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March 9, 2013

By Ken Wagner

I had reservations about seeing any racing this weekend as I crested the hill out of the Nevada state line and drove thru 33 degree temperature and some blowing snow in my face. It warmed up to 40ish when I hit the LA Basin, so I was still concerned with misting rain and lots of clouds. When I hit Harbor City and my Shiosaki hotel, it looked OK, but you never know with Mother Nature! My host Randy and I had dinner at a little Long Beach restaurant named 555 East American Steakhouse and the steak and stuff was awesome, followed by the overtime win of the Lakers back at the house and our thoughts that if no racing the next day, maybe we’d find something else to do.

For my pics from Perris Click here to view. For Doug Allens quality photo's Click here to see.

Saturday dawned sunny and Randy and I picked up crewman Jeremy and headed to pick up the hauler and go to the race shop and load up. Normally that is all done, but since this was a spur of the moment to go press the depleted budget, there was work to be done. The 9 am Perris announcement that the race would go on, let the day start normal for a racing Saturday. The Kittle Motorsports team was hurt late last year by Pat Kehoe’s passing and the family’s decision to pull the Pace sponsorship. Without sufficient backing, the winter was spent pondering the future and nothing had appeared to help the team, yet. The decision to run opening day was so late and spontaneous, that little had been done over the winter, but the car was there and Randy decided why not, let’s go race.

With everything loaded it was off to the track less the usual truck driver Paul Dean. He has recently moved with his wife to Fallbrook down near San Diego in what he described as a scenic hideaway so nice that his wife gets up every day and says she enjoys it so much, she thinks she has to check out, as like she’s off on a vacation hideaway. Anyway, it’s out of the way for Paul to come and get the truck and go racing then take it back and drive home, so he met us there. You get the picture! Randy did a marvelous job, even though one emergency stop was made along the way.

Arrival at the track was before noon and the pits would be out in the paved area back behind and to the right of the turn one grandstands. The normal pit parking and entry to the track was locked up with the plan to open around 4 pm after the drivers meeting, giving the very wet dirt surface a little more time to dry out. Since we were the first to arrive, we had the pick of parking places, so Randy put it close to where the path to the track was, and the day began.

I had to go visit my Mule, which had been hidden under a tarp since the Oval Nationals, thanks PAS, and see if it would even start. But first, the top of the cage somehow always collects water and makes my little cover sink lower with the added bulk. Last year I forgot and when I drove off the cascading water drenched me. Too smart for that this year, I just stood back and slowly let it drain down and away from me. Well it started for sure, surprise, and now I am moving to get some water and wipe it down, Getting the mud and dirt off and making it shine a little. Then I had to get the seat savers down for the Wagtimer’s who said they would be there.

As the little blue bugger race car was getting unloaded, in came many haulers bringing in 37 Sprint Cars and 11 Senior Sprint Cars to fill the pits. I began my get along and visit phase of the night. It was great seeing all the cars and drivers that would make the night memorable for fans and racers alike. Perhaps it’s one of my favorite things and often I don’t get around to everyone, but I do my best and have a lot of fun. Push truck driver Skip had his side windows marked in white with a message “get well Laurie” on them! There was an enormous amount of concern for her and the circumstances that put her in the hospital on FebruARY 28. Later the online race included a few minutes of the fans cheering her on for her to see.

Because it was so muddy in the pits and race track area, I chose to go forget that and instead head to the grandstands when the cars were about ready to hot lap. I already did my ride-around the nearly dry asphalt pits, so I didn’t miss anything. Qualifying was happening on a well prepared track and Bryan Clauson took the quickest pass at 16.392 with Ronnie Gardner taking the little blue bugger around in 3rd quick behind Damion Gardner. About half the 37 cars were in within a second, so there would be 4 heats.

I don’t know when it happened, but the invert is now 6 in the heats and the Main and as a fan I don’t like it, but I won’t get on my soap box because I try to spend my time working on things I can do something about. But…… it’s just two less cars the fast guy has to pass to win, that’s all I am saying. I would rather it be 12 like in PA where they did that for years, but that ain't happening! The less the invert, the more like the outlaws we become, and we all know how I feel about that. Yes, as my friend informed me, all the major racing associations line up thier cars with the fastest to the front, but this is thunder and lightning, not pavement pounding, so it is different to me. Besides, they have hours and pit stops to catch the leaders there.

The heats were about half and half, two real racy and two follow the leader, but they were racing and the 2013 season was started! Matt Mitchell didn’t qualify as fast as normal, so his front row starting spot earned him a win as his big thumper motor just roars around the track. Ryan Bernal came back from a skirmish with Cory Kruseman to get second as Cory’s car was on the hook and he had an injured shoulder because of it. Too hard to tell what happened from my vantage point, but the touched wheels and Cory went into a violent spin to a stop and he was done for the night.

R J Johnson fresh from his 2nd all-time CRA win at Canyon last wek, won the second heat with Richard Vander Weerd, and Mike Martin getting the last two. Austin Williams had visual fire problems with his motor in his heat that turned out to be fixable as he won the Semi going away. Along the way his hood shattered into a few pieces and he had to borrow one. His black car with a Kittle blue hood on looked a little like a scrap made Quilt in some ways, but he was still fast!

Mike Spencer had "only" 5th quick, but under the new line-up he was on the front row. Oh my, like giving candy to a baby for the 5 time CRA champion. In the feature, he was pulling away from the pack when a puff of white smoke appeared and he spun to a stop in front of the pack. Gads, but he was done with severe motor ails and Bryan Clauson assumed the lead on the restart that he wasn’t about to squander.

