By Joseph Terrell
(Tulare, Calif/Olympia, Wash ‐ 10/25/2021) — The Trophy Cup is just one of those must see events. I mentioned that in my previous column and the 2021 version only reiterated this idea. It is a destination for so many race teams and drivers – an event they look to all year because of its unique format, the legendary Thunderbowl Raceway, the parties, the money raised and friends. It is all the above but Thursday, Friday and Saturday from about 5pm to 11pm it is all about the drivers and their attempt to tame the Tulare Thunderbowl and take home the $27000 top prize for the Trophy Cup champion.
The long straights, high banks and always a nice a hole a two mixed in the Thunderbowl is tough to conquer. It eats cars like a horse eating grass – often with ease and no discretion. A driver can go zero to hero in a moment and sometimes the demanding conditions and inevitable contact that occurs causes tempers to rise above a manner deemed appropriate socially. So here is a look at what caught my attention during the three night of Trophy Cup 27:
- Buddy Koifoid won Thursday’s main event and set the tone for the weekend as he simply dominated. Even before Saturday’s main event it seemed he was in a great position to win as he was nine points ahead of Friday night winner Rico Abreu and 16 points ahead of third running Kyle Hirst. The championship was sealed barring disaster when Abreu and HIrst got together early and were eliminated. After that Koifoid avoided trouble and mounted a late race charge to finish fourth to go along with a first and second the first two nights. Only other drivers to score top 10 finishes all three nights were second and third in points – Colby Copeland and DJ Netto.
- As Koifoid was cruising to an easy overall championship 15 year old Ryan Timms was again reminding everybody just how special he is. Whether it was his domination of ASCS National Speedweek to his many POWRI midget wins, Timms just wins. Saturday night of the Trophy Cup was no different. Yes the field was inverted but make no mistake in one of the most talented features of the season anywhere Timms simply laid a whooping. Minus a gaffe on lap 40 that allowed Tanner Carrick to take the lead, Timms set a pace on Saturday night nobody could match.
- Fellow 15 year old Corey Day never won a main during the weekend but he did finish fourth in overall points, two spots ahead of Timms. Day seemed to be a different driver than the one I saw in August and was much more patient which is only bad news for the competition.
- As someone who has been around sprint car racing my whole life I understand just how expensive these cars are and the Thunderbowl will always be tough on cars and this year was no different. At least five teams brought down a second car and many others did extensive re-bullds. The Country Builders team went back to Tracy after Thursday to retrieve a new car only to see one car catch on fire and the other flip on Friday before calling it quits after Friday night qualifying. The fact there is a flip count at this race doesn’t sit right nor does the fact that some seem to celebrate the carnage. I know a few drivers who I talked to during the weeknd who weren’t racing and when I asked why they said “Look around.” Flipping is not cool.
- No driver wrecked harder than JJ Ringo Friday night. He hit the turn three wall full throttle and rode the wall for a second before flipping violently, landing in turn four. Later that evening I walked by the pits and saw something that barely resembled a sprint car and Ringo visibly shaken in the back of his trailer. Fast forward 10 hours and as I walk the pits Saturday morning I see the Keller Motorsports team pulling down a second car and getting to work. I was shocked. JJ Ringo and the whole team would have been justified in saying they had seen enough for the weekend but no…Ringo showed why sprint car drivers are some of the most courageous athletes in the world as he hopped back in the rocket ship for some more Saturday night.
- As ugly as some of the wrecks were, nothing matched the ugliness of what happened between Dominic Scelzi and Devon Borden during the first heat race of Saturday night. Scelzi entered Saturday seventh in points and Borden was 19th. Each driver is big time, expects to win every time they are on the track and don’t lift for anybody. That all came together on the second lap of heat one Saturday night and ultimately resulted in both drivers on the hook. Scelzi confronted on the track and then again in the pits leading to his disqualification. Borden parked his ride for the night. I am not going to go into details because I don’t know exactly what happened but you could see the pressure mounting on Scelzi as the weekend seemed to slip away. WIth undefeated season at Tulare coming into Trophy Cup, Scelzi was almost deemed Trophy Cup champion before the race.
- Scelzi’s disqualification created the biggest controversy of the weekend as officials elected only to start 23 cars instead of 24 – not replacing Scelzi who had enough points to be in the A. Two of the most upset were Justyn Cox and Willie Croft. Cox was 21st in points so would have started on the pole of the invert 20 main instead of the 21st position he started after transferring through the B. Croft started seventh in the B and missed the main – if Cox would have been moved up he would have started on the pole of B since they inverted six. Why they didn’t start 24 and bump up everybody one position is beyond me. My belief is they paid Scelzi the $5000 for qualifying for Saturday’s main and didn’t want to pay an extra driver the guaranteed $5000.
- Anthony Macri left an impression right away. His thrilling second place finish Thursday night had the California faithful fired up and smashing beers. Post race he was interrupted multiple times by fans as he tried to drink a beer on his way to a post race party. West coast fans love drivers who get up on the gas…Macri gets up on the gas and has a new fan base for years to come.
- The two most important events of Trophy Cup continue to be Thursday qualifying and the Saturday main event. Even though you get to choose your best point night, a good Thursday qualifying effort will ease your mind as you start the weekend ahead of the game. Saturday night’s main event is an opportunity to make amends for your weekend. Timms and Tanner Carrick showed that a good finish Saturday can help salvage a weekend as they entered the main 19th and 17th in points but used podium finishes to wind up sixth and fifth in points. Only qualifying and Saturday’s main offer 150 points and work down.
- Steve Kent is one of the best to ever strap into a sprint car from the west coast. One thing that made him legendary was his drive and determination which was on display again this weekend as he wrenched on his son’s (Steven Kent) sprinter. After Steven Kent found the wall and damaged his front end in his Saturday night heat race, his dad went to work in ferocious style. Banging, yelling, demanding and not giving up Steve and his band of Grandpas got Steven out for the B. Friday I had asked Steve if ever wanted to strap back in and he said “No” but you can tell the fire still burns.
The 2021 season has finished for me. Ten tracks and 35 races stretching from Tulare to Skagit the season was a blast as I was able to catch many of the major events on the west coast and even get shoutout from the legendary Bobby Gerould on my journeys. While I am now grounded until spring of 2022 look for this column to continue to churn as the world of sprint car racing never slows.
Email me at [email protected]. Follow me on twitter @wcsprintcarscene where I tweet about west coast and national sprint car racing and occasionally go to the darkside of dirt super late model racing and pavement super late model racing.