2019 TOP TEN – Craig Raudmanadmin
As we continue our countdown of the top-10 drivers in the “Spears Srl Southwest Tour Series presented by Lucas Oil”, we now reach a veteran of the series, who took his last full-time laps in 2019. That driver is a west coast legend on the track, and a former NASCAR Southwest Tour Series Champion. Finishing his last regular season on the “Tour”, is the seventh-place driver Craig Raudman. It was a “Farewell Tour” that Raudman, and team owner Dave Reed, will remember forever, despite the challenges that met them along its journey.
Raudman, and the Dave Reed Racing Team, showed top-five speed and performance throughout the season, but a string of mishaps and bad racing luck, relegated them to the seventh position. The team had three top-five and four top-10 finishes, in the nine championship events that made up the season. The campaign started off strong, with a third-place finish in a 35-car opening weekend field at Irwindale Speedway. The next three events would not be so kind, despite qualifying inside the top-10 in each affair. Flat tires, and other odd maladies, rendered the team with three consecutive DNF’s.
A trip to Kern County Raceway in June, earned Raudman a top-10 finish, but the track continued to be one of the team’s most difficult hurdles. Another DNF, this time in a return trip to Irwindale, had the team reeling, as the flat tire bug reared its ugly head again. But as the true championship team that they are, the Dave Reed Racing force pulled themselves together and followed Derek Thorn across the finish line, to score a second-place finish at Madera Speedway. The team’s nemesis, that is Kern County Raceway, followed with a 15th place effort. But they closed out the season strong, with a fourth place showing at the LVMS Bullring and Dirt Track. Two top-five’s, in the final three events, showed that Raudman and Reed still had the muster to get it done.
“Well I would say it was some slight redemption, for probably one of the worst seasons I have had”, Raudman recalled. “I mean, we ran really well at so many of the events, like we were becoming a factor again. But just freak things would happen, like three flat tires, and several other really odd problems. The thing that really kept us going was the performance we were having at the track, prior to these issues, was pretty awesome.”
The team ended the season with a finishing average of 13.0, but it was a strong 6.8 in the events they finished. Raudman completed 2019 with an 8.4 qualifying average, with fields averaging just over 27 cars per event. Raudman made the top-eight redraw in five of those nine events, and in three of the last four. It showed the 2009 SRL Qualifying Champion, still knew how to hustle the car around the speedway.
Despite the speed, however, Raudman and Reed had made a commitment to complete their championship efforts together. It was a difficult decision for the duo, that found Raudman wondering if they had made the right one at times.
“I really question my decision to retire every day”, Raudman declared. “It’s literally all I have done for 40 years of my life. I love being at the track, and being with my crew. I have been so lucky to been able to race these kinda cars, against some of the best drivers in the sport. Yea I question it, but deep down I know it was the right choice to make. I need to be there more for my wife, and help my kids in their endeavors.”
It was difficult for Reed as well, given all the years together, and the success at season’s end.
“As far as Craig and our racing together, it is hard to comprehend and deal with”, Reed stated. “The last Vegas race we ran really well. It just made it even harder to see it end.”
As Raudman’s full-time career comes to an end, he will miss many aspects of the sport. The competition, the comradery and the challenge of winning are just a few facets that he will miss. But most of all, he will miss his friends.
“When I was younger, I would have missed the competition”, Raudman professed. “I just wanted to kick everyone’s a**. I always wanted to lap the field, and did a few times. But as I got older, now the thing I’ll miss now is the people, my crew guys who are some of my best friends.”
The NCARA Northern California Auto Racing Alumni Motorsports Hall of Fame, 2016 inductee, ended the season with 17 combined Southwest Tour Series career victories, and 32 Fast Times. He accumulated 57 career starts in the SRL with three wins, 21 top-5’s and 33 top-10’s. Time will tell if he has a chance to increase those numbers, but there are several venues on next years schedule that tempt him to return.
“I think the event, or events, I will be most interested in will be The New Stockton 99 Speedway, Madera which I think they will have, and Irwindale.”
The plans for Raudman, and the Dave Reed Racing team, are still up in the air for 2020. Reed is looking for a full-time funded driver, to sit in the seat of his SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series Super Late Model. But he is also considering events outside the series.
“My plans for 2020 are to find a fully funded driver, for the SPEARS SRL Series, to run as many races as we can”, Reed offered. “In our back-east program, we would like to run five to six big races, with my son Austin Reed, with Bond Suss calling the shots. We hope to start the season in January, at Watermelon Capital Speedway in Georgia (Speedfest 2020 at Crisp Motorsports Park). We had plans to run a few (NASCAR) ARCA West races, but with all the rule changes, it will be costly to get our car updated to take advantage of them.”
Reed continued, ‘We are building a new 8 ” tire Late Model to run at Madera, Roseville and hopefully Irwindale, to race with Matthew Meech. So that will keep us all together racing, if we don’t find a funded driver.”
Raudman’s plans also include helping Dave Reed, but he is also not sure of what that will entail, as Raudman stated.
“My plans are not set yet, but I will be with Dave (Reed), helping him with whatever comes along.”
Through the years, Raudman has met many fans and individuals, whom he has gotten close to. He has raced for several different car owners, in addition to Reed, and is thankful for the chances he has received in his career.
“I want to say thank you to all the many many people who helped along the way, all through my racing career. I have met so many people in this racing game, and have had the opportunity to drive for several race teams over the years, which is pretty amazing to me.”
But Raudman is most thankful for the man who has been by his side for nearly 30 years of his racing career.
Raudman began, “There are way too many people to mention, that have helped or had a hand in getting to me to the track. But one person stands above all, and that person is Dave Reed. He has the same addiction that I suffer from; g** da** racing. You just can’t give it up, there’s really no rehab. But seriously we have been the best of friends, and will continue to be the best of friends, in whatever capacity in racing we find ourselves.”
Raudman and Reed are supported by 25-year sponsors: Approved Memory, Ringers Gloves, Peters Racing Engines and FLUIDYNE High Performance. Their 15 plus year sponsors include Lucas Oil, K&N Filters, Eibach, JDA BRE, Coleman PowerSports and Bubba’s Rear Ends.
The 2020 season, for the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series, will begin on February 1st, at Irwindale Speedway. The resumption of the All-Star Showdown will pay $25,000 to the winner of the 200-lap Feature Event, thanks to Bob Bruncati and Sunrise Ford. Over $75,000 will be paid out in the Feature, plus additional cash bonuses to the drivers eligible for the Spears Manufacturing Frequent Flyer Program. Those drivers are guaranteed a minimum of $1,400 to start the event.
Celebrating its twentieth season in 2020, the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series is a regional stock car series competing on paved ovals in the southwestern portion of the U.S. “The SPEARS Southwest Tour Series…Where the Champions Race”.