By Lance Jennings
TULARE, CA – MAY 2, 2011… Last Saturday night, veteran driver Peter Murphy of Clovis scored a popular victory with the USAC West Coast 360 Sprint Car Series. Charging from the eleventh starting spot, Murphy inherited the lead after point leader Ryan Bernal’s engine expired on lap twenty-six. Driving a six year old car and powered by a twelve year old engine, the Australia native ran from the field to claim his first series win since October 2009. “It was a great race from where I was sitting,” remarked Murphy. “There was stuff going on everywhere. Cars were everywhere and it was an awesome track.”
As starter Willie Williams dropped the green flag, Richard VanderWeerd grabbed the lead from the pole position. Ryan Bernal, who started alongside VanderWeerd, gave chase after the leader. Using the outside line of the Tulare clay oval, Bernal used the extra momentum to take the lead on the second lap. VanderWeerd tried to battle back, but settled into second followed by “Wide Open” Wes Gutierrez, Dennis Howell, T.J. Smith, and Greg Alexander.
Looking for his first career series win, Bernal began to stretch out his advantage. Heading into the lap nine, Ryan held a two-turn lead when Fresno’s Dave Knott flipped his machine in turn four. Action was halted as a red flag was displayed over the speedway. Knott walked away uninjured, but his car was done for the night. When racing resumed, Bernal set the pace and VanderWeerd was now in a battle for second with Howell. Dennis soon took the position as drivers searched high and low for the fastest line around the track.
With Bernal out front and Howell securely in second, it was an absolute war for third on back to tenth. With two distinct grooves on the racetrack and tight side by side racing action, drivers swapped positions back and forth, as they looked to advance. This battle came to a end on lap eighteen for Quincy’s Cole Peard who came to stop on lap eighteen.
This was the first of a series of yellow flags. Third place T.J. Smith of Fresno retired after having extensive front end damage. Campbell’s Nico Russo spun his machine in the second turn. “Hollywood” Danny Faria Jr. of Tipton slowed after suffering a flat left front tire. Peard had to exit after his second spin on lap twenty-three. By this point in the feature, Bernal continued to lead the way by running the cushion and banging his car off the outside fence. Howell sat in second and chose the low line to make his move, followed by Greg Alexander, Jared Little, Peter Murphy, and Richard VanderWeerd.
Bernal was strong as he was working for the Tulare victory. Once again, the point leader began to put some distance between himself and the field. Murphy, now in fourth, ran a line similar to Bernal and passed both Alexander and Howell in one move to claim second. On the next lap, Bernal’s engine began to sour and his night ended in heartbreak.
Murphy took over the lead, with Howell, Little, Alexander, VanderWeerd, and Gutierrez tucked in close. Using the experience of a veteran driver, Peter extended his advantage and was not to be denied on this night. At the checkered flag, Murphy took the win chased by Howell, VanderWeerd, Alexander, and Jace VanderWeerd.
Piloting the #4 Eberhardt Motorsports’ Maxim, backed by Ridgeline Framing and Pro Signs, Peter Murphy claimed victory in his second start of 2011. Earlier in the program, Murphy was eleventh quick in time trials and finished second in his heat race. Now twelfth in the point chase, Peter earned the Keizer Wheels “Hard Charger / Best Passing Job” honors on the night and also reclaimed the series lead in career feature wins. His good fortune continued by charging to a close second at the line in the winged Taco Bravo Ocean Sprint Car feature.
Dennis Howell of Rancho Palos Verdes took second after starting fifth in the 30-lap feature. Driving the family owned #62 San Pedro Auto Body / Howell Meyer Racing Maxim, Howell was fifth fast in qualifications and third in his heat race. The USAC Western Midget graduate is currently seventh in the point standings heading into Tulare’s “Pombo/Sargent Classic” on May 14th.
With a four pill drawn for the main event inversion, Visalia’s Richard VanderWeerd inherited the pole position. Piloting the family owned #10 Maxim, sponsored by VanderWeerd Construction and Battery Worx, Richard led the first lap and faded back to as far as sixth position. VanderWeerd battled back to claim third at the checkered flag and is now fifth in the championship points. The young driver was fourth quick on the night and second in his heat race.
