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History Of The

by Ron Rodda

 
In 1994 Dave Pusateri, the owner of Trophy City in San Jose CA,
came up with the idea of a race that featured a main event that was
fully inverted, putting the fastest cars at the rear for a passing filled
race. The event was called the Trophy Cup and its remarkable
history continues this year with the 24th annual race.

It is a winged 360 sprint show that draws attention to the West Coast
from across the country. The Cup reaches a dramatic conclusion due
to the final night main that puts the highest point cars close to the
rear of the 24 car field. From qualifying on the first two nights to
heat races and mains, drivers earn points, and the highest total after
the racing ends wins the Trophy Cup. There are two parts to the
purse money, some is paid to drivers based on race finishes and the
remainder is used to pay the top 24 cars in the point tally.


Last year, a new and improved format had full shows on Thursday
and Friday with several changes. To make qualifying more
consistently fair, the drivers are split into groups A and B. Each
group has its own fastest qualifier so two drivers will earn 150 points
for fast time. Heat races are within each group, i.e., the A group has
their own heats and likewise with B group. Once main events start,
the groups are now combined for determining lineups, based on
results from the heat races.


On Friday, B group will qualify first and the order of cars within each
group will be reversed. The format mirrors Thursday action and,
once completed, drivers will use their higher point total from the first
two nights to carry into Saturday. A driver may have a tough night
on Thursday but gets another chance the next night. Saturday will
not have qualifying but heats and mains, culminating with the 50 lap,
invert 20 car main event.


The Trophy Cup has always been a cooperative effort among
businesses, the host track, fans, and all the volunteers that shape the
Trophy Cup organization. The event has earned the Short Track Race
of the Year from National Speed Sport News, an award befitting the
level of competition that fans have enjoyed each year.


San Jose Speedway was the host track until closing in 1999 and the
inaugural victory went to Ronnie Day. A one day format in its early
years, two mains were raced and Day won the first one and started
next to last as a result of his point total in the finale. His 7th place
finish in the 2nd main was enough to garner the top point total for
the night and the championship. The first 3 years the show featured
winged 410 sprints.


Kevin Pylant won in 1995 after running 4th in each main while the
following year Brent Kaeding won his first of 4 titles, in what was the
last year as a 410 event and also the last year as a one day Cup.
Concerns over car count prompted the change to the 360 engine and
the move to a two day format allowed teams to not have to race two
mains in one night.


In 1997, drivers were in the pit area from 9 states and Mark Kinser
took the treasure back to Oolitic, IN. Kinser, making his only
appearance in the event, was 6th quick and won his heat and the
opening night main. He backed up that performance with a 2nd in
the second night’s heat and finished 2nd in the main, coming from
24th.


Brent Kaeding won his 2nd title in 1998 despite being only 11th in
points after the first night. His 2nd place finish in the final night’s
main continued a trend of the champion finishing runner-up. The
following year was the last for San Jose Speedway as the track
closed and an era in racing concluded. Brent Kaeding was champion
again, finishing the popular 2nd in the final fully inverted main after
starting 18th. Terry McCarl won the Saturday main, the last race
ever on San Jose’s third mile clay.


Watsonville Speedway hosted the Cup in 2000 and Tommy Tarlton
was the champion, again seeing a Cup title going to the 2nd place
finisher in the final main. Tarlton started 16th as he was only 9th in
points as the final 30 laps unfolded. The following year the Cup was
held at Kings Speedway in Hanford and Craig Stidham won the
championship, coming from 21st to 2nd in the final main. In 2002 it
was Tim Kaeding winning his first Cup title, collecting the Friday
main and finishing 2nd in the Saturday main, coming from 23rd. It
was the 6th consecutive year that the champion finished 2nd in the
final main, having to come from the back rows each year to claim the
title.


