RACING SCENE – (PAS Oval National Sprints – Part 2 of 2) – By Tim Kennedy
LOS ANGELES – Forty-four sprint cars qualified Thursday from 5:56 to 6:29 pm. Damion Gardner, the 14th driver to qualify, set fast time of 16.249, well short of the 15.833 PAS track record set by Nic Faas on 2/25/12. Five ten-lap heat races started at 7:05 (with nine starters in each and a six-car inverted lineup). Each heat sent the first four finishers to Thursday's 30-lap feature. Winners (with starting positions) were: Bud Kaeding (1), Brady Bacon (4), Chad Boespflug (5), Brody Roa (4) and Carson Macedo (5). Carson, the third leader, led the final four laps. The 20-year old won by 15-yards over laps 3-6 leader Thomas Meseraull.
Austin Williams started and finished first in the 12-lap B-main that sent the top four finishers to the A-main. Jake Swanson, Josh Hodges, and Austin Liggett earned P. 2-4. Boespflug led all the way from pole to record his first feature victory at The PAS. Runner-up and red-hot USAC National driver Chris Windom trailed by 40-yards in the “Bill Pratt Main”. It was 81 degrees at the track at 4:30 and still 66 when racing concluded at 9:23 pm on a mid-week work day.
Two USAC-CRA provisional starting berths made it a 26-car field and 24 drivers finished, with only one car down a lap. Hard-charger honors went to Kaeding in Mike Martin's No. 16. Bryan Clauson drove Martin's car to his 2015 Oval Nationals Saturday feature triumph. Kaeding started 23rd and finished 11th (+12 positions).
THURSDAY: Feature winner/former Hanford resident Boespflug had “Folger's Coffee” on the hood of his No. 98e. He said his favorite driver was the late Tim Richmond who drove the No. 25 Folger's Coffee Chevy in NASCAR Cup races. Chad said he owns the 2016 Maxim chassis. The Claxton engine is owned by Chuck Everhardt. Chad said they had an awful trip out to Arizona a week earlier.
“The track (PAS) was pretty awesome tonight. All my family are here tonight, and Davy Jones (crew chief and son of retired driver Tony Jones) has his family here too.” Runner-up Wisdom stated, “The track was fast all night. Chad drove away on the restart (lap 16). Third place Bacon said his No. 69 Hoffman Racing team (founded by patriarch August Hoffman) has been racing 87 years since 1929.
FRIDAY: The format was similar to Thursday. It was 77 degrees at the track at 5:27 pm and still 63 when the 30-lap feature ended at 9:46 pm. The same 44 cars qualified from 5:50 to 6:24. Jake Swanson, the first qualifier on the track, set fast time at 16.417. Only Austin Liggett did not post a time after he bicycled at the first turn cushion. His team had to change a broken rear end.
Five Friday heat winners (with starting positions) were: Hunter Schuerenberg (2), Windom (4), A. J. Bender (1) after making a nice inside pass in turn two on lap 7 to lead the final four laps, Kevin Thomas, Jr. (3), and Bacon (4). Fifth starter Ryan Bernal led laps 2-12 and won the B-main. The 30-lap “Evelyn Pratt Main” had Boespflug on the pole again in his No. 98e. Some people almost ceded him the victory. But that's why they run the race as the saying goes. The recorded voice of Evelyn again called drivers to qualifying each night.
Chad led the first 15 laps, but impressive eighth starter Dave Darland led the final 30 and won another PAS feature. Dave was sixth on lap 11. He used strong outside passes to take P. 5 (L 12), third on lap 14 (by two cars high in turns three/four), and was second on lap 15. He took the lead with a sensational outside pass of Boespflug near the crash-wall from turn four to the starting line. On lap 25 second place Boespflug was ten-yards in back of leader Darland and still charging in hopes of winning two in a row.
Then Chad slid into the backstretch wall and flipped about three times, landing overturned in mid-track. Following drivers avoided contact or stopped at the second turn. On Saturday, Chad showed me the 98e he flipped stored at the back of his trailer. He said it had a badly bent frame and cracked body panels. He added it was destroyed because of his drivers' error.
Darland (in Jeff Walker's No. 11) gets better with age. He is a three-time Oval Nationals Champion (2005-06-13) driving Walker's No. 11 in the first two and the No. 71p Phillips Chevy in 2013). He turned 50 on September 4 and is now eligible for induction into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in Knoxville, IA. He spoke over the infield mic to spectators and said, “There is no forgiveness up there (the cushion).Yes, we took a chance and had a good race car. Oval Nationals points are important. Sixth place last night and first tonight means we're in good shape.” He thanked Oval Nationals sponsor “Big Mike” Grossswendt and asked the crowd to applaud him. “Sponsors help us all have a good time,” Dave added.
