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May 31, 2010

By Ken Wagner

On a Memorial Day weekend USAC/CRA ran two events at two tracks 250 miles apart with only 43 total cars entered for a sure sign of the times that is a glaring stat all over the country. Yet, ”Dynamite” David Cardey and ”Bullet “Blake Miller gave the fans some great action and exciting racing and came home winners. Car counts are down all over and the sagged (!) economy is getting all the blame. Just like the Indy 500, each race had lady drivers to mix it up with the boys. A remembrance hot lap for fallen Jesse Hockett and a Kruseman crewmember started the night out.

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On a Memorial Day weekend USAC/CRA ran two events at two tracks 250 miles apart with only 43 total cars entered for a sure sign of the times that is a glaring stat all over the country. Yet, ”Dynamite” David Cardey and ”Bullet “Blake Miller gave the fans some great action and exciting racing and came home winners. Car counts are down all over and the sagged (!) economy is getting all the blame. Just like the Indy 500, each race had lady drivers to mix it up with the boys. A remembrance hot lap for fallen Jesse Hockett and a Kruseman crewmember started the night out.

Perris opened the holiday weekend with 24 sprint cars, three heats and a 30 lap feature that was action packed from the get go. Although the qualifying times were way off the track record, the racy track gave the racers two good grooves and so plenty of passing greeted the fans. There were 4 different leaders in the 30 lapper, so that should tell you something. Thanks to the Perris staff from the pit people, to the track prep, to the track officials as it was a good event worthy of seeing for the fans. We need to support the PAS in the tough times, so check out the schedule and also help any of the racers you can in any way. David Cardey started in the 6th row of the feature and fought his way to the front to get his first win in three tries here this season. He could have easily won the other two because he led both before equipment problems sent him to the pits early. It made it somewhat of a breakthrough for the young driver. David sliced his way to the front from the get go to catch and passea fast Mike Spencer and then weathered several restarts the last three laps. Being on a limited budget, David isn’t able to travel, so it was his only event on the weekend, but he made it count. The red Circle Track Performance # 59 was hard on the gas to claim his 6th all time win.

Blake Miller has struggled some getting used to the Mark Priestley car, but all was forgiven as he led all 30 laps of the Tulare Memorial day event in the # 7 Miller Freight Lines yellow beauty. There were enough restarts to keep him awake, but most of the race he had a commanding lead and just had to do his thing to get his 5th all time CRA victory. The young redhead was surely thrilled with his win in front of his dad and family and was beside himself on the mike afterward. Behind him Matt Mitchell made the most noise coming from the fifth row I think, and ran the Lealand route, up against the wall in turns one and two, even bouncing off it several times during his charge.

Mild Mike Spencer made some swarthy moves of his own to capture the lead in the little red sucker # 50 after setting fast time and running 2nd in his heat. He nearly got on his head late in the race when a rim riding Jimmy Crawford surprised all with a monster move up top on a restart that pulled him even with Spencer, where they touched and both had their hands full getting straightened out. Mike later said he’ll remember this 2nd place finish more than some of his victories; it has lasting memories in his mind.

Showtime Danny Sheridan waited for the PAS track to come to him as the early dust patterns made it difficult for him to see his preferred top grove and he labored back in 11th place halfway thru the race. When he got it going in the little blue bugger, the # 18 Kittle Kar was manhandled onto the podium on the last lap with a two car pass for a good finish.

Heidi Tresler came down from her home track in Victorville to try the Parris oval for her first visit away from the high desert. She was 17th on a good check out effort. Maybe she’ll come back. Several had problems like usual, but the most serious was Ronnie Gardner when someone gave him a wheel that sent him crashing hard into the wall. It hurt the car bad and he was banged up so they missed the next night. Cal Smith had a problem and didn’t start the main. Nic Faas was fast early but pulled in with an overheating problem I heard. The Cowboy Tony Jones was hooked up hard and running the top like usual when he slipped against the wall and turned over lightly. They rolled it over and sent him back out to get 10th! An owners meeting was held in the afternoon and one thing was obvious. They brought back the restarts on the back stretch rule from the SCRA days. The original 2 wide starts are still around the 4th turn at the cone like always. Also it was stated 360’s could run their own tires to encourage more cars. The club has to get active to try and get more cars racing with us until the economy improves.

