RACING SCENE - (PAS Oval Nationals - Part I)

 The 23rd annual Budweiser Perris Auto Speedway Oval Nationals presented by All-Coast Construction was Thursday through Saturday, November 8-10. It could be considered the best edition of the classic 410 sprint car event ever held. The USAC National Series and Amsoil USAC-CRA western regional series both had close championship battles that would be decided at the PAS Oval Nationals.

Following the two day Western World Championship (Nov. 2-3) in Arizona the USAC National Series had point leader Kevin Thomas, Jr. only two points ahead of second place Tyler Courtney. Only five points separated USAC-CRA point leader Damion Gardner and runner-up Brody Roa. All three nights awarded USAC points so the two championships were up for grabs. Seventy or so points were available each night in qualifying, heats and features.

Roa's involvement in a fourth turn multi-car crash Friday damaged his No. 91R Maxim. He was about to emerge from the work area when the team discovered a broken steering arm that ended his night and championship bid. He was first in USAC-CRA points a month earlier.

Car counts for the three nights were 43, 42 and 40. All the visiting USAC drivers I spoke to in the pits were cordial, informative and class acts. ,,, Isaac Chapple said his name ends in le not el. He raced at PAS October 20 and for two weeks in Arizona, including a non-USAC event in Casa Grande. ... A flat RR tire on lap 26 probably cost race leader C. J. Leary the 40-lap victory Saturday. He held a 20-yard lead went it went flat under a caution flag. He returned before the green and finished 15th.

After Thursday night USAC National points showed Courtney ahead of Thomas by seven (2597-2590) and Gardner ahead by 23 (1546-1523) in USAC-CRA points. On Friday, Courtney increased his lead to nine points (2672-2663); Gardner remained 23 points up (1585-1552). On Saturday Thomas won the 40-lap feature and cut into Courtney's lead. Courtney had to finish fourth or better if Thomas won. On a lap 38 restart, Courtney slipped from P. 4 to P. 5 after Brady Bacon passed him. Bacon ran out of fuel near the finish and dropped to P. 11, returning Courtney to fourth.

So with his P. 4 finish Courtney and Thomas tied at 2733 points. For the first time in USAC history USAC had to resort to the tie-breaker—most feature victories. Courtney had 11 and Thomas seven so Courtney won his first ever national championship. He said it was his first championship since he raced quarter midgets. Gardner won the USAC-CRA title again by 45 points (1643-1598) over Roa.

Never in the 62-year history of USAC racing had a national sprint car series driver championship concluded a season with drivers tied for the championship. The closest had been 2.5 points between 1965 USAC National Sprint champion Johnny Rutherford and runner-up Greg Weld. Nicknamed “Sunshine”, personable Courtney was thrilled.

So Cal disastrous wildfires with loss of life and homes occurred during Oval Nationals week. Also, a murderous rampage by a lone killer took 12 innocent lives and his own at the Borderline Bar & Grille in Thousand Oaks. A minute of silence for those tragic events took place appropriately at the start of the Oval Nationals. Flags remained at half staff.

Those tragedies struck close to home at the Oval Nationals. Five-time CRA champion Jimmy Oskie said he goes country music line dancing about five times a year at the Borderline club especially after a race at Ventura. He said the club is visible from the 101 freeway.

“Big” Mike Grosswendt, who is 6' 9” and the 2018 Oval Nationals Grand Marshal, is a resident of Newbury Park. He said the Woolsey fire that affected Oak Hills and Thousand Oaks caused his family to evacuate their home. Flames came within a quarter mile of their home. Mike's brother Pat lost his home to fire in the Malibu Lake area.

Mike is a long-time fan and generous financial supporter of 410 sprint car racing. He said his wife and two daughters were present. Both daughters are athletes with the elder at the University of Redlands and his younger daughter at Newbury Park High. During an intermission Mike was interviewed at the podium near the finish line by PAS promoter Don Kazarian. He said Mike declined an invitation to be the grand marshal several years ago, but he would not take no from Mike this year. Mike, a finish carpenter by trade, founded his All-Coast Construction firm in 1997 and now has 22 employees.

