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PAS TNGP Midgets - Part II

PAS TNGP Midgets - Part II
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What happened to the USAC Turkey Night car count this year? The midget car count was 48 in 2013. This year it was 34 (+ two mechanical dropouts after Wednesday night practice). Drivers who raced in 2013 but not this year were: Brad Kuhn (now retired), national drivers Parker Price-MIller, Andrew Felker, Nick Drake, Caleb and Dalton Armstrong, Chris Windom, Kevin Swindell, Taylor Ferns, Jac Haudenschild, Thomas Meseraull, and Danny Stratton. California drivers missing were: Nic Faas, Kyle Smith, Rick Hendrix, Shane Golobic, Taylor Simas and Danny Ebberts (who had his car exit after Wednesday practice). Arizonan R. J. Johnson also missed the 2014 TNGP after being an annual participant in the event.

Midgets present at Perris for the 2013 TNGP but absent this year included: two car teams of Armstrong Racing from Indiana, and K. Ronk team, plus David Prickett Neverlift team; one of two Doug Bock cars, one of two Keith Ford cars, Don Fike RFMS No. 3, Mason Cook No. 10, Rick Hendrix 15, Joey Fabozzi 84, Tucker Racing 39 and Dave LaMott No. 0. The Chris Ennis 86 blew its engine during Wednesday practice. Several other teams, such as the Allen No. 12A (Josh Pelkey) also were absent this year. Some persons believe the January Tulsa Chili Bowl event cut into the TNGP car count because car owners want to save their equipment for that event.

Fans last year complained about the TNGP having only three races and lengthy waits between races. They probably went into overdrive this year because there were only two races and lengthy delays between the one qualifying race and the 98-lap feature. That 30-car race field and racing action redeemed the evening. However, it is clear to long-time racing observers (me included) that the TNGP format needs to be changed for 2015. PAS fans love the USAC-CRA 410 sprint car heat races, B and A-main format. Some of the best racing is in the heat races with inverted starting lineups.

NEW FORMAT: Here is one solution for a new TNGP format. Conduct time trials as usual for all drivers/cars, but NO drivers/cars go directly to the feature without racing. Then conduct four heat races of eight or ten laps each. The first four cars could be inverted by qualifying times (fast timer starts fourth in the first heat, second fastest starts fourth in second heat, etc.). The first four finishers in all four heats transfer directly to the feature.

Two options are available at this point. Either give all 16 heat race transferees their feature starting spot based upon their qualifying times (1-16 order start straight-up so as not to encourage sandbagging during time trials). Better yet, the four heat race winners would start in the first two rows (P 1-4) straight-up in order of qualifying times. The four heat race second place drivers would be in rows three-four in time trial order. Third place heat race drivers would be in rows five and six in qualifying time order. Rows seven and eight would be the fourth place drivers in the four heats positioned in the feature in time trial order. Grouping cars in rows by heat race finishing positions actually would give incentive to drivers to race for higher positions in heat races once they made it into P 1-4. That accounts for the 16 drivers who advance from the four heats.

Fifth and lower finishers in the four heat races must race in one of the two qualifying races. Those two races should have straight-up lineups based upon qualifying times to reward drivers qualifying efforts. In the 2014 TNGP that would have meant two 12-lap qualifying races for 18 drivers still trying to make the feature (34 drivers – 16 in the feature from four heat races). Nine drivers would be in each qualifier this year. Odd number qualifiers in the qualification order would race in the first qualifier and even number qualifiers would race in the second qualifier. The first seven finishers in each of the two 12 lap qualifiers would advance to the feature in the order of their qualifying race finishes. That means drivers in qualifying races would have a reason to pass cars to move forward in the lineup to a possible row nine of 15. They would not just get their qualifying times back for feature starting positions. That format would get fans excited about TNGP racing again and most likely would increase attendance in the grandstand. Auto racing is in the entertainment business and the above format would provide spectators additional entertainment value.

The Thanksgiving afternoon warmup and hot-lapping session started at 5:00 and lasted 55 minutes. There were four groups of eight or nine cars per group. Kyle Larson, in group four, ran the fastest lap of 17.390. The next fastest in order were: D. Hagen, D. Gardner, R. Abreu, C. Bell, K. Thomas, Jr., B. Clausen, J. Swanson, D. Darland, T. Thomas, C. Boat, R. Shelton, Z. Daum and M. Spencer. ... Retired USAC driver Jason McCord, from Indianapolis, conducted the4:30 pm TNGP drivers meeting in his USAC exec capacity. He deserves an A+ for his racing knowledge, vocal delivery, crispness and clarity. After finishing Jason asked if there were any questions and there were few if any because he covered everything so thoroughly. Racing chaplain Tim Spillman flew out from Indianapolis and gave the invocation at the drivers meeting and before the first race.

ABREU: Rico Abreu, from California's Napa Valley wine country, won the 2014 USAC Honda National Midget Championship for the first time. He is a popular champion with fans and fellow drivers. The 4'6” short-person is a dynamo who could go by the nickname “Little Dynamo” if 1950s AAA driver Walt Faulkner hadn't been called by that name first. Rico's website lists the Tulare Thunderbowl Raceway as his favorite speedway and “Talladega Nights” as his favorite movie. His racing goals include racing in the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. He listed as his five favorite race drivers—Parnelli Jones, Kyle Larson, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt and Joey Saldana. Rico presented the helmet he wore in the TNGP to Parnelli (the TNGP Grand Marshal) on the podium stage during post-race ceremonies. The helmet had 20 photos of Parnelli and his various winning cars embedded on it. Parnelli was pleased by the gesture. Rico's helmet most likely will go into Parnelli's racing museum in Torrance.

