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RACING SCENE Column (PAS Sprints- Sept. 23)

RACING SCENE Column (PAS Sprints- Sept. 23)

LOS ANGELES – The USAC-CRA 9th annual Glenn Howard Memorial event at Perris Auto Speedway September 24 was another winner. All three sprint car series—360 cu. in Young Guns, 360 Senior Sprints, and 410 cu. in. USAC-CRA—ran competitive races all night. Feature winners were: rapidly improving point leader Courtney Crone, 15; championship contender Richard McCormick, 58, and Austin Williams, 25. Six young gunners and seven seniors raced.
The USAC-CRA car count had an uptick to 29 cars, tying the PAS season-high car count on opening night (March 5). Visitors from central California, Arizona and infrequent local participants increased the car count. Qualifying took 26 minutes. Ten drivers ran their fastest lap on the first of two timed laps; 19 drivers were faster on their second lap.
HEATS: Hannah Mayhew, from Acton, won the Young Gun 6-lap heat from the pole. Rick Hendrix, 63, started second and led all eight laps in the senior heat. USAC-CRA 10-lap heat winner Damion Gardner started sixth, as did Jake Swanson and R. J. Johnson. Ronnie Gardner started fourth. They led the final seven, four, nine and four laps respectively. Passing was plentiful despite the 93-degree midday temperature in Perris and strong wind at race time that dried the clay track.
Engine fires (three in the last two race nights) have plagued owner/driver Cal Smith. A small engine blaze caused Cal to stop during his heat race. An alert PAS official quickly played the song “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash. Announcer Scott Daloisio announced that Cal “Fireball” Smith had stopped on the backstretch.
YOUNG GUN MAIN: The 15-lap YG feature had female drivers Crone and Mayhew starting in the back row (P 5-6). They waged an interesting duel early until Courtney took the lead on lap 3 and opened a half straight advantage. A lap 12 restart had Matt McCarthy, 25, second and Mayhew third. Courtney looked fast and in complete control of her No. 81 Steve Watt Chevy and won by 40-yards. Matt ran second from laps 9-12. Hannah passed P. 3 finisher Matt on lap 13 and edged him by several lengths.
Winner Crone said on the pit mic, “Every race this team gets better and better and I drive better. It was a lot of fun. Unfortunately we have only one race left (October 15).” She thanked her dad Jack and driver coach Wally Pankratz. Dwarf car veteran Hannah, 20, stated, “It didn't go that well. It was a good race. It's always fun battling Courtney. My car was a little loose.” P. 3 Matt said, “I made a good pass for second, but Hannah got me back on the next yellow when I was on the binders. Thanks to Tony Jones for all his help. It's just you and the car on the track.”
The 410 “B” main was next and had rapidly improving Logan Williams, the third fastest qualifier in Jack Jory's No. 5, on pole with visitor Austin Liggett, from Tracy, alongside in his No. 83. Logan led laps 1-3. Mike Spencer led the final nine laps. Logan was second on lap 8 when A. J. Bender's car stopped on track.
On the restart, Jeremy Ellertson (ninth in driver points) flipped wildly along the third turn crash-wall and punched a hole in the Edelbrock billboard. His car landed overturned on the track. Jeremy, in some pain, was removed and taken by ambulance to a hospital. It was announced later he was in satisfactory condition.
Logan's P. 2 car had a flat tire and went to the work area for a replacement. He had to restart at the back and raced back quickly to the last feature transfer position—sixth. He then took fifth and earned P. 7 in the feature lineup based on his quick qualifying time. The No. 36 (Anthony Lopiccolo) and No. 84 (Matt Stewart) cars were noticeably faster this week in heat races and again in the B-main. They finished the “B” in P. 4 and 6 respectively and made the main event.
SENIORS: The 20-lap main ran next. Eddie Tafoya started on pole and led the first 17 laps. Title contender Richard McCormick started third and traded second with Rick Hendrix on laps 3, 5 and 9. He was part of the entertaining top trio nose-to-tail battle with Tafoya and Hendrix. On lap 18 entering turn one a tangle ensued. Hendrix spun after contact with Tafoya, who spun out low in turn two. McCormick brushed by Hendrix and inherited the lead. He led the final three laps and won by 30-yards. Shawn Conrad again awarded cash to the top finishers with $300 to first and $150 to second.
Interviewed on the pit mic, McCormick said, “That's three in a row. Thanks to car owner Steve (Luport of Burbank) for letting me drive his car for eight years now.” He was not present to see his sprinter win this week. Runner-up Bill Badger (the 2011 and 2014 PAS Seniors champion) said, “I screwed up after they watered the track. I drove too hard.” Asked if he will race next season, Bill said, “I'm 66 years old now. Horsepower takes a lot out of you.”
Tafoya restarted at the back after his spin and raced back to third. He stated, “Adrenaline took over. I can't believe the bumper car racing, running around the bottom and taking someone out. I'll just pick myself up and go for the championship at the next race (October 15). Don't forget, vote for Trump.” He has TRUMP in large letters on the hood of his No. 51T sprint car. He qualified and raced in a USAC-CRA heat (finished in P. 7 of eight), but skipped the 410s B-main to prepare his 360 for the senior feature.
