Tune In, Hammer Down, Peace Out
The All Coast Challenge Race One
March 20, 2010

I love my local track. Perris is perfect, Santa Maria has those swaying eucalyptus and Bako has that cool lawn in the infield. But nothing touches Ventura when she is on. Last Saturday, Seaside Park leaned back, tossed her hair and soon all the boys were fighting. The ocean was liquid sunshine and the track glistened as we reveled in the stands and cheered the glory train. There’s that special feeling at dirt tracks when money events come around and pits were humming. Forty-three top-drawer sprint car drivers presented their credentials. Bob Allen at KadyTV.com was streaming interviews and live action to race fans across the country. Jackslash was texting comments from Indianapolis. Loudpedal Video was full bore and unrelenting. T-shirts rained into the stands. Lance Jennings, Bob Davidson and Motorcycle Dan punched the hardcore tickets. “Madhouse” TV producers had the ace Burbank based Vidcam film crew nailing the high definition action that reeled into the evening. Standing high in turn one, surveying from the beach to the backstretch, insolent and grand, it was a party…

All Thrill No Fill
Bezio and Camarillo Share Intense Heat Race
(photo courtesy of Frank Bigham Photography)

Generational Winners

Multiple classes brought it to Ventura this weekend. The Go-Carts are back and uber cool. More family legends than a bluegrass festival. Cody Nigh took it home. Richard Renken second and Jeff DelGaudio third. Great to see Nate Elertson out and having fun….. Danny Lauer came down from Santa Maria and just clobbered everybody in the IMCA Modifieds. Dennis Eckert and Ron Wiley put up a pretty good fight……Pro Dwarfs showed up for their first bare knuckles of the year. Never has it been more true that it’s never over until it’s over. Mike Lewis took the pole and converted it to a hard earned and technically perfect lead for the first fourteen laps. Eric Alton was racing him hard with Angel Figueroa tenacious in third. On the white flag lap (shortened to fifteen laps by five yellows), Alton got a little, uh, overenthusiastic and spun Lewis in turn four. Lewis was out, Alton DQ’d for his driving and Angel Figueroa, who had been third all race, took the win with surprise and graciousness. Senior dwarfs take back the track this Saturday… Trevor Fitzgibbon prevailed over a startling and classic Sport Compact event that had two cars flip simultaneously on the backstretch. Strange enough to have one Sport flip, let alone two. Cody “Cadillac” Grieman refired and rejoined the race while Ken Haley was towed to the infield. Andrew Grieman was in the stands scratching his head. James Brown finished second while champion Brent Underwood took third and has a razor edge on the points.

Figueroa Knows It’s Not Over Until It’s Over

David Cardey Lifts at Ventura
(Photo Courtesy of Rob Hargraves Photography)

