Racing this weekend at one of the central San Joaquin Valley’s smallest tracks celebrates the memory of a man who was big in the sport.
It’s the second annual Mark Hagopian Memorial for mini sprints at Keller Auto Raceway at Visalia’s Plaza Park, Friday and Saturday nights.
The fifth-mile clay oval at Plaza Park and the similarly sized Lemoore Raceway have long been breeding grounds for central San Joaquin Valley racing stars. And for many years, Mark Hagopian was a fixture in the mini sprints community as a driver, mentor and entrepreneur. He started his own company, Hagopian Engineering, which evolved into Driven Performance, owned by his son Jake and the nation’s leader in mini sprint manufacturing.
Mark Hagopian was known around the tracks as “MacGyver” for his ability to get anything running.
He passed away in December 2016 at age 57, and the first race to honor his memory happened last year. It features a $5,000-to-win (big for the class) main event for the Super 600s on Saturday night, many fun events for drivers and fans throughout, and a perpetual trophy that, of course, is named the “MacGyver.” Jake Hagopian is the defending champion in the Super 600 class.
One of the Valley’s preeminent stars, two-time World of Outlaws national tour sprint car champion Jason Meyers of Clovis, was coached by Hagopian in his younger days and will be on hand both nights doing interviews with drivers.
The mini sprint tracks traditionally bring together young and old, current stars and budding stars. Recently, for instance, NASCAR star Kyle Larson returned to his home track in Northern California for a night of racing. This weekend, U.S. Auto Club Western States Midgets points leader Michael Faccinto of Hanford is expected to compete, having traveled to Seattle last weekend to pick up his mini sprint.
Young drivers are hoping to emulate current Valley mini sprint alumni including Kingsburg’s Kody Swanson, who’s set to cap his unprecedented fourth USAC Silver Crown sprint car championship Saturday night in the season-finale at Eldora Speedway in Ohio.
Closer to home, there’s stars like Cory Eliason, who won last Saturday’s Outlaws race at Calistoga, and the Scelzi brothers, 16-year-old Gio Scelzi and his 21-year-old brother Dominic, both already barnstorming veterans. Another notable set of brothers: Carson Macedo of Lemoore, who’s vying for the season championship in the Midwest-based All-Star Circuit of Champions sprint car series owned by Tony Stewart, and his younger brother Cole, who last weekend wrapped up the California Civil War sprint car series season championship.