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March 11, 2017

By Ken Wagner

I really enjoyed my two days this week with the traditional 360ís at the Las Vegas dirt track that is only 22 miles from my house. I had to fight thru the NASCAR traffic as those fans stormed the big track and took up a lot of parking spaces on the spacious race facility. If youíve never been here, you canít believe the Big track, the drag strip, the little bullring, the dirt track Ė all first class, it is amazing!

As usual the track surface was suspect with the first night overly rough, but moisture was in the track. It was tough on the traditional cars as they bounced thru the holes in the turns, but Ryan Bernal didnít seem to notice as he took charge and won going away on the drug out late ending event. I came with my grandson Christopher and his son Brody and later Tory, my racing buddy from when he was less than a year old when he started going to Ascot with us, showed up. The little one couldnít hang after 10 pm and the headed home leaving me to ride home with Tory.

The largest crowd I can ever remember there was partly due to the NASCAR fans who came over from the big track to pretty much pack the grandstands. It was an extremely late night as I left with nine laps to go in the 360 main at about 1 am, and they still had the modifieds to run. The WOO truly runs this show every year as itís all about the WOO, all the time. When Donny Schatz won their ďthrillingĒ race, they had a pomp and ceremony deal that took 10 minutes for their fans while the Modifieds waited on the back stretch ready to race. Watching Rico Abreu come from 21st to 3rd in the WOO main was a trip! But having Brian Brown jump by the winner on a last lap restart to take the lead that Donny took back by a wheel was the only part of that event that was exciting for the wing boys. Obviously the 8 time WOO champ took it back with a strong move out of 4 and they were done. The 360 main was not the best as they fought the track, but sometimes you just have to make lemonade.

The second night I took advantage of a VIP package my grandson Christopher got me and headed alone to the pits about 2:30 and did what I do best; talk my way around the pits with many of my old racing friends. I had my trusty electric scooter so getting around was a breeze and silently all night. The night before I thought I saw Mike Kirby, a former CRA driver who retired a few years ago to do some stock car racing that was more fun to him. But turns out, it was his daughter Brenda who was shoeing the modified race car. I spent time with the two of them as we caught up and she said she was having a ball getting use to the 600 horsepower ride. He was having fun trying to get it to work for her, but still had his own car and they were headed to Perris to run the next night and his car would be there for him to race. He says this kind of racing is more fun and less work in some ways than the old 410 sprint car world he did so well in for a number of years. Mike actually was a perpetual figure eight racing champion in the old days and I only saw him once but he was pretty amazing in that venue. He was one of the true heroes of the ďgood old CRA daysĒ and I miss him! When we still lived in So Cal, I used to go to lunch at a Mexican restaurant that he and his friends went to every Friday. He always had a smile and something for you as he was an entertainer at heart. He looks good and it shows he hasnít missed a beat and is enjoying the racing and especially his daughter racing. She has a younger sister that isnít interested in racing, so go figure. I might note that MikeĎs sister Karlaís son won the modified main on Thursday night.

I stopped in the Moose world as Jake Swanson was here to race. Tom and Laurie have been doing this racing thing for a long time with some famous drivers in the Moosemobile. Rusty McClure and Mike Boat are two of the former shoes in the # 92 car that I recall. Always standing out with their promotion and marketing of their race team, Laurie is famous for her decorations on holidays that make the rest of the sprinter fields sad. Ever race they have stuff for the kids and go all out to make their pit a friendly place to go. Laurie, you might remember, was minding her own business walking in the designated path from the pits to the grandstands when she got run over by a push truck at Canyon Raceway several years ago. She has not fully recovered from that tragic event and still is in pain 24/7 hoping that will go away. Like a trooper, she works their business hard and is all in on the racing, so pat her on the back and go say high the next time you are in the pits. Anyway Jake had some good and bad on the two nights as he qualified 13th, won his heat and ran 8th in the main riding a bucking bronco at times due to the soft track with potholes unseen by the drivers. I even saw a couple of cars jump up out of a pothole with all 4 tires in the air like they were going off a ramp in some competition, probably scoring a ten! On the second night Jake was 7th quick, ran 3rd in his heat and 6th in the main. This is a fun team to be around and Jake is just getting better, so watch out for his next win!

