LOS ANGELES, California — Round 3 of the AMS/OIL USAC-CRA Sprint Car Series was April 28 at Perris Auto Speedway. Eight more USAC 410 cu. in. sprint 2012 point races remain at PAS. If competition gets any better this season it will be one of the best in 17 years of 410 sprint action at the Riverside County clay half-mile. The addition of 360 cu. in. PAS Senior Sprints and winged California Lightning Sprints (CLS) make each event an open-wheel three-ring circus. All three series have run exciting main events with lead-changing, action-packed races the norm. Car counts have been respectable despite the struggling economy. April 28 car counts were: USAC-CRA 31 (including two 360 cu. in. cars), CLS 18, and Senior Sprints 11 (the 2012 high count) including two new competitors. They were TQ Midget vet Jim Styer and rookie Steve Robinette, of Vista, in another Bill Perkins No. 0--an older TCR chassis. The next PAS sprint race will be the annual “Salute to Indy” on Saturday, May 26.
I spoke to senior sprint driver Brian Williams in the pits April 28. He said he gave No. 0 Bumble Bee Plastics car owner Bill Perkins a check for $5,500 to replace the borrowed car he destroyed March 31 during his wild first turn flip. A deal is a deal. Brian, 52, said he briefly experienced some pain behind his eyes and “red-eye” bloodshot eyes a day after his wild ride. Retiree Brian, of Newport Beach, was back in his own 2012 Triple 7 No. 22 NNJFI Chevy April 28. You'll have to ask Brian what those initials mean. He started second and led all 8-laps to win the first of two senior heats. In the 20-lap feature Brian started fifth and charged into P.3 by lap 3 when he spun in turn 3. He restarted last (P 11) and raced forward to P.6 by lap 18. He finished sixth with ten cars racing at the finish. He is a charger for sure. Announcer Scott Daloisio reminded all drivers of two vital racing axioms: 1- At times you have to go slower to go faster (especially entering turns at speed), 2 – To finish first, you first have to finish.
The PAS $5.00 program April 28 had an outstanding Mike Arthur action photo of Brian Williams launching the No. 0 over Bill Badger's No. 75 entering the first turn during the March 31 feature. That is the first time the two-year old PAS Senior Sprints have made the PAS program cover. Brian told me his LF tire hit Badger's RR tire and triggered his wild flip. He watched the video of his flip on the Internet days later. He added, “At the time I thought this is gonna hurt.” The PAS program contained ten 5 X 7” color photos of CRA sprints. The two-page color center section saluted driver Matt Mitchell (No. 37) with two actions photos and a trophy presentation photo. All of the top ten point drivers raced April 28. Mike Spencer, 31, entered the event trailing point leader Nic Faas, 22, by 7 points. Spencer scored 6-points for fastest qualifying time. After winning the feature Mike now leads Nic (P 7 finisher) by 11-points (207-196). April 28 runner-up Mitchell is making the 2012 USAC-CRA championship a three-man battle and now ranks third with 194 points.
What makes the current season so compelling to watch is the emerging talents of young drivers such as Ryan Bernal, 18, Austin Williams, 21, Brody Roa, 21, and others who are top five main event drivers each race. They currently rank 4th, 6th and 7th respectively in 2012 driver points. Other rising young drivers include: Ronnie Gardner, 24, Cody Williams, 22, Greg Alexander, 23, Jake Swanson, 19, David Bezio, 31, the 21-year old Vanderweerd twins—Richard and Jace, Kenny Perkins, 20, Adam Frith-Smith, 21, Austin Smith, 19, and the Bender brothers—Bobby, 26, and A. J. (Alex), 19. The Bender boys race family-owned No. 11 (a 410) and No. 12 (a 360) and trade off the rides after two consecutive nights in the 410 car. Throw in recent newcomers to 410 sprint racing such as Johnny McCall and Gavin Matlock and you have an emerging new generation of 410 sprint car racers.
