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(Upland, CA, August 3, 2021)
A.J. Bender became the first California Lightning Sprint Car Series driver to post three wins in 2021 when he bested the field last Saturday night in the “CLS Summer Classic” at the Santa Maria Raceway. The San Diego, California based driver recorded the win in front of a large crowd that had gathered for “Winged Madness #1.” This Saturday the CLS will journey north to tangle with the BCRA at the Merced Speedway in round #2 of the “Civil War Series.”

A.J. Bender won his third CLS main event of the year at Santa Maria. Lance Jennings photo.

Bender started the evening off by posting the fastest qualifying time with a lap of 14.148 on the banked 1/3-mile clay oval. Jeff Dyer was second fastest in the 18-car field when he stopped the clocks at 14.214. Third spot went to series leading rookie Dave Gasper of Santa Barbara who toured the track in 14.251.

Series point leader James Turnbull of Indio captured the first eight-lap heat race after starting on the outside of the front row. Moments later, Lakeside teenager Grant Sexton won the second heat race from the same starting spot.

CLS leading rookie David Gasper was on the pole for the 25-lap main event, and he had Santa Maria debutante Braden Chiaramonte of El Cajon alongside. Row two featured two-time CLS champion Brent Sexton of Lakeside and fast qualifier Bender. Manning the third row was Lakewood’s Aiden Lange and Yucca Valley’s Jeff Dyer. When the green light flashed on to start the 25-lap main, Gasper pushed his brilliant blue #18 into the lead and was being chased by Chiaramonte, Bender, Sexton and Dyer.

The only change in the first couple of laps came when Brent Sexton and Dyer traded the third position back and forth on the second lap. While they were slicing and dicing for that spot behind him, teenager Gasper, who was seeking his first ever CLS win, was putting some distance between himself and the remainder of the herd. By the sixth lap, the young leader was into the lapped traffic. Apart from Lange racing his way into the top five, things stayed the same over the first 10 circuits, but it was about to get interesting.

Chiaramonte, who was creating a big impression in his Santa Maria debut, made a move at the end of lap 12. He tried to dive to the inside to pass leader Gasper going into turn one. However, he got caught behind a lapped car and Bender, in the Abacus/BillMell.com/Van’s Logging/Elite Racing/WCI Mike Schweitzer owned #41, took full advantage. He raced around the newcomer on the outside and took over second.

Three laps after taking second, wily veteran Bender used the exact same move to steal the lead away from Gasper. Going into turn three, Gasper got caught behind another lapped car on the low line. Just like he did when he took second from Chiaramonte, Bender blasted past on the outside for the lead.

Once out front, Bender raced away for a commanding advantage. Gasper was still in second, but his race came to a sudden halt when his left rear came off in turn four on lap 20 bringing out the first caution of the race. After the #18 was towed off the track the race restarted with Bender, Chiaramonte, Lange, Grant Sexton and his father Brent making up the top five. Bender got a good restart and put some distance between himself and his pursuers, but it all went away again when Wyatt Boczanowski of San Diego flipped into the turn three wall. Fortunately, he emerged unhurt, but he was done for the night.

The final restart saw Bender motor away to establish a more than half straightaway lead that he carried to the checkered flag. Chiaramonte closed a sensational first race on the San Luis Obispo County oval by placing second. Lange fought off the determined efforts of Grant Sexton over the closing laps to take his best finish of the year in third. Grant Sexton stayed in fourth and his father Brent ended up fifth. “Rockstar” John Robertson was the race “Hard Charger” coming from 15th to finish 10th.

“It was tough at first,” a happy Bender told the crowd after the race. “Those first 10-laps or so I was following and seeing where they were going. I saw they were running the bottom and hadn’t tried the top. When we got into lapped traffic, I knew that would slow them up. I knew if I could hold the throttle all the way down, I was going to get lucky one of those times and it happened. It was a matter of time. I knew it was coming and I was just trying to be patient.”

“Twenty-five laps in a car without power steering – I am used to power steering,” the happy winner laughed to the crowd. “So, I was just trying not to work myself too hard. I wanted to be there at the end. We were snug (initially). That car got better every lap and it started to free up more and more. Being able to run the top down there (turns one and two) really helped.”

The CLS heads to the Merced Speedway for round #2 of the “Civil War Series” vs the BCRA this Saturday night, August 7th. Indio’s James Turnbull goes into Merced with a 104-point advantage over Gasper in the CLS standings. Eric Greco of Palmdale, Dyer, and five-time CLS champion Bobby Michnowicz of Oak Hills round out the top five.

Turnbull, who won round #1 at Merced on April 24th, is on top of the “Civil War” standings with Bobby Michnowicz in second and BCRA veteran Dakota Albright in third. Gasper and Lange are fourth and fifth. The cars were wingless for the April 24th race. This week, they all will be doffing wings at the Merced County clay oval.

In addition to the CLS/BCRA Lightning Sprints being on Saturday’s race card, the USAC Western States Midgets and BCRA Midgets, USAC Western Sprint Cars, Hobby Stocks and Mini Late Models will also be in action. Stands open at 5:00 p.m. with racing at 7:00. The track is located at 900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Merced (95341). The phone number is (209) 600-8382 and the website is http://www.mercedspeedway.net/.

