The black Approved Memory No. 2, driven by Craig Raudman, is one of the most recognized Late Models on the West Coast. Raudman has been wheeling that machine, off and on, since he teamed up with car owner Dave Reed in 1994. In that period of time, Raudman has become one of the most well-known and successful Southwest Tour drivers in the history of “The Tours.”
Raudman is continuing on that tradition in the SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series, even if it only part-time for now. He will roll into the final SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series event of the season at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway looking for career SRL victory number four.
Raudman began his driving career at Shasta Speedway (CA), a 1/3-mile paved oval, in 1980, in a Street Stock he built himself at the age of 19. After two years, he moved into the track’s top class, the Sportsman Division. The class eventually became Late Models, and Raudman won his first championship in 1992, with eight wins in 20 starts. In the interim, Raudman made a handful of starts in the NASCAR Southwest Tour Series, driving for Ron Hornaday Jr. His best finish was an impressive third at Sonoma Raceway in 1991.
In 1993, Raudman went NASCAR Southwest Tour racing full-time, driving for Ray Miller. Raudman finished fourth in the championship standings that first full season, but met a gentleman who would be a big part of his racing career.
“I was introduced to Dave Reed that season,” Raudman told Speed 51.com presented by JEGS. “I started to drive for him that next season, we formed a team (Dave Reed Racing) and I started racing it full-time. Dave is extremely competitive and that’s why he likes stock car racing. He’s an excellent motivator and knows how to get good people and keep them. His demeanor is always positive. It’s probably been 20 years, off and on, that we have been together now.”
The Dave Reed Racing (DRR) partnership ended up being a very successful union, with Raudman and Reed picking up 12 NASCAR Southwest Tour Series victories over the next eight seasons. They also completed a full NASCAR Winton West (now K&N West) Series effort in between. It culminated in 2001, with Craig’s championship in the NASCAR Southwest Tour. He beat out full-time drivers such as former NASCAR XFINITY Series chauffeurs Auggie Vidovich and Burney Lamar, as well as two-time Motorsports Press Association Driver of the Year, Jim Pettit II, and two-time NASCAR K & N West Series Champion, Greg Pursley. Raudman would finish the season with four victories, but his most memorable win had occurred the year at the Ford Los Angeles Street Race 200.
The LA Street Race was a special event on the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour Series. It took place from the years 1998 to 2000 on the Los Angeles Street Race Course (CA). A wide variety of racers would challenge the regulars of the Southwest Tour, for the largest paying event on the schedule. NASCAR drivers such as Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick, Kenny Schrader, Kenny Irwin Jr., Ron Hornaday Jr. and road racing specialists such as Boris Said, Greg Pickett, Willy T. Ribbs, R.K. Smith and Vic Rice converged in Los Angeles, to compete for the prestigious win, and over $17,000 to the winner. Raudman ran very well in all three events, but it took him until the year 2000 to finally secure the win against a 46-car field.
“I think the Streets of LA Race was one of my favorite wins,” Raudman recalled. “In 1998 I was leading the thing coming down to the end, and there was this lame chicane made out of cones. Supposedly I knocked over one of the cones, and they made me do a “stop and go” right at the end, so I lost the lead and ended up finishing sixth. The second race they had there, I went across the finish line with Nipper (A.J.) Alsup. We were driving and turning into each other, and he ended up beating me by eight to ten inches. The third year I finally won it. It was a very big race, and a hard race to run. It was a tough, tough race. It had the most publicity, the most coverage, everybody was there. It was huge because the big-time (NASCAR) Cup guys and Truck Series drivers were there at that race, and it was just a huge deal.”
Due to business issues, Reed was forced to pull out of the Southwest Tour Series, but Raudman continued on with new car owner Les DenHerder in 2003. Les had purchased Raudman’s successful chassis company, Victory Circle Chassis, in the year 2000, so they already had a history together. After a year of struggles together, Raudman rebounded for two more wins and a championship runner-up finish behind Jim Pettit II in 20014. In all, Raudman would finish with 14 career victories, which tied him with Dan Press for fifth on the all-time list. In addition, his 57 career top fives were good for fourth all-time, in the series that was discontinued in 2006.
During those years, Raudman developed several racing rivalries; some of them friendly, while others decidedly not.
