Thursday, April 25 - It was a bright and sunny day in the low 60’s and it was a good time to be running a race. Big Diamond Speedway management has carved an inner oval in the infield area which is about 1/5 or 1/6 mile in length. Turns four and one are part of the bigger oval while turns two and three are part of the backstretch of the bigger oval. The flagstand for the bigger track is the start/finish line for the inner oval and gives you the comparsion with the oval at the newer 16th Street Speedway in Indianapolis which was laid out inside a baseball stadium. It looks wide enough with the turns also seeming to be wide enough to produce some side by side racing.
As I exited my car at 6:40 I spotted Area Auto Racing News writer, Guy Smith, making his way toward the entrance. I yelled to him and he came over to my car while I assembled my winter gear in case it got any colder. We walked together to the front gate, paid our $8 admission and entered the grandstand area where we encountered a good mix of trackchasers and racechasers. I secured a seat between Marshall Kern and Dwight Bucks and then hurried over to the pit concession stand which was the only one open to buy dinner which consisted of two hot dogs, french fries and a diet Coke. Warmups were underway and by the time I sat back down they were ready to begin the racing program. At 7:08 the first green flag of the evening waved on the first of two 270 cc micro sprint heats for the 11 car field assembled. Mike Rutherford and Ross Perchak won their respective heat races in short order. Tonight was also one of the Mid-Atlantic Silver Tour events for the Tobias Slingshots and I was a little disappointed that they only drew 12 cars for this event. Larry Raifsnider and Alex Schoffstall looked strong in winning their respective heat races. The heat qualifying was completed by 7:37 and with no need for consies the first feature event of the evening was called to the track. The 270 cc micro sprints would go a distance of 20 laps with the first two in each heat redrawing to determine the top four positions. The two heat winners would start third and fourth in the inversion. The green waved at 7:42 and they were off and running. Ed Kenderdine took off from the first starting position and held sway the entire 20 lap non-stop distance fending off Ross Perchak who passed Mike Rutherford for second on the last lap. This race only took 5 minutes to spin off.
The 25 lap Slingshot tour race would be waved off at 7:50 with Alex Schoffstall taking command. It looked like this one was going to go flag to flag without a caution until Brett Bieber spun into the infield between turns two and three and sat for two laps until pulling his racer close to the racing surface to bring out the only caution of the evening. I thought it was going to be the first ever caution free show at Big/Little Diamond history but it was spoiled by the young gun from Oley. It didn’t make much difference to Schoffstall as when the green flag reappeared he bolted back into the lead. At 7:59 Alex Schoffstall flashed under the checkered flag winning over fellow front row starter, Larry Raifsnider. The entire racing program was in the record books in 51 minutes and they didn’t even have to turn on the track lights!! When was the last time you attended a race where it took longer to drive there than to complete the entire program??
I believe the small track has a future and hopefully as word gets out about the nice track surface and speed of running the program on a week night they will get more cars and fans to come out and watch the small car divisions battle it out at the Little Diamond Speedway.
Until next time as the weather starts to warm up get out there and support your local race track and enjoy some good short track racing.
Saturday, April 20 - After 21 straight races without a rainout we suffered two straight rainouts on Thursday and Friday. So we were raring to go and headed for the Grandview Speedway in Bechtelsville, Pa. to attend their regular program of small block modifieds, sportsman and late models. It was a small miracle that Grandview was even able to race on this evening as heavy rain on Friday left most of the track and infield under three feet of water. The track crew was able to pump the water out and work the speedway into racing shape. The temperature dropped after a warm Friday afternoon and tonight would be cold and windy on top of the hill near Bechtelsville. We wussed out and climbed the tall steps to the press box where we were protected from the cold and dust by the wood structure with windows. We ran into Mark Garman, the race director, and his four year old son, Harrison, in the tower and had a long and pleasant conversation before duty called for Mark. He asked us if we would keep an eye on Harrison and like most four year olds he was a bundle of energy. Pat came up with a great idea and asked Harrison to pick a winner in each of the heats and this kept him occupied and in one place for an extended time. Harrison turned out to be an adorable child and we enjoyed our time spent with him.
I understand that it took a yeoman’s job to work the surface into shape but my only gripe of the night would be the manicuring of the track surface after warmups were over at 7 PM, the starting time and making the small crowd who came to support the program to sit an extra 20 minutes in the cold. Just leave the track as is and go straight into the heat racing. The late models would open the show at 7:22 with two heats for their 20 car field. The sportsman would need three heats for their good 32 car field and the small block modifieds would run four heats for their 38 car field, which is somewhat down from the normal 40’s to 50’s that is norm for the track. All heat qualifying was competitive except for one heat where one of the long time runners hit everything expect the Powerball Lottery!! It was slightly over an hour for the heat racing and at 8:46 the first feature of the evening featuring the late models over the distance of 25 laps was ready to go. Kyle Merkel would start second after looking strong in winning his heat race. He took off at the drop of the green and built up a comfortable lead on the field as the laps clicked off. Suddenly Kyle had a pursuer with the name of Merkel also. It was his older brother, Sean, and he was making up ground quickly. It looked like Sean was going to catch Kyle but time ran out before he was able to mount a serious challenge and it was the younger brother pulling into victory lane. Kory Fleming held off Danny Snyder for third with Chuck Schutz making a late race charge from 15th to round out the top five. This entertaining feature took just 15 minutes before it was entered into the record book.
