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PAS Sprints Salute to Indy 500

PAS Sprints Salute to Indy 500
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Los Angeles, CA. - The annual “Salute to the Indianapolis 500” at Perris Auto Speedway on Saturday, May 23 was another thriller for fans and drivers. A windy, chilly evening was untypical, but racing action was intense. AMSOIL USAC/CRA drivers displayed amazing driving skill and determination to move to the front while racing in close quarters all night. USAC/CRA had 24 cars present. PAS Senior Sprints (360 cu. in. sprint cars for drivers age 45 and older) had 14 cars. PAS Young Guns (drivers from ages 14-21) had only two cars, which was an all-time low for the relatively new circuit. Winged, motorcycle engine powered California Lightning Sprints had 16 cars, so all cars pitted in the infield.
The two Young Gun drivers raced with the seniors and started at the back of the two 8-lap heats and the 20-lap feature. That gave George Morris, 21, and speedway bike 250cc junior division racer Courtney Crone, 14, two additional laps of heat racing and five more laps in the main event. They both raced from the back row in their respective heats and passed veteran senior drivers. Crone (Steve Watt No. 81) started eighth and finished fifth in seniors heat one, beating two seniors. Morris (Kruseman No. 3k) started eighth and finished sixth in seniors heat two and also beat two seniors.
In the 20-lap seniors feature Morris raced from 14th to P. 6 and beat some competitive racing veterans. He was justifiably pumped. Crone started 13th and passed two seniors by lap 3. On lap 7 Crone tried to pass Eddie Tafoya on the outside and backed into the third turn wall. She restarted at the back and passed Jim Giardina on lap 8. She tried to go between the 30 and 51 cars entering turn three, but a collision resulted. The right side of her car rode the crash-wall between the third and fourth turns but did not roll. A reported broken front axle, broken radius rods, and torsion bars ended her race night.
The PAS Young Gun Series is producing talented young sprint car drivers. Logan Williams, 19, Parker Colston, 16, Trent Williams, 18, and Morris, 21, are current examples of young drivers who have benefited from the several years old, innovative PAS sprint car series. All but Morris are now racing 410 cu. in. USAC/CRA sprint cars competitively. Morris appears to be ready to join them.
Past “Salute to Indy” winners at PAS (which opened in 1996) include current NASCAR Sprint Cup No. 23 driver and Xfinity Series No. 28 driver J. J. Yeley in 1996. Other solo winners were: Troy Rutherford, Richard Griffin, Tony Jones, David Cardey, Mike Spencer and now Richard Vander Weerd. Three-time winners are Cory Kruseman and Damion Gardner; two-time winners are Mike Kirby, Blake Miller, and Matt Mitchell. Rain canceled the 2008 running.
All of the top ten drivers in USAC/CRA 2015 points raced at the 2015 PAS Salute to Indy. Point changes were Mitchell (P. 3 to P.2) and D. Gardner (P. 2 to P. 3). All others in the top ten held their positions. Point leader Spencer increased his advantage from six points to 25. May 23 PAS winner R. Vander Weerd now has won four of the seven USAC/CRA point races this season. At Tucson in race two on March 20, Richard was leading the main late when he flipped and wiped out that car. He could have won five of seven if that crash hadn't occurred.
On May 23 in the PAS 40-lap main, Richard lapped his P. 10 twin brother Jace on lap 30. Jace, older by a minute, said he was glancing at the scoreboard above turn two at times to see if Richard was still leading. Their mom watched from the grandstand as usual. Their car owner dad Ron ran their pits. Ron is the Kings Speedway (three-eighths mile clay) Hanford track promoter this year. He will promote the Friday, September 11 USAC/CRA race during the September 5-12 “California Speed Week” for USAC/CRA teams. The Vander Weerd clan stayed overnight at their maternal grandmother's house in Chino and planned to watch the Indianapolis 500 May 24 before driving home to Visalia later that afternoon. Jace had his six-month-old, female yellow lab puppy in the PAS pits. The friendly canine was a Christmas gift.
The May 23 color cover $5.00 PAS program had an Indy 500 motif. It depicted photos of 1963 Indy winner Parnelli Jones in the No. 98 J. C. Agajanian A. J. Watson-built roadster, 2014 Indy winner Ryan Hunter-Reay in the Andretti No. 28 DHL Dallara/Honda, plus PAS 2014 PAS Indy Salute winner Damion Gardner in the silver No. 4 Alexander Racing sprint car. The two-page color center section had two 2011 PAS sprint car drivers who raced in major national events on Sunday, May 24, 2015. NASCAR Cup driver Kyle Larson (red No. 1 BZE Bowman Chevy) and second year Indy 500 driver Bryan Clauson (yellow & black No. 7 R & B Truckers sprinter) were shown side-by-side during the 2011 PAS Oval Nationals.
