RACING SCENE – (PAS Sprint Cars) – By Tim Kennedy
LOS ANGELES, - An all-sprint car racing night at Perris Auto Speedway Saturday, June 23 featured 24 USAC-CRA 410 sprint cars, eight Senior Sprint 360 sprints, and five Young Gun 360 sprinters. A large crowd in the grandstand witnessed one of the most memorable USAC-CRA features in many years. If you missed it try to locate the video.
The battle for first place between local PAS hero and six-time series champion (five in a row from 2013-17) and invader Justin Grant, a veteran of all three USAC National Series (Silver Crown, National Sprints and Midgets), was an instant classic. Grant is from Ione (population 7,918 in 2010 census) in Amador County SE of Sacramento. He won the 2012 BCRA Midget Series Championship before relocating to Indiana to further his racing career.
Justin became the father of fraternal twins (a boy & girl) who “are now one and a half and doing well.” This year he has excellent rides in all three USAC National Series and is enjoying one of his best seasons. He ranks second in S/C points with a Terre Haute 100 victory in a 29 car field during April driving the Hemelgarn No. 91. He ranks eighth in current points in both USAC National Sprint and Midget Series. He drives the No. 4 TOPP sprinter and the No. 17BC Clauson-Marshall-Wood midget.
PAS JUNE 23: Sixth fastest qualifier Gardner, 41, started the feature on the pole via a six-car inverted start. Third fastest qualifier Grant, 27, started fourth in a 22-car field. Second starter Logan Williams ceded the lap 1 turn one lead to Gardner's first turn slide job. Logan shot under Gardner's Alexander (now Trench Shoring-sponsored) No. 4 in turn two and led the first two laps. Gardner led laps 3-8. Grant, who took second on lap 3, made a lap 9 first turn slide job pass for the lead, but that amazing move was negated by a yellow flag. Gardner restarted lap 9 as the leader and held the point through lap 11.
Then Grant executed another perfect slide job pass on Gardner in the first turn for the point. With lapping underway, Grant led laps 12-23. He held a 15-yard advantage over Gardner on lap 19. Determined Gardner cut that in half by lap 22 and led lap 24 officially by feet. Grant charged back on lap 25 and led the final six laps. Invader Grant had defeated home track ace Gardner in a surprising upset and beat him by ten-yards.
INTERVIEWS: Winner Grant said, “The owner (Reinbold) called me to drive this car. I've seen it around and it gets them a PAS win. I love to come race at Perris. This place is awesome. I almost gave it (victory) away a couple of times and almost turned it over.”
Runner-up Gardner stated: “We were good enough to win. He (Grant) put in a bunch of good laps and I over-drove it to catch him. Fans saw a good battle. All the fans should keep coming back. No excuses, that's all I had. I might have made a few mistakes, but he drove a good race. Fans want to see 410s not 360s, so keep coming back and we'll put on good shows.”
Third finisher Roa told fans via the PA mic, “It's a good end to a trying night. The driver messed up in the heat race (by hitting the backstretch wall while leading). I gave my team extra work.” Later his dad Brett said, “We allow him to make one error a year and that was it.” Brody concluded by saying, “The track was different from normal, but good. It was narrow getting into the turns, but good on top all night.”
Amazingly, Grant had never driven for Andy Reinbold and he had never driven a Spike chassis which the No. 19 is. Reinbold, a 6'7” former driver, called friend Grant to see if he would race his car on an off-weekend for USAC National divisions. Grant flew to Phoenix and traveled to Perris by car with Reinbold. The crew drove the hauler with the race car and experienced a problem near Blythe. The fuel filter had a crack, allowing air to enter and made the truck late getting to PAS. Andy said they had the necessary parts and would fix it before driving the rig back to Arizona.
Any experience Grant gained at PAS, which Google Earth in 2012 called a 3/8-mile, should be beneficial. Additional experience at PAS could help him win his first Oval Nationals in November. Last November Grant drove Indianan Sam Mc Ghee's No. 11 Maxim. He started up front and led laps 32-33 of the 40-lap main, but he finished a close second to winner Kevin Thomas, Jr. Grant's June 23 outstanding race in the No. 19 will make him one of the 2018 Oval Nationals pre-race favorites in his season-long No. 4 ride.
