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RACING SCENE: PAS Oval Nationals Sprints

RACING SCENE: PAS Oval Nationals Sprints


The 24th annual Budweiser Perris Auto Speedway Oval Nationals presented by All-Coast Construction (Nov. 7-9) provided outstanding non-wing 410 sprint car racing. National, CRA, and Southwest point battles for the three USAC circuits 2019 championships were close. All three titles would be decided in two events at Arizona Speedway the following weekend instead of at Perris as in past years.

Oval Nationals 2019 drivers came from seven states (per the program) as follows: Calif.-22, Ind.-eight, Ariz.-seven, Mo-two, and one each from Iowa, N. Mexico and Oklahoma. Three drivers now listed from Indiana formally listed other states. They were: Chris Windom (Ill.), Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Alab.) and Brady Bacon (Okla.), so the state count actually could be nine.

The 2019 season summary for all three USAC sprint car series shows competitive seasons in all three series. USAC Amsoil National Series: 35 races at 16 tracks in eight states and 12 different winners (Tyler Courtney led with nine victories). Nine races were canceled by rain (including in three other scheduled states).

Amsoil USAC-CRA – 23 races at nine tracks with 14 different winners (Damion Gardner led with four victories). USAC Sands Chevrolet Southwest Series – 18 races at four tracks with 12 different winners. C.J. Leary scored the most wins--three. The two latter series raced only in Arizona and California and had no rainouts. Second generation driver Leary, 23, won his first USAC National Sprint championship. He won only two features--the third race on Feb. 16 in Ocala, Fla. and the 33rd race Nov. 9 in Perris. Leary now has nine USAC National Sprint victories.

Eight of the top ten drivers in USAC National point standings came west. USAC/CRA had nine of the top ten in points present and USAC Southwest had six of its top ten racing. ... The Saturday 40-lap feature started 28 drivers from eight states: Calif.-16, Ariz.-four, Ind.-three, and one each from Alab., Ill. Mo., N. Mex., and Oklahoma. They raced for a $6,000 first place check and the coveted white PAS Oval Nationals Eagle Trophy.

Four past Oval Nationals champions were in the field this year. They were: three-time winners Bud Kaeding and D. Gardner, two-time winner K. Thomas, Jr. (in 2017-18), and single winner Windom. Past Oval Nationals winners spectating in the pits were Rip Williams, Rickie Gaunt, and Mike Spencer. Triple winner Dave Darland, 53, was not present this year. However, Chris Gansen told me he would have put Darland in his second car if he was present.

Car Counts: PAS Oval Nationals 2019 car counts were: 42, 41 and 37 (November 7- 9). The 2018 car counts were: 43, 42 and 40; and the 2017 car counts were 43, 43 and 39. There were 31 cars present for the Wednesday practice night from 5:00 to 9:00 pm.

CHASSIS BUILDERS: Nine chassis builders were represented in the 42 sprint cars present this year. Maxim led with 15 cars. Next in order were: DRC-10, Spike-seven, Triple X (China)-five, and one each from KPC (Steve Kent), 777 (John Aden), Sherman, Twister, and Viper (Glenn Crossno). Two backup cars, an Eagle (4x) and an Okie (12B), did not compete. Maxim also built the most Oval Nationals cars last year. In 2017 Maxim led with 15 cars, followed by Spike-nine, DRC-eight, and Triple X-four.

Generous 410 sprint car supporter “Big” Mike Grosswendt (6' 9”) again added money to the purse via his All-Coast Construction firm despite major concern about the health of his wife. He deserves to be inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame. He was the 2018 Oval Nationals Grand Marshal. Tom and Laurie Sertich, long-time USAC-CRA sprint car owners, were much-deserved co-Grand Marshals this year. Both received the destinctiive jackets presented by promoter Donnie Kazarian each year to PAS grand marshals.

PROGRAM: The $5.00 Oval Nationals color printed program was 40-pages and excellent as usual. K. Thomas, Jr. and his 2018 Oval Nationals winning car were on the cover. It contained an accurate entry roster, point standings, numerous 5” X 7” color action photos, a page with photos of all prior Oval Nationals winning drivers/cars, PAS racing column, California Sprint Week winners photo page, and ads.

The daily temperatures at Perris for the 2019 event were in the mid-60s to mid-70s each night. As expected, spectator attendance grew daily to about 90% in the front straight grandstand on Saturday. Many thought the 2019 grandstand attendance topped the 2018 event crowd. Of course, the pits were crowded all three nights.

FLIPS: Matt McCarthy (28m) flipped in the first turn during Wednesday practice. The team replaced the front end and raced the same car the next three nights. There were four flips Thursday: T. Courtney and Chase Johnson (qualifying), plus Jason McDougal and Sterling Cling in heat five on L1 entering turn one. Friday: one in time trials-C. Johnson again; Saturday: one- Austin Liggett rollover on lap 36 of the feature.

