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    The Hoosier Race Report

    by Danny Burton


    The Hoosier Race Report: Jerry Gappens

    My grandson and I were headed north to meet up with his dad for a long weekend. When we were almost there, I had one of those out in left field thoughts. Why isn’t there a Hall of Fame for promoters? Two nominees came to mind quickly. The O’Conner family at Kokomo would surely belong in my fictitious Indiana Race Promoters’ Hall of Fame. The next name that came to me was Jerry Gappens. We arrived at our destination and Karston’s dad and I chatted for a while and then everyone headed to their destination, but I had to eat first. I was surfing the internet in a parking lot when I saw the terrible news. Jerry Gappens had died.

    I didn’t know Jerry that well, but during his time promoting at Gas City, he was always friendly and accommodating. During his relatively short stay at Gas City, he had revived the track and actually promoted the track and the racers. Attendance was good, both in the bleachers and the pits. Jerry was quick to involve fans in some sort of activity during the (gasp) intermission. Like all good promoters, and Indiana has been blessed with several, Jerry worked harder than most of us would care to work. He was always looking to improve an already good short track experience. He found time to talk to me when I wrote a story about one of his team, Tyler Kelly. Jerry seemed to get along with everyone, not an easy task when dealing with such a variety of personalities. When I wrote a book a few years back, Jerry allowed me to set up shop and try and sell a few books, even setting them on the counter in the gift shop.

    My last communication with Jerry was via email about two and a half years ago. Like the other promoters I’ve dealt with over the past twenty years, I sent Jerry a message telling him that I would not be going to many races in the foreseeable future due to my wife’s diagnosis of dementia. He promptly answered and said that he would be praying for my wife. I couldn’t have asked for more.

    Of course we all will die, but knowing that doesn’t lessen the shock and hurt when it happens to anyone we may know. Jerry Gappens, I am sure, was in the middle of doing what he loved when he took the proverbial checkered flag. It isn’t fair, we cry, and it’s a shame. It’s true that any death isn’t fair, but it’s a fact of life such as it is.

    Those of us left behind are left with memories and let us be thankful for that. Whether you loved or hated Jerry Gappens for whatever reason, at least know that the racing world is somewhat diminished with Jerry’s passing. God be with you, buddy.

    Still basking in the glow of eight decades’ worth of memories at race tracks, I’m…

    Danny Burton



    Chapter 77: September Song

    As Thad drove to the garage, Willie Nelson’s version of “September Song” made its entrance on the radio. It seemed somewhat appropriate as he and Farrell were going to talk about their September schedule.

    Labor Day weekend would be their last three-race weekend, they decided. The lineup would be Bloomington, Lincoln Park and Haubstadt/Tri-State. They agreed that they would visit Gas City, Kokomo and Lawrenceburg at least one more time. On the spot, they called Charles’ parents and introduced themselves. They praised Charles, but expressed their concern that he would quit school and go racing full-time. Mrs. Pickens laughed at that one. Charles had told his parents how much fun he was having, but when he mentioned the possibility of quitting school, both mom and dad let him have it. Thad told her the Labor Day schedule and said that they could let her know the team’s weekend schedule if she liked. She said, no thanks, Charles could handle that. After multiple thank yous, Thad and Farrell hung up.

    Before Thad went back home, he and Farrell talked about going to the Four Crown. It would be Thad’s first visit to Eldora and he was curious, despite Farrell’s warning of how hard Eldora could be. “I’ll tell you, Thad, it’s fast and even the bravest guys can be scared of it.” Thad looked at Farrell and shook his head, then laughed a nervous laugh. “I don’t doubt you for a second, old buddy. But I might give it a try.”

    Eldora could wait. First up was one final visit to Bloomington. Charles had brought a friend with him, a local who had not been to Bloomington, he said, since he was in ninth grade. Farrell said to himself that the kid looked young enough to still be in the ninth grade, but he was the same age as Charles. It was fortunate for all concerned that the young man, Perry Finnegan, was happy to stay out of the way and mostly enjoy the racing from a seat in the bleachers.

    It was a decent night for the team. Thad stayed out of trouble despite an ill-handling car. He was happy to finish fifth and discovered a right rear tire that was going flat as he exited the car. Another lap and it would not have been fifth.

    From Bloomington, the team went to Lincoln Park on Saturday. Trouble began early as a middle aged man spouted off to Charles while the Tarheel Race Team was signing in. One use of the n-word and Charles grabbed the heavy set gentleman by the throat, shocking Thad, Farrell and Tyrus. The local constable quickly broke up the encounter before it got worse. To the jeers and catcalls of some bystanders, the guy was persuaded to leave. For good measure, the cop warned Charles to try not to get physical if it happened again. Charles smiled and shrugged.

    While going through their pre-hot laps routine, Tyrus asked Charles, “Do you get that often?” Charles grunted and nodded, then said, “Not that often.” Charles didn’t seem to be in a good mood to talk, so Tyrus let it be.

    It would be one of those nights where the car seemed to get faster as the feature went on. Thad found himself in a battle as the laps dwindled down with Jerald Jarvis working the low groove while Thad had the cushion all to himself. The race wasn’t decided until turn four of the last lap as Jerald couldn’t counter Thad’s momentum coming out of four to Brian Hodde’s checkered flag.

    Post-race, Thad and the happy team posed for pictures before Brad Dickison interviewed Thad. When asked to comment on the race, Thad went slightly off-script. “Brad, this one is for our crew guy Charles Pickens, an IU student who started helping us out and now he won’t go away.” Lots of laughter followed, then Thad spoke again. “If you’re not blind, you can see that Charles doesn’t look like most of us and somehow he has the courage to come here and contribute. There’s been times he’s had to deal with people who don’t like other people who look like Charles. It’s a sad fact of life. Charles had an incident this evening that was settled quickly by the law. Justice was served, and I want to add one more thing: If anyone comes near the Tarheel Race Team and says anything that could be interpreted as being bigoted toward Charles, they will have all of us to deal with. So what if he doesn’t look like us? In the few weeks we’ve had him on our team, he’s made us a better team and we love him for it.”

    The applause was generous and the interview was pretty much complete after Brad said he couldn’t add anything more.

    The quartet of Thad, Farrell, Tyrus and Charles went back to the pits, loaded up and headed for their favorite motel in Cloverdale. There was another race coming up at Haubstadt.



    Chapter 76: Wild and Crazy

    Thad went out to the track earlier than usual to try and find a closer parking spot to the track. He decided to sit in his car and send a message to Kate.

    Hi Kate: Sitting in the hauler at Kokomo, getting ready for another night of racing.

    I’ve thought a bit about your preference to break up and, really, it’s probably the smartest thing you could do. Your world and mine are very different. I hope you got a good education while you were with me up here, but I understand that you felt it best to do what you’re doing. I’ll admit there’s an emptiness inside me but I’ve been dealing with that since Dina died. You did a very good job of moving that emptiness aside.

    Take care,


    Thad read the text over twice before sending it. He had learned that, a lot of times, the best thing you can do with any setback you can’t control is shrug your shoulders and walk away.

    Racing would help with that. It was going to be a wild night.

    To be more accurate, until the feature, it was relatively calm on the surface. Thad had been fighting a push in his car from the start of the forty lapper. He settled into fourth place and had a good view of the three-way fight for the lead ahead of him. Try as he might, Thad could not gain on the trio of Cosmo Novak, Preston Janssen and Rod Rasmussen, Lane’s brother, who were engaged in a series of slide jobs even as they darted around and dodged lapped traffic.

    A yellow flag with six laps to go allowed all concerned to catch their breath. Lapped traffic wouldn’t be a factor, at least for much of the remainder of the race. The top five were Rasmussen, Novak, Janssen, Larrabee and Jankowski. Jerald Jarvis was sixth after starting nineteenth. Thad tried to figure out what Tyrus was signaling as he coasted through turn one. The running joke with Thad, Tyrus and Farrell all year had been about Thad’s inability to decipher what was being told to him. He shrugged inwardly and decided on his own what to do, which would be trying to stay as close to the leading trio as he could.

    Tom waved the green flag and Thad got a good jump–or so he thought. A banzai slider from Jerald all the way from sixth put Thad and Caleb back a spot. Thad was suddenly perturbed with himself. He promptly passed Jarvis as the three frontrunners put more space between the others. Then it happened. Going into turn three, R. Rasmussen, who wasn’t shy about mixing it up with anyone, tried a slider much like Jerald’s a few laps before. He tried to force himself in front of leader Cosmo. It didn’t work; Cosmo gave no ground. He and Rod collided and flipped into the fence, taking Preston, who had no chance to react, with them. Thad and Caleb ducked low and coasted to a stop as Tom had replaced the white flag with the red as quickly as he could.

    Racing was halted but the drama was just starting. Rod sat somewhat dazed in his car and was soon joined by Cosmo and Preston, both of whom were not pleased with the outcome. Heated words were exchanged and at one point Cosmo had to hold onto Preston to keep him from, as Jerald laughingly said much later, “jerk a knot in Rod’s poor tail.” As they often do, cooler heads prevailed and Cosmo and Preston hitched a ride on a golf cart to the pits, accompanied by thunderous cheers from the packed house. Rod opted for the safety of the ambulance.

    Rod’s decision to ride in the ambulance was a wise one. Multiple discussions over the incident broke out as Cosmo and Preston watched from the golf cart. The security people were busy endeavoring to keep a semblance of peace. Farrell, Tyrus and Charles also watched the festivities from a safe distance. At one point, Tyrus turned to Charles and asked, “Nothin’ like watching rednecks get crazy on a Saturday night, right Charles?” Charles could only laugh. Rod went directly from the ambulance to the USAC trailer for a brief chat. The word was that Rod “had a severe talking to.”

    The rest of the remaining field had been waiting for the race to restart. Farrell had been chatting with Thad about race strategy. It was a short conversation. Mostly they talked about the September schedule.

    Thad led Caleb and Jerald to the green/white/checkered restart. Going into turn one, Thad stuck with the low line. Surprisingly it worked. Caleb and Jerald took the high groove and found themselves holding off Brad Caplinger, who got major traction coming out of turn two. Thad had it comparatively easy, winning $30,000 at the checkered with a ten car length margin of victory over Caleb and Jerald, who had a dustup with Brad in turn four. This “discussion” lasted all the way to the pits, where more shouting and pointing fingers ensued as Thad was being interviewed.

    The Tarheel Racing Team celebrated at an all-night restaurant before heading south. As Thad followed the hauler down I-65, trying to stay awake, he finally thought of Kate. He smiled to himself.



    Chapter 75: Adios, Kate

    Thad groaned inwardly. Friday was going to be a bear.

    The trio of Thad, Farrell and Tyrus headed for the motel. When Farrell and Tyrus invited Thad to join them for supper, he respectfully declined. They had no way of knowing that he had received a text.

    From Kate.

    Hi, Thad: Hope you are well, wherever you are. I’m texting you partly because I’ve not been able to reach you on your phone. I’m sorry, but I don’t think it would be a good idea to see you anymore. You have no idea how much it pains me to write that and I’m sure it won’t be pleasant for you either. But the lives we’ve chosen aren’t terribly compatible. I’ve enjoyed the time we spent all summer traveling all over Indiana, but my biggest problem was fear. I couldn’t get used to even the possibility that you would be injured in an accident. That, along with this continued absence, pushed me to make this most difficult decision. I’m so sorry, Thad.

    You will always, no matter what, have a special place in my heart.

    With all my love and affection,


    Thad stared at his phone and read the text another time or two. He was tempted to answer right away, but decided to wait until when he felt a little more–what–objective? That would have to do.

    In the meantime, Thad went to the Burger King, brought it to the motel room and ate his gourmet dinner while watching an old movie.

    Friday was a typical Indiana day, hot and humid. Thad met Tyrus, Farrell and…Charles in the pits.

    “Hi, Charles. What’s this I hear about you quitting school?” Thad was smiling as he spoke.

    “I’m thinking seriously about it, Mr.--I mean, Thad.” Charles smiled back.

    Thad had another question. “Have you discussed this with your parents?”

    “Not yet, but I plan to when I talk to them on Sunday.”

    Thad scratched his head and just looked at the young man who would be a great addition to the team. But he knew that this kid needed to be in school. Racing wouldn’t be the career for him. He had more potential than that if he wanted to be around racing. His talents would be wasted driving up and down the road, chasing races.

    Charles was getting uncomfortable at Thad’s silence. Finally, Thad spoke. “Tell you what, Charles. Farrell, Tyrus and I have talked. Here’s my proposition. I’m going to hire you to work on the Tarheel Race Team. I’ll have Rhonda, Farrell’s wife, handle all the paperwork and you start right now.”

    The young man’s eyes widened and he had a grin as wide as an Indiana cornfield. ‘Really? That’s great. I’m so ready for this.” He looked around at Tyrus. “I hope your job just got easier.”

    Everyone laughed, then Thad spoke. “Charles, there’s only one condition to your employment.”

    “What’s that?” Charles should have guessed what was coming.

    “You stay in school, young man. I’ve done some checking and you have great potential to teach, write, you name it. You need to pursue that.” Thad paused for a second. “Does that mean no racing for you? Of course not. It does mean that you might have to work even harder than now, but Farrell and I think you can do that.” Another pause. “What do you think?”

    Charles looked around at the others. His gaze settled on Tyrus. He asked, “How much pressure did you say the right rear needed?”

    Everyone laughed and Farrell got out his phone. “Thad, I’m going to tell Rhonda she has a new employee to deal with.” Thad grinned and nodded.

    The issue with Kate was on the backburner for now. Racing was the order of business. Thad and Charles went to the fence and watched the Kokomo Speedway crew massage the track. Thad remarked that the track would inevitably turn dusty despite the best efforts of these guys, who were as good as anyone at track prep.

    The nearly sold out show got underway as Thad tried to guess what the track would do. He enlisted Charles to wander around the pits and observe certain people to see what they might be doing in terms of setups. He didn’t think Charles would know all the technical details of preparing a race car but his knack of observing might pay off.

    Thad had a good if not great result in the Friday afternoon show. From his ninth starting position, Thad ran as high as fifth before dropping back to ninth, where he finished. He told Farrell that, sure enough, the track changed on him. Farrell just smiled as if to say “I told you so.”

    The track crew worked like crazy to get the oval ready for the Friday night action. Thad was pleased that the track was the usual Kokomo surface. He came from sixth to give Cosmo fits in the feature before falling short.

    There remained the Saturday night main event, paying a cool $30K to win. No doubt several drivers and/or team members did their share of tossing and turning, but Thad wasn’t one of them. He slept like a baby, waking up in time for the Saturday morning breakfast at the motel. He considered answering Kate’s text, but watched the Weather Channel while he ate instead.



    Chapter 74: Smackdown

    Lincoln Park Speedway was good to Thad the following night. It didn’t hurt to be good either. Thad started on the pole of the feature and benefited from a long green flag interval to finish a full straightaway ahead of Caleb. Thad got a laugh from the crowd when he apologized to them for “stinking up the show.”

    Charles had been waiting on the little caravan that afternoon. Farrell was delighted. Charles didn’t know a lot about the mechanics, but he was eager to pitch in and do what needed to be done. Tyrus was especially pleased, partly because Charles was a lot of help and partly because they were roughly the same age. Thad was impressed that Charles had just shown up. Throughout the season, young people and old would hang around their pit and make promises about showing up to help. Charles followed through.

    Thad and company took the following weekend off, preparing for the Kokomo Smackdown, three nights of hard core racing, easily as competitive as any other form of four-wheeled racing. Thad spent part of the break hanging around the apartment or trying to reach Kate. He tried three times before reaching her and even then, she couldn’t talk long because she was busy with the new school year. After the fairly brief conversation, Thad wondered if he and Kate were finished. Inwardly, he shrugged his shoulders despite the sting.

    Whenever he was racing at Kokomo, Thad always made it a point to thank the O’Connor family for all they did. After the Kokomo’s Sprint Week night, Thad changed his thank you a little and thanked Reece for coming up with Smackdown. It was three nights of hardcore, cut-and-slash racing where emotions ran high and people could walk away with a nice chunk of change or another broken race car.

    The Tarheel Race Team arrived early at the track, staking out a place in the line of haulers waiting to enter the pits. Thad parked nearby and wandered over to the line of people waiting for the pit shack to open. He found a smiling Tyrus in line for the team. Farrell was still in the tractor, not wishing to deal with the Indiana heat and humidity just yet.

    “Why the big smile, Tyrus? You like this weather?”

    The young man chuckled. “I just got a text from guess who?”

    “I give up. Tell me, man.”

    “Would you believe it was Charles? He said he can come up Friday and Saturday.”

    Thad’s eyes widened. “Really? I think he’s got the bug.” He was serious. “That’s a good thing. No matter how long he lasts, we can use the help.”

    Tyrus was serious, too. “He’s mentioned quitting school, Thad. Even I’m smart enough to know that might not be a good idea.”

    “I may have to have a heart-to-heart with him. I don’t know his parents, but I’d guess they wouldn’t be crazy about that.”

    “We’ll know more when he gets here.”

    The pits opened and the 43 sprint car teams, along with the 17 Thunder Cars, eased into the pits. Clouds had gathered, giving everyone some relief from the sun. But people were checking their phones and looking at the sky. Reece had watered the track as if it wasn’t going to rain. If it didn’t rain too much, the racing would still happen. Farrell said that if it rained out, be ready to race tomorrow afternoon and evening. “They’ve done that before. Racers weren’t too crazy about it, but the fans liked it.” He looked to the west. “Ah, we’ll be alright, rain or shine.” Thad had to agree.

    Just before the driver’s meeting, the sprinkles began and the wind picked up. Everyone scrambled for cover and the Hoosier sky became very dark. As Thad reached the hauler, Tyrus and Farrell had pushed the car inside. The rain began and USAC quickly announced that racing would begin tomorrow at two o’clock.



    Chapter 73: The Dog Days

    August in Indiana meant only slightly lower temperatures, but extra humidity with an occasional shower thrown in. There was the usual post-Sprint Week let down with car counts down somewhat. The Tarheel Race Team kept to a two races per weekend schedule.

    The first Friday night in August saw the team unload at Bloomington with some missing members. Of course, Kate had gone. Arley and Louise had gone to a couple of NASCAR races, more to visit with old friends than watch the races. Rhonda had a nasty cold which kept her home for the weekend. Daryl had gone back to North Carolina to resume his place at the local watering hole. Most of Thad’s greetings were accompanied by asking where “his girlfriend” was. Thad made a mental note to tell Kate that she was missed.

    It seemed as if he met a new person each time the team showed up to race. On this warm and humid Friday night, Thad was approached by a slim young man who was with a few other fellows, all of whom appeared to be college students. He wore a faded Thad Larrabee t-shirt. But first Thad noticed that the young man was Black.

    “Hello, Mr. Larrabee. I’m Charles Pickens.” He stuck out his hand.

    “Hi, Charles. Glad to meet you.” Thad pointed at the shirt. “Nice shirt, Charles.”

    The young man looked down at the shirt and said, “Thanks. I bought it about two years ago. I’m about to outgrow it.”

    “Where did you buy it?” Thad had been among the NASCAR stars who did a brisk business in souvenir sales while he was still racing stock cars.”

    “At Pocono. I bought it two years ago. You had won the race the previous week.”

    “That’s right, Charles.” Thad started to the drivers’ meeting. “C’mon, you ever been to a drivers’ meeting?”

    “No, sir.”

    “Well, it’s not a big deal, but you still have to pay attention so I’m inclined to attend.”

    “I understand, sir,”

    “Charles, you can drop that ‘sir’ stuff, man. But I appreciate your politeness.”

    Thad was correct. There was one small change in the program. The modifieds would not be running a B main. Everyone would make the feature.

    Charles tried not to look too self-conscious. He was getting used to being one of the few black folks at a race anywhere. For that matter, he was outnumbered at most places he went, even school. Charles knew that black people had to work harder to get what they could get, and he was determined to make his mark. He couldn’t help it if he discovered and loved racing while in grade school. A classmate smuggled in a copy of the National Speed Sport News and let Charles look it over. Instead, he read the whole thing, cover to cover and he was hooked. Charles had seen the occasional race on TV, but seeing stories and pictures put him over the edge.

    English literature was Charles’ major and he wanted to be a writer. He figured that might end up writing about racing, maybe in PR or writing a feature story. No matter what, Charles Pickens loved racing and writing, and if he could make a living in either or both, he would be nearly as pleased as his parents.

    As Thad prepared for hot laps, Charles talked with Farrell. By the time Thad finished his hot lap session, Farrell had a volunteer to take Kate’s place, plus do some heavy lifting. Charles was willing to work for free, but Farrell said no to that.

    Thad finished second in his heat race and secured a third row starting spot for the feature. Tyrus let Charles push Thad to the staging area off turn two.

    Charles felt like a kid in a candy store. Here was where he belonged. He felt at home here. Since his freshman year at IU he had been coming to Bloomington when he had the funds. He didn’t care about the stares from other people in the pits. He was black; so what? He was hooked on racing, mostly open wheel racing. There was no desire to go to Daytona or even Indianapolis. Charles’ goal was to go to as many different Indiana race tracks as he could, much as Thad had done.

    The feature left Thad feeling happy, if not satisfied. He steadily moved up to second with five laps to go. A yellow waved and Preston Janssen was leading. Somehow Thad knew that his friend was aware of who was behind him. It seemed like both cars were equal. Thad would have to go where Preston didn’t. It almost worked. As Preston protected the bottom, Thad rode the cushion around the outside and fell a car length short as the checkered flag waved.

    Sitting on the left rear tire after the race, and holding a cold drink, Thad was tired. He had remembered to text Kate, who had answered. Preston came over and gave his buddy a tug on the ear. Both laughed and replayed the last five laps like kids do after any game. Thad introduced Preston to Charles, who said hello and resumed helping Tyrus load up for the night.

    Soon everyone was loaded up and heading home to prepare for another Saturday night race. Over his protests, Farrell slipped Charles $25 for his work. The Tarheel Race Team were heading to Lincoln Park tomorrow night and Charles was welcome to join them.

    He said, are you kidding? I’ll be there.




    Chapter 72: Goodbye Kate


    Sprint Week traditionally ended at Haubstadt. But as the Tar Heel Race Team left Bloomington on Saturday morning, the weather forecast wasn’t very promising for racing. To no one’s surprise, light rain began falling somewhere near Shoals, Indiana. A wreck just east of Loogootee slowed the mini-caravan some more. Tyrus, who was driving the hauler as usual, grumbled to himself about the glacier-like pace of I-69’s construction. Farrell was philosophical about the whole thing, having endured many delays over the years. Rhonda was asleep in the back of the cab. Behind them, Thad looked at the surrounding hills of southern Indiana while Kate tried and failed to stay awake. 


    A potential rainout may have been the farthest thing from Kate’s mind. She was due back in North Carolina on Wednesday. Not only did she have to consider the challenges of a new school year, she had been pondering where her relationship with Thad would be going, even though they had talked about it a few times. 


    Thad had been prepared to take Kate back to North Carolina the first thing on Monday morning, but she wanted to fly to Asheville and hitch a ride to Brevard with a friend. He reluctantly agreed to take her to the Louisville airport on Tuesday. 


    Meanwhile, Thad and company sat under the awning of Arley’s RV waiting for the rain to stop. Louise bet Thad twenty dollars that the rain would continue until seven o’clock local time and Tommy and USAC would agree to cancel the program. If the race rained out, everyone would go a few miles south to Evansville and invade the casino. Daryl texted Thad from Illinois where he was visiting in-laws. The rain was easing up in Centralia, almost due west of Haubstadt. Thad smiled to himself, thinking about the twenty he would collect from Louise. 


    Two hours later, Thad was having a friendly chat with the Gunslinger about race promotion. Brad seemed to think that the promoters were prone to making more than their share. Thad tried for a while to convince the Gunslinger that may have been true–up to a point. But it seemed like complaints about promoters only came when the weather was agreeable, the bleachers and pits were full, and an abundance of sponsors were on hand. 


    As he spoke, Thad pointed to the western sky over Illinois. It was clearing off and the rain had stopped. People were filling the bleachers. The car count was 41 sprints and 23 modifieds. Sponsors were everywhere, offering goodies to fans and drivers alike. Thad said to the ‘slinger, “Remember that show in Pennsylvania a few weeks ago? What’d we have, nineteen cars? And if my memory is working, the crowd wasn’t that great either. How did the promoter do that night?”


    Brad said, “Well, that was just one show.”


    “You’re right, but he lost money that night. At least that’s what a lot of people said. People smarter than me.”


    “You’re right about that.”


    They both laughed and went to the driver’s meeting. 

    Thad and the Gunslinger would meet again later that humid evening. During hot laps a car spun in front of Thad, who could do nothing but hit the car. The damage was mostly to the front end and as the car went to the pits on the wrecker, Tyrus and Farrell swung into action, grabbing the tools and parts they would need. 


    Kate was amazed to find a group of mechanics and drivers heading to where Thad’s car was parked, led by the Gunslinger himself. The group would have made a Broadway choreographer proud as they thrashed away, trying to fix the car of a competitor–and a well funded competitor at that. She said to herself, “They are helping a guy who might beat them later tonight and take some of their money.” But she kept quiet as she watched the group get the car fixed so Thad could qualify. 


    Thad was the last qualifier and was happy with being 21st quickest of the 41 cars. He started on the front row of his heat and after the race he was interviewed. Thad tried to be brief, emphasizing the amount of help from his competitors and anyone else who helped repair his car. “The Tarheel Race Team tripled in size there for a few minutes.” The Tarheel team made the show, and would start ninth in the feature. 


    The heat race win would be the highlight of Thad’s night. Halfway through the feature, the track changed and Thad’s car developed a major push, the situation in which the car didn't want to turn. He wrestled the car as best he could and finished twelfth after running as high as fifth. 


    Cosmo won both the race and the Indiana Sprint Week championship, including the cool rocking chair. Thad had a slight mathematical chance at winning the title but his hot lap misfortune ended that. 


    After the race, the team slowly loaded up and prepared for the long drive across southern Indiana, with most of the trip on interstates 64 and 65. It would be a long drive even without losing the hour due to the time zone. They would arrive home in the wee hours of Sunday morning. 


    Sunday was the day of recovery. Thad and Kate had said little to each other as if they were avoiding the subject of her leaving. In his mind, there wasn’t much to say. Besides all that, they were all tired from the grind that is Indiana Sprint Week. 


    On Tuesday morning, Thad loaded the car with Kate’s luggage. They decided that he could bring her non-essential items to North Carolina on his next trip south. On the drive to Louisville, they talked some. Both expressed sadness that her Hoosier experience was over. They agreed that it was an education for both. 


    Thad walked with Kate as far as he could before security rules took over. He gave her a hug and kiss, wished her a safe flight, promised to stay connected between races, and walked back to his car. 


    Both fought back the tears as they went their separate ways, wondering what would be next. 



    Chapter 71: Three’s a Crowd

    The storied red clay oval was a driver’s track even more than the others. Its turns were high banked and the track was narrow all the way around. Three-wide racing was possible, but not recommended. Thad ran well at Bloomington, but could never finish up front.

    Qualifying was hold-your-breath-and-hang-on for about ten seconds. Thad loved the challenge, even though he seldom qualified very well. On this cloudy Friday night, he managed to go out fairly early and qualified tenth fastest.

    After his heat race in which he finished fourth, Thad sat in his trailer with Caleb, who had beaten Thad out for third place in the same race. Both could see lightning off to the west, faint for now. Kate came over and showed them the radar on her phone. She said, “They better hurry.” Both nodded as they stared into the distance.

    Caleb said, “Thad, can I ask you a kind of personal question?”

    Thad looked at him and shrugged. “Why not?”

    “Well, have you thought about your future? I mean, are you going to do this next year?”

    “Good question. But I don’t have an exact answer yet. I’ve thought about it for sure.” Thad looked again. “Did you have something in mind?”

    “Not necessarily.” Caleb leaned over closer to Thad. “I’m hearing talk that Tyrus is talking to some other owners. He’s a good kid, Thad. Talented too.”

    Thad sighed a bit. “Yeah, I’ve heard the same thing. He’s talked to two owners I know of. I need to talk to Farrell and Tyrus too.”

    “I just wanted to make sure you knew. What those two do may depend on what you do.”

    Thad looked at his friend. “One rumor I’ve heard is me selling the team to Farrell.”

    “I've heard that one, plus I’ve heard one about Tyrus driving for Farrell in your car next year.”

    Thad had to laugh at that one. “That’s a new one for me.” He looked around the busy pit area. “I’m definitely going to talk to those guys soon.”

    Caleb grunted. “Silly season is alive and well.”

    Any serious talk with Farrell or Tyrus would have to wait. Racing was on the agenda at the beautiful (Thad’s opinion, among others) red clay oval. As it turned out, Thad and Caleb started side by side in the fourth row for the feature. Both steadily moved forward until the yellow flag waved for a backmarker’s spin.

    On the restart, Caleb was third with Thad fourth. There were only eight laps to go. The green flag came out and the good friends resumed their battle. With three laps to go, they had advanced to second and third and were closing in on the leade,r Cosmo. A lapped car was between the trio. It would be no big deal, but the car was occupying the middle lane. The narrow track was even more so. Things were coming to a head.

    Thad decided that if Caleb passed the lapper on the high side, he would go low. Or he might ride the cushion if Caleb went low. This would have worked had the lapped car held his position. But as they went into the third turn three abreast, the lapped car noticed Caleb on his right before seeing Thad. The lapper turned down into Thad’s side, bouncing off him and then contacting Caleb’s car, sending him into a spin that should have been a lot worse. All three cars ended up pointing the wrong way as the yellow flag waved instead of the white.

    Sitting in his car, waiting for a push, Thad was quite frustrated, but he knew it was another one of those racing accidents that wasn’t really anyone’s fault, especially not Caleb’s. The driver of the third car couldn’t know that Thad was going to go three-wide. Poor Caleb got the short end of the stick, but he was thankful it was only a spin and not anything worse.

    The race ended with Thad finishing sixteenth and Caleb seventeenth. Afterwards in the pits, they sat in the same chairs talking about the race, signing autographs and getting their pictures taken by fans and photographers, both the real ones and the fans with their cell phones. Things died down somewhat as the two were joined by Farrell and Rhonda. There was no real hurry, despite the lightning that was now accompanied by thunder rolling through the southern Indiana hills. They would all get up in the morning and head for Haubstadt.

    Of course, they were chatting about the late race incident and all agreed it was one of them racin’ deals. Finally, Caleb said to Thad, “Silly season? Man, it’s always silly season around here.” Everyone laughed, but only Thad and Caleb knew the true intention of his remark. It was left to Farrell to say, “Quite true, Rev. You should make that the title of your next sermon.”

    More laughter ensued, because sometimes the best way to deal with a problem or setback is to laugh at it.



    Chapter 70: Good Samaritan

    Terre Haute was good to Thad, but not quite as good as Lawrenceburg. After setting fast time, Thad made a desperate last lap pass of Cosmo to finish fourth in his heat and transfer to the feature. Cosmo had to run the B Main, which he won.

    The green flag dropped for the feature and Thad knew something wasn’t quite right with the car. The thing didn’t want to turn. Thad hated tight race cars, especially when he had to wrestle the NASCAR behemoths. This was nearly as bad. He was doing well to maintain his starting position, sixth. When Preston had a tire go flat on him with a lap to go, Thad was the first beneficiary, grabbing a top five.

    After the race, Thad and Daryl sat by the hauler talking while Farrell, Tyrus, Kate and Rhonda busied themselves loading the car and equipment up for the next night at Lincoln Park. Arley and Louise had retreated to their RV. Other teams were doing similar work, the post-race ritual that would end the day for them–except for the few hardy fans or team members who were of a mind to whoop it up a bit before retiring for the night.

    The following morning, Thad and Kate awakened to a series of noises outside their motel window. Thad looked at his phone which told him it was 8:23 a.m. Too late to go back to sleep, so Thad got dressed and went outside to see what was going on.

    Brad Caplinger, his two-man crew, Farrell and Tyrus were working on Brad’s car. Farrell noticed Thad standing there and walked over to him.

    “They are changing the engine. Lucky for them Tyrus is an ace when it comes to emergency engine changes,” Farrell said.

    Thad yawned and said, “Do they need any help?”

    “I imagine they’re hungry. Brad said they haven’t eaten yet.”

    Thad said, “Well, I can take care of that. Are they about done?”

    “Shouldn’t be much more than fifteen minutes.”

    Thad squinted at Farrell. “Well, let ‘em get cleaned up and we’ll all go to that truck stop there across the road.”

    “Sounds like a winner,” Farrell said.

    “I’m going back to the room and wake Kate up–if she’s not already up. What do you say we all meet at the truck stop in 45 minutes?”

    “Works for me. I’ll tell ‘em.”

    Farrell sauntered back to the impromptu work area. Caplinger looked at him and pointed to Thad, who was going back to his room. “What did he want?”

    Farrell shrugged. “Nothin’. He avoids work like this every chance he gets.”

    Caplinger snorted and started to speak, but Farrell cut him off. “You guys get cleaned up and meet us at the truck stop in 45 minutes. Thad thought you all looked a little hungry so he’s buying.”

    Brad looked at Farrell with some surprise. “He’s gonna feed the team that’s gonna whip him tonight?”

    Farrell chuckled. “Something like that.”

    An hour later, orders had been placed by the large group. Brad had maneuvered his way into a seat next to Thad, who was amused.

    Naturally, Brad had to ask. “Why did you do this? What good does it do you?”

    Thad was genuinely surprised, but recovered by asking, “Have you ever helped a fellow racer out? I know you have because I saw you do it for Zen the week before his wreck. And I saw you just give Lane Rasmussen a tire last week..” Slight pause. “A right rear, no less.”

    Brad was taken aback. He tried to recover. “But you are a bigger name. I can beat Lane or Zen–if he was still out there. But you’re a threat to win whenever you show up. I can beat you on a given night.”

    “Yeah, but a racer’s a racer.” Thad paused, wanting to choose his words correctly. Kate sat on the other side of him, marveling at his ability to have an answer for everything. “He should have been a teacher,’ she thought.

    “You see, Brad, we’re all competitors here. That isn’t the same as enemies. Even in my NASCAR days, it wasn’t life or death. The same type of things happen there too, guys helping each other out. Not necessarily helping a guy out so he can beat you, but the day-to-day stuff. My late wife was the favorite babysitter of a lot of my competitors' kids until she got sick. If something like that is helping a guy outrun me, well, it will just have to be.”

    The others at the table had gotten quiet, noticing this conversation was more interesting than whatever they had been talking about.

    Brad sat still, obviously thinking about what he had just heard. Then he had a thought. “What if this great meal gives me the strength to beat you tonight?” He smiled and leaned back.

    Thad didn’t miss a beat. “What if it makes you sicker than a dog?” Laughter rang through the truck stop. When it died down, Thad spoke again, seriously. “Brad, I hope you know I would never do that to my worst enemy and you are far from that. The point is that it doesn’t hurt to go out of your way every now and then to help somebody. That can cover a lot of ground, whether it’s here at breakfast or giving a guy a tire.”

    “So do you get a rise out of my comments during interviews.” Brad was straining to get back on top of the conversation.

    “Do you think that maybe I’ve heard the same stuff from NASCAR guys in times past? I learned years ago to let that stuff roll off my back. I get it that some guys use that to psyche themselves up. That’s fine, but don’t expect a guy to react one way or another. If he or she does, so be it. But otherwise?” Thad shrugged his shoulders, indicating how he would react.

    The rest of the breakfast was relatively quiet. A few of the others wanted to extend the conversation but Thad was hungry.

    That night at Lincoln Park, Thad was still hungry after he bobbled on the white flag lap while leading Jerald, who scooted by for the win. Thad wasn’t pleased with himself but did say that there was no shame in losing to Jerald, who everybody liked. The way he said it generated a good bit of laughter in the crowd. Even Jerald thought it was funny, true (it was) or not.

    On to Bloomington.



    Chapter 69: Time Out

    “Only four more races?” Kate chuckled. “At least you get to enjoy your success a little longer.”

    “Yeah, that’s true, kid.” Thad leaned back in his chair. He and Kate were at his apartment on a cloudy Monday afternoon enjoying the day off.

    “Hey, did Rhonda get all the reservations?”

    “I don’t know for sure, but I’m betting on her.” Thad looked at her. “Why do you ask?”

    “Just wondering. I hope she reserves rooms at the Comfort Inn. It's a bit more of a drive but it’s worth it.”

    Thad laughed. “She’s said that herself. I’ll bet that’s where we end up.”

    They talked a while longer about whatever came up, as couples do when the pressure’s off. Then Thad noticed he had a phone call. It was Daryl.

    “Hey Daryl. How are things down at the lake?”

    “Raining now, Thad ol’ buddy.” Slight pause. “Guess what?”

    “I give up, Oh wait. Rollie’s getting married.”

    They both laughed. Daryl said, “Better than that. I’m coming up to Terre Haute on Wednesday.”

    “Say what?” Thad was shocked.

    “Yeah, turns out Sandy has a cousin over in Illinois she wants to meet.” Sandy was Daryl’s long suffering wife. Behind his back Rollie and Thad called her “The Boss.”

    “We’re coming up Tuesday and I’ll meet you at the track on Wednesday.”

    “Sounds good. We’ll be ready.”

    “Hey, I saw where you won at Lawrenceburg. Way to go, man. Guys were talking about it at the RiverWatch.”

    “It’s the best race I’ve had in a long time, man. Almost as good as Daytona.”

    “Which time?” They both laughed.

    Thad said, “I can’t wait to introduce you to Arley and the guys. You’ll like all of ‘em.”

    Daryl said in a serious voice, “We aren’t going to drink any beer, are we?”

    Thad laughed so hard that Kate gave him a look. He took the hint and retreated inside. He and Daryl worked out the details. He couldn’t promise, but he hoped to stay for all four races. Thad doubted that but it didn’t matter. There would be another Tarheel in the house.

    Wednesday, noon, found Thad and company sitting under the canopy of Arley’s RV at the Terre Haute Action Track. With help from Rhonda, Arley was grilling hamburgers and some hot dogs for Tyrus. Kate, Thad, Louise and Daryl sat in lawn chairs engaged in idle chatter, the weather, North Carolina, racing NASCAR and USAC. Thad mostly listened, pleased that his friends were friends with each other. Every so often Daryl would give Thad a look, which Thad knew that it said, “Man, this is great. Glad I made the trip.” That was good enough for Thad.

    Kate spoke up. “I have a question for everybody, not just Thad and me.”

    Thad gave her a quizzical look. “What is it?”

    “Well, do any of you give much thought about the future? Like five or ten years from now?”

    The others exchanged looks that said, where did THAT come from?

    Kate waited. She was a bit surprised when Tyrus spoke up first.

    “I hope to own my own sprint car team in five years. If I can make it happen I hope to race with the World of Outlaws.”

    Kate loved it. “That’s the way to chase your dream, Tyrus.”

    Rhonda was next. “I think that I’ll be thinking a lot harder about retiring in five years, certainly before ten years.”

    “Nothing wrong with that. Mind if I join you?” Kate’s comment brought laughter.

    Arley took a break from the grill and said, “I hope Louise and I are doing what we’re doing right now, but I expect it will be at a slower pace.”

    “Will you sell your half of the car to someone else, Arley?”

    Arley was briefly taken aback at Kate’s question, but replied, “I’m not sure. That might depend on Thaddeus here.”

    Thad noticed everyone looking at him. “Okay, I’ll play. I can’t see myself doing this in five years. Like Arley I’ll cut back on the constant travel. I imagine I’ll stay home more, having you guys over to sit on the dock, drink beer and make sure nobody steals the mountain.” He paused. “I’ll probably go to a race now and then, but I can see myself stepping back at some point, but not yet.

    Thad looked at Kate. “What was your point in asking such a question, dear?”

    Kate said, “I wanted to know how your thoughts matched up with mine.”

    Louise had been quiet, but now she spoke. “So did they? Arley and I are on the same page. This traveling around eventually takes its toll.” She looked at Tyrus. “You, on the other hand, have most of it in front of you.” She smiled. “If I envy anyone here, it’s you, Tyrus.”

    Tyrus almost blushed. The others smiled in agreement. “I’m going to get in line. The pits ought to be open soon.” He got up before anyone could tell him it was still early.

    The group fell silent with the only sounds coming from the other campers. The others had their own thoughts, but Thad was starting to think racing. He had won on Sunday night at the ‘burg, but that seemed so long ago. He found himself wanting to make it two straight.

    That was, for Thad, what it was all about. You reach one goal; you set another. A few minutes later, he and Arley got in the golf cart and headed for the pits with Arley serving as taxi driver.

    The Action Track waited patiently.



    Chapter 68: From Zero to Hero


    Brad Caplinger gave himself the nickname “The Gunslinger.” He fancied himself as an “outlaw” racer and seemed to seek out controversy. If he wasn’t feuding with at least one of his competitors, he felt compelled to invent a feud. The funny thing was that Brad was a pretty good racer. In his six years of running with USAC he had racked up twenty four wins and a near miss at a championship. He reveled in the divisiveness he created. Most of his competitors were not fond of him. 


    Thad didn't pay Brad much mind; he more or less ignored the Arizona native. This irked Brad to no end. He had tried over the past few months to antagonize the older racer, calling him a rich NASCAR star who couldn’t outrun poor boys like himself. Thad had heard it all before. There were a few NASCAR guys he had raced with who were prime to shooting off their mouths. Thad figured they were all PR hungry and he didn’t pay attention to them either. When asked his opinion, he would say something like “they have a First Amendment right. Let ‘em use it.” 


    Rolling into Lawrenceburg for night Three of Sprint Week, things started going wrong right away. Thad’s Camaro had a flat tire. Farrell stubbed his toe getting out of the truck. Arley was pulled over for speeding–in his RV. And Kate’s laptop was the victim of a virus. 


    After unloading, the bad luck continued. Tyrus had accidentally mounted the front tires backwards, left to right, etc. That was fixed and Rhonda drew a 76 for Thad’s qualifying run; he was 34th of 37 cars to take time on a dried up track. Thad qualified 25th, barely missing the cutoff for starting in the first three rows of his heat. 


    Their luck began to change after his heat race. Thad just missed transferring to the feature, but the car felt pretty good. But then came the B Main. Thad was in a transfer spot when he spun on the third lap. He restarted on the tail and came back to finish sixth, good enough to start 19th in the feature. 


    By now the sun had gone down and the track had received some extra water before the feature. Tim Montgomery waved the green flag and Thad immediately knew that, once again, Farrell and Tyrus had given him a great handling car. He steadily worked his way to the front. With five laps to go, he was third after a caution knocked out the two leaders. Thad had been gaining on the cars in front of him and believed he had a good chance at winning an ISW feature. The green flag waved and Thad went to work, quickly getting around Cosmo and…Brad Caplinger. By the time the checkered flag waved, Thad was leading by a half straightaway.  


    He was happily surprised to see that Preston had finished second. Mr. Caplinger was third. After the winner’s interview Thad was getting his picture taken. Preston was next, followed by Brad. Both the winner and runnerup were talking to each other and accepting congratulations when they heard some boos mixed with laughter. Someone said, “There’s Brad doing Brad things.”As it turned out, Brad was complaining about the first two finishers “teaming up” on him. 


    Back in the pits, there was the usual crowd hanging around the winner. A certain few were hanging close in case there was an altercation of some sort. But that wasn’t going to happen. Thad didn’t even know what Brad had said and neither did Preston until Sparky told him. 


    None of it–the flat tire, Farrell’s stubbed toe, Arley’s speeding ticket, Kate’s balky laptop, Tyrus’s mounting the wrong tires, and Rhonda’s drawing a high qualifying number–mattered at the moment. The Tarheel Racing Team had won their first Indiana Sprint Week feature. 


    Thad was mightily pleased. This had been one of his goals when he made up his mind to go sprint car racing. He would enjoy it for a while, but he knew that there were still four more races. He wanted to win some of them too. 




    Chapter 67: Kokomo Does Disappoint (Thad)

    Night Two of Indiana Sprint Week turned out to be a disappointment for Thad, especially after it had begun so well.

    The tiny band of gypsies plus Arley and Louise with their RV arrived early at the Kokomo Speedway. The atmosphere was relaxed for the time being as Arley and Louise brought more food than the Tarheel Race Team could ever eat. But very little food was wasted as word got around that the rich former NASCAR car owner had brought a bunch of food to share.

    This was gratifying as it was a chance for Thad to meet more people that he raced with or against, backmarkers, race winners alike. By now he knew some by sight if not their names. There were a couple of guys Thad had encountered on the track with less than happy results. But after a pleasant conversation with them, Thad reflected that these guys weren’t necessarily out to wreck the rich NASCAR star; they were trying to prove to him and themselves they could race a bit as well. Thad appreciated that. With one, he jokingly said, “ Take it easy on me tonight.” The guy laughed and said the same thing as he walked away, holding a ham and cheese sandwich.

    Thad sat back in his lawn chair and watched the scene. How different it was from what he had been doing for nearly twenty years. Right now it was casual. Drivers, for the most part, didn’t hide in the back of the haulers or in the truck cabs. They were accessible. Most were friendly. Practically all were polite at least and even those who weren’t always polite had their good side. Thad decided, no matter what, this was a great experience for him. It was July and he still didn’t need to think about next year. It was all about enjoying the moment.

    Rhonda and Kate drew a 23 for Thad’s turn to qualify. The car felt perfect to him as he nearly set a new track record for non-wing sprints, a blistering 12.589 on his second lap.

    The good times continued as Thad easily won his heat race. Very little was changed on the car for the 30 lap feature. Thad started fourth with Preston Janssen beside him. Tom Hansing waved the green flag and Thad barreled into the first turn with 22 of his best friends. Soon enough he found out that he could run high or low. By lap thirteen Thad was second behind Jerald Jarvis with Preston in third. Both passed Jarvis on lap sixteen and Thad began to pull away from Preston. With six laps to go, his lead was a half straightaway. Thad was far from counting his money; all he knew was that the car had been running as well as it had ever been. It almost seemed too good to be true.

    In the recent past Kokomo had not been kind to Thad, despite his love for the track and the people there. Improbably, it happened again. Thad approached a pair of lapped cars who were having their own battle for position. He had no way of knowing that Preston was gaining on him, even though Thad had a safe lead. Tom held up five fingers for Thad and he was tempted to start counting the money. It was a good thing he didn’t because the two cars ahead of him tangled in turn one. Along came Thad with nowhere to go and he spun to miss the wreck. That was bad enough but Preston, too, had nowhere to go and slammed into Thad. It was a four-car wreck with three of the four getting upside down. Thad was the “lucky” one. At least he would be able to restart the race, despite his misfortune.

    Jerald inherited the lead and he hung on for the win. Lane Rasmussen was second and USAC rookie Fred Osterman was third. Thad came from the tail on the restart to finish thirteenth.

    A night that had been perfect turned sour in an instant. All Thad could do was shrug his shoulder and accept a cold beer from Arley. He sat in the lawn chair and offered up a rueful smile as he sipped his beer listening to Kate, Louise and Rhonda chat. Preston and Sparky stopped by and joined Thad with a couple of cold ones. Thad decided he was having fun and he began to prepare for Lawrenceburg in his mind as Tyrus assisted Farrell in loading up the car.




    Chapter 66: The Grind Begins

    The Tarheel Race Team was as ready as they would ever be for Indiana Sprint Week. Kate had been schooled about how the competition would be enhanced even more than it was during the rest of the season. People raced each other harder, with more intensity. There was more on the line, both money and the acclaim. Thad was about to find out that Sprint Week was different when one was in the race as opposed to watching the race.

    The Gas City/I-69 Speedway was the scene of the first night of Indiana Sprint Week. The team left North Vernon at eleven a.m. Tyrus drove the hauler as usual with Farrell and Rhonda on board. Thad and Kate trailed in the Camaro. Lunch was at one of the truck stops at Whiteland.

    Despite the usual Indiana interstate road construction, the gang of five rolled into the track’s parking lot just past 2:30. There was a line of haulers in front of them, so they waited—except for Thad, who parked the Camaro as close to the pits as he could. A half hour later, everyone, even Thad, began unloading the car and everything else from the hauler, except for things they hoped they wouldn’t need later.

    Rhonda and Kate went to the pit shack to draw Thad’s qualifying number. The draw was pretty much a matter of luck, and it could make or break someone’s night depending on track conditions during time trials. Kate said that could put a lot of pressure on the person doing the drawing, Rhonda laughed and said, you think?

    The two ladies drew the number 18 for Thad. This meant he would qualify early, 12th of the 51 cars entered. The track was very fast with Jerald Jarvis setting a new track record of 11.509. Thad’s best time wasn’t too shabby. His 11.644 was the fourth fastest, putting him in the fourth heat, outside the third row. Preston Janssen would be starting next to Thad. Their friendship was about to be tested.

    There were four decent cars in front of Thad and Preston; both knew they had their work cut out for them. Preston discovered that his car had a bad push. Running the bottom wasn’t working out so he tried to get to the top groove, hoping for better handling. Not a bad idea, but in doing so, Preston barely touched Thad’s left rear tire, sending him for a half-spin. The yellow didn’t come out as Thad kept going, but he had lost positions and his chance of moving directly to the feature was shot.

    Neither made the feature and both were upset as they came back to the pits, but for different reasons. Preston was angry with himself mostly. He had been the one who had adjusted the car to make it handle like a pig. He thought he may have touched Thad’s car, but that wasn’t registering right now. For his part, Thad was perturbed at his friend. He knew it wasn’t a deliberate move, but Preston was a better driver than that. Tyrus approached Thad with a suggestion.

    “Thad, do you want me to have a word with Janssen?”

    Thad looked at Tyrus for a moment until Tyrus began to feel a bit uncomfortable. Finally he spoke. “I don’t think so, Ty. I would think he’d know I’m not thrilled with that move.” Thad looked around the pit. “I see a lot of good cars that will be in the B. And I don’t have a provisional to fall back on.”

    “I get it, Thad. Maybe we can talk to Preston later.”

    “Good idea, bud.” Thad grinned. “You keep thinking, boy. That’s what you’re good at.”

    Tyrus laughed. He ambled over to Farrell and spoke to him for a minute. Farrell grunted and nodded at the younger man. He was stopped by Darla, who wondered what was up. Quietly and quickly, he explained what happened.

    Kate had seen the incident. She was starting to see that this could be an activity that produced strong emotions. If she was upset, she could imagine how Thad felt. When Thad seemed to be a bit more approachable, she went over to him.

    “Thad, just based on what I saw, that was classy on your part.”

    Thad grunted. “Well, it’s irritating but I’ve learned that the best way to handle things sometimes is to keep cool and wait.”

    “To retaliate?”

    Thad looked at her. “No.”

    “Well, I didn’t think so, but I have the tiniest bit of doubt. I’m sorry.”

    Thad looked at and grinned this time. “It’s okay, Kate. Given the look I must have given you, it was a fair question.” He paused. “You must be a pretty good judge of character?”

    Kate laughed. “I’m not too sure of that but for me it’s part of the job of observing students as well as teaching them.”

    The silence between them was marked by a lack of tension. Sitting in the lawn chairs while Farrell and Tyrus busied themselves was as close to relaxing Thad would do all night.

    Naturally, it wasn’t going to last. Soon enough, Thad climbed into the car as Kate wiped off the drying mud on the nerf bars. It was time to race his way into the A.

    Anyone expecting a renewal of wheel banging between Thad and Preston would be disappointed. But they fought hard for second place behind second year sprinter Sam Delaney who ran off to a huge lead. Thad prevailed and would start tenth in the feature.

    Thad, Farrell and Tyrus were pleasantly surprised when Kate sprang into action as Thad rolled into his pit spot. She took Thad’s helmet from him, then gave it back when he got out of the car. Next, she began wiping mud off the car before the others could even get started. Farrell had a big grin as she asked him if the tires needed changing.

    “Here, Kate. Let’s have a look at the right rear.” They walked to the car and Farrell had a close look at the tire, explaining things to Kate. While Thad signed a little boy’s t-shirt, Tyrus came back from the concession stand with two drinks for him and Thad. He gave one to Thad and saw the signal from Farrell. Tyrus rolled a shiny new right rear out to Farrell and Kate. As they watched, Tyrus changed the right rear in a couple of minutes. Thad’s car was race-ready. After he finished his bottle of water, Thad eased into the cockpit, getting ready for his first Indiana Sprint Week feature. As driver and car were pushed into position, Tyrus eased the four-wheeler behind the Larrabee car’s back nerf bar. Preston and Sparky rolled by and Thad waved at them. Then he felt the now-familiar bump and Tyrus pushed him to the staging area just off turn four. Tyrus kept going as the field of 23 spread out around the track, ready for a push truck.

    It was almost time. The cars were started one by one and formed into rows of two. At the signal from the radio, they shifted into the four-wide formation. Thad hugged the very outside of the track, giving room for the three cars to his left. With the crowd cheering, Thad and his competitors waved at the crowd before reverting back to the two-wide lineup. Flagman Tom Hansing gave them the one-to-go signal. One couldn’t see the tension, but certainly one could feel it, from the youngest fan to each of the 23 starters.

    The front row came around turn four and Tom frantically waved the green flag as an explosion of sound filled the northeastern Indiana night.

    Cosmo Novak jumped out to the early lead and was looking like a winner until the yellow flag waved with 12 laps completed. On the restart, second place Caleb Jankowski found some speed in the middle of the turns and pressured Cosmo relentlessly, hoping to force the veteran into a rare mistake.

    Caleb didn’t cause Cosmo to slip up, but one trip on the cushion resulted in Cosmo nearly spinning with nine laps to go. Caleb took the lead and now Cosmo had to deal with Preston Janssen, who had started ninth and had advanced steadily through the field. Preston also passed Mr. Novak and set sail for the leader, falling short by a mere two car lengths at the end. Cosmo had to settle for a disappointing third while Royal Pennington edged Thad for fourth.

    Thad coasted into his pit with a smile on his face. He looked at Kate and Rhonda and said, “Believe it or not, that was fun!” He had reason to be happy. He had recovered from a near disaster early on to take fifth in his first Sprint Week feature.

    Later, Thad and company left Gas City for their favorite motel in Marion for a short night’s rest before heading to Kokomo on Saturday night. He was a happy camper but knew how quickly that could change. It was, after all, the nature of Indiana Sprint Week.




    Chapter 65: Danger Lurks


    Thad, Farrell and Tyrus all knew about the dangers of racing at any level. Short track racing may have been more dangerous than racing at the highest level, especially if there was an accident. It wasn’t true at the tracks in Indiana where Thad and company raced, but Thad had heard and seen his share of horror stories.  


    The Gas City crew was one of the best. And midway through the sprint car feature, they had the chance to show why they were a good and dedicated crew. 

    Zen Woodward was, on the surface, the unlikeliest of racers. A child of parents who embraced a restless, drifting, unstable lifestyle, Zen was raised by his parents, a grandmother, an uncle and aunt, and, for about a month, a foster home. Despite this, he grew up to be a determined young man. Like racers before and after him, he was a California boy who moved to Indiana with a dream to race. 


    Settled in the Hoosier state, his fellow racers soon discovered that this kid was the real deal. With a lot of hard work, desire, ability and a friendly demeanor, Zen was able to put together a car, largely with used parts. Soon he began turning heads and before long he landed in a good ride with a sharp-eyed owner who could spot talent and quality. The duo enjoyed success, winning races and gaining respect. Race announcers dubbed him the “Flying Hippie” after news spread of Zen’s upbringing. It was an unfair nickname in a way, but Zen didn’t mind. He was, in no particular order, racing, winning and having fun. 


    Then came the accident. It was another case of one driver crashing and the next one in line having no place to go. Zen hit the stalled car of Jeremy Greider and took a nasty ride on lap 17 of the sprint car feature. The emergency crew was on the job and eased Zen out of the seat onto the stretcher and into the ambulance, which made a beeline for Marion General Hospital. 


    A few minutes later, the yellow flag was waved and the remaining racers put the accident in the backs of their minds. Thad came from 12th to win. In the post-race interview, he spoke of his competitor Zen. 


    “The young man is a racer and a fighter. If there is a chance for him to recover from whatever his injuries are, I’d not bet against him. Tonight let’s all say a prayer for Zen and the medical team that is working with him. Thanks.”


    Later, Thad and Kate helped the crew load the car on the trailer. No one spoke. Kate noticed this and was surprised by her own reaction to the evening’s events. A few weeks ago she would have been horrified and not quite hysterical. But she had been around the danger enough to learn how to deal with most any kind of adversity. 


    The team went to Kokomo, where they would spend a lazy Saturday and part of Sunday before racing at Kokomo. This would be the last race before Indiana Sprint Week. It wasn’t on Kate’s mind so much. But one could be sure that Thad, Farrell and Tyrus were very aware of what lay ahead. Thad was as close to nervous as he had been all season. He knew it would be quite the grind. The intensity would be turned up a few notches. People would race each other harder than usual, if that was possible (it was). 


    Saturday came and brought an afternoon thunderstorm with it. Thankfully, it was over fairly quickly and by the afternoon the sun came out. Kate persuaded Thad to take her to a used book store and then persuaded him to buy a book about General/President Grant. After a walk in the park they met Farrell, Rhonda and Tyrus at the Kokomo hangout for local and visiting racers. 


    While waiting to place their order, Cosmo visited the table and shared the news that Zen was “pretty beat up” but his prognosis for recovery was good. Farrell asked about insurance. Cosmo didn’t know. All agreed that they would see about drivers collecting money at Kokomo on Sunday night between races. 


    Kate marveled at this. She was learning that racers can be the best people. 






    Chapter 64: The Conversation on the way to Kokomo


    It was a comparatively long drive up to Kokomo, which meant Thad and/or Kate had plenty of time to think and/or talk. Little could they know this conversation would have far reaching effects. 


    Like many conversations, it started with an innocent, but curious, question, seemingly out of the blue part of left field. 


    “Thad, what drew you toward Dina?”


    He looked at her for a brief moment, wondering where that came from. Rather than ask her, he tried to answer the question. 


    “Of course she was pretty but she was easily as kind to me. She was the first girl who paid attention to me.”


    Kate considered this. “How did she feel about your racing? Supportive? Opposed?”


    “Doubtful at first, but she had a way of drawing the truth–or at least my inner thoughts–out of me. I told her how much racing meant to me and how I was able to put aside the dangerous part of it.” Thad was itching to ask her what was bringing this on but decided it could wait.


    “So she was okay with that? Or did it take a while for her to come around?”


    “It took a while, maybe a few races she went to, and she got used to it. At some point I had to tell her the reality of racing. I wanted to advance to the highest level of stock car racing and that meant NASCAR. This meant that there would be times I’d be gone for a while from home. Unless it was an emergency, there would be times she would be second to racing, but I’d always return home, at least for a while.”


    Kate asked, “How did she handle that?”


    “It was very difficult for her at first. She wasn’t sure if she wanted a life with me, though we loved each other. But I think once she saw how important it was to me, she began to accept it. We got married in January of my rookie year at NASCAR’s highest level and she never looked back.”


    Silence for a minute that seemed longer to Thad. Finally, he decided to ask her why all the questions. 


    Kate said, “I’m trying to find out how Dina handled your passion. There are times I’m not sure of how I feel about your racing–and you, too.”


    “Ah, I get it–I think.” They were almost to Greensburg heading north. 


    “Maybe. I’m struggling more than I should with how I feel about you.” Kate took a deep breath. “I almost wish Dina was here to tell me.”


    Thad had to laugh. “I’m not sure how much help she would be.” He turned serious. “Is it okay if I try to tell you how I feel?”


    “Sure. go ahead.” Kate wasn’t sure if she wanted to hear what was next. 


    “I don’t know what love is anymore. I mean, I’m not sure of the definition, but I can try to describe how I feel about you.” It was Thad’s turn to take a deep breath as they crossed over I-74. 


    “I like being around you. I like how you seem to be coping with an activity that is totally foreign to you. With each weekend, you seem to be more at ease when we’re at the track. You are likable and the guys and Rhonda think you’re the greatest. You have learned when to leave me alone and when to speak up. All that means a lot to me.


    “But does it mean I want to get married again? I’m not so sure. I’ve given some thought about what we do in October. I’m not sure if I’ll do this again next year. The original plan was to try it this summer and then decide and I haven’t decided yet. Where you fit in with that, well, I’m not sure of that either. But I guess some of that’s up to you.”


    More silence as Thad figured on stopping at Rushville to have lunch. He wondered what she was thinking. He cared a lot for Kate but was it enough for her? Inwardly he shrugged. He figured that he would find out at some point between now–mid-June–and early October. 


    Kate was having her own thoughts. She was somewhat surprised that they seemed to be on the same page in a lot of their thoughts. She enjoyed being around him, especially away from the track. But when he was racing she had learned to be quiet for the most part and marvel at all that went on as the evening progressed. It was foreign to her but, being an educator at heart, she found that this was quite the learning experience. The people, with the unfortunate exception of Willie the Wanker, had been great. “Hoosier Hospitality” was no myth in her mind. 


    Did she want to marry Thad? Like him, she wasn’t so sure. Would she want to do this again next summer? She had her doubts but she wasn’t going to close the door just yet. Kate looked out the window of the Camaro at the Indiana countryside and wryly thought to herself that the answers to her questions weren’t buried in the many cornfields. 


    They stopped to eat at a Mom-and-Pop restaurant in downtown Rushville. To their surprise the waitress remembered them from the last time they had eaten there. Thad left a $10 tip. It was the waitress’s turn to be surprised. 


    Neither of them said any more about their conversation that day. Kate knew that Thad was mentally getting ready for the challenge that Gas City presented. It was a good decision to leave him alone, because he had a frustrating time of it until the feature. Thad won the feature after starting 12th. 







    Chapter 63: Ride Hopping


    By the time Thad and Kate reached Indiana, Farrell had called and invited them to his house for supper on Thursday evening. Tyrus was there too and both had lots of news for Thad. First off, Cosmo Novak and Jerald Jarvis had switched rides. Neither had been getting the results they were accustomed to getting and, after a late night meeting among the car owners, drivers and crews, decided to trade. Tyrus drew a chuckle when he told Thad, in all seriousness, that alcohol may have been involved. 

    Farrell shared that alcohol may have been involved with Rodney Reynolds’ decision to dive back into sprint car ownership. The Rev, Caleb Jankowski, discovered that his car owner, Harry Reeves, was hurting financially and needed help. Rodney found out and stepped up. He and Caleb quickly became known as the Odd Couple. Somebody, no one was sure who, had started a rumor that Sparky and his wife Darla were on the outs after she missed a couple of races. It turned out that her sister was ill and Darla had gone to Lexington KY to care for her. 


    “Other than that, it was a normal week, right?” Thad tried to keep a straight face.


    Farrell chuckled and said, “Pretty much. Preston was ready to fIght whoever started that rumor. He looks at Darla like a second mom. Sparky told him to calm down and win the damn race. This was at Bloomington and sure enough, Preston won.” 


    On Friday, the Tarheel Race Team pulled into the Bloomington Speedway. Thad decided to pay The Rev a visit. 


    “Hey, bud. Congratulations on your new owner.”


    Caleb had been sitting in a lawn chair eating a sandwich. He waved for Thad to sit in an empty chair. “Have a seat, Thad. The new owner bought it for him and Harry. They’re over there watching the water truck.” 


    “And counting their money?”


    Caleb laughed. “They’ve known each other for years. Harry had a setback in his trucking business and Rodney knew about that. He called Harry and they came to an agreement pretty quick.”


    Thad asked, “How soon did you know?”


    Caleb laughed again. “Funny you should ask. Harry called me right after he and Rodney settled the deal. As soon as I hung up, Rodney called.” 


    “Did Rodney offer you a beer?”


    This time Caleb guffawed, attracting attention to passersby. “He knows I have the occasional glass of wine other than Communion, so he sent me and my wife a bottle.” 


    Thad shook his head and chuckled. “Funny how things work out sometimes. I guess you knew about Cosmo and Jerald.”


    “Yeah, like this deal, that one could have ended up a lot worse.”


    The two talked some more until it was time for the drivers’ meeting. 

    Thad and Caleb started nose-to-tail in the feature. On the ninth lap, a lapped car did a half spin right in front of Thad. He slowed and Caleb nailed him, sending Thad’s car spinning. After re-starting on the tail, Thad charged back to finish eighth. Caleb finished fourth and sought Thad out after the race to apologize. 


    “Aw, Caleb, it’s okay. I just figured you’d been drinking Rodney’s wine.” Everybody had a good laugh at that. 


    On Saturday night it was off to Lawrenceburg for a larger winner’s purse than normal. The car count was a somewhat slim 21 cars, but at least six or seven others had a decent shot at winning. 


    Thad wasn’t laughing after his heat race. A lapped car nearly spun in front of him. Thad slowed to miss the car and tried to pass a lap later. This time the car nearly slid into the side of Thad’s car. Somehow he avoided the errant vehicle and went on to finish second in the heat. He wasn’t thrilled to realize that this car would be in the feature. 


    Between races, Caleb, who was at Lincoln Park, texted Thad. “Cosmo just had a bad one. Flipped all the way down the backstretch. Out of the car. Was a little shaky.”


    Thad answered, “Keep me posted.” He considered the situation. Bad wrecks were what happened to other people until they happened to you. Thad was still sore from his Kokomo crash weeks ago. And he was headed to Kokomo tomorrow night. 


    Race drivers most always are able to put such matters away as soon as they are pushed off. Thad did this. He didn’t have time to think about Cosmo until well after the feature. 


    It was just as well. Thad used up his right rear chasing leader Jerald and faded to fifth. 






    Chapter 62: Vacation

    Thad turned right on U.S. 64, which now joined U.S. 74-A and North Carolina State Road 9. He was about ten minutes from home. It was nearly midnight as he drove past the shops, the restaurants, the park entrance and more of the same before he turned onto the country road that would take him home. Past the church, the houses that dotted the countryside before he began to climb. A left turn and he was truly alone on the narrow country road. Meeting traffic on this road was never much fun. Thankfully there was no one else out and about on this warm and humid night. A few more twists and turns and the road ended–or one could say it turned right onto another road which had still more gyrations until Thad could see the lake and his driveway.

    He breathed a sigh of relief. Thad had come to love Indiana with its race tracks and endless fields of grain, mostly corn. Even more so, he had learned to love the short tracks he had visited and raced on. And the people. Thad thought of his team, a small group of quality people he could call friends. But, try as he might, Thad was home. Indiana was his home away from home, but here, in western North Carolina, this was his base, the place that defined him. There was no escaping it, not that he wanted to.

    Leaving the apartment on a rainy Monday, Thad and Kate had headed south for a week or so. He texted his hometown buddies Darrell and Rollie, telling them that he would be meeting them for lunch on Tuesday at noon and don’t be late. That was an inside joke. Thad was usually the late one when they got together.

    Thad sat on his sofa, looking out at the lake with the outline of the mountains in the background. Night lights dotted the side of the lake. Thankfully, there weren’t too many of them. Thad figured that would change someday as the developers would smell a big payday.

    Tuesday at 12:15 p.m. Thad strolled into his favorite hangout, greeted by Rollie and Darrell, who tapped their empty beer glasses on the bar. This signaled to Thad that they needed another beer and he was buying, which he did before checking the menu.

    “So, old buddy. Tell me about sprint car racing in Indiana. Is it tougher than NASCAR?” Darrell took a sip of his beer and waited for an answer.

    “Oh, wow, man. Where do I begin?” Thad took a sip of his own and thought. “In some ways it’s tougher. You have to remember those cars have no fenders so that rubbin’ is racin’ thing won’t go far. Learning new tracks is tough but I kind of enjoy it. Makes for quite a challenge. Lots of that is due to the weather.”

    Thad took another sip and waited for the next question. He was surprised that it came from Rollie.

    “Which track has the coldest beer?” After Thad and Darrell quit laughing, Thad said, “Depends on how much I pay. You guys have heard me talk about my NASCAR car owner Arley. He has a huge cooler and when he was with us during Midget Week he kept us all supplied.”

    “Ah,” said Rollie. “Free beer is the coldest.” He tapped his empty bottle on the bar. The bartender, a cute young lady named Joanie, looked at Rollie. She assumed that the group wanted another round. Thad said one more for him.

    A few minutes later Darrell asked about some of the people Thad had met. “Most of them have been great,” Thad said. He told Darrell about Rodney Reynolds, who chased sprint car races from Indiana to Florida. There were endless rows of RVs at every Midget Week race.

    “And it will be the same way for Sprint Week,” Thad said.

    Darrell rapped the table. “Man, I gotta get up there. Racin’, cold beer, sittin’ around BSin’ with people. Sounds good.”

    Thad chuckled. He had heard Darrell talk like this before, usually after a few cold ones. He decided to challenge his buddy, who was mainly a NASCAR fan.

    “Tell you what, ol’ buddy. You tell me how you want to travel to Indiana. You wanna fly? I’ll buy you a ticket.”

    Rollie cut in. “One way or round trip?”

    Thad offered, “Or halfway and one trip?” He continued. “I’ll fly you up and pick you up at either Indy, Louisville or Cincinnati. Or you can ride up with Arley in his RV.”

    Rollie was on a roll. “Or you can ride the bus.”

    Thad chuckled. “Or hitchhike.”

    Darrell finished his beer and tapped the empty on the table. The bartender held up three fingers and Darrell nodded. He looked at Thad and said, “I’ll have to think about that road trip. I always wanted to meet Arley.”

    “You’ll love the guy. He never met a stranger.” Thad looked at Rollie. “And he’s always ready to buy a round.”

    Rollie said, “I like him already.”

    “You would. Plus, he’s a golfer like you, Rollie.”

    Darrell piped up as he took a drink of a freshly delivered Coors Light. “Rollie, let’s both go.”

    “Ah, I don’t know.”

    Thad said, “It won’t cost you guys much money. Arley is loaded, you know.”

    Darrell nodded. “I read about him selling the team to those guys for a bundle.”

    “And he’s as generous as the day is long.”

    At this point a lady walked into the bar and sat down near Rollie. Thad and Darrell snickered at Rollie, who was obviously interested in the lady, who pointedly ignored him. The three left about fifteen minutes later.

    A week later, on a Tuesday, Thad drove west to pick up Kate. They had decided to make it a two day journey, stopping somewhere in Kentucky. From there they would arrive at the apartment on Wednesday and check on Farrell and Tyrus. Thad had not been in contact with either and was curious about whatever he had missed.

    On Wednesday afternoon, Thad and Kate arrived at the apartment. Thad called Farrell, hoping that there was no major drama going on.

    He didn’t hope enough.



    The Hoosier Race Report: Death of a Racer

    Try as I might, I can't stop asking myself why Justin Owen died? Being more than twice his age, I can't help asking why wasn't it me, the guy who survived multiple heart attacks. There's no definitive answer to either of those questions. We each have to figure out what works for us and move on. Because how we react to tragedies helps to define us as much as anything else does.

    I didn't know Justin well; I know his teammate/friend/competitor Michael Fischesser somewhat better. But he struck me as the best of what a young racer should be. Surely he knew the risks and rewards of racing. Friendly, affable, well liked and, more important, most likely well respected--that would be a good description of Mr. Owen. For me, young people like Justin Owen gave and will give me hope for this crazy passion that you readers and I share.

    Now he is gone and the pain felt by those closest to him must be unimaginable to the rest of us. All we are left with is the memory of a dedicated young man. Memories are a big part of what sustains us in the grieving process. Let us hang onto them tenaciously.

    We like to imagine things like Justin engaging in some bench racing with those who preceded him in a place where one doesn't hurt and can't grow old. If that floats one's boat, I'm all for it. Either way, we can believe and cling to the notion that he's in a better place, whether it's at rest or reuniting with those who have gone before.

    Our reactions to anything of note speak volumes about us. Rude and uninformed comments are nothing new; putting them on social media so people can see how annoying, rude and uninformed one can be is comparatively new. I've learned to handle such "insight" or "sharing" by laughing at it and/or ignoring it and moving on. In the midst of the thoughts and prayers comments will always be someone anxious to show off their quick wit, cynicism, desire to put someone down or blame anyone for the tragedy.

    Invariably one of the Internet experts will wax nostalgic about the good old days, how much tougher people were back then or why did they cancel the races. Have these people no understanding of progress and safety? I guess not. The goals of increased speed and safety have been a constant in racing since before I was born. The car that Justin Owen was driving was safer than the cars that, say, Kevin Briscoe drove, which were safer than cars driven by Butch Wilkerson. Cars and tracks in Kevin or Butch’s time were as safe as knowledge and technology yielded. The same is true in 2023. The cars and tracks are safer, but not flawless. I assume none of the experts lost a close family member or friend in a racing accident.

    My faith system is one of hope and love. I believe that in body Justin Owen is no longer with us but in spirit he lives in some form unknown to us until we get there ourselves. It isn't much comfort to the immediate family and friends but sometimes hanging on to the hope of seeing Justin again is the best alternative. I’m afraid the loss of someone so dear is supposed to hurt, but I hope the hurt eases over time. It won’t, however, disappear. We all carry some hurt with us. It’s part of our human existence.

    Either way it's a huge loss. Perhaps somewhere down the road, changes of some sort, to the cars, the track or anything else will save a racer's life. Ponder that for a second on my faith's holiest of days. Perhaps it may come to pass that Justin Owen's death will enable another racer to live.

    Finding an empty tomb, I'm...

    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: American Short Track Racing Is…

    Anyone who tells you that they know a lot about anything without conducting an exhaustive study of it is pulling your leg. My study of short track racing this week consists of a visit to a rural bullring in the foothills of western North Carolina. I can say that, in a tangible sense, there are many differences between short tracks in the Carolinas and in my home state of Indiana. One can also say that, given the size of the crowd on a warm, late March Saturday night at the Harris Speedway, short track racing is doing well enough down here–even if the product is largely different from what I’ve seen in the Hoosier state over the years.

    If anyone tells you that, speaking of anything or anyone, “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all,” they are just being a lazy ass. Obviously, there are similarities in everything from racing t-shirts to cheeseburgers, but the challenge is to find something unique. At any short track, I’m sure it can be done. (Think of wine being sold at the Perris Auto Speedway.)

    Harris is like that, but I had to look for things that stood out.

    The drivers’ meeting was a good place to start, at least the sprint car drivers’ meeting, which was conducted by Race Director Andy Stapp. How often do you attend a drivers’ meeting conducted by a third generation racer? Andy’s grandfather Elbert “Babe” Stapp raced in the Indianapolis 500 from 1927-1940, ringing up two top five finishes. His father Steve “The Bopper” raced, owned and built sprint cats, enjoying considerable success. When Andy talked at the drivers’ meeting, I listened.

    It’s well known that tracks down here promote the fact that they have lots and lots of classes of race cars, many of which look a lot alike. It’s part of the culture down here–the way things are done. And it works. If you come to the Carolinas and want to go to a short track, don’t expect to see a B Main. With the seven classes of cars, expect a total car count in the 80s. Two heats (maybe) and a feature for each class.

    Public address announcers here have their own method of hyping the races. Fellow Hoosiers, just imagine the recently retired Brad Dickison with a southern accent.

    Bleachers at race tracks vary. At Harris, I can say that the pit bleachers reminded me a lot of the front stretch bleachers at Gas City, which are not the most comfortable. Never mind that. It made me homesick for Gas City.

    Hot laps–given the car count in each division, sometimes there would be just one group to hot lap. One class had four cars. But hey, at least they didn’t mess around much.

    Race fans wear racing related t-shirts; it’s common sense and so-called normal. I was quite likely the only person in attendance wearing a Dave Darland t-shirt–until I bought a t-shirt from sprinter Sean Vardell and put it on over the top of my DD shirt. I told Sean that I couldn’t get away with that in Indiana. He laughed and agreed. Even sprint car racers down here have heard of Dave and a couple, Steve Surniak and Johnny Petrozelle, have raced against him, as has Robert Tyler’s dad Brian.

    As hot laps ended, I retreated to my trusty, gracefully aging white Chevy for dinner. I knew it was the time when most tracks either play or have someone sing our National Anthem. Not Harris. While enjoying my roast beef sandwich, I heard a guy singing the children’s hymn “Jesus Loves Me.” Well, that’s a first, at least for me. This was followed by what sounded like a brief hellfire and brimstone sermonette. Another first.

    The sprinters in question were the Carolina Sprint Tour, a hardy band of racers who like to go as fast as they can afford to go and have at least as much fun doing it. They run pretty much the same 305 engines that the RaceSavers run in Indiana.

    These racers, all guys and one young lady tonight, have all taken their own trip to get to where they are today. The one I know the best, Johnny Petrozelle, has raced a bit of everything. He was happy to be reminded about his excellent run at the Hoosier 100 a few years ago. George Blaney is a friendly young man who doesn’t trade on his more famous family members. Dave and Dale are his uncles while NASCAR racer Ryan is his cousin. Brian Paulus has raced all over the land and here he was at Harris. Steve Surniak is a former letter carrier. Unlike me, he chose to go racing while I hung on to retire from carrying mail. I remember him racing in Indiana several years ago and rediscovered him racing down here a few years back. Brian Tyler’s son Robert was present and getting some on the job training.

