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    by Kevin Oldham


KO's interview with the Hurst Brothers is HERE

KO's interview with Phil Poor is HERE


Volume 19, Number 5

Night and Day

Indiana weather, the effectiveness of a balm (as per fictional Seinfeld attorney Jackie Chiles) and the fourth dessert on the Bonge’s Tavern menu.  What these three things share with dirt track racing is that each are impossible to predict, particularly so for surface conditions and the quality of action that results.  

Impacted by an infinite amount of variables, from one day to the next the same venue can as distinctly different as night and day.  This was indeed the case at the third running of Eldora Speedway’s Let Race Two that once again featured the best of both sprint car worlds:  the traditional variety of the United States Auto Club and the winged wonders of the World of Outlaws.  These top two sprint car factions are naturally dissimilar in their thought processes, rules, and procedures, but equally opposite were their Friday and Saturday surfaces and the overall competitiveness of the two evenings.  Come to think of it, would you expect any less of a variation from such a volatile, edge-of-your-seat coliseum as the Big E?  

With a brisk wind blowing out of the northeast, Friday’s hot lap and qualifying conditions were unquestionably arid, so much that time trials resulted in some sub-standard chart-topping performances:  Brady Bacon’s 16.960 with USAC (driving the Dooling-Hayward 63, he was the only one in the sixteen second bracket) and Jason Sides’s 13.842 with WoO.  The quickest without the wing but slowest with, sadly Bacon was the only one to perform double duty all weekend, highlighting the fact that there is still a large body of water that exists between these two sprint car islands, hoping that one day more will be willing to bridge the gap like the old days.  The majority of the 31 car USAC assembly clocked in the eighteens, far too slow for one of the fastest, most demanding, and exciting ovals in all of the world.  Sides was also the only winged warrior in the thirteens on Friday, as the balance of the field landed in the mid-to-high fourteen second range, times that would have been top notch 30 years ago.  Thankfully revived with some liquid love for the heats, that application of H2O was also sufficient for consolations and features. 

And how about those Friday features?  Offering multiple grooves, extremely close competition, and the opportunity for underdogs to shine, this was actually some of the most entertaining Eldora action enjoyed in my lifetime.  Perhaps to be expected after post-qualifying track prep, Friday’s four USAC heats and semi-feature were all won from the front row.  The same could be said for all but one of Friday’s four WoO heats, dash, and B-main (Shane Stewart won a heat from third), definitely not a shocker as winged overtaking is generally only prevalent in the B and A-mains.  Interesting to note is the fact that WoO heat races start straight up by qualifying time, putting the utmost emphasis on time trial performance.  The only wrinkle available in the Outlaw format is the trophy dash inversion, which determines not only the key starting spots for the feature, but more often than not, the winner.  Meanwhile, USAC inverts six for their heats and feature, which often times jumbles things up and produces a plethora of winners.  Perhaps I’m a bit biased in which format promotes better racing, but in my opinion the answer is as clear as day. 

Friday’s slippery conditions proved to be the great equalizer, as the USAC feature was won fifth by Justin Grant, who slid past Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Pace 44) at turn three's entrance on the tenth tour.  KTJ came back in the late stages and nearly returned the favor, having to settle for a podium which was his best-ever Big E result.  However, the real highlight of the evening was the humongous pack containing the first ten machines slicing and dicing under one snug blanket for the last dozen or so laps, with no way to know who was going to come out on top.   Shane Cottle, who had never previously visited Eldora's victory lane and was looking to provide Paul Hazen his first Eldora USAC trophy since 2003, actually snatched the top spot from Grant as they entered turn three on lap 17.  Justin inched ahead at the stripe and quickly slammed the door shut in turn one.  Cottle would eventually slip a few more spots to sixth, but his mastery of the middle lane reminded me of that '03 win by Stanbrough when he shocked world-beater J.J. Yeley with a similar strategy.  Ultimate underdog and blue-collar hero Dallas Hewitt, nephew to Eldora’s favorite son and all-time USAC stud Jack Hewitt, started tenth but came on strong late, inciting a rush of adrenaline in this author, reminiscent of when I realized his uncle might just sweep the '98 Four Crown.  Also looking for his first win at Club E after coming so close in last October’s BOSS bash, Dallas shadowed Justin in the late stages in his Kaser-Seeling 16, making a last minute bid in turn three on the final circuit.  It wasn't to be for Hewitt, but he is indeed knocking on the door to that elusive Eldora triumph.

Following Grant, Hewitt, and Thomas to Friday’s USAC checkered were 21st starting Chase Stockon and Thomas Meseraull, the latter having to hold his Stan Courtad 9x in gear with one hand and drive with the other during the heat and B).  Cottle, Ballou, Bacon, 17th-starting Tyler Courtney, and Chris Windom were sixth through tenth.  Five-time Eldora sprint car winner Dave Darland was scored a sub-par 16th.  Coming out three cars from the end of qualifying and timing a solid sixth, last year’s Let’s Race Two Saturday winner Chad Boespflug started fourth but mysteriously backed up to 17th.  After another disappointing performance on Saturday when he earned 11th, Chad lost even more ground to Grant in season-long points, some 66 in arrears. 

Friday’s WoO feature was also won from fifth by Logan Schuchart, grandson to the great Bobby Allen whose Shark Racing squad smartly operates on the tightest of budgets.  Scrapping with early leader and dash winner Jason Johnson and Shane Stewart, Logan led lap nine but relinquished the top spot to Stewart after a restart for a frightening red flag incident involving Travis Philo and Jac Haudenschild.  Three laps after that restart, Schuchart reacquired the premier position by slipping underneath Stewart at the bottom of turn two, launching so strong off that corner the entire evening.  Holding on for his fourth career Outlaw victory and first at Eldora, this was Logan’s second score of 2017, clearly making the point that he is one of the most talented chauffeurs on the tour.  Logan’s uncle Jacob Allen (Bobby’s son who is actually two years younger than Logan) also notched his best-ever Eldora effort in eighth.  Perhaps it was just my imagination, but while listening to the pitch of the Shark Racing engines for qualifying, they did not appear to be as crisp and hard-hitting as their competitors, but they still timed third and fourth.  I have to wonder if they were intentionally detuned by their team leader for the slick surface, but I’d have to ask Bobby to know for sure.  Nonetheless, Shark Racing was on its game for Friday.    Logan was chased to the conclusion by Stewart, ninth-starting Brad Sweet, seventh-starting Donny Schatz, and Jason Johnson.  Sixth through tenth included David Gravel, Sides, Allen (from 12th), Daryn Pittman, and Kraig Kinser (from 21st).  Wing or non-wing, it’s always great to see the little guy score on such a big stage. 

Even under slick conditions, a much-tamer Eldora Speedway still showed its fangs on Friday.  As I had alluded to earlier, Travis Philo had connected with the turn four concrete and soon folded his front end in turn one.  Philo bounced off the turn one wall directly into the path of Jac Haudenschild, who had absolutely nowhere to hide.  The Philo machine connected with the right side roll cage of Haud’s chassis, as the two became intertwined while executing vicious sets of gyrations that also involved a late-arriving Caleb Helms.  Jac’s number six wound up on its side with its engine screaming at ungodly RPMs, eventually tossing connecting rods and shooting flames out of the bottom end after being starved of lubrication.  Completely writing off both cars not to mention the most costly component for Haud’s car owner Jamie Miller, it was an extremely ugly incident requiring hospital stays for both pilots, each of whom skipped Saturday proceedings.  Bumping into Miller at Greenville’s Maid-Rite Sandwich Shop on Saturday afternoon, he commented that his driver was still banged up, adding that an off-season shoulder surgery was aggravated in the crash.  Thankfully, both drivers survived to race another day, but it was yet another cruel reminder of how savage and heartless the Big E can be.    

With much warmer temperatures but less wind, Saturday started infinitely more damp, as the top qualifying time for the USAC brethren (Brady Bacon – 15.541) was 1.419 seconds improved over Friday while the number one time for the WoO (Tim Shaffer – 12.915) was .928 seconds better.  It’s important to note that Shaffer’s sizzling circuit was just .208 seconds off the all-time record owned by Craig Dollansky, set all the way back in April of 2002.  Saturday heat results were similar to Friday, as all three USAC heats were claimed from the outside of the front row while all four WoO heats, the dash, and B-main were won from the inside of the front row.  However, Saturday’s features were altogether different.  With an old-school cushion guarding the concrete, large attachments were necessary to caress this curb, undoubtedly the preferred lane in the USAC affair. 

Dominated by early leader Chris Windom and eventual winner Robert Ballou, after being out of the saddle since Labor Day weekend and being cleared to race on Thursday, the Mad Man was making just his second start back from his neck surgery.  Returning to battle at the most daunting venue on the schedule, Ballou worked the bugs out of a brand new Eagle chassis on Friday, scoring a conservative yet respectable seventh.  On Saturday, he was back to his dominant form from two years ago, starting fourth and boldly threading the needle between lapper Corey Smith and the concrete wall in turn one while keeping pace with Windom.  An equally ballsy move was made to capture the lead, as Robert again put his car in an almost impossible place, this time between Chris and the turn four wall.  Flawless on the cushion and as sharp as anyone could have ever imagined, he pulled away to jaw-dropping, convincing victory, his fifth career with USAC at Eldora and seventh overall, having bagged an unsanctioned show in 2010 and a BOSS battle in 2015. 

Saturday’s USAC field lost 8 cars:  some to Lawrenceburg, some to Fremont, and one (Meseraull) to a winged Atomic affair.    Finishing behind Ballou and Windom on night two were Bacon, 11th-starting Justin Grant, and Tyler Courtney.  Positions six through ten included Stockon, Stevie Sussex (looking solid in his first Eldora weekend in the Dutcher 17), Darland, Scotty Weir (Simon 22), and Aaron Farney (also showing nice form on both nights).  Grant’s Saturday was no doubt different from Friday, as he and crew chief Sam McGhee were put through a stress test in qualifying after a throttle stuck at turn three while coming to green, leading to a spin and wall contact that chucked a rear bumper.  Coming back out at the end of the order for one lap, his time was third best but by USAC rules, he could start no better than the inside of row six in the feature.  Undaunted in the challenge, the 2015 Let’s Race Two Saturday winner scaled seven spots and salvaged his evening in grand style.  Dallas Hewitt and Landon Simon both inverted on Saturday, with Hewitt’s crash far more severe after bicycling cage-first into the turn one catch fence during the first heat.  A night-and-day difference from Friday, Dallas had to take a ride to the local hospital where he was diagnosed with a concussion and possible hand injury.  Eventually heading back to work by Wednesday, the banged-up Hewitt has to hope for better 2017 luck after destroying two cars so early in the season.  

Saturday’s World of Outlaws contingent was down six from Friday and just like the USAC union, the high side was generally the way to go.  Thanks to a bit of luck when the Craftsman Club Dash inversion was selected as six, current kingpin Donny Schatz propelled from the pole and promptly won.  And, in perhaps the most predictable result of the weekend, he led all thirty tours of the finale for his ninth win of the season and tenth career at Eldora, able to put his Arctic Cat Tony Stewart Racing J&J wherever he wanted and still make hay.  Formerly known as “Tequila” in his less dominant days, Schatz easily outdistanced defending All Star champion Chad Kemenah, whose Saturday was altogether different from Friday when he was three spots shy of making the show.  Rico Abreu could only claim 15th on Friday but rebounded to take third, this after falling from 9th to 13th at the start.  Had Shane Stewart not climbed the wall on lap 20 and caused a caution, a quickly closing and fourth-running Abreu might have been able to use lapped traffic to his advantage to make a bid for the lead.  Brad Sweet finished fourth while Jason Johnson found fifth for the second night in a row.  The other half of the top-ten included Schuchart (from 13th), Kinser (from 12th), Joey Saldana (recovering from a 16th on Friday), Shaffer, and Sheldon Haudenschild (who started 2nd). 

Having circled this event on the calendar a long while ago and eagerly anticipated its arrival for the mere fact that I’d get to spend two rare evenings observing, joking, and bench racing with Chesterland, Ohio resident and fellow sprint car enthusiast Tom Percy, Eldora Speedway’s Let’s Race Two was blessed with nearly perfect weather, decent car counts, and a healthy turnout of fans staying the night in their campers and motorhomes.  Producing a pair of highly entertaining programs under polar opposite conditions, no matter if the surface is slick or heavy or the sprint cars sprout wings or remain traditional, after all these years Eldora is still such a fantastic place to be a fan, in complete awe of this kind of activity.  Sad to leave these grounds knowing that the next time I can catch wingless sprint cars here is for the Four Crown Nationals in September, my only request is:  please add more dates like the old days!  Until then, a June 17th All Star Circuit of Champions Ohio Sprint Speedweek event will have to do.  

 

 

 

 

Volume 19, Number 4

Crowning Achievement

Time flies when you're having fun. 

Although such a statement is worn thin from overuse, it is indeed true when you consider just how many years have expired since Jim O’Connor and his family made the bold decision to completely reconfigure their Kokomo Speedway just one year after the acquisition from Mark Owsley.   Made for midgets back in 1947, this narrow, pancake-flat, paperclip of a quarter-mile morphed into a mini-Eldora, completely opposite of its original intent.  Requiring quite a bit more horsepower but rewarded with multi-grooved, cutthroat competition, the Sunday night of 2017’s Memorial Day weekend will not only commemorate Bryan Clauson’s unforgettable Indy 500/Kokomo doubles, but it will also celebrate a dozen years of unbelievable activity at this revamped speed plant. 

Rewinding back to 2005 for a bit, the first event at the nearly-new facility was delayed about a month due to continued construction and lousy springtime weather.  Shane Cottle was the initial winner and so eager to experience something altogether different and historic, I actually skipped an Eldora USAC union to absorb this affair, recalling the comments of so many veterans who echoed the same sentiment:  this was no longer your father’s stop-and-go Kokomo.  The second race was a wild World of Outlaws war, featuring a torrid three-way tussle between Steve Kinser, Jason Meyers, and eventual winner Kraig Kinser, undoubtedly the most memorable winged race I’ve witnessed in the last 12 seasons.  Just five days after the Outlaws skipped town, a KISS contest was next.  Leaving me breathless after yet another intense fight for first, Mat Neely triumphed over an aggressive Justin Marvel.  Marvel maintained that he was so elbows-up in those waning laps that he was “punching out his right side arm guard” in the process.  In the weeks that followed, even more racers embraced the challenge of the new and improved Kokomo, offering so many cutthroat sliders, over the cushion expeditions, and concrete kisses to effectively create a big-time buzz, ramping up expectations that more often than not were either met or exceeded.  Kokomo suddenly became the place to be on Sunday nights, the one place a racer wanted to win because all eyes were now watching with keen interest.  Twelve years later, very little has changed.   

Although the air was officially let out of the once-proud King of Indiana Sprint Series balloon after 2015, the O’Connors continued to offer an early-season royal occasion with their King of Kokomo bout, first conducted in May of 2016.  Kevin Thomas, Jr. would climb the stage in the Ottinger 4J and don the crown for his second victory of a young 2016 season, filling the balance of the year with a baker’s dozen of conquests.  In 2017, the $2,500-to-win King of Kokomo competition was originally scheduled for April 30th but thanks to a moody Mother Nature, had to be moved to May 7th.  After nearly two complete weekends of washouts, both racers and fans were chomping at the bit to get back in the swing of the season.  Attracting a robust contingent of 35 sprint cars and an odd assortment of 31 midgets operating on Montpelier rules (both standard and USAC sanctioned “D2” machines were welcome), perhaps such a stellar car count makes a legitimate case for limiting the supply of events.  Although the back gate was strong, the front was anything but, as extremely chilly and windy conditions left far too many open spaces from my vantage point.  Hot or cold, count me as one who has serious issues with passing up any Kokomo convocation. 

Just like that KISS contest 12 years prior, the overeager racers were still punching out their right side mud guards, cowboying their cars over a character-filled surface in search of elusive Kokomo success.   The record rainfall that flooded most of the state also left a serious impression on this piece of prime racing real estate, as random pockets of moisture sent countless contestants on wild rides.   One of those who was unaffected by the challenging conditions was Collinsville, Oklahoma’s Tyler Thomas.  After winning his heat from the outside of the front row, Tyler drew the pole for the thirty lap finale and never looked back, claiming his first-ever Kokomo Speedway feature victory in grand style.  Better known for his midget madness, Thomas joined Jerry Burton’s team last June and promptly won in his second outing at Putnamville, also laying claim to Sean Buckley’s Indiana Sprint Car Series title.  Doubling up on the weekend after claiming a Powri midget production at Grain Valley, Missouri, make no mistake about it:  this win was easily the most significant of his career.  Noting afterwards that although a USAC triumph is his ultimate goal, this felt like a USAC win and clearly meant the world to him, perhaps on the upswing of that daunting sprint car learning curve.  Also adding just how worn out he was from the grind; that certainly came as no surprise, so perhaps he was aware of just how much pressure he had been receiving from Tyler Courtney and Justin Grant.  Say what you will, but TT's flawless performance made him look like an old pro at this sprint car game, aided by a perfect setup on his DRC chassis and a set of dialed in shocks that could handle the holes.    

In search of his fourth Kokomo sprint car triumph in a row, Grant had to settle for second after starting eighth.  Although his pair of Powri weekend midget results were less than satisfactory, JG did manage to register yet another sprint score the previous evening in Wheatland, Missouri, his sixth of the season in the Sam McGhee Motorsports Maxim.  All signs point to this combination as being the one to beat and when counting midget wins, Justin has earned eight victories in 2017.   What a year it's been for Justin!

For the majority of the feature, Grant duked it out with fourth-starting Tyler Courtney (Topp 23), who also was a Wheatland winner (midgets) and appeared to have the fastest car on Sunday night.  Unfortunately for Sunshine, he also suffered from some untimely miscues, one of them coming in turn three with less than a handful of laps remaining while operating in second.  Tyler then exceeded the turn two cushion with two to go, allowing Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Hodges 74) to sneak by for third.  C.J. Leary surged from 15th to 5th and pocketed an extra $250 in fan-donated hard charger coin.  Max McGhee, Chris Windom (from 14th), fourth heat winner Shane Cottle (recovering from an early race bike ride), Jarett Andretti, and Thomas Meseraull scored sixth through tenth. 

Meseraull was in his own double-zero, aided by employer Danny Drinan who of course had one of his rear sway bars attached to the unpainted Hawk chassis.  Winning the first heat from sixth, as expected T-Mez was both spectacular and fast.  Drawing the outside of the front row for the feature, he was a heavy favorite to win before a big-time bobble in turn two sent him back to fourth.  Spinning in turn three after contact from a lapper (the only caution of the feature), his run from the rear in the final 13 laps would have been something to see had my eyes not been affixed to the three-way fight for first.   

Required to line up heat races by the blind draw after a transponder issue cropped up in hot laps, Kokomo diehards had to be highly entertained by the resulting action.  As mentioned, Meseraull won his from sixth but in addition, KTJ secured a redraw position with a last turn, last lap Andretti overtaking in heat two.  Tyler Courtney and Max McGhee battled for the win in a closely contested heat three after starting fourth and fifth.  And last but not least, how could you not be thrilled by the final heat's photo finish between Shane Cottle and Justin Grant?  I’m usually not a fan of blind draws, but this evening was clearly an exception. 

Speaking of exceptions, how odd was it that the king of Kokomo did not even make the King of Kokomo feature?  Dave Darland made his debut in Scott Pedersen’s new Spike chassis and after taking the early lead in heat three, this marriage appeared to be starting off on the right foot.  Unfortunately, things went downhill in a hurry once Dave tilted on two wheels in turns one and two.  After that point, The People’s Champ could not find enough comfort to push the car to its limit on the character-filled playing field, missing the B-main cut by one.  Look for Darland and Pedersen to give it another go fairly soon.   

Another individual having a less than satisfactory evening was longtime car owner Jim Simon, who used this King of Kokomo to debut a brand new, wedge caged, five-bar, standard Maxim for hired gun Scotty Weir (that's more than a mouthful of options for one sprint car chassis).  With freshened Claxton power breathing beneath a Highland fiberglass body, unfortunately an electrical gremlin prevented an A-main transfer from the B, requiring additional troubleshooting before the following weekend’s Eldora USAC double.  Now 82 years young, Simon is still employed at United Technologies (formerly BF Goodrich) in Troy, Ohio, where in his 58th year as a full-time employee he would promptly punch the clock at 7 AM on Monday morning.  Excited to show off his new car, new trailer, and his bag of high-tech zip ties, not many 82 year-olds have this level of energy or enthusiasm.   Here's hoping that those gremlins were eliminated and the Simon double-deuce will enjoy an outstanding Eldora double-dip.   

As earlier mentioned, midgets were also on the card for a $700 to win 20-lap feature.  17 of the 31 machines were powered by purpose-built racing engines, but the remaining 14 fell under USAC’s Midwest Thunder Midget umbrella due to their production-based or motorcycle power plants.  Combining both classes in the same heat races was a rather eye-opening endeavor, as their massive speed discrepancy was completely magnified at this venue.  Much like a Porsche 962 prototype knifing through a field of Mazda RX-7s at Daytona, standard midget chauffeurs were required to be on their toes at all times.  This was especially true in the feature as six of the D2 machines made the cut.  After a lap five spin by pole sitter and leader Chris Windom eliminated second place Jerry Coons, Jr. (Petry 25), outside front row starter Davey Ray inherited first place and fended off ferocious charges from Colten Cottle and a fearless 14 year-old from Angola, Indiana named Zeb Wise to take his first-ever Kokomo victory.  Gage Walker and Dave Darland (Gray 11) rounded out the top-five at the 10:29 PM checkered flag when the temperature dropped to a bone-chilling 41 degrees.  Windom recovered to secure sixth while the rest of the top-ten consisted of Justin Dickerson, Cole Fehr, Logan Arnold, and Tyler Nelson. 

Having notched victories all over the globe with the sport’s premier car owners, although this win may not have awarded the big money or glamour of a Midget Week showing, it was still a special score for Mr. Ray for the simple fact that it took place at Kokomo, which so often provides some of the most intense midget action anywhere.  Davey's victory celebration was that much sweeter after overcoming quite a bit of heat race drama, as the landing from a massive bike ride shoved the left side nerf bar into the rear tire, requiring a difficult drive after a red flag for a tumbling Tate Williamson. The Davenport, Iowa native somehow held on for the heat win, ultimately allowing him to redraw for the first eight feature starting spots.  

A red flag for Nick Hamilton left six laps to determine a winner.  After the stoppage, third place runner Zeb Wise suddenly became a serious threat by continuing to operate around the bottom.  In one fell swoop, a low side launch off turn two had him wheel to wheel for first place, but the top shelf tactics of Ray and Cottle were simply too much to overcome.  My initial opportunity to witness Wise in action, the Clauson-Marshall Racing protégé was quite the show, providing many positive impressions.  First mixing it up Jerry Coons, Jr. and Dave Darland for the lead in his heat, Zeb would have won had it not been for a two-wheeled tour.  Firing from 12th in the finale, a first lap, turn four over-the-cushion excursion did not defeat him, back up to seventh by lap five and licking his chops in third at the lap 14 red flag.  Not the least intimidated by such heavy competition nor the legendary venue, I’m looking forward to seeing how Wise matures in this first season of midget madness.  

Taking 12th in the midget feature was Aaron Leffel, who was best in class for the lower rung D2 doodlebugs.  Next in line was "Nuclear" Nick Corea, driving Craig Dori's 12 year-old Ellis chassis propelled by a Chevy Ectotec.  As the hardware provider for my lone outing as a sprint car competitor (2003 Gas City mechanic's race), it's a wonder that Dori still has the enthusiasm to field a car after I returned to the pit area in fourth place, albeit with a damaged tail tank and rear bumper.  Those same USAC Midwest Thunder Midgets will serve as the lone support class for the next Kokomo event on Friday May 19th, when the All Star Circuit of Champions pays a visit.  As  you may already know, both Tony Stewart and Rico Abreu will be in action, so the rare opportunity to catch both of those drivers live and in-person should be worth the price of admission.  Reserved seating for the top ten rows of the grandstand are available now for $30.  Check out www.kokomospeedway.net or https://tickets.ticketforce.com for more information.   After the All Star date, four consecutive Kokomo Speedway Sundays start with the May 28th homage to Bryan Clauson's Indiana Double.  June 4th is Kids Night, June 11th is Indiana Midget Week, and June 18th is Family Night. 

Still hard to comprehend how the last 12 years have expired so quickly, perhaps it has something to do with the ability to completely escape from reality during those countless summertime Sunday nights spent at Kokomo Speedway.  Initially not in favor of the massive changes made to the Speedway in 2005, it only took one sampling of the action to change my opinion.  Ever since the reconfiguration, more often than not I'm happy to make that familiar drive up U.S. 31.  That in of itself is not a crowning achievement, as I am not alone in this sizzling love affair.  However, for anyone fortunate enough to make that drive up the ramp into Kokomo's victory lane, that is indeed a moment to be savored and cherished, as that is truly a sign that you not only laid it all on the line, but also had the talent and equipment to defeat the best in the business at one of the most demanding venues in all of motorsports.  As Tom Petty once said, it's good to be king.     

 

 

 

 

Volume 19, Number 3
Southern Man
There's more than corn in Indiana.
Naturally I’m a little biased since I’m a native Hoosier, but for anyone who envisions my homeland as boring, fertile farmland, they have obviously never visited the southern half of the state. Of course there are still those requisite green and golden fields that seem to span the horizon, but there are also the limestone laden hills, valleys, lakes, streams, rivers, waterfalls, and acres and acres of lush wilderness that exude so much beauty. In a word, this area is stunning and if I wasn’t so anchored to the modern conveniences common to the Indianapolis suburbs, somewhere around Bloomington would be my choice of where to eventually pitch my tent for good.
It’s not often enough that I get to explore the twisty two lane highways common to Southern Indiana, but whenever there is a sprint car contest scheduled south of the central city, that’s a prime time to leave a little earlier to tour some of those less traveled paths. As much as I enjoy the racing action at my intended destination, it’s just as much about the journey. So whenever my nephew joins me, we usually include a stop at some unique eatery, brewery, or significant structure to soak up some local culture, further extending our Hoosier roots and ultimately making for a memorable experience that feels more like a mini-vacation, truly liberating us from our mundane existence.
This second consecutive USAC weekend double sent me south to Bloomington and Haubstadt and although I had to fly solo on Friday in order to meet up with Danny and his wife Courtney who had a hillside lawn chair awaiting, his suggested alternate route to avoid agonizing State Road 37 construction was right on the money, as I was not only able to arrive in time for hot laps, but also enjoy some gorgeous vistas and explore some previously unseen areas of Monroe County. Virtually unaffected by traffic down I-65 to State Road 46, once entering the eastside of Bloomington I turned south on 446 and followed the fairly complex route suggested by my car's navigation software. Ultimately angling southwest from that 46/446 intersection, I eventually wound up on the street that straddles the pit area of Bloomington Speedway. Dumping me out onto Fairfax Road and literally requiring an immediate right into my usual entrance, it was the very first time of being bound for this venue that I have not used 37.
Excited to have endured such a stress-free stroll, when speaking of feel-good, positive energy, there may be no place in the world where more optimism abounds than an Indiana dirt track's opening night of the season. Such overwhelming positivity was clearly evident at Bloomington Speedway on Friday April 14th, as its pit area was packed to the gills with 83 sprint cars of various sizes and engine displacements while the opposing hillside was crammed with fans of all ages, everyone brimming with excitement and enthusiasm, so happy to be kicking off this grand old speed plant’s 95th year of existence.
The previous week’s washout resulted in a 2017 Bloomington Speedway opening act featuring the United States Auto Club traditional sprint cars, its stout 34 car field accompanied by 20 of Bloomington’s own RaceSaver 305 cubic inch winged sprint cars and 29 MMSA wingless mini sprints. Especially noteworthy were those 305s, its largest assembly to date with numerous new entries and even more forthcoming.
With so much electricity in the air, the only thing that could have made this evening even more special was the on-track product. And thanks to Bloomington's youthful surface groomer Henry Bryant, that action definitely delivered, as Henry prepared a tacky, two-grooved masterpiece that helped produce one of the most thrilling features witnessed in recent memory. As a veteran fan of this quarter-mile of red clay for more than three decades, I can honestly state that the USAC main event was indeed that exciting, the kind that keeps you coming back for more.
In the last three Bloomington outings, USAC’s wingless warriors have eclipsed the one-lap track record. Given the smooth playing field that oozed with grip, it was quite surprising that the trend did not continue. However, new 10 and 12-lap records would be set a little later. Fast qualifier at this event last year, C.J. Leary topped the charts with a sizzling 10.771 second circuit, just a tick off Chad Boespflug’s 10.737 mark set last July. The top-eight qualifiers of Leary, Chris Windom, six-time track champion Brady Short, Chase Stockon, Isaac Chapple, Josh Hodges, Nick Bilbee, and Stevie Sussex (Dutcher 17) clocked underneath 11 seconds, such an amazing feat given the huge amounts of horsepower and absence of aerodynamic aid.
Cast in overcast skies and comfortable conditions that barely required a sweatshirt, after the opening ceremonies in which Dr. Pat Sullivan gave tribute to the recently deceased 1984 Bloomington Speedway sprint car track champion Greg Staab, unfortunately such a lightning-fast surface would not allow for much heat race overtaking, as winners Brent Beauchamp, Tyler Courtney, Kevin Thomas, Jr. and Tyler Thomas all came from the front row. With USAC’s feature inversion consisting of the quickest six qualifiers who transfer through their heat, only two of the top-ten qualifiers would make the cut (Windom and Hunter Schuerenberg). Claiming this event in 2013, USAC’s all-time sprint car feature winner Dave Darland might have only timed 14th best but given that he was the sixth-fastest to reach a heat race transfer, that was good enough for the pole position for the thirty lap finale. In that record-setting semi-feature, Jon Stanbrough stormed from 12th to sixth, proof that passing was possible. Aaron Farney, Sussex, Dakota Jackson (Waltz 66), Landon Simon, Kody Swanson (Epperson 2), and Chapple were the notable names failing to crack the A-main.
Flanked to Darland’s right on the feature front row was Chad Boespflug, who continues to co-own his team with Chuck Eberhardt and Fred Zirzow but adds backing from Mean Green and wears the familiar number 69 donated by Cincinnati’s famed Hoffman Auto Racing team. Once green lights glared, Boespflug leaned on the healthy turn two cushion and bolted to the lead, slowed almost immediately by a Hunter Schuerenberg stoppage after a Short connection. In the three laps that were run, recent Lawrenceburg victor Chris Windom had climbed to third and after the restart, he diamonded turn two to briefly reach runner-up status. After he and Darland swapped second two more times, the bottom-feeding Windom was still a half-straight behind the leader.
By the one-third mark, Chris had cut the lead to a car-length as Chad began to negotiate lapped traffic, allowing Darland, Kyle Cummins, and Chase Stockon to close the gap as well. The order remained the same through consecutive cautions for Hodges and Max McGhee but before the final yellow flag was waved for the shredded left rear rubber of Darland, Windom had worked the moist bottom to rocket past Boespflug.
Leaving eight laps to decide Bloomington’s lid-lifter, after pacing the field for the first 21 laps Chad suddenly had time under that caution to regain his composure and develop a plan of attack to reacquire the number one position. That plan involved pounding the substantial cushion that still guarded the top shelf, building momentum with each successive tour. By lap 27 he was even with Windom, who still stayed loyal to his low side launches. One lap later, Chad inched ahead at the exit of turn two, but Chris still lead at the line. Again CB had the advantage down the back chute, just enough to officially lead as the white flag waved. Hustling his Maxim/Claxton combination through the south end, Boespflug had just enough mustard on the hot dog to beat Windom to the top of turn four, securing his first career victory on these hallowed grounds.
The nearly wide open, side-by-side clinic that Chad and Chris exhibited in those last eight laps was truly one for the ages, such a thrilling way to begin Bloomington’s 95th year. After suffering so much early season adversity that included a Lawrenceburg flip and a tornado that tore through his Fort Branch property, Chase Stockon had to be thrilled with third. Justin Grant started 12th and finished fourth, good enough to retain his national point lead. After resetting the eight-lap heat race standard, Kevin Thomas, Jr. stormed from 20th to take fifth in the Pace 44, earning him a crisp $100 dollar bill from B&W Auto Mart. Positions six through ten were taken by Short, defending track champion Jeff Bland, Jr., Cummins, Beauchamp, and Bilbee.
The 20-lap RaceSaver feature was led flag-to-flag by Santa Claus, Indiana’s Ryan Tusing, his task made so much simpler when feature favorite Dakota Jackson pulled pit side after a grinding lap one, turn one crash swallowed four cars, two of which included John Paynter, Jr. and Throckmorton Racing’s Brian Gerster, who happened to be celebrating a birthday. After acquiring second from Jared Fox, mini sprint master Andy Bradley attempted to keep the leader in sight but spun into the infield grass just past halfway. At the checkered flag, Tusing had constructed a half-track advantage on defending track champion Fox, lapping up to sixth place in the process. Kerry Kinser, 16 year-old fourth generation racer Brinton Marvel (who claimed a heat win), and Kendall Ruble rounded out the top-five. Middletown, Ohio’s Rod Henning brought the 2017 opening evening to a conclusion with a win in the MMSA feature.
After the rain out on April 21st, Bloomington’s next event is on April 28th. Although wingless sprints are part of the program, modifieds are highlighted with the running of the J.B. Robinson Memorial. In action on the four Fridays in May, the action begins on the 5th with a regular offering of wingless sprints, RaceSavers, and super stocks. The winged 410 MOWA sprints come calling on May 12th. Fan Appreciation Night and $5 general admission is on May 19th while the Josh Burton Memorial takes place on May 26th.
Returning to Indy's north side for usual Saturday morning chores, we were back on the road again by 2 PM. Dan-O occupied the passenger seat and charted our course for a pre-race feast at Jasper, Indiana's Schnitzelbank Restaurant, which was a first for both of us. It might have been out of the way, but it allowed us to catch the conclusion of the Pacers/Cavaliers game, soothing our post-game sorrows with some authentic German cuisine and home brewed suds (Schnitz) while celebrating our family's heritage in style. The route to Jasper involved roads numbered 67, 39, 37, 50, 150, 231, and 164, spotting so many properties of racing royalty along the way. I forgot just how picturesque U.S. 50 is from 37 to Shoals, bypassing Jug Rock and Bo-Mac’s Drive Inn, where opening day was jam-packed. At some point, I’m going back for Bo-Mac’s, and for another look at the spectacular view of the White River Valley while exiting the west end of town, the latter being the highlight of my weekend travels. Again, little gems like these can only be found in the southern half of Hoosierland.
After our overindulgence, 231 continued to take us south to Interstate 64, whisking us west until intersecting with U.S. 41. Just a few miles south of Tri-State Speedway, a road sign signaled that it was a mere 279 miles to Chicago. In this age when highway 41 is filled with far too many stoplights through Terre Haute and northwest Indiana, that’s one long haul for sure.
Leaving 30 minutes to spare until sprint cars circled Tom and Loris Helfrich’s pride and joy, I found 31 machines signed in for this USAC/MSCS co-sanction. No doubt that was a more than respectable number, especially given the gatherings at Lincoln Park and Lawrenceburg and remembering that this exact contest two years ago only drew 24. I counted approximately 11 MSCS regulars for 2017, one of them a newcomer in Evansville’s Tyler Rust. Unfortunately for Tyler, his Tri-State introduction was a rude awakening to the reality of this sport, landing his freshly decaled machine on its lid in the semi-feature.
Jarett Andretti started Saturday in style. So rare that someone first in the USAC qualifying line winds up being number one by the end of the order, such was the case as Andretti’s lap of 13.383 seconds could not be topped. I didn’t spend much time in the Bloomington or Tri-State pit area, but I did notice veteran World of Outlaws chief mechanic Rob Hart wearing an Andretti Autosport shirt, with Rob apparently becoming a recent addition to the squad. Taking third in his heat and sixth in the feature, it’s just a matter of time until a USAC triumph becomes reality for Andretti. Last year’s Haubstadt Hustler victor Kyle Cummins was the odds-on favorite to take the win yet again, and his second best time of 13.400 would set him up for that possibility. Unfortunately any chance for Kyle's repeat was ruined when just after gaining third from Justin Grant, contact with a lapped car in the final five laps caused him to spin, promptly piled into by Hunter Schuerenberg and Isaac Chapple. After last year’s Sprint Week win, it came as no surprise that Marion, Illinois’ Carson Short would clock fifth fastest, but given the recent Tri-State struggles of Justin Grant, Chris Windom, and Chad Boespflug, not many would have picked them to qualify within the first six spots. Dave Darland is another who has consistently had issues with negotiating these tight and tacky turns, but he was ninth in time trial results. And, how about local boy Chet Williams posting a time of 13th? Brady Short’s sub-par 21st only meant he’d have to work even harder come feature time, as his stampede from 20th to 4th earned him bonus money from KSE Racing Products and B&W Auto Mart.
Saturday heats saw much more overtaking than Friday, as winners Stockon, Boespflug, Leary, and Windom stormed from second, fifth, second, and sixth, respectively. Fighting a very tight setup on his Mach 1 chassis, Kyle Cummins was the only one of the quick-six who failed to make the heat race cut. Dave Darland was infinitely more disgusted than Kyle after his heat, as a spin while racing with Carson Short left him resting in the middle of turns one and two. Seconds later, Kent Schmidt center punched him in the left rear wheel and angered beyond belief, Double D tossed his steering wheel, unbelted, and proceeded to offer Schmidt a piece of his mind. Dave must have known the extent of the damage, as his Phillips Motorsports crew had a thrash for the ages to get ready for the B, having no backup car to resort to. Needing to replace essentially every bolt-on part from behind the motor plate, after the previous night’s tire issue and the Lawrenceburg flip, car owners Steve and Carla Phillips had to wonder why they submit themselves to this kind of punishment. Lady Luck has been no friend to the Phillips camp in 2017.
As if things couldn’t get any worse for the Darland/Phillips combo, Dave was moved back two rows from his original semi-feature starting spot. Not to worry though, as the People’s Champ would take the fifth of six transfers in this contest claimed by Cummins. Isaac Chapple, Brandon Mattox, and Dakota Jackson were the first three to miss the feature cut. Chapple, Jackson, and Brandon Morin used the plethora of provisional passes to take part in the thirty lap finale.
Setting the stage for another outside front row starting spot for Boespflug (beginning alongside Schuerenberg), could this result in carbon copy of Friday? Chris Windom, Chad's number one nemesis since Terre Haute's October 2016 Midwestern finale, obviously had other ideas. Although Chad would lead the first three laps, Chris mimicked his every move, executing an awfully tight slide job through the exit of turn two to steal the premier position on lap four. The rest was indeed history, as Windom would pace the final 27 tours to claim his second series victory of the season. The box score may have made it appear awfully easy, but Chris still had to endure four cautions, one red flag, and a weave through lapped traffic to hold back the red-hot Chad, who provided a genuine threat for the entire distance and whose lap five slider after a Josh Hodges yellow was crossed over. The final of those four amber illuminations resulted in a one lap dash to the checkered, but Windom gained a great launch from the lower lane of turn two to fend off any attack from the Hanford Hornet, ending his string of disappointing performances in this southwestern corner of the state. Windom and Boespflug were chased to the checkered flag by fifth-starting Justin Grant, who like Windom had previously dreaded making the haul to Haubstadt as nothing he did here seemed to work. Brady Short needed ten more laps to be a contender for the win, but his fourth place showing from the tenth row was still impressive. Of no relation to the Indiana Stone Works son, Carson Short corralled fifth. Andretti, Aaron Farney (from 14th), Max McGhee (as high as third in the 4J Racing DRC), Kevin Thomas, Jr. and C.J. Leary (from 19th) were scored sixth through tenth at the 10:06 PM conclusion.
Out of those four cautions and one red, the most serious of incidents involved a titanic front stretch feature tumble from Donny Brackett after he climbed the wheel of another competitor, needing several minutes to catch his breath and regain his composure so that he could eventually exit through the roll cage and wave to the crowd. After his qualifying time was disallowed, Donny started from the rear of his heat to take the final transfer, giving him high hopes for a decent feature finish. One can only imagine just how sore he was on Sunday morning while reexamining the remains of his racing inventory. After watching that crash unfold right before my eyes, I am once again reminded of just how violent sprint car racing can be.
Tri-State Speedway’s next outing is Saturday April 29th, with the World of Outlaws making their annual visit and it’s sure to be a thrilling affair. A pair of May dates at TSS include the first of two 2017 MSCS/MOWA sprint car doubleheaders on Saturday the 13th (Sunday July 2nd is the other) while the Sunday night of Memorial Day weekend, $5,000 to win MSCS sprints are joined by modifieds and MMSA mini-sprints.
As always, any evening at the Class Track ends far too soon, believing that all of their sprint features should be a minimum of forty laps in length. Nonetheless, it remains a highly enjoyable destination for sprint car entertainment, as there is never any doubt about surface preparation or effort due to the simple fact that its caretaker takes pride in every single thing he does (Who else has the lights on in December and is constantly working his dirt?). All that attention to detail often results in drama-filled finales, effectively charging my batteries for that long ride home via the forever lonely Interstate 69. Wishing that Tri-State Speedway was an hour closer in proximity or at least placed in the same time zone as the rest of the state, about the only way that wish can come true is to become a Southern Man and make that move to the Bloomington area. Given my current comfort level with life in general, that’s highly unlikely to occur so for now, I’ll just have to make the most of these journeys and soak up all the scenery I can.
But wait – there’s more!
Unable to make the call for USAC’s sprint car debut in Plymouth, Indiana, I had planned on an April 22nd Montpelier meeting until wet weather impeded on those plans. Believing that Lincoln Park Speedway would be the biggest benefactor after Lawrenceburg pulled their plug, I made a last minute decision to head west for a local program but was slightly shocked to find such a miniscule assembly sprint cars and fans once arriving at the usual 6 PM start time. My first time on these grounds since I piloted Bill Gasway’s old Stealth in an open practice last October, the 19-car contingent contained a few heavy hitters, and naturally those guys would be factors at the 25-lap feature conclusion.
Offering four different leaders in pole sitter Brent Beauchamp, Brady Short, Justin Grant, and finally 12th-starting Kevin Thomas, Jr., the amount of overtaking up front plus Kevin’s late race grab of first from Grant (immediately after the fifth of six caution flags) certainly justified the three hours I spent on the concrete concourse hiding from the wind and slightly chilly temperatures that felt much colder than 52 degrees. That brisk wind wound up polishing the lower regions smooth and slick while the top side retained its usual character, allowing KTJ to make up six spots very early by flying high through three and four. Nearly everyone, including Kevin, played huggy pole through one and two, as the high road was simply too treacherous. Fifth-starting Short manned the middle lane for a bit, seizing the lead from Beauchamp on the ninth lap. But, it would be ninth-starting Grant who warmed the souls of the hearty sprint car fans with his top shelf tactics on both ends, making it work despite the somewhat cowboy conditions. Hoping to gain some Putnamville experience due to the simple fact he’s recorded so little of laps here, Justin looked like an old pro when he hustled past Short with seven laps left, ready to sail away to yet another 2017 victory until Tyler Thomas toured the spin cycle with four to go.
With KTJ up to second after a half-spin from Short in turn two, Kevin’s Pace 44 somehow found traction around the bone-slick bottom of turns one and two, allowing him to take command from Justin who suddenly slipped back to third. A sixth and final caution with two laps remaining gave Grant a shot at redemption, circling Sweet Feet on the final lap but running out of time to catch the Alabama Assassin, with the first two finishers sharing an in-depth conversation on the back stretch just before Kevin's victory lane interview. Done by 9:22 PM, Short, Beauchamp, and defending track champ Shane Cockrum (Paul 24) were third through fifth. Max McGhee (involved in the first caution), Jarett Andretti (operating as high as 2nd), Oklahoma’s Koby Barksdale, Tim Creech, and Tyler Thomas took sixth through tenth. LPS is back in action this coming Saturday (April 29th) with sprints along with the American Modified Series. On each and every Saturday in May, traditional sprint cars will be the featured attraction in rustic Putnamville, Indiana, including a May 27th MSCS $2,500 to win special event.
Already penciling in Kokomo’s regular season opener for this Sunday (April 30th), although I won’t be able to make it to Bloomington on Friday, Saturday plans could involve Haubstadt WoO or Lawrenceburg’s King of the Midwest special. To steal a line from car owner Mike McGhee, please support your local dirt track, as there are numerous options this coming weekend. Without this kind of action existing, I know for a fact that I would have very little or no interest in auto racing at all. Let’s do our part to promote and preserve what’s left.

 

 

 

Volume 19, Number 2

Twice as Nice

Once is great, but twice is even better.

In the aftermath of the recent Kokomo Grand Prix, there is no doubt that's just what Justin Grant, Brady Bacon, and open wheel fanatics would want you to believe. Originally scheduled for a Friday/Saturday, extremely wet grounds after torrential Thursday rain combined with Friday’s prediction of frigid evening temps shifted activity to a more sensible Saturday/Sunday. With a decent forecast finally on the horizon for this historically weather-plagued event, the reality of two consecutive evenings of USAC national midgets and local sprint car competition had those enthusiasts in heaven, even more special given the fact that these were the only two classes the entire weekend, serving as a dream doubleheader for the opening rounds of Kokomo Speedway’s 70th birthday season. Without tin tops, mud cabs, hornets, or any kind of fendered buzzkill, who could ask for anything more? As an added bonus, all action was completed no later than 10 PM each evening, leaving plenty of time to roam the pits and socialize afterwards. A baseball twin bill and two scoops of ice cream are wondrous things, but back-to-back evenings of sprint and midget doubles are hard to top, especially in K-town.

So difficult to win any race on Indiana’s baddest bullring, the thought of taking two in a row on the same weekend was mind-blowing. Well, Justin and Brady had little time to prepare their brains for such a feat, as Grant swept sprint car features in the Sam McGhee Motorsports Maxim/Foxco while Bacon bested stellar fields in the Bob East and Brad Noffsinger wrenched Beast/Stanton-Toyota midget financed by Frank Manafort.

So fitting for Justin Grant, his 2017 has been all about the double. During the week of the Chili Bowl, twice he was gifted with fantastic news, first coming when his wife Ashley gave birth to twins and the second coming when Tim Clauson requested his services to round out a six-car Clauson Marshall Racing super team. Making the most of the opportunity by winning the Friday prelim, he led laps in Saturday’s 55-lap finale but had to settle for a podium placement. USAC’s first feature winner in 2017 sprint car and midget action at Ocala, Florida and Du Quoin, Illinois, he started Saturday’s Grand Prix sprint car feature from fifth, this after qualifying quickest (12.710 seconds) and being narrowly nipped by Dave Darland in his heat. Darland was driving Justin’s former Mark Hery mount for the second time this year, surging to the lead almost immediately after circling pole sitter and first heat winner Matt Westfall, whose engine sounded sick from the start of hot laps. After the second caution for Cole Ketcham’s terminal smoke signals, Grant had already gathered second and proceeded to shadow his mentor for the next 15 laps, interrupted by a Travis Hery twirl with ten to go. Darland used every trick in his extensive Kokomo playbook to stay out front, one of which included the early apexing of turn three. Otherwise known as the "diamond", that was the move Justin has made famous and of course it turned out to be his winning move once again, pulling the trigger a tad bit earlier than Darland as the two chauffeurs looked like synchronized swimmers in turn three of lap 19. Although Justin managed to beat him to the stripe, Kokomo’s all-time leading feature winner wasn’t finished, serving a timely turn one slider that warranted a turn two crossover from the former Ione, California resident. Grant would lead the rest of the way but in the final two tours, eighth-starting Brady Bacon (Dooling-Hayward 63) and sixth-starting Chris Windom worked their way past Dave, whose power plant encountered enough issues to render him rideless for Sunday’s sprint. While the hometown favorite had to swallow a bitter fourth place pill, Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Pace 44) finished fifth. C.J. Leary, Aaron Farney, Tyler Hewitt, Isaac Chapple, and Matt Westfall were scored sixth through tenth.

As Justin aimed for victory lane, steam poured from beneath the hood, suffering a punctured radiator that pegged the temperature gauge for the final five laps. After a radiator swap and routine maintenance from father Mike and his 17 year-old son Sam who continues to amaze with his sharp mechanical skills and tenacity, their recently reworked Foxco Chevy (an ex-Randy Hannagan/Tracy Hines mill) lived to race another day, topping Sunday’s timing charts with yet another 12.710 second lap. Again claiming second in his heat, this time to Brady Bacon, the feature redraw positioned him on the outside of the second row for the 25-lap finale. Saturday’s Lincoln Park MSCS victor Thomas Meseraull (Dutcher 17) landed the pole position and held the early advantage but exactly like Saturday, Justin quickly made his way to second after inching past Aaron Farney. A front stretch tank-slapper from T-Mez allowed Grant to close the gap, seizing the day with a high-side swipe through turn four of the tenth tour. Behind him, Bacon continued his surge from sixth, lifting third from Shane Cottle and second from Meseraull with half the distance still remaining. Five laps later, Brady was breathing heavily down Justin’s neck, politely sliding him through turn two but of course Grant would not go down without a fight, offering an immediate crossover in yet another carbon-copy of Saturday. After Meseraull mysteriously slowed from third with four to go, the resulting caution would restack the deck, obviously in favor of Bacon. Although Justin may not have had the fastest sprinter on Sunday; that suddenly became a moot point once Brady banged the cushion and packed his right rear wheel with mud. The resulting vibration was serious enough to prevent him from putting up a fight and at the checkered flag, your top-five contained Grant, Bacon, Cottle, Thomas, and Farney. Jarett Andretti, Windom, and Leary were sixth through eighth, the last cars on the lead lap. Going two-for-two in the Grand Prix, Justin’s Kokomo sprint car streak is actually three when counting his Kokomo Klash victory last October. The question is, can he make it four in a row when Kokomo reconvenes on April 30th?

The sprint car side of the Grand Prix ledger might have been supremely smooth for Mr. Grant, but the midget side was anything but. Seventh-fastest in Saturday qualifying in his Spike/Stanton-Mopar SR-11, he won his heat from fifth in dramatic fashion by virtue of two last lap passes on Tucker Klaasmeyer, starting the thirty-lap feature from seventh. Justin's Clauson Marshall Racing teammate Tyler Courtney bicycled in turn one and flipped to the top of the track on lap nine, landing a crushing blow to Grant's hood as he tried in vain to dodge the tumbling machine. Waltzing back to the pits and believing he was finished, once the tattered bodywork was taped Justin jumped back in and returned to battle, resulting in a sixth place finish that kept negative national championship points implications to a minimum. As for Sunday, he was the quickest qualifier at 13.081 (just off Rico Abreu's 2013 mark of 13.009), took third in his heat, but again had early issues in the feature after spinning in turn four. Unable to rebound this time, his 20th place finish dropped him from second to fifth in the standings, some 48 points behind leader Bacon.

After playing sprint car bridesmaid both nights, midget madness was a complete role reversal for Brady. Last winning on these grounds in May of 2012, interestingly enough he was also the only one in Saturday’s midget field who had collected a Kokomo USAC midget main previous to this weekend, that coming in 2006 (his career first). Both of Bacon’s Grand Prix scores required him to work hard for his money, leading the first 12 laps and the last seven on Saturday after firing from fourth. Quick qualifier Spencer Bayston (13.318) scooted from sixth to seize Saturday's lead after he and Brady initially traded the top spot three separate times. Once amber bulbs illuminated for Davey Ray, a final 12-lap dash ensued, including an insane lap 24 in which the lead duo swapped the premier position three more times before the Baconator ultimately showed Bayston where the beef was. Saturday's top-five also consisted of defending series champ Tanner Thorson, Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Brown 7), and Jerry Coons, Jr. (Petry-Goff 25), creating a Toyota sweep of the top-five by engine builders Gary Stanton (1st and 5th) and Speedway Engine Development (2nd, 3rd, and 4th). Sixth through tenth included Grant, Chris Windom, Tyler Thomas (up from 20th), Dave Darland, and Ryan Robinson. For Darland, his Gray Auto group, led by TQ titan Terry Goff, had to swap a right rear under a lap 9 caution. Initially unable to make the call, they earned a reprieve for the Courtney/Grant red. Chad Boat ran up front for half of Saturday’s finale but faded to 11th.

On Sunday, Bacon quickly flew to fourth from his tenth starting spot. Eventually snatching the premier position on the 13th tour from defending series champ Tanner Thorson, this came after a rash of four early yellows. Enduring one more caution, B-squared built a full straight advantage by the end, topping Thorson, Tyler Courtney, Sunday arrival Rico Abreu, and Kevin Thomas, Jr. Bayston scored sixth after a lap ten tour of the spin cycle while Darland, Clauson Marshall Racing's Shane Golobic, Ryan Robinson, and Holly Shelton secured seventh through tenth place money. National championship contender Chad Boat started from the pole and led the first six laps. Unfortunately, Sunday’s result was worse than Saturday, as a DNF rendered him 19th.

Speaking of Courtney, twice was not always so nice in his weekend double, thankfully ending on the highest of notes after enduring quite a bit of Saturday/Sunday adversity. With his Topp Motorsports Maxim sprinter sitting silent for this twin bill, he limited his madness to midgets, fourth quickest from Saturday time trials in his Clauson Marshall machine. After impressively winning his heat from sixth, too much bite from a moist patch in the middle of turn one sent him tumbling all the way to the top of the bank where he landed on top of his teammate. Armed with new ammunition for Sunday, he was seventh in qualifying but had issues in his heat, spinning atop turn two and later bouncing through that same turn one spot that bit him the night previous, bending the shaft of a right front shock. However, Sunshine was undeterred in his quest for feature success. Beginning outside of the front row alongside Chad Boat, yet another rough ride through turns one and two mired him in eighth for much of the contest. Eventually smoothing out by adjusting his line, his last 13 rim-riding laps offered a glimpse of what could have been, embroiled in a back and forth battle for second with Tanner Thorson before settling for third.

After being scooped up by close confidant Coby Smith from Indy’s airport at 4:18 PM, an 80 to 90 mile per hour sprint up 421 allowed Rico Abreu to arrive just in time to suit up and get situated into one of six Keith Kunz Bullets. Winning his sixth career World of Outlaws main event the previous evening in Queen Creek, Arizona, a one hour delay in Denver cut things extremely close on time and that ensuing hustle to make Kokomo hot laps truly exemplified his Sunday struggle. Cracking the concrete between turns one and two on his first qualifying lap, a helicopter ride down the banking resulted in no time being registered and placing him behind the proverbial eight ball for the rest of the evening. Starting last in his heat, he dramatically secured second with a final turn, final lap sweep of Justin Grant and Ryan Greth. Firing from the outside of row 11 for the finale, he came on strong late to take fourth, making up most of his time by diamonding the south end of the speedway. Enjoying yet another crowd-pleasing Abreu assault, I look forward to more of the same in 2017, as NASCAR’s loss is short track open wheel racing’s gain. Reminding me of how budding superstar Bryan Clauson lost his NASCAR ride with Chip Ganassi in 2008 due to sponsorship issues, with Rico suddenly facing a similar scenario, how cool would it be to see him find his way to the Indianapolis 500 as well? I know that Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles is a bona-fide dirt track fan, wondering if he is thinking along the same lines.

Although Grand Prix sprint car fields were modest at 19 and 22, midget accumulations were stout at 35 and 30, with Sunday subtractions coming from Shane Hollingsworth (mysteriously slowing from the lead in his heat), Tony DiMattia (showing serious smoke in his heat), Billy Wease, Brad Kraus, Cole Fehr (showing even more smoke than DiMattia during the B), and former Eldora modified bad ass Scott Orr. Five drivers (Windom, Grant, Bacon, Thomas, and Darland) did the double on Saturday, but only four did the deed on Sunday, again offering a clue as to just how hard it is to find willing car owners offering drives in each division.

