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RACING SCENE (PAS WoO & USAC-CRA SPRINTS)

RACING SCENE (PAS WoO & USAC-CRA SPRINTS)
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Four sprint car classes, with 63 total cars and 176 racing laps, attracted spectators to the Perris Auto Speedway (PAS) half-mile clay track Saturday, April 1. That's not an April Fool's Day joke. An all-sprint car program with four sprint car division--two using 410 cu. in. engines and two with 360 cu. in. engines--provided action all night. Racing started at 7:10 and concluded at 11:33 pm. About 85 to 90% of the grandstand seating was occupied by local and traveling sprint car fans.

Touring Craftsman World of Outlaws winged 410s and Amsoil USAC-CRA non-winged 410s were joined by two PAS 360 divisions—Young Guns (ages 14-25) and Senior Sprints (ages 45 and over). WoO teams pitted outside the first turn and team quads pushed cars to the infield for qualifying and races. WoO pits were closer to the main grandstand this year and fans in the grandstand could watch WoO teams work on their cars behind a temporary wire fence. A gate allowed persons with pit passes to cross from the grandstand to WoO pits.

Car counts by divisions were:

  > 26 WoO
  > 22 USAC-CRA
  > 9 Senior Sprints
  > 6 Young Guns
for a total of 63 sprinters.

USAC-CRA teams had two flips—A. Williams (in TT and brother L. Williams in the main). Both John Jory-owned cars received heavy damage. WoO experienced two flips, both in the feature in the second corner. One of the cars restarted.

The PAS winged WoO one-lap track record is 13.875 by Danny Lasoski on 2/23/02. The 2017 WoO quick time at PAS was 14.468 by Brad Sweet, the seventh of 26 qualifiers from 6:42-6:59. Sweet was 0.593 off the WoO track record. By comparison, the non-wing USAC-CRA one-lap track record is 15.833 by Nic Faas on 2/25/12. Damion Gardner, the second of 22 qualifiers between 5:56-6:17, set the quickest USAC-CRA time of 16.568. Gardner's time was 0.735 off the USAC-CRA PAS record. USAC-CRA quick time was 2.100 seconds slower than the WoO 2017 fastest time at PAS.

The WoO souvenir trailer and WoO team souvenir trailers were parked inside the main entrance. Fans made purchases of driver t-shirts and gear all night. The regular PAS USAC-CRA printed program was not printed. The $5.00 WoO 2017 yearbook/race program included an insert with 27 WoO entrants listed. Three listed drivers--Rico Abreu, Lance Norrick and Aussie James McFadden--were no shows. Write-in additions were Californian Carson Macedo in Tommy Tarlton's No. 21x and Arizonan Stevie Sussex III in the Buffalo Wild Wings No. 82 out of South Dakota.

The Friday, March 31 WoO race (won by Logan Schuchart) in Hanford had 31 cars present. Among the missing at PAS were: brothers Tim and Bud Kaeding, R. Abreu, J. McFadden, and Sean Watts. Four other WoO Hanford drivers—Cory Eliason, Kyle Hirst, D. J. Netto and Dominic Scelzi—raced Saturday in the new winged 360 series—Sprint Car Challenge Tour. The SCCT inaugural race at the 3/8-mile clay Antioch Speedway had 58 cars from northern and central California. The event ran five heats, a C-main, two semis, and a 30-lap feature that concluded about midnight. Eliason, a 25-year old 360/410 owner/driver from Kingsburg, led all 30 laps. Hirst and Netto finished in the top ten.

The 2017 WoO PAS car count of 26 was the highest since 27 cars competed in WoO's 2012 PAS race. In 2013 through 2016 order, PAS WoO car counts were 21, 16, 17, and 21. The PAS race this year was the 12th in a 95 race season during WoO's 40th season. The toughest season in racing crosses the nation from mid-February in Florida to November 4 in North Carolina. Five drivers have won the first 12 WoO features this season.

The 26 WoO drivers in Perris represented 13 states and one foreign nation. California led with four drivers. Indiana, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania had three drivers each. Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee each had two representatives. Arizona, Connecticut, Louisiana, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Washington each had one driver, as did Australia.

Tayler Malsam, from Washington, drove the Keith Rudeen No. 26. Local pit helpers included Irwindale Speedway former late model and legend car driver Tony Green and his father. Tayler, 28, raced years ago at Irwindale. He then moved east and raced in two NASCAR national touring series. Tayler raced 37 times in the Xfinity Series from 2010-12 and had one top ten. He raced in the Camping World Truck Series 51 times from 2010-2014 and had 16 top tens.

WoO drivers who raced at PAS for the first time included third-generation driver Sheldon Haudenschild, 23-year old son of sprint car winner Jac and his wife Patti (Sweeney), of Wooster, Ohio. Patti's brother is multi-feature winning CRA driver Mike Sweeney and her father is the late CRA sprint and USAC midget driver Max Sweeney. Sheldon is a clean-cut, cordial young man and a fast-rising star in WoO. He raced and won for two seasons in the mid-western ASCoC touring 410 sprint car series. He finished in the top ten in 2015-16 ASCoC points.

Sheldon, named for late USAC sprint car champion Sheldon Kinser, uses No. 93 on his self-owned Triple X sprint car because he was born in 1993. I pick him right now as 2017 WoO rookie of the year. He is a quick learner and fast on tracks he has never seen or driven. He should be even better this season on tracks where he won ASCoC features. Sheldon led all the way in his 8-lap PAS heat race. He started the feature fourth and finished third in the 30-lap main.

Clyde Knipp, a 19-year old owner-driver from California, MO., raced his own No. 13 Triple X chassis. Jared Goerges, from Minnesota, had his WoO western swing interrupted by an engine failure and trip back home to rebuild it before rejoining the WoO tour. He flipped at PAS but restarted. Brent Marks, 26, is another WoO driver with Pennsylvania roots. Parker Price-Miller, 18, made his PAS sprint car debut. In his only other PAS race, the Kokomo, IN resident set the fastest qualifying time in his midget at the November 2013 USAC Turkey Night Grand Prix. All four drivers are 2017 WoO rookies.

Cori Andrews, 18-year old recent high school graduate from Murrieta, raced her CLS winged mini-sprint as a rookie at PAS several years ago. She had her silver No. 22 winged sprint car on display behind the PAS main grandstand during the season opening USAC-CRA race on March 11. She then made the WoO western swing and made a main event. According to her dad, Cori wants to race full-time 70 to 90 times a year. So WoO, not USAC, is her goal. Her dad said Cori works hard to get sponsorship for her car and has 12 sponsors so far. Cori and her dad will tow to compete with WoO April 7-8 in Arizona. She will race this season primarily at central California speedways in Tulare and Hanford.

Sunny 70+ degrees with light wind until race time greeted WoO teams. They departed from Hanford (south of Fresno) right after Friday competition. Most WoO teams travel at night to avoid crowded freeways in California and get to a race the next night. PAS management allowed teams to park in the pits early and set-up for Saturday racing. Teams appreciated that gesture.

WoO teams headed out of Perris and drove directly to Arizona. WoO had a group rate at the Cocopah Indian-tribe owned Cocopah Hotel & Casino just east of Yuma. The tribe owns the 3/8-mile clay Cocopah Speedway, about nine miles from Yuma in Somerton, AZ. WoO teams will be able to prep their cars, get needed R & R, plus gamble as well at the Cocopah Casino. It will be the first time WoO has raced at Cocopah and the third-mile, semi-banked Queen Creek track east of Phoenix near Mesa.

The 2017 WoO event was the 18th time the four-decade old series has raced at The PAS. Remarkably, Donny Schatz, the 1997 WoO rookie of the year and third most prolific feature winner with 229 through 2016, has not won a PAS feature. The same is true for all-time WoO feature winner and 20-time WoO champion Steve Kinser, who has 577 WoO main event triumphs. Second all-time WoO winner Sammy Swindell has 294 WoO main event wins, but he was not on the 2017 WoO western tour.

There have been 124 different WoO winners to date from the first race in Texas during March 1978. Drivers from CRA sprint car ranks on the WoO feature winners list (with total wins in parenthesis) are: Ron Shuman (14), Jimmy Sills (6), Johnny Anderson (4), Brent Kaeding (4), Lee James (3), Lealand McSpadden (2), plus one-time winners Jimmy Boyd, Jim Edwards, Rick Goudy and Buster Venard. ... WoO's 39 seasons show only nine drivers have won WoO driving championships. They are: S. Kinser (20 times), D. Schatz (8), S. Swindell (3), Mark Kinser (2) and Californian Jason Meyers (2). Solo champions are: Bobby Davis, Jr., Dave Blaney, Danny Lasoski and Daryl Pittman.

The USAC-CRA field had a pair of rookies who are CLS veterans. James Heling made his first 410 start and CHP rookie officer Jeff Dyer, made his third start in Cal Smith's No. 39. Heling finished 14th (last) in the 22-car feature, but he ran all 30 laps and looked comfortable doing so. Brady Bacon, from Oklahoma, was a surprise entrant in both WoO and USAC-CRA. He drove a pair of Keith Ford No. 73 cars and both pit with WoO teams.

Bacon started fifth and finished sixth in the third WoO heat at 7:50. He did not start the USAC-CRA third heat at 8:17. Both Bacon and Damion Gardner had flights from So Cal to Indiana that night. They had rides in the USAC Silver Crown “Sumar Classic” season opener at the half-mile clay Terre Haute Action Track, 75-miles west of Indianapolis. Both drivers made their commercial flights and raced at Terre Haute, where hot laps started at 3:30, qualifying at 4:40 and racing at 5:15.

At Teree Haute Bacon (Martens No. 48) set sixth FQ time in a 31 car field. Gardner (Klatt No. 6) was 27th quickest and had to race in the 15-lap Last Chance Qualifer (LCQ), where he started 11th and finished third. In the 100-lap main, Bacon finished sixth and Gardner eighth for successful results despite tiring overnight flights east to get there.

