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RACING SCENE – (Ventura TNGP Midgets – Part 4)

RACING SCENE – (Ventura TNGP Midgets – Part 4)


One of the fun things to do after a major race such as the USAC Turkey Night Midget GP is check the Facebook and Twitter postings/comments made by midget drivers from the Midwest. This year more mid-westerners made their first visit to California, or Cali as they call it. Most mid-westerners left home Saturday and and towed their midgets west on I-40 and I-15 south from Utah. They had a day or two to sight-see prior to arriving in Ventura.

Where the racing tourists visited and photos they posted during their business trip include: Hollywood, food at Lawry's Prime Rib Restaurant on La Cienega Blvd., Long Beach and the Queen Mary, In & Out Hamburgers, Compton city sign because of the recent movie “Straight Out of Compton”, plus Venice pier, beach and its “crazies” as they called the locals. One visiting racer also posted a nice view of Ventura Raceway and the nearby Pacific Ocean and sunset. It was clear the visitors enjoyed their Cali experience.

Gage Walker, from Fairland, Ind., did post it was a long way to come to flip in turn one on the first lap. The 19-year old qualified seventh quickest in the 53-car field. Ryan Greth, from Newport, Penn., was tenth in 2016 USAC National Midget points as a 31-year old USAC rookie. He qualified midway in the field, finished sixth in a 12-lap B-main that advanced the first four into the feature.

A 15-lap (LCQ) last chance qualifier race advanced the first six finishers to the feature. Ryan started third, was in P. 5 on lap 9 when a multi-car tangle in turn three caught him. Ryan's No.4 Hyper/Stanton SR-11 flipped straight-up on its tail and landed on its side. He took one of two provisional berths to start inside row 14 of the main event, but his midget was too badly damaged to repair in time. Hopefully Walker and Greth will return next year. They have the ability to finish well.

Other visitors from the Midwest were: Tucker Klassmeyer, 21, of Paola, Kan., and his colorful No. 27 Dale Klassmeyer-owned Boss chassis with horsepower from a Stanton Toyota. He started 20th and finished 17th with a full 98-lap run. He has won POWRi Midget racing features and has improved steadily. Austin Brown , from Millstadt, Ill., brought his No. 7b Boss/Toyota and pitted with the No. 27 team for mutual support. Boss and Hyper were two new chassis firms competing in California.

CHAD BOAT: The 24-year old drove his last NASCAR truck race in November 2015 and finished 12th prior to racing dad Billy's No. 15x midget in the 2015 TNGP at Perris. The Boat family sold all their NASCAR Xfinity Series No. 84 Chevy cars and equipment and returned full-time to USAC National Midget racing. He used the same No. 84 on his Spike/Speedway Toyota midget and enjoyed his best season to date. In 33 car midget fields, Chad won his first USAC National event on August 2 in a 35-lap feature in Fairbury, Nebraska. Then he won both Friday and Saturday August 5-6 main events at the prestigious half-mile Belleville, (Kan.) Midget Nationals. His father also won the Belleville Midget Nationals and was present to help Chad this year.

Chad said he and Billy returned home to Phoenix after finishing third in a 30-lap Bakersfield Speedway midget feature on November 19. Billy operates his BB Performance Exhaust successful business in Phoenix. Billy and Chad co-drove their Freightliner FL 80 tow vehicle. They returned to So Cal for the Wednesday-Thursday November 23-24 USAC National and Western Midget TNGP. Chad said they left their Belleville winning long-track Spike at home in Phoenix. They had two short-track Spike midgets in California.

Chad said he raced at the fifth-mile Ventura Raceway one time in a 2009 USAC Western Series midget race. Tucker-Boat ownership on Chad's midget as well as during his NASCAR years is for his backer Cory Tucker and Billy Boat. Sponsor is on the hood. Chad ranked as high as a close second place in USAC National Midget points after his three August victories. He entered the Ventura TNGP in a tie with Oklahoman Brady Bacon for third place, 65-points out of first. Chad experienced a few problems at Ventura and finished 15th, a lap down. He placed fourth in final USAC National Midget standings. Chad told me he expected to return to the USAC National Midget Series in 2017.

