By T.J. Buffenbarger
Essexville, MI — (06/20/2001) — The great fans of Fremont, Ohio will be getting a taste of something different on Wednesday (weather permitting) when non-wing sprint cars invade the 1/3-mile fairgrounds oval. By talking to many on hand for the All Star show two weeks ago, many of the Fremont regulars have only seen non-wing cars at Eldora and Attica, or never before. With that goes a lot of misconceptions as well that the cars and “slow”, and the drivers are not as talented. After Fremont Eldora features a double, double dip of USAC Sprints and Midgets Friday and Saturday night. If you put these events together with the recent NWWC tour, and it that ends up making June one of the biggest months in all of sprint car racing.
So I have written a little “traditional sprint car primer” for those folks, and also have listed my 10 most memorable traditional sprint car events I have ever attended in no specific order.
Fremont Traditional Sprint Car Primer
One of the first things the Fremont fans will notice is the difference with some of their fellow bleacher creatures. I learned long ago when I first started attending Gas City I-69 Speedway and other tracks on a regular basis that in the state of Indiana there are “Sprint Cars”, and “Winged Sprint Cars”. Note this difference, and do not refer to the winged variety as a “Sprint Car”, it makes them look at you kind of funnyJ
The terminology also varies from which part of the country you see “sprint car” racing. If one is on the west coast they attend “Traditional Sprint Car” races. The SCRA has adopted this term and used it well to market their group.
Many people also claim wingless sprint cars car “slow”. For the record yes wingless sprint cars are “slower” than their winged brothers. However, the driver must lift off the throttle to get through the corner as the left front dances off the ground. It is truly a sight to behold. If you are the type that has grown up reading “Open Wheel Magazine”, you will see the images on those pages come to life as the best in the business gas it up in hot laps and time trials.
As rap music is divided in “east side and west side”, so is sprint car racing styles. The California guys will throw their cars into the corner with reckless abandon and stand on the throttle. The Indiana guys take it easier into the corner, but exit with the hammer down. The contrasting styles makes for very interesting racing when mixed together and produces lots of side-by-side action.
Earlier this year it was also pointed out at Atticathat the non-wing cars were “specially built machines”. Most of the west coast cars are just that, especially J.J. Yeley’s Twiser chassis that will lift the left front tire on just about any surface. However, most of the Midwest cars are basically the same chassis with a wider front axle put in.
Non-Wing/Tradional/Sprint Car drivers also have the coolest nicknames on earth. During a really big show you are likely to see Richard “The Gasman” Griffin, Cory “The Kruser” Kruseman, “Super” Ricky Gaunt, “The Ripper” Rip Williams, Wil “The Thrill” Newlin, “Double D” Derek Davidson, “The Flying Greek” Alex Gregorias, “Flyin” Brian Tyler, and Kevin “The Carp” Thomas just to name a few. Thomas was the Carp long before the Dude, because KT always feeds off the bottomJ. It’s an announcers dream!
As cool as the nicknames are, the drivers are even better guys. There is hardly a bad guy amounst the non-wing races. All of them are about as down to earth as any group of racers I have ever had the pleasure of being around. One of my favorite stories is from last year at the Non-Wing World Championship at Terre Haute after the second night was rained out. I walked out of my room and there stood “The Gasman” and “The Ripper” shooting the breeze with the crew and whoever else was around. I joined in as well quietly hearing these guys tell stories that were so good I felt like I needed to put on my bootsJ. This bunch also left a gigantic dirt spot outside my door, I felt honoredJ
So for all those in Fremont, and also that might be taking in this big weekend at Eldora, here is a bit of insight to non-wing racing. Not too technical, not too detailed, just kind of fun. Get ready for some awesome racing all weekend long. To kick this off here are a list of the 10 most memorable non-wing sprint car events I have ever attended. Could either the Fremont or Eldora events this weekend be added to the list? We will have to wait and see.
TJ’s 10 most memorable Non-Wing/Traditional/Sprint Car events:
10: Derek Davidson was the class of the field in a wingless 360 Sprint Bandit affair on the ¼-mile at the I-96 Speedway. Davidson was seriously on the hammer all the way around the D-Shaped track and nearly knocked mudclodbob and Rod out of the stands with a piece of clay in hot laps! The racing all night with the stacked field of 360’s was incredible. Kenny Clark had to play the alphabet coming through the C-Main, up through the B-Main from the back, and then challenged Derek for the lead after starting at the back of the bus in the A, only to fall victim to the same thing that put him in the C, sliding off the track in turn one.
Davidson just edged out Randy Varney for his first career win. The following week an MSPN photo appeared in “National Speed Sport News” with the young Davidson holding the checkered flag and pointing to the sign on his car that read “Sponsor Needed”. Classic.
9. This non-wing stuff started to look pretty cool after a mid afternoon show featuring the NAMARS, Badger, and MARA midgets along with the non-wing sprint cars for a makeup race at the Kokomo Speedway. Kevin Doty and Kevin Koch ran side by side in the midgets every lap of the feature until late in the going when Doty got scooped up in a wild late race tumble with a lapped car. Koch went on to score the one of the biggest wins of his career, and what at the time was a fairly good-sized upset
In the sprint car race Dave Darland started in the back of the feature in Randy Burrow’s sprint car, which he had never sat in before, using tires more suited to Eldora. By the end Darland had marched to the front and took the victory in a thrilling sprint car race.
