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Hall of Fame Classic Recap

2016 Hall of Fame Classic Race Recap

Peoria, Arizona played host to the 2016 Hall of Fame Classic.  Heavy rains saturated the grounds on Thursday night, September 29th, enough to cancel the open practice that was scheduled.  After visiting the Arizona Open Wheel Museum (something that we highly recommend, if you’re ever in the Phoenix area), I left for the track and arrived at 4:00pm local time, on Friday.  Clouds covered the majority of the sky and several puddles of standing water lingered, serving as proof of the heavy rains that occurred the previous night.  One thing was certain: it would not be a dry night, in the desert.
USAC/CRA Sprint Cars complete Hotlaps, as the sun begins to set in Arizona

Friday, September 30th

Track conditions played a factor on Friday, as it does at most Dirt Tracks.  The line was slim and never really pushed-off of the bottom, all night.  Right rear tire placement was key, as it is with most Sprint Car shows.  It looked like the track was rough, from my infield view, as cars seemed to bounce heavily entering turn 3 and fought to “settle” in the middle of the corner.  However, after talking to Jake Swanson and Richard Vander Weerd, terms like “smooth” and “hammer down” were common.
The track held a lot of moisture through the night and the groove remained narrow

Qualifying

Qualifying had its fare share of drama on Friday, as point leader and all-time USAC/CRA feature winner, “The Demon” Damion Gardner, suffered mechanical trouble.  His car lost power and stopped running during the hotlap session and his team could not get the engine to re-fire during qualifying.  “The Demon” got a push and took the long, lonely lap with assistance, which does not count, according to the rule book.  This meant the fastest Sprint Car driver in the world would have to tag his Heat race and tag the Main, to the delight of those who came to see slide jobs and passing!
Qualifying fulfilled a TDN prediction, as Arizona’s “Chargin” Charles Davis Jr went Quick Time!  He sprinted around the 1/3-mile clay oval in a blistering 14.085, letting his right rear tire work in the narrow groove.  Jake Swanson, “Magic Man” Mike Martin, Ronnie Gardner and “Cadillac” Cody Williams rounded out the top-5 qualifiers on Friday night.

Heat Races

“The Demon” Damion Gardner sought to give the fans their money’s worth and he delivered.  Brody Roa jumped out to the early lead in Heat race 1, leading the first 6 laps.  However, that was all the time “The Demon” needed, working his way from last place, to take the lead!  Gardner charged up to 2nd place in the first 4 laps, then spent the next 2 laps applying pressure on Roa.  He slipped past Roa, to the take the lead on lap 6 and drove-away to win Heat race 1 by 1.426 seconds over Roa.  USAC/CRA veteran, Mike Spencer, finished 3rd, followed by Ronnie Gardner, Colton Hardy, Tye Mihocko, Landon Cling and Charles Davis Jr.
Arizona native, RJ Johnson, dominated Heat race 2, leading flag-to-flag.  Jake Swanson flexed some muscle, however, charging up to 2nd place and noticeably catching Johnson as the laps wound-down.  Swanson settled for 2nd place in Heat race 2, followed by Tommy Malcolm, Cody Williams, Chris Bonneau, Chris Gansen and Josh Pelkey.
Heat race 3 provided on-track fireworks, as Logan Williams made contact with Richard Vander Weerd, causing him to go for a wild ride in turn 4.  Thankfully, Logan was okay and out of his car, but his heat race would be over.  Vander Weerd also suffered damage, which prevented him from remaining competitive throughout the race.  Ultimately, Max Adams went on to win the drama-filled Heat race 3, followed by Mike Martin, Michael Curtis, Austin Williams, Matt Lundy, Vander Weerd and Logan Williams.
Logan Williams’ car goes back to the pits, after getting upside down in Heat race 3
Vintage Sprint Cars made laps, honoring those being inducted into the Arizona Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2016
Your 4-wide salute to the fans, on Friday night, September 30th

Main Event

As mentioned previously, the track retained moisture throughout the evening and never really widened-out, off of the bottom.  This created “hammer down” conditions, making it difficult to pass.  Austin Williams fired-off from his outside-pole starting position and took the early lead.  The race would see its first stoppage on lap 11, however, as Arizona’s Colton Hardy did his best to knock down the boards between turns 3 and 4, bringing out the red flag.  Crews utilized the “open red” status to service their cars and drivers, as 19 laps laps remained in the 30-lap feature.

