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November 12, 2014

By Ken Wagner

Three nights of racing on any track is difficult to keep it heavy and provide Perris ďSo Cal typeĒ racy conditions, but there was definitely an air of Indy out there each night as the track turned too slick for my tastes. The Indy invaders loved it because it was just like home to them and the results showed it when and unlikely winner Robert Ballou dominated both nights of the Oval Nationals for a total of a $ 25,000 jackpot! I donít know who would have picked him, but Ballou was just flat fast the last part of the 40 lapper and as hard as Mike Spencer tried, he just couldnít keep the little red sucker in front for the brass ring for the second time here. It was good racing, nobody can deny that.

For my pics from the Ovals Click here to view. For my pics from the Hall of Fame banquet Click here to view. For Steve Lafond foto's pics Click here to view! For the Doug Allen Photos click here to view.

Opening night Thursday saw 46 cars going at it in what turned out to be a very racy night and if you didnít know they were 360 engines in those sprinters, you would think it was a normal 410 show. I was impressed and even though I am not a 360 ďguyĒ, I realize the racers need to keep sharp and with the small CRA 22 race schedule, making for a lot of quiet Saturday nights, so they need the 360 action to keep in shape.

This yearís version of the Ovals might have had some of the nastiest looking crashes in my memory starting out with newlywed Brody Roaís tumble that punctured a lung. He was in house on Saturday to tell his story, but it wasnít a good one as he was in the hospital for two days straining to get out!

In addition, Marcus Niemelaís wild toad experience was absolutely one of the worst I have ever seen when his car was moving fast down the front stretch and broke an axle, spit off the wheel and without slowing, quickly rocketed into a high flying flip that was so sudden and explosive looking, it took my breath away. A tall top of the fence wire was the only thing keeping him in the park as he bounced off the wall and came down on all four wheels on the track. His cage was crushed in and the seat moved forward to trap him in there. A lot of time went by as the strong EMTís looked him over before the cage was cut and they hauled him out. The car was dumpster material as he went off to the hospital. Marcus was later released with no reported injuries, but he was sure to be sore with a bad memory to keep him thinking about this Oval National experience.

The championship for this 360 group had Austin Liggett, Troy Rutherford and Matt Mitchell leading the points in that order when this night started. Unfortunately the top two both crashed out and Mitchell was left with the championship before the night was over. Congrats to Matt and his crew for a great job all year!

There was great action in the 6 heats run with only one incident of note to report. A J Bender has improved a lot this year and he came in with the hopes of doing well in the Ovals. A J and his dad really work hard getting the car prepared for every race. This young student has little time to do anything but go to school, work his job and get the car ready for racing when time is available. He was leading his heat with a few laps to go when Mr. Kevin Thomas Jr slid him and knocked his front end to the side, dropping him 4 spots and out of a direct transfer to the main. He was very fortunate he didnít crash, but I am sure thatís not what he was thinking! He said it was the first time he wanted to go ďget some whip assĒ, but he cooled off. Mr. Thomas is a very good racer with plenty of skill and didnít need to do that to the kid, being the faster car and better driver and all. No AJ didnít make the main, but came back the next night knowing he missed a chance to do well with the 360ís when he couldnít overcome this setback in the semi.

The name C J Leary is one fast driver to take seriously in future races! This young 18 year old driver from Indiana was spectacular at times the whole weekend and but for crash on Friday and a flat tire on Saturday, he might have swept the whole weekend! He opened my eyes with his speed and skill shown every time he hit the track. He was fast timer at 16.416 on Thursday as well as Friday at 16.295. He was a blur at times as he ran second in his heat and roared to the front in the 30 lap main. He made a pass for the lead that looked like it was an attempt to launch for the moon, but when he landed on the low slider that bounced over the berm, he was in control and pulled away for that win. He is very impressive!

The feature saw Bryan Clauson take the lead on the first restart and hold on until C J Leary made his move on lap 20 to run away with the victory. Jake Swanson did a good job getting on the podium behind those two for third. R J Johnson had a slow qualifying time so started in the back, but managed a 7th by the end. That fast Ford worked hard all night.

Friday saw 55 cars qualify with C J Leary quick again as I mentioned earlier. The racers put on 5 racy heats before the 30 lap final. Robert Ballou qualified 9th and easily transferred to the main before he drew the pole for the main. There he checked out so far ahead, that many around me thought that Dave Darland was leading until Brady Bacon jumped into second. Many they still didnít realize Ballou had checked out for the win until the checkered flag flew!

