you move up you get hooked on it, for sure.   I love it, missed maybe a handful of races.  Never missed a full season in 37 years.   No sense in having a race car if you don’t race it.”

“I always liked old cars, just never got into the aspect of building them.  When I started racing I liked it so I was just going to dabble in it.  I’m still dabbling apparently.”

Angelo at the track with friend and crew chief Frank Arruda Jr.

Angelo at the track with friend and crew chief Frank Arruda Jr. at Roseville

Building Nova Montage 1978

In 1978 Manuel Arruda’s brother, Frank, took apart one of the cars and transformed it into the gold painted Chevy Nova, built in a one car  garage.  “He was sharing space with a washer and a dryer,” Ange says.  “He had a helluva time gettin’ through there, with an old stick welder.”

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“When I started Redwood Acres was fairly dusty, then got to a dry slick track.  Some days you couldn’t tell where you were going but some days it would turn out good; depended on the heat, the sun, how well it was prepared.  They tried different chemicals in it, some worked, some didn’t.  Back in the Hard Top days you couldn’t even see the track from the grandstands some days.”

“If you needed something to go racing we’d go out to the pickups and took them.  You’d see the hoods go up out back where they’d steal starters, radiators… you go out and your pickup won’t start; ‘Oh, I forgot, let me get your starter, I got it on the car….’ ,  put your starter back on for you.  But none of that stuff fits now, its all after market stuff now. Back in the day any Chevy starter would start any Chevy, and any radiator we’d bolt in.”

“Back in the 70s they were stock cars with the frames that came with them.  Then everyone went with Camaros and cut the front clips off them.  Then they started going fabricated clips.  Walker and Pries were probably the first to bring out the fancy Chevelles, ’66s, stuff like that.   That started the trend.  We were always behind the trend of bigger tracks.   But the money won back then, that was just the way it was.  When I look back those were the best races we had, back in the dirt days.  It’s just not the same today.  It’s fun, but not like back in the days when we’d have all these parties:  ‘Dusty Fans & Dirty Drivers’ parties during the Open Comp days in the late 70s, baseball games against the dragsters.”

Left: First Annual "Dusty Fans & Dirty Drivers" party after the North Coast Dirt Track Classic; Center and Right: SRRA baseball game Men vs Women (Women won)

Left: First Annual “Dusty Fans & Dirty Drivers” party after the North Coast Dirt Track Classic; Center and Right: SRRA baseball game Men vs Women (Women won)

First Win:  B-Dash in 1978 brings congratulations from brother Ron Marcelli and Howard Chambers

First Win: B-Dash in 1978 brings congratulations from brother Ron Marcelli and Howard Chambers

scan00001 Angelo Marcelli and Don Graham crash

In 1979 Angelo’s Nova tangled with Don Graham and ended up hitting the front straight wall hard (pictured above).  “Back then we didn’t have the collapsible steering wheels so it pushed the whole shaft right up in my chest.  The ambulance comes over and the wheels were all bent out and they asked me where I was at, and I was bullshitting them and said (in dazed voice) ‘DAY-TON-A’.  Next thing you know they put me in the ambulance and I said ‘No I know where I’m at!’ and they said ‘No, we have to take the first thing you say’.  I guess it’s right; they err on the side of caution.”

“The walls now are a lot harder than they used to be. I told Rich: ‘Maybe the cement’s curin’!'”

Angelo and Larry Pries

Angelo and 1979 Track Champ Larry Pries

“If you have fear you can’t get into the car.  I’m sure it’s in your mind somewhere more than when you were younger, but part of it is we never had the money to fix anything.  I always run more cautious than the guys who had new bodies hanging in the garage every week.  I was working two jobs to go race.  We just couldn’t afford to wreck it all the time.  So I’d let off before somebody else would, but I wasn’t in it to be a super star, I was in it for the fun of it.  Until we really started winning, I think I had more fun, with no expectation to do well.  In the old days I won a lot of B-Mains because technically I had a B-Main car most of the time on dirt.  Hell, before if we made a top race, if we could run with the big guys, we were pretty proud of it.  If we finished third in the old days we’d be partying for a week.”

Reluctantly, Angelo addressed the controversy Fergy Ferguson continues to raise many years later over the Suitcase Race.  “Well, we had a Suitcase Race, we put on clothes, and got back in the car and raced.  That was something that I didn’t think he should have brought up…”   His son Mike sitting at a nearby table at the resturaunt starts laughing, having never heard this story before.

