The annual SCRA banquet was reported to be bigger and better this year, even though Mrs Wags and I were unable to make it. Although the banquet isn't "freeway close" to the home track of Perris, for many it is a time to party, get a little gambling done in Las Vegas, and receive their just rewards. The important people were there as the SCRA awards signal the official end of the past season, and the club handed out many of note.
The first and most important was for the Harlan Willis Racing Team. In addition to the championship hardware, and the cash that goes with it, the team received the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame's "410 Team of the Year" award from Tom Schmeh, the museum's hard working leader. Cory also was voted the top non-wing driver of the year in their annual poll. Mike Nigh, crew chief for the # 45 sprinter, received the "Mechanic of the Year" award. All in all, it was an outstanding year for Harlan, Cory, Mike and the rest of the crew. In addition to Cory driving the black # 45 in 2002, he will be racing in the Silver Crown USAC deal this year and will miss a few races, so a repeat driver champion is not likely. Great job by the whole team.
The Fischer Motorsports Team did something very unusual at the banquet this year. They passed out some of "their finders fee" money associated with TW Metals. Race teams are forever trying to find the money to go racing, and never money to pass out, but the SCRA has a standard policy that anyone bringing in a major sponsor will receive a percentage of the "find" back as a bonus of sorts. It encourages anyone who has clout with any sponsor to help the SCRA and help themselves. The Fischer group did just that when they brought TW Metals aboard. Unfortunately, TW Metals racing money has been dropped by the company this year, but the Fischer's stepped up with money already earned and sponsored an award that went to four teams that had a tough year. Those receiving a portion of that money bonanza were: Mike Spencer, Bobby Graham, Ronnie Clark and Brian Venard. Mike was the 2001 NWWC Rookie of the year and only crashed once during the season, that I can remember, and should be strong this year with his growing skills. Bobby Graham had a down year from his rookie year and things just didn't seem to go very well for the Ben Lancaster owned team. Ben travels from Las Vegas to race with SCRA, and those were some long rides home. Ronnie Clark was runner-up in the rookie race and suffered many maladies in the Hank Winter team car. Brian Venard had two really bad crashes, one at Granite City that featured a ride on top of the low fence that tore up the car, and he didn't reach the potentially good year that his Venard Racing team worked hard for. At least three of the four will come back to improve their luck, all except for Ronnie Clark, and his plans were still up in the air.
An outstanding contribution to SCRA and Sprint Car Racing Award was presented to Steve Vodden, Neil Sachs, Robert Mayson, Paul & Helen Bagley, Tom Schmeh from the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame, and Reps from Arizona Race Mart & Hoosier Tire. The SCRA "Worker B's" also received plaques.
The Ralph Tracy Sportsmanship Award went to Tim Huver Sr, the crew chief for our fallen hero, George Gervais. George's condition remains the same as we move into the new season. Keep him and the family in your prayers. Tim and the crew worked hard for George since his accident and continue to be a bright light for the Gervais family.
Other awards listed on the SCRAFAN.com website, where I learned all this info, were: The fast time award was shared by Richard Griffin and Troy Rutherford with 8 each. Most improved driver was Troy Rutherford, the same driver that is reportedly looking for a ride due to the Gardner's uncertain status for 2002. The hard Charger award was a no-brainer as Danny Sheridan earned that $100 bill more than anybody with his come from the back exploits this season. Rookie of the year was Michael Hinrichsen as he drove like a veteran most of the season and was pretty sensational at times. He even drove with a broken arm and commented to me "aw shucks, it wasn't nuthin"! Look for more out of him and his team this year. The Rookie Car owner winner was Mike Wall, the owner of Tony Jones # 37 sprinter that put on a few awesome shows late in the year. Tony's brother, Davey, the crew chief for Bud Kaeding, let me know that Tony will have some new chassis' and motor's to make this year a good one. Congratulations to all the recipients as the fanfare is always part of the "beauty" of racing to showcase the winners!
Ron Shuman, the SCRA President, reports one add to the NWWC tour listed as TBA on August 14. The track is called 67 Raceway Park and is in Alton, Ill. It is maybe 15 or 20 miles north of Granite City, where we ran last year, and about 260 miles to KC from there. It is on the way back from PA, and one day before the media day at Lakeside Raceway in KC, Kansas. That makes 8 race days and one play day for non-wing fans that should provide some great racing for the many fans along the way. Start planning the trip now, and if your not going, why not set aside some "tow money" for the racers. Get it to us and help them move their 5 MPG haulers across the USA! I'll figure out the projected mileage and give a Wagtimes T-shirt to the person who comes closest to the figure I come up with and share with somebody that can keep a secret. The contest will start in June and end August 3rd.
I won't predict who will be the 2002 champion because nobody knows, but it could be a very interesting year. With Cory missing a few races, it leaves Richard Griffin to take on all comers for the run to the banquet next time and there will be several who can do it. Richard hasn't lost anything in the Bruce Bromme Jr tuned, Ron Chaffin owned # 50 car. He will be the man to beat and should continue to add to his impressive victory total with the non-wing world out west here. His uncanny mastery of the big Manzanita track makes him showcase his nickname, the "Gasman", for all his fans. The popular driver has a smile for all his fans and is anxious to return to the top of the club bragging spot.