CAR COUNT: The Oval Nationals actual car count in the pits this year was 43—the same total as last year. There were ten different chassis builders. Maxim led with 16 cars. DRC was second with 13. Spike built five cars and XXX two. Solo constructors were: ART, Boss, Eagle, RSS, Okie and Sherman.

Engines were primarily Chevy as usual. However, the No. 39E Kyle Edwards entry used a Van Dyne-built Mopar. The No. 5 Baldwin car driven by Chris Windom used a 410 Mopar built by Jeff Claxton Engines. The No. 77M Bill Michaels 410 ci Ford engine was built by Cressman Enterprises. The Oval Nationals was the third outing for the new engine. Driver Thomas Meseraull said it had great horsepower on the straightaways.

360 ci engines were in the No. 11X (Frank Rodgers), No. 72 (Gary Marshall, Jr), and No. 34AZ (Jake Swanson) on Friday and Saturday. The 34AZ 410 engine blew after finishing tenth in Thursday's feature. The team also blew a 410 engine in Arizona a week earlier. Jake did a commendable job with the 360 both nights.

PAST WINNERS: Eight past Oval Nationals winners were present this year. Dave Darland, Bud Kaeding, Damion Gardner, C. Windom and K. Thomas, Jr. raced again this year. Darland, Kaeding and Gardner are three-time Oval National winners. Thomas now has two PAS Eagle trophies and $25,000 that goes with each Oval Nationals victory. Other past winners present were Rip Williams and Robert Ballou, who were busy working on cars, plus Rickie Gaunt and Mike Spencer. The two retired drivers were interviewed by Chris Holt via the pit mic.

Heat races and main events all three nights were competitive with all the national sprint series drivers present. Passing was plentiful and two drivers each night had to use provisional starting spots at the back of the features. Thursday—23 of 26 starters finished with 16 on the lead lap. Friday—22 of 26 starters were running at the conclusion, all but one driver on the lead lap. Saturday—18 of 26 starters finished and all were on the lead lap.

HARD CHARGERS: A-main event hard chargers each night proved the half-mile track was racy despite Santa Ana wind that blew all night and dried out the track. It took rubber the first two nights, but was a perfect clay surface all night Saturday. Thur.-Chris Windom gained 13 positions (st. 17 & fin. 4th). Fri.-Justin Grant gained nine spots (st. 10th & fin. 1st). Sat.-L. Seavey gained nine positions (st. 15th & fin. 6th).

There were ten flips during the 2018 Oval Nationals. Thursday—T. Meseraull flipped on the backstretch during the feature. Friday—Dennis Gile and Tommy Malcolm flipped while qualifying, Chas. Davis, Jr. rolled in the B-main and I. Chapple flipped in the A-main. Saturday—Meseraull flipped in H-1. D. Gardner flipped at the third turn wall in the Super Six Dash for the six high point drivers in Oval National points after two nights. His team replaced the front axle and he was able to start sixth in the feature. If he had to go to a backup car for the main he would've started last. A. J. Bender and R. J. Johnson flipped in separate A-main incidents.

PAS NEWCOMERS: Drivers making their first ever racing starts at PAS were: No. 19 Reinbold-Underwood teammates Logan Seavey, 23, from Sutter, CA, and Jason Mc Dougal, 23, from Broken Arrow, OK. Seavey is the rookie 2018 USAC National Midget Series point leader by a wide margin. Both young drivers are talented, impressive racers on and off the track. After making his USAC sprint debut in late May, Mc Dougal won a USAC sprint 30-lap feature at Pevely, MO on September 1.

