USAC Sprints July 29 at Lakeside Speedway

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July 28, 2017  |  by Ray Cunningham

The Thunder and Lightning Division of USAC returns to Lakeside Speedway this Saturday night July 29th in Kansas City, KS for race number 22 of 2017. So far 11 different winners have gone to victory lane this season in USAC Sprint Car competition, with 26-year-old Justin Grant leading the way with 4 victories driving the Sam McGhee Motorsports #11. Coming into the 2017 campaign the racer from Ione, California, had won 4 times total in his USAC Sprint career, after winning rookie of the year honors in 2010 at age 19. Grant is also the point leader of the series in 2017 over second place Chris Windom, of Canton, Illinois, also 26. Windom, the 2016 USAC Silver Crown Champion, has the second most victories on the circuit this year with 3 driving the Baldwin Brothers #5. Last season, 2015 USAC Sprint Car Champ Robert Ballou won at Lakeside, as well as Thomas Meseraull, when USAC came to the Kansas City, Kansas, dirt track for an exciting two nights of racing. Both drivers have won twice in the club in 2017, and are expected Saturday night.

The origins of Lakeside Speedway, and big-time sprint car racing however go much further back than the 2016 season. The original Lakeside Speedway located at 92nd and Leavenworth Rd. (Later closed to pave the way for the Woodlands Dog and Horse Track) opened its doors for its first race on April 17th, 1955. The lid lifter featured the AAA Sprint Cars, the precursor to USAC. AAA, which also sanctioned the Indy 500 during that period, was known across the nation as the top racing organization of the era. It was a big deal for the new track called "Lakeside Stadium" at the time to have AAA for their very first program. Indiana racing star Pat O'Connor would win that first race at Lakeside, which held races at that location for over 30 years.

The USAC Sprint Car Division made its first appearance at the old Lakeside Speedway in 1963. Multi-time USAC Sprint Champ Don Branson would take the victory in the Leader Card Sprinter. By the early 1960's Kansas City had become a hot bed for super modified racing, and one of its finest drivers would take USAC by storm in 1965. That season, 1963 Knoxville Nationals Champ Greg Weld would join the club after his 21st Birthday. With another KC youngster Ted Hall turning the wrenches, the Weld owned #92 sprinter was one of the fastest on the circuit all year. When the season came to close Weld had finished 2nd place in the final point standings to future Indy 500 winner Johnny Rutherford. Battling "Lone Star JR" for the title, Weld would lose the USAC Sprint championship by a mere 2.5 points! The smallest margin in the history of the club! USAC would race at Lakeside that season as well, with former KC resident Jud Larson winning in AJ Watson's Offy. After a up and down season with his new creation, the "Mechanical Rabbit Roadster" in 1966, Greg Weld, one of four racing brothers would join Paul Leffler's Sprint Car team in 1967.

50 years ago Weld would win the coveted USAC Sprint Car Championship, the most coveted Sprint Car title during the 1960's. Winners in the division in 1967 included AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, and Bobby Unser among others. The 23-year-old driving for Leffler, a master mechanic and builder of Sprint Cars in the 1960's and 1970's, and co-owner Dr. Ward Dunseth, was the class of the field in"67. Weld won 8 feature events, one short of tying the great Parnelli Jones for most wins in a season at the time. Victories came at Granite City, Oklahoma City, and Salem on pavement. Greg would also win twice at Reading, and Terre Haute. But, one race meant more than the others. After watching Larson, and Arnie Knepper, win at his home track of Lakeside in 1965, and 1966. Hometown boy Greg Weld would win at the Kansas City dirt track in 1967 driving the Dunseth #92. A golden moment in a championship season 50 years ago.

Over the last 50 years the USAC Sprint Cars have returned to race at Lakeside both at the old location, and the new one, in both pavement and dirt competition. A whose who of open wheel racing stars have won some of those encounters, including another local racing star Carl Williams in 1968, and Doug Wolfgang in 1978.