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October 19, 2013

By Ken Wagner

Three days of sprint car racing this weekend at Steve Faria’s Tulare Thunderbowl Raceway can be summed up as “all out racing” of the finest kind! Up’s and down’s were normal with the ebb and flow of the three days, and the last two days gave up some of the closest racing you will ever see in our lifetime. Trophy Dave’s 20th annual Trophy Cup was outstanding to the MAX with 81 cars doing battle!!! Kyle Larson’s win in the big 50 lapper on Saturday night was deemed both an awesome ending in looking back to the history of the “olden” days, and conversely was considered too rough for some pit-siders? It was awesome and you still can’t please em’ all, as this one was a barnburner! When Kyle dispatched 23 of the other 24 cars in the A main, there was but 5 laps to go on the last restart of the night and he was right on Brad Sweet’s tail. Driving Kasey Kahne’s car Brad had been a very fast leader for most of the race before the climatic ending.

For my latest pics Trophy Cup Friday Click here to view. Fzor Trophy Cup Friday and Saturday Click here to view. For the Reunion Drags Click here to view. For Doug Allens quality photo's Click here to see. For Steve Lafond's Friday Trophy Cup fotos click here to view. For Steve Lafond's Saturday Trophy Cup fotos click her to view.

Here’s where the mixed emotions of some pit-siders came into play. Some said it wasn’t good that the winner went for it all, and in their mind caused the wreck? Others said it was just good old time hard-nosed racing, and a breath of fresh air for the fans! It was obvious that Kyle was going all out to win this one and Brad was doing the same. As the two went by the white flag lap, Brad was leading, but Kyle put a slider on him going into turn two for his first brief lead. Brad cut back under him, and they went down the back stretch side by side, each straining to get the lead and the win. Brad went low into turn 3 and Kyle went up top where he had made most of his passes all night. As they came out of turn four going for the checkered flag, both driver’s were not about to let the other one take it, so neither one lifted or gave an inch as they were headed home. It looked like Brad was trying to move up to block, but Kyle got thru the tiny gap between him and the wall before he could close the door and “WHAM”!!! Yes, Virginia, they banged together with Brad getting the short end of it, as he came crashing to a stop and parked against the wall. Kyle wobbled on slowly from the impact as he didn’t fare much better. His mount was battered with a flat right rear tire and barely made it over the finish line. Kyle came to a stop where he would have parked it after a cool down lap and a bunch of spins with the steering wheel high in the air, like he normally did after a win. This time no theatrics as he was lucky to have made it across the line and the crowd was just taking it all in and going wild!

Kyle was pumped when he climbed out of his battered mount. He stood up on the race car cage and cheered; now having one of the two of his “most wanted” open wheel wins, the other being the Chili Bowl, he now had the Trophy Cup Eagle Championship Trophy in his hand! It was another amazing accomplishment for the young driver heading to a full time NASCAR ride next year. Kyle started 23rd and passed em’ all to win this one. You had to be there to see it and feel the magnificence of it all.

The opening ceremonies on Saturday night started with the National Anthem and then Trophy Dave and his giant group of volunteers presented the big check for $100,000 to the Make a Wish foundation from all their collection efforts of the last year. Now the grand total he has given Make a Wish is just under one million dollars after 20 years of the Trophy Cup. Also part of the ceremonies was Trophy Dave presenting Brent Kaeding a unique lighted # 69 sprint car, to hang on the wall of his race shop, for all the help and support he gave Trophy Dave over the 20 year history of the event. Then the promoter Steve Faria presented some slick looking jackets to Trophy Dave and his wife Muriel and others who had helped make this race what it is, including Dennis Roth and Junior Bowman. A nice framed poster of some of Trophy Dave’s many trophies was presented to him from a “fan” who wanted to remain anonymous because this presentation was all about Trophy Dave and what he had given racing in his career. The last thing was a nice flashy looking ring made personally for Trophy Dave with Make A Wish and the Trophy Cup on it and presented by Mike Andretta from him and Steve Faria. Finally, they honored Trophy Dave for what he has given racing over the years, yeah!

