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September 9, 2014

By Ken Wagner

Another 24 hour event for me as I got so much flak from my friend Steve Lafond about not going racing, I promised to meet him for lunch on Saturday at the well-known Jocko’s in Nipomo just north of the Santa Maria track. The 390 mile, 6 hour plus trip across 5 different 2 and 4 lane highways, was kind of a welcome trip for me after so many missed races, I kind of enjoyed it, sorta. Some of the old “can’t wait to get there” anxiety hit me as I cruised along with my Sirius radio feeding me a ton of music and sports reports, clear as a bell. I even took a couple of books on tape, but quickly realized I grabbed them from the already heard stack, so had nothing to listen to there. I arrived on time and headed into the old restaurant.

I had a “laugh in” experience after I entered the bar and greeted Steve. The old TV programs nuttiness always had someone falling over for big laughs, usually on a kid’s trike. I hopped up on a bar stool ready to order and suddenly began sliding left and off to land on the floor. Not hurt, not embarrassed, but smiling and thinking “laugh in” got me! Lunch was an unbelievable steak sandwich that rivals any I've had before and half of it was my snack on the way home after the races. Now on to the real fun at the Santa Maria track

For my pics from Santa Maria Click here TO see! For Steve Lafond foto's pics Click here to view! For the Doug Allen Photos click here to view. They include the Demon's 200 MPH record setting run at Bonneville.

With some nervous moments I parked, got signed in and entered the pits to began shaking hands and saying thanks as my retirement was a common thread everywhere I walked out there. I explained in my recent adios retirement missile how this was exactly the kind of solo trip turnaround that I hated. Neverhteless, it was worth it as I saw a lot of friends I have missed and thoroughly enjoyed my day. Next year I will make Santa Maria one of my must go to, but I need to spend the night instead of the boring steaming thru the night towards home exercise afterwards, it is too much!

After 26 cars gave us 3 heats and a semi, the 22 car field hit the track for the main. Damion Gardner had a rough, for him, Calistoga with a friday 2nd and 10th in the finale, but he recovered a tad as he swept the next three in a row. He came within .2 of a second (being 2nd quick to Brody Roa in qualifying) and having three Dean Thompson sweeps in a row, where fast time, a heat win and the feature win is something that was once seen only occasionally. Now it’s a Damion Staple, he is so dominating. Remember the old "anyone but Kinser" signs scratched on the dirt walls at many tracks in years past? Who knows, it might happen again.

Damion was really on his game this night as he quickly and quietly weaved his way thru traffic from his 3rd row starting spot to get up in 2nd behind Cody Williams. He watched for a few laps before a good move slipped him into the lead for his 10th win on the year. This makes it 10 wins out of 17 races and is pretty dominating, wouldn’t you say? Anyway this week he has moved past Bob Hogle and Richard Griffin (both tied for 8th on the all-time CRA win list with 63 victories). Damion now owns 65 wins behind Dean Thompson and Rip Williams who both have over 100. Bubby Jones is ahead on the list next with 82 wins, so the Demon has a few more to get before his next challenge of the legendary hall of famer Bubby.

I can’t report on the Calistoga or Chico races because I wasn't there dammit, but our traveling assortment of 9 racers plus the Ford Motorsports 2 entries with Indiana boys driving had some good and some bad experiences like normal. The Louie Vermeil Classic was dominated by the big horsepower machines of first Christopher Bell and then the amazing Rico Abreu as they won both nights convincingly, I am told. Our nine travelers were not in the groove as Damion’s 2nd place shot on Friday was the best we could do on big fast track. We had 4, 4, 4, 4 and 8 cars in the top ten in the 5 races. Of course some Northerner’s who ran locally didn’t all come south for Santa Maria, but overall it was better than normal at Santa Maria to complete the first of what I hope is many sprint weeks in the future. It could get pretty good for the wingless boys as the Vermeil Classic is the best CRA California only cars non wing event of the year! I only hope there are more cars and it grows as the crowds love it!

I assume Rip Williams is contemplating retirement or maybe is letting the boys be the story so far this year as he was working hard helping his three sons get their battered three cars back in shape to take on the night. He looked relaxed, but determined as he worked among them. Car owner Jack Jory was smiling as you can see he still loves watching them and probably wishes he could take a ride in one of his black cars. Rip’s wife Becky made one of her rare road trips as she too seemed to be enjoying the event. Cody did the best of the three as he led until the Demon came by with a few laps to go, getting his 2nd place runner-up on the podium for the night. He won here earlier in the year. Austin came in 6th and Logan was 15th as they continue to support the CRA races.

