LOS ANGELES, California — The Las Vegas Motor Speedway half-mile dirt track again hosted USAC National and Western Midgets and the USAC National/CRA Sprint cars as stop two of a three state 2010 western swing sandwiched between stops in Arizona and California. On Thursday, February 25 USAC half-mile racing kicked off NASCAR week at the 1.5-mile “big track”. MIDGETS: The 27 Midgets had seven chassis builders as follows: 14 Spike, 6 Beast, 2 each Bullet and Stealth, and 1 each Buzzard, TCR and Viper. Esslinger Ford engines powered 13 midgets and Mopar three. Fontana and Gaerte were in two cars each. Hawk, Stanton Mopar, Stanton Toyota, TRD Toyota, Toyota, Van Dyke and VDS Ford each supplied one engine. SPRINTS: The 34 sprint cars came from 12 constructors. Maxim had 14, Viper 5, and Bullet 4. Eagle and Triple X supplied 2 each. Beaber-built, Buckley, Competition Welding, DRC, F5, J & J, and Stinger all built one chassis. There were 14 engine builders represented. Ron Shaver-6, Mopar-5, Chevy-4, Speedway Chevy and Wesmar Chevy-3 each, Gaerte Chevy, ITI Performance, Kistler Chevy, and Speedway Mopar-2 each, plus Claxton Chevy, Cummings, Gresham Chevy, Don Ott, and RC Performance-1 each.
Wheel-packing started after 2 pm with half-hour hot lap sessions for midgets and then sprints. After 4:00 pm group qualifying for sprinters and then midgets preceded a break in on-track action to blade the track's top layer, re-water the surface and have push trucks re-pack it. USAC National one-lap track records at the LVMS dirt half-mile: MIDGETS - 18.359 by Brad Sweet on 2/25/09. Sweet ran a fast lap at 18.106 during USAC Western Midget qualifying on 10/27/07. This year for time trials there were four groups of seven cars in each. Brad Kahn's 20.547 on his fourth lap of group TT was the FQ time. The only other driver in the 20 second bracket was Zach “the Dauminator” Daum at 20.972. Fourteen drivers ran 21 laps, 8 were in the 22s and 2 were in the 23 second bracket. Robby Josett DNQ. The median time was 21.6. SPRINTS - 17.334 (103.842 mph) by Jon Stanbrough on 2/25/09 was the existing standard. Mike Spencer, CRA's 2008-09 champion, ran a FQ lap at 17.015 on 2/28/08 and Rick Ziehl posted a lap at 16.530 during Western Sprint qualifying on 11/29/97. This year had five groups of seven cars per group and they all ran four qualifying laps. Jerry Coons, Jr set the FQ lap of 19.191 this year on his second of four laps. Tracy Hines' 19.358 was second fastest on his third lap. Five drivers were in the 19s, 12 in the 20s, 14 in the 21s and 3 ran 22s. The median time was 20.972. Greg Bragg (5th FQ) was the fastest of 11 CRA qualifiers in the 34 car field. Dave Duseck, a USAC timer/scorer from Indy, worked the Tucson and Las Vegas events.
One of the pusher vehicles was the famous “Workin' Woody” that follows the national World of Outlaws circuit. Art & Carol Malies have retired and their son, who retired from the US Navy, now drives the unique rig. ... Nellis AFB is adjacent to the LVMS North Las Vegas site. During afternoon pit activities one could not help but watch US Air Force fighter jets taking off in the distance beyond turns one and two. They took off almost vertically every 10-15 seconds for training flights. Fans were admitted at 3 pm and drivers went to the midway at 5:15 for one hour of autograph signing and talking to fans. The National Anthem at 7 pm was followed by sprint and midget heats, the B and A mains. With 27 midgets present, there were three nine-car heats. The 34 sprinters had four heat races with nine or eight cars in each. The first sprint heat had cars hot lap to work in the re-groomed track. The second heat actually became the first race as heat one cars went to the pits beyond the first two turns to refuel and make adjustments.
