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USAC-CRA Sprints at PAS

USAC-CRA Sprints at PAS


Los Angeles, CA. - The 12th USAC-CRA 410 cu. in. sprint car season opened its 26 race date season March 7 at Perris Auto Speedway. The short half-mile PAS began its 20th consecutive racing season with 2,000+ persons present to watch open-wheel racing at a perfect arena. Promoter Donnie Kazarian took the portable mic in front of the grandstand and saluted long-time, loyal PAS employees prior to the first race. He also thanked Kim for her long-hours, first as a track employee who later became his wife. PAS has now surpassed $100,000 in donations by PAS management and fans to the City of Perris Relay for Life and American Cancer Society. Drivers went through the grandstand with their helmets and fans donated cash to increase the on-going track charitable donation.

Kazarian asked spectators how many were present for the first PAS race in 1996. J. J. Yeley won that sprint car feature in the orange No. 7a from Phoenix. He was busy Saturday racing a NASCAR stock car at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Asked how many people were seeing their first race at PAS, some spectators raised their hands. Donnie asked why it was their first PAS visit. One answered, “I live 2,000 miles from here.” Another said, “I'm from New Zealand.” PAS fame has spread and people from cold climates would enjoy the 79 degrees temp at 5:00 pm. It was still 59 when racing concluded at 9:55 pm.

CAR COUNTS: There were 28 USAC-CRA cars, 15 PAS Senior Sprints (360 cu. in.), and four PAS Young Gun (360) sprinters. It appears a youth movement is taking hold in So Cal sprint car racing. The four 14-21 year old young guns included two first-time sprint car drivers. Justin Dunn, a 19-year old first-time sprint car driver from Riverside, is a four-year PAS stock car racing veteran (No. 14J Camaro). He drove the No. 55G TCR chassis that came from Nebraska. He plans to renumber it as 14. He finished third, down a lap in the three-car main. “It was a lot of fun. It's harder to drive these cars than its looks from up there,” he told spectators.

Courtney Crone, who tested her sprint car ride at PAS the prior Friday night and ran low 18-second laps, celebrated her 14th birthday racing one of two No. 81 Maxims owned by Steve Watt. The diminutive driver said she loves going fast and raced well. She is a veteran of quarter midgets, karts, speedway bikes and Ford Focus midgets. Wally Pankratz is her driving coach. She closed on veteran young gun 2014 feature winner George Morris at lap 7 of the 15-lap feature. Courtney, from Chino, tried to pass on the inside at turn three. She settled for second, 35-yards back in her first feature.

Malyssa Perkins (nee Young) drove the No. 0K Victory chassis to second place in the young gun six-lap heat. The fuel pump broke as she pulled to the pits so she did not start the YG main. Malyssa married sprint car driver Kenny Perkins on 11/9/14 right after the PAS Oval Nationals. Kenny, from Oak Hills, said he returned to So Cal last year from working in oil production at North Dakota because “it's too cold there.” Kenny said he will race the Perkins No. 0K 360 sprint car with VRA in Ventura. He said they sold their 410 sprint car to a buyer in the Midwest.

SENIORS: The 360 senior sprints car count of 15 picked up from where it concluded last season. Fifteen cars in this class that races for trophies is solid. Cars look good and veteran drivers race hard for top positions. With drivers age 45+, one senior came from Fairbanks, Alaska and another came from Florida. Three past PAS Senior champions raced and one of them, Bruce Douglass, from Ventura, won the 20-lap season opener. Unfortunately, the other two PAS Senior champs—Rick Hendrix and Bill Badger—flipped in the same crash on lap 6 in the second turn low groove. Only car damage resulted. Chris Wakim, a past TQ midget and VRA 360 sprint car winner, was runner-up, five yards back. Richard McCormicki, 58, placed third. Richard's No. 71 Steve Luport 360 Chevy is the ex-No. 45 TCR chassis he bought from Harlan Willis. It was Damion Gardner's ex-ride for Willis.