Roa took P. 3 from May 26 PAS feature winner Austin Williams on lap 20 and closed rapidly on the two front-runners. He said if the race was 40-laps he might have won. Roa trailed Gardner by 30-yards at the 9:50 pm checkered flag. P. 4-10 were: A. Williams, Jake Swanson, Tommy Malcolm, Max Adams, Cody Williams, R. J. Johnson and L. Williams. Six drivers were down a lap and three drivers completed 28 laps.
It was good to see veteran Matt Mitchell racing in the No. 34AZ car from Arizona. With June through August too hot for racing according to Arizonans, four AZ cars came west to PAS. Matt was the 13th qualifier and set the fastest time--16.710. USAC-CRA events at PAS on Aug. 18, Sept. 22 and Oct. 20 and the 23rd annual Oval Nationals Nov. 8-10 should have more Arizona sprinters. That classic race awards USAC regional and national points and is always competitive and well-attended.
The second heat June 23 had all three of 2009 NSCHoF inductee Rip Williams' sons in it aboard John Jory cars. They started in P. 4 (Cody), P. 5 (Logan), and P. 6 (Austin). Logan beat his older brothers and finished second with Austin third and Cody fifth. All three rank in the top ten in 2018 points with Cody, 28, fourth, Austin, 27, sixth, and Logan, 22, tenth.
With P. 1-4 in three heats moving directly to the 30-lap feature, a 12-car B-main advanced only the top ten drivers to the feature. Positions 8-9-10 went to series newcomers. YG graduate/USAC-CRA rookie Joel Rayborne, from West Covina, started 11th in the 2012 Okie chassis No. 12B Blair and finished eighth. He will turn 16 on August 13.
Austin Ervine, 19, a 360 sprint driver from Bakersfield who relocated from Arizona, started 12th and finished ninth. His grandfather Al Ervine, of Phoenix, raced his own No. 21A at Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix with ARA and CRA during the 1960s-70s.
CLS veteran Jeff Dyer, a 35-year old rookie CHP officer from Bermuda Dunes, was in P. 7 on lap 7 when a flat tire sent him to the pits. With only nine finishers, his tenth place gave him the final feature berth. He had to start his CHP shift at midnight in the Palm Springs area, so he wanted an all-green race.
The only drivers who missed the feature were B-main non-finishers Gary Marshall, Jr, 26, from Pomona, and Tye Mihocko, 20, from Peoria, AZ. Marshall, a YG graduate, was in P. 3 when he dropped out on lap 3. Mihocko was in sixth spot on lap 3 when his engine began smoking heavily, sending him to the pits in a premature ending for one of his rare PAS appearances.
Marshall's No. 72 2005 TCR chassis, owned by his dad, used a 383 cu. in. Chevy for the third time instead of their 360 from last year. Mihocko was in his dad Tim's No. 5T 2018 Spike. His first time at PAS in a 410 was April 21 when he placed eighth in the same car. He raced at PAS once earlier in a 360 as a Young Gun. This is Tye's fifth year driving a sprinter primarily a 360. He works with his dad repairing transport refrigeration units (Thermo King and Carrier) for trucking firms.
SENIORS: John Aden, 45, won his heat and the 20-lap main for seniors for his third consecutive triumph at PAS in 2018. He said he will have some of his Victorville-based Wheel-to-Wheel speedway sprints, powered by motorcycle engines, race a demo heat race at Industry Speedway in The Grand Arena. The demo should occur in mid-July or mid-August.
A wild senior heat race had P. 3 Dale Underwood spin on lap 3 in turn one. P. 6 Tyler Hatzikian hit the spun car and flipped twice before landing upright in mid-track next to Underwood's No. 98. P. 8 Dan Taylor also spun out behind them. All three cars were parked for the evening with damage.
