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AJ BENDER BECOMES CALIFORNIA LIGHTNING SPRINT CAR SERIES FOURTH WINNER IN FIRST FIVE RACES OF 2024
(Torrance, CA, May 7, 2024)
Kicked back and basking in the glory of his first-ever USAC/CRA Sprint Car Series victory a week earlier at Perris Auto Speedway, AJ Bender’s phone rang last Friday night. On the other end of the line was Savage Racing car owner Brian Fonseca who was calling to see if Bender wanted to drive his well-known #3F car in the following night's California Lightning Sprint Car Series race at the Ventura Raceway. Bender accepted the offer and 24 hours later he was holding his second winner’s trophy in the past eight days.



Ventura winners AJ Bender and car owner Brian Fonseca. CLS Photo.

Fifteen cars showed up for the first CLS race at Ventura this season. When qualifying finished, Yucca Valley’s Jeff Dyer had the fastest time with a lap of 12.186. Bakersfield teen Broedy Graham pushed the pedal hard and steered Mike Schweitzer’s “Bailey Schweitzer Tribute Car” to the second fastest time with a lap of 12.242. Bender had the third-best time at 12.343. Camarillo’s Cody Nigh and six-time series champion Bobby Michnowicz rounded out the top five with times of 12.404 and 12.433 respectively.

Michnowicz, who lives in Oak Hills, snatched the win in the opening eight-lap heat in front of Bender and Dyer. Racing on the same track where he won his first CLS heat two years ago, Yucca Valley teen Seth Dyer, the son of Jeff Dyer, won the second heat over Graham and Nigh.

San Diego’s Bender, in the Savage Racing/Red Hawk Casino & Resort/Hinkle Performance/Mad Man Print Lab/Diablo Chassis/Crutchfield #3F, started on the pole in the 25-lap main. California Highway Patrol Officer Jeff Dyer was alongside. Nigh and Michnowicz were in the second row. The third row featured Graham and Seth Dyer, with “Rock Star” Jon Robertson of Torrance and rookie Zate Legend of Riverside in row four.

Jeff Dyer pushed his #4 into the lead at the start and was being challenged by Bender. Michnowicz was right behind the lead duo. However, the first of two yellows in the main came out when a car slid to a stop in turn two on the second lap. On the restart, things stayed status quo with the top three.

By lap eight, Dyer had pulled away to a straight lead. Then on lap 9, the race-long leader found himself stuck behind a lapped car on the outside of turn two. Bender closed in dramatically and it looked like he would race into the lead, but Dyer dove to the inside of the lapper and maintained the top spot. Going into lap 11, Dyer had inched away again.

By the 14th go around, heavy lapped traffic was looming for the leaders. Bender began to close in again and coming off turn two on lap 18, one of the lappers forced Dyer wide. That is all Bender needed! He saw the hole on the bottom open up and immediately took advantage and raced into the lead. By the time Dyer had disposed of the lapper, Bender had a small, but comfortable advantage.

From that point on, Bender was in the driver’s seat. The second yellow of the race flew on lap 23. That allowed the field to pull to the rear end of the leader. Dyer was still second, Michnowicz was third with Graham and Nigh rounding out the top five. As soon as the green light came back on, Bender started to move away. By the time the final laps came to an end, he was nearly a half straight ahead when the checkers waved. Dyer finished a frustrating second and was followed by Michnowicz, Graham, and Greco. Nigh was in fifth until he started smoking on the next to last lap and dropped to sixth.

For Bender, it was his first CLS win since April 8, 2023, when he outdistanced the field in the Schweitzer #41 at Bakersfield.

“Thank you to Brian and Savage Racing,” Bender said. “He called me Friday night and said he wanted to go to Ventura and of course, I was game. So he drove south and I drove north. It was worth the trip. We made some changes to the car throughout the night and we were fast for the main. We won the main event and fastest lap and had a fun battle to earn the trophy. Thank you again, Momma Sam, Brian, and Savage Racing.”

Coming from ninth to finish fifth, Greco was the main event “Hard Charger.”

The CLS is taking Mother’s Day Weekend off but will be back in action on May 18th when it visits the Bakersfield Speedway for the third time this season. Going into that race, Michnowicz has extended his lead in the championship standings to 30 points over Nigh. Greco, Jeff Dyer, and Lakewood’s Aiden Lange round out the top five.

