2011 Sokola Shootout: Winning…Duh!
by Bobby Kimbrough on March 13, 2011
What was Mike Spencer doing on March 13 at the Sokola Shootout in Perris, California? WINNING, DUH. We caught up to the young engineer in the pit area prior to the race where he explained that their goal this year “was to win as many races this season as we can, and take our fourth USAC/CRA Championship. Anything less will be disappointing.” Spencer wasn’t disappointed at the end of the evening.
The Sokola Shootout opened up the racing season at Perris Auto Speedway and the AMSOIL USAC/CRA season. Named for longtime president of the CRA, Gary Sokola, the shootout represents what is right with short track racing on dirt. Promoter Don Kazarian acknowledged the passion that dirt track racers and fans have with the sport’s past. “The Sokola Shootout actually started years ago at Manzanita Speedway, and when they could no longer hold the event, I was asked if we could host the event. It was a “no brainer”. Our relationship with the Sokola family went back to the time that I was a car owner at Ascot.”
Longtime CRA and USAC Pit Steward Evelyn Pratt. The 91 year old Pratt has 63 years in racing.
We asked Kazarian about Gary Sokola, “The man was special. I was actually afraid of him when I first got involved in sprint car racing. Back at Ascot there was this 20 foot tower that Gary stood atop while he ran the races. He was a big man too. So looking way up at this big man on that tower was intimidating. Gary was in charge and there was no doubt about it. It was ‘my way or the highway’.” Kazarian’s voice rang with respect as he talked about Sokola however, “His legacy will be one of caring for his drivers and demanding safe races,” added Kazarian.
Don Kazarian talks with Damion Gardner.
Checking in with the USAC/CRA sponsor representatives from AMSOIL, Casey and Andy Jones, commonly referred to as “the oil twins” by racers. Andy explained the significance of the event, “We’re very proud to be a part of the racing at Perris Auto Speedway. We’ve been involved in motorsports for a long time but it’s pretty incredible what we’ve seen in short track racing.” Casey added, “The way short track racers and fans pay respect and remember their traditions is very similar to AMSOIL’s philosophy. AMSOIL together with dirt track racing is just a natural fit.”
USAC National Points Leader Damion Gardner.
USAC National points leader Damion Gardner, who continues to be a great representative of west coast sprint car racing, too time out of his National USAC schedule to take the helm of the #42 Cheney sprinter. “The Demon” won the USAC/CRA Championship in 2005 in the #50 Chaffin sprint car. Add current Chaffin driver, and USAC/CRA Champion for the past three years, Mike Spencer to the mix and the pursuit for the 2011 Sokola Shootout title was in full effect. 2006 USAC/CRA Rookie of the year Blake Miller and last year’s Rookie of the year, Jace VanderWeerd supplemented the group of challengers for the title. The 2008 USAC Rookie of the year, Nic Faas was returning to full time action in the series having landed a ride in the famous Alexander Brothers #4 Silver Bullet when Tony Jones decided to take a season off.
20 year old Nic Faas starts the season in the Alexander Brother's #4 Silver Bullet Sprinter.
With 27 sprinters entered into the shootout, it looked as is half of the field were competitive enough to win that it would not surprise the crowd on hand if any one of these drivers took the win. There were some underdogs that could upset the favorites however. The oft overlooked Greg Alexander, who always seems to do an exceptional job with an underfunded team, established the tone for the evening by setting the quick time in qualifying. Las Vegas driver Seth Wilson returned to “The PAS” and made his presence known right off the bat with the second fastest qualifying time.
Greg Alexander set the quick time in qualifying.
