LOS ANGELES, California — California-based drivers are making names for themselves in the Midwest these days. Kody Swanson set fast qualifying time in a 19-car field of Silver Crown cars at ORP, Clermont, IN and led early laps. Bobby Santos III, from MA, passed him after a caution and won the 100-lap race. Kody finished second and his younger brother Tanner finished fourth. They drove two of the three 6-R Racing cars. At ORP Parnelli Jones, 78, had his famous 1962-63 replica “Calhoun” No. 98 Watson-Offenhauser roadster from his personal racing museum in Torrance. He took demo laps on the .686-mile ORP track in his Watson roadster. The actual 1963 Indy 500 winning No. 98 roadster is in the IMS Museum. The 98 Watson roadster replica owned by J. C. Agajanian is now housed in the San Pedro office of J. C's son Chris. On Saturday, May 19 Parnelli also drove three slow laps around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway where won the1963 500. He wore a retro Hinchman racing uniform and a white IMS cap. He said the car, on 1960s-era skinny Firestone tires, had a low gear and couldn't go very fast even if he wanted to lay down some hot laps. The annual USAC S/C Hoosier 100 on the Indy Fairgrounds dirt mile kicks off the S/C dirt track schedule Friday night, May 25.
Thomas Meseraull, from Nor Cal, won the April 28 sprint car feature at Lawrenceburg, IN. It was his second win in a row and in two different cars. Other Californians now racing on the USAC, USAC-MSCS circuits include: Damion Gardner, Robert Ballou, Justin Grant, Darren Hagen, and Kyle Larson. They also compete in local track events at Gas City and Kokomo, IN whenever possible. Mid-May sprint car features shown on the Internet recently included victories at Haubstadt, IN by No. 35 Hunter Schuerenberg, and by Bobby East (No. 2B Scott Benic) over Levi Jones (No. 20 Tony Stewart) in an exciting duel through lapped traffic. It's great to see distant races within days on the Internet. With USAC-CRA idle much of April and May, So Cal sprint car stars Mike Spencer and Nic Faas have flown back to Hoosier-land to drive the No. 53 Fox Chevy, an excellent Indiana ride. It's nice to see Cali drivers traveling to pick up good mid-western rides. Usually the opposite has been the case during late season races at Perris.
INDY 500: The May 27, 2012 Indianapolis 500 figures to be one of the most memorable in history. Some see up to 15 possible winners in the full 33 car field. I would guess the winner will come from the first two rows. The three Penske drivers and three Andretti Auto-sport drivers are all capable of winning. Only one of those six drivers (Helio Castroneves) has won the Indy 500, so it appears a first-time 500 winner is likely. Will Power, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe and pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe are all capable of winning. Nine USA-born drivers are in the 33 car field. Remarkably, six of them reasonably could win the 500. Andretti, Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal, JR Hildebrand, Ed Carpenter and Townsend Bell could pull off a victory based on recent 500 experience and current rides. Rookie Josef Newgarden, from Hendersonville, TN (near Nashville) should be rookie of the year, based upon what he has done with Honda power. However, F1 vet and fast-learner Rubens Barrichello could take ROY honors as well. Other USA drivers are USAC multi-champion Bryan Clauson, 22, and Charlie Kimball, a type-1 diabetic driver in his second 500. Dirt and short-track fans will have a rooting interest in both Clauson and Carpenter, who came to the Indy 500 from USAC short track ranks. Both of them have raced at the Perris and Irwindale half-miles.
