RICHARD VANDERWEERD EARNS USAC WEST COAST 360 SPRINT TITLE
By Lance Jennings
SANTA MARIA, CA – NOVEMBER 28, 2011... It was a banner year for the USAC West Coast 360 Sprint Car Series and when the point chase was over, Visalia's Richard VanderWeerd added his name to the champion's list. In all, seventy-four different drivers took the green flag with eight scoring feature wins in the tough 16-race schedule. The average car count for the young sanctioning body was twenty-three, up fifteen percent from the previous season.
Consistency was the key for VanderWeerd in his quest for the championship. The 20-year old driver claimed the point lead on July 16th at Hanford after winning the make up feature and finishing third in the Jim Evett Memorial. The pilot of Ron VanderWeerd's #10 VanderWeerd Construction / Battery Worx Maxim remained poised and led the rest of the way to earn his first sprint car title. Richard led the series with three Sander Engineering Fast Time Awards (tied) and fourteen top-10 finishes. In addition, VanderWeerd had three heat race victories, one Keizer Wheels Hard Charger Award and seventeen feature laps led.
Ryan Bernal of Hollister took the series by storm by finishing second in the points, earning Rookie of the Year honors, and claiming the Santa Maria Track Championship. The 18-year old driver grabbed the point lead on April 9th at Santa Maria, but engine problems while leading late in the Tulare feature on April 30th cost him the top spot. The driver of Danny Olmstead's #11D S&S Automotive / Dorso's Automotive Maxim reclaimed the lead at Tulare on May 14th, but bad luck struck again at Hanford on July 16th. Ryan rebounded by winning the next three main events and finished the year leading the series with five feature wins, three Sander Engineering Fast Time Awards (tied), and 153 feature laps led. In addition, Bernal had four heat race victories and thirteen top-10 finishes on the season.
San Martin's "Wide Open" Wes Gutierrez put together a solid season and finished third in the point standings. The 20-year old driver won his second career series main event by claiming the Jim Turner Memorial on September 20th at Hanford's Giant Chevrolet Kings Speedway. The pilot of the WG Motorsports' #007 ButlerBuilt / Competition Suspension Inc. DRC led all drivers on the circuit with five heat race victories on the year. In addition, Gutierrez had thirteen top-10 finishes and 42 feature laps led to his credit.
Jace VanderWeerd of Visalia scored fourth in the point chase. The twin brother of the newly crowned champion won his third career series feature at Santa Maria on April 9th and briefly led the championship hunt early in the season. Driving Ron VanderWeerd's #88 VanderWeerd Construction / Battery Worx Maxim, last season's USAC/CRA Rookie of the Year was second in points to his brother until late in the schedule. VanderWeerd closed out 2011 with one Sander Engineering Fast Time Award, two heat race victories, twelve top-10 finishes, one Keizer Wheels Hard Charger Award, and fourteen feature laps led.
Rancho Palos Verdes' Dennis Howell had a strong season and claimed fifth in the final standings. The 24-year old hard charger did not win a feature, but was a force to be reckoned with throughout 2011. Piloting Dennis Howell Sr.'s #62 San Pedro Auto Body / Howell-Meyer Racing Maxim, the USAC Western Midget Series graduate had his best finish with a second place at Tulare on April 30th and Hanford on September 24th. Howell led the series with two Keizer Wheels Hard Charger Awards (tied) and had one Sander Engineering Fast Time Award, three heat race victories, twelve top-10 finishes, and twenty-three feature laps led on the year.
"Hollywood" Danny Faria Jr. of Tipton finished sixth in the championship chase. The 39-year old veteran driver raced to the Jim Evett Memorial victory on July 16th at Hanford's Giant Chevrolet Kings Speedway. Driving Junior Bowman's #2 Buster & Ziggy Enterprises / Kaeding Performance Bullet, Faria had a tough season and ended his 2011 campaign with two Sander Engineering Fast Time Awards, four heat race victories, eight top-10 finishes, and thirty-two feature laps led.
Finishing seventh in the final point standings was Gardena's Greg Alexander. The 22-year old driver did not win a main event during the 2011 campaign, but was in the thick of the championship battle. Piloting the Chuck Tyler Motorsports' #72 Barnes Systems Inc. / Amsoil Maxim, Alexander recorded his best finish on March 19th with a third at Tulare's Groppetti Automotive Thunderbowl Raceway. Greg closed out the season with one Sander Engineering Fast Time Award, two heat race victories, eight top-10 finishes, and six feature laps led.
