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Gardner Towers in Firecracker 50 - By Bobby Gerould - 07/03/04 - Perris, CA. …Standing room only was the rule at Perris Auto Speedway Saturday night as the Valvoline United States Auto Club California Racing Association sprint cars took to the ½-mile clay oval for the Budweiser Firecracker 50. Concord California's Damion "The Demon" Gardner responded to a late race challenge from Mike Kirby to win an exciting feature event.

"We've been working hard trying new stuff with the #50 car", said Gardner. "But in the feature we went back to basics and Bruce (Bromme Jr.) gave me a car that I could run on the edge. It's been a few years since I felt this comfortable at Perris." Former CRA driving champion Jimmy Oskie was the pace car driver in a restored Bruce Bromme #1. The car that was driven by the late Dean Thompson paced the start of perhaps the best overall show this season for the first year USAC/CRA series. Bobby Cody and Adam Mitchell shared the front row as the 23-car feature event started.

Mitchell jumped into the lead but Cody responded and raced with Mitchell evenly down the backchute. Mitchell took command at the stripe and held the early lead. Gardner wheeling the Ron Chaffin #50 was third on lap three. Two laps later, the "Demon" worked the high groove to take second spot from Cody. By lap 13, Mitchell hit traffic and Gardner closed on his rear nerf bar. Mitchell cleared space on lap 17, and momentarily extended his advantage over Gardner. Tenth starting Kirby, Rip Williams, and Steve Ostling battled hard in the top-five as the race approached 20 laps complete. Gardner took the lead on lap 20 with a move on the low groove of turn three.

The first caution flag of the night took place on lap 21 when Ventura's Jimmy Crawford did a quick spin in turn four. Jordan Hermansader dropped from the race on lap 22, while Rickie Gaunt suffered a mechanical ill on lap 27 as he was coming toward the start finish line. As Gaunt slowed, a chain reaction tangle ensued behind him. Involved in the incident were; Rick Ziehl, Seth Wilson, Charles Davis Jr., and Brian Venard.

When the green flag replaced the yellow, Troy Rutherford scooted into the top five by sneaking past Mitchell. With 16 laps to go, Gardner extended his lead as a brilliant battle for second erupted between Cody, Mike Spencer, and Kirby. Kirby made a 'sick' move to pass both Spencer and Cody on lap 37. Dense traffic slowed Gardner with 11 to-go but his lead was still a full straightaway over Kirby. Spencer, in a brand new #44, was all over Cody in a two-man contest for third. On lap 40 the two had an extremely close call on the frontchute, almost taking each other out.

Kirby was cutting into Gardner's lead as the packed house enjoyed the final eight laps. Gardner had a rough moment in turn two and slowed his momentum which allowed Kirby to suddenly be only a quarter of a straightaway behind. One lap later, the lead shrunk to two car-lengths. With the fans on their collective feet, Kirby caught and passed Gardner on lap 44. However, as the two raced into turn one, Kirby became bottled up in slower traffic, and Gardner shot back by him in turn two. Gardner then put two cars down a lap to create a safe distance between himself and Kirby. At the checkered flag, Gardner was the winner, his second 50-lap triumph at Perris this season. Kirby was second, followed by Spencer, Rutherford, and Tony Jones.

Kirby was frustrated with what he felt was a lack of courtesy from the lapped cars, particularly Seth Wilson. Following the race, P.A. announcer Chris Holt spoke with Kirby who said in the heat of the moment,, "Lapped traffic. I don't know what Seth Wilson was doing. I guess he wants to win every race. The lapped cars made a difference tonight." Kirby then praised his Crossno #38 team, "Brad Downing makes a helluva powerplant."

Gardner, not surprisingly had a different reaction to the traffic which worked to his favor. "I kind of understand the lapped cars racing for position. Kirby was fast, and we were both going hard."

Greg Taylor raced the Mike Sala #19 from 16th on the grid to a ninth place result. Top USAC-CRA rookie contender, Ronnie Case was also fantastic, starting 21st and winding up tenth.

Casey Shuman, Case, Davis Jr., and Mitchell were heat winners. The semi-main was won handily by Kirby. Williams was the quick qualifier, blistering the track in 16.830 seconds. Fighting an injured race car in the feature, Williams limped home to a 15th place finish. It was the first time this season that the points leader had not finished in the top-five at the PAS.