Amazingly, this year Indianapolis 500 practice and qualifying (16 days) were not interrupted by rain. So drivers logged many more laps than usual and that is great news, especially this year with an all-new DW12 chassis and turbocharged engines. Chevrolet has been dominant over Honda. Lotus has been an afterthought because of its late start and lack of horsepower. The two Lotus cars, driven by veteran Simona de Silvestro, 23, and F.1 vet Jean Alesi may be “start and park” field-filler entries in the 500. They probably will be black-flagged out of the race if they are too slow and can't race within 105% of the race pace. That pace figures to be in the 214-219 range with full fuel loads and race-day traffic. The Sunday, May 20 numerous hours of practice following the final qualification run gave all 33 drivers sufficient time to practice for the race. Drivers were drafting and overtaking entering the turns, so that should give them all a beneficial head-start for the 500 itself. Some even practiced pit stops. NBC-Sports (ex-Versus) did an excellent job in telecasting Indy 500 May 19-20 time trials. Bob Jenkins, Jon Beekhuis, Wally Dallenback, Jr., Kevin Lee, Robin Miller and Derek Daly covered all the action on track, in the pits and garage area. Every driver plus key owners and officials were interviewed on air. The youngest driver in the race is Newgarden (21) and the oldest is Alesi (47) and both are 500 rookies. Past winners Dario Franchitti (2 X) and Scott Dixon (1 X) have Honda power, which has not been as fast as Chevrolet, so they hope traffic is the great equalizer during the 500.
ARCA STOCKS: Open-wheel drivers and others of note are making strong inroads on the ARCA circuit this year. USAC National Ford Focus Midget 2008 champion Alex Bowman, 19, won his third ARCA feature in five ARCA career races on Sunday, April 29. The Tucson, AZ native won in a 35-car field on the tough Salem, IN high-banked half-mile driving the No. 22 Cunningham Racing Dodge. Alex led 146 of 200 laps and before a late race caution had 11-seconds over P. 2 Frank Kimmel (a nine-time ARCA champion). Alex will race all 20 ARCA races this season. Last year Alex won ARCA races at the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway and at the Madison, OH paved half-mile. He spent most of his time on the NASCAR K & N East circuit and finished sixth in points, winning rookie of the year honors. Alex was among the quickest of 43 drivers May 4 at the 2.66-mile Talladega Super Speedway 250-mile race televised live nationally. >>> Kevin Swindell, the 2010-11-12 Tulsa, OK Chili Bowl Midget Classic winner, raced on the NASCAR K & N Pro East circuit last year. This year the 23-year old son of WoO past champion and current WoO front runner Sammy Swindell, landed an eight-race Mike Curb Records sponsorship. His first race on May 4 Kevin ran in the the top ten in the No. 55 Bill Venturini Toyota, one of five Venturini cars in the 43 car field. He finished the 94 lap race 11th, on the lead lap. >>> Indy Car and 500 veteran Milka Duno, from Venezuela, raced the No. 6 Chevy and finished 37th after a multi-car accident.
Others: Brandon McReynolds, 21-year old son of SPEED-TV racing analyst Larry “Mac”, started tenth and won the Talladega 250, leading only the last few yards on the final lap after his No. 32 Turner Motor-sports Chevy. >>> Irwindale Speedway NASCAR late model stock car veterans Brandon Davis, of Huntington Beach, and Ryan Reed, of Bakersfield, are ARCA newcomers this year and top ten drivers. Davis, the 2011 Irwindale track champion when he won 11 of 20 races, has a deal for ten ARCA races, and drives the No. 99 Roulo Bros. Ford. He finished 19th at Daytona Beach , 27th at Mobile, AL and 9th at Talladega, on the lead lap. Reed, an 18-year old type 2 diabetic and son of NASCAR SW Series champ Mark Reed, drives the No. 15 Chevy. He moved east last year to further his stock car career. Ryan finished 11th at Salem, IN and 13th at Talladega on his first visits to those two tough tracks. >>> Spencer Gallagher, of Las Vegas, has moved from the NASCAR K & N West Pro Series to race with ARCA as well. He finished 19th at Talladega driving the No. 23 Allegiant Air Chevy. >>> Chase Elliott, 16-year old son of NASCAR champion Bill Elliott, also raced his dad's No. 9 Chevy with ARCA at Salem. Many of the ARCA races are televised live each season on SPEED. >>> USAC Midget veteran Tom Hessert, from N.J, races a Chevy for Ken Schrader in ARCA events and also is a threat to win. >>> Justin Lofton, from Westmorland, CA (near El Centro) raced late model stock cars at Irwindale in 2006-07 and is a recent ARCA Series champion. He has been racing on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in recent seasons. On Friday, May 18 at the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway, Justin won his first NASCAR truck feature aboard the No. 6 Eddie Sharp Racing Chevy, an ex-Kevin Harvick Racing truck. USAC open-wheel drivers Chad Boat, 20, and Dakota Armstrong also are climbing through NASCAR ranks. WoO past champ Dave Blaney's son Ryan, 18, is a stock car feature winner already and a top ten finisher in a NASCAR second-tier race.
