To gain and understanding of the impact western states have had on NASCAR racing—and vice versa—one needs to look no further than the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame inductions scheduled for Thursday night in the Turn 11 Club at Sonoma Raceway.
Three NASCAR national champions will be ushered into the Hall: Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and Matt Crafton. During NASCAR’s 75th anniversary celebration, both Busch and Harvick were included in the elite list of NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers.
Busch grew up in Las Vegas and got his start racing Dwarf cars under the tutelage of his father, Tom Busch, who also was a racer. In fact, Kurt’s extensive knowledge of the workings of a race car derived from working on his father’s equipment.
At one point in his early career, Busch won 10 straight races on 10 different tracks, but his career didn’t’ gain significant momentum until he began competing successfully in the Winter Heat Series at Tucson Raceway Park against fellow West Coasters Harvick, Crafton, Ron Hornaday Jr. and Greg Biffle.
In 1999, Busch won the championship in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series and earned an invitation to a Jack Roush tryout, labeled the “Gong Show” for its merciless evaluation of potential driving talent.
Roush hired Busch to drive in the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series in 2000, when Busch won rookie-of-the-year honors and finished second to teammate Biffle in the championship standings.
After one year in the Truck Series, Busch succeeded Chad Little in Roush’s No. 97 NASCAR Cup Series Ford. In 2004, he won the series championship in the first year of a NASCAR Playoff system, then christened the Chase.
Busch would go on to win 34 Cup races, including victories at all four of the West Coast tracks that have been staples on the Cup Series schedule—Fontana, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Sonoma.
Harvick was a tough guy from a tough town—Bakersfield, California, which also gave us Buck Owens and the Bakersfield Sound in country music.
A multisport athlete in high school, Harvick was a gifted wrestler, a talent that surfaced years later when he pinned Carl Edwards to the hood of his car in Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Xfinity garage during an altercation in 2008.
Driving for Spears Motorsports in 1998, Harvick won five races and the Winston West championship, but his major break came when team owner Richard Childress signed him in 2000.
In 2001, he would win the Xfinity Series title, but another event that year was far more significant. After Dale Earnhardt lost his life in the 2001 Daytona 500, Harvick was thrust into the role of Earnhardt’s successor in RCR’s flagship ride.
Harvick didn’t win a Cup Series championship until 2014, after he had left Childress for Stewart-Haas Racing. His 60 Cup wins are second among active drivers to the 63 accumulated by Kyle Busch, Kurt’s brother.
The first of Harvick’s victories came at Atlanta in his third Cup start.
“Well, everybody kind of already knew your name at that particular point, and I always tell people that things happened backward in my career,” said Harvick, who will retire from Cup racing at the end of the season. “They all knew my name first, and then you had to figure out how to earn who you were from that point forward, and then you had to walk everything back in order to be yourself.
“Everybody knew your name because of Dale’s passing and getting in his car, and then winning the race—that was kind of the moment that solidified the fact that you could do it. And at that point, you did it on the biggest stage because, outside of Dale Jr., you had the biggest spotlight shining on you driving that particular car. It was a lot to deal with. Definitely wasn’t ready for all that.”
Born in Tulare, California, Crafton started his racing career in go-karts before graduating to the Featherlite Southwest Series, where he won the championship in 2000.
Driving for ThorSport Racing, Crafton made his Truck Series debut in the 2000 season finale at Fontana. He has been driving for ThorSport ever since, with remarkable consistency. In 533 Truck Series starts, Crafton has 15 victories, 133 top fives and 316 top 10s—not to mention championships in 2013, 2014 and 2019.
On Thursday night, Busch, Harvick and Crafton will be inducted into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame along with former Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year Lyn St. James and sprint car standout Brent Kaeding.
Held during the NASCAR weekend at Sonoma Raceway, the induction ceremony casts the appropriate focus on the important contributions of drivers from western states to the sport.
— NASCAR Wire Service —