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November 18, 2019

Ken Wagner

With all that said the 2019 Western World had something for everyone. The 52nd running of the event was another good one with great racing, plenty of suspense and great weather to allow it to happen. The Sprint Car field of 35 cars and a 31 car USAC midget field that accompanied them on the two nights made for some great racing in front of a packed house, and boy was it ever! But, this adventure started for me earlier in the week when I tried to get a tow bar installed on Mrs Wags new car.

Here are the fotos by Steve Lafond form the Western World Click here to view

I made an appointment to get the tow bar installed and arrived at the appointed time on Monday to get it done. Shucks, they said, we didnít know you needed one that we donít have in stock? The lady said maybe you could rent a little scooter in Arizona to use? My response, ďhow do I get it to the trackĒ? Nevertheless, I would have to depend on my walker to get around the rough dirt in the pits and on the track and my tired old legs didnít give me much confidence that it would be OK and knowing my scooter wouldnít be there for me.

On Wednesday before the race, Steve Lafond flew in to make the trip to Arizona Speedway with me as planned. I picked him up after noon and we headed to Wagsland. Mrs Wags was busy for the evening, so it was just Steve and me headed out for dinner. He chose the Craft Steakhouse in the MGM Grand Casino and that was a real treat. We started with a delicious shrimp cocktail and a nice salad before the beef arrived. We had monkey bread for desert and then spent a little while playing some slots before heading back to Wagsland all stuffed and happy.

Mrs Wags was going to miss the trip because the dog sitter, her daughter, had 4 big Labs in her charge for the weekend and our three wasnít in her plans. Steve and I loaded up the little white Acura with the MRS WAGS tags on it and headed out about 9:30 am on Thursday. It was a 5-hour trip and we arrived at Joe Ellis house, where we would be spending a few days as we went to the Western World event at Arizona Speedway. Joe greeted us and we unloaded all the albums I had taken the list trip over that I am scanning and staged the next group that would go home with me on Sunday. I am probably over halfway thru scanning Ellenís years of work as I put her best stuff up on the Wagsweb for now. If it gets too large an old friend and former sprint car mechanic, Rich Chesavage, who has room for it at his work. He is going to take my web site and put it on his server when I am gone so it will still have a home.

Joe has been having a problem with siatic nerve on his leg since he hurt himself the last race we were at by slipping off his perch on a tire on that winged sprint car that is parked in the food area behind the grandstands at Arizona Speedway. He has done PT since then, but it hasnít really fixed the problem, so he is going back to the doc this week to get another opinion. Other than that Joe and his dog Sam are doing great. Joe decided he wasnít going to the races due to the difficulty in getting in and out of the stands with his problem leg. The cooler weather is a factor as well. He looked good and was happy to go to dinner at the Longhorn, one of our Favorite dinner choices when we come over. We met Bethany and Gary Dewitt, Ben Thrasher and Big Steve Kimmel there for a nice dinner and the usual racing conversations. With that done, Joe took us home in his new hot rod, a blue Camaro that is pretty peppy and he is loving driving it like a kid with this new toy. We visited for a bit before ending the evening and going to bed.

Morning happened and we had breakfast at his usual haunt called Biscuits before Steve and I headed off to the track. We went into the pits and began visiting and collecting money for the Ellen Ellis Memorial Jar of Change. I brought a few of the Ellen t-shirts and her poster along. I gave one to Austin Williams and Charles Davis Jr for their taking a lap for Ellen at the last race in her honor. While visiting with Laurie Sertich, her hubby Tom, the birthday boy, came over with a big mason jar like grandma use to can fruit and other things a long time ago. It was full of coins, so ďThe JarĒ got a big boost right away. We came to town with about $950 collected in the jar.

We continued to get in some nice visits with people we both missed. We visited with C J Leary and his dog Charlie and girlfriend Kristi for a bit as Steve got some shots. When his crew chief Davey Jones arrived, we had a lot to talk about. It started with how many Ovals Davey won. I thought 3, but he noted I forgot 2 with Bud Kaeding and one with Damion Gardner to go with Kevin Thomas Jr, Tony Jones and the latest one the week prior for C J Leary. C J was leading the USAC points and would eventually win his first USAC Championship this weekend that also was Daveyís first one, too! More visiting there before we wandered off for more fun.

