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November 6, 2010

By Ken Wagner

Jeff Walker’s race cars are used to running up front and the 2010 edition of the Oval Nationals at Perris Auto Speedway was no exception. Having won here with Dave Darland in the past, it wasn’t surprising when Walker’s driver Chris Windom lined up on the front row and disappeared when the green flag flew. Never challenged in 40 laps, Chris did what he knows how to do as he slipped thru traffic with ease and won his first prestigious Oval Nationals final along with his first CRA win. He was 7th in both prelims which put him up front in the big one. He is 6th in the National USAC points so it certainly wasn’t his first win. He stood on the podium with a wreath around his neck smiling and holding a tall trophy, but it was the first year without the awesome white eagle version.

For my pics 11/04/10 Click here. 11/05/10 Click here.11/06/10 Click here. For Mrs Wags Click here. For Doug Allen's work Click here.

This traditional 3 day event was the most contested in recent years with outrageous action in every heat and main, right up until the final on Saturday night. The three days showcased intensity, desire, talent and a high level of energy as the best drivers in the land converged on Perris Auto Speedway to ring the bell and make history in the world of non-wing lore. History tells us that the PAS track after two nights of racing is tough to make even close to perfect, and this year was no exception. A combination of the unusual heat and high desert winds made the track tough to pass on the final night that featured a new format of three heats plus a 40 lap feature.

Blessed with at least two grooves on the prelim nights, the drivers did exceptional things as they all fought to go to the front and that gave the crowd plenty to cheer about. There were slide jobs and there were slam jobs, there were passes high and low, there was some wheel banging here and there, there were wheels up all around and it had the look and feel of what it was, a real championship battle. It all came together as the best from the West met the best from the Midwest, and the battle was on. The USAC National crowd brought about 18 cars of the 51 that started on Thursday and the 33 that greeted them wanted to mix it up. It is no secret the mid-west boys run more often and feature some of the finest drivers and pretty much dominated the results, but the West has a few hot racers as well and this year’s event was very contested.

With more cars than expected at this year‘s event, and with the economy killing many sprint car teams, it was a great weekend of racing, but not enough fans packing the place to make it right for the promoters and the racers who came to put on a show. The prelim nights were missing a lot of regular fans as you could get a good seat with no trouble. It was better the last night as more fans made the drive out to Perris. Still, it was another great racing event and yet missed by too many. The list of winners of this race is very impressive with Jimmy Sills winning the opener (1996), Rip Williams (1997), Rodney Argo (1998), Rickie Gaunt (1999), Tony Jones (2000), Bud Kaeding, (2001) Bud Kaeding (2002), Cory Kruseman (2003), Cory Kruseman (2004), Dave Darland (2005), Dave Darland (2006), Bud Kaeding (2007), Jesse Hockett (2008), Damion Gardner (2009) and now Chris Windom (2010).

Thursday started off with Matt Mitchell setting fast time at 16.388 on the quick track. Bobby East showed up in a no frills # 5 and was 2nd quick with many not recognizing him on dirt. There were 5 racy heats with 8 cars each after a C main took everybody that didn’t make the top 40 in qualifying (11 minus Greg Bragg who broke a motor before qualifying) for a ride to push 4 into the back of the semi. The heats were really good as everyone was looking to make the main quickly and the action showed it.

In the Semi David Cardey made what appeared to be a very dusty infield pass of two cars to get a transfer to the main where he finished 6th with a good drive. It would be his last look at racing as he blew a motor in hot laps on Friday and was parked for the duration. Friday morning a huge tractor tire was sitting in that infield passing spot to make a point. They also cut the track down there to make it obvious where the track ended and the infield started, and the offending tire was removed before the racing started that night.

Danny Sheridan led the first three laps of the feature before his Jacob’s Ladder bent mysteriously and he went backward from there to finish 14th with some hard running by Showtime. Bud Kaeding took over from there until Levi Jones chased him down and went on to win after a pretty spirited battle between those two, it was all good. Matt Mitchell grabbed third after some fast moves, but he would swap a motor the next day and then crash the car in qualifying, so had to unload a spare car to run that night.

