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(Torrance, CA, April 21, 2022)
Last Saturday night, 16 of the 17 cars in the California Lightning Sprint Car Series main event received some devastating news when they checked the board for the lineup. When they saw A.J. Bender’s #41 on the front row for the 25-lap race, they realized their victory aspirations suddenly changed from hopeful to despair. Bender made those realizations come true when he led every lap to win his first CLS main of 2022.

A.J, Bender won his first CLS main event of 2022 at Bakersfield. Lance Jennings photo.

Nineteen cars signed in at the back gate of the 77-year-old speed plant for CLS’s second appearance of 2022 at the “Okie Bowl.” Included amongst the entries were BCRA regulars Harlee Aguilera of Orangevale, Roseville’s Brandon Leedy, and Livermore’s Greg Dennett. The trio decided to head south after Saturday’s BCRA race at Placerville was canceled on Friday due to rain.

Returning to the track where he had to withdraw before the main event due to mechanical ills three weeks earlier, five-time CLS champion Bobby Michnowicz turned in the fastest lap in qualifying with a time of 13.176. However, that would turn out to be the Oak Hills-based driver’s first and last Hurrah of the night. Leedy was second fastest at 13.235. Camarillo’s Cody Nigh, who came into the night second in CLS points, was third quick at 13.284.

Yucca Valley’s Jeff Dyer, who was sixth in CLS points, easily outdistanced the field in the Extreme Mufflers heat race #1. Gardena’s Dominic Del Monte placed second in the eight-lapper with Jeremy Queener of Lake Elsinore third.

That first heat also signaled the end of the night for the only two CLS champions in the field. Michnowicz was the first to go when his water pump broke its bracket and fell off and ripped the fuel lines. A few moments later, defending CLS champion David Gasper of Santa Barbara, who swept the Wayne Albright Memorial at Merced two weeks earlier, detonated an engine. Ironically when the CLS was at Bakersfield three weeks earlier, mechanical issues eliminated each of them before the main event.

The Vahlco Wheels second heat included all three of the BCRA attendees. Aguilera emerged victorious over CLS point leader Eric Greco of Palmdale and Bakersfield teen Leland Day.

“Rockstar” Jon Robertson smoked the field to win the Saldana Race Products third heat over Ken Coulston of Bermuda Dunes and San Diego’s Bender. It was a nice reprieve for Robertson who three weeks ago blew an engine on the same track.

Ken Coulston of Bermuda Dunes, who was making his first CLS race of 2022 was next to Bender on the inside of row one. Dyer manned the inside of row two with Dennett on the outside. Row three had point leader Greco on the inside with Nigh, who came into the night second in points and only 10-markers behind Greco, on the outside.

When the green lights turned on to start the race, Coulston got the best of Bender going into turn one. However, Bender, who was doing double duty on the night and came into the evening first in USAC Western Midget Series points, took full command of the lead coming off turn two on the opening lap. From that point on he was unchallenged the rest of the way in the immaculate Mike Schweitzer owned Abacas/BillMell.com Real Estate Services/Van’s Logging/Watkins Construction/M&P Environmental/Oil Well Service/Five Eight Signs/Yoshimura #41B.

Dyer was third at the wave of the green and had Dennett, Greco, and Nigh right behind him. However, the action did not last long. The only yellow flag of the race came out on lap two when Bakersfield local Leland Day came to a stop heading into turn three. That earned him the night’s Speed Mart Hard Luck Award.

When the race restarted, it went 24 straight laps to the checkered. Bender immediately began to pull away from the other 16 cars still running. Coulston and Dyer immediately became embroiled in a tough battle for second. Coulston, showing no track rust despite not racing since last year, fought off Dyer. However, by the time he did, Bender was more than a half straight ahead.

The battle for fourth early in the race was also the battle for the lead in the 2022 championship standings between Nigh and Greco. Greco picked off Nigh on the sixth go-round to begin his March towards the front. That was one lap before Bender caught up to the lapped traffic.

Another yellow almost came out at the end of lap nine when Coulston slowed on the front straight and nearly came to a stop. However, before the call came down to throw the yellow flag, his bright blue #32 took off again. By the time he corrected whatever the issue was, Dyer and Greco both got by for second and third respectively.

With 10-laps to go, Bender had a half-track lead. Dyer had been in second, but Greco raced to the inside as they came off turn four and took over the runner-up position.

