LOS ANGELES – The annual Memorial Day weekend in Southern California featured a Salute to the Indy 500 410 sprint car event.
This year was the the 21st running of the event at the half-mile clay Perris Auto Speedway in Riverside County. The event was not run in 2008.
Winners of the PAS Indy 500 salute include five champions. Thirteen drivers have won the event since PAS opened in 1996. This year Damion Gardner won his fourth PAS Indy Salute. He flew back to California from Indiana where his scheduled USAC Silver Crown Hoosier 100 Thursday night race on the Indiana Fairgrounds mile was rained out.
Other multiple winners of the PAS Indy Salute are three-time winner Mike Kirby and two-time winners Cory Kruseman, Blake Miller and Matt Mitchell. Other winners include NASCAR driver J.J. Yeley in 1996, Troy Rutherford, Richard Griffin, Tony Jones, David Cardey, Mike Spencer, Richard VanderWeerd and Austin Williams last year.
The 2017 PAS Indy Salute had four-divisions with 21 USAC-CRA 410 sprints, 21 California Lightning Sprints winged cars powered by motorcycle engines, and two 360 cu. in. sprint car divisions – seven PAS Young Guns (ages 14-25) and six Senior Sprints (for drivers age 45 and older). All 55 race cars and haulers fit easily in the infield pit area.
PAS management started the young gun 360 series in 2013. It has produced four champions. PAS started a 360 division in 2011 for seniors to allow them to compete with each other for fun. Five drivers have won the six PAS senior championship trophies. Both divisions provide close racing and allow entry into sprint car racing for youth and continuation in the sport for older drivers.
Young gun drivers this year include Cody Smothermon, 23, a winged and non-winged micro sprint driver from Porterville. He raced those cars in December 2016 at the Tulsa, (Okla.) Expo Center indoor track. Smothermon won his first 15-lap feature in a No. 81 CS9 chassis owned by Steve Watt in his first race at PAS.
Second-place in the young gun main went to another driver in his first sprint race. Blade Hildebrand, 18, is a recent Yucca Valley High graduate. The starting quarterback for his high school team (6-3 record) drove a new XXX chassis and used No. 5 (his football jersey) on it. He also races in desert off-road events and spec late models. Hildebrand is named for the “Blade” movie character played by actor Wesley Snipes.
Another new young gun is Gary Marshall Jr., 24, from Pomona. He and his father visited Mark Alexander’s race shop and saw an old 2005 TCR stored in the weeds behind the shop. It was an Alexander No. 4 that Tony Jones raced in USAC-CRA. They asked about buying it and did so with a 360 engine thrown into the deal. Marshall has raced a mini stock (No. 72 Ford Mustang II) at dirt tracks in Ventura and Victorville.