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    The Hoosier Race Report

    by Danny Burton

     

    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
    flexible.
    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
    other.
    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
    deal.”
    “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
    mind?”
    “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 shows.in 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.

    “Well?”

    “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?”

    “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.

    Sparky.

     

     

    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.”

    “Who?

    “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.

    “Where?”

    “Monroe.”

    “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.

    Sprints

    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.

    Midgets

    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

    Championship:

    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.

    Memorial-noun

    Definition of memorial (Entry 2 of 2)

    1: something that keeps remembrance alive: such as

    a: MONUMENT

    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,

    I'm…

     

    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.

     

    Heats---

     

    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 www.indianaopenwheel.com 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.

    Sprints:

    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.

    Sprints--

    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.

    Sprints--

    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.

    Midgets--

    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

    dis·cern·ment

    /dəˈsərnmənt/

    noun

    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 www.indianaopenwheel.com: “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.

    Heats—

    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.

     

    Sprints:

     

    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.

     

    With all that, let's appreciate these extraordinary people who we admire, regardless of what label we give them.

     

    Kind of glad I didn't go to Eldora, I'm…

     

    Danny Burton

     

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Windom Breezes

    Night Two of the Kokomo Grand Prix was as breezy as the opening night but the breeze wasn't nearly as cold as Friday's. Chris Windom created a breeze of his own as he switched grooves mid-race and cemented his first feature win this year in USAC's Nos Energy Drink Midget Division action.

    Kyle Cummins won the sprint feature.

    Saturday’s wind was a mite more tolerable than the Arctic blast on Friday. This one was mostly from the south and it was warm enough to make my walk through Foster Park another part of a good day.

    Among the USAC brigade, it was the same cast of characters as Friday’s. Doing double duty tonight would be Cummins, Windom, Justin Grant, Cannon McIntosh and Clinton Boyles.

    Emerson Axsom, Friday’s winner, was the quickest qualifier with a 13.371 lap.

    Sprint Heats

    First Heat: Cummins, Windom, Max Guilford, Ben Knight, McIntosh, Brandon Long and Jack James.

    Second Heat: Shane Cottle, Cole Bodine, Matt Goodnight, Boyles, Mitchell Davis, Matt Westfall and Jaden Rogers, who flipped in turn two, ending his night.

    Third Heat: Brady Bacon, Grant, Chase Johnson, Anthony D’Alessio, Zane Devault and Andrew Cockman.

    Midget Heats

    First Heat: Buddy Kofoid, Kevin Thomas Jr., Brenham Crouch, Axsom, Chase Randall, Bryan Stanfill and Thomas Meseraull. Mr. Meseraull was a victim of an incident on the backstretch which caused the right front of his car to collapse, sending him into a spin in turn four.

    Second Heat: Tanner Thorson, Jason McDougal, Windom, Cummins, Hayden Reinbold, Ethan Mitchell and Brandon Waelti.

    Third Heat: Logan Seavey, Bryant Wiedeman, Grant, McIntosh, Daison Pursley and Boyles. Pursley had the gentlest of tipovers in turn two. The car was placed upright and he resumed his chase. 

    Bacon and Cummins led the others to the green and Cummins set out right off to make this race a stinker. Multiple yellows slowed the action in the first half of the race as Cummins repeatedly pulled away from the pack after each restart. Grant had occupied second throughout the race and had not been able to keep up with Cummins. But as the laps wound down, the margin between the top two shrank. In the last five laps, the question was whether Grant could catch the leader. It didn’t happen; Justin cut the margin to .4 seconds at the end, settling for second.

    Cole Bodine drove the best race I’ve seen him drive, taking third. Bacon and Windom were fourth and fifth. Johnson was sixth and Cottle ran as high as third before fading to seventh. Long rambled from 16th to eighth, earning the Tyler Kelly Hard Charger Award. Boyles was ninth and Westfall came from 17th to finish tenth.

    Windom and Randall were the front row and Windom promptly took the lead, trading slide jobs with Pursley, who took the lead on the third lap. But Windom regained the lead two circuits later and was leading when a yellow waved for a slowing Mitchell.

    On the restart, Thorson and Thomas got around Pursley for second and third. The duo was reeling in the leader using the low groove, but Windom made the decision that turned out to be the winning move. He scooted to the bottom, taking away Thorson’s preferred line. This was working well for the leader until his growing lead vanished on lap 17 when Pursley flipped in turn two, near where his teammate Crouch had done the same on Friday.

    Windom led Thorson, Thomas, Kofoid and Cummins on the restart. Kofoid made the smooth move of the race as he took the high road to sweep around Thorson and Thomas to take over second with ten laps to go. It appeared for a moment that Kofoid was gaining on the leader, but if he was, it wasn’t much.

    Windom breezed to the win, his first USAC Midget series win this year. Kofoid was second and Thomas nipped Thorson at the line for third. Axsom was fifth. The second five was led by Grant, ahead of Seavey, Meseraull, Crouch (from 16th) and Cummins.

    KT was the KSE Racing Products Hard Charger, racing from 13th to third.

    Kofoid remains the point leader, 20 ahead of Windom.

    I had a brief chat with Dave Darland. It seemed as if he’s come a long way since his medical issue a week ago Friday. We wish for him continued improvement.

    Full disclosure—I misplaced my truck keys; it’s been several years since I did that (at Lawrenceburg). Many thanks to the staff and the person who found the keys.

    Welcoming my new bodyguard, Wayne Johnson, I'm...

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: (Another) First Time Winner

    It was, in retrospect, inevitable that another of the Kiddie Korps that populate USAC's Nos Energy Drink National Midget Division would step up and claim his first feature win. On a very cold night at the Kokomo Speedway, Emerson Axsom was the young man who held off another fleet youngster, Cannon McIntosh, to win his first USAC midget feature.

    One could talk about the weather, but the only thing worth mentioning is that it can get cold in Indiana in late April. I wasn’t surprised when I left south central Indiana wearing shorts and a t-shirt only to discover that the temperature was at least ten degrees colder in Kokomo with a mean north wind. I’d brought extra layers and managed.

    One could talk about the car count. Theories abound, as always. But 20 midgets, including several quality rides, were enough to stock a 30-lap feature. As this is written in the midnight hour, I’d not be surprised no matter how many cars show up on Saturday. The same was true for the sprints. I thought that there would be 25 sprinters there, tops. But 29 showed up. We may as well try and predict the weather.

    So maybe we can not fret over weather, car counts and teenagers that are very fast in a race car. Instead we can appreciate what we have and that was a night of pretty decent racing with its share of surprises, uplifting moments and some bitter disappointments. And while we were at it, we could celebrate the appearance of Dave Darland, starting to get out and about after his mild stroke a week ago.

    There was no shortage of busy people with five contestants racing both a midget and a sprint. Cannon McIntosh, Chris Windom, Clinton Boyles, Justin Grant and Jason McDougal did their share of ride hopping all night.

    As is its pattern, the track stayed the same for everyone qualifying. Kevin Thomas Jr. was first out and stopped the clock at 13.298 seconds while Daison Pursley was last and went 13.190.

    The Sprints:

    The first of the three heats was from Bizarro-World. First there was a false start that left Shane Cottle stationary in turn four. Chase Johnson went to the pits and got ready for the B Main. On the second try, Matt Guilford flipped on the first lap, bringing out a red. He was able to restart the race. The third start was the ugliest. Jason McDougal slid into Landon Simon, sending both of them flipping near where Guilford had tumbled. Simon was not pleased. Finally the gang got it right.

    Brad Greenup flipped hard into the turn one wall during the B. He exited the car on his own.

    First Heat—Clinton Boyles, Brady Bacon, Shane Cottle, Tye Mihocko and Cole Bodine all transferred.

    Second Heat—Ben Knight, Cannon McIntosh (first time in a traditional 410 sprint car), Chris Windom, Jaden Rogers and Brandon Long.

    Third Heat—Anthony D’Alessio, Max Adams, Justin Grant, Scotty Weir and Aaron Farney.

    B Main—Chase Johnson (from seventh), Brian VanMeveren, Matt Goodnight, Matt Westfall and Zach Pretorius. 

    Feature—Boyles took the early lead and hung onto it until the tenth lap when Bacon took over. Meanwhile Windom had been working his way to the front after starting eighth. By the midway point of the 25-lapper, he was fourth. By lap 16 he was second and gaining on Bacon. But using lapped traffic and his own experience, Bacon was able to hang on for the win. Windom, Cottle, Boyles and Johnson were the top five with Johnson winning the Brett Bowman Hard Charger Award after starting 16th.

    Grant, Adams, McIntosh, Bodine and Rogers were the second five.

    USAC Midgets:

    The trivia note of the night was in the second heat when the seven starters listed seven different home states. Kyle Cummins was the only native Hoosier.

    First Heat--Buddy Kofoid, Thomas Meseraull, Emerson Axsom, Chase Randall, Kevin Thomas Jr., Logan Seavey, Bryan Stanfill.

    Second Heat—Bryant Wiedeman, Daison Pursley, Chris Windom, Kyle Cummins, Brenham Crouch, Brandon Waelti.

    Third Heat--Justin Grant, Tanner Thorson, Cannon McIntosh, Ethan Mitchell, Clinton Boyles, Jason McDougal.

    Windom and Axsom led the herd to Mark Orr’s green flag with the lead duo trading sliders on the first lap. Axsom prevailed and that turned out to be as close as Windom would get to the lead all night. Crouch was flying in the top groove after starting sixth. But he flew a bit too close to the wall and rode it briefly before flipping on lap four. The young Texan was shaken perhaps, but climbed out of the would-be rocket ship.

    A lap after the restart, Kofoid spun in turn two, maybe with a little help. Cummins was collected and Pursley had a flat tire. All three restarted. Axsom led Windom, McIntosh, Randall and Mitchell.

    The boys tried again and some could sense that the guys who had to tag the field might be in a hurry. They weren’t the only ones. McIntosh passed Windom and tried mightily to close the gap on the leader.

    At the halfway mark, it was still Axsom leading McIntosh, Windom and Randall, who was surprisingly hanging tough. He got around Windom for third on lap 18. But his fine effort ended a few laps later as he pulled into the infield with a smoking buggy.

    From there, things were almost anti-climatic as Axsom hit his marks every lap, racking up his first USAC Midget win in dominating fashion as he led all 30 laps. Back in the pack was where the action was. Kofoid and Pursley were carving their way through the field. At the end, the top four were not in doubt as Axsom led McIntosh, Windom and Grant. Kofoid beat Pursley for fifth at the line. Tanner Thorson showed how important a good time trial is as he rambled from 17th to seventh, earning the KSE Racing Products Hard Charger money. Mitchell, Thomas and Meseraull were eighth, ninth and tenth.

    And the boys get to do it again in about 18 hours. The weather is supposed to be nice; there will be enough cars for some racin’ and there might be another first time winner.

    Sharing a cheeseburger with Joe Biden, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: First Time Winner

     

    Full disclosure: While Davey Ray has won his share of midget races and couple of sprint car wins with a 360 engine, but on Saturday night at the Lincoln Park Speedway Davey won his first feature driving a 410, leading Shane Cockrum to the line.

     

    All promoters wrestle with the weather. Their luck seems like it goes to both extremes. Last week at Paragon the only rain falling in Morgan County was at the track. On this Saturday just concluded, somehow Lincoln Park avoided most all of the rain that fell seemingly everywhere else in Indiana. I drove in rain for most of the 85 mile trip. I know Joe Spiker's strategy when it looks like rain: Plan on racing until enough rain falls to flood the track, pits and the parking lot. Then postpone and try to reschedule if it's a big race.

     

    Of the 97 cars in the pits, 25 were sprinters and 14 were USAC regional midgets.

     

    The sprints had group qualifying and Mr. Ray was quickest with a 13.293 lap.

     

    The format was the usual three heats and a B for the sprints.

     

    Sprint heats--

     

    First heat: Davey Ray, Brent Beauchamp, Brayden Fox, Evan Mosley and Cole Bodine.

     

    Second heat: Travis Berryhill, Nate McMillen, Jake Scott, Brian VanMeveran and Aaron Davis.

     

    Third heat: Shane Cockrum, AJ Hopkins, Harley Burns, Blake Vermillion and Brayden Cromwell.

     

    Robert Carrington flipped in the third heat. He climbed out of the car on his own.

     

    Midgets--

     

    First heat: Tyler Nelson, Brian Stanfill and Ronnie Gardner.

     

    Second heat: Shane Cottle, Chett Gehrke and Chance Crum.

     

    Shane Cottle won the midget feature ahead of Billy Lawless and Bryan Stanfill.

     

    Sprint B main: Jesse Vermillion, Matt McDonald (from seventh), Saban Bibent, Zach Pretorious and Ryan Thomas.

     

    Berryhill and Ray occupied the front row. The California native outgunned the Iowa native to the first turn. Berryhill was leading on the third lap when he spun in turn two, the victim of a steering issue.

     

    This gave Ray the lead with Cockrum, Hopkins, Beauchamp and McMillen in the top five. The green waved and Ray pulled away as Cockrum and Hopkins fought for second. But the yellow came out on the fifth lap for a Blake Vermillion/Saban Bibent meeting in turn one.

     

    Green again and the fight for second resumed as Ray planted his car firmly on the top shelf and sped away. The others did the same but no one could keep up with the Indianapolis resident. Hopkins was passed by Beauchamp on the ninth lap. This segment saw Ray extend his lead to a full straightaway ahead of Cockrum. Shane needed a caution badly.

     

    Yellow lights blinked on the 15th lap when Harley Burns spun in turn four. Ray's big lead was gone. Behind him and Cockrum were Beauchamp, Hopkins and Fox. Two laps after the green waved Hopkins got around Beauchamp for third.

     

    Next was another slowdown for an unplanned meeting between Mosley and McDonald in the first turn. Beauchamp had faded with mechanical problems. Now Fox was fourth and McMillen fifth. There were eight laps to go.

     

    Mr. Brian Hodde waved the green and Ray endured another restart. Cockrum threw a half-hearted slider in turn one as Ray shook it off. No positions were changed up front but no one could break away. With six laps left, Hopkins had a minor bobble in turn three. Fox checked up but kept going. But McMillen was caught up in the accordion and spun, collecting Bodine and McDonald. The yellow came out one last time. All three continued.

     

    Cockrum had one more shot at the leader. Green lights engaged and Ray made it look easy. Davey took the checkered with about a ten car length margin over the Chief. Hopkins was third, completing a weekend with two top fives for Jerry Burton and company. Fox had another good race with a fourth. Burns stormed back from misfortune to grab fifth. Brayden Cromwell had a mostly anonymous run, coming from 15th to finish seventh and winning the Joe Chambers hard charger award (even though Joe was in Bristol). Jake Scott was eighth and McMillen took ninth. Bodine finished tenth.

     

    More racing is scheduled for next weekend. My guess is that Davey Ray will do his share of celebrating as he should. My next guess is that Davey will then begin preparing for next weekend and plotting his next win. Yeah, him and a lot of other people.

     

    Wondering how well Jimmie Johnson would do if he went sprint car racing in Indiana, I'm…

     

    Danny Burton

     

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Why I Still Go

     

    Often it's foolish to guess or predict. It's fun for a lot of people to pick a winner, even more so if money is involved. But there are a few of us who go to races out of curiosity. We want to see not only who wins, but there's plenty more to see. Max Adams did win an extraordinary race at the Bloomington Speedway on a cool Hoosier night, but how he won was as much of the story as was the fact that he won.

     

    Twenty six sprint cars were among the seventy race cars signed in on a cloudy and somewhat cool evening. My buddy Henry Bryant's track prep was, as usual, such that it would be blindingly fast early on and racy later, which was to say that people could pass other people because the high and low grooves were both working quite well by the time the feature lined up.

     

    Among the twenty six, there were a couple of one night deals. With A.J. Hopkins at a family event, car owner Jerry Burton gave Jordan Kinser a call. And with Dave Darland reportedly under the weather, the Baldwin brothers put Jaden Rogers in the seat.

     

    It was three heats and a B tonight setting the feature lineup.

     

    First heat: Brady Short, Nick Bilbee, Gabe Gilbert, Jake Bland and Cole Bodine from the tail.

     

    Second heat: Davey Ray, Jordan Kinser, Ryan Thomas, Harley Burns and Max Adams.

     

    Third heat: Travis Berryhill, Tye Mihocko, Brayden Fox, Saban Bibent and Brian VanMeveran. Fox made the pass of the night to take the lead midrace, but slid over the banking and gave it back.

     

    B main: Jaden Rogers, Brayden Cromwell, Chris Babcock, Braxton Cummings and Hunter O'Neal.

     

    Immediately after taking the green flag for the B, Kent Weed slid over the turn one bank and flipped through the fence, apparently striking someone's Mitsubishi. At least one other vehicle was damaged. Kent was able to climb out of the car.

     

    The heat race results set the first fifteen starters of the twenty five lap feature. Short and Ray led the field to Brian Hodde's green flag. Ray jumped out to the lead before the first of several yellow flags waved. Mihocko stopped on the backstretch with Ray already deciding that his car was working the best on the cushion.

     

    While Davey was enjoying his time at the front, behind him was some vintage Bloomington racing. Bilbee had started fourth but was on the move. By lap four he was second and had set up shop down low, much as the original Kevin Thomas did a few years ago.

     

    Festivities were interrupted on the sixth lap when Ryan Thomas spun in turn four. Ray and Bilbee led Kinser, Short and ninth starting Brayden Fox.

     

    The green waved and the high/low battle resumed. Bilbee led the eighth lap by a nose but Ray came back to lead the next three.

     

    Travis Berryhill brought out the next yellow on the tenth lap. Up front it was still Ray, Bilbee, Kinser, Short and Fox. But behind them, Max Adams had barged into the top ten.

     

    Brian waved the green again and two laps were scored by the time that Braxton Cummings stopped on the backstretch. But in those two laps, Adams had advanced to fourth.

     

    This would be the last work slowdown of the race. It was have-at-it time and Ray, Bilbee and Adams didn't disappoint.

     

    Usually I try to take glances toward the middle of the pack during these things. But the determined trio up front kept my eyes glued.

     

    Here's my attempt to show how competitive this whole deal was:

     

    Lap 15--Ray, Bilbee, Adams

    Lap 16 and 17--Same as above.

    Lap 18, 19 and 20--Ray, Adams, Bilbee

    Lap 21--Adams, Ray, Bilbee

    Lap 22-Bilbee, Adams (Ray slid off turn four bank)

    Lap 23, 24 and 25--Adams and Bilbee

     

    Adams came from fourteenth to take the win, his first Hoosier feature win this year. Bilbee fell just a little short after a mighty effort. Fox was the first of those who deserved more attention as he finished third after starting ninth. Kinser was fourth and Mihocko's was another unnoticed extra effort as he finished fifth after his early race misfortune.

     

    Bodine led the second five, coming from thirteenth to take sixth. After an outstanding job of leading most of the race, Davey Ray claimed seventh at the end. Jake Bland was eighth and Rogers started sixteenth, moved forward, slipped over the turn two bank and came back to finish ninth. The fast running lawyer, Mr. VanMeveran, came from fifteenth to conclude his presentation to the jury in tenth place.

     

    Somehow I don't think that very many people picked the correct winner. And somehow I don't think that it mattered. What did matter was the fact that Max, Nick and the rest of the gang raced like they needed the money, regardless of the payout.

     

    Declining Sidney Powell's offer to handle my estate, such as it is, I'm…

     

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Not This Time, Sir

    Kevin Thomas Jr. put it all together on a chilly night at the Bloomington Speedway. He endured a pesky Brady Bacon for most of the 30-lap feature and rolled to the checkered flag, winning his second USAC sprint feature of 2021.

    Signing in for Bloomington’s first outing of the year were 43 of USAC’s finest teams.

    Justin Grant went out to qualify mid-pack and set quick time with an 11.232 lap. C.J. Leary’s record of 10.685 was safe for a while longer.

    As the track changed, the heat races got better and better.

    First heat: Rookie Carson Garrett won from the pole. Shane Cottle, Carson Short and Justin Grant advanced.

    Second Heat: Kyle Cummins, Cole Bodine, Chris Windom and Dave Darland. The red flag waved when Logan Seavey had a Tommy Tipover at the start/finish line. He climbed out on his own.

    Third Heat: Paul Nienhiser, Tye Mihocko (from ninth to second!), Brady Bacon and Brayden Fox. C.J. Leary found things a bit crowded in turn one and flipped with pole sitter Matt Goodnight also involved. Leary and crew made repairs and he would return for the B.

    Fourth Heat: Kevin Thomas Jr., Robert Ballou, A.J. Hopkins and Scotty Weir. Tanner Thorson missed transferring by inches. Braxton Cummings tipped over on the backstretch after a false start.

    C Main: Brent Beauchamp, Braxton Cummings, Brady Short (from ninth) and Sterling Cling all moved on to the B.

    B Main: C. J. Leary, Tanner Thorson, Max Adams, Mario Clouser, Jake Swanson and Ricky Lewis all progressed to the feature.

    Cottle and Thomas led 22 others to Tom Hansing’s green flag. None of them was Chase Stockon, whose streak of 324 consecutive starts ended when he was unable to qualify for the feature.  On turn two of the first lap, Paul Nienhiser spun, bringing out the yellow.

    The gang tried again and Cottle led the first lap with Thomas having none of that, taking the lead. He had control when the second yellow came out when Adams spun in turn fourwith seven laps complete. KT led Cottle, Bacon, Cummins and Windom.

    Tom waved the green and Bacon made a strong move immediately on Cottle in turn two. Soon he was working on Thomas for the lead, both employing the high and low grooves liberally.

    Ricky Lewis spun in turn four at the halfway mark of the race, bringing out yellow number three. Thomas led Bacon, Cottle, Cummins and Windom. Lights turned green again and Cummins found some real traction on the outside of turn two. He passed Cottle for second and nearly got around Bacon, too.

    But, you can guess. For the fourth time, the yellow slowed the festivities with a Tye Mihocko spin on lap 16. There was no change up front when the green waved but Cottle found new life somewhere in the low groove. He edged ahead of Cummins, who was committed to the top. Meanwhile, Thomas couldn’t shake off the tenacious Bacon.

    Instead of a yellow flag, Mr. H. reached for the red when Sterling Cling flipped in turn four of lap 24. He crawled out with not much help. It was still Thomas, Bacon, Cottle, Cummins and Windom.

    It was now that Bacon made his most serious bid for victory on the re-start. For a moment the Oklahoma native took the lead in turn two and kept it for two laps. But Thomas would not be denied. He countered with his own strong move and took the lead for good on the 28th lap. Thomas pulled away to a ten car length lead at the checkered.

    The red flag waved with the checkered when Carson Garrett and Mario Clouser came together while fighting for 13th place. Garrett flipped just past the start/finish line. He was taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure.

    Behind Thomas and Bacon was Cummins, who got around Cottle on the last lap. Windom was fifth. Thorson was sixth with Leary coming back from his heat race flip to finish seventh. Grant took eighth with Weir finishing ninth after starting 16th. And Ballou was the KSE Racing Products / B & W Auto Mart Hard Charger, rambling from 20th to end up tenth.

    The caravan is heading southwest to Haubstadt, then back toward Indy with a Sunday night date at Paragon—a mini-Sprint Week of sorts.

    Working on my Andy Williams imitation, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Anatomy of a Rainout

    If I was so inclined, I’d be kicking myself instead of sitting here and writing about a rainout. I went to Bloomington, an hour from here, instead of Kokomo, two hours from here. It was fun while it lasted—until the rains came.

    I knew there was a chance of rain in the area. I also knew that, like his fellow promoters, Joe Spiker would make every effort to let racers race and fans cheer (and buy some food and t-shirts). I went anyway with reasonable hope of seeing something more than rain.

    One needed not have a degree in meteorology to note clouds in the southwestern sky. Just as the drivers'meeting began, we were treated to, in no particular order, sunshine, thunder, and sprinkles. The forecast was not looking very promising but no one dared leave.I stood around, waiting for cars to occupy the track, debating whether or not to have a cheeseburger.

    The sprinkling started with some hesitancy, but with a touch of persistence. I ambled out to the truck and watch the sky. On the way out, Kenny Clark was good enough to let me know that there were 21 sprints and 12 Racesaver 305 sprints on hand.

    The earlier rain had moved on but it made an unwanted comeback about 45 minutes later as Henry circled the track with the humongous water truck. This one acted like it wanted to stick around.It stopped after about five minutes but some damage was done. Now, Joe Spiker had a tough call. The track was even wetter and Henry, as good at track prep as he is, couldn’t do anything about it.

    Again the rain began. This time it could be described as pouring down. It lasted five minutes tops. It didn't quit but settled down to a lazy kind of rain that could last another five minutes....or five hours. The call was made and there would be no racing tonight. When I saw ace push truck driver Joe Chambers join the line of traffic exiting I became suspicious that maybe there would be no racing tonight. It was 8:13 as the rain picked up again.

    With lightning mostly in the west, I stopped for a Whopper and headed home. I missed Matt Westfall’s feature win at Kokomo and James McFadden’s Outlaw feature triumph.

    Making a note not to pay for anything using the Venmo app, I’m…

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Man of Many Hats

    Brady Bacon is a lot more than some guy who moved to Indiana from Oklahoma. He's a husband and a dad. Recently, he's tried his hand at race promotion. He writes a monthly column for Sprint Car and Midget. He has a generous amount of marketing skills and understands the importance of not only securing sponsors, but also keeping them happy. He’s fortunate to be married to a lady who is on the same page. But he's best known for driving open wheel cars, especially sprint cars, very fast. That's exactly what he did on a somewhat chilly Thursday night at the Lawrenceburg Speedway, coming from sixth to take the lead on the sixth lap and motoring off to the victory.

    He wasn't sure if he was a bona fide old man but he figured that he was old enough to be close, not that it mattered. Since it was too cold for him to see a race while at his second home, he headed north to his primary home, Indiana, checked the weather and packed an extra jacket. He arrived at the Lawrenceburg Speedway and promptly had the impression that it seemed as if it was yesterday when he had been here last. (Actually, it was six months to the day.)

    Each year brings new drivers, teams, and paint jobs. (I'm not a fan of the term "livery.) Paul Nienhiser decided to put the wing away and try his luck without the extra sheet metal. Young Carson Garrett is one of the latest to migrate to Indiana and test himself against the USAC regulars. Tanner Thorson (Reinbold/Underwood) and Dave Darland (Baldwin Brothers) were matched up with new teams for them. So were Max Adams (Mike Gass) and CJ Leary (Michael Brothers). Jake Swanson has moved here and will be getting quite an education this year. The Wingo family stepped up their program, bringing two cars driven by Stevie Sussex and Ryan Thomas.

    Jadon Rogers, maybe the youngest racer who can be called a veteran, went out to qualify early and his lap of 14.297 seconds held up. Some frontrunners drew higher numbers and they found themselves in the feature later, but starting a bit deeper in the field. It made for more interesting competition.

    The first heat was won by Sterling Cling with Scotty Weir, CJ Leary and Cole Bodine all transferring to the show.

    Second heat: Dave Darland, Brady Bacon, Justin Grant and Max Adams.

    Third heat: Thomas Meseraull, Garrett Abrams, Paul Nienhiser and Robert Ballou.

    Fourth heat: Chris Windom, Kevin Thomas Jr., Kyle Cummins and Stevie Sussex.

    B Main: Jadon Rogers, Nick Bilbee, Matt Westfall, Jake Swanson, Tanner Thorson and JJ Hughes.

    With Grant and Leary landing on the front row of the 30-lap feature, it would be a tempting bet to take those two against the field. Indeed, Leary took the lead as Tim Montgomery waved the green. The race slowed for its only yellow flag on the third lap when Chase Stockon nearly flipped, bouncing to a stop instead.

    Leary controlled the restart, but Bacon was on the move. From sixth, he had moved to third when the yellow waved. The green waved again and Bacon took second on lap four. Two laps later, he passed Leary in turns three/four and began to check out. By the halfway mark, Bacon’s lead was a full straightaway as he deftly made his way through lapped traffic.

    With Bacon running away from the field, all one had to do in finding some drama was watch Windom, who had started tenth and charged to the front quickly. Fourth by lap ten, two laps later, Windom passed Grant for third. From there, he steadily reeled Leary in, catching him with five laps to go. Both weaved in and out of traffic with Windom never very far from Leary’s back bumper.

    Bacon’s margin of victory was just under three seconds over Leary, with Windom a close third. Grant was fourth and Meseraull came from ninth to finish fifth. Rogers had a steady under-the-radar run, moving from 11th to sixth. Nienhiser, who’s going to be an impressive rookie, was seventh. Bodine was eighth, ahead of KSE Racing Products Hard Charger Robert Ballou. All he did was come from 22md to take ninth.  Newlywed Sussex was tenth, the last car on the lead lap.

    For those who appreciate numbers, this was Bacon’s 36th USAC Sprint Car win. He’s now tenth in USAC sprint wins, passing Jon Stanbrough and Rich Vogler. Bacon has been associated with Hoffman Auto Racing for several years, long enough to score his 28th win with Rob Hoffman and company. This was Bacon’s third victory at the ‘burg.

    Speaking of the Hoffmans, Rob happily received the USAC Sprint Championship trophy in pre-race ceremonies, a trophy named after his father Richard.

    And Bacon? Next weekend he puts the helmet aside and tries on his promoter’s hat. If he applies his abilities to promoting as he has while wearing his other hats, he’ll be fine.

    The old man looked around the pits and, later, the grandstands. Two things occurred to him. He was one of the oldest people there. How could this be? But he could think back to trips to Lawrenceburg with his dad and watching guys like Roy Robbins, Ross Smith, Frankie Mack, Dick Gaines and Tommy Mattlin. Maybe he WAS old. He looked around for familiar faces. There weren’t any unless he looked at his friend Tim in the flagstand or his friend Rick snapping pictures in turn three. The others had gone. Perhaps a few were at Lincoln Park (where AJ Hopkins won). Others might have looked at the weather forecast and decided that it would be a bit too chilly. Still others were ailing; climbing those stairs can be hard on various body parts. At least one had taken this life’s checkered flag. The old man hung around to let part of the Sprint Week-like crowd exit the fairgrounds. He was in no hurry. He watched part of the modified feature, then left for home.

    Perturbed because my yacht was found double-parked in the Suez Canal, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: A Rich Harvest for Meseraull and Cummins

    Thomas Meseraull and Kyle Cummins survived late race drama and earned every bit of the money, trophies and whatever satisfaction they took home from the Tri-State Speedway’s Harvest Cup. This was Meseraull's first USAC Nos Energy DrinkMidget National series victory after two decades of trying.While Cummins won the MSCS windup, Chase Stockon was crowned the 2020 MSCS points champion.

    One hundred and one cars overflowed the pits. Five chauffeurs, Stephen Schnapf, Brady Bacon, Kyle Cummins, Kevin Thomas Jr., Thomas Meseraull and Colorado visitor Carson Garrett would be extremely busy tonight. All had a USAC midget and an MSCS sprint car ride.

    Midget qualifying had few surprises. Chris Windom went out early and set fast time with a 13.705 lap, not far from the late Bryon Clauson’s 13.629. Justin Grant went out late and was second quickest. Chase Stockon was the quickest of MSCS group qualifying with a 13.484.

    Sprint Heats:

    First--Kevin Thomas Jr., Kyle Cummins, Carson Garrett, Donnie Brackett and Kent Schmidt

    Second--Critter Malone, Dakota Jackson, Stephen Schnapf, Scotty Weir and Braydon Fox

    Third--Robert Ballou, Chase Stockon, Brady Short, Brady Bacon and Aric Gentry

    Midget Heats:

    First--Chris Windom, Tyler Courtney, Kyle Cummins and Buddy Kofoid

    Second--Thomas Meseraull, Justin Grant, Logan Seavey and Cole Bodine.

    Third--Tanner Thorson, Clinton Boyles, Kevin Thomas Jr., and Bacon

    Fourth--Jason McDougal, Andrew Layser, Cannon McIntosh and Chase Johnson

    Midget C Main: Aiden Purdue, Kaylee Bryson, Gage Rucker and Hayden Reinhold (Tyler Nelson flipped over the turn two wall. He was able to exit the car on his own.)

    Sprint B: Thomas Meseraull, Brandon Morin, Chayse Hayhurst, Jonathan Vennard and Jarret Andretti (Meseraull came from 13th to win.)

    Midget B:Daison Pursley, Stephen Schnapf, Chase Randall, Sam Johnson, Jerry Coons Jr., and Kaylee Bryson.

    The sprint feature was up first with a powerhouse front row of Ballou and Cummins. Ballou got the jump and found himself leading, an all too rare situation for him in his year of disappointment. The green flag period lasted until turn one when Dakota Jackson spun, possibly with help. Robert was still leading when the yellow waved on the fifth lap for Garrett and Fox, who had locked bumpers. Ballou led Cummins, Malone, Stockon and Thomas.

     

    The green waved and Cummins sized up the leader, looking for room on the bottom of the turns. On lap nine, Cummins made the pass on the low side of turn four to take the lead. Two laps later, Jackson’s forgettable race continued as he stopped on the track with ten laps completed. The top five was unchanged. That wouldn’t last.

    Keith Dewig waved the green and Malone found himself getting attention he didn’t want from Stockon. After several laps of pressure, Stockon made the pass for third place on lap 20 as Cummins tried to put some distance between himself and Ballou. The distance between the two stayed at about five car lengths.

    Though the leader was in control, things were quite interesting elsewhere in the top five. Malone was under attack from Thomas, who took over fourth on the 22nd lap. KT then passed Stockon a lap later. Meanwhile, Cummins started to add some more Gibson County dirt between him and Ballou.

    Then came a potential game changer, most especially up front. Brandon Morin stopped in turn four with a smoking engine, a terrible way to end the race and year from Brandon and his dad Steve. Never mind that Cummins was pulling away; now he would have to hold off one of the best for a lap. Mr. Dewig waved the green one last time and Cummins got a good enough jump, keeping the native Californian at bay while winning yet again at his home track.

    Behind the front pair was Thomas in third and Stockon fourth. Bacon came from 12th to fifth, earning the Certified Rental Hard Charger award. The second five was led by Brackett leading Short, Malone, Meseraull (after starting 16th) and Schnapf, coming off one of the shortest “retirements” ever.

    Up next were the USAC midgets and it would be fair to say this one had an uneven start before settling down somewhat. Up first was a Cannon McIntosh flip in turn two on the first lap. He walked away, done for the night. A complete restart was next.

    Bacon spun on the restart and the gang would try again. This time they made it to lap four before early leader Bodine spun in turn two, collecting point leader Windom, who surely was steaming. He was done for the night and left the track second in points to Courtney.

