Three years ago, Warner Hodgdon appeared on his way to becoming the most powerful figure in stock car racing.
The San Bernardino businessman owned or had a major interest in six race tracks, had NASCAR races carrying his name at Riverside International Raceway and North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham, N.C., and sponsored Neil Bonnett's car in the Winston Cup championship series.
His wife, Sharon, had a race in her name at Riverside, the Sharon Hodgdon 200. It was a companion feature to the Warner Hodgdon 400.
One of Hodgdon's sons, Aaron, was vice president of the board of directors at Phoenix International Raceway, which Hodgdon owned at the time. Aaron was 14. Another son, Justin, worked as a crewman on Hodgdon's teams. Justin was 9.
When racing associates asked Hodgdon about his long-range plans, he smiled and said: "The only plans we have are to win races, improve our facilities, help promote the sport and enjoy it for years to come."
As suddenly as Hodgdon emerged in 1977 as a sponsor of his first race at Riverside, however, his bubble has burst.
Hodgdon, 52, filed for bankruptcy last week in San Bernardino, claiming personal financial liabilities of $62.4 million and assets of $17.5 million.
The petition for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy laws was brought about, he said, by a $33-million lawsuit filed against him and his National Engineering Co., the firm that engineered and supervised the Industry Hills Exhibit-Conference Center.
Among his creditors are the Riverside track, to which he owes $71,842 for race sponsorship, and North Carolina Motor Speedway, whose officials claim he is more than $100,000 behind in sponsorship and broadcast fees. The track recently attached Hodgdon's stock in the Junior Johnson Racing Team.
One of the most surprising partnerships in racing history was cemented November of 1982 when Hodgdon purchased 50% of Johnson's team for an estimated $2 million. For the last two seasons, the Johnson-Hodgdon team has fielded two cars, one for Darrell Waltrip and one for Neil Bonnett, both operating out of Johnson's shop in Ronda, N.C.
"There will be no Warner Hodgdon races at Riverside this year," General Manager Walt Carter said. "Our contract with him ran out last November, and we are not renewing it. We're just hoping to get back what we're owed."
The Warner Hodgdon 500 at Rockingham, N.C., has been renamed the Carolina 500.
Hodgdon has also divested himself of control of two golf courses, Shandin Hills in San Bernardino and Quail Lake (now Quail Valley), east of Riverside.
MOTOCROSS--The Supercross season will open tonight at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium and as usual the favorites are from the San Diego area--Broc Glover, Rick Johnson, Ron Lechien and Scott Burnworth. The last three winners of the opening race--Donnie Hansen, David Bailey and Johnny O'Mara--have gone on to win the Supercross championship. Those three openers were all at Anaheim Stadium, however, where the second Supercross will be held Feb. 2.
SPRINT CARS--Bubby Jones and his car owners, the Kazarian brothers, collected $10,000 each at the California Racing Assn. banquet for winning their second straight Kraco-CRA championship. Jones' mechanic, Ray Sheetz, was named mechanic of the year. Jones also won the Aggie Award as driver of the year.
IROC--Three stock car drivers, Terry Labonte, Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough, and two Indy car drivers, Mario Andretti and Bobby Rahal, have accepted bids to drive in the International Race of Champions. The four-race series, in which drivers race identically prepared Camaros, will start Feb. 15 at Daytona.
DRAG RACING--John Lombardo of Valencia has been named to succeed Raymond Beadle as driver of the Blue Max funny car. Lombardo, 37, will make his debut in the Blue Max in the Jan. 31-Feb. 3 Winternationals at Pomona.
OFF-ROAD RACING--Ivan Stewart, who crashed in last week's Mickey Thompson Gran Prix at Pomona, has entered his Toyota pickup truck in the unlimited single-seater class for the Feb. 2 Parker 400. His teammate, Frank (Butch) Arciero, will drive a companion truck in the two-seat unlimited class.
NEWSWORTHY--Former world Formula One champion Alan Jones of Australia will return to racing this year with the newly formed Beatrice-sponsored McLaren team. . . . Al Unser Jr. will join Al Holbert and Derek Bell in the Lowenbrau Porsche for the 24 Hours of Daytona, Feb. 2-3.