T.J. Smith of Fresno placed eighth in the championship points. The 21-year old driver had a tough year behind the wheel of Steve LeGras' #14 UHL Rubber / S&S Automotive Maxim and did not win a feature. Last year's Santa Maria Track Champion scored a runner-up finish on two occasions, April 9th at Santa Maria and August 20th at Hanford. In 2011, Smith had one Sander Engineering Fast Time Award, three heat race victories, seven top-10 finishes, and thirty feature laps led to his credit.
Finishing ninth in the point standings was Hanford's Justyne Hamblin. Driving the JH Motorsports' #8 Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino / Dias Law Firm SpeedTech, the 21-year old driver did not win a main event. The 2009 Series Champion recorded her best finish on April 27th with a third place run at Santa Maria Speedway. Hamblin ended the year with four heat race victories, one Keizer Wheels Hard Charger Award, and seven top-10 finishes.
Bud Kaeding of Campbell scored tenth in the point chase. The 31-year old veteran driver won four main events on the year, including Tulare's Chris & Brian Faria Memorial on April 16th and the Pombo-Sargent Classic on May 14th. Piloting Junior Bowman's #29 Buster & Ziggy Enterprises / Kaeding Performance Maxim, the 3-time USAC Silver Crown Champion was a threat to win at every race he entered. Kaeding had one Sander Engineering Fast Time Award, two heat race victories, eight top-10 finishes, and 81 feature laps led in limited appearances.
Clovis' Peter Murphy and "Showtime" Danny Sheridan of Santa Maria also scored feature wins in 2011. Murphy had two victories, first in the Eberhardt Motorsports #4 entry on April 30th at Tulare. On October 15th, Peter won the non-point Cotton Classic at Hanford behind the wheel of Tom Tarlton Sr.'s pink #21 "Breast Cancer Awareness" car. Murphy also drove Rusty Carlile's #51 machine and finished 16th in the final points. Sheridan piloted the Kittle Motorsports' #18 entry to the Bud Stanfield Memorial win at his hometown track on September 17th. Claiming 14th in the standings, "Showtime" also competed in Warren Dorathy's #21 sprinter.
The USAC West Coast 360 Sprint Car Series would like to thank Southwest Contractors, Hoosier Tire, Amsoil, BR Motorsports, ButlerBuilt, Competition Suspension Inc., Cory Kruseman's Sprint Car & Midget Driving School, Crow Enterprizes, DJ Safety, Extreme Mufflers, Hilborn Fuel Injection, Hinchman-Indy Racing Uniforms, Integra Shocks, Kaeding Performance, Keizer Wheels, King Racing Products, Port City Racing, Rod End Supply, Saferacer.com, Saldana Racing Products, and Sander Engineering for their support.
For more information on the USAC West Coast 360 Sprint Car Series, please visit westcoastsprintcars.com, usacracing.com, racesantamariaspeedway.com, or follow the series on facebook.
2011 USAC WEST COAST 360 FEATURE WINNERS:
March 18**: Hanford, CA - Richard VanderWeerd
March 19: Tulare, CA - Bud Kaeding
April 9: Santa Maria, CA - Jace VanderWeerd
April 16: Tulare, CA - Bud Kaeding
April 30: Tulare, CA - Peter Murphy
May 14: Tulare, CA - Bud Kaeding
May 21: Hanford, CA - Bud Kaeding
June 4: Santa Maria, CA - RAIN
July 16: Hanford, CA - Danny Faria Jr.
July 23: Tulare, CA - CANCELLED
July 30: Santa Maria, CA - Ryan Bernal
August 20: Hanford, CA - Ryan Bernal
August 27: Santa Maria, CA - Ryan Bernal
September 10: Hanford, CA - Wes Gutierrez
September 17: Santa Maria, CA - Danny Sheridan
September 24: Hanford, CA - Ryan Bernal
October 8: Tulare, CA - Ryan Bernal
October 15*: Hanford, CA - Peter Murphy
* = Non-point event.
**= Postponed to July 16th.
USAC WEST COAST 360 POINT STANDINGS: (Final)
1. Richard VanderWeerd 866; 2. Ryan Bernal 827; 3. Wes Gutierrez 750; 4. Jace VanderWeerd 715; 5. Dennis Howell 655; 6. Danny Faria Jr. 600; 7. Greg Alexander 570; 8. T.J. Smith 548; 9. Justyne Hamblin 540; 10. Bud Keading 504; 11. Davey Pombo 456; 12. Ricky Kirkbride 397; 13. Rusty Carlile 395; 14. Danny Sheridan 379; 15. Johnathon Logan 371; 16. Peter Murphy 362; 17. Marty Hawkins 316; 18. Nico Russo 277; 19. Jared Little 226; 20. Matt Day 149.