WoO traveling announcer Johnny Gibson announced all WoO events. PAS chief announcer Scott Daloisio announced the other three division races. Scott told fans during the event that Courtney Crone, the now 16-year old PAS 2016 Young Gun champion, had just won a 30-lap BCRA midget main event at Madera Speedway. She drove Jerome Rodela's No. 25 midget and beat runner-up Chad Nichols, the 2016 BCRA champion.

Scott also told fans over the PA system that Tony Stewart just won a sprint car main on dirt at Ocala, Florida. He also said Dave Darland and Chase Stockon just flipped wildly together in turn one on the first lap of the USAC sprint car main in Lawrenceburg, IN. Both escaped injury. Chris Windom won that feature and then traveled northwest and won the USAC S/C 100 in Terre Haute the next evening.

360 DIVISIONS: The six driver YG field had four rookies, including first timers Triston Sparks, a 15-year old kart racer from Bakersfield, in Cory Kruseman's No. 3k, and Gary Marshall, Jr., of Pomona. Joel Rayborne, 14, made his second sprint car start. Other young guns were Timmy Fritch, Daniel Anderson and Hannah Mayhew. Only three of six starters finished the ten-lap main with Anderson, Rayborne and Marshall 1-2-3.

Rick Hendrix, 64, swept the senior sprints 8-lap heat and 20-lap feature. March 11 senior winner Richard McCormick, 58, and Ed Schwarz followed in the main. Trump supporter Eddie Tafoya said he is pleased so far with his candidate's performance since January 20. Eddie had two Victory chassis No. 51 cars in his pit. Both had 410 engines, but his senior sprint car had the 410 restricted to race with senior division 360 engines.

The Young Gun main ran from 8:42-8:55, followed by the WoO 6-lap Dash and 12-lap LCS with eight drivers vying for the final six spots in the feature. Malsam led all the way from the pole. The Senior Sprint main started at 9:27 followed by interviews. USAC-CRA drivers walked through the grandstand with their helmets to collect donations for the American Cancer Society. PAS management has done this for 13 years and has donated to the ACS more than $130,000 so far.

The USAC-CRA 30-lap main started at 10:14 and had a flip-caused red flag and six-minute delay on lap 21. It finished at 10:39. WoO ran 30-laps from 11:01 to 11:33 with two flips on laps 11 (Price-Miller) and 16 (Goerges) consuming 14 minutes. Nearly all fans remained in place to the final checkers. The WoO race had 21 finishers with 19 on the lead lap. WoO payoffs were $10,000 to the winner tailing-off to $800 for P. 17-24.

The second place battle between Brad Sweet (the March 29 WoO/USAC Western Midgets promoter at Placerville) and Sheldon Haudenschild was captivating. They traded second four times on laps 12, 13, 16 and 17. Dominant Schatz continued his PAS win-less record with fourth place after starting seventh. The clean/respected racer from N. Dakota has best PAS finishes of third (twice) and fifth in 2016. Schatz reached fourth on the lap 11 restart, but he could not catch the top three drivers.

Schatz has won six WoO feature victories so far in the first 12 events through PAS. His WoO career total now stands at 235, only 59 behind S. Swindell. Schatz won 31 WoO 2015 mains and 25 in 2016. So he could become the all-time second leading WoO winner next season. Kinser's 577 WoO victories seem beyond reach, but Steve raced full-time to age 60+. Schatz, who will turn 40 this year, drives for Tony Stewart Racing so his team is solid for the long term. If he averages 23 WoO wins per year for the next 15 years, Schatz would top Kinser with 580 and still be “only” 55-years old.

Cordial David Gravel, a 24-year old from Watertown, CT, is the next WoO superstar. He had 16 WoO victories prior to 2017 and has added three more this season in California—at Tulare, Placerville and Perris. He now stands tied for 20th all-time with 19 WoO feature wins. His prior two WoO seasons have been split between several rides. This season he has a full-time ride with CJB Motor-sports in the No. 5 GF-1 chassis in which he conclude last season. Gravel drove the No. 6 car two years ago for recuperating owner/driver Bill Rose. With the ex-No. 51 CJB GF-1 that Paul McMahan drove last year, it seems certain that Gravel's feature victories will be in double digits in 2017.

WoO QUOTES: The top three drivers stopped at the finish line for interviews. Winner/P. 2 starter Gravel said, “The track rubbered-up. I had to be careful. I tried to keep lapped cars between my car and second place. The key was getting the lead on the high side at the start..” He thanked his crew and added, “All I have to do is drive it. I'm glad to get another win. California has always been nice to me. Sorry we're leaving.” ... Pole-starter/runner-up Sweet stated, “I didn't want to let David get away. He got runs on the restarts. I had a great car all night. I caught him (lap 11) but the flag came out.” ... P. 3 Haudenschild matched his WoO career-best feature finish and was on the podium for the second time in 2017. He said, “I wanted to get second position to get a shot at David. I had a restart from second but I didn't get a good enough jump. It's huge for us having Bonzai as our crew chief and he's experienced here in Perris.”