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November 5, 2016

By Ken Wagner

That does not mean all bad, just nothing can measure up to Manzanita Western Worldís, and thatís a fact. I had been to the Arizona Raceway (E T) a couple of years ago for a 360 show dominated by R J Johnson and other than the sun in my face until it went down, it was some fun racing. This would be the first CRA visit and I was anxious to see how they did it!!!

When the tickets came available, Ellen Ellis took care of that so as Mrs Wags and I drove over the 300 miles to the Ellis Hacienda on Thursday prior to the two day show, and we hit a monster rain show with lightning around Wickenburg, it looked iffy on the weather. After that it was just sprinkling when we got to their house. It soon began to pour and it was obvious there would be no practice at the track tonight!

When we go to Arizona, Ellen always gets the AZ Wagtimers out for dinner with us. There were to be around 11 at the Longhorn at 5 PM. ButÖ... Before we left the house, Janet McSpadden called to say she couldnít make it, because she and Lealand were on the way to the emergency room. She had gone thru some serious surgery and was recovering nicely, until now, and was going stir-crazy having to hang around the house. Later we found out she had a blood clot on her leg, but they didnít find what was causing the main pain she was experiencing. She was home the rest of the weekend and missed the festivities we had fun with. The next call was Fran as she said she was worried about a dust storm and it was pouring outside, so they didnít know if they could make it. Before we could leave, I had to get us sweaters out of the car that was sitting in the rain so we could be warm. I had to look in 3 spots in the car before I got what I was looking for and became a drowned rat doing it.

We headed to the restaurant and the rain was coming down enough to slow traffic considerably. We arrived a tad late and Mark Thrasher, his wife Janelle and daughter Kaitlyn were seated and waiting for us. My hoody kept my wet hair from getting wetter, but we settled down and were soon joined by Bethany DeWitt, daughter of the Thrashers. We were now a strong 8 and the phone rang with Fran saying she wanted to see Terry, so they were on their way. We ordered and tried to slow down the process, but were almost done eating when Fran and Jim arrived with that frustrated look you get when stuck in traffic a long time. They ordered and we all visited until the night was no longer young. It was not raining when we left, so everyone got home in a timelier manner than they arrived.

Race day morning arrived and we had breakfast at Biscuits, a restaurant that features biscuits and gravy! MMM good. Then after a short wait, Ellen and I took off for ET raceway. Canyon raceway is about 50 miles north and west from their house. E T is about 30 miles east of their house, and less traffic. So itís closer. We had to weave thru a few haulers to get to our parking place, but soon we were in the line for ďall accessĒ that was to open at 3:30. Since it was already 4, they were running late. I collected some CRA hard charger money while I was in line and eventually wandered in and settled at a picnic table behind the grandstands where I stayed until qualifying was almost done. Visiting with many fans I recognized, and a few I didnít, was great as once again I felt welcome and was glad to be there. Stories were the thing as I spent over 2 hours there gabbing away.

I was waiting for Robert Martin to appear as he had responded to buy Terryís ticket since she wasnít coming to the races, instead spending the time with Joe as they were warm and toasty at his house. I waited until it was time to go up and as soon as I got up there in my seat, the phone rang. So I had to go give him his ticket and returned to my seat. Robert is the current mini-sprint champion at Canyon and it was fun meeting him and talking racing all night. He had Race Monitor on his phone and that was invaluable as I had a hard time seeing the numbers on the cars as they roared by. Seriously, because I couldnít hear the speakers well and couldnít tell who all the cars were, even with a list, Robert was very handy with his Race Monitor. I didnít know Jerry Coons Jr finished 5th the first night as I couldnít see the 20 on his yellow car and he chased the leaders.

I like the track as it looks racy, but this night was not very productive. There were only 3 passes in the 8 heats of 360ís and 410ís. Thatís pretty much the story as they were fast and no one could pass. It got marginally better with the two semis and the mains as both had some moments. Unfortunately for everybody but Chris Windom, it wasnít much fun. He started on the pole of the 410 main and won going away after grabbing the 360 win leading all but lap 24 when Brady Bacon got by for a moment. You know me, I hate front row winners and this wasnít much fun to watch. Bethany was excited when the Moosemobile pulled onto the track. She saw shiny tires and looked at me for an award. No, but on Saturday we went and found a bottle of baby oil and dressed it up for Bethany. I showed it to her dad, but forgot to give it to her, so at the Ovals, the Moose people will get it!!!

So, with no race up front, I watched Ryan Bernal in his familiar #56 do good work both nights. He started last in his heat and passed up to 5th and started the feature in 13th. There wasnít a lot of passing in the 360 main, but he managed to run the top to get up to 5th for the Hard Charger award. In the 410 side, he won his heat, started 20th in the main and got 14th with another what, hard charger award. In Saturdays 360 race he was 2nd in his heat and started on the front row, only to blow the motor on the last lap and rolled across the finish line in 4th.smoking badly. In the 410 main he won his heat and started 18th in the feature and finished 10th with another hard charger award. Quite a weekend for the young man as he was fun to watch.

