Damion Gardner outmaneuvered Bud Kaeding on the final lap of USAC’s non-wing CRA/Western Classic sprint car event Friday night at Ocean Speedway.
Gardner completed a daring and skillful pass that left Kaeding no place to go expect directly into the back of Gardner’s 410 cubic inch 800hp sprinter. The win, which both drivers desperately wanted, was to honor the memory of their close friend and competitor Jason Leffler.
“I know Bud really wanted to win this one for Jason but so did I,” Gardner said. “Jason really believed in me when I made my move back east; I’ll never forget that.”
Leffler, originally from Long Beach, was killed in a winged 410 sprint car race last Wednesday night at Bridgeport Speedway in New Jersey. He was a three-time midget and Sliver Crown champion in USAC. Leffler raced Indy cars and was a 12-year veteran of NASCAR.
Gardner’s do-or-die move for the lead finished just inches in front of Kaeding’s front end. Unable to avoid contact, Kaeding slammed into the back of Gardner’s car but was able to maintain control of the car.
The three-lap shootout that set the stage for the Gardner-Kaeding duel was the result of a caution flag on lap 27 when Austin Williams stopped on track with a flat tire.
“I knew he was coming,” Kaeding said of Gardner. “I just left the door open. I really wanted this one. Jason was really supportive of me when I got started in USAC and we became the greatest of friends. This is a big hurt for all of us who race USAC.”
CRA regular Nic Fass of Huntington Beach started on the outside of the front row and took the lead from pole position starter Ryan Bernal of Hollister. He led the first 20 rounds of a 30-lap main event. Kaeding took the lead from Fass on lap 21. With the field bunched up for the restart on lap 27, Gardner waited till the final lap to make his move.
A USAC midget and sprint car champion, Gardner also topped the list of 29 qualifiers. His first of two laps was turned in 12.764 seconds.
Fass finished third with Matt Mitchell, also of Yorba Linda, passing Bernal on the final lap to finish fourth.
Mitchell won the “B” main earning the first of six transfer spots into the feature event.
Heat race winners were Ocean’s 2012 champion Shane Golobic, Austin Leggitt, Tipton’s Danny Faria and Cody Williams.
Andy Obertello passed 2012 modified champion Jimmy Pettit II to win his third IMCA modified main event.
Pettit seemed headed for a second feature win after taking the lead from Anthony Copeland when his engine started losing power. Obertello was able to take advantage of Pettit’s condition and made his pass on lap 20 of 25 for the win.
Nick Silva, the 2012 rookie of the year, Salinas’ Austin Burke and Jeff Streeter of Chowchilla completed the top five. Heat race winners were Burke and Obertello with Burke also winning the trophy dash.
Luke Babcock, a junior at Aptos High School, won his first 4-Banger 20-lap feature Friday night and added a second consecutive trophy dash to his resume. The 16-year-old hot shoe fell one position shy of a clean sweep by finishing second to Al Sotomayor in the first heat race.
Second heat race winner Robert Gallaher finished third in the feature followed by Andy LaVerne and Richard Dragonetti.
The IMCA sport modified feature winner has yet to be determined. Tony Oliveira led the entire 20-lap race but may be disqualified because of using questionable wheel offsets and crossover headers.
Kyle Wilson, Chris Tjernagel, Alexander Mead and Adriane DeSousa were the tentative top five finishers after Olivera. The ruling will be determined by national headquarters this week. Tjernagel and Alex Wilson were heat race winners and Kyle Wilson won the trophy dash.
Next week Ocean Speedway will host round 9 of the Taco Bravo sponsored winged 360 sprint car series. Supporting classes include IMCA modifieds, sport modifieds, 4-Bangers and Ocean’s non-wing sprint cars.
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