At 17 years of age, Ryan Cansdale has already won more championships than most drivers will ever hope to achieve. The young driver from Laguna Beach, California has a personality that personifies the laid back, carefree and relaxed environment that his hometown’s reputation exudes. But once behind the wheel of the race car his competitive spirit helps make him one of the most talented young drivers on the West Coast. Cansdale will be embarking on his second season on the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series in 2016, and adding another championship to his resume will be a distinct possibility.
Cansdale began his racing career at the age of five years old, with the intent of having an activity to do with his father (Mark). He started his racing career in go-karts racing throughout the West Coast. By the age of 10, he already had five championships under his belt, including the 2006 State of California Championship at Grange Motor Circuit in Apple Valley.
“Back when I was racing go-karts, I remember my dad driving me out to this race, somewhere in the middle of nowhere,” Cansdale told Speed 51.com Powered by JEGS. “I slept all the way there and woke up in this random place. We won the race (with a last lap pass) and then afterward my dad told me it was the California State Championship race. That was pretty crazy. He didn’t want me to feel pressure or anything. That was one of the coolest moments I can remember.”
In 2009, Cansdale moved into the Bandolero Division at Havasu (AZ) and Irwindale (CA) Speedway’s. He won a total of 29 events that season to become the youngest champion in the history of Irwindale Speedway. Those 29 wins also led the nation. 2010 found him returning to the Bandoleros at Irwindale for another championship. This time he finished in a three way tie for the National Championship for that division.
In 2011, Cansdale became the youngest driver in the history of Irwindale Speedway to race in the INEX Legends Pro Division, while also competing in the SRL Legends Tour. He would finish fourth in the SRL points standings. The following year he continued in the SRL Legends Tour and finished as the championship runner-up. That season Cansdale was also the State of California and National Legend Tour champion.
Progressing through the SRL ladder of competition, he advanced to the S2 Spec. Late Model Division in 2013. There he would garner another championship and also become the youngest driver to win a Late Model feature at Madera Speedway (CA).
2014 saw a return to his home track at Irwindale Speedway, and yet another record, when he competed in the highly competitive Late Model Division. This time he became the youngest driver to win a feature event on the half mile oval. He would finish the season seventh in points as a rookie, despite missing an event.
Stepping up once again, Cansdale entered the battle for the Rookie of the Year Award in the Spears SRL Southwest Tour Series.
“You know, I went from the Legend Series in the SRL, to the S2 Division and just like stepping stones, this was the final step,” Cansdale commented about his rise up the SRL ladder.
He had a great season in his first year of Super Late Model touring series competition. He finished fourth in points and missed out on the Rookie of the Year Award (to Parker Stephens) by only two positions on the track.
Cansdale led the series in Rookie of the Race Awards with five, set fast time at Stockton 99 Speedway (CA) and won the season finale at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (NV). In winning the final race of the season, he became only the second rookie candidate, in the last eight years, to win a Spears Southwest Tour Series race.
“Winning that race was pretty cool, it was probably my biggest win to date,” stated Cansdale.
Heading into the current season Cansdale and the High Point Racing Team skipped the Winter Showdown in order to completely rebuild their Port City perimeter chassied car.
“Jeff Schrader and Race Car Factory pretty much rebuilt the entire car from last season and made it a lot better,” Cansdale explained. “Tim Huddleston and all of the High Point Racing crew put in a lot of work to get the car rebuilt and faster than ever. We also got a brand new motor from Brad Peters. I really have to thank my whole crew and especially my dad and Mac Steel. He really pays for it all and keeps me going. I probably don’t thank him enough. “
Entering the first points race of the 2016 season at “The Bullring”, Cansdale had high hopes of repeating his win from last November with his rebuilt ride.
“Vegas is a really good track for me for some reason. I guess the car just likes it,” he commented.
Unfortunately, Cansdale never really got a chance to prove how good the car could be as the race only ran 38 green flag laps before being called for rain. The sixth place finish was a disappointment for him.
“We had a fast car at Vegas. I think we definitely had something for Derek (Thorn) and the rest of them. We won the last race there and we were feeling just as good. I think we would have been first or second.”
Heading to Irwindale Speedway this weekend, Cansdale is equally confident.
“We have been testing here at Irwindale and our car is really good right now,” he said. “With the improvements to the car, we are running about two tenths faster than last year when we finished third. We will have a lot of friends and family there so I’m really looking forward it.”
Another reason Ryan is looking forward to this race is that he will have a teammate joining him for the season. Long-time friend and competitor, Trevor Huddleston, will be part of the two car effort at High Point Racing. Trevor is the current point leader and defending track champion in Irwindale’s Late Model Division.
“I think it is really cool to have a teammate. I think it will really help with a second set of eyes on the track and another mind to help with making the cars better,” Cansdale stated. “I’d like to have someone else out there besides just myself. We grew up racing together, starting in the Bandoleros, and progressed up through the ranks. Me, Trevor, Christian McGhee and Ricky Schlick all raced together since the Bando’s, so this weekend it’s kind of like we are all getting back together.”
Another familiar driver hitting the track this weekend for the Spears Manufacturing 100 Presented by Pinnacle Peak Steak House is the all-time winningest driver in Irwindale Speedway’s history, Rip Michaels. Rip was also the last NASCAR Southwest Tour Series Champion. Cansdale is looking forward to competing with him as well.
“I think it will be pretty cool to race against him. Everyone says that he is the “King of Irwindale” so he is obviously going to be pretty fast. If I can either keep up with him or possibly beat him that would be a pretty big honor.”
When asked about his goals for winning the championship this season, Cansdale was very casual about it.
“I think we will do pretty well this year if we just stay consistent and don’t get in any wrecks,” he said. “Championship wise it’s just kind of a lot of luck and staying out of trouble. One big wreck could be the end of your hopes.”
As far as his expectations down the road, Ryan’s laid back attitude came to the forefront.
“It would be cool to get to Cup and definitely one of our goals, but I don’t want to have too many expectation of getting there at this time,” said the 17 year old. “Right now we are just doing our thing and trying to have a good time and we will see where it leads us.”
On April 30, fans can come out and see Cansdale along with the rest of the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series stars compete for 100 laps at Irwindale Speedway. Cansdale and Parker Stephens will be the featured drivers for this event, so fans can get there early to get a souvenir program with their driver profiles included. Autographed Spears Southwest Tour Series shirts will also be given out to those who receive a lucky driver profile in their program.
Front gates open at 4:00PM with qualifying for the Legends, Lucas Oil Modifieds and the Spears Southwest Tour Series following at 4:15 PM. An autograph session will be held at 5:45 PM with opening ceremonies set for 6:45 PM.
-By Kevin Peters, Speed51.com West Coast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Roger Seymour