Thursday, October 20, 2016

2016 World Finals Pickem Contest

Welcome back for our final fantasy Pickem contest of the season! It feels like just yesterday that I was creating a post for the 2016 DIRTcar Nationals contest. Where has the time gone?

In a change from recent contests that we've held, I've altered the scoring for the World Finals to the point where only feature finishes are scored. This change has been made for a number of reasons:

1. Differing formats make it hard to fairly distribute points across the divisions
2. Less complex and easier for contestants to calculate on their own
3. After getting back to the hotel at 3AM last year and having to score everything, I want less to do :)

With that said, here are some important contest details.

  • Deadline to submit an entry is Thursday, October 27th at 12 noon EST.
  • Limit 1 entry per contestant. If you submit multiples, your latest entry will be the one that counts.
  • You'll pick 8 drivers total from our predetermined groups: 3 sprint, 3 SLM, and 2 BB
  • We make no guarantees that a given driver will be in attendance. Do your research, and pick at your own risk.

Prize List:
1st - $75.00 Visa gift card
3rd - $15 Subway gift card

Scoring Procedures:
1st (50), 2nd (45), 3rd (42), 4th (40), 5th (38), 6th (36), 7th (34), 8th (32), 9th (30), 10th (28), 11th (26), 12th (24), 13th (22), 14th (20), 15th (18), 16th (16), 17th (14), 18th (12), 19th (10), 20+ (8)

Remember, drivers only receive points for their feature results.

Any questions can be directed to us as a comment to this post, or on Twitter to @thedirtnetwork or @tyler_beichner

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Stampede Story From Lernerville Part 2; Mollick Snags 2nd Consecutive RUSH LM Tour Victory; Scott Puts Emods Behind Him; Kugel Bests RUSH Modifieds; Boozel takes Mini Stocks

Cheryl Fleming Photo

Support division racing has been a part of the Steel City Stampede tradition from it's inception in 2009. It has become part of the atmosphere surrounding the annual event and a huge part at that. It is a time for drivers, teams and fans to take their game to the action track for perhaps the only time of the season, in front of the large grandstand of fans and spacious red clay surface.  And on Saturday night, the action continued well into the evening as John Mollick won his second RUSH Late Model Series touring event in a row while Mr. "Slow Ride" himself, David Scott collected the honors in the UMP Modified main event.  Rocky Kugel bested a complete full field of RUSH Sportsman Modifieds for the victory that saw his season end on a high note, and Eric Boozel destroyed the mini stock field on hand by lapping up to the sixth place car.

In case you missed Part 1 in our Steel City Stampede weekend coverage, you can click here to revisit it.

But for now, we'd like to reset the scene, and tip our hat to the drivers, crew and families that make up the back bone of dirt racing, the ones that do it for the love, putting in hours of hard work every week to give us some great action and entertainment on the track week in and week out. And we thank them very much for being a huge part of the racing this weekend!

To see our own Patrick Miller's complete photo series from the weekend: click here!

RUSH Late Models

John Mollick had been riding the crest of a wave coming into the weekend having beaten a stout field of competitors the previous Saturday night at Pittsburgh Pennsylvania's Motor Speedway, a surface that he's become fairly familiar with over the years.  Flash forward a week later, and Mollick was up against much the same stout field, but at Lernerville and with a touring series championship running simultaneously behind him as Bryce Davis and John Waters were both putting forth their best effort for all the marbles on Saturday night.  Mollick was not phased by either aspect though as he kept focus in a tight battle with Waters en route to the $2,000 pay day in the 25 lap main event.

Mollick and Justin Lamb brought the field to the green flag and in the early running, Mollick looked to be in good command of the field as third starting Waters dispatched of Lamb to move to the second spot as sixth starting Ryan Montgomery got a good jump on the initial green flag to take up the third position.  Behind all of them was one Bryce Davis who came into the night with a nine point lead in the season standings. Davis started eighth on the grid, needing to merely keep Waters within sight to take home the championship honors and immediately made his way toward the front of the field with Dave Lyon running a strong fourth place in the early going. Davis made his way to fifth by the fourth lap while out front, Waters was going for broke, looking underneath Mollick for the lead as the top two made some separation from the rest of the field.

Pat Miller Photo

The first caution of the night then came out with eight laps down for a front stretch melee involving several cars in a tangled mass. With the field now re racked, Mollick elected to restart the race on the top side and when action resumed, Waters went back about his business of looking for the lead as the caution flag waved once again on lap nine. Waters again put forth a stiff challenge for the lead pulling alongside Mollick at different points while Davis made his way around Montgomery for third. The battle for the lead was saw Mollick taking the high side with Waters running a line just a few feet below him and for a brief second it looked as if there would be a 12 lap battle for the win that might see both competitiors challenging side by side with green flag conditions and lapped traffic playing a major factor. But a series of cautions kept the action to more of a restart chess match between the two front runners.

Mollick elected to restart down low on a lap 14 restart that marked an important part of the story for the championship battle as fourth running Kyle Lukon and third running Davis made contact causing Lukon to go spinning off the backstretch. It would also mark the moment that Davis's chance for the title took a major blow as he appeared to cut a tire in the contact.  Meanwhile, out front, the restart game between Mollick and Waters saw the latter take the lead as Davis brought out a yellow flag on lap 20, ending his chance for the title.

