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THE WESTERN WORLD WAS THE BOMB WITH JUSTIN GRANT AND TYLER “SUNSHINE” COURTNEY TAKING THE BIG BUCKS HOME!

November 05, 2018

Ken Wagner

Terry and I gathered up Steve Lafond at the Las Vegas airport and immediately headed out towards Tempe, AZ where the Ellis Hacienda was the destination. We were all looking forward to the Western World at Arizona Speedway and the hot racing coming up. The trip of over 300 miles was short and sweet and we arrived just in time to rest up before dinner with some Wagtimer’s that has been a tradition for all our trips to Arizona.

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Joe and Ellen greeted us and the usual catching up happened with news and old stories taking part. I picked the Texas Roadhouse as it’s my go to steak place when on the road. Joining us five were the thrasher family plus Bethany with no Gary as he has a new job, plus Fran and Jim Herdrich making it an even dozen. We were split up in two tables across from each other that kind of screws up the togetherness of our planned event. Whatever, we were shouting across the aisle as we chowed down. An impromptu B Day celebration for Mark’s daughter Kaitlyn included a ride on a rolling saddle for the night’s humor? They tried that on me once, and it didn’t happen! It’s fun to be with our friends and this was just another good time, I love the Wagtimer’s!

Unfortunately, the morning brought bad news, something that I was expecting for a long time! Steve Stroud’s dream, the Arizona Museum of racing is closed! Double DAMN! What that man created is amazing and it’s a shame it is gone. Steve left us too soon and didn’t have all his plans to make it continue on, so the family’s chore of maintaining and relocating the wonderful place didn’t go very well. It is now locked up and the plan, I hear, is to figure out who donated what and how to get it back to them. I am broken hearted because there is so much good stuff in there and was a shining example of the history of racing in the Southwest. I personally have a couple of things that I hope gets back in my hands.

I would like for somebody to get involved and relocate many of the items that need to stay on display. Maybe Dick Woodland, who has a nice museum near Pasa Robles, CA, can give it a go as he looks like he has plenty of room. Certainly, the racing community can do something, please, think about it you know who you are.

Anyway, after a night of good rest, we were up and ready for Biscuits! It is a usual breakfast destination with this gang and it was all good. We then took a trip to the museum as Ellen knows Jan Stroud and she went in and heard the woe is me story and what her plans are to go forward ending Steve’s dream. Let’s wish her luck. Back to the house to get ready to go racing with sad faces.

The 25-mile trip to Arizona Speedway was short and soon Steve, Ellen and I were pulling in to park in the track parking lot. Joe and Mrs Wags will come later as they need to rest up. It took Ellen 45 minutes to get our tickets from will call? So then Steve and I got our pit pass and headed into the pits when she pried the tickets from the worker b’s of the wonderful will call window. She then had her usual chore of putting blankets down for those who need it. I brought my scooter so I cold get around on what was one of the roughest dirt paths in the pits I have ever seen, a lot like Canyon Raceway, and it made my teeth clatter sometimes, ha. Plenty of little dips and mounds to wade thru like a mine field, but it’s what it is and I doubt my crazy legs could walk that mess without buying some face dirt.

I started moving around and taking a few pics, very few I might add as I was visiting a lot and don’t have that job of taking pics like the old days! I still feel at home when I go racing these days and that really perks me up. Too bad I can’t go more often, but you know the drill, you do what you can as long as you can. It was the first time I went into the pits before the races since my retirement, except for Ventura, where I still start out there. I didn’t know many of the 360 guys, but chatted with as many as I ran across and met a few new ones.

Laurie Sertich, of Moosemobile fame, told me about the new side bar addition for next year. They decided the cage needed a little more support, so adding this piece of pipe to the underside of the cage down to the chassis should help keep the cage firmer and stop it from collapsing if you land on your head. It sounds like it can be added to any car. Tom Sertich spent a lot of time repairing the “elevator” on their hauler as something broke and they needed a replacement part inserted so they could go home on Sunday. They are happy with their new driver, R J Johnson, after splitting with Jake Swanson not too long ago. Tom and Laurie are two good people who have supported sprint car racing as car owners for over 25 years. He was once a driver and made the switch.

