By RICHIE MURRAY
An eight-year gap since the most recent appearance for the USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series at Phoenix Raceway provides an intriguing array of experience differential between each of the competitors.
Among the varying degrees of experience for each of the 18 competitors at the one-mile tri-oval, a past Phoenix Silver Crown winner is not among the lineup. On one end, there are National champions and Phoenix race winners. On the other end of the spectrum, there are drivers making their first ever Phoenix start and even a few making their debut in a Silver Crown car for the event this Friday and Saturday, April 28-29
With that said, there are real threats to win regardless of the category they are pigeonholed into. When Saturday arrives, it all comes to down to how a driver and team performs in those 100 laps that will tell the final chapter of the 2017 “Phoenix Copper Cup.”
The first group includes drivers who’ve won at Phoenix, but have yet to do so in a Silver Crown car. Bobby Santos of Franklin, Massachusetts was victorious in the last USAC National Midget race held at the track in 2009. Later that same night, the 2010 NASCAR Whelen Modified champ made his Phoenix Silver Crown debut, finishing seventh in his sole series start at the track.
Davey Hamilton picks up right where he left off in a Silver Crown car, returning to the scene of his most recent start at Phoenix in 2009. The Boise, Idaho native is the most experienced driver in the field with 10 series starts at Phoenix dating to his first start back in 1990. The 11-time Indianapolis 500 veteran finished fifth in the Silver Crown race in both 1997 and 1998 and made a third-place run in an IndyCar in 1997, but of most noteworthiness is his role as a Supermodified dominator at the track, garnering five wins in 1989, 1991, 1994, 1995 and 2001.
PHOENIX SILVER CROWN VETERANS
Right now, Chris Windom is the one everybody’s chasing in the Silver Crown series. The point leader has won three-in-row dating to the final two races of last season at the Du Quoin (Ill.) State Fairgrounds and Ohio’s Eldora Speedway. Earlier this month, the Canton, Illinois driver took the season-opening “Sumar Classic” at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track. If he can win at Phoenix Saturday, that will put him in rarified air alongside Jack Hewitt as one of two drivers to win four consecutive Silver Crown races. However, Windom has yet to win on the pavement in USAC competition and has yet to hit the Phoenix mile in a Crown car, though he wheeled a midget there in 2008. Don’t let that fool you, though, as Windom is more than formidable on the pavement evidenced by his two “Little 500” wins and the fact that he has finished in the top-five of every Silver Crown event since August of 2015 on dirt and pavement – a span of 13 races!
Tucson’s Jerry Coons, Jr. is the lone representative of Arizona in the field and nobody more than him would love to add his name as a homestate USAC hero at Phoenix, a short list that includes just Dan Drinan, Billy Boat and J.J. Yeley. Coons is one of six USAC Triple Crown champs, but a Phoenix victory has eluded him in his previous eight career Silver Crown starts, though he had a pair of solid top-five performances in 2001 (4th) and 2007 (2nd).
Muncie, Indiana’s Aaron Pierce is the fastest Silver Crown driver of all-time, recording the fastest ever official qualifying lap of 175.012mph at Homestead (Fla.) Speedway in 2006 and, later that year, won the fastest series race of all-time at a 159.211mph average around Kansas Speedway. His three career Silver Crown wins are absent Phoenix, a venue in which he’s twice captured fourth in five starts.
Kingsburg, California’s Kody Swanson may just be the race favorite, and for good reason. The last Silver Crown race at Phoenix, Kody was the runner-up. Coming into this Saturday’s race, Kody is the winner of the two most recent pavement outings in the division, winning at both Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis and Salem (Ind.) Speedway. The two-time Silver Crown titlist has accomplished just about everything on the circuit in the past few years. A win Saturday would move him past Phoenix, Arizona’s J.J. Yeley for sole position of fourth on the all-time series win list.
