James Bickford broke his arm playing football last year as a freshman at Napa's Justin-Siena High School.
The injury didn't just cost him the rest of the football season, it cost him a Legends of the Pacific season title, too.
Bickford is running cross country this fall for Justin-Siena, mostly to stay in shape and avoid injury.
That's a wise move. The 15-year-old won the Late Model track championship at All American Speedway in Roseville on Saturday after a season-long battle with Ron Chunn. Bickford, a Late Model rookie, won six of the last eight races and became the youngest season champion in a weekly-run division in All American Speedway's 58 years.
"It was tough to be a rookie, and it's even tougher when you're as young as I am," Bickford said. "Spinning someone out as a rookie is much different than spinning someone out as a veteran."
Not that Bickford tangled much this season. He ran mostly out front, away from traffic.
Bickford was funded by his parents as a quarter-midget ace, but he had to take a year off when he was 11 because it became too costly.
He soon found a new way to fund his racing and a key sponsor, however. Still just 11 at the time, Bickford organized a golf tournament, selling hole sponsorships for $100 each, and solicited Buff Bredehoft, owner of Buffalo's Shipping Post in Napa. Bredehoft did more than just sponsor a hole; he became Bickford's main sponsor and biggest fan.
"(Buff) has only missed one race in four years, and that includes races in Bandoleros and Legends," Bickford said. "His support has meant everything."
After each victory this year, Bickford has gone into the grandstands to present Bredehoft with the winner's plaque.
In an interesting twist, one of Bredehoft's business services is to ship NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon's wine throughout the world.
Gordon is Bickford's cousin by marriage, and Gordon's stepfather, John Bickford, got the four-time NASCAR champion into racing at a young age. John Bickford's younger brother, Tom Bickford, is James' father.
James Bickford said he talks to Gordon often and spends considerable time around Gordon during NASCAR's annual race at Sonoma Raceway.
Bickford said his next step is to find enough sponsorship to race in NASCAR K&N Pro Series West next season and eventually in Sprint Cup along side his famous cousin.
Around the tracks Tickets are available for the Oct. 12 Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts 150 at All American Speedway, an event that usually sells out. There will be three divisions of racing, led by K&N Pro Series West and including Late Model and Legends.
Proceeds from ticket sales will benefit the Placer Breast Cancer Endowment. For more information, go to www.bmrnapa.com.
Bill Poindexter, a copy editor at The Bee, is the author of "Stockton 99 Speedway," a book about the history of the track told mostly through photographs.
A second book by Poindexter, on the history of All American Speedway, is scheduled to be released Nov. 4. Both are available on amazon.com.
The 21st annual Fall Nationals at Chico's Silver Dollar Speedway are Sept. 27-28 and will feature some of the best 360-cubic-inch sprint car drivers in the western United States. Also competing are wingless sprints and modifieds. Visit www. silverdollarspeedway.com for more information.
Mark Billingsley covers local motor sports for The Bee. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.