The 2003 version was one of the closest in Cup history and it was a
last lap, last turn pass that made Steve Kent the champion by the
slimmest of margins. Ricci Faria passed Tim Kaeding in the last
turn, lessening Kaeding’s point total by five and allowing Kent to win
the point battle by 2 points. Ronnie Day also came so close to
winning, needing to pass only one more car for the title.
The 2004 Cup was the last at Kings as the track closed in August the
following year, at least temporarily. Ronnie Day was again so close
to a title, winning the Saturday main from 18th, but coming up 5
points short of Jac Haudenschild’s total. The Ohio driver, known as
the Wild Child, passed 34 cars over the two day span to earn the
honor.


Tulare Thunderbowl, about a 30 minute drive from Kings Speedway,
took over the 2005 version on short notice after Kings shut their
doors. An unusual Saturday main developed when Brent Kaeding and
Mike Faria were ahead enough in points before the 40 laps started
that whoever finished in front of the other would win the title. BK
went from 24th to 4th, passing 5 drivers in one six lap stretch to
edge Faria for his 4th title. His son, Tim, won the main on Saturday.
The 2006 show saw Tim Kaeding win his 2nd title to total six Cup
wins for the well-known racing family. TK started 19th and finished
the seemingly magical 2nd in the Saturday main to capture the Cup.
Then in 2007 it was Jason Meyers from nearby Clovis who won the
title, finishing 3rd from 20th on Saturday to establish the 2nd largest
margin of victory in the 14 years.


In 2008 the first ever three day event drew 59 teams to Tulare and
most who have seen every Cup version agree it was one of the most
exciting years. Superb track conditions led to equally fantastic
racing, especially for Brad Sweet. Finishing 3rd in the final night’s
main event after starting 24th, Sweet collected $11,000 after edging
Sammy Swindell by six points.


In 2009 the idea of a three day winged show was dropped to help
lessen expenses for teams. To control the car count, only 65 cars
were allowed to enter and a flurry of entrants on the last postmark
date allowed, built the field to 72. Keeping the car count to a
manageable level was necessary as the fairgrounds has a state
imposed curfew.

History was made in that year when Tim Kaeding won his 3rd title
and 7th for the famous racing family. The Saturday night main event
winner had never come from last starting (24th). TK accomplished
that feat in 2009 when he used every inch of the Thunderbowl clay to
collect a thrilling main event win on the 2nd night and capture the
Cup.


In 2010 it was finally time for Jonathan Allard to enjoy victory at the
Trophy Cup. Often in position to claim the title as Saturday’s main
went green, problems seemed to follow Allard to deny a Cup crown.
That changed in 2010 when Allard raced from 24th starting to 4th on
Saturday to become the champion by a larger than usual 14 point
margin.


In 2011 Stevie Smith won the Friday main event over a 70 car field
despite never racing on the Tulare Thunderbowl clay before. The
second night produced a dominating main event win for Kyle Larson
while the race for Cup champion reached new heights.


A lap 48 yellow set up one of the most dramatic finishes in Cup
history. Jonathan Allard was 3rd, Jac Haudenschild was 4th, and
they were nose to tail on the restart as they raced each other for the
title. Haudenschild passed Allard on the bottom in turn 1 of the 49th
lap, Allard came back in turn 2 and they crossed the line to end lap
49 in a near tie. Had their not been one more lap, a photo finish
would have settled the Cup.


The duo entered turn 2 on the final lap side by side, Haudenschild on
the top, and he used that ground to get a good push off of the turn to
lead Allard down the backstretch, adding a pass on Roger Crockett to
finish his final lap. Allard dropped to 4th at the line and
Haudenschild had won the Cup title over Allard and Brad Sweet.


In 2012 an 85 car field of winged sprints tested the Thunderbowl
clay, and unfortunately, all too often the Thunderbowl wall. Rico
Abreu won the Friday main after Roger Crockett’s lead was erased by
a car flipping off the wall in front of him. Jason Meyers won his 2nd
Cup title on Saturday by finishing in the popular 2nd place spot,
coming from 23rd to establish a larger than usual point gap after the
50 laps were scored.