Fergy had said that while he was taking care to stretch the pantyhose on over his fire suit, he was surprised to look over and see Angelo shoving his racing shoes in, destroying the nylons, going for speed over being presentable.  He believes to this day that Angelo had cheated to win.  Angelo responds flatly “Well, he always says that.  I was just quicker because I was the young buck.  And I was legal so I won.”

“We used to do stuff like that all the time for crowd entertainment.  And they used to race just cars off the street out there.  3 Laps.  They’d tape the windows and tape the headlights.  Way back one guy wrecked his girlfriend’s car out there, a Mustang, put it right into the fence.  One time a guy just got out there after the races and took off onto the track.  We used to have to park the grater across there because people would try and sneak their cars in and start racing while we were loadin’ up to leave.”

On Fair Nights Redwood Acres Fairgrounds Manager presents half a toilet seat to Angelo, "My Half-Assed Friend"

On Fair Nights Redwood Acres Fairgrounds Manager presents half a toilet seat, announcing to the crowd “To My Half-Assed Friend Angelo”

“I was a Six Rivers Racing Association board member almost right from the start when I began, and then president at the end, just to close it down.  It was not like a promoted track; we had meetings every Tuesday and the body would come and we’d vote on rules and how we wanted the track to be.   We had our battles and its a tough sport but back then we got over it a lot faster than today.  You’re mad at the time but the next day you’re best friends again and the guy would loan you anything he had, it wouldn’t matter if you just wrecked him.”

“We hung all the lights, picked up rocks on the track, hauled the clay, laid the clay, we built everything out there, the board members.  We had car washes just to put money in it, do everything around town just to get the season started.  We raced a year for nothing, nobody got a dime, just to put it back in the club.”

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1982 Fair Nights Fast Heat – Ange paces a field of champions: (25) Angelo Marcelli, (2m) Tom Wyatt, (87) Ron Peters, (98k) Hank Hilton, (84) Mark Baldwin, (48) Jim Walker, (R) Dane Smith

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1982: “Run What You Brung” Open Comp B-Main winner (note the Larry Detjens style #25). Don Harper won the A-Main.

Mike Marcelli, Angelo’s son and crew chief, continues: “That’s something the younger guys don’t understand about these older guys; they busted their ass just to race.  They come out now and the grass is mowed, the track is clean, concrete all through the pit area, and they still bitch.  Try to get the car level in the pits or jack it up in a mud infield- you put a piece of wood under the jack to get it up.”

Angelo replies: “And the guys before me- we always put it in perspective.  You look in those old cars and it would be like driving a bus.  Those old midgets, the old roll cages, your head was the first thing to hit.  They wanted to race.”

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In 1983 the SRRA brought in clay from Union street to change the feel of the dirt track.  “Then we got to a clay track, what I call bay mud.  I didn’t like the the clay they put in and what we called Outlaw Cars, big wedge bodies.  We thought it would be really good but what it did it sucked the horsepower right out of it.  We went to the wedge cars and the money cars started coming in and they pushed these home builts out of the program.   The wedge cars, the high horsepower cars liked the clay we put on.  The low buck guys aren’t going to like anything that hurts them.  Whoever’s gettin the advantage is going to like that.  It was hard to race with them.”

From Racing Wheels July 24, 1985:  "Angelo Marcelli startout out hot laps with a bang. His throttle stuck wide open going into turn one.  He climbed out unhurt.  His crew worked on the damaged car throughout the night and he came back the next night to win his heat race, place third in the B Main, tranferred to the A Main where he finished 8th in the North Coast Dirt Track Classic at Redwood Acres Speedway in Eureka, CA."

From Racing Wheels July 24, 1985: “Angelo Marcelli started out hot laps with a bang. His throttle stuck wide open going into turn one. He climbed out unhurt. His crew worked on the damaged car throughout the night and he came back the next night to win his heat race, place third in the B Main, tranferred to the A Main where he finished 8th in the North Coast Dirt Track Classic at Redwood Acres Speedway in Eureka, CA.”

Probably the last place you want to end up during a race is upside down.  “First race, new car just built, never drove it before, the throttle stuck” Angelo explains.  “My wheel hit a tire when it flipped me.   We were trying to get it straight to get it on the trailer, this wheel back into the frame firewall, gas tank fell out, everything,  just trying to get it straight enough to get it on the trailer, and Frank says ‘You know, we could get this drivable’.  I said ‘Yeah, if you can get it fixed I’ll run it”.

Mike continues: “It was all bent to Hell.  We had a water truck on one end and a grater on the other, pulled the thing straight and went out and won the B Dash, B Heat, transferred to the A Main.  That’s back on dirt, that’s what you could do.  The difference between the old days and the new days is every angle in your front end means something now.  It’s just a different day.”

