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The 22nd Perris Auto Speedway (PAS) season opener was March 4 (the only day of the year that gives a command). Three sprint car divisions raced with 39 non-wing cars in competition. USAC-CRA 410s had 22 cars (compared to 29 at the 2016 opener). The other two series used 360 cu. in. engines. Senior Sprints (age 45+) had 12 cars (up from 11 last season) and Young Guns (ages 14-25) had five cars (same total as 2016).

Two USAC National Series drivers from Indiana flew to the PAS race and remained out west for the March 9-10 USAC 360 sprint races at the Las Vegas dirt half-mile. Brady Short, from Bedford, Ind., hooked up with the No. 19 Reinbold/Underwood team from Arizona to drive the No. 19s for co-owner Andy Reinbold. Andy picked up Brady at the PHX airport and housed him during his stay. Andy drove his other No. 19 at LVMS. Brady finished 16th and ninth in the LVMS mains.

Chad Boespflug, of Plainfield, Ind., drove the new No. 42 Maxim of Dwight Cheney, who lost two Maxim chassis in a pair of flips by Carson Macedo during the Nov. 2016 PAS Oval Nationals. His new No. 42 sports sponsor Racing Optics colors--pearl white, light blue and gold numerals. Chad's helmet had Folger's Coffee on it in tribute to his late hero Tim Richmond. Chad started the feature in P. 7 and finished ninth. NSCHoF 2017 inductee Dave Darland drove the Cheney 42 to P. 10 and 14 in the Las Vegas main events.

Nine of the 2016 USAC-CRA top ten drivers in final points raced in the 2017 opener. Rookie of the year Max Adams, P. 7 in points, did not have his car ready. Called the Gary Sokola Shootout for years, the event printed $5.00 race program color cover had photos of the late Sokola and the late 2016 PAS opening race fastest qualifier/ main event winner Bryan Clauson (misspelled BrIan ClausEn). The versatile/fan-favorite driver drove the Arizona-based No. 16B Mike Miller Chevy.

Inside pages had color photos of five-time USAC-CRA champion Damion Gardner deservedly on a two-page color center section. Senior champion Eddie Tafoya had his No. 51 Trump car on a page. Young Gun two-time feature winner Hannah Mayhew was depicted on a color page as well. Other top 2016 USAC-CRA point drivers had color photos included. They were: P. 2 Richard VanderWeerd, P. 3 Brody Roa, P. 4 Jake Swanson and P. 5 Austin Williams. Rookie of 2016 Max Adams was shown wearing a Six8 Motor-sports cap. He helped crew the No. 68 Mitchell Johnson-owned midget that Ronnie Gardner drove to a top ten Tulsa Chili Bowl Saturday A-main finish.

Speaking of Jake Swanson, I asked him if he is still dating former race driver Jessica Clark and he answered in the affirmative. In fact he said she was in the No. 92 Sertich hauler talking to friends. Jessica certainly understands the need for speed and supports Jake's racing. The pair, both age 23, are well-matched.

Jessica started racing karts in 2006 with her dad's support. They moved on to USAC Ford Focus midgets (orange & blue No. 44) on dirt and paved tracks. She then raced one of Tim Huddleston's S2, spec late model cars, on the paved Irwindale half-mile through 2011. She continued racing pavement with the Lucas Oil Modified Series before concentrating on college studies. Jessica's racing blog about her driving career is still posted on under the News icon and then under Guest Columns.

Three of the five Young Gun drivers in 2017 are PAS rookies. Ariel Biggs, 22, is a resident of Hoquiam, Wash. (near Aberdeen). It is indian for “hungry for wood” according to Ariel's dad. She drove one of two black & green Maxwell Industries Steve Watt-owned cars from Ventura. Petite Ariel came to Perris with her parents, who watched her first race in a sprint car on her first race on a half-mile. She was fast all night and won the 15-lap YG feature in her initial racing at The PAS. She hauled her 360 into the turns as if she had done it often.

Bubbly/personable Ariel was all smiles in the pits prior to her heat race. She finished third. She began racing quarter midgets at age 6; then at age 14 started racing Ford Focus midgets. She raced at the 3/8-mile, high-banked clay Grays Harbor Raceway in Elma, Washington and at Cottage Grove Speedway, a 1/4-mile high-banked track in Cottage Grove, Oregon.

Last year Ariel raced in 15 dirt track events with the POWRi Midget Series in the Midwest. She drove one of the Zach Daum No. 5 Toyota-powered midgets. She gained valuable experience on tracks new to her. Ariel told me she wants to do more sprint car racing and advance as far as she can in any form of pro racing. Her dad has done business with Watt and that's how she got the No. 81 ride. The March 4 race was to be a one-off ride in one of Steve's 360 sprinters. I asked Watt following her victory if Ariel would be back in his sprint car. He smiled positively. I took that to be a likely yes. April 1 is the next YG event.

Steve said Ariel drove his brand new CS9 chassis built by Ricky Bray of Lemoore. Her teammate Daniel Anderson, of Venice, drove the like-appearing black & green No. 81 Maxim chassis. Steve said it was the No. 99 Brent Kaeding Studelhofer Construction Maxim in which Kyle Larson, 18, won his first King of the West feature and title in 2010. Steve said he sold the No. 81in which Courtney Crone, 15, won the 2016 PAS Young Gun championship. Steve had five of his 360 sprint cars in action at Ventura at the last Turkey Night GP and all were black & green and used No. 81 with letters after the 1 to differentiate them.