Other problems saw Tony Jones having motor problems as he finished out of the main and didn’t take a provisional? He pretty well suffered from motor ails all weekend. A serious crash involved Dennis Howell when he got upside down after being forced into the wall in the Semi and destroyed the car. Only the motor was salvageable and the team went home to the shop after the race to get another chassis and rebuild all night, and returned to finish the weekend. R J Johnson flipped in his heat and had a lot of work to do to get ready for Friday. Marcus Niemela, a driver from Finland who runs VRA in Ventura, made his debut in 410’s and flipped during qualifications, but landed on his wheels and tried to move with a busted up car and stopped.

Friday had Bobby East getting fast time at 16.534. This night had really exceptional racing as it was do or die for some. Darren Hagen, the stand-in for Blake Miller while his face heals, got upside down and flew high in the air then landed hard on the inside front stretch K-rail and was transported to the hospital. He has a broken back, but should recover with rehab. No word on if surgery is a needed to repair his vertebrae. Nic Faas drove the car on Saturday. Robert Ballou and Dave Darland got together in the Semi and both went to the pits after an errant slide job executed by Ballou.

The main had some outstanding racing with Levi Jones taking the lead from the front row and moving out until Damion Gardner came racing by with his left front wheel high in the air out of the 2nd turn every lap. Jones led the first 8 laps, then Damion for 3, Jones 1, Damion 8, Jones 1 and then Damion took it back again on lap 23. Awesome action with every corner contested until “it happened! They had raced cleanly almost side by side most of the race with Levi charging hard on the top and Damion running low in one and two and high in three and four every lap. With a few laps to go, Damion was running the same line that had been working for him when Levi changed it up and tried to run under Damion going thru turn one into two. Unfortunately when he moved from behind him to challenge, they banged wheels and Levi stopped with a flat. It depends on whose side you were on, but I saw Levi trying to catch and pass the leader and ran into him, while others saw Damion cut down on him. Regardless, that great race was over and Damion went on to win. It was unfortunate that Levi was so incensed he came back with new rubber and went right to Damion’s car and bumped him enough that he was black flagged. Other than that, it was a very special race night.

Saturday turned out really windy and although it wasn’t in the 90’s temp wise like the prior two days, the sun was still burning hot on the race surface. There were 14 cars gone when the final night started. The track looked in great shape with plenty of moisture after a lot of preparation efforts, but this would be a very, how shall I say this, uneventful night of racing. In trying to give the fans more than just a boring Semi and main event, they tried to spice it up and changed the Semi to three qualifying races. They took the 26 cars not in the seeded 12 already in the main and ran them straight up. It looked like it should provide more racing, but it didn’t turn out that way. I can’t remember a pass in the three qualifiers, but there might have been one, it was that lackluster. They were lined up in order of points earned and they pretty much stayed that way with the top 4 advancing on. The track needed some more laps, but that was not going to happen as the 40 lap A main was up next. The track prep was exceptional as we haven’t had a Saturday night with moisture left in the track after two nights of racing since this event started. It traditionally went dry slick, but not this time! Unfortunately, the teams didn’t have an answer for it.

The Main event lined up from points earned during the two nights before for the big one: On the pole was Tracy Hines followed by Chris Windom, Mike Spencer, Bobby East, Damion Gardner, Bud Kaeding, Levi Jones, Jon Stanbrough, Kyle Larson, Blake Fitzpatrick, Danny Sheridan and Matt Mitchell. They were followed by the 12 transfers from the 3 qualifiers plus 3 provisional starters at the back. Chris Windom took the lead and never looked back for 40 laps, and that was that. It wasn’t without excitement as Damion “The Demon” worked it hard and made very difficult passes to get into 2nd place, but without a yellow late, he had no chance with at least a straightaway between himself and the winner at the end. A few others made a few spots forward and a few made a few spots backwards, but other than the Demon, no one was making much noticeable movement forward.

