Perris, CA., Feb. 25, 2012 – The Perris Auto Speedway season opener Saturday February 25 was a winner in terms of car counts, track preparation, weather conditions, fan attendance and on-track competition. Oval Entertainment, LLC president Don Kazarian presented an all open-wheel triple-header topped by the fan-favorite, non-wing USAC-CRA 410 cubic inch sprint cars. Lively winged California Lightning Sprints (some call these cars mini-sprints) and wingless 360 cu. in. PAS Senior Sprints that were beginning year two as a separate group racing only for trophies. All senior drivers must be age 45+ and all of their 360 cu. in. engines must have less expensive cast iron blocks. All three divisions raced heats and main events.
Car Counts: The USAC-CRA 410 sprints had 37 cars in the pits, up from 27 cars at the PAS season opener on Sat. 3/12/11. The CLS (typically 1,000cc or 1,250cc motorcycle engine powered) had 20 cars present, the same total they had for the PAS opener last year. The PAS Senior Sprints, known affectionately as “Flying Fossils”, had ten cars in competition, up from five cars for their inaugural race as a group last March in Victorville. Triple 7 chassis builder John Aden said he will have three more senior sprints in action at PAS March 31. He said the No. 7a and 45 cars will compete then. Track management hopes to have 15 or more seniors competing this season in companion races with the 410 sprinters. That goal seems realistic.
Track Preparation: PAS had the half-mile clay oval in ideal condition for a new track record. Sensational Nic Faas, 22, obliged by breaking the nine-year old one-lap track record of 15.954, which Damion Gardner set on 10/31/02 during the Oval Nationals. Nic, the 29th of 37 qualifiers, blistered the old 1-L TR mark with a 15.833 on his second timed lap. Nic ran a 16.2 on his first of two qualifying laps in the No. 4 Mark Alexander Spike sponsored by Scott Sales Co./VP Racing Fuels. Faas, a CSU Fullerton student, beat the second fastest qualifier Matt Mitchell time by more than half a second—15.833 to Matt's 16.424 or 0.631. That is an amazing spread in sprint car racing at Perris. Faas scored a clean sweep—FQ time, heat win and $2,500 main event victory—was reminiscent of his opening night Oval Nationals dominant victory on Thursday 11-3-11. ..... The late February weather was almost ideal. It was 72 degrees at 4:15 pm and still 52 degrees after the final main event ended at 10:43 pm. What wind there was was mild, a fact that kept the track moist and racy all night. Flags at turn two were limp most of the evening.
Fan Attendance: The crowd in the main grandstand from turns four to one seemed to be about three-fourths full versus two-thirds full for the PAS sprint car opener last year. On-track competition thrilled racing fans who were winter-weary from lack of racing since last November. Passing was commonplace all night. USAC-CRA 10-lap heat races had nine or ten car fields with eight car inverted lineups with the fastest qualifiers in row four. Heat winners Faas, Austin Williams, Greg Alexander and Andy Forsberg came from starting positions eight, seven, five and three respectively. B-main winner Bud Kaeding (whose dad Brent was in the pits) started on the pole as the fastest qualifier in the straight-up starting lineup. Faas, the 30-lap feature winner, started eighth, as 17 of the 23 starters finished with all drivers on the lead lap.
With Lance Jennings writing the USAC-CRA Sokola Shootout race story and PAS chief announcer Scott Daloisio covering the CLS racing as usual, I will concentrate here on the PAS Senior Sprints competition,which had to open the eyes of some spectators. Seniors did not run qualifying laps and raced one 8-lap heat race and a 20-lap main event with all ten cars present in each race. The seniors completed all 28 laps under the green flag and the starter did not have to use his yellow flag. Both races had running times recorded and there was frequent passing for position, including the lead. Heat winner Victor Davis started third and passed pole starter/early leader Wiley Miller on lap 5. Davis won by 50-yards over Brian Williams, who passed Miller on the final lap. P 4-10: Ed Schwarz, Bruce Douglass, “Hubcap” Mike Collins, Bill Badger, Bob Alderman, Arizonan Jim Donnelly and Mike Cook followed. Nine drivers finished the 2:26.38 race.