USAC inverts the first six cars in each heat with the fastest qualifier in each heat starting sixth and the sixth quickest driver starting from pole position. Only two of the fastest qualifiers in each of the four 8-lap heats transferred directly to the A-main. In the most exciting heat finish, Dave Darland, called “the people's champion” by USAC announcer Rob Klepper, started fourth. He made an inside pass from turn four to the finish line to take the victory. Johnny Herrera, the L 1-7 leader, started fifth and passed four cars on the opening lap by turn two to lead in a rare USAC start for the Albuquerque driver. Dave nipped Johnny by a few feet. Chad Boat used a similar last lap move from turn four to the finish line to take fourth place, the final direct transfer to the A, from Cory Kruseman. Sprint and midget heats provided much passing high and low and tire wear all night was better than last year thanks in part to reworking of the track during the one hour autograph session. It was a chilly night with a brisk wind that had flags straight out. It was a mid-60s day and mid-50s evening. The crowd was an estimated 5,000+ in the 8,000+ seat main metal grandstand. They seemed to enjoy the competitive USAC non-wing sprint and midget action on display in every race.
Sprint heat winners were D. Gardner (from P. 2), L. Jones (P. 3), B. Clauson (P. 1) and Darland (P.4). P 1-5 in heat races advanced to the feature. Midget heats inverted eight cars and quickest qualifier Kuhn came from P. 8 to fifth to just earn a feature berth. Heat winners and their starting positions were: Clauson (5th), D. Hagen (7th) and Darland (7th). The 12-lap lap sprint “B” had 17 starters and the all-green flag race clicked off rapidly in five minutes with all 15 finishers on the lead lap. FQ Coons led all 12 laps in the Hoffman No. 69, the only F5 chassis present in the 34 car field. The midget 12-lap “B” main started 11 cars and sent the first seven finishers to the 22-car “A” main. The speedy race also ran green all the way, took only six minutes and all ten finishers ran every lap.
SPRINT MAIN: The 30-lap sprint feature started at 9:32, had two yellow flags and finished at 9:52. Leaders were pole starter Darland (L 1, 8-26), 2nd starter Robert Ballou (L 2-7), 15th starter D. Gardner (L 27-30). Gardner's exciting charge to the victory captivated fans during the closing laps as his Eagle found speed at the top of the track. He was 11th at L 10, 6th at L 22, 4th at L 24, and 3rd on L 25. In three-way racing with Darland and Chris Windom on L 27, Gardner shot from P. 3 to P 1 on the outside from the third turn to start/finish. He pulled away during the final three laps and won by 50 yards over Darland. Impressive Windom, 19, was five yards back in Jeff Walker's Maxim/Chevy, with 19 finishers on the lead lap. Gardner told the crowd, “That's a dream there. Good teams build confidence. That's the way we run. Good teams make it work. The track was slick and they worked on it. I kept picking cars off and prayed they wouldn't see what I was doing. I got up to third and went for it.”
MIDGET MAIN: The 30-lap midget feature started 22 cars and ran from 10:10 to the 10:26 pm checkers. It had two race leaders—Brad Sweet (L 1-6 and 29-30) and Chad Boat (L 7-28). Boat had the race all but won with two laps to go as Sweet closed on him. Boat's No. 30 had 25 yards on Sweet's Kasey Kahne No. 49 at the end of 27 laps and only five yards after 28 of 30 laps. Sweet made a low backstretch and third turn pass on L 29 with 18 cars racing. Boat went back to P. 1 on the outside at turn four. Then the yellow flag flew for two stalled cars –Kuhn in turn 3 and Dennis Carrier in turn 1. A green, white checkered flag finish of L 29-30 had Boat leading Sweet at the L 29 green. With Boat running high, Sweet pulled away to a ten yard victory margin over Boat. Brad Loyet was third, five yards back. Sweet told pit announcer Toby Cruz,”He (Boat) found the the top before I did. We were lucky to do it. All the WoO guys and Kasey (team owner) are here and I wanted to win in front of all of them. We tightened up the car for the main. My guys have been on it. Let's go celebrate.” Sweet and Boat both said they believed they would win if the lap 29 yellow flag had not occurred.