Two modified consies were spun off and one sportsman consie was needed. All preliminaries were wrapped up at 9:24. A short 20 minute intermission was taken with some light maintenance performed on the racing surface. By 9:52 it was feature time for the small block modifieds who would race for the distance of 30 laps. Brad Grim went to the early lead as the racing throughout the field was hot and heavy. Grim was looking good at the top of the heap as the heavy hitters such as 16th starting Craig VonDohren was slicing his way to the front as was 12th starting Frank Cozze in the Norm Hansell # 357. Grim and VonDohren went at it for the top spot for several laps until contact was made between the two in turn three with VonDohren taking the lead on lap 20. Cozze caught and passed Grim several laps later and took up the chase of VonDohren. Cozze closed the gap as VonDohren was having fits passing some of the tail enders but finally got around and opened some distance between himself and Cozze. VonDohren was able to hold sway and flashed under the checker at 10:06 in a 14 minute race with only two cautions slowing the exciting race. It was VonDohren’s second straight week winning at Grandview taking one of the two 35 lap races last week. Brad Grim held on for third with former URC sprint car racer, Jason Clauss, getting his highest small block finish in fourth and nine time track champion, Jeff Strunk, advancing from 14th to take 5th at the finish. By the way young Harrison had switched his strategy from picking one car to picking one color of race car and if you guessed blue was his color then you are a winner as was he.
The sportsman would round out the card with a 25 lap feature which took the the green flag at 10:16. Ron Krex, a former later model driver, took off from the first starting position and held sway until 15th starter, Jared Umbenhauer, motored his way by for the lead on lap 19. Umbenhauer scored his second win of the year at Grandview with Krex in tow with 11th starting Joe Funk coming home third with John Kovatch IV in his #IV taking fourth and Brett Kressley coming from the rear after a early race tangle and spin to collect fifth. The final checkered waved at 10:30 which produced another 14 minute race.
This night of stock car racing we feel was the best overall racing we have seen so far this year. Kudos to the track crew for getting the track in running order, kudos to all the drivers in running good races with few cautions to slow things and kudos to management for keeping the racing moving along after the delay at the beginning of the show. After witnessing this fine night of racing we will surely return again to the track on the hill hopefully on a warmer night where we can sit in the wooden grandstands and enjoy the sounds of good stock car racing. Until next week lets hope the weather changes to the warmer side so we can leave the heavy coats and blankets in the trunk where they belong.
Sunday, April 14 - Susquehanna Speedway Park has a special five race series of 410 sprints set for 2013. This would be the first today and is known as the Spring Classic. When we left the Easton area it was brisk and windy but by the time we reached the Newberrytown area the temperature had warmed to near 60 and the wind was no where to be found. Many people were lounging in lawn chairs next to their cars and enjoying the warm Spring day. We arrived at 4:50 for the 6 PM start and friends, Dave and Donna, had seats for us with Dwight, Gary, Marshall and John sitting with us also. Our friend from Bucks County, Russ Fri, arrived next and we waved him up to where we were sitting. He had driven out with today’s announcer, Jeff Ahlum, and would be sitting with us today.
Racing got underway at 6:11 with the first of three heats for the 22 358 sprint cars who were sharing the bill on today’s program. Heat winners were Ryan Wilson, Chris Eash and Austin Hogue, the winner at Williams Grove on Friday. With a straight up start for the feature the heat winners looked to be the ones to beat in the feature. Three heats were next run for the 25 410 sprints in attendence with three of the young guns, Logan Schuchart, Ryan Smith and Brent Marks nailing down the victories. The top two finishers of each heat would be inverted and the pill drawn by Schuchart was six so he would start sixth in the main event. All heat qualifying was completed in less than an hour (7:06) with no consies needed and a half hour intermission followed before moving into the 25 lap 410 sprint car feature.
This is the type of program the Central Pennsylvania sprint car fans want to see especially on a Sunday evening and kudos go out to the Susquehanna management for presenting and keeping the program moving along quickly. It was 7:42 when the green flag waved on the front row of Fred Rahmer and Lance Dewease with Rahmer sliding high to try to block the outside lane on the start with Mark Smith using the inside hole to take the early lead. It is always fun watching the sprinters work their way through the lap traffic and many fine moves were engineered during this time. Only three cautions slowed this one but the last on lap 19 would lead to Mark Smith’s demise. Rahmer got a good run on the restart and took the lead on lap 20 and it was lights out for the field. Donnie Kreitz, who has been dubbed Mr. Susky for his fine runs, made a late charge from his 11th starting position to close on Rahmer but time ran out before he could make a serious challenge for the lead. The resurgent Rahmer won his third race of the year at three different tracks (Lincoln, Williams Grove and Susky) over Kreitz with Brent Marks third, Logan Schuchart fourth and Mark Smith fading to fifth at the end. Positons six through ten were filled by Ryan Smith, Alan Krimes, Lance Dewease, Blaine Heimbach and Gerard McIntyre Jr.. The checkered waved on this one at 8:01.
