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By Ken Wagner 5/22/05

Damion Gardner finally stepped to the top of the podium at Manzanita for his 4th Valvoline USAC/CRA main event win in a row in this series, and first with the club at the big half mile oval dirt track. Driving the Temecula Valley Pipe & Supply, Arizona Race Mart, Eagle, Shaver # 50, Damion set fast time for the ninth time this year. In the feature he came from his “normal” inverted eighth starting spot to overcome local favorite, Jeremy Sherman, on a lap 24 restart to win the 30 lap event. In winning his sixth race out of twelve this year, he pullled within 20 points of point leader Rip Williams. Damion said in the winner’s circle “it’s been a long time coming here, but once I passed Sherman, I calmed down and brought home the win.”

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On a searing 110 degree plus hot day in the Arizona desert, the Demon turned out to be even hotter as he put behind him his three earlier races here this season that included a best of an eighth place finish with one missed main event. In beating Sherman, who has 8 wins at Manzanita against the So Cal based drivers, he continues to prove his prowess from the small bullrings like Ventura up to and including the monster tracks like Williams Grove in PA and even Manzanita. His patience won out for him in this one as he stalked the leaders until he was in position to win and only made one sensationally wild pass that woke up the crowd this week. This growing legendary driver in the making is beating some of the best drivers in the country on a regular basis. Who is going to step up and stop him?

Jeremy Sherman had to contend with Cory Kruseman early in the race as they started on the front row together for what was looking like a shootout between the two. Cory immediately took the early lead before the “Sherminator” passed him and led until Josh Wise came up from his seventh starting spot to take over the lead for a few laps. When Jeremy, driving the F&E Development, Buckley, Bryan # 77, retook the lead with nine to go, he was stretching it out and seemingly headed for his first CRA win. When Mike Kirby into the turn two wall, the red flag stop allowed the Demon the opportunity he needed. Jeremy couldn’t hold him off on the restart, but still drove an outstanding race to finish second on his home track in front of his crowd. Too bad he can’t run the entire series, with him in the mix it would just be better.

Cory Kruseman made his fourth straight podium with a third place finish this week as he continues to move up in the points chase in the ITI Performance, Sander Engineering, Bullitt, Downing # 38 car. He led the first lap, then fell back to fourth and rallied to run faster at the end and close in on the two leaders. Cory is now fourth in points only 59 back of the leader. Cory “flew” home after the race to Ventura for an early morning and another school day for budding drivers in his sprint car driving school at the Ventura Raceway facility.

Josh Wise followed in fourth with Josh Ford grabbing fifth as the two drivers had a week off from the National USAC trail. Wise drove the yellow beauty of Mark Priestly once again extremely well as he and the Priestley crew are on the same page now. Josh Ford brought his own # 73 car to the party and seemed to be at home as usual with his performance. He continues to run under the banner of Keith Kunz in Indiana. Both are excellent additions to the CRA series when they are free.

The heat was unbelievable as at two o’clock in the shade of the Ellis Hacienda in nearby Tempe, it was 110 degrees. Yikes, does this bode well for my Las Vegas move in a few years? I don’t think I like this heat at all. Some suggested when we arrived at the track, even higher readings were blazing down on the Manzanita infield. It was too hot to trip around the infield at 3 pm for some, “us two” without our Mule, as water, shade and Gatorade were the order of the afternoon and evening. Many drivers reported the excess heat bothered them, but still they persevered and the resulting racing was as good as it gets.

Mike Kirby’s crash was shocking as he was charging hard behind the Demon and seemingly heading for the podium. When he changed lines, the car got sucked into the turn two wall and he went for a helicopter like ride that left the car battered and ready for retirement, but he was fine and walking around the rest of the night. It wasn’t the new car, but was a new motor that looked killer as he stormed to win his heat and was doing the same in the main event until the accident.

Wags riddle of the week. How could the following two acronyms, VCR & NASCAR, share a special secret for sprint car fans that would help attendance in our sport? What do I mean? Answer later!

Seth “War Dog” Wilson had bad luck this week in his Warbird # 17 sprinter, twice! Seth has steadily improved this year and was looking to make the podium this week after qualifying sixth and starting on the second row in the main. Early on he ran strong and hung in third, then passed Kruseman and was looking good …. until …. he decorated the front stretch with his right rear tire when it exploded. Later he mused the tire didn’t look worn, so he probably ran over something, yet he would restart on the back with 14 laps to go. Before the green flag flew, some jostling in front of him slowed several and he was then pinched between two cars and came to a stop, his second, but it wasn’t his fault. The rule stands and he goes to the pits, giving up a great opportunity to achieve his best finish with the club.

Steve Ostling has been driving the Gardner built Sled owned by Nadine Keller for a number of races with little to show for it. The radical departure from the time tested four bar cars the family has built for years hasn’t performed up to expectations quite yet as they work the bugs out. Steve had the car fast on the big oval this time and smiles were all around. He was third quick in qualifying and sixth in the main for the best the car has given him. Look out now, Steve will be going for a win for the team as he likes to run up front.

Point leader Rip Williams ran hard all night with his fourth quick qualifying time and seventh place finish in the main. He had some good battles along the way and was working hard to the end. He has 686 points with 12 races down as he continues to lead the pack. Have you seen his sharp new black t-shirt? Wow if you like black!