With the title more or less decided, the focus came back to the exciting battle up front between Waters and Mollick. Following one more caution for debris, the two competitors embarked on a furious battle for the win with clean air and not lapped traffic to settle affairs on the night once and for all. Mollick got a great jump on the restart and retook the lead while Montgomery took a look under Waters for the second spot, allowing Mollick to drive away to victory while Waters was declared tour champion at the end of the 25 lap battle.

Pat Miller Photo

"I'll tell you what, his (Waters) car is very good," Mollick said in victory lane. "He's one of the best guys I've ever raced with. He'll leave you room and he takes room and he just does a hell of a job. If I got second, I was sure hoping he won. It seemed like his car was changing a little bit and I had to keep our tires cool.  My car was getting way too tight with trying to keep heat in our tires so I just went to the bottom and tried to keep everything cool and tried to keep it smooth.

Top 10:

1. John Mollick
2. John Waters
3. Ryan Montgomery
4. Kyle Zimmerman
5. Jason Knowles
6. Justin Lamb
7. Alan Dellinger
8. Brian Knowles
9. Dave Lyon
10. Greg Beach

UMP Modifieds:

Former Super Late Model standout David Scott has had a season to remember on the UMP/UEMS modified trail in 2016, and his considerable skills were on display once again. It had been a long time since his last visit to the action track, but many in attendance were well aware of his skills, and were eager to see watch him knife through the field with precision and purpose in 20 lap, $1,000 to win E-Modified feature on Saturday night. And Scott didn't disappoint, keeping a fairly stout field of competitors behind him in the process en route to the victory.

Pat Miller Photo

Shawn Shingledecker and Matt Lux, pulling double duty on the weekend, started on the front row and in the early going, Lux set the pace as Russ Dunn made his way around Shingledecker for third. Johnathan Taylor brought out the first caution with four laps int he books and on the ensuing restart, Lux elected the top side where he didn't quite get the jump here was looking for, allowing Dunn to take advantage and seize the lead.

Lurking behind all the action up front was Scott who worked from his ninth starting spot with authority, making the pass under Shingledecker for third on lap five. Scott used the bottom of the surface to his advantage and found it's bite to his car's liking as he made his way underneath Lux for the second spot, then moved under Dunn for the lead on lap nine just before a caution reset the field.

Pat Miller Photo

On the restart, the red flag came out for Carmen Perigo who flipped onto his roof in turn two. Perigo would be okay, leaving just one question for those in attendance. Would anybody have anything for Scott in the second half of the main event?

Once action resumed, Dunn gave it his best chance, putting his car right behind Scott's as Shingledecker and Lux started battling hard for the third spot while area standout Carl McKinney joined the party at the front, looking to the outside of Shingledecker for the fourth spot, making for a three way battle for position between himself, Shingledecker and Lux.

Kevin Ruhlman brought out the final caution with 16 laps in the books, giving Dunn and company one last crack at the leader, but Scott was too strong on the bottom and cruised to the victory while Lux held off a furious charge from Shingledecker to win the heated battle for the final podium spot.

Cheryl Fleming Photo

"I think I snookered Dunn with the bottom being so good, he kind of got to where he was doing that and just moved a car length up that hub," Scott said. "This is a new car and this is the second time we raced it and this thing is pretty badass. It's been so long since I've been to Lernerville that I couldn't remember how to get here. I love this place, it's too bad it's two and a half hours from home. This is a great facility and the fans are awesome here, the racing is always good here and I'm glad to be back. This is our 20th win of the season which is my biggest year ever. We were hoping for 20 and looking to come here to Lernerville to get it done and it worked out, we did it!"

Top 10:

1. David Scott
2. Russ Dunn
3. Matt Lux
4. Shawn Shingledecker
5. Troy Johnson
6. Mike Kinney
7. Carl McKinney
8. Bruce Takach
9. Kevin Miller
10. Dan Davies

RUSH Sportsman Modifieds:

Rocky Kugel almost didn't make the second half of the 2016 campaign, but during his second half of the season run with a new carr and victory on Saturday night at Lernerville, Kugel has to be one happy camper. The RUSH Sportsman Modified standout held off stiff challenges from Jeff and Brian Schaffer en route to the win in the $800 to win, 20 lap feature even that brought an end to the season and saw Brian and promising young driver Chas Wolbert settle the touring season championship.

Pat Miller Photo

Kugel and Brian Schaffer started on the front row as Kugel set the pace early on as former touring champion and favorite to win Greg Martin suffered a flat tire on the opening lap and was forced to the pits. Martin changed rubber and came rejoined the field but was two laps down as the caution flag came out on lap two following a Nick Ritchey spin.  Once action got underway Kugel retained the lead as Brian Schaffer and Kyle Martell engaged in a battle for the second position, while behind them, points leader Wolbert was working to the front from his fifth starting spot, as he swapped the fourth position with Jeff Schaffer in the early going.

The yellow flag re-emerged on lap seven for Jessica Kriegisch, and when the field got underway again Jeff managed to wrest the second spot from Martell who had dispatched Brian Schaffer moments earlier. Kugel was being pursued by Jeff Schaffer for the lead when the tour points title battle became an open question as Wolbert, looking at taking the third spot, spun in turn four to bring out the caution on lap 10.