USAC-CRA qualified (31 cars) from 5:50-6:13 pm. Spencer was sixth to qualify and turned a FQ time of 16.162. Faas (26th qualifier) was second FQ at 16.275. Twenty drivers qualified quicker on their second of two laps. Grandstand fans again were allowed to meet and greet drivers of all three series as they stood by their cars on the front straight prior to the first race. The half-hour autograph session was well received by fans and well-attended by drivers and fans. Heat winners (from 7:15-7:47) started in positions 4, 7, 4 and 2. Two CLS 6-lap heats and two Senior Sprint 8-lap heats followed from 7:57-8:20. The 410 “B”-main ran from 8:26-8:41 and concluded three laps short of the scheduled 12-lap distance. The reduction was caused by a yellow and then two red flags for flips by P. 4 Kenny Perkins (No. 0K) and then Cal Smith. Cal, 46, was in P. 7 when the P.6 car spun in the turn 4 low groove. Owner/driver Cal's No. 39 clipped the back of the spinning car and flipped in four or five quick barrel-rolls. He climbed out uninjured. His car had a broken front axle and broken shocks. “What hurts most was the fact I'd have finished 6th if I missed the spinning car and would've earned the final main event transfer position,” Cal said.
The three main events ran from 9:04-9:21 (CLS 20), 9:28-9:42 (Senior Sprints 20), and 9:58-10:25 (USAC 30). The high 80s afternoon temperature dropped to 65 by the final checkered flag. The wind-chill factor seemed even lower with flags at turn 2 blowing straight-out. What made it irritating for fans in the grandstand was Perris Fair Board has a “No Re-entry” sign enforced at the main gate. So chilly spectators could not go to their cars for a jacket by having their hands stamped or receiving a re-entry ticket. The racing promoter (Kazarian's Oval Entertainment LLC) has nothing to do with the no pass out policy and are victimized by it when angry spectators say they will not return, as some have said on racing websites. MLB teams (Dodgers and Angels) allow fans to go to their vehicles for attire or to stow purchased souvenirs. That is called good PR and being fan-friendly. PAS fans should start a petition, signed by hundreds if not thousands, and send it to the Perris Fair Board and their boss in Sacramento. Fair board members are appointees of the Governor, so Governor Brown should be made aware of this inane Perris Fair Board policy that is chasing some fans from PAS.
CLS 20: Fifteen cars started the feature, which had five leaders, although two leaders “blew” engines before leading a lap at the starting line. Bobby Michnowicz started in P.2 and led laps 1-11. He lost the lead to his son Kevin on a lap 12 restart. Kevin started 7th and was in P.4 at the lap 12 green. Kevin made an outstanding outside groove charge and from turn 2 passed all three leaders on the outside before exiting turn 4. Kevin paced laps 12-15 and exited to the pits with a seized engine. Stuart Hielscher, Jr. inherited P.1 and spun on the restart. He restarted at the back and charged from P.9 to a closing second, only 25-yards from the winner at the checkers. Dad Bobby then inherited the lead, but he slowed on lap 16 and pitted with overheating and a broken head gasket. CLS 2011 champion Tim Brown inherited the lead, but on the lap 16 green his engine began smoking heavily and erupted into flames leaving turn 2. He stopped on the backstretch for yet another lap 16 caution. Dan Hillberg went from P. 3 to race leader without passing anyone. He held on and led laps 16-20 for his second career CLS win at PAS and third overall (one at Ventura). CLS 2011 point leader Dan, older son of WRA vintage car owner Ken Hillberg, said his car is a 2005 Henchcraft ZX 12 Kawasaki. His brother Darren needs sponsorship to race his CLS car.
SENIOR SPRINT 20: All 11 seniors, age 45+, started the feature. Bill Badger, 62, came from 3rd grid position to lead the first ten laps. Fourth starter Bruce Douglass, 61, made a clean “slide job” pass on lap 11 in turn 3 after one of two cautions and took command. P. 7 starter “Hubcap Mike” Collins, 55, took third on lap 11 and passed Badger for second on lap 13 with an outside turns 1-2 and backstretch move. A lap later Collins made an amazing outside pass from turn 4 to the starters' stand to take P. 1 from Douglass and led laps 14-15. A lap 16 caution followed. “Hubcap Mike”, a stock car veteran, said he “lost concentration” and went high to the turn 3 wall on the lap 16 restart. Alert Douglass passed him on the inside at turn 3 and led laps 16-20 by a steady 40-yards. It was his second consecutive feature victory. Collins finished second and received a large trophy that he placed on his hood in the pits. Badger finished third, with Victor Davis, Wiley Miller, Brian Williams (in his own No. 22 Triple 7 chassis), pole starter Bob Alderman, Ed Schwarz, Jim Styer and Steve Robinette following and all on the lead lap. Only Eric Richard failed to finish the entertaining race.
