The History of the Big O Classic
The Michigan short track racing scene was one of the hotbeds for the birth of the template body/OEM crate engine based Late Model Series that would catch fire and spread all throughout the United States, and to this day is one of the most hotly contested forms of traveling late model racing around. Some of the biggest events in all of short track racing are accompanied by crate late model counterpart events.
The Owosso Speedway has had a relationship with this type of racing almost from the very start. In 2002 Ron Varney and Chris Throgmartin spearheaded the development of this type of series, leading the charge to create what would become the USPRO Series that would debut in 2003. 8 races were on the schedule with the M-40 Speedway (then known as Thunder Valley Motorsports) hosting the inaugural event with Bob Varney winning over the 12 car field on May 23, 2003.
Less than three months later, the series would make their first ever appearance at the Owosso Speedway for the running of the Budweiser 50, sponsored by our friends at the Main Beverage Company who are still supporters of the Speedway heading into the 2023 season. 15 cars took the green flag for that race, but it was a long-time Owosso Speedway regular, 1993 Outlaw Super Late Model Champion Mark Kortz won over local favorites Shaun Whitney and Robbie Johnson.
At the conclusion of that season, the American Speed Association would purchase USPRO turning it into the ASA Late Model Series, essentially a feeder series to the famed national tour. The ASA parent company would shut down, selling the series back to the original ownership, but other than one appearance that was aborted due to rain, the series seemed to move on without Owosso.
But as the series grew it would break off into three separate tours, a Northern and Southern Series and one main series. It would not be until 2009 the series would return to Ovid, Michigan. There would be one more event in 2010 but at the conclusion of that season, the ASA Late Model Series would cease to exist following an expensive legal battle over the rights to the ASA name.
At the dawn of the 2011 racing season SuperPro (the spiritual successor to the original USPRO Series) and CRA would merge to create a new template late model series, known as the JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour, featuring entitlement sponsorship from JEGS High Performance. The inaugural season would feature 11 dates, mostly comprised of the historical venues ran by the ASA Late Model and SuperPro Series with some CRA-affiliated venues in as well.
September 3rd would be the date for the series to arrive for the Big O Classic 100 at Owosso. 23 cars would appear for the event, the local star shining brightest on the entry list was Erik Jones. Jones had won rookie of the year at Owosso in the Pro Stock (now somewhere between the Street Stock and Late Model Sportsman divisions today) in 2009, and followed that up with rookie of the year honors in the final season of the ASA Late Model Series off the strength of two wins. In that 2010 campaign, the Byron, Michigan driver looked poised to do well leading early on but a mechanical gremlin would rob him of his hometrack win. In 2011 Jones was a championship contender with a win at Rockford Speedway already under his belt.
At just 15 years old, Jones went out and made a statement in qualifying, turning a 15.531, quicker than the pole time he laid down the year before in ASALMS competition. Jones would roll a 5 for the invert, placing DeWitt, Michigan driver Chad Finley, a future winner in the ARCA Menard’s Series, and Robbie Pyle, a gritty veteran from Ohio on the front row.
Finley would take off at the start, eventually leading through lap 72. He would cede the position to Josh Nelms. The Lockport, Illinois driver was a popular underdog in the series, coming close to victory several times before it would be snatched away. For a moment, it appeared Nelms might get the elusive victory, but on lap 83, Jones took the lead away and would never look back. For those of you wondering, Nelms would eventually get that victory at the now demolished Columbus Motor Speedway in 2015.
Jones would go on to take the win, and would carry that momentum on to the series Championship. As we all know, Jones would parlay that early success into Snowball Derby and Winchester 400 victories, a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Championship and three NASCAR Cup Series victories.
“Owosso has always been my home track, so to go back with a touring series was a big deal for me,” Jones said of the race in a 2022 interview. “”Being able to win that race was one of my favorites of my career looking back, so many friends and family got to join for that celebration. That made it all the more special for me.”
Soon after the purchase of the venerable race course by Rex and Sarah Wheeler it was announced the JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour would return to the Owosso Speedway for the first time since 2017. This Saturday, June 10th will be the return of the Big O Classic. The series will return for their crown jewel event the Masters of the Pros 184 on August 19th.
“Pretty neat to see what’s happening these days with Owosso and the investment going into the track. Hope that I get the chance to get out and test the new surface out,” Jones said.
Article Credit: Chris Fobbe
Submitted By: Chris Fobbe