RACING SCENE Column – By Tim Kennedy
LOS ANGELES – Big news in Southern California open-wheel racing recently involves extra money for sprint car and midget racing major events. First bonus money night was the August 26 Perris Auto Speedway (PAS) annual “California Racers Hall of Fame Night” at the half-mile clay track in Riverside County. Many retired drivers were in the pits. WRA vintage midgets, and sprint cars, (even a 1940s CRA roadster) were on display inside the PAS main entrance.
Extra money was donated by racers, spectators and firms for every lap (at $100 or $200 for some laps) in the 30-lap main event. Lap money was in memory of deceased racers or to honor living racers. Max Adams led the first lap. Arizonan R. J. Johnson led laps 2-30 to earn the lion's share of the bonus cash. It was his third consecutive 30-lap PAS feature victory.
A special fast time award of $600 honored the late two-time CRA champion Billy Wilkerson. Jake Swanson won the six C-notes. There also was a special $2,000 “Junior” Kurtz trophy dash to honor the late USAC Silver Crown and sprint car owner of Plastic Express Trucking. His widow Michelle posted the money for the second consecutive year.
The Kurtz family brought the brand new USAC Silver Crown car that “Junior” had started before his death in March 2016. Respected fabricator Jeff Heywood, a former winning midget/sprint car driver, completed the beautiful new No. 2 Plastic Express Special. It resembles the paint scheme A. J. Foyt had on his Sheraton-Thompson Spl. champ dirt car.
The four fastest qualifiers raced four three-lap dashes for points (3-2-1-0). Each driver had to start once from each of the four starting positions. Positions one to four in dash points received $1,000, $500, $300, and $200. A 30-year old Ascot Park CRA trophy also went to the winner. Overall dash winner with nine points was Brody Roa. Second through fourth were: Swanson (7 pts), Mike Spencer (6 pts), and Ronnie Gardner (2 pts).
Additionally, former CRA sprint car owner/driver Mark Atchison donated $1,500 to participants in the 10-lap heat races. In all, more than $7,000 in ADDITIONAL cash awards, beyond the usual purse, were presented to racers. As usual, PAS infield announcer Chris Holt spear-headed this successful money-raising effort.
The 22nd annual PAS Oval Nationals presented by All-Coast Construction (owner Mike Grosswendt) will feature USAC National and USAC-CRA 410 sprint cars. All three nights are point races for both series. Racing will be Thursday-Saturday, November 9, 10, 11. Total purse is now $107,000. The feature winner Saturday will receive $25,000. Second and third place will receive $10,000 and $5,000. All main event starters will receive at least $500.
Entry blanks are available on-line at the PAS website. PAS and Oval Nationals promoter Donnie Kazarian has announced the Grand Marshal this year is Cory Kruseman, of Ventura. The past track and 410 sprint series driving champion is also a Saturday A-main multi-winner of the Tulsa Chili Bowl Midget Classic.
The latest bonus money offering this week is a $50,000 contingency bonus award to any driver who comes to oceanfront Ventura Raceway and wins both the 77th annual USAC Thanksgiving Night Midget Grand Prix feature and the Ventura Racing Assn. 360 cu. in. sprint car main events on Thursday, November 23.
Automotive Racing Products , Inc. (ARP) of Ventura and Santa Paula has posted this alluring $50K bonus offer. Gary Holzabfel founded the firm in 1968 and the current president is Mike Holzapfel. ARP is an engine and drive-line parts and fasteners forging, machining, packaging and warehousing firm. It occupies more than 200,000 square feet at two sites in Ventura County. It is known for high-performance OEM replacement parts and exotic specialty hardware for Formula One, Indy Car, NASCAR and NHRA. This $50K bonus offer is sure to make ARP even better known in open-wheel racing.
Last year USAC midgets practiced Wednesday night and 360 sprints raced a 20-lap feature won by Tristan Guardino. The midget main was the usual 98-laps while the 360 sprints raced 30 laps in the 2016 double-header last Thanksgiving evening. Geoff Ensign won the 30-lap sprint main and Kyle Larson (Keith Kunz Bullet/Toyota) won the 98-lap midget GP on his first visit to Ventura's banked, fifth-mile.
Ventura had 53 midgets and 43 360 USAC/VRA sprint cars (non-points race) in the first joining of these two series at the TNGP. Numerous drivers raced in both a midget and sprint car last Thanksgiving. Many more drivers (including possibly USAC/NASCAR driver Christopher Bell) will double-dip this year. Expect more than 100 cars in the pits. Carson Macedo finished fourth in the 360 sprint main and then third in the midget feature. So victory in both mains is possible.
USAC-CRA points racing started with the 2004 season. It has run 199 races through August 2017 and 34 drivers have won main events in the series. Five-time USAC-CRA champions Damion Gardner and Mike Spencer lead with 42 and 24 feature triumphs. Damion has three features this season (two at PAS and one at Bakersfield); Mike has one victory at Ventura. Other winners of the ten races prior to September are R. J. Johnson (three), Richard Vander Weerd, Max Adams, and Brody Roa.
Damion Gardner said he has given up his USAC Silver Crown ride in the No. 6 Klatt/Bob East Beast Chevy because of conflicting race dates with USAC-CRA. He could not be at the Du Quoin mile Sept. 3, nor the Eldora Sept 23 event. Damion ranked ninth in 2017 SC points when he left his first-class SC ride and he was the leading 2017 SC “rookie”. Robert Ballou got the Klatt/East ride for DuQuoin.
Damion and his No. 4 Alexander team drew the number one pill to qualify at PAS August 26. “I hate it,” he replied about his qualifying order. It was a blazing 106-degrees at 3:30 pm. When qualifying started at 6 pm it was still 100. Usually the fastest or near the fastest qualifier, Damion only posted the eighth quickest time. Therefore he missed out on the bonus dash money that night.
Damion is the “world's fastest sprint car driver” for his 211+ clocking at the Bonneville Salt Flats in a specially modified Beast. He said the silver sprinter he drove in Utah is now on loan to the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Iowa.
Damion won his August 26 heat race. He started eighth in the 30-lap feature and was second on lap 19. Then things turned sour. He tangled with a car being lapped, flipped in turn one and finished 15th. Damion entered the evening as the series 2017 points leader by four points over Roa, who finished seventh. Damion lost his points lead and now trails Roa by 18 points.
The annual USAC-CRA road trip in California will race at five tracks in eight days from September 2-9. Tracks will be the half-mile in Calistoga (Sept 2-3), Petaluma (Sept. 4), Chico, (Sept. 7), Watsonville (Sept. 8), and Hanford (Sept. 9).