Sprint car racing returns to Calistoga Speedway over Labor Day weekend with the track’s summer-ending tradition, the Louie Vermeil Classic, which is offering a new twist this year.
For the first time in its 12-year history, the race will be an all-sprint car program, as the winged sprint cars of the King of the West/Fujitsu series in Northern California will join the traditional, non-winged sprint cars of the Southern California-based USAC/CRA Amsoil series on the half-mile oval for two nights of racing on Saturday, Aug. 31 and Sunday, Sept. 1.
Adding suspense to the weekend, at least four Northern California drivers, who predominantly race winged cars, have accepted the challenge to take on the Southern California drivers by racing without a wing while chasing a bonus for any driver who can win both main events in the same night.
Among them is the former champion of the winged, King of the West series, Bud Kaeding, who has won the Louie Vermeil Classic twice in a traditional, 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, who is also a three-time winner of the Oval Nationals in a non-winged machine.
Two Sonoma County drivers who are regulars on the King of West tour, Geoff Ensign of Sebastopol and Chase Johnson of Penngrove, also have accepted the challenge of racing a non-winged car against the Southern California regulars.
“I love racing without a wing,” said Ensign, a former Petaluma Speedway 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 in a traditional sprint car earlier this year in UASC’s Western States series.
Ryan Bernal of Hollister, one of the most successful drivers in the USAC Western States non-winged machines before making the transition to the winged cars of the King of the West series, is looking forward to returning to Calistoga where he holds the track record for non-winged sprint cars.
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“The Louie Vermeil Classic has been one of my favorite races since I was younger and I always wanted to put my name in the winners list.”
The USAC/CRA sprint cars are led by six-time champion Damien Gardner, who races in Southern California but lives in the Bay Area city of Concord and is in a heated points battle with second-generation racer Brody Roa of Garden Grove in an effort to win his seventh series’ title.
The purse for the weekend is $108,000, plus bonuses. The main event winner of each division will win $6,000 nightly. The winning teams will also receive the coveted Big Louie trophy. There is also a $2,000 bonus to the first driver that can win the non-wing and winged sprint car feature in the same night.
The Louie Vermeil Classic weekend begins on Friday night at the Napa County Fairgrounds with the 8th Annual Calistoga Speedway Hall of Fame Induction Dinner and Ceremony. The evening is dedicated to the introduction of the six newest members into the Calistoga Speedway Hall of Fame.
The new class is comprised of Billy Albini, Charles Marvin Faw, Ted Finkenbinder, Rich Govan, Wally Talbot and the Tiner Family.
Racing on Saturday and Sunday will include a full program for both sprint car series, with qualifying beginning at 6 p.m., followed by heat races and main events. The front gate will open at 4 p.m.
On Saturday, there will be live music at the fairgrounds pavilion, along with wine tasting with 25 local vintners and vendors from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. On Sunday, beer tasting from local craft breweries will take place from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Reserved seating tickets for the Louie Vermeil Classic can be purchased by calling 916-773-7223.
General admission tickets can be purchased on-line by following this link at https://hmc-promotions.ticketleap.com/2019-louie-vermeil-classic/dates