Courtney and her dad Jack Crone were in the PAS pits March 4 spectating. She is concentrating this season on her USAC midget racing in Jerome Rodela's No. 25 Breka/Toyota and Formula Mazda racing. Nic Faas will come out of retirement to race Rodela's No. 25x Breka/Toyota midget that Chase Stockon raced two months ago a the Tulsa Chili Bowl. Michael Pickens, from New Zealand, drove it at the 2016 TNGP in Ventura.

Sammy Tanner, the now 77-year old great AMA flat track national star, was in the PAS pits March 4. Chris Johnson, 2004-05 Irwindale pro truck champion and later late model feature winner, was in the PAS grandstand March 4 with his dad. About ten USAC-CRA finishers stopped on the front straight after the feature. Fans came onto the front straight to talk with drivers and teams and buy driver merchandise. Fans and racing teams enjoy this 2016 PAS innovative experience.

The other rookie Young Gun was Joel Rayborne, 14, from West Covina. He will turn 15 on August 13. He raced the No. 2u USAC-owned FF midget (HPD Series) during recent seasons and won 2014 rookie of the year honors. He drove the white/lime green trimmed 2007 TCR chassis owned by Tom Dunkel, of Hesperia. Tom raced the winged No. 91 CLS Lightning Sprint at Perris from 1997-2002.

Dunkel said he has wanted to own a sprint car but has concentrated on building his 17-year old business—So Cal Inland Rigging. It moves industrial equipment, machine tools and CNC machines for fabricating, sheet metal and other firms. Tom said he has four big rigs. He bought his current TCR chassis to get started with Joel. It was the No. 55 that owner/driver Tom Grunkemeyer drove in the PAS Senior Sprints division for about five years until recently.

YG Hannah Mayhew, 25, drives the same yellow/red/silver numeral No. 43 Maxim as last year. However, this season her No. 43 is all black with gold trim and number. Hannah won the only YG heat race March 4 by a straightaway over Rayborne. She started fifth and took the lead on lap 13 and pulled away for a likely 15-lap main event victory. On the final lap Hannah slowed past the starters stand and coasted across the finish line with no smoke showing and all tires inflated. She finished fourth. What happened? She told her dad, “I thought they waved the checkered flag.” It was the white flag signaling the start of the final lap. She won't make that mistake again.

Richard McCormick, 58, won the 20-lap Senior Sprint feature driving the same No. 71 Dave Ellis-built car he drove last season for Steve Luport, of Burbank. Richard, a grip in the movie industry, lives in Agua Dulce. He said he will retire soon and is moving to Prescott, Arizona. His car owner may move to Arizona as well. McCormick won the 8-lap first after starting fifth. Richard started eighth in the 11-car field and led the final 17 laps. He won by 40-yards in an all-green flag, seven-minute race. Eight drivers finished. McCormick intends to win his first Senior Sprint championship in 2017 after the 2016 title eluded him by mere points.

Senior Sprint 2013 PAS champion driver/owner Rick Hendrix, 63, still operates his Rick's Gate Works in Canaga Park. He lives in Palmdale and said his commute to work takes 90-minutes. Rick, the father of two daughters, now has one grandchild, a boy age 7. His mom does not want him to race. Rick took P. 2 from Danny Parrish, of Fairbanks Alaska, on lap 16 and placed second. Parrish (No. 1k) was third March 4.

Dale Underwood, 53, from Wildomar, drove his red, white & blue No. 98 in the Seniors Division. It is a 2010 Maxim according to Dale. He bought it from a Craig's List ad. He said it was a winged 360 cu. in. Smitty Boys race car in central California. Dale also races a PAS modified car as well to keep busy. He planned to race at PAS March 11 and did so.

Bill Badger, the first PAS Senior Sprint champion in 2011, took a nasty-looking flip entering the first turn on lap 2 of the second heat. His No. 75 did two endos and landed in mid-track on its cage. Bill escaped injury. Unfortunately, his car owner brother said the tumble bent the frame and broke the rear end. They are out of those two items and their season might have ended even though they have a good engine.

Tom Hendricks, 46, had his own No. 14 Glenn Crossno ITI-built out to race March 4 with USAC-CRA. It had an engine valve problem and DNQ. It later pushed off for a race but did not complete a lap. Tom's father said he just got the engine back after having it completely rebuilt. ... Mike Trottochau, a 56-year old owner/driver from Acton, drove his ex-Steve Conrad No. 56 Senior Sprint now No. 16. Richard McCormick drove it to P. 3 in the 2016 opening PAS Senior main event when his No. 71 ride was not ready to race.

The USAC-CRA 30-lap feature also had another car scratch with a mechanical problem. Past Young Gun series graduate Parker Colston's No. 64 (Richard Gore) experienced a complete loss of brakes in his heat race. It did not come out for the feature. The USAC-CRA 30-lap main also ran green all the way and finished in 8:52.43. It was a welcome speedy evening that concluded at 9:13 pm on a cool, 55-degree evening.

PAS MAJOR EVENT: The 410 non-wing USAC-CRA sprints and the 410 winged World of Outlaws will both race at The PAS half-mile on Saturday, April 1. That is no fooling despite the date. The huge double-header should pack the place again as it did last year on Saturday, April 16 when Josh Hodges ((No. 74x) won the USAC-CRA main and Daryn Pittman (No. 9) won the WoO feature. The 360 cu. in. Young Guns and Senior Sprints also will race main events, making it a four sprint car main event extravaganza.