LOS ANGELES — California-based drivers are making names for themselves in the Midwest these days.
Kody Swanson set fast qualifying time in a 19-car field of Silver Crown cars at Lucas Oil Raceway and led early laps. Bobby Santos III passed him after a caution and won the 100-lap race. Kody finished second and his younger brother Tanner finished fourth. They drove two of the three 6-R Racing cars.
Parnelli Jones, 78, had his famous 1962-63 replica “Calhoun” No. 98 Watson-Offenhauser roadster from his personal racing museum in Torrance. He took demo laps on the .686-mile ORP track in his Watson roadster. The actual 1963 Indy 500 winning No. 98 roadster is in the IMS Museum.
The 98 Watson roadster replica owned by J. C. Agajanian is now housed in the San Pedro office of J. C’s son Chris. On Saturday, May 19, Parnelli also drove three slow laps around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway where won the1963 500. He wore a retro Hinchman racing uniform and a white IMS cap. He said the car, on 1960s-era skinny Firestone tires, had a low gear and couldn’t go very fast even if he wanted to lay down some hot laps.
Thomas Meseraull, from Nor Cal, won the April 28 sprint car feature at Lawrenceburg, Ind. It was his second win in a row and in two different cars. Other Californians now racing on the USAC, USAC-MSCS circuits include Damion Gardner, Robert Ballou, Justin Grant, Darren Hagen, and Kyle Larson. They also compete in local track events at Gas City (Ind.) and Kokomo (Ind.) whenever possible.
Mid-May sprint car features shown on the Internet recently included victories at Haubstadt, Ind., by No. 35 Hunter Schuerenberg, and by Bobby East (No. 2b Scott Benic) over Levi Jones (No. 20 Tony Stewart) in an exciting duel through lapped traffic. It’s great to see distant races within days on the Internet. With USAC-CRA idle much of April and May, So Cal sprint car stars Mike Spencer and Nic Faas have flown back to Hoosier-land to drive the No. 53 Fox Chevy, an excellent Indiana ride. It’s nice to see Cali drivers traveling to pick up good mid-western rides. Usually the opposite has been the case during late season races at Perris.
The May 27, 2012 Indianapolis 500 figures to be one of the most memorable in history. Some see up to 15 possible winners in the full 33-car field. I would guess the winner will come from the first two rows. The three Penske drivers and three Andretti Autosport drivers are all capable of winning. Only one of those six drivers (Helio Castroneves) has won the Indy 500, so it appears a first-time 500 winner is likely.
Will Power, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe and polesitter Ryan Briscoe are all capable of winning. Nine USA-born drivers are in the 33-car field. Remarkably, six of them reasonably could win the 500. Andretti, Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal, J.R. Hildebrand, Ed Carpenter and Townsend Bell could pull off a victory based on recent 500 experience and current rides.
Rookie Josef Newgarden, from Hendersonville, Tenn., should be rookie of the year, based upon what he has done with Honda power. However, F-1 vet and fast-learner Rubens Barrichello could take RoY honors as well. Other USA drivers are USAC multi-champion Bryan Clauson, 22, and Charlie Kimball, a type-1 diabetic driver in his second 500. Dirt and short-track fans will have a rooting interest in both Clauson and Carpenter, who came to the Indy 500 from USAC short track ranks. Both of them have raced at the Perris and Irwindale half miles.
Amazingly, this year Indianapolis 500 practice and qualifying (16 days) were not interrupted by rain. So drivers logged many more laps than usual and that is great news, especially this year with an all-new DW12 chassis and turbocharged engines. Chevrolet has been dominant over Honda. Lotus has been an afterthought because of its late start and lack of horsepower.
The two Lotus cars, driven by veteran Simona de Silvestro, 23, and F-1 vet Jean Alesi may be “start-and-park” field-filler entries in the 500. They probably will be black-flagged out of the race if they are too slow and can’t race within 105 percent of the race pace. That pace figures to be in the 214 to 219 mph range with full fuel loads and race-day traffic.
Open-wheel drivers and others of note are making strong inroads on the ARCA circuit this year. USAC National Ford Focus Midget 2008 champion Alex Bowman, 19, won his third ARCA feature in five ARCA career races on Sunday, April 29. The Tucson, Ariz., native won in a 35-car field on the tough Salem, Ind., high-banked half-mile driving the No. 22 Cunningham Racing Dodge.
Kevin Swindell, the 2010-11-12 Tulsa, OK Chili Bowl Midget Classic winner, raced on the NASCAR K&N Pro East circuit last year. This year the 23-year old son of WoO past champion and current WoO frontrunner Sammy Swindell, landed an eight-race Mike Curb Records sponsorship.
His first race on May 4 Kevin ran in the the top ten in the No. 55 Bill Venturini Toyota, one of five Venturini cars in the 43-car field. He finished the 94 lap race 11th, on the lead lap. Indy Car and 500 veteran Milka Duno, from Venezuela, raced the No. 6 Chevy and finished 37th after a multi-car accident.
Brandon McReynolds, 21-year old son of SPEED racing analyst Larry “Mac,” started 10th and won the Talladega 250, leading only the last few yards on the final lap after his No. 32 Turner Motorsports Chevy.
Irwindale Speedway NASCAR late model stock car veterans Brandon Davis, of Huntington Beach, and Ryan Reed, of Bakersfield, are ARCA newcomers this year and top 10 drivers. Davis, the 2011 Irwindale track champion when he won 11 of 20 races, has a deal for ten ARCA races, and drives the No. 99 Roulo Bros. Ford.
Reed, an 18-year-old type 2 diabetic and son of NASCAR SW Series champ Mark Reed, drives the No. 15 Chevy. He moved East last year to further his stock car career.
Chase Elliott, 16-year old son of NASCAR champion Bill Elliott, also raced his dad’s No. 9 Chevy with ARCA at Salem. Many of the ARCA races are televised live each season on SPEED.
NASCAR trucks have run five races this season with five different winners, including three first time winners.