Traditional Sprint Car FanSite

See You At The Races!!!

by Norm Bogan

Back in the seventies, when the USAC schedule had been completed in the Midwest, those who were in the points battle would come west for three or four, end of the year events, usually split between Ascot Park in southern California and San Jose Speedway in the Bay area, culminating on Thanksgiving for the Turkey Night midget show.  Normally, there would only be a few racers actually traveling west with their racecars, since many still commuted with open trailers and couldn’t bring spare cars or both a sprint and a midget.  Some of the drivers would fly out west and obtain a seat in a West Coast car for the western swing.

Over the past few years, as the eighteen wheel haulers became prevalent and extra events had been added, more of the Midwest teams made the trek to the Coast.  2009 became a year that made it worthwhile for these teams to come out early and stay later.  While the three-day Oval Nationals at Perris Auto Speedway launched the West Coast parade, the event that normally followed, the Western World had changed its format.  First off, the long time venue of Manzanita Speedway was shuddered early in the year and the Western World was relocated to USA Raceway in Tucson. 

With a lot of backroom maneuvering, a new event was created at the Tulare Thunderbowl Raceway featuring the USAC National series with a two night show the weekend following the Oval Nationals at Perris.  After this announcement, USA Raceway shifted their sanction to ASCS and featured both Winged and Non-Winged 360 cubic inch sprinters, which run at the Speedway on a regular basis.

On the Thursday following Tulare, some of the touring USAC National Drivers stopped by Phoenix International Raceway for the annual USAC Silver Crown and Midgets portions of the Copper World Classic, running in conjunction with the fall NASCAR event at the one-mile paved tri-oval.

Another welcome event was added this year at Ventura Raceway, where notoriety was gained back in the early nineties with the televised “Thursday Night Thunder” series of Midget racing.  The week following Tulare, Ventura posted a $5000 to win USAC Midget event.  This offered another payday for teams that had come west for the 69th running of the annual “Turkey Night Grand Prix” at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale.

In addition to the 98-lap Turkey Night Midget Headliner were also two 40-lap features for the USAC Western States Pavement Sprinters and also the USAC Ford Focus-California Pavement series.  The Midgets and Sprints performed on the multi-banked half-mile macadam, while the Focus cars starred on the third-mile infield asphalt.

Completing the USAC/CRA season was the 2nd Annual Glenn Howard Classic at Perris with a number of incentives to aid the teams over the off season.  Several of the Midwest racers stayed on for one more race before returning to the heartland for winter.

Also on tap for Thanksgiving Weekend was the Annual Turkey Classic at Victorville Auto Raceway.  This event allowed most of the classes that run on a regular basis to vie for season ending bragging rights.  For the past couple of years The Classic was an opportunity for Dirt Late Models and Dirt Modifieds to test the mettle of competitors from the West Coast.  With the addition of a regular Sprint Car program this past season, a 360 Sprint feature was scheduled for Saturday Night and a 410/360 Sprint show was set for Sunday.  The 410 sprinters were not scheduled on Saturday as a courtesy to Perris for their Glenn Howard Classic.

November racing kicked off at Perris on Thursday evening, November 5th with fifty-two cars running against the clock and Jon Stanbrough aboard the #37 Indiana Underground machine claiming the fast time at 16.364.  Heat race victors were all West Coast performers banking on more familiarity with the facility.  Mike Spencer, Cody Williams, Danny Sheridan, Austin Williams and David Cardey captured the five heats.  Levi Jones led Henry Clarke, Nic Faas, Ronnie Gardner and Matt Mitchell in the “B” Main.  Bryan Clauson claimed the opening night spoils, leading all 25 laps, followed by Stanbrough, Levi Jones, Damian Gardner and Hall of Famer, Rip Williams.  

Friday’s program saw Stanbrough prove that last night wasn’t a fluke, as he once again claimed fast time at 16.303.  Ludwig Solberg IV cashed in the “C” Main victory for a second night in a row.  Heats were won by Rip Williams, Kevin Swindell, David Cardey, Tony Jones and Matt Mitchell.  Stanbrough took the spoils in the “B” Main followed by Faas, Clauson, Crawford and Whitt in the top five.  The racing in the “A” was much more competitive with five lead changes in the first fourteen laps.  Watching the action from atop the turn four grandstand, the view appeared as syncopated ballet with cars shifting low and high, overtaking and falling back, probably one of the most hotly contested races I have witnessed this year.  At the checkers, Levi Jones had bested the field, followed by Stanbrough, Spencer, Damian Gardner and Darren Hagen.

