It began as a dune buggy class. When the track operator eliminated the road course and insisted everyone race on the quarter mile dirt oval, it called for a new vehicle. Established chassis builder Jim Belfiore produced a dozen frames and sold them for $800 apiece. One of his creations powered by a four cylinder Datsun mounted up front captured the 1983 track championship.
Energetic racer Bruce Kranak, never one to follow the crowd, had a different idea. He owned a Volkswagen performance shop in San Jose so his choice of power plant was no surprise. What was unique was the configuration. Whereas Belfiore had opted for the traditional Sprint Car layout, Kranak flip-flopped the major components. He positioned the fuel tank in front of the driver and tucked a hot rodded Rabbit engine up under the tail. It remains to my knowledge, the only upright rear engined Sprint Car ever built. It was truly “One of One”.
There was a mad thrash to complete the car in time for the early May season opener. The fiberglass skin was unpainted and the chassis was bare metal but the car was fast! Kranak bowed out before the checkered flag fell but emerged from the cockpit ecstatic- He knew that he had a potential winner. Throughout June research and development continued and Kranak put together a string of top five finishes. Finally on the first of August after a race long battle with a pair of Belfiore cars, Kranak achieved his first win. It had to be a gratifying moment and rewarded the team’s outside-the-box thinking. Throughout the remainder of the season, Kranak either finished third or fell out. (I recall an issue with universal joint failure- This situation was remedied when the team installed u-joints procured from an Indycar manufacturer.) In the final points tally Kranak was ranked fifth overall.
When the 1985 season rolled around the team was loaded for bear and Kranak captured the Opener. After placing second twice more in May he won his third feature with the car on June 21st, taking over the points lead for the division. In spite of a couple more top five finishes, Kranak lost the lead when he took his family on vacation in late July. Then at the final points meet of the season, the likeable veteran wheel hopped another competitor and struck the cement retaining wall upside down. The roll cage of the unique race car was crushed in the accident and Kranak was extracted complaining of neck pain. He was stabilized and transferred to a local hospital where his injury was diagnosed as a broken neck. Sadly the crash ended Kranak’s racing career and the wrecked racecar was set aside.
During the off season Kranak made a deal with fellow VW enthusiast/racer Dion LeBeau for the purchase of the car. LeBeau rebuilt the roll cage and worked out an arrangement with Kranak wherein the business owner became primary sponsor. Personality-wise Kranak and LeBeau were polar opposites. Whereas Kranak was a loquacious extrovert, LeBeau was sullen and introverted. Nonetheless, he was a capable mechanic and a veteran driver in his own right. LeBeau put together a two car effort that included newcomer John Brumund piloting an older conventional buggy (also Rabbit powered).
At a Sunday April season opener, the new team served notice to all that they were serious competitors for the title by both placing in the top five.
LeBeau won his first feature with the car on Memorial Day weekend 1986. He ran consistently throughout the year and finished second in the point standings. At the end of season 2-day challenge race against the Nevada competitors (Quincy, CA), LeBeau placed fourth. It was second highest of the California based entries.
In 1987 LeBeau announced that the car was for sale but planned to race it until a buyer came calling. Though he captured numerous heat races, he didn’t win another feature that year. Still, a string of consistent placings (ten top fives during the regular season) earned him his first championship. One night in July, fearing his mount had a terminal engine problem, LeBeau switched cars with his teammate Brumund and Brumund became the third different driver to win a feature with the car. When the team made the long tow to Quincy at season’s end, LeBeau led the California contingency with a solid fifth place finish.
Without a potential buyer on line, LeBeau decided the campaign the car himself in 1988 in what turned out to be his home track’s last year of operation. On May 27th he won his second feature with the car and repeat on June 10th, tying Kranak’s record. Unfortunately LeBeau crashed the car heavily a month later and finished the season sixth in the points. In post season action the car was cobbled back together but crashed again on October 15th and couldn’t be repaired in time to make the annual trip to Quincy.
At the conclusion of 1988, a new club for the four cylinder Sprint Cars was formed (SORA) and a traveling schedule assembled. LeBeau chose to participate only in the events relatively close to his San Jose home- two at Antioch Speedway and two at Watsonville. By now his racer had five full seasons of wear plus three grueling crashes in its lifespan. LeBeau qualified fourth fastest at Antioch and finished fourth in the feature but the highlights reel ended there. In 1990 LeBeau kept the car at home.
In 1991 LeBeau made his final appearances with the car. The records show that on July 20th at Antioch LeBeau was scored tenth in the B Main. Five weeks later the car was fifth in one of three Heats, earning a transfer to the feature but likely didn’t take the green flag. After that, I never saw LeBeau or the unique car again.
In a perfect world, Bruce Kranak’s successful brainchild received the ground-up restoration it deserved. With seven feature wins and one championship to its credit, it certainly deserves some recognition.