RACING SCENE - (PAS Sprint Cars) – By Tim Kennedy
LOS ANGELES – The USAC-CRA 410 sprint car count October 21 was small (21 cars including two from Indiana). It tied for lowest USAC-CRA car count in eight races at PAS this season. The highest 2017 count was 28 and the average 23.5. The PAS race date competed directly against two 360 sprint car races. The USAC Arizona Series point race at Canyon Speedway, Peoria, AZ. kept several recent PAS Arizona cars and drivers, such as R. J. Johnson, Matt Rossi and Bruce St. James, home.
The other race was the 360 winged sprint cars October 19-21 $86,200 Trophy Cup at Thunderbowl Raceway in Tulare that paid $20,000 to the high points driver. That also kept drivers such as the Vander Weerd twins, and usual Oval National drivers such as Ryan Bernal, Austin Liggett and Bud Kaeding in central California. Bernal won the 50-lap feature Saturday and Shane Golobic won the $20K as high point driver over three nights.
However, drivers who raced October 21 delivered big time excitement to people present. Big things come in small packages as the saying goes. The 30-lap main event started only 20 cars instead of the usual 22. All they did was deliver the most exciting main event in the track's 22 year history based upon number of lead changes and total cars involved in those lead changes.
The feature had nine lead changes (just at the start/finish line) among four drivers. They were: Brody Roa, Austin Williams, Damion Gardner and visiting driver Justin Grant, from Indiana. Grant is a transplanted Californian from Ione, Calif. (Amador County SE of Sacramento). He now resides in Indiana and is the 2017 USAC National Sprint Series point leader by 29-points. He became the father of fraternal twins, Quinton and Charlotte, in December, 2016.
Roa started second and passed pole-sitter A. Williams on the opening lap and led lap 1. Williams retook the point and led laps 2-8. Fifth starter Gardner took second from Roa on lap 6; he passed Williams for the lead on lap 9 and was in front for two laps. Grant, using his Indiana-based USAC National Sprint No. 17 Maxim owned by Sam McGhee, took P. 1 from PAS ace Gardner on lap 11 and opened a ten-yard lead by lap 13.
Lapping began on lap 14. Roa retook second from USAC-CRA 2017 championship rival Gardner on lap 14 and kept it to a red flag incident. On lap 17 at turn three Roa executed a “slide job” pass for the lead. Grant quickly cut to his left under Roa's No. 91R in turn four and retained his slim lead. On the same lap behind the battling leaders the red flag flew for a nasty-looking flip.
P. 7 Tommy Malcolm rode up the back wheel of the sixth place car on the backstretch and flipped three times according to the fire truck crew parked inside the second corner. His No. 5x also rolled onto its side. Tommy crawled out and walked tot he infield without serious injury, except to his racing budget. A nine-minute red flag ensued.
On the lap 17 restart, Roa executed another slide job pass entering turn three under Grant and made it stick this time. Grant retook the lead on lap 18 by a few feet. Roa passed Grant again on the inside in the second turn and led lap 19 by about three feet. Fans in the grandstand were captivated by the action.
On lap 20 Grant used his own version of a third turn slide job pass of Roa and was back in front on lap 20. Roa, Gardner, seventh starter Mike Spencer, 11th starter Isaac Chapple, and A. Williams completed the top six. That is how the leaders ran to lap 23 when Roa tried to pass Grant again. He spun sideways low in the second turn and stalled, causing a yellow flag.
Grant, Gardner, Spencer, Williams and New Castle, Indiana owner-driver Chapple, 21, were now the top five. They ran in that order to lap 28 as Grant extended his advantage to 40-yards over Gardner. Then Grant rode up and over the cushion in turn one, bounced off the wall and continued without losing a beat. Fast qualifier Jake Swanson took fifth from Chapple by the lap 29 white flag lap. Spencer took P. 2 from Gardner, a five-time 2017 feature winner (three at PAS) right before the lap 30 checkered flag. It was Mike's top finish this season.
The $2,500 victory was the first for Grant at PAS and in AMSOIL USAC-CRA. The complete finish was Spencer, Gardner, A. Williams, Chapple, Stevie Sussex, A. J. Bender, Cody Williams and Jeremy Ellertson in the top ten. Leading 2017 rookie Matt McCarthy, a PAS Young Gun Series graduate, Verne Sweeney, YG-graduate Trent Williams,20, and Roa also completed all 30 laps. Matt Stewart, Gary Marshall and Randy Waitman logged 29 laps. The race ran from 8:54 to 9:22 pm including the red flag. Non-finishers were Max Adams, Chris Gansen and Malcolm.
Fans, still buzzing about the thrilling race they had witnessed, filed from the grandstand to the track to speak to drivers and get autographs. That is a PAS tradition. All main event cars park on the front straight after the race to make it easier for fans to meet them, get autographs and buy driver merchandise. Gardner, 40, gave his large third place trophy to a boy about age 10 who attended with his parents. He had a large smile and Damion has a new fan for life. It is a common for winners to come into the stands and give their trophy to a young spectator.