After those ceremonies, Kyle Larson won the bidding war for the group of 4 Kaeding helmets (Howard, Brent, Tim and Bud) put up for a live auction in front of the crowd. All four were in a specially designed see thru box created by Trophy Dave and were displayed for making more money for Make a Wish. Kyle won the three way bidding at $32,000 against a Tony Stewart, who bid on the phone, and the third bidder Rico Abreu who also wanted it. After his big win, Kyle would be short $7,000 to pick them up later and ship them off to the Hall of Fame in Knoxville after this win, but I doubt that he cared; he had won a big one.

It is unfortunate that Brad Sweet ended up with 14th place for his reward of leading from lap 19 convincingly until the very end, but it was a hell of a finish and I can appreciate the all or nothing attitude the two drivers exhibited as they went for it. There was no stopping Kyle! You don’t see many "big balls" finishes like this anymore, you know the win it or wear it attitude they showed us. It was pretty awesome in my mind, and yes it was wing racing, heavy on the “racing”, so no complaints watching this one. It’s the only wing race I go to these days and you can see why, it is non-stop action from opening night until they crown the winner one more time.

There was a lot more action to see, besides the latest amazing Kyle “did it again” show, with 24 other cars on the track as the 50 lapper played out. For instance when it all started at the green flag, Tim Kaeding and Kyle were side by side in row 12 with Rico Abreu and Jason Myers in row 11 just ahead of them. The four of them had the most points accrued and looked to have the best chance to win it all on the “get go” green flag start. There was one additional car behind them after Clyde Lamar paid $3500 for the opportunity to add Kevin Swindell to the tail. After Kyle had a brief battle with Tim, Meyers then led Kyle thru traffic for a long time before the young star was able to blow by him and continue on to the front. At the end Meyers still was 2nd in overall points for a good payday! Tim Kaeding who normally is known to dominate here, ended up in the points battle behind Kyle’s close racing buddy Rico Abreu who showed people he is not just a midget star, but also a sprint car star too with his podium 3rd place finish ahead of Tim! It was an awesome event for the packed house!

There were many more whose star shined on this full moon night of racing. Roger Crockett started up front and hung on to 2nd place in the main and 9th in the point’s bonus monies. Shane Golobic, Jonathan Allard, Kyle Hirst, Mason Moore and Terry McCarl were others who were fast and furious racing all night and each had good battles with the leaders that went by them. It wasn’t hard to keep track of those four back marker starters moving thru the pack and still keep an eye on the other good racing, but I was pretty busy keeping up. The earlier heats and qualifying races had some excitement of their own as the drivers gathered more points in the quest for starting farther in the back in the A Main. What a theory, race hard to earn points to start farther behind in the race, then go like the devil to gather more points gfor the best payday!

Given the fanali was actually unbelievable, there were two other nights to have fun watching. Thursday started out with high hopes as 44 non-wing cars pre-entered to have a shot at the $35,000 purse and only 29 showed up? Keep in mind what I have been saying all along is that my CRA stars, with few exceptions, don’t have 360 motors, so most of “my” guys weren’t there! It’s really too bad the Southland and Arizona boys didn’t get to represent, but it is the way it is. Considering what transpired this opening night, I doubt we will see a non wing night next year unless it turned into a 410 show or some way to have 360 and 410 compete somehow?

As this racing night went on and on and on, I was really frustrated as way too many crashes happened on a perfect non wing heavy track. Unfortunately, 4 drivers got a free ride to the hospital after some nasty looking endos. In hot laps it began when Kolby Araki took a wild toad ride after an encounter of the worst kind with another car. The delay by the track EMT’s to get him out of the car was long and the track fence got some welding attention while we waited. Then Ryan Bernal took the worst ride I have ever personally seen him take in qualifying and he too was painstakingly removed from his ride and shuffled off to the hospital. Marcus Niemela was another one who went for two rides, one now and one later. They all went home by the next day, but still it wasn’t pretty.

