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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.