Team Big Dog Garage managed to increase their points lead slightly in an exciting and dramatic 8-lap sprint at Auto Club Speedway this past weekend. This was the first time ever that sidecars have raced at the Fontana, California circuit and only one driver had prior circuit knowledge. Practice was cut short due to a red flag and that meant teams would still be figuring out the track as they took the green flag.
Host club WERA fired off the grid with pole-sitter Team Johnny Killmore (John Wood/Vanessa McClure) opening a large gap almost immediately. Team Johnny Killmore still does battle without regular passenger Giorgina Gottlieb, who continues to recover from injuries sustained in a high speed get-off at Willow Springs a month ago. McClure returns for this wild card appearance after over two years inactive. With only a few laps practice it was going to be a long eight laps.
After Team Big Dog Garage (Bernard Juchli/Kevin Kautsky) bogged on the start they were left with traffic to contend with while the Killmore duo ran away with Wood Brothers 1 (Chris Wood/Aaron McEwen) in hot pursuit. After a lap to warm the tires up Wood Brothers was able to reel in the gap and used the draft for and outside move on the front straight. With precious room between Killmore's MyLifeAtSpeed.com machine and the concrete wall, Wood Brothers just peeked through to the lead.
Killmore pulled the gap in under braking but sanity prevailed and the two machines dove single file into the first chicane. The battle continued for another lap with Killmore making up ground on the brakes but never getting within striking distance. The gap then opened and it seemed the show might be over before the halfway point. Fortunately for fans, Team Big Dog Garage had broken through traffic by then and was biting huge chunks of time out of the leading pair. They caught Team Johnny Killmore on lap three and passed on the front straight without even using the draft. After this Team Killmore's driver could be seen looking over his shoulder and began dropping back.
It appeared something was wrong and it has been known all season that the Killmore machine has been suffering unsolved fueling issues. However, when asked about the drop in pace, driver John Wood cited a different reason. "I saw a huge gap behind us and we weren't going to catch anyone in front of us. We were taking risks on the brakes to make up for the motor, but I'm not going home again with a three dollar trophy in the passenger seat and a friend in the hospital."
At the halfway point it was a two-bike battle, but with it taking a few laps to reel in the leaders, it was unknown if Big Dog would have the extra speed needed to make a pass on Wood Brothers 1, who now carried extra motivation in the way of a RaceFuelz.com sponsorship. Climbing onto the banking to pick up the white flag, Big Dog got the drive needed and finally made the pass, taking the lead cleanly before Turn 1.
Wood Brothers 1 remained in hot pursuit though and it appeared this one would go down to the wire. The pair stayed in lockstep until ultra-tight Turn 7. Driver Chris Wood explained, "I needed a good drive out of [turn] seven so I could set up a pass on the brakes at the end of the back straight. I got a lot of wheelspin and as I up-shifted the handlebars went into a violent shake. We started to slide and I tried to correct but the chair wheel dipped off into the grass."
At this point the bike went backwards abruptly. As it completed a three-quarter rotation the Racefuelz.com machine rolled abruptly, landing back on its wheels. This allowed Big Dog to take a pressure-free win and gifted second place to Team Johnny Killmore. Third went to D&J Racing's Donn Sayre, who managed an excellent drive with rookie passenger Kinsy Daughtree.
The standings remain unchanged with Big Dog Garage in the lead, now with an eight point lead over Team Johnny Killmore. Wood Brothers 1 remains in third by getting their machine re-fired and crossing the checkers under their own power in last place. This pulls them father away from second place and into the clutches of D&J Racing, who sit in fourth.
The SRA-West moves north to The Ridge Motorsports Park in Shelton, Washington with host club WMRRA June 28-29 for a double-header weekend. The series would like to thank host club WERA for bringing sidecars to Auto Club Speedway for the first time, as well as Fastrack Riders for allowing a brief practice session Saturday afternoon. This became indispensable to teams who attended given the shortened practice session Sunday morning. The SRA-west also wishes a speedy recovery to Wood Brothers 2's driver Phil Wood and passenger Gary McEwen. For full calendar and standings, please visit www.sra-west.us
1. Bernard Juchli/Keving Kaustzky, CSR/Honda
2. John Wood/Vanessa McClure, Windle/Suzuki
3. Donn Sayre/Kinsy Daughtree, Becker/Suzuki
4. Steve Stull/Heidi Niedhoefer, Becker/Suzuki
5. Phil Wood/Bernie Thomas, Becker/Suzuki
6. Chris Wood/Aaron McEwen, ART/Suzuki
7. Kiyo Wantanabe/Daniel Bergeron, Becker/Suzuki DNS