    And then there’s Brandon McLain, like me, a former writer for Dirt Digest. A few evenings ago my wife and I were enjoying a meal and a cold beverage at the RiverWalk Bar and Grill in beautiful downtown Chimney Rock, North Carolina. I was wearing my Kokomo Speedway Smackdown t-shirt, nothing out of character there. A guy came over and said he had to ask if I was a sprint car fan. Pretty soon we found out we knew of each other and of course had lots to talk about. Brandon told me about the CST racing at Harris on March 25. That’s how I ended up about 30 miles from my temporary home having a good time.

    If you hang around long enough, you’ll get to see a lot, meet a lot of people, many of whom are good people to know. I certainly didn’t expect to see Mr. McLain but if I wear a sprint car t-shirt out in public, I shouldn’t be surprised if someone asks me about it.

    In terms of results, Richard Wisdo and Brandon McLain won the heat races. Steve Surniak started on the pole and led all the way to win the 25-lap feature. It was slowed by one caution when Robert Tyler smacked the turn two wall. Trailing Surniak was Johnny Petrozelle in second. B. McLain was third with Wisdo fourth. Jacob McLain came from 12th to finish fifth and win the Kevin McIlvane Hard Charger award, a cold slice of pizza.

    The Carolina Sprint Tour next races at Halifax County Motor Speedway on April 8, the same day we begin our journey north. And Harris? They will race a lot of cars next Saturday night. Perhaps they will again have lots of cars and a good crowd, sprints or no sprints. Let’s hope so. And let’s not bury short track racing yet.

    Bringing in the sheaves, I’m…

    Danny Burton



    Chapter 61: da ‘Burg

    Arley and Thad sat in lawn chairs next to Arley’s RV. They were waiting for the hamburgers on the grill to finish. As they talked, Arley checked the progress of the early dinner while the rest of the group busied themselves with whatever needed to be done. As usual, Tyrus and Farrell were in the pits unloading equipment. The ladies were walking around the Dearborn County Fairgrounds soaking in the atmosphere of southeastern Indiana, Arley and Thad discussed immediate plans.

    “Thad, ol’ buddy,” said Arley. “I think Louise and I are heading back home tomorrow morning. But it’s been fun.”

    “Hey, I appreciate you guys coming up here. I’m sure it’s been an education.”

    “That it has,” Arley chuckled. “We’ve learned a lot about a few things.”

    “Such as…?” Thad was genuinely curious.

    “Well, I think race fans all over have more in common than they think they do. Trouble is, sometimes a few of them would rather spend too much time fussin’ about the differences in racin’ and the race cars themselves.”

    “I think people in general are that way, no matter what the subject,” said Thad.

    “I couldn’t agree more, ol’ buddy. Hey, want another beer?”

    Thad laughed. “I’d better not. Farrell and Tyrus would have a cow. And you know the ladies wouldn’t be too thrilled either.”

    “Aw, I reckon.” Arley took a final drink of his beer, belched and asked, “Hey, Thad, you mind if I have another?”

    Thad laughed harder this time. “It’s okay with me.” He looked toward the fairground buildings. “But here comes Louise and the girls. You’re on your own.”

    Sure enough, here came Louise, Kate and Rhonda, with Louise driving a golf cart.

    They stopped at the RV. Louise got off the cart and said to Thad, “Take it away. Arley can walk back to the pits.” A slight pause. “If he can.”

    After the laughter subsided, Thad headed for the pits with two hamburgers wrapped up for Farrell and Tyrus.

    During the USAC heat races, clouds began appearing in the west, growing larger and darkening. Promoter Dave Rudisell and USAC officials scrambled to do what they could to keep the program moving.

    Thad finished second in his heat race, which was the third of three. Starting sixth in the feature, he stuck with the high groove, where he was more comfortable. Thad had worked his way up to second, behind local star Will Mueller. But that would be as far as he could get because the rain began with eight laps to go.

    The cars ran under caution for a few laps before Tim Montgomery brought out the red, ending the festivities. Thad had to settle for second and that was how his Indiana Midget Week ended.

    On the way back, Thad and Kate discussed the plans for the upcoming weeks. It was a unanimous decision by all, including Farrell, Rhonda and Tyrus, to take the next week off. Thad and Kate decided to head back to North Carolina for a few days. He had been talking with either Darrell or Rollie every few days but there was still a lot of catching up to do.

    Little did he know.



    Chapter 60: A Rival Arrives

    Thad was patiently waiting for Kate to finish her task of attaching tear-offs to his helmet when he looked up and did a double take. Standing before him was his former rival and occasional nemesis Jim Bob (no, really) Russell. Off the track, Thad and Jim Bob got along fine. On the track was often another matter. But they never quarreled after their on-track encounters. They just wrote it off to hard racing.

    Thad spoke first. “Jim Bob, good to see you!” A slight pause, then, “But man, what are you doing here?”

    “Hi, Thad. I came here to see you race, of course.”

    “Of course.” Thad squinted at him. “But don’t you have a race yourself this weekend?”

    “Nope. I retired.”

    “Retired? Why? Last I heard you were doin’ all right. Didn’t you win at Vegas?”

    Jim Bob shrugged. “Yeah, but I was gettin’ tired of it. Mary Lou and I checked the finances and I called Mr. Stanley up and told him that was it.”

    “I bet he took that well.” John Wayne Stanley was notorious for changing drivers at the drop of a hat. With Jim Bob, he had a winning driver. But Mr. Stanley could be a bit overbearing. Apparently Jim Bob had enough. Thad said as much and Jim Bob confirmed it. He was being honest; he was tired of it. But Jim Bob was only forty-one. He had some good years left.

    Jim Bob said, “He blew a gasket. I told him what I thought of how he ran a race team and how he treated people. Went in one ear and out another.”

    “What are you gonna do tomorrow? I’m planning on going to Lawrenceburg tomorrow night. I’m sure they will be glad to have you.” Thad grinned.

    Jim Bob shifted his feet and said, “I’m not sure. I might have some good racin’ left in me but I’m sure Mr. Stanley won’t take kindly for me to hop into another car right now.” He paused and grinned. “But my contract ends on December 31.”

    “So you don’t have to make up your mind tonight.”

    Jim Bob checkled. “Nope.”

    Thad introduced Jim Bob to the others, plus Cosmo Novak, whose team was parked next to Thad and company on a warm Indiana night at the Lincoln Park Speedway. Farrell, Tyrus and Cosmo had heard of Jim Bob, but Kate had not. She was embarrassed, but Thad chided her for her embarrassment, reminding her that the world she was a part of didn’t include knowledge of NASCAR racers. “Especially those who retire in the middle of the season,” he added dryly, followed by a smile.

    Kate smiled back, though she didn’t feel like smiling. She hated to admit it to herself but the grind was getting to her. She enjoyed Thad’s company for sure, but they had very little down time–or at least it seemed that way. Thad had warned her about this. There would be long stretches where she would be number two with racing being number one. Though she really liked and admired Rhonda, she couldn’t express her doubts about deciding to follow Thad from one race track to another. Worst of all, she was questioning her decision to even go to these tracks. Even though she had become familiar with some of the tracks, it was still foreign to her. Before she met Thad, her life had been somewhat sheltered in small town academia, not that there was anything wrong with that as Thad often had reminded her.

    Thad. She had to ask herself about her relationship with Thad. When it was just him and her, she felt relaxed, comfortable and safe. On the increasingly rare times they had lengthy conversations, she always came away wondering if, in fact, she was in love with Thad Larrabee. Kate certainly enjoyed and appreciated his company, but sometimes she wondered how he felt. She was very aware that Thad wasn’t comfortable talking about himself. He had never told her he loved her, but Kate comforted herself in knowing that he treated her like he did. She had no background in racing or any other sport; as a result, Kate had no experience dealing with Thad when he was in his “game face” mode.

    One day, when they had a rare moment at his apartment, Kate had asked him about his standoffish demeanor at the track. He was already in a reflexive mood and had no problem answering.

    “It was worse when I was racing in NASCAR. Dina could have told you from painful experience. It wasn’t or isn’t me being grouchy or irritable, unless something interrupted my concentration.

    “I’m very aware that I’m not approachable before the feature. It’s because I’m thinking, maybe overthinking, about the track, the car, the competitors, and the guys I have to beat, the guys starting in my area, even the guys who are prone to wrecking themselves or others–especially me.

    “So if someone says something to me, I usually give them a look. I might say ‘what?’ but not always. If anyone on the team, including you or Rhonda, says something to me, I’ll stop and listen. Farrell or Tyrus usually have some useful information. That could be anything from track conditions to tire choices to which driver is fighting with his team and/or wife.”

    Neither had spoken for a few moments. Then Thad said, “Compared to NASCAR, this is a snap. I’m the car owner so I don’t worry about job security. I’m here to have fun, yes, but at some point–well–dammit, Kate. I still want to win. I still love the challenge, the track, the competitors.”

    As Thad got ready for the feature, Kate remembered that conversation. She was learning to understand. He had not mentioned the obvious: there were times when any and everything else was number two. Dina had it worse, since there was so much more at stake in his NASCAR days.

    Thad came from seventh to finish a distant second to Gerald in the feature. Among his circle, Arley decided that Kate was right. The popcorn was great.

    Lawrenceburg was next.




    Chapter 59: Arley and the Preacher

    The rain washed out racing at Gas City, so the Tarheel Racing Team headed west to Kokomo for the third night of Indiana Midget Week. They arrived under threatening skies and a weather forecast that was iffy at best.

    Other than the weather, the big news was that Lane Rasmussen was coming out of retirement to race some more. He had hung up his helmet the previous October, saying that it wasn’t fun any more. The “word” was that retirement was less fun and he decided to come back with his previous team adding a second car for Lane.

    The other driver for the Perry/McMann team was a second year racer named Wayne Ray Morton, a local boy. The “word” on Wayne was that he wasn’t happy with the turn of events, but he would have to deal with it.

    Cosmo Novak was quickest in time trials. But Thad won his heat by a straightaway over Cosmo. The two veterans headed to their parking spots in the pits and walked to the pit bleachers to watch the racing until the sprint feature. Soon they were joined by Caleb Jankowski and his new friend, of all people, Arley Sebastian. Thad was surprised to see his friend and former car owner. Arley had been keeping a low profile the past few nights since he had arrived from his Michigan trip.

    While Arley and Caleb talked, Thad and Cosmo were pretty quiet, watching the track and the midget C and B mains with the sprint B sandwiched in between. They speculated whether or not Reese O’Conner and crew would massage the track before the features. They decided that all the crew might do before the midget feature would be flatten the cushion, no water, no digging up the surface.

    Sure enough, after the midget B main, there was a brief intermission before the midget feature and the heavy water truck made its appearance. As the cars pushed off for the feature, the drivers went back to their cars. Arley stayed behind, telling Thad good luck and there was no way he was going to miss this. Thad couldn’t blame him.

    Thad couldn’t remember ever starting on the pole since he had taken up sprint car racing, but there he was. Kokomo had been good to him but he had gotten himself hurt here–as he won just a few weeks ago. He wasn’t about to start spending the winner’s share of the purse. Thad figured there must be a half dozen guys behind him who had a legitimate shot at the win.

    Tom Hansing waved the green flag and Thad got off to a great start. He was cruising along until lap 21 when the race’s first yellow light slowed the frantic action. Thad’s straightaway lead disappeared. Until the yellow, he had no idea what was going on behind him. Had he known, he would not have been pleased. Cosmo had started fifth but had made it look easy as he raced his way to second. Under the yellow, he pulled alongside Thad and impishly waved. Thad waved back, knowing his goose might be cooked.

    Sure enough the race restarted and Cosmo rode the cushion while Thad worked the inside of the baddest bullring while the crowd roared. With only four laps to go, lapped traffic wouldn’t be a factor. It was two of the best, one on one.

    Try as he might, Thad could not hold off his buddy. Cosmo edged closer with each completed lap. Tom waved the white flag as both racers crossed the line side by side, with Thad leading by a few inches. An observer could hear the crowd’s shouts over the noise of the cars. Coming out of turn two, Thad didn’t get the traction he needed and Cosmo took the lead by a wheel as they raced down the backstretch. But Thad came back, scooting on the low side in turns three and four. Cosmo was ready though, as he barely tapped the turn four wall coming to the checkered. His last push was enough to take the win by .044 seconds–inches.

    Neither driver was sure who won until they heard Tyler’s radio transmission up in the announcer’s booth. In a plaintive tone that hid his excitement and appreciation, Tyler read off the top five by car numbers. That’s how Thad learned that he had finished second. He had learned not to get overly emotional about race results over the years, but he was a bit sad and a little philosophical as he coasted to his hauler. Cosmo deserved to win and that was that.

    Later, after the car had been loaded into the hauler and Thad stood by watching, Arley came over to talk.

    “Tough one to lose, bud,” Arley said.

    “True, but you know? I gave it my all. Can’t ask for more than that. The owner is not too upset with the driver.”

    Arley chuckled. “Helps to have an understanding owner, I always say.”

    He looked at Thad with a rare serious demeanor. “I had a good conversation with your buddy Caleb tonight. He’s not your average Bible-thumping hellfire and brimstone preacher.”

    That looked back. “I kinda figured that. He’s a good guy and a pretty good racer too.”

    “More than that, Thad. He’s pretty smart. He is a bit of a philosopher but he said when he gets in the race car, he turns that stuff off.”

    “Yeah, man. It’s called compartmentalizing. I can see where Caleb does that well. Hey, we all do when you think about it.”

    Arley nodded. “It’s how we humans get things done…when you think about it.”

    Thad had to chuckle at that. He looked around to see Kate coming his way with a sick look on her face.

    “What’s up, Kate? You okay?”

    She managed a wan smile. “I think I ate too much. But those pork chop sandwiches are good.”

    Arley and Thad chuckled. Thad said, “If you can make it to the motel, I’ll see about getting you some antacid. Maybe that will help.”

    Arley said, “She’s right about the sandwiches though. I had two myself.”

    Despite her discomfort, Kate laughed. “Let’s head to the motel, Thad. I’m ready.” After a brief pause, she said, “Lincoln Park tomorrow night?”

    “Sure thing.”

    Kate looked at Arley and said, “You’ll love their popcorn.”




    Chapter 58: The Grind Begins

    Some race fans claimed that Indiana Midget Week was better than Indiana Sprint Week because the support class for IMW was sprint cars. Fans, especially fans of the open wheel variety, could feast on their favorite type of racing for several nights in a row. Promoters loved it too, of course, with their biggest worry, as always, was the weather.

    But the weather for the opening night at the Montpelier Speedway was close to perfect until there would be a good chance of showers beginning around 11:00. By evening’s end, this would be a concern.

    Thad Larrabee and company arrived at the track and Thad decided to take a solo walk around the pits and check things out in general. Montpelier was an ancient race track, going back to the early 20th Century. The quarter mile oval had a reputation of going dry fairly quickly. By now Thad knew how to handle dirt tracks that changed in the space of an hour or so.

    His real education was when he ambled by the space occupied by the midget teams. Several were high dollar/multi-car teams with NASCAR-worthy haulers. Most of the drivers were kids, at least to Thad, and most had an eventual NASCAR ride on their radar, though some would stick with dirt track racing and hook up with a World of Outlaws team. Thad would have been shocked if any of the drivers, let alone crew members or owners, had recognized him and he was fine with that.

    As it turned out, the drivers’ meeting concluded just as the chaplain’s prayer ended. Thad watched the train go by at a somewhat reduced speed. Tyrus joined him and admired the artwork on many of the cars trailing the locomotive. He surprised Thad by mentioning that his dad was a railroad worker. The two walked back to the car as most of the 23 sprints on hand were being pushed to the track entrance just off turn two for the brief engine heat session.

    There would be no qualifying and all 23 sprints would make the feature based on their finishing spot in the heats. Kate drew a decent spot for Thad; he would start fourth in the first heat. They found a seat near the pits. Thad warned her of possible rocks and/or dirt clods. Sure enough, during USAC midget qualifying, a softball sized clod flew over her head, barely missing Kate and giving her pause. Again, she wondered to herself what she was doing here. But that question was answered quickly as the same car that launched the dirt clod her way set fast time among the 43 midgets.

    Thad got off to a great start in his heat and took second on the first lap. But he couldn’t catch the leader, his new buddy Caleb. The preacher ran away and beat Thad by a straightaway. They would start first and fourth, respectively, in the feature.

    By the time the curtain closing sprint feature was lining up, lightning was spotted in the western skies. An epidemic of spins and flips had slowed the program down as the night wore on and all concerned hoped that the sprint feature would be an all-green affair. No way was that going to happen. There would be a short delay because four or five of the midget racers were doing double duty and they needed time to jump out of one car and into another.

    As Kate pushed Thad and his car to the staging area he saw the reflection of lightning off one of the trucks. Oh boy, he thought. They would be lucky to get this one done.

    A few minutes later the green flag waved and nearly everyone went for the bottom groove. After three or four laps of this, Thad decided to try the middle. He had been running fourth and it took him a couple of laps to for him to work his way by the third place car, driven by a kid Thad had never seen race. Thad decided to try the high groove, but the yellow flag came out for a backmarker’s spin.

    On the re-start, Thad saw a huge lightning flash off turn one. The race wasn’t halfway done yet, the track was already slick and rain was coming, but when? Most of the field had that sense of urgency that people get when they feel pressure. Thad was no exception. He was having success using the top groove, taking second as the crossed flags were shown to the field. Caleb had led from the start from his pole position and Thad was slowly reeling him in. With five laps to go, they were side-by-side with Caleb ahead by a wheel.

    Behind the leaders the action was just as intense. It was a recipe for calamity and sure enough, calamity appeared. Two cars racing for tenth place got together and both flipped, bringing out the red. Caleb had crossed the line ahead of Thad when the red flag waved. The wreck was in turn two as Thad and Caleb stopped next to each other. Caleb pointed to the west, where the lightning was ever closer. Thad put his hands together in the praying position and could hear Caleb laughing over the surrounding noise.

    As both cars were towed away and both drivers were checked for serious injuries, the yellow lights came on. But seconds after that, before a single car could be pushed away, the rain came and the night’s festivities were over. The push trucks pushed the cars to the pits, lots of people got soaked and Caleb was declared the winner. Thad collected second place money.

    Two hours later, Thad and company were at their favorite motel in nearby Marion. Thad fell asleep before he could tell Kate goodnight. She didn’t mind. It had been a long day, with a few moments of excitement followed by hours of waiting around to race. Kate read a World War II novel about a blind girl for a half hour, then turned out the light.

    Next stop, Kokomo.



    Chapter 57: Chicken Dinner

    “Farrell told me about a nice place to eat on the way to Putnamville.”

    Kate had been looking out her window as they drove through Bloomington. She looked at Thad and said, “Fine by me. Not that I’d know, but where is it?”

    “It’s between Spencer and Cloverdale. You have to watch carefully or you’ll miss the turnoff, according to Farrell.”

    “It’s worth a try. I could stand to have lunch.”

    Thad looked at her. “You are so agreeable. Are you always like this?”

    Kate had to laugh at that. “No way. Ask my colleagues or the department head. Or some of my students, not to mention my family.”

    Lunch was quite tolerable. The atmosphere was laid back. Thad was almost reluctant to leave. But they left and arrived at Lincoln Park a few minutes after the pits had opened. Farrell and Tyrus–minus Rhonda–arrived about five minutes later. Tyrus complained about the fast food place where he and Farrell stopped at in Spencer. Thad decided to keep quiet about where he stopped.

    Tyrus was elected to draw for Thad’s group qualifying position. There were 35 sprints in the pits and Thad was in group two. Given the quality of the other eight cars in the group, Thad stood a good chance of qualifying fastest of the nine cars, putting him outside second row.

    That’s what happened. Thad started fourth, took the lead on the third lap and won by a straightaway. For the feature he would start on the outside of the front row.

    Between races, the driver of the car parked next to him in the pits came over and introduced himself. Thad had no clue who the guy was; he did better with numbers as opposed to names. The guy’s car number was 80 and his name was Caleb Jankowski. He turned out to be a pleasant sort, the kind of guy it was next to impossible to dislike. He wasn’t nosy or prying; his questions and comments were thoughtful.

    Caleb was quite aware of Thad’s past. He knew that Thad had lost his wife to cancer and he went sprint car racing. He had known Farrell for years and Thad had noticed Caleb and Farrell talking at other times. Just before Caleb excused himself, Thad said wait a minute, man. What do you do to pay the bills? Caleb didn’t miss a beat. “Why, I’m a minister.”

    Thad was truly surprised. “Really?” He chuckled. “Glad I didn’t cuss.” Caleb laughed, as did Farrell. “Me too,” he said.

    Thad thought he had a good chance to either win or finish second in the feature. He took the lead as Brian Hodde waved the green and immediately started to check out. As Brian displayed the crossed flags, Thad’s lead was a full straightaway over Silas Barnes, a student at Indiana State when he wasn’t racing.

    It was too good to last. With four laps to go, a backmarker spun, bringing out the yellow and erasing Thad’s big lead. It took awhile for the field to line up properly, mostly because Thad had lapped so many cars. But finally, Brian waved the green and Thad promptly tried to give the lead away. The culprit was his Lincoln Park nemesis, turn three. He went into three a little bit above the groove and nearly went over the cushion. Jerald Jarvis was second and dove low to take the lead as the crowd roared, some for Jerald and a few less for Thad. Jerald held onto the lead and he was looking like the winner as the white flag waved. But Jerald went low going into turn one as Thad parked his right rear on the cushion and drew even with the leader as they raced down the backstretch. Going into turn three, Jerald slid up to Thad, almost close enough for them to exchange a high five. But Thad never lifted and used the momentum from the top side to pass Jerald for the lead and the win.

    Needless to say, the crowd went wild as the cars slowed after the checkered. Jerald flashed the thumbs up to Thad as he exited the track. Thad calmed himself as best he could as he approached the start/finish line. First to greet him was one of the track workers. Then it seemed like quite the crowd descended on the winning sprint car as the fans in the bleachers cheered. Thad thought to himself, yeah, this is also why i do this. Those cheers are nice.



    Chapter 57: Chicken Dinner

    “Farrell told me about a nice place to eat on the way to Putnamville.”

    Kate had been looking out her window as they drove through Bloomington. She looked at Thad and said, “Fine by me. Not that I’d know, but where is it?”

    “It’s between Spencer and Cloverdale. You have to watch carefully or you’ll miss the turnoff, according to Farrell.”

    “It’s worth a try. I could stand to have lunch.”

    Thad looked at her. “You are so agreeable. Are you always like this?”

    Kate had to laugh at that. “No way. Ask my colleagues or the department head. Or some of my students, not to mention my family.”

    Lunch was quite tolerable. The atmosphere was laid back. Thad was almost reluctant to leave. But they left and arrived at Lincoln Park a few minutes after the pits had opened. Farrell and Tyrus–minus Rhonda–arrived about five minutes later. Tyrus complained about the fast food place where he and Farrell stopped at in Spencer. Thad decided to keep quiet about where he stopped.

    Tyrus was elected to draw for Thad’s group qualifying position. There were 35 sprints in the pits and Thad was in group two. Given the quality of the other eight cars in the group, Thad stood a good chance of qualifying fastest of the nine cars, putting him outside second row.

    That’s what happened. Thad started fourth, took the lead on the third lap and won by a straightaway. For the feature he would start on the outside of the front row.

    Between races, the driver of the car parked next to him in the pits came over and introduced himself. Thad had no clue who the guy was; he did better with numbers as opposed to names. The guy’s car number was 80 and his name was Caleb Jankowski. He turned out to be a pleasant sort, the kind of guy it was next to impossible to dislike. He wasn’t nosy or prying; his questions and comments were thoughtful.

    Caleb was quite aware of Thad’s past. He knew that Thad had lost his wife to cancer and he went sprint car racing. He had known Farrell for years and Thad had noticed Caleb and Farrell talking at other times. Just before Caleb excused himself, Thad said wait a minute, man. What do you do to pay the bills? Caleb didn’t miss a beat. “Why, I’m a minister.”

    Thad was truly surprised. “Really?” He chuckled. “Glad I didn’t cuss.” Caleb laughed, as did Farrell. “Me too,” he said.

    Thad thought he had a good chance to either win or finish second in the feature. He took the lead as Brian Hodde waved the green and immediately started to check out. As Brian displayed the crossed flags, Thad’s lead was a full straightaway over Silas Barnes, a student at Indiana State when he wasn’t racing.

    It was too good to last. With four laps to go, a backmarker spun, bringing out the yellow and erasing Thad’s big lead. It took awhile for the field to line up properly, mostly because Thad had lapped so many cars. But finally, Brian waved the green and Thad promptly tried to give the lead away. The culprit was his Lincoln Park nemesis, turn three. He went into three a little bit above the groove and nearly went over the cushion. Jerald Jarvis was second and dove low to take the lead as the crowd roared, some for Jerald and a few less for Thad. Jerald held onto the lead and he was looking like the winner as the white flag waved. But Jerald went low going into turn one as Thad parked his right rear on the cushion and drew even with the leader as they raced down the backstretch. Going into turn three, Jerald slid up to Thad, almost close enough for them to exchange a high five. But Thad never lifted and used the momentum from the top side to pass Jerald for the lead and the win.

    Needless to say, the crowd went wild as the cars slowed after the checkered. Jerald flashed the thumbs up to Thad as he exited the track. Thad calmed himself as best he could as he approached the start/finish line. First to greet him was one of the track workers. Then it seemed like quite the crowd descended on the winning sprint car as the fans in the bleachers cheered. Thad thought to himself, yeah, this is also why i do this. Those cheers are nice.



    Chapter 56: Indiana Midget Week (Prelude)

    Thad and Farrell were talking to Arley on the phone. The car owner was in his RV on a solo trip to Indiana. Arley had never seen a midget race and he was getting educated by the other two as he cruised north on I-75 just south of Lexington KY. Thad and Farrell sat on the balcony of Thad’s apartment encouraging Arley to extend his vacation and stick around for Indiana Midget Week.

    “Here’s our schedule, Arley,” Thad said. “This coming weekend, we’re going to Bloomington and Putnamville on Friday and Saturday. Midget Week starts next week, five races in five nights. If it doesn’t rain, of course. Each night sprints run as the support class. That’s pretty rare in Indiana.”

    “I’m thinking,” Arley said. I’m on my way to Michigan for a week. I might be able to catch up with you guys.”

    “Which part of Michigan?” Farrell wanted to know.

    “A place called Coldwater Lake State Park. Thad, you remember Jasper Bennis?” When Thad said uh-huh, Arley went on. “Farrell, Jasper was a car owner for much of the time Thad and I were together. A big ol’ Dutchman, grumpy but he would do anything he could when anyone needed help. He invited Louise and me up there to fish and maybe drink a little beer.”

    Thad laughed. “Maybe.”

    “Yeah.” Arley was unfazed. “After about a week up there, I’ll be ready to leave. Where’s the first race of this Midget Week?”

    Farrell answered, “Montpelier, a little town in northeastern Indiana.”

    “Not that far from where I’ll be?”

    “Maybe a couple of hours, tops, Arley.” Farrell added, “It’s a neat little track. Kind of rustic, right at the edge of town. Also it’s right by a railroad track. The train should come through at some point.”

    “Do they stop the race?”

    Arley’s question was greeted by loud laughter. “No way. You never know. The engineer might be a race fan,” said Farrell.

    The trio talked awhile longer before Kate and Rhonda arrived with two large pizzas. They discussed travel plans for the following week. The backup car didn’t usually make the trips but it would be ready in case it would be needed. The ladies would drive separately in case they wanted to bail out or go shopping or even make a side trip to an Indiana tourist attraction. They would take a cooler for drinks and some food. Taking the grill was discussed. It was decided to take it if there would be room.

    The caravan arrived in Bloomington with dark clouds southwest of the track. Farrell looked at the clouds and said, “Uh-oh. We’ll be lucky to get this one in tonight. I’ve been watching the radar all day and hoping it would turn elsewhere.

    Sad to say, it didn’t happen. The rain began during the invocation, ignoring the track chaplain’s entreaty to keep the rain away. As he and Kate set a brisk pace heading to the Camaro, Thad said, “Somehow I don’t think God is going to reach down and stop the rain.” He was silent for a few seconds and said, “Sometimes I wonder about these preachers.”

    Kate looked at him, wondering herself where he was going with this. “What do you mean?”

    “Seemed like the person doing the praying was a bit over-the-top. Remember the song ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain?’ Who indeed.”

    “Let me guess what you’re getting at, Thad.” By now both were in the car and were relatively dry. Kate continued. “Are you saying there’s no need to make a big deal about the weather one way or another?”

    “Yeah, at least something like that. I mean, it’s something we can’t control. Of course everyone hopes for good weather. But no matter where you are, you can’t control the weather.” Thad turned right onto Walnut Street Road and continued, “I was talking to a promoter once and I asked him what was his biggest headache. I figured he’d say either the fans or drivers, but he surprised me. He said it was the weather. The other he had a degree of control over. But the weather? No way.”

    Kate looked at Thad and thought to herself, “He can be quite observant at times. He doesn’t live his life in a bubble. It’s just that–he keeps things to himself.” She sighed to herself and realized that’s how it was and who he was.

    The rain was gone the next morning but the sky was still cloudy and it was quite humid. Everyone was at the motel in Cloverdale, IN, not far from the Lincoln Park Speedway. As the two-vehicle caravan left Cloverdale for Putnamville, Thad said to Kate, “Remember what I was saying about the rain last night?” Without waiting for an answer, he said, “Just because I can’t control it doesn’t mean I’m wishing for rain. In fact, I’d love to see it take the night off.”

    Kate just laughed as she got into the car.




    Chapter 55: Spin and Win (Almost)

    Thad and company were glad to see Tri-State Speedway again. He would always remember it as the place where he took his first laps in a sprint car. On this warm Sunday night, while the World 600 NASCAR marathon was going on, Thad was oblivious to what was happening in the racing world at large. He learned who the Indy 500 winner was as he stood in line to get pit passes. He had no clue what was going on at Charlotte.

    This was a MSCS race, a baby step down from USAC, and a group that had its share of hard-core racers. Thad qualified second fastest of the twenty-nine cars in the pits. He spun to avoid a stalled car in his heat race, relegating him to the semi-feature. Thad won the semi and would start seventeenth in the feature. While waiting for the feature, Thad was careful not to complain.

    He was watching Kate closely to see how she was coping with the attack. When he had the chance, he asked Rhonda if she was noticing anything from Kate since her unwanted encounter with Willie.

    “Not really. She’s referred to it a couple of times, but she seems to be doing as well as one can do.” She looked at Thad. “What are you guys doing for the Memorial Day holiday?”

    “We’ve talked about going to a military cemetery we found in Madison.”

    “I’m impressed, Thad. A great idea.” Rhonda paused. “Try to keep her busy—yeah, I know. She keeps busy at the track, but keep an eye on her.” Another pause. “I’ve come to really think a lot of her.”

    Thad smiled as he walked away. “So have I.”

    Rhonda chuckled.

    The feature came around and Thad gave his all. The MSCS field might not have been as strong as a USAC lineup but they had some pretty good racers, most of whom were based in the southwest quarter of Indiana. Nevertheless, Thad worked his way to the front, taking second with six laps to go. The leader, Royal Pennington from Evansville, was ahead by a straightaway. But Royal’s tires were used up while Thad’s were still strong. He closed on the leader with every lap as the crowd’s roar matched the roar of the cars. As flagman Keith Dewig held up the white and checkered flags to signal two laps to go, there was a spin-and-crash in turn three. The yellow waved and the stage was set for a great finish. Thad would have two laps to pass Royal to complete an extraordinary comeback. He would have to guess which of the grooves Royal would fill going into turn one. Thad would take the leftover path.

    The green flag came out and Thad guessed wrong. He followed Royal in the low groove through turns one and two. Going down the backstretch, Thad decided he would go high no matter which way Mr. Pennington went. It was a good choice. The two were wheel-to-wheel as they took Keith’s white flag with Thad ahead by inches. They stayed this way, giving each other lots of room, through turns one and two, and speeding down the backstretch. But Thad made the tiniest of bobbles in turn three, just enough for Royal to come away with a victory margin of one car length.

    The race director reminded the top three finishers to stop at the finish line for post-race interviews. Thad didn’t want to but obeyed. He was upset with himself for his late race error.

    When asked about his race, Thad praised the track and the treatment he had always received when coming to Haubstadt, the owners and fans most especially. Then he was asked about the last lap. Thad smiled and said, “You know, I wish you hadn’t asked me that.” The crowd laughed. Then Thad said, “I made an error to be blunt. I’m still learning. I’m learning the tracks and how they can change. I’m learning how to race on these tracks. And I’m learning from the people I race with. If Royal made a mistake out there tonight, I didn’t see it. And I was watching.”

    This got another laugh and then the attention was shifted to the winner, who had the last word. Mr. Pennington spent a good part of his interview praising Thad and how he raced. He hoped Thad would come back often “even though I know one of these days he’s going to beat us all.”

    Heading back to the pits, Thad felt a little better. Kate hugged him and said that he was a very good interviewee. Thad laughed and thanked her. As Tyrus and the ladies pushed the car into the hauler, Thad and Farrell talked about the upcoming week’s schedule. There was a steady stream of fans stopping by to congratulate Thad, say hello, or get an autograph and/or a picture. Thad signed every autograph and smiled for every picture. A few fans asked where they would be racing next. Thad told him that he and Farrell were working on that. Several hoped he would come back to Haubstadt again. Most wished him well.

    The atmosphere was quite unlike post-race NASCAR races. Fans weren’t nearly as pushy or demanding. These people were quiet and respectable, polite and reserved. Thad mentioned this to Rhonda, who said, “Yes. They are Hoosiers.” She said it with a touch of pride. The Tarheels, Thad and Kate, would speak of that periodically in the future.




    Chapter 54: Reputations

    The Tarheel Racing Team pulled into the Lincoln Park Speedway on a hot and humid afternoon, the night before the Indianapolis 500. Thad had almost forgotten about the 500 and the NASCAR race at Charlotte. He had won the 600-mile marathon five years ago. Ten years before that he had expressed an interest in running at Indy but nothing ever came of it. Arley pretended to have a heart attack when someone in the know told him how much it would cost. There would be no more talk of racing in the Indianapolis 500.

    Tyrus was learning from Farrell each day. Other teams were noticing that this young man was a talent. Tyrus spurned all offers to jump to another team, even the ones who could afford him. His reasoning was that Thad (and Arley) paid him well and they all treated him good. Tyrus was stocking with the Tarheel Racing Team.

    At the moment Tyrus had his pre-race chores on his mind. While the others busied themselves with everything from unfolding lawn chairs to drawing for the hot lap/heat race group, Tyrus made sure that he did everything he could so Thad would have a fast race car for the night.

    Thad thought it might have been his imagination that people were looking at him a little differently as he ambled to the drivers’ meeting. Then he remembered. They must have heard about Willie. Sure enough, Cosmo sidled up to him and said, “thanks for putting that cretin away last night, Thad.”

    “You’re welcome, bud. He had it coming.”

    “That’s for sure. My daughter talked me out of doing what you did after he made some nasty comments to her.”

    Thad looked at his friend/rival. “He did? Well, that makes me feel a bit better. But I’m still a little concerned about Kate.”

    “Can’t blame you there. But Farrell’s wife is a super lady and if Kate keeps hangin’ around Rhonda that will help mightily.”

    “I can’t agree more.”

    There were 39 cars in the Lincoln Park pits, five heats, top three advancing. Tyrus and Farrell had done their part. In the hot lap/time trial session, Thad was the quickest of the eight cars. He would start fourth in his heat. Thad won the heat after avoiding a spinning lapped car. With a pit area full of support class race cars, it would be a long wait between heat races and the feature.

    Rhonda and Kate stayed close to the hauler, not wishing for any more Willie the Wanker episodes; when they traveled it was together. Thad sat and watched Farrell and Tyrus get the car ready for the feature, which would eventually start a little before eleven. Tyrus did most of the actual work and Farrell sat with Thad for a while, both watching this special young man doing something he loved.

    Farrell said, “You know Thad, I’m not sure of your plans for next year, But I think you might have trouble keeping this young man for another year.”

    “You noticed that too? Yeah, no matter what I do, I see him moving up,” Thad said.

    Farrell looked at his friend. “Just what are you going to do next year?”

    Thad laughed. “Wish I knew. But soon as I know, you will know.”

    “Well, whatever you do is fine by me. This has worked out better than I thought it would.”

    “When did you start thinking that?”

    Farrell thought for a few seconds. “I’d say early on. By the middle of last month for sure. Then I was telling guys you were the real deal.”

    “Well, thanks. I figured there’d be people who thought I’d be one of those publicity hounds, coming here to get attention. With no one at home at the time, I thought that the best thing for me to do would be race. Then Arley and I took that trip to Florida and...well, you know the rest.”

    Farrell laughed. “That I do, son. That I do.”

    Tyrus and Kate pushed the car away from the hauler. Kate asked to drive the four-wheeler that would push the car to the staging area. It mattered to her. She needed to overcome this fear that would overtake her if she let it. She was determined. When she pulled away from the car, she drove by the cockpit and waved at Thad, who was pleasantly surprised to see her on the vehicle.

    The 25-lap feature was one of the best ever at LPS and Thad was in the middle of it. For the last half of the race, Thad and Jerald battled with young veteran Ken Kramer for the lead. On a late re-start, Kramer came from third to win, using a perfectly executed slider on both Thad and Jerald.

    After the race, Thad told Farrell and Tyrus that they did their best. He was beaten by two superior talents.

    Next stop, after a night in a motel, was Haubstadt.



    Chapter 53: Willie the Wanker

    Thad flipped a coin and Farrell called heads. It was tails and off they went to a new track in southwestern Ohio, Graham’s Creek Raceway. Rhonda had come along to keep Kate company. She had brought enough sandwiches to feed six people. After the car was unloaded and ready for the night, Thad and Farrell sat in the shade of the hauler eating roast beef sandwiches.

    A thirty-ish young man walked by with a scowl on his face. Thad had seen him every time he had been to Lawrenceburg and finally asked Farrell who he was.

    “I think his name is Willie Brankovic, but he’s also known as Willie the Wanker.”

    Thad looked at Farrell and said, “I don’t want to know, but I think you’re going to tell me anyway.”

    “I am. Because he has this habit of ogling the ladies in the pits, no matter how old they are—or young.”

    Thad looked again. “Has he ever been caught doing or saying anything he shouldn’t?”

    “Not yet,” said Farrell. “But he’s been warned. He will back off for a while but pretty soon he starts in again.” Farrell lowered his voice. “I had heard he was stalking Cosmo’s daughter, but that hasn’t been confirmed. Cosmo watched him pretty close.”

    “That’s the last guy you would want after you.” Thad looked out at the track. The crew was still working on the track. Still a young man, he had been doing this for years. The track was consistent each week. Lightning fast early but by feature time it was a tick slower; invariably two grooves would form.

    He looked back at Farrell. “I’ll watch this guy too. I would hope he doesn’t give Kate or Rhonda any trouble.”

    “Rhonda could take care of herself. She grew up at race tracks. But, Thad, you have to think that this guy could sneak up on some unsuspecting lady.”

    Thad stared straight ahead. He was single minded enough to put everything aside when he got into a race car. But for now, he thought of Kate and her safety. All he could do was tell her to beware.

    But that wasn’t enough. Thad had finished second in his heat and was making his way back to the pits. Kate had been watching from the pit bleachers with Rhonda. As both headed back to the hauler, Rhonda excused herself to go to the “little girls’ room” as she called it. Kate was setting a pretty good pace and decided to take a short cut between two haulers so she could be waiting on Thad when he parked the car.

    Willie the Wanker noticed this and made a snap decision that would change his life. He stepped up his pace, following Kate. When she walked between the haulers, Willie decided to have some “fun” with this lady. She was older but she still looked pretty good. Willie never gave a thought about the consequences. He didn’t know or care what Kate would think. Willie had one idea and it was to grab this lady and do what he could. The idea of slapping her around and having his way with her only aroused him.

    As Thad was exiting the car, he, along with several others, heard the screams from about 50 feet away. Thad, Tyrus and Farrell were joined by about a dozen other crew members, drivers and pit regulars. Thad reached Willie first and what he saw enraged him even more than the time he was spun out of a race that he was about to win on the last lap. He pulled Willie away from Kate, who had her shirt partially torn and her shorts partially unzipped. Her nose was bleeding and she had a terrified look on her face.

    Willie’s smirk left him when he saw Thad and the others appear between the haulers. Thad pulled him away and began slamming Willie’s head against the side of the hauler for a solid thirty seconds before letting the now-limp body fall. Rhonda was tending to Kate, who was calming down somewhat. Thad stood over Willie, who was lying semi-conscious on the ground, bleeding from his head like the proverbial stuck pig.

    The particulars were determined quickly and efficiently—once people saw who the “victim” was. A deputy listened to Kate’s version of the story, looked at her rare state of dishevelment and turned to Thad, who filled in the gaps. Willie was installed in a police car that would stop at the local ER on its way to the county jail. The promoter arrived in time to assure all present that Willie was to be barred from entering this race track.

    When things settled down somewhat, the team decided to load up for the night. For Kate’s part, she said that she would just as soon never come back to this place. Rhonda answered by gathering up the lawn chairs, food and drink, then loading them in the back of the truck’s cab. Neither Thad, Farrell or Tyrus objected and off they went. None of them looked back.

    Thad and Kate trailed the hauler in his Camaro. She was quiet until they reached the east side of North Vernon.

    “Thad, I forgot to thank you. I’m glad you showed up when you did.”

    “You’re very welcome. How are you?”

    “Okay, I think.”


    Both were untypically quiet for the rest of the evening. By the time the last light was turned off, Thad was thinking about Lincoln Park.




    Chapter 52: Hard Charger

    Farrell and Tyrus were both ready by Saturday afternoon. They met Kate and the little caravan left North Vernon for Lawrenceburg. Kate decided to not say much; instead, she looked at the Indiana countryside, gentle rolling hills and a few cornfields. It was all green in color, making a nice contrast with the blue sky.

    She noticed that Thad had become quiet as well. Her guess was that he had the night ahead of him on his mind. Later, she found that she was correct.

    Lawrenceburg promoter Dave Rudisell stopped by on his scooter to say hello to Thad and company. As they exchanged pleasantries, Kate stayed in the other end of the hauler. She wondered what she had gotten herself into. But she was curious enough to find out a little at a time.

    As Farrell and Tyrus got the car ready for hot laps, Kate was persuaded to ride on the back of the four-wheeler as Tyrus pushed Thad and the car to the staging area. Tyrus hollered for her to hold on and she soon found out why. Tyrus pushed the car onto the track from the ramp in turn four. There was a slight bump and Kate nearly fell off. Tyrus put the car in position for the push truck to start the car as Kate had a good view of all that went on behind the four-wheeler.

    Tyrus and Kate exited the track and went to the pit bleachers in turn three. From there Farrell joined them. He and Tyrus talked about the car while Kate tried to listen and watch. Three minutes later she had watched Thad nearly hit the wall, was nearly hit by a rock and discovered that ear plugs might be a good idea. Farrell and Tyrus gave her a big grin as they went back to the hauler.

    The blind draw dictated that Thad would start seventh in his heat, the second. There were 23 cars and three heats, no B. Thad had moved up to third when he slowed in turn two midway through his heat. It was another flat tire. He would be starting back in the pack for the feature. Thad was not pleased. Kate made a smart decision in avoiding all three gentlemen--who were not acting like gentlemen at the moment.

    For the feature Thad found himself starting 20th of the 22 cars taking the green flag. He moved steadily through the field, and was eighth as the crossed flags were displayed by starter Tim Montgomery. Thad needed a caution as the leaders had pulled away and he was nearly a half lap behind. Sure enough, the yellow lights blinked with six laps to go. Thad was sixth. He knew the guys in front of him and had an idea what they would do on the restart. Tim waved the green and three of the cars in front of Thad went low into turn one. Thad went high, loving every second of it, right against the wall and entering the backstretch in fourth place, right behind the car in third.

    Try as he might, Thad couldn't do much more passing. He caught a break when the third-place car slowed on the last lap and went to the infield. After starting 20th Thad had moved to third, a great night overall.

    Kate watched it all and discovered that, despite the noise, rocks, dust and danger she kind of liked it. She would have lots of questions for Thad.

    Later, as she and Thad followed Tyrus and Farrell back to North Vernon, Kate asked Thad if he would mind answering some more racing questions. Thad smiled and said, of course.

    Kate: By the time the night was over, I was wondering if there was anything I could do to help.

    Thad: That’s great to know, Kate. Of course, there’s lots of things you could do. Tonight you could have helped wash the car. Eventually, you can drive the four-wheeler and push me to where I’m supposed to be to enter the track. Sometimes, we plan ahead and Farrell’s wife Rhonda will make sandwiches.

    Thad looked at Kate and smiled. “But beware. That Tyrus eats enough for two or three people.”

    Kate laughed and asked, “So far, so good. Anything else?”

    Thad said, “As you go along, Farrell might ask for a certain tool or wrench. Tyrus might show you how to check the air pressure in the tires. And soon you can learn how to load and unload the hauler.” He looked over again. She seemed to be serious about this stuff. That was good—for now.

    Kate: I’ll keep all this in mind. But I have another question.

    Thad: Let’s hear it.

    Kate: I can guess the answer, but I’ll ask anyway. Why, Thad? I mean, why do you guys do this?

    Thad: Race, you mean?

    Kate: Why risk so much for what, $1500 to win?

    Thad: Fair question. One thing I learned from Dina’s Bible study group. Jesus often answered questions by asking another one. So, with that in mind, Kate, why do you teach?

    Kate: Great answer.

    She laughed. “I expected a good answer, but never would I have thought you would have used Jesus to answer.”

    She grew quiet for a minute. “Let me see if this makes any sense. I truly enjoy teaching. Over ninety percent of my students seem to get a lot out of what I’m trying to teach. It’s also a pain and there’s all sorts of rules, regulations and mandates we have to follow but I’ve learned to deal with that. And at the end of the year, that’s when I see the results of my work. I don’t mean the grades. I’m more interested in how much they have learned or progressed. Are they better people; are they better equipped to go out and live in this world, not just make a living.” She paused. “But that’s important, too.”

    “Kate, that was a pretty good answer. I’m not out there to teach, but I can say I’m learning a lot here myself.” Thad was quiet as he slowed down some as they approached Butlerville.

    “Of course, I enjoy this. I’ve already learned more about sprint cars than I’d learned in my last ten years of NASCAR. I love the challenge. It’s difficult to turn right to go left in those things. I had to unlearn a lot of things and learn others. That’s been it. I mean, as much as I love going home, this has been good for me, I think.” He looked at her as they left the tiny town of Butlerville. “People who don’t know anything about racing either say or think we have a so-called ‘death wish.’ They are full of it. We have, if anything, a life wish. This is our way of living life to the fullest in these times. Some of us are just wired different. Not better or worse, just different.”

    Both were silent until they reached the outskirts of North Vernon.

    It was three a.m. on Sunday morning. The car had been washed, everyone went their separate ways and Thad lay on his back staring at the ceiling. Kate lay in his arms, blissfully asleep. Thad's mind was still going as fast as his car had been just a few hours before. He was truly enjoying himself, but was wondering what lay ahead. He had questions that could only be answered in time.

    What was he going to be doing next year? And where? With whom? Kate's lying there, half on top of him and the other half on the bed, generated more questions. Where did she fit in with all this? Thad was very sure that he didn't want to get married again, but one can never know the future. Circumstances change all the time. He was too young to "retire," whatever that meant. So what was the alternative? Keep on racing sprint cars? He loved doing that, he knew. But for how long could he be competitive? At what point would he start losing that competitive spirit?

    Thad sighed. He needed to move, but having this lady with him in this position felt good, no, more like comforting. He wanted to hug her a little tighter but didn't want her to wake up. He wanted this tiny piece of time to last a lot longer.




    Chapter 51: No Time to Recover

    Tyrus and Farrell dropped Thad off at his apartment just before four A.M. They made sure that he was safely inside the apartment before they left. Tyrus thoughtfully made sure that the night’s earnings, $1500, lay on the kitchen table where Thad would not fail to see it. Just before Thad turned out the lights, he saw the money. He shook his head, saying to himself, “Busted my poor, dumb ass for $1500.” Then he laughed, and said “but who’s complaining?” It was the nature of racing at every level. As in life, the intangibles crowded the tangibles off the table. The thrill of the speed and competition dwarfed the money, no matter what the result of the race and no matter how much or little that it paid.

    Before she had the chance, Thad texted Kate before he went to bed. “Hi, Kate. Here’s some news. I won the feature tonight at Kokomo! So excited. But I crashed the car right after I saw the checkered flag. Went to the local hospital. Mostly a headache. It was quite a ride, but no worse than others over the years. I still aim to be home Tuesday—I mean tomorrow—around suppertime.

    Thad slept until ten, waking up with a mild headache. Sure enough, Kate had answered. “Oh Thad. I hope you are okay to drive home. Please call me any time after 5:00. Gotta go. First class is in five minutes.” Thad left the apartment at noon, looking for a quiet place to have lunch. He spent the afternoon washing the Camaro, packing and taking a short nap, thanks to a rerun of the old TV show Death Valley Days.

    Tuesday morning found Thad leaving town by nine. He arrived at his house at 4:30. He called Kate at five, while he was unpacking. He assured her that he was fine, neglecting to mention that he still had a bit of a headache and a few bruises. He admitted to himself that he didn’t recover from his wrecks as quickly as he used to.

    Thad had thoroughly enjoyed his time in Indiana, but it was great to be back home. Nothing much had changed in the past few weeks. He figured that Arley and Louise would fill him in when he came over to their place for supper. What they missed would be covered by Darrell and Rollie on Wednesday for lunch. And Kate would probably want to talk about her work on Thursday when he picked her up.

    By Wednesday evening, Thad was up to date on the local news. Arley talked about a murder in the next county. The killer got as far as Spartanburg before he was caught. Louise said that a local businessman, allegedly happily married, had run off with his secretary. They were last seen heading west to Asheville with the intention of going to the casino at Cherokee. But the would-be Romeo got cold feet and brought his soon to be ex-secretary back to the lake. Louise shook her head when she said the man’s wife forgave him and took him back. Oh, and this was at least the third time he had pulled a stunt like this.

    Thursday’s lunch came and Thad asked Darrell and Rollie if they had heard about the murder and the wandering businessman. Rollie said the guy who was murdered had been sneaking around with another guy’s wife. The jilted husband found the guy and shot him with his wife as a terrified witness. They agreed that the guy would do some time but would probably get out in a few years. Darrell had heard about the businessman, a local realtor. They all agreed that he had better change his ways before his wife decided to do something rash.

    After those stories were told and re-told, they talked racing, or Darrell and Thad talked racing while Rollie began a conversation with the attractive lady who was tending bar. Yet again, Darrell said that he needed to come up there for a race sometime. Thad chuckled. Darrell had been telling him that since Thad had decided to take the plunge and go racing in Indiana.

    On Friday morning Thad was up bright and early to pick up Kate at 7:30. Once they reached I-40 west, the traffic was no trouble. Thad and the Camaro were as one, Kate noticed. He weaved around traffic smoothly, yet cautiously, always alert to any ill-considered moves by the few other vehicles on the road. Lunch was at a Cracker Barrel in Richmond, Kentucky. They arrived at Thad’s apartment a little past four.

    Later that evening, Thad and Kate sat on the balcony of his apartment. It had been a long day and now both were relaxing as they watched the sun disappear behind the gentle hills to the west of the apartment complex. What little talking they had done was idle chatter—until Kate began asking questions about Thad’s racing.

    They were talking about a silly public service ad that had made the rounds in the Charlotte TV market in which a NASCAR driver was run off the road by an elderly female. It was supposed to be about safe driving, but Thad had his doubts about how effective such a silly premise would be in fighting unsafe driving on the roads.

    Kate looked at him. "Did you ever do anything like that?"

    Thad chuckled, then became serious. "Only a few times. I did some TV spots for Arley and his restaurants. And no, I didn't ever wear a chicken outfit. Thankfully, Arley never asked me." He chuckled again.

    Then Kate asked, "Did you ever try and wreck someone?"

    Thad was surprised but appreciative that she was asking questions. So he answered, "Wreck? I wouldn't say that but I did bump a few guys. That was only on the shorter tracks like Martinsville or Bristol." As he finished, an SUV flew by the balcony with an unmarked Indiana State Police car in hot pursuit.

    Kate shook her head. "Wow," she said. "Talk about racing and see what happens."

    Thad laughed and looked at Kate, "Welcome to Indiana. And remember, in many ways here, you are still in the South."

    "Yes, I've done some reading about that. Fact is, the state was settled from the south up so it makes some sense."

    "It's known for its corn production and racing of most all types. There's still some manufacturing here, but nothing like it used to be, according to Sparky."

    "Sparky? The guy from your childhood?"

    "Sure, Gideon Elijah Sparks from Scottsburg. We passed the exit not long before we got to Seymour.”

    "Any other characters I'll get to meet?"

    Thad laughed. "There's the rest of the team, Farrell and Tyrus. They do everything with the car except drive it. They can be funny but when it's go time, they are ready. And I’m sure they will be perfect gentlemen...until something bad goes wrong. "

    Thad was quiet for a moment, then said, “Seriously, you will like them. They both seem to be laid back and easy going, but believe me, both are quite competitive. They have been very patient with me when I’ve screwed up. They are honest. If I messed up they gently let me know. But on those very rare occasions when they messed up, they are quick to own it.”

    Kate had one more question. “How do you get along with the fans?”

    “Pretty good. Many know of me through NASCAR, and that’s all. But there’s quite a few hard-core sprint car fans who had the “show me” attitude. They might have thought I’d be doing this as a lark. I like to think I’ve changed a few minds. I haven’t heard any boos yet, but I’m sure they will come if they haven’t already.

    “One more question and I have to turn in for the night. What’s the plan tomorrow?”

    Thad chuckled. “I hope you didn’t plan on taking it easy. We’re leaving for Lawrenceburg early tomorrow afternoon. It’s a good place for your education to begin.”




    Chapter 50: Winning the Hard Way
    Thad woke up on Sunday morning and at first he wasn’t sure where he was. But then he
    remembered. He was in a motel in Marion, Indiana, not far from Kokomo. And he heard a
    vibrating sound on the counter. The clock said it was 9:30 and the sound was the phone. Thad
    reached for it too late. Kate had just called and he had missed the call. Thad got up and called
    her back.
    K: I saw where you were rained out last night.
    T: Yes, it’s a fact of life here, I’m told.
    K: So are you home or are you going to Kokomo tonight?
    T: Kate, I am truly impressed. You’ve been doing some homework, I see. We’re in Marion and
    yes, we are going to Kokomo tonight.
    K: I’ve even been keeping track of your results. Let me see. Third at Gas City Kokomo
    last month you won a heat race and had a flat tire after running well.
    T: Wow. I think I have a keeper.
    Both laughed as both pondered that thought.
    K: Well, thank you Thad. I’m fairly sure that’s a compliment.
    T: It sure is. One of these nights I would love to get my first win. I’ve come close a few times,
    K: Oh, I’m sure you will, my dear. That bad luck can’t last forever.
    T: I do believe that. (He turned serious for a moment.) I remember hearing or reading that, at
    least on this earth, nothing lasts forever.
    K: If you are speaking of things tangible, I agree. But like I read and heard in the play Our Town,
    there’s something eternal about human beings. I’m inclined to agree with that.
    T: Me too. (Brief pause) This is pretty heavy stuff for me so soon after I woke up.
    K: Same here. Well, I gambled that you would be getting up soon. So I called.
    T: You are the prettiest alarm clock I’ve ever had.
    Kate laughed. “Thank you very much. Tell the guys I said hello and I look forward to meeting
    them soon.”
    T: I’ll do that Kate. Thanks for calling. I’ll try and get that win for you tonight.
    K: That would be great. Well. Bye for now.
    T: Bye, Kate.
    Later that afternoon Thad and company sat behind the hauler engaging in idle chatter. Thad
    was having encounters with everyone from fans to competitors more often and the trio talked
    about that. Tyrus said that he was hearing that people liked him, Thad, but he seemed
    standoffish. This made Thad and Farrell laugh. You say that like it’s a bad thing, Thad said.
    Tyrus protested, saying that the fans and others didn’t know him like he and Farrell did. Farrell
    said not to worry. When Kate arrived, the women especially would leave him alone. That
    reminded Thad he had to get up in the morning and go to Brevard and pick up Kate. He
    dreaded getting up rather early on Monday morning, but looked forward to seeing Kate. It had
    been too long.
    It turned out to be quite the night for Thad. The car felt good and Thad was the quickest qualifier
    in his group. He started fourth in his heat and won going away. Then he hitched a ride with
    Jerald on his four-wheeler to the start/finish line. Waiting to do a brief interview with Thad was
    announcer Rob Goodman. When Rob introduced That to the crowd, the cheers were loud. To
    his credit, Rob didn’t mention that Thad was a former NASCAR driver. Instead he asked how
    Thad was liking sprint car racing in the Hoosier state. Thad said that he loved it. The tracks, the
    fans and the pork chop sandwiches. That got a roar of laughter from the crowd. Rob, after the
    laughter died down, had a young fan pick a number out of a bowl to be determined Thad’s
    starting spot in the feature. The six-year-old girl drew a six, the highest number available. Thad
    put his hands on his hips and pretended to be upset with the girl, getting another laugh.
    The girl made him think of his own daughter Nora. A moment of sadness overtook him but only
    for a moment. Thad was able to compartmentalize with the best and turned his thoughts to the
    upcoming 25-lap feature. He felt as comfortable as he had ever felt in a sprint car up to this
    point. Jerald Jarvis took the early lead but Thad was coming on from his sixth starting spot. He
    caught Jerald in just ten laps. From there they engaged in a spirited battle for the lead. Both
    threw slide jobs at each other for at least five laps. Thad gave as good as he got. Finally, Thad
    began to extend his lead. He crossed the finish line a full ten car lengths ahead of Jerald,
    scoring his first sprint car feature win. That was the good news.
    The bad news was that Thad’s right rear tire ran over a sharp object left at the finish line by
    another car. As flagman Brian Hodde waved the checkered at Thad, the car veered sharply to
    the right, smacking the wall almost head-on. Then it began a series of frightful flips,
    end-over-end, finally stopping near the pit entrance, a heaping pile of mostly scrap metal.
    Thankfully, there was no fire, just a ruined race car and a driver who would escape with some
    sore muscles and bones along with an aching head.
    Emergency personnel, rival team members and Farrell all converged on the remains of the car.
    Thad was pretty sure he lost consciousness for a minute or so, though he would never know for
    sure. When Farrell was sure that his driver was okay, more or less, a track worker steered him
    to victory lane, where Rob Goodman awaited. Normally Rob would interview the driver but since
    that wasn’t happening, Farrell filled in and had the pleasure of telling the fans that Thad was
    awake, but a bit groggy. At this the crowd roared.
    Thad was “encouraged” to take the ride to Howard County Hospital. Farrell rode with him while
    Tyrus, with help from some competitors, loaded the car into the hauler as best they could. This
    took a while; as a result, Tyrus arrived at the hospital in time to help Thad get in the hauler after
    his obligatory wheelchair ride.



    Chapter 49: All Things Are Possible in May
    Thad, Farrell and Tyrus sat down on Monday evening surrounded by pizzas and an assortment
    of drinks. All had their phones with calendars on their screens, planning May’s schedule. Thad
    would be going to North Carolina to check on his house and pick up Kate in the midpoint of the
    Thad and company found themselves at Bloomington on the first Friday in May. Threatening
    weather held the crowd down. The car count was a meager (for Indiana) 19 cars. Thad started
    sixth on a lightning-fast track and finished fourth despite an ill-handling car. The feature was
    over at half past nine. Farrell joked at the car wash that it took longer to wash the car than it
    took to run the feature and he was correct as the 25-lap race was caution-free.
    The car count was somewhat better at Lawrenceburg on Saturday. If the track reminded Thad of
    any NASCAR track, it would be Bristol, where Thad had always run well. Again he started the
    feature sixth, but he worked his way to the front quickly. Pole sitter Lloyd Case had things going
    his way until his car quit on him under a late race caution. This put his rival Sam Wolcott in the
    lead with Thad second. Try as he might, Thad could not pass Wolcott, already a veteran at age
    Thad and Farrell decided to take Sunday off, even though Kokomo was racing. Tyrus went to
    Kokomo, either to help a team or check out the 50/50 girl. Tyrus helped Cosmo and team to
    victory, but struck out with the 50/50 girl, who had neglected to tell him that she was married.
    Thad either talked or texted with Kate every day except Tuesday. Her last class would be ten
    days before Memorial Day. Thad’s plan was to go back home on Tuesday. While there he would
    check on his house and the Corvette. He promised Arley and Louise that he would visit one day.
    Naturally there would be lunch with Rollie and Darrell. The visit would conclude by picking up
    Kate and heading back to Indiana on Thursday.
    With that settled there was still plenty of racing until then. The second Friday of that May found
    Thad, Farrell and Tyrus at Gas City. Rhonda made the trip north. Thad told Farrell that he was
    tired of paying the bills, making reservations and dealing with the suppliers. Would Rhonda be
    interested in taking the job? She would if she could take in one trip per weekend. Thad took a
    vote and Farrell was outnumbered amidst lots of teasing by Thad and Tyrus.
    After pulling into the Gas City pits, Thad found Wilbur Calloway and they spent a few minutes
    telling stories. The usual routine ensued and Thad joined his group to qualify. He had just taken
    the green flag when the engine began to sputter as he came out of turn two. It sounded sick so
    Thad cut the power. Coasting to a stop, one of the push trucks escorted Thad and car to the
    pits. It was the first mechanical problem he had experienced all year.
    Farrell and Tyrus looked over the engine and quickly found a spark plug wire that had come off.
    Problem solved, but Thad would start last in a nine-car heat race. To transfer to the feature, he
    need to finish fifth. After the lineup sheet was posted, he looked at his heat race lineup
    and groaned. This would be tough. Sure enough, Thad finished sixth in his heat. At least he
    started on the front row of the B and went on to win it by nearly a half lap.
    Thad started 16th in the feature. He moved forward under the radar because there was a terrific
    three-way battle for the lead. While everyone’s attention was (deservedly) focused on the top
    three, Thad entered the top ten by the time the yellow lights blinked for a spin on the 12th lap.
    The announcer didn’t mention Thad, but a few fans noticed. The green flag waved and Thad
    resumed his march toward the front. Things settled down as Jerald Jarvis took command up
    front. But Thad was getting noticed now and he entered the top five with five laps to go.
    He wasn’t going to win but Thad finished third after starting so far back. He rolled into the pit
    area with a big smile on his face. Farrell and Tyrus were beside themselves. In his two visits to
    Gas City, Thad had finished second and third.
    Staying all night at Marion, Indiana, the little caravan made their way to Lincoln Park on
    Saturday night. More than once Thad was teased about the billboards. “Don’t hit them tonight,
    Thad.” They arrived early and debated unloading the car. Bad weather was in western
    Indiana/eastern Illinois. They decided to wait a while before pulling the car out of the hauler.
    The drivers’ meeting had just started when raindrops began to fall. At first the sprinkles weren’t
    so bad. But the western sky was populated by some ominous looking clouds. When Thad got
    back to the hauler, he saw that the car had been pushed back inside. He didn’t say anything to
    Farrell or Tyrus. Instead he got out his phone and booked three rooms at the same motel in
    Marion, then texted Rhonda to let her know. Just as he finished the sky opened up and rain
    began falling at a terrific clip. This lasted for at least twenty minutes before easing up. Still the
    rain continued, but at a slower rate. Then came the inevitable announcement that racing people
    hate to hear: tonight’s races had been canceled.
    Thad and company headed back to Marion to spend the night. Tomorrow afternoon they would
    go back to Kokomo. Thad was getting frustrated in wanting his first sprint car victory.


    Chapter 48: The Action Track

    Rain had fallen in Terre Haute overnight. It stopped by ten o’clock, which was when Thad finished breakfast at the motel with Farrell and Cosmo. Thad asked his mates about the Terre Haute Action Track. Then he sat back and listened.

    Cosmo said, “I love it and hate it at the same time. It’s fast, usually smooth, wide and that means there’s more than one groove.”

    “So why do you hate it?”

    Cosmo laughed and said, “The track is mostly flat but you might be surprised at the speed you can get. It can bite you—hard.”

    Farrell added, “I’ve seen careers ended there and more than one guy injured for life.” He squinted at Thad, “What do you think?”

    Thad shrugged. “I think I’ll be careful but not let the track get the best of me.”

    Farrell said, “Okay. I know you aren’t fazed by sheer speed. Just respect the place. I’ve been a part of victory lane celebrations five times. I’d love to make it six.”

    Cosmo spoke as he got up from his chair. “Remember, Farrell, two of those was with me.”

    Farrell laughed and said, “How could I forget?”

    Thad drew a high number, which meant he would qualify on a track surface that had slowed down somewhat since time trials began. He was 24th of the 36 cars that qualified and his time put him on the front row of his heat. Thanks to a few adjustments by Farrell, Thad grabbed the lead at the start and held on to win his first heat race in a sprinter—with USACl. This also gave Thad the chance to be interviewed by the infield reporter, Suzanne Timmons.

    S: Congratulations, Thad. Your first USAC heat race and it’s at the Action Track. Was it as easy as it looked?

    T: Far from it. I kept waiting on somebody to catch me, but it didn’t happen.

    S: How was the track?

    T: It was okay. It hadn’t changed much since qualifying, plus Farrell Hutchinson made a few changes. I like this place so far.

    S: There you have it, race fans. Thad Larrabee, NASCAR racer turned sprint car racer. Give him some applause!

    And so they did.

    Between his heat race and the feature, Thad had time to text Kate.

    K: Way to go, Thad!! I’m so happy for you. Another milestone.

    T: Thanks, Kate. Now we get to prepare for the feature. Another animal completely.

    To show that she was learning, Kate asked, “Do you think the track will change much by feature time?”

    Thad answered, “Only if they work on it before the feature. Farrell said that’s not the case as a rule. It’s held up fairly well.”

    K: Where are you starting in the feature?

    T: I’m not sure, but I think winning the heat helps me a lot. My guess is eighth or so.

    As it turned out, Thad started seventh. He was holding his own and advanced to fifth when disaster struck. Two lapped cars tangled right in front of the leaders, who were in a tight pack. Three cars flipped with one of them clearing the wall. Thad was hit by one of the flipping cars, hard enough to end his race. There were no immediate injuries.

    Thad rode with the wrecker driver back to the pits, a dejected look on his face. Farrell took a look at the car and shook his head. It would take a day or two to fix this thing, assuming everything went smoothly.

    Tyrus and Farrell decided to take the long trip to North Vernon after the race. Thad stayed another night in the motel and took his time heading to the apartment on Monday.

    He considered his schedule. Soon it would be May. Thad was about to find out that, when Hoosiers talked about The Race, they didn’t mean any race in Florida or anywhere else.



    The Hoosier Race Report: The Backmarker

    The backmarker was somewhat apprehensive as another Saturday night approached. But he had high hopes of having some fun and maybe even recoup a part of his investment. Such is the lot of the backmarker.

    His pit crew would be the usual–his buddy that he worked with at the factory and his girlfriend who was a hair stylist when she wasn't waiting tables at the local lodge. His buddy knew enough about 410 engines, especially the backmarker's well used Foxco that was reliable and as strong as a good used engine could be.

    Looking around the pits, the Backmarker guessed that there were about 25 sprints in the pits. The number alone told him that he had a good chance to make the feature, even if he had to race in the B main.

    Presently, his mechanic and girlfriend pushed the car to the staging area for hot laps. The Backmarker waited patiently as his turn at hot laps/qualifying approached. Finally, it was his turn to check out the car, then take three fast laps and hope he wasn't the slowest of the eight other cars on the track.

    Back to the pits went the Backmarker to make sure everything on the car was race ready while the Girlfriend scraped the mud off the nerf bars and other places that had collected mud. She didn't have to worry about anything covering a sponsor's name because they didn't have a sponsor. The team scraped by as best they could, buying used parts and sometimes accepting used tires from better funded teams.

    The Backmarker had noticed with some amusement a hierarchy of sorts within the sprint car teams. It may have been his imagination but it seemed like the teams that were the beneficiaries of more money tended to associate with each other more than they did with the low buck guys like him. When he mentioned that to his Girlfriend she laughed and said that he wasn't the friendliest guy in the world, so what did he expect? He had to laugh at that. There was probably a lot of truth in her observation.

    She went to the bulletin board to see where he was starting in his heat race. It was a pleasant surprise for them to see that he was starting fifth, inside third row of the third heat. The Backmarker permitted himself a small smile. He looked at the picture of the lineup on his Girlfriend's phone. If things went well, he should finish fifth at the worst. He had outrun those behind him in the past and he should be able to do it again.

    After what always seemed like an interminable wait, it was time for the Backmarker to go to the staging area. One of the other teams waved away the Mechanic and Girlfriend so he could push the car with his four-wheeler. Occasionally other teams would do this for the little team with few resources. The Backmarker thought about buying one of those things but it seemed to him that his meager finances needed to be directed toward the car.

    The field took the green flag and the Backmarker decided to stick with the bottom groove for the first half of the race until the field would spread out. His plan worked like a charm and he was able to pass the pole sitter who had steadily dropped back through the pack.

    Running fourth and locked in for the feature, disaster struck the Backmarker when another backmarker spun as he was being lapped. The Backmarker had nowhere to go and plowed into the car parked the middle of turn two. He said a few nasty words to his competitor, who couldn't hear him. It was just as well.

    The Backmarker caught a break in that it didn't appear the car was badly damaged and he would be able to restart. The trouble was that he was in seventh place and there were only two laps to go. In other words, he would be going to the dreaded B main.

    Back in the pits the team looked over the car to see if everything was in its place and nothing was bent or broken. The Mechanic speculated that they would be starting in the middle of the B main, which would have about nine or ten cars. While the final support class was running its heats, the Girlfriend went to check the B main lineup. They were on the outside of row three.

    The Backmarker said to himself, no way do I lose this race. He was right; he took the lead on the fourth lap and checked out, winning by a half straightaway. He would start 16th in the feature.

    Other than adding fuel to the tank, there wasn't much for the tiny team to do before the feature. It was just as well; there was only one other B main and it was an all-green event.

    Once again, another team pushed the Backmarker to the staging area. Once again the Backmarker thought about buying a four-wheeler. One of these days…he thought.

    As he circled the track before the field began to line up the Backmarker told himself that he wanted a top ten finish. Anything better than that would be the icing. He looked around at the cars in his vicinity. There were a few guys he had outrun in the past. He could do it again.

    The green flag waved and the field of twenty barrelled into the first turn. Someone near the front spun (quite possibly with a little help) and confusion reigned for a moment. The Backmarker eased over the banking and missed the mayhem. He knew that he was lucky there.

    The field lined up for a complete restart. The Backmarker was pleased to now beginning the race in the seventh row. When the race began again he held his position, watching the cars ahead of him.

    As the flagman showed the field the crossed flags the Backmarker passed an ill-handling beast and entered the top ten. He had no idea but he knew that the track was a good fit for the car's setup –or was it the other way around?

    Whatever it was, the Backmarker matched his best finish with a seventh. His smile was wide as the Mechanic told him where he had finished. No matter that the money might buy two tires (as long as only one of them was a right rear). The little team that could would be able to load the car on the open trailer and maybe grab a pizza on the way home.



    Chapter 47: Reading Billboards

    It wasn’t even May yet and the weather was hot and humid, Indiana style. Thad and company
    were headed to the Lincoln Park Speedway, midway between Indianapolis and Terre Haute,
    where they would be the next day, a Sunday late afternoon show.
    Sometimes Thad felt a little guilty because it seemed like Farrell and Tyrus had it tougher than
    he did. He mentioned this to them one day and Farrell explained that first, Thad was paying
    them well to do what they did. Second, he and Tyrus both enjoyed their work and Thad was a
    great boss to work for. At that point Tyrus spoke up and said that besides, if Thad helped, he
    and Farrell would just have to do it all over again. Thad laughed so loud the people in the next
    pit wondered what was so funny.
    With this in mind, while Farrell and Tyrus unloaded the car and equipment, Thad tried to call
    Kate. With Lincoln Park not near any towers or satellites, he was having trouble making the
    connection. Instead, Thad texted her, “Greetings from Lincoln Park Speedway, somewhere
    between Indy and Terre Haute. Phone service isn’t the best. I’ll try later. We’re staying near here
    tonight and going to Terre Haute tomorrow night. Hugs.”
    After the drivers’ meeting, Thad and Farrell walked to the turn three entrance to look the track
    over. Farrell said, Remember one thing. If you get close enough to read any of these billboards,
    you’re in trouble.”
    Thad laughed. “I’ll try and keep that in mind.”
    “The track’s a lot smoother than it used to be, for the most part. By feature time it should be
    fairly slick. Sometimes the only way to pass is with a slide job. Sometimes two good grooves
    form. When that happens, there’s lots of passing.” Farrell paused. “Oh, a lot of times, you can
    even pass in the heats. The track’s pretty wide most all the way around.” Farrell pointed toward
    turn one. “Be careful over there. That drop-off is about as bad as Bloomington.”
    Thad listened to every word. He considered that he was lucky that Farrell was available for hire.
    It was true of Tyris, too. Tyrus, he had noticed, hung on Farrell’s every word. Someone was
    going to be lucky someday if they hired Tyrus.
    The three-man team got ready for some wheel-packing. First, Thad checked his text messages.
    Sure enough, Kate had answered. “Hi, Thad. Lovely weather down here. Not much going on,
    unless you count sitting on the balcony drinking a Long Island tea.”
    Thad read that and shook his head. Here he was sweating like a pig when he could be on that
    balcony. He mumbled to himself. “Who are you kidding, buddy boy? You love this just a little bit
    more.” He smiled as he climbed into the cockpit and put on his headgear.
    There was little drama through time trials and heat races. Thad started eleventh in the feature.
    He was working his way to the front until lap 16 when he was crowded enough going into turn
    three. Later, Farrell said that he couldn’t figure out how Thad kept the car from flipping. Thad
    slid over the banking and for a moment looked like he was headed for the billboards. The car
    stopped next to one, close enough for Thad to read “You Crash. We Flash. Billingsley’s Wrecker
    Service, Reelsville, Indiana.”
    Thad looked at the large wooden posts holding up the signs and breathed a sigh of relief. He
    guessed that many a racer had encountered those posts over the years with the posts winning
    every time. He restarted and was able to salvage tenth place at the end.
    The team loaded their stuff after the race; none of them had much to say. Thad spoke to Farrell
    just before they got in the hauler to head west. “Well, Farrell, you were right again.” Tyrus
    “What do you mean?”
    “The billboards. I read the one with the wrecker service. Those posts...”
    Farrell grinned. “Just be glad that’s as close as you came.”
    Thad had driven the Camaro on this trip, partly for the solitude and partly so he could call
    Kate—unless she called first, which she did.
    After exchanging hellos, Kate asked the inevitable. “How did you do tonight?”
    T: Started eleventh in the feature, worked my way to about fifth with ten laps to go. I’m pretty
    sure it was a lapped car that forced me over the banking in turn three. I nearly flipped, but I slid
    up to one of the billboards at that end of the track. I didn’t hit anything and restarted. Ended up
    tenth, I think.
    K: One of these nights...
    T: Yeah. The Eagles’ song from long ago.
    K: Unofficially, I have 20 calendar days until I’m done for the summer.
    T: I had 22 days. I like your count better.
    K: I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to get up there.
    T: Oh. Dummy here had not thought of that yet. There are two options for sure. Either I’ll buy
    you a ticket and you can fly to Indy or I can come and get you in the Camaro.
    K: Flying would be quicker, but more expensive. Oh Thad, I don’t know. I keep hearing about
    people behaving like jackasses on planes these days. But that’s a long drive for you.
    T: From North Vernon, it would be seven hours, assuming there are no hiccups. Pick you up one
    day and go back the next. I’d want to make it early in the week if possible.
    K: That would be no problem here. Well, either way is fine with me.
    T: Okay, I’ll go with the driving part. Besides, I haven’t been down there in a month. Seems like
    K: No big changes. I heard that the road construction on I-26 is done.
    T: That’s a big plus. How about 64? That stretch between Bat Cave and Edneyville?
    K: I’ll have to check on that. I haven’t been any farther than Hendersonville.
    T: Okay. No big deal. (Looked at the Terre Haute exit on I-70.) Well, Kate. Here’s the exit and I
    can see our motel. Going to sleep tonight and race tomorrow evening.
    K: Good luck and be careful.
    T: Will do. Goes for you, too, babe.
    K: Okay. Good night.
    T: Night



    Chapter 46: Surprise in Gas City


    After a lazy Monday, Thad read a text message from Farrell saying, “What do you think about us going to Gas City this coming Friday? A long drive and a tough track to figure out, but it’s a nice place to race.”

     Thad answered immediately. “I’m all for it but I have no idea where it is.”

     Farrell came back with “No problem, bud. I’ve been there a few times. East of Kokomo, just off I-69.”

     On Tuesday evening, Thad called Kate. “How many more days?”

     Kate laughed and said, “A little over 30, I think.”

     T: Looking forward to it.

     K: I’ve been reading up on Indiana. 

     T: Oh? Some good and some not so good? Kind of like North Carolina.

     K: Exactly. Well, I hope to see the good.

