When the USAC AMSOIL National and CRA Sprint Cars get together, it creates an extra dynamic to the racing program. Akin to a team going on the road in stick and ball sports, it pits one against the other on their “home turf” so to speak for bragging rights.
That’s the stage that’s set as the National teams head west to face off with CRA for the 51st edition of the “Western World Championships” at Arizona Speedway in San Tan Valley on November 2-3, then concluding November 8-9-10 at California’s Perris Auto Speedway for the 23rd annual Budweiser “Oval Nationals” presented by All Coast Construction.
Since the 2004 season, when CRA went under the sanctioning of USAC, they and the USAC National Sprint Cars have formally raced with each other on 77 occasions. The CRA has held their own on occasion and have been victorious against National competition 17 times over the past 14 years, including in each of the past two years with drivers Damion Gardner (2016) and Brody Roa (2017) having the upper hand at Perris.
Some drivers fall into both categories as a representative of both the National and CRA divisions at one point in their career, such as Gardner, who is tied with Bryan Clauson as the winningest driver when the National and CRA series meet with eight victories apiece.
USAC vs. the CRA regulars goes all the way back to the 1960 season when the USAC Sprints made their first venture west to California and Clovis Speedway. Don Davis would defeat the USAC regulars that day in the D.K. Purvis No. 3 en route to that year’s California Roadster Association title. The win would prove to be his only USAC National Sprint Car victory, same as 12 other CRA regulars who got their single USAC win out west: Bob McCoy, Bob Hogle, Gary Patterson, Bobby Olivero, Eddie Wirth, Mike Sweeney, Mike Kirby, David Cardey, Rickie Gaunt, Garrett Hansen, Mike Martin and Roa.
Most of those individuals were stars in their own right and by no means a one-hit-wonder, holding the crown as a CRA driving titlist, including Hogle in 1963 & 1968, Bobby Olivero in 1975 (also a Silver Crown titlist in 1979), Wirth in 1985, Kirby in 1993 and Gaunt in 2004.
The USAC and original CRA first officially met at the conclusion of the 1984 for a pair of non-points special events at Manzanita Speedway and Ascot Park entitled the “USAC/CRA Sprint Challenge Series.” CRA regulars, Arizonian Lealand McSpadden and Californian Rip Williams, took respective victories. They would eventually both be inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.
The following year, the “USAC/CRA Sprint Challenge Series” expanded to venues throughout the country, beginning in the west to open the season before working its way through the Midwest and back home to conclude the year. Eleven races were held at eight different venues with Rick Hood claiming three victories at Phoenix, Arizona’s Manzanita Speedway, Devil’s Bowl Speedway in Mesquite, Texas and State Fair Speedway in Oklahoma City, Okla. The opening night triumph at Manzanita was especially memorable, coming just five months after both of Hood’s legs were broken in a freak accident when he was struck by a sprint car while walking through the infield to watch a practice session at the very same track.
Bubby Jones scored two at 81 Speedway in Wichita, Kans. and at Ascot Park in Gardena, Calif. Single victories were owned by McSpadden (Manzanita), Wirth (Ascot Park), Sheldon Kinser (Putnamville, Indiana’s Lincoln Park Speedway), Ron Shuman (Indiana’s Terre Haute Action Track), Mike Sweeney (Oklahoma’s Lawton Speedway) and Bob East (Manzanita).
While CRA regulars took 6 of 11 victories, it was USAC National Sprint Car and Silver Crown champ Rick Hood earning the title by 34 points over Sweeney, Wirth, Brad Noffsinger and Steve Butler.
More informally, several of the top SCRA drivers made their way to the Hoosier state for “Indiana Sprint Week” in 1997 and 1998. Arizona’s J.J. Yeley burst onto the nationwide scene, winning back-to-back races at Kokomo and Terre Haute on his way to the ISW title. Throughout the week, five-time CRA champ Richard Griffin of Silver City, New Mexico was mesmerizing, going 6-for-6 as fast qualifier in his six appearances. In 1998, times were tougher for the west coast contingent during ISW as USAC regulars swept the six events and the title went to Dave Darland.
In 1999 and 2000, the Non-Wing World Championship arrived at the Terre Haute half-mile for a big payday and the ultimate showcase for sprint car supremacy. The battlefield proved pretty equal both years with eventual 2007 USAC/CRA champ Tony Jones capturing the victory on night one with Jerry Coons, Jr. following up the next night with his first career series win as well. The final night saw the versatile, standout wing invader, Frankie Kerr, playing spoiler by taking the cash and the trophy back home to Ohio.
In 2000, the NWWC series returned to Terre Haute with Jay Drake dominating both of his designated nights, while Griffin nailed his first series victory down with a late-race pass of Kevin Briscoe.
The final matchup between USAC and SCRA for the NWWC arrived in 2003 for a three-race set in three consecutive nights. USAC Triple Crown champ J.J. Yeley scored at Terre Haute with Tracy Hines taking top honors at Farmer City (Ill.) Raceway and California’s Troy Rutherford taking the finale at Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Ill.
Will this year be the year that CRA stars get it done yet again on their home tracks? Viable candidate lie in waiting everywhere you look with Gardner and Austin Williams already winning this year at Perris while Gardner and Jake Swanson have sealed the deal at Arizona. Throw in CRA point leader Roa, Cody Williams, R.J. Johnson, Max Adams, Danny Faria, Jr., Logan Williams, Ryan Bernal and several others and you’ve got a bunch who can make some noise, following in the footsteps of their brethren who staked their claim on their home dirt against National competition.
The 51st “Western World Championships” from Arizona Speedway in San Tan Valley, Ariz. on November 2-3 will feature the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship with the USAC/CRA Sprint Cars as well as the USAC Southwest Sprint Cars. Pits open at 2pm, front gates at 3pm, with the drivers meeting taking place at 4:30pm and cars hitting the track for hot laps at 5:25pm. All times are local.
The 23rd Budweiser “Oval Nationals” California’s Perris Auto Speedway on November 8-9-10 features three-straight nights of USAC AMSOIL National & CRA Sprint Cars, concluding with a $25,000-to-win prize on the final night.
All five remaining races will all be streamed live on Speed Shift TV and live audio will be on the USAC app.
WHEN USAC NATIONAL & USAC/CRA SPRINT CARS HAVE RACED IN SAME EVENT (SINCE 2004):
CRA Winners (17)
1. (3) Damion Gardner & Mike Spencer
3. (2) Nic Faas & Tony Jones
5. (1) David Cardey, Rickie Gaunt, Garrett Hansen, Mike Kirby, Mike Martin, Brody Roa & Rip Williams
National Winners (60)
1. (8) Bryan Clauson
2. (6) Dave Darland
3. (5) Robert Ballou & Damion Gardner
5. (4) Levi Jones, Bud Kaeding & Chris Windom
8. (3) Jerry Coons, Jr., Chase Stockon & Kevin Swindell
11. (2) Darren Hagen, Jesse Hockett & Josh Wise
14. (1) Brady Bacon, Chad Boespflug, Daron Clayton, Tracy Hines, Cory Kruseman, Thomas Meseraull, Jon Stanbrough, Kevin Thomas, Jr. & Cole Whitt
-USAC Racing Press Release
-Photo credit: Mike Grosswendt