Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The history of late model racing at Redwood Acres Raceway (1988 - today)

#16 Rusty Olson, #1 Billy Clarkson and #48 Jim Walker at Redwood Acres Raceway, 1995

I am very anxious and excited for a couple races that are coming up at Redwood Acres Raceway. July 4th will feature the Firecracker 100, the second Tri-Holiday Classic late model event which is in its first year at RAR. On the first of August, the premiere super late model touring series on the west coast, the Spears SRL Southwest Tour will be racing for the second time at RAR and the first since 2013.

Late model racing has been a staple of Redwood Acres Raceway ever since the track was repaved before the 1988 season. RAR's late model division at the time was the super stock class. The super stocks were basically like the NASCAR Southwest and Northwest Tour cars at the time. The idea was to have the cars be able to race on the local level while also being able to race the touring series without having to make a number of adjustments to the car or even having a completely different car. The super stocks lasted at RAR only three seasons from 1988 to 1990 and the track was dominated between Jim Walker and Randy Olson. RAR also hosted the NASCAR Southwest Tour Series which several local drivers raced in but never won. The closest any RAR driver came was in the 1990 Olympia 100 when Randy Olson finished second (unfortunately I don't have video of that race.)

1990 also marked the first year that RAR hosted a large open competition race. From the 70s and on through the 80s, open competition events were the biggest races held at tracks all over the west coast. Northern California's top two open comp races through those years were at Shasta Speedway every spring and fall. The spring race was the Laura Robinson Nor-Cal 150 while the fall race was the Western 150. Both races were shortened in the late 80s to 100 laps while the fall event was renamed in honor of Toby Elder. Officials at Shasta, RAR and Silver State Raceway in Carson City, Nevada partnered together to create a three-race open competition championship series at the end of the year, the Tri-Western 300 with each track hosting a 100-lap race. The series proved to be a huge success with Randy Olson winning the races Silver State and RAR races and taking the championship. Robert Sprague was the winner of the Shasta event.

In 1991, the super stock class merged with the street stock cars and turned into the sportsman division. It benefited both divisions as more cars were able to race but the rules for the division were different enough that several super stock drivers, namely Walker didn't race weekly. It was also during that year that Frank Roman's Nor-Cal Late Model touring series made its first visit to RAR. The Nor-Cal Series had rules that were more aligned closer to the rules of the Tri-Western 300 open competition races. Nor-Cal wasn't a competitor to NASCAR's Southwest Tour but served as an option for late model touring racing for Northern California drivers who couldn't afford the budget it took to be competitive in in the SWT.

RAR continued to host the NASCAR SWT, Nor-Cal Series and Tri-Western 100 events through the early 90s. In 1995, RAR hosted its final NASCAR SWT event, the Hamm's 100. At this point, the cost of being associated with NASCAR and hosting a SWT event was not worth the benefit. It was a sad but necessary loss.

The Nor-Cal Series became more prominent at RAR and continued to host races at the track until the end of 1998 when Frank Roman stopped promoting the series. RAR promoters Rich and Linda Olson took over the helm and formed the Tri-State Challenge Series which picked up where Nor-Cal left off and lasted until the end of 2000. (Sadly I have no video of any of the Nor-Cal or Tri-State races from RAR through the late 90s.) In 2001 the series was renamed to the North State Challenge Series.

#80 Derek Thorn and #20 Howard Ford at RAR during a 2006 NSCS race

The NSCS struggled in 2002 and 2003 but by 2004 it was the top late model touring series on the west coast (in my opinion.) The series came to a demise in 2008 but at that same time the Airport Auto Brokers Late Models series gained steam and raced at the Acres several times between 2009-2012. In 2013 the AABLM became the Pacific Challenge Series and RAR hosted two races that year. 2013 also featured the first race at RAR for the Spears SRL Southwest Tour Series.

Rich and Linda Olson stepped away from promoting RAR following the 2013 season while Blair Aiken and his daughter stepped in to fill the void. The sportsman division was renamed to the late models and the rules for the division changed to reflect those of other tracks in the region.

You can find results of many of the events I mentioned by visiting the following page:

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