Valvoline USAC / CRA Sprint Cars - Perris Auto Speedway - Perris, CA. 07/03/04

Time trials: Driver Hometown First Time Quick Time Rip Williams #3 Yorba Linda 16.830 16.830 Brian Venard #47 Irvine, CA. 17.251 16.864 Troy Rutherford #7 Ojai 17.040 17.020 Tony Jones #2 Corona 17.124 17.124 Mike Kirby #38 Torrance 17.230 17.143 Jordan Hermansader #4 Long Beach 17.145 17.145 Rickie Gaunt #2a Torrance 17.168 17.145 Mike Spencer #44 Temecula 17.157 Steve Ostling #29 Corona 17.377 17.167 Damion Gardner #50 Concord, CA. 17.313 17.192 Adam Mitchell #99 Escondido, CA. 17.444 17.203 Bobby Cody #41 Costa Mesa 17.415 17.212 Dan Hilberg #82 Whittier 17.575 17.234 Charles Davis Jr. #8a Chandler, AZ. 17.239 17.239 Rick Becker Jr. #67 Highland, CA. 17.280 17.280 Rick Ziehl #14 Las Cruces, NM 17.373 17.315 Seth Wilson #17 San Clemente 17.353 17.353 David Cardey #59 Riverside 17.728 17.407 Greg Taylor #19 Ojai 17.810 17.452 Greg Bragg #12 Visalia, CA. 17.537 17.537 Casey Shuman #11 Phoenix, AZ. 17.602 17.540 Jimmy Crawford #13 Ventura, CA. 17.575 17.575 Alan Ballard #97 Bakersfield 17.950 17.597 Jack Dearmond Jr. #24 Corona 17.617 17.617 Bobby Ferro #91x Sherman Oaks 18.178 17.775 Tony Everhart #55 El Cajon 18.032 18.032 Mark Heydenreich #22 Upland, CA. 18.228 18.039 Ronnie Case #33 Camerillo 18.113 18.070 Nadine Keller #6z Azusa 18.354 18.111 Rodney Argo #91 Gardena, CA. 18.200 18.200 Steven Venard #40 Modjeska Canyon, CA. 18.488 18.285 David Sinsley #69 Torrance 18.518 18.518 Duane Feduska #23 Temecula 18.789 18.789 Dennis Rodriguez #20 Camarillo NT NT J. Hicks #66 Torrance, CA. NT NT Ron Didonato #77 Riverside, CA. NT NT

Heat One - 1. Shuman, 2. Ostling, 3. Wilson, 4. Williams, 5. Kirby, 6. Hilberg, 7. Feduska, 8. Keller, 9. Ferro (Time: 3:00:53)

Heat Two - 1. Davis Jr., 2. Cardey, 3. Gardner, 4. B. Venard, 5. Gaunt, 6. Everhart, 7. Argo, 8. Ballard (DNS) (Time: 2:57:43)

Heat Three - 1. Mitchell, 2. S. Venard, 3. Taylor, 4. Rutherford, 5. Hermansader, 6. Becker Jr., 7. Heydenreich (Time: 2:58:38)

Heat Four - 1. Case, 2. Bragg, 3. Cody, 4. Spencer, 5. Jones, 6. Ziehl, 7. Sinsley, 8. Dearmond (Time: 2:57:18)

Semi Main: 1. Kirby, 2. Hermansader, 3. Jones, 4. Gaunt, 5. Becker Jr., 6. Crawford, 7. Ziehl, 8. Hilberg, 9. Dearmond, 10. Heydenreich, 11. Sinsley, 12. Ferro, 13. Everhart, 14. Keller, 15. Argo, 16. Feduska. (Time: 3:28:43)

Feature - 50 Laps - 1. Gardner, 2. Kirby, 3. Spencer, 4. Rutherford, 5. Jones, 6. Cody, 7. Ostling, 8. Mitchell, 9. Taylor, 10. Case, 11. Bragg, 12. B. Venard, 13. Wilson, 14. Ziehl, 15. Williams, 16. Cardey, 17. S. Venard, 18. Gaunt, 19. Crawford, 20. Davis Jr., 21. Hermansader, 22. Shuman, 23. Becker Jr.

Lap Leaders: Mitchell 1-19, Gardner 20-43, Kirby 44, Gardner 45-50