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RACING SCENE - (Ventura TNGP Midgets) - Part 6 of 6

RACING SCENE - (Ventura TNGP Midgets) - Part 6 of 6


USAC Turkey Night GP 360 sprint cars also had a team with multi-cars and near duplicate car numbers. Steve Watt, of Ventura, again entered his four-car green/black/white No. 81 fleet. He had four sprinters this year at Ventura. Tyler Courtney, from Indianapolis, drove his No. 81 Maxwell Industries Maxim. Cody Majors, from Simi Valley, raced the ARP No. 81M Maxim. Teenager Slater Helt, from Missouri, drove the No. 81S PAC Racing CS9 chassis. Michael Pickens, from New Zealand, raced the No. 81X ARP Maxim.

Last year Watt's four sprint cars were a pink No. 14 for Helt, No. 81 for Pickens, No. 81M for Courtney, and No. 81X for Stewart Friesen. The latter three cars were Watts' usual green and black colors with white numbers. Only veteran sprint car, big block modifieds, and NASCAR truck racer Friesen did not qualify for the 30-lap feature. The other three Watts sprinters all raced in Wednesday's 20-lap feature. On Thursday they finished the 30-lap main event first (Courtney), eighth (Helt) and ninth (Pickens).

At the 2016 Ventura TNGP Watt's five No. 81 sprinters had Brody Roa in No. 81, a CS9 chassis, Tristan Guardino in 81M, a Maxim, Michael Pickens in 81S, a CS9, Dennis Rodriguez in 81T, a Maxim, and Trey Marcham, in 81X, a Maxim. In the 30-lap feature Pickens finished second, Courtney eighth and Marcham 11th, with Roa a DNF after 18 laps. In 2016 Watt owned the No. 81 that Courtney Crone, 15, drove to the PAS Young Guns (drivers age 14-25) championship at Perris Auto Speedway.

Alex Bowman, a NASCAR Monster Cup Rick Hendricks driver from Tucson, Ariz., entered a Stewart/Stanton SR-11 in Ventura's 2018 TNGP. His driver was USAC National Series driver C.J. Leary, from Indiana. Bowman is a past USAC Western Ford Focus Midget champion in his family-owned No. 55. He competed one year as a TNGP driver in Perris aboard the Tres Van Dyne No. 5 midget but he did not fare well. Leary and Bowman will race a pair of No. 55 Bowman-owned midgets in the 2019 Tulsa Chili Bowl. Alex is another NASCAR Cup driver who hasn't forgotten his dirt track roots.

Long-time Nor Cal sprint car Clyde Lamar, (No. 3c Tri-C Machine) entered a 2018 Spike/Stanton SR-11 this year at Ventura's TNGP. His driver Tanner Thorson, from Minden, Nev., was one of three past TNGP winners in the 2018 field. Thorson, now 22, won the 2015 TNGP feature in Perris driving the No. 67 for Keith Kunz. This season Thorson expanded his racing efforts and raced a partial season in NASCAR. He drove the No. 20 Chevy truck when Austin Dillon was not available. Chris Windom, another USAC National driver, raced the No. 54 Toyota truck in the final 2018 race at Homestead, Florida.

FLIPS: There were six flips in five sprint car heat races Wednesday night. Thursday had one flip in the semi-main and one flip in the 30-lap feature for a total of eight flips in the 360 sprint car division. Midgets had one flip during Thursday time trials and four flips during the semi-main for a total of five.

Qualifying by 61 drivers who posted times for the 2018 TNGP had a narrow spread of only 1.417 from fastest (12.425) to slowest (13.842). A late and first-time TNGP midget entry was the No. 45 of Jake Morgan, from Fair Oaks, California. ... Popular open-wheel and NASCAR 2017-18 drivers Chase Briscoe and Stewart Friesen raced in Ventura's 2017 TNGP, but were not present this year. Both had successful NASCAR 2018 seasons and have promising futures in NASCAR.

The 2018 TNGP hard charger was Jerry Coons, Jr who raced from 20th starting spot to ninth at the finish. ... Logan Seavey, 21, from Sutter, Calif.,won the USAC National Midget driving championship by 101 points over Arizonan Chad Boat, who surpassed Brady Bacon by 15-points on the final night of the 2018 campaign. ... Georgia Henneberry, 20, from St. Louis, handled on-track interviews expertly on Thanksgiving as she did two weeks earlier at the PAS Oval Nationals. She is the girlfriend of driver Chris Windom, who did not race in Ventura.