Drivers at times go into the grandstand with their helmets during intermission. Fans drop cash into helmets for a worthy cause, such as the fight against cancer. This week drivers collected money for Kim Gervais, the widow of then SCRA 410 driver George Gervais. About 15 years ago George flipped his No. 9g on the PAS backstretch and was in a coma before he succumbed months later. Kim was shot October 1 at an outdoor country music concert in Las Vegas by the crazed killer who fired from the Mandalay Bay Hotel. Tragically, Kim is totally paralyzed and will need constant care.
Another tradition started recently at PAS by the track PASSCAR stock car drivers. They park their cars on the front straight with American flags on poles on each car prior to the National Anthem. That is done to show some NFL pro football players how to respect the American flag. Bobbi Burke sang the National Anthem as usual, but this week she and fans also sang happy birthday to PAS announcer Scott Daloisio.
TOP 3 INTERVIEWS: Winner Grant, 26, told fans via Chris Holt's pit mic, “It was a lot of fun. The track was awesome. It was a shame Brody (Roa) spun there while he was trying to slide me. Someone showed me the way in turns three and four. I learned something for the Oval Nationals. (November 9-11). It's fun to race without concern for points. I haven't won in awhile.” This year in three USAC National Series, Grant finished fourth in Silver Crown points, ranks first in National Sprint points, and sixth in National Midget points.
Indiana Sprint Week competitor Roa came to Grant's pit and congratulated Sam McGhee and his sponsor (his father). Grant is one of only two drivers to win 2017 features in all three of USAC National Series—S/C, Sprints and Midgets. The other is Tyler Courtney. Grant's midget wins came in Illinois and Pennsylvania driving the No. 39BC midget for Clauson-Marshall Racing. Tim Clauson, father of the late multi-series champion Bryan, is co-owner of the team.
At age 16 Grant won the 2007 BCRA Midget (Nor Cal) driving championship. He moved to the Midwest and won the 2010 USAC National Midget Rookie of the Year title. He joined forces with the McGhee team in mid-2016 and they clicked using a 2016 Maxim chassis and Galen Fox-built Foxco engine. They also have a 2017 Maxim for high-dollar races.
In May, 2017 a publication named five dirt track drivers who could be successful Indy 500 drivers in the future. In order, they were Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson, Justin Grant, Rico Abreu, and newcomer
Zeb Wise, a 14-year old Angola, Indiana veteran of quarter midgets and winged micro sprints. He now races full midgets with POWRi and USAC. He drives for Clauson-Marshall in the No. 39BC and this summer scored a $5,000 midget victory in Illinois. The team raves about his potential.
Runner-up Spencer stated: “I found the rubber laid down in turns one and two after the track started taking rubber. That's how I got by Damion on the last lap. Congratulations to Justin for his win. It's cool he came out for this one. Hopefully we can stay up in front here the rest of the year. We go to Arizona in a couple of weeks and come back here for the Oval Nationals in three weeks. Perris is always racy. It took rubber up by the fence tonight and I found it.”
P. 3 Gardner said, “It was a good night. I got into second and it laid rubber. He found it first and we got a good point night. I wasn't going to win unless it went my way and it didn't. We have a lot of little sponsors but we need a big sponsor for next year to pay the bills.”
USAC NATIONAL SPRINTS: The USAC National Sprint Series concluded its Midwest schedule October 14 at Terre Haute, Indiana. So the No. 17 and 52 teams came west early to gain PAS experience prior to the big purse 22nd annual PAS Oval National presented by All-Coast Construction. Both Indiana teams said they will leave their trailers and race cars in So Cal and fly back in November for the two Arizona and three PAS point races that conclude the point season.
The McGhee No. 17 team is leaving their rig and sprinters at the John Jory race shop. Owner/driver Chapple is remaining in Cali to do maintenance on his car prior to the five November races. The McGhee team has its new 2017 Maxim No. 11 in the trailer and used their 2016 Maxim to win in Perris. It was new for the July 2016 Indiana Sprint Week and driven last season by Sam's brother Max, who is now racing winged sprints. Sam, 18, raced his No. 11 USAC Ford Focus midget from 2011-13. He won seven mains and the 2011 rookie title.
Grant, the 2017 USAC National Sprint point leader from race one to late October, has won four of the 33 completed USAC National races. There also were six rain-outs. His victories came on Feb. 24 in Ocala, Fla., Apr. 21 in Plymouth, Ind., May 12 at Eldora in Rossburg, Oh., and June 3 in Knoxville, Ia. He also won the June 3 USAC Silver Crown Springfield Tony Bettenhausen 100-mile race on the Illinois State Fairgrounds mile driving the Carli & Hemelgarn No. 91.
USAC NATIONAL SEASON: This season 11 drivers have won the 33 main events. They are (with victories): Kevin Thomas, Jr. (6), Tyler Courtney and C. J. Leary (5 each), Justin Grant and Chris Windom (4 each), Robert Ballou, Brady Bacon, and Thomas Meseraull (2 each), plus Chad Boespflug, Kyle Cummins and Hunter Schuerenberg (1 each).
