PERRIS, CA, JUNE 22, 2002 - Every once in a while a driver gives a performance that epitomizes all of the qualities that make a great race car driver. Cory Kruseman gave such a performance Saturday at the Perris Auto Speedway and became the...
PERRIS, CA, JUNE 22, 2002 - Every once in a while a driver gives a performance that epitomizes all of the qualities that make a great race car driver. Cory Kruseman gave such a performance Saturday at the Perris Auto Speedway and became the all-time Sprint Car Racing Association (SCRA) main event winner.
Having to pull out all the stops in the final five laps to beat SCRA's newest superstar, Damion Gardner, Kruseman displayed finesse, intelligence, bravery and the heart of a defending champion.
"That was what you call tooth and nail; fortunately, our tooth was ahead of his nail and we ended up on top of the podium," Kruseman said after collecting his 56th SCRA with a dramatic last corner pass. "My hat's off to Damion, he did a heck of a job. I got into him once and he got into me once, and we came here as friends and we'll leave here as friends."
Kruseman started fourth in the 30-lap feature behind JE Pistons Dash winner Mike Kirby and the Coy Construction No. 20 Eagle driven by Gardner. Gardner grabbed the lead on the initial start, but a six-car pileup that left Jack DeArmond, Jr. upside-down brought out the red flag before the opening lap could be completed. Happily, there were no injuries, even though four of the six cars involved were done for the night.
Gardner took the lead on the restart and led Kirby, Kruseman, Richard Griffin and the Pace Electronics No. 83 TCR driven by John Scott at the end of the first lap. Gardner, who won his first SCRA race at Perris two weeks ago, opened up a half straightaway lead in just six laps, running the middle and low lines. Moments after Gardner reached lapped traffic for the first time; the yellow flag flew on lap 17 for Rickie Gaunt who came to a stop on the back straight. Sixth place Tony Jones saw his championship hopes take a blow after he retired due to an engine vibration during the caution period.
Three laps after the restart, Kruseman drove his Harlan Willis / WorldGate Networks No. 1 TCR around Kirby for second place. Coming down to complete lap 23, Rip Williams moved into the third spot. Seconds later, the final yellow light of the night appeared for a third turn incident involving Jeremy Sherman, Bobby Graham and Jordan Hermansader.
To this point, Gardner, who won the Sander Engineering Fast Time Award and his heat race, had clearly been the class of the field, but the longest day of the year had taken its toll on the normally tacky Perris racing surface. Kruseman had just returned to California after racing in Ohio the prior three days. After the race, Kruseman attributed his ability to hook up his tires to the fact that he had been racing on similar types of surfaces during the week.
Once racing resumed, Kruseman masterfully found and hit all the right moister spots and for the first time was able to challenge Gardner for the lead. Catching Gardner by surprise, Kruseman squeezed his way between the front straight wall and Gardner coming down to complete lap 27. After a hard wheel slap with Gardner just before reaching the flagstand, Kruseman bravely kept his foot on the throttle and took the lead.
Gardner proved that he's a fighter, as well, and briefly powered his way back into the lead with a lap 28 slide-job in turn three. Sensing the slider, Kruseman darted off the cushion and retook the lead after diving down to the bottom of turn four. Side-by-side when they came down to accept starter Lee Jaskowiak's white flag, Kruseman won the drag race into turn one on the final lap. When Kruseman slipped a little wide in turn one, Gardner was able to exit turn two with the lead. Powering his way through turn three, Gardner's car skated through the middle of the racing surfacing and drifted wide over the turn four cushion.
Positioned perfectly, Kruseman, again headed to the bottom of turn four. Knowing that Kruseman would be carrying more momentum, Gardner shot off the turn four banking, hoping to block an imminent low-line pass. Showing the determination of a champion, Kruseman refused to lift, even though he knew he was on a collision course with Gardner. Beating Gardner to the point of impact, Kruseman drove across the finish line first.
Gardner likely never saw the checkered flag, since the contact caused him to slide backwards across the line to somehow finish second. Thanks to a nice pass on lap 26, Scott finished third ahead of Kirby and Williams.