     T: You will. I don’t expect you to become an instant race fan but I hope you enjoy the time up here.

     K: Hopefully it can be all summer.

     Thad laughed. “By Labor Day you may be begging to go back.”


     Left unsaid was their status as a couple. Thad was content with it as it was. He wasn’t too sure about Kate’s thinking. Racing two or three times a week was agreeing with him. He hadn’t thought too far ahead. A long summer lay ahead and Thad was determined to make the most of it. 

     The three gypsies pulled into Gas City a little after four. Farrell and Tyrus drove into the pits and parked near the pit concession stand. Thad parked the Camaro in the parking lot and joined the others as Tyrus deftly drove the hauler into a spot closest to turn three. USAC was racing in Illinois this weekend, but this actually seemed to help the car count. Guys came out to race hoping to get some laps and maybe even make it to the feature. 

     While waiting for the driver’s meeting to start, Thad spotted a familiar face. It was Wilbur Calloway and what a story he had to tell. 

     Wilbur had held about any job that existed in racing over the 40-odd years he had been involved in racing, from NASCAR to the most unrefined bullring in America. He had risen to the lofty position of PR director at one of NASCAR’s most storied speedways. But Wilbur fell on hard times and had let the bottle get the best of him. He fell all the way to a homeless shelter in Richmond, Virginia until he finally accepted the fact that he was an alcoholic. After bottoming out, Wilbur had found a great place to work, namely the Gas City/I-69 Speedway. Here was where he found himself to be at peace, doing whatever needed to be done in helping run a small race track. He was the flag man and Wilbur also conducted the drivers’ meetings. He handled the PR part of the track, and helped the promoter with the scheduling. Through the week, Wilbur could be found at the track, watering the quarter mile oval, handling the concession stand items that were delivered, hosing down the bleachers and looking for sponsors, preferably local sponsors. 

     Wilbur, Thad learned, was making a fraction of the money he made when working at one of NASCAR’s Crown Jewels, but was loving it more. 

     Farrell filled in some gaps after the meeting. “Wilbur is a great guy and I love coming up here, and this is a great track. But beware. Once in a while, if you go into turn three just right, that left rear wheel can come up and over you go. This place ain’t banked like Bloomington, but it’s far from flat, closer to Kokomo when it comes to banking.”

     Thad walked with Farrell and Wilbur to the edge of turn four, near the staging area for the cars to enter the track. He saw the blackest, or darkest, dirt he could remember seeing. The surface looked smooth and inviting, but Thad knew how that could change. He took a picture of the front stretch and sent it to Kate with the caption: “Greetings from Gas City, IN. Wish you were here.” Just as he was preparing to get in the car, Thad’s text was answered. “Me too!

     Tyrus pushed Thad to the staging area for wheel packing. Thad joined the 28 other sprints in slowly circling the track, making it race -ready. Next was the group qualifying format. Thad was used to this by now and he made sure that he was behind a car that was at least as fast as his. This time he fell in behind Cosmo Novak, who was not running the full USAC schedule this year. Chasing Cosmo was a good plan as the duo were the two quickest in their group of seven. 

     Thad had few troubles with the track or the traffic in his heat as he finished second behind, who else, Cosmo. During the intermission he stood near the track as the surface was given some massaging while there was a dance contest at the start/finish line. The winners, thanks to Wilbur’s hard PR work, would get a free pizza from a local restaurant. 

     The redraw put Thad on the front row for the feature, his first start from there. Based on what he had seen in his heat race, Thad was happy to start up front. He jumped out to the lead with Cosmo and Jerald Jarvis not letting him get away. The race was caution plagued in its early stages. Each restart was a challenge for Thad, knowing who was behind him. But he handled each waving of the green with aplomb and built a small lead of about five car lengths. It was looking like Thad was finally going to win his first feature until he hit a bump in turn one, nearly flipping. He was able to land on all fours, but Cosmo had passed him while Jerald appeared next to Thad. As Cosmo went on to win, Thad held off Mr. Jarvis, a fan favorite, to take second place. 

     After the race, Farrell was about as excited as he ever got. Tyrus was beside himself. Thad coasted into their pit space and the two waited until he exited the car. Both began alternately hugging Thad and pounding him on the back. A few minutes later, Jerald came over and congratulated the runner-up. 

     Thad’s feelings were mixed. He was excited to finish well and, more importantly, show that he could race with the best. Cosmo and Jerald were both double digit USAC feature winners and both were as good as ever. But he was disappointed about finishing second. He wanted that first win bad and he didn’t get it tonight. 

     Ben, the promoter, came over and shook Thad’s hand. He was another guy who had knocked around racing at every level, but decided to tackle the promoting part of the sport. He reminded Thad that, if he kept running this strong, the wins would come. Thad thanked him and said he’d be happy if his first sprint car feature win would be at Gas City. Ben said that his secretary told him hello. Thad looked confused until Ben told him her name. She and Thad had been classmates in high school over thirty years ago. Her name then was Hayley Douglas. Thad laughed and said, yes, he remembered her well. They had two dates and Hayley had dumped him. Both men laughed, partly at the situation and the absurdities of life’s circles. 

     Thad and his two crew members loaded up for the ride back to North Vernon. He checked his phone and saw several text messages from various people he had made friends with, congratulating him on his good race. Among them was Kate, who had discovered Thad answered her, saying, “Thanks, Kate. This was a pretty neat night. Wish I hadn’t hit that hump at the wrong angle. But I’ll take second behind Cosmo any day. Talk to you soon. Thad.”

     As Tyrus steered the hauler south on I-69, Thad had already put the disappointment of not winning behind him and was considering his next race. He hadn’t been to Lincoln Park yet and he would have to ask Farrell to once again describe a new track to him. He dozed off near Anderson and didn’t wake up until they were on I-74 to Greensburg. 





    The Hoosier Race Report: Maybe Thomas Wolfe Was Wrong


    Given that much about people and places do change, unlike Mr. Wolfe's observation, maybe one can go home again. None of this really mattered. What did matter was the fact that I was making a rare 2022 appearance at one of my other homes away from home. It was the edition of USAC's wildly successful Indiana Sprint Week at the jewel of southeast Indiana, the Lawrenceburg Speedway. It took me about two minutes to feel at home. Lots of familiar faces and cars plus a few new ones. I hope that Mr. Wolfe would understand.

     I would have mentioned the feature winner by now but the rain won, much to the chagrin of 'Burg promoter Dave Rudisell and the USAC brain trust. Again, promoters are among the few who are the true gamblers.

     Notable: Watching Mitchel Moles in person and on Floracing this year has caused to believe that this kid is a force to be reckoned with, no matter if he stays in the non-wing world or moves elsewhere.

     Max Adams and company were the group who did more with less. No visible sponsorship, plain trailer, nothing fancy with that small team, but he was tenth quickest qualifier and they had made the feature.

     Robert Ballou received the biggest crowd reaction as drivers were introduced for the third heat race. Most of the noise was a scattering of boos. Good racers often react to that by winning. This Ballou did, going from fourth to first as the field barrelled into turn one and checking out.

     Based on what I've seen so far (granted I've not watched every lap of every race this year), it appears that Alex Banales is the most improved racer so far in 2022.

     The C main pole sitter showed us how competitive Indiana Sprint Week is. Gas City winner Shane Cottle qualified deep in the 42-car field, starting eighth in his heat. He didn't transfer to the big show and found himself in the C, in which he finished second. Tagging the B, the seasoned veteran couldn't quite get to the top six.

     With rain approaching, it must be some kind of law that decrees there will be at least one red flag to slow the program. Xavier Doney, who had outrun Cottle to win the C, flipped near the end of the B. The Missouri rookie walked away.

     The cars were on the track for the feature at 8:15 after the night's festivities had started early. As this was going on, occasional raindrops began to fall. The sprinkles became drizzle. I could have endured that but a bolt of lightning persuaded me to retreat to the space under the grandstands. Meanwhile, the cars exited the track and the waiting began. The hope was that the rain would stop and the feature, with Jake Swanson on the pole, could be run.

     But after an hour of waiting it out, the plug was pulled and the exodus began with most of the race teams headed northwest on I-74 to Indianapolis, hoping for better weather at the Circle City Raceway on Monday night.

     Taking the southern route home (U.S. 50 most of the way), it rained most of the way home with the occasional light show.

     I'm not sure when my next race is but I hope the rain doesn't follow me there. I'd rather read a Thomas Wolfe novel on vacation instead of a rain delay.

     Watching TV for 187 minutes straight, I'm…

     Danny Burton




    Chapter 45: GYATK

     Doyle Shoemaker looked like an aging cowboy. In fact, in his younger days, he was a cowboy in Texas. But he settled down and met a Hoosier native named Sally. He followed Sally all the way to Indiana. By then his cowboy days were behind him and he found himself at the Kokomo Speedway, meeting his future in-laws and catching the sprint car racing bug something bad. 

     The years passed and Doyle had driven sprints for a while, until he figured out he was a better mechanic than driver. Along the way, Doyle found Jesus and our Lord settled him down some more to the point where Doyle earned a degree in Theology at a nearby college. He couldn’t see himself as a pastor, but he still had the calling to serve. 

     A chance encounter one night at Kokomo resulted in Doyle becoming the track chaplain. Here was his happy place. Doyle put his mechanical and pastoral skills to work at Kokomo, becoming an important part of the team of track workers. Soon he found himself serving as chaplain at three different tracks, filling up his weekend list of things to do. In the meantime, he and Sally became parents to three children with one of them following in Doyle’s footsteps and the other two taking up teaching as had their mother. 

     Doyle was a big, friendly guy. He had brought to Indiana his cowboy hat, which made him stand out even more than the cowboy boots he still wore. His was a perpetually smiling face that could turn stern and forbidding when needed. One of his “jobs” was to say hello to all the race teams as they arrived in the pits. 

     One afternoon he noticed a new team pulling into the pits and parking in the back row. Doyle watched carefully to see if he recognized any of the three men who exited the tractor-trailer. There was Farrell Hutchinson and that made Doyle smile. He knew the younger fellow with Farrell but couldn’t remember his name. Then Doyle saw the third guy. Average build, fiftyish, and thinning, mostly gray hair. Doyle’s eyes narrowed. That had to be the NASCAR driver he had heard about. That had to be Thad Larrabee. 

     Doyle made his way to where the Larrabee team was parked--and made himself a new friend. He had heard about Thad’s quixotic adventure of racing sprint cars in Indiana this year and he had also heard that Thad was a quiet, but friendly, man. The two men chatted for a few minutes until it was time to do some wheel packing. 

     After the first couple of green flag laps, Thad knew he loved this track. It had wide and sweeping turns, not banked as much as Bloomington or Lawrenceburg, but one could get around this place pretty good. As had the other Hoosier bullrings, Kokomo had adopted group qualifying. Thad was in the fourth group and was second fastest, very impressive according to the announcer and everyone else. He had adapted to dirt track racing quickly and was learning to pitch the back end of the car out and sail through the turns. Thad loved the feeling of being on the edge of disaster, turning the front wheels right as he went into the turns. 

     Doyle sat with Farrell during hot laps/qualifying and when Thad’s group was done, the two men looked at each other. 

     “Farrell, are you thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’?”

     “What’s that?”

     “If this guy had been born a Hoosier, he would have dominated here and probably everywhere else as well.”

     "You’re right, Doyle. I had my doubts at first, but he took to Lawrenceburg like it was no big deal. He’s not very mechanical at all. He just gets in the car and finds a way to make it go fast if it’s off a little.”

     “Should be fun to watch this year.”

     Farrell grunted. “Yeah, and the worst of it is…he’s a really nice guy. Quiet. Hardly ever talks about NASCAR stuff unless you ask. I don’t think he’s mentioned his late wife more than once. But sometimes I’ll catch him just staring off into space with a sad look. So I’m sure he misses her.”

     “I’m sure you’re right.” Doyle started to walk from the pits to the press box. But first he said, “Farrell, good luck tonight.”

     “Thanks, Doyle. Good to see you.”

     Thad started third in his heat and simply checked out from the rest of the field. He won by a straightaway and could hear the crowd’s cheers as he exited the track. After accepting the congratulations from Farrell, Tyrus and other teams and individuals, Thad remembered that he should tell Kate. 

     T: Kate! I did it. Finally won a race. True, it was just a ten-lap heat race but I won. Finally. 

     Kokomo, like the others, had a redraw in which the top two finishers of each heat would draw for their starting spot in the feature. This involved the drivers coming to the start/finish line in front of the flagstand. Fans had the chance to see the drivers up close. Some didn’t recognize the older driver who looked more like a bum in a driver’s suit. His hair was gray and shaggy and he had the beginnings of a scruffy beard. But when he was introduced as a former NASCAR driver, the bleachers gave out a healthy cheer. 

     The P.A. guy, Rob, had very brief interviews with each of the eight drivers. 

     Rob: Thad, you were a NASCAR stud, but now here you are at Indiana’s baddest bullring, getting ready to go at it with these guys. How does a many-time winner in NASCAR walk away from that and go sprint car racing, starting all over?

     T: It was time. I’d done all I was gonna do with the stock cars. My wife was sick and eventually passed away. Back in February my NASCAR car owner and friend Arley and I went to Florida to just watch some races. Well, a couple of those were USAC sprints and I was hooked. 

     Rob: We’re glad of it, Thad. Now, this young fellow is going to draw your starting position for you. 

     The seven-year-old boy reached in the bucket for a card. 

     Rob: And…. he draws a…five! Thad, you will start inside third row for the feature. How’s that?

     T: We’ll take it. I’m just glad to be in the redraw. 

     With that, Thad walked with one of his competitors back to the four-wheeler they had ridden and the young man gave Thad a ride back to where Farrell was talking with Sparky and Doyle. 

    Thad thanked the kid, who was starting third, and joined the group. Sparky spoke first. 

     “How are you likin’ this deal now, buddy?”

     Thad smiled a grim smile. “I am starting to feel like I could win a feature, Sparky. It’s coming together, bit by bit.”

     “For sure it is.” Sparky looked toward his pit where Preston was applying tearoffs to his helmet. “Well, good luck, Thad. At the least, I hope you guys can load this thing on the trailer when the night’s over.”

     “Thanks, Sparky. Goes for you and Preston, too.”

     Sparky walked away and Thad looked at Doyle. “Known him long?”

     “Yes, about ten years. He comes up here when his schedule permits. It’s a bit of a haul for him, seeing that we race on Sundays.”

     “He sure does love it. Good thing, too.”

     At that, Farrell chuckled. “You could say he was ate up.”

     Doyle said, “That’s the scientific term.”

     They all laughed and all three turned to their next task, as if an unseen signal had been given. Doyle went to the press box. Farrell added fuel. Thad cleaned off his helmet and then climbed in after handing his helmet to Tyrus. 

     Ten minutes later, Thad and 19 other racers took the green flag for 25 laps of cut-and-slash racing. Thad had moved up to second by lap ten. The car felt good and he was happy to ride around the top, coming within a foot of the concrete. Just past the halfway point, the red flag waved when one of the cars spun in turn two and was hit by another car, which then flipped twice. All concerned were okay. But Thad was about to get sick. 

     While he sat in his car waiting for the yellow flag to wave and then get a push, one of the track workers came to him, waving his arms. Thad had a right rear tire going flat. He had run over some debris just before the red flag. Thad was more dejected than upset. He thought he had a chance to beat these guys. Maybe so, but it wouldn’t be on this night. 

     Rather than try to change the tire in a hurry, Thad parked it for the night. As he and Tyrus loaded up the car, a few people came over to commiserate with Thad. They told him it would be a matter of time before he won a feature either at Kokomo or somewhere else. They could not have been nicer. 

     Thad appreciated all that. It helped ease the sting somewhat. As Tyrus and Farrell left, Thad walked to the Camaro, texting Kate while he walked. Then she called and kept him awake with her plans to come to Indiana and join him. 



    Chapter 44: The Rain Wins


    The caravan left the southeastern town of North Vernon at 2:30. The forecast was warm and humid, not uncommon for this part of Indiana in April. But that included a 40% chance of showers. Farrell said that the rain, if it came, would arrive at Lawrenceburg around seven or so.


    As Thad got into his car, his phone buzzed. It was Rodney Reynolds wanting to know if Thad and team were going to Lawrenceburg. Thad said yes, we are leaving now. Rodney mentioned the possible rain. Thad laughed and said, yeah, we know but we’re going to chance it, man. Rodney laughed and said he was going to chance it as well. He had past Lawrenceburg sprint champ Al Parker with him. Thad said, you guys aren’t going to drink any beer, are you? Rodney and Al were both laughing when Thad hung up. 


    Thad was following Farrell and Tyrus and they were near the tiny town of Butlerville when Kate called with good news. 


    T: Okay, Kate. What’s the good news?


    K: To make a long story short, I’ll be done with my classes for the summer just as the Memorial Day weekend starts. In other words, no summer school. 


    T: That’s great. 


    Thad thought for a second and asked, “Does that mean you can come up here?”


    K: It does. 


    T: That’s really great. But I gotta warn you, Kate.


    K: Of what?  (Said warily)


    T: We may put you to work while you’re up here. Nothing serious. No heavy lifting. 


    K: I think I’ll like that, Thad. (Pause) Where are you guys going tonight?


    T: We’re going back to Lawrenceburg. There’s a 40% chance of rain but we’re betting that they will race. I hear from the guys that the promoter will make every effort to race if the weather lets him. 


    K: Have you left yet?


    T: Oh yes. We’re not quite halfway. This part of the state has lots of hills. Everything is so green. All kinds of vegetation. Roads that are as crooked as they are straight. Farm houses. Country churches. 


    K: Sounds kind of familiar.


    T: It does. And some of the people sound like they are from Carolina.


    Kate laughed. “Well, I’ve heard that Indiana is a southern state in the north.”


    T: There’s a lot of truth in that, both good and bad. 


    Kate hesitated, then said, “Listen, I have to go now. One of my colleagues wants me to go to dinner with her. She wants to talk about her love life.”


    T: Oh boy. Good luck. I assume you’ll be expected to give some wise advice?


    K: Something like that.


    T: Tell her if she’s going to get involved with a man, make sure he’s in Indiana. (For a moment, Thad thought that he should not have said that. But Kate laughed.)


    K: Believe it or not, Thad, the involvement is with another woman. 


    For a moment Thad was taken aback, but recovered quickly. 


    T: So what? Still applies. 


    Kate laughed as hard as Thad had ever heard her laugh. “Good one.”


    T: Well, good luck. I’m sure you will be of some help to the lady.”


    K: Thanks. You be careful, Thad. 


    T: Will do. Bye.


    K: Goodbye. 


    Thad had no way of knowing that the conversation with Kate would be the highlight of his day. Skies around Lawrenceburg were cloudy. Rain was expected, so it was forecast, around nine o’clock. The drivers’ meeting was conducted and next on the schedule was last minute preparations before hot laps. 


    But just as the first group of sprinters was to push off, sprinkles began. The cars stayed where they were—on the ramp that led to turn four. The sprinkles became a drizzle. All over the pits, the race cars that had haulers and not open trailers retreated to the relatively dry haulers. It didn’t rain hard, but it was enough to park everyone. Now the radar showed rain covering most of southeastern Indiana, stretching from North Vernon to Lawrenceburg into the greater Cincinnati area. 


    By six forty-five P.M. it was clear that there would be no racing tonight at the ‘burg. Thad and company loaded up everything they had gotten out and headed to the local pizza place. To Thad, it wasn’t a total loss. The beer was cold and the pizza was decent. Farrell and Tyrus took some comfort in the free meal, plus the boss always paid them, rain or shine. 


    As they sat back, enjoying another beer, they decided to give Kokomo a try tomorrow night.





    Chapter 43: Thad Changes His Mind

    Thad wasn't sure about his Hoosier friends, but he stayed inside his apartment on a chilly and rainy day April day. The TV offered baseball, basketball and old movies. At one time or another, Thad watched a bit of all three. The Cincinnati Reds won. So did the Indiana Pacers. Thad followed, more or less, the Atlanta Braves and the Charlotte Hornets in the two sports. He was a fan of Humphrey Bogart when it came to old movies. His plan to watch The Big Sleep was interupted by a phone call.

    It was Kate. After the hellos, she asked what he was doing.

    T: I was getting ready to watch a Bogart movie. But I found a better plan.

    K: What was that?

    T; Silly girl. It was you.

    K: Oh, thank you.

    They talked another half hour. Maybe it was Thad's imagination, but he detected a slight change in Kate's tone. Perhaps she was not thrilled with their lack of time in each other's company. Later that evening, the rain faded away to the east and Thad considered asking Kate if she wanted to come to Indiana and spend at least part of the summer with him. Then he wondered if that would work. It might work between races but how would she handle each racing weekend? Kate had no real interest in racing, unless one counted her interest in Thad. It gave Thad something to think about, but not for long.

    Monday morning dawned clear and chilly. Thad was seldom bored but today it was his dominant mood. He called Farrell and confessed his boredom.

    "Farrell, what do you think about going to Bloomington on Friday?"

    "You're the boss. But I'm all for it."

    Thad chuckled. "I thought you might be." There was a brief pause and then Thad said, "I was at Bloomington last year with Sparky, but I'm sure there's a lot I don't know about the place."

    Farrell considered his response. "Well, it's a quarter mile oval and I do mean oval. The front and backstretch each have a slight curve so you are never going straight. It's high banked, even more than Lawrenceburg. The Non-wing sprint car record is somewhere in the ten second range (10.685 to be exact). You might remember it being narrow and tight, nothing like Lawrenceburg or any of the other ovals in Indiana. You can run two wide but I don't recommend three."

    Farrell paused for a few seconds. Thad was about to speak, but Farrell spoke. "One more thing, Thad. That surface –you might feel like you're back in Carolina."

    Thad had to laugh at that. "I'm not sure if I'll have time to enjoy it."

    "Maybe not, but it's a pretty sight, the red clay and the green grass in the infield. The bleachers are built into the hillside. The track's been there nearly a hundred years but it's one fine facility." Another pause.

    "What am I saying?" Farrell asked himself. "They are all nice facilities. Lawrenceburg may be the nicest –or not, but they are all great places to race or watch a race."

    "Farrell, you talked me into it even after I had talked myself into it. Sounds like a challenge and that's what I'm after."

    "I should mention those high banks and going over them. If you go over the banking at either end, you have a good chance of getting upside down and then some. At the south end, I've seen cars flip into the parking lot. One guy parked a brand new car by the fence after being told not to. A sprint car landed on the car's hood. At the other end, there's a ditch north of the track. If you flip out to the ditch, they say it's another zip code." Farrell paused and added dryly, "I wouldn't know but I wouldn't bet against it."

    Thad grunted. "I'm concerned but I still have to try it. I remember a couple of guys going over the banking last year during Sprint Week. I hadn't heard the story about the car."

    "Absolutely. If you're a racer at all, you gotta try it."

    "You take care, Farrell. I'll see you Friday."

    "Yeah. Hey Thad. I have a question."

    "Go for it."

    "Would it be okay if my wife Rhonda tags along? She will take care of the food issue. You might gain a pound."

    Thad laughed. "Sure thing. Truth be told, I'm not much of a cook and I could stand to have something good for me."

    "Thanks, Thad. As a rule, she doesn't care for going but once in a while she will ask. Besides, she loves Bloomington."

    "I might love Bloomington too–I hope."



    Chapter 42: A Long Ride Home


    Farrell and Tyrus assisted with the equipment loading. Farrell joked with Thad, telling him to call his girlfriend. Thad was a little embarrassed and said he would text her.


    T: Motoring down U. S. 50, letting my man Tyrus drive. We were able to load the car on the trailer, which is good. I finished tenth in the feature. Started tenth but was spun out on the first turn of the first lap. Restarted on the tail and made my way back to tenth. I learned a lot.


    K: Congratulations! Sounds like a great debut. You've adapted to dirt pretty quick. (Slight pause) What's your plans for the coming week?


    Kate hit "send" and regretted it. She thought it sounded nosy. But Thad either didn't notice or didn't mind.


    T: I'm not sure but I think we'll go to Bloomington next Friday and either back to Lawrenceburg or go to Putnamville on Saturday.


    K: I don't remember you mentioning Putnamville.


    T: Not that I doubted it but you do pay attention. I haven't mentioned Putnamville. It's west of Indianapolis, I'm told, about 40 miles or so.


    K: What are you going to do all week?


    T: Good question. I recall you saying that I need to read more, so I will probably do some of that starting tomorrow. The county library isn't too far from the apartment I rented.


    K: That's great, Thad. How about some Faulkner?


    T: I read As I Lay Dying a long time ago, but I think I can find another of his. I knew some families like the Bundrens.


    K: Sorry for all the questions. I seem like I'm nosy.


    T: Ha, I doubt it. It's no problem.


    K: I don't know about you, but it's getting close to me bedtime.


    T: Already? Lol.


    K: Well, I'm not the night owl that you are.


    T: Okay but I was going to mention that I could call you when I get back and we're almost there.


    K: Oh Thad. I'd like to but it is late. How about tomorrow?


    T: That would be fine. Any special time?


    K: Any time after 10 a.m. until midnight?


    T: That will work lol. Sleep well my dear. Goodnight.


    K: Good night.


    The sprint car was washed and reloaded into the hauler. The trio of racers, Thad, Farrell and Tyrus exited the hauler after Tyrus maneuvered it into the garage. They talked a little while and agreed to wait until midweek before deciding whether or not to try Bloomington on the following Friday.


    Thad was coming down from his post-race high. He was used to it after a successful race. The adrenaline would dissipate and exhaustion would soon follow. He said his thanks and goodbyes to Farrell and Tyrus and got into his Camaro. Being that it was April and Thad was in Indiana, it started to rain as soon as he drove away.



    The Hoosier Race Report: They Tried


    Expectations that we'd see some pretty decent competition at the Gas City I-69 Speedway were high and were met. But soon after the B main commenced the drizzle that had been keeping the track wet and very racy forced officials to call a halt to the proceedings.


    As my growing-like-a-weed traveling companion and I fought traffic, mostly on Indiana State Road 9, I was able to think about the quality of expectations. One expects Friday afternoon traffic to be a challenge and it was. One can count on gas being higher than has been seen and it was. My attitude was that I could either complain about it all or suck it up and head north. I tried not to faint when the $50 mark approached at the pump.


    This was my second race of the year and that meant there were more friends to greet. They were an example of social media at its best. Several asked how my wife was doing (holding her own) and commented on how much my youngest grandson has grown (several inches).


    My expectation that the competition would be exceptional was easily met. But I didn't think that Washington state's Chance Crum would be the quickest qualifier. His 12.087 lap was a flea's hair slower than Rico Abreu's 12.048 track record, set six years ago.


    Heat race and other observations (brought to you by the Gas City/I-69 Speedway's concession crew):


    The Keith Kunz Motorsports teammates don't race each other like teammates. No team orders here–unless it's to race hard and win.


    Lincoln Park winner Jacob Denney made a last lap pass to win his heat. I think this kid is for real.


    Denney was the only heat race winner to win from the second row on back.


    Sometime between the end of midget heats and the beginning of sprint heats, we noticed a sprinkle or two. Awhile later I looked at the radar. It wasn't pretty.


    All concerned hurried to get the show in. If you don't count two B mains and two features, they got it done.


    Matt Westfall, Cole Bodine and Thomas Meseraull, doing double duty, won the sprint heats. Charles Davis Jr. took a nasty ride after the third heat began. He was able to walk away.


    The sprinkles became a drizzle during the sprint heats. With all the traffic on the track, the guys could still race. But it was apparent that things weren't looking good as the midget B main lined up. Sure enough, while running under a caution the field exited the track. Soon after, the plug was pulled.


    Despite the less than satisfactory ending, my expectations were met and my hopes were fulfilled, except for the rain. I saw and talked with a lot of special people who I've missed. I saw some typical Gas City cut-and-slash action. I had to cheer just a little to myself as veterans outran some fast kids–namely Jerry Coons Jr. and Matt Westfall. And most importantly, I had as a companion one of my most appreciated gifts–a kid who is no longer a kid anymore. He surprised quite a few people with his growth spurt. Had they been able to spend time with him they would have noticed a mature young man who is fairly knowledgeable about the cars and drivers, plus is delightful company. Why, he even kept me updated on the Warriors/Celtic game as I drove home in the rain.


    I've no idea when I'll be able to make the hundred mile trip to this special place but hopefully it will be fairly soon.


    Expecting to gather enough signatures to run for governor of Michigan, I'm…


    Danny Burton





    The Hoosier Race Report: Why I Go (to Races)


    There are a few reasons why I still go to races after all these years. One that doesn't get as much attention is the simple fact that I'm curious about what will happen. Racing at this level can't be anything but unpredictable. Tonight at the Tri-State Speedway, both the MSCS sprint feature and the curtain closing USAC midget affair reminded me why I go. Jason McDougal won a sprint feature after front row starters Kyle Cummins and Critter Malone had their issues. After that, Thomas Meseraull won the midget finale that had more than its share of controversy.


    This was my first race in person this year and, as good as the whole show was on Sunday night, the time spent with my granddaughter had to be the highlight of the day. There's no shame in being beaten by a six-year-old at charades.


    When I first entered the pits it seemed somewhat strange. It had been eight months since I had been to a race and it was here last October where I closed out my 2021 season. Little did I know that things were going to change rapidly. My wife's illness will keep me watching Floracing for much of this year as I cannot leave her alone for very long periods.


    Arrangements were made and off we went to Vincennes before I motored down U.S. 41 to catch the third edition of Indiana Midget Week. The strangeness lasted maybe fifteen minutes and then I felt at home. There were lots of familiar faces and some new ones. People asked me how my wife is doing, which is well.


    Before long it was time for time trials. No records were set; neither were there any surprises. Kyle Cummins set quick time for the sprints and Buddy Kofoid did the same for the midgets.


    Each race has a turning point which can be right as the green flag is waved or at the checkered flag–or at any point in between. With the sprints, the turning point in the first heat was when Stan Beadle spun and collected Chase Stockon and Donnie Brackett. Stockon came back to transfer to the feature while Brackett had to run the B, where he found more adversity. Jason McDougal avoided all obstacles to win.


    Leader Sam Scott flipped in the second heat and nearly involved Critter Malone and Carson Garrett. Disaster was somehow averted when Scott's fuel tank was completely torn off. Sam returned for the B. Critter won. His night would be dramatic much later.


    Nothing dramatic about the third heat–until the end. As expected, Kyle Cummins won but coasted to a stop after the checkered with the car's rear end needing repair. For the local favorite this would be the harbinger of more bad news.


    The fourth sprint heat proved that the Davis Brothers' team doesn't deal with team orders. As Emerson Axsom won, Brady Bacon passed teammate Kent Schmidt to take second. Kent runs most of the MSCS schedule while Brady secured a ride in a fourth car for the night after his Lawrenceburg misfortune.


    The midget heats didn't have that much drama or any extraordinary turning points. The KKM cars took three of the four transfers in the first heat. Zach Daum recovered from having another car perched on top of his to transfer out of the second heat. He would have more excitement later.

    In the third heat Kaylee Bryson came from eighth to have a transfer before she slipped back to sixth, one spot behind Ethan Mitchell, who had his own come from behind effort after spinning early.


    The sprint B contained more craziness. A yellow flag for one incident caused another. The result was Charles Davis Jr. sitting on the car belonging to the luckless Donnie Brackett. Both had been in a position to make the feature; both were finished for the night.


    The midget semi feature could be called–kindly–caution plagued. Ms. Jade Avedisian persevered to win.


    Given that two of the strongest runners at Haubstadt were on the front row, one might think either of them would waltz to victory. Turned out that neither did. Before the first lap was completed Malone went high in turn four and fell back several positions. Fellow front row starter Cummins was nearly collected and he, too, slipped back, enabling McDougal to grab the lead and do a masterful job of darting through lapped traffic while winning. Cummins dropped out with the same problem that bedeviled him earlier. Malone recovered to take second ahead of Axsom and Stockon.


    And finally, the midget feature was as wild as its predecessors. Meseraull grabbed and kept the lead but Buddy Kofoid hounded the locquacious fellow Californian most every lap. Earlier TMez had praised the track after his heat race win. The track was given its normal massaging before the feature, leaving it nothing like it had been before. Didn't matter to the guy up front. His rocket ship was up to the challenge and didn't care what shape the track was in.


    The controversy reared its head late in the race. As Meseraull and Kofoid engaged in a slidefest, third place Justin Grant joined the party. After a restart, Kofoid and Grant banged wheels going into turn three. Kofoid car did a passable imitation of a basketball as he bounced into Grant, who flipped. As the field was lining up for another restart, Grant expressed his displeasure with the young man who has become his fiercest rival.


    At the end, it was Meseraull prevailing with Kofoid second. Mitchell Moles was a quiet third. The best run that few saw was by Bryson, who came from last/22nd to take fourth. Cummins and Daum both recovered from early mishaps to take fifth and sixth.


    As expected there were a few social media mavens who felt the need to weigh in. The wisest of the wise bemoaned the style adopted by racers these days. One interesting opinion is that today's cars are so much safer than ever before and, predictably, racers take more chances than the heroes of my youth (Bob Kinser, Dick Gaines, etc.). Also predictable, no one had a realistic solution to the situation. Smacking a teenager by a veteran is probably not a great plan.


    All I know is that it was a good decision to make my first race be at Haubstadt.


    It was an even better choice to play charades with my granddaughter–despite her whipping me.


    Futilely reminding all about the law of supply and demand, I'm…


    Danny Burton



    Chapter 41: Uneven Debut
    With the garage located in North Vernon, Thad found a house to rent. The team met at the
    garage, on the outskirts of town, and left at two o’clock. Sparky and his team stopped by on their
    way to Lawrenceburg. Pleasantries were exchanged and the mini-caravan occupied U.S. 50 all
    the way to “da ‘burg.” Darla Sparks had brought enough sandwiches to feed ten people. Just as
    they were getting ready to leave, Rodney appeared. He had brought plenty of drinks, including
    beer for after the races. Sparky reminded Rodney to save a few brews for everyone and please
    don’t drink it all. With a laugh, the group headed east.
    Thad was a bit nervous, but in his mind, it was the “good” kind of nervousness. This was a
    totally new experience for him in so many ways. Instead of driving his car, he rode in the hauler
    with Tyrus driving and Farrell taking a nap in the back. The hauler held all the tools and both
    cars, plus a four-wheeler to push the car to the staging area. It had very little advertising on the
    trailer, just a small decal on the side saying “Tarheel Race Team.”
    As they rolled into the Dearborn County Fairgrounds, Thad texted Kate, saying, “Hello from
    Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Here we go.” Almost immediately the answer came, “Good luck. Hope
    you stay safe, do well and have fun.” Kate added a heart emoji. Thad stared at his phone for a
    few seconds, then turned toward Tyrus as they pulled up to the pit “shack.” Thad figured that
    Tyrus or Farrell could be his guide for the evening. As they exited the tractor, Farrell woke up
    and joined them as they bought pit passes. He had already taken care of whatever hoops that
    USAC needed them to jump through. One of the USAC people stared at Thad, thinking that the
    guy looked vaguely familiar. The long hair and beard caused him to doubt himself and he said
    nothing. A colleague had noticed Thad’s name on a paper and knew who he was, but thankfully
    kept quiet.
    Trailed by Sparky and his team, Tyrus guided the hauler to the pits, parking close to the tiny
    concession stand. Thad looked to his left and could only see the wall in turns three and four. He
    had heard the track’s banking was steep, and now he really believed. Everyone exited the
    hauler and began unloading the main car and some of the equipment. At Farrell’s suggestion,
    Thad walked to the track entrance to get a look at a three-eighths high-banked dirt oval. If
    anything, it reminded him of a smaller version of Bristol. Since his visit to Lawrenceburg last
    summer, Thad could have sworn the track had gotten bigger somehow. He took one last look
    and walked to his car. It was time to heat up the engine and Thad climbed into the seat, waited
    to be pushed away from the trailer. Tyrus and the four-wheeler pushed Thad into a line of cars
    waiting for a push truck. Thad’s turn came and he felt the bump that would soon become second
    nature. The switch was flipped and the engine came to life. Thad idled down a designated lane,
    then went back to his pit space.
    Thad’s “secret” was out. At the USAC trailer on a big screen Thad’s name was among the list of
    entrants, 37 in all. Try as he might to blend in among the others during the drivers’ meeting,
    Thad with his mop of gray hair stood out from a group that was mostly under the age of 30. He

    wasn’t bothered by the lack of attention. Later, when fans would invade the pits, he would not be
    as fortunate.
    The meeting concluded with a short prayer by one of the USAC workers and Thad ambled back
    to his team, accompanied by Preston. Both friends would be in the second hot lap group. Thad
    was scheduled to be the tenth qualifier.
    He found himself on the road leading up the hill to the track. The group would get three green
    flag laps. Thad’s car was pushed onto the track and now he could feel the banking coming out
    of turn four. All cars, including his, were slowly circling the track. The flagman made sure that
    they were evenly spaced before waving the green.
    While the cars were spreading out, the USAC announcer introduced each driver. She said with
    as much excitement she could muster, “Driving the mostly white number 95, sponsored by
    Rory’s Pizza Place and by Arley Sebastian, a three-time Daytona 500 winner, it’s none other
    than Thad Larrabee!” The crowd roared. Thad could hear most of the roar, but paid little
    attention. He was more concerned with not screwing up.
    Thad eased the throttle, gradually gaining speed. He planned to follow the car ahead of him as
    best he could. That car, number 55, hugged the bottom groove in the turns and Thad was
    content to do that for the first two laps. The white flag waved and he went into turn one just a
    few feet from the wall. Coming out of turn two, Thad gunned it and was surprised to pull
    alongside 55. He passed the car in turn three on the outside. As near as he could tell, there was
    no other car behind him as the checkered and yellow flags waved.
    The turn three exit at Lawrenceburg is tricky. Drivers who have figured it out head for the bottom
    groove coming out of turn two in order to exit with little difficulty. Thad either didn’t know this or
    forgot. He saw his mistake in time and quickly decided to make another lap and try again.
    In the pits, Farrell was smiling. Thad noticed this and was instantly happy. Farrell said, “Nice job,
    rookie. Fifth quick in a good group. Great beginning.”
    “Thanks, Farrell. You guys had a little bit to do with it, too.”
    “Yeah, yeah.” Farrell laughed at Thad. “Now, a couple of minor adjustments and you’ll be ready
    to qualify. Did you have to fight the car? Too loose or tight?”
    “I’ve no idea, Farrell. You know that.”
    Farrell laughed a little louder and motioned to Tyrus. “Hey, kid. Check the air pressure for all four
    here for the old man.”
    Tyrus didn’t miss a beat. “Which one?”

    Both Farrell and Thad laughed.
    Twenty minutes later, Thad was in line to qualify. Just before he went out, Tyrus signaled him
    that the earlier qualifiers had used the high groove. Thad nodded. He felt the bump and he
    squeezed the throttle. By the time he reached turn one, he was close to full speed. Thad tried to
    keep the car as straight as possible as he negotiated turn two. He came close to the wall
    coming out of the turn, but didn’t let up on the throttle and screamed down the backstretch. With
    a flick of the steering wheel, Thad set the car up to slide and glide through turn three, about
    three feet from the wall. He used the banking to launch off turn four to the start/finish line. He
    barely saw the white flag as he tried mightily to duplicate his first lap. Thad was on his way to
    doing just that until he got a little sideways coming out of turn four. He didn’t spin; he recovered
    enough to straighten the car as it approached the checkered flag. His second lap was slower
    and wouldn’t count. But his first lap was tenth quickest.
    With some free time before his heat, Thad found a lawn chair in the hauler and sat down. Farrell
    came over and asked a question about the handling. He knew that he was speaking a different
    kind of racing language than what Thad could understand. He also knew that Thad was the type
    of racer who wasn’t fussy about setups and such. This had been shared with Farrell by Arley a
    few days ago. Farrell told Thad what they had done to the car. Thad just smiled and said thanks.
    He was starting outside second row of the second heat. He had brought out a thermos full of
    decaf coffee. Thad was content to do some people watching. This made for a humorous
    situation as several people walked by Team Tarheel’s outfit, trying not to stare at Thad. A brave
    few said hello. Thad was unfailingly polite.
    The second heat took a couple of laps to line up. Thad was in the middle of a nine-car field; this
    would be his first laps at speed with other cars on the track. The eight other cars were complete
    strangers. Thad knew about the invert, which meant the quickest cars in the lineup were
    immediately behind him. The green flag waved and Thad immediately committed to the high
    side. This was his first mistake. The track had changed enough to move the fast groove to the
    bottom. Thad was passed by both third row cars and now he was two spots away from
    transferring to the feature. And that was where he finished, sixth. His next race would be the
    semi-feature. Twelve laps and he would be starting fourth.
    It was an angry driver who pulled into Team Tarheel’s space after the second heat. Tyrus and
    Farrell gave him plenty of room for a few minutes. Five minutes later, Farrell approached Thad,
    who was sitting in the lawn chair.
    “This ain’t all bad, man. You get twelve more laps of seat time. And that’s exactly what you
    need. Those last few laps, it looked like you were faster than that car ahead of you.”
    Thad’s voice was a monotone. “Farrell, I was afraid to try and pass that guy. I know I was faster.
    But I didn’t want to take a chance on wrecking him and maybe me too.”
    “I get it, bud. Seat time. Get enough of that and you’ll feel like passing King Kong. No worries.” Farrell walked toward the concession stand. Tyrus was checking tire pressure. At least fewer
    people were staring now. The night was getting cooler. Thad drank another cup of coffee before
    going into the trailer for a few tear-offs. Farrell went back to the concession stand.
    Thad had a better showing in the B Main. Another lap and he might have won. As it was, he
    finished second. For the feature he would be starting in the fifth row.
    Back to the lawn chair went Thad. Back to the concession stand went Farrell. Tyrus was talking
    to a couple of young ladies. Farrell came back from the concession stand and was finishing off a
    hot dog, unofficially his third. Tyrus said good-by to the ladies and began taking the right rear tire
    off the car. With a little help from Farrell, Tyrus finished that job as Farrell turned his attention to
    the shocks at each corner of the car. Thad debated having another cup of coffee and decided
    against it.
    For whatever reason Thad felt out of sorts. Then it hit him. Kate. He checked his phone to see if
    he had a message from her. She had answered him five minutes after he had sent her a
    greeting. “Hi, Thad. A slow Saturday night in Brevard. Please keep me posted if you can.
    Thanks. Kate.” She had added two hearts at the end. Thad smiled to himself.
    He looked around. Sparky’s team was parked next to the Tarheel team. Preston was settling into
    the seat. He looked at Thad and gave him a thumbs up. Thad waved back and put his phone
    away. He climbed into the seat, thankful that people seemed to be ignoring him. Tyrus handed
    him his helmet after Thad was strapped in. Farrell waited patiently on the four-wheeler for Tyrus
    and one of his girl friends to roll the car backwards so Farrell could take over. He pushed the car
    to the ramp and kept going. USAC had directed the cars be pushed out to the track and be
    spread out for the push trucks to do their jobs more efficiently. Before that happened, the
    starting lineup was introduced. Farrell had been told to take Thad to turn two. He waited in the
    car as Farrell and the other four-wheel drivers went back to the pits. Farrell and Tyrus
    assembled the equipment they might need if Thad was involved in an incident. When Thad was
    introduced, he could hear the announcer and crowd. He was surprised that the fans had made
    that much noise.
    All Thad knew was he was starting in the fifth row. He was on the outside of the row and number
    18 was next to him. Thad found the 18 car, having no idea who it was. The car was covered with
    big and small decals. The green flag was about to wave; all of the preliminaries were over, the
    introductions, the lining up, the four wide salute to the fans. It was time.
    The green lights came on, the green flag waved and the thundering of 22 finely tuned engines
    roared in the Lawrenceburg night. Thad stayed even with the 18 as they entered the first turn.
    But then he felt a hard bump and he was spinning toward the wall. Somehow, everyone missed
    him and he barely touched the wall. Thad was livid. He would want to know who tapped him, but
    that would have to wait. The safety crew appeared immediately and checked for damage. They
    righted the car and a push truck appeared. Thad restarted on the tail spot. He was still angry but it was an icy controlled anger. It had served him well in NASCAR. More than once he had been
    spun only to come back and either win a race or at least finish ahead of the car who spun him.
    The race director came on the radio to remind Thad that he was on the tail. Thad started to
    reply but remembered it was a one-way radio. It was just as well. The flag man waved the green
    and Thad took off. There were 30 laps to go, plenty of time in one sense. Most of the cars in
    front of Thad were hugging the bottom. The top looked good to him and he used it to good
    advantage. Thad was getting better with each lap at wrestling these beasts. He was one of the
    few trying the top groove early on and Thad passed four cars in the first five laps.
    This pattern continued throughout the race, which was slowed every few laps by either a caution
    or a red flag. During the red, crew members were allowed to come out and make minor
    adjustments. Farrell came out with the air compressor in case a tire was going down. Thad
    asked what position he was in. Farrell hollered, “Fifteenth, I think. You’ve passed a few cars,
    man.” Thad asked who spun him. Farrell hesitated before answering, “Number twenty-nine. The
    defending champ. He’s been known to do that.” Farrell could see Thad’s eyes and it wasn’t a
    pleasant sight. “Don’t do anything dumb, bud.” Thad nodded and waved.
    The race restarted and Thad was moving up. Some fans noticed and were cheering him on.
    Thad preferred the high groove but he had no problem going to the low side. With five laps to
    go, he saw the number 29 ahead of him. Now Thad Larrabee was on a mission. He reeled in
    the 29, which seemed to be struggling. Thad had been told that tire wear could be a factor at
    Lawrenceburg. Coming out of turn four to the white flag, Thad swept around 29 at the finish line.
    He made sure he was almost completely past and then chopped down on the 29 going into the
    first turn. The 29 overreacted and spun out, bringing out a yellow. As the cars circled the track
    under yellow, the driver of 29 flipped Thad the bird. Thad saw it coming and gave it back. He
    had dealt with much worse.
    The race would end with a green/white/checkered. Thad restarted eleventh and passed one guy
    he remembered from last year, Cosmo Novak. This gave him tenth place after restarting 23rd
    after his early spin. Ironically, it was where he had started the race. Casual fans probably
    missed his recovery but several other people, be they fans or crew members, did notice.
    Thad pulled into the space and was met with a fired-up Farrell. It was the most emotion he had
    seen out of his chief mechanic. If that wasn’t enough, Tyrus jumped high enough to click his
    heels. Thad was impressed—and jealous. It had been quite a night. He had learned much. Thad
    thought, for the first time, that he might have some fun and do well, maybe even win a race.
    Thad wasn’t the only one who had learned a lot. The top guys in USAC had learned as well.
    This NASCAR guy might be a problem.


    Chapter 40: The Month of March

    For about three weeks, Thad didn’t have much to do in Indiana. He had hired the people he needed to go racing, He had two major sponsors lined up, counting Arley. The other sponsor was Rory McManus, who owned a string of pizza places all over Indiana. It was no accident that one of Rory’s best customers was Rodney Reynolds. Farrell was taking care of everything on the racing side. Thad encouraged him to make one of the part-time employees full-time. Tyrus Hughes was going to IUPUI part-time and was running short of money. He had much to learn about sprint cars but Farrell had found him to be an eager student of sprint car racing.

    Thad spent much of his time on the mountain, alone with his thoughts. He stayed in touch with Kate when she wasn’t too busy. They got together about once a week, usually for dinner either in Brevard or Hendersonville. Thad was grateful that he was rarely recognized. It helped that he had grown his thinning gray hair long. Patrons at the Brevard restaurants that he and Kate frequented assumed that he was a professor, which they found funny.

    “Well? Weren’t you a professor of sorts when you raced with NASCAR?” Kate was hoping to persuade Thad to talk more about his previous life.

    “I suppose, but if that was the case, it was by accident,” he said. “I was too busy trying to pass people and win races—or at least get a good finish.”

    “What did you consider a good finish?”

    “Normally, I was happy with a top five, but top tens weren’t too bad.” Thad stopped and thought. “But there were times, I’d have some sort of trouble early in the race, but finish with one of the fastest cars. I could be a couple of laps behind and finish 25th or something, but we would be encouraged by the fact that we finished strong. Then we’d have a fast car and catch a bad break at the end and finish tenth or something.”

    “What kind of bad break?”

    “Oh, usually someone in front of me would wreck, usually a slower car. If I didn’t crash, I’d spin out, maybe lose a lap. With the way NASCAR works, there’s always a lot of cars, 25 or so, on the same lap as the leaders. Losing a lap made it a challenge.” Thad decided not to try and explain the infamous “lucky dog” rule, in which the first car a lap down would get its lap back and restart after a caution flag period on the tail of the lead lap cars. Besides, Thad didn’t like the rule, never had.

    Kate was perceptive enough not to ask too many questions at once. Thad’s NASCAR days were behind him now and he was glad of it. Kate would try to get Thad to talk about Dina and sometimes he would open up, remembering the good times and the occasional bad times.

    The college’s spring break fell on Thad’s last week at home before heading north. He was leaving on Wednesday and aimed to arrive in Scottsburg on Thursday. Thad reasoned that there was no hurry to get anywhere—yet. He asked Kate if she would like to stay with him from Saturday after spring break began until Wednesday. Surprisingly, she said yes.

    On Saturday evening, as the sun set over the mountains off in the western distance, Kate and Thad sat on the front porch of his house, admiring the sunset. As a sort of trial run, they had gone to the local grocery store earlier, picking up enough food to last until Wednesday. To their surprise and relief, they weren’t bothered. As a rule, Thad’s housekeeper, Sue Ellen, took care of groceries as needed.

    They sat in silence, with the breeze rustling through the trees, birds chattering at each other, the sun offering its slow goodnight. The temperature dropped and Thad went inside the house to get a blanket. With Kate, he settled under the blanket. Neither spoke for the longest time. Both enjoyed the setting; both were busy with their own thoughts.

    Thad was thinking of Dina, gone for nearly a year and a half now. What would she think of his life now? Getting ready to go racing, but in a totally different car, with different people, tracks and shuttling between Indiana and North Carolina. Thad liked to think she would smile and shake her head.

    Kate was thinking of her children and grandchildren, all of them scattered in surrounding states, Tennessee, South Carolina and a commune deep in the mountains of Virginia. She had to assume that no news was good news. Her thoughts turned to her and Thad. She wondered if both would remain happy with the present arrangement. She looked ahead to the coming summer and Thad’s soon-to-be hectic life. As long as he continued chasing this dream, or whatever it was, there would be no talk of marriage. She wondered if she could handle that. The extended absences might be a problem.

    Thad’s thoughts shifted toward the coming weeks. He was somewhat surprised that he had not been stressing out over the vast unknown that faced him at the Hoosier bullrings. How would he handle getting to know the tracks, the competitors and the fans? He had kept a low profile since February. Only now was there talk on social media from some anonymous posters on IOW ( Sparky, Arley and Preston had sworn that they were keeping quiet and Thad believed them. But in the end, Thad thought, what did it matter?

    Thad managed to avoid the media as much as he could in his NASCAR days. Arley only reminded him that, like it or not, he and the media needed each other. Thad resolved to treat the media, from the mightiest network to the brand new website, with respect. With few exceptions, he was able to establish decent relationships with most of the media. As much as he hated to admit it, Jerry Fitzgerald had been a pro in shielding Thad from the press and, when best for Thad and the team, allowing access to Thad or any team member, including Arley (who, from the beginning, was a hit with the media people).
    Thad and Kate said their good-byes on Wednesday morning. Thad was headed north and Kate went west back to Brevard.



    Chapter 39: Getting Serious

    It wasn't just the fact that Thad and Kate were getting serious; it was also the fact that the racing season wasn't far away. It was high time that Thad continued assembling the parts and people necessary to do this right.

    Thad had attended the off-season gatherings of racers, regardless of how many were gathered or where. This meant spending a significant amount of time in Indiana's capital city. He began contacting people in hopes of hiring a competent mechanic. This wasn't easy. Some had guessed that Thad was a NASCAR billionaire who was a sprint car wannabe, a dilletante. They assumed that he was trying to buy his way to success. None of those people took the time to talk to Thad. Luckily, some did. His new buddy Rodney had paved the way for Thad to introduce himself to some people in the tiny Hoosier sprint car universe.

    Right after the first of the year, Thad had secured a top notch mechanic. Both Gideon Sparks and Rodney Reynolds recommended that Thad talk to Farrell Hutchinson, who was looking for some steady employment. After both had urged Farrell to get in touch with Thad, a meeting was arranged the day after Arley's Christmas party.

    Thad left his mountain home and drove straight to Indianapolis two days before Christmas. He invited Kate to go and she agreed, somewhat apprehensively, to ride along. On Christmas Eve, Thad met Farrell while Kate shopped some, but mostly she drove around town, eyeing the sights.

    Farrell wanted some time to think about this intriguing job offer. Thad had the resources, money and, in Farrell's opinion, the desire. Farrell had no way of knowing if Thad had the ability to drive a sprint car, even though he had been present the night at Haubstadt when Thad turned his first laps in a sprinter.

    Thad and Kate spent Christmas Day in a hotel suite, watching TV, reading and using the gym room to run the treadmill and/or lift weights. The hotel restaurant was open and they had dinner, enjoying the quiet atmosphere and, in Thad's case, the anonymity. Back in the room, they found a TV channel showing the classic movie Casablanca. The setting was the perfect opportunity for the couple to get to know each other even better. Both survived the experience and woke up on December 26 to a post-Christmas snowfall. Farrell began working for the Tarheel Racing Team on January 2, trusted to finish the assembly of the team, including hiring two part-time workers. When Thad expressed curiosity about going to Florida in January, Farrell expressed his reservations.

    "Look at it this way, Thad," Farrell looked at his driver and boss. Thad was getting itchy to race. Farrell said, "Man, don't think too hard. You're liable to get a headache."

    That broke the tension and Thad laughed. "I guess you're right, Farrell." He thought some more and asked, "Once we get going, do you think we'll need to hire someone to take calls, stuff like that?"

    "Not at first, but I see us maybe needing someone to do that. Maybe help with whatever sponsors we can scare up."

    Thad said, "I have at least a couple of irons in the fire. You ever hear of something called the Hoosier Pizza Place?"

    Farrell's eyes widened. "Of course I have. Are you saying–?"

    "Not yet. But they are interested. I've also talked to my buddy who was my car owner, Arley Sebastian, and I'm fairly sure he's going to kick in a few bucks."

    Farrell chuckled. "He's the chicken man, right?"

    Thad laughed. "The one and same. You'll like Arley. He's one of a kind. He and I went down to Florida last February and that's when I caught the disease."

    "I've heard that story from Rodney. He's something else."

    "Who? Arley or Rodney?"

    Both men laughed. After they stopped, Thad said, "So it's settled. We can hold off until Lawrenceburg?"

    Farrell said, "Unless you want to go to Twin Cities. They have a big paying 50 lapper on the last Saturday in March."

    "I'll let you know about that one, Farrell. What do you know about the track?"

    "It's a three-eighths mile, give or take a few feet. Turns are kind of a paperclip, fairly high banked. Pretty fast. Bad things have happened there."

    Thad looked at him. "Such as?"

    "That's where Frank Hinds nearly bought the farm some years back. It even scared me. I thought he was a goner."

    Thad said, "Did you know I met Frank in Florida last February? Great guy."

    "Is that right? He's doing well, I hope."

    "He's doing great. Doesn't go to very many races, but he's a good guy to talk to. Lots of stories. I guess some of them are true."

    After he was finished laughing, Farrell went to the garage while Thad had another cup of coffee and perused racing schedules.



    Chapter 38: Complications
    Thad’s call to Kate became more complicated than an invitation to go to a Christmas party at the
    Sebastian residence. It began when Thad was talking about his plans for the following year.
    T: If things work out, I’ll be going to Indiana in late March. There’s a USAC race at
    Lawrenceburg on the first Saturday in April and from there I’ll pick and choose where I want to
    go. I’m not planning on running all of the USAC schedule; I’ll be happy to stay in Indiana, for the
    most part. There’s a sprint car race somewhere in the state every Friday and Saturday night,
    once in a while on Sunday.
    K: When would you be coming back down here?
    T: I’m not sure, Kate. I’ll try to when I can.
    K: Oh.
    T: Huh? What does that mean, Kate?
    K: I thought you would be here more often, I guess.
    T: I’m very sorry if I gave you that impression. I didn’t mean to. It’s just that I’m trying to be
    K: You mean you don’t want to commit.
    T: If I’m going to do this, I can’t commit.
    Silence, the icy kind.
    T: Kate, let me try to explain some things that have been on my mind lately.
    K: Go ahead.
    T: I’ve missed you more than I thought I would. Between races there was a lot of downtime. You
    suggested that I try to read more and I surely have. I missed talking with you about things I’ve
    read and for other reasons too. Kate, I don’t have any idea what love is. I would guess that, by
    some definitions, I love you, Kate. But given that, I can’t give up what I’m doing. I’m not even 50;
    I’m too young to retire. I don’t want to take up a hobby or game. I’d be terrible at golf. And I can’t
    take walks all day or read all day. So here I am chasing this crazy dream. Somewhere in there I
    want to be with you as much as I can.
    More silence, but Thad could not tell if it was icy.
    K: Thank you for sharing, Thad. I’m not sure what to say. It seems like we are on the same page
    more than I realized. I try not to overthink the definition of love. If two people had affection for
    each other, enjoy each others’ company and think of each other when they’re apart, well, that
    sounds like love to me.
    Then, after a pause, she added, “At least to me.” Kate took a deep breath and said, “So, Thad, it
    looks like we might love each other, despite our dancing around the word and the definition.
    Would that be correct?”
    T (slowly): Yes. For lack of a better term.
    Kate had to laugh, then said, “Since words are a big part of my work, I challenge you to come
    up with a better one.”
    T: Affection?
    K: Not bad, but you can have affection for a house pet. You’d get an ‘incomplete’ grade from me
    on that one.
    T: Romantic affection?
    K: That’s a little closer. (Silence) Do you have any more?
    T: I’m afraid not. Now I’m cheating. I’m looking at some synonyms and they are worthy but
    incomplete, as you say.
    K: Maybe we have to face it, Thad. Maybe, mind you, we are in love or at least we love each
    T: Despite our differences. You know, plans, lifestyles, agendas.
    K: We can try to work through all that. We can accept absences from each other.
    T: But maybe we can postpone the M word, at least for a while.
    K: Marriage?
    T: Yes.
    K: I’ll agree. For a while.
    T: Good night, Kate Danner. I’m glad you are you.
    K: Good night, Thad. I’m glad that we can say we love each other—differences and all.



    Chapter 37: Sparky to the Rescue
    Sparky knew a guy who lived near Pittsboro, Indiana, just northwest of Indianapolis. Tom Minter
    was a real estate agent who loved racing. Tom sponsored sprint cars and knew a little about
    commercial property, especially on Indy’s northwest side. Before long it was October when Thad
    and Arley found themselves looking around an ideal place for their purposes. There was room
    for at least three cars, plus a space for another vehicle. Arley and Tom bargained for a while as
    Thad listened.
    Just as Thad started thinking that a deal had been made, Arley stood up and said, “Sorry, Mr.
    Minter. I don’t think the property is worth that amount.” Before Mr. Minter could react, Arley
    shook his hand and said, “You take care, sir.”
    Later as they drove back to the motel, Arley was quiet for most of the trip, but as they pulled into
    the parking lot, he finally spoke. “Thad, I reckon you’re wondering why I didn’t want to make the
    “Yeah, I guess. I mean, I trust your—”
    “Oh, I know that. The trouble I had with Mr. Minter was that he was overly condescending to us.
    Not totally sure why, but my guess is that he thought we were a pair of country bumpkins from
    the South who don’t know a thing.”
    “Guess I didn’t pay much attention, Arley. I’m sorry I didn’t.”
    Arley laughed. “It’s probably a good thing for Mr. Minter you didn’t pay attention. We’ll never
    know for sure and besides, it doesn’t matter now. What matters is that I call Louise. Then we get
    something to eat.”
    “Works for me. I’m going to call Sparky and ask if he has any more names.”
    Sparky kept apologizing until Arley finally said, “Give it up, Sparky. Do you have anyone else in
    “Well, you might call Rodney Reynolds. Good guy but he’s not in Indy. He dabbles in real estate
    when he isn’t at a sprint car race or drinking beer. I’ll get his number and be sure and tell him I
    sent you.”
    This time, Sparky’s advice was good. By the time Arley and Thad signed the papers for a
    spacious garage in nearby North Vernon, they had a new friend, one that would help them in the
    months to come. Rodney seemed to know everyone in Indiana who was connected with sprint
    car racing. The gentlemen from North Carolina would learn that Mr. Reynolds would be a
    reliable source of information over the next several months.

    (As a token of appreciation, Arley and Louise surprised Sparky and Darla with a visit one cold
    day in January. They had brought a half dozen rhubarb pies after they had learned that Mr. and
    Mrs. Sparks loved rhubarb pies. The oft-mentioned cliché, “racing has the best people” was
    employed as Sparky and Darla told the Sebastian’s good-by and safe travels.)
    The garage rental deal was wrapped up a few days before Christmas. Both Arley and Thad
    wanted to be home before the holiday so they left Indiana on a cold December morning and
    headed south—where the weather was merely chilly. As Thad locked the door to the garage, he
    considered this a productive trip. They had a place to store their racing equipment, enough
    room for a race hauler that had room for two cars and all the race day accessories they would
    need. Thanks to Rodney, they had some useful leads for everything else, including two cars,
    both of which were PoorBoy chassis.
    Arley had invited Thad to spend Christmas Day with him and some friends, much as he did the
    year before. He joked, “This time you can bring Kate as your date.” Thad had to laugh. He said,
    “I’ll ask her if she’s busy that day.” She wasn’t.



    Chapter 36: The Art of Assembling

    Thad had intended to go home after Sprint Week but his mind had changed. If he was going sprint car racing next year, he figured that it wasn’t too early to start this year. He paid his landlord another month’s rent and began building a team from scratch. From time to time, Thad talked with his buddy Sparky, who was busy enough as it was. Thad took notes when they spoke face to face, prompting Darla to start calling her husband “Professor.” Thad thought that to be an accurate description.

    Ever since he had been up in Indiana, Thad had been in occasional contact with Arley. When he first told his buddy, who spent a good part of his time on Lake Norman, about his newest adventure, Arley wanted to jump in as much as time and his other commitments would allow. To that end, Arley made a trip to Indiana, renting a nearby motel room and sitting in when Thad went to see the Professor. Both Arley and Thad would be able to self-fund a sprint car team, but Sparky advised them to look for sponsors anyway. Arley, especially, didn’t have to be told twice about spending other peoples’ money.

    Arley and Thad were fortunate in that they had a few contacts up in Indy thanks to the NASCAR race at the Speedway (Thad learned that many Hoosiers called the Indianapolis Motor Speedway “The Speedway” with no explanation necessary which speedway.) With a little help from a mutual friend, Thad took a trip to Brownsburg, Indiana to look at garage space for the cars and equipment the team would need. Arley and Thad shared the same accountant, who blanched when they told him what they were doing. But he embraced the idea as well. Free admission to a suite for the Indianapolis 500 didn’t hurt.

    Sparky told the new owners that hiring people would be their most crucial step in assembling the yet unnamed team. They used technology, mostly social media, to see who was who. Both descended on Indianapolis and rented a suite, then hung out in places where sprint car people in the Hoosier capital hung out. They introduced themselves and talked to a lot of people. Arley especially was the main talker. His personality was one that made people like him and they had no problem talking to the big Tarheel about sprint cars. Thad was friendly, but not as talkative at first. He was slower to warm to people, not being the trusting type. Arley was the better judge of character and he had a way of letting Thad know if someone was genuine or a phony. There were too many of the latter.

    August turned into September and the duo decided to head home for a couple of months and then contact some of the potential team members. Both had been in contact with Sparky, running names by him. A couple of promoters called Thad and discussed possible mechanics and gave some tips about equipment for sale.

    Thad had in mind a trip back to Indiana to take a closer look at a place to keep the still-unnamed team’s equipment. It was the first weekend in October and he called Kate one day. He apologized for not keeping in touch more often. Kate didn’t seem to mind, but she was somewhat frustrated. Out of the blue, he asked her if she wanted to take a trip to Indianapolis. Her teaching schedule didn’t permit her to go in October, she said, but she would have her winter break coming up in December. Thad thought that he might be going back to Indy around the same time. She asked how his racing plans were going and after he told her what he and Arley had been doing, she understood why she had not heard so much from him.

    Kate had no way of knowing, but along with Thad and Arley, she was about to get a different kind of education.




    The Hoosier Race Report: My 2022


    By this time of year, I've usually had five or six races on my list. That's not happening this year and maybe longer.

     Most people in racing at my favored grass roots level do not work full time in racing, from fans to promoters and even some sanctioning body owners. Obviously, it's not my bread and butter. Just as obviously, for those of us who love open wheel racing but don't make a living from it, our lines of commitment are not the same.

     With that in mind, I've had to draw that line. With my wife's health being where it is, I cannot in good conscience leave her home alone for more than a couple of hours. The importance of her safety easily surpasses racing and just about everything else. In that respect, choosing to stay home instead of trotting off to the usual Hoosier bullrings was an easy choice.

     In their wisdom, my wife, daughter and son-in-law gifted me with Floracing for Christmas. It has already paid off and then some. I've seen most recently Brady Bacon win at Atomic Speedway. I saw the Florida USAC and All Stars February. I've seen street stocks in Iowa, winged sprints in Pennsylvania, winged and non-wing sprints in California, DIRT modifieds at Cherokee Speedway (been there), and late models at Hickory (NC, been there too but not this year). Shucks, I even saw a guy st Hickory get a police escort from the track after some extreme rowdiness. I look forward to seeing lots of racing this season, just not in person.

     There may well be occasions when I'll be able to find someone to sit with my wife while I head to a race somewhere. But that will be the exception.

     Allan Holland, a prince of a man, has allowed me to share a fictional story here for the past several weeks and that will continue. The idea for the story of Thad Larrabee came to me long before Jimmie Johnson even dreamed of going to indyCar. It's an extension of a short story that was in the book I wrote about five years ago. Thad's adventure is not over.

     This has been a very good run and I'm blessed to have had the opportunity to roam the pits, meet some quality people and see more than my share of great racing from California to Virginia, but mostly right here in Indiana. There are no complaints. It's time to ease off a bit.

     Sending Vladimir Putin a generous gift card courtesy of Tucker Carlson for Tucker's favorite tanning facility, I'm…

     Danny Burton



    Chapter 35: Post-Sprint Week Conversation


    Thad was near the Lynnville, Indiana exit on I-64 when he was startled by the phone. The caller ID told him it was Kate. At this hour, he thought. It was two in the morning and Thad had been wondering if he could stay awake on the nearly deserted interstate. Lucky for him, Kate had considered that and guessed that he might need someone to talk to and keep him awake.


    She knew that he likely wanted to talk about his surprise practice session. He would be more talkative than he ever had been with her. Thad was self-aware enough to realize that the last person he had conversed with this long was Dina. He didn't really mind; indeed, he was glad that Kate had called and not just to keep him awake.


    She asked, after their greetings, "So, Thad. Tell me. First time you had driven since, what, last November?"


    T: Yes, seemed like longer, but it was November.


    K: How was it?


    T: Oh, Kate. I hesitate to use the word heavenly, but, uh, let's say it was close to heavenly.


    K: Were you nervous?


    Thad laughed and said, "Of course. But by the time the flagman waved the checkered flag I was more like, 'Aw, over so soon?'"


    K: Where do you go from here? Wait, let me rephrase that. With respect to to the sprint car, where do you go from here?


    T: I'll be honest, Kate. I'm about three quarters sure that I'm going to buy one of these things, assemble a team and drive it next year. Hey, I'll even hire you to scrape the mud off the car when needed.


    K: Hmmm…. there's times I'd strongly consider that. Then reality gets in the way.


    T: I get it, I think. It would be a major commitment, no matter who I hire to do anything. Besides, I need more time in the car if I'm going to be serious about this.


    K: How long would you do this? One year? Two, or more?


    T: Right now, I'd say one year and hopefully I'd have it out of my system. I'd give up driving but I might still own a car and hire a driver.


    K: That might make some sense.


    T: Well, I know none of this makes sense. But it's something I'm able to do, I've enjoyed my time up here and I should do it while I'm able.


    K: Yes, on one level it makes sense.


    T: Kate?


    K: Yes?


    T: Kate, what if you DID have a vote? I mean, if we were, uh, together, what would you say to this?


    K: What a question! Well. (Nervous chuckle) I wouldn't be crazy about the idea, but I'd not stand in your way. If my position at the college permitted, I'd even travel part of the time with you. "If" I'm saying.


    T: You're a tolerant lady, Kate.


    K: Thank you. I try to be.


    T: I don't mean of me. I mean, well, in general. You seem to be one of those people whose emotions are not the extreme roller coaster type. If you disagree, you tell people, but you seem to be nice about it.


    K: What are you referring to?


    T: Me, mostly. But I saw how you have treated people when we've been out together and you were always kind and patient.


    Thad laughed and said, "Don't take this wrong, but you remind me a little of my late mother-in-law."


    K: I do? Aunt Naomi? What a nice compliment! But why do you say that?


    T: Well, Naomi was cool and calm. I remember when Dina and I thought she was pregnant about two months before we got married. We–


    K: What?? I never heard about that.


    T: You haven't? I'm surprised Dina never told you. Anyway, she was scared to tell her mom. I went with her and just sat there most of the time. It turned out that Naomi said exactly the right things. We both fell a little better and it was a false alarm as far as the pregnancy was concerned.


    K: Now that you mention it, I had a similar deal with my youngest a few years ago. I remember telling myself, 'Don't yell or scream' over and over. We got through it.


    T: Sounds like she rubbed off on you.


    They talked for a few more minutes and Thad told her to go to bed; it was 3:30 and he was almost back to the apartment.


    Thad got to bed after four A. M., thinking about what was next.



    Chapter 34: The End and a Beginning


    The cat may not have been out of the bag, but it was surely peeking out of it. Some of the USAC caravan had noticed the shaggy haired guy hanging around Sparky and Preston. To some he looked familiar, while others ignored him. When one of the pit lizards finally concluded that this guy was Thad, he simply walked up, introduced himself and asked, "Are you Thad Larrabee?"


    Thad had been expecting this to happen. He was surprised that it had taken so long; he knew it would happen sooner or later and he had planned to be honest.


    He admitted to the serious sprint car fan that, yes, he was Thad Larrabee. The fan, whose name was Wally Cardwell from Sullivan, Indiana, didn't ask for an autograph. Instead, he and Thad talked sprint car racing. Wally said that Haubstadt was his favorite track, seeing that it was only a few miles from Sullivan. Thad walked away smiling with some of his faith in humanity restored. Wally turned out to be a decent fellow who had lots of stories to tell.


    Unbeknownst to Thad, Sparky had made sure that his backup car was ready for Preston, of course. But Sparky had other ideas that were unknown to Thad. First things first, however.


    Preston had a mathematical chance at the Sprint Week title and the cool rocking chair that went with it. But his chances were slim. He gave it his all, time trialing fourth of 39 cars. This put him on the outside of the third row of the fourth heat. Had the heat been 11 laps instead of ten, Preston might have won. As it was, he was second. The champion had clinched the title by the time of the feature. Preston might not win the that rocking chair and whatever else went with it, but he was motivated to win his first USAC feature. Later, folks would say it was a matter of time. Preston only knew that he was overdue in his mind. After starting fourth, he worked his way to the lead with ten laps to go. He survived multiple yellow flags and the restarts afterwards to win going away.


    As could be expected, he was one happy young man in Victory Lane, thanking Sparky, the team, his wife and family, and finally God. Sparky stood apart from Preston, letting him have the limelight. Surely the young man deserved the accolades. He knew that a better funded team would most likely snatch his young driver away. That was rather sad to know, but Sparky knew it was part of the business as well. For now, it was the time to enjoy and Sparky was certainly doing that.


    Sparky, Preston, Matt and the track owner were about to enjoy something else. Sparky had not told anyone but Darla of his plan. He had acquired a driving suit, gloves, shoes, fire retardant underwear, the works–everything that would be needed as part of Sparky's surprise. As the other teams loaded up, Sparky and his team took their time. One reason was to let Preston bask in the light of victory, signing autographs, getting his picture taken, or just talking to people. Standing nearby, Sparky spoke to Matt in a low voice, letting the kid in on the surprise. Matt's eyes widened in appreciation.


    With a signal from Sparky, Matt maneuvered the upper section of the hauler that contained the the backup car before lowering it to ground level. Preston and Thad stood back with puzzled looks. As the car was placed side-by-side with the night's winner, Sparky went to the truck, pulled a box from the back and walked toward Preston and Thad.


    "Thad," he said, "here is your surprise. For being such good company for us and helping as you have, we are rewarding you with a test drive in this baby right here." Sparky tapped the tail tank of the backup car.


    Thad was speechless, his eyes wide. "You're kidding." Sparky laughed and shook his head. Thad fumbled for words. "Thanks, Sparky. You didn't have to do this. I've been thinking about driving one of these things since we were at Gas City."


    "I know, bud. Tommy and I made a deal for you to get some laps in tonight. Sparky nodded at the white-haired track promoter, a former racer himself.


    Tommy finally spoke, "Mr. Larrabee, based on what my friend here has been telling me, you still have the itch to race."


    "Yes sir, Sparky is correct." Thad laughed. "You can call me Thad."


    "Deal. You can call me Tom, not sure." Thad chuckled and nodded.


    Sparky had quickly informed Preston what was going on and asked him to step in and get Thad started on the basics. Preston told Thad to take it easy the first few laps and then increase his speed a little at a time–if he wished. For Thad, there was no if.


    Thad was both bewildered and excited. Sparky had planned this and now Thad was about to take his first ride in one of these monsters. Most of the fans had gone. At least half the teams had also left the premises. A few curious souls hung around and soon the word spread that a former NASCAR race winner was going to take a few laps in a sprint car.


    The four-wheeler driven by Matt pushed Thad to the staging area where one of the famous Haubstadt push trucks was waiting. Thad was pushed through the opening onto the beginning of the backstretch. Soon he felt the bump of the push vehicle and the car began moving. Preston had told him that all he needed to know for the time being was to flip that switch when the oil pressure gauge flickered and the engine should start. Thad knew that the cockpit was a lot more compressed than a stock car; he had hardly any wiggle room. But as soon as the engine started and he was moving down the backstretch, that didn't matter.


    Thad idled around the track for two full laps and then began to speed up some on the straights, gently sliding through the turns. After he had completed about ten laps he noticed the flagman waving the green flag. He saw the lights in turn one go from yellow to green. He carefully accelerated through turns one and two, then gently floored it briefly down the backstretch. For a split second the car started to fishtail but Thad brought it under control. Tapping the brakes going into three, he tried the same maneuver going through three and four. It worked. With each lap, he felt more and more at ease, if not comfortable.


    From the pit bleachers in turn two, Sparky, Preston and Matt watched with a few dozen racers, mechanics and interested fans. Sparky held a stopwatch in front of him, checking Thad's progress. He showed the times to Preston, who nodded in approval. Tom stopped by and told Sparky that they could keep Thad on the track for ten more minutes. Sparky showed Tom the stopwatch. Tom smiled. At about the same time, Thad had his first spin right in front of Sparky and Tom. The track crew got him righted and he was pushed off again. A few minutes later, Thad was shown the checkered flag and slowed down. No one had told him that exiting the track could be tricky to a newbie, but Thad figured it out without hitting the wall.


    He stopped and watched Sparky amble toward the car. Sparky was smiling and he could see Thad's smile even with it partially obscured by the helmet. Matt shut the engine off and helped Thad get out of the car. Preston joined the small crowd around the NASCAR driver and the sprinter. He gave Thad a big hug. Sparky took out his stopwatch and showed Thad his lap times. He explained that the important point was the improvement Thad had shown as he had completed more laps. A few of the onlookers congratulated Thad for even trying to drive a sprint car. A few of them mentioned that maybe Thad was "one of us" now. Had he heard those comments, he wouldn't have minded.


    With Thad's debut finished, the team, including Thad, put the backup car on the trailer. Before they left, it was decided that they would eat at one of the truck stops just a mile south on 41. Thad announced that he was buying the meal. Before he left the racetrack parking lot, he texted Kate.


    "I did it! As a total surprise, Sparky let me take some laps in his backup car tonight after the races. I didn't set any records, but I got faster and had plenty of fun. If you are asleep at this hour–I don't blame you. Thad"




    Chapter 33: Plotting


    Gideon and his little team gathered at his home late in the morning with Terre Haute their destination of choice. Sparky had made the trip to the Vigo County Fairgrounds several times suggested that they stop at the rest area on I-70 just west of Indianapolis for lunch that had been prepared by Darla. Thad mentioned that he had reserved rooms at motels in Cloverdale and Bloomington. He offered to reserve rooms near Haubstadt after the last Sprint Week race. Sparky said that he would decide later if that was okay with Darla.


    The group arrived at the west entrance of the fairgrounds and waited with other teams for the pit gate to open. Sparky paid for pit passes, not wanting Thad to help any more than he had already. But Thad was acting different, at least from Sparky's observation. He was asking more questions and even went down the checklist, adding air pressure to the tires and fuel to the tank.