Angelo concludes: “There’s probably not much that has happened out there that hasn’t happened to me at least once.  We’ve been on fire, been upside down, we’ve been in the walls, we’ve been on cars.  Probably the worst one I was in was when Randy Olson spun that guy in the Open and Jim Walker just missed him.  I hit that guy and went spinning through the infield.  Kind of knocked me out…caught on fire.  I think that was the worst one I ever had.”

Wedge dirt car for the clay - Angelo with son Mike, 16 years old.

Wedge dirt car for the clay – Angelo with son Mike, 16 years old.

A new Camaro for the freshly paved track at Redwood Acres in 1988

A new Camaro for the freshly paved track at Redwood Acres in 1988

In 1988 new promoters brought a paved track and NASCAR sanctioning which opened up the track to host the Southwest Tour and Winston West races.

“When it was paved we lost a few drivers that had done well on clay- the Henells and Ron Peters.  A few of them backed off, not racing every race.  Back then when we were racing Super Stocks, before templates, you didn’t have to change much to run with the Southwest Tour and they wanted the local cars to run against the tour for the fans.  But NASCAR was for NASCAR- they didn’t do nothing for you, just cost you a bunch of money.”

“I liked the asphalt right away.  I used to go to Anderson and we had Lakeport and Ukiah.  It was cleaner but was harder to drive; on dirt you can horse it around and get it to do what you want to do, on asphalt if you aren’t right on the money you’re in a lot of trouble.  It’s a real fine line.  You’re set up has to be right there.  You were spinning out before you knew you were spinning.  I’d be sitting in the infield and wonder ‘Now just how in the Hell did that happen?'”

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Mike Marcelli:  “Randy Olson took me under his wing and taught me a ton about chassis and how to set up for asphalt.  It’s obvious to everybody now that if you aren’t perfect when you leave the garage, geometry-wise, you are going to have a bad day.”

“Most anybody can go around and qualify and be fast,” Angelo says.   “But it’s when you’re in traffic and making that almost instant decision when you feel it in your butt when you’re slidin’.  When I first raced on pavement I must have spun that thing twenty times a race, but now I can feel that thing and just automatically react.  Jim Walker’s a natural, that guy can miss anything, and he’s probably the best thing that ever hit here.  That’s one guy who could have made it big time from here.  When he won Riverside and raced at Daytona, he had the talent, there was just no doubt about it.”

Late 90s red Camaro - Mike: "A few times that car was a #&@?ing rocket!" Angelo: "I Had my worst wreck in 1997 in that car."

Late 90s red Camaro – Mike: “A few times that car was a #?@&ing rocket!” Angelo: “I Had my worst wreck in 1997 in that car.”

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1997: A winner’s trophy with grand kids and their assorted friends

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“I watch and follow NASCAR, went to Phoenix 10 times in a row.  Used to go down to Riverside, was there when Walker won.  If Walker was going to the races we were going.  Riverside was better than Sears Point, almost an oval with the S’s in it.  Went there every year for years.  There wasn’t any kind of Open Comp we didn’t go to in Redding, Roseville, even if I wasn’t racing in them, we’d go watch them.  We just never had the kind of money to compete in those kind of shows, and I don’t like to be in everybody’s way.  I don’t want to be the one who screws everybody up.”

“I think we won the B-Main in Ukiah once.  Made B-Main a couple of times at Anderson, but they’re 150 lap races in 200 degree heat.  It was miserable.  I liked the tracks but they were too small compared to Redwood Acres, you were just in a turn all the time.”

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“Back in our day we knew what we come from, we weren’t gonna go to Daytona.  We raced and then went over and finished a keg of beer, went out and argued about the races and fought and did all our rollin around and would be best friends next Saturday.  It’s at every track not just ours, but each generation you get people who think they’re the next Dale Earnhardt.  They don’t mind wrecking people now.  If you can’t get by them, spin them out.  That started after we went paved.”

Angelo drives underneath Ronnie O'Neill in his 2002 Track Champion Miller Lite car

Angelo drives underneath Ronnie O’Neill in his 2002 Track Champion Miller Lite Grand Prix

Angelo has been track champion now four times since 2000 and he’s seen the technical side of racing take over since the old dirt days. “Back in the day you’d go over to John’s wrecking yard and you got a motor, put it in your car and went runnin.”