The CLS would like to thank the following companies for being partners in the 2024 season. Extreme Mufflers, RacingJunk.com and Hoosier Tire.

Ventura Raceway, May 4 Results

Qualifying: 1. Jeff Dyer, 12.186; 2. Broedy Graham, 12.242; 3. AJ Bender, 12.343; 4. Cody Nigh, 12.404; 5. Bobby Michnowicz, 12.433; 6. Seth Dyer, 12.502; 7. Jon Robertson, 12.627; 8. Zate Legend, 12.989; 9. Jacob Magallanes, 13.260; 11. Tatum Manu, 14.031; Kelly Weitzel, 14.812; 13. Eric Greco, NT; 14. Pat Kelley, NT

Heat #1 - 8 Laps: 1. Michnowicz, 2. Bender, 3. Jeff Dyer, 4. Greco, 5. Robertson, 6. Magallanes

Heat #2 - 8 Laps: 1. Seth Dyer, 2. Graham, 3. Nigh, 4. Kelley, 5. Legend, 6. Byers, 7. Weitzel

Main Event - 25 Laps (With starting positions and distance behind)
1. AJ Bender, San Diego, CA … 1st
2. Jeff Dyer, Yucca Valley, CA … 2nd … 1.024
3. Bobby Michnowicz, Oak Hills, CA … 4th … 1.511
4. Broedy Graham, Bakersfield, CA … 5th … 2.330
5. Eric Greco, Palmdale, CA … 9th … 4.222
6. Cody Nigh, Camarillo, CA … 3rd … 5.910
7. Zate Legend, Riverside, CA … 8th … 1 Lap
8. Jon Robertson, Torrance, CA … 7th … 1 Lap
9. Seth Dyer, Yucca Valley, CA … 6th … 1 Lap
10. Clay Byers, Castaic, CA … 12th …1 Lap
11. Jacob Magallanes, Pasadena, CA … 11th … 2 Laps
12. Pat Kelley, Chino, CA … 10th … 2 Laps
13. Kelly Weitzel, El Cajon, CA … 3 Laps
DNS Tatum Manu
 
Lap Leaders: Dyer 1-18, Bender 19-25.

California Lightning Sprint Car Series Points
1. Bobby Michnowicz, Oak Hills, CA … 519
2. Cody Nigh, Camarillo, CA … 489
3. Eric Greco, Palmdale, CA … 430
4. Jeff Dyer, Yucca Valley, CA … 401
5. Aiden Lange, Lakewood, CA … 382
6. Jon Robertson, Torrance, CA … 375
6. Zate Legend, Riverside, CA … 375
8. Seth Dyer, Yucca Valley, CA … 368
9. Connor Speir, Fillmore, CA … 355
10. Pat Kelley, Chino, CA … 285

2024 California Lightning Sprint Car Series Schedule

March 1 Imperial Valley Raceway Mid-Winter Fair Aiden Lange

March 2 Imperial Valley Raceway Mid-Winter Fair Connor Speir

March 9 Bakersfield Speedway CLS Bobby Michnowicz

April 13 Merced Speedway CSL vs BCRA Civil War #1 Rained Out

April 20 Bakersfield Speedway CLS Bobby Michnowicz

May 4 Ventura Raceway CLS AJ Bender

May 18 Bakersfield Speedway CLS

June 8 Ventura Raceway CLS

June 15 Bakersfield Speedway CLS

July 5 Santa Maria Speedway CLS

July 6 Santa Maria Speedway CLS

July 27 Santa Maria Speedway CLS vs BCRA Civil War #2

September 13 Bakersfield Speedway CLS vs BCRA Civil War #3

September 14 Ventura Raceway CLS

September 28 Ventura Raceway CLS

October 5 Merced Speedway CLS vs BCRA Civil War #4 Albright Memorial

October 26 Ventura Raceway CLS

November 15 Placerville Speedway Hangtown 100 – No Points

November 16 Placerville Speedway Hangtown 100 – No Points

November 26 Bakersfield Speedway CLS

To keep up with the CLS online, please visit the website at http://racecls.com/ and follow on the club’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/californialightningsprints.

PAST CALIFORNIA LIGHTNING SPRINT CAR CHAMPIONS
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, 2023 Bobby Michnowicz

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