The 2016 Vukovich Classic
There were threatening skies early in the day on Saturday, but the 2016 Vukovich Classic at Madera Speedway was never affected as skies cleared away for a sunlit track for qualifying. Perhaps due to the weather, the car counts for the eight open-wheel divisions (which included three exhibition classes for vintage cars) were smaller than expected, but all the features ran quickly and showed the fans some great racing.
In the winged super sprint car division, Eric Humphries the new track record holder with a mark of 12.427 seconds dominated the 30-lap feature in his #15 Harvest Supply Inc. sprint car over Tom Baker. Heat races wins went to the ageless Anthony Simone and Michael Snider, who did “double duty,” as he also raced his family’s Bay Cities Racing Association (BCRA) midget.
Justin Tuey led every lap of the five-car 360-cubic inch California Supermodifed Series (CSS) feature, while Denny Burrell cruised to victory in the Northern California Modified Association (NCMA) wingless sprint car feature after a nifty outside pass of three-time NCMA champion Pat Ariaz. Behind Burrell there was a fierce battle for second place between Ariaz and Jerry Kobza, but Kobza just could not find a way around Pat's #XX machine and had to settle for a third place finish.
Last year’s NCMA champion Audra Sasselli tested her #77 car on Friday night, but Saturday night found her working in the booth as part of the MAVTV broadcast crew. The NCMA cars will be action again on May 21 at All-American Speedway on the grounds of the Placer County Fairgrounds in Roseville California. Jerry Kobza told this writer that the NCMA group hopes to have as many as a dozen cars in action of the Roseville 1/3-mile track.
The feature for the young guns of the United States Auto Club (USAC) Honda Performance Development (HPD) midget series was dominated by Davey “DJ” Hamilton Junior in the Lewis #9, the only car in the field equipped with the Honda K24 power plant. Hamilton was chased to the checkered flag by the Zetec-powered cars of Jesse Love, Tommy McCarthy, and the Breidinger twins, Annie and Toni.
The featured class for the Vukovich Classic was the Bay Cities Racing Association (BCRA) midgets which featured twelve cars on the entry list. 2014 BCRA champion Chad Nichols was the fast qualifier at 13.702 seconds, with the top five qualifiers all within 2/10 seconds of Nichols’ time. Most impressive was just-turned 15-year old rookie Courtney Crone in her first race in a pavement midget - Courtney’s racing resume includes speedway motorcycles, go-karts, and most recently 360-cubic inch wingless sprint cars. Courtney qualified sixth in Jerome Rodela’s Toyota-powered Gerhardt sponsored by Tom Malloy’s Trench Shoring.
The re-draw after the heat races would have placed Crone on the pole position for the 30-lap feature, but new BCRA Steward Karl Hokanson elected to place her at the rear to start the feature due to her inexperience. That put seventh fastest qualifier Cody Gerhardt on the pole for the feature, and Cody out-dragged David Goodwill into the first turn and held on as the action was fast and furious behind him.
Goodwill, Nick Chivello, 2015 BCRA champion Frank Guerrini III, and Nichols staged a pitched battle for position behind Gerhardt but none of those drivers could sustain a charge to challenge Gerhardt. Gerhardt was trailed across the finish line by Guerrini, Nichols, Chivello, and Goodwill.
Courtney Crone finished in seventh place after her race-long battle with Michael Faccinto who drove the Tres Van Dyne owned midget after a seven-year absence from pavement racing. Nine cars finished the feature, as only Scott Pierovich, JR Williams and nine-time BCRA champion Floyd Alvis retired with mechanical gremlins. The BCRA midgets will be back in action on May 21 at the ¼-mile paved Ukiah Speedway on the grounds of the Redwood Empire Fairgrounds.
The author spent an enjoyable afternoon at the races with Stewart Van Dyne, who shared stories of drivers Lance Reventlow, Mark Donohue, and AJ Foyt and working with engine building legends that included Jim Travers, Frank Coon, Dale & John Drake, and Leo Goossen. In his years at TRACO Engineering Van Dyne worked closely with Penske Racing on engines that included the five-liter Ferrari 51M V-12 and the turbocharged Offenhauser engine that won the 1972 Indianapolis 500-mile race, Roger Penske’s first of sixteen Indianapolis ‘500’ victories. In this writer's opinion, If there is any one person in racing who needs to write a book to share his life stories, it is Stewart Van Dyne.