An unusual three car midget team from Colorado in the 2018 TNGP was husband and wife drivers Lance and Olivia Bennett, from Aurora. Blaze Bennett, Lance's brother from Parker, Colo., drove the third car. Blaze qualified 37th fastest, Lance 56th and Olivia 61st in speed order. In 17-car heat races Lance finished 15th in heat one. In heat three Olivia started 17th and finished 11th with 13 cars on the track. Blaze started ninth in heat three, but did not finish and placed 14th.

Robert Dalby, 18, moved up from fourth to third in final 2018 USAC Western Midget points driving the No. 4d Ken Dalby Spike/Esslinger. The teen from Anaheim will race in the indoor Du Quoin, Ill. USAC special event during December for the Brad Loyet team. He also is expected to be among the 360+ entrants in the January, 2019 Chili Bowl. With all of his growing experience Dalby should be a contender for USAC West Series feature victories next season.

Ricky Lewis, from Oxnard, is now 20. His first midget race was November 17 at Bakersfield Speedway. He raced the same Kelly Nichols-owned No. 1P Spike/Chevy in the TNGP six nights later. In his second midget event (TNGP) Ricky qualified 53rd fastest of 61 drivers with times. He finished 16th in his 17-car, 12-lap heat race and did not transfer onward.

Lewis started racing in quarter midgets. He later raced his family No. 11 Bandolero car powered by a Briggs & Stratton engine. The entry-level division for youngsters age 7 to 16 raced on the third-mile paved oval at the half-mile Irwindale Speedway and ran lap speeds of 65-68 mph. Ricky, 12, won his first “Bando” 20-lap main in May, 2011 in a 17-car field. He won his second 20-lap main a month later in a 13-car field. Bandoleros raced at IS 27 times in 2011; Ricky won twice. With IS idle in 2012 Ricky raced elsewhere. In 2013, Ricky, 14, won five of ten Bandolero mains at IS in 11 to 14 car fields. He raced dwarf cars in subsequent years on dirt at Ventura and tried a 360 sprint car.

Austin Liggett, 22, from Tracy, won the 2018 USAC West Coast 360 sprint car championship in his family-owned No.83 Maxim. He made his first TNGP midget start in the No. 67x Mike & Britton Bock 2016 Spike/Esslinger. It was only his third race in a midget. His first midget race came at the Tulsa Chili Bowl and second in a USAC West Series race at Tulare on April 14, 2018. Austin was the 31st quickest of 61 TNGP qualifiers.

Austin's dad, mom and sister were in the Ventura pits helping him and said he received a phone call offering him the Bock midget ride about a week before the TNGP. The Bock team ran BCRA races during 2018 and did not have a USAC provisional berth for the feature. They had to race their way into the 98-lap feature. Austin did just that Thursday. In a 17-car third qualifying heat, Austin started seventh and finished sixth. He then started sixth in the 15-lap last chance race with 18 starters.

Only the first four finishers in the LCQ made the feature and Austin was fifth on the final lap. He made a daring outside move from turn four to the finish line and to pass Robert Dalby by inches and earn the 26th (final) starting position. Dalby was fourth in 2018 USAC Western points so he used one of two provisional berths open to USAC Western drivers. He started 30th (last) and also raced in the 98-lap feature. Dalby finished a commendable 14thwith 25 cars on the track. Austin dropped out of the feature after 54 laps and placed 27th.

KKM SEASON RECAP: On December 4 Chuck Gurney, Jr., a long-time Keith Kunz employee/pit crew member, posted an interesting tweet. He listed Keith Kunz Motor-sports season summary -- 56 race nights, 353 cars entered, 31 wins. 2,647.5 quarts of Mobil Oil used, 14 drivers, eight drivers with at least one main event win, two championships (USAC National and POWRi).

Chuck, Jr. thanked KKM drivers Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson, Rico Abreu, Logan Seavey, brothers Tanner and Blake Carrick, Holly Shelton, Tucker Klaasmeyer, Ryan Robinson, Sam Johnson, Spencer Bayston, Maria Cofer, Holley Hollan, and Jesse Colwell. Kunz provided two decorated cakes in the Ventura TNGP pits to celebrate the the two championships with Seavey and Klassmeyer and the team.