SATURDAY: The PAS crowd enjoyed 81 degrees at 4:00 pm. It was still 66 when the 40-lap feature ended at 10:10. The top six after two preliminary nights did not have to qualify. They were seeded directly into the Saturday feature. They were (with Oval National points): Windom (274), Darland (272), Bacon (270), D. Gardner (261), Richard Vander Weerd (246) and Brody Roa (238). Just missing the cutoff was Boespflug (236), so his Friday flip cost him a car and a direct ticket to Saturday's high-dollar finale.
Qualifying by 37 drivers on night three went smoothly from 5:53 – 6:20 pm. Kaeding's 16.587 was the fastest lap. He said, “My wife and kid wanted me to go home last night after the cockpit fire.” A broken fuel line during the feature on lap 4 in the fourth turn caused leg burns. Bud exited the car quickly and was treated by paramedics in the pits. They bandaged his leg burns and he remained in the pits. “I said if I'm dumb enough to come down and run I'm dumb enough to stay.”
Saturday's four ten-lap heat races started at 6:46 pm and had four-car inverted starting lineups. Each heat sent the first two finishers to the 40-lap main. Winners (with starting positions) were: Chase Stockon (2), Boespflug (2) in his backup car, Joe Stornetta (2) and Jon Stanbrough (1). The six-lap “Super Six” trophy dash was for the six high-point Oval Nationals drivers after the prior two nights. Their finishing positions in the dash determined their starting positions in the feature. Roa led all six laps and later picked the main event pole position instead of outside row one.
At 7:40 Don Kazarian interviewed Oval Nationals Grand Marshal “Super” Rickie Gaunt, who retired from racing last year after 26 years. He said his biggest win was the 1999 PAS Oval Nationals. He also appreciated his final main event victory on July 3, 2015 in Santa Maria. Greg Helm, NSCHoF board member, then presented to Kazarian his NSCHoF 2015 promoter of the year plaque.
A pair of 12-lap B-main events started at 8:01 and sent the first five finishers in each race to the feature. Both races started 13 cars. Pole starter Kevin Thomas, Jr. led every lap in the first B. Jake Swanson did the same after starting second in the second B-main.
Then track lights on the front straight were turned off. Driver introductions by announcer Scott Daloisio on the lighted podium at the start/finish infield added showmanship. Drivers from the back row to the front row waved to fans and walked to their cars. In tribute to the late 2015 PAS Oval Nationals winner Bryan Clauson, the field ran a missing man formation with the pole position vacant.
The 40-lap feature paid $25,000 to win; P. 2 and P. 3 paid $15,000 and $10,000. The feature awarded at least $1,000 just to start. The 27 car lineup included three provisional starters (one USAC National and two USAC-CRA). They received the green flag at 9:40. There was a red flag at lap 5 for a flip and three yellow flags later. The race concluded at 10:10 with 21 cars still racing and 18 drivers on the lead lap.
Second starter Gardner (No. 4 Alexander Spike/JD Performance) got the jump on Roa and led every lap. Damion got high on lap 28 in the second turn and briefly lost the lead to Vander Weerd, but he had the lead back before the fourth turn. Windom lost P. 4 to Bacon on lap 36 and retook the position on lap 38. Windom then passed Roa high in turns three/four on lap 39 for P. 3.
On the final lap (40) Windom went to the outside in turn four to the finish line and barely edged Vander Weerd for second at the finish. He trailed now three-time Oval Nationals winner Gardner by 1.040 seconds when starter Kevin Winter waved the checkered flag. The track had little or no dust thanks to PAS reworking it before the feature. The absence of wind obviously helped.
TOP THREE QUOTES:
Gardner said, “This has been a rough year (no feature victories until the ninth race on August 27 and only four in 23 USAC-CRA events until tonight). We keep fighting back. I saw Richard (Vander Weerd) and he was pretty good. I was pretty nervous. I knew I was the only one to mess it up if I made a mistake. I appreciate all the crew and 'Big Mike'. I really wanted to win the Ovals. Richard got by me one time and I got him back. I love putting on a show for fans.”
Windom stated, “It was kind of a shame the way the track was. I had to follow them around for the early laps. Maybe I'll do better next year. Congratulations to Damion. We'll be back.” The Illinois resident felt he could have won the race if he had more laps.
Vander Weerd said, “Brody pushed at the start and Damion got by. At one point I got by Damion. Lapping was tough. My car got too tight at the end. I heard a car coming up fast. I hit a hole in the third turn and he got by me on the outside coming to the finish.” Richard thanked crewman Tommy, brother Jace, father Ron, plus his girl friend. He added, “We'll try to rebuild and get better next year. We'll be back.”
AWARDS: Post-race ceremonies included the awarding of the usual Oval Nationals awards/trophies.
> Dean Thompson Award - to High Point Driver after Nights One & Two: Chris Windom.
> Ray Scheetz Award – to Mechanic of the Race: Steve Alexander (of winning Gardner No. 4).
> Tony Jones Hard Charger Award – to Austin Williams for advancing eight positions from his 20th starting to 12th finishing position.