I chatted with Danny Sheridan as he was in town to drive the Johnson # 15 for the weekend. Since his “retirement” he has jumped in several cars to keep it going, including the Pelkey # 12 ride and the # 73 Josh Ford ride. He still has the skills, but doesn’t get enough seat time these days for my thinking. I still remember the days when I travelled with the Kittle Racing Team and watched Danny drive the # 18 “little blue bugger”. Those were some of my most memorable days in racing. The Calistoga trips were the best as we had entertaining days going wine tasting, having good food at some neat restaurants and other play days before the racing started on Saturdays. Even though I had no duties, I always felt like I was part of the crew! When Danny won at Santa Maria on August 12, 2012, it was the best race ever at that small bullring for me. Danny and Mike Spencer in “the little red sucker” battled for the lead most of the race and “Showtime” won by a wheel, if that much, at the very end. I was overjoyed, but missed the team picture on the podium, darn. Nevertheless, I photoshopped myself in before posting the pic later. I recently got the tape of that race and it is the only race tape I ever really wanted. Some good times to remember, you bet.

I got in a visit with one of my favorite drivers Charles Davis Jr. I remember when he was a rookie in CRA and drove a yellow Blue Ribbon sponsored car. We had fun getting to know him on a CRA trip back to Pennsylvania and we enjoyed those times. He had Gayle working on the car as well as his good friend and dad who never missed a trip until he passed away not too long ago. Gayle now spends more time with her favorite horse and less time with his car, and she loves it. Charlie’s been at this game for over 20 years and he sez as long as he can still be competitive, he’ll keep on driving. He was 6th and 14th, after a crash not of his doing, but won the Southwest Sprint Car Championship on the weekend. He is a 5 or 6-time champ, so I guess he’s doing great!

It was drivers meeting time, so not too many left around their cars for me to visit, so I headed back to the “midway” where I began visiting with many Wagtimer’s and collected some money for Steve’s Jar of Change. Many, many faces showed up to say hi as Mrs Wags was there and already hungry, even after eating my leftover steak from dinner the night before. We did that until it was time to hit the seats and start what became one of the most satisfying racing nights of all time…………………...

There were 30 of the 410’s and 33 of the 360 cars, so plenty of racing happened during the two nights of racing. Qualifying put T-Mez, Thomas Messeraull, in the quick time box at 15.204. Austin Williams was the best of the west CRA guys with 6th, then Damion Gardner in 9th, Jake Swanson 13th and Brody Roa at 17th. There were 12 invaders from Indiana and they got 7 of the top ten spots in the feature. There were 12 CRA drivers traveling to Arizona and the remaining 6 were local drivers.

The first heat was the bomb! The track was fast, high and low, and the top 6 cars battled with positions changing every corner. Brody Roa won this slugfest, but Damian, Isaac Chapple, T-Mez, Sunshine and Jake Swanson were all in contention until the very end. They were throwing slide jobs and running under each other until the green machine took the close win. I commented it was the best heat race I have seen in many years, but we weren’t done yet.

The second heat had a lot of the same as the top four put on another scintillating show with Chris Windom taking the checkers and Logan Seavey, Brady Bacon and Ryan Bernal all switching positions to get to him. Heats 3 and 4 were also special with R J Johnson and “DD” Dave Darland getting hard fought wins. Yes, it was the best heats I’ve seen in a long while, of course I don’t go much anymore, but still, it was amazing.

On the 360 side the Southwest sprints put on a good show as the field was sprinkled with drivers doing double duty with CRA and USAC drivers in the mix. Jake Swanson dominated the first night as he won his heat and then blew away the field in the main running the high groove until Brady Bacon reeled him in on the bottom to take the lead on lap 9. Jake then took it back on lap 17 and then ran away at the end. Jake was fast and wasn’t going to be beat this race!

The feature was just plain wild as Justin Grant stole the lead from the front row at the start and led 17 laps before Sunshine Courtney made a great move to grab the lead. Justin grabbed it back in the traffic pattern and went on to win his 4th CRA victory. Damion Gardner got on the podium with the two Indiana based drivers as he pulled a little closer to the points leader Brody Roa who was the hard charger when he came from 15th to 7th at the end. It was hard to take everything in as the action was so good.

We passed on the pits as Mrs Wags was chilled and wanted to get home. We stopped at an In-N-Out for a lite bite and hit the Ellis Hacienda after 12:30 AM. The five us shared stories of our day and the exciting racing until it was “late 30” and time to rest. Morning came and we hit a local Mexican restaurant for a brunch before heading back to the house for a nap for some of us. I might have nodded off in the chair, but who’s counting?