Seth Wilson, 35, moved from San Clemente, CA to Las Vegas a year and a half ago with his Racing Optics (tear-offs) family-run firm. It is housed at the LVMS industrial complex. The family moved their operation to no state income tax Nevada from Cali, went from a 4,000 sq. ft to 7,000 sq. ft shop, and lowered their heating/AC bill by $600 a month. He was going to use No. 17 on his sprint car as usual, but it was taken. So as 2008-09 Victorville track champion he put No. 1 on his black Competition Welding/Shaver sprinter and added an X for USAC racing. Seth, as did Gardner in the feature, thrilled fans with his outside groove running and he did so in both the “B” and “A” mains. Seth, the grandson of 1950s Indy 500 driver Dempsey Wilson, started 14th in a 17-car “B” field with only the first six finishers moving to the back of the “A”. Seth charged to fourth place by L 3 and he finished fourth behind Coons, Casey Shuman and Hines. In the 30-lap “A” Seth started 22nd (with only provisional starters Kruseman and Cody Williams behind him). Driving “high, wide and handsome”, Seth was 9th by L 10, 7th two laps later, 5th on L 13, and 4th on L 14. On L 17 Seth made a sensational high-side pass exiting turn two to pass both Windom and Ballou and move into second position. Leader Darland held half a straightaway lead at that point and to L 21. At that point, Wilson slowed and lost a position to Windom because of his deflating RR tire. Gardner passed Seth on L 25 and he continued to slide to his eventual sixth place finish. After the race his team found Seth's RR tire only had a pound and a half of air in it.
INJURIES: Rip Williams had his Jory No. 3 Viper in the pits at LVMS and planned to race. However, during the afternoon he was working at the front of the car and it came off the jack. The car's front bar landed on the middle finger of his right hand. The extreme laceration exposed bone and he went to a local hospital in pain. Rip, 53, said, “They wanted to cut off my finger and I said no.” They cleaned and bandaged the finger and gave him pain pills. He “lost count of the stitches made”. Rip returned to the pits and did not race they new Viper they put together to replace the car 2009 Viper he flipped and totaled at Tucson six days earlier. Still in pain, he helped his two sons, Cody and Austin, compete at LVMS. Rip saw a doctor in So Cal Friday and was scheduled for surgery on the finger Wednesday, March 3. He was in the pits at Perris Sunday, February 28 helping work on Cody's No. 44 and Austin's No. 2 Jory team cars. He told me despite pain pills he still felt pain in his bandaged finger, so he again did not race the new No. 3 Viper. Rip, a 2009 National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductee, is tough. His awful February ended without any additional misfortune.
BOWMAN FLIP: One serious on-track incident at LVMS marred the otherwise highly successful and entertaining night of USAC racing. During the second midget heat race, Alex Bowman, a 16-year old rising star and personable young man from Tucson, was in fifth position on L 6 when he crashed hard in Troy Cline's Haas Automation No. 55 Beast/Esslinger Ford. Later, he said something broke in the LF end and turned his car left where it struck a huge white tire that marked the inside of the track. The impact sent his midget flipping across the third and fourth turns in about five or six quick barrel-rolls. The car stopped upright near the fourth turn crash-wall with Alex unconscious. Rescuers arrived and it was 10-15 minutes before he revived enough to move him. Cage bars were cut to remove him on a backboard. Alex was taken to University Medical Center in Las Vegas and was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit for days. His injuries included his left clavicle (collarbone) broken in two places, broken rib, swollen and black eyes, plus assorted aches and bruises. He also had air trapped outside a lung reportedly and had oxygen administered. Alex, a recent USAC California Dirt and Paved Track champion and National Ford Focus Midget champion, planned to race for USAC National Midget 2010 rookie of the year. He also had a late model stock car ride lined up with former CRA/SCRA and NASCAR driver Troy Cline his mentor. Everything is now on hold for months until Alex recovers from his injuries.
LVMS – Day 2: World of Outlaws third event of 2010: Friday, February 26 was WoO winged sprint and IMCA Modified night on the LVMS dirt half-mile. There were 28 WoO cars (up from 26 last February) and 33 IMCA Modifieds in the pits. The afternoon had cloudy and sunny conditions and it was 62 degrees at 2 pm. It was still in the low 50s when racing concluded. Wind was much lighter than Thursday when USAC raced. The 8,000 to 8,500 seat main grandstand was filled to capacity with racing fans in town for the NASCAR Nationwide (Saturday) and Sprint Cup (Sunday) races. The track crew dug and watered the track and had it prepared even better than Thursday and it produced the most exciting WoO feature finish I've seen in decades. Dave DeSpain's “Wind Tunnel” show on SPEED Channel Sunday even showed the thrilling last lap with Johnny Gibson's call and interviewed Gibson on the telecast. The 28 WoO sprinters present included 23 touring WoO cars. Drivers came from 16 states and one from Canada. CA led with 5 drivers, followed by IN and PA with 3 each. AZ, OH, and TN had 2 drivers each. CO, IA, MN, MO, ND, NM, OK, OR, TX and WA each sent 1 driver. Chassis: Eight chassis builders had cars in the WoO field. Maxim predominated with 18, followed by 3 KPC by ex-driver Steve Kent, 2 JEI, and 1 each A.R.T, Blandford, J & J, Doug Wolfgang Wolfweld, and Triple X. WoO drivers competed for a purse of $50,200 including the “B” main--($47,800 went to “A” main teams).The winner received $10,000 and it paid $800 to the last place finisher.