Mike concurs,  “When we were on dirt you’d throw some Monroes on there and you’d go racing.  Now the shock package is multi-valving, the right valving for each corner of the car; you have to be down on the shocks or your car ain’t working.  Guys like my dad with experience can still drive the car and make it go fast, but one mistake and you’re gone. The things we have seen change from when we started in 1976 to 2013 are ridiculous.  It’s just night and day.”  Both say a lot of the local guys who know people back in North Carolina working in NASCAR get the latest technical information and can use that advantage at the track here.  “A couple of tenths is forever on a race track”, Angelo adds.

“I went to the Gold Cup over in Chico and saw a couple of the old hard tops they had in the museum.  They were tore all to Hell but you look in the back and they had a military gas can – the old jeep cans – in the back for a fuel cell behind the driver’s seat with a strap holding it in, and half inch water pipe for roll cages.  It brought back memories when I’d see those guys come flippin’ down the track at Redwood Acres.  Them guys had cajones, man.  Or stupid, one or the other.”

Frank Arruda Jr., a.k.a. “Sarge”, reading the morning paper at his spot in Marcelli’s cafe

While the cars and the track have changed, the constant for Angelo and Mike remains the relationships formed through the years with the other folks at the track.

Frank Arruda Jr. was Angelo’s first crew chief in 1976 and has been with him ever since.  Says Angelo of his old friend, “His brother Manuel got me started and Frank kept me in there.  He’s my main man.  Does the body work the ducting, changes tires, does everything the crew guy does.  If we get in a wreck he’ll go out the next day and start working on it.  He’s a machinist, was in the Marines, went to work with Redwood Kenworth, retired there.   He’s been with me forever and there isn’t anything on there he can’t do.”  Frank is joined on the team by Angelo’s son and current crew chief, Mike, and mechanic and former long time driver Casey Dungan.

“We had some of the top of the line drivers between Jim Walker and Larry Pries.  Tom Wyatt would come over from Medford.  Jim Walker and Bill Schmitt of Redding had some of the best races you’ll ever see.  Don Harper, Valerie Harper’s brother, Larry Detjens was around here, and Don Hood.  Hank Hilton was really good, Kenny Wallan, Don Price.  Me and Don were real good friends.  The old timers; Fergy of course, and Jack Clark- he was a good writer too (columns in the Stock Report).  I don’t think there was anybody out there we didn’t like runnin with.”

Mike Marcelli likes to talk about a driver they were particularly fond of:  “Hank Hilton, in his later years, with his cane, won a main out here with the tour, that was the highlight of our day.  We were just sentimental towards him anyway.  We ran against him on dirt for a championship and we broke and that guy went and got a part and he gave it to us.  We finished second to him.  He was a helluva dude.  One time we’re in Redding and we’re struggling and that guy walks over and says ‘Here’s part of your problem…’, and he set our front end settings, caster and camber, by eye; no gauge, no nothing.  We went out and ran better than you can believe.  He got us maybe half a second.”

“That old guy helped me in Ukiah too”, Angelo says.  “Walked up and said ‘Hey, you’re hittin the throttle where you’re supposed to but you’ll spin out every time at this track.  Right at the apex you’re gone, so you have to hit it right before, or right after.’  The big joke with us is that we’d be struggling with the car and Hank would come over with a ball of string.  I’d say ‘We got all these tools’ and he’d say ‘All you need is a ball of string’,” Ange says laughing.

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Angelo has particular admiration for fellow driver and friend Don Price.  “Don was the best at never using a tape measure.  He’d put the clip on the car and just stand back and look at it and I thought this guy’s out of his mind.  You go to measure it when he’s done he was within a sixteenth, just eyeballing it.   But Don Price could do just about anything.”

“Don Price was incredible,” adds Mike.  “And that’s what the younger generation doesn’t get, that all those people that you’ve met, and all those people that were amazing to you.  Still to this day, Don and my dad are best of friends.”

Angelo concludes: “I’d never trade the friendships and things that we’ve done in racing, the people were just fantastic.  That was the best form of racing and group of drivers, before or since, between here and Redding.  And it was that way around the country.”

Angelo clinched his fourth Sportsman championship September 14th 2013.  On that night Jim Walker came out to race in the local Sportsman class, winning the Trophy Dash and Main Event – the Memorial Race – held in honor of their friend Larry Pries.

Fair Nights at Redwood Acres 2013

Fair Nights at Redwood Acres 2013

Huge thanks to Angelo Marcelli and his son Mike for their generous support and tremendous passion for the history of racing at Redwood Acres Raceway.

All archival photos are courtesy of Angelo Marcelli.