Austin Williams continued to show the way on Friday, as he seemed to lead with relative ease.  Oddly, Austin Williams discovered that he was his biggest competition that night.  Williams struggled to get around the lapped car of Landon Cling, costing him some valuable time, as less than 10 laps remained in the feature.  Williams clearly “lost his cool”, as he over-drove the entrance of turn 1, causing him to push-up and make contact with Cling on lap 24.  The contact was severe, causing Williams to blow his right rear tire and lose his nerf bar, bringing out a caution with 6 laps to go.  This handed the lead to a very opportune Jake Swanson, as Mike Spencer continued to hold his top-3 running position, inheriting 2nd from Williams.  Williams pitted, of course, to replace the right rear tire, but he would no longer be a factor, with so few laps left.  Sadly, this was not the last on-track contact that Austin Williams and Landon Cling would make.
Jake Swanson took advantage of the situation and never looked back, leading the final 6 laps in-route to his first USAC/CRA feature win in 2016!  Series veteran, Mike Spencer, finished 2nd, followed by “Cadillac” Cody Williams, “Chargin” Charles Davis Jr and RJ Johnson completed the top-5.  “The Demon” Damion Gardner charged from his 22nd place starting position to finish 6th on Night 1 of the Hall of Fame Classic, easily earning himself the Hard Charger award and extending his Series point lead on Richard Vander Weerd, who finished 7th.
As mentioned previously, tempers flared following the race, as Austin Williams truly felt that Landon Cling did not give him enough racing room and decided to let him know.  The USAC/CRA stars were asked to park their cars on the front stretch, following the race, to host a brief “meet and greet” with the fans.  Austin Williams parked right next to Landon Cling’s car and literally jumped onto Cling, as he attempted to exit his car.  The entire Williams family got involved at that point, including crew and family members.  The confrontation was soon averted, as track officials separated the two teams, though foul language continued to be exchanged.  Overall, it was a night of “what could have been” for Austin Williams, as he seemingly handed the win to Jake Swanson, after tangling with a lapped car.
Jake Swanson won his first USAC/CRA feature of 2016, on Friday, September 30th!
USAC/CRA veteran, Mike Spencer, climbs from his car after finishing 2nd on Friday!
“Cadillac” Cody Williams brought home a well-deserved 3rd place finish on Friday
“The Demon” Damion Gardner charged from 22nd to finish 6th on Friday night

Friday Race Results (starting position in parenthesis)

1. Jake Swanson (6), 2. Mike Spencer (1), 3. Cody Williams (3), 4. Charles Davis Jr (7), 5. RJ Johnson (8), 6. Damion Gardner (22), 7. Richard Vander Weerd (9), 8. Max Adams (15), 9. Brody Roa (13), 10. Logan Williams (12), 11. Josh Pelkey (20), 12. Tye Mihocko (16), 13. Ronnie Gardner (4), 14. Tommy Malcolm (17), 15. Mike Martin (5), 16. Austin Williams (2), 17. Landon Cling (19), 18. Michael Curtis (18), 19. Chris Gansen (11), 20. Matt Lundy (21), 21. Colton Hardy (10), 22. Chris Bonneau (14)
Friday proved to be a night of “what could have been” for Austin Williams
Jake Swanson took home the Hardware on night 1 of the Hall of Fame Classic!
The track retained moisture and remained narrow on Friday night

Saturday, October 1st

Another beautiful day in Peoria, Arizona, as weather reached the mid-90’s for the 2nd day in-a-row. However, there was one major difference from Friday, as there was not a cloud in the sky.  Canyon Speedway Park has a really cool sign that “greets” you upon entering the facility, as the late, great, Bryan Clauson graces it.  Clauson likely won’t go down as the driver with the most career wins at Canyon, but at one time, it was said that CSP stood for “Clauson’s Speedway Park”.  One thing is for certain: this is a really cool sign that welcomes fans and drivers to the track and I hope they never change it!
The sign that welcomes you to Canyon Speedway Park.  I hope they never change it! #BCForever
I arrived around 4:00pm local time again on Saturday, to find the track was heavily saturated with water.  At first I became nervous, but remembered that the lack of cloud-cover will likely result in a drier surface tonight.  Spirits were high in the pits, as most everyone expected a surface that will lend itself to more passing and side-by-side racing!

