By Scott Daloisio
(Perris, CA, March 28, 2011) When the Amsoil USAC/CRA Sprint Car Series returns to Perris Auto Speedway, the Southern California Home of Major League Sprint Car Racing, this Saturday night, April 2nd, Ronnie Gardner will climb into the bright blue #93 Sprint Car with a mission on his mind. The grandson son of former Indianapolis 500 driver Ronnie Duman and a product of the famous Gardner racing family that has racing roots more than 80-years-old, he will be racing with his cousin Chet on his mind.
Christmas is normally a time of joy, but the Southern California open wheel racing community was hit hard on Christmas Eve. Chet Gardner, 24, had dinner with his family and went out to do some last minute Christmas shopping. In a store parking lot, the always smiling young man who was a friend of everyone in the pits, suffered a heart attack, He passed away the day after Christmas.
The tragic news devastated the Southern California racing community and was particularly tough on cousin Ronnie Gardner. “He is sill with me when I race,” Gardner said by telephone on Sunday night. “Me and Rickie Gaunt (another driver who was very close to Chet) talked about it a lot the last couple of weeks. I have dedicated this season to Chet and Rickie and I have come up with something cool on the wave lap (when the drivers wave to the fans on a pace lap while the fans stand and cheer them on). Instead of waving, Rickie and I are making a “C” with our hand and hold it up for him.
“It (Chet’s death) has kind of given me a whole new perspective on life,” Gardner continued with a sigh. “It has been tough and it has definitely changed me and my personality. It makes me feel like I do not want to take time and life for granted. I want to make sure I get everything out of every day of my life.”
In a relatively short time, Gardner has come from racing go-carts in the backyard with Chet to getting behind the wheel of a volatile 410 Sprint Car and he has accomplished a lot. He started racing Sprint Cars on July 4, 2008. At the 2010 Chili Bowl in Tulsa, Oklahoma, much to his surprise he got the news that he had been named the 2009 National Traditional Sprint Car Rookie of the Year by the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame. “I did not expect that at all,” he said with a laugh. “I just got done with my practice session on Tuesday night and Dean Mills walks up to me and says, ‘congratulations.’ I said, ‘for what?’ He told me I won the National Hall of Fame Rookie of the Year Award. I was totally stunned. I did not believe him. I thought he was playing a joke on me. I walked over to the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame booth and believe it or not, my name was up there.”
Last year, Gardner won two main events in open competition action at Victorville. However, winning the Rookie of the Year Award and the mains were not Gardner’s toughest battles in racing. In order to get to race, he had to get in shape. The first car Gardner’s dad (Jeff Gardner) built by himself was a car that Blake Miller drove. “At that time I told my Dad I wanted to race,” Gardner said. “He said, ‘right now you are a little over weight and that is probably not safe.’ I told him that if he promised to let me drive, I would lose weight. In 2007 I weighed almost 285 pounds. Last week when I weighed myself at the gym, I weighed 175.”
Gardner commented on how losing that much weight is tough and it takes a lot of dedication, but it is well worth the effort. “To be honest with you, it is probably the hardest thing I have done in my entire life. If you are going to lose a lot of weight you cannot cheat at all. My confidence level in myself in everything has gone up because of that.”
While Gardner does not claim to know a lot about his grandfather, Ronnie Duman, off the track, he does profess a vast knowledge of Duman’s racing exploits. “He was born in Michigan and he moved to Indy in 1964 when he was involved in that fire (the huge fire early in the Indianapolis 500 that proved fatal to Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald),” Gardner said. “When he was in the hospital he bought a house on Georgetown Road in Speedway. He won a lot of races including the Hut Hundred and the Little 500 and he raced in the Indy 500 from 1964 to 1968.”
Duman’s best ever finish at Indy was a sixth in 1968, but one week later he passed away in a violent crash in the Rex Mays 150 on the mile track in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The Gardner side of the family has been around racing in California for a very long time. “It probably goes back to the late 1920s or the early 1930s with my great uncle Chet,” Gardner stated. “Then my grandpa in the 1950s and my uncle in the 1970s. I guess you could say it is a family tradition.”
With all that racing in the family, it was only natural that Ronnie Gardner was determined to get into a race car. “I always wanted to race cars,” he said with a laugh. “I never got the opportunity to. I don’t know why, I just didn’t. I worked on em’ just never got a chance to drive.”
These days Gardner’s life is heavily entwined in racing. When he is not on the track, he works on race engines from 8:30 to 5:00 every day on the dyno at Esslinger Engineering. When he gets home from work he spends time working on his own race car at home. “I probably spend four hours a night four days a week in the garage working on the racecar,” he said. “That is if everything goes well and the car rolls into the trailer the week before. It is basically just me and my Dad working on the car.”
Thus far in the first two races of the 2011 USAC/CRA Series, Gardner has a 20th at the season opener at Perris and a 10th last Saturday at Victorville Raceway Park. He is 12th in the championship points standings heading into Saturday’s race at The PAS.
Gardner would like to thank the following sponsors for their support in 2011. Endless Powder Coating, Jamison Engineering, DWT Wheels, Maxwell Industries and Esslinger Engineering.
The Amsoil USAC/CRA Sprint Cars will share Saturday’s program with the Winged California Lightning Sprint Cars. Spectator gates will open at 5:00 PM on Saturday and the first race will be at 7:00. Tickets are $20.00 for adults and $15.00 for seniors. It is $5.00 for active military members with proper id, students age 13-18 with school id and kids from 6-12. Kids 5 and under are free.
