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September 1, 2013

By Ken Wagner For you who have never been to Calistoga, or maybe haven’t been for a while, you missed out! Perhaps the overly crowded camping and parking areas was a clue or maybe the walk in crowd that packed the place settled the 6th annual Louie vermeil Classic into history as a real “EVENT” with a carnival like atmosphere and the best racing I’ve seen there since Tony Stewart made a midget run back in the day that was unreal as well. The newly doctored track surface, the guard rail down the front stretch protecting the pit people and the new catch fence all around are the featured changes thanks to the Abreu family that will make the future special at Calistoga. The resulting racing was remarkable both nights as “racing” is the key word from start to finish. Bud Kaeding was unstoppable on Saturday and Kyle Larson continues to live up to his superlative accolades as he was unreal in his march to the front in both the Midget and Sprint features on Sunday.

For my pics Click here to view. For Doug Allens quality photo's Click here to see. For Steve Lafond's work Saturday at calistoga Click here to view. For Sunday Click here to view.

This year was a step up as 34 sprint cars and 25 midgets came to make the show what it was, amazing! With all the talk about the newly reworked track with a wider racing surface, more banking and some new clay, it was out there waiting to be proved as a good move, and it was. There was no practice on the new surface, so we all waited with baited breath and our fingers crossed, but when the curtain came down on Sunday night, it was all good and this was the best Louie Vermeil Classic yet! Ten cars towed from So Cal CRAland with only nine running when Rip Williams decided not to compete. There are a few more that run with us down south, but that still means 21 cars were local and not all were 410’s.

The wine tasting, beer tasting and autograph sessions were part of this “EVENT” that makes this place special. When you throw in the scenic wine country experience and then the view at the track, it is pretty spectacular. Sitting in the grandstands is mesmerizing even without the cars on the track. It’s really a blessing to have tracks like this and our 410’s running at them. Who knows what the future holds, but the money spent here means we’ll probably be back!

Now this trip up here was the first one for me without my riding with the Kittle Krew in their hauler, so it was way different from the get go. No lounging around watching TV or working on my computer while Paul Dean drives us to the races, no planned group events before the racing starts and no Brian and Kris Kittle feeds to keep us lively. Since Mrs Wags retired last week, she was good to go and our trip started out with a visit to the Lafond home in Campbell, CA before we hit Don “The” Barber’s house in Petaluma for a 3 day stay there with his new bride and her two daughters. That made it easy as we enjoyed the company and loved the racing. Dick Fry’s making sure I had the Artic Cat vehicle to get around just topped off a great weekend as we enjoyed their cookouts and the people who hang there.

I was surprised to see 34 cars, with some fairly new to wingless and some with limited experience, but they were here to race. Mike Spencer set fast time both days and was racing without crew chief Bruce Bromme Jr who was home a little under the weather. In the midgets Ronnie Gardner Set fast time both days, ran 3rd and 5th in his # 68 Midget and did double duty with his # 93 sprint car as well.

The opener was pretty exciting as Damion Gardner was hot at the start and took off to a good lead until Bud Kaeding showed up and snatched it away with his top groove antics. Gardner was running the bottom groove mostly, so when Bud went up around him, it was a race to the finish. The race between the two was great the last half of the 30 lapper with Damion trying to slide him every lap to no avail. Things got interesting near the end when Ryan Bernal slipped by Damion and then an “inadvertent red light” came on with a lap to go? The starter mishandled the light switches and we were left with a one lap shootout for the victory. Ryan’s right rear was going flat so the last restart saw Bud holding off Damion and Spencer at the line, and until they crossed, it was anybody’s race, it was sooooo close! Ryan fell to 4th and the crowd was buzzed about the inadvertent finish that ended a very racy feature.

Nic Faas overcame a very bad end over crash in a midget on Saturday. He caught a rut after reeling in the leaders, and yet was still able to run the sprint main after a long visit with the EMT group. He was chasing his teammate in the main for a long time, but dropped back to 5th before it was over. Ronnie Gardner got his tire popped by one Kyle Hirst and had to restart at the back. He came back to get 9th on a good run. He was also on the podium in the midget main with a third place finish there. The Williams boys ran 7th and 8th with Austin beating Cody at the end while dad watched from the pits.

Sunday had great expectations in the air as Kyle Larson and Bryan Clauson came to join the fun on Sunday night. Kyle would be in a Ford Motorsports entry and Bryan in a Mark Martin # 16 car. Kyle was amazing in the midget main running quickly from the third row to the lead and spent most of the race holding off Saturday nights winner, Rico Abreu. Kyle said in the winners circle “he was glad that was over so we can go party at Rico’s house”!