I moved on to visit with Brett and Brody Roa and they were using a rental from Steve ďBiggieĒ Watt for this race. Biggie has been providing race ready equipment for rent for a number of years and his cars run hot. Brody was the 2016 West Coast sprint car Champion and has his sights set on the CRA 410 title this season as his plans are to concentrate on only the 410 stuff this year. They ďservicedĒ my braking system on my scooter after I complained when Jimbo wasnít there because he had to stay home and work. Jimbo was from the old Kittle Racing team of days gone by and he always got to fix things on my mule and sometimes my car when I was lost at the track with a problem my less than mechanical mind allowed me to deal with. Heís been working on Biggieís cars since the Kittleís sadly closed up shop. So Brett and Brody scurried around my scooter and quickly found a way to adjust the left side brake where it actually now works. They asked about my servicing of the scooter that Iíve had for 4 or 5 years, but my response was ďI unpacked the crate when it arrived and turned it on and it worked fineĒ. The brake thing was never a problem, except when I parked on a hill and set the brake, it quietly would roll off. Ok I know, never park on a hill? Any way I had hoped I would run into Jimbo at the races some time so he could fix it, but the problem is now handled, thanks to Brett and Brody. Iím thinking of ya Jimbo!

The racing for Brody wasnít real good on the opening night because they qualify the racers in groups of 6 or 7 and he was in the first group where the track wasnít ready yet and his time sucked. The next group was better and it got way quicker for the last two groups leaving him midway in the 37 car qualifying mess at 19th. He ran 4th in his heat. In the main he started in the back and ran up to 9th battling the track like the rest of them. The second night was way better as even though the track was much slicker, he was 14th in qualifying and won his heat, before hitting the podium behind Brady Bacon and winner Ryan Bernal in the 25 lap main event that paid $3000 to win.

I never got to talk with Ryan Bernal as he was always gone from his pit when I rolled by, but I chatted with his dad for a while. Anyway he was the class of the field as he started off Thursday 5th in qualifying, ran second in his heat and won the main going away on the long long night. The second night was different as he was 4th in qualifying and won his heat but not before blowing the motor as he approached the checkered flag. They brought out a second car and started last in the main. Surprise, well maybe not, he was the hard charger coming from 22nd to win, again. Take that outlaws, your winner only passed one car!

I talked with a few others who noticed the funny hat and then got in some face time with my friend Julie who has been a whirlwind working for CRA for a long time. Even though she moved back east in North Carolina, she still flies back for all the races and says she still enjoys it. Our paths donít cross often as I donít go racing much and she is too busy for me to interrupt when Iím there. Sheís glad she moved and is happy back there, but she leaves a lot of friends and family in California. They all need to go to the races to see her! Sheís working the USAC midget show at Bakersfield today before heading home.I also briefly talked with Charles Davis Jr, a driver who I really like, and he let me know his dad went thru some physical problems and is getting back to his old self and is back to working on the race car. Those two were always together going racing.

I had a conversation with Lance Jennings, the do it all guy who has worked for the CRA and 360 for years and is always in motion taking pictures and talking with drivers in the pits, doing all the stats and sending it out to people like me who publish it, (Thanks for still doing that), and generally promoting and working his butt off for the racers and the organization. At the CRA banquet he was given an award for his years of service and it was well deserved. He was one of those people who disappeared when Ascot closed only to discover Perris years later and came back to really get involved big time!.

It was getting dark out and the cars were on the track, so I scooted out of the pits and up to the spectator entrance looking for food. I had the VIP FVP hospitality pass, but couldnít find their feed, so looked around the food vendors and remembered I only had 5 bucks in my pocket? Turns out the menus were so high I couldnít see emí Ha Ha. I mean the prices were so high I couldnít afford anything like a sandwich $ 9, a beer too high, a soda $5, a burger $8 and popcorn still too much. So I tucked my stomach in and headed into the grandstands. I did later grab an In n Out on my way home. And would you believe there was a huge sign on a fence near the place that advertised the World Of Outlaws racing!

My reserved free seat was on row 26 and I canít even see that high. Even though they have great handrails in the big grandstands, I didnít think I was going to be very long and settled for row 5. I saw qualifying and heats for both wing and non wing and the action was predictable. Woo is fast and furious so if you donít pass someone on the first lap, itís not likely you will do that unless there is a restart. They are indeed fast and the fans seem to think speed is better than actual racing, so the fans were happy with the follow the leader format. The 360ís actually were passing more throughout their heats, and since I knew a lot of them, it was more fun watching them. Granted I am prejudiced.