The seniors feature had three leaders and four lead changes. The top three senior finishers stopped at the finish line for their trophies and PA interviews with infield announcer Chris Holt. Winner Douglass (No. 31) stated, “Did he (Collins) cut through the infield (to get the lead)? Thanks for a great track. Congrats to all the guys who finished well here.” It was his third main event victory including one last season. ... Runner-up Collins (No. 04) said, “Bruce got me on the restart. The cushion was awesome up there. It was a lot of fun tonight.” ... P. 3 Badger said, “I had a good lead before the yellow (L 11). Three cars fighting for the lead, that's racing. If there was no yellow I would've had it. I'll come back next time to defend my championship.” He won the inaugural PAS Senior Sprint title in 2011. When fans later came to the pits “Hubcap Mike” was a commendable racing ambassador. He signed an autograph card for a 7-year old girl. He showed her his sprint car, asked her if she wanted to sit in it, and helped her get in the car. The girl and her parents were thrilled by Hubcap Mike's attention and felt like celebrities themselves. That is the way to win fans and get them to return to PAS racing events.
USAC-CRA 30: Faas and Spencer started in row 4 as the two fastest qualifiers and figuring to be the show. Bernal led the first eight laps from second grid position. Spencer moved past pole starter Matt Mitchell to P. 2 on lap 7 with Faas still in P. 7. Spencer next passed leader Bernal on the inside entering turn 1 on lap 8 and slid up in front at turn 2. Bernal re-passed him on the inside at turn 2 and led lap 8. Spencer took command on lap 9. Mitchell took P. 2 from Bernal on lap 9 and trailed the leader by 30 yards. P. 8 Ronnie Gardner (No. 42 Dwight Cheney DRC) stopped on lap 11 at the turn 2 wall with a broken power steering line and caused a yellow flag. At the lap 11 green, Spencer shot into an expanding lead of almost a straightaway over Mitchell by lap 15. Lapping occurred by lap 20 and fast-moving Mitchell closed in quickly on Spencer. By lap 27 Matt trailed Mike by only five yards. On laps 28 and 29 Matt used an impressive slide job and shot past Mike on the inside entering turn 1. Both times Mike raced back into the lead on the inside leaving turn 2 after Matt skated up the track in front of him. Mike (No. 50 Chaffin Maxim/Ron Shaver engine) won by ten yards over Matt (No. 37 Mitchell Maxim/Don Ott power). The 22 car field had 18 cars racing at the finish and ten drivers finished on the lead lap. P. 3 David Cardey finished a straightaway in back of the battling lead duo.
The P. 4-5 battle between Rip Williams, who turns 56 on May 5, and his son Austin, 21, was captivating as well. They started alongside in row 2 and traded P. 4 several times with Rip outside and Austin inside. Austin claimed fourth for good in the closing laps and Rip settled for P. 5 in a John Jory Viper. Austin and his brother Cody raced brand new Jory Racing Spikes for the first time. Cody said he just got into turn 3 too fast as the race leader on March 31 and flipped along the wall. That 44 chassis was a write-off. Cody started 18th and finished 11th. Cody said his girl friend Heidi Tressler, a past 360 sprint car driver at Victorville and a PAS racer at times, is nearing graduation at Victor Valley College as a registered nursing student. P 6-10 were: Cory Kruseman, Faas, R. Vanderweeerd, Roa and Bernal. ... On March 31 Mitchell finished third so his team shipped their 410 engine back to builder Don Ott in York Springs, PA for rebuilding. It costs $300 to ship it via UPS to the builder according to the Mitchell team. On April 28 the added horsepower and speed from the freshly rebuilt Ott engine definitely was noticeable and used expertly by Matt during his late race charge and duel with Spencer.
The top three drivers stopped at the finish line for trophies and interviews. Winner Spencer said, “Those lapped cars – the 73 likes to wait until he's down a lap before he starts racing. Thanks to Bruce Bromme, Jr. (crew chief) and Ron Chaffin (owner). I turned the wick up the last couple of laps. I got to the front pretty quick. Ron Shaver was here tonight and this motor works pretty good. It was a good race. Matt did a good job. He jumped me there but I crossed under him and got the lead back.” ... Runner-up Mitchell stated, “Closer this time huh? That long green run was good. Wish I could've brought home a winner for our guys, but second is pretty good. This is a better run than last time. Not bad at all in the point battle. Have to keep getting top fives. Just need one more spot. It makes my dad happy.” ... P. 3 Cardey added, “Had a great race. There were good battles going on. The track was tricky. Everyone was fighting hard in traffic. I think there is one more race before the 92 (Moose Racing) will be getting a new car.” (It is a donated Victory Race Chassis from Ron Williams).