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December 11, 2017 at 05:26:42 PM
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RACING SCENE - (KOTW Pit Notes @ Irwindale) – By Tim Kennedy

LOS ANGELES – The third ever appearance of the high-speed winged sprint car series known as Royal Purple Synthetic Oil King of the Wing (KOTW) was not booked for the 2017 Irwindale Speedway season until October 20. The series also raced at IS in November, 2014 and November, 2015. Irwindale for some reason did not schedule KOTW in 2016. KOTW drivers thrilled spectators with high-speed, two and three-wide competition and frequent passing. 


The fastest qualifying lap ever run at IS is the 13.791 (130.520 mph) by Jo Jo Helberg, from Rohnert Park. He turned that lightning lap qualifying for the November, 22, 2014 KOTW event. Helberg still holds the fastest lap after the 2015 and 2017 KOTW races. The second fastest series at IS has been the super-modified series. Troy Regier set the second fastest series lap record of 15.154 (118.781 mph) on April 1, 2000. 


The KOTW series raced at the half-mile banked Kern County Raceway Park the night after Irwindale in 2014-15 and again as a solo race in 2016. Helberg's fastest qualifying time of 14.296 (125.909 mph) in November, 2014 is still the quickest lap ever turned at KCRP. 


Two events in Southern California make financial sense for the touring KOTW group. Some teams towed more than 25 hours from British Columbia each year. Others came from Washington and Idaho, so having two races within 130 miles helps pay for unavoidable travel costs such as gasoline and motels. 


The KOTW series pays $3,000 to win in $25,000 national race purses and $2,000 to win in $15,000 regional point events. The Irwindale race on November 18 purse came from IS promoter 211 Entertainment , LLC, the three KOTW Series owners (the race director, announcer and pit official), and series sponsor Royal Purple Synthetic Oil. Spectators who witnessed the November 18 IS racing action said bring this show back again. 


KOTW cars practiced for at Irwindale Friday from 5:15 to 9:00 pm. Twenty-eight cars participated (at $200 per car) in the un-timed session conducted in mid-70s temperature. Cars of Kyle Vanderpol, a 29-year old super-modified driver from Madera, Stacey Jensen and Mike Anderson, from Nampa, Idaho, incurred mechanical problems that preventing those cars racing Saturday. 


Anderson's No. 68L broke the driveshaft. So he practiced Saturday in the Ted Finkenbinder-owned No. 3F backup car for Geoff Ensign. Then that car dropped a valve. Anderson had to take over his own second No. 68 that Jensen, from Buhl, Idaho, was to drive. Anderson needed to maintain his top ten position in points. Ryan Burdett, from Salt Lake City, was slated to start 26th in the feature, but he scratched when something broke at the front of his No. 26 2015 Wysong rear end. 


Total car count both nights was 33, the highest count by one car for 2017 KOTW national events. The nine-race KOTW series did not start until mid-July with races in Michigan and Ohio. A month later it raced once in Colorado. September had three events in Idaho at two tracks (Twin Falls and Meridian). So Cal races in Bakersfield and Irwindale concluded the nine race series. 


The first seven races had seven different main event winners. Eric Humphries (at IS) and Bryan Warf (at KCRP) became two-time 2017 winners. Each year KOTW crowns national and regional point champions. Humphries became the western region champion after P. 1 and P. 2 finishes in So Cal; Warf was the northwest regional champion. Prior KOTW national champions were: Helberg. Aaron Pierce and Davey Hamilton, Jr. from 2014-16 respectively. Johnny Giesler won the 2017 KOTW national championship. 


Cars used restricted 410 cubic inch engines or 360 motors with cast iron blacks and some used aluminum heads. Cars all use Hoosier tires, looked fantastic and were well prepared. KOTW does not assign KOTW car numbers and cars from various regions use their home track car numbers. That policy resulted in many duplicate car numbers with letters after the number. There were five No. 3 cars (3A, 3B, 3F, 3K and 3T), four 12 cars (12, 12B, 12L and 12N), three Nos. 7 (7, 7D and 7R), and two each 8 (8 and 8H) and 68 (68 and 68L). 


