THE YEAR 2013 WHERE THE CRA AND SPRINT CAR RACING WILL GO DOWN IN HISTORY AS USUAL
November 25, 2013
By Ken Wagner
It has been pretty quiet around here in Wagsland since the Oval Nationals the last CRA race of the year. Itís going to get a lot quieter since Iíll pass on the midget mania at the PAS this week to wait for my annual trip to the Chili Bowl. It is also an annual week with my son Kevin and as a bonus, Mrs Wags is going this year. For this Wag, the 2013 season was my 28th in my commitment to excellence in sprint car racing. It seems like a lot longer, but it is what it is. It was also one of the most memorable years, and as Captain Obvious might say, there was some very good and some not very!
The sport, as well as all of us, has taken some beatings since the economic slowdown of the racing communityís cash, sponsors and available help that really started after the 911 disaster. Race teams and fans are not traveling much anymore, DUH, and even though gas prices have dropped in recent months, it hasnít helped the 6 MPG haulers out there! There are many things that go into this brilliant observation and in my humble opinion; racing is not what it used to be! Look around, no sir, it is not even close, but I canít complain about the racing on the track as the Thunder and Lightning is still there for me! Itís the politics and other stuff that amazes and disappoints me.
The key word in the whole racing world these days is SUPPORT. For whatever the reasons, neither the racers nor the fans are giving the sport the much needed total support like they used to. Perhaps the discretionary money and the higher prices to go see racing, is part of the cause. Maybe it is cheaper to stay home and watch pavement racing. Some even think if they are not out racing and spending money, they are actually making money? This year I might try that TV thing on race nights as my budget for 2014 is going to be way different than in the past now that we both are retired. And it is harder to leave my bride for about the 20 hours it takes me to drive to and return from a race.
Looking back the past 25 Wagtimes years there is so much to relive and be joyful about while the futuristic glimpse is really scary and no one knows whatís coming. For some of us we can look back to the days of ďCĒ mains every race and plenty of cars with fans galore in the seats. Now we look to what we have today, itís not even close, and it is a sad tale for some. This is reality TV my friends, up close and personal. Too many try to explain our current situation, but few have a clue, including me! So, let me try a few things on you. When Ascot closed in 1990 there were plenty of car owners and sprint cars ready to race every week. The grandstands looked full at most of the CRA events as people actually planned ahead and drove to the race tracks to watch great dirt track racing. When Ascot closed down with a promise there would be another Ascot very soon, CRA took its show on the road. Going out there was a new deal for most, but many race teams supported the new home track of Bakersfield and other California track visits plus Manzanita hosted as many as 7 or 8 races a year. The race count and car count was still up and healthy. Thank Frank Lewis for those days because he paid more money than today by a bunch and Ascot did not come back.
Letís look at the decline of fans and cars over the years since say --- 1946. The fans are older now and I really have no more a clue than the visual that it looked better back then than today. Trust me that there were probably over 45 to 50 average car counts back then and the number of races was higher than today. The CRA Roadsters averaged 34 races a year from 1946 thru 1955 with 1947 having 89 sanctioned races? Then CRA history shows that from their inception in 1955 thru 1974 they averaged 33 races a year. From 1975 thru 1993 the CRA averaged 45 races a year. SCRA came along in 1994 thru 2004 and they averaged 38 races a year. Now comes USAC/CRA in 2004 and since then the average is 29 races a year, with the last five years shockingly only 22 a year. Ascot alone probably averaged about 30 races a year until they closed in 1990. Perris began averaging about 20 starting in 1996 with a high of 24 in 2001. When Manzanita closed in 2009, that average went down to 11, and thatís about the average to date. I might note that the September 11, 2001 disaster was the start of the decline of discretionary money in and around racing and other fun activities. That day started the trickle down effects that we still see today. So the declining race dates and race cars are now the norm in these times. Too many car owners with plenty of equipment are parked due to lack of funds and some wish they could sell their stuff! A lot of that comes from many racer businesses that tanked a few years ago and many are working for others now just to earn a living.
Car counts were amazing over the years, but recently it certainly has dwindled. Perris averaged 32 cars in 2013 with a high at the Ovals of 53 while the CRA averaged 28 on the road with about 10 CRA travelers out there to represent. And the crowds you ask? You will have to check with the promoters because I clearly canít count, but to me the grandstands look like they are leaking! How do you feel about all this? Is it the apathy that our current American lifestyle receives with that economic decline, and can you or will you do something about it? My guess, NO, because itís not anyoneís problem, right? Will it get fixed or is 360 spec racing coming for all?
