Los Angeles, Calif., March, 2011– The AMS/OILUSAC-CRA 410 sprint car opener March 12 at Perris had a 27-car field and an impressive crowd in the main grandstand. California Lightning Sprints (CLS) provided a 20-car field. All of the CLS cars were able to pit in the infield with the 410 Sprints. At the PAS Oval Nationals Thursday/Friday CLS events last November the infield was crowded with USAC 410 sprinters, so CLS cars all pitted in the parking lot beyond turn two. Rodney Argo, 37, was back in action after taking about a year off because of a bad back. He drove the Don Argo black No.19 still powered by a Ford, a rarity in 410 sprint racing. Rodney drove his sprinter last November with USAC in Tulare. He said he will race more often this season.
The No. 50 Maxim/Shaver team of owner Ron Chaffin, 72, driver Mike Spencer, 29, and crew chief/mechanic Bruce Bromme, Jr, 59, started just as strong in 2011 as they were during 2010. Last year they collaborated for their third consecutive USAC-CRA championship. They had five feature wins, 17 top fives and 21 top tens in 25 races and won the title by a whopping 335 points. The car has 12 championships with four drivers—Lealand McSpadden, Richard Griffin, Damion Gardner and Spencer. Bruce, from Templeton, CA, will be inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in Knoxville, IA on Saturday, June 4, 2011. Fortunately, that is an open date on the USAC-CRA racing calendar. Bruce, Jr. will join his late father as a NSCHoF inductee. It was well deserved recognition for both men. Bruce said it is a great honor.
Spencer's winning pass on the outside at turn four on the final lap March 12 was outstanding. It dropped 2011 USAC National Sprint Series point leader Damion Gardner to second place in the Perris season opener. The Chaffin No 50 car used by Spencer on March 12 was a new 2010 Maxim chassis raced only on Thursday and Friday during the 2010 PAS Oval Nationals. Bruce told me the team used it only as a backup Saturday for the Oval Nationals finale. Bruce and Mike didn't like the back end of the car. So Bruce reworked it in his shop during the off-season and he likes it enough now to use the car as their primary car this season. So far so good, it won the first two USAC-CRA features in dominating fashion. For an in-depth February 2010 interview of the 50 car tremendous trio—Ron, Mike and Bruce—see the excellent story by surf n sprint in the www.scrafan.com website.
PIT NOTES: I spoke to driver Garrett Hansen at the pit gate. He said he will be a spectator at 410 sprint races this season because of his back problem. Garrett raced a USAC Midget at the November 2010 Thanksgiving Night Grand Prix in Irwindale and at the January 2011 Tulsa, OK Chili Bowl because he didn't want to miss those classics. ... Nic Faas, 21, made his debut in Mark Alexander's silver No. 4 vacated this year by fan-favorite Tony Jones. Nic drove impressively to sixth fastest qualifying time, victory in heat two and fifth in the 30-lap feature. The team should be a solid 2011 series championship contender all year. ... I talked to Steve Sussex, Jr, of Tempe, AZ, and learned that his son Stevie III is 19 and they plan to race more often this season. They had their light blue No. 21AZ at the 2011 opener in Perris. Stevie was the 18th FQ, fourth in heat two and was involved in a pair of crashes in the feature. He returned from a three car crash on lap 1, but a suspected right front part failure, as he ran 17th, sent his car into the wall. They loaded up with serious RF damage. I asked Steve about the new semi-banked clay track east of Phoenix. He said they have run laps on the dirt track and added that it is wide, with sweeping turns. The name is ET Motopark (www.etmotopark.com) near US 60 East and Ironwood, and go four miles to the entrance. Photos of the oval track and some bleachers already in place may be seen on www.scrafan.com in a Feb. 27, 2011 entry titled “New Arizona Track”. The track will open April 2, 2011 with AZ modifieds, and modified lights, SCRA and bomber stocks. Admission prices are $12 adults and $30 for a pit pass.
NEWCOMERS: I took the opportunity to meet some new (to me) USAC-CRA sprint car drivers. All three of the new to CRA drivers raced well and have good cars for rookie drivers.
> Gavin Matlock, 19, of Oak Hills, turned 20 on March 14. The bespectacled driver is a trophy kart veteran and drove Ron Williams' black No 25. Gavin is diminutive in stature and reminds one of drivers Jason Leffler, Brad Sweet or Cole White in stature. The team will race a used J. Williams Stinger chassis. He will compete will CLS grad Johnny Bluntach (No. 58 ex-Jim Giardina car) for 2011 USAC-CRA rookie of the year honors.
> David Bezio, 30, of El Cajon, drove his own DRC chassis with a 360 engine. He has raced at Ventura and ran a few times at Perris.
> Johnny McCall, 17, of Hesperia, is a high school senior and honor student in the high desert. He drives for his family, Robert and Kerry McCall, He was sixth and in a main event transfer position with three laps to go in the semi when his LF tire rode up Cal Smith's RR tire and sent McCall's No. 77 into the first turn wall. His car rolled once and received extensive damage. The car was not ready for the Victorville race two weeks later at his “home” track.
