Monday Memory: From the 1995 through the 2000 NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour Series seasons, Lee Elder was the Media Coordinator for the popular series. Many of his memories involved the “October Classic” at Mesa Marin Raceway (CA), the predecessor to this weekend’s “October Classic” at Kern County Raceway Park (KCRP). The 20th Annual October Classic was unique in several aspects, but it was one of only two October Classics that featured a 300-lap event for the “Tour”. Chris Raudman entered the annuls of Southwest Tour history by winning the 1996 championship, Rookie-of-the-Year Award, and what ended up being the longest “October Classic”, at 306 laps, after a late race incident with 1995 October Classic winner Sean “The Surfer Dude” Monroe extended the event. Elder remembers the event and the significance of the Bakersfield tradition.
“We were at Mesa Marin for the 1996 October Classic. It was the second-to-last race of the year and Chris Raudman had pretty much locked up the Rookie-of-the-Year Award. He was trying to win the championship. He’d had a heck of a year”, Elder recalled.
“I believe the race was a 300-lapper”, Elder resumed. “Near the end, Raudman was leading but Sean Monroe, the Surfer Dude himself, was right on Raudman’s rear bumper. And Monroe was bumping Raudman every lap. Raudman and Monroe were alone on the lead lap, so one of them would win the race…….probably.”
Elder continued, “I believe they were coming out of Turn 4 and racing toward the white flag when Monroe finally hit Raudman too hard. Both cars crashed into the infield retaining wall on the Mesa Marin Victory Square. Both cars were damaged. Monroe’s car would not restart but Raudman was able to get his back on the racing surface and make one more lap under a caution flag. Races could end under caution conditions back then.”
“Thus, by crashing on the last lap, Chris Raudman became the first NASCAR Southwest Tour race winner to lap the field. In fact, his margin of victory was two laps. The record, to my knowledge, was never matched.”
Elder concluded, “Additionally, by crashing on the last lap, and winning the race, Chris Raudman nearly clinched the championship. If I recall, all he had to do to clinch the title was start the final race at Phoenix. Not too many drivers have ever set a MOV record, clinched the ROTY Award and won a championship by crashing. I remember telling a TV reporter at Phoenix that, in the Southwest Tour, “even our crashes were competitive.”
For Raudman, it was his only victory at Mesa Marin Raceway, as well as his only Southwest Tour Series Championship. He finished the 1996 season with two victories and backed it up in 1997 with three more wins. He finished second in the championship that season. His one start at Sonoma Raceway in 1998 was his last start in the series. The 35th Annual Edition will take place on Sunday October 15th.