Former Boise, Idaho resident Randy Tolsma and his 14-year old son Elisha, now Torrance, Calif. residents, were among the 3,000+ spectators who attended the KOTW Irwindale race. Randy raced USAC open-wheel cars for years and was an early NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver (in the IWX Trucking No. 61). Randy said he is now VP of Operations for an automotive-related firm in 

So Cal. 


KOTW Saturday, November 18 first practice at 1:15 pm had some of the 27 drivers on track run five or six laps. Warf had quick time of 14.783 (121.761 mph). Session two at 2:15 had some ot the 30 drivers on track after adjusting set-ups run as many as 17 up to 23 laps by Canadian driver Jason Conn, the leading KOTW rookie. D. Hamilton, Jr., in the yellow & black No. 8H Rex Hutchison Racing Engines Chevy out of Sacramento, was the fastest driver at 14.684 (122.582 mph). 


Time trials for 30 cars ran from 3:45 to 5:17 pm on a warm, 79-degrees afternoon. Qualifying was halted twice because of a timing malfunction. A loose or broken wire embedded in the track at the starting line had to be repaired. Several cars had to re-qualify both laps after each delay. Fastest qualifier Humphries, 31, from Chowchilla, Calif., was the 14th driver to qualify and turned laps of 14.321 and on lap 2 the best of the day at 14.099 (127.669 mph). It was 0.308 (2.851 mph) slower than Helberg's three-year old track mark. 


KOTW drivers came from British Columbia and seven US states. California had nine, Idaho and Utah six each, Washington and B.C Canada three each, Oregon two, Indiana and Massachusetts one each. The No. 12L Ron Larson team members work as loggers in British Columbia. They were happy to leave their snowy work place for warmer weather in So Cal. 


Ron said his brother Richie Larson raced at Irwindale in 2015 and crashed hard at KCRP the next night. The right front hub broke on his No. 22 Diablo and he slammed into the first turn crash-wall. He was hospitalized overnight and diagnosed with a skull fracture. He was discharged the next day and drove himself home to Canada. His six-race old sprinter was totaled according to Ron. He said Richie has not raced since 2015 and remained home this November. The Larson team 28-hour tow south on I-5 had several tow rig drivers to help ease the driving chore. 


CHASSIS / ENGINE: Four chassis builders were represented in the KOTW field. Bob East's Beast firm built 17 cars. The late David Steele's Diablo, Inc. (which his father and shop foreman still operate) constructed seven, Eagle four, and Utah-based Wysong two. Engines: About 65% of the field used 360 cu. in. engines, and 35% used restricted 410s. 


Long-time USAC 360 sprint car and midget car owner Ted Finkenbinder, of Fairfield, Calif., used a restricted 410 in his No. 3F Eagle. Ted told me he owns 12 midgets and sprint cars. Two are paved track sprints, four dirt track sprints, two USAC Silver Crown cars, and four dirt or paved midgets. He frequently employs Tim Barber, of Sonoma, and Geoff Ensign, 28, from Sebastapol, as his drivers. The firm Ted owns does X-rays of underground pipes. 


CAR FACTS & DRIVER DATA: Sierra Jackson, from Middleton, Idaho, raced her No. 25J Bardahl-sponsored KOTW sprint car at Irwindale and Bakersfield in 2014-15. She finished on the Irwindale main event podium both years in P. 2 and P. 3. The now 24-year old has won two KOTW main events--KCRP-Bakersfield on 11/22/15 and at Madera on 10/1/16. She placed second in KOTW national and western region point standings. 


The Boise State University student health science/business administration major has a career goal of hospital management. She moved up to 800 HP, 90” wheelbase sprint cars gradually over the past decade after racing karts successfully. Her goal was to race in the Indy 500. Sierra did not race this year because at IS she was seven and a half months pregnant with a boy. Her due date is January 8 according to her father Mike, a former motorcycle racer. He used No. 5 and his brother raced No. 15, so Sierra selected 25 as her number and behind 25 added J for her surname. 


