Sprint Cars Galore For Louie Vermeil Classic

Colby Copeland is the defending winner of the finale of the USAC/CRA portion of the Louie Vermeil Classic. (Devin Mayo photo)

CALISTOGA, Calif. – At least four drivers from the King of the West-NARC Fujitsu Sprint Car Series will take on the AMSOIL USAC/CRA Sprint Car Series regulars during the Louie Vermeil Classic this weekend at Calistoga Speedway.

For the first time in its 12-year history, the race will be an all-sprint car program, with the King of the West series replacing the USAC Western States Midget Series and joining the non-winged USAC/CRA series as they make their annual appearance at the half-mile oval in the Napa Valley for two nights of racing on Saturday and Sunday.

In addition to the $6,000 winner’s purse for each series on each night, promoter Tommy Hunt has added a $2,000 bonus to any driver with the versality to win both a winged and non-winged main event on the same night.  To help teams run both ends of the program, Bianchi Farms of Sacramento and Hoosier Tire West will give away 10 tires a night (five to each series each night) to teams picked by a random draw.

Among the drivers taking up the challenge is former King of the West champion Bud Kaeding, who has won the Louie Vermeil Classic twice in a non-winged car.

“I enjoy non-winged racing, but we just don’t have many opportunities to do that anymore in Northern California,” said Kaeding, a three-time USAC Silver Crown champion who is also a three-time winner of the prestigious Oval Nationals.

Two other regulars on the King of West tour, Geoff Ensign and Chase Johnson, also have accepted the challenge.

“I love racing without a wing,” said Ensign, a former Petaluma Speedway track champion who has raced in the Louie Vermeil Classic the last eight years.

“With two races on the same night, why wouldn’t we drive a non-winged car?” said a rhetorical Johnson, who won an early-season race this year in USAC’s Western States Midget Series.

Ryan Bernal, one of the most successful drivers in the USAC Western States non-winged machines before making the transition to the winged King of the West series, is looking forward to returning to Calistoga where he holds the track record for non-winged sprint cars.

“The Louie Vermeil Classic has been one of my favorite races since I was young and I always wanted to put my name in the winners list,” Bernal said.

The USAC/CRA sprint cars are led by six-time champion Damion Gardner, a resident of the San Francisco Bay area with a rare chance to race close to home, who is in a heated points battle with second-generation racer Brody Roa in an effort to win his seventh series’ title.

The Louie Vermeil Classic weekend begins on Friday night at the Napa County Fairgrounds, with an induction dinner for eight new members of the Calistoga Speedway Hall of Fame.