WEST: Mike Spencer Hard at Work Preparing for 20th Budweiser Oval Nationals at Perris

RaceChaser Staff Dirt Track Racing, Other Sprint Cars, Sprints & Midgets, USAC, West 0 Comments

PERRIS, Calif. – official track release — Doug Allen photo —

When five-time AMSOIL USAC/CRA Sprint Car Series champion and current point leader Mike Spencer answered the phone on Tuesday night, he was right where you would expect to find him.

He was in the garage along with his father getting the cars ready for the 20th annual Budweiser Oval Nationals Presented by All Coast Construction at Perris Auto Speedway on Nov. 12-14.  There would be no other place you could expect to find him as the now 34-year-old used to sleep in his dad’s racecar when he was a toddler as his father prepared the car for the CRA wars at Ascot.

Heading into the Oval Nationals, Spencer, a 2004 mechanical engineering graduate of Cal Poly Pomona, carries a 22-point lead over three-time champion Damion Gardner in one of the greatest point battles in the 12-year history of the Amsoil USAC/CRA Series.  The two have been swapping the lead back and forth for the past couple of months and may continue to do so at the three-races on the famous Riverside County clay oval in just two weeks’ time.

To illustrate what a great point’s battle it has been, Spencer carried a 40-point lead over Gardner heading into the first night of the “Hall of Fame Classic” last Friday at Canyon Speedway Park in Peoria, Arizona.  However, Spencer flipped in the main event that night and finished 17th, while Gardner recorded his series leading eighth win of 2015.  Gardner’s victory, combined with Spencer’s misfortune, saw the lead switch back to Gardner by three points heading into Saturday finale in the Copper State.

After leading much of Saturday’s main event, Gardner had to pit due to a flat right rear tire and could only get back to 11th spot before the race ended while Spencer led the final 5-laps for his second win of the year.  The victory also propelled Spencer back into a 22-point lead over Gardner as they get ready for the next three rounds of battle at Perris.

“It was kind of a rollercoaster,” said Spencer.  “Not so much about the points going back and forth, but I had a really good race car the first night and ended up crashing and not finishing.  On the flip side, we win the next night.  It was a big win and I feel like we have some momentum going into the Oval Nationals.  There is nothing like a win and sometimes that is what you need to get things going.”

Spencer has not won at Perris Auto Speedway since the Oval Nationals in 2012.  That is hard to believe as only Gardner has won more USAC/CRA main events than Spencer at the 20-year-old track.

“It has been a while,” Spencer lamented.  “In 2012 we won quite a few (six to be exact) of them there and have not won there since.  We have run second a bunch.  I think the race track has changed a little bit.  When things are not going your way, you may not be working hard enough. Obviously we have to get our stuff a little better and I have to do better on my end.  You have to step it up and that is what we are trying to do.”

If Spencer wins the title this year, it will be his sixth series championship.  In the combined history of the original CRA, SCRA and now USAC/CRA dating back to 1946, he is currently tied for second overall with five time CRA champion Jimmy Oskie.  A title this year will tie him for first with National Sprint Car Hall of Famer Ron Shuman, who won four titles with CRA and two with SCRA.  They were just a couple of Spencer’s big racing heroes back in the day, but his biggest hero was his father Mike, who just a few feet away turning wrenches on one of the cars during the call.

When queried as to how much he remembered his father racing, Spencer responded, “Not a lot, I think he retired when I was 4.  When I was little, I would be in the garage asleep in the racecar while they were working on it.  We have photos and videos of him racing.  I always watched those when I was a little kid.”

Being around the cars, looking at the pictures and watching the videos bred Spencer to want to do one thing in racing, race sprint cars on dirt. He was never one of the young guys who wanted to use them as a springboard to some other series due to fat paychecks.

“All I pretty much ever wanted to do was race sprint cars,” he said.  “There were times that I thought that would be pretty cool (to race Indy Cars or NASCAR), but my passion has always been dirt sprint cars.  I just wanted to get to race sprint cars.”

Being around it and knowing what it takes, makes the “get home from work and get in the garage” aspect easier.  However, with the passing of his longtime National Sprint Car Hall of Fame crew chief Bruce Bromme Jr. in the middle of the 2014 season, things have changed drastically for the crew on the famous Ron Chaffin red No. 50 car.  Bromme used to do all the prep work at his shop in Central California.  At that time, Spencer just basically showed up at the track and raced.  Since then, the car has been kept at his Spencer’s father’s house in Temecula and it is just like when the younger Spencer was growing up with racecar in his garage.  They are working on it several nights a week which is nothing strange, but it is different without Bromme.

“It has definitely been an adjustment,” said Spencer.  “He (Bromme) was the leader and basically ran the whole operation.  The car has been down here in Temecula all year and early in the season we started getting into a routine on preparing the car and getting used to the way we do things at the track.  I feel we have been improving all year and getting better at making decisions as far as changing the car around and making it adapt to the racetrack.  We had all been doing it for a long time, but at the same time it has been a little bit of a learning curve without Bruce around.  We are lucky Ron Chaffin is behind, supporting us and keeping the car on the track.”

Prep for the Oval Nationals is not a whole lot different than the rest of the year according to Spencer.

“It is pretty much the same,” he said while taking a few minutes away from working on the car that was wrecked in Arizona.  “For a big race like the Oval Nationals you just have to be sure all the maintenance is up to date and your spare stuff is in order, organized and ready to go because you never know when you will need it.  There is a little more prep on the spare stuff and tires.  The Oval Nationals is the biggest race of the year so you try to have your best motor in the car, your best rear end and all of the best parts you have to try and go win it.”

CREDIT: Perris Auto Speedway

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.