QUALIFICATIONS: 1. Greg Alexander, #23, Bellegante-16.655; 2. Seth Wilson, #1X, Wilson-16.873; 3. Mike Spencer, #50, Chaffin-16.889, 4. Danny Sheridan, #18, Kittle-16.923; 5. David Cardey, #59, Cardey-16.953; 6. Nic Faas, #4, Alexander-16.996; 7. Matt Mitchell, #37, Mitchell-17.032; 8. Damion Gardner, #42, Cheney-17.129; 9. Blake Miller, #7, Priestley-17.174; 10. Johnny McCall, #77, McCall-17.244; 11. Austin Williams, #2, Jory-17.248; 12. Rickie Gaunt, #66, Miller-17.274; 13. Ronnie Gardner, #93, Gardner-17.420; 14. Cody Williams, #44, Jory-17.431; 15. David Bezio, #37D, Bezio-17.530; 16. Danny Ebberts, #01, Carroll-17.544; 17. Richard VanderWeerd, #10, VanderWeerd-17.593, 18. Stevie Sussex, #21A, Sussex-17.766; 19. Jace VanderWeerd, #88, VanderWeerd-17.798; 20. Rodney Argo, #19, Argo-17.801; 21. Greg Bragg, #92, Sertich-17.813; 22. Johnny Bluntach, #58, Bluntach-17.965; 23. Royal Adderson, #40, Adderson-18.010; 24. Cal Smith, #39, Smith-18.928; 25. Gavin Matlock, #25, Williams-19.144; 26. Gary Potter, #62jr, Welton-20.610; 27. Jerry Welton, #62, Welton-22.030.
Veteran racer Greg Bragg started on the front row with Richard VanderWeerd in heat 1. VanderWeerd took control on the lead lap and held the top spot all the way to the checkers. Dynamite David Cardey was the biggest mover in this heat going from fifth to third before running out of time while challenging Bragg for the second spot.
FIRST HEAT: (10 laps)
1. #10 R. VanderWeerd
2. #92 G. Bragg
3. #59 D. Cardey
4. #7 B. Miller
5. #23 G. Alexander
6. #93 R. Gardner
7. #25 G. Matlock
Richard VanderWeerd wins the first heat race.
Heat race 2 featured the new team of Alexander Brothers Racing and Nic Faas in the #4 Silver Bullet. Faas clearly was out to make a point as he moved from fourth to the front by lap 5. The young Faas began pulling away from the pack once he got into open space. Cody Williams had a strong run early in the race but seemed to fade slightly as the race wore on.
SECOND HEAT: (10 laps)
1. #4 N. Faas,
2. #44 C. Williams
3. #1X S. Wilson
4. #21A S. Sussex
5. #77 J. McCall
6. #58 J. Bluntach
7. #62jr G. Potter
Nic Faas chased down Cody Williams and then checked out from the field in heat 2.
Mike Spencer also sent a message in heat race 3. Coming from the back of the pack, Spencer moved through the pack and made passes on the last two laps that put him in the front when the checkers fell. Spencer’s late race passing set the stage for what we would see later in the evening.
THIRD HEAT: (10 laps)
1. #50 M. Spencer
2. #88 J. VanderWeerd
3. #2 A. Williams
4. #37 M. Mitchell
5. #37D D. Bezio
6. #40 R. Adderson
Mike Spencer made a late charge to win heat 3.
Heat race 4 featured the return of Rodney Argo, the flashy paint scheme of “Super” Rickie Gaunt and Damion “the Demon” Garnder in the #42 car. Starting in second, Argo took the lead on lap one announcing his return to full form. Rickie Gaunt’s paint scheme could not hide the smoke from his disintegrating engine. Putting on a show, Gaunt pushed the badly smoking motor to a second place finish behind Argo. As if on cue, Gaunt took the checkered flag and the engine completely blew up on the cool down lap, stalling the car in turn four.
FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps)
1. #19 R. Argo
2. #18 D. Sheridan
3. #66 R. Gaunt
4. #42 D.Gardner
5. #62 J. Welton
6. #39 C. Smith
Rodney Argo returned to USAC/CRA action with a win in heat 4.