    McDougald was the new leader ahead of Layser, Grant, Meseraull and Cummins. A lap later Bacon spun again. In that brief time, Layser faded and now Grant would re-start on McDougald’s bumper. Meseraull was third and on this restart became a player. First he gifted Grant with a well-timed slide job in turn one to take second. Next up was McDougald, who received the same treatment. But the yellow waved again, this time for Randall, who had stopped on the track. Thomas had to give the lead back, but not for long.

    Now the order was McDougald, Meseraull, Grant, Courtney and Cummins up front. You didn’t have to be Nostradamus to guess what was next after Keith waved the green. TMez grabbed the lead on the eighth lap with a turn one pass and was not to be denied—kind of like the case of yellow fever.

    On lap ten it was Seavey brought out the yellow when he stopped coming out of turn four. Pursley had entered the top five after starting 11th. Out came the green and Courtney found himself pressured by Cummins, trading sliders at each end of the track. Meseraull still led, but this segment would be interrupted by Pursley, who flipped in turn four, perhaps giving Keith Kunz a headache with two race cars that would need attention.

    Racing began again and Cummins was the next to hassle Meseraull for the lead. McDougald and Courtney were still around, but another new player invaded the top five, namely Tanner Thorson, who had started fourth, but drifted back early on. Courtney, McDougald and Cummins all got a view of Thorson’s back bumper as he sailed around all three, passing Cummins for second with four laps to go. But could he catch the leader?

    This became a real question as Meseraull’s engine began emitting a small amount of smoke with less than ten to go. His lead appeared to be safe, but as the laps wound down, the leader was fighting both a balky motor and lapped traffic, and the second place guy was gaining rapidly. The white flag was waved and Meseraull’s lead was about five car lengths. Throw in some lapped traffic and it was a tense final lap for all involved. But TMez hung on to win by a car length (0.119 seconds) as Thorson mounted one last charge coming out of turn four.

    Cummins filled out the podium, adding a third to his earlier sprint car victory. Courtney was fourth. An outstanding under-the-radar run was made by Emerson Axsom, who took a provisional and started 23rd, finishing fifth. Thomas was sixth with Meseraull’s teammate Boyles giving the RMS guys a seventh after starting 18th. Grant was eighth and Bryson was another who made lemonade from lemons as she came from the C main to start 22nd, finish ninth and claim the KSE Racing Products Hard Charger award. Johnson came from 15th to finish tenth.

    I would have loved to have seen the smiles on the faces of ace mechanics Bill Guess and Donnie Gentry. Their hard work and expertise brought them two cars in the top ten. In addition, it was the RMS team’s first USAC midget victory.

    As usual, TMez had the quote of the night, one that could or should sum up life itself. “I’m not going to lift if I can see the checkered flags.”

    There's something within the very best of racers that we can call the pursuit of excellence. A certain percentage of these guys I've watched all these years engage in that pursuit every time they strap in. They will take a good finish but in their minds they are thinking about how they lost a race they were good enough to win.

    There are a few racers that are there to compete and hopefully have fun, preferring wrestling a sprint or midget around these bullrings to golf or tennis. They are happy to be able to load the car on the trailer at the end of the night.

    I’ll close by saying I respect and admire every one of them. For better or worse, they reap (harvest) what they sow.

    Buying Mike Pence a flyswatter for Christmas, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: The Battle and the War

    Tonight's last race of the season at the Lawrenceburg Speedway brought out the great differences in defeat and victory. Tyler Courtney appeared to have won the battle, trading the lead with Brady Bacon a few times before taking the checkered flag first in the USAC Amsoil Sprint Car Fall Nationals. Bacon, for his part, won the war and, after Courtney was disqualified for being 15 pounds underweight at the scales after the race, won the war, too. It was the second time in two weeks that an apparent winner was DQ’d as Kendall Ruble endured the same fate at Tri-State Speedway on September 19.

    The number of races left in Indiana are dwindling to just a few. This would be the last Lawrenceburg trip for my bodyguard and me. We’ve piled up the miles since the late start to 2020 and it’s been a treat to watch him grow and learn.

    In addition to the 20 modifieds in the pits, 37 USAC sprinters were in town. Of note was Illini midget racer Andy Baugh trying his luck with a sprint car.

    Jake Swanson’s 13.658 lap led all qualifiers while CJ Leary was one of the last to go out yet still ripped off a 13.914, leading the second flight of contestants.

    JJ Hughes, after a disappointing night at Gas City on Friday, won the first heat over Shane Cottle, Jake Swanson and Brady Bacon.

    In the second heat, Scotty Weir inherited the lead after early leader Robert Ballou tapped the wall. Scotty hung on for the win with Tyler Courtney, Dave Darland and Chris Windom giving chase.

    Cole Bodine ran away with the third heat win, leaving the likes of Carson Short, Mario Clouser and CJ Leary, who needed a last lap pass of Jadon Rogers to avoid the dreaded B main.

    Kevin Thomas Jr., whose luck this year has been gnarly at best, won the fourth heat over Justin Grant, Kyle Cummins and early leader Joss Moffatt.

    Lots of good cars found themselves in the B as Logan Seavey led all the way to win. Joining him in progressing to the feature were Robert Ballou, pole sitter Max Adams, Chase Stockon, Tye Mihocko and 2020 Lawrenceburg track champ Nick Bilbee. Steve Thomas flipped end over end on the first lap. The veteran was awake and alert as he exited the car. No doubt he would have a sore Sunday.

    An unexpected threat of rain had materialized and a few stray raindrops fell as the feature was lining up, but it stayed dry at the track and a disappointment was avoided.

    The two main title contenders, Windom and Bacon, sat on the front row. If I heard correctly, all Bacon had to do to win his third USAC sprint car championship was finish 13th. Maybe it was tempting for him to cruise for 30 laps and claim the title. No way. Besides he proved that he wanted to win races last weekend when he could have eased up a little.

    Instead, Bacon jumped out to the early lead, leaving Windom to deal with Courtney, who started strong from fourth. Bacon steadily built a lead while Windom’s brakes were glowing as he tried to hold off Courtney. It was lap 12 before lapped traffic became an issue. This showed how evenly matched the field of 22 was. No, really. Usually the lappers appear earlier in a given feature.

    The yellow waved with 12 laps completed when Seavey stopped on the track. Bacon led Windom. Courtney, Leary and Grant. The green waved and the boys got another lap in before Clouser stopped in turn three. Courtney was busy during that lap, passing Windom and now running second to Bacon. Leary was still fourth and Thomas had passed Grant for fifth.

    On this re-start, Courtney made another move, passing Bacon for the lead on lap 14. But Bacon wouldn’t go away. He may have been winning the war, but he was hungry and wanting to win the battle too.

    By lap 20, Courtney’s engine was smoking. It seemed like his night was about to be over as Bacon took back the lead on the 22nd lap with a pass on the low side of turn one. Three laps later Courtney returned the favor and it seemed as if the smoke was gone. Sunshine hung on the rest of the race, taking the checkered flag first with Bacon finishing a supposed second place.

    But wait. This wasn’t over. We were near Greensburg by my calculations when Courtney was disqualified for being underweight. What a surprise it was when I arrived home and discovered that Bacon, not Courtney, had won. It seems that a rock penetrated Sunshine’s radiator, which caused the smoke coming from his car. When the liquid reached a certain level, the smoking ceased and Courtney motored on, passing for the lead and pulling away. The rock issue will need to be addressed as TC wasn’t the only racer to fall victim.

    Back to the race for a moment. K. Thomas finished second with Windom finishing the race third and second in points, 39 behind Bacon. Leary was fourth and Ballou came from 19th to finish fifth and take yet another KSE Racing Products Hard Charger award. Cummins was sixth and Grant seventh. Almost unnoticed, Dave Darland rambled from 18th to end up eighth. Swanson was ninth and Bodine tenth.

    This is Brady Bacon’s third USAC championship. If the sanctioning body wanted to have a positive and accomplished public face, I’m thinking that few, if any, could be better at it than Bacon. It’s a championship both well-earned and well-deserved.

    A few words about rules, disqualifications and conspiracy theories. As can be expected in these times, social media, or at least USAC’s corner of it, was quick to weigh in. It seems apparent that the disqualification wasn’t because of anything malicious on the Courtney team. But the rule book only states that the penalty occurs if the rule is broken. It doesn’t matter how it happened. It doesn’t matter if the Clauson/Marshall/Newman team cheated or not (I’m pretty sure they didn’t.). The rule book is about as objective as it can be. Fans aren’t so objective. That’s okay. It might be boring if all fans were objective.

    There have been a few comments about a conspiracy of some sort. Good luck with that. Conspiracy is defined by secrecy and how long do secrets remain, well, secrets? Let’s put away the tinfoil hats already.

    Though USAC sprints are done for the year, the USAC Nos Energy National Midget Division will be going west soon. But first, they will be at the Tri-State Speedway this coming Saturday. Why yes, I do plan on going.

    Teaching a class on how to cover up your incompetence, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Ups and Downs

    The weather may have been chilly at the Kokomo Speedway, but the action on the track certainly wasn't. On the second night of USAC's double dose of some of the best racing on the planet, both Tyler Courtney and Chris Windom overcame both the setbacks and the pressure to produce. Courtney won the USAC Amsoil National Sprint Series feature. Windom came from deep in the pack to triumph in the night's final race.

    It was a night that reminded me how quickly fortunes can change—in our own lives as well as USAC racing. In 24 hours or less, guys went from hero to zero…and back again. As it is in our lives, no one was immune from misfortune.

    The car count was down a bit on the midgets’ side, dropping from 35 at Gas City to 31 at Kokomo. The sprints held steady at 42. New kids on the block included Ray Seach, hauling his midget from Wisconsin. Among the sprints, Chase Jones, Davey Ray, Critter Malone, Tye Mihocko and Jake Swanson joined the party.

    In qualifications, Dave Darland showed the kids how to get around the oval, ripping off a 13.068 lap, leading all sprinters. Tanner Thorson led all midget contestants with an impressive 13.175.

    Sprint heats: 

    First heat--Thomas Meseraull, Jadon Rogers, Tyler Courtney and Chase Johnson (transferees)—Gas City winner CJ Leary went to the B.

    Second heat—Robert Ballou, Logan Seavey, Critter Malone and Shane Cottle—Tri-State winner Kendall Ruble and Justin Grant to the B.

    Third heat—Scotty Weir, Chris Windom, Chase Stockon and Dave Darland—fine race

    Fourth heat—Kyle Cummins, Mario Clouser, Brady Bacon and Brandon Mattox—Ricky Lewis climbed the wall in turn two, tipping over.

    Midget heats:

    First heat—Buddy Kofoid, Logan Seavey, Chase Johnson and Tanner Thorson—Ethan Mitchell was running third when his engine started smoking and he was done.

    Second heat: Thomas Meseraull, Chris Windom, Tyler Courtney and Cannon McIntosh—Meseraull won his second heat of the night.

    Third heat: Kaylee Bryson, Bryant Wiedeman, Andrew Layser and Brady Bacon—A side-by-side finish

    Fourth heat: Daison Pursley, Justin Grant, Karter Sarff and Emerson Axsom—Clinton Boyles was leading when his engine expired.

    Sprint C and B:

    C: Matt McCarthy, Cole Bodine, Eddie Tafoya Jr. and Zach Pretorius

    B: CJ Leary, Kevin Thomas Jr., Carson Short, Kendall Ruble, Clinton Boyles and Max Adams—Tim Creech II flipped in turn four. He was “transported for further observation” according to USAC. Keep Tim and his family in your prayers.

    Midget B: Brenham Crouch, Kyle Cummins, Tanner Carrick, Cole Bodine, Chase Randall and Hayden Reinbold

    The sprint feature would precede the midgets tonight and seconds after Mark Orr waved the green, things got unsightly right away. A major jamup in turn one left last week’s winner at Haubstadt Kendall Ruble and Kevin Thomas Jr. sitting sideways.

    The re-start was a case of déjà vu if you were Kendall Ruble. He spun again and contacted an infield tire. If the young man from Knox County was muttering to himself at this point, it would have been understandable.

    The third time was the charm as Mattox fired off from his outside pole starting point to take the early lead. Bacon had started behind Mattox and continued to shadow the Terre Haute resident. The pass for the lead was in turn one as Bacon dove low. The Oklahoma native would have his way for much of the race, beginning on the seventh lap. Bacon began putting a bit of Kokomo real estate between him and Mattpx by lap nine. Mattox had other issues, namely Stockon and Courtney, especially Courtney. Sunshine passed Stockon for third and began giving Mattox fits, and sweeping

     by Brandon on the 11th lap in the third turn.

    A lap later, Bacon found lapped traffic. This was a temporary situation as the yellow waved on lap 18 for a Chase Johnson spin. It was a mixed blessing for Bacon. The lapped traffic was gone, but his lead over Courtney was also gone. Behind the two frontrunners were Grant, Mattox, and Cummins.

    The green waved and the hammer and tongs came out. Bacon went high, Courtney went low, then high, etc. Back and forth they went, even after Courtney took the lead with a well-executed slider in turn three on lap 24. Sure enough, here came Bacon, not knowing anything about yielding. Courtney officially led two laps before Bacon came back to lead lap 27. But Sunshine turned the lights out on the next lap, leading the rest of the way.

    Stockon was third and Mattox had a USAC career best fourth place. Cottle started on the pole, drifted back to the wrong end of the top ten, and recovered to take fifth. Ballou was sixth and Cummins seventh. Darland claimed eighth as Windom motored from 18th to finish ninth and earn the KSE Racing Products Hard Charger. Grant salvaged a tenth after taking a provisional and starting 21st.

    This was Courtney’s sixth USAC sprint car triumph at Kokomo

    Bacon’s point lead is 30 over Windom with one race to go. Stockon is third, only ten points behind Windom.

    A late note from USAC regarding Tim Creech II: As of 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, he was “awake, alert and responding to all questions appropriately.” I’ll take it.

    Grant and Bacon hustled to their midget rides so they could start this 30-lapper on the front row of the grand finale of the Indiana Donor Network Driven2SaveLives Double Double.

    Brenham Crouch brought out the first yellow flag when he spun seconds after the green waved. They tried again and Grant took the lead as Bacon kept busy holding Layser back in third place until the Pennsylvania native grabbed second. Layser’s great start was undone as he bounced to a stop in turn one and collected Pursley, running fifth, and Meseraull. Five laps were in and the top five was shuffled with Grant now leading Courtney, who had passed Bacon just before the yellow. Axsom was fourth and Kofoid fifth.

    The green came out and Grant found himself under attack by Courtney. The fast groove was at the bottom and Grant was barely able to hang on. But he couldn’t keep the car at the very bottom and Courtney exploited the opening, taking the lead on the tenth lap. Bacon had not been far behind the duo up front and he got around Grant a couple of laps before Axsom stopped on the backstretch while running fourth.

    The re-start order was Courtney, Bacon, and Grant. Two new names had joined the top five after beginning the race back in the pack. Windom was fourth and McIntosh was fifth. Mark waved the green and Windom went to work on Grant, making the pass at the halfway mark of the race. Up next was Bacon; Windom passed him with 12 laps to go and he was far from done. The battle for the lead was on and Windom owned the bottom as Courtney gave him just enough room to make the pass on lap 23.

    Windom had put some distance between him and Courtney when Axsom stopped again on the 27th lap. Thorson, who had been quietly hanging around the top five for most of the race, now was third behind Windom and Courtney. This would be the last, best chance for Sunshine to reassume the lead, maybe on the re-start. Thorson might have offered his own opinion on the matter at hand.

    The final segment of the race proved to be anti-climatic as Windom withstood a mild charge from Courtney, who kept Thorson behind him. No positions were changed. McIntosh, the Gas City winner, came from 16th to finish fourth. Kofoid took fifth and Bacon faded somewhat to sixth. Seavey was seventh and Cummins, getting used to this kind of racing, was eighth. Chase Johnson finished ninth and pole sitter Grant slipped to tenth at the end.

    The icing for Windom was the KSE Racing Products Hard Charger. He came from 14th to the BC Victory Lane. It was also his first USAC Nos Energy National Midget Series win at Kokomo. Windom leads Courtney by eight points in the championship quest.

    So it ended. Once again, one could be struck by how quickly fortunes could change. Someone who would run well or even dominate on one night might be out to lunch the following night. It made things that much more interesting.

    Wondering if I could get away with paying $750 in income tax, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Different Paths, Same Result

    USAC's idea of substituting two nights of racing at the Gas City I-69 Speedway and the Kokomo Speedway for Eldora Speedway's Four Crown got to a fine start on a chilly Friday night at Gas City as Cannon McIntosh and CJ Leary outran the best of their peers. McIntosh won the USAC Nos Energy National Midget main event while Leary triumphed in the curtain closing USAC Amsoil National Sprint car feature.

    This would be a rare teaming up with both grandsons and their dad. After strolling through the pits to see who was who, we played the classic Gas City I-69 Speedway game of catch the tiny dirt pellets as hot laps began. Alas, by the time qualifications commenced, the miniature missiles were no more.

    Thomas Meseraull, Clinton Boyles, Brady Bacon, Chris Windom, Justin Grant, Logan Seavey, Chase Johnson and Kyle Cummins made up the crew that would be extra busy for the night. Each had rides in both a sprinter and a midget.

    The track seemed to gain speed as time trials progressed. Jadon Rogers led the first flight of sprints with a 12.346 lap. Brady Bacon’s 12.195 led overall. Thomas Meseraull’s 11.441 will stand at least into 2021.

    Midget time trials were next. Try as he might, Tyler Courtney came close to the four-year-old track record belonging to Rico Abreu. Sunshine’s 12.149 lap was only .101 seconds slower.

    Sprint heats--

    First heat: Clinton Boyles, Jadon Rogers, Anton Hernandez and Chase Johnson

    Second heat: Kyle Cummins, Kendall Ruble, Chase Stockon and Robert Ballou  Notice that southwestern Hoosiers ran 1-2-3.

    Third heat: Logan Seavey, Brady Bacon, Dave Darland and Scotty Weir

    Fourth heat: Brandon Mattox, CJ Leary, Chris Windom and Justin Grant   This heat was marred by two yellows and a red flag for Kyle Shipley, who flipped hard coming out of turn two. Kyle was out of the car quite rapidly all things considered.

    Midget heats--

    First heat: Thomas Meseraull, Chase Johnson, Kaylee Bryson and Tyler Courtney

    Second heat: Justin Grant, Buddy Kofoid, Daison Pursley and Robert Dalby

    Third heat: Andrew Layser, Chris Windom, Cannon McIntosh and Emerson Axsom

    Fourth heat: Cole Bodine, Clinton Boyles, Ethan Mitchell and Chase Randall

    -------

    Sprint C main: Dustin Ingle, Thomas Meseraull (from last), Matt McDonald and Ryan Barr

    Sprint B: Kevin Thomas Jr., Shane Cottle, Carson Short, Ricky Lewis, Brandon Long and Evan Mosley

    Midget B: Logan Seavey, Kyle Cummins, Tanner Thorson, Brady Bacon, Tanner Carrick and Tyler Nelson

    The Midget feature was the next to last race and its first half was plagued by four caution periods in the first ten laps. Pole sitter Pursley got the jump and led the first two laps. But McIntosh was not to be denied. He took the lead on lap three just before the yellow waved.

    On the re-start, McIntosh was a rocket as he jumped to a straightaway lead by the fifth lap. Bacon brought out a yellow on the ninth lap, erasing that big lead. The green waved but only for a moment as yellow lights blinked when Hayden Reinbold stopped in turn two. McIntosh led Pursley, Courtney, Meseraull and Layser.

    The gang only made it two laps before Pursley did a half spin and collected Meseraull, sending TMez to the rear and we were up to four yellows in ten laps. Hey, it happens.

    The race was an all-green affair for the rest of the way as McIntosh was never seriously threated. But behind him, there was quite the scrap. Courtney had blitzed his way to third after starting sixth. It took him 14 laps before he could get around Pursley for second. But could he catch the leader?

    McIntosh still had a healthy lead when he entered lapped traffic on lap 22. This would be Courtney’s best chance to make this race closer if not take the lead. But McIntosh was unfazed as he handled the lapped cars like a pro, finishing 1.791 seconds ahead of Courtney. Cummins continued to show people that he’s not only a winning sprinter, but also a maestro of the midgets as he came from 11th to take third. Thorson claimed the KSE Racing Products Hard Charger after he stormed from 17th to finish fourth. Young Emerson Axsom started and finished fifth. Grant led the second five while Kofoid came from 18th to take seventh. Pursley was eighth. Windom started 15th and finished ninth. Carrick was tenth.

    This was the 113th feature by a Keith Kunz/Pete Willoughby team.

    Windom continues as the USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINT leader, but Courtney cut the margin to a mere nine points.

    --------

    Given the fact that the program started about 45 minutes late, the sprint finale’s lining up right around 11 p.m. wasn’t too bad. Anton Hernandez’s race ended before it started as he cancelled his engagement to participate, bedeviled by an ailing engine. Justin Grant was docked two rows for tardiness; instead of starting fourth, he would start eighth. The green waved and Leary and Darland were the front row with the People’s Champ taking the early lead.

    The first yellow waved on the third lap as Thomas and Lewis met in the fourth turn. Darland led Leary, Rogers, Grant (already on the move) and Seavey.

    Two laps later another mandated slowdown occurred when Seavey spun. Darland still led but now it was Grant in second, trailed by Leary, Rogers and Bacon. Grant was on the prowl as he charged into turn three under Darland, taking the lead on lap eight. As the race approached the halfway mark, Darland was finally passed by a rejuvenated Leary. At the official halfway point, Grant and the other leaders encountered lapped traffic.

    Things were looking good for Grant, who has had his struggles on occasion this year. But I noticed that Leary wasn’t exactly dropping back. In fact, it seemed as if he was gaining slightly on the leader.

    A caution flag on lap 27 for a Kyle Cummins spin made the leader’s advantage a moot point. The order up front was Grant, Leary, Bacon, Darland and Stockon. The green waved and it seemed to me that Grant took a very conservative approach to turn one. I thought, “Justin, you might need to get after it.” Leary was looking good on the re-start, taking a higher line than the low-riding Grant, the same space that was good to Courtney a few minutes later. Plenty of time left for a challenge.

    Sure enough, Leary came out of turn four and made the pass for the lead on the high side as he passed under the flagstand on lap 28. From there, the Greenfield, IN native was gone, taking the win with a margin of 0.539 seconds. Bacon was third behind Grant. Stockon was fourth and Windom earned the KSE Racing Products Hard Charger after beginning the race 22nd and ending it fifth. Cottle was sixth after starting 15th. Darland was shuffled back to seventh at the end. Rogers was eighth and Ballou came from 18th to come home ninth. And Mario Clouser took a provisional, starting 23rd and finishing tenth.

    Bacon leads the USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS by only five points over Windom.

    This was Leary’s third USAC sprint 2020 win. It was his 12th career win.

    In a few hours, we aim to gather together for another night of…speed, thrills, craziness and…another pork chop sandwich. Chances are good that we’ll see two different paths to victory with a winning result.

    Interviewing for the opening in the Kremlin for V. Putin’s PR rep, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Hail to the Chief

    In the past few years, second generation racer Shane Cockrum has established himself as a threat to win at Lincoln Park Speedway. He and car owners Jamie and Michelle Paul have been a team longer than most owner/driver teams. Their consistency has been as impressive as their dedication as they have traveled thousands of miles to team up at LPS. Shane surely knows sections of I-57 and I-70 better than anyone. Come to think of it, he knows Lincoln Park pretty well, too. On a chilly Saturday night in beautiful downtown Putnamville, IN, Cockrum withstood the best efforts of his competitors to grab the victory. It was his second win at LPS this year.

    Picking out a track to visit on Indiana weekends is more often than not a difficult choice. No matter what, I’ll miss something of note. For example, I missed seeing a first time winner at Haubstadt, Kendall Ruble. I missed seeing a promising young man, Max Adams, win at da ‘burg. Kind of glad I missed the Stan Beadles accident at Tri-State; best wishes to him and his family.

    My fellow traveler takes cell phone pictures with more skill than Grandpa will ever have. We looked over the list of 34 sprinters (out of the 105 cars in the pits) and tried to determine if we had seen some of those guys before. Right away, he picked out four cars that would be the ones to beat. He was straight on. All four finished in the top ten.

    But first, it was time for the four heats. The top four in the first heat were Dustin Smith, Ben Knight, Travis Berryhill and Ricky Lewis.

    Two yellows slowed the second heat, won by Brady Short. Recent Bloomington winner Tye Mihocko was second. Harley Burns overcame early race trouble and hustled to third place. Chris Babcock, in the Randy Johnson car, came from last to take fourth.

    Brent Beauchamp and Shane Cockrum were a very strong front row and finished one/two in the third heat ahead of Ryan Thomas and Mike Clark.

    Scott Hampton won the fourth heat, holding off A.J. Hopkins. Braden Fox was third with Nate McMillin holding off Even Mosely to grab the 16th starting position in the feature.

    Coming from Illinois, Nic Harris moved from eighth to win the B main over Pat Giddens, Mr. Mosely and Bradon Cromwell, a Missouri visitor.

    It was show time.

    Hopkins and Cockrum were the front row as the field of 20 were greeted by Brian Hodde’s green flag. But the green was quickly replaced by the yellow as Brayden Fox spun in the midst of a crowd in turn one.

    The gang tried again and Cockrum took the lead over Hopkins. Beauchamp fired off from sixth to quickly take third and soon gave Hopkins fits as he used the huggy pole road while the two leaders rode the cushion around the top.

    With six laps complete, Smith flipped in turn four, bringing out the red. Dustin was able to walk away from his car. Cockrum led Hopkins, Beauchamp, Hampton and Mihocko.

    The green waved again and Berryhill invaded the top five at the halfway mark. Berryhill was fourth and Mihocko fifth. On lap 17, lapped traffic came into play as Cockrum successfully navigated his way through the crowd. A lap later Beauchamp took second from Hopkins in traffic. Two laps after that the yellow waved for Ryan Thomas in turn one. It was still Cockrum, Beauchamp, Hopkins, Mihocko and Berryhill up front, but a lot can happen in five laps.

    The re-start was a good example of I-465 on a Friday afternoon. On the backstretch, Beauchamp, Hopkins and Berryhill went three-wide with the California native prevailing. Beauchamp hammered the cushion at least twice in the closing laps but hung in there. And lo and behold, here came another yellow as Giddens and Burns tangled in turn four on the last lap, no less. Cockrum led the pack—Berryhill, Beauchamp, Short and McMillin, both of whom had flown under the radar for most of the race and had now presented themselves as serious players.

    A one lap dash was next on the schedule. Cockrum knew that Berryhill was there and Travis tried his best. But the Chief was not to be denied at the end. Berryhill was second after starting ninth. Beauchamp recovered from his teeth-jarring bouts with the cushion to finish third. Short maintained his fourth place position and McMillin was fifth, coming from 16th and winning the Kenny Clark Hard Charger award (a bag of Lincoln Park’s famous popcorn). Mihocko survived a last lap half spin to take sixth. Hopkins was shuffled back to seventh. Knight finished eighth and Hampton was ninth. Lewis ended up tenth.

    Despite the usual delays that are a part of short track racing, we were on the road at ten o’clock for the 90 minute/80 miles drive home. To a certain extent, we were about as rational as Shane Cockrum and car owners Jamie and Michell Paul, who think nothing of making the long haul from Eaton, OH. Like Cockrum, they know I-70, at least from east of Richmond, IN to Putnamville., very well. But there are a few reasons why we chase this passion each weekend. Perhaps the most essential is mere curiosity. Who’s going to win? Who will be there?

    Watching out for exploding trees, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Windom Does His Best (To Make It Look Easy)

    Chris Windom appeared to have an easy time of it on a chilly Friday night as he cruised to the victory in the 21st running of the Jim Hurtubise Classic at the Terre Haute Action Track. But it was anything but easy as second place Dave Darland kept the Illinois native in sight for most all of the 30 lapper, waiting for any mistake or boo-boo. It didn't happen as Windom won his 28th USAC Amsoil Sprint Car National feature win, tying him with Levi Jones, Dave Steele, Tyler Courtney.

    The racing pipeline that runs from California to Indiana is alive and well and it has been for close to ninety (90) years. In addition to the guys who have taken up residence in the Hoosier state, some of the West Coast racers have felt a real need to pay us multiple visits, seeing that racing in the Golden State has been limited this year. On this evening, the pits contained the likes of Matt McCarthy, Eddie Tofoya Jr. and Jake Swanson among the 32 cars, getting their feet wet as they’ve picked up a ton of experience while racing here.

    C.J. Leary drew a high number for his qualifying effort and it didn’t hinder him as he set fast time with a 20.061 lap. Unfortunately for CJ, that would be his high point for the night.

    Chase Stockon owned the first heat, leading second place Justin Grant by a healthy margin. Leary was third and Carson Short, now teamed up with Michael Dutcher, took the last ticket with little room to spare over Sterling Cling.

    Dave Darland won the second heat as Brady Bacon took second with a last lap pass of Eddie Tofoya Jr. Brandon Mattox secured fourth.

    In the third heat, it was Robert Ballou sweeping around Jake Swanson to get the post-race interview. Logan Seavey was third after starting last with a backup car. And after bringing out a yellow flag on the first lap, Max Adams came back to finish fourth.

    Chris Windom bided his time as he took the lead coming to the white flag and won the fourth heat. Clinton Boyles, in his debut with the Phillips/Daigh outfit, led most of the race but settled for second. Kevin Thomas Jr. and Shane Cottle wouldn't have to run the B.

    Anton Hernandez, occupying the Dave Darland-owned car in tandem with DD’s regular ride, checked out in winning the semi feature. Following him to the feature were Jonathan Vennard, JJ Hughes, Austin Williams, Tye Mihocko and Jadon Rogers.

    Before the sprint car curtain closer, the ageless Kenny Schrader took the modified feature.

    Darland and Grant was a formidable front row and Dave took the lead when the green flag waved. But the lights blinked red quickly as Leary flipped in turn two. CJ walked away from the wreckage, taking a hit in the points race.

    The gang tried again and this time it was Windom taking the lead with Darland in tow. By the fourth lap, the Illinois native was putting himself several car lengths ahead of Darland, who was busy holding back Grant and Bacon.

    Kevin Thomas Jr. brought out a yellow on the eighth lap when he stopped in turn three with a flat right rear. Windom led Darland, Grant, Bacon and Ballou. The green flag waved and immediately was replaced with the yellow as Short and Swanson found themselves hooked up via their bumpers.

    As things evolved the high groove of the turns was the overwhelming choice of the large majority of the field. The green flag came out and Windom went on his merry way, not building up a margin as he did earlier, but still keeping Darland the rest at bay. Dave’s best chance at contending for the lead came as Windom encountered lapped traffic on lap 16. A near collision with Vennard on lap 22 didn’t help Windom’s cause, but it didn’t matter for much longer.

    Jake Swanson’s difficult race continued as he stopped in turn two, bringing out the race’s final yellow on lap 24. Up front it was Windom, Darland, Grant, Ballou and Bacon.

    For the last time, the green flag waved and it wasn’t hard to imagine some late-race craziness as occurred during THAT’s Indiana Sprint Week, which left Chase Stockon muttering to himself. But it was nothing like that as Windom would be impervious to everything except hitting his marks and staying close to the wall, but not too close. Behind him, Grant was doing his best to take second from Darland. With a couple of laps to go, he dove under Darland in turn two with an optimistic slider. But Dave   fended off that maneuver with ease and was never threatened again.

    Windom, Darland and Grant were followed by Ballou and Bacon. Cottle was sixth. Thomas had a most eventful race. He started 13th, suffered a flat tire, re-started in the back, and charged to the front, leaving the track with seventh place money. Stockon finished eighth. After a terrible hot lap and qualifying experience in which he had to use the Reinbold-Underwood team’s backup car, Seavey recovered and did more passing than Phillip Rivers, coming from 22nd/last to finish ninth. Plus, he wasn’t intercepted either; indeed, the California native earned the KSE Racing Products / The Frolic Bar & Grill Hard Charger award. Hernandez brought his new ride home in tenth.

    This was Windom’s fourth Hurtubise Classic win. Gee, you’d think he would start using the number 56.

    I guess that it’s late enough in the season to mention the points chase. After the dust settled (even though there wasn’t much dust tonight), Windom leads Bacon by two points with Stockon hanging on, 46 points behind Bacon. Leary and Grant are very long shots to contend for the title now.

    The end of the USAC season is in sight. Wish I could say that about a lot of things, especially those that look easy to do, but aren’t really.

    Ignoring the president and voting not once, not twice, but three times, I'm...

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Momentum (In the Groove)

    Whether it’s in sports or playing solitaire, sometimes a hot streak appears seemingly out of nowhere. Its beginning can’t be predicted, nor can its end. On a national level in racing, Kyle Larson has had momentum going for him during much of this season. On a local level, Nick Bilbee at Lawrenceburg seems to have this momentum deal going for him. All he did was lead every lap of the 25 lap feature at the Lawrenceburg Speedway on a beautiful Saturday night, rolling to the victory by half a straightaway.

    There was zero threat of rain heading east and that was a bit different. I’ve come to hope for rain—usually no later than Wednesday. That’s what has been the case for the most part these past few weeks.

    Another plus has been the rare racing trips with little or no road construction. The past two weeks have been devoid of any major delays from Kokomo to Bloomington to Lawrenceburg.

    Of the 108 cars jamming Dave Rudisell’s living room, 18 were sprinters. Among the 18 were track champions Joss Moffatt and Garrett Abrams. Most were Hoosiers and Buckeyes.

    Moffatt won the first heat with Sterling Cling staying close enough to keep it interesting. Justin Owen was third and Abrams fourth. Tony McVey held off Kyle Simon to claim fifth.

    The second heat was a little more competitive. Ryan Barr led most of the eight lap heat until a late race yellow waved. Nick Bilbee, who started sixth, had patiently worked his way to the front. The green and white flags waved and Bilbee passed for the lead in turn three. Barr was second, ahead of Anton Hernandez, who had started seventh. Dustin Ingle finished fourth with Korbyn Hazlett edging JJ Hughes, in his backup car, for fifth.

    While waiting for the feature to line up, I watched the early laps of the Little 500. Kody Swanson was leading but apparently his momentum was broken as he had motor trouble and dropped out. I managed to sit through two modified B mains and two more with the hornets fighting for the last four positions in their features. Obviously, they’re not my favorite class of racing, but those guys race as hard as they can with what equipment and talent they have.

    The sprint car kids lined up with Moffatt and Bilbee on the front row. Hernandez was scheduled to start in the third row, but had a problem with the brakes and couldn’t come out to play. Ace flagman Tim Montgomery waved the green flag and Bilbee got the jump, taking the lead.