Dan Taylor, 41, a transplanted Ohioan now living in San Diego, drove his own No. 5T. It is a 2008 Stinger (ex-No. 21 A. J. Bender ride) he bought from the Bender family. Dan started racing for the first time ever in a 360 senior sprint car. He used No. 5 because his dad raced a No. 5 stock car in Ohio. He pit next to the Bender 21 team for advice about their ex-car. He put K & R Motor-sports on the hood for Kim and Rich, parents of driver A. J. from Ramona. In his second PAS race on May 26 Dan blew a head gasket.
Tyler Hatzikian, 46, is a second-year senior sprint driver and El Segundo resident. He rented the No. 4K Cory Kruseman Eagle sprinter last season and bought it this year. He put No. 27 on it for his birth year (1972) backwards and for the uniform number of his favorite MLB player, Kent Tekulve-a sidearm pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1974-85. Tyler Surfboards is the sponsor name on both sides of his hood. Tyler builds 1960s-style plywood and fiberglass surfboards for sale in his shop at 118 W. Grand Ave., El Segundo. He builds 10' 7” Noserider Advanced Tradition Longboards. His website is Tyler Surfboards.com.
After his June 23 PAS heat race flip (described above) he needs to sell more surfboards. The flip bent his Eagle chassis in several places; bodywork was torn up in several places as well. Salvageable items were the rear end, some body panels, wheels and steering wheel. Tyler told me he did not recall much about the the flip and said, “I'll have to watch it on tape.” He plans to return to the senior sprint car wars ASAP.
Seniors 20-lap main had Ed Schwarz, from Santa Fe Springs, lead laps 1-2. Fifth starter Aden, from Apple Valley, led the final 18 laps. He told infield announcer Chris Holt, “It's tiring. Maybe I could go ten more laps. Winning doesn't get old for me.” Schwarz placed fourth with newcomer/El Segundo resident Eddie Williams, 63, fifth, down a lap in the No. 5K.
Runner-up Richard McCormick, the now 60-year old 2017 PAS Senior Sprint champion, took second from 2013 series champion Rick Hendrix, 65, on lap 18. He said, “My car was tight in the beginning and got faster at the end.” P. 3 Hendrix said “This is a brand new XXX car. I love it.” He destroyed his Maxim in a PAS flip May 26. He credited his crew chief/wife for her efforts.
The No. 71 team has a change of address/state for driver McCormick and car owner Steve Luport. Richard retired and moved from Agua Dulce, CA to Seligman, in Arizona's high country between Kingman and Flagstaff. Steve is retiring soon and is moving from Burbank to Lake Havasu, AZ. They plan to race their 360 sprint car at Arizona speedways—Canyon Speedway in Peoria, Arizona Speedway in San Tan Valley, and at Casa Grande.
Young Guns had all five cars in a 6-lap heat race with two leaders. P. 1 Blade Hildebrand, from Yucca Valley, blew the engine on lap 2, ending his race night. Blade, 19, won the YG May 26 PAS feature. He is in his second season as a 360 YG driver. He won a PAS main in 2017 in his family-owned 2017 XXX No. 5.
This year Blade also races a No. 68 truck in Robby Gordon's Stadium Race Truck Series that has 12 trucks. It competes in the Long Beach GP, Perth, Australia, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Texas Motor Speedway. Blade's best finish has been third in Perth. Gordon's truck races are shown on CBSSN. Blade also races in Lucas Oil Pro Lite off-road races in the desert and at tracks such as Glen Helen and Lake Elsinore. The Hildebrands sold their two spec late models (S2 cars) and have a new late model to race at paved tracks in Irwindale and at Kern County Raceway Park.
Austin Brundage, 15, from Apple Valley, led laps 2-6 in his black No. 3 for his initial PAS heat race victory. On 8/5/17 he raced a W2W speedway sprint (restricted class) at the eighth-mile Industry Speedway in the Grand Arena. He also used No. 3 on it and won his heat race and 15-lap main. Eddie Tafoya, Jr (No. 51T) finished second to Brundage in the PAS heat race. Brundage bought the Ellis chassis from John Aden who bought it for the 410 engine it had. He did not need the chassis so a new YG team got it reasonably. Brundage raced against Aden in John's W2W speedway sprints series.
