by Ron Rodda October 24, 2017
LINCOLN, Calif. – Here are a few observations from the 24th annual Trophy Cup, held last weekend at Thunderbowl Raceway in Tulare, Calif.
Format – Any format that requires drivers to pass cars any time they have the opportunity to do so is good. There is no such thing as a Trophy Cup heat race where if a driver is fourth then all they need to do is cruise until the checkers wave. Shane Golobic edged Willie Croft by five points. That equates to two positions in a heat or main. There is also no such thing as a perfect format, but the Trophy Cup is closer than any other.
Shane Golobic — Winning the Trophy Cup is a tremendous achievement given the depth of the field of winged 360 sprints. To win consecutive years is amazing. Brent Kaeding did it in 1998-99, but it is more difficult to accomplish that feat now. Winning requires some luck along the way and Golobic had it the last two years.
Saturday’s very difficult heats, fully inverted by points, saw Golobic go from seventh to fourth while in the same heat Joey Saldana finished sixth from eighth. They shared row eight in the main event and for much of the 50 laps raced each other for the title.
Saldana reportedly had a tire going down and had to spin the tires to keep enough heat in them. That would have been a factor in not being able to keep up with Golobic after he had moved into the point lead on lap 37.
A huge deal was Golobic’s heat on Thursday. Winning from fifth starting spot was a point bonanza, but a three-car melee made that task much easier. Thursday was his high point night, without that three car wreck it could have been a different headline following Saturday’s main.
Heat races — Thirteen of 16 preliminary heats were won off of the front row. But watching the front of the field is not the place to focus. The race for high point car and therefore the second transfer is between the third row starters in the invert six heats. Some great racing took place between them, often multiple lead changes for the top point car honor during the eight laps.
Track conditions — Thunderbowl Raceway recently received a new layer of clay, making track prep more of a guessing game than usual. Much of the time it could have been better, but one thing that makes dirt track racing special is the unpredictable factor of track conditions.
B-Mains — Both preliminary nights had two, Saturday just one, and all five B mains were good. Announcer extraordinaire Fred Rannard Jr. uses the line, “This B main would be an A main anywhere else in the country.” That was absolutely true for this year’s collection of B mains.
A-Mains — Thursday was good, Friday was OK, Saturday was very good up front with a battle between Ryan Bernal and Bud Kaeding when the track was at its best. Bernal’s win shows how the once only non-winged racer has become an equally skilled winged driver. Kaeding reported his engine was losing power as the end neared. The point race between Saldana and Golobic was exciting as it was the last 10 laps or so before Golobic was in control.
Flips— There were way too many flips and some people blame the track. It is a difficult track to race compared to many, yet Golobic made 140 laps at speed and never seemed to even come close to the dreaded wall.
Officiating— The officiating crew did a great job and the racers never went past 11 p.m., probably the first time that has happened since the Trophy Cup moved to Tulare. Drivers cooperated by being ready on time, making for a situation where all worked together.
Crowds — Thursday has grown over the last couple of years and Friday plus Saturday were large turnouts. The campground was jammed like never before.
Accompanying activities — By all reports, companion events were well attended and very successful. These are significant fundraisers as businesses donate to make these events happen.
The big winner — Make-A-Wish Foundation received a check for $150,000 from the Trophy Cup, raising the total given to $1,570,000 with a goal to make an even larger contribution next year.
The future — The 25th annual Trophy Cup is set for Oct. 18-20, 2018 and will offer a purse of $200,000. It pays $25,000 to win the championship and to start the A main on Saturday is $5,000 guaranteed for total winnings over three days. There was a possibility that the 25th would be the finale, but track promoter Steve Faria has given his word that the 26th annual will be just as big. When Faria gives his word, you can count on it.
The track will likely see a significant improvement next year as new lighting is being planned. Assuming all the pieces come together, it will be one of the best lit tracks in the country.
Next year 95 invitations will be sent to teams eligible to attend the 25th annual Trophy Cup. Only five out of 100 entries this year were unable to compete as required to receive the invite.
This must be the first time ever that a sprint car race entry list is full a year in advance. It started in 1994 at San Jose Speedway and will offer the largest purse in winged 360 sprint history in 2018, all due to Trophy Cup founder Dave Pusateri having a vision and making it happen.