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Budweiser Nationals return for 35th run

A bit of Bakersfield Speedway history was a victim of the COVID pandemic in 2020.

For 34 consecutive years, the Oildale track had held the Budweiser Nationals in early October. But with no fans allowed and tight restrictions, track owner Scott Schweitzer had to pull the plug.

“It’s our biggest event of the year, takes a lot of effort and with no fans allowed I just couldn’t (financially) pull it off,” he said. “I hated not to do it.”

Flash forward to 2021 and while not near normal, it was much closer with fans in the stands for races throughout the season and the Budweiser Nationals back for a 35th run.

Upward of 150 cars are expected to crowd the pits at the third-mile oval on Friday night to kick off two consecutive nights of racing. IMCA Modifieds, Sports Mods, Hobby Stocks and Pro Mods will compete in full shows on both nights. American Stocks will be in action on Saturday night only.

“There are a couple of changes, most notably no Late Models,” Schweitzer said. “Late Model racing in California just doesn’t have the cars there used to be. I really like the Late Models but there just aren’t enough local cars around anymore.”

No matter, the IMCA Modifieds have certainly more than taken up the slack the past few years and usually boast the largest car count for the event.

And certainly, those competing have proven to be the best in the U.S.

Bakersfield’s Ethan Dotson won the 2019 IMCA Super Nationals in Boone, Iowa and followed that up a month later by winning both the Friday and Saturday night features at the Bud Nationals. He also won both Sport Mod features that year to cap a remarkable weekend.

Dotson did not fare well at Boone this year (a did-not-finish 29th) but Speedway regular Cody Laney of Torrance led all 40 laps for the big win.

Both Dotson and Laney are expected to compete as is Bakersfield’s Jerry Flippo, who won the Speedway track championship and finished in fifth in his first Super Nationals Big Dance feature.

Among the favorites in Sport Mods will be Bakersfield’s Tyler Bannister, who won three times, finished in the top five in all 12 races and edged his dad, Jason, for the track title. Tyler Bannister placed 16th in his first Super Nationals Big Dance feature last month.

Steven Johnson and Justin Schweitzer could continue their Hobby Stock duel this weekend. Johnson finished all nine races in the top five and beat out Schweitzer, who also finished all nine races in the top five, by a mere 10 points.

American Stock track champion Kody Sly will have the opportunity to tack on a Bud Nationals on Saturday.

The track did not open its concession stands this season and that will be the case again this weekend with one change: beer stands will be open.

“When we first started racing this season we could not serve food so we let fans bring in coolers with food and beverages, including beer, and had some food trucks come in,” Schweitzer said. “The response was good and instead of opening concessions midway through the season we just stuck with it.

“With Budweiser the sponsor of this event we felt it was only right to sell beer, they've been really good to us. Fans can still bring in coolers, just no alcohol and no glass bottles.”

New to the event will be a post-race concert on Friday night. Among those playing will be rapper DL Down3r (James Williams), who also competes in American Stocks at the track.

Spectator gates open at 4 p.m. both days with qualifying set to begin at 5.