The Sunday main started with D J Johnson taking the lead from the pole and holding off the troops for 7 laps before Mike Spencer took over. Mike then took off and looked like he was going to cruise to a big win, but this was a night for Kyle Larson as he cut the half a track lead down each time around the big oval until he caught Mike. He gained a lot of ground by stroking it into the corners farther than the little red sucker was going and as Mike started to have problems with the turn one corner, Kyle was still overaggressive in trying to slide him there once he caught him. Kyle would go to the top into turn one while Mike would cut thru the middle and slide up in front for several laps. Then with a couple of laps to go, Kyle hit turn three at speed and shot under the little red sucker and headed out to look for the checkers and a second $10,000 check.

Meanwhile, back in the jungle, Bud Kaeding and Austin Williams were getting new life and on the last corner heading to the checkers, Bud and Austin blew by Spencer to grab podium slots and followed the talented winner who was not to be denied! Anyone who thanks Kyle “just has good equipment” better rethink that thought because he is incredible in the way he attacks the track and his opponents, no matter what he drives. He caught Spencer when everyone thought he was long gone in the sprints and his high groove rush to get the lead in the midgets brings back the Steve Kinser days of old when he ran above the cushion at Knoxville to pass 10 cars on the first lap more than once.

Kyle won $20,000 in the two races and was as gracious a winner as you can find. He acts like he has been there and you know what, he really has! It was his second CRA victory and additionally he got his first two Calistoga win’s . His success reminds me of Parnelli Jones racing history as he too never met a race car he couldn’t win in! You better go see him on dirt whenever you can before the NASCAR thing takes him away!

This trip was thoroughly enjoyable from all phases; from the scenic drive to and from Calistoga, the visiting with so many friends, the racing both nights, the wine tasting, the fun and good weather, it was all a blast from these eyes. The CRA season is almost done with only 3 race weekends left and I’m pretty sad about that, but it is what it is, so you best get on the road and support these guys because it’ll be over before you blink. The Glenn Howard Memorial is up next at the PAS on September 14th with only The Oval Nationals weekend left on their schedule. For some a trip to Canyon Raceway in Arizona could be there and a couple of URA events planned, so this year is about over and done!

I spent some time with my friends Trophy Dave and his wife Muriel Pusateri this week and talked about the upcoming 20th annual Trophy Cup in October. Trophy Dave started this huge event a few years after I started the Wagsdash with his help. His race has grown from a $40,000 purse to over $120,000 this year. He added non-wings last year and this year’s purse for my preferred style is over $32,000 and that’s for one night! So for all my friends who race these thunder and lightning cars, there are only 13 spots left in his non-wing Thursday night October 17 race and you need to get signed up! Get a grip, no get a 360 and enter. Find a motor and go get involved, it is a great format with some great racing for the fans. Check it out http://www.trophycup.org/ today and join the biggest paying night in California racing and stay for the next two nights, there is no better winged event.

9/01/13 FEATURE: (30 laps) 1. Kyle Larson, 2. Bud Kaeding, 3. Austin Williams, 4. Mike Spencer, 5. Bradley Terrell, 6. Geoff Ensign, 7. Bryan Clauson, 8. Nic Faas, 9. Matt Mitchell, 10. Brody Roa, 11. Colby Copeland, 12. Chad Boespflug, 13. Andy Forsberg, 14. Cody Williams, 15. Ronnie Gardner, 16. Matt Streeter, 17. Terry Schank Jr., 18. Tony Hunt, 19. Tim Barber, 20. D.J. Johnson, 21. Kyle Hirst, 22. Damion Gardner. NT

QUALIFICATIONS: 1. Mike Spencer, 50, Chaffin-19.504.

NEW AMSOIL USAC/CRA SPRINT POINTS: 2013 AMSOIL USAC CRA SPRINT CAR STANDINGS: 1-Damion Gardner-1,042, 2-Nic Faas-935, 3-Mike Spencer-896, 4-Matt Mitchell-726, 5-Bud Kaeding-694, 6-Austin Williams-672, 7-Cody Williams-666, 8-Brody Roa-610, 9-Ryan Bernal-551, 10-Richard Vander Weerd-415.

8/31/13 FEATURE: (30 laps) 1. Bud Kaeding, 2. Damion Gardner, 3. Mike Spencer, 4. Ryan Bernal, 5. Nic Faas, 6. Geoff Ensign, 7. Austin Williams, 8. Cody Williams, 9. Ronnie Gardner, 10. Colby Copeland, 11. Matt Mitchell, 12. Bradley Terrell, 13. Chad Boespflug, 14. Brody Roa, 15. Matt Streeter, 16. Tim Barber, 17. D.J. Johnson, 18. Mike Martin, 19. Terry Schank Jr., 20. Shauna Hogg, 21. Scott Hall, 22. Kyle Hirst, 23. Billy Aton. NT

QUALIFICATIONS: 1. Mike Spencer, 50, Chaffin-20.085

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