In one corner: Alex Odishoo, the son of legendary Merced College football coach Don Odishoo. Alex played baseball all his life, on travel teams and with the Stanislaus County Giants.
Odishoo fell into stock car racing when he helped a friend fabricate a car.
He’s been around for a couple of seasons, but this is the first season for him in the Four Banger class.
In the other corner: Nastasia Dodd, 14, who never sat behind the wheel of any car until her driver-grandfather Ray Mayer brought her to a race in April.
A sophomore at Yosemite High in Oakhurst, Dodd has won two in a row at the speedway. Odishoo, who won three features prior to Dodd’s surge, was quick to congratulate her in victory lane.
For Dodd, there was a feeling of empowerment.
“I had no clue how to drive or even how to shift until my grandfather brought me to the track. My second practice was on dirt at Merced Speedway … then I raced,” she said.”Now that I’ve won, I feel I accomplished something. Racing is not just for guys. It’s not just for older people.”
Odishoo, a City of Merced equipment inspector, has overcome adversity to drive his Four Banger. He was paralyzed in a wakeboard accident on Don Pedro Lake a few years back. He underwent surgeries and rehabilitation to be able to drive.
“I turned the tables of fate. Sure, my family is concerned that I race,” he said. “But the injury has made me have a high level of common sense.”
When the helmets are donned on Sunday evening, Odishoo and Dodd are just two drivers, competing for a checkered flag.
“For me, the switch comes on, I become a different animal. It’s like strapping on the cleats to play ball,” Odishoo says.
Odishoo wants challengers, no matter their age, experience or gender.
“Bring it on. I love diversity. Men, women children… they should all try their hand at racing Four Bangers. It’s challenging and rewarding…and fun,” he said.
And for a teenager still two years away from obtaining her driver’s license, it’s been educational.
“I can’t even get a learner’s permit for a year, but I’m learning to drive a line, when to brake, when to accelerate. I’m a quick learner” Dodd explains. “I’ll be ready to try a sport mod as soon as grandpa finishes building one for me.”
If You Go
WHEN: Sunday. Gates open at 5 p.m.; racing starts at 6.
WHERE: Merced County Fairgrounds, 900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Merced.
TICKETS: Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for children, $ 8 for senior citizens. Family four-pack of tickets is $28.