Dave Darland raced Dwight Cheney's No. 42 sprint car at PAS during past Oval Nationals. Dwight assists Dave in the pits and Dave stays at Dwight's house in Glendora whenever he races in Perris. After Dave finished tenth in the 2014 TNGP (in a borrowed midget), Dwight drove Dave from PAS to Las Cruces, New Mexico via I-10 through Phoenix and Tucson. The reason—a USAC non-points 360 cu. in sprint car two night event on Friday-Saturday November 28-29. Dave had the excellent Phoenix-based Mike Martin No. 16d car. On Saturday Dave started ninth, won the 30-lap feature and collected $10,000 from the generous purse posted by the owner of Mesilla Valley Transport. Google the Perris to Las Cruces trip and you will learn it is 713.4 miles and takes 10 hours and 37 minutes to drive.

Two other 2014 TNGP drivers raced at the two-night “Thanksgiving Bash” in Las Cruces. Alabaman Kevin Thomas, Jr. (in the No. 17rw Drucker) finished 12th.. Tyler Thomas (No. 21) started second and placed 18th in a 22-car field at Southern New Mexico Speedway, a three-eighths mile clay track. There were 34 sprint cars in the pits plus two support divisions. Darland started 18th and finished 17th in Friday's 30-lap main race won by Texan Aaron Reutzel.

On Thanksgiving afternoon at PAS, Darland autographed his new book, “The People's Champ” by him, with writer Bones Boucier. He sat behind the PAS beer bar counter and signed his book, the PAS program, clothing and caps and chatted with fans for an hour or so prior to warmups/hot laps. Parnelli, the TNGP grand marshal fifty years after he won his first of two Turkey Night mains, sat in the PAS beer bar and also signed autographs for fans. He even signed the 1/18th scale metal model of his 1963 Indy 500-winning No. 98 Agajanian's Willard Battery Spl. Watson Offenhauser for a fan who came prepared.

DRIVERS/CARS INFO: Johnathon Henry is a Stockton native who is currently attending Cal Poly University in San Luis Obispo. He is a senior majoring in manufacturing engineering. His cute one and a half year old son and their small dog rode in a stroller in the pits after the feature. Johnathon finished ninth and was the last car lapped by the winner. His car owner Chad Nichols and his father Ken, from San Carlos, worked on their pair of No. 17 midgets. Ken is a past USAC midget feature winning midget driver who also raced successfully in the Midwest. ... The No. 39 midget raced by Kyle Edwards, of Fountain Valley, is a 2008 Dave Ellis chassis. Kyle built the Chevy engine. Former car owner Gordon Edwards (Kyle's father) sold the No. 39 midget recently to long-time sprint car driver Marvin (No. 68) Mitchell, of Madera. Marvin raced in the November 21 King of the Wing race at Madera Raceway, but he was just working on his midget in the pits.

Scott Pierovich, of Alamo, had a pair of No. 35 midgets in the TNGP pits. He tried both cars during Wednesday practice before choosing the 2012 Spike/Fontana over the 2006 Ellis/Mopar for Thursday racing. Both cars had Bennett Winery (Calistoga) sponsorship on the hoods. That firm formerly sponsored Mike David's NASCAR K & N West car. ... Terry Nichols, of Delano, had a 2010 Spike/Chevy that was one of David Prickett's Neverlift Motorsports team cars sold in 2013. “PANDA” was on the metal visor at the front of his cage. That is Terry's nickname, not for the nickname of the SF Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval in the 2014 World Series.

Calistoga's Britton Bock, a mechanic for a garage in Pope Valley east of Calistoga, drove the No. 67x Bock Spike/Esslinger. It was the only midget that did not post a qualifying time or race. It was one of three midgets numbered 67. What's with the popularity of numbers 71 and 67? Seven of the 34 midgets used those numbers. ... Versatile sprint car/stock car driver Shane Golobic drove one of the two Bock midgets at the 2013 TNGP; he was present in the pits, but ride-less after Doug Bock entered only one car this year. ... Owner/driver Tony Everhart, 60, had his 2004 Spike/Brayton Ford in the pits Thursday only. The El Cajon resident dropped out of the B-main before the lap 1 green flag. Tony said his car is an ex-Matt Mitchell car that Matt race in the Manzanita Speedway (Phoenix) final race.

Oklahoma City resident Trey Marcham, 23, drove Keith Ford's No. 73 TCR/Fontana this year. It was the same car that Dave Darland drove to his PAS 2013 TNGP victory. This year Trey started 14th and finished 12th, down a lap, in the 2013 TNGP winning midget. Dave practiced Wednesday in the newer No. 73 TCR/Fontana, but he pitted with a blown head gasket during Wednesday practice. “It was an experiment head gasket that Fontana sent us,” crew chief Jimmy May said. Darland found the backup 17 ride of J. Henry; they taped a back N on it for Dave to race Thursday.

WRA vintage midgets (No. 86-32-6R-55jr-blue/white 2-89-8-14-black/orange 2 and 36) plus several quarter-midgets were on display at the TNGP inside the front entrance. One of the midgets was a 1936-built Marmon-4. Another was the No. 92 Arizona Hard Chrome Crankshafts Chevy V-4 midget that Bobby and Al Unser, Sr. and Paul Jones raced in 1964. It was on display at PAS for the first time. A distinctive white and blue car was Roger McCluskey's No. 11 USAC champ dirt car. The 1968 Grant King-built car was Roger's backup car for dirt. It still has its 4-cam Ford engine in it. The car never raced because of a rules change by USAC to narrow torsion bars. Clint Brawner, the late chief mechanic from Phoenix, had it for decades in his garage. Tommy Brawner has had the car for more than a year and is now displaying it.