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May 26, 2012

By Ken Wagner

Memorial Day weekend is a race venue of magical proportions all over this great land of ours. As the tradition rich Indy 500 struggles to keep up the hallowed ground event in Indiana, those who don’t go there, are left with the best of all worlds, dirt track sprint car racing. Mike Spencer’s performance this week is on a continuing path of creating his own tradition; winning in the little red sucker is becoming a habit! Mike set fast time for the 4th time out of 5 races this season with USCAC/CRA and then started in the “Spencer spot”, (8th in the A main) that is becoming the norm now. Even though he didn’t win his heat (rare), he took the lead on lap 6 and was never to be headed on the way to his 27th lifetime CRA victory. His domination is also becoming the norm and the little red sucker just gets stronger and stronger each time out. If the rest of the field didn’t already have something to shoot for each race, Spencer is making it more obvious as he goes to the front.

For my pics Click here to view! For Doug Allen's great pic's Click here to view those.

Nic Faas is trying to change the pecking order in CRA racing with his growing experience and fast driving style. This young driver is in his second year of piloting the famous silver bullet of the Alexander’s and his skills are getting honed to perfection as he continues to shine under the lights of the PAS. This week he was 2nd quick and won his heat to start alongside the #50 Bromme Jr set-up car and he did everything he could to overtake the eventual winner. Alas for him, he came up just a tad short as he chased Spencer thru traffic the majority of the race. Nic is looking strong every race and one wonders how long it will be before he adds to his 5 big time victories with the club. He makes us remember the days of Tony Jones in that car!

After leading last week’s USAC Midget race at Hanford handily until the motor blew with less than a lap to go, it makes you realize that last year’s West Coast 360 champion Richard Vander Weerd is about to make some noise in his 410. This week was perhaps his best performance with CRA as he was 10th quick and transferred to the A main to start on the pole for the nights event. With Spencer and Faas dominating the battle for the win, a quite Twin Richard just held off the rest of the best for his first podium with this club and was pretty convincing as he fought off several heavy hitters and impressed this wag and the crowd as well. How far is he from his first 410 win?

Perhaps one of the happier drivers in the field this week was Seth Wilson who started 16th in the field after qualifying in the same numbered spot and rolled forward to 6th at the finish with the best passing job of the week. He beat The Ripper for his first heat win of the year and feels a lot better about his knee that was shattered last year in a monster crash at Victorville. The complete rebuild of the knee took a long time and the pain is not gone yet, but he looked pretty good in his black # 1 car this week. The Victorville track champion is looking like he will make some noise in our racing in the future.

A real oddity this week happened that some might not have noticed? Showtime versus the “little Rascal” on the Perris oval for the first time ever in different cars than expected! Hah, when Danny Sheridan, who has been a longtime fixture in the little blue bugger # 18 car, jumps in the seat of a Josh Ford entry and chases the “Little Rascal” Ryan Bernal in his old 410 ride to the finish this week, that is news. For those who don’t know, Danny decided at the end of last year to stay closer to home so he can spend more time with his son Blake and do those dad things more often. That meant he was to run the Kittle 360 car in the WC 360 series with a few CRA 410 appearances during the year. This week was unplanned as Ryan is running the Kittle # 18 for most of the CRA races at the PAS and the Ford # 73 the rest of the time. In between he runs the Ford Midget and 360 when time allows. Got all that? When they finished 7th (the little rascal) and 8th, (Showtime), you know both were on the gas and getting’ after it hard as the race neared the end. It was kind of a lark that Danny even agreed to come race this weekend, but it looks like he had fun! I threatened to put blue stripes on his helmet, but we all knew he was in the black car. Perhaps harder to accept was that the old Kittle crew was split up and part was helping Danny with the rest with Ryan and it just looked weird.

The race ended with David Cardey (ending his run in the familiar # 59 car before switching to the Moosemobile on July 4th) and Rip Williams crashing before the checkered flag along the front stretch. Don’t have a clue as the tall fans near me stood up and I can only read about it if it appears in another column. They were fighting for a podium spot, but that’s all I know. Neither was hurt it appeared.

Someone who did get hurt was Tony Everhart who supports the CRA every race and is a familiar face with the club. In hot laps he hit the turn 1 wall and after climbing out of his car, he hit the ground in pain and was shuttled to the emergency room at the nearby hospital. He was back in the pits later after getting checked out, but I missed him and the report was he was sore.

Matt “Sliderman” Mitchell started on the 2nd row of the main this week, and for the second week in a row he encountered a problem when he biked it into the turn 4 wall and went to the pits. Apparently the damage wasn’t as bad as last week, as he returned to run 9th before the end of this one. Good recovery for the young man the girls swoon over. He can be real fast and racy, but hasn’t had a lot of luck this season so far.