After the heats there were two features, a 20 lapper and then after a short break, a fully inverted 40 lapper. There were 16 cars upside down in the two features, more than I have ever seen, but the racing in between the delays was still fun to watch. Matt Mitchell started far enough back in the 40 lap main that when he took the lead early on and ran off from the pack, most of the serious point contenders from the back were either still back there or out of the race. It looked like he was a shoo-in for the Trophy Cup Championship until 4 cars crashed, and he was one of them. Too bad as he was sooooo fast no one was going to catch him in the Ford Motorsports # 73 car. Don’t know what happened as he was alone, but 3 other cars crashed around the track and stopped the action briefly before restarting, with him on the hook and done for the night. The team loaded up and forgot about the plans to run a wing car the next night.

This left it up to our CRA hopeful Richard Vander Weerd who went on to pass and beat all of them that were left, (11 of 21 at the finish) winning both the race and the Trophy Cup non wing title with some great moves and getting a $5000 payday. Congrats to him as his wins are accumulating in recent months, so much so that he may be the most improved driver in the Southland this year. Unfortunately, his brother Jace went out early in the big one. Jace ran strong with a wing the next two nights and just missed the big Saturday main by a couple of spots. Brody Roa ended up getting crashed out of the first main that Danny Faria Jr won as the handful of our guys had to cheer Richard on, there were so few of them.

Friday night was what it always is, a lot of cars, a lot of laps and after the follow the leader early heats, they got down to business. There were 81 cars qualifying and plenty of laps to entertain the faithful. Things were tough for those with late qualifying numbers as the track took a beating and only a couple from the last 40 on the clocks made the 24 fastest list. They took 48 into the six 8 car heats with the top 3 going to the A main directly. The rest had to go back and work their way forward from additional heats and prelim C and B mains. Brad Sweet blew a motor in his brand new Kasey Kahne # 2 and had more work than most to get in the main by winning the C main and transferring with the other 5 in the semi to the 30 lap main.

This nights A main would be kind of a tortoise and the hare affair as David Gravel would start on the front row of the 24 car field and go off to a big lead while Tim Kaeding started 10th and gave chase. There was plenty of good action as the first 12 were inverted by points and the race was on for more points. Tim and Kyle were both putting on a show, but Tim got to the leader easier (?) and was on his tail as the last lap white flag flew. They raced side by side that lap and when they crossed the finish line no one could agree who won. Most observers picked Gravel as he appeared to hold off the mighty Kaeding # 83 Roth car at the checkered flags. I could see the scoreboard, which is tied to the transponder computer, switch from Gravel to Kaeding in that last instant, but it didn’t look possible. Photog’s on the finish line had pics which seemed to say Gravel, but NOOOOOO it was Kaeding by a transponder decision and that was final. It was later explained to me that the transponder wire is not exactly on the finish line, but a little past it, and the transponders themselves are mounted near the back of the cars, so go figure. Kaeding did blow by the leader, but the question is in many minds did he do it before or after the finish line? It will be a bone of contention for years in these parts, but for now Tim Kaeding was the winner and point leader going into Saturday night’s A main.

Remembering back to the first few Trophy Cup races, I have plenty of great times to recall. It all started at San Jose Speedway with Trophy Dave’s harebrained idea that his friend Brent Kaeding would have to come from the back to win, and that was his goal. The slow start was just a perfect beginning as the racing was fabulous and the festivities fun to get it rolling. Ronnie Day won that first one and wasn’t at all happy about the format before his win, as was many of the competitors including Brent, but today they are all converts and believe in the race totally. The new event lived to see another day after the debut and grew tremendously in popularity and with the Make a Wish goal that Trophy Dave set, it is today one of the raciest and most popular events on the calendar each year for all race fans. The only races I missed was when the Wagsdash hit the Trophy Cup date, and that went on for a while, until now and there is no Wagsdash and I am free that weekend.

