The King is Dead, Long Live the King

Rusty Carlile Returns To The Cotton Classic At Hanford October 16th

One of my favorite drivers (yeah I got a few) Blake Miller took a horrific rock or clod to the face last Saturday at Perris. It crushed the front of his helmet and smashed the upper right side of his face. He was in the eight lap of his heat race, went from third to fourth as he (unbelievably) finished the final two laps and then was clawing at his helmet trying to get it off. After x-rays and consultation with experts, it has been determined he has three breaks in the cheekbone and a break in the upper jaw. Reconstructive surgery is being scheduled and he is DONE for the season. Blake drives the yellow #7 for Mark Priestly. I am especially enthusiastic about Blake because I got to see him mature at Ventura and win the 2005 VRA Sprint Car Championship. He has been racing USAC/CRA 410ís Perris for the last five years, finishing second place in points in 2008 behind Mike Spencer and just ahead of Danny Sheridan. Blake has an unusually fast reputation with USAC/CRA qualifying track records set at both Calistoga and Santa Maria. He just missed setting a qualifying record at Manzanita by a miniscule fraction. He had two bad flips eliminate him at the Oval Nationals last year and now we have to wait one more year to see what additional greatness he has in store. Coming on the heels of Shane Hmielís terrible crash in Indiana, this was a harsh reminder of how dangerous this sport is. Blakeís uncle Wiley Miller and his father Danny are both highly regarded sprint car drivers at Ventura. The family business Roy Miller Freight Lines has been a generous sponsor to numerous racers. When Blake sent me his fracture picture, he told me it's inner beauty that counts.

Working On the Inner Beauty Working On the Outer Beauty

Iím in a cinematic state of mind looking forward to the Bruce Springsteen DVD documentary The Promise, The Making of Darkness At The Edge Of Town. That album produced the incredible Racing In The Streets paean. Now the Boss has been super ceded by Jackslash, being the November release of Sean Buckleyís Follow The Corn, his personal and up close look at Mid West open wheel non-winged sprint car racing. Sean left his beloved Ventura with a heart full of ambition and scraped his way into the soul of sprint car Indiana. His video dispatches from the heartland of wheel to wheel racing have ravaged countless computer screens and broadcast television. His smooth baritone and astute racing observations kill every time I see them. His long collaboration with Dean Mills has chronicled some of contemporary racingís greatest personalities and moments. Seanís potential is unlimited and his long-range impact will be priceless. Sean is scheduled to be at Perris for the Oval Nationals and Tucson for the KRONIK Energy Western World Championships. You can preorder Follow the Corn at Seanís father Dean is a legend in the pits; his brother Derek is a hard charger at Ventura Raceway. Derek and his wife Melinda recently became parents to twins who are also rumored to be hard chargers. Sean tells me he will be at the All Coast Challenge. Lord, I hope to see him with camera in hand, muttering observations into his lifelong wild digital racing mosaic.

The Tire Situation Is Going To Require Some Work

Congratulations to Craig Stidham winning the inaugural season of the West Coast Sprinters, USACís timely entry into the west coast 360 scene. Craigís rocket like ascent after joining the wingless faithful was exciting to watch. Chris Kearnís took that baby league and rocked it in his arms. His naked appeal for advice on the message board has burned up the bytes and been a source of fascinating speculation on how to conduct racing in the Golden State. A lot more knowledgeable people than myself have loaded up great comments on the subject. Based on the vivid response I got to ďWhatís Holding Up the Delay?Ē I canít resist taking another swing at the topic. Digging deeper, I have learned that people who matter are investigating the possibility of racing both 360ís and 410ís together in the same races, at tracks ranging from Perris to Ventura to Santa Maria, with handicaps to level the competition. The desire is that anyone can haul any sprint car to any track, make adjustments and race. Handicaps and restrictions would be customized track to track and involve tires, intake restrictors and weight requirements to balance the cars. Consensus is that this economic recession is killing open wheel racing, at least in the 410 divisions, and that drastic action is required to keep the patient alive. There is no shortage of cars, but common sense is demanding that tracks, regardless of sanction, must coordinate rules, schedules and open the field to both classes of cars to compete together. I suspect Perris would stick with USAC/CRA, Chris tells me Santa Maria will continue the promise of the West Coast Sprinters, Victorville might embrace the common set of rules and perhaps Tulare would come on board. Ventura will stick with its juggernaut of VRA and Senior Sprint racing but compromise specifications for unity. Interestingly, Jim Naylor also reports that he will field ten to fifteen VRA Midgets next year for series of ten races, purse possibly $1,500 per race to win. They will be structured to match USAC Midgets and enjoy the opportunity to race at USAC events. However, VRA is convinced the same tire restrictions and protocol will enhance engine life and reduce costs. The resultant Southern California midget and sprint car empire would allow more interaction, local sanctioning, track champions, regional champions and coordinated big races that donít suck the blood out of each other. Imagine Perris aligned with Ventura, 410ís and 360ís competing together, car counts might soar.

