The roar of auto engines and the smell of gasoline, hot dogs, barbecue and beer have marked summer Saturday nights at the Stockton 99 Speedway since 1947 at the oldest running racetrack west of the Mississippi. Located on its original site at 4105 N Wilson Way near Highway 99, the quarter-mile asphalt oval track may be a vanishing breed, but in Stockton, the racing dream still lives as a San Joaquin County institution.
Despite a rough weather year with rain and the heat impacting race days, events at the 6,000-seat track are scheduled through October. A full slate for 2024 is already in the planning stages, says Tony Noceti, a former racer whose father and uncle both raced at the then-dirt track during its first year 76 years ago.
Noceti, through his family-run Noceti Group, bought the racetrack, installed seating and reopened it in 2009 after it had been closed for three years. The company also built and runs the Stockton Dirt Track at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds and took over the Gilroy Garlic and San Joaquin Asparagus festivals.
“We have a lot of history here,” says Noceti, a native of French Camp who was a weed abatement and construction contractor when he bought the racetrack in 2006. “I saw the economy going south, and at that time, keeping a motorsports venue alive here in the San Joaquin County-Stockton area was very important. A lot of racetracks go away, and nothing gets put in its place.”
With ticket prices ranging from $15 to $55 (kids under age 10 get in free), the Aug. 15 race night was a beautiful summer evening, a relief after the speedway experienced a run of extremely hot nights (and one heat-related cancellation in July). About 2,200 fans attended throughout the action-packed five hours. The 35 male and female racers from ages 10 up to their 60s participated in five main events — Jr. B4, Street Stocks, B4, INEX Legends Touring Series and Late Models.
Noceti says nurturing young racers helps keep the sport alive, citing the number of NASCAR and Indy 500 racers who’ve appeared in Stockton over the years. The list includes Bill Vuckovich, who won the 1953 and 1954 Indy 500 and was killed during the 1955 race, and NASCAR champion Ernie Irvan.
“Racetracks breed racers, so that’s why I work extremely hard to keep young people coming up the ladder,” Noceti says.
One of the family members with the Noceti Group, son-in-law Matt Leavitt, says attendance is slowly picking up after the pandemic and economic slowdown of the past few years.
“Coming off COVID, everybody slowed down a little bit,” Leavitt says as he operated the gate allowing fans to enter the main grandstand area of the speedway. “But our car counts (number of racers) is coming back up, so that’s a good thing.”
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