Anyhow, after the somewhat lackluster racing, Ellen and I had to stop at In n Out for fries and a shake for the two lazy people back at the house. After some TV and chatter about the race, it was off to bed.

Saturday morning started bright and warm and lunch was at the Texas Roadhouse, my favorite. Hot rolls and a good steak, with a few peanuts thrown in and I was good to go for another night of racing. Ellen was ready to go but when we arrived at the track, she noted her backpack was missing. Hmmmm. Her wallet and her ticket were in it and safe back at the house, so she had to make do. She borrowed a little money and went into the pits to visit and later made it back to her seat and the night went on

The second night of racing was better than the first, but not before I spent another 2 hours on that picnic bench visiting with a lot of people. Again it was fun and made the trip over really super being at a race track. On my way up into the stands Davy Jones wife Michelle asked me how I was doing and I didnít stick around long to visit after I said I was tired and continued on my way up the steps holding tightly onto the hand rail. I find I have to really concentrate when Iím going up or down these days, so I was a bit distracted. Iíll catch up to her and chat at the Ovals and make up for my rudeness.

I got in my seat after the National Anthem and the show started with the first heat right away. In fact, the show moved on so well, we were done around 9:30!! The heats were better and the 360 main was pretty good as Brady Bacon shook off Ryan Bernal after a great battle for 10 or 12 laps.

The 410 feature was pretty good, but another pole sitter winner wasnít much fun for me. Chris Windom led the first lap, but Damion Gardner rolled by him and held on for a couple of laps before Windom took over and ran away with it. Afterwards, Ellen went down on the track to visit with a few, but I wasnít about to test my mettle getting down there and I waited in the car for her to come back. A quick trip back to the house, with another In n Out stop, and the Western World was done for another year.

Up early at 7:30, no 6:30 with the time change, and on the road home. It was a 300 mile trip in 4-1/2 hours and I pulled thru a car wash before parking it in the garage and unloading. It was a fun trip and thanks to our host the Ellisí as we did another one!

My observations of this nice little track is simple. Itís fast and the groove was narrow Friday and better Saturday, but could use some clay. A little more light on the front stretch would help seeing the numbers on the cars and an update of the sound system would be greatly appreciated. The worst part of the place is one way in and the same way out, itís painstakingly slow. A second entrance/exit would really help. Having nothing but sprint cars was nice and both classes had some good racing. Car count was great with over 60 sprint cars in the pits and the weather couldnít have been better after a practice night downpour.

The Indiana boys brought a dozen cars and they were pretty dominating like normal. The CRA runs 22 races a season while Indiana affords probably over 75 or more opportunities to race with their many dirt tracks. .Thatís the biggest difference, but in addition they have more talent with way more cars back there. The CRA Champion Damion Gardner held his own with 2 runner-ups with some good driving. Ronnie Gardner did especially well in the opener with a 6th place finish, but the experience of Indiana pushed him back after he led the first 4 laps. Others doing well were Richard Vander Weerd as he got a 6th and 11th.

Ryan Bernal was the Hard Charger of the weekend with 3 out of 4 races he ran where he passed more cars than anyone. Carson Macedo from No Cal drove Dwight Chaneyís # 42 very well with a 9th his best. Kevin Thomas Jr drove Robert Ballouís car, but had some problems with a 11th his best. The Williams Brothers had a rough weekend with Austin getting a best of 12th. Brody Roa and Jake Swanson ran like brothers almost, side by side both nights with 9th and 10th their best. Max Adams is probably going to be the rookie of the year in CRA and he runs hard! He didnít score well, but was in the thick of things both nights. R J Johnson had a tough weekend with twin 15th place finishes in the 410ís and a runner-up in the 360ís.

Everyone is wondering what is wrong with Mike Spencer? I too canít figure it out as Mike is still a great driver and he has what appears to be great equipment and some very savvy wrenches working on the car. They say they have tried everything, including swapping his car with teammate Chris Gansen, but the results have not been good. His 17th and 20th finishes were not what this team needed and maybe the Ovals will turn them around.

Chad Boespflug had fast time and a new track record both nights, but could only manage 7th and 11th for his efforts. Brady Bacon was in the hunt in all four features, but couldnít catch the winners. Chris Windom was totally dominate in 3 of the 4 races and made quick work of traffic like the proverbial hot knife thru butter reference. Starting on the pole both nights is a great measure of success, but it would have been nice to see him work his way thru the other hot dogs instead of just lapping cars. Letís see if he can do the Ovals the same way. When a guy gets hot, sometimes it carries thru like Robert Ballou did recently.

Iím looking forward to the Ovals as me and a couple of my grandsons will be there Saturday. Remember, lunch at the Steer and Stein at 1 oíclock and Iíll be hanging out front at the track to visit and collect a few bucks for the 25th annual Wagtimes/Lafond CRA Hard Charger Award.

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