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LOS ANGELES – How does a race track promoter keep racing fans interested in attending races during an era of declining race car counts because of rising costs? Promoter Don Kazarian offered USAC-CRA 410 sprints and IMCA Modifieds along with 360 ci senior sprints / young guns in a rare tripleheader April 30 at his clay half-mile Perris Auto Speedway. The result was a spike in attendance. Fans of sprinters and modifieds were exposed to exciting racing by a type of racing they were not likely to attend. Fans of both series want to see more of this pairing.
PAS pits had 24 USAC-CRA sprint cars, eight senior / young gun sprints, and 14 IMCA modifieds. All three groups ran separate practice laps starting at 5:30. The only time trials were run by USAC-CRA from 6:10 to 6:29 pm. Racing events started at 7:05 with a six-lap heat race for the eight seniors/young guns. Three eight-car, ten-lap heats for USAC-CRA sprinters were followed by two seven-car, six lap heats for modifieds. Track reconditioning and an intermission followed.
Main events followed with the eight seniors / young gun 360 ci sprints 20-lap main (won by Richard McCormick) run from 8:06 to 8:16. Then 22 USAC-CRA sprint drivers raced 30-laps from 8:44 to 9:11 in a thriller won by Matt Mitchell over Charles Davis, Jr. by 0.053. Davis' No. 47 RF tire was inches in back of Mitchell's No. 37 LF tire when they crossed the finish line. Mitchell collected $2,500. The 14 modifieds raced 20 laps from 9:23 to 9:38 pm. The race had a lead change and frequent passing and repassing throughout the field.
When the USAC-CRA main concluded sprint fans remained in their seats to watch the modifieds main. They were happy they did so after modified drivers ran a most competitive race won by Matthew Hicks of San Diego County. He also ran paved tracks in modifieds and INEX legend cars more than a decade ago and has won 14 main events at Irwindale Speedway. He is now a star also in IMCA Modified touring races on dirt tracks.
I estimated the main grandstand was about two-thirds occupied with some spectators preferring bleacher seats in the first and fourth turns. Fans of both series were exposed to excellent competition by a series they would not have come out to see. New fans of both series undoubtedly were created by the innovative pairing. Fans of both series streamed into the pits to talk to drivers and get autographs after the final feature concluded at a reasonable hour.
Fans of both touring series will have five more times this season to catch the exciting USAC-CRA and IMCA Modified double-bill with the seniors / young gun 360 sprints an added bonus. The PAS dates are May 28, June 25, August 20, September 17 and October 1. Those dates are definitely on my racing calendar listing upcoming races to attend.
IMCA Modifieds: Alyssa Smith, 19, started her No. 31A from the pole and led the first six laps. Hicks started eighth and led laps 7-20. Blonde Alyssa, daughter of Irwindale's 2006 Figure 8 champion and a PAS IMCA driver (No. 31) until seven years ago, taught Alyssa well as he competed against her at Perris. She has won features and now races against her boyfriend Austin Kiefer, 23, from Bakersfield originally where he raced against his dad. Austin won four PAS mains last year and won the PAS March 26 opener. They have dated for two years.
Kiefer won the first heat Saturday and spun out on lap 4 of the main. He restarted at the back and raced up to third at the finish. He trailed Alyssa by 30-yards at the finish and Alyssa trailed winner Hicks by 40-yards. Hicks (No. 28) earned $1,000. Nine of 14 drivers finished and all ran 20 laps.
After Chris Holt concluded interviewing the top three finishers, Kiefer told me he hopes the IMCA modifieds continue to race after the sprint cars. He said the PAS surface was the best they have had at Perris. Modifieds raced in a pack from third through seventh and passed on the inside or outside frequently during the last half of the race.
Brenda Kirby is the petite daughter of retired USAC-CRA 410 sprint car winner/champion and winning IMCA Modified driver Mike Kirby. The Kirby family moved years ago from the Torrance area to New River, Arizona, north of Phoenix on I-17. Brenda deserves mention as well. She started her No. 5B (her dad raced a No. 5 for years) from ninth in the feature and raced to fifth by lap 12. She passed two cars a lap later for third. However, she pulled into the pits with a problem a lap later and missed earning a deserved third place.
