LINCOLN, CALIFORNIA (November, 2011) – 55-time USAC feature winner, Red Line Oil sponsored Tony Hunt of Lincoln, CA can now call himself an eight-time USAC champion, claiming both the USAC Western Sprint Car Series and USAC Western Classic Pavement championships for the 2011 season following the "Turkey Night Grand Prix" at TOYOTA Speedway in Irwindale, CA on Thursday.
Hunt, possibly the most accomplished pavement racer in USAC history, finished fifth in the season-closing event aboard the Mike Phulps-owned Metal Works / Ebay Motors #56 Schwanke Beast, allowing him to clinch both championships.
The season started off strong with a hard fought victory over Scott Pierovich in the “Gerhardt Classic” at Madera Speedway and a second place finish at Roseville in the "Burton Classic" in May.
But Hunt’s championship chances took a hit when wet weather delayed the prestigious Little 500 in Anderson, IN to a Sunday afternoon start on Memorial Day weekend. Hunt elected to compete in the Little 500, forcing him to miss the USAC Western Sprint Car Series points race held the following day in Salt Lake City, UT.
Following Salt Lake City, Hunt was in fifth in the standings facing a 35 point hole while also trying to acclimate himself to the dirt for the USAC Western Classic Racing Series championship. The brand-new Western Classic series encompassed eight of the pavement races on the Western Sprint Car trail along with eight dirt races.
A key victory in the "Pombo Classic" at Madera Speedway in June allowed Hunt to take over the Western Classic lead and also close within 24 points on the Western Sprint Car side. The Western Classic lead was critical coming into a double-header dirt weekend at Ocean Speedway in Watsonville, CA and Santa Maria Speedway.
Hunt scored his first career dirt "top-ten" against a talent-laden field at Ocean Speedway to leave the weekend leading by 63 points in the Classic standings. After struggling through July races at Salt Lake City and Stockton, Hunt went on the offensive at Meridian, ID in one of the most critical weekends for his championship campaign.
Showing true veteran driving ability, Hunt led all 50 laps in the Friday feature and followed that up with a clutch fourth place run on Saturday night to take over the USAC Western Sprint Car points lead.
Hunt only relinquished the USAC Western Sprint Car Series points lead after a 13th place finish at Shasta Raceway Park in October gave him a 20 point deficit heading into the finale at Irwindale.
On the Western Classic side, engine troubles throughout the weekend at Calistoga on Labor Day weekend, coupled with the Shasta DNF, gave Hunt an 18 point hole for that series.
Hunt found himself in the rare position of trailing two different championships during the "Turkey Night Grand Prix" and finished out of the points in qualifying with a seventh place effort.
Starting seventh for the 40 lap feature, Hunt had a front-row seat for a wild start crash that involved as many as six cars and eliminated Western Sprint points leader Audra Sasselli from the feature. With the Western Sprint and Western Classic pavement championships nearly clinched, Hunt ran a solid race with a fifth place finish to wrap up his seventh and eighth driving titles.
Geoff Ensign successfully became the newest USAC champion as an eight place finish allowed him to beat out Hunt by just nine points in a hard fought battle for the USAC Western Classic Racing Series title. Ensign won the dirt portion of the series while Hunt won the pavement portion and finished 2nd in the dirt portion of the title.