RACING SCENE - (TNGP Pit Notes-Part IV of IV) – By Tim Kennedy
LOS ANGELES – The 2017 Turkey Night Grand Prix preliminary night on Wednesday, November 22 had practice only for midgets. Additionally, there was practice for 49 USAC Western/VRA 360 cu. in. sprint cars, time trials, six 10-lap heat races, and a 20-lap main event. Qualifying ran from 5:00 to 5:45 pm. Fastest qualifying time of 12.289 went to Tyler Courtney, the third driver to qualify, in his first event at Ventura. The one-lap track record of 12.085 by Kenny Perkins on June 3, 2017 still stands. Kaleb Montgomery, from Templeton (just north on Highway 101) was second quickest at 12.307.
Six eight-car 10-lap heat races used four-car inverted starting lineups with the first three finishers in each heat advancing directly to Wednesday's 20-lap main event. The 18 direct transfers to the main as expected went primarily to drivers who started in the first two rows. Two transfers came from the third row. Heat 1 through heat 6, drivers who advanced to the main started in positions 2, 4, 5; 2, 3, 1; 3, 1, 4; 3, 4, 1; 1, 2, 4; 5, 4, 1.
Heat three was memorable for a wild flip and a determined pass. P. 4 Shon Deskins entered turn one at speed to overtake P. 3. He rode up and over the right rear tire of Cory Kruseman and flipped hard three or four times in quick endos. He climbed out of his overturned car and later went to a hospital for medical evaluation. He returned to the track and spectated. The determined pass was by Brady Bacon, who passed P. 3 Kruseman on the outside through the third and fourth turns on the final lap for the final ticket to the main from that heat race.
Heat winners were: Klint Simpson, Chase Briscoe, Tristan Guardino. Max Adams, Michael Pickens, and Carson Macedo. Macedo started fifth in heat six and avoided a four car crash at the initial green flag and led all the way. The two fastest qualifiers who did not finish in the top three of their heat race started Wednesday's 20-lap main from the back row in positions 19 and 20. Montgomery (the second FQ) and 11th FQ Geoff Ensign received those passes to race in the prelim night feature.
Brady Bacon (No. 63) started third in Wednesday's 20-lap feature and led the final 16 laps. He used an outside pass from turn four to the start/finish line to pass laps 1-4 leader and past VRA champion Troy Rutherford. Bacon told the crowd, “I have a pretty good shot at the $50,000 bonus (from Automotive Racing Products of Ventura) tomorrow because my midget (No. 76M) is fast too.”
Second starter Brody Roa lost two positions on lap 1 after pole starter Rutherford caused him to go high in the second turn. On lap 2 entering the first turn, Roa hustled his No. 91R under the third place car of Colby Copeland. Roa rode up a wheel, bounced around several times, but did not flip. He climbed from his disabled car and gestured at Rutherford as he passed under caution. Roa walked angrily back to the pits. Fourteen of 19 finishers completed all 20 laps.
Rutherford finished second (half a straight behind Bacon). Klint Simpson came from ninth starting spot to take third place from fifth starter Tyler Courtney with an outside pass from turn four to the finish line on the final lap. He received the race “hard charger' award. Other key finishing positions (P. 5-8) went to Copeland, Stevie Sussex III, Chase Briscoe, and Tristan Guardino. The top eight finishers went directly to Thursday's 30-lap feature, avoiding Thursday heat races. After their hot laps session Thursday, the eight drivers stopped at the finish line and drew for their starting positions in the first four rows.
The first midget practice session Wednesday divided cars into six groups of eight and 45 cars ran up to four laps at speed. They posted laps in the 12 to 14.2 second bracket. Christopher Bell, 22-year old from Norman, Okla., had never seen or raced at Ventura. He turned the quickest lap overall by 0.109. He ran his fastest lap of 12.169 on his second lap in a brand new Keith Kunz No. 21 Bullet/Speedway Toyota.
The second midget practice session again divided the field into six groups and ran hot laps from 6:12 to 6:40 pm with 46 midgets participating. Shane Golobic (No. 17W) ran the fastest lap of 12.038. The third 20-minute midget hot laps session preceded the 20-lap sprint car feature track preparation by promoter Jim Naylor. An autograph session with all midget and sprint car drivers at tables behind the grandstand kept fans happily occupied during track prep time.
The final midget practice session followed Wednesday's 360 sprint car main and started at 9:45 pm. The 47 midgets on track ran up to eight laps with Tanner Thorson (No. 67 K. Kunz) the quickest at 12.359 and Bell second fastest at 12.470. The slowest time was 14.152. Most spectators remained in their seats to watch the final hot lap session following the sprint car main event.
BRISCOE: Retired non-wing sprint car driver Kevin Briscoe, the father of current versatile race car driver Chase Briscoe, said his son has a five-year driving contract with Michigan-based FOMOCO. His 2018 schedule calls for 12 races in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in Jack Roush's No. 60 Ford Mustang. Chase, the 2016 ARCA stock car champion in the No. 77 Cunningham Ford, will share the ride with Ford contract developmental drivers Austin Cindric and Ty Majeski.