Much of the good sized crowd stayed for the 20 lap 358 sprint car feature but the track was worn and passing was difficult. Don’t tell that to Nikki Young though as he advanced from 21st to 8th at the end. Ryan Wilson started first and opened up a ten car length lead in the middle stages of the contest after being challenged early by fifth starting Kevin Nouse. Wilson went on for the easy win flashing under the checkered flag at 8:39 winning over Nouse with Chris Eash third, Rodney Westhafter fourth and Tyler Ross fifth after starting 14th.
It was good night of racing on this Sunday night and everyone was on the road home before 9 PM. This is the proper way to run a Sunday night race program. Other promoters please take note.
This coming weekend finds us staying close to home as we are camping in our new motorhome outside of the Lehigh Valley and the weather for Friday does not look good for racing in the area. Thursday’s debut for the inner oval at Big Diamond (dubbed Little Diamond) was postponed because of inclement weather. So it could be back to back rainouts after making it through the first 21 shows without any rain.
Friday, April 12 – After a simply beautiful spring week with temperatures hitting 80 degrees, we got to Friday. The weather was rainy, foggy and the temperature barely made it into the 50s. By noon time I received the message from Rainedout.com that Bridgeport cancelled for the night. Then a couple of hours later Bruce called me at work and told me Big Diamond cancelled. It rained all afternoon and I was surprised when Williams Grove said they were still running. We left at 5:30 on route to the famous ½ mile oval and only a few miles away from the track on Route 15 we had the windshield wipers on. We commented that it appeared we drove all this way for nothing. But, as we drove down the road that leads to the parking lot it was dry and we could hear the sprints running warm-ups.
We always arrive right as the races are to start and Williams Grove seems to always start on time. Now I am a stickler for starting on time but when the Grove starts 10 to 15 minutes late it is a bonus for us. It means we can be in our seats before the first heat instead of missing the first heat. The crowd was down due to the weather. Yet most tracks would love to have that many fans attend on a regular night. The first of three 358 sprint heat took the green at 7:41 and they ran off without a hitch. Seventeen minutes later the 410 sprints took to the track. The field of 410s was down tonight and only 19 cars participated in the qualifying events. I thought they should have only run two heats but they ran three with car counts of 7, 7 and 6. Greg Hodnett took the green and then pulled in the pits. Nicole Bower, Rick Lafferty and Danny Dietrich must have had difficulty in the warm-ups because all three missed the heats. Management kept the show moving right along and the 358 consolation immediately followed the 410 heats. All qualifying was complete by 8:35 and they announced the pace car would start out in 10 minutes. When some tracks tell you there is going to be a 10 minute break they come back 30 minutes later but that was not the case. Twenty minutes later the 410 feature was underway.
By this time it was very damp and it seemed much colder than it actually was. A caution on the first lap called for a complete restart and the rest of the race was clear sailing. It went nonstop. A lot of times a nonstop ran will really get strung out but this was not the case. Sixth starter Cory Haas took the lead on lap 12 while at the same time the twelfth starter, Fred Rahmer pulled into 3rd. At this point my money would have been on Rahmer but it took 9 more laps before he moved the Rob Sell #20s into 2nd behind Haas. He was closing in but there was not enough time remaining in the 25 lap event. In victory lane at 9:06 was Cory Haas picking up his 4th career win at the Grove. Rahmer was second followed by Gerard McIntyre Jr., Brian Montieth and Adam Wilt.
Despite the cold most fans remained in the stands for the 20 lap 358 feature. This 20 lap event was not run off nonstop. There were three cautions and one red all in the first 10 laps, with the second 10 laps run caution free. Austin Hogue picked up the win followed by Mark Smith and Kevin Nouse. All racing was complete by 10:00 and we started back home on a damp chilly evening. The Grove could have canceled and no one would have questioned it. But they did not and that is why the fans were there to support them. That and they just needed that Friday night dirt racing fix.
Saturday, April 6 - Before we ventured over to our Saturday night race destination we visited our favorite Mexican restaurant in the Phoenix area, Macayo’s. This is a family owned business with 15 locations in Arizona and the decor in each of the 15 locations is different but the food is delicious in every one. This was the second Macayo’s location we had been to and the food was tasty. We had a free appetizer card from a previous visit and indulged in freshly made guacamole dip which was wonderful. Our burrito meals followed and soon we were on our way to the University Of Phoenix Stadium, the home of the Phoenix Cardinals of the NFL. Why were we going to a football stadium? Tonight was the first race of the Robby Gordon Stadium Super Truck Series and we wanted to be there for the opener. Robby Gordon, a longtime off-road racer and former Sprint Cup driver, got the idea to revive the former Mickey Thompson Stadium Truck series which ran in the 80’s.