The photo was taken by 2015 National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductee Mike Arthur. Mike was present in the PAS pits May 23 and said he and wife Nan would fly to Iowa Thursday, May 28 for the Saturday, May 30 induction ceremonies. They plan to watch sprint car races at famous half-mile, clay Knoxville Raceway Saturday night after the ceremonies.
DRIVER INFO: Tommy Malcolm, of Corona, is 22 and a 2015 USAC/CRA rookie. He said he plans to race only at PAS. He was absent from the May 2 PAS sprint car race because he was the best man at the wedding of his best friend in Arkansas. Tommy is the stepson of his car owner, Dino Napier. They raced the No. 75 dirt late model for years at PAS, Las Vegas, Bakersfield Speedway, Ventura and Santa Maria.
Chad Boespflug, from Hanford, Calif., now lives in Plainfield, Indiana. He raced May 23 at PAS in Dwight Cheney's No. 42 after finishing fifth a night earlier in the weekly Bloomington, Indiana sprint car main. He flew back to Indiana Sunday, May 24 and raced in another main event Sunday night. He really loves to race sprinters. Chad won the PAS first heat and led all ten laps. He started 16th and finished eighth in the feature after getting lapped by the winner on lap 39 of 40.
Driver Cody Williams and his wife Heidi (nee Tressler when she raced a 360 sprint car No. 3 at Victorville for years) are expecting their first baby in late June. They plan to name their daughter Lexi Jo according to proud grandpa NSCHofF inductee Rip Williams, 59. Rip was 1978 CRA co-rookie of the year when he drove his family-owned No. 64. He has not raced since 2013. On May 23 Rip told me he has not retired as a driver. “I had pneumonia and it took a long time to get over that,” he added. He has been overseeing the John Jory three-car Spike team for sons Cody, 25, Austin 24, and Logan, 19. They learned well. All three Williams sons currently rank in the top ten in point standings. P. 5 Austin has 335 points, P. 8 Cody has 237, and 2014 USAC/CRA rookie of the year Logan is in P. 9 with 184 points.
All 24 cars present started the feature; 17 finished and nine cars completed all 40 laps. The race had one flip (red flag) for Jeremy Ellertson, who could not avoid Chris Gansen's out-of-shape No. 4g in turn four. Owner/driver Ellertson said flip damage cost him an estimated $1,000, including a badly bent $450. rear wheel, radius rods and torsion bars, among obvious items. Earlier, Gansen said his family-owned team has $80,000 invested in their brand new sprint car and racing team. ... Cody Swanson drove the No. 93 Ronnie Gardner Sled chassis for the first and last time before the car is mothballed for lack of sponsorship. Ronnie was in the pits helping his friend and told him to race it hard without worrying about crashing. Cody started 12th and finished 11th.
REASONS FOR DNFs:
   > No. 64 Parker Colston – was in P. 13 on lap 11 when “the engine started missing, so I pulled into the pits.”
   > No. 52 Trent Williams – started 11th and was in P. 9 on lap 11 when “my left rear brake caliper blew up.” He slowed on the front straight and stopped next to the first turn crash-wall.
   > No. 4 Damion Gardner – said “something in the car broke (not the engine) and it was not handling.”
   > No. 98 Vern Sweeney – dropped out on lap 9 because of “a broken rocker arm”. Vern said after Rickie Gaunt, 46, retires as a sprint car driver after the July 4 PAS race, “I'll be the only active USAC/CRA driver who raced at Ascot.” The famous half-mile clay track operated from June, 1957 and ran its final race on Thanksgiving evening in 1990.
The PAS May 23 feature podium had the exact same top three and in the same order as the prior main event on May 9 at Ventura. R. Vander Weerd, M. Mitchell and A. Williams finished 1-2-3 in both mains. Top three drivers spoke on the PA mic to fans. Winner Vander Weerd said, “This car is awesome. The longer the car ran the better it got. Tire pressure built up. On restarts a couple of times I thought I was going to hit the wall.” He thanked his crew chief Tommy Horne and his dad Ron for all the money he puts into the two-car team.
