NASCAR & Auto Racing

Sacramento Raceway’s kickoff is a big drag

Funny Car Fever is the annual season kickoff at Sacramento Raceway, the area’s only drag strip. This year’s event, Saturday and Sunday, also is an opportunity for drag racing fans to see vintage front-engine dragsters.

The NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Racing Series started in 2008 to help preserve the association’s history and tradition while providing races for fans who enjoy nostalgia drag racing competition. Sacramento Raceway has been an NHRA member track since 1970 and has had a Heritage event since the series’ inception. Racers compete for a piece of the $30,000 purse, a coveted NHRA Wally Award (named after NHRA founder Wally Parks) and Heritage Series points.

“This weekend is our big season kickoff,” Sacramento Raceway spokeswoman Deanna Powell said. “There will be many great nostalgia cars racing and on display. It’s really a great opportunity to see – and hear – the history of the sport.”

Powell said 13 Cackle Fire front-engine dragsters will be on display. Cackle Fire cars are nitro-fueled reproductions or restorations of rail dragsters from the 1960s. The cars “cackle” while idling and spew huge flames from their headers when started. Because they don’t meet today’s NHRA safety standards, the cackle fire cars will not compete, Powell said.

Local Cackle Fire car owners include Grass Valley’s Jess Schrank, Applegate’s Ronny Hampshire and Yuba City’s Gabe Uyehara. Uyehara is driving the dragster once owned by Sacramento’s Jim Herbert, who died in 1999. Herbert owned Performance World Speed Shop in Sacramento and was a rival of Tognotti’s Speed Shop; both were big drag racing players on the West Coast.

Competitions include the California Independent Funny Car Association blown alcohol funny cars, alcohol-fueled dragsters, AA/Supercharged, 7.0 pro dragsters/altereds and several Nostalgia Eliminator categories, including gas, junior fuel and hot rods.

Sacramento Raceway recently was named the most improved track in District 7, which includes California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Hawaii. Sacramento Raceway owners Dave and Nancy Smith upgraded the starting areas, track surface and grandstands.

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Forsberg, Croft off to fast starts

Auburn’s Andy Forsberg and Roseville’s Willie Croft are leading a local contingent of Sprint Car drivers that has given World of Outlaws drivers fits on their annual West Coast journey that continues Saturday at Chico’s Silver Dollar Speedway for the Mini Gold Cup.

Outlaws driver Jason Johnson won the Placerville Short Track Outlaw Showdown at Placerville Speedway, but Forsberg led 13 laps early in the 40-lap feature March 23 and finished third.

“We were all working ... until about noon so we were able to come out here ... and run with the Outlaws – these guys are pros,” Forsberg said. “Am I a little disappointed I didn’t win? Of course. We’ve been here twice and been in contention twice, so I don’t know what else to say, other than I am happy to be in third place.”

Brad Sweet, a Grass Valley native, is leading the World of Outlaws points chase. He was fifth after slipping off the high side of Turn Two, and Croft was 15th. Roseville’s Sean Becker was the fast qualifier, ripping around the quarter-mile clay oval in 10.601 seconds. Elk Grove native Kyle Larson did not race in Placerville as scheduled after getting banged up several days earlier in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race in Fontana.

Croft had a career-best Outlaws third-place finish March 19 at Stockton Dirt Track. Croft and Forsberg are rivals on the Civil War Sprint Car Series for 360 cubic-inch sprinters, with Croft capturing the season opener last Friday in Chico. Forsberg, the eight-time and defending series champion, finished third.

Forsberg said he and the other local sprint car drivers have the talent to compete with the World of Outlaws. What they’re missing is the large-dollar sponsorships.

“Our motor cost about $18,000, and we’ll get about 20 races out of it before we have to rebuild it,” Forsberg said. “The Outlaws spend about $65,000 on their motors and race about 10 times before shipping it off. Plus, they’re about four or five years ahead of us in technological advances. They have all the cool toys.”

Mark Billingsley covers local motor sports for The Bee. Reach him at