The Jim Raper Memorial Dirt Cup is the latest example of a crown jewel that has reappeared on the winged sprint car racing radar.
Skagit Speedway, a high-banked, three-tenths-mile dirt oval located in Alger, Wash., hosts the spectacle each summer with the 50th edition of the event running June 23-25. The finale pays a whopping $50,000 to win and at least $1,000 to start with $1,000 per lap led up for grabs.
Veteran sprint car driver turned promoter Peter Murphy teamed with longtime car owners Kevin Rudeen and Mike Anderson to purchase Skagit Speedway last year.
It didn’t take long for the trio of Fifty Five Promotions — the number coming from the combination of Murphy’s No. 11, Anderson’s No. 18 and Rudeen’s No. 26 — to announce the rebirth of the Jim Raper Memorial Dirt Cup as a 410 winged sprint car event.
“The No. 50 comes into play a lot,” Murphy said. “For me, coming from Australia, I knew what the Dirt Cup was. There are so many races over here that are big, but this is one of the biggest on the West Coast. It was a 410 race and went away and now has come back. I think it’s just fitting that we’ve brought it back to a 410 race on the 50th anniversary.”
The event lost some of its national lure in 2015 when it shifted from a 410 spectacle to a 360 show amid a dwindling number of 410 sprint cars in Washington.
The Lucas Oil ASCS National Tour was booked, helping revive the car count and allowing the event to continue as a staple of the Northwest.
“Having it as a 360 race did its job for that time,” defending event winner Dominic Scelzi said. “410 racing was going away in the Northwest. Instead of losing a huge event, they continued it on and continued it with a phenomenal car count because they went to the ASCS National Tour. It did its job. And if you look at the guys who won it’s some of the best drivers in sprint car racing. It’s exciting now seeing that it’s going back to 410s. I think that shows how strong the racing on the West Coast is that we’re having a $50,000-to-win non-World of Outlaws race in the Northwest.”
Scelzi became the 26th different winner during the Jim Raper Memorial Dirt Cup, which features former winners such as Jimmy Sills, Brent Kaeding, Jan Opperman, Doug Wolfgang and Kasey Kahne.
“It’s exciting to be the reigning champion,” Scelzi said. “When you look back at the win list of the Dirt Cup and look at the names that won this race, it’s some incredible talent. If you look in the history of West Coast sprint car racing, it’s one of the top races. To put my name on a list like that is special.”
Ross Fontes claimed the inaugural event in 1972, beginning a five-year run with the Dirt Cup being contested at Skagit Speedway, at Sky Valley Speedway in Monroe, Wash., and at Elma Raceway in Elma, Wash. The three-night spectacle began at Sky Valley Speedway followed by a night at Skagit Speedway before the finale at Elma Raceway.
In 1977, the competition was only at Skagit Speedway and Sky Valley Speedway before it has been held solely at Skagit Speedway since 1978.
Sills is the winningest driver in event history with six triumphs followed by Jonathan Allard with four victories. Kaeding, Jimmy Boyd and Tim Green each recorded three wins. Two-time winners include Wolfgang, Lealand McSpadden, Randy Hannagan, Steve Kent, Kahne, Jayme Barnes, Shane Stewart and Sam Hafertepe Jr. The youngest event winner is Robbie Price, who captured the trophy in 2019 at age 21. He is also the lone Canadian-born competitor to win the finale.
The event is named in honor of Jim Raper, who was one of the 14 original stockholders when Skagit Speedway opened in 1954. He earned multiple track championships before taking over as track manager in 1966. Raper stopped racing in 1968, but he managed the track until his death in 1984. The event has been named in his honor since his passing.
Steve Beitler was the most recent track owner, managing the growth of the facility for approximately 20 years before turning over the reins to Fifty Five Promotions at the conclusion of last season.
Not only is this year’s Jim Raper Memorial Dirt Cup returning to 410 sprint car action and featuring a stout payout, Fifty Five Promotions has upgraded the facility.