DRIVERS: Paul McMahan subbed for Cody Darrah, who suffered serious leg injuries in a highway crash en-route to the Volusia Speedway two opening events at Barberton, FL. Joey Saldana and Brad Sweet drove the other two Kasey Kahne-owned cars. Sweet and J. Herrera were the only two WoO drivers who raced with USAC Thursday in different sprinters. ... Phoenix-area residents Ben Gregg and John Gaston, 36, drove team cars sponsored by Kronik Energy Drink and Master Craft Boats of Arizona. ... One of the most unusual WoO sponsors was Big Game Tree Stands on Craig Dollansky's No. 7 Minnesota-based team now owned by Tod Quiring. ... Chad Kemenah, from Findlay, OH, raced the No. 8K John Kantor car at LVMS last February and the team folded weeks later. This year Chad drove the Golden Flavor Sesame Sticks car with sponsorship from his father-in-law Bob Hampshire, a long-time USAC car owner. Chad used Hampshire's traditional number 63. ... Jerry Wise, Jr, of Fresno, used a down nozzle 360 cu. in. engine loaned to him by Anthony Simone, 60, also from Fresno. It was Anthony's paved track engine; Anthony used his 410 engine. Jerry, 29, towed his No. 23M older Maxim to LVMS on an open 1970s-like trailer. His car is an ex-No. 11H Selma Shell car once owned by the late Dave Helm. Jerry's uncle, Sonny Kratzer, was Helm's crew chief for many years.
“Fast” Fred Rahmer, 51, is from Salfordville, PA and he made his LVMS debut. His No. 51 Maxim ride has been his “PA Posse” ride for three years. Don Ott, from York Springs, PA, built his engine. I enjoyed a leisurely chat with affable Fred in the pits before hot-lapping. “With snow on the ground at home we decided to come west and race with the WoO at Las Vegas and in Tulare.” ... It was strange seeing Steve Kinser not driving his own No. 11. The 20-time WoO champion drove Tony Stewart's Bass Pro Shops Maxim No. 11 and Steve's son Kraig drove Steve's now No. 11K Quaker State Maxim. In effect, father and son switched rides. ... Ex-WoO rookie of the year Sid Blandford, 40, came from his home in Eagle, CO. He operates a grading and excavating firm in Eagle, where NBA star Kobe Bryant had his infamous legal problem years ago. Sid slapped together a car to go 410 racing again with WoO “just for fun”. He has been racing 305 cu. in. and ASCA 360 sprints in Colorado and nearby states. Sid said his bad crash on the front straight at Manzanita Speedway years ago caused neck and upper body injuries that kept him out of racing. He had three operations in Germany to resolve the problem. ... Second generation driver Austen Wheatley is a 17-year old from Lake Stevens, WA. His dad Shannon raced at Skagit Speedway in WA and was Steve Beitler's crew chief when he raced with WoO. Austen, an ASCA 360 sprint veteran, made his debut with 410 power in his No. 44W Wolfweld chassis at LVMS. He made the “A” feature by finishing fifth in the “B”.
WoO ran three segments of hot laps from 7:00 to 7:30 pm to work in the track for qualifying. Groups one and two ran again before the track was ready. WoO drivers qualified individually from 7:34 to 7:56. Seventeen drivers ran their FQ lap on L 2 of 2. Terry McCarl, the 14th qualifier, ran the FQ time of 14.344 (125.488 mph). World Racing Group, of Charlotte, N.C, now owns WoO after taking the formerly publicly owned company private. Tom Deery is top executive and he attended the LVMS event. Chris Morgan, formerly employed at Ventura and as racing director at Irwindale Speedway, and with USAC Western racing and at Arizona tracks, is now WoO director of western operations. He said his daughter Audrey is now 2 and a half. WoO had the WoO timer/scorer and WoO racing director Donnie Grabey in the officials booth. Enthusiastic WoO traveling announcer Johnny Gibson called action on the LVMS PA system. LVMS announcer Chet Christner called the IMCA Modified races. WoO ran three 8-lap heats from 8:19-8:39 pm. New this year was NASCAR-like double file restarts in which the race leader chose either the inside or outside position in row one. After yellows at LVMS drivers picked the inside position twice and the outside position twice. The WoO 6-lap trophy dash at 9:18 started ten and the finish order set “A” main starting positions 1-10. Donny Schatz, driving the Armor All No. 15 for Tony Stewart, won over Sweet with Rahmer third. WoO's“B” main ran from 9:24-9:35 and the top six finishers advanced..
