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 been set for the next two weeks as the National teams head west to face off with CRA as well as the Sands Chevrolet Southwest Sprint Cars for the Nov. 7-8-9 Budweiser Oval Nationals presented by All Coast Construction at California's Perris Auto Speedway and the Nov. 15-16 Western World Championships at Arizona Speedway in San Tan Valley.
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 82 times. The CRA has held their own on occasion and have been victorious against National competition 17 times over the past 15 years, including in two of the past three years with drivers Damion Gardner (2016) and Brody Roa (2017) having the upper hand at Perris.
Bryan Clauson holds the record for most wins in head-to-head USAC National vs. CRA clashes with eight victories. Damion Gardner, Tony Jones and Mike Spencer lead the CRA contingent with three wins apiece in a battle that stands at 75 total victories for USAC National drivers over 29 for the CRA.
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. However, five of those eight wins for Gardner came when he was a National regular.
USAC vs. the CRA 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 defeated the USAC regulars that day in the D.K. Purvis No. 3 en route to that year’s California Roadster Association title. The win proved 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 by 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 eventually were both 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 1985 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 that in '85, 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 SCRA star 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 in 1999 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 down his first series victory 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 candidates lie in waiting everywhere you look with Gardner, Austin Williams, Jake Swanson Richard Vander Weerd already winning this year at Perris, the latter three of which are seeking their first National win.
Meanwhile, R.J. Johnson has sealed the deal at Arizona in Southwest competition at Arizona. Mix in Roa, Stevie Sussex, Mike Martin, Charles Davis, Jr., Chase Johnson, Austin Liggett, Cody Williams and a whole host of 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.
USAC vs. CRA WINS:
USAC Regulars: (75 wins)
1. (8) Bryan Clauson
2. (6) Dave Darland
3. (5) Robert Ballou & Damion Gardner
5. (4) Jerry Coons, Jr., Levi Jones, Bud Kaeding & Chris Windom
9. (3) Justin Grant, Rick Hood, Chase Stockon & Kevin Swindell
13. (2) Jay Drake, Darren Hagen, Tracy Hines, Jesse Hockett, Kevin Thomas, Jr. & Josh Wise
19. (1) Brady Bacon, Chad Boespflug, Daron Clayton, Tyler Courtney, Frankie Kerr, Sheldon Kinser, Cory Kruseman, Thomas Meseraull, Jon Stanbrough, Cole Whitt & J.J. Yeley
CRA/SCRA Regulars: (29 wins)
1. (3) Damion Gardner, Tony Jones & Mike Spencer
4. (2) Nic Faas, Bubby Jones, Lealand McSpadden & Rip Williams
8. (1) David Cardey, Bob East, Rickie Gaunt, Richard Griffin, Garrett Hansen, Mike Kirby, Mike Martin, Brody Roa, Troy Rutherford, Ron Shuman, Mike Sweeney & Eddie Wirth
TOTAL USAC vs. CRA/SCRA WINS:
1. (8) Bryan Clauson & Damion Gardner
3. (6) Dave Darland
4. (5) Robert Ballou
5. (4) Jerry Coons, Jr., Levi Jones, Bud Kaeding & Chris Windom
9. (3) Justin Grant, Rick Hood, Tony Jones, Mike Spencer, Chase Stockon & Kevin Swindell
15. (2) Jay Drake, Nic Faas, Darren Hagen, Tracy Hines, Jesse Hockett, Bubby Jones, Lealand McSpadden, Kevin Thomas, Jr., Rip Williams & Josh Wise
25. (1) Brady Bacon, Chad Boespflug, David Cardey, Daron Clayton, Tyler Courtney, Bob East, Rickie Gaunt, Richard Griffin, Garrett Hansen, Frankie Kerr, Sheldon Kinser, Mike Kirby, Cory Kruseman, Mike Martin, Thomas Meseraull, Brody Roa, Troy Rutherford, Ron Shuman, Jon Stanbrough, Mike Sweeney, Cole Whitt, Eddie Wirth & J.J. Yeley