For a good chunk of the 2020 season, it looked like a 23-year-old from Arizona was in line to win the prestigious IMCA Modified National Title. In the end, when all the points were counted and races were won, Chaz Baca ended up finishing sixth while winning the IMCA West Region and the Arizona State IMCA Modified points.
Baca was disappointed that he was not able to hold onto the lead and win the National IMCA title. Tom Berry ended up winning the title with Baca finishing 17 points behind. He has three primary reasons that he couldn’t hold onto the lead: “We start the season earlier and then other divisions like the Midwest start kicking in.” Berry was one of those drivers from the Midwest who had more wins than Chaz as well. “Not having as many wins hurt me,” Baca said. “And having a little bit of bad luck contributed, too.”
“It would have been huge to win that title,” Baca said. But winning the West Region was very important for Chaz. “When you look at how many states are in the region, it’s definitely exciting to have accomplished this.”
The points are decided by taking the best 20 finishes out of the first 40 races run by the end of September. Baca got off to a quick start following tracks re-opening by winning seven of his first 22 starts. He won two races in the Arizona Dirt Track Tour that included besting Arizona’s state racing hero Ricky Thornton, Jr.
Overall, he won a career best 16 features this past season, including five at Cocopah Speedway and four more at Battle Mountain Raceway, winning track titles at both.
Baca also travelled to some other states and tracks that included New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Texas to make up for the loss of races due to the pandemic. In all, he raced at 13 different tracks.
Baca began his racing career when he was nine in a go-kart. Four years were spent on the dirt and one other year he raced his kart on the asphalt. During his four years racing dirt karts, he picked off two state championships and four track championships for the Arizona Karting Association. In his only year racing asphalt karts, Chaz won the championship at the Phoenix Kart Racing Association.
Just 23 But A Lot of Laps
Once he completed that, Baca moved to mod-lites in 2011. At the time, he was just finishing up his asphalt kart days. Through those five seasons, the Mesa, Arizona resident captured the Arizona Mod Lite Association championship.
“I won a lot of features but except for the one season, we didn’t run for track championships,” Baca said. “I was just racing and having some fun.”
Midway through 2014, Chaz began racing a modified. In 2014, he captured the Southwest Modified Rookie of the Year. The following year he won the Central Arizona Speedway championship and then in 2016, he captured the Southwest Modified championship and two track titles, one at Central Arizona Speedway and the other at Arizona Speedway. In 2017, he won the Canyon Speedway Park championship and then repeated at Canyon the following season as well as another at Arizona Speedway.
Last season, Baca won the track title at USA Raceway. Since joining the IMCA Series in 2014, Baca has 51 feature wins to his credit.
As for IMCA, Baca had this to say. “It’s affordable and they (IMCA) keep their rules consistent. I also like the fact that they have a presence which allows us to race wherever we go.”
A Father-Son Duo
When it’s time to go on the road, the travel usually entails Chaz and his dad, Chaz, Sr. (Charles) “It’s usually just the two of us for the weekend,” Baca said about his crew. “We split the crew chief duties. My mom (Dawn) will go when she can but she works a lot.”
“We pretty much do this together as a 50-50 split,” his dad Charles said. “We do it as a father/son deal and it’s always been that way.”
“He gets better every year,” said Charles of his son’s ability to drive a race car. “When I first started to finance the team, I would buy cheap parts until he proved himself and then we would end up getting better equipment and he would dominate. He actually dominated in whatever division he has been in. He’s a smart driver that doesn’t push the envelope and more importantly, doesn’t tear equipment up. He’s always looking ahead but he’s not going to rough somebody up to take the lead. That’s just not his style.”
“We made an awesome deal when he was in high school. He was a straight A student and I told him as long as he keeps his grades up, he could go racing. I’m very proud of him and he’s got a lot of talent,” said Charles.
Charles Baca did some racing with street stocks and modifieds, mainly racing at Canyon Speedway Park and Manzanita Speedway, which was located in Phoenix, Arizona. He also won a track championship in the Figure 8 Division. “I started racing at age 15,” said Charles. “It was at a small asphalt track in Colorado, Beacon Hills Speedway which was located in Pueblo, Colorado. That’s where I cut my teeth in racing.”
“I was at the tracks, but I really don’t remember because I was one or two at the time,” Chaz said.
“As a young kid, all I wanted to do was play with my Hot Wheels whether it was making a track in the dirt or on a carpet so I guess you could say I was destined to be in a race car at some point,” Baca said about his youth.
“My dad was also the flagman at Canyon Speedway Park so my friends and I used to make racetracks in the dirt for us to race around on instead of actually watching the races going on. A few of those friends grew up to race modifieds. We went from racing each other with toy cars to racing against each other on the track.”
Once Chaz graduated from high school, he went to Mesa Community College and earned an Associate Degree in Automotive Technology. He’s put that degree to good use as he currently serves as a landscaping mechanic for IDT Landscaping that is located in Tempe, Arizona. “I do the upkeep on small equipment like mowers, grass trimmer, and weed whackers and also do the upkeep on their trucks that they use to haul their stuff. I’m content wherever I can race for a living. I would like to race for a living instead of having to work. It’s always been a dream of mine to go racing full-time.”
“I would like to see him fulfill his dream of racing for a living no matter what division he might be in,” Charles added.
As for the future of local/regional racing, Baca feels that it is making a comeback. “Local racing used to be huge when I was growing up but then took a big fall for a while. Over the last few years, I’ve seen it start to pick back up. I think it’s only going to get bigger and a lot may be due to the virus that has attacked the world. People have been wanting to go to the local tracks just to get out of the house and I’ve also seen more and more kids starting to get back into racing within the last couple of years which only helps grow the local scene even more.”
With all the success Baca has experienced, particularly lately, he knows that without the help of his mom and dad, he wouldn’t be doing this at all. “They have been the biggest part of my racing career,” Baca said. “They have given me everything they can to keep me on the track and moving forward. Again, I couldn’t have done any of this without them.”
Photo by Melissa Coker
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