RON SHUMAN – GRAND MARSHAL TURKEY NIGHT MIDGET GP – By Tim Kennedy
Ron Shuman, the Perris Auto Speedway 2015 Turkey Night Midget Grand Prix Grand Marshal, owns one of the most enviable records in open-wheel auto racing. The now 63-year old Arizonan raced out of Tempe and then Mesa, Arizona from 1970 through 1997. He began racing modifieds owned by his dad Bill. He raced sprint cars owned by Lowell Carsten in 1973-74 and in 1975 for Bill Boat, father of 1995, 96 and 97 TNGP winner Billy Boat. Ron won an astounding EIGHT Turkey Night Grand Prix features sanctioned by USAC from 1979 to 1993.
Ron won six TNGP mains at the half-mile clay Ascot Park in Gardena and his final two came at the quarter-mile clay Bakersfield Speedway. His “Turkey Night“ winning years included four consecutive triumphs from 1979-1982. He also won in 1984, 1987, 1992 and 1993. No other driver has won more than three TNGPs. Each race was 100-laps and started 28 to 30 midgets at Ascot and 24 midgets at Bakersfield.
The 75th running of the TNGP could be called the diamond jubilee edition. It is appropriate to honor Ron, the most successful driver in the history of the event that started in 1934, at this milestone race. He was known during his distinguished racing career as “the Flyin' Shu”, a nickname given to him by Manzanita Speedway announcer Windy McDonald. Ron told me he is bringing Larry Howard, his TNGP four-time winning car owner and a life-long Shuman fan, as his co-Grand Marshal. He wants to show his appreciation to Larry for contributing to his success.
Ron ran his first TNGP in 1977 and finished sixth in Gary Gamester's No. 46. He won his eight Thanksgiving midget features driving for four different car owners. The winning car owners, chassis/engine combinations, and runners-up by year were:
> 1979 – car owner Larry Howard had the No. 71 Gary Stanton-built first midget chassis with a VW engine. Runner-up was Steve Lotshaw in Harry Lotshaw's No. 2.
> 1980 – Howard fielded the same No. 71 Stanton/VW. Bob East finished second in No. 78 owned by Vernon Reitz.
> 1981 – Howard owned the No. 71 Stanton with Cosworth power now. Runner-up was Kevin Olson in Lee Carey's No. 24a.
> 1982 – Howard, from Temecula, supplied the same No. 71 Stanton/Cosworth. Jeff Heywood placed second in Robert White's No. 84wc.
> 1984 – Ron Weeks was owner of the Larry Howard Hoosier Tire of Bellflower No. 71 Stanton/Cosworth. Rich Vogler finished second in Greg Wilke's No. 11.
> 1987 – Gary Runyon, from Indiana, owned the No. 6r Challenger/Pontiac. Runner-up was Ron “Sleepy” Tripp in Gary Zarounian's No. 67w. NOTE: Ron won the 100-lap race with an Ascot Park new track record of 37:34.61 (79.836 mph) that lasted through the track's closing in 1990.
> 1992 – Larry “Skip” Schuck, of Camarillo, owned the No. 72 Dave Ellis chassis with a Ron Shaver Chevy. Tony Elliott placed second in Ralph Potter's No. 6p.
> 1993 – Schuck owned the same No. 72 Ellis/Shaver Chevy. Runner-up was Robby Flock in the No. 24 owned by Rich & Carol Hart.
Turkey Night GPs have been run at nine speedways. The PAS has hosted the TNGP five times (1996 and 2012-15). It is the longest-running of the traditional midget racing classics. They include: the Belleville (Kan.) Nationals, the USAC Hut Hundred in Indiana, the Pepsi Nationals at Angell Park Speedway in Sun Prairie, Wis., and the indoor Chili Bowl (Tulsa, Okla.) Nationals each January. Ron's TNGP winning record remains remarkable to open-wheel competitors and fans to this day.
Ron's TNGP career might have included even more victories if he raced at the two events run on paved speedways—Speedway 605 in Irwindale (1975) and Saugus Speedway (1991). He said he did not have a paved midget ride. Ron was a dirt track master. His TNGP non-winning years included feature finishes of second place for Larry Howard in 1986 and third for Gary Runyon in 1988. In the final race ever run at Ascot (Thanksgiving 1990) a record 107 midgets competed. Ron drove Schuck's No. 72 and finished 16th in a 30-car feature. He also drove Schuck's midget to P. 10 in 1995 at Bakersfield. In other years, including his final TNGP at Ventura in 1997, he missed the feature in Schuck's car because of mechanical reasons.