Nobody will ever say that Bill Rose lacks experience because the veteran racer’s resume includes it all. A pair of victories for the Plainfield, Indiana driver on the tough USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car trail shows his ability and his 2002 Arctic Cat All-Star Circuit of Champions Rookie of the Year award and 2015 IRA Sprint Car championship show his versatility. But, experience in a Silver Crown car at Phoenix is another story as, incredibly, Rose is aiming to make his first Phoenix Silver Crown start in a quarter-century, a 24th place finish in 1992!
PHOENIX SILVER CROWN DEBUTS
As we transition from one Swanson brother to the other, Tanner Swanson, the run of success in the Silver Crown division doesn’t fade. Tanner competes in less than a handful of races each year, but certainly makes the most of the opportunity each time he takes the wheel. If you’ve seen the majority of the box scores for each pavement event in the division over the last few seasons, more often than not, the Swanson brothers interchangeably run one-two.
In three 2016 starts (all on the pavement), Tanner won a pair of races at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in May and Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois in June. In July’s round at Lucas Oil, Tanner ran second – one spot behind Kody. Between the two brothers, they have teamed up to corral 17 of the last 31 Silver Crown races overall. There hasn’t been a pavement Silver Crown race without a Swanson listed as the winner since June of 2015! Tanner has just a single midget start at Phoenix in 2009, but Saturday marks his Silver Crown debut in the Valley of the Sun.
Shullsburg, Wisconsin’s David Byrne has twice hustled a midget around Phoenix Raceway, in both 2007 and 2008, earning 15th and 14th place finishes, respectively, but is preparing to make his Phoenix Silver Crown debut this Saturday. Byrne knows the way to the front, demonstrated by his first and, to date, only Silver Crown victory on an unforgettable last-lap, last-corner pass for the win at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in July of 2014.
Henry Adams of Villa Park, California returns to USAC after a seven-year absence. The Villa Park, California native had a 12th place run at Phoenix in a 2009 USAC National Midget race, but Adams, who formerly competed under the surname of Clarke, is eyeing his first career Silver Crown appearance this weekend. Adams was a regular competitor on the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car and Midget trails in 2009 and 2010 and collected his only career National Sprint triumph in July of 2010 at Ohio’s Toledo Speedway.
Current USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car point leader Justin Grant aims to make his first Phoenix Raceway visit this weekend. Already in 2017, he became the first driver in USAC history to win both the USAC National Sprint and National Midget opening races in the same season. Just last Friday in Plymouth, Indiana, he picked up his latest National Sprint win. The Ione, California driver is sans a Silver Crown victory on his impressive 2017 campaign, and aims to become the first driver to win in all three USAC National series before the end of April since Dave Steele in 2002 and the first to win in all three National divisions in a single year since Bryan Clauson in 2012.
Davey Hamilton, Jr. comes from a lineage that has a whopping seven Phoenix Raceway victories between his grandfather Ken’s two sprint car wins in 1980 and 1984 and his father’s previously-mentioned five Supermodified scores. Davey Jr. is ready to tackle the course that is synonymous with the Hamilton name and he will do so in the same car defending series champion Chris Windom drove to the title in 2016. If all goes smoothly on Saturday, Davey Jr. will become just the fifth son to compete against his father in a Silver Crown race, joining his grandpa and dad Ken and Davey Hamilton (Pikes Peak 1998), Jim and James McElreath (7 races between 1975-1977), Mike and David McCreary (Sacramento 1994) and Wayne Reutimann, Sr. and Jr. (Phoenix 2007).
Simply put, Damion Gardner is one of the finest sprint car drivers the West Coast has ever produced. His 72 career AMSOIL USAC/CRA Sprint Car wins are nearly twice as many as his closest competitor and his five series titles are tied for the most. However, the Concord, California native known as “The Demon” is a Silver Crown rookie and plans to make his first series start on a pavement track in just his third Silver Crown appearance overall. The Klatt Enterprises team Gardner is teamed with knows the fast way around the place. Klatt, with driver Bobby East and Bob East on the wrenches, swept both the Midget and Silver Crown rounds of the 2008 “Copper World Classic.”
