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(Torrance, CA, April 11, 2023)
When the competitors in the California Lightning Sprint Car Series heard the old saying “the band is getting back together again” last week, they initially paid no attention to it. However, when they found out it meant that star driver AJ Bender was again teaming up with long-time car owner Mike Schweitzer for last Saturday’s race at the Bakersfield Speedway, it struck fear in their hearts. As it turned out, that was rightfully so as Bender smashed the competition to win his second CLS main of the 2023 season.

AJ Bender winner of Saturday's California Lightning Sprint Car race at Bakersfield. Lance Jennings Photo.

The original 2023 CLS schedule had Saturday’s date as the second for the club on “The West’s Fastest 1/3 Mile High Banked Clay Oval.” Unfortunately, due to heavy rains canceling the March 18th date, Saturday was the first time the club ventured to the track this year.

Veteran driver Jeff Dyer of Yucca Valley set the fastest time in qualifying when he toured the track in 13.683. Bender, who was coming off a heat race win and an eighth-place main event finish in the USAC/CRA race the previous week at Arizona’s Mohave Valley Raceway, timed in second at 13.807. The CLS “G.O.A.T,” Bobby Michnowicz of Oak Hills, was third quick at 13.890.

With 10 cars on hand, CLS officials got innovative for the heat races. Each heat featured all 10 cars. The Extreme Muffler Heat Race #1 was totally inverted by qualifying times. The second heat was totally straight up by the same qualifying times. The first eight lapper saw pole sitter “Rockstar” Jon Robertson of Torrance lead green to checkers for the win over Lakewood’s Aiden Lange and Michnowicz. It was not quite as easy as that sounds though as Lange was nipping at his push bar all the way. They crossed the line well ahead of third-place finisher Cody Nigh of Camarillo. Michnowicz and Bender rounded out the top five.

The cars did not stop or leave the track before the start of the second heat race. They just lined up with Jeff Dyer on the pole and Bender outside of him. Michnowicz and Lange were in the second row. However, before the drivers could take the green flag, drama intervened. Seth Dyer of Yucca Valley dropped out and pulled to the infield. Then Bender jumped the original start and was penalized one row. That moved Michnowicz to the outside of row one. Before the next attempt to get the race started, Nigh pulled to the infield. A few moments later, he rejoined the pack.

With the broken car off the track, the offender penalized, and Nigh back after a break in the infield, the race finally commenced. The race was classic Michnowicz as he, like Robertson, led green to checkers. Jeff Dyer fought off Bender’s early advances for second and had that spot in the bag until he pulled out at the white flag. That handed the runner-up spot to Bender. Greco, Lange, and Bakersfield local Leland Day rounded out the top five.

Points were tallied from the two heats and the top six had a redraw. Bender, in the Mike Schweitzer-owned Abacas/BillMell.com Real Estate Services/Van’s Logging/M&P Environmental/Oil Well Service/Yoshimura/2007 Henchcraft/2000 ZX12 #41B, drew the pole. That combo won two of their three starts at the “Okie Bowl” last season. They would be tough to beat normally, but off the pole, it would be nearly impossible to do. Greco was on the outside of the front row. Veteran Michnowicz was on the inside of two with youngster Day alongside. Row three featured Lange and Robertson and they were followed by Nigh and Jeff Dyer. Chino’s Pat Kelley was alone in row five.

One thing was different than normal by the time the CLS took to the track for its main event. Normally the surface has slickened off. This time the track was hooked up to the max and passing was going to be at a premium. Thus, when Bender jumped into the lead at the start, he was not only going to be tough to pass, but he was going to be hard to catch as well. Greco, Michnowicz, and Day were his early pursuers.

Bender gapped Greco by four lengths at the end of the first circuit and things around the track remained status quo until the leader reached the first lapped car on lap eight. Greco had put some distance between himself and third-place Michnowicz. By lap 10, Greco was starting to inch closer to the race-long leader. He continued to gain ground and by the time they reached turn one on lap 14, Greco was only one car length behind.

Lap 15 saw Bender face his only big threat in the race. Heading into turn number one, Greco peeked inside the leader. Up until that time Bender had gone unchallenged. To compound factors, they pulled up behind Day and he was having issues with his top wing that was slowing him down. Greco had another look on the inside going down the back chute, but San Diegan Bender fended him off and a couple of laps later, he had opened his advantage to a comfortable margin again.

Greco seemed to have second place sewed up and that would have given him three top-four finishes in his first three races of 2023. However, going into turn three on the 21st lap, he slowed dramatically. Michnowicz closed on the race-long runner-up driver and drove by for second. Greco then pulled to the infield coming off turn four.

By the time Michnowicz had taken second, Bender had enough of an advantage that nobody was going to catch him and he became the first CLS driver to win two main events in 2023. Michnowicz placed second for the second time this year and as of now, he has not finished worse than third. Lange, who was making his first appearance of the season, ended up third and Nigh, who was also racing for the first time this year was fourth. Robertson placed fifth. Nigh was the “Advance Racing Suspension Hard Charger” moving from seventh on the start to finish fourth.

The CLS gets its longest break on the 2023 schedule and will not return to action until May 13th at Jim Naylor’s Ventura Raceway. Going into that race, Michnowicz has a 59-point lead over Greco in the season-long championship point standings. Bender, Lakeside’s Brent Sexton, and Jeff Dyer round out the top five.

