Friday, April 28, 2017

A dramatic day for the USAC Silver Crown cars at Phoenix International Raceway

The single-car qualifying session held in the heat of the day at the Phoenix International Raceway capped off a dramatic day of action for the United States Auto Club (USAC) Silver Crown series which returned to the one-mile oval for the first time since 2009.

Chris Windom the winner of the last three Silver Crown races and the defending series champion set the early pace in the Kazmark racing #92 in the first practice session with a best lap of 26.243 seconds, as seven cars in the seventeen car field broke through the 27 second barrier.  

Before and after shots of Chris Windom's #93 shows the significant damage

Kody Swanson in the #63 Radio Hospital Special set the day's fastest lap in the second practice session at 25.450 seconds. During the second practice session, Windom's car appeared off the pace then he crashed in turn three. USAC competition director Levi Jones said the group suspected could not confirm that a right front tire failure caused the Windom crash. Windom was uninjured but the car was heavily damaged and was finished for the weekend. 

left to right Kody Swanson, fast qualifier Bobby Santos III and Davey Hamilton 

USAC sent the field of cars out for single car qualifying in reverse order with the fastest cars on the track at the end of qualifying, so the speed of the cars steadily increased as the session continued. Bobby Santos III topped the field with his second lap of 25.362 seconds, just .045 seconds off the track record set by the David Steele in 2004, though it should be considered that the track configuration has changed since 2004. Second place in time trials fell to two-time USAC Silver Crown titlist in 2014 and 2015 Kody Swanson while 54 year old Davey Hamilton claimed the third starting position for tomorrow's 100-lap "Phoenix Copper Cup."  

Santos said later that he felt he "got a pretty good lap," as the car was tight on the first lap and then the handling came in better than he expected for the second faster lap. Hamilton remarked that it was an exciting opportunity to race with his son this weekend, as he recalled racing in past Copper Classic supermodified events at Phoenix with his father Ken Hamilton.  

Hamilton shared that the layout of the Phoenix track is a lot different since the last time he drove a Silver Crown car there as only the front straight is the same. On a very windy day, the top three qualifiers said that the wind did not upset their cars at all, and Davey Hamilton brought laughter the press conference when he compared the aerodynamics of a Silver Crown car to a brick. 

When asked about the Silver Crown series returning the Phoenix, Kody Swanson stated that this is an example of how the series is building momentum and that it was personally exciting for him to race at Phoenix. Kody noted that the importance of the "Phoenix Copper Classic" was demonstrated by the fact that his younger brother Tanner who is not a series regular went out an found a ride with the Nolen team.  

Thinking about tire wear for tomorrow's 100-lap race which will be held in the heat of the day, Bobby Santos remarked that he felt like Hoosier brought a "pretty hard tire," but that drivers have to be careful not to overheat the tires and make them "greasy." The veteran Hamilton noted that the tires he qualified on had twenty laps on them, and that it will be challenge and that "tire management will be key for the 100 laps."

Davey Hamilton Junior had a eventful day and revealed that his car lost its brakes midway through the first practice session and were not repaired in time for him to turn any hard laps in the second session.. "DJ" reported that he did not any brakes on his first timed lap which was an off the pace at 27.072 seconds, but the brakes returned for the second lap and "DJ" will start tenth tomorrow after he posted a 26.656 second lap. 

Nolen Racing teammates from left Joe Axsom (back to camera), Tanner Swanson
 and Jerry Coons Junior compared notes between the two practice sessions 

Tucson Arizona's Jerry Coons Junior was unable to qualify as the transmission input shaft broke, but the Nolen crew was optimistic it could be fixed in time, provided that they could locate the needed parts to affect repairs. USAC's all-time winningest female driver Toni Breidinger will start fourteenth, but she showed steady progress throughout the day in her first appearance in a Silver Crown car and her first appearance on a race track longer than 1/3 of mile. 

Photos by the author 

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