We arrived early at 5:30 PM for the 7 PM start and already the parking lot was filling up. We found our seats 29 rows from the racing surface and actually about 14 rows from the bottom of where people were allowed to sit. The front 15 rows had heavy plastic wrapped over them to keep them from getting dirty. In reality dirt was not a factor tonight as the dirt surface was in good condition and no dust swirled in the retractable (which was open) roof stadium. This place is beautiful and the people of Glendale and the general Phoenix area have built a nice place to see different forms of entertainment.
The racing action got underway just five minutes off the scheduled starting time of 7 PM with four heats for the 8 Big Foot Sanctioned Monster Trucks in attendence. These big trucks raced side by side around the two circuits constructed on the concrete floor covered by dirt. One lap was run by one truck on each circuit with the winner being the first across the finish line after two laps. They were entertaining races and the crowd seem to enjoy them as many of the fans had monster t-shirts on that were cheering. They were followed by one heat for the stadium (dune) buggies which brought 10 buggies to the dance. This group was very racy and we enjoyed their heat very much. The Stadium Super Trucks were next up and raced two heats for their 12 truck field. Heat winners were ARCA driver, Justin Lofton, who looked very good in pacing his heat race and Greg Adler who won a crash filled heat with Arie Luyendyk Jr. nose diving into the track after jumping the table top and rolling onto his side before reaching turn one and P.J. Jones who dumped his truck twice in turn 1 in almost the exact spot after jumping the small hump in the middle of the corner. Then it was the first feature event of the evening with the Super Karts (picture mini stadium trucks) racing 16 karts for 8 laps around the circuit. We figured this was going to be a long one as the competitiors ages 5 through 15 tackled the course. There were several stoppages in the early going including the nasty four time end over end flip by young Brock Jefferson who went flying after hitting wrong off of the table top. Jefferson was OK but I bet he was very sore the next day!! Myles Cheek brought his #1 home first in a good race once they got situated after the early mishaps. Next up was the Monster Truck Semi-Finals with Bounty Hunter and Speed Energy advancing to the finals in two spirited races. It was now 9 PM and intermission time.
After a reasonable 20 minute intermission it was time for the last chance qualifier for the Stadium Super Trucks. Justin Matney of Bristol, VA came home the winner in this one and the entire 12 truck field would contest each other in the main event. The 10 lap Stadium Buggy feature race was next up and took the green at 9:37. It was an exciting, action packed event with Chino Hills, CA driver, Eddie Tafoya, winning the race even though he drove almost the entire distance with a broken left front suspension. It was a gutty run by Tafoya and everyone showed their apprecation by giving him a loud round of applause in victory lane. In the final lap he raced side by side with Robb Harvey and somehow was able to hold him off. Rob Martensen came home with the last podium position. The Monster Truck final was anti-climatic as Darren Migues driving Bounty Hunter easily beat Larry Swim’s Speed Energy monster truck.
Now it was time for the main event for the Stadium Super Trucks which would be 18 laps in distance. In a twist in the starting order Super Truck officials awarded the front row starting positions to the top two finishers in the last chance qualifier so Justin Matney and veteran Mexican off-road racer, Lalo Laguna, shared the front row. Laguna’s truck was smartly painted in white and green with the cartoon character, Speedy Gonzalez, gracing the side doors. P.J. Jones turned turtle for the third time on the night on the opening lap when he rolled onto his side on the backstretch. Laguna paced the first two laps until getting hung up on one of the water barriers and bringing out the yellow flag. In the meantime off-road veteran, Rob MacCachren, shot from seventh to third in one lap. Justin Loftin’s fine evening began to turn sour as he rolled his truck on the double double and had to be turned over to continue. There was a competition yellow at the halfway mark at lap 9 for the crews to do some minor work on the trucks before restarting. Lap 10 saw the end to Loftin’s run as fire appeared from underneath the hood of his truck. MacCachren blasted into the lead on the restart and started to pull away. The racing was further back in the pack as the field beat and banged each other attempting to catch the high flying MacCachren. As the laps wound down it was apparent no one was going to catch MacCachren but the battle was still on for second. Justin Matney was able to hold off Robby Gordon, who started in the rear twice, for second with Arie Luyendyk Jr. claiming fourth and P.J. Jones credited with fifth even though he flipped his truck for the fourth time battling with Matney for second. The final checker waved at 10:54, less than a half hour off the printed schedule for the events for the evening. Not bad considering it was their first race and they had several stoppages which took extra time to clean up.
