Tim Kennedy

KENNEDY: The 25th Oval Nationals

LOS ANGELES — The 25th running of the Budweiser Oval Nationals presented by All-Coast Construction at Perris Auto Speedway was delayed one year by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The delay was worth the wait when the USAC sprint car event was run Nov. 4-6. The A-main event lead changed hands on the 30th (final) lap both Thursday and Friday. Saturday’s 40-lap feature winner, Kevin Thomas Jr., executed his winning pass on lap 37. All three features were among the most entertaining in PAS racing history and I’ve seen all 25 Oval Nationals races since 1996. 

The PAS Oval Nationals were run without a grand marshal and without a colorful, informative printed program. Uncertainties about the COVID delta variant in recent months made those usual Oval Nationals staples expendable.

One Oval Nationals tradition that remained was the darkened front straight for Saturday A-main driver introductions from the infield stage. Scott Daloisio, the PAS chief announcer since 1999, introduced each driver individually from the back to front rows. Drivers walked to their cars highlighted by a spotlight. 

Temperatures all three nights ranged from the low 80s in the afternoon to the low 60s when racing concluded. Grandstand attendance as usual grew from about a third of capacity to two-thirds Friday and about 90 percent of capacity Saturday. Southern California notorious freeway traffic jams and work schedules Monday through Friday make Saturday the largest crowd at every Oval Nationals. More than 6,000 spectators witnessed Saturday’s program. 

The week began with a practice session on Wednesday night. Twenty-seven cars practiced with Tanner Thorson turning the quickest lap at 16.234 seconds. The PAS track record is 15.891 seconds, set by Mike Spencer in 2012.

Nine of the USAC-AMSOIL National Series top-10 drivers in points raced in the 25th edition of the event. Only eighth ranked Robert Ballou, a past Oval Nationals champion, remained home in Indiana to work at his “day job”. The top 15 drivers in USAC-CRA AMSOIL points raced in the Oval Nationals. 

Chassis in the event this year included many DRC, Maxim Triple X, Spike plus Twister, Ellis and a Viper. Engine builders included Kistler, Claxton (Chevy and a Mopar), Speedway Chevy, 1-way Chevy, Rider and Cressman. A-main victories Thursday through Saturday went to a 2019 DRC, Triple X, and a new DRC.

Forty-two sprint cars were on hand for the event with Thursday (Jake Swanson) and Friday (Brady Bacon) winners each receiving $5,000. Thomas banked $10,000 and the event’s distinctive white eagle trophy for winning the event for the third time on Saturday night.

His other victories came in 2017-18. He joined fellow three-time Oval Nationals champions Bud Kaeding, Damion and Dave Darland.

A special tribute was held in recognition of Bubby Jones prior to Saturday’s first heat race. Jones passed away since the last Oval Nationals was run in 2019. PAS promoter Don Kazarian said on the PA mic that Jones discovered the site for Perris Auto Speedway during the mid-1990s to replace Ascot. He prepared the track here for many years. His son Tony Jones followed in his footsteps as a sprint car feature winner and champion. Tony and many of Bubby’s family members were in attendance. 

With former USAC official Levi Jones now departed and the new Indy Lights chief, the PAS pit meetings were conducted by Kurt Spridgeon. 

 

Owner/driver Chris Muraoka, from Honolulu, was the first Oval Nationals entrant from Hawaii. The affable 44-year-old said his surname is Japanese. He shipped his No. 25 2018 Triple X sprinter and 410 engine to So Cal in a Matson Navigation container. Transit took nine days.

He said he races with seven or eight others at a small dirt track called Paradise Speedway (about an eighth-mile) on Maui. He brought his wife and three children. He said they were all going to Disneyland in Anaheim Sunday.

On Thursday, Chris was involved in a two-car crash entering turn one during a heat. He flipped and badly bent his frame. He removed the engine and put it in a spare No. 73 Keith Ford chassis to race Friday and Saturday. A two-car crash in heat four Friday damaged his No. 73x and ended his race weekend. 

Pit announcer Chris Holt has been the pit announcer at Ascot and Perris for almost four decades. He interviewed visiting Shane Carson, the NSCHofF inductee, retired sprint car champion and racing promoter Thursday night. Shane said he got his motorsports start on two wheels. His racing promoter parents did not like that.

Noted sprint car constructor LaVerne Nance got him interested in racing with four wheels and got him his first sprint car ride far from his Oklahoma home.

Holt also interviewed five-time CRA sprint car champion Jimmy Oskie, now 75. The line-dancing afficionado from Downey said, “I like helping all the young drivers. It gives me a lot of enjoyment.” Jimmy has a wealth of sprint car knowledge to impart.

 

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