KENNEDY: USAC-CRA Sprints & Farewell To Okie

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Tim Kennedy

PERRIS, Calif. – Round eight of the 23-race USAC-CRA 410 sprint car schedule was June 29 at the now 24-year-old driver and fan-favorite half-mile clay Perris Auto Speedway in Riverside County.

Since it opened in March 1996, the track has been called The PAS. The June 29 race was the fourth this season for USAC-CRA at The PAS.

The USAC-CRA schedule has 10 races booked in Perris. The always well-attended by spectators and racing teams high-dollar Budweiser PAS Oval Nationals for USAC National and USAC-CRA regional sprint car series will be run on Nov. 8-10. The next three USAC-CRA race dates in Perris will be July 13, Aug. 17 and Sept. 21.

PAS management announced the 2019 Oval Nationals co-grand marshals will be long-time USAC-CRA car owners Tom and Laurie Sertich. More loyal USAC-CRA car owners are needed to keep non-winged 410 sprint car racing healthy in Southern California. PAS promoter Donnie Kazarian has made 410 sprint cars a major staple of his track since it opened in 1996.

This season the USAC-CRA 410 series will race at nine speedways in California and Arizona at Peoria and San Tan Valley. PAS has 10 dates and the other half-mile in Calistoga has its usual Labor Day weekend date. Other California tracks on the challenging circuit are a three-eighth mile in Petaluma, and third-miles in Bakersfield, Merced and Santa Maria, plus a fifth-mile in Ventura.

This season six drivers have won the eight 30-lap main events completed. Two-time winners have been Hunter Schuerenberg and Richard Vander Weerd. Single winners have been Josh Hodges, Brody Roa, Troy Rutherford (with a 360-engine) and point leader and six-time series champion Damion Gardner. The competitive 22-car feature June 29 had three race leaders—Jake Swanson, Vanderweerd and Gardner.

FAREWELL TO OKIE: The PAS June 29 event was a farewell to beloved racer/sprint car builder/race car repairer Tobey “Okie” Sampson, 50. The Moore, Okla., native moved to Indiana in February of 1995 to work with sprint car builder Steve Stapp in Brownsburg, Ind. In 1997 Okie moved to California and worked with 410 sprint car driver and builder Clark Drake, who called his sprint cars Drakes.

After Drake stopped building sprint cars Tobey started building his own sprint cars. He affectionately named his creations Okie chassis’ for his native Oklahoma. Okie lived in sprint car driver Rickie Gaunt’s old house in Torrance. Rickie and his family, including his off-road racing sons Mavrick and Chasen, lived nearby.

Tobey told us he built 15 Okie sprint cars, including his own orange and white No. 82, over the years. His first Okie sprinter in 1998 was the white, light blue numeral, yellow trim No. 40 that R. Gaunt owned and drove successfully. The last Okie still racing at The PAS is the No. 12B he built for the late Don Blair. PAS Young Gun driver Joel Rayborne started in that car and won the USAC-CRA 2018 rookie of the year title. He still drives it. Tobey said he knows of one other Okie chassis still racing in Arizona.

The PAS has been Tobey’s home track since he arrived in SoCal and he has raced sprint cars, winged lightning sprints, modifieds and any available car he could find. He raced in USAC-CRA and in the PAS Senior Sprints Division for drivers 45 and older. He even raced his Nance-built No. 67 black and silver numeral Silver Crown car.

Tobey’s enduring specialty in SoCal was his ability to repair wrecked race cars reasonably at his home garage in Torrance. He had metal shapers and other required tools. If he needed lathes or cutting equipment he said he still had access to the equipment in Drake’s shop. Asked how many race cars he repaired during the last 23 years, Tobey pondered a few moments and answered, “300 to 500 sprints, midgets, Silver Crown, lightning sprints, and even go-karts.”

Tobey was the go-to repairer for champion driver/race car driving school operator Cory Kruseman, of Ventura.

“Over the years I’d guess I repaired about 50 of Cory’s racing school midgets and sprint cars,” Tobey told us in the pits. Cory was so appreciative he even brought out his No. 2K sprint car for Tobey to race June 29 with the seniors in his final PAS race. Tobey started fifth and finished fourth in the eight-lap heat race. In the 10-car, 20-lap main Tobey started fourth and was running third on lap seven when, “I backed it into the third turn wall.” He said the rear bumper was bent so he drove to the pits.

Okie’s long-time friends Gaunt and Kruseman came to Perris and were on the podium with him. Track promoter Donnie Kazarian presented an appreciation trophy to him for his 23 years in So Cal being a great guy. Rickie and Cory also wished their friend well prior to his relocation to Oklahoma.

Tobey sent one truck of his possessions to Oklahoma earlier. His pickup truck and race car hauler (with the Nance No. 67 sprint car car in it) were loaded to depart directly to Oklahoma. He and his functionally autistic son Tyler are moving to Oklahoma to be close to his elderly parents. He said he lost his brother two years ago, so family considerations caused his move. His daughter just graduated from Torrance North High and will remain in SoCal with friends and attend college.

Tobey said he will return to Perris for the annual PAS Oval Nationals that he could not miss. He also said he will be in the pits as usual at the annual Chili Bowl Midget Nationals each year (it is 90 miles from Moore). He helps his friend Andy Bondio with his two No. 47 midgets driven by Danny Stratton and Alex Bright. Tobey said Bondio’s innovative Chili Bowl-only left front wheels and his first-ever use of boxy midget tails Tobey called Amish buggies led to Sammy Swindell using the boxy midget tails.

As a tribute to Tobey, the 40-page color printed PAS program had a color action shot on the cover of the Moose Racing No. 92 (driver Austin Williams) to salute Oval Nationals co-Grand Marshals – the husband/wife Sertich team. The two-page center section had color photos of eight race cars driven by Tobey over the years. Sponsors included Okie Race Cars & Repairs, plus MJB Plating.

After 24 years at his adopted home track in Perris, the “Smokin’ Okie” is heading home to Oklahoma. He will be missed in SoCal for his jovial nature, friendship with everyone, sense of humor, and of course for his reasonable and rapid race car repairs. Look for him in the pits at the annual Chili Bowl each year. He won’t be far from hands-on racing action wherever he calls home.