Ron Shuman is a full-time sprint car driver from Mesa, Ariz., who races as many as 100 times a year, mostly in the rugged World of Outlaws circuit. Occasionally, though, he takes a day off from the 1,500-pound sprint cars with their 660 horsepower to pilot a 900-pound midget racing car.
Once a year--on Thanksgiving night--he makes the transition at Ascot Park to drive in the Agajanians' annual Turkey Night Midget Grand Prix.
Shuman has made Turkey Night his personal property since 1979, having won five of the six races. On the night he lost in 1983, he led 87 of the 100 laps before breaking a drive line. No other driver, including former winners A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and seven-time United States Auto Club champion Mel Kenyon, has won more than twice since Bob Swanson won the inaugural race in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium.
"I don't know what it is about Ascot," Shuman said when asked about his unusual success on the treacherous half-mile of clay. "It's very demanding. It's a driver's track where you go very fast down the long straightaways and wind up in corners that are very tight. It takes a lot of driver to win there.
"Driving a sprint car all year may be an advantage for me. I learn things in tight situations that cross over into driving midgets. Having 100 laps helps, too. Most midget races are short, where if something happens, you're out of contention.
"Three years ago I was running 10th about halfway and didn't feel like I was getting anywhere so I told Larry (car owner Larry Howard) that I was going to pull in. I came in, he made a couple of changes and I went back out and won."
Shuman will drive another Howard-prepared car tonight, a Stanton chassis with a Cosworth engine owned by George Zaroonian of Fresno. Last year he won in Ron Weeks' midget, also prepared by Howard.
Last year's winning car will be driven tonight by Robby Flock of Anaheim, who crashed during a practice session last week at Ascot. A series of snap rolls caused about $5,000 damage to the car and bruised Flock, but both are expected to be ready tonight.
Normally, drivers who race all season on their home track have an advantage over outsiders, but that is not the case tonight.
Sleepy Tripp, Tommy White and 1974 winner Danny McKnight--the Ascot drivers Shuman fears most--have driven on the quarter-mile track all year. Tonight's Grand Prix will be on the half-mile oval.
"There's a heck of a difference in speed on the half mile, so fellows like Kevin Olson, Rich Vogler, Stan Fox and myself won't be at any disadvantage against the local guys who have only been on the smaller track," Shuman said.
Olson was the '83 winner after Shuman's car broke, Vogler is a three-time USAC champion who finished second to Shuman at Ascot last year, and Fox has twice won USAC midget features at Ascot. He also won last week's Skoal Classic at Phoenix.
Shuman has won 12 sprint car main events this year and finished third in the World of Outlaws behind Steve Kinser and Bobby Davis Jr. This will be only his second midget race. Two weeks ago in Phoenix, he finished third after flipping his car halfway through the race and having to play catchup the rest of the way.
Shuman discounts Kenyon, 52, who has already clinched his seventh championship this season, as a factor tonight. "Kenyon never goes fast on that race track, at least not recently," he said.
Kenyon, who has won a record 105 USAC midget main events, won Turkey Night in 1963 at Ascot and in 1975 at Speedway 605, but finished 10th last year after failing to make the starting field the three previous races.
Tonight's race will end the season for Ascot Park. Next year's opener will be Feb. 22-23 when the World of Outlaws bring their winged sprint cars out West to open their 1986 schedule.
The California Racing Assn., which is based at Ascot, will continue to run wingless sprint cars next year, but Ascot owner Cary Agajanian plans to run several winged shows, of which the Outlaws will be the first.
SPRINT CARS--After 14 years of racing in which he won three CRA championships, a record 103 CRA main events and 117 wins overall, Dean Thompson announced his retirement last Saturday night. Fittingly, he made the announcement after winning his 15th race of the season. Eddie Wirth won the 1985 championship even though he flipped in qualifying and knocked his car out of the program. When Mike Sweeney failed to pick up points for fastest qualifier, the title was Wirth's. Later, Wirth was lent a car by Stan Atherton and he finished eighth in the main event. Final Kraco-CRA standings:
1. Eddie Wirth, Hermosa Beach, 1,882; 2. Mike Sweeney, Carson, 1,857; 3. Brad Noffsinger, Huntington Beach, 1,794; 4. Dean Thompson, Carson, 1,721; 5. Jeff Heywood, Huntington Beach, 1,270; 6. Bobby Michnowicz, Carson, 1,156; 7. Rip Williams, Garden Grove, 1,102; 8. John Redican, Sepulveda, 1,012; 9. Bubby Jones, Glen Avon, 945; 10. Billy Felts, Rialto, 918.