Sierra's husband--Johnny Giesler, from Meridian, Idaho--drove the Jackson No. 25 this year. Giesler 29, told me he raced at Irwindale about 2010-11 in the No, 12 Don Newman USAC 360 sprint car. He said he loves the track, but lost 19 laps in the pits repairing a broken power steering fitting. He had to wait in staging for a caution flag to rejoin the race. He finished fourth at Bakersfield and won the 2017 KOTW driver national championship and the car owner crown for the SJR No. 25. 


Austin Carter, 22, drove a several years old Beast with an aluminum 360 that his father Derrick Carter purchased from Ted Finkenbinder. It was an ex-No. 3F. Carter, from Clovis, won the KOTW 2017 national rookie of the year title. ..... A. J. Russell, 34, is also from Clovis. He was a super-modified front-runner in the yellow No. 85 when super-modifieds raced at Irwindale during the track's early years. A. J (for Austin James) now drives a Beast that Tony Hunt raced until about three years ago. Richard Russell, A. J's father, owns the car. 


Bryan Warf, 32, from Meridian, Idaho, drove his own No. 91 2016 Beast with an aluminum 410 Chevy. He won the 2017 three-race KOTW northwestern championship. Following the IS feature, Warf checked by phone to find out how many paved-track winged sprint cars the Must See Racing Series had that night on the east coast at Hickory Speedway. “They only had 13 cars, so we (KOTW) are the best paved track winged sprint car series,” he told listeners. ... Utah and Idaho teams towed 15 to 20 hours south on I-15 through Las Vegas. 


Gordon Rodgers, from Winton (near Merced) is 65 and still going strong as a sprint car owner/driver. He told me he uses No. 94 on all of his sprint cars because back in the 1980s he bought Glenn Howard's No. 94 Roger Beck-built No. 94 CRA sprinter that Gary Howard raced. His current KOTW car is a 2007 Beast that he purchased from owner/driver Damion Gardner back in Indiana. It was one of two No. 71 Pace Electronics-sponsored cars Damion raced on the USAC National Sprint circuit. 


When sponsor Pace died, Damion sold off his own team and moved back to California. He became a “hired gun” for the No. 50 Ron Chafin-team and won multiple USAC-CRA championships. Rodgers said Winton Hardware is his sponsor and the firm co-owners, Gary and Robby Dusin, are also co-owners of his N. 94 sprint car. It uses a Bob Wirth-built 410 Chevy. 


No. 88 Jason Conn, is a 32-year old KOTW rookie and central region feature winner at Dacono, Colo. from Prince George, B.C, Canada. Four drivers took turns driving on their 2,500 mile trip south on I-5. He uses a Utah-built 2013 Wysong chassis with an aluminum 360 Chevy built by Californian Rex Hutchison. He, like other first time IS racers, loved the Irwindale half-mile. 


Audra Sasselli, 41, from Selma, Calif., her husband and cute blonde daughter Giana, 6, were in the pits at IS. The college graduate educator in the San Joaquin Valley currently works with “gate students” in Dinuba. Her same No. 77 brown & orange 2008 Beast is still owned by her father Myrel and her husband works on the car. Audra worked this season as an articulate, knowledgeable pit reporter on MAVTV telecasts of stock car races at Madera Speedway. 


Audra, who now wears glasses, is a former USAC Western Ford Focus and 360 sprint car Irwindale front-runner. She said she had only raced in one winged 360 sprint car race (at Madera) prior to starting 19th and finishing an impressive eighth with 39 laps at Irwindale. There were 20 of 29 starters racing at the finish. The next night in Bakersfield she finished sixth in the KOTW 40-lap feature.


The No. 12N Neisinger Racing Team, from Mill Creak, Wash., towed south on I-5 in 21 hours to race for the first time at IS and with KOTW. The car owner is dad Scott and the driver is Cameron Neisinger, 19. Their Diablo chassis incorporated some of their own innovations and used a 360 Chevy with a cast iron block and aluminum head. 


