18 Jul 19
San Gabriel Valley Tribune
In northern Kentucky last week, Sparta to be specific, Southern California was in the NASCAR spotlight. Actually, counting Kurt Busch’s Cup victory, it was the Southwest.
First it was Tyler Ankrum, a San Bernardino native, taking the Truck Series checkered flag in just his 12th start in the series. Ankrum was driving a Toyota for David Gilliland, the former Chino Hills resident.
“I can’t thank everyone at DGR-Crosley enough,” Ankrum said after his seven-second win over Stewart Frieson. “I can’t believe we just did this, it’s incredible. This is a dream come true. I have always doubted myself, and I think (the win) will wash all that away.
“This is incredible. It’s going to take a lot more work to chase a championship, but we are one step closer.”
Ankrum’s crew was on the radio, filling him on what was happening on the track.
“Honestly, I wasn’t even really listening. I was just driving my rear-end off,” Ankrum said. “Holy cow. I think I held my breath through the last three laps there. I’m tired. I think I honestly forgot to breathe. Holy cow.”
Ankrum, who moved back to North Carolina with his mother in 2014, is 17th in the standings. He trails Grant Enfinger by 284 points, but has qualified for the playoffs.
The next night on the 1.5-mile track, Cole Custer’s race was as different as day and night. Once the sun set, his Ford took off.
Custer won for the third time in the past six Xfinity Series race. It was the seventh career series win, in 88 starts, for the Ladera Ranch Ford driver who also won at Auto Club Speedway earlier this season.
It was Custer’s second consecutive win on a 1.5-mile track following his win at Chicago earlier in the month. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver was dominant, leading the final 45 laps and beating Christopher Bell by 1.651 seconds.
“This one just goes to my team,” Custer said afterward. “That car was just unbelievable at the end. They knew exactly what to do with it when the track changed, and I was just lucky to drive it there at the end.”
His closest call of the night came after the race, as he nearly face-planted in the victory circle celebration.
“I don’t look too good after falling off the car like that, but that was unbelievable,” he said.
As for Busch, the Las Vegas native extended his streak to six years with at least one Cup victory by prevailing at Kentucky. It was his 31st career win and first since Aug. 18, 2018, at Bristol.
Toni McCray, the Highland driver who has been the most successful female at Irwindale Speedway, will debut a Super Late Model in the SRL Tour at the half-mile track Saturday night. Gates will open at 4 p.m., with autographs at 5:45 and racing at 7.
Acting on a tip by Lenny White, McCray purchased the car driven by Jeremy Doss.
“I have big shoes to fill with this car,” said McCray, who won 15 times at Irwindale. “I’m excited about racing it, and the biggest thing will be getting me comfortable in the seat. I hadn’t raced that much over the last two years, but this year we have been running Orange Show and having lots of fun with that. I’m really looking forward to going back to Irwindale, where I have had a lot of success as well.”
McCray will be making her eighth series start since 2014, when she finished third. She has collected 15 wins at Irwindale, finishing second in Super Late Model in 2013 and runner-up in LateMode in 2014-15.
“The SRL series is one of the toughest most competitive series there is, and it has an abundance of talented drivers”, McCray said. “I know it will absolutely be the toughest race I have ran this year, but I like the challenge. My goals for the weekend would be to qualify in the top-10 and finish top-10, but top-5 would be like a win to me.”
Back on track
After missing a NHRA national event in New England, Top Fuel dragster racer Leah Pritchett will be back in the field this weekend in Denver. The Redlands driver is the defending champion as the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series opens its annual three-race swing in the West.
Steve Torrence leads the Top Fuel field by a wide margin. The defending series champion is 479 points ahead of Doug Kalitta in second. Pritchett is seventh, 627 behind the leader, but trails Clay Millican by 31 markers for sixth.
“I don’t think there is another human that can parallel how I feel about getting back in the car at Denver right now, or getting the team back on the track,” Pritchett said. “I’m beyond motivated. It doesn’t take missing a race, or Denver being the mother flagship event (sponsored by Dodge) to get my motor running, but it most definitely has kicked it into overdrive
“It will have been 25 days since being behind the wheel of a nitro car, or since my team has been in race pace, but I can promise, everyone is as prepared as ever to defend what I consider a U.S. Nationals-caliber event.”
All four professional categories will compete at the event, held 5,800 feet above sea level. Robert Hight has a 176-point lead over team boss John Force; Bo Butner leads Alex Laughlin by 148 in Pro Stock; and Andrew Hines is atop Pro Stock Motorcycles by 86 over Eddie Krawiec.
— Ventura Raceway will hold its annual A J Herrera Memorial on Saturday for the fifth time, featuring flat track motorcycles, Vintage Speedway and sidecars. Flat Track Racers will compete in classes ranging from kids 50cc to pro riders going for an added purse in pro singles and Twins. Last week, Tommy Velasquez III won the VRA Pro Dwarf feature, although Jason Horton leads Trent Morley by 85 points after 10 races. In VRA Hobby Stocks, leader Tom Stephens Jr. took the win and increased his points lead to 155. Troy Rutherford won the Sprint Car feature and increased his lead. Donald Houghton took the IMCA Modifieds feature over Terry Hershberger, now three points behind Jack Parker.
— Saturday’s night card at Perris Auto Speedway will feature the PASSCAR Stock Car Series, with Street Stocks, Super Stocks, American Factory Stocks and the IMCA Modifieds. At intermission, kids in the grandstands will be let onto the front straightaway of the track to collect candy from all the drivers. Bradley Morris holds an eight-point lead on Joey Haresky in the Modifieds. In PASSCAR Street Stock class. Blaine Whitson and teenager Alyssa Smith are ahead of Luke Dodd, who has won the past three titles. In Super Stocks, eight points separate Fred Estrada, Tyson Talkington and Rickey Lee. Darren Myers is in first in Factory Stocks, ahead of Cameron Veatch, Mike Burks and Jason
— Brody Roa, crew chief Zac Bozanich and Joe Gibb are driving the race hauler back to the Midwest to compete with the USAC National Sprint Car Series for nine races on nine tracks in 11 nights. The action begins Wednesday at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway, followed by the start of “Indiana Sprint Week.” Roa is now second in the USAC/CRA Series after dropping out Saturday due to mechanical issues. Race winner Damion Gardner moved into first by 49 points, but Roa maintained his lead in the Southwest Series by nine points.
— Ryan Vargas, the 18-year-old La Mirada native, will make his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut at Iowa Speedway. Vargas competed in the K&N Pro Series East for Rev Racing in 2017, finishing sixth in the standings. He was a member of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity and NASCAR Next classes.
— Auto Club Speedway will host the Monster Energy DUB Show Tour from 5-11 p.m. Saturday, which will feature a special drifting exhibition. The show will showcase celebrity vehicles, custom cars, bikes, trucks, Jeeps, shops and car clubs, competing for cash awards. “There is a huge car culture here in Southern California and we are thrilled to be a part of the Dub Show Tour,” track president Dave Allen said. “We have the space for their massive displays, incredible rides, new exhibitions and experiences.”
Louis Brewster can be reached at BrewSpts@gmail.com.