WoO FEATURE: Prior to the “A” main, a question over the PA asked which driver came from the farthest back to win a WoO feature at LVMS. The answer was Jeff Swindell, who charged from 17th starting slot in the No. 104 car to win the February 1997 event. Little did we know that his amazing feat would be topped this year. Jason Meyers, from Clovis, CA, thrilled fans by charging from 18th grid position to win the 30-lap Las Vegas feature February 26. The race had three lead changes and three leaders--Schatz (L 1-10 & 12-27), Saldana (L 11) and Meyers (L 28-30). Meyers' charge forward in his No. 14 KRP had him in P. 10 at L 12, P. 5 on L 14, P. 3 on L 18, P. 2 on L 23 via an inside pass from the fourth turn to start/finish as Schatz lapped cars 50-yards ahead of him. By L 27 Meyers was only five yards behind Schatz and he made his P. 1 pass on L 28 at turn two. Meyers had a 15-yard lead starting L 29 when Steve Kinser also passed Schatz in the second corner and cut Meyers' lead to ten yards. On the final lap, Kinser shot past Meyers on the inside at the end of the backstretch and appeared to have the race won. However, Meyers shot back under Kinser in turn 4 and out-dragged him to the finish line by a length and a half. Meyers won $10,000 and had fans in the packed grandstand standing and cheering. “That was one of the most unbelievable WoO main event finishes in recent memory,” said announcer Gibson over the PA. Obviously the winner received the hard charger award.
Meyers said, “I tried to get into the top ten. I had a fuel cell problem earlier. To make a drive like that is almost impossible. They gave us the best Las Vegas track ever.” Runner-up Kinser stated: “I gave it away there in turns 3 and 4. A lapped car held me up. I should've won the race. I gave it back to him by how I drove the last turn. I was tight to start with and loosened it up a bit. He gave it to me and I gave it right back.” Third place Schatz, who finished five yards in back of Kinser, told the crowd: “It wasn't what we wanted, but as the race went on it got harder and harder to drive. As they both went into turn 3 on the last lap I thought I might yet get it. We'll keep working hard and it'll come to us.” It was Meyers' 36th WoO feature victory. He won by 0.237 over Kinser and 0.475 over Schatz, who ran the fastest lap of the race at 15.463 (116.407 mph). The race time was 7:25.120 and 22 of 24 starters finished, with 16 drivers on the lead lap. Two drivers were down a lap, and four drivers were down two laps. Versatile Brad Sweet finished seventh and a week later, driving the No. 90 Great Clips truck, finished 12th in the March 6 NASCAR truck race at the 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway.
IMCA MODIFIEDS: This support event was put together in a week by IMCA No. 87 owner/driver Dan Fitzgerald, of Las Vegas. He hoped to attract 20 cars on such short notice and had 33 race teams in the pits eager to start their 2010 racing campaigns. Twelve drivers came from California, seven came from Pahrump, NV and two from Rock Springs, WY. Las Vegan Sonny Wahl, a former track champ, drove his own No. 98W modified. He is currently the crew chief for the No. 94 Vision Airlines NASCAR SLM No. 94 driven by Dusty Davis. He keeps his modified at the 9,000 sq. ft. Vision AL shop at the LVMS industrial complex beyond turn one of the 1.5-mile track. The IMCA “A” main paid the winner $1,000 and it paid $100 just to start the feature. IMCA raced three 8-lap heats from 8:43-9:10 pm that sent P 1-6 from each to the feature. The IMCA “B” main started 11, including female driver Terri Little, and ran from 10:05-10:23 with one caution on L 12. IMCA ran its 20-lap “A” main from 10:35-11:01 pm in front of about 80% of the original full-house grandstand. Ninth starter Alex Stanford, 21, from Chowchilla, CA, became the third and final race leader on L 6 and won by 15-yards. Stanford said, “I love the track. We just had to tighten it up for the main event. We'll be back for the big November “Duel in the Desert”. That huge modified race attracted more than 240 cars last year and LVMS management hopes to have 300 cars in the pits this year. My next Racing Scene column will cover the USAC Midget and Sprint doubleheader at Perris on February 28.