USAC-CRA Sprints: Mitchell started second and led all 30 laps for his first feature victory in six years. His Maxim opened a 35-yard lead by lap 26 using the outside groove. Davis' DRC sprinter used the inside groove not favored by other drivers and carved his way forward to the top five by lap 15. He was second on lap 25 after passing two Williams brothers (Cody and Austin) and nine-time series champion Damion Gardner in an exciting four driver battle. Gardner also passed both Williams to finish third.
A two-car spin on lap 27 in turn two wiped out Mitchell's comfortable lead and caused a two-by-two restart for the final four laps. Davis was one length behind Mitchell after 29 laps and about a quarter length behind him at the finish. Thriller finish is an understatement. Nineteen of 22 starters finished all 30 laps in a fast field.
One USAC-CRA newcomer is “Shugah” Shane Sexton, 18, from Warner Springs (San Diego area). He and his father built their chassis and use a Powell-built engine. On lap 2 of the feature he entered the first turn on the inside, ran over a wheel and flipped wildly four times to the crashwall, landing overturned. Shane, who is a first cousin of CLS winged mini sprint drivers Grant, 17, and Dalton Sexton and a nephew of two-time CLS champion Brent Sexton, who won his titles in 1999 and 2008. “Shugah” Shane, who was uninjured during his wild flip, received his nickname from PAS announcer Scott Daloisio and likes it. He also recalls boxer “Sugar” Shane Mosley. His attractive candy apple red front, black tail and gold No. 74 sprinter was totaled April 30. Shane added that he and his dad have a new self-built chassis ready to go for the next race.
Another newcomer in the young gun 360 ci series is Stevie Rodgers, from Apple Valley. She turned 18 on April 27 and won the first two 2022 young gun mains in slim fields. She said she started racing at age four in quarter midgets. She then moved on at about ten to various John Aden series in Victorville. Her No. 11 sprinter is owned by Brian Bergeson, who bought Steve Mc Grady's black No. 11. Stevie said she plans to change the No. 11 to her No. 3 eventually. She had not heard about another female driver named Stevie (Cederstrom) who raced at Ascot in the 1960s-70s.
One of the senior sprint drivers on April 30 was Mike DuCharme, 74, who last raced more than 30 years ago. He made many CRA mains at Ascot in his No. 45 sprinter. He bought a new uniform and helmet and raced the black No. 75x, a Bob East Beast chassis. They changed the front suspension of the paved track chassis to race on dirt. Mike enjoyed his first race at PAS and kept it straight. He was lapped in the heat race and three times in the 20-lap main.
Mike moved to Ashfork, AZ off I-40 and west of Williams, AZ. He lives in a mountain cabin amid varied wildlife native to the area and loves it. Senior sprint winner Richard McCormick moved last year to Seligman, AZ, also off I-40 about 20 miles closer to Kingman, AZ. People from overcrowded California are moving out these days because of high taxes, congested stores, clogged freeways, and other ills of the California lifestyle. Newscasts this week reported California population decreased for the second consecutive year from 40 million to 39 million currently.
However, five-time CRA sprint car champion Jimmy Oskie, 76, said he still lives in Downey in the same house as when he raced. He is in the PAS pits at every sprint car race. Jimmy's five titles came for three owners—his own No. 91 in 1968, Don Blair in 1974, and three times for Jack Kindoll in 1976-77 and 79. Oskie's 1968 Hank Henry-built No. 91 J-Ram Chevy sprint car is currently on display in the Ascot Park Gardena spring and summer-long exhibit on the first floor at the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Iowa.
Other famous CRA sprint cars from six decades ago in the exhibit are: the 1958 Roger McCluskey-constructed No. 1 Morales Bros. Alex Foods, Inc. Offy raced by Bob Hogle, the No. 14 Cowan & Riggs Chevy driven by Don Hamilton to the 1973 CRA championship, Bruce Bromme's original “Andy Gump” raced in the 1969s by Paul Jones and Allen Heath, the later Bromme Chevy raced by CRA 1980-81-82 CRA champion Dean Thompson, the No. 7 Elton Forsyth Chevy in which Steve Kennick broke the Ascot one-lap track record in 1967, Parnelli Jones' No. 98 midget, plus the No. 28 Bill Finley-built roadster sprint car. Be sure to visit the NSCHoF in coming months when you are in the Midwest.