Gardena’s Greg Alexander raced to fourth after starting sixth in Chuck Tyler’s #72 Trench Shoring / Amsoil Maxim. The young driver was in the mix, battling for the runner-up spot in the main event. Earlier in the night’s action, Alexander was sixth fast in qualifications and claimed fourth in his heat race. As this writing goes to press, Greg is currently fourth in the point standings.
Jace VanderWeerd of Visalia came home fifth after starting seventh. Driving the #88 Maxim sponsored by VanderWeerd Construction and Battery Worx, the April 9th Santa Maria winner was seventh quick on the night and third in his heat race. By virtue of his fourth top-10 performance and Bernal’s bad luck, VanderWeerd sits atop the standings heading into the “Pombo/Sargent Classic.”
Fresno’s T.J. Smith set the pace in Sander Engineering Time Trials over the twenty-one car field. Piloting Steve LeGras’ #14 UHL Rubber / S&S Automotive Maxim, the Santa Maria track champion claimed fourth in his heat race. Smith was running third in the feature until suffering front end damage that ended his night. Scoring an eighteenth place finish, the hard charger sits eighth in points.
Bakersfield’s Ricky Kirkbride won the night’s first heat race, presented by Extreme Mufflers. Driving Bob & Toni Van Meter’s #87 Maxim, backed by Fred Cummings Motorsports and ITI Performance, Kirkbride was thirteenth quick and scored eleventh in the feature. The USAC Ford Focus Midget graduate is thirteenth in the championship points.
“Wide Open” Wes Gutierrez of San Martin won the Saldana Racing Products / Keizer Wheels Heat Race #2. Piloting the WG Motorsports’ #007 Competition Suspension Inc. / ButlerBuilt DRC, Gutierrez was second fast in qualifications and seventh in the main event. The young driver leads the series with four heat race wins and is currently third in the point chase.
Santa Rosa’s Marty Hawkins scored the 10-lap DJ Safety Heat Race #3 victory. Driving the family’s #3M Schnee, sponsored by The Toiyabe Group and Blakeley Landscaping, Hawkins was fifteenth fast on the night and ninth in the feature after starting fifteenth. In limited action, Marty is currently seventeenth in USAC West Coast 360 points.
The USAC West Coast 360 Sprint Car Series would like to thank Southwest Contractors, Hoosier Tire, Amsoil, BR Motorsports, ButlerBuilt, Competition Suspension Inc., Cory Kruseman’s Sprint Car & Midget Driving School, Crow Enterprizes, DJ Safety, Extreme Mufflers, Hilborn Fuel Injection, Hinchman-Indy Racing Uniforms, Integra Shocks, Kaeding Performance, Keizer Wheels, King Racing Products, Port City Racing, Saferacer.com, Saldana Racing Products, and Sander Engineering for their support.
The USAC West Coast 360 Sprint Car Series will return to action on Saturday, May 14th, at Tulare’s Groppetti Automotive Thunderbowl Raceway. Joining the “Pombo/Sargent” card will be the Golden State King of the West Sprint Cars, IMCA Modifieds, IMCA Stock Cars, and Vintage Super Modifieds. Located at the Tulare County Fairgrounds at the corner of Bardsley and K Streets in Tulare, the Front Gates will open at 5:00pm, with time Trials at 6:00pm, and Racing at 7:00pm. Advance Reserved Grandstand Tickets and Bleacher Tickets are on sale and can be purchased by calling the track office at (559) 688-0909. For more event information, visit the track’s website at www.tularethunderbowl.com.
For more information on the USAC West Coast 360 Sprint Car Series, please visit westcoastsprintcars.com, usacracing.com, racesantamariaspeedway.com, or follow the series on facebook.