Saturday night loomed as a battle-royale for the 14th running of the Budweiser Oval Nationals.  A stellar field assembled after two preliminary slugfests.  Beginning with the 20 lap “C” Main, Austin Williams led the way over Keith Bloom Jr., Chad Boat, Dave Darland and Richard VanderWeerd.

Next up was the 20 lap “B” Main consisting of many of the nation’s finest sprint car pilots.  Cole Whitt prevailed over Tracy Hines, Tony Jones, Darren Hagen and Kevin Swindell.

Now, the culmination of three days of intense competition began to unfold into the 14th Annual Oval Nationals.  At the start, veteran Rip Williams took advantage of his pole starting position and held off the challenges from the youngsters, most of which were not even born, when Ripper was the 1978 Co-Rookie of the Year.  Rip led the first 21 laps, deflecting attacks from high and low, before Mike Spencer slipped by to grab the next fifteen circuits and finally Damian Gardner, no stranger to Victory Circle at Perris Auto Speedway, closed out the final laps, collecting the big prize.

A week later and two hundred miles to the north in the fertile San Joaquin Valley metropolis of Tulare, many of the same cast were on hand for the Pacific Coast Nationals, a two-day USAC National & USAC /CRA Sprint car program that found its roots in the long running Pacific Coast Open at Ascot Park.  With most racing organizations on winter hiatus, a number of competitors from throughout the state and across the country focused their attention on Tulare in the center of the dairy and beef producing area of California.

Fifty-four cars queued up to qualify on Saturday with Bryan Clauson setting the standard at 14.646, eclipsing the previous track record of Blake Miller at 15.013.  In fact, the top six qualifiers ran below the old record, with the top five breaking into the 14 second plateau on this well prepared third-mile oval.  Tonight’s format was two 8-lap “C” Mains for those outside the thirty-two car package for the four 10-lap heat races.  The top four in each heat would advance directly to the “A” Main, while the others would vie in the 12-lap Semi for the final ten entries.  Darren Hagen and Casey Riggs were victorious in the two Consi races.  Heat race winners were Cole Whitt, Matt Mitchell, Kyle Larson and Cole Carter.  Nic Faas and Bryan Clauson dueled from the front row of the Semi to finish 1-2.

Now, the stage was set for the 30-lap “A” Main.  Garrett Hansen and Cory Kruseman led the 27 car field to the start until Hansen took advantage of the fast, but narrow racing surface to lead all thirty laps.  At times, Kruseman, Hines, Spencer, L. Jones and Clauson made runs at the point, but were unable to overtake Garrett.  At the checkers, it was Hansen, Kruseman, Spencer, Jones and Clauson.

A quick overnight respite and it was back to the wars on Sunday for a forty lap feature.  The track appeared to be slightly slower, but wider for tonight’s competition.  Cole Whitt clocked in at 14.874 to gain quick time honors in a 51 car field. 

An uncharacteristic 34th in qualifying by David Cardey bumped him out heats, but he was able to overcome his poor time and claim the 10-lap “C” Main, then come from the back of the first heat to gain a 4th place, transferring to the “A” Main.  Heat winners were Whitt, Swindell, Pombo and Mitchell.  Chad Boat has been really struggling for the past two weekends after an impressive season in both USAC National Midgets and Sprints, but finally broke out of his slump by claiming the “B” Main. 

Dave Darland, an icon in USAC racing, winning championships in the Midgets, Sprints and Silver Crown divisions has journeyed west on numerous occasions and driven one of the local cars and made a good showing.  As one of the classiest people, spending a number of years on the National tours, Dave ascended the ladder to the top, but still honored his roots, often returning to Kokomo Speedway on a Sunday evening to drive his Dad’s (Bob Darland) #36 sprinter.  Darland had a miserable trip west this year, but still remains a cordial ambassador to the sport.

Jon Stanbrough is another journeyman racer, who struggled for years running his own racecar at the local Indiana tracks, before acquiring rides that put him in victory circle.  He is quiet, intense, analyzing in his approach to racing and he is not afraid to stomp the loud pedal.  Over the past few years, Jon has enjoyed success with some better funded teams.  As a late replacement for Josh Wise in the Indiana Underground sprinter, he was able to display his talents.  Setting fast time at both qualifying nights of the Oval Nationals and scoring each night in the runner-position of the feature and finishing eighth in last night’s feature, Jon would start on the outside pole for the $12,500 to win Pacific Coast National finale.

