The Race Against Perception
Ventura Raceway
June 4th, 2011

Rutherford Takes Number Five

I donít know if weíre racing for fun anymore, but we are damn sure racing. Troy Rutherford, on a night, week and month when anything less than first would have been death, brought an almost monastic focus to the track and clawed his way past a clutch of stunned and stunning drivers to reclaim credibility. It was unequivocally the best and most dramatic main event of the year where none of the frontrunners left anything on the track. Even for us fans, this whole tire thing has been tough. My naÔve cheerleader vision is pretty much shot. These tired eyes see things in a different way. I feel like that kid in that movie (Sixth Sense) that sees dead people. Lately when I come to Ventura, I see attitude. This place has huge, glaring, fast, rattlesnake racing attitude.

Richard Renken Hits Hard

I did run into some long faces about the car count but I thought things were reasonably good overall. Twenty plus go carts hit the dirt and continued the rough and tumble manner and method of the carters. Richard Renken took a wild spill in the main event and when he came up he was fuming. His radical spill and subsequent DNF vaulted race winner David Pankratz past him in the points and thatís what really hurt. Richard tells me itís inexcusable sloppy driving with these guys and itís the worst heís seen in his credible career. He knows more than me about it and Iíll take his word. However, almost all these guys sure look like theyíre having a blast and I even dare to think about trying this myself.

Public Servant and Bad Ass Racer

Modified count was strained, only twelve cars but no lack of vicious racing. Dennis Eckhart put up a hell of a fight, inspiring really, but those Rodarte boys got on it with a relentless determination. Austin Rodarte would get the nose of his car under Eckhart and just drive that mother like a puppy going for milk. He cleared him first and was gone. Just when Eckhart was getting his skirt smoothed and his composure back, here comes Aaron and he gets savaged all over again. Classic. John Romero took fourth and Jack Parker top five. Lots of comments about how rough the racing is and how car damage is making some guys count their dollars and stay home. I thought it was supposed to be rough, I thought everybody was enjoying it? No?

Mike Neal Gets It Done

Ten seniors and thirteen pro in the VRA Dwarfs. Iím told thatís a diminished and short count, but it seems like itís twenty-three dwarf cars to me and whatís bad about that? They actually separated the mains and ran the seniors first. Mike Neal had an exciting win with Rick Lapka second and Keith Vondersaar third. But the Pro Warf Main was magical, with an astonishing run by Lars Wolfe. Kevin Calvo had a brilliant race and led most of the laps, but Lars ran him down and made a dramatic pass on turn four of the last lap. I hadnít seen a dwarf main in awhile and it reminded me how core these drivers are. The VRA Dwarfs are awesome and deserve the respect they seem to think they lack.

The Wolfman

Sport Compact came out and ran a full twenty-lap main. Trevor Fitzgibbon took the pole position and never relinquished the lead. Ryan Changus was on the front row and hung at first, but veteran Andrew Grieman took that second spot away mid race and Zachary Peterson slotted third. Good racing and always a thrill watching Trevor work the field like the field like a mad scientist playing a diabolical chess game. Trevor claims that with ďthe desire to understand and influence, we are humanĒ. Trevor Fitzgibbon is my kind of guy.

Cliff Warren Was Born To Race

The VRA Senior Sprints is constantly evolving and becoming better by the company it keeps. Lately missing in action Bob Alderman, Jesse Denome and Kevin Kierce all showed and raced and we are richer for it. The racing history between those three drivers alone staggers across decades. We were stoked to see Danny Miller in the pits hanging out, also Brian Williams, who won the senior race at Perris last week. Ed Schwartz has become a constant racer at Ventura and told me this weekend he loves this track. He is committed to racing here and again we are better for it. Everybody caught an awesome show with sterling first ever win by the popular Cliff Warren. Rock steady Rob Kershaw was second with Richard McCormick in third. Bill Badger was fourth with Bob Alderman top five. Special shout out to my friend Cliff who is just the coolest racer and also known to be a master craftsman with wood.

David Pankratz Aces The Karts

The Ventura County Star Sunday edition ran a Sports page one story about the hardship of racing at Ventura under this recession. The current issue of Sprint and Midget Magazine expounds on the hurtful situation across the nation as rain and recession have gutted the car counts. If you include the senior sprints, there were thirty-nine sprint cars racing at Ventura Saturday night. They tell me it should be more, but by my math I would be greedy to expect more. I am just stoked to be in the infield and watch these tough bastards push off and stomp on it. For me, itís just a mystifying blend of grit, skill and tenacity.

Rutherford Testifies Before A Jury Of His Peers

What can I say about the VRA Sprint Car Main Event? Unbelievable speed, control, anger, exhilaration and attitude. Naylorís racing factory gave the four front-runners an invitation to rip. Brent Camarillo took the front row and blistered my expectations for about seventeen laps. The cat and mouse with him and Troy was about as good as it gets. Troy was on Brentís tail like a blowtorch. The guts and the talent shown by Brent were immeasurable as he held off that unrelenting attack. He got a little sloppy on a restart, left a little too much room, tried to slam it but the wolf was at the door. He was black flagged for loss of a nerf bar. Iím down with this kid all the way. Jimmy Crawford comes out to this track on frequent occasion and constantly threatens to steal the show. When Brent and Troy were slugging it out on the bottom, the astute Neutron drove around them and dominated from lap eighteen to twenty-seven. In my never humble opinion, former VRA Champion Crawford is just about the most under rated driver at Ventura. Never flashy, always in the middle of the fight, much like Steve Conrad. Driving from the inside sixth row, Greg Taylor is a solid rock. Saw him before the race and he was as relaxed as ever. Always doing the talking with his driving, he was the hard charger finishing second but got to the front too late for the showdown. We are all still waiting for that one big Taylor/Rutherford throw down. And then another! And speaking of Troy, what a drive he had! What a convoluted strangeness to be racing against peopleís perception of you. The defending VRA Sprint Car Champion felt he had to win this race for his family and fans. I was tuned into Clive and Garrett and the rest of his hard working crew. In any case, the speed was insane and his battle with Brent was intense. It took twenty-seven laps for Rutherford to wrest control away from the determined Camarillo and Crawford, but with skill, sweat and perseverance, he took it in final laps and flat out won his personal battle. The post race winnerís circle was awkward, to say the least, you canít just put a band-aid on it. But I was encouraged to hear Troy tell the Truex interview ďhe doesnít want to look back, he wants to look forwardĒ. That will win the race against perception.

Race Over