Perris Auto Speedway’s “California Racers Hall of Fame Night” has grown into one of the most anticipated and fan-friendly Sprint Car events in Southern California. For the racers, the purse has grown annually with several opportunities to walk away with some cash. The special event almost always follows the Knoxville Nationals, making the month a profitable part of the racing season.
When it comes to fan engagement, in addition to the exciting top-notch open-wheel racing, a gathering of legendary racers make the trip to sign autographs. While Jimmy Oskie and Rip Williams are ever-present, they are usually in the infield helping race teams during the event. Neither driver seeks the attention or gets the praise they deserve. This time, they were greeting excited fans and being showered with adoration.
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Shane Carson, one of the most prolific ambassadors of the sport, always makes the West Coast trip as part of the “Money Month” of August. Brad Noffsinger, along with fan-favorite drivers Rickie Gaunt, and Cory Kruseman, also showed up and shared some war stories of their own.
Legendary car owner Ace Noffsinger, and the Benjamin Button of California Sprint Car racing, John Redican, were signing autographs for the fans. Much like Super Rickie Gaunt, Redican went from journeyman to winning driver as his career aged. “I had a ten-year overnight learning experience,” said Gaunt. Redican nodded his head in agreement with the youngster.
When the discussion of lengthy careers takes place, the ageless Wally Pankratz’s name will come up as the trump card. He began racing in 1970, the son of a legendary Midget racer already enshrined in the Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame. The younger Pankratz raced and won in about every type of oval track car in existence. He continues to compete when the mood strikes him. Tired of waiting for him to retire, the Bellville Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame inducted Wally into their membership, joining his father Bob Pankratz into the hallowed halls.
We also spotted National Sprint Car Hall of Fame photographer Mike Arthur and HoF engine builder Ron Shaver working in the pit area, as we looked around guessing who would be the future Hall of Famers.
Richard Vander Weerd began the night by posting the night’s Woodland Auto Display/Beaver Stripes “Billy Wilkerson Fast Time Award” with a new SouthWest track record of 16.411 over the 30-car roster. In addition to the usual $100 “Woodland Auto Display” award for the fast qualifier, Anne Wilkerson threw in an extra $500 for the “Billy Wilkerson Fast Time Award.” Jeff Gardner pledged $100 to the fifth-fastest qualifier (Damion Gardner) in memory of Jack Gardner.
Sadly, two of the local-favorite family teams were taken out of the event by flipping in the fast-time qualifying round. A.J. Bender, and last year’s Rookie of the Year Joel Rayborne, sat out after their cars experienced major damage.
Next up was one of the crowd’s favorite special events of the night. The “Junior Kurtz No Bozos Trophy Dash” has also grown in status and value over the years. Kurtz’s wife, Michelle, put up a $2,000 purse for the event which has a unique format.
The four fastest qualifiers compete in a series of four, three-lap races. Each driver will start in each of the four starting spots once — rotating one position each race. The winner of each of the races was awarded three points. Second place received two points, Third place earned one point, and Fourth got zero points. In a sign of things to come, Jake Swanson won the “Junior Kurtz No Bozos Trophy Dash” over Richard Vander Weerd, Austin Williams, and Brody Roa.
The night’s 10-lap heat race victories went to Richard Vander Weerd (First Heat), Jake Swanson (Second Heat), Brody Roa (Third Heat), and Stevie Sussex (Fourth Heat). Damion Gardner won the 12-Lap Semi-Main after having to drop out of the First Heat with car problems.
The Main Event
Track official Chris Holt has taken it upon himself to be the main organizer for all of the bonus money efforts. Through his tireless effort, Holt and the contributors raised over $6,000 in bonuses and lap money for the event. Each lap paid a minimum of $100 to the leader. Many of the laps had more than one donor (each donor was required to pay $100 per lap). This extra cash is what has helped to grow the “California Racer’s Hall of Fame Night” into one of the CRA racer’s most anticipated events on the annual schedule.
In addition, the National Sprint Car Hall of Famer Lealand McSpadden, and his wife Janet organized the “Ellen Ellis Hard Charger Award” for the driver who passes the most cars in the main event. The $2,700 award was in honor of the recently deceased Ellis, a well-known figure in Southwest Sprint Car racing. With all of this prize money on the line, the green flag waved over a starting front row of Tommy Malcolm and Cody Williams.
The #44 of Cody Williams jumped out to an early lead on the top line with Tommy Malcolm’s #5X running a tight line on the bottom. Entering Turn 1 on lap two, Malcolm’s car bicycled and contacted Jake Swanson Sprinter, sending it spinning into the fluff at the top of the track. Because his car stalled, Swanson was restarted and sent to the back of the pack.
Cody Williams restarted in front and held the lead until lap 8 when he was chased down by CRA-points-leader Damion Gardner. Richard Vander Weerd, who always seems to show up large in the big races, passed Gardner a lap later and took the lead for the next few laps. Popular driver and continual front runner Brody Roa, passed Vander Weerd on lap 15 to assume the front spot.