“Jim Pettit (II) and I had a lot of run-ins together. He was a pretty good friend of mine, and we didn’t get to race with each other very often, but he was always someone that was pretty tough to beat,” Raudman stated. “But I think the one I remember most is Auggie Vidovich. He seemed to wreck a lot, cause a lot of problems and he would complain a lot. NASCAR was on my a– a lot about it, because we seemed to have a lot of run-ins, and had a lot of contact on the race track.”
From 2005 to 2007, Raudman made only periodic starts in “Tour” cars, but still managed wins in the SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour and in the North State Challenge Series (now Pacific Challenge Series). During that period of time, he concentrated on handling the other end of the wrenches by serving as a crew chief in the NASCAR K&N West Series for Brian Ickler for those three seasons.
In 2008, Craig returned to the seat of a “Tour” car, racing in the SRL for Bob Strandwold Racing, and finishing second in the points to rival Jim Pettit II once again. The following season saw Raudman reconnect with his friend, and former car owner Dave Reed, near the end of the season.
Following the 2009 season, Raudman ran sporadically for Dave Reed Racing (DRR), while keeping himself busy in the racing industry. He served as crew chief in the NASCAR K&N West Series for such drivers as Jonathon Gomez, Justin Allgaier, Jeff Jefferson, Moses Smith, Jacob Gomes, Tom Hubert, Alex Shutte, Kelly Admiral and Austin Reed. He has also served as a crew chief in the SRL for Austin Reed, Jonathon Gomez and Ricky Schlick.
The last couple of seasons have seen Raudman wheeling the Approved Memory, Lucas Oil Chevrolet for DRR in a majority of the SRL events. He participated in six of the nine championship events in 2015, and half of the eight events to date in 2016. He heads to the final event of the season 13th in the standings, with an outside shot at reaching 11th. He has one top five, and two top-10 finishes to date, but he and the team are not satisfied with their results, or with the results of the other two part-time cars on the DRR team.
“We are not satisfied at all with how we have been running,” Raudman volunteered. “We are just missing something. I haven’t run a whole lot in recent years and the technology has changed a lot. But we are just starting to get a foothold on it, and our program is getting better. We had a pretty good car last weekend (October 29) for Ricky Schlick (Schlick drives the No. 42 tour car on a part-time basis for Dave Reed Racing), and we learned a lot. But by no means are we happy with our results. We are used to winning, running up front and having the best equipment. We are just trying to get back to that point. When you get older like me, and don’t run every week like those young guys, it gets tough. It’s really tough.”
Heading into the SRL Finale at “The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway” (NV), Raudman is confident that they will not only be competitive, but will challenge for a victory, in a field that is expected to be the season’s largest.
“We haven’t gotten the car done, because we were doing some radical new changes on the 2 car (after an accident in August at Redwood Acres Raceway in Eureka, CA). We are trying some completely different stuff,” Raudman explained. “I have pretty high hopes of running in the top two at Vegas. Last year I was new in the car, and we ran really well. We lost the power steering about 25 laps into the race and I was able to finish seventh with no power steering in a 125-lap race. That really took me out of contention to battle for the win. I think we are looking for the big “W” here. This is it, and that is what we are hoping for.”
Looking into the future for Raudman, he would like to be able to race the full schedule next year, but knows that may not happen. The ability to run up front at Vegas may go a long way to achieving that goal, however.
“You know, I would really like to race full-time, and even to the point where I could still make a living,” he said. “But I think we will see me doing a part-time schedule. We will be getting some new equipment and some new cars for next year. That will pick our program up. We have talked about doing the (Winter) Showdown, and it is a possibility. It depends upon how things go in Vegas. I am not interested in running like we have been running, and I don’t think the guys on the team are either. We will be getting a new straight rail car, and we have it on order. The Showdown could depend upon when it comes in.”
When asked to describe his personality for the fans, the outwardly serious and reserved appearing Raudman had this to say, “I guess that I am actually a pretty fun guy. I just love to have fun.”
With Raudman’s talent and determination to win, as well as the competitive nature of car owner Dave Reed, expect the team to compete for wins and an owner’s championship in the SRL next season. The preparation for that quest will commence at the $10,000 to win, “Retro Custom Metals 150 presented by Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse” on November 19 at The Bullring at LVMS.
Spectator gates open at 2:00 pm with qualifying and heat races beginning at 2:30 pm. Opening ceremonies are scheduled for 5:00 pm, with Main Events for the Lucas Oil Modifieds, USAC HPD Midgets and the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series to follow.
-By Kevin Peters, Speed51.com West Coast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com/Kevin Peters