Happy to see healthy midget car counts once again, as many as six Kokomo Grand Prix entries came from Keith Kunz Motorsports. Keith and his longtime ally Pete Willoughby brought Speedway Toyota powered Bullets by Spike for returnees Tanner Thorson, Spencer Bayston, Ryan Robinson, and Holly Shelton, joined this year by Tanner Carrick, yet another baby-faced Northern California outlaw kart standout. Three top-notch Clauson Marshall Racing entries are masterminded by Tim Clauson, as the talented trio of Shane Golobic, Tyler Courtney, and Justin Grant offer the biggest threat to the Kunz juggernaut. Three more machines came from the combined Gray Auto/Petry-Goff stables for Dave Darland, Jerry Coons, Jr. and Greenwood, Indiana’s Chase Jones. To offer an idea of just how much the midget manufacturing scene has changed over the last two decades, out of all those Grand Prix entries there was just one Beast chassis in the field, that of course belonging to winner Brady Bacon. Sunday's field of 30 consisted of 16 Spikes, six Bullets by Spike, three BOSS, and one each Beast, Hyper, DRC, CBI (Chad Boat), and Felker.

Speaking of chassis manufacturers, two consecutive evenings of Kokomo Speedway competition had to have those parts vendors salivating, as the abnormally intense competition at this speed plant tends to swallow chassis and bolt-on parts whole. Saturday only saw one car upside down but Sunday reverted to its usual status, starting in qualifying with MIT graduate and Ohio State mechanical engineering PhD hopeful Travis Hery. After Abreu’s qualifying spill, Kyle Robbins lost his brakes at his heat race’s conclusion, sending both himself and Matt Goodnight on their lids. Max McGhee (4J Racing) also dumped in turn three and four during his heat, swallowing Landon Simon in the process. The midget consolation saw Tucker Klaasmeyer and Blair Julian inverting in separate incidents, bringing Sunday’s flip count to seven.

With such efficient evenings and the only breaks coming with pre-feature intermissions, time to roam the Kokomo pit area was few and far between. Mopar SR-11 engine builder and longtime chassis manufacturer/team owner Gary Stanton was assisting Tim Clauson on Saturday. Another notable Kokomo attendee was 2015 USAC national sprint car champion Robert Ballou, who was once again guiding Brookston, Indiana sprint car competitor Aaron Farney. Out of action since his Labor Day weekend incident at Calistoga, Robert’s resulting surgery to repair the burst fracture of his C7 vertebrae was performed by Dr. David Schwartz of Ortho Indy, leaving him in a neck collar up until the Friday of the Chili Bowl. Finding out on April 19th how much longer he needs to heal before getting back into a racecar, his best hope is to return by the end of May or in early June. Off of work for 21 weeks, he’s back punching the time clock for employer Scott Ronk seven days a week.

Driving home after Saturday night’s conclusion via 931, despite the darkness I was still able to notice that Lynn Reid’s Kokomo Honda sign was down. Using Sunday daylight hours to confirm this to be true, although his trucks and trailers were still on the property, the showroom was void of inventory, parts, and merchandise. The former Indy car mechanic and open wheel car owner was of course best known for mentoring the racing career of his son Boston, who is now enjoying a successful Charlotte, North Carolina career in real estate after his NASCAR dreams were dashed in the mid to late 2000s. Interestingly enough, Boston’s former sprint car owner Bill Davis was spotted in the Kokomo stands. After a lengthy career in politics in which he was a state representative from 2005 to 2013, Bill was also the Executive Director of the Office of Community and Rural Affairs in addition to spending time as the District Director of the office of Congressman Marlin Stutzman. Recently moving from Portland, Indiana to Fort Wayne, although he is no longer intimately involved in racing, the longtime President of Limestone Products, Inc. is now a licensed real estate auctioneer and real estate broker with The Stutzman Strategy Group.

As previously mentioned, Kokomo’s next race is April 30th, with the King of Kokomo sprint car contest accompanied by modifieds and hornets. One week later, the May Mudslinger offers traditional sprints with midgets and hornets while Friday the 19th sees the All Star Circuit of Champions come to town, featuring a rare 410 winged sprint car performance by the one and only Tony Stewart.

Showing my age by recalling the Doublemint chewing gum slogan of doubling your pleasure and doubling your fun, rather than chomping on a stick of gum and enjoying just a few minutes of satisfaction, I’d much rather absorb any midget and sprint car doubleheader for a several hours, with the resulting long-lasting effects of such excitement positively impacting my mindset for the coming work week. However, rather than just one night of a world-famous double-dip, the Kokomo Grand Prix generously offered two. Twice as nice, who could ask for anything more?


 

 

Volume 19, Number 1

Here I Go Again

Today's younger set might want to make you believe that 1987 was back in the Stone Ages but for this sentimental soul, thirty years ago might as well have been yesterday.

One of my favorite years from my extensive memory bank, 1987 was when I first became an uncle. Also the year that Indiana University last won a national championship in men’s basketball, it was the same year when I learned to drive (legally). Perhaps of most significance is the fact that 1987 is when I first considered myself a certifiable sprint, midget, and dirt champ car nut, anxiously awaiting the arrival of my weekly copy of National Speed Sport News while realizing that a diet of one race per week was simply not enough.

Naturally my 1987 outdoor agenda commenced with USAC sprint cars at Eldora Speedway, which happened to be the same evening that Indiana took on UNLV in the Final Four. While my oldest brother captured video of Tom Bigelow's new track record of 16.063 seconds, I also had my eyes on the game via his portable black and white Zenith television. Riding high after the Hurryin’ Hoosiers shocked the Runnin’ Rebels with a run and gun strategy of their own, I could finally focus on the Big E bonanza, remembering Bud Wilmot's blinding B-main crash and Rich Vogler's fence flirtation in Johnny Vance's deuce, leading a thrilling trio of Steve Butler, Jack Hewitt, and Keith Kauffman (Sloan 1s) to the checkered. Twenty days after Keith Smart's last second shot silenced Syracuse, the first offspring from an Oldham sibling arrived on Easter Sunday.

Once school let out and my driver's education course was complete, July and August were sprinkled with solid memories, recalling Doug Wolfgang's dominating drive at the Eldora Ohio Speed Week finale, a Jac Haudenschild Kings Royal surprise, and a Jeff Gordon Bloomington score on his 16th birthday weekend. I ended my summer in Springfield's turn one tower, captivated as Jack Hewitt sliced his way through the field to set a 100 mile standard that still remains relevant. After a late summer introduction to the airwaves, by the time I boarded a plane for Manzy's Western World and PIR's Checker Classic in late October, Whitesnake’s Here I Go Again had climbed to the top of the charts, better known for the accompanying MTV video featuring Tawny Kitaen skillfully sprawling across the hoods of two Jaguars. Back when music, racing, and life were far more fun and carefree, ahhhh, those were the days indeed!

Fast forward thirty years and Indiana University just hired their fifth head coach since the days of Robert Montgomery Knight, my soon-to-be 30 year-old nephew announced that he was becoming a father, and after a six month wait, I was once again needing to feed an unhealthy racing addiction. Appropriately commemorating my thirty year sprint car addiction with some vintage Whitesnake, once again I was flying solo to Brownstown, Indiana, going down the only road I’ve ever known. But as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

To remove the cobwebs that had begun to cloud my head during this six month sabbatical, there was no better cure than a timely dosage of sprint car competition and racetrack acquaintance renewal. As Neil Young noted, rust never sleeps, so the lubricating effects of Brownstown’s No Way Out 40 couldn’t have come sooner. The number one benefit of springtime was quickly becoming reality after an hour and forty minute commute to the Jackson County Fairgrounds, where it was an unseasonably warm 78 degrees. Such a surreal experience when that first green flag of the season waved, was this actually happening, or was I still mired in the muck of annual audit hell and a horrendous Hoosier hoops season?

Unfortunately Mother Nature had other intentions of allowing me maximum enjoyment, shortening a forty lap feature to just eight and spoiling a $40 pit pass purchase. Annexing an outside front row starting spot after Brady Short botched turn one on the original start, Chad Boespflug (Hoffman/EZR 69) had just grabbed the lead from Jeff Bland, Jr. by circling the top of an extremely slicked off quarter-mile. But because the skies opened up, he will have to wait until June 24th to see if he can cash that $7,500 check. The same evening as an MSCS meet, it will be interesting to see just how many return.

Just 31 sprinters made the tow for the $400 to start affair, as the lower than expected turnout was no doubt influenced by the impending wet weather and Mansfield, Ohio's $5,000 lid-lifter. If you stayed home, naturally you didn't miss much, with Brady Short clocking quickest (13.392 seconds) out of the four timed hot lap groups that set heat race lineups. For the second Brownstown bout in a row, Short had a teammate in Hudson O'Neal, the 16 year-old son of dirt late model legend Don O'Neal. Unfortunately for Hudson, he only enjoyed one spectacular lap of practice before breaking a rocker arm on Cam Pottorff's recently freshened engine. Cam was more than a tad miffed with the motor malaise, this just after cutting a check for $13,300 earlier in the week to rebuild that same mill. Despite being down 30 horsepower to his teammate at last October’s Fun Fest feature, O'Neal was running second to Sweet Feet before a late-race run off the track relegated him to third, none too shabby for his sprint car debut. Although Hudson may not have extensive sprint car plans in his future, the 16 year-old Martinsville, Indiana native (dubbed the "New Deal") is competing full-time alongside his father in the Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series in 2017, having scored 16 times last season while getting his feet wet.

Starting each heat straight-up, Jeff Bland, Jr. (own 38), Short, Justin Grant (McGhee 11), and Boespflug were the winners, enjoying a wheel-to-wheel joust between Grant and C.J. Leary and a thrilling rim-riding expedition by Ryan Bernal (Dutcher 17). Five-time and defending Paragon Speedway champion Josh Cunningham caught fire in heat three and immediately pulled to the infield, bailing from his ride while the observant Lawrenceburg Fire and Safety squad, led by Bobby Gompf, were immediately on the scene to douse the invisible flames. Singing eye brows, shoe laces, a shock cable, and an Outerwears pre-filter, Cunningham's Hinchman uniform kept him safe, allowing him to compete in the B-main (11th to 7th) after borrowing a suit from Jeff Bland, Jr. Much like the NHRA safety safari, perhaps Gompf and his crew should be on the USAC payroll to attend all events.

Tyler Thomas (Burton 04) bagged the B after beginning ninth, hugging the infield marker tires of the suddenly-parched circle as if this were the Indianapolis Speedrome. Asphalt expert Aaron Pierce snagged the third of four B-main transfers in his slightly vintage coil-front creation but did not take the feature green flag, instead heading to the hospital where he was diagnosed with diverticulitis that required next day surgery.

Chris Hoyer was spotted in the Wingo Brothers pit area, assisting with Jon Stanbrough's debut in the flashy number 77 Maxim wearing red chrome paint. Hoyer kindly introduced me to 64 year-old Speedway resident Chuck Rodee, another friend of Jon's who just so happens to be the son of the 2-time Indianapolis 500 starter and midget car maestro who bears the same name. Before Chuck Sr. perished in a 1966 Indy qualification attempt, he earned Fort Wayne indoor midget titles in 1955, 1957, 1958, and 1966, also taking third in AAA national midget points in 1955, second in 1956 (now USAC), fourth in 1961, and third again in 1965, eventually enshrined in the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame. Although Chuck the son never raced, he has lived in the Speedway area since his family made the move from Chicago in 1956, working the month of May for Tony Bettenhausen's team in 1985.

Dodging raindrops and attempting to catch up on NCAA scores on the return home, by the time I hit I-465 some rather alarming text messages started to arrive, asking if I had heard the news regarding the demise of Tampa, Florida open wheel icon David Steele. Having barely enough time to process the loss of longtime friend Greg Staab earlier in the month, how could such a thing even be possible? Was this all just a bad dream that I would soon wake up from? Or, were they just false rumors similar to the Danny Drinan ordeal from Springfield 1992 when I was made to believe he had actually passed away. Either way, this rash of cruel information had to stop.

Once I had time to properly investigate the claims, the finality hit like a ton of bricks. How in the world would his wife Lynn and their three young children be able to handle such a tragedy and eventually move forward with their lives? How in the world would his mom, dad, and sister process the news? Yeah, you can always say that he died doing what he loved, but I get tired of hearing that, as it offers zero comfort for those hit hardest. Why did this have to happen? For that, unfortunately we will never know.

At 42 years of age, Dave had long ago made his mark on the world of open wheel racing with his 60 USAC victories (14th on the all-time list), trio of TBARA titles (1995, 2005, and 2009), and pair of USAC Silver Crown championships (2004 and 2005), also scoring a Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series title in 2016. Eight times he mined Copper World Classic gold. Twice he was the lord of the Little 500 (1996 and 2009). Twice he was Turkey Night king (2001 and 2003), also producing a Night Before the 500 win in 1998. Having pulled up his Indy stakes to permanently return to his Tampa roots midway through the 2007 season, he redirected his focus towards expanding his father’s fabrication business and beginning his new endeavor: Steele Performance Parts. A veteran of Indy Car and NASCAR wars in his younger years, Dave was only racing for fun these days, so proud of the fact that he recently produced his 100th win in his home state, eclipsing so many of the names he grew up idolizing.

First introduced at the 1992 Little 500 in which he finished 5th, although he was 25 laps behind winner and childhood hero Jim Childers, the barely 18 year-old scored rookie of the race honors. Slowly testing USAC waters from 1993 to 1995 with "Captain" Jack Nowling, when Jack asked Jeff Walker to take Steele under his wing, Jeff quickly obliged, allowing the kid to camp out at his self-storage facility near Westfield. Opening with a win at Lakeside, setting a new world record for sprint cars at Phoenix International Raceway, and eventually finding fourth in 1996 season-long points, my one memory of David that still stands out is from the '96 pre-race Little 500 festivities. Working on his bleeders while conversing with photographer Max Dolder, Steele noted how his knees were extremely sore after crashing at the Hoosier Hundred earlier that day. Playing through the pain, he began from the pole and went on to dominate the event, leading 308 laps and setting the stage for a monstrous, record-setting career that made him a future hall of famer. Leading in 9 of his 16 Little 500 starts, of course he should have won more times than twice, but he’s near the top in all other race statistics. Tied with Frank Riddle for the most poles (5), he is second in top-five finishes (10), tied for third in top-ten finishes (10), third in laps led (1,589), fifth in laps completed (6,993), and tied for eighth in career starts. Suffice it to say, the month of May just won’t be the same without David, who continued the rich Florida tradition at the Little 5 and whose presence made this a truly special event.

In recalling all of the open wheel asphalt experts I have encountered, I considered Steele to be the absolute gold standard, equally adept in midgets, sprints, and champ cars on tracks big and small, both steeply-banked and pancake flat. Extremely humble, hardworking, and forever hands-on, he knew every nut and bolt on his racecars and aside from Tracy Hines, he had few, if any equals when it came to desire, mechanical skills, and pure driving talent. Although he openly admitted his hatred for dirt competition, in his early days of his USAC career I was convinced that he was indeed well-rounded, offering a strong performance at his first Terre Haute Hulman Classic, aggressively attacking a heavy Eldora while qualifying the night after his first Little 500 score, and showing some occasional flashes of brilliance, including a 2006 Silver Crown win at Springfield that was yanked after a post-race weight infraction. Hooking up with nearly all of the sport's top owners, who wouldn't want to give the kid a chance given his unique ability to qualify quickest, win the feature, and still manage to take care of the equipment? Most certainly his career highlight came at the inaugural USAC Twin 25s midget contest at Indianapolis Raceway Park during Formula One weekend of 2002. Winning the first midget feature and coming from the rear of the second to collect the big score, a $50,000 bonus netted him over $60,000 in winnings in just one night. When he was on his game, no one was harder to defeat than David.

Sadly, all good stories must come to an end and Steele's swan song came much sooner than anyone could have ever imagined. Strangely starting well back in a Southern Sprint Car Shootout Series event at Desoto Speedway in Bradenton, Florida on March 25th, he immediately swept to the top side of the track but climbed a wheel. Spinning to the outside wall in turn one, the left side of his machine connected with the concrete. There have indeed been so many accidents appearing far worse than this one, but just like the infamous Dale Earnhardt incident, this too proved to be fatal for all the wrong reasons. In a Robin Miller written article for Racer Magazine that has since been pulled from the internet, Miller's interview with safety pioneer Bill Simpson claimed that Steele could have survived the crash had he been using a full-containment seat (with a left side head rest). For someone as meticulous and knowledgeable about racecar construction as David, he clearly had his reasons for not running one and when the sanctioning body does not mandate these modern safety measures, it is left up to the driver to decide what works best for him. It should be noted that the same Southern Shootout Series immediately concocted a rule that made full containment seats mandatory.

Nevertheless, it's an infinitely sad story that once again serves as a painful reminder as to the dangers of racing and the fragility of life. Still attempting to digest and comprehend such a huge loss, of course I will always have my fondest memories of David, especially his legendary Anderson backstretch top fuel burnouts before qualifying that provided such a huge thrill for yours truly. His loss immediately reminded me of how much I miss early-season USAC pavement pounding at such places as Winchester, Salem, and Anderson. Much like that style of racing, now that the Man of Steele has exited stage left, you truly don't know what you've got until it's gone. May you rest in peace Superman, knowing that your excellence will never again be equaled.

Back to The Burg for USAC’s traditional Midwestern opener on April 1st, a racing season doesn’t officially begin in my books until this event is contested. Even though it’s not Eldora, Lawrenceburg is as close as it gets. One of the nicest facilities in the nation, although it may only be listed as a three-eighths mile, the skyscraper banking generates half-mile speed, not for the faint of heart or engines short on horsepower. Missing this meeting last year when I was in Ireland, I had been very much looking forward to renewing my tradition of attending these openers, as 2016 never felt right by starting without me.

Eager to get on the road and head to the track, I completed my Saturday chores early and actually arrived in Dearborn County with time to spare, finding a long line of trucks and trailers waiting to get signed in at the back gate. Apparently I was not the only one eager to get the season started, as when I arrived I found car owner Dan Pace’s trailer stuck against a set of concrete posts that guarded a fire hydrant. Several sources revealed that Pace had obtained his pit pass and pulled out of line but in his rush to get to the front, he swerved left to avoid Chase Stockon’s hauler. The resulting contact with those posts flattened multiple trailer tires and actually bent the middle of three axles. While Dan dealt with the police and figured out how to get the trailer unwound from those posts, the team, assisted by defending midget champion Tanner Thorson, unloaded the car and pushed it to the pit area, to be driven for the first time by Kevin Thomas, Jr. I can’t imagine that such embarrassing drama is the way they wanted to ring in the New Year, but Kevin didn’t let it phase him one bit, qualifying sixth and finishing eighth in the feature.

Rainy days leading up to the opener did not deter track operator Dave Rudisell’s efforts to make this a go, rewarded with sunny skies and much more favorable weather on Saturday, a stark contrast to the date I missed last year. The end result was a sticky surface that required several efforts to widen but come feature time, drivers had to decide if they were operating downstairs or climbing up top to work in the attic. Because three of the quick six qualifiers (Justin Grant, Landon Simon, and KTJ) failed to transfer from their heat, that meant Chad Boespflug (9th quick) and Chris Windom (8th quick) would fire from the front row, renewing their Terre Haute grudge match from last October.

Despite a bottom lane that was much smoother and still offered plenty of bite, Windom chose the slightly choppy and much more unpredictable top shelf, rarely varying from that tactic. Having to grit his teeth and ride the brakes while entering the corners, the decision proved to be the winning move of the night, as Chris led all thirty tours to produce his first USAC sprint car victory at The Burg. Opening 8th and 16th in Ocala, Windom was quickly rebuilding Midwest momentum after a thrilling triumph last weekend in Mansfield. Driving the Kenny and Margo Baldwin owned DRC/Claxton led by chief mechanic Derek Claxton and his assistant Billy Grace, Chris was never seriously challenged, bolting to a full straightaway lead early before a lap eight caution for Carson Short.

Tenth-starting Hunter Schuerenberg (Motsinger 2) charged hard early, advancing seven spots in those eight laps. Immediately blowing past Boespflug to secure second, Hunter had his sights set on the lead before bicycling in between turns one and two. Snap rolling his Roof Bolt Express Eagle several times, this king-sized crash made me wonder just how sore he’d be for Sunday’s Sumar Classic. Hunter’s tumble was the sixth of the night, as Cooper Clouse first took a ride in qualifying, followed by a B-main double-flip by Matt Goodnight (who enjoyed mechanical assistance from Scott Benic) and Riley VanHise, followed by yet another twin tumble on the first lap of the feature by third row starters Dave Darland and Chase Stockon. Not as violent as Schuerenberg's incident, the Darland/Stockon incident was no picnic either, as damage was extensive to both rides. Stockon was a heavy favorite to win after sprinting from sixth to first in his heat.

The next 17 laps saw Windom weave through traffic, his inboard brake rotor glowing from aggression. Boespflug had his hands full with a high-flying Grant, the point leader and quickest qualifier (13.251 seconds in the Sam McGhee Motorsports Maxim) who had to start seventh. Both stayed within sight of the leader, their hopes intensified by a caution for Shane Cottle with four laps left. Although Chad was able to pull even on the final restart, Chris once again was able to drive away. At the conclusion, Windom held off Boespflug and Grant, with a consistent Jon Stanbrough following the bottom to finish fourth while Landon Simon also looked good in fifth. Last year’s Fall Nationals winner Josh Hodges scored sixth from 11th, Shawn Westerfeld was seventh, KTJ earned eighth, Jarett Andretti nailed ninth from 13th, while Shane Cottle recovered to take tenth from 21st.

One name you won't find in the Lawrenceburg top-ten, let alone the feature results was C.J. Leary. Clocking the quickest lap in hot laps, as everyone knows, hot laps pays nothing. After taking a two-wheeled tour of turn three on his first qualifying lap, the night was never the same for C.J., qualifying 28th out of a 35 car field. Seventh in his heat and relegated to the rear of the semi-feature, Michael Fischesser (wearing number 44 for his hero Greg Staab) scaled his right rear tire, requiring a rubber swap that again sent him to the rear. Leary just didn't appear comfortable enough to make any bold moves on the lightning fast surface so with no provisional passes, the Jeff Walker led squad had to load up early. Kyle Cummins was yet another early casualty, finished after hot laps due to a broken exhaust valve on his Rock Steady Racing ride.

All in all, it was an exciting Midwestern opener and for the next seven Saturdays, Lawrenceburg plays host to wingless sprint car action, highlighted by an April 29th unsanctioned event dubbed the "King of the Midwest", paying $2,500 to win. On May 20th, Aaron Fry's BOSS series is featured, with the World of Outlaws invading on Memorial Day (May 29th).

Sunday April 2nd dawned bright, sunny, and warm, a perfect day for my first Sumar Classic since 2008. I'm almost ashamed to admit that, but aside from being out of the country last year, my only excuse for not attending these last nine years were disappointing car counts and the poor quality of cars and competitors. Selfishly speaking, as a paying customer I just didn't feel that this race was a good bang for my buck, such a difference from the late 1990s and early 2000s when a Silver Crown show contained an all-star cast of cars and competitors. But, with 35 cars pre-entered this year, looking down the list of drivers and equipment I most certainly had a change of heart, ecstatic that the series was regaining the momentum previously lost by the Gold Crown and Ignite Ethanol debacles.

This edition of the Sumar was an afternoon/twilight show and with hot laps set to start at 3:30 PM, a Fishers departure of 1:30 was required when Speedball requested a reprieve from his reclining chair to spend the afternoon alongside his son and grandson. Mentioning to my wife that we'd be home fairly early as racing was scheduled to begin by 5:15, I made a rookie mistake, completely forgetting the number one lesson learned in the last thirty years of hardcore race chasing: dirt track racing is extremely unpredictable. Never imagining that Terre Haute would turn into a nearly six-hour endurance affair, I would finally arrive home by 11 PM, just in time to catch the end of the titanic Cubs/Cardinals opener on TV.

Suffice it to day, it was a very long day with less than ideal surface conditions but as a veteran fan, of course I understand that there will be days like these, especially for an extremely rare afternoon show that ultimately requires constant track maintenance, made even more imperative as track operator Bob Sargent clearly had his preparations challenged by the rain that fell on Vigo County earlier in the week. Sure, I would have preferred that the majority of my time would have been spent watching racecars attack the Action Track rather than watch equipment slowly circling the speedway. And, I would have much rather have witnessed these big cars bouncing off the outside concrete instead of idling around the inside rail of a bone-slick surface, but in the end I was still thankful for the rise in car count and the solid attendance, happy to be spending an afternoon in wonderful springtime weather and in the company of fellow diehard Silver Crown fans like Sullivan, Illinois’ Wendell Smith.

I would imagine most of Sunday's healthy attendance came from longtime fans who are willing to endure most anything to catch this kind of action in person. In the interest of keeping this racing alive, I just wonder if it wouldn't be wiser to start the show a couple of hours later, possibly cutting out a large percentage of the surface maintenance, making the on-track action more thrilling, and condensing the program considerably. Taking a page out of Du Quoin’s shift to nighttime conditions, that race is infinitely more exciting than it used to be when it was conducted during daylight hours. Unless the conditions and circumstances are perfect, you just can't expect to have a decent daytime dirt track race in this modern era of massive tires.

Stepping off my soap box and in the theme of Here I Go Again, Chris Windom's win on Sunday only reinforced the notion that much like he left off 2016, Big Daddy was back in a big way to begin the 2017 Midwestern dirt track docket. Starting ninth and snatching the lead from Kody Swanson at the halfway mark of the 100-lap affair, Chris captured his third Silver Crown win in a row, his third consecutive triumph since Mansfield. Interestingly enough, the Gene Kazmark 92 that he piloted was the same Maxim/Wallace-Mopar machine he won the last two Silver Crown contests in 2016 that ultimately propelled him to the championship, as previous owner Fred Gormly retired from ownership duties.

Despite the disappointing surface, the race really wasn’t all that bad, featuring four different leaders. 2015 Sumar winner Shane Cockrum shot from fourth to lead the first lap in his Hardy Boys Racing Maxim, actually employing a middle to outside groove that hadn’t been used all day. Shane paced the first 18 laps before last year’s winner C.J. Leary quickly worked his way into the conversation for first place from his fifth starting spot, immediately taking third from pole sitter Kody Swanson (23.599 seconds) and second from outside front row starter Casey Shuman (Bateman 55). A low-side launch off turn two on lap 19 landed last year’s winner in first, but only for a brief while as Swanson caught his second wind, finding the higher lines of the damper west end to his liking. The two-time series champ and 2014 Sumar stud had the lead by lap 26, immediately stealing the bottom lane at turn one’s entry. Kody was out front for the next 24 tours but would soon have his hands full with the eventual winner, who had started ninth and patiently worked the bottom on both ends to perfection. Leary eventually worked his way back to second and whittled the gap to Windom in the waning stages, nearly pulling to his rear bumper with ten laps left. Chris never wilted under the pressure and reconstructed an insurmountable advantage, taking the 8:39 PM checkered flag over Leary and Swanson. Nolen Racing teammates Hunter Schuerenberg (from 11th) and Jerry Coons, Jr. (from 16th) found fourth and fifth. Positions six through ten were claimed by Brady Bacon (Martens 48), Dave Darland (from 20th in the Phillips 27), Damion Gardner (from 19th in the Klatt 6), Dakota Jackson (who started from the rear in the third Nolen entry), and Joss Moffatt (making his first series start in the Williams-Wright 32).

A few interesting Sumar side notes: both Bacon and Gardner raced the previous night in Perris, California and took red-eye flights to Indy, making me feel that this series is still significant enough to warrant such a weary effort. Six of the top-ten finishers utilized Maxim chassis, with 11 out of the 31 on-hand representing the brand from Springfield, Illinois. It’s definitely good to see some chassis diversity in this division, as Bob East has been the dominant constructor since 1991, also crafting some successful Challenger chassis in the late 1980s that waged war against all those Watsons, Stantons, Oz-Cars and Gamblers. Although a Mopar won the race and a Toyota took second, aside from the Ford of Damion Gardner, Chevrolet power plants took the rest of the top-ten spots. With 24 starting spots open to the 31 cars on-hand, that meant a Silver Crown last-chance race had to be conducted for the first time since the 2008 Four Crown Nationals. Mach One chassis maker Mark Smith won that consolation race in Mal Lane’s sharp-looking Maxim, yet another new entry to the series that featured several new names and faces. Selfish in my desire to see this series return to the all-star casts common in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and early 2000s, although I still want to see more top-notch talent, this race was a huge step in that direction. Terre Haute’s next event is the MSCS meeting on April 30th, with the USAC sprint car Hulman Classic set for Wednesday May 24th.

Finishing this article as I await night number two of Kokomo’s Grand Prix, weather permitting I am anticipating next weekend’s USAC sprint car double at Bloomington and Haubstadt. Looking ahead to the next two months, an extremely hectic racing agenda awaits, which again reminds me of that oh-so-familiar lyric from Neil Young, noting that it’s better to burn out than it is to rust. Those words mirror my spiritual mentor Greg Staab, as he most definitely and proudly lived life on his own terms, always following his heart and pursuing his passion with class and dignity no matter how heavy the burden he was forced to carry. Thirty years running, I’m still hoping for another national championship from Indiana University and still longing to chase midget, sprint, and dirt champ car tail tanks across the Midwest. From 1987 to 2017, here I go again…

 

 

 

 

Greg Staab Q&A article from March of 2009, as Greg lost his over three year battle with cancer today. No one was more positive, hard-working, and likeable than Greg. A true inspiration not only for his racing success, but his ability to overcome so much adversity in recent years (having lost everything, including his girlfriend, pets, and racing memorabilia in a house fire on New Year’s Eve 2015-2016).

 

Loving Every Minute of It – The Greg Staab Story

 

For the average working stiff who grinds out a mundane forty-plus hours fifty-two times a year, waking up on Monday morning to do it all over again sure gets old rather quickly.  Some new responsibilities or a scant pay raise may add a little bit of life for a few days, but a job is just that and in reality, we’re all working to settle our debts, aiming for the weekend when we can truly enjoy what life has to offer.  Sure, one should be thankful to have an outlet to earn a wage in such bleak economic times, but that sort of reminder isn’t the most comforting when having to consistently deal with overwhelming workplace demands. 

 

In such a drab, dull existence, weekend variety is the ray of light that provides a pulse.  For couples who have children and can land a babysitter for an evening, a rare night on the town can certainly serve as a refreshing oasis in the desert of family responsibility.  For those unattached, the sky is virtually the limit on what the weekend can bear. 

 

It could be a date with a beautiful woman, enjoying witty banter over drinks and dinner.  It could be a two day getaway to Chicago or Cincinnati, where the thrill of the big city awaits.  It could even be time spent at home lounging in sweatpants in front of the television.  And for those of us afflicted with the racing bug, our dream weekend might consist of chasing sprint cars to Bloomington, Eldora, and Winchester.  Regardless of how one chooses to spend his or her hours from Friday evening through Monday morning, it’s a welcomed break from the ball and chain and it helps recharge our batteries. 

 

When faced with the most unenviable tasks, while counting to ten, taking deep breaths, and reverting to our own happy place, how many of us have daydreams dominated by flying mud, slide jobs, and screaming engines?  Refuting the theory that variety is the spice of life, those outside of the “scene” cannot fathom how anyone would want to spend six months of their year sitting on hard pine benches, inhaling exhaust fumes, dodging dirt clods, squinting through irritating dust, and dining on fast food.  Time consuming and all-encompassing, it’s not for everyone.  Do addicted shoppers, gamblers, or golf players partake in their activity more than fifty times a year?  Can they afford to?  Suffice it to say, racing folk are infinitely passionate about their weekend preference and unlike the daily grind, such repetitive behavior never seems to lose its flavor. 

 

One such passionate soul who has pursued his motor racing madness with unequaled fervor is Cincinnati, Ohio native Greg Staab.  An only-son who was raised on the banks of the mighty Ohio River in the blue-collar burg of Anderson Ferry, located just three houses down from the Staabs was the Rose residence, home to Greg’s childhood pals Pete and Dave, Pete of course going on to make quite a name for himself in major league baseball.  Probably interrupting some sporting event in the backyard, Mr. Rose first took his two boys and their neighbor friend to Lawrenceburg Speedway in 1958.  Completely in awe of the spectacle that was automobile racing, from that point on it was all over for Greg, as motorsports completely consumed his existence since that fateful trip to the track. That’s a lot of weekends devoted to just one activity, wouldn’t you say?

 

But with all sincerity, he wouldn’t have had it any other way.  Simple, resolute, persistent, and to the point, that’s the German influence in Mr. Gregory J. Staab.  Absolutely certain of what he liked at an early age, for fifty years he chased those boyhood dreams, setting and achieving seemingly unattainable goals when considering his humble beginnings.  Unfazed by society’s norms and doing what he wanted to do, he did so in a fashion that made his mother and father proud.   

 

Soon after that initial taste of auto racing, both Greg and Dave Rose had their own go-karts for Milford Speedway competition.  Absolutely inseparable, by 1967 they moved up to the late model stock car division at Lawrenceburg Speedway.  Staab handled the driving chores and ultimately produced championships in 1969 and 1970, the first of many to come in his storied career at the Dearborn County speed plant.    

 

Just two years later, a chance midget opportunity came courtesy of Tom Dickinson at Illinois’ Grundy County Speedway, albeit in some rather antiquated equipment.  Battling a 103 degree temperature, Greg failed to make the cut but thankfully another offer was extended by Norm Powers for the following weekend.  Qualifying and finishing fourth against a stout AMRA field proved that he could do this and his dream of reaching the Indianapolis Motor Speedway suddenly didn’t seem too far fetched.    

 

In the early 1970s, the road to Indy still began with the United States Auto Club midget division so naturally the Staabs pooled resources to purchase some hardware. Hitting the road when USAC’s midgets crisscrossed the country, the grueling slate rivaled any rock band’s North American World Tour.  Underfunded and inexperienced, Greg honed his skills by dueling night after night with men like Pancho Carter, Johnny Parsons, Tommy Astone, Jimmy Caruthers, Sleepy Tripp, Mel Kenyon, Rich Vogler, and Steve Lotshaw.  Despite the humbling experience of struggling to make features, in the same breath it was the time of his life, getting to see all corners of the country while enjoying unequaled camaraderie. 

 

Battling uphill for a handful of seasons, a 1977 Salem thumb and shoulder injury provided a pause and allowed the family unit to re-evaluate priorities.  Nearly void of sponsorship and necessitating an endless supply of dollars to keep up with the latest in engine technology, the travel-intensive schedule also did not allow time for a proper income producing position.  Forever grounded in blue-collar work ethic, Greg made the bold but suddenly sensible decision to stay closer to home and resume a Monday through Friday job, eventually landing a position as a mechanic with the City of Cincinnati’s Municipal Garage in October of 1979, punching the same time clock for 25 years. 

 

Full-scale racing dreams did not have to be abandoned however, as the Queen City’s proximity to Indiana dirt tracks allowed him an opportunity to sample the previously unexplored society of sprint cars.  Sleep deprived and elbows-up in oil and grease, just how many Monday mornings did he have visions of the upcoming racing weekend?  Fueled by his insatiable racing desire and long before the days of Red Bull, sprint car racing gave Greg his wings. 

 

Early into his sprint car career Staab’s talent caught the eye of Dayton, Ohio businessman Tom Stenger.  Finally afforded the resources and personnel to excel against the best of the best, not surprisingly the decade from 1978 through 1988 was Greg’s most productive. Racking up 56 feature victories in that time span, 19 came in a mind-blowing 1984 campaign where his win total was fourth highest in the nation.  Along the way, he nailed down an impressive array of track titles, five of them at Lawrenceburg Speedway (’82, ’83, ’84, ’85, ’87) and one at Bloomington (1984). 

 

Owner of numerous awards to commemorate his accomplishments, during the Stenger era Staab was named driver of the year by the Cincinnati Auto Race Club (’82, ’87, ‘89), the Buckeye Auto Race Fans (’83, ‘89), and the Dayton Auto Racing Fans (’83).  The dream of competing at 16th and Georgetown nearly came true in 1983, invited to drive for the Rattlesnake Racing Team out of Pensacola, Florida.  Unfortunately, funding never materialized and outside of his days of working as a crew member for Hoffman Auto Racing’s 1979 and 1980 “500” efforts, Indy was alas, still just a dream. 

 

Readjusting goals yet again and having accomplished everything he could at The Burg, he returned to the USAC trail full-time in 1988 and wound up a solid second in the national sprint car standings.  Nursing a deflating right rear tire, he dramatically held off all comers to steal his first career national victory at Indianapolis Raceway Park, televised live to the world on ESPN’s Thursday Night Thunder.  Close enough to sniff a national championship, in the years following 1988 he isolated all energies to achieving that goal.  A USAC loyalist through and through, unfortunately he never quite reached his goal, rewarded with points finishes of fourth (’89), third (’90), seventh (’91), thirteenth (’92), eighth (’93), seventh (’94), and sixth (’95).  Tenth in ’85 points, eight out of eleven years he would wind up inside of USAC’s top ten, a feat in of itself.    

 

Even more amazing is the fact that he did it while holding down that full-time job with the city of Cincinnati.  In 1986 alone, he managed to compete 86 times while staying in the good graces of his employer.  Combine day-time duties with racecar maintenance, a rigorous and religious workout regimen, and the travel required to race and what you have is one dizzying schedule.  How many kids from today’s world could keep up with such an agenda?    

 

Making 177 USAC sprint car starts through July of 1996, while in action at Paragon, Indiana another competitor’s wheel entered his cockpit, seriously injuring his left humerus and thus requiring the services of famed racing fixer-upper Dr. Terry Trammel.  Somehow recovering from serious spills at Lakeside (’91) and Salem (’77), he made yet another bold decision to hang up his driving gear for good after the Paragon incident, earning him the coveted Emma Ray Award for Courage from the late Joie Ray. 

 

Strong-willed and stubborn, it only seems logical that the man who devoted his entire existence to auto racing would find a way to stay involved.  Reinventing himself, he teamed up with young Cincinnati charger Joey Kerr to campaign a USAC sprint car effort for 1997.  Not to be undone, he also took over operation and promotion of his beloved Lawrenceburg Speedway from 1997 through 2000, saving the place from extinction.  Burning the candle at both ends and literally running on fumes for those four years, Staab got very little sleep when dealing with the headaches and stress of running a racetrack.  And yet, he still managed to faithfully punch that clock for the city of Cincinnati.  After splitting with Kerr, he still managed to field a sprint car as well, earning a Lawrenceburg Speedway sprint car championship with Jason Setser behind the wheel of his familiar yellow number 44. 

 

Along the way, he befriended fellow competitor Johnny Heydenreich, annihilating I-74 asphalt to maintain Johnny’s Silver Crown car that was based out of Indianapolis.  And for a brief while, he was even employed at Tony Stewart Racing before he landed his dream job with the United States Auto Club, heading up the national sprint car division for 2006.  Finally, after two decades of desiring such an address, he packed up his belongings and made the move to Indianapolis.  Nearly everything he had ever envisioned was now reality and things could not get any better. 

 

Unfortunately, life is never perfect as a shift in USAC management and philosophy eliminated his position midway through 2008.  Disappointed but undaunted, like a chameleon he changed colors once again and adapted to the environment of the day, joining Darryl Guiducci’s Team Six-R Racing.  Having the time of his life, he couldn’t be any happier, continuing to do what he wants to do, all these years later.  Now sixty years old, he’s spent all but ten of his years heavily involved in motor racing.  How many of us can maintain that level of devotion for that many years, in any chosen field?  It’s simply amazing. 

 

Even with his one-track mind on automobile racing, variety and some level of balance is still key to Greg’s life.  He enjoys baseball and football.  He is heavily involved in physical fitness.  He is an avid fan of music.  He also loves animals, nursing his diabetic feline friend Ralph.  On the racing front, he’s kept things interesting by competing as both a driver and a car owner.  He’s promoted and operated a racetrack.  He’s served as a mechanic and a crew chief.  He’s mentored young drivers.  He’s even served as a series official, working with other track owners to develop schedules.  Still setting goals, he remains as passionate and focused as the day he began racing go-karts with his lifelong buddy Dave Rose, who also moved to Indianapolis and shares the same address just west of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Since being introduced to auto racing at Lawrenceburg Speedway in 1958, he has been there, done that, and enjoyed it, loving every minute of it. 

 

As has been said a million times, racing is full of so many unique personalities who keep things extremely interesting.  But among that cast of characters, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone as dignified, classy, well-liked, and positive as Greg.  You’d also be hard pressed to find anyone as relentless and resilient, knocked down so many times only to get back up, dust himself off, and stay intimately involved in the activity he loves most.  One of the hardest working men I’ve ever known, the blue-collar racer is a true go-getter, consistently making the impossible seem possible.  Honored and privileged to have had the opportunities to chase his dreams for so long, it is because of passionate people like Greg Staab that sprint car racing has managed to survive and thrive through the years. 

 

Perhaps he hasn’t accomplished everything he has wanted in terms of feature wins and national championships, but he still beams with pride when thinking of where he has come from and what he’s been able to get done on pure desire.  If there were ever was a category for premier ambassador on the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame ballot, Mr. Staab would be a landslide winner. 

 

Regardless of whether or not he makes the Hall of Fame, he is still living the dream, now combining work with his lifelong obsession.  Not having to worry about the stress of maintaining a fleet of trucks on a tight budget or supervising the work of others, he still enjoys getting his hands dirty and tinkering with mechanical equipment.  But, instead of daydreaming about his weekend racing during those work hours, he is literally living the dream.  I have to say, I’m more than a little envious.   

 

Many a special thank you is extended to the generous souls of Dave Rose, Keith Wendel, Gene Marderness, John Mahoney, Jackie Litchfield, Kevin Eckert, and Danny Laycock, as each one went out of their way to dig through the archives to provide valuable information, stories, statistics, and timeless photographs that added so much color to an already vibrant story and career.   And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank “The Dog” himself, Greg Staab, for so eloquently answering three and a half hours of questions.  Putting his memory to the test, he passed with flying colors. 

 

So without futher delay, please sit back and enjoy the recount of a mid-January afternoon conversation I shared with Greg, one of the most interesting and entertaining stories I’ve been able to put into words thus far.  It’s a long road, so beware - you might have to complete the reading in more than one sitting.  Enjoy! 

 

KO:  You have had a long standing love affair with motor racing and I know of few people who have remained as fiercely passionate and upbeat about the sport through the years.  Cincinnati isn’t a huge racing town, so what got it started for you?

 

GS:  In 1958, I was neighbors with the Roses.  The name Pete Rose would be synonymous with the baseball player.  It was his father, his brother, and himself.  His father took me to Lawrenceburg Speedway in 1958 and it was completely over with for me.  From that point on, I was locked in and this is what I wanted to do at age eight. 

 

KO:  As a kid, did you attend any midget races at the Cincinnati Race Bowl or were you too young?  That track went away in the late 1950s or so.  Did you go to any races there? 

 

GS:  I can remember being there.  I can’t give you any details, but I believe my father and my uncle Charlie took me there one time or maybe more.  I can remember seeing the place.  I can remember it being in Evendale.  I know exactly where it was.  I could take you to the spot where it was.  But I can’t remember a whole lot about the things that were going on.  I might have even been younger than eight at the time. 

 

KO:  Evendale?

 

GS:  Evendale - not too terribly far from the GE jet engine plant. 

 

KO:  Were there any other racetracks you attended as a kid?  Other than Lawrenceburg and the Race Bowl, there weren’t too many choices in the Cincinnati area.  Was it just being at The Burg that got that bug started? 

 

GS:  Shortly after that, there was a racetrack in Glen Este, Ohio that had quite a bit of stock car racing and the sprint cars would go there occasionally.  And then my mom and dad would take me to that occasionally and we’d get to see sprint cars run there on a Sunday night. 

 

KO:  You mentioned Pete Rose’s younger brother Dave.  You’ve known him nearly your whole life and he is currently your Indianapolis roommate here on west 16th, not too far from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  While growing up, how close did you live to the Rose family, two houses down or three houses down?

 

GS:  We were three houses down from the Rose family.  We moved there in 1953 and from that point on, I’ve been around Dave and his brother for most all of my life. 

 

KO:  So did you play any backyard sports with those guys?

 

GS:  Oh, we did everything!  We played baseball.  We played football.  We did it all.  We did the whole thing.  I did little league baseball.  I didn’t do football because it was too tough for my father to get me to practices and so forth.  Yeah, I did a lot of sports. I was not as gifted as those guys were but we did a lot of sports.

 

KO:  So talking about Pete Rose, were you able to stay in contact with him when he was at his peak in baseball?  Obviously Pete Rose was HUGE and he was a busy guy, in demand all of the time.  Were you still able to maintain any contact with him? 

 

GS:  We did.  We did.  We remained friends for years.  I’d see him when he was in town when I lived in Cincinnati.  Just recently, we had dinner with him in Las Vegas.  He signs autographs at the Field of Dreams at Caesar’s Palace Mall in Las Vegas and Dave, Dick Jordan, and I had dinner.  It was a very, very cordial, warm dinner.  It was a great time.  We had a great time with him.  Yeah, we’re still good friends. 

 

KO:  Was he able to keep track of your racing even when he was winning World Series games?  Was he always interested in your racing? 

 

GS:  He did to a point.  Obviously he was preoccupied with his life and what a great, great career he had.  He kind of new what was going on with me.  He also knew when I got hurt, so I guess he was keeping fairly close tabs whenever there were any injuries. 

 

KO:  So you’ve known Dave Rose since you were about three years old, but did you ever lose touch with him throughout the years?

 

GS:  David moved to Tampa.  David moved to Boca Raton.  But we always kept in touch.  There might be a month or six weeks where we wouldn’t talk, but it was always pretty close. 

 

KO:  Since you lived very close to the Roses, you would have grown up in the Anderson Ferry area of Cincinnati, not Western Hills like many would want to believe.  You went to high school in Western Hills.  Talk a little bit about your community of Anderson Ferry and what it was like growing up there in the ‘50s and ‘60s. 

 

GS:  Anderson Ferry was down on the river, right near the Anderson Ferry which still runs today.  The ferry boat is a shortcut across to the airport for a lot of people who can cut out going downtown to go to the bridges to get to the airport.  You can just jump across on the ferry boat and shoot to the top of the hill and the airport is right at the top of the hill.  It was a basic, low or mid-level blue-collar area I would say.  Everyone worked.  Everyone had daily jobs.  Everyone worked and strived very hard to get ahead and keep their heads above water.  Work ethic was a big thing in the area.  Dave Rose still has an incredible work ethic.  Pete obviously has a work ethic.  Mine’s pretty good where I come from.  We work pretty hard.  It was just a blue-collar, hard-work area and you were taught as a kid to learn how to work and create things for yourself.

 

And I picked a sport that was very difficult to get into.  With the grace of my mother and father, who were the best in the world, and I miss them terribly, but they got me a go-kart and a go-kart progressed onto the next level into stock cars.  We didn’t have a lot of money but we just kept trying, trying, and trying and eventually it worked out to be a pretty good ending of a pretty good story, really.  From no money and a blue-collar area to what I ended up doing, I’m pretty proud of it. 

 

KO:  Dave told me that you guys would have been considered “river rats”.  Was flooding ever an issue for your home?

 

GS:  Flooding was an issue in two years.  The water got across the road and that was when we’d all get together and get our ball bats and go down towards the railroad tracks and club the rats as they came across.  When the rats would come across, our main sport was killing rats before they could get to our house. Or my dad would sit in the front yard with a .22 and pop them when they tried to come up in the yard.

 

KO:  So they were pretty big?

 

GS:  Yeah.  And there were a lot of them too. 

 

KO:  Wow!  So what’s that neighborhood like in 2009 compared to growing up? 

 

GS:  Like any neighborhood, the blight has taken effect and it has deteriorated to the point where it’s nowhere near as nice as when we had it.  I’m sure everyone understands that, that they’ve seen the same thing happen with their areas or a lot of areas.  It’s nowhere near as nice as it was when we were there. 

 

KO:  So is your house still there that you grew up in?

 

GS:  It is.  It is for a fact.  And it had a long-standing history.  It’s a huge stone house and it can be seen for miles on the Ohio River.  You can see it standing out on the hill compared to all the rest.  That’s pretty much the way it was.  It was a blue-collar area without a lot of money and we actually rented the second floor for, oh geez, twenty-nine years I believe it was.  Nobody could afford to do anything different.  So, that’s the way that was.

 

KO:  Did you have any brothers and sisters and what did your dad do for a living?

 

GS:  No brothers or sisters.  I was an only-child which right away people are going to think, wow, spoiled brat but guess what?  It wasn’t that way at all. 

 

My father worked for the C&O Railroad.  He retired from the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad after 33 years of service.  He started out as an operator and then he became a yardmaster, which puts the trains together.  And he moved around from Spring Grove, Kentucky to across the river to Cincinnati and then back over to Covington.  Every night he’d be in a different place putting trains together as a yardmaster. 

 

KO:  With your dad retiring from the C&O, it’s kind of ironic that your house is so close to the C&O, or B&O, tracks that ran through the middle of Speedway.  You could probably hit a baseball or golf ball from your house to the old tracks.  I guess the railroads aren’t necessarily dying, but it’s kind of sad to see all that infrastructure go away.

 

GS:  They still use it a lot, if you’re paying attention out on the road.  When we go out west, you’ll see the huge trains out through New Mexico and Arizona – great big, long trains with lots of cars – front-end pushers and back-end pushers…

 

KO:  I know Dave Rose enjoyed baseball and geared his life towards becoming a baseball player.  Did you have any aspirations other than racing?

 

GS:  After eight years old, that’s all I cared about.  That’s all I wanted to do.  The nuns would catch me drawing pictures of sprint cars in between papers in the books and it probably took away from some of my education but racing is all I ever wanted to do.  And to this day, it’s really what I want to do. 

 

KO:  To my knowledge, you were an employee for the city of Cincinnati for many, many, many years until you retired.  When did you start working for the city?

 

GS:  October 27th, 1979. 

 

KO:  So what was your position when you started and what was it when you stopped? 

 

GS:  I started out as a mechanic’s helper and moved up to a mechanic.  Then I moved up to crew chief and then became an assistant supervisor before I left and retired at 25 years and 55 years of age. 

 

KO:  Ok!  Other than at Lawrenceburg Speedway when you were running that joint, did you have any other jobs outside of racing?

 

GS:  I did in fact.  I had many, many jobs because when it came time for racing season, I was gone to go racing and that job was gone.  Except for one – I worked seven years for the Kroger Company at the Gold Crest Candy Company - making candy.  I was a candy cook.  I was a candy enrober operator.  Everything we had to do to make every kind of candy, I did it.  You name a candy and I can tell you how it was made.  We made it.

 

KO:  Wow.  And that was owned by Kroger, huh?

 

GS:  Kroger Company – it was under the Gold Crest label and I think they moved it down south near Atlanta or someplace and capitalized on cheaper labor. 

 

KO:  In talking to Dave Rose, I learned that you both were racing karts at about age 12.  Is that when you first started?

 

GS:  That is a fact.  I started at eleven years old racing go-karts at Milford Speedway with David.  Gary McCabe, Eddie Fowler and some other friends of mine, we all had karts around that time.  The go-karts went from ’59 to ’63 and there were a couple of years in there where I didn’t have anything to do and couldn’t get anything going.  In ’67 or ’68, we put our first stock car together. 

 

KO:  So in those karting years, who did better, you or Dave?

 

GS:  Dave didn’t get a lot of help from a lot of people.  I did better than Dave but Dave had the potential.  He was going to win his first race he was ever in.  The chain came off the kart.  Yeah, he was a gifted driver actually when he was young.

 

KO:  So he did everything good, huh?  We were talking about him earlier from one of your pictures, having all the talent…

 

GS:  Well, when God gave out the talent, he gave it all to David.  And he gave Pete the work ethic.  David had God-given talent - to burn.  He could out run you.  He could out hit you.  He could knock you down.  He could hit a ball farther.  He could do all of it.  He was just gifted by God up above. 

 

KO:  He was a bad-ass huh!

 

GS:  Pretty much. 

 

KO:  So your yellow number 44 – did you choose this color and number on your own or were you influenced in any way by some other driver or car, maybe one that you were drawing pictures of?

 

GS:  Ironically, the number 44 came from Jim Bob Luebbert and Tom Soudrette.  Jim Bob runs Speedway Monogramming up here, the same guy who went on to run USAC sprints and moved on through the ranks also.  That’s where the number came from. 

 

And for some strange reason, I was at Salem Speedway or Dayton Speedway and I saw George Snider’s gorgeous yellow number 22 car that he built back in 1970 or ’71 and it just took me completely out of my mind and I had to have a yellow racecar with a number 44 on it.  And that’s exactly the way we went from there.  I chose the number and the color just jumped up.  That bright yellow was just beautiful to me and that’s why we did the yellow 44 thing.

 

KO:  And in later years, your gold or silver leaf lettering and stuff like that, that’s probably where it came from?

 

GS:  Snider’s car had yellow with silver leaf numbers on it – it was just incredible to me.

 

KO:  And I’m sure the numbers weren’t staggered.

 

GS:  Mmm, MMM!  Mmm, MMM!

 

KO:  At Kelly’s Pub one of the other nights, I recall Dave Rose talking about one of your stock cars you raced – it was a ’66 Falcon body placed on a ’56 Ford frame.  Doing a little further research I found that you were the 1969 and 1970 Lawrenceburg late model champion, which I’m sure was a feat in its day because I imagine there were some stout guys competing.  Was the stock car deal a successful endeavor? 

 

GS:  One of those seasons was an abbreviated season because of a problem with the fair board.  It was a short season with seven races or something and we did well in several of them and it ended up being that way.  But, what it did Kevin was let me know whether I could do this or not.  Everyone doubts themselves to a point and even I was doubting myself whether I could get out there and do this after watching some of the things that I’d seen.  And this proved to me that I could go do this thing and I enjoyed the heck out of it. 

 

KO:  Some of the guys you raced against, perhaps Shane Mugavin’s dad?

 

GS:  Father John.  John Mugavin.  Oh geeze…Don Wilbur.  Pat Patrick.  Rodney Combs.  On and on and on.  Chuck McWilliams later on.  There’s just a billion.  Gene Petro.  A lot of the guys who were around back then were really fast. 

 

KO:  So other than Lawrenceburg, would you run a place like Florence?

 

GS:  Tri-County!  Tri-County Speedway. 

 

KO:  When it was dirt?

 

GS:  When it was dirt, it was THE class place of the racing areas around here.  It was so far ahead of its time.  It had bathrooms in the infield and a nice driver’s lounge upstairs.  It was NICE!  And we would run a Wednesday night there and a Saturday night there, two nights a week.  And I learned a heckuva lot running that half-mile with that little Falcon.  It stepped me on up to go to the next level. 

 

KO:  So if Tri-County ran Wednesdays and Saturdays, did The Burg run Fridays?

 

GS:  That was during the time when there were problems with the fair board.  There was a contract issue and I’m not real sure what it was about. 

 

KO:  Did you have some feature wins in the stock cars?

 

GS:  Second, third, second, third, fourth, fifth…we just didn’t have the money to have the big 300 cubic inch Ford truck engine.  We had a little 240.  Everyone else had the 300s and the 292 inch Chevrolets.  I was a little bit outclassed on the horsepower on that big racetrack but we gave them Hell with what we had.  We eventually got a 300 and they of course stepped it up too but it was just a progression.  It was a very good learning experience to run that racetrack. 

 

KO:  With the smaller engine, it probably taught you to be smooth… you couldn’t afford to ease up and you had to be precise.

 

GS:  Momentum was a big issue there and like you said, there wasn’t enough power to pass these guys.  You’d creep up on ‘em and get to them and once you got to them, it was very difficult to pass them because you didn't have enough power to go by.

 

KO:  Doing a little research again, 1972 was the first year I saw you listed in USAC midget points.  Was this indeed your first year for midgets? 

