CA. - SPRINT CARS: Perris Auto Speedway kicked off the
California sprint car season with back-to-back Saturday shows. The
winged World of Outlaws on Feb. 28 and the inaugural Valvoline
USAC-CRA non-wing race Mar. 6 both had 27 cars in the pits.
Grandstand crowds were about 80% full for the WoO with temps in the
high 40s and 60% for the USAC-CRA sprints with temps in the high
50s. The new USAC-CRA group reportedly has 34 cars signed on, but
not all car owners had their sprinters ready for the opener.
Regular PAS starter Eddie Ramirez started races for both groups.
Only two PAS semi-regular sprinters (Randy Waitman and Cary Faas)
raced with WoO, as did central California driver Mike Faria.
I spoke to Art Malies, who said he and wife Carol and their Work 'n
Woody unique push and utility vehicle are starting their 25th year
of push starting sprint cars. They started pushing in 1979 and nine
years later began working WoO races coast to coast. The Malies
relocated during the off-season from their home in northern
California to Deming, N.M. I asked about long-time traveling
WoO fans, husband/wife Hank and Pat Holtsman, of Sacramento. Art
said Pat died two years ago and Hank passed away last year just
before the start of the 2003 season.
It was interesting watching two first-time competitors at the PAS on
Feb. 28. They were third generation driver Kraig Kinser, 19-year old
son of 18-time WoO champion Steve Kinser, and female driver Erin
Crocker, 22. Both young drivers will be racing for the 2004 WoO
Rookie of the Year honor. Erin started 8th and finished 7th in heat
two and 5th in the B main. Kraig started 6th and finished 3rd in
heat three and 4th in the first dash. In the 30-lap A main, Kraig
started 7th and finished 8th, one of 16 drivers on the lead lap.
started 23rd in the 24 car field and finished 22nd after she was
lapped on lap nine. The race concluded at 9:26. Personable Erin
remained in her pit long after the main event and talked to fans.
She may become as popular with fans nationally as Sarah Fisher has
become in the IRL.
The inaugural Mar. 6 USAC-CRA race was successful in both crowd and
competition and fans enjoyed the three competitive heats, B and
A-mains. There was more passing in the non-wing races than in the
WoO winged sprints as usual. Mike Kirby's dominant straight-away
victory in the 30-lap main gave car owners Glenn and Carol Crossno
their well-deserved first ever sprint car feature victory. Racing
concluded at 9:13. Past main event winners in the field were
Rip Williams, Tony Jones, Cory Kruseman, Damion Gardner, Troy
Rutherford and Kirby, plus visitors Tony Elliott, Jon Stambrough,
Levi Jones, Rick Ziehl and several northern California. Amazing
comeback driver was CRA Ascot Park feature winner and star Duane
Feduska, 42, who raced a sprint car on Mar. 6 for the first time in
14 years. He set 26th fastest qualifying time, started 1st and
finished 8th in heat two, but he was a DNF in the B main.
The 2004 USAC-CRA rookie of the year battle will be exciting. Major
players are 360 cu. in. sprint veteran Greg Taylor in the # 19 Mike
Sala ex-Josh Wise ride of 2003 and mini sprint veteran David Cardey,
28, in the # 59 Jim Giardina Chevy. Both drivers performed well in
their 410 cu. in. sprint racing debuts. Other rookie contenders are
Matthew Rossi (# 16) from Phoenix, and VRA 360 veteran Ronnie Case
in Don Blair's # 33 "green machine".
USAC flew out their heavy hitters from the Indianapolis headquarters
for the inaugural USAC-CRA race. They were President Rollie Helmling,
V-Ps Mike Devin and Dick Jordan, sprint coordinator Jason Smith and
Silver Crown chief steward Bill Carey. USAC Western States officials
present were Tommy Hunt, Bob Pool, Dennis Johansen and many pit
stewards. New USAC-CRA chief steward Russell Bliss was being shown
the ropes by newly appointed USAC-CRA California coordinator Chris
Morgan. Chris has worked for Irwindale Speedway as competition
director, for USAC W/S Series as a starter, and for the NASCAR
Craftsman Truck Series as starter for the then new NASCAR touring
division in 1996.
Format: USAC-CRA has dropped the trophy dash (Passing Masters dash
in SCRA). The new USAC-CRA series uses the CRA format from past
glory days at Ascot. The first four rows of the A main event will be
for the eight fastest qualifiers who transferred from heat races,
with the fastest qualifier starting 8th and the 8th quickest
qualifier starting on the pole. Now any of the eight fastest
qualifiers who does not transfer to the A main from his heat will
have to transfer to the feature from the B main and the best he can
start will be 9th
(inside row five). That happened at Perris on March 6. Fastest
qualifier Rutherford did not finish the 12-lap B main and started
9th in the 30-lap A. This rule guarantees a lot of passing in the
heats and the features. The old CRA rule allowed a top eight
qualifier who did not qualify for the feature from his heat race to
retain a top eight starting position for the A main if he
transferred out of the B main. So the need to pass cars in
heat races under the old CRA system wasn't as imperative as it is
under current USAC-CRA rules.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony at the starting line marked the start of
the USAC-CRA series before the first heat. USAC's Helmling wielded
the scissors as Donnie Kazarian of the PAS watched. Helmling said it
was his first time at the PAS. All 27 drivers posed on the stage for
a group photo with 1963 Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones before racing
started. The Perris High School Marching Band, in their green
and white uniforms, played the National Anthem on the front
straight. A Boy Scout color guard participated in the opening
Chris Holt, the PAS infield announcer, conducted his usual
interesting interviews March 6 with Parnelli and long-time sprint
car pit steward Evelyn Pratt. Parnelli had some interesting quotes.
He said, "Anyone who can drive a sprint car well can drive
anything." Parnelli also told the story of the mid-1960s USAC
Thanksgiving Night Midget Grand Prix at Ascot when he entered turn
three and his RF wheel fell off with A. J. Foyt right on his tail.
Parnelli said he flipped his # 98jr Midget without injury, but he
said A.J's # 83 never touched his car. Parnelli added, "I
flipped Midgets, but I never flipped a sprint car during my racing
Evelyn, who is in her 80s, said she started in racing during 1948
when her stuntman brother and husband of 58 years, Bill, shared a
car in a race car driving/hot-dog eating contest. Evelyn raced a
jalopy in powder puff races and "finished third in gal
points". She retired from making aircraft windows at Northrop
Aviation in 1983 and started her own lawn mowing service that she
still operates today. Evelyn picks up aluminum cans at races and
donates the proceeds to worthy causes, such as injured racing
drivers. Later, Evelyn told me she will not go on Jay Leno's Tonight
Show as long as the split between SCRA and USAC-CRA is active. Leno
saw a story about Evelyn in the Los Angeles Times months ago and
invited her to be a guest on his top-rated talk show.
About 70-80 persons, including fellow track announcer Bruce Flanders
and track photographer Earl Scruggs, attended the 11:00 a.m March 6
memorial service at a church in Pasadena for long-time Ascot track
announcer Sandy Reed, 83. The popular voice at race-tracks and in
many racing movies passed away February 7 from a massive stroke in
an Arcadia hospital. Sandy's second wife, Suzy, was the widow of
Sandy's fellow track announcer Scooter McLean at Riverside
International Raceway for many years.