To keep up with all of the latest Perris Auto Speedway news, photos, gossip and receive special offers, sign up at The PAS Facebook site at: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Perris-Auto-Speedway/113876798686480
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Perris Auto Speedway wants to thank its corporate sponsors for the 2011 season. Aaron’s, Ahern rentals, All Coast Construction, Amsoil, Ayers Hotel and Spa, Budweiser, Champion Towing, City of Perris, Comfort Inn, Comunidad Latina, Daytona Boat & RV Storage, Frazee Paint, Hoosier Tires, JD Fields Lumber, K&N Engineering, P.I.P.E., Pepsi-Cola, Pick-A-Part Auto Salvage, Prolong Super Lubricants, Soboba Casino, Square H, Temecula Valley Pipe & Supply, Trench Shoring, US Foods and Zanzabuku Sports Lounge.
For more information call The PAS at: (951) 940-0134.
Perris Auto Speedway is located on the Lake Perris Fairgrounds (home of October’s Southern California Fair), approximately one hour east of Los Angeles and one hour North of San Diego. To get to the track, take the 215 freeway, exit on the Ramona Expressway and go three miles east to the fairgrounds.
Video and DVD productions of all racing events at Perris Auto Speedway are available from Jeff Kristensen’s Raceway Video. For more information on these productions you can call: (818) 618-9764 or visit the web site at: racewayvideo.com.
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2011 Amsoil USAC/CRA Points Standings
1. Mike Spencer – Temecula – 142
2. David Cardey – Riverside – 118
2. Blake Miller – Yorba Linda – 118
4. Matt Mitchell – Yorba Linda – 104
5. Nic Faas – Huntington Beach – 98
6. Greg Bragg – Visalia – 90
7. Rickie Gaunt – Torrance – 81
8. David Bezio – San Diego – 67
8. Cody Williams – Yorba Linda – 67
10. Austin Williams – Yorba Linda – 66
2011 California Lightning Sprint Car Series Point Standings
1. Kevin Michnowicz – Lomita – 135
1. Tim Brown – Wildomar – 135
3. Brent Sexton – Lakeside – 122
4. Sheldon Creed – San Diego – 120
5. Jarrett Kramer – Spring Valley – 115
6. Dan Hillberg – Placentia – 110
6. Jacob Will – Carlsbad – 110
8. Guy Maresch – Anaheim Hills – 98
9. Darren Hillberg – Corona – 92
10. Gabby Robles – Nuevo – 87
The 2011 Perris Auto Speedway schedule is listed below.
April 2nd: USAC/CRA Sprint Cars & California Lightning Sprints – Relay for Life Giveaway and Fundraiser
April 9th: Off Weekend
April 16th: PASSCAR Super Stocks, Street Stocks, Modifieds, Factory Stocks – PLUS A “SPECIAL EVENT”
April 23rd: Off Weekend
April 30th: “Night of Destruction 2” Fig 8′ Trailer Racing, Rollover Contest, Iron Man Demo Derby – Relay For Life Giveaway and Fundraiser
May 7th: PASSCAR Super Stocks, Street Stocks, Modifieds, Factory Stocks, CDCRA Dwarf Cars
May 14th: Off Weekend
May 21st: PASSCAR Super Stocks, Street Stocks, Modifieds, Factory Stocks, CDCRA Dwarf Cars – Relay For Life Giveaway and Fundraiser
May 28th: “SALUTE TO INDY” USAC/CRA Sprint Cars & California Lightning Sprints
June 4th: To Be Announced
June 11th: Off Weekend
June 18th: “Night of Destruction 3” Rollover Contest, Demo Cross, Fresh Car Demo Derby
June 25th: PASSCAR Super Stocks, Street Stocks, Modifieds, Factory Stocks, CDCRA Dwarf Cars
July 2nd: City of Perris “CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION – FIRECRACKER 30 & SKY CONCERT” USAC/CRA Sprint Cars & California Lightning Sprints
July 9th: Off Weekend
July 16th: To Be Announced
July 23rd: PASSCAR Super Stocks, Street Stocks, Modifieds, Factory Stocks – PLUS A “SPECIAL EVENT”
July 30th: “KINDOLL CLASSIC” USAC/CRA Sprint Cars & California Lightning Sprints
August 6th: Off Weekend
August 13th: To Be Announced
August 20th: USAC/CRA Sprint Cars & California Lightning Sprints
August 27th: PASSCAR Super Stocks, Street Stocks, Modifieds, Factory Stocks – PLUS A “SPECIAL EVENT”
September 3rd: Off Weekend
September 10th: “Night of Destruction 4” Fig 8′ Trailer Racing, Rollover Contest, Iron Man Demo Derby
September 17th: PASSCAR Super Stocks, Street Stocks, Modifieds, Factory Stocks, CDCRA Dwarf Cars
September 24th: “GLENN HOWARD MEMORIAL” USAC/CRA Sprint Cars
October 1st: Off Weekend
October 8th: “So Cal Fair” USAC/CRA Sprint Cars
October 15th: Southern California Fair
October 22nd: Off Weekend
October 29th: PASSCAR “CHAMPIONS NIGHT” Super Stocks, Street Stocks, Modifieds, Factory Stocks, CDCRA Dwarf Cars and 2nd Annual Oil Twins Challenge
November 3rd: Budweiser “Oval Nationals”
November 4th: Budweiser “Oval Nationals” & California Lightning Sprints
November 5th: Budweiser “Oval Nationals” & California Lightning Sprints