    By the fourth lap, he was several car lengths ahead of Moffatt, who in turn owned second place with a gap between him and Barr. On the sixth lap, Cling passed Barr for third and now chased Moffatt.

    Bilbee’s lead disappeared on lap 12 when Hughes stopped on the backstretch. Nick led Moffatt, Cling, Owen and Abrams. The re-start had barely begun when Hazlett tapped Saban Bibent, who had advanced from 14th to sixth, just enough to cause a spin, with McVey narrowly missing the stationary car in turn two. While the cars slowly circled the track, Hughes rejoined the field on the tail spot, not losing a lap, having fixed a suspected ignition issue.

    The green re-appeared and Cling worried Moffatt for a lap or two with Joss maintaining his position.  But the yellow waved on the 16th lap. Hazlett had replaced Abrams in the top five. Once again, the signal to go fast was displayed and Cling tried to slide Moffatt to no avail. At the same time, Hazlett harried Owen for fourth place. Both Hazlett and Owen gained ground on Cling, threatening to make it a three-way fight for third. Meanwhile, Bilbee was on his merry way and Moffatt was relatively speaking unperturbed. Both were oblivious to the scratching and clawing that was taking place behind them.

    Bilbee took the checkered about a half straightaway ahead of Moffatt. Cling held onto third and Hazlett taking fourth after starting tenth. Owen started and finished fifth. Abrams was sixth and Hughes came back from his early misfortune to finish seventh. Braxton Cummings, after having trouble in his heat race, was the Chad Cunningham hard charger, scooting from 15th to eighth. Ingle was ninth and Damon Cooley came from 16th to finish tenth.

    It was Bilbee’s third feature win at the ‘burg this year. He leads in the point standings and quite likely add the Lawrenceburg championship to his permanent record.

    A combination of being slightly under the weather and the need to start preparing for a trip to North Carolina kept me home on Sunday night. While down there, I may actually catch a sprint car race just across the state line—at the Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, SC. But mostly I’ll be lazy. I’ve got that down like a boss.

    You might say that when it comes to laziness, I’m in the groove.

    Gently refusing the My Pillow guy's belated birthday gift of oleandrin, I'm...

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: When Good Things Come from Bad Things

    I would imagine that we all have lost someone near and dear to us at least once in the course of our lives. We were in the depths of despair and believed at the time that we would never be happy again. There would be a gaping hole in our lives that could never be repaired. Such feelings are understandable, but we also know that we’re better off if we move on and let the grieving process run its course. The best thing we can do is honor and cherish the memory of a departed loved one. There will always be a scar but the gaping wound can and will heal.

    The above describes my feelings when my dad died. But less than a year later, I began to move on from the feelings of anguish that stalked me for several weeks. I did something that brought back memories of good times with my dad. I started going to races again, not aiming to recapture or recreate those times, but wanting to remember all those races we went to. Thirty years later that’s still the case, but I wanted more. So I started writing about races I saw. And on a chilly September evening at the Bloomington Speedway, what a race I saw. Chase Stockon, a young man who has also known his share of heartache, losing his mother at a relatively early age, won the Josh Burton Memorial 30-lap feature, with A.J. Hopkins, driving the Burton family car, making Mr. Stockon earn every penny that he won.

    The Josh Burton Memorial has become more of a celebration of a young life well-lived, but all too short. His family has shown how good things come from bad things. The race has become one that sprint car drivers want to win. It’s the result of the Burton family and lots of other people working extra hard at promoting and attracting its share of sponsors and fans, dangling money before every class of cars on hand. The overall message is to appreciate this life, no matter how long you are in this realm of our existence.

    This would be an MSCS sanctioned race and 34 of the 87 cars in the pits were MSCS sprints with 17 more RaceSaver 305 sprints making for predominantly open wheel racing. Much of the field was based in southwestern Indiana with a few USAC guys who didn’t have USAC midget rides.

    Group qualifying saw the track get faster with each of the four groups that took turns. Brandon Morin, in the last group, was quickest with an 11.711 lap leading the pack.

    Chase Stockon ran away with the first heat, leaving Isaac Chapple, Garrett Aitken and Sterling Cling to the feature. Kyle Cummins, Jadon Rogers and Brandon Spencer had an unscheduled meeting in turn three on the first lap. All scheduled a semi feature appearance.

    In the second heat A. J. Hopkins passed both Brady Short and Jordan Kinser on the outside to triumph. Kevin Thomas Jr. slipped into fourth behind Short and Kinser.

    Jonathan Vennard made a late pass of Aric Gentry to win the third heat. Two gentlemen from famous racing families, Brayden Fox and Dickie Gaines, trailed.

    The fourth heat was won by the birthday boy, Dave Darland. Donnie Brackett, Tye Mihocko and Brandon Morin also advanced to the show.

    Dakota Jackson won the B with a mob behind him. Andrew Prather led the mob, just ahead of Brandon Mattox and Kyle Cummins, who started 13th and nipped Travis Berryhill at the line to grab the 20th starting spot for the feature. Robert Brown flipped off the third turn. After a lengthy period of taking care that he could be safely put in the ambulance, Robert took a trip to the hospital. At this hour (3 a.m.), the only information I have is P.A. guy Brad Dickison’s report that Robert was talking to the emergency technicians. Say a prayer specifically for Robert Brown.

    The 305’s first heat was won by sprint rookie Tyler Miller, leading Andy Bradley, Ryan Tusing, Rod Henning, and Jordan Welch, who came from ninth/last.

    Scotty Bradley finished first in the second heat with Nathan Franklin, Cody Trammell, Austin Powell and Patrick Krenin the chase.

    Darland and Vennard led the party to the green and the ageless one took the lead immediately with Stockon close behind. As Darland worked the cushion, Stockon was working best around the bottom and slowly making headway. Chase edged Dave at the line with nine laps complete. Right after that, Aric Gentry stopped on the track, bringing out a yellow. The lineup was Stockon, Darland, Hopkins, J. Kinser and Vennard.

    On the re-start, Darland bobbled slightly going into turn one and Hopkins pounced, taking second as Dave fell to fourth, briefly, behind Vennard. Lapped traffic came into play on the 17th lap. Stockon had a decent ten car length lead but Hopkins was closing the gap. For the last ten laps of the race, Hopkins stayed glued to Stockon’s rear bumper, a constant threat. Most of the time Chase used the high groove but he seemed to be stronger on the bottom. With five laps to go, Hopkins took the lead momentarily but Stockon recovered and grabbed it back, never to give it up.

    The Ft. Branch, Indiana resident hung on desperately to join a special group of racers who have won this race since 2013. Hopkins was only a couple of car lengths behind at the end. Darland was third with Kinser fourth. Vennard, driving like he never took all those years off, finished fifth. Tye Mihocko, who seems to run well here, came from 12th to finish sixth. KT motored from 14th to claim seventh. Chapple was eighth and Jackson rumbled from 17th to take ninth. Like Jackson, Mattox came from the B, started 19th and finished tenth, taking the Certified Rental Hard Charger award.

    For my traveling companion/courier, the 305 sprints would cap our evening. Outside front row starter Ryan Tusing took the lead early, leading the first lap, but RaceSaver rookie Cody Trammell was having none of it. He passed Tusing on the second lap and led all the way to take the win. Tusing was never far behind and laid claim to second. Jeff Wimmenauer came from tenth to finish third. Kerry Kinser came on strong to end up fourth after starting 13th. Andy Bradley held off his brother Scotty to take sixth.

    Who could ask for anything more…unless you didn’t have rhythm? The racers raced, the promoter promoted (with help from motivated people) and it was overall a successful night. Something good had, again, come from something bad. I’ve no way of knowing, but I like to think that souls such as Josh Burton and James Burton could at least have a glance at the proceedings. Maybe Josh was rooting a bit harder for A.J. driving his car. Maybe James Lee was getting a kick out of watching his great-grandson enjoying the whole scene—including the trips to the announcer’s booth to pick up lineups and/or results from Kenny Clark or Brad. Hopes like that can keep us going.

    Offering to cut Nancy Pelosi's hair for free, I'm...

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Redemption

    Tyler Courtney has endured some less than stellar results this year at the Kokomo Speedway. But that was pushed off to the corner as Courtney led Kyle Cumminsto win the final night of the sprint car SmackDown IX 40 lap feature. This was Courtney’s third SmackDown title in four years. His greeting to fellow three time SmackDown winner Dave Darland might be, “Move over, Dave. You’ve got company.”

    Matt Westfall won the Buckeye Outlaw Sprint Series 25-lap feature that preceded the USAC curtain closer.

    Calm before the storm?... I've gotten into the habit of spending afternoons in a Kokomo city park and the final day of SmackDown was no exception. After lunch with a dear friend and classmate, I made a beeline for the park so I could walk and/or read. At one end of the park was the skateboard area and it was hard to miss the young males doing their thing. There was the rare accident but each kid got up and tried again. They were taking one chance after another.

    This made me think that much progress has occurred because people took a chance that something might work better. Or someone tried something different, like a TV or a horseless carriage.

    Too much chance taking is either wrong-headed or simply frivolous (Think of the Corvair.). But either way, if one learns from their mistakes, the mistake becomes a lesson. That thought brought me back to the truck and it was time to head for the Kokomo Speedway for the last hurrah of SmackDown. Hopefully there would be a few of us who would learn from those mistakes.

    As an extra treat, like adding tasty options to your pizza, the BOSS would be a welcome addition to SmackDown. A total of 39 cars signed in at the BOSS headquarters, supervised by BOSS Boss Aaron Fry’s granddaughter Nora Gardner.

    The SD format on the final night is different. The top eight in points are locked into the feature. Positions one through eight are determined by the King of the Hill competition, tournament style. The balance of the field would be determined by the three heat race finishes. The top three in each heat would transfer to the 40 lap feature. The B main would advance the top five. There would be no USAC qualifications.

    The BOSS format was closer to “normal.” Group qualifying would decide the four heat race lineups with the top four advancing to the feature. Two B mains would take the top three to the 25 lapper.

    The first USAC heat saw Robert Ballou, Kevin Thomas Jr. and Justin Grant secure spots in the finale.

    The second heat: Logan Seavey, Clinton Boyles and Jake Swanson.

    The third heat: Dave Darland, Charles Davis Jr. and Shane Cottle.

    It was time for the Buckeye based series’ four heats.

    The first BOSS heat’s top four were Matt Goodnight, Cody White, Max Guilford and Luke Hall.

    The second heat: Cole Bodine, JJ Hughes, Matt Westfall and Sterling Cling.

    The third heat: Dallas Hewitt, Brandon Long, Kyle Simon and Noah Gass.

    The fourth heat: Dustin Ingle, Tyler Gunn, Lee Underwood and Matt Cooley.

    The USAC semi was taken by Tyler Thomas, with Carson Short, Brandon Mattox, Dakota Jackson and Eddie Tofoya Jr. all moving on.

    The King of the Hill began with CJ Leary eliminating Kyle Cummins, Thomas Meseraull beating Tyler Courtney, Buddy Kofoid outrunning Chase Stockon and Brady Bacon defeating Chris Windom.

    Leary then beat TMez to advance to the final three lap session. Bacon terminated Kofoid’s effort. Leary claimed the crown after he quashed Bacon’s hopes of winning.

    Dustin Clark won the first of the two BOSS B’s, leading Steve Irwin and Corey Smith to the feature. Isaac Chapple took the second with Korbyn Hazlett and Cody Gardner (Nora’s dad) tagging the tail for the show.

    Ingle and Underwood led the way to the green for the BOSS feature. Westfall started sixth and was on the charge right away. He passed Ingle on the fifth lap and never looked back. The only chance anyone would have was for the Ohio veteran to break or a monster re-start.

    Caution lights blinked for an early Tyler Gunn spin. Two yellows later, Irwin and C. Smith tangled and Smith was not thrilled with the outcome. The caution flag that affected the race more than the others came on lap 15 when second place Noah Gass spun in turn one, tried to correct the spin, but collected Brandon Long, who started tenth and had advanced to the top five, instead.

    The green waved and Westfall again pulled away until a late yellow for Cling and Chapple slowed things one last time. Westfall took off as Mark Orr waved the green flag and “easily” won. But he missed a good race behind him as Bodine held onto second ahead of 13th starting Simon. Hewitt was fourth and Underwood fifth. Hall moved from 14th to sixth. Hazlett advanced from 20th to seventh to win the Aaron Fry hard charger award (“’atta boy, Korbyn’”). Ingle was eighth and Clark came from 17th to finish ninth. White was tenth.

    All things considered, many of the BOSS regulars had either very few or no laps at all on the baddest bullring. They acquitted themselves well and were a welcome “support class.”

    It was time for the Show. Driver introductions were made and kids had their chance to give high fives to the drivers who strolled in front of the frontstretch bleachers before strapping in.

    Mark turned the mob loose and Bacon was the man in a hurry. Leary trailed as the groove right at the wall was the groove of choice. Passing would be possible, if somewhat difficult. Bacon was leading with Leary hounded by Cummins for second when the red flag came out for Short, who went flipping down the frontstretch with eight laps completed. Carson walked away from the Phillipsmobile. Bacon led Leary, Cummins, Kofoid and Courtney. As the cars were pushed off, Grant’s car wouldn’t fire. He went to the pits and probably pondered what a difficult weekend it had been.

    Off they went again and Cummins was on the move. How could one not consider that this guy might well make it a clean sweep? He passed Leary and was knocking on Bacon’s door. The battle was halted on lap 19 when Boyles flipped hard in turn four and Swanson was collected. Boyles exited the car on his own and owner Paul Hazen had work to do. It was still Bacon out front, ahead of Cummins, Kofoid, Windom and Courtney.

    On the re-start Cummins made his move, diving under Bacon in turns one and two, but Bacon took the lead right away. In addition, both had a new problem, namely Courtney, who had bolted from fifth to become a player. Just past halfway, Sunshine passed Cummins for second in turns three and four and was interested in taking the lead. Bacon was being stalked and had sparks coming out of the right rear. Courtney at this point seemed inevitable.

    The deed was done on lap 28 as Courtney took the lead when Bacon had a minor bobble in turn two. From there it was a matter of time as Sunshine rode off to the sunset, eventually winning by a healthy 3.699 second margin, even after he bounced hard off the cushion on lap 38. Behind him was some as Bacon faded somewhat and Cummins annexed second place. Leary had a late race resurgence, taking third ahead of Bacon. Kofoid was the rookie of SmackDown IX as he had another strong finish, this time fifth. Windom, Seavey, Meseraull, Stockon and Cottle were the second five. Cottle was the KSE Racing Products/Circus City Speedway/Irvin King Hard Charger, coming from officially 17th to tenth. This was even more impressive because he had to make a quick pitside visit as the cars lined up, dropping him to last.

    The word of the night was, for Courtney at least, redemption. Twice this year, he has either flipped or spun out of the lead at Kokomo, during Midget Week and Sprint week. Thursday, he suffered a flat tire after contact while running second. He had to feel like he was due.

    It was over, at least for a few moments, hours, or days. After the celebrations, the commiserating, the trophies, the big check, not to mention the mud on everyone’s shoes, Mr. Courtney will be able to kick back, and remember how he was able to get a measure of redemption.

    Looking forward to my new job of placing myself between Jerry Falwell Jr. and any camera, I'm...

    Danny Burton

     

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: The Importance of Momentum

    Despite the best efforts by at least two of the best, Kyle Cummins again prevailed on the second night of the Kokomo Speedway's SmackDown. First Thomas Meseraull, then Chris Windom gave Mr. Cummins a few anxious moments before the pride of Princeton, Indiana crossed the start/finish line. It was Cummins’ ninth USAC Amsoil Sprint Car feature win. This was his second Kokomo victory.  But there was doubt if it would happen.

    Driving north I could see a few clouds to the north and remembered that a little bit of rain wasn't going to stop anyone associated with USAC or the track from doing their best to prepare the surface for racin'. Periodically checking the radar I could see it was wet up here but I still wasn't turning around. Uh-uh.

    Sure enough I arrived at the track after spending more time in the motel room than I planned. And sure enough, mud was everywhere, in the parking lot, the pits and of course the track. But the skies had cleared and everyone involved did their best to get Indiana's baddest bullring race ready.

    The program had been pushed back an hour or two. No problem. The pits and the infield were a quagmire. Still no problem. One had to park at one’s own risk. No problem. I parked halfway to Logansport but didn’t mind. The slight slope would serve me well come midnight.

    Tonight there were 50 cars in the pits. Dakota Jackson and Texan Brandon Long were the new kids. Missing was David Hair.

    In time trials, just when it seemed like the track was slowing, along came Thomas Meseraull to set fast time with a 13.086 lap. He was only the 36th to give it a try.

    In the first heat, pole sitter Chris Windom won by a straightaway over Matt Westfall, Brady Bacon and Kevin Thomas Jr.

    Chase Stockon won the second heat from the pole, with Damion Gardner, Carson Short and Justin Grant also heading to the feature.

    The third heat saw Tyler Courtney pass early leader Bill Balog and win with the Badger State veteran second. TMez and Tyler Thomas were third and fourth.

    Dave Darland’s night would be better than Thursday’s as he won the fourth heat over Cummins, Shane Cottle and Stevie Sussex.

    Californian Eddie Tofoya Jr. triumphed in the C main with Minnesotan Brian VanMeveren, Jadon Rogers and Clinton Boyles, who made a last lap pass, all tagging the semi-feature.

    Like the C, the B main was caution plagued. C.J. Leary won with teammates Buddy Kofoid and Logan Seavey trailing. Jake Swanson, Anthony D’Alessio and Robert Ballou made the show. Brandon Mattox and Dustin Smith took a provisional to get in. VanMeveren flipped down the frontstretch. He crawled out unassisted.

    Short and Cummins led the field of 24 to Mark Orr’s green flag. Right away there was trouble when Cottle biked and nearly flipped. Instead, he stayed on all fours but collected Leary, Darland and Grant, who re-started. Darland went to the work area and returned. Cottle’s car was on the hook but returned later. Cummins led with one lap in. Ironically, all four who were gathered together are Kokomo Speedway champs.

    The first mishap was in turn three and a second occurred a lap later in turn two. Mattox, Ballou, Westfall and Gardner were the participants. Mattox and Gardner re-started. Ballou visited the work area and returned. Westfall was done for the night. Cummins led Short, K. Thomas, Meseraull and Windom.

    Cummins controlled the re-start and had started to build a nice lead when the red flag waved on lap seven. Coming out of turn four, Ballou, selected by Jeff and I as the hard luck driver for the night, and Grant collided with Grant flipping while Ballou’s car was beat up. They had what appeared to be a cordial chat and went their separate ways. While the yellow lights still blinked, K. Thomas stopped at the start/finish line with what was an apparent loose belt. But when he was pushed off, the car wouldn’t start and KT was done. Cummins still led but now Meseraull was second with Short, Windom and Courtney next in line.

    Again, there was a short green flag segment interrupted by a slowdown. D’Alessio stopped just before the pit entrance with 13 laps complete. Short had been shuffled back and T. Thomas appeared in the top five. One had to wonder—if there would be a lengthier green flag period, would anyone else up front have anything for Cummins?

    Meseraull stepped up his game on the re-start when he slid under Cummins in turn two, only give it back when they reached the other end of the track. A few laps later Windom passed for second place and set sail for Cummins.

    While this went on, a large group was fighting each other for third on back. For a few laps, it was hard not to notice Meseraull, Courtney, T. Thomas, Stockon, Kofoid and Bacon fighting for position. And during all this, Windom closed the gap on the leader. With five laps to go, it was anyone’s race. Windom’s diamonding maneuvers in turns three and four were working. But near the end, Cummins used a lapped car to hold up the challenger. That was it. Windom’s charge fell short.

    Courtney occupied the last podium position. Kofoid was fourth and Bacon came from 13th to finish fifth and earn the KSE Racing Products/Circus City Speedway/Irvin King Hard Charger. Thomas faded a bit at the end but was sixth after starting 14th. Leary started 12th and came back from his early misfortune to finish seventh. Stockon was eighth and Meseraull fell to ninth. Darland also recovered nicely from his early mishap and grabbed tenth.

    A final word courtesy of Richie Murray: Kyle Cummins is the first racer to sweep the two initial nights of SmackDown. Tonight, he will try and be another first.

    How would the boys top this? We’d have to wait a few more hours to find out.

    Peering out from my cocoon before ducking back inside, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Here Some Drama, There Some Drama

    It seems like the Kokomo Speedway/USAC monster we call SmackDown always offers up some drama without seeming to try. On opening night it was Kyle Cummins who was the last man standing after holding off Brady Bacon through two different green/white/checkered attempts. This was Cummins; eighth feature win in USAC Amsoil National Sprint Car competition. It was his second USAC win at Kokomo and his first SmackDown victory.

    My fellow traveler had done his chores and whatever schoolwork he had. His mom gave the thumbs up for him and Grandpa to head north to Kokomo. Our expectations were high and Kokomo didn’t disappoint.

    There were the usual familiar faces and teams among the assembled throng along with a few visitors and new combinations in the never ending search for speed and victory. Damion Gardner would be the latest to turn some laps in the Baldwin Brothers’ Orange Crush. Other visitors included Noah Gass, Eddie Tofoya, Charles Davis Jr., Wisconsin's Bill Balog, Cody Gardner, California's Austin Williams, Jake Swanson and Cole Bodine.

    Without benefit of the lineup sheet, my grandson identified the majority of the 49 cars and drivers. He struggled with the newer ones. Then again, so do I at times. I’ve seen Austin Williams’ dad, Rip, race way out west. Bill Balog has taken the wing off a few times and ventured south. Tofoya, Davis and Swanson must like Indiana as they paid our state a return visit.

    With 49 cars, time trials would take a while, but it was a treat. Only Kyle Cummins and Brady Bacon dipped below the 13 second standard with Cummins’ 12.957 the quickest.

    The first heat was the proverbial harbinger of things to come. Davis held off a snarling mob consisting of Chase Stockon, Tyler Courtney and Kyle Cummins, all of whom could have been covered by the proverbial blanket.

    Things settled down somewhat in the second heat as Robert Ballou led Matt Westfall, Bill Balog and Brady Bacon to the line and the feature.

    The first lap of the third heat was worth, if not the price of admission, at least the price of a pork chop sandwich as Thomas Meseraull led a four wide procession at the line. TMez hung on to win with Clinton Boyles, Kevin Thomas Jr. and Buddy Kofoid all moving on.

    Jake Swanson continued to impress as he won the third heat, leading Shane Cottle, Tyler Thomas (from seventh) and Logan Seavey to the checkered with Seavey edging C.J. Leary at the line.

    The C main had a strong enough lineup to pass for an A main at any of the area tracks. I heard that the winner was racing for a case of beer. I’m not sure if winner Max Adams is 21 yet. Hmmm…. Austin Williams, Dave Darland (in a backup car) and Tye Mihocko would tag the B main.

    Predictably, the B lineup was also crazy with talent. C.J. Leary held off Chris Windom and Brandon Mattox to win. Also moving on to the show were Stevie Sussex, Damion Gardner and Justin Grant, who switched to a backup after a poor performance in his heat and passed a bunch of cars. Carson Short and Dave Darland were close behind and used provisionals to tag the feature.

    Two California boys driving Arizona cars led the field to Brian Hodde’s green. On the first lap, a mob gathered together in turn two, ignoring social distancing rules. Shane Cottle ended up facing the wrong way. Sussex and Short were also involved and were sidelined while Cottle re-started.The gang tried again and Courtney stormed from his fourth starting position to take the lead from the California/Arizona duo.

    Almost immediately Cummins was on the charge from his sixth place starting spot. His car was working both high and low. By the third lap he was in third place and was second a lap later. By the fifth lap Kyle was hounding Courtney something awful, my grandmothers would have said. It was only a matter of time before Sunshine would get the same treatment as the others. On the 13th lap Cummins got a great jump off the low side of turn four and take the lead.

    Try as he might, Cummins could not shake Courtney, who likewise could not put any distance between himself and third place Bacon. Lapped traffic came into play as Brian gave the group the crossed flags. Cummins was an absolute boss handling the lappers but still Courtney and Bacon wouldn’t go away as the laps wound down.

    There’s no set pattern, but it seems like several of these feature races I watch stay green for much of the race before a yellow flag is displayed. Invariably another will wave and the leader would be well-advised to count to 20 or more. The yellow came out on lap 27 when a wheel banging turned into some bumping and bouncing. Courtney was in the middle of this and had a flat tire. His miserable luck at Kokomo would continue. Bacon did some serious bouncing, getting airborne briefly before moving on. T. Thomas had much worse luck; he ended up facing the wrong way in turn two.

    Cummins led Bacon, K. Thomas, Ballou and Kofoid. The green came out and the boys got a lap in with no change until K. Thomas slowed on the frontstretch before stopping. Somehow everyone missed him and the yellow re-appeared. Seavey replaced KT in the top five.

    On the re-start, Bacon was hungry. He forced his way under Cummins and pulled a little closer at each end of the track. Coming to the checkered, it was a photo finish. I had no clue who led, but it didn’t matter. Balog had spun in turn one, bringing out the yellow and negating a very close finish. It would be another green/white/checkered finish (which I’m not a fan of). Would Cummins suffer the same fate that bedeviled Chase Stockon at Terre Haute? Uh….no.

    Bacon would try again on this final re-start, but this time Cummins had a much better start and was able to hold off Brady, winning by a margin of barely a quarter of a second. Ballou took home the bronze medal after starting eighth. Kofoid was fourth and Meseraull was fifth.

    The second five had pole sitter Seavey sixth and Stockon coming from 12th to finish seventh. Windom claimed the KSE Racing Products/Circus City Speedway/Irvin King Hard Charger award after starting 21st and ending eighth. Swanson and Leary ran ninth and tenth.

    My buddy and high powered HARF officer Jeff VanWinkle are again collecting money for the hard luck driver for each night of SmackDown. The “winner” of the hard luck money was Robert Bell, who flipped hard in his heat race. As game as ever and the hero of low buck racers, Robert intended to return for both nights if he could pick up a part or two. A racer all the way.

    As the rain falls here and reminding myself that they are not racing here, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: There He Goes Again

    It isn't very often that one gets to witness a resurrection and top of the line excellence on the same night. But that was the case on Sunday night at the Indiana State Fairgrounds as the Hoosier 100 emerged from the ashes it had been reduced to last year. In addition, fans got to see a young man at the top of his game as he beat a talented group of racers, the best that the USAC Silver Crown division can offer. No matter what your age is folks, you will be able to say, I saw Kyle Larson beat the best. That’s what he did on a typically humid August evening in our fair state.

    If we could take a trip back to the 1950s and visit the Indiana State Fairgrounds, we might be surprised at how little has changed in terms of the buildings and, of course, the mile oval that has hosted the Hoosier 100 since I was a few years from enrolling at State Street Elementary School. This is always hard for me to ignore each time I turn into the parking lot off 38th Street in midtown Indianapolis. The buildings may be aged, but seem to be well-kept.

    This is the track where racing royalty has competed. For those of a certain age, the names resonate and beckon us to what seems now like a simpler time (it wasn’t really). The winners of this race read like a Hall of Fame somewhere. Bryan, Foyt, Ward, Andretti, Unser were all-time greats who won the Hoosier 100 on multiple occasions. Later names such as Gurney, Hewitt, J. Swindell, Darland, Elliott, Coons, Swanson would join the club.

    This year, on short notice, 36 cars were entered, a positive development. Time trials began and Larson went out and nearly beat Johnny Parsons Jr.’s 25 year old track record. His lap of 31.426 seconds was only .047 seconds off JP’s difficult-to-top standard. Logan Seavey’s second quick time was 31.850, not quite a half second behind.

    The 24 fastest qualifiers were locked in and everyone else ran a 12-lap last chance race. Aaron Pierce and Justin Grant, both of whom had qualifying troubles, ran one/two.

    The starting lineup was scrambled when Larson, Shane Cockrum, Chris Windom, Matt Westfall,Kyle Cummins, Aaron Pierce and Austin Mundie all opted to change right rear tires before the race. This dropped them back in the pack. It also ensured that they would make the race even more interesting as they made their way through the crowd.

    The green flag waved and all was “normal” for the first few laps. The revamped lineup had Seavey and Leary on the front row. Leary took the early lead and did his best imitation of the hare, breaking away from the pack. Behind him, Tyler Courtney and Kyle Larson quickly moved forward and were in the top five by the time Kyle Robbins slowed on the ninth lap, bringing out the yellow.

    At this point, the race entered the Twilight Zone. The caution period immediately went red as a major accident took place coming out of turn two. Kody Swanson and David Byrne flipped with Byrne ending up on top of the guardrail. Also involved were Jimmy Light, Terry Babb and Austin Nemire. All involved walked away from their cars.

    Everyone tried again. Tom Hansing shook the green at the field and away they went. Incredibly, it happened again. First Courtney passed Leary for the lead and Larson passed Seavey for third. Seconds later, Carmen Perigo flipped in turn two, then Brady Bacon, who had changed a tire after the first accident, couldn’t check up in time and flipped. John Heydenreich was also associated with the proceedings and took a trip to the hospital for some observation. Hot Rod was said to be awake and alert.

    On this re-start, Courtney and Larson repeated their earlier moves forward. A few seconds later, Larson also passed Leary and took up the chase for the lead. Courtney’s lead vanished on lap 16 when Chris Urish brought out the yellow after smacking the wall. Sunshine led Larson, Leary, Seavey and Shane Cottle.

    The green flag prevailed again and Larson began making his presence known, harassing Courtney every chance he had. On the 25th lap, the NASCAR star-in-exile made a nifty outside pass on Courtney and took the lead. Leary had a burr in the saddle and also passed the Indianapolis native for second. CJ wasn’t done; he went ahead and took the lead on lap 29. I doubt if very many thought that this demotion of Larson’s would last. But it would take awhile.

    First, there was yet another flip; this time it was rookie Bryan Gossel who hit the turn four wall after contact with Matt Westfall on the 34th lap. Gossel exited his car on his own. The top five was unchanged—Larson, Leary, Courtney, Seavey and Cottle.

    A couple of laps after this re-start saw rookie Jake Swanson enter the top five, passing Cottle. Swanson took fourth from Seavey on lap 48. Caution lights flashed on the 55th lap when veteran Chad Kemenah had an encounter with the wall. Mike Haggenbottom had his own moment with the wall nine laps later. It was getting close to show and tell time.

    Each race has its own version of show and tell; it depends on the circumstances. Silver Crown races that last 100 laps usually find show and tell sessions beginning around laps 70-75. Larson couldn’t quite wait that long. On the re-start after the yellow, he made yet another outside pass of Leary for the lead going into turn one on the 69th lap. As Leary slid up the track, Courtney was quick to pounce and take second.

    Larson had made his move, but so had Courtney. He was inching closer to the leader when his racing good luck disappeared on lap 79 when he pulled off the track with an engine problem.

    Leary was back in second place. Larson was pulling away when, for the first time in the race, lapped traffic became a factor on lap 92—or not. Larson wasn’t fazed by the lappers, nor was he bothered by the turn one lights going out. The race went on anyway.

    By race’s end, Larson finished 2.052 seconds ahead of Leary. It was the Californian’s first Silver Crown win since 2011 at Eldora’s Four Crown. (He was a teenager and I was newly retired.)Larson also earned the KSE Racing Products/B & W Auto Mart Hard ChargerAward, coming from 22nd to first.

    Seavey ran near the front for 100 laps, settling for third in his second SC race. Like several others, Cockrum did some serious passing, 23rd to fourth. Windom drove to fifth after starting 24th. J. Swanson ran in the top five for much of the race before fading slightly to sixth. Cottle was a steady seventh. Grant took eighth place with an ill-behaving car, coming from 20th. Cummins rambled from 26th to ninth. And Matt Goodnight came from 21st and finish tenth.

    The dueling themes of the Hoosier 100 were the sheer excellence and domination of Kyle Larson along with the resurrection of the race itself. In May 2020, I was resigned to the then-fact that the Hoosier 100 would be no more. But like the phoenix of Greek mythology, the bird that arises from its own ashes, or if you prefer, we Christians’ Savior Jesus Christ who also arose from the tomb, the Hoosier 100 did the same. It rose from the Hoosier soil from whence it came.

    Given the way things turned out, we have all been the better for it.

    Suggesting to Steve Bannon that he apply for a job with the USPS, I'm...

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: A Whuppin'

    The Lawrenceburg Speedway hosted its annual Dick Gaines Memorial on a warm Saturday night and Joss Moffatt showed how a racer deals with adversity as he avoided near disaster in his heat race, then led all 25 laps to outrun young Max Adams. The main event ran non-stop with no yellow flags waved.

    With a little time on my hands, I tried what I call the Keith Wendel route to the ‘burg. That would include I-74 and I-275. I ventured into Ohio briefly. One missed turn and I’d have been in Kentucky. But Kentucky would have to wait about three more weeks to greet me; instead I ended up at the track.

    This was a memorial race that’s lasted a long time at Lawrenceburg, beginning in 2004 when the late Bryan Clauson was the winner at age 15. Robert Ballou is the only multi-time winner, 2017-18.

    One of the reasons that I find racing interesting and appealing is its unpredictability. Though there were only 16 sprinters on the grounds, the two heats gave me more drama and mayhem than I prefer.

    In the first heat, Max Adams was racing his heart out to keep Nick Bilbee behind him. But on lap six (of eight), California visitor Austin Williams slid into fellow second generation racer Drew Abel, sending the North Vernon resident flipping. Drew crawled out from his car on his own. A lap later, the red flag was waved again, this time after Bilbee made enough contact with Adams' left rear to send him over, but not nearly as violent as the previous mishap. Finally the checkered flag was displayed and Adams led Shawn Westerfeld (the only Hoosier native left), Sterling Cling, Williams and Ricky Lewis at the end.

    One would think that the guys in the second heat would have been determined to avoid the hijinks of the first. Uh-uh. Saban Bibent spun, with or without help, in turn two of the first lap and collected three cars. Two of the four cars dropped out and one of those involved, Joss Moffatt, came back to win over pole sitter Garrett Abrams, Korbyn Hazlett, Ryan Barr and Dickie Gaines, who was also caught up in the early race drama.

    Everyone except Abel started the feature with Adams and Moffat on the front row. But Adams jumped the start and Lawrenceburg’s policy is one strike and you move back a row. This put two Lawrenceburg champs, Westerfeld and Moffatt, on the front row. Tim Montgomery waved his green flag and Moffat grabbed the lead with Westerfeld holding down second and Adams third.