It was a beautiful, sunny, mid-90’s day on Saturday, October 1st

Qualifying

Qualifying had considerably less drama on Saturday, as everyone was able to get their car started, including USAC/CRA point-leader, “The Demon” Damion Gardner.  With the track surface being a bit more dry, allowing the line to push a little bit higher, speeds were much quicker on Saturday!  Ultimately, current runner-up in points, Richard Vander Weerd went Quick Time, ripping a 13.668 lap on the 1/3-mile clay oval.  Jake Swanson, Matt Rossi, Mike Martin and Damion Gardner rounded out the top-5 in qualifying.
The groove was already considerably wide, following hotlaps and qualifying!

Heat Races

Brody Roa flexed his muscle in heat race competition for the 2nd night in a row, as he held-off Arizona native, RJ Johnson, winning Heat 1 while leading flag-to-flag!  RJ settled for 2nd place, followed by Logan Williams, Max Adams, Richard Vander Weerd, Mike Martin, Chris Gansen and Tanner Grau.
“Chargin” Charles Davis Jr continued to make TDN predictions come true, also leading his heat race flag-to-flag, charging to the win in Heat 2!  Friday night’s runner-up finisher, Mike Spencer, finished 2nd in Heat 2, followed by Damion Gardner, Tommy Malcolm, Chris Bonneau, Jake Swanson and Tye Mihocko.
Michael Curtis continued the flag-to-flag trend in heat race action on Saturday, also wiring his heat race and winning Heat 3!  Austin Williams took runner-up honors, followed by Josh Pelkey, Matt Rossi, Ronnie Gardner and Matt Lundy.
The lack of passing may have had people concerned, but the track was wide and fast!  While there were no passes for the lead, there was plenty of sliders being “dished-out” from 2nd place on back, in every heat race.  A long intermission followed heat race action, as there was a special Arizona Motorsports Hall of Fame ceremony, honoring the 2016 inductees!  However, during this time, track crews decided to water the middle-to-upper groove, along with running the tractor and “tilling” the middle-to-high surface.  Initially, I was very skeptical, as I felt like the track was going to push up to the wall and make for a very interesting night of racing.  One thing was certain: the track was in much better shape on Saturday, than it was on Friday night!
More Vintage Sprint Cars made laps on Saturday, all in honor of the 2016 Hall of Fame inductees!
Teams survey the track, after officials added water and “tilled” the upper surface, prior to the main event
One of the greatest sights in all of Motorsports, your 4-wide salute to the fans!