While these five racers swapped the lead, Jake Swanson steadily worked his way through the pack, slicing and dicing his way to the top five, then top three, to challenge for the lead. Taking the bottom of the track, Swanson passed Roa on lap 24, completing one of the most exciting come-from-the-back charges in the history of the track.
Swanson put some distance on the field and crossed the finish line to capture his first win at the speedway, the winner’s purse, and several of the lap bonus awards. Fast-qualifier Richard Vander Weerd, Brody Roa, Danny Faria Jr., and Austin Williams rounded out the top-five drivers.
Race Results: AMSOIL USAC/CRA & USAC SOUTHWEST SPRINT CAR SERIES RACE RESULTS: August 17, 2019 – Perris Auto Speedway – Perris, California – “California Racers Hall of Fame Night”
WOODLAND AUTO DISPLAY / BEAVER STRIPES “BILLY WILKERSON” QUALIFYING: 1. Richard Vander Weerd, 10, Vander Weerd-16.411 (New SouthWest Record); 2. Jake Swanson, 34AZ, Grau/Burkhart-16.530; 3. Brody Roa, 91R, BR-16.627; 4. Austin Williams, 92, Sertich-16.645; 5. Damion Gardner, 4, Alexander-16.658; 6. Cody Williams, 44, Williams-16.693; 7. Tommy Malcolm, 5X, Napier-16.896; 8. Jace Vander Weerd, 88, Vander Weerd-17.061; 9. Charles Davis Jr., 50, Davis-17.062; 10. R.J. Johnson, 51, Martin-17.068; 11. Matt McCarthy, 28M, McCarthy-17.160; 12. Stevie Sussex, 12, Allen-17.217; 13. Danny Faria Jr., 42, Cheney-17.244; 14. Mike Martin, 16, Martin-17.336; 15. Eddie Tafoya Jr., 51T, Tafoya-17.430; 16. Matt Rossi, 02, Rossi-17.458; 17. Bill Rose, 6, Rose/Miller-17.492; 18. Chris Gansen, 4G, Gansen-17.602; 19. Steve Hix, 57, Hix-17.606; 20. Verne Sweeney, 98, Tracy-17.650; 21. Kyle Shipley, 34, Grau-17.659; 22. Chris Bonneau, 15, Bonneau-17.693; 23. Trent Williams, 52V, Williams-17.708; 24. Jeff Dyer, 39, Cal-Sun-17.830; 25. Daylin Perreira, 21X, Perreira-17.898; 26. Austin Liggett, 83, Liggett-18.016; 27. Joel Rayborne, 12B, Blair-18.102; 28. Matt Lundy, 98L, Lundy-18.218; 29. Justin Kierce, 43, Kierce-18.654; 30. A.J. Bender, 21, Bender-NT.
JUNIOR KURTZ “NO BOZOS” TROPHY DASH: (Four 3 lap dashes) 1. Jake Swanson-10 points, 2. Richard Vander Weerd-5 points, 2. Austin Williams-5 points, 4. Brody Roa-4 points. NT
EXTREME MUFFLERS / BROWN & MILLER RACING SOLUTIONS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps) 1. R.Vander Weerd, 2. Davis, 3. Faria, 4. Rose, 5. Shipley, 6. Perreira, 7. Gardner. 2:57.77
CIRCLE TRACK PERFORMANCE / ULTRA SHIELD RACE PRODUCTS / COMPETITION SUSPENSION INC. SECOND HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Swanson, 2. Johnson, 3. C.Williams, 4. Liggett, 5. Gansen, 6. Bonneau, 7. Martin. 2:55.34
SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS / BUTLERBUILT SEATS THIRD HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Roa, 2. T.Williams, 3. McCarthy, 4. Malcolm, 5. Hix, 6. Tafoya, 7. Lundy. 2:57.46
BROWN & MILLER RACING SOLUTIONS FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Sussex, 2. A.Williams, 3. Rossi, 4. Sweeney, 5. Dyer, 6. J.Vander Weerd, 7. Kierce. NT
COMPETITION SUSPENSION INC. / PYROTECT RACING CELLS SEMI: (12 laps) 1. Gardner, 2. J.Vander Weerd, 3. Martin, 4. Bonneau, 5. Gansen, 6. Shipley, 7. Tafoya, 8. Hix, 9. Lundy, 10. Dyer, 11. Perreira, 12. Kierce. NT.
FEATURE: (30 laps, with starting positions) 1. Jake Swanson (5), 2. Richard Vander Weerd (6), 3. Brody Roa (4), 4. Danny Faria Jr. (13), 5. Austin Williams (3), 6. Stevie Sussex (12), 7. Jace Vander Weerd (8), 8. Austin Liggett (22), 9. R.J. Johnson (10), 10. Cody Williams (2), 11. Damion Gardner (7), 12. Bill Rose (16), 13. Tommy Malcolm (1), 14. Matt McCarthy (11), 15. Trent Williams (21), 16. Mike Martin (14), 17. Charles Davis Jr. (9), 18. Chris Gansen (17), 19. Chris Bonneau (20), 20. Kyle Shipley (19), 21. Verne Sweeney (18), 22. Matt Rossi (15). NT