NASCAR & Auto Racing

Local motor sports: Former driver, owner Gene Welch dies at 90

The local racing community lost another legend when Gene Welch died earlier this month after a long illness. He was 90.

Welch owned Welch Racing Enterprises in Orangevale and helped dozens of drivers over many decades with either full or partial sponsorships. He also owned Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tenn., before moving west.

Welch was also known as a successful and tough, yet fair, driver who won multiple track championships at Roseville’s All American Speedway and who led a contingent of area drivers to race in Australia and New Zealand.

I always had a lot of respect for Gene. He was a tough competitor who loved to race stock cars on dirt. Man, he did not give anyone an inch.

Gary Geroud, longtime motor sports journalist

“I always had a lot of respect for Gene,” said longtime motor sports journalist Gary Gerould, who watched Welch mostly at West Capital Raceway in West Sacramento. “He was a tough competitor who loved to race stock cars on dirt. Man, he did not give anyone an inch.”

Rick Poppert, former director of racing at All American, said he started racing against Welch in 1968 when the track was still dirt. The asphalt wasn’t poured until 1970. He remembered Welch as the guy to beat.

“He’s been around forever,” said Poppert of Welch, who started racing in Roseville in 1957. “He was a legend around here and he was a legend in Australia.”

Track promoters in Australia and New Zealand wanted to draw more fans and knew some of the best small-track drivers, both dirt and asphalt, were in California. They invited Welch and several of his racing buddies, including Ed Wilbur and the “Roseville Rocket” Larry Burton, to their countries when it was winter here. It soon became an Aussie vs. USA showdown, with Welch and the others enjoying the role of the bad guys.

“They contacted me,” Welch told author Bill Poindexter in 2013 for a NASCAR Library book on the history of All American Speedway. (Poindexter also works for The Bee) “They read about me. They wanted me to come over. They offered me good money.”

Welch later became lead mechanic on his son’s super modified car. Mark Welch won multiple track championships with his father leading the pit crew.

Under new management

The husband-wife team of Scott Russell and Kami Arnold have deep roots in the dirt at Placerville Speedway. Russell was a sprint car driver and then team owner with Arnold, who as a child used to help pick out rocks while her family members graded the quarter-mile oval on the El Dorado County Fairgrounds. Her family-run business, Arnold for Awards, has been supplying weekly awards to drivers for decades.

Now Russell and Arnold are managing the track heading into its 51st year of operation, and they have formed Russell Motorsports Incorporated.

“We are very excited for the opportunity to take over the management of Placerville Speedway,” they said in a statement after their management bid was accepted by the fairgrounds board. “We believe promoting Placerville Speedway is in line with the natural progression of our involvement in local motorsports. Both of us are looking forward to expanding and breathing new life into the solid foundation in which retiring promoters Alan and Diane Handy and their predecessors have built here in our community.”

Mark Billingsley, editorwriter@att.net

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