Tom Ogle showed up in a raffle car this week to run with CRA. Yes, the car was won by Kevin Turner in the National Hall of Fame Museum raffle last year and look at it now. Tom looked smooth and ran 7th in the semi before calling it a night in the pretty red car. Mike Leslie has been having some rough times since we last saw him run. He destroyed his car recently and now has a very red new one to campaign. His night ended before hot laps when the motor broke and later he was parked in the pits during all the action. Another driver who looked like he was done in hot laps when his car put such a heavy smokescreen out down the front stretch, we had to take a break for the smoke to clear. Bobby Boone looked for all practical purposes done for the night, but he came back to run until he finished 11th in the semi.

The answer to my riddle, did you get it? If you use a VCR to tape the NASCAR event during “our” Saturday night races, you can watch it the next day, still in the comfort of your home, and go to real racing live on Saturday night! Why don’t they go back to Sunday’s and leave us alone? And what about you fans who stay home when the thunder and lightning happens on a dirt track near you? Shame on you!

Now the club returns to Perris Auto Speedway for a big 50 lapper on Memorial Day and you know how wild the battles are on the long races. I know the Kruser, the Ripper, the Demon, Chargin’ Charles, Super Rickie and King Kong Kirby are up for it. So is the Cowboy, SteveO, and the rest of the CRA stars. Come on out and see what they have in store for you. It’s also one of those camp OK weekends at the Perris fairgrounds. Come see what Dubya and Dusty can do to the grass in the campground. See what new decal will show up on the Wags motorhome. Check out the fun things the racers do after the races by the campfire, check that, probably not a fire, but a fun gathering nevertheless. See ya, look for the polka dot mule and come say hi!

VALVOLINE USAC/CRA SPRINT CAR SERIES RACE RESULTS: May 21, 2005 – Phoenix, Arizona – Manzanita Speedway

QUALIFICATIONS: 1. Damion Gardner, 50, Chaffin-18.883; 2. Josh Wise, 7, Priestley-18.982; 3. Steve Ostling, 5, Keller-19.177; 4. Rip Williams, 3, Jory-19.236; 5. Charles Davis, Jr., 8A, Smiley-19.290; 6. Seth Wilson, 17, Racing Optics-19.359; 7. Cory Kruseman, 38, Crossno-19.391; 8. Jeremy Sherman, 77B, Bryan-19.403; 9. Troy Rutherford, 2J, Massey-19.412; 10. Josh Ford, 73, Ford-19.507; 11. Nathan High, 6A, Pritchett-19.531; 12. Mike Kirby, 4, Alexander-19.556; 13. Bobby Graham, 14, Lancaster-19.558; 14. Alan Ballard, 97, Ballard-19.616; 15. Rickie Gaunt, 2A, Smiley-19.621; 16. Bob Ream, Jr., 8, BRAT-19.647; 17. Brandon Lane, 97H, Lane-19.649; 18. Chuck Buckman, 61AZ, Carsten-19.699; 19. Bobby Boone, 61, Ratz-19.716; 20. R.J. Johnson, 15AZ, Martin-19.821; 21. Marty Miller 3W, WWS Racing-19.909; 22. Tom Ogle, 5x, Ogle-20.109; 23. Jason Tanner, 56, Tanner-20.133; 24. Keith Williamson, 95, Williamson-20.136; 5. Matt Rossi, 02, Rossi-20.137; 26. Bruce St. James, 7K, St James-20.185; 27. Jimmy Drinan, 91az, Carsten-20.428; 28. Robert Hall, 16AZ, Hall-20.655; 29. Nadine Keller, 16, Keller-21.264; 30. Mike Leslie, 76AZ, Montgomery–NT.

FIRST HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Miller, 2. Gardner, 3. Lane, 4. Davis, 5. Graham, 6. Rossi, 7. Keller, 8. Rutherford. 3:20:70

SECOND HEAT: (10 laps) 1.Wise, 2. Ford, 3. Ballard, 4. Wilson, 5. Buckman, 6. St James, 7. Ogle. 3:21.43.

THIRD HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Gaunt, 2. High, 3. Kruseman, 4. Ostling, 5. Boone, 6. Tanner, 7. Drinan. 3:25.11

FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Kirby, 2. Williams, 3. Sherman, 4. Ream, 5. Williamson, 6. Johnson, 7. Hall. NT

SEMI: (12 laps) 1. Rutherford, 2. Graham, 3. Johnson, 4. Tanner, 5. Buckman, 6. Hall, 7. Ogle, 8. Williamson, 9. Rossi, 10. St James, 11. Boone, 12. Keller. NT

FEATURE: (30 laps) 1. Damion Gardner, 2. Jeremy Sherman, 3. Cory Kruseman, 4. Josh Wise, 5. Josh Ford, 6. Steve Ostling, 7. Rip Williams, 8. Charles Davis, Jr., 9. R.J. Johnson, 10. Bobby Graham, 11. Rickie Gaunt, 12. Nathan High, 13. Marty Miller, 14. Alan Ballard, 15. Jason Tanner, 16. Bob Ream, Jr., 17. Mike Kirby, 18. Brandon Lane, 19. Troy Rutherford, 20. Seth Wilson. NT

FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Lap 1 Kruseman, Laps 2-16 Sherman, Laps 17-20 Wise, Laps 21-24 Sherman, Laps 25-30 Gardner.

NEW USAC/CRA SPRINT CAR STANDINGS: 1-Williams-686; 2-Gardner-666; 3-Davis-644; 4-Kruseman-627; 5-Kirby-622; 6-Gaunt-484; 7-Ford-365; 8-Tony Jones-361; 9-Wilson-356; 10-Ballard-354.

NEXT USAC/CRA SPRINT CAR RACE: May 28 – Perris (CA) Auto Speedway

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