Chase is the 2017 rookie of the year and final NASCAR Camping World Truck November 17 race winner aboard the No. 29 Brad Keselowski Ford at Homestead, Fla.. He narrowly beat his good friend and 2017 NCWT champion Christopher Bell (in Kyle Busch's No. 4 Toyota Tundra). They became friends playing video racing games on line. Both Bell and Briscoe are personable and excellent sponsor spokesmen with outstanding, versatile racing skills.
If all goes well for Chase in 2018, perhaps a NASCAR Monster Energy Cup ride with the Stewart/Haas Racing Ford team is possible for 2019. Aric Almirola (in the No. 10 ex-Danica Patrick ride of 2017) is on a one-year contract for 2018. Clint Bowyer (in the No. 14 ex-Tony Stewart ride through 2016) is starting year two of his two year contract with Stewart-Haas. So both 2018 SHR team drivers have to perform well in 2018 to retain those coveted rides.
Good guy/rising racing star Chase, 22, is most cordial and informative when you talk to him in the pits between races. The former non-wing Indiana dirt track sprint car driver raced both his 360 sprint car and his own midget at the 2017 TNGP in Ventura. It was his first time in Ventura. Both colorful Briscoe team cars use No. 5 and have sponsor “Big Tine” on the hoods. Chase started 11th and finished seventh in Wednesday's 20-lap sprint main. The next night he started sixth and finished third in the 30-lap sprint feature. In the 98-lap TNGP midget main he started 24th in a 29-car field and was up to tenth by lap 80 when he slowed “with a bad battery” and faded to 21st.
Chase and his dad Kevin flew on American Airlines from Miami following the NASCAR race weekend directly to Las Vegas. They rented a car and drove to Ventura for the Turkey Night double-header. The Briscoe crew towed their 18-wheeler rig to Ventura from their home-base in Mitchell, Indiana and back home right after the race. The Briscoe father/son duo drove their rental car from Ventura to Las Vegas right after the Ventura midget main and caught a flight home to Indiana.
STEWART FRIESEN: The Canadian driver of modifieds, big block Super Dirt stock cars, and 410 sprint cars now lives in Sprakers, N.Y. with his wife and two-year old son Parker. Friesen won a WoO 410 sprint car feature in Canada. The friendly, personable driver is married to former feature winning 410 sprint car blond driver Jessica Zemken. She previously drove for and dated Tony Stewart in 2011. It is ironic that her husband's first name is the last name of her former boyfriend.
Friesen is another cordial and informative driver to speak to in the pits between races. The Friesen family flew from the NASCAR Miami-Homestead race (where he qualified ninth and finished seventh November 17) back home to upstate New York. The Friesen family later flew to LAX. They rented a car and drove to Ventura for the TNGP. He was amazed by the Ventura Raceway proximity to the beach and ocean.
While in Ventura, the Friesen family stayed in the home of car owner Steve Watt, who was Jessica's employer in 2006-07 when she tried California living. Watt employed Jessica full-time in his race shop taking care of his fleet of nine or ten CS9 and Maxim sprint cars. That earlier connection is how Friesen wound up driving one of the Watt No. 81 sprint cars in the 2017 TNGP. It was his first foray into the event. He flipped without injury in Wednesday practice.
Friesen, 34, drove the No. 52 Chevy Silverado in 19 of the 23 NCWT truck races in 2017 and usually ran in the top ten as a NCWT full-season rookie. He raced about six NASCAR truck races in 2016. He qualified on the pole once, led 103 laps, had two top five and five top ten finishes. He ranked 14th in final 2017 NCWT points. He plans to pursue his NASCAR truck career in 2018 and is billed as a potential series champion.
The 2017 TNGP Midget field had 20 rookies (first-time TNGP participants no matter what their experience level was). The 360 sprint car contingent also had some impressive newcomers. One of the brightest stars and a driver to watch in the future is Klint Simpson, of Santa Rosa. Klint, 25, drove the No. 101 Kirk Edison entry, a CS9 with a Haver-built engine. He started ninth and finished third in Wednesday's 20-lap main behind Bacon and Rutherford to earn “hard charger” of the race. Klint drew P. 2 for Thursday's 30-lap main. He led the first three laps and finished an impressive fourth, behind USAC National Series drivers Courtney, Bacon, and Briscoe.
Last year in his TNGP 360 sprint car debut, Klint drove an outdated Concord-based No. 32 Dave Johnson-owned 2008 Eagle/Chevy. It had a cast iron block and carburetor. On Wednesday he started on the pole and led all ten laps in heat five. He started 16th and finished 11th (DNF) in the 20-lap main. On Thursday Klint started on the pole and led all 12 laps in one of three B-mains. He started the 30-lap feature 11th and finished an impressive fifth with 15 of 20 starters still racing a the finish. Some smart car owner should sign Klint for 2018 and beyond.