Pat Miller Photo

On the ensuing restart, Jeff Schaffer was penalized for premature acceleration and was penalized as Tiffany Williams, who'd started sixth on the grid, inherited the position for the meantime. With clean air and no lapped traffic in front of him, Kugel went to work on keeping the field behind him, running smooth and consistent laps while behind him, Brian Schaffer moved to the topside with authority in an attempt to better his final result while engaging in a tight three car battle for positions two through four with Williams and Jeff Schaffer taking the focus off Kugel who ran away with the victory in the waning laps. Brian Schaffer capped of the night with a third place finish, sealing the deal as RUSH Sportsman Modified tour champion for 2016. But the night belonged to Kugel who's second half run has seen him amass three wins and won with almost a straightaway to spare.

Cheryl Fleming Photo

"I got this car from Tom Glenn and it's been fast ever since," Kugel said. "We junked one early in the year at Tri City, but this is the seventh race for this car and the third win, I don't think we've finished outside the top five anywhere we've raced it. This thing was on a rail tonight. I have to thank my dad, I told him I was basically done racing after I junked the other one and he put this car together in a week, called me and said let's go race."

Top 10:

1. Rocky Kugel
2. Jeff Schaffer
3. Brian Shaffer
4. Kyle Martell
5. Tiffany Williams
6. Kole Holden
7. Josh Deems
8. Jeremy Weaver
9. Shayne Izzo
10. Greg Martin

Mini Stocks

Eric Boozel came to race, and that he did, putting the field of 19 mini stocks behind him with relative ease in the 15 lap, $500 to win main event.

Bill Fuchs and Tanner Lansberry brought the field to the initial green flag, and following a complete restart for an opening lap caution, it took Boozel a mere two laps to assume command of the field, making the pass underneath Fuchs down the back stretch for the lead while Pat Brehm held tight command of the third spot. Meanwhile, the battle behind them between Tanner Lansberry, Bob Pease and Noah Swank heated up as the three cars swapped positions four through six several times over the course of the main event with Pease emerging to overtake Brehm with two laps to go.

Pat Miller Photo

But out front, Fuchs was too strong to be matched as he battled lapped traffic on lap seven and did not miss a beat, leaving Fuchs with not much choice but to settle for the second spot. Boozel lapped up to position number six over the course of 15 laps as he sliced through cars with ease en route to the victory.

"We do a pile of travelling, we race with the best in the country," Boozel said. "We race everywhere from Georgia to Ohio to New York and we do well with all of them. It's a lot of hard work, a lot of research and a lot of dedication, but it shows."

Top 10

1. Eric Boozel
2. Bill Fuchs
3. Bob Pease
4. Pat Brehm
5. Noah Swank
6. Tanner Lansberry
7. Bill Hassenplug
8. Logan Keney
9. Brent Bickerstaff
10. Tyler Young

The Stampede Story From Lernerville Part 1; Flick Captures 1st Stampede Win; Norris Crushes Late Model Field; Bowman Wins Thriller; McPherson Rules Open Stock Fiels

The cast of Lernerville's Fab Four weekly racing series and invading area drivers met for the final time at the action track Saturday night, for one last chance at ending the season on a high note, in front of a considerably good crowd on hand. And when the final checkered flag waved on the 2016 season, there were three familiar faces holding up the famed Steel City Stampede belt buckle trophies, and one great friend of a fourth.

Pat Miller Photo

AJ Flick took home his first career victory in the People Natural Gas DIRTcar Sprints while Michael Norris continued his torrid hot streak deeper into October with the win in the Precise Racing Products DIRTcar Late Models.  Meanwhile, in the Diehl Automotive Big Block Modifieds, a Canadian invader made off with the $3,000 winner's share. And it wasn't Mat Williamson. Merrittville Speedway and DIRTCar 358 Modified tour standout Mike Bowman joined in the fun and wired the field holding off a stiff challenge from Williamson as the two friends battled door handle to door handle for the second half of the 25 lap feature.  And in Millerstown Pic-A Part Open Sportsman action, Corey McPherson was the one and only 2016 track champion to come away with a feature win, driving away from an impressive field in a caution marred main event.

Peoples Natural Gas DIRTCar Sprints:

AJ Flick had achieved much in his sprint car years at Lernerville. Flick had seen his fair share of feature wins and track championships, and also provided some edge of your seat action to the delight of the fans over the years. However one thing he hadn't done until now, was to stand in victory lane at the final event of the season, until Saturday night. Flick stayed patient in the early going as he watched George Hobaugh Jr  take the early lead, then seized an opportunity and never looked back en route to the win.

Hobaugh and Flick led the field to the green flag and once action got underway, Hobaugh was the man to beat, setting a torrid pace on the high side of the speedway while Flick became focused on 2016 champion Jack Sodeman Jr who was stalking him from his third running position. Behind them, Dan Kuriger and Sye Lynch took up positions four and five as Hobaugh began to encounter lapped traffic early.

