Western World winner Earl Wagner (with winner's wreath) is joined by runner-up Bubby Jones in victory lane. – Jeffrey Wagner Collection
Phoenix, Ariz. (October 13, 1973) – The Western scoreboard now reads – Arizona 3, Jan Opperman 2 and Earl Wagner 1.
Wagner, who hails from Pleasantville, Iowa, may not be a familiar name like Opperman or Kenny Weld but he drove like them to win Saturday’s sixth annual Western United States Championships before more than 8,000 fans at Manzanita Speedway.
Wagner has been driving and winning on the tough International Motor Contest Association circuit for years. He has competed in every national championship race at Knoxville, Iowa, since it’s inception with a best finish of second place.
Saturday night, Wagner wasn’t going to run second to anyone after moving to the front from his sixth starting position.
Bubby Jones of Danville, Ill., who led the first 21 laps, stayed hot the tail of Wagner’s car after losing the lead in heavy traffic.
While Jones was Wagner’s chief competition right to the checkered flag, the shadow of the 1971-72 Western champion Opperman loomed larger as the race progressed to its climax.
Despite starting in the seventh row, Opperman, who was crowned the All-Star Circuit’s first champion, expertly threaded his way through the field.
He reached the third spot behind the two leaders and appeared to have an excellent chance of winning his third straight Western.
When Clark Templeman spun on lap 46, Opperman’s chances increased.
But on the restart, Wagner and Jones poured on the coals and so did “Tiger” Gene Brown.
For the last four laps, the real race was between Brown and Opperman. Jones’ steaming Chevy didn’t have the horses to catch Wagner, who won last year’s semi-main.
Brown and Opperman were dead even on the back straight of the last lap when lady luck interfered. Brown slowly nudged ahead through turns three and four and made his third place decisive when Opperman’s Bogar Special spit and sputtered, out of gas. He coasted across the finish line, just ahead of Eddie Leavitt.
1. Earl Wagner, Pleasantville, Iowa
2. Bubby Jones, Danville, Ill.
3. Gene Brown, Phoenix
4. Jan Opperman, Beaver Crossing, Neb.
5. Eddie Leavitt, Kearney, Mo.
6. Jerry McClung, Tempe
7. Ralph Parkinson Jr., Kansas City
8. Rick Ferkel, Fostoria, Ohio
9. Ted Wise, Hubbard, Ohio
10.Roy Hicks, Socorro, N.M