A quick survey of the American open-wheel short track scene suggests that traditional sprint car racing can claim reasonably good health. New wing-free groups have emerged in the east and in the Great Plains states, and USAC can boast a bevy of talented young stars.
Concerns loom on the horizon for all racing disciplines but, for the moment, wingless sprint car racing appears to be on the uptick.
However, it doesn’t take a particularly long memory to recall when non-winged racing was on the ropes and receiving the standing eight-count.
By the 1980’s, even longstanding Indiana bullrings had converted to winged racing, and the USAC National schedule also included winged shows, and had shriveled to the degree that the club actually took weeks off in the heart of summer.
There are myriad factors that reversed the course on what had appeared to be a long, slow, death march for traditional sprint car racing. Economic factors came into play and, in some cases, non-winged sprint car racing became a novel change for some fans who clamored to see something different.
In Indiana, several race tracks who had converted to winged racing returned to their roots. Emerging stars Dave Darland, Tony Elliott and Kevin Thomas had hit their stride, and suddenly the pits were full of promising new drivers.
In the west, the closing of Ascot Park had hamstrung the California Racing Ass’n, and a handful of races deep into the 1994 season, the legendary sanctioning body had thrown in the towel. In its stead, the Sprint Car Racing Ass’n was formed and, upon finding a home at Perris Auto Speedway, it thrived.
One of the most recognizable drivers in the early days of the SCRA was Ron Shuman. Shuman, a mainstay on the World of Outlaws trail for years, enhanced his Hall of Fame resume when he returned to non-winged racing, and added multiple titles in both the CRA and SCRA.
As Shuman carried forth, he was joined by the likes of Richard Griffin, Cory Kruseman, Mike Kirby and Rip Williams, and together this proud clan continued to carry the sprint car racing flag forward in their corner of the world.
Shuman’s role as an advocate for non-winged racing was certainly propelled by the success he had enjoyed in that phase of his life. When he evaluates the totality of his career, Shuman admitted he liked it best when the wing came off.
“I had more control winning a race without a wing than I did with one,” he says. “I had more say-so. With a winged car, I was at the mercy of my mechanic and engine builder. It’s just that in a non-winged car, I could do some things that you can’t do with a winged car, and I was pretty good at it. I had more of a chance to control my destiny.”
1999 – Cory Kruseman
2000 – Richard Griffin
2001 – Richard Griffin
2002 – Richard Griffin
2003 – Bud Kaeding
2004 – Rickie Gaunt
Before he had competed in his final sprint car race, Shuman was elected president of SCRA. It was a choice that made sense. Among his peers, few had a better business sense than Shuman, and for years many joked that the talented Arizonian knew the dollar value of every pass he made.
Nonetheless, leading a racing organization was more vexing than being cognizant of your personal bottom line. When pondering this move, Ron already had a role model to follow.
As a racer, Shuman had competed in the CRA and USAC under the watchful eye of Don Peabody.
“Don was the greatest leader,” Shuman said, “because he always explained things to you if he felt he needed to set you down.”