The 2014 CRA Champion, take that USAC, Damion Gardner was flying in his heat until he went soaring up into the wall and stuck it up there. It happened so suddenly and happened when he did one of those very fast slide job attempts going into turn three where his car seemed to bounce up off the tall inside berm and instantly flipped up and over his target car and then he hit the fence and didnít come back down. Later he actually climbed up the fence and unhooked something to help in bucket loading the car off the top of the fence. That silver bullet was battered, so they unloaded the back-up car and he started in the back of the semi to run up to 9th. He took a provisional in the main and finished 16th on a track which was not like the usual heavy ones we see so often here, or me thinks he would have done better. The smoking engine early in the main didnít help but a red flag gave the team an opportunity to get it stopped. The Demon has his second championship in a row and now is a three time CRA champ. USAC will applaud their National champ when that is done next week, but until then they will ignore the CRA boyís accomplishments, again!

There was more qualifying on Saturday, less the top 6 in points from Friday, so the track got its slick track deal going again. The Demon changed motors and set quick time at 16.577 on his way to try and catch up. Still, 47 cars did time trials and 4 heats and a silly super dash followed. Dave Darland won that useless 6 lapper after a brief battle with Mike Spencer. After winning that little doosie, Darland had his choice of inside or outside on the start of the main and surprisingly he took the pole, but it didnít make any difference.

Unfortunately, time was not of importance on the night as the feature didnít even start until after curfew? Plenty of interviews and dancing and Turkey night Agajanian stuff made for some long breaks. These are the kind of delays that allow a potty break or trip to the concessions. I bet the bar was busy during those breaks because the crowd kept trolling all night! That crowd was much larger on Saturday than the two prior days, but still not capacity like it should be. Crap, race fans, this is the culmination of the year with the best drivers in the land on our turf, yet our fans are not traveling like they used to and so they are missing out. Not enough of the local So Cal fans drive here, and that amazes me that they wonít drive out thru the dastardly traffic. You can plan ahead you know! So what if we donít have the best drivers locally like in years past, we still get to see the best sprint car drivers from all over the country at the Ovals, and it should be worth it to make the time to attend.

The big 40 lap main event started with Triple D and Spencer on the front row with Leary and Ballou following and Stanbrough and Bacon next with the reigning CRA champ Damion 10th. I picked Leary to win as he was a bullet all three days, but ÖÖÖ stuff happens. Darland rode to the top on the start; while the little red sucker jumped down to get the lead on the bottom as they switched spots. Spencer worked hard for 5 laps until Leary flew by on the top and looked good to go. Spencer grabbed the lead back with some strong moves a lap later and gave it up to Leary the next lap where C J pulled away until lap 20 when the little red sucker grabbed it again for 11 laps. It was pretty good watching that battle.

A restart happened next and Leary was poised to get back in front, but he had trouble with the cushion and nearly lost it, dropping back a few spots as Ballou surged into the lead. Mike did everything he could to get the win, one that would have been tremendously popular in Bruce Bromme Jrís memory, yet it was still a Bruce like charge that got Mike 2nd place in this great run for him. I am sure Bruce was in the cockpit yelling at him, but it was not to be, as the surprising Ballou grabbed the $20,000 jackpot and the party was on for him and his team. Spencer and the Ron Chaffin Team did a great job and the locals were proud of them.

There were other locals who did great like Ryan Bernal, Damion Gardner and Richard Vander Weerd who were 5th, 6th and 7th all running great! Ryan ran a quiet race up from his 10th starting spot while Richard was strong coming from 9th and making great moves to keep the Indiana boys behind them. Nic Faas, Geoff Ensign and Garrett Hansen all crashed out keeping them from having good finishes as the CRA battled hard against the favored invaders.

Over the year Steve Lafond and I tried to get his annual Jar of Change filled for the hard charger award he presents each year. It was a tough battle as my not being there every race didnít help. But thru the help of the Dils, the Herdrichís and a few other Wagtimers, and the sale of Wagtimes Tís, we filled the jar to $ 1026 to hand to Damion Gardner who was thrilled to get the bucks and the bottle. He said he was excited to finally get some of our money after being ignored all these years as a not so low buck driver. He earned it and appeared happy to get the Wagtimes/Lafond CRA hard Charger Award for 2014! Hopefully I can get all my ďfriendsĒ to start saving their coins now, and not forgetting to give them up to me next year! I had several fans hand me bags of coins as some people are paying attention! Thank you for supporting the Lafond Jar of Change that has gone on for 20 plus years, it was another big success!

Other highs and lows for drivers, with many having it both ways. Logan Williams ran good but seemed to find trouble around him everywhere he rolled. After Fridays flip in the semi, he worked hard to get a different car and motor together for Saturday. He missed a transfer from his heat and was just short of one in the semi. After a stellar Thursday podium in his 360, Jake Swanson hit the skids on Friday night. He ran 3rd in his heat and started the main lookiní good. Unfortunately he was the first car out of the non-stop 9 minute plus feature. Saturday something bad was wrong with the 410, so they decided to run the 360. Jake was 5th quick and missed the transfer to the main so ran the semi and got to watch the main when he didnít make it in. He is looking really good and I expect a lot out of him next year!