Austin Williams clawed his way from his 9th starting spot, next to brother Cody, and in front of their dad Rip Williams, to win this weeks “Williams War”. Austin had to battle his bro in their heat, the semi and the main! Neither brother gave any quarter as they battled wheel to wheel every lap. It looks like they each have magnets in their cars as they seem to be attracted to each other like those old black and white magnetic dogs I remember in my youth. Whatever, they get together a lot on the track. Austin had to come thru the semi, which he won, after his front end was tweaked in the heat. All three Williams cars are new Spike’s that seem to be working just fine.

Besides the Williams and Vander Weerd boys, the other “Brother duel” in the club, A J and Bobby Bender saw A J winning this week’s tussle when he won his heat and ran 16th in the main while Bobby had a problem in the semi and missed the main. First car out of the feature was Ronnie Gardner in the # 42 Chaney car as he coasted to a stop on the back stretch ending his chances early in the race. When will this kid ever get a break? He is a winner waiting to happen!

J J Ercse returned to the sprint car wars in the 360 powered Springstead # 36 car that did double duty with John Franklin using it in the Senior racing as well. J J qualified 21st in the field in the horsepower challenged small motored car and made the main, but dropped out too soon for him. He was having fun getting back in the cockpit after a long time away due to a racing injury. You might remember him as a CRA official most recently.

Super Rickie Gaunt returned to the wars in the pretty Miller # 66 car this week and qualified 4th. The motor burped expensive noises the last time out, but looked strong tonight as he battled hard before finishing 18th in the end.

Back in the saddle again, out where a friend is a ………….. Well you get the melody of the old western Sons of the Pioneers song, right? Or, did you hear the one about Victorville? Whatever, the rumor mill has been spinning out of control for years, but this recent rumor of a former CRA driver opening up Victorville to run sprints again under the new name of Route 66 Motorplex was shared with me from the get go, so I didn’t have to rack my brain for the answer. And now it has come to pass, no pun intended! Scott Burns has leased the Victorville fairgrounds racetrack and will be opening On June 30th with USAC/CRA 410 sprint cars and USAC Midgets. He has plans for at least one more USAC show this season and will create his own local show with the talent nearby. It should work well because he has a track that is racy, a covered grandstands, no parking fees, free overnight camping with RV hookups and a great atmosphere.

At last I can talk about it as Scott has worked out the first race with USAC Sprints and Midgets and will be going full on to get ready. The announcement is good for racing and it’s closer to my house. Scott’s background was driving CRA sprint cars until his retirement in 1998 and then it was off to motocross with his son AJ for their fun. He has a burning desire to provide good racing at a good price and treat the fans and racers to a fair deal. He has been away from us for a fair amount of time and has been getting back up to speed quickly. It’s nice to know that facility will be used again. Good luck to Scott and his staff and I hope all of you will swarm the place to welcome sprint car racing back to the high desert on June 30! I will be there, although I am going to be in trouble as a family affair was moved to that off weekend so I could be included. I guess I could send flowers.

Pat Grant is a noted photographer from Texas now, as he just moved there recently from the mid-west. His work can be seen on openwheel.org as well as FB for those who share their life there. He and Steve Lafond are friends and somehow he flew out to Hanford last week to see the CRA and the famous little track. While Pat was there shooting his pics, we met and Steve made him aware of the Wagsdash history, and now WAG$CA$H new beginnings. Pat has written an article on FB about the Wags stuff and declared he will be advertising the WAG$CA$H event and collecting money for it. His pledge was to start off committing $250 and urging his followers to get involved. Wow, it’s been a long time since someone other than our Wagtimer’s have stepped up to the plate for us, and I am very thankful. I need this kind of help to make this year’s event a success. OH, by the way, I collected $60 this week to go into the purse, thanks to you all.

Lonely grandstand for me as I put down the polka dots and nobody came? With Mrs Wags back in humidity land, I left the house at 7:30 AM Saturday with a cool 50 degree temperature outside. It never got over 65 until I hit the Perris track around 11:00 AM. I was a bit surprised and realized no jacket was in my car, only a windbreaker, but the high 50’s later in the night didn’t really bother me. I still have no new lens and actually have a very bad story about that, but another time as I am going on and one here.

We had 32 cars for the annual Salute to Indy event complete with a big round wreath for the winner and some unusual trophies. The Senior Sprints put on a good show and Bobby Michnowicz took the time to steal his son Kevin’s ride to win the 20 lapper going away and set a new track record in the process. Kevin was off doing that youth thing and can’t seem to focus on his great driving talent long enough to make every race. Bobby still looks at home behind the wheel of these small open wheel cars!

