KENNEDY: Outstanding USAC Finale


LOS ANGELES — The 17th annual Budweiser Oval Nationals for the AMSOIL USAC National Sprint Car Series at Perris Auto Speedway Nov. 2-3 was outstanding.

A field of 44 sprinters was top quality and competition was fierce for major shares of the $62,500 purse. The USAC championship was a three-driver battle among Indiana residents and the outcome was not determined until the final lap. Bryan Clauson won the USAC national championship by a mere five points (2,087-2,082) over Dave Darland. Jon Stanbrough (2,019) was in the battle until the Friday main event results eliminated him from the title hunt.

Drivers came from three states — 31 from California, 11 from Indiana, one from Alabama and one from New Zealand.

What more can you say about Californian Mike Spencer and his Ron Chaffin team led by National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductee Bruce Bromme Jr.? All the No. 50 Maxim/Shaver team did at the Oval Nationals was become the first PAS-based sprint car team to win the Oval Nationals championship in a local car since Tony Jones (in the No. 48 Cowherd Chevy) did so in 2000.

All season Spencer, 31, said the Oval Nationals Saturday feature is the race that has eluded him. Before Saturday’s feature Spencer said over the PA system, “I really want an Oval Nationals victory and my best chance is tonight.”

He started from pole, but Tracy Hines shot from the outside front row to lead the first 37 laps of the 40-lap race. Spencer was second on the first lap, but slipped to fourth on lap two after title contenders Darland and Clauson passed him on the inside.

Determined, Spencer passed Clauson on lap 16 and nipped Darland for second on lap 19. He cut quickly into Hines’ lead and it seemed only a matter of time before he took the lead. On lap 21, Spencer made a powerful inside pass entering the first turn to take the lead from Hines. However, the P 11-12 cars of USAC national drivers Hunter Schuerenberg and Chris Windom tangled and caused a yellow flag, handing the lead back to Hines.

With Hines inside to take away Spencer’s lead taking groove, Spencer took the outside. The lead duo ran laps 21-33 in close formation with Darland right on Spencer’s tail. Red flags on lap 33 and just before the lap 40 checkers kept the outcome in doubt.

Spencer would not be denied. He had made his winning outside pass of Hines on lap 38 on the backstretch, powering between Hines’ No. 4 and the backstretch wall in a demonstration of his will to win.

He enjoyed his biggest racing payday of $10,000 from the track and an additional $2,500 from USAC-CRA car owner/sportsman Jack Jory. As fast qualifier Friday, Spencer also won the $500 cash award in honor of late NSCHoF inductee Billy Wilkerson. That pushed Spencer’s well-deserved financial reward to $13,000. He became the 20th different USAC National Sprint Series 2012 feature winner in 35 races during the competitive season.

The Wagtimes hard charger award money for a USAC-CRA driver went to Rickie Gaunt and the David Miller No. 66 for racing from 16th starting spot to seventh. The Tony Jones hard charger award went to most deserving Robert Ballou, who charged from 24th grid position in a 26 car field to a closing eighth place.

Ballou said, “This track suited my style and everything went well.” He said his No. 81 Maxim chassis is a new test car and it worked well. Former Californian Ballou, from Westfield, Ind., towed west to the two Canyon races in Arizona last week on a shoestring budget. His race car was on an open trailer. Ballou told me he and his mom took turns driving their white Ford F-450 Super Duty truck with Indiana plates. His heroic Oval Nationals run resulted in Ballou reclaiming sixth place in USAC standings.

Ballou became a PAS fan favorite at the 2012 Oval Nationals. Friday in the B main he started on the pole, led the first lap and spun out the next lap after contact. Only the first four finishers advanced to the 30-lap A-main. Ballou started at the back of the 21-car field and charged forward with outside passes. He ended up finishing fifth and used a provisional to start 25th in the 28-car feature. He raced up to 16th position of 20 finishers on the lead lap.

Clauson, 23, started second and led all 30 laps to edge Stanbrough. Darland and Hines were third and fourth, so the top four in national points finished in the top four positions. USAC-CRA driver Nic Faas placed fifth.

Cory Kruseman, a two-time Oval Nationals winner, did not race after flipping the Priestley No. 7 at Peoria, Ariz., a week earlier and receiving a possible concussion. He was in the PAS pits running his two-car team for rookie drivers Tom Hendricks and Trevor Cooper, from Auckland, New Zealand.

Damion Gardner put “Honoring Pat Kehoe” on the hood of his Eagle sprint car to remember his long-time sponsor and owner of Pace Lighting. Pat passed away earlier this year.

Gardner said he will bypass the Nov. 9-10 midget races in Peoria, Ariza. He said he will return to Perris for the Nov. 22 Turkey Night Grand Prix and will drive the Andy Bondio-owned No. 47 Bondio/Barnes entry. USAC-CRA drivers Mike Spencer, Brody Roa and Greg Alexander have said they are looking for TNGP midget rides as well for the first TNGP on dirt since 1998. Spencer’s mastery of the 2012 Oval Nationals hopefully should bring several midget opportunities his way.

Dwight Cheney, of Glendora, had two DRC chassis racing in the 2012 Oval Nationals. Rutherford drove the older white No. 42. C.J. Leary, 16, drove the brand new 42x black car with multi-florescent lines on the side.

Dwight and the Leary family got together through mechanic Bryan Cripes, who worked on Dwight’s No. 42 sprinter when Darland raced it for Dwight several years back. C.J. is the son of past USAC midget and Silver Crown No. 30 driver Chuck Leary, who retired in 1999. C.J. raced his dad’s No. 30 sprinter in USAC this season.