It was a nice, not too warm, no breeze to speak of pleasant day at Tulare. Only 19 cars showed and it caused a little shuffling of the rules, to say the least, and I approved of it all. They decided on a pill draw and point earning format that gave the fans 3 heats, two qualifiers and a 30 lap feature. Much better than two heats and a feature! Anyway you made your own luck by passing cars and earning points that ended up with the top 6 in the nights points were inverted in the main. Promoter Steve Faria was very concerned as he heard the car counts for Calistoga, Ocean Speedway and other 410 sprint car events in California were less than his, so understood right now, but wanted to give the fans the best show possible.

Blake Miller won his heat and got 5th in his qualifier earning him the pole in the main. He didn’t disappoint as he led every lap and was in complete control until a late yellow drew the pack back together. He just pulled away for his 5th win in his young career and had fun for the first time this year. Happy smiles all around.

I don’t know Craig Stidham, but he certainly did great against the regular 410 boys. He was 2nd in his heat and qualifier and swapped 2nd place in the feature with Matt Mitchell’s high road charge before reclaiming and finishing 2nd on the night. Matt did a remarkable job to not crash in turn two every lap, he was so hooked to it every trip around as he finished 3rd. The lady Justyne Hamblin came in 11th for a good run. Rickie Gaunt used a little of the wall to get by Danny Sheridan for 4th as the top five really struggled around the tricky track.

The Williams boys, Cody and Austin somehow took each other out early in the race and were done for the night. Cody Kershaw tangled with The Cowboy Tony Jones and nailed the wall, done for the night. It didn’t help Jones as he ended up 10gth for the 2nd night in a row. Two 10’s might win a hand in poker, but…….. Danny Faria pulled off the track late in the race as he fought in the top 3 most of his time on the track. Cory Kruseman and Mike Spencer had flats in the feature with Cory coming back to 12th and Spencer to 6th.I think the crowd got a good show. In the breaks the old time Al Pombo days modified’s hit the track. It brings back some memories as they motored around the track in really good looking cars.

My trip ledger for the weekend as I sadly travelled alone was 250 miles to Perris, 260 to Tulare and 335 miles home after dark, putting me in my own bed by 3 am….pooped but happy. My little red runner just eats up the miles so effortlessly; at least I’m not in a 4 cylinder buzzard bouncing down the highway. I got to see some long missed friends around the raceway, and thanks to all for their time and catching up. Announcer George Hague made me feel right at home as usual and his love of sprint car racing makes you stand back and observe his joy! He tried to give the unknowing locals a lot of pertinent data on the CRA cars to help them understand and want to come back to see them in November when the Pacific Open is showcasing them again. Thanks also to Steve Faria for scheduling the CRA as his track is good for our boys. It’s a great venue, we just need to give it a chance.

The 2010 Wagsdash is just around the corner and I am sitting her pondering how to make it successful. With a year off for lack of location, it’s still a very doable event, but only if I get the support of those who understand and believe in the low buck racer format we’ve used for 18 years. The idea is to raise money by raffles, a racing calendar, the racing auction and any donations (money, product or any giveaways we can use) or other ways to build the purse. Over the last 15 years we have average over $16,000 a year to payout to the low buckers and it has worked well. Many of you enjoy and look forward to the annual event and I am thrilled to be back at Ventura, yet I owe Don Kazarian a bunch for his moving his schedule around to accommodate me, then not getting the event. That date by the way will be filled with the Legends of Ascot event that Don Weaver and Belita Michnowicz organize every year and they too are looking for help. I will be helping them in their October event after the Wagsdash.

So, it gives me great consternation to know many of my loyal supporters over the years are down in their business income and personal finances and won’t be able to help as much this year, if at all in some cases. Because of that I am thinking I will bill this event as the LAST Wagsdash of all time. If, however, I can somehow raise the $15,000 purse like always, we’ll do it again. But if the economy limits the money, it will be the signal that it’s time has come. All of you can get involved and help me do this. Call me, e-mail me, talk to me and let’s get this thing moving. There are enough other CRA events that require ”extra” money like The Vermeil Classic at Calistoga and the Glenn Howard Memorial so money is tough to get. I implore you all to support what you can, but don’t forget the little guy, he is the one we are more in danger of losing now.