We arrived at the track for the last night about 3 PM and Steve, Ellen and I headed into the pits for more yakking fun. Steve worked out a plan with Julie Shiosaki to present the Jar of Change and we were set for later. I ran into Ricky Johnson, R J’s dad, and he filled me in on stuff. With their main sponsor passing away he doesn’t know how that will be next year, but hopes good things will still happen for their cars. They had two cars running for the weekend, one with Danny Sheridan in the 410 # 15 car and the other driven by R J running with the 360’s. R J was third on the podium both nights with the family car. Danny had a problem in his heat on the first night and ended up 11th in the semi after he and Austin Williams got together, while they were both in a transfer spot, and he was the loser, spinning out and ending his night. Saturday he was 18th in the feature.

Josh Pelkey was wandering around the midway when I caught up with him. He has had a bad arm injury that just hasn’t finished healing. He has great hopes to get back to racing when he’s repaired properly. In the meantime, he bides his time and watches the racing. Good to see him, but not without the # 12 nearby.

Davey Jones is now crewing for C J Leary as he says he and Kevin Thomas split up like lots of teams do after last year’s Oval Nationals win. Davey is one of the best crew chiefs around and has a lot of big victories on his resume, not the least of his winning time with his brother Tony who was an Ovals champion back in the day. C J had a good weekend with 6th and 3rd place finishes as he was fast and racy. Dave is one of those “Nice Guys” in the pits and never fails to ask if I need anything when we get to visit.

Davey relayed his dad’s health as Bubby hasn’t been the same since a major surgery a few years ago. Davey says Bubby is going to a specialist and hopes that will make him better and lose the pain he is constantly in all the time. He answered my question about how many wins Bubby has by saying it was over 800 and maybe our stats guru Kevin Eckert will know for sure so I can post that stat I have chased for years. Imagine the days of Bubby, Opperman, Patterson and some of the other giants of our sport all at one track racing each other! Hero’s can make a difference in our racing.

Joel Rayborne came for his first Western World race and did himself proud. He finished near the back both nights, but finished without any problems and I am sure he learned a lot. This young man will continue to get better and have more fun as time goes by.

I had a chance to visit with Brody Roa and his dad Brett for a little bit. Brett is having a ball as his son is just getting better and better and his knowledge is what makes the team grow. Brett’s background includes his own driving days and his crew chief days for Mike Kirby, so it’s nothing new for him. The family is so nice and sharing when I go visit and I miss getting to go very often.

Brody has ”that look” of a tiger when we talk these days and his eye is on a CRCA championship. He has battled Damion all season and when this weekend ended, they will be just 5 points apart with the 3-day Ovals to settle things. He has made the green machine pretty racy and looks to grab that brass ring this coming weekend. Sorry I can’t make it, but I wish him and the team luck. Regardless it has been a good year and they will be proud champions if that goal is realized.

I visited with Glenn Crossno for a bit as many keep asking where the man is. When he sold his one stop race shop that built chassis and had a dyno for motors, he got into off road equipment that did really well. So well that he sold that business recently and now has a new quest. It isn’t real hot where he lives in Arizona, I forgot the town he moved to, so he liked getting out of California. He said he is building a sprint car with all the good stuff and plans to run the special races in the future. He hasn’t hired a driver yet, but it’s nice to know we have a car owner coming back to CRA and his # 38 (probably) will be a strong one. Glenn was good for racing and I for one am glad to see him come back.

I got in a little visit with Julie Shiosaki as I truly miss her, but her CRA duties keep her on a plane a lot coming from North Carolina where she now lives. She was a driving force in the Wagsdash days as she found ways to help create money for the racers with her cookie sales and the Sexy Drivers contest and much more things she supported. She is a dynamo in her work and never seems to have much time to have fun during the races. She put our meager little Jar of Change on the podium with Ryan Bernal to be interviewed and share his accomplishment in front of the crowd. That was awesome. Thanks Julie!

Finally, I headed back to the Midway and began the fan visit portion of my night. I met Keith Nafzger for the first time as he came by to add to the Jar of Change. He is a big sprint car fan. Others who added to the bottle were Norma Leonard, Carl Lattner, Lew Miller, Charles Ostermeyer, Mark Thrasher and daughter Bethany, Darleen Dils, Ben Thrasher, The Ellis’s, The Mighty McSpadden’s, Big Steve, Barry, Mike Clark and more whose names escape me! We’ll do it again next year so start putting those coins in a safe place.