One race that stands out in Ron's memory to this day occurred in 1983 at Ascot when he was going for his fifth consecutive TNGP victory. He recalled, “I was leading the race in Larry's car with a few laps remaining when I had a flat tire.” He slowed and finished second to winner Kevin Olson. “In a way, I was relieved because the pressure was off. After four wins in a row I had to lose eventually” Ron added.
Asked which of his eight wins was his most memorable, Ron replied, “One with a Cosworth engine. I was leading the race and came up behind a Steve Lewis car in second place. I looked at the scoreboard and almost could lap the field with ten laps to go if I wanted to pass the Lewis car. I slowed to the finish because I always raced to finish.” He added, “I only ran Turkey Night to win the race, not for points. I never wanted to crash out of fifth place just to go for fourth.”
MORE ON CAREER: A review of Ron's racing career would not be complete without examining his total career statistics. He was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Iowa in 2003.
In USAC non-wing competition, Ron also had an outstanding record.
> Silver Crown Series – three feature victories (1982 and 1993 during the Four Crown Nationals at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio), plus the 1992 Hoosier Hundred at the Indianapolis Fairgrounds mile-dirt track. Ron finished third in 1982 S/C points and second to Mike Bliss in 1993 points.
> USAC National Sprints – three feature triumphs as an occasional participant. He won at the Indy Fairgrounds mile on May 28, 1982 and at the half-mile Reading (PA) Fairgrounds.
> USAC National Midgets – 12 total feature triumphs, including eight TNGP victories. He also won the prestigious Hut 100 at the Terre Haute, (Ind.) half-mile.
> Ron also tried his hand in USAC Indy Car racing during 1980 driving for his sprint car owner Gary Stanton, of Phoenix. On April 13, 1980 he raced Stanton's No. 75 Penske PC6 in the California 500 at the 2.5-mile Ontario Motor Speedway. It was a former Rick Mears ride for Roger Penske. Ron started 22nd in a 25-car field and finished 11th after a flat tire caused his spin-out in turn four while he was in seventh place with four laps remaining. He completed 71 of 80-laps in the race won by Johnny Rutherford.
Ron made his only attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 a month later. He was driving Stanton's No. 75 older flat-bottom car. Ron explained that the fastest cars had new ground-effects chassis. “I could only get 10,000 rpm and not the 12,000 necessary to qualify. The rear end also kept binding up. I passed my rookie test and was the last to qualify Sunday. I was getting up to speed to qualify, but was one and a half miles short of bumping into the lineup when it started raining and ended qualifying.” He returned to dirt track racing.
Hometown favorite Shuman won his first CRA main event on June 7, 1975 aboard Bill Boat's first four-bar Stanton No. 7a Chevy. He also won the 1975 Western World Championship 410 cu. in. sprint car feature four times at Keith Hall's half-mile clay Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix. In 1975 he drove Bill Boat's older backup No. 2a after the newer No. 7a car blew the engine. The event was part of the prestigious sprint car triple crown that included the Knoxville Nationals and Ascot's Pacific Coast Championship. Ron eventually won all of them. He won the 1976 PCC in Gary Stanton's No. 75a. Ron captured the P. 1 trophy at the 1977 Manzy 50-lap WWC driving the No. 40 Wayne House Chevy and a week later the Ascot 50-lap PCC in the same car. He also used the No. 21x OFIXCO Stanton/Shaver Chevy to win the 1983 PCC 50 and the 1984 WWC features. He had laudatory comments about Ascot Park promoter J. C. Agajanian and publicist Ben Foote for their efforts on behalf of racers.
WORLD of OUTLAWS: Ron raced primarily with Ted Johnson's traveling World of Outlaws 410 sprint car circuit for nine years from 1979-1987. WoO raced non-wing cars when he started but became a wings-only circuit in the early 1980s. Ron won 14 final-day A-main events, which is 24th most of 418 drivers who have won a WoO feature since it started in March, 1978. The circuit usually raced more than 90 events a year. Ron's greatest WoO victory came in August, 1979 in the prestigious Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals aboard Gary Stanton's No. 75 Stanton/Chevy. He later wheeled the orange and black OFIXCO No. 21x owned by Oklahoman Lloyd K. Stephens for five years (1982-86). Ron said 1979 was “my best year in racing because I won 26 of 75 races. I was leading the WoO point standings in the summer, but chased other non-WoO, high-dollar races too. I didn't like little bullring tracks.”
Ron's WoO Record:
Year - Final point rank – Total feature wins – Total points.
1979 – P. 8 - four – 4,778
1980 – P. 12 - none – 2,808
1981 - P. 11 - one – 3,348
1982 – P. 8 - none - 4,900
1983 - P 4 -two - 6,457
1984 - P. 4 - two - 6,951
1985 - P. 3 - three - 7,570
1986 - P. 3 - one - 6,974
1987 - P. 5 - none - 9,592
Ron left the grueling WoO tour in 1988 after driving the No. 10 Casey Luna Ford owned by New Mexico Lt. Governor Luna and later drove for Gary Runyon. “The last time I raced a winged car was in 1991,” he stated.