Bryan had worked his way from the close 3rd row to get second and spent the next 23 laps being chased by the two Silver Bullets of the Alexander racing stables Damion Gardner and Nic Faas. Try as they might, they couldn’t catch the “Clever Clauson”, and settled for a podium visit with him at the end. The wild and wooley action really consisted of the starting 6 plus a strong run by Rickie Gaunt who zoomed up to 4th and the fun was had watching them banging among themselves. Cody Williams made a last gasp pass of Ronnie Gardner for 5th as he was moving well at the end. Ronnie had a strong night but no word on when the # 18 car will be back on the track. Ronnie will be running his fast midget in between his 410 rides, or maybe it’s the other way around as he will jump in a 410 when he has a ride.

A couple of crashes slowed the proceedings, the most spectacular being a high flier by David Bezio when he climbed the wall coming out of three and looked for a second like he might slip on over the very tall fence. When he came down he was fine, but the car was beat up on all four corners, and was done. Ryan Bernal had a bucking bronco especially coming out of turn one, and eventually succumbed to the wall after running fast up front. J J Ercse looks like he has a new hot rod that will run, with a 410 in it no less, so he’ll be one to watch. He got caught up in a 4 car shuffle that spit him and three others out in the pits on a hook.

It was a very cool night in the grandstands without the usual hard blowing wind, but you needed jackets and blankets to stay warm and most had them. Naturally, I forgot as I thought I was in paradise and didn’t need them! It was marvelous watching the race without the distraction of the haulers breaking my sight of the back stretch, maybe having the pits moved is a good idea after all. Just think, they could allow fans to go to the pits like at NHRA events where one ticket gets you all in everywhere. It looks so easy with a quick access from the grandstands and checking out your favorite drivers and then back up to watch the next “round”.

Mel Murphy of Circle Track racing supplies has taken over the parts, supplies and tire support at the tracks from So Cal who closed the doors. Steve Howard has recovered from his serious hospital stay, but still closed his business. Evelyn Pratt sent a recorded message to everyone saying she wished everyone well, but couldn’t make it to the track on this night.

David Cardey’s night started with a few laps in honor of Don Flanders before the racing started. His night ended when he didn't come out for the main. Don Flanders was always under the radar as he consistently passed out money to Cardey and many others who he deemed needed the extra bucks. Sometimes it was for the first guy out of the main or the first driver to miss the transfer by one spot, or someone who crashed their car like David Bezio this week, Don was always there ready to help. In addition he added money to the special events at the PAS like the Glenn Howard, the Ovals, the Legends and others. Also he was a big Wagsbucks and Wagsdash supporter and often handed me money for a specific driver after the races. He didn't want any attention, it wasn’t about that at all, so often no one knew where the money came from that they received. Perris will honor Don on May 4th with the Don Flanders Classic and there will be opportunities for fans and pit people to add money to the Don Flanders Racer Bucks plan to pay the racers that night in his honor.

This weekend at Rt 66 Motorplex in Victorville, Big Fish and his Arizona friends will be there to honor Don Flanders also as the track will honor him with the Don Flanders night. The Arizona clan raised over $700 last week at Canyon Speedway Park and will be collecting more on Saturday night to pass on to the racers in Don's honor. Don’s brother Ken and family will be there to meet and greet the fans and racers as Don will be remembered. There will be a silent auction and a t-shirt quilt raffle with some of Don’s racing shirts on it. All the money raised on Saturday goes into the Don Flanders racer bucks presented that night. The quilt and silent auction will continue raising money until the PAS May 4th date where both end. Come and get involved and sign the Don Flanders banner, it will be fun.

It was a good start to the season, even though the PAS officials had their hands full, there were no blips visible and it turned out to be another good solid racing night. I think the fans who went to the pits liked the fact that they didn’t have to get muddy to get there. There were a couple of paint theme changes with Seth Wilson and David Bezio being the most obvious and Matt Mitchell adding a little bright red stripe to spiff up his # 37 car. The Alexander’s adding a Silver Bullet to their arsenal with Damion Gardner in the seat will help to change the makeup of the CRA world, just like long ago when he appeared on the So Cal scene. Bud Kaeding running with the CRA is big! Ryan Bernal’s presence in the Ford Motorsports # 73 is also big! Now if someone would step in to replace the Pace sponsorship for the Kittle Motorsports team, Ronnie Gardner could show his amazing potential, too! So what I am saying is we have the best chance to step up our on track race action and give the fans even more reason to come out and watch. We need the fans to get to the track! It could be a banner year if the rest of the hard chargers of CRA continue to improve and press the front runners. Too bad the “Clever Clauson” doesn’t have the time to stay on the coast and run with us, that would shake em up!

OK, see you at Victorville this weekend as it is a new beginning for Scotty Burns and his URA with unlimited Sprints and Midgets. Come and see what that means and support his way to give sprint car racing a boost. What will that mean, how can we not want to see? Be there, I will.

Oops, Mrs Wags sez I missed something important! While I was off having a grand time, she was home awaitin' the arrival of our 13th grandchild Brody. Actually he's a Great Grandson who arrived on Friday March 8 at 7.8 pounds and 20-1/2 inches long. My Grandson Christopher and His Lady Lorena produced a cutie. Any more and you have to talk to Mrs Wags, the expert on grandbabies. Click here to see Brody. TA TA!

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