K. Thomas, Jr. has been a USAC mentor and landlord for Mc Dougal and arranged a first time USAC Silver Crown ride for his protege at Eldora Speedway (Ohio) on September 22. All Mc Dougal did was finish fourth in the 50-lap race in a 23 car field. He reminds me of fellow Oklahoman Christopher Bell in racing talent, value to a sponsor, and as an excellent interviewee. Jason also hopes to race in NASCAR.

Chase Johnson, 23, from Penngrove (near Petaluma) won his first USAC-CRA feature this year on September 6 at Chico aboard the Shawn Thomas No. 68. Shawn is a friend of USAC sprint car owner Matt Goodnight. Shawn changed his car number at Perris to 36D so Goodnight could receive the USAC National points to make the top ten in car owner points. Chase races winged sprints in the King of the West and WoO series races in California and midgets for Del Morris. Five years ago he was involved in a racing tragedy at the Marysville (CA) quarter-mile. A mechanical problem sent his sprint car into the pits where it hit and killed two pit members including his teenage cousin.

Low budget owner/driver Frank Rodgers, from Lucas, IA, had a fuel pickup problem with his 360 engine and was lapped Thursday. Famous So Cal racing engine builder Ron Shaver gave him valuable advice. Frank almost made the Friday 30-lap main despite being the slowest qualifier. He started last (9th) in heat one. Two cars in row four did not start because of problems. During the race two cars in P. 5 and P. 6 went to the pits. Frank finished fifth, a half-lap behind P. 4, and only one position short of transferring to the Friday feature.

All of the PAS newcomers told me they “really love racing on the Perris track.” The Oval Nationals event is one of the favorite events each year because of the well-prepared track, comfortable November weather, and of course $131,000 total purse with $25K, $15K and $10K to the top three finishers in the Saturday 40-lap feature. ... Oval Nationals second pit interviewer Georgia Henneberry, 20, from St. Louis, MO, got to interview Saturday's heat two winner Chris Windom, her boyfriend of two years.

The PAS open practice Wednesday, November 7 from 5 to 9 pm had 27 cars on track. There were two flips. Bud Kaeding tumbled in turn three in Mike Martin's 2018 Maxim No. 16 out of Yuma, AZ. It bent the frame so they put their engine in their backup Maxim. Joel Rayborne, a 16-year old West Covina, High student, also flipped in turn three in the Okie No. 12B and it was bent too much to race. It remained in the pits and even was on the front straight for the 3 to 4 pm autograph session for fans. Joel won the 2018 USAC-CRA rookie of the year title over Austin Ervine, from Bakersfield.

The Jim Richardson No. 8 car had Hanford resident Michael Faccinto in it Thursday. It blew its engine during Thursday practice and sat idle all night. The team departed for home later that night. ... The Vander Weerd team from Visalia used Maxim chassis—Jace's No. 88 was a 2013 and Richard's No.10 was a 2011. Richard got married right after the 2017 Oval Nationals and said after one year all is going well. ... Driver Austin Liggett (and dad Tim) own two Maxims and raced a 2009 Maxim at PAS. He is the 2018 USAC 360 Western Series champion. He said he pared his trucking firm from three to one truck to cut expenses.

The No. 39E 2016 Maxim was new recently for the Edwards team. They bought it from Indiana owner Jason Goacher as a bare frame after they saw it for sale on the website Indiana Open Wheel.com. The former owner shipped it west via FedEx and Edwards installed his engine in it for the Oval Nationals. They really like the Maxim and have offered their older ITI chassis for sale without engine.

The Oval Nationals Thursday main was named for late CRA car owner Bill Pratt and Friday's main was the Evelyn Pratt main in honor of his late wife and PAS pit steward for decades. ... Saturday night the A-feature pace car was the red No. 2 Bruce Bromme Shaver-Donovan 1984-Bromme sprint car raced by the late CRA champion Dean Thompson. The PAS pace driver was retired USAC sprint car driver Jon Stanborough, from Indiana. The car was on loan from Dick Woodland's Museum in Paso Robles.