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What a way to begin, said the misplaced ground hog, as two monster showers hit the area earlier in the day, wiping out two hot lap sessions at PIR before ultimately delaying the start of the USAC/CRA opener at Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix this past weekend. Dave Darland came to town and won the season’s first CRA Manzanita race for the second year in a row and in a different car. Last year he ran off and hid from the front row in Ben Lancaster’s car, but this time he drove for Dwight Chaney and in the winner’s circle he said “we were a little lucky” and that was all he needed.

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Driving Chaney’s car that he tried out at the end of last year, it fit a lot better this time around. The Indiana native came west for the Copper World and got a bonus ride on the dirt at Manzy. One of the most underrated drivers from the National USAC scene, Dave continues to come West and jump in local cars and then drives the wheels off them. I once told him I was sorry to see him come out without his own ride to our territory because by the time he and the car got comfortable, it was usually too late to have a realistic chance to win. This time things played right into his hands in the Performance, Eric Industries, TCR, Donovan # 42. There was no qualifying due to the wet infield and the lateness of the start time, so they drew pills for starting positions. He had a front row pea pick spot that set him up for a big 10 lap win and a third row starting spot in the feature. The second row pair that started ahead of him, Jessie Hockett and Cary Faas both found the first turn cushion and then the second turn wall not to their liking and were eliminated early in the main in separate incidents. For Dave that was the start of his luck.

The luck began growing when the leader Darren Hagen literally ran into some trouble. The youngster, driving the red Keith Kunz Motorsports # 71, was screaming off to big leads after each restart, and was looking like he was going to run away with the 30 lap win. With Super Rickie Gaunt right on his tail the whole time, he was unable to get around a slowing lap car on lap 22 and contact with that car sent him into a helicopter like spin in front of Gaunt. When he went upside down and bounced up in the air, he landed on Rickie who was sliding to a stop in his landing path. It took them both out and put Darland in the lead on the restart. From there Dave went on to take the win and make Mrs Darland, Brenda, who was in the press box behind me all night, jump for joy and race down to the winners circle.

Charles Davis Jr started 12th on the main event grid and with the fast one groove track, things didn’t look good for him from back there. When the ensuing fast train kept flying by the flagman each lap, there were two cars noticeably doing some sizzling passing. Charles, who moved up 10 spots and Tracy Hines who came forward 12 spots for the hard charger award. Charles was in position late in the race to make a move on the leader, as he appeared to be a little faster thru the turns, but a last turn stutter by the winner, coming around the very last corner, caused Charles to get on the binders hard to avoid him and give up any chance of the win. Driving the Smiley Crane Service, Extreme Chassis Co., Chargin, Extreme # 8A of Tony Smiley’s, he was just a touch behind at the end of the race.

Quiet Mike Spencer continues his relentless march towards his first CRA win. Manzy was no different this race as he landed on the podium by being smooth and moving in on the two ahead of him at the very end. Mike won the first heat and started fifth in the feature. He managed to avoid all the crashing and banging that went on during the long night of racing. Driving the Murrieta Development, Goody Wheels, TCR, R.C. Performance # 44 of Hal Engstrom, he continues his move up the ladder of top drivers on the coast.

Kudos to all the parties involved that made what seemed like an impossible dream for a race, turn into a night of amazing racing on the Manzy clay. I won’t mention a certain person’s car that got stuck in the mud and then caused the road grader to do likewise; it all came out OK when it was all done. It certainly wasn’t easy for anyone, especially the packed in crowd who sat in very cold temperatures waiting for the first wheel to turn and were very boisterous about it. The pits are usually loaded and a beehive of activity when the crowd comes in the gate each race, but this night they both started in their respective gates about the same time, nearly five PM, very late in the day. The fans walked in and climbed into the seats like normal, but the haulers came in slowly in shifts, with some even getting an assist from the road grader, and the process took nearly three hours frustrating fans, officials and the racers.

Hot laps finally made for a fast track, as the restless crowd noise was noticeable and often until they actually hit the track. Still, the top cushion was not near the wall like it can be there and not enough laps cured the surface before the feature began, but there was racing! The marathon semi was just plain agonizing as the 22 car starting field was whittled to 11 before an official lap was complete. Yes, the slightest miscue sent cars into the wall or spinning off the track into the sludge and it seemed to go on and on as the only wrecker in the place got a real workout. Even in the feature, the first three stops were for cars careening into the turn two wall and bringing out the red flag.

Mike Kirby and Cory Kruseman did well in their new switched rides, staying pretty close to each other throughout the feature. Kirby gets the first attaboy in their expected mini battle that will play out all year. Mike was 6th and the Kruser 8th as they got settled in to different type cars than they drove last season. Bill Rose brought his own car out to run and the car might stay out west for a while as Bill returns for more early season races with CRA. Rick Williams, from Castro Valley, CA, did a marvelous job to run 4th in the feature. Hard charger Tracy Hines couldn’t make the pass on him the last few laps. Defending champ, Rip Williams didn’t have a fun weekend. He was 6th in his heat and finished the same in the semi after restarting at the back after getting involved in one of the many skirmishes than made many heroes grind their teeth. He took a provisional in the main to start 21st and was 11th at the end. Josh Ford was in the hunt until he appeared to lose his brakes and pulled off late in the race and had a quickly appearing fire doused when he came to a stop.