Ron raced in the annual Tulsa Chili Bowl National multi-day midget event from the first event in 1987 through 1997. He had Saturday night A-main event top ten finishes of eighth (1987), seventh (1991), second to winner Dave Blaney (1993), fifth (1994), second to winner Donnie Beechler (1995), and eighth (1997). Ron also won the Chili Bowl Friday night preliminary A-main in 1995. His midget car owners at Tulsa were Jack Yeley in 1987 and Skip Schuck in later years. Ron even returned to the Chili Bowl ten years following his retirement from driving race cars. In 2007 he raced in the Tulsa Chili Bowl and came within one car of transferring from a B-main into the Saturday A-feature.
In 1988 Ron returned to non-wing 410 sprint car racing on the West Coast with the California Racing Association (CRA) and its successor--Sprint Car Racing Association (SCRA). He won a total of 69 CRA main events (including races on the CRA Midwest Tour starting in 1985). His win total ranks third best all-time in CRA. He won the final CRA sprint car feature on November 17, 1990 at Ascot driving the Morales Chevy in the 50-lap Don Peabody Classic. He also won 17 SCRA features--12 in 1994, three in 1995, and two in 1997 (at Manzy and El Centro on November 22). Ron's 86 combined CRA and SCRA total feature victories place him among the most prolific winners in West Coast 410 sprint car racing history.
Ron won sprint features at Ascot Park, Manzanita Speedway-Phoenix, Tucson, El Centro, Speedway 117 in Chula Vista, Santa Maria, Mohave Valley, AZ, and Chico. His winning car owners included Bill Boat, Gary Stanton, Eddie McNeely & John Landry, Jack Yeley, Bill Krug, Lovell Brothers, John Siroonian, Bailey Brothers, Ed Ulyate, Alex Morales, Billy/Anne Wilkerson, and Skip Schuck. Ron won seven 410 sprint car driving championships from 1988-97. He won four in a row with CRA (1988, 89, 90, 91) and three with SCRA (1994, 96, 97). He won his final title in Perris with a late race pass during the final main event on November 22. He retired at age 45 on top of his game.
When asked to name his favorite speedways Ron said he liked Ascot, Manzanita, Knoxville, Eldora and Kokomo because they were fast and he had success there. He named the Winchester, (Ind.) high-banked, paved half-mile as his least favorite. “Drivers couldn't see across the track because of the high banking,” he explained.
Known as one of the fastest open-wheel drivers, Ron was seldom involved in flips or serious crashes during his 28-year racing career. However, western sprint car records show Ron had four flips during his career. In February 1984 at El Centro, on lap 12 of the feature, Ron flipped Stanton's No. 75a about four times on the backstretch. He walked away and had dirt cleaned from his eyes in the ambulance. On April 14, 1989 at Chico, Ron flipped the Morales Chevy and suffered a concussion and sore neck. On March 3, 1990 he flipped the Morales sprinter at Manzanita and it received extensive damage. He escaped injury. At Ascot on April 7, 1990 Ron was in P. 6 on lap 21 when the fifth place car spun. He clipped it and flipped about four times to the crash-wall. He again escaped injury.
Ron retired as a race driver in 1998 to serve as SCRA President and Racing Director from 1998-2003. USAC-CRA was formed to sanction 410 racing in the West starting in 2004. Ron is proud of his leadership record with SCRA. He started the SCRA Non-Wing World Championship touring series within the SCRA series. It sanctioned non-wing 410 sprint car point races in Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. “We averaged about 40 cars per race. My wife Paula and I were voted promoter of the year five times at the national PRI show in Indianapolis,” he said proudly.
Ron is now employed as an outside sales representative for an auto parts firm and lives in Chandler, Arizona. He is renowned for his golfing prowess (“six handicap&rdquo, plus card playing, and billiards ability. His physical appearance has changed little over the decades. He could be compared to Pat Boone or Dick Clark among people who retained their youthful appearance. Ron's son Casey, 36, and daughter Kylee, 31, the mother of three children, reside in Indiana. Casey followed in his dad's footsteps and is a winning sprint car/midget driver at Indiana dirt tracks. Casey won six sprint car main events one year at Lincoln Park, Speedway in Putnamville, Indiana driving for five different car owners. Casey, who has won Midwestern open-comp midget races, qualified the No. 86 midget ninth fastest in a 59-car field and finished eighth in the 2012 TNGP at “The PAS”. Ron and Casey will have a happy father and son reunion in Perris this Thanksgiving.