 

GS:  I got to run a car at Grundy County.  A fellow by the name of Tom Dickinson had a car.  He had an Offy-Kurtis.  My dad allowed me to run with Tom up there and we went to Grundy County and I ran the pavement one time and missed it.  I had a 103 fever and tried to run the car up there that night the very first time.  And then the following week we went to McCutchenville, Ohio at an AMRA race with Norm Powers.  I ran against the likes of John Tenney and Les Scott and Jack Calabrase.  People like that.  I qualified fourth.  I made the dash.  And I finished fourth in the feature, my first time on dirt with a midget back then.  I knew then that I could do it.

 

KO:  You had to be pumped.

 

GS:  I knew then that I could do it.  I was wound up! 

 

KO:  Making the jump to midgets instead of sprint cars -  was that just the natural progression in those days?  You had to start off in midgets and that’s unlike today when kids can race sprint cars at tracks where they let ‘em run before they are of proper age. You had to learn somewhere and midgets were the place to learn?

 

GS:  Midgets were the place to learn and even after running them for seven years, I still had a great, great difficulty in getting a ride.  I was 31 years old, check that, 29 years old before they even let me get in a sprint car.  They said I didn’t have enough experience.  And I’d already run six or seven years of USAC midgets! 

 

KO:  Man!  It was a different world.

 

GS:  People were hardcore back then and they didn’t want just anyone sitting in their racecar. 

 

KO:  Too many guys getting killed…

 

GS:  Oh, it was much more lethal than it is now.  There’s no question.

 

KO:  Safety just wasn’t even a consideration.

 

GS:  Um-hmmm.  

 

KO: So who did you purchase your first midget from?  I’m sure you have some interesting stories.  I’m curious about the chassis and engine combination. 

 

GS:  The first midget came from a fellow from Pennsylvania by the name of Wayne Woodward.  We drove to York, Pennsylvania to take a look at it and when we got there, the pictures of the car that he sent us weren’t the car we were looking at.  The description of the car wasn’t the car.  The trailer wasn’t the trailer he described and we were pretty much stuck. But dad talked him down on the price and we grabbed this old car and brought it home.  It turns out that the car had a devious past and I’m not going to get into that…

 

We took it and put it back together, completely rebuilding it with Mel and Don Kenyon’s help.  Dad built a Chevy-II four cylinder engine for it, which was a pretty good engine at the time.  That next year, the Sesco came out and made the Chevy-II obsolete.  That comes full circle again later.  Once I got my Sesco, the VWs came out and made that Sesco outdated.  So then shortly after that, the Cosworth came out and made the VWs outdated.  So this thing becomes a long, roundabout thing and I was out of the midgets by then anyway.

 

KO:  It just ends up being a lot of money that you spend and prices a lot of people out I’m sure.  So the Kenyons, you said they helped you out but were there any other guys along the way who were invaluable as far as advice?

 

GS:  Bob Higman was good to me.  Mel and Don Kenyon – I can’t say enough about them.  There were times I’d drive up to Don’s shop, take my welding helmet with me, and take a day off of work just to sit and watch him weld, to learn how to TIG weld.  And I’m not the best TIG welder.  I’m not Billy Puterbaugh.  I’m not as good as these guys they’ve got here.  But I learned to put these cars together and they won’t fall apart.  I put my front end together for the sprint car at Winchester and it never fell off so I guess we did ok.

 

KO:  Yeah – that’s a lot of force on that right front!

 

GS:  But Don took very good care of me.  There were times when we had money problems and they waited on their money and they waited until we could get it.  They were very good to me over the years and Don taught me a lot.  And Mel taught me a lot on assembly.  He was very, very hard on me.  He was very point blank about things.  He told the truth and it paid off because we assemble a pretty nice racecar now. 

 

KO:  Tough love from Mel?

 

GS:  I’d say that’s a good one! 

 

KO:  Looking at your USAC points finishes, I’ll read off the stats.  115th in ’72, 28th in ’73, 14th in ’74, 16th in ’75, and 14th in ’76 (also competing sporadically in ’77, ’78, and ’79).  Judging by the numbers, this looked like a tough series to find success. Were you a full-time competitor, chasing the entire deal in ’74, ’75, and ’76? 

 

GS:  Pretty much.  We had one sponsor one year, I believe it was ’76.  ’75 or ’76.  It was the Scio Cabinet Company.  Mr. Bob Riggs from up in Ohio, he helped us out a bit, spent a little money, and bought us a few items.  It made all the difference in the world.  I was never able to crack the top-ten because of money.  We worked very, very hard at it and as you can see, I didn’t let up.  But it taught me an unbelievable amount about racing and cars.  It came back to do me a better deal later on. 

 

KO:  Chasing the USAC midget tour back then, I cannot imagine that you had a full-time job when you were literally crisscrossing the country, but did you have a full-time job when you were doing that?  Did you try?

 

GS:  I did most of the time.  I worked for Don’s Crankshaft Company for two of those years, ’75 and ’76 I think it was.  Or ’74 and ’75.  And Don would let me go racing whenever necessary.

 

KO:  What’s Don’s last name?

 

GS:  Kemper.  And Don’s Crankshaft Company is now defunct and everyone has pretty much gone to different areas and Don passed away several years ago.  It made a difference.  He let me do that.  And if I didn’t have a job, jobs were easy to get back then.  You’d just go get another job.  It was no big deal.  You’d walk in, put your application in, and a few days later they’d call you.  It isn’t like today.  It’s tough now. 

 

KO:  When you traveled the country, who was your primary help? You had told me earlier that you went through a lot of guys because it was a grueling schedule.  From your scrapbook, I saw that your dad helped you out a lot but when you’re up and down the road, hauling all the way to Denver or Salt Lake City, who were some of the guys you remember helping?

 

GS:    Timmy Martini from Cincinnati went with me quite a bit.  Bob Noppert went with me quite a bit.  And Rick Schwarm, who lives in Tampa now, or Fort Meyers, he helped me a ton many years ago.  But basically it was my dad and myself.  Dad was a rock.  He would plan his vacation time.  He’d get the schedule.  He’d pre-plan his vacation time of when he could be off.  He would hit as many races as he possibly could.  I think he only sent me out on my own in the first few years for like six races total. 

 

KO:  Is Timmy Martini any relation to Denny Martini?

 

GS:  Brother. 

 

KO:  Talk about some of the names from the USAC midgets you had to race against on a regular basis.  When I was looking through those stats from Kevin Eckert’s website (www.openwheeltimes.com), it was amazing to see some of the guys you went head-to-head against.  It was just such a different time back then compared to now.  I’m not sure why, but the quality of competitors seemed so much stronger in your era.  Who were some of those names?

 

GS:  I can load you up on names.  Pancho Carter.  Johnny Parsons.  Tommy Astone.  Jimmy Caruthers.  Danny Caruthers.  Well, Danny was gone by the time I got there.  But Jimmy Caruthers was still around.  Sleepy Tripp.  Bobby Tripp.  Danny McKnight.  Uh…geeze.

 

KO:  Rich Vogler?

 

GS:  Rich Vogler.  I’ve been to Rich Vogler’s house.  We’ve worked out of their yard before.  We’ve traveled with them.  Steve Lotshaw is a very close friend of mine.  Mike Gregg became a close friend of mine.  Jimmy Beckley from Denver became a close friend.  So many people that if you sit there for a few minutes and think, but those are the ones that I got to know.  I got to know Rick Goudy.  I got to know Wally Pankratz from out there.  Just all the west coast guys…Leigh Earnshaw from the East.  And Ken “Mister” Brenn from the East.  There’s a lot of relationships you build over the years just by doing the USAC midget schedule.

 

KO:  Who did you like to race against? 

 

GS:  Steve Lotshaw was quality.  Mike Gregg was quality.  You could run against those guys. Some of the other guys would hit you and knock you out of the way.  I wasn’t used to that nor could I afford to have that.  You couldn’t afford to have your stuff bent up.  They all ended up being great racers and that proves it right there. 

 

KO:  Who did you NOT like to race against?  Who were some of those who ran into you?

 

GS:  You had to watch Rich when you were around Rich.  He would whack you on the way by.  Rich would not intentionally do it but it would happen and then you’d be sitting there with a bent racecar.  And if you saw him coming, you’d kind of give him a little extra room because he’d slam you. 

 

KO:  Anybody else you remember like that?

 

GS:  Not really.  Not in the midgets.  There wasn’t too many.  There wasn’t a lot of that.  Well, safety equipment wasn’t anywhere near what it is now.  So you couldn’t afford to be that way.  You had to watch your ass because you could get hurt in a heartbeat in these things and it isn’t like it is now with the seats and head and neck restraint devices and everything. 

 

KO:  Plus with the number of races you went to, you’re way out in the middle of nowhere and trying to repair cars would be tough. 

 

GS:  Precisely.  And you can’t always find a garage to fix a bent tubular chassis you know?

 

KO:  At the bigger races like the Hut Hundred, some even bigger names would come out like Foyt, Gary B., etc.  At the time when you were just trying to make the show, could you appreciate the legendary talent that you raced against?

 

GS:  Absolutely.  You’d just be overwhelmed because generally the Hoosier Hundred was the day before.  And you went up there and licked your chops, watching the Silver Crown cars.  Back then they were called Champ Dirt cars. And you watched those guys run those cars and they’d come to the Hut Hundred the following day.  You’d see George Snider.  Tom Bigelow.  Pancho.  You’d see Johnny Parsons.  Jan Opperman.  A.J. Foyt would come over and run.  There’s just all big names would come over and run like you said. Don Holley was a guy from California that I could remember reading about.  Don Holley, he ran flat-track motorcycles, was running for Gus Sohm and he came to the Hut Hundred. 

 

And the Hut Hundred was much tougher.  Much, much tougher to make back then.  I only made two I believe. 

 

KO:  You were saying that 80 cars would show up for 33 spots. 

 

GS:  And the same thing for Ascot Park at Turkey Night.  You’d go out there and there would be 80 racecars.  I never did make a Turkey Night race.  Never. 

 

KO:  So you’d have to qualify within a certain range?

 

GS:  If not, you’re on the trailer.  You didn’t get a C-main, B-main – none of that stuff.  It was either what you did or what you didn’t.  The Hut Hundred was very, very difficult to make. 

 

KO:  Go hard or go home!

 

GS:  Um-hum. 

 

KO:  No provisionals either.

 

GS:  It wasn’t even heard of.

 

KO:  My gut tells me that the USAC midget scene in the ‘70s might just have been a fun time.  Of course it was harder than hell to make those shows, but what was it really like? 

 

GS:  It was hard work.  It was educational.  You got to befriend a lot of people and create a lot of great relationships.  The competition was absolutely incredible.  You really didn’t know who was going to win each night.  It was very, very competitive. 

 

KO:  Some of the characters…who were they and how much fun was it being around those people?  Traveling from city to city in a caravan, I’m sure there were some jokesters in there.

 

GS:  Oh you know it.  Billy Engelhart – I got to be really good friends with him.  Steve Lotshaw was pretty much a case.  He had a dry sort of sense of humor and we just had a great time with Stevie Lotshaw and his father Dick.  They were great people.  They treated me good and I’ll never forget those days either.  They were probably the best. 

 

KO:  Talk about the stark differences between the midget scene back then compared to now.  Money, equipment, resourcefulness, ingenuity of the racers, and the camaraderie.  Back in the ‘70s, money and equipment weren’t as big of a factor.  The resourcefulness and ingenuity – this was more prevalent back then compared to now.  Camaraderie -  especially bigger back then compared to now.  Was that the reality?  People talk about how good things were and they look at them now and things aren’t horrible, but there’s quite a big difference.

 

GS:  We all had a great level of camaraderie back then.  As I said, I stayed at Vogler’s house.  I stayed at Mike Gregg’s house.  We all just got along good and it was a lot of father-son things, kind of like it is now.  But I guess the main difference is now all the cars are cookie-cutter cars.  Back then, there were the LTC cars.  There were the Edmunds cars.  There were the Higman cars.  There were five or six different manufacturers of cars and five different motors.  You didn’t have to have one specific thing.  Now, it’s a cookie-cutter situation.  You have to have this or that, whatever is hot at the time.  It could be the Toyota.  Nowadays it could be the Mopar.  You don’t know.  It could be the new Chevrolet.  Back then it was a little bit like that but the cars were different.  You could have a Benson.  George Benson, up in Northern California, built one heck of a pavement car, probably THE best pavement car that was built back then.  But he would only build like five a year and the west coast guys would grab ‘em up.  So you’d go out west to run Roseville or San Jose and the Benson cars would just blow you away.  And it’s not that way anymore.  It’s one particular car.  Cookie-cutter cars have kind of changed that part. 

 

KO:  I miss the days of seeing some of those Badger midgets.  Donnie Jones had one around here.

 

GS:  Rollie Lindblad.  Very good.  Rollie Lindblad built those and they were similar to a supermodified.  They were a one-of-a-kind deal and they worked great.  If you didn’t have one, they were going to go by you.  They were going to beat you. 

 

KO:  This was like mid-to-late ‘80s and he was still running a Chevy II in the thing.  But the engine was totally offset on the left hand side of the car and Jones was blowing by everybody on the high banks.

 

GS:  John Parsons ran one for Lockhard.  Lockhards had one too.

 

KO:  One of your first forays into car ownership came on October 20th, 1974.  Lloyd Ruby finished 11th on the Pocono ¾ mile in your midget.  According to Eckert’s site, it was a $3000 to win show won by Pancho Carter.  Other names in the race included Billy Vukovich, Jimmy Caruthers, Johnny Parsons, Johnny Rutherford, A.J. Foyt, Jim McElreath, Roger McCluskey, Wally Dallenbach, Steve Krisiloff, your man Ruby, and Bobby Unser.  Wow!  What a show!  Any thoughts on that race and Lloyd Ruby? That sounded like a neat event.

 

GS:  Lloyd was great to work with.  That whole scene was a great, great show.  I don’t know why more people didn’t show up to watch it.  It was very poorly attended but it was very, very brutally cold in the Poconos that year.  It was horribly cold.  We would have went better.  I didn’t know what was wrong.  He kept talking about the car moving around.  There was a broken birdcage on the car from a flip I had the week before at Terre Haute and I didn’t know it.  So it had pulled the studs out of the hub.  I could have made it better but I couldn’t find it.  I couldn’t tell what it was.

 

Yeah, it was a great time and we got paid handsomely to go there.  It was a good experience.  It was a great time.

 

KO:  So was that just a stand-alone show? 

 

GS:  They ran sprint cars also because I remember seeing Seymour’s car pitted right next to us.  I think that’s the two classes they ran.  They might have run something else.

 

KO:  I remember in the mid to late ‘80s they still ran midgets there on the front straightaway and up pit road.  Or did they run behind pit road?

 

GS:  There was an actual three-quarter mile, if I’m not mistaken, on the inside of the Pocono two and a half.  I think that’s pretty much what they used.

 

KO:  Another unusual event I noticed in your records included a fifth place finish at Trenton in August of 1976, the second of a two day show.  You trailed Billy Vukovich (Pool 9), Billy Engelhart, Doug Craig, and Steve Lotshaw.  Midgets on a 1.5 mile paved oval – how treacherous, twitchy, and fast were they?

 

GS:  If anyone remembers the old Trenton track, it had a dog-leg in the backstretch.  You actually turned right and we had never done that before.  These cars weren’t set to do that.  And it took quite a bit of bravado to figure out how you’re going to go through this dog-leg flat-out, the opposite way.  You had to change the shocks a little bit and the car around just a little bit to get it to work but I was particularly proud of that fifth place finish up there.  That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done and I can remember going down the straightaway and you can barely hear the engine run.  And the poles are going by (Greg is making sound effects – shu, shu, shu) as fast as you can see.  That thing is geared so high to run that huge racetrack.  But it was a great time and we did quite well obviously.  And the day before, I was going to do good too.  There was a two day show.  I believe they had the Indycars there.  That was a Friday-Saturday and I think they had Indycars there on Sunday.  It was the neatest thing I’ve done. 

 

KO:  That sounded fun!  Pucker-up on that big track.

 

GS:  Oh yeah!  Oh yeah!  But look at the names you’re running against.  I was right up in there and that made me feel really good about that.

 

KO:  In the two weeks following Trenton, you raced at IRP, Little Springfield, Denver, Boise, Salt Lake City, and Pikes Peak, finishing 2nd to Larry Patton at the Salt Palace.  Was that an indoor race? 

 

GS:  Indoor show in August at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City!

 

KO:  It must have better hotter than you know what there.

 

GS:  Bad…really bad.

 

KO:  Did they have the A/C on in there?

 

GS:  Yeah, I think they did.  The night before, I was going to win it and I tried to take somebody out and I took myself out.  I believe I tried to take Sleepy out as a matter of fact to win it and this one here I elected to run second.  I had him passed one time and a yellow took it back.  And it could have been my first and only USAC midget feature win. 

 

KO:  But you did it the class way.

 

GS:  I backed off and ran second.

 

KO:  So did you do all the shows in that swing?

 

GS:  Oh yeah.  Every one of them.  Oh yeah.  Every single one of them.

 

KO:  That sounded like a pretty awesome swing there.  It appears that the midget schedule was almost reminiscent of a World of Outlaws schedule with all the traveling.  How grueling was that for an owner/operator? 

 

GS:  Pretty tough.  We had a camper on the truck and we slept in the truck.  We didn’t get rooms a whole lot.  Once in awhile we’d get a room or we’d use somebody else’s room when they were done with it to shower.  But you know what?  Looking back it was one of the greatest times I’ve ever had in my life.  It was great.

 

KO:  You got to see a lot of stuff I’m sure.

 

GS:  Mount Saint Helens.  I was in Washington state before it blew its cork.

 

KO:  So did you get any kind of tow money to do that or was gas just that cheap back then? 

 

GS:  Gas was 75 cents a gallon back then and you didn’t even care about it.  All you wanted to do was race and you hoped that you made enough racing.  Plus, we did occasionally smuggle a little Olympia beer and Coors beer back from the west and make five bucks a case on that so we’d make our gas money back! 

 

KO:  Sounds like a little Smokey and the Bandit deal!

 

GS:  Oh, whatever it took!  We had to do what we had to do.

 

KO:  In that timeframe, did you have a ton of vacation time or were those the days when you took a hiatus from work and looked for a job when you came back?

 

GS:  In ’73, I quit the Kroger Company candy plant because I was going to be a professional racer.  Whatever!  And then in ’74, ’75, and ’76 they were all just sporadic jobs and Don’s Crankshaft was in there for two years.  I worked at a grain elevator in 6 and 7.  Again, they were just hit and miss jobs. 

 

KO:  So with all the different places you raced with the midgets, there had to be some trips that still stand out as memorable.  You talk about that as being one of the best times of your life.  Are there any you remember more than others?

 

GS:  Absolutely.  The Pacific Northwest tour started out at Provo, Utah.  Then from Provo, Utah to Boise, Idaho.  From Boise, Idaho to Spanaway, Washington which rained out.  From Spanaway to Olympia.  From Olympia to Tenino Speedway, which you could see Mount Rainier right in the distance.  Across the Juan de Fuca Straits to Victoria, British Columbia.  Raced at Victoria, British Columbia, come back across to Skagit Speedway, which still runs to this day.  Down from Skagit and down to Denver, finished up in Denver and came home.  That was a terrific two and a half to three week trip that I will never forget as long as I live.

 

KO:  Unbelievable!  Wow!  I guess I will leave it at that because I’m sure there are others you can think about too but that sounds pretty dramatic.

 

GS:  Yeah.  That was the greatest one. 

 

KO:  What about unusual places to race?  You raced on mile dirt tracks at DuQuoin, which may have been dusted out, and Syracuse.  What about any other oddball joints that seem strange compared to now?  I remember seeing midgets on the mile at Springfield but at DuQuoin, they must have been fast there.  Syracuse?  They must have been fast there too.

 

GS:  Indianapolis Mile.  My first USAC midget race was on the Indianapolis Mile, which we had engine problems that night.  I didn’t qualify or even get to race.  That’s where the first one was, the mile there. 

 

Yeah the Trenton thing was pretty much the capper on that deal. 

 

KO:  You didn’t know you were going to have to run a road course!

 

GS:  But you’ve got to remember, Dayton, Salem, and Winchester were always a blast too with a midget.  That would scare the pants off of anyone. 

 

KO:  Are there any places you miss racing at?  I remember you mentioning Olympic Stadium in Kansas City was always a place you enjoyed.

 

GS:  Olympic Stadium had gooey black river gumbo from some place out there they found.  And even on a hot day, they’d water it and it would be so tacky that you couldn’t spin a wheel.  And for some reason, it worked for me.  I did ok there in my car one night.  We were pretty close to winning my first feature there too.

 

KO:  You didn’t break any rear ends on that sticky surface?

 

GS:  No.  I ran out of tear-offs.  I could barely see what I was doing.  It was so black and gooey.  But that place had a history with the Weld brothers, Tiger Bob Williams, Carl Williams, Jay Woodside, Ray Lee Goodwin and all those guys used to run that racetrack and I was just tickled to death from history to be able to run on a track where those guys ran.  You know?

 

KO:  So was it really too dusty that day at DuQuoin?  I saw in Eckert’s results that it just said “DUST”.  Was the show cancelled?

 

GS:  Yeah.  They shut it down.  It was just horrible.  Terrible. 

 

KO:  And people think about tracks being too dusty today.  It’s always been an issue when you try to run during the day. 

 

GS:  Yeah.  It was very difficult.  You couldn’t see anything.  And it wasn’t good for the cars.  It was just a real bad deal.

 

KO:  You mainly chased USAC midgets but there were a ton of other sanctioning bodies in the ‘70s.  Did you score any midget feature wins outside of USAC, like maybe with CORA?

 

GS:  I did.  As a matter of fact, they took it away because they wanted to cube check our engine and my dad wouldn’t let them cube check our engine because he had to go to work that night.  And he just refused and they took the win away from him. 

 

KO:  And where would that have been?

 

GS:  That was at Lawrenceburg. 

 

KO:  Man, you had to be upset to say the least.  Heartbroken?

 

GS:  I know I won it.  I finally won a midget feature.  It hurt.  But that’s ok.  I know in my heart that we won it. 

 

KO:  The USAC records still show you competing sporadically with the midget group from ’77 to ’79.  Did you already transition to sprint cars in that timeframe? 

 

GS:  I was injured at Salem pretty badly in ’77.  And that’s when we pretty much quit running.  I had Roger Rager in my car shortly after that.  I wanted to move on.  I had my training ground time.  It was time to move onto sprint cars one way or another.  I kind of sat out a year and ran some late model stock cars around Lawrenceburg and started getting into sprint cars down at Lawrenceburg.  I caught the eye of Mr. Tom Stenger in Dayton and he elected to start helping us out and get a car.  And we got a car and it got better and better from that point on. 

 

KO:  The midget series was very competitive with a ton of talent but the local sprint cars in Indiana featured some tough hombres too.  On a regular basis, you raced wheel to wheel with Dick Gaines, Bob Kinser, Sheldon Kinser, Bobby Adkins, Butch Wilkerson, Louie Mann, Randy Kinser, Kelly Kinser, Tony Solomito, Bernie Graybeal, Allen Barr, Kerry Norris, Danny Milburn, Bobby Black, Marvin Deputy, and Larry Martin.  How bad-ass were these guys?

 

GS:  All bad-ass!  Dick Gaines, Butch Wilkerson, Allen Barr, Bob Kinser…nobody has a clue unless they’ve seen it or done it or been around it or watched them do it.  It was just a very competitive, good bunch of guys, wouldn’t tell you a whole lot, and wouldn’t teach you a whole lot because they knew you were going to come try beat ‘em with it.  But it was a great, great time actually. 

 

KO:  Back in ’79, I see that you ran 6th against the Outlaws at New Bremen.  Steve Kinser, Dub May, Lee James, Rick Ferkel, and Doug Wolfgang finished ahead of you, with Sammy chasing you.  The next year, you ran 9th against the Outlaws at the same track.  When you ran sixth, was that a wingless show? 

 

GS: It was.  Back then the Outlaws bounced back and forth from day to day.  You didn’t know what it was going to be until however it was advertised.  Yeah, that was quite an enjoying day that day.  Wolfgang, Swindell, myself, and I believe Ferkel traded third, fourth, fifth, and sixth back and forth for I don’t know, ten or fifteen laps.  Finally, Wolfgang started cutting down through the infield and started kicking up rocks, gravel, dirt, and grass – kind of distracted you for a minute and I lost one spot to him but I think we would have run fourth that day if it hadn’t been for that. 

 

KO:  As a local racer, was your equipment up to par with those guys?  Did they have the stout engines and the lightweight cars like today? 

 

GS:  They had the lightweight cars and all the good engines and I had an 1840 pound Bob Trostle car that Frank Hollingsworth from over in Illinois sold us.  It was a big, old heavy .120 wall car and it worked really well.  I wish I had a big picture of that…I had a picture of that someplace but it went away.  That was one of the better days.  Those guys raced hard.  It taught me a lot just running with those guys, how hard you’ve really got to run with them. 

 

KO:  To see a local racer do that, except for central PA, Knoxville, or northern California, you’d never see that today.  Was it easier to do that with those guys back then or was it still a pretty big feat?

 

GS:  By no means was it easy.  I felt extremely gifted when we rolled out of there that day with that good of a finish because of the people we were running with.  You had the names you were naming and there were about five more that were there.  I beat some pretty significant people that day and it really felt good to accomplish that, you know?  This isn’t all about an ego thing with me or an “I’m better than you” type thing.  This is about accomplishing something, setting goals, and going after it.  Here I am running against some of the best guys around and heck, I’m able to stay with them and beat some of them.  And I’m feeling pretty good about that, thinking that some day I’d catch somebody’s eye and get a ride. 

 

KO:  And be able to keep chasing that dream…

 

GS:  Oh yeah!  Exactly.

 

KO:  I found that you ran second to Fred Linder against the All Stars at Charlestown, Indiana on May 14th, 1982.  The next night, you won a sprint car feature at Lawrenceburg.  I know recordkeeping for local Indiana races is not that good. I’m wondering if May 15th of ’82 might have been your first-ever sprint car feature victory.  Maybe you got another one or two before that? 

 

GS:  That was the first sprint car feature win and I knew when I rolled out of Charlestown, after running second in an All Star show, I knew that we were going to do really well the following night.  I just had a feeling that this was going to be it and it was. 

 

KO:  What memories do you have of that first sprint car win?  Obviously the drive across the bottom half of Indiana that night from Charlestown back to Cincinnati you were feeling good, but what do you remember from that actual night when you did get the win? 

 

GS:  We had finally gotten a Gambler chassis car that was able to compete with Kerry Norris.  Kerry Norris was the hot shoe back then.  And we actually were able to have a car that could run with him and I don’t know where he finished that night but we won and he didn’t.  To have a car that works so well, with so little effort, after trying to get that heavier Trostle car to do what we did with it, (which it ended up in Tampa Bay, by the way, running a pavement series down in Tampa Bay)…the Gambler chassis made all the difference in the world and that’s exactly why we won.  The night before wound me up.  We ran second against the All Stars, you know?

 

KO:  It’s amazing what confidence can do.

 

GS:  Oh, it was incredible! 

 

KO:  In June of ’82, you won a local feature at Kokomo, beating Kelly Kinser, Bob Kinser, Louie Mann, and another one of those bad-asses, Bob Christian.  Kokomo has always been a demanding track and I would guess it was no different back in ’82.  With its rich racing history and all the big names that have rolled through the pit gate, becoming a winner there had to be special.  Do you have any memories of winning at Kokomo for the first time? 

 

GS:  I did and I also had a shot rear bumper from the guys pounding on the back of it trying to knock me out of the way.  I’ll probably need to point it out too that from 1979, October and on now, from anything we speak of from this point, I’m working a full-time job with the city of Cincinnati.  So that Sunday night we ran at Kokomo, we won, I had to be back at work the next morning at 6 AM. 

 

KO:  And we were on different time with Cincinnati back then.


GS:  We lost the hour coming back.  Yeah, it was very difficult physically and mentally to be able to keep this up from that point on.

 

KO:  Did it feel like a significant feather in your cap by winning at Kokomo, more so than at Lawrenceburg because it was a track that you may not have raced at nearly as much? A guy from Cincinnati coming in there to beat the Indiana guys, it seems like Kokomo has always had that local flair, so did it feel extra special?

 

GS:  There’s no question.  It felt good to go there and beat those guys at their track.  Any time you do that, you’ve accomplished something because like you said, they’ve got their local group that are really, really tough to beat.  And those guys were tough to beat.  I have to remember who Kelly Kinser was running for at the time, but he and somebody else just pounded the rear bumper clear off my car just trying to knock me out of the way and for some reason I was able to muscle past it and keep on going. 

 

KO:  Were you running huggy pole then?

 

GS:  Yeah.  Oh yeah.  There was nothing else really.  There was nothing out there to play with.  I could hear people back there trying it, but obviously they weren’t making it work. 

 

KO:  Some people loved the old Kokomo.  A lot of people hated it.  How did it suit your style?

 

GS:  It didn’t matter.  A racetrack was a racetrack. And after you’ve run as many racetracks as I’ve run and as many states as I’ve run, you didn’t even pay attention to it.  You didn’t cry about the tracks like a lot of them do nowadays. 

 

KO:  Without question ’82 was your breakout season, winning at least six times - once at Kokomo, once at Lincoln Park, and four times at Lawrenceburg.  And success continued into 1983, finding a pair of July Bloomington victories, three more at The Burg, and some second place winged efforts at Eldora and Findlay.  What were you doing differently in ’82 and ’83 compared to before?  I know you talked about the Gambler chassis.  Was that the main thing or were there some other things?

 

GS:  The Gambler chassis was the main thing.  And it was a learning process for us to learn.  Because we were non-winged guys, we didn’t run the wings all the time.  So consequently, we didn’t exactly know how to go about setting them up and how the guys do it.  And the winged guys all had better engines than we did.  That second at Findlay you were talking about - that was great!  Nobody gets it.  But that was a really great feeling because you had the Keegans and you had all the Northern Ohio guys who went to Findlay on Sunday night.  Then again, I had to tow home.  A three hour tow to get home and go back to work the next morning at 6 AM. 

 

KO:  Grueling! Did winning change you in any way? You were used to doing things the hard way and not having the success.  Winning can sometimes change a person – obviously adding some confidence – but did it change you any other way you think?

 

GS:  I liked it!  It made me even more determined to do it and sometimes I got a little bit over-focused and didn’t think about the people around me.  They were being affected by my drive and determination and I probably should have been a little bit more user-friendly with some of the people around me.  Male and female. 

 

KO:  Winning is a focus and if you’re getting it done, you want more of it.  I can understand that.  For the most part, you’ve primarily driven your own stuff.  I saw your name listed in Bud Doty’s number 50 in the midgets. 

 

GS:  Yep.  Bud’s a friend of mine.  Has been for many years.  Kevin was a little young guy at 12 years old when I went to race for his father in Wichita and Olympic Stadium.  I remember Kevin, I think he was 11 or 12.  And then Kevin came up and did quite well before his demise but yeah, the Dotys were great people.  They treated me nice.  I stayed at their house and they had a special bedroom for the drivers and it was just a really nice thing with those people. 

 

KO:  You were the man!  So on July 17th, 1982, for Eldora you landed in the Gingerich 72.  Was this Kokomo’s Fenton Gingerich? 

 

GS:  Absolutely.  With Jim McQueen wrenching.

 

KO:  Interesting.  So I’ve heard he could be a hard guy to drive for.  And I guess for that matter, McQueen maybe a little harder with both of those guys being kind of crusty.  Can you confirm the speculation? 

 

GS:  Yep!  Sure enough.  That was not one of my finest hours.  We did ok.  They wanted more.  They wanted better.  They wanted to win.  I was not used to the things that Jim was doing.  I could have adapted to them over a period of time but Jim was one of the best mechanics ever around here and I just didn’t catch on quick enough and I only got to run two races with them.

 

KO:  How did you land that deal?

 

GS:  It came open.  They fired somebody and my name popped up because I was winning at Lawrenceburg and winning at Kokomo and doing ok at Eldora.  My name just popped up.  In racing, there’s a list that goes on.  Like right now, there’s a list of five guys that you want to drive for you.  Robert Ballou, Jesse Hockett, Casey Shuman, Daron Clayton two years ago, Jon Stanbrough, Dave Darland.  There’s your list nowadays.  Back then there was a list also.  It was Randy Kinser, Greg Staab, Kerry Norris – that type of thing.  And I was on that list.  I happened to get that chance to do that ride. 

 

KO:  So other than Doty and Gingerich, up until ’82, I know you spoke about getting to drive Tom Dickinson’s midget, but was there anybody else in your early midget and sprint car days that you got to drive for? 

 

GS:  I did.  There was a fellow by the name of Troy Wagner in Cincinnati.  He was a friend of mine back then and still is.  He got a car and it was an old Bobby Allen car.  And we stuck it together and ran ’78 with it – right after I came back from being hurt.  I think it was ’78.  We ran it quite a few races and it was an ok car to learn in.  I learned quite a bit out of the deal.  It was a short-term deal but nevertheless, we went racing with them. 

 

KO:  Back in those early sprint car days, you mentioned hooking up with Tom Stenger Ford.  I remember seeing that on your car for years and years but how did that relationship with Tom start out? 

 

GS:  There was a lady in Cincinnati who was president of CAR – Competitive Auto Racing Fan Club.  It was Georgeann Stemler.  I don’t know if she’s still around or not but I sure hope so.  She met Tom somewhere and Tom mentioned he wanted to get his name on some sprint cars.  Georgeann gave me his phone number.  I called him.  I went up and met him.  We arrived at a fifty dollar per race deal if I made a feature in the first year.  He saw the potential there and it blossomed from there.  And my greatest years were with Tom Stenger. 

 

KO:  How long did that relationship last?

 

GS:  Ten years.  From 1978 to 1988.  We had ten great years and a lot of championships. 

 

KO:   Any thoughts about Tom Stenger that stand out?  The type of guy he was?

 

GS:  Gruff.  Tough.  Heart of gold.  Do anything for you but on the outside you just thought he was the toughest bastard to ever walk the face of the earth.  Big guy.  Kind of gruff guy.  But a great, great person who along with my father got me to where I’m at right now. 

 

KO:  Given that he had a Ford dealership, did he ever want you to run Ford engines in your sprint car?

 

GS:  We did.  As a matter of fact, “Ohio” George Montgomery, the drag racer, built a cast iron 410 Ford and we tried to run it a couple of times.  We ran it at Granite City, Illinois and we ran it at Lawrenceburg.  We won a heat race with it at Lawrenceburg with a wing on and it had a lot of horsepower but you could feel it was heavier because of the cast iron block.  There weren’t any aluminum Ford blocks back then.  We ran Hinsdale – Santa Fe Speedway.  We were going to run a TV race with it one night and something broke in the valve train on it and we didn’t get to run it but just a few laps. 

 

But the Ford ended up being ok.  Casey Luna ran one when they finally came out with an aluminum block.  But the weight disadvantage was a problem. 

 

KO:  So other than Michel Tire, which I saw on some of your midgets, Stenger Ford, and Don’s Crankshaft, I don’t recall too many sponsor decals on your cars.  Who were some of your other supporters over the years?

 

GS:  Jerry Scarlato from Cincinnati, Ohio.  He and his brother Greg are names around the Cincinnati area.  Greg has four Popeye’s Chicken places down there.  They’ve been friends of mine for years.  Greg Scarlato had the Italian Inn downtown across from the City Hall.  He helped me out quite a bit to get me to some of the races out west.  He paid my travel expenses to go out to California and such. 

 

Mr. A.J. Esterkamp from the Western Hills area has been a lifelong friend.  I’ve known him since I was about eleven.  He gave me great assistance over the years by helping me physically and financially to get the cars to the track and he was thoroughly involved in my racing up until just a few years back.  He ended up being an official at the speedway.  He worked with Glen Niebel for awhile and helped Glen.  He’s a genuine racer and he’s a good person. 

 

KO:  Do I still see that Esterkamp name on some Lawrenceburg Speedway billboards?

 

GS:  Yes.  Very same one. 

 

KO:  Speaking of Stenger though, was that his car that you drove to fourth at the Silver Crown portion of Eldora’s Four Crown in October of ’82?  I think you said you might have been laid up in the hospital in October of ’82. 

 

GS:  It might have been ’82.  I’m pretty sure it was ’83.  Anyway, that was Tom’s car.  We started dead last and ran ‘er up to fourth.

 

KO:  It says Ron Shuman won.  Steve Kinser was second.  And Kenny Schrader in third.

 

GS:  Schrader was right out ahead of me. 

 

KO:  And you came from the back to do that!

 

GS:  Yep. 

 

KO:  In the Data Processing Solutions number 71. 

 

GS:  Exactly.  Ironically, there’s some history to that.  That car is the exact same car Jan Opperman was hurt in at the Fairgrounds when it was the Longhorn 48.  And that car ended up just about taking me out at the Fairgrounds because I flipped it when Charlie Ledford bought it and Glen Niebel was wrenching it.  I just about bought it on that one.  Knocked five of the six cage points off of it when I turned it over at the Fairgrounds. 

 

KO:  The Silver Crown deal was prestigious back then and I would guess that it was kind of a clique.  You had to be a big name to get one of those rides.  How hard was it to attract Silver Crown owners in the early 1980s?  Was gaining a Silver Crown ride a priority for you?

 

GS:  It was a rung on the ladder – yes.  That’s all I really wanted to do – was keep moving up and moving up.  Obviously the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the final goal, which never happened.  But, I came close to that too.  The Silver Crown cars – that’s what I wanted to get into.  Tom gave me a break but for some reason he kept me off the miles with it.  He’d let me run the short tracks though.  To this day, I don’t understand why that was but that’s neither here nor there. 

 

He put Butch Wilkerson in it for the miles or he put someone else in it for the miles.  He put Barry Camp in it at Nazareth.  I’d just come off finishing fourth with it.  The following week, he put Barry Camp in it. 

 

KO:  A hard guy to figure out I guess?

 

GS:  And you don’t bother.  You just do what you’re told. 

 

KO:  As long as you can have the ride the next time it becomes available…

 

GS:   Yeah, you don’t question it. 

 

KO:  1984 – what a year!  19 wins!  Eckert has 18 but I’ll go with your 19 because stats can be hard to come by.  All I have to say is WOW!  These days, you hear guys like Jon Stanbrough, Tony Elliott, Dave Darland, Jay Drake, and J.J. Yeley having those types of years and they are cemented into memory.  Either way, that is a dominating year.  According to Eckert’s website, I found 11 scores at Lawrenceburg, 3 at Lincoln Park, 3 at Bloomington, and 1 at Twin Cities.  Rarely did you ever finish outside of the top-five in the stats I found.  Can you nail down a reason why you were so dominant? 

 

GS:  Preparation and another Gambler chassis.  It was a 1984 Gambler.  It was a brand new car and it was a very good car.  Our preparation and everything we’d learned, where we’d broken items, every mistake there is to be made on a racecar, I’ve made it.  And I’ve worked really, really hard in those years after that not to make those mistakes again.  I think that made the difference and I’m pretty sure that sums it up, really.

 

KO:  Was it car, engine, driver, crew or was it the whole combination? 

 

GS:  I had a phenomenal crew.  I had Andy Martini.  I had five guys and everybody had a specific job, which lightened my load considerably.  One guy did fuel.  One guy did tires.  One guy did chassis.  Me and dad took care of the engines.  And another guy took care of the truck and trailer.  We had a great group of guys and that was a great time!  That was also the year we went to California for the Pacific Coast Nationals with the first car sitting on the roof.  I carried it out on top of the roof of the trailer.  No one had ever seen that done before. 

 

KO:  Did you come up with that on your own? 

 

GS:  We were the first ones as far as I know.

 

KO:  I remember seeing Outlaw guys who would put the chassis and body up on the trailer in ‘87.

 

GS:  This is a complete car, engine and everything! 

 

KO:  Oh WOW! 

 

GS:  (Laughing)

 

KO:  Unbelievable!

 

GS:  Yep.

 

KO:  Why doesn’t your name come up when people mention dominant years?  When I did my research, I just found this out.  I didn’t even know about it because I didn’t start following racing, hard core, until about 1985.  Nobody ever really talks about that time, you know?  I don’t know if there’s a reason why that’s never brought up, but I’m just kind of curious.

 

GS:  I don’t really know Kevin.  I wish I had an answer for that.  I think that they feel that the competition wasn’t as tough back then.  Everyone in their own little era thinks that their competition is the toughest.  And if they don’t think it wasn’t hard back then, they needed to trade spots.  You know?  That could be part of it. Age is another thing.  People are starting to get older.  Their memories aren’t as sharp.  Fortunately you and I have some stats here.  I have a fairly good memory even though I’ve got “dain bramage” from all the concussions and head injuries and stuff but I can still remember a lot of things that really jump out. 

 

KO:  Toward the end of ’84, did you feel like King Kong? Did the ladies swoon over you because you were a huge winner? 

 

GS:  I wouldn’t go quite that far but it made you a little more popular than normal, let’s put it that way. 

 

KO:  Did you make any money that year or was it still expensive and a break-even deal at best?

 

GS:  No, that year, that racecar made money and I’m not going to go into details but yes, it did.  Enough to go to California and Manzanita and pay for that out of what we made. 

 

KO:  On August 16th of 1984, I see that Rick Hood drove your car to a 3rd place finish at Eldora.  With all the success you had that season and the possibility of winning at Eldora, which I’m sure would have been a big deal to you, what made you give up your seat? 

 

GS:  Completely political move.  Ricky was chasing points and the Fortunes were good people and they needed a ride.  They broke theirs and I got out of the car to let him do that.  I caught a lot of hell from a lot of people for doing it.

 

KO:  But I would guess he would have appreciated that.

 

GS:  I would think so.  It stands out in people’s minds when you do things like that.  I’m sure it does. 

 

KO:  You already mentioned this but at the end of ’84, you made the long tow out to Ascot and Manzy.  How much of an eye-opening of an experience was that tow out there?  You’d already done these tows before with the midgets but the California sprint car scene had to be different than the midget scene.  An eye opener?

 

GS:  Culture shock!  When you see Dean Thompson, Bubby Jones, and Lealand McSpadden doing this thing and you think you’re good, you’re not even in the same ball park as those guys when you go out there.  Incredible experience…watching Dean Thompson run Ascot was worth the price of admission!  I’d pay $25 just to walk through the pits to see that.  He was that good.  Bubby was right behind him, better than him some nights.  Bubby was great. 

 

Yes, you’re right.  It was a culture shock.  We missed the A-main by one car.  I was first alternate for the Pacific Coast Nationals and I missed Manzanita by two cars.  I was the second alternate at Manzanita.  People can laugh about that all they want but it was very, very difficult to make those races. 

 

KO:  I imagine Indiana drivers back then were straight and smooth.  They liked to run the bottom.  But those west coast guys, were they that much faster and braver than the Midwestern guys?  Or was it just a style that you had to get used to? 

 

GS:  It was a style that they did every week.  They ran Ascot, what 35 times a year, 39 times a year?  They knew their racetrack.  They knew the Manzanita track.  I’d been around Manzy a lot in a midget, but never a sprint car.  The first time out there at Manzanita, I won my heat race right out of the box, the first night, which made us feel pretty good.  But, it was a point accumulation thing and I missed that one by two cars.  It was just a great experience.

 

KO:  So did you adjust your driving style to the west coast or did you keep doing what you were doing all along? 

 

GS:  What you needed to do was free your car up to slide like they did.  They had special cars with the engines down and forward.  And the fuel tanks were down and forward where the car would lighten up.  They had different chassis torsion tube heights where the cars would slide on purpose.  It was intentionally done that way so they could get in the corner harder. 

 

But we learned a few things.  Roger Newell, who was later killed at Ascot, and Bill Pryor, from Donovan, helped me out a ton back then and got me going better that night at Ascot.  We got better as the thing went on.  In other words, if I could have stayed there and learned it, I could have gotten good at it.

 

KO:  So did you like backing it in?

 

GS:  I loved it.  I did.  I absolutely loved it.  There were some experiences that happened on that Ascot trip that we don’t have time to go into now but it’s a great experience.  Anybody that missed Ascot Park missed one of the neatest things going – ever! 

 

KO:  That’s exactly where I was going with my next question.  Are there any wild Ascot stories to tell that won’t get you into trouble?

 

GS:  I can.  I can for a fact.  We went out and they used to register your muffler reading on the scoreboard when you’d go out to qualify.  If you were loud, you had to correct it right away or you didn’t get to run.  We were working on our mufflers and all of a sudden the crowd was gasping…and roared…and everybody screamed.  I looked up and I saw this double-zero car go flying by and then pretty soon you hear this “chink, chink” crash metal noise. 

 

Well, everything is quiet and a few minutes later and they announced it was Stanley Atherton in Bill Hicks’ car.  Everything was quiet again.  Stanley was out of the car, moving around.  Everything was quiet again.  A few minutes later, if I can think of his name, the announcer at Ascot…

 

KO:  Bruce Flanders?

 

GS:  Bruce Flanders came over the P.A. and I will never forget this as long as I live.  “Will the owners of a Toyota pickup truck, da-da-da-da-da license plate, the owners of a gold Ford Thunderbird, and the owners of a blue Lincoln,” and he gave the license plate number and paused for a second, “please report to the parking lot.  Stanley Atherton just customized your cars for you.”

 

He flew out of the racetrack, into the parking lot, through the fence, knocked a big shark bite looking chunk out of the fence, and bounced off these three cars and annihilated these three cars apparently.  So that’s an Ascot story I’ll never forget.  I just saw Bruce Flanders, who still announces at Irwindale for Turkey Night.  I just saw him a few weeks ago when we were out there. 

 

KO:  It seems like you and D.O. Laycock occasionally discuss a wild Phoenix pool party from the mid ‘80s.  I’m wondering if it was it on this trip. 

 

GS:  Youuuuuu got it!  Actually, I believe it was on the ’83 trip, but at any rate, yeah, we walked up to the pool and we didn’t have a way to make a cooler for the beer.  And everybody was having a good time.  It was Brad Noffsinger, Stan Atherton, their wives, all my crew,  D.O., and some other people he was with.  He went out to the trailer, grabbed an old tire, filled the tire up with ice, and made his cooler out of an old right rear tire!

 

KO:  Very nice!

 

GS:  VERY nice!  And we walked up to the pool and there were some people in there that didn’t really have all of their clothes on.  So I backed away from the pool pretty quick!  We backed away and went back to the beer cooler instead! 

 

KO:  So some of those guys without their clothes on were drivers?

 

GS:  OH YEAH! 

 

KO:  Any of them we talked about previously?

 

GS:  OH YEAH!

 

KO:  Any guys that won championships?

 

GS:  Uh huh!  Uh huh! 

 

KO:  But we don’t need to name any names, do we?

 

GS:  No, no names.  You can be creative with it. 

 

KO:  I think I’ve got an idea.  But you guys still talk about that party.  That was just a good time, huh?

 

GS:  We did quite well that night.  It was pretty much fun and everybody had a good time.  We got to know people we didn’t know before.  It was just a great time.  When you go out there back then, you were much better received for some reason than you are now.

 

KO:  And you got a long-tow award from Manzy?  You got a plaque for that.

 

GS:  I have gotten a couple of those.  Yep.  We got the furthest tow award from Manzanita – I think three times we got it. 

 

KO:  Interesting.  So no wonder you like driving out there!

 

GS:  Oh, it’s just good people.  And they treat you well.

 

KO:  This is kind of going on a tangent, but I had to throw this question in there somewhere.  Dave Rose told me that Kevin Doran, famous for managing Al Holbert’s IMSA GTP championships for all those years, used to work on your racecars.  Kevin even built his own Grand Am cars in recent years before selling out to Dallara.  If this is true, when was that?

 

GS:  It’s even deeper than that.  He helped me with the midget actually.  In ’75 and ’76.  But it goes a little deeper than that.  His father had a dirt late model. They were famous with their dirt late model and they requested me to drive it several places for them.  I ran it at Florence.  I ran it at Brown County.  I ran at Portsmouth, Ohio for them.  I did ok with it.  I drove the wheels off of it, as fast as it would go.  And I learned the newer style late models as we went on in ’77, so it was different than me doing it ten years earlier, or eight years earlier. 

 

But yeah, Kevin is a friend of mine, has been a friend.  I’ve been a friend of the family for years.  I see his brother around once in awhile.  His brother was driving for awhile.  I think he was running ASA maybe, for awhile.  I see Kevin occasionally and we exchange stories.  He’s got his deal going on the east side of Cincinnati, over around Milford or something.

 

KO:  It seems like he sold his car building deal to Dallara.  In that Grand Am series, only so many car builders can be in it.  But were you able to teach him something about racecars or did he teach you about racecars?

 

GS:  It was a give and take.  He was very adamant on the way he wanted things done and I was very adamant on the way I wanted things done and we had an impasse.  We ended up dealing with it.  Once he taught me what I needed to know, I was good and he thanked me for learning what he learned too.

 

KO:  So did his dad own and operate the Tri-County track which became Queen City?

 

GS:  He did for a fact.  After Mr. Redwine had it, his father was the promoter there.  You’re exactly right. 

 

KO:  In 1985 you opened up with a TBARA win at East Bay in the Ledford car.  Was that Charles Ledford? 

 

GS:  That’s it!  Charlie Ledford Construction from Tarpon Springs, Florida. 

 

KO:  How did you end up with that ride and was it your first win with a wing?

 

GS:  Tom Stenger and Charles Ledford were close friends because they went to the Copper World at Phoenix and Tom helped sponsor Jimmy Haynes, who ran for Charlie.  Jimmy Haynes was killed at Phoenix International and they needed a driver to fill in.  Tom recommended me to Charlie and I got the ride and immediately produced for him.  I ran the Fairgrounds for him.  I ran East Bay for him.  I ended up winning the Florida State Championship at Volusia County in 1986, on the half mile.  I beat Rick Ferkel, Jack Hewitt, and a whole bunch of people who were running down there that night. 

 

KO:  We were at the same racetrack in 1986, at the fall All Star race at Woodstock, Georgia and you were running the Ledford car down there.  You took your car down with Mike Bowling too?

 

GS:  I said we’re going down, we might as well take my car.  It’s sitting there ready to race.  And Mike ran my car at Woodstock.  Dixie Speedway.

 

KO:  The Ledford deal was in April of ’85.  About a week later, I remember I was writing a term paper and I couldn’t go.  But you ran second to Rickey Hood on a Sunday afternoon at Eldora.  I recall lots of third and fourth place finishes there after that second place run.  But how bad did you want an Eldora win on your resume?

 

GS:  In the absolute worst way I wanted a win at Eldora.  That’s what I told Robert Ballou the other day.  I said, “You don’t have any idea how cool it is for you to win that many races in that short of a time at Eldora.”  It’s hard to do!  It’s a very difficult place to race at.  Always has been.

 

KO:  Compared to your monumental 1984 season with 19 wins, there were not as many wins in ’85.  Were there any significant changes made to your program over the winter that caused you not to win as many shows? 

 

GS:  Actually, that’s the year that Lawrenceburg banned aluminum blocks.  In ’85, that was the year that they banned aluminum blocks.  They seemed to think that was the only reason we were winning, because we had an aluminum block, which we only used three times because we didn’t understand how to make the car work with the lighter engine.  They banned aluminum blocks because certain people said that was the reason we were winning.  I only ran it three times and I only won with it once.  It was hard to make the car work.  It was jumpy.  It was very different.  So that following year, Mr. Stenger and my dad got together and they built two 434 inch small blocks that worked pretty well when we won our features at Lawrenceburg and we won another championship at Lawrenceburg. 

 

KO:  Excellent!  Moving onto ’86, you were finally dethroned as Lawrenceburg champ.  1982, 1983, 1984, and 1985 you were a title winner there.  I didn’t know about your Bloomington championship in ’84 until today.  Were there any other championships that I missed?

 

GS:  No.  That’s it.  1986 was interesting because I pretty much took myself out of that.  It was my own stupid fault.  If I really wanted to win it, we probably could have worked a little harder and won it but I elected to go to another USAC show one night when there was a Lawrenceburg race.  I think it was at Eldora as a matter of fact.  And rather than go to Lawrenceburg that night, not the night of the championship, I went to Eldora instead.  I missed the show and that would have made the difference.  If we’d have had a decent night, we’d have won again. 

 

KO:  One year later though, you regained your throne with another title in ’87 so that made you a five-time champ.  Was there any satisfaction from being the big dog at The Burg? 

 

GS:  It is, but it puts a certain stigma over you that you have a hard time shaking.  They say that you can’t go fast at other places and being the stubborn German that I am, I had to go prove that it was not true.  As the record shows, it was not true.  We could do other things you know. 

 

KO:  Were they all wingless championships in that timeframe or did Lawrenceburg switch to wings at some point?  I’m guessing ’82 through ’85 were all wingless but I don’t know if they switched to wings in ’86 or ’87.

 

GS:  ’87 was wings. 

 

KO:  Interesting!  So you got one on your resume with wings.  A little diversity.  So what was the local scene like down at The Burg in the mid-1980s?  Now, it’s quite a bit different with the bigger track but when Tom Wieck had it, there were certain guys that ran down there and I’m sure in the mid-‘80s there was a core group of racers too.  Was it still a fun time?  What was the scene like?

 

GS:  It was a fun time.  When you’re on top of things like we were, you become disliked.  Everyone wants to see you do good in the beginning, and then they dislike you later because you’re winning too much.  I could not believe in 1974 that I heard them boo Dick Gaines.  In ’74, he came back from winning the Knoxville Nationals and people were booing Dick Gaines.  I’m going, “Wow, how does this work?”  Here’s a guy that’s the baddest in the country, how could you possibly think anything bad about the guy who just won the biggest race in the country?  And the same thing happened to me.  People were disliking what we did.  Accusations flew, and they weren’t true, about this and that.  It just wasn’t true.  It got old and that’s another reason why I decided, “Ok, we’ve done all we can do here.  It’s time to branch out and go do the USAC thing.”

 

KO:  What did racing at Lawrenceburg teach you that you took on the USAC trail?

 

GS:  Seat time.  Lap after lap after lap.  No matter what you do in auto racing, the more seat time you have, the better you are.  And it taught you how to win.  It taught you how to prepare a car to win.  It didn’t teach you setups for Eldora or setups for New Bremen or Winchester or anything like that.  It taught you how to go about setting those cars up and the procedure you have to go through to make them work. 

 

KO:  In one of your early season 1987 Lawrenceburg winged victories, you beat a very young Jeff Gordon.  At the time, did you seem him as a special talent or was he just another racer? 

 

GS:  To be very honest with you, I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to Jeff until a couple of years later.  He went back to Bloomington and won a lot of races at Bloomington I believe in that time span.  I became friends with his father later.  His father and I are best of friends at this point still.  It’s just a different situation.  I didn’t pay attention.  I was too preoccupied with trying to make my own deal work, which was very hard. 

 

KO:  Back in ’87, did you think that 15 or 16 year old kids were too young to get into sprint cars?

 

GS:  I never really gave it much thought.  The only time that came up was recently, when there’s so darned many of them.  Now they are everywhere.  There’s just a ton of them.  It doesn’t dawn on you until you realize there’s so darned many of them out there right now. 

 

KO:  So in ’87, it was mostly winged racing in your brand new 1987 Gambler, which was a revolutionary car at the time with those down tubes.  That was a good-looking piece by the way.  I have a picture of that car wheel-packing at Terre Haute and that was one sharp car.  I really liked it.  So kudos on that.

 

GS:  Well thank you!

 

KO:  Were there any other significant differences with that chassis over the previous Gambler models, other than the down tubes? 

 

GS:  You had to learn to make it work a little different because of the down tubes.  That stiffened the chassis up and you had to run different torsion bars with it in the front and you had to learn that.  It took four or five times out to learn exactly what you needed to do. 

 

KO:  Were you able to switch back and forth with that car?  It seemed like it was pretty versatile.  I thought I saw it on dirt with and without a wing and also on asphalt.  How much did you like that car?

