Sprint Cars and the Empire of Perris
The Jack Kindoll Classic
September 19, 2009
Perris, CA

Every time I drive to Perris, I feel like Iím on journey of discovery. The Inland Empire is a foreign land to me. I take the 210 east thru Pasadena and skirt the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. Iím not sure where the storied Empire begins, but once I clear Glendora, I get the feeling Iím not in Kansas anymore. I remember my grandfather bringing me out here when I was a child and all I could see was orange groves forever. It didnít really last forever. Now itís all different, but strangely familiar. Urban sprawl choked up against purple mountains. Iím passing towns I donít know; yet the names are ringing bells. Pomona, Ontario, Fontana. I head south on the 15, thereís a sign to Norco where I know Tony Jones lives. Another sign points to Temecula, where Mike Spencer comes from. East on the 60 and thereís Riverside dead ahead, home to David Cardey. Passing Rubidoux, I turn south again on the 215 and make my way down past the historic airfields. I see DHL painted on the sides of large terminals and I guess thatís history now too. I pull into Perris and itís a dusty moonscape. New corporate fast foods and convenience shops line the Ramona Parkway like hair sprouting on a bald man. I have been transversing the fault lines of California for hours. And with aftershocks still emanating from southern Arizona, I have arrived at what is now arguably the epicenter of sprint car racing in the Western United StatesÖ..

All Thrill No Fill
David Cardey

Thereís a lot going on and itís not all on the surface. Iím told there was driver and owners meeting in the afternoon where the coming year was discussed. Track owner Don Kazarian wanted the teams input on how to roll next year. USAC or ASCS? Perris cut back on the 410 racing this year to judge consumer demand and the grandstands have been up on the featured nights. This is an incredibly astute promoter who is calculating the survival of his racetrack in the midst of the most devastating recession in decades. Preliminary information is that we will see slightly more race nights next year. As far as USAC vs. ASCS, smarter people than me will figure that out. Iím told there is an owner meeting in LA this week with top USAC officials. The scuttlebutt is that many owners are impressed with the new USAC management. All I want to know is will the 410ís thrive or whither? Will Perris continue to be home to the 410ís and grow into the vacuum left by Manzanita?

Mud Packing Down on the Farm

Cardey was fast on his first lap of qualifying but flipped hard on the second lap and had to switch cars. After a quick call to Indianapolis it was determined his qualifying points were scratched along with the original car. Cardey is in a delicious three way pointís battle with Mike Spencer and Blake Miller. Tony Jones smoked his heat. Rip Williams came from the back in heat two and cleared the main with a fourth. Josh Ford took the third heat with some aggressive passing. Andrew Reinbold notched the fourth heat but it was Danny Sheridan coming from the back to third that provided the spark. The semi main featured an incredible test of will between front runner Cory Kruseman and rookie standout Wes Gutierrez. Kruseman prevailed on pure experience but everybody in the joint sat up and noticed this kid. He was just getting warmed up.

Kruseman and Gutierrez Battle for the Semi

Perris fits speed like a glove. What a classic racetrack. There is world class lensman Doug Allen on the wall. Thanks to Jeff Kristensen for his hospitality and the always gracious Chris Holt. The Kazarian family has built a national destination. I canít imagine how you could make this place any better. Then that silver tongued devil in the tower flips the switch and takes us all to another levelÖ. Itís Ronnie Gardner on the pole and Josh Ford to his outside. Ford fishtails it first down to turn one. They enter the backstretch where Robert Ellis gets upside down for the first red. Restart double wide and Ronnie Gardner in control. Ford in second. Matt Mitchell in third with Jones in fourth. Mitchell passes Ford for second. Then Danny Sheridan is on the move from fifth and takes Ford and Jones for third. Spencer is on the move, Rip Williams and that new punk Gutierrez are also closing. A mysterious yellow and now Mitchell is in control. Gardner second, Sheridan third with a speedy Spencer advancing like an unshakeable Terminator. Sheridan falls and then Gardner. Spencer shows leader Matt Mitchell a wheel going into four and you can see Mitchell pulling with every molecule in his body as they come down the front. Temporary reprieve as Rodney Argo runs into the wall at four. Gardner is also out with broken stuff. It is an open red and everybody tunes. Gutierrez has moved to eighth. Green, some terrific battling between Mitchell and Spencer but itís short lived. Spencer out front. Austin Williams spins for a yellow. Green again and Spencer completely checks out. Mitchell and Sheridan thrashing for second. The Ripper and Gutierrez are also having an incredible mix for sixth. Jones and Hansen are in the middle of the whole mess. We have a debris sighting for another yellow. They reel Spencer back in and off to the races again. Hansen pulls a terrific wheelie all down the back. Mitchell is giving it everything heís got trying to catch Spencer when he suddenly flips coming out of three. Looks like a bleeder as the car spews liquid everywhere. Green again and its Spencer clean away, Sheridan second and a reinvigorated Jones in third. But they are stymied once again when R.J. Johnson dies on the straightaway. We fire again and now just when we are afraid we are locked into a revolving yellow door with an inevitable winner, I hear a crowd of women shrieking. David Cardey is charging through the pack with such abandon I am torn between watching him or the bevy of bouncing divas directly below me. This guy has got his front wheels up and he has moved from 22nd to 7th. He now takes out the stunning Gutierrez, there goes Rip and say goodbye Hansen down the back! Freaking unbelievable. He was the only car on the track moving faster than Spencer. White flag and Spencer is the consummate racer moving through traffic. He is followed across the finish line by Tony Jones with Danny Sheridan in third. Cardey right there in fourth and Hansen fifth. Cardey and Spencer are in a dead match for points. Spencer confides to Chris Holt that theyíve got something new they tried in Calistoga (where he also won). My advice is bottle and sell it. Theyíll be lined up from here to prosperity.

Mike Spencer

Driving home at night everything now seems different. All the towns merge together into a necklace of light pearls, hope stretching endlessly. American pluck is all around. In another lane I can see the figure of Jack Kindoll heading home after a long day at the races. I can feel his generosity and warm spirit. Heís still building racecars in his mind. I am alone and tired. As the miles flash by, I am pondering the future of 410 sprint cars and the Empire of Perris.

410 Heaven