Racing Scene Column - (Catch-up Info) – Feb. 26, 2013

Racing Scene Column - (Catch-up Info) – Feb. 26, 2013
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Los Angeles, Calif. - The 27th annual Tulsa (OK) Chili Bowl (January 8-12) on an indoor clay quarter-mile was another success. Reports show 268 drivers competed. They came from 32 states and three foreign nations—Canada, Australia and Finland. There were five female drivers, 44 from California, 14 NASCAR, ten World of Outlaws, and 68 USAC drivers. Tuesday through Friday preliminary main event winners were Kyle Larson (No. 71), Sammy Swindell (1), Kevin Swindell (39), and Chad Boat (15x John Lawson car). Chad's dad Billy drove the Lawson 15 Stealth/Gaerte midget to many USAC victories and championships in the 1990s. Saturday's 55-lap feature was another Chili Bowl financial windfall for the Swindells. Son Kevin won the Golden Driller Trophy and first place money for the fourth consecutive year. Dad Sammy, a five-time Chili Bowl finale winner, finished second again to his talented son. Other top A-feature finishers were: P.3-Brad Sweet (67x), 4- Tim McCreadie (47x), 5-Dave Darland (3DD), plus Californians P.7-Shane Golobic (11), P.10-Cory Kruseman (21K), 12-two-time WoO champion Jason Meyers, plus DNFers P.21-Kyle Larson, and P.24-five-time USAC-CRA champion Mike Spencer, who will be getting married in March.

BREAKUPS: At the end of January actress Ashley Judd, 44, and her husband Dario Franchitti, 39, ended their 11-year marriage amicably. The split was a shock to everyone who knows them according to the January 30 “Insider” CBS show. Who gets custody of their two dogs? Per NBC's “Extra” show on January 30, Ashley is worth $22 million and Dario is worth $35 million. This breakup followed by a month Danica Patrick filing papers in a Scottsdale, AZ court to end her seven-year marriage to Paul Hospenthal, 17 years her senior. Less than a month later Danica, 30, and fellow NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse, Jr, 25, revealed they are dating while both will be 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie of the year contenders. Danica could be called a cougar. Actor Ben Affleck and actress Jennifer Lopez were called “Ben-ifer” when they dated a decade ago. Maybe Danica and Ricky could be called Dan-icky or Rick-ica. The over/under on how long this romance will last may be six months, especially if they have an on-track altercation. Their differences—Danica is from the north, Chevy, rock music and favors wine...Ricky is from the south, Ford, country music and favors beer.

USAC 2012 Western Series champions were honored Saturday night, February 9 at the Estrella Warbirds Museum/Woodland Auto Display in Paso Robles on the central California coast. Dick Woodland's organization will be sponsoring two USAC series in 2013. Chris Holt was MC. Champions honored were: Mike Spencer, Bud Kaeding, Tony Hunt, Shannon McQueen, David Prickett, Chad Nichols, Garrett Peterson, Cory Elliott and Bryan Dawson. Ron Chaffin (USAC-CRA) and Junior Bowman (360 Sprints) were car owner champs. Rookies of the year were: Jake Swanson (USAC-CRA), Austin Liggett (360 Sprints) and Nick Chivello (Western Midgets). Brody Roa (Yuma feature winner and P. 3 in USAC-CRA final points) received the most improved USAC-CRA driver award. Mechanics of the year were Bruce Bromme, Jr. and Brian Matherly. Jimmy May was honored for his mechanical work in all three series. Wally Pankratz presented the annual Joe Lynch Memorial Mechanical Achievement Award to Kirk Swanson.

OBITS: “Big” John Estopellan, 69, passed away on January 2, 2013. The 1960s-70s era photographer later became a USAC-CRA pit steward along with his two older sons, Mike and Rich. A fall in the basement of his Whittier home led to a fatal brain aneurysm. Cremation followed. A memorial service arranged by his three sons took place Saturday, January 19 from 3:00-4:00 pm in uptown Whittier. More than 110 persons attended and about half were from racing. Racers present included USAC's Tommy Hunt and Dennis Johansen, drivers Steve Ostling, Cory Kruseman, Mike Spencer, Sr. and Jr, Jimmy Voitel, Jerry Hudson, Dave Ondo, Kenny Gidney, Dave Fair, Walt Johnson, Jr and Steve Parke. Also in attendance were: racing officials Ed Hudson, 91, Gay and Tony Otto, Pat Johnson, Julie Shiosaki and this writer, plus fellow racing photographers Jim Chini, Mike Arthur and his wife Nan Kene Arthur. ... Other late 2012 deaths included Indy 500 drivers David “Salt” Walther, 65, and Eddie Russo, 86. ... Former CRA drivers who passed were: Dick Dixon, 66, owner/driver of No. 26 in late 1960s (cancer), and on December 6 in Florida Jack Ward, 66, owner/driver of No. 88 in the 60s-70s. Jack, a former air traffic controller, was the brother of the late CRA board member/mechanical wizard Dave Ward.