What can you do? 1) Give me a few bucks for the dash when you see me or mail it to me. (Note, I won’t be collecting Wagsbucks anymore because I haven’t collected my minimum $200 per race in a long while, so I have switched to the dash purse for any money collected at the races from now on. 2) Find something to donate to the auction and then be there to bid on it and other items. 3) Buy the calendar when it is produced, (and there will be a racing and a driver version again this year.) 4) Save your change for the Wagsdash hard charger award which topped $1000 last year. 5) Talk up donations to business or friends who might have extra to give us. 6) Warn me if you plan to donate to get on the Wagsdash T-shirt so I can get that started. If you believe in the little guy and this long standing event, just get involved. Thanks for the help. Any questions just stop me, call me or e-mail me (949-981-5497 or winglesswarriors@aol.com) I always appreciate all the help I can get. We have less than $1300 in the kitty now for the race, let’s pump it up.

My heart was in my throat when I heard about Jesse Hockett’s passing last Wednesday. It is one thing to lose a racer thru a crash or racing incident. It is totally another when they get taken from us by other causes. I have heard nothing but shock from the racing community about his unfortunate accident. It is just not right.

Jesse was fast becoming the “Lealand McSpadden” of our time. He was very much like our retired Arizona hero that I still see on the track in my mind all the time. The “Tempe Tornado” was one awesome race car driver anywhere, any time with wing or non-wing, he was there. In addition to his superior on track exploits and “never slow down or look back” attitude, and he was the best with fans I ever saw. He was our racing icon!

That was what I saw in a young Jesse “The Rocket Hockett”! He was fast becoming an icon in our world. He went anywhere to race and won, also wing or non-wing! He had great fan presence and the joy of racing just flew out of him like a thunderbolt as you viewed him from near or afar. He was special and now he is gone, robbing us of one of the great talents of today. Perhaps appropriately his life ended with him sweeping 3 races over the prior weekend. We will remember him as a real “outlaw” type sprint car driver for years to come. Rest in peace Jesse, you are one for the ages and will be missed by all fans across the country who ever saw him race.

I’ve missed the racing with the 6 weeks off, but got in two grand kid’s baseball exploits, one’s school was state champion in the top classification and the other just missed the trip to the finals by one game. Also I was very busy at home with whatever. Now that Mrs Wags is back on her feet from her foot surgery, she will be around racing more often. Unfortunately she still has to schedule the other foot, but until then, she just gets better with the new ankle. I am looking forward to the June trip to Petaluma and Ocean Speedway in the San Francisco area and the September Calistoga trip so I can get some new wine. Other noteworthy PAS trips include the Firecracker 4th of July event that fills the house. There is a lot of racing ahead for us CRA fans and I plan to see it all. See ya at the PAS in two weeks!

05/29/10 Perris FEATURE: (30 laps) 1. David Cardey, 2. Mike Spencer, 3. Danny Sheridan, 4. Cory Kruseman, 5. Jimmy Crawford, 6. Richard VanderWeerd, 7. R.J. Johnson, 8. Blake Miller, 9. Austin Williams, 10. Tony Jones, 11. Casey Shuman, 12. Rickie Gaunt, 13. Greg Bragg, 14. Jace VanderWeerd, 15. Cody Kershaw, 16. Matt Mitchell, 17. Heidi Tresler, 18. Jerry Welton, 19. Nic Faas, 20. Tony Everhart, 21. Randy Waitman, 22. Cody Williams, 23. Cal Smith.

FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-5 Bragg, Laps 6-13 Crawford, Laps 14-27 Spencer, Laps 28-30 Cardey.

5/30/10 Tulare FEATURE: (30 laps) 1. Blake Miller, 2. Craig Stidham, 3. Matt Mitchell, 4. Rickie Gaunt, 5. Danny Sheridan, 6. Mike Spencer, 7. Jimmy Crawford, 8. Rusty Carlile, 9. Richard VanderWeerd, 10. Tony Jones, 11. Justyne Hamblin, 12. Cory Kruseman, 13. Jace VanderWeerd, 14. Greg Bragg, 15. Danny Faria Jr., 16. Cody Kershaw, 17. Cody Williams, 18. Austin Williams. NT.

FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-30 Miller.

NEW AMSOIL USAC/CRA SPRINT POINTS: 1-Spencer-329; 2-Sheridan-315; 3-Mitchell-251; 4-Crawford-251; 5-Kruseman-239; 6-Miller-232; 7-Jones-213; 8-Damion Gardner-187; 9-Bragg-178; 10-David Cardey-173.

NEXT AMSOIL USAC/CRA SPRINT RACE: June 12 – Perris (CA) Auto Speedway

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