Midgets Make their Mark at Western World

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In every year of the Western World Championship’s half-a-century-plus existence, Sprint Cars have maintained an integral presence in the event in a variety of different variations and sanctions.

However, in 11 of those 52 past editions of Western World, midget racing has also been included on the event card, as they will be once again with the USAC NOS Energy Drink National & Western States Midgets this weekend, Nov. 13-14 at Arizona Speedway for the 53rd running presented by San Tan Ford, a two-night doubleheader with the AMSOIL USAC CRA & Southwest Sprint Cars.

Like the sprint cars, the midgets at Western World have not only intertwined their involvement with a number of different sanctioning bodies, but also at a variety of tracks since the closure of the event’s mainstay of Manzanita Speedway at the conclusion of 2009.

The Mighty Midgets of Arizona sanctioned the first such midget appearances at Western World between 1985 and 1988 at Manzanita.  The same familiar names seemed to resonate at the top of the midget running order as did the sprint cars.  Tempe’s Lealand McSpadden, who captured three Western World Sprint Car victories in 1978-93-95 in his own right, also won twice in the midget in 1985 and 1987.

Ron Shuman (Tempe, Ariz.), owner of five Western World Sprint Car victories in 1975-77-81-84-94, also scored a win with the Midgets in the event during the 1986 running.  Seven-time Arizona Midget Racing Association and two-time World of Outlaws midget champion, "Cactus" Jack Yeley, father of five-time USAC National champion J.J. Yeley, was victorious in the Midget portion of Western World in 1988.

Gary Faucett took top midget honors of the unsanctioned variety at Western World in 1989.  The Arizona Midget Racing Association headed event of 1991 brought another Western World triumph for Shuman.  Bob Broseman and Josh Pelkey won non-sanctioned midget shows at Western World in 1992 and 1995, respectively.  Pelkey later went on to become the Arizona Sprint Car Association king in 1997.

Following an 18-year absence, the midgets returned to the Western World program in 2013 at Peoria, Arizona’s Canyon Speedway Park, this time, for the first time, under the USAC National & Western States umbrella.  There, Bryan Clauson snagged a memorable victory on the final corner from Darren Hagen.

The night belonged to BC as he later notched the win in the USAC Southwest Sprint Car feature, becoming the first and only driver to win a sprint and midget feature on the same night during Western World, which was sandwiched between his two other WW sprint wins in 2012 and 2015.

Hagen found his redemption a year later in 2014 at Western World in winning the midget race at Canyon.  Five years later, in 2019, USAC Midgets debuted at Arizona Speedway for Western World with Brady Bacon dominating the midget from start to finish on the final night en route to winning after earlier tallying 360 c.i. sprint wins in 2009-16-18 and with the 410 c.i. in 2010.  Kevin Thomas Jr. won the opening night.

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 www.arizonaspeedway.net.

Both nights of the 53rd Western World Championships will be streamed live on FloRacing at https://bit.ly/2ZpafUr.



1985: Lealand McSpadden (Mighty Midgets of Arizona)

1986: Ron Shuman (Mighty Midgets of Arizona)

1987: Lealand McSpadden (Mighty Midgets of Arizona)

1988: Jack Yeley (Mighty Midgets of Arizona)

1989: Gary Faucett (Midget)

1991: Ron Shuman (Arizona Midget Racing Association)

1992: Bob Broseman (Midget)

1995: Josh Pelkey (Midget)

2013: Bryan Clauson (USAC Midget)

2014: Darren Hagen (USAC Midget)

2019: Brady Bacon (USAC Midget)

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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.”

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