Brent Kaeding has won 4 Trophy Cup’s and his son Tim 3, so the Kaeding family has a third of the wins! Jac Haudenschild has won 2 times as did Jason Meyers. WOO regulars Mark Kinser and Brad Sweet are one time winners as the list of hot dog in the Trophy Cup over the years includes most of the best in the land. The race is a winner and even though Trophy Dave said last year that this year would be the last, he has announced he will continue on with help from all his long time hard working staff!

My weekend got a big boost as I recently acquired a little three wheel electric scooter that goes on a lift on the back on Mrs Wag’s car, so no more long walks on the road away from my Mule that lives at Perris. The new Mini-Mule is the cat’s meow, or whatever, as it is plenty fast and comfy to get around in and the battery is long lasting, so it will go on the road again this week to Canyon Raceway for the next to last race of the year for me. I got around the pits many times during the three days and got a number of pics that I will share, so many more than usual, like when I made limited walking trips thru the pits at Tulare.

I enjoyed everything that happen the three days as I hung by the pit gate as cars came in, watched from the grandstands each night and ate at the hot dog feed, the taco feed and the spaghetti feed that were sponsored and also raised money for Make a Wish. You name it, everything including the t-shirts the program, the auction and the candy passed out during the breaks all went to the Make a Wish $100,000 check. I had so much fun watching my friends orchestrate and put on the largest event of its kind in the world! I can’t wait until next year!

Well, the hopes and prayers of the local racing world were dashed a blow this past week when Scott Burns of Dirt Entertainment (I.E. URA) closed the doors indefinitely of both the Orange Show Stadium and Victorville Raceway. What started out to be one man with a dream to take sprint car racing back to the good old days, ended up on the cutting floor with him too far in debt without enough support to continue his cause. There are many reasons for this to happen and I for one am disappointed in the failure of his dream.

I had hoped that the URA would be successful and help grow the local sprint car world in both cars and fans without killing USAC, or 410’s, or Perris, but it was not to be. Scott had two helpers in Don Flanders and Walt Boyd who helped the start-up to this venture and the bumps along the way became boulders not to be scaled in the end. Scott is a retired sprint car driver away from our world for a number of years doing some motocross promoting as his son AJ raced and they worked together to do it. When he found out he could get Victorville back in 2011, his first stumbling block hit him after he was given a USAC Saturday race date in July of that year. After gearing up to put on this race by spending money, getting more dirt and working hard to make the place ready, the date got changed to a Sunday afternoon and it was all downhill after that, even though he was determined to make a go of his new association and ideas. He created a board of directors with experienced race people to help make it happen. He did many of the right things, but ultimately he did it his way and was hit hard with the results.

That first race was a failure at the gate, partly due to free pit passes for all the race teams and the small fan attendance that Sunday. Whatever, he moved on with high hopes. When 2012 came along, Scott added the Orange Show Stadium to his promotions. I thought that place would be a home run, and it was for the 350 fans that showed up for the two events there. When he leased OSS he put dirt down and had new fencing coming, but plans didn’t go well. Don Flanders passing away hurt him more than anything as Don was all in on the Unlimited Sprint Car theory the URA presented. Don was committed to the OSS renovation, but he left no will with his plans spelled out when he was gone and Scott was forced to find other options to make it happen. The new fencing promised went the way of an argument over the scoreboard that had no controlling gear and the resulting 48 hours of scrambling to put up the minimum fencing wasn’t even done totally for the first event. Posts on the walls had to be covered with tires to make it safer for the racers, and so on, and so on. There was so much to do and the first race went off with mixed emotions on both sides of the fence, racers and fans with Scotty in the middle. Plenty of cars supported the URA that night, but limited fans in the 8000 seat stadium made me wonder what would it take to fill the place? He paid the racers cash that night as promised, but that would be hard to repeat after the only URA event staged at another track where the purse was not paid by that promoter and there is no word if that will ever happen. How could that happen? Search me; this is life as it happens, not what we plan. It was the fatal blow to Dirt Entertainment plans as it signaled the end of his efforts.