If you want to talk support, how about the URA, did you support that? If they would have had the fans in the stands, that venture would have succeeded and Southern California racing would have grown! My theory was that it was time for a new deal and with no rules and two tracks that were racy and fun, how could it miss? Scott Burns had a dream, but the cornstalks didnít grow and the stadium stayed empty as they did not come! It wasnít for lack of trying as the Burns family and their supporters worked hard and got nothing but lip for their efforts. I figured wrongly that URA would bring out fans and cars that werenít on the CRA docket currently. With all the grumpy unhappy USAC members around blowing steam, I reasoned there was room for both. Boy was I wrong! I canít speak for the URA or its founder, but it looked like a great alternative to start some growth we really need now. No, I didnít want to hurt the PAS or any of the other CRA venues, but only the PAS has decent crowds and support, while Santa Maria, Ocean, Tulare, Canyon, Yuma and the rest get little support from our fans or cars as the So Cal racing community just donít go on the road. What do I know about support? I supported the CRA racers for over 20 years averaging over $30,000 per year paying out money to them that I collected (OPM), so donít tell me I didnít support them. There are few like me that plan and travel and creatively help our sport. What we the Wagtimerís did was unique and appreciated by all who got the cash. That effort is over, but I am proud of what we did! All I know for sure is the good old days are gone. Whatever the new deal is, bring it on and tell me how it works, as I am totally lost!
I think I forgot to mention that the special bottle of Crown Royal that Austin Williams received for the Wagtimes/Lafond Hard Charger award was sponsored by Leroy Bedingfield and Jim Thurman, both from Kansas City, MO. Also the list of donators for the award included Hoseheads, the WRA as well as the Jar oí change originator Steve Lafond, myself and a bunch of Wagtimerís. The Wagtimes Wagsbucks $$$ total, as of today, is $ 615,332.01. Imagine that!
Oh yeah Trophy Dave beat it with his annual Trophy Cup event as he and his troops have donated nearly 1 million dollars to the Make A Wish Foundation over his 20 year cycle. They gave a check for $135,000 this year to the organization. That is nearly $1,000,000 in cash, wow! And that doesnít include the purses which are the largest 360 payouts in the land. Whatever heís doing, the place was packed for Saturday nightís finale and the car counts were large and they will keep doing it because the crowds love the passing! Imagine that!
Yes, it was a slow strung out frustrating racing year to me and it appears to be about the same thing coming in 2014 and I need some new interests to keep busy during the long breaks. Last yearís pauses drove me nuts and since I donít like the thought of 360 racing taking over, I didnít make any trips to see them. Maybe I just need new interests, but we will see. How does a WOO/CRA show sound at the PAS? Let me know.
Here are some of my observations from 2013. 1) Besides car counts and fan counts down, the biggest disappointment of the year is the failure of Scotty Burns United Racing Association.
2) The low yearly CRA race event count of 22 is disgraceful for a sport like ours. Itís no wonder the drivers run 360 events, they have to stay sharp to be competitive! Letís convert those 360 events to 410, or is that the plan to kill the 410ís because the promoters donít have to pay as much, even though itís practically the same cost for the racers with a competitive 360.
3) The Alexander Racing Team nearly dominated the competition all year and they came within an excruciating spin of placing one/two in the championship points for the first time in history for any race team.
4) On the negative side, the little red sucker suffered a decade worth of problems in a season that took them out of the championship chase. With Bruce Bromme Jr suffering from too many ills as he missed a few race trips because of Docs orders, it just made it harder for the team as broken motors, flat tires and other maladies struck them during the season and they finished 2nd in points.
5) The Trophy Cup was the best race of the year, bar none, and all three nights were outstanding right up to the checkers. If the other racing associations really wanted to give the fans the best show on dirt, they would try that format of starting the best in the back, or would they! The outlaws couldnít get off their front row starts long enough to agree. The local shows donít have the guts!
6) The worst race of the year was Ocean Speedway when half the field crashed on the opening lap and the 5 restarts of it. On a positive note, nice guy Marty Hawkins came out of the fog with his first ever CRA win after the only hot dog left ran out of fuel on the last lap!
