USAC CRA & SW Sprints Take on Western World


Sprint Car racing has been a staple of the Western World Championships since the dawn of the event in 1968 with Bob Cleberg’s triumph at Manzanita Speedway.  This weekend, Fri. & Sat., Nov. 13-14, the 53rd chapter of the event will be authored at the 1/3-mile Arizona Speedway in San Tan Valley.

Taking the stage for “Western World” presented by San Tan Ford are both the AMSOIL USAC CRA and Southwest Sprint Car divisions.  Forty-three previous Southwest Sprint events have been held at Arizona Speedway, eight of which have been part of the Western World festivities since 2016.

Of those 43 previous visits by the series to the track, R.J. Johnson (Laveen, Ariz.) owns more victories than any other individual with 19.  Johnson, a five-time USAC Southwest Sprint champion, has yet to score a Western World final night win in his career, but has won during the prelims of year’s past.

Chris Windom (Canton, Ill.) will be among those performing double-duty with both the USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midgets and the Sprint Cars at Western World and will wheel the Bill Michael #77m, who owns 39 career USAC Southwest Sprint Car wins as an owner, 14 of which have come at Arizona Speedway, all with R.J. Johnson as the pilot.  The Michael team has already won twice this year with C.J. Leary as the driver in March in USAC CRA/Southwest competition at Canyon Speedway Park in Peoria, Ariz.

Windom, the 2016 USAC Silver Crown and 2017 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car champion has twice won the final night of Western World, with the National Sprints in 2016 and the Southwest Sprints in 2017.  In 2016, Windom swept both classes on the prelim night with the National and Southwest series.

Tyler Courtney (Indianapolis, Ind.), who will be chasing a USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget championship at Western World, swept both sprint car features last year in the event.  Brady Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla.) twice won the final night of sprint car racing at Western World in 2016 & 2018 when it’s been held at Arizona Speedway in addition to a prelim in 2017.  Jake Swanson (Anaheim, Calif.), the 2017 USAC West Coast Sprint Car champ, won a prelim night as well in 2018.

Arizonians such as 2018 USAC Southwest Sprint champion Charles Davis Jr. (Buckeye, Ariz.) has eight wins at Arizona Speedway with USAC Southwest while Stevie Sussex (Tempe, Ariz.) has four and Mike Martin (Yuma, Ariz.), Tye Mihocko (Phoenix, Ariz.) and Josh Pelkey (Peoria, Ariz.) each have one along with Californian Logan Seavey.

Damion Gardner will run the No. 1 at Western World in recognition of him being the reigning USAC CRA champion.  In fact, the Concord, Calif. driver’s 83 points wins with the series, and eight titles, lead all drivers by a country mile.  He won with USAC CRA at Arizona Speedway in 2018.

Courtney’s three victories lead all USAC CRA drivers at Arizona Speedway.  Windom has two while Chase Stockon (Fort Branch, Ind.), Gardner, Swanson, Justin Grant (Ione, Calif.), Johnson and Thomas Meseraull (San Jose, Calif.) each own one apiece.

Reigning USAC Southwest Sprint champion and 2016 USAC West Coast Sprint Car titlist Brody Roa (Garden Grove, Calif.) has yet to win with USAC at Arizona Speedway, but he did record his bit of Western World glory by capturing the final night sprint car win at USA Raceway in Tucson, Ariz. in 2015.  Arizonian Matt Rossi snagged a victory for the home crowd in 2014 during Western World at Canyon Speedway Park in Peoria, Ariz.

Five-time USAC National champion J.J. Yeley (Phoenix, Ariz.) is also expected to compete in this year’s Western World sprint car events.  His father, Jack, was victorious in the midget portion of the event in 1988.  J.J., one of two drivers to win all three USAC National championships in a single season in 2003, is seeking his first Western World main event victory.

Western World’s sprint car winners over the past half century can boast many of the greatest names to ever strap on a helmet, including Jan Opperman, Rick Ferkel, Ron Shuman, Bubby Jones, Lealand McSpadden, Steve & Mark Kinser, Sammy & Kevin Swindell, Danny Lasoski, Donny Schatz, Jay Drake, Tony Elliott, Dave Darland, Cory Kruseman, Jerry Coons Jr., Jesse Hockett, Tracy Hines, Bryan Clauson and on and on and on – a murderer’s row of sprint car talent.

Western World marks the resumption of USAC CRA and Southwest Sprint competition for the first time since March when C.J. Leary won two-straight nights at Canyon.  In February at Canyon, Jake Swanson performed likewise, sweeping both nights for himself.

Friday night’s Western World sprint car winner will take home a $2,500 prize with Saturday night’s main event victor collecting $5,000.