 

GS:  I liked it a lot.  I liked it a whole lot.  The ’84 was good but the ’87 was as good or better.  I liked it a whole lot.  That’s the car we converted to asphalt and we actually won that TV race with, which we’ll come to later.

 

KO:  Again in the fall of ’87, you hauled out to Ascot and Manzy, this time running 10th at Manzy.  There might have even been a race for you on the Phoenix mile with the champ car.  At least that’s why I was out there.  You must have been hooked on those west coast excursions.  Was it easier this time than in ’83 or ’84? 

 

GS:  Yes it was.  We had better power plants.  We had a Ron Shaver engine at the time.  Mr. Stenger enabled us to get this Shaver engine and it made all the difference in the world.  The California trips were just the shit.  They’re just great. 

That was the highlight of the year.  You worked all year, started planning way in advance to go do the Pacific Coast Nationals and the Western World.  That was the greatest thing.

 

KO:  How about those west coast trophy girls?  I seem to remember the name of Leslie Bremer.

 

GS:  Leslie Bremer!  Ha ha! 

 

KO:  I daydreamed about her when I was sitting in high school class.  People were paying attention and I was thinking about Leslie Bremer and Open Wheel magazine.  So how about those west coast trophy girls?

 

GS:  I asked questions and tried to track her down, her history and where she’s at in California this last trip I was there.  And the story I got was that she became a born-again Christian, then she became an exotic dancer, then she became a grandma and after that, nobody really knows where’s she’s at right now.  But she was the all-time best and you are correct about that! 

 

KO:  So that was almost a single-handed reason to go out to the west coast, wasn’t it?  An attraction…

 

GS:  They do things with a much nicer, greater flair in Southern California than they do back here for some reason.  And you know you try to have that carryover back here and it doesn’t always work that way.  But there’s just something about out there – there’s a little more showmanship involved.

 

KO:  There you go!  They have nice looking racecars and nice looking trophy girls.  

 

GS:  Yes they do!

 

KO:  So moving onto 1988, I found victories at The Burg, the $3,000 to win wingless show at Bloomington and of course, the now world famous USAC score on Thursday Night Thunder at IRP on ESPN.  I believe you used a McCreary right rear tire that night.  Steve Butler was a bad ass there that year and you beat Kevin Huntley in the Hoffman car for the win.  Any significant memories of that evening? 

 

GS:  That evening was absolutely nothing but pure desire on my part to win that race.  We had been issued an American Race Tire/McCreary by John Summers to try for the evening.  And it felt ok early and he requested we leave it on.  There was no specific tire rule at the time.  Well I believe Bob Frey and Rich Vogler took each other out or something to that effect, which eliminated two of the better cars.  And our car came to life about two-thirds of the way through the race and I just caught Kevin Huntley and just drove right by him.  Well, little did I know the right rear was going flat and that’s why the car hooked up so hard.  So if you ever watch the TV film of this thing, I’m running cross-ways and sideways and every which-a-way.  The tire was going down badly and was nowhere near inflation-wise of where it should have been.  And that’s why the car picked up so fast and that’s why I was running sideways at the end.  I wasn’t going to back off for nothing.  I didn’t care.  I was going to win this race and we won it and it was one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me in my life.  It’s like the epitome of what we’ve worked to get to do.  I know it’s just sprint cars.  It’s not the Indy 500 but it was a great, great thing and I’ll never forget it. 

 

KO:  Did you feel like you had a USAC monkey on your back up until that point? 

 

GS:  I did and I really thought that it would open a few eyes to some other owners who may give me a shot in their cars later.  But it never really panned out that way.  I was still stuck with the individual role of doing it on my own and trying to finance my own deal.  But it was a great experience.  I’ll never forget it.

 

KO:  When people talk about Greg Staab, do you think they primarily remember you for that TV win?

 

GS:  Actually, that’s part of it but the Lawrenceburg championships seem to be the highlight.  I’ve got another stat that I’m particularly proud of that I can’t prove but I think is accurate.  I believe 9 out of 11 years we ran in the top-ten in USAC points.  You might want to research that.

 

KO:  Okay.  Yeah, I can check that. 

 

GS:  It might be 8 out of 11 years.  But I don’t think anyone’s ever done that before and that’s pretty consistent with the way we raced a lot.

 

KO:  Okay, well I’ve got some figures here.  Second in 1988, 4th in 1989, 3rd in 1990, 7th in 1991, 1992 was 13th, 8th in 1993, 7th in 1994, and 6th in 1995.  I’d have to go back and see what was before 1988.  Let’s see…1985 you were 10th, 1986 you were 16th and 1987 you were 18th.  So that makes 8 out of 11 years in the top-ten in USAC sprint car points. 

 

GS:  That’s A LOT of races.  That’s A LOT of races if anybody tallies those up. 

 

KO:  For sure.  That’s a good stat.  Any more on that – that you want to touch on?

 

GS:  That’s one of my proud things.  Of course the national feature win, which a lot of people win bunches of races, but this was particularly hard for me to do because we financed this on our own.  It was Mr. Stenger, my dad, and myself.  It was very hard to do this sport and we adapted to the pavement and the American Race Tire.  In fact, we rolled that car out of victory lane that night on a flat tire.  The right rear was down.  So it was a great time.  It finalized everything that I’ve done and I’m very happy with that. 

 

KO:  That season of 1988, USAC brought pavement sprint cars back for the first time since the early ‘80s.  Something seemed so right about that series when thinking about it now.  There was lots of participation with converted dirt cars and at IRP, the racing was simply spectacular.  I was a dirt guy and loved dirt, but that racing opened my eyes to pavement.  In your opinion, can pavement racing ever get back to that excitement level or is there just no hope because the cars are too technical and too hooked up?

 

GS:  I don’t have a real honest answer on that.  I do know that ’88 was very exciting racing with us running the pavement.  I liked it a lot.  Of course I kind of cheated too.  Vogler, myself, and a couple of us guys had run midgets on the pavement so we had a rough idea of what was going on with it.  Some of the other people didn’t.  But that’s just the way it is.  We had a leg up on them for a short period of time.  But, the problem I’ve got now is that Raceway Park won’t even take a USAC sprint race.

 

KO:  Yeah.  They say they can’t make money on it. 

 

GS:  I can’t comprehend why that is but it is.  They wouldn’t take one from me when I was working with USAC.  They won’t take one now and I really can’t get it together in my mind as to why that is.

 

KO:  Well, Kevin Kotansky, from Kroger, who has worked with IRP on sponsorship for a long time, he says that they can’t make money on it.  But, he and I remember back in the day, in the ‘80s and ‘90s, that they always had a title sponsor for that race.  To me, if they get a title sponsor, maybe they can afford it.  Maybe they just don’t have the personnel there at IRP to get that job done?

 

In my opinion, 1988 was just a great time and provided some great TV.  I thought it made the series look pretty good. 

 

GS:  I think it advanced sprint car racing.  I think it helped sprint car racing – those Thursday Night Thunder shows and Saturday Night Thunder shows to be placed when they were, in basically prime time, and people enjoyed it.  They looked forward to watching it. 

 

KO:  I recall a USAC sprint car race at Eldora in June of ’88 when you finished 4th.  At the time, that was billed as the last wingless USAC sprint car race on dirt.  What were your feelings about USAC going to exclusive winged sprint car racing on dirt?

 

GS:  I thought it was preposterous.  I thought it was ludicrous.  To this day I can’t figure out why they did what they wanted to do.  Just basically for car counts, that’s what they were looking for.  I know it was.  But, I didn’t like it a bit.  I had a preference of non-winged racing.  When I started racing go-karts, they didn’t have wings on them.  And that’s what I wanted to be – a good non-winged sprint car driver.  I didn’t care about the wings.  I did it because it was a necessity.  And yeah we won some races with wings.  But I didn’t care for it as much – just my personal feelings. 

 

KO:  From the late ‘80s all the way through ’96 you faithfully followed the USAC sprint car series as one of the little guys, the owner-operator without much sponsorship help and having to work a full-time job.  So it was a tough deal.  In that range, you had some decent point finishes and we’ve already talked about that.  Second in ’88 was a big deal that I’m sure you were very proud of.  Fourth in ’89 and then third in ’90.  For a low dollar guy like you, how much was a championship on the brain? 

 

GS:  Every minute of every day, every day of every year.  I wanted a championship.  I wanted to be number one so bad but knew I didn’t have the finances to do it.  I tried everything in the world I could.  My desire level was at a max.  My determination level was at a max.  I couldn’t do any more.  It was like watching Pete Rose sliding into home plate head-first…I wanted to do this just as bad. 

 

KO:  So championship was on the brain, every minute of every day, but how proud were you of those solid points finishes, especially 2nd in ’88, 4th in ’89, and 3rd in ’90.  There were still some guys who you were racing with that had money, the Hoffmans being a perfect example.  Jeff Stoops, Johnny Vance – there were some guys in that series that had some dough.

 

GS:  It was difficult and I’m so proud of the finishes we did have.  If you look at these records, as many races as we ran, I believe it was in 1986 that I ran 86 races and kept a full-time job.  This is a feat.  Can you imagine some of these guys nowadays trying to run 86 races a year and work an eight hour a day job?

 

KO:  No, it doesn’t happen.  For the guys that do work, they might work a halfway job but nothing full-time.  Not to harp about the pride in your points finishes, but how proud were you? 

 

GS:  Incredibly proud.  I’m so proud of my second place finish ring that it’s my Super Bowl ring.  It’s my wife, my kids, my cars, my house I never had, my nice clothes I never had, the new cars I never had.  That’s wrapped up in that ring.  That may sound silly, but it’s a fact. 

 

KO:  Well, it’s what you wanted to do from when you were a kid.  So there you go.  Was it easier following the sprint car trail compared to the midgets?  Even though you still held down a full-time job, there wasn’t nearly the traveling involved.  Was it easier?

 

GS:  Much easier because of the locale of the racetracks you run.  You run Bloomington.  You run Eldora.  You run Findlay, Winchester, Salem, IRP.  It kept it within travel range to where you could go do it and still keep the job that I had.

 

KO:  Back when USAC dirt races were winged, what did you think about all the cherry picking from World of Outlaws and All Star guys?  I’m sure you had an opinion about it at the time. 

 

GS:  It pissed me off!  But that’s what they do for a living and I accepted that and that’s the way it is.  They do it to put food on the table and they do it for a living and that’s fully acceptable.  I envy them. 

 

KO:  So did you welcome or dread that kind of competition when you were going for a championship, especially in a day when there were no provisionals?   

 

GS:  It only made you a better racer but it could hurt you in the long term points standings.  To run against those guys you automatically became sharper and better than what you were doing.  But it also could hurt you points-wise if you got knocked out of the show by a Danny Smith or a Steve Kinser that came in to cherry pick or a Doug Wolfgang because they finished ahead of you in the heat race and you didn’t make the feature. 

 

KO:  You were picked to drive the famed Leader Card number 7 for A.J. Watson at the Hoosier Hundred of 1989.  You might have even driven it at Springfield the race before.  What kind of an honor was this for you? 

 

GS:  Incredible – Kevin.  That was one of the highest honors I’ve had to this day.  They asked me to hot lap it at Springfield because I believe Tom Bigelow was supposed to run it.  He got tied up on an airplane problem from Pocono and couldn’t get down there in time.  They stuck me in it to hot lap.  We went out to hot lap and this racecar was the most incredible feeling thing I’ve ever sat in my life.  It stuck.  It moved.  You turned the wheel, it turned.  You pushed the throttle, it went forward.  It was the greatest car I’ve ever felt.  And I was actually able to flat-foot the thing around the Springfield mile and I’ll never forget that as long as I live!  And we were the quickest car in practice that day. 

 

I came in and the cam drive broke on the water pump.  I could have fixed it because I knew how to fix it.  But A.J. Watson was with Bigelow, he wasn’t there.  So his helper guys, they somehow got a hold of him and they wouldn’t let me fix it.  So it got parked that day. 

 

Then I think we qualified 6th or 7th with it at the Hoosier Hundred.  I pulled out on purpose because I couldn’t see.  That was the night it was very wet, very muddy.  The sand was getting in my eyes and rather than crash the man’s beautiful racecar, I pulled in and he thanked me for it!

 

KO:  Wow!  I remember a lot of plugged up radiators that night.  A lot of overheating.

 

GS:  A lot of engines broke that night because of that.

 

KO:  So you wound up 30th at that race but you did manage to run 12th in it at DuQuoin.  What was it like working with A.J. Watson and have you figured out what made his car different than any other champ car you’d previously driven? 

 

GS:  He’s just a shrewd, sharp man.  His cars were the best.  That was the nicest feeling champ car I’ve driven to this day.  And it was just incredible.  Everything worked well.  You asked him to do this or that and he’d do it.  We tossed a few things around and I probably could have gotten a little bit better finish for him that day with a softer tire but for some reason, I was able to run softer tires than most people.  He probably went with his previous experience with the throttle stompers that chewed the tires off of them and we could have done better for him I think.  As it was, we parted friends and still are friends.  I still see him at El Rodeo for lunch every once in a while. 

 

KO:  Up until that point, was that THE career highlight, other than the USAC sprint car win?  I know you have done a lot of things that you’re proud of, but getting to drive for A.J. Watson, just thinking of the guys he has worked with, is incredible.

 

GS:  Exactly.  That’s probably one of the highlights.  I’d say that’s probably in the top two things that ever happened to me because it was a great honor and he was respectful for what I was doing too.  It was really neat.

 

KO:  Later that year, you competed with the All Stars at Orange County Speedway in Rougemount, NC, a quick little 3/8ths mile paved circle.  I think Jeff Gordon ended up winning but what was that like? Were you dizzy?

 

GS:  That was different altogether.  With a winged pavement car, I’d never done that before.  And that was a whole new experience too with how fast the corner speeds are and how fast you enter the corners with the thing.  I understand he was down there testing before we ever got there. 

 

KO:  But definitely a fast little joint.

 

GS:  Oh yeah.  And that’s where we learned to eat fried bologna sandwiches too, with pickles on them. 

 

KO:  Pretty good?

 

GS:  Very good.  Very good.

 

KO:  Do you still make them up here?

 

GS:  I don’t fool with it!  It’s not in my diet.  You know about the diet thing. 

 

KO:  The next year, you wound up third in USAC sprint car points, yet another thing you were proud of.  You collected fourth place finishes at Eldora, Winchester, and Wilmot, Wisconsin.  I know you liked Wilmot, but why?

 

GS:  I adapted to Wilmot for some reason.  It was just like an automatic.  We rolled in there and I believe we were third or fourth quick and we did well in the heat race and finished fourth in the feature with the potential to run second or third.  It was a close race.  I just liked the Wilmot racetrack.  I don’t know why.  There’s places you fall into that you adapt to and that happened to be one of them.  It’s like me with Grand Rapids – Berlin.  I love, love Berlin!  Some people adapt to certain places and it’s just one of those deals.

 

KO:  Also in ’90, you drove a midget for the first time in a long while for Eddie Griffith.  You also drove in a CRA race at Mesa Marin not too long after Billy Vukovich III was fatally injured there.  Earlier that year, of course Rich Vogler was killed at Salem.  Danny Milburn wasn’t too far after that.  Did you have any concerns about pavement safety at that time?  The cars were getting faster and pavement was no longer the series that USAC thought it would be in ’88 when they brought it back with a lot of converted dirt cars.  Were there things that worried you at the time when those guys died?

 

GS:  Any time you lose a friend like that, it bothers you.  But I wasn’t real concerned with the safety.  I just decided that everything and anything we could do to upgrade our belts and our head restraints and things like that…and this was before arm restraints.  There’s quite a bit of things that have come along since then.  But no, I really didn’t pay much attention to it.  I was too focused to try and do well at the races.  I probably should have been more knowledgeable of it but I wasn’t. 

 

KO:  In ’91, you were fourth at Berlin and I seem to recall several top-fives for you there in the years that followed.  In talking to Eric Gordon last year, I know he mentioned how much he loves that place and it wasn’t always because of the track itself, but also the fans up there who seemed so into the USAC deal.  Why did you like racing up there?

 

GS:   It was a track that I adapted to very quickly.  I don’t know why.  I can’t explain but maybe it was a go-kart thing years ago.  We raced another go-kart track that was smaller but similar to that design – a D-shape.  It was kind of like that.  The other thing, like you said, the fans were incredible.  It was just an incredible show of fan support up there.  They were hanging out of trees and hanging up on tree limbs and watching races from up above in the trees nearby.  And the place was just packed with people who shared a terrific amount of respect and enthusiasm for us. 

 

KO:  That had to make you feel special. 

 

GS:  Oh, it was great!  Great! 

 

KO:  Obviously the significant lowlight of 1991 was a Lakeside accident in September.  Thinking of Vogler, Vukovich, and Danny Millburn, who I’m sure was a friend of yours since you were his teammate at Eldora in the Silver Crown wars back in ’82, it seems like so many accidents had been happening on pavement.  And not too long after your accident, that’s when Wolfgang got burned at the same Lakeside track.   What happened with you and how devastating were the injuries? 

 

GS:  I went to pass Steve Butler in the Hoffman car on the outside in a heat race and the lights went out for me.  The car spun around backwards.  I apparently spun the left side of the car into the wall, hit my head on the concrete wall and it gave me a closed head injury and a shoulder separation on the left side.  The rest of it, I was just beat up in the other areas of my body.  But the head injury was critical and they didn’t know if I’d make it through the night or not. 

 

They were getting ready to drill my skull and take the pressure off because the brain was swelling so badly and for some reason on the second cat scan they caught that the swelling had stopped.  They saw it and they didn’t have to drill the proverbial hole in your head.  I spent several days in the University of Kansas Medical Center and after that I was flown home by Rod Urish, who volunteered from the Jayhawk Fan Club, to fly me home in his private plane.  I had no way to get home.  All my friends had to go back to work and everybody left.  I was pretty much in the hospital there by myself.  He flew me home and some people met me there at the airport and took me to my mom’s house and it took several weeks of trying…I broke my jaw.  I broke three teeth off flush with my jaw on this side.  It took several weeks to get myself back together.  That one was tough.  That was very difficult.

 

KO: So definitely your hardest crash?

 

GS:  Oh, no question about it! 

 

KO:  When were you able to get back to work after that accident?  That was in September. 

 

GS:  I was off ten days or nine days.

 

KO:  Still pretty groggy when you got back?

 

GS:  I was fuzzy for six months.  I’m not going to lie about it.  It was not good.

 

KO:  Your injuries didn’t keep you from being a car owner.  I remember that Stevie Reeves, Terry Shepherd (3rd at Four Crown), and Leon Thickstun (in a winged show at the end of the year at Paragon) piloted your equipment.  

 

GS:  That was the night we lost the car in a cornfield. 

 

KO:  Wow!  I forgot about that!  Did it come off the trailer? 

 

GS:  It came off the trailer on route 44 between Paragon and Shelbyville.  It ended up out in a cornfield and mowed down a bunch of corn stalks and sat out there in the field.  A Martinsville policeman found it with his alley lights on the top of the thing. 

 

KO:  I can’t believe you towed that way because I’ve been that way when it was light out, between 37 and 135, and that’s super tight and twisty…and at night?  You were brave.

 

GS:  It was a shortcut for us to cut down to Shelbyville. 

 

KO:  Had you even given any thoughts to retiring as a driver when you suffered those injuries? 

 

GS:  A lot of people wanted me to but stubborn German, pig head…I still had some things to prove.  I wanted another ring. 

 

KO:  Did watching those guys race your car, especially Terry Shepherd, motivate you to get better?    

 

GS:  Not really.  Terry’s been a great friend of mine for many years.  He just about won the Four Crown.  If we hadn’t broken a rocker arm that day, he probably would have won the Four Crown in my car. 

 

KO:  Man, that would have been awesome! 

 

GS:  That was a good racecar.  But no, I just wanted to race.  I still wanted to race and that was what I had to do and nothing stopped me from it.

 

KO:  By 1992, USAC returned to exclusive wingless racing. 

 

GS:  Yay! 

 

KO:  I’m sure you were happy and relieved. 

 

GS:  Oh yeah.  There was nobody any more happy than myself.  We were able to adapt back to that pretty quick because we were pretty good at it anyway.

 

KO:  For ’92, you hooked up with Carmel, Indiana’s Larry Fritz, a guy who specializes in repairing Jaguars – Just Jags.  The best finish I found was a 3rd at the Sheldon Kinser Memorial.  Were you fully recovered from your injuries by the time the racing season started in ’92?

 

GS:  Yes.  The reason for the split…Larry Miller was the other car.  It was a combination car owner thing there.  It was Larry Miller from Dayton and Larry Fritz from over there.  I tried to get them to coincide on the numbers so the points would turn out right for everybody.  Back at Eldora, the opening race, I led it for a little while and caught Frankie Kerr and passed Frankie Kerr.  We did ok right out of the box with those guys and then the thing got kind of cut back and the money ran out on both parts at the middle of the season and it didn’t really pan out at the end of the year like it should have. 

 

KO:  So you never got a Jaguar out of the deal?

 

GS:  No!  Heavens no.  He repaired them.  He didn’t just hand them out!

 

KO:  So for ’93, you did your own pavement sprint car deal and your own Silver Crown deal.  I remember that Silver Crown car, at least when you first got it a few years before, it was an Oz-Car and had that reverse gear in it.  I remember you backing it out of your pit area at Eldora.  I always thought that was kind of cool. 

 

GS:  I wanted to put a back-up beeper on it, like off of one of our garbage trucks that the city had.  I was never able to get it done. 

 

KO:  That was unique.  I don’t know that many people had the reverse gear on those cars.  But anyway, on the Indiana bullrings, you hooked up with Commiskey, Indiana’s Law Brothers. 

 

GS:  Very good.

 

KO:  I think you mentioned that they had a 430 cubic inch small block which had to be quite a horse on those short tracks.  Any thoughts about racing with the Law Brothers?  Any memories? 

 

GS:  Great people.  Great to deal with.  We had fun.  I darn near won the Bloomington thing when Cary Faas beat me with only just a few laps left.  I was hoping to win it for them and it didn’t quite happen but it ended up where we ran second. 

 

KO:  But what does it mean to you when you hear that guys like that are hanging it up for good after 2008? 

 

GS:  It’s a sign of the times.  I believe Roger is retired now and Vic is retiring soon or already has.  It’s just a sign of the times and the economics produce racecars that cost more than the guys can afford to run.  You know?  It’s very expensive to run these things nowadays.  They probably won’t be the last one we hear happen. 

 

KO:  July 16th of 1993, you just mentioned it.  You finished second to Cary Faas at Bloomington which would have been an Indiana Sprintweek show.  Faas hadn’t been to Indiana that long but he gassed it up and showed people a way…you saw it when you went out to the west coast…a lot of people hadn’t seen that style coming back to Indiana.  But if I remember right, Faas passed you on the bottom to win.  Is that true? 

 

GS:  Full crossways, full right lock, complete full Ascot slide right in front of me and on around and he was gone!  Just that quick.

 

KO:  Did you say that there was a lesson learned in that deal? 

 

GS:  I used one of my tricks.  I watched the lights.  I saw him coming.  And I saw him try it the lap before.  So I gave him enough room to where if he tried to come through there he didn’t take us both out.  And you could see the shadows in the lights at Bloomington…you can just glance at the shadows getting in the corner, look down at the shadow and you could see another car coming.  And I spotted him coming and gave him room to go.  Again, I wanted to finish.  I didn’t want to end up in a ball and of course I wanted to win, but this guy was faster than me.  What are you going to do?  There comes a point when you say this guy is faster, there is nothing you can do about it.  And he went on by me and he got the win that night.

 

KO:  It was almost a resurgence of sorts.  You had some good runs with the Law Brothers that year and maybe it rejuvenated you just a little? 

 

GS:  Not only that, but they were both good mechanics.  They both took care of their cars.  They had been doing it for awhile and they’re just good guys.  They knew what to do.  And they had good racecars.

 

KO:  1994 was rocked by the death of Robbie Stanley at Winchester in May. Any thoughts on racing with Robbie? 

 

GS:  I wasn’t that close with Robbie.  There was an age difference there between he and I but I was good friends with the family.  I was friends with his mother and father.  From traveling with them and being around them, you don’t have a choice but to be friends with people like that. 

 

Robbie was good.  He was very good.  It was very unfortunate to how that happened, for him to meet his demise. 

 

KO:  What do you think he could have gone on to do had that not happened?  I’m not sure he would have had the great opportunities down south, but do you think he would have scored a few more USAC championships? 

 

GS:  I’m sure.  I’m sure of that or possibly with the Indiana connections he had, he might have even been able to do an IRL thing.  At the time, Tony George was running Ed Carpenter in quarter midgets and I’m sure they were running Robbie’s father’s quarter midgets. 

 

KO:  Throughout the early to mid-1990s, you were a solid top-ten guy, night in and night out.  Were you content with this or did you feel a need to improve? By then, things were getting pretty costly for an owner/operator to succeed.  Knowing you, I’m thinking that you wanted to improve on that.

 

GS:  That’s a pretty accurate statement.  You got to the point where you saw, no matter what you did or how you went about it, you couldn’t improve your finishes because those cars were better than your car, which boils down to economics and I didn’t have the money to compete with those guys.  Just plain and simple.

 

KO:  Despite the increase in costs and need for testing on pavement, which seemed to become prevalent in the early ‘90s, USAC racing seemed pretty healthy in that era.  There were plenty of cars, lots of TV exposure, and all kinds of ingenuity was abound with different chassis, especially on pavement.  Looking back, were there better times for USAC than the early ‘90s?

 

GS:  The ‘70s were really good.  ’74, five, and six, for the USAC sprint division, that was really good.  I’d say ’72 and on up, ’72 to ’76 was great.  There were some good times in both eras.  It’s just hard to say.  But like you said, we had cars.  We didn’t have a problem with car counts.  It is what it is and economics dictate everything in our sport.  I hate to say that.  I hate to keep throwing back on that.  It sounds like I’m using it as a crutch but it’s just the bare-bones truth. 

 

KO:  July of ’96, we’ll fast forward onto that.  You had an on-track incident with Mark Cassella at Paragon.  What all did it break? 

 

GS:  Broke my left humerus on my left arm.  The car came into the cockpit and hit my arm and I ended up in Methodist Hospital with Dr. Trammel’s bunch.  They put me back together with a six inch piece of tubing with nine screws in it. 

 

KO:  So that’s still in there?

 

GS:  Oh yeah.  The bone has grown around it.  I saw the X-ray of it about five years later.  They did a great repair.  Cold weather is a bitch because you can feel that cold piece of steel in there sometimes.  But they did a great job and I got great treatment at Methodist.  I don’t think anybody could ask for anything better.  And that was a time when there was a realization that you’ve gone as far as you can as a driver in this sport.  There are other avenues you can pursue to still stay involved in the sport.  You can’t beat these kids with their money coming in.  You can’t beat the kids because they’re probably better than you now.  It’s called diminishing skills.  Diminishing skills happen with people and being able to be intelligent enough or brave enough to recognize that they’re happening to you…

 

KO:  That takes some balls.

 

GS:  Yes it does.  And there are people out there, some of them are friends of mine, that really need to take a second look at their skill from ten years ago to their skill from now…and say ok, I’m not as good as I was.  But I can do other things.  I’ve got a ton of knowledge.  I can do other things.  That’s precisely where we went from that point. 

 

KO:  In the latter stages of ’96, you decided to team up with another Cincinnati-area racer, an up and comer named Joey Kerr.  You ended ’96 together and planned for a full assault on USAC for 1997.  So other than debating about staggered numbers on the tail tank, what prevented you two from doing better?  I think the kid had some talent.    

 

GS:  Joey is a great guy.  He is a great fabricator.  He’s gone on to build some custom motorcycles that he’s nationally known for right now.  People here don’t know that but he’s tremendous at building these custom motorcycles. 

 

Joey had a different way of doing things.  You move into a group of people and they have a way of doing things and they don’t feel like your way of doing things is exactly like it should be done.  So it’s differences of opinions.  I took Joey to the Phoenix mile, he’d never been on a mile in his life, and with Tom Klein building the engine for us, he got up to seventh or eighth in the Desert Star Classic, and he’d never even seen a mile before.  And he was going forward and the engine expired – burned head gasket. 

 

It was a parting of the ways.  Joey wanted to go one way and I wanted to go another and it just didn’t go any further.  We’re still friends to this day and I respect his abilities a ton. 

 

KO:  This was a busy time for you.  In addition to car ownership and your full-time job with the city of Cincinnati, in the winter of ’96 you decided to take over the reins of the legendary Lawrenceburg Speedway for ’97.  What made you want to take on such a challenge like that? 

 

GS:  A love affair with that place that I had.  I loved the place from the time I was a kid.  I saw that it was not being maintained or taken care of like it should have been.  I thought a shot of new blood like myself may be able to resurrect it and make it more user friendly, make some changes and do some things like that.

 

KO:  What unforeseen issues existed with that position that caused you great stress?

 

GS:  Well your best friends call you four letter words within two weeks of running the racetrack.  You get M-F’d by your best friends because you have to be the decision maker.  You’re now the bad cop and there’s nothing you can do about it but move on and stand your ground.  And I’ve had toe-to-toes with people – that’s the way it’s going to be and this is the way we’re going to do it.  And in my heart I felt that I was doing the right thing, you know?

 

KO:  So anything else with The Burg that caused you headaches?

 

GS:  The floods.  The floods.  And the more floods!  (Laughing)  Being down in the sump hole, hooking the pumps up…  It’s an incredible physical amount of work involved in doing that.  Allen Barr came in, and he’s one of the best in the world on a grader.  He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever met.  And he taught me how to water the racetrack and he taught me how much water to put on the racetrack.  He did the grading because he was better at it than me.  He volunteered to come over and do it.  We had a great relationship with it.  The first two years, I flat-out sucked at preparing a racetrack.  After I understood how to do it and what to do, trying different things, there’s a combination you have to arrive at, and we found that combination.  The final two-three years, it was a good racetrack, all the time.

   

KO:  I can only imagine the amount of hours you were putting in a week.  You had your normal job and then working at the racetrack…you still had a racecar with Joey Kerr and then you did your own sprint car again.  From ’97 to 2000, did you get any sleep whatsoever? 

 

GS:   Not a whole lot.  It was really hard.  We kind of left Joey going – he moved over here (Indy) and Steve Stapp took him under his wing and they kind of did things together.  And I really didn’t get a whole lot of hands-on with that deal, which is probably another reason why had I been around more with him, maybe, maybe not, he might have done better.  Who knows because he didn’t have a lot of guidance.  A young kid just going out and doing it, it wasn’t fair to him. 

 

But the racetrack consumed my life.  The racetrack consumed me for four years and I’d learned a ton.  I still would do it again but under different circumstances because I enjoyed it that much. 

 

KO:  So how did you stay sane throughout those years?  You’re a pretty positive, upbeat guy, always seeing the glass half-full, but how did you stay sane when friends are calling you names and accusing you of this or that or whatever?  How do you live with that?

 

GS:  You become very callous to it.  You also have a firm way of looking at things.  If you are a firm believer and doing what you’re doing is the right thing to do, you stick with it no matter what.  And somehow that converts back to respect from the competitors.  If you have a rainout that night and you’re halfway through a feature and you tell them they’re going to be the first event next Saturday night, that’s what you’re going to do and they respect the fact that you’re telling them the truth. 

 

KO:  Eventually you had to give up the deal so what was the deciding factor there?

 

GS:  Oh, there were some other people coming in with promises that they were going to do this and that and the city government looked at it as a positive for them and they chose his contract over mine. 

 

KO:  But you would have kept on doing it had the city not changed their direction?

 

GS:  We had just gotten it turned around and just had gotten it where it was beginning to make money as opposed to losing money every night, which most nights it did except for special events.  I just did get it to where it was turned around and start to break even.

 

KO:  Were you glad to get away from being the guy running the show there or was there some regret in having to step away?

 

GS:  It started out being very regretful and after seeing how it was run later it was even more regretful.  But there’s a bit of relief involved.  I mean physically, I don’t think I could have done it anymore like I was doing it.

 

KO:  So what did it teach you about racing and racing people? 

 

GS:  There’s definitely two sides to everything.  There’s definitely two viewpoints.  Even though they respect you as a racer, they may not respect you as a promoter.  People have a false interpretation of promoters as they’re all thieves and crooks.  These guys work their butts off.  Jiggs Thomason, Mike Miles, these guys are all friends of mine.  Keith Ford.  They work their ass off to make this work, you know?

 

KO:  Those guys take a lot of financial risks every time that they have a show because there’s money that goes out before you even get any people in the gate. 

 

GS:  Jared and Reece up at Kokomo, those people work their behinds off.  And hard work is where it’s at. 

 

KO:  If you could have done something different with the racetrack and if hindsight is 20/20, what would you have done?

 

GS:  Well now, the Lawrenceburg city is upgrading the thing so much that I wish I would have had my bathrooms nice like they are now because they couldn’t even take care of the bathrooms for me back then.  But right now, there’s a bit of money to play around with down there that they can improve their properties.  That would have helped a ton. 

 

KO:  When somebody with money gets excited about a project, it’s amazing what they can do.  But it all comes down to money again. 

 

GS:  Absolutely.  Argosy’s tax contributions down there are making a world of difference in the city of Lawrenceburg. 

 

KO:  Question number 81, but who’s counting?  You’ve done everything in racing from driving, to car ownership, to duties as a mechanic, to toiling as a chief mechanic/team manager, to racetrack promoter/operator, to sanctioning body series organizer/official.  Is there something that you haven’t done?  What about announcing? 

 

GS:  I leave that to the likes of Rob Klepper and people like him.  There are gifted people on the mike that say and do the right thing and have the proper voice for it.  I realize where I don’t belong and I think that’s one of them. 

 

KO:  So that’s something that you haven’t done but is there something you haven’t done that you want to do?  I don’t know that there’s anything out there that’s left.

 

GS:  I’m open for suggestions if anyone wants to get ahold of me.  I’m not opposed to going back to running another racetrack for some people again, some day.  But it would have to be on my terms and it would have to be somewhat convenient because I don’t want to have to drive seventy miles a day to go to the event and do that. 

 

KO:  So after your Paragon injury in ’96, you plugged many a driver into the seat of your number 44.  A short list contains Tyce Carlson, Eric Gordon (you won some races with him in ’98), Kenneth Nichols, Joey Kerr.  How about Rust-O-Leum (Rusty McClure)?  Then there’s Mike Mann (3rd at Kokomo Sprintweek 1999), the legendary Allen Barr, Jason Setser (who won a championship for you down at The Burg), Critter Malone, Chris Coers, Johnny Heydenreich, Wil Newlin, Matt Westfall, Jeff Harris, Don Droud, Jr., and Mat Neely.  One of the names I forgot to put down on this list is Cary Faas!  Danny Smith, Terry Shepherd, Lealand McSpadden, Kenny Jacobs, and Dave Darland drove your champ car.  I don’t know that you can nail down one guy, maybe it’s a few guys, but who out of this group did you really enjoy working with?  You probably enjoyed working with all of them, so maybe I’m putting too much pressure on you.

 

GS:  Terry Shepherd was great.  Jason Setser probably was the most underdeveloped natural talent of the whole bunch that I’ve ever seen.  We’re not measuring him against Lealand McSpadden, but I pride myself in giving…because I was subjected to such late years of being allowed to get in a sprint car, and no one would let me get in a sprint car, that I went way out of my way to let these young guys get a ride.  Critter was one.  Chris Coers.  Jason Setser.  Jason Setser was an incredible talent until he had his injury at North Vernon in one of the Keith Kunz-mobiles. 

 

But they were all great!  Lealand was great to work with.  Kenny Jacobs was fantastic.  I mean I really can’t single one of them out.  But the most talent I’ve seen was Jason Setser.  He never sat in a sprint car before and won the first night out.  You don’t have that.  That just doesn’t happen.

 

KO:  That’s a once in a blue moon type of deal.  And is he still driving late models? 

 

GS:  I don’t know.  He lost his father two years ago I believe and I don’t know what he’s doing right now. 

 

KO:  But you ended up winning a Lawrenceburg track title with him in 2000, which I’m sure was special since you’d done it as a driver and then you did it as a car owner, while you were running the track.

 

GS:  Well of course I caught hell for that too.  We supposedly set the races up. 

 

KO:  People would say, “Oh, he’s got a good draw.  He’s starting on the pole!”

 

GS:  Exactly.  I heard that over and over again.

 

KO:  People always want to list excuses, some how, some way.  But we should say something about that.  Winning a title as a car owner, when you look back and think about it now, what does it mean to you?

 

GS:  I had to stay low key because I didn’t want it to look like it was fixed in any way.  It wasn’t.  There was no way anything was out of line.  I wouldn’t do that.  I’m not that kind of person.  But he (Setser) was just a good race driver.  I think he won three features that year with that car. 

 

KO:  I think he got a win at North Vernon in your car somewhere along the way too.  Obviously that title was a good feeling. 

 

In the years following your relinquishment of Lawrenceburg, you spent the majority of your racing time assisting Johnny Heydenreich’s Silver Crown effort as the crew chief.  Were you indeed the crew chief?

 

GS: Pretty much. I’d drive over from Cincinnati and maintain it.  I’d take care of it and go to the races with them.  Sharon Bank was the owner.  Stephanie, my girlfriend at the time, she and I would take care of things.  And my friend Vern would help me.  We took care of the racecar and I’m very, very happy with some of the great finishes we had with that car.  I pride myself on the car finishing those races.  And he did finish. 

 

KO:  The hundred mile races…I remember Eric Gordon talking about that with Phil Shuler – all the maintenance that you’ve got to get done.  The parts only last for a certain amount of time and you’ve either got to rebuild them or replace them.  So obviously you already knew that stuff.

 

GS:  And Eric Gordon is another great one.  He drove for me and he won several features for us too.  And he is another great race driver…an underrated guy who should have went further and didn’t.  The two people who stand out in my mind, in our group, that didn’t get to go any further, were Brian Tyler and Eric Gordon.  Brian is making a good living now down south but these two guys are great.  In fact, I’m very happy that I get to help on Brian’s car now. 

 

Yeah, the Silver Crown thing with Johnny, we came close to winning a couple of races and we should have won a couple of races.  But woulda, shoulda, coulda, it didn’t happen.  And now I’m focused.  I want to win a Silver Crown race as a mechanic now.  I haven’t done that yet and I want it in the worst way. 

 

KO:  It sounds like it could happen.

 

GS:  That’s “goal-oriented me” speaking right now but that’s what I want.

 

KO:  So is it possible to give an estimate of how many times you traveled back and forth from Cincinnati to Indy’s 21st Street and Country Club Road?  Do you have any idea?

 

GS:  I have no idea.  Sometimes it was twice a week back and forth.  But I have no clue.  You were riding by there seeing my car there all the time.  You know it’s a fact! 

 

KO:  Oh yeah!  I lived pretty close to there so I always saw what was going on at Heydenreich’s place. 

 

In the process, you must have logged many miles on your big Mercedes sedan?  I'm assuming that’s the car that you drove.

 

GS:  It was my white one that I eventually sold down the road.  I put a ton of miles on it and now I’ve got the blue one and it’s got 230,000 miles on it.  So yeah, they’re a pretty reliable vehicle. 

 

KO:  I know Pete Rose became a Porsche man because of insistence from brother Dave, but here I always thought you were a Ford man.

 

GS:  I was a Ford truck man.  I got to realize that the Mercedes piece is such a tough and durable piece that I like ‘em.  Plus, they go along with my German heritage.  It’s just an overall good deal for me and I’ll probably have one until the day I die, somehow.

 

KO:  So you like German food then?

 

GS:  Yes I do! 

 

KO:  Any good places in Indianapolis other than Rathskeller?

 

GS:  I haven’t been there yet.  We have a couple in Cincinnati that I’m familiar with but some of them have closed because they were in the ghetto areas, the riot problems and so forth.  Nobody would go down there and eat anymore.

 

KO:  Before you took your job with USAC, you worked for Tony Stewart Racing for a few weeks.  I don’t know how long of a time period that was.  I seem to recall a busy Toledo/IRP weekend thrash that you were involved with.  Did you see anything with Tony Stewart Racing that might have surprised you with the current state of affairs of the sport?      

 

GS:  (Thinking and sighing) They wanted for nothing.  They had everything and anything they wanted.  It was really refreshing to see that because I know how hard I worked.  Sometimes I would have to drive up here from Cincinnati just to get bolts and nuts for my racecar because Cincinnati wouldn’t even have it…a grade A bolt and nut or an aircraft bolt and nut.  Or a head gasket or an intake gasket.  I couldn’t get them in Cincinnati.  I had to drive up here to Galen Fox’s and get the parts up here.  So to see these guys have their parts right on the shelf, and everything right there, was very refreshing.  That was very cool.

 

KO:  The right way to do it.

 

GS:  Absolutely. 

 

KO:  Anything else that might have opened your eyes there?

 

GS:  There were a lot of people involved, a lot of people hanging around there a lot.  Tony Stewart’s an interesting guy and people flock around him.  He wasn’t around there that much.  In fact, I don’t recall seeing him in the shop but one time.  I wasn’t there that day.  I had a dental appointment. 

 

But it was interesting.  I worked for Larry Curry.  Larry brought me in to help the guys out.

 

KO:  Another Cincinnati guy. 

 

GS:  We were rookies with the Hoffman Indycar team in 1975. 

 

KO:  I’ve got a Hoffman Indy garage sign, number 79.  It was a backup car.  It has Larry Curry’s name on it but I didn’t see Greg Staab’s name on there. 

 

GS:  Well, Greg Staab was just a parts washer at the time.  But yeah, I was with those guys for a couple of years at the Speedway.  I learned a lot just by doing that too. 

 

KO:  Your move to Indianapolis was a big deal for you but certainly a long time coming. I’m sure a lot of people pleaded with you to move up here since you drove up here so much.  How long had you considered such a move and what finally pushed you over the edge to get it done?

 

GS:  Probably since I was 20 years old I wanted to live up here but I had jobs in Cincinnati.  I had my parents in the Cincinnati area.  And I had to stick with them.  There was no way I could move up here then.  Steve Stapp gives me the devil to this day because I didn’t move up here years ago.  But that’s just the way it is and I’m here now and I’m a happy dog about it.  I like it! 

 

KO:  Shortly after the Stewart deal, you started working for USAC.  I don’t know if it was the end of ’05 or the beginning of ’06, basically after Jason Smith announced he was leaving.  Was that in ’05?

 

GS:  Um-hmm. 

 

KO:  When you first started that job, did you feel like you were in heaven?  I remember you said that it was your dream deal.

 

GS:  It initially started out with the Laredo-Go, which is a Mercedes world record run, that Rollie needed some help with because nobody could go down there and stay 30 days in Laredo, Texas for this Mercedes-Benz diesel run.  It was really good and I got along with all the guys good.  Rollie saw an opportunity for me to go to work with USAC and utilize what I did know.  Jason was still there but it was my dream job, yes it was.

 

KO:  It seems like you said that was something you dreamed of doing once you retired from racing, either as a driver or a car owner.  Was that true?

 

GS:  When Gary Sokola was sitting in his seat in 1990, I said, “I want to sit in that seat some day.  I want that job.”  And I got it. 

 

KO:  So could life have possibly gotten any better for you?

 

GS:  Um, it was difficult there.  There were some difficult items.  It’s a hard job.  You catch more grief there then you do as a track owner.  And you’re constantly having to answer to people there.  It’s a pretty tough job but I liked it.  I loved it.  And I’m better for it.

 

KO:  You worked very hard at getting your schedules out early.  You also developed sprint and midget schedules that really appealed to USAC’s hardcore fans while also working to take the series to new places where they hadn’t been in a long time, Pennsylvania in particular.  With the midgets, you developed relationships with other sanctioning bodies to bolster the schedule, especially on dirt.  What were your goals in creating your schedules? 

 

GS:  Originally I wanted to go to 50 races with the sprint car division.  I was told I shouldn’t do that.  That was way too many races.  The USAC thing, there was such a constant controversy with the midget groups, back and forth.  I wanted to try to mend that, try to fix that.  Let’s get this taken care of.  We’re all grown men here.  Let’s make this work somehow.  I tried hard to make the POWRi thing work.  I tried with the Badger bunch.  It just was very, very difficult.  There were so many obstacles thrown at me that every time you had a goal or a plan, you’d have an obstacle thrown at you.  It was kind of strange.  So it turned out that a lot of it worked and a lot of it didn’t, but the Pennsylvania thing started out at three races and now it’s gone to five last year.  It could be more if somebody wanted to pursue it.  I’m no longer there to do that, so that’s entirely up to them.

 

KO:  What places did you want to take USAC to that you weren’t able to get done?

 

GS:  We came up short on the pavement a lot and I couldn’t understand why. I worked hard to get a third show into Winchester, which we got done. 

 

KO:  I remembered you said you wanted to go to a place like Mobile or Pensacola. 

 

GS:  I went to Mobile in person.  I went to Pensacola and Mobile in person, and had it within a few dollars, we’ll say, of bringing in a sponsor, and having both of those places locked in.  They both wanted us and they both were enthusiastic about having us but they wanted a sponsor brought along to help defer their expenses.  Both of those places are fantastic paved racetracks.  Incredible places.  And I went down in person and visited both tracks and it looked like it was going to be a done deal and it didn’t quite work out. 

 

KO:  You seem to be the type of guy to not sit still, continuously working to improve whatever it is that you’re involved with.  Maybe it’s that German heritage again.  Can you share with me your vision for the USAC sprint car and midget divisions?  I know you said 50 races, but was there a thought that maybe if a big enough sponsor could be obtained that this could be a full-time traveling series, where these guys could make a living off of it?  Or did you just want to focus on providing good racing? 

 

GS:  The thought of a full-time traveling thing is kind of off-beat because you have to have a sponsor to cover some of that, which we didn’t have.  I believe that fifty races is not out of the question.  This year’s schedule has 42 on it.  If you could get to Pensacola and a few more like that, bang, you’re at 50.  So it’s not out of the question to have 50.  I was told that we were cutting the races back and I didn’t know they were going to pursue this as heavy as they did.  This schedule is a very impressive schedule. 

 

KO:  This could be controversial, but were you concerned about your position with USAC when Kevin Miller was hired as President? 

 

GS:  Any time you see a new leader come in, there’s always a ray of worry.  There’s an element of worry.  When he started chopping heads at first, of course the worry increased.  I thought I was pretty stable with it and I thought I had done a good job with it.  I still feel very confident that I was doing the right thing.  I just didn’t fit into the program that he has.  And that’s fully understandable.  I accept that.  It’s not a bad bit of light on either party.  But I wish I could have stayed there to help out.  It didn’t happen that way and we’ll move right on. 

 

KO:  How much did the culture change from when Rollie was running things to when Kevin came in? Of course headcount was reduced, but was it a completely different culture?  Rollie had been a long-time car owner with USAC.  He knew the way things were run there before and he represented a continuation of the way things were done.  Did the culture change that much with Kevin?

 

GS:  It did.  It did in fact change.  The education part of it for Kevin was to learn exactly what everyone did, and to learn how this whole game worked.  I respect that Kevin has a major job to do and I respect him for his insight on the way he wanted to go about it.  It’s just two different paths and two different ways of going about it.  He brought in Jason Smith and Jason McCord.  Jason Smith knows what to do.  He knows how to go about it.  He’s very, very good at it.  Jason McCord has picked it up and he’s done very well too. 

 

KO:  Did you miss working with Rollie Helmling?

 

GS:  Rollie and I are great friends – have been great friends for years and I see him all the time.  Yeah, it was different.

 

KO:  It seems like he might have given you more leeway.  He knows that you’ve been around the sport and you know what you’re doing.  You’ve worked as a promoter.  Maybe you were given more room to work under Rollie’s leadership?

 

GS:  He gave me the sprint division when Jason left and said, “Here, run this like it’s your business.”  That’s exactly what we did and it worked.  It was working out pretty well I thought.

 

KO:  I enjoyed those years.  I’ll say that as a fan.  To me, I don’t know how it could have gotten any better as a fan from Indiana. 

 

GS:  Thank you!  That’s quite a compliment.

 

KO:  But that’s just my perspective as a fan, not to be blowing smoke up your ass.  This is my passion.  This is what I enjoy most from life.  I know I was enjoying it immensely when you were in charge of it.

 

So going back to the beginning of 2008, when did you find out that your job was in jeopardy? 

 

GS:  In May I believe it was, Kevin had reviews and my name was last on the list of reviews.  I knew right away there was something up because when you’re last on the list, that means everyone’s gone out of the building and it’s time to get serious. 

 

KO:  So that’s how you found out then – knowing it was a closed door meeting?

 

GS:  Correct. 

 

KO:  What reason were you given?  Can you even discuss that?

 

GS:  He cited a lack of passion for the sport and I had to question that one a little bit.  And my work ethic, he said I didn’t do anything back there in the office all day. 

 

KO:  Wow!  We just talked about that and it leads into my next question.  Kevin Miller claimed that you didn’t have enough passion for USAC.  But given your history with the organization that dates back to the early ‘70s, traveling with them all over the country, supporting them through thick and thin, especially when they didn’t have a ton of cars, and being a staunch USAC supporter, how badly did that anger and frustrate you? 

 

GS:  It was just a big question mark.  Where would this come from?  How could this be?  It was just a tough pill to swallow.  And then they kept me around for a little while, having a few things here and there to do.  It was bitter disappointment when you base your life around something and then something like this comes in and changes.  But I’ll move on and I’ll do just fine.  I’m very happy doing what I’m doing right now.  VERY happy with it!  I’ve got a great bunch of people to work with and it’s just a great time. 

 

KO:  Given Mr. Miller’s future plans for USAC, other than a few more pavement shows, the 2009 schedule looks a lot like the one you built despite the notion of them wishing to cut back on the number of races.  It looks a lot like the ones from 2006 to 2008.  But what’s your opinion on the current state of affairs for USAC?  Are they in trouble? 

 

GS:  I really don’t know Kevin.  I don’t know.  One thing you hear is the economic situation but apparently the Calistoga promotion went really well as I understand it.  They did a nice job on that out there.  So those are the things they need to do if there’s an economic problem.  You need to do more of those. 

 

KO:  Do you ever see a day in the near future when there might not be a USAC? 

 

GS:  I guess at this point, anything is possible.  With the economics the way they are and rumors of the building being knocked down and the street change down there, that would be the perfect time for something drastic to happen.  I don’t know.  It’s hard to say.

 

KO:  If you were in charge, what changes would you enact immediately or over a period of time to help save USAC from extinction?     

 

GS:  (Ponders for a bit) A little bit more user-friendly approach to the history of USAC.  It’s being pushed aside now due to the computer age and they’re appealing to the younger people.  There are still A LOT of old USAC fans out there.  Not because I’m older…

 

KO:  Well, I’m becoming an old USAC fan and I’m 37. 

 

GS:  Exactly.  The computer age is being pushed onto the scene heavily right now.  This is a good thing, but I wouldn’t short change the older people, 37 and older, who still enjoy a good USAC race at Winchester.  They don’t all have computers.  They don’t all live by the computer age.  And this seems to be bypassed right now and I feel for those people. 

 

KO:  You’re working for a Silver Crown team right now.  Of course three years ago they went to the new style cars for the pavement but now that the older cars are back the car owners aren’t coming out to support it like in the past.  What’s causing that?  What’s wrong with the Silver Crown series?  Not that there is anything particularly wrong, but why aren’t the owners coming out to support it?  Maybe you don’t have the answer?

 

GS:  I don’t have a true answer, but I have a feeling.  I may be wrong, but this is my opinion and I’m allowed to have this opinion.  I feel that for years and years, Silver Crown teams and cars, families, people, they had these cars and they went to the races.  It became a way of life.  Well the other change came in with the new cars and those cars, the older cars, were yanked away by the new car.  Now these people have found a way to fill that void on a weekend of Springfield, on a weekend of DuQuoin, on a weekend of the Hoosier Hundred.  They have now got a cottage on the lake.  They’ve got a trailer on the lake some place, ball games to go to or they’ve got another way to fill that void.  And I think that void is being filled by other items now in the entertainment area.  They may go to King’s Island.  They may go to the Gulf Shores.  They may go to the gambling boat or the casino.  Who knows!  But I’ve got a theory that the people who have gone away have gotten their feelings hurt by the elimination of their racecars they had a passion for and they found other ways to fill that void for the weekends.

 

KO:  That very well could be.  It reminds me of baseball.  In ’94 when they had the strike, I was a hardcore Reds fan.  I haven’t really followed it since then.  That’s when I started hitting the racing hard.  I found other ways to spend my time and here I am.  I haven’t gone back. 

 

GS:  My point exactly!  I’m sure that’s happened to several.  I can’t name a team.  I can’t tell you exactly who would be involved in a change like that, but I bet you that has happened.  That would be my opinion.

 

KO:  Next question – kind of a different area - if another wingless sprint car organization, doesn’t matter who it is, came into the Midwest, paid a larger purse and didn’t demand entry fees from its car owners, you think it could it overpower USAC? 

 

GS:  USAC is a very, very strong name.  USAC has the numero uno, on the pedestal name.  That’s going to be very hard to overpower.  You may become very popular.   And you may produce a fast and efficient show that pays more and is more user-friendly to the racers and the fans, but you still have that USAC emblem.

 

KO:  So you’re confident that the name still has some clout?

 

GS:  Unless they anger more people, they’re going to be the number one group. 

 

KO:  So throughout the mess of 2008 and losing your full-time status with USAC, you still jumped in to help the sanctioning body whenever possible.  Did you have any other job offers after the USAC deal that you can divulge?  Who were some of the people who contacted you about your services? 

 

GS:  Yeah, there was a call that came from down in the southwest from Tommie Estes to call Emmett Hahn to branch out and bring the TNT Tour up to the Midwest which still hasn’t really been dropped completely.  I went to 80-something races and 70-something races and then 77-something races, three years in a row.  I’m kind of recovering from all the USAC races right now.  So I don’t know if I really want to work that hard and go back to doing a big deal but it’s not out of the question.  I’m supposed to see Emmett, but I never did get to talk to him out west.  Eventually we’ll talk.

 

KO:  Any other people?  Any other interesting names that called you?

 

GS: No, not really.  Or none that I can talk about anyway.

 

KO:  That’s fair!  We want to keep this on the up and up and not burn any bridges because I know you have so many years left in the sport.  This piece is to promote you and not slam anybody else. 

 

Now you are working for the big man at Jet Star Trucking, Darryl Guiducci, who is also the big man at 6R Racing.  What is your current position with the team and how did you decide that it was the place for you?

 

GS:  They were short on help and it’s really not a paying position.  They take care of you in going to the races and they take care of your expenses and so forth but I’m the crew chief on the 19 car that Mike Murgoitio and Kody Swanson drive.  I maintain it.  I work out of the shop up there and I help them.  It’s not a paid position by any means but they’re good people.  Darryl is an extremely outgoing ambassador for the sport.  He’s one of the best people the sport could possibly have.  It’s just really neat to work with Darryl and Chuck Castor and Bernie Hallisky.  We’ve got a pretty good team going there.  I’m very meticulous with my work.  I like to have cars finish races.  They say I’m too slow and they laugh about it being slow.  Well, I’m slow because I want this to work.  I don’t want something falling off of it, you know!

 

KO:  One thing that stands out when I think of Greg Staab is his positive outlook on life.  With very few exceptions, you never seem to have a bad word for anybody, always taking the high road.  Where did this come from? 

 

GS:  If anybody out there is listening and knew my father, my father could go to a tree and get a conversation out of it.  He was pretty much like that all of the time.  He was 90 percent in a good mood all of the time.  I’ve watched him.  I’ve watched other people I’ve been around in my life that are similar to that.  I’ve had some pretty good role models. I’ve had the work ethic role model with Pete Rose, watching him work.  My father was a very hard worker.  I had some other bosses who were very good workers.  Tom Soudrette, who started helping me out in my beginning racing years, his grandson Jason is running at Lawrenceburg now, he taught me a lot.  Claude “Buster” Lowther, who ran with Jimmy Davies in the USAC midgets for years, he was hard on me too but he also taught me a lot about life.  I’ve had several people who have been influential in casting my personality – mainly my father.  My mother was a great mother, but she didn’t have quite the outgoing approach to things.  I’ve got a lot of people to thank for that. 

