UTAH MOTOR NEWS  Performance, Motorsports and Automotive News and Events for Utah and the Surrounding Area.

Results: Open Wheel Showdown

| diciembre 14, 2023

By: Rick Bairett

The Open Wheel Showdown was run on Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s 3/8-mile Bullring, December 1st and 2nd. It included several Utah drivers and was a blast to watch. Admission was also way less than another recent open-wheel race in Sin City. 

According to race organizer DJ Hamilton, the $50,000 prize for the top Sprint Car was a record high. So it’s not surprising that this was one of the largest gatherings of Unlimited Winged Sprint cars ever. Many of the best Sprint drivers in North America, and probably the world, came to compete. 

The Winged Sprint features included C-main and B-main events. Of course everyone wanted to race in the real feature—the 100-lap A-main—and compete for the biggest purses against the best drivers. 

The top finishers in Friday’s heat races automatically made it into the A-main feature. Doing well in the B- or C-features could also advance a team. The top four would transfer from the C- to B-main, with the top six B-main finishers competing in the A-main. 

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There were generous prizes for other classes as well. First place was worth $10,000 for Midgets and $5000 for Speed Tour Supermodifieds. Racing for all three classes was loud, fast, and exciting. 

So how did Utah teams do? “Racing luck” plagued many of them, but there were notable accomplishments as well. 

FRB Racing—Winged Sprint

FRB Racing, based in Salt Lake City, entered #36, with driver Ryan Burdett and #36J, piloted by Jarrett Burdett. The FRB cars are collaboratively built by Ryan Burdett and Jimmy Wysong. Both are veteran builders with numerous podium wins. 

Jarrett struggled all week getting #36J to be steerable without being unstable. Still, he managed to earn a good starting position in the B-main. Unfortunately, steering and stability issues continued to hamper him. A mid-race spinout in turn four resulted in impact with other cars and front axle damage that put him out of the race. 

Former Pink Lady Classic winner Ryan Burdett had his own challenges with #36, but drove well enough in heat racing to start 6th in the B-main. He continued to fight at the front of the pack, finished 5th, and reached his goal of transferring to the A-main. Well into that feature race, his night also ended early as he coasted into the infield with a blown connecting rod. 

Natalie Waters Racing—Winged Sprint

The #1 Wickless Scentsations car was returning from a post-season, frame-up rebuild. So Grantsville’s Natalie Waters Racing team had several challenges to work through. First, a brand-new drive shaft turned out to be defective and kept Natalie from getting any useful practice on Thursday. 

She was able to get a few laps in on Friday before the heat races. That session revealed that the engine wasn’t putting out much power. It later turned out that the team’s fuel calibration gauge was faulty, so incorrect air-fuel mixture hampered #1 through the weekend. 

Still, rookie Natalie Waters kept fighting in her heat race and squeezed into the B-main. She was able to work her way up in the standings as the race progressed. Unfortunately, near the end of the 40-lap race, Natalie slipped an overtemped and steaming #1 into the infield. 

She still finished 11th overall and Natalie Waters Racing received a provisional invitation to join the 100-lap feature. However, the unresolved overtemp and coolant leak kept them sidelined. 

Monty Bergener Racing—Winged Sprint

Monty Bergener, of Saratoga Springs, struggled early in the week with suspension setup for the Bullring, so didn’t have a great qualifying time. He got that mostly resolved and finished well enough in his heat race to start 8th in the B-main. 

He had worked his way up to 6th—the last transfer spot for the A-main. Then he got swept up in another car’s spinout. That forced him to the back of the pack with some front axle and suspension damage. He still managed to fight his way back to a 9th-place finish—not enough for the transfer.

Happily his night wasn’t over. Monty got a provisional invitation to join the 100-lap A-feature. He had to start from the back and the front-end damage limited how hard he could push the #12B, B-Graphics machine. So he shifted his strategy to just clicking off laps and staying clear of any on-track incidents, of which there were plenty.

Monty’s survival strategy worked and he finished the A-Main in 11th place. That was the highest Winged Sprint finish for any Utah driver. 

Anthony Quintana—Winged Sprint 

Riverton’s Anthony Quintana, driving #02, did quite well in his Friday heat race. He earned a spot in Saturday’s A-feature, starting in 15th position. He was showing great form and holding his own beautifully, even working his way up. Then his car started throwing sparks as he came around turn four. In the next second he was in a spin that carried his car high, pinning another car against the wall. 

It turns out that #02’s “panhard” rear-axle mount had broken and was dragging—thus the sparks. With the dragging component and loose rear axle the car was no longer controllable at speed. So what had been a solid weekend for Anthony came to a rapid, early halt. 