Damion Gardner drove Dwight Cheney's No. 42 in an infrequent outing for the car. Dwight told me it is a DRC that they call an Eagle for sponsorship reasons. Damion flew to So. Cal. and stayed at Cheney's house in Glendora as usual for these quick racing trips to Cali. Dwight works on Damion's No. 71 Eagle when Damion brings it west. Damion won two of the three USAC National Sprint races at the 3/8-mile mile D-shaped clay Ocala Speedway in Ocala, FL from February 17-19 to become the 2011 point leader. Versatile Bryan Clauson won the middle race in the Florida trio. Last year Damion also won two of the first three USAC sprint car triple-header on the Western swing to three states--Arizona, Nevada and California. Too bad the Tucson, Las Vegas and Perris events did not launch the 2011 season. The 2010 western trio were well attended and could have continued a new tradition. Last year Damion won five USAC National sprint car features overall to place second to 2010 series champion Levi Jones, an eight-time winner. Levi beat Damion by 132 points.
Qualifying at Perris March 12 produced some surprises. Fast time changed hands five times with 24th qualifier Greg Alexander's 16.655 in John Bellegante's No. 23 Beast with an engine built by the owner. Greg dropped 17th qualifier Seth Wilson's 16.873 to second quickest with six drivers in the 16 second bracket. Greg, 22, from Gardena, finished fifth in his heat race and led all the way in the semi-main. He started ninth and was ninth on lap 12 when a flat tire sent him to the work area. He returned to the track and finished 11th. Before the feature, USAC-CRA ran a parade lap with the “missing man” formation. Pole starter Blake Miller dropped back to row two, leaving Damion's No. 42 alone on the outside of row one. It honored three recently deceased sprint car racing persons—Chet Gardner, Robert Davidson and Wilda Kindoll, the widow of three-time (1976-77-79) CRA championship car owner Jack Kindoll. They owned and operated JFK Co. in Sun Valley. Five-time CRA champion Jimmy Oskie was their driver.
FUEL STARVATION: Four cars ran out of fuel during the 30 lap feature. Gavin Matlock ran out of fuel on lap 17. Cal Smith said he ran out of fuel on lap 25 and exited the track. Seth Wilson was in P. 8 on lap 28 when he overheated and ran out of fuel and pulled into the pits, finishing 15th. On the final lap 12th place David Bezio ran of of fuel and pulled to the inside in turn four as leaders Gardner and Spencer approached and passed him on the outside for their amazing finish. Rickie Gaunt (No. 66) dropped out on the first lap with a broken rocker arm. Richard Vanderweerd dropped out of P. 10 on lap 28 with a broken LR torsion arm bolt.
Time trials for USAC-CRA sprints ran from 6:21-6:42 and CLS winged minis qualifications ended at 7:03. Four sprint heats ran from 7:16 to 7:43 and CLS heats had the track from 7:48-8:00. The sprint semi ran from 8:10-8:26. The CLS 20-lap main started 17 of 20 cars present and had a lap 5 red flag and a yellow two laps later. It started at 8:58 and concluded at 9:21. The sprint 30-lap feature started at 9:55 and had a red for Cody Williams' flip in a three-car collision near turn four. He restarted and the 20-minute race ran from 10:07-10:27 pm. The track had a mid-60s temp during late afternoon and a temp in the low 50s during competition. It was cool, but not too chilly in the wind chill factor department.
TOP THREE COMMENTS: Over the pit microphone winner Mike Spencer said, “I hope fans enjoyed that race. It's nice to win on the last lap like that. I've lost some like that. He (Damion) tried to go low so I went to the outside. I had nothing to lose.” He thanked his team. Runner-up Gardner stated, “ I made a mistake and chose the middle and Mike got by me on the outside. Mike is fast here. I started up front and knew we had a chance here against him. Thanks to all the fans for coming out.” Third place Matt Mitchell added, “My car got beat up in the heat race. The crew fixed it and it was better in the main.”
The USAC-CRA current 22 race season will visit seven different dirt tracks in California from a quarter to half-mile. Perris and Calistoga are half miles. Santa Maria is a third-mile. Victorville and Hanford are three-eights. Watsonville and Chico are quarter-miles. It would not surprise me to see some additional races added to the USAC-CRA sprint schedule this year. A likely site would be the newly renamed Victorville Raceway Park. New oval track promoters Steve and Jill Quercio are now operating the high desert track at the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds, just off the I-15 Freeway at Roy Rogers Drive. They launched an energetic audio/visual 30-second TV ad, plus a print ad promotional campaign to bring in new spectators and create new fans.
VENTURA—JUNE 19: I planned to attend the March 19 Ventura Raceway All-Coast Construction Challenge # 1 event that featured 27 VRA 360 sprints, 26 USAC Mopar Western/VRA Midgets, nine USAC Ford Focus Midgets and five USAC Young Guns FF Midgets. The USAC vs. VRA Midget “Battle at the Beach” unique trophy featured crossed surfboards representing USAC and Naylor's new VRA midget series. It is a definite keeper in a driver's trophy collection. The rain forecast for that evening (30 to 50% chance of rain according to reliable sources) caused me to skip the 190 mile round-trip north. That was regrettable. The USAC Midget main $2,000 win by Cory Kruseman in his No. 21K and VRA 360 sprint $3,000 victory by Troy Rutherford in his No. 11 were exciting to watch even on the Internet a few days later. Thanks to Loud Pedal Productions for its excellent video work and to promoter/track announcer Jim Naylor for completing almost 100% of the scheduled races. Only the Ford Focus main was canceled by incoming rain that arrived as forecast before 10:00 pm. The father and son Dolacki FF Midget team made the event. Robert, who returned from a self-imposed retirement from racing, drove his No. 17 to victory in the only FF heat race. His teenage son Tyler drove their No. 18 to ninth place in his USAC debut. The slim crowd present benefited by witnessing the exciting show in person. Be sure to catch the final two rounds of the All-Coast Challenge series at Ventura on June 25 and October 29.