Dinner was the $9 special pulled pork sandwich, a small tub potato salad, potato chips and a water, not bad. I must tell you the concession prices were very low in comparison to most race tracks. You can get a beer for what Perris charges for water, as an example, and there was no parking fee at the desert track. I got a lot of face time with some special people before it was time to go up to the seats. Bye the way, thank you Janet McSpadden for the Lealand shirts from his Classic wing races I missed! Great art work! I never could wear driver shirts for all those Wagsbucks events in the past as I couldn’t show any favoritism, but now I can wear what I want. My Brody Roa shirt from 2 years ago is one of my favorites now with the bright green and red colors on black.

Here’s a cute story about that shirt if you got time or patience. At the sprint car Las Vegas race this year I had on Brody’s shirt. The wind was blowing cold so hard, I needed more, so I took off his shirt and laid it on my scooter. I got an Under-Armor shirt out of the car and put it on. I then couldn’t find my Roa shirt so was pissed when I thought someone had walked off with it. When I got home I scoured the closets looking for that one, but alas, I never found it. I saw Biker Bruce at Calistoga and begged him to look for the old model when he went back to the pits. So, I thought I was out of luck until I packed for this trip. When I got out that same Under-Armor shirt and the matching bottoms, there that sucker was, tucked in the bottoms in my drawer where I put it when I got home from that race. So, summing it up, the bottoms must have swallowed the Roa shirt up and I never noticed. Success, as I can wear it again!

This racing night couldn’t live up to the first night, as often happens when there is a 2nd or 3rd night of a race on the same track. There was still some great racing, but the track wasn’t as wide and the racing was soooooo fast, passing was done by only the cagey veterans. We saw the heats and the two semi’s before relocating out of the grandstands during the 360 feature as we had to head into the pits with our booty during the break for the main event. Thus, my ringsider view wasn’t nearly enough to report about the action because I saw only the front stretch action and could just peruse them as the roared by noting the changes in position. Reminds me a little of my Wagsdash perch at Ventura in the middle of the track, except there was little parked out there to block my view as I spun around to catch the action back then. That night everything behind me blocked the back stretch.

Steve and I went out to where the drivers were getting into the wagon for their trip to the infield and where they were introduced to the fans with their 10-gallon cowboy hats on before climbing into their cars for the big go. I got a great viewing spot in the parking area for the teams and their equipment in case of flat tires or adjustments. Then I realized I would never get to the podium from there, so I sped out to a spot right behind the podium where Julie hung out during the raicng and parked under a crane waiting for the race to start. Chris Windom took the lead on the start and led until Dave Darland made a move on him for the lead on lap 5, looking like he might take Robert Ballou’s mount to the win. Darland looked strong and they were stringing them out nicely?? Then Tyler Courtney made a serious close shave move on him for the lead he never lost. Tyler led the close 5 cars following him across the line for his 2nd CRA win and it was history with Darland, Leary, and Windom behind.

Back in the pack Ryan Bernal started 19th and ran up to 11th for the Wagtimes/Lafond Hard Charger Jar of Change Award. Brody, who was the first night hard charger (15TH TO 7TH), came from 20th to 13th for a good ride himself on Saturday. USAC gave Kevin Thomas their hard charge award with his 13th to 8th charge? Why not Ryan for both since he passed more cars? Note: we always give the award to the CRA guys because the money comes from the CRA fans and it is the Wagtimes tradition. Steve presented the Jar of Change, the handle of specially labeled Crown Royal and a book of racing photos titled Caged Heat to Ryan. He was happy until he got on the plane to go home where they singled him out to be interviewed in a small room. He posted thanks for that to us, but it is what it is when you carry that much change on board. Ryan’s dad Rick, when he found out about story of the award we do each year, started us out with the first donation for 2019.

It was fun watching Sunshine get on one of the huge bulls they had for the winner’s circle pics. Check the pics when the get posted. Both USAC and CRA titles will be decided at the Ovals as Tyler is 2 points behind Kevin Thomas Jr and Brody is 5 points behind the Demon. It should make the weekend exciting for those four drivers at least.

We didn’t get to go to the pits, again, but instead went back to the house to get some rest. It was more sharing our days fun stuff and the race interpretation and then about 2 AM we hit the sack. We were up at about 8 am and on the road home. Arriving a little after noon as the time went backwards an hour. The ride was quiet as the nappers rode along and as soon as we unloaded the car, the family action began as Daughter Missy had made lasagna for the Sunday meal with Brussel sprouts, salad and garlic bread. Missy and grandson Hunter watched the little monsters while we were gone. Big thanks there as they are a bit testy at times I hear.