It was an enjoyable two new track double pushing our career totals to 30 tracks in the state of Arizona. It was an adventure getting here and for me it was a delay returning home on Monday (Pat left late Sunday afternoon) as our plane coming from Las Vegas was delayed due to excessive winds and a dust storm out there. We were scheduled to leave at 4:45 PM but didn’t take off until 6:15 PM thus arriving in Philadelphia at 1:45 PM. By the time I secured the car and was leaving the parking lot it was 2 AM. Lucky for me my body clock was three hours earlier so the drive back was not bad and I arrived at home at 3:30 AM. Arising the next morning at 9 AM was a little tough be not that bad. At least I didn’t have to go to work that day.
Until next time as the area tracks are opening, get out there and get to some good local dirt or asphalt racing in your area.
Friday, April 5 - Our short Arizona adventure started early on Friday morning when we awaken at 3:15 and were on the road to Philadelphia before 4 AM. We were taking two cars as Pat was returning one day earlier on Sunday so she didn’t miss two days of work and I would be returning on Monday leaving Phoenix late in the afternoon. Things were going along well until were closing in on the Blue Route (Rt. 476) that connects the Northeast extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and I-95. We came to a screeching halt as an accident ahead stopped us in our tracks at 4:50. We sat on the Northeast Extension for an hour and a half with the road reopening at 6:20. It would mean we would not arrive at the Philadelphia International Airport in time to catch our 7:10 non-stop flight to Phoenix. We checked in at one of the Southwest counters and were told we would be flying stand by for the remainder of the journey. There was a flight leaving at 9:40 flying into Chicago Midway Airport and we would have to check there for connections to Phoenix. The lady at the first check in told us to check again upstairs and we are glad we did as the young lady above was able to get us on a flight leaving in five minutes from the time we spoke with her. So it was off to Chicago Midway at 8 AM and leg one of our Friday adventure was underway. Upon arriving in Chicago we spoke with another counter person and she booked us stand by on a flight to St. Louis. She also said they would call the names of the stand bys and neither Pat nor I heard our names called and I saw the door closed to the walkway. We approached the counter again and the lady said they had called the stand by names but she was able to issue us boarding passes to board the plane. This plane was going to St. Louis and then onto Phoenix so we would not have to deplane unless the flight was overbooked. Upon our approach to St. Louis the pilot announced that there was a change of plans and this plane would be going to Orlando instead. We would have to exit the aircraft and proceed down a few gates to another plane that was flying to Phoenix. Exiting the plane a Southwest worker told us we should proceed to the gate where the flight was going to be boarding soon and we would be ushered onto the plane during pre-boarding. I was hoping at this point that there was no one already aboard and we would be able to pick our seats on this flight. With Southwest there are no assigned seats and you are allowed to pick your own. We were first onto the plane and lo and behold we were the first passengers. We chose one of the exit aisles where the legroom in front of you is large. Enough for this 6′4″ frame to stretch straight out and never come close to touching the seat in front of me. Yes, that was great as segment three was the longest we would be on a plane today. All in all it was not that bad as we arrived only three hours later than originally intended. I had booked a tour of Chase Field, the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, for 12:30 but was able to switch it to Saturday at the same time while sitting on the tarmac waiting to leave for Phoenix. Wow, that was close!! Finally at 12:50 we arrived in the Valley of the Sun. We had lunch at a Black Bear Diner, which is a western chain of diners, recommended by friend, Gordy Killian and we were not disappointed with the food served. I ordered a hamburger with bacon and arriving at the table shortly was a half pound monster that was bigger than the roll that it sat on and the bacon was thick cut long strips that could have been a meal in themself. Pat’s three decker BLT was massive also and we came away very impressed with our first dining experience at a Black Bear Diner. If you are in the West and come across a Black Bear Diner please stop in, you will be pleased that you did.
Saturday, April 6 - With the three hour time change we both had some problems getting a good night of sleep but arose at 8 AM to start our long day of activity. On tap today were visits to two new tracks in Arizona for us both and a visit to Chase Field for an insider’s tour of the facility. We decided to eat a breakfast before leaving for our tour and picked a U.S. Egg eatery which turned out to be another great find. The fresh pressed apple juice was worth the trip in itself not to mention the delicious egg specialities devoured. Then it was off to Chase Field where we joined a group of 14 for an insider’s tour of the massive facility. We saw up close the pool located behinde the left field fence where parties can book the area for a game complete with showers and private locker room. A visit to one of the corporate boxes gave a view of the field that not many people ever get a chance to enjoy. Down the elevators to the bowels of the building where we visited the visitor’s locker room, saw all the cables and piping used to keep the building functionable and finally to one of the dugouts where you got a whole new perspective of how a game can unfold. It was a great hour and 15 minute tour but now it was time to head to our first of two racetracks where there would only be one countable race on the day.