Of the invaders that didnít seem to perform well over the weekend, several stands out in my mind. Tracy Hines, Kevin Thomas Jr, Brady Bacon, Darren Hagen, Chase Stockin and Christopher Bell are all super strong, yet didnít seem to be up to their normal standards? These are some of the weekly stars that always do well but had their problems this year. After what Bell did at Calistoga, I really thought he would be in the mix. My guess is they will all be tough at Canyon Raceway this coming weekend. With the USAC National championship to be decided at Canyon, I always figure the peopleís choice Dave Darland will prevail, but Brian Clauson and the leader Brady Bacon will have a lot to say about that as he has a 53 point lead over Clauson and 78 on Darland. Itís not likely that Bryan can make up the ground in 2 races, but we shall see.

Nic Faas drove a Matt Mitchell owned car and just missed the main on Friday then flipped on Saturday in the main after showing some great speed on both nights. Glad to see him back in the seat as he is one of our best, so hope Santa finds him a ride for next year, if he wants it.

This Oval Nationals was way different this year for me in many ways. First there was no Wags Mule in the pits for the first time since I rolled it out any years ago, as I have sold it. That meant I wasnít tooling around giving rides, carrying stuff and generally in the activity in the pits. Instead, a new smaller one seat electric three wheeler has replaced the mule because walking distances are an experience I donít need anymore. This thing goes on the back of Terryís SUV and travels easy instead of the trailer adventures in the past. Still, I only made two casual short visits out to the pits in the mornings before they cleared it, just to visit with friends because I am retired! Instead of the long pit days of old, my time was spent in the campground relaxing mostly with Carl Lattner and his big group of race fan friends that included his daughter Teresa, her boyfriend, Danny Fariaís dad, plus more who came to eat and visit the afternoonís away before heading up to the grandstands to watch some racing. It was different, but fun and entertaining and such a change for me. I still felt worn out when the weekend was done! Thanks Carl for the hospitality, the food and the fun. Also big thanks to Sonia and John Duffy for hosting me at their Hemet House and allowing me a great sleeping experience in that soft bed they have in the guest room.

My overall thoughts for the three days was good, but as hard as they worked the track, keeping it heavy was just not in the cards. I hate slick track racing, much preferring the wetter track that Perris normally has, but the racing was still great. The clear blue sky weather was also special, but a few clouds during the day might have helped the track. The desert winds didnít make it easy to keep the track wet either. The night was too drawn out with so much to accomplish over the airwaves, making it a late night for all. Itís always sad when itís over, especially when you travel alone, but the drive home Sunday was easy and the house full of family to greet me was normal as watching the kids do their thing is special.

With the Ovals in the books, thatís my racing for the year. My total of 11 days of thunder and lightning is a record low for me, but it is what it is. It is great seeing my friends when I go racing and next year plans to be a lot like this year. I will do the Chili Bowl plus the Calistoga weekend, the Trophy Cup and the Ovals for sure. Ventura and Santa Maria would be targets and maybe a few more, but we will see when the schedule comes out. Mrs Wags and I will be at the Arizona Hall of Fame Banquet on Thursday of this week, but will head home on Friday. Iím looking forward to seeing you all along the way.

New additions 11/17

Hereís some added thoughts after the Canyon race: I canít believe it is almost a flip of the coin to see who wins at Canyon each race. This once racy place has turned into a one groove track that if you start outside row one, you are almost guaranteed winning! Itís not that simple, but since I wasnít there, I can only read the stats and surmise the results. There were no passes for the lead either night. At Perris there were 5 passes for the lead and 3 different leaders!Trust me I didnít hang around after the Hall of Fame night at the Arizona Motorsports Museum because I felt it wasnít worth the expense to watch a follow the leader two nights it turned out to be. Forgive me but Iíve been there and seen that too many times. Only 8 CRA travelers made the trip over to run and that has to be a record low! Only 2 from So Cal made the feature so we didnít perform well on the road again. It wasnít much better at the Ovals with 4 in on Saturday as the Indiana invaders just steamrolled our local guys. What does that say, itís obvious, they race more and are better at it.

One positive is that Ellen Ellis realized a longtime dream of getting a ride in a two seat sprint car driven by Lealand McSpadden. Rumor has it he gave her a very fast ride and she was thrilled. I guess he can still drive and donít we all wish for a ride with him!

On a serious note, please pray for Mark Thrasher as he underwent surgery to remove some melanoma on November 17. It isnít his first rodeo with this malady as others were removed before this. He is a big part of the Arizona racing history and needs your help. He is a special person to all of us who know him.