Main Event

Max Adams started on pole for Saturday night’s 30-lap main event and fired-off to the early lead.  A couple of early incidents brought-out cautions with less than 10 laps in, as Ronnie Gardner’s bad luck continued, adding to his miserable weekend.  After Gardner’s incident, Austin Williams checked-up on the ensuing restart, causing Damion Gardner and Jake Swanson to spin.  Both drivers were able to continue, but it would mark the second time, in as many nights, that “The Demon” would have to work his way up from the back.
Max Adams continued leading, after the cautions were lifted.  At one point, me and a few other members of media looked at each other in near disbelief, as no one expected Adams to run as strong as he had.  Arizona fan favorite, RJ Johnson had worked his way up to 2nd place, and he was able to keep pace with Adams, but had yet to find a way around him.  Trouble struck again with 6 laps to go, as Brody Roa was bit with some bad luck.  Roa pushed-up high in turns 3 & 4, striking the wall with the right side of his car.  His right-side tires climbed the wall and he slid on it for several feet, before coming to a stop.  Thankfully, Roa was uninjured, but that ended his night and bid for Hall of Fame Classic glory.
The ensuring restart was a free-for-all, as RJ Johnson made quick work of Max Adams, sneaking by him on the inside entering turn 1!  This seemed to “rattle” Adams, as Mike Spencer, Austin Williams and Richard Vander Weerd also passed him in the following laps.  “The Demon” Damion Gardner refused to let the fans go home without seeing a passing clinic, as he had worked his way well up into the top-10.  As RJ Johnson sped away to claim his first USAC/CRA Series win since 2013, the last lap displayed an all-out battle for 2nd place!  Spencer held 2nd entering turn 1 of the final lap, as Austin Williams threw a bold slider, forcing Spencer off the bottom.  This allowed Richard Vander Weerd and Damion Gardner to “split” Spencer, with Vander Weerd running the high line and “The Demon” pounding the bottom.  As a fan of racing, part of me wished it was the battle for the lead, but it was still a sight to behold.  However, the battle for 2nd place only helped to ensure that RJ Johnson would complete the final 5 circuits without any threat, as he is the 2016 Hall of Fame Classic Champion!
RJ Johnson is the 2016 Hall of Fame Classic Champion!
Austin Williams made a bold last-lap pass to claim the runner-up spot
Richard Vander Weerd finished 3rd, one of a few drivers running the high line
“The Demon” Damion Gardner overcame an early spin to finish a hard-fought 4th

Saturday Race Results (starting position in parenthesis)

1. RJ Johnson (3), 2. Austin Williams (4), 3. Richard Vander Weerd (7), 4. Damion Gardner (5), 5. Mike Spencer (2), 6. Max Adams (1), 7. Mike Martin (9), 8. Charles Davis Jr (14), 9. Josh Pelkey (15), 10. Logan Williams (16), 11. Jake Swanson (8), 12. Ronnie Gardner (10), 13. Michael Curtis (12), 14. Tye Mihocko (20), 15. Chris Gansen (19), 16. Matt Lundy (21), 17. Tanner Grau (22), 18. Brody Roa (13), 19. Tommy Malcolm (11), 20. Matt Rossi (6), 21. Cody Williams (18), 22. Chris Bonneau (17)
RJ Johnson “parked it” on Saturday, claiming the $3,000 payday!
Saturday’s track conditions proved to be much better than Friday
Overall, both nights lent itself to some great racing!  TDN predictions were good, for once, as “Chargin” Charles Davis Jr took Quick Time honors on Friday and won a Heat race on Saturday.  RJ Johnson ran strong in his heat races on both nights, while winning the 2016 Hall of Fame Classic!  Damion Gardner did not have the finishes we expected, but he proved why he is not only the current USAC/CRA Series point leader, but also one of the best Sprint Car drivers in the world.  “The Demon” passed over 30+ cars, combined from both nights!  The next USAC/CRA Series race is this Saturday, October 15th, at Perris Speedway, in Southern California.  This Saturday’s race marks the last “stand alone” event for the USAC/CRA Series, as they will be combined with the USAC National Sprint Car Series for the final 5 races in 2016.  TDN will be on-hand for the 2016 Western World on November 4th and 5th, at Arizona Speedway!  The Western World will showcase the USAC National vs. USAC/CRA regulars in 410 competition, along with USAC West Coast vs. USAC Southwest competitors, in 360 Sprint Car action!

Current USAC/CRA Series Points (as of 10/14/2016)

1. Damion Gardner – 1,212
2. Richard Vander Weerd – 1,105 (-107)
3. Jake Swanson – 1,089 (-123)
4. Brody Roa – 1,003 (-209)
5. Austin Williams – 995 (-217)
6. Mike Spencer – 896 (-316)
7. Max Adams – 805 (-407)
8. Logan Williams – 689 (-523)
9. Cody Williams – 646 (-566)
10. Jace Vander Weerd – 602 (-610)
11. Chris Gansen – 585 (-627)
12. Jeremy Ellertson – 552 (-660)
13. Tommy Malcolm – 415 (-797)

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