Dirt track racers will gather to honor one of their own, a legend actually, during Friday and Saturday night’s 5th annual Deacon Dick Memorial presented by 98X Motorsports.
The event is run in honor of the late “Deacon Dick” Rautenberg, who won the first driving championship at then-Yuma Speedway in 1968, and went on to win 10 more driving titles – the 1973 and 1977 Super Stock crowns at Yuma Speedway; Super Stock crowns at Quechan Speedway in Winterhaven in 1980 and 1981; Mini Stock crowns in Winterhaven in 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1987; the Mini Stock championship at Yuma Speedway in 1990; and the Sportsman Division championship at Yuma Speedway in 1997.
In 2007 Rautenberg added probably the biggest prize to his already bulging trophy case, when he was inducted into the Arizona Motorsports Hall of Fame.
Rautenberg died from prostate cancer on June 15, 2013.
The fifth annual memorial event will get underway at 7 p.m. both Friday and Saturday at what is now Cocopah Speedway, County 15th Street and U.S. 95. The program will include IMCA Modifieds, the Yuma Insurance Sport Modifieds and Alexander Ford Hobby Stocks, along with Pure Stocks, Hornets, Sport Compacts and Mini Dwarfs.
The pit gate opens at 3 p.m. and the general admission gate opens at 5 p.m.
If there was ever an original “intimidator,” it was Rautenberg, who gained notoriety not only for his wins but his penchant for getting rough on the race track. One of his fellow racers once won a main event with Rautenberg finishing second, and after crossing the finish line Rautenberg rammed the winning car from behind.
When asked what prompted the contact, Rautenberg said, “I didn’t want him to get cocky.”
Rautenberg also handed out shiny new quarters to children who would come down to the pit and shake his hand after he’d won a feature event. And as the story goes, one night a young boy, the late Mike Corning, shook Rautenberg’s hand, got his quarter and went back to his father’s pit and showed him the quarter.
His father, Larry Corning, another respected racer in his own right, had just traded paint and metal with Rautenberg out on the race track and come out on the losing end. Corning told his son, in no uncertain terms, to take that quarter back where he got it.
Such was Rautenberg’s following – he was loved or despised; there seemed to be no middle ground.
During driver introductions jeers and boos from the grandstand would rain down on the man who became known as the driver the fans loved to hate.
When asked by a reporter if the boos ever bothered him, he said, “No. It’s when the fans don’t make any noise at all that I’ll start to worry.”
The rough and tough racing champion had a soft side too and was known for having a huge heart. He was named the Yuma County Citizen of the Year in 2009 for his generosity.
In the inaugural Deacon Dick Memorial event in 2014, the one-night show included five racing divisions, in which Steven McCollough, from Imperial, Calif., won the IMCA Modified Division feature event; Casa Grande, Ariz., driver Bo Partain won the IMCA Sport Modified feature event and Yuma’s Craig Ebers won the IMCA Hobby Stock Division feature event; and in two non-IMCA divisions, Partain also won the Street Stock feature event and Brawley, Calif., driver Brent Ashurst won the Pro-Stock Division feature event.
In 2015, the event was expanded to two nights, with the Saturday night winners taking home the big paychecks. Also, Cocopah Speedway featured IMCA-only divisions in 2015, having done away with the Pro-Stock Division and converting the Street Stock Division to IMCA Stock Car.
The four 2015 Deacon Dick Memorial champions on Saturday night were Farmington, N.M., driver Zane DeVilbiss in the Modified finale, Holtville, Calif., driver Chris Toth in the Sport Modified feature, Yuma’s Manny Baldiviez in Stock Car, and Yuma’s Leonard Manos in Hobby Stock.
In 2016, the Saturday night winners were Chandler’s Tim Ward in the Modified finale, Brawley’s Tommy Daffern in Stock Car, J.R. Herrera, from Price, Utah, in Sport Modified, and Craig Ebers in Hobby Stock.
The 2017 showcase winners were McCollough, again, in Modified, Chris Fritz in Stock Car, Toth, again, in Sport Modified and Yuma’s Jim Robinson in Hobby Stock.
There was no memorial event in 2018 as the track was closed.