Pat Miller Photo

Hobaugh split the lapped cars in turn three with precision as Sodeman started looking underneath Flick and looked to have the position when Andy Priest brought out the caution flag with four laps down. Once action resumed, Sodeman tried Flick again for the second spot while Lynch was all over Kuriger for the fourth position when Zach Morrow went off track in turn two with six laps in the books.

On the ensuing restart, it was Flick looking for the pass as he went underneath Hobaugh and stayed with him, completing the pass for the lead just one lap later with a turn four slide job. However, Flick would find himself in lapped traffic just two laps later with a pack of pursuers led by Hobaugh looking to eat away at Flick's considerable lead. Flick maneuvered through the lappers with ease as the top three cars gained separation on the field. Behind them, Dan Shetler began creeping closer to contention by passing Lynch for fifth with 13 laps down

Pat Miller Photo

Out front, Flick was in control and looked to be on his way when Shetler brought out the caution with 20 laps in the books. With five laps left, the  action resumed with Hobaugh having a new lease on life. Flick saw his closest pursuer take a look underneath as Hobaugh relentlessly tried to seize the lead, but Flick would hold on and then some to collect the $3,000 pay day.

Cheryl Fleming Photo

"I had told my father that I knew this track might slick up a little bit so we kind of set up for that and it was tough to drive in the beginning," Flick said in victory lane. "George (Hobaugh) was an absolute rocket ship. I didn't know if anybody was going to catch him. I had one horrible restart and I was able to fix it the second time around and that gave me a shot at him and after I got past him, it was just about hitting my marks."

Top 10:

1. AJ Flick
2. George Hobaugh
3. Jack Sodeman Jr.
4. Dan Kuriger
5. Sye Lynch
6. Michael Bauer
7. Sye Lynch
8. Carl Bowser
9. Brandon Spithaler
10. Cory Good

Precise Racing Products DIRTCar Late Models:

To say Michael Norris has been on a tear of late might be an understatement. He's been on a podium and victory spree might be more accurate. And when he's not doing that, he's been setting quick time at a few choice national touring events.  Norris brought the hottest hand into the weekend in the Late Models, and he lived up to the billing as he put the 23 car field behind him, going almost unchallenged once he'd taken the lead to collect his first Steel City Stampede trophy.

Matt Lux and Michael Davis started on the front row and early on took part in a last lap for the win style dog fight as both crossed grooves in attempts to get a leg up in the opening laps. Behind them, Jared Miley, and Chad McClellan looked to provide the early pressure for the front runners until lap four when track champion Russ King brought out the caution flag with a blown engine. Lux then departed for the pits during the yellow, while Davis inherited the lead.

Pat Miller Photo

Once action resumed, Davis and Miley were battling from the lead and joining them from his ninth starting spot was Norris. The top three ran under a blanket for the following laps with Miley running the low groove and looking to take the lead from Davis while at the same time, Norris began to look under Miley in a frenzied three car battle. On lap seven, Norris slid under Davis for the lead and found himself in heavy lapped traffic as Miley maneuvered under Davis for second, setting his sights on the leader until the caution flag waved on lap 12 halting all momentum.

Pat Miller Photo

Norris elected the bottom on the restart and once action resumed, he made for the top of the speedway as Alex Ferree joined the party moving up to the fourth spot and eventually overtaking Davis for third. A lap 14 caution for John Weaver re stacked the field. Norris elected low again, but once the field got rolling again, the top three cars remained the same as Norris, Miley and Ferree looked to decide the matter between the themselves, gaining separation from the field during the green flag run.

Pat Miller Photo

Norris now faced heavy lapped traffic as he split the cars of John Hodgkiss and John Weaver in turns three and four with Miley shaving the lead down in the waning laps. However, Ed Ferree stopped Miley's momentum cold with a turn four spin that almost collected Miley in the process. Miley avoided disaster for a brief second, but when the green flag came back out with two laps to go, Miley went over the cushion to end his bid for the win. Norris was able to keep Ferree at bay on the following restart and cruised to victory, his first ever Steel City Stampede Championship.

Cheryl Fleming Photo

"It feels good," Norris said. "I love coming here, all my fans and everybody from my hometown was watching. Ever since we put this new car together everything's been clicking, the motor, the car and the crew. It's been really fun, this is why you do it. We're just soaking up the high times while we got them and I can't thank everybody enough."

Top 10:

1. Michael Norris
2. Alex Ferree
3. Andrew Wylie
4. Tommy Beck
5. Jordan Yaggy
6. Kenny Schaltenbrand
7. Mike Miller
8. Jared Miley
9. Todd Bachman
10. John Weaver

Diehl Automotive DIRTCar Big Block Modifieds:

Mike Bowman had been having an up and down 2016 in his own geography, so he selected tow to another to see if he could perhaps cook up some momentum to leave the season on a high note. He got all that and then some on Saturday night and also kept fans on the edge of their seat with a classic battle for the win that was as clean as one could hope for with track champion Mat Williamson in the process.

Pat Miller Photo

Bowman and former weekly Lernerville competitor Brad Rapp brought the field to the green flag and from the drop of it, one thing remained clear, that Bowman had brought his "A" game to the party.  The Canadian invader built a substantial lead in the opening laps. But Rapp would hang in there, looking as if he'd never missed a beat at the action track and ran a strong second, while behind him, Williamson, who'd started third on the grid, was gaining ground on both front runners. Behind them, Rick Richner and Brian Swartzlander rounded out the top five.

