LOS ANGELES — The annual Southern California Fair at the Lake Perris Fairgrounds Oct. 6 was a rare split (day/night) event for 32 USAC-CRA 410 sprint cars present. Several hundred fans attended the early afternoon racing with the annual So Cal Fair (Oct. 5-14) in full swing behind the PAS grandstand.
Perris racing was included free for attendees as part of their $8 admission to the fair. That offered PAS management a chance to attract new fans who were unaware of racing at the Riverside County speedway in operation since 1996.
Hopefully, many of new faces in the crowd Saturday night enjoyed open-wheel racing and will return for the Nov. 2-3 sprint car Oval Nationals and the USAC Midgets Nov. 22 Turkey Night Grand Prix.
Veteran CRA sprint car participants and fans reminisced about sprinters racing at the Imperial County Fairgrounds half-mile clay track, three miles north of El Centro. The California Mid-Winter Fair Saturday-Sunday races in late February or early March were highlights of the fair each year from the late 1950s into the 1980s. The fair weekend often opened the CRA season. Fans from Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego Counties made the trek on Highway 86 to the usually warm southeast California farming community.
Open bleachers and a covered main grandstand echoed the sounds of 410 cubic inch Chevy and 255 or 270 Offenhauser engines speeding down the front straight into the slightly banked first turn. Car counts of 45 to 70 sprint cars and drivers from numerous states participated during the 1960s into the early 80s. Ferris wheels and other lighted carnival rides, agricultural exhibits, farm animals, and games of chance at the Mid-Winter Fair formed a unique background for the races.
Afternoon racing concluded without incident and all 10-lap heat races had times recorded in the 2 minutes, 50+ second bracket. Then USAC-CRA teams had three hours free to attend the So Cal Fair rides, agricultural exhibits, product display booths and free band concerts on several stages.
Traditional “live turkey stampede” races took place near the main concourse with ten live turkeys chasing a toy pickup truck filled with feed. Small bleachers were filled with happy onlookers for several daily turkey races. Of course, traditional county fair food of all types was plentiful. Following the afternoon heat races, PAS crew watered and re-groomed the track during the intermission. It was in perfect condition for sprint car racing.
Fair attendees included thousands of families and teens. They heard the sound of cars hot-lapping after 6 p.m. and the voice of track announcer Scott Daloisio invited them into the grandstand. Thousands did so and swelled the crowd to perhaps 4,000 to 5,000.
The $2,500-to-win 30-lap feature started 22 of the 32 cars present with the first eight starters inverted by qualifying times. The perfectly prepared track offered high and low lines for passing throughout the evening. The green flag flew at 7:55 p.m. Pole starter Rip Williams, 56, led the first seven laps. Then outside front row starter Nic Faas made a textbook power pass on the outside through the first and second corners and quickly opened a 20-yard lead by lap nine.
Faas held half a straightaway lead at lap 20. Eight-time 2012 winner Mike Spencer, who is seeking his fifth consecutive series championship, could not close ground on him. Then on lap 27 the first of four red flags stopped racing at 8:05. Charles Davis Jr. was running tenth in traffic when his engine erupted in a huge ball of flames extending to the cockpit. He slowed quickly and stopped near the third turn infield. He exited the car rapidly without injury. The lap-27 red flag put victory in doubt for Faas, the season opening PAS Feb. 25 feature winner. PAS has run eight USAC-CRA features this season.
Six-time 2012 PAS winner Spencer was right on Faas’ tail. Faas, 22, kept Spencer, 31, at bay by a few lengths after each red flag to the checkers. He increased his lead from 10 to 25, then 35 yards during the final three green flag laps.
At the lap-27 restart a car got moved up the track in turn two and contacted Danny Sheridan’s Ford Bros. No. 73x, which hit the wall and flipped. Danny walked to the pits uninjured but his ride departed on a wrecker’s hook.
At 8:33, with three green flag laps remaining and the green flag waving, third place Rip Williams slowed suddenly leaving turn four and pulled into the infield near turn one. “I felt it run out of fuel and didn’t want to crash the whole field,” Rip told me in the pits. Of course his two sons were behind him in Jack Jory team cars.
Fuel-starvation claimed another third place car on the final lap. David Cardey slowed on the backstretch and pulled to the inside with many cars speeding towards his Sertich No. 92. Cody Williams shot to the outside and took third and B-main winner David Bezio took fourth with Austin Williams fifth.
The top three finishers stopped at the finish line for interviews. Winner Faas told the crowd, “That was like a NASCAR race.” He thanked the numerous sponsors of the Alexander No. 4, his car owners and crew. “It’s been a rough year. This one feels good. Lap 22 or so I looked at the scoreboard (above turn two) and saw Mike was second, so I put my head down and got after it. Qualifying seventh fastest and starting on the front row helped a lot.”
Runner-up Spencer said, “It was tough to pass, but I got close. The race car (No. 50 Chaffin) couldn’t make a move, but it should be good the rest of the season. Thanks to the folks out there at the fair.”