NASCAR trucks have run five races this season with five different winners, including three first time winners. >>> The NASCAR second-tier Nationwide Series stock cars appear to be the playground of ex-USAC sprint and Silver Crown winner Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. He won the 2011 NNS championship in his second season in Jack Roush's No. 6 Ford. This year Ricky has won three of ten races and leads NNS driver points again. That series has five winners in ten races. One rumor this week has Ryan Newman leaving Stewart-Haas for Joe Gibbs Racing (No. 20 Home Depot) in 2013. If that happens, Tony Stewart is looking to hire Stenhouse to replace Newman in the second S-H Racing Chevy. The NASCAR Sprint Cup 11 races so far in 2012 have had eight different winners, including USAC open-wheelers Tony Stewart (2 wins) and Ryan Newman (1). >>> USAC midget/sprint car vet Cole Whitt, with Red Bull backing, distinguished himself last year in NASCAR truck racing. This year he is racing as a NASCAR Nationwide Series rookie in the No. 88 Dale Earnhardt, Jr.-owned Chevy. Whitt, 20, is a top ten runner and is fifth in NNS points. His teammate Danica Patrick (from IRL) ranks tenth in the No. 7 Dale, Jr. team car. USAC vet Brad Sweet has moved from trucks to NNS as well, driving the No. 38 Great Clips Chevy when his mentor Kasey Kahne (another USAC grad) doesn't drive it. At Iows Speedway Saturday, May 19 Sweet started 20th and finished 13th (on the lead lap). Whitt started 12th and finished 7th in the Iowa 250. Recently, Whitt has made NASCAR Sprint Cup races in the No. 74 Compton Chevy. >>> USAC champion Josh Wise, from Riverside, is racing for NASCAR Cup rookie of the year in the underfunded No. 26 Jerry Freeze Ford. He has qualified in the high 20s, low 30s in 47 car fields, so he is getting noticed by Cup car owners. Josh also races in NNS with the start and park No. 42 Curtis Key Chevy. On many weekends Josh earns money in NASCAR's top two tiers.>>> Smart stock car owners should look towards current USAC open-wheelers if they want winners. Twenty-plus 2011 feature winner/quick learner Kyle Larson, from Elk Grove, CA, won his first NASCAR short-track late model race this season against local stock car vets familiar with the Carolina track. The 19-year old is on the radar of stock car teams looking for the next young superstar. Could personable Ryan Bernal,18, be the next midget/sprint winner to go stock car racing?
OBITS: Motor racing lost esteemed members of the racing fraternity recently. Following are tributes to each individual.
KENNY VAN BLARGEN: The 80-year old modified, sprint car and vintage race car driver from Paso Robles, CA passed away Sunday, April 29, 2012 at Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton. A year ago he received severe injuries at Havasu 95 Speedway in Lake Havasu, AZ during a WRA vintage race car exhibition event. He ran over a wheel, flipped and received a severe spinal cord injury and an eye socket injury that hospitalized him for many months. According to an obituary in the Paso Robles Press, Kenny was born in June 1931 to migrant workers. They settled in Paso Robles where his dad worked as a carpenter who helped build Camp Roberts and the Paso Robles Inn. Following his US Navy service, Kenny became a racing regular at Paso Robles Fairgrounds and other tracks in central California. A frequent winner and champion, Kenny and his late wife, Sue, had four children and nine grandchildren. A viewing on May 8 in Paso Robles and a service the next day took place at noon at the Estrella War-bird Museum/auto display near the Paso Robles Airport to honor his memory. His No. 86 CRA sprint car owner Dick Woodland hosted the museum reception in honor of his long-time friend and driver. The Van Blargen family requested donations in Kenny's memory be made to the Estrella War-bird Museum, the Veterans Administration or to a worthy charity of the donors' choice.
