Racing in his name
The late Lon Skinner had many titles: Hardtop driver, flat-track motorcycle racer, national boat and water skiing champion, glider aircraft pilot.
His son, Southern Oregon Speedway owner John Skinner, remembers his father as an adventurer and a leader. Though his memories of Lon remain sharp, John didn't want others to forget.
An annual race at the speedway has ensured the survival of Lon's legacy.
Fifteen years ago, John created the Lon Skinner Memorial. The event, which roars back to life this weekend, celebrates the spirit of racing and the heart of one of its biggest believers.
"I remember as a really little kid sneaking into the races over in Ashland with the babysitter and watching him race," Skinner said recently. "And every time I ever watched he won. He had a really good time. He didn't work very hard, but he sure had a good time. ... He had more natural ability than anybody."
Some of the best modified auto racers around will compete for a $6,000 top prize in the 15th annual A main modified race Sunday at Southern Oregon Speedway in White City.
The two-day purse is $30,000.
"The average modified pays like $300 bucks," Skinner said. "So for $6,000, they come from a long way."
At least 80 cars will make up the field, all hoping to earn their shot in the 100-lap feature. After qualifying on Saturday and Sunday, the group will be pared down to the top 24 drivers. Auto racers will spend Saturday competing in a pair of heat races in order to qualify for the main event. The points earned from the drivers' finishes in both heats will be used to place them in main events that night. There will be a few last-chance qualifiers and main events leading up to the A main on Sunday.
Dirt modified races are some of the most popular in the United States.
Skinner said that successful drivers in this form of racing are those who are truly skilled navigators and tacticians.
"What makes them so fun to watch is there (are) 600 and 700 horsepower engines now on hard eight-inch tires," Skinner said. "So it's really hard to get grip and it puts it all on the driver. ... In NASCAR and asphalt racing, it's all about the car. In modified racing, it's all about the driver."
Last year, Bobby Hogge IV of Salinas, Calif., defended his 2008 title in the A main. Hogge, who won $5,000, captured the lead in the 25th lap of the 50-lap event to repeat as victor.
Former champion and White City chiropractor Scott Lenz took second.
Campbell River, British Columbia's Jason Beaulieu is one of the more heralded racers slated to compete this season. He bested a 67-car field to secure the checkered flag and pocket $2,500 at the 11th annual Shipwreck Beads Northwest Modified Nationals in Elma, Wash., in July.
Some of the top local drivers racing are two-time champion Rich Papenhausen, Mark Wauge, Dan Estremado, Jon Debenedetti and Lenz, whose racing career began in 1986.
Lenz has raced in 12 of the previous 14 Lon Skinner Memorials.
"It's a race that really comes down to driving style and patience," said the 40-year-old Lenz, who won his 93rd career main event last month. "There are a lot of similarities with the cars. It's the finite differences that can make the biggest impact.
"I think it plays into my strategy and I'm looking forward to it. I'm conservative up front and keep the car clean and then go for it at the end. There will be a level of endurance associated with that and some physical conditioning."
The spectator cost is $15 on Saturday and $20 Sunday. A two-day pass is $30. Children 12 and under are half price. The front gate will open at 4 p.m. with racing scheduled for 6 p.m. each day at the speedway (6900 Kershaw Rd., White City).
Reach sports reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org