When Mike Corning was 10 years old, he was with his father, Larry, at a dirt track race in Winterhaven, when the elder Corning was knocked out of the feature event race by a driver from Yuma.
The driver from Yuma, Dick Rautenberg, went on to win the race and as was his tradition, he handed out quarters to any young fan who came down to the pit and shook his hand afterward.
On that night, Mike Corning went to Rautenberg’s pit, shook his hand, collected his quarter and went back to his dad’s pit with a smile on his face. When he showed his dad the quarter, his dad asked him where he got it? When Mike told him, his dad, still fuming over the incident on the track, instructed Mike to march right back to Rautenberg’s pit and give him back his quarter.
Such was Mike Corning’s introduction to dirt track racing in this corner of the Southwest.
It is one of a number of colorful stories about Mike Corning and his life in racing, which also includes winning an IMCA Modified Division track championship at then-Yuma Speedway in 1994, tying for the track championship in 1996 and winning the IMCA Western Region Championship in 1996.
Unfortunately, Corning’s career in racing was cut short when he died while on the way home from a race at what is now Cocopah Speedway on May 11, 2019. He had been involved in a single-car crash that night, walked away from the incident, packed up and headed home to Bonita, Calif.
He didn’t make it, and died May 12, 2019 in an El Centro hospital.
Still, racers and race fans remember the hard nosed, talented driver and will honor him with the inaugural Mike Corning Memorial, scheduled tonight and Saturday at the Somerton oval.
“Mike was a fierce competitor,” said Cocopah Speedway General Manager Brad Whitfield. “He is also a former track champion who the fans miss seeing out on the track.”
The memorial event will feature a full lineup of IMCA racing divisions – Late Models, Modifieds, Sport Modifieds, Hobby Stocks and Sport Compacts Also, the Mini Dwarfs will race on Saturday night.
The first green flag is 7 p.m. both nights.
This is also the final night to score IMCA national points, as the sanctioning body annually closes up shop at the end of September.
Mesa’s Chaz Baca, who won one of the two Labor Day weekend Modified Division feature events at Cocopah Speedway, is the current IMCA Larry Shaw Race Cars Western Region point leader.
In the Arizona IMCA Sport Modified standings, Somerton’s Ty Rogers is currently ranked sixth, and Yuma’s Miles Morris is ranked 10th.
And in the IMCA Hobby Stock Big Daddy Race Cars Southern Region standings, Somerton’s Joshua Cordova is ranked eighth. He is also ranked second in the Arizona standings.