Spencer, Henry Win Finales Of Vermiel Classic
Defending USAC/CRA sprint car champion Mike Spencer claimed his career first win at Calistoga Speedway Sunday night, taking the finale of the Louie Vermeil Classic on the half mile oval, but only after race leader Richard Ballou’s potential clean sweep of the weekend evaporated when he was called into the pits for a flat tire eight laps from the checkered flag.
Jumping into the lead at the start, Ballou looked like he would easily repeat Saturday night’s victory. He dominated the field, often pulling out to multiple car length leads while running the high groove inches from the wall to maintain his momentum. With eight laps remaining in the 30 lap event, the field was regrouped under the yellow flag for a stalled car. As the field idled around the track, race officials told Ballou that his right rear tire was going flat and ordered him to the pits to change it.
That forced Ballou to stop, handing the lead to Spencer, who had just claimed the runner-up spot the lap before. Because the field was already set to take the green flag, Ballou had no time to change the tire and rejoin the race.
“I love this place,” said a jubilant Spencer in victory circle. “This is one of the best wins of my career,”
But the three time USAC/CRA champion conceded that he might not have won without Ballou’s untimely flat tire. “I was running a different line than he was,” Spencer explained, trying to cut under the race leader through the low groove of the corners. “It was hard to tell,” he conceded, whether he would have closed up enough ground to mount a challenge.
“We were the fastest car,” said an obviously disappointed Ballou, as he stood near the flat tire that had cost him what appeared to be a sure win.
Race officials explained that safety concerns gave them no other choice but to order Ballou to the pits, especially when it became obvious that the tire would no longer hold air. They also explained that they couldn’t wait for Ballou to change the tire because the field was already set to take the green flag, a rule that had been discussed in the mandatory drivers meeting before the race.
Jonathan Henry won the companion midget main event, leading all 25 laps from the pole, but only after holding off a strong challenge from Alex Schutte who finished in the runner-up spot for the second consecutive night. An excited Henry gave bear hugs to everybody in sight in victory circle, starting with his crew chief. “This is my first time here,” said Henry about racing at Calistoga, as he thanked a long list of people who made the win possible.
Although he led every lap, Henry had to hold off a hard challenge from Schutte, who often got close but couldn’t find an opening to go for a pass. “I was trying to consistently stay on the bottom of the track and one time Henry went to the top,” said Schutte. “He made that one slight bobble and I wasn’t close enough to take advantage of it. He drove mistake-free after that,” Schutte acknowledged.
Sprint car driver Brian Carter finished a surprising third after driving his first-ever midget race in a car he came to the track only to work on. “I finally got the hang of it with about five laps to go,” said Carter, who had put his sprint car on the side lines with engine problems and was a last minute fill-in driver for the midget. “I was learning every lap,” said Carter, who battled USAC championship points leader Cory Kruseman all race long before claiming the third spot with just a few laps remaining.