Our afternoon destination was the Arizona Motorsports Park, a flat 2.25 mile, 16 turn road course, located in Litchfield Park which is west of Phoenix. This track has had a storied and troubled history and it was a rare occasion to catch a countable race at this facility. The reasoning for this is that Arizona Motorsports Park has a 94.0 dBA sound limit enforced on it by the county commissioners even though Luke Air Force Base is close nearby. More on this story will follow. I had been in touch with ProAutoSports Marketing and Communications Director, Dylan Hatch, for over a month beforehand and up until Wednesday he and I were not sure if they would have any countable class of racers that would be able to meet the strick decibel limit. On Wednesday though a little past noontime an e-mail arrived from Dylan with the Saturday schedule and the lone countable race, the Yellow Group, which was an open wheel class of Formula Ford entrants. The countable race was scheduled for 3:40 PM and would be 20 minutes in duration. It would be the last track activity of the day. Breaking a few speed limits along the way we arrrived at Arizona Motorsports Park at 2:30 and signed the waiver form at the registration tent (free admission) before proceeding onto the race track grounds.
I pulled the car up near the ProAutoSports trailer and hurried off to find an official to make sure things were still on time or if they might be ahead of time. I must admit that even though we enjoy dirt tracks more than asphalt ones the road courses and the sanctioning bodies keep tight schedules and adher to them unlike the majority of the dirt races we attend. ProAutoSports was no exception as I struck up a conversation with official, John Devine, which lasted for a half hour. John filled me in on the saga of the Arizona Motorsports Park and its troubled history. It seems when the owners started out building the track there was not decibel limit and not many other restrictions. It was a series of mistakes and lies by the owners that prompted the county commissioners to place a mirad of restrictions upon the facility and even shut it down for several years. What were the owners thinking after sinking 5 million dollars into the building of the track and then doing so many stupid things to piss of the county commissioners to this extent!! So now you have a road course and cannot run any sanctioning body races with loud cars at your facility. What a nightmare!! Every car is checked as they exit the last turn and take a run down the homestretch. Luckily for us the Yellow Group was under the decibel limit and we would see racing today.
John suggested driving to the apex of the 16th turn and viewing the racing from that point. It was a good suggestion as from that area you could see virtually the entire racing circuit. Even with that on the large course turns 10, 11 and 12 were quite a distance from our vantage point. At promptly 3:40 the green flag waved on the six car Yellow Group and they were off to the races. The first lap had two cars spin in turn eight almost right in front of us and basically took those two out of the hunt for the win. About midrace Jim Edmonds got a good run off of turn four and passed Dave Purcell down the 1549 foot backstretch before reaching turn five. From there on Edmonds pulled away from the rest of the field and took the checkered flag at 4 PM ending the full day of various race groups (all the others with the exception of karts not racing in side by side action). It was an enjoyable day in the sunshine of Arizona watching numerous racers having fun doing something that they love doing. After the race ended I tracked down the top three finishers and enjoyed discussing the race with winner, Jim Edmonds who is 69 years young, and runnerup, Dave Purcell, who explained that the gear ratio he had in his racing machine was not ideal for this course but they are running Firebird West next weekend and he didn’t feel like changing them twice. Edmonds told me that he and four other Formula Ford racers from Arizona are headed across country to Montreal next weekend for a meet up in Canada. And you folks probably think we are nuts at times traveling all over but here are some dedicated racers making the long haul to Montreal to do some racing. Thanks guys for the interesting conversation and hope your future races and travels are good and safe ones!! Jeff Karns came home third and one of the first lap spinners, Tim Herbst, rallied from a huge deficit to claim fourth at the end.
So new track #1 was in the books and now it was time to grab something to eat and head over to the other new track for the evening portion of this two new track double. Check back in a day or two for the next blog on part two of our Arizona adventure.
Saturday, March 30 - Sixty, one and twenty and seventeen. Remember these numbers and I will discuss them later in the blog.
Today was a partly cloudy day in the upper 50’s with a slight wind blowing from the west. On tap today was the 42nd season opener for the Bridgeport Speedway in South Jersey. The race was named the 60 Over Special in honor of Doug Hoffman, the driver of the 60 over and also the promoter at Bridgeport in 2012. Doug’s death over the winter shocked the racing world and the new promotional team of Keith Hoffman, Doug’s brother, and Dave Adams wanted to honor Doug with a race for him. The Race Of Champions (ROC) dirt group would be the sanctioning body for the racing today and everyone was looking forward to witnessing the first 60 Over Special.