Rodney Beltz brought out the first caution of the main event when he slid off the top of turns three and four on lap five, and on the ensuing restart, Bowman looked as impressive as he had in the opening laps as Richner challenged Williamson for third.  Williamson would shake Richner a lap later and set his sights on Rapp making the pass underneath for second on lap seven as out front, Bowman was setting a torrid pace and had amassed a huge lead on the second running Williamson.

Bowman started to enter lapped traffic which combined with Williamson's sense of urgency, began to shrink the lead to a manageable size as the two front runners pounded the cushion with Rapp, Richner and Swartzlander in a fierce battle for third.  Williamson had managed to cut Bowman's lead from nearly a second, to a tenth and the battle for the win increased with intensity. Wiliamson looked under Bowman at every turn in the waning laps and drew even with him on several occasions, swapping the lead seemingly from corner to corner. The stage was set for a final lap for the ages with the two leaders neck and neck when Swartzlander cooked his engine, setting up a green, white, checkered finish, much to the delight of the audience.

Pat Miller Photo

On the restart, Bowman elected down low, putting Williamson on the top shelf where he had been making up the most ground. Once action resumed, it appeared Williamson had finally pulled off the pass until Richner brought out the caution for another round of overtime.  Bowman elected high on the second restart and it helped keep Williamson at bay as he crossed the line just slightly ahead of his friend to take the $3,000 victory.

Cheryl Fleming Photo

"I followed my buddy Mat (Williamson) down here and everybody knows Mat's a champion because he races like that," Bowman said. "Mat and I have raced like that so many times up at Merrittville and it's kind of fun to do it going a lot faster and I appreciate him running me clean there. The first yellow, I didn't even see him in the top five and I thought it was a mistake in scoring but sure enough he showed up and we were able to switch are restart alignment on that last restart and get back up in front."

Top 10:

1. Mike Bowman
2. Mat Williamson
3. Russ King
4. Brad Rapp
5. Steve Feder
6. Rick Regalski
7. Rodney Beltz
8. Skip Moore
9. Mike Turner
10. Tom Glenn

Millerstown Pic-a-Part Sportsman

One of the most intriguing things coming into the weekend, would be the open versus crate sportsman outcome as many invaders with more substantial engines came to party with the crate engine based home track drivers. But sometimes, talent wins the battle, no matter what the engine difference might be. Corey McPherson had a regular season to remember en route to another track championship, and was certainly the man for the job this night as he kept the $1,000 first place money in the area which he did on Saturday night in a feature event that saw as many if not more caution laps than green flag circuits.

Pat Miller Photo

McPherson started on the pole and opened up a comfortable lead with invader Nathan Smith moving up three spots in a hurry once action got underway, to find himself in second place in the early going. Behind them, Marty Spade, AJ Pokjak and Jim Fosnaught took up positions two through five.

With eight laps in the books, and McPherson stationed at the top of the speedway, Smith began to reel in the leader, but tagged the front stretch wall on lap 10. His second position was saved though as another caution on the speedway reset the field. Smith would find during the caution laps, that he'd suffered a flat tire, ending his contention for the win. When action resumed, Spade had inherited the second spot as Wayne Carbo joined the top five from his 10th starting position.

And then, the green flag action ground to a halt.

Pat Miller Photo

A large pileup involving Joe Kelly and Joey Zambotti as well as about four other cars occurred on the back stretch, re stacking the field. On the following restart, Fosnaught looked as if he'd been shot out of a cannon and jumped forward to second place. Carbo then went over the backstretch to bring out a caution with 12 laps down as 18th starting Mike Miller took second place away from Fosnaught. Then, with 15 laps gone, Zambotti brought out another yellow.  Indeed, 14 of the 24 starters had been involved in a caution up to the lap 15 mark. But through all the restarts, McPherson stayed out front, ad was looking as if he'd have no immediate pressure to relinquish the top sot.

Following several more cautions and restarts, consecutive green flag laps returned just in the nick of time as McPherson held off any attempt and drove away to the victory while weekly drivers Tyler Dietz and Brett McDonald joined him on the podium.

Cheryl Fleming Photo

"This is an awesome race track and I can't thank all the Lernerville personnel enough and all the people that work here for making this such a great racetrack," McPherson said.

Top 10: 

1. Corey McPherson
2. Tyler Dietz
3. Brett McDonald
4. Jim Fosnaught
5. Nathan Smith
6. Todd Weldon
7. Mike Miller
8. Andy Buckley
9. Cam Kraisinger
10. Matt Thomas

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Hall of Fame Classic Recap

2016 Hall of Fame Classic Race Recap

Peoria, Arizona played host to the 2016 Hall of Fame Classic.  Heavy rains saturated the grounds on Thursday night, September 29th, enough to cancel the open practice that was scheduled.  After visiting the Arizona Open Wheel Museum (something that we highly recommend, if you're ever in the Phoenix area), I left for the track and arrived at 4:00pm local time, on Friday.  Clouds covered the majority of the sky and several puddles of standing water lingered, serving as proof of the heavy rains that occurred the previous night.  One thing was certain: it would not be a dry night, in the desert.