The action on the track really started to heat up in the Semi Final race. With the #23 of Greg Alexander and the #77 of Johnny McCall starting on the front row, the green flag waved. Alexander took the point with McCall and Ronnie Gardner chasing. Before the second lap was completed, Bluntach’s #58 made contact with the wall between turns three and four. The red flag came out to clean up the track causing a restart of the race.
On the restart, Alexander again took the lead with McCall getting a slow restart where he found himself deep in the pack. McCall was able to rebound on lap two and found his way to fourth behind the cars of leader Alexander, Bezio and Smith. By lap three, Ronnie Gardner had moved into third when McCall car flipped and ended up against the wall between turns one and two as lap three started.
Johnny McCall's wrecked car in the middle of turns 1 and 2.
After a lengthy red flag stop to clear the track of McCall’s torn up car, the race restarted with Alexander again taking the point. The race was cut to a 6 lapper due to the delay, which saw Alexander cruising to the win with Bezio and Ronnie Gardner following.
SEMI: (6 laps)
1. G. Alexander
2. D. Bezio
3. R. Gardner
4. C. Smith
5. G. Matlock
6. J. Welton
7. G. Potter
8. R. Adderson
9. J. Bluntach
The feature started with “Bullet” Blake Miller on the pole with Damion Gardner on the outside and Greg Alexander and Nic Faas behind him. When the green flag fell, immediately the pack battled for position. Before the first lap was in the books, the cars of Stevie Sussex, Rodney Argon and Cody Williams began bumping in the middle of corners three and four with Williams car ending up on it’s top. Amazingly, the Williams team was able to get their car repaired and back on the track before the restart but Argon’s car was done for the evening and Sussex’s sprinter required extensive work.
Rodney Argon, Stevie Sussex and Cody Williams get together in the feature race.
On the restart, Miller took the lead with Damion Gardner supplying pressure from behind. Further back in the pack, Mike Spencer was digging to move his way forward. Things settled in for the first handful of laps with Miller setting the pace, Damion Gardner pressing and Mat Mitchell looking for a way around the #42 of Gardner. The Demon found his way past Miller on lap 7 putting him in the clutches of Mitchell. Mike Spencer had moved his way into fourth and was looking for a line to challenge Mitchell and Miller.
Gardner was leading on lap 10 with Miller hanging on to second. Spencer had worked his way into third and pressing Miller for second. Mitchell and Faas were fighting for the fourth spot with David Cardey lurking behind them.
Damion Gardner pulls the front wheels up coming out of turn 4.
At the halfway mark Damion Garner found himself being challenged by Mike Spencer at almost every turn. Miller, Mitchell and Faas rounded out the top five at this point.
Spencer made the pass on Gardner on lap twenty as the yellow flag came out for a stalled car on the track. Reverting back to the last completed lap, Gardner was moved back to the lead position on the restart where he would lead every lap till lap 29. On the final lap, Gardner led the field around the track to turns three and four where Bezio’s injured car was struggling to get around the track. Picking the right line and using the lap car as a pick, Mike Spencer completed a last corner pass on Gardner for the win. Matt Mitchell finished third with Blake Miller and Nic Faas rounding out the top five.
Spencer celebrates the victory.
FEATURE: (30 laps)
1. #50 Mike Spencer
2. #42 Damion Gardner
3. #37 Matt Mitchell
4. #7 Blake Miller
5. #4 Nic Faas
6. #59 David Cardey
7. #18 Danny Sheridan
8. #2 Austin Williams
9. #92 Greg Bragg
10. #44 Cody Williams
11. #23 Greg Alexander
12. #88 Jace VanderWeerd
13. #37D David Bezio
14. #10 Richard VanderWeerd
15. #1X Seth Wilson
16. #39 Cal Smith
17. #21A Stevie Sussex
18. #25 Gavin Matlock
19. #62 Jerry Welton
20. #93 Ronnie Gardner
21. #19 Rodney Argo
22. #66 Rickie Gaunt
Watch the highlight video from Raceway video: