MARQUEE MATT MITCHELL LIVES UP TO HIS PREDICTION OF SOMETHING SPECIAL AS HE WINS THE 33 LAP SALUTE TO INDY EVENT AT THE PAS THIS WEEK.
WITH OVER 40 SPRINT CARS IN THE PITS AND A NICE APPRECIATIVE LARGE CROWD IN THE STANDS, IT MADE THIS ONE MEMORABLE! THE PAS GETS A HOME RUN ON THIS ONE.
May 28, 2011
By Ken Wagner
When Matt Mitchell told me at Hanford the last race that he would have something special for his competitors the next time out, he meant it! When he took the lead on lap 8 with Mike Spencer right on his tail, it looked like a shootout was coming. As fast as the little red sucker always is under Bruce Bromme Jr’s direction, the black and blue # 37 was faster tonight! Matt had it all covered as he methodically pulled away and closed the deal late in the race when smoke poured out of the # 50 as Mike quickly pulled off the track. If not for too many yellows and red flag stops, Matt might have lapped the field!
My pics from Perris Click here to see. Doug Allens work is here as usual click here to view.
It was Matt’s 3rd CRA win in his short sprint car history and even though he did not share his “special” thing with me before the race, I suspect it had something to do with his awesome horsepower display he put on as he came quickly from the 2nd row to take the lead from Greg Alexander and emphatically put this one in his growing win basket. He qualified 7th in the 33 car field, that number a statement in itself, and ran 3rd in his heat to transfer to the main event. In addition to everything that went right for the young budding star, he took over the championship points lead from Spencer. If he keeps running like this, the 3 time champion will have his hands full the rest of this abbreviated season.
Wow, Greg Bragg was the hard charger of the week after he stormed from 13th to the runner-up spot and was smiling on the podium. OH, that might have been the trophy girl, my bad! He was 13th quick to get that 13th starting spot and was third in his heat before he put on a Moose defying passing exhibition in the 33 lap main. Tom and Laurie Sertich are another pair of car owners going down the highway of “going broke but I still love my racing” group. You have to love it and be hard headed to maintain your racing team these days. It helps to have sponsors, hint, hint!
Super Rickie Gaunt was upset after they had a bent part (it was some kind of a bar for the back suspension???) that couldn’t be repaired before a restart in his heat. Don’t ask me, but I saw it and it had a 45 degree bend that made it impossible for him to race. He came back in the David Miller # 66 beauty to win the semi and start 9th on the grid. He was up challenging for 2nd, after that was all that was left after the Mitchell Express roared by everyone, and was on the podium in 3rd when it all ended. Good job by the 42 year old former champion. By jove he still wants to win every time out, imagine that!
There were a lot of crazy stories in the naked city of Perris this week beginning with the first car out in the main Rockin’ Ronnie Gardner. The pitman arm broke while lining up to start on the third row, and we know there is no lining up without steering! His crew didn’t react quickly enough after the tow truck took forever to get him to the work area, and as soon as he arrived there, the opening green flag flew leaving him in the pits. He and his dad have struggled to keep this car on the track and he wants to thank all the people who responded to his message board request for help $$$$$.
The most expensive destined car of the week was # 62x of Dennis Howell as he had a night to remember with a hint of positive after the night ended. Right away he got banged into the wall by a rookie in hot laps, destroying the front and rear ends, plus the drive shaft and various other co$tly parts that sent them scurrying to repair. Dennis had come back after repairs were made on the car, to start outside the last row of his heat because the 33rd car in the field never built a fire in his motor and was done. Dennis grabbed the last transfer spot to the main with some hard chargin’ and then the crew had to search and destroy an oil leak that left his shoes a bit greasy after the 10 lap prelim. Next up came his second disaster of the day, after doing so well early in the main. There he started last and did a great job moving up to about 10th place before something broke and sent him into the wall just past the track entry opening in turn two, seriously injuring this car, but only making him very sore, not broken like his racer. He said he hurt way more than his monster crash last year at Perris. If there were still Wagsbucks flowing from these hands, he would have received it hands down. His car will be evaluated while he goes back to 360 racing. The positive side, the car reluctantly rolled in the trailer and he was flying fast when he wasn’t playing wallbanger.
Brody Roa put on a good show in his 360 powered racer, at least until he dropped out of the main. He was 15th fast in qualifying with his underpowered # 91R car and ran hard to 5th place in his heat, so had to run the semi. He was third in the 12 lap last chance race and started in the 7th row in the main. He ran strong, but was done early in the feature becoming the second car out. Oh, but I wish he could borrow a 410 for his trips with CRA, the boy can drive.
David Cardey had no luck this week as his fast red # 59 worked his way up to second before having a problem that stopped him and kept him from getting back in on a restart. Some more of that also happened to Greg Alexander after leading 2 laps before going to the back and finishing 19th. Jace VanderWeerd had a wheel come off at speed and ended his night prematurely in 18th spot. Evidence showed the big nut, the one that holds the wheel on the axle, was bad in the threads and just released the big rubber missile. Nic Faas had his problems, but still restarted after a stop for a drink (?) to come all the way back to 4th at the end.
Other things of note included the Kershaw boys, Cody and Dakota finishing in 7th and 13th on the night as they left the closer confines of Ventura Raceway to run with the 410’s. Good job by both as they continue to improve each time out with us. Billy Felts Jr returned to the dirt track after a long, I don’t remember how long, time and finished 10th! The weekly Williams triad continues with young Austin getting family honors running 6th this week to beat his dad, the Ripper in 11th and brother Cody who was 16th. Imagine when they go to four wide and Logan joins them??? Blake Miller looked like he had something for the field this week after qualifying 9th and running a close second to Spencer in his heat. After leading the first 5 laps, it looked like the yellow Mark Priestley owned beauty was going to land on the podium, but settled back to 5th at the end. Rodney Argo’s # 19 Ford powered car ran a strong 8th this week in the Don Argo owned rare motored car. Kenny Perkins had a strong outing grabbing 9th this week as he and his “family of school cars” were sharp on the track. And just who is “Hubcap”, anyway?
Mike Spencer surrendered his points lead to Mitchell Express this week when the little red sucker started spewing oil and had to pull in for the second race in a row after sweeping the first three. They have some time to figure out what happened, but had to put oil in the motor during a red flag restart, so they knew it was iffy. Bruce’s motto is “we race to win!”
The excitement for the # 50 team this coming weekend will be very excited when their leader, Bruce Bromme Jr gets his just rewards in Knoxville, Ia. He will be inducted into the Hall of Fame for his exemplary record of many time crew chief awards and championships over the years. Devoted to his racing, you won’t find a better example of a winner as Bruce joins his long time winning driver Dean Thompson in that special wall of fame. He joins other CRA giants like Rip Williams, Lealand McSpadden, Bubby Jones, Bob Hogle, Jimmy Oskie, Allen Heath, Billy Wilkerson, Parnelli Jones, Roger McClusky, Jim Hurtebise, Walt James, Ron Shuman and many more of the best of the best into the hallowed ground of sprint car history. He is unique in that he made the cars fast for others where they all just drove them! My polka dot hats off to Bruce, atta boy my friend, have a ball back there and come home and tell us all about it!
Given the cold win flowing all evening, and my lack of bringing a jacket from home, I opted to stay in the pits all night, never coming in out of the middle of the track. I have to say I am amazed by the fact that Doug Allen was able to gimp around on a badly broken foot to get his awesome pics for everyone like usual. He had a bicycle to motor around on from spot to spot, but my feet hurt when I saw him shooting away close to the track action all night. Perris is lucky to have this dedicated man!
Leroy Sweeney, father of one time CRA racer Verne Sweeney, passed away recently and leaves his wife Marie and the family behind. He suffered in the months of his life so they say it was for the best and he is at peace now. Leroy can be remembered with his big smile in Verne’s pits and often just in the pits after Verne retired (he says he didn’t) so his presence has been missed and will be even more so now that we won’t get to see him again. The family has announced there will not be a service as that was Leroy’s wish, but they can certainly accept your prayers and best wishes. Rest in peace Leroy.
Kevin Michnowicz put on another great show in the Lightning Sprints this week as he rolled up to 2nd place before a flat tire pushed him back to 3rd at the finish. Not bad for a kid that never raced at until recently. Last week he ran a 360 winged car up north and word is he can drive those too. The young man can drive! We’ll see if he continues to burn up the tracks as he moves up the ladder.
The Jack Kraemer Memorial event is on track to happen at Terre Haute on July 13. Mike Clark is raising money to present to the hard charger of the race in Jack’s honor. Collections have reached over $1000, but will continue until race night when the overage will be presented to more than one driver after the hard charger portion is handed out. Mike is shooting for $1000 for the hard charger! Jack was a lifelong sprint car fan who gave a beer and some chicken to all who visited Jack’s camp at Terri Haute each race. He was a Wasdash contributor, and supported many of his own local racers in Indiana for many years. He was most often seen in a Wagtimes t-shirt, a Gasman hat and jacket, when the weather required. A smile and a beer at a race, that was Jack. Many of you knew him and Mike would appreciate your help in honoring him. Call Mike at 562-619-6335 or e-mail him at email@example.com. Get involved in this worthy effort. You can call or e-mail me as well.