The first driver coming to mind as a legitimate challenger to that "open" spot is Tony Jones. Tony has improved drastically the last few years, so much so that when he is on the track, he is one driver that is very tough to beat. Last year he was fired from his # 48 ride and settled into the Mike Wall Trucking # 37 late in the year. The team had a rookie driver, Arie Prins, starting his career off in that car. That career seems to have ended prematurely with a nasty crash that destroyed the team's only chassis. After they rebuilt, Arie made one final appearance before Tony got involved. Arie is off making a "cattle machine gizmo" that will make big money in Kansas, so who knows what his future racing plans are. With limited resources in the # 37 last year, Tony won at Manzanita in mid September and showed the car was very capable. The team got a little boost from the Temecula Valley Pipe and Supply guys to be competitive at year-end. It worked, as he led a couple of big races, won a prelim at the Oval Nationals and generally lit em' up when he was on the track. A couple of mechanical problems kept him from the big money, but he had a great year, when he was running. For 2002, the team has what it takes on paper, so Tony should be in the mix of a championship.
Mike Kirby's name always comes to my mind when championships are discussed. Mike has one CRA championship in his trophy case and could easily add another one. The family owned # 5 sprinter is treated with kid gloves by Mike, so when the phrase "win it or wear it" comes to mind, it's not at all about Mike's track action. Kirby is one of the strongest non-wing drivers in the country and will always save the motor for the next race before he will jeopardize the season. Now that the Alexander's have gone off in the sunset with Rickie Gaunt, Mike will run alone again and lets see how his points chase goes, it could be up front!
Rip Williams is always mentioned as one of the toughest drivers in SCRA, but he has yet to add a championship jacket to his wardrobe. Rip has come so close that it is amazing he hasn't danced on top at least once. Rip is tied with Lealand McSpadden on the all time combined win list from CRA/SCRA victories at 84. He could make a move on Ron Shuman's 95 total, if he just gets a few breaks. Last year he didn't get a win until October 6th at his favorite track, The PAS. He added a prelim at the Oval Nationals, but was in position to win many more, and just didn't get the checkered within reach often enough. The switch to Gambler in 2001 finally began paying off late in the year, so look for him to put his hat in the ring again.
Troy Rutherford is in limbo on a ride this season, but that doesn't keep him from being one of the leading drivers. He finished 3rd in points last year in the Gardner Motorsports # 4, and rumor has it if the team gets some serious sponsorship, he might be back in it. Until then, he is looking for a ride and should come up with something? Troy was the most improved driver in 2001 and his talent is still growing. He borrowed a midget at the recent Chili Bowl and put the car, that was not in the caliber of the top five finishers, in the A main and did exceptional in it. Troy has more wins in that tall lanky frame, he just needs a little boost right now.
Jeremy Sherman spent most of the year in Phoenix winning a lot of midget and sprint races. The family sprinter just didn't have the budget to travel and compete with SCRA, but he landed an opportunity in Mark Priestly's yellow # 7 late in the year and won the big money Manzy race and could be a long shot to win the championship. Jeremy has improved in his SCRA visits and will be a strong contender if he runs every race. His talent was obvious at the Chili Bowl as he ran near the front of the big A main, until a problem restarted him at the back.
John Scott has stepped up his professional aspirations and will give the SCRA championship his best effort this year. His recent success is driving him to move up, but he will do the SCRA run as long as it works for him, then begin a run at the Silver Crown race next year. John always presents a professional look and hopes that and his driving action will get him the pass to the bigs. He will have a new crew chief this year in Randy Shiosaki as they get in position to make the move in 2003.
Rickie Gaunt, Steve Ostling, Charles Davis Jr, Mike English, Brian Venard, Jordan Hermansader, Danny Sheridan, Adam Mitchell, Rodney Argo, Jarrett Chaney, Lance Gremett, Mike Spencer, Mike Hinrichsen and many more will step up to the bar this year. Perhaps of this group, Sheridan and Ostling chase the leaders the best, but every year brings a surprise, so lets wait and see, won't it be fun!
For those who have heard of Wagtimer Willie Bandy's latest battle with the evil cancer being nasty to him now, rest assured he is a fighter and will be around a long time. Our "Big Willie" isn't planning on missing anything and is going ahead full speed. The Kemo treatments start this week, so lets be thinking of him. If you want to send him a card, here is the address: Wagtimer Willie, 29093 Shadow Creek Lane, Highland, CA 92346.
The SCRA season is opening very soon at Perris with a day race on Feb 9th. Remember, the spectator gates open at 11 AM and the racing starts at 1:30! No problem with curfew for this one, but you better get up early! The drags are at Pomona that weekend, so you can hit the strip on Friday, stay over and be up bright and early for this new experiment. Remember how we all use to eagerly await the chance to go to El Centro for the fair day races? The first race is always fun! See you there!
I will have some reserved seat tickets for Oskaloosa on the NWWC tour. It is possible it will be a sell-out, so plan ahead. E-mail me if you are interested. I will post the cost and probable location very soon!