Chad Knaus and Matt Kenseth talk with TV personality Shane Andrews during the fan Q&A session prior to the autograph session at the Motorsports 2012 Race Car & Trade Show.
Even though no NASCAR races have taken place, I have kept myself quite entertained just a month through the new year. I didn't have the highest expectations for this year's Motorsports Show at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, Pennsylvania, but there was quite an impressive turnout despite the snowstorm that passed through the Northeast the evening before.
Apparently weather was wreaking havoc throughout most of the east coast as the flight to PA for early afternoon guest, Jimmie Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus, was canceled. Fans didn't need to worry thanks to late afternoon guest Matt Kenseth who offered to fly Knaus in as the driver and crew chief for competing teams signed autographs and answered fan questions together. The situation worked out well for me too. Due to the delayed autograph session, I had the opportunity to attend the "Taking Photos at the Track" seminar which was among those that were offered free to the public throughout the weekend. Although I would consider myself an amateur at best and some of what was covered went way over my head, I think that whenever the time comes where I am able to upgrade from my little and worn out digital camera I could use some of the beneficial information I learned during the 45 minute session. I also spent much of the afternoon exploring the countless booths and cars that were on display, and met some various personalities involved in the racing industry at both local and national levels. Overall, it was another positive experience and I will almost certainly be returning in 2013.
This past weekend, I made the annual trip to Atlantic City, New Jersey for the tenth addition of the Gambler's Classic Indoor Races. This was the first year that I attended both Friday and Saturday nights, and I must say that I seemed to enjoy Friday's preliminary features slightly more than Saturday's main events. My pick to win the main event, Johnny Benson Jr., didn't fare too well on Friday night. Benson was among a handful of competitors that were piloting a new Drinan TQ Midget, which looked sleek and certainly was fast. However, I can't remember a single competitor driving this new chassis that didn't spin out at one point or another during the weekend. While leading from the pole and pulling away from the field in his heat race Benson's car all of a sudden spun without the aid of any other competitors, and despite his best efforts did not qualify for Friday's feature. Friday featured two A-Mains, a 600cc "Dirt" Micro Sprints 20 lapper and a TQ Midgets 30 lapper. Both races were won by NASCAR Modified Tour competitors, Erick Rudolph in the 600s and Ted Christopher in the TQs. Another reason I enjoyed Friday more was the exciting maneuvering that Johnny Benson's owner "Liquid" Lou Cicconi made on several occasions throughout the evening. Cicconi spun early in his TQ heat race as well as in the 600 and TQ features and had to restart in the back of all three of them. He came back to win the TQ heat race, finished second in the 600 feature and finished sixth in the TQ feature. Unfortunately, after all that work he did it appeared that he may not have saved enough for the next day.
Saturday night included 25 lap features for the Slingshots and Champ Karts in addition to the 20 lap 600 Micro A-Main and 40 lap 10th Annual Gambler's Classic Main Event for the TQ Midgets. Saying that the evening's races had a few wrecks would be an understatement. The Slingshots had their share of altercations and controversies which resulted in a last corner pass for the win. The Champ Karts had a few recognizable names such as Modified driver Justin Bonsignore and NASCAR K&N East Series second generation driver D.J. Shaw, but they couldn't hold off a former winner of the division's race from a few years back. Erick Rudolph made a late race pass for the lead to win for the second night in a row in the 600s. In the TQ Main Event, the previous night's winner Ted Christopher was done for the night after a multi-car wreck in the first turn on the first lap. Johnny Benson Jr. started mid-pack and had steadily moved into the top five until he ran into one of the inside truck tires, ending his night due to damage to the left-front wheel. The track layout was modified from previous years with the placement of tires spread out through the inside of the turns rather than a solid guardrail. It provided for a wider racing groove and increased some side by side racing competition, but at the same time it caused some new problems for the competitors such as what happened to Benson. Top dirt modified competitor Stewart Friesen led for most of the race until Erick Rudolph emerged again and didn't look back for his third win during the two nights of racing.
2012 10th Annual Gambler's Classic TQ Midget Feature.
Once again this year's trip whet my appetite for the racing season, and also provided some entertainment of the gambling kind. I took some money from a couple first and second place finishes I had during the month of January in some free poker tournaments, and ended up slightly ahead overall playing roulette, blackjack and war (yes, war the card game). I would not recommend playing war at a casino as they do certainly find a way to have the house advantage and you can risk losing your money fairly quickly playing such a simple game.
As I look ahead to the Spring months, besides a couple local shows that I'm planning to go to I will be spectating from my living room couch or the chair at my computer for the most part. One task that I need to accomplish during the month of February is to get my travel plans organized for my first trip to Las Vegas in late June. The World Series Of Poker schedule has been released and although most of the events don't seem to interest me during the time frame I'm able to go, I'm still planning to go out there for the experience. During the weekend I'm out there, I'm planning to drive out to California to see more parts of the country that I've never seen and check out a SRL Southwest Tour race at Madera Speedway.
In the immediate future, I'll be looking ahead to the Daytona Speedweeks festivities. My first pick is for the ARCA race, and it is the perennial favorite Bobby Gerhart. Until one of the teams shows that they can consistently outrun the Lebanon, Pennsylvania based team, the veteran driver will most likely be my pick year in and year out...or until he retires. The most exciting race during speedweeks could most likely be the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race. With several veteran competitors switching teams during the off season and rising stars joining the series, the race could potentially be wide open. If I had to pick one driver it would have to be Todd Bodine in his new Red Horse Racing ride. Don't count out some dark horses such as Cale Gale in the Eddie Sharp Racing #33 though. The NASCAR Nationwide Series race is probably my toughest one to pick since I hardly followed the series in 2011. For that reason, my pick will be Elliott Sadler mainly because I think the KHI/RCR equipment will boost him to victory.
Finally my pick for the Daytona 500 is a standard one, none other than Jeff Gordon. Many may think it could appear biased to pick Gordon or another Hendrick car almost every year, but their past and present on track performance at the 2.5 mile tri-oval including January's preseason testing puts them at the forefront of the competition. Obviously there is the usual luck factor and the perennial dark horses that will be in contention, but Gordon appears to be the overall favorite to win. Expect to see drivers such as David Ragan, David Gilliland, Trevor Bayne, Regan Smith, Bobby Labonte and Dave Blaney to have a shot for at least a top ten finish once again. After all, my system for picking top ten finishers can't be too flawed considering that I am proud to be the defending Raceline Mechanix Wear Weekly Racing Challenge Daytona 500 winner!