Do you know what the most asked question to me these days? “Is there going to be a Wagsdash this year, and where?” The most given answers are “I don’t know and I don’t know!” Let’s analyze it a little just for grins. For 20 some odd years I have, with a lot of help, been collecting Wagsbucks and having an annual Wagsdash for the low buck racers and as I reflect back on it all, I realize several things. 1) I have no clue how it all happened, as I was merely a fan in the stands before Wagtimes was even in my brain. 2) How could I know that Cary Agajanian would encourage me to continue my mini-chili feed collecting efforts after what I thought would be the first and last time we would do that at Ascot. 3) Where did the over ½ million dollars come from that the low buck racers received. And 4), how did I get the warm friendly band of Wagtimer’s to follow me to the end of the rainbow and beyond???? All sterling questions and we’ll get to it.
It is overwhelming what WE accomplished over the years in spite of all the obstacles we faced. They included the 911 tragedy and the serious economic setbacks were two of the major reasons, but there was more. I have to tell you without many of racings heavy hitters it would never have happened. Nor did I expect it to happen or continue on when Ascot closed. Without Chris Holt putting the cash in the hands of racers in front of the Ascot crowd, it couldn’t have ever taken off. Chris continued on to champion the Wagtimes until Perris opened and airtime was not available for our efforts, even though we were able to set up booths and collected a lot of money from the crowds there, it was just not to be as we became a behind the scenes entity. As I hit the PAS press box back a few years ago when USAC came to town, that ended the PAS crowds awareness there of what Wagtimes was all about because I was not greeting them as they came in the gate with my clipboard, and we lost that edge. Things change and it is a new crowd and not likely to become Wags knowledgeable again.
The one thing I remember about the beginning years was Wagtimes was intended to be a fan club, but it just didn’t work out as the 8 or so others who came together with me to do just that, never came to an agreement on what, where, when and how! Wagtimes then began as a newsletter to a dozen or more friends in the Ascot grandstands and in it’s best years grew to mailing out over a thousand of those missiles each month. It was relatively easy to inform that small group of fans with my stories about what was going on and what I wanted to do! I just put in an ad in the Wagtimes newsletter that said I was collecting money to give to a low buck racer each race and the money began to flow in, seriously, it was like magic! I had them sign my clipboard and would award the cash thru Chris Holt until Ascot closed. Then we went on the road with no home track and I was shocked it continued to work. Chris and several other announcers were talking about Wagtimes and interviewing me so people knew the man in the red and white polka dot hat (crazy huh) would be glad to accept their money, and they came. It was kinda like that old saying “build it and they will come”, just a little cornier! The internet was just easier to get the word out and saved endless hours of publishing the Wags rag.
After one particular race at Manzy in Phoenix, we talked about a dash for cash all the way home. Who knew if it would work, but the then president of CRA Frank Lewis blessed it and the first event was to be held at Hanford on the first night of two nights of racing in 1991. Hanford will be remembered for the Jimmy Sills shortened race win (it seems like it was 7 or 8 laps) but time was all gone to run my event when they called that one. And I broke the Trophy City supplied big trophy and so I never got to carry the trophy again! Anyway we ran that first WD the next night at Bakersfield and it was the first race of the night which excruciatingly went on and on until Ron Didonato won! I still remember after the race and after the crowd had left, we presented the trophy to Ron with one lone photographer, Jim Viviano, on the track with us. He is from St Louis and we still see him from time to time.
This turned into a long drawn out affair didn’t it? Anyway, the first Wags dash paid $4811 out with $2500 to the winner and at least $100 to every car that started it. The high water mark was the year of 911 when we collected over $23,000 and paid $3,000 to the winner and at least $500 to start. After that year, discretionary money was on the decline until last year when we made just over $13,000. It was the toughest collecting year of all. Consider that over the years we used a lot of unique fund raisers like auctioning a quilt off each year, 50/50 sales, selling calendars, selling sponsor spots on the Wagsdash t-shirt, having a racer stuff auction, helmet auctions and much more. I’ve run out of new ideas for promotions and the one thing that is now constant, people have way less discretionary money for things like our race and other cancer collections and like that. I remember collecting Wagsbucks next to the NYFD booth back after 911 and saw how it affected those people who were going to hand over their money. Times are tough folks and we are on the bottom of the totem pole right after they pay their rent, feed their family and just generally try to get on with life.