    Early on, the top three put some space among them, but as lapped traffic came into play not long before halfway, things tightened up with Westerfeld closing. Moffat wasn’t really in danger of losing his lead, because Westerfeld had Adams to deal with. The youngster from California passed the local kid on the 21st lap. That was the race among Moffat, Adams and Westerfeld in a nutshell. It was a matter of the two running behind the leader racing each other and not able to challenge for the lead.

    Moffat was in his own little world and deservedly loved it. Tim had to reach for his checkered flag a lot quicker than expected. Behind Moffat, Adams and Westerfeld was Bilbee, who had started 11th and finished fourth, winning the Chad Cunningham hard charger award (knowing Chad, that might have been a half-eaten bag of chips). Cling was fifth, which meant two top five results for the Arizona native in two nights. Hazlett started and finished sixth. Abrams was seventh with Lewis ending up eighth. Williams was ninth and Barr took tenth.

    In Victory Lane, Moffat was joined by Dickie Gaines, whose race wasn’t a good one for himself. Joss told P.A. man Chad the same thing that lots of other competitors may have thought: if he couldn’t win, he hoped that Dickie could win the race in memory of his dad.

    After the carnage in the heats, the all-green feature was another of those occurrences that no one can predict. Racers—there’s no telling what they will do.

    Another tough prediction has to do with car counts. I’d guess that several people would have expected more than 16 cars for a race paying $3K to win. Folks could offer ideas and opinions why the low count; that would be the extent of it and that’s all it would be—opinions.

    It’s the eve of the greatest race in the known world. Absent a first time winner, I’ll hope that Mr. Kanaan can grab another 500 win. Maybe he could give the 32 others a Joss Moffat-like whuppin’.

    Turning down Vladimir Putin's offer of a glass of tea, I'm.....

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Some Things You Don’t Forget

    Though it would be more of a challenge, I’ve not forgotten how to deliver mail. It was and is a job that’s not as easy as many like to think. I’ve no desire to go back and carry mail for many reasons. But the analogy with Brady Short ends there. On a humid Friday night at the Bloomington Speedway, Mr. Short showed the field that he hasn’t forgotten how to win as he won the 25-lap feature, holding off a charging A.J. Hopkins in the meantime. He is the latest of the racers to beat at Bloomington, like Jon Stanbrough, Kevin Briscoe and Derek Scheffel, among others, before him.

    This was my first trip in 2020 to what comes closest to being my home track. It’s been that kind of year. The distinguished lady had a few cosmetic changes for the better, most notably the new bleachers that resemble those at Lincoln Park, ideal for lawn chairs.

    The track is the same red clay oval. Narrow, lightning fast early and still pretty quick by the time sprints line up for the feature. It can be unforgiving as a few guys found out the hard way. After seeing its ups and downs, it seems to me that cautious optimism is justified as the facility’s star seems to be ascending.

    Among the 108 cars in the pits, 27 were sprints. There were no surprises. Of the 27, two were ladies; both made the feature. The format would be the three heat/top five to the feature, plus a B.

    The good news was that Ethan Barrow won the first heat. The bad news was his engine erupting in smoke as he crossed the finish line, just ahead of Jadon Rogers. Braydon Fox, Travis Berryhill and Shelby VanGilder also transferred to the feature. Billy Winseman flipped in turn two, bringing out the red flag. He climbed from the car on his own. Later in the evening, Barrow and company left, a good night gone bad.

    The second heat was one that saw its share of cushion building as Josh Cunningham won by a half lap. Sterling Cling, Robert Brown, Brandon Spencer and Jake Bland trailed.

    Jordan Kinser won a loaded third heat, holding off Brady Short, who started seventh. A. J. Hopkins was third after starting ninth, guaranteeing him a mid-pack start in the feature. Chayse Hayhurst came back from a flip in hot laps to race his way into the show. Lee Underwood was fifth.

    Mason Day, usually a one man band (with zero helpers), won the semi, leading Joey Parker, Cindy Chambers, Andy Bradley, Matt Thompson and Travis Thompson to the main event.

    After some fireworks and the mini-sprint feature won by Keith Langley, it was time for the 410 sprints. Short and Cling were the front row. Brian Hodde waved the green and Short had a good start. But it was for naught as Parker flipped while trying to avoid a sideways car in turn three. Joey walked away from his bent machine.

    With a complete re-start, Short again commanded the lead until lap three when Day stopped on the backstretch. Behind the leader were Rogers, Kinser, Cling and Berryhill, who brought out another yellow when he slid over the bank in turn two after nearly doing the same in turn three. Hopkins, who had started ninth, was now in the top five. Six laps were complete.

    On this re-start, Kinser got around Rogers for second and held his own for several laps before lapped traffic entered the thickening plot with ten laps to go. By lap 17 Kinser was closing on Short with more lapped traffic looming in the distance. But Jordan bounced off the cushion a lap later and gave up second to…Hopkins, who had worked his way forward.

    Kinser got a break, though, when Rogers slid off turn four, bringing out another yellow with 19 complete. It was now Short, two lapped cars, Kinser, Hopkins, Cling and Underwood up front. The green lights came on and Hopkins immediately got around Kinser for second. He dispatched the lapped cars and was reeling in the leader as the race neared its end.

    Hopkins had been flirting with disaster on the cushion and, sure enough, he slipped high in turn four with three laps to go, losing precious ground to Short. But wait. Braydon Fox had brought out a caution with 22 laps in. A.J., like Kinser earlier, would get his position back. He would have another chance to try and beat the guy who has dominated Bloomington over the past few years.

    Again, Short nailed the re-start and Hopkins responded. He executed a perfect slide job and took the lead briefly in turn two after the start, but Short answered with a gutsy move in three that put him back in front. From there, Brady was in control, crossing the line with the Jerry Burton car a couple of car lengths behind.

    Earlier I had asked A.J. to give me something to write about as he had done at Paragon last Friday. That he did. In addition, Hopkins was the Brad Dickison hard charger, coming from ninth to take the runner-up spot. 

    Behind the two heavyweights up front, Sterling Cling drove the best race I’ve seen him drive in his time here. Kinser survived his bout with the cushion to finish fourth. That wily veteran Cunningham started and finished fifth. Berryhill was sixth after coming back from his early slide-off. Underwood was seventh and Hayhurst finished eighth after starting the evening so badly. Bland was ninth after starting 14th. Rogers came back from his misfortune to salvage tenth.

    All that was left for me was to go home. The hour was late enough to ensure that minimal traffic occupied State Road 46 east. With my new best friend Malcolm Gladwell and old friend Lyle Lovett providing inspiration, I thought about what to say here. I must have been doing that when I hit a skunk near the Brown County line. Thankfully the aroma was gone by the time I arrived home, but not the rather lame comparison between carrying mail and sprint car racing.

    Looking forward to receiving a new history book about the 1917 flu, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: The Inevitability of Kody Swanson

    After watching Kody Swanson run a near flawless 75 laps in the USAC Silver Crown race on Saturday night at the Salem Speedway, my grandson asked me who was the best I’ve seen race at Salem. Talk about a loaded question. Over the years I’ve seen Parnelli, A.J. and Mario race sprint cars at Salem. I’ve seen Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison and Iggy Katona (no, really) wrestle those behemoths called stock cars at Salem. I’ve also seen Dave Steele, Bryan Clauson and Ryan Newman race those little bullets they call midgets at Salem. I’ve seen Kody Swanson and Bobby Santos race Silver Crown cars at Salem, most recently a few hours ago. It would appear to me that Mr. Swanson owns, in a sense, the storied .555 mile paved oval. Since the SC cars returned to Salem in 2016, Swanson has yet to lose.

    Boys Night Out

    This road trip included my grandson and his step-dad, who was duly impressed with the proceedings. We arrived in time for qualifying. The order seemed to be backloaded with the faster cars going out later. Kyle Robbins was the first to post a sub-17 second lap. He was followed by Brian Gerster, Kyle Hamilton, Derek Bischak, Justin Grant, Bobby Santos and, finally, Kody Swanson in setting fast time. Swanson’s time was 16.107 in the Nolen Racing special. Eleven of the 20 cars turned in laps under 17 seconds.

    While there were no cars on the track, we visited the display of vintage cars. My grandson was particularly animated and, after looking at a collection of pictures featuring Parnelli Jones, so was I.

    The front row of Swanson and Santos might have persuaded the rest of the field of 20 to ponder how much money third place paid. It would have been understandable to think that third place on back was up for grabs.

    It might have been a surprise as Santos took the lead at the start, but as it turned out that was delaying the inevitable. Bobby put a few car lengths between himself and Swanson as David Byrne occupied third. But alas, as Byrne slowed on the ninth lap, yellow lights blinked. Santos and Swanson led Grant, Chris Windom and Gerster.

    The next green flag segment was all too brief as Windom and Gerster made enough contact to put Windom out of the race. Aaron Pierce replaced Windom in the top five. Racing resumed with Swanson almost on the rear bumper of Santos’ car for the first two laps before the New Englander pulled away slightly.

    Lapped traffic greeted the leaders on the 29th lap. Eventually, that would play a role in Swanson’s taking the lead. During this portion of the race, Santos would pull away for a few laps until Swanson would close the gap. Was Kody saving his tires? Biding his time? Or checking text messages? Just call it racing.

    With lapped traffic making things problematic for Santos, Swanson chose to pounce, making a tense high side/three wide pass in turn one on the 50th lap. For the next few laps, it was Santos’ turn to pester Swanson. But the California native began to put some distance between himself and Santos. By the 57th lap, that gap was easily six car lengths.

    The yellow flag waved on lap 66 when Kyle Hamilton stopped on the frontstretch. Swanson’s lead of a full straightaway was gone. As he drove by Hamilton while under the yellow, Swanson shook his fist at Hamilton. (Not really.) Behind the Dynamic Duo was Pierce, Grant and Bischak.

    The green came out on the 70th lap and Swanson steadily put some space between him and Santos. But as he expected to see the white flag, he saw the yellow instead. Joe Ligouri had spun in turn two and made mild contact with the wall. Hello, Green/White/Checkered. Swanson still had work to do.

    One last time Barry Smedley waved the green and again Swanson held on to his lead. Not a lot changed behind him as Santos gave his all only to fall short by little more than a second. Pierce was a solid third after starting ninth. Grant, who admittedly says pavement racing is not his biggest strength, came through with an impressive fourth. Bischak started and finished fifth.

    Austin Nemire was the KSE Racing Products Hard Charger as he advanced from 15th to sixth. Kyle O’Gara had one of those under the radar runs, moving from 14th to seventh. Kyle Robbins was eighth. Mike Haggenbottom moseyed from 18th to ninth. And Joe Ligouri took tenth despite his late race spin.

    My hope is the younger fans at Salem came away with an appreciation of how dominant Kody Swanson has been, not only because of the five straight O’Connor/James Memorial triumphs, but his excellence in the Silver Crown series overall. Add the fact that he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll find in the pits—before he turns into Conan the Barbarian on the track. And he’s still only 32 years old.

    The local street stock feature was won by Brandon Deckard, who avoided a lap 22 melee when the top three attempted to enter turn three side by side. The top five were eliminated (first time I’ve ever seen that) leaving Tony Conway in the lead and Deckard second. The young man from Shepherdsville KY took the lead on lap 28 and led the rest of the way.

    Side note: I’m so happy that the Hoosier 100 has been resurrected to its rightful place in USAC Silver Crown/Hoosier racing.

    Another side note: There are at least two ways one can determine an all-time great. First, one must consider the competition. Who did the champ beat? Second, how many all-time greats accomplished what they did with two different teams?

    I rest my case.

    Wishing that I had the megabucks needed to field a two car team for the Indianapolis 500 with Kody Swanson and Bobby Santos as my drivers, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: The New and Not So New

    While A. J. Hopkins has run his share of laps at the Paragon Speedway, winning never gets old as he dominated the 25-lap sprint car feature on a typical Hoosier Friday night. Emerson Axsom, it’s probably safe to say, has not run very many laps on the three eighths mile paperclip oval. However many laps the youngster has run at Paragon or anywhere else, it didn’t matter as he hung on to win a rare regional midget feature over a charging Kyle Cummins. And finally, my youngest grandson became the fourth (or is it fifth) generation of my family to pay a visit to Paragon. As the midget feature ended at midnight, he was just as animated as he was when we arrived.

    Give or take one or two, there were 116 race cars in Paragon’s pits. Of note, there were no surprise entries among the 32 sprints in the pits. But there were a few to be noticed in the midst of the gathering of 37 midgets. Hot Rod John Heydenreich was on the premises, as was Russ Gamester and my grandson’s good friend Donnie Gentry.  These three might have as many years of racing than any dozen of their competitors. The KKM team checked in with four drivers, all youngsters (at least from my aging eyes).

    For the sprints, it was the usual four heats/top four/one semi-feature/top four format. As for the midgets, it was five heats/top four/two B’s/top two from each, making a 24-car lineup.

    Dustin Clark led the first heat on two different occasions, including the last lap. A. J. Hopkins was second and Parker Fredrickson survived a major biking to finish third with Joey Parker taking fourth.

    In the second heat, Jake Scott won by a straightaway over Pat Giddens, Travis Thompson and Andrew Prather.

    Braydon Cromwell won his first heat within the Hoosier state, the third heat. Trailing were Josh Cunningham, Harley Burns and Brandon Spencer.

    Braxton Cummings led a high speed parade in the fourth heat, leading Brandon Morin, Travis Berryhill and Jesse Vermillion to the feature. Matt McDonald flipped in turn three after tangling with Berryhill. He exited the car, less than pleased.

    Midget heat race winners were Brenhan Crouch, Kyle Cummins, Tyler Nelson, Hayden Reinbold and Emerson Axsom.

    The caution plagued sprint B was won by Blake Vermillion with Colin Parker, Hunter O'Neal and Michael Clark all tagging the feature field.

    For the midgets, Chet Gehrke and Billy Lawless marched to the feature as they ran one/two in the first B while Chase McDermond and Alex Watson did the same in the second.

    The sprint feature was first so Morin and Cunningham led the way to the green with Giddens and Hopkins in row two. Josh got the jump at first, but a yellow flag negated that effort. The boys tried again and Cunningham vaulted to the lead. This would be short lived as Hopkins dove low in turn one on the second lap and edged ahead on the drag race down the backstretch.

    Hopkins was busy building a lead when the race’s second yellow waved on the seventh lap for a spin. On the re-start, he led Cunningham, Giddens, Scott and Cummings. Again, Hopkins’ plan to increase his lead was foiled when Fredrickson flipped at the start/finish line a couple of laps later. The Kokomo resident gingerly made his way to the ambulance for the usual checkup.

    Another re-start and this time, Hopkins began to check out. Just before the crossed flags, Cunningham parked in the infield, his race done. Cummings inherited second, but he had his hands full with Scott hounding him with an assortment of slide jobs that didn’t quite get the pass completed.

    Once again, Hopkins saw his straightaway lead disappear with a lap 19 yellow flag. There was, however, plenty of drama behind him as Cummings and Scott resumed their duel on the re-start. Coming to the white flag, Scott finally made his pass attempt work. Hopkins, Scott, Cummings, Berryhill (from 12th) and T. Thompson were the top five. Jesse Vermillion came from 16th to finish sixth, winning the Brian Hodde hard charger award. Harley Burns took seventh while Brandon Spencer started 15th and finished eighth. Blake Vermillion motored from the B main to begin the feature 17th and take the checkered while running ninth. Dustin Clark was tenth.

    Up next was the 20-lap midget feature. Gamester and Axsom led the horde to the green and it was promptly interrupted by a yellow. On the re-start, Axsom took control and Nelson grabbed second. By lap 15, another yellow bunched the field with Axsom leading Daison Pursley, Kyle Cummins, Tyler Nelson and Kaylee Bryson. This would be a stern test to see what Axsom could do. All he did was keep his lead and win over Cummins, who worked extra hard to get around Pursley. Bryson was fourth and Jayden Reinbold finished fifth.

    The second five contained Jonathan Shafer, Aaron Leffel, Chet Gehrke, Donnie Gentry (to my grandson’s delight) and Chris Baue, who started 17th and earned the Joe Spiker hard charger award.

    It was midnight and I was not quite out of gas, but the energy level wasn’t too great. The drive home was a typical August trip in Indiana with patchy fog and lots of Hoosier humidity.

    The little guy promptly conked out but the little white truck was as dependable as ever. There were no complaints on what was a full night.

    Thinking that maybe I should cast my ballot right after Labor Day this year, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Inches

    Not only is life a game of inches, so is racing. We all know this, but we still weep and wail when we clip a curb, wishing that we had not made the turn so tight. One can’t blame Jason McDougal for moaning about coming up short to Jadon Rogers on Saturday night at the Lincoln Park Speedway. Rogers held off a late charge by McDougal to win the 25 lap feature, leading every lap.

    The pits were jammed with 127 race cars, 40 of which were sprints. There were a few cars and drivers I’d not seen before. There was one car I had seen the night before at Gas City. The Jamie Paul car ended Friday night with a victory with Shane Cottle behind the wheel. On this night, another Shane, namely Mr. Cockrum, would be the chauffeur. His path would be challenging.

    The dance card would be five heat races with the top three advancing. Two B mains would add three players from each, making a 21 car feature.

    Jadon Rogers led all the way to win the first of five heats with the top three moving on to the feature. Travis Berryhill was second and Blake Vermillion scooted to the show after A. J. Hopkins was determined to jump a restart midway through the race and docked two spots.

    Shane Cockrum came from the last row to win the second heat over Mitch Wissmiller and Nic Harris. All three are from across the Indiana/Illinois border.

    Jake Scott, Dave Darland and Brayden Fox, who came from the back row, all made it to the feature after the third heat.

    The fourth heat was wild with the number five. Bloomington winner Tye Mihocko, number five, led Matt McDonald, another five, and Brady Short, from last, advanced. The third car with the popular number, Colton Cottle, headed for the B.

    Recent Paragon winner Koby Barksdale won the fifth heat, taking Jason McDougal and Terry Babb to the A main with him.

    It was quite a gap between the sprint heats and the semi features. I knew that dinner would occupy my time for a while and I debated on whether to watch the support classes or amble out to the truck and read a book.

    Retired racer Steve Rone and part time racer Kurt Gross made my decision for me. First Steve and his friends stopped by to eat with me (and maybe see if I had any leftovers). He's always a hoot.

    Right after they left, Kurt stopped by to do some catching up. He ran much of Sprint Week and said that his head took a beating. Kurt has had issues (concussion like symptoms) for several years and he's pondering his next move.

    My next move was to check the lineups and have a look at the heat races and wait for a pair of last chance races.

    The first last chance race was won by A.J. Hopkins with Evan Mosely second. Michael Clark kept Josh Cunningham at bay to grab the last spot. The second saw Colton Cottle triumph over Hunter O’Neal and Jesse Vermillion. Keivan Clotfelter, one of those guys I’ve not seen race, flipped in turn one. He exited his car under his own power.

    The feature was at hand. Rogers and Cockrum were the front row, but not for long.  In turn one, Mihocko tapped Cockrum just enough to send him spinning in front of the rest of the mob. Somehow everyone missed the Chief, but he would now re-start on the tail with Mihocko, who was sent to the back.

    B. Hodde waved the green and Rogers began a great imitation of a flying rabbit, with everyone else chasing. Berryhill had maneuvered his way to second from sixth and tried in vain to keep up with the leader. Darland was third and McDougal was on the move. Having started tenth, the Oklahoma native was fighting for a place in the top five in the first five laps.

    Rogers’ lead was close to a full straightaway lead as lapped traffic came into play on the seventh lap. McDougal had passed Berryhill for second by then and began to chase Rogers down. But it wasn’t going to be easy for two reasons.

    First, Rogers is a racer. Like McDougal, he’s still a young man and already has some experience at this game. Catching him, let alone passing him, would not be easy for JMac. For quite a while, Rogers was maintaining his large lead in lapped traffic. But McDougal wasn’t about to give up. He, too, is a racer and racers, from the backmarkers to the leaders, don’t give up—at least not voluntarily.

    As the final laps played out, Rogers encountered heavy lapped traffic, not unlike I-465 on a Friday afternoon. McDougal closed in, not able to choose the quickest line around the 5/16 mile dirt oval due to the lappers. But he was on Rogers’ bumper in turns three and four on the last lap. Brian Hodde had been busy with the so called “courtesy” blue flag with the yellow strip for the lapped traffic. He had to get the checkered flag quickly for the leaders and he did, of course. McDougal came out of four and found an opening next to Rogers. Coming to the line, McDougal gave his all and was side by side as they crossed under the checkered. He came up a couple of feet short as Rogers held onto—and earned--a hard fought victory.

    Weekly shows typically interview the winner while a USAC race interviews the top three finishers and the hard charger. I mention that because McDougal’s comments might have been interesting. He should have been pleased that he had tried his best, but my guess is that his overriding emotion was frustration. Again, racers race to do well, sure, but most race to win. Losing is never pleasant but losing by such a small margin can be crushing. But, you can bet that someday soon McDougal will be back and might well be interviewed post-race after winning.

    Rogers and McDougal were followed by Darland with Berryhill taking fourth. Hopkins made lemonade out of lemons as he came from his heat race demotion to win his B main, start 16th and finish fifth, earning the Kenny Clark Hard Charger award. Jake Scott was sixth and Wissmiller took seventh. McDonald annexed eighth place with Nic Harris taking home ninth place money. Brady Short was tenth.

    The top ten were the only ones on the lead lap. Shane Cockrum, whose race went south early, battled back to 11th, the first lapped car.

    But for a few inches, McDougal might have been the one interviewed.

    The sprint feature was over before 11:30. Despite the inevitable delays, the show moved right along. This tired puppy enjoyed the view on the way home. The moon hovered over the eastern sky as I headed southeast. It shown benevolently over Indiana cornfields, strip malls, small towns –and a race track here and there.

    Eagerly waiting for my Kanye West for President t-shirt, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Somehow It's Fitting

    About a quarter of a century ago, Jack Himelick and Jiggs Thomasson got together and revived the Gas City/I-69 Speedway. Over the years, the guy to beat at Jack and Jiggs' speed palace has been Shane Cottle. No one has won more features here than Mr. Cottle. So it's quite appropriate that Cottle would win on the night that current Gas City promoter Jerry Gappens staged an event devoted to the two people who rebuilt the facility into what it remains today. Cottle's margin of victory was only a car length or two as he fought off the repeated challenges of young Max Adams. Come to think of it, with Adams wheeling the venerable Paul Hazen owned machine, one could easily argue that this was also fitting, seeing that the winner has driven a Hazen car to many triumphs over the years.

    Tonight’s version of musical seats had Cottle in the Jamie Paul chariot, Jason McDougal landing in Mike Dutcher’s carriage, Max Adams subbing for Clinton Boyle in Paul Hazen’s familiar #57, and C.J. Leary in Scott Pedersen’s decal-less version of a sports car. Of the 110 cars jamming Jerry’s pits, 29 were sprints and another 27 D2 Midgets.

    I sat at a picnic table and watched the cars in the staging area waiting to enter the track for hot laps. I thought about the goals we have in life. My immediate goal was supper and whether I’d have a cheeseburger or tenderloin. (The tenderloin won out.) I wondered about those guys, trying to read their minds. I was curious why they were here and what did they want to accomplish in racing or elsewhere. Was winning tonight all they were thinking of? Or did they just want to have fun playing in the dirt? Were some of them still learning and hoping to move on from weekly racing? Or were they just hoping to finish the feature and load the car on the trailer that night? Except for the tenderloin, I would have to keep waiting on the answers.

    Aaron Leffel scored his first sprint car victory in the first heat, leading Brayden Clark, JJ Hughes and Cody White to the feature. An early incident involving Hughes, McDougal and Ryan Barr sent the Oklahoma native to the pits and spot in the B.

    The second heat winner was Cole Ketchum with Travis Hery, Tyler Kendall and Korbyn Hazlett all heading to the show.

    CJ Leary patiently worked his way to the front after starting fifth and won the third heat. Evan Mosley, pole sitter Brian Vaughn and Jamie Fredrickson would start the main event.

    In the fourth heat, the front row dominated with Max Adams leading Shane Cottle to checkered. Max Guilford and Billy Cribbs transferred too.

    D2 Midget heat race winners were Adam Taylor, Alex Watson and Chett Gehrke.

    Adam Byrkett won the semi feature with Anthony D’Alessio second. Also tagging the feature would be Dustin Ingle and Jason McDougal, who came from the tail and had to work extremely hard to take fourth.

    The caution plagued D2 Midget B main was won by Tommy Kouns with Zane Briggs, Kyle Dager, Eddie Mehl and Nathan Foster all advancing.

    Ketchum and Adams were the front row coming to Mark Orr’s green flag. The pole sitter and Muncie resident took the early lead over the California kid and Greenfield native Leary. But Mark had to bring the red flag out when Max Guilford flipped end over end in turn four headed for the fence, which did its job quite well, catching and stopping the car. No work was needed on the fence and Max exited the upside down car after a few tense moments. The leaders were Ketchum, Adams, Leary, Leffel and Clark.

    On the re-start, Adams went under the leader coming out of turn two and took the lead. Another yellow waved two laps later for Evan Mosley. Now it was Adams leading Ketchum, Leary, Leffel and Cottle, who had started seventh.

    Now was soon to be Cottle Time as he charged to the front. On this re-start, the Illinois resident moved to third and now had Leary on his radar. Another lap completed and Ketchum was passed. Adams had a half straightaway lead on Cottle, who was steadily closing the gap.

    A few words about assumptions: With Shane closing in on the leader, one might think that this one was essentially over. Cottle would make the pass and check out. He made the pass, but couldn’t run away. Adams simply wouldn’t give up.

    Ty Kendall spun on lap 15 and the yellow waved. The front runners were Adams, Cottle, Leary, Ketchum and Leffel. The green light came on and Cottle immediately went to work. Adams gave him enough room on the inside of turn two and they were side by side down the backstretch before Cottle edged ahead in turn four. For the next ten laps, Cottle owned the bottom and Adams was riding the cushion. As the laps wound down, Shane led the whole circuit, except in turn two, where Max was getting a great launch coming out. But each time the blue Jamie and Michell Paul-owned bullet re-assumed the point. Had the start/finish line been at the end of turn two…

    While Cottle kept the lead, he couldn’t increase the margin. Adams’ last effort landed him less than a second behind the winner; it was a race and finish that would bring a smile to Paul Hazen’s face. Leary, driving the car that goes to each race on Scott Pedersen’s open trailer, was third. Travis Hery, mostly under the radar, finished fourth. Another good race was run by Brayden Clark in fifth.

    The Rob Goodman/Tyler Kelly Hard Charger award went to McDougal, who came from last/20th to end up sixth. D’Alessio was yet another who passed lots of cars, moving from 18th to seventh. Hughes and Ketchum were eighth and ninth. Byrkett made it three of the four transfers from the B to advance significantly, motoring from 17th to tenth.

    The all-green D2 USAC Midget feature went to Jacob Denney, who passed Chet Gehrke on lap 18 of 20 to take the lead. Gehrke was followed by early leader Adam Taylor. Stratton Briggs and Alex Watson rounded out the top five.

    When I had the chance, I enjoyed the moon’s appearance in the eastern sky, shining benevolently over the seemingly endless corn fields. Somehow it was comforting—and fitting--as I headed south.

    Watching one of my favorite cartoons, featuring one of my favorite characters, Yo Semite Sam, I'm…

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Sprint Week Aftermath

    What follows is an informal listing of random thoughts I’ve had since the opening night of Indiana Sprint Week. They jumped out at odd times and I tried to make notes as soon as a thought popped into my head before it popped out. A lot of it is opinion. May we all be discerning enough to know the difference between my own opinion and whatever facts are slipped in here.

    Beginning…

    The cap that was put on the race entries, 48, was in general a good idea. But my guess is that Gas City, Kokomo and Lincoln Park could have attracted quite a few more cars. (Not a complaint.)

    I was not exactly a whiz kid at sociology or economics. It's interesting to me at least how a team can be considered a well-funded team for a regular show, but come Sprint Week time the definition of well-funded changes. This impression can be applied in many other ways as well.

    Over the years I've spent a lot of time standing away from the crowd, whether it's the pits or the bleachers. It is somewhat like school in that the people who run the entire USAC schedule, be they competitors, officials or fans, tend to congregate together. It's not necessarily a clique or some secret society. It's just a group of mostly young people who are taking similar paths. It’s a form of fraternization within the tiny community; regulars or at least semi-regulars tend to associate with each other more often than with a backmarker. A sociologist could explain it a lot better than I could. Like most things, it isn’t necessarily good or bad; it’s what people make of it.

    Running just one class has been a popular decision by USAC and the promoters. I wonder if fans would mind paying an extra five bucks. My buddy Railroad Joe, a fellow retiree, says that he would dig a little deeper in those deep pockets of his to see that repeated.

    I first noticed it at Kokomo, but it could apply to any of the ISW tracks. As I walked around the pits and parking lots, I had a very faint memory of early 60s NASCAR races I went to with my dad. The atmosphere is laid back—until the drivers’ meeting or when fans exit the parking lot and head to their seats.

    This was long before the corporations decided to remake what was an obscure regional sport into, well, a made for TV event, complete with subtle manipulation of rules and competition. If USAC ever gets to that point, and I’m still alive, I’m not sure that I’d be a USAC fan anymore.

    Over the past few years, we’ve seen the advent of new rules such as a mandated green/white/checkered finish (probably not Chase Stockon’s favorite rule change), lapped cars tagging the field on late yellow flag periods, provisionals and fourteen-car heats. Those changes haven’t always been popular with fans, but we’ve learned to live with them, if not to embrace them as they would embrace a cold adult beverage.

    Lots of newer fans this year, but several who have taken life’s checkered flag or who were unable to make an appearance this year. First names only: Marv, Bob, Monica, Tim, Leroy, Ted, Gregg, Todd, Leann, Carolyn, Freddy, Susan and several more.

    I’ve learned to love the rituals, seen and unseen. Drivers’ meetings are usually routine, mundane and sometimes downright boring. But, like everything else, you never know what will come up. One question seemingly out of the blue will ignite a lengthy—and occasionally spirited—discussion.

    There’s the wheel packing/engine heat session. I enjoy it as it’s another step to things starting to get real. Smiles and joking don’t quite disappear, but one sees less of it. Hot laps are right around the corner.

    Some fans wait until wheel packing/engine heating begins before they come to claim their seats. Others hold off until the flagger waves the green for hot laps to begin. Still others wait for time trials and there are holdouts who wait until the National Anthem is performed.

    Speaking of the Star Spangled Banner, that, along with a pre-race prayer, is another ritual. Most everyone stops what they are doing to stand at attention for a couple of minutes. Occasionally someone will be oblivious and not notice at first. The Anthem’s renditions range from inspiring to painful. Some are recorded while others are local singers. Prayers are offered at the end of each driver’s meeting and again just before the race. Typically, whoever gives the invocation asks for safety, not just for those assembled but for our troops and safety personnel—from the local track to the other side of the planet.

    A lot of what’s described above is ramped up for Sprint Week. And a lot of what’s described above wasn’t quite the same this year. Things have been a bit different this year. Let us do what we must to ensure that 2021 will bring yet another “new normal,” but let us make it an even better one.

    As this essay is being edited and wrapped up, I’m headed to my first post-ISW race. I still feel the anticipation of going, even though it will be another long night. As long as I’m able to go, off I go.

    Reminding Louis Gohmert that the mask is meant to cover the mouth and nose, not the eyes, I'm...

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: The Battle and the War

    The 2020 version of USAC’s Indiana Sprint Week concluded on a beautiful Hoosier Sunday night with no rain as two southwestern Indiana boys won the battle and the war. Kyle Cummins won a hard fought contest in the thirty lap feature and his neighbor Chase Stockon raced like he wanted to win as he captured the Indiana Sprint Week points title and the coolest rocking chair in the world as a big part of his prizes.

    The trip from home to Haubstadt Indiana is a comparatively long one as Hoosier road trips go. The I-69 stretch can be a challenge in terms of staying awake/alert. I listened to a podcast and this morning's church service. My buddy Dan gave me plenty to think about what things we pray about.

    Race track prayers usually ask for a safe night and that is paramount. But I'm inclined to take it to another level. As a rule, my prayer is most always for everyone present to MAKE SMART DECISIONS. If we all can do that, I'd guess that it would be a safe night. Either way, with only one flip that was more like a Tommy Tipover, the prayers offered were answered in the affirmative.

    The field of 42 offered up eight new faces, most of whom were locals. Stan Beadles, Brady Short, Garrett Aitken, Eric Perrott, Sam Scott, Ryan Bond, Michael Clark and Aric Gentry added their names to the Class of ’20.

    Time trials offered a surprise or two. Tony DiMattia was the quickest of Flight One with a 13.933 as he was next to last of the first group to go out. Logan Seavey, in Flight Two, was quickest overall with a time of 13.854.

    Kyle Cummins made an emphatic opening statement as he won the first heat after going from fifth to first on the opening lap. He was followed by Brady Bacon, Tony DiMattia and Brady Short.

    Robert Ballou took the second heat with Aric Gentry, Dakota Jackson and Garrett Aitken all moving on.

    Pole sitter CJ Leary won the third heat with Logan Seavey, Justin Grant and Chris Windom making the feature.

    In the fourth heat Chase Stockon came from fifth to win over Critter Malone, Shane Cottle and Jadon Rogers.

    Yet another of the local racers, sprint rookie Stan Beadle, won the C, taking Max Guilford, Dustin Smith and Ryan Bond with him to the B.

    Chase Johnson was the semi feature winner with Kevin Thomas Jr., Carson Short, Kent Schmidt (from 11th), Stevie Sussex and Brandon Mattox all taking advantage of their last, best chance. Beadle’s luck ran out when he executed a bounce-and-flip in turn two. He walked away.

    It must have been Kokomo provisional night as Dave Darland and Dustin Smith used theirs to make it a twenty four car field.

    Cummins and Windom were the front row and, given his success here, it would be hard to bet against the young man from just up the road (Princeton). But Windom fired off from the outside front row and led the first lap after two yellow flags prevented a lap from being completed. This didn’t last long as Cummins threw a well done slider in turn four to take the lead.

    Windom’s enjoyment of the race took a major hit as first Cottle then Aitken, the second row starters, dispatched Windom to fourth in consecutive laps. By lap six, Cummins had extended his lead and one could be forgiven for thinking this might be a rout. A lap nine yellow flag bunched up the field with Cottle, Aitken, Windom and Stockon trailing Cummins.

    On the re-start, Aitken seized second place just before another yellow waved. Another re-start and Aitken got Cummins’ attention as he slid under the leader in turn one, leading for a second before Cummins re-asserted his dominance by taking the lead back. With all that, the local kid couldn’t increase his lead by much as the laps wound down.

