LINCOLN, Calif. – It was great to be at Hanford’s three-eighths-mile dirt oval this past weekend for the first time in a year.
The reshaped track provides some of the busiest slider action in the state, and when RaceSavers are throwing them left and right, you know it is a racy oval.
Now promoted by Peter Murphy, the official title of Keller Auto Speedway at Kings Fairgrounds is a label quoted by mostly nobody; it is still referred to as Hanford.
Many great memories of racing at the Kings County Fairgrounds facility go back to the days of living in San Jose and making the there-and-back five-hour round trip drive often for one reason – it was worth it.
When Hanford raced winged 360s as the Rebel Cup series and had nonwinged, injected 360s called Sprint Bandits, getting 20 or more of each group was all the motivation needed to tackle the excitement of driving on Interstate 5.
The Rebel Cup series had a strong roster of regulars, and one of the most entertaining times was when Tim Kaeding would start 10th and put on a show in the No. 7t aqua-painted ride.
Another unforgettable memory was the night Chris D’Arcy drove like he was a TK/Jac blend when he won over the usual strong turnout. I don’t know if D’Arcy ever won again, but I sure remember that night. From cushion to a little banging off the front stretch wall, it was a race that easily justified the five hours of travel.
Hanford went through some tough times after closing abruptly during the 2005 season. As home to the Trophy Cup at the time, the August closure put things in a bind, but Tulare Thunderbowl stepped up on relatively short notice to host the event, a move that has proved outstanding for the growth of the Cup.
The final year the Cup was at Hanford in 2004, Ronnie Day won from 18th on the grid, but came up one car short of Jac Haudenschild’s point total.
As Day said afterwards, “I did all I could.”
Had he started 19th, it would have been different.
The year before, Steve Kent won the Cup title due to a last-lap, last-turn pass that did not even involve Kent. Ricci Faria passed Tim Kaeding on the last turn, dropping TK’s point total enough to make Kent the champion.
TK did take the title the year before, becoming the 2002 champion with a 23rd to second charge in the Saturday finale.
In 2001, the first year the Cup was in Hanford, a somewhat unexpected winner raced from 21st to second in the finale to capture the title. Craig Stidham found a lane leaving the bottom of turn two and surprised many with the title.
Promotional efforts at Hanford following the 2005 closing were less than successful, explaining the multiple promoters who gave it a try, but still far less then the nine promoters who tried to make Chowchilla Speedway work, with the last of the nine lasting two races before that track closed for what will likely be forever.
Under the leadership of Bubby Morse, the track was reshaped to widen the oval, particularly in turns three and four. Racing suddenly was better than ever and Murphy inherited the improved track this year when he assumed control of the fairgrounds oval.
Facing the same issues all the tracks share in California, Murphy worked to become acquainted with the necessary political people and has some excellent sponsor support to race as much as the track has done.
Last weekend was a two night affair, with 410s headlining both nights and RaceSaver sprints and winged 360s each getting a turn. Counts were just right for a manageable evening, with two dozen 410s and 18 RaceSavers on Friday. An additional 23 mini stocks completed the lineup and they did well without causing any delays.
With new track leadership, it figured to be particularly interesting to see how efficiently things were done and it all started well, following the schedule very nicely.
But then things went a bit off the rails.
Everything was off to an on time and smooth start, then the out of control water truck driver went rogue and soaked the track. And it was halfway through RaceSaver qualifying!
The water truck driver apparently had no radio and officials just swore over the radio instead of a more proactive attempt to stop the blunder.
In the defense of the errant moisture, the track was very dry and getting dusty for the first half of the RaceSavers. But over watering the track without any input from officials was unacceptable. Equally wrong was not watering properly before packing.
The entire mess delayed things nearly 40 minutes as packing, hot laps, and starting qualifying at the beginning was needed.
Heats went smoothly and RaceSavers put on the best 305-powered races I have seen in California. Despite six yellows in a five-lap span, the slider-filled main event was very entertaining. Grant Duinkerken led six laps before Blake Robertson used a top side drive out of turn four to take over and collect the win.
The racing behind Robertson was so good, the huge lead established by the many time RaceSaver winner was fine. Slider and position changing racing produced the best California main for the division award easily, with Duinkerken and Grant Champlin completing the podium.
The 410 show was run as the track’s sanctioned class on Friday with the weekend serving as a tribute to Morrie Williams and Kenny Takeuchi, two special people who passed away last year.
Making it even more memorable, Kyle Hirst won the main in a Morrie Williams car.
Bud Kaeding led five of the thirty laps before Dominic Scelzi used a turn four slider to led the next six. Kyle Hirst made the bottom of turns one and two work on the 12th circuit to lead the remainder.
Brothers Tim and Bud Kaeding joined the Paradise driver on the podium.
TK was especially interesting to watch, starting with his heat race when he went forward, and backward, then forward again and so on.
Late-race position gains earned an eighth starting slot next to Hirst, where Kaeding showed the Hanford skills of old to take second after some more forward and backward racing.
As to efficiency, officials did a very good job leading to a 10:15 finish despite the moisture madness.
While all logic said to stay for night two, with USAC at Placerville Saturday for the final race this year at the foothill quarter-mile, the relocation well north for that show was chosen.