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November 12, 2017

By Ken Wagner


The Annual Oval Nationals is now in the books. I saw only Friday and Saturday so canít report on Chase Stockinís opening night win, but can shed some light on Brody Roaís big dominating win on Friday from the pole and the Saturday night finale where Kevin Thomas Jr grabbed the $25,000 brass ring..


The heats were really pretty good as each one had the last qualifying spot grabbed late in the 10 lap events. The semi showed some impatience as the last 6 were welcomed into the main from the 12 lap last chance chase.

From the get go in Fridayís main, it was obvious, when Brody Roa and Damion Gardner started the green flag rush from the front row, that the Green Machine was fast. So fast that he pulled away on every one of the dozen or so restarts (?) I mean every time he was a rocket to victory lane! Chad Boespflug had the best shot at Brody on a couple of restarts early on when Chad gave that first turn slide up towards the top, but was too short as Brody roared around the top groove and took off. When Kevin Thomas jr got up to second, after Boespflug crashed in the tough turn 4 cushion, I figured he was in like Flynn, but NO, Brody was still too hooked up and never wavered the 30 laps for his 2nd all-time CRA win, besides the two Wagsdash wins that is, and it was his 1st win at Perris. To say he and his crew were excited was obvious..

Justin Grant and Chris Windom battled hard during the weekend for the 2017 USAC Championship and they didnít back off. On this night they were head to head most of the race with Chris having a slight edge in points for the USAC season. They slid each other many times and it was fun to watch. They ended up 12 points apart after the night. Justin took time out to slam Tyler Courtney into the wall and send him back a few places, so he is a multitasker.

RJ Johnson looked pretty good until he caught the turn 3-4 cushion and took a tumble, but was alright as he came back the next night. That corner was really tough all night as many visited and were sorry for the experience. Stevie Sussex and Shon Duskins both bit it together ending up in a pile and didnít return on Saturday because of junked cars.

As much as I loved the Brody win, the slick track worked against the Indiana boys because it was fast and furious and at times looked like a wing show in training, as they were strung out nicely on the top and playing follow the leader. It was much racier on Saturday, but still only the skilled survived the sliders.


The final night started out with qualifying everybody again, except for the top 6 finishers on Friday. Those mighty 6 had an inverted by finish start that was unexciting as they went 6 laps in that order, never to show anything but speed. Probably could have drawn for position to mix it up.

There were 4 heats and two semisís to whet the fans appetites with the hammer down techniques shown by the bad boys of racing. I still get chills when the green flag flies and they roar off down the front chute. CRA won 3 heats and one semi, so that was nice for the home crowd.

When the feature started, Friday nightís winner Chase Stockin took off and looked like he wanted another win. But alas, 17 laps later, Kevin Thomas Jr rolled by him to take the point. Eventually Chase settled for 7th place. KT was rock solid until Justin Grant started chasing him down and actually took the lead for a couple of laps. But in the end KT was what I expected, the 2017 Oval Nationals winner! I told him he was going to win during the fans walk on the track in the afternoon. I thanked him for not running over Brody the night before, but he said he was just too fast to catch, and thatís a fact jack! Brody did a good job and finished 6th so his 3rd, 1st and 6th finishes were awesome and the best of the home boys. If he had not had so much trouble on the tour in August, he might have been closer to the top of the points.

There was that secondary race going on all weekend as Grant and Windom battled for the USAC Championship Windom knew he just had to stay close to Grant and did that pretty easy with a 4th behind Grants 2nd. Windom won the championship by 6 points and that was his goal. He said he wasnít going for the win, just the USAC Championship.


Several drivers came to the Ovals looking for $25,000 and were very disappointed. Dave Darland, a 3 time winner here, didnít bring his ride and ran two nights in the # 73 of Ford Motorsports and it just didnít work for him. Thursday he didnít transfer and Friday he was 22nd. On Saturday he tried a Cory Kruseman car and just missed the transfer when the car biked too high on the last lap coming around turn two in the semi with him one spot out. Heís still got it, but was very disappointed with his weekend. He told me he was going to have to rethink whether to come out for Turkey night because he didnít have a Keith Kunz type ride yet to make it possible. Kunz cars, for those who donít know, are the epitome of midget racing equipment with young talented drivers winning almost every big midget race. His chili Bowl ride has all the good stuff so heíll be there.

Thomas Messeraull won in Aaron Reinboldís car at the Western, but that same car didnít bring any luck to the Ovals for him. He was 10th on the opening night and missed the transfer by one spot on Friday after not staying in line on a restart, and that after coming from the back to get 5th before his supposed error. Saturday was a tough one after qualifying 3rd in the # 19 car. In his heat he was flying when he hooked a rut and flew into the guard rail, killing the car and his chances.