All right, let’s get it on. Henry Clarke is the engine, David Cardey is the caboose and the crazy train rolls out of the station. Clarke shoots the hole and Rob Kershaw is right there. The line up holds; Clarke, Kershaw, Josh Ford, Ronnie Case and Troy Rutherford. Rutherford is on the gas and gets up to third. Ford takes it back and the whole thing is already fascinating. Rutherford taps Conrad going through two, Conrad spins and we are yellow. Refire and the center holds. Ronnie “the Rocket” Case is Rip Van Winkle, after years of sleep he is awake and this ground is actually trembling. Ford beats Kershaw on the bottom of two and takes second. Clarke, Ford, Kershaw, Rutherford back to fourth and then Case. Ford is already grinding the bottom as Clarke, Kershaw, Rutherford and Case are running the top. Case slides the big man in turn two for fourth; Rutherford gives him a love tap. Clarke is flying, but here comes Ford on the bottom! Before Ford can make his move, Case comes rocketing out of four and going for the pass slams hard into Kershaw. Kershaw seems wounded and he haplessly slows on the back of the track. That forces Brian Camarillo (from 12th and now battling for sixth) into the back of Greg Taylor and Brian gets airborne. That finishes a perfectly rotten evening for Agromin (with all due respects to David Bezio). We restart on the eleventh lap with Clarke, Ford and Case. Ford immediately gets under Clarke and takes control. Clarke doesn’t like that and tries to split the apple between Kershaw and Ford coming out of turn four. Misjudges badly and is bounced between the two cars, breaks something and rolls to a stop. He wasn’t the only driver to self-immolate. Restart with Ford on the bottom, Kershaw still surviving like a Samurai warrior. Ronnie Case takes to the cushion and fires up the Rocket. With a bristling and brutal speed he takes down Kershaw and clears under Ford. Such speed he bikes and Ford takes it back. A thrilling battle between the two with Ford matching him on the top and holding him off. Ronnie hits the wall once, Ronnie hits the wall twice and he is done. But nobody cares; we’re excited that Ronnie Case Is Back. Head clear, huge heart and running out front. I can’t deny he tore up some people’s shit on the way but what a ride. 19 laps done, 11 to go and Josh Ford readies for the next challenger. Green and the background is shifting. Until now it was Ford, Case, Kershaw and Rutherford, but coming like the hounds of hell are Donnie Gansen (from 10th), Greg Taylor (16th), Kevin Kierce (9th), Jonathan Henry (7th) and the nimble Jimmy Crawford (15th). But it’s Crawford who is making the most hay, working the bottom and gaining with every lap. Kevin Kierce has fallen in right behind him and we have a three-way cluster at the front. Ford is definitely on the bottom, Crawford stuck to his rear like bad news. Kierce goes to the top and starts hitting that cushion like he’s Jack Dempsey. Ford blocking Crawford at every instance. Kierce finding more speed at top and white flag is out. Ford again stuffs Crawford coming out of four, Kierce swings for the knockout but just misses. Ford, Kierce and Crawford win, place and show. Freshman Donnie Gansen in a fantastic fourth place finish running with the bulls. Rutherford fifth with a bullet. Taylor sixth but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Jonathan Henry battled a steering box for seventh. Justin Kierce continues his insane exponential improvement with an eighth. Conrad battled all the way from his early spin to ninth. Cody Kershaw closed out the top ten. David Cardey had an inspiring run from 23rd to 11th (thanks for coming David, you have a lot of fans here). But Jimmy Crawford is the hard charger coming from 15th to 3rd. “Not a bad race” says the gambler to the riverboat captain as they as they duck out the back.

The Quiet Riot

Amazing how the reserved and almost diminutive Josh Ford elicits such a strong reaction on the track. He is the “Quiet Riot”. Critics claim his driving style is reckless and worse. His fans applaud the almost ferocious intelligence and tenacity, which powered him across the finish line ahead of the Calculator and the Neutron. Although Ford has been parlaying his trade in Perris for years, he lives in Ventura County and is embraced by both promoter and the Ventura faithful as one of our own. His reputation was flamed by a nasty slide job against Troy Rutherford at the beginning of last season. Troy’s attempt to throttle Ford’s neck earned him a two-race suspension and probably cost him a chance at the championship, as Kierce capitalized and built a huge early season lead. Saturday night Kierce was in the lead of the heat race when Ford cleared him on the backstretch, leaving precious little room for Kierce to negotiate the concrete walls. It was the same shade of gray racing that had Rutherford enraged last season. Like Rutherford, Kierce is in a championship hunt and not prone to letting much get by him. Some aggressive retaliation in the pits (which I did not witness) earned Kierce a trip to the Tower and who knows what was said. Back on the track, I normally don’t comment on fault or cause of racing incidents. Unless you have a perfect view and superhuman vision, who can say for certain what happens in those train wrecks. But this weekend’s racing is kind of hard to dance around. It is the freaking elephant in the middle of the living room. Gentle Josh Ford has pulled back the curtain of politeness and exposed a extraordinary racing rivalry. Kevin Kierce has been around the track a few times and will not tolerate any driving that threatens his safety or equipment. Troy Rutherford is equally blunt about his feelings; if you mess with the bull you are going to get the horn. Josh Ford makes no apologies. His job is to win races and he plans to pass you. Something happened and everybody felt it. The Challenge precipitated some kind of paradigm shift at Ventura Raceway. The coastal Teutonic plates collided hard and a towering tsunami trifecta is racing towards shore. Tune in, hammer down, peace out.

Not For The Faint Hearted