When the WOO show got rolling with their Craftsman show of strength contest in front of the grandstands, along with the pill draw for line ups in the Craftsman Dash with Johnny on the mike, I was done as I saw it all last night and it takes a while. I headed out of the grandstands thinking I would go back to the pits, but that funny hat drew people to me. It took 30 minutes to go 50 feet, but I loved it! Some old guy from the Ascot days, and fueled by Budweiser, was excited to see me. He has moved to Iowa and it was the first non wing race he had seen since Ascot closed. He goes to Knoxville for their weekly shows, and even though itís wings, even I would go there if I lived in the area because they race hard at that big half mile and have plenty of cars. With 410ís, 360ís and a kind of training sprint class that's 306 or something, it is nothing but sprint cars all night long. Oh donít we wish we had that problem! The guy who was in charge of Knoxville all the years that I went there, Ralph Capatani, just passed away and that made me think of him as he was always helping me out there back in my Nationals going years. He used to tease me when I started giving him my Saturday night Nationals ticket on Friday so I could go home to Ascot for the weekly CRA race.

Gary W Howard and his son, whose name escapes me, stopped me for a chat. Gary ran a few Wagsdashís with us and ran 2nd to Bobby Michnowicz in 1993. He was one of those who got to race down under in New Zealand. Gary ran sprints for a long time and now he has a son racing, one who is the current Focus Champion and is stepping up run to trucks for this year. They had been renting the Focus cars and now own this new deal. They live here in Las Vegas so he will be running the local paved bullring among other tracks like Irwindale, which is surprisingly still open? Anyway Gary, let me know when he runs so I can sneak by and watch. Gary and his wife Tabatha were always fun to be around and they got a few Wagsbucks over the years from us.

I must have run into about 10 more people, some of who I didnít remember or couldnít call by name, so it was a fun time for this old guy who really didnít want to go today in the first place and am always flattered and pleasantly surprised when people greet me like that. I guess Iíve been out of it long enough that I donít really feel like I fit in anymore and donít know half the people who race either. This is not a whine and cheese deal with me on a soap box; I just donít feel comfortable before I go in the pits anymore. Of course it turns out I felt welcome and had a great time once I got in there, just saying Iím not ďwithĒ them like I was for so many years. So it seems I have become a dinosaur of sorts and I donít like that feeling! I get over it, but keep in mind I have grandkids who have their own families now and I am not ďin the knowĒ with their thinking either. Does the old saying being put out to pasture ring a bell? Speaking of bells, I really do feel so young, even though my body constantly says ďoh no you donítĒ, but Iím about to ring the big number 75 in May. Where the hell does the time go?

It is a sad day to recognize we have lost Greg Stabb. I have known him a long time and still remember he was the first racer to pull into Ascot with a spare car on top of the trailer! Number 44 will always be on my mind as I remember his smile. When he operated the Lawrenceburg race track back in the day and the CRA ran there, he gave me rooms and money for Wagsbucks for the racers we took back there. His attitude was always positive and he loved racing and kept a car to run even after he stopped driving. Unfortunately he got throat cancer a few years ago and dealt with it as it got serious. More recently his house burned down and killed his girlfriend and his dogs, with him escaping with smoke inhalation problems. He got healthy enough to come out to California for the Turkey night at Ventura, but we lost him to the cancer recently and it is sad. Rest in peace my friend, you were a winner!

The annual Wagtimers Wagsdash reunion is coming up on May 6th at Ventura. Everyone is welcome to come share dinner with the Wags and Wagtimers at the Pirates restaurant on Victoria like always, so let me know if you are coming so we can save a seat at dinner and the track the next day. We donít get together as much as we used to as we all have gone on with our lives, and some like myself have moved far away. It is special to get together once in a while just to relive the fun and excitement we shared for over 20 years. Iím looking forward to it, so get on board and head to Ventura on May 6 or the night before for dinner. And remember, Jim Naylor installed hand rails for us old codgers, letís go use them!

It was a nice two days seeing racing and racing people, so there was that. It inspired me to empty my brain today, so hang in there and maybe give me your thoughts. Until I see you again, hereís my old motto ďWhen itís racetime, itís Wagtime!

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