    The race’s sixth yellow waved with nine laps to go and both Aitken and Cottle had one last chance to bedevil the leader. But it wasn’t going to happen as Cummins built his lead lap by lap. Instead, Cottle had quite the battle with Aitken before making the pass on lap 27. Neither one had anything for Cummins, who began a new winning streak at Tri-State after an unbeaten season last year.

    The margin of victory was 1.423 seconds over Cottle. Stockon made a late pass on Aitken to take third place and the championship, which included the rocking chair. Windom, whose team had made an engine change after his heat race, was fifth.

    Ballou led the second five, with the next three finishers all advancing nine spots. Jackson moved from 16th to seventh and won the KSE Racing Products / B & W Auto Mart Hard Charger dough. C. Short went from 17th to eighth. Critter Malone had an up and down kind of race. He was involved in one of the early incidents, passed a bunch of people to run as high as sixth, but then fell back to ninth after originally starting 18th. Rogers ended up tenth.

    We can allow Chase Stockon the last word in a sense. “It’s all big picture for us.” And in the same breath, “it just shows how strong we are as a team.  Nobody got down and everybody kept their chin up.  We just powered forward.”

    Stockon didn’t win any of the ISW’s five features, but he did rack up five top five finishes. With USAC points and lots of other things, consistency matters.

    And now, back to “normal,” whatever that is, until Kokomo’s Smackdown is not that far away.

    Reminding Jerry Falwell Jr. that it’s a bad idea to have your picture taken with your pants unzipped, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Racing, Interrupted

    You can't say that USAC officials and Joe Spiker Productions didn't try. But the one thing that promoters can't control is the weather. At approximately 9:20 on an otherwise beautiful Indiana evening at the Lincoln Park Speedway, the sprinkling of precipitation turned into a drizzle, then a full-fledged shower. Racing was over for the night and USAC will discuss with Joe Spiker whatever options they have. (Only thing for sure at this time is ISW now headed to Haubstadt on Sunday night.) The B main had just begun when the festivities were halted.

    Among the new kids in house were Shelby VanGilder, an LPS champ Brent Beauchamp, Harley Burns, Matt McDonald, Jake Bland, Evan Mosley, Stevie Sussex and Tony DiMattia.

    The rain and the cloud cover saw some fast laps. If anything, the track became faster as qualifying went on. Logan Seavey went out 45th in line and ripped off a 12.392. Beauchamp led Flight One with a 12.688 lap. Justin Grant and Nate McMillin flipped; both were unhappy but walked away.

    Shane Cottle went from fourth to first in two laps and won the caution plagued first heat with Chase Stockon, Brent Beauchamp and Thomas Meseraull following.

    In the second heat Robert Ballou used his front row starting spot to cruise for ten laps. Chris Windom, Kevin Thomas Jr. and Carson Short trailed. Travis Berryhill flipped in turn four and exited the car on his own.

    Logan Seavey used the fluffy high groove to sail away to the third heat victory over Jake Swanson, Dakota Jackson and Dave Darland.

    The fourth heat saw Brady Bacon take the win over CJ Leary, Kyle Cummins and Chris Phillips.A.J. Hopkins smacked the turn four wall before tipping over, bringing out the red.

    In the C main, Matt McDonald inherited the lead when early leader Charles Davis Jr. broke and went on to win, taking Brandon Morin, Logan Hupp and Max Guilford with him to the B.

    The semi was under a hex of some kind. The yellow waved immediately after the green flag came out for an issue in turn four. Right after that the red lights blinked for Jake Bland, who flipped over the turn two banking and down the hill. He walked away from the car. Then Anton Hernandez hammered the turn four wall, bringing out the yellow. While the field was circling the oval, the moisture made its appearance. A few minutes later, my bodyguard and I retreated to the restroom entrance and watched it come down. A few minutes later I could hear Brad's announcement that we were done for the night.

    It wasn't raining that hard so we headed for the little white truck and waited on the traffic to clear out. I made some notes while he played a sprint car video game on his phone. (Think about that for a second. When I was his age, I’d use empty popcorn boxes to race in the car on the way home.)  Disappointed but not despondent, we could hope that the next time it will be a little drier.

    It rained all the way home. The bodyguard was conked out for much of the trip.

    As this is written, plans are being made to head to Haubstadt and watch racers try to race. Let’s hope so.

    Chasing the rainbow and wondering what I'll do should I catch it, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Victory Denied or The One That Got Away

    Some folks might be fans of the rule that each USAC feature end with at least the last two laps of green flag action. After the finish at the Terre Haute Action Track on a warm Wednesday night, Justin Grant might understandably be a fan and maybe Chris Windom too. As for Chase Stockon, he might not be a fan. This was how it was when Grant made a last lap pass on Stockon to win Round Four of Indiana Sprint Week.

    It was going to take more than any road construction to keep me from getting to the Action Track. It meant that I’d arrive a little later than I’m used to. Besides, such trivial obstacles disappear as soon as I park the truck.

    This was the lowest car count so far of any ISW meeting. But 42 cars at Terre Haute was impressive for sure. Making their ISW debuts were Kendall Ruble from just down the road at Vincennes, Californian Jake Swanson, back for some more Hoosier racin’, Mitch Wissmiller, from across the state line, Nate McMillin, with a short tow, and Bill Rose, another Hoosier (Plainfield). Anton Hernandez was back in the 5 after a brief absence and Jadon Rogers, in the family car now numbered 61.

    CJ Leary had quick time overall with an impressive 19.933 lap, compared to Brady Bacon's record of 19.225. Don't tell Kevin Thomas Jr. that the track went away much at all. Perhaps helped by a mild cloud cover, his 19.974 led Flight 2 and was second overall.

    Chase Stockon got things off to a good start in winning the first heat. Brandon Mattox, Tyler Thomas and Dave Darland trailed.

    The second heat was won by Chris Windom, followed by Justin Grant, early leader Charles Davis Jr. and Kyle Cummins.

    Shane Cottle won the third heat as Carson Short grabbed second at the line when Kevin Thomas Jr. lost a tire as the checkered flag waved. Jake Swanson was fourth.

    In the final heat race Brady Bacon cruised to the victory by a country mile with pole sitter Max Adams, Dennis Gile and Dustin Smith all moving on.

    Dustin Clark made a late pass on Brandon Morin in winning the semi-semi feature with Tye Mihocko and Mitch Wissmiller also tagging the B.

    Logan Seavey took the consolation with Clinton Boyles, Robert Ballou, Chase Johnson, Matt Westfall and Nate McMillin all headed to the show. McMillin started 14thand hijacked the last spot for the feature at the line. Tyler Thomas ran as high as second before breaking.

    For the 30-lap feature, Swanson and Stockon were the front row. Chase took the lead in turn two as Bacon had a strong start from third, taking over second coming out of turn two. Stockon’s time in the lead was short lived as Bacon came out of turn four and roared past a lap later. Meanwhile Stockon found himself under attack from Justin Grant, who also made the pass coming out of turn four. They would meet again later. Grant made the pass for second on lap four, but couldn’t reel in Bacon.

    By the halfway mark, Bacon’s lead was a half straightaway. He was closing in on lapped traffic when the yellow waved for Max Adams, victim of a flat right rear on lap 19. Brady wouldn’t have to worry about lapped traffic, but he would have to worry about Grant, Stockon, K. Thomas and Leary.

     

    On the re-start, Grant pounced, diving to the bottom of turn one and taking the lead with possible slight contact with Bacon. But that didn’t last long as a rejuvenated Stockon took the top spot a lap later with a power move in turn two. He didn’t exactly run away but at this point, with the laps winding down, things were looking good for the kid from just down the road at Ft. Branch, IN. With a couple of laps left, Grant and third-place Windom were closing. Butit looked like Stockon would end a long drought of feature wins.

    But wait. What was this? Dustin Smith reportedly slowed in turn four and Nate McMillin spun to avoid a real mess. With Nate slowly moving but facing oncoming traffic (never a good idea), Tom “Darth” Hansing waved the yellow, delaying the race’s conclusion. The rule book is loud and clear. All finishes would be ended with a green/white/checkered. Stockon would have to hold off Grant and company again.

    Again, Darth waved the green and again Stockon did the right thing. He held onto the lead and again took the white flag. He made it to the third turn and was headed for vict---But wait. What was this? Another yellow. Instant déjà vu, that’s what it was—though Stockon might have called it something else. Dennis Gile spun in turn two. At any rate, Chase would have to do it again.

    But this time Stockon took the white flag with both Grant and Windom all over him going into turn one. Stockon pushed up enough to slow his momentum and Grant swooped by as did Windom coming out of turn two. That was all she wrote and that was how they finished: Grant, Windom and Stockon.

    There are surprise finishes in every sport. Those who observe and participate can find them thrilling and painful at the same time. Any sudden change brings opposite reactions from those involved. Grant reaped the rewards of the “thrill of victory” as Stockon suffered the “agony of defeat,” to revive a long ago cliché. From my seat, which is most always an objective one, the sudden change brought conflicting feelings. I don’t pretend to know either Grant or Stockon that well, but they are good guys, the best USAC can offer in terms of popularity and class. I’d have been fine with either winning. But, man, did I hate to see Chase lose that way. True to form, Grant touched on that after the race.

    Leary’s two race win streak was over; he settled for fourth, followed by Cottle. Bacon fell back to sixth with Gas City winner Seavey seventh. K. Thomas also slipped back a little, finishing eighth. Darland moved up a few spots at the end, coming from 13th to ninth. And Ballou did it again, passing cars right and left, coming from 19th to take tenth and again earn the KSE Racing Products / B & W Auto Mart Hard Charger award.

    Not generally noted, but for the third time in four races, there was a late race surprise.

    Quote of the night went to Grant: “This is how I feed my kids.  This is how I pay my bills.  This is my life.”

    Grant leads Stockon by six points in ISW points. He has a big lead over Bacon in National points.

    Off to Lincoln Park the dedicated band of gypsies will head now. If I wasn’t too tired, I’d do my anti-rain dance now. As I send this to Allan, I’m waiting on the weather mostly. The one thing that neither the promoter nor USAC can control.

    Cancelling my appointment with the demon sperm doc, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Two in a Row

    CJ Leary withstood the best efforts of Chris Windom and won for the second time in three nights in Indiana Sprint Week/USAC festivities at the Lawrenceburg Speedway. With the merry band of pranksters taking a couple of days off, Leary will take a moment to celebrate his 12th win at Lawrenceburg since 2008, the year that the current configuration commenced.

    As I've walked through the pits the past few nights, I needn't be an expert to notice that most of the 48 have a slightly better chance of winning the feature than I do. So why do they bother to even show up? Maybe their expectations are different from others. In addition, unlike me, they can say that they competed. I haven't and it's unlikely that I will. My guess is that many reading this can say they haven't either.

    With all that, I'll say that I root for every one of them. I know a few USAC racers (and a few former racers) and I like all of them. While I don't root for any of them to win, I do hope that they can all load the car on the trailer after the race. At the end of the day, maybe that’s all which matters.

    New players included Chase Jones, Dallas Hewitt, Steve Thomas and Ty Mihocko, along with Lawrenceburg regulars JJ Hughes, Shawn Westerfeld and Saban Bibent.

    Justin Grant went out early to set his quick time of 14.070, though several others tried mightily to top it.

    Justin Grant made a late pass work as he won the first heat. Thomas Meseraull, Tyler Courtney and pole sitter Jerry Coons Jr. also made the show.

    The second heat saw Jarett Andretti lead Chase Stockon, CJ Leary and Robert Ballou home.

    Shane Cottle won the third heat over Chase Johnson, Chris Windom and Eddie Tofoya Jr., who made his very first ISW feature.

    Carson Short was the fourth heat winner, pacing Max Adams, Brady Bacon and Gas City winner Logan Seavey.

    Unlike the night before, the C main was fairly tame. Dakota Jackson led Shawn Westerfeld, Anthony D’Alessio and Max Guilford to the semi-main.

    The caution plagued B main was won by JJ Hughes with Kevin Thomas Jr. and Kyle Cummins trailing. Behind them, mayhem combined with the thrill of victory, etc., prevailed.

    Matt Westfall tapped Chase Jones, who spun, tipped over and collected Dustin Smith. Both Smith and Jones (has a ring to it) saw feature starting spots go poof! Those who had been seventh on back were racing their hearts out and a few of them benefitted. But Sterling Cling had a left front tire going down and on the restart was passed by Dave Darland and Jadon Rogers. So...the final three were Westfall, Darland and Rogers.

    Gas City winner Logan Seavey and Kokomo winner CJ Leary landed in the front row and Leary got the drop on Seavey and everyone else. Right away, things slowed down as K. Thomas and Courtney found themselves parked next to the wall, about 100 feet apart. Sunshine especially may have felt like banging his head against that wall after his disappointment the night before and now this. While the field circled under the yellow, Andretti ducked into the pits with a flat tire. KT and Jarett rejoined the crowd.

    The green waved and two more laps were completed when Jadon Rogers flipped for the second night in a row. Westfall and Coons were also involved; they returned to the fun. Leary led Seavey, Bacon, Grant and Windom.

    Again, Tom Hansing brought out the green flag and again Leary tried dearly to check out. But on the seventh lap Max Adams stopped on the track and again Tom reached for his yellow flag. There was no change up front within the top five.

    On this re-start, Grant passed Bacon for third. A lap later Windom passed Bacon for fourth. But he had to give it back as a stray tire rolled down the straightaway. It was Grant’s and he was parked in turn four as the yellow waved one more time. Leary still led, but things were a little different behind him. Seavey was second, ahead of Bacon, Windom and now Stockon. Johnson, the inexperienced kid, had moved from 12th to sixth, by the way.

    Again, the green came out and again Windom passed Bacon, now for second place. Leary had stretched out his lead somewhat during the middle stages of the thirty lapper. But Windom began inching his way to the front, closer and closer. Finally on lap 23 he threw a slider at the leader, falling short and dropping back. From there, Leary was never threatened in any way. Those of us who kept expecting the unexpected are still waiting, thankfully.

    Behind Leary and Windom was Bacon. Stockon was fourth and Short completed the race in fifth place as Seavey faded some to finish sixth. Cummins came from 15th to capture seventh. Grant did a fine job of hustling back to take eighth after his misfortune. After running as high as sixth, Johnson settled for ninth. Ballou was tenth after starting 22nd and earning the KSE Racing Products / Irvin King Hard Charger award.

    Leary’s margin of victory was 1.057 seconds.  After the race he spoke of how being on the family team seems to be a good fit. Windom lamented the lapped traffic. Bacon thanked his sponsors. Ballou said he needed to qualify better and expressed concern over the rocks he found on the track.

    In national championship points Grant retains a healthy lead over Bacon. However, Bacon leads Grant by five points in Sprint Week points. Despite Leary’s winning two of the three events so far, his 13th place finish at Gas City has hurt.

    Next stop, the Terre Haute Action on Wednesday.

    Trying to drink while wearing a mask, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: One Man’s Ceiling….

    ….is another man’s floor. So goes an old Paul Simon song, long before either C.J. Leary or Tyler Courtney took life’s green flag. With that in mind, once again the old lyric came through as Leary won the USAC/Indiana Sprint Week thirty lap feature at the Kokomo Speedway on another warm Hoosier night. The result was another conclusion that no one would have predicted, seeing that leader Tyler Courtney made contact with an infield tire with three circuits to go and spun. This wasn't any more surprising than the end of the previous night's finish when Logan Seavey and Kevin Thomas Jr. tangled. Leary, who lost by a hair to Shane Cottle in last year’s ISW event at Gas City, picked up his fourth Sprint Week victory.

    With this being Saturday my favorite Kokomo city park was a little more crowded than usual. While I preferred to have the park to myself, there was relative quiet and calm, punctuated by the typical sights and sounds of a mid-sized city and by people meandering through the park, phones in hand, looking for something (a Pokemon exercise, I assumed). I figured that the contrast between the quiet and the loud sounds that were in my near future was good for me. I saw myself enjoying the time in the park, reading, writing and walking--in other words, the same things I did at the track.

    The new kids on the block featured Tyler Courtney, running a partial USAC schedule. Critter Malone, Colton Cottle and Travis Berryhill were also making their first ISW appearance.

    Brady Bacon was the quick timer with a 13.031 lap. The surface stayed consistent throughout time trials, even more of a trick given the potential obstacles.

    C. J. Leary won the first heat as Jadon Rogers flipped in turn one. He was able to walk away and would re=appear later in a backup car. Kyle Cummins, Critter Malone and Max Adams all made the show.

    In the second heat it was Tyler Courtney moving from sixth to win. Clinton Boyles, Brandon Mattox and Colton Cottle trailed.

    The slam bang third heat was won by Brady Bacon, also from sixth. Chris Windom was second with Thomas Meseraull and Kevin Thomas Jr. transferring. After the checkered KT and Logan Seavey exchanged greetings and salutations, especially the latter.

    Robert Ballou took the fourth heat with little trouble, leading Shane Cottle, Justin Grant and Carson Short to the line.

    It's true that sometimes a preliminary race is more entertaining than the feature. That wasn't necessarily the case tonight but the C and B mains weren't too shabby. The law firm of Coons, Hopkins, Johnson and Weir advanced from the C to the B. The caution plagued semi feature saw Stockon lead Seavey and Darland to the line. The last trio to transfer were, yep, Hopkins, Coons and Johnson. As Kyle Robbins did the night before, these three moved from the C to the show. In the C, Logan Hupp and Sterling Cling flipped. Travis Berryhill flipped in the B. All three walked away, none too pleased.

    In some ways the night’s feature resembled Gas City’s in some ways, as shall be seen. Short and Leary were the front row and Short drifted wide in turn two on the first lap, enabling fourth starting Grant to take the lead. But Courtney, from his inside second row start, grabbed the lead on the second lap and the chase was on.

    Early on, it seemed like Courtney and Grant would leave the others behind but Cummins, who started fifth, and Leary had other ideas. Kyle was strong early but slowly faded as the race went on. After spotting Courtney a decent lead, Leary began cutting the distance and reeling in the leader. He took the lead on the 13th lap with a strong outside pass. But Courtney refused to go away as the two battled side by side, much as K. Thomas and Seavey had battled the night before. Midway through the race, lapped traffic came into play as Leary led at the line for eight straight laps. Leary generally stuck with the high side while Sunshine used the low groove, getting as close to the infield tires as he could. But often both used whatever groove was available or seemed to be the best. Ah, that rare ability to make split second choices—a pity that more of us don’t have it.

    Then began a segment of the two trading the lead back and forth, officially and unofficially. Courtney led the 27th lap and his chances were looking good. But then, incredibly, Courtney nicked the infield tire enough to spin in turn two, bringing out the race’s only caution. Leary now assumed the lead and Grant was second. Questions abounded. Could Leary hang on? Could Grant find a sweet spot down low in turn one and make the pass? What about third place Brady Bacon? He was certainly capable of stealing this race.

    But the drama had already played out when Sunshine spun. Leary hung on to beat Bacon, who passed Grant after the green waved. Ballou was fourth, edging Stockon, who had started tenth. Cummins was sixth and Short finished seventh. Cottle came from 14th to grab eighth. Windom and Seavey were ninth and tenth.

    Not only did Chase Johnson endure a push truck running over his left rear, he came from the C main to start 19th and finish 11th in the feature, winning the KSE Racing Products / Everything Dirt Racing / The Frolic & Bar Grill Hard Charger award.

    The trip home took a little longer than my journey from Gas City to Kokomo. Off to my right the friendly quarter moon served as a navigator—had I needed one. One man’s navigator is another man’s friendly and comforting presence.

    Cancelling the cancel culture, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Yet Another Way to Win

    Night One of the 2020 edition of Indiana Sprint Week gave the fans all they wanted--namely another wild and woolly finish which the Gas City I-69 Speedway has become known for providing. This one was no exception as Logan Seavey fended off the challenges of several contenders before emerging from the drama with a well-earned victory.

    The initial ISW pit stroll had the usual suspects plus a few new or different combinations. Wyatt Burks, from Kansas, had headed east to try his luck with the USAC boys. Jadon Rogers was in the seat normally occupied by Stephen Schnapf. Thomas Meseraull had landed in the Tony Epperson car. Tyler Thomas and Mike Dutcher teamed up, hoping for some more good runs. And Shane Cockrum was in the Wingo brothers’ wagon most recently wheeled by Critter Malone.

    In the Long-Time-No-See Department tonight it was Dr. Tom, who has finally joined me in retirement, bless his heart. Between his face shield and my checkered flag design mask, we must have looked like a pair of over-the-hill bank robbers. Brent Goodnight was among the celebrities in Jerry Gappens’ playground, but many others were missing, if not hiding from me.

    Justin Grant led all qualifiers, the only contestant to turn a sub-12 second lap—11.859.

    Kyle Cummins made a late charge to win the first heat. Pole sitter Brandon Mattox, A. J. Hopkins and Kevin Thomas Jr. all moved on. Grant spun while fighting for a transfer spot and headed to the B.

    Brady Bacon was the second heat winner with Logan Seavey, Dave Darland and Thomas Meseraull all transferring.

    For the time being, the bottom of turns one and two looked to be the quickest while the top of three and four were popular.

    In the third heat, Robert Ballou held off Chris Windom to take the win. C. J. Leary was third ahead of Shane Cottle, who came from eighth to land in the feature.

    For the final heat, Chase Stockon had the up and down experience as he came from sixth to take the lead early only to slip in turn four. Jarett Andretti was there to capitalize and grab the win. Stockon led Tyler Thomas and Dustin Smith to the checkered.

    Kyle Robbins led Jadon Rogers, Shane Cockrum and Max Guilford to the checkered in the C main. All would come from the tail in the B.

    It was no shock that Justin Grant won the B. Carson Short, Matt Westfall, Wyatt Burks, KRob and Clinton Boyles followed with Robbins advancing from the C to the big show on his birthday, no less.

    Seavey and Windom led the gang to the line with the Californian taking the lead. When Windom slipped a bit over the turn four banking, K. Thomas was quick to pounce and give Seavey fits working the bottom as Windom fell back. It would get worse from there for him.

    The yellow waved on lap 12 for a turn four caucus involving Leary, Bacon and T. Thomas. Bacon re-started and the other two returned to the fray after a work area visit. The re-start was a brief one as Windom, Ballou and Hopkins had their own conference with A.J. sustaining too much damage to continue. The other two went to the work area and rejoined the pack, though Robert went back to the pits not long after re-entering the track.

    Seavey led K. Thomas, Grant, Stockon and Cummins as the yellow waved again, this time for a stopped Dave Darland. In the brief interval, Cummins didn’t waste time. He used the high side to pass Grant and Stockon. The fourth yellow flag in six laps waved on lap 17 when both the infield cone and the NOS Energy can were hit and landed on the track.

    What followed was the race’s longest and best segment. K. Thomas went low and traded the lead with Seavey, who stuck with the top side, lap after lap. On laps 19 and 21, KT was credited with the lead. Then came the moment that changed the race’s outcome.

    With the top two running side by side for several laps, they approached lapped traffic as the laps wound down. The soon to be lapped car of Jadon Rogers was holding his line at the bottom. The white flag waved and the two leaders made it three wide going into turn three. Contact was made—I don’t know who initiated it and it doesn’t really matter—and KT’s car got some air but didn’t quite flip. Seavey kept going as the red flag came out.

    Seavey got his top spot back but he wasn’t out of the woods yet. Before the red, Stockon had been on the move. He had passed Grant and now would re-start second for a green/white/checkered finish. It was possibly shaping up for a second straight close finish at Gas City like last year’s which saw Shane Cottle edge C.J. Leary for the win. Would it happen again?

    As it turned out, no, it wouldn’t happen again, even though Stockon tried his best, coming up about a half second short. At the end it was Seavey, Stockon, Grant, Cummins and Meseraull, who had come from 13th to finish fifth. Short started 12th and ended up sixth while Cottle rumbled from 21st to take seventh and earn the KSE Racing Products / The Frolic Bar & Grill Hard Charger dinero. Andretti was ninth and Westfall. Last week’s Gas City winner, came from 16th to take tenth.

    This added up to three of the last five Gas City/ISW features that were top notch with Tyler Courtney’s last to first drive of 2016 still the gold standard.

    There wasn’t much to do now except organize my notes and watch the traffic leave the pits. About a half hour after Logan Seavey had been interviewed, I ambled out to the little white truck. It was time to head east to Kokomo, following Justin Grant’s TOPP team. I listened to a Malcolm Gladwell podcast as I followed the TOPP crew and admired the half-moon that adorned the western sky. Again I was reminded how flat the land is up here. I could do without the hills of southern Indiana for another night—especially since it would be spent at the Kokomo Speedway for Round Two.

    Passing my own cognitive test by reciting correctly Gas City, Kokomo, Lawrenceburg, Terre Haute, Lincoln Park, Bloomington and Haubstadt, I'm..

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: First Time Winner (Not to Be Denied)

    There are times you can feel like something is going to happen sooner or later, but you can’t know when it will come to pass. But on a warm Saturday night at the Lawrenceburg Speedway, the expected win by Anton Hernandez in a 410 non-wing sprint car finally materialized. To add some icing to the cake, the young Texan made a hair-raising late race pass on a guy who is tough to beat at the ‘burg, Nick Bilbee. While Hernandez has won in just about every type car he’s driven, this was his first win in the type of car he’s wanted to race since he was a kid in the Lone Star State.

    After last week’s rainout at Lawrenceburg the youngest grandson and I felt like we were owed one. Did we ever get one. Fortified with plenty of water, we had no heat troubles. As it did at Paragon, I felt like the heat kept some people home. At any rate, they missed two nights of racin’, Hoosier style.

    Of the 98 cars inhabiting the pit area, 22 were sprints. The long haul award might have gone to Steve Thomas, all the way from Ludlow, Illinois. Honorable mention went to Garrett Aitken from Paris, Illinois, not far from Terre Haute. The short haul award probably would go to Shawn Westerfeld, from just up the road in Guilford, Indiana.

    Speaking of Aitken, he worked his way from the last row to win the first heat. Early leader Sterling Cling was second. Garrett Abrams, like Aitken using the number 32 (with the same first name and initials) finished third.

    The second heat was one of reasons my grandson and I keep coming back. Two of his buddies, Nick Bilbee and JJ Hughes, battled for the lead throughout much of the race before Bilbee prevailed. Anton Hernandez worked like a cat chasing a flying mouse in taking third from Drew Abel.

    Homeboy Joss Moffatt built a considerable margin between him and second place Shawn Westerfeld in the third heat. Korbyn Hazlett came from the last row to end up in third.

    Granted, Lawrenceburg starts racing at seven o’clock, but all heats and semi-mains were done at nine thirty. Aitken and Bilbee led 20 of their cohorts to Tim Montgomery’s green flag. Things went south quickly for Hughes when he was collected by a spinning car (Sterling Cling?) and stopped on the track in turn four.

    JJ went to the tail and it was a complete re-start. Karston decided that he’d spend the race watching his buddy work his way through the field.

    On this start, Aitken jumped and was set back one row. The green waved and they were off in a huge cloud of dust. Bilbee emerged with the lead with Abrams and Westerfeld, two track champs, in tow. They reached traffic on lap seven as Bilbee put a bit of distance between himself and the other two. They were all about to have an uninvited visitor in the form of Anton Hernandez.

    He had started eighth but had moved forward steadily. On lap nine, Hernandez passed Westerfeld for third. He began putting pressure on Abrams, who had started seventh. With a less than aesthetically pleasing slider, Hernandez got around Abrams for second on lap 14, but it was negated by a yellow flag. He would have to try again. 

    On the re-start, Hernandez executed a textbook slider in turn three and set sail for the leader. Again, lapped traffic appeared, this time on lap 20. He caught Bilbee on lap 21 and passed for the lead. But Nick responded with the crossover move and led again. The yellow waved on the same lap and Hernandez would try again. As the cars circled the track under yellow, he had to be the most keyed up person maybe in Lawrenceburg—unless Bilbee was even more so.

    On the re-start, Nick stayed up top in turn one and kept the lead. But Hernandez threw a slide job in turn three. Bilbee again reassumed the lead. However, with two to go, in turn two, Anton pulled off another slider, just like the textbook says to do it. This time Bilbee couldn’t respond and Hernandez was home free.

    Abrams wasn’t that far behind the top two. Aitken was fourth. Hazlett had an impressive run, taking fifth. Hughes, under the watchful eye of Karston, came back from the tail spot and finished sixth. Moffatt was seventh and Braxton Cummings took eighth. Drew Abel was ninth and SabanBibent was tenth.

    For the second night in a row, the winner was also the hard charger as Hernandez started eighth.

    I was somewhat surprised to learn that Jerry Coons Jr. would be driving the Baldwin Brothers’ orange crush during Indiana Sprint Week. Anton Hernandez will still be involved with the team, helping out with setups, etc. and perhaps learning from Mr. Coons, who has a lot to teach.

    Indiana Sprint Week approaches. I’m a little nervous, only because last year my wife had a serious medical issue and I missed both the Gas City opener and the Kokomo race. She seems to be fine for now so we shall see.

    Taking flying lessons from Colton Herta, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Run Away!

    A.J. Hopkins' 2020 season got even better on a toasty Friday night at the Paragon Speedway as he took the lead midway through the feature and opened up a straightaway margin over Jake Scott and the rest of the pack when the checkered flag waved.

    Of all the tracks I’ve visited over the years that are still in operation, no track has changed less than Paragon, with possible exception of Bloomington. Obviously, there have been changes over the last 60 years, but they are relatively rare. The track’s shape is the same, but in other ways modern technology has managed to sneak its way through the gate. Many of those changes have been safety related, always a plus. But everything from the pits (which are larger due to current car counts and more classes) to the pond remain (temporarily drained at USAC’s request, I would assume).

    Have all of these changes been good or bad? My answer to that question is a resounding “yes.”

    Jaden Rogers won the first of four heats by a healthy margin over Joey Parker, Jesse Vermillion and Cindy Chambers.

    Dave Darland, in Buddy Cunningham's car tonight, won the second heat, leading Jake Scott, an ill handling A. J. Hopkins (after a collision under the yellow) and Brandon Morin, in the well-aged Johnny Johnson machine.

    Despite riding the bike on the first lap, Travis Berryhill won the third heat over Critter Malone, Brady Short and Josh Cunningham.

    Brandon Spencer won the caution plagued fourth heat, leading Colin Parker, Andrew Prather and Blake Vermillion to the checkered.

    After four yellow flags and a red, the gang settled down and completed the B main with Jake Bland winning and taking Harley Burns, Jake Henderson and Colin Parker to the show with him.

    C. Parker and Critter led the troupe of twenty to the flag and right away things went bad for J. Parker, who flipped in turn one. Joey was out of the car quickly, done for the night.

    The boys (and young lady C. Chambers) had a complete re-start C. Parker jumped out to the lead. Mr. Hopkins started tenth but it was evident that he was going places. By lap six, he was fifth and wasn’t done by a long shot. Hopkins then was part of a four car breakaway with Parker leading J. Scott, Malone and Hopkins.

    Nine laps were complete when Hopkins took over third. A lap later he was second behind Parker. Here began a cat and mouse game with A.J. taking peeks in turns one and three, letting Colin know he was there. On the eleventh lap he dove low in turn one and pulled alongside Parker, but fell in behind the leader. He tried again on the twelfth lap with the same result. It seemed like it was only a matter of time.

    Sure enough, with ten laps to go, Hopkins made sure he could clear the leader with a well-executed, clean pass that began as both were going into turn one and coming out of turn two. From there, he took off, building a good sized lead in a caution free event. As the checkered waved, Hopkins’ lead was the better part of a straightaway over Scott. Rogers came from eighth to take third at the end. Parker finished fourth, but drove a fine race all the same. Berryhill was fifth, Darland sixth. Cunningham made his way to seventh after starting 15th. Short advanced from 11th to eighth. J. Vermillion started and finished ninth. Malone faded from his front row position to settle for tenth.

    I hung around for a while longer until fatigue reared its ugly head. I thought about how racing provides a brief respite from the daily grind. And then…

    A final, brief note…

    Despite our attempts to push the problems, the world’s and ours, into the background for a few hours, those problems and issues always are there when we leave our sanctuary, patiently waiting on our return. One of the few things I know about life is that it goes on, whether it’s forward or backward. The daily grind is relentless as we negotiate our way through our lives. Our attempts to make sense of life are futile all too often. Even worse, our refusal to learn, be it through books or life experiences, will surely keep us in a rut that can’t be wished away. Should this continue, even our sanctuaries will not protect us from that part of the daily grind that affects and threatens us all. Let us remember that, while we have legitimate rights, we need to face up to our responsibilities and obligations to ourselves, our neighbors, our nation and our Creator. (Adapted from the words of Morris Fiorina of Stanford University).

    Elbowing fellow shoppers out of the way as I scoop up half a dozen cans of Goya beans, I'm...

    Danny Burton

     

     

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Anatomy of a Rainout

    I had looked forward to this night, but it wasn’t going to happen. Plans were to head east to the Lawrenceburg Speedway with not one, but both grandsons. The younger one is more like me; he likes all the tracks we’ve visited since he was two years old. The older one seldom goes with me, but he has a liking for Lawrenceburg. Ignoring the weather forecast, off we went.

    As we left town, the radar revealed a small cell of showers west in Brown County. I figured that we’d outrun the dark clouds all the way to Lawrenceburg and the whole thing would fizzle out as summer storms often do. The boys were quiet as the towns were dispatched, North Vernon, Butlerville, Nebraska, Holton, Versailles, Dillsboro, Aurora and finally, Lawrenceburg.

    Wandering the pits, proudly showing off the still new Rick Lane Restrooms near the bulletin board and the inspection station. My very unofficial car count was 26; elsewhere I read that it was 31. I briefly wondered why some guys were putting their cars back into the haulers. Then I looked to the west. The dark clouds had followed us. The radar confirmed it and the forecast was rain in less than an hour.

    There were a few guys I’d seen the night before. Gas City winner Thomas Meseraull was in town with his own car, as well as one for Ricky Lewis. So was Kyle Cummins, second at Gas City. The final member of the Gas City podium, Scotty Weir, was there as well. I reminded Joss Moffatt not to sit with me tonight because two weeks ago he did and later was caught up in a crash. He had no problem with that.

    We all had bigger problems in the form of approaching rain and wind. Grandpa decided to lead the herd to the dryness under the Dave Rudisell Grandstand. The wind picked up, the temperature dropped and the rain arrived with a bang. Looking south and southwest I could barely see the levee and the distillery. The boys were troopers, keeping themselves occupied.

