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Giant Speedway at the Tulare Thunderbowl
October 8, 2011

Richard VanderWeerd Is The 2011 USAC West Coast 360 Sprint Car Champion

I said the exact same thing last time I was here for the 2010 Pacific Nationals. They really know how to tear up some shit at this place. Iíve never seen so many crashed sprint cars. Donít get me wrong; this track is a first class operation. They put on the best show every time Iím here! I really like the way they do things. First of all, access to the infield of the track is tightly controlled. I actually had to work to get my camera trackside, which I think is important. There is a lot of heavy metal moving at high speed and more tracks would do well to better control close access. The fire and safety crew at Tulare is unrivaled, except perhaps at Perris. A serious dedicated approach with adequate manpower, equipment and authority. Lastly, their push off operation is the most coordinated and intelligent process Iíve ever seen. I timed twelve trucks pushing off eighteen cars in less than thirty seconds. It was all coordinated by a no nonsense fireman who had no problem telling me where to park my ass. Very smooth announcer in the booth by the way. But brother, they do tear some shit up. They eat beef and drink milk. No fancy L.A. fufu food! They put down the yoke, shut down the farm, climb into a sprint car, go fast and crash hard. They say what they mean and when they say ďThunderbowlĒÖhide the weak.

Consistent Racing Has Moved Dennis Howell to the Front of the Class

Qualifying View

USAC West Coast 360 Main Event: Line up had hard charging Dennis Howell on the pole, underground legend Troy Rutherford to his right. Thatís California king Bud Kaeding behind Dennis and USACWC360 championship designated Richard VanderWeerd on his shoulder. Danny ďShowtimeĒ Sheridan and giant slayer Ryan Bernal are behind them. A waxing harvest moon illuminated greatness such as Pombo, TJ, Wes and Justyn stretched out like California wheatgrass. Green acres and Howell gets out front cleanly, but a skirmish in the back (Nichols and Knight) brings them back for a double wide restart. Everybodyís pulling up next to their neighbor and shaking their fists. This is going to be interesting. This time Rutherford gets the jump but Howell reaches deep, drags him down the front and takes the lead. Itís Howell, Rutherford, Kaeding, Sheridan, VanderWeerd and Bernal. Suddenly 007 is shaken but not stirred, stops down the front and we are yellow. I see TJ Smith pull off the track and think maybe they have been banging wheels. Justyn Hamblin goes to the back, Wes goes to the back, Smith comes back on and is the punctuation mark. The start of this race and the end of this season now has Gutierrez, Hamblyn and Smith tagging the rear and I donít think that was the plan. Itís like Dancing With The Stars gone wrong. Next year. Green again and itís all about Howell and Rutherford again. They are stinking fast coming into turn two, Troy has the lead but Howell diamonds perfectly and takes it down the back. Howell starts to drift slightly in four, Rutherford intentionally or unintentionally tags his butt and Howell is parked as Troy is ruthless down the front. They line up, Howell is sent to the rear but he drives to the front first and moons Rutherford. The crowd is cracking up.

Troy Rutherford Delivered His Usual Heart Pounding Performance

Car Owner Rusty Carlile Gave Lightning Sprint Driver Jarrett Kramer a Shot

Restart and itís Rutherford, Kaeding, Sheridan and VanderWeerd. Bernal is hanging and Pombo is there with Andy Forsberg, Jace VanderWeerd, Greg Alexander (2nd fast time behind Bernal) and Marty Hawkins. Terry Nichols spins and we are yellow again. Restart, Troy gets out clean and behind him Kaeding, Sheridan and Richard V start racing each other. Bernal kicks into his forward state of mind and passes VanderWeerd to start his ascent. Although I keep reminding myself these are 360ís, the sound and speed are mind blowing as they all come into turn one like nuclear mustangs. Kaeding is really putting the pressure on but Rutherford seems oblivious and intent on keeping the car on the track despite physical laws defining speed, momentum and linear paths. Keading would get tremendous speed down the back, take it high into three and four and explode down the front. But Rutherford would grind the bottom, barely in front of Kaeding but swing wide towards the wall in four and kept stuffing Kaeding like he was tomatoes in a mason jar. Brilliant and ruthless driving by Rutherford (in the Keith Ford 73) but Kaeding wants a little respect! Behind them, Sheridan is fully engaged with Bernal, awesome wheel-to-wheel racing. We are in rush hour traffic now and itís all about the top four. Everybody else is racing; these four are at war.

Tommy Tarlton is a Front Runner For the Trophy Cup

Beautiful Fall Line Up in Tulare

Bernal makes the pass on Sheridan, Sheridan tears it right back! Another yellow and the line up is unchanged; Rutherford, Kaeding, Sheridan, Bernal, R VanderWeerd and here comes Jace. Green and Rutherford again on the bottom while everybody else hits the cushion. Rutherford and Kaeding continue their dogfight while Bernal gets around Sheridan and takes off after the leaders. This young kid starts to reel in a full speed Bud Kaeding and the crowd now gets a good look at the steel in Bernalís eyes. We are all watching now with incredulousness and a surreal sense of wonder. Fast isnít fast enough; we are now hyper speed and engines are screaming like tortured dreams as laps vaporize like jet trails. Meanwhile, Kaeding knows itís now or never, passes Rutherford on lap 29 and makes it stick! Promoter Don Sharp starts heading down the Thunderbowl steps confident itís Kaeding he is going to interview. White flag and its Kaeding, Rutherford and Bernal. Turn two; Kaeding is perfect but Rutherford is no quitter and just rockets past on the backstretch, comes into the bottom corner of three with so much speed he just clips the berm and starts seriously biking up the embankment where Bernal is behind him on the cushion at high speed. Bud Kaeding, running second and on the bottom, never lets up, swings wide across turn four hugging the wall (perhaps thinking itís his turn to stuff Rutherford), Bernal touches the wall as he avoids Rutherford and with instinctual greatness takes the empty bottom line. Itís a drag race as he beats Kaeding to the flag stand and finally beats Kaeding in his mind. He will now be unstoppable. Bud was brilliant, but second place is just nowhere for a champion like this. Rutherford, as usual, delivered a heart stopping performance. Somewhere in that explosion between lap one and the checkered flag, Richard VanderWeerd became the USAC West Coast 360 2011 Champion and theyíre probably celebrating back in the pits. Great family and many more championships are in store for them.

Promoter Don Sharp Interviews the Great Jac "Wild Child" Haudenschild

Tim Kaeding Builds On the Legend

I was done but then Don Sharp brought out the ASCS Southern California Region Sprints (winged) and they slapped us upside the head again with another stunning race. Tim Kaeding ripped the win but it was a heart expanding challenge by pointís leader Tommy Tarlton and "Wild Child" Jac Haudenschild that took it all off the hook. This is a lead-in to the Trophy Cup in two weeks. You all know that eighty cars compete for two days and that they invert the Saturday night main event from front to back. Central Valley clearly knows how to get down and this has got to be one insane race. I am getting ready for the Ventura Challenge and we are all pumped for the Oval Nationals. But when they say Trophy CupÖ get me back to Tulare.

Scoreboard Tells The Story For Bernal