We saw many as we wandered around in the dirty pits and itís great to see old friends that I miss. Giving up the races was the hardest thing I ever had to do, but the memories are still flowing! Surprisingly, I only went to 3 races this year, all at Arizona Speedway. I canít believe I didnít see a race in California this Season, but Iíll be at Turkey night so allís well. When we finally strolled back into the grandstand area, I settled in and started collecting more money and visiting with a lot of fans. I got some chicken fingers to eat and collect some change for a while, then it was time to go see some racing.

This track is a very good race track providing a wide surface that can give you side by side racing all night. The only complaint I have is the lighting isnít bright enough on the cars to see all the numbers. When you have multiple team cars itís very tough to pick out whoís who and the same goes for many other cars you canít figure out numbers on. It leaves you with relying on the announcer to tell you whoís where and the speakers arenít always heard due to loud cars on the track. Nevertheless, I, the experienced race chaser can muddle by somehow and keep up with my favorites at least. The unfamiliar midgets were mostly unknown and just watching the racing and getting the rundown from the announcer after each race was good enough.

Qualifying was the usual drawn out affair that would be better for me if they did it with 5 or 6 cars on the track at the same time. Some tracks do that and I like it a lot. The downside is if a car has a problem, he doesnít get another shot, but thatís rare. I also have to keep in mind that the photographers would suffer because they canít get emí all shot if they are doing the bunch qualifying pattern. They qualified both the sprints and midgets, so that took a while. Logan Seavey was quick qualifier for the sprints (14.763) and midgets (15.426) this night as 35 Sprint and 30 Midgets did their thing. There were a number of drivers that I didnít know just because I am not the frequent race chaser I was for many, many years, but I got over it and learned pretty fast.

The heats were really special tonight as they put on a monster show. In the 1st sprint heat Logan Seavey come from the back and battled Jason McDougal for the win, making most of his passes on the extreme high side out of turn 4. Charles Davis Jr was out in his brand new yellow # 47 painted and numbered like his dadís old car back in the day. He was 18th in qualifying and ran a strong race to win the 2nd heat. C J Leary, the USAC point leader won the third heat using that high line and blasting to the front for the win. The fourth heat was all Tyler Courtney after a great battle with T Mez, Brady Bacon and Chris Windom.

The midgets did some bang up racing too as Andrew Layser, Jesse Colwell, Brady Bacon and Daison Pursley won heats and put on a good show. There were some of the best midgets in the land that started on a 6-race series that goes thru Turkey night. The strong field included Keith Kunz 7 cars, Clauson/Marshall 4 cars, Petry 3 cars and some other top teams hitting the series.

In the sprint feature it was a knock emí down kind of night as the track got slick and the fast way was in the black top groove and you held your breath as they funneled around the track like bees looking for honey. There were so many sliders thrown in turn two, thatís where the action was to watch and it was amazing, I loved it! With all the serious action going on, Kevin Thomas Jr had control the first half of the race, then Chris Windom put a slider on him and held the lead for two laps when Justin Grant made his move to the front and then the bad mess of the night happened. As Grant and several other top drivers where trying to get past a lap car, Josh Shipley, he was in the top grove getting the move over flag for several laps that he ignored. When they came by the last time with a black flag waving at him, he just went on into turn two like nothing was wrong where he suddenly got erí sideways coming around the corner and collected at least 6 or 7 cars in a pile. There were several others playing avoidance with several also getting into trouble and stopping. I never saw so many front runners getting tangled up on one lap car.

On the restart Austin Williams inherited the lead and ran hard for a few laps until he blew a tire and that started the crazy ending as several others had flats causing a few yellows. Justin Grant was one of the early tire changers and with fresh rubber, he put on a show from the back eventually getting 2nd. But first, Brady Bacon had the lead on another restart and we in the grandstands discovered social media was reporting Brady had cords showing on his right rear. Boy we couldnít see that in the dim lighting at all. It wasnít long before Bacon had his flat as ďSunshineĒ Courtney took over and led the last 2 laps for the victory. Strange but true and I donít know if Josh Shipley was asked to leave, but he fired up after his wreck causing incident, but wasnít on the track when they restarted. Sunshine was strong the whole race as he started 5th and was there at the end for a victory.

In the midgets, Kevin Thomas Jr ran off in a Petry car for his win with Zeb Wise, Tanner Carrick, and Logan Seavey following. It was a fun race to watch, but I knew less drivers so watched Sunshine battle for 8th mostly while keeping an eye on KTJ.