    A few people in the pits had figured out who Thad was but had kept their distance. Thad knew that wouldn't last. He, Sparky and the team decided to be honest but not forthcoming. If someone asked if that was the NASCAR driver, they would say yes. Otherwise, none of them would volunteer anything.


    It was another good night for the Sparks Racing Team as Preston qualified fifth fastest and won his heat. In the feature he ran near the front for all 30 laps before settling for second place behind veteran Cosmo Novak. Again, Preston was interviewed after the race and fans were warming to the easy going southern Indiana racer.


    After the race as teams loaded up cars and equipment, Thad noticed Sparky in earnest conversation with a white-haired man. Usually Sparky led the way in loading things up after a race, but Thad didn't give it much thought until a few days later.


    The Sparks mini-caravan headed east on I-70 to Cloverdale for the night. Thad talked to Kate for most of the forty-mile trip. He debated telling her that he wanted to try driving a sprint car. For the time being he would not. But she could tell just by the way he talked about everything he had been seeing and doing that Thad felt like he had a few more laps in him yet. She tried to fight the desire to tell him that he was crazy to want to race again but knew that would be counterproductive at best and maybe the end of the relationship, such as it was, at the worst. Kate decided to bide her time.


    Thursday night found the gang at the Lincoln Park Speedway. As Terre Haute was a half mile dirt oval, Lincoln Park was listed as five sixteenths of a mile and high banks that weren't quite as steep as Lawrenceburg or Bloomington but were high enough. Thad noticed the wide turns which encouraged multiple grooves on occasion. An overnight shower had made track preparations a bit of a challenge but the field of 44 cars were eager to meet the challenge.


    Preston endured an evening of bad breaks. During hot laps he ran over a sharp object and had to exit early. Matt had drawn one of the last qualifying numbers and Preston was the 39th of the 44 cars to qualify. In his heat race, Preston spun out to miss a competitor and had to run the B main. Finally, he caught a break. From deep in the pack, Mr. Janssen passed a few cars. With two laps to go, he was in eighth place with only the top six transferring to the feature. The two cars in front of him crashed while fighting for the last spot. Preston inherited sixth and he was in the show. From deep in the pack, Preston finished eighth and was the night's hard charger, picking up $100 in cash, with which he promptly offered to buy the team's late night snack. Sparky smilingly vetoed that idea.


    The little team that could left Cloverdale on a cloudy Friday morning, not stopping until they reached Bloomington and having a pizza or two. They pulled into the track as a light rain began falling. While the others sat where they could to keep dry, Thad ambled out to the parking lot and dozed off in the Camaro. At five minutes past six the rain stopped, but the track was too slick for any vehicles to attempt drying the high banks. Two hours later hot laps began. The neighbors dwelling near the track would have to endure the sounds of finely tuned V-8 engines until midnight.


    The surface would be lightning fast throughout the heat races with passing at a premium. Preston was fifth quick in qualifying as the track record somehow survived. His time of 10.933 put him on the inside of the third row of the first heat. Both Preston and the fast qualifier, Mr. Novak, could not pass anyone and both went to the B. There they would run one-two and then occupy the fourth row the feature. The track had widened in that there were two racing grooves by the time cars lined up for the main event. Preston stormed to the front in the first five laps and was running second when his right rear tire went flat. The bad news was Preston's having to restart the race from the tail–for the second consecutive night. The good news was there were still 25 laps to go. Preston was able to race back to twelfth as the checkered flag waved.


    The team loaded up and headed to a motel on Bloomington's north side. There was one more night to go at the Tri-State Speedway, usually known as Haubstadt. Thad had seemed to be in a daze all night. Sparky didn't ask if his friend was alright; he believed that Thad was itching to drive one of these beasts. He, Sparky, had a plan. The man who Sparky had been in conversation with was the Tri-State owner/promoter. After explaining the situation, they had struck a deal to rent the track after racing was over on Saturday night. Thad, of course, had not been told.


    With Haubstadt on Central time, the team's could set a leisurely pace on Saturday. Thad used the occasion to talk with Kate, who admitted to him that she had been eager to talk. She made him tell her about the last few days of his travels. He told her how the team was doing and how close Preston was to his first USAC win. He described the landscape of Indiana with most of the northern part flat with lots of cornfields. He told her that the hills of southern Indiana reminded him a little of the middle of North Carolina.


    Finally, Thad got around to telling her about his desire to race one of these funny looking cars. There was a brief silence on the other end before Kate spoke.


    "I assume you know these things are dangerous, and you are almost fifty years old."


    T: I do, Kate. Please don't misunderstand, but I'm very aware of all that. Besides–


    K: And your wife is gone so you have no one who cares about you.


    There was a stony silence until Kate said, "I'm so sorry, Thad. I shouldn't have said that."


    T: Kate, consider this. When Dina was alive, she lived with that fear for several years. She knew when she met me what I did and she learned to live with it and accept it. She had to deal with the fact that, when I was 'on the clock,' racing was first. It was very difficult for her, but she dealt with it as well as she could. We made it work and when she got sick she discovered even more how much I cared about her.


    There was more silence this time, but this was different. Kate was thinking before she said, "Thad, I care about you. A lot. I see it a little more completely now. If anyone is going to care about Thad Larrabee, she had better realize that Thad has another girlfriend. Her name is racing and sometimes she will be first. Is that close?"


    Thad laughed and said, "I'm afraid so, Kate." He didn't say anything for a few seconds and then…


    T: I think I care about you, too, Kate. I'm not sure how to define it but I'm not going to worry about that just yet.


    Thad looked ahead and saw bleachers not far from U.S. Highway 41. This was the place, he thought. As Sparky activated his turn signal, Thad said, "Dear Kate. We're here. This is the last race in this series within a series. I'll try to at least text you later. But remember that I'm an hour behind you here."


    K: That's okay. You can text or call. If I can't sleep, I won't worry about you calling. In fact, I may call you. Don't worry, I won't be expecting you to answer right away.


    T: Sounds good, Kate. Bye.


    K: Bye, Thad.


    As Sparky parked the hauler, the promoter stood by to greet the car owner. They had a very brief discussion that left them both smiling.



    Chapter 32: Interregnum


    Thad woke up at noon on Sunday after a long Saturday. He had stopped with Sparky and company to wash the car, then headed to his apartment to crash. There was not much for Thad to do for the time between the Lawrenceburg race and the USAC race at Terre Haute on Wednesday.

     So far Thad had been impressed with everything he had encountered–the tracks, promoters, racers and the racing itself. He discovered that sprint car racing in Indiana was loved by fans all over the state, plus the travelers who came from all over the world.

     That Sunday evening Kate called.

     T: Hello Kate.

     K: Good evening, Thad. How are you?

     T: After a day of doing very little, I'm fine. The last three days were fun, but last night I was as tired as I've been in quite a while.

     K: Do you have anything planned for the next few days?

     T: Not until Wednesday when we go to Terre Haute.

     K: Thad, will you forgive me if I say something?

     Thad looked at his phone in somewhat disbelief and said, "Huh?"

     Kate laughed and repeated herself.

     T: Well, I'm sure I could. But what are you getting at?

     K: All I was going to say was that I wish you could have come down here for the two or three days between races.

     Thad was truly taken aback. He said, "Wow, Kate. That's not a half bad idea. If I had planned for it, I think I could have done that.

     K: Well, that's nice to know. I wish I had thought of it earlier.

     Kate sighed. "Thad, I've been thinking while you've been gone.

     T: Oh? About…?

     K: About us. I enjoy your company even though we've not been in each other's presence all that much. I just really appreciate and love it when we seem to communicate so well. It just seems like we're usually on the same page.

     She felt quite vulnerable suddenly. She had just told someone some of her innermost thoughts. Kate couldn't remember the last time she did that with anyone–unless it was her ex-husband.

     Thad exhaled. This had seemingly come out of the blue. But he had to admit that his feelings were similar.

     K: Hello? Thad? Are you still there?

     She checked her phone to see if he had cut the connection.

     T: I'm sorry, Kate. I had to catch my breath there.

     Kate had to laugh. Then she asked, "Did I shock you?"

     T: I wouldn't say shock. But it was a nice curve ball when I was thinking fastball.

     Thad paused a second and said, "You know Kate, now that I think about it, I've missed you when I've not been too busy. And I enjoy your company, whether it's in person or otherwise. But there's one thing…"

     K: And that would be…?

     T: We live in two very different worlds. You're not familiar with racing and I'm certainly not the academic type.

     K: Thad, that doesn't have to be a problem, especially if we're not going to be any more serious than what we are–at least for the time being.

     Silence again. This time Kate waited.

     T: Yeah, I think that makes sense, Kate. If we recognize that, we can get along.

     K: But I wish you had been able to come down here for a couple of days.

     Thad laughed. "I'll make it unanimous. I have to say I wished the same."

     They talked a while longer and agreed to at least text each other until Wednesday, when Thad would follow Sparky and crew to Terre Haute.

     Monday and Tuesday were devoted to the most mundane of tasks for Thad, things he had little experience in doing since he was single many years ago. Washing clothes, dishes and the Camaro, walking, a trip to the library–to Thad, it felt like the retired life. He liked it but knew that it would get boring after some time.

     That prompted him to start thinking about a sprint car driving school, of all things. Thad knew that this was one of the craziest things he would think of since losing Dina. He pondered the path he would take. Go to a school or just buy a car, rent a track and get laps there, or simply show up at a track some night and give it a try.

     When Thad went to bed on Tuesday night, he was still thinking. Briefly, he debated telling Kate, but figured that she would not understand. The risk would turn her against anything like that.

     After tossing and turning, Thad finally went to sleep. He woke up on Wednesday morning in a peaceful mood. Though he wasn't sure how it would come about, he knew what he was going to do.





    Chapter 31: Gas City/Kokomo/Lawrenceburg

    Sure enough, Kate called again on Thursday morning. Her young admirer had received a stern lecture from everyone from the county sheriff to his school counselor, explaining that sometimes bad people did what he did before doing something much worse. Happily, the young man learned his lesson.

    The caravan on Friday leaving for Gas City consisted of Sparky, Preston and Matt riding in Sparky's truck while Thad followed them in his Camaro. Thad parked in the parking lot and joined the others at the pit shack. Before Sparky could reach for his wallet, Thad nudged him aside and gave the lady a pair of hundred dollar bills. Before Sparky could protest, Thad ushered his friend to his truck and said, "Lead on." He followed the truck to the pits, which were at the turns three and four on the west side of the property.

    After helping unload the car, Thad walked. to the track's entrance off turn four. The quarter mile oval was not banked as high as Bloomington, but it seemed to be a little wider. The dirt was almost black, a nice contrast to the green grass in the infield. He walked back to the hauler and sat in one of the lawn chairs Sparky had brought. Thad watched the other teams come in and set up. Some had more equipment and usually it was more expensive looking than the others.

    Though he spent most of his time with Sparky and crew, Thad took a walk around the pits and the space behind the bleachers, partly as a test to see if anyone would recognize him. His hair was much longer than last year, plus he had grown a beard of sorts. The extra hair kept him anonymous and that pleased him.

    While the support class ran its heats, Thad sat at a picnic table and texted Kate. "Greetings from the Gas City/I-69 Speedway, up in northeastern Indiana. Enjoying my anonymity. Hope you are well and stalking free." He almost deleted the last sentence but Kate had joked about it, so he figured he could do the same.

    Preston had a decent night. He edged the local favorite in his heat race, finishing fourth and advancing to the feature. The local hotshot ran the B and spun on his own while running second. No matter what the level was, that was racing. Meanwhile Preston started fourteenth in the feature and finished fourth. Thad noticed that, while Preston was in a chipper mood, Sparky went about his business after the race, not showing any more emotion than normal. Sparky had been at this too long to realize that Indiana Sprint Week would bring headaches before the grind was done.

    Kokomo, not Aruba

    It was a hot and humid Saturday as the Sparks Racing Team headed west to Kokomo. It was advertised as Indiana's baddest bullring and later that evening Thad would see why. He witnessed some great racing, no less intense than what he had experienced at Daytona or Talladega. More and more, he was missing the driving part of racing. Not in NASCAR but right here in Indiana.

    Preston Janssen might have informed Thad to put such thoughts out of his mind. After a good night of racing at Gas City, Preston "stank" in his words. It began in time trials when he qualified 25th of the 53 cars. This relegated Preston to the dreaded fourth row of his heat. He made it to fifth, one place shy of making the 30-lap feature. This put him in the B main where he was running fourth late in the race, easily good enough to put him in the show. But a lapped car in front of Preston, who could do nothing except hit the car and end his night.

    After the race, Sparky showed no more emotion than he did the night before as he, Matt and Preston loaded up the car and equipment for the trip to the car wash. Thad said little as he helped where he could. Despite the bad ending to the team's night, Thad's enthusiasm was still alive and well.

    da 'burg

    The high banked three eighths mile oval in southeast Indiana waited patiently for 40-plus sprinters to arrive. Several drivers were not fond of the Lawrenceburg Speedway, but Preston wasn't one of them. For whatever reason, he liked the track, facility, the whole town. Last night was history and Preston exuded an air of confidence as the team unloaded.

    Preston drew a high number for qualifying. He would be 27th out of 42 cars to qualify. It would be a minor setback as the track got slower as time trials proceeded. His time was 16th quick, which put him inside second row for the fourth heat. Preston took the lead halfway through the race and took off, winning easily and getting interviewed by an attractive young lady with a microphone.

    While Preston and Sparky discussed the pros and cons of changing the right rear tire, Thad listened in, hoping to learn something. Earlier, he had been imagining himself wrestling one of these beasts around this track, inches from that imposing wall. Thad was of the mind that said this was nothing like racing a stock car at any NASCAR track. As the discussion broke up, Preston gave Thad a wink, his way of saying, "I got this, buddy."

    He almost had it. After a terrific three-car battle, Preston finished second to a teenager who was projected to go NASCAR racing in the next year or two. Again, he was interviewed after the race. The fans roared when Preston quickly called his wife just as the interview began. Even Sparky laughed.

    On the 75-mile trip back to Scottsburg, Thad called Kate. They had been texting periodically the past three days, keeping each other informed. Kate's young admirer was back in class and there had been no more incidents, though Kate suspected that he still had his crush on her. Thad wondered aloud if Kate could let him know that the young man could impress her by doing his best to learn what was being taught. Kate laughed and said that she had mentioned it to him. Time would tell if that incentive was working.

    She asked Thad how the racing was going. Thad said the travel wasn't getting old yet, but he thought it might soon. But nights like tonight made it worth it. He told her about Preston's success and his calling Mrs. Janssen as he was being interviewed. Then he mentioned the schedule. No racing on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday. The fun began again on Wednesday at Terre Haute. Then it would be Thursday at a tiny town called Putnamville. Friday, Thad hoped to be at Bloomington. The series called Indiana Sprint Week ended next Saturday at Haubstadt.

    She asked him when he was coming back to North Carolina. He said two weeks tops. After Haubstadt, Thad figured that he'd be homesick enough to come home.

    There was another question Kate thought about asking. She was afraid to ask, so she didn't.



    Chapter 30: Indiana (Pre-)Sprint Week

    Monday morning found Thad sitting on the patio at his apartment, sipping a cup of coffee and reading a racing magazine devoted to open wheel racing, mostly sprint cars. One of the ads featured a perfect looking Camaro and Thad was reminded that his Camaro needed washing. That was the highlight of his Monday and he went back home.

    He decided to send a text message to Kate. “Hello, Kate. I’m being about as lazy as I can be. Washed the car and I’ve retreated to the inside of the apartment where it’s nice and cool. Hope your day is going well and the students are behaving. Thad

    Later that afternoon Kate replied. “Hi, Thad. So nice to hear from you. Summer school can be a challenge. Half of the kids don’t want to be there, but are there because of their grades. It’s a struggle getting them to see the error of their ways. But I enjoy it, especially when they get it. Take care. If it’s okay with you, I’ll call either tonight or tomorrow. Kate

    Thad had just finished his first cup of coffee on Tuesday morning when Darla Sparks called and invited him to supper that evening. He would finally meet Sparky’s regular driver Preston, his wife and her younger brother, who would be going to Gas City, Kokomo and Lawrenceburg. Thad took the opportunity to let Darla know that he had made motel reservations with rooms for her and Sparky, as well as Preston and his brother-in-law Matt. At his insistence, he had paid for the rooms, assuring Darla that he could afford it. They would be staying in Marion, IN for both nights and then would make the drive back to Scottsburg after the Lawrenceburg race.

    The rest of the afternoon was spent being lazy, something that Thad was getting good at doing. He had promised Dina that he would take better care of himself and to that end, Thad tried to make time for a walk most days. He found a park on the town’s south side and strolled around for the better part of an hour before going out to the Sparks home for a substantial supper prepared by Darla, who turned out to be an excellent cook.

    Thad met Preston and his family. Preston had only been married for a year. His wife Sheila talked about her mother a lot, it seemed. Thad finally figured out that Mrs. Janssen was trying to arrange a meeting between her mother and Thad, who was polite and non-committal.

    Plans were made for Friday. Everyone would meet at Sparky’s. Thad would follow everyone else. They would meet at one o’clock and hopefully would not have to make a stop between there and Gas City. Everyone said their good-byes and thank yous. Thad left first, stopping at the grocery store on his way to the apartment. Preston and family stayed awhile and Sparky told them Thad’s story. Preston’s younger brother Matt was wide-eyed and awestruck. The youngster was race-crazy, including NASCAR. His friends would never believe him if he said he had supper with Thad Larrabee.

    Wednesday and Thursday were more of the same, except Thad had to fix his own supper instead of going to Sparky’s house. The most exciting thing he did was pack for the short trip to northern Indiana.

    On Wednesday afternoon, he remembered that Kate had not called like she said she would. Thad shrugged and turned on his laptop, looking to see what he could see about Indiana Sprint Week. There was much to learn about the tracks, the racers, the promoters and everything else.

    A half hour later his phone buzzed. “Hello? Thad?”

    He laughed. “Who else would it be?”

    K: I guess you’re right. It’s a habit of mine. I’m sorry I didn’t call earlier.

    T: Oh, that’s okay. I was going to give you a little while longer.

    K: I appreciate that, Thad. I had a little trouble with one of my summer school students.

    T: What kind of trouble, may I ask?”

    K: Well, at first it became apparent that this kid—he’s 19—was a little sweet on me. But it took a scary turn.

    T: The first part was okay, but what happened?

    K: Yeah, I’m flattered when any man thinks I’m attractive, but in this case, it was almost out of hand. He started following me around. On campus, I wasn’t crazy about it but all he did was just watch me. I’d be walking to class, eating at the cafeteria, that kind of stuff.

    T: But he crossed a line.

    K: Yes. He followed me home one day.

    T: Oh, Kate. I hope you called the cops or somebody.

    K: I did. I called both campus security and the Brevard City Police. And the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office.

    T: What did they do?

    K: Not much, except they did pay a visit to the kid’s dorm and had a chat with him. He wasn’t in class today, so I don’t know what’s next. Oh, Thad, I’d not mind talking to the kid if I thought for sure he was harmless.

    T: Sounds like maybe he was caught before he did something rash or stupid.

    K: I hope so. With a third party present, I wouldn’t mind talking to him myself, but I’ll leave it to a school counselor.

    T: Just to be sure, you might want to keep your curtains closed.

    Kate laughed at that. “I already do, but I have started to lock the doors and windows. I mean, Brevard is a small university town. I’ve never thought of security. The biggest issue in Brevard is the traffic.”

    T: That was a big part of my former job.

    Kate laughed even harder. “I guess it would.” She became serious. “Thad, you need to tell me about racing sometime. What was it like, how famous you were—or are.”

    Thad mused, not sure what to say. He gave it a try. “During the best years, I enjoyed it all. That was when I was much younger. As time went on, it became a nuisance. By that I mean the lack of privacy. We had to go to great lengths to keep the public from invading our space. Five years ago we sold the giant house on Lake Norman and bought a much smaller place near Lake Lure. These neighbors don’t bug us. They treat us like, well, neighbors.

    K: I’m getting the impression that you don’t like all that attention.

    T: True, but the attention I got at the track, or even doing something for one of the sponsors, wasn’t so bad. It was when I just wanted to take my wife to dinner that I couldn’t handle. And neither could Dina. Especially the women who actually threw themselves at me—with Dina sitting right there.

    K: I’ve talked to other celebrities and have heard similar stories. What about this trip? And how was it at Bloomington?

    T: It wasn’t bad at all. I look a little different these days so maybe few people even knew who I was. Or they didn’t care. That was okay too. I’m happy to blend in.

    K: That’s great, Thad. It really is. Listen, I need to make a couple of calls and then, God help me, grade some papers. What’s your game plan for the next few days?

    T: I’m looking forward to it. Finish packing tomorrow and we head north to Gas City on Friday. Stay all night up there and then off to Kokomo on Saturday. We’ll come back down here Saturday night and go to Lawrenceburg on Sunday night. The pressure will be on the others. I’ll do what little I can and enjoy myself.

    K: It sounds exciting for you. I’m almost curious enough to want to see it myself.

    T: Well, never say never, Kate. Crazy things come along in our lives, with the vast majority of them unexpected.

    K: How true. Listen if I don’t talk to you tomorrow, please be safe and have fun. Okay?

    T: Will do. And after you grade those papers, treat yourself to something special. Okay?

    Kate laughed. “I’ll do that. Take care, Thad. I enjoy talking with you. Bye.”

    She hung up just as Thad began to say good-bye.



    Chapter 29: Hello, Kate

    Chuck didn't win but it wasn't for a lack of trying. Instead it was the proverbial racing luck that did him in. From his second row starting spot, Chuck was leading when a lapped car spun in front of him. Chuck barely nicked the car as he spun to avoid it. Restarting on the tail with only seven laps to go, Chuck came back to finish eighth.

    When Chuck idled back to the pits, he was still perturbed that he had been robbed of a win. Sparky cooled him off, telling his driver to calm down and that he had done a great job and they would be able to load the car on the trailer in one piece. Chuck was mollified somewhat when Sparky gave him an extra $50 for his payoff. The Illinois racer was a little sad to be leaving Sparky because Preston would be ready to race next week when Indiana Sprint Week began at Gas City. Chuck had another chance to get a win for Sparky the following night at Lawrenceburg.

    Thad helped load the car and everything else on the hauler. He walked to his car and checked his phone to see what time it was. And there was another text message from Kate.

    Kate: Hi Thad. Please tell me if I'm bothering you; it's okay. But would it be okay if I called? Or you called me?

    Thad considered. She was interested. No big deal, but she was, to him at least, interesting herself. Before he knew it, he had called her and waited for her to answer.

    Over 400 miles away, Kate looked at her beeping phone. She shook her head. What was she doing? She took a deep breath and reminded herself to keep things under control.

    K: Hello? Thad?

    T: Hello Kate. I just went ahead and called.

    K: That's fine. I just took a chance that you would even answer the text. I'm glad you called.

    T: (After a few seconds) Well, your timing was great. I am just leaving the race track and heading back to my temporary home in Scottsburg.

    K: Scottsburg. Is that near Bloomington?

    T: It's about 80 miles southeast of Bloomington.

    K: That's where the university is, correct?

    T: Indiana University. We didn't go by there. The track is on the south end of town. Right now I'm following Sparky and the car in the hauler out of Bloomington.

    K: I guess you–The connection went dead as Thad rounded a curve while he was going downhill, into a valley.

    Thad sneaked a glance at the phone and smiled. These things happened in the North Carolina mountains, but here? Indiana wasn't quite as flat as he thought. He drove on, keeping Sparky in sight as they negotiated the curves and hills of southern Indiana. Kate could try again to call. He kind of hoped she would and she did about ten minutes later.

    K: Hi Thad. What happened?

    T: I was going down a hill into a valley–or dead zone. Guess they have them up here too.

    K: Guess so. For a second I thought you had hung up on me.

    T: Huh? Why would I do that, Kate? I was enjoying our conversation.

    K: You were? Good.

    T: I was going to ask you to tell me about your job.

    K: Well, there wasn't much to tell.

    T: Yeah, but maybe I'd like to know about your teaching. What subject? What are the students like? Lots of things.

    K: During school just concluded I taught a creative writing class and I had a journalism class. There's two English classes and I'm involved with the school paper. This summer I have a couple of English classes.

    Kate sighed loud enough for Thad to hear. "I'm trying to keep alive the tradition of reading and writing as opposed to viewing. I hope that makes sense."

    T: It does. Dina and I had conversations about that before she passed away.

    K: Really? Tell me about it if you don't mind.

    T: Not at all. Not much to tell.

    Kate laughed. "Where have I heard that before?"

    T: Right. We talked about what I would do with all the time on my hands. She wanted to be sure that I'd find something constructive to do.

    K: Such as reading?

    T: That was one thing. We talked about me traveling.

    Thad paused. "But not to sprint car racing in Indiana." He laughed.

    K: Somehow I don't think she would mind.

    T: Probably not.

    A couple of minutes later, Thad missed the entrance to I-65 south.

    T: Dammit. Sorry Kate. I missed a turn. I'll have to turn around. No problem, except I'm sure Sparky will wonder where I went.

    K: I'm the one who should be sorry. I distracted you.

    T: Nah. It was driver error all the way.

    K: Well I probably need to hang up anyway. Believe it or not it's past my bedtime.

    T: Okay. I'll talk to you later, Kate. Thanks for making the time fly.

    Kate laughed and said, "Same to you." After a slight pause, it was "Goodnight Thad."

    "Goodnight Kate."

    Thad turned around and went back to the turn onto I--65 south. Scottsburg was another 40 miles but it should go quickly. Sparky had told Thad to go home and get some sleep. He and Darla would clean the car in the morning at a local car wash. Thad was welcome to join them for lunch, which he did, at a local mom-and-pop restaurant.

    They left for Lawrenceburg at three P.M. after Chuck stopped by to ride with Sparky. Thad followed them all the way to Lawrenceburg, where he watched Chuck come from seventh to finish a close second to the winner, muti-time track champ, "Bear" Noland.

    After the race, Thad followed Sparky and Chuck back to Scottsburg, where they washed the car before taking it to Spark's barn. Thad begged off joining them for a beer from Sparky's refrigerator in the barn and went to his apartment instead.

    He sent Kate a text message before he went to bed. She called him on Sunday evening from Brevard and they talked for nearly an hour.

    ● Thad was now counting the hours before Indiana Sprint Week would begin.



    Chapter 28: Kate Reaches Out

    Since their dinner date in April, Kate had been hoping that Thad would call, text, anything. Fortunately for her, she had been busy. In addition to her classroom duties, she had auditioned for a part in a play with a group of actors and singers in Asheville. At first she enjoyed it, but the rehearsals, along with the petty games by the cast and director, became a drag. Kate was determined to stick with it and was glad she had by the time of the show in June.

    Thad had faded in her mind somewhat, but one warm July evening, she impulsively texted him, not knowing where he was or what he was doing. She chided herself. Kate rarely did anything impulsively.

    Kate: Hi, Thad. Hope you are well. Just wanted to say hello and see what you were up to. Take care. Kate

    Thad read the text as Chuck and the others lined up for their heat race, which would be ten laps. He shook his head. The text could wait until after this race. If he remembered.

    The green flag waved and Thad loved every minute—even though the race lasted just a bit over two minutes. Chuck had called his shot and won. But what impressed Thad was the way Chuck had won. From fourth he had settled in third place at the start, content to watch the two cars in front. Midway through the race, the second place car entered turn one just high enough for Chuck to sneak under him. Second place was his. Chuck stalked the leader until the white flag waved. The leader, a local boy who was quite popular with the crowd, hugged the bottom groove, the “huggypole.” As the leader motored around the bottom, Chuck figured he may as well try the top. Sure enough, he swept around the leader and outdragged him down the backstretch. From there, the race was his.

    Outwardly, Thad never changed his expression. But inward, he felt something he hadn’t felt in a long time. He wondered if he was done racing. He wondered, for the first time, if he could drive one of those beasts himself.

    As he and Sparky walked back to the car, Thad remembered the text. What would he tell Kate? He shrugged inwardly. That could wait. Thad wanted to watch Sparky and Chuck now to see what they would do for the feature. As it turned out, there was nothing major that needed fixing. When Thad reached the car, it was sitting still—like a bucking bronco waiting for its next outburst. Sparky was talking with a couple of guys and Chuck was carefully adding tearoffs to his helmet. He looked up as Thad approached.

    “How’d you like that, old timer?”

    Thad didn’t know whether to laugh or be offended. He chose neither. “Like it? I thought it was great. Crazy maybe, but great.”

    Chuck laughed appreciatively. “You got the crazy part right.”

    Thad didn’t say anything at first, letting Chuck finish his task. When he did, Thad asked, “Are you guys going to do anything to the car for the feature?”

    “Not tonight. We might mess with the air pressure. Usually, not always, I leave that stuff to Sparky.” Chuck looked at him kind of funny. Sparky hadn’t introduced him to Thad and the former NASCAR driver hadn’t offered to do so.

    “Let me ask you a question, okay?”

    “Sure.” Thad guessed what the question would be.

    “You look familiar. Like I’ve seen you, or a guy who looks like you on TV. Racing.”

    Thad grinned. “I do?”

    “Yeah. Can I ask it? Who are you?”

    “I may as well tell you, seeing that you’ll find out anyhow.” Thad stuck out his hand. “I’m Thad Larrabee, retired NASCAR driver.”

    Chuck managed not to make a scene. Instead, he shook Thad’s hand. “I’m not sure what to say. I mean—”

    “Yeah, not too often do you get a NASCAR guy asking about what you’re gonna do to the car before the feature.”

    Chuck finally calmed down and chuckled. “Never for me. I’ve seen Tony Stewart here a time or two, but other than him, nah.”

    There was an awkward silence. “Thad, is it okay if I ask what you’re doing here? I know you’re retired and all, but…” He looked around the pits. “Why here? Do you and Spark go back a ways?”

    “As a matter of fact we do. My car owner and I went down to Florida back in February and I hooked up with Sparky. We do go back a ways, a matter of fact.” Thad didn’t mention Dina. He might—if someone asked.

    “I’ll just say, welcome to Indiana. How long you gonna stay here?”

    “As of now, I’m staying up here until Sprint Week’s over.” Thad considered. “Hey, is it okay to ask if you’ll be in Sparky’s car for Sprint Week?”

    “I doubt it. I think Preston should be ready by then. These kids heal fast.” Chuck shook his head. “He’s as crazy as the rest of us. I’d be surprised if he isn’t. Either way, I got a ride lined up.”

    “Either way, good luck.” Thad looked toward the pit bleachers. “I think I’ll go back and watch the other guys. You never know. There may be another Chuck Sholes out there.”

    Chuck laughed. “I doubt it, but you never know.” He pointed to another car. “See that guy over there? He drove those modifieds for a year or two, took over his brother’s car and a few years later he was unbeatable here. He’s still plenty tough.”

    Thad nodded. “That’s really a good story, Chuck.” He looked at the bleachers again. “If I don’t talk to you before the feature, good luck. I’d appreciate it if you could win.”

    This time it was more like a guffaw. “I’ll do my best, Thad.”

    “There you go.” Thad walked away.

    He got his phone out and considered answering the text from Kate. He began tapping.

    Thad: Hi, Kate. I’m at the Bloomington, Indiana Speedway with a friend. He moved up here when we were in high school. Having a great time. Talk to you soon. Thad.

    He put his phone away and tried not to think of Kate while the modifieds took the green flag.



    Chapter 27: The Red Clay Oval

    The car and the accessories were all loaded on Sparky’s heavy duty Chevy Silverado, which was strong enough to pull the hauler. Thad climbed in on the passenger side and off they went, heading north on I-65.

    No one spoke until they passed the Austin exit.

    “Hey, Spark, what do you do if Chuck doesn’t show up?”

    Sparky grinned and said, “Why, are you wanting a ride?”

    “Oh, no. Besides I didn’t bring a helmet or uniform.”

    “I’d hope that Chuck will let me know. I texted him just before we left. He was already at Terre Haute, so we should get to the track about the same time.”

    About a minute later, Sparky said, “If for some reason Chuck couldn’t make it, there’s usually a spare driver around. If it’s somebody I can trust, I’ll put him in for the night. Otherwise, I’d just be a spectator.”

    “Pretty informal, huh?” It was more a statement than a question.

    “Yes, and that’s fine by me. It gets more formal and expensive very year. If it gets too crazy, I reckon I’ll put everything up for sale. Always seems to be a buyer.”

    Both of them lapsed into silence as the miles rolled by. Thad was struck by the flatness of the land compared to his home. The countryside was a mixture of houses, barns, crop fields and trees. They exited the interstate at Columbus and headed west on Indiana Road 46. It was more of the same until they reached Nashville. Here were the southern Indiana hills that attracted tourists every October. The road was crooked, reminding Thad of U.S. 64 from Lake Lure to Hendersonville down home.

    Sparky turned the truck and hauler into the speedway parking lot and slowly idled down the path to the pit shack. He chuckled as he noticed Thad rubbernecking. The retired racer was gawking at the high banked turns.

    As they patiently waited for the line of haulers to move toward the shack, Thad asked, “How high is that banking?”

    “Oh, I don’t know, man. Thirty degrees? It’s pretty steep.” Sparky shot Thad an impish grin. “I’ve seen some cars launch off those banks a few times. Not pretty.”

    “I guess it wouldn’t be.” Thad looked around the parking lot and the property in general. “Call me crazy, Sparky, but this is beautiful. I like it.”

    “Glad you do. You’re going to have a good time.”

    Twenty minutes later, Thad had been introduced to Sparky’s temporary driver, Chuck Sholes, before helping unload the car. Mostly he stood by as Sparky and Chuck double checked the list of preparation steps before the car would go through the engine check. The driver’s meeting was as informal as the NASCAR version was formal, especially in Thad’s later years.

    Up next were hot laps. Thad joined Sparky and an assortment of other characters in the pit bleachers. Most were associated with the sprint car teams, but there were a good number of fans who enjoyed walking through the pits and chatting up drivers, owners and mechanics. None of that mattered to Thad.

    He was transfixed. The ritual began with the first group of sprints pushed off from the staging area in turn two. The group of eight cars slowly circled the oval. The red clay surface reminded Thad of every Carolina dirt bullring that he had visited and/or raced in his much younger years. He said as much to Sparky before the green flag waved.

    “You homesick?”

    Thad laughed. “No way. This is great.”

    Sparky thought to himself. “He’s getting the itch, if I’m not mistaken.”

    The flagman waved the green flag and the cars fairly flew around the oval. After the four-lap session, Thad looked at Sparky and gave him the biggest smile, which said, “I love this.” After hot laps, Sparky went back to his pit and asked Chuck how the car was doing. Thad stayed in his seat and watched the support classes, all race cars with fenders and sheet metal, cars he was more used to seeing. The support class cars looked as if they were idling around the oval after watching the sprints. A few minutes of this and Thad went back to the pits and watched Sparky and Chuck make minor adjustments to the car.

    Chuck was the fast qualifier in his group and would start fourth in his heat. He had to finish fifth or better to make the feature. Thad wrote down the car numbers of Chuck’s heat and took the lineup to Chuck without a word. Chuck thanked him and looked at the lineup. All he said was, “I ought to win this one.”

    Thad went back to the bleachers to watch the sprint heat races. While he was waiting on Chuck’s heat to come out, Thad looked at his phone, intending to check the weather. What he saw instead was a text message.



    Chapter 26: Thad the (Temporary) Hoosier

    July approached. Thad left the mountain on July 1. He had settled into a routine of walking around the mountain, hanging out at his favorite bar and grill, Mojo’s, heading east to visit with Arley every three weeks or so and going to Asheville to watch the minor league baseball team. There were the occasional dates with Kate. Thad enjoyed and appreciated her company, but sometimes it was a struggle to get up in the morning; those were the days he missed Dina the most. But he would make himself get up and make it through another day.

    Thad loaded up the Camaro with enough supplies to last him for a month. Sparky wanted him to stay at his place but Thad was adamant about renting an apartment. He figured that having an apartment would allow him come and go as he pleased.

    He left his house, a modest structure considering that the owner was a multi-millionaire. It was at the end of a narrow country road near Lake Lure, surrounded by lots of trees. He drove slowly through the twin villages of Lake Lure and Chimney Rock. From there most of the road to Asheville was one switchback after another. Traffic was seldom a problem, unless one caught a car with both driver and passengers rubber-necking at the always beautiful views. Thad entered I-40 on Asheville’s east side. He blended with the traffic and headed west to Tennessee.

    His first stop was at the Tennessee Welcome Center. After a short comfort stop, off he went with Knoxville the next big city. Road construction and heavy traffic just north of Knoxville slowed Thad’s pace. He decided that he would stop overnight somewhere in Kentucky. He found a motel in Corbin and stopped for the night. It was almost noon on Thursday before he found himself on I-75 going north to Lexington. From there, it was I-64 and more road construction.

    With a clear road, Thad headed west to Louisville. He crossed the Ohio and he was in Indiana. Other than Indianapolis, he had not been to very many places in the Hoosier State. That was about to change.

    Setting a very leisurely pace, Thad arrived at Sparky’s house on Thursday afternoon—after stopping at the furnished apartment he had rented for the month. He unloaded his car and called Sparky. It went straight to voicemail.

    “Hey, Sparky. This is Thad. I made it just fine. I’m at the apartment for the next few days. Looking forward to this. Catch you later.”

    Fifteen minutes later, Sparky called back. He gave Thad directions to the farmhouse. Then he relayed Darla’s order to come out for supper.

    Thad had to drive through downtown Scottsburg to get to Sparky’s farm. It was a small town but bigger than Chimney Rock and Lake Lure combined. Five minutes after he crossed the U.S. 31/Indiana 56 intersection, he was out in the country, surrounded by tall corn with the occasional house and barn between the fields. Sparky had said if he saw Goshen Road, he had gone too far.

    Sure enough, he found the house with Sparky outside. He had pushed his sprint car outside the barn/garage and was polishing the tail tank. Thad learned later that his buddy insisted that his car show up at the track clean as a whistle.

    Thad exited his car and was greeted by Sparky and a friendly black Lab dog, who insisted that Thad rub his ears. “Great to see you, Thad.” Sparky enthusiastically shook Thad’s hand, then pointed to the car. “Well, there it is, bud. What do you think?”

    He wasn’t sure what to say. This was a close-up view of what he had seen in Florida only five months ago. One the one hand, the car was beautiful. The body was painted a light shade of blue, almost the same as the famous Petty family cars in the NASCAR series he had just left. The number was coal-black on the tail tank—number 82. Assorted sponsors dotted the hood and the side panels.

    On the other hand, it was the fiercest race car of any kind he had seen. The horsepower to weight ratio was insane. Compared to the stock cars Thad had driven, there was very little protection from whatever the car came into contact with. It exuded an aura of what could only be described as intimidation. Thad wasn’t quite repelled by the car; instead, his curiosity was in high gear. He couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to race one of these cars.

    Sparky stood by as Thad circled the car, examining different parts, silently whistling to himself. He stopped and stood next to Sparky, but still looking at the car.


    “Sparky, if that car was an animal, it would be a leopard with the sharpest teeth God could give him.”

    Sparky chuckled. “That’s as good as any description of a sprint car I’ve heard.”

    Thad finally looked at his friend. “So, what’s the plan this weekend?”

    “Heading up to Bloomington tomorrow. Leaving here around three. After the race, we’ll take the car to a car wash, then come home. Saturday, I’ll look the car over, fix what needs to be fixed, then we’ll probably go over to Lawrenceburg. We’ll leave a little later since the ‘burg is a little closer. Same deal—wash the car before we come home and so on.”

    Thad grinned. “Sounds like fun. I’d better get some rest tonight.”

    “Okay, but Mrs. Sparks insists that you join us for supper. She thinks you look like you could put on a little weight.”

    Thad and Sparky went to the house, where Darla was taking a ham out of the oven. The smell was, to Thad, heavenly. Darla greeted both of them, giving Gideon (she always called him by his given name) a quick kiss and Thad a quick hug. He felt thoroughly at home with these people. He had heard of Hoosier hospitality; perhaps this was it.



    Chapter 25: Dinner and Kate

    Thad drove into the parking lot of the restaurant with his passenger already grading the date. In Kate’s mind, it was an A so far. Thad had not said much when he picked her up at her small house. He drove smoothly, anticipating the stoplights and the antics of the traffic. She felt safe in more ways than one. Ideally, Thad would be good company for the evening. All Kate wanted was something to eat and someone to talk to.

    She would not be disappointed. They picked up their phone conversation from a few days ago until the food arrived. After they ate, they had another drink before leaving. While they sipped their food, Kate took a chance.

    “Thad, I know this might sound a little personal, but you haven’t talked about how you’ve coped since Dina passed.” She smiled. “You seem to be doing so well and I wonder how you did it.”

    Thad grinned and said, “My guess is that I handled my loss about as good as you handled yours.”

    Kate chuckled. “I see the similarities. But the partings were under far different circumstances.” She paused. “I did a lot of my enduring the situation before the divorce.”

    “I guess that I did the same, Kate. Most of the suffering that I had was done before she died.”

    She looked at him with a little more respect. “That reminds me of the Bible story about King David’s baby that passed away. While the child was sick, David did his mourning, tearing his clothes, covering himself with ashes and such. But when the baby died, he cleaned himself up and said something like ‘my baby can’t come back to me. I can only go to him.’” Kate paused and smiled at Thad. “I think we both can relate to that.”

    “You are correct, dear lady.” Thad was enjoying himself more than he thought he would. He told Kate the same.

    “You thought that I might be boring?”

    “Not at all, Kate. I wasn’t sure that we’d have much in common and we’d not talk so much.” He smiled at her. “I was very wrong, at least that’s how it seems to me.”

    Later, as they went back to Kate’s house, she asked him what his plans were for the coming weeks. He told her about his plan to go to Indiana. Then he talked about Sparky and their friendship. He talked about sprint car racing and how different it was from what he did.

    “One isn’t any better than the other. They’re just different in so many ways.”

    “Sounds like it. That’s another world I never knew existed, I guess.”

    “Partly, that’s because sprint car racing is a tiny part of racing in general. And racing is not as well-known to lots of people.” He paused and determined that this would be the last he’d talk of racing tonight. “It’s okay if it doesn’t interest you, Kate.”

     He smiled in the growing darkness of the evening. He had put the top up on the convertible, as the evening was a bit cooler. It was a Wednesday and chances were that Kate had classes tomorrow.

    “Kate, if we do this again, you can tell me about the academic world.”

    She laughed. “Not much to tell, I’m afraid.”

    “Well, I’ll try to ask good questions.”

    “You do that.” She looked at him. “Thad, I enjoyed myself. So, yes, it would be nice if we do this again.”

    “Works for me.” He looked at her. “Would you like me to accompany you to the front door?”

    “No, thanks. I think we’ve given the neighbors enough to talk about already.” She sighed. “I don’t go out that much. Especially with a guy driving a Corvette.”

    Thad smiled. “In that case, I’d better let you go. I assume you have classes to teach tomorrow.”

    “I’m afraid so.”

    “Good night, Kate.” He leaned over and gave her a quick hug.

    She was surprised but not so much that she didn’t hug him, too. “Good night, Thad.”

    Thad went home, arriving at half past ten. The lights around the mountains were a friendly presence; without them darkness would rule. Thad didn’t pay it much mind. Light or no lights, it was home. He would be leaving it soon, but only for a little while.



    Chapter 24: Kate Calling

    Two hours after talking to his buddy Sparky, Thad was taking a pizza out of the oven. He was looking forward to supper, then watching an old movie. But then the phone buzzed.

    Thad didn’t recognize the number but answered the phone anyway.

    Lately, Kate Danner had been at loose ends. While she could say she was happily divorced, she thought that it would be nice to have someone to at least have dinner with her once in a while. The available men in her circle were available for a reason, she decided. Boring, egotistical, clueless, or all of the above. She preferred solitude to company like that. They all had something about them that reminded her of her ex-husband.

    The college, well, the sociology department, was considering a course in 21st Century social behavior at sporting contests, including racing. Kate had been sought out for her thoughts. She was non-committal but agreed to at least give it some thought. Then Thad came to mind. There was a slim chance that he might have something to add regarding race fans’ behavior.

    Kate had her doubts. Would Thad be ready to talk about his interaction with fans? Or anything racing related? How would he feel about talking to total strangers, most of whom no doubt had much knowledge of racing and fame? She shrugged. All she could do was call him. Seeing Thad at Christmas had startled her. Kate had always been fond of her cousin Dina, and had not paid much attention to Thad’s accomplishments. A conversation with Louise Sebastian that evening had educated Kate. She now had an idea of how successful Thad’s racing career had been.

    After her all-too-brief conversation with Thad at the Sebastians’, Kate was able to determine that Thad was nothing like the stereotyped version of athletes in general and race drivers in particular she and most non-racing fans might have thought. He was quiet, soft spoken and not comfortable in large groups. She had to wonder if he would be good company, someone to take to dinner or travel with.

    She shook her head and picked up her phone. Kate knew that she’d have to call Louise first and get Thad’s number. She decided to be up front and mention the seminar. Louise could not have been more gracious. She gave Kate the number and told her that Thad was a fine young man—with a giggle—who would be a good date. Kate thanked Louise multiple times and couldn’t wait to end the conversation. But she did so, knowing that Louise would want to know all the details later.

    Silently berating herself as she dialed Thad’s number, Kate hoped she didn’t sound like a schoolgirl, stumbling over her words as she desperately tried to explain the reason for her call. Since her divorce she had been on three dates in the last ten months of the newly single life. None of them were worth thinking about. Men in their fifties, she discovered, weren’t all that different from teenage boys.

    “I may as well get on with it,” she said to herself as she dialed the number Louise had given her. She dialed and waited for Thad to answer. Instead she got a recording, saying “Hi, I can’t come to the phone right now, but if you leave your name and number, I’ll call you back sooner or later.”

    Kate waited for the beep and said, “Hi, Thad. This is Kate, uh, Dina’s cousin Kate. Could you call me back when you can? Thanks.”

    She felt rather sheepish. She didn’t think to leave her number, but surely he would see the number on his screen. Wouldn’t he? Kate shook her head and went to her office in the back of the house to grade papers.

    Her phone buzzed about a half hour later. She recognized the number.


    “Hello, Kate?”

    “Yes, is that you, Thad?” She mentally smacked herself. Of course it was.

    “Yes, it is. How are you doing?”

    “I’m fine. Hope you’re doing well.”

    After a short pause, Thad said, “I’ll say I’m doing better.”

    “That’s good to hear. Hey, Thad, I tried to call you about a new class at the college. It’s focused on spectators’ behavior at any or all sporting events.” (Slight pause.)  “Including racing. I was thinking that if it might be something you would be interested in.” She took a quick breath. “Now, it’s okay if you aren’t interested, Thad. I understand. I can’t imagine what you’ve been through or what you’re still going through. But I had to ask. You’re the only really famous person I know.”

    Thad chuckled, but almost shouted No to her, but decided against that. Instead, he was much more diplomatic. “I don’t know, Kate. I’m not too sure how I’d do in a setting like that.” He thought briefly. Impulsively, he felt a bit sorry for her and said, “Instead of that, how would you like to go to dinner some evening?”

    Kate was blindsided by that question. But before she could consider the offer, she said, “That would be great, Thad.” She paused. “Do you have any place in mind?”

    “As a matter of fact, I do. There’s a steakhouse in Hendersonville and I’ve always enjoyed going there.” Thad almost added “with Dina,” but thought better of it.

    Dina guessed as much, but didn’t mention it. Instead she said, “That would be fine with me. It’s about halfway between us. So…where is it?” She silently guessed that Thad had Binion’s Roadhouse in mind.

    “Binion’s. I can pick you up whenever you say.”

    “Oh, Thad. That’s a long drive for you.”

    “I don’t mind. I don’t race any more but I still enjoy driving.” He laughed. “I’ll even drive the Corvette. If it’s nice weather, maybe I could let the top down at least in town.”

    “That would be great, Thad.” Kate chuckled to herself. Her ex had been so uptight about things like driving around with the top down, afraid of catching a cold or whatever. 

    From there, Thad and Kate conversed for the better part of an hour, talking mostly about their extended family. Had she not noticed that she was to be at a meeting, they might have talked more.



    Chapter 23: Calling Sparky

    Thad got around to calling Sparky in the middle of April. He had decided that he would be going up to Indiana and see these funny looking sprint cars race in their own habitat. But first he wanted to know how Sparky’s season was going.

    “It could have been a better opening night, Thad. That was two weeks ago this coming Saturday. Preston got caught up in another guy’s mistake and flipped down the backstretch. Trashed the car and Preston will be out for a few weeks.”

    “Man, I hate to hear that, Spark. Did Preston break any bones?”

    “Yeah, his right arm. The poor kid’s right-handed too. Lucky for him, he has a good boss who’s going to try and keep him busy. If he can’t weld, maybe he can answer the phone. Ha. Plus, he does have good insurance for a deal like this. Preston’ll be fine.”

    Thad asked, “What about the car? What do you do when something like this happens?”

    “I have insurance on the car so that helps some. There were a few things I could salvage, but the frame was bent all to hell. I can’t complain too much. I have a backup car. Now it’ll be the main car.”

    “You got a driver yet?”

    Sparky laughed. “Why, you wanting a ride?”

    It was Thad’s turn to laugh. “Well…not yet. I was just curious.”

    Sparky detected something about his old friend. He wasn’t positive, but it seemed like Thad still had the itch to race. He said, “Yeah, there’s a kid over in Illinois who raced for me last week. Not bad. On Friday, he ran fifth at Bloomington. It was the first time he’d even seen the track, let alone race on it. We went to Lawrenceburg on Saturday for a USAC race. Again, he was a rookie there, too. Started in the back and came on at the end to finish 12th and he took the hard charger award too.”

    “Sounds like you may have two drivers somewhere down the road, Spark.”

    Sparky laughed. “Yeah, that happens. My new guy, Chuck, agreed that this was just until Preston gets better. We’ll see.”

    Thad cleared his throat. “Well, the reason I called was because I was wondering about coming up there for a visit.”

    “Really? That would be great, Thad. Just say when.”

    “What do you recommend?” Thad had no clue. Sparky was about to educate the boy.

    “How about July, bud? Catch a few regular nights, but the big deal is Indiana Sprint Week. Seven races, seven different tracks in nine or ten nights. All the USAC guys, the locals and maybe a few guys from out West. They will all be there.”

    Thad was genuinely excited. “Spark, that sounds like a deal. I’ll let you know ahead of time when I leave from here. And listen. I’m not necessarily wanting to tag along. I’ll help any way I can. Drive the truck. Change tires. Anything I can do.”

    “I’m looking forward to it, buddy boy.”

    The two friends talked a while longer before hanging up. Afterward, Thad sat on his front porch that gave him a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains. In a couple of months he would be in Indiana, much of which was as flat as this place was mountainous. Thad had been to Indiana before. His parents were native Hoosiers, in fact. And he had won the Brickyard 400—twice. He had been so tempted to try and get a ride in the Indianapolis 500, but it never worked out. But now he was going to Indiana to see some sprint car racing and check it out.

    Thad had the bug. Now the question was what he was going to do about it.

    But things could get complicated as he would find out a day or two later when he got another phone call.



    Chapter 22: Lazy Days

    For the next six weeks, Thad was content to do very little. Most days he spent watching TV, reading the news, with special attention to the trials and tribulations of NASCAR. On occasion he went down the mountain to one of the local pubs. He would drink a couple of beers and sometimes had lunch or dinner there.

    In the middle of March, Thad made acquaintance with a couple of gentlemen who seemed to be friendly to him—and not race fans looking to say they knew the famous race car driver. One of them was a race fan, mostly NASCAR, but he had come to look at Thad as just another racing buddy. The other wasn’t much of a fan, but he was good company. Having lost his wife a couple of years ago, Thad found himself listening to a man describe what his life had been like the last few years.

    Both guys were golfers and tried to get Thad to take up the game. Thad considered it but decided against it—at least for the time being. He honestly thought that learning the game would occupy more time than he was willing to commit. His new friends, Darrell and Rollie, understood. They enjoyed Thad’s company and were glad to know a celebrity of sorts. Darrell in particular, never grew tired of Thad’s stories.

    Thad tried not to get overly personal when telling stories. He shared some that had been in the news, feuds between drivers and such, but sometimes he would tell some of the behind-the-scene-like stories. The story about one of his competitors who had wet his uniform during a race that he won always got a laugh out of Darrell, no matter how many times Thad told the story.

    April came and Thad thought about traveling. After some “internet research” he decided that he would like to take a tour of Civil War battle sites, starting with Antietam. From there he would go to Appomattox and then head home, leaving for himself the option of stopping at any place that piqued his interest. But he vacillated too long and before he knew it, schools were turning the children loose for the summer. That meant lots of tourists, so Thad decided to put off any battlefield visits. Besides, he would have looked somewhat out of place, gazing out over a field that was the scene of a long ago battle for a worthy cause and no one to share it with.

    This made him think of Dina and that made him sad. For the first time, he thought about seeing other women. The pickings were slim in his community. Of all the females he had seen or met, there weren’t any that interested him. Most were friendly enough, but there were a few who were just a little too eager to get to know Thad better. His married female acquaintances made occasional references to a single lady they knew. Thad was quick to shoot those hints down.

    He reminded Janie, who was married to Thad’s best mountain friend Lew, that he would make it known if or when he was looking. “Hell, Jane. I don’t even have a list, let alone a little black book,” he told her one day as he, Lew and Janie sat at the bar of their favorite pubs in town.

    Lew chuckled and said, “There you go, honey. His birthday is about the same time as yours. Get him a little black book. By the time his birthday rolls around, he should have plenty of names and numbers to fill up that book.”

    Thad laughed too. It occurred to him that he was laughing and enjoying himself. Better yet, he wasn’t feeling guilty about it. He had come to accept things as they were. Dina had told him as much. She had encouraged him to build a new life and move on. Life was too short to spend the rest of his days moping around, as she put it.

    The pitcher of beer was empty and Thad signaled Roxie, the server, for another pitcher. She brought to the booth and Thad grabbed Lew’s arm. “My treat, boss. Remember, you bought last time.”

    “I did? When?”

    Thad gave him a mock-baleful look. “Would you believe that Mexican restaurant in Asheville? Two weeks ago?”

    “Oh, yeah.”

    Janie shook her head. “Does this mean that I’m driving home, Lewis?”

    Lew shrugged. Thad said, “It does.”

    “What about you, Thaddeus?” Thad and Lew both divined that Janie wasn’t happy about the pitcher of beer that sat before them.

    He smiled at Janie. “I’ll be fine, Janie.”

    She grumbled to herself but said nothing more.

    Thad took a sip of his beer and saw something on the TV by the bar that caught his eye. There was one of those off-road truck races on, the kind where trucks race on a road course, jumping over strategically placed mounds of dirt. He wasn’t much interested in this kind of racing but it reminded him of something. And someone.




    Chapter 21: RIP, Link

    The Daytona 500 was the last race on Thad and Arley’s road trip. They secured hard cards that gave them access to the pits on race day. Both enjoyed seeing their former competitors. Thad received a lot of attention, not only sympathy for his loss of Dina, but for his retirement—and his longer hair with the beard.

    Before driver introductions, always a snazzy and somewhat hokey interlude, Thad was approached from behind by an unseen “assailant” who turned out to be his old friend and rival Link Meminger.

    “I almost didn’t recognize you, boy.” Link playfully tousled Thad’s hair. “How you doin’, buddy?”

    Thad smiled, “Doin’ better, Link. Arley and I have been on a fun road trip this month.”

    “I heard about that.” Link became serious for a moment. “I’ll admit it. I was a little jealous of you two.”

    “How so?”

    “There’s a part of me that would have loved to join you guys. You must have enjoyed it.”

    “For sure, Link. I’ll bet there’s a few guys here who wish you would join Arley and me.”

    Link laughed. “You know it. But I still enjoy it You get in that car and all the outside stuff takes a back seat.”

    “I’ll tell you what. You have a standing invitation to join us after you give this up. Between that and your going fishing all the time, plus your other businesses, you can see some of the bullrings. Not just here in Florida, but all over the place.”

    “How about Australia? I’ve been there once and loved it.”

    Thad said, “I’d be up for going down there. Never been there.”

    The two racers walked over to Link’s car. Thad looked inside and paled.

    He turned to Link. “Link, what did you do to those belts, man? They look as loose as a goose.”

    Link laughed. “They give me a little flexibility.” He squinted at his friend. “Thad, you’re the first person to point that out.”

    Thad thought for a second. “Well, I don’t know about anyone else, but that’s the first time I’ve seen them.” He shook his head and said, “You’re taking quite a chance there, buddy boy.”

    Link shrugged. “So far, so good.”

    “Promise me you’ll get those things fixed, man. I’ve got plenty of short tracks to see and I’d like you to see them with me.”

    “I’ll promise, Thad. It’ll be alright.”

    They stood there in an awkward silence until Link spoke. “Hey, have you seen ol’ Bruiser?”

    Thad laughed and said, “No! Is he here?”

    “He’ll be out here in a bit.” Link grinned. “Try not to hurt ‘em”

    They both laughed.

    “Bruiser” Crandall never went by his given name, Arthur. He was a big guy, usually a jolly sort, but he wasn’t shy about expressing his opinion and getting physical about it if he had to.

    Thad Larrabee was a 37-year-old rookie who had won two races before the end of May. It would have been three, but Link Menninger, at that time a two-time champ himself, spun Thad out with the checkered flag in sight. As some would say, it was just “Link being Link.” Thad didn’t see it that way. He and Dina could have used the money.

    After the race, Thad had not cooled off. He went to Link’s garage and confronted the race winner, who was ready to talk about it. Thad was ready for more and pushed Link into a stack of tires, sending Goodyear rubber all over the garage and Link to the floor. Bruiser advanced toward Thad, who promptly unloaded a left/right/left combination of punches that sent the big man reeling. If that wasn’t enough, Thad was restrained from grabbing Bruiser’s throat by some other team members who had gathered to watch the festivities. 

    NASCAR nearly suspended Thad for his post-race antics, but his car owner at the time was a lawyer who persuaded the sanctioning body to put Thad on probation instead.

    Thad bided his time. Three months later, Link was leading the race at Martinsville with five laps to go. Thad was gaining rapidly. He caught Link as they took the white flag. The crowd’s roar could be heard over the engines when Thad “tapped” Link’s car as he entered turn one. Link ended up in the wall and Thad won.

    The fans and NASCAR (secretly) hoped that a classic feud would develop, but Link sought out Thad after the race and they agreed to a truce. As it happened, they grew close over the years. Link was with Thad quite often in the months before Dina’s passing. And Bruiser? Five years after their fight, Bruiser was diagnosed with cancer. Thad made multiple visits to Bruiser at home and the hospital. When Bruiser passed away, Thad was a pallbearer.

    Link ran near the front of the pack for most of the race. He was fighting for the lead with twelve laps to go when his car broke loose, spun and was hit on the driver’s side. Link Menninger, aged 48, was killed instantly.

    Thad and Arley had been in one of the suites overlooking the track. Thad found a private place and cried bitterly, as hard as he had shed tears for Dina just a few months earlier. Mostly, they were tears of loss, much like his feeling when Dina died. But some of the tears were shed in anger at his dead friend, who had skimped on safety and paid the ultimate price.

    They decided not to go to Link’s funeral. It was just as well. Later, Arley was told that the auditorium that the family rented was jam packed. Thad, Arley and Louise met one chilly February afternoon at the Sebastian residence to talk about Link and drink a few beers. Louise hadn’t heard some of the stories Thad and her husband told. Before Thad left to go back to the mountain, Louise was howling with laughter. Arley and Thad agreed that Link would have appreciated the way in which they chose to mourn his passing.

    On the way west on U.S. 74, Thad started thinking about sprint cars. He resolved to give Sparky a call.



    Chapter 20: USAC, Baby

    Florida’s Speed Weeks had been around for at least 40 years, maybe longer. The first Daytona 500, on the 2.5 mile oval, began in 1959 when Lee Petty won in a photo finish. Over time, the surrounding bullrings got into the act. Now, there was something for every type of race fan, stock cars, open wheel, big block modifieds, all on dirt and pavement.

    Arley and Thad had planned on going to as many races as they could without getting burned out before the big race—the one that Thad had won three times in his career. Going to the Daytona 500 was Arley’s idea. Thad didn’t want to go, but relented when Arley reminded him that he still had friends racing there. Arley promised that he would try to keep the media away. With Thad doing his best to disappear since last year’s final race, the media resorted to speculation. It wasn’t pretty, but it subsided when Arley had, after several drinks with certain media people, reminded them about the skeletons in their closets.

    But the 500 was still a couple of weeks away. In the meantime, there were plenty of bullrings to visit. Madisonville was near the center of Florida, one of the few places that had avoided the rampant urban development that covered much of the Sunshine State. About the only thing the town had going for it was the race, which was about five miles from the town’s lone stoplight.

    Howell’s Speedway was a gracefully aging facility that was known for the track itself. The three-eighths mile oval was the crown jewel of the property. Parking, concessions and restrooms weren’t the greatest, but hard core race fans didn’t care. Invariably, the track brought forth excellent racing, with two and even three-wide racing not uncommon. USAC had been coming here in February for over twenty years. A few days after USAC’s non-wing sprints had left, the World of Outlaws winged sprints would occupy the track for a rare two night/midweek program. The following week would feature the DIRT Modifieds from the Northeast and the All-Star sprints, based largely in Ohio. On the Friday and Saturday before the big race in Daytona, the World of Outlaws late models would show their stuff.

    After learning this from Arley, Thad commented that a body could just go to Howell’s and nowhere else for Speed Weeks. Arley agreed, but reminded Thad that they had other tracks to see as well. Thad concurred and had to admit that he was anxious to see some open wheel racing for a change. Western North Carolina was great, but didn’t have anything like sprints at its few tracks.

    The duo parked the rental car and got in line to buy pit passes, $40 each. They went inside and immediately began to gawk at the cars parked behind their haulers. Thad winced at the discovery of how little the drivers were protected from anything from a dirt clod to an errant tire entering the cockpit. But he looked at the motors and tires with respect and admiration.

    Thad and Arley found Sparky and company a few minutes before the drivers’ meeting. Sparky told them that anyone could go to the meeting, so off they went, Thad, Arley, Sparky and his driver, young Preston Janssen. 

    Florida in February can be cold, all non-Floridians even agree. With late afternoon temperatures in the 50s, most of the people assembled for the drivers’ meeting wore jackets. A few die-hards wore shorts. Thad wore an old jacket given him by a sponsor several years ago. His hair had not been cut since Dina’s funeral. He hadn’t shaved either. He looked like an average fan/team member/or even a car owner. Thad was fine with that. Arley, Sparky and Darla were the only people he knew on the property.

    Thad and Arley spent some time in the pits until the sprint cars took to the track for wheel packing. Then they joined Darla in the bleachers as most of the 37 cars entered slowly circled the track, making it race-ready. Darla warned them about mud clods as hot laps began. She wasn’t kidding. Arley and Thad giggled like school children as they were all pelted by mud clods, some as large as a tennis ball.

    Three hours later, Thad and Arley were hooked. Sprint cars were the coolest. They were mystified and impressed how these guys raced wheel-to-wheel and didn’t crash.

    Arley said, “Hoss, we may have to change our schedule a bit. After USAC leaves, let’s add a few more winged sprints than what we planned.”

    Thad laughed. “I was thinking the same thing.”

    Darla chimed in. “I thought that you guys would come around. I can’t wait to tell Sparky.” She looked toward the pits and said, “Let’s go see him and Preston.”

    Sparky’s young racer had been told that a NASCAR guy was at the track tonight and he might want to have a chat. Mr. Janssen was all for it. He was feeling good. After having to run the B main, Preston had started 11th and charged to second place. Meeting Thad Larrabee was like the icing on the cake.

    Thad and Arley said their good-byes and headed back to the motel. Thad was quiet for much of the trip, speaking only when Arley spoke to him. He was thinking about sprint cars.



    Chapter 21: RIP, Link

    The Daytona 500 was the last race on Thad and Arley’s road trip. They secured hard cards that gave them access to the pits on race day. Both enjoyed seeing their former competitors. Thad received a lot of attention, not only sympathy for his loss of Dina, but for his retirement—and his longer hair with the beard.

    Before driver introductions, always a snazzy and somewhat hokey interlude, Thad was approached from behind by an unseen “assailant” who turned out to be his old friend and rival Link Meminger.

    “I almost didn’t recognize you, boy.” Link playfully tousled Thad’s hair. “How you doin’, buddy?”

    Thad smiled, “Doin’ better, Link. Arley and I have been on a fun road trip this month.”

    “I heard about that.” Link became serious for a moment. “I’ll admit it. I was a little jealous of you two.”

    “How so?”

    “There’s a part of me that would have loved to join you guys. You must have enjoyed it.”

    “For sure, Link. I’ll bet there’s a few guys here who wish you would join Arley and me.”

    Link laughed. “You know it. But I still enjoy it You get in that car and all the outside stuff takes a back seat.”

    “I’ll tell you what. You have a standing invitation to join us after you give this up. Between that and your going fishing all the time, plus your other businesses, you can see some of the bullrings. Not just here in Florida, but all over the place.”

    “How about Australia? I’ve been there once and loved it.”

    Thad said, “I’d be up for going down there. Never been there.”

    The two racers walked over to Link’s car. Thad looked inside and paled.

    He turned to Link. “Link, what did you do to those belts, man? They look as loose as a goose.”

    Link laughed. “They give me a little flexibility.” He squinted at his friend. “Thad, you’re the first person to point that out.”

    Thad thought for a second. “Well, I don’t know about anyone else, but that’s the first time I’ve seen them.” He shook his head and said, “You’re taking quite a chance there, buddy boy.”

    Link shrugged. “So far, so good.”

    “Promise me you’ll get those things fixed, man. I’ve got plenty of short tracks to see and I’d like you to see them with me.”

    “I’ll promise, Thad. It’ll be alright.”

    They stood there in an awkward silence until Link spoke. “Hey, have you seen ol’ Bruiser?”

    Thad laughed and said, “No! Is he here?”

    “He’ll be out here in a bit.” Link grinned. “Try not to hurt ‘em”

    They both laughed.

    “Bruiser” Crandall never went by his given name, Arthur. He was a big guy, usually a jolly sort, but he wasn’t shy about expressing his opinion and getting physical about it if he had to.

    Thad Larrabee was a 37-year-old rookie who had won two races before the end of May. It would have been three, but Link Menninger, at that time a two-time champ himself, spun Thad out with the checkered flag in sight. As some would say, it was just “Link being Link.” Thad didn’t see it that way. He and Dina could have used the money.

    After the race, Thad had not cooled off. He went to Link’s garage and confronted the race winner, who was ready to talk about it. Thad was ready for more and pushed Link into a stack of tires, sending Goodyear rubber all over the garage and Link to the floor. Bruiser advanced toward Thad, who promptly unloaded a left/right/left combination of punches that sent the big man reeling. If that wasn’t enough, Thad was restrained from grabbing Bruiser’s throat by some other team members who had gathered to watch the festivities. 

    NASCAR nearly suspended Thad for his post-race antics, but his car owner at the time was a lawyer who persuaded the sanctioning body to put Thad on probation instead.

    Thad bided his time. Three months later, Link was leading the race at Martinsville with five laps to go. Thad was gaining rapidly. He caught Link as they took the white flag. The crowd’s roar could be heard over the engines when Thad “tapped” Link’s car as he entered turn one. Link ended up in the wall and Thad won.

    The fans and NASCAR (secretly) hoped that a classic feud would develop, but Link sought out Thad after the race and they agreed to a truce. As it happened, they grew close over the years. Link was with Thad quite often in the months before Dina’s passing. And Bruiser? Five years after their fight, Bruiser was diagnosed with cancer. Thad made multiple visits to Bruiser at home and the hospital. When Bruiser passed away, Thad was a pallbearer.

    Link ran near the front of the pack for most of the race. He was fighting for the lead with twelve laps to go when his car broke loose, spun and was hit on the driver’s side. Link Menninger, aged 48, was killed instantly.

    Thad and Arley had been in one of the suites overlooking the track. Thad found a private place and cried bitterly, as hard as he had shed tears for Dina just a few months earlier. Mostly, they were tears of loss, much like his feeling when Dina died. But some of the tears were shed in anger at his dead friend, who had skimped on safety and paid the ultimate price.

    They decided not to go to Link’s funeral. It was just as well. Later, Arley was told that the auditorium that the family rented was jam packed. Thad, Arley and Louise met one chilly February afternoon at the Sebastian residence to talk about Link and drink a few beers. Louise hadn’t heard some of the stories Thad and her husband told. Before Thad left to go back to the mountain, Louise was howling with laughter. Arley and Thad agreed that Link would have appreciated the way in which they chose to mourn his passing.

    On the way west on U.S. 74, Thad started thinking about sprint cars. He resolved to give Sparky a call.



    Chapter 19: Old Friends

    As Thad and Arley finished their meal, they went to the cashier to pay. At about the same time Sparky and Darla did the same. Fate surely has a sense of humor as the two old friends nearly collided. Sparky had declined to bother Thad while he was eating and had temporarily forgotten about the retired NASCAR star.

    “Thad, is that you?”

    Thad looked at the man who had spoken. After a second, it dawned upon him who it was. “Sparky! What a surprise.” Thad shook his buddy’s hand. “Great to see you.”

    Arley had been standing off to the side, smiling mostly because Thad was genuinely happy. Arley had not seen his buddy this animated for a long time. Finally, Thad introduced the two.

    “Sparky, meet Arley Sebastian, my former car owner and always friend.”

    Later in the parking lot, Arley began asking Sparky questions about sprint car racing. “You know we don’t see much of that down in the Carolinas.” Sparky saw quickly that here was a sincere guy who wasn’t above asking questions rather than try to bluff his way through. While Thad and Darla stood somewhat awkwardly to the side, Mr. Sparks gave Mr. Sebastian a crash course on sprinters, especially in Indiana. By the time they were through, Arley knew a lot more and was mightily intrigued.

    Thad had to laugh that his old friend spent more time talking to his car owner. He had listened in on the conversation enough to be curious himself.

    The two groups drove back to their destinations. Sparky and Darla talked about the rich NASCAR car owner who seemed so down-to-earth and real, not a phony like so many other slick talkers both had encountered in racing and business.

    Arley and Thad talked about sprint cars, their differences from stock cars mostly. Both had been around southern bullrings to know that, in the Midwest, things were done differently than they were in the South. When they got back to Arley’s house, they consulted the racing schedule they had. Arley did some “internet research” and discovered that there were a few winged sprint races they could catch in addition to the USAC races they had planned.

    Thad looked at the schedule. “Man, that’s a lot of races we’d be going to. I’m not sure if I could handle them all.”

    “Don’t worry. We’re liable to get rained out of some. Besides, if you’re too tired, we can opt out.”

    Thad shook his head. “We’ll wait and see. This is all new to me.”

    “Me too. But we gotta do something now that we’re not in that rat race anymore.”

    “Yeah, I know, Arley. I don’t know if I could be happy just sitting and watching.”

    Arley didn’t say anything, but he wondered if Thad was second guessing his decision to retire. Arley confessed to himself that he was guilty of second guessing his buddy. Retiring at about the same time his wife passed away did seem to say that anyone who did that would have lots of free time. And Thad wasn’t the type to sit around for very long. More than once, he had called Arley a month after the season to ask his opinion about going short track racing in Florida, Arizona and even Australia. Arley always made an excuse of some sort. Then Dina would remind him about the vacation he promised her. Off they would go, sometimes with Arley and Louise, to do some serious sight-seeing—sometimes in Europe, but usually somewhere in North America.

    But now? All Arley knew for sure was that he and his long-time friend were going to some races together.



    Chapter 18: Sparky

    Gideon David Sparks was from a small southern Indiana town. He had lived there all his life, except for his Army obligations. Everyone called him Sparky and he didn’t mind. Not much could upset Sparky, unless it was people who either lied to him or didn’t do what they said they would do. Most of Sparky’s business was conducted down by the River—or Ohio River as non-natives called it. He enjoyed buying older homes that needed some work, then fixing them up to sell at a tidy profit. Usually he worked alone, but on occasion he would hire someone, usually a guy who was down on his luck. Most would work a few days and quit, but a few stuck it out, moving on to a better job. Sparky loved guys like that, but they often seemed to be too few and far between.

    Sparky started going to races with his dad when he was four years old. He loved all the different kinds of race cars, but came to love the sprints the best because they were “the fastest.” He found out pretty quick that he wanted to drive one, but both parents were adamant that no child of theirs would drive such a dangerous beast. In time, Sparky decided the next best thing was to own a sprint car. He bought his first one when he turned 25. His business was doing well and Sparky had a lot of on-the-job training with his new toy.

    He married a Louisville girl who had promised to go with him to the races and help out where needed. That lasted about a year before she decided that this wasn’t so glamorous after all. Too loud and too dirty in her opinion. Sparky shrugged it off, thankful that there were no children involved and the divorce wasn’t outrageously expensive.

    Two years down the road and Sparky was doing well. His business was keeping him busy, he was now known as a respected sprint car owner, and one night he was introduced to a driver’s sister. Darla May Finnegan, like Sparky, had married a guy who didn’t enjoy going to races as much as he thought he would. He bailed on the marriage after a baby boy was born. She still went to races when time, money, and a babysitter all became available simultaneously. One night she was helping scrape mud off her brother’s car when he introduced her to this rather average looking guy who owned one of the fastest cars in the area. The rest was history. Sparky now had a family, Darla May Sparks and her son Trevor, who Sparky would adopt a few years after they had been married.

    When both time and budget permitted, Sparky began going to Florida each February to race with USAC. Darla and Trevor went with him until Trevor started school. It made for a nice vacation and if the team did well, that made it even nicer. When Trevor started school, Darla would stay in Indiana while Sparky went racing. Trevor grew up to be a fine young man who loved the same things as his dad. He loved fixing up houses and flipping them. Plus, he turned out to be a decent mechanic as well.

    Sparky seldom fired a driver; usually they would leave for a better ride and there were no hard feelings. His little team of himself, Darla, Trevor and whoever was the mechanic had earned a lot of respect among their competitors. Whenever he made a driver change, there was no shortage of racers who would give Sparky a call or stop by the shop if he was there.

    It was a good life and Sparky was considered to be a good man, the type USAC or anyone else needed more of.

    None of this was on Sparky’s mind as he and Darla watched the rain come down. There would be no racing tonight. They discussed their supper plans and settled on the restaurant that was not too far from their RV.

    They had just sat down, pondering what they would eat when Sparky did a double-take.

    Darla looked at him and asked, “What’s wrong, honey?”

    Sparky stammered a bit and said, “I think I just saw one of my friends from childhood walk in the door.”

    “What’s his name?”

    “Thad Larrabee. He was a NASCAR racer who just retired. We were buddies until he and his parents moved to North Carolina.”

    Darla stared at her husband. “That Thad Larrabee? You never told me that you guys were friends.”

    Sparky shrugged. “We kind of drifted apart. When he got married, his wife sent me a Christmas card for a couple of years but that stopped. When the internet became a thing, we reconnected but not in person. But now?”

    “Spark, you need to go over and say hello.”

    “Yeah, maybe.”

    Darla shook her head. She’d learned that it wasn’t a good idea to try and make Sparky do something he didn’t want to do.



    Chapter 17: Road Trip

    Thad had to admit that he was getting cabin fever. Snow had covered the mountain where he lived for nearly a week. Thad had to wait for it to melt before venturing down the mountain to the tiny town in the valley. He was pleasantly surprised when one of the coffee shop regulars said they had missed him. Thad made them chuckle when he said that he was out of practice racing on a slick surface. He had become a semi-regular at the little diner, enjoying the easy going atmosphere and the fact that the customers, employees and the owner didn’t make a fuss about Thad’s being a famous race car driver.

    February arrived and Thad could tell he was moving on. He still missed Dina but at least he wasn’t moping around the house. When the weather allowed, he enjoyed taking either the Camaro or the Corvette out of the garage and driving up and down the mountains with no particular destination in mind. He still took his daily walks and he still visited the coffee shop. But he was ready to do some traveling.

    As February’s second week began, Thad drove the Camaro to Arley’s Florida house. He rang the doorbell and Arley appeared with a piece of paper for him. It was a tentative schedule for the races they might attend.

    Thad perused the schedule, which ended with the Daytona 500. It would be an ambitious effort, but the both men looked forward to it all. Thad smiled as he noted a few sprint car races on the list at three different tracks.

    “Arley, this is a lot of races, but I look forward to it. Thanks.” Arley had an embarrassed grin, “You’re welcome, hoss.” He pointed at the schedule. “Did you see the little gap in there? We’ll take a few days off and come back here.” He chuckled. “I’ll need to see if Louise has gone shopping.”

    Thad grinned. “I see a few sprint car races on there, Arley. I had a friend who owns a sprint car and runs some with USAC. If he’s down here, I’ll introduce you to him. I imagine you guys would have a lot to talk about.”

    “Yeah? We can exchange horror stories.”

    Both men laughed. Thad said, “I doubt if he spends as much as you have over the years. But I’m sure it can get expensive.”