Joe Axsom, the pavement modified ace is a relative newcomer to Silver Crown racing. The Franklin, Indiana native made the first of his three-career series starts for the Gene Nolen Racing team in 2015 at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. Axsom finished a career-best eighth in May of 2016 at Lucas Oil, but Saturday will mark his first experience at Phoenix Raceway.
Edwardsville, Illinois driver Patrick Lawson eyes his first Phoenix Raceway rendezvous. Lawson made his first Silver Crown start in 2013 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield. A veteran of 26 career Silver Crown events, Lawson is competitor on both the dirt and pavement surfaces and finished a high of 10th in the Silver Crown standings back in 2014. Lawson knocked down a career-best eighth-place run in the 2015 “Hoosier Hundred” at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
SILVER CROWN FIRST-TIMERS
Shane Butler of Bushnell, Florida is a past TBARA Sprint Car champ and part of a great lineage of Florida sprint car racers including brother Keith, a Silver Crown veteran, and his father Stan, a TBARA Sprint Car champ himself.
Hillsborough, California’s Toni Breidinger is the winningest female driver in the history of the United States Auto Club. This weekend, the 2016 USAC Western Pavement HPD Midget champion makes the jump to the Silver Crown series where she aims to become just the second female driver to start an event in the series at Phoenix, following Erin Crocker in 2005.
A member of the Cherokee Nation, A.J. Russell is a veteran of numerous disciplines and has achieved success from coast-to-coast. Russell, a veteran of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire and Winged Pavement Sprint Car racing, makes his USAC Silver Crown debut this weekend for longtime team owner Ted Finkenbinder. Born in raised in Clovis, California, Russell traveled to North Carolina’s Concord Speedway in 2007 and beat the best in the nation after capturing the East vs. West Supermodified Championship.
Friday’s schedule includes a pair of practice sessions for the “Phoenix Copper Cup” from 12:30 to 1:30pm and 1:45 to 2:15pm. ProSource Qualifying is slated to begin at 2:40pm.
Saturday’s schedule for the Silver Crown cars starts at 2pm when cars and drivers make their way to pit road. The green flag for the 100-lap, 100-mile race is set for 3pm.
Get your discount tickets now at http://bit.ly/2p5WGI5 to witness both days of racing action: the “Phoenix Copper Cup” featuring the USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series, the Vintage Desert Classic and the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix featuring the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Can’t make it to Phoenix in-person? Watch flag-to-flag coverage of the event a day after, on-demand at http://www.Loudpedal.TV/!
“PHOENIX COPPER CUP” ENTRY LIST
CAR #/DRIVER NAME/HOMETOWN/ENTRANT
2 PATRICK LAWSON/Edwardsville, IL (Patrick Lawson)
3 A.J. RUSSELL/Clovis, CA (Ted Finkenbinder)
6 DAMION GARDNER/Concord, CA (Klatt Enterprises)
15 SHANE BUTLER/Bushnell, FL (Troy Thompson)
20 JERRY COONS, JR./Tucson, AZ (Gene Nolen Racing)
22 BOBBY SANTOS/Franklin, MA (DJ Racing)
26 AARON PIERCE/Muncie, IN (Sam Pierce)
40 DAVID BYRNE/Shullsburg, WI (Byrne Racing)
63 KODY SWANSON/Kingsburg, CA (DePalma Motorsports)
72 HENRY ADAMS/Villa Park, CA (Bill Rose)
75 BILL ROSE/Plainfield, IN (Bill Rose)
80 TONI BREIDINGER/Hillsborough, CA (Breidinger Motorsports)
91 JUSTIN GRANT/Ione, CA (Hemelgarn/Carli Racing)
92 CHRIS WINDOM/Canton, IL (Gene Kazmark)
98 DAVEY HAMILTON, JR./Boise, ID (RPM/Fred Gormly)
99 DAVEY HAMILTON, SR./Boise, ID (RPM/Fred Gormly)
120 JOE AXSOM/Franklin, IN (Gene Nolen Racing)
201 TANNER SWANSON/Kingsburg, CA (Gene Nolen Racing)