    About 20 minutes later the rain eased up. We came up with a plan, which was get something to eat and then check in to see if Dave was going to try and get the show in. After we finished eating, the word appeared on social media that Dave had reluctantly bowed to the inevitable. No racing tonight. Lincoln Park had rained out an hour earlier.

    We went home via the “northern” route. North on Indiana State Road 1, then I-74 west. The sun tried its best to break through the clouds but it was outnumbered. The sky was darker than normal this time of year. The roads were dry at least. West of Greensburg, the oldest and I simultaneously saw considerable lightning west of us. We were sure that we’d see more rain by the time we made it home. But it never happened and I dropped the crew off at their house, all of us promising to try again soon.

    Certainly I enjoyed the evening with the boys, despite the disappointment of the rainout. We’ll try again soon—if the rain stays away or holds off until midnight of the race.

    As this is wrapped up and ready to be sent to Allan, more rain is crossing Indiana. It’s invading Spencer and the weather gurus say it’s due to his here in 19 minutes. I may as well wait up for it while I monitor USAC’s attempts to race at Knoxville.

    Applying for another job, campaign manager for Kanye West, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Still My House

    I would understand if Gas City/I-69 Speedway promoter Jerry Gappens established an account designated for Thomas Meseraull only. Late on Friday night Jerry could tap his phone a couple of times and first place money would be transferred to an account belonging to TMez. On a beautiful northeastern Indiana night, Meseraull withstood a challenge by southwestern Indiana’s Kyle Cummins to win the 25 lap feature at Gas City. It was Meseraull’s first victory of the year.

    The weather was a welcome change of pace as mostly clear skies and the thermometer stuck at 80 made for a comfortable evening. The winds from the west were quite brisk but that diminished as the sun set over Greentown and Kokomo.

    Sprint cars accounted for 30 of the 108 race cars jamming the pits. It was a bit of a surprise to see Mr. Cummins making the long haul. With both Clinton Boyles and Shane Cottle out west in Iowa, Paul Hazen turned to Plan C, Max Adams, to get some seat time in his car.

    It would be four heats for the dirty 30 and Kyle Cummins waited until he was coming to the white flag to take the lead and the win in the first heat. Sprint rookie Chase Jones, along with Sterling Cling and Aaron Leffel, began preparation for the feature.

    In the second heat, Thomas Meseraull passed Shane Cockrum midway through to motor on to the win. Billy Cribbs and Tyler Kendall also advanced with Matt Goodnight almost taking fourth.

    JJ Hughes won by a comfortable margin over Max Adams, who led Max Guilford and Adam Byrkett to the line. Braydon Clark just missed.

    Five kids (my definition) along with Dallas Hewitt and Scotty Weir made up the fourth heat (I can easily remember when Hewitt and Weir were kids). Wouldn't you know it, the two older guys showed the way. Hewitt led Weir, Korbyn Hazlett and Brayden Fox to the main event.

    Scott Hampton won the consolation with Matt Goodnight, Zack Pretorius and Evan Mosley getting one more dance. Travis Hery came close.

    Despite starting a half hour late, all heats and B mains were done at 9:18 p.m. Impressive.

    The redraw put Meseraull and Hewitt in the front row TMez grabbed the lead right away. From the outside second row, Cummins jumped to second and wasn’t happy with that. As Meseraull worked the top, Cummins used the bottom groove to take the lead on lap six coming out of turn four.

    For a while Meseraull tried the bottom to no avail; he was able to keep pace until a yellow waved on lap ten for Tyler Kendall. Cummins led Meseraull, Weir, Hughes and Adams.

    Meseraull regained the lead on the re-start, using his preferred high side. The California native stretched the lead to several car lengths before Mark Orr waved the yellow on the 15th lap for a Max Guilford spin. Still behind the lead duo were Weir, Hughes and Adams. Cummins was rooted in second place but behind him Cockrum was on the move, despite a balky shock. After spending much of the race in sixth, the Chief scooted by Adams and Hughes, then began an effort to get around Weir.

    Five laps later, the race’s final yellow waved when Jones spun in turn four. Meseraull led Cummins, Weir, Cockrum and Adams as the green waved for the last five laps. Again, Cummins had nothing for the leader and the top five didn’t change. Hewitt had started the race second, fell back to ninth and came back late to take sixth from Hughes, who was seventh. Cribbs was eighth and B main refugee Goodnight won the Rob Goodman Hard Charger award by coming from 18th to ninth. (To be truthful, A.J. and Matt Brookmyer contributed a piece of paper with Ben Franklin’s picture on it for Mr. Cockrum.) Fox advanced from 16th to finish tenth.

    It’s not out of the ordinary for a given racer dominate at a given track. Last year saw Meseraull do so at Gas City while Cummins did the same at Tri-State Speedway down south. The best thing either could do is enjoy it while it lasts. As sure as anything, their domination will end and both will go from the favorite to being a threat to win. It’s the nature of the beast that is the strong competition at Hoosier bullrings.

    In D2 Midget action, Adam Taylor and Gary Loney won their heats. Taylor won the feature with Loney taking second. Jacob Denney, Stratton Briggs and Alex Watson were the top five.

    Dominating my cheeseburger, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     The Hoosier Race Report: The Cream Also Rises

    It wasn't just the close racing and closer finish, though that was a treat as well as one to remember. At the end, one could only take a deep breath and say, among other things, "Bill would have enjoyed that." By a split second, Brady Bacon beat C.J. Leary, Justin Grant and Chase Stockon on the second night of the Bill Gardner Sprintacular at the Lincoln Park Speedway on a night with a lot of almost everything.   

    Another hot and humid Hoosier afternoon and again, my traveling partner and I headed northwest for Night II of the BGS. Tonight would be an all-open wheel festival with USAC’s sprint and D2 Midget Divisions and the Racesaver 305 Sprints.

    There was some turnover from Friday among the sprints. Missing was Friday winner Shane Cottle, who had a graduation to celebrate (stepson). New were Bobby Griffitts, Justin Standridge, Aaron Leffel, Thomas Meseraull, Josh Cunningham, Anthony D’Alessio, Travis Berryhill, Matt McDonald, Mitch Wissmiller and Brian VanMeveren. There was a net gain of six cars, bringing the total to 57 out of the 105 total cars on hand.

    With two flights of time trials, Brent Beauchamp went out early and rang up a 12.611 lap. C.J. Leary didn’t mess around in the second group of cars. His 12.913 led his group and was third of the 57.

    USAC might want to reconsider its decision to cram 57 cars into four heats. Lots of carnage would be the story of the heats.

    After a marriage proposal by Ethan Barrow at the start/finish line to his special lady (who said yes) and a reworking of the track it was time for a 15 car heat. Many of you reading this have perhaps witnessed feature races with fewer cars (Hint: For a lot of 12 car fields for a feature, go to the Carolinas.).

    The mayhem began early as contact between Chase Stockon and Dustin Smith put the Kokomo resident in a bad way, namely facing the entire field. Along came Chris Windom, who had no place to go except into the side of Smith. Also involved were Aaron Leffel and Mr. Beauchamp, who re-started on the tail. On the re-start, Donny Brackett got sideways and collected Beauchamp and Robert Carrington. Again, Beauchamp went to the tail. There was one more yellow before this one ended with Stockon leading a charging Beauchamp to the checkered. TMez and Kevin Thomas Jr. both survived to race much later.

    It continued in the second heat when Dickie Gaines flipped into the fence in front of the pit bleachers, tearing down part of the fence. Dickie exited the car on his own. After a 20 minute delay to fix the fence, some great competition began. Carson Short went high when the others went low and won after starting tenth. Kyle Cummins, Garrett Aitken and Jake Swanson trailed. Had Dave Darland not suffered a flat tire, he undoubtedly would have transferred.

    There was more in the third heat as pole sitter Josh Cunninghamspun in front of the field in the uncommonly slick turn one. McDonald, D’Alessioand Dakota Jackson were affected with Jackson getting upside down. Things calmed down after that with Brady Bacon winning over C.J. Leary, Tanner Thorson and Jordan Kinser.

    The fourth heat was tame by comparison with Justin Grant taking the win over Mario Clouser, Max Adams and Stephen Schnapf. Jadon Rogers just missed the convert.

    The first D Main I’ve seen in a very long time rolled off with Jesse Vermillion leading brother Blake, Chayse Hayhurst and Robert Bell to the C.

    The C Main began with Donny Brackett executing a half spin with predictable results for those who followed. Casualties included Harley Burns, Chris Phillips and Tim Creech II. Rogers led Brayden Fox, Tye Mihocko and Mitch Wissmiller to the B.

    The semi-main was one to appreciate. Brandon Mattox and Dave Darland showed the rest of us how it’s done as they raced side by side for much of the race with Mattox prevailing. Darland, Jonathan Vennard and Chris Windom moved on to the feature.

    D2 Midgets?

    The heat races were won by Emerson Axsom, Hayden Reinbold and Stratton Briggs.

    The caution plagued feature was won by Axson, followed by Jason McDougal, who had started deep in the pack. ChettGehrke, Chris Baue and Reinbold were the rest of the top five.

    Racesavers!

    Pole sitter Andy Bradley won the first of three heats with Bradley Galedrige and Dustin Stroup in tow.

    Nathan Franklin, Bradley Sterrett and Jordan Welch made up the podium in the second heat.

    In the third heat, Jackson Slone outran John Paynter Jr. and Ethan Barrow.

    Speaking of Barrow, his special night ended well like any good fairytale when he closed out the night by winning the feature. Bradley was a close second with Paynter leading Stroup and Sterrett to the line.

    Cut, Meet Slash

    Grant and Thorson led the way and the Californian got the jump on the Nevadan until a lap two caution left Adams stationary and solitary in turn two. Max, who had started fourth, went to the tail as Grant led Thorson, Leary, Thomas and Beauchamp.

    The boys only completed one lap when Schnapf flipped in turn one. He decamped from the car, shaken no doubt.

    Not long after the re-start, Leary passed Thorson and began doing his best to make Grant’s life miserable. For the time being, Justin stuck to the top as C.J. worked the bottom, Shane Cottle style. As the halfway mark approached, Bacon moved up to join the party, leading by a hair after 15 laps. At this point Bacon seemed inevitable.

    Just because Bacon led didn’t mean that this thing was over. Grant and Leary made sure of that. Lap after lap, these guys found a way to either pass or pull alongside each other. High, low, middle, it didn’t matter. Also, for me it was a treat that contact between them was kept at a minimum as they jockeyed for position.

    As the top three fought it out through the middle of the race, Thorson began edging his way to the front, threatening to make it a four car battle. Stockon was also on the move as the long green flag period seemed to agree with his car.

    As Bacon had led since halfway, Leary made a power move to lead lap 27. But Bacon was too much; Leary only led the one lap. Bacon reclaimed the front and held off the horde to win his 32nd USAC feature triumph, tying him with Rollie Beale.

    Behind Bacon was Leary and Grant. USAC’s Richie Murray says the margin between first and third was a whopping .0172 seconds. Stockon and Thorson weren’t that far behind either. Beauchamp ended a trying night with a sixth. Darland, Thomas, Mattox and Short completed the top ten.

    Bacon was also the KSE Racing Products / B & W Auto Mart Hard Charger, coming from eighth to first. More icing for him as his luck—and results—lately have not been up to his standards. As the USAC  caravan heads west to Knoxville, IA Grant’s point lead is 70 over Windom.

    We all need to be aware when we do or witness extraordinary events and/or efforts. Somewhere down the road these events make for good memories. Rather than complain about the dust, 15 car heat races, the multitude of interruptions, allow the appreciation of seeing talented and motivated people do what they love and excel at it.

    I like to believe that Bill Gardner had a good view of all the proceedings and perhaps he would have nodded in approval. Jackwagon.

    Unsuccessfully dodging water balloons thrown by an out of control Brian Hodde and Shondra Gardner, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Shane Shines Under the Full Moon

    On the surface it would seem to be an upset victory. But while Shane Cottle's convincing win over a stout field of glittering résumés might have been a surprise, don't call it an upset. Call it a great effort by a crafty veteran. Cottle won the first night of the Lincoln Park Speedway's Bill Gardner Sprintacular, co-sanctioned by USAC and MSCS.

    Again my not-so-little helper made the trip. I decided to hand over a few responsibilities after we arrived. We wandered through the pits and he took attendance. It helped him that he knew most of the 51 candidates on hand. He handled the camera work for the lineups and did some proofreading for some of what’s written below. I couldn’t talk him into having the Bar-B-Que sandwich, which I enjoyed.

    If that wasn’t enough, he asked Steve Fox for permission to ride on the four-wheeler as Brayden Fox and the others went through the engine heat ritual. After Brayden came in, the not-so-little guy proved that he hadn’t forgotten how to scrape mud off a sprint car.

    Tonight, the MSCS format would be used with USAC’s routine employed on Saturday. Six heats would take the top three to the 30-lap feature with C and B mains taking the top four, who would start at the back of the pack in the succeeding race. Group qualifying would begin festivities with the top four in each group inverted for the heats.

    Lots of interesting characters populated the jammed pits with 51 sprinters among 140 race cars. Dickie Gaines’ team made the long haul across much of Indiana. Chase Stockon was making his USAC debut with the KO Motorsports team.

    The first heat began with a near pileup at the front of the field that could have been much worse, Dave Darland won with Chris Windom and Mario Clouser following DD to the finale.

    There was a mini-pileup in the second heat that saw Tanner Thorson and Max Adams pointing the wrong way in turn two. Carson Short came from sixth to win with a late pass of second place Brent Beauchamp. Nate McMillen held off a charging Mr. Thorson to finish third.

    Aric Gentry scratched from the third heat and this put Justin Grant in position to scoot away for the victory. Kevin Thomas Jr. and pole sitter Dakota Jackson would join Grant for the feature.

    It's true that it took A. J. Hopkins eight laps to take the lead in the fourth heat, but take it he did and led Jake Bland home. Brayden Fox, carrying no mud, was third.

    When Kyle Cummins bounced hard off the turn two cushion, C. J. Leary was quick to pounce and the fifth heat was his. Chase Stockon, now part of the Kent Schmidt stable, was second. Cummins recovered to take third.

    In the sixth and final heat, Brady Short took an ugly ride after contact with Anton Hernandez. After a few minutes Brady shook the cobwebs away and exited the car. Racing resumed with Shane Cottle holding back Brady Bacon and Brandon Mattox for the win.

    The C main resembled the Twilight Zone if anything. Cars bumping into each other, somehow managing to continue... except for Mike Clark who got upside down before reaching the starting line. Tim Creech II, Aric Gentry, Max Adams (from the tail) and Tye Mihocko would tag the B.

    After trading the lead a couple of times, Garrett Aitken led Tanner Thorson, Anton Hernandez and Dickie Gaines to tag the A main. Jadon Rogers and Aric Gentry used MSCS provisionals.

    One could be forgiven for picking either front row occupant. A.J. Hopkins runs well at LPS. Justin Grant is having a successful season so far. Cottle would start sixth. Brady Bacon, scheduled to start 12th, didn’t start at all. Dickie Gaines pulled into the infield before the start, leaving 22 starters. Bacon and Gaines might have gazed at the full moon and cursed their luck.

    Grant led the first lap, but C. Short, starting third, quickly shot to first on the next circuit. Short was leading when the race’s first yellow waved on lap four as Mattox stopped on the track. Up front it was Short, Grant, Cottle, Hopkins and Leary.

    Short’s time leading the pack was not for much longer. Grant came back to lead on the seventh lap. His time up front lasted only a lap as Cottle came on to lead lap eight, owning the bottom lane. It wasn’t like Grant went away; he never did let Cottle get away.

    Lapped traffic almost became a factor by the 12th lap, but Jake Bland brought out the race’s second yellow. Cottle led Grant, Leary, Short, Windom, Stockon, Hopkins, Beauchamp, Thomas and Jackson.

    Nothing had changed among the top three when Mattox spun with 16 laps complete after contact with Rogers; yellow lights blinked. Windom was now fourth and a fading Short was fifth. On the re-start, Grant and Leary had a brief and private war for second. C.J. held the position for lap 20 but Grant came back and re-took it. To add to Leary’s troubles, Windom advanced to third on the same lap.

    Over the last few laps, the order stayed the same. Cottle, Grant, Windom, Leary, and Stockon, who started 11th, were the top five. Hopkins was sixth with Beauchamp seventh and Thomas eighth. Jackson came from 15th to finish ninth. Cummins was the KSE Racing Products / B & W Auto Mart Hard Charger after starting 17th and ending up tenth.

    Cottle is surely one of those interesting characters. He’s not a kid anymore; age thirty is a distant memory. But if Mr. Cottle has lost little, if any, off his game. He’s a joker, good natured and easy going. But God help the racer or anyone else who crosses him. Fortunately, that seldom happens. Face it, kids. Shane Cottle is cool. Maybe he’s Lawrence Talbot in disguise.

    To be sure, it looks like he and the Hodges team are on the same page.

    Texting Sebastian Vettel and giving him a list of USAC car owners to contact if he gets fired, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Tale of the Scared Rabbit

    It was a warm and muggy Indiana night as Chris Windom played the role of the scared rabbit as he held off first Brady Bacon and at the end Justin Grant to win the Tony Hulman Classic.

    A clear majority of the field tonight was either a native Hoosier or Illini. It seems like there's always a surprise or two with each pit walk. I was mildly surprised and happy to see Nick Bilbee, fresh off his Lawrenceburg Speedway win from Saturday night. Robert Bell is a welcome sight and here he was, with the long haul from Iowa behind him. Jake Swanson was in the Hoosier state with an Arizona car. As announced, Tanner Thorson was in the Reinbold/Underwood car for the injured Logan Seavey.

    This would be the 50th running of a race named after the gentleman who arguably was the best thing to ever happen to Terre Haute, Vigo County and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Tony Hulman. It would seem that any successful and forward looking community needs people who are of the same bent, those who aren't shy about earning or making a fortune, but who realize that the same folks who contributed to their amassed wealth should reap their share of the benefits as well.

    My town's version of Tony Hulman was J. Irwin Miller, who, with a dreamer named Clessie Cummins, made this town into the Athens of the Prairie, among other nicknames. We all have benefitted from Mr. Miller and Mr. Hulman (and let us not forget Don Smith). 

    The track surface at the time of qualifying was not its fastest and one would have been tempted to say that it was losing speed as time trials proceeded. But Brady Bacon was having none of it as he was 24th in line, yet turned in the quickest lap with an impressive 22.025. After qualifications, the track received a major makeover and this resulted in some pretty decent racing; certainly the track was faster.

    In the first of three heats, Chase Stockon used a late race restart to get around Carson Short to win. Brady Bacon was third behind Short with Chris Windom fourth. Mitch Wissmiller punched the last ticket.

    Jake Swanson passed Brandon Mattox in turn two of the first lap and led the rest of the way to win the second heat. Tanner Thorson was second and Justin Grant passed Mattox at the line to finish third. Kendall Ruble held off Brandon Morin to clinch a spot in the show.

    Anton Hernandez led all the way to win his first USAC heat race as second place Nick Bilbee made sure that the Texas native earned it. Kevin Thomas Jr. took third and Dustin Smith ignored a smoking engine to finish fourth. Max Adams was fifth.

    Two notable stories were at the front of the B main results. After a night of calamity for C.J. Leary and company in which an engine was changed and there was more trouble with the next one, he roared from last to win the semi feature. This one ended with a single green flag lap after a late yellow. Nate McMillen made the most of it, using the high side to advance two places on the last lap to annex second place. Mitchell Davis was third with Matt Westfall, Chris Phillips, Brandon Morin and Steve Thomas all making it to the night's final event.

    Adams and Windom led 20 of their colleagues to the line and Tom Hansing sent them on their way. Right away Windom jumped to the lead and Bacon immediately fired off from sixth to take second. It didn’t take these guys long to break away from the rest of the field. But Dustin Smith brought out a lap nine yellow when he spun in turn two. Windom led Bacon, K. Thomas, Grant and Thorson.

    Things stayed pretty much the same with the top two in the middle of the race with Thomas slowly falling through the order. With five laps to go, the long green flag segment ended with Davis stopping just past the start/finish line. Windom led Bacon, Grant, Thorson and Stockon in the top five. An impressive Swanson was sixth, ahead of Short, Thomas, Leary and Adams. It wouldn’t stay this way for long.

    Only a lap was completed when Thorson slowed and Bilbee was unable to avoid the near-stationary sprinter. Nick fljpped, changing the yellow flag to a red. This moved Swanson into the top five. Thorson rejoined the field with a new right rear tire.

    There was more. Leary had a good run spoiled on lap 27 when he stopped, bringing out another yellow. He had come from last to ninth when his misfortune ended a trying night. During the yellow, Bacon stopped on the track as well, ending a fine run in its own right. Despite his best efforts, a balky engine terminated Bacon’s race. Now Windom led Grant, Stockon, Swanson and Short.

    As he did with Bacon, Windom pulled away from Grant over the last three laps, winning by several car lengths. Stockon joined Windom and Grant on the podium with Swanson finishing fourth. Short was the KSE Racing Products / B & W Auto Mart Hard Charger, coming from 14th to finish fifth.

    Thorson scrambled back from his ill luck to finish sixth. Thomas settled for seventh and Adams was eighth. Morin came from 18th to take ninth with Hernandez tenth.

    With the two-night Bill Gardner Sprintacular coming up Friday and Saturday, Grant has a 40 point lead over Windom.

    Now possessing two of those cool rifles for winning this race (he also won in 2011), Windom can go rabbit hinting.

    With the words “End Construction” rapidly becoming my two favorites, I’m…

    Danny Burton 

     

     

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Sneaky Fast

    Sometimes a hot dog shows up and people will point and say, "there's your winner tonight." Often they will be correct and for 18 laps at the Lawrenceburg Speedway, the "prophets" were looking prescient. But Nick Bilbee either didn't get the memo or did and ignored it. All Nick did was reel in Brady Bacon and make the pass for the lead, then hang on for a well-earned win.

    Rain fell across much of Indiana on Saturday, hurting the “garage salers” in our neighborhood and knocking out the scheduled Lincoln Park Speedway program which included fireworks. Lawrenceburg was not spared, receiving just enough rain to keep Dave Rudisell from watering the track very much.Some sprinkles delayed the start of festivities for less than a half hour.

    The rain and/or the threat of rain may have held the sprint car count down to 18 (with a total of 90 cars in the pits). But there were enough quality cars and drivers to make this an interesting evening. Two of the three sprint car races were a real treat.

    Another treat was provided by my grandson, who has been clamoring to see some of his buddies since his participation in football has been cancelled this year. He gave me a laugh when he stood next to JJ Hughes and discovered that he’s grown to the point where he’s catching the full-grown Mr. Hughes. It’s probably a good thing we didn’t run into the promoter—unless he was wearing his elevator shoes.

    Garrett Abrams led the first half of the first heat, then it was Brady Bacon's turn. The Oklahoma native led the rest of the way to take the win. Abrams was second, trailed by Anthony D'Alessio, JJ Hughes and Shane Cockrum.

    In the second heat, Matt Westfall led all eight laps, but a last lap near bobble made it close at the end. Dickie Gaines finished second by a very few feet. Nick Bilbee was a close third after starting eighth. Justin Lewis and Ryan Barr ran fourth and fifth.

    We occupied our time until the sprint feature lined up by eating, watching the support classes race, strolling through the pits, and checking my phone to catch the Outlaws’ hot laps up in Minnesota.

    The redraw saw Westfall and Bacon on the front row. Tim Montgomery waved the green at 10:00 p.m. and away they went. While Westfall got the jump at the start, Bacon grabbed the lead in turn two and did his best to put some distance between himself and everyone else.

    Five laps were complete when Nathan Carle spun in turn two just before Bacon would have lapped him. It was Bacon, Westfall, Gaines and Bilbee, who had started fifth. During the caution, I commented to my grandson that Nick had a strong car, but Dickie and Matt would be tough to pass.

    On the re-start, Bacon pulled away from Westfall and Gaines found himself under attack from Bilbee. Nick completed the pass on the eighth lap and he set his sights on Westfall. At about this time I noticed that Bacon’s lead had seemed to shrink somewhat. But Bilbee was also gaining ground on the Buckeye, making the pass for second on the 17th lap.

    Bacon was next on Bilbee’s list of accomplishments. He reeled in the leader and made it look almost easy. The pass for the lead was exiting turn two on the 19th lap. If one didn’t know any better, they might be tempted to think that Nick had sneaked up on Brady. But I had heard the engine on the Hoffmans’ 69 car with a sound that wasn’t quite right. Bacon confirmed it on social media, citing a balky magneto.

    If one expected Bilbee to check out, they would have been disappointed. Bacon, despite his mechanical woes, hung tough with the lead car, almost getting under Bilbee in turn one, only to see him run above the cushion and get a major launch into turn two and down the backstretch. Brady’s motor couldn’t respond.

    Behind Bilbee and Bacon was Westfall, Gaines and Hughes. Cockrum was sixth until he was penalized two spots; my guess is that it had something to do with a re-start, but I’ve been wrong a few times. This put Abrams in sixth and Sterling Cling seventh. The Chief settled for eighth and non-wing sprint car rookie Saban Bibent came from 14th to finish ninth. Slater Helt, all the way from Harrisonville, Missouri and one who has run with the WAR series, finished tenth.

    Since Bilbee finished ahead of Bibent, Nick was the Karston McIntosh hard charger. After hot laps, Karston had presented Nick with a dirt clod that had smacked him in the face. For the superstition minded, this might mean something for the future.

    But the real lesson was to never assume; never attempt to prophesy. We can’t and, I believe, aren’t supposed to know how things are going to turn out. That’s why we go to races—to find out.

    Exceedingly happy that none of my three nieces are writing a book, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: The Way of Improvement (Leads Home)

    The title comes from a website owned and operated by John Fea, author, historian and professor at Messiah College, which is in a familiar sounding town called Mechanicsburg, PA. The college is a short drive from, yep, Williams Grove Speedway. But I digress. The Way of Improvement came to mind as I watched still-young Jaden Rogers hold off the best efforts of both Jake Scott and A.J. Hopkins and win the 25-lap feature at the Paragon Speedway on a warm, but breezy Friday night.

    The early bird pit walk didn't yield any shocks but Thomas Meseraull was here instead of Gas City, serving as a coach for Californian Ricky Lewis. It was no surprise that Josh Cunningham was here, but in the family car this evening.

    Young Lewis appears to be spending the summer in Indiana as so many have done before him, chasing a dream. Other long haulers included Tom Davies from Elkhart, Indiana and recovered for the most part from his unfortunate encounter with Gas City's turn one a couple of years back. Matt Cooley and company made the long haul from Greenville, Ohio, a hop, skip and jump from Eldora. Newcomer Nathan Carle came over from West Harrison, Indiana, not far from Lawrenceburg. And Kent Weed had a long haul of his own, making the journey from Sheperdsville, Kentucky. (The things we remember from childhood can be pretty much anything. I remember my dad getting pulled over by a Kentucky State Trooper near Sheperdsville for, what else, speeding. I was maybe 12.)

    I could not help but reflect on the changes in the pits compared to the USAC/Indiana Midget Week races from last week. Some of the differences in the pits as opposed to early last were more obvious than others. Among the most obvious would be all the sheet metal. One of my favorite differences was a goodly number of open trailers, in all five classes. Perhaps the most significant contrast from the Midget Week race and tonight's was the overall mood. The USAC boys and girls are somewhat more serious. It makes plenty of sense; more is at stake. More people, not just drivers, do this either for a living or for a considerable second income. The atmosphere on this breezy Friday tended to be a bit more laid back. Don't be fooled; once these guys took the green, the intensity, while impossible to measure, was, I'd wager, pretty much the same as the sanctioning body's racers. I meandered through the pits, observing people working on their cars and noticed something else. You are much more likely to see the locals working on their own car... with or without help.

    Racing began with the caution plagued first heat, which belonged to Matt McDonald, who held off the charging rookie Ricky Lewis and Brandon Spencer.

    After a dose of water for the track, the second heat saw Jaden Rogers romp to the win with Hunter O'Neal second. Mike Clark, another low buck racer, was third.

    A.J. Hopkins was the fourth leader of the third heat, holding off Jake Scott, who had led part of the race, with inches to spare. Jordan Kinser was the third of this trio to lead and finished third. Initial leader Harley Burns spun in turn two.

    There was still a good amount of daylight and I came over to the bleachers to sit with Keith Ford and catch a few stories. The field lined up with McDonald and Rogers leading the mob to Brian Hodde’s green flag. Rogers jumped out to the lead and was beginning to catch lapped traffic when the yellow waved on the sixth lap. McDonald and Hopkins trailed. The boys could only get a lap in when another yellow waved for an impromptu pinball game breaking out in turn four. Hopkins had passed McDonald and now was on Rogers’ rear bumper.

    By the time the third yellow waved on lap eight for action at both ends, Scott had passed McDonald and was in third place. Try as they might, neither Scott nor Hopkins had anything for the leader. Scott had taken second from Hopkins before the race’s last yellow waved just past halfway. He threw a major slide job at Rogers going into turn one, but the kid from Worthington, Indiana just dove low in turn two and re-assumed the lead.

    In the latter stages, Hopkins tried mightily to get around Scott for second, but couldn’t make any attempted passes stick. For a few laps after the yellow, the top three ran close until Rogers began pulling away. They all decided to run above the tall cushion in turn one, but no one used it any better than Rogers, who won here at Paragon three times last year.

    At the end, Rogers’ lead was several car lengths over Scott with Hopkins third. Kinser worked his way to fourth after starting ninth. Travis Berryhill advanced from 22nd to finish fifth. He wasn’t quite the race’s hard charger. That honor went to Josh Cunningham, who started way back in 24th and negotiated his way through the field to finish sixth. Matt McDonald finished seventh and Pat Giddens was eighth. Hunter O’Neal ended up ninth and Ricky Lewis recovered from one of the early race yellow periods to come back to tenth. TMez might have smiled at that.

    One of the reasons I love this wild and crazy sport is to watch people improve at their craft. It wasn’t that long ago that Jaden Rogers had plenty of desire but the results aren’t just based on desire. Things had to happen for him and his team to start having more success. It was a trying time for sure. I’ll not forget one race where Jaden brought out four yellow flags by himself. Since then, the improvement has been there and better results have appeared. Last year was a breakout year of sorts. This year looks promising. Good for Jaden Rogers and his team.

    If he knew anything about racing, maybe even John Fea would be pleased.

    Kind of glad I wasn’t one of those dead people getting a stimulus check, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

     

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: David 1, Goliath 0

    All week long lots of good racers have watched the Tucker/Boat team dominate USAC's Indiana Midget Week, winning all five features up until Sunday night at the Kokomo Speedway. But total domination wasn't to be for the multi-car team. That's because a one car team, with Tanner Thorson behind the wheel, pulled it off as Thorson edged former teammate Kyle Larson and his teammate Chris Windom at the checkered flag. With a borrowed engine no less.

    I left home and drove through steady rain all the way through Marion County. It became periodic sprinkles through Hamilton County and quit entirely as I motored through Tipton County. Kokomo had cloudy skies but my faith had been rewarded. The weather forecast was close enough and I had as close to total faith in the O'Connor family's desire to have a race (and sell a few pork chop sandwiches).

    Among the 37 USAC midgets and 38 Kokomo sprints was the usual ride switching. Spencer Bayston had stepped in to replace Logan Seavey, who’s feeling a little better but not ready to get back into the seat. Kevin Thomas Jr., citing the need to pay more attention to his sprint car team, exited the Petry team car and Jerry Coons Jr. was on hand to fill in. Jason McDougal's tryout with the Kunz team was Lawrenceburg only and he was back in his regular ride tonight. After a brief absence, Rico Abreu and Tyler Nelson were back. On the sprint side, Isaac Chapple was taking his turn in the Pedersen Open Trailer Special. Thomas Meseraull, Brady Bacon, Justin Grant and Chris Windom were the double dippers.

    For a brief period I thought to myself, uh-oh. Bits of moisture began falling from the sky at 7:15. By 7:30 it was almost a drizzle as the first heat participants circled the track.But it let up quickly and the green flag waved. 

    Tanner Thorson won with Kyle Larson, Jerry Coons Jr. and Ethan Mitchell all moving on.

    Another Tanner, this one Carrick, took the second heat and Kaylee Bryson was second, trailed by sprint aces Clinton Boyles and Kyle Cummins.

    Chris Windom came from fifth to win the third heat. Tyler Courtney, Justin Grant and Jason McDougal made ready for the feature.

    Thomas Meseraull was the man to beat in the fourth heat. As it would turn out, this would be his highlight of the evening. Rico Abreu was second. Cannon McIntosh and Buddy Kofoid made it a KKM sweep... not counting the winner.

    Cole Bodine won the last chance race. Pole sitter Daison Pursley was second. Shane Golobic, Andrew Layser, Spencer Bayston and Jake Neuman (who started 11th) would race again.

    Kokomo Sprints

    The usual five heats/top three advance/two Bs/ top three advance format was in place and C.L. Leary won the first heat. Shane Cottle and Thomas Meseraull moved to the feature.

    Brady Bacon was the second heat winner, taking Matt Westfall and Max Adams with him to the finale.

    For the third heat it was Justin Grant, Dave Darland and Travis Hery doing the honors.

    Chris Windom, Anton Hernandez and Mitchell Davis did Illinois and Texas proud in the fourth heat.

    Charles Davis Jr., Kevin Thomas Jr. and Jarett Andretti made the feature with Dustin Smith narrowly missing.

    For the first last chance race (had to do it), Critter Malone led Matt Goodnight and Aaron Farney into the 25 lap feature.

    Brian VanMeveren, Isaac Chapple and Dustin Smith met their goal of running one more race.

    Two features

    An interesting duo, Abreu and Windom, were the front row occupants and one would reasonably expect that one of them would lead the first lap, but Tyler Courtney, starting fourth, had another plan. Windom held onto second as Meseraull and Larson fought for third. Courtney was lengthening his lead and it was tempting to picture him as the winner.

    Thorson had started seventh and had dropped back in the early going. At the halfway mark he was still seventh.

    Festivities were interrupted on lap 18, when McDougal stopped in turn four with a flat tire, his second in two nights. McIntosh stopped on the frontstretch. Courtney was looking strong, leading Windom, Meseraull, Larson and Boyles. Thorson was sixth and things were about change big time.

    On the re-start, Courtney caromed through turn one and flipped, bringing out the red—the race’s defining moment. Meseraull spun to a stop to miss Courtney and he’d re-start on the tail. Windom would be the new leader, with Larson, Boyles and Thorson in fourth.