7) The most tragic thing of the year happened at Canyon Speedway where an EMT driving a push truck ran over Laurie Sertich and left the scene, and she still hasnít recovered. I think she ran out of insurance benefits, as well.
8) David Cardey retiring is sad because he is so young and had so much to give.
9) Ronnie Gardner beating up on the USAC midget crowd winning a dozen races along the way was pretty hot. He is still trying to get his sprint car going fast, but had a great year as he is trying to achieve his dreams.
10) David Bezio showing some greatly improving driving skills, but had at least two expensive crashes slowing down his progress.
11) Rick Hendrix with his crew of one, his wife Yumi, winning the Senior championship at the PAS was fun to watch. She really works hard alongside of him so he can race.
12) The possibility of Ventura on the CRA schedule in 2014 is hopeful as the greatest little dirt track by the sea is an amazing place to see a race. If only our crowd would travel?
13) Nic Faas is the most improved driver in the CRA with Matt Mitchell not far behind as they lead the young studs to the front for the future.
14) The most disappointed driver of the year has to be Ryan Bernal because his talent didnít take him where I assumed he was headed. Losing the Ford ride was a disaster for him as that was a great ride with a 410, 360 and a midget. He has not stepped up to the head of the class, yet! I havenít heard his plans for 2014, but keep an eye on him no matter what he drives.
15) For me the Kittle Motorsports shutdown was very sad personally, but for the team it was an end of an era for the little blue bugger. The brothers Brian and Gary still have some # 18 stuff and could return, but for now maybe a 360 shot a few times could happen in their future, yet not likely. I canít tell you how much fun it was being ďpartĒ of that ďKrewĒ as we went down the road to each race. Iíll never get that close to racing again and it taught me once again, love what you got because it can be so gone Ė so quickly? It was a bummer this season going to the long ride eventís in No Cal on my own trying to entertain myself, but I made it. There is nothing like tooling down the road on your PC or watching TV!
16) The Chili Bowl scooter of Fred Hubbardís that I rode at the Chili Bowl last year made that race so much more fun and hopefully, Iíll have that cool ride again this year when I arrive. I canít explain how many miles a guy can walk in that indoor race facility for 5 nights, but for these old legs I can only tell you what fun it is riding around and not wearing myself out like in the past.
17) Tobey Sampson showing how much fun you can have racing, even if you donít have top dollar equipment, after he made the podium in his Frankenstein Sprinter during the Ovals. The film was enjoyable if you werenít there.
18) Hanging in the pits with the California Lightning Sprints as they obviously have fun racing is always enjoyable. Sort of brings back my early days in the pits and the attitude I saw back then.
19) The Chili Bowl is the best midget event of the year. Where else can you stay practically 24/7 in the pits rubbing elbows with the greatest drivers of our time and never have to leave? 4 nights of qualifying plus the Saturday alphabet soup main events is too long for most, but you can take a break? I usually try to go with my son to a B-ball game. If itís in Tulsa, we can still see the main if we hurry over after the game. It marvels me to know it can be cold out and even snowing or icing up, and the show just goes on like itís a summer day. Just remember not to forget anything in the car, it might be frozen, the car and whatever is in it.
20) R J Johnson beating the best of the non wingers at Canyon in March was fun to watch.
21) Kyle Larson winning the Calistoga finale and the Trophy Cup main event from the back is hard to beat as the highlight of the year. Both were exciting, but the Trophy Cup was phenomenal when he was not to be denied on the last lap and barely made it over the line after contact with another car trying to win, too! His dirt track days are about over and Iím thrilled to have seen him race. It was kinda like watching Jeff Gordan back in the day when he was beating the CRA on pavement like a drum at Mesa Marin, can you say he lapped everyone?
22) Visiting the Arizona Hall of fame in Phoenix is Steve Stroudís BIG statement of support for racing in AZ. It is worth it to take a trip over there just to see what he has amassed inside that special building.
23) There were many highlights of the year for me personally, but the best was probably seeing Austin Williams eyes light up when he got two big bottles after he passed the most cars in the Oval Nationals finale. The $1000 in the Lafond jar of change and the big bottle of Crown Royal was pretty heavy to hold and smile for fotoís, as he was pleased but taxed to hold on to both.
24) Watching one of my best friends disappearing act where he left this world as a crew chief and was beamed off to Nashville, TN where he reassembled as a golfer and top dog executive leaving us all behind in his wake.
