LOS ANGELES, California — The 30th running of the Pacific Coast Nationals took place Saturday-Sunday, November 14-15, 2009 under USAC sanction at Thunderbowl Raceway, a third-mile banked clay track at the Tulare Fairgrounds in central California. It was my first chance to watch racing at this jewel of a race track. With a covered main grandstand and uncovered metal bleachers on each side, the track seats about 4,400 and has a spacious pit area beyond the first and second turns. It reminded me of the fairground grandstands at El Centro and Calistoga. Action seems closer to the spectators. The lighting and sound systems are excellent. An electronic scoreboard placed at the start/finish infield presented excellent displays of qualifying times in five clear red digits. The scoreboard also gave the lap number and top five positions in real time during all races. That kept grandstand spectators well informed all night from qualifying through the main event. Promoter Steve Faria is a local dairy farmer and system1filters manufacturer who sells to NASCAR teams. He promotes about nine races a season instead of a weekly racing program and all of his races are big events. Some of them are the annual winged sprint car Trophy Cup in October and a USAC-CRA non-wing race in May.
Steve should be commended by racers and fans alike for reviving the Pacific Coast Nationals event, which the late J. C. Agajanian originated in 1962 at Ascot Park in Gardena. The event had not been run since 1995. Past winners of the PCN have included some of the greatest drivers in sprint car racing history. With the closing of Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix, the three-day USAC sprint car event there following the first weekend of November Perris Oval Nationals was homeless. With USAC National Series drivers and teams in the West, promoter Faria stepped up and offered a two-day $70,000 purse. Saturday's 30-lap A main winner received $4,000 and $12,500 went to the winner of Sunday's twilight 40-lap A feature. The Sunday A main paid at least $700 to every A main starter. Racing Sunday started one hour earlier than Saturday to allow attendees heading home to get on the road earlier. It worked and open-wheel fans came from northern California, southern California and central coast California. The Saturday crowd was about 3,000-3,500 in the grandstands and about 300 in the pits. Sunday's grandstand count was an estimated 2,000 to 2,500. The pits had about 300 competitors and fans who wanted to get close to the action. I spoke to Mr. Faria after the Sunday feature and he was pleased with his first PCN event. He hoped to continue the PCN in 2010 and would even welcome USAC midgets at his beautiful little track.
CAR COUNTS: Saturday had a strong 54 car count vying for a $23,815 purse. There were 52 cars back Sunday ready for action. Cars missing Sunday were Cole Carter's No. 7, Bruce St. James' No. 7K and Jim Richardson's No. 8. One team (No. 8 Justyne Hamblin) raced only Sunday. So that was 55 different cars over two days for the new Tulare event. That shows this race has “legs” and support from race teams and fans. It deserves to be an annual event following the Perris Oval Nationals that are held each year on the first weekend of November. The USAC National & Western Midget Series race at Ventura on the third Saturday of November is an excellent event to keep USAC National drivers racing in California before the annual USAC Turkey Night Midget Grand Prix in Irwindale. The Glenn Howard Memorial USAC-CRA sprint car race at Perris on the fourth Saturday of November makes November a great month of “must-see” races for open-wheel racers and fans.
Drivers at the Tulare PCN included ten of ten in 2009 USAC National Sprint point standings and nine of ten in USAC-CRA points. Only tenth place Tony Jones (Alexander No. 4) did not compete at Tulare and he dropped two positions to 12th in CRA points. The 55 cars had drivers from the following areas: 19 USAC National, 15 USAC-CRA regional, 11 central Californians, eight northern California racers, and two drivers from other areas (one from Arizona and one from West Virginia). Most drivers in the field were first-time racers at Tulare and liked the track. ... WEATHER: Clear and sunny days in the mid-60s and cool, crisp evenings in the high 40s and no threat of rain made it solid racing weather. There was little or no wind. It was 46 degrees after Saturday's A-main and 48 degrees after Sunday's feature. ... The National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in Knoxville, IA has 72 voting members on the induction panel and four of us were present at USAC's Tulare PCN event both days. That is an indication of the instant classic race status the new Tulare event holds. Sacramento area voters Bill Sessa, Ron Albright and PCN announcer Bobby Gerould attended and yours truly came north 190 miles from Los Angeles County. ... Promoter Faria had three well-known and knowledgeable sprint car announcers on duty for the PCN. Gerould and Troy Hennig from Chico were topside and George Hague, the Tulare and former San Jose Fairgrounds announcer, handled the PA microphone from the infield and pits. All performed admirably. It was totally appropriate for the booth announcers to tell the names of past PCN winners and front runners during the two days of racing at Tulare. PCN tradition lives on for current open-wheel sprint car fans.