The induction of 5 more special people into the Motorsports Hall of Fame at the Arizona Open Wheel Racing Museum was fun as many dignitaries were in the house to watch the Arizona drivers get their just rewards for their history. Jimmy Oskie, Shane Carson, Robert Ballou, Jake Swanson, Jon Stanbrough, Dave Darland and many more famous racing people hung out and visited with the likes of me and all the visitors during the night. It is way cool to rub elbows with them and listen to the stories. The Museum just gets better each time I visit and I suspect growth will continue to happen as Steve Stroud has done something none of us ever expected to see after we watched the Keith Hall closet unload the history for the yearly inductions at Manzanita each year and then the plaques went back in the dark. Now you Arizona race fans and racers have something to really be positive about. Get involved and join the membership, the place needs the financial support!, I have, and we donít even live there! The address is 3534 East Broadway Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040. Phone 602-438-0022 for more info. Donations are accepted!

OK I'm done again and racing is over for the year for me. See ya at the Chili Bowl in the cool weather there! It's only 50 degrees here as the winter has arrived. I hate the heat, but it can get too cool for me here, so I have to add a sweatshirt!

Saturday Ovals FEATURE: (40 laps) 1. Robert Ballou, 2. Mike Spencer, 3. Bryan Clauson, 4. Dave Darland, 5. Ryan Bernal, 6. Damion Gardner, 7. Richard Vander Weerd, 8. Brady Bacon, 9. Jon Stanbrough, 10. Chad Boespflug, 11. Chase Stockon, 12. Christopher Bell, 13. Darren Hagen, 14. C.J. Leary, 15. Austin Williams, 16. Danny Faria, Jr., 17. Tracy Hines, 18. Cody Williams, 19. Rickie Gaunt, 20. R.J. Johnson, 21. Josh Pelkey, 22. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 23. Garrett Hansen, 24. Geoff Ensign, 25. Nic Faas, 26. Justin Grant. NT

FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-5 Spencer, Lap 6 Leary, Lap 7 Spencer, Laps 8-19 Leary, Laps 20-30 Spencer, Laps 31-40 Ballou.

Saturday Ovals FEATURE: (30 laps) 1. Robert Ballou, 2. Brady Bacon, 3. Jon Stanbrough, 4. Dave Darland, 5. C.J. Leary, 6. Bryan Clauson, 7. Mike Spencer, 8. Richard Vander Weerd, 9. Ryan Bernal, 10. Christopher Bell, 11. Matt Mitchell, 12. Danny Faria, Jr., 13. Ronnie Gardner, 14. Tracy Hines, 15. Justin Grant, 16. Damion Gardner, 17. Chase Stockon, 18. Darren Hagen, 19. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 20. R.J. Johnson, 21. Cody Williams, 22. Josh Pelkey, 23. Chad Boespflug, 24. Rickie Gaunt, 25. Austin Williams, 26. Jake Swanson. 9:24.75

FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-4 Ballou, Laps 5-13 Darland, Laps 14-30 Ballou.

Friday Canyon FEATURE: (30 laps) Starting spot in parenthesis 1. Tracy Hines (2), 2. Chase Stockon (4), 3. Damion Gardner (6), 4. Robert Ballou (5), 5. R.J. Johnson (1), 6. Kevin Thomas, Jr (8)., 7. Brady Bacon (12), 8. Chad Boespflug (7), 9. C.J. Leary (14), 10. Justin Grant (9), 11. Jerry Coons, Jr (18)., 12. Bryan Clauson (20), 13. Matt Mitchell (23), 14. Jake Swanson (11), 15. Dave Darland (13), 16. Cody Williams (24), 17. Jarett Andretti (17), 18. Jon Stanbrough (16), 19. Charles Davis (22), Jr., 20. Austin Williams (10), 21. Andrew Reinbold (21), 22. Ryan Bernal (3), 23. Payton Pierce (19), 24. Mike Martin (15).


Canyon Saturday Feature (30 laps) Starting position in parenthisis. 1. Clauson (2), 2. Darland (7), 3. Bacon (4), 4. Spencer (3), 5. Stanbrough (9), 6. Grant (6), 7. Gardner (23), 8. Rossi (1), 9. Stockon (8), 10. Ballou (14), 11. Thomas (24), 12. Coons (21), 13. Leary (11), 14. Mitchell (18), 15. Johnson (16), 16. A.Williams (10), 17. Hines (21), 18. C.Williams (15), 19. Windom (20), 20. Boespflug (19), 21. Martin (20), 22. Gansen (22), 23. Curtis (17), 24. Andretti (13) NT

FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-30 Clauson.

FINAL AMSOIL USAC/CRA SPRINT POINTS: 1-Gardner-1,373, 2-Spencer-1,104, 3-Mitchell-847, 4-C.Williams-831, 5-A.Williams-797, 6-Brody Roa-790, 7-Swanson-687, 8-Richard Vander Weerd-656, 9-Nic Faas-642, 10-Ryan Bernal-526.

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