    The green waved and Windom maintained a lead over Larson, his teammate. One had to wonder if Larson was letting up, being a team player. I wondered it and refused to believe it. Thorson dispatched Boyles at the start and edged his way closer to the front, now with a car that could do what he wanted. Sure enough, Thorson caught Larson and made the pass. Two laps later the yellow came out for a wandering infield tire that Ethan Mitchell contacted. Windom’s lead over Thorson was gone; this was a break for the Nevadan.

    On the re-start, Thorson dove under Windom, making the pass in turn two. But wait; this thing wasn’t over. Larson used the high line to get around his teammate and set sail for the new leader. There wasn’t much time, but if anyone could do it, Larson could. Windom wanted to play some more and the three nearly went three wide on the last lap with Thorson in the middle. Thorson took the low line in the final turn as Larson rode the fence. Thorson’s margin of victory was a half car length, or .065 seconds.

    Fourth behind Thorson, Larson and Windom was Boyles, which concluded a productive week for the RMS team. Cummins came from 15th to finish fifth. Abreu led the second five with Golobic ending up seventh. Coons wound up as the KSE Racing Products/B & W Auto Mart Hard Charger as he moved from 20th to eighth at the end. Meseraull charged back to ninth after his misfortune. Kofoid showed how important qualifying is as he started 22nd and finished tenth.

    By .065 seconds, Thorson kept the Tucker-Boat team from sweeping Indiana Midget Week.

    After the feature Kofoid and TMez appeared to be having a discussion about the best place to have a late night snack in Kokomo.

    Chris Windom eased the pain of just missing the victory in the midget feature by getting around Brady Bacon on a late race restart and holding on to close out the night-and the week-of racing with a sprint car feature win. Bacon was a close second. Shane Cottle edged C. J. Leary to take third. Kevin Thomas Jr. came from tenth to finish fifth.

    Dave Darland led the second five with Charles Davis Jr. winding up seventh. Jarett Andretti hustled from 15th to grab eighth. Matt Westfall and Max Adams completed the top ten.

    If one was inclined to think so, I suppose that every race is like a Christian Bible story. Tonight it was the story of David and Goliath, where a young man with a slingshot brought down a much stronger man. Thorson played the role of David on Sunday and played it very well while the multi-car teams played Goliath(s). The slingshot role was played by number 19, which had given David headaches the past few nights, especially the engines.

    Thorson is ideal for the role, preferring to call his own shots rather than be a part of a large team. Let’s allow him to have the final word. “I think there’s a lot to say about being able to do your own car. “Nothing against Keith Kunz and his whole team, but there’s something about that, for my satisfaction, to be able to do my car.”

    I’d think that even Mr. Kunz would be proud, standing off to the side, a somewhat painful smile on his face because one of his former racers had learned his lessons well.

    Meanwhile, wondering if Wendell Scott is sadly looking down, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: The Best Ever?

    One could call it inevitable and maybe it is. Kyle Larson is now four out of five USAC's Indiana Midget Week victories, the latest coming at the Lawrenceburg Speedway on a warm Saturday night. Larson passed Thomas Meseraull late in the 30 lap feature and hung on for the win--and starting a new winning streak in the process.

    Rightly or wrongly, Lawrenceburg has this reputation as an engine eater. Most all can agree that big horsepower is needed for the high banks. As a result, the car count was down somewhat. Nevertheless, the 35 car field contained plenty of hot dogs.

    One of those flying frankfurters was Jason McDougal, who left his ride and landed in a KKM car, recently driven by Zeb Wise, dealing with an injury from a Paragon flip. Several cars were AWOL but two new ones inhabited the pits, Landon Simon and West Virginian Greg Mitchell.

    Quite often the 'burg is going to have a dry/slick surface. That's another way of saying that Bobby East's track record for a midget, set in 2008, of 13.66 was plenty safe. Thomas Meseraull's lap of 15.095 held up. Nothing against any of the others, but McDougal's 15.559 was impressive in his own right, given the lack of familiarity with the car and the fact that he was next to last to qualify.

    Andrew Layser was the first heat winner. Justin Grant, Noah Gass and Thomas Meseraull all advanced. Kevin Thomas Jr. would run the B.

    Clinton Boyles won his second heat in two nights in winning the second heat. DaisonPursley, Kaylee Bryson and Buddy Kofoid, all KKM drivers, all moved on. Lincoln Park winner Chris Windom would run an extra 12 laps.

    The third heat was taken by McDougal with Jake Neuman, Maria Cofer and Tyler Courtney transferring.

    For the third time in four heats, an eight lap heat was all green. Brady Bacon won with Kyle Larson, Tanner Carrick and Shane Golobic going to the show.

    No C main but there was a B. Windom won with Cannon McIntosh coming from tenth to second, a harbinger of things to come. Cole Bodine, Ronnie Gardner, Brody Roa, and Landon Simon, floppy side panel and all, inserted themselves into the feature lineup.

    Presenting….the Lawrenceburg Sprints

    Nick Bilbee prevailed in the first heat with Max Adams making a late pass of Jarett Andretti. On the last lap Shawn Westerfeld also got around Andretti for the last transfer marker.

    Moe Howard would have appreciated the second heat. By race's end, everyone had a good bit of distance between themselves (Spread out!). Chris Windom, C. J. Leary and Thomas Meseraull were the top three.

    The third heat had some carnage. Anton Hernandez had a flat tire and slowed coming out of turn four. J. J. Hughes tried to avoid Hernandez but barely clipped him. Joss Moffatt had no place to go and sideswiped Hughes, with J.J. tipping over and Joss flipping. Racing resumed with Shane Cottle, Dallas Hewitt and Max Guilford heading to the show.

    Kevin Thomas Jr. and Brady Bacon ran away from the to finish first and second in the fourth heat. Scotty Weir was third and defending track champ Dickie Gaines went to the semi.

    The fifth and final heat went to Rickie Lewis. KorbynHayslett and Braxton Cummings followed him to the feature.

    Jarett Andretti used a late race re-start to grab the lead and win the first semi-feature. Anton Hernandez did the same but was second. Dickie Gaines finished third.

    The second B was clean and green. Charles Davis Jr., the crafty Matt Westfall and Nate McMillin all had 25 laps to go.

    One for the money, etc….

    Courtney and Kofoid led a group with pent up energy that exploded when Tim Montgomery waved his green flag. Sunshine encountered trouble right away as he bounced up a grove in turn one. He kept going and no one hit him as Kofoid took advantage to take the early lead.

    Kofoid had built a decent gap between him and TMez when red lights blinked on lap six for Layser who flipped in turn four. The young Pennsylvanian walked away.

    On the re-start, Meseraull got busy, diving under Kofoid to take the lead. Larson did the same and many would agree that this lap would be Kofoid’s worst. From there, it was like we’ve come to expect at Lawrenceburg, heart stopping slide jobs and high speeds despite a dry slickie surface.

    The frolicking took a break when Golobic stopped in turn two on lap twelve, bringing out a yellow. But it began again among the top three as Meseraull hung onto his lead until McDougal, who had been in the top five for much of the race, stopped in turn two with a flat tire on lap 22.

    The green waved and business picked up as both Larson and Kofoid did their part to make Meseraull’s life even more stressful, throwing one haymaker after another at the veteran. And that was only for a lap as Justin Grant stopped in turn four and brought out another yellow flag.

    Tim let fly with the green again and it must have been Kofoid’s turn to harass Meseraull. That didn’t work and Larson came at Kofoid with a slider to take second.

    Then came the race’s turning point. Clinton Boyles did a 360 after contact and, per USAC rules (which drivers seem to know better than some fans) the yellow waved one last time with four laps to go. Larson, as well as anyone, knew that he’d have to reach deep into his bag of tricks to challenge for and take the lead. Or not.

    Barreling into turn one TMez went high and Larson, predictably, threw a major slider and took the lead. From there it was determined that Larson would win again. Meseraull was also passed by Kofoid with a lap to go and ended up third on an all-California podium.

    Yes, Virginia, there was racing behind the top trio. Windom came from 12th to finish fourth. Courtney hung on for fifth. McIntosh cut through the field to take fifth after starting 22nd and earning the KSE Racing Products/B & W Auto Mart/Irvin King Hard Charger award. Rounding out the top ten were Bryson, Bodine (from 15th), McDougal (overcoming his earlier misfortune) and Carrick (from 16th).

    Going to Kokomo tonight, Larson’s IMW point lead is 57 over Kofoid. About the only way he will lose the championship will be if he tries to eat too many pork chop sandwiches. (Somebody save me one.)

    By the way, the Tucker-Boat team is undefeated in IMW wins so far.

    -----

    I've heard some talk these past few days that there are those who think that Mr. Larson is the greatest open wheel racer ever. I am inclined to think that what they really mean is that Larson is the greatest racer they have ever seen in person.

    I beg to disagree, having seen the likes of Donny Schatz, Steve Kinser, Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones and, in my opinion, the best of the best, Mr. Anthony Joseph Foyt.

    But I will cheerfully add Kyle Larson to that list. He is that good.

    Just enjoy seeing him work for now. You know that a NASCAR car owner will give Kyle a call sometime in the future and it's understandable if he goes back.

    The previous four paragraphs were written in Section A, two rows behind where my friend Marv Fish held court for years. I'd not mind if Marv had sneaked up behind me and looked over my shoulder while I've been writing here. And if he nodded his approval, well, I cannot describe how good that would feel.

    Taken aback to learn that Venezuela is not a part of the United States, I'm...

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Nothing Lasts Forever (When You Get Right Down to It)

    It had to happen sooner or later and Chris Windom made sure of that as he held off his teammate Kyle Larson to win the USAC Indiana Midget Week feature at the Lincoln Park Speedway. Larson's win streak was halted at eight in open wheel action.

    If Friday wasn’t the hottest day of the year so far, it had to be close. My car’s thermometer claimed that it was 91. That was more than enough to remind me of my working days in weather like this.

    Drivers have been coming and going as some have other obligations. Rico Abreu and Gio Scelzi had excused absences while Matt Sherrill was in town. Kendall Ruble was making a rare midget appearance.

    Kyle Larson’s track record in time trials was safe but it didn’t matter as he still set fast time with a 13.039 lap. Again, the surface held up as the fastest qualifiers were all over the order in which they took times. Chase Johnson was fifth quick on his first lap, but he flipped on the second. Repairs were made and Johnson came back to have a good night.

    Larson won the first heat and the feeling might have been “here we go again.” Zach Daum, always hanging tough, was second. Pole sitter Maria Cofer was third and Jason McDougal edged Ethan Mitchell at the line to take a seat in the feature.

    The second heat was an all-green affair. Chris Windom came from fifth to win. Cannon McIntosh was second and a pair of number 17s, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Shane Golobic, were third and fourth.

    Justin Grant was the man in the third heat, leading all ten laps. Buddy Kofoid was second, followed by Tyler Courtney and Cole Bodine.

    A pair of Tanners, Thorson and Carrick ran one/two in the fourth heat. Third place belonged to Jake Neuman with Kevin Thomas Jr. grabbing fourth at the end, leaving Kaylee Bryson in the cold.

    The C main ended with Brody Roa winning, followed by Thomas Meseraull, Andrew Layser and Jake Swanson.

    Recovering nicely from his early misfortune, Chase Johnson was the B winner, leading DaisonPursley, Kyle Cummins, Meseraull (from 15th), Bryson and Clinton Boyles.

    How about some sprints?

    Brady Bacon was the winner of the first heat, with Matt Westfall and Scotty Weir following the Oklahoma racer to the feature.

    In the second heat Dave Darland came from fifth to win. Thomas Meseraull was second and Shane Cockrum came from seventh to annex the final feature position available.

    The third heat was all green with A. J. Hopkins leading Charles Davis Jr. and Kevin Thomas Jr. to the checkered.

    Brady Bacon took the fourth heat as Anthony D'Alessio fell back and came back to finish second. Travis Berryhill was third. Mike Clark flipped in turn four. He was able to exit the car on his own.

    The final heat saw Max Adams triumph with Brandon Mattox take second. Shane Cottle legally stole third from Lee Underwood at the line.

    Texas visitor Keith Martin won the first of two B mains. Jordan Kinser and Jake Bland, another Texan, made the feature.

    Lee Underwood took the second B as Sterling Cling and Harley Burns would tag the field. Ben Knight was leading when he smacked the frontstretch wall, injuring his knee bad enough to stop on the track.

     

    More Midget Madness

    Kofoid and Windom led 21 co-workers to Tom Hansing’s green flag. (Tom was nice enough to give my friend Brian Hodde a well-deserved break for the night.) These two immediately began playing a high speed version of “tag, you’re it” as they traded slide jobs at each end for the first dozen or so laps. Again, the box score showed what it could but couldn’t show the whole story. Officially, Windom led the first two laps, followed by Kofoid leading laps 3-12. Actually the lead traded hands more times than I could keep up with, sometimes more than once on a given lap.

    While this was going on, I’m sure that people were wondering where Kyle Larson was. In the first few laps, he had advanced from sixth to fifth. He avoided disaster on the seventh lap when Courtney spun in turn one right in front of the Californian. Somehow Larson kept the wheels turning and was able to keep moving.

    The re-start had Kofoid leading Windom, Stenhouse, Larson and Carrick. Not far behind was Thorson and when Tom waved the green, the Nevada Nightmare (yeah, I just made that up for myself) was immediately on the move. He picked off Carrick and began harassing Larson for fourth place. The three graduates of Keith Kunz University may have been causing their professor to have mixed feelings as they fought for position behind current pupil Kofoid.

    Thorson and Larson had their own battle but up front, Windom would not let Kofoid get away. After the caution, they resumed their slidefest at each end of the track before Windom made the pass stick on the 13th lap. As Windom pulled away, Kofoid was joined by Thorson, who played another round of Tag. If that wasn’t enough of a headache for Buddy, Larson joined the party. He simply wouldn’t go away but he wasn’t able to have his way as he had done at Paragon, Gas City and LPS.

    Eventually Thorson got around Kofoid and took off to find Windom. It was too late by then; Windom was cruising to the victory by 1.825 seconds (thanks, Richie). In addition, Thorson’s almost likely second place finish went away just a few feet from the finish line, more proof that racing can be the cruelest sport. Tanner could only watch as Larson took second and Kofoid finished third. Stenhouse and Carrick were fourth and fifth.

    McIntosh came from 13th to take sixth and Thorson had to settle for seventh, edging Boyles, who came out of the B to rumble from 17th to eighth. Grant and Meseraull were ninth and tenth with TMez hustling there from 21st.

    Thomas Meseraull had one of those nights that reminded me about how much racing is a metaphor for life. From the C main, TMez earned his way into the feature, where he ended up as the KSE Racing Products/B & W Auto Mart/Irvin King Hard Charger.

    Taking my first real look at the points, predictably Larson still leads in IMW points over Thorson by 28 points. Windom is third, 22 points behind Thorson.

    Of note after the first four meetings is the ascension of the Tucker-Boat team. They have swept every race so far. The other mega-teams aren’t necessarily struggling but they must dearly wish that they could find those extra tenths of mph. In a few hours, the Lawrenceburg Speedway will be the scene of the search for speed and victory for all.

    What better way to close out the night with a 25 lap sprint feature. Brady Bacon led all the way but second place Dave Darland made him earn it. Matt Westfall, playing the low line to perfection, was third, edging the previous night’s winner A.J. Hopkins. Kevin Thomas Jr. was fifth.

    The second five were Max Adams, Scotty Weir (from 13th), Shane Cottle (from 15th), Travis Berryhill and the hard charger of the race, Sterling Cling, who was tenth after starting 19th.

    Shooting at my foot and missing, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Same Old Song

    It's probably getting old for his competition, but I don't see Kyle Larson rosining up his bow and fiddling a sympathetic tune. He did it again, this time at the Lincoln Park Speedway. Larson romped to his third consecutive win this week during Indiana Midget Week. It's also his eighth straight open wheel win in less than two weeks.

    Roaming the pits and each day is getting a little warmer. But I was only roaming and not working. Another reason not to complain.

    Newcomers included Terry Babb from Illinois, Carson Garrett all the way from Colorado, another Illini, Karter Sarff and Missouri's Sam Johnson.

    It would be the usual suspects doing double duty, Brady Bacon, Thomas Meseraull, Dave Darland and Kevin Thomas Jr.

    During time trials, if the track got slower as the gang qualified, someone forgot to tell people like Buddy Kofoid and Chris Windom.

    Kofoid was fifth from last and Windom was fourth, the only candidate to get below a thirteen second lap.

    Jason McDougal was the first heat winner as Windom came from sixth to take second. Justin Grant and Kevin Thomas Jr. both proceeded to the A main. Kyle Larson would have to run the B. It wasn’t a problem at Gas City. We’d soon find out if it was a problem at LPS.

    Clinton Boyles led all the way to win the second heat; Kofoid was second. Jake Newman and Tanner Thorson paved the way for second row starting spots in the feature. Logan Seavey flipped hard in turn four and was taken to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis for observation.

    Thomas Meseraull made it two heat wins in a row for the RMS team as he won the fourth heat. Zeb Wise and Brady Bacon scooted to the big show and Zach Daum finished fourth and sent Tyler Courtney to the B. Zach would start the feature in second.

    In the fourth heat, Cannon McIntosh battled his teammate Kaylee Bryson for most of the race until finally making the pass and winning. Tanner Carrick took third and Maria Cofer ensured that Rico Abreu went to the B.

    The C main saw Ethan Mitchell lead Jake Swanson, Dave Darland and pole sitter Karter Sarff to tag the B.

    Again, the B had its share of heavy hitters. Making the feature were Tyler Courtney, Carson Macedo, Kyle Larson, Chase Johnson, Shane Golobic and Rico Abreu.

    Bring on the Sprints!

    There were 48 sprinters available to run five heats and two B mains. Charles Davis Jr. was the first heat victor, leading Kevin Thomas Jr. and Tim Creech II to the line.

    Critter Malone won the second heat with Jordan Kinser second. Anton Hernandez came from last to finish third.

    In the third heat Colton Cottle led Max Guilford and Hunter O'Neal to Brian Hodde's checkered flag.

     Paragon winner A.J. Hopkins grabbed the fourth heat and Matt Goodnight was second. Scotty Weir emerged from a four car battle to take third.

    The final sprint heat was won by Brady Short. Dave Darland held off Brady Bacon for second. For one shining moment in this race, cars were four abreast coming out of turn four. I would love to have seen that from the flagstand with my friend Brian Hodde.

    The first B went to Max Adams with Brandon Mattox and Matt Westfall joining Max in the feature.

    The second hooligan (don’t see that used much anymore) belonged to C.J. Leary. Matt McDonald and Shane Cockrum would also move on. (A bit ironic that Matt’s sponsor is a cigar shop while Shane is a firefighter.)

    The Show

    McIntosh and Daum were the first to see Mr. Hodde wave the green. Larson was “stuck” back in the eighth row, but not for long.

    Up front, McIntosh jumped to the early lead. However, Tanner Thorson was in a determined mode and hounded the leader until he took over on lap ten. As can be guessed at this point, Larson was on the move.

    From 15th, Larson zigged and zagged, passing cars at will. Sixth at lap 14, he had advanced to third two laps later when Jason McDougal’s flip in turn three brought the red. Thorson led McIntosh, Larson, Daum and Windom. Kofoid went to the work area and returned.

    On the re-start Larson immediately went to work on McIntosh. The pass for second place was made in turn two but had been set up in turn four. The (temporary) exile from NASCAR came roaring out of four above the cushion. He dove low in turn one and took second—only to have it called back when Thomas spun. A great effort undone.

    The green flag waved and Larson got busy again. He dove low in turn three and picked off both McIntosh and Thorson to take the lead for a moment before Thorson regained the top spot. Larson regrouped and stalked the leader. He made his move again in turn three on lap 21, only to have Thorson fight back to re-take the lead.

    Larson tried again a lap later and this time it worked. All Thorson could do was try to keep the new leader in sight and hope for a bobble or something.

    In the meantime, McIntosh and Meseraull were engaged in their own private war for third place as first and second separated themselves somewhat. It was interrupted on the 27th lap when Macedo stopped on the backstretch for an impromptu wienie roast and brought out the yellow flag. Meseraull went to the pits, a great run ended by a flat tire. He was running fourth.

    The re-start was anticlimactic as Larson made it look easy to pull away and win by a little over a second. Thorson had to settle for second place; he’s a talented young racer who was simply outrun tonight. McIntosh, even younger than Thorson, hung onto third. His day will come. Windom was under the radar, finishing fourth. The same could be said for Golobic, who came from 13th to earn fifth.

    The second five was led by Daum, an underrated racer. Grant motored from 18th to seventh. C. Johnson was eighth and Kofoid hustled to ninth after his early misfortune. Boyles was tenth.

    Larson took theKSE Racing Products/B & W Auto Mart/Irvin King Hard Charger dough, coming from 15th to first as he did at Gas City.

    A.J. Hopkins passed Charles Davis Jr. at the halfway mark of the sprint feature and cruised to his second win this week after his Paragon success. Davis held off Thomas for second. Colton Cottle was fourth and Dave Darland edged Matt Westfall for fifth after starting tenth. Max Adams came from the B to take seventh. Brady Short was eighth and Brady Bacon came from 15th to ninth. Jordan Kinser was tenth.

    High speed audition, that is what Kyle Larson is in the midst of these days. It seems to be a matter of time before a NASCAR owner will decide that he’s done his penance, paid for his mistake and he can go back to the ultimate fendered style of racing—assuming that he wants to. A relative few will argue that there should have been no punishment at all for uttering a racial slur. But it’s 2020 and one would like to think we are past name calling. If Larson hasn’t paid his “debt” for his “crime” he’s well on his way to doing so. I like to think that there’s a NASCAR owner and a sponsor who will decide that this young man isn’t a racist and does not hide horns growing out of his head. At that point, Larson will eventually become a sought after free agent.

    Surprised to find out that Finland is not part of Russia, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Groundhog Day

    Kyle Larson did it again on a beautiful Wednesday night at the Gas City I-69 Speedway. He roared from 14thto take the lead from Tyler Courtney on the 16thlap and held Buddy Kofoid at bay for the last part of the 30 lap feature. It was Larson's second straight USAC Indiana Midget Week triumph and his seventh straight open wheel feature win.

    Justin Grant won the Gas City sprint feature.

    My unofficial car count was 88 midgets and sprints in Jerry Gappens’ playpen. Fourteen states were represented in some way. New on the USAC Midget side were Florida’s Oliver Akard, Tyler Nelson from Kansas, World of Outlaws standout Daryn Pittman, another Outlaw, Carson Macedo and Kameron Gladish from Indianapolis.

    Logan Seavey went to qualify fairly early and set quick time with a 12.360 lap. In a telling moment, Larson went out 35th and was the seventh fastest qualifier as the track faded somewhat for those later in line.

    Gio Scelzi won the first heat. Behind him, a decent sized blanket would have covered Daryn Pittman, Shane Golobic and Logan Seavey. Thomas Meseraull, who had flipped on his second qualifying lap, came out with a backup car and trailed Seavey by a few feet.

    Tanner Thorson held off Buddy Kofoid to grab the second heat. Justin Grant and Tanner Carrick also transferred. Noah Gass flipped in turn one. He exited the car under his own power.

    The third heat belonged to Kevin Thomas Jr. Zach Daum ran second with a pair of Hoosiers, Cole Bodine and Tyler Courtney, moving on to the show. This sent Larson to the B, not a problem.

    Carson Macedo led all the way to win the fourth heat. He was chased by Chris Windom, Kaylee Bryson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

    Sprints?

    For the ground pounders, Dave Darland won the first of five heats. Matt Westfall and Cole Ketcham joined DD in the feature.

    C.J. Leary led the way in the second heat. Moving with him were Brady Bacon and Kyle Robbins.

    The third heat was claimed by Justin Grant with Charles Davis Jr. and Tyler Kendall also advancing. Adam Byrkett flipped in turn four, where I had a great view. He walked away under his own power.

    Kevin Thomas Jr. outran Dustin Smith and Sterling Cling to win the fourth heat.

    Scotty Weir, still in one of the Goodnight clan’s cars, won the fifth heat as TMez and Clinton Boyle made it a 1-2-3 finish for Gas City sprint champs.

    Back to Midgets:

    The C main was a normal crazy if there was such a thing. Jake Swanson and Ryan Hall flipped in separate incidents. Both climbed out on their own. Jason McDougald, newly returned to Indiana, emerged as the winner, leading Andrew Layser, Robert Dalby and the ageless Russ Gamester to tag the B.

    Rico Abreu won the star studded B main, mullet and all. Pole sitter Jake Neuman was second and was trailed by Kyle Larson, TMez, Cannon McIntosh and Brady Bacon.

    Courtney and Kofoid led the field to Mark Orr’s green flag, but several eyes were on the seventh row, Larson’s very temporary home. The question was not whether he would make his way to the front, but how long before he did so. It seemed inevitable, if not pre-ordained. It also seemed as if there were two races going on, the first among the 23 other starters and Larson racing himself and the clock. He made a very difficult job look a lot easier than what it is.

    Larson wasn’t the only racer on the charge, at least in the beginning. Cannon McIntosh had started 12th, a row ahead of Larson and he, too, immediately began carving his way to the front with Larson right behind him. Kyle passed Cannon on the 12th lap and the KKM machine slowed to a stop soon after, bringing out a yellow flag. The yellow became a red as Meseraull flipped (for the second time tonight). Thomas climbed out, perhaps wondering if someone was sticking needles in a voodoo doll somewhere.

    Not quite halfway and the order was Courtney, who had been leading through all this, Kofoid, Larson, Scelzi and Carrick. At this point Larson was passing one car per lap on average. He was far from done. At the crossed flags he passed Kofoid, who returned the favor before Larson got around him and sized up Courtney. A few perfectly executed sliders and laps later, the inevitable had come to pass. Larson took the lead on lap 18 and dearly wanted to check out.

    That wasn’t going to happen. Kofoid also passed Courtney and did his best to keep up. Aided somewhat by lapped traffic, this young Californian kept pace with the other Californian. Officially the margin of victory was 0.263 seconds, but that was not much comfort to Kofoid and everyone else.

    The top ten were Larson, Kofoid, Courtney, Thorson with Scelzi fifth. Six through ten were Neuman, Seavey, Macedo, Carrick and Bryson.

    It was a foregone conclusion that the winner was also the recipient of the KSE Racing Products/B & W Auto Mart/Irvin King Hard Charger cash, coming from 14th to first.

    Larson has won five straight USAC Midget contests going back to late last year. He collected the $1400 bounty after a fashion with the money donated in his name to the Indiana Donor Network.

    More Sprints

    Anthony D’Alessio came on strong to win the first sprint B ahead of Max Adams and Brian VanMevern.

    Brandon Mattox made it look easy in winning the second B. Aaron Farney and Lee Underwood punched main event tickets.

    Justin Grant took the lead from Kevin Thomas Jr. and never looked back as he won the 25 lap sprint feature.

    Brady Bacon was second and Thomas took third on a track that had been worked over pretty good. C. J. Leary finished fourth. Dave Darland edged Matt Westfall for fifth. Clinton Boyles came from 15th to wind up seventh. Brandon Mattox went Boyles one better, coming from 17th to finish eighth. Scotty Weir and Charles Davis Jr. were ninth and tenth.

    As this is written, now comes two straight nights at the Lincoln Park Speedway. The 40 plus racers will be wanting to knock off the top dog. Let’s remember that the guys Larson are beating aren’t exactly wannabe types. The have their own sterling resumes and they want to race with and beat the best. They are not anxious to be living in this Groundhog Day existence.

    Appreciating greatness when I see it, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: The Zone

    Kyle Larson has been making the most of his exile from the world of NASCAR, going back to his roots, namely the bullrings of America, more specifically the Midwest. He's now won six features in a row, most recently on a beautiful Tuesday night at the Paragon Speedway. Larson passed his fellow Keith Kunz graduate Tanner Thorson late in the 30 lap finale of a long, wild and woolly program as the 2020 edition of Indiana Midget Week debuted at Paragon. I'd imagine that USAC officials, along with promoter Joe Spiker, considered the night a success. Certainly the fans did.

    A.J. Hopkins won the companion sprint feature.

    Roaming the crowded pits looking for something different. No major driver changes, but C. J. Leary was in the Scott Pedersen sprinter. No surprise there; it's usually Leary or Scotty Weir, who was in a Matt Goodnight car. All in all, there were about 90 cars with the usual suspects.

    This was USAC Midgets’ first visit here since 1985. You didn’t have to be Dr. Oz to figure out that a new track time trial record would be set. Neither did you have to be Dr. Phil to guess that it would be Kyle Larson setting fast time with a 14.813 second lap. That was impressive but Tanner Thorson, Chris Windom and Gio Scelzi all went out later and turned respectable laps, showing that the surface didn’t slow that much.

    Justin Grant won the first heat from fourth, taking Larson, Noah Gass and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. with him to the show. Nine different states were represented among the 11 starters.

    Cannon McIntosh, who flipped in hot laps, came back to win the second heat over Tanner Thorson, Shane Golobic and Zach Daum, who sent Rico Abreu to the B.

    The caution plagued third heat was won by Tyler Courtney with pole sitter Steve Buckwalter second. Thomas Meseraull came from ninth to nip Buddy Kofoid at the line for third, leaving Chris Windom studying the B main lineup.

    Kevin Thomas Jr. came from fourth to first on the initial lap and motored to the win in the fourth heat. Tanner Carrick, Gio Scelzi and Daison Pursley, who hung on despite a good bit of harassment from Zeb Wise, Jadon Rogers and Ryan Hall.

    -----

    The sprints fought it out with five heats and the top three moving on. Ethan Barrow came from eighth to win the first heat over Sterling Cling and Nick Bilbee, who survived two encounters yet roared back.

    Not to be outdone, A.J. Hopkins came from ninth/last to triumph in the second heat with Scotty Weir and Charles Davis Jr. doing the chasing.

    New Zealander Max Guilford was the third heat victor as Jarett Andretti and Jesse Vermillion ran second and third.

    In the fourth heat, C.J. Leary prevailed and Brandon Mattox and Matt Westfall trailed.

    Kevin Thomas Jr. came from fifth to win the fifth heat. Thomas Meseraull came from sixth to take second. California’s Ricky Lewis was third.

    -----

    The midgets returned and provided a wild and crazy C main as Logan Seavey came from 15th to win. Jake Swanson, Ace McCarthy and Zeb Wise, who suffered misfortune in qualifying and started 14th, all tagged the B.

    Windom won the B, taking Brady Bacon, Chase Johnson, Seavey (again from 15th), Rico Abreu and Jake Neuman to the main with him. Andrew Laser and Cole Bodine used provisionals.

    The program was changed somewhat and the USAC Midgets’ 30 lapper was next. Scelzi and Thorson made up the front row with a cadre of heavy hitters, led by Stenhouse and Carrick, close behind. Scelzi took the early lead with Thorson in tow. For the first few laps, these two slightly pulled away from the field—until sixth starting Larson began to close the gap.

    Thorson executed a textbook slider in turn two of the 11th lap to take the lead. A lap later, Chase Johnson had a more unfortunate encounter with turn two, flipping over the banking. The gap between the top two and Larson was no more. Thorson led Scelzi, Larson, Carrick, Stenhouse, Kofoid, Windom, Grant, Thomas and Courtney, the lone Hoosier in the mix. Logan Seavey had moved from 22nd to 14th.

    Bacon spun in, where else, turn two on lap 14. Larson had been giving Scelzi fits, throwing thundering slide jobs at his fellow Californian while Thorson added a little bit to his lead. On the re-start, Larson finally made a pass stick and it was time for him to chase down the leader. Folks were possibly thinking that this one was over, but Thorson didn’t get the memo. Larson was closing, inch by inch, until the 21st lap, when Scelzi’s race ended in good old turn two. Gio flipped, ending an otherwise great effort.

    The order for this re-start was Thorson, Larson, Stenhouse, Carrick, Kofoid, Windom, Grant, Courtney and…Seavey, the pass master. I came close to rubbing my hands in anticipation because this had a great chance of being something, well, great. So it was. Larson threw everything including the kitchen sink at Thorson lap after lap, one slide job after another and still couldn’t quite seal the deal—for several laps. But Larson had been tinkering with the common strategy of entering turn one above the cushion and using the moisture there to morph into a rocket ship in turn two. It worked. Larson took the lead on the 27th lap and cruised (in a manner of speaking) to Brian Hodde’s checkered. The pro-Larson crowd was ecstatic. This was what they came to see, an all-time great one racing to his sixth straight win for this shortened season.

    Stenhouse grabbed the final spot on the podium with Windom and Grant fourth and fifth. The law firm of Carrick and Courtney were sixth and seventh. Seavey came from deep in the C main to pass everyone except Howdy Doody to take eighth and claim the KSE Racing Products/B & W Auto Mart Hard Charger award. Kofoid and Thomas finished ninth and tenth.

    ----

    The long night closed with two sprint B’s and the feature. Josh Cunningham won the first, with Levi Underwood and Keith Martin, an occasional ASCS competitor, taking third.

    Travis Berryhill won the second B and was joined in the feature by Jordan Kinser and Ben Knight.

    Ethan Barrow and A.J. Hopkins were the front row for the sprint feature and Barrow had things well in hand until disaster struck in the form of Kevin Thomas Jr., who tried a slider on Hopkins and Barrow in turn one. Hopkins avoided the carnage, but Barrow went flipping toward the adjoining woods.

    Following Hopkins across the finish line were C.J. Leary, TMez, Scotty Weir, and hard charger Keith Martin, 20th to fifth. Nick Bilbee, Sterling Cling, Travis Berryhill, Max Guilford and Charles Davis Jr. were six through ten.

    The hour was late, almost my bedtime, but driving home gave me the chance to consider a few things. I wondered if the crowd realized they were seeing something special. I’m sure that most did. I wondered about the rest of both Midget Week and the season. What would it look like? I wondered and hoped that I’d be around to see both.

    Alarmed that my hair looks like British Prime Minster Boris Johnson’s, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: First Time Winner

    Once again, the USAC/MSCS sprinters showed us that a racer can start on the pole, lead all 30 laps, and still give the fans a thrilling show. Throw in the fact that Stephen Schnapf was the pole sitter and a first time winner to add more drama. Finally, consider that Schnapf was one of the local favorites and the partisan crowd went home smiling all the way.

    The first thing I noticed was long lines, haulers backed up to the county road E1025 South. My usual parking area had plenty of room and I was set to see what had changed and what hadn't. Given these times, a degree of social distancing was the norm—our new reality for now.

    Pit walk time. As usual Donnie Brackett's team had claimed their pit spot which featured one of the friendliest dogs you'll ever want to pet. Florida transplant Anthony D'Alessio had secured the services of Mike Dutcher. It's common knowledge that C. J. Leary is back in the family car. Critter Malone was driving a Kent Schmidt car. Also common knowledge is the return of Jonathan Vennard, one of several Tri-State racers in the house. Shane Cottle hooked up with the Josh Hodges team this spring. And Kurt Gross, who has been AWOL from driving one of these beasts for several years, was back with his familiar 1X.

