Wednesday, November 1, 2023

The Western World 50 at Manzanita


Program from the Western World Late Model Stock Car Championships - 1980

By Lee Ackerman

Phoenix, Ariz. - On April 11, 2009, they held the last race at Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix, Arizona and now like so many other tracks of the past it simply lives in our memory. Originally a dog track known as Manzanita Park it was converted to a quarter-mile racetrack for jalopy racing in 1951. In 1954 it added its famous half-mile track. Then in 1965 a gentleman by the name of Keith Hall bought the track and renamed it Manzanita Speedway.

In 1968 Hall created the Western States Championship for Sprint Cars which would become the tracks signature event and become known as the Western World Championship. Later in 1976 the Western World for Late Model Stock Car Championship was added. Early on the event held more of a local flavor as was dominated by regional drivers. Tucson’s Marion Smiley won the race in 1976, 1979 and 1980. George Brazil of Albuquerque, N.M., would win the race in 1977 and 1978.

George Brazil was a two-time winner of the Western World 50 at Manzanita.

By 1981 drivers from the Midwest started coming in larger numbers and Colorado would be well represented as well. The 1981 version of the “Western World 50” would be a three-day event held on April 9, 10 and 11. The qualifying feature that first night was won by Odie Robertson of Littleton, Col., with fellow Coloradan Allan Batt second and Tucson’s Ivan Russell third.

The second nights action would conclude with Roger Saathoff of Esterline, S.D., taking the honors followed by racing legend Larry Phillips of Springfield, Mo., and Mesa’s Buddy Murphy. Saturday’s action kicked off with a consolation event won by former Indy 500 driver Bill Cheesbourg of Tucson, with Red Dralle of Evansdale, Iowa, second. Then it was drivers from the Hawkeye state turn as Dick Schiltz of Waterloo, Iowa, won the 20-lap semi-feature with Red Dralle in second.

The 50-lap main event saw Odie Robertson hold off numerous challenges early on by Larry Phillips, who eventually retired with motor problems. Then Robertson had to keep his 1981 Corvette ahead of Roger Saathoff, who made several attempts to pass the leader but to no avail. Robertson would take over $3,000 for his win.

While Robertson’s drive was impressive perhaps the most impressive drive of the night was by who finished second in the consolation event, then started near the back of the semi-feature and worked his way up to a second-place finish in that event. Then Dralle charged through the field in the feature getting all the way up to third before surrendering that position to Mesa’s Buddy Murphy. The top five were Robertson, Saathoff, Murphy, Dralle and Dave Culp of Phoenix.

Missouri's Larry Phillips won the 1982 Western World 50.

Larry Phillips returned to the R.C Cola/7-Up Western World Championships in 1982 as a man on a mission and he certainly completed his mission. Phillips would start the feature alongside Indy 500 veteran Bill Cheesbourg but easily beat the Tucson driver into the first turn and survived a series of yellow flags and even a red flag for refueling to drive away with the win in the 40-lap feature lapping all but nine cars on the way to a $3,500 payday.

Perhaps the only car in the field that had a chance against the Missouri ace was Des Moines, Iowa’s Don Hoffman. Hoffman, however, had to start near the back of the pack having won the 20-lap semi-feature to earn a starting spot in the main event. Hoffman had his Pizza Hut #2 up to fifth place and was challenging Cheesbourg for fourth when he jumped the cushion and smashed into the retaining wall ending his night.

Roger Saathoff, last year’s runner-up started feature action off by winning the 12-lap consolation event. Saathoff then put on a drive of his own passing everyone in the semi with the exception of Hoffman to nail down second and earn a spot in the feature. His feature run was short lived as he retired with transmission problems. Finishing behind Phillips in the feature were Carl Trimmer, Charlie Swartz, Bill Cheesbourg and Steve McGuire.

Larry Phillips’ attempt to be a repeat winner of 1983 Western World lasted just four laps. That’s how many laps he led before retiring with a smoking engine. Then it was Roger Saathoff’s turn to lead the race and maybe finally win the Western World but that lasted only until lap 15 when Kansas City’s Joe Wallace took the lead, a position he would retain for the remainder of the 40-lap event. Saathoff eventually pitted for new rubber but could race his way back only up to a seventh-place finish.

The 12-lap consolation event turned into a marathon event before being concluded with Ron Droog of Aberdeen, S.D., taking home the win. In the 20-lap semi-feature Ken Hobson gave California fans a reason to cheer when the Mira Loma driver charged from his fifth row starting position to pick up the win.

Carl Trimmer (74) and Vince Giamformaggio (51) battle during the 1983 Western World 50. 

Asked about his win after the race, Wallace commented. “I was in no hurry, but I was surprised that Phillips failed to really pull away from us. Once he was out, I knew that I could beat the yellow car (Saathoff) because he was a little loose and I had my car to go faster as the track dried out.” commented Wallace. Rounding out the top five behind Wallace were Red Dralle, Don Hoffman, Wyoming’s Freddie Lundock and Mike Gibson.

In 1984, Dick Schiltz of Waterloo, Iowa, took advantage of a late race yellow flag with just six laps to go and then passed race leader Jack Ickes of Mesa, Arz., on the restart to give Iowa drivers their first Western World Championship. Ickes, who had taken the lead from fellow Arizona driver Bill Black on lap 8 had opened up a good-sized lead over the field when the yellow waved on lap 34 for a stalled car. That gave Schiltz the opening he needed.

Veteran Iowa driver Red Dralle, twice a runner-up the event started on the pole put never led the event he did however to stay in contention and finished third. The drive of the night went to former race winner Larry Phillips. Phillips, who crashed in the qualifying races the previous night, started in the second row of the consolation event, and won that event. Then the Missouri charger started near the back of the semi-feature and won that event. But in the feature lady luck struck again as he retired with gear box issues.

The Western World Championship’s for Dirt Late Models started as a regional race but grew into a tradition of early season dirt late model specials that has continued to this day with the running of the Wild West Shootout and it gave drivers from all over the county another place to shake out their cars before the season started.

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