Keith Bloom Jr received the Jesse Hockett Memorial Award for being the hard charger on Saturday night when he finished 13th, and also was the hard charger on Friday night. Jerry Coons Jr was the Thursday night hard charger.

There were a lot of stories thru the weekend as teams tried to keep up with the pressure of competing and continually adjusting their cars to work with the changing track conditions. Some teams left early when they ran out of motors and/or equipment. Matt Mitchell and Tony Jones, who pitted next to each other, both had to acquire new motors to continue. The consensus was there was less tire wear than usual on the cars, so that cost was down for the racers budget.

Overall, it was a great weekend and the prelims proved once again where all the excitement was, when you only come the last night, you miss too much. The hustle and bustle began on Wednesday night with a practice that was free to the fans. The traveling teams took advantage to get a head start on getting used to the track. All three race days saw crews in early to clean up and tweak their cars, so a lot of activity drew attention from pit walkers that were camping on the grounds. Each day they kicked everyone out around noon and with the three day pit passes they only had to go back in when it was time.

Outside in the pit area, the campers were packed into the camping area and things went on and on. Fireside chats with some fire pits going at night, food cooking and general visitation activity made the little “city” very entertaining to wander thru. After the races some would wander with their libations and party a little. I even saw the bean bag game going on during the three days.

Young 17 year old J J Hughes used to sit in the grandstands near us as he was growing up. We saw him run at Pomona in the little cars before the family moved back east. He started racing sprint cars and made his first trip back home to race a good one. He was 15th in Friday’s main and just missed Saturday’s by a spot.

The Moosemobile car with Greg Bragg in the seat blew a motor right away on Thursday and never really recovered, yet the team worked hard all three days. We got our first look at Blake Fitzpatrick as he came out with one motor and one chassis to run the Ovals. Hall of famer Bubby Jones guides the young 19 year old driver Blake, who is dating Bubby’s daughter Emmy. Plus they had Jake Argo doing the heavy work on the car, so he did very well. On the first night Blake came from the back of his heat to win effortlessly, and then ran 5th in the main. He was running strong again on Friday in the top 5 when he caught the berm and tangled with the wall. He pulled off in the Saturday main when the car began smoking, but we knew he was here!

Local boys who did well against the onslaught of invaders were Mike Spencer finishing in 4th, Matt Mitchell 8th and Danny Sheridan 9th for top ten finishes that were very good. Jace VanderWeerd ran a great 14th on the last night. His brother Richard was “driven thru” by another car following him on the first night in his heat, and he missed the transfer because of it. He missed by one spot of making the main with his brother. The rest of our hero’s that made the race went out early for one malady or other.

The Lightning Sprints were fun to watch, especially when you saw young Kevin Michnowicz come from the 8th row to pass the leader late in the race only having to go back on a yellow. He still got 2nd on a great ride. They have new management and are looking to get sponsors for next year to grow larger for the future.

My bride and I spent the weekend in a rented motorhome parked in the Kittle Motorsports Kamp ground area. To say it was an eventful weekend would be understated as lots went on with food, drink and visiting partiers dropping by. It was difficult for the crew to get to the pit and back, but it got handled and all was well. I only left the area briefly for one store run, and didn’t have to travel back and forth from a sleeping place. It was a little quiet out there, more than usual, but we slept well and had a great time.

With two races to go, Mike Spencer has the driver championship clinched with a 300 plus point lead over Showtime Sheridan. Danny has a 73 point lead over 3rd place Matt Mitchell who is 3 points ahead of Cory Kruseman. Blake Miller has a lock on 5th place, but spots 6 thru 10 are only 36 points apart, so some changes could take place there!

