History Of The Trophy Cub Sprint Car Race
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.