So now we are getting somewhere as this all comes down to the answer of the two questions asked of me every race. Yes, I would love to have another Wagsdash, but without Ventura, the natural home of Wagsdash, it is just not likely I can make it work anywhere else. So I have no set plans to have another event because the closeness at Ventura for fan and racer was what made the chili feed work and the fund raisers so successful. We always gathered about 2/3rds of the final purse on raceway. When you separate the two crowds like we would at Perris and most other tracks, there is no way the racers are coming to hang out with us out front like on the 4th of July where they spend as little time as possible away from their pit. And the farther away from Perris or Ventura we get, the crowd just doesn’t follow. A perfect example was the 2nd annual Wagsdash at Manzanita back in 1992 where Steve Ostling won. After the race was over, and we paid out $ 4575 that year, the announcer encouraged all Wagtimer’s to join Steve on the front stretch after the race. Maybe 10 people came down. Anyway if I find a track that I think will make it work, and we are a help not a detriment, I’ll consider going back to work on it. But for now my tunnel vision doesn’t see an opening for me and my band of hard workers.
So, what the hell am I doing to continue to help the racers you ask? I have not collected any money yet this year, Except from Frank Uhl who still sends me a check every month, but have noted to those who offer, I will begin collecting whatever I can with the intention to have a cache of money to pay out at one of the last races this year. It will begin in the form of a Hard Charger award, then other Wags like payouts for best appearing crew, shiny tires, highest finishing low buck contender, first out, bad crash and so on like the Wagtimes history has shown us. It still will only be for the CRA regular low buck racers, not travelers or occasional racers or even one time racers. I do have nearly $100 in change in my hard charger Steve Lafond award container at my house and will be adding to that. Whether it’s $500 or $5000 or whatever, I will make available that money at one track late in the year to make the Wagtimes continue to be a supporting cast for our CRA racers if they are still out there, I will support them!.
And one other thing, I started this collecting money by never asking a soul for money in the beginning. They just responded to my written ideas in my newsletter and I loved it when the checks arrived at my post office box! As the years went on, I began to ask people for money to make the race more financially successful, but last year I learned a stark reality lesson. Most people just don’t have it anymore!!!! Some who use to give $20 could only roll out a few ones, some who had given $500 or more on the top of the pile, could only let go of $200 or less, maybe even nothing. It is the sign of the times. Many of you who have, or had, businesses blessed me with your help, but people like the Gardner’s, the Kittle’s and others whose business seriously suffered were the ones who really made us a success, and I can’t do it to them anymore. So I will not go asking for money, but will publish what I am doing, and if you wish to get involved, bless you! Whatever we collect will be paid out in full, like historically we always have, to a deserving and needy low buck car owner. Of course I may have to just say any car owner not in the top ten in points is eligible (or pick a number, I’ll decide after hearing from some of you). And, if they run 75% of the CRA races, that’s a requirement. That’s the way it is kids, so give me what you can and we will put it all together and pass it out. In the unlikely event that I collect $10,000 or more (not hardly possible in these times as last year was a freakin’ miracle) we might propose a 4 or 5 car dash like the Legends group did last year for a portion of that money, as in a mini-Wagsdash!
So, what can you do to help the Wagtimes efforts? You can save your change for the hard charger award like in the past. Last year it was $1000! I have a number of nicely framed racing photos from Mike Clark that I will post on the Wagtimes in the days ahead and we can either do a little bidding online ahead of time, and then finish up at the track the payout night, or just sell them at that track. I can bring them to a track if someone wants to bid high enough to buy now! They are mostly creative works of art that features many of your favorite drivers, so look for them soon. I will ask my photographer friends to make 1 (ONE) nice picture they shot this year and we’ll find a way to get some serious money from those. We’ll probably do a collage again and who knows what might turn up to raise money on. I would like to get most of it spoken for before the race day, but we shall see. As for the collections: You can give me cash or check whenever you see me and we’ll make a list of all donations for all to see as it grows. So, that’s my plan as I want everyone who believes in what we do to have a chance to get involved if …… they can spare it. I will update you if anything changes in the format I am describing and we’ll decide on a location that I hope you can all attend that night. Now I've unloaded my answers, think about it.
It is 3 weeks until our next race and there will be two events that weekend of Friday and Saturday June 17 and 18th. Friday at Watsonville and Saturday at Santa Maria, both tracks are racy and fun! Hope to see you there as I travel farther than most of you for my sprint car fix. It’s getting to be a long old road, but my Vette often makes it very enjoyable as the rumble of that motor makes it all work as I drive down the highway.
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