A new one-hour Lucas Oil MAV-TV American Real TV show titled “Won & Done” was taped at the Irwindale Dragstrip Thursday night, February 7. Future shows will be taped on the first and third Thursdays at the Irwindale Dragstrip weekly street legal drag racing “test and tune” events from 4:00-10:00 pm. Rich Christensen served as show host. NHRA-Top Fuel drag racer Morgan Lucas, son of owner Forrest Lucas, was co-host. The event featured street legal vehicles racing two-by-two down the eighth-mile dragstrip with TV cameras taping the action. This show will air on April 4. The show paid out $4,000 cash that night. Heat winners each received $500 cash and the right to complete later. Losing cars (as verified by VIN numbers on each car) are banned for life. Any vehicle that is undefeated for ten races will win a $50,000 bonus. The public is invited to attend taping of these events.

The Spears Southwest Tour Series (former NASCAR Elite SW Tour) held its 2012 championship awards ceremony Saturday afternoon February 9 at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace in Bakersfield. Champion Derek Thorn and the top 20 drivers, plus top ten car owners were honored. Jeff Oleen received the rookie of the year award. Zane Lovelace won the perseverance award. John Pitre took the Jeff Anthony Spirit of 76 Award. The top ten SRL Legend car drivers led by champion Darren Amidon also were honored. Ten 2013 events are set for seven tracks in three western states. The season opener will be March 16 at Madera Speedway and the finale November 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The Los Angeles Times sports section on January 29 ran a 24 paragraph, 22 inch, six column wide story about fast-rising driver Kyle Larson, 20. The page 4 story by staff writer Jim Peltz also had a 4 X 6” photo of Larson, in his racing uniform with his helmet, crouched on a race track. The story revealed Kyle's maternal grandparents, Japanese-Americans Manjo and Betty Miyata, spent WW II in the internment camp at Tule Lake, Calif., near the Oregon border. Larson won 30 features in 123 races last year. So far in 2013 has won a preliminary 25-lap feature in a midget at the Tulsa (Okla) Chili Bowl, finished a close second after starting 11th in the ARCA 200 stock car race at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 16, won a New Smyrna, FL USAC 30-lap midget main Feb. 17, and won a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series late model 150-lap feature on a new .4-mile oval on the Daytona backstretch. It was televised live by Speed-TV on Monday, Feb. 18. The versatile Californian raced in both the NASCAR Modified Tour and K & N Pro Series stock car races Tuesday, Feb. 19. Larson won the November USAC Thanksgiving Midget GP on the Perris (Calif.) clay half-mile a month after winning the NASCAR K & N East stock car championship as a rookie.

DAYTONA 300: Larson's full-time gig for 2013 will be the NASCAR Nationwide Series in the Turner-Scott No. 32 Clorox Chevrolet. He loves to race, so other circuits will see him in action as well. Other NASCAR Nationwide rookie drivers to watch this season will be Tucson's Alex Bowman, 19, in Robby Benton's No. 99 Toyota, Travis Pastrana, in Jack Roush's No. 60 Ford, and F.1/NASCAR truck vet Nelson Piquet, Jr. in the No. 30 Turner-Scott Chevy. Larson and Bowman are both talented, fast learners, personable and future super-stars. At Daytona all four of these 2013 NNS rookies ran in the top five lead pack with 30 laps to go in the 120 lap race. After an 11-car crash with four laps to go Bowman was P. 6, Pastrana P. 9 and Larson P. 10 after running second earlier.

On the final lap a huge crash on the front straight coming to the checkered flag involved the P. 1-2 cars of Regan Smith and Brad Keselowski. Regan blocked Brad's move to pass and contact turned Regan's No.7 in front of the field. The melee caught up P. 5-6 drivers Bowman and Larson, whose car got into the back of Keselowski's car, and was hit by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (88) and lifted into the air. Larson's 32 car nosed into and pierced the fence, tore off the front half of the car to the firewall, and almost flipped before sliding across the finish line into the grass. Larson's engine and front tire landed on the grandstand side of the fence by the front walkway. A tire and debris flew into the lower level stands. Medical staff attended injured fans in the grandstand. Larson and other drivers escaped injury. Later track and NASCAR officials told the media that 14 injured fans were treated and transported to area hospitals; 14 fans were treated by medical staff at the track.

