RACING SCENE – (PAS Oval National Sprints – Part 1 of 2) – By Tim Kennedy
LOS ANGELES – The 21st annual Budweiser Oval National presented by All-Coast Construction at Perris Auto Speedway was another winner. It took place from Thursday-Saturday November 10-12 with USAC 410 cu. in. non-wing sprint cars the only cars in competition. They are what fans come to see. Oval Entertainment LLC, under President Don Kazarian and his staff, provide a continuing major event on the national sprint car racing calendar.
The PAS Oval Nationals has several things going for it that predict success. They are:
> The race dates -- three nights in early November in temperate Southern California when racing elsewhere in the nation has ended.
> The place -- the well-groomed PAS semi-banked half-mile clay track.
> The sanctioning body/cars -- USAC open-wheel, non-wing sprint cars.
> Season-ending point races -- for both USAC National and USAC-CRA western regional sprint circuits to ensure participation by top ten in points--drivers and teams.
The 2016 season was no exception. There were 48 entrants, including five prior Oval Nationals champions. Past winners accounted for 11 of the prior 20 Oval National championships. Thursday and Friday preliminary nights had 44 sprinters racing each night. Fourteen of the cars were USAC National Series teams. Three teams were from Arizona and four came from central or northern California. Nor Cal's Bud Kaeding was a collaborator because he drove a car from Arizona. USAC-CRA full-time and part-time teams made up the balance of the competitive field.
Fans responded to the attraction and grandstand attendance increased steadily each night. Thursday night the main grandstand from the fourth to first turns was crowded at the top third rows. Friday the same rows were about two-thirds full. Saturday about 70 to 80% of the main grandstand seats were occupied. The fourth and first turn bleachers each had fans in the top third of those seats each night. Pits were crowded as well.
PRINTED PROGRAM: The $5.00, 46-page color printed program is a collectors' item. It appropriately had the versatile late open-wheel superstar Bryan Clauson, 27, on the cover. As the reigning 2015 PAS Oval Nationals champion he is pictured raising the traditional Oval Nationals white eagle trophy following his 2015 triumph. Inside are two full pages in tribute to Bryan by All-Coast Construction owner/sprint car financial “angel” Mike Grosswendt.
Additionally, a two-page centerfold honored popular Clauson and showed eight of the cars he raced during his productive career. They were: a quarter-midget, midget, winged and non-winged sprint cars, NASCAR stock car, and Indianapolis 500 car. A victory lane photo with his father Tim and fiancee Lauren Stewart completed the tribute to a great driver and human being. He was an organ donor and five people benefited by his caring for others.
Bryan's tragic passing on August 7 after a midget racing crash in the prestigious Belleville (Kan.) Midget Nationals left a void that cannot be filled in the hearts of those who knew him. Fans who met the friendly, smiling, always cordial driver will never forget him and his achievements. Bryan was from Northern California originally and from Noblesville, Indiana for the last decade.
Bryan was racing his ambitious, challenging “Circular Insanity - Chasing 200 Tour” this year. He had raced in 105 events, had 27 feature triumphs, 32 top fives and 73 top ten main event finishes when he lost his life. He raced in his third Indy 500 on May 29 during the 100th running of the greatest race in the world. Bryan led three laps, including lap 100 of the 200-lap event, thanks to pit strategy. He was making a memorable run that demonstrated his talent and stamina. The PAS Oval Nationals and Ventura Turkey Night Midget GP were on his website published 2016 schedule. He hoped to win consecutive PAS eagle trophies and his third TNGP.
Other program full-page color photos honored past Oval National winners Chris Windom, Mike Spencer, and Dave Darland. An east versus west page with 2016 USAC National Sprint two-time champion Brady Bacon and 2016 USAC-CRA four-time champion Damion Gardner shared a full page.
There was a page with color photos of all 20 Oval National champions at speed in the car they drove to victory. There were three color pages of USAC-CRA sprint cars at speed and two color pages of USAC National Sprint cars at speed. The program had five pages of entrants by car numbers, top ten in USAC National Sprint and USAC-CRA point standings, space for race lineups, and a section about Oval National special awards.
CHASSIS / ENGINES: The 2016 Oval Nationals field had nine chassis builders represented in the 44 car field. Maxim led with 19 cars, followed by Spike with nine, DRC (Mike Devin) four, Triple X three, and A.R.T two. Other builders listed included Eagle, RSS (K. Chrisco) and Victory. There were 13 engines listed. Five teams listed Chevy and five said Ron Shaver built their power. Four each came from Claxton and Kistler. Three were Fisher-built. Two each came from JD Performance and Shark (Washington state). Others came from Gibson, Powell, Pro Flyer, S & S, and Wesmar. Some declined to specify.
Car owner Dwight Cheney experienced an expensive Oval Nationals. He entered his No. 42 new 2016 Maxim for rising star Carson Macedo, 20, from Lemoore. Macedo, a member of the USAC National Midget Series Keith Kunz vaunted seven-car team, ranked sixth in USAC National Midget 2016 points as a rookie. It was the first Cheney-Macedo pairing and Macedo's first race at Perris. On Thursday, he set tenth fastest qualifying time. He won the fifth heat after starting fifth and leading laps 7-10. Macedo started tenth and finished seventh in Thursday's 30-lap main.
