You’re Killing Me
Santa Maria Speedway
USAC West Coast Sprints
April 9th, 2011

Danny Faria Jr.
All Thrill No Fill
The Sharp Eyed “Buzzard” Captures Danny Faria Jr. Trying to Take It From T.J. Smith
(photo by Robert Hargraves)

Everything I care about in sprint car racing was on display in pastoral Santa Maria Saturday night. Passion, speed, community and an incredible car count gave sharp definition to the most valuable of characteristics; tenacity. Jace VanderWeerd had the lead, lost it and battled his way back into the winners’ circle. The central coast and valley denizens like their racing hot, smoky and dripping with sauce. Chris Kearns historical speedway in California’s BBQ capitol almost burned down the barn! Veteran and savvy racers Danny Faria Jr. and Troy Rutherford had their hands full with a slate of spicy USAC West Coast Sprints including T.J. Smith, Justin Hamblyn, Ryan Bernal, Wes Gutierrez and Greg Alexander among others. Ventura hotshot Marcus Niemela added to the volatility. Let’s start with T.J. Smith. From a distance last season you could see this kid coming. Both his grandfather and grandmother were racecar drivers back in the day and this ultra polite grandson didn’t fall far from the tree. Well-raised and well spoken, he drives with a determination and ferocity that rivets your attention. Taking the lead away from pole sitter VanderWeerd early in the race, he dominated for most of the race until traffic gave Jace an opportunity to reclaim the lead. T.J. is committed to the point battle and tells me he is unequivocally seeking the Championship this year. He will not have an easy task.

TJ Smith Is Coming To Destroy A Raceway Near You
TJ Smith

Racing Village

They call him Wide Open. Wes Gutierrez is also committed to the point’s race and exemplifies a modern style combined with classic hard-core attitude. He had a spectacular season ending crash at Tulare last season but is again suited up. I find as I get more fan experience and sophistication, I need a certain level of daring and skill. I go to certain races and I’m looking for certain drivers. Wes Gutierrez is always at the top of my list. Craig Stidham was missing in action. Justyn Hamblin was hard charger from sixteenth to fourth. Ryan Bernal took fifth and leads the points. I am looking forward to meeting and learning about this driver. Greg Anderson continues his professional approach but had an unfortunate race. But it was the VanderWeerd family work ethic that carried the night. I spoke to Jace’s father and car owner Ron VanderWeerd and he was especially proud of the never-say-die win. His sons Jace and Richard have put in the time and are steadily advancing towards the front. I think the heavy concentration of Perris 410 racing has given them both a comfort level with high speeds. Ron credits part time crew chief Tommy Horne with sage advice and steady cars for his two boys. Jace and Richard are not racing for the West Coast Sprint Championship. Rather, Ron tells me they will continue to run Perris at every opportunity they can afford. They value the West Coast Sprints, but consider USAC/CRA 410’s a better fit.

Wes Gutierrez Is Must See
Wes Gutierrez

Tommy Horne
Tommy Horne Talks Strategy with the VanderWeerds Before the Main Event

Watching Danny Faria Jr. race Saturday night, I am reminded of a story where bluegrass legend Bill Monroe lent his precious mandolin to young country ripper Ricky Skaggs. Watching Ricky do lightning runs up and down the fret board, Monroe dryly asked Skaggs when he got off the stage if there was any part of my damn mandolin that you didn’t enjoy? I have to ask you, Danny, was there any part of that track that you didn’t enjoy??? Top and bottom, in the shadows and in the corners, Faria attacked with such an intensity he was on two wheels for most of the race. He had a spirited battle with Troy Rutherford in the heat race and they picked it right back up in the main. He almost caught Smith mid race and almost nailed VanderWeerd towards the end. He delivered his patented on the edge racing and those fans are nuts about him. That Faria spirit is celebrated this Saturday at the Chris and Brian Faria Memorial at the Tulare Thunderbowl. Check out “Hollywood” on his home stage, showing honor and respect to his family. I can pretty much guarantee that will be priceless.

Danny Faria Jr., Jace VanderWeerd and TJ Smith Delivered The BBQ
Danny Faria Jr., Jace VanderWeerd and TJ Smith

Matt Mussell
Matt Mussell Designed The New West Coast Sprint Trophy

Down south, Victorville ran an open class and in what will be an interesting footnote in local racing lore, paid $1,000 to win with five cars competing. The Jory team cashed the top two checks and nobody is more deserving. An outstanding battle of opinion and conjecture is raging on over how Victorville best fits and affects southern California. It’s worth the effort to follow; the future of local open wheel racing is being determined now and deserves your attention. Hang in there, jjtruckin. My experience in life is that people don’t value anything unless they pay for it. Troy Rutherford continues to startle and amaze me. The deeper I dig in his backyard, the more treasure I find. What an incredible career and he continues to add to the pirate’s trove almost weekly. After a powerful performance at Santa Maria driving for Ford Motorsports, he returns to Ventura Raceway this weekend where his good friend and former Champion Greg Taylor will again try to take him down. With last week’s Senior Sprint winner Bruce Douglas again pacing the lions, you should expect north of thirty cars. That will be six or seven heat races, maybe two B mains and two screaming sprint car mains. Some people are complaining we don’t have enough tracks or racing? You’re killing me.