KENNEDY: Racing Scene
LOS ANGELES — Recently, I made the 360-mile drive East from So Cal to Arizona to watch my first racing events, the Hall of Fame Classic, at Canyon Speedway Park in Peoria, Ariz.
The two-night program was the first for the AMSOIL USAC National Sprint Car Series at the three-eighths-mile dirt track.
The old CRA 410 c.i. sprint car series raced twice at the Canyon track in Peoria during 1994. Brent Kaeding and Bobby Michnowicz were the winners.
Finding the Canyon site in northwestern Peoria is an adventure. The track is literally in the boonies, nine miles west of the I-17 freeway. The nearest intersection of note is Lake Pleasant Pkwy and Carefree Hwy (Hwy 74).
The final two miles into the track is via an unpaved, dirt/gravel/rock road that leads to unpaved parking lots in the pits and behind the main grandstand. The CSP facility itself is primitive to put it mildly. The track could appropriately be called Rattlesnake-Coyote Raceway.
There are no permanent restrooms. There is no running drinking water. The site has faucets and running “non-potable water” basins on the main concourse. Bring your own soap and bottled water. Track lighting is merely adequate. The sound system and concessions are acceptable. Here is the good news. The track surface, despite low 80-degree days and high 60s (at the end of the main events) remained racy and competitive both nights. Drivers liked the track and racing competition was worth the trip.
The main grandstand (metal seating) from turn four to turn one is only 10 rows high and seats only about 1,720 people. The top five rows were reserved seating and the bottom five rows were general admission ($20 Friday and $25 Saturday).
The grandstand was about 80 percent occupied Friday and almost 100 percent of capacity Saturday.
The track uses one starter (Conrad Santa Cruz) standing on the main aisle level starters’ stand. The track announcer (Bob Buckholtz) hustled down from his booth position to the track to do his feature winner interviews. That’s the good, but he needs to give qualifying times when cars back off for the turns or are on the backstretch so fans recording the times can hear his voice. Some times were given only once.
There were solid fields of 35 USAC cars Friday and 34 (including a backup). Cars by series were: 10 USAC National, 11 CRA regional series, and 14 Arizona-based. The Keith Ford team from Ventura County used both cars (No. 72 Friday and No. 73 Saturday) for National Series driver Robert Ballou.
To boost attendance and provide a secondary racing series for fans, promoter Kevin Montgomery brought in the Challenge Cup Sprint Series that races primarily at Prescott, Ariz., about 70 miles north of Peoria. These 360 c.i. sprinters were similar to the Senior Sprints group that races in California at tracks such as Ventura, Perris and Victorville. There were 13 CC cars present both Friday and Saturday. They raced in a pair of 8-lap heat races and 25-lap mains both nights.
Friday Challenge Cup sprints ran smoothly with a 13-minute, competitive two-car main event battle between Brian Swinehart, son of ex-Manzanita Speedway driver Darrell Swinehart, and John Shelton, who spun on lap nine, and handed the victory to Swinehart. Ages of CC drivers ranged from their 20s to 60s. Most of the CC sprinters were Dave Ellis or Buckley chassis built in Phoenix.
Saturday CC sprint heats were entertaining and went to Prescott body shop owner Tim Beal and Swinehart. Beal in a RSS chassis (his third car of 2011) raced against his son Chris, 28, and son-in-law Dan Bauman, 32, a Prescott fireman. They believe a family that races together stays together.
They have fun and the entire clan comes to watch them race. Bauman’s 3-year old son even has a go-kart. Saturday’s CC 25-lap main was a 31-minute nightmare with six yellow flags and one red flag. A triple flip on the backstretch occurred after John Brinkley’s No. 26 rode over the wheel of a spinning car leaving turn two and tumbled down the backstretch three times without injury. Fans had begun calling for the checkered flag after the third caution. The race was cut to 20 laps at lap 9. After the lap 10 red flag and two more yellows the race was cut to 15 laps. Shelton, a 35-year old two-year sprint car owner/driver, won the 15-lap race at 9:30 p.m. for his first win (heats or mains). He drove a 2009 RSS chassis and received a large trophy and several hundred dollars.
With the race being the debut for USAC at Canyon, 35 cars qualified from 6:53-7:24 pm. NTRs were set six times from the first qualifier at 15.276 to 14.414 by third qualifier Chris Windom, 13.990 by 13th qualifier Levi Jones and the eventual NTR 13.840 by 28th qualifier Keith Bloom, Jr. Bloom drove the No. 27 Abreu Racing Spike chassis built by John Godfrey. Ballou (29th to qualify) was second fastest at 13.937. Four drivers qualified in the 13-second bracket, 25 in the 14s, and four in the 15s, with two DNQs.
Saturday’s qualifying from 6:42-7:11 p.m. figured to have slower times on night two, but qualifying times were quicker. Drivers lowered the day-old TR. Bobby East (second to qualify) beat Friday’s 13.840 with his 13.709. Fourth timer Levi Jones ran a 13.675 on his first lap and a 13.668 on his second lap. Nic Faas, the 11th qualifier in Mark Alexander’s No. 4(x), ran the ultimate FQ time/NTR 13.627 on his second qualifying lap.
Friday heats had the first six quickest starters inverted by qualifying times. Winners were Rip Williams, C. Windom, Josh Pelkey and Rickie Gaunt. B-main winner Jon Stanbrough started fourth and A-main winner Bryan Clauson, 22, started ninth with 19 of 24 starters running at the finish. The race had two red flags for an early flip by Danny Sheridan off the turn one wall-less edge and for Sussex on lap 25. Racing concluded at 10:04 p.m.
Saturday heat winners were Ballou, Matt Mitchell, Gardner and Bruce St. James. Gaunt won the B main from pole and Clauson again won the 30-lap A-main from ninth starting position.
Rip Williams, 56, and his sons Cody, 22, and Austin, 21, raced in the A-mains both nights in the three black John Jory-owned cars.
The 20-page “Canyon Chronicles” $5 official program had photos of USAC point leaders Levi Jones (National) and Spencer (CRA) on the color cover. Windy McDonald, former Manzy track announcer/PR man, produced the race program for the event.
As a founding member of the Arizona Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1986 Windy authored a program page about the H of F history. In 2001, the H of F name changed from auto racing to motorsports to encompass all forms of motorsports.
The inductees this year were the 88th to 92nd and each inductee received a plaque from sponsor Parker Stores. The five 2011 H of F inductees on Oct. 29 were: off-roader Manny Esquerra, engine builder Mark Niver, the racing chaplain organization Racers for Christ, the newspaper publishing Toops family, and versatile six-time sprint car, one-time midget and one-time modified champion Ricky Johnson, Sr., father of current sprint car driver R. J. Johnson.