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March 21, 2023

For Edmonton’s Andrew Crandall, first championship a special feeling in bounce-back season

(Photo: Carol Ashton/Edmonton International Raceway)

The 2022 race season for Andrew Crandall was, thankfully, nothing like the year before.

At the start of the 2021 season, Crandall’s team got his Thunder Car built in a way they were initially “super stoked” about, he said. But the first night of year at Edmonton International Raceway, the car overheated, and eventually the motor expired.

Over the winter, his team took an engine out of a farm truck, and couldn’t believe how well it worked on the race track.

“We started winning races,” Crandall said. “The second race out of the 2022 season we won and I couldn’t believe it. It was unbelievable.”

Crandall and his team had their share of ups and downs throughout the year, but by the time it was done they had a more than 60 point lead on the way to an Edmonton track championship in the NASCAR Thunder Cars series.

Edmonton is a NASCAR-sanctioned quarter-mile paved oval track in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, Canada.

The title was seven years in the making for Crandall.

“Oh, my gosh. On the very last race of the season I broke down. I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I basically had it wrapped up, but we managed a second place on the last night and I cried on the front stretch. I was in so much joy. Finally. It took me seven years but I finally got one.”

“We don’t do qualifying very much so they started me in the back… I went as fast I possibly could, and I made my way through the field. I can’t remember where I placed in the heat, but I raced as hard as I possibly could. I didn’t want to have the mindset that I already won because my performance could be affected by that.”

Crandall got into racing because of his desire to be different. Growing up, others around here played hockey, baseball and football.

He never really had an interest in any of those sports.

“I like to stand out a little bit,” he said.

For his 12th birthday, Crandall and his family and friends went to the race track for the first time. Edmonton has a birthday ride program that allows participants to get in race cars and ride slowly around the track.

“I got to sit in a Thunder Car and we were rolling around the track and I’m asking the guy, just chewing this guy’s ear off, ‘How did you get into it? What kind of car is it?’

“We’re farmers. We’ve got your grain and your cows and all that. I don’t know really even what sparked it. No one really cared, but I didn’t get any allowance or anything so I had to either build something or help my neighbors and they would throw me a little bit of money.”

Crandall found a Civic online that was already prepped to go racing. He bought it for $300.

Andrew Crandall claimed the track championship in the Thunder Car class at Edmonton International Raceway in 2022. (Photo: Carol Ashton/Edmonton International Raceway)

“Funny enough it had the Dale Earnhardt No. 3 on it, and I thought that was really cool because I was just doing a little bit of research about him,” he said. “We left it basically the way it was, we put new safety belts in and spent good money on the neck protector. My mom and dad really helped me out there with all the safety stuff, because it’s not cheap to a 12 year old.”

Experience driving grain trucks and combines didn’t really compare to driving a race car for the first time.

“I’d never driven a car on a track with other people, and we went out there and we were going maybe 30 kilometers an hour around that track. I was terrified,” he said. “But we started getting a little bit better and a little bit better.”

In his first season, Crandall finished third in the points and won rookie of the year.

“So that spark turned into a flame really quick,” he said.

Crandall’s competitive nature has kept him in racing through all the ups and downs. He recalls an early race when he was in the back, coming down the backstretch as the leaders raced up to him. They blew by either side of his car so fast, they knocked his mirrors off.

Other drivers may have been disheartened by the incident, but Crandall took it as motivation.

“I said, you know what, I’m coming for you guys next year,” he said. “I’m going to practice super hard. The old NASCAR games on your PlayStation, I was practicing on that every night just trying to figure out the lines, trying to apply that to real life, and eventually I was banging doors with them in the 2014 season.”

He’s tried to model his racing style off of Earnhardt, and he kept the No. 3 on his car for several years.

“Of course you’re always going to think, oh, I’m not that great at it, maybe I’ll find something else,” he said. “I don’t know what it was, but I started collecting a lot of Dale Earnhardt stuff, and I used that as my motivation. Like, wow, he was confident, he drove like crazy, and I just tried to get that mentality in my head.”

Crandall knew the 2022 season was special when he raced against that same Thunder Car he rode in on his 12th birthday.

“I beat it. Oh yeah, walked all over it,” he said with a laugh. “He’s a really good guy. And he even recognized me, so that was really special.”

It hasn’t been an individual effort for Crandall as he’s climbed the racing ranks at Edmonton. Along with his mom, dad, sisters, grandparents, and girlfriend, he’s had help from Ron and Loretta Thiering, the promoters at Edmonton, and other drivers at the track.

Other racing veterans Brad and Kent Brooks and Mike Ramm came to Crandall’s shop to help set up scales and help with the technology in the shop.

He goes to church with a driver, Larry Philips, who races super late models on dirt. Philips found out Crandall was getting into racing, and he, along with his dad, offered to come to their farm when Crandall was first starting.

“Of course they laugh because they’re used to $30,000 late models, but they said, ‘OK, we’ll help you,'” Crandall said. “Well, those two have stayed by my side the whole time. They’re always in the pits with us, they’re helping us out like crazy. They’ve really helped out.

“Everyone has pitched in. I can go up to any one of those people at the track, they’ll shake my hand and they’ll help, I’ll help them, it’s a huge family. And I don’t know what I would do if I lost that connection.

“It’s been a real team effort and I appreciate that.”

Crandall isn’t sure if he’ll race full-time at Edmonton this season. The rigors of working on the farm and trying to get into college on top of racing can be difficult, but he’d like to try to defend his title.

He’ll stick around racing as long as he can though, because he’ll always have that love that started from that first ride at 12 years old.

“It’s borderline my therapy,” Crandall said. “It gives me chills even thinking about it. I love it so much.”

Edmonton International Raceway will open the 2023 season on Saturday, June 3.