Cameron set sixth fastest qualifying time, started fifth and finished third in his seven-car heat race. Then he started fifth and finished third (-8.063 seconds behind the winner). He was one of only six drivers on the lead lap with 20 drivers still racing in the 40-lap feature. The impressive Neisinger team had to skip the Bakersfield race the next night to be back home in Washington Monday morning for school and work. 


Bobby Santos III, 32, from Franklin , Mass., drives the 2016 Beast owned by Richard Fieler, of Boca Raton, Florida. Santos said the KOTW Irwindale race was his 33rd race of 2017. He has feature victories in NASCAR Modifieds, KOTW, USAC Silver Crown in three 100-lap races (Phoenix mile, Lucas Oil Raceway, Brownsburg, Ind. & Toledo, Ohio), NTS non-wing sprint cars, and in the All Value Bumper-to-Bumper Series. Santos won the 2008 USAC Turkey Night Midget GP at Irwindale. 


Two cars were raced by teenage brothers from Adrian, Oregon. Aiden Spiers, 15, drove the SJR team No. 4, a 2015 Diablo. Older brother Tristen, 17, drove the No. 8, a 2005 Viper (Glenn Crossno ITI-built chassis). Both cars used 360 Chevies. They also saw Irwindale for the first time and were impressed. Tristen finished ninth and Aiden tenth and both completed 39 laps. 


Aaron Willison, 29, from Canada, drove the front-running No. 14 2014 Beast/360 Shark owned by Rod and Gord Randle, of Victoria, BC, Canada. He was ninth fastest qualifier, started second, led laps 1-7 before being caught up in the first turn spin/crash of D. Hamilton, Jr. while trying to pass Davey's slowing P. 3 car that had worn tires. ... Owner/driver Jimmy Waters, from Salt Lake City, had his 2016 Beast aluminum Chevy No. 24 and a second car, the No. 27 Beast 360, for 18-year old rookie Anthony Quintana. 


Justin Kawahata, 28, from Clovis, is the only KOTW driver of Japanese descent. His father Gene is owner and proprietor of Gene Kawahata Racing Engines. Their 2006 Eagle (No. 45) is an ex-Tim Green No. 14 sprinter. Justin called IS “tricky” on his first visit to the track. He said he races NCMRA tracks in Roseville and at Stockton 99 Speedway. He finished 15th at IS, down two laps. 


Irwindale winner and 2017 KOTW western regional champion Eric Humphries (No. 15) had his two children in victory lane ceremonies. He said his 2008 Beast with a restricted 410 is co-owned by Carl Mott and Dennis Bolding. HST Harvest Supply is the team sponsor. Eric was one of three KOTW drivers (with Sasselli and Carter) who ran a demonstration KOTW 10-lap “race” at IS on Saturday, October 28 to interest IS fans in attending the KOTW November 18 IS race. 


Cody Gerhardt, 24, drove a 2016 Diablo owned by his father Kevin, who fielded USAC 360 sprints and midgets for years. Kevin is the son of long-time Indy 500 car constructor and owner Fred Gerhardt, of Fresno. The current Gerhardt team races out of Madera and finished sixth in the IS feature. ... Tom Baker, 33, drove his own No. 3T Baker Welding & Fabrication 2006 Eagle with a 360 cast iron block Chevy. He said his car is the ex-No. 5 Shauna Hogg owned and driven USAC 360 Western Series sprinter. 


Utah residents and KOTW drivers Jeff Bergener, 46, and Kyle Bergener, 24, are uncle and nephew. Jeff's No. 12B is a 2006 Wysong and Kyle's No. 43 is a 2010 Eagle. They both finished 38 laps with Jeff 11th and Kyle 12th. ... Kyle Vanderpol drives the Beast Chevy formerly raced by USAC Western 360 sprint owner/driver Jeff Gardner, of Fresno. It ran as the No. 51 with Gardner and is No. 3K now. Chuck and Don Penix, from Clovis, are the co-owners. ... Robert Beck's No. 3B 2005 Beast uses a 410 Shark-built engine by Mark Hansen. 






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