 

KO:  From a personal standpoint, I don’t ever recall a marriage being associated with your life.  Have you ever been married?

 

GS:  No sir.  No marriages for me. 

 

KO:  Married to racing?

 

GS:  I am what I am and that’s what I am.  I don’t see any reason for that (marriage) right now. 

 

KO:  The nickname of “The Dog” – I’m curious how you got that because I started seeing it on your cars in the early ‘90s.  Was that given to you by one of your female acquaintances by chance?

 

GS:  Steve Stapp! Steve Stapp started calling me The Dog because I’d crawl up anywhere and go to sleep.  I was just like an old dog and he threw the dog thing on me. 

 

KO:  And then you started lettering your racecars that way.

 

GS:  Well, if you’re going to call me a dog, I’ll put it on the racecar!  But it was funny.  It was fun to play with.  Steve Stapp started that shit.

 

KO:  But it stuck!

 

GS:  Yeah!  And I’m ok with that!  In most circles of socialization, dog means you can go around and hump anything and anybody.  Well, I don’t think that’s really where the nickname was going, but there may be a little bit of that in there.

 

KO:  In the sprint car fraternity, I don’t know of anyone else who has been more religious when it comes to exercise and pumping iron than you.  No matter how late of a night it was after the races, no matter if you’re away on business in California, you’re always at that gym pumping iron early in the morning.  Has it always been that way? 

 

GS:  In 1985, my friend A.J. Esterkamp bought me a membership to the health club in Cincinnati called Covedale Sports Center.  I immediately saw a difference in ’85 that I was not falling out of the racecar anymore.  I was stronger than people.  I was doing better in longer races.  Sitting straight up for thirty laps, it was making a difference.  I did it all my life anyway.  And from ’85 and on I really, really worked at it.  I’ve backed off lately because I’ve been sick.  You know for a fact that I’ve been after it and I always have. 

 

KO:  So what’s your routine?  Weights only or cardio too?  What do you like to do there?

 

GS:  It’s off and on.  I’ll start cardio here in about a month – heavy – before racing season starts.  I’ve backed off of it now because of my knees, hips, and feet.  But normally just weights…free weights – pretty extensive.  I do pretty well for a sixty year old guy.  You won’t see too many people lifting like that.

 

KO:  I just ran into an eighty year old guy at the gym today.  He was still pumping iron and he told me it makes him feel young.

 

GS:  It feels good!  It’s kind of an adrenaline rush I guess. 

 

KO:  You may have already answered this but I just want to be sure to get this down - what’s the most entertaining racing story that you can tell without getting anyone in serious trouble?  You’re a guy that’s been around racing for a long time and we both know racing people know how to have a good time, laughing and joking.  I don’t know if there’s one racing story that stands out and involves you…

 

GS:  Actually the car falling off the trailer coming from Paragon that night was one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever done.  It scared the hell out of me at the time, but that made it to UPI, United Press International.  It made it all over the country – about me losing a racecar and it ended up in a cornfield at four o’clock in the morning.  It was spooky at the time because there’s my life, my money, my cylinder heads, my engine!  Everything I owned – GONE!  Those Southern Indiana boys don’t play.  They’ll take that shit and hide it and you’ll never find it.

 

KO:  So how fast did you know that it was off the trailer?

 

GS:  I drove all the way to Shelbyville – pulled into the Bigfoot Station to get fuel and noticed that the racecar wasn’t on the trailer when I got out to put fuel in the truck.  I told the girl I was with – “Hey, the racecar’s not back there!”  She said, “Oh quit joking around!”  I said, “I’m telling you now!  The racecar’s not back there!” 

 

We backtracked.  I went straight to the Martinsville police station.  A Martinsville cop came out, turned on his alley lights, driving up route 44.  There were my four-by-fours laying there that I shoved under the car to keep the car from bouncing.  I said, “Those are my four-by-fours.  That thing’s around here somewhere.” 

 

He said, “How do you know those are your four-by-fours?” 

 

“It’s because I put them together. I nailed them together and this is my stuff.” 

 

He said, “Ok.  If you say so.” 

 

So he turned the alley lights on and started shining them out in the field.  As we crest the top of the hill, you could see the corn stalks mowed down and there’s our racecar sitting out there in the middle of the field.

 

KO:  That was kind of a crazy night.  It seems like down there at Paragon, there was a fire or something like that. 

 

GS:  And a storm.  There was a helluva storm.  That’s why the thing didn’t get tied down.  I was trying to keep from getting soaking wet and I didn’t tie it down properly. 

 

KO:  There WAS a storm coming!  It was simply a strange night.  They even had an Australian pursuit race that night.  About every weird thing that could happen took place. 

 

Moving on, can you tell me what one thing is the best thing that’s happened to you because of racing?  Is it the friends, the respect – what’s the best thing?  And you can take all the time you need to think about that.

 

GS:  Two things.  I set goals.  I accomplished a lot of goals.  Even though they were small goals for some people, I accomplished those goals.  Championships at Lawrenceburg.  USAC sprint car driver – didn’t win a championship, but I came close.  National TV win – that was beyond any goal.  That was beyond what I thought I could ever make.  I’ve overachieved by a mile from what I thought I could ever do. 

 

The other one is the respect factor all across the United States.  If I was in Atlantic City right now, I could walk into the Atlantic City trade show right now and there’d be 50 to 100 people who would know who I was.

 

KO:  Go out to Phoenix and it would be the same way?

 

GS:  Skagit, Washington.  Southern California.  And that’s a really, really good feeling to know that many people respect what you’ve done, even though it’s not world-beating and it’s not a Formula One championship, it’s a respect level.  I hadn’t seen Doug Wolfgang in years and he had that terrible head injury…he actually remembered me at Atlantic City last year when he was with Dave Argabright.  I hadn’t seen him in 15 or 18 years.  So that’s kind of neat.

 

KO:  So did you ever own an enclosed trailer for your racecar?

 

GS:  I have never owned one.  Mr. Stenger owned several enclosed trailers.  And we had ‘em in the ‘80s.  But I have never owned one myself – no. 

 

KO:  It’s just a question I had.  I remember seeing your open trailer at Williams Grove…even in ’96 it was rare for people not to have an enclosed trailer.  I would guess the last time you towed out to Manzy, which might have been 2002 with Matt Westfall, did you borrow one for that trip?

 

GS:  I borrowed Tom Burkey’s trailer to go out there.

 

KO:  It’s always good to have that when you’re making the long tow and having to stay in a motel.

 

So if you had an all-time favorite venue, could it possibly be Lawrenceburg Speedway? 

 

GS:  My favorite racetrack?

 

KO:  Yeah. 

 

GS: I’ve done so many of them Kevin, it’s hard to say.

 

KO:  Maybe there’s not just one…a top three?

 

GS:  A top three.  Berlin.  Winchester.  Ascot Park. 

 

KO:  Awesome!

 

GS:  Ascot Park!  Maybe not in that order, but I had to come up with a dirt track out of the deal.

 

KO:  So Ascot just had everything?

 

GS:  Including Leslie Bremer! 

 

KO:  Exactly!  It was definitely the place to be.  It was always a place I wanted to go to but I never had the chance.  It still bothers me to this day.  When I was on my honeymoon out in California, I found where Ascot was and I got some of the dirt that was still there.  Nothing had been built on it.  I brought it home in a baggy.  I still have it.

 

GS:  I got to see the Spruce Goose.  I got to see the Queen Mary.  I got to see Mount Saint Helens.  Mount Rainier.  I got to be on top of Pikes Peak.  There’s just so much shit I’ve done, just all from racing.

 

KO:  Is there a favorite win?  The TV deal at IRP has to be at the top because it was so special.  You know, maybe there were some other wins at The Burg or Florida…

 

GS:  The Volusia County win was good.  That state championship thing was fantastic.  The Road Runner 50 at Putnamville in 1983 or ’84 where I beat everybody.  They were all there and I won that.  That was good because I went with no crew.  I ran a winged show at Chillicothe, got back from Chillicothe and nobody wanted to go.  They were all worn out – too tired.  Got back too late…yadda yadda.  I stayed at the garage all night, set the car up, called Rickie Hodgkiss, my friend, and said, “You want to go to Putnamville with me?”

 

He said, “Hell yeah I’ll go.  Who’s all going?” 

 

I said, “Nobody.  I don’t have any help.”  He and I went and we KICKED THEIR ASS!  It was NEAT!  Including Vogler.  Including Larry Rice.  I think Ron Shuman was there.  They were all there.  It was an afternoon show.  I started on the front row.  I muscled my way into the lead and I didn’t give it up for nothing. 

 

Those are good ones.  The TV race was of course a good one. 

 

KO:  Hell, maybe some races you didn’t win were also memorable?

 

GS:  The Toledo race.  Sprint cars.  1990 or ’91.  Jeff Bloom, me, and Gary Fedewa exchanged spots. 

 

KO:  Hey, how are you doing?  (As Greg’s cat hops up onto the table directly in front me.)

 

GS:  That’s Ralph.

 

KO:  Hey Ralph! 

 

GS:  Ralph’s the diabetic cat.  He gets a shot of insulin every morning at 7. 

 

The three of us exchanged third, fourth, and fifth spot and we never touched, thirty laps, never touched!  Swapped, traded, passed, passed, boom, pass – never touched! 

 

KO:  That’s kind of hard to do at Toledo because it’s kind of narrow.


GS:  The three of us just grabbed each other in one huge, three-way hug afterwards.  It was one of the neatest races I’ve ever done.

 

KO:  Anything else you can think of?  I can’t think of anything because I wasn’t around to see a lot of the stuff in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. 

 

GS:  As petty as it may sound, a heat race win at Ascot one night – I won a heat race out there and beat Shuman and all those guys one night too.  That stands out.  Even though it was only eight laps, I did it!

 

KO:  That HAD to be a highlight when that’s one of your favorite places, you’re a long way from home and you’re out there racing against some studs.

 

What about this question…is there one person in racing you respect the most?  Maybe there’s not just one but several? 

 

GS:  Wow!   

 

KO:  A guy like Tom Stenger was a guy that you admired.  A.J. Watson?  You mentioned him.  Maybe the guy from Don’s Crankshaft, Don Kemper?

 

GS: There’s ten names.  You couldn’t single one out.  It would be unfair to the rest of them.  I don’t know.  Tom Stenger would be one.  A.J. Watson would be another.  Ronnie Shuman would be another.  You got that one on there too, the best driver you raced against?

 

KO:  Oh…we’re getting there.  I think I skipped that question, or at least the question of favorite guy to race against.

 

GS:  Not favorite – BEST!  I say Ronnie Shuman is the best non-winged race driver.

 

KO:  He was a money racer.  He would finish and finish up front.

 

GS:  He was the best.  That’s my opinion.

 

KO:  That falls into the respect deal obviously. 

 

GS:  Yep.  Yep.  How many Turkey Night wins?

 

KO:  Eight?  I think…he’s done it all.  Raced with the World of Outlaws and had some success there.  So he’s the best guy you raced against.  How about your favorite guy to race against?  It could be anyone from the midget days like Steve Lotshaw.  Sprint cars – down at The Burg…

 

GS:  Leon Thickstun or Kerry Norris or Danny Milburn.  Geez, that’s tough!

 

KO:  A lot of guys hated racing against Jack Hewitt because he was so hard to beat.  Tray House talked about that.

 

GS:  WOW!  That’s hard.  That’s another hard question.

 

KO:  Maybe it’s too broad of a question because there were so many?

 

GS:  Yeah.  It encompasses so many. 

 

KO:  So we talked about your favorite win, your favorite guy to race against, the person you respected the most in racing…so we can leave it at that.  You’ve had a career that’s spanned many decades so it’s hard to nail down just one. 

 

Moving on, is there one thing that pains you the most about the current state of affairs of short track racing?

 

GS:  Economics have not been addressed properly to get things in order to help corral the expenses so more people can do it, if that makes any sense.

 

KO:  It does.  Back in the day, you could still make up the difference with smarter setups and driver skills.  There’s a lot more access to equal stuff now whereas maybe there wasn’t before.  It’s just come down to credit card racing.

 

GS:  Our sport’s always been a money sport but it’s far more prevalent now than it ever was before.  It took me four years of racing sprint cars to get my first set of Carrillo connecting rods.  And I slept with them.  I put them in my bed with me.  It took me, phew, everybody else already had aluminum blocks and it took me an extra three years to get an aluminum block.  And we had to take one of C.K. Spurlock’s broken ones, bring it back home to get it fixed, to get our first one.  And then they outlawed it! 

 

KO:  So the money situation and not really addressing it is your beef.

 

GS:  Mmm-hmm.  The DT-3 tire thing, in the Midwest area, I thought was going to help a lot.  And I think it did, but then it created a situation for a lawsuit where Hoosier and McCreary were suing each other. 

 

KO:  You mentioned the deal out at Ascot when Stan Atherton flew out of the park and landed on some cars, but was that the wildest thing you’ve seen happen at a racetrack? 

 

GS:  Pretty much stands out.  If anyone asks me, that’s the one that pops up.

 

KO:  I just wondered if anything else stands out as being semi-crazy.  Dickie Gaines almost flipping up into the stands at Bloomington.  That’s going up and I don’t know how that happened. 

 

GS:  There was a time in 1987, maybe, that we started running a west coast race at Ascot.  We came down for the green and ran into the corner and everybody’s pulling tear-offs because it was gooey and tacky and nasty.  I saw something fly up and thought it was a tear-off, no big deal.  I came off the corner and when we got to the backstretch, it’s red.  Everybody slowed down and parked at the end of front stretch, up by four.  Here’s Richard Griffin.  He’s stuck up in the fence, higher than Dickie Gaines ever thought he was going to be, in turn one, hanging like this (gesturing) out of the car, knocked out cold.  He flipped from the flag stand, all the way down, and got snagged in a cable where the front axle caught it and hung it in the cable. 

 

So I walked down there.  They’ve got a bucket loader coming in and they’re going to pull him out.  It’s going to take forever to get this mess cleaned up.  I walk down and I’m standing there next to Jimmy Oskie.  And he’s standing there like this with a drink in his hand and a ham sandwich.  He looked at me and said, “Staab, if I knew it was going to take this damned long to clean up, I’d have brought two ham sandwiches!  I would have brought you one!” 

 

Just crazy.  Crazy!

 

KO:  Has there ever been a time that you’ve been burned out on racing? 

 

GS:  At the end of every season everybody gets burned out on racing.  Everybody gets wore down and everybody gets burned out and it’s only a short time burnout.  The difference I had was with Cincinnati.  Up here, everybody keeps racing and keeps on racing.  Back in Cincinnati, I was the only one that did that, so I kept on racing.  I had a goal to get one car done, rebuilt and ready to go by Turkey Night.  By Christmas, I’d have the other one done.  Rebuilt, blasted, painted, everything done.  I pretty much met those goals every time I did it.  I never stopped.

 

KO:  You were setting those goals, even when it wasn’t racing season.

 

GS:  Christmas day I’d catch hell because I would work on the racecars in the morning for a couple of hours. 

 

KO:  Do you think you’ll ever get tired of racing?

 

GS:  I don’t think so.

 

KO:  It hasn’t happened yet, even with the burnout factor every year.

 

GS:  The injuries.  The job differences.  The race track going away at Lawrenceburg.  This is my life.  It’s what I do. 

 

KO:  I saw a video on You Tube of you driving a replica vintage Shaw Sprinter at the Hoffman fish fry.  How cool was that thing?

 

GS:  It was very cool!  And if I had belts on, I would have pushed the throttle and got ‘er sideways, but I didn’t have belts on at the time. 

 

KO:  Was there an Offy in that?

 

GS:  That was a flathead V-8 Ford. 

 

KO:  Even though that thing wasn’t “real”, I wonder if you’d driven a car like that anywhere before.

 

GS:  No.  The closest thing to that was that Offy midget that Tom Dickinson had – that Kurtis Kraft Offy midget. 

 

KO:  So how did that car feel?  I don’t know that you were able to get it up to speed.

 

GS:  It felt good!  It spun the wheels and it did a little jiggy-jaggy.  In fact, they were supposed to let me run it around Winchester at the Old Timer’s Weekend this fall.  But it’s got wire wheels on it so I have to be real careful with it. 

 

KO:  So you just drove it around their parking lot?

 

GS:  It’s a pretty big area.  They’ve got a big area, a big spread.  I took it around a little bit.

 

KO:  So speaking of the Hoffmans, they’re from Cincinnati and you’re from Cincinnati.  How come you two never hooked up? 

 

GS:  I was on their radar screen a couple of times to drive for them.  The way they do their drivers is that they put them up on a board and they list their plusses and minuses.  And I fell down in flat places like Terre Haute and Granite City and I stood out in short tracks and Eldora.  And there were highs and lows and I didn’t meet their standards. 

 

KO:  That’s an interesting way of charting potential drivers.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard of that but I guess if you have to pick somebody, there have to be pros and cons.

 

GS:  Sure.  It’s just like it took them two years to put Jerry Coons in their pavement car. 

 

KO:  Yeah.  He did alright in the midgets on pavement.

 

GS:  Yeah!   He won at Salem.  He could win.

 

KO:  So of course with a career that has spanned so many years, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask if there are any regrets for things that you didn’t accomplish that you wanted to.  Is this even the case?  You’ve been pretty thankful for what you could accomplish and you have mentioned that you never dreamed you would have gotten this far.  Still, were there any regrets for things you didn’t get done yet?

 

GS:  I wanted the national championship for the sprint cars.  When I realized it was within grasp, I wanted number one.  I couldn’t get it.  I got number two.  Pete Rose gave me hell about that in Vegas when I showed him my number two ring.  He said, “What’s this?  Number TWO ring?  Take that and get it out of here!”  He was on my ass about it. 

 

To me, that’s a great accomplishment.  Not to Dave Darland.  He has a lot of rings.  But he’s been a full-time racer for 12 to 15 years.  I was a worker and living in Cincinnati.  It’s very difficult to do a sport that you’re on your own with in a town where there is no racing.  So I’m very thankful and as far as regrets, there’s one or two years I shouldn’t have chose the routes on cars I was driving and so forth but it’s the way it is and I made a mistake. 

 

I do want to win a Silver Crown event as a mechanic.  That’s THE goal in my mind, right now, burning, BURNING. 

 

KO:  So you pretty much answered my next question and we must be on the same page – about the things that you still want to do in racing.

 

GS:  At sixty years old do I still have goals?  Am I goal oriented?  Absolutely!  Positively! 

 

KO:  So how is life in Indianapolis?

 

GS:  I love it!  I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

 

KO:  What was your main reason for getting out of Cincinnati?  I know we’ve partially covered this, but was it all the riots, crime, and crazy stuff going on there or was it just that you wanted to be around racing people?

 

GS:  Poorly run town.  Poorly, poorly run place.  It’s poor on its maintenance of its streets.  It’s poor on its city government.  The attitude of its people is negative -  95 percent of the people are negative and down-trodden at all times.  And it’s just such a very, very negative, not such a good place at all.  And a lot of crime.  A lot of crime. 

 

KO:  Racing has always been on the brain for you but as far as anything outside of racing, do you follow baseball, football, or anything like that?  Bengals?  Reds?

 

GS:  I wanted to see the Bengals have a good season but it isn’t going to happen anytime in the near future with Mike Brown running it. 

 

KO:  They are not spending the money like they should be?

 

GS:  They won’t spend the money.  They let three really good players go this year.  And they’re all playing on other teams.  Tomorrow I’ll be glued to both playoff games.  You won’t be able to drag me away with a tractor, but yeah, I’m a football guy.  Always have been.  I played football for years.

 

KO:  So you like their stadium down there?  I’ve been to it a couple of times.

 

GS:  I haven’t gotten to go to the new one yet.  I’m waiting on Rico from Fatheadz who told me he was going to take me to a Colts game this year.

 

KO:  I just wondered about the Bengals’ stadium. 

 

GS:  Oh!  I haven’t been to that one yet.  I’ve been to Riverfront many times when it was there.  I haven’t been to the new Paul Brown yet either.  I don’t care about it. 

 

KO:  So are you a Colts fan now that you’re in Indy?

 

GS:  Pretty much!  Pretty much!  I really like Tony Dungy but now he’s gone so that leaves the new guy Caldwell…

 

KO:  There’s only one Tony Dungy. 

 

GS:  Personality – he had a great personality.  He’s a good person.

 

KO:  People like working for him. It’s kind of hard to replace that.  But I just wondered what other stuff you liked to do.  Racing has been a big focus but of course there’s always some other outside interests that get you going.  I have an interest in railroads, different things like that.  You mentioned your dad worked for a railroad, so I didn’t know if you liked that too? 

 

GS:  I did.  I used to have the model trains – the Lionel train sets and all that stuff.  Racing just became the focus.  I had to give up baseball for racing.  I had to give up football for racing.  I had to give up hockey for racing.  I played hockey for awhile – goaltender obviously – what else would I have been?  I played center and guard in a 165 pound semi-pro football team for three years and I’d knock you down!  I enjoyed knocking people down.  That was great! 

 

KO:  Anything I missed that you wanted to discuss?  My last question is people to thank in racing, which I am sure you have some that we may not have touched on.  But is there anything I missed on your career that we didn’t talk about that you want to discuss? 

 

GS:  Probably the go-kart years – they were kind of bypassed in our conversations. 

 

KO:  I wondered about the success there because there aren’t records of that out there for public consumption, but we can talk about that.

 

GS:  It’s hard to say but there was a group that raced in Harrison, Ohio.  They had a paved track. 

 

KO:  I saw some pictures in your scrapbook of Harrison. 

 

GS:  One night, a USAC midget show at Richmond got cancelled.  Some of the USAC midget cars came down to the go-kart track, pulled out in the parking lot and there were three of them, on open trailers – just BEAUTIFUL racecars!  And that was another thing that got me wound up – was to drive one of them someday. 

 

But the go-kart track was good. It taught me a lot of stuff and they took time to teach you.  It was pretty cool. 

 

That’s really it.  We’ve covered pretty much everything.  You’ve done a helluva job. 

 

KO:  I’ve just tried to pick things out of my memory and then I read through the results on Kevin Eckert’s site.  I clicked on the results to see more details and was able to figure out more questions to ask. 

 

But what about people to thank?  I know you had your guys Noppert, Schwarm, and Martini.  Tom Dickinson.  Tom Stenger.  Don Kemper. 

 

GS:  But the problem is most of ‘em are dead!  Tom Soudrette of course.  My father Stan Staab of course was instrumental in guiding me the right way. 

 

KO:  It seems like Don Lambert from Kokomo…he was hanging around you for many years.

 

GS:  He was another great help of mine!  A.J. Esterkamp was another great help.  Don Wilbur and Marvin Goins from Dayton flipped over backwards to help me out.  There’s a group in Dayton who really bent over backwards to help me out because they met me through Tom and they liked the way I went about things.  They liked the way I raced.  Don Wilbur was exceptionally good to me. 

 

KO:  It seems like you know a lot of people in the Phoenix area and I don’t know if you stayed at a lot of people’s houses out there.

 

GS:  Bob DeYoung, he lives in L.A. right now.  He’s from Phoenix.  He’s one of the great helps.  He helped me a ton.  Tom Klein, he helped me out years ago with the engine thing out there.  Ron Shaver helped us with the engines.  Earl Gaerte helped me with the engine thing.  There’s been a lot of people who have contributed to that.  C.K. Spurlock at Gambler Chassis many years ago…I don’t know where he’s at now or what’s he’s doing, but he was Kenny Rogers’ business manager and he helped us out a ton down there.  Floyd Bailey at Gambler helped us a bunch.  Kenny Woodruff helped me a ton.  There’s just hundreds of them!  Hundreds of people – I can’t name them all.

 

But A.J. Esterkamp was another significant name.  Vernon Krull, a fellow who helped me the final few years – he helped me a bunch.  I can keep on going.  Tom Burkey, John Heydenreich’s friend and my friend, helped me a ton in my racing career.  He’s just a great person and a great asset to the sport.  There’s just a bunch of ‘em like that.  

 

KO:  Is it time to mention Tom Dickinson’s name again with the midget and the champ car?

 

GS:  Yes. 

 

KO:  I didn’t mention about those early years in your champ car career when you drove his number 99. 

 

GS:  Charlie Ledford was responsible for those few victories I had with him.  John Klausing in Tampa, Florida was another great person who was responsible for helping me.  (Thinking….)  Now I’m starting to get burned out!

 

KO:  It was a big test!  You’ve held up well.  The last time I did this with Eric Gordon, it wore me out and I think I was sick for a few days after that, some of it from just talking so much.  I think I had more questions for you but I really appreciate the time because this has been one I’ve wanted to do for awhile and I just had to get around to it.

 

GS:  Well, I’m glad I made time.  I knew this was going to be a long deal and I made time to do it.  You let me get my shit done this morning too. 

 

KO:  Ok, so I’m continuing to look through this scrapbook and I can’t get away from it.  I see the USAC midget schedule from years ago.  Being out in San Bernardino recently, I see that you ran at Orange Show Speedway, sometime in the ‘70s. 

 

GS:  ’75.  ’74 or ’75.  Orange Show Speedway.  Ran Chula Vista.  Ran Ascot.  Ran Manzanita and I was starting to run out of money and we had to get home.  I had to make $96 at Orange Show Speedway to have enough money to get home on.  We’d been to Disneyland earlier in the week and went through the Small, Small World ride and that song gets in your head really bad. 

 

I’m driving down the freeway one day and the radio’s on and I’m still catching myself going, “Na-na-na-NEE-na…nee-na-na-na-na.” (It’s a Small World song.)  We pull up in a traffic jam, the radio’s on, you’re sitting there and you’re going, “Na-na-na-NEE-na…nee-na-na-na-na.”  I can’t get it out of my head!

 

So we go to Orange Show Speedway.  Volkswagen heaven.  We’ve got a Sesco.  Ain’t too likely we’re going to make the race but we’re going to try it.  We qualify and then we start from the front row of a heat race.  We hold ‘em off and made fourth in the heat – made the feature – a 100 lapper at Orange Show.

 

I’ve got to make 96 bucks.  I’ve got to finish at least fourteenth to make a hundred bucks. 

 

KO:  (Tape change) So you’re starting in the back and you’ve got to finish at least fourteenth. 

 

GS:  I started in the back and boom – there’s a crash.  There’s two out.  They only started twenty cars.  I’m up to 18th.  Running along, I pass one car.  It breaks something and oils the track down.  I pass another one.  I’m up to 15th.  BAM!  Roger Mears and Larry Patton take each other out – against the wall.  Two VWs against the wall.  I’m up to 14th.  Visor is up...I’m cruising around watching them pick the racecars up and I’m going, “Na-na-na-NEE-na…nee-na-na-na-na!” 

 

I’m like, “What are you doing?  You’re CRAZY!”  So I’m singing the Small, Small World song that’s stuck in my head when I got up to 14th spot, which made a hundred bucks.  I ended up getting two more spots out of it and made $150 that night to get home on and we were good.  We got to come home.  I was going to have to wire home for money or something to get home because I didn’t have any more money. 

 

So there’s your Small, Small World, Orange Show Speedway 100 lapper story!  Not to mention the two final spots I passed, the guys’ heads were hanging out like this and they were all out of the cockpit and I went on by them.


KO:  That was a tiny little paved track, kind of like a 1/5 mile at the Speedrome.

 

GS: Yeah.  Like a Speedrome.  Yeah. 

 

KO:  They still have shows out there occasionally I think.

 

GS:  They run those Lucas Oil modifieds out there.

 

KO:  I’m still admiring this schedule.

 

GS:  Brutal, wasn’t it?

 

KO:  Yeah.  It was brutal. 

 

When I first came into your house, I noticed the wall of awards.  You’ve got quite a few.  Any of them that stand out for you?

 

GS:  Any of the HARF awards (1991 Sportsman of the Year) mean a lot to me because a lot of them were from my contributions to the sport.  They’ve been so good over the years about honoring the various champions. 

 

Obviously the DARF driver of the year award.

 

KO:  1983.

 

GS:  It’s a great big one.

 

KO:  How about the Emma Ray Award for Courage?  1996.

 

GS:  That meant a whole lot from Joie Ray because I had enough courage to quit the sport, so he said, before I got hurt again.  He thought that was a brilliant move on my part and I respect that.

 

The Gene Bundy Memorial award in 2001 was given to me because of how hard I worked to keep the Lawrenceburg Speedway running and not allowing it to go away. 

 

The Outstanding Accomplishment in 1988 from the Buckeye Auto Racefan Club – same thing again for second place in USAC points from Buckeye Auto Racefan Club – all mean a lot to little old me. 

 

KO:  Kneeling down…let’s see…

 

GS:  Another big one – Tom Stenger award – outstanding contributions to the betterment of Midwest auto racing.  It means a lot. 

 

KO:  Interesting.  Oh let’s see, you got an award from IRP of all places.

 

GS:  That was from when I retired.  John Capels presented that to me on the front stretch when I left the sport as a driver.

 

KO:  A lot of HARF awards.  Of course 25 years of service, 2004, City of Cincinnati.  You were probably glad to get that one!

 

GS:  Pooey! 

 

KO:  And how about these Certificates of Appreciation from USAC?  Down there in the corner, it looks like Dick Jordan gave those. 

 

GS:  I have to see which ones they are.  I’ve lost some of them.

 

KO:  It says, “For his contributions to the United States Auto Club through generous cooperation with the USAC news bureau in regards to pre-race publicity.”  There’s one from USAC – ’91 through ’96.  So what about those?

 

GS:  Those are both track related.  When I had the Lawrenceburg Speedway, I cooperated with them on various items there that they are speaking about.

 

And I’ve got trophies down below but I don’t have a place to put them.  The one I’d like to put up there is that big, old Volusia County one.  It’s that (motioning) tall. 

 

KO:  That’s cool.

 

GS:  Ledford had one made for me.

 

I don’t know if you saw the helmets or not – there’s every helmet but two that I ever had.  I’m sorry – three!  One’s in the Knoxville Hall of Fame.  Two of them Bell kept because they were broken too bad. 

 

KO:  So who painted your helmets?

 

GS:  Dale Burton did the first couple.  And he did another one too.  Chip, up in Dayton, did some of them too. 

 

KO:  Another thing I forgot to mention was that your home base for racing was Sayler Park, Ohio.  In speaking with you, Dave Rose, and your friend Jackie Litchfield, I had no idea of the amount of racers that called that area home.  Much like Indy’s west side contains the vast majority of racers in this state, the same could be said for Cincinnati’s Sayler Park.  Can you mention some of the names that pop out in your head as members of the Sayler Park racing community?

 

GS:  Oh gosh!  Sayler Park…the last little ville west of Cincinnati on River Road, which is U.S. 50.  I think there’s a list of about 35 names that I know of that came from Sayler Park.  There was Ross Smith, who ran ARCA and USAC stock cars – and sprint cars too.  There was Jim Bob Luebbert.  Denny Martini. 

 

A lot of Lawrenceburg promoters were from Sayler Park.  Charles “Shotgun” Noppert, Joe Noppert, and Roy Mattlin, who were all three promoters at the same time, came from the area.  Craig Stevens, father of current sprint car driver Brad, was also a Lawrenceburg promoter from Sayler Park. 

 

Let’s see who else I can remember…of course I already mentioned Roy Mattlin, but there was also Donnie Mattlin, Tommy Mattlin, and Scotty Mattlin, who now races modifieds.  Tom Soudrette and Jason Soudrette.  Jason now runs sprint cars at The Burg.  Dwayne Spille.  Larry Beck.  Bruce Stevens.  Timmy Martini.  One of my old crewmembers Mike “Lunch Meat” Litchfield.  Nick Litchfield.  Brian and Jeff Litchfield.  Ollie Zimmerman.  Don Woodworth.  Pat Patrick. 

 

Every one of those names had involvement in racing.  And every one of them had ties to Sayler Park. 

 

KO:  Wow!  I never knew so many people could come from one area.  And I thought Cincinnati wasn’t a racing town!  That’s very impressive. 

 

Well, that’s all the questions I have.  I guess that’s a wrap!  I’m officially worn out.  Let’s shut this baby off. 

 

GS:  Sounds good!  Thank you. 

 

As I usually state after every lengthy Q&A piece from the Bullring Scene, if you have made it this far, you are to be congratulated!  I hope you enjoyed the ride and please come back again soon.  Feedback is welcomed at bullringko@aol.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

End of an Era:  The Extended Version

 

While the vast majority basked in the glow of a thrilling 2016 Indiana sprint car finale which also happened to be one of the best battles anyone has ever witnessed in the rich history of the Terre Haute Action Track, little did they know just how much this event would alter the Indiana sprint car landscape that we have become so accustomed to for the past two decades. 

 

Settling for third behind that dynamic duo of Chris Windom and Chad Boespflug was Jerry Coons, Jr. Immediately after Jerry completed his front stretch interview for the frenzied fans, Coons’s car owner Monte Edison took a deep breath and began that long trek back to the pit area outside of turns three and four.  At that particular time, only a select few knew that this was his last hurrah as an active participant and although it would have been truly storybook to exit with a win, the former electrical engineer had to feel a small sense of satisfaction after also taking third the previous night in Kokomo, in the hunt until the very end.  Breaking the shocking news to the rest of his team and anyone that was within earshot once that hike was completed, naturally it was a time to celebrate a solid run and reflect on an awesome career.  As they say, all good things must come to an end. 

 

Quite fitting and rather ironic that Monte’s 22 year career as a sprint car owner would conclude at the same place it all began back in May of 1995, his red racer, first numbered 79 for Gary Fisher, then 37 for Mike Mann, and eventually 10 for Mark Clark, Bill Rose, A.J. Anderson, Shane Cottle, Scotty Weir, Jon Stanbrough, Casey Shuman, Billy Puterbaugh, and Jerry Coons, Jr., could be counted on to not only compete but also be a factor in the final rundown on any Friday night in Gas City, any Sunday in Kokomo,  and any time big money was on the line in the Hoosier state.  Winners of 12 track championships and 89 feature victories (5 under the USAC banner), the thought of an Indiana sprint car contest without the familiar Crume-Evans entry just doesn’t seem correct, but such is the current state of affairs in racing.  Nothing stays the same and the times are indeed undergoing a massive metamorphosis, with old-school car owners like Edison disappearing at a far too rapid rate.      

 

So consider the 2016 Indiana sprint car curtain closer as the end of an era, as the last two decades of local competition have been dominated by this team and the man whose modest vision eventually became a motorsports dynasty.  Wishing to commemorate his extremely productive career, obtain the lowdown on his decision to call it quits, and gain his thoughts on the sport, I made the short drive north to Kokomo to share an extended discussion with Monte Edison on an otherwise gorgeous, sun-splashed November afternoon.  Over the years, I have always enjoyed the brief moments when I was fortunate enough to gather a few words of his wisdom but after a couple of hours, I found Monte to be even more wise, understated, and interesting.  Making my own feeble attempt to lure him back as an owner, he had clearly made up his mind and wasn’t taking the bait.  For an individual as rock-solid as Edison, I would not have expected anything less.    

 

Not nearly as lengthy as my usual Q&A sessions, this extended version of my Flat Out column from the February 2017 issue is still a fun look back on Indiana sprint car racing’s glory days.  Enjoy! 

 

KO:  How long had you been thinking about leaving the sport as a car owner? Was it just this year or had you been mulling it over the last two or three years?

 

Edison:  I was mulling it over.  I made a conscious decision about two or three years ago to try and cut back.  I didn’t want to be running 50 to 60 races a year.  That kind of limits you a little bit. I just didn’t want to be tied down to it 100 percent of the time. 

 

KO:  What was the ultimate deciding factor in calling it quits after 2016?  Was there one factor – the straw that broke the camel’s back so to speak? 

 

Edison:  Laughing.  Yeah, there was.  During the Smackdown this year, we wrecked on the second night.  We didn’t run very good the first night.  We ran like 15th.  And you know, to say you didn’t run very good, at a USAC race, running 15th is not a black eye.  If you would have started up front, you would have run in the top five or ten.  If you start in the back, just getting into the top ten is hard, because every pass is tough.  But, we wrecked the second night, on the first lap of the heat race.  The whole driveline was torn up.  We had to change the rear end and the torque tube, etc.  I was like, “Well, we’re not anywhere on the points…” So, we just came home and washed the car.  And, the next night when I went to the race, I thought to myself, “We could have made the feature.”  That triggered back to two years ago.  We had a motor problem that second night and still made the feature.  I looked at the format and yeah, if you got in the wrong heat race, you might not make it.   But, you probably would, the way the format is. 

 

I just didn’t have the drive that I had two years ago.  (Two years ago) We packed up, went home and changed motors, and came back, and it was hot out.  I thought, three years ago, there would have not been any question.  But, if you don’t have the drive to fix your car and get back to the races, you need to think about going another direction. 

 

KO:  It’s early November.  The weather is still nice.  All that equipment is sitting out in the shop.  The truck and trailer are in the driveway.  Do you think there will be any second thoughts once it turns nice come next spring?  Maybe you’ll have all the stuff sold by then…but have you had any second thoughts whatsoever?

 

Edison: The short answer is no, not really.  As soon as that got out, you get a lot of texts and phone calls.  Sometimes people expressed their gratitude.  You almost feel like you are letting people down.  After I got through that, then it was ok.  My grandkids, they don’t want me to quit.  They like to go out and sit in the car and go to the races.  I kind of relate that back to when I was their age.  In the early 1950s, one of my uncles had a team of horses.  We’d go out in the barn and sit on them horses.  We’d climb up in that stall.  You could get three or four kids on one of them horses.  When he sold the horses, I was heartbroken.  I can kind of relate to how those kids feel.

 

But you know, there were other things that had a factor.   There were other things happening in the sport that I was not in favor of.  I don’t think it’s any secret that I don’t like tire rules.  I think tire rules, if they were done the right way, could be beneficial to the racer.  But the way it is right now, it just costs us more money.  If they had more than one supplier, that would keep the prices down.  As soon as you go to one supplier…

 

KO:  They can do whatever they want?

 

Edison:  Well, not whatever they want.  They still want to maximize their profit.  The people that have studied economics have advised that monopoly prices are about 30 to 50 percent, somewhere in there.  You can buy a Hoosier left rear for $230.  I think just about anyone can walk up to the American Racer dealer and buy one for $150 or $160. 

 

KO:  That adds up after a while.

 

Edison:  I don’t think it’s ever going to go away.  I think some of the sanctioning bodies, and not so much the local tracks, depend on that income.  Some of them get pretty big money for that.

 

KO:   Talk about how you got started as a car owner.  Who or what convinced you that you should make such an investment and get so intimately involved in this sport?  Was it Kent Evans?  Was it your kids?   Was it Tom Chalk?  Or, was it just your own desire?

 

Edison:  It was me.  I wanted to do it.  I don’t think anyone ever approached me or encouraged me to do that.  In fact, a lot of people said, “Do you know what you are getting into here?”  And when we started out, we never really envisioned where we ended up.  We wanted to go to Kokomo and race.  We wanted to go to Putnamville, Bloomington, and Lawrenceburg on occasion, when they had a big race.  No one ever envisioned us going to California or Florida.  We stepped into something and it got way out of control as far as our original intentions.  But, it worked out and I think that all the guys enjoyed doing that.  Some of them even thought that we should go back to California one last time. 

 

KO:  How did you get to know Kent Evans?  Once he bought the Kokomo Speedway, you bought his sprint car equipment.  But, how did you get to know Kent?

 

Edison:  He grew up just down the road from here, in Greentown.  A couple of my friends, well, one of them worked part time for him in the liquor store.  That’s the way that I started helping.  I’d go over and help Gary (Fisher) in his shop for several years before.  After Kent got out, I thought, "Well, we could just keep racing.”  It was just one of those things we got into.

 

KO:  How much was that investment to get started?  I think that was over the off-season after 1994.

 

Edison:  They had two cars, some wheels, and one motor.  I think we gave like $18,000, which wasn’t bad.  We had everything we needed to go race.  All we had to do was clean things up, repaint it, and go racing.  It’s really the best way to get into racing – to find someone who wants to get out.  Now, we were running with an open trailer, but a lot of people were at that time. 

 

KO:  If your intention was to just go to Kokomo with a few trips to Putnamville or Bloomington, there’s nothing wrong with that.  California, it’s a whole different deal.

 

How many wins did you end up with?

 

Edison:  I believe the number was 89. 

 

KO:  I counted 12 track championships…is that accurate?

 

Edison:  I thought we had 13, but 12 may be right.  I’m not a good record keeper. 

 

KO:  We can go over the stats at the end, but regardless of the exact number, you won a lot of races and a lot of track championships.  Were your initial expectations to have that much success?

 

Edison:  Well, the first time we won a track championship, that was a pretty big deal.  Of course, that happened over at Gas City.  Gas City opened the second year we raced.  We had Mike Mann driving for us at that time and that guy was just born to drive at Gas City.  He liked the place.  He was good there.  He could beat anyone there.  We started behind J.J. Yeley one time and hell, he passed him on the second lap and pulled away.  J.J. was kicking everyone’s butt at the time and he got to Gas City and it was a different story.  You know, Mike could beat anyone at Gas City.  He didn’t like Kokomo so well because it was flat.  You could see the change in attitude between Friday and Sunday.  He’d walk in Gas City like he was the man and walk in at Kokomo and he’d be like, “Eh, we’re at Kokomo again…” And that makes a big difference in how a guy drives.  He did win a track championship at Kokomo for us one year.

 

KO:  What were your initial expectations when you bought the equipment?  Was it to go have fun or was it to win races and championships?

 

Edison:  I think all the guys are pretty competitive and want to win.  As you know, it’s hard to win.  I think it’s harder to win now than when we first started.  Especially at Kokomo, because people don’t go to Kokomo on Sunday night and have to get up for work on Monday morning unless they think they can win.  That sorts out a lot of people.  It’s almost like a USAC race every Sunday night. 

 

KO:  Before helping out Kent Evans, what was your involvement in racing? 

 

Edison:  I started out drag racing in 1970 and 1971.  The first year, I just helped a guy who I had worked around.  At the end of the year, he wanted me to drive the car.  And the next year, we went out to the track and he never drove it again after that.  Drag racing is not that hard.  We were running a four speed transmission.  Some people can’t shift gears, for whatever reason.  You have to have a little coordination.  He wasn’t very good and he wasn’t very good on the Christmas tree.  You have to have a sense of timing to be good on the tree.  After drag racing, I got involved with a late model guy.  If I drag raced on Saturday night, I was at Kokomo on Sunday night watching the sprint cars.  Or, if Eldora had a race on Sunday, I’d be over there.  Circle track racing was always number one.  I went to a lot of ASA races and late model races in the ‘70s and ‘80s. 

 

KO:  I did too!  It was a big deal back then.

 

Edison:  Bob Senneker.  Randy Sweet.  I actually played American Legion baseball with Ray Dillon.  We grew up in the same neighborhood.  He went to a different school. 

 

KO:  I remember Mark Martin living up there in North Liberty, building cars with Ray, after he first quit NASCAR in the early 1980s. 

 

Edison:  I think the announcer, Larry McReynolds, was up there with him.  He married a girl from Walkerton and used to stop and see my brother. 

 

KO:  So you did the drag racing and then you helped out a late model driver.  Was it an asphalt late model?

 

Edison:  Yes, it was asphalt.  He ran mostly at Baer Field.  Sometimes he’d go over to Bryan, Ohio.  Actually, that guy raced dirt at Kokomo in the early 1970s. 

 

KO:  Before we started recording this, you mentioned Laporte and South Bend from when you were growing up.  What was your hometown growing up? 

 

Edison:  It was North Liberty – close to it.  We’re country.  Farm boys. 

 

KO:  Where did you end up going to school?  I know you have an engineering background.

 

Edison:  Purdue.  Electrical engineering.  And then, I got an MBA from Ball State.  Up at the air base, they had a deal with Ball State.  Undergraduate and graduate degrees.  They brought professors up here to teach.  You could just drive 12 or 14 miles up the road and go to class on the base.  I think I took two or three courses at the end, just because they were being offered, down in Muncie.  I ended up getting my MBA. 

 

KO:  Was Delco, in Kokomo, your first job right out of school?

 

Edison:  Yes.  That was my whole career – start to finish.

 

KO:  With your engineering education, did that influence your methods of operating a sprint car team?  Would that be safe to say?  I know you were very religious about maintenance on the car, especially on Saturdays and that often prevented you from racing in the middle of the weekend.  Can you add anything more about applying your engineering background to sprint car racing?

 

Edison:  Yeah!  It’s all physics.  If you have a technical background…when I first started, there were a lot of people that said that weight matters in winged cars but not so much in non-winged cars.  And I thought…naw!  After the first year, I always tried to build them as light as I could.  And maybe the second year, you could see it made a difference when we started taking weight off the car.  We hadn’t paid that much attention to it since they put in the weight rule.   I think weight rules are good.  People were doing stuff too light.  We tried some things that just wasn’t enough.  When they tried using aluminum spuds on the front ends, we broke one, so our car tumbled down the straightaway and bounced into the fence.  When a wheel passes you going into the corner, that’s not a good sign. 

 

KO:  So the weight and the physics aspect were aided by your engineering background, but was there anything else? 

 

Edison:  Well, yeah.  You sit around all winter and think of ways to make it go faster.  All the guys are pretty competitive.  I’m competitive.  When you get involved in racing, when you don’t win, you come home and you can’t sleep because you’re going over the race in your mind.  You try and figure out where you went wrong.  And, when you do win, you’re so excited that you can’t go to sleep. 

 

KO:  One way or another that makes for a long Monday at work!  So, take me back to 1995.  Gary Fisher was still the driver.  Mike Mann came the next year.  So, when and where was the first race for you as an owner?

 

Edison:  Terre Haute.

 

KO:  Was that a USAC show?

 

Edison:  Yep.  

 

KO:  What do you remember about that first show?

 

Edison:  We tore up some stuff.   Nothing bad…bent up nerf bars, stuff like that.  I don’t remember where we finished, but one of the things that stuck in my mind was the trailer not towing very good.  (Laughing) Even on the interstate with the crowns in the lanes, when you’d pull out to pass, the trailer would try and steer you.  When you’d pull it back in, it would try and steer you. 

 

KO:  Gosh, I’m trying to remember if you got any wins in that first year.  I don’t remember!

                                                                                                                                                                     

Edison:  No, we didn’t.  We ran decent.  We didn’t have any wins.  We came close a few times.  But, we were green.  Gary knew a lot more about it than we did.  We were in a learning situation.  You know, Gary is a good driver.  And, he knew a lot.  I learned more from Gary than any other single person.  I worked with him a couple of years before that when Kent owned the car.  I spent a lot of time working out in his garage.  Gary was a good fabricator.  He was a good welder.  He had a tubing bender.  He made all the nerf bars and bumpers.  He could repair frames.  Kent would buy stuff and Gary would make it look like new. 

 

KO:  I don’t remember when and why you and Gary split up.  It sounded like you two got along just fine.  What was the reason for the split?

 

Edison:  Yeah, we got along pretty good.  I don’t know.  We just went in a different direction and got Mike Mann.  And at that time, Mike Mann was hitting his peak. 

 

KO:  Right off the bat, you guys got a Gas City championship and I’m sure a bunch of wins along the way over there.

 

Edison:  I think we had five wins that year and the bulk of them were at Gas City.  In a three year period when Mann drove for us, I’m trying to remember if it was Brad Dickison or Pat Sullivan, but it was written in the HARF newsletter that in that three year period, Kevin Thomas or Dave Darland had won the most races in Indiana.  Mike Mann won the third most.  He won 20 races in that three year period (’96, ’97, and ’98). 

 

KO:  Mann definitely was on top of the world in that timeframe.  Three Gas City championships, a Kokomo championship in ’97, and a ton of wins as you just mentioned.  When you’re doing so well, what causes people to go in a different direction? 

 

Edison:  Actually, what happened there was Mike wanted to race more.  We really, financially, were not capable of racing more, at that time.  That’s what ended that.  If I was winning as many races as Mike was, I would have wanted to race three nights a week.  I was still working.  Racing three nights a week is a rough deal.  And, there were times we raced three nights a week.  You get off work early on Friday.  You get home around midnight.  You get up, wash the car.  And if you’re racing Saturday night, from here you’ve got to drive two or three hours.  So, you’ve got to be ready to go shortly after lunch.  And then, come home, get up the next morning, wash it again and go to Kokomo.  You get home from there at whatever time.  And at that point in time, I was working in Anderson.  I had to get up at 5:30 in the morning to be at work at 7:30.  That was a tough weekend.  And then, I’d have to come home on Monday night and wash the car all over again.  I’d be out there in the shop until 11 or 12 o’clock every night.  I’d get back up at 5:30 in the morning and drive to work. 

 

KO:  I remember Mark Clark being your next driver for 1999 and then midway through the next season, A.J. Anderson was hired.  Mike Mann had been around racing forever with his dad and I’m sure he knew what he wanted with the car.  Compared to Mike, did the team dynamics and amount of decision making change once you had Mark and A.J. in the seat? 

 

Edison:  With Mark, he was probably the hottest new driver going, at that time.  He was not really good at setups yet.  So, I learned a lot about looking at the track.  I always had the philosophy of the driver needing to know what you’ve done to the car once he gets in it.  I learned a lot because Mark agreed with everything I said.  He started getting better.  But then Mark got hurt in our car at Kokomo.  That hurt him physically, and mentally too.  When you get hurt like he did, it affects the way you drive.  That was the downfall in that relationship.  We just weren’t moving ahead.  I like Mark and Mark is still a good friend.  That’s one of the things with most of the drivers, we still have a relationship and consider them friends. 

 

KO:  So was there something you were looking for in your drivers back in ’99 and 2000 compared to current day?  Were you looking for the hottest guy that might still be crash-prone or were you looking for the hottest guy that would take care of the equipment too?

 

Edison:  Well, we were always looking for someone who would take care of the stuff and was good.  The criteria for picking a driver back in ’99 and 2000 was different than in later years, like 2013.  In 2013, having the driver’s schedule fit what I wanted to do weighed in pretty heavy, and still get a good driver as well.  Jerry fit pretty good, since he had the Silver Crown and midget stuff.  Instead of racing 50 to 60 races a year, it got us back to the 30 to 35 range and still have a good driver who wouldn’t tear stuff up all the time.  And I have to say, most of the drivers we had were not reckless and didn’t tear stuff up because they were overaggressive. 

 

KO:  Going back to that timeframe, the combination of your team with A.J. Anderson seemed like a good fit right off the bat.  Of course, you got your first USAC win at Bloomington during Indiana Sprint Week in 2001, plus you won a Kokomo championship that year as well.   No matter what year it was, a USAC win was and still is a big deal.  I remember A.J. following the infield tires and doing what needed to be done at Bloomington.  Are there any memories of that first USAC win that stand out?

 

Edison:  That was really exciting.  We traded around running third, fourth, and fifth.  We started in the invert.  We were kicking around there.  Then, he got into third place and he traded that back and forth with someone for a while.  But, towards the end of that race it was Jay Drake and J.J. Yeley in front of him.  He passed Drake first, as I recall.  I heard A.J.’s dad say, “Now go after Yeley!”  When he got around Drake, Yeley was a little bit out in front.  He tracked him down and passed him!  I think he caught Yeley off guard.  I’m not sure.  But he passed him in three and four and I think they banged wheels a little bit.  I don’t think Yeley was very happy because he made a comment in the interview.  It was one of them deals:  both guys were racing.  He might have caught Yeley off guard when he drove in on him like that.  But, I’m glad he did it!  That was exciting! 

 

KO:  A USAC win at that time, especially during Sprint Week, was huge.  I’m sure you were looking down on cloud nine.  I don’t know how life could be better! 

 

Edison:  We were all up on the trailer and I don’t know how it stayed upright! 

 

KO:  The USAC sprint car scene is still fairly strong today, but it was super stout at that time.  You had a lot of good local racers making up the scene back in 2001, but you had a lot of professional, full-time racers as well.  There was a lot of money involved back then too. 

 

Do you have any other fond memories of racing with A.J., other than that USAC win?

 

Edison:  You know, he won quite a few races for us and we got along good and had a good time…probably too good!  Sometimes we stayed up late at the track afterwards, especially Kokomo.  It was good.  But, things got stale there and we weren’t moving forward.  I think both of us were ready to do something else.  We just needed to do something different. 

 

KO:  And then the time came…

 

Edison:  Yeah, and Cottle was pretty much an unknown in the sprint car. 

 

KO:  I remember him winning once with Ron Lambertson at Gas City in 2003 but for the longest time, he lived in Illinois and wasn’t a household name in Indiana. 

 

Edison:  One of my friends said, “You’ve got to look at that guy.  You’ve got to look at that guy.”  He finished second at the Chili Bowl, and I’d seen him run a midget when they were running with the sprint cars.  I saw him running one of those 1200 cc mini sprints and he was always running up front.  I thought, “Well, we’ll give this guy a try.”  I hadn’t really seen him enough to know whether or not he’d tear up a lot of stuff.  His father in-law told me that he didn’t tear that much stuff up, but that was after he drove for us a time or two.  Shane is a very, very talented driver, and still is.  I’ve always felt that if he’d been in the right place with the right people, we’d probably be watching him on TV.  I think he had that kind of talent. 

 

KO:  I saw him from the very beginning in the early ‘90s with those mini sprints and I would certainly agree.  No doubt about it though, you guys clicked right off the bat.  I don’t know that he’d ever driven a coil-front sprint car before. 

 

Edison:  No!  And, that was the first year that we had one.  I don’t know that we knew what we were doing either.

 

KO:  You guys just meshed right off the bat.  It didn’t matter if it was Gas City.  It didn’t matter if it was Kokomo.  I remember a strong run at Eldora, and that wasn’t his favorite place. 

 

Edison:  I believe Levi won that race.

 

KO:  It didn’t matter where you went.  You guys were fast.  Terre Haute was one of those places too.  What was it about Shane – obviously you mentioned his talent.  But, was it driver input?  What made you guys go so fast, so quickly?

 

Edison:  I think it was mostly Shane.  People would come up and look at the car and some were noted mechanics.  When we were down at Terre Haute, he kind of set a new track record.  They didn’t recognize it as a record but it stood for a long time.  It was on the second night of a two-night USAC show.  They put a little asterisk there. 

 

People would come up to the car and look at it.  We’d be sitting back in the trailer.  I’d say, “Someone go out there and tell them they’re looking at the wrong thing.  Tell them to go look at Cottle.  He’s what makes it go fast!” 

 

I don’t know what it was exactly, but I think it was the way his dad taught him when he was driving quarter midgets.  We’d miss the setup and Shane would say, “Well, I did this and it wasn’t working and I did that and it wasn’t working.  Then, I started driving it this way and it started working better.” Somehow he’d get a good finish for what should have been a bad night.  He never came in and said, “Well, that car was junk!”  And, sometimes it was!  I think, the way he grew up, his dad told him, “When you’re out there and the car doesn’t work, I can’t do anything about it.  You’ve got to do something!”  And, I think that’s the attitude he carries when he gets in a sprint car.  I was impressed. 

 

KO:  You had the on again/off again relationship with Shane, but it was always a strong relationship.  I’m wondering how many more wins and championships you might have earned had he not gone the direction he did with Contos and Walker.  Do you think it would have gotten stale, or do you think it would have kept going up the ladder?

 

Edison:  I think we would have kept going up the ladder.  Really, during that time period, he wanted to race more.  And, that was really driving the change.  I didn’t want to hold the guy back.  When he went with the Contos bunch, they had the capability of taking him a lot further than we could have.  We never had arguments or anything.  It was always good. 

 

KO:  Do you think you had more fun with Shane than anyone else?  Can you say that with all fairness?