410s: The USAC-CRA feature started 22 cars. There were no provisional starters. Richard Vander Weerd, from Visalia, was dominant. Starting fifth, he was fourth after one lap, third on lap 3, and the leader after taking the point from Matt Mitchell on lap 8 with an outside pass in turn four. Richard quickly opened a 15-yard lead. Despite a red flag for Logan Williams' lap 18 flip, the Vander Weerd twin had a 20-yard victory margin over Austin Williams at the lap 30 checkers. Both drivers should be proud of finishing ahead of usual PAS dominant drivers Mike Spencer and Damion Gardner, who were about 30-yards behind P. 2 as they crossed the finish line virtually nose-to-tail.

The top 12 finishers were on the lead lap. P. 13-18 finished one lap down. DNFs included P. 19 R. J. Johnson, who said his No. 51 dropped out (from P. 9) two laps from the finish because “I was throwing oil and didn't want to blow the engine.” Jace Vander Weerd (Richard's twin) dropped out of P. 15 on lap 22. Johnny Bluntach's No. 58 had a broken drive-shaft on lap 15 that caused his 22nd place finish. Speaking of Bluntachl, the LA County Deputy Sheriff completed his three years as a jailer at the LA central jail Friday. On Monday, March 9 he started as a field patrol deputy out of the Lakewood Sheriff station.

ROOKIE OF YEAR BATTLE: This USAC-CRA honor should be hotly contested in 2015. Four rookies raced March 7 at PAS and two made the main event. Parker Colston, 16, is an impressive 2014 PAS Young Gun graduate. The Lake Elsinore resident drives the same No. 64 florescent red-orange Maxim as last year and set 15th fastest qualifying time. He was running 14th on lap 25 when contact with P. 2 A. Williams caused the No. 64 LF tire to go flat. He slowed and finished 17th.

Michael Curtis is a 20-year old from Cottonwood, AZ who drives a Triple X chassis that his team bought from a Nebraska owner. The No. 45c team is co-owned by Kevin Turner and Greg Wheeler of Cottonwood. Greg's mom is Betsy Wheeler, Keith Hall's long-time 1960s-70s secretary/office manager at Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix. He said she is still enjoying life in Arizona. Michael (DOB 1/19/95) is the foster son of co-owner Turner and has been so for the last 15 years. The team raced a No. 11c at PAS in November 2014 and plan to race as much as possible at PAS this season. He set 23rd FQ time and raced from 21st to P. 16 in the March 7 main.

Michael raced the No. 51M midget in the January 2015 Tulsa, OK Chili Bowl as a Bobby Martin teammate of R. J. Johnson. On Saturday, Michael started the first of two “M-mains” seventh and finished fourth in the 14-car field. There was a Chili Bowl “N” main for the first time with a record 326 total midget entrants in the building. At Perris Arizonans Johnson and the Curtis cars pitted next to each other for mutual assistance.

Tommy Malcolm, of Corona, drives the No. 5X for Dino Napier. He set 19th FQ time and ran the B-main. He was in P. 8 on lap 10 and in a transfer spot for the feature when a two-car spin caused him to restart at the back; he finished 12th. He would have been in the feature if he had more laps to advance. Three 10-lap heats advanced P 1-4 to the main so the 15-car B-main transferred the first ten finishers to the back end of the feature.

Anthony Lopiccolo, a 28-year old Yorba Linda resident, raced in his first USAC-CRA event aboard John Springstead's No. 36 Buckley chassis using a 360 engine against more powerful 410s. The NMRA-TQ Midget 2014 driving champion qualified 26th of 27 drivers. He ran a 17.657. He started ninth and finished eighth in his heat after passing M. Curtis on lap 5 with a nice inside move entering turn three. Anthony started 14th in the 15-car 12-lap B-main and finished 11th, one spot from a feature transfer berth. He raced impressively and showed natural ability in the 360 against 410s. The Lopiccolo family (10-15 strong) sat together in section C near turn one and cheered for Anthony in each of his races. Later, Anthony told me he enjoyed his sprint car debut and is looking forward to his next sprint car outing.

Other expected USAC-CRA 2015 rookies include: Trent Williams, the 2014 PAS Young Gun sprint car champion in his No. 52 Victory chassis; Tom Hendricks in his No. 14 Cory Kruseman school sprinter, and 2013 CLS winged mini sprint champion Stephen Limon, in a No. 59 (last used by David Cardey). So the 2015 rookie battle should be entertaining to watch all season.