Tulare is one of the best tracks on the CRA schedule, but the traveling crowd is small going up there. Maybe a one day show will encourage some to make a day of it and not have to rent a motel, so we will see. It is a National USAC point’s event, so some of the Mid-west traveler will stay around while others are already gone home. It could be a great race, so plan on going.

There are maybe five 2011 Wagtimes calendars left with 2 XXL hooded Wagtimes sweatshirts, and a few Large, XL and 2XL t-shirts left. E-mail me if you want one as they are going fast, ha ha ha! I am planning on having a Wagsdash in 2011, but don’t know when and where yet. I am thinking about what’s best as the Wagtimer’s want to do it again!

Year ago I asked Hot Rod Lynn Anderson, a multi time Wagsdash competitor himself, to create a “Wagtimes” helmet to auction off. I didn’t bid against the winner at that time (Randy Shiosaki) but was always sad I didn’t. I have been in his home and seen it several times, so the thought that I needed my own spurred me to ask Lynn if he would do one more for me, but I’d keep it! Lynn delivered it this weekend and it is terrific! When asked by a close friend what I would do with it, I just smiled. I just wanted my own.

I have loved sprint car racing with my every fiber since the very first time I ventured to Ascot back in the early 70’s and sat in the grandstands there. Drag racing had my total interest until Lions Drag Strip closed. Then, something changed drastically and I was committed to what I think is the best racing going. I went from a casual excited fan in the grandstands just watching the exciting racing exploits of Jimmy Oskie, Dean Thompson, Bubby Jones, Buster Venard, Lealand McSpadden and many more legendary drivers circling thru Ascot and other tracks I ventured out to see them at. I started going into the pits, started writing a Xmas letter and then got involved by working for the CRA, writing for several racing trades, establishing Wagtimes and publishing a newsletter, then adding the Wagsworld web site, collecting over $525,000 of Wagsbucks for the racers, organizing the Wagsdash for 20 years. And now at this point I am still an enthused fan watching and covering the CRA 410’s with great interest. I have tried everything I can think of to encourage people to come racing and am dumbfounded with what I see today in our sport. We have to find a way around the economic problem our country faces and grow our sport. I must be convinced it’s the best there is or I would pass on the 500 mile trips to Perris and longer to other CRA venues and watch TV at home. I wish I had the answer.

I hope Don Kazarian, the 410 guy he is, finds a way to solve his dilemma of short car counts and small crowds, and takes us into the future with our beloved 410’s. His interview with Surf n Sprint was enlightening and hopefully informative for us who don’t understand why 360’s is bandied around as the wave of the future. Are 410’s done? I hope not, but who is stepping up to save us? Who is going out of their way to support what we all love? Who is working on our future? How do we fix it? If I only knew, I would tell all. Since I don’t know the answer, it looks like it is up to you and me, so…………………………………………….! If I don’t win the big lotto, then you are going to have to help me by getting involved. We can do it, and if we don’t? What will happen to the thunder and lightning we love? When Ascot closed, probably over 90 % of the fans quit going racing. That is what will happen if we all don’t pull together! SCSCF Southern California Sprint Car Fans, where are you! Maybe it’s time to form a fan club and work towards building a fan base, who knows???

Look for me at Tulare and the Glenn Howard final race as the season is all but done. It has been a short but eventful season and now all focus is on next year. OUT!

11/04/10 FEATURE: (25 laps) 1. Levi Jones, 2. Bud Kaeding, 3. Matt Mitchell, 4. Mike Spencer, 5. Blake Fitzpatrick, 6. David Cardey, 7. Chris Windom, 8. Jon Stanbrough, 9. Dave Darland, 10. Damion Gardner, 11. Kyle Larson, 12. Bobby East, 13. Tracy Hines, 14. Danny Sheridan, 15. Darren Hagen, 16. Jerry Coons Jr., 17. Cory Kruseman, 18. Rip Williams, 19. Bryan Clauson, 20. Jace VanderWeerd, 21. Cody Williams, 22. Johnathon Henry, 23. Greg Alexander, 24. Rickie Gaunt, 25. Justin Grant, 26. John Aden, 27. Austin Williams, 28. Henry Clarke.

FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-3 Sheridan, Laps 4-22 Kaeding, Laps 23-25 Jones. 11/05/10 FEATURE: (25 laps) 1. Damion Gardner, 2. Bobby East, 3. Tracy Hines, 4. Bud Kaeding, 5. Bryan Clauson, 6. Kyle Larson, 7. Chris Windom, 8. Mike Spencer, 9. Jon Stanbrough, 10. Danny Sheridan, 11. Justin Grant, 12. Casey Shuman, 13. Keith Bloom, 14. Cory Kruseman, 15. J.J. Hughes, 16. Rickie Gaunt, 17. Casey Riggs, 18. Jace VanderWeerd, 19. Austin Williams, 20. Levi Jones, 21. Blake Fitzpatrick, 22. Jerry Coons Jr., 23. Richard VanderWeerd, 24. Henry Clarke, 25. Seth Wilson, 26. Tony Jones, 27. Greg Bragg. NT

**Mitchell flipped during qualifications. Hagen flipped during the first heat and was transported to a local hospital for treatment. Darland and Ballou flipped during the semi. Fitzpatrick flipped during the feature.

FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-8 Jones, Laps 9-11 D.Gardner, Lap 12 Jones, Laps 13-21 D.Gardner, Lap 22 Jones, Laps 23-25 D.Gardner.

11/06/10 FEATURE: (40 laps) 1. Chris Windom (#11 Walker), 2. Damion Gardner (#71 DG), 3. Bobby East (#5 Klatt), 4. Mike Spencer, (#50 Chaffin), 5. Jon Stanbrough (# 53 Fox), 6. Bud Kaeding (#29 BK), 7. Levi Jones (#20 Stewart), 8. Matt Mitchell (#37x Mitchell), 9. Danny Sheridan (#18 Kittle), 10. Dave Darland, 11. Bryan Clauson, 12. Casey Shuman, 13. Keith Bloom, 14. Jace VanderWeerd, 15. Casey Riggs, 16. Justin Grant, 17. Jerry Coons Jr., 18. Henry Clarke, 19. Kyle Larson (#38 Crossno), 20. Blake Fitzpatrick (#10F Fitzpatrick), 21. Rickie Gaunt, 22. Tracy Hines (#4 Hines), 23. Johnathon Henry, 24. Cody Williams, 25. Nic Faas, 26. Cory Kruseman, 27. Austin Williams. NT

**C.Williams flipped during the second qualifying race. C.Williams flipped during the feature. FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-40 Windom. NEW USAC AMSOIL NATIONAL SPRINT CAR STANDINGS: 1-Levi Jones-2,029; 2-Damion Gardner-1,937; 3-Bryan Clauson-1,908; 4-Jerry Coons Jr-1,705; 5-Tracy Hines-1,671; 6-Chris Windom-1,662; 7-Henry Clarke-1,285; 8-Dave Darland-1,277; 9-Shane Hmiel-1,080; 10-Jon Stanbrough-1,043.

NEW AMSOIL USAC DIRT SPRINT CAR STANDINGS: 1-Levi Jones-1,716; 2-Damion Gardner-1,577; 3- Bryan Clauson-1,538; 4-Chris Windom-1,406; 5-Jerry Coons Jr-1,349.

NEW AMSOIL USAC/CRA SPRINT CAR STANDINGS: 1-Mike Spencer-1,356; 2-Danny Sheridan-1,023; 3-Matt Mitchell-916; 4-Cory Kruseman-914; 5-Blake Miller-770; 6-Greg Bragg-621; 7-Tony Jones-610; 8-David Cardey-602; 9-Austin Williams-600; 10-Cody Williams-587.

NEXT USAC AMSOIL NATIONAL & CRA SPRINT CAR RACE: November 13 – Tulare, CA – Thunderbowl Raceway – “Pacific Coast Nationals”

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