There were 34 lead changes and a NNS record 20 different race leaders before Tony Stewart (No. 33 Childress' Ritz/Oreo Chevy) won the 300 and $109,220. The official finish had Sam Hornish, Jr. second, Bowman in P. 3 ($85,603) and Larson in P. 13 ($56,488). Pastrana and Piquet finished in 10th and 11th respectively. Keselowski placed 12th and Smith 14th. ESPN's live telecast was scheduled for 10:15 am-1:00 pm PST. The lengthy final lap crash caused ESPN to stay on the air live covering the crash aftermath until 1:40 pm before joining the scheduled NCAA basketball game at North Carolina in progress.

United Racing Association (URA) was the name of a post-World War II midget racing sanctioning organization that flourished in southern California before disbanding many decades ago. The name has been reborn for a new organization—Dirt Entertainment—led by former 410 sprint car driver Scott Burns. A press release on February 13 announced that 410 sprint car veteran driver Steve Ostling has been hired as URA competition director. Ostling has been the USAC-CRA 410 sprint car racing director in recent years. URA will conduct races at two dirt tracks in Southern California—Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino and Route 66 Motorplex in Victorville. The four primary divisions will be unlimited sprint cars, limited sprint cars (360s), unlimited midgets and limited midgets (Ford Focus)

YOUNG GUNS: Drivers stepping up to new racing challenges in 2013 include: Spears SW Tour rookies Donny St. Ours, a Legend Car Silver State champion in car No. 1, Austin Barnes, Lucas Oil 2012 Modified champion in car No. 61, and Brandon Loverock, a super late model winner in No. 25. Spears SW Tour has 14 other rookies from various racing backgrounds, including SLM veteran Andre Prescott, 17, and Mariah McGriff. Jessica Clark, 19, a 2011 USAC Ford Focus Midget western champion and NASCAR S2 stock car veteran, will be racing in 2013 aboard the Lucas Oil modified in which Austin Barnes drove to the 2012 series championship. Sergio Pena, a 19-year old Virginian, will drive the No. 16 Bill McAnally NAPA Toyota in the 2013 NASCAR K & N West Series.

Irwindale Speedway will reopen its half-mile oval on April 6 after having no races on the track during 2012. Practice days (all classes) have been set for Saturdays March 16 and 30. Track management announced recently that original track announcer Bruce Flanders has been rehired as track announcer for 2013. Harold Osmer and Neil Nissing have agreed to publish the track printed program again as they did in the past. They will print a new color program for each of the 15 scheduled NASCAR Whelen All-American Racing Series events scheduled from April through October.

The annual Long Beach Grand Prix Izod Indy Car race on April 21 has been shortened from 85 to 80 laps (157.4 miles). The reduction should make it more of a race instead of a fuel-saving “economy run” with strategy by team engineers and managers becoming as important as drivers throttle use. Indy Cars also altered the race distances of several other events in 2013 with some races lengthened. The Indy Car No. 4 Panther Racing team sent a good luck message to SF 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh (a Panther Racing partisan who wore No. 4 as a Colts quarterback) prior to the 2013 NFL Super Bowl. Their wishes didn't help--the 49ers fell to the Baltimore Ravens 31-34.

Twenty voters decided the outcome of the annual Mario Andretti Driver of the Year 2012 balloting. The result, heavily influenced by total victories, was revealed on the Sunday, January 27 Wind Tunnel/Dave De Spain SPEED TV show. Mario was present as usual for the announcement of the latest winner. In order from P 1-5 the result was Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel, NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, USAC open wheel/NASCAR K & N East champion Kyle Larson, Izod Indy Car champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and rally racing champion Sebastian Loeb. Larson had the most victories (30) during 2013 and was the most versatile candidate based on the number of series and surfaces on which he won. ..... Speaking of Mario, the 72-year old legendary racing champion skydived during January from 12,500 feet as a ride-along with a pro skydiver. They did a free-fall of 6,000 feet before pulling the parachute cord. ..... On February 20 daily newspapers around the country ran under “Today's Birthdays” -- Racing Hall of Famers Bobby Unser, 79, and Roger Penske, 76. Bobby drove for Roger in the 1970s.