Five heat races Thursday & Friday were ten laps each with the first six starters inverted by qualifying times. As usual all were competitive events. P 1-4 advanced to features each night; in order winners came from P. 4, 6, 6, 2, 6 (Thurs.) and P. 2, 1, 1, 5, 4 (Fri.). Saturday had four 10-lap heats and transferred only P. 1-2 to the feature. Winners came from P. 1, 4, 2, 4.

SUPER SIX DASH: The six drivers with the highest Oval Nationals points after the first two nights did not have to run in time trials Saturday. They were: Bacon (283 pts), Courtney (266), Justin Grant (264), R. VanderWeerd (256), Leary (245) and Stockon (242). Austin Williams (239) was seventh. The top six locked into the first three rows of the feature. They raced in a fully inverted dash by their event point totals; their finishing positions set feature starting positions one through six. They were: Leary, Stockon, Grant, Bacon, Courtney and non-finisher VanderWeerd.

MAIN EVENTS: (Thurs.)-27 of 28 starters were racing at the finish with 25 on the lead lap. There were three yellow flags at laps 5, 17 and 23. (Fri.)-20 of 27 starters finished with 18 on the lead lap. (Sat.)-24 of 28 starters finished with 21 on the lead lap. Nights one and two respectively were named the Bill and Evelyn Pratt mains to honor the late long-time CRA car owners. Last year there were 26 starters and this year had 28 including four provisional starters.

Feature leaders: B. Bacon (Hoffman Chevy) led all 30 laps on Thursday and Friday. Thursday was his first ever PAS feature victory after 26 prior starts at the track. Saturday had two leaders: C. Stockon (L 1-16), Leary (L 17-40). Hard Chargers: Feature hard chargers were: Hunter Schuerenberg (11 positions - 23rd to 12th); R. VanderWeerd (11 positions -19th to eighth); K. Thomas, Jr. (10 positions -16th to sixth).

SATURDAY AWARDS: The 2019 Oval Nationals Ray Scheetz Memorial crew chief award went for the sixth time to Leary's feature winning No. 19az crew chief Davey Jones, son of NSCHoF inductee Bubby Jones. Leary won Saturday's John Jory halfway lap leader award. Cody Williams won the hard work award. Champions of the three USAC sprint car series are: USAC National-Leary for the first time, by 18-points over Courtney; USAC-CRA – D. Gardner for the eighth time by 71-points over Austin Williams, and USAC Southwest – B. Roa for the first time by 18-points over R. J. Johnson.

FINAL PASSING MASTER POINTS: 17- Kaeding, 15 - A. Williams, 15 - Thomas, Jr., 14 - Gardner, 14 - R. VanderWeerd, 14 – 14 – J. Swanson, 13 – Grant, 13 – Roa, 13 – C. Bonneau, 12 – C. Williams.

PIT NOTES: USAC-CRA car owner Dwight Cheney entered a pair of No. 42 Maxims for drivers B. Roa and J. McDougal. McDougal started outside row one in heat five Thursday. Inside row one starter Sterling Cling ran into McDougal on lap one entering turn one. Both cars flipped wildly. McDougal stopped upright on the embankment after three hard flips. He walked to the ambulance and later went to a local hospital to be evaluated for a possible concussion. He had a sore neck and hand, but returned to the pits Saturday to spectate. He raced the Grau No. 34 the next weekend in Arizona.

Cheney told me his new 2019 Maxim had only 28 laps on it and was totally destroyed. He said even the engine block was cracked and the crash cost him about $70,000. He cut up the remains at home and trashed them. Dwight said he bought a new Maxim Silver Crown car for McDougal to race in the Midwest next season as the Racing Optics No. 42.

Knowledgeable USAC traveling pit announcer Georgia Henneberry and PAS announcer Chris Holt expertly handled Oval Nationals pit interviews as usual. ... Tuxedo-clad track PA announcer Scott Daloisio as usual introduced each of the 28 Saturday feature drivers from the start/finish infield stage. Then spotlighted drivers walked to their cars on the front straight with track lights dimmed.

Cody Williams is owner/driver of the former John Jory No. 44 Spike Chevy this season. He operated it part-time on his own dime with one major sponsor—Trench Shoring. He took it to races in the ex-Heidi Tressler sprint car team small enclosed trailer. Heidi, a former 360 ci sprint car driver at Victorville and Perris, is now Cody's wife and mother of his two young children. ... Cody's dad Rip, a NSCHoF inductee, said his son Austin will be driving the Sertich No. 92 again in 2020. Youngest son Logan sat out the 2019 season for lack of funds, but he would drive if he had a ride. Former car owner Jory currently has his large race car hauler for sale. Rip said owner/driver Bill Rose is considering it for his Indiana-based team.

R. VanderWeerd celebrated two years of marriage after the Oval Nationals and said there is no baby news yet. His fellow 410 sprint driver and twin brother Jace is still single. ... Will Perkins (No. 50) used a 360 engine. ... Charles Davis, Jr. is owner/driver of the yellow No. 47 which was his dad's racing number. He raced it as the orange No. 50 Massey Chevy last season in memory of Massey, who passed away two years ago. ... The PAS Oval Nationals 2020 race dates are Thur.-Sat. November 5-7. The silver anniversary of the event should be even more anticipated.