Brundage revealed that the Victorville Fairgrounds grandstand has been razed and the site is now used for off-road events. USAC-CRA Sprints and USAC Western Midgets raced a double-header on Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012 on the three-eighths mile dirt oval there. Promoters were former racers (the No. 26 sprint family) who in 2012 put clay on the Orange Show Speedway quarter-mile. R. J. Johnson (No. 51A) won a 20-lap midget main and Ryan Bernal (No. 73) won a 30-lap sprint feature.
Tafoya led all 15 laps in the main and credited his father's advice for being able to “read” track conditions. Tyler Most was second, a straightaway back. Most and his dad Mike bought the No. 5 2017 Spike from Tim Mihocko this year and they pit next to the Mihocko team.
Most, a 17-year old from Peoria, AZ, raced go-karts powered by two-cycle motorcycle engines. His dad Mike owns Most Trucking in Peoria. Their black No. 3x is sponsored by Sin City Motor-sports, an apparel firm in Las Vegas. The two YG No. 3 cars are almost impossible to tell apart on the track. Even driver helmets are similar. Someone needs to put white tape on the roll cage of one of the No. 3 cars to give it a zebra appearance.
Amanda Roberson, 30, finished third another straightaway back. She raced a sprint car for the first time after running a 600cc micro sprint at Barona Raceway. The Ramona resident drove an older Ellis chassis (No. 58) owned by No. 55 USAC-CRA vet Tony Everhart. Amanda and her boyfriend put the spare Everhart car together and pitted with Everhart for support. She is a friend of Tony's daughter Kristin. Amanda kept it straight in her two races, got faster in each race as her confidence grew, and was not lapped. She said she had fun and will return next time.
Brett Roa spent two days driving his 2016 Chevy dually hauler solo to two USAC National Sprint races June 8 and 9 in Nebraska and Iowa. On board were their primary 2016 Maxim and backup 2014 Maxim. His son Brody flew to Nebraska. At the big half-mile Knoxville Raceway June 9 Brody started the feature ninth. He raced the low groove up to an impressive fifth place finish against top USAC National drivers. Brett and Brody drove home immediately after the Knoxville race and arrived home in So Cal before 6:00 am Monday in time for work. Brody drove the first leg south on I-35 through St. Louis and Kansas. Brett drove Hwy 54 to Tucumcari, N.M and I-40 west to So Cal.
INDIANA SPRINT WEEK: Seven races at seven Indiana dirt tracks from July 20 through July 28 will visit Plymouth, Kokomo, Lawrenceburg, Terre Haute, Putnamville, Bloomington, and Haubstadt. Two So Cal teams will tow to Indiana to compete in all seven races. Jake Swanson and the No. 92 Sertich XXX and the Roa No.91R Maxim team will be the travelers. Brett said he will fly to Indiana; Brody will tow their hauler along with his friend Zack. Another PAS pit-man will join them in Indiana. Dwight Cheney (No. 42 Maxim) told me he is not going to ISW this year.
In case you were wondering why the name of five-time USAC-CRA champion Mike Spencer, of Temecula, is missing from results this year here is the reason. Family man Mike, 36, retired after the 2017 Oval Nationals. His No. 4s Maxim owned by Chris Gansen Racing is the No. 4g car that Gansen raced on June 23 at PAS. The two-car Gansen team is now a one-car team.
Retired CRA 410 sprint car drivers Tom Roa, 78, and Jimmy Oskie, 72, were in the PAS pits June 23 as usual. Tom is Brett's cousin. Jimmy's appearance, like that of Richard Petty, remains remarkably unchanged over the decades. He said he still goes country dancing three nights a week at The Ranch on Ball Rd in Anaheim.
Wendy, daughter of the late 1950-70 CRA president Walt James, attended the June 23 PAS race. She said Glenn Dutcher, 84, passed away on May 20. He had suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Glenn worked with her dad in the 1970s when Walt was general manager of Indian Dunes Park in Santa Clarita. Glenn's son Richard owns USAC National Sprint No. 17gp (for Griffin Propane). Danny Faria, Jr. drove it to 16th place on the lead lap in the 2017 Oval Nationals Saturday 40-lap feature.