USAC/CRA Sprint Cars complete Hotlaps, as the sun begins to set in Arizona

Friday, September 30th

Track conditions played a factor on Friday, as it does at most Dirt Tracks.  The line was slim and never really pushed-off of the bottom, all night.  Right rear tire placement was key, as it is with most Sprint Car shows.  It looked like the track was rough, from my infield view, as cars seemed to bounce heavily entering turn 3 and fought to "settle" in the middle of the corner.  However, after talking to Jake Swanson and Richard Vander Weerd, terms like "smooth" and "hammer down" were common.

The track held a lot of moisture through the night and the groove remained narrow


Qualifying had its fare share of drama on Friday, as point leader and all-time USAC/CRA feature winner, "The Demon" Damion Gardner, suffered mechanical trouble.  His car lost power and stopped running during the hotlap session and his team could not get the engine to re-fire during qualifying.  "The Demon" got a push and took the long, lonely lap with assistance, which does not count, according to the rule book.  This meant the fastest Sprint Car driver in the world would have to tag his Heat race and tag the Main, to the delight of those who came to see slide jobs and passing!

Qualifying fulfilled a TDN prediction, as Arizona's "Chargin" Charles Davis Jr went Quick Time!  He sprinted around the 1/3-mile clay oval in a blistering 14.085, letting his right rear tire work in the narrow groove.  Jake Swanson, "Magic Man" Mike Martin, Ronnie Gardner and "Cadillac" Cody Williams rounded out the top-5 qualifiers on Friday night.

Heat Races

"The Demon" Damion Gardner sought to give the fans their money's worth and he delivered.  Brody Roa jumped out to the early lead in Heat race 1, leading the first 6 laps.  However, that was all the time "The Demon" needed, working his way from last place, to take the lead!  Gardner charged up to 2nd place in the first 4 laps, then spent the next 2 laps applying pressure on Roa.  He slipped past Roa, to the take the lead on lap 6 and drove-away to win Heat race 1 by 1.426 seconds over Roa.  USAC/CRA veteran, Mike Spencer, finished 3rd, followed by Ronnie Gardner, Colton Hardy, Tye Mihocko, Landon Cling and Charles Davis Jr.

Arizona native, RJ Johnson, dominated Heat race 2, leading flag-to-flag.  Jake Swanson flexed some muscle, however, charging up to 2nd place and noticeably catching Johnson as the laps wound-down.  Swanson settled for 2nd place in Heat race 2, followed by Tommy Malcolm, Cody Williams, Chris Bonneau, Chris Gansen and Josh Pelkey.

Heat race 3 provided on-track fireworks, as Logan Williams made contact with Richard Vander Weerd, causing him to go for a wild ride in turn 4.  Thankfully, Logan was okay and out of his car, but his heat race would be over.  Vander Weerd also suffered damage, which prevented him from remaining competitive throughout the race.  Ultimately, Max Adams went on to win the drama-filled Heat race 3, followed by Mike Martin, Michael Curtis, Austin Williams, Matt Lundy, Vander Weerd and Logan Williams.

Logan Williams' car goes back to the pits, after getting upside down in Heat race 3
Vintage Sprint Cars made laps, honoring those being inducted into the Arizona Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2016
Your 4-wide salute to the fans, on Friday night, September 30th

Main Event

As mentioned previously, the track retained moisture throughout the evening and never really widened-out, off of the bottom.  This created "hammer down" conditions, making it difficult to pass.  Austin Williams fired-off from his outside-pole starting position and took the early lead.  The race would see its first stoppage on lap 11, however, as Arizona's Colton Hardy did his best to knock down the boards between turns 3 and 4, bringing out the red flag.  Crews utilized the "open red" status to service their cars and drivers, as 19 laps laps remained in the 30-lap feature.

Austin Williams continued to show the way on Friday, as he seemed to lead with relative ease.  Oddly, Austin Williams discovered that he was his biggest competition that night.  Williams struggled to get around the lapped car of Landon Cling, costing him some valuable time, as less than 10 laps remained in the feature.  Williams clearly "lost his cool", as he over-drove the entrance of turn 1, causing him to push-up and make contact with Cling on lap 24.  The contact was severe, causing Williams to blow his right rear tire and lose his nerf bar, bringing out a caution with 6 laps to go.  This handed the lead to a very opportune Jake Swanson, as Mike Spencer continued to hold his top-3 running position, inheriting 2nd from Williams.  Williams pitted, of course, to replace the right rear tire, but he would no longer be a factor, with so few laps left.  Sadly, this was not the last on-track contact that Austin Williams and Landon Cling would make.

Jake Swanson took advantage of the situation and never looked back, leading the final 6 laps in-route to his first USAC/CRA feature win in 2016!  Series veteran, Mike Spencer, finished 2nd, followed by "Cadillac" Cody Williams, "Chargin" Charles Davis Jr and RJ Johnson completed the top-5.  "The Demon" Damion Gardner charged from his 22nd place starting position to finish 6th on Night 1 of the Hall of Fame Classic, easily earning himself the Hard Charger award and extending his Series point lead on Richard Vander Weerd, who finished 7th.