Warmups were scheduled for 3 PM with racing to follow starting at 4. In the state of New Jersey they are very strict on the policing of racing machines running in their state so everyone needs to pass a New Jersey inspection with paperwork involved. A large group of cars arrived around 2:30 and the pit steward was overwhelmed even with additional assistance to fill out the paperwork. This caused the warmup time to be pushed back to 3:30 and the starting time was delayed until 4:45 due to the inspection and an overwatering of the track after warmups. With a full house in attendence to witness racing today it was not a good start to the day’s activities starting late. Remember you only have one chance to make a good first impression. If any of the fans in attendence today were newcomers this was not the way to begin the day. Next year it should be clearly stated to all entrants that inspection time will start at a certain time (11 AM) and end at a certain time (3 PM). If you have not arrived and been inspected by this time then you are not guaranteed to receive warmup time. Management must realize that they are the dictators and the racers are their subjects. Though I do not care for NASCAR much these days that is the philosophy that they have used for years with great success. The inmates cannot run the asylum. Look what happened to Indy Car racing after the owners (CART) took control of their racing. It does not work!!
After warmups were over the track crew overwatered the surface and should have only added a mist to the top of the speedway and packed that in. This boo boo cost them 10 to 15 minutes as the outlaw stocks had to run in sloppy track before they could go racing. The outlaw stocks started off the program with three heats for their good 31 car field and this is the best I believe I have ever seen the outlaw stocks run. All three heats were very competitive with much passing and spirited racing. The big block modifieds were next up with five heats for their fine 48 car field (could have run four heats with 12 cars on the big 5/8 mile and save some time). Their heat racing was meaningful with just four to qualify with a diverse group of winners consisting of Jesse Hill who looked very impressive passing Tommy Meier, Rusty Smith and Jimmy Horton for the win, Ryan Godown in his own machine, Richie Pratt Jr., Grandview regular Kevin Hirthler and Bridgeport regular Ryan Watt.
The sportsman were the last set of cars to run their heats with four contested for their nice 41 car field. Their heats were decent enough but not as good as the previous two divisions. It was 6:29 when all heat qualifying was wrapped up with consies to follow. One each was needed for the outlaw stocks and the sportsman while two were run for the modifieds with New York invaders, Billy Decker and Matt Sheppard prevailing. All qualifying was in the books at 7:17 and an intermission was taken at this point. With the sun now below the horizon the temperature was dropping rapidly. This was where I believe they made their biggest mistake of the day. The track crew was sent out not only to water the track but also to dig up the turns with the grader. I and many others saw no reason to do such extensive track maintenance at this point as the track was not rough but only dusty.
They always say you should give your top division the best racing surface possible so therefore many felt the modifieds should have been called to the speedway instead of the outlaw stocks. With the track again being greasy from the watering with no sunshine to dry it it was another 15 minutes before the outlaw stock feature took the green flag over an hour after the last consie ended. That is too long of a delay in the middle of your racing program on an cold April evening. It might be tolerable on a warm summer night where everyone is warm and comfy. But not when you are already 3 1/2 hours into your program and have not run a feature event yet. The outlaw stocks repeated their impressive performance in their 20 lap feature with much passing a side by side racing evident. Bill Liedtka came home the winner holding off Brian Ludwig and Ron Frees for the popular win taking the checkered at 8:40.
Before the 60 lap big block modified feature would start the cars were staged behind the homestretch grandstands before being fired up to enter the track. This is a good idea but in the past the crowd that has witnessed this was between 500 and 1000 but tonight the crowd was over 3000 and chaos reigned. People were told to stay back to the sides of the cars but many people walked between the cars and caused an unsafe situation. Pat even spotted one woman walking down the middle of the two lines carrying a youngsters in her arms. In our sue happy society today this is a lawsuit waiting to happen. In the future management needs to strictly police this matter by putting up roping and warning people if they do not stay back they could be asked to leave. You have to take the bull by the horns in a situation like this or it will come back to haunt you!!
Now it is time for the big block modified feature and to explain the meaning of the numbers at the outset of this blog. Sixty refers to the number of laps in the event, one and twenty signifies the length of time needed to complete the feature (1 hour 20 minutes) and seventeen refers to the number of cautions in this race. You tell me how good you think this feature might have been!! Here’s how things unfolded. Rick Laubach and Stewart Friesen brought the field to the green flag with Laubach taking the early lead. Friesen took over on a lap 16 restart and started to pull away from the field. Billy Decker and Matt Sheppard were advancing from their 22nd and 21st starting positions repectively to 10th and 11th. At the 20 lap mark the tire issue started to raise its ugly head as both second and third place runners, Rick Laubach and Ryan Godown headed pitside to change tires. At the halfway mark Friesen led over Hearn, Danny Johnson, Matt Sheppard and Jimmy Horton. At lap 45 Sheppard and Craig VonDohren needed new shoes for the baby and headed pitside. From this point on the caution appeared every several laps as more and more cars came up lame with tire issues. Laubach who pitted on lap 20 started to make his move back to the front and with six laps later was back in the top five. The top three of Friesen, Johnson and Varin had not pitted for new rubber and seemed to be prime for the picking. Duane Howard who had bought his way into the field with a provisional appeared in the top five and wouldn’t it be something if Howard who didn’t qualify would win the whole thing!! Danny Johnson’s right rear gave up the ghost with just two laps to go and with one to go Frank Cozze’s #357 went flat. That set up a one lap race to the finish and as the field exited turn four Stewart Friesen slowed low on fuel scrambling the field behind him. When the dust cleared Bobby Varin had crossed the line first followed by Duane Howard, Richie Pratt Jr. (who pitted twice with tire issues), Matt Sheppard and Stewart Friesen. In the melee off turn four Ryan Watt had flipped on the homestretch and fourth running Rick Laubach had rode the homestretch fence backward across the line for 8th. Positions six through ten were filled by Neal Williams, Jimmy Horton, Laubach, Billy Decker and Pat Ward. The checker waved at 10:24 in this marathon with Bobby Varin placing the Petruska #66 in victory lane.
