This Saturday night, Sept. 30, Placerville Speedway will honor a fallen member of the Folsom business community with a special night of racing. The evening is the final race of the year and it’s a tribute to the late Donnie Tilford.
Tilford was known for his long time residency in Folsom for helping many other businesses transform from mere dirt into establishments in the area by means of his business, Tilford Excavating that was based in the city. Working with heavy equipment wasn’t the only relationship Tilford had with dirt – he was known as one of California’s greatest dirt track racers.
Racing his way to countless victories through the decades from tracks close to home like Placerville Speedway and as far away as Australia, Tilford put the City of Folsom on the auto racing map in his days behind the wheel. He was known as a fearless competitor who was always willing to mentor a new competitor. His most common advice to young drivers was the simple phrase, “drive fast, take chances.”
Retiring from the cockpit in 1991, Tilford spent his later years mentoring, sponsoring and wrenching for various drivers well past his retirement from driving in 1991. The beloved driving legend succumbed to heart complications and passed away at the age of 58 on March 18, 2014.
“Donnie was one of a kind,” said his nephew Jon Tilford, a Folsom resident who manages Folsom Glenn Carwash and is among a family of generations that has followed in his uncle’s footsteps, winning many races and championships himself. “He was the man you see at the coffee bar or at the local saloon who would buy everyone in the room drinks, just to reach to the community and be a nice guy; he would do anything for anybody.”
Three years after his passing, it’s still hard for the younger Tilford generations to talk about their fallen leader. This Saturday night, Jon will return to Placerville Speedway as a crewman for his brothers Tom and Matt as they race in honor of their mentor.
“He helped me get this family back into racing and guided us to winning races,” Jon said. “When it came to racing, Donnie expected nothing less than a win. We would meet up every Sunday for breakfast in town. If we didn’t win, he would want to know why because he wasn’t ok with second place.”
The Ltd. Late Models will be racing for extra money this Saturday. The night with the feature awarding $1,000-to-win, $750 for second and $500 for third. In this division will be Orangevale native Tom Tilford as he looks for a win on this special night. Much like Jon, Tom is thankful for the strong mentoring from his uncle through the years.
“Even when I thought I did good, he'd ask, ‘Why didn't you do better,’” Tom said. “When I'd say I worked in the shop for eight hours, he'd say, ‘The competition might have worked nine hours.’ For years I thought he hated that we raced. The night we won a double championship with Jon and myself, I saw him with a huge grin, and that's when I realized why he was so had on us. Our team and family had to earn it and on that night we had.”
The Pure Stocks will be vying for $600-to-win the feature, $400 for second and $250 for third. Both will utilize a qualifying format with a Trophy Dash during the night and the A-main be a guaranteed $100-to-start. Matt Tilford will represent the family in this division, also looking for a win.
Tilford has two children – a son, Nathan, who lives in nearby Orangevale and works in Folsom, and a daughter, Terrena, who also lives in the area. Another one who has followed in his father’s footsteps racing cars, Nathan is well aware of the impact Donnie had on the Folsom community.
“Dad enjoyed being a business owner in Folsom. He enjoyed spending time with many of the locals and was often invited to spend time with retired teachers and coaches from his high school,” Nathan said. “It means a lot to me that Placerville Speedway continues this tradition. I hope we pack the stands with a great show. That would mean a lot to him.”
Joining the Late Models and Pure Stocks Saturday night will be Sport Modifieds and the Mini Truck division.
Placerville Speedway is located on the El Dorado County Fairground. The grandstands open at 3 p.m. with happy hour with qualifying starting at 5:30 p.m.
For ticket information, go to placervillespeedway.com.