DAVE CALDERWOOD: USAC released an obituary that the USAC midget, sprint and Silver Crown car owner of colorful race cars passed away at age 69 at his home in Bakersfield Saturday, April 28 after an extended illness. His drivers during the 1990s included Jeff Gordon, Jimmy Sills, Kenny Irwin (S/C No. 23). He had Jeff's Du Pont sponsor and flames on the hood of his race cars. More recently his cars were black, with colorful red, yellow and orange nose flames. Tracy Hines drove his 410/360 black sprint car with the traditional flames and Dave's usual No. 4 on it. Hines won a sprint car feature in Dave's No. 4 at Eldora Speedway in Ohio a week before Dave's death. Dave's company—MP Environmental Services—sponsored his race cars. The last time I spoke to Dave was Oct. 28, 2011 as we stood in line at the Canyon Speedway pit gate in Peoria, AZ before the USAC sprint car race. He and son Rex were there to watch Hines race Dave's No. 4 that he assigned to Hines to operate. A lengthy obituary ran in the Bakersfield Californian daily newspaper from May 2-4. Dave, the youngest of four, was born 8/23/42 in Colinga, CA to farming parents. Their crops were cotton and alfalfa. Dave met his future wife Dawn at age 12 and went to work for his future father-in-law at MP Vacuum. Wed in 1970, Dave and Dawn had three children—Heather, Shawn and Rex—and all of them gravitated to driving race cars. They started in go karts, quarter midgets, quads, modifieds and then USAC Western Midgets. Heather and her boyfriend Steve Davis raced USAC Western events. Shawn and Rex did as well and Shawn also raced NASCAR super late models at Irwindale. In 1990 Dave and Dawn became owners of MP Vacuum and renamed it MP Environmental. They expanded from one terminal in Bakersfield to a seven state operation in the Western US. They treated their numerous employees as family and tributes to Dave from numerous people in racing and business showed how respected he was in all aspects of his life. Dave's first exposure to racing came at age 16 when he traveled to Daytona Beach, FL as a pit crewman for Bakersfield driver Frank Secrist. His grandchildren currently race go-karts. Dave is survived by his wife of 41 years, three children, four grandchildren and Heather's soon to be born son, plus numerous relatives. Services were held May 4 at Valley Baptist Church with interment following at Greenlawn Cemetery in Bakersfield. Dave was a long-time friend of USAC car owner John Lawson, of Fresno, and John Bickford, step-father of Jeff Gordon. Donations in Dave's memory may be made to shadefoundation.org and to the Jeff Gordon Foundation according to his family.
JOHN PARTRIDGE: The 56-year old father of NASCAR driver Ryan Partridge, the 2011 super late model track champion at Irwindale Speedway, died from a massive heart attack on April 11, 2012 at his home in Rancho Cucamonga. John was a track announcer at the Irwindale track drag strip and at the oval track at times. His wife Carolyn, a daughter and three sons and a step-daughter and extended family survive. A memorial service, attended by almost 300, was held Saturday, April 21 at the Irwindale Speedway grandstand.
GEORGE RICH: The 91-year old long-time AMA Speedway Motorcycle chief steward and WWII US Navy medal winner/aviator died suddenly in his sleep March 15 at an assisted living facility near his home in Anaheim. Funeral services were held March 23 in Anaheim with interment following the following week at Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs, CO.
Other racing luminaries who passed away recently included: racer/auto manufacturer Carroll Shelby, 89, on May 10 from pneumonia. >>> Also, Connor Penhall, 21, on April 5 while working as a sub-contractor on the blocked off westbound I-10 freeway lanes construction project in Baldwin Park just east of the 605 freeway. The son of Bruce Penhall, a retired world champion speedway cycle racer/actor on the 1970s TV show “ChiPS”, raced off-road motorcycles at times. An alleged drunk driver drove through barriers closing the freeway and struck the victim, killing him instantly.