The Vander Weerd twins Jace and Richard missed the first three races of the California swing, but came to race on the little 1/3 mile oval. Jace ended up 8th from his 13th starting spot, but Richard got hosed in the main and was the first car out. They both ran 4th in their heats after Richard was 3rd quick and Jace 13th. Richard started outside row 2 and was moving fine when he got a little high coming out of turn 3 but recovered to continue on, yet the starter (?) threw the yellow flag??? When they indicated by rule Richard was the cause of the yellow and had to go to the back, he opted to pull in and not run. What BS, the starter had a hair trigger yellow flying as Richard was moving back into the battle. I understand how Richard felt, but in reality he didn’t cause a yellow the flagman assumed too much! This is what makes fans go nuts!

Brody Roa had a great week with 3 fourth place runs, I thought he was 3rd at Santa Maria, but I’m not the official scorer. He had fast time at 14.612 just beating out Damion. He ran strong right to the finish and had his best run of 5 races this year. Northern Cal driver Geoff Ensign had a boss week also driving two different cars to a best of 3rd at Santa Maria. Mike Spencer didn’t have a Spencer like road trip as his full house three 8th and two 5th place finishes weren’t like his norm. Losing Bruce Bromme Jr was certainly a big shock and I can’t imagine how they all feel. There is news that the team will run in 2015, and that is great news! I also found out there will be a celebration of Bruce Bromme Jr's life in January the weekend after the Chili Bowl, at the Woodland Museum, so be prepared to travel there, Bruce was someone very special and we all need to say goodbye together.

Tyler Schmidt had an interesting night. He qualified his own 360 powered # 49 car 20th and then got a chance to run a 410 when Eris Rossi didn’t get there in time to run the # 17 Shanoian car. Tyler ran 7th in his heat getting used to a different more powerful car and then Rossi showed up! It looked like Tyler would have to go back to his car for the Semi, but I think the rules allowed him to continue on in the # 17 car. He finished 18th and surely had fun.

Super Rickie Gaunt led the first 10 laps of the main event, then old age set in and he shuffled back to 7th in the end. It’s always good to see the flamboyant driver when he can take a break from his sons off road fun. He is always missed in the pits and on the track. Ryan Bernal had his qualifying effort a little less than his usual and ended up starting way back in the main after winning the first heat. It wasn’t easy, but he made it up to 11th at the end with some patient work out there.

Garrett Hansen has returned after a few years off to let his surgically repaired back heal from a race car crash. Driving the beautiful yellow Priestley owned car, he was 13th in the main. Chris Gansen took a little vacation and joined the 5 race tour this week. He actually brought a second car that Ronnie Gardner got to drive this night. They finished 17th and 19th and I am sure there was some fun to be had by both. Jeremy Ellertson was in the house and was second in his heat and 20th in the main after qualifying 14th. He is always glad to just get to race, and his enthusiasm shows.

Lynn Anderson is a man of many interests and when he goes sprint car racing, his alias is Cotton Farmer. He also races a Mopar at the drags and does some moto-cross stuff with his wife Anhelika. I told her she was too pretty to be running those mean machines, but she loves to ride, so be it! Lynn brought two cars, just in case, this week. One was race ready, while the other was new and not quite complete. The race ready one wasn’t, so they thrashed moving stuff to the new one and ended up running it until the end of his night at 21st in the feature. He also does creative painting and did 2 different Wags helmets for me. One went in a Wagsdash auction a long time ago, while the other is in my den.

Kevin Thomas Jr was second in California Sprint Week points coming in, but never got to race when the car had some engine problem early in the afternoon and besides Jimmy May and the gang wanted some tequila and barbeque? NOT! Too bad they couldn’t get it repaired because I wanted to see him race.

I had a great day borrowing part of my usual picnic table to view from and visiting with everyone who came by. Thanks to Casey who allowed me to sit on her "saved" area. It’s hard not to go to Santa Maria as I have many great memories from the track dating back to the early 80’s when you could sit up high in your beach chairs and see an amazing scene in front of you that included watching the racing, watching the crowd come in and seeing the haulers out on the highway coming to race. It’s a bit steep getting back down to the pits, but all was well as the night was done at 8:45 and it took nearly an hour to weave my way thru all the people who stopped me to talk. Just like old times, it was fun! I even saw Harold and Alice Hubbs, imagine! It was good to see Danny Sheridan and his family out to enjoy a nice race evening. He is the retired driver who had a ride offered for the night, but said he had a few beers so declined. He has two busy boys and a pretty wife to be with and that doesn't leave him any time to come back to something he was so good at. Stay retired my friend, you did good as I will always remember your scintillating win right here at Santa Maria over the little red sucker. Un-fn-believable!