 

Edison:  We won more races with Shane than anyone, but I think we had fun with everyone in the car.  We got along so well with all the drivers, so I can’t say anything bad about anyone.  Probably a couple of them could say some bad things about me, but that’s ok.  I had one driver that I got angry with, not really at him, but at the situation.  I changed drivers and I shouldn’t have.  He didn’t drive very long for us and he’s a good guy.  It’s probably the age gap.  He sent me a text message.  We tore the car up pretty bad and by Wednesday, I had the car back together.  He sent me a text that he had a chance to drive somewhere else, two or three nights.  And, I was planning on running two nights.  I said, “Ok, I’ll put someone else in it.”  Today, that wouldn’t have bothered me so much.  But at that time, I didn’t expect to get that kind of message in a text.  That’s just the age gap.  They just don’t talk on the phone these days.  Today, it wouldn’t have bothered me. 

 

KO:  Cottle went with Contos in 2008.  You had Scotty Weir as your driver and you won another Kokomo title.  Then, Cottle came back and you won even more races and championships.  Then in 2012 you began with Scotty Weir, had Casey Shuman for a little bit, and then Puterbaugh finished the season.  Jerry Coons, Jr. joined the team for 2013 and that first year with Jerry was a good one.  

 

Where I am going with this is that you got a huge win with Jerry at Terre Haute in the 2013 Hulman Classic.  In 1995 you started your car ownership career at the Hulman Classic.  In the 1970s the Hulman Classic was the biggest race on the USAC sprint car schedule.  I know you already got a Terre Haute win with Cottle in KISS competition, but a USAC win there is an infinitely bigger deal.  When you think back to that night, what immediately comes to mind?   

Edison:  Actually the Hulman Classic had gotten rained out and they rescheduled it for August with the Hurtubise Classic.  We kind of got credit for winning two races, but we got the rifle.  I didn’t know, but they give out two of them.  One to the car owner and one to the driver.  My boys are arguing about their inheritance and who is going to get the rifle.  I suggested they saw it long-ways down the middle, mount it on a board, and they can both have that. 

KO:  That’s an idea!  Well, one thing about Jerry, he was always good at Terre Haute.  That might have been the first place I ever saw him race back in 1997.  But in your mind, what was so special about Jerry at Terre Haute? 

Edison:  Well, there again, one of the tracks he grew up on was Manzanita.  And they are pretty similar.  Jerry is good on all the big tracks.  I really don’t care to race on the big tracks that much, mostly because the speed is so much higher and the chance of a driver getting hurt bothers me.  And, it costs more to run the big tracks.  You pretty much had better plan on buying at least three new tires and it could be more if they don’t get the track prep right.  We’ve gone over to Eldora and blistered tires in the heat race.  It’s not like you’d think.  You’d think if the track got slick, that’s when you’d blister the tires.  But at Eldora, if there’s bite in the track, the tires get hotter and blister, which kind of surprised me.  Traction makes heat.  A lot of times, usually when the track is wet, you don’t hurt the tires as much. 

I think it takes a special kind of track to do what Eldora did.  When Tony Stewart first bought the track, he tried to keep it fast.  Earl liked to let it go slick to keep the speeds down.  Earl didn’t like to see people get hurt.  I think they are kind of going back to that because the track prep isn’t like it was for a while.  That track was super-fast.  I think the non-wing record is like 14.8.

KO:  Yeah.  And it is ten years old now. 

Edison:  Jerry might still hold it.

KO:  Yeah, he does!  But once again, Jerry at Terre Haute was something special. 

Kind of switching gears here, but it seems to me that you’ve had a lot of the same sponsors and names on your car over the last 22 years.  Obviously Crume-Evans Insurance immediately comes to mind, having the connection with Kent Evans and his sister Sherry, who has the insurance business. 

Edison:  And Sherry’s son Wes has always worked with us. 

KO:  Flook’s Napa has been on the car for a long time too.  Was it on there every year?

Edison:  I think that started the second year.  We were friends with him and he said, “I ain’t sponsoring any racecars!”  So as a joke, we had space on the car and we just put his name on there.  One of the things we thought was that the street stock guys would come in there and bug him because of that.  It was a joke.  But then, he started buying oil filters for us and gave us a pretty good price on other odds and ends.  I don’t know if you knew Paul Bozard.  He had racecars back in the 1960s and 1970s.  He had kids that ran quarter midgets.  You know, the quarter midget track is just down the road. 

KO:  That Bozard name – isn’t Jim Whiteside married to Cindi Bozard?

Edison:  Yes.  Paul came to the races, and he saw that on there.  He had a business, really pretty close to here, hauling around show cars for quite a while.  He made a good living doing that.  There were probably ten or twelve trucks and trailers he used to haul around all kinds of NASCAR show cars, drag race show cars.  He hauled them all over the country, to Texas, California, Florida.  Of course he bought a lot of parts.  He saw that sticker on my car and did a lot of business with Flook's.  So, that was one of them things that the NAPA store was happy about. 

Sherry Evans-Horde, with the insurance company, she talks about name recognition.  That’s hard to put a number on.  One of her motivations was – she liked racing.  Only until recently, she rarely missed a race.  She was always there and man, if you happened to sit too close to her, she was always waving her arms and stomping her feet. 

KO:  RG Enterprises was another name on the car for a long time.  Who was that guy?

Edison:  That was another friend of ours, Ron George.  He actually won the Illinois lottery, before Indiana had a lottery.  Unlike a lot of lottery winners, he was wise with his money.  Several of our team members went to high school with him and played high school football.  He was good friends with Stan since high school.  He had race horses so we had the horse emblem on the car.

KO:  You have maintained some solid relationships with sponsors and drivers.  Does that all just come back to your upbringing?  Did you have any kind of mantra for the team, like, if you are going to be a part of our operation, then you’re going to do things with class and respect?

Edison:  Yeah, and I’ve told the guys, “Hey, we don’t want to be involved with that.  We want to be the guys wearing the white hats.”  When we were trying to get help from people like the Crume-Evans people, that was part of our story.  We’re going to be the good guys.  We’re not going to be a bunch of race track bums.  Now, there were some times late at night…but there weren’t many watching at two o’clock in the morning. 

KO:  Team members – you mentioned Wes has been there since the beginning.  Are there any others that have been there that long?  Craig Heathcoat has been around the team a long time.  Has there been anyone else with that kind of tenure?

Edison:  I knew Craig because he’s about the same age as one of my sons.  He wrestled and played baseball in the same timeframe.  I knew he was interested in racing, but the first time I saw him was at D.O.’s Racing Fest at Bloomington.  He came walking through the pits and he went to IU – that was his first year there.  He was with another kid that I had on my Babe Ruth baseball team.  That following summer, Craig was with us all the time. 

Of course, I have to talk about Stan Johnson.  He was with us from the very start.  He, at times, was working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and he barely missed a race.  It didn’t matter where it was at.  If it was at Bloomington, he was there.  Since he retired, he’s here every Monday morning and we work on the car until it is ready to go.  He’s here all the time, all winter long, putting the car together.  You can’t find a harder working, more loyal friend than Stan Johnson.

KO:  How long have you known Stan? 

Edison:  I knew him maybe eight or ten years before that, when I joined the Legion Post in Greentown.

KO:  That’s yet another sponsor of yours. 

Edison:  Well, kind of, because when RG quit with his horses, he just said, “Put Post 317 on it.”  So, that’s where the 317 comes in.  And, we have a lot of pre-race and post-race debriefings at the Legion Post.  In fact, I was down there a couple of nights ago and they had a birthday party.  They were all in there including Pat, the guy with the stiff neck that hangs around a lot.  He’s got arthritis really bad.   When you’ve raced that long, you wear out a lot of your crew guys.  And you know, like Craig and John Glentzer, they find girlfriends, get married, and have kids. 

KO:  Well, your two boys, Doug and Tim, have families now.

Edison:  And, they still like to bring their kids but they have other obligations.  We had a boy named John Shepherd, who lives really close to here.  I saw his grandfather one night.  He said, “Well, John’s not so much of a help anymore, is he?”  I said, “Well, John’s got his priorities in the right place.  He’s married and got two children.  You can’t be running all over the country when you’ve got little kids.” 

Little kids take time.  They do things you want to watch them do.  So, you do go through some crew men.  You wear them out.  Family obligations get in the way and they should get in the way.

KO:  From 1995 to 2016, what did you see as the biggest change in the sport?  Was it costs?  Or, was it anything like safety?

Edison:  The safety is definitely better.  The seats are better.  The HANS device makes it safer, and that’s a pretty big change.  They made the cars a little stronger.  The left side arm guard, I think, is a good deal.  And, even the right side arm guard is good.  We had one car with one on both sides.  But, as far as making your car go around the track, it is the shocks.  In-car adjustments on the shocks…I think it makes it harder to win.

When the track went slick, the driver might say, “Oh, I hate that!”  I’d say, “No, you should embrace that, because if you’re good on a slick track and know how to set it up, that takes away half of your competition.”  All the young guys come out there and stand on the throttle.  They’re fast when the track is fast.  But, when it goes away, boy, they are terrible.  And you know, it just takes away half of your competition.  I think with being able to turn those knobs inside the car, you would see a lot of races where you weren’t so good at the start but would run away at the end.  You don’t see that happen so much anymore.  Guys that start up front stay up front.  Every now and then you see someone make a charge, but not as much as you used to.  I remember winning from 12th and 13th and 14th one night with Cottle.  We got mixed up with a lapped car with like seven laps to go.  There had been a lot of carnage in that race and there were only like 12 or 13 cars on the track.  And, he was back in the lead in like four laps after spinning and going to the tail.  Every now and then you see that, but not as often as you did back in the day.  But, the ability to change your setup with the turn of a knob, you can make a tenth place car into a third or fourth place car. 

You asked earlier if Cottle hadn’t have left, if we would have kept climbing the ladder.  I had never counted up, but I counted between A.J. and Cottle, they finished second 15 to 25 times to Jon Stanbrough. 

KO:  When Jon was on his game, it was tough to beat him.

Edison:  Oh yeah!  The guy is a Hall-of-Famer.  You know?  Actually, he drove our car about four times.  In the times that Jon was in our car, you could go look at the tire after a race and tell that it wasn’t what you’ve been used to.

KO:  Just by the way he drove?

Edison:  Right!  He didn’t wear the tires hard.  Jon was on his game in his prime.

KO:  With the tires, was it just certain areas of the tire that wore based on how he drove it into the corner? Or, did they just not wear at all?

Edison:  No, they didn’t wear as bad.  He had the touch to spin them just right.  He didn’t over-spin them and he didn’t under-spin them.  In his younger days, you could see him blasting around the top, with the motor screaming.  When he was driving Paul’s car, that’s when he really started winning a lot of races.  And with the Fox boys, gee! 

KO:  When you’re on the other side of the fence, running second, does it drive you nuts?  Is it that same old routine of going to bed and thinking long and hard about what you can do to beat those guys?

Edison:  Oh yeah.

KO:  You guys were at that same level in that timeframe and could win your share.  How much of finishing second so many times drives you to re-engineer and make things better? 

Edison:  Well, you’re definitely trying to make things better.  Sprint cars have been around so long that it is hard to come up with something new.  We tried something for several years.  When people were starting to go to adjustable shocks, we put the Shadow weight jackers on.  It would actually change the ride height.  We did that for several years.  There were other guys around that did the same thing.  I saw them on champ cars over at Eldora.  We had three of them on the car.  The right rear was the only one we didn’t adjust.  A lot of people had them on the left rear.  Not many had them on the front.  But, on a sprint car, our car was the first one that I saw that had them on.  And, then there were several local guys looking at that.  They were like, “Look at what Cottle is doing!  He’s killing us with that stuff!”  I guess that Shadow place went out of business.  Their building burned down.  All of the old stuff I had I gave away to someone that wanted one for a champ car. 

KO:  How much does it cost to race one of these things for one night?  I don’t know if you’re the type of guy who would amortize an engine rebuild into your nightly costs, but there’s tires, fuel, pit passes, fuel for the truck.  To go to Kokomo on a Sunday night, what is it going to cost you, out of pocket?

Edison:  $1,000.  The way I always did it, and I don’t know if this might go back to the elementary accounting class I took, but when I did my taxes for the year, I took everything I spent over the course of the year and divided it by the number of races.  And, it always comes out way bigger than you think because it has your engine rebuilds and the things you have to do to update your car to stay competitive.  We didn’t spend money on anything we didn’t have to.  I think now, racing the way we did, I would say $1,400 per race.  It would cost somewhere in there.

KO:  Man, that’s a lot of money! 

Edison:  I haven’t done that for a couple of years, but I used to do that every year.  And, when we first started, it was about $1,000.  It can be a race between your pocket book and how quickly you learn.  One of the things, most racers are gearheads.  They will work their butt off on the racecar.  You really need a guy that is kind of an advertising guy who can go out and get money.  No matter how smart or skilled you are, if you don’t have any money, you can’t do it.  The car actually generates cash flow over the course of the summer, unless you are tearing a lot of stuff up.  Your bank account usually goes up over the summer because the things you do over the winter.  Everyone takes their car apart at the end of the year.  Besides what they have to do and what they think they need to do to get better, all these guys go around and trade their used parts and come back out and go at it again.  I see some guys that really aren’t running that good and tear up a lot of stuff and I know they are spending more than we are.  We aren’t tied to one driver but if our driver was tearing up a lot of stuff, we could go get another one.  But, if a driver is driving his own car or if it’s a family deal and the driver is a given, if you want to get better, either the driver has to get better or the equipment has to get better.  In sprint cars, Dave Darland can get in a car and make a difference.  I remember seeing Tony Elliott get into a car that everyone called the penalty box and win. 

KO:  I remember Tony winning in Walt Fisher’s 96 car in about 1994 at Kokomo.  Was that the car you were talking about?

Edison:  Exactly!  In fact, Shane’s dad told me that down in Ocala, Shane won his first race on this track.  Yeah, in fact he was driving a car that some guy from Kokomo owned.  It was Walt Fisher!  Shane never told me that! 

KO:  Budget-wise, was there a certain amount that you were willing to spend in a season?    

Edison:  There were just a few times, and one of them might have been the first year, that if we would have had another bad crash, we would have been done for the year because the bank account couldn’t stand it.  I started this when my oldest son graduated from college.  And, I still had two kids that were still in school.  One was in high school and one was in college.  The one that was in college ended up being there seven years and getting a doctorate degree.  And then, my daughter was three years behind him and they both graduated at the same time.  At Purdue, when you are accepted into graduate school, the tuition doubles.  He applied for the pharmacy program and as soon as they accepted him as a junior, they doubled it.  So, tuition-wise, it was like having three kids in school.  The housing is every bit as much.

KO:  I understand where you are coming from!  My dad had five in college at once back in the early 1980s.  He was working a lot – three jobs in fact.  But, to be able to race and have college costs to worry about, that’s a pretty big weight to shoulder.  And then, somehow you have to convince your wife that you need to have a sprint car too! 

Switching gears again, other than the USAC wins, are there certain races that stand out more than others?

Edison:  Yeah, one of the wins was down at Lawrenceburg in the fall – the one that pays $10,000.  It wasn’t a USAC race and it was in 2006.  Jerry and I had a discussion about this, because he was leading the race.  Well, as I recall they had 81 cars there that night.  We started at the back of the seventh heat. 

When I saw the lineup, I said, “Geeze, we should have stayed home!”  I think we started seventh in the seventh heat.  Cottle won the heat!  After winning, that started us seventh in the feature.  At the beginning, we were fast.  He got up to third really quick.  Coons was leading in the Hoffman car.  Levi was right behind him.  It was on the old track and Shane caught them.  It was slick and it was around the bottom.  It was a 50-lap race.  I think it was on the 28th lap, because I always count laps on my fingers.  Jones spun Coons.  Coons did a 360 and kept going and Cottle got around them both and led the rest of the race.  It worried me that they never got into lapped traffic after that.  Shane was a little quicker than Levi and he would pull away from him on every restart, but if Shane would have come up on the lapped traffic, he was going to get spun out. I don’t know why Levi did it so early in the race.  The only thing that saved Shane was that he got around them and was faster than both of them.  

Jerry and I had a conversation about that in the trailer one night this summer.  We were talking about it.  I said, “Did that tick you off?”  He said, “Well, kind of!”  And he said, “He spun me out and won the race!”  I said, “No, he didn’t!”  He got on You Tube and looked it up and said, “You’re right!” 

You can’t forget a race like that.

KO:  For sure, especially when it pays like that.  Of course, those USAC wins are ones you’ll never forget either.  Although you didn’t get one in 2016, you did get three in three years:  ’13, ’14, and ’15. 

When you think about your time in sprint car racing, what are the things that give you the greatest sense of satisfaction?  Is it the wins or is it something altogether different than that?

Edison:   Of course you are happy that you won enough races so that you can say, “Yeah, we were pretty good.”  We had our spells.  I think though, a lot of it is the guys that helped you, the dedication that they had to racing and to our team, and the friends you made.  I said a lot of times that some of the most memorable things you have in racing didn’t have anything to do with the racing.  It was other things.  The ornery things that the kids did.  We’d be out washing the car on Saturday morning and they’d be talking about riding the go-karts somewhere.  The stories always ended the same way:  they never got kicked out.  They always got asked to leave.  Like, “Hey, it’s time for you guys to go.”  It was more like an angry, “Get the hell out of here!” 

KO:  The people are the best part of the scene.  It’s what keeps bringing me back.  Maybe you’re the same way?

Edison:  Well, you know, some of the best friends we made were especially in the last four or five years at Kokomo.  We always park in the same place, right by Chris Gurley and Kenny Baldwin and Mike McGhee.  You get to know those people.  I like to tease Mike McGhee’s boys.  I go and talk to them.  I walk up to Max and say, “What are you doing here?  The driver’s meeting isn’t for another hour and a half.  You don’t have to show up and do all this stuff!  You need to talk to some of these other drivers.  You just have to get here in time for the driver’s meeting!” 

Mike is going, “Don’t tell him that!” 

One time I said that to Max and he said, “They left the motel this morning and I didn’t have any other way to get there.”  I said, “You could have called one of those girls!  (Pointing to another driver) You need to go talk to him!  He’ll tell you how to operate!  You don’t have to have a car!” 

It’s things like that.  Every week when you see people at the race track, you look forward to seeing them every week.  The racing community is really great.  If you wreck your car, there will be three or four guys come over and say, “Hey, if you need anything or if you need us to help…”  Those kind of things definitely come to mind.

KO:  Even when you were doing your drag racing, you were at Kokomo Speedway on Sunday nights.  Thinking about next April or May, what is it going to be like walking around the pit area?  Are you going to bring some wrenches with you?  Will you be willing to help someone out or do you just want to sit back and truly enjoy this deal for once, without having to worry about anything?

Edison:  I wouldn’t mind working a little bit but I don’t want to wash any dirty cars on Monday morning. 

KO:  As you think about the start of next season, what’s your game plan as of this moment in time? 

Edison:  I don’t know.  I’ll just go to the races and see everyone, talk, and have a good time.  I don’t see me not going to the races every weekend.

KO:  It’s still in the blood, right?

Edison:  Yep.

KO:  I think it always will be.  Once you are exposed, it is so hard to get away from it.

Edison:  Yes.  I’ve walked up and down the stands on the few nights, for whatever reason, when we didn’t race.  I’ve heard people talking about our team.  They are saying, “They did this, this, and this.”  I’m like, “What?  Where did you get that information?”  And, that’s fans.  But, we couldn’t get along without fans. 

KO:  Talking about those Monday mornings, but how long has it been since you were retired from Delco/GM/Delphi?

Edison:  2003.

KO:  So, on those Monday mornings in your retirement years, normally you’d be working on that car, trying to get it ready for Friday night.  What’s going to be your new Monday morning thing? 

Edison:  Well, I don’t know!  I’ll go out and eat breakfast.  I don’t know yet!  I’m not sure how I’m going to fill my time in. 

KO:  But, you’ve got grandkids, right?  Maybe they didn’t get as much of your time previously.

Edison:  Yeah.  I can’t tell you how many family weddings I have missed because of racing.  I’ve been reminded several times by the bride’s mother, “Well, you were racing!”  I’ll never understand someone living here their whole life and going off and getting married on the beach, on Sanibel Island or somewhere like that, expecting everyone to travel 700 or 800 miles to the wedding.  I guess that’s the thing now. 

KO:  My thing is, any wedding should always be scheduled in the off-season so that we can maximize the amount of time at the racetrack.  My time at the track is essentially my vacation time.  Everyone gives me hell for not going down to New Zealand or the Chili Bowl.  I’ve only got so much time to take off of work.  This is it around here.  I would love to go to New Zealand, but on the whole, Indiana summers are truly the place I want to be.   

Edison:  We never went out west or to Florida until after I retired.  I have to say, for the guys, they flew out west.  Some of them flew back home and flew out the next week.  I was retired at that time, so it didn’t matter.  I wasn’t obligated to be here.  That’s a big thing when you have more flexibility.  You can do things like that. 

KO:  What do you think is the best advice you got while in racing and who gave it to you?

Edison:  Well, my financial guy told me one time:  “It looks like you will be in pretty good shape unless you spend it all on that racecar.”  I don’t know, I think I learned a lot from Kent Evans.  I got a lot of good advice from Tom Chalk too.  Tom Chalk, if you ask him his opinion on something, he’ll give you his opinion.  And, sometimes if you don’t ask him, he’ll give you his opinion.  It will be exactly what he thinks.  It won’t be what he thinks you want to hear.  He’ll give you exactly what he thinks and sometimes that’s not what you want to hear.  You know, a friend like that, is special.  It might cause you a little grief, but you shouldn’t let that hinder your friendship.  They are giving you their honest opinion.  And Tom has always been that way with me.  Sometimes I didn’t necessarily do what he advised me, but he didn’t hold that against me.  I appreciate a friend like that.  At first, you’re not going to like it, but when you stop and think about it, he’s really doing you a favor.  Even if he’s not right, he gave me his opinion and he didn’t tell you what you thought you wanted to hear. 

I got a lot of advice from Tom, and most of it was good. 

KO:  Can you think of something that Tom said that still stands out, to this day, as great advice?  He knows a lot about A LOT.  You’ve had a great relationship with him, running a lot of his products and winning with them.

Edison:  One of the first things he told me about racing was, “You’re not going to make money at this.”  Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, you could have made money.  People that ran up front, not counting their time, came out ahead.  You can’t do that now. 

KO:  What was the worst advice you ever received?

Edison:  When you first get a racecar, people you don’t even know walk up and give you advice.  You just discount that stuff most of the time.  But, the quote that you said about “this is where it all started and this is where it ended”, my oldest son walked out on the track after the last race at Terre Haute and said that to me.  That kind of almost knocked me down.  And then one of my friends took a picture of us walking off the track.  Two of my grandsons and my oldest son were walking with me.  That was kind of emotional.  I told my son and he said, “Well, I didn’t mean it that way.” 

KO:  Was ending things at Terre Haute even part of the plan?  Did you realize that ahead of time?

Edison:  No, not until he said that.

KO:  Well, it seems rather fitting then.  A win would have been great, but a third place wasn’t bad.

Edison:  Well, you know, watching that race, I was thinking, we could win this.  Those guys put on one heck of a show.  I don’t think I have seen a more exciting race at Terre Haute.  Well, with Windom, and how he came through the pack at the start of the race.  A year ago when we were there, we started 18th and Jerry got up to 4th.  And then by the time the track got wore out, a couple of cars passed him.  Then, he moved up and lost his rhythm for a second.  When he moved up, he got slid by the guy he pulled up in front of.  He had to let up and then he got slid by the next guy.  That’s where he finished.  If he could have gotten up there quicker, we would have had a better finish. 

But, Boespflug and Windom were phenomenal.  They were so close together.  From the infield, I didn’t see how good of a race it was until I watched the highlights.  You could see them trading it back and forth down the back stretch and down the front stretch.  You can see three and four pretty good from down in the infield.  You didn’t see it all until you watched the replay. 

KO:  So, are there any potential buyers for the equipment yet?  Have you marketed it yet?

Edison:  I haven’t advertised it yet.  But, I need to do that.  It would be nice if I could sell it all at once.

KO:  Kind of like what happened when you got into the sport?

Edison:  Yep. 

KO:  Did the truck and trailer come with the package when you bought in?

Edison:  The trailer did. 

KO:  I remember Kent towing with a van.  But now, you’re like, “Take it all, except for the trophies?”

Edison:  Right! 

KO:  So after 22 seasons, we’re saying you earned 89 wins and 13 track championships?

Edison:  We counted them and there was one year that Cottle drove our car for all but three races at Kokomo.  He finished the season in Walker’s car.  We counted that one. 

KO:  Mike Mann won the Gas City title in ’96, ’97, and ’98.  Was Mike with you all the way through the end of ’98?

Edison:  Yeah. 

KO:  Going through my list of your track championships, in 2004 and 2009 at Gas City, you won titles with Cottle.  At Kokomo, Mike Mann won the title for you in ’97.  A.J. Anderson won it in 2001.  Then, Cottle in 2004 and 2005.  I also show 2007 and 2011 with Cottle.  But, I’ve also got Scotty Weir in 2008.  All told, I have five at Gas City and seven at Kokomo.  2012 could be partially counted with Weir’s title at Kokomo and Puterbaugh’s at Gas City, given that both drove your car for a partial season.

But anyway, it was one hell of a run.  It really was.

Edison:  Yeah!  Starting out, we were just going to race at Kokomo and a couple other places.  Then, Gas City opened back up and that had us two nights a week, every week.  And, three nights some weeks.

KO:  Did you ever fire your car up here at the house during the week?  I’m wondering how your neighbors felt about this racing thing. 

Edison:  We never had a complaint.  And you know, when I was helping Gary Fisher, he lived in a little town called Center.  It is straight south of here.  I think the only thing they’ve got there is a convenience store.  And there’s a school on the edge of town.  We would push it down the alley, come out and go around the corner, and back in the driveway, time it, push it in the garage and stand in there.  Sure enough, about 15 minutes later, a sheriff’s car would come by.  Every time, someone would call the police.  But, we never had that happen here.  We always tried to put our headers and mufflers on.  There were times that we had a bunch of friends who had kids racing at the quarter midget track.  I’d go down there in the morning, push it off, and go back there and time it under a tree.  We rarely started it more than once or twice a year.  Always in the spring and then a lot of times when we would change motors, we’d do it again.  We tried not to.

KO:  And you’ve been at this house for how long?

Edison:  ’71.  I got married in ’70.  In the fall of ’71 we moved here.  It was like this time of the year.  I remember I didn’t have a lawn mower and the grass was about six inches high.  And those sycamore trees make a lot of leaves. 

KO:  So, you’re basically burned out and that’s the reason for exiting?  I know you said that racing used to be the last thing on your mind when you went to bed and the first thing on your mind when you woke up.  Did you have any revelations in between?

Edison:  I don’t know when the revelations happened.  We used to go on vacation and when I was helping the guy with the late model, I’d take the technical book on pavement track setups. 

KO:  I remember the Jimmy Sills video on sprint car setups from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.  I watched that a couple of times.  That was around the time that I really wanted to get involved and have a car.  But, it was always about the priorities.  I just couldn’t sacrifice everything I had to go do it.  I just wasn’t willing to do that. 

Edison:  Well, when you go into it, it’s always one of those things where you think, “Geeze, can I really swing this, money-wise?”  You’re trying to do everything you can to make it happen.  And after you do it awhile, you realize that this is what you’ve been doing and it’s worked out ok.  There were a couple of times if we were to tear it up, we were going to have to pull the plug on the rest of the season.  Fortunately, that never happened. 

KO:  The previous Sunday, I actually got the chance to get in a sprint car for the first time in 11 years.  Eric Burns called me up on a Friday and said he was renting Putnamville on a Sunday afternoon and asked me if I’d like to come out and drive.  Eric won the championship there and at Haubstadt in 2000.  He still drives a sprinter on occasion for a guy named Bill Gasway, but he has a bomber for his 15 year-old son Harley.  Anyway, the car I got to drive was an old Stealth with a steel block 355.  Well, to make a long story short, I guess I wasn’t that bad because everyone was like, “When are you going to get one of these things?  Why haven’t you raced one of these by now?” 

It always comes down to that same thing.  Money.  One crash, and my life savings would be down the drain.  No insurance. 

Edison:  See, I’ve only driven our car once.  We were going to rent the track to try some things out on the coil-over cars. There were some things that Chalk wanted to know.  That was the year that Logan Jarrett started.  We split the cost three ways to rent the track.  Chalk was always on me.  “You ought to drive that.  You ought to drive that.  Get in and drive it.  Go ahead!” 

If I would have been 35 years old when I got that car, I would have driven it.  I did autocrosses and stuff like that.  I had a Corvette.  I did well.  I won a lot of them.  I won one every year for several years, and I didn’t run that much.  Well, one of the biggest things about autocross is learning the course – to know where you were going and how fast you could go. 

When we got all done, Tom asked if we wanted to try anything else.  I said no, I think I’m done.  So he said, “Come in here.”  I walked in the trailer and he said, “Here’s your uniform.  Here’s your shoes.  Here’s your helmet.  Get that shit on.  You’re driving!” 

I just putted around.  I didn’t like that wall at Kokomo.  When you look up there and see it, you think, “If I hit that, it’s going to hurt.”  You can tell it will.  I didn’t want to tear the car up.  I’d have much rather done it at Gas City or Putnamville. 

KO:  I felt like I was getting close to that front stretch wall at Putnamville a couple of times and that worried me.  I didn’t want to have to pay for something I hadn’t planned on.  But, as always, when you get out of that car, it’s just such a rush!  I totally get why people feel like they have to do it.  But, I’m to the age now that it’s just not worth the money.   

Edison:  The guys were kind of teasing me.  They said, “We were giving you hand signals.  Didn’t you see it?”  I said, “You saw how fast I was going.  I had my hands full.  I couldn’t have beat Tom Davies.”  They said, “We had the clock on you.  You couldn’t have beaten him.”

KO:  Well, getting in a car for the first time or the first time in a while, you just want to be careful.  Right?

Edison:  They are kind of evil.  They are out there driving like that and the reason they are is because you have to drive one like that.  You just pick up the throttle and it moves.  The left wheel drives you for a while and then soon enough, the right wheel is driving you. 

KO:  The track was dry for my first session so I didn’t drive too aggressively.  But, they watered it before my second session and it was nice to be able to go out there and gas it.  However, it’s one thing to be out there on the track on my own, trying to figure it out.  It’s another to be out there with 20 other guys, going at the limit. 

Edison:  I think pavement racing is a lot different.  I did that Richard Petty thing at Las Vegas.  Driving around the track, it’s no big deal.  They put dots out there to show you where to go.  You can see that at a lot of the NASCAR races.  Those dots are still there.  It blows my mind how they do that with 40 other cars on the track. 

KO:  As you mentioned with Kokomo, it is like a USAC show on Sunday nights.  They aren’t racing for much money at all and given the numbers you just told me about how much it costs to run one of these cars, it’s a losing deal unless you plan on winning.  And yet, they still get about 25 cars.  What worries me is that eventually there won’t be those same people willing to run on Sunday nights for limited dollars. 

Edison:  Back in ’05, ’06, and ’07, the economy was pretty good. There were a lot of sprint cars around.  During Sprint Week, it wasn’t unusual to have 60 cars.  I used to hate that because you could get lost in the numbers.  I saw Jack Hewitt one night, he didn’t get out of the non-qualifier race.  And, then he won the next night.  You’re just a victim to the numbers, or you can be.  Or, you see a lot of guys, like Dave Darland and Tony Elliott come out of the non-qualifier race and end up being a factor in the feature.  But, we don’t see those numbers anymore.  Now, it’s 35 or 40 cars and if you get 45, that’s a good night. 

KO:  If you get to 50, chances are it’s not sanctioned and there’s no entry fee.

Edison:  Another thing that baffles me, a USAC race pays $5,000 to win.  And you go over to Eldora, this is like two or three years ago.  Well, I remember one night they only had 19 cars.  But, they get 30 to 35 cars.  Later in the season, they have that BOSS series running over there, racing for $1,500 to win.  They have 45 to 50 cars. 

KO:  And most of those BOSS guys are extreme, low budget racers.  Yet, there are still big guys that go over there and try and win the race, like this year with Windom.  It was a hell of a race actually, one of the better ones they have had recently.

Edison:  The BOSS guy didn’t go with a four tire rule because a lot of those guys run American Racers. 

KO:  I wish USAC would follow that lead but it probably makes too much sense, but not enough dollars for the powers that be. 

Edison:  I think that’s a big part of their budget.   

KO:  Anything is something.  Despite all the changes, I still find a reason to go.  As Joe Roush once said, I have zero invested.  But, I have my time.  A lot of people have a lot more time and money invested.

Edison:  I think Joe got real cynical, especially after his dad passed away.  He was always a little bit that way, but after his dad passed away he got pretty cynical.  I’ve run into him a couple of times since and I always enjoy seeing him. 

KO:  He’s mellowed out big time.  I sat next to him at the Chuck Amati race at Paragon.  Of course he still had his opinions.  He’ll never not be Roush without them!  But, he wasn’t as harsh as he used to be. 

Don’t you guys have a Roush rule, by the way?  What is the Roush rule?

Edison:  If you go to the track and you pack the cooler, if you get rained out, you have to drink all the beer in the cooler!  It don’t matter if you haven’t even left the house or if you get to the track, you have to drink the beer! 

KO:  Awesome!  So the rule is, if you get rained out, the cooler must come back empty?

Edison:  Right!  Joe was always the last one to leave the track.  If we outstayed him at the track, we always said, “We Roushed ‘em!” We thought we Roushed ‘em one night at Kokomo.  And when we were pulling out next to the road, there was Roush in the parking lot with a bunch of fans.  He was still there!  We thought we Roushed him, but we didn’t! 

We always enjoyed Roush.  You know with Joe, most of the time he built his own chassis.  He built his own engines.  He did everything!

KO:  And, there was a time in the ‘80s that he was building rear ends.

Edison:  Well, yeah!  I think he worked for Jones for a while.  And so, he did a lot of rear end repair. 

KO:  He knew every aspect.  You just don’t have guys involved like that anymore.  He used to be winning midget races all over the country.

Edison:  And he was young back then!  Even sprint car races.  The Kokomo Klassic that they used to run on Wednesday night, they started that with Bill Lipkey.  The way that Bill Lipkey ran his races, you had to qualify in the top-18, and they inverted six.  That was the 18 that ran the feature.  And then they divided up the heats – fast, middle, and slow.  There were usually about 25 cars.

KO:  So if you timed outside of 18th, were you done? Did they even need a B-main then?

Edison:  I can’t remember for sure, but the heats were the fast heat, the next fastest, and the slowest.  When my kids were little, they liked to watch the last heat because that’s where the crashes could be.  Tim told me that one time.  “The last heat is my favorite because sometimes they crash!” 

KO:  Towards the end, I remember they took 16 from qualifying and then only took two out of the B-main.  So, they were able to keep the guys there and give them something to shoot for.

Edison:  And every now and then, if there was a fast car might have qualified badly, a lot of times they would have offered him starting money so there might be a rush from the tail.   

One of those Kokomo Klassics, Joe Roush was the fast qualifier.  They started that race straight-up.  They had the heat races and they didn’t mean anything.  Joe hauled it in there, got over the cushion, and got into the wall.  He tore the rear end up.  Tore the front end up. 

KO:  Was he done?

Edison:  He was done for that night.

KO:  Wow!  And he was supposed to start from the pole on a big money race! He must have been sick to his stomach after that!

Edison:  The first Kokomo Klassic, I think Chuck Amati won.  He got out of the car and he had those boots on.  The One-Armed Bandit.

KO:  That’s one regret I have.  I didn’t get exposed to this early enough to see a lot of those real characters in their prime.  I started going in ’85 but really heavily in ’87.  Once I got my license in ’88, I could go anywhere I wanted pretty much.

Edison:  Well, you and Spridge.  I know Spridge was like 13 or 14 years old and he’d be over here on Sunday nights.  I don’t know how he got here.  He might have come with his dad, but he might have hitched a ride with someone. 

KO:  He was from Van Wert. 

Edison:  I used to drag race at Van Wert.  If you go up 69, take 224 over and go through Decatur and it’s really not too far over the state line.  I used to drag race there.  In fact, the last place I raced when I drag raced was at Van Wert, and we won.

KO:  Well, that’s about all I’ve got for questions.  Thank you for taking the time today to get this recorded.  I just wanted to do something to document your time in the sport, as you most certainly had a significant impact.  I just hate that the red 10 won’t be out there anymore.  I guess it’s true:  all good things must come to an end. 

 

 

 

Volume 18, Number 11

Closing Comments

Although Indiana weather has been unseasonably warm for late October and early November, it has been more than two weeks since the curtains were closed on the Midwest sprint car season. Nearly one week ago, Major League Baseball’s incredible World Series came to a conclusion as well, leading me to wonder where the last six months have escaped. Given that both pastimes are big time benefits of the spring, summer, and early fall seasons, it would seem appropriate to finally put the finishing touches on this encapsulation of the last month of my 2016 open wheel calendar. Still hanging on to the memories of my favorite time of the year, no matter the season my workweek is consistently crammed, never leaving enough time to sit down, relax, and get creative with my comments. And, whenever there is something else occupying my Sundays, it pushes my writings even further into the future, making them even less relevant once published.

Case in point: I had planned on using the final Sunday of October to hammer out the remainder of this piece, but a Friday afternoon phone call from Eric Burns asked if I was interested in driving his modified, the bomber belonging to his son Harley, and Bill Gasway's sprint car, all three available on a beautiful autumn afternoon in downtown Putnamville, Indiana. Like a Junior Mint, who would turn down such an enticing offer? Definitely not this dreamer, as I have always wanted to strap into a sprinter on a more regular basis, even if I don't have the dollars or skills to make it a reality.

As difficult as it is to deal with the season’s end, it's equally impossible to comprehend that it was over three decades ago when I was first introduced to the concept of hardcore race chasing, as National Speed Sport News photographer Steve Remington served as my tour guide to a wacky world that I previously had no idea existed. With his annual attendance of coast-to-coast contests consistently exceeding triple digits, I'm not sure how it was humanly possible but Remington also managed to punch the time clock at his full-time factory gig at Guide Lamp while also maintaining a marriage to his faithful and forgiving wife Barbara. Extremely obsessive compulsive regarding his lawn and landscape, Steve even found time to mow his yard on a daily basis, at least when he was wasn’t shooting sprinters in a far-away locale like Ascot or Manzanita.

This completely wide open lifestyle of an open wheel fanatic was further romanticized when Steve led me to such colorful characters as Ken Coles, “Mad” Max Dolder, “Sexy” Rex Staton, and Kevin “The Sleaze” Eckert, all guests at the Remington ranch at one time or another. So fascinated with Eckert's singular goal of getting from racetrack to racetrack, if it weren’t for my own desire to afford material possessions and the luxuries of life, as an impressionable teenager I might have followed the same path.

Believing that a college education was the key, I soon gained my Ball State diploma and full-time accounting employment, able to afford a solid set of wheels capable of hitting the high road when not polishing a desk chair with my rear end, reaching as many as 83 events in 1995. But, at some point the proverbial wisdom and experience of maturity made me realize that quality should be emphasized over quantity. Closing out my 2016 campaign right at 54 events, it’s still a sizeable sum of hours to be away from home if you ask my wife, who like Barb Remington is extremely faithful, forgiving, and understanding as she only chooses to occupy the passenger seat on rare occasion.

Following Lawrenceburg’s Fall Nationals, my final four outdoor flings involved high-quality offerings in Rossburg, Kokomo, Terre Haute, and Chillicothe, hard to comprehend how I could not convince anyone to join me on these journeys. Choosing Eldora’s Sprintacular over Haubstadt’s MSCS finale claimed by Kevin Thomas, Jr. (with a third MSCS title taken by Brady Short), three classes of sprint cars, an ultra-efficient agenda, and a much shorter drive home solidified my decision. With 118 machines packing the upper and lower pit areas, this huge sum was slightly down from last year’s 126, led by 49 from the topless BOSS brigade. 40 chariots from the All Star Circuit of Champions and 29 from the Ohio-based NRA 360 group also participated, with all three rosters containing numerous names that I’ve never even heard of. Action was literally non-stop from the 4:30 PM hot lap start, witnessing a final checkered flag at 10:27 PM, which was two minutes quicker than the 2015 finish of 10:29 PM. Once again, this early exit allowed me to reach Greenville just in time for Maid-Rite’s 11 PM closing, grabbing a large Coke (so incredible over shaved ice), chocolate shake, and a sack of sandwiches to go. Yep, I was saving my appetite for this special occasion, knowing full well that this might be my last visit to this awesome little eatery for six solid months.

In addition to acting as Eldora’s final event, Sprintacular served as the curtain closer for BOSS and NRA, with Guilford, Indiana Gasser Shawn Westerfeld and Jared Horstman already wrapping up their respective crowns. With three series wins on the season, Westerfeld became the first to repeat as the boss of BOSS. The All Stars still had an Atomic altercation after Eldora, with four-time champ Chad Kemenah leading six-time champ Dale Blaney by 20 markers.

Ian Madsen (14.193) and Randy Hannagan (15.356) topped the charts in All Star and NRA time trials, thus beginning the quest to complete 21 racing contests in four hours. The furthest that any winged heat winner came from was fourth, no surprise that the BOSS blind draw produced the most entertaining action on the extremely smooth and slick surface. Reinforcing the competitive aspect of traditional sprint car action, heat wins were registered from first (Bill Rose – Kissel 320), second (Chris Windom), fourth (Dustin Smith), fifth (C.J. Leary), and eighth (Ray Marshall’s Matt Westfall and Stan Courtad’s Thomas Meseraull). T-Mez was scheduled to fire from fourth but missed the call. Tagging the tail, of course he offered some unexpected crowd-pleasing drama. Missing from heat action altogether were Coleman Gulick (NRA) and J.J. Hughes (BOSS). Turn one hot lap wall contact broke the Jacobs ladder mount on the Hughes Triple-X while Gulick fought unknown mechanical gremlins from the get-go. Although his action was impeded, this was the first time to see the Iceman in the flesh since the Gas City USAC show in April of 2013. One has to hope that he still has the desire to return to the wingless world next season, as we could certainly use a further influx of talent and excitement.

Due to the serious limitation on traction, Sprintacular preliminaries were predictably tame, with an initial upside down excursion coming in the first of two BOSS B-mains when C.J. Holley piled into a Justin Owen/Bret Mellenberndt mess. After consolation conquests from eastern Indiana boys Brandon Whited and Drew Abel, unfortunately there was no time for a much-needed surface revival similar to the one conducted at the Four Crown. Heading right into the thirty-lap All Star finale, the first four rows were of course lined up by the trophy dash finish. That meant Chad Kemenah propelled from pole while Sheldon Haudenschild flanked his outside. A loaded field from front to back, Rico Abreu began third, Sammy Swindell (LaHaise 82) 13th, and Jac Haudenschild (Miller 6) 24th. In speaking with Jamie Miller, he advised that his engine was giving up at least 50 horsepower to the top teams. This made a win from the rear a tall order, even if your likeness belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Eldora excellence.

Redeeming himself quite nicely after his Four Crown flub, Abreu took full advantage of Sheldon Haudenschild’s concrete smudge on the initial start. Finding an open avenue at the top of turn one, the St. Helena, California charger circled Kemenah to escape with the back stretch lead. Unlike two weeks prior, this time there would be no relinquishing of that top spot, as Abreu’s task was made somewhat simpler when the groove moved to the middle through three and four just before halfway, clear evidence that rubber had already adhered. The opposite end of the speedway soon suffered the same fate, watching second place Dale Blaney pull to Abreu’s rear bumper when Rico was unable to overtake lapped traffic. Having to stay in the rubber much like the leader, Blaney was unable to find a way by and shadowed the blue 24 for the final 14 tours. Far from the mouth-watering, rim-riding Eldora conditions but somewhat expected given the number of machines on hand, at least the ending offered some close competition. After both the All Star and NRA main events, track crews finally came out to scratch the surface above the rubber, making for much more lively action in the final two contests.

Up front for all thirty in this non-stop, green-to-checker, nail-biting affair, Abreu locked up his second All Star victory at the Big E, admitting afterwards that he occasionally took a peek at the big screen to aid his on-track decisions. The artist formerly known as the “Tall Cool One” finished one spot ahead of his championship nemesis Kemenah. Cap Henry found fourth from 19th, advancing all 15 positions in the first five laps by bombarding the bottom. Cole Duncan drove to fifth in his debut of a brand new ride, said to be a collaborative effort between the Neumeister family and engine builder extraordinaire Charlie Fisher. Positions six through ten were garnered by little Haud, Madsen, Travis Philo, Kraig Kinser, and Eldora newcomer Aaron Reutzel. The reigning ASCS national champion, Reutzel’s first Eldora evening was indeed memorable, taking Joe Seeling’s 97 to a B-main win from fifth and eventually advancing 11 spots in the A.

Aaron’s adventure was far from over however, clearly the dominant force in the 25-lap NRA finale. Starting third in his usual Triple X/Shark, by the third tour he had already scooted past Eldora veteran Butch Schroeder for second just as Randy Hannagan cracked turn three concrete after scaling Devon Dobie's right rear. Taking a rare but terrible tumble in Dennis Yoakam’s double deuce, Randy exited from the wreckage unharmed. The ensuing restart saw Reutzel slide by Dustin Daggett with authority, immediately soaring to a massive advantage. However, huge drama began to unfold for this leader as his hood started coming apart with 18 laps remaining. Serving as a huge impediment to his vision and focus, one had to wonder when track officials would wave the black flag. As it was, no black flag was displayed and even with rubber returning on both ends, Aaron eventually increased his margin to a half track. The late stages saw Schroeder slide Daggett for second, as Tim Allison, yet another Eldora vet, found fourth. Dobie would dine on fifth place money. On the microphone, an obviously enthused Reutzel had a lot to say about his initial Eldora experience, giving credit to Brad Benic for his Momentum Racing Suspensions shocks. In addition, he acknowledged Christopher Bell, who has apparently been promoting Aaron's talents to the rest of the open wheel world.

Closing out the 2016 Eldora campaign with a 25-lap BOSS bout that awarded $1,500 to the winner, given the heat race intrigue it came as no surprise that this contest would be the most spectacular of this Sprintacular. After a redraw of the top two heat race finishers, Dustin Smith drew the number one pill for his Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania car owner Louie Gagliardi, whose Dom’s Gulf DRC continues to wear throwback John Wyer Racing livery. However, it would be fellow front row mate Dallas Hewitt (Keen 18) who got the jump to turn one, still in search of that elusive Eldora victory. Behind Dallas and Dustin, Thomas Meseraull and Chris Windom wasted no time in making forward progress. Launching some big-time bombs, Thomas immediately tackled five men to find fifth while Windom worked past three to take third.

By lap seven, Smith made an unsuccessful bid for first through turn one, allowing Windom to completely close the gap. Two laps later, Chris continued his slide job clinic with a surge to second through one and two. With leader Hewitt now navigating traffic, positions two and three made it a three-car corral up front. Dustin soon surprised Chris for second as T-Mez joined the party and made it a foursome. Just past halfway, Hewitt increased his advantage while the Hustlin’ Hoosier suddenly had to deal with a turn one slide-for-life from the Flying Illini. Dustin instinctively crossed over but one lap later he again had to defend another attack from the orange crush. This time, it was both Smith and Meseraull who chose to cross Windom's path. One lap later, Thomas took a shot at second but Dustin defended his position for the umpteenth time. Meseraull made it stick in turn three however, with Smith slipping to fourth after Windom whisked by in turn four.

With seven laps left, another entertaining scrap for second saw Chris and Thomas swap the spot three times in one tour. Thus allowing Dallas a bit of breathing room, the question of Hewitt being able to finally do it became even bigger with Shane Cottle’s caution with five to go. Restarting Windom, Meseraull, Smith and Westerfeld behind the black 18, Chris immediately made a bid for the lead in one. Dallas kept the spot with a bold outside sweep but with three to go was unable to contain the new Silver Crown champ, as the Baldwin DRC wrenched by Derek Claxton reached Eldora's victory lane for the first time in its existence. Meseraull wrenched second from Hewitt’s hands while Smith and Matt Westfall filled out the first five. Westerfeld, 15th-starting Michael Fischesser, Rose, Justin Grant (McGhee 17), and Nick Bilbee (from 17th) nailed sixth through tenth. Emotionally charged as I attempted to reach Greenville before 11 PM, after being witness to such a bodacious BOSS bash I truly wished that traditional sprinters had more opportunities to strut their stuff at Eldora.

The following Friday (10/14) found me in Kokomo, Indiana for the 15th and final time in 2016, as the first night of the 10th annual Kokomo Klash offered a classic doubleheader of 24 sprints and 31 midgets, always an unbeatable combination but especially so here. 103 cars packed the pits for Friday’s open wheel agenda while Saturday’s exclusive stock car docket attracted 207 machines. Naturally I would not be present on Saturday as USAC sprinters at Terre Haute took precedence.

Hurrying to change from work clothes into dirt track attire along the old Cincinnati to Chicago main line of the former Pennsylvania Railroad, I was invited to a top row grandstand seat by loyal patron Bart Langevin. As usual sprint cars conducted timed hot lap sessions to line up their heats and rather appropriately, newly crowned track champion Kevin Thomas, Jr. clocked quickest from the three groups. Leading the standard five-car Keith Kunz Motorsports brigade, recent Gold Crown Nationals victor Tanner Thorson (13.274) was the best from three midget sessions, as this event carried USAC Indiana regional sanction and signaled the end to its initial campaign.

If there was one thing that stood out from this year’s Klash, it would certainly be the plethora of king-sized crashes. Beginning with a bang in midget hot laps, Chris Windom’s right front wheel met with Mitch Wissmiller, winging Wissmiller into a turn one tumble that included catch fence contact. Mitch’s maiden voyage in a second Sara Fisher/Hartman Racing ride was over just like that, with the frame suffering left rear damage. Even worse, at the time of writing Wissmiller was still suffering from blurry vision, having visited several specialists in hope of finding someone who could offer hope for a full recovery. Needless to say, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Mitch.

The second of six upside down excursions took out third heat contestant Kevin Thomas, Jr., who sunk his right rear into a chunky turn one/two cushion. That giant ledge tilted the 4J Motorsports DRC on two wheels, tumbling Thomas into three or four barrel rolls. Kevin’s first sprint car red flag of the season, the driver was just fine but the impact with earth tweaked the front half of the frame to the left by a couple of inches. After a thorough inspection and some quick repairs, Kevin and car owner Jeremy Ottinger readied their ride for the B, eventually scoring second. Fresh off his first Haubstadt win as a mechanic, Jeremy noted that this particular frame once belonged to Wes McIntyre and had been clipped on four other occasions. A fifth would unfortunately be required.

The other four flips came in sprint and midget main events. Three laps into the sprint car finale, Ted Hines connected with Corey Smith and managed to turn over. Thirteen year-old Jadon Rogers, with assistance from Frankfort’s Brian Cripe, didn’t see the red and hauled it far too deep into turn three. Rogers went for a ride but landed on all four, requesting that a ruined right rear shock be replaced. Thomas Meseraull (Burton 04) was the fifth victim in a similar scenario to KTJ. While chasing leader Shane Cottle, Meseraull biked on the big curb in one and two. Landing hard on the left rear and hurled into the fence, he looked the worse for wear the next day in Terre Haute. The final red flag involved Spencer Bayston and Dave Darland, both of whom were battling for third on lap 19 of the 25-lap midget feature. Resembling Windom and Wissmiller, Dave’s right front stabbed Spencer at the entry to turn one. The Lebanon young lion would take a wicked ride along the wall, able to exit unharmed.

All sprint and midget heat winners came from either the first or second row. Dakota Jackson (Waltz 56) scored in the sprint B while Tony DiMattia shared the same honor in the midget B after overtaking Kiwi Anton Julian (Pace 44), the latter having Indy Car standout Scott Dixon urging him on from the pit stands. 2013 Klash midget winner Shane Cottle (Ecker 57) encountered mechanical gremlins in heat and B and thus failed to transfer.

While mini sprints took to the track, I enjoyed a quick conversation with Lawrenceburg Speedway legend Greg Staab, who was leisurely watching from the main grandstands. It was been a trying last few years for Staab, who successfully beat throat cancer in 2014. Heading into the 2016 New Year, an early morning fire claimed the life of his girlfriend Penny and a couple of pets. Completely gutting his house and all of its contents, serious smoke inhalation required a nearly two week hospital stay. Since then, cancer came back in his liver and lungs, having to endure extensive chemo since April. Given a clear sign from his doctor just the day before Kokomo, the cancer spots stopped growing and have actually shrunk, with no testing or treatments required for the next ten weeks. Always in positive spirits, the Sayler Park Racing Hall of Fame inductee is still stoked about sprint car racing, having campaigned a yellow number 44 for Joe Ligouri this season. Winning his 80th event as a driver/owner/mechanic earlier this year at Charleston, Illinois, one night after Kokomo Joe would give Greg victory number 81.

Thomas Meseraull and Shane Cottle shared the sprint car feature front row, with Cottle taking the early advantage as 2010 Klash winner Scotty Weir (Simon 22) immediately exited, having earlier encountered issues with engine timing and a broken brake line. Difficult to develop any rhythm for the first eight laps due to a pair of cautions and reds, Cottle led eighth-starting Jerry Coons, Jr., Justin Grant (McGhee 17), Chris Windom, and Jarett Andretti back to green after Meseraull’s fence mauling. When Shane and Jerry chose to go low, Justin and Chris stepped upstairs. Coons and Grant briefly scrapped for second, but JG stayed true to his top shelf tactic and gained the advantage. Pulling even with last year’s winner on the 12th tour, one lap later Justin was all alone out front, quickly constructing an insurmountable lead in just two tours. But, lapped traffic would allow Cottle to close in the waning stages, going as low as he possibly could on both ends. However, it would not be enough to keep Grant from his first Kokomo conquest of the season. Before taking home $5,000 from Findlay the next evening, Cottle settled for second. Coons, Windom, and Andretti annexed third through fifth. Dave Darland (up from 11th in the Walker 11), Matt Westfall (Marshall 33), Dakota Jackson (from 16th), Kevin Thomas, Jr. (from 17th), and Kyle Robbins secured sixth through tenth.

Ryan Robinson and Dave Darland earned front row seats for the accompanying midget main event but it would be third starter Chris Windom who would draw first blood in Kenny Baldwin’s Spike/Gaerte-Ford, using the moist bottom of turn two’s exit to launch to the lead. A turn three lunge on the second lap sent seventh-starting Tanner Thorson into a spin that also swallowed Tony DiMattia and Jerry Coons, Jr. (Petry 25). One more yellow (Julian and Cole Fehr) and red (Bayston) interrupted Windom’s 25-lap romp. Chris would wind up leading them all up top but behind him a fine battle was waged for second, with fourth-starting Carson Macedo and Robinson engaging in slip and slide/dip and dive maneuvers for two consecutive circuits through one and two. With second through seventh operating under one cozy blanket, Tanner Thorson was included after recovering from his early incident.

A final restart on lap 18 saw Darland bombard the bottom to snag second, closing on Windom with every lap. With two to go, first and second were almost even but it wouldn’t be enough to alter the outcome. Hard to believe that this was Chris’s first-ever full-size midget victory, he proved that Toyota power is not essential to achieve success. Thorson barely beat Gage Walker for third while Holly Shelton scored fifth. Davey Ray ran sixth, this after needing to construct a new car after his Granite City crash. Positions seven through ten were taken by Robinson, Macedo, Chett Gehrke (Moore 10), and Kyle O’Gara. Done by 10:34 PM, yet another incredible Kokomo campaign was in the books, eagerly anticipating what the speedway's schedule will show for 2017.

Rescheduled from September 16th, Terre Haute’s Jim Hurtubise Classic was contested on a gorgeous Saturday evening in which no jacket was required, so odd to enjoy such picture-perfect weather in the middle of October. Tempted by a Millstream Speedway winged 410/wingless 410/winged 305 offering the same night, although I missed out on a new track I'm glad I stuck to my Terre Haute guns as this may have been the best race I have ever witnessed at the legendary Action Track. True story.