The 20-lap Senior Sprint main followed the CLS 20-lap feature that officials trimmed to 15 laps after a car flipped on lap 8. Torrance High School senior Kevin Michnowicz, 17, won the CLS Perris opener as he did last year at PAS. His dad Bobby, 48, is a multi-main event CRA sprint car winner at Ascot, who drove a second Michnowicz Hench-craft car Saturday. Bobby was in P. 3 when he dropped out on lap 3 with a mechanical problem. Kevin went on to a well-deserved victory. The Senior Sprint actual feature lineup was: Row 1 – No. 0 Triple 7 chassis of Ed Schwarz, Santa Fe Springs and No. 31 TCR Bruce Douglass, of Ventura; Row 2 – No 22 Triple 7 Brian Williams, Newport Beach and No. 75x Maxim - Wiley Miller, Yorba Linda; Row 3 – No. 75 Maxim - Bill Badger, the 2011 PAS Senior Sprints champion from Santa Clarita, and No. 13 TCR Victor Davis, of Simi Valley; Row 4 – No. 67k Jim Donnelly, from Arizona, and No. 21 Dave Ellis chassis of Bob Alderman, from Santa Ynez; Row 5 – No. 04 Triple 7 of Mike Collins, from Lake Forest, alone in the back row. Mike Cook (No. 96) was unable to start after a mechanical problem on lap 6 of the heat race.
SENIOR SPRINT MAIN: Douglass shot into the lead from his outside front row starting slot and led the first seven laps. Williams, the winner of the first two PAS Senior Sprint mains last year, passed Schwarz for second on lap 4 and closed steadily on the leader. On lap 8 Williams, 52, shot into the lead via an inside pass entering the third turn. He then pulled away quickly and lapped the first car (No. 67k) on lap 10. At the halfway point, Williams led Douglass, Schwarz, Badger, Miller, Davis, Alderman, Donnelly and Collins, who then dropped out. Davis took P. 5 from Miller on lap 13. Williams won by 40-yards over Douglass, who had 50-yards on third place Schwarz. A straightaway back Badger edged closing Davis by five yards for P. 4. Miller finished sixth as the last driver on the lead lap. P. 7 Alderman was lapped on lap 17 and P. 8 Donnelly also finished 19 laps. The winning time was 5:55.33—a NTR. Williams averaged 17.75 per lap, which would be the 30th fastest qualifying lap for the 37 USAC-CRA sprint cars during time trials. Williams stepped from his car at the starting line for his PA interview. He told the crowd, “I was on the edge of my seat. There are some big holes down there (turn 1). I'm tired. Thanks to John Aden. He built this Triple 7 chassis. It's the best. Thanks also to my acupuncturist for getting me ready to do this.” The top three drivers in 2011 Senior Sprint points received their championship trophies earlier in the evening during starting line ceremonies.
PAS NOTES: The USAC-CRA 410 sprints and USAC West Coast 360 sprint divisions have avoided race date conflicts in 2012 thanks to Chris Kearns and promoters. That should result in deeper fields and more competitive teams in the PAS pits this season. USAC-CRA cars missing from the 2012 PAS opener were: the No. 66 (R. Gaunt), 93 (R. Garnder), 18 (D. Sheridan), 19 (R. Argo), 39 (C. Smith), and 42 Dwight Cheney car that D. Gardner has raced at PAS in the past...... 410 ROOKIES: Two USAC Ford Focus Midget graduates made their debuts. Jake Swanson, 18 year old Cypress Jr. College engineering student, had the No. 41 Larry Henry ride with winning PAS driver Tony Jones as his crew chief. Austin Smith, 19, had the No. 14 John Springstead Chevy ride. Jon Kairot, of San Bernardino, was in a Bill Perkins Racing 360 that Schwarz drove in the Senior Sprint events. Second year PAS driver Corey Ballard, of Orange, has a new No. 20 JEI chassis owned by his dad. He said he raced six times last year. ..... Andy Forsberg towed his No. 92N sprinter south 500+ miles to Perris from his home in Auburn on an open trailer. That is good advertising for racing on the freeways. ..... There were five flips at the PAS 2012 opener. Verne Sweeney (98) in H-3; A. Smith (14) and Gary Potter (6) in the B-main; then Bud Kaeding (29) and Austin Williams (2) in the A-main.