    Two days later, Thad and Arley found themselves sitting on a motel balcony staring at the Gulf of Mexico near Tampa. They were both wearing an extra layer of clothing because it was raining. They had planned on going to East Bay for the first three nights of their tour. Louise was scheduled to join them but her flight was delayed. As a result, the two friends sat on the balcony, bundled up, watching the rain, and engaged in idle chatter when they spoke.

    Arley said, “Did you contact your sprint car owner friend?”

    “Yes, we were supposed to hook up tonight.” Thad grunted. “So much for that plan.”

    “Tell me about him.”

    Thad looked at Arley and grinned. “He’s a bit like you. We grew up in the same town until he and his parents moved to Indiana. He got involved in racing with some new friends and it grew from there.”

    “What’s he do?” Asked Arley. “I mean, does he own a business or something?”

    “Yes, kind of like you. He found out that he enjoyed working on houses and selling them. He began his own real estate business, built it up and sold it to a larger company. That was five years ago. Now he works on houses, fixes them up and sells them—when he’s not going to a race.”

    “You’re right. It does sound like me. So, do you think I’d like him?”

    Thad chuckled. “Oh, yeah. He’s got this dry sense of humor you would quickly learn to appreciate.”

    “Tell me a little about sprint cars and that whole deal.” Thad looked at Arley, who seemed serious.

    “Up in Indiana,” Thad said, “open wheel racing is far from the only type of racing, but it is dominant. There’s five or six tracks that run sprints every weekend. They are the headliner.”

    “All dirt tracks?”

    “Yes, but sometimes they will run on pavement too.” Thad looked at Arley. “Hey, you’re not thinking about jumping into that deal, are you?”

    Arley looked startled. “No, it just sounds, well, different.”

    He got up and opened the balcony door to go inside. “Hey, you want a beer?”

    For some reason, Thad looked at his phone for the time. Satisfied, he said, “Sure. Thanks.”

    Arley came back with two cold beers. “You know, Thad? I might want to check out this sprint car deal.”

    Thad laughed. “You will surely want to talk to Sparky.”


    “Gideon David Sparks. He was named after two guys in the Bible.”

    Arley laughed. “I’m halfway familiar with those guys. Weren’t they promoters or something?”

    Thad laughed as hard as he had laughed in months. “I’ll check on that and get back with you.”

    Arley pointed to the room. “Go in there. I think that Gideon fellow left a Bible in there for you.”

    “I’ll do some homework and see what Gideon and David did.”

    Arley said, “I know David a little better.” He took a sip. “He whupped Goliath’s ass as I recall.”

    “He did. And some other stuff too. I may as well read about him too, seeing that we ain’t going to any races tonight.”


    Chapter 16: Arley Sells Out

    The day after Arley’s Christmas party, he called Thad, who wondered what was up.

    “Hey, Thad. I didn’t get the chance to tell you last night. In fact, only Louise knows.”

    “Knows what?”

    “I’m selling the team.”

    “Say what?”

    “Yep. That fool Hoot Owl Bannister and a few of his alumni buddies made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

    Clement “Hoot Owl” Bannister was the former football coach of the University of North Carolina State. He had put the Wolfpack on the map with his recruiting skills, leaving actual strategy to his assistants. After 12 bowl games in 14 years, and one national championship, Hoot Owl resigned for “health reasons” and had been out of sight for the past year. Rumor had it that Hoot Owl had gotten a bit too friendly with the athletic director’s wife and was given a choice. Ol’ Hoot Owl was no fool. He took a buyout and “retired” to his mansion overlooking a golf course near Raleigh.

    Coach Bannister wasn’t going to spend the rest of his days taking mulligans at the golf course. A mutual friend introduced him to Arley and the rest was history. Hoot Owl had a top-notch race team and Arley had more than enough money to occupy him for several decades. Arley hung on to the fried chicken franchises—for the time being.

    A week after the New Year, Arley called Thad from his Florida “cottage” not far from the Daytona International Speedway.

    “Hey, bud. How’ve you been?”

    Having no desire to tell Arley the truth, Thad instead told a partial truth.

    “I’ve been getting a little exercise, believe it or not.”

    “You? Exercise? What with, a knife and fork?”

    Thad laughed and said, “No, more like walking a lot of laps around this mountain. Keeps me from gaining weight.”

    “Well, do you think you could take a break for about a week and come down here next month?”

    Thad didn’t answer right away. Knowing Arley, there was surely a hidden motive. He said, “What’s happening?”

    “Boy, you’ve forgotten pretty quick. I’m thinking about you coming down to the race.”

    “The race” being the Daytona 500. Thad wasn’t crazy about the idea. But Lana had been gently steering him to get away from that mountain a little more often. If nothing else, he could head to town and have breakfast at the local diner. Thad cringed but he knew Lana was right. And so was Arley.

    He said, “What all would you have planned, old buddy?”

    Arley smiled. This sounded a little like the Thad he had known for nearly 20 years. “Mainly going to some races. You choose your own schedule. If we don’t go to the same races, no problem. We’ll both have wheels so we can go somewhere together or split up. Louise might even join us for a couple of shows. For sure we’ll go to the 500.. I got a suite reserved for eight people.”

    There was silence at the other end of the phone. Arley took a breath.

    “Thad, I don’t pretend to know how you feel, but, for what it’s worth, I lost my parents in a car crash when I was 25 years old. It was by far the worst thing I have ever experienced. But I found out that, at some point, it was time to move on. I know that Daddy would have been all over me to get going with my life. After a few weeks, that’s what I did. Was it easy? Of course not, but what is easy? Anything that’s come easy to me ain’t been worth shit.”

    Thad said, “I get your point, Arley. You’re probably right. If Dina could tell me anything, it might be something similar to what you just said.”

    “She probably would.” Arley was silent for an extra beat. ”So, what do you think?”

    “How much will this cost me?”

    “Not a damned thing, you cheapskate.”

    Both men laughed. “Okay, wise guy.” Thad retorted. “I only have one request.”

    “What’s that?”

    “Let’s go to some short track races. You know, incognito?”

    “Absolutely, buddy. I’ll like that, too.”



    Chapter 15: Kate

    Katherine Estelle Rafferty Danner was Dina’s cousin. Her mother and Dina’s father had been siblings. Kate was the only woman who caused Dina to feel jealousy. She and Thad had always gotten along well as he was moving up the racing ladder and Kate was doing the same in the literary/poetry world of Asheville. In the last ten years Thad and Dina didn’t see as much of Kate. She divorced her husband of nearly 30 years and bought a cabin on a lonely mountain southwest of Asheville. Kate paid her bills by teaching at Brevard College. Her kids called it “Middle Age Crazy,” after the movie and song.

    Louise Sebastian had met Kate at a bookstore in Charlotte ten years ago. They had been looking for the same book. The store only had one copy of the book and the ladies agreed to share the cost of the book and whoever read the book first would take it to the other. From there, the friendship grew, with Kate having no idea that her in-law Thad drove a race car owned by her friend’s husband.

    That was about to change.

    Thad was trying not to stare at the attractive 50-ish lady with stylish gray hair, not unlike singer Emmylou Harris. She stood almost like a model as she chatted with a younger couple. He decided that it was Kate but first planned to ask Arley if he knew who this woman was.

    It just so happened that Arley was finishing up a conversation with a large man with a flushed face who was given to belly laughs and slapping his conversation mate on the back, sometimes even women when he had a bit too much to drink—which was now. Arley deftly pacified the man before telling him a mildly racy joke, which elicited a chuckle from the gentleman, who was married to one of Louise’s cousins.

    Arley looked toward the bar and found Thad still there, nursing his water. “What’s the deal here? You haven’t been mixing?” Arley grinned at his friend, knowing that Thad had never been a “mixer.”

    “Nah. People walk by, look me over, and decide that I must be your friend. Then they ignore me.”

    Arley laughed so loud that several folks stopped their conversations and looked at the pair of men by the bar. Louise smiled and rolled her eyes. “All right, Arley. What’s so funny,” she said as she walked toward the two.

    The big man grinned at his wife of 34 years. “Let Thad tell you. He’s the one who made me laugh.”

    Louise, who was all of five foot one, looked up at Thad and said, “Okay, buster. What’s so funny?” Thad repeated his answer to her and now it was Louise’s turn to laugh a bit louder than she planned to. A few people noticed Thad standing there for the first time. A couple might have recognized him but couldn’t be sure. Rare for the Carolinas, this was a group that wasn’t into NASCAR and Thad had appreciated his anonymity. But it was about to end.

    Kate walked toward the bar where Louise, Arley and Thad still stood. “Thaddeus, I do believe it’s you.”

    Thad looked at her and said, “I believe you are correct,…Kate?”

    “I was about to think that you didn’t know or remember me, Thad.” She smiled sweetly.

    “Oh, I remember. You weren’t at Dina’s funeral, but that was a very nice card. What you wrote was very comforting.”

    “Thank you, Thad.” She looked across the room, then back at him. “You know, mostly before you came along, Dina and I were very close. More like sisters.” She looked away and continued, “But we just drifted apart. I always was so fond of her. I’d never admit it to her, but I was a bit envious of her.”

    “Envious? Why?”

    “She seemed happier than me. At first I thought it was just the money and all. But I came to realize that she was fortunate to have you, plus she always seemed to be content.” Kate looked at the floor. “I’ll always regret not coming to see her. She was a good lady.”

    “Don’t beat yourself up over it, Kate. It isn’t worth that.”

    She shrugged. “I guess that’s true.” She turned around, acting like she had talked long enough. “Well, Thad, maybe I should ask how you are doing.”

    “It’s been difficult. I’ve been a hermit these past few weeks. But Arley talked me into coming here. Other than him and Louise, and now you, I don’t know a soul here.”

    Kate chuckled. “Oh, Thad. You make such a good wallflower.” She got serious. “Do you have any plans? Arley said something about you retiring from racing?”

    “Yes, I’m retired now. As for plans, I’m not sure what I’ll do. There’s a road that circles the mountain I live on. Guess I can keep in shape walking around the road.”

    “Well, it would be good for you. But remember, Thad. You’re only, what, 50? You might have a long life ahead of you. I hope you find something constructive to do. Maybe in racing.”

    He shrugged. “Maybe. I’ve not thought of that. I don’t wish to be a car owner. Talk about headaches.” He smiled. “Maybe I could be a driver’s coach.”

    “There you go. I’ll bet you would be a good one.” She looked around again, perhaps scouting the room for an available man, single, of course. “You take care, Thad. Good to see you again.”

    “You too, Kate.”

    Thad said his good-byes to Arley and Louise after that. It was late enough and he got into his Camaro and headed west, more or less. He tried not to think about Kate. But she did look good.

    It started just east of Shelby. Thad slowed down a bit. The traffic wasn’t too bad, but he was not in a hurry so it didn’t matter. Even though it was an empty house, Thad wanted to go home. The house had lots of good memories.

    He had no way of knowing but Kate would be a part of his life later.



    Chapter 14: Thad Grieves…and Grieves

    As Dina moved on, those she left behind were sad, almost beyond comprehension. Somehow Thad made the rest of the funeral arrangements. He was ever thankful that Dina had taken care of most of the funeral planning about six weeks before her passing. Without his having much say in the matter, this was going to be a large funeral. Neither Thad nor Dina had many close relatives, but they had accumulated hundreds of friends, good friends over the years.

    The viewing hours might have seemed interminable to some, but for Thad it went quickly because he stood by the casket for more than eight hours meeting with fellow mourners. There were people he had not seen for decades, mostly fellow racers, but also folks from his and Dina’s home towns, distant relatives of his and Dina’s, and the inevitable appearance of fans, one of whom was escorted from the premises after attempting to take a picture of Thad standing by the remains of his deceased wife.

    Some of the comments, though well meaning, were off the mark. When it was all over, Thad swore that he would scream the next time someone said, “She’s in a better place now.” Thad wanted to say, “That’s not the point! She’s not here—with me, as she has been for nearly 30 years, you dumbass!”

    The evening of the burial service, Thad sat in the living room with Lana at home. They began coming up with some of the comments either or both had overheard during the viewing or the service.

    “’She’s not suffering anymore,’” said Lana. “Uh, we know that. But we’re suffering.”

    Thad said, “Here’s one I heard a few times: ‘Heaven needed another angel.’ Now how would anyone know that? Since when did heaven have an angel shortage?”

    In spite of herself, Lana giggled and immediately apologized. Thad said, “No, no need to apologize. I think it’s a valid opinion.” He took a sip of the wine she had brought to the house. “I know that people mean well. Maybe they have no idea how to handle death. I mean, most jobs are safe and it’s easy to put death in the corner and hope it stays there. So when people get sick and die, we’re all unequipped to handle it, me included.”

    Lana agreed. “You remember when our mother died?” Thad nodded. “Dina and I were basket cases. It seemed like we couldn’t stop crying. Mom hadn’t been sick very long so it was a bit of a shock.” She took a sip of wine and said, “People tried to get us to stop crying and I remember that making me mad.”

    “I remember Dina telling me to let you and her cry. She explained it to me and I understood.”

    Lana got up from the recliner and went to get her coat. She said, “I need to go. I’ve had enough death for one day. Besides, maybe we ought to watch ourselves…if you know what I mean.”

    “I think so and you’re right…as usual.”

    Lana laughed and gave him a sisterly hug. “You take care. I’ll talk to you later.” And she was out the door.

    Arley and Thad had been close for a long time; as far as Thad was concerned, they were brothers. With the possible exception of Dina’s sister Lana, no one had been more supportive than Arley, who had dropped everything he was doing to be by the side of his friend and unofficial brother.

    It was five weeks since Dina’s death. Christmas was coming and Arley insisted that Thad join him and his family on Christmas Day. The morning of the 25th arrived and Thad felt as much despair as he had felt most other mornings. He and Dina had their own routine on Christmas. They had invited her siblings, nieces and nephews to their house for Christmas dinner. As the younger generation grew up. married and started their own families, the numbers slowly decreased until a year ago it was just Thad, Dina and Lana. Now it was just Thad. Lana had told him that she had been invited to have Christmas with her daughter, who was recently divorced and lived in Rock Hill, South Carolina, just across the state line.

    Thad got up and went to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. It was nine A.M., which meant he had plenty of time before going to Arley’s house on the shores of Lake Norman. Arley had all but twisted Thad’s arm to show up. He wanted Thad to come over for lunch and dinner but settled for dinner. Thad reluctantly agreed to be there at five.

    He arrived at Arley’s spacious home a few minutes after five and was aghast to find at least a dozen vehicles parked in front of the house. Briefly Thad considered turning around, but he remembered how he and Arley had always followed through on their commitments to each other. Instead he found a space in the driveway close to the road. Thad angled the car for a quick getaway, turned the rumbling V-8 engine of his Camaro off and walked to the house.

    Thankfully, Arley himself answered the doorbell and greeted Thad with a big hug.

    “Oh, buddy. I’m so glad you came. I’ll have somebody to talk to.” Arley looked at the Camaro. “What, you didn’t drive that ‘Vette?”

    “I gave it the night off.” Thad looked past Arley and could see at least a dozen people standing around talking, some with a drink in their hands. He said, “Looks like you have plenty of people to talk to.”

    Arley chuckled sarcastically. “In-laws, most of them. Louise talked me into inviting half of them. A couple of them I barely know.” He shrugged. “As long as they behave.”

    Thad looked at Arley. “Hey, do me a favor Arley?”

    “Sure.” He looked back. “What is it?”

    Thad permitted himself a small smile. “Don’t introduce me to anyone. I mean, if they ask, you can tell them or I can. But I’m not quite in a mixing mood.”

    “No problem.” He indicated the bar that divided the kitchen from the family room. “Want something to drink?”

    “Yeah. Water will be fine.”

    A half hour later, Thad and Arley stood by the bar, both sipping on water. So far, so good, Thad thought to himself. Only a couple of people had introduced themselves to him and neither had heard of him. Thad was about to mention that to Arley when he looked across the room and did a true double-take. Standing on the far side of the room was a very familiar face, one that he had not seen since Dina and him had hosted her family at a holiday gathering. It was still an attractive face to be sure.

    He said to himself, “That has to be Kate,” making sure that no one heard him.



    Chapter 13: Dina Larrabee, RIP

    The pain had subsided but Dina was still fighting to stay awake and aware. It was a losing battle. Thoughts, memories, good and bad inhabited her mind for what were probably seconds but seemed longer to Dina. Chronology was ignored as a faint childhood memory would dissolve into something that happened a few weeks ago. Then she had a fleeting thought about her daughter Nora. Thankfully it was a good one, before Nora went down her own dark path.

    Most of her final meanderings had been brief, but good—until Jerry Fitzgerald intruded into her fading thoughts. Dina’s face, which had assumed a tranquility of one at peace, twisted into a pained expression. Lana had been sitting by the bedside and looked upon her sister with alarm. But the pained look gradually faded away as internally Dina was able to put the shameful memory behind her, replacing it with scenes from the day she and Thad had moved into what was then their new house. There was the happy realization that they were finally moving into their dream house. Thad’s race winnings had permitted them to buy a house near the top of one of North Carolina’s thousands of peaks, far enough from the big city of Asheville, but close enough for periodic trips there.

    At some point that could not be measured by anyone, Dina’s memories began to fade. She felt herself being transported through a passage, almost like a tunnel. The more she traveled through this space, the lighter it seemed to be. Dina could hear something unlike she had ever heard before. She was becoming less and less aware of the fact that she had left one reality behind. Thad, Lana and everyone else in her life had faded into a void of some sort, but Dina wasn’t concerned. Instead, she was now cognizant of the sound and the light. It was music she was feeling as much as she was hearing.

    She came to realize that she wasn’t hearing in the same manner as before. Before what, she asked herself. She was now aware that she was having an out-of-body experience. She now could tell that she was entering the next phase of her life. Despite it being totally unknown, Dina wasn’t afraid. She was at peace and the light transformed into a figure that somewhat resembled a human of indeterminate age or gender. In fact, the figure seemed to float toward her slowly but steadily. Was it Jesus, she wondered? But the form appeared not to have any predominant male or female characteristics—as if gender had been ordained to be irrelevant.

    This was it, she thought. It was the next chapter in her existence. She was at peace, now seeing that her belief in a Higher Power had been borne out by what she was experiencing. The former Dina had been left behind. Her physical pain and ailments had disappeared from her memory bank, replaced by—what—tranquility? Joy? Contentment? Or all of the above and even more. Whatever it was, Dina was ready for it.



    Chapter 12: Nora Larrabee, RIP

    As the lady cop shined her flashlight in the car, Nora slumped forward. Death came quickly; she had injected enough of the stuff to kill a large animal. The officer spoke to a colleague, “I think we need an ambulance, or a hearse. She’s out.”

    Nora’s last thought was one of regret. For a brief moment, she was finally honest with herself before the drug put her out for good. 

    Thirty days later, after no one had claimed the body, she was buried in the pauper’s section of a local Asheville cemetery. There was no service.

    A reporter for the local newspaper, whose main duty was handling the obituary page, noticed a note from the cemetery. It read “Nora Larrabee, age 29, no address, no survivors.” Most of deaths like this were listed in the paper once a week without comment. The reporter stared at the last name. Larrabee. It sounded familiar. She asked a colleague if he knew of any Larrabees. He thought for a couple of seconds and said, “Yes, a famous race car driver. Don’t remember his first name but I’m sure his last name is Larrabee. I’ll ask Wally in sports.”

    The reporter found his colleague Wally and asked him if he knew of anyone named Larrabee. Of course, Wally not only knew, but had interviewed Thad Larrabee more than once. But he never knew of Thad having any children. “Hell,” he said. “I’m not even sure if Larrabee is married.”

    Without Thad ever knowing it, he caught a very lucky break. Neither Wally in sports, nor his reporter friend, nor the obituary writer pursued what would have been a significant story about a race driver’s estranged daughter dying of a drug overdose as his wife was dying from cancer.

    Nora’s final resting place was on the southeast side of the cemetery, near a little creek that flowed from the French Broad River, on a gentle sloping hill dotted with a variety of shade trees. A local charity picked up whatever expenses had occurred. She was within walking distance of the graves of writers Thomas Wolfe and William Sydney Porter (O. Henry).



    Chapter 11: The Days Dwindle Down

    For most of the season Thad had been able to block out his off-track struggles. In addition to Daytona, he had managed to win two other races. The next-to-last race would be at a new track in south Florida. Thad, finally allowing his wife’s poor health distract him, ran 24th, two laps behind the winner. After the race, the crew had been told the bad news that Dina Larrabee was in the final stages of her illness. The gang had known she was not well, but this was a new blow. Thad was well-liked and respected by the whole team and they had been respectful of his year-long trial.

    The season’s final race was at Atlanta, a track where Thad had won five races over the past 18 years he had been a regular on the tour. He knew that this would be his final race and he knew that soon Dina would not be with him anymore. In a sense, she had not been with him for the past few weeks, but at least she was usually coherent enough to recognize Thad when he stayed with her in her hospice suite.

    For those two reasons, Thad wanted to win this last race. The team had somehow kept the lid on Thad’s plan to retire, though the inevitable rumors flew to and fro across the garage. The same had been true about Dina’s illness until Jerry got drunk with a racing writer at a bar in Charlotte. After a contentious meeting with Arley, a statement acknowledging Dina’s health was issued to the press, with the request to honor the Larrabee’s privacy. Seeing that Thad was well-liked by all of the media, the request was honored in that no questions about Dina would be asked.

    Finally, on a cool, breezy winter’s afternoon at a track that was about 28 miles from downtown Atlanta, Georgia, Thad Larrabee’s NASCAR career ended in storybook fashion. After running near the front without leading for the first 400 miles of the 500 mile race, Thad knew he had the car to beat. He began asserting himself, passing cars that had outrun him up to this point. A yellow flag with 35 laps to go meant pit stops for the leaders. The team changed four tires and filled up the gas tank fast enough to send Thad back to the lineup in second place.

    The leader would be Thad’s former antagonist-turned-friend Link Menninger, five-time NASCAR champion and a fan favorite. The green flag would wave with 27 laps left in the race, season and Thad’s career. Thad and Menninger had discussed retirement in general terms all year. Link was also aware of Dina’s situation. Without coming out and saying so, he had subtly hinted to Thad that, if he did retire and if Dina wasn’t going to make it, he, Thad, had better have a plan to occupy himself, especially this coming winter.

    Neither racer was thinking about anything but winning this race. Behind Thad was another threat to steal the victory from both he and Link. Damon Fielder was a little more than half Thad’s age, and he already was a two-time champ himself. He was regarded as the “future” of NASCAR, a new breed of racer, more polished, media aware, and having the appearance of being fan friendly. Unlike the older stars such as Menninger and Larrabee, Fielder was not from the Carolinas; he was a native of Arizona who moved to Illinois when he was a youngster. It was his parents’ idea. They, his father in particular, saw that their kid had some ability in driving any kind of race car. They saw that the level of competition in the Midwest would be tougher than the racers in Phoenix or Tucson at the time. It turned out to be a long-shot gamble that worked. In just a few years, Fielder had attracted the attention of a series of car owners and landed with one of the best teams. And now, he was all but certain that a third championship was in the bag. All he had to do was follow the two old guys, finish third, and win the title.

    But Damon Fielder was, like him or not, a racer. Racers like him only raced to win. He admired and respected his older rivals, which made his desire to beat them burn hotter. Over the last 20 laps of this race, the three would wage a battle that fans would talk about for years to come. Officially there were nine lead changes in the final 20 laps but the lead changed hands routinely multiple times on most of the closing laps of the race. Fielder led as the white flag waved; only one more lap and he would be able to say that he had whipped two of his heroes. For his part, Menninger was going for his 80th career victory and he thought he would get it as he took the lead coming out of turn two on the last lap. But both had forgotten about Mr. Larrabee, who knew this would be his last NASCAR race. Thad dove low in turn three and edged Link up the track just a few inches. This was enough for Thad to hug the bottom groove and go ahead by a fender. As Menninger fought for control of his car, Fielder re-appeared and tried to follow Larrabee through the turn. He did, but Thad was ahead of the duo by a full car length as they came out of turn four. As Menninger and Fielder rubbed fenders, Thad motored on to the checkered flag waving and took his 54th and last NASCAR win. Not that it mattered as much, but Menninger edged Fielder for second.

    On the cooldown lap, Thad slowed as his competitors, led by the second and third place finishers, all waved to him as they drove by. A few had their suspicions that Thad was going to hang it up with the conclusion of this race. Perhaps a few were already scheming to take his place next year.

    In his car, the gravity of the situation smacked Thad upside the head as he thought about Dina and his retiring all at once. He spoke to his team on the radio as he circled the track an extra time. The TV announcers had been given the go-ahead to share that this was to be Thad Larrabee’s last laps in his NASCAR career. They said he was surely “savoring the moment.” Perhaps he was but Thad was fighting to compose himself before he faced the mob in Victory Lane, the TV, radio, PR people, his team members, and the trophy queen. It was about as emotional as Thad would let himself be and he preferred to get himself together before facing the public.

    The pictures, the forced smiles and the accolades were behind him as Thad drove northeast on I-85 to I-26 as fast as he dared. Lana was at the hospice room with Dina and Thad called her.

    “Hi, Lana. How is she?”

    “Congratulations, Thad. A great way to end a career.” She paused. Thad waited impatiently. Finally Lana said, “Thad, she’s resting as well as she can. But it can’t be long now.”

    Thad pondered this as she asked, “Where are you?”

    “I just passed through Atlanta so I should make decent time now.” He looked for a road sign and found one. He did some quick calculating and said, “I’m about 70 miles from the South Carolina line.”

    “A couple of hours till you’re here then?”

    “Something like that. If she somehow wakes up and asks for me, tell her I’m on my way.”

    “I already did. I told her you won the race. She seemed pleased to hear that. But it’s hard, you know? I can’t tell when she’s coherent or when she’s out of it.”

    “Yeah, as long as she’s not suffering too much.”

    “Not as bad as it could be.”

    Thad knew he should be better at praying. All too often he only prayed when bad things were happening. His chaplain buddy would remind him that it didn’t hurt to offer prayers of thanksgiving, but Thad wasn’t always the best at remembering to do that. So there he was, closing in on the Georgia/South Carolina line, in another race. The trouble was, this was a race that Thad had no way of knowing if he was winning or not. He wanted to get back to the hospice facility before Dina breathed her last. He knew it was for his benefit, not hers. He wanted to be there just in case she would be at least somewhat awake so he could tell her that he loved her and say good-by.



    Chapter Ten: Nora Takes a Trip

    Goose Braughton sat at his regular table at a well-known restaurant that catered to a different clientele at different times of the day. It was that period between lunch and dinner when business was slow and shady characters were known to frequent the restaurant. The manager’s policy was to leave their customers alone as long as they ordered something to eat and didn’t bother anyone. Goose looked at Nora through bloodshot eyes. He was another dealer who sampled his wares too often. Way too much of his profit disappeared up his nose or in his veins. He was coming back to reality. Goose looked up at Nora, knowing what she was there to get. He tried to figure out how to tell her that he had ingested half her order.

    Looking toward the door, Goose spotted an obviously rich kid out spending daddy’s money. He hoped there wouldn’t be a scene. Goose routinely carried an old but rarely used pistol in his pocket. He had never shot it at someone but had practiced—just in case. He needn’t have worried. This rich kid was somewhat older than Colt, Nora’s previous squeeze, but was among the dimmest of bulbs.

    Robert Charles Bennington III was Nora’s age. He was in the process of burning through his inheritance and all he wanted was a wild woman and money to buy things. He rationalized that doing a little dealing on the side showed that he was an enterprising sort.

    Thinking on the fly, Goose gambled that Nora would be too wasted to figure out that half the product was missing. His gamble paid off. Not only did she not notice, Goose collected enough cash to buy some more coke to sell—and ingest. He was a happy boy for the time being.

    Goose remained at his table and got out his cell phone. He rang his supplier and made what he thought was a good deal for some meth and hashish. Nora waved good-bye to him as she left. The rich kid held the door open for Nora and a little old lady as they all left.

    Out in the street, Benny, as he was called, drove southeast on I-26 while Nora carefully inspected their purchase. He was hungry for some seafood and there was a place in Hendersonville that served the best, in Benny’s opinion. It didn’t hurt that some of the restaurant’s customers were willing to pay big bucks for some of Benny and Nora’s supply of illicit goodies. 

    Little did Benny and Nora would know that they would encounter a new “friend,” a dealer in mostly meth, up from Spartanburg, South Carolina. This guy had a big haul and was impressed by Benny’s line of bull. The dealer, Ace was the only name he gave the duo, wanted to branch out. In his not-too-bright mind, he wanted to grab some of the Asheville market share in addition to his customers in the Spartanburg/Greenville area.

    An hour later, Benny and Nora, now in possession of some $500k in drugs, left the restaurant in a very good mood. It was almost a pity what would happen to them next. Before they left Hendersonville, Benny ran a red light. The rest was predictable. A dozen or more cops chased them into the North Carolina mountains, finally catching them at Lake Junaluska. Before the police could surround the car, Nora quickly jabbed herself with a needle containing enough heroin to put her out almost immediately.

    As the lady cop approached the passenger side of the car, Nora’s mother had reached the point of needing 24/7 care at a local hospice facility. It was late October and Thad’s last two races were all that was left of the season.



    Chapter Nine: Hospice—The Conversation

    Dina and Thad sat in yet another room in the hospital. They had been told that Dr. Chalmers wanted to talk to them there. Neither gave it much thought. As was their custom, they didn’t have much to say. Earlier that summer, Dina observed that times like this were when they could be together, rather than alone with their thoughts. That made sense to Thad, who offered that they were probably thinking very similar thoughts anyway.

    Dr. Chalmers came in, looking as beautiful as ever. By now, Thad had somehow gotten used to the fact that this lady’s looks didn’t mean much one way or the other. What mattered was her work, skill, and desire to cure his wife of this disease. But she wasn’t feeling attractive today. She had less than great news for the Larrabees. This part of her job was what she hated the most. She acknowledged that part of it was a doctor’s ego, but she was human, too. After all, Gwen Chalmers had lost both her father and father-in-law to this disease. True, her dad had worked around asbestos for too many years, long before it was determined to be a silent killer. But watching Alfred “Big Al” suffer was somehow worse. Perhaps it was because Al took good care of himself. Try as she might, Dr. Chalmers always struggled with the situations where there was no apparent cause of whatever cancer people contracted. It didn’t help that Al was universally loved by family and friends. And now, she had to tell these two nice people that things were going to change.

    Dr. Chalmers said, “Dina, Thad, I need to tell you up front that we’re running out of options for fighting your cancer. The only drug I could use is almost guaranteed to cause some severe side effects, even worse that what you’ve had so far. We can try it if you wish, but I can’t promise good results like I can promise the side effects.”

    Thad exhaled. This was it. He could guess what was next. He looked at Dina and could tell that she was thinking the same thing. Her appearance was alarming. She had long since lost her hair and usually wore a stocking cap or a wig. The weight loss had been expected; Dina was not much more than skin and bones. Less than a year ago, she had been a true beauty, looking much like a woman 20 years her junior. Now she was a shell of what she had been, not able to do much more than sit up for an hour at a time.

    Dina spoke, “So, doctor. What is the alternative?”

    Dr. Chalmers said, “From this point forward we could treat your pain. We would want to make you as comfortable as we can for the time being. One advantage is that we would be able to do all of your treatment and care at your home.”

    Dina asked, “What about the treatment and care which I can’t have at home?”

    “Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves here, but when that time comes Hospice facilities are available here in town.”

    Thad looked up at the doctor. She asked him, “Thad, do you have a question?”

    Thad resumed staring at the floor but said nothing for a couple of moments. He looked up again, first at Dina and then the doctor. Thad seemed to be searching for words then he said, “I'm sorry Dina, Doctor. I'm still reeling from this new development.” He paused so he could inhale. “I've known this day has been coming, but now that is where I'm not dealing with it very well. I'm very sorry for that.” Thad dared not speak anymore. He was afraid he would break down if he tried to continue.

    Both doctor and patient understood for somewhat different reasons. Dina knew that Thad was not one to cry easily. Dr. Chalmers knew that men in this situation were apt to burst into tears, albeit briefly.

    Dina had already begun to consider her future. It was difficult for her to imagine what lay ahead for her and Thad. 

    While pondering her future Dina thought of her daughter and where she might be. This pain may well have been the worst of all. Now, thinking of Nora, Dina truly hoped and desired to at least reconcile with her only child.

    Thad was thinking about the approaching end of the season. There were two more races and he really wanted to win at least one of them. Somehow, he thought it would matter to Dina.



    Chapter Eight: Weekly Routine

    For the next few weeks, as spring brought forth the blooming flowers, trees turning green, warmer temperatures and frequent showers, Thad and Dina established a routine of sorts. Every other Tuesday, Thad would take her to the hospital for her chemotherapy, which usually lasted four hours or more. On Thursday afternoon, he would leave for the next race, wherever it would be. After the Sunday race, he would hurry home, trying to arrive on Sunday night or, in the case of the races out West, early Monday morning. Every other Tuesday, they would go to the hospital for a visit with Dr. Chalmers. Tuesdays, normally reserved for sponsors, were even more hectic and trying now.

    Some weeks were more difficult than others for various reasons. Other weeks were good. Thad won a race in Texas on a very warm Saturday night in June. As she usually did, Dina watched the race and was quite happy for him. Her sister had come over to watch the race with her and both ladies guffawed as Thad was given a large ten-gallon hat to have his picture taken for the media. Later, Dina would tease Thad about having to wear the hat.

    A few weeks later, Thad won the mid-season race at Daytona, giving him a sweep at the most storied track on the circuit. It was his first victory in the July race. As Thad stood by his car, showered with confetti and a sugary soft drink, he had a brief, wistful moment. He wondered if he would be able to walk away at year’s end. When his thoughts turned to Dina, he nearly lost it right there in Victory Lane. Thad recovered enough to accept the congratulations and adulation. Only Arley noticed what was going through Thad’s mind.

    As August approached, things weren’t going well for Dina. The chemotherapy treatments weren’t going well. Twice she had asked to stop the infusions because she was becoming dizzy, weak and nauseous. Her white blood cell count was lagging despite the best efforts to keep it at a proper level. Dina began to think about stopping the attempts to cure her and just treat her pain and discomfort. But she dared not mention it to Thad or Dr. Chalmers.

    Meanwhile, after his Daytona win, Thad hit a stretch of bad racing luck. Twice he was taken out of a race when others crashed in front of him. An accident on pit road as Thad was leaving didn’t knock him out of the race, but he lost several laps before simply parking the car with no chance to win.

    In August it got even worse for Thad and downright scary for Dina. He was racing at Talladega. Thanks to NASCAR’s rules concerning aerodynamics, most of the field routinely were stuck in a huge pack of cars at speeds flirting with 200mph. More often than not, there would be the inevitable wreck, involving upwards of twenty cars, close to half the field.

    The one that involved Thad was somehow worse than the others. A brisk breeze made the cars even tougher to handle, but at first they were able to keep from wrecking while maintaining the fast pace. But disaster struck on lap 23 when one of the cars near the front of the pack almost lost control, but saved the car. Behind him all hell broke loose when the driver directly behind the original car hit his brakes. This caused a lot of spinning, crashing and at least two cars flipping, including Thad’s. He ended up in a burning heap of steel and rubber. For the first time in his racing career, Thad was upside down and on fire. To make matters worse, he had been knocked out when the last of the cars that crashed into him.

    Watching at home with her sister, Dina was almost hysterical. Nothing her sister Lana could say would calm her down. Dina was transfixed as she tried to determine if Thad was okay. When the director switched to a different camera, she cursed the director. As the emergency workers labored to turn the car onto its wheels, or what was left of them, Dina held her breath. Then they tried to extricate Thad from the car, but quickly determined that they would have to cut the roof off of the car to get him out.

    Before anything else happened, the broadcast went to a commercial. It was very unlike Dina to curse at anything, but now she let loose with a string of profanities that shocked her sister. Dina cursed the network, the sponsors, the commentators, the fans and, most of all, the sanctioning body that wrote the rules that ensured that “pack racing” which was common at Daytona and Talladega was going to get someone killed.

    When the commercials were over, the chief announcer spoke with a stern voice that scared Dina more. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have…good news!” The last two words were spoken with excitement in stark contrast to the first five. He went on. “Thad Larrabee, with very little assistance, has exited his car and walked to the ambulance. He has been taken to the infield care center.” The announcer’s tone became serious again and Dina could guess that whatever came next would not be as good. She was correct.

    The announcer, Cameron Slater, spoke again. Dina, despite her pain and relief that Thad was okay, leaned toward the TV with her sister Lana. Slater said, “Also involved in this melee was young Angus Porter. He is being airlifted to a Birmingham hospital. That is all we know at this time and we will keep you updated to the extent we can.”

    Dina went to bed when the next string of ads ran on the TV. Lana stayed glued to the TV. After all, her ex-husband was a crew chief on a rival team. In addition, she had known Angus Porter since he was a toddler. Lana was exceedingly relieved that Thad was apparently not injured. She would root for every team to first avoid any other wrecks. But mostly she added Angus to her prayer list, along with her sister.

    Thad arrived at his mountaintop home just before midnight with direct instructions from Dina to wake her if she was asleep. Lana answered the door and was the first to give Thad a hug, grateful that he was okay. Dina was asleep, but was on the sofa. Lana was happy to let Thad wake his wife, which he did. After a decent interval, Lana graciously accepted the thanks from Dina and Thad and went back to her Lake Norman home.

    The embattled couple sat up until two in the morning talking about the race, the wreck, the wretched pack racing that both deplored, and finally, Dina’s immediate condition. Her numbers had been going in the wrong direction for the past two visits and she was depressed and worried about that. Thad felt the same way and wondered aloud what was next. Neither knew.

    Just before Dina turned out the light by their bed, she asked Thad, “Honey, you are still planning on retiring at the end of the year?”

    Thad looked at her in surprise. “Of course.” He looked at her with some surprise. “Why would you ask?”

    She shrugged. “It means a lot to me. Let’s leave it at that.”

    Thad considered those words and thought to himself, “She’s thinking that she won’t be around then, but she wants me to be able to retire.” He said as much to her and she smiled, but said nothing. Dina turned out the light and fell asleep within ten minutes while Thad tossed and turned. It was early Monday and they had a scheduled chemotherapy treatment on Tuesday morning. He had a feeling that it might not go well at all.



    Chapter Seven: Nora

    Nora Larrabee was the only child of Thad and Dina Larrabee. At age twenty-three, she had never held a full-time job. She had flunked out of the University of North Carolina and Gardner-Webb University. Nora had been fired from at least three jobs that her parents knew of, the most spectacular of the firings came when she threw a Big Mac at a disgruntled customer and walked out of the restaurant.

    Somehow Nora had managed to avoid matrimony, but she had given birth to a baby who was promptly adopted by a young couple from South Carolina. Thad and Dina found out about that six months later. Nora had also drifted in and out of several “relationships” with several “men,” most of whom had filled her ears with seductive words (coupled with the ability to buy things for her), but who later left her high and dry, tired of her constant need for attention and new clothes.

    For a few years after high school, Nora had persistently hounded her parents for money, or told tales of woe, from a roommate who stole her blind before moving out to a story about losing her favorite possession, a television or an electronic device of some sort. But when she turned twenty-one, she was informed by her parents that the money flow would stop. Dina and Thad made sure that Nora had food, shelter and transportation at this time. They also secured the services of a counselor and offered to attend group meetings if she wished. Nora made it to three sessions before she started missing them. With that, her parents calmly told her that if she changed her attitude and her ways, she would always be welcome to come back to their lives. Otherwise, she was on her own. This certainly grieved her parents, but they agreed that this was the proper course to take.

    As it happened, on the day Dina Larrabee entered the hospital, her daughter was less than five miles away. The homeless shelter was temporary; Nora had a way of finding a guy who would allow her to move in for a while until she wore out her welcome. She was only passing through until the next sucker came along.

    On the day her mother was in surgery, Nora was chatting up a young man just out of high school, trying to find out if he had a source of money flow. She was in luck, at least in her mind it was. The young man had indulging parents with money to spare. Nora was tempted to tell him about her parents, but decided to hold off with that. Soon after the two met, they left the shelter and went cruising Asheville in the young man’s car, a one-year old Corvette, bright yellow in color.

    The kid was at the shelter looking for a classmate, but forgot about her when this nice-looking older lady took an interest in him. She looked at least thirty, but wasn’t that bad, thought the kid. She had been quite the beauty until the years of drugs, drink and high living began to catch up with her. Nora was twenty-five years old and she knew that this kid would serve as a worthy sugar baby for the time being. The kid would be glad to serve as her virile young man, making all of his female contemporaries jealous of the older hag who would be his companion for the time being.

    Neither thought any farther ahead than the next week. For the moment, they were a couple and that, along with a steady flow of mind-altering, soul-numbing substances, was all that mattered.

    Nora got into the car with the youngster and they drove around town, looking for a thrill, if not a familiar face. Both had people that they wanted the other to meet. In the course of their travels through several Asheville neighborhoods, they drove by the hospital where Nora’s parents were for the time being. Had she known that her mother was a patient at the hospital, she might have offered a kind word or two, but then moved on to the next thing around the corner. The kid, whose name was Colt, drove by a downtown law office, where his dad was a senior partner. He was tempted to honk the Corvette’s customized horn which made the sound of a buffalo herd as they passed by the office. But Colt knew better; he knew where his money came from and didn’t want the cash flow to stop.

    The two unappealing characters ended up at a well-known restaurant where Nora guessed some of her drug dealing “friends” might be. They went inside. Colt hung around the front door while Nora looked around the restaurant and immediately saw a guy who was a good source of whatever anyone wanted. She got his attention and waved at him. The guy stared at her for a moment, not sure who she was. Her face looked familiar but the name was somewhere in the recesses of the dealer’s brain. Nora only knew him as Goose. Where that name came from, she didn’t know or care. All she knew was that Goose might not have been too bright, but he usually had some product on him or nearby.

    Nora said to Colt, “That guy over there...” she nodded her head toward Goose, “is a good source of some good shit.” She looked at Colt for a second, hoping he would bite. “Want me to go over there and see what he’s got?”

    Colt said, “Sure, babe. You want anything to eat?”

    “Just a hamburger and a drink.”

    Colt found a booth near the restrooms, then placed his order for himself and Nora. She tried to look casual and uncaring as she walked to the booth where Goose sat.



    Chapter Six: Hospital

    It was a chilly February morning in Asheville as Thad and Dina Larrabee entered the hospital. Thad was thankful that the mountain roads were clear of ice or snow. Asheville traffic wasn’t overly heavy yet and the couple entered the parking lot with plenty of time.

    The paperwork was completed and fifteen minutes later, Dina lay uncomfortably in a hospital bed as Thad sat next to her. Both were quiet; they had done most of their talking the night before. Now, they seemed to be in a dream, or maybe a trance as they both stared at the walls of the room, ignoring the friendly staff who were preparing Dina for surgery, only her second in her forty-eight years.

    There was a knock on the door and Dr. Chalmers entered the room. “Good morning, Dina, Thad. Are you ready for this?”

    Dina said, “Do I have a choice?” Her faint smile indicated that she knew better. Thad just mumbled to himself.

    The doctor said, “Congratulations, Thad. For the first time, I watched the race yesterday. That was quite dramatic the way you won.”

    Thad looked up at her and said, “Thank you, doctor. It already seems like a week ago.”

    “I’m sure. Do you have another race this weekend?”

    Dina and Thad both chuckled. Dina said, “Oh, yes. And about thirty-four weekends after that.”

    Dr. Chalmers shook her pretty head. “Sounds like a brutal schedule.”

    Thad said, “It is, but when you’re running well and getting good results, that helps.”

    The doctor returned to the business at hand. “Dina, someone will be by to take you back to surgery in fifteen minutes at the most. Thad, you can stay with her right up to the point where we get to the door to the surgery room.” She looked at the couple and felt bad for them. All of their fame and riches would do them no good if this surgery wasn’t successful. There was a decent chance that it wouldn’t be successful.

    “Dina, I promise that we’ll do our best. But God be with all of us.”

    “Thank you, Dr. Chalmers. We can’t ask for any more,” said Dina.

    Thad sat in the surgery waiting room, looking for a magazine to read, or at least look at the pictures. He tried to ignore everything else, the other people in the room, one of whom kept staring as if he thought that Thad looked familiar, and the TV with the chattering heads on a morning talk show. He decided to walk.

    In the gift shop, Thad found a couple of magazines along with the Asheville morning paper. The clerk in the shop didn’t recognize him and that was fine with the guy who had now won the Daytona 500 three times. He ambled to the cafeteria and found a snack and a cup of coffee. He found a seat in the corner of the dining area and began reading while sipping the coffee. This lasted at least an hour, which meant that Thad had about four more hours to kill.

    He decided to go back to the waiting room and ask the receptionist there if there was anything changed in Mrs. Larrabee’s status. The kindly older lady said no, then looked at Thad as if she was seeing him for the first time.

    She spoke softly, so no one else could hear her. “You’re Thad Larrabee, the racer, aren’t you?”

    Thad decided to be truthful and merely nodded yes. The lady smiled and said, “Not to worry, young man. I’m not about to blab. For one thing, it would be my job if I did. For another,” she hesitated a little, “It wouldn’t be right to make a fuss. Right now, you’re another person here waiting for good news about your loved one and I’ll keep that to myself as I would for anyone else in here.”

    “I do appreciate that, ma’am. I’ll walk around some more and drink some of that cafeteria coffee.”

    The lady handed him a contraption he had never seen before. It was circular like a saucer with lights ringing the perimeter. “Take this, and if I hear anything, I’ll press a button and this little gadget will light up. Then you’ll know to come back here and see what news there is.” She paused. “Right now, sir, no news is good news.”

    Larrabee looked at the lady with new respect. “Thank you, ma’am. You are a great help.” He walked back down to the cafeteria, hoping not to be recognized.

    Two hours later, the lights on the saucer-like contraption blinked and Thad headed back to the waiting room. The lady at the desk greeted him and pointed to a door. “That door is to the conference room, Mr. Larrabee. The doctor will be in shortly.”

    Thad sat in the nondescript room and waited, trying to stay calm. He wanted the doctor to hurry up, but he was nervous and anxious. He sat in the chair, staring at the floor, thoughts racing each other through his head.

    The door opened and the doctor came in. She was dressed like a surgeon. Thad noted that she looked good in such unglamorous clothes. But he also noted a stern expression on her face which he had not seen before.

    Dr. Chalmers sat down and got right to it. “Thad, she did fine during the surgery. There were no surprises. You can see her after we talk.”

    Both took a breath. Thad had hopes that more good news was coming.

    “I found what I expected to find. But I couldn’t remove all the cancer.” She inhaled and said, “Well, I could have, but it was dicey. I do hope to start her chemotherapy treatments fairly soon.  As far as chemo is concerned, I can’t promise recovery there. But it’s worth a try.” She paused. “That’s assuming what you two wish to proceed.”

    Thad shrugged. “I’ll speak for myself, but if that’s what you recommend, I’d be in favor.” He paused. “I hope that you can tell her what you just told me.”

    “I will as soon as she’s recovered. Speaking of that, you can go see her now. She might not be awake or coherent, but it’s okay to sit with her.”

    The nurse led Thad to a smallish room where Dina lay in a bed, surrounded by machines, her arms at her side with needles attached. She appeared to be asleep and Thad fought the urge to speak to her. 

    For the next ten minutes, Thad stood by the bed, watching Dina and the machines with flashing numbers on the panel. He wondered what life would be like without Dina as a part of it and his mind recoiled from the thought. Thad felt more scared as he stood there than he had ever been while in a race car.

    After standing by the bed, Thad noticed a chair in the corner of the room. As quietly as he could, he moved the chair as close to the bed as he dared without disturbing Dina’s rest. He looked at the machines that were pumping liquids into her body, numbers flashing. The numbers took him back to yesterday.

    Now that he had the chance to think about it, Thad was astonished that he had won the biggest race in NASCAR only yesterday. It seemed like it had been a week ago. Normally, the Daytona 500 winner made the media rounds, answering questions from people who knew about racing as much as they knew about jai alai. But Arley had instructed Jerry to tell the media types that Thad had taken sick and would not be available until Wednesday. Arley, Jerry and crew chief Darnell Parker had filled in as substitutes on television, radio and the new kids on the mass media block, online programs.

    Thad sat by the bed patiently, reading at times and almost dozing off. An hour later, Dina stirred, causing Thad to jump. He looked at her as she opened her eyes and shut them again. Thad chose not to speak just yet. Instead he gazed at her intently and waited for her to regain consciousness. Finally, she opened her eyes and they stayed open this time. She looked around, not seeing Thad at first. He stayed put and wondered what he would say.

    Dina spoke for the first time since waking up. “Hi, Thad. Where are we?”

    He smiled and said, “Hi, honey. We’re in the recovery room. It’s Monday afternoon. You’ve been out of surgery for an hour and a half, more or less.”

    Sighing, Dina asked the question he didn’t want to answer, but knew he had to answer. “Have you talked to the doctor?”

    He answered slowly, “Yes.”

    “What did she say?”

    “She removed all the cancer that she could but didn’t get it all. She said that you can start chemotherapy fairly soon. There’s a chance it will get the rest of the cancer, but she can’t guarantee it.”

    Dina sighed again, this time as if she had picked up a heavy load that she could barely carry. She didn’t feel able to deal with this, but she knew she must. Chemo!! It was almost as scary as the disease itself. She had heard too many people say that the cure was worse than the disease. Dina tried to imagine what the next few weeks or months would bring. Could she handle the side effects? Would chemotherapy work? Dina had no problem admitting that she was scared.

    She knew that it would be better if she could encounter someone who could relate or at least have empathy for her. Thad, as good as he was to her, was not that person and he would have admitted it himself. But the fact remained that Dina was going to have a difficult time of it, especially with Thad gone so much on his long racing weekends. No one came to mind and Dina lay in her hospital bed that evening wondering what the future would bring.

    Hiring someone to take care of the house would be on the Larrabee’s agenda soon. And probably someone, a visiting nurse, would need to be found. Then it hit Dina. What about her daughter? Did Thad let their daughter know that her mother had undergone cancer surgery? She sighed, knowing the answer. Thad had not contacted Nora Larrabee because he had no idea where she was. Dina stared at the ceiling of the room and willed the thought of her daughter away. Soon her eyes grew heavy and she drifted off to a fitful slumber.



    Chapter Five: Daytona

    Thad had won this race, the biggest on the NASCAR schedule, twice and to him, that was ancient history. He wanted badly to win the Daytona 500 one more time, his last chance to do so.

    On Thursday before the race on Sunday, two qualifying races were held to determine starting positions for the 500. Thad’s time trial result wasn’t quite what he wanted; he would start fourth in the second race. His strategy, which had worked for him before, was to lay back and avoid the large pack of cars that aerodynamics and rule makers decreed, using the excuse that the fans liked to watch the cars slicing and dicing, changing positions multiple times per lap and often running three-wide before someone would make a tiny mistake and suddenly hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of sheet metal and rubber became instant junk.

    Thad wanted no part of that. The green flag waved and he steadily dropped back to twenty-first place, near the tail of the field. His desire to avoid a wreck was rewarded when two cars sideswiped each other and spun, with the cars in their vicinity caught up in a nine-car crash. Thad avoided the mess and eventually found himself in fifth place on a late race re-start. He was happy to finish fifth and would start near the front on Sunday.

    Thirty minutes after the Twin 150s, as the Thursday races were called, Thad found himself on Arley’s personal plane to Asheville, where he rented a car. It wasn’t the most rational thing to do, but Thad felt it was important to be with his wife as much as he could. Despite Dina’s protests, he stayed with her from Thursday night until Saturday afternoon with Arley’s blessing. Immediately after the race on Sunday, Thad would return home to be with Dina for her surgery on Monday morning.

    Somehow, it all came together. Thad spent time with Dina, talking about the surgery and their options. He took the rental car to the Asheville airport on Saturday afternoon while his teammate, Willie Bowdrie, would drive the car in Saturday’s final practice. Thad aimed to arrive at his motel in Daytona Beach on Saturday evening and try and settle down for what he hoped would be a good night’s rest.

    This was Thad Larrabee’s twenty first Daytona 500 and he had yet to get a good night’s sleep or rest the night before. He was wide awake at half past eight and tried to force down some cereal. One of the pit crew stopped by his motel and picked him up and took him to the track. On the way, he tried to call Dina and there was no answer. This didn’t help his nerves.

    Early developments in the race didn’t help his nerves either. With only fourteen (of two hundred) laps complete, a hotshot rookie tried to make it four-wide down the backstretch. He failed and sixteen cars of the forty-three that started were involved. Larrabee narrowly missed hitting his friend Goober Floyd in the driver’s side door.

    Things settled down somewhat after that and Thad happily discovered that his car was smooth and fast, especially in the bottom groove. As a rule, he preferred riding around the top where he felt that he had more control of the car, but not today.

    Pit stop strategy often determines who wins a longer race. A yellow flag waved for a spin in turn two with twenty-four laps to go. Thad was among the lead lap cars who pitted. Most teams changed four tires and topped off the fuel tank. Thad’s team changed all four tires, but gambled that he had enough fuel to finish the race. He would start fourth in line among the front runners with nineteen laps to go. The talking heads on the TV questioned Thad’s strategy of not adding fuel. But Thad and his crew chief had determined that they would not need any fuel.

    Nineteen laps later, Thad and his team showed them all that they had made the right choice as he took the lead coming out of turn two on the last lap to win going away. It was Thad’s third Daytona 500 victory and he and Arley knew it was his last one.

    On the cooldown lap after the checkered flag waved, it started to hit Thad. This was his finest moment in his racing career and Dina wasn’t there; this clouded his mind with a strong dose of bittersweet. He took his time driving to Victory Lane, where he knew what awaited him. Thad composed himself as he entered pit lane, waving to his competitors’ pit crews.

    He exited his racecar, greeted by a shower of confetti and an ice cold drink of water. Those present included his pit crew, some media people, the obligatory trophy girl (about half of Thad’s age), and a huge trophy that was taller and heavier than a Great Dane. Thad knew the drill and could act happy even as he knew that he had to get back to that home on the mountain and be with his wife, who had an important appointment in the morning.

    The celebration slowed as soon as the TV cameras left the scene. Thad found Arley, who was aware of Thad’s schedule and ready.

    “Congratulations, buddy. Not bad for an old washed up racer.” Both men laughed at their own running joke. “Now, Thaddeus. I’ve got a little old jet waiting on you at the airport. I talked a couple of cops into escorting you out of here in a car with tinted windows. You should be in the air in less than an hour. You can change clothes and clean up on the plane.” Arley pulled a cell phone out of his pocket. “Here. Tell your wife what I just told you.”

    Thad could hear a familiar laugh on the phone. It was Dina.

    “Way to go, Thad. I watched it all. Your game plan was perfect.”

    “Thank you, dear. I’m guessing that you know I’m on the way home, thanks to Arley. I’ll be there as soon as I can get there.”

    “Good. Your favorite sister-in-law has been here most of the day and she actually fell asleep during the race.”

    Larrabee laughed as hard as he had laughed in a long time. “Tell her she’s forgiven. And I’ll see you in a few hours, honey.”

    “Love you.” Dina shed a tear as she spoke.

    “Love you, too.” Thad broke the connection and settled back for the ride. He knew it would be a night with little sleep.



    Chapter Four: The Car Owner

    Arley Sebastian had done things the hard way. At age twenty-two, just out of the Army, Arley (whose real name was Robert Lee Sebastian, but as a child was called R. Lee) decided that he should learn about the restaurant business because people liked to go out and eat, plus Arley could flat cook.

    He started as a cook for a mom and pop restaurant in Greenville, South Carolina, near his boyhood home of Chesney, near the North Carolina border. From there, he moved up, buying a restaurant, a small joint on the outskirts of Spartanburg.

    Arley was doing something right as business was booming. When the mom and pop in Greenville wanted to retire, they called Arley and a deal was struck. Arley was on his way to building an empire based on good chicken, great service, all reasonably priced.

    As it turned out, Arley became a race fan when he married into a racing family. His brother-in-law raced at Greenville-Pickens Speedway and prevailed upon Arley to sponsor his car. The red car with the drawing of a chicken on each side ran well enough and Arley got a lesson in advertising. He was happy to help pay the expenses that went with racing in exchange for the publicity generated by the speedy billboard that served as his brother-in-law’s car.

    The restaurant business continued to grow and soon there were nearly twenty Carolina Chicken Restaurants spread through the Carolinas. Arley was just getting started. By this time, Thad Larrabee had just been unceremoniously fired from his previous ride by an impetuous owner who couldn’t understand why Thad didn’t win when the owner had invited all his family to a race. (A car in front of Larrabee had cut a tire, hit the wall, and collected Thad and others in a huge wreck. The owner came to the infield care center to tell Thad he was fired.) Carolina Chicken franchises were now in eight states, mostly in the southeast and NASCAR racing would be a good fit for the growing business owned by a man who was determined to present the best product to the people who would be likely to consume it. What better way to present the product than to race fans? With NASCAR’s extensive popularity in the southeastern United States, Arley started a race team, hiring the best people he could find. The final piece in the puzzle was the recently available Thad Larrabee, a long-time Carolina resident.

    This had been ten years ago and Arley had come to look at Thad as an extra brother. But Thad had told his friend back in November that the coming season would be his last. The aching back from too many crashes, along with the desire to take Dina and go see America were Thad’s reasons. Arley understood and both agreed to keep that information to themselves for the time being. 

    Now, as Thad drove to Daytona, he pondered how to tell Arley the news. Thad wanted to keep Dina’s illness quiet, but he knew that wasn’t practical. He also knew that Jerry Fitzgerald would find out. This meant that Jerry might wish to publicize the fact that Dina was ill, an idea that Thad aimed to shoot down at first mention.

    Arley didn’t know Dina that well, but when they had been around each other, they had gotten along well. Thad dreaded the whole thing. He imagined that he would be forced to tell a lot of people soon. Thankfully, she had already told their only child, for what that had been worth.

    Thad crossed into South Carolina and noticed that his Corvette needed gas. Perfect timing. Thad grinned to himself. Typically, this state’s gas prices were cheaper than the Tarheel State’s. He stopped at a gas station west of Spartanburg and filled up. While watching the numbers fly by on the pump, he checked his phone for messages. None, so he texted Dina. “Gas in Spartanburg. How are you feeling?” He was back in the car and leaving when she answered. “Okay. Had some toast and a couple of eggs. So far so good. Love you.” Back to her: “Sounds good. I’ll let you know when I get to the track. Love you, too.”

    Now came the meat of the trip, I-26 to I-95 and then the traffic might get both heavy and hairy. Larrabee figured that he would arrive in Daytona at rush hour, but there was no way around it. He would get his suite and then call his crew chief, Toby Prince, and let him know his driver was in town, safe and sound.

    The next few days were a jumble of practice, conferring with the crew, chatting with Arley, a couple of sponsor obligations, some media interviews and lots of sitting around. Thad had not told Arley yet, but time was growing short. He and Dina agreed to have a local friend take her to Asheville for her first round of chemotherapy. Thankfully, Thad had an extraordinary ability to compartmentalize. When he arrived at the track, it was time for business. Daytona was certainly no exception.

    Thad finally saw Arley after he had finished his first practice session. He called the big man and beckoned him to a corner.

    “Arley, I have to tell you something and for now, I hope you can keep it to yourself.”

    Arley looked at his friend, puzzled. “What’s up?”

    Thad looked down to the ground. “It’s Dina. She has cancer. Stage III cervical. Surgery Monday morning after the race at ten, but she has to be there at eight.”

    Arley stepped back, as if he had been punched, which, in a way, he had been. Finally, he spoke in a choked voice. “Thad, buddy. I’m so sorry.” He exhaled. “That’s awful, man. Monday, you say? No problem.” Arley squinted at his driver/friend. “Look, boy. Don’t you worry about things here. We’ll work it out. Just keep me posted Monday. Okay?”

    Thad continued to stare at the ground. He was afraid to say anything because he knew he might start blubbering. He looked at Arley and nodded. Then Thad walked to his car and asked his crew chief a question.

    That afternoon, while practicing for time trials, Thad set fast time of all the forty-six cars that practiced.



    Chapter Three: Sponsors

    It was a fact of life that sponsors were a necessary evil in the world of auto racing from the grass roots to the top level. The funds that corporate sponsors provided race teams and sanctioning bodies were necessary if the teams were going to compete for wins and championships. In return, sponsors wanted time and exposure for their money. This meant public appearances by the driver, sometimes with a show car, or a replica of the race car on hand for fans or potential fans to have the illusion of getting up close to the sport.

    Drivers were expected to be exemplary in their off-track behavior, always affable and eager to answer questions, sign autographs or have their pictures taken with fans, sometimes including family pets. A few lucky drivers were featured in TV commercials, depending on the sponsor. Thad had agreed to this, but balked at dressing up like a matador and serving food to “customers.” His suggestion of dressing up like a cook was, fortunately for him, accepted and even praised. He was unmercifully teased by everyone from Dina to the young man who was the custodian of the race team’s headquarters, but Thad took it all in stride. The checks that he cashed aided in whatever embarrassment he had endured.

    Arriving about fifteen minutes early, Thad looked around for a familiar face, hoping that Jerry had sent an assistant to organize the grand opening of the newest Carolina Chicken restaurant. He was out of luck. Exiting his car, Jerry waved at him to come over to where he stood talking to an age forty something man dressed for success. At the edge of the group stood an individual dressed in a chicken suit and wearing a baseball cap adorned with the Carolina Chicken logo in the front.

    Most reluctantly, Thad ambled over to the group and waited on instructions. Jerry reached out and shook Thad’s hand. Thad returned the handshake with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

    Jerry said, “Hi, Thad,” and then turned to the flashily dressed gentleman. “Thad, this is the franchise owner of the new restaurant, Mr. Earl Estelline. Earl, meet Thad Larrabee, NASCAR racer for twenty plus years and winner of sixty-two races, including two Daytona 500s, in his career.”

    Earl seemed somewhat unimpressed as he shook Thad’s hand and mumbled a quick hello. Thad had the impression that Earl didn’t think having some illiterate race car driver showing up at his newest restaurant would help sell much chicken. What Thad couldn’t know was that Earl was from Colorado, not exactly a hotbed of racing. Earl was about to find out how much Carolinians loved their racing, most especially the NASCAR variety.

    Two hours later, Thad had shaken his last hand, and had his last picture taken with everything from grinning race fans to shy preschoolers. He was ready to go and asked Jerry if there was anything else required of him, which there wasn’t. Despite his discomfort and his frequently thinking about Dina’s well-being back at home, Thad had a good time of it. But he was ready to go back home. It was Tuesday and he would have to make another trip from his mountaintop home near Asheville to the team’s headquarters in tiny Reid’s Corner, North Carolina on Wednesday. Then on Thursday the team would head for a long stretch at Daytona for preparations for the biggest race on the schedule, the Daytona 500.

    Thad crossed into Shelby County before he remembered that the grilled chicken sandwich he was promised never made it to the table where he had sat much of the afternoon. He stopped at a little restaurant in Shelby and ordered a cheeseburger, not chicken. He called Dina and gave her a summary of the day’s events and, mostly, checked on how she was doing. Dina had not heard from the doctor on the telephone, but she had received an email saying that her surgery would be the Monday morning after the race at ten o’clock. She needed to be at the hospital by eight a.m. The procedure would last about five hours.

    Monday, she had said. Thad tried to think about his upcoming schedule. All he could do was promise Dina that he would try to be there. He told her that he would talk to his car owner as soon as he could.

    Thad finally had his grilled chicken that night for supper, but it had been grilled by Dina. He decided that her grilled chicken was superior than that of his sponsor.



    Chapter Two: Dealing With…

    Thad helped Dina into their car and went around to the driver’s side, opened the door and slid into the seat.

    “Do you want to get something to eat?” He looked at her, waiting on an answer before starting the car.

    She sighed. Finally, she said, “I’d love to, but nothing sounds good.” She looked at him and said, “You know?”

    “Well, not really. But I might be able to manage.”

    She said, “Remember when you were hurt that last time? And food smelled so good, but you couldn’t eat it? That’s kind of what’s going on here.”

    He sighed. “I guess so. It was no fun.” He paused, then asked, “Do you want to get something or wait until we get home?”

    “Oh, let’s stop at that place we stopped the last time we were here.”

    “You mean ‘Johnny’s Steak-Out?”

    She nodded.

    He chuckled. “That’s where you had one drink too many and started flirting with the waiter.”

    “Yes, after you winked at the hostess who sat us.”

    “You weren’t supposed to see that.”

    In spite of her pain and despair, she laughed. “I saw.”

    Fifteen minutes later, they were placing their orders. He decided to have the same thing as she did, a grilled chicken with a baked potato on the side.

    While they waited on their food, she sighed, this time more forcefully.

    “Thaddeus, what are we going to do?”

    He looked at her for a moment before deciding on an answer. Finally, he said, “I guess all we can do is what the doctor said.”

    “What was that?”

    “Our best.” He shrugged.

    She rubbed her hands, then covered her face. Her muffled voice said, “Don’t make it sound so easy.”

    “I apologize if I did. I didn’t mean to do that. It’s going to be very difficult, especially on you. I aim to do my best for you.” He shrugged again.

    Both fell silent until their food arrived. He ate heartily while she picked at her plate, finally eating about two thirds of her meal. No one recognized Thad in his street clothes. For that he was thankful. He left the server a sizable tip. She had figured out that this couple had something serious going on, perhaps an illness of some sort.

    They drove to their house, a modest ranch style design, and about 2000 square feet. It was located between Asheville and Charlotte. When Dina began feeling ill, they decided that they would try to find a competent doctor in Asheville rather than Charlotte in an attempt to keep her illness out of the news. So far it had worked. They had made the day’s trip without being discovered. Their home sat on a mountain, hidden by a variety of trees from the road. Only a few neighbors knew who Thad was and they had respected his desire for privacy.

    Pulling into the driveway, Thad made sure that Dina was able to negotiate the steps into the house. As he did this, he noticed that the answering machine light was blinking. Thad hoped it wasn’t anyone from the media. Instead, it was his race team’s PR guy, Jerry Fitzgerald.

    Jerry’s message was short. “Hi, Thad. Jerry here. It’s 2:45 p.m. on Monday. I just wanted to remind you that you have a sponsor’s function tomorrow afternoon at one. They are opening that new restaurant over in Monroe. I know that will be a drive for you so you might want to leave fairly early. It’s about a two-hour drive from your house. Say hi to Dina for me.”

    Thad hung up the phone a little harder than necessary. That last seemingly innocent request to “say hi to Dina” caused Thad to do a slow burn. Several years ago, Jerry and Dina had a somewhat brief affair. It had ended with that race season, but the memories were still fresh for Thad. He and Dina seldom discussed that period; at least now their discussions didn’t get as heated as they did a few years back.

    But that was past. Dina had been sorry and now avoided Jerry when she could. All had been forgiven if not forgotten. Thad always remembered that he had not always been faithful himself and had given up rationalizing his actions due to his chosen profession. Dina seldom traveled with him and this meant both had opportunities for all sorts of misbehavior. At some point she realized that whatever Thad did while he was away at a race was out of her control. And now all of that was pushed aside. He was here with her and wasn’t going anywhere—unless it was a race.

    Thad wasn’t going to relay Jerry’s message. Dina limited her contact with him and Thad saw no reason to bring his name up, especially at such a challenging time. But he did tell her that he had a sponsor event the next day.



    “Goodness, what’s that, a two-hour drive?”

    “Probably, if traffic doesn’t stack up.”

    Dina said, “Well, don’t worry. I’ll be fine here.”

    Thad said nothing. There would be more moments like this where he would have to leave her behind. At some point, they might have to think of hiring a nurse. It was one of several things they would have to deal with.



    Shifting Gears

    Chapter One: Confrontation

    Thad and Dina Larrabee prepared themselves for the doctor’s arrival with what both feared would be bad news. Thad looked around the examination room, trying not to look at his wife. He was afraid that he would break down if he looked at her. Instead, he looked around the room. Posters about fighting cancer, uplifting quotes and a depiction of the insides of an imaginary man or woman. Thad wasn’t sure.

    Dina sat still, as if she was frozen to the chair. The pain in her abdomen wasn’t all that bad. The problem was that it was consistent and unrelenting. She knew, or at least believed, it was cancer. She had resigned herself to the reality that she was a cancer patient. The issue would be whether or not she would be a cancer survivor. She tried not to think about her future. Her nature, somewhat unusual in a female, was not given to expressing her feelings. That nature was being severely tested. She dared not look at her husband for fear that either or both would collapse.

    One new reality that both would have to deal with was the waiting, as they were presently doing. This doctor would be theirs for the time being. They had already met the young lady, whose reputation as an oncologist was stellar. Her manner was somewhat cool, but very professional. She had been willing to answer all their questions at the first meeting. But neither knew what exactly was going to be next. They were about to find out.

    The door opened and a young man entered, then introduced himself. He was on the tall side, a little more than six feet. Sandy hair, looking as if he might be a jogger or an exercising type. He looked to be no more than 21, but he was at least ten years older. He was bright and friendly, if somewhat forced in his friendly manner. Thad could not help being a little jealous. Despite her discomfort, Dina could not keep from admiring the young man’s good looks.

    “Good morning, Mrs. Larrabee. I’m your nurse, at least for today. My name is Brett.” He reached out to shake her hand. Then he looked at Thad before asking, “Are you Mr. Larrabee?”

    Thad said, “Yes, I am. Good morning.” He had trouble adding the last comment. It was not a good morning as far as he was concerned.

    Dina kept quiet for the time being, alone with her thoughts, with no desire to talk unless she had to. She tried to fight the panic and fear that consumed her. Though she had some hope of a full recovery, there was a fear that this disease would eventually claim her. The thought that she might not have the chance to grow old with Thad was too much to bear for right now.

    The nurse interrupted her bleak meandering. “Mrs. Larrabee, could you please sit over here and we’ll take your vitals.”

    She moved to the chair beside the desk and placed her left arm on the desk so Brett could take her blood pressure. He accidentally brushed his hand against her breast as he applied the cuff to her arm. Dina grinned inwardly as the handsome young man gave no indication that he was embarrassed.

    “138/91, just a little too high,” he said. Brett gave her a smile as he removed the cuff and again touched the side of her breast. It may have been her imagination, but Dina felt that this touch lasted longer and that didn’t bother her a bit. Lord knows, she thought, that her husband had not been interested in anything like that lately. His claims that she was too sick for romance had been occurring more frequently lately.

    Thad looked up with a combination of surprise and anxiety as Dr. Gwen Chalmers entered with a flourish and the sense that she was in a hurry. As it turned out nothing could have been further from the truth. Dr. Chalmers had been treating patients for nearly 14 years. She loved her job, but admittedly it was harder to love her job when she encountered people that she could not cure. It appeared that Mrs. Larrabee’s chances weren’t the best, but the doctor was determined to do what she could. 

    It didn’t do Thad’s limited listening abilities any good that Dr. Chalmers was a stunning blonde, age 46, who looked barely 30. Tall, blonde, with curves in all the right places, the good doctor was involuntarily going to severely test Thad’s concentration on what she was saying. Fortunately, Dina was a good listener, as she had always been.

    For the next five minutes, Dr. Chalmers spoke to the couple. Brett stood off to the side with a stern expression on his face. The doctor finished and said, “Are there any questions?”

    Dina said, “You say that the surgery has at least a 50/50 chance of being successful. But what if it isn’t? You didn’t say anything about that.”

    The doctor smiled and said, “I was going to address that next, Dina. So we’re on the same page. People hate to hear it, but chemotherapy is the next option. That’s not uncommon for Stage III cervical cancer.”

    “And what are the odds that chemo will work?”

    Dr. Chalmers wanted to guarantee that Mrs. Larrabee would sail through whatever trial she would endure and then recover, but she couldn’t do that. Her slight hesitation to speak was noticed by Dina.

    The doctor said, “To be as honest as I can be, that would be a 50/50 chance as well. You are at Stage III here. Dina, as much as I want to be able to tell you that whatever treatment we use here will cure you, I can’t do that. I can say that you have a fighting chance to whip this thing.”

    Finally, Thad Larrabee spoke. “When should the surgery be done? Immediately as in later this week? Next week?” He shrugged his shoulders to mean that he had no clue.

    The doctor said, “We will try for next week if that works for you.”

    The couple looked at each other, each trying to think of their respective schedules.

    Dr. Chalmers picked up on this and asked, “Will that be a problem?”

    Thad answered too quickly, “Not necessarily.”

    Brett came to life after standing off to the side listening. “Mr. Larrabee, are you a NASCAR driver?”

    Thad looked at the young man in some surprise. “Why yes, I am.”

    This didn’t seem to register with the doctor, so Brett tried to educate her. “Dr. Chalmers, Mr. Larrabee drives race cars for a living. This is late January and the NASCAR season starts very soon. My guess is that he will have to do some juggling with his schedule.”

    Before the doctor could speak, Thad did. “Doctor, Brett, let’s not worry about my schedule. It’s true that I have a lot to do at the race tracks this year, but let’s remember that none of that should have any effect on Dina’s treatment. We’ve already talked about this and I may not be able to be present for every single stage of her treatment, but I aim to try. I have the support of my car owner, the sponsors and the team on this.”

    The doctor looked confused. “Mr. Larrabee, I’m totally ignorant about your occupation. You drive race cars for a living? And you race every week?  On TV?”

    “Yes, ma’am.” Thad looked at her and asked, “Is that a problem? We have insurance—”

    “No, that wasn’t what I meant. I mean, sorry if this sounds impolite, but—”

    Dina chimed in, “He doesn’t look like a race car driver?”

    The doctor was somewhat embarrassed. “I’m sorry, Mr. Larrabee. It’s my fault for assuming. Forgive me.”

    Thad shrugged. “I get that on occasion. I’m losing my hair, most of what’s left is gray and I don’t drink beer or chew tobacco. It’s okay, Doctor. The main thing is that I’ll do my best to be here for and with Dina when I can.”

    “Good,” The doc turned to Brett. “Check my schedule and let’s see if we can see Dina early next week.” She turned to Thad. “I promise you that we will try and work around your schedule when we can, Thad.”

    Thad spoke of something that had just occurred to him. “Doctor, I’m not sure of how things are done here concerning publicity, but I’d prefer that the media not know of what’s going on here. We treasure our privacy in the good times and we certainly would like that our current trial be kept away from the media.”

    Dr. Chalmers said, “I must say that I don’t encounter many famous people. It’s nice to meet you both, though I wish it could be under better circumstances. This is going to be a very tough fight for the two of you. I promise you that I will do my very best, and that includes respecting your privacy. It’s important to me that both of you realize that. That is the only thing I can guarantee.” She stepped toward the couple and shook first Dina’s, then Thad’s hand.

    The doctor said, “See you next week.”



    The Hoosier Race Report: The Lunch Pail Boys

    Thomas Meseraull and Justin Grant won their respective features on a mild southern Indiana night. Grant won the MSCS feature, with Meseraull winning the USAC Nos Energy Drink Midget National Series 30 lapper at the Tri-State Speedway. When these two win, they enjoy the cheers and the accolades. Each time they win, one can't miss the fact that they act like it's their first win. They love to win, of course, but after the cheers, interviews and congratulations are done, they start thinking about other matters. They have mouths to feed, so they can take some satisfaction in knowing that the kids can get that new pair of shoes. The refrigerator at their favorite appliance store is on sale; tonight's winnings will take care of that and then some. I won’t pretend to know what financial arrangements either Meseraull or Grant have, but they shouldn’t have to worry about such things as groceries or rent for a few days.

    A few years ago, I can imagine that USAC's Levi Jones and the owners of Tri-State Speedway, Tom and Loris Helfrich, met to talk about scheduling a midget race at the Class Track. It was a mutually beneficial decision. The Harvest Cup was now an enhanced program, one that would surely draw more fans. The crowd left with smiles and good promoters always strive for that. Hopefully these three classes (including the minisprints) are what make up the Harvest Cup for a long time.

    Another treat that came from adding USAC Midgets to the dance card was the extraordinary number of double dippers. They included Chris Windom, Kevin Thomas Jr., Justin Grant, Daison Pursley, Kyle Cummins, Carson Garrett, Stephen Schnapf, Emerson Axsom and Jeff Schindler, who was doubling up with a midget and a minisprint.

    With a reported 106 cars overflowing the pits, 38 were sprints and 29 were midgets. The sprints did the MSCS group qualifying thing with Garrett the quickest at 13.025. Tanner Thorson set a new track record for midgets with a 13.266 lap, toppling Chris Windom’s four-month-old mark. Sprints had four heats, a C and B main. All transferred four. Midgets had three heats, taking five; the B, as always, took seven to the show.


    First: Daison Pursley, Kendall Ruble, Critter Malone and Emerson Axsom.

    Second: Kevin Thomas Jr., Jason McDougal, Aric Gentry and Carson Garrett.

    Third: Chase Stockon, Kyle Cummins, Robert Ballou and Tayte Williamson.

    Fourth: Justin Grant, Kent Schmidt, Stan Beadles and Jake Swanson.

    C Main: Jaden Rogers, Stephen Schnapf, Harley Burns and Jeff Pritchett.

    B Main: Sam Scott, Cole Bodine, Zach Daum and Jadon Rogers.