Robby Josett Is In the USAC Midget Championship Chase

ASCS is like a thunderhead building over the high desert, but knowledgeable mechanics tell me the cost of converting the current inventory to ASCS specifications is prohibitive. The wish is that everybody can maximize their current investment with minor modifications to meet individual track characteristics. Whatís holding up the delay? Not USAC! Director of West Coast Racing Operations Tommy Hunt tells me that USAC is researching this approach and that in fact the fledging Western Classic Racing Series in Northern California will serve as a pilot program for this direction. He asserts that any changes to improve car count, reduce costs and provide relief to promoters will be seriously considered. The sticking points are qualifying, tires, weight adjustors and restrictors. USAC has a long history of qualifying; VRA argues that qualifying eats up tires, time, subjects cars to crashing and deteriorates track conditions. It was fine when racing at Whiteman Stadium started at eight thirty, there was one class of cars, gas was fifty cents and the Helmís Bakery truck was delivering donuts. Itís a disaster when you have multiple classes, harsh economic conditions and dwindling car counts. Save the show for the show. Hunt tells me everything is negotiable, USAC has sanctioned races without qualifying; he suggests that it may be appropriate for select tracks, not so necessary for others. USAC does have a safety concern that wants qualified drivers toward the front. The various tire compounds and hardness are probably the most contentious point. The VRA adopted a hard tire to level the driving field, extend tire life, conserve engine life and decrease overall racing costs. It has effectively done that, resulting in a high car count and healthy field of drivers. Is that tire hooked up? No. Howís the racing? Breathtaking. Here Hunt suggests that what works for Venturaís conditions may not be ideal across the board. He suggests Southern California track operators get together and specify a universal tire to the manufacturer. That would allow Hoosier or whoever to consolidate R&R, reduce specialty manufacturing and increase availability. With the right tire for the right region, it could also help drive that cost for drivers down. Intake restrictors and gaskets are also a volatile case for argument. If both 410 and 360 are to race together, restrictors are going to be a fact of life. Steve ĒBiggieĒ Watt has confirmed to me that he, Cory Kruseman and Jim Naylor are getting ready to start testing restrictors at Ventura to prove the feasibility of handicapping 410ís and producing a precise and level playing field in conjunction with 360ís. Biggie says, ďwe can get there, we just have to work at it.Ē The final consideration in handicapping is weight differences with cast iron blocks and aluminum blocks and various parts. Strapping on weight would provide a simple solution. Hunt asserts USACís Western Classic Racing Series is already researching the options.

Is This A 360 or 410?

Could we see Perris, Ventura and Santa Maria as one big happy family in 2011? You canít rule out an emergency room approach in the coming months. It would require some immediate off-season meetings among the principles combined with a willingness to compromise. The overriding impression I get from fiercely independent VRA and traditional USAC is ďwhatís best for racing and the promoters?Ē Chris Kearns tells me he would embrace the opportunity to coordinate rules and schedules with the other track operators. I was unable to reach Don Kazarian for a comment regarding potential changes. Without promoters being able to survive we are out of racing. I am no expert. Iím just coming at this from a fanís perspective and sense of wonderment. Just those three Southern California tracks working in synchronicity could provide the necessary torque to turn the engine. Even then, if this recession double dips or worsens, there are no guarantees that anyone can survive. I can understand longtime fans finding fault with any dilution of power or historical procedure. I reckon 410 purists will reject the whole mess, why should they throttle down from a lifetime of unrestricted power and grip? Because itís business! Supply and demand call the shots. If you donít have the demand, you have to throttle down. Change comes like a royal pain in the ass. The King is Dead, Long Live the King.