Western World activities at Arizona Speedway begin this Thursday night, Nov. 12, with open practice for both sprint cars and midgets.  Pits open at 3pm MT with on-track practice from 6:30-9:30pm.  Adult pit passes are $30 while pit passes are $10 for kids age 7-12 and free for kids ages 6 and under.  Thursday night’s practice will feature an extra treat with the Beaver Stripes Racer Appreciation BBQ dinner.

On both Friday and Saturday night, Nov. 13-14, the pits open at 1pm MT, grandstands at 3pm and racing at 6:30pm.  General admission adult tickets are $30, while kids 11 and under are just $10.  Pit passes are $40 for adults and $15 for ages 7-12 and free for ages 6 and under.

The previous year’s Western World Midget winners include Kevin Thomas Jr. and Brady Bacon, who each raced their way to San Tan Ford / Beaver Stripes victory lane in 2019.

Western World tickets are on sale now at

Both nights of the 53rd Western World Championships will be streamed live on FloRacing at



19-R.J. Johnson

8-Charles Davis, Jr.

4-Stevie Sussex

3-Brady Bacon

2-Tyler Courtney & Chris Windom

1-Mike Martin, Tye Mihocko, Josh Pelkey, Logan Seavey & Jake Swanson



3-Tyler Courtney

2-Chris Windom

1-Chase Stockon, Damion Gardner, Jake Swanson, Justin Grant, R.J. Johnson & Thomas Meseraull



1968: Bob Cleberg

1969: Bob Huebner

1970: Jerry McClung

1971: Jan Opperman

1972: Jan Opperman

1973: Earl Wagner

1974: Rick Ferkel

1975: Ron Shuman

1976: Bubby Jones

1977: Ron Shuman

1978: Lealand McSpadden

1979: Tim Green

1980: Jeff Swindell

1981: Ron Shuman

1982: Steve Kinser

1983: Steve Kinser

1984: Ron Shuman

1985: Steve Kinser

1986: Bobby Davis, Jr.

1987: Steve Kinser

1988: Mark Kinser

1989: Sammy Swindell

1990: Steve Kinser

1991: Danny Lasoski (Wing Sprint) & Wayne Bennet (360 Non-Wing Sprint)

1992: Steve Kinser (Wing Sprint) & Bob Ream Jr. (360 Non-Wing Sprint)

1993: Lealand McSpadden

1994: Ron Shuman

1995: Lealand McSpadden (Sprint), Ricky Johnson (360 Non-Wing Sprint)

1996: Steve Kinser

1997: Mark Kinser

1998: Tyler Walker

1999: Donny Schatz

2000: Jay Drake

2001: Jeremy Sherman

2002: Bud Kaeding (SCRA Sprint) & Jeremy Sherman (360 Sprint)

2003: Tony Elliott (SCRA Sprint) & Jeremy Sherman (360 Sprint)

2004: Bud Kaeding (USAC Sprint) & Josh Ford (360 Sprint)

2005: Dave Darland (USAC Sprint) & Cory Kruseman (360 Sprint)

2006: Josh Wise (USAC Sprint) & Cory Kruseman (360 Sprint)

2007: Jerry Coons, Jr. (USAC Sprint) & Cory Kruseman (360 Sprint)

2008: Kevin Swindell (USAC Sprint) & Jesse Hockett (360 Sprint)

2009: Brady Bacon (ASCS Non-Wing Sprint) & Sammy Swindell (ASCS Wing Sprint)

2010: Brady Bacon (ASCS Non-Wing Sprint) & Donny Schatz (ASCS Wing Sprint)

2011: Tracy Hines (ASCS Non-Wing Sprint) & Donny Schatz (ASCS Wing Sprint)

2012: Bryan Clauson (ASCS Non-Wing Sprint) & Wayne Johnson (ASCS Wing Sprint)

2013: Bryan Clauson (USAC 360 Sprint)

2014: Matt Rossi (USAC 360 Sprint)

2015: Bryan Clauson (USAC Sprint) & Brody Roa (360 Sprint)

2016: Chris Windom (USAC Sprint) & Brady Bacon (360 Sprint)

2017: Chase Stockon (USAC Sprint) & Chris Windom (360 Sprint)

2018: Tyler Courtney (USAC Sprint) & Brady Bacon (360 Sprint)

2019: Tyler Courtney (USAC Sprint)