“Capital improvements to parking, seating, the sound system, accessibility,” longtime Skagit Speedway announcer Kaleb Hart said. “They are working on making it more friendly for disabled people to get in and out. They’ve made a change to the back gate of how teams will get in and out of the facility. It will make the buy your pit pass and get in easier. Everything is getting a fresh coat of paint. Everything will look new and clean. They did a bunch of structural improvements to the seating. Handrails have been replaced throughout the facility. There’s a better internet structure within the facility. First class, everything.
“Skagit is where I grew up. This is year number 17 for me. I’ve had a lot of time to watch how the place has evolved. It’s so cool not just to see the money they are dropping into it, but the effort and love they are putting into everything; the way they want to give everyone a first-class experience.”
Murphy noted the focus while upgrading the facility is efficiency while adapting to the standards of today.
“We are in the entertainment business,” he said. “We put a race on as well. It’s basically dinner and a show. Your experience as a fan is from the moment you come into this place. We’ve changed how the parking is a little bit. We’re changing the beer garden, promotional products area, a shop now where drivers can give us their T-shirts and we’ll sell them for them up in the grandstands. The goal is to go back to the middle (pitting in the infield). That’s a work in progress. With people in the middle we have something to look at. I was a driver. I know what I like. It created atmosphere.”
Additionally, another perk for race teams and fans heading to the Jim Raper Memorial Dirt Cup is the action leading up to it.
The King of the West-NARC Fujitsu Series, which is part of the event, will sanction races on June 17 at Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico, Calif., and on June 18 at Cottage Grove Speedway in Cottage Grove, Ore.
Grays Harbor Raceway in Elma, Wash., features a non-sanctioned 360 winged sprint car event June 18-19 with Skagit Speedway hosting the non-sanctioned Dirt Cup tune-up race on June 20.
Murphy acknowledged there will be bonuses on the line throughout the makeshift speedweek.
“If you can win five of the six (410 races), we’ll give you another $50,000,” he said. “If you can win four of them, we’ll give you $25,000 and if you can win three, we’ll give you $10,000. That’ll be pretty tough to do.”
Murphy is also working on finalizing the Jim Raper Memorial Dirt Cup format, which he noted will emphasize big inversions.
“When I first came (to race) the way the format was, it was so different than the end when it was more like a normal race,” he said. “I enjoyed it and I think the fans enjoyed it how it used to be, basically on points with a lot of inverts.
“The first night you’ll get points for qualifying. The car count will depict the invert in the heat. If there’s say 10 cars (in each heat race) the first night, we’ll invert six. It’s the points you accumulate in the heats plus qualifying that will determine where you line up in the main. The invert in the feature I think will be 16. It’ll be 30 laps. You don’t have to win it, but if you want to get that $50,000 bonus you’re going to have to try. It’s going to reward you for going forward.
“The second night I’m not sure. I haven’t fine-tuned it perfectly. Maybe the next night we’ll invert you on points and maybe one more row in the heat races. This time the feature will be 40 laps and the invert will be 20. After the two nights with the accumulative points the top 11 are locked into the A main for Saturday night. The top six will be locked into a pole shuffle. If you’re the top points scorer we’re not going to penalize you by making you redraw where you could start eighth. You’ll start on the front row. You’ve earned the right to be on the front row. We have to honor the past, but we have to adapt to how the world is now.
“The rest of the drivers they’ll run heat races. I think we’ll fill it to make 18 cars. Then, we’ll have B mains and C mains. The idea is (six) will transfer through the B main. Then, we’ll have two provisional starters. One will be a fans’ choice and one a promoter’s to start 26 cars.
“The idea is to entice a few cats to come out here. The big thing is we have the support of KWS. We need the California cars. Our goal is to try to bring 410 racing back. We have so much talent out here.”
Mission accomplished as the event has generated buzz for months. The dates on the calendar have been circled by racers and fans, who both want to be a part of a spectacle.
“Everything about it has all the ingredients to being one of the biggest weeks in sprint car racing,” Scelzi said. “We’re seeing a revival like none other. I think it’s a great opportunity for local teams and regional teams to make good money under a national spotlight. It has all the flair of a crown jewel event.”