25) Losing Don Flanders and Don Blair the last year has been detrimental to the sport as both had so much to give and their time cut short. Don Blair had something up his sleeve still and hopefully his trust will begin to help the racers next year. The racing community will miss them both. I wonít list all the others that passed away in 2013, but we will miss them as well. The most recent was Ron Shipley a long time Wagtimes supporter and a great race fan. R.I.P.
26) I still canít believe the Santa Maria fiasco where the promoter did not pay the URA purse in August, but was able to keep on going regardless and the next week paying another purse? That was the final straw that broke the camels back of the URA as Scott Burns and his backers lost their shirts trying to help sprint car racing. Oh well what will we say when we look back on this 7 race association? I am going to miss Orange Show Stadium, but it is sadly back like it was.
27) Do I keep going or is there an end to my year? Question: When a tree falls in our racing world, does anybody hear it?
28) And lastly my new little scooter gets a big Ok as it goes to the track on a rack on the back of Mrs Wags Morano! It has tall wheels to manage the dirt track paths, what a plus!! I am so thrilled!
Just sitting around thinking and it made me remember some CRA drivers of the days gone. That makes me think, where are they now? Kirk Alexander, Richard Alfaro, Rodney Argo, Stan Atherton, Tom Ball, Alan Ballard, Rick Becker, Jim Blenkarn, Billy Boat, Mike Boat, Scott Burns, Brian Campbell, Dwight Cheney, Keith Chrisco, Troy Cline, Kim Craft, Glenn Crossno, Mitch Culp, Ron Didonato, Tom Downing, Bob East, Danny Ent, Jimmy Evans, Alex Gregoreas, Dan Hillberg, Dennis Howell Sr, Mike English, Cary Faas, Duane Feduska, Billy Felts, Elgin Freeman, Bobby George, George Gervais, Rick Goudy, Lance Gremett, Richard Griffin, Marc Hart, Richard Harvery Jr, Les Hawkins, Jack Hawley, Jeff Haywood, Jordan Hermansader, J Hicks, Rick Hinrichsen, Bob Hogle, Gary G Howard, Gary W Howard, Bubby Jones, Tony Jones, Nadine Keller, Walt Kennedy, Mike Kirby, Dale Laasko, Leonard Lee, Tommy Lee, Jerry Leet, Danny Lewis, Dwayne Marcum, Lealand McSpadden, Bob Meli, Jerry Meyer, Bobby Michnowicz, Blake Miller, Adam Mitchell, Mark Nation, Sonny Nutter, Jimmy Oskie, Steve Ostling, Brad Noffsinger, Wally Pankratz, Eddie Patterson, John Redican, Ed Reed, Bret Roa, Johnny Rodriguez, Jim Ruth, John Scott, Danny Sheridan, Tony Simon, Terry Singleton, Michael Smith, Mark Sokola, Ludwig Solberg, Mike Sweeney, Paul Sylvester, Dan Tedrick, Dean Thompson, Buster Venard, Jimmy Voitel, Keith Williamson, Harlan Willis, Hank Winter, Eddie Wirth, Josh Wise, J J Yeley and Charlie Zabinski. I am sure they found other things to do! Oh the memories and there are so many many more!
No race reports this week so I have put away my camera and put my attention on ďotherĒ things as the holidays approach. Thanksgiving is here and then a Merry Christmas is coming. In between there will be a few days on the road and I am sure plenty of B-ball games to keep me going. We will attend the Make A Wish lighting of the Trophy City home of Dave and Muriel Pusateri in San Jose. On the way home we will check in on the Darlin Dilís and The Venard family near Reno. A trip to Phoenix seems in the plans for Joe & Ellen Ellis before the holiday. Xmas will be packed as most of the 14 grandkids will be around our house or in the neighborhood. Then Mrs Wags and I will head back to T-town for the Chili Bowl in January, and to see my kids in Missouri, and then down to Texas on the way home to visit her son Chrisí home with his wife and 4 girls waiting to fatten us up. February features a Wagtimes reunion and I hope we see a lot of smiling faces. High School B-ball playoffs is really a must for me, too! March is for March Madness and the joy it brings me. There is a lot to be thankful for, so let me sit here and ponder on that. In case I donít pen anymore this year, Merry Christmas and a Happy New year to you all!
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