Runner-up Mitchell stated, “The car was way better tonight, but it started spraying me with fuel lap 5 on. It started running out of fuel at the end. I got stuck behind the 93 car and he stayed there despite the flag.” He thanked his dad and family. “I'm getting married five months from tonight. My family travels around with me. My three beautiful nieces were here tonight. I think they all had fun.” ... P. 3 Williams' said, “We had the car set-up for the end when the track slicked off a bit. I caught up to my brother Cody and lapped cars at the same time. It was fun racing my brother.” Austin, on the inside, passed Cody for P. 3 three laps from the finish. Brother Logan finished 12th, a lap down.
SENIOR SPRINTS: The 20-lap main was a two-man battle between L 1-5 leader Chris Wakim (No. 81m) and new to senior racing Dwayne Marcum (No. 25). Marcum executed an inside pass at the starting line on lap 6 and led the final 15 laps. He beat Wakim by 40-yards with Jesse Denome 50-yards in back of Wakim. Marcum, formerly from Fresno, said it was his first-ever PAS win. He said he was close to a win many times in midgets and sprint cars.“This Triple X family-backed car is the best car I've ever driven.” In 1987 I raced here for Bill Pratt. I was paralyzed in 2005 from a racing crash. My dad, brother and his wife stuck with me and backed this whole thing.”
Seniors runner-up Wakim, a former USAC-TQ Midget driver, stated, “I got a little winded trying to catch Dwayne. My whole family is out a the desert, but I'm here because of the senior points race.” If either Marcum or Wakim wins the senior championship either will become the fourth different PAS Senior Division champion in five years of Senior Division racing. P. 3 Denome, winner of the May 2 Seniors main, said, “I did the best I could. I'm on the podium at least.” Young Gun driver George Morris finished sixth overall but first in Young Gun points. When interviewed, Morris stated proudly he started at the back and finished sixth (with 13 cars still racing). “Thanks to my dad and Hobie (Conway). She had my car set-up great for this track.”
The WRA vintage racing organization had four old midgets and three old sprint cars on display inside the front gate for early arriving fans to inspect. At 8:30 the seven cars lineup up two abreast and staged an exhibition “race” on the PAS half mile. The 14 and 34s midgets finished in a virtual dead heat side-by-side after six laps. Some cars had a roll-cage and some only a roll-bar. The oldest car (sprinter No. 777) had an octogenarian driving it safely to last place on its narrow tires.
CLS: The 1,000cc-1,200cc motorcycle engine winged cars used hot lap times as a group qualifying session. CLS raced a pair of 6-lap heats, won by Dan Hillberg and Persian Gulf war veteran Jeff Dyer. The CLS 20-lap main had two leaders—Hillberg L 1-4 and Bobby Michnowicz L 5-20. Hillberg trailed the winner by 30-yards at the conclusion. A lap 5 two-car crash in turn three between Kevin Michnowicz and Alex Grigoreas resulted in Alex flipping his No. 86 several times. He was sore, but the car received major damage.
Alex and his brother Mike Grigoreas bought the 2008 Henchcraft/Yamaha R1 car that Alex drove as No. 84 for Jeff Dyer last year. They put the Grigoreas family No. 86 used in CRA by their late sprint car owner father George. Mike said one of their past drivers was versatile Frank Secrist. Mike said Frank is now 89 and still lives in good health in Bakersfield. When Alex won the May 9 CLS main event at Santa Maria Speedway it was the first feature win by any Grigoreas car or driver since they started their team in 1968. They have sponsorship from former driver Frank Baldozier and Dick Woodland Auto Display in Paso Robles. Ironically, Woodland also used No. 86 on his sprint cars and his son drove a No. 86 stock car in NASCAR.
Two rookie CLS drivers made their PAS debuts May 23. Donnie Kuehner, is a Perris resident. The young man bought the ex-No. 55 Dan Lancaster car and re-numbered his orange car with a black 6g. The other newcomer is 50-year old Chino resident Pat Kelley. He said he raced a Pontiac Firebird stock car decades ago at Ascot, Mesa Marin, El Cajon and Saugus. He raised his family and got into coaching baseball. Pat said he bought his CLS car to have fun. He finished fourth in his heat and in the main and ran every lap. Pat said his son Christian (a sophomore catcher with a 400+ batting average) is currently playing baseball at Cary, N.C. for Cal Poly Pomona in the NCAA Division II national championship, an eight-team double-elimination playoff.