As mentioned previously, tempers flared following the race, as Austin Williams truly felt that Landon Cling did not give him enough racing room and decided to let him know.  The USAC/CRA stars were asked to park their cars on the front stretch, following the race, to host a brief "meet and greet" with the fans.  Austin Williams parked right next to Landon Cling's car and literally jumped onto Cling, as he attempted to exit his car.  The entire Williams family got involved at that point, including crew and family members.  The confrontation was soon averted, as track officials separated the two teams, though foul language continued to be exchanged.  Overall, it was a night of "what could have been" for Austin Williams, as he seemingly handed the win to Jake Swanson, after tangling with a lapped car.

Jake Swanson won his first USAC/CRA feature of 2016, on Friday, September 30th!
USAC/CRA veteran, Mike Spencer, climbs from his car after finishing 2nd on Friday!
"Cadillac" Cody Williams brought home a well-deserved 3rd place finish on Friday
"The Demon" Damion Gardner charged from 22nd to finish 6th on Friday night

Friday Race Results (starting position in parenthesis)

1. Jake Swanson (6), 2. Mike Spencer (1), 3. Cody Williams (3), 4. Charles Davis Jr (7), 5. RJ Johnson (8), 6. Damion Gardner (22), 7. Richard Vander Weerd (9), 8. Max Adams (15), 9. Brody Roa (13), 10. Logan Williams (12), 11. Josh Pelkey (20), 12. Tye Mihocko (16), 13. Ronnie Gardner (4), 14. Tommy Malcolm (17), 15. Mike Martin (5), 16. Austin Williams (2), 17. Landon Cling (19), 18. Michael Curtis (18), 19. Chris Gansen (11), 20. Matt Lundy (21), 21. Colton Hardy (10), 22. Chris Bonneau (14)

Friday proved to be a night of "what could have been" for Austin Williams
Jake Swanson took home the Hardware on night 1 of the Hall of Fame Classic!

The track retained moisture and remained narrow on Friday night

Saturday, October 1st

Another beautiful day in Peoria, Arizona, as weather reached the mid-90's for the 2nd day in-a-row. However, there was one major difference from Friday, as there was not a cloud in the sky.  Canyon Speedway Park has a really cool sign that "greets" you upon entering the facility, as the late, great, Bryan Clauson graces it.  Clauson likely won't go down as the driver with the most career wins at Canyon, but at one time, it was said that CSP stood for "Clauson's Speedway Park".  One thing is for certain: this is a really cool sign that welcomes fans and drivers to the track and I hope they never change it!

The sign that welcomes you to Canyon Speedway Park.  I hope they never change it! #BCForever

I arrived around 4:00pm local time again on Saturday, to find the track was heavily saturated with water.  At first I became nervous, but remembered that the lack of cloud-cover will likely result in a drier surface tonight.  Spirits were high in the pits, as most everyone expected a surface that will lend itself to more passing and side-by-side racing!

It was a beautiful, sunny, mid-90's day on Saturday, October 1st


Qualifying had considerably less drama on Saturday, as everyone was able to get their car started, including USAC/CRA point-leader, "The Demon" Damion Gardner.  With the track surface being a bit more dry, allowing the line to push a little bit higher, speeds were much quicker on Saturday!  Ultimately, current runner-up in points, Richard Vander Weerd went Quick Time, ripping a 13.668 lap on the 1/3-mile clay oval.  Jake Swanson, Matt Rossi, Mike Martin and Damion Gardner rounded out the top-5 in qualifying.

The groove was already considerably wide, following hotlaps and qualifying!

Heat Races

Brody Roa flexed his muscle in heat race competition for the 2nd night in a row, as he held-off Arizona native, RJ Johnson, winning Heat 1 while leading flag-to-flag!  RJ settled for 2nd place, followed by Logan Williams, Max Adams, Richard Vander Weerd, Mike Martin, Chris Gansen and Tanner Grau.

"Chargin" Charles Davis Jr continued to make TDN predictions come true, also leading his heat race flag-to-flag, charging to the win in Heat 2!  Friday night's runner-up finisher, Mike Spencer, finished 2nd in Heat 2, followed by Damion Gardner, Tommy Malcolm, Chris Bonneau, Jake Swanson and Tye Mihocko.

Michael Curtis continued the flag-to-flag trend in heat race action on Saturday, also wiring his heat race and winning Heat 3!  Austin Williams took runner-up honors, followed by Josh Pelkey, Matt Rossi, Ronnie Gardner and Matt Lundy.

The lack of passing may have had people concerned, but the track was wide and fast!  While there were no passes for the lead, there was plenty of sliders being "dished-out" from 2nd place on back, in every heat race.  A long intermission followed heat race action, as there was a special Arizona Motorsports Hall of Fame ceremony, honoring the 2016 inductees!  However, during this time, track crews decided to water the middle-to-upper groove, along with running the tractor and "tilling" the middle-to-high surface.  Initially, I was very skeptical, as I felt like the track was going to push up to the wall and make for a very interesting night of racing.  One thing was certain: the track was in much better shape on Saturday, than it was on Friday night!

More Vintage Sprint Cars made laps on Saturday, all in honor of the 2016 Hall of Fame inductees!