Most of the 17 cautions were for American Racers going flat and this made the feature a farce. Next year if ROC insists on running sixty laps on the big 5/8 mile they may want to mandate that everyone must run the hardest tire compound available and American Racer will have to have an ample supply for the entire field as some guys ran through 11 tires in the course of the day. Several other options would be to run the 60 Over Special as an open show with an open tire rule or to run the 60 Over Special as a combo 60 laps with modifieds (40) and/or outlaw stocks (20) or sportsman (20). Two divisions for a total feature distance of 60 laps might be the saving grace. Also I don’t think the ROC rule of counting caution laps between laps 20 and 40 without drivers who pitted losing laps was a good deal. Too many extra laps were run waiting for cars to return to the track and several times an extra lap around the big oval was run after the white flage was displayed. Bet Stewart Friesen would agree about that one as his finishing envelope was about $5000 lighter than it could have been!! A short track race should never come down to who saves his tires and doesn’t get a flat. If you want to see tire or fuel conservation races than tune into NASCAR on Sunday. Let’s race all out on the short tracks!!
It was a nice day for racing with a stout field of cars and a nice tribute to Doug Hoffman but a three division program extending 6 1/2 hours from start to finish is much too long. You will not generate any new racing fans by running this long.
The quote of the day came from good friend, Marshall Kern, who sat next to us today. He said, “ROC doesn’t stand for Race Of Champions, it stands for Race Of Cautions"!!!
Friday, March 29 – It was Good Friday and that means Williams Grove Speedway is running a Friday night event. Because of a very unseasonably cold winter the previous event at the Grove was cancelled due to cold weather. Today however the temperatures reached the high 50’s and compared to the much cooler temperatures we have been experiencing this seems like a beautiful day. I left work early today and Bruce and I headed west at 4:30. We made a stop at the Hoss’s Steakhouse in Mechanicsburg and pulled onto the parking lot at the Grove at 7:00. The parking lot was full as it seemed everyone was eager to get back in to the swing of things. Tonight’s’ opener had the 410 sprints and the super sportsman on the racing card with 39 sportsman and 27 sprints in the pits.
The one thing nice about the Grove is you can always depend on them starting on time and to keep the show moving. Tonight they did just that for the decent amount of fans that came out in the cool night air. Racing started at 7:35 and moved straight on through. They started out by running two heats for the sportsman, then three sprint heats followed by two more sportsman heats. As soon as the 7 qualifying heats were concluded they moved directly into the consolation events. The sprints had one and there were two for the sportsman. All of the qualifying events were complete by 9:00. The track surface was dust free and fast. There was a slight 20 minute break prior to the sprint feature starting and it was during this time that the air became damp and cold. We were dressed appropriately but it was during this time that I decided to use one of my three blankets to cover my legs.
The lineup for the sprints was created from the finish in the heats. The top 4 qualifiers in each of the three heats drew for the top 12 positions. Fred Rahmer started on the pole and Brian Montieth was the outside pole sitter. The question was which one would win. The question was answered at 9:23 when the green dropped and Rahmer immediately moved to the front with Montieth dropping to third. The race, although not one of the most exciting, was smooth, fast and kept your attention. There was only one caution and unfortunately it came out right as the leaders were going to incur lap traffic. Nicole Bower stopped on the homestretch just short of the gate to exit the track. When racing resumed second place Ryan Taylor did pull up next to Rahmer but it was short lived and Rahmer went on to a popular win. Taylor, starting fourth finished second with Montieth bringing the #21 home in third. Greg Hodnett finished fourth from sixth and Don Kreitz Jr. rounded out the top five. In a few weeks the top four finishers in the heats will be inverted by points making it a much more exciting feature. The main event was complete by 9:35.
The super sportsman were up next with their 20 lap feature and the race started at 9:50. This race did not run as smoothly as there were 2 cautions and a red flag. The cars when they run on Saturday night as the main division come across as a fast car. But, after running next to the 410 sprints they appear real slow. However, there was much more passing with the eventual winner, Carmen Perigo coming from the 10th starting position. Russ Mitten came from 7th to finish second and 6th starter LeRoy Martin finished third and Scott Dellinger came from 15th to fourth. All was over at 10:25. A quick night of racing on a chilly night. Thank you.