Ronnie Gardner had no ride for the Ovals until Cory Kruseman stepped up and put him in a car. On Thursday, getting use to the car, he was 39th in qualifying and was last in his heat. He pulled into the infield in the semi and was done for the night. Friday was no better as he was last in qualifying and his heat, but didnít show for the semi, so was done for the weekend. Ronnie is one of the best midget shoes, but canít get a good 410 ride?

CJ Leery was 2nd on the opening night and 8th Friday but Justin Grant slammed him into the wall during the Saturday feature hurting his front end. Leery restarted and came back mad on the next restart line-up only to bang into Justinís rear end hard and get himself a black flag. Too bad because he looked like he was going to the front with some great moves and wicked slide jobs and I think he had a good chance to win. That fit sure cost the young man. .


When the best drivers from the Midwest come to town, expect a tough time for the West coast CRA boys. I explain it every year now because back in the day the best drivers were on the West coast, but that has changed! Use to be when the CRA went East, they pretty much had their way on the tours of the past. Since then several things changed starting with the economic downturn and ending with less races, less cars, less owners and yes, less fans on the west coast. Since the CRA schedule dropped from an average of 45 to 50 races a year, itís now down to 22 races a year and that means way less opportunities to stay sharp. However, in Indiana the USAC drivers can run 3 races a week and nearly 4 times what CRA does. Some of the best USAC drivers are California boys who know where to go to get better.

The truth is CRA has lost many good car owners over the last 15 years or so, including Gardner Motorsports, Ron Chaffin, Kittle Motorsports, Glenn Crossno, Mark Priestley, Harlan Willis, Don Argo, Seth Wilson racing and many more who have parked their equipment. Add the drivers who left too early like Mike Kirby, David Cardey, Alan Ballard, Tony Jones, Josh Ford, Lealand McSpadden and a few more heroes. Itís pretty obvious 410 racing has dropped off substantially in So Cal with fewer rookies than normal and car counts nearing the low 20ís. It all adds up to the decline of what was once a thriving racing world on the West coast for CRA non wingers. The answer still sits on promoting the product and getting the youth to the tracks to get a turnaround, and thatís not likely to happen.

So, in conclusion if you are still reading, it is not a surprise that the Indiana Clan had 22 of the top 10 finishers for the 3 nights and only 5 CRA guys made that lofty level: Brody Roa, Damion Gardner, Jake Swanson, Richard Vander Weerd and Logan Williams. Of the 43 cars checking in, CRA had 17 local and 5 or six who ran occasionally with them while Indiana brought 13 drivers in only 7 cars as the rest got rides. When you look at their results in local cars, they should have brought their own stuff. Quite simply Indiana had better drivers and better cars overall to use the Ovals dry slick track prep style that replaces the normal tacky surface the rest of the season. No complaints, but I wish I had the answers to why the decline in CRA and could help with new growth.


Every year we have a Wagtimer lunch at the Steer and Stein to get together after not seeing each other during the racing season. I am on about a 4 race season now that I quit that race chaser methodology and have settled down in my old age. The Ovals ends the year with the best cars and drivers plus the most Wagtimers in attendance, so it works. We met this Saturday and besides eating a meal together, we counted up the years collections. When we left to go to the track it was right at $1500 in the Lafond Jar of change, a record for the award and we were happy. My thanks to all who added to this fund and know that Damion Gardner appreciated the award, and the Handle of Crown Royal.

Something special happened for me on Saturday after I got a text from Fran Herdrich when I bypassed the pits Friday night. It was a picture of a bottle of Crown Royal that we presented to Brody Roa after a big Wags win a few years ago. Dad Brett said they would drink it when Brody won his first race at the PAS. So they celebrated without me Friday! Not to worry, on Saturday night after the race, I begged to have a repeat and Brett and one of his crewman and I got a red cup and we toasted their big win, after the fact! It meant something special to me! Thanks.

Steve Lafond and I presented the Lafond Jar of Change to Damion Gardner and he was very pleased with the $1560.50 in it. Steve had to round up the handle of Crown Royal he had hidden, so when Damion got that, he gave us another big smile and made sure the special Oval Nationals label was on it! He got the award a few years ago, so he was proud and happy with our presentation.

I want to thank all my Wagtimers for their extra effort herding me around while carrying all my stuff so I could concentrate on getting in and out of the grandstands, a precarious trick for me these days. Anyway thanks to all. BIG thanks to Mike Clark who put down the seat savers for the umpteenth time. And thanks to my bride for coming with me, she had a ball.

It was great to congratulate Davey Jones on the awesome job he did for KT winning the Ovals. He received the Ray Sheetz award for the winning Crew Chief of this big event. Now he and brother Tony have both been in the winners circle at the Ovals, wow! I canít remember if he was crewing for Tony when he won the Ovals? Davey is one of my favorite people and itís good to see him get rewarded for his skills. The Jones family are a very special family from Bubby on down thru his kids.

