Deming, WA | July 19, 2018 – It is tied for the highest-paying micro sprint event in the world, it is a three-day extravaganza with one of the most unique formats you’d ever find, it is race-after-race filled with thrilling battles and wheel-to-wheel action, it is an atmosphere filled with high-intensity and a track promoted by great people and visited by spectacular racers, it is a true crown jewel in the micro sprint racing world, however, it is consistently the least talked about and most underrated event in the country, but why?
Nestled in the state of Washington just 12 miles south of the Canada border, you can find the tiny town of Deming, which at the 2010 Census was reported with a mere 353 residents, and is a small suburb of the booming city in Bellingham. Small in size, but large in entertainment, this little 5.4 square mile area features one of micro sprint racing’s finest establishments. A 1/6th-mile bullring that seemingly rises out of the forest, Deming Speedway is owned and operated by Paul Lemley and his family. Once iconic for the inside walls and fencing that protected an infield pit area, it all felt like a gladiator type arena as fans could witness nearly every adjustment and move crews made from their own seat.
Home to the Clay Cup Nationals, this year’s event marks the 35th annual appearance of the extravaganza that draws in racers from all down the west coast. Consisting of four classes nowadays, the event is highlighted by the 600 micro sprint class and also runs the 1200 mini sprints, restricted 600’s, and Jr. Sprints. Looking back at the past and observing the history of this great event, you find a who’s who of micro sprint racing legends. From Stan Yockey to Brock Lemley to Cory Eliason to Jared Peterson to Heath Duinkerken to Michael Faccinto to Liam Riam and to defending champion, Jake Hagopian, it is a list that is not short on starpower.
A wildly unique format that consists of qualifying, heat races, semi features and preliminary features, I dare you to find a more interesting format in the country for micro sprint racing. Collecting points every time you hit the race track and receiving additional bonuses for passing cars, it is crucial to be at the top of your game every single time you roll out. Featuring a full-field inversion for preliminary features, the 30-lap mains are always thrilling bouts with the fastest drivers screaming through the field on the chase for all important points. With a Thursday and Friday night prelim, drivers have two opportunities to perform their best, with your highest point total from either night being used for Saturday lineups. The event concludes on Saturday night with a 40-lap finale that pays $10,000 to win and $500 just to take the green flag.
On top of all the exciting racing is the people aspect of this event. A family operation, Paul Lemley and his crew year-after-year put on a phenomenal show for three consecutive nights. Drawing a strong car count, attracting a stellar crowd, and finishing everything in a timely manner, the folks at Deming mean business when Clay Cup rolls around. The atmosphere is always glowing as you can feel the anticipation and meaning behind the race all weekend long leading into Saturday’s grand finale. However, after each night, even Wednesday’s precursor, the drivers, crews and fans always make sure to have a good time. One of those parties where a race breaks out, don’t be surprised to hear the music still playing and people still hollering come 3:00 AM.
The problem with this spectacular event, to which no solution can be made, however? Geography. Buried at the top of Washington and nearly located in Canada, the facility is 1,000 miles away for some racers in the closest micro sprint racing hotbed of California. Beyond that, the stout Oklahoma/Missouri contingent is based over 2,000 miles away, and Illinois/Indiana is even farther. Oh, and Pennsylvania’s Posse? You’re looking at a near 3,000 mile trip, only one way.
While those numbers are astounding, the first question that comes to mind is, “if everyone will go to Oklahoma for one miserably cold week in December/January for arguably the measliest payout in the sport, why won’t they head to beautiful and scenic Washington in July for one of the most abundant?” While the prestige of the Tulsa Shootout is unmatched and potentially forever will be, the prestige of Clay Cup is still admirable and the history proves that.
An event comparable to that of Clay Cup is the High Banks Hustle at Southern Illinois Raceway in Marion, Illinois. Boasting a $10,000 to win, $500 to start finale as well, the 1/8th-mile facility just completed year six of their crown jewel and and drew in 130 of the nation’s best for a two-day race. Last year for their three-day showing, Clay Cup attracted 50 drivers, all from the west coast and as far away as California. The main difference here? Once again, geography. Much like Oklahoma, Illinois is centralized to the country and surrounded by several micro sprint hotbeds of Oklahoma, Missouri and Indiana. Washington, however, has a strong group of locals that support the track weekly, but can really only count on a number of Californian’s making the long 15-hour haul to represent out-of-state competitors.
Maybe one day racers from all across the country will start flocking to Deming and support the epic event that is the Clay Cup Nationals. However, until then, Lemley, his staff, the west coast racers, and the loyal fans will continue to support this race year-after-year. Entering the 35th running, Clay Cup is arguably as strong as ever and a bright future still remains. However, one can only imagine the possibilities if this track was just that much closer to the rest of the country.