Others who didn’t make the main, but put on some wild moves during the night catching attention. Dan Hillberg has a fresh motor this season and he seemed to be fast and doing well except for a few power wheelstand’s going into turn two that lost him a few positions. Troy Rutherford’s first night in the Nadine Keller second car was not totally bad, even though he missed the main. Earlier they had some problems getting fire in the car, but made the semi where he was involved in one of those “deals”. Damion Gardner looked fast in hot laps and his heat. He passed his way into the last transfer (sorta, as the guy who was 4th in this heat still ran the semi due to passing points), but had a near miss in turn two that gave up the position. Then, on the last lap, tried to retake the spot and while going into the third turn “McSpadden bend” at full tilt, he lost it and ended up crunching the car in the wall. They worked hard to get the car ready for the semi, and barely made it to the back of the semi with some minor problems. They had no push bar so weren’t allowed to push off until they got one on. Then on the first lap going into turn one, Damion spun out trying to miss a car stopped on the track. He did not return. Tony Jones had plenty of luck this week, all of it bad. In his heat he got behind a car that had some problems and every time he tried to make a move he was thwarted and eventually, when he finally tried to move around, the car hiccupped and he and two others were towed off with the car. The semi went the same way, he tried to pass and got “involved” and was done for the weekend. The new number is 87 and the new hauler and race shop next door to his work should make things a lot better for the “Cowboy” this season.

Next up, the Perris day show opener this coming Saturday the 5th. There will be a big car turnout and some great racing on the track as the teams that did not travel to Phoenix this week will be ready to get started. Dave Darland, Bill Rose and Jon Stanbrough are three of the invaders from the mid-west to sign in to be there. Grab your sunscreen and head over. Spectator gates open at noon and qualifying starts at 1 PM. See ya there!

FIRST HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Mike Spencer (#44 Engstrom), 2. Rickie Gaunt (#2A Smiley), 3. Seth Wilson (#17 Racing Optics), 4. Rick Williams (#6x Williams), 5. R.J. Johnson (#15 Martin), 6. Dan Hillberg (#82 Hillberg), 7. Danny Sheridan (#4K Kettle), 8. Matt Rossi (#02 Rossi), 9. Cory Kruseman (#38 Crossno), 10. Levi Jones (#62A Bishop). NT

SECOND HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Cary Faas (#2V Woodward), 2. Mike Leslie (#76 Montgomery), 3. Rick Ziehl (#14 Lancaster), 4. Justin Marvel (#14L Lancaster), 5. Mike Kirby (#4 Alexander), 6. Rip Williams (#3 Jory), 7. Peter Murphy (#21 Tarlton), 8. Jeff Slinkard (#61 Ratz), 9. Ronnie Case (#33 Blair), 10. Buddy Earle (#95 Earle). NT

THIRD HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Dave Darland (#42 Cheney), 2. Jimmy Crawford (#17C Crawford), 3. Bill Rose (#6 Rose), 4. Tracy Hines (#7 Priestley), 5. Jeremy Sherman (#77b Bryan), 6. Troy Rutherford (#5 Keller), 7. Chuck Buckman Jr. (#4m Miller), 8. Damion Gardner (# 50 Chaffin), 9. Shon Deskins (#23 Fleming). NT

FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Jesse Hockett (#2J Massey), 2. Josh Ford (#73 Ford), 3. Darren Hagen (#71 Kunz), 4. Charles Davis Jr. (#8A Smiley), 5. Tony Jones (#87 Vermeer-Ferreira), 6. Nathan High (#6A Pritchett), 7. Nadine Keller (#16 Keller), 8. David Cardey (#59 Giardina), 9. Jerry Coons Jr. (#3w WWS). NT

SEMI: (12 laps) 1. Hines, 2. Johnson, 3. Buckman, 4. Kruseman, 5. High, 6. Williams, 7. Slinkard, 8. Sherman, 9. Cardey, 10. Keller, 11. Rossi, 12. Rutherford, 13. T. Jones, 14. Hillberg, 15. Murphy, 16. Gardner, 17. Case, 18. Deskins, 19. Earle. NT

FEATURE: (30 laps) 1. Dave Darland, 2. Charles Davis Jr., 3. Mike Spencer, 4. Rick Williams, 5. Tracy Hines, 6. Mike Kirby, 7. Bill Rose, 8. Cory Kruseman, 9. R.J. Johnson, 10. Chuck Buckman Jr., 11. Rip Williams, 12. Jimmy Crawford, 13. Rick Ziehl, 14. Darren Hagen, 15. Rickie Gaunt, 16. Seth Wilson, 17. Josh Ford, 18. Mike Leslie, 19. Cary Faas, 20. Jesse Hockett, 21. Justin Marvel. NT

** Peter Murphy flipped in Turn 1 on the first lap of the semifeature. Jesse Hockett flipped in Turn 2 in the feature. Faas flipped in Turn 2 in the feature. Hagen flipped on the backstretch on lap 22 of the feature.

FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-21 Hagen, Laps 22-30 Darland.

NEW USAC/CRA SPRINT CAR STANDINGS: 1-Darland-68; 2-Davis-62; 3-Spencer-62; 4-Rick Williams-56; 5-Hines-53; 6-Rose-68; 7-Kirby-45; 8-Kruseman-40; 9-Johnson-39; 10-Crawford-36.

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