The following companies are marketing partners with the CLS in 2023. Hoosier Tires West, T-Shirts By Timeless, Extreme Mufflers, RacingJunk.com, and Advanced Racing Suspension. if you or your company would like to be a marketing partner with the CLS, please get in touch with Jon Robertson using the contact information at the top of this release.

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

Bakersfield Speedway Qualifying: 1. Jeff Dyer, 13.683, 2. AJ Bender, 13.807, 3. Bobby Michnowicz, 13.890, 4. Aiden Lange, 13.961, 5. Eric Greco, 13.980, 6. Cody Nigh, 14.085, 7. Leland Day, 14.145, 8. Jon Robertson, 14.292, 9. Seth Dyer, 15.087, 10. Pat Kelley, 16.736

Extreme Muffler Heat #1 (8-Laps): 1. Robertson, 2. Lange, 3. Michnowicz, 4. Nigh, 5. Bender, 6. Seth Dyer, 7. Day, 8. Greco, 9. Jeff Dyer, 10. Kelley

Heat #2 (8-Laps): 1. Michnowicz, 2. Bender, 3. Greco, 4. Lange, 5. Day, 6. Robertson, 7. Nigh, 8. Jeff Dyer, 9. Kelly

Main Event (20-Laps) Includes Starting Position Time Behind
1. AJ Bender, San Diego, CA, (1st)
2. Bobby Michnowicz, Oak Hills, CA, (3rd) … 1.699
3. Aiden Lange, Lakewood., CA, (5th) … 2.218
4. Cody Nigh, Camarillo, CA, (7th) … 3.632
5. Jon Robertson, Torrance, CA, (6th) … 11.508
6. Leland Day, Bakersfield, CA, (4th) … 2 Laps
7. Jeff Dyer, Yucca Valley, CA, (8th) … 3 Laps
8. Pat Kelley, Chino, CA, (9th) … 3 Laps
9. Eric Greco, Palmdale, CA, (2nd) … 5 Laps
DNS – Seth Dyer, Yucca Valley, CA

2023 California Lightning Sprint Car Series Point Standings and Best of the West Standings
1. Bobby Michnowicz, Lomita, CA … 522
2. Eric Greco, Palmdale, CA … 463
3. AJ Bender, San Diego, CA … 399
4. Brent Sexton, Lakeside, CA … 388
5. Jeff Dyer, Yucca Valley, CA … 384
6. Jon Robertson, Torrance, CA … 365
7. Pat Kelley, Chino, CA … 328
8. Seth Dyer, Yucca Valley, CA … 285
9. Robby Brockman, El Cajon, CA … 280
10. Connor Speier, Fillmore, CA … 271

2023 California Lightning Sprint Car Series Point Standings and Best of the West Standings
1. Bobby Michnowicz, Lomita, CA, CLS … 388
1. Brent Sexton, Lakeside, CA, SWLS … 388
3. Eric Greco, Palmdale, CA, CLS … 371
4. Robby Brockman, El Cajon, CA. SWLS … 280
4. Jeff Dyer, Yucca Valley, CA, CLS … 280
6. Connor Speir, Fillmore, CA, CLS … 271
7. Seth Dyer, Yucca Valley, CA, CLS … 262
8. AJ Bender, San Diego, CA, SWLS … 261
9. Jon Robertson, Torrance, CA, CLS … 254
10. Pat Kelley, Chino, CA, CLS … 240

2023 California Lightning Sprint Car Series Schedule

March 10 Imperial Raceway CLS/SWLS “Best of the West” Round #1 AJ Bender

March 11 Imperial Raceway CLS/SWLS “Best of the West” Round #2 Braden Chiaramonte

March 18 Bakersfield Speedway CLS With USAC Western Midgets Rained Out

April 1 Mohave Valley Raceway CLS/SWLS “Best of the West” Round #3 Brent Sexton

April 8 Bakersfield Speedway CLS AJ Bender

May 13 Ventura Raceway CLS With USAC 360 Sprint Cars

May 20 Bakersfield Speedway CLS/SWLS “Best of the West” Round #4

June 3 Bakersfield Speedway CLS/BCRA “Civil War Series Round” #1 With USAC 360 Sprint Cars

June 17 Ventura Raceway CLS With USAC 360 Sprint Cars Wagsdash

July 8 Ventura Raceway CLS

July 22 Ventura Raceway CLS/SWLS “Best of the West” Round #5

August 19 Ocean Speedway CLS/BCRA “Civil War Series” Round #2, Johnny Key Classic

September 9 Bakersfield Speedway CLS/BCRA “Civil War Series” Round #3

September 23 Ventura Raceway CLS

October 7 Merced Speedway CLS/BCRA “Civil War Series” Round #4, Wayne Albright Memorial Non Wing

October 14 Mohave Valley Speedway CLS/SWLS “Best of the West” Round #6 With USAC/CRA Sprint Cars

October 28 Ventura Raceway CLS

November 14 Bakersfield Speedway CLS With USAC National Midgets

November 16 Placerville Speedway “Hangtown 100” No Points Non Wing

November 17 Placerville Speedway “Hangtown 100” No Points Non Wing

November 18 Placerville Speedway “Hangtown 100” No Points Non Wing

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, 2022 David Gasper

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