Bender lapped the 10th place car on lap 16. Up to that point, he had little trouble with traffic, but suddenly, he had a ton of lapped cars just in front of him. And those lapped cars slowed his pace and allowed Greco to inch closer. Those inches grew to feet and eventually yards and with four laps to go, Greco had chopped Bender’s once half-track lead down to a half straightaway. However, that was as close as he would get. When the checkered came down, Bender still had a half straight advantage for his first CLS win of 2022. Greco, Dyer, Nigh, and Queener rounded out the top five.

With his car done for the night after the first heat, Gasper jumped into Mark Henry’s #39. He started 15th and finished 10th. Corona’s Trevor Ballou was the race “Hard Charger.”

“You cannot see behind you in these things,” Bender told the crowd after the race when he was asked if he knew Greco was closing in. “I was just trying to get through the lapped traffic. It started getting a little hairy in turns three and four. I was just trying to get through clean. I could see on the board that he was second and I was counting down laps.”

“The Schweitzer’s give me such a good car every time I do this,” Bender continued. “I love this place. Bakersfield is my home. I live in San Diego, but this is my racing home. This is our second win in this car (in 2022), so it has been a good year thus far with them. With me running the midget (on the same night) I am never there. I just show up and they tell me what they did. I trust them 100%. I cannot thank them enough.”

For the second show in a row at Bakersfield, the CLS had zero red flags and only two yellows all night long.

Greco added another 10-points to his lead in the championship standings and now has a 20-point advantage over second-place Nigh. Series leading rookie Will Browne of Glendora is third. Gasper and Dyer are ranked fourth and fifth.

The CLS is off this weekend. On April 30th, the club heads to the Ventura Raceway for the second time this year. The night will include the regular main event plus the rained-out main from March 19th.

The following companies have become marketing partners with the CLS in 2022. They have offered up more than $13,000.00 in contingencies that will be awarded on top of the regular racing purses and they will be paid out throughout the year. T-Shirts By Timeless, Hoosier Tires West, Extreme Mufflers, Saldana Racing Products, Rod End Supply, Speed Mart, Cold Fire West, West Evens Motorsports, RC Fuel Injection, Jake Swanson Shock Technology, Advanced Racing Suspensions, CSI Shocks, Eibach Springs, Triple X Race Components, King Racing Products, Hyper Racing Products, Rebel Gears, Vahlco Wheels, Wilwood Disk Brakes, Fuel Safe Systems, MPI, Circle Track Performance, E-Z UP, Hepfner Racing, Smith Titanium, and Hoosier Speed.

If you or your company would like to become a partner of the longtime racing organization, contact Jon Robertson via email at mailto:jon.robertson@sbcglobal.net or by calling (310) 367-9050.

Qualifying: 1. Bobby Michnowicz, 21K, 13,176; 2. Brandon Leedy, 3F, 13.235; 3. Cody Nigh 45, 13.284; 4. David Gasper, 18, 13.306; 5. Eric Greco 8g, 13.347; 6. A.J. Bender, 41b, 13.510; 7. Jeff Dyer, 4, 123,519; 8. Greg Dennett, 47, 13.534; 9. Ken Coulston, 32, 13.559; 10. Will Browne, 8, 13.597; 11. Harlee Aguilera, 17F, 13.646; 12. Trevor Ballou, 88B, 13.707; 13. Dominic Del Monte, 37, 13.789, 14. Leland Day, 97, 13.844, 15. Jon Robertson, 42, 13.898, 16. Jeremy Queener, 92, 13.930; 17. Connor Speir, 57, 14.006; 18. Mark Henry, 39, 14.235; 19. Pat Kelley, 03, 14.425

Extreme Mufflers Heat Race #1 (8 laps): 1. Dyer, 2. Del Monte, 3. Queener, 4. Browne, 5. Kelley, 6. Gasper, 7. Michnowicz

Vahlco Wheels Heat Race #2 (8 laps): 1. Aguilera, 2. Greco, 3. Day, 4. Dennett, 5. Leedy, 6. Speir

Saldana Race Products Heat Race #3 (8 laps): 1. Robertson, 2. Coulston, 3. Bender, 4. Nigh, 5. Ballou, 6. Henry