As of October 31 ten of the 2017 USAC National main event winners are entered in the Oval Nationals. They are: Thomas, Courtney, Leary, Grant, Windom, Meseraull. Boespflug, Ballou, and Scheurenberg. Bacon's schedule shows he will race the Dooling No. 63 Chevy in the Oval Nationals. Dave Darland, the all-time USAC National Sprint feature winner, but win-less in 2017, is already entered.
PAS SENIOR SPRINTS: (11 drivers age 45+): Point leader Richard McCormick, 59, and Rick Hendrix, 64, won 8-lap heats. John Aden led all 20-laps in the final senior main of 2017 (the seventh Seniors-only season). He barely held off fast-closing, first-time PAS Seniors Champion McCormick. They two leaders lapped two slower cars on lap 18 and cleared them in tandem. McCormick, the first-time PAS Seniors champion, trailed Aden by five-yards at the finish. First-time senior driver Greg Foster, of Orange, looked fast all night in his yellow No. 53 and finished sixth.
Aden's usual pit crew was depleted by a wedding, so he contacted some youngsters who race motorcycle-powered speedway sprints at his W2W Raceway in Victorville. Mike Simpson, who raced his No. 911 USAC full midget several seasons after 2000, came to the PAS pits with his 9-year old son Ricky Simpson (No. 29 Intermediate Speedway Sprint class). They helped Aden along with his family members and he thanked his rookie crew on the pit mic. He said they are the future PAS drivers.
Prior PAS Senior Champions: 2011-Bill Badger, 2012-Bruce Douglass, 2013-Rick Hendrix, 2014- Bruce Douglass, 2015-Chris Wakim, 2016-Eddie Tafoya, and 2017-Richard McCormick. The 2017 champ from Agua Dulca said he is moving to Prescott, Arizona and thanked his No. 71 car owner Steve Lupore.
PAS YOUNG GUNS (ages 14-25): Only two “young guns” were present for the concluding race of YG season five. Ford Focus midget graduate Joel Rayborne, a 15-year old West Covina High sophomore, won a 6-lap heat. He drove the last Okie chassis (built in 2012) by owner Toby Sampson. He used a restricted 410 engine in the 360 YG series. Hannah Mayhew pulled in early because all she had to do to be the 2017 YG champion was start the main. Both YG drivers started at the back of the Seniors 20-lap main, so they got five laps more than their usual 15-lap YG main.
Mayhew, 21, the former CDCRA No. 43 dwarf car driver, drove her dad's No. 43 Maxim 360 cu. in. Chevy. Joel placed second in the borrowed No. 12B the carried the name of late car owner Don Blair on the hood. Both YG drivers finished the Seniors feature a lap down with Hannah in P. 8 and Joel P.9. Two Seniors DNF and two DNS. Hannah thanked sponsors, her dad Chris, Steve Watt (for his borrowed No. 81 months ago). She said she will move up next season to the USAC West Coast 360 sprint car series.
Prior PAS Young Gun champions were: 2013-Logan Williams, 2014-Trent Williams, 2015-George Morris, 2016-Courtney Crone, and 2017-Hannah Mayhew. The two Williams' have moved up to USAC-CRA 410 sprint cars. Courtney has moved up to formula cars and USAC Western Midgets where she ranks sixth in 2017 driver points.
410 HEATS: Max Adams (No. 5M) won heat three. He started ninth in the feature and was in P. 8 on lap 23 when contacted according to Max by P. 9 No. 42 Chevy Chevy driver Stevie Sussex. The Adams car hit the wall and stalled. It was removed at the back of a tow truck. Ironically, Max won his only USAC-CRA main event earlier this year on July 1 at Santa Maria Speedway driving the Cheney No. 42 Maxim. ... The No. 52 V driven by 2014 PAS YG champion Trent Williams is a new 2017 Victory chassis that he debuted last month at The PAS.
The second USAC-CRA heat had a weird conclusion that had people talking. Winner D. Gardner (led laps 3-10 and by a full straightaway at the checkered flag) was about to lap P. 7 Gary Marshall on lap 9. He did not move over so “the demon' had to stay behind Marshall's No. 72 to the checkers. At the finish line Gardner's Alexander No. 4 chopped down on the No. 72 to show his displeasure. The No. 4 LR tire hit the RF tire of the 72, breaking the RF tire and front axle. The 72 almost flipped before it stopped near the inside wall across from grandstand C. Pomona resident Marshall, 24, climbed out and inspected the front end damage.
Ironically, the low budget 72 family-owned team bought their outdated 2005 TCR chassis earlier this year and a 360 Chevy for $7,000 from Gardner's car owner Mark Alexander. Tony Jones drove it for Alexander when it was new. The 72 team had to beg and borrow parts, including a front axle, to make repairs prior to the main event. They completed repairs in time and started their fourth main event of the season. Marshall ran 29 of 30 laps and finished 16th, gaining valuable experience. However, he, his dad, Gary, Sr., and family members were unhappy about the needless expense.