After Merced, the CLS will be back in action seven days later at the Bakersfield Speedway on August 14th.

The CLS would like to thank 2021 series sponsors Hoosier Tires, T Shirts By Timeless, TJ Forged Racing Wheels, and Walker Performance Filtration. If you or your company would like to become part of the series, please call Alex Grigoreas at (909) 437-3170.

To keep up with the CLS online, please visit the website at http://racecls.com/ or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/californialightningsprints/

Santa Maria Main Event (with starting positions)
1. A.J. Bender – San Diego, CA – 4th
2. Braden Chiaramonte – El Cajon, CA – 2nd
3. Aiden Lange – Lakewood, CA – 5th
4. Grant Sexton – Lakeside, CA – 8th
5. Brent Sexton – Lakeside, CA – 3rd
6. Jeff Dyer – Yucca Valley, CA – 6th
7. James Turnbull – Indio, CA – 7th
8. Cody Nigh – Camarillo, CA – 10th
9. Mark Henry – Rosamond, CA - 12th
10. John Robertson – Torrance, CA – 15th
11. Kevin Bates – Miramar, CA - 14th
12. Pat Kelley – Chino, CA – 13th
13. Wyatt Boczanowski – San Diego, CA – 16th
14. Dave Gasper – Santa Barbara, CA – 1st
15. Eric Greco – Palmdale, CA – 9th
16. Dominic Del Monte – Gardena, CA – 11th
17. Dalton Sexton – Lakeside, CA – 17th
DNS Trevor Ballou – Corona, CA

2021 California Lightning Sprint Car Series Point Standings
1. James Turnbull – Indio, CA – 839
2. Dave Gasper – Santa Barbara, CA – 735
3. Eric Greco – Palmdale, CA – 709
4. Jeff Dyer – Yucca Valley, CA , CA – 672
5. Bobby Michnowicz – Oak Hills, CA – 666
6. A.J. Bender – San Diego, CA , CA – 623
7. Dominic Del Monte - Gardena, CA – 549
8. Mark Henry - Rosamond, CA – 462
9. Aiden Lange - Lakewood, CA – 451
10. Jon Robertson - Torrance, CA - 445

CLS/BCRA Civil War Series Point Standings
1. James Turnbull – CLS – 135
2. Bobby Michnowicz – CLS – 133
3. Dakota Albright – BCRA – 121
4. Dave Gasper – CLS – 119
5. Aiden Lange – CLS – 112
6. Seth Hespe – WASH – 107
7. Jeff Dyer – CLS – 98
8. Chase Gaal – CLS – 88
9. Eric Greco – CLS – 85
10. Brandon Leedy – BCRA 83

2021 California Lightning Sprint Car Series Schedule

March 13 Bakersfield Speedway – Eric Greco

April 10 Bakersfield Speedway – Bobby Michnowicz

April 24 Merced Speedway (Wayne Albright Memorial - Round #1 of the Civil War Series with BCRA – Wingless) – James Turnbull

May 15 Bakersfield Speedway – A.J. Bender

June 5 Ventura Raceway – A.J. Bender

June 19 Keller Auto Speedway (Hanford) – Postponed due to heat.

July 3 Santa Maria Speedway – Eric Greco

July 24 Santa Maria Speedway (Wing Madness #1) Santa Maria – A.J. Bender

August 7 Merced Speedway (Civil War Series #2 with BCRA – Winged)

August 14 Bakersfield Speedway

August 28 Santa Maria Speedway

September 18 Bakersfield Speedway (Civil War #3 with BCRA – Winged)

September 19 The Dirt Track At Kern County Raceway Park

September 25 Santa Maria Speedway (Wing Madness #2)

October 2 Ventura Raceway

October 30 Ventura Raceway

November 16 Bakersfield Speedway (Civil War #4 with BCRA – Winged and Western States Lightning Sprint Car Championship)

November 18 Placerville Speedway Hangtown 100 – (Co sanctioned with BCRA and in companion with the USAC National Midgets)

November 19 Placerville Speedway Hangtown 100 – (Co sanctioned with BCRA and in companion with the USAC National Midgets)

November 20 Placerville Speedway Hangtown 100 – (Co sanctioned with BCRA and in companion with the USAC National Midgets)

The schedule is subject to change due to Covid restrictions.

1994 Tony Everhart, 1995 Gary Sexton, 1996 Rob Sczymczak, 1997 Jon Rahe, 1998 Chris Rahe, 1999 Brent Sexton, 2000 Greg Bragg, 2001 Greg Bragg, 2002 Greg Bragg, 2003 David Cardey, 2004 Keith Janca, 2005 Johnny Bates, 2006 Donny Gansen, 2007 Shane Rossen, 2008 Brent Sexton, 2009 Stuart Hielschier Sr., 2010 Jarrett Kramer, 2011 Tim Brown, 2012 Bobby Michnowicz, 2013 Stephen Limon, 2014 Bobby Michnowicz, 2015 Bobby Michnowicz, 2016 Bobby Michnowicz, 2017 Bobby Michnowicz, 2018 Jarrett Kramer, 2019 Jarrett Kramer.

This press release was produced by Scott Daloisio Sports (909) 226-7768 mailto:sdaloisiosports@aol.com