Scott did an enormous amount of research and talked to “smart” racing people in the beginning and came up with his own ideas on what would work in promoting his first love, 410 sprint cars. You had to hand it to him for his efforts as he went on with everything he had to make it work, and even though some said it wouldn’t work; he went forward towards his goals. Now sadly, it has come to this, the end for URA and what he imagined.

Scott had a good idea but needed more backing and way more paying fans, and that ultimately was his final downfall, no spectator gate, no racing. It was not to happen apparently, and today I still think Orange Show Stadium is a great racing venue. My views on URA was pretty simple with me thinking success by URA had to benefit racing in the Southland and particularly at nearby Perris, with more cars and fans getting involved with both tracks benefitting? Was I wrong? We will never know, because URA never really got off the ground in spite of several attempts at providing other than USAC non wing 410 racing? I just thought it would help to make better our low car counts and less than good spectator counts. I know most tracks are suffering with car counts and fans dwindling in these times, but the just completed Trophy Cup proves once again that special event races are the successful ones with weekly shows not getting the attendance to keep it going and growing.

I am sad for Scotty, the URA and all those hard working people who looked to give us more 410 racing in this year of only 22 races coming down from the years of 35 to 45 events a year. I’m also sad for what I thought he could accomplish, but it just means we must move on and find new ways to make it better. We must grow our sport or it won’t be a sport any more. Think about that! Is there anyone out there with a plan …….. that works … …… and will come forward…….. to make it happen???? Not likely!

Another sad thing to report is the once proud and successful Kittle Racing Team has now officially closed their doors and parked the operation. They emptied out the race shop and disbursed all the cars, equipment and hauler to whereever and they are done and gone fishing. Crew chief Randy is off in Nashville, Tenn watching Hee Haw and hockey, Jimbo is working on Steve Watt’s race cars while trying to empty a loca brewery, Paul is helping the little red sucker while residing on a mountain in Falbrooke, Already retired driver Danny is doing trash can service for Santa Maria, the last driver, Ronnie Gardner, has kiled it in midget racing this year, and the Kittle brothers are in limbo. Brother Gary still has visions of running his 360 and says they will be back. Brother Brian has a shot of Crown and a cigar in his hands for his weekly family barbeques. Alas, the team is down for the count for now. Me, I’m sad to be missing the fun times with the team, but will have fond memories of the trips and good times as they shared a little space for me on their road to the races. Just another of the teams gone in our dwindling list of race cars available.

Now for some good news! The Wagtimes/Lafond Hard Charger Award is on the move. We now have over $600 and a bottle of specially labeled Crown Royal whiskey ready to be awarded to a deserving hard charging local CRA racer on Saturday night at the Annual Oval Nationals November 2nd at Perris Auto Speedway. Steve Lafond, the originator of the Lafond Jar of Change that was presented each year at the Wagsdash, has added his collection of $$$$ to my paltry $140 of loose coins and we are anxiously awaiting to see who will add to the total, both at Canyon Speedway this weekend and at the Ovals next week. Look for me as I will be adding the sales of my new Wagtimes T-shirt to the pot as we try to reach last year’s $2500 we gave away. If the total goes high enough to split, we will award other categories like hard luck driver, shiniest tires, best appearing crew etc. etc just like the old Wagsbuck days. So it’s up to you Wagtimer’s, or others who like what we do, to meet my challenge and make this a worthy hard charger award for this year!

It seems like the year flew by again, and it feels like we are just getting started, but no, we are about to the end of the racing year. Imagine that, only 4 racing days left before the long break to next season. Now might be the time to get out to view a race in person for some of you that we have missed this season. The Ovals have added a 360 show on Thursday night, so come early and stay late, the year will end in a boom! See you all there with your change in tow, bring it to me!!!

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