Top ten in 2016 USAC National and Western Midget Points: Eight of the top ten in National points and all of the top ten in Western points raced in the Ventura TNGP. National absentees were P. 8 - the late Bryan Clauson and P. 9 - Tyler Thomas. All of the top ten in USAC Western points ran at Ventura. Top ten in USAC West Coast Sprints – three of ten raced. Surprisingly, the Vander Weerd twins (P. 2 Jace and P. 4 Richard) were not present. Top ten in Ventura Racing Assn. (VRA) points – six of ten raced. Wednesday-Thursday sprint cars were non-point events for both associations.

Sixth place USAC Western driver Cody Swanson, 26, from Corona, practiced his midget Wednesday. His No. 71s Spike/Van Dyne turned the 20th fastest lap of 12.462 among 47 midgets that practiced. Six cars unloaded but did not practice until Thursday. B. Bacon set the quickest lap of 12.115 Wednesday. The USAC one-lap track record (11.675) at Ventura is still held by 1994 USAC Western champion Johnny Cofer. He set the still standing mark on Nov. 18, 1995 in the No. 57 Esslinger Engineering car. Cody's No. 71s was absent from the field of 53 cars Thursday. His car had clogged injectors and burned a cylinder while practicing Wednesday. Cody tried unsuccessfully to find another midget ride.

Ronnie Gardner, 28, of Corona, won his fourth consecutive USAC Western Midget Championship for Six8 Motors-ports. Mitchell Johnson, whose late grandfather Walt and grandmother Pat were USAC Western officials, owns the team. His dad Walt Johnson was a winning TQ and midget driver. Gardner drove the No. 68 Stewart/Esslinger to six feature victories in a 14 race season. His triumphs came at five sites—Placerville, Ventura, Hanford, Tulare, and Bakersfield (twice).

Gardner broke his tie with Ron “Sleepy” Tripp, USAC 1975-76 National Midget Champion and seven-time USAC Western Midget Champion from 1983 through 1992. Tripp, the winner of 104 USAC Western Midget features, won three of his seven USAC Western titles in a row from 1990-92. He congratulated Ronnie on his accomplishment.

SPECTATORS: Ventura TNGP spectators included numerous former drivers. They included: 1988-89 winner Chuck Gurney, Sr, 67, 1983 winner Kevin Olson, Sleepy Tripp, Jeff Heywood, Brad Noffsinger, Bobby East, John Redican, Levi Jones, Page Jones, and Jimmy Voitel. Others included Wendy James, daughter of long-time CRA President Walt James, Tom Malloy, and former USAC timer/scorer Dick Hindman. Tommy Hunt, a CRA/USAC driver and long-time USAC Western VP, attended both nights. Tommy, now promoter of the Calistoga Speedway clay half-mile, said he is trying to schedule a USAC Silver Crown race for his scenic Napa County Fairgrounds site.

Impressive young drivers at the TNGP included midget/sprint front runner Carson Macedo, plus California sprint car drivers Tristan Guardino, Geoff Ensign, Cody Majors, Kyle Smith, and Oklahoman Trey Marcham. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid, is a 14-year old from Penngrove, between Petaluma and Santa Rosa. He has Dan Simpson, of Rio Vista, in his corner providing his Maxim 360 sprint car ride. The Petaluma Speedway driver has been racing since age 5 and said Kyle Larson is his racing idol. Buddy intends to follow Kyle's career path to NASCAR.

LATE NEWS: The 2017 USAC Silver Crown, National Sprint and National Midget schedules were announced December 8. As expected, the Turkey Night Midget GP will return to Ventura Raceway on Thanksgiving, November 23 in conjunction with the USAC Western Midget Series.