    The first heat had its share of minor bobbles, which cost some. Brady Short paid more than most. His slight miss of turn two put him in the B, where he was leading—for a while. In the third heat, Tayte Williamson crowded Robert Ballou, who flipped. Ballou returned to the race and passed Williamson on the last lap. In the fourth heat, Donnie Brackett got sideways and collected Stephen Schnapf, who flipped. Stephen was out of the car quickly. After making the tiniest boo-boo, Sam Scott headed for the B, where he passed Cole Bodine on the last lap to win. Harley Burns spun in the B, collecting Short, costing him the win.


    First: Buddy Kofoid, Chris Windom, Daison Pursley, Tanner Thorson and Emerson Axsom.

    Second: Thomas Meseraull, Kevin Thomas Jr., Justin Grant, Chance Crum and Bryant Wiedeman.

    Third: Ethan Mitchell, Kaylee Bryson, Cannon McIntosh, Chase Randall and Logan Seavey.

    B Main: 1. Jace Park, 2. Kyle Cummins, 3. Brenham Crouch, 4. Carson Garrett, 5. Jake Neuman, 6. Sam Johnson, 7. Tyler Rust,

    In the sprint feature, Grant and Stockon led the way to Keith Dewig’s green flag. Right away, Keith had to bring out the yellow for a traffic jam in turn one featuring Kyle Cummins, Sam Scott and Tayte Williamson, who was done for the night. They tried again and Grant and Stockon led the rest for the first three laps. But Stockon was under pressure right away from his teammate, Daison Pursley, who took over second on the third lap.

    Grant put some distance between himself and Pursley. Lapped traffic appeared on lap eight. So did the red flag two laps later as Jake Swanson got upside down in turn four after contact from Ballou. Grant led Pursley, Jason McDougald, Kevin Thomas Jr. and Stockon. KO Motorsports cars occupied three of the top five and four of the top seven.

    The green came out and Grant tried to check out but Pursley had other ideas. While Grant couldn’t pull away, Pursley couldn’t get close enough to make an attempt to pass. Again, Grant came upon lapped traffic and again a yellow flag waved, this time for seventh-place Kent Schmidt and Emerson Axsom. The top five was unchanged with eight laps to go.

    A lap after the restart saw Cummins get squeezed against the wall at the start/finish line, mangling his front end and bringing out a yellow. This restart saw Pursley get along side of Grant, but again he couldn’t pass the California native-turned Hoosier.

    As the white flag waved, contact between Ballou and Critter Malone resulted in Critter flipping just past the start/finish line. He exited the car in a timely fashion. There would be a one-lap dash, meaning that Grant had to keep Pursley in mind one more time.

    Sure enough, Keith waved the green and the last lap was devoid of drama, except for Ballou passing Stockon. Behind Grant was Pursley, McDougald, Thomas and Ballou. Stockon settled for sixth and Rogers came from the C, B and 20th to finish seventh and take the Takeuchi Hard Charger award. Aric Gentry, Kendall Ruble and Emerson Axsom rounded out the top ten.

    The USAC midgets were up next with Pursley and Thomas leading the way. Thomas jumped out to the lead and was still out front when Thorson spun in turn four, bringing out the overworked yellow flag with two laps complete.

    The green flew and Thomas maintained the top spot as Pursley was busy thanks to McIntosh, who took second on the fifth lap. Meseraull had cracked the top five a lap earlier from the fourth row. Thomas had his lead wiped out on the ninth lap as Carson Garrett spun. A lap later, Chase Randall and rookie Jace Park stopped on the track with another yellow flag ordered. Thomas led Kofoid, McIntosh, Meseraull and Pursley.

    On the restart, McIntosh passed Kofoid for second. There were 17 laps to go. But the red came out when Kofoid found himself on the high side of a three wide formation. Then Kofoid found the turn four wall and tipped over. It was Thomas, McIntosh, Pursley, Meseraull and Cummins. Grant had come from 17th to seventh by now.

    The green waved and McIntosh had dropped out. Thomas had Pursley (again) to worry about. And Pursley had Meseraull, who was in a pestering mood. TMez got around the kid from Oklahoma on the 19th lap. The red lights blinked again as Ethan Mitchell pounded the turn four wall. He exited the car and walked to the pits. The order was Thomas, Meseraull, Pursley, Grant and Cummins.

    KT had real trouble now. Meseraull would not be denied. After pressuring for the lead, he made the pass, going low in turn two in making the pass for the lead. There were six laps to go. A lap later, a parking lot formed in turn four with Emerson Axsom, Sam Johnson and Brenham Crouch facing every way but the right way.

    From there, TMez hung on to win this race the second year in a row. Thomas was second with Grant passing Pursley for third and winning the KSE Racing Products Hard Charger money. Pursley continued to run with the big boys, finishing fourth. Windom came from 14th to pass Cummins late and take fifth. Seavey was a quiet seventh and Wiedeman rambled from 20th to eighth. Kofoid was able to come back and finish ninth. Thorson was tenth after his early spin.

    The boys head west next month and Windom’s point lead over Kofoid is only 13. There are some lunch pails that need to be restocked.

    Partying with Urban Meyer, I’m…

    Danny Burton




    The Hoosier Race Report: Knowing How to Win

    Race winner Kevin Thomas Jr. acknowledged that he knew who was behind him on the last lap of the USAC Amsoil National Sprint Car 30-lap feature at the Lawrenceburg Speedway on what turned out to be a beautiful Saturday night. He had a pretty good idea what second place Chris Windom would do, most likely in turn three. But KT knew what he would do in turn four. After Windom slid to the lead in turn three, Thomas returned the favor in turn four and saw the checkered flag first at the Hoosier Fall Nationals. It was KT’s eighth USAC sprint car feature win this year. For his effort, Thomas walked away $10,000 richer.

    There were 30 sprinters signed in; many of them had made the two and a half hour drive from Terre Haute the night before. We’ll assume they took the interstate highways instead of scenic Indiana 46, often my leisurely choice to go to Terre Haute, Lawrenceburg, Bloomington, and for part of the way, Haubstadt. More importantly, none of the 30 brought rain with them. The expected rain missed the ‘burg, leaving mild and cloudy skies—and a pretty good track surface.

    Tanner Thorson set quick time for the second consecutive night, turning a 13.441 lap.

    Again, there would be three heats, but tonight would have a semi-feature. Top five from the heats and the top seven from the semi would advance.

    First: Chase Stockon, Thomas Meseraull, Jadon Rogers, Tanner Thorson and Logan Seavey.

    Second:  Chris Windom, Robert Ballou, Emerson Axsom, J.J. Hughes and C.J. Leary,

    Third: Max Adams, Justin Grant, Justin Owen, Saban Bibent and Kevin Thomas Jr.

    B Main: Jake Swanson, Brandon Mattox, Brady Bacon, Jason McDougal, Ryan Thomas, Dallas Hewitt and Shane Cottle.

    Stockon set up fellow veteran Meseraull in taking the lead on the last lap, faking high and going low. In the second heat, Brady Bacon took a mean ride after contact with CJ Leary. Bacon and company have seen this movie before, notably at Terre Haute this summer. When the B main lined, there he was, starting last/15th In a backup car, and finishing third.

    I’ll have to check with USAC’s ace statistician Richie Murray to see if tonight’s front row was the youngest ever. Teenagers Saban Bibent and Emerson Axsom led 20 older guys to Tim Montgomery’s green flag. While Bibent faded, Axsom took off like the proverbial scared rabbit. Logan Seavey, who likes this place, settled into second with Thomas, Thorson and Windom serving as the early top five.

    Axsom caught the tail end of the field on the eighth lap and the duo of Seavey and Thomas closed the gap quickly. At the time, few if any realized that perhaps the turning point of the race came on lap ten when Thomas passed Seavey for second. The Alabama native-turned-Hoosier made his most serious attempt to take the lead from Axsom on the 12th lap in turn two. But it was more of a “Hey, Emerson. How about that Crimson Tide?” introductory move.

    It may or may not have mattered because the yellow waved on lap 12 when Windom ran over JJ Hughes’ right rear. JJ stopped in turn one. Robert Ballou tried to avoid the stalled car, but clipped it just enough to send Robert, who was running eighth, into the wall. Two tow trucks were needed. During the caution, Leary pitted with a flat tire while running sixth. He rejoined the field, holding down the caboose—for a while. The lineup was Axsom, Thomas, Seavey, Windom and Thorson.

    The green waved and Axsom took off, fleeing Thomas and the others. Thomas said later that he didn’t think he had anything for the kid from Franklin, IN. A bit further back, Windom was making noise. With no apparent damage to his car from the Hughes incident, Windom passed Seavey for third at the halfway mark. The top three ran nose-to-tail for the next several laps before disaster struck the leader.

    On the 26th lap, Axsom’s right rear tire went south and he stopped coming out of turn four, bringing out the yellow and ending a most impressive run. This gave Thomas the lead, but this deal was far from over. Windom was next in line and dearly wished to make it two in a row after his Terre Haute win.

    The green waved one last time and Windom seemed to be sizing up the leader and trying to determine the best place to make the pass. But after the white flag waved, he got serious. With a great run coming off turn two, Windom sailed under Thomas going into turn three and taking the lead for a second, maybe two. Thomas had figured (guessed?) correctly. Anticipating Windom’s intentions, Thomas made his own run off turn four, diving under Windom and re-taking the lead and receiving the checkered a couple of car lengths ahead of Windom.

    Thorson had hung around the top five throughout the race and finished third. Bacon once again overcame adversity, flipping in his heat, going to a backup car, starting on the tail of the B and transferring to the feature, then starting 11th and salvaging a well-earned fourth place finish. Jake Swanson was fifth and Justin Grant earned the KSE Racing Products Hard Charger award after coming from 14th and finishing sixth. Seavey faded a bit to seventh and Max Adams was eighth. Chase Stockon finished ninth and Leary hustled from the tail spot to take tenth.

    Bacon lost a little of his point lead to Thomas; now the margin is 64 as the gang makes plans to head west in a little less then a month.

    Somewhere in there, September turned into October. And the days dwindle down.

    Buying the MyPillow guy an abacus for Christmas, I'm...

    Danny Burton




    The Hoosier Race Report: Windom's Happy Place

    One could understand if Chris Windom campaigned for more USAC Sprint races at the Terre Haute Action Track. Once again, Windom smoked the field and romped to the victory in the 22nd running of the Jim Hurtubise Classic, leading second place Jake Swanson by the better part of the straightaway.

    Here are a few reasons why Windom is so fond of the Action Track:

    1.       He is now a five-time of the Hurtubise Classic.

    2.       With the win, Windom tied Jack Hewitt and Gary Bettenhausen as the winningest USAC racer at Terre Haute.

    3.       This race was an all-green flag contest. Windom took 10 minutes and 31.97seconds in winning, smashing Cary Faas’ 1998 time by nearly 25 seconds.

    4.       This was Windom’s 15th win on a half mile track. This ties him with Pancho Carter.

    Brady Bacon’s seven-year-old time trial record remained on the books, but Tanner Thorson came close. His lap of 19.377 came up a mere .152 seconds off the record, and was a half second quicker than every one of the 24 cars attempting to qualify.

    USAC made a great call in erasing the semi-feature from the program. All 24 cars made the feature.

    FIRST HEAT: 1. Max Adams, 2. Robert Ballou, 3. C.J. Leary, 4. Justin Grant, 5. Jadon Rogers, 6. Tanner Thorson, 7. Mitch Wissmiller, 8. Sterling Cling.

    SECOND HEAT: 1. Chris Windom, 2. Tye Mihocko, 3. Chase Stockon, 4. Mario Clouser, 5. Harley Burns, 6. Brandon Mattox, 7. Davey Ray, 8. Brandon Morin.

     THIRD HEAT: 1. Kevin Thomas Jr., 2. Shane Cottle, 3. Jake Swanson, 4. Jason McDougal, 5. Brady Bacon, 6. Logan Seavey, 7. Matt Westfall, 8. Patrick Budde.

    In the first heat, quick timer Thorson didn’t finish in the top five. He started three spots lower than he would have had he finished one position higher. Windom gave us a preview of things to come in the second heat as he passed Tye Mihocko on the last lap to win. Kevin Thomas Jr. simply ran away and hid in the third heat.

    For what I think was the first time, the 305 Racesavers were on the schedule. Hot Rod Henning won the first heat. Jeff Wimmenauer was the third leader of the second heat as he won.

    Alex Nalon took the lead midway through the 15-lap Racesavers’ feature after Henning broke to add his name to the list of Action Track feature winners.

    Robert Ballou and Jake Swanson led 22 of their cohorts to the green. They fought for the lead with Swanson taking over coming to the line, leading the first lap. Jake pulled away a little bit on each lap as Ballou gave up second place to Windom on the second lap. Swanson’s lead, several car lengths at one point, began to shrink.

    Windom reeled in the leader and got close enough to take a look on the low side in turn two of lap 11. It may have been a “Hi, Jake; I’m here” kind of move. Windom must have been thinking it would be a matter of time before he would make the pass. A lap after Windom’s pass attempt, he and Swanson found slower cars ahead. Swanson was able to keep his lead as he and Windom smoothly negotiated their way around the lapped cars as the race’s halfway mark came and went. But Windom had enough when he saw an opportunity and took it.

    On lap 18, Windom tried a slider on Swanson in turn two. It wasn’t the prettiest slide job but it worked as Windom just cleared Swanson. From there he edged away, gradually building a lead while Swanson also put some real estate between himself and Ballou. I kept waiting for one of those late-race cautions that occasionally pop up and bedevil whoever is leading the feature at the time. But it didn’t happen as everyone stayed out of trouble on the impeccably prepared half mile oval.

    At the end, Windom’s lead was the better part of a straightaway over Swanson, who is due to win one of these things soon. Ballou ran third for all 30 laps if my notes were correct. Bacon was not far behind in fourth, extending his points lead over Thomas, who finished fifth, to 74. Thorson ran in the top five for much of the race, but finished sixth. Logan Seavey was seventh and CJ Leary took eighth. Shane Cottle came from 14th to finish ninth and earn the KSE Racing Products / B & W Auto Mart Hard Charger award. Chase Stockon concluded his night with a tenth place finish, extending his string of top ten results in this race.

    In a more perfect world, everyone would have a happy place, a location where they can thrive and enjoy life. This could be anyplace from home to the barber shop to a saloon to church. Racers’ happy places can be at a given track or can be a good finish. If the racer is Chris Windom, the preferred happy place seems to be the Terre Haute Action Track.

    On to da ‘burg.

    Writing a musical comedy titled "Man of La Manchimina, I'm...

    Danny Burton




    The Hoosier Race Report: The Way of Improvement

    One of my favorite podcasts is called The Way of Improvement Leads Home. Seeing Mario Clouser close out the 2021 season at the Lincoln Park Speedway on a chilly Hoosier night triggered the phrase. Because Mario, up until the past few years, was more of a pavement guy. However, he’s worked hard at improving his dirt racing skills and it’s been paying off. Not only was he a (first time at LPS) winner, he also claimed the 2021 championship of the Wingless Auto Series/WAR, based in Mario’s home state of Illinois.

    The Lincoln Park sprint car championship was on the line as Brayden Fox came in with a nine point lead over AJ Hopkins. AJ’s normal ride in the Burton family’s car was damaged at the last Bloomington race, but Jamie and Michelle Paul had an open seat with their regular ace Shane Cockrum hanging out at Eldora with his Silver Crown ride. Presto, Hopkins had a ride for the night, and a good one to be sure.

    With 39 sprints helping jam the pits, there were five heats, top three advance. Two B mains would take three.

    First: Harley Burns, AJ Hopkins and Alec Sipes.

    Second: Zach Pretorious, Braydon Cromwell and Ben Knight.

    Third: Mario Clouser, Gabriel Gilbert and Carson Garrett.

    Fourth: Jesse Vermillion, Andy Bradley and Brayden Fox.

    Fifth: Kyle Shipley, Travis Berryhill and Pat Giddens.

    The second heat was, to be kind, caution plagued. Mr. Knight started in the last row, was collected as part of a yellow, but still made the feature. Mr. Cromwell had the driveline break as he crossed the finish line, a painful experience for any racer. Mr. Shipley ignored the smoke coming from his motor long enough to win the fifth heat. The front row of Messrs. Giddens and McMillen pushed wide in turn two, allowing the second row of Messrs. Berryhill and Shipley to scoot by.

    First B: Brandon Spencer, Nate McMillin and Kent Christian (yes, that Kent Christian).

    Second B: Mitchell Davis, Blake Vermillion and Cody Williams.

    The second B had a pileup in turn three with Eddie Vancil flipping. Eddie was out of the car as quick as the LPS backstretch concession line moves.

    A couple of young fellows with some good experience at these bullrings, Harley Burns and Zach Pretorius, led the field of 21 to Mr. B. Hodde’s green flag. That’s how they ran for several laps. Hopkins started sixth and was fifth by the time the fifth lap arrived. Fox was way back in 14th and had a task ahead of him.

    The yellow waved with seven laps completed. It was Burns, Pretorius, Shipley, Clouser and Hopkins. Fox was up to eighth. Brian brought out the green and Mario got busy. He passed Shipley in turn two, then got Pretorius in turn four. He was not done. After swapping the lead with Burns four times in two laps, Clouser took the lead on the tenth lap (of 30). He took off, leaving Burns to fight it out with first Shipley and then Hopkins.

    The blue 24p car took over third on the 14th lap and Hopkins’ championship prospects were looking better. Then the yellow waved two laps later for Fox, who had stopped in turn three. The championship was now settled. Fox restarted on the tail, but Hopkins was strong and running up front. The order when the race got going again was Clouser, Burns, Hopkins, Shipley and Cromwell.

    If anyone expected Hopkins to make short work of Burns, they were surely disappointed. AJ made the pass for second but it took him seven laps to pass and make it stick. Clouser had built up a healthy lead and was handling lapped traffic with ease. Hopkins had a long way to go if he was going to catch the leader.

    Meanwhile, a pair of surprises had invaded the top five in the latter stages of the race. Ben Knight showed up fifth in my notes on lap 18. Seven laps later, he wrested third place from Burns. Mitchell Davis had come from B Main-land and entered the top five with nine to go. My eyesight isn’t what it used to be and I wasn’t sure that was Mitch. Thinking swiftly for someone beginning their eighth decade on earth, I figured out that there was only one car numbered four.

    As the end came closer, Hopkins had closed the gap on Clouser. Maybe he ran out of laps, maybe not. I’d let the partisan fans argue that one. Clouser’s lead was about a half straightaway with a good amount of lapped traffic between them. Maybe Hopkins figured he would settle for second and take his second Lincoln Park points title in two years.

    Behind Clouser and Hopkins was Knight, who started 12th, having his best run in some time. Burns hung on for fourth after leading early. Mitchell Davis claimed fifth and earned the Brad Dickison hard charger award (the world famous LPS bag of popcorn) after starting 17th. Shipley was sixth as Cromwell started and finished seventh. Nate McMillin came from 18th to end up eighth. Pretorius was ninth and birthday boy Alec Sipes took tenth.

    Final note: How interesting that the top two finishers are named Mario and AJ. Coincidence? Not when you think about it.

    The competition wasn’t at the level as the assembled throng at Eldora, but so what? There’s no need to worry about who is or is not at a given race. The main point was that the competition was as spirited and intense as it was at Eldora or anywhere else. Racers were trying to win—or improve.

    And, to me, that’s what it’s all about.

    Keeping busy by trying to figure out what "Imeach Biden" means, I'm...

    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: Four Time Winner

    Kevin Thomas Jr. tried his best to stink up the show but couldn't quite pull it off. However, he was plenty quick enough to win the Haubstadt Hustler 40-lap feature for the fourth time, carting home $12,000 from the piggy bank at the Tri-State Speedway/Haubstadt.

    The USAC Amsoil National Sprint Car Series and the Midwest Sprint Car Series appear not to be fools. Together they cooked up a concoction of a signature event that fans and racers alike have looked forward to being a part of since 2008, when Jeff Bland Jr. won the initial Hustler.

    The pits were overflowing with open wheel machines, 37 of which were sprints and 31 were the minisprints of the MMSA. The usual suspects were on board with no surprises as the season enters the fourth turn.

    Jason McDougal was quickest in MSCS style group qualifying with a 13.399 lap.

    Four heats/top four—C Main/top four to the—B Main/top six to the main.

    First: Chase Stockon, Kyle Cummins, Stephen Schnapf and Jadon Rogers.

    Second: Brady Short, Kendall Ruble, Chris Windom and Jake Swanson.

    Third: Justin Grant, Tanner Thorson, Jason McDougal and Robert Ballou.

    Fourth: Kevin Thomas Jr., Brady Bacon, Daison Pursley and Kent Schmidt.

    C Main: Aric Gentry, James Lyerla, Brayden Cromwell and Ted Kirkpatrick.

    B Main: Emerson Axsom, Carson Garrett, CJ Leary, Koby Barksdale, Max Adams and Aric Gentry.

    The first heat had more passing than I’ve seen in any heat race all year. Kyle Cummins had trouble in qualifying and started tenth in the first heat, nearly winning. Aric Gentry was black flagged in the first heat for protesting a little too vigorously to Critter Malone. Aric went to the pits, then to the C, B and found himself starting 22nd in the Show. The fourth heat had three leaders in the first two turns.

    Fourteen-year-old Kayla Roell won the MMSA 20-lap feature after starting sixth.

    The sprints would be the curtain closer with a front row of Brady Short and Chase Stockon leading the likes of Grant, Thomas, Cummins, Ruble, Thorson and Bacon. Keith Dewig waved the green and away they went with Short leading the first lap. Stockon was not pleased with this outcome and grabbed the lead on lap two with Short now second ahead of Grant, Thomas and Cummins.

    This lasted until the seventh lap when Short reclaimed the top spot in turn three on lap seven. A lap later Brady began to confront the reality of soon to be lapped traffic. Behind him, Stockon, Grant and Thomas fought for position, and soon found themselves also fighting lapped traffic. Grant and Stockon traded positions for the next few laps before KT took second. Stockon began sliding backwards with Thomas, Cummins and Bacon occupying part of the top five as the race neared the halfway point—which would also be the turning point.

    On lap 18, Short and Grant found themselves in heavy lapped traffic. They tangled in turn four and both lost positions. Thomas found himself in the lead now with Cummins, Short and Grant still in the hunt. Bacon was fifth. Thomas tried and succeeded in putting just a sliver of daylight between him and Cummins before entering heavy lapped traffic on the 25th lap. But passing was a challenge for a time until Grant took second from Short on lap 29. Bacon also made the pass on the Blaster a lap later.

    The next contender to have trouble was Cummins, whose race unraveled after an unplanned meeting with the lapped car of Cindy Chambers on the 34th lap. Kyle ended up facing the wrong way in turn four. He restarted on the tail. Thomas led Grant, Bacon, Thorson and Stockon for the six-lap conclusion.

    And that was how the top five finished with Robert Ballou coming from 15th to finish sixth and winning yet another KSE Racing Products Hard Charger award. Short faded a bit to seventh, but it was a spirited effort. Daison Pursley’s first sprint car race was every bit of outstanding. The Kunz-Willoughby midget ace advanced from 12th to finish eighth. Jason McDougal and Jake Swanson completed the top ten. (I should add that Koby Barksdale came from 20th to take 12th behind Mr. Cummins, who charged through the crowd after his misfortune.)

    All races are special in their own way and for anyone present. For the first time in quite a while, grandson 2.0 joined me like it was “old times.” At the age of 12, he is gaining height on several friends and acquaintances. More importantly, he’s gaining knowledge about this crazy sport and its participants. Having both him, his big brother and little cousin (age 5) together this weekend is the highlight, even topping a visit to this truly Class Track. Treasure moments like those, folks. They don’t last long and then poof! they are gone.

    Giving Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick boxing gloves to use as they wish, I’m…

    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: A Smashing Debut

    Forward looking people aren't always rewarded. But that wasn't the case on a warm Friday night at the Circle City Raceway as Tanner Thorson took his fifth USAC Amsoil National Sprint Car Series win this year.

    Promoters and certain others don't think like most of us and, most of the time, we should be grateful. These people have the ability to look, for example, at a piece of land and see something much different than an area of undeveloped land, which is what most of us would envision. With a few movers and shakers in the Indianapolis area, Kevin Garrigus looked at the Marion County fairgrounds and thought, "This would be a nice place for a quarter mile race track. If we build it they will come." For this race, Mr. Garrigus teamed up with Bob Sargent, another visionary, and his crack team. Their efforts resulted in a large crowd and quality competition at a first-rate facility which included a track that was a good bit smoother than the last time I was up there.

    Time trials produced something that seldom happens. Brady Bacon was the last of 26 cars taking time and he set fast time with a 12.163 lap.

    Three heats/top five:

    B main/top seven for a 22 car mob scene:

    First: Thomas Meseraull, Kevin Thomas Jr., Tanner Thorson, Brent Beauchamp and Brady Bacon.

    Second: Max Adams, CJ Leary, JJ Hughes, Chris Windom and Robert Ballou.

    Third: Emerson Axsom, Shane Cottle, Chase Stockon, Matt Westfall and Koby Barksdale.

    B Main: Jake Swanson, Jason McDougal, Justin Grant, Jadon Rogers, Ricky Lewis, Travis Berryhill and Brandon Mattox.

    Ricky Lewis did a half spin right after the start of heat two and nearly collected half the field. Jake Swanson was caught up in a mess on the first lap and found his way to the B—giving Thorson a front row starting spot. Andrew Prather had a huge flip at the start of the semi-feature. He was out of the car a lot quicker than I would have been.

    The USAC Midwest Regional Midgets had invaded Circle City Raceway, 20 strong. Bryce Massingill, Bryce Dues and Taylor Nibert won the heats. Massingill won the feature after trading the lead multiple times with Michael Magic. This would be a tough act to follow.

    A pair of number nineteens, driven by Windom and Thorson, led the way to begin the 30-lapper. True, Thorson took the lead early but for the first five laps Thomas stayed close after starting behind the Nevada native. But Thorson began to pull away and he first encountered slower traffic on the ninth lap.

    Brady Bacon's race went south on the 11th lap in turn two. Jadon Rogers and Travis Berryhill collided with Berryhill coming to a stop. Bacon, with nowhere else to go, smacked Berryhill. Bacon's car went to the work area while Berryhill was done for the night.

    If Bacon had bad luck, Ricky Lewis clipped an infield tire in turn three and flipped, making the yellow flag a red. Bacon restarted on the tail while Lewis was done for the night. Up front it was Thorson, Thomas, Windom, Cottle and Leary.

    The green came out and it was time for Thorson and Thomas to show everyone how it’s done. Statistics don’t lie but they don’t always tell the whole truth. The record showed Thorson leading all 30 laps, but for several laps he and Thomas exchanged the lead several times. But Thorson led at the s/f line every time.

    Behind them was a great scrap for third on back to eighth. Seemingly out of nowhere, Emerson Axsom had come from ninth to take third with 11 laps to go. A lap later the leaders found lapped traffic. Two laps later TMez spun in turn two. It was still Thorson leading Thomas, Axsom, Windom and Leary. Bacon had come from the work area to now reside in eighth place—briefly.

    On the restart, Axsom did a half spin that jumbled up those behind Thorson, especially Thomas. Windom inherited second and Jake Swanson seemingly materialized from nowhere to take third. As the laps wound down, Thorson went on his merry way while Swanson and Windom fought for second. At the very end, Bacon arrived, uninvited to the Windom/Swanson party. As Thorson took the checkered, Bacon was second for a partial lap, but Windom and Swanson finished second and third.

    Again, the numbers didn’t show that Bacon had passed well over a dozen cars after his early misfortune. To be fair, that isn’t the numbers’ job. Bacon officially finished fourth, ahead of Leary and Cottle. Axsom salvaged seventh after his half spin. Thomas finished eighth but ran better than an eighth place car, a victim of Axsom’s woes. Justin Grant and Chase Stockon were ninth and tenth.

    Bacon may have passed more cars but Robert Ballou earned the KSE Racing Products Hard Charger award for advancing from 20th to 12th.

    Bacon also showed everyone how to win a points championship. With all his trouble, he gained ground on second place KT. Bacon now is 68 points ahead of Thomas as the band of gypsies heads to Haubstadt.

    Thorson is on a roll. How many of us prognosticators saw that coming?

    Surprised to learn that Nicki Minaj is a doctor, I'm...

    Danny Burton




    The Hoosier Race Report: Fitting and Appropriate

    Right around the time that Shane Cockrum took the checkered flag at the Lincoln Park Speedway on September 11, superfan Toby Thompson observed that somehow it was appropriate that the racer who won is a fire chief when he's not wheeling a sprint or Silver Crown car. This was the fifth consecutive victory for the Jamie and Michelle Paul blue beast, with either Cockrum or Tye Mihocko getting interviewed after a feature win.

    One of life’s patience-trying challenges for racing people in particular is that the Hoosier racing season coincides with Indiana road construction. This year road construction has affected every track that I frequent, from Haubstadt to Gas City. On this fine day, someone on I-65 decided to do some racing with law enforcement, with the interstate temporarily closed. This resulted in speed up/slow down traffic even before I entered I-65 all the way up to Franklin.

    I needn’t have fretted. Festivities were delayed for a while when someone nearby needed an ambulance. All on-track activity halted for a few minutes.

    Of the 109 cars in the pits, 38 were sprints. Car counts. Never guess how many cars will show up at a given race. With the modifieds running the Patriot 100 for extra $$$, one might have thought they would have attracted more than 26 mods, but no-o-o.

    Lots of cars and five heats. This ain't USAC. Top three advance.

    First: Lee Underwood, Dickie Gaines and Jake Scott.

    Second: Jesse Vermillion, Jaden Rogers and Aaron Mosely.

    Third: Shane Cockrum, Brayden Cromwell and Matt Thompson.

    Fourth: Alec Sipes, Nate McMillen and Lee Dakus.

    Fifth: AJ Hopkins, Travis Berryhill and Gabriel Gilbert.

    In the second heat, Vermillion and Rogers exchanged the lead multiple times before the Greencastle resident won. Davey Ray and Brandon Spencer tangled in turn two, opening the door for Mosely. In the fourth heat, Max Adams spun after something broke. Dakus used a last lap pass of Zach Pretorious to grab a feature spot. In the fifth heat, Pat Giddens spun while running third. Something appeared to break.

    Lots of cars and two B mains. Top three go.

    First: Brandon Spencer, Brayden Fox and Jesse Vermillion.

    Second: Zach Pretorious, Davey Ray and Harley Burns.

    Spencer came from ninth to win, using the high side to catch and pass Fox on the last lap. Max Adams came up a few feet short after starting tenth. In the second B, Davey Ray came from 11th/last to take second.

    Alec Sipes and Mr. Cockrum led the field of 21 to Brian Hodde's green flag. Perhaps Cockrum figured that the top side would be the way to go and he sailed into the first turn ahead of the others.

    After nearly skipping over the turn two cushion, Cockrum recovered and led the first lap by a car length over Sipes on the first lap. From his third row starting position AJ Hopkins maneuvered his way to second on lap two.

    Jadon Rogers was also on the move. He started seventh and was third by the fifth lap. By lap eight the youthful veteran (sounds like an oxymoron) was pressuring Hopkins for second. But then came what some might say was the turning point of the race.

    With 11 laps complete, Harley Burns stopped in turn three—right in the high groove that most everyone was using, including the leaders. Cockrum nicked the Burns car and second place Hopkins missed it entirely, though barely. But Rogers clouted the Burns machine hard enough to knock him out of the race. The order was Cockrum, Hopkins, Gaines, Lee Underwood and J. Vermillion.

    It's easy to speculate whether Rogers would have been a threat to Cockrum, but the reality was something else. The green lights activated and for the next few laps Cockrum steadily pulled away from Hopkins. AJ had other problems for those few laps, namely Dickie Gaines, who looked low in trying to take over second. That didn’t happen.

    As the laps wound down, the Chief pretty much his own way, not encountering any slower traffic until there were four laps to go. When Brian waved the checkered flag, the margin of victory was close to a half straightaway.

    Behind Hopkins and Gaines was Underwood. I’ve not seen much of Lee this year, but his was a quality effort and result—starting and finishing in fourth place. Travis Berryhill advanced steadily from tenth to end up fifth in his comeback from an early season injury. Coming on strong at the end was Braydon Cromwell, settling for sixth in the Scooby Doo car. Pole sitter Sipes was seventh and Nate McMillin took eighth. J. Vermillion was ninth and Davey Ray was one of the relatively few who could pass, coming from the B main to take tenth and the B. Hodde hard charger award, Brian’s oldest coffee cup.

    Many of us remember that horrible day twenty years ago. America was knocked down but did what we all need to do when we are knocked down or fall down. We get up, maybe a little wobbly and we come back. We may stumble from time to time but persevere, much as the first responders did on that otherwise beautiful day in New York City, Washington D.C. and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

    So maybe it was fitting that a guy who has rushed into burning buildings would have won this race on this particular day. This one is for all of his colleagues, especially the ones who gave their all to save others. Check out John 15:13.

    Loading my truck with crying towels to take to Columbus…Ohio, I’m…

    Danny Burton




    The Hoosier Race Report: First Time Winner

    For each of us, milestones are important points in our lives. They can be anything from a wedding to a graduation ceremony toa race win. They are enjoyable to relive. If more of us were like racers, we would immediately turn our attention to win number two. I would imagine that Connersville, Indiana’s Tyler Kendall will be thinking about winning his next race, but he has the right to enjoy his first 410 sprint car feature victory, which a good crowd witnessed on another beautiful Friday night at the Gas City/I-69 Speedway. This concluded Gas City’s regular season as Scotty Weir finished second and won the 2021 track championship driving Paul Hazen’s familiar hot rod.

    The car count may have been a little light at 18, but every time I see a lower number than normal, I come to the conclusion that one cannot worry about where everyone went (many were in South Dakota for the USAC sprint/midget doubleheader). You only have to beat the guys who showed up and Mr. Kendall did just that. 

    Speaking of doubleheaders, both grandsons were on hand with their dad. Both kids spent their share of time in the Jiggs Thomasson playground, which remains to entertain a new crop of young people. They helped remind Grandpa that he’s getting older, but I don’t mind that, especially when various alternatives are contemplated.

    Speaking of entertainment, promoter Jerry Gappens rounded up a few school buses along with some area ministers to drive them, the latest version of “faster pastors.” It went well with no yellow or black flags waved. The crowd loved it, which helps warm a promoter’s heart.

    Three heats and all ran the feature.

    First: Tyler Kendall, Anthony D'Alessio, Kyle Simon, Paul Dues, Jack James and Dave Gross.

    Second: Tyler Hewitt, Korbyn Hazlett, Aaron Davis, Dustin Ingle, Matt McDonald and Zach Pretorious.

    Third: Max Guilford, Scotty Weir, Parker Fredrickson, Ryan Barr, Tim Creech II and Jack Hoyer.

    Guilford was the only pole sitter to win. All three heats were all-green gems.

    It wasn’t quite nine o’clock when Mr. Weir and Mr. Hewitt quickly responded to Mark Orr’s green flag. Scotty quickly occupied the bottom side of the track in taking the lead. Third starting Ty Kendall was quick to seize second place and was there when Anthony D’Alessio stopped in turn four on lap three, bringing out the race’s only yellow flag. The order was Weir, Kendall, Hewitt, Max Guilford and Korbyn Hazlett.

    The green came out and the boys finished a lap when the red came out for a double flip in turn two by Matt McDonald and Parker Fredrickson. Both walked away and probably were making plans to repair the wounded beasts. The top five had not changed.

    The green light came on and right away, Kendall saw the opening on the outside and made it work. He took the lead on the backstretch to take the lead. This time it wasn’t a case of monkey see/monkey do as Weir stuck to the bottom lane. Two laps after Kendall had taken the lead, Hewitt, who had dropped to fourth, decided that he was homesick for third place and got around Guilford.

    It seemed like Weir might mount a serious charge to regain the lead, but that never happened as Kendall, using the middle and upper grooves of the quarter mile oval, put some Grant County ground between himself and Weir. As Kendall was the Lone Ranger, Weir had enough company with Hewitt content to settle in third. Hazlett took over fourth a few laps after the restart and made it a three-car conga line.

    The field was somewhat evenly matched, given that the leader didn’t encounter major traffic until Mark unfurled the white flag. But Kendall negotiated the gaggle like a pro and sailed on to the win and took second place in Gas City points for the year. Weir had it reversed, second in the 25-lap feature and first in points. Hewitt was third and Hazlett fourth. Guilford was fifth, just ahead of Kyle Simon. Dustin Ingle ended up seventh and Aaron Davis took eighth. Ryan Barr finished ninth and Tim Creech II came from 15th to tenth, winning the Tyler Kelly hard charger award, an order of French fries minus ketchup.

    I both hope and believe that young Mr. Kendall will remember September 10, 2021 for a long time. It’s reasonable to expect more wins for this young man, but this one will leave its mark. There may be wins that pay more. There may a photo finish victory in his future. Who knows, there quite possibly might be a USAC sprint car win in the years to come. But there’s only one first triumph. Enjoy it, bud.

    Somehow ending up with Aaron Reutzel’s leftover inspection stickers, I’m…

    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: A Case for Immigration

    For nearly a century, California drivers have migrated to Indiana in order to race against the toughest competition around. Often they have excelled. One of the most recent Hoosier imports is Jake Swanson, who is having a dream season this year. He added a major pelt to his belt on a cool Friday night at the Bloomington Speedway as he passed another native Californian, Justin Grant, and won the Josh Burton Memorial.

    With Bloomington promoter Joe Spiker and MSCS kingpin Tommy Helfrich playing nicely, it was, well, nice that this was an MSCS sanction. With the usual promotion that the JBM gets, a good representation of USAC racers was among the 33 sprints (out of 98 cars) in Joe’s outdoor penthouse. In fact, eight of the top ten in USAC Sprint points were among the 33. Heat race results reflected that.

    Four and four:

    First: Nick Bilbee, Brayden Fox, Dickie Gaines and Brady Short.

    Second: Justin Grant, Kevin Thomas Jr., AJ Hopkins and Andy Bradley.

    Third: Jake Swanson, Jason McDougal, CJ Leary and Jadon Rogers.

    Fourth: Chase Stockon, Brady Bacon, Matt Thompson and Davey Ray.

    Midway through the first heat, Short did a half spin and bounced off Gaines in turn one. Along came Kyle Cummins to bounce off Short. Cummins left with a flat right front tire and the B main in his future. The first lap of the fourth heat was a near disaster with several cars getting sideways in turn one. They all got straightened out and went on their merry way. Brady Bacon made a last lap pass of Matt Thompson to take second in the fourth heat.

    B Main: Emerson Axsom, Robert Ballou, Carson Garrett and Jordan Kinser.

    Axsom slid over the turn two banking early on but came to pass Ballou with a lap to go and win.

    Come feature time, Grant and Bilbee led the way and they traded positions a couple of times in the first lap with Nick leading the first of 30 laps. Grant must have been offended as he took the lead with a low groove pass on the second lap. From there, Justin began building a lead, foot by foot. From his third starting position, Swanson held third, waiting for an opportunity to pass Bilbee. His chance came on the sixth lap and Swanson had some work to do in catching the leader.

    Lapped traffic helped Swanson get closer to Grant, or at least not let him get away. There was still plenty of time with 20 laps to go. The festivities were interrupted on the 13th lap when Jordan Kinser stopped on the backstretch. The order was Grant, Swanson, Bilbee, Thomas and Bacon.

    The crowd got a lap in before the yellow waved for AJ Hopkins, the sentimental favorite in the Burton family car. AJ had been running sixth when he got a little bit over the cushion and slid over the banking. The top five were the same.

    The restart was the turning point of the race. Swanson got under Grant coming out of turn two and took the lead. Meanwhile, Thomas had passed Bilbee for third, before Nick returned the favor. If that wasn’t enough, Chase Stockon was harassing Bacon for fifth. Swanson started pulling away, with close to a straightaway lead by the time he reached lapped traffic on the 22nd lap. Grant, for his part, had put an equal amount of distance between himself and third place Bilbee. Nick had kept KT from taking third until the 25th lap. And Grant seemed to close the gap between himself and the leader.

    But at the end, Jake had close to a half straightaway lead as he took the checkered flag just before 10:00 p.m. Grant was second ahead of Thomas. Bacon took fourth, edging Bilbee at the finish line. Stockon was sixth and Robert Ballou came from 18th to finish seventh and win the Takeuchi Hard Charger award. Not to be outdone by much, Emerson Axsom continued to impress, coming from 17th to take eighth. Jason McDougal started and finished ninth while Kyle Cummins salvaged a difficult night by using a provisional to come from 21st/last to end up tenth.

    Without getting overly political, our U.S. history shows us that, on balance, we have benefited from immigration. To zero in on Hoosier open wheel racing, most certainly we’ve been fortunate that our cousins from the West Coast have been moving here since the 1930s.

    To use the JBM results alone, recent Hoosier immigrants occupied the podium with Californians Swanson and Grant first and second. Alabama’s loss is our gain with Kevin Thomas Jr. in third. Oklahoma’s Brady Bacon was fourth. Another Californian, Robert Ballou and Oklahoman Jason McDougal were in the top ten.

    In my limited observations, I don’t notice a pro-Indiana bias among fans or car owners. The guys I mentioned all have their fans who don’t necessarily care where they came from. The “furriners” help raise the bar of competition; this makes the natives race a little harder, and vice versa. Tonight alone, I saw Bilbee, Stockon, Axsom and Cummins enjoy a degree of success. Add some other Hoosiers like Leary, Hopkins, Fox and Rogers, among others, and you have a mix of both homegrown and out-of-state talent that makes this state a destination point for open wheel racing at its finest.

    If you ever find yourself in any discussion about the pros and cons of immigration, you might consider what a difference “our” immigrants have made in terms of competition. For that matter, you might consider your own history. For the most part, my family has been a part of America since the 1600s (not counting my full-blooded Cherokee great-grandmother). But my family is a relative newcomer to Indiana.

    Waiting on the immigration police to send me back to Kentucky (never mind that I was born here—barely), I’m…

    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: Experience + Determination = Success

    For the second time in his stellar career, Justin Grant put it all together as he fought off repeated challenges from Tanner Thorson to win another 40 lap SmackDown feature at the Kokomo Speedway.

    This year was possibly the hottest SmackDown ever. Daytime temperatures routinely climbed into the 90s. The rain that moved the Thursday night races to Saturday afternoon didn’t exactly cool things off.

    The SmackDown format was a winner. The top eight in points for the first two nights faced off in the King of the Hill, which had a one on one/three lap contest with the winner starting on the pole. Four heats were for everyone else, with the top two from each heat adding eight more to the feature. Finally, the B would add six more.

    First Heat: Shane Cottle and Brent Beauchamp.

    Second: Jake Swanson and Max Adams.

    Third: Jadon Rogers and Emerson Axsom.

    Fourth: Thomas Meseraull and Chase Stockon.

    Beauchamp edged Scotty Weir by a nose after trying to take second for half the race. Cole Bodine went for a nasty ride in the third heat as he ran out of land between Max Adams and the wall. Cole went to the hospital as a precaution.

    King of the Hill

    First Round:

    Justin Grant beat Kyle Cummins

    Tanner Thorson beat Brady Bacon

    Logan Seavey beat Chris Windom

    Kevin Thomas Jr. beat CJ Leary

    Second Round:

    Thorson beat Grant

    Thomas beat Seavey


    Thorson beat Thomas

    C Main (top 4)

    Brandon Mattox, Brayden Clark, Steven Drevicki and Brandon Long.

    B Main (top 6)

    Scotty Weir, Mario Clouser, Stevie Sussex, Chase Johnson, Jason McDougal and Matt Westfall.

    After a lengthy session of driver's introductions, what we came to see was about to start.

    Thorson and Thomas were greeted by Mark Orr's green flag. But action was interrupted by a yellow flag when Stevie Sussex stopped in turn two.

    Tanner and KT would have to repeat. This time it was good as Thorson took the early lead. By the third lap things had settled down somewhat. Thorson and Thomas led Grant, Seavey and Bacon, some of the usual suspects.

    It wasn't too long before Grant began to let Thomas know that the pace needed to pick up a bit. The result of that was Grant taking second on the ninth lap. Bacon and Leary were in their own little war for fourth.

    A few laps later and Grant was closing in on the leader. On the 13th lap he gave Thorson a practice slider, just letting him know that, hey, how are you? I'm here. A lap later, they caught the slower cars, giving Thorson something else to think about. Grant executed a few more slide jobs, getting a little more serious. Finally he slid under Thorson on lap 16 in turn two and this one stuck.

    Meanwhile, as the race reached the halfway point, Thomas, Bacon and Chris Windom were fighting for third, which Thomas held. Things calmed down on the 22nd lap, when Chase Johnson spun. It was Grant, Thorson, Thomas, Bacon and Windom up front.

    With this extended green flag segment, Grant stretched his lead over Thorson. Seavey made a return visit to the top five and briefly looked like he might crash the party of Thomas and Bacon. With nine laps to go, Scotty Weir got sideways in turn two in front of the leader. He saved it but gave Grant a scare. This cost him some of his advantage over Thorson but Tanner couldn’t make any hay of this.

    Laps wound down and I remembered that late yellow flags seem to appear with some regularity in feature events. Sure enough, on lap 38 the yellow waved for Shane Cottle, who had an engine issue with a brief fire thrown in for good measure. The same players were up front. It was Thorson’s last chance to try and make something happen.

    He tried as Mark waved the green and Thorson threw a slider at Grant in turn one. He led from turn two down the backstretch until Grant said, no thanks, and that turned out to be the last gasp for Thorson. Grant and several others took the checkered as a nasty crash developed in turn four involving Cummins, Leary and Jake Swanson. Leary and Swanson flipped. Both were out of their respective cars as the post-race fireworks were set off.

    Behind Grant and Thorson was Saturday afternoon winner Thomas. Bacon was fourth with Seavey holding off Windom for fifth. Axsom was seventh after starting 15th and earning the KSE Racing Products / Irvin King Hard Charger award. Chase Stockon again passed some cars, coming from 16th to finish eighth. Jadon Rogers was ninth and Mario Clouser came from 18th to tenth.

    SmackDown only happens once a year for good reason. It's a special occasion and how special would it be if there was a monthly SmackDown? After all, Easter, Christmas, the Indy 500, Indiana Sprint Week--well, you get the idea. It’s human nature that people can’t sustain the anticipation and interest for lots of events and such for more than once a year. It’s quickly caught on and has become one of the most anticipated series of USAC Amsoil National Sprints on the calendar.

    Chance Crum took the lead after a mid-race restart and won the 20-lap USAC D2 Midget feature.

    $51,000 was raised by the racing community for the Riley Children’s Foundation. For Melinda Stanbrough and team, it was a new track record.

    Before the feature I was sitting at the picnic table by the concessions, making notes and talking to John Hoover. A driver sat next to me and began talking. I told him that he should have won on Wednesday when he had a shock go bad. We had a chuckle about social media and people who think he’s a dirty driver. Then he said something that everyone in racing should remember. He understood that the show has to be a part of the package. But he felt that if the competition is not good, no amount of show can really make up for that.

    Then he went out and proved his point. He raced hard and might be counting his money now. It takes a while to count to 15,000.

    Waiting to see Kyle Busch dribble and Michael Jordan pounding the cushion, I’m…

    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: Neither Rain Nor Dust…..

    None of the elements were going to keep Kevin Thomas Jr. from a place he knows quite well. On a dusty but fast enough quarter mile oval, Thomas won the second round of SmackDown X at the Kokomo Speedway, passing Logan Seavey late in the 30 lapper.

    With the usual additions and subtractions, there were 41 cars in the pits, enough for the two flight format. Seavey was quickest in qualifying with a blistering 12.863 lap.

    At least the heat had slightly smaller counts and, for the most part, everyone played nice. (Can't guarantee that tonight.) Top four advance and there were enough cars to warrant a C main.

    First: CJ Leary, Shane Cottle, Logan Seavey and Kevin Thomas Jr.

    Second: Cole Bodine, Chase Stockon, Matt Westfall and Tanner Thorson.

    Third: Chris Windom, Max Adams, Mario Clouser and Jadon Rogers.

    Fourth: Brady Bacon, Kyle Cummins, Emerson Axsom and Justin Grant.

    C Main (top four): Ryan Thomas, Anthony D'Alessio, Tye Mihocko and Steven Drevicki.

    B Main (top six): Jake Swanson, Thomas Meseraull, Scotty Weir, Alex Bright, Stevie Sussex and Chase Johnson.

    Bright was turned around by Tanner Thorson but Alex may have been slowed by a flat right rear. At any rate he was hit by Eddie Tofoya Jr., who tipped over. Chris Windom dusted off (apologies) the old diamond move, going high through turn three then diving low coming out of four. Others imitated him later. Beats sliders. Grant may or may not have tagged the wall in his heat coming to the checkered. Jason McDougal nearly passed him for a transfer spot.

    Given the current race betting mania, a great long shot bet would have been wagering that Matt Westfall and Jadon Rogers would be the front row. And had someone bet on Justin Grant leading the first lap after starting third, well perhaps their winnings could have bought a race ready sprinter.

    Grant led more than the first lap; he was still leading when Mark Orr waved the yellow for Chase Johnson, who rode the wall, stopping at the pit entrance. Kevin Thomas Jr. had been trailing the leader after passing Rogers for second. Seavey was third and Bacon had advanced to fourth, ahead of Rogers. There were 20 laps to go.

    The green came out and Seavey made a spectacular high side move on both Thomas and Grant to take the lead. Seavey slowly but surely was putting distance between himself and first Grant, then Thomas. KT had relegated Grant to third a lap after Seavey's pass. Bacon began making noise. On lap 13 he overtook Grant for third and two laps later grabbed second from Thomas.

    During this Seavey went on his merry way, encountering slower traffic on the 17th lap. Bacon was able to catch the leader with ten laps to go, but couldn't muster enough speed to attempt a slider.

    A time out in the form of a yellow flag waved on lap 23 as Rogers spun in turn two. Seavey led Bacon, Thomas, Grant and Leary. Seavey biked it in the first turn on the 24th lap. As Bacon tried not to clout the leader, Thomas slipped by to take second. A lap later Axsom brought out the yellow with a spin in turn two.

    Now Seavey had a hungry Thomas behind him on this last restart. Seavey got a bit into the turn one wall and, sure enough, KT dove low in turn one and came out of turn two as the leader.

    From there it was Thomas all the way. Behind Seavey and Bacon was Grant in fourth. After getting passed by Thorson, Leary returned the favor and reclaimed fifth. Swanson had a decent run, finishing seventh behind Thorson. Shane Cottle was eighth and Chris Windom was ninth. Chase Stockon was the KSE Racing Products/Irvin King Hard Charger, coming from 18th to tenth.

    As this is written between races I've not had time to peruse social media, one of my worst habits. But if I was a betting man, I'd bet that somewhere, someone is griping about the dust that was the inevitable result of the sun producing temperatures in the 90s. My attitude is that if the O'Connors can't keep the dust away, how many others can?

    Enjoying the temper tantrums by legal adults on Twitter, I'm…

    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: Steady as He Goes

    You probably won't catch Justin Grant carrying a lunch pail but he is blue collar all the way. He's not given for outlandish displays. He shows up and does his job. Remember, this is his full time job. On a Friday night that highlighted the usual Kokomo Speedway action, Grant took the lead late in the 30-lap feature and held off Chris Windom and Kyle Cummins to win Night One of SmackDown X in USAC Amsoil National Sprints action.

    Lots of cars showed up to play, 46 to be exact. After hot laps, it was one less after Alex Banales smacked the turn two wall. Danny Faria Jr. also contacted the wall in Mike Dutcher’s car but returned for time trials.

    It was a two-flight night for qualifying. Grant led everyone with a 12.579 lap, not far from Dave Darland’s seven year old record. It was a quick surface with 13 of the 46 qualifying under 13 seconds.

    With this many cars, USAC’s four heat format contained enough cars for a B main. The top four were the lucky ones.

    First: Thomas Meseraull, Brent Beauchamp, Brady Bacon and Justin Grant.

    Second: Chris Windom, Kevin Thomas Jr., Jake Swanson and Kyle Cummins.

    Third: Robert Ballou, Tanner Thorson, Jason McDougal and Logan Seavey.

    Fourth: Matt Westfall, CJ Leary, Jadon Rogers and Emerson Axsom.

    The C Main took four to the B. The B sent the usual top six to the main event.

    C Main: Cole Bodine, Tye Mihocko, Max Guilford and Steven Drevicki.

    B Main: Shane Cottle, Stevie Sussex, Chase Stockon, Mario Clouser, Alex Bright and Cole Bodine.

    In the first heat, Alex Bright smacked the turn four wall and didn’t finish. But he made the show anyway. Beauchamp and Bacon ran side-by-side for the last lap. It was odd in that both have the same initials. Fodder for trivia buffs. Faria flipped in the second heat. Mike Dutcher rose from his seat to go to the pits before the flip ended. Danny exited the car on his own. A three-car crash involving Anthony D’Alessio, Brandon Long and Sterling Cling slowed the fourth heat. In the C Tyler Hewitt found the turn four wall and collected Parker Fredrickson. Bodine came from sixth to win.

    Brandon Mattox clouted the turn two wall and flipped. Chase Johnson came onto the scene with nowhere to go. He, too, flipped. Both scampered from their cars. Bodine came from 15th to transfer, earning him the GSP Driving Performance of the Night award and the ProSource Hard Work Winner.

    Leary and Beauchamp, two home grown “kids,” mashed the pedal first after seeing Mark Orr’s green flag. Leary took the lead, but was passed by Kyle Cummins on the third lap. On the following lap, a mess formed in turn four, leaving Brady Bacon parked. Cummins led Leary, Thorson, Axsom and Beauchamp.

    Cummins maintained his lead on the restart, but Thorson was one on the move. He passed Leary for second on the fifth lap, and closed in on the leader. Grant was sixth at the restart and fifth a lap later. Another lap passed and Grant was fourth.  On the 11th circuit, Thorson took the lead as Cummins stayed close and lapped traffic appeared. A couple of laps later, I permitted myself a brief glance at the middle of the pack. Bacon was among them. As the heavy traffic seemed to bedevil all concerned, Robert Ballou, Wednesday’s winner, entered the top five at the halfway mark. Grant passed Leary for third.

    Stevie Sussex smacked the wall in turn one, bringing out the yellow. There were ten laps to go and Thorson led Cummins, Grant, Windom and Leary. Bacon was tenth.

    The green waved and Cummins used the high groove to take the lead again. Ballou pounded the turn one wall on lap 23, bringing out the red. Ballou was out of the car quickly assessing the damage. It was Cummins, Thorson, Grant, Windom and Leary. With five laps to go, the high-flying Grant took second and closed in on Cummins.

    But wait. T. Meseraull stopped on the track with four laps to go. Cummins was going to sweat a restart. The race had few slide jobs to this point, but now Grant and Cummins would sharpen their skills. Both traded sliders at each end of the track for the last four laps. Grant took the lead coming to the white flag. His margin was almost comfortable as Mark waved the checkered.

    Adding insult, as it were, to injury, Windom also passed Cummins, taking both second place and the KSE Racing Products Hard Charger after starting tenth. Leary passed Thorson late to take fourth. Brady Bacon had the run that showed why he’s a formidable points racer. After his early troubles, he roared back to sixth. Logan Seavey came from 12th to seventh, Shane Cottle from 14th to eighth. Jadon Rogers moved from 16th to finish ninth. Matt Westfall was tenth.

    Bacon leads KT by 52 points and Grant by 57.

    Immediately after the race, the track crew began working the track for Round Two of Smackdown later today (now Saturday). It will be a double program with afternoon and nighttime sessions.

    The scene has played out thousands, if not millions, of times. The crew goes about their business, getting the car race (or qualifying) ready. But they finish and it's out of their hands now. The driver takes over. He's at the mercy of the crew and their preparation, as well as the track conditions, the other cars, the time clock (time trials), and the weather. Racing is a team sport, but surely individual effort counts for something. The best drivers and crews know this and when it's necessary, the ego is put on the shelf and the good of the team matters. Justin Grant lived this scene tonight.

    It's a pity that the rest of the world seems to have forgotten this simple, yet vital, way of achieving success.

    Buying an extra mask for the Lone Ranger, I’m…

    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: The Madman Is Happy

    It was prolific writer Alexandre Dumas (pronounced Doo-mah) who said, “Nothing succeeds like success.” (Mr. Dumas also wrote The Three Musketeers, among other large books.) Given the ups and downs that Robert Ballou has been dealing with for the past couple of years, he might be inclined to agree. For sure, his Wednesday evening ended with success in the form of Ballou standing in Bryan Clauson Victory Lane at the Kokomo Speedway after winning the Bob Darland Memorial. This event was the lead-in to Smackdown, USAC and Kokomo’s annual three day festival of cutthroat, hard charging sprinters culminating with the $15,000-to-win, $1,500-to-start feature this coming Saturday.

    The rain that fell on the track earlier on Wednesday was only an annoyance as the track was ready when the bell rang. Of the 39 sprinters in the pits, there were some noteworthy combinations. California’s Danny Faria Jr. hooked up with Michael Dutcher. Cole Bodine, out of the Clauson-Marshall car, landed in the seat of a new team assembled by the Bodine family. Steven Drevicki, who has excelled in USAC’s Pennsylvania sprint series, had made the trip west to try his luck with the Hoosier racing scene. Alex Bright, driving sprints more than midgets lately, had also made the trek from the Keystone State. Max Adams, recovered from his burns, was back in Paul Hazen’s venerable number 57.

    It seems like we are having several memorial races in a short period of time. But no complaints here.

    Tonight’s playbook had the four/four format with two B mains, both of which took the top two.

    First Heat: Logan Seavey, Tanner Thorson, Brady Bacon and Brandon Mattox.

    Second: Emerson Axsom, Jake Swanson, Jason McDougal and Matt Westfall.

    Third: Robert Ballou, Kevin Thomas Jr., Thomas Meseraull and CJ Leary.

    Fourth: Justin Grant, Max Adams, Mario Clouser and Max Guilford.

    First B: Anthony D’Alessio and Cole Bodine.

    Second: Stevie Sussex and Alex Bright.

    In the second heat, Faria stopped on the track while running fourth. Scotty Weir was the unwilling meat of a four-wide sandwich in the third heat. He ended up in the infield, returned for the second B, and couldn’t transfer after starting last. Ballou beat Thomas by a few inches in the third heat. This heat was by far the strongest, sending some good cars to the B.

    The first B had a one lap dash with the top four finishing under the proverbial blanket. Tye Mihocko and Matt Goodnight just missed. Alex Bright made a last lap pass on Andrew Prather to sneak into the 36-lap feature. The odd length was in memory of B. Darland; 36 was his car’s usual number.

    Seavey and Axsom led the group to Brian Hodde’s green flag. Axsom, the sprint car rookie from Franklin IN, took the lead on the first lap before Brandon Mattox was forced into the infield, re-entered the track and stopped on the backstretch. With a lap completed, the restart was single file. Axsom took off with Seavey leading those giving chase, namely Ballou, Adams and Grant.

    With five laps in, Grant took over fourth and looked like a threat to win. He was still fourth when D’Alessio spun on the sixth lap. The field restarted and Bright spun a lap later. Thomas was now fifth. The gang tried again and the green light stayed on. Grant passed Ballou on lap eight and Seavey a lap later. But his charge to the front ended as he coasted to a stop on the 13th lap. The top five were now Axsom, Seavey, Ballou, Thomas and Thorson.

    Brian waved the green again. Ballou immediately passed Seavey for second as Axsom stretched his lead. He caught lapped traffic on the 20th circuit. Ballou and Seavey couldn’t close in because they were in quite the fight for second. But Axsom struggled a little with traffic five laps later. Robert had arrived and was ready to take advantage of any slipup by the rookie.

    Ballou used a slider to take the lead in turn two on lap 27. When Axsom bobbled a lap later, Seavey took second. For the next eight laps Seavey tried every trick in his book to get around his fellow California native. But it wasn’t happening. Ballou met every challenge—even when he did a half spin in turn one with five laps to go. Seavey couldn’t capitalize on Ballou’s error. The Madman would not be denied.

    Behind Ballou and Seavey, Axsom hung on for a still impressive third place finish. Thorson was fourth and CJ Leary moved up toward the end, finishing fifth after starting 15th. He won the Brett Bowman hard charger award, winning a pork chop sandwich that Brett couldn’t handle. Brady Bacon was sixth with Jake Swanson seventh. Thomas Meseraull ended up eighth with Max Guilford coming from 16th to finish ninth. Stevie Sussex came from the B main—starting 18th and coming home tenth.

    Now the fun begins. The Wednesday night results produced even more speculation for those who wondered who was going to be the Smackdown king. That’s the way it should be; after each race, people begin thinking about the next one.

    I wonder who Alexandre Dumas would pick.

    Speaking of great writers, this one was for Robin Miller, perhaps now joining Bob Jenkins for some out-of-this-world bench racing.

    Imagining that Andy Warhol, wherever he may be, is smiling and nodding…at social media, I’m…

    Danny Burton




    The Hoosier Race Report: Record Breakers and Covenants

    With an all-green flag feature, winner Kevin Thomas Jr. had to improvise on each lap as he dealt with the usual changing track surface, the lapped traffic and most certainly second place Logan Seavey. He handled all of the challenges, racking up his 28th USAC Amsoil Sprint Car win at USAC’s first visit to the Paragon Speedway since 1998.

    It was a gathering of the dirty 30. Notable among them were Midget standouts Chase Randall (winner of the MSCS event at the Lincoln Park Speedway on Saturday night) and Emerson Axsom, both making their USAC sprint car debuts. Jason McDougal has landed on the KO team with Chase Stockon as a teammate. Shane Cockrum was in the On the Gass car. Koby Barksdale occupied the Knight family’s mount. Tye Mihocko hooked up with one of the nicer guys in racing, Tony Epperson.

    Kyle Cummins was the only contestant to qualify under fifteen seconds. His 14.905 lap on the three eighths mile paperclip shaped oval fell short of the USAC/Paragon Speedway record, 14,886, set by Mark Cassella in 1996.

    There would be three heats, top five moving to the show.

    First: Emerson Axsom, Jason McDougal, Shane Cockrum, Chase Stockon and Kyle Cummins.

    Second: Logan Seavey, Chase Randall, Jadon Rogers, Justin Grant and Robert Ballou.

    Third: Kevin Thomas Jr., Jake Swanson, Ricky Lewis, CJ Leary and Brady Bacon.

    (Braxton Cummings flipped in the first heat. He returned for the B. Axsom won the heat by passing McDougal coming to the white flag, his first USAC sprint race of any kind. Seavey came from fifth to win his heat. Grant and Ballou survived a bit of wheel banging, not usually a recommended tactic. Chris Windom and Kyle Shipley had a disagreement after the third heat, complete with gestures, harsh words and no doubt cancellation of social events. Windom nearly made it to the feature but came up short.)

    Semi-Feature/B Main Top seven advance:

    Koby Barksdale, Chris Windom, Jake Scott, Brayden Fox, Brandon Morin, Brandon Mattox and Tye Mihocko. Tanner Thorson just missed; he was forced to use a provisional.

    Leary and Seavey, a Hoosier and a Californian, led the field to my buddy Brian Hodde’s green flag. Seavey had the honor of leading the first lap. But fourth starting Thomas moved to second immediately, shuffling Leary to third. Thomas stalked the leader through the first seven laps before grabbing the lead coming out of turn two.

    Kyle Cummins had passed Leary for third on the fifth lap and seemed to close the gap between him and Seavey. Behind Leary, fifth place would be traded among various contenders. For the moment it was Grant.

    Thomas approached the back of the pack on the 11th lap. Often this gives the second place runner an advantage, but, at least for the time being, that wasn’t happening with Thomas and Seavey. Jake Swanson took over fifth place on lap 13. At the crossed flags, the top five was unchanged. While the top four stayed the same, Brady Bacon was on the move. From his ninth starting spot, he had advanced to fifth with 12 laps to go. Two laps later, he broke up the quartet up front, pushing Leary back a spot.

    The laps wound down and Seavey decided that it was high time he would press the leader. With a little help from lapped traffic, the gap between KT and Seavey closed to a car length. But try as he might, Seavey couldn’t pull alongside of the Dr. Pepper missile.

    Thomas and Seavey were joined on the podium by Cummins, who had managed to keep fourth place Bacon at bay. Windom ended an eventful night by coming from 18th to finish fifth and claiming the KSE Racing Products Hard Charger award. Leary was sixth, ahead of Ballou, who rambled from 19th to seventh. Grant claimed eighth and McDougal finished ninth. Emerson Axsom completed his initial USAC sprint effort in tenth place. Watch this kid from Franklin IN.

    It’s getting to that time of year where I pay more attention to points as the USAC caravan heads up to Kokomo. Bacon now leads Thomas by 39 and Grant by 77.

    Covenants are often formal in nature, in which two people or groups agree on an issue or procedure. Some are in writing while others are unwritten or even unspoken. But even the unspoken covenant carries influence.

    A race track is another place that is crawling with covenants, you might say. The most significant, at least to fans, is that between the drivers and the fans. While the drivers have their own agreements with their owners, they realize that the fans are the ones who pay their way in to be entertained and occasionally educated. With help from a large and important number of support staff, the drivers are aware of the fans’ involvement and expectations. Given their immense collection of talent, very seldom do the drivers fail—even if the race itself is not a proverbial barnburner.

    It’s safe to say that the drivers held up their end of the bargain. The race was not interrupted by a yellow flag. It was completed in only 8:28.95, smashing the old record which went back to 1982.

    Amazed that I’m actually looking forward to my next vaccine, I’m…

    Danny Burton (The guy who pushed the nurse down when she tried to give him a shot at age five.)



    The Hoosier Race Report: It’s His Time

    There are times when a driver and a track seem to be best friends. Of course this never lasts, but racers know that they should enjoy it while it lasts. Nick Bilbee is experiencing that at the Lawrenceburg Speedway the past two or three years. On a toasty Saturday night, Nick found himself in a familiar location, namely the Bryan Clauson Victory Lane after winning the 18th Annual Dick Gaines Memorial. This would be Bilbee’s second trophy from winning this race; he won the 2019 edition of the DGM.

    Twenty cars showed up with ideas of raiding Dave Rudisell’s piggy bank with the winner carting off $3,000. A nice surprise was Max Adams, mostly recovered from his burns suffered earlier this year and in the family car.

    Three heats and everyone gets to play an extra 25 laps.

    First: Nick Bilbee, Max Adams and Garrett Abrams.

    Second: Sterling Cling, Thomas Meseraull and Joss Moffatt.

    Third: Ricky Lewis, Tyler Kendall and JJ Hughes. 

    With a little time on my hands, I found myself thinking about memorials in general and tonight's in particular.


    Definition of memorial (Entry 2 of 2)

    1: something that keeps remembrance alive: such as


    b: something (such as a speech or ceremony) that commemorates

    I get it that younger people have no personal memories of those who raced in those so called ancient times. I appreciate the promoters who honor those heroes of yesteryear. I wish there was a way for all of us to at least have an idea of what those long ago legends endured.

    Whether they raced full time or not, the conditions that Dick Gaines and company dealt with weren't anything that younger folks could imagine. It certainly isn't their fault that they are young. In X number of years they may sing a similar song to the young people of the future.

    How can they relate to the endless miles of narrow two-lane roads, less than ideal sleeping quarters, tracks that would flunk 2021 safety features, tracks with a surface that all too often could not be called smooth, racing equipment that could kindly be described as primitive in terms of comfort and safety, the occasional promoter who might be inspired to abscond with the prize money, and owners who would hire and fire a driver at any time for any reason?

    None of us can relate to this and few of us can imagine it. But despite the obstacles, Dick Gaines and his competitors (knowing that he had very few peers) persevered, chasing the next race down the road for reasons they would have had a difficult time explaining.

    Among the 20 scheduled starters were three involuntary no-shows, Justin Owen, Saban Bibent and…Dickie Gaines. Ricky Lewis and Nick Bilbee led the remainder to look for Tim Montgomery’s green flag. Pole sitter Lewis jumped out to the lead and led the first lap. Bilbee made his move in turn two, diving low to take the lead on the second lap. Lewis led Kendall and Cling with Meseraull lying back in fifth. Thomas was in a hurry as he took fourth on the fifth lap while Bilbee was increasing his margin. Two laps later Nick entered lapped traffic, but it didn’t seem to bother him all that much. Most of the time he seemed to keep a couple of lappers between him and Lewis. As if Lewis didn’t have enough to keep him occupied, Meseraull had taken over third place after ten laps.

    Then the race entered the Twilight Zone with a series of yellow and red flags keeping the lap counter at 11. First Kyle May spun in turn two. Meseraull had passed Lewis for second but had to give it back. Next was Jacob Beck spinning in turn two. Again Meseraull made the pass only to give it back. The gang tried again, but Travis Gratzer stopped in, of course, turn two. They tried again and made it to turn three, where Tyler Kendall almost hit the wall. Behind him, Max Adams checked up in front of Joss Moffatt, who found himself collected. Joss flipped with his car cage to cage with Sterling Cling briefly. Moffat and Cling were done for the night.

    This time, the field got two laps in before Adams nearly spun in turn four. JJ Hughes had nowhere to go and he contacted Adams before flipping. Travis Hery was caught up in it as well. Hughes and Adams were done. Hughes wasn’t quite done, however, as he walked the length of the straightaway to discuss with Max whether “tastes great” was superior to “less filling.” They agreed to disagree.

    Thirteen laps were complete when the green waved for the nine cars left to race. By now, TMez was second and it had come down to Bilbee and Meseraull. The two veterans quickly separated themselves from the others. Meseraull, in Kyle Simon’s car the past two nights, couldn’t get any closer to the lead. As both flirted with the outside wall, it was a matter of waiting for Meseraull to close in. It didn’t happen; Bilbee pulled away at the end.

    Meseraull was second and Garrett Abrams came on late to take third. Kendall was fourth after passing Lewis on the last lap. Hery came from 14th to finish sixth, winning an 8” X 10” glossy of Rick Lane. Tayte Williamson Dustin Webber, and Drew Abel were the rest of those who finished the marathon.

    Dickie Gaines was among those congratulating the winner and surely the 2020 winner of this race wished he could have raced in this one.

    Final thoughts:

    Never am I sure about anyone else, but I can imagine escorting Dick Gaines and company through the pits. There would be a good deal of oohing and ahhing at the appearance of the cars and especially the haulers. They wouldn't be surprised to be informed that the safety of the cars is such that fatalities are rare. The promoter (tonight it was Dave Rudisell) would actually come over and introduce himself and welcome Gaines and company to the Lawrenceburg Speedway.

    Ah, the track. I'm not sure that I can imagine Mr. Gaines' reaction to this "new" configuration of the 'burg. My best guess is that he would be astounded and deservedly so. Then he would smile to himself and do his own imagining--of him challenging those high banks with a modern sprinter.

    In the course of the tour, I'd steer Dick to one of the cars lined up in the pits. I can imagine him looking closely at the car, not noticing the driver at first. I'm about ready to ask if the driver of the orange 44 car looks familiar. But Dick has a flash of recognition. His face sports a smile from ear to ear as they say.

    It goes to show that, like any true love, a daddy's love is for all time.

    Telling some people that mixing ivermectin with Dr. Pepper doesn’t work quite as well as the vaccine, I’m…

    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: The Rewards of Patience

    On the surface, the idea of patience being useful in a sprint car race seems preposterous, but a certain amount of patience can come in handy at the right time. Ask Jake Swanson, recent transfer from California to Indiana and winner at the Lincoln Park Speedway on a beautiful Saturday night. He spent a good part of the 25-lap feature reeling in leader Shane Cockrum, then riding in Shane’s tire tracks for several laps before making his move. It was Swanson’s sixth sprint car win this year.

    Of the 96 cars taking over Joe Spiker’s playpen, 30 were sprints. Decidedly the most interesting of the 30 was Glen Saville, from Razorback, New South Wales, Australia—just down the road from Sydney in other words. Glen has bounced back and forth from Australia to America over the years, but tonight was, as far as I know, his first attempt at non-wing sprint car racing in Indiana and/or Lincoln Park.

    30 cars, four heats, four transfer

    First: Jake Swanson, Brayden Fox, Zach Pretorius and Matt Thompson.

    Second: Shane Cockrum, Kyle Shipley, Harley Burns and Matt McDonald.

    Third: AJ Hopkins, Aaron Mosley, Brandon Spencer and Tony Helton.

    Fourth: Jake Scott, Braydon Cromwell, Max Guilford and Aaron Davis.

    Swanson was the third of three leaders in the first heat. Nick Montani slid over the turn two banking and touched the wall with his right rear tire in the second heat. He kept going and might have wished he hadn’t. Nick flipped coming out of turn four, landing at the start/finish line. He was out of the car quickly. Jake Scott was celebrating his wedding anniversary by winning his heat by more than a straightaway.

    B Main—top four move on:

    Brayden Clark, Glen Saville, Gabriel Gilbert and Anthony Leohr.

    Robert Carrington was third when he exited the track with an apparent mechanical issue.

    Fox and Scott led the way as the green waved. LPS point leader Fox led the first lap over second row occupants Hopkins and Cockrum. But Cockrum took over on the next lap with Swanson moving from fifth to fourth behind Cockrum, Fox and Hopkins. Two laps later, Swanson had taken over second. But Cockrum had already opened up a big lead by then. The Chief kept his considerable distant margin as he caught the slower cars on the tenth lap. For me, this was the turning point of the race.

    As Cockrum negotiated the lapped traffic, Swanson steadily reduced the amount of Putnam County clay between the two. On lap 14 one could say that they were nose-to-tail. Shane had established his preference for the high groove early and several had imitated that maneuver as the race went on. But Swanson stalked the leader for nearly ten laps, leading one to guess when he would make his move. Given the situation, one could guess that a slide job was in the near future.

    But wait. With six laps remaining, the race’s only yellow flag waved for a turn three meeting between Harley Burns and Aaron Mosley. Cockrum led Swanson, Fox, Hopkins and Scott. Brian Hodde waved his green flag and Swanson went to work. For all of the closing laps, Swanson threw everything including the kitchen sink at Cockrum. Slide jobs were successful, but only temporarily as the Fire Chief fought back over and over again, with the two running inches apart a good part of the time. On the last lap, Swanson threw another slider in turn three. This one stuck as Jake slid high in turn four. Shane ducked underneath and it was a brief, but furious, drag race to the line. The margin of victory was only a couple or three feet, if that.

    Further back, Brayden Fox had another good race, finishing third and maintaining his point lead. Hopkins was fourth, no doubt wishing he could have been in the fight for the lead. Scott was fifth, a nice ending to an anniversary. Braydon Cromwell was sixth, followed by Kyle Shipley, Brandon Spencer and Mr. Saville, who came from 18th to finish ninth. For his efforts, Saville would win the Brian Hodde Hard Charger Award, a free barbeque sandwich. Matt McDonald came from 14th to take home tenth place dough.

    The next time you’re in line at your favorite fast food place, resist the temptation to get in what seems to be the line with fewer people. Instead be like Jake Swanson. Wait until the time is right—then make your move. Enjoy the Big Mac.

    Bummed out because I forgot about Reinstatement Day, I'm...

    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: I Love This Place, But…

    Did you ever do something that’s considered to be dangerous, then look back and think to yourself, “Why did I do that?” To watch other people do the same thing is scary. Had I been located in the Bryan Clauson Victory Lane at the Lawrenceburg Speedway tonight, I would have posed a similar question or comment to feature winner Nick Bilbee. Except I might have said something like, “Congratulations, Nick. You scared the sh#t out of me, but it was something to see.” Nick might have replied, “I was a little scared myself a time or two.”

    A string of rainouts at Lawrenceburg has curtailed weekly action since June. But 21 sprinters showed up to enjoy a rain-free night at the ‘burg. Mr. Bilbee was the quickest qualifier of the 21 as he ripped off a 14.466 lap.

    Three heats and all would run a feature---if they could.

    First: JJ Hughes, Joss Moffatt and Callie Wolsiffer.

    Second: Tyler Kendall, Nick Bilbee and Dallas Hewitt.

    Third: Garrett Abrams, Sterling Cling and Travis Hery

    (Things can get ugly fast here. On lap two of the first heat, Justin Lewis flipped into the turn three fence. The fence did its job, serving as a pillow of sorts and the car bounced off the fence and landed, where it was struck by Tony McVey, who arrived with no place to go. The McVey car also flipped. Both drivers walked away; in fact, Tony returned for the feature. Ricky Lewis was pushed to the pits, leaving only four cars left.)

    Hughes, Cling, Moffatt, Kendall, Abrams and Bilbee were the first to see Tim Montgomery’s green flag. Immediately the fun and games began. Cling fired off from his outside front row position to take the lead with Hughes, Kendall and Bilbee giving chase. Kendall passed Hughes for second but had to give it back on lap six when Jacob Beck spun in turn one. It remained Cling, Hughes, Kendall, Bilbee and Moffatt. Let the record show that Saban Bibent had started 19th and was already 12th.

