The Edge of The World
Ventura Raceway
May 14th, 2011

Midgets At Ventura
Kruseman Raises His Sails (photo by Robert ďBuzzardĒ Hargraves)

Cold wind, short change and hard feelings rolled through Ventura Raceway Saturday like a storm on rough seas. Plenty of cars in the pits, but the weird weather cleared the decks and the grandstands were begging. Track officials and drivers are working on short rations. The Master and Commander leaned into the wind and brought out the grader. While the hardcore family members and true race fans stood with hands in pockets and collars turned up, he ripped that track to racing perfection and damn how long it took. I find it fascinating that no matter what hell is breaking loose, with constant criticism ringing in his ears, crisis pouring in every porthole, Captain Jim will stop everything and patiently sculpt that track to perfection. There is something calming about the utter dedication to quality. Robby Josett and the VRA Midgets rolled and responded with a powerful show that put me in a better frame of mind. Then the VRA Sprints unleashed a Main Event that defined every aphorism of racing and sent me home in a million pieces.

Is Cole Custer Having More Fun Than Anyone?

Every track I go to, every pit Iím standing in, every race Iím at; I see Ronnie Gardner. Heís wrenching on cars, driving cars or watching cars. He was racing sprints at Ventura this weekend and we are better off when he is around. Same for Shannon McQueen, she is a longtime staple of Midget racing and is a valuable part of the new series. She has been raising some intelligent questions and commentary on the message boards. Cole Custer is becoming one of the hottest racers at Ventura and thatís in those Focus things. Nick Carlson won the Focus Main Event, Custer took the Junior Focus. Johnny Conley ripped the Go-Karts. Gary Marshall Jr. finally made it happen with the Sport Compacts. But the real show stopper was Robby Josett in the #2 Midget. In a race with little passing, what passing did occur was critical. Danny Eberts started first and ran a brilliant race finishing second. Jake Swanson started second and finished fourth. Cory Kruseman started fourth and finished third. Josett, starting in the third spot, was diligent, patient and ran fast. With only a few laps to go, he came in hard under leader Eberts in turn three and took it away with brawn and delicacy. David Prickett was hard charger going from twelfth to fifth.

Shannon McQueen at Ventura

The VRA Sprint Car Main line up was standard but deceptive; seaman apprentice Dakota Kershaw and boson Tom Harper both on the front row. Behind them Troy Rutherford and Cory Kruseman were manning the cannons. Savvy Jimmy Crawford and Greg Taylor were ready to strike from the third row. Ford, Buckley, Gardner, Neiemela and a dozen other fast freaks strung out behind them like a rogueís galley. Although things were calm on the surface, tension and subtext rippled through the mainsheet as the green flag fell.

Ronnie Gardner Is Everywhere

Tom Harper gets on the lead lap but Dakota Kershaw is showing incredible tenacity and skill. Troy Rutherford slots third with Cory fourth and swinging for the fence. They are all high on the cushion except for Rutherford who is grinding the bottom. Harper is good for five laps but the incredibly tenacious Kershaw gets by and takes over. Rutherford then slips under Harper for the second spot. Kershaw on the gas, Rutherford second, Kruseman third and here comes Josh Ford. Suddenly Rutherfordís front end gives out, he grazes the back wall and staggers into turn three erratically. Kruseman tries to clear but clips him hard as he goes by. Kruseman continues through the turn as whatís left of Troyís front end finally collapses and kills his evening. Troy walks away from the wreck with the weight of his entire racing career on his shoulders. In the past few weeks, Troy Rutherford is being tested in ways that few drivers will ever know. Personally, Iím not going to spend years talking someone up and then start tearing them down. I am a committed Troy Rutherford fan and I can never repay the excitement he has delivered. The champion in Troy will prevail.

Utter Dedication to Quality Racing

Restart line up is Dakota, Cory, Josh and Tom. Greg and Jimmy are right there. That Kershaw kid gets gone and I mean gone. Cory never gets rattled and Josh Ford is on his patented bottom groove. But it is Greg Taylor and Marcus Niemele that are starting to look scary fast. Cory is catching Dakota in the back markers, but it is stunning how this kid continues to stymie and stuff the great Kruseman. Greg Taylor continues to circle like a Great White Shark. The three of them are rolling through traffic and turns like a bite on a frenzied school of albacore. Kershaw is high, Kruseman low as he tries to clear the kid, finally getting by under turn four. Taylor also muscles past the heart filled upstart. Now you have two heavyweights who start slugging away at each other. But lapped traffic viciously stuffs Taylor and Kruseman slips away! Niemele has moved to third and Dakota Kershaw continues to hang in fourth against heavy traffic. Cory is still dealing with that traffic as Taylor is fending off Niemele. Niemele passes Taylor with a slide, Taylor takes it back. The air is frigid, the action is scorching. With three laps to go, Brent Camarillo spins and they reel Cory in for the dramatic ending. Green flag and Cory checks out. Niemele tries one more time to take down Taylor but no dice. Itís Kruseman, Taylor and hard charger Niemele with the kid Kershaw fighting off every driver heís ever studied for fourth. In a world were nothing is as it seems, Kruseman is disqualified post race for a white flag lap muffler malfunction and Greg Taylor takes the win without a bow.

One Epic Heat Race After Another

The horizon has never seemed darker. At sea forever and there is no sight of land. Iím bloody sick of that Jack Sparrow. The economy has stolen the purse, Kittle has suspended their 410 operations, select cars skip shows weekly for lack of funds and Champions are questioned. But when I see determined promoters hanging on by their fingernails, kids like Kershaw and Custer coming up through the ranks, plenty of USAC/CRA 410ís in Hanford busting down the door, you have to step back and look at the bigger picture. We are up against the tests of time. When I see hard core who will stand patiently in a freezing wind for an hour while their home track is prepped; itís like the sun is breaking through. Ventura is The Santa Maria, the Christopher Columbus flagship, buffeted by shifting winds and fighting off mutiny in uncharted waters. Condemned by flat earth critics, protected by destiny and guided by a firm hand; we sail into the west, seemingly off the edge of the world.

The Tight Knit Robby Josett Family