Bakersfield Speedway 25-Lap Main Event (with starting positions)
1. A.J. Bender – San Diego, CA – 2nd
2. Eric Greco – Palmdale, CA – 5th
3. Jeff Dyer – Yucca Valley, CA – 3rd
4. Cody Nigh – Camarillo, CA – 6th
5. Dominic Del Monte – Gardena, CA – 10th
6. Jeremy Queener – Lake Elsinore, CA – 12th
7. Will Browne – Corona, CA – 9th
8. Harlee Aguilera – Orangevale, CA – 7th
9. Trevor Ballou – Corona, CA – 14th
10. David Gasper – Santa Barbara, CA – 15th
11. Brandon Leedy – Roseville, CA – 13th
12. Ken Coulson – Bermuda Dunes, CA – 1st
13. Jon Robertson – Torrance, CA – 8th
14. Pat Kelley – Chino, CA – 16th
15. Greg Dennett – Livermore, CA – 4th
16. Connor Speir – Fillmore, CA – 17th
17. Leland Day – Bakersfield, CA – 11th

CLS Contingency Awards For Bakersfield

Heat Race #1 – Extreme Muffler $50.00 Product Certificate – Jeff Dyer

Heat Race #2 – CSI Shocks - $50.00 Product Certificate – Harlee Aguilera

Heat Race #3 – Saldana Race Products - $50.00 Product Certificate – Jon Robertson

1st Place Main Event - Eibach Springs $100.00 Product Certificate – A.J. Bender

2nd Place Main Event - Vahlco Wheels $50.00 Product Certificate – Eric Greco

3rd Place Main Event - Jake Swanson Shock Technology $50 Product Certificate – Jeff Dyer

4th Place Main Event – Hyper Chassis - $50 Product Certificate – Cody Nigh

5th Place Main Event – Smith Titanium Product Certificate – Dominic Del Monte

10th Place Main Event – King Racing Products $25.00 Product Certificate – Henry/Gasper

Fast Qualifier - West Evans Motorsports $25.00 Product Certificate – Bobby Michnowicz

Hard Charger - Speed Mart $25.00 Product Certificate - Trevor Ballou

Hard Charger - Advanced Racing Suspension Product Certificate - Trevor Ballou

Hard Luck Award – Speed Mart $25.00 Product Certificate – Leland Day

1st Car Not On The Lead Lap – Rebel Gears 30% Off Coupon

California Lightning Sprint Car Series Point Standings
1. Eric Greco – 416
2. Cody Nigh – 396
3. Will Brown - 328
4. David Gasper – 291
5. Jeff Dyer - 280
6. Pat Kelley – 251
7. A.J. Bender – 231
8. Jeremy Queener – 207
9. Harlee Aguilera – 205
10. Bobby Michnowicz – 171

CLS vs BCRA “Civil War Series” Points
1. David Gasper – CLS - 142
2. Dakota Albright – BCRA – 126
3. Eric Greco – CLS – 126
4. Will Browne – CLA 116
5. Harlee Aguilera – BCRA – 109
6. Cody Nigh – CLS – 104
7. Greg Dennett – BCRA – 100
8. Hunter Kinney – BCRA – 92
9. Matt Land – BCRA – 89
10. Tim Kinser - 83

2022 California Lightning Sprint Car Series Schedule

March 19 Ventura Raceway Winged Postponed

March 25 Bakersfield Speedway Winged – Grant Sexton

April 2 Merced Speedway Non-Wing – Albright – Civil War #1 – David Gasper

April 16 Bakersfield Speedway Winged – A.J. Bender

April 30 Ventura Raceway Winged

May 14 Bakersfield Speedway Winged – With USAC/CRA

May 21 Ventura Raceway Winged

June 11 Bakersfield Speedway Winged

June 25 Ventura Raceway Winged

July 9 Ventura Raceway Winged

July 23 Ventura Raceway Winged

August 26 Silver Dollar Speedway Winged – Civil War #2

August 27 Placerville Speedway Winged – Civil War #3

September 10 Lemoore Raceway Winged

September 24 Bakersfield Speedway Winged – Civil War #4

October 8 Mohave Valley Raceway Winged – With SWLS

October 29 Ventura Raceway Winged

November 15 Bakersfield Speedway Winged – With USAC Midgets - Civil War #5

November 17 Placerville Speedway Non-Wing – With USAC Midgets - No Points

November 18 Placerville Speedway Non-Wing – With USAC Midgets - No Points

November 19 Placerville Speedway Non-Wing – With USAC Midgets - No Points

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

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, 2021 David Gasper

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