    On the restart, Kendall and Bilbee passed Hughes on the seventh lap, using the patented slide job in turn three. Before they could attack the leader, Travis Gratzer stopped in turn one, bringing out the second yellow with ten laps complete. The green waved and Kendall took the lead with a, what else, perfectly executed slider in turn four. It was lap 12, almost halfway, and two laps later, Bilbee took over second from Cling.

    Tony McVey brought out the yellow flag with a turn four spin after Bilbee had made his move. Kendall led Bilbee, Cling, Hughes and Moffatt. Let the record show that Bibent was now in the top ten, eighth to be exact.

    Tim showed the green again and the gang only got a lap in before Ryan Barr spun. There were ten laps to go and you had to know that Bilbee was getting antsy. But he didn’t try to pass Kendall in turns one or two. Instead, he waited until turn three and made the slider stick, taking the lead on lap 16. A lap later Kendall returned the favor in turn four. But he had to give the lead back when the fifth yellow period commenced as Callie Wolsiffer spun in turn four. Bibent had cracked the top five.

    Seven laps to go and it was Bilbee, Kendall, Cling, Hughes and Bibent. Green again and Kendall passed for the lead in turn three with Bilbee coming back in four to reassume the top spot. Six laps to go and Bibent was fourth. Laps clicked off and Bilbee added to his lead by…inches. But Kendall closed in the last two laps, not allowing Bilbee any breathing room.

    At the checkered, Bilbee led by a car length or two ahead of Kendall. Cling was third, one of his better runs. An outstanding effort by Saban Bibent might have been missed by some, but after fighting mechanical issues all night, he was ready to race by feature time. He came from 19th to fourth and earned an extra $163 as the hard charger. Moffatt was fifth and Hughes sixth. Dallas Hewitt finished seventh and Garrett Abrams took eighth. Justin Owen and Travis Hery completed the top ten.

    Before the feature I overheard Ricky Lewis with the quote that inspired most of these few hundred words. He said, “I love this place, but it scares the sh!t out of me.” I introduced myself and asked if I could use his observation. He was fine with that and commented that he could only watch a couple of laps at Lawrenceburg at a time. But he overcame whatever fear he had. Ricky was the second fastest qualifier and, like his competitors, no one with any sense would question the bravery of any race car drivers.

    You see, it depends on where your seat is. Television, movies, TikTok videos, none of these can do justice to sprint car racing or anything else, for that matter. Even watching a race in person or racing online can’t duplicate sitting behind the wheel. It’s somehow even scarier for many racers to watch a race as opposed to actually racing. It depends on where your seat is.

    This one was for Bryan Clauson, who left this realm five years ago.

    Waking up from a weird dream in which Dave Rudisell found me racing a school bus on the track, I’m…

    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: Remembering Bob Kinser

    One can only speculate how those who have gone on before us would react to current events. How would Abraham Lincoln view the developments of the past quarter century? What would Ty Cobb think of today’s baseball? Most relevant, in the nearly four years since he has been gone, what would Bob Kinser think of the state of non-wing sprint car racing today? We can guess but it’s quite possible that he would have sat in a lawn chair on the hill with a cigar and a cold beverage while watching young Jadon Rogers take the early lead and go on to win the 30 lap feature named for him at his home track, the Bloomington Speedway.

    My own racing memories go back to the late 1950s. The local supermodifieds had yet to give way to the sprints. It was a time when you would see a variety of car designs, from homemade cars like Orval Yeadon's #90 to the cageless sprinter like Cecil Beavers' #57. My earliest memories of the drivers include Orval, Cecil, Dick Gaines, childhood neighbor Bobby Black, Ted Pfeiffer and.... Bob Kinser. How was I to know that I was witnessing something special? As it turned out, Bob was destined to race on and on, competitive to the end. His son Steve is regarded by most as the best to strap into a sprint car and Bob's grandson Kraig has had his share of success. But on this night, the one who began the tradition would be celebrated at least one more time.

    Maybe it was the post-Sprint Week blues. Whatever it was, 18 seemed to be a bit light on the car count. However, once the festivities begin, not a lot of thought is given to who is present and who is absent.

    Three Heats/All transfer to the feature:

    First—Sterling Cling, Chris Babcock and Jake Swanson

    Second—Andy Bradley, Jadon Rogers and AJ Hopkins

    Third—Jordan Kinser, Braxton Cummings and Dickie Gaines

    (Gaines, whose dad has his own memorial race at Lawrenceburg, had his hands full holding off seven-time Bloomington champ Brady Short for third.)

    There was no redraw, which meant heat race winners Cling and Bradley were the front row. Bradley took the early lead with Cling and Kinser close behind. Rogers had started fifth and moved to fourth on the second lap. A lap later he passed Kinser for third. Two more laps and the Worthington, Indiana resident got around Cling for second. Only Bradley was between Rogers and the lead.

    Closing the gap quickly, Rogers caught Bradley and made the pass in the low groove of turn two on the ninth lap. A lap later, he would encounter lapped traffic. Meanwhile, Bradley had a new problem named Jordan Kinser, who was reeling in the second place runner. Behind them was a three-way fight for position among Cling, AJ Hopkins and Jake Swanson.

    The yellow waved for a Gabriel Gilbert spin on the 14th lap in turn four, giving everyone a breather. Rogers led Kinser, Bradley, Swanson and Hopkins. The green waved and Rogers got a good restart. Quickly he began opening a gap between him and Kinser. But it was erased on the 17th lap when the race’s second yellow waved for Hopkins, over the turn four banking. AJ briefly rejoined the field but dropped out with a right rear tire problem. It was Rogers, Kinser, Swanson, Brayden Fox and Sterling Cling up front.

    Again, the green waved and again Rogers pulled away. Swanson relegated Kinser to third on lap 21 and set his sights on the leader. Jake wasn’t gaining much until there were six laps to go when Rogers found two cars ahead of him waging their own battle. Swanson closed to a car length behind Rogers. It appeared that Rogers nearly gave it away with a bobble on the turn four cushion on the 28th lap, but he maintained his lead. However, Rogers’ work wasn’t complete yet.

    The yellow waved again with a lap to go when Sterling Cling slid over the banking—where else—turn four. I didn’t see what happened but it was possible that Sterling wasn’t happy with Brady Short. Ah, racin’. It was Rogers, Swanson, Kinser, Fox and Short.

    The race would resume with the combined white and green flags waving. You didn’t have to be Nostradamus to know that a slide job was on Swanson’s mind. But Rogers took off yet again and the slider by Swanson was not going to work. Rogers made sure there would be no last lap histrionics.

    Behind Rogers and Swanson, Kinser held off Fox for third place by three feet or so. Braxton Cummings finished fifth. Dickie Gaines was sixth ahead of Short. After leading early, Bradley faded to eighth. Harley Burns came from 14th to take ninth and Cling came back from his misfortune to finish tenth.

    My final guess of the night would be that Mr. Kinser would have appreciated Mr. Rogers’ excellent restarts and his ability to not let the challenges of the race (restarts, lapped traffic, Jake Swanson’s charge, etc.) rattle him.

    Either way, it was a good race to be bear the name Bob Kinser.

    Nervously eyeing Valtteri Bottas in my rearview mirror, I’m…

    Danny Burton




    The Hoosier Race Report: The Battle and the War

    While Justin Grant won the battle by winning USAC’s Amsoil National Sprint Series 30 lap feature at the Tri-State Speedway, it was Kevin Thomas Jr. who took advantage of Logan Seavey and Brady Bacon's misfortune to claim the 2021Nos Energy Indiana Sprint Week title, along with the neatest rocking chair anyone ever had. Thomas had begun the night third in ISW points behind Seavey and Bacon, but his second place finish was good enough to edge his rivals.

    Coming into the final night, Seavey was the point leader with Bacon trailing by 12 and Thomas another three points behind Bacon. On a personal level I keep up with point races during Indiana Midget Week, Indiana Sprint Week and at the end of the USAC Silver Crown, Sprint and Midget seasons. The tension mounts as the schedule approaches the end. Each pass changes someone's margin. There is the possibility of disaster in every turn. Mechanical woes can emerge at the worst time.

    Fans love it. Each night had decent crowds. Weather has been, as usual, a factor. It would continue to be a player as Haubstadt had significant rainfall into the afternoon, delaying the start of Saturday night's program. Fans didn't mind. They knew it would be worth the wait. USAC is doing something right.

    Jadon Rogers led the first flight of qualifiers with a 13.59 circuit. Kendall Ruble was the last of the 37 cars to qualify and he was quickest in flight two with a 13.969.

    Here a heat, there a heat--

    First: Kyle Cummins, Chris Windom, Robert Ballou and CJ Leary.

    Second: Jason McDougal, Chase Stockon, Jake Swanson and Eddie Tafoya Jr.

    Third: Tanner Thorson, Kevin Thomas Jr., Kendall Ruble and Brady Bacon.

    Fourth: Brady Short, Justin Grant, Chris Gansen and Stephen Schnapf.

    (Brady Bacon had to go to a backup car and started last in his heat. Even though he transferred into the feature with a pass at the finish line, he still started 22nd in the finale. Earlier Seavey had trouble when Eddie Tafoya Jr. and Jake Swanson tangled in turn two on the first lap. Shane Cottle got crossed up and Seavey’s car hit Cottle’s and flipped once. He restarted on the tail and was never a factor. Tafoya came back to grab a feature slot at the finish line.)

    B main: Jadon Rogers, Aric Gentry, Kent Schmidt, Logan Seavey, Cole Bodine and Shane Cottle.

    Going into the feature, Seavey had 429 points, Bacon 420 and Thomas 419.

    McDougal and Thomas led ‘em all to the green. Thomas led the first lap, but Grant had other ideas. Firing off from fourth, the Kokomo winner commandeered the lead on the second lap with Thomas holding McDougal at bay.

    An early yellow flag waved on the third lap when a quorum consisting of Bodine, Tafoya and Cottle met in turn two. Grant led Thomas, McDougal, Leary and Rogers. Seavey was 14th and Bacon was 18th. The green came out and Grant began pulling away from KT. Leary took over third as the leader encountered lapped traffic on the 11th lap. It didn’t seem to slow Grant that much as Thomas couldn’t close in.

    Kyle Cummins was on the move during all this. He started ninth and entered the top five on lap 13. As Keith Dewig showed the field his crossed flags, Grant led Thomas, Leary, Cummins and McDougal. Cummins was on the verge of taking third when Cole Bodine spun in turn four on the 17th lap. Seavey was 13th and Bacon was 14th.

    The squad only turned two laps before the accordion effect bit McDougal, who spun after contact with Leary. Chris Windom was collected as the noses of both cars received a thump. In that short burst of green, Cummins had taken third. Bacon had passed Seavey and was 11th.

    Green lights illuminated the track and perhaps people thought that Cummins was ready to march to the lead. But it didn’t happen. The handle seemed to go away on him. Even Superman struggles. Indeed, Chase Stockon, enduring a trying Sprint Week and 2021, was on the move. With six to go, Stockon passed his neighbor for third. Chase’s recent chassis change seemed to agree with him.

    Grant wasn’t seriously threatened as he won the race while Thomas survived and thrived, winning another ISW title while finishing second. Stockon was third and Cummins took fourth. Tanner Thorson came on at the end to grab fifth. Leary was sixth and Rogers took seventh. Bacon finished eighth and edged Seavey for second place in the final ISW standings. He also was the KSE Racing Products Hard Charger, coming from 22nd. Brady Short was ninth and Kendall Ruble ended up tenth.

    The final Nos Energy Drink Indiana Sprint Week top five was Thomas 486, Bacon 469, Seavey 464, Thorson 461 and Grant 452.

    Another successful ISW was over. It had something for everyone. The lesson was pounded into heads again. You have to be good, lucky and consistent. Kevin Thomas Jr. was all of these and it paid off for a deserving champion who has matured into a constant threat to win wherever he shows up.

    Thinking that Carson Wentz got off on the wrong foot with the Colts, I’m…

    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: From the Outhouse to the Penthouse (Almost)


    No one should have counted Brady Bacon out of Indiana Sprint Week points chase after his mechanical woes at the Lincoln Park Speedway on Thursday night.  This became evident when Bacon took the lead midway through the 30 lap feature and hung on to win the fifth round of the Nos Energy Indiana Sprint Week competition, courtesy of the Bloomington Speedway and the USAC Amsoil National Sprint Car Series on Friday night. In a significant footnote, this race was named the Sheldon Kinser Memorial. This victory by Bacon put him ahead of, who else, Sheldon Kinser in the number of USAC feature wins.


    It's easier than ever to bet on USAC racing, but who would have bet that accomplished journeyman Brent Beauchamp would have been the fastest qualifier of the 36 on hand? And who would have bet on Brent being the 27th of the 36 to go faster? It seemed as if the track did get faster as time trials went on--unless your name was Charles Davis Jr., who was the first to qualify and was seventh fastest.


    Nine cars each for the heats--just about right for Bloomington. Top four move on.


    First: Chase Stockon, Shane Cottle, Kyle Cummins and Chase Johnson.


    Second: Thomas Meseraull, CJ Leary, Kevin Thomas Jr. and Stevie Sussex.


    Third: Robert Ballou, Tanner Thorson, AJ Hopkins and Tye Mihocko.


    Fourth: Jake Swanson, Chris Windom, Brady Bacon and Justin Grant.


    (The first heat needed three tries to get going. Beauchamp's luck went south quickly when his right rear tire was packed with mud. He was B main bound. Ballou was the only heat race winner who didn't start on the front row.)


    B main--the usual six


    Logan Seavey, Jadon Rogers, Brent Beauchamp, Brayden Cromwell, Brady Short and Cole Bodine.


    (Max Guilford flipped in turn one and Anthony D'Alessio missed a good chance to get upside down for the third time since Kokomo.


    After some rare massaging of the track, it was time for 30 laps of 22 cars attacking the red clay oval and each other. Leary and Windom led the way to Rusty Nunn's green flag.


    Rusty waved the yellow right away as Chris Windom was left with little room by, ironically, CJ Leary and spun in turn two. The previous night at LPS Leary had jumped the cushion as Tanner Thorson slid on by to the win.


    This put Kyle Cummins on the front row as Windom went to the rear. The green came out again and Leary again took control with Cummins cruising in second. But Bacon was on a mission.


    From his fifth starting spot, Bacon was already third after four laps. Not content there, and knowing his point situation, Bacon passed Cummins for second place on the tenth lap, utilizing the lower part of the track while most of the others stayed up by the cushion.


    For the next four laps, Bacon hounded the leader, making sure that Leary knew he was there. If that wasn't enough stress, the leaders found lapped traffic on the 13th lap. When Leary got a little bit too much of the turn two cushion, Bacon was quick to pounce. He grabbed the lead on lap 15, halfway, and began to pull away from Leary.


    The Greenfield, Indiana resident soon had more trouble in the form of Cummins, used the big cushion to take second on the 18th lap. Poor CJ. He was fighting to get second place back when Thorson came calling. Not only did Thorson get by Leary, he passed Cummins too and set sail for Bacon, whose lead was a half straightaway.


    But Thorson would not get the chance to battle with Bacon. With six laps to go, Tanner's right rear tire was shredded and he stopped on the backstretch. It was only the second yellow for the race. Bacon led Cummins, Leary, Thomas and Ballou.


    Rusty waved his green flag one more time and immediately switched to yellow as Chase Johnson slid off the track and Braydon Cromwell stopped at the end of the frontstretch. But the green came out and this time Bacon made sure that there would be no drama.


    In fact, at least the top five didn't change. Cummins, Leary, Thomas and Ballou all kept their spots. Shane Cottle came from 15th to finish sixth. Logan Seavey hung on for seventh and saw some of his ISW point lead shrink a little. Jake Swanson was eighth and Jadon Rogers finished ninth. AJ Hopkins rambled all the way from 21st to take tenth and the KSE Racing Products / B & W Auto Mart Hard Charger along with the ProSource Hard Work Award.


    We have all had obstacles that seem like their sole purpose is to discourage us, and keep us from what our goal or destination may be. We can either give up and go home or we can refuse to allow the obstacles to prevail. This is true for all of us, and it's especially true to racers as they chase success, however they choose to define it. For Bacon and company, throwing in the towel was never discussed. The obstacles were significant but they would not give up. They won and now, with the championship to be decided at Haubstadt in a few hours, Bacon would have a chance to reclaim the points lead and sit in the coolest rocking chair in the world (in my opinion).


    Seavey leads Bacon by 12 points with one ISW race to go. Shucks, don't count Kevin Thomas Jr. out. He's only three behind Bacon. And Thorson is another 17 points behind Thomas.


    It should be a good one. After taking off a night for health reasons, I was eager to get back to my historically home track, only 40 miles away. And now, I've high hopes of seeing these people race their hardest, showing how skilled and talented they are one more time. Oh, and I hope to visit for a while with a little girl, age five, who is quite the charmer.


    Trying not to yawn too much while motoring down I-69, I'm…


    Danny Burton




    The Hoosier Race Report: This Is Getting Old (Not Really)


    The competitors and maybe some fans might think that the repeated visits that Logan Seavey and company are making to Victory Lane are getting tiresome, but you should know that the California native and his Baldwin Brothers team are living the dream--at least for the time being. On a muggy Hoosier night, Seavey led all 30 laps of the Don Smith Classic at the Terre Haute Action Track on Round Four of Nos Energy Indiana Sprint Week competition by Amsoil and USAC.


    To have 36 cars show up at the Action Track was impressive. Time trials yielded no big surprises--as a rule the surface usually slows midway through the qualifying order. It did except for Chase Stockon, who went out 32nd but still had the fifth fastest time. Kevin Thomas Jr. was quickest with a 20.039, quite a ways off from Brady Bacon's track record of 19.225 set in 2014.


    The four heats would be eight laps with the usual top four movin' on up.


    First: Tanner Thorson, Kevin Thomas Jr., Chase Stockon and Brady Bacon.


    Second: Chris Windom, CJ Leary, Eddie Tafoya  Jr. and Nick Bilbee.


    Third: Tye Mihocko, Justin Grant, Charles Davis Jr. and Shane Cottle.


    Fourth: Logan Seavey, Matt Westfall, Shane Cockrum and Robert Ballou. 


    (Thomas Meseraull deserved a hard luck award of some sort. His engine emitted a puff of smoke while leading the second heat. His night was done. This put Nick Bilbee in a transfer position; he ended up starting second in the feature. In the third heat, Tye Mihocko won his first USAC race of any kind.)


    B main:  Jake Swanson, Brandon Mattox, Max Guilford, Mario Clouser, Jason McDougal and Kyle Cummins.


    (The semi feature was plagued by red flags. Cannon McIntosh flipped in turn three before the first lap was completed. Sterling Cling and Chase Jones tangled in turn one with Cling flipping. All involved walked away, but Jones looked like he had gone a round with Sugar Ray Leonard in his prime. Max Guilford came from 12th to fifth.)


    Seavey and Bilbee led 20 of their closest friends to Tom Hansing's green flag. Seavey jumped out to the lead but Grant, starting fourth, got around Bilbee and settled into second after the first lap. Immediately Seavey began putting distance between himself and Grant, but it went away on the fourth lap. That's when Mario Clouser slowed with a flat tire. Seavey and Grant led Stockon, Thomas and Thorson.


    The race resumed and this time Seavey was unable to pull away as he did before. But this was interrupted by a red flag on lap nine when Eddie Tofoya Jr. and Robert Ballou flipped on the backstretch. Both climbed out of their cars. As the field began lining up, Kevin Thomas Jr. had a flat right front tire. He gave up fourth place and went to the pits for a new shoe. With KT on the tail spot, the leaders were Seavey, Grant, Stockon, Thorson and Windom.


    The chase was on as Seavey and Grant left the others behind. By now the cushion in turns three and four was a few feet from the wall as both leaders were committed to the top. Seavey began stretching his lead  and quickly had a half of a straightaway lead over Grant, who had left first Stockon then Windom behind. Bacon entered the top five on lap 17.


    Seavey was sailing away until lapped traffic appeared on the 22nd lap. Sure enough, Grant reeled in the leader, closing to a car length in arrears. But Grant could not seal the deal, try as he might.


    As Seavey took the checkered, Grant was at least about 15 feet behind. Windom was third, ahead of a fast closing Bacon. Near the end, McDougal passed Stockon for fifth (after starting 15th), earning the KSE Racing Products / B & W Auto Mart Hard Charger award. Thomas came back from his early race misfortune to salvage seventh. Thorson was eighth and Shane Cottle finished ninth. CJ Leary was tenth.


    Should Seavey win at Lincoln Park Speedway on Thursday night he will have tied Hall of Famer Jon Stanbrough, racking up four consecutive Indiana Sprint Week victories (accomplished over the 2006-07 seasons.)


    Despite his three straight feature wins, Seavey still trails Mr. Consistency (Bacon) by four points after four of the seven ISW rounds. Grant is a distant third. A tenth place finish at Kokomo is Seavey's only non-winnning finish. Bacon has strung together a pair of second place finishes along with two fourths.


     Grant won at Kokomo as the rain began to fall. He followed that up with an eighth at Lawrenceburg, fifth at Gas City and his second place finish at THAT.


    Bacon leads Grant in national points by 81 points.


    Next race for the talented gang of gypsies is Lincoln Park Speedway. Joe Spiker will be doing his version of the anti-raindance. Tomorrow evening. What a sight that will be. A better sight to some would be Logan Seavey absconding with the trophy and the moolah (money to you kids).


    Recovering from the trauma of seeing that Brian Hodde and I both wore our brand new Hoosier Auto Race Fans' t-shirts,



    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: On a Roll


    Logan Seavey removed what little doubt there may have been that his recent success has been some kind of fluke or luck on night three of Nos Energy Indiana Sprint Week at the Gas City I-69 Speedway, presented by the USAC Amsoil National Sprint Car Series. All he did was hold off Brady Bacon for the last half of the race, handling the track, the traffic and one of the best in the business. After the Friday night rainout, this was worth the wait, especially if you were Logan Seavey and the Baldwin Brothers/Fox Paving team.


    Conversation with my truck:


    Me: We're heading to Gas City tonight.

    Truck: What's this "we" business? Why aren't you taking the car?

    Me: It's your turn.

    Truck: Oh sure. The car hardly broke a sweat going to Lawrenceburg and here I'm looking at over 200 miles tonight. Plus, you always drag me through Greenfield and that traffic, never mind the road construction.

    In the end, the truck agreed to take me northeast but only if we stopped once. Got some gas in Shelbyville and it was a happy truck, parked with a partial view of the track.


    The car count was slightly lower than Friday's 50, but 46 was plenty with Shane Cockrum the only new kid, driving Mike Gass's nice looking blue car. Tanner Thorson was the quickest qualifier with an 11.809.


    Heats--top four advance to the feature


    First: Jason McDougal, Cannon McIntosh, Justin Grant and Chase Jones.


    Second: Robert Ballou, CJ Leary, Logan Seavey and Tye Mihocko.


    Third: Jake Swanson, Stevie Sussex, Thomas Meseraull and Jadon Rogers.


    Fourth: Brady Bacon, Kyle Cummins, Chris Windom and Cole Bodine.


    (In the first heat Chase Johnson climbed over Brandon Mattox's left rear tire and flipped, collecting Zack Pretorious. In the third heat, contact between Jadon Rogers and Kevin Thomas Jr. left KT with a mangled front end. Thomas was not thrilled and informed Rogers with tried and true hand gestures. The discussion continued in the pits among people associated with both teams; it was broken up when things got a little heated. Rogers and Thomas ducked into the Rogers' trailer and talked it over. Finally, in the fourth heat, Max Guilford spun and collected Brayden Clark and Gabriel Gilbert. All three would race again.)


    C main--top four tag the B


    Brent Beauchamp, Braydon Cromwell, Shane Cottle and Charles Davis Jr.


    B main--top six advance to the feature


    Tanner Thorson, Kevin Thomas Jr., Zack Pretorious, Chase Johnson, Brandon Mattox and Chase Stockon.


    (Paul Nienhiser flipped in turn four, exiting on his own. The Shanes, Cockrum and Cottle, tangled in turn two with Anthony D'Alessio left with nowhere to go. He flipped for the second time in three nights. He walked away, perhaps muttering to himself.)


    Darin Naida won the micro sprint feature, his 15th micro feature win this year. And yes, he said that he wants to go sprint car racing as soon as he can. 


    Jason McDougal and Jake Swanson made up the front row for the 30 laps of madness with Seavey starting fourth.  Swanson led the first lap by a hot dog wrapper over Seavey but the distinctly orange car grabbed the lead in turn two and began to check out. By the fifth lap he had built up a good ten car length margin over Swanson, McDougal and Tye Mihocko. As is his habit, Bacon was on the move. He started eighth and cracked the top five by lap five. He passed Mihocko on the seventh lap and McDougal a lap later.


    Seavey held his good-sized lead as he entered lapped traffic on the 11th circuit. Bacon had passed Swanson for second. But Chase Jones spun on the same lap and the yellow waved. Seavey led Bacon, Swanson, McDougal and Mihocko. He had lost his big lead but he wouldn't have to deal with the lappers for a while.


    Mark Orr showed the boys the green flag and Seavey was going to have Bacon to worry about. But he steadily pulled away at the halfway point and had a nice lead as he approached you-know-what on the 21st lap.


    Bacon had new life and did his best to close the gap.  With seven laps to go, Bacon was job shadowing Seavey, looking for a way to the front. But there was a stretch where there weren't any slower cars in the area and Seavey opened up a bit of a lead. He might have been a little concerned when a group of cars came onto his radar with two laps left. But that proved to be no huge problem and Seavey saw the checkered flag first for the second consecutive night.


    Bacon was trailed by Kyle Cummins, who moved from 12th to third and claimed the   KSE Racing Products / Irvin King Hard Charger award. Swanson settled for fourth and McDougal finished fifth. Thorson moved up three places, ninth to sixth. Windom was seventh and Justin Grant came from 14th to take eighth. Thomas was a hard working ninth with Mihocko fading somewhat to tenth. 


    Despite Seavey's domination the past two nights he trails Bacon by 16 points in ISW results.  Thorson is another 11 points behind Seavey.


    (Late night conversation with my truck.

    Truck: So am I going to Terre Haute?

    Me: I don't know. I haven't thought that far ahead. Why?

    Truck: Well, if we take 46 there I might be ready to go.

    Me: I'll think about it.)


    Going to Houston to look for ten women who have NOT been assaulted by Deshaun Watson, I'm…


    Danny Burton




    The Hoosier Race Report: Best of the West


    For longer than I've been alive, race car drivers have migrated from wherever they live to Indiana. Probably the majority of those racers came from California; among the first was Bill Vukovich. One of the more recent transplants has been Logan Seavey. Like most, he has gone from one team to another. For now he has landed with the familiar orange colored number five with the Baldwin Brothers team. They've done well as a team. To offer more proof, on Sunday night at the Lawrenceburg Speedway, Seavey made a late race pass of another "new" Hoosier, Jake Swanson, winning the second Indiana Sprint Week #21 feature in USAC Amsoil National Sprint Car Series.


    Some people find one car qualifying a bore. Not me. There's too many things that get my attention. One of those involves how the track changes as each car qualifies. Often qualifying times at the 'burg slow as the surface dries. But there are times where someone comes along and shoots my theory in the foot. Tonight it was Stevie Sussex, a hero the night before at Kokomo. It was true that in general the second flight times were slower but Sussex was 36th in line yet his time was seventh fastest of the 41 cars that made attempts to qualify.


    The impressive car count meant that USAC still had enough cars to have a C main in addition to the usual program. The four heats had a more manageable size tonight, especially on the bigger track.




    First: Chase Johnson, Justin Grant, Kyle Cummins and Brady Bacon.


    Second: CJ Leary, Tye Mihocko, Jake Swanson and Logan Seavey.


    Third: Robert Ballou, Kevin Thomas Jr., Jason McDougal and Scotty Weir.


    Fourth: Cole Bodine, Chase Stockon, Tanner Thorson and Cannon McIntosh. 


    (Chris Windom's night went to the outhouse when his left rear tire exploded while he was leading the second heat. He went to a backup car and tagged the semi feature. Tenth there, he burned a provisional for the 30 lapper and only managed a 15th place finish. Windom's misfortune moved Seavey to fourth in the heat. What's that about one man's ceiling is another man's floor?)


    (Saben Bibent had it maybe worse than Windom. Not in his family car, Bibent found the turn four wall and flipped. He climbed out and walked away.)


    C main (top four advance to the B):

    Eddie Tofoya Jr., Max Guilford, Chris Gansen and Charles Davis Jr.


    B main (top six to the feature): Nick Bilbee, Thomas Meseraull, Stevie Sussex, Shane Cottle, Jadon Rogers and Tyler Kendall.


    It was Thorson and Swanson seeing Tom Hansing's green flag first and Swanson got the earliest jump, leading in turn one. Thorson led through turn two before Swanson took it back.


    Justin Grant brought out a yellow on the second lap with a flat tire. Not that he needed reminding, but it was a super example of how quickly one's fortunes can change. Grant rejoined the field after quick work by his crew.


    Action resumed and Swanson went to work, leading Thorson by 8-10 car lengths but not able to break away any more than that. Thorson had his hands full keeping Seavey back in third. The top three slowly increased the distance between them and fourth place. Brady Bacon had started sixth and methodically worked toward the front. On lap 11 he took over fourth, but he was among those who needed a yellow.


    Swanson encountered lapped traffic just before the crossed flags and Thorson and Seavey closed in. The Nevada native pulled a nicely done slider on Jake in turn one and made it stick. Thorson led the 18th lap but Swanson came back to return the favor a lap later.


    Paul Nienhiser brought out a yellow when he stopped in turn four on the twentieth lap. It was still Swanson, Thorson, Seavey, Bacon and Kevin Thomas Jr. up front. But soon things were about to get really serious.


    Seavey chose this final segment of the race to shine. On the restart he passed Thorson for second in turn one. Swanson was next and it took Seavey a couple of laps to finish the job, which he did on lap 24. He dove low in turn three and cleared Swanson for the lead.


    The swift young man from northern California might have started to count his money but a red flag on the last lap delayed that particular count. Grant and Rogers had one of those right rear/left front tire meetings with Jadon flipping hard in turn two. He was out of the car soon after landing.


    It was to be a green-white-checkered, USAC style finish. If Seavey was a little nervous that would have been understandable. After all, behind him was a guy looking for his first USAC sprint car win and he probably wasn't in a good mood with Seavey passing him for the lead and all.


    Tom waved the green and Seavey made sure that there would be no more drama tonight. He hung on to win at the 'burg just as he did during Indiana Midget Week (a night where he swept the midget and sprint features). Swanson settled for second but don't be surprised if he gets that first USAC Amsoil National Sprint Car win later this year. Thorson held on to third with Bacon fourth. Thomas was fifth and CJ Leary came from tenth to finish sixth. Ballou was seventh while Grant charged from 19th to claim eighth and the KSE Racing Products / Irvin King Hard Charger spending money. Kyle Cummins was a quiet ninth and fellow grandpa Shane Cottle came from 16th to finish tenth.


    They come here from far and wide. It's true that California seems to send most of them but don't forget Oklahoma and a few other states that don't have whatever it is that we have here. (Think of Tanner Thorson from Nevada or Kevin Thomas Jr. from Alabama, to use just two examples.) If and when they stay long enough we adopt them and are happy to claim them as our own, especially when several come here and stay rather than move on to other racing endeavors. There's not always a lot to celebrate about Indiana but we can be more than happy to know that here is where racers come to race.


    Waxing but not waning, I'm…


    Danny Burton




    The Hoosier Race Report: Racing the Rain... and Winning


    First, let the record show that Justin Grant won the rain-shortened feature at the Kokomo Speedway. The precipitation picked up the pace right after the halfway point and Tom Hansing threw the yellow, then the red flag with 18 laps complete, three laps past the mid-race mark.


    But let's give the Kokomo Speedway and USAC management some credit as well. When it became apparent that a line of thunderstorms was rapidly advancing south toward Howard County, and it was only a matter of time before the nasty weather would reach the track. I would imagine that fans and participants' safety entered into their thinking ar some point. Nasty weather in northern Indiana is not uncommon at this time of year.


    But before the weather tried to be the story for the second consecutive night, the biggest development was the 54 cars that signed in. This was, according to USAC statistics guru Richie Murray, the most cars Kokomo has hosted since 2008, three whole years before I retired from serving the public. There would the usual four heats with D, C and B mains. Yes, D.


    There were two flights for qualifying. Brady Bacon led everyone and came close to Dave Darland's 12.405 record, ringing up a 12.594. Five others dipped below thirteen seconds. Jadon Rogers led the second flight with a 13.061 lap.


    Heat race results:


    FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Kyle Cummins, 2. Shane Cottle, 3. Brady Bacon, 4. Justin Grant


    SECOND HEAT: Kevin Thomas Jr., 2. Brady Short, 3. Jason McDougal, 4. Brandon Mattox


    THIRD HEAT: 1. Robert Ballou, 2. Jake Swanson, 3. Jadon Rogers, 4. C.J. Leary


    FOURTH HEAT: 1. Tanner Thorson, 2. Braydon Cromwell, 3. Chris Windom, 4. Cannon McIntosh


    (Scotty Weir was slid by Bacon in the first heat, smacking the wall and ending his night. Garrett Aitken flipped in the third heat. He walked away with no assistance.)


    D-MAIN: (6 laps, shortened to 0 laps due to accident, top-6 transfer to the C-main) 1. Jack James, 2. Mitchell Davis, 3. Tayte Williamson, 4. Brayden Clark, 5. Kyle Edwards, 6. Chase Jones.


    (Ryan Bond and Cooper Welch flipped in turn one, damaging the fence. With the rain approaching, the crew got it repaired quickly. Both drivers walked away.)


    C-MAIN: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the semi) 1. Stevie Sussex, 2. Evan Mosley, 3. Chase Stockon, 4. Cole Bodine, 5. Harley Burns, 6. Ryan Barr, 7. Zack Pretorius, 8. Charles Davis Jr., 9. Sterling Cling, 10. Brayden Clark, 11. Chase Jones, 12. Korbyn Hayslett, 13. David Hair, 14. Kyle Edwards, 15. Jack James, 16. Tayte Williamson, 17. Alex Banales, 18. Critter Malone, 19. Anthony D’Alessio, 20. Mitchell Davis.


    (Anthony D'Alessio and Mitchell Davis flipped in turn three. Both exited their torn up cars. Stevie Sussex came from tenth to win.)


    SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Logan Seavey, 2. Chase Johnson, 3. Thomas Meseraull, 4. Brent Beauchamp, 5. Stevie Sussex, 6. Max Guilford.


    (Sussex was again the show, coming from 15th to fifth, advancing to the feature from the C main.)


    By the time feature lined up, the lightning north of the track was almost continuous. As the officials did their best to hurry the program, the racers were in a hurry as well. But a series of yellow and red flags pushed the program's conclusion ever closer to the oncoming rain.


    Thomas and Leary were the front row and the Alabama native-turned-Hoosier took the early lead. Grant grabbed second as Thomas was stretching out his lead until Brandon Mattox flipped hard on the frontstretch with six laps complete. There was a brief oil fire that was quickly extinguished. Brandon walked away dejectedly.


    As the field readied for the restart I checked my phone. Mr. AccuWeather told me that the rain was ten minutes away. My request that it stay in Logansport a little longer was ignored.


    Thomas was immediately challenged by Grant, who briefly held the lead. But Thomas regained the top spot going down the backstretch. Grant was not to be denied as he captured the lead in the fourth turn on the ninth lap.


    That was it as far as the race leader was concerned. It became a contest among the race, the weather and the lap count. As Grant had taken the lead I was pretty sure that I felt a raindrop. The question became a matter of the leader completing at least half of the scheduled distance. Grant made it with three laps to spare.


    With 18 laps scored the drizzle was too much for the track's surface. Tom waved the yellow and folks headed for shelter or their mode of transportation.


    Lost in the dash for dryness was the fact that the last two USAC feature events have been won by Grant, who won a thriller on Wednesday night in Silver Crown action at Winchester Speedway, holding off Kody Swanson at the line.


    Behind Grant was Bacon, who was running fourth as late as lap 15. Thomas finished third and Leary was fourth ahead of Tanner Thorson, who had started ninth. Cummins faded a bit to sixth while Chris Windom was seventh. Jadon Rogers ended up eighth. Robert Ballou and Logan Seavey finished up the top ten.


    Shane Cottle was the KSE Racing Products / Irvin King Hard Charger as he advanced from 18th to 11th (in only 18 laps).


    It was another wild night. But, really now. What can one expect? Combine USAC sprints with the Kokomo Speedway and usually it's wild. Throw in a wild card like the weather and it's wild, crazy, dramatic, thrilling and unpredictable. Plus, remember that it is Sprint Week.


    Maybe we should close by noting that the drivers weren't the only ones making split second decisions tonight. Some race officials had to do the same. I think it was five years ago when a tornado ripped through Kokomo and that was surely on some peoples' minds. And despite the multiple interruptions, fans still saw the racing that Kokomo usually produces.


    Next stop, Lawrenceburg. Comparatively speaking, a hop, skip and jump from here.


    After all these years, still stressed out because of the uneven numbers of hot dogs and hot dog buns in their packages, I'm...


    Danny Burton




    The Hoosier Race Report: An Indiana Sprint Week Rainout

    The bad news on opening night of ISW21 was that most of the rain that fell in Indiana on Friday fell in Grant County, home of the Gas City/I-69 Speedway. Hot laps were completed, followed by time trials. Then came some light sprinkles, followed by drizzle, followed by rain and lots of it.

    The good news was that USAC and track promoter Jerry Gappens decided that rescheduling this wingding on Monday would be the best alternative. And so it shall be.

    Tonight was the opener for34th NOS Energy Drink Indiana Sprint Week by AMSOIL.

    To show how serious this Sprint Week deal is, each year various and sundry car/driver combinations seem to pop up. This year is no exception.

    With Max Adams sidelined for a while due to his injuries from a recent crash here at Gas City, car owner Paul Hazen hooked up with capable veteran Tyler Hewitt. Brady Short will be in Randy Edwards' USAC winning sprinter, the same car that has seen success with Stephen Schnapf and Jadon Rogers behind the wheel. The KO team will be a three car effort with Jason McDougal joining 2020 ISW champ Chase Stockon and Paul Nienhiser. The only significant change on the Kevin Thomas Jr. car is the main sponsor, that being the Ronald McDonald House Charities. The new look is a winner. Thomas Meseraull and Jack Yeley should make an interesting pairing. Chris Gansen, Eddie Tofoya Jr. and Kyle Edwards are the California imports this year with Jake Swanson preparing for his first ISW as a Hoosier. Watch for Stevie Sussex in the Scooby Doo/Tyler Sturgeon car with a different paint scheme.

    It was almost a surprise that Thomas Meseraull’s eight-year-old track record of 11.441 wasn’t broken. The track was lightning fast. Seven of the 50 qualifiers were under 12 seconds. They were led by Brayden Fox with an 11.916 lap. This was his first quick time in his brief USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car career.

    Time trials had not been completed for very long before the sprinkles began approximately 7:40. For several minutes the precipitation wasn't too bad, but was enough to park both race cars and push trucks. At 8:20 p.m. it could be said that the rain was pouring down. There was a relatively tiny rain cell hovering over Grant County and staying there. More and more people were leaving while I divided my time between checking the radar and social media and reading a giant biography of Sir Winston Churchill.

    At 8:45 I assumed that USAC officials were in communication with Gas City promoter Jerry Gappens, quite possibly trying to come up with a rain date that they could all live with. The rain, meanwhile, came down even harder.

    My guess was correct. This program is now scheduled to resume on Monday. To quote USAC: “The event has been rescheduled for Monday night, July 26, with a completely new program, beginning with hot laps, qualifying and followed by racing.

    “Spectators and pit pass holders from Friday night may use their wristbands to gain re-entry for Monday’s rescheduled event.”

    Mr. Fox will keep his quick time recognition and the points earned. This means that he is the current ISW point leader.

    It was good timing for me that the rain had let up as I left the track. It was not so good timing as I drove through another brief, but intense, shower on my way to the motel—still in Grant County.

    Up next is Kokomo. I plan to spend a good part of the day doing my Bartholomew County-famous anti-rain dance, probably at Foster Park.

    Gleefully joining in the bidding of the latest Hunter Biden painting of ex-president Trump missing a two foot putt, I'm...

    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: Trying a New Line


    Toward the end of the 25 lap feature at the Lincoln Park Speedway on a beautiful Saturday night, AJ Hopkins appeared to make a decision that resulted in his picking up his sixth feature win at LPS this year. Track conditions were such that the racing lane was comparatively narrow. Few if any were inclined to try something significantly different. But Mr. Hopkins decided to see if he could find some speed in what normally is the high groove but without the big cushion. Did he ever. We could learn some things ourselves if we did as tonight's winner did.


    If our experiences in life are confined to our little corner of both the racing world and/or the world at large, we're not going anywhere, at least not very far away. Think of NASCAR fans whose only exposure to racing of any kind is what they see on TV each week. They know names like Ty Dillon but not, say, Tye Mihocko.


    This is relevant to our everyday lives as well. For many of us, most of our waking time is spent in the company of people who look and act a lot like us. Our only exposure to those others is, for the most part, on TV or online and often it's not in a positive light. So maybe as we encourage friends who might be inclined to think that all racing is like what they see on TV to catch sprint car racin', perhaps we should keep that in mind as we see people on the other side of the world whose ways are not like ours. Perhaps we should realize that there's another groove out there and, like AJ Hopkins, we might consider learning a little more about things or people that seem to be so different.


    It seemed like the pits were a little more crowded and that was only because they were. The total car count was 116, with 39 of those being sprints.


    There would be five heat races with the top three advancing to the Show.


    First: Jake Swanson, Harley Burns and Gregg Ensign.


    Second: Shane Cockrum, AJ Hopkins and Kyle Shipley.


    Third: Brayden Fox, Blake Vermillion and Zach Pretorious.


    Fourth: Jaden Rogers, Tye Mihocko and Braydon Cromwell.


    Fifth: Jesse Vermillion, Gabe Gilbert and Alec Sipes.


    The second heat was the heat from hell with two yellow and two red flags. Carl Rhuebottom flipped in turn two, then took the long walk back to the pits, for that moment, the loneliest man on the premises. On the restart, leader Jake Scott did the same thing as Rhuebottom, except he rode to the pits on a four-wheeler. Still in the second heat, Brent Beauchamp, trying to race into third place, hit a rut wrong and bounced to a stop with front end damage. Things would get better for him later.


    There were plenty enough cars to run two B mains with the top three from each tagging the field.


    First: Brent Beauchamp, Cole Bodine and Tim Creech II.


    Second: Dickie Gaines, Robert Carrington and Jeff Wimmenhauer.


    Jake Scott came up a little short as he and crew made repairs and roared from last. Not to be outdone, Robert Carrington came from last to transfer to the feature.


    Hopkins and Burns saw the green flag first, but it was quickly replaced by the yellow when poor Beauchamp, Kyle Shipley and Braydon Cromwell were squeezed in turn two.


    They tried again and Hopkins took the early advantage with Rogers taking second on the third lap. Swanson came on to take second just before the yellow waved for Jeff Wimmenhauer on lap eight. Behind the front two were Rogers, Fox and Burns.


    After this restart, Swanson began doing his best to harass Hopkins and take the lead if he could. The yellow immediately replaced Brian Hodde's crossed flags when Harley Burns slowed dramatically then exited. Now we saw Hopkins, Swanson, Fox, Rogers and Mihocko.


    Again Swanson did his best to give Hopkins a few gray hairs and he finally outdrug AJ going down the backstretch, leading lap 15. A lap later, Fox took second. Two laps after that Rogers passed Hopkins, who might have been feeling like Rodney Dangerfield (no respect!) by this time.


    But things started turning around for the 04 car. He was helped somewhat when Fox spun in, where else, turn two on the 20th lap. AJ had passed Rogers and Fox's spin put him in second again.


    With five laps to go, it was Swanson, Hopkins, Rogers, Bodine (!?) and…. Cockrum? Sure was. Brian turned the boys loose and here was where Hopkins seemed to decide to go for it. He powered around Swanson for the lead after a brief side-by-side battle on lap 21.


    The white flag waved and no doubt a few people may have headed for the exit. The leader was fine but Swanson tagged the wall going into turn one right after taking the white flag. Somehow Jake didn't flip but the yellow waved one last time. Beauchamp narrowly avoided contact with Swanson as he scooted by.


    This set up a one lap dash and now Cockrum had maneuvered his way to second. Hopkins might have thought, oh great, or something like that.


    But the green and white flags waved together and Hopkins crossed the line a couple of car lengths ahead of the Chief. Rogers was third and Bodine came from 18th to finish fourth, winning the Brian Hodde hard charger award, a barbeque sandwich that Brian couldn't eat. Mihocko was a steady fifth. Beauchamp's trying night ended well with a sixth place finish after all of his earlier setbacks. Gaines also came from the B main, moving from 17th to seventh. Cromwell came from 14th to finish eighth after his early misfortune. B. Vermillion was ninth while Gilbert started and finished tenth. 


    It was to be a late night and that became apparent early on. But it would appear that AJ Hopkins and most of the fans considered it time well spent. After all, you have to appreciate a guy who's not afraid to step out and try something a little different.


    Reminding various NASCAR fans that it's Knoxville, Iowa, I'm...


    Danny Burton




    The Hoosier Race Report: Making One’s Self Feel at Home

    Leaps of faith are taken thousands of times a day, probably more. In the world at large, my guess is that not too many involve moving to Indiana—unless you are a sprint car racer who wishes to test himself against some of the toughest competition anywhere. Sometimes those leaps of faith pay off. Ask Jake Swanson, winner of the Chuck Amati 68 at the Paragon Speedway and under the auspices of the Midwest Sprint Car Series. He and his wife have settled in the Hoosier state after their move from California. Jake has had some success already, but on a beautiful central Indiana evening, he rang up his biggest win so far as he ran off and hid from the rest of the field, winning by over a half lap over Chase Stockon.

    Chuck Amati, rest his soul, would have appreciated Mr. Swanson’s accomplishment. After all, during his own superb career, Chuck had his own leaps of faith as he traveled across America from race to race, car owner to car owner—it’s been said Chuck was one of the original outlaws. It’s universally agreed that he was always a fan favorite.

    Answering the call at Paragon were 27 cars. Two of those, Swanson and Stockon, had plans for heading west to Knoxville to race with USAC on Saturday, leaving soon after the checkered flag waved.

    Heat race results, top five to the feature:

    First—Andrew Prather, Jake Swanson, Aric Gentry, Josh Cunningham and Adam Wilfong.

    Second—Colton Cottle, Brady Short, Ben Knight, Brandon Morin and Collin Ambrose.

    Third—Landon Simon, AJ Hopkins, Carson Garrett, Harley Burns and Andy Bradley

    B Main, top five to the feature:

    Jake Scott, Chase Stockon, Colin Parker, Dylan Moan and Billy Winsemann.

    (William Johnson flipped in heat one. Ted Kirkpatrick flipped in heat two. Both accidents were in turn two. Both drivers walked away. Stockon nearly flipped while leading the second heat. He recovered but couldn’t crack the top five.)

    It stood to reason that any 68 lap race would have its own rules. For laps 1-50, only the first three laps of a caution period would count toward the 68. After that the lap count would freeze until the green flag waved. After 50 laps, only green flag laps would count.

    Hopkins and Short were the front row and AJ led going into the first turn. But a slight bobble enabled Short to take the lead in turn two and Swanson to take second. Morin brought out the first caution on lap four.

    Keith Dewig waved the green for the second time and Short was immediately under pressure from Swanson. On the tenth lap, Jake dove low coming out of turn two and took the lead. He swiftly began to put some serious distance between himself and Short. Brady had his own problems keeping Hopkins behind him. Meanwhile, Swanson entered lapped traffic on lap 14, but it didn’t seem to bother him.

    The top trio remained the same until Hopkins passed Short for second the 24th orbit. Alas, that would prove to be AJ’s all-too-brief high point as he had something on the car break as he entered turn three. His spin would bring out a yellow flag. Swanson led Short, Gentry, Prather and Garrett, who had entered the top five for the first time. There were 26 laps down, only 42 to go.

    Again on the restart, Swanson checked out, with Short also increasing his margin over Gentry. The field slowed on the 33rd lap when Josh Cunningham stopped on the track. The law firm of Swanson, Short and Gentry now led Garrett and Prather.

    Once more the green lights came on and Swanson took off. No positions changed hands up front, but the yellow waved when Prather spun in turn two, collecting Jake Scott, who had been steadily working his way forward after beginning festivities in 16th. It was lap 40. There was now approximately a “normal” feature yet to run. It was Swanson, Short, Garrett, Gentry and…Chase Stockon, up to fifth place after starting back in B main territory.

    The same routine prevailed with Swanson when the green waved but now Short had his fair share of distress as Garrett wanted second place badly. He took it on the backstretch with 50 laps run. Swanson by now had a straightaway lead. Could Garrett possibly catch the fleet Californian?

    No way. Swanson was sailing through turns three and four, seeming to flirt with disaster, but it was working. He was in the zone and no one left running had anything for him as the laps wound down. If anything his lead increased to a half lap.

    Behind the leader, things were unsettled. With seven laps to go, Short took second back. Stockon passed Gentry for fourth, then Garrett for third. Short spun off turn three on the last lap and, just like that, Stockon was second.

    That’s how it ended, Swanson finishing a half lap ahead of Stockon, over 11 seconds. Stockon, the MSCS point leader, didn’t feel too bad seeing that he started 17th and won the Steve Rone Hard Charger award, a can of warm beer. Garrett was third after starting ninth. Gentry was fourth and Ben Knight flew under the radar to grab fifth. Scott came back from his misfortune to finish sixth after starting 16th. Cunningham overcame his own adversity to take seventh. Prather was eighth and Andy Bradley came from 15th to finish ninth. Short was credited with tenth, and couldn’t be blamed much for being somewhat frustrated after running such an exceptional race only to have it go away at the end.

    For the time being, Jake Swanson’s decision to move to Indiana from California has looked like a good one. He’s not the first West Coaster to take the leap of faith and I’m sure he won’t be the last—unless one state declares war on the other.

    If he was in a position to do so, I’d guess that Chuck Amato would nod in approval.

    Reminding various NASCAR fans that it's Knoxville, Iowa (not Tennessee), I'm...

    Danny Burton




    The Hoosier Race Report: Patience?

    One would not think about patience having anything to do with a sprint car feature, even one that is longer than the normal 30. But patience was one of the qualities that Kevin Thomas Jr. exercised in winning Night Two of the Bill Gardner Sprintacular at the Lincoln Park Speedway. It was KT’s 28th USAC Sprint Car win, tying him with J.J. Yeley and Levi Jones.

    Like most all changes, patience is one that is often forced on us. This doesn’t mean that having patience is bad, far from it. In his earlier years of wrestling the four wheeled beasts, Thomas tore up a lot of equipment. Learning patience was an expensive lesson, but he learned his lesson well. On the closing night of the Sprintacular, Thomas had the patience to keep running the same line that had taken him to the front, knowing it was a 40 lap feature, not the usual 30. It paid off to the tune of $7,000.

    In time trials, Shane Cottle set quick time with a 12.721 lap. Brady Bacon’s three-year-old track record of 12.276 was safe. The cushion tonight was not nearly as treacherous as the night before. The car count was down somewhat, with 36 sprints signing in.

    Tonight the USAC format was used, as opposed to the Friday night employment of MSCS rules and methods.

    Heat races—top four transfer

    First: Jake Swanson, Kevin Thomas Jr., Justin Grant and Shane Cottle.

    Second: CJ Leary, Cannon McIntosh, Riley Kreisel and Harley Burns.

    Third: Tanner Thorson, Carson Short, Chris Windom and Chase Stockon.

    Fourth: Brady Bacon, Kyle Cummins, Mario Clouser and Paul Nienhiser.

    (In the first heat, Cottle passed Carson Garrett on the last lap to snag a spot. Tanner Thorson came to life in his heat, passing Bodine, Stockon, Windom and C. Short on the outside to win. Brady Bacon did some of the same in his heat, passing Kyle Cummins on the last lap to win.)

    B main: Cole Bodine, Carson Garrett, Brayden Fox, Robert Ballou, Stephen Schnapf and Collin Ambrose.

    Midget heat winners: Shane Cottle and Hayden Reinbold

    Midget feature: Cottle won but Reinbold stayed close the whole race.

    MMSA results:

    Heat winners were Cody Trammell, Cody Knieriem and Kayla Roell.

    B-Main Winner:Jeremy Huebner

    Feature Winner: Brandon Coffey

    In the B, Levi Whitehouse was airlifted to an Indy hospital after a turn four accident. No word on his condition as of 2:30 a.m. on Sunday.

    Kreisel and Grant led the way to Keith Dewig’s green flag and Kreisel led his first USAC feature—until Grant dove under #91 in turn two and took over to lead the first lap. The tandem of Grant, Kreisel and Bacon stayed the same for the first five laps. But Bacon took second from the Missouri resident and Leary soon snatched third on the tenth circuit. Bacon decided that Grant was having too much fun and closed the gap. Lapped traffic added to the fun as both weaved their way through the (slightly) slower cars. On lap 15, Bacon used the bottom to take the lead from Grant in turn three. Leary was not far away in third and Kreisel was fourth.

    Grant returned the favor as Keith displayed the crossed flags, powering off turn four. By now Thomas was knocking on the door of the top five after starting back in the seventh row. A yellow waved for Windom, who stopped on track on lap 18. Bacon led Grant, Leary, Kreisel and Swanson. Lap 21 came and Thomas disposed of Kreisel, Swanson, and then Leary, taking third. A lap later and Bacon was relegated to third while Thomas worked the bottom while Grant blasted his way around the top,

    For the rest of the race, Thomas and Grant gave each other no room for letting up. Lap after lap Grant led Thomas by less than a car length on several occasions as both crossed the start/finish line. Finally, on lap 35, Thomas eased ahead of Grant and led the rest of the way. But don’t be fooled into thinking that ol’ KT ran off and hid. Over the last six laps, Grant powered off turn four to come close to grabbing the lead again. He came up a very few feet short.

    Bacon was third and he had stayed close to the top two most all of the later stages. Leary was fourth and at times seemed ready to make it a four car battle. Cottle, who won this race last year, was fifth. Swanson and Thorson were sixth and seventh. Cummins came from 18th to finish eighth. Kreisel may have faded to ninth, but he ran an impressive race all the same. McIntosh was tenth after finishing eighth the night before.

    Thomas was the KSE Racing Products Hard Charger as he came from 14th to win.

    In terms of points Bacon and Grant was still one/two, but Thomas crept a little closer, now trailing Grant by 19 points.

    Next weekend the caravan heads west to the Knoxville Raceway for the Corn Belt Clash. Paragon will try again to host the Chuck Amati Memorial, all 68 laps of it.

    I will keep working on my patience and hope that those around me do the same.

    I should add that my eldest grandson was my running mate tonight and he had an outstanding time on his first race in a couple of years. It was his initial visit to beautiful downtown Putnamville.

    This one is for guys like Samuel Adams, Thomas Paine, Ben Franklin, George Mason, Benjamin Rush, Gouverneur Morris and Richard Henry Lee, the less well-known of the Founding Fathers and those more inclined to rabble rousing.

    Deciding that I’ll hitchhike somewhere before I fly again, I’m…

    Danny Burton




    The Hoosier Race Report: Persistence Pays Off

    For the second night in a row CJ Leary saw the checkered flag before the others, this time on opening night at the Lincoln Park Speedway's seventh annual Bill Gardner Sprintacular. Leary took the lead on a late restart and slid by leader Jake Swanson, who came close to his first USAC National Sprint car win.

    This year the two-day affair would be co-sanctioned by USAC and MSCS. For Friday, the MSCS format of group qualifying and a fifth heat (for 45 cars) would be used. Saturday’s show will be USAC’s turn with one-car qualifying and four heats, come hell or high water.

    No matter what format or sanctioning body was running things, the purpose of both nights of racing was to celebrate and remember Bill Gardner. It isn’t very often that memorial races are named after a “mere” fan. Bill was a lot more than a fan. One of his accomplishments was creating after he had noticed how little race fans seemed to interact at the track. With the Web’s entrance into our culture, Bill began what has become the go-to website for any news concerning open wheel racing here in Indiana (along with other states as well on occasion).

    Through IOW, I’ve met a significant number of fellow race fans who became friends over the last 15 plus years, including Marv, Mike, Kelly, Jim, Ron, Dan, Jim. the Coach, Jerry, Tim (Mehner and Watson), and many more—even Bill and Shondra Gardner.

    I’ve noticed a special few people who seemed to have the knack for drawing others to them without wishing to draw attention to themselves. Bill was one and those who knew him benefitted greatly from it. Bill always carried himself with dignity and grace—with a healthy dose of sarcasm just to keep us honest. He gave me plenty of chuckles over the years, in addition to giving me lots to ponder.

    As his own struggle with his health went on, without us realizing it, he was showing us how to deal with a terminal illness. The illness might defeat the body, but the spirit stayed strong and triumphant to the end.

    Several years ago (2015) I was fortunate enough to be voted the HARF media person of the year. That in itself was rewarding enough but what really made it special was the fact that the award’s official name is the Bill Gardner Media Award. I look at the plaque most every day and it’s hard not to think of Bill when I do.

    With all that, I hear that voice that resides in my head this moment saying, “Enough of this s#@t, you jackwagon. Write something about the race.” Yes, Bill. I think I will.

    Of the 108 cars in Joe Spiker’s R ‘n’ R Wonderland, 45 of them were sprints. Under the MSCS group qualifying system, Kevin Thomas Jr. was quickest of all with a 12.638 lap. For what it was worth, KT was in the third of five groups.

    Heats—Top four advance

    First: Chris Windom, Shane Cottle, CJ Leary and Ryan Thomas.

    Second: Jake Swanson, Tanner Thorson, Chase Stockon and Alec Sipes.

    (There had been some serious cushion bouncing. Nate McMillen got the worst of it, flipping in the second heat. The car was righted and Nate raced some more.)

    Third: Brady Bacon, Kevin Thomas Jr., Robert Ballou and Cole Bodine.

    (More of the same in the third heat as Robert Carrington flipped in the same spot after Brady Bacon had come close to doing the same. Robert walked away. Robert Ballou came from seventh to transfer.)

    Fourth: Zach Daum, Carson Short, Harley Burns and Mario Clouser.

    Fifth: Kyle Cummins, Justin Grant, Riley Kreisel and Cannon McIntosh.

    C Main—Top two advance to the B

    Tim Creech II and Chris Babcock

    B Main==Top two advance to the A

    Paul Nienhiser and Thomas Meseraull

    Daum and Bacon led the way to the green, which turned red seconds later when Ryan Thomas flipped in turn one. Kyle Cummins started fifth and found himself pointing the wrong way after trying to miss Shane Cottle’s back bumper.

    The gang tried again and this time Bacon took the lead and tried to check out. That nice margin he had built up began to shrink as Swanson labored to close the gap after taking second place on the fifth lap. By lap 13 Swanson had cut the distance in half. Lapped traffic came into play three laps later. On the 21st lap, Swanson dipped low in turn one and grabbed the lead from Bacon, who was soon under attack from CJ Leary.

    Mr. Leary had started back in the fifth row and had steadily moved forward. He entered the top five at the halfway mark and joined the party up front soon after Swanson took the lead. Leary took second from Bacon on lap 24 and then immediately attacked Swanson with a series of slide jobs at both ends of the track. Jake was able to fend them off, but then a red flag on lap 27 would be the race’s turning point.

    Cole Bodine flipped in turn two, emerging from the car unassisted. The order was Swanson, Leary, Bacon, Cottle and Thomas. Swanson knew that Leary was there for sure and had to be concerned. He had good reason to be because Leary began throwing some more sliders at the leader after the restart. On the 28th lap, he made it stick and that was that. Leary had his second consecutive USAC sprint win, giving him 10 for his career.

    Swanson was a disappointed, but philosophical, second. Cottle sneaked in there to get third and was only a couple of car lengths from second. Thomas was fourth and Bacon faded to fifth. Windom and Grant were sixth and seventh. Cannon McIntosh was the KSE Racing Products Hard Charger, coming from 20th to finish eighth. Daum and Stockon completed the top ten.

    Bacon kept his healthy point lead over Grant.

    The boys do it again tonight/Saturday, but this time it will be for 40 laps and a $7,000 pot of gold waiting for the top dog.

    Bill Gardner should be there, either in spirit or memory. So will a lot of his friends.

    Bouncing off one cushion too many, I’m…

    Danny Burton




    The Hoosier Race Report: Motivation

    Jake Swanson can be called a Hoosier now. He's moved here from California and has shown steady improvement. If he has a home track it might be the Bloomington Speedway, the same as mine. After his spirited duel with AJ Hopkins on a beautiful Indiana evening, Swanson stood by his car as Brad Dickison conducted the interview; he looked to be at home. He had withstood the challenge of Hopkins for all 25 laps and emerged victorious. Now that's hard to beat.

    For any number of reasons—threat of rain, lack of finances, etc.—both car counts and the crowd were down. The scheduled fireworks didn’t exactly pack the bleachers. But never mind all that. The rain seemed to disappear somewhere over Owen County to the west and Bloomington was spared any more rain, which wasn’t needed in the first place. Henry Bryant, with an assist from Ma Nature, presented the 18 sprinters and others with a lightning fast race track.

    This became apparent during hot laps when AJ Hopkins and Harley Burns slid off turn three, with Hopkins avoiding a rare backflip. Then Matt Beckwith nearly flipped into the pits off turn two after wheel to wheel contact with another car. He was taken to the hospital, and was alert. He grimaced when he was lifted into the ambulance. Best wishes to Matt, who had put in many hours preparing to race, only to have an encounter with the fence and wind up in the hospital with a reported broken arm.

    With 18 sprints, there would be two heats and the feature. Only nine midgets showed up; they would run one heat and their feature.


    First--Jake Swanson, AJ Hopkins, Jordan Kinser, Harley Burns and Andy Bradley.

    Second--Anthony D'Alessio, Cole Bodine, Jaden Rogers, Brayden Fox and Jake Bland.

    Midget heat: Tyler Nelson, Chett Gehrke, Jeff Schindler, Bryan Stanfill and Billy Lawless.

    For the feature, D’Alessio and Swanson were the front row, a Floridian and a Californian, both of whom moved here to race. Swanson, the West Coaster, took the early lead and completed a lap before the first yellow waved for Gabe Gilbert’s turn two spin.

    The green waved and Swanson took off, closely followed by third-starting AJ Hopkins. Rogers was a close third and passed Hopkins for second just before the yellow came out again for Gilbert. AJ got his spot back.

    The lap three restart got ugly. Hopkins nudged Swanson just enough to send the Californian spinning. He collected Rogers and Kinser. A little further back, Sterling Cling wasn’t as lucky. He flipped over the turn two banking. Brian Hodde brought out the yellow before quickly replacing it with the red. Cling was able to exit his car.

    Admittedly not knowing the rules, I was surprised a little when Swanson got his spot back. He led Hopkins, Bodine, D’Alessio and Burns to the green. Rogers was done for the night and Kinser restarted on the tail.

    The next eight laps were a high-speed, tense drama as Swanson and Hopkins attempted a two-car breakaway, both scooting around the top with the usual Bloomington cushion. Lapped traffic came into play on the 12th lap as Swanson seemed to have better luck negotiating the lappers. He increased his lead over Hopkins to a whole 20 feet, maybe 25. In other words, AJ wasn’t exactly disappearing.

    Andy Bradley spun in turn one on the 17th lap; Mr. Hodde waved the yellow. Up front it was Swanson, Hopkins, Bodine, Burns and Fox. Kinser had charged through the field and was sixth. He wasn’t done.

    The green lights activated and again Swanson got a good restart. He had built a lead of about three or four car lengths when the yellow waved for the last time, this one for Dickie Gaines and Matt Thompson. The only change at the head of the lineup was Kinser, now in fourth.

    Hopkins was ready this time. He didn’t grab the lead on the restart, but he pulled a slider on Swanson in turn two of lap 22. But at the other end of the track, Swanson executed an inside pass coming out of turn four a lap later. From there, Jake pulled away for the win by about 20 feet. One could say that his getting passed late in the race motivated him to sit up a little straighter and take back the lead—and the win.

    Hopkins was trailed by Bodine and Kinser. Fox completed the top five. Burns was sixth and Bradley recovered from his spin to take seventh. D’Alessio was eighth and Gaines came back to finish ninth after starting 14th. Austin Nigh came from 17th to end up tenth, making him the Mike O’Leary Hard Charger, winning an order of nachos and cheese as soon as Mike gets paid.

    My portion of the racing ended with veteran Bryan Stanfill winning the midget feature over Chett Gehrke, Max Adams, Brayton Lynch and Jeff Schindler.

    Just another night at the red clay oval.

    Campaigning to take the ride now held by Valtteri Bottas, I’m…

    Danny Burton




    The Hoosier Race Report: The Inevitability of A.J. Hopkins

    If you are Stevie Sussex and you're leading the feature at the Lincoln Park Speedway, you are correct to be feeling pretty good. Whoever is second must be quite a bit behind you. But wait. A yellow comes out and you might find out that's A.J. Hopkins behind you. The green waves and you give it all you’ve got. But Hopkins is in your tire tracks. Whether you know it or not, you're going to be collecting second place money. Hopkins makes the pass with five laps to go and Sussex need not be ashamed, though it would be understandable if he was a little down. There's no shame in running second to the likes of A.J. Hopkins.

    Rod Henning was the fourth and last leader of the Racesaver feature.

    I had high hopes of seeing some Hoosier style sprint car racing on this warm and humid night, as opposed to my Friday night experience at Paragon. The much anticipated Chuck Amati Memorial was on my radar and I headed northwest despite the weather forecast. This was to be an MSCS deal and, though the car count was a little light at 22, there were enough contenders to promise another fun evening.

    But the sky darkened and the picture of the radar on my phone was not promising. I retreated to the little white truck and waited--for what I wasn't sure yet. At 7:25, right after the invocation and the anthem, the rain started before cars could take a green flag.

    Thirty minutes later Dr. Pat didn't mince any words. "This race is cancelled." I shut the door, fired up the Chevy, and headed out, accompanied by a few hundred kindred spirits and rain that followed me to the Johnson County line. As I turned south onto U.S. 31 the sun made a brief appearance, reminding me that it's always there, clouds or no clouds.

    The Chuck Amati Memorial will be run on July 9.

    It rained off and on for the next several hours and Saturday morning dawned with much of Indiana having flood issues. Lawrenceburg threw in the towel early and Lincoln Park made the call just before 2:30 to give it a try.

    Away I went, again in a northwesterly direction under partly cloudy skies and a lot of Indiana humidity.

    Car counts in all five classes were a little slim but there were enough to race on a track that had a good share of “character.” There were 15 sprints and 14 Racesaver winged 305s out of 73 cars in the pits.

    Sprint heats--

    First: AJ Hopkins, Brayden Fox and Shane Cockrum.

    Second: Harley Burns, Stevie Sussex and Brandon Spencer.

    Cockrum, the previous night's winner in USAC Silver Crown action at Williams Grove, was one of those who played cowboy and had quite a jolt. He nearly spun and allowed Fox to sneak by.

    Spencer had his hands full keeping Matt McDonald behind him in the second heat.

    Racesavers' heats--

    First: Jordan Welch, Ryan Tusing and Ethan Barrow.

    Second: Hot Rod Henning, John Paynter Jr. and Nate Franklin.

    Welch appeared to be the first to find a path that was the smoothest all the way around the track. He won by a straightaway.

    None of the five classes had enough cars to stage a B main, so, after some reworking of the track, it was time for the 25-lap feature. A pair of multi-generation racers, Fox and Burns, led the way to the green. Fox took the early lead before Sussex, who started fourth, grabbed the lead and tried to check out. The Arizona native seemed to have things his own way, despite finding lapped traffic seven laps in. But Sussex surely knew that Hopkins was back there and wouldn’t be happy with second.

    A.J. was fourth on the third lap, third a lap later and second on lap five. The chase was on as Hopkins labored to close the gap. It wasn’t really happening. Hopkins needed a yellow flag and Sussex didn’t. The race’s turning point would be a yellow flag.

    The yellow waved on lap 16 for a spin in turn two. Sussex led Hopkins, Fox, Cockrum and Burns. Two lapped cars separated the top two. The green waved and Hopkins passed the lappers quickly. Then there was another turning point. The same car, driven by Allen Howard, spun a lap later. Now Hopkins would restart on Sussex’s rear bumper.

    Both had a good restart with Hopkins stalking the leader, waiting to make the move. He took over with a nifty outside pass in turn two with five laps to go. From there, Hopkins checked out, winning by the greater part of a straightaway.

    In the post-race interview, the leader admitted that he was tired. The track had been a handful, but Hopkins and his team were up to the job. Sussex was second, ahead of Fox, Cockrum and Burns.

    Up next were the Racesavers. Pole sitter Ryan Tusing took the early lead and hung on until Jordan Welch passed for the lead on the seventh lap.. From his fifth starting spot, Ethan Barrow assumed the point on lap nine. But he pulled into the infield with a mechanical problem with seven laps remaining in the 20 lapper. At this point, it was Henning’s turn to take the lead and the checkered flag. Early leader Tusing was second and Welch took third. Josh Cunningham finished fourth and John Paynter Jr. was fifth.

    In the post-race interview, again the race winner said he was tired.

    Unlike Paragon, the rain missed Putnam County, at least on Saturday. It was after 2 p.m. when the track made the call to race. But the rain stayed away. Naturally, it rained briefly on my way home, a five minute shower in Greenwood.

    This one is for my dad, who took me to a lot of races.

    Searching the sky for Italian satellites, I'm...

    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: Sunday Morning Going Up

    After a rain delay at the Kokomo Speedway, the USAC Nos Energy Midget series didn't disappoint. It was worth the wait, most especially if your name was Buddy Kofoid, who is the 2021 edition of Indiana Midget Week. It wasn't too shabby for Chris Windom either as he passed fellow veteran Justin Grant midway through the 30 lap feature to win on the final night of IMW21, which was actually Sunday morning.

    Almost an afterthought that Windom was the seventh different winner in the eight IMW21 contests. In addition, seven different teams won. Parity, anyone?

    Given the scorching temperatures in the Kokomo area on Saturday, popup showers could almost be expected. Sure enough, one arrived. But most folks knew that there would be a good chance of racing.

    The rain began in earnest about 8:10 and eased up 15 minutes later. The crew immediately started reworking the track and had it hot lap ready at 9:30. All cars were given another hot lap session and the first sprint heat shoved off at 10:35. It was a Herculean effort for most but routine for Reece O'Connor and his team.

    With iffy weather and both Lawrenceburg and Lincoln Park running sprints as usual, 21 Kokomo sprints wasn’t a bad count. There were 33 USAC midgets, consistent with counts all week.

    Sprint heats

    First: Brayden Clark, Parker Fredrickson, Cole Bodine, Rob Caho and Cooper Welch.

    Second: Andrew Prather, Thomas Meseraull, Scotty Weir, Matt Westfall and Chet Williams.

    Third: Charles Davis, Brandon Long, Matt Goodnight, Brayden Cromwell and Tye Mihocko.

    (After flipping in post-rain hot laps, Clark came back and won his heat. The second heat was about as good as it gets with Prather, TMez and Weir engaging in a spirited battle for the win. And Westfall wasn’t too far behind.)

    Midget heats

    First: Tanner Thorson, Jerry Coons Jr., Logan Seavey and Chase Randall.

    Second: Bryant Wiedeman, Buddy Kofoid, Brenham Crouch and Emerson Axsom.

    Third: Jason McDougal, Cannon McIntosh, Hayden Williams and Justin Grant.

    Fourth: Corey Day, Chris Windom, Kevin Thomas Jr. and Cole Bodine.

    B main: Thomas Meseraull, Daison Pursley, Kyle Cummins, Kaylee Bryson, Brian Carber and Jonathan Shafer.

    (The first five starters in the second heat were KKM cars. Keith isn’t much for team orders and this race proved it.)

    The sprint feature pushed off at 11:40 p.m. and Meseraull acted like it was past his bedtime. From fourth he stormed to the lead on the first lap and checked out—until the 19th lap when Matt Westfall spun with a little nudge. TMez’s straightaway lead was gone and second place Scotty Weir had a fighting chance to steal this one. On the first two laps after the restart, Weir peeked low in the turns but Meseraull wouldn’t be denied.

    Behind the two up front was Brandon Long. Tye Mihocko came from 15th to finish fourth and win the Reece O’Connor Hard Charger award, a piece of Kokomo dirt molded in the shape of a sprint car. Prather was fifth. Davis was sixth and Cromwell came from 12th to take seventh. Fredrickson took eighth and Bodine ended ninth. Rob Caho finished tenth, right where he started.

    The midnight hour had arrived and IMW21 was almost over. Grant and Seavey were the front row. Tom Hansing waved the green and Grant took the lead for the first two laps with Seavey in tow. But the Lawrenceburg winner got around Grant on the third lap. This lasted until lap eight before Grant regained the point. Meanwhile, Windom had found traction on the bottom as he has so many times before and began making it work. Windom had passed a fading Seavey and was pressuring Seavey for the lead by lap ten.

    Windom took over the lead for good on lap 14 as Meseraull invaded the top five after starting 11th.  And Emerson Axsom came upon the fighting up front. But first…

    On lap 21 McIntosh slowed in turn two. Immediately, Crouch flipped hard in turn three, transforming the yellow flag into a red. Crouch was out of the car quickly. It was his second flip in three nights. Windom led Grant, Axsom, Corey Day and Meseraull.

    For the last time in IMW21, the green came out and…Windom very gradually pulled away for the last nine laps. Grant remained second, but positions traded hands continuously. McDougal came on strong at the end, unlike his crushing mechanical problem the night before. He occupied the final spot on the podium, edging Axsom. Meseraull was fifth. Day was shuffled back a bit late, claiming sixth. Kofoid lost the battle but won the war by finishing seventh and adding IMW champ to his resume. Chase Randall was a steady eighth. Kevin Thomas Jr. had to bring out a backup car, transferred out of his heat despite starting last, and finally came from 18th to finish ninth. Seavey faded to tenth but edged Daison Pursley for second in IMW points behind Kofoid.

    USAC has a great mixture of kids and veterans that makes the competition topnotch. There are veterans like Grant, Meseraull, Windom, Cummins and Thomas who see this as their bread and butter. They have their hands full racing these kids and they have to be on their game every night if they want to contend. (And contend they did at Kokomo.) Throw in younger vets like Thorson, Seavey and McDougal and it gets even more difficult.

    Then there are the kids—Axsom, Kofoid, Pursley, McIntosh and now Day. They look like any high school kid, seeming to be more comfortable with today’s technology; they could be called geeks in the best sense of the word. It’s hard to imagine them racing with yesterday’s champions. Can one’s mind visualize any of these kids mixing it up with the likes of Bob Wente or Rich Vogler? The mind boggles. But put these gawky young people behind the wheel and they turn into King Kong. They don’t need to be told to speed up. They are contenders and they have been giving the veterans fits.

    We, the rest of us, are the beneficiaries.

    Buying Will Power a fan for his car, I’m…

    Danny Burton




    The Hoosier Race Report: Neither Slidejobs nor Lapped Traffic nor....

    It was going to take a lot more than slidejobs and lapped traffic to deny Buddy Kofoid on a hot June night at the Gas City I-69 Speedway. He put the hurt on the rest of a strong field of racers while winning his second feature of Indiana Midget Week.

    Kevin Thomas Jr. closed out the night with a dominating victory in the sprint car feature.

    Humans and maybe lower forms of life as well need a sanctuary and/or a shelter. They take many forms but the idea is to have a place where one has a brief respite from anything from “real life” to a continuing danger. Or simply put, a place to get away for whatever reasons. This could be anything from a church to a homeless shelter to a…race track. For a few hours from a fan’s point of view, outside troubles are pushed to the side before returning again. But sometimes, after a few hours at the track (tonight’s being the Gas City/I-69 Speedway), one can return to “reality” refreshed, refilled and ready to deal with the things that need attention—anything from a leaky faucet to scheduling a surgery. On this Friday night, Gas City was a worthy sanctuary for me and a lot of other people, I’m fairly sure.

    Probably too much is made of things such as car counts. Let the record show that 34 USAC Nos Energy Drink National Midgets showed up. It was a little late in the game for newbies. The pits also contained 32 Gas City sprints, including KT and Tyler Hewitt, in a new car owned by himself with wife Abby. AJ Hopkins, along with a few Bloomington/Paragon visitors, also made the trip northeast. (As it turned out, AJ and the Jerry Burton Masonry team, didn’t fare so well.) Those doing double duty tonight would be Kevin Thomas Jr., Jason McDougal, Cannon McIntosh and Thomas Meseraull.

    Ethan Mitchell, who has had his ups and downs the past nine days, had an up with his quick time of 12.191, not quite a second off Rico Abreu’s five year old record.


    Heat One: Charles Davis, Brayden Fox, Tyler Kendall and Jake Scott.

    Heat Two: Kevin Thomas Jr., Thomas Meseraull, Cannon McIntosh and Chet Williams.

    Heat Three: Scotty Weir, Max Adams, Adam Byrkett and Tyler Hewitt.

    Heat Four: Jadon Rogers, Kyle Simon, Brady Bacon and Brayden Clark.