Initially disappointed by the slim 22-car assembly as names like Andretti, Cummins, Cottle, and Short were notably absent, surprise participation from Carson Macedo (Krockenberger 21) somewhat masked my dismay. Sixth in the qualifying line in his usual DRC/Fisher combination, July feature winner Chase Stockon wound up number one for the sixth time this season with his 20.424 second tour of the huge half-mile. Towing on an open trailer with mechanical assistance from Donnie Gentry, Thomas Meseraull was fifth fastest in the orange 9x supplied by Stan Courtad, suffering from a sore neck and living on ibuprofen after his Friday night flight. The biggest shocker: point leader Brady Bacon could do no better than 17th.

With no need for a semi-feature, the only question left to answer was whether the quick six qualifiers would earn a feature inversion, needing to simply finish fifth in their heat. All six did the deed, but Meseraull came closest to missing that cut after a half-spin. Stopping to force a caution, with a little work he finally overhauled Issac Chapple’s seven cylinders for fifth. Windom, Tyler Courtney, and Jon Stanbrough all won from fourth.

Missing out on massive modified mayhem as I shared a quick conversation with Ray Kenens, Jr., Kenens commented that this was the first year since 1982 that he had not competed in a sprint car contest. Spending the majority of the season assisting Justin Grant on his Chris Carli Silver Crown car, since Du Quoin he has served as USAC’s truck driver. Dusting off his ride for a dozen or so laps at Boswell, Indiana a few months ago, Ray let Rossville, Indiana mini-sprint sensation Cole Bodine get his feet wet in a full size sprinter, mentioning that the kid looked good. Cole is the son of Kevin Bodine, former crew member for 2001 Gas City and Lincoln Park track champion Eric Shively.

Making it back to a seat saved by "Railroad" Joe Higdon just in time for the 8:25 PM feature push, Justin Grant and Thomas Meseraull held coveted front row starting spots for the $5,000 to win thirty lap grind. With surface already slick and cushion pushed to the wall on both ends, given my indecision in choosing a feature favorite; that should have offered a clue as to how interesting the action would be.

Grant got the initial jump and took T-Mez to task at the top of turn one. Third-starting Chad Boespflug stayed low to secure second, good enough to go wheel to wheel for first on the opposite end. White hot over the last month, 2011 Hurtubise winner Chris Windom immediately found the bottom to his liking, literally coming out of nowhere to slice from seventh to third. Boespflug bolted from bottom of one to the top of two to find first on the third tour. But, after a brief battle with Stockon, Windom went from third to first with consecutive sweeps along turn two’s inside rail. A lap eight caution for J.J. Hughes kept Chris honest, but in just four furious laps he began to build a bridge between himself and second place Boespflug. In an attempt to keep the leader in sight, CB changed his line through three and four and charged the concrete. This extreme top shelf tactic was working wonders and by lap 17, number 98 was back in the lead.

Although Chris was king in one and two, he suddenly couldn’t touch Chad through three and four, forced to follow suit around the rim. After two laps of gaining some great forward bite off turn two, Windom’s massive momentum shot him past Boespflug at turn three. Chad immediately returned the favor and slammed the door on his former ride at the entrance to turn one, still not enough to keep The Bear from growling again at the entrance to turn three of lap 23. Despite some fourth turn interference from Joe Bares, Chad still kept his EZR Maxim/Claxton out front. Boespflug miraculously split the lapped machines of Chapple and Corey Smith through one and two but Windom made his usual back stretch surge to offer even more third turn drama. Chris slipped and slided while Chad dipped and dived, but the high side momentum maintained by the Baldwin 5 was more than enough to officially lead lap 28.

The last two laps went uncontested for Windom, flagging his fourth win over the last three weeks and his second USAC sprint car score of the season. Boespflug settled for second, easily his best Terre Haute showing due in part to effective half-mile setups from Davey Jones. In what was later announced as car owner Monte Edison’s final contest in a 22-year career containing 89 wins (5 of them USAC) and 12 track titles, Monte’s driver Jerry Coons, Jr. started fourth and finished third. Chase Stockon and Justin Grant looked good early but wound up fourth and fifth. Tyler Courtney, Brady Bacon (up ten spots), Jon Stanbrough, C.J. Leary, and Aaron Farney made up the second half of the top-ten. With such great weather, an even greater race, and an early exit at 8:58 PM, who could ask for anything more from a closing contest?

Regardless of whether it was a Thursday or Friday, I chose not to make the brutal drive to the Jason Leffler Memorial, knowing just how difficult it is to get back home from Southern Illinois at a decent hour and not feel completely worn out for the next week. Although I could have easily concluded my outdoor campaign on a high note from such a terrific Terre Haute tussle, only hardcore race chasers know that a racing soul gets even greedier once it is witness to an awesome event. Feeding the beast with one last bite, I angled southeast towards Chillicothe, Ohio where Atomic Speedway’s All Star Circuit of Champions finale offered one final fling. Owning original plans to meet up with my Cleveland comrade Tom Percy, once rain reduced a two night show to one and sliced the winner’s share in half to $10,000, Tom bailed, leaving me in my solace to enjoy my last journey before hibernation mode sets in.

Having only traveled twice to the former K-C Raceway, both times I played passenger, the last time for a 2009 World of Outlaws outing with my nephew. The first was way back in 1993, riding with Steve Remington, Dave Sink, and a few others to the USAC sprint car contest eventually won by Jack Hewitt. Finally figuring out how to use the navigation in my newest MINI, once I punched in the address of 2535 Blain Highway in Waverly, Ohio, I was advised that the 216 miles could be covered in perfect time – scheduled to arrive at exactly 5 PM for the start of hot laps. The first two hours to Dayton via I-70 and I-75 were a breeze, but it was those last 90 minutes on US-35/23 that seemed to take forever. Instantly recalling that initial trip with Remington when a highly irritated individual in the lane next to us decided to display his firearm, in honor of Rem and his love for late 1960s rock and roll, instead of satellite radio I switched over to my iPhone and listened to all 20 tracks of The Future Starts Here: The Essential Doors Hits. There's just something about that band and its distinctive sounds that sends me back in time, wondering what sprint car racing was like in the 1970s when it was filled with far more outlaws, gypsies, and free spirits who might have listened to these same tunes.

Spotting gorgeous fall foliage sprouting from steep hillsides surrounding Chillicothe, it truly felt like I was entering a completely different world, partially understanding why a Hoosier like Danny Smith might want to migrate here. Easily finding my turnoff on Rozelle Creek Road only to immediately fork left at Mount Tabor Road, the next 3.6 miles of twists and turns were definitely not suited for today’s super-sized sprint car haulers. Left again on Blain Highway, my trusty navigator advised that my destination would be on the right in less than a mile. Parking outside of three and four and making the long trek to the pit shack, I remembered that my 1993 ride with Remington was rewarded with full access, as Steve was extremely tight with the Karshner family who at that time called the shots at K-C. Plopping down my pair of yuppie food stamps for pit access, I found it quite ironic that the person who signed the waiver ahead of me also owned the last name of Karshner.

This was indeed a throwback evening, revisiting an era (late ‘80s and early ‘90s) when I was so infatuated with the winged sprint car scene. Making a quick tour of a pit area packed with 49 sprinters, Jac Haudenschild’s car owner Jamie Miller was first to recognize my out of place presence when asking if I was lost. Of those 49, of course you had all of your usual All Star regulars, with Dale Blaney trailing Chad Kemenah by 18 points in the championship chase. A large contingent of locals was led by Danny Smith, but all-to-familiar names from the past included Todd Kane, Jimmy Stinson (Slone 4x), Cale Conley, Dave Dickson (a Truesports Racing employee back in the day with my brother Chris), and Mark Imler. Old-school outlaws included Haud, The Dude (with Guy Forbrook still spinning wrenches) and Keystone state invader Brent Marks. Another interesting matchup paired car owner Kevin Swindell with midgeteer Spencer Bayston for the second time.

Given the propensity for hardcore racing folk to cover any kind of mileage to absorb this type of action, naturally I wasn’t the only Hoosier in the house. Landon Simon was spotted in the Swindell speed lab. Indy Race Parts proprietor Bernie Stuebgen was busy lending a hand and a set of shocks to Hunter Schuerenberg. Now numbered two and adorned with old school graphics, Hunter debuted a new Eagle chassis in style and was up front all night. After the action had ended, longtime Danny Smith benefactor Allen Kiger graciously offered to fuel my stomach for the long ride home, but the unfortunate 11:15 PM ending left me no choice but to get on the road. Kiger commented that Smith’s decision to stay off the half-miles in 2017 wasn’t because of age or skill, but rather competitive equipment concerns. Kokomo Honda’s Lynn Reid paced the pits, as did Elliott Trailers employee Tony Courtney. Now calling New Castle, Indiana home, Kevin Besecker even took time out of his evening to say hello, overseeing a winged Bob East creation for Caleb Armstrong who required a rear end swap after hot laps.

If I remember right, USAC hot laps in 1993 ended the evening for three men, one of them serious enough to require an immediate trip to the hospital. 23 years later, this All Star assembly also eliminated a trio from hot laps, with Bradley Howard, Cody Gallogly, and Ronnie Blair inverting and calling it an evening. A long night characterized by calamity, 15 separate sprint car chauffeurs inverted, very few of them categorized as tommy-tipovers.

As expected, Thursday’s significant accumulation of rain left the 3/8ths mile oval soft and choppy in spots. Down low in one and two and through the middle in three and four, the latter location claimed 11 of the 15 flips. After the three from hot laps, only one went over in qualifying (Danny Holtgraver) while heats took their toll on Paige Polyak (rearranging the front torsion tubes on her frame) and Caleb Helms. A trophy dash connection with Schuerenberg landed Lee Jacobs on his lid. Local Jessie McCreary was roughed up by the inside berm in the C while Dallas Hewitt (Jessup 7K), Ryan Broughton, and Nate Reeser were B-main casualties.

Slated to start from the pole of the dash was Jac Haudenschild, with all signs pointing to a Wild Child feature romp as these old-school heavy conditions were right up his alley. But, things went downhill in a hurry after Jac lost an oil filter o-ring while lining up for that dash. Also requiring Jamie Miller’s scant squad to drain and refill the machine’s water supply just in time for the A-main, Haud lined up 8th for the 35-lapper but immediately bounced into a flip atop turns three and four, truly a shame as he would have been wicked to watch.

After hitting the rough stuff wrong between turns one and two on the ninth lap, Cap Henry took a violent end over end tumble over the banking. Caleb Armstrong was a bucking bronco rider in turn four about a third of the way through and became flip number 14. This particular red flag turned into a fuel stop for the thirsty sprinters that now boast between 900 to 1,000 horsepower but are still fed by ridiculously small fuel cells. Spending most of my evening with Greenville, Ohio resident and former sprint car competitor John Buchy, John and I came to the agreement that we both despise the breaks in the action caused by these red flag fuel stops, wondering what paying customer wants to see such nonsense. Why can’t the movers and shakers in the winged sprint car community demand that their teams find a way to complete the feature distance without the security blanket of fuel stops? Perhaps requiring a return to the days of larger fuel cells, if such a hard stance were taken on limiting fuel stops, teams might not be encouraged to build such exotic engines. Thus able to go longer between rebuilds, this might actually save the sport in the long run. Benefitting the fans and the teams, this seems like a common sense solution but as it currently stands, the inmates are essentially running the winged sprint car asylum.

The final flip took place about 15 to 20 feet from my grandstand seat, about as dramatic and close in proximity as I can remember. The hotly contested race for first between quick qualifier (11.282 seconds), dash winner, and race-long leader Cole Duncan and outside row one starter Sheldon Haudenschild turned ugly just past the flag stand on lap 32. Just before that fateful moment, the lead duo had met for several consecutive circuits on the front chute, often far too close for comfort. Unfortunately the final meeting saw Sheldon attempt to squeeze between the wall and Cole’s ride, resulting in contact that turned Duncan’s number 12 completely sideways. Flipping on top of the wall and into the catch fence, the three race old Neumeister owned Maxim was wiped out while its Charlie Fisher mill was taxed beyond its intended RPM range. A tough break for Cole, he had hoped to win this race for his recently deceased grandfather who had planned on attending.

As it was, Haudenschild went on to score his ninth All Star win of the season, leading a lightning-quick Hunter Schuerenberg and 12th-starting Danny Lasoski to the finish. Brent Marks moved from 20th to 4th while Spencer Bayston, who endured a loose top wing in his heat, elevated from 18th to 5th. Sixth through tenth in this survival of the fittest included Bill Balog (from 17th), Kraig Kinser (from 16th), Chad Kemenah, Dale Blaney, and Caleb Helms (from 22nd). Operating as high as second in the main event, Danny Holtgraver could only claim 19th after bouncing through the holes in one and two, slowing enough to incite some serious blows from both Jimmy Stinson and Tim Shaffer. Kemenah’s conservative run was good enough for a 20 point cushion on Blaney in the final standings, awarding car owner Randy Hammer his first series crown and Chad’s fifth, his first since 2005.

Despite all those incidents, the need for two feature fuel stops, and the later than desired ending, it was still an enjoyable evening, as one rarely gets to see winged activity on such a heavy surface. To ensure that I arrive home without interruption or incident, I still needed to make my own fuel stop for my MINI and my mind (two cans of Starbucks energy tend to do the trick). Keeping my speed to a minimum, I finally hit my driveway at an unsavory 3:30 AM, but at least my racing soul was adequately fed for the winter. With end of 2016 indoor open wheel options in Du Quoin and Fort Wayne, although the season may not be officially over, it might as well be.

Time to wrap up this final 2016 column with my own closing comments, although lamenting the fact that I would miss the season’s first three Indiana outdoor events while vacationing in Ireland, once back on home soil it was an immediate transition to full-on race mode, as week after week seemed to offer countless can’t miss contests. Other than two complete weekend washouts in April and two weekends in August to rein in my emotions following the horrific Bryan Clauson tragedy, the entire season was one big blur. Although I am a little sad that it’s over, I’m actually ok with a break in the action, able to effectively recharge racing batteries and relieve work stress by watching college basketball, visiting long-lost friends and family, and going away for a couple extended weekend vacations. Even though both boys of summer (sprint car chauffeurs and Major League Baseball players) have come and gone, thanks to these final few journeys and some unexpected seat time in an actual fire-breathing sprinter, my love for the sport will still remain strong in these long winter months, ready to hit it hard come late March and early April.

 

 

Volume 18, Number 10

Long Time

As a loyal listener of Tom Petty Radio, far too often I’m reminded that the waiting is the hardest part. This is especially true in this internet age when anything you desire becomes instantly available with the press of a few buttons on your wireless device. It wasn’t that long ago when the news of the day would have to wait until the morning and if you’re a racing fanatic, you might remember that Thursdays were extra special, as that was the day the mailman would deliver National Speed Sport News, containing everything you needed to know about all forms of racing. I truly miss those innocent days, as there was something to be said about the benefits of anticipation and actually having to wait for whatever it is that you wanted. Is it safe to say that any kind of extended delay results in a greater appreciation?

The best benefit of living in the vicinity of Indiana’s capital city is the multiple options of open wheel entertainment on any given weekend from April through October. For any raceaholic who needs his fix, there’s rarely a long wait for the next one – unless of course you’re talking about the end of the season. To reach these venues generally requires 90 minutes of driving, with Tri-State Speedway serving as the lone exception. Yes, it might take a long time to get there, but the trip is always well worth it.

For this September 17th haul to the Haubstadt Hustler, my nephew was once again my co-pilot, always making the dreadful drive home a bit more bearable. Sharing a distinct desire to make each journey stand out, this time we set out for Evansville’s Gerst Bavarian Haus, with the sole purpose of finding out if it was worthy of making the top-ten list of best tenderloin sandwiches in the state. Located in an old hardware store on Franklin Street (just west of Tin Man Brewing), I’m happy to report that the Gerst tenderloin was indeed one of the best I’ve ever devoured. In addition to the sandwich, Danny and I also enjoyed a German sausage sampler platter as an appetizer. Paired with a wide array of craft beers from not only Indiana, but all over the country, prices for food and drink were quite reasonable. Checking out their website (www.gersthaus.com), it was interesting to learn that this restaurant is not an Evansville original but rather an outpost from Nashville, Tennessee. Either way, it was a great time and a great meal, ready to give it another go the next time I’m in the area.

In our attempt to reach Haubstadt from downtown Evansville, just like April we once again chose some new roads. West on Franklin, north on St. Joseph Avenue, east on West Boonville-New Harmony Road, north on Darmstadt Road (eyeing the age-old Darmstadt Inn, a future dining destination), and veering right at the fork for Old Princeton Road, in the distance I spotted an impressive spire extending from a rather prominent elevation. As we would soon find out, that steeple belonged to the Saint James Roman Catholic Church, the oldest Catholic congregation in Gibson County. At 5:30 PM on a Saturday, the parking lot was of course packed, interesting to note that the church and its adjoining private school were located in its own hamlet rather appropriately named Saint James. The town of Haubstadt was just one mile north, passing its former high school gymnasium that is still used as a community center. Before reaching the Haub Steakhouse (last visited in 2008 for the early bird special), we were stopped by a thundering northbound CSX freight train, making me believe that this might just be my lucky day as I still love my trains. Once the crossing gates raised, we soon reached The Class Track, where an outstanding congregation of 41 sprint cars vied for the $10,000 top prize.

It’s been such a long time since 41 sprinters populated the Tri-State pits, having recently attracted 39 for the July Sprint Week stop. Such a large number was highly appreciated, as this actually makes the heat races and semi-feature much more meaningful and entertaining. One of those 41 competitors was Daron Clayton, the 2012 and 2014 winner of this event and a crowd-pleasing favorite in this neck of the woods. Entered in a second Jeff Walker Racing ride, it has been a long time since Daron had saddled up in a sprinter, one year to be exact. Requiring hot laps and a heat race to remove rust, the Modern Day Cowboy galloped from eighth to second in the B, good enough to grid him 17th for the big 40-lapper. Living up to his reputation as being worth the price of admission, Clayton did not disappoint. His usual tactic of early-apexing turns one and three continued to be effective, climbing as high as third at lap 36 before a last lap spin spoiled his Cinderella story.

Before on-track action ever commenced, heavy drama involved C.J. Leary and Thomas Meseraull. Leary arrived with his family-owned machine, much to the surprise of his Amati Racing squad that was completely caught off-guard by C.J.’s unannounced departure. Meseraull towed his own number 9x south, but obliged on Shane Wade’s request to rejoin his old team. Leary’s brief tenure in the 66 netted him his first USAC national sprint win at Kokomo, but the possession of that trophy and the monetary rewards were the subject of debate. At the end of the Hustler, C.J. scored eleventh while Meseraull took 21st, victim of an overheating engine.

The substantial field required five heats, with all but one won from the front row. The most impressive heat race performance came from Princeton’s Kyle Cummins, who started fourth, fell back to seventh, but surged to second. This was just enough for Cummins to take part in the feature redraw, as MSCS rules reigned on this evening. A full inversion of ten cars meant that July Sprint Week winner Carson Short would share a front row with 2013 Haubstadt Hustler winner Kevin Thomas, Jr., whose 4J Motorsports squad was wearing the number one for Robert Ballou, assisting Ballou in his quest to maintain his high placement in USAC car owner points.

As expected, Short got the jump and led the first seven laps, but the big cushion that had developed in the heat races bit Carson in a big way. Blasting the turn two lip to bike and then tip over, Short actually restarted and surged back to seventh at the finish. Sixth-starting Tyler Courtney inherited first and led the next twelve tours, but that super-heavy surface that resulted from Friday rain (enough to completely coat the outside billboards with mud) took its toll on Tyler’s advantage. Consecutive Courtney bike rides in turns four and two on lap 19 and 20 allowed fifth-starting Kyle Cummins to take the point in his Rock Steady Racing Mach 1/Cummins, a position he would not relinquish despite a red flag for quick-qualifier Tyler Hewitt and a pair of late-race yellows for Brady Short (big smoke) and Clayton.

Courtney’s career-best Haubstadt effort came up one spot short of victory, overtaking tenth-starting Shane Cottle (Hazen 57) for runner-up rights on the final lap. Kevin Thomas, Jr. and Chase Stockon (from 14th) were fourth and fifth. Chris Windom, Carson Short, Justin Grant, Brady Bacon (from 20th), and Jon Stanbrough (from 22nd) were sixth through tenth at the 10:24 PM checkered flag. In just his second outing in Mike Dutcher’s 17, Aaron Farney won his heat race and was operating in fourth before taking a two-wheeled tour to the turn four wall, rendering him 23rd in the rundown.

Celebrating his long-awaited hometown score with turn two and four donuts, Kyle Cummins began his USAC career with a bang after tumbling over the turn four guardrail at Terre Haute on October 4th, 2003. Having to wait until July 9th, 2016 to achieve the ultimate measure of success with this Speedway, Indiana sanctioning body, that’s nearly a 13 year wait for his first win, imagining Kyle’s enormous relief, excitement, and appreciation. A long time coming, he had been knocking on the door for years and years, especially at Haubstadt where just one year prior he was within five laps of this noteworthy win. An MSCS champion in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2014, Cummins even had to wait a while for his first Haubstadt sprint car score, this coming on June 30th, 2012. Since then, numerous Tri-State tallies have come: 9/27/14, 9/6/15, 9/26/15, 6/11/16, 9/4/16, and now 9/17/16. Just two months and eight days after his first USAC triumph, the wait for his second victory wasn’t nearly as long, but the end result was equally sweet.

With a half-day of vacation scheduled on the following Friday, I chose an Eldora Speedway World of Outlaws pre-Four Crown affair over the Lincoln Park Speedway points finale (won by Brady Short with the track title going to Shane Cockrum). Even with the half day off, I still couldn't head east until 3:30 PM, running into untimely snarls through Carmel and Fishers that made me sweat my Darke County arrival time. Thankfully hot laps were slightly delayed, allowing me to briefly converse with Tim Clauson for the first time since the unfortunate incident. Still unable to convey just how much his son's absence has impacted my thoughts about racing and life, I continue to marvel at just how accessible the family has been given the dire circumstances. Nevertheless, an event like the Four Crown that showcases such supreme versatility was missing Bryan’s presence in a big way, as only Brady Bacon and Tyler Courtney signed up for all four of Saturday’s classes despite the big bonus money that was available for anyone who could win three ($25,000) or four ($100,000) features.

Running so short on time precluded my usual Greenville stop for a sack of Maid-Rite sandwiches, having to wait one more day to indulge in such a guilty pleasure. But, as the Eldora track crew continued their finishing touches, I was allowed a moment to meet up with Tom Percy and his Cleveland camping contingent who had just finished their own dinner. Thanks to Tom, I wouldn’t have to fuel up for the rest of the evening but due to the unseasonal 84 degree temperatures, I did need to wait in line for a liquid refreshment or two.

Greeted by a 42-car field divided into two qualifying flights, Gary Taylor was quickest of both bunches with a 13.036 second circuit, still such a long way off Craig Dollansky’s 12.707 mark from 2002. Gearing up for Saturday’s All Star altercation, Tyler Courtney was clocked 21st while Brady Bacon bolted to the pits when his power plant changed pitch. Courtney’s winged mentor Danny Smith failed to take time and was stuck with a 9th place C-main result, hardly the way a true legend should exit his final Eldora World of Outlaws outing.

Starting heat races straight up by time, I’m still baffled as to how this format promotes better heat racing, as qualifying is still the key to everything. And who is better at qualifying than Outlaw tour regulars? No one, I might add. Kerry Madsen, taking over for Bryan Clauson in Matt Wood’s 17W, was most impressive in Friday heats, defying front row logic with a win from outside row 2. Shane Stewart also made the dash from row two, crazy that I’m writing about someone coming from the second row being a noteworthy heat race performance. Such is the state of affairs in big-time winged racing, as it is hard to pass in the heats no matter the number of inversion. It is common knowledge that overtaking only becomes possible via traffic and bone-slick conditions, which was far from reality as Friday’s Eldora surface was actually quite heavy.

A trophy dash inversion of eight placed Daryn Pittman on pole, but Donny Schatz did the most damage in his drive from sixth to second, going above the cushion in turns three and four to manufacture momentum for passes in one and two. After C and B-main wins by Hunter Schuerenberg and last year’s winner Greg Wilson, the thirty-lap feature was ready to roll by 9:58 PM. Needing four attempts at starting the finale, Tim Shaffer and Jacob Allen tumbled at the turn three entrance, the third and fourth flip victims after earlier inversions from Joe Swanson (heat) and Randy Hannagan (B). Jac Haudenschild’s stoppage of the Brubaker 35 led to a third restart that saw his son Sheldon soar into the turn one fence, punching a huge hole with his top wing. Gary Taylor was the sixth to land on his lid after his lap 24 incident. Thankfully everyone exited ok.

Pittman had to work extra hard to hold off Schatz on those initial starts, the fourth one being the charm. Daryn chopped Donny immediately in turn three, with fifth-starting Shane Stewart dive-bombing the Minot missile in the same corner of lap four. Shane used lapped traffic to completely close the gap to the Great Clips guy, able to make his winning move with a patented turn three slider on lap 11. Building a 3.5 second advantage before GT’s tumble, a double-file restart could not keep Stewart from victory, beating Daryn to the top of turn two and building a full straightaway advantage in just six circuits. Winning for the second time in three days, the 2015 Kings Royal winner climbed atop his Cool chassis and pounded the top wing, praising his team for a superb setup and his Rider Engine for its huge horsepower. Bobby Allen’s grandson Logan Schuchart snuck by Pittman for second, continuing the fantastic season for the ultimate low-buck racer. The 2013 Outlaw champ settled for the podium while Schatz and David Gravel filled out the first-five. Positions six through ten were claimed by Joey Saldana, Kerry Madsen, Ian Madsen, Brad Sweet (from 20th), and Chad Kemenah. Native Hoosiers Kraig Kinser, Caleb Armstrong, and Tyler Courtney collected 13th, 15th, and 17th, respectively.

Heading home Friday night to scoop up Speed Ball for Saturday Four Crown activity, the 4:30 PM hot lap start required an earlier than usual departure, especially to get to Greenville to grab those Maid-Rites. With a line nearly out the door, I was thoroughly impressed that the crew was able to get me in and out in no time flat. Spotting Kermit House (father to Tray) sitting in a booth, I wondered just how many times he has stopped here over the years. I can confirm that this Maid-Rite in Greenville easily blows away the one in Christopher, Illinois.

It’s been a long time since four classes were contested at the Four Crown – 2006 to be exact – and we know how that evening turned out: an all-nighter thanks to Mother Nature. The very next year (2007), the World of Outlaws became the fourth crown for a Friday-only showing while just the three traditional USAC classes were featured on Saturday. So, when it was first announced that the All Star Circuit of Champions would serve as the fourth crown for 2016, I assumed that this group would replace the World of Outlaws on Friday, as there was simply no way to run a complete show for four decent sized divisions in one evening. But, leave it to Eldora Speedway to make a bold attempt to pull off the impossible, as never before has an open wheel fanatic been presented with such a high concentration of high-quality action.

With 126 machines doing battle (25 midgets, 40 sprints, 24 Silver Crown, and 37 All Stars), qualifying alone required 378 circuits if you factor in one warmup lap and two on the clock. Boasting 11 heat races, two B-mains, a trophy dash, and 135 laps of feature action, that’s a lot to squeeze into such a limited time frame. Unfortunately, when you attempt to start a dirt track program in extended daylight, there’s no way any respectable surface can survive the abuse of the sun, huge right rear tires, and high horsepower engines. So, instead of presenting a rubber-down parade that would have been some serious buzzkill for the largest Four Crown crowd I have ever encountered, track owner Tony Stewart ordered a complete surface revamp once qualifying was finally completed at 8:20 PM. The extensive revival was finally finished by 10:01 PM and despite Stewart’s explanation and apology, the natives were growing rather restless. Four hours and 48 minutes later, the final feature took the checkered flag, making for one heaping helping of open wheel overload. Please don’t construe this as a complaint, as I knew all too well that this would be a very late night. The fact is, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Serving as my introduction to Eldora Speedway (circa 1985), I gained firsthand knowledge that this one event can create cult heroes by showcasing such dynamic talent.

My initial Eldora intake was highlighted by Larry Rice’s sprint and Silver Crown double on the same set of rear tires, setting the bar extremely high for impossibility and heroism. However, Jack Hewitt soon became the benchmark in both of these categories. From 1983 to 1998 (not counting the 1984 rainout), there were only two years when he didn’t win at least one Four Crown feature. Double-dipping three times before his magical 1998 sweep, his all-time event win total reached an amazing 19. Kyle Larson’s 2011 sweep of all three features was equally impressive given the fact that it was his first time to compete at the Big E, also earning him extreme worship status. There is no doubt that people will still be raving about these fantastic feats several decades later, thus preserving the prestige of such an intriguing event.

Other than Hewitt, Steve Kinser (1981), Rich Vogler (1986), Tony Stewart (1995), Dave Darland (1999 and 2004), J.J. Yeley (2001), Tracy Hines (2006), and Chris Windom (2013) have also double dipped in Four Crown action. After obliterating this year’s midget field and taking the All Star feature lead on lap 7, Rico Abreu seemed certain to become the next member of “club double”.

Qualifying quickest in his Keith Kunz Bullet/Toyota (17.164) and going from sixth to first in just half of a heat race lap, after a brief exchange with Chad Boat he held the feature lead by lap two. Tempting fate with a choppy cushion through one and two, the slightly cowboy conditions completely suited Rico’s win it or wear it style. Had it not been for a Tyler Courtney (Irwin 7K) caution with four laps remaining, only four cars would have finished on the lead lap, no doubt the most dominating Four Crown midget performance of all-time.

Third in All Star qualifying, third in his heat, and first in the dash, after lifting the lead from outside front row starter and quick qualifier (14.158) Randy Hannagan, Abreu survived a serious taste of turn four concrete on lap ten. Still operating the Abreu Vineyards Eagle on the razor’s edge, he eventually stepped over that imaginary line on lap 28, spinning and cutting a 360 degree donut through a slick turn three before being blasted by Lee Jacobs. Despite his failure to join the same club as the aforementioned Four Crown stars, it didn’t take Rico very long to earn the modern day equivalency of Hewitt’s Eldora adulation. So fearless and so fast, the combination of Rico and the Big E makes for must-see action.

Aside from Abreu, Chris Windom was the other amazing Four Crown story of 2016. Although Chris was already a member of “club double”, he looked to punch his card for a second time and further separate himself as an Eldora elite. Timing third in the Kenny Baldwin DRC/Claxton behind quick qualifier Chase Stockon (16.514) and Brady Bacon, he did everything but flip in his heat after scaling the right rear of Thomas Meseraull (Courtad 9x) through turns one and two. Blasting both wall and fence, the damage was too significant to continue with that car, far easier for crew chief Derek Claxton to bust out a backup for the B. That meant they were slated to start 23rd in a 12-lap affair, needing to reach 8th. Chris clearly had no trouble with that task after finishing 3rd, slicing through the field like the proverbial hot knife through butter with completely authoritative slide jobs.

With USAC’s new-for-2016 rule penalizing the use of a backup car for only one race; that meant the orange crush would fire from eighth. Driving by Darland for third at the one-third mark, he soon had early leader Matt Westfall (Marshall 33) in his sights for second, gaining the spot just before a backstretch blunder eliminated Scotty Weir (Simon 22). Restarting just behind leader Justin Grant (McGhee 17), Big Daddy bolted to the lead with a signature turn one slider, but Justin retained the spot with a quick crossover. Chris immediately reloaded with another bomb in three but didn’t have enough mustard on the hot dog to make it stick. Although Grant briefly pulled away, the last ten laps proved to be a game of cat and mouse through thick traffic. The lead duo boldly gassed it through the rough stuff in one and stayed glued to one another all the way to the checkered. After slipping underneath the white flag, Grant’s turn one slider through traffic sealed the deal, so reminiscent of the move made here in May of 2015 when he shocked C.J. Leary on the final lap. Despite Windom’s defeat, such a strong run was a huge confidence booster as he needed to win to have a real shot at the Silver Crown championship, trailing Kody Swanson by ten points.

Chris’s RPM Motorsports Maxim/Wallace was slotted outside of his teammate Tyler Courtney (JEI/Foxco) for the 50-lap Silver Crown finale, as both shared the same qualifying time and front row. Interestingly enough, Windom’s 18.099 lap came fourth in line while Courtney equaled the mark four cars from the end. However, Sunshine’s other qualifying circuit was better than that of The Bear, costing Chris three valuable points. Jeff Swindell and Kody Swanson occupied the second row, with Kody only needing to finish in the top-three to clinch his third consecutive crown. Much like Abreu with the midgets, the Crown contest was all Windom, as Chris’s crushing performance was easily the most dominating I have ever witnessed in this division at the Four Crown, maybe even the most of all-time in this event. Just three cars were left on the lead lap – three cars! Can you believe it?

With winning his only alternative, Windom whisked to a full straight advantage just eight laps in, already encountering heavy traffic two laps later. Swanson scooted to second, also having to deal with his share of congestion while attempting to keep the leader in sight. Just as Chris was lapping Jerry Coons, Jr., Jerry’s Nolen Racing counterpart Dakota Jackson was being approached by Kody. Attempting to slip underneath in turn one, the reigning champ closed too quickly and made contact, spinning the DePalma 63 to the outside wall. While Kody’s crew changed a left rear tire and removed the remains of a crushed front bumper, they scrambled to address a front end/steering issue, as the left front wheel was showing far too much positive camber (the bottom of the wheel was tucked in way more than usual) as a result of the contact. With car 63 sent back to battle, its driver immediately spun in turn one as the issues with the left front wheel made the car completely unstable on corner entry. In 36 laps, could he get back to third to secure his third championship; or, could he even drive the thing without spinning again? Either way, he had to give it a shot but suddenly the championship outlook took a completely different turn, providing some unexpected late night drama.

Eleven laps later, Windom put Swanson a lap in arrears, continuing his torrid march through the field. While keeping an eye on Chris, the scrum for second through seventh (Grant, Courtney, Bacon, Swindell, Coons, and Darland) was the one race to watch, as plenty of positions were swapped over the final 25 tours. Just as he was about to put his third place teammate a lap down, one final caution with 13 to go saw Windom’s 16.902 second lead over Justin Grant evaporate. Restarting Justin and Tyler at the rear with a ton of lapped cars in between, the race for first was a thing of the past, resulting in Windom’s third series victory of the season. Grant, Courtney, Bacon and Swanson took second through fifth at the 2:49 AM checkered flag. Sixth through tenth included Swindell, Darland, Coons, Cottle, and Bill Rose. That gritty drive by Kody was extremely impressive and commendable given his handicap, but he still came up two positions short.

For the first time in a long while (1992), the Silver Crown championship changed hands in the final race, giving Fred Gormly’s team its first USAC title and its primary driver his first USAC national championship, having claimed a 2006 Kenyon car title and the 2011 Indiana Sprint Week crown. Just as much as the long time spent in the grandstand and late arrival home (5:30 AM), 2016 championship drama and dominating drives by Abreu and Windom will only add further allure to the event.

After national midget point leader Spencer Bayston blew up in the midget main, that further tightened the championship standings as first through fourth (Bayston, Boat, Bacon, and Thorson) were now just separated by 30 points. After a turn one, last lap lunge from Brady Bacon, Tanner Thorson reclaimed the runner-up spot on the backstretch. Toyota power swept the top-five as Abreu, Thorson, Bacon, Boat, and Holly Shelton were all powered by the brand. Davey Ray’s Mopar was first in class B after scoring sixth. Ray was chased by Carson Macedo, whose titanic qualifying tumble at the exit of turn two sent him to a backup car for the heat and feature. KKM’s Ryan Robinson, Jerry Coons, Jr. (Petry/Goff 25), and Dave Darland (Gray 11) rounded out the top-ten. Like Macedo, Tony DiMattia flipped in qualifying, even enduring another big-time inversion in the sprint car semi-feature. That was certainly not the way Tony wanted to remember his Four Crown weekend, having celebrated his 21st birthday on Friday.

The Four Crown was indeed a special evening of redemption for Justin Grant, who had suffered through a miserable season prior to joining Sam McGhee Motorsports in late August. Excited to give the team its first USAC victory on the sport’s biggest stage, Justin certainly has an appreciation for racing tradition, calling his second USAC score at Eldora “an extra kind of special”. After winning his fourth USAC feature of his career, Grant reaffirmed the notion that whenever there’s a challenging cushion approaching the concrete wall, whether it be Eldora or Kokomo he’s a contender to win.

Flipping through my Four Crown notebook, I was reminded of the significance of Matt Goodnight’s sprint car heat race win. Matt’s resulting interview over the P.A. system offered that this was his first heat race win in a sprint car – period.

After qualifying a fine fourth in his wingless sprinter, Tyler Courtney’s Topp Motorsports team had to hustle to ready the ride for the semi-feature after a heat race flip, this coming after Tyler scaled the right rear of Luke Hall.

After four of the quick six from USAC sprint car qualifying failed to make the heat race transfer due to the heavy surface, that meant 11th and 9th fastest qualifiers Thomas Meseraull and Matt Westfall would hold front row seats for the feature. Thomas struggled with the handling on his Hawk chassis, scoring 16th. A 2006 USAC winner here, Matt led ten laps and earned 8th.

Trailing Grant and Windom at the waving of the second checkered were point leader Brady Bacon (now out front of seventh place finisher Stockon by 235 points), Dave Darland, and Courtney. Dallas Hewitt started third and finished sixth in Todd Keen’s 18. Josh Hodges had a respectable Eldora debut, starting 22nd and nailing 9th. Tenth place was Nick Bilbee, in his Dick Newkirk colors that claimed 1993 Four Crown honors with Tony Elliott. May Eldora winner Chad Boespsflug had an odd off-night, running around the bottom to finish 21st.

And finally, only 23 of the 24 Silver Crown cars started the feature, as Brian Tyler’s Galas 12 was a no-show after the pride of Parma, Michigan tagged the turn four wall in qualifying and flipped.

After Abreu’s late-race spin in the All Star thirty-lapper, Aussie Ian Madsen inherited first place and made off with his first Eldora victory in a KPC/Morrison-Rider combination. The untimely yellow for Rico brought out a red flag for a fuel stop, as four previous cautions were the ultimate issue. The fourth caution was rather significant as Dale Blaney folded his front end and handed the point lead to Chad Kemenah, who chased Madsen to the checkered. Randy Hannagan finished third on just seven cylinders. Kraig Kinser and Brady Bacon were fourth and fifth. Jac Haudenschild, Cap Henry, Caleb Armstrong (from 16th), Max Stambaugh (from 21st) and Kerry Madsen claimed sixth through tenth.

I already mentioned that Courtney and Bacon were the only two who performed in all four Saturday night divisions. Aside from his 18th place midget showing, Tyler’s finishes were decent: 5th (USAC sprint), 12th (All Stars), and 3rd (Silver Crown). Bacon had an even better Four Crown, scoring top-fives in everything: 3rd in the midget, 3rd in the USAC sprinter, 5th in the winged sprint car, and 4th in the Silver Crown. Those doing triple duty included Coons, Grant (finding midget work with A.J. Felker), Rose, and Darland. Windom, Shane Cottle, Ray, Leary, Abreu, Swanson, Steve Buckwalter, Macedo, and Jake Blackhurst (in a Felker sprint and midget) did the double.

Last but not least, it’s been a long while since I had taken a trip to Lawrenceburg, hard to believe that my last journey to this southeast corner was Indiana Sprint Week. A lot has happened in the racing world since then, reflecting on these changes when taking a slightly different route thanks to I-465 construction. Meeting up with Interstate 74 via State Road 9 at Shelbyville, the journey through Greenfield and Fountaintown brought back memories of my first job post-college, as I would often use this route home when the time allowed. Having to divert from State Road 1 through Greendale because of construction, more new roads were sampled, pleased to pass through a narrow railroad viaduct that dated back to 1945.

Despite driving through a small bit of rain on the way down, I was greeted by sunny skies and birthday boy Dave Rudisell once I entered his holy grounds. Dave and his wife Kim were awarded with plaques commemorating their tenth season at the helm of Lawrenceburg Speedway, hard to imagine where the time has escaped. Nonetheless, it is great to have two passionate people involved in such a key capacity, as they truly put their heart and soul into this facility.

Of course this Fall Nationals paid its usual ten thousand dollars to win, leaving me somewhat surprised by the slightly lower count of 26 cars which can be attributed to a BOSS battle in Fremont, taking away a handful of Lawrenceburg regulars. I cannot recall the last time that an end of season contest here didn’t attract a large contingent of equipment. Likewise, I cannot recall the last time an initial Lawrenceburg visitor would qualify quickest in a USAC union. Phoenix, Arizona standout Stevie Sussex was the qualifying stud on this first day of October, getting the call to drive the Steve and Carla Phillips 71. Promptly producing with the number one qualifying lap of 13.453, although Stevie did not transfer out of his heat race, he would start seventh and finish eighth in the thirty lap finale. My hope is that he gets another shot as the Indiana scene needs a further influx of new names and talent.

Sussex wasn’t the only one of the top qualifiers to fail to transfer from the three heats, as four of the quick six were in the same boat: Justin Grant, track champion Jarett Andretti, and Chase Stockon. Passing certainly came at a premium the entire evening, but Grant’s miss was caused by a faulty fuel pump spud. Chad Boespflug won the first heat but encountered an oil fire on the final lap when he lost an oil filter O-ring. Because his qualifying time was sub-par and not wanting to risk further engine damage, Chad and crew chief Davey Jones decided to go to a backup car for the feature, only able to advance to 18th by the conclusion.

Tenth-quick qualifier Josh Hodges wound up with the feature pole, flanked by April Lawrenceburg winner Dave Darland, who was clearly hungry for the second win of what has been a hugely disappointing season. Double-D appeared to be well on his way to that win after getting to the top of turn one first, opening up a decent lead by lap 7. But about a third of the way in, even with earplugs inserted I could hear that Dave’s engine was running on one less cylinder, making his task much more challenging due to the hammer-down conditions. Second place Hodges was able to close the gap in a hurry as Darland dipped lower to protect his position. Facing lapped traffic at the halfway mark, Dave, Josh, and Four Crown hero Chris Windom operated under a cozy blanket. Chris copped second with a clever backstretch move, but once Hodges stepped upstairs he was able to work his way past Windom and Darland, seizing the lead on the 18th tour. Building a half-straight advantage, it was enough of a margin to allow for a last lap lurch over the turn four cushion. Becoming the seventh first-time USAC sprint car winner on the season, I cannot ever recall such a statistic in my time of following this series. Setting a new 30-lap record in the process (at just over 7 minutes and 21 seconds), the win was Josh’s third at Lawrenceburg in 2016, his only other outing resulting in a fifth place finish during Indiana sprint Week. Advised on setups by mechanic Jake Argo, if the New Mexico native were to spend a whole season in Indiana, the possibilities could be endless.

Windom wound up second while Darland held onto third despite his horsepower deficiency. Kyle Cummins and Justin Grant gathered fourth and fifth. Tyler Courtney, Jon Stanbrough (who qualified fourth best), Sussex, Bacon, and Andretti were sixth through tenth. Done by 9:06 PM, this allowed an appropriate stop for dinner at Batesville’s Skyline Chili, nervously listening to a tight Indiana-Michigan State football battle on the radio for the remainder of the drive. Waiting in my driveway to hear IU announcer Don Fischer make the call of the game-winning field goal in overtime, it’s been a long time since IU football fans have been able to savor a Big Ten victory of this caliber, going ten years between MSU wins.

In my world, time is always of the essence, as there simply isn’t enough of it to do everything I’d like. Whether it be a drive to another time zone for unique cuisine and a superior sprint car surface, an evening of Four Crown entirety, a USAC sprint car season filled with first-time winners, or an Indiana University football triumph over a ranked opponent, it’s going to take a significant investment in hours, days, and even years to reap such rewards. Although the waiting might just be the hardest part, good things do come to those who are willing to wait. However, in this age of impatience, the question is, are you willing?

 

 

 

Volume 18, Number 9

Forward Progress

Staying focused has been quite the challenge this past month, as my mind has been continuously rewinding to the night of August 6th, still seeking answers to make sense of something that just does not seem real or right.  These diversions essentially put my life on pause, wondering how it would ever be possible to enjoy racing with the same desire and intensity as before.  Even though a thrilling Knoxville Nationals finale provided a brief pulse, despite the fact that Kokomo Speedway’s four day Smackdown was looming, it was no doubt difficult to muster up my usual enthusiasm for this epic event.    

However, the weekend prior to Smackdown contained two key moments that altered my outlook.  One was a live listen of Chris Nunn’s captivating call of Bloomington’s final points paying contest, with Chris’s account of Justin Grant’s surprising victory encapsulating the sheer drama and excitement that can be found at any dirt track across America.  A second was a thoughtful e-mail from Tim Clauson that made all the difference in my mood and motivation.  Relaying a story in the aftermath of Jason Leffler’s tragic 2013 incident, son Bryan had told his father several times that if something similar ever happened to him, he hoped that the racing community could find a way to continue to keep his beloved sport alive, not so much in his memory, but in his honor.  Thanks to Chris and Tim, they gave me real reasons to keep pressing on with my passion, providing the internal fortitude to overcome those sorrowful shadows that had darkened my soul.   

Owning a goal of obtaining some semblance of closure, by mid-day Wednesday I was Kokomo Speedway bound for the Bryan Clauson Celebration of Life and accompanying USAC special event.  So impressed by the turnout of fans, racing dignitaries, and the amount of green, white, and black in the grandstand, tears began to flow after early speeches from Kokomo Speedway’s Jarrod O’Connor and Tim Clauson, who spoke of the massive impact his son’s organ donation had on his family’s hopes and future.  In addition, Bryan’s mother Diana made her mark on my emotional well-being.  In response to the onslaught of grasshopper sightings since her son’s passing, she offered an explanation of the spiritual meaning of the insect, stating, "When the grasshopper appears to us, we are being asked to take a leap of faith and jump forward into a specific area of life without fear. Grasshoppers can only jump forward - not backward or sideways.  So when a grasshopper shows up, he could be reaffirming to you that you are taking the right steps to move forward in your current situation.  Or, it could be that he is telling you to go ahead and move forward, getting past what is hindering you." 

Very heavy stuff, during Friday’s feature one literally flew into and off my chest while I was wearing my Parked It t-shirt.  First instinct advised that it was just a dirt clod, but in the split second that I saw something green going in the opposite direction, I was absolutely shell-shocked, as this was a first-time occurrence for me, anytime, anywhere.   Both Bryan and I shared the same love for this place so if I ever needed a sign to get on with living my life, this was it. 

Had I chosen to drown in my sorrows and stay in hiding for this particular week, sadly I would have missed the most important aspect of the sport that has kept my interest alive for thirty some seasons.  That aspect is of course the people, and you won’t find a better bunch that religiously follow this stuff.  Who else would dodge the most deadly weather conditions to celebrate the life of Bryan Clauson?  With tornadoes touching down just a few miles south of the track, the majority of the large throng rode out the first storm and attempted to dodge the raging river that flooded the only areas available for cover.  Once the torrential rain subsided, the Clauson celebration continued but 90 minutes later we were once again chased off by dark clouds and another round of potential twisters.  Devoted or just plain crazy, there are no more passionate people than racing folk and all four days of the Smackdown came with conversations that would have cost me hundreds of dollars in professional therapist fees, pushing me closer to the heart of this bullring scene.  Whether it was Jarrod O’Connor, Richie Murray, Kevin Bledsoe, Steve Parkes, Jerry Davis, Brent Goodnight, Bruce Wyatt, Dave Roach, Dave Argabright, or Kent Evans, I instantly gained comfort from their company, justifying my own feelings while also processing what they had to say about the current state of affairs.  In the end, it was good to know that I wasn’t alone in my thoughts.

So resilient in their refusal to bow down to Mother Nature, a tip of the cap goes to this O'Connor family which of course operates the Kokomo Speedway, as they might just be the most strong and stubborn people I know.  Digging deep after Wednesday's flooding (it rained every day during the 2016 Smackdown), after hours and hours of pumping, sweeping, and scrubbing by Thursday afternoon the facility was primed and prepared for racing, hard to find signs of the significant mess that was left 24 hours earlier.  However, despite an extremely unfavorable forecast for Friday evening, an even bigger victory came when they pressed on regardless of the weather and in the process manufactured a minor miracle.  Steady showers during the initial wheel packing session and a green-filled radar delayed festivities by over two and a half hours.  Once cars returned to the track to hot lap and qualify (in and out of light rain), heats were finally ready to roll at 10:25 PM.  Such a monumental task would not have been possible without the cooperation of teams who burned countless gallons of fuel, scraped tons of mud, and wasted stacks of tear-offs in making the surface race-ready.  Even as spotty rain served as an imminent threat, the entire program was completed by 12:10 AM.  Exhibiting that gotta-wanna-win attitude that has made believers of so many fans and racers alike, the 100% effort exerted by this family and their loyal staff is why Kokomo Speedway remains so popular some 11 years after they revamped the legendary facility.   If they are willing to give it a shot, then I better get my ass to Kokomo, because I might just miss something significant. 

As with any racing tragedy, the closing of one door is also an opening for others.  After losing Rich Vogler at Salem in July of '90, '89 All Star champ Robbie Stanley jumped ship from the winged world and became the big man on the USAC sprint car campus until his untimely passing at Winchester in May of '94.  After Robbie left, guys like Tony Stewart, Page Jones, Kenny Irwin, and Andy Michner were immediately thrust into national spotlight.  But, Bryan Clauson was not just the face of the United States Auto Club like so many of the aforementioned talents.  Extremely popular with fans and earning the utmost respect from his competitors, he linked all aspects of open wheel racing across the world, whether it was midgets, traditional sprints, Silver Crown, winged 360, winged 410, and even the Indianapolis 500.  His absence leaves an impossibly huge hole to fill as he raised the bar of on-track success and off-the-track decency to a level that may never be approached.  Despite the impossibility of equaling his achievements and his undeniable aura, this is a rare opportunity for someone to assert themselves as the heir apparent.  It will not happen overnight and it may not even happen in the next five years, but in due time, someone will take a huge step forward because history has shown that someone always has. 

Could that next ambassador be Brady Bacon?  There is no question that the 2014 USAC sprint car king and 2016 Indiana Sprint Week champ holds the same versatile skill set, as evidenced when he nearly chased down Rico Abreu for fifty grand in the winged portion of Brandon, South Dakota’s Rock and Roll Gold Cup.  If not Bacon, could Chad Boespflug be that next guy to step up to a whole new level?  Definitely not a winged guy and still learning the midgets, he does own the charisma and has certainly picked up the pace in his USAC sprint car performances since pairing with Eberhardt-Zirzow Racing and crew chief Davey Jones, spectacularly carting home $60,000 from the same Badlands bout after sweeping Saturday and Sunday affairs.  If not Brady or Chad, could that heir apparent in USAC circles be Kevin Thomas, Jr.?  

Leading 65 of 100 feature laps over three Kokomo Smackdown contests, Kevin added his name to an elite list by notching the titanic $10,000 score on Saturday.  Up front for all 30 of Thursday’s feature for another $5,000 payday, these triumphs were number ten and eleven in a superb season that has seen this 4J Motorsports squad separate themselves from the rest of the pack in the wake of BC’s untimely exit.  Aside from Clauson’s incomparable season containing 14 wingless 410 victories, Thomas’s tally of 12 (after the September 2nd Bryan Clauson Celebration of Life) is quite impressive given he joined the team in mid-to-late April.  Kevin collaborates with team co-owner Jeremy Ottinger on setups and their DRC chassis/Speedway Engines combo is almost always effective, but as strong as this team has performed, especially at Kokomo where they have claimed five feature wins, a Smackdown crown, and now a track championship, they are not immune to off-nights, struggling through the Friday portion of the Smackdown when they started 11th and finished 16th.     

Backing up to Thursday, Kevin qualified seventh but earned the pole when quick-qualifier Thomas Meseraull (13.205 in the Dutcher 17) missed the transfer from the first heat.  After an early feature caution caused by a Cole Ketcham log jam, KTJ needed 15 laps to construct a full-straight advantage on Dave Darland, seeing that gap completely evaporate after a Logan Jarrett stoppage.  This proved to be no problem for the Cullman, Alabama conqueror, clearly the class of the field as he went untouched the rest of the way.  Eighth-starting Chris Windom did come on strong in Kenny Baldwin’s DRC/Claxton, working the bottom to steal second from Darland and cut into Kevin’s commanding lead.  Darland procured the final podium placement while front row starter Chase Stockon, after engaging in an intense warfare with Windom, secured fourth.  In the same Sam McGhee Motorsports Maxim as his winning Bloomington debut, recent newlywed Justin Grant gathered fifth.  Sixth through tenth came second-quick Robert Ballou (in a new Eagle chassis), Brady Bacon (with caved-in tail tank), Meseraull, Tyler Courtney, and C.J. Leary. 

Getting back to that freaky Friday filled with wet weather, C.J. Leary finally shook that USAC sprint car monkey from his back by leading all thirty laps for his first national sprint car score in the Amati Racing DRC.  After so many close calls over the last three seasons, Leary’s long-awaited win came in his 140th career start.  After qualifying ninth-best, C.J. benefitted when Logan Jarrett, Cole Ketcham, Jon Stanbrough, and Chris Windom could not transfer through their heat, resulting in a front row start alongside pole sitter Thomas Meseraull.  Three times in the first 15 laps, Leary launched his right rear tire over the gargantuan cushion in the middle of turns one and two, allowing Meseraull and fourth-starting Tyler Courtney several looks at the lead.  However, C.J. was simply flawless in the second half, aided by a bike ride from Sunshine and a slowly deflating left rear on Meseraull.  T-Mez and Courtney still hung for second and third while Shane Cottle collected fourth, up from 12th after missing the show on Thursday when a mag went bad on the Hazen 57 during the B.  After opening 13th on Thursday, Chad Boespflug settled for fifth.  Windom, Jarett Andretti (from 14th), Grant, Logan Jarrett, and Ballou (from 21st) represented the second half of the top-ten.  Logan and Robert bumped bars as they ducked under the checkered, exchanging heated post-race pleasantries before pointing their machines back to the pits.

With no weather concerns for Saturday evening, after fields of 45 and 44  I was surprised that only 30 cars came back for the finale, especially with the opportunity to earn $1,000 for cracking the A-main code.  Thursday and Friday combatants Landon Simon, Jerry Coons, Jr., Mario Clouser, Dustin Smith, Corey Smith, Matt Westfall, Chad Wilson, Stuart Brubaker, Casey Shuman, Clinton Boyles, and Shawn Miller were absent for the third show.  Those missing the cut from Saturday’s B included Brian Karraker, Tyler Hewitt, Isaac Chapple (aided by Jason Goacher), Josh Spencer (after repairing Friday B-main damage), Joe Bares, and Tim Creech.  They were joined on the sidelines by Hunter Schuerenberg, whose Tony Epperson engine expired in hot laps after a connecting rod attempted to exit the oil pan, this coming one night after the same mill expelled oil at the feature conclusion.  A proven Kokomo winner who prefers to step upstairs and play in the attic, Hunter’s misfortune was also a big blow for the fans, who rarely get to watch him go topless these days. 

Bloomington Sprint Week winner Brent Beauchamp was a pleasant addition to the Smackdown field on Saturday, a wise move for Brent and his car owner Jeff Olson as Kokomo attrition takes its toll by the final night.  Olson was recently honored for his lengthy tenure as an air traffic controller, forced into mandatory retirement as my sister who works alongside Jeff will see the same fate in a few years.  Brent took one of nine feature transfers from the three qualifying races, one of which claimed Cole Ketcham as the weekend’s worst crash after cracking back stretch concrete.  Jerry Coons, Jr., Zach Daum, and Kyle Robbins were the only others to invert from Thursday through Saturday, a low number for Smackdown standards.