My next planned adventure is a wedding in Arizona where my “little girl” Bethany Thrasher will do the deed with her long time beau Gary. Then an October trip to Tulare for the world famous Trophy Cup where my friend Trophy Dave Pusateri will once again put on the highest paying 360 wing race in the land. The racing is so good, you won’t even notice that they have wings. The format has "inverted by points" features that give you amazing races. Last year both nights were unbelievable. Friday saw the winner at the flagman running second when the placement of the gizmo was past the finish line? Saturday saw our now long gone and more famous Kyle Larson start last and finish first on the last corner of the race. It was a man’s finish when he and Brad Sweet were going for it and a resulting bump left Brad in the wall and Kyle barely rolling across the line for the victory. It was well worth it watching Kyle come from last to first and pass all our heroes! This race makes it happen as Tim Kaeding is known to do the same thing. Try it, you'll like it Oct 17/19 as it expands to 3 nights with nearly 100 cars competing. It was the best race I saw last year, trust me.

The season is almost over again with only 5 more CRA races with the Oval Nationals being the best of what’s left. It’s been another short 22 race season and I look back to when the CRA regularly raced over 50 races each year. They must have had cheaper cars or better jobs or something. Regardless, less races, with less fans and dwindling car counts are the norm now; we have to deal with it. You better go see em’ while you can, as many experts have been telling me for years the 410’s are dead and I still don’t want to believe it. Your support is the only way to fix it! See ya whenever and thanks for a great Saturday!

AMSOIL USAC/CRA SPRINT CAR RACE RESULTS: September 6, 2014 – Santa Maria, California – Santa Maria Speedway – “California Sprint Week”

QUALIFICATIONS: 1. Brody Roa, 91R, BR-14.612; 2. Damion Gardner, 4, Alexander-14.631; 3. Richard Vander Weerd, 10, Vander Weerd-14.985; 4. Geoff Ensign, 3F, Finkenbinder-15.099; 5. Rickie Gaunt, 66, Miller-15.196; 6. Cody Williams, 44, Jory-15.205; 7. Austin Williams, 2, Jory-15.218; 8. Mike Spencer, 50, Chaffin-15.317; 9. Jake Swanson, 92, Sertich-15.389; 10. Matt Mitchell, 37, Mitchell-15.435; 11. Logan Williams, 5, Jory-15.560; 12. D.J. Johnson, 33, Johnson-15.672; 13. Jace Vander Weerd, 88, Vander Weerd-15.690; 14. Jeremy Ellertson, 98X, Ellertson-15.714; 15. Ronnie Gardner, 4X, Gansen-15.724; 16. Ryan Bernal, 56, Phulps-15.778; 17. Chris Gansen, 4G, Gansen-15.894; 18. Luke Boles, 56A, Boles-15.985; 19. Garrett Hansen, 7, Priestley-16.203; 20. Tyler Schmidt, 49, Schmidt-16.397; 21. Landon Hurst, 179, Hurst-16.541; 22. James Herrera, 16J, Jones-16.963; 23. Bill Jones, 16, Jones-NT; 24. Kevin Thomas Jr., 73, Ford-NT; 25. Cotton Farmer, 15, HAL-NT; 26. Eric Rossi, 17 Shanoian-NT

FIRST HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Bernal, 2. Mitchell, 3. Ensign, 4. Roa, 5. A.Williams, 6. J.Vander Weerd, 7. Hansen, 8. Herrera. NT

SECOND HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Gaunt, 2. Ellertson, 3. D.Gardner, 4. Spencer, 5. L.Williams, 6. Gansen, 7. Schmidt (#17 Shanoian), 8. Jones. NT

THIRD HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Boles, 2. C.Williams, 3. Hurst, 4. R.Vander Weerd, 5. Swanson, 6. Johnson, 7. R.Gardner, 8. Farmer (#7D HAL). NT

SEMI: (12 laps) 1. A.Williams, 2. Johnson, 3. Swanson, 4. J.Vander Weerd, 5. Hansen, 6. R.Gardner, 7. L.Williams, 8. Gansen, 9. Schmidt, 10. Farmer, 11. Herrera, 12. Jones. NT

FEATURE: (30 laps) 1. Damion Gardner, 2. Cody Williams, 3. Geoff Ensign, 4. Brody Roa, 5. Mike Spencer, 6. Austin Williams, 7. Rickie Gaunt, 8. Jace Vander Weerd, 9. Jake Swanson, 10. D.J. Johnson, 11. Ryan Bernal, 12. Matt Mitchell, 13. Garrett Hansen, 14. Landon Hurst, 15. Logan Williams, 16. Luke Boles, 17. Chris Gansen, 18. Tyler Schmidt, 19. Ronnie Gardner, 20. Jeremy Ellertson, 21. Cotton Farmer, 22. Richard Vander Weerd, 23. Kevin Thomas Jr. NT

FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-10 Gaunt, Laps 11-24 C. Williams, Laps 25-30 Gardner

NEXT AMSOIL USAC/CRA SPRINT RACE: September 13 – Perris (CA) Auto Speedway – “Glenn Howard Classic”

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