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QUEEN CREEK, Ariz. (Jan. 13) — Brian Shirley saw the situation one way. Ricky Thornton Jr. viewed it another.In the first controversial moment of the 15th annual Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout at FK Rod Ends Arizona Speedway, there was simply no middle ground reached between the two drivers who saw their hopes for victory in Wednesday night’s 30-lap Super Late Model feature dashed by an early-race tangle.The pair of top contenders — Thornton logged finishes of first and second in the miniseries’s opening-weekend events while Shirley was just a bit behind with runs of third and fourth — were battling for third place on lap seven of the A-main when their evenings went awry. Shirley dived low entering turn one and slid up the track in front of Thornton, but Thornton clipped the left side of Shirley’s car and both drivers’ machines collected fifth-place Stormy Scott of Las Cruces, N.M.After Thornton retired for a 22nd-place finish and Shirley soldiered on to place 17th in a race captured by Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., they stood in the pit area — separated by just a few stalls, in fact — looking back on the incident with differing opinions.“He saw his opportunity and took it,” Thornton said of Shirley, “and it pretty much didn’t work out.”“He could’ve hit the brakes, you know?” countered Shirley, pointedly questioning Thornton. “I don’t know what he’s thinking. I’m not saying it was all his fault because I did get in there hot, but it was because I wasn’t gonna hit him.”Shirley, 39, of Chatham, Ill., felt that he had cut his rival for position a break on the frontstretch and should have received the same treatment in return between turns one and two. The two drivers were charging hard in pursuit of second-place Jason Papich of Nipomo, Calif., with Shirley running high through turns three and four and Chandler, Ariz.’s Thornton sucked low until Thornton drifted toward the outside guardrail approaching the starter’s stand, prompting Shirley to abruptly cross over Thornton under the flagman and attempt a slider into the first and second corners.“Just coming off of four there, he was on the bottom and went straight to the wall, and I braked for him,” Shirley detailed. “Then I come down, cleared him like a mile, and he just come in there and doored us. They can watch the video. I never touched him.“I can hit the brakes, he can hit the brakes. I’m more disappointed because I braked for him and he couldn’t brake for me. It’s a two-way street.”From Shirley’s standpoint, his aggressive bid on Thornton was merely him reacting to the opening he was presented.“I made a move because when we were coming out of four, he pushed up,” Shirley said. “I was running the high side and he was running the bottom. He would’ve hit me if I wouldn’t have hit the brakes, so I moved down because I had the momentum to slide him. Instead of him turning back down to try and cross me back over he just ran into the left side of the door.“I don’t know what to say,” he continued. “I don’t know what I would’ve done any different. We wouldn’t have even been in the situation if he wouldn’t have pushed up out of four where I was already there. If he would’ve stayed on the bottom I would’ve went right by him without an issue, but he pushed out so then I had to figure out an exit plan.”Thornton, 30, certainly didn’t agree with the tactics Shirley decided to employ.“So I ran the bottom in three and four,” Thornton began. “I didn’t have all my speed down the front straightaway, and I kind of figured someone was gonna slide me. But then we entered and I thought we were good, and then he slid me, like, kind of late in the corner almost.“Watching the in-car (camera footage from his car), it looked like (Shirley) spun out, but, I think because he carried so much speed in the corner, he knew he was gonna destroy the wall so he tried to turn it sideways. When he did, he pretty much parked it (on the cushion), so then I had nowhere to go. At that point I was already back on the throttle. At that point there was no turning down or anything.”When Thornton contacted Shirley’s car, the right-rear deck and quarter-panel of Thornton’s SSI Motorsports Longhorn mount was pulled astray, leading him to limp into the infield with the sheet metal flopping along the track. Shirley’s Bob Cullen-owned XR1 Rocket was shoved into the outside wall before Scott slid into the back of both cars, eliminating him as well. Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., also slapped Shirley’s car as he passed by but was able to continue racing to a fifth-place finish.Thornton felt fortunate that his 3-race-old car escaped the crash with mostly cosmetic damage, but he was well aware that he lost an opportunity to move a step closer to the Keyser Manufacturing bonus dollars posted for winning three or more races.“It just ripped the whole right side off,” said Thornton, who, with three races remaining in the miniseries, remains alive for the bonuses of $10,000 (three wins) and $25,000 (four victories). “It got the body, left-rear shock, couple left-rear parts just from Stormy getting in the left rear.“It kind of sucks for that to happen, especially on lap six of the race or whatever it was,” he added. “I had a really good car. I took off and I was running hard, but not so hard that I was gonna kill my stuff.”While there was no love lost between the two drivers after the incident — a Thornton team member even expressed his displeasure by tossing a signal stick at Shirley’s passing car in the infield (the stick bounced off Shirley’s car and nearly struck a photographer standing nearby) — they were ready to move on to the concluding weekend of WWS action.“It is what it is,” Thornton said, “and we’ll get it fixed up and try again on Friday.”“Luckily it just looks like a lot of bodywork, but it still ruins your night,” Shirley commented. “We started 11th and was passing him for third so it wasn’t like we sucked. We’ve been trying different things, little bitty things every race we’re in. In the heat race I felt like we were horrible, and then, I hate to say, we just put the thing back to where it was when I won them races last year (three WWS features) and that’s how I went.“We’ll put it back together and hopefully next time circumstances might come out a little different.”