From Richie Murray
QUEEN CREEK, Ariz. (November 3, 2016) — Even from its earliest days, the racing heroes of the USAC’s Thunder and Lightning division – the USAC Sprint Cars – have made the pilgrimage out west.
However, unlike the 21st century in which the annual western trips have become a yearly tradition, from the 1960s through the decade of the 1990s, USAC Sprint Car races in Arizona were not as commonplace.
This coming weekend, the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Cars trek west once again to conclude the season, beginning this weekend at Arizona Speedway in Queen Creek for the 49th annual “Western World Championships.”
Though no USAC National Sprint Car event was officially co-sanctioned with another organization until late 1985, there have been 34 forays over the past 52 years when the stars of USAC packed up their spurs and headed southwest to the state of Arizona to do battle.
Arizona first played host to the USAC Sprint Cars in January of 1964. Don Branson and A.J. Foyt scored victories in twin 50-milers on the same afternoon at the Arizona State Fairgrounds’ mile in Phoenix.
The list of USAC Sprint winners in the Grand Canyon State includes some of the most renowned names in the history of auto racing.
Among that list are Indianapolis 500 winners Foyt and Mario Andretti – a winner in the USAC Sprint Car division’s first trip to Manzanita Speedway in 1966. Yet, after the checkered flag fell on that night, it would be another 18 years before the series would make its return to Arizona in 1984 for CRA and SCRA Sprint Car champ, the “Tempe Tornado,” Lealand McSpadden to defend his own turf at Manzy.
For much of USAC’s history, Manzanita was the traditional Southwest haunt for sprint car racing. From 1966 to 2008, the famed Phoenix half-mile dirt oval played host to 17 USAC National Sprint Car events.
When Manzanita’s “Western World” came under the fold of the United States Auto Club in 2004, Bud Kaeding made a late-race pass with just five laps remaining to claim his first “Western World” title.
Only five Arizonian racetracks have hosted a USAC National Sprint Car race, but only one of those tracks was paved. The series made voyages to the ultra-fast, one-mile Phoenix International Raceway on three occasions from 1996-1998. Dave Steele set a blistering pace of 145 mph during qualifying in the last series race run there, but it was two-time series champ Brian Tyler who stole the victory from Steele on the final lap in a race that featured four lead changes in the final four laps!
Since the closure of Manzanita following Darren Hagen’s win there in early 2009, the “Western World,” which had been a staple of the track for 41 consecutive years from 1968-2008, had to find a new home. After a handful of years at Canyon Speedway Park in Peoria under the banner of the ASCS and then the USAC Southwest Sprint Car Series, the prestigious event returned in 2015 as a USAC National Sprint Car race at Tucson’s USA Raceway.
Bryan Clauson, USAC’s winningest National Sprint Car driver in Arizona with five victories, outdueled eventual series champion Robert Ballou in the final laps of last season’s “Western World” finale to take his fourth overall win in the event.
For 2016, the “Western World” has a new home – Queen Creek’s Arizona Speedway. The one-third-mile dirt oval becomes the sixth different track in Arizona to bring the USAC National Sprint Cars to its place where the stars of today aim to make their mark in the record books of Arizona USAC history.
Pit gates open for this Friday and Saturday, Nov. 4-5 “Western World” at 3pm both days. Front gates open at 4:30. Hot laps begin at 5:45 with racing set for 7 o’clock.
Grandstand admission Friday night is $20 for adults and $25 on Saturday. Children ages 7-12 are just $10 while children 6 and under are FREE! Two-day general admission tickets for adults are available for the discounted price of $40 and $15 for children ages 7-12.
If you can’t make it to Arizona Speedway this weekend, you can catch both nights of “Western World” action LIVE on http://www.speedshifttv.com/.