After several years of trying and numerous heartbreaking near misses, Tommy “Thunder” Malcolm scored the first sprint car win of his career last Saturday night at the Thunderbowl Raceway in Tulare, California. This Saturday, the now 30-year-old returns to where it all started for him, Perris Auto Speedway, when Heimark Distributors Anheuser Busch presents the Amsoil USAC/CRA Sprint Cars in the prestigious “Salute to Indy.”
It was approximately 15 years ago that Malcolm began racing a PASSCAR Street Stock on the Riverside County half-mile clay oval. There he raced alongside his stepdad Dino Napier and his brother Johnny. It was also where he picked up the nickname “Thunder.” His brother was dubbed “Lightning” so it was only appropriate that he was tagged with the “Thunder” moniker.
At the time, Malcolm’s age, diminutive size, and natural talent endured him to the fans. He followed his dad and brother into late model racing and quickly made a name for himself and was a threat wherever he raced. However, when the late model scene began to dry up in California, Malcolm had to find a new racing path and that path led him to sprint cars. He immediately proved to be as smooth in a sprint car as he was in a late model. With laps and experience came speed. Suddenly he became a contender and his first win was just around the corner. Then around another corner and another. Many times he was close to a win, only to have fate rob him of the victory.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment for the fan-friendly racer came last year at the Bakersfield Speedway. Late in the main event he was leading and clearly had the fastest car. The victory was within his grasp but he suffered a flat tire during a yellow flag period. He pulled to the work area, his crew changed the tire and he had to restart at the back of the pack. He is such a popular driver that many of his fellow competitors lamented his misfortune with the flat tire. The same racers also lauded his victory on Saturday.
The Bakersfield disappointment and the others accumulated along the way were all forgotten last Saturday night when Malcolm, who lives in Yucaipa, California, and who was making his 109th USAC/CRA start, began the race on the outside of the front row and led every inch of the way for his first sprint car victory. Appropriately, “Thunder’s“ first sprint car triumph came at the track named the Thunderbowl.
“The track was hard to pass on last night and the advantage I had was being out front,” Malcolm told host Dave Stall on Sunday’s “Racer Radio Show.” “I led all 30-laps. There had to have been six or seven cautions maybe. I was nervous on the restarts because I knew Brody (series point leader Brody Roa) was behind me. So every restart I did something a little bit different. I tried the top, I tried the bottom, I tried everything. We have been really close a bunch of times and finally to get that first win has been pretty nice.”
“The car is ready to go this weekend at Perris Auto Speedway. Believe it or not, we actually last night (Saturday at Tulare) tried a new set up for the first time ever. It worked great. We do a certain set up at every track we go to. It is just the fine changes after that. We are after that certain balance and I think it (the set up they used at Tulare) is going to work well for Perris. So, I am really excited.”
Malcolm’s Win at Tulare makes him one of the favorites for Saturday’s 70th running of the “Salute to Indy.” The race started in 1948 when Dempsey Wilson won the first edition. Since that time some of the greatest drivers in sprint car racing history have won the event. The list includes National Sprint Car Hall of Famers Billy Wilkerson, Bob Hogle, Jimmy, Oskie, Colby Scroggin, Dean Thompson, Hal Minyard, Bubby Jones, Art Bisch, Brad Noffsinger, Rip Williams, Ron Shuman, Cory Kruseman, Richard “The Gasman” Griffin, and Lealand McSpadden.
When Ascot closed at the end of the 1990 season, the “Salute to Indy” went into hibernation until Perris opened in 1996. Since then it has been held every year except for 2008 when it was rained out and 2020 when it was canceled due to Covid.
Last year, Norco’s Cody Williams became the third member of his family to win “The Salute to Indy.” In 1983, his father Rip won his first of over 100 sprint car mains when he topped the “Salute to Indy” at Ascot. Cody’s brother Austin leads the family with two wins in 2016 and 2018. Besides the Williams brothers, other past winners who will be competing on Saturday night are Matt Mitchell (2011 & 2013 winner) of Costa Mesa and Garden Grove’s Brody Roa, who won the race in 2021.
In addition to the Amsoil USAC/CRA Sprint Cars, the POWRi Southwest Lightning Sprints, PAS Senior and Young Gun Sprints and the PASSCAR Street Stocks will also be in action. Spectator gates will open at 5:00 p.m. with racing starting at 7:00.
Adult tickets for Saturday’s race are $30.00. Seniors 65 and over get in for $25.00. Kids 6-12 get in for $5.00 and children 5 and under are free. The fairgrounds charge $10.00 for parking. For fans who wish to order advance tickets, they are available 24 hours a day online at the following website https://www.tix.com/ticket-sales/pas/7 or by calling 1-800-595-4849. For fans who do not wish to buy tickets in advance, there will be plenty available for everyone at the ticket window on Saturday night.
Perris Auto Speedway is conveniently located on the Lake Perris Fairgrounds (home of the Southern California Fair), one-hour east of Los Angeles and one-hour North of San Diego. To get to the track, take the 215 freeway, exit on the Ramona Expressway, and go three miles east to the fairgrounds. For directions online, the address to enter is: 18700 Lake Perris Drive and the zip code is 92571.
Fans can stay up to date on track and driver news on The PAS social media efforts at the links below.
Twitter: Perris Auto Speedway on Twitter
Perris Auto Speedway wants to thank the following corporate partners. Ahern Equipment Rentals, Anderson Chevrolet, Battery Systems, Bud’s Tire, Tire Choice Auto Service, Chris’ Hauling, City of Perris, Communication Innovations, Daytona Boat & RV Storage, Ed Moore Bullet Proof Driveshaft, Flowdynamics, HD Industries, Heimark/Anheuser Busch, Hoosier Tires, Inland Rigging, Living Water’s Hospice, LKQ Pick Your Part, Luke’s Transmission, Moose Racing, Pepsi-Cola, Performance Online, Pole Position Raceway, PrintItNow.com, Rainbow Bolt & Supply, Rene’s Bar & Grill, Rugged Radios, Shaver Specialties, Square H, Sunoco Race Fuels, Trench Shoring, Upland Rock, Varner Construction and Vista Paint.