    B Main: Braydon Cromwell, Matt Westfall, Tye Mihocko and Matt Goodnight.       

    In the fourth heat, Tye Mihocko’s slider on Clark didn’t slide enough. Hopkins and Bacon were caught up in the melee with AJ getting upside down. Despite an attempt to start in the B, his night was over.


    Midget Heats--

    First: Justin Grant, Kyle Cummins, Daison Pursley and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

    Second: Kaylee Bryson, Corey Day, Jason McDougal and Hayden Reinbold.

    Third: Trey Gropp, Brenham Crouch, Thomas Meseraull and Emerson Axsom.

    Fourth: Cannon McIntosh, Kevin Thomas Jr., Bryant Wiedeman and Buddy Kofoid.

    B Main: Logan Seavey, Jerry Coons Jr., Tanner Thorson, Chris Windom, Hayden Williams and Cole Bodine.

    The second heat was the strange one. First, there was a three car shindig in turn two involving Corey Day, Jason McDougal and Jonathan Shafer. Later, there was contact between Day and McDougal again. This brought out another yellow flag and Chris Windom didn’t slow down in time, hitting Kaylee Bryson’s car. Windom got things fixed up in time for the B. Finally, Hayden Reinbold, who was 30th fastest in qualifying, came from eighth to fourth and made the show.

    Tanner Thorson was 24th quickest and had to run the B. He finished third, using the cushion, after starting 11th.

    McDougal and Kofoid led all others taking the green. Immediately Kofoid pulled away from the pack. He had a half straightaway lead when Justin Grant slowed on lap nine. It was Kofoid, McDougal, Axsom, Pursley and McIntosh.

    The green lights came on and away went Kofoid again. Axsom passed McDougal for second, but the leader’s tail tank seemed to get smaller for the Franklin IN resident. Until…

    On the 13th lap, there was a four car assembly in turn four for all the wrong reasons. Those parked included Windom, Jerry Coons Jr., Hayden Williams and Bryant Wiedeman. Windom was the only participant to restart.

    The green waved again and Kofoid began putting a full straightaway between himself and Axsom. And that was how it ended, with Kofoid the first repeat winner (unlike last year when a certain NASCAR guy dominated IMW20.) After a major fight with McDougal and others, Seavey came from 11th to take the final spot on the podium. Pursley had his ups and downs, yet finished where he started, fourth. McIntosh ran in the top five for most of the race and ended up fifth. Kevin Thomas Jr. had another good effort, starting 15th and finishing sixth. CCR winner Corey Day was seventh and Thorson came from 20th to grab eighth and win the KSE Racing Products / Irvin King Hard Charger award after winning the night before at Lincoln Park. Kaylee Bryson was an impressive ninth and Thomas Meseraull had to settle for tenth.

    Jadon Rogers and Scotty Weir were the front row for the sprint feature with Weir jumping out to the early lead. Kevin Thomas Jr. moved into second from his second row starting spot. He stalked the leader for the first 12 laps before taking the lead on the backstretch.

    Max Adams brought out the caution when he slammed into the turn four wall just before the lead change. Thomas led Weir, Rogers, Meseraull and Charles Davis. On the restart, Thomas tried to check out with no lapped traffic to deal with, at least for a while.

    Except for a Brayden Clark half spin in turn four right in front of him with three laps to go, Thomas sailed to the win as Weir hung onto second. Meseraull made it close but ended third. McIntosh, still learning sprint cars, was fourth after starting tenth. Brady Bacon came from 12th to fifth. Rogers faded a bit to sixth. Davis was seventh and Mihocko started out in B Main territory, 19th, and finished eighth, winning the Rob Goodman Hard Charger prize, a gift certificate from Hobby Lobby. Matt Westfall wasn’t far behind, coming from 18th to ninth. Brayden Fox was tenth.

    Not your average night for several reasons. We’ll see what happens at Kokomo now. Kofoid leads Pursley by three points. Pursley leads Seavey by nine. Axsom and Windom are next and they will need some major miracles to collect the IMW21 honors.

    Wondering why Joe Spiker didn’t have swamp buggy races at Paragon tonight, I’m…

    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: I Think That He Likes LPS

    Last year Tanner Thorson scored an upset victory at the Lincoln Park Speedway during Indiana Midget Week. Fast forward to this year and that fact was on several minds as the feature began. Sure enough, he did it again. True, he started on the pole, but there were several restarts that gave the others up front multiple chances to challenge. It didn’t happen. Thorson led all 30 laps to win, becoming the sixth winner in six races so far. Yeah, I think he likes this place.

    For the second consecutive night, rain was a threat. I left home as it began to fall. I reminded myself that they weren't racing at my house. By the time I reached the airport north of town it had pretty much stopped. By the time I reached the KKM shop it had quit and the sun was trying to come out. There was another shower in Johnson County but after that it was mostly cloudy--until even the clouds gave way to the sun. Life is like that--sometimes.

    There were 36 USAC Midgets and 20 Lincoln Park sprinters in the pits. For the first time, there were no new teams among the 36. Time trials revealed a track that didn’t go away; it stayed fast even though Logan Seavey’s fast time of 12.940 came early on.


    First heat: Brayden Fox, Jake Swanson, Brayden Cromwell, Zack Daum and Jake Scott.

    Second heat: Brady Bacon, Shane Cockrum, Sterling Cling, Geoff Ensign and Charles Davis.

    Third heat: Tye Mihocko, Kyle Shipley, Ricky Lewis, Harley Burns and Chet Williams.


    First heat: Chase Randall, Cannon McIntosh, Kaylee Bryson and Kyle Cummins.

    Second heat: Jason McDougal, Trey Gropp, Buddy Kofoid and Tanner Thorson.

    Third heat: Thomas Meseraull, Daison Pursley, Chris Windom and Kevin Thomas Jr.

    Fourth heat: Ryan Timms, Brady Bacon, Bryant Wiedeman and Emerson Axsom.

    B main: Justin Grant, Corey Day, Brenham Crouch, Jerry Coons Jr., Logan Seavey and Chance Crum.

    (The B had two IMW21 winners in the lineup. Both Logan Seavey and Corey Day advanced.)

    Thorson and Randall led the gang to Brian Hodde’s green flag and Thorson took the lead with his teammate Randall assuming second place. The red lights engaged on the fourth lap when Justin Grant stopped on the track rather than hit someone. But Kaylee Bryson hit him and tipped over. Both restarted. Thorson led Randall, Axsom, Thomas and Kofoid.

    The next green flag segment lasted five laps. It seemed like no one would have anything for Thorson. But trouble loomed for Kevin Thomas Jr. as his brakes locked up, The yellow waved and Daison Pursley made his first appearance in the top five.

    A lap later it was Chris Windom turn for misfortune. He slowed with a flat right rear, bringing out the yellow. Windom made a beeline for the work area for a new shoe. Trey Gropp also exited but he was done. Now it was Thorson, Randall, Axsom, Kofoid and Pursley.

    The green re-appeared and Pursley was on the move. He and Axsom spent the better part of ten laps exchanging too many slide jobs to count, fighting for third place. Thorson sailed alone, oblivious to the action behind him. Proceedings were halted on lap 21 when Brenham Crouch flipped in turn four. He exited the car quickly. Thorson had perhaps his biggest threat behind him now with Pursley second. Axsom and Kofoid had passed Randall, who was now fifth.

    The final nine laps were all-green as Thorson had his way while Pursley and Axsom continued their battle.  A Cannon McIntosh spin in turn four as the checkered waved came too late to help the contenders get another shot at the leader. Behind Thorson was Pursley and Axsom. Kofoid was fourth and Circle City Raceway winner Corey Day came on strong late to take fifth, winning the KSE Racing Products / Irvin King Hard Charger award after starting 12th.  Somewhat under the radar was KT, who came back from his brake issue to take sixth, a quality effort. McDougal was seventh while Randall descended to eighth. Ryan Timms was ninth and Seavey started and finished tenth.

    The sprint feature closed out the night and gave it every indication was that it would be Brady Bacon’s to lose. He started second and was in control until the seventh lap, when he slowed and exited the track. This added insult to injury for Bacon as he had car trouble in the midget feature as well.

    Jake Swanson inherited the lead and made sure that no one threatened. Tye Mihocko was second, ahead of Brayden Fox and Shane Cockrum. Zack Daum came from tenth to finish fifth. Braydon Cromwell began the feature with a spin before crossing the start/finish line. From there he came back to finish sixth. Sterling Cling was seventh as Charles Davis came from 14th to grab eighth, winning the Kenny Clark Hard Charger Award, a bag of Lincoln Park popcorn (The popcorn from LPS comes in very large bags.) Jake Scott was ninth. Chet Williams came from 15th to finish tenth.

    In terms of points, Kofoid leads Windom in the national standings while Windom leads Kofoid in IMW21 points.

    So much of this life is fleeting, her today, etc. Only the intangibles seem to endure. The time will come when Tanner Thorson will have a string of bad finishes at Lincoln Park. So maybe that’s why these guys are so exuberant when they win. It makes sense and you can’t blame them whether you like them or not. Like life, you have to enjoy it while it lasts.

    Embarrassed that I forgot my keys are stuck to my forehead, I'm...

    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: First Time Winner

    He may have bounced quite a bit in turn four coming to the checkered flag, but Corey Day persevered and beat Kevin Thomas Jr. to the finish line, closing out Round Five of USAC's Indiana Midget Week at the still new Circle City Raceway. It was Day's first USAC midget win, driving the Clauson-Marshall automobile.

    Brady Bacon won the MSCS sanctioned sprint car feature, taking the lead midway through the race and winning by a full straightaway.

    Driving on a humid Indiana afternoon, I thought about the act of reading. After all these years, I still love to read. I finished a book yesterday and I'm almost done reading two others. But there are several kinds of reading. Card players read each other's faces to determine if they are bluffing. Meteorologists, in a sense, read the sky. And you know that racers read the track conditions as the night goes on. Often it pays to be a veteran, using experience collected over the years. But these kids have their own way of reading and they will apply their lessons learned. It's not unusual for them to end the night standing in Victory Lane.

    Doing the double tonight would be Logan Seavey, Brady Bacon, Thomas Meseraull and Jason McDougal.

    Time trials often display the futility of prognostication. Racers have a way of making would-be seers look foolish. For several contestants, it seemed as if the track became slower. But a few people didn’t get the memo. Quick timer Brady Bacon was 20th of 37 to take his two laps, but he still tore off a 12.869 quick time. I thought that Thomas Meseraull’s time was impressive. He was among the last to qualify, yet managed a 13.171 lap. Hayden Reinbold flipped on his second lap. He came back to run in his heat and the B Main.

    MSCS Sprint Heats:

    First heat--Brent Beauchamp, Chase Stockon, Sterling Cling, Carson Garrett and Aric Gentry.

    Second heat--Brady Bacon, Thomas Meseraull, Logan Seavey, Ricky Lewis and Jake Scott.

    Third heat--Charles Davis, Paul Nienhiser, Jason McDougal, Tye Mihocko and Harley Burns

    USAC Midget Heats:

    First heat--Chris Windom, Tanner Thorson, Jason McDougal and Brady Bacon.

    Second heat--Buddy Kofoid, Thomas Meseraull, Kaylee Bryson and Kyle Cummins.

    Third heat--Taylor Reimer, Jerry Coons Jr., Cannon McIntosh and Corey Day.

    Fourth heat--Emerson Axsom, Daison Pursley, Kevin Thomas Jr. and Logan Seavey.

    Hayden Williams flipped in the second heat.

    The third heat was simply insane. Cannon McIntosh came from fifth to lead on lap three, then brought out a yellow when he biked in turn two. He came back again to finish third. Bryant Wiedeman tipped over.

    The fourth heat was insane in different ways. Trey Gropp’s slide attempt on Justin Grant left Grant stopped and collected Chance Crum, who flipped. Later, Gropp flipped, ruining his night. NASCAR guy Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun in turn four on the last lap while running fourth.

    USAC Midget B Main:

    Brenham Crouch, Justin Grant, Hayden Williams, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brian Carber and Sam Johnson.

    On a late restart, eight cars were part of a mob scene in turn four. Travis Buckley got upside down. He walked.


    The MSCS sprints’ feature was next. Chase Stockon and Charles Davis led 21 others to Keith Dewig’s green flag. A yellow waved in turn four of the first lap when Davis had a bounce/stop moment. Paul Nienhiser and Parker Fredrickson spun while avoiding Davis.

    This put local boy Brent Beauchamp on the front row and he took the lead on the restart. Through a series of caution periods, Beauchamp held onto the lead. But Brady Bacon had been biding his time. He finally passed Beauchamp for the lead on the 12th lap.

    From there, Bacon ran off and hid, not letting lapped traffic hinder his progress. At the checkered his lead was a full straightaway. Meseraull was second with Seavey taking third. Beauchamp faded only slightly to fourth. Pole sitter Stockon was fifth. Sterling Cling finished sixth and Tye Mihocko was seventh. Aric Gentry came from 13th to end up eighth. Nienhiser came back from his early misfortune to salvage ninth. Carson Garrett started and finished tenth.


    For the curtain closer Kevin Thomas Jr. and Corey Day saw Tom Hansing’s green flag first with Day jumping out to the lead. Action was briefly interrupted when Buddy Kofoid spun on lap four.

    The track was as Day went up top early while KT worked the bottom, briefly taking the lead on lap six. Brenham Crouch was the early mover, coming from 12th to third by the tenth lap. He passed Thomas two laps later, but that was quite temporary.

    The race’s second yellow waved when Grant, Stenhouse and Carber had a meeting in turn two. Day led Thomas, Axsom, who had come from tenth, Crouch and Windom. On the restart, Axsom took second and then Meseraull brought out a yellow as he stopped in turn two.

    Having Axsom behind him didn’t faze Day. On this restart, he maintained his lead as Axsom briefly made the pass more than once. But Day wasn’t to be denied. Racing crashed to a halt on the 19th lap when Kofoid flipped in turn four. Buddy went to the work area before returning to the chase. At the front it was Day, Axsom, Thomas, Bacon and Crouch.

    The green waved and the only constant was Day up front. Behind him, Axsom, Bacon and Crouch took turns at running third behind Day and Thomas (again). One last yellow waved for McIntosh who stopped in turn four on lap 28. It was an honest Green/white/checkered finish. The order was Day, Thomas, Crouch, Bacon and Axsom.

    Day was cruising until turn four of the last lap. He hit the turn and it nearly hit back, causing the car to bounce and hop several times. But the young second generation racer quickly recovered and stayed ahead of Thomas, who was about two car lengths back. Bacon was third and Axsom managed a fourth. Crouch slipped to fifth at the end. Tri-State winner Cummins was sixth and Lawrenceburg winner Seavey charged from barely transferring from his heat to starting 22nd in the show to a seventh place finish, earning the KSE Racing Products / Irvin King Hard Charger award. Tanner Thorson moved from 16th to eighth, followed by Daison Pursley—17th to ninth. Jerry Coons Jr. showed that he can still run with the kids; he finished tenth.

    Day’s win was a surprise but not a shock. He’s qualified well; in fact he was quickest at Bloomington and Lawrenceburg. His best finishes were sixth at the ‘burg and 11th at Tri-State. But consider that this is the young man’s first USAC/IMW competition and, surprise or not, he’s been impressive in just making each feature so far.

    Now it can be said that Corey Day is a pretty good reader himself.

    Goodbye for now, Circle City Raceway. Hope to see you again soon. Now. Lincoln Park, anyone?

    Silencing the cicadas by singing with them, I'm...

    Danny Burton




    The Hoosier Race Report: Here a Sweep, There a Sweep

    It's very safe to say that, in the time that sprints have been the undercard for Indiana Midget Week, there has never been back to back sweeps. After Logan Seavey had won both the USAC Midget and the sprint features on Saturday night at Lawrenceburg, Kyle Cummins must have thought that was pretty cool. So he did the same thing on Sunday night at the Tri-State Speedway, winning the sprint feature and then holding off a group of snarling competitors to win his first USAC Midget series feature.

    This was the first IMW event that was affected by either rain or the threat of it. I drove through two brief showers on the way to the track, which had two showers, the second of which delayed the festivities for about a half hour.

    Tonight was a USAC/MSCS event. USAC Midgets totaled 27 and there were 25 MSCS sprinters populating Tommy and Loris Helfrich's pit.

    MSCS Sprint Heats:

    First heat--Chase Stockon, Carson Garrett, Kendall Ruble, Jadon Rogers and Garrett Aitken.

    Second heat--Critter Malone, Donnie Brackett, CJ Leary, Aric Gentry and Charles Davis.

    Third heat--Kyle Cummins, Chet Williams, Ricky Lewis, Collin Ambrose and Brady Short.

    B main--Kent Schmidt, Tye Mihocko, Stan Beadle, James Lyerla and Ryan Bond.

    USAC Midget Heats:

    First heat: Thomas Meseraull, Chris Windom, Daison Pursley, Kyle Cummins and Emerson Axsom.

    Second heat: Kevin Thomas Jr., Logan Seavey, Trey Gropp, Ethan Mitchell and Buddy Kofoid.

    Third heat: Tanner Thorson, Jason McDougal, Corey Day, Justin Grant and Cannon McIntosh.

    B main: Hayden Williams, Stephan Schnapf, Brenham Crouch, Bryant Wiedeman, Cole Bodine, Kaylee Bryson and Brian Carber.

    For the sprint 25-lap feature, Garrett and Cummins led the field of 21 to Keith Dewig’s green flag. Immediately Keith had to bring out the yellow for a three car scrum in turn one. The boys tried again and this time Garrett took the lead. But Cummins made a power move and annexed the top spot for the second lap.

    He held onto the lead until a lap six caution flag slowed matters. Cummins led Malone and Stockon. The green waved and again Cummins took off. Stockon took over second on lap nine, passing Malone in turn four. Two laps later, lapped traffic came into play. Stockon was closing the gap in traffic bit by bit.

    A lap 15 yellow brought the crowd together. The order was Cummins, Stockon, Malone, Ruble and Schmidt. On the restart, Jadon Rogers joined the top five. But not much changed in the last ten laps, except for Malone reclaiming second place.

    At the end it was Cummins, Malone, Stockon, Ruble and Rogers in the top five. Schmidt came from 16th to finish sixth, winning the Jim Goerge Hard Charger Award, a used seat cushion. Garrett was seventh and Gentry finished eighth. Leary struggled to a ninth place finish. Aitken was tenth.

    The USAC Nos Energy Midgets were next with teammates Pursley and Kofoid on the front row. None of the KKM team race like F1 or NASCAR teammates. They raced each other so hard that Kyle Cummins slipped by both on turn two of the first lap to take the lead. Pursley took the lead on the second lap, but Cummins wasn’t going to be denied. The local hero re-assumed the point a lap later.

    Cummins pulled away somewhat but a red flag ended that. Ethan Mitchell had an unproductive meeting with an infield tire and flipped in turn four on the seventh lap. Ethan walked away from the car and tire. Cummins led Pursley, Windom, Kofoid and Thomas.

    The green came out and Windom passed Pursley for second and now Cummins had the defending champ to deal with. Pursley was also passed by Kofoid a lap later. Two more laps and Thorson came to play, taking third from Kofoid. At the halfway mark, lap 15, Windom was all over Cummins like the proverbial cheap suit. Thorson and Thomas stayed close.

    Another yellow waved on the 17th lap. Windom had passed for the lead, but had to go back to second. Meseraull entered the top five for the first time.

    This was the status quo until the 20th lap, when Hayden Williams flipped on the frontstretch. Brenham Crouch had to stop and may have made some contact, but restarted. Williams took a ride back to the pits. Up front it was Cummins, Windom, Thorson, Pursley and Meseraull.

    The last ten laps were a six-car party with the same old blanket that would fit over the first six. After having Pursley pester him, Windom had to deal with Meseraull on lap 27. Had Cummins been able to see behind him, he would have loved it. The scrapping from second back to sixth helped Cummins race with a (very) little room to spare.

    At the end, Cummins had won his first USAC Midget race as Windom was second over Meseraull by a TV remote. Pursley was fourth and Jason McDougal ran as high as fourth before settling for sixth after starting 15th. Cannon McIntosh was seventh and Justin Grant came from 19th to take eighth, winning the KSE Racing Products / Irvin King Hard Charger award. Thorson did a half spin back on lap 19 while running in the top five and never recovered, finishing ninth. Kofoid faded to tenth.

    Kyle Cummins hasn’t been wheeling a USAC midget all that long and confessed to still not knowing all the intricacies of these small but blinding fast beasts. But the opportunity came calling in the form of Glenn Styres and off they went with Cummins showing steady improvement over the past couple of years.  He is a great example of someone taking a stab at something different. Sometimes it pays off.

    As a result, Mr. Cummins is on a fairly short list of drivers who have won both a USAC sprint car and midget race.

    Halfway through IMW 21 and Windom has the point lead going into a two day break.

    Calling Pirelli Tire to see if they have any recaps, I’m…

    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: Enjoy It While It Lasts

    If we are fortunate, there will be times that will be special, even memorable. Those times will furnish memories for a lifetime, the kind you can look in the rearview mirror and smile to yourself. Very rarely do we have such times; maybe that's why they are so special. Perhaps it's rarer that we witness someone else's special moment. If you were at the Lawrenceburg Speedway on Saturday night, you would have seen Logan Seavey have one of those nights. All he did was win the USAC Midget Week feature, followed by winning the Lawrenceburg sprint car feature. Perhaps someone out there can recall or have a record of a racer sweeping a midget and sprint feature. I'm fairly sure that if it's happened before, it's surely not been a regular occurrence.

    The USAC Midget car count was down, but there was plenty of quality cars and racers among the 27. It was a pleasant surprise to see 32 sprinters signed in.

    Time trials yielded more surprises. As a rule, the ‘burg often sees qualifying times drop off as more attempts are made. While Corey Day rang up another fine qualifying effort with his 14.750 lap, Buddy Kofoid and Chase Randall, second and third quickest, both were among the last five to make the two lap run.

    Midget heats/ top five advance:

    Heat one: Daison Pursley, Ethan Mitchell, Chris Windom, Corey Day and Bryant Wiedeman.

    Heat two; Emerson Axsom, Thomas Meseraull, Logan Seavey, Tanner Thorsonand Justin Grant. (This one had three different leaders on the first lap.)

    Heat three: Kevin Thomas Jr., Brenham Crouch, Cole Bodine, Buddy Kofoid and Trey Gropp.

    Midget B Main/top seven advance:

    Chase Randall, Cannon McIntosh, Chance Crum, Kyle Cummins, Hayden Williams, Kaylee Bryson and Brian Carber. (Hayden Reinbold flipped at the start/finish line. He made a quick exit from the car.)

    Sprint heats/top four advance:

    Heat one: CJ Leary, Brady Bacon, Saban Bibent and Travis Hery.

    Heat two: Tye Mihocko, Justin Owen, Logan Seavey and Joss Moffatt.

    Heat three: Scotty Weir, Tyler Kendall, Thomas Meseraull and Nick Bilbee.

    Heat four: Justin Grant, JJ Hughes, Scott Evans and Dallas Hewitt.

    Sprint B Main/top four advance:

    Sterling Cling, Garrett Abrams, Ryan Barr and Tony McVey.

    Two guys who can only be described as hard nosed racers occupied the front row, namely Thomas Meseraull and Chris Windom. It would be a treat to watch these two battle each other. But once again, things didn’t go as expected when Seavey blasted by both of them to take the lead. Meseraull got above the turn one cushion and flipped on the fifth lap. Kevin Thomas Jr. made contact and went to the work area before returning. TMez exited the car with mostly his pride hurt. The order was Seavey, Windom, Grant, Kofoid and Pursley.

    On the restart, Windom and Grant engaged in a series of typical L’burg slide jobs. After a few laps of this, Kofoid joined them. And Seavey put some distance between himself and the next three. As the halfway mark of the race approached, Kofoid passed Grant for third and lapped traffic became a factor. The top three, Seavey, Windom and Kofoid had put distance between themselves and fourth place.

    On lap 19, Wiedeman flipped in turn four, climbing out quickly. The top three were the same with Pursley and Crouch running fourth and fifth. Tim Montgomery waved the flag and Kofoid launched a relentless attack on Windom. Running behind Windom, the California native worked as hard as anyone to make the pass, which he did on the 22nd lap.

    Kofoid had made the pass just in time as Pursley made contact with Chase Randall, who spun, then tipped over. He would restart on the tail. It was still the same top three with Pursley and Grant now in the top five.

    The third red flag in five laps waved when Randall wildly flipped into the turn three fence. He vacated the car, perhaps wondering what was causing all of the upside down time. Grant had passed Pursley for fourth.

    The final restart began a quiet segment as Seavey again tried to check out. Kofoid wasn’t having any of that, but couldn’t mount a charge for the lead. At the end, it was Seavey, Kofoid and Windom. After fading just a bit early in the race, Grant came back to take fourth. Crouch was fifth. Day was sixth, which was where he started. Pursley dropped a little but finished seventh. Bryson salvaged a good finish after an uphill battle. She came from 19th to end up eighth. McIntosh started 16th and finished ninth. Brian Carber hustled from 22nd to tenth, winning the KSE Racing Products / Irvin King Hard Charger award.

    As it turned out, Seavey was just getting started.

    Sprint feature/25 laps:

    Leary and Mihocko led the field to Tim’s flag. Things got ugly right away. Mihocko and Grant tangled in turn two immediately after the green was waved. More serious was Hughes flipping in turn two. Moffatt came upon the scene, but he was able to restart. Grant found himself pointed the wrong way, as Tyler Kendall left with damage. Mihocko was disqualified for not working on his var in the designated work area. Hughes, Mihocko and Kendall were done for the night.

    This jumbled up the lineup. It put Justin Owen in the lead. The green lights blinked with Leary and Owen leading the pack. Owen’s race ended right away as he lost an argument with the turn one wall. He didn’t flip, but there was enough damage to put him out. The lineup was now Leary and Seavey up front.

    Again, the green flag came out and Leary took the lead. In what was becoming a common occurrence, Texas visitor Scott Evans flipped in turn four. Ryan Barr was sitting nearby, but it appeared that Barr came upon the crash and stopped rather than hit Evans, who exited his car.

    By now I was wondering why I do this. But I quit that as the green waved. Leary led Seavey, Bacon, Weir and Bibent. Leary and Seavey. Getting as close to the wall as he could, Seavey took the lead right around the halfway mark.

    From there, no one had anything for Seavey. He cruised to the win, leading Bacon, Leary, Grant (who came from the tail spot after his opening lap drama) and Meseraull. Weir was sixth with Moffatt coming back from his near miss to finish eighth after starting 14th. Hery was ninth and Cling came from 17th to take tenth.

    As I thought about the long day, I was reminded to enjoy the triumph and why we need to hang onto such things to our dying day. Logan Seavey will certainly remember the night of June 5, 2021. At the same time, let’s do our best to work through the bad times, put them back in the corner of our minds and leave them there, seldom, if ever, revisiting previous slights, losses and illnesses. They will only drag you down.

    Turning down Sydney Powell’s offer to handle my finances, I’m…

    Danny Burton




    The Hoosier Race Report: The Importance of Opportunity

    Victories, both in real life and in racing, don't simply fall into one's lap, though it may seem that way at times. Part of winning is putting yourself in a position to win or at least grab a good finish. On another beautiful Indiana Friday night at the Bloomington Speedway, another big crowd saw Buddy Kofoid wait for the opportunity to get around Chris Windom and cruise to the checkered flag. It was the second night of the 21st edition of Indiana Midget Week. It was Kofoid’s first IMW victory.

    Following Kofoid's triumph, Cannon McIntosh benefitted from others' misfortune as he held off a charging Brady Short to win the companion Bloomington sprint car feature. It was McIntosh’s fifth time in a sprint car and first time at Bloomington.

    Friday afternoon offered the best of Indiana weather. Warm, not quite hot, a mild breeze, some humidity, but not the usual sticky conditions we often endure. Oh, and no rain either.

    The car count was 32 USAC midgets and 22 sprints in the pits. Missing were Michael Clark, Ryan Timms, Bryan Stanfill and Stephen Schnapf. Add Oliver Akard and there was your 32. Jason McDougal, Cannon McIntosh and Brady Bacon doubled their pleasure (or maybe pain).

    In a surprise, rookie Corey Day rang up the fast time with an 11.489. Emerson Axsom’s time of 11.620 was tossed out when he didn’t stop at the weight scales. This put him behind the eight-ball all night.

    Sprint Heats:

    First heat: Brady Bacon, Tye Mihocko and Cannon McIntosh

    Second heat: Brady Short, Jadon Rogers and Jake Bland.

    Third heat: Jordan Kinser, Andrew Prather and Jason McDougal.

    USAC Midget Heats:

    First Heat: Hayden Williams, Daison Pursley, Chase Randall and Jason McDougal.

    Second Heat: Justin Grant, Buddy Kofoid, Thomas Meseraull and Brenham Crouch.

    Third Heat: Chris Windom, Kyle Cummins, Logan Seavey and Sam Johnson. (Cummins led much of this race, but bobbled on the last lap, giving Windom the win. Windom came from fifth to win; every other heat race winner came from the front row.)

    Fourth Heat: Cole Bodine, Emerson Axsom, Brady Bacon and Bryant Wiedeman. (Axsom came from eight to finish second.)

    B Main: Kevin Thomas Jr., Corey Day, Tanner Thorson, Cannon McIntosh, Brian Carber and Trey Gropp.

    Wiedeman and Windom saw the green flag first and the veteran took the lead. That’s how it was when Day slowed and stopped, bringing out the first yellow on the fifth lap. Windom led Kofoid, Wiedeman, Bacon and McDougal.

    The green lights came on and Kofoid began doing his best to make Windom’s life more complicated. For the next few laps, he hounded the leader until lap nine, when Bodine spun in turn four.

    Again the green waved and now Kofoid was determined. But so was Windom as they traded slide jobs for the next several laps. Kofoid took the lead at the halfway mark, but Windom wasn’t going away. Try as he might, Kofoid couldn’t check out. The yellow flags didn’t help. Cummins brought out another on the 19th lap when he stopped in turn two. Kofoid and Windom both had a new problem in the form of Thomas, who had slipped by several others after starting 11th. He was now third ahead of Wiedeman and Bacon.

    Windom made a perfect move after the restart, diving under Kofoid’s car in turn one. Windom led lap 20 before Kofoid returned the favor a lap later. He was starting to pull away when Jones flipped in turn three on lap 24. Chase exited the car with no problem. The top three remained the same but now Bacon was fourth and Thorson fifth after starting the race 14th.

    Brian Hodde waved the green one last time and Kofoid resumed his march to victory, not to be denied. By the time the checkered flag waved, Kofoid was nearly a second and a half ahead of Windom. Thomas was a strong third with Bacon finishing fourth. Wiedeman showed that he could run with the big kids with a fifth place. Thorson was sixth and Seavey seventh. Pursley made it three KKM cars in the top ten with his eighth place. Grant was ninth and McDougal was tenth.

    Emerson Axsom passed a lot of cars all night. He was the KSE Racing Products/B & W Auto Mart Hard Charger after progressing from last/22nd to take 11th at the end. All as a result of not stopping at the weight scale. I’ve done the same but wasn’t punished.

    The night closed out with the Bloomington sprint car feature. Jadon Rogers took the lead with Jordan Kinser in tow. With four laps in, Kinser slipped over the bank and dropped out. Tye Mihocko took second as Rogers tried to check out. Brady Bacon took second just before the yellow waved on lap eight. Up front it was Rogers, Bacon, Mihocko, Brady Short and Cannon McIntosh.

    Again, Rogers opened up a gap between himself and Bacon. Meanwhile, McIntosh had passed Short and Mihocko to take third. This would be crucial very soon. A lap 20 yellow bunched up the field. On the restart, Bacon dove low and led going into turn one. Sliding in front of Rogers, both made enough contact to leave Rogers parked in turn two and Bacon ducking into the pits with a flat tire. Both were out of the race and now…who was leading? Yep, McIntosh now led.

    McIntosh was not home free with five laps to go. Brian waved the green and Short gave the kid fits, working the bottom line like the pro he is. But McIntosh hung on to win, leading Short, Mihocko and McDougal to the checkered. Ricky Lewis came from 11th to finish fifth. A.J. Hopkins, who had won the night before at Paragon, started back in 19th after heat race troubles and finished sixth; for his efforts, A.J. won the Henry Bryant Hard Charger Award, a free trip around the track in the water truck. Andy Bradley (from 17th) was seventh. Sterling Cling took eighth and local boy Matt Thompson was ninth. Kyle Shipley came from 16th to end up tenth, the last car running.

    Both Paragon winners had exhibited their gift of discernment. Tonight both winners put themselves in a position to win and win they did. Opportunity knocked and they both answered. Offer love for the owners as well. Keith Kunz, along with Steve and Carla Phillips, have worked hard to enjoy the success they have had and will continue to have.

    This one was for my daughter, who I met on a breezy and warm (very) early morning in a Phoenix, Arizona hospital.  Yes, it’s true. Neither she nor her brothers are native Hoosiers. 

    Giving Thomas Meseraull free lessons on how to dismount from a roll cage, I’m…

    Danny Burton





    The Hoosier Race Report: Discernment at High Speed




    1.       The ability to judge well.

    I fell into thinking about the gift of discernment as I meandered through the pits at the Paragon Speedway on another beautiful Indiana evening. I looked at the Herculean effort by Joe Spiker's crew in preparing a track after too much rain and I thought some more about discernment. Throughout the evening the concept kept invading my thoughts. Finally, after both the sprint car and USAC Midget features had been completed, it all fell into place. After an excellent Paragon sprint finale that saw AJ Hopkins come from midpack to win, Thomas Meseraull exercised his own gift of discernment and capitalized on the tiniest of errors by leader Cannon McIntosh, making the race winning pass coming out of turn four. It was a rousing opening act of the 21st edition of Indiana Midget Week.

    Rain threatened to ruin the best laid plans of the track personnel, USAC, the teams and the fans, but dogged determination led to a full program under sunny skies until the sunset over rural Morgan County.

    There were 35 USAC Midgets and 26 Paragon sprints signed in. Drivers’ home states totaled 14 with New Zealand sending three of its own as well. California and Oklahoma each had seven racers who were born and/or grew up there. Others ranged from North Carolina to Washington State. Three were doing double duty—Jason McDougal, Logan Seavey and Brady Bacon.

    Chris Windom was 34th in line to qualify and that didn’t cramp his style as he set fast time with a 15.809 lap, well off Kyle Larson’s year old 14.813. In fairness, Larson undoubtedly had a smoother surface to work with.

    USAC Midget Heats

    Heat one: Bryant Wiedeman, Bryan Stanfill, Chris Windom and Justin Grant.

    Heat two: Chance Crum, Kyle Cummins, Hayden Williams and Ryan Timms.

    Heat three: Jason McDougal, Ethan Mitchell, Buddy Kofoid and Logan Seavey.

    Heat four: Daison Pursley, Trey Gropp, Chase Randall and Cannon McIntosh. (Brenham Crouch flipped in the fourth heat, but came back for more.)

    Midget B main: Brenham Crouch, Thomas Meseraull, Corey Day, Emerson Axsom, Kevin Thomas Jr. and Sam Johnson.

    Paragon Sprint Car Heats

    Heat one: Charles Davis, Andrew Prather, Zach Pretorious, Colin Parker and Brady Bacon.

    Heat two: Logan Seavey, Jake Scott, Chase Jones, AJ Hopkins and Harley Burns.

    Heat three: Jason McDougal, Nick Bilbee, Brandon Spencer, Kyle Shipley and Josh Cunningham.

    The sprint feature preceded the midgets and it would prove to be a tough act to follow. Pole sitter Logan Seavey led early. Action ceased on lap four when Carl Rhuebottom got upside down in turn three. The red came out and stayed out for a spell so a fuel spill could be cleaned up.

    Racing resumed and Seavey led until Jason McDougal took over the lead in lapped traffic on lap 12. After a yellow flag on the 14th lap, McDougal nearly flipped in turn one after the restart. Seavey took over again, but A.J. Hopkins was coming on strong after starting 11th. He was running fifth on lap 14. Five laps later he was second and gaining on the leader. On lap 23, a lapped car came into play as Hopkins was on Seavey’s back bumper. The pass for the lead was made coming to Brian Hodde’s white flag.

    Behind Hopkins and Seavey was Davis. Jadon Rogers, who started tenth, finished fourth. McDougal was fifth. Brady Bacon came from 16th to take sixth Jake Scott, Nick Bilbee and Colin Parker ran seventh/eighth and ninth. And Tye Mihocko rambled from 22nd to finish tenth, winning the Brian Hodde Hard Charger Award, a small platter of chicken strips.

    The midgets would close out the show and who could know that this feature would be even closer than the sprints’? Grant and McIntosh led the way to the green and Grant grabbed the early lead. That lasted two laps before McIntosh took over with a low side pass in turn two. With five laps in, McIntosh seemed to have them covered with Grant, Seavey, Kofoid and…Meseraull? After starting 12th, ol’ TMez was on the move.

    One eye had to watch McIntosh as he was turning in a flawless effort. But Meseraull was faster. On lap seven, he passed Kofoid for fourth. Four laps later, he passed Seavey to take third. Up next was Grant, his teammate.

    The yellow waved on the 18th lap for a spin by Crouch and a stop by Johnson. Meseraull didn’t need the yellow as he was close to catching Grant. Certainly McIntosh didn’t need it. The order was McIntosh, Grant, Meseraull, Seavey and Kofoid. There was plenty of time for…what. We’d find out.

    Meseraull’s teammate was a little tougher to pass, but he did so with seven laps to go. McIntosh was in sight as TMez closed in. Mac’s left rear was throwing out a few sparks but the kid was still fast.

    But not fast enough. Meseraull was in McIntosh’s tire tracks going into turn three of the last lap. The Oklahoma kid pushed the front end just a little coming out of turn four and Meseraull pounced like a flying leopard. He got underneath Mac and that was all she wrote. The margin of victory was maybe a car length.

    Behind the lead duo was Grant in third. Kofoid was fourth and Seavey took fifth. McDougal finished sixth. Pursley started and finished seventh. Axsom came from 13th to eighth. Windom was ninth and New Zealander Hayden Williams came from Auckland to 14th to tenth in his first Paragon visit.

    Meseraull was also the KSE Racing Products/B & W Auto Mart Hard Charger, coming from 12th to win.

    Back to discernment: At the start of the evening by his admission Meseraull was not a fan of track conditions. One could say that this showed a lack of discernment (or maybe some frustration coupled with communicating without prior thought—hey, we all do it). But by the time the gang lined up for the feature, Meseraull’s powers of discernment was on display. Was it ever. These people make thousands of snap judgements each time they take the green flag for a feature event. Those who have the “ability to judge well” on a fairly regular basis also possess the tangible results of their powers of discernment. On this night TMez was better. But don’t be fooled. That McIntosh kid is good and he, too, will present his ability to judge well. Maybe even at Bloomington.

    Pouting because nobody would read my blog, I’m…

    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: The New King?

    As time marches (and often stumbles) on, the well-known names in any kind of news inevitably change. For a long time, the Kokomo Speedway has seen its share of racers who dominated the action and piled up innumerable victories. Not only did they dominate, they will always be among the most popular drivers who took the green and checkered flags at Kokomo. I'm referring, of course, to Dave Darland and the late Bryan Clauson. But it may be high time that Justin Grant be considered the new king bee of Kokomo. At the end of a day which featured perhaps the best Indianapolis 500 ever, Grant outran a strong field to win the BC Double, the event that remembers Clauson, who made his mark at the Speedway and at Kokomo.

    The temperature was a little cool, but Sunday was a fine day, weather-wise. The cool air combined with the right amount of water kept the track from drying up. Choppy in small doses, occasionally the bottom groove worked, but most people did their work close to the wall.

    The pits were stacked with four classes of cars, with nearly 125, of which 31 were sprints.

    Car counts were healthy elsewhere with 27 BOSS sprints at Waynesfield and 34 MSCS sprints at Haubstadt.

    Heat one: Scotty Weir, Jason McDougal, Stevie Sussex and Matt Goodnight. (Max Adams and company loaded up early after his Paul Hazen-mobile broke in hot laps.)

    Heat two: Jake Swanson, Braydon Cromwell, Sterling Cling and David Hair. (Andrew Cockman was scheduled to be in this heat but flipped in hot laps. Zach Pretorious tried to climb the turn four wall, then drifted into the path of Alex Banales, who T-boned the Pretorious car.)

    Heat three: Justin Grant, Cannon McIntosh, Cole Ketchum and Aaron Davis.

    Heat four: Thomas Meseraull, Cole Bodine, Logan Seavey and Chase Johnson.

    B main: Tim Creech II, Brayden Clark, Ryan Thomas and Scott Evans. (Thomas was the show, riding up by the wall to advance from seventh to third.)

    Swanson and Weir were the first to see Brian Hodde’s green flag. Scotty got the jump and took the lead. Grant and Meseraull followed as Swanson had a first lap that he would have done well to forget. With most everyone using the line up by the wall, Weir hung onto the lead with Grant sitting in second and never farther back than five car lengths.

    Swanson recovered from his mediocre start and took third from Meseraull on the eighth lap. A lap later, Grant moved in on Weir and hounded the Muncie, IN resident for the lead. Grant dove low in turn one on the 11th lap and took over the lead. From there he gradually pulled away.

    Behind the leader, Swanson was slowly gaining on Weir. And behind Swanson, McDougal was on the move. Midway through the race, he passed Meseraull for fourth. The Oklahoma native was gaining on Swanson as the laps wound down. Grant was pulling away from Weir at the same time. But then came an opportunity for the order to be scrambled when the race’s only yellow flag waved with two laps to go.

    Grant led Weir, Swanson, McDougal and Bodine. This would be a green/white/checkered situation and the last chance for anyone to challenge for the lead. But Grant wasn’t in the mood to do anything except leave the others behind. He was increasing the real estate between him and Weir at the end. Scotty had his hands full keeping Swanson behind him, but he managed. Swanson, who won at Lincoln Park in MSCS action on Saturday, was third. Seavey started 12th and came on strong at the end to finish fourth, dropping McDougal to fifth. Bodine was sixth with Chase Johnson winning the Tyler Kelly hard charger award (a Kokomo Speedway pork chop sandwich) as he motored from 16th to seventh. TMez faded to eighth. Cannon McIntosh and Braydon Cromwell occupied ninth and tenth.

    After the race Grant said he had a “lot of fun running hard.” Then he said something you don’t hear very often. He thanked the crew and sponsors, but mentioned that good friend Scotty Weir had also helped out with the car. How often does a race winner thank the second place finisher for help?

    Sounds like the kind of thing Mr. Darland or Mr. Clauson might have said.

    I’d like to mention a couple of racing buddies who have had some medical adventures recently. Butch Wilkerson had some trouble with his ticker, but is on the road to recovery. While I was at Vincennes on Saturday, I called Butch and he sounded good. And Brent Goodnight has had his own problems. From “Thank you everyone!!! Yes I am home, very sore, and am far from 100%. With all that said, I really don't feel too bad. I need to rehab for 4 to 6 weeks before doing the next surgery in Indy. This all started On February 9. Since that time, I have had 4 surgeries, countless Dr Appointments, and endless trips to the bathroom. Thanks for everyone’s thoughts and prayers. It truly means a lot.”

    This one was written in appreciation for the boys and girls who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation, from Bunker Hill to Baghdad.

    Liking fence climbers better than social climbers, I’m…

    Danny Burton




    The Hoosier Race Report: Anatomy of a Rainout

    Most anyone in Indiana who was paying attention would know that there was a good chance of rain for the next couple of days. But racers and race fans were planning on some quality time spent at the Terre Haute Action Track, hoping to witness or compete in the Sumar Classic, featuring the USAC Silver Crown division on the half mile oval.

    But as the starting time grew closer, the breeze from the southwest brought clouds to the Wabash Valley.

    I was determined to stick around until either USAC or Track Enterprise's Bob Sargent pulled the plug. But that didn't keep me from checking the radar with greater frequency as the afternoon wore on.

    Most all of the afternoon was spent on the banks of the Wabash River, reading and/or walking.

    Around four o'clock Mr. AccuWeather proclaimed that rain was coming in about a half hour. I was ambling through Fairbanks Park and decided to see what might be on the Paul Dresser Trail. 

    At 4:12 p.m. I heard thunder for the first time. About 20 minutes later I felt a raindrop or two.

    For the next two hours, rain sped up and slowed down, but never did quit entirely. As six p.m. approached, I set a deadline of 6:15 before deciding to do something/anything.

    At six, USAC’s Twitter feed made it official. No racing tonight. No makeup date was set but I have hope that the sanctioning body and the promoter will find an agreeable date for both.

    After taking the interstate to get to Terre Haute, I decided to take State Road 46 home. Rain followed me all the way to just eat of Spencer, home of Josh Cunningham, one of my favorite racers/people.

    As this is written, rain is falling in much of southern Indiana and more is expected on Friday. My plans A and B, Bloomington and Gas City, are in potential jeopardy. And after this rain passes through Indiana, it will be time to get the jackets back out. Great.

    Mulling over my job offer from the Cyber Ninjas, I’m…

    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: When Slide Jobs Fail

    The slide job failed in a sense, but it helped Chris Windom win his third Tony Hulman Classic at the Terre Haute Action Track. His slider on race-long leader Justin Grant with two laps to go has already been discussed both online and in real life by people on both sides of the issue. Very seldom is someone parked by USAC for “rough,” “dirty,” or “unsportsmanlike” driving. While USAC’s no call was, in my opinion, the correct call, for a lot of us it isn’t the ideal way to pass someone to win a race. Again with my opinion, I would not wish to acquire a reputation (according to both live and online comments) that Mr. Windom is gaining. When one is tarred with a broad brush, fairly or unfairly, the stain is difficult to remove. One would not wish, I would think, to have their name to be used as a verb, i.e. “Grant got Windomed.”

    Despite the drama at the end, it was a beautiful night for a race at the Action Track. From Ohio to California, 11 states were represented among the 33 drivers and teams assembled. Riley Kreisel, from Missouri, showed the way early in time trials until Brady Bacon turned the quick time with a 19.495 lap, coming tantalizingly close to his seven-year-old track record of 19.225 seconds around the half mile oval. Chris Windom and Logan Seavey went out to qualify much later and found themselves second and third quickest.

    First (of four) Heats:

    Chase Stockon, Robert Ballou, C.J. Leary and Cole Bodine. Bacon provided enough drama for the night when Anthony D’Alessio made contact with Bacon, who flipped and pole vaulted over the turn one wall. D’Alessio also flipped and Nate McMillin smacked the wall.

    Second Heat:

    Kyle Cummins, Chris Windom, Nick Bilbee and Jake Swanson.

    Third Heat:

    Kevin Thomas Jr., Max Adams, Mario Clouser and Davey Ray.

    Fourth Heat:

    Justin Grant, Riley Kreisel, Mitch Wissmiller and Tanner Thorson, who had a mechanical issue in hot laps, then had a sub-par one lap of a late qualifying attempt before edging Matt Westfall at the line.

    B Main:

    Logan Seavey, Charles Davis Jr., Brady Bacon (in a backup car and starting 14th), Matt Westfall, Chase Johnson and Tye Mihocko.

    Paul Nienhiser and Brandon Mattox took provisionals.

    Grant and Ray led the field of 24 to Tom Hansing’s green flag with the California native immediately jumping out to the lead. Cummins eased by Ray for second. By the fourth lap, sixth-starting Windom entered the top five and pressured Ray for third. As Grant stretched his lead, Windom took third on lap nine. Two laps later, Windom passed Cummins for second. Things were about to get interesting,

    Lapped traffic came into play as Windom began cutting into Grant’s big lead. Bacon had entered the top five after starting ninth in his backup. A lap after Tom gave the boys the crossed flags, Grant and Windom were an item, but not in the way long ago gossip columnist Walter Winchell used the term. The game was on. Grant had little trouble passing Davis to put him a lap down but Windom struggled, causing the gap to lengthen momentarily. Two laps later, on lap 19, Windom endured a near spin in turn four. Again he lost ground, but again he made it up.

    The race’s defining moment, the one that created all this chatter, came with two laps to go when the Windom slider didn’t quite clear Grant, who made significant contact with the turn four wall, but kept going. It looked like Windom was home free, but Chase Johnson flipped right in front of the leader in turn four as Tom prepared to wave the checkered flag. Chase climbed out of the car; he had set up a green-white-checkered finish.

    Tom waved the green and the rest of it was anti-climatic as Windom opened up a large margin in the last two laps. Cummins was second, nearly two seconds behind. Bacon capped a remarkable night in finishing third. Thomas was a quiet fourth and Grant limped to fifth. Leary was sixth and Ballou came from 15th to finish seventh. Swanson was eighth after starting 13th. Kreisel showed he could run with the big boys before fading a bit to ninth. Seavey started and finished tenth.

    Tanner Thorson was the KSE Racing Products Hard Charger, coming from hot lap misfortune to starting 22nd in the feature to finishing 11th.

    At the end, Windom was apologetic and Grant was classy. One is not the Anti-Christ and the other isn’t perfect. Both always race hard and that’s what we want to see. Though I recognize that they are an unpleasant part of short track racing, I still strongly dislike slide jobs—especially when they fail, no matter who is involved.

    Apparently the two main players in tonight’s drama have already put it behind them to the extent that it can be done. Maybe that’s what matters, the fact that these two, Windom and Grant, handled the incident like adults while the rest of us who saw the sketchy slider in real time or on video fulminate.

    Maybe the fact that this, like so much of life, was and will be a teaching moment. The potential for everyone who is a part of this to learn something is there and maybe the next time something like this happens (and it will), we can resist the urge to rush to judgement and instead consider what possible good can come from both being a part of and/or witnessing a slide job gone wrong or any other move that could be called controversial.

    It should be no secret that often I go to the Bible for guidance or a life lesson. Soon after the race, it came to me. All I had to do was look it up. I knew it had been spoken, but wasn’t sure where it was in the Good Book. Thanks to the Rev. Google I found it. Jesus had been captured at the Garden of Gethsemane. One of his disciples drew out his sword and cut off the ear of a servant of a high priest. Jesus rebuked the would-be Zorro, saying, “Put your sword back in its place,for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”

    In other words, Chris Windom knows better than most all of us that he will be on the other side of a slider gone wrong someday. How he handles it is up to him.

    With all of this said, I recognize that sliders have become an effective tactic at times. Usually, when they are successful, they are dramatic and despite my dislike, I have to marvel at the skill of those who excel at this form of racing choreography. The grumpy old man in me almost wishes that Bob Kinser or Jack Hewitt were still around to “educate” these young whippersnappers, but that’s not going to happen. Slide jobs or not, the idea is to win. Let’s move on.

    Falling asleep while counting the number of passes made in the Monaco Grand Prix, I’m…

    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: Marathon

    Saturday night at the Lincoln Park Speedway turned out to be a strange one. Before the sprint car feature there were the usual routines, good side by side racing interrupted by occasional yellow flag periods. After the 25 lap feature was done, Logan Seavey stood by his Baldwin brothers car, getting his picture taken. But making it to the finish line was quite the ordeal.

    Getting to the track can be half the "fun." Whether it's Indiana or California, to name just two, one can count on either road construction or traffic, if not both. My plan to arrive in time for the drivers' meeting was shunted aside and left me swearing off State Road 144 forever. I-70 was somewhat better and I survived missing the meeting, instead settling for a nice chat with the good doctor, namely Pat Sullivan, who would be a solo act on the P.A. tonight as partner Brad Dickison was taking a well-deserved break.

    Such things as too many cars in too small of a space or roads undergoing improvements that cause instant changes of routes can influence one to give up, turn around and go back home. Or one can choose to look at them as obstacles to be overcome, trials to test one's resolve or challenges to be met. From all this, one can gain a sense of perspective, remembering that the race track (serving as a Holy Grail, or something) will be there and arriving later than you plan is not a disaster that will ruin your evening.

    Of the 105 race cars shoehorned in Joe Spiker's spacious pit area, 29 were sprints. The Baldwin Brothers race team brought two cars, with young Alex Banales spending the evening getting the feel of these beasts. Otherwise, it was the usual suspects on hand.

    It would be the four heat/transfer four format.

    First heat:

    AJ Hopkins, Davey Ray, Nate McMillen and Alex Sipes, who edged Alex Banales at the line.

    Second heat:

    Jake Swanson, Logan Seavey, Tim Creech II and Brayden Cromwell.

    Third heat:

    Brady Short, Brayden Fox, Matt McDonald and Jake Scott.

    Fourth heat:

    Jason McDougal, Shane Cockrum, Kory Schudy and Nick Montani.

    B main:

    Blake Vermillion, Harley Burns, Alex Banales and Aaron Davis.

    The redraw yielded a front row of Cockrum and Fox. The Chief jumped out to the lead and was busy keeping Fox behind him when the race's first red flag came out for a Nate McMillen flip in turn four. Nate walked away.

    The restart saw Cockrum duplicate his earlier effort until the first yellow flag waved when Kory Schudy slowed with a flat tire.

    The next segment lasted two laps before AJ Hopkins slowed in turn four after an ominous puff of smoke from the engine. Cockrum still led Fox, Ray, Swanson and Seavey.

    Green again and we had a treat to see as the top five fought for position. Ray used the high groove with the big cushion to take second. McDougal replaced Seavey in the top five.

    Another yellow waved on the ninth lap. The green took over and Fox recaptured second place. Swanson passed Ray for third, but Davey returned the favor. Cockrum and Fox still led until Swanson charged from fourth to second, passing Fox as he rode the cushion. Brayden had been working the bottom groove like a pro, but switched to the top after losing the spot to Swanson. This didn't work out very well as Fox banged the cushion and ended up on his top, an otherwise great race over.

    This second red flag came with eight laps to go. Cockrum now led Swanson, Ray, Seavey and McDougal.

    The green was displayed and Swanson passed Cockrum for the lead, then promptly bicycled in turn one, missing a great chance of flipping. Instead he gave the lead back to Cockrum, who promptly bounced off the turn four shelf and collected Ray, bringing out another yellow. The Chief went to the work area to replace a flat tire. He and Davey tagged the field. This reshuffled the deck with Swanson leading Seavey, McDougal, Brady Short and Jake Scott.

    Seavey smelled blood and took the lead on the 20th lap with an outside pass of Swanson with five laps to go. A lap later Nick Mantino spun to bring out the race's fifth slowdown.

    The gang tried again and Seavey was keeping Swanson at bay when Matt McDonald flipped, bringing out the race's third red flag. Like the others, Matt walked away. The top five was unchanged.

    On the restart, Harley Burns flipped in turn one, collecting no less than four cars, some of which restarted. Harley walked away instead of restarting.

    There were still two laps to go, which meant there was a chance for another yellow and Mantino spun again. Yellow flag number six would be the last one.

    Up front, nothing changed. Seavey hung on for a win that took nearly an hour to accomplish. Swanson was second and McDougal remained third to the end. Short was fourth and Scott was fifth after starting 15th, winning the Brian Hodde hard charger award. Cockrum roared back from his misfortune to claim sixth place. Vermillion came from the B main to take seventh. Brayden Cromwell traveled under the radar after starting 14th and finishing eighth. Mr. Ray came back from his trouble to take ninth. Aaron Davis was tenth.

    There was not a full moon, though there should have been…maybe.

    I could relate just a little to the misadventures of many of the 20 people who battled for 25 laps, hoping for a good result. Some were able to overcome the obstacles while others were sidelined. But all will deal with their adversity and will prepare to race again.

    Turning down an invitation to go to Monaco instead of any Hoosier bullring, I'm…

    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: Homecoming

    One of my favorite authors is North Carolina's Thomas Wolfe, who wrote a book called "You Can't Go Home Again." In his particular situation, that was true. He found that home (Asheville) had changed and wasn’t home anymore. But Tyler Courtney showed that, in another circumstance, you can go home again. For the second consecutive night at the brand new Circle City Raceway, Courtney gave Rico Abreu and the rest of a strong field a great view of his tail tank as he won his third feature in his last four starts.

    I don’t etch my racing schedule in stone. Sometimes decisions are made only a few days before an event for a variety of reasons. At any rate, I found myself dealing with Friday afternoon traffic and road construction, two Indiana institutions, while I figured out the best way to get to the track coming from Pendleton, about 25 miles northeast of Indy.

    The program was running late, which didn’t bug me because I was late myself. But this turned out to be a quite decent facility, a part of the Marion County Fairgrounds. It’s a moderately banked “small” quarter mile oval. The surface was a bit choppy, which is common for new dirt, but people quickly figured out how to navigate their way around, none quicker than Gio Scelzi, who promptly set a new track record with an 11.450 lap during time trials.

    Both the tenderloin sandwich and aluminum bleachers were agreeable. The sightlines are fine, with a view of I-74 as it connects with I-465. I’m a huge fan of infield scoring pylons and Circle City has one, with a lap count plus the top five.

    Potential problems are a lack of protection for the flagger as well as the opening on the backstretch exit that needs some support for a car that would impact the wall. Turn one could use a little more lighting. These are things that are quite fixable. This joint is on the right track.

    The All-Star format would be three heats taking six to the 40-lap feature. The B main took six more.

    First heat:Kerry Madsen, Cory Eliason, TJ Michael, Sam Hafertepe and Brady Bacon, who made it on the last lap.

    Second heat:Tyler Courtney, Hunter Schuerenberg, Cap Henry, Scott Thiel, Zeb Wise and Tanner Thorson.

    Third heat:Paul McMahon, Justin Peck, Ian Madsen, Billy Balog, Rico Abreu and Brinton Marvel.

    305 winged sprints were the support class. The last time I was at a track with nothing but winged sprints was in the Carolinas four years ago. There were 30 sprints and 23 305s signed in.


    The RaceSaverheats were three in number with everyone going to the feature.

    First heat:Bradley Galedrige, Rod Henning and Jeff Wimmenhauer.

    Second heat:Dustin Stroup, Alex Nalon and Danny Clark.

    Third heat:Justin Clark, Gary Gipson and Kevin Studley.


    Rico Abreu won the Dash, earning the pole for the feature. 

    B Main: Carson Short, Thomas Meseraull, Noah Gass, Greg Wilson, Cale Thomas and Clinton Boyles.

    Kyle Reinhardt used a provisional to tag the field for the feature. Fast qualifier Gio Scelzi exited the track as the cars lined up before the green waved.

    The early laps were caution plagued as Courtney took the lead with Abreu never far away. With seven laps complete, the leaders were approaching lapped traffic. The yellow lights blinked as Noah Gass spun right in front of Courtney, who missed him. Sunshine led Abreu, Thiel, Balog and K. Madsen.

    The green came out and the crew got a lap in before Brinton Marvel flipped in turn one, requiring a red flag. Brinton was able to exit the mangled car. The top five was unchanged.

    Wash, rinse, repeat and another lap under green was run before K. Madsen spun after contact with Balog. Schuerenberg replaced Madsen in the top five. Brady Bacon had come from 18th to ninth.

    The green appeared again and Courtney controlled matters, but couldn’t afford any goofs as Rico stayed close. Schuerenberg had taken over fourth and was giving Thiel fits. Then Cale Thomas spun on the 13th lap.

    This restart provided some drama. Abreu found some traction on the high side and passed for the lead on lap 14. Try as he might, Rico couldn’t shake the local kid. Behind the two frontrunners was a battle involving Schuerenberg, McMahon, Balog, Wise, Peck, Henry and Bacon. It took the boys awhile to sort things out.

    The race’s final yellow waved on lap 21 for debris. It was Abreu, Courtney, Thiel, Schuerenberg and McMahon as the green came out. Rico chose to ride the rim (no surprise there) while Tyler took the high road in turns one and two and went low in three and four. It was effective as Courtney reclaimed the top spot on lap 24 coming out of turn four.

    Rico’s best chance to get the top spot back came on lap 28 when lapped traffic became a factor for the first time. But Courtney was not to be denied. While he maintained his lead, Abreu was never far away. For that matter, neither were Thiel and Schuerenberg.

    At the end it was Sunshine and Rico with Schuerenberg passing Thiel for third as he exited turn four. Hunter had started 11th. Wise, now a high school graduate was fifth, made a late pass of McMahon, who finished sixth. Bacon was the hardest of chargers, coming from 18th to take seventh. Balog, Peck and Henry filed out the top ten.

    The RaceSavers’ 25-lap feature was the curtain closer. Pole sitter Dustin Clark led nearly all the way but Rod Henning had other ideas. Finding some traction on the low groove at the end, Hot Rod took the lead on the last lap, edging Dustin Stroup for second. Clark was third with Jeff Wimmenaurer coming from tenth to finish fourth. Bradley Galedrige was fifth.

    The plan is to return to Circle City next month for Indiana Midget Week. It should be good.

    Perhaps Mr. Wolfe will make an exception for Mr. Courtney,

    Lining up my three grandchildren three wide on the cul-de-sac for a photo opp, I’m…

    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: In Praise of the Workingman Racer

    The workingman racer, most of all, lives on the edge. If racing does not provide food for his table, he still deals with the pressure of those who depend on him to produce good results. If he owns his own business, he is one nasty crash from disaster. Should he crash or have an expensive parts failure, he gets to decide if he wants to borrow whatever he needs to keep racing or just park the car until he can scrape up the necessary funds or parts. But the workingman racer who depends primarily on the prize money may labor under the most pressure of all, even more so if he has a family. No doubt the likes of Justin Grant feels that pressure. But on a beautiful southeastern Indiana night, Grant responded to the pressure and challenge by charging from his 15th starting position to win the Buckeye Outlaw Sprint Series sanctioned 25-lap feature at the Lawrenceburg Speedway. It was Grant’s 13th feature win at the ‘burg in its current configuration of three-eighth mile, more than anyone else.

    People who have known my youngest grandson since his toddler days are pleasantly surprised at his growth, both physically and emotionally. The little boy who received attention for scraping mud off nerf bars is nearly as tall as some of the racers, as Thomas Meseraull, Donnie Gentry and JJ Hughes can tell you. He has worked hard to become a basketball player as well, able to dribble with either hand, go toe to toe with bigger players and excel at free throw shooting. It makes our road trips fun, talking b-ball and racin’.

    Aaron Fry, my friend and the high priest of BOSS, has brought this group a long way in the past several years. Workingmen racers flock to his races. On Friday, he attracted 44 racers to Gas City where Brady Bacon won. On Saturday, 39 sprints were among the 94 cars residing in Dave Rudisell’s big tent. This meant the four heats/four transfer format with two B’s advancing three to make a field of 22 for the feature.


    First heat: Thomas Meseraull, Joss Moffatt, JJ Hughes and Justin Owen. (TMez put a last lap slider on Moffatt to win.)

    Second heat: Nick Bilbee, Isaac Chapple, Ty Kendall and Justin Grant.

    Third heat: Brady Bacon, Paul Dues, Mike Miller and Parker Fredrickson. (Bacon by a straightaway.)

    Fourth heat: Matt Westfall, Dallas Hewitt, Max Guilford and Rob Caho.

    B Mains—

    First B: Scotty Weir, Sterling Cling and Jamie Fredrickson. (Fair to say that this one was “caution plagued.”)

    Second B: Cody White, Tony McVey and Saban Bibent. (Fighting for position, Bibent tried a slide job on Tye Mihocko that didn’t work. Mihocko flipped hard in turn four, ending his night. Tye exited the car after a couple of minutes.)

    Hughes and Kendall led the way to Tim Montgomery’s green flag. JJ led the first lap, but Meseraull was on the move, taking the lead from his second row start on the second lap. The race’s first yellow waved on the fourth lap when J. Fredrickson stopped on the frontstretch. TMez led Hughes, Kendall, Bilbee and Bacon.

    The boys got a lap in before a Rob Caho spin in turn four. Tim waved the green again and Meseraull simply checked out, leaving Hughes, Kendall and Bacon to fight it out for second. The fast way was around the top, with a good-sized cushion inviting all to try their luck.

    Nine laps were complete when Tony McVey bounced off the wall in turn three, bringing out the race’s third caution period. Meseraull’s big lead was gone, Poof! Bacon was second, ahead of Kendall, Bilbee and Hughes. Justin Grant was seventh after starting 15th.

    On the restart, Meseraull was able to pull away somewhat from Bacon, but Brady would not go away. Again, Meseraull’s lead disappeared as P. Fredrickson flipped in turn one. Parker crawled out of the car and walked back to the pits, a somewhat long walk. Up front it was Meseraull, Bacon, Kendall, Bilbee and…Grant. There were 11 laps to go.

    Meseraull’s time at the front was over, though he had no way of knowing. On this restart, Bacon took the lead with an inside pass in turn three. TMez returned the favor in turn one. But the California native was shuffled back to fifth on the following lap as Grant now became a player for the first time.

    With eight laps to go, Bacon had a decent lead over Grant. But Justin was steadily eating away at the space. Seemingly like a man possessed, but more like a man who knew how to win, Grant caught the leader and made the pass on lap 22. From there, he pulled away to a half straightaway lead as Tim waved the checkered. Seeing that Grant advanced from 15th to first, he also won the Rick Lane Hard Charger award, an autographed picture of Dave Rudisell.

    Bacon was second with Meseraull recovering to take third. Bilbee was fourth and Kendall hung tough with the big dogs, finishing fifth. Max Guilford led the second five with Justin Owen motoring from 14th to seventh, a fine underground effort. Westfall started and finished eighth. Moffatt did the same in ninth. Hughes made Bartholomew County proud with a tenth.

    These ten were a fair representation of Aaron Fry’s vision of a series that would be constructed to allow racers of limited means to compete. High paying purses were very few and far between, keeping most big money teams away. But he would make room for full-time racers to come and play when their schedules permitted. After all, Aaron understood that guys who made their living by racing would help his series. Isn’t that what he’s doing himself?

    No competition yellows, no push-to-pass, no lucky dogs, no yellow flag laps that count, no “fuel strategy,” no extended yellow flag periods for commercials, and I’m…

    Danny Burton





    The Hoosier Race Report: The Youngest Veteran

    Jadon Rogers climbed into a sprint car approximately five years ago and he struggled for much of that time. Why, there was one race where he brought out four yellow flags in one feature, taking out the race’s leader on the last caution. But he picked himself up and carried on. In the last year or two, Mr. Rogers has been posting some impressive results. He’s earned some victories at various Hoosier bullrings. And on a beautiful, but chilly, Hoosier Friday night, Jadon Rogers took his first feature win at the tricky and difficult Bloomington Speedway, conquering the slick red clay oval with a skinny curb on top that he employed flawlessly for 25 laps.

    Twenty sprints, 15 RaceSaver sprints and 13 Super Stocks were joined by 38 mods, all of whom were after the $3,000 to win (plus lots of extra goodies) feature.

    Sprint heats-

    First heat: Jaden Rogers, Sterling Cling and Jordan Kinser. (Rogers took the lead from Davey Ray on the last lap. Davey spun but recovered to take fourth. Jeremy Hines flipped in turn two. Exited the car on his own.)

    Second heat: Andy Bradley, Andrew Prather and Cindy Chambers. (Chambers took third after a duel with Harley Burns.)

    Third heat: AJ Hopkins, Brayden Fox and Ricky Lewis. (Lewis provided the excitement by sliding off the track a couple of times.)

    Nick Hoffman got tired of following the leaders around the bottom and used the high side to take the lead just past the halfway point in the modified feature. From there he coasted to the victory in the inaugural Roddy Strong Memorial.

    Hopkins and Bradley led the crew to the green with the pole sitter taking the early lead and Rogers grabbing second quickly from his third starting position.

    Two laps were run before Harley Burns stopped with a flat tire in turn one, bringing out the yellow. The early front runners were Hopkins, Rogers, Bradley, Cling and Prather. On the restart, Rogers used the bottom line to take the lead.

    On the fourth lap another yellow waved for the stopped car of Brandon Spencer. Bradley promised to give Hopkins fits during the battle for second. It only took Andy one lap to make the pass for second.

    But once again, the action was interrupted when Ricky Lewis slid off turn four and pounded the wall, bouncing high in the air before landing on all fours. The red flag came out and Ricky took his time in climbing out. Rogers led Bradley, Hopkins, Cling and Kinser with 20 laps to go.

    Once again the green waved and Rogers proceeded to put on a clinic. He steadily pulled away while Bradley, Hopkins and Kinser fought it out for second. Hopkins reassumed second on the tenth lap while Kinser rook third a lap later. Seven laps after that, Kinser executed a slider to take second. And then Bradley attacked AJ and made the pass for third with five laps to go. Meanwhile, Rogers had built a straightaway lead.

    At the end, it was Rogers romping to a comparatively easy win with Kinser second; Jordan also won the Doug Vandeventer Hard Charger Award, a dinner with Doug at White Castle. Bradley, Hopkins and Cling were the rest of the top five. Davey Ray was sixth with Jake Bland finishing seventh. Brayden Fox took eighth and Andrew Prather ninth. Brady Short ended up tenth, the last car on the lead lap.

    Jeff Wimmenauer led all the way in winning the 305 winged sprint feature, but Justin Clark made it close at the end. Ethan Barrow started and finished third. Ryan Tussing and Jordan Welch were fourth and fifth.

    It’s both silly and futile to try and predict anyone’s future. But if he continues to progress as he has in the past couple of years, Jadon Rogers could well be destined for bigger things in sprint car racing as time goes by. Whether that happens or not, he will surely remember the chilly night at Bloomington where he attacked the razor-thin cushion for 25 laps and rode it to a well-deserved win.

    Watching out for those Jewish space lasers, I’m…

    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: The Rain and Shane

    I watched Shane Cockrum ring up yet another feature win at the Lincoln Park Speedway, albeit a shower shortened 20 lapper. This made me think about that so-called thing called racing luck. More on that later.

    The sprint car count at LPS was a slim 21 (out of 87 cars in Joe Spiker's playpen), but at least a half dozen of those guys would be capable of winning.

    Sprint heats: Jake Scott, Brady Short, and Harley Burns.

    Second heat: Shane Cockrum, Davey Ray, and Nate McMillen.

    Third heat: Brandon Spencer, Aric Gentry, and Jason McDougal.

    The redraw put Cockrum and Scott in the front row. The party had been threatened with periodic sprinkles, but the precipitation had subsided as Brian Hodde waved the green flag.

    Scott grabbed the lead over Cockrum at the start, but the Chief stuck around and kept close. The leaders caught lapped traffic on the seventh lap.

    Cockrum was hounding the leader at every turn. Finally, on the 11th lap, he took the lead from Scott coming out of turn two. From there, Cockrum didn't exactly check out. Lapped traffic helped Scott if anything.

    Whatever distance was between Cockrum and Scott disappeared on the 17th lap when the yellow lights blinked. The two veterans led Burns, Ray and Short.

    On the restart, Gentry was caught up in one of those accordion-like deals and spun in turn four as Brian waved the green. Aric had been running seventh; now he would tag the field.

    The gang tried again and Cockrum took off, putting several car lengths between himself and Scott, who had his hands full with the pesky Burns.

    The red flag came out for Travis Berryhill, who flipped coming out of turn two on lap 20. He decamped from the car on his own.

    As the field restarted, a light rain began to fall. The cars circled the track under the yellow, trying to keep it dry enough to race on. But finally the plug was reluctantly pulled and Cockrum was declared the winner.

    Behind the Illinois resident was Scott, Burns, Ray and Short. A J. Hopkins, who had spent much of the race bottled up in traffic, came from 11th to finish sixth. McDougal was seventh and McMillen took eighth. Brayden Fox overcame a broken rocker arm in hot laps/qualifying to come from 14th to finish ninth and earn the Brian Hodde hard charger award, a half eaten tenderloin sandwich, courtesy of Mr. Hodde himself. And Gentry came back from his misfortune to finish tenth.

    As I ambled to the little truck, I thought about luck and how random it seems to be. The brief definition of luck is "success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one's own actions," according to the good folks at the Oxford Dictionary.

    I could go on all night trying to figure out where one's own work stops and luck takes over, but I won't, thankfully. I do believe that it's our purpose to do our best with the gifts we've been blessed with and, beyond that, all we can do is leave it to luck, God's will, or whatever you wish to call it.

    At any rate, on a rainy night, Shane Cockrum did what he needed to do, namely make the pass for the lead. After that, he had the lead when the track was too wet to continue. (That spawns a multitude of questions, such as "what if it hadn't rained?" No way am I going there.) So Mr. Cockrum showed us that one's chances of winning sprint car feature are decent if they are good, fast and….. lucky.

    Compiling a list of members of the False Prophet's Club, I'm…

    Danny Burton



    The Hoosier Race Report: The Domination


    Clean sweeps in open wheel racing are quite rare and, when it happens, attention must be paid. With that in mind, Thomas Meseraull showed again that the Gas City/I-69 Speedway is surely one of his favorite ovals as he won both the sprint car and D2 midget features on a night with March-like temperatures.


    Neither rain, winds, cold temperatures, traffic, detours or a long delayed race program will deter certain race people from going to watch cars with or without fenders race around a quarter mile oval. Such was the situation at Gas City's opening night on Friday.


    TMez and Shane Cottle were the only double dippers. Both kept busy and both had productive nights.


    Of the 106 cars in the pits, 24 were sprints and 30 were midgets. With Paragon's rainout, a few guys made the trip up I-69 to get some racing done.


    The rain delay meant that festivities began about 80 minutes late when the first sprint heat lined up.




    First heat: Scotty Weir, Thomas Meseraull, Shane Cottle, Tyler Kendall and Brayden Fox.


    Second heat: Ricky Lewis, Jason McDougal, Aaron Leffel, Sterling Cling and Adam Byrkett.


    Third heat: Clinton Boyles, Zach Pretorious, Colton Cottle, Nick Bilbee and Harley Burns.


    D2 Midgets:


    First heat: Shane Cottle, Tyler Nelson, Ronnie Gardner, Bryan Stanfill and Adam Taylor.


    Second heat: Chett Gehrke, Jacob Denney, Gray Leadbetter, Jeff Beasley and Stratton Briggs.


    Third heat: Emerson Axsom, Jarett Andretti, Chance Crum, Billy Lawless and Greg Mitchell. Carl Peterson flipped in turn four.


    B Main: Thomas Meseraull, Abby Holhbein,  Bryce Massingill, Glenn Wateland and  Ian Creager.


    The sprints' feature began with Boyles and Weir on the front row, but that lasted less than a lap when Boyles bounced in turn four and flipped.  They tried again with Lewis moving up a row to claim the pole.


    Weir took the early lead and hung on to it for the first seven laps. Lewis and Pretorious both occupied second place briefly, but Meseraull was on the move from his sixth starting spot. After a lap he was third. Soon he was knocking on the door and made an outside pass of Weir on the eighth lap.


    The red flag waved on the tenth lap when Harley Burns flipped in turn four. Meseraull led Weir, Lewis, McDougal and Pretorious. On the restart Nick Bilbee spun coming to the line, bringing out the yellow.


    Again they tried and Meseraull resumed his domination as McDougal took over second place. TMez wasn't too worried about who was second. After all, he had a half lap lead by the 17th lap.


    Meseraull cruised the rest of the way with McDougal second. Weir was third and S. Cottle was fourth. Garrett Aitken earned the Tyler Kelly Hard Charger award (a Gas City tenderloin sandwich) for starting 22nd and finishing fifth. C. Cottle took sixth with Jackson Slone came from 18th to finish seventh. Lewis was eighth and Tyler Kendall finished ninth. Aaron Davis came from 20th to grab tenth.


    After the race, the winner praised his team and the hardy group of fans. He said that he used his experience to try running the top while the others struggled with the bottom groove.


    The midget feature was my last race of the night. It, too, got off to a rough start as Greg Mitchell flipped in turn four. As the gang tried again, I noticed that it was the midnight hour (thank you, Wilson Pickett).


    Pole sitter Axsom jumped out to the lead on the restart. An early yellow waved, temporarily slowing Axsom. But he had a threat in his immediate future.


    To be sure, the kid from Franklin, Indiana enjoyed a sizable lead for several laps. In the meantime, Meseraull was on the move. After starting 16th, he wasted no time in advancing to fifth. Later, on lap 12, TMez passed two cars in one lap.


    A red flag came out with six laps to go  for Adam Taylor, who had a Tommy Tipover in turn two. Axsom led Meseraull, Cottle, Andretti and Gehrke. Mark Orr waved the green and Meseraull got busy. A lap after the restart, he passed Axsom on the outside coming out of turn four for the lead, which he rapidly expanded.


    At the end it was Meseraull, Axsom, Cottle, Andretti, and Gehrke in the top five. Nelson was sixth with Crum seventh. Briggs was ninth and Leadbetter finished tenth.


    While thawing out in my car, I thought about Mr. Meseraull, a likeable character who is not afraid to admit that sometimes he can be his own worst enemy. While he can be frustrating, he can also be admired. At this point, Thomas assisted me as I began to think about heroes (while topping off the tank after leaving the track).


    We are the ones who determine who our heroes will be. Race drivers get that label though many would scoff at the notion, pointing to those who are our public servants, the people who willingly risk their lives for strangers.


    No matter who you call a hero, please know that they are far from perfect. Their flaws can be as numerous as ours. They fall; they stumble. The hero can be his or her own worst enemy. After all, no matter how we view our heroes, they're as human as we are. With their admirable qualities, they have their flaws, whether we acknowledge them or not.