Afterwards we had a little wait as the way you leave the track is a little crazy with cars and haulers coming from seemingly all directions to the one lane exit road. The pit vehicles had to come and make a U turn in with all the spectator cars, and that ainít easy! Itís like frustrating as all get out, trying to butt in to move on. I think, da da, they could open up an exit gate after the races only, at the end of the pits closest to the entrance and funnel them out the entry lane to the street, thatís next to the two exit lanes and it would be a lot faster since the pit people wouldnít have to come back to the spectator parking area to go home. Just a thought!

Steve and I stopped at In N Out for a burger on the way back to Joeís because we were a bit starved. Back at the house it was dark as Joe didnít wait up. We had some coins to count and add to the jar and Steve had to make a new jar because the first one was full! We stopped at the store after breakfast to get another plastic juice container, emptied it and dried it out. I had an extra label in my collection bucket and he attached that and we counted it all up and had nearly $1450 ready to go for Saturday. Sleep was next and I was pooped.

In the morning we relaxed a bit and then Steve went off with an old high school buddy for lunch and would hit the track about 3. Joe and I went to Biscuits for breakfast again and enjoyed each otherís company back at the house until his niece Sharon showed up to take him to lunch and I was off the to Races.

When I arrived at the track, I decided I wasnít going into the pits, so bought a general admission ticket and headed over to the picnic tables to begin the day visiting and a small bit of collecting for ďThe JarĒ. Time goes fast when you are having fun and so many people came by to talk and visit. Among the visitors was Rip Williams who stayed around long enough to tell a few neat stories. He gets a certain glint in his eyes when heís giving you his tale and I enjoyed a few new stories about his racing lore. Steve arrived and he took off for the pits and some of his picture gathering he likes to do. Now that he is retired from shooting the races, he still likes to take some candid shots of a few cars and drivers to publish later.

It was dark when it was time to go sit in the grandstands. I was pretty comfortable in the stands that we use to always sit on the top row, but now that Iím not so aggressive going up the steps, the fifth row is where we landed this weekend. Later when at least three people were hit nearby we discussed next time moving to the left behind the flag stand and a little higher perhaps. On one of the incidents happened when a muffler flew off a midget and hit a lady in the shoulder. Our longtime friend Fran Herdrich, unknown by us, was hit in the head by something that sent her off to the hospital. She was back at her motel after getting stitched up and will be fine.

Qualifying saw point leader C J Leary getting fast time with a 15.007 just a little slower than the first night as it usually means the track is not as wet. Tyler Courtney got the quick one in the midgets at 15.725 as the night was ready to kick off.

The heats werenít quite as good as the night before, but still pretty racy with C J Leary, Dustin Clark, R J Johnson and Brady Bacon getting wins. Jake Swanson won the semi as several important things were going to play out. C J Leary only needed to finish 11th to win his first USAC Championship with a couple drivers behind him ready to pounce if he had a problem. Damion Gardner had already clinched so he was in it for the win if possible. Brody Roa and R J Johnson would battle it out for the USAC Southwest Championship with Brodyís lead but a mere 12 points. So, a lot to watch as Brody would start 22nd and R J a couple of rows ahead of him in 18th starting spot. About now Steve and Gary Dewitt took off withĒ The JarsĒ and booze since I didnít have a pit pass so I went back into the stands to watch. I didnít plan to go to the pits afterwards for the presentation by Steve because I wasnít going to walk all the way around the pits to get there, lazy me.

I went back up to my seat and watched the Midget Main that was won by Brady Bacon before the CRA main started. There were at least three red flags stops for crashes, the most serious was a front stretch end over, end over, end over by Holey Hollan who didnít look like she was ever going to stop, but she climbed out. Shockingly Keith Kunz group of fast drivers and cars didnít win either night as Brady won in an FMR owned car Saturday.

The last race kicked off with pole sitter Josh Hodges taking the lead right away and Brady Bacon chasing him for just a little bit before he took the lead away from Josh on lap 2. A lot of action going on as the big boys looked to take home the big money, which was $7500 to win just like the Ovals! Bacon was pretty fast as he wound his way thru traffic with Courtney on his tail. Sunshine took the lead on lap 16, but Brady got him back and they continued on. Traffic made it fun to watch as Sunshine grabbed the lead back on lap 20 and took off! There was a red flag thrown in here somewhere and while the were all stopped, the announcer said Sunshine had a radiator leak and was spewing steam where he was parked? I couldnít see anything? On the restart Sunshine was just fine and ran off for the win with Kevin Thomas Jr, Brady Bacon and Chris Windom following. C J Leary got 5th so he was the new 2019 Champion! Brody Roa was 10th and RJ Johnson 12th, so Roa won the USAC Southwest Championship and the Ellen Ellis Memorial Jar of Change!

