The Demon and The Snowman
The 2009 Budweiser Oval Nationals
November 5th - 7th 2009

All Thrill No Fill
The Demon Flexes On Saturday Night

Part 1: Jaws

I have never seen so much hope heaped at the gates of possibility before. The Perris pits were choked with talent and bubbling with the viability of the probability. Select National drivers like Levi Jones and Dave Darland had business to attend to. The vast majority of drivers were savvy veterans who were back to grab at the brass ring. And there were rookies like Marty Hawkins there "to run every night and finish the best he could". The Snowman was everywhere. John Stanbrough set fast time at 16.364. Saw some terrible scratches just out of the gate. Blake Miller flipped his main mount in qualifying then took the spare out back and shot it too. Wes Gutierrez crashed out in C main and disappeared like smoke. Heat wins were Solberg, Spencer (down the road), Cody Williams, Danny Sheridan (looking good), Austin Williams and David Cardey. Clearly the Williams boys are going to be a huge factor in this sport. The semi was more notable for who didn't clear than who did. Transferring was Levi Jones, Faas, Clarke and Gardner. Outside the bubble were Mitchell, Hagen, Boat, Kevin Swindell, Pombo and Kruseman. Jerry Coons was in the familiar Ford Motorsports #73 but the 2008 USAC National Sprint Car Series Winner didn't clear either. Gone like a snowbird back to Tucson. Stunning speed and aggression everywhere. You don't want to be stuck in the back. You will be consumed. Main event fielded twenty-six cars and a shocker when front row Tony Jones stalls on a pace lap and goes to the back. His weekend was pretty much downhill after that. Clauson moved into the front row spot and it was prophetic. He took the lead and never relinquished it. The heats and semi were typical Perris fast, but it was the main event where you got the glimpse of where we were going. I've never seen this track so good. Clean, tacky and wide. They say the Mid West likes it Canada Dry, but Bryan Clauson had no problem. Garret Hansen gave him a go, but it was fast time Stanbrough that tried to pick the fight. Levi Jones was there as was Damion Gardner, but Clauson was clearly in control at the checkers. Other interesting developments included Henry Clarke top ten after spending the summer with these guys. Got to speak with his father this weekend and that's some interesting stuff. Ronnie Gardner and Greg Bragg looked amazing. I went back to the hotel and tried to write but my head kept nodding over the keyboard. We're going to need a bigger boat.

A Race Turns On A Dime, A Career Turns On Character
Mike Spencer

Part Two: The Underground Slides the Left Coast

Friday night qualifying was John Stanbrough, again, with a sizzling 16.303. Nice to see Nic Faas in second. This kid is off the hook. Another round of C Main, five heats, B main and feature. But tonight was going to be different. Solberg took the C Main followed by Cody Williams, John Aden and late entry Rusty Carlile. Heat winners were Rip Williams, Kevin Swindell, David Cardey (barely besting red hot rookie Brent Camarillo), Tony Jones, and Matt Mitchell (in a tumultuous heat that had Dave Darland upside down). The B main brought Stanbrough, Faas, Clauson and Jimmy Crawford back into focus. Ironically, the top three finishers in the B main were the top three fast times in the same order. The track was perfect, the stars were aligned and this Main Event was going off the rails. Classic slugfest with Levi Jones, Jon Stanbrough, Mike Spencer and Damion Gardner all finding their way to the front. What a fight! Jones was strong, Stanbrough was unrelenting and Spencer looked so very comfortable with the Indiana boys. But it was Damion who really brought the fight to this race. Gaining on front-runner Jones, he started issuing a series of slides and dicing that had the spectators on the edge of their seats. The unbelievable slide jobs by both Gardener and Jones in four followed by precision high speed jockeying down the front straight away was the most beautiful racing I've ever seen. The Snowman was stalking. They were in heavy traffic and nobody lifted. Damion took the lead for one lap but Jones regained control. A lapped car tapped the Demon in turn one and it seemed to take the edge off of his attack. Jones was out front, Stanbrough in second, an incredible Mike Spencer moved into third and the dark prince of open wheel racing settled regretfully for fourth. From the pits to the tower and every faraway place where computer screens were streaming, everyone finally breathed again. Epic. Check out Dean Mills and Raceway Video. These are the races we live for.


Part Three: The Demon and The Snowman

Saturday Night Main Event. Fat lopey grinning moon in the sky. Hall of Fame Rip Williams is on the pole and Austin Williams is on the last row. That's going to be some interesting life long invert. Rip leads the pack into turn one and we are a thundering herd. Rip showed no weakness; Damion Gardner was hot in second and again racing the Snowman. Spencer third and we started cycling through a series of reds. Darren Hagen flipped on lap five. Strongman Stanbrough hit the wall and left the track on a yellow. Cruel sport for the fastest car. Tracy Hines flipped on lap ten. Whitt flipped on eleven. Spencer passes Gardner on a bobble for the second spot. Then he passes Williams for the lead. Clauson moves to second. Damion Gardner was third and it looked like he was fighting with a tight car. His crew was all over it and slowly bringing it in. Levi Jones passed the Ripper for fourth. Swindell flipped lap 29 and lastly Cardey hooked and went over about lap thirty-two. The Demon knew it was now or never. He told reporter Richard Manfredi " Every time I looked forward, I saw a guy I didn't want to win." The Snowman. He blows past Clauson. He passes Spencer on the top for the lead but a yellow reeled him back in. On the restart he went to the top again but it wasn't getting it done. The great Mike Spencer was precise as an engineer and holding. With three laps to go, Spencer is high in four, The Demon comes in with a low slider in turn four and takes the lead. He starts to pull away, the ice starts to melt and we all now know the 2009 Oval Nationals Champion.

Thanks To Pace Lighting For Supporting The Demon

I suspect Damion Gardner is not completely comfortable in this world. But when he is in the cage of a sprint car, strapped in and rolling onto a track, he seems to be a complete and perfect racing protein. The Snowman is not anyone in particular but he is everyone you race. It's when you're fighting the good looks, the natural skill, smooth pedigrees and killer sponsorship. It's everybody and everything the Demon has been racing against his whole life. Every great driver has a fire burning in their belly. The Snowman only exists to put it out. Damion is never sure he is good enough, he's only sure he's pretty good. That's powerful motivation. But with the 2008 Chili Bowl win and the 2009 Oval Nationals, this wiry athlete is climbing to higher ground. He is walking with an elite cadre of drivers that deal with championships, notoriety and eventually Hall of Fame. This is not a fluke. He has worked hard. He has a killer instinct. He has a persona capable of building a legend and motivating this sport. He is the Demon.

Perris Is Perfect