Four-time (2008-11) USAC-CRA champion Mike Spencer, a 30-year old Cal Poly Pomona engineering graduate, experienced misfortune at the PAS opener. During hot laps his No. 50 Ron Chaffin Maxim broke a rocker arm. It forced his Bruce Bromme, Jr.-led team to change engines before qualifying. Spencer drew number four in the qualifying order so he missed his spot during the engine swap. He came out last to qualify and ran his only lap at 16.516, good enough for fourth FQ lap. A new 2012 rule states that a car that misses its drawn qualifying spot and qualifies at the end of time trials will not be able to start the main in the first six rows. So after finishing fourth in his heat race he was unable to start the feature in P. 5 as in prior seasons and had to start 13th. Mike showed his driving prowess by charging up to P. 4 in the 30-lap race. ..... Other impressive drivers: Ryan Bernal, 18, was tenth FQ, P. 4 in H-2 and led the first 22 laps of the feature before finishing second in only his second weekend of PAS racing. The 2011 USAC West Coast 360 Sprint Rookie of the Year from Hollister drove the No. 73x Spike for Keith Ford Racing for the first time. Personable Ryan will drive the No. 18 Kittle 410 and 73x Ford 360 cars this season so he will be busier than most California drivers racing for both USAC 410 and 360 points. ..... Brody Roa, 21, was third FQ and seventh in the feature in his dad Brett Roa's No. 91R for his best night at PAS. Also, David Bezio, 31, had a new Gaerte 410 in his No. 37x instead of the 360 engine he used last year and raced impressively.
Monrovia resident Gary Potter, No. 6 Potter Chevy, deserves special mention. He is a past Ascot Park (Gardena) sprint buggy champion (circa 1974-75). He raced future Indianapolis 500 drivers Rick and Roger Mears, of Bakersfield, and Gary (No. 84) Kanawer, of Santa Cruz, in the sprint buggies through the infield at Ascot and in the desert. Potter also raced up Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs during the annual July 4 hill-climb classic race. Gary said he even went off the road and over the side one year above the treeline and went down the mountain about a hundred feet. Gary, 62, is now retired and collecting Social Security. He is a pal of 410 sprint driver/owner Jerry Welton, also from Monrovia and 60+. Potter raced Welton's second car (No. 62jr) at the PAS opener on 3/12/11. Gary and Jerry came out to a recent practice to have fun and bought the ex-No. 33 Johnny Bates car, and ITI chassis. He put No. 6 on it because it was an available CRA car number. He added Stoneridge Ranch on the hood and said “it's just a name”. Potter qualified at 18.990 and was 36th fastest of 37 qualifiers. He was in P. 12 of 14 drivers on the track in the B-main on lap 6 when he rolled in the fourth turn. It ended his 2012 debut as a rookie owner/driver. He was unhurt and ended the night watching from his pit next to his buddy Welton's No. 62x pit stall.
MEMORIAL LAPS: Following the National Anthem at 7:10 Faas and Spencer ran side-by-side memorial pace laps for their team members Noyce Naylor (No. 4 team) and Bruce Scott (Bromme team). After a few slow laps the two drivers ran four hot laps with the 50 crossing the finish line just in front of the 4 car. The feature winning Alexander team of owner Mark and crew chief Steve raced with heavy hearts. Their mom Pam Alexander is hospitalized currently battling advanced stages of ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease). ..... POST-RACE COMMENTS: Feature winner Faas took the lead on lap 23 with a daring inside pass entering turn 3 and was running near record 15.9 second laps at the end of the 30-lap race. He extended his lead from 25 to 40-yards during the final five laps and won by 40 yards over prior leader Bernal. Nic dedicated his impressive triumph to his car owner's mother. “She's the sweetest lady you'll ever meet. We lost a crew member recently and he's up there drinking beer.” Referring to runner-up Bernal, Nic stated: “He's a good racer and has a lot of potential. He has a real good crew chief.” P. 2 Bernal said, “Me and Nic have been racing together forever. Under yellow I saw his car number on the scoreboard and knew he was coming. I'll run the 18 (Kittle) car here and the Ford 360 car too this year.” P. 3 Matt Mitchell commented, “I drove it hard. It was too snug at the beginning and loosened the set-up as we went. Hat's off to Nic Faas. He has this place down. Nic and I joke we want to beat Mike Spencer.” They both did so Saturday, but Spencer was right there in P. 4 to keep the points pressure on them as he earned the Dean Thompson award honor. Mitchell, speaking for all the racing teams, officials and track management, thanked all the fans for coming out to the season opener. Round two will be Saturday, March 31 and those who saw round one surely will want to witness the next round.