Time-frames: Saturday practice started at 4:00 pm with the field divided into five 11-car groups for practice and hot-laps. Qualifying ran from 4:50 to 5:42 pm. The one-lap non-wing sprint car track record (15.013 by Blake Miller, No. 93 Gardner Chevy in May 2009) fell three times as the heavy, wet track got faster as time trials progressed. The all-time one-lap track record by a winged sprint car is 12.713 by Terry McCarl at the Trophy Cup event. The 30th qualifier, Cory Kruseman, broke the track record first with his 15.010. Then 39th qualifier Nic Faas ran the first sub-15 second laps at 14.955 and 14.802. Finally, the 53rd qualifier, Bryan Clauson, turns laps of 14.927 and the final NTR of 14.646. Forty-nine of 54 qualifiers Saturday ran their best laps on lap two of two. Five drivers—Clauson, Faas, Chad Boat, Mike Spencer and Garrett Hansen—qualified in that speed order in the 14-second bracket. Six drivers, including Kruseman, beat the old one lap track record. The fastest 32 qualifiers made the four ten-laps heat races that had the eight fastest qualifiers in each heat start inverted with the fastest qualifiers a the back. A pair of 8-lap C-mains had 11 cars in each and transferred the first four finishers in the two Cs to the back row (P. 9-10) of the four heats. Those races ran from 6:11 to 7:12.
None of the two fastest qualifiers in each heat (P. 7-8 starters) transferred to the A-main from their heat races. The track was difficult to pass on because it was so heavy and tacky. Fourth row starters in the four heats finished: 6-7, 6-5, 6-7 and 9-8. One driver who did pass cars was Jon Stanbrough. He started fourth, got high in turn two on the first lap and fell to fifth. He passed a car on lap 4 and moved by Davey Pombo on lap 8 with an inside pass on the backstretch and into turn three to finish third in heat four. The stacked 24-car B-main had the 12 fastest qualifiers start straight-up in positions 1-12 with only the first eight finishers assured of A-main starting positions. Faas led all 12 laps over FQ Clauson and seven of the eight FQ moved into the A-main. Jesse Hockett (No. 13) came from 11th to finish eighth. The 13-minute race ran from 7:44 to 7:57 pm and had one red flag for a flip by Richard Vander Weerd, from nearby Visalia.
Three drivers--Henry Clarke (National points), plus Ronnie Gardner and David Cardey (CRA points)--used available provisional starting positions, so a 27-car field took the 30-lap A-main green flag at 8:34. Two red flags flew and usual Tulare starter Willie Williams, waved the checkers at 9:15 pm. Front row starters Kruseman, 39, and Hansen, 24, battled all 30 laps and Cory really pressured Garrett intensely from laps 15-28. A green, white, checkered flag final two laps resulted in a ten-yard victory and first-ever USAC National Series triumph for Hansen aboard the Mark Priestley No. 7x Maxim. Fellow CRA drivers Kruseman and Spencer finished in P. 2-3 to uphold the home field advantage for Californians. Finishing in P. 4 through P. 10 were: Levi Jones, Clauson, Tracy Hines, Damion Gardner, Stanbrough, Pombo and Rip Williams. Nineteen of 27 starters finished and all 19 drivers completed 30 laps. The track was difficult to pass on but drivers did make passes as shown by the top ten finishers. In order, the first ten finishers came from starting positions 2, 1, 3, 10, 6, 7, 12, 15, 11 and 9.
The top three drivers pulled to the finish line for post-race awards and interviews with George Hague. Winner Hansen said, “Fortunately I got a good qualifying time and kept my time by transferring and starting in the front row. Cory did a heck of a job. I got a good jump at the start and on the restarts. It felt like 500 laps with two laps to go, but we got it done.” Runner-up Kruseman complimented his ITI motor and Viper chassis and stated, “I ripped a brake line so I ran at the end without brakes. The track was so heavy and Garrett ran in the right spot. Garrett diamonded the turns.” Third place Spencer told Hague, “The track was starting to get really racy at the end with two grooves. This is my third year in this car for Ron Chaffin from up the road at Madera.” And it was their second consecutive USAC-CRA championship.