Last year Chuck, Jr. tweeted the following KKM 2017 season totals – 59 events, 277 entries, 33 wins, 2,100+ quarts of Mobil Oil, 26 front ends, and 11 drivers. Holdover KKM drivers are Bell, Larson, Abreu, Shelton, Robinson, and Bayston. Another was Tanner Thorson all year. Others ran a few races.

Chuck, Jr. led early laps of the 2008 TNGP at Irwindale until a mechanical problem sidelined his midget. He then went to Mexico and married his wife Heather. They now have a daughter Ella, 8, and son Tate, 6, who has a strong interest in racing. Chuck, Jr. laments that he once declined an offer to race for KKM. However, he won the important 2009 “Night before the 500” Midget race in Indiana for the team he drove for at the time.

Chuck, Jr., 35, retired as a driver shortly thereafter and started building lightweight, but strong, steering wheels for sale and still does so. He also has worked for KKM many years and enjoys life these days as a family man. His father Chuck, the 1988-89 two-time TNGP winner at Ascot, will turn 70 in April and still resides in Nor Cal. Chuck's late father Gene was a midget feature winning driver and star during the 1950s-60s in BCRA (Nor Cal) sanctioning body founded in 1939.

Retired CRA and USAC driver Brad Noffsinger operates a two-midget team for Vermont-based car owner Frank Manafort from Brad's shop in North Carolina. The Beast/Toyota cars used No. 76M (for Manafort) and 76E (for Elliott Connor, a friend of Manafort). Drivers were Brady Bacon and Justin Grant; they finished seventh and tenth respectively in the 98-lap feature. As usual, Bob East (Beast chassis owner/builder) was in the Manafort pit assisting Brad. He used the same Ventura pit stall closest to the ocean as in the past. He resided in their hauler/coach instead of driving each night to a hotel. So you might say they had ocean-front property.

Grant split recently with the No. 17BC Clauson-Marshall team. That Spike/Stanton SR-11 ride went to rookie Cole Bodine, 20, of Rossville, Ind., about 30-miles west of Kokomo. He told me he is not related to NASCAR's three Bodine brothers from Chemung, N.Y. Bodine wore a NOS Energy Drink uniform with the name “Sunshine” on it. It is the nickname of team driver Tyler Courtney, who loaned Bodine one of his spare uniforms because it had sponsor NOS Energy on the chest.

Bodine told me he began racing in micros at the eighth-mile, semi-banked clay US 24 Speedway in Logansport, Indiana. He raced in the 2018 Chili Bowl in Kevin Ramey's No. 7M Spike/Esslinger and made a D-main Saturday. He helped on the Clauson-Marshall team in 2018 doing whatever needed to be done hoping to get a midget ride eventually. Cole even drove the team's 18-wheel hauler to Ventura and back to Indiana.

His break happened when Grant departed the No. 17BC midget this fall and Cole got the ride. He qualified the No. 17BC 15th fastest, started 15th in the 98-lap main, and finished 11th with 17 drivers on the lead leap. Bodine was the second highest finishing TNGP rookie and runner-up for the Don Basile Rookie of the Race trophy and $500 bonus cash. He recently received the Tony Elliott Scholarship to race in the 2019 Chili Bowl.


Jesse Colwell, 19, from Red Bluff, Calif., qualified 11th fastest of 61 qualifiers in only his second full-midget ride for KKM (No. 71X). His first start was November 17 at Bakersfield. Jesse started on the pole and led all 12-laps to make the TNGP feature, where he started 11th and finished 13th with 17 cars completing all 98-laps. That was the fourth best result among nine turkey night rookies in the race.

Sam Johnson, a KKM rookie from St. Louis, told me he was too young to race at the Chili Bowl in 1998 because he was only 15. He turned 16 on October 18 and will race in Tulsa during the January 2019 event. Sam used a USAC National provisional to start 27th and finished 23rd, down a lap. He was lapped on lap 87 by his teammates Bell and Larson battling for the the lead.

Grady Chandler, an 18-year old Piedmont, Oklahoma resident, drove the No. 7u Spike/Esslinger. He said he has run in the Tulsa Chili Bowl twice and plans to return next month. ... Rob Lindsey, 19, came from Sherwood, Oregon to race his Triple X/SRE 360 sprint car (No. 23S) in his first Ventura visit. He said he raced a sprinter several times with the King of the Wing Series at Irwindale about two or three years ago.

That's all folks.