LOS ANGELES — Perris Auto Speedway management and fans both benefited by the early March booking of USAC-CRA sprint cars, along with CLS winged (mini) sprints and senior sprints.
Following a couple of rainy days, the infield was too wet for pitting there, so the paved parked lot beyond turn one became the pits. Saturday weather was sunny and warm. It was still 59 at 5 p.m. and 48 at 10:30 p.m. after the final checkered flag. The absence of wind negated the wind chill factor. The track was tacky and not as wide as usual, but racing action was excellent as expected.
Car counts were: 37 for USAC, 13 for CLS and 11 for senior sprints. Fans support was there with an estimated 4,000 fans in the grandstands.
Non-PAS regular drivers present were Bryan Clauson, Damion Gardner, Bud Kaeding, Mike Martin and Justin Grant in 410 sprints. Heavy hitters Gardner and Kaeding will race the entire USAC-CRA 2013 season.
Ronny Hancock, of San Clemente, was a newcomer with solid ability in his No. 99 CLS car. He raced up to P. 2 in heat 1 and raced from 12th to fifth in the 20-lap main. Rick Hendrix, of Palmdale, came back from his late 2012 PAS Senior Sprint third place debut in his own No. 15. He started second, led all 20 laps and dominated, winning by a straightaway. He did so just six days before his 60th birthday. He came to the track as usual with his wife Yumi as his only (and hard working) pit crew member.
“I couldn’t do this without her,” Rick said on the pit PA microphone. “It’s easier to drive bigger tracks,” he told the crowd.
Before racing started March 9 the large crowd stood in silence as David Cardey (No. 92) and J. J. Ercse (No. 14) took several slow laps and then two laps at speed in memory of long-time sprint car supporters Don Flanders and John Estopellan. Steve Dyer’s No. 7 CLS car then took to the half-mile for a lap in memory of his late grandmother, but he pulled in with a mechanical problem that ended his night. Laurie Sertich (No. 92 Moose Racing) was absent. She was struck by a push truck in the pits before the March 1-2 Canyon Raceway doubleheader in Peoria, AZ. She had surgery on both legs and was still confined to a Phoenix hospital room where she hoped to watch the March 9 PAS race live via the Internet. Her 92 car had “Get Well Soon Mrs. Moose” painted on the visor at the front of its cage. Unfortunately, the 92 Moose car ran fifth in its heat race and was scratched from further competition.
The No 2 Jory Chevy had its hood blow off during hot laps as it entered the first turn. Another car quickly ran over it and destroyed it. That’s why the black 2 car had a light blue hood for racing all night. They borrowed a hood from the No. 18 Kittle team with sponsor PACE on the hood. .
NSCHofF member Rip Williams, 56, will be racing against all three of his sons—Cody, 23, Austin, 22, and “baby” Logan, 17 — at Route 66 Motorplex in Victorville. John Jory will field unlimited sprint cars for all four members of the Williams clan. That’s a first. Be there to see the debut of the new Scotty Burns URA sanctioning body for sprints and midgets.
The Alexander racing team cars No. 4 (Nic Faas) and 4A (D. Gardner) both have new 2013 Spike chassis and JD Performance Engines. The 2012 Spike raced by Faas last season was in the hauler as a backup car. I was told they have four or five cars in their shop, so they plan to capture the 2013 championship for sure. Suggestion: With the 4 and 4A cars looking identical and the drivers’ helmets dark it was impossible for fans in the grandstands to tell the two Alexander cars apart. They ran together the entire race before finishing second and third. The Alexander team needs to put white or yellow tape on the red cage of one of their cars, or paint one cage another and lighter color.
Mike Spencer, 31, was leading the feature on lap eight when the engine of his No. 50 Chaffin Chevy let go and turned him suddenly into the outer wall just past the starter’s stand. It stayed against the wall and P. 2 Clauson veered to the inside of the track and took command of the 30-lap race for good. Later, Clauson said he didn’t know if he could have passed Mike, but he said he had cut a little from Mike’s 50-yard lead after he took P. 2 on lap 3.
It would’ve been interesting to watch their P 1-2 battle to the checkered flag. Clauson, a 2012 rookie in the Indianapolis 500, is still seeking a 2013 Indy 500 ride but sponsorship is required. He is off to the best start of his or anyone’s USAC career–eight USAC feature victories already in three states (Fla. Ariz. & Calif.). … Speaking of Spencer, the five-time USAC-CRA champion (2008-2012) will be getting married to fiancé Ashley in Temecula on March 22. They will honeymoon in Hawaii for two weeks. He will not miss any USAC-CRA races and will be present to race at The PAS on Saturday, April 6.
Mike Estopellan, son of John and a past USAC-CRA pit steward, was helping on the crew of a CLS car. He said he will get his own CLS car for the 2014 season. … Brett Roa said he and his son Brody will be racing their 360 engine car with USAC at the Tulare Thunderbowl March 16. That engine is housed in their 2012 Spike chassis from last season. They have their 410 engine in a new 20-13 Spike. Brett said Brody didn’t race up to his normal level March 9 because the chassis was off a bit and he took responsibility.
Johnny Bluntach, 24, of Rowland Heights, raced only once last season because of his job. The personable driver made his 2013 debut on March 9 at PAS in his own No. 58, a 2011 Maxim chassis. The black and white car has gold trim and lists the LA County Sheriff Department on the hood. Johnny has been a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff “for about a year now.” He works as a jailer at the Men’s Central Jail on Bauche St., off the 101 freeway in downtown LA. He now works evening shift Sundays through Thursdays so he plans to race frequently with USAC-CRA. He qualified at 17.676 (27th fastest) March 9, raced from seventh to fourth in the third heat to earn a feature starting spot. He started 22nd in the feature, but dropped out early “with no brakes”. His dad works on his crew.