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They Love Perris in Sprint Time

Dirt-track sprint car racing, the most traditional form of automobile competition, came close to extinction in Southern California a few years ago after the closing of Ascot Park--its home base for 30 years--but sprinters are experiencing a renaissance with the development of Perris Auto Speedway.

Perris, 75 miles east of the Ascot track in Gardena, is a long haul for the cadre of South Bay fans that made up most of Ascot’s following, but since the half-mile oval opened March 30 a new following is developing in the Inland Empire. And, a number of South Bay fans are also making the long trek.

To solidify its standing as home base for the 3-year-old Sprint Car Racing Assn., PAS officials signed a three-year contract with the SCRA, which features wingless cars, last week. This year, 18 SCRA races were scheduled at Perris.

Bubby Jones, one of sprint car racing’s legendary drivers and now competition director at Perris, and Ken Kazarian, vice president of Oval Entertainment, LLC, operating company for PAS, have also scheduled two non-SCRA sprint car events.

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The World of Outlaws, racing’s premier winged sprint car organization, will be at Perris Oct. 30, sandwiched between races at Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix on Oct. 25-26 and the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds at Pomona on Nov. 1-2.

“Having the Kinsers, Steve and Mark, and the rest of the Outlaws here will give the Perris track some national recognition,” said Jones, who drove off and on with the Outlaws before moving to Anaheim in 1980 to race with the California Racing Assn.

The new track has already been getting recognition. Open Wheel magazine called it “sprint car heaven.”

A two-day open competition for wingless cars, the $40,000 Oval Nationals, is scheduled Oct. 18-19. It is expected to attract teams from Northern California and the Midwest, where the seasons will have ended.

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“Down the line, we want to make PAS the Knoxville of the West,” said Dan Kazarian, PAS general manager and one of four brothers who run the facility. Knoxville, Iowa, is the site of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and the Knoxville Nationals, the biggest event of the sprint car season.

The SCRA was formed in November 1993 in a palace coup of car owners and drivers who unseated Frank Lewis as head of the CRA. When Lewis refused to give up the organization’s name, the new group called itself the Sprint Car Racing Assn.

“We’re still all CRA folks,” said Glenn Howard, who was elected SCRA president. “We tried very hard to keep the name, with all its tradition, but Frank feels it’s his and he won’t let go.”

Howard, whose son Gary was a racer at Ascot in the 1970s, has been selling race car fuel and parts for 20 years.

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“When things started going down the drain after Ascot closed, it was time to either pick it up, save it or watch it disappear,” he said of the CRA. “I had a two-pronged interested in saving it. One, I made my living selling parts, and two, racing is all I’ve ever been interested in.

“This three-year pact with Perris gives local sprint car owners and fans something they’ve wanted--a track close to home. Surveys showed that 85% of the people involved with SCRA wanted a home base in Southern California. It was too tough, especially financially, to be racing all over the place.

“Racers like running at different tracks, the way the CRA used to go to the Midwest and East, but it’s hard on the wallets. There are only a couple of full-time drivers on the circuit. The rest of the guys have to work for a living. Racing is their passion and their hobby, but it doesn’t pay for raising a family.”

After 25 races this season, Richard Griffin of Silver City, N.M., holds a narrow margin in points, 1,531 to 1,503, over former CRA champion Ron Shuman of Tempe, Ariz. Third is Rip Williams, of Yorba Linda, who has won eight times, the most this season, followed by Mike Kirby of Lomita, and J.J. Yeley of Phoenix.

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Four of Williams’ eight victories have been at Perris, which has led to fellow drivers jokingly accusing Jones of setting up the track to favor Williams’ car. Brothers-in-law Jones and Williams are married to sisters.

Last Saturday night, it looked as if Williams had special knowledge. He started eighth and was in front by the fifth lap when the race was stopped after an accident involving Kirby and Shuman. Kirby, the 1994 SCRA champion, suffered a broken leg when a piece of metal penetrated the car and hit him just above the ankle. When Kirby abruptly slowed, Shuman ran into him and flipped. Shuman was not hurt but the car was damaged.

Motor Racing Notes

INDY CARS--Texas Motor Speedway, a 1.5-mile oval in Fort Worth, will open June 7, 1997, with a night race featuring Indy Racing League cars. Both the IRL and CART, opposing Indy car factions, were bidding for a date at Bruton Smith’s new track. The Longhorn 500 (kilometers) will be run two weeks after the Indianapolis 500.

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MIDGETS--The U.S. Auto Club’s western regional midget and TQ drivers will have their busiest weekend, with races Friday night at Perris Auto Speedway, tonight at Ventura Raceway and Sunday night at Bakersfield Speedway in Oildale. Sunday night’s program will also include USAC sprint cars.

STOCK CARS--Winston Racing Series sportsman, street and Grand American modifieds will be followed by a train race tonight at Cajon Speedway. . . . On Sunday, Victorville Speedway will feature stock cars and three-car trains on the Figure 8 course.

LAND-SPEED RECORD--Craig Breedlove will take his Spirit of America land-speed record car to the Bonneville Salt Flats next week for testing. An attempt to break Richard Noble’s world record of 633 mph is not expected until Sept. 30.

FORMULA ONE--In a cost-saving measure, Friday practice sessions will be eliminated next season. Teams will have two practice sessions each Saturday, followed by the traditional qualifying run. The Sunday race schedule will remain unchanged.

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MISCELLANY--IMCA sprinters will race tonight at Victorville Speedway.


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