A similar 250 mile trip is up this week to Yuma and Cocopah Speedway where the CRA will return for the first time in a long time to race there. The last time, in my memory bank we were there, it seemed like Ron Shuman won, I may be wrong, and the Strawberry king was there to anoint him with some extra cash. It is a nice oval and some who have been there recently say it is smoother than the old days and another road trip. Here’s hoping we get a good car count and some fans in the seats to make this work, so get in the car and head down there. See ya there.

AMSOIL USAC/CRA SPRINT RACE RESULTS: May 26, 2012 – Perris, California – Perris Auto Speedway - "Salute To Indy"

QUALIFICATIONS: 1. Mike Spencer, 50, Chaffin-16.774; 2. Nic Faas, 4, Alexander-16.836; 3. Ryan Bernal, 18, Kittle-17.064; 4. Rickie Gaunt, 66, Miller-17.077; 5. Cory Kruseman, 7, Priestley-17.101; 6. Austin Williams, 2, Jory-17.170; 7. Matt Mitchell, 37, Mitchell-17.213; 8. David Cardey, 59, Cardey-17.246; 9. Cody Williams, 44, Jory-17.351; 10. Richard Vander Weerd, 10, Vander Weerd-17.395; 11. Brody Roa, 91R, BR-17.413; 12. Rip Williams, 3, Jory-17.435; 13. Jace Vander Weerd, 88, Vander Weerd-17.473; 14. Danny Sheridan, 73, Ford-17.495; 15. Verne Sweeney, 98, Tracy-17.525; 16. Seth Wilson, 1X, Wilson-17.632; 17. Ronnie Gardner, 42, Cheney-17.654; 18. Greg Alexander, 72, Tyler-17.722; 19. David Bezio, 37X, Bezio-17.819; 20. Billy Blinn, 26, Blinn-17.831; 21. J.J. Ercse, 36, Springstead-18.072; 22. Kenny Perkins, 0K, Perkins-18.073; 23. A.J. Bender, 12, Bender-18.149; 24. Jerry Welton, 62, Welton-18.471; 25. Corey Ballard, 20, Ballard-18.477; 26. Adam Frith-Smith, 62A, Frith-Smith-18.487; 27. Bobby Bender, 11, Bender-18.566; 28. Gavin Matlock, 25, Williams-18.640; 29. Gary Potter, 6, Potter-18.939; 30. Cal Smith, 39, Cal Sun-19.328; 31. Jon Kairot, 0, Perkins-19.909; 32. Tony Everhart, 55, Everhart-NT.

FIRST HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Kruseman, 2. J. Vander Weerd, 3. Spencer, 4. Ercse, 5. C. Williams, 6. Gardner, 7. Potter, 8. Ballard. 2:51.99

SECOND HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Faas, 2. Sheridan, 3. Alexander, 4. R. Vander Weerd, 5. Frith-Smith, 6. A. Williams, 7. Smith, 8. Perkins. NT

THIRD HEAT: (10 laps) 1. A.J. Bender, 2. Bezio, 3. Mitchell, 4. Bernal, 5. Roa, 6. Sweeney, 7. B. Bender, 8. Kairot. 2:57.38

FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Wilson, 2. R. Williams, 3. Cardey, 4. Gaunt, 5. Blinn, 6. Matlock, 7. Welton. NT

SEMI: (5 laps) 1. A. Williams, 2. C. Williams, 3. Roa, 4. Gardner, 5. Sweeney, 6. Ballard, 7. Blinn, 8. Welton, 9. Frith-Smith, 10. Kairot, 11. Smith, 12. Potter, 13. B. Bender, 14. Matlock. NT

FEATURE: (30 laps) 1. Mike Spencer, 2. Nic Faas, 3. Richard Vander Weerd, 4. Cory Kruseman, 5. Austin Williams, 6. Seth Wilson, 7. Ryan Bernal, 8. Danny Sheridan, 9. Matt Mitchell, 10. Brody Roa, 11. Rip Williams, 12. David Cardey, 13. David Bezio, 14. Cody Williams, 15. Jace Vander Weerd, 16. A.J. Bender, 17. Verne Sweeney, 18. Rickie Gaunt, 19. Corey Ballard, 20. Greg Alexander, 21. J.J. Ercse, 22. Ronnie Gardner. NT

**Everhart crashed during practice and was transported to local hospital for observation. Perkins flipped during the second heat. Mitchell and Cardey flipped during the feature.

FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-5 R. Vander Weerd, Laps 6-30 Spencer.

NEXT AMSOIL USAC/CRA SPRINT RACE: June 2 – Yuma, AZ - Cocopah Speedway

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