USAC WEST COAST 360 SPRINT RACE RESULTS:
April 30, 2011 – Tulare, California – Groppetti Automotive Thunderbowl Raceway
SANDER ENGINEERING TIME TRIALS:
1. T.J. Smith, 14, LeGras-15.181; 2. Wes Gutierrez, 007, WG-15.214; 3. Ryan Bernal, 11D, Olmstead-15.336; 4. Richard VanderWeerd, 10, VanderWeerd-15.492; 5. Dennis Howell, 62, Howell-15.577; 6. Greg Alexander, 72, Tyler-15.683; 7. Jace VanderWeerd, 88, VanderWeerd-15.696; 8. Danny Faria Jr., 2, Bowman-15.755; 9. Rusty Carlile, 51, Carlile-15.815; 10. Justyne Hamblin, 8, JH-15.844; 11. Peter Murphy, 4, Eberhardt-16.090; 12. Jared Little, 25, Little-16.178; 13. Ricky Kirkbride, 87, Van Meter-16.182; 14. Dave Knott, 28, Knott-16.259; 15. Marty Hawkins, 3M, Hawkins-16.343; 16. Andrew Murray, 18, Murray-16.694; 17. Geoffrey Strole, 09S, Strole-17.231; 18. Jeff Miller, 5X, Swaim-17.330; 19. Nico Russo, 3N, Russo-17.341; 20. Cole Peard, 58, Peard-NT; 21. Matt Day, 97, Day-NT.
EXTREME MUFFLERS HEAT RACE 1: (10 laps)
1. Ricky Kirkbride, 2. Richard VanderWeerd, 3. Jace VanderWeerd, 4. T.J. Smith, 5. Justyne Hamblin, 6. Andrew Murray, 7. Nico Russo. NT.
SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS / KEIZER WHEELS HEAT RACE 2: (10 laps)
1. Wes Gutierrez, 2. Peter Murphy, 3. Dennis Howell, 4. Danny Faria Jr., 5. Dave Knott, 6. Geoffrey Strole, 7. Cole Peard. NT.
DJ SAFETY HEAT RACE 3: (10 laps)
1. Marty Hawkins, 2. Ryan Bernal, 3. Rusty Carlile, 4. Greg Alexander, 5. Jared Little, 6. Jeff Miller, 7. Matt Day. NT.
FEATURE: (30 laps – With Starting Positions)
1. Peter Murphy (11th), 2. Dennis Howell (5th), 3. Richard VanderWeerd (1st), 4. Greg Alexander (6th), 5. Jace VanderWeerd (7th), 6. Jared Little (12th), 7. Wes Gutierrez (3rd), 8. Rusty Carlile (9th), 9. Marty Hawkins (15th), 10. Justyne Hamblin (10th), 11. Ricky Kirkbride (13th), 12. Nico Russo (19th), 13. Jeff Miller (18th), 14. Matt Day (21st), 15. Ryan Bernal (2nd), 16. Cole Peard (20th), 17. Danny Faria Jr. (8th), 18. T.J. Smith (4th), 19. Dave Knott (14th), 20. Geoffrey Strole (17th), 21. Andrew Murray (16th – DNS). NT.
**Dave Knott flipped during the feature.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS:
Lap 1 Richard VanderWeerd, Laps 2-26 Ryan Bernal, Laps 27-30 Peter Murphy.
KEIZER WHEELS HARD CHARGER: Peter Murphy (11th to 1st)
NEW WEST COAST 360 SPRINT POINTS:
1. Jace VanderWeerd 224; 2. Ryan Bernal 219; 3. Wes Gutierrez 216; 4. Greg Alexander 198; 5. Richard VanderWeerd 197; 6. Justyne Hamblin 173; 7. Dennis Howell 151; 8. T.J. Smith 149; 9. Bud Kaeding 148; 10. Danny Faria Jr. 138; 11. Rusty Carlile 129; 12. Peter Murphy 124; 13. Ricky Kirkbride 112; 14. Jonathan Logan 93; 15. Nico Russo 88; 16, Davey Pombo 84; 17. Marty Hawkins 81; 18. Cole Peard 76; 19. Matt Day 62; 20. Andy Forsberg 57.
NEXT WEST COAST 360 SPRINT RACE:
May 14 – Groppetti Automotive Tulare (CA) Thunderbowl Raceway – ” Pombo/Sargent Classic”