The deaths of long-time So Cal sprint car racing luminaries Evelyn Pratt, 95, and Steve Howard, 61, during the last quarter was commemorated March 7 at PAS. A “missing man” formation was run with the full 22-car field prior to the green flag in tribute to Evelyn and Steve. ... The $5.00 PAS printed program had a page devoted to the Sokola honorees.

USAC-CRA heat two had two sets of brothers in the nine driver field. Austin and Cody Williams finished in P. 2-3, while the Vander Weerd twins placed second (Richard) and fifth (Jace). ... Heat three was a nightmare for onlookers. Both all white/florescent orange No. 37 cars started in the inside row in the second and third rows. They raced together all the way with Matt Mitchell (37) in P. 2 and David Bezio (37x) P. 3. USAC officials should require one of the two teams to put colorful tape (barber pole style) on the black roll cage to help fans distinguish the two cars on the track.

TOP THREE QUOTES: R. Vander Weerd, after his second career USAC-CRA feature victory, told the crowd, “I'm tired. Racing at the top I was running my heart out. I saw Austin low one time. My car's been fast all night long. I won my heat, started fifth and won the main event.” He thanked his dad Ron and said they had a trailer problem earlier in the week at he 360 sprint race in Las Vegas. They got another trailer to compete at PAS. “We were not planning to run for points (for USAC-CRA championship) but as point leader we might have to now.” The Vander Weerd team stays overnight at grandma's house in Chino before driving north Sunday to central California.

Runner-up A. Williams said, “”We got new wheels. I bounced off the wall a couple of times and kept going. I thought I had a right rear problem but the wheel held up. I'm excited that at the first race of the year to come home second.” He thanked John and Sharon Jory, car owners for all three racing Williams sons, and sponsor Bill Purcell. Third place Mike Spencer gave his trophy to a fan. “He said, “the car quit in qualifying after the second lap. We fixed it for the heat race. Hat's off to Richard for winning. It was our first time on CSI shocks and they helped the car.” He thanked car owner Ron Chaffin. “Twenty years ago I was playing little league baseball, had the coach take me out early and I made it here to the PAS in time for the main event.”

The March 7 PAS opener was called the “Sokola Shootout” in memory of both former CRA president Gary Sokola and his CRA driver son Mark. Gary's widow Valerie was in the pits with her boyfriend, daughter Laurie and granddaughter Kandace, 27. She is Mark's daughter and lives in Florida. All three Sokola ladies presented trophies on the podium at the start/finish infield to the top three finishers in the 30-lap feature.


Miscellaneous: Cody Williams now races with glasses for better distance viewing. He and his wife Heidi (a former 360 sprint car driver at Victorville and PAS) are expecting their first baby in late June. They are awaiting a daughter and Lexi could be her name. ... Seen in the pits were ex-CRA sprint car drivers Jimmy Oskie, Steve Ostling and Tom Patton. ... Timer-scorer Dick Hindman was absent because he was working the CLS event at the Imperial County Fairgrounds quarter-mile near El Centro.

Brody Roa made his first USAC-CRA start at PAS since his nasty first turn flip in practice for the last Oval Nationals. That crash shortly after his honeymoon hospitalized him briefly. He set eighth FQ time and finished tenth in the feature in his dad's No. 91R. ... Rickie Gaunt drove his racing community-backed No. 9 named in honor of paralyzed racing fan Shawn McDonald. He confirmed he will drive his final sprint car race on July 4 at PAS. He is one of the last local drivers who raced at Gardena's Ascot Park.

On March 7 Hawthorne-resident Ed Hollowell, a reporter/photographer for since 1996, made his final visit to a PAS race as a So Cal resident. He retired from Raytheon in El Segundo on Friday, February 27 and is moving to the Indiana farm of his 90+ year old father. Ed will continue reporting for and may return west in November to see the PAS Oval Nationals and Turkey Night Midget GP events. Ed's reports on USAC mid-western events will give westerners another way to follow USAC open-wheel racing in words and photos all year.