    The track didn't go away as the 45 cars worked it over. Donny Brackett led the first flight of contestants and his sub-14 second lap was looking like the overall quick time until Dave Darland, 32nd in line, topped them all with an impressive 13.647.

    Donny Brackett took the first heat by a half straightaway over Robert Ballou, Jaden Rogers and Jonathan Vennard. Shane Cottle led some colleagues to the B.

    C. J. Leary took the lead halfway through the second heat and won, leading Brady Bacon, Dustin Clark (who led the first five laps) and Carson Short to the line. Kevin Thomas Jr. prepared for the B.

    Kyle Cummins blasted his way to the lead on the first lap and never looked back in the third heat. Aric Gentry and Chase Stockon made it a regional sweep with Dakota Jackson, who lives near me, taking fourth and sending Dave Darland to the B.

    On their fourth try, the boys finally got going after three tries with another area racer, Stephen Schnapf, winning the fourth heat by a goodly margin. Chris Windom, Brandon Mattox and Justin Grant locked in feature starting spots.

    The C Main lineup contained some strong entries and one of them, Mario Clouser, took Kent Schmidt, Brandon Morin and Logan Seavey with him to tag the B.

    The B Main's lineup resembled a typical feature field with Kevin Thomas Jr. prevailing over Kendall Ruble, Charles Davis Jr., Max Adams and Anton Hernandez, who hustled from 12th to grab the last chair from pole sitter Dave Darland. The People's Champ used a provisional.

    Schnapf and Ballou led 24 of their best friends to the green. Maybe we shouldn't have been surprised when the local kid beat the seasoned veteran to the corner; at any rate, that's what he did. Third starting Kyle Cummins crashed the party immediately, taking second from Ballou and pressuring the leader for all he was worth.

     

    As the front running duo battled, Donny Brackett quickly caught and passed Ballou for third. Brackett made the pass and it was understandable if the crowd was delirious. The top three can call the track their home and this was both rare and impressive.

    Lapped traffic had been an issue since lap five but the more experienced Cummins couldn't get much closer than a few car lengths to Schnapf. However, as the halfway mark approached, Cummins closed the gap and labored mightily to get underneath the 61 car in the turns, but it wasn’t happening. Meanwhile, Brackett, Ballou and Brady Bacon were engaged in a dogfight of their own for third through fifth.

    The yellow flag waved on lap 20 as Anton Hernandez slowed on the frontstretch. The top ten were Schnapf, Cummins, Brackett, Ballou, Bacon, C. Short, Windom, Leary, Rogers and Grant. The green waved and one had to give both Schnapf and Cummins credit. Schnapf deserved kudos for holding off a guy who is very difficult to beat at Tri-State and the guy himself, Cummins, for his persistence.

    But that ended for Kyle as his engine became an issue. Brackett passed him for second on lap 24. A lap later Ballou did the same, then Cummins, always a crowd favorite here, coasted to a stop in the infield. It might have been tempting to say that Schnapf was home free. Heh, heh.

    On the white flag lap, Kendall Ruble spun in turn two, bringing out the yellow and presenting Schnapf with a green/white/checkered situation, not a leader’s favorite scenario. But the local boy was more than up to the task, motoring to the checkered flag and his first USAC feature victory. Behind him, Brackett was having trouble with what seemed to be a loose condition. His half spin in turn four of the last lap gave Ballou the silver medal. Third place Kevin Thomas Jr. was the KSE Racing Products Hard Charger, coming from 15th. Carson Short started and finished fourth in the Daigh/Phillips machine (though I call them Carla, Steve and Frank). Justin Grant was fifth and maintained his point lead over sixth place Chris Windom. Chase Stockon was a quiet seventh with Brady Bacon eighth. Much improved Jadon Rogers was ninth and Brady Short came from the B to start 21st and finish tenth. Brackett’s last lap boo-boo put him in 11th after an otherwise fine effort.

    The trip home was, well, different. From U.S. 50 to I-69 to Indiana S.R. 46 to home, we might have encountered two dozen vehicles. In addition we lost the hour we’d gained in going to Haubstadt. That added up to a three a.m. arrival home. If that wasn’t enough, we have this virus hanging over our heads, especially us geezers. It’s all a part of life. Even in not dealing with it, you can be assured that it won’t go away.

    I’d not have it any other way because sometimes the surprises, like first time winners, are good ones.

    Remembering not to wear my mask over my eyes, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

     

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: O, Ye of Little Faith?

    Faith--noun

    1.       complete trust or confidence in someone or something."this restores one's faith in politicians"

    Similar:trust, belief, confidence, conviction, credence, reliance, dependence, optimism, hopefulness, hope, expectation

     

    2.       strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

     

    I’m going to limit myself to the first definition of faith, but certainly the second definition matters as well.

     

    The other day I took my daily walk around the neighborhood. The cloudy sky and the forecast of rain persuaded me to take an umbrella with me. It didn’t rain—at least while I was walking. The following evening I took another walk, leaving the umbrella behind. Naturally, three brief showers found me. I retreated to a nearby tree and thought about faith in the context of weather forecasters and, of course, racing.

     

    Without us giving it much thought, faith dominates our lives each day, from the time you wake up until bedtime. Start your vehicle of choice, check the weather forecast and head to whichever racetrack you’re going to tonight. If you live in or near Indiana and you like to go to sprint car races, then you can have faith that the promoter will often ignore the rain in a given forecast and intend to race on that given evening—even if he ends up with less money than when he started the day.

     

    Buy your ticket—sign in—whatever, you’re now committed and it’s time to race. It’s also time to think about faith from the driver’s seat. Starting with wheel-packing and hot laps, the driver puts a lot of faith in what his or her mechanic has done up to now. A racer doesn’t want to be thinking about the right rear tire, uh, improperly installed. No, he/she has more urgent matters to deal with at that moment.

     

    It would be nice if both the writer and the reader has given some thought to faith’s sibling, hope. The driver hopes that the right rear tire, along with every other part on the car, is in working order. The mechanic and/or owner hopes the driver doesn’t get squirrely and wind up on his top with multiple parts of the car in need of replacement. The fans hope the driver is okay. Meanwhile, the promoter is looking at the radar on his phone and hoping the rain holds off a while longer. While he or she’s at it, a brief prayer that there will be no more red flags would be understandable.

     

    Some nights it rains while on other nights the rain goes in a different direction, ideally to a corn field that really needs it. Faith and hope don’t take a break when the final checkered flag waves. Let’s have faith that fans drive home safely, racers made a little money, mechanics won’t be working long hours repairing or fixing parts and, after accounting for all his expenses, the gambler—I mean promoter—is happily surprised to see that he made more money than he thought he would. As the late John Denver sang many years ago, “Some days are diamonds; some days are coal.”

     

    Here is where we are reminded that our shared passion is barely a blip on the radar screen. To be sure, a significant number of people are very dependent on open wheel racing for their livelihood. But in the big picture of 330 million Americans, we don’t add up to much. A little perspective never hurt anyone and, with that in mind, it’s hard to ignore current events under most circumstances. These days we are battered by disease, economics and racial strife, among other things. We like to think that, for us, the race track is our temporary escape from the challenges of daily life. I remember thinking that on a warm September 2001 evening at the Bloomington Speedway, where I discovered our escape is barely temporary. At times outside events will invade our sanctuary as they did after the airplanes flew into two tall buildings—and maybe it should. But faith and hope endure even in the face of despair.

     

    As this is written and sent to Mr. Holland, I have faith and hope that next Sunday night will find me at the Tri-State Speedway for my first live race of the season. In addition to the current crises we are experiencing, I’d be best advised to be very aware.

     

    The reader may or may not know that in February I landed in the local hospital for a ten day vacation. It wasn’t voluntary; triple bypass/open heart surgery never is. But, because I was in decent shape for an older gentleman and with the help, prayers, good thoughts and deeds of a lot of people, I was completely recovered a month later and have been shooting baskets with my grandsons and walking the neighborhood daily ever since. A few days after I was pronounced fit as a fiddle, our vocabulary was increased with words like “pandemic,” “coronavirus” and “Covid-19” becoming common. Whenever I have contemplated whining about my sorry situation of being recovered and now having few places to go, I’ve quickly reminded myself how much worse things could be. And I’ve considered my own faith and hope that helped carry me through my personal trial now and in the future.

     

    As heart surgery gets smaller and smaller in my personal rear view mirror, I find that it’s time to begin my own journey to Hoosier bullrings and do what I do. I have a lot of faith and hope that it will be a year to remember—for good reasons as well as the obvious.

     

    Watch for me; I’m easy to spot.

     

    “Inspecting” my bunker, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: My Personal Top Ten

    To close out another year, with a lack of anything better to do, I came up with my personal top ten racing stories of the year. Most certainly your top ten won’t resemble mine in any way. Like fellow Hoosier Mr. Letterman, I begin with number ten.

    10. The sale of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to Roger Penske. (See, I told you that your top ten would not match mine.) The 500 is safe and may well regain its rightful place as the pinnacle of races. And let us hope that the BC39 remains an important part of the IMS/USAC Midgets’ schedule.

    9. The ongoing saga of the Bloomington Speedway, as close to a home track that I can claim. It is the closest track to my house that almost always features open wheel racing. USAC saved it from oblivion in 2019, but backed away for 2020. Enter Joe Spiker, who will split racing dates with Paragon in 2020.

    8. Thomas Meseraull had his best season ever, winning 12 features and the Gas City championship. I saw most of them.

    7. Kyle Cummins gets mentioned twice and not because he traded me a t-shirt for a book I wrote. No traditional sprint car driver won more features than the Princeton, IN native. He saw the checkered flag first no less than 19 times in 2019. I saw most of them, too.

    6. The “new” Paragon Speedway. Joe Spiker took over from Keith Ford, who spent some of his Friday nights wandering around the pits and smiling a lot. Joe’s MSCS shows brought out lots of cars with what was essentially two divisions of sprinters racing when the MSCS boys showed up. From one Friday night option not that many years ago, Hoosier fans and racers had, at times, three Friday options when Bloomington, Paragon and Gas City all raced.

    5. The new pit restroom at Lawrenceburg. No, really. I suggest that the facility be named after ace photographer Rick Lane. I’ll settle for the urinal to bear my name.

    4. That Cummins guy again. In 2019 he was unbeaten at Tri-State Speedway. He won all eight features that he entered at the Class Track. USAC, MSCS, it didn’t matter. He beat them all.

    3. I like all these guys and gals. Some I know a little better than others, so it’s natural I may think more of them. One of those is Tyler Hewitt. He and his wife Abby are two of the special people in the pit area. They combine a pleasant disposition with an integrity that one must respect and appreciate. Tyler scored two feature wins in 2019. That alone is great news, but another reason it’s ranked so high on my list is because I missed both of them.

    2. Many fans that were present will assert that the Gas City/Indiana Sprint Week feature was the best race of the year. Most certainly it was the closest finish as Shane Cottle came from 18th to win by a few inches over eventual USAC sprint car champ C.J. Leary. I missed this one as well.

    1. For the first time in maybe 20 years I missed the first three Indiana Sprint Week races this year. A few weeks later I missed the second night of the BC39. My wife had two separate health episodes which landed her in the hospital—twice. While Mr. Cottle was performing his heroics I was at the hospital learning that my wife was getting a very early Christmas present in the form of a pacemaker for her heart. The installation at St. Francis Hospital went as smoothly as could be.

    She recovered quite well, but on the morning after the opening night of the BC39 she suffered a nasty attack of vertigo. Off to the hospital we went again. At first we thought her episode had been a stroke. The vertigo was bad enough; a stroke might well have been much worse.

    Often we are reminded of things whether we need to be or not. These two adventures were great examples. Family outranks racing both in the beginning and the end. Of course it pained me to miss racing at Gas City, Plymouth and Kokomo, but I was where I was supposed to be. And a few weeks later, I was reminded again what was important as I missed the second night of the BC39.

    At year’s end, I realize that I still made it to several races, from Hickory (NC) Motor Speedway in March to Tri-State Speedway in October. I dare not complain. I do dare to look forward to 2020, no matter what it brings.

    Hiding out in my wine cave, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: McDougal and Cummins Make It Worthwhile

    There's plenty of racing left this year, but not for me. The Harvest Cup at the Tri-State Speedway on a beautiful Saturday night turned out to be a great way to end the 2019 season for quite a few fans and myself. As Jason McDougal showed once again that he is a force to be reckoned with, Kyle Cummins completed a perfect season at the Class Track, winning his eighthconsecutive feature. McDougal's win came in the USAC National Series feature while Cummins' triumph came in MSCS action.

    Car counts were quite satisfactory from my seat with 32 MSCS sprints, 27 USAC midgets and 22 MMSA mini-sprints present. A few people made some long hauls to sign in. Katelyn Leer journeyed from Iowa, Anthony Nicholson from Arkansas. Among the USAC clan was Carson Garrett from Colorado. California sent a talented trio, with Gio Scelzi, Jake Swansonand Robert Dalby making the trip.

    A few USAC regulars and semi-regulars were among the sprinters, namely Kevin Thomas Jr., Josh Hodges, Shane Cottle, Chris Windom, Justin Grant and C. J. Leary. There was the usual lineup of MSCS regulars as well. But standing in the way of the 31 was the one, Kyle Cummins, whose presence reminded the others it would be an uphill battle.

    There were quite a few racers doing double duty, people such as Cummins, Critter Malone, Chris Windom, Justin Grant, Kevin Thomas Jr., C. J. Leary, Dakota Jackson and Kendall Ruble.

    USAC Midgets qualified and Gio Scelzi was one of the last to qualify, but that didn’t matter as he ripped off a 13.951 lap, 0.3 seconds slower than the late Bryan Clauson’s record set in 2010.

    The sprints were the first to run their four heats and Mr. Cummins dashed between two cars to take the lead on the first lap of the first heat after starting fourth. His margin of victory was an amazing three-quarters of a lap over second place Josh Hodges. Kevin Thomas Jr. and Collin Ambrose both moved to the feature.

    Kent Schmidt moved from fourth to win the second heat, leaving Kendall Ruble, early leader Donnie Brackett and Critter Malone in his wake.

    Stephen Schnapf also came from fourth to win his heat, the third. He was also the third local/regional racer to win a heat race, with initial leader Chris Windom, Max Adams and 2019 MSCS Rookie of the Year Chayse Hayhurst all racing again later.

    C. J. Leary kept the streak alive, taking his family car from fourth to win the fourth heat with Shane Cottle, Jadon Rogers and Chase Stockon all having a view of Leary’s tail tank.

    Up next were the midgets. Veteran Jerry Coons Jr. missed some action behind him as he won the first of three heats. Justin Grant came away second, leading Gio Scelzi, Kyle Cummins and Robert Dalby to the feature.

    The second heat was annexed by Chris Windom with Jason McDougal edging Tyler Thomas at the line to take second. Tanner Carrick and Tyler Courtney were also moving on.

    Like Windom, Thomas Meseraull came from third to win the third heat, waving bye-bye to Tucker Klaasmeyer, Kevin Thomas Jr., Critter Malone and Logan Seavey.

    It was the sprinters’ turn with their B main. Dakota Jackson won with Brady Short second. Justin Grant came from tenth to grab third. Recovering nicely from a spin, Brian Karraker came back to nail down the 20th starting spot in the feature.

    Tanner Thorson was all business in winning the consolation, taking Karsyn Elledge, Jake Swanson (from 10th), C. J. Leary, Zeb Wise, Kendall Ruble and Andrew Layser to the USAC Midget feature.

    The first of three features were the sprints. Mr. Cummins was on the pole. I’m not a betting man, but it seemed safe to say that the Princeton, Indiana resident would run away with this one. Rather than doze off, I stayed awake to see how it would be won, no matter who won.

    Of course, Cummins took off and started building a lead with Schnapf in hot pursuit, to coin a phrase. Cottle and Windom made sure that they would be in the mix as well. Lapped traffic was Cummins’ first potential trouble, beginning on lap seven. But that would be a temporary situation.

    Max Adams spun on the ninth lap, bringing out the race’s only yellow flag. The leader had no lapped traffic to deal with, but his leads was gone. The top ten was Cummins, Schnapf, Leary, Cottle, and Windom with Ruble, Schmidt, Malone (from 14th), Rogers and Stockon.

    Again, Cummins followed the “script” and separated himself from the crowd, chasing down lapped traffic and Tri-State Speedway history. At the halfway mark, he reached the lappers. Not a problem, Cummins weaved his way through the traffic and tempted me to think that it was easy. I knew better, but the main thing was that domination like this was rare and should be appreciated.

    The racing behind the eventual winner was equally intense. Schnapf was second and Cottle passed Leary late in the race to finish third. Windom was fifth. Malone was the Certified Rental Hard Charger, showing that one could pass others and coming from 14th to sixth. Regional favorites Ruble, Stockon, Schmidt and Brackett completed the top ten.

    Seavey and Courtney led twenty friends to the green and the California resident took the early lead. But it was for naught as the red waved for Tucker Klaasmeyer, whose car was lying on its side in turn four. The young Kansan insisted on re-starting.

    Seavey repeated the process when the green waved, with Kevin Thomas Jr. taking over second place. On the third lap, McDougal had moved to third and passed Thomas for second a lap later. They would pass each other several more times before the 30 laps were done.

    Another yellow waved, this one was for Karsyn Elledge. The top three stayed the same with Courtney and Cummins immediately behind. The green came out and a slidefest began with Seavey, McDougal and Thomas exchanging sliders like kids used to exchange baseball cards. Officially, Seavey led the first seven laps before Thomas took over for the next two. McDougal led a lap before KT took over for the next six. And another player had arrived, wanting to play.

    The yellow came out on the 17th lap after McDougal had taken the lead. Thomas was second and Meseraull, the new player who had started 12th, was third and hungry for more. This re-start was greatly anticipated. The boys didn’t disappoint. A mad scramble ensued—again—with Meseraull grabbing the lead on lap 18. But McDougal wasn’t exactly fading away. He hounded TMez every foot of every lap. The two had very light contact in turn four, leaving Meseraull pointing the wrong way and bringing out the yellow with 20 laps completed.

    With ten to go, McDougal led Thomas, Cummins (looking for a very rare sweep), Courtney and Seavey. He put some real estate between him and his former landlord, but Jerry Coons Jr. made a very rare error, spinning in turn two. Advantage gone; McDougal was unruffled. A lap after this re-start, Elledge spun again.

    The race’s final green flag segment was almost sedate compared to the intensity that marked the first two thirds of the race. McDougal stretched his lead to almost a straightaway at the end; the margin was 2.752 seconds. The talented trio of Thomas, Cummins and Courtney trailed. Justin Grant came from 16th to finish fifth and claim the KSE Racing Products Hard Charger award. Seavey faded to sixth. Klaasmeyer recovered quite well from his early misadventure to take seventh after starting 18th. Meseraull hustled back from his own calamity to finish eighth. Thorson rambled from 17th to ninth. Zeb Wise came from 19th to tenth. A whole lotta passin’ was goin’ on, to be sure.

    Brad Strunk was the MMSA feature, a well run race.

    It was a long (150 miles) trip home with plenty of time to contemplate the year. Like most others, it has been with its share of ups and downs. I saw enough racing for three or four people. I sold a few more books (and still have some more in stock). I missed a few races, but for very good reasons, namely my wife’s health problems. I was reminded what was important, though I already knew it.

    That’s as good as any for an ending. Except…

    Heading south to start my new job as tax accountant for the Doral, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Dominators Are Gonna Dominate

    It was a typical Indiana night in October at the Kokomo Speedway. The Kokomo Klash was presented to a hardy crowd of fans anxious for one more weekend of bullring racing at Indiana's baddest bullring. One can say that both Justin Grant and Thomas Meseraull made sure that the people had reason to cheer, or at least appreciate what they saw on this chilly evening. Grant did a good imitation of a yo-yo, coming from as low as fifth place before he took the lead late in the 410 sprint car feature and held on to win. Soon after that, Meseraull took the lead early in the 305 Racesavers' main event and found himself parked in the BC victory lane one last time for 2019.

    Of the 114 cars jamming the pits, 31 were of the 410 sprint variety while 21 were the 305 c.i. Racesavers. Some USAC runners added some spice to an already respectable field. Josh Hodges, Justin Grant, USAC sprint point leader C.J. Leary and Isaac Chapple wanted to get a few laps in before heading west. A.J. Hopkins was the most recent to sit in the Burton family seat. Max Adams may have found a home in the Paul Hazenmobile. Kokomo Speedway and sprint car legend Dave Darland was present with quality help in the form of Brian Cripe and Rodney Reynolds among others.

    The social butterfly in me encountered the likes of Mr. Reynolds, Railroad Joe, ace flagman Brian Hodde, chaplain Dave Cochran, Shane Cottle and some of the O’Connor family all of whom listened with rapt attention to everything I said. (Somehow I doubt it.)

    The heats were all hammer down and close to flat out. Isaac Chapple led all the way in winning the first heat. Tyler Hewitt, Matt Goodnight and Jadon Rogers all advanced to the feature.

    Not to be outdone, Dave Darland led all eight laps to win the second heat. Fellow local boy Dustin Smith was second with Tim Creech II and Shane Cottle trailing.

    Justin Grant prevailed in the third heat by a healthy margin over A. J. Hopkins, sprint rookie Cole Bodine and double dipper Anton Hernandez, whose car ended the race with a small fire and lots of smoke.

    Josh Hodges and Scotty Weir fought tooth and nail for eight laps with the New Mexico resident coming out in front in the fourth heat. C. J. Leary and Max Adams would tag along to the show.

    Anthony D'Alessio took the lead early and held on to win the B. Following the Florida native to the feature would be Brayden Clark, Travis Berryhill, Harley Burns, Zack Pretorious and Braydon Fox.

    RaceSavers

    The Racesavers took over and Danny Clark grabbed the lead coming out of turn four to win the first heat over Saban Bibent. Anton Hernandez came from the last row to take third, ahead of Ethan Barrow and Scotty Bradley.

    Thomas Meseraull, driving for Danny Roberts and company, came from the back to win the second heat with Bradley Galedrige taking second after leading earlier. Hot Rod Henning, Keith Champoux and Jeff Wimmenauer completed the top five.

    Andy Bradley led all the way to take the third heat over Justin Clark, John Paynter, Jordan Welch and Alex Nalon.

    ----

    Chapple and Darland led them all to Mr. Hodde’s green flag and the People’s champ was in a hurry. As Chapple tried to keep Grant at bay, Darland quickly stretched his lead to a half straightaway. But it ended on the sixth lap as smoke belched from the engine and Dave slowed, bringing out the yellow. This left Grant in the lead, with Chapple, Weir, Hodges and Hopkins up front.

    On the re-start, Weir and Hopkins resumed their joust from the heat race. But Scotty spun in turn four, collecting Chapple and Hopkins. A.J. was done for the night while Isaac re-started on the tail. The top guns added new top guns as all three combatants were in the top five. Now it would be Grant, followed by Hodges, Cottle, Creech and Leary.

    Brian waved the green again and Grant had trouble pulling away. Weir’s miserable race ended on lap 11 when he spun unassisted and retreated to the pits, a rare off night for one of the best. This re-start was typical Kokomo, which is to say crazy. Hodges and Cottle led the charge to the front with positions changing at each end of the track as Grant tried desperately to hang onto his lead. Near the halfway point, Grant, Cottle and Hodges crossed the line three wide. Action remained intense as Grant was shuffled back to fifth. But he wouldn’t stay there.

    On lap 17, Grant passed Adams for fourth. A lap later, the yellow waved again when Zack Pretorius spun in turn two. Cottle led Hodges, Leary, Grant and Adams. The boys couldn’t get another lap done before another caution period prevailed when Anthony D’Alessio spun after contact with Tyler Hewitt.

    This re-start saw Cottle and Hodges swap the lead multiple times as one would lead in turns one and two, the other in three and four and the first lead at the line. Hodges was leading when the yellow waved again on lap 20 when Hewitt and Berryhill met in turn two. Hodges, the race’s fourth leader, led Cottle, Grant, Leary and Adams.

    The first couple of laps after this final re-start of the race were hard core. Cutting and slashing were on the agenda with Grant emerging as the leader coming out of turn two on the 23rd lap. He held on from there to win by a few car lengths over Cottle, who had started 13thand was the Reece O’Connor hard charger of the race. Hodges was a close third with Leary a quiet fourth. Adams came from 15th to finish fifth. Creech was a steady sixth and Rogers came from 12th to finish seventh. Goodnight started and finished eighth. Bodine was ninth and Chapple came back from his misfortune to take tenth.

    My final feature of the night would be the Racesavers’ 25 lapper. Hernandez and Bradley Galdrige led the field of 21 to Brian Hodde’s trusty green flag. The fast young man from Texas jumped out to the lead before a yellow interrupted his nice beginning. On the re-start, Meseraull was second and a spicy duel was shaping up. TMez made a move on the third lap to take the lead with Andy Bradley wishing mightily to join this party. Hernandez said nothing doing, big guy, as he recaptured the top spot.

    The party was slowed by a lap six yellow for Justin Clark, who stopped on the track. Hernandez led Meseraull, followed byBradley, Galedrige and Barrow, who would soon add his two cents to the equation.

    Two laps after the re-start, Meseraull dove low coming out of turn two and grabbed the lead. From there, Hernandez tried in vain to keep up. But soon he would have bigger troubles in the form of Bradley and Barrow.

    Galedrige spun on the 11th lap to activate the caution lights. The top two remained unchanged with Barrow and Scott Bradley now third and fourth. This re-start might have given Hernandez some gray hair as Bradley passed him for second and so did Barrow, the “temporary” point leader. Lap 16 saw the leaders encounter lapped traffic. The very next lap saw something rare. Ethan Barrow spun, bringing out another yellow flag and ending his championship hopes.

    Up front, Meseraull and A. Bradley led Hernandez and a new player who had steadily carved his way through the field in the name of Bradley Sterrett. S. Bradley was fifth. The top two missed seeing a scrap behind them as Sterrett and S. Bradley jostled for position. But more drama was on tap.

    The final yellow waved on lap 21 and Meseraull had to nail another re-start. A. Bradley, Hernandez, S. Bradley and Sterrett were all hungry to move up. But the California native, who has enjoyed extraordinary success this year in 410 sprints, stayed close to the wall for the final four laps as he had done for much of the race and sailed to the win.

    Andy Bradley was second, 1.178 seconds behind with Scott Bradley, Bob Shutt hard charger Bradley Sterrett (from 21st)fourth and 2019 XCALIBER Graphics Indiana Racesaver Sprint champion Anton Hernandez fifth. The second five was led by Rod Henning with John Paynter seventh. Jordan Welch took eighth and Bradley Galedrige recovered from his spin to finish ninth. Jeff Wimmenauer settled for tenth.

    Yeah, it was cold. And road construction is alive and well in the Hoosier State. Plus, it was a two hour drive home. None of the proceeding is complaining. Instead, it shows what race teams and fans will endure to get to a race at a favored track. As this is written, I have only one more opportunity to see a group of people I respect and admire do what they do best, enjoying themselves as they go forth.

    Next and final 2019 stop, the Tri-State Speedway in beautiful suburban Haubstadt, Indiana.

    Reminding the entitled rich kid Mark Zuckerberg that free speech doesn’t necessarily include lying, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Sliders and Speed

    Again, it was a white knuckle kind of feature at the Lawrenceburg Speedway on a beautiful October night in southeastern Indiana. At the end, it was Kevin Thomas Jr. enjoying the post-race interview after powering his way to the win in the 2019 edition of the Fall Nationals. It was KT's second USAC feature win of the year.

    Some Lawrenceburg regulars were signed up to try their luck against the USAC mob. Tyler Kendall, who lost a left front tire during his first qualifying lap, was joined by the likes of Joss Moffatt, JJ Hughes, Garrett Abrams, Jarett Andretti, Justin Owen and Nick Bilbee.

    Lawrenceburg Speedway champs dotted the field of 26, including Moffatt, Abrams, Andretti and Leary, also the current USAC point leader.

    Tyler Courtney went out to qualify first and had the only sub-14 second lap. The surface slowed slightly but not so much to slow down late runners CJ Leary and Brady Bacon, who were fifth and sixth quick respectively.

    Kyle Cummins won the first of three heats, a hammer down exercise after a little track massaging. Tyler Courtney stole second place from Mario Clouser at the line. C. J. Leary was fourth and Max Adams inherited fifth when Joss Moffatt's engine went up in smoke while running fourth, ending his night.

    Taking the lead midway through the second heat, Kevin Thomas Jr. won from sixth place with Jarett Andretti second. Nick Bilbee, Brady Bacon and Justin Owen trailed. Both Dave Darland and Chris Windom stopped on track before getting pushed to the pits. DD was done for the night.

    After trading the lead a few times, Dustin Clark edged Scotty Weir by the length of a tire in winning the third heat. Justin Grant, Chase Stockon and JJ Hughes began preparing for the 30 lap feature.

    Windom pretty much had his own way as he cruised to the B main win. Joining him in transferring to the show were Josh Hodges, Garrett Abrams, Dustin Smith, Tyler Kendall, Isaac Chapple and Aric Gentry.

    On the social circuit, I was joined by the good natured car ownerTony Epperson while we waited out driver introductions for the feature. After wishing Tony well, one of Lawrenceburg’s most dedicated fans, Duane Price, beckoned me to join him for the feature. The recent birthday boy (to guess his age, here’s a hint—Dustin Smith) was in good spirits as usual. Like our mutual buddy, the ailing Marv Fish, Duane disappeared immediately after Tim Montgomery waved the checkered.

    Grant and Bacon were the front row occupants and there was a near disaster when the two veterans banged wheels as they saw Tim's green flag. Both recovered, but while these two engaged in their shenanigans, third-starting C.J. Leary sneaked into the lead for the first two laps.

    Bacon recovered to chase Leary down and took the lead as they negotiated turn four. Three laps later, Bacon stretched his lead, leaving Leary, Grant and Thomas to fight for second place. Fight they did with slide jobs about as routine as the Yankees or Dodgers winning. Leary was passed by Grant (lap seven) and Thomas (lap eight) after a spirited battle.

    Bacon’s lead of nearly three seconds went away when the race’s first yellow waved on the 12th lap when Aric Gentry stopped on the track. Bacon led Grant, Thomas, Leary and Courtney. Grant’s job was not made any easier as two lappers re-started between him and Bacon. The halfway mark came and went with no changes up front. But this couldn’t last; this is USAC sprints we’re talking about.

    Bacon had put some daylight between himself and Grant, who had done the same with Thomas when Kyle Cummins stopped at the end of the frontstretch with a flat right rear on lap 18. While under caution, Bacon ducked into the pits with a flat tire of his own. Now it was Grant leading Thomas, Leary, Courtney and Windom.

    Grant would not lead a green flag lap as Thomas dove low in turn three to relegate the California native to second. KT led the 19th lap and stayed there as Max Adams rolled to a stop in turn one, bringing out another yellow. On this re-start, the leader maintained his position but things were heating up behind them. Grant and Leary had their hands full with Courtney and Windom doing their share of scratching and clawing, with sliders at each end of the oval.

    Just as the frontrunners had begun to put spread out, the red came out on the 26th lap when Justin Owen got a bit out of shape and collected Garrett Abrams, who flipped coming out of turn four. Garrett walked away on his own. The top five remained Thomas, Grant, Courtney, Leary and Windom.

    The final re-start came and so did more slide jobs. Up front, Courtney passed Grant for second on lap 27. Otherwise, the top five was unchanged as the checkered flag waved. The craziness was behind the guys up front with Nick Bilbee emerging in sixth. Bacon charged through the melee after his mid-race misfortune, taking seventh on a night when his car owner Richard Hoffman was remembered and honored. Jarett Andretti was the KSE Racing Products Hard Charger, moving from 13th to eighth. Scotty Weir motored from 14th to ninth. Chase Stockon faded to tenth.

    Thus ended another season at this hallowed ground. The sprint feature ended before 9:30, so I stuck around to see if Matt Hamilton could win another modified feature. But he dropped out early and a bad case of yellow fever broke out. The sprint car fans had left and it was smooth sailing from the parking lot to Eads Parkway. It was time to go. I wasn’t up to either giving or receiving any slid jobs from a pumped up fan in a hurry.

    This one is for the Gentry family as their patriarch, Leon, took this life's checkered flag a few days ago. RIP, racer.

    Confusing my quids with my quos, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: Anatomy of a Rainout/Kokomo/BOSS/FAST

    At least they tried. Track officials and BOSS/FAST headman Aaron Fry did all the right things leading up to what would have been a great night of competition at the Kokomo Speedway. But, as is often the case, rain had other ideas.

    I had been checking everything from the radar to the various social media sites to make sure that heading north to Kokomo was worth the gamble.

    I can say that the temperature was right around 90° in southern Indiana as I left home. After fighting the usual road construction in that big city in the middle of the state, I noticed damp spots on the road. My sharp eyes also noticed that the outside temperature had dropped to 76.

    At times I was still checking the radar and it was telling me to keep going. And so I did, arriving at the track just past five o'clock. Sure enough, it had rained but the crew was busy working the track.

    Navigating the pits was another story. One's choices were to either walk in the mud or through a mud puddle. Eight year old kids would have opted for the latter.

    While waiting on the track to be race ready, I looked at the radar one time too many. It looked like more rain was coming. There was some drizzle but it never rained all that hard. But it was enough for the decision makers to reluctantly pull the plug.

    Except for a few cars attempting to wheel pack the surface, no one saw Tom Hansing wave any of his flags, let alone the green flag.

    The night was not a total loss. I spent time talking with a few good friends and introducing a few people to each other. One can't assume that everyone involved in racing knows each other.

    To shamelessly name drop, I enjoyed time well spent with the likes of Dave Cochran, Steve Fox, Tyler Kelly, Tom Hansing, Fred Zirzow and Aaron Fry. Hanging around gentlemen like those makes me a better man, I am sure.

    A few minutes after seven, the word came down. There would be no racing tonight and there would be no makeup date either. I watched fans and haulers leave the parking lot. After a while, I figured that I may as well join them.

    Give them credit; they tried. But no one has figured out how to control the weather.

    Frantically trying to locate my missing covfefe, I’m…

    Danny Burton

     

     

    The Hoosier Race Report: NOS Party

    People who live for conspiracies might have salivated at the Gas City I-69 Speedway on a cool Friday night as Chris Windom led a trio of sprinters all sponsored by the NOS Energy Drink folks in winning the James Dean Classic presented by USAC with Eldor