By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
In what has become an annual tradition over the past several years, the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship heads to the western United States to finish its 2016 campaign.
With five races remaining at two venues, the first stop on the swing is the 49th annual “Western World Championships.”
A staple of the defunct Manzanita Speedway since the event’s inception in 1968 and through 2008, the “Western World” has bounced around throughout Arizona over the last decade, once calling Peoria’s Canyon Speedway Park home before moving to Tucson’s USA Raceway in 2015 where it returned as a USAC National Sprint Car race for the first time since 2008.
In 2016, however, “Western World” moves to a new venue – Queen Creek’s one-third-mile Arizona Speedway this Friday and Saturday night, Nov. 4-5, marking the USAC National Sprint Cars’ third first-time visit to a track this season – after trips to Indiana’s Montpelier Motor Speedway and South Dakota’s Badlands Motor Speedway earlier in the season.
This season marks the 13th consecutive year USAC’s AMSOIL National and CRA Sprint Car divisions have hooked up to compete on the same real estate.
Twenty-seven drivers have scored combined USAC National and CRA victories since 2004, including expected “Western World” entrants Damion Gardner, Bud Kaeding, Mike Spencer, Chris Windom, Jon Stanbrough and Chase Stockon.
Former “Western World” champions entered for this weekend’s Arizona Speedway contest include 2005 winner Dave Darland, 2014 winner Matt Rossi and 2009 and 2010 victor Brady Bacon, who continues his stranglehold on the National Sprint points by 233 markers with a second USAC National title well within his reach.
Bacon took his lone USAC National Sprint Car victory in the state of Arizona during a preliminary feature in last season’s “Western World” at Tucson, Arizona’s USA Raceway.
Damion Gardner, a 2005 “Western World” preliminary night winner, leads the USAC/CRA standings by 117 points heading into the season’s final stretch as he eyes a fourth consecutive series title, and his fifth overall. “The Demon” has been red-hot of late, as showcased by his four series feature wins in the last two months of the season.
The late, great Bryan Clauson is the winningest driver when it comes to combined USAC National and CRA Sprint Car features with eight career victories.
Just one season ago, in last year’s “Western World” Saturday night finale in Tucson, Clauson and Robert Ballou battled side-by-side, lap-after-lap without giving as much as a car length advantage to each other throughout the late-race stages.
Mired in heavy traffic, Clauson worked the bottom berm and Ballou rode the high line as the two swapped the lead between each other a total of four times in a 15-lap span.
With seven laps to go, Ballou almost tipped over the edge, biking his ride before landing back on all fours as Clauson sped away into the distance.
But, on the final lap, Ballou was back in the game after the two swapped lines. Ballou used a run on the bottom curb to nearly pull even with Clauson exiting turn two, but stumbled just enough to slow his momentum. Ballou darted back toward Clauson in turn three, but it wasn’t enough as Clauson broke away to capture his fourth “Western World” crown.
This year’s “Western World” also features complete shows each night for the USAC 360 Southwest Sprint Cars. Racing action unfolds this Friday and Saturday night, Nov. 4-5 with a pair of feature events completing each night’s program.
Pit gates open each day at 3 p.m. Front gates open at 4:30. Hot laps begin at 5:45 with racing set for 7 p.m.
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 www.speedshifttv.com.