Motor sports: Thunderbowl, Madera open 2016 seasons this weekend

Joey Saldana, driving the Fresno-based Roth Motorsports World of Outlaws sprint car, in victory lane in Las Vegas on March 3, 2016.
Joey Saldana, driving the Fresno-based Roth Motorsports World of Outlaws sprint car, in victory lane in Las Vegas on March 3, 2016. Matt Hill

The 2016 motor sports season in the central San Joaquin Valley gets underway this weekend with racing in Tulare and Madera – weather permitting.

Rain pounding the central San Joaquin Valley on Friday caused promoters at Thunderbowl Raceway in Tulare to cancel the track’s opener planned for Friday night. According to a notice on the track’s website, the Friday show might be made up Sunday – a decision to be made Saturday.

With clearing in the forecast, both Thunderbowl and Madera Speedway expect to open their 2016 seasons Saturday night.

Thunderbowl Raceway welcomes the start of the national World of Outlaws sprint car tour’s California swing. The Outlaws are running shows co-sanctioned by California’s top sprint car circuit, the King of the West series. The Outlaws and the King of the West both campaign winged sprint cars powered by 410-cubic-inch engines. The weekend also includes U.S. Auto Club West Coast 360 wingless sprint cars and the Western RaceSaver winged 305 sprint cars.

Madera Speedway is scheduled to start its 45th season Saturday night with the first of 18 taped-for-television shows, a 125-lap feature for the LoanMart Late Model Series stock cars. The track’s Jr. Late Model Series for drivers ages 10-16 makes its debut along with the Super Hobby Stock Series, Toyota Sedans and MST classes.

Thunderbowl Raceway

The maintenance crew at the Tulare track has already proven adept at getting the third-mile clay oval back to racing shape in a hurry. Last October, a Thursday evening deluge scrubbed the first night of the three-day Trophy Cup, but the track was ready to go by Friday when promoters presented a day-night doubleheader.

Thunderbowl has become the regular first stop in California for the Outlaws. Last year, Bay Area drivers Tim Kaeding and Rico Abreu beat the Outlaws regulars in the $10,000-to-win main events, and both are expected again this weekend (Abreu fitting Tulare into a 2016 schedule that will see him regularly compete with the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series).

Other key storylines include:

▪ Fresno-based Roth Motorsports team to Outlaws national competition. Indiana’s Joey Saldana, entering his 21st Outlaws season, reunites with the Roths and already has one main-event win under his belt this season. Saldana is second in Outlaw points behind Brad Sweet heading into Tulare.

▪ Carson Macedo, the Lemoore 19-year-old who won the King of the West championship last year for Easton-based Tarlton Racing, has moved on: He spent the winter barnstorming Australia; and he signed a 2016 contract to race nationwide with Keith Kunz Motorsports, scoring a second-place finish in Texas in his midget debut. But Macedo will take advantage of a break in his schedule to reunite with Tarlton this weekend.

▪ Last year’s King of the West runner-up, Bud Kaeding of Campbell in the Oakhurst-based Williams Motorsports car, and second-generation driver Dominic Scelzi of Fresno highlight other local entries. Both teams competed last week in Las Vegas.

Madera Speedway

The third-miled paved oval is ramping up its partnership with the cable channel MAVTV, which features short-track racing action from around the country as regular programming.

The Late Model Series is the track’s top division, featuring eight $5,000-to-win races and a $10,000-to-win final event. Last season, 15-year-old Buddy Shepherd of Bakersfield edged Clovis veteran Bryan Herzog for the season championship.

Another season highlight will be six open-wheel shows featuring the new MAVTV Winged Super Sprints.

Other Valley tracks

Keller Auto Speedway at Kings Fairgrounds in Hanford gets going April 2 with the USAC West Coast 360 series as the feature event.

Other Valley tracks include Lemoore Raceway, Plaza Park Raceway in Visalia (both featuring mini sprints) and Merced Speedway.