Even though the show was mostly held during daylight hours, the track held a huge cushion and was heavy all day that produced such awesome racing.
8. In 1997 I got to see the SCRA boys race at Kokomo. This was the first time I had ever seen anybody the new generation SCRA guys, and I was not disappointed. J.J. Yeley in his Jack Rich chassis and Tory Cline put on such a performance in hot laps that the entire crowd gave them a standing ovation! Yeley would blast around Kokomo with the front wheels dangling off the ground; Cline would back his car in nearly at the flagstand to carry it into the corner. It was like I wanted to stand up and yell “YES BROTHER, I HAVE SEEN THE LIGHT!” Hot laps alone puts this show on the list.
7. The 1999 Eldora USAC Opener provided us with a Danny Smith runaway until the Ashworth crew forgot to put on the fuel cap after Tracy Hines destroyed his car in a flip in turn four. Smith had to stop to have the crew screw down the cap and restart at the tail.
From that point on Brian Tyler and Derek Davidson put on a rim riding game of chicken chasing each other for the victory that had the crowd on their feet. Each lap Brian and Derek drove their cars deeper into the corner, teasing Earl’s concrete wall. At the finish Davidson just edged out Tyler for the victory.
6. Kruseman/Rose at Gas City. That is what this event is still referred to at our house. It was the highest paying race of the year at Gas City in 1999, and Cory Kruseman stuck around with the Ellis House Car after Indiana Sprintweek to try and take home a little bonus. In scorching 100 degree heat Kruseman set a new track record with both front wheels off the ground nearly the entire lap, on the hammer, as mud flew as high as the lights all night. After that night no promoter had any excuses for bad track preparation!
In the feature Kruseman and Rose worked their way up from row eight to wage war for the win. The pair swapped the position back and forth in west coast slide and diamond style lap after lap, and came to the white flag side by side. Rose slipped just about, and Kruseman won the event. Afterwords both drivers hugged on the race track, and in the pits later on shared stories on how great of a race that was with myself, Scott, and Andrew Barman.
5. Attica’s USAC show in 1999 will still go down as one of the wildest ever. The full moon brought out lots of strange things. The best of which was a finish of the third heat race where the first four cars (all in transfer spots mind you) raced the entire last lap four abreast on the wide 1/3-mile oval! It brought out the comment that race looked just like the World of Outlaws……on their parade lap!
In the feature Bill Rose held off lots of two and three wide challenges, and outlasted several flips, to take the victory. This show was totally epic!
4. The first Vince Osman Memorial at Kokomo was rained out earlier in the 1998 season, and was run later in the year on our way to the Amoco Knoxville Nationals. After a torrential downpour the race went on in front of a full house that wanted to remember our fallen comrade.
The heavy track produced incredible racing all night that may never be duplicated again at Kokomo. J.J. Yeley and Tony Elliott staged an outright war for the insanely high winners purse that was jacked up by all the local businesses in memory of Vince. Elliott came out on top to win the first of his two Vince Osman Memorial victories.
3. Early in the 2000 season Bill Rose, Tony Elliott, and Eric Shively battled at Gas City during a feature. The young Shively was looking for his first Gas City victory, and was holding Rose and Elliott at bay. Then on the last lap Shively spun in turn two as Rose and Elliott split him, and the entire field managed to miss Shively. Elliott and Rose raced side by side to the flag as Rose won by just a few inches. It took several minuets to decipher who actually won the race. At one point five cars could have had a blanket thrown over them racing for the lead. Gas City ROCKS!
2. To throw in something old amongst all the recent stuff, the first time I ever took in non-wing sprint cars at Terre Haute was during the U.S. Dirt Nationals when the winged and non-winged 410’s and 360’s took to the track. Four classes of sprint cars on the program each night that ended up going until 3:00 a.m. At one point they even had the wingless 410s out hot lapping with the winged 360’s. Needless to say that was an odd sight in the infield!
I will never forget I the qualifying races seeing non-wing 410 sprint cars coming out of turn four in what looked like five and six wide. And if ANYONE says non-wing sprint cars are slow, go sit in the lower rows of the covered grandstand at Terre Haute! I was honestly scared to death of how fast and closer the cars ran, but also really excited me. Up until then I had pretty much been a winged fan except for the occasional show here and there. I really think I started opening up more to the non-wing sprint cars at that event.
1. Going out to Knoxville again last year we stopped at Gas City. The track was prepared in stellar condition, and produced a photo gallery from staff photographer Robert Gill that was SO good others in the media room were literally DROOLING over my screen at the action. We will re-run that photo gallery very soon so everyone can see it, because that event was simply incredible.
Kevin Thomas hung on for the victory with a deflating right rear tire. Once again the race was epic, and sent me off to Iowa with a big smile on my face.
These are my 10 favorites in no particular order. I’m sure your personal list differs from mine based on how many traditional style sprint car races you have seen, and where you are located. If you do not have much experience with this type of racing, Fremont and Eldora this weekend might be a great way to start.