Teams survey the track, after officials added water and "tilled" the upper surface, prior to the main event
One of the greatest sights in all of Motorsports, your 4-wide salute to the fans!

Main Event

Max Adams started on pole for Saturday night's 30-lap main event and fired-off to the early lead.  A couple of early incidents brought-out cautions with less than 10 laps in, as Ronnie Gardner's bad luck continued, adding to his miserable weekend.  After Gardner's incident, Austin Williams checked-up on the ensuing restart, causing Damion Gardner and Jake Swanson to spin.  Both drivers were able to continue, but it would mark the second time, in as many nights, that "The Demon" would have to work his way up from the back.

Max Adams continued leading, after the cautions were lifted.  At one point, me and a few other members of media looked at each other in near disbelief, as no one expected Adams to run as strong as he had.  Arizona fan favorite, RJ Johnson had worked his way up to 2nd place, and he was able to keep pace with Adams, but had yet to find a way around him.  Trouble struck again with 6 laps to go, as Brody Roa was bit with some bad luck.  Roa pushed-up high in turns 3 & 4, striking the wall with the right side of his car.  His right-side tires climbed the wall and he slid on it for several feet, before coming to a stop.  Thankfully, Roa was uninjured, but that ended his night and bid for Hall of Fame Classic glory.

The ensuring restart was a free-for-all, as RJ Johnson made quick work of Max Adams, sneaking by him on the inside entering turn 1!  This seemed to "rattle" Adams, as Mike Spencer, Austin Williams and Richard Vander Weerd also passed him in the following laps.  "The Demon" Damion Gardner refused to let the fans go home without seeing a passing clinic, as he had worked his way well up into the top-10.  As RJ Johnson sped away to claim his first USAC/CRA Series win since 2013, the last lap displayed an all-out battle for 2nd place!  Spencer held 2nd entering turn 1 of the final lap, as Austin Williams threw a bold slider, forcing Spencer off the bottom.  This allowed Richard Vander Weerd and Damion Gardner to "split" Spencer, with Vander Weerd running the high line and "The Demon" pounding the bottom.  As a fan of racing, part of me wished it was the battle for the lead, but it was still a sight to behold.  However, the battle for 2nd place only helped to ensure that RJ Johnson would complete the final 5 circuits without any threat, as he is the 2016 Hall of Fame Classic Champion!

RJ Johnson is the 2016 Hall of Fame Classic Champion!

Austin Williams made a bold last-lap pass to claim the runner-up spot

Richard Vander Weerd finished 3rd, one of a few drivers running the high line

"The Demon" Damion Gardner overcame an early spin to finish a hard-fought 4th

Saturday Race Results (starting position in parenthesis)

1. RJ Johnson (3), 2. Austin Williams (4), 3. Richard Vander Weerd (7), 4. Damion Gardner (5), 5. Mike Spencer (2), 6. Max Adams (1), 7. Mike Martin (9), 8. Charles Davis Jr (14), 9. Josh Pelkey (15), 10. Logan Williams (16), 11. Jake Swanson (8), 12. Ronnie Gardner (10), 13. Michael Curtis (12), 14. Tye Mihocko (20), 15. Chris Gansen (19), 16. Matt Lundy (21), 17. Tanner Grau (22), 18. Brody Roa (13), 19. Tommy Malcolm (11), 20. Matt Rossi (6), 21. Cody Williams (18), 22. Chris Bonneau (17)

RJ Johnson "parked it" on Saturday, claiming the $3,000 payday!

Saturday's track conditions proved to be much better than Friday
Overall, both nights lent itself to some great racing!  TDN predictions were good, for once, as "Chargin" Charles Davis Jr took Quick Time honors on Friday and won a Heat race on Saturday.  RJ Johnson ran strong in his heat races on both nights, while winning the 2016 Hall of Fame Classic!  Damion Gardner did not have the finishes we expected, but he proved why he is not only the current USAC/CRA Series point leader, but also one of the best Sprint Car drivers in the world.  "The Demon" passed over 30+ cars, combined from both nights!  The next USAC/CRA Series race is this Saturday, October 15th, at Perris Speedway, in Southern California.  This Saturday's race marks the last "stand alone" event for the USAC/CRA Series, as they will be combined with the USAC National Sprint Car Series for the final 5 races in 2016.  TDN will be on-hand for the 2016 Western World on November 4th and 5th, at Arizona Speedway!  The Western World will showcase the USAC National vs. USAC/CRA regulars in 410 competition, along with USAC West Coast vs. USAC Southwest competitors, in 360 Sprint Car action!

Current USAC/CRA Series Points (as of 10/14/2016)

1. Damion Gardner - 1,212
2. Richard Vander Weerd - 1,105 (-107)
3. Jake Swanson - 1,089 (-123)
4. Brody Roa - 1,003 (-209)
5. Austin Williams - 995 (-217)
6. Mike Spencer - 896 (-316)
7. Max Adams - 805 (-407)
8. Logan Williams - 689 (-523)
9. Cody Williams - 646 (-566)
10. Jace Vander Weerd - 602 (-610)
11. Chris Gansen - 585 (-627)
12. Jeremy Ellertson - 552 (-660)
13. Tommy Malcolm - 415 (-797)