Just when Cup fans thought they had seen it all, 2013 reached new
heights for drama and excitement. A 74 car field created a pair of
amazing finishes in A main racing. Friday night a photo finish
between Tim Kaeding and David Gravel saw Kaeding get the win
despite being 6 car lengths behind Gravel as they raced into turn 3
for the final time. TK started 10th in the 30 lap main.


As if that was not enough drama, Saturday’s main event finish was
the wildest in the 20 years of Cup action. Last lap drama exceeded
any prior script when Kyle Larson and Brad Sweet raced for the win
with last turn contact between the pair leading to Sweet flipping and
Larson slamming the turn 4 wall. Larson limped to the line in his
battered ride, shedding parts along the way, as the race was allowed
to finish. Larson, 23rd starting, won the main and Cup title to cap a
memorable night.


2014 was the first for the new three day format and 84 teams
jammed the Thunderbowl pit area. Kyle Hirst and David Gravel were
fastest Thursday qualifiers and Hirst won the C, B, and A mains on
opening night. The second night saw Gravel again set fast time and
Justyn Cox was fastest in the other group. A close finish in the A
main showed Colby Copeland winning by a couple feet over Roger
Crockett.


Saturday preliminary events determined the top 24 point cars for the
50 lap finale and it was a record setting race. Willie Croft became
the closest to the front champion in Cup history when the 6th
starting veteran won the main and title. Mason Moore and Crockett
trailed Croft in the final point list.


In 2015 rain ended Thursday night action during qualifying and the
amazing feat of running two complete Trophy Cup shows on Friday
was successfully done. A 68 car field ran a Friday afternoon show
leading to a big slider into turn 4 on lap 9 by Rico Abreu, allowing
him to lead the last 22 laps for the win.


The 2nd show followed track prep and included qualifying as well as
the complete show. This time it was Bud Kaeding finishing one spot
better than in the afternoon show to win after leading the last 14
laps. Bud then finished the event with a 4th on Saturday to become
Cup champion and collect the $20,000 guaranteed prize.


Last year the format was adjusted to 8 heat races on the first two
nights with the winner and high point car making the A main. Those
16 cars are supplemented by the top 4 finishers from a pair of B
mains to create the usual 24 car field.


When Thunderbowl Raceway was widened about 15 feet by pushing
the bottom in, a rejuvenated track offered the return of multiple
groove racing and brought back the slider. The 59 car field put on a
display of racing that showcased the benefits of track widening. It
was on an area of the track that did not exist a month earlier that
settled the Thursday main.


Jason Meyers came from 16th starting to take the lead with 4 laps
remaining, using the bottom groove in turn 4 which existed due to the
widened track. Meyers raced from 3rd to 1st in that turn as Shane
Golobic and Kyle Hirst were racing each other at the top of four.


Friday’s main on a fast track turned dramatic when leader, Terry
McCarl, got sideways in turn 4 on lap 25 to hand the lead to fellow
front row starter, Michael Kofoid. What made this particularly
noteworthy was that Kofoid was only 14 years old. Kofoid held on for
the win over Jason Solwold and Sean Becker.


Saturday’s main event saw Mr. Consistency, Shane Golobic, continue
his string of strong finishes with a 4th. Golobic had a 3rd and a 4th
in preliminary mains and earned the points necessary to become the
Cup champion. Willie Croft won the main while Golobic, Kyle Hirst,
and D.J. Netto were the top three in points.


This year’s race drew a full field of 100 entrants, months ago. Teams
do not want to miss this year’s race as competing in 2017 is required
to race the Trophy Cup in 2018. There are no more entries available
for this year, which means next year is also sold out. The 2018
Trophy Cup will pay a minimum purse of $200,000 in recognition of
being the 25th year of the race.


The Trophy Cup organization has supported the Make-A-Wish
Foundation each year and every penny of entry fees is given to the
cause. Additional activities such as a golf tournament, auction, and
other activities add to the huge amount that has been donated to the
very worthy cause. The Trophy Cup has presented almost $1.5
million to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The entire event is possible
only through many volunteers supporting the Cup as well as the
outstanding support from the host track, Tulare Thunderbowl.