I headed out of the grandstands and went to the car. Steve had told me Brad Noffsinger was in the pits and I wanted to see him, so I decided I would play like a salmon going up stream and go against the outcoming traffic. Somehow, after waiting there for a few minutes looking for an opening, I jumped in front of a big hauler that didnít move fast enough and darted to the right side where there was room to drive into the pit area. Steve called and asked where I was. In the pits, I said and he responded ďget out here, the Roaís want you here for the presentationĒ!! So, I meandered over to the push off lane and followed it inside the track and parked on the front stretch and climbed out.

I got to shake hands with a lot of people as they hadnít done the Jar presentation yet. Davey Jones came by smiling and all wet from the Champaign shower he got while celebrating his first USAC Championship as a Crew Chief. Boy was he excited. Brody, Brett and the rest of the crew were excited over their championship and the $1600.13, plus a handle of Crown Royal labeled the Ellen Ellis Memorial Jar of Change, Nov 16, 2019. So, they shook my hand with big smiles. What they went thru the last part of the season, switching rides because the funds went too low to run their own car, and they persevered to win one of their goals. They finished 3rd in points but not that far back as they look forward to that goal of winning the CRA Championship next year. They need some big-time sponsorship help to get next year going and are looking for that now that the season is over. Anyone???

On our way out of the pits, we stopped to visit with Brad Noffsinger for a bit and visited about Ellen. I gave him a shirt and a poster because he liked the Ellisí and had put them in a big NASCAR ride for a big thrill to both. Ellen talked about that for a long time, almost as much as the two-seater sprint car ride Lealand McSpadden gave her. Brad had to go and so did we.

It wasnít to tough getting out this time as the crowd had a while to thin out before we started out. Another stop at the In N Out for a late snack and then on to the dark home of Joe. I was so tired I just said night and was off to dreamland. We planned to get up and out by 6 am, but Steve was able to sleep until almost 8. We got on the road after gassing up and stopped for a Whataburger as soon as we got on highway 17 going North. I hadnít had one of those since I donít know when, maybe college, and it was good!

Back on the road and suddenly it was closed down and the word detour made for a long crowded path around to where we could get back on highway 17. It was after 1:30 when we arrived back at Wagsland an unloaded the car. Tracie and Briana and her kiddies were there playing. Soon Tory and his family with their 3 girls were in the house. Dinner was Popeyeís chicken sandwiches brought by Tracie and we finished that and sat around and chatted for a bit before the house emptied and we three relaxed and made it to 8 or do before Steve went off to sleep and we followed soon. After breakfast in the morning, I took Steve to the airport for his flight home. I had an appointment with the doc about my arm and we went off to find out why it wasnít done healing. The Doc agreed it was swollen and needed help so okíd an MRI, gave me a prescription to help it heal and scheduled me for PT! He told me to ice it and that wasnít in my to do list from the urgent care doc. The MRI will tell me if I need some minor surgery or not.

I am going to Turkey night for the first time in 20 or more years and am looking forward to it and the fun of 98 lapsÖ.. well I am told it goes by real fast on that small track! Iíll be picking up my bride at a local airport near San Luis Obispo on Friday on my way to San Jose for a special Xmas tree lighting experience in San Jose at Trophy Dave and Murielís house where they give all the kids a present when they talk to Santa. The Make a Wish organization Benefits by the donations that people make when they visit the amazing display on the house, yard and fences. It is lit every day until Christmas and Santa and his helpers are there on the weekends for the kids.

I had a great trip, less my scooter, but everything worked out fine fine and I enjoyed myself immensely thanks to Joe Ellis and his dog Sam for hosting us. We accomplished honoring Ellen Ellis with the record breaking $1600.13 jar and are already collecting for next yearís jar. It was a great year in racing for many, but it isnít easy being a car owner, a driver, or even a fan. Itís all about money to make it happen. Perhaps some of you can pick a car and move some money to them in the new year. It all helps and your help, no matter how small, will be greatly appreciated by the teams. Think on it and you could do it like a tithing for church, a little bit at a time. You could do it with the 2020 Ellen Ellis Memorial Jar of Change, too! Anyway, get to planning your racing season, the racers need you in the grandstands and I promise to go to more races next year, especially now that my back is not hurting any more for now anyway. Happy Holidays, including Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all. Remember: when itís Race time, itís Wagtime!!

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