RACING SCENE - (PAS Oval Nationals)– By Tim Kennedy
LOS ANGELES - The $100,000+ 22nd annual Perris Auto Speedway Oval Nationals presented by All-Coast Construction (November 9-11) featured AMSOIL USAC National Sprint and USAC-CRA sprint car teams. It was perhaps the best Oval Nationals ever. The quality and quantity of non-wing 410 sprint car drivers present and the on-track competition was outstanding all three nights.
Making the event special was the fact that all three feature winners—Chase Stockon, Brody Roa and Kevin Thomas, Jr—were first-time feature winners at the PAS. Preliminary 30-lap mains paid each winner $5,000. The 40-lap Saturday winner received $25,000. and a PAS Eagle trophy.
Roa scored his first career USAC National Sprint main event victory. Showing that fact was impressive to him was his comment at the finish line when he removed his helmet and had a pit microphone thrust towards his face. “This is ------ awesome. Oops” he exclaimed as he realized it was a live microphone and spectators heard his comment.
Car counts were 43 on both Thursday and Friday and 39 Saturday. Josh Hodges (No. 74x) blew his engine and only raced Thursday. Cory Kruseman's No. 7k (Ronnie Gardner) did not race Saturday. Dwight Cheney's two Maxim No. 42 cars did not race Saturday. Shon Deskins drove the older Maxim and it was withdrawn Saturday. Stevie Sussex III flipped the newer 2017 Maxim in turn three and was hit in mid-air by the 73 and 73t of Keith Ford. They also scratched Saturday.
Racing school owner Kruseman, the event grand marshal, brought out his No. 21k as a replacement ride Saturday for Dave Darland (No.73). That made a total of 45 different cars at the 2017 Oval Nationals. The only 360 engine was in the No. 72 driven by rookie Gary Marshall His 2005 TCR also was the oldest chassis present.
STATES REPRESENTED: The 44 different drivers present (Darland drove two cars) came from eight states and New Zealand. Calif. is home for 24 drivers. Indiana had nine, and Arizona five. Alabama, lllinois, Missouri, New Mexico and Oklahoma each had one driver.
CHASSIS: The 45 sprint cars present represented 12 different chassis builders. Maxim had 15 cars followed by Spike with nine and DRC with eight. Triple X built four and Victory two. Single car builders were: ART, Boss, CS9, Ellis, ITI, Sherman, and TCR. Two cars used Mopar engines—the No. 39e and the No. 63 of Brady Bacon used a Stanton Mopar.
There were 14 USAC National Sprint Series drivers in the 2017 Oval Nationals. Eleven drivers drove their usual USAC National sprinter. They were: C. J. Leary, Josh Hodges, Chad Boespflug, Isaac Chapple, Chase Stockon, Chris Windom, Robert Ballou, Brady Bacon, Tyler Courtney, Justin Grant and Kevin Thomas, Jr.. Thomas Meseraull and Hunter Schuerenberg drove cars from Arizona. Darland and Carson Macedo were in California-based cars.
The $5.00 color Oval Nationals 52-page printed program is a beauty. It has the 2016 Oval Nationals winning team of Damion Gardner and No. 4 car owner Mark Alexander on the cover holding PAS Eagle trophies with an American flag in the background. Inside were the usual entry roster, point standing for both series, numerous pages of color 2017 action photos and posed photos.
There were all new recent driver head-shots of the USAC National and USAC-CRA drivers. Photos of all 21 prior Oval Nationals in their winning cars brought back memories. Announcer Scott Daloisio's “Turn One” program column was included as usual. There was a page for the crew chief award. A page was devoted to the event grand marshal Kruseman. Several pages featured past Oval National feature winners.
USAC National and USAC-CRA 2017 season with National figures listed first and USAC-CRA second. Total races scheduled – 45 with seven rain-outs, while CRA had 24 with one rain-out. The 38 National races completed were in ten states—Ariz., Calif, Fla, Iowa, Ind., Kan., Mo, Neb., Ohio and Pennsylvania. CRA raced in two states, Calif. and Arizona. The National series raced at 21 speedways (eight in Indiana and five in Pennsylvania). CRA raced at ten speedways (one in Arizona and nine in Calif.).
There were 13 different National winners and 12 different CRA winners. Leading National winners were K. Thomas with seven (18.4%), five by Leary and Courtney, and four by Windom and Grant. The leading CRA winner was D. Gardner with five (21.7%). Invader K. Thomas had four triumphs. Average car counts per event were 32.1 for the National series and 26.6 for CRA.
FLIPS:Rookie Matt McCarthy flipped Thursday on his first qualifying lap. In the Friday main, S. Sussex broke his RF hub and flipped wildly in turn three on lap 16. Boespflug rolled once on lap 21. R. J. Johnson flipped several time and had to use his backup car Saturday. The only flip Saturday was by Meseraull.
The half-mile clay track was well-prepared despite a moderate breeze. K. Thomas, Jr. (No. 9k) set the fastest qualifying time both preliminary nights. He ran 16.303 Thursday as the 41st qualifier and 16.302
Friday as the ninth to qualify. Saturday's fast timer was D. Gardner at 16.550. The one-lap PAS record is 15.833 for USAC-CRA and 15.891 for USAC National sprints.
PAS temperatures were 70 Thursday at 4:30 and 59 when racing concluded at 8:59 pm. Friday had 66 at 4:30 and 57 when the feature concluded. Saturday was 73 at 4:00 and 57 after the 40-lap feature. Attendance in the main grandstand increased each night from a third, to two-thirds and about 85% for the final night. The pits were crowded as well.
The top ten in Oval National points Thursday were: Leary (140), Stockon (137), Thomas (136) Roa (136), Courtney (125), Windom (123), Ballou (120), Grant (118), Johnson (110), and Meseraull (109). After Thursday and Friday points were combined. The six highest in points were: Thomas (280), Roa (273), Windom (261), Leary (260),Grant (252) and Stockon (251). Just missing the cut were: Courtney (249), Ballou (249), Richard VanderWeerd (224) and Mike Spenser (214).Roa showed his racing skills benefited greatly by racing his No. 91R Maxim in the 2016-17 Indiana Sprint Weeks.
The six high-point drivers went directly into the Saturday feature and did not have to time trial Saturday. The six drivers raced an inverted six lap dash to determine their starting positions in the 40-lap feature. Grant won the dash and selected the feature pole instead of the outside of row one. That was a mistake, Stockon ran the cushion and led the initial laps.
AWARDS: The Ray Scheetz Mechanic of the Year Trophy went to Davey Jones, crew chief for 40-lap feature winner Thomas. He is the son of sprint car racing great (and NSCHoF inductee) Bubby Jones. Hard Charger $500 awards each night went to Windom (P. 15 to P. 7 +8 Thursday), Ballou (P.23 to P. 5 + 18 Friday), and Boespflug (P13 to P. 3 +10 Saturday). The overall Tony Jones Hard Charger Award money (another $500) went to Ballou, who earned half of the $2,000 bonus money. He advanced four, 18 and two positions for a total of 24 positions. His three Oval Nationals feature finishes were: sixth, fifth and sixth.
Owner/driver Ballou built five of his self-designed Boss sprint car chassis earlier this year and kept two of them to race from the July ISW events. He sold three of his creations to owners in Indiana. He said he built his car “to have different chassis pickup points for better handling.” He likesA the result. He won the July 16 Putnamville feature. He had an earlier victory in a Maxim after making his comeback from an eight-month convalescence following his July 2016 crash at Calistoga Speedway.