I was privileged to have breakfast with Karl Lattner on Saturday morning at his campsite. His pancakes are great and the ham hit the spot. He is always gracious and sharing with the fans in the campground. Good to see Jeff and Cindy Kohler from Pennsylvania. They live very close to Williams Grove and often drive long distances to see Non-wing action. Been a while since they came out, but they were glad to be here.

The PAS hit a home run when they got all the Veterans in the crowd to come onto the track during the opening ceremonies. Chris Holt had them all introduce themselves and give their branch of service, and it was pretty moving. I knew a few of them from racing. When they opened up a huge American flag, it was even more moving as the crowd watched spell bound. And then the National Anthem was sung by the blond lady with a great voice, Bobbie Burke, as she always does. Then the last night started.

There were two firsts for me at this race. One was me wearing a driver shirt to the races for the first time, and it was Brody Roaís. I was only able to wear my driverís shirt to the gym or around, but never to the races so I wouldnít show any favoritism. The few drivers shrts I got over the years were either gifts from the driver or sneaky purchases. The second thing was my camera never came out of the car, so not one pic was taken by me and I didnít miss it. Over the years I probably took over a thousand at every race I went to. Boy I really donít miss the work when I got home.

My thanks to all who came by to chat and to the kind words about the new driver pics I am putting up on the Wagtimes.com page. It is getting noticed as I have worked daily on updating drivers since April. I am not near done as I have many new links to build and many, many links to update. Anyone having any photos they want added to any drivers link, email them to me. I can also scan them and return the originals, if youíd like. Anyway itís a long and never ending project that I hope keeps you interested in my page because I have few opportunities to report like this week. Iíll be keeping my head down in lovely Las Vegas most of the time. Call or text, e-mail or even come see us, we welcome visitors if you are in town! Here's something special for No Cal Fans;

I forgot a couple of important things for this report, as happens when you donít take notes like me. First something very special happened after the races on Saturday night. Steve Lafond shot his last fotoís ending his career as a top notch special photographer. His retiring is sad as his work is well worth waiting for. But, in addition to presenting the last of 25 years of the Lafond Jar to Damion Gardner, $1564.50, he had another quest to accomplish. For several months he had been thinking on how to honor the career of Rip Williams as he himself was retiring. Now Rip hasnít retired, but he hasnít raced in several years, choosing to watch his boys run.

For whatever the reason, Ripís long and productive career has never been recognized officially, and Steve wanted to do that on his way out of the pits that night. He had sent an email to the PAS to see if that was possible to do it at the Ovals, but it didnít happen. So he asked Mike Arthur to put together a nice foto that Steve picked out and had it framed beautifully. After the Lafond Jar presentation, some of the Wagtimers gathered around Ripís trailer as Steve quietly and personally gave Rip his heart as he presented the award to him in remembrance of the many years he entertained us all. The crowd never got to witness this, but those of us who had gathered did, and it was very special.

Hereís something new for NO Cal fans and supporters. While I was in Tulare last month, I met Roy Wilhite and was made aware of a new organization called Northern California Auto Racing, Inc. The board of directors include: Mark Palmero, Rick Scribner, Tony Doonan, Johnny Anderson, Dave Abreu and Roy Wilhite. The goal is simple, raise money for a Hall of Fame and Museum to honor all those in auto racing.

The mission statement of NCAR is to preserve and promote the history of Northern California auto racing and race tracks through an educational experience and to honor the participants of NCAR in a Museum and Hall of Fame.

Here are 4 levels of Special Recognition: 1) Sapphire Society contributors, those who donate from $100 to $999.99, will have their names placed on a plaque displayed at the NCAR Hall of Fame & Museum. 2) Ruby Society contributors, those who donate from $1,000 to $2,999.99, will have their names placed on a prestigious plaque displayed at the NCAR Hall of Fame & Museum. 3) Emerald Society contributors, those who donate from $3,000 to $4,999.99, will have a picture of themselves or with their spouses displayed prominently at the NCAR Hall of Fame & Museum. 4) Diamond Society contributors, those who donate from $5,000 or more, will have a large picture of themselves or with their spouses displayed prominently at the NCAR Hall of Fame & Museum.

You can send your donation to NCAR in care of Roy Wilhite, 9456 Greenback Lane, Orangevale, CA 95662 - phone 1-916709-8400. Please make checks payable to: Northern California Auto Racing, Inc. or NCAR. For debit or credit transactions, call Roy. NCAR is a non-profit 501(c)3 Corporation.I joined the Sapphire Society and they can use your help if you are interested. I wish SO Cal would do this, but it is a big, big job. I know I looked into it.

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