LINCOLN, Calif. – November’s series of USAC National MIdget shows in the Golden State showed just how talented USAC drivers are with non-stop mains, excellent racing, track records and, if not non-stop, few delays occurring night after night.
The series is very well run by the officials and is able to get by with no rule stating two stops and you are done. In the six races I attended there was only one instance when a driver was involved in an incident two times in a race, further showing the talent of the group of drivers.
Attending six of the seven races in the series at Bakersfield, Placerville and Merced showed how perfect those tracks are for the series. Buddy Kofoid’s Bakersfield win came on a very fast surface and his speed in the turns was amazing. Back in the 1990s Bakersfield hosted the Turkey Night Grand Prix five times and it would be nice to see the event return to the high-banked quarter mile. It is almost like it was designed for midgets.
Placerville had to cancel their part of the California series last year when a ruling was made by the health department that competitors were not allowed from more than 120 miles away. This year the gates were open and USAC midgets had lightning sprints as support, sans their usual wings. Too many accidents occured in the support class, perhaps spiked upwards by the non-winged aspect.
Ryan Timms, Kyle Larson and Justin Grant won mains, with Grant’s win being the 100 lapper on the final night. The Saturday finale drew one of the largest crowds in track history, making the debut of the best pit seating in California, and perhaps the country, very successful. More on that later.
Grant grew up in Ione, Calif., 31 miles from Placerville, home of the track that his father introduced him to racing. It was where he decided to become a race car driver. Grant’s victory lane interview was a classic as he expressed what it meant to win the Hangtown 100 and at Placerville.
Merced Speedway finished the north of Grapevine portion of the series, leaving only the further south Turkey Night at Ventura remaining. Grant made it two in a row on Tuesday before Kofoid won Wednesday’s main. Winged 360 sprint cars were the support group and only Colby Copeland had anything to keep Kyle Larson on his toes both nights. Copeland made it to second on Tuesday, but needed more laps to make a challenge and on Wednesday was moving forward and looked to be ready to challenge Larson before being the victim of contact on the backstretch.
Kofoid was so smooth every time on the various tracks and added to his October championship at the Trophy Cup by collecting the USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget Championship. Nineteen years old and Kofoid has secured two huge championships one month apart. Winning a Trophy Cup preliminary main at age 14 was just a sign of things to come for Kofoid.
Logan Seavey saved the best for last, winning the Turkey Night Grand Prix to join a long list of accomplished drivers to claim the win. At Placerville, John Taylor built a lightning sprint, in fact it was finished the morning of the first race, and Seavey drove it to win two of three mains. Seavey started his career driving a Taylor mini-sprint, as it was called in those days, and returned to his roots in a successful fashion.
The late part of Placerville’s season was cancelled when wildfire equipment and personnel needed a place to camp and the pit and infield of the foothill quarter mile became home. Losing a handful of races made it disappointing for the promotional team of Scott Russell and Kami Arnold. However, it also led to a big project in the pit area being completed in the weeks between the facility becoming a race track again and the November USAC shows.
“We’ve had visions of improvements and things we wanted to do and a lot of it comes down to time and money,” Russell said. “Out of the fire situation and with us not racing, they (Cal Fire) hired us to do dust control at the track during the fire camp and I made a fair chunk of money because they were short of equipment for the fire. So they asked if I would use my water truck and do dust control throughout the fire camp.
“I saw the opportunity to take the money and reinvest in the track and my vision for building a wall, putting a fence on top of it, and purchasing the grandstands for the pit area. These are the grandstands we used to rent for the Outlaw race.”
Doing most of the labor themselves saved a lot of money on the project, but it still cost a lot more than the Cal Fire income, but the timing was right to do the upgrade.
“All this kind of came about where I had this money and once the grandstands became available all the stars kind of aligned so we decided to try to get this done before the Hangtown 100 and that was a lot of work,” Russell said “I don’t know what I was thinking, but I really like how it came out with the wall and fence.
“There are so many little things I want to do to make it a better experience for fans and racers. Putting those grandstands in is going to allow us to have these bigger shows and accommodate people.”
The pit area now has seating for around 1,700, counting the original small stands that are still available, and the two new sets of tall stands combined with the elevated pit area already overlooking the track offers a dramatic view. I have been to 392 tracks according to the Trackchaser list and the pit view at Placerville is immensely better than any other track I’ve seen.