BSR Racing—Supermodified

BSR Racing—owned by Utah asphalt-oval legend Bryan Shafer, from St. George—ran three Speed Tour Supermodified cars. Supermods are possibly even more unique than Winged Sprints. They still have lots of wing, but the big V-8 engines are mounted on the left side of the car body, and canted outward.

That engine position lowers the center of gravity and gives Supermods a 68-70% weight bias toward the left wheels. That works when you’re almost constantly turning left at high speeds. 

Bryan drove car #3 himself. Meanwhile, he put Colorado’s Cris Muhler in #95 and legend Kenny Hamilton, from Boise, ID behind the wheel of #4U. 

Kenny Hamilton is fascinating to talk to. He’s been racing since 1964 and is in Knoxville’s Sprint Car Hall of Fame. He and Bryan also have a long racing history together. Kenny is well known for his Pink Lady vehicles. In fact, Meridian Speedway’s Pink Lady Classic race is named after him and his cars. 

While he may be slowing down a bit, that didn’t stop Kenny from jumping into this furious Supermodified race at age 84. Kenny wasn’t entirely comfortable with how #4U was set up so he pulled off early. Still, it was important just to get the legend back on the track. Especially since his son Davey and grandson Davey Jr (DJ) were also competing that night. 

Since Bryan’s #3 had an oil leak, he didn’t expect to finish and his crew didn’t completely refuel the car. Oil pressure held up better than expected, but Bryan had to run the last 10 laps at less than full power. He still managed to finish 9th. That’s a great showing after starting 16th and having to throttle back to conserve methanol. 

Cris Muhler and #95 had an outstanding night to cap a great season. Cris started in 8th position but ground his way through the pack to finish 3rd and put one Utah car on the podium. He actually reached 2nd at one point. However, the left-rear brake rotor broke off, taking the shock and torque arm with it. #95 was throwing sparks and lacked full braking during the last laps, but Cris still managed to pull off a 3rd-place finish.

David Adamson—Supermodified

Regrettably, David Adamson, from St. George, struggled with fuel issues on the #5 Supermod all weekend. That prevented him from being able to turn in a good qualifying time. In fact, he may not have even started in the Supermodified feature. 

Michael Daniels—Midget

Former motocross and Ford Focus Midget champion Mike Daniels, from Lake Point, retired from racing when Rocky Mountain Raceway shuttered in 2018. Showdown organizer DJ Hamilton is a friend of Mike’s. So when he heard about the event he decided it was time for himself and #87 to make a comeback.

Michael did what might be described as bringing a knife to a gunfight. Specifically, he took on V-8 powered midgets pushing around 400 hp with the Honda K24 engine he used to run in the Focus Midget class. He did work with Honda Performance Development to re-tune the engine for the Showdown, getting around 300 hp for the race. 

Photo Credit: Mike Daniels

It was fun to watch Mike charging down on competitors in the corners. But then he would get noticeably out-pulled on the straightaways. Still, he held his own remarkably well—starting 15th and finishing 12th—by wringing every bit of performance out of #87 and staying clear of incidents.  

Watching him, you would never guess that “Mad Mike” hadn’t raced in six years. It definitely didn’t look like his driving skills have suffered much. 

Keep an eye on Michael next year. He plans to drive in some national Midget races and to bring enough horsepower to the 2024 Showdown to compete for the win. 

Overall Results

Aaron Willitson and #14W, from British Columbia, started in the pole position and dominated all night—really all weekend—to win the $50,000 Winged Sprint prize. Incidentally, race organizer Davey Hamilton Jr, from Lutz, FL, podiumed in 3rd place.

In the Midget class, Kody Swanson of Kingsburg, CA—the winningest USAC Silver Crown driver ever—won 1st place and the $10,000 prize. 

Finally, Dave Danzer, of Oswego, NY—the 2023 Oswego Classic winner—charged from an 11th position start to win the Supermodified class and the $5000 prize. As noted, Utah’s Bryan Shafer Racing, with Cris Muhler behind the wheel, fought their way into a well-deserved 3rd place. 

It was a wild evening of racing across all classes. When 25 methanol-fueled Unlimited Winged Sprint Cars fly by the stands at full power, it rocks your world like few things can.

Drivers fought hard and pushed the limits like they came to win. All of which resulted in plenty of incidents with loads of restarts. Fortunately, injuries were few and minimal, and most of these drivers are looking forward to doing it again next year. 

© 2023, R Bairett

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