FEATURE: The USAC-CRA 30-lap main ran from 9:43 to 9:59 on a re-groomed track. Richard VanderWeerd led the first five laps from the pole. Third starter A. Williams executed a nice inside pass exiting turn four and led laps 6-30. R. VanderWeerd was ten-yards back. R. J. Johnson, started fourth and finished a close third. He wore a helmet adorned with nine photos of the late Arizona racer Wayne Weiler. “I got the photos off the web and used a process to apply them all over my helmet.” (Rico Abreu used the same process to apply racing photos of Parnelli Jones to the helmet he wore in the 2014 Turkey Night Midget GP at The PAS. He then presented the helmet to Parnelli, the event grand marshal.)
The battle between second starter Brody Roa and FQ/sixth-starter D. Gardner was captivating. On lap 18 Damion passed Brody for fourth. On lap 22 determined Brody re-passed Damion for fourth and kept the series point leader at bay to the lap 30 checkered flag. That was determined driving. It made up a bit for finishing second to Damion on August 27 at PAS. Brody led the first 28 laps of that main and Damion led the final two laps.
Ronnie Gardner, Jake Swanson, Logan Williams, hard charger award winner Trey Marcham, from Oklahoma (No. 81m) and Tommy Malcolm finished in P. 6-10. Nineteen cars were RAF (racing at finish). Only three cars were lapped. Non-finishers were: No. 5m Max Adams - “overheating”; No. 84 M. Stewart - “no brakes”; No. 44 C. Williams - “engine was down on power and pitted from P. 11 to avoid blowing a $45,000 Shaver engine”.
Winner A. Williams told the crowd, “This win in the Glenn Howard Memorial means a lot to me. He always helped out everyone. I was just biding my time. I hit my marks and put it away. I won for my dad and for Jack (Jory). He makes everything happen. We had a bad California Sprint Week (six races at five tracks from Sept. 3-10) This win helps. It also is a birthday present for Jack (car owner turned 78 on race day).”
Runner-up VanderWeerd said, “The bottom was where we all ran. It was good. Marbles were at the top. I made a little mistake there and he (Austin) got the win. It is a good night to be on the podium. It's a long season to go yet after Canyon Speedway next weekend.” ... Something new at PAS this year -- several other main event cars stop at the front straight so fans coming to the pits are able to get autographs and talk to drivers. Cars No. 20, 36 and 4g were there this week.
P. 3 R. J. Johnson spoke about his new helmet, a tribute to the late Arizona open-wheel racer and Indy 500 starter Wayne Weiler. “He was like a grandfather to me. The last time we were here I stuck it in the fence. This finish makes me feel like I know what I'm doing.” He acknowledged he is the 2016 USAC Southwest Sprint 360 Series point leader by 113 points driving Bill Michael's No. 77. “We have five races left so we hope to wrap up that title.” He said he will miss the All-Coast Construction Night at PAS October 15 because he will be racing his 360 ride in Arizona.
WINNING CAR OWNER: I spoke to Jack Jory, owner of John Jory Corp. in Orange, Calif. and a long-time backer of Rip Williams (2004 USAC-CRA champion) and his three sons. Jack said he now owns five sprints cars, all Spike chassis with Shaver engines. The 44, 2 and 5 cars are active and there is one backup car. Cody, 27, and Austin, 25, use their high school football uniform numbers. Cody, 20, was a linebacker and Austin a wide receiver. Logan was a lineman so he doesn't use that number.
Jack also has a new Spike that has not been assembled yet. “The boys work on the cars during the week and we have a crew of five to seven a the track on race nights,” he added. Jack spoke highly of Rip and Becky's three sons. In fact he said he is the godfather of Logan. After the September 24 PAS race, all three Williams boys ranked in the top ten in 2016 USAC-CRA point standings. Austin is fifth, Logan ninth and Cody tenth.
Jack said Rip won 77 main events in his sprint cars. Jack believes Cody has two and Austin four mains for a total of 83. Jack got his sprint car start at Ascot Park in Gardena where he helped drivers Cary Faas (No. 37) , Mark Atchison (No. 30) and then Keith Chrisco (No. 47). When car owner Jan Gaffney (No. 47) decided to get out of racing about 1991, Jack stepped up and became the No. 47 owner. That started his long association with driver Rip Williams, the 1978 co-rookie of the year with Ric Paronelli. He continued backing each Williams son as he entered racing because of his respect for them. Jack appreciated Austin winning the main event on his 78th birthday. “It was a nice birthday present,” he acknowledged.
Jack Jory should be high on the list of sprint car owners for admission to the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Iowa. His almost three decades of supporting 410 non-wing sprint car racing personally and financially is outstanding. Also worthy of nomination and induction to the same NSCHOF is sprint car racing sponsor “Big” Mike Grosswendt for his financial support of major sprint car events such as the annual PAS Oval Nationals and the USAC-CRA California Sprint Week.
Shocking news: PAS chief announcer Scott Daloisio announced on September 24 that Carol Perez, the Industry Hills Expo Center General Manager, passed away in mid-September. The steadfast supporter of AMA Speedway Bike racing at The Grand Arena in the City of Industry died unexpectedly at home on Thursday, September 15. Many of us spoke to her at the final 2016 speedway bike race on August 31 and she was as bubbly as ever. She wore a cast on a broken ankle suffered in a fall at home weeks earlier. She was 49 and the wife of Industry Mayor David Perez and mother of sons Manuel and Michael. Custer-Christiansen Mortuary in Covina is handling arrangements. Viewing and rosary are Monday, October 3 at 7:00 pm in St. Joseph Catholic Church, 550 N. Glendora Ave. at Temple Ave., La Puente. Funeral Mass will be at 10:00 am Tuesday, October 4 at St. Joseph Church.