On Friday, Macedo qualified fourth fastest in the 44 car field. He started sixth in his heat and was third on lap 5 after going to the outside in turn two and passing two drivers, including Dave Darland. When Macedo got to the third turn at speed he caught the crash-wall and rolled once. He was O, but the new Maxim received heavy damage. Dwight said weeks later it was destroyed. Dwight brought out his older No. 42 Maxim for Saturday racing. Macedo also flipped that car in the first heat race while running sixth on lap 7 after he got caught in a three-car crash in turn four and rolled. The car was damaged too badly to repair for racing that evening.
PAS NEWCOMERS: The Ted Finkenbinder two car team from Nor Cal had two young drivers racing in their first visit to The PAS. They are exciting drivers to watch. Both drivers flipped, but were not deterred. They said they liked the speed of the PAS half-mile. Colton Slack, 23, from Brentwood, drove the No. 3F DRC/Chevy. He raced outlaw karts and 600cc micro sprints at Stockton Delta Speedway from ages 11-15. He then moved up to winged sprint cars at various Nor Cal tracks.
Joe Stornetta, 22, from Napa, drove the No. 3T Eagle/Chevy. He is the grandson of the Paul Stornetta, who raced hardtop sedans in the 1950s-60s at numerous Bay Area speedways, such as Petaluma and Vallejo. Paul died at 81 from a heart attack years ago. Joe started racing quarter-midgets as a youngster. At 15 he raced winged sprint cars in Nor Cal and most recently a 410 sprinter at Calistoga.
On Thursday Stornetta was the 11th fastest qualifier and Slack the 34th quickest of 44 qualifiers. Stornetta finished fifth in his nine car 10-lap heat race. Slack started and finished seventh in his nine-car heat. In the 12-lap B-main, Stornetta was in P. 4 (a transfer to the main) when he caught the wall on lap 9 and rolled. He restarted and finished 14th with 16 cars still racing. Teammate Slack finished ninth.
In Friday time trials, Stornetta was 14th quickest of 44 drivers and Slack 31st. Stornetta started fourth and finished third in his 10-lap heat to transfer to the A-main. Slack placed sixth in his heat and DNF the B-main. Stornetta started 13th and finished 12th in the 30-lap A-main with 20 finishers all on the lead lap.
Only 37 cars ran qualifying laps Saturday. Stornetta was 11th fastest and Slack 15th quickest. The teammates started heat three alongside in the first row. Stornetta led all ten laps to again make the A-main. He defeated runner-up/USAC National veteran Hunter Schuerenberg by 20-yards. Slack was in P. 4 on lap 8 when he contacted the second turn wall and flipped once without injury. He started 11th in the second B-main and finished eighth, but only the top five finishers moved on to the A-main. Stornetta started 14th in the 40-lap feature and finished 13th, on the lead lap, with 21 of 27 starters still racing. Hopefully, the dynamic duo will return to PAS before the 22nd Oval Nationals.
DRIVER DATA: Cody Majors, 20, from Simi Valley, is the grandson of actor Lee Majors, the star of TV's “The Six Million Dollar Man” from 1973-78 and ex-husband of TV's “Charlie's Angels” actress Farrah Fawcett from 1973-82. Personable Cody, a graduate of quarter-midget racing, said Lee, 77, is not interested in racing. Cody drove the No. 81x Steve Watt Maxim at the Oval Nationals.... Richard Vander Weerd's No. 10 Maxim/Shark used the 410 engine out of his twin brother Jace's No. 88 car after Richard blew his engine a week earlier in the two-night event at Queen Creek, Arizona. Richard said he really appreciated his twin's unselfishness. Jace helped the Visalia-based team in the pits.
PAS Young Gun graduate Matt McCarthy, 25, of Riverside, made his first start in the 410 sprint division at the 2016 Oval Nationals. Matt's Triple X 2014 chassis is the ex-No. 99 Brady Bacon-owned and driven car. Matt's dad, John McCarthy, bought it recently for Matt to race with USAC-CRA in 2017. Bacon's No. 69 Hoffman Racing Triple X/Williams-Mopar pitted next to his former car and he assisted the McCarthy's with advice. Matt is the oldest of six siblings, five male and one female. His dad had two sons and his step-mom had four children.
Thomas Meseraull, from San Jose and now an Indianapolis resident, drove the No. 42x Maxim/Kistler owned by Josh Bates, of Sacramento. The sponsor is Sport Clips (haircuts). It was the first trip to The PAS by the team. In Oval Nationals main events, Meseraull finished 16th Thursday, 14th Friday, and a retirement from P. 11 about lap 30 of Saturday's feature because of engine overheating.
The No. 5m Max Adams 2016 Maxim/Wesmar blew its engine Wednesday night during the PAS open-practice session. The Scott Adams team used its 360 cu. in. Chevy in the Oval Nationals all three nights. Max used provisional berths in all three features and finished in positions 23, 25 and 25 (down a lap). Adams, from Loomis, ranked seventh in USAC-CRA points and won the 2016 series rookie of the year title.
The USAC National Series No. 17GP Maxim/Fisher entered by mid-westerner Mike Dutcher was driven by Aaron Farney, of Lafayette, Indiana. It was one of three No. 17 cars entered and the GP following the number represented Griffins Propane, the team sponsor. That is a clever way for a car sponsor to get additional recognition for sponsorship dollars.