Wings off for Calistoga sprint cars at
Vermeil Classic – By Bobby Gerould – Calistoga, CA.
In the late 1970’s, there may not have been a bigger hotbed for non-wing sprint car racing than the Napa County Fairgrounds which houses Calistoga Speedway (70 cars jammed the pits for the final race of the 1978 season). National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductees Leroy Van Conett, and the late Gary Patterson are drivers who furthered their legend with their mix of skill and bravery in Calistoga Speedway exploits.
While not all veteran railbirds think safety was the key issue in the demise of the non-wing car at Calistoga, it is undeniable that the 1983 racing death of the iconic Patterson at Calistoga shook many racers to their core. Patterson died in a violent non-wing crash directly in front of the main grandstand.
But with time comes change. Tommy Hunt, Vice President of Western Operations for USAC says, “A modern sprint car is better and safer than it was over twenty years ago. The (roll) cage structure, full containment seats, the Hans Device, all help keep the driver in a better situation in case of an accident.”
Plus, says Hunt, the cars handle better in the turns. “The shock packages on the sprint cars of today coupled with wider tires and wheels make the car more stable than it was when they last raced at Calistoga in the mid eighties.”
in recent years, successfully campaigned non-wing sprint cars at half-mile
tracks across the
As a former driver, Hunt also knows that despite any and all gains in safety, racing a sprint car is inherently dangerous. “A sprint car is a serious racecar that can bite you. Winged, without wings, it doesn’t matter. “
So who will be brave enough to strap in without a wing on Labor Day weekend?
A new generation and a few from the ‘old guard’ are ready to test the wicked half-mile in the 21st century. Leading the entries for the extravaganza are Tim Kaeding, Hall of Fame driver Brent Kaeding, Damion Gardner and current USAC-CRA points leader Mike Spencer.
Kaeding men run without a wing only a handful of times per season. Tim is
entered in the very potent Roth Motorsports #83 jr. Brent Kaeding is the second
ranked driver on the Calistoga Speedway all-time feature win list. “BK” of
The confirmed midget drivers generating a buzz include Robby Flock, 16 year-old Kyle Larson, Johnny “Lightning” Rodriguez, Shannon McQueen, Travis Berryhill, Justin Grant, Scott Pierovich, Nic Faas, Michael Faccinto, and ‘double duty drivers’ Golobic and Hansen.
The fun starts at Saturday August 30th with a wine tasting event featuring live music and a display of WRA Vintage Sprint Cars and Midgets. Super Bowl winning coach Dick Vermeil will greet race fans at the wine tasting event. ($8 per person. 21 and over only).
Cars are scheduled to be on the track by each night. Tickets for each race night are $25 (General Admission). Call (916) 863-7223.