My thanks to all who made it happen for us as another great trip racing was ours and we are glad we made it. I must admit I was pooped on Monday, but wouldn’t have missed it. I dropped off Steve at the airport at 7 Am Monday and he headed home to his family, the weekend over way too fast again.

Here are the results of the two days racing of the Western World:

Friday November 2nd:

FEATURE: (30 laps) 1. Justin Grant, 2. Tyler Courtney, 3. Damion Gardner, 4. Chris Windom, 5. Kevin Thomas Jr., 6. C.J. Leary, 7. Brody Roa, 8. Brady Bacon, 9. Dave Darland, 10. Logan Seavey, 11. R.J. Johnson, 12. Chase Stockon, 13. Thomas Meseraull, 14. Isaac Chapple, 15. Matt Rossi, 16. Austin Williams, 17. Josh Hodges, 18. Cody Williams, 19. Danny Faria Jr., 20. Tye Mihocko, 21. Ryan Bernal, 22. Joel Rayborne, 23. Logan Williams, 24. Jason McDougal. NT

FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-17 Grant, Laps 18-25 Courtney, Laps 26-30 Grant

KSE RACING PRODUCTS / SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS / RACING OPTICS HARD CHARGER: Brody Roa (15th to 7th)

Saturday November 3rd:

FEATURE: (30 laps) 1. Tyler Courtney, 2. Dave Darland, 3. C.J. Leary, 4. Chris Windom, 5. Logan Seavey, 6. Justin Grant, 7. Damion Gardner, 8. Kevin Thomas Jr., 9. Chase Stockon, 10. Thomas Meseraull, 11. Ryan Bernal, 12. Jake Swanson, 13. Brody Roa, 14. Isaac Chapple, 15. Brady Bacon, 16. Josh Hodges, 17. R.J. Johnson, 18. Danny Sheridan, 19. Matt Rossi, 20, Austin Williams, 21. Stevie Sussex, 22. Logan Williams, 23. Joel Rayborne, 24. Cody Williams. NT

FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-4 Windom, Laps 5-17 Darland, Laps 18-Courtney.

Lafond Jar of Change Ryan Bernal (19th to 11th) $1170.50

KSE RACING PRODUCTS / SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS / RACING OPTICS HARD CHARGER: Kevin Thomas Jr. (13th to 8th)

WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Brody Roa (20TH TO 13TH)

360 RESULTS: Friday: FEATURE: (30 laps) 1. Jake Swanson, 2. Brady Bacon, 3. R.J. Johnson, 4. Stevie Sussex, 5. Kevin Thomas Jr., 6. Charles Davis Jr., 7. Chris Windom, 8. C.J. Leary, 9. Dave Darland, 10. Tye Mihocko, 11. Shon Deskins, 12. Chase Stockon, 13. Austin Kuehl, 14. Matt Lundy, 15. Colton Hardy, 16. Sterling Cling, 17. Asa Kesterson, 18. Randy Nelson, 19. Caleb Saiz, 20. Ryan Bernal, 21. Nick Aiuto, 22. Colton Maroney. NT

FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-8 Swanson, Laps 9-16 Bacon, Laps 17-30 Swanson.

HARD CHARGER: Kevin Thomas Jr. (19th to 5th)

BEAVER STRIPES PASSING MASTER: Jake Swanson

Saturday: FEATURE: (30 laps) 1. Brady Bacon, 2. Ryan Bernal, 3. R.J. Johnson, 4. Kevin Thomas Jr., 5. Stevie Sussex, 6. Colton Hardy, 7. Tye Mihocko, 8. C.J. Leary, 9. Dave Darland, 10. Mike Martin, 11. Shon Deskins, 12. Matt Lundy, 13. Bruce St. James, 14. Charles Davis Jr., 15. Michael Fanelli, 16. Nick Aiuto, 17. Spencer Hill, 18. Travis Oldfield, 19. Asa Kesterson, 20. Sterling Cling, 21. J.R. Bonesteel, 22. Chase Stockon, 23. Jake Swanson. NT

**Swanson flipped during the feature.

FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-8 Bernal, Laps 9-30 Bacon.

HARD CHARGER: Stevie Sussex (16th to 5th)

BEAVER STRIPES PASSING MASTER: C.J. Leary

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