Deacon Dick Memorial reignites racing season at Cocopah Speedway
He started his dirt track racing career in 1965.
He won his 508th race in 2001.
In between, he won 11 championships and in 2007 was inducted into the Arizona Motorsports Hall of Fame.
The racing community will honor the man with those legendary numbers and accolades Friday and Saturday night at Cocopah Speedway with the second annual “Deacon Dick Rautenberg Memorial” event.
“Dick gave back so much to this community,” said Greg Burgess, director of operations at Cocopah Speedway, “and this is our way of honoring him for all of the things he did, on and off the race track for the people of Yuma and the surrounding area.”
The program, scheduled to get underway at 7 p.m. both nights, is also Rounds 7 and 8 in the 2015 Cocopah Speedway Racing Series, which resumes after a lengthy layoff.
The last time the drivers in the series, which features IMCA Modifieds, IMCA Sport Modifieds, IMCA Stock Cars and IMCA Hobby Stocks, were on the track was May 16. The track then closed for the summer break and was originally scheduled to reopen on Sept. 26. But a devastating rain storm on Sept. 8 caused extensive damage to the facility, forcing the Sept. 26 date to be cancelled.
“There was a lot of damage done,” said Burgess of the Sept. 8 storm. “Right now the crews are on their third week of hard work. As we speak we are not ready yet, but we will be ready by Friday. This is not what a promoter wants to see anytime but especially before opening day.
“But by Friday night, Cocopah Speedway will look better than it ever has. I am really excited to have the racers and fans coming back.”
It’s also Burgess’ opinion that if “Deacon Dick” Rautenberg, no stranger to headlines and cameras, had his way, he would want a race in his honor to also be a race of such significance.
“I never met Dick, but from what I’ve been told, he would love to be here for this program and be in the spotlight,” said Burgess. “So, we’re going to do our best to make him proud.”
The inaugural “Deacon Dick” event was a one-night show in 2014.
“Because of what Dick meant to the racing community over the years, we believe this event deserves to be a multi-night event,” said Burgess, explaining the switch to two nights of racing.
And through negotiations with other area promoters, Cocopah Speedway will be the only track operating in Arizona and Southern California this weekend, “which means we should have a fantastic two nights of racing,” said Burgess. “I’m pretty sure Dick would like the show we’re going to have.”
Rautenberg passed away in June 2013 of prostate cancer, but even during his final days, he made every effort to be at the track and watch the racing on Saturday nights. That should come as no surprise, since Rautenberg won the first of his 11 driving championships at the track in 1968 when it was known as Yuma Speedway. It was the first year the track was open.
In honor of Rautenberg, Friday night’s showcase feature event will be the IMCA Stock Cars, the division Rautenberg’s career is most associated with, and the drivers in the division will perform a four-wide parade salute to Rautenberg, “leaving the pole position open in honor of Dick,” said Burgess. “This is known as the missing man formation.”
And on Saturday night, when the IMCA Modifieds feature event is the showcase event, the drivers will perform the same salute.
“I think it’s a fitting salute,” said Burgess.
The racing program is also fitting – high octane with little room for error.
All four of the track driving championships are still up for grabs, with the closest battle in the IMCA Stock Car Division, where Manny Baldiviez is clinging to a two-point lead over Joey Essary, and Jimmy Davy is only seven points off the pace.
The next closest title race is in the IMCA Hobby Stock Division. There, Leonard Manos comes back to the track Friday night with a seven-point lead over Leonard Jones, with Jason Beshears only 10 points out of the lead.
In the IMCA Modified Division, Jeffry Sheppard Jr. is the top driver, but only by 10 points over Steven McCollough.
And in the IMCA Sport Modified Division, Chris Toth has the most breathing room, holding a 15-point lead over Corey Clayton, with Kyle Smith 19 points back and Larry Wyatt one point behind Smith.
Tickets can also be purchased on-line at www.cocopahspeedway.com or at Cocopah Wild River or at the main gate on race day