Twenty-eight racers staged for the 40-lap feature.  Nic Faas, Jesse Hockett, Blake Miller and Greg Bragg were added to the starting twenty-four as provisional starters.  Another occurrence was the thirty-one year veteran, Rip Williams giving up his seat in feature to his son, Austin, who is vying for the Rookie of the Year honors in USAC/CRA.  Stanbrough assumed the lead as the green flag unfurled and stayed up front to see the checkers presented.  Jon’s recipe was to make his car as fast as possible and very wide to prevent one of his pursuers from sneaking around into the lead.  Chad Boat became the second across the finish line, finally experiencing some success after a dismal performance for most of these two weekends. 

Bud Kaeding continues to impress with his mature approach to racing.  Coming from a family of “stand on the gassers”, you can see where his experience as a three time Silver Crown Champion has taught him patience and conservation.  After an early challenge at the lead, Bud settled back to near mid pack and kept in contact with the leaders.  With his tires running cool and plenty of fuel on board, Bud moved with only a few laps left and advanced to third.  Damian Gardner and Bryan Clauson completed the top five.  David Cardey managed a nine place finish after starting in the position 22.

Many of the racers found this racy venue to be more treacherous than expected.  Over the two nights of this program, sixteen flips were recorded, more than once for a few drivers.  The racers seemed to like the venue and indicated an interest in making this event an annual occurrence.

A few of the racers made the trip to Phoenix International Raceway on Thursday to race both Silver Crown and Midgets in the Copper Classic as part of Fall NASCAR extravaganza.  Cole Whitt scored his second Silver Crown victory of the year.

Two days later, forty-five USAC Midgets were on hand at Ventura Raceway for a $5000 to win J.W. Mitchell Classic.  This was a USAC Western States event with the USAC Ford Focus and Junior Focus classes joining in.  Most of the racers present have raced on this tiny fifth-mile bullring, but a few were seeing the track for the first time.  This racing surface is different from what you saw on TV back in the early nineties on ESPN.  The corners are banked more and sweep right out to the wall.  You can carry a lot more speed into the corners than in the TV days.

The format was a little different than the usual USAC schedule.  First off, there was no qualifying.  Everyone drew a pill which established the lineups for the five heats.  Points would be allotted for finish positions and also for number of cars passed.  The total points would be used to set up the five qualifying races.  The top three finishers of each qualifying race would fill the first fifteen slots in the feature, with all others going to one of the two Semi-Mains.  This is similar to the method used by ASCS for their TNT Topless Sprint Tour.  The racers like it because they get to race for their position and are not at the mercy of bad track conditions or their pill pick.

Heat race winners were Brad Loyet, Cory Kruseman, Bobby East, Tracy Hines and Bryan Clauson.  Joey Fabozzi, Brad Kuhn, Chad Boat, Justin Grant and Blake Miller were victorious in the Qualifying races.  Semi #1 was claimed by Matt Streeter and Semi #2 went to Kody Swanson.

With 24 cars poised for the battle, front row starter, Cory Kruseman jumped into the lead for the first ten laps, before Matt Streeter assumed the point for three laps, then Bryan Clauson took up the gauntlet for nine laps, when Brad Kuhn found an opportunity and led to the checkers.  Trailing Kuhn to the flag were Chad Boat, Ryan Kaplan, Cory Kruseman and Brad Loyet.

Turkey night brings out the tradition of watching many of the best midgets in the country vie for the vaunted “Aggie Trophy”.  It’s like the Indy 500 for Midgets.  There is a lot of history and tradition behind this event that began in 1934 at the famed Gilmore Stadium in Hollywood.  The race distance was altered from 100 to 98 laps a couple of years back in honor of J.C. Agajanian, who was famous for his Stetson hat and the car number 98.

This evening’s program at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale consisted of qualifying the twenty-five USAC Ford Focus Pavement Midgets and they would all be entries in the first round of features, a 40-lap event on the third-mile inside track.  The second feature would be for the twenty-eight entries of the USAC Western States Sprint Series, running a forty lap event on the half mile oval.

Fast time for the California Pavement Ford Focus cars was posted by Keegan Walmer of Portland, OR at 14.524.  Garrett Peterson from West Sacramento pocketed the 40 lap feature, while Taylor Ferns from Shelby Township, MI advanced for the last several laps to score second.

The USAC Western States Sprint Series fast time was posted by Kody Swanson at 16-487 and the forty lap feature was captured by Cole Whitt with Kody Swanson securing the runner-up spot.

For the premier division tonight, forty-one cars qualified and the fastest fourteen parked in the first seven rows of the 98 lapper.  The balance of cars would compete in two twelve-lap qualifying races, with the top nine cars from each race filling in at the rear of the 32 car field.

Josh Wise established the pole position with a quick time of 16.705.  Kody Swanson and Chad Boat posted the wins in the two qualifying races.  The 98 lap feature ran almost without incident.  On the first lap, Jason Leffler and Darren Hagen tangled on the first lap and both cars retired.  On lap 11, Brad Kuhn and Scott Pierovich collided in turn 2 and both cars were out of the show.  Otherwise, some mechanical problems took out a few cars, but the battle up front was fierce.  Josh ‘Wise led the first 41 laps, before Bryan Clauson got around him and held the point to the checkers, collecting his first Turkey Night Trophy.  

Saturday Night, it was back to Perris Auto Raceway for the finale of the USAC/CRA Sprint series and a special tribute race to Glenn Howard, longtime racer, car owner, official, SCRA President and parts supplier to nearly all southern California racing teams.  With an elevated purse, some of the national teams held on for one last payday.  Although, a points champion was named earlier with Mike Spencer earning his second in a row, the top five were pretty tight and a good or bad night could shuffle the standings.

Thirty three cars qualified for the Howard Classic with Damion Gardner setting the standard at 16.848. The Dash was won by Nic Faas, followed by Matt Mitchell, Mike Spencer and Damion Gardner.  Heat race winners were Brian Camarillo, Ludwig Solberg, Rip Williams and Brent Camarillo.  Greg Bragg claimed the “B” Main over Cory Kruseman and Austin Williams,

When they lined up the feature, they offered pole sitter, Tony Jones the chance to pocket $30,000, if he would relinquish the pole and start shotgun on the field.  Coming from the back to win would afford him an outstanding pay day, but there were about twenty three others in the field, who would deter his flight to the front.  Tony looked at the lap money available and decided that he would take his chances from the pole.  Jones second place finish was rewarded with $3700 in lap monies alone.  Outside pole starter, Bryan Clauson agreed with Jones decision and his green to checker drive rewarded him with $8400.  Not a bad way to end the season!  Following Bryan and Tony to the stripe were Damion Gardner, Garrett Hansen and Mike Spencer.

On November 28 & 29, Victorville Auto Raceway held their annual Turkey Classic, which included nearly every class that competes there during the year.  Late Models, Modifieds, Dwarf  Cars, Super Streets, American Stocks to name a few and each night, Sprint Cars were the featured class.  On Saturday, it was 360 cars as many of the usual 410s were competing at Perris.  On Sunday, it was a 410/360 combined show.  Saturday’s feature was captured by Greg Taylor, followed by John Aden, Chris Ennis, Justin Kierce and Clark Templeman.  The Sunday feature was claimed by Cody Williams, his first sprint car feature victory, followed by his brother, Austin, Kenny Perkins, Heidi Tressler, Billy Felts and Ronnie Gardner.

Since Victorville runs about every two or three weeks and normally combines the 360 and 410 cars, with rules mostly dealing with safety, it has been a haven for young drivers to gain valuable laps.  Drivers like the Williams brothers, Ronnie Gardner, Ludwig Solberg IV, Heidi Tressler and Kenny Perkins have all made rapid advancement and it shows when they now compete on the USAC schedule.  At this point in their careers, it is not about the money, but gaining valuable experience.  All of them have credited Victorville with their improved driving skills.    

As much of the country is suffering from cold temperatures and some blizzard conditions, we in California are still attending weekly racing events, although we do now wear warmer clothes.  November has been a fun month as we got to see so many heroes from the heartland.  They are indeed quality drivers, able to compete about three nights a week, while we in California are pretty much locked into Saturday nights, due to heavy traffic constraints on weekdays.

This year, we saw a few old friends return to the fold after NASCAR teams cut most of the developmental drivers pirated from open wheel racing over the past several years.  It was good for us to see these racers return to their roots and we have enjoyed having them back.  Just think Bobby East, Jason Leffler, Brad Sweet, Kevin Swindell, Brady Bacon, J.J. Yeley, Josh Wise and especially Bryan Clauson have come back and refired our enthusiasm.  Clauson appeared to be on the fast track and had enjoyed limited success in the stock cars.  Returning to USAC in the early part of the year has found him tallying 19 victories during the season, some very prestigious events like the Belleville Nationals, The Night before the Brickyard, first night of the Oval Nationals, Turkey Night and the Glenn Howard Classic.  As the economy recovers, some of these drivers may again go south, but it was sure fun to see them exhibit their talents before the Saturday Night race fans.  






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