Speaking of Schuerenberg, a few years ago he tied the knot with Jessica Boyles, the daughter of midget veteran Joe Boyles and sister to 20 year-old Clinton, who attempted the first two nights of the Smackdown in a potent piece from Seth Motsinger.  A 2016 wingless sprint car rookie with Casey Shuman’s WAR series, the young Boyles has been wheeling Jack Hockett’s 75 which contains a 360 cubic inch power plant, often going up against fields filled with 410s.  Earlier this year, Clinton’s sprint car debut at Grain Valley, Missouri was a huge success, winning his heat and charging from 11th to second in the A, soon hitting pay dirt in his fourth feature (Winston, MO).  Also scoring at Lakeside Speedway from 10th, he has only been outside of the top-five twice in WAR action, suffering flat right rear tires on both occasions.  A go-kart and micro-sprint graduate who made a dozen starts in his dad’s ’97 Stealth/Esslinger midget, Boyles was once a top high school soccer defender but after attending two years of college, the Greenwood, Missouri native chose to channel his efforts towards sprint car racing.  Although his Smackdown and 410 debut did not go as planned (9th in Thursday’s B and unable to take a time on Friday), he still has three wingless wins in his first season.  A definite contender for national non-winged rookie of the year honors, regardless of how the voting turns out, the big-picture shows a bright future for this natural talent. 

Thursday and Friday preliminary performances accumulated points, with the top-eight producers locked in for Saturday’s eagerly-anticipated King of the Hill showdown.  These two-car, three-lap match races realigned the first four rows of the 40-lap finale, without question the most exciting and entertaining aspect of the entire weekend.  Meseraull, Grant, Windom, Leary, Boespflug, Courtney, Thomas (Kevin), and Stockon made up this elite eight with Meseraull (over Stockon), Boespflug (over Leary), Courtney (over Windom), and Thomas (over Grant) moving on after round one.  The Courtney and Windom war saw the lead exchanged three times on the final lap, with the bottom-feeding Courtney reaching the line first after a thrilling, side-by-side sprint to the finish.  In the second round, Meseraull manhandled Boespflug and Courtney clobbered Thomas, setting up a thrilling final round that saw Sunshine strike gold despite a last-lap, four-in-the-fluff surge from his counterpart.   

Bryan Clauson’s fiancée Lauren Stewart waved the green laundry for Saturday’s finale, as former BCI team member Courtney shot to the initial advantage before an odd caution flew for T-Mez on lap two.  The Griffin’s Propane Maxim/Fisher made head-on contact with turn four concrete after shearing a pitman arm bolt, the early exit a big-time bummer as Meseraull is unquestionably the most exciting chauffeur when a cushion is in play.  Four laps after the restart, KTJ swept outside of Courtney through three and four and would never be headed, but it was far from easy as Kevin had to be flawless after a lap 14 red for Robbins.  First having Boespflug breathing down his neck, Windom joined the party for the final ten tours as the lead trio negotiated heavy traffic.  Navigating a tricky top shelf in one and two while bombarding the bottom in three and four, in the latter stages Kevin changed lanes on the south end and made all the right moves, executing an absolutely flawless 40 laps.  After Kevin, Chad, and Chris came Darland (from 10th) and Kyle Cummins (from 12th).  Grant, Courtney, Bacon, Leary, and Tyler Thomas (from 18th) took sixth through tenth place payouts.  

Kokomo Smackdown attendance definitely did its part to help me move forward, as did the Bryan Clauson Celebration of Life rescheduled for Friday September 2nd.  Aided by free driver pit passes made possible by generous donations from All Star Performance, a slightly open tire rule (an American Racer MC-3 was allowed on the right rear), and all kinds of monetary rewards, 47 drivers signed in, nine of them being first-time Kokomo Speedway competitors.  Those nine did battle for the $1,000 top prize in the Get Your Ass to Kokomo Challenge, awarded to the highest finishing driver who had never previously competed at Kokomo Speedway.  As a consolation, a $500 carrot was dangled to the second highest finishing driver making his Kokomo debut while a new Hoosier right rear tire was up for grabs for the third.  Those nine included Cole Smith, Josh Cunningham, Cody Clarkson, David Hair, Jared Chastain, Ben McMurray, Matt Cooley, Hunter O’Neal, and Cole House.  Recently completing his collegiate studies to resume his racing dreams, Cole House actually made his sprint car debut at Kokomo.  Cole is the son of former USAC, All Star, and Kokomo Speedway standout Tray House, steering an ex-Larry Contos/Shane Cottle Chalk chassis. 

The house was of course packed with the free front gate admission, as the large turnout was treated to an evening free from support classes.  Starting the program an hour later to allow rush hour drive time for the working class, the chilly night sadly felt like fall was already here, requiring not only a sweatshirt but long pants for the first time since mid-May.  Dividing the field into groups of six, times from the combined hot lap/qualifying sessions lined up heats, with Justin Grant’s 12.957 lap good enough to claim Jerry Shaw’s $200 top prize for quick time.  While many USAC regulars were off to Calistoga for the Louie Vermeil double, interesting pairings for the night included Aaron Farney in the Dutcher 17, Brady Bacon in the Keen 18, Max McGhee in the Pedersen 4, Casey Shuman in the Dakus 75, and Jake Scott in the Tarr 3x (an old 2K4 Stealth). 

Just like normal Kokomo Sunday nights, the fastest four from each session were inverted, allowing heat race wins for Dave Darland, Kevin Thomas, Jr., Jerry Coons, Jr., Jarett Andretti, Tyler Thomas, and Tyler Courtney, all coming from either the first or second row.  Redrawing the top two finishers for the feature inversion, those battles for second were the best of the night, highlighted by bold moves from Brady Bacon and Max McGhee.  A pair of 12 lap B-mains moved six more to the 24-car, 27-lap finale.  After failing to finish his heat, Shane Cottle’s charge from 15th to 2nd was the biggest B-main highlight.  Claimed by Travis Hery and Tony DiMattia, the twin consolations saw their share of calamity with incidents involving Drew Abel and Kyle Robbins (K-Rob crushed concrete for the second night in a row), Jared Chastain, Paul Dues, and last but not least, Jamie Frederickson and Josh Spencer that bent many parts on the Spencer Special.

After a full front stretch driver introduction in which Tim Clauson shook hands and embraced each one of the feature starters, after green fireworks were shot into the sky another Clauson family member waved the green as Bryan’s mother Diana did the deed.  Even though Tyler Courtney picked the pole, it would be outside front row starter Tyler Thomas earning the advantage into turn one on the sticky surface.  Starting third was Smackdown winner Kevin Thomas, Jr., who followed T-squared for two laps before making his winning move through the second corner.  Fifth-starting Dave Darland was also on the move early, fanning three-wide with the two Tylers to snag second.  Hot action for fourth through eighth involved Coons, Grant, Thomas, Bacon, and Andretti, soon adding 20th-starting Shane Cottle to this mix.  The mid-to-late stages saw Courtney and Grant turn up the heat in the scrap for second, as Justin relieved Dave of the runner-up slot just before Tyler Thomas looped the Burton 04 underneath the flag stand. 

With six circuits remaining, two lapped cars separated Kevin Thomas and Dave Darland, enough of a margin that Kevin would not have to worry about the win.  Truly déjà vu for KTJ, he took his third Kokomo triumph in four nights which earned him a $3,000 paycheck, a one-of-a-kind BC Forever trophy (complete with die cast car), and the honor and prestige of parking it in BC’s victory lane yet again.  Not only that, but his team pocketed $630 for the “Can’t Thank the Guys Enough” award, allowing them to dine in style afterwards.  Grant gathered second after a bold, late-race loop of Darland entering turn one.  That pass earned him $1,500 plus $630 for the BC Badass award, $200 for the pass of the night (from photographer Steve Lafond), and the aforementioned $200 for quick time.  Darland settled for third place and its posted $1,200 payout.  After opening eighth, Bacon bagged fourth while Shane Cottle cruised to fifth from 20th, earning him an extra $630 for being the hardest charger.  Coons, Andretti, Courtney, Josh Hodges, and A.J. Hopkins scored sixth through tenth. 

One day later, my first true racing adventure since BC’s passing sent me to Du Quoin, Illinois for the 64th Ted Horn 100 USAC Silver Crown contest, providing proof that I was indeed making forward progress.  Working on this article on the four hour haul while my nephew once again handled driving chores, after we passed a broken down Bill Rose along I-57, we made our own stops for fuel in Mount Vernon and loose meat hamburgers in Christopher, Illinois, to my knowledge the only other Maid-Rite Sandwich Shop outside of Greenville, Ohio (Greenville still gets my vote).  Squeezing into the Southern Illinois State Fairgrounds just in time to catch hot laps, the switch to Saturday night meant battling a big crowd that unfortunately came out for fair food, amusement games/rides, live music, and a demolition derby, as the Silver Crown crowd should have been bigger. 

Bolstered by a field of 35 machines and some big names from the past including 2008 winner Brian Tyler (in a Bob Galas Beast) and 1990 winner Jeff Swindell (in a Mark Swanson Maxim), Du Quoin under the lights once again did not disappoint and maintained my stance that this one-mile layout is my favorite of the three remaining.  Even though the race track was not up against the cushion or on the wall like last year, even along the rail and in the rubber the action was just as exciting and intense.   Fully expecting a dominating evening by point leader and 2010 Ted Horn 100 winner Kody Swanson after he set the night’s qualifying standard at 31.932 seconds (well off Tyler Walker’s 2004 mark of 29.138 seconds/123.550 MPH), Kody led the first 15 laps in his usual DePalma 63 Maxim wrenched by Bob Hampshire but would have to settle for third for the second year in a row.  Pleased to see Gene Nolen bring three cars to Du Quoin, it was disappointing to see two of them load up early, as Hunter Schuerenberg crashed in hot laps while Dakota Jackson encountered engine problems in qualifying.   

It’s always a surprise when Kody Swanson has to take a back seat to anyone on the dirt miles, but tonight it would be 55 year-old Jeff Swindell and championship contender Chris Windom, whose stirring duel was truly one for the ages.  Starting fourth, Swindell first swept to the outside of Swanson in one and two on lap 15 but was unable to complete the pass.  One lap later, a similar maneuver in turn three found him in first, a position he would hold for the next 21 tours before ninth-starting Windom came calling.  For five laps, Chris was all over Jeff and using a lapped machine as a turn three pick, Windom dove underneath at the entrance to turn three to lead lap 37, up front for the next 27. 

With tire wear a concern for all competitors after a black groove reared its ugly head early, those worries intensified when fifth place Justin Grant shredded a right rear on lap 58.  Regardless of the potential for ripping rubber, Swindell cranked up the heat and worked over Windom at the bottom of three at lap 64.  But, Chris refused to quit and provided all kinds of pressure three laps later.  When “Gentleman Jeff” swung too wide in turn four completing lap 69, after a side by side front stretch duel Swindell boldly dove for the inside of turn one and slammed the door as the two banged wheels.  Under the next caution for Jacob Wilson, the two exchanged gestures and swerves after the near-miss.  On the ensuing lap 75 restart, Windom might have lost serious ground but a timely yellow on lap 82 for fourth place Shane Cottle conveniently closed the gap.  Five laps later, Chris pulled alongside the leader on the front chute and at the ten to go signal, the top-four (also containing Swanson and Bacon) operated within close proximity.  One final pause for last year’s hero Aaron Pierce further thickened the plot, as the pride of Canton, Illinois was clearly ready to pounce.  On lap 97, he made his move to the inside in three, only to slide up and be countered by Jeff’s crossover in four.  One lap later, turn three again provided the place to pass, as Chris chose the outside and made it stick for good.

The first Ted Horn 100 win for “Big Daddy” trimmed a 13 point Swanson advantage to 10 as the series heads to its Four Crown finale.  Noting afterwards that his Jamie Moyle constructed Toyota power plant was blubbering in the late stages, Swindell would have to settle for second but was truly the star of the show.  Had he won, I can’t imagine a statistic in which anyone in this series has gone 23 years between wins.  Trailing third place Swanson was Casey Shuman, who started 21st in Randy Bateman’s Beast and assumed the position after wild last lap joust between fifth place Shane Cockrum and sixth place Brady Bacon, who had virtually no hot laps and scrambled to ready his ride for qualifying after encountering early mechanical difficulties.  Seventh through tenth included Jerry Coons, Jr., Brian Tyler, race rookie Joe Ligouri, and David Byrne. 

After starting 33rd and finishing 13th, Bill Rose had quite the drive, but that was only half the story.  On the way to the track, Rose had a trailer tire blow out, which was no small feat to fix.  Noticing them stranded along Interstate 57 somewhere between Effingham and Mount Vernon, the driveshaft of their ex-Roger Tapy tractor had also kicked out and punched a hole in the rear end.  Initially believing that their day/night was over, Heartland Towing and Recovery came to the rescue and let Bill borrow one of their trucks.  This allowed them to make it just in time to get a qualifying attempt at the end of the order, but this was a car that had not seen a racetrack all year.  Gaining a push start because of clutch issues, half a lap later a blown water line resulted in an incomplete lap, slating them 33rd.  Tweeting to me the next day (@therealbillrose), Rose wished to thank the folks at Heartland for taking such good care of him, also allowing the use of their truck to make the haul back home to Plainfield, Indiana early Sunday morning.  Knowing Bill for as long as I have, this is almost par for the course, as his thrashes to get to races usually offer some sort of an odd adventure.    

Waking up on Sunday morning to the shocking news of Robert Ballou’s broken neck from his Calistoga crash, that’s the second time in one month that a four-plus hour ride home for yours truly resulted in a highly unfavorable report of a racing injury.  As of Labor Day, Robert had yet to be operated on but had been transported to a hospital in Stanford.  By Tuesday, good news was finally received, as he would amazingly be released without requiring major surgery.  Expecting a lengthy recovery time, we all hope and pray that everything heals properly.  Once again, this is a bitter pill to swallow as the hits keep on coming for USAC and open wheel racing, but thankfully it wasn’t any worse.  

Wrapping up Labor Day weekend with Kokomo’s Vince Osman Memorial, this final Sunday night of the season was just like any other weekly show at Indiana’s baddest bullring.  Action-packed and exciting, would you have expected anything less?

Starting off the evening in the usual calm fashion, as the evening progressed so did the intensity.  Two clean and green hot lap/qualifying sessions for the 20-car field resulted in quick time coming from Jarett Andretti in his Harding Group DRC, but one of the two heat races offered a photo finish (Tyler Thomas over Dick Gaines Memorial winner Josh Hodges) and a heavy flip (married the previous day, Jamie Frederickson jumped a wheel and junked his car, breaking the frame on the right front corner). 

Capped by another exciting 25-lap feature that took the green at 8:16 PM, the high-intensity, incident-filled finale offered a front row of Josh Hodges and Chris Windom, with Josh and Chris sharing the lead on the first two tours of the quarter-mile.  While going for fourth, Logan Jarrett flipped after smacking the concrete in three and four.  Thankfully, Logan would exit under his own power.  After the restart, Windom, Hodges, and Coons went at it like a pack of starving dogs eyeing a fresh piece of meat, highlighted by a Hodges two-for-one turn three lunge that clipped the left front of Windom.  Chris spun to a stop and was drilled by birthday boy Dave who was celebrating his 50th, so hard to imagine him reaching this milestone as it doesn’t seem that long ago when he was just a local up-and-comer.  Josh cut a 360 degree donut and continued, as did Darland. 

Promoting Coons to P1, after a Tyler Thomas spin from fifth Darland was the man on the move, slicing through the back of the pack like a hot knife through butter.  One of the cars encountered in his rage was that of Mike Gass.  After some incidental contact exiting the fourth corner, Gass rode out a nasty front stretch tumble that nearly landed Darland on his lid as well. 

Leaving 14 laps to determine the final Sunday night stand, Hodges and Shane Cottle briefly provided some stress to Coons, but it wasn’t enough to unseat the Triple Crown Champ as he was so strong around the bottom in Monte Edison’s Crume-Evans Insurance Spike.  Waiting until September to reach victory lane for the first time in 2016, Jerry was trailed by Cottle, Hodges, Darland, and Andretti.  Tyler Thomas, Ted Hines, Lee Underwood, Brian Karraker, and Dustin Ingle (wrenched by Brian Cripe) scored sixth through tenth. 

Done by 8:48 PM, despite racing in Calistoga Kevin Thomas, Jr. collected Kokomo’s track championship, as Jerry Coons, Jr. needed to win his heat and the feature in order to tie.  Taking third in the first heat, Jerry came up just short.  With this event serving as the swan song for Sean Buckley’s Indiana Summer Series, Tyler Thomas was crowned the champion, no doubt an impressive achievement as Tyler took the reins of the Burton 04 in the latter part of June, his first attempt in a wingless sprinter.  

After finally receiving the positive news regarding Robert Ballou’s condition, staying focused has been a bit easier, helped by the fact that my hectic post-Labor Day workweek has not allowed my mind much time to wander.  Thinking back to how I felt one month prior, the recent encouragement to continue this thirty-plus year pursuit of open wheel wandering has certainly been a huge boost to my overall outlook.  Even more influential were the stories shared on a stormy Wednesday in Kokomo, Indiana, especially the one from Diana Clauson regarding the spiritual meaning of the grasshopper.  Doing some serious soul searching on the opening two nights of the Sprint Car Smackdown, my initial encounter of this green insect came midway through Friday’s feature.  As shocking of a revelation as I’ve ever had in life, the experience of that grasshopper flying into and away from me was truly a wakeup call.  Whether it was a coincidence or a sign from above, it pushed me to make an honest attempt to quit sulking and move forward.  Recalling my favorite line from The Shawshank Redemption, it was Andy who quietly advised Red, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice…you can get busy living, or you can get busy dying.”  For the last three decades, my idea of living that has involved hoping, dreaming, and trying to remain optimistic and positive, an attitude heavily influenced by the sheer joy, happiness, and satisfaction achieved by frequently attending short track open wheel events.  To instantly give that up would be the equivalent of dying, so for now, I think I'll choose the alternative.   

 

 

 

 

Volume 18, Number 7

Moving On

Forced to take the good with the bad, the first few days following Indiana Sprint Week’s conclusion always offer an extreme reminder to the realities of life.  Rising once again to the annoying sounds of an alarm clock and returning to the responsibilities of work, then there is the endless attempt to squeeze in doctor/chiropractic appointments, visits to the gym, household chores, and endless writing assignments, each one adding to the weight of my everyday existence.  Initially depressed that my vacation had expired, after a few days I manage to get used to this grind once again, but when you throw in last minute thrashes for thoughtful birthday gifts and sentiments for my wife and father, the stress begins to register. 

Never in my wildest dreams, however, did I ever envision a more difficult reality to deal with in my post-Sprint Week depression than the loss of Bryan Clauson.  There is just no way to ever prepare for the gut-wrenching despair and absolute emptiness that comes with something so permanent.  Losing my mother to colon cancer on May 23rd, 2011, the original stage four diagnosis came in June of 2010, so I had nearly a year to process the fact that she would soon be gone.  Even though the two days leading up to her death were the worst of my life, I will never forget the crushing blow that came on that fateful Monday morning when my younger sister called to let me know of the inevitable news.  I was completely powerless, no possible way to influence the end result.  She was not coming back.   

Driving into work on Monday August 8th and attempting to locate the Clauson/IMS press conference on my phone, the text message I soon received from my nephew confirmed my worst fears when first laying eyes on the Belleville crash video.  He was gone, and once again, there was nothing I could do about it.  Pulling into the parking lot and shutting off the engine, although I had been worried sick all day Sunday, that same feeling from Monday, May 23rd of 2011 washed over me.  Stunned, numb, and nearly breathless, I actually had to get out of my vehicle, fight the onslaught of tears, and head into work.  How in the world could I process such utterly devastating news and expect to be productive?  Somehow digging deep to reign in my emotions, it was not only a long day, but an excruciatingly long week, my only therapy coming from e-mails, texts, and phone conversations with concerned friends.  Attempting to explain why my life had been forever altered, no, I was not a family member or close friend to Bryan, but we were extremely friendly when interacting with one another over the past 14 seasons.  Feeling a mutual respect between us that had been developed early on, this dated as far back as 2003 when he was just gaining laps at Kokomo Speedway in an underpowered 360 cubic inch sprinter.  Enjoying a front row seat to watch him mature into an incredible racing talent but more importantly an even more amazing human being, it is times like these that I am yet again reminded about the dangers of getting this close to the competitors.  Sprint and midget racing’s supreme benefit is to allow for such intimate interactions, cementing relationships for life.  Unfortunately, you just never know when a particular conversation might be your last.   

Respecting and admiring every aspect of Bryan’s existence, unfortunately I never took the time to tell him this in person, so enamored with his 2016 Circular Insanity/Chasing 200 tour that brought attention to and promoted all forms of open wheel competition, uniting the unique factions of fans in the process.  So proud of his Indy double where he led three laps and finally finished the 500 for the first time, after he claimed victory in the Kokomo sprint car nightcap I was literally glowing, believing this to be one of the most special achievements in all of motorsports.  Completely at the top of his game and convinced that his winged pursuits actually improved his wingless endeavors, I can honestly say that Bryan Clauson was only getting better with age.  On pace to break nearly all USAC records in just a few more years while at the same time becoming a formidable foe in the winged world, the sky was virtually the limit with BC. 

First remarking about his uncanny car control with his 2004 Lawrenceburg Dick Gaines Memorial victory, he will be forever revered for his supreme skills and immense amounts of success, rarely having any rubs with his fellow competitors.  A definite role model, he led by example, helping and encouraging those who he routinely defeated night in and night out.  Always positive, easily accessible for autographs and interviews, and never complaining about track surfaces or fellow competitors, he was quietly humble when he won, often giving credit to his crew for busting their butts.  Gracious and congratulatory in defeat, Bryan represented everything that was right with racing and this world.  Reading story after story of all the wonderful things he did for fans, friends, fellow racers, and charities (he was a heavily involved in Autism Awareness), topping them all was the mid-week news that he had donated his organs so that the lives of five others could be saved, ultimately inspiring me to become a donor as well.  Exhibiting maturity well beyond his years, he was the ultimate in class acts who did things the right way.  He was just such an outstanding young man on all levels and even though he had already amassed 112 USAC wins, 4 USAC national championships, 3 USAC driving championships, 2 Indiana Sprint Week and 3 Indiana Midget Week titles plus victories in nearly all of the signature events (Chili Bowl, Turkey Night, Belleville, Hut 100, Four Crown, Oval Nationals, Western World, Kokomo Smackdown, etc.), it's mind-blowing to think that at 27 years of age, he still had so much left to accomplish. 

Leaving a humongous hole, there is no possible way to fill this kind of void any time soon.  Whether it be fan, fellow racer, crew member, anyone from Indiana, or anyone from the open wheel short track scene, Bryan was carrying every one of them on his back and living their dream as an old-school outlaw who had what it took to compete on racing’s biggest stage.  With his absence, I worry that the short track link to the Indianapolis 500 is permanently severed, seriously doubting that anyone will ever do the Indy/Kokomo double once again.  Now that his Circular Insanity tour has been halted, the link between all forms of open wheel racing dangerously dangles, wondering if anyone will be able to assume the all-important role as open wheel ambassador.  Raising the bar to become the benchmark of USAC success, will wins be as meaningful for his remaining brethren and, who will eventually step up to become this benchmark?  Unlike when we lost Rich Vogler and Robbie Stanley, there just don’t seem to be the quality individuals waiting in the wings to assume these key roles - not yet at least. 

Selfishly speaking, without Bryan the races just won't seem as relevant or exciting – kind of like IU basketball was for me in the wake of Bob Knight’s firing or the World of Outlaws once Steve and Sammy faded from the scene.  As a fan, I feel short-changed that I won’t get to see him set the world on fire, break all those records, and expand his horizons even further.  Still irritated that he didn’t get the best of deals for the 500 or get another look in NASCAR, who knows how well he could have done in either discipline with better personnel or the right resources.  However, you never heard Clauson complain one bit about his situation, as he was having the time of his life barnstorming not only this country but the globe. 

Earning rock star status without the aid of national television or hokey advertisements, Bryan earned such adulation through pure talent and by simply being himself.  He was the best at his craft but at the same time was humble, kind, gracious, and genuine.  Truly the real deal, although I never once imagined that I could have a racing hero who was 18 years younger than me, Clauson proved that theory incorrect.  That, on its own, should speak volumes of how highly I thought of him and how much I’m going to miss his presence. 

One week after his passing, I still wonder how we pick up the pieces and move on, as I'm still mired in the muck of trying to make sense of these major changes to my world.  Owning zero enthusiasm for attending races, my appetite for activity began to show signs of life on a rainy Saturday night when I enjoyed one of the most thrilling Knoxville Nationals of all time via pay per view, emotionally charged by the stirring drive from winner Jason Johnson and overwhelmed by the continued outpouring of support for BC.  Still a very empty feeling knowing that the show must go on without him, luckily we have so many golden memories to hold close to our hearts.  If I have any solace in this terrible tragedy, it’s that every one of us who were around him at one time or another are in the same boat, feeling these same feelings, truly unable to comprehend the pain felt by his family, fiancée, close friends, and even his two little dogs.  It will be impossible to move on from these feelings any time soon but knowing that he has inspired every one of us to do the right thing and become better human beings, young Mister Clauson most certainly made his mark and left a legacy far greater than he could have ever envisioned.  Completely understated yet highly significant, that was BC in a nutshell.   Living the same dreams that I once had as a high school kid hailing from the same hometown of Noblesville, thank you for allowing me to tag along Bryan.  It truly was one hell of a ride.  You might be gone, but you’ll never be forgotten.

 

Backing up two weekends from the Belleville Nationals to Friday July 22nd, I immediately got goose bumps after determining that Kokomo’s Prelude to the Dirt Classic was my final opportunity to catch Bryan performing live.  And, what an odd night it was for the 2014 sprint car track champion, beginning his evening by aggressively attacking a slim cushion in qualifying only to wax the wall between turns three and four and invert.  Then, while engaged in hot and heavy combat with Rico Abreu for feature runner-up rights, he again overcooked three and four and blasted the outside barrier, landing on his lid for the second time.  Although he was in the hunt all evening, I can’t say that I ever witnessed such a showing for Clauson, as he always seemed in control, especially at Kokomo.  My last time to watch Bryan claim a Kokomo victory came in the second half of his Indy double, no doubt serving as the most permanent and positive reflection on an amazing career. 

Taking limited notes at this 37 car corral, of course Christopher Bell would collect the $5,000 victory by leading all 35 laps from the pole in Tony Stewart’s 14.  What would have appeared to be a dominant drive by the box score was far from automatic as Clauson, Abreu, and Aussie Jamie Veal applied pressure through thick traffic.  After BC’s bobble, Abreu and Veal produced podium finishes while Chad Kemenah and Brady Bacon completed the first five.  The second half of the top-ten contained quite a few entertaining battles, highlighted by son Sheldon and father Jac Haudenschild’s constant flirtation with the fence.  Sheldon scored sixth and Jac eighth, sandwiching seventh place Randy Hannagan.  Dale Blaney and Danny Holtgraver took a quiet ninth and tenth. 

The only opportunity this season to catch 410 winged warriors flying around Kokomo, these All Stars did not disappoint, with qualifying consisting of one breathtaking circuit after another.  Brady Bacon’s 11.139 clocking was easily good enough for number one status and while Tyler Courtney’s 11.258 was second best, he pounded the wall in three and four and paid the price, needing a small army to reassemble his ride just in time for a heat race spin, only to be run over by a push truck.  Needing to win the B just to take part in the A, unfortunately Sunshine was unable to exhibit that same qualifying quickness.

Interesting that Friday’s first and second place finishers also ran behind Kyle Larson in the Eldora NASCAR truck tango just two days prior, the overall level of talent in this All Star field was stout.  Selfishly wishing that Bell and Abreu’s NASCAR dreams would die on the vine, my own racing dream involved the two of them roaming the country as true outlaws with Clauson and Bacon, ready to win anytime, anywhere, and in any discipline.  However, as we know from Bryan such a schedule has its inherent dangers and is unable to match the money from the big time.  But, as I once heard Bryan state, "Money is not everything." 

Missing out on Abreu's $12,500 triumph on the second night of Kokomo’s Dirt Classic for my wife’s birthday treat (she actually enjoyed the Friday night Kokomo convocation with me), my next opportunity to move on from Indiana Sprint Week was Bloomington’s July 29th tribute to Bob Kinser.  The Indiana icon who turns 85 years old on August 21st was honored with a low-key front stretch celebration and a small gathering under the roof at the top of the hill, complete with chronological photo boards and newly printed t-shirts commemorating a career the spanned five decades.  Although Bob's last official race came at Knoxville's Masters Classic in 1996, I do recall him taking some Bloomington exhibition laps in one of Steve's cars prior the 2006 NSL race.  Thinking of all the guys who grew up racing against him, it's no wonder so many from that era were such clean competitors, as you never wanted to get on Bob's bad side.      

As for on-track B-town action, a slim 20-car field contained two Kinsers, no idea if Jordan and Kerry are related to Bob but it was interesting to note that Kerry used his same 305 winged chariot to perform double duty sans wing.  After three heats (one of which flipped Bub Cummings over the turn three bank) came a tasty 25-lap feature, taped for airing on Sean Buckley’s Dirty 30 MAV TV program. Beginning Kevin Thomas, Jr. and Tyler Thomas from front row feature seats, KTJ was the obvious pick for the win but there is nothing so easy or simple in traditional sprint cars.  As expected, Kevin earned the early advantage but third-starting Max McGhee showed his hand after an early caution for Lee Underwood.  Max moved to second with a smooth move underneath of Tyler Thomas, catching Kevin when the Alabama invader climbed the cushion of the still-heavy surface in corner two.  Lapped traffic soon made things even more interesting, as a pair of back markers served as a turn three screen on KTJ, allowing McGhee to pilfer the premier position.  Immediately tilting on two wheels at the entry to turn one, Max’s apparently aggressive setup nearly bit him, as Kevin and Tyler Thomas were ready to pounce at any moment.  After T-squared took second, one more yellow was waved for Minnesota’s Rob Kaho, further bunching the field for a six lap dash.  McGhee was just too tough though, taking his first feature victory of the year in impressive fashion, a huge bonus after suffering through a stressful Sprint Week grind with his 16 year-old crew chief/brother Sam.  Tyler topped Kevin for second while Josh Hodges and Brady Short found fourth and fifth at the 9:36 PM checkered flag.  Point leader Jeff Bland, Jr., Jordan Kinser, Jarett Andretti, Chris Babcock, and Jadon Rogers snagged sixth through tenth.  In a classy move, McGhee climbed the hill to hand his trophy to a young fan in the stands.  My guess would be that kid will be returning for more races, rooting for the driver of that black number 17.   Bravo Max!

Had it not been for a pesky rain shower in North Vernon, we would have exited early enough to pull off a rare Friday night Southern Indiana double of BOSS sprint cars.  Instead, I ended up joining my nephew and Matt Pedersen for a Stromboli sandwich at Nick’s English Hut.  Being home all alone on this weekend meant that Saturday’s 29th annual Putnamville Clash was a green light, taking the scenic route south on state road 75 after first stopping at Mo's Vintiques in Lebanon. 

Although only 24 cars came calling for the $2,900 to win contest, quality reigned over quantity, offering one of the more entertaining features of the season.  With sprint chauffeurs facing a heavy surface in the heats, a solid pill draw was of paramount importance.  Those who drew poorly had trouble finding their way to transfer positions, evidenced by a B-main containing 1987 Putnamville Clash winner Dave Darland (Walker 11), Jordan Kinser, Jeff Bland, Jr. (his first ride in Mike Dutcher's Maxim), Brady Short, and Jon Stanbrough (Pedersen 4).  Taking the top-five, all of these men would make it, but Stanbrough had to sprint from ninth while Jeff Bland, Jr. had his hands full with Brandon Mattox, exchanging the final transfer five times in the last few laps. 

One who had no trouble with the damp dirt was Bloomington bad ass Max McGhee, who won his heat from fifth.  Max would begin the 30-lap feature from third, as a zero inversion allowed other heat winners Robert Ballou and Tyler Thomas to fire from front row starting spots.  Thomas drew first blood, but the first to face adversity was eighth-starting Thomas Meseraull, who was inside the top-five when tilting the Wingo 77 on two wheels at lap four.  Soaring off the bank between one and two, T-Mez re-fired but did not contend for the win.  

Robert Ballou was the next tempt fate after going wheel to wheel with McGhee for second.  Half-spinning in two just after securing the spot, Robert was tagged by Max and sent back on his way, but not before a turn three entanglement with Shane Cockrum.  Cockrum kept rolling, but Ballou was done. 

Leaving 18 laps to crown another Clash winner, the next incident erupted when Travis Berryhill touched wheels with Tim Creech in turn three.  The contact awkwardly shoved Creech onto his left rear, spiraling into a wicked set of flips that nearly sent him tumbling to the woods.  A few days later, Tim still had issues with his vision but had already made plans to acquire a replacement chassis.  Poking his nose in that Creech/Berryhill battle was Dave Darland.  Dave had advanced from 16th to 7th but had his right rear tire go flat under the red, ruining his fine run.   

The final caution came for Chris Phillips and at this halfway juncture, Tyler Thomas still led McGhee, Kevin Thomas, Jr. (up from 10th), Cockrum, and Shane Cottle (from 9th).  Once the green LED lights glared from Joe Spiker’s high-tech Whelen traffic signals, KTJ collected second while 17th-starting Brady Short secured fourth.  The two guys named Thomas went at it for first, Tyler low and Kevin high.  Taking Kevin’s preferred line away in one, Tyler bobbled on the cushion and gift-wrapped the lead to Kevin on lap 24.  With two tours left, Tyler half-spun into the infield on the south end but before that, the top four positions had fit under one snug blanket.

Kevin Thomas, Jr. would cruise to victory number eight of 2016 for Jeremy Ottinger’s 4J Motorsports squad.  Backed by Franklin Equipment, CEP, Hoosier, and now Bosch, Kevin’s impressive triumph from tenth was his second straight in this Putnamville Clash.  Tyler Thomas was runner-up for the second consecutive evening while Max McGhee rounded out the podium.  Short settled for a solid fourth while Shane Cottle collected fifth.  Colten Cottle, Cockrum, Bland (from 20th), Meseraull, and Berryhill scored sixth through tenth.  A fantastic feature finished just before 10 PM, I exited as a completely satisfied customer. 

The next Friday (August 5th) I bypassed a Bloomington bout dominated by Jeff Bland, Jr. (in his own 38), instead waiting for a lengthy Saturday stroll across western Indiana and all of Illinois to take in the final night of the Ironman 55 at Pevely, Missouri, a World of Outlaws and POWRi midget doubleheader.  Not pleased that POWRi scheduled such a contest when the Belleville Nationals was occurring in Kansas, in this age of petty sanctioning body squabbles I take it with a grain of salt.  Would the lower dollar POWRi loyalists have towed out to midget racing's most intimidating venue had Pevely not been on the schedule?  Back in 1993, they surely would have, but the last time I checked, it's no longer 1993 and midget racing is so much different.  Still, I’m a big-picture guy and midget racing needs all the help it can get. 

Nevertheless, the plans for this Pevely trip originated in October of 2012, when my nephew and I had batted around the idea of attending a rescheduled Ironman 55 just months before my wedding.  Backing out because of iffy weather, after seeing video of last year's slide-fest for both sprints and midgets, we had penciled in all 2016 Pevely WoO dates as possibilities, our most recent April attempt falling victim to Mother Nature.    Taking full advantage of this St. Louis soiree to feast on Bogart's barbeque thanks to a tip from John Hoover, after enjoying an adult beverage at International Tap House (where a Firkin Fest packed the place) we made a quick stop back in the city to sample a few more at Schlafly's tasting room.  All good stuff, we had to hustle south just to make hot laps, finding a frustratingly long line of cars attempting to get parked at Pevely.  My first time to visit since 1998 when I attended a two-night U.S. Dirt Nationals with Brent Goodnight, Tim Brenton, and Randy Mortland, the place was just as I remembered it, in awe of standing so close to speeding bullets rim-riding through three and four.    

Summarizing the evening, Rico Abreu’s righteous runs in the dash and feature made the four and a half hour haul completely worth it, attacking a meaty cushion like there was no tomorrow.  Such a tactic is sadly foreign to most World of Outlaws regulars, who would just assume have nothing to do with a curb or any semblance of moisture.   Setting himself up for a solid evening after timing third quick, Rico won his heat from the pole and took third in the dash, where a massive slide-fest with Brad Sweet set the tone for later.  Like Abreu, pole sitter Kerry Madsen is one of the few wingers who never met a cushion that he didn’t like, leading the first 40 laps.  With the second track rework of the night coming pre-feature, the third-mile bullring was a tad too heavy for the first half of the 55-lapper, eventually widening out to stack some damp dirt against concrete.  Such conditions are tailor-made for the pint-sized soldier, who sat fourth after a lap 26 caution but ratcheted up the intensity over the next 15 tours.  Threading the needle between Daryn Pittman and the wall to take third, after a Brad Sweet bobble in four he was soon second.  While Madsen was dealing with tricky traffic on lap 38, Rico slid him through four but not before Kerry crossed back.  Sweet rejoined the party and stole second, but as Madsen and Sweet Pea swung a tad too sideways exiting four, Rico immediately pounced by sliding both in a nifty three-wide maneuver through one.  The absolute king of the two-for-one, despite one more caution on lap 44 and a last turn, last lap bike ride, nothing was going to keep Abreu and his Eagle chassis from capturing the $20,000 top prize.  Madsen, Stewart, Sweet, and Saldana (up from 14th) were top-five material.  Pittman, Johnson, McMahan, Schatz (from 17th), and Friday night winner Gravel gathered sixth through tenth. 

The thirty-lap midget main preceded the sprint car finale, beginning Andrew Felker and Zach Daum from front row seats while Dave Darland (Gray 11) fired from third alongside Casey Shuman (Brown 7).  In the all-green flag affair, Daum truly lived up to his “dauminator” moniker by leading all thirty tours in his Eagle/Toyota combo.  Darland looked good early, flirting with the fence on the back chute and appearing to track down the leader for a bit.  However, as the race wore on, Dave faded and could not contain Zach’s teammate Kyle Jones, the impressive Texan who was hard on the hammer all night long.  In the end, Daum, Jones, and Darland comprised the podium while Shuman and Steven Shebester (from 12th) scored fourth and fifth.  Tucker Klaasmeyer, Garrett Aitken (from 15th), Felker, Grady Chandler, and Monrovia’s Justin Peck (from 23rd) scored sixth through tenth. 

The emotional high and adrenaline from such a memorable excursion were quickly squashed after crossing the Mississippi, as this was the moment when my nephew and I first laid eyes on the Belleville incident that would eventually claim the life of our hometown hero.  Finally arriving back at my own abode at 5:30 AM, that drive through darkness reminded me of all those miserable rides home from racetracks when the condition of drivers like Doty, Vogler, Drinan, Hewitt, Stanley, Jones, Cassella, Osman, McClure, Drake, Darland, and Leffler were a complete unknown.   Weary and worried sick, I didn't sleep much, awaking to those same concerns and stomach pains.  Hoping for the best but fearing the worst, I made the trip to Kokomo for the Bob Darland Memorial to possibly obtain some good news, but in all honesty I had zero interest in watching another race, as the consequences hit far too close to home.  

As it was, Kokomo was a rather rare opportunity to meet up again with Auckland, New Zealand's Bryce Townsend, who was doing a nearly two week Knoxville Nationals/Pennsylvania Midget Week tour with Matt and Suzy Percival.  Feeling some comfort of being in the company of those who were enduring the same overwhelming thoughts, as usual it was an extremely efficient Sunday evening, going green for the 30-lap sprint car main event at 7:58 PM while waving the checkered flag at 8:12.  Slightly disappointed that more men and machines did not support a $3,000 to win program that also offered national television exposure, still, 21 solid cars performed for three hot/lap qualifying sessions, three heat races, and one feature. 

Only a one-time winner of his dad's race, Dave Darland was quickest from the three timed hot lap sessions (13.009 seconds), performing as usual in the red number 11 of Jammin' Jeff Walker.  Those three heats were hailed by Robert Ballou (from 4th), Thomas Meseraull (from 2nd, his first ride in Mike Dutcher's machine), and Kevin Thomas, Jr. (from 1st, narrowly defeating Darland in a side-by-side power struggle).  Logan Jarrett had been running second to Ballou but unexpectedly fell to the wayside, gridding him 19th for the A instead of inside the first three rows. 

Jarett Andretti and Meseraull drew the front row for the twilight finale, which saw the first 22 laps go uninterrupted.   T-Mez took advantage of high side momentum to lead at the outset, building a half-straight advantage before entering lapped traffic on lap nine.  By the halfway mark, Andretti managed to close the gap and keep the black and red rocket within striking distance.  Ready to make his move to first, Jarett's surprise attack was spoiled by a caution for C.J. Leary's flat right rear.  After the restart, Andretti dipped low through three and four on numerous occasions, subsequently allowing fifth-starting Robert Ballou to apply pressure.  With two to go, Robert stole Jarett's line through turn two, but a timely crossover kept car 18 in second.  The final caution came one lap later when fourth place Shane Cottle uncharacteristically spun in turn two.  Leaving a one lap shootout, in true Kokomo fashion drama was once again high when Andretti exited turn two with the advantage, only to see T-Mez circle the top through three and four to reclaim the lead and the win.  After claiming the top spot at the previous evening's Jack Hewitt Classic in Waynesfield, Thomas went two for three on the weekend in three different rides, having wheeled the Wingo 77 in Bloomington on Friday. 

Andretti continued his superb summer with a solid second while Ballou had to settle for third.  Max McGhee manufactured fourth while point leader Kevin Thomas, Jr. took fifth.  Darland, Jerry Coons, Jr., Chris Windom, Josh Spencer (from 21st), and Kyle Robbins (from 17th) rounded out the rest of the top-ten.  Had Logan Jarrett and Tyler Thomas not tangled in the final corner, they would have been included in those names.

Some eleven days after the unthinkable tragedy, I still am having such a hard time coming to terms with all of this.  However, one thing I am certain of is a vast emptiness that I feel for the one thing that has dominated my everyday existence since I was 13.   On the drive home from Kokomo's Darland Memorial, before I ever knew the official outcome of Clauson's condition I seriously pondered the possibility of walking away from racing entirely, as it just didn't seem that there was much left for me to enjoy.  It might sound ridiculous, but it is the truth.  As I sit here and mull over weekend events, I'll be honest and admit that not much appeals to me at this point.  Next week's Kokomo Smackdown was something to get juiced up about before Bryan left us.  Now, it just seems like something to fill the time.  Oh, there’s no denying that I will be there, as I would not want to miss Bryan’s Celebration of Life and special events surrounding Wednesday the 24th.  Yes, BC will be there in spirit, but how will I feel knowing that he won't be there to compete?  Yes, this is the cruelest reality of life, as there is no consolation, no explanation, and no closure.  Hoping for some spark, some sign of life like last Saturday's Knoxville Nationals feature event, that's all I've got to hang my hat on at this point.  I've endured painful endings to so many racing careers, but for some reason none hit as hard as this one.  Clauson’s abrupt exit changes the face of racing much like Jan Opperman’s 1976 Hoosier Hundred accident, Dick Gaines’s crash at Champaign in 1977, Rich Vogler’s 1990 Salem spill, and Robbie Stanley’s 1994 Winchester nightmare.  Too young to remember Opperman and Gaines, I somehow managed to deal with the loss of Vogler and Stanley and enjoy my open wheel racing once again, knowing that I will also manage to find a way to move on after Clauson left this huge hole.  However, I suspect that it’s going to take a lot longer.  Truly the end of an era, unfortunately I just did not know how great I had it when he was around.  May you rest in peace my friend. 

 

 

 

 

 

Volume 18, Number 7

Feels Like the First Time

As they say, there’s a first time for everything and more often than not, it’s an occasion that you’ll always remember. 

However, as much as my life and happiness revolves around the arrival of Indiana Sprint Week, oddly enough I cannot recall when I first attended one of these contests.  Dating back to July of 1988, while thumbing through my National Speed Sport News I remember being intrigued by an advertisement for a new, five race series of local Indiana winged sprint car contests that I would be inevitably missing, as this fell at the same time as a rare family vacation to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  Possibly absorbing one of the four Sprint Week shows from 1989, I do vividly recall the 1990 Kokomo finale that was claimed in rather dramatic fashion by Chuck Amati, as his Daryl Tate teammate Gary Trammel finished second and tied for the series crown.

Another First – Carson Short became the fourth first-time USAC feature winner during Indiana Sprint Week

Bacon Bit – Lawrenceburg is the home track for the Hoffmans, where Brady Bacon lifted the left rear in qualifying and later scored 7th in the feature.

Burg Bandit – Bryan Clauson participated in four Indiana Sprint Week rounds, setting quick time and winning here at Lawrenceburg.

Champ - Brady Bacon bagged his first Sprint Week title by virtue of consistency, finishing 2nd, 4th, 5th (twice), 7th, and 11th.

Colorful – The similarly adorned rides of Chase Stockon and Tyler Thomas offer a nice pop against Bloomington's red clay.

Coon Dog – Despite skipping two ISW rounds, Jerry Coons, Jr. still had a solid week, passing quite a few cars and finishing no worse than 8th.

Crowd Pleaser – On the gas at Kokomo and equally on the hammer when he is interviewed, Thomas Meseraull is a true crowd pleaser.

Digging In – Kyle Cummins and his Rock Steady Racing ride truly dig into the Kokomo dirt during hot laps.

Double D – Despite struggling the majority of the week, crowd favorite Dave Darland was actually in contention to win at Putnamville and Bloomington.

Finally – After 13 years of trying, Kyle Cummins looks relieved after finally scoring his first USAC feature victory at Kokomo.

Alternating between winged and wingless formats for the first eight years, although increased payouts influenced participation from bigger name contestants, it wasn't until 1996 when these races truly became relevant.  Promoters Mike Miles (Bloomington), Keith Ford (Paragon), and Kent Evans (Kokomo) met at the Martinsville Waffle House in between the '95 and '96 seasons, making a bold decision to partner with the United States Auto Club in an attempt to duplicate the success of Ohio's established All Star Sprint Speed Week.  Ultimately rewarded with huge car counts and equally massive front-gate receipts, the three race mini-series of 1996 morphed to seven for 1997, averaging 50 cars and attracting an all-star west coast contingent of J.J. Yeley, Cory Kruseman, Richard Griffin, Mike Kirby, and Troy Cline, with even more left coast talent towing east for 1998.  Adding unique promotions from marketing genius Bill Marvel, this helped make Indiana Sprint Week more than just a bunch of races, but indeed an event of epic proportions.    

A great time to be alive and owning a feel much like those early 1990s CRA Midwestern Tours, these first few USAC sanctioned Indiana Sprint Week series were certainly some of the most exciting, manufacturing so much potential that I skipped my very first Kings Royal in that '97 season.  Although Sprint Week continues to expand in popularity with its huge throng of salivating supporters, endless caravan of campers, and carnival-like atmosphere, in recent years I felt that the series had hit a lull due to slightly waning car counts and the absence of west coast participation, needing some sort of spark to return to those glory days of the late 1990s/early 2000s.   

Like any other first-time phenomenon, the enthusiasm and energy of that expanded 1997 Indiana Sprint Week slate could only be experienced once.  However, heading into this 29th annual Indiana Sprint Week, much like in recent years I had a sneaking suspicion that something noteworthy was about to occur, as the door had once again been left wide open to create some new cult heroes.  Robert Ballou was last year's Sprint Week stud, but his uncharacteristic off year kept him from consideration as the overwhelming favorite.  Aside from Bryan Clauson (with six USAC national wins entering the series) or Kevin Thomas, Jr. (seven wins), not one competitor stood above the rest.  Knowing that the world-beating Clauson would be cutting his Sprint Week short by heading east to Eldora, when Campbell, California photographer Steve Lafond and I attempted to predict the outcome of the series while feeding our faces and having the time of our lives at our annual Sprint Week kick-off at Perkinsville’s Bonge's Tavern, we logically deduced that national point leader Brady Bacon would be the overall favorite simply because of consistency.  But yet again, we were left without an answer to the all-important question.  In the spirit of Richard Griffin (’97) and Eric Shively (’02), who would step up to carry the Sprint Week torch as the new thrill maker?    

As it turned out, the answer would not be just one person, but rather an entire cast of new characters.  Although I sensed that something unique might just take place one of these years, never in my wildest dreams would I have been able to predict that four first-time national event winners would be produced from the grueling seven race stretch, as Tyler Courtney (Gas City), Kyle Cummins (Kokomo), Brent Beauchamp (Bloomington), and Carson Short (Haubstadt) joined the list of USAC elite.  Of the 39 USAC features conducted in 2015, only three were brand new winners while in 2014, there were none whatsoever.  To get four new names in the record books during Sprint Week is still a mind-blowing proposition. 

With seven different feature winners altogether, temperatures rising into the low 90s, car counts hovering in the high-forties, winners coming from as far back as 16th, several big names missing features altogether, plus some mid-week ride hopping after the inevitable meltdown occurred between driver and crew, minus the west coast representation this had much of the same raw excitement as that initial Sprint Week expansion of 1997.  Feeling a lot like those first few series under the USAC umbrella, it was indeed a breath of fresh and muggy July air, so psyched to be able to embrace and absorb this ultimate smorgasbord of sensory overloads. 

Fine Form – Brent Beauchamp showed fine qualifying form at Bloomington, timing 7th best but later winding up a winner, his first in USAC circles.

Getting Dirty – Photographer Steve Lafond might be getting his camera equipment a tad dirty from a massive rooster trail thrown by Tyler Thomas at Putnamville.

Hard Charger – Shown here with Hard Charger sponsor Bill Wever of B&W Auto Mart, Robert Ballou was the prime mover for the week, passing 64 feature cars in seven races.

Heaven – This is the entrance to my personal culinary heaven, otherwise known as Bonge’s Tavern.

In Your Face – C.J. Leary is literally in Steve Lafond’s face at Gas City, one of two races in which he had to use a provisional to start the feature.

KT – Shown here at Kokomo, Kevin Thomas, Jr. was in contention to win but settled for third, his best performance of the week.

Most Improved – Jarett Andretti might have been the most improved Sprint Week performer of 2016, making all seven features on his own merit and scoring three top-ten finishes.

Mudslinging – In five feature appearances, Hunter Schuerenberg led 14 laps but encountered engine issues on more than one occasion and could score no better than 12th.

New Ride – After parting ways with Amati Racing, Thomas Meseraull jumped into Landon Simon’s 24, elevating from 18th to 5th at LPS.

On the Bike – Kent Schmidt’s tours Bloomington’s turn three on two wheels or less.

 

As predicted, Brady Bacon did bag the all-important Indiana Sprint Week championship by virtue of consistency, continuing the first-time theme as this was his first title and the first for Hoffman Auto Racing since Dave Darland won it for the legendary Cincinnati, Ohio area squad in 1998.  With finishes of 5th, 5th, 7th, 11th, 2nd, 7th, and 4th, qualifying was key as Brady timed inside of the top-ten in five of the seven races, benefitting from a potent Williams Precision Mopar propelling his usual Mean Green supported Triple X chassis.  Starting features from 6th, 10th, 11th, 15th, 2nd, 7th, and 5th, he only needed to advance 15 feature starting positions to get the job done.  Bacon's championship was far from a walk in the park however, as he had to hustle after a lap 14 tour of the Kokomo spin cycle to claim fifth.  Two races later, a dustup with Hunter Schuerenberg allowed him enough time to salvage 11th at LPS.  Interestingly enough, Brady’s average feature finish was 5.86, which was actually lower than second place Robert Ballou’s 5.57.  But, with USAC paying points for the top-six qualifying positions and top-four heat race finishes, three times Brady clocked inside of the top-six (including quick time at Gas City) and only once did he need to come through the semi-feature (Haubstadt).  Ballou only needed to come through the semi once, but he also only timed inside of the top-six once.  Those qualifying points made all the difference by virtue of the nine point differential after the Terre Haute finale, this venue offering an interesting twist for the curtain closer as both Bacon and Ballou have been bad-asses on the huge fairgrounds half-mile.  Oddly enough, Brady become the ninth Indiana Sprint Week champion to claim the title without winning a race, joining Randy Kinser (’88), Gary Trammel (’90), Bob Kinser (’91), Tony Elliott (’99), Levi Jones (’04, ’08, ’12), and Robert Ballou to own the dubious distinction.  Consistency is the key to Indiana Sprint Week success, after all. 

Enjoying the services of veteran crew chief Jimmy Jones for all seven races, defending Sprint Week champ Ballou finished 8th, 2nd, 9th, 4th, 10th, 4th, and 2nd in his familiar Don Ott powered Maxim.  But in order to earn those solid finishes, he had to work for it, digging from deep in the field for the majority of the contests after starting 13th, 14th, 22nd, 16th, 19th, 16th, and 3rd, advancing a staggering 64 starting positions.  Qualifying was indeed a huge struggle for the man who characterized his Sprint Week performance as “piss-poor”, timing 15th, 14th, 29th, 16th, 22nd, 17th, and 6th.  Being struck by a rock in the Kokomo feature and feeling as if his jaw was broken, after flogging from 14th Robert dipped underneath and pulled even with eventual winner Kyle Cummins, making things exciting as usual.  The next night in Lawrenceburg was another effort to remember after burying himself in time trials, requiring a semi-main surge from 12th to 2nd before yet another feature flogging from 22nd to 9th.  Twice squirting from 16th to 4th in the final half of the series, if you only kept your eyes on the Mad Man, you would have indeed gotten your money’s worth, as so often the best racing is not found at the front. 

On the Hill – Bloomington’s Sprint Week crowd was again at capacity, celebrating the life of a Southern Indiana legend with this Sheldon Kinser Memorial.

Packed House – Putnamville, like all of the other Sprint Week stops, was packed to the gills.

Psyched – There’s nothing quite like the thrill of a first-time winner, as evidenced by Tyler Courtney’s expressions.

Reach for the Sky – Chad Boespflug is clearly hooked up at Kokomo, where he qualified fourth and finished sixth. A third at LPS was his best Sprint Week showing.

Ringleader - As a four-time Indiana Sprint Week Champion, it's rather appropriate that Levi Jones is now running the show.

Satisfaction – Car owner Jeff Olson and mechanic Ed Hassler join their driver Brent Beauchamp in Bloomington victory lane. All first-time USAC winners, it had to be even more satisfying to accomplish this feat during Sprint Week.

Serious Lift – Robert Ballou’s left rear lift was dramatic at Lawrenceburg, where he qualified a dismal 29th. Charging from 12th to 2nd in the semi, he surged from 22nd to 9th in the A.

Showtime – Shown at Gas City, Chase Stockon scored 2nd at LPS, third at Tri-State, and won the Terre Haute finale, taking fourth in final points.

Silent Gasser – Jon Stanbrough’s first ride in Shane Wade’s 66 since 2013 came at Putnamville, where he started 14th but was first to exit with brake issues.

Sprint Week Stalwarts – The two winningest Sprint Week drivers are Dave Darland and Jon Stanbrough, shown battling for semi-feature supremacy at Kokomo.

Indy native Tyler Courtney was perhaps the biggest Indiana Sprint Week surprise, offering his share of week-long drama and injecting some well-deserved life into the series.  A feather in his cap that a third place points finish was a disappointment, Courtney and his Topp Motorsports team actually led points heading into the fifth round in Bloomington, needing just three respectable races to sew up their first crown.  Becoming the new cult hero after his win from 16th at Gas City, so many, including my friend Lafond, knew so little about this underrated racer who was 2011 Chili Bowl rookie of the year and USAC's 2013 national sprint car rookie of the year.  Not only did he slay the all-conquering Clauson on opening night, but after a first lap spin, he actually sprinted from dead last (24th) to do it – patiently following the infield tires much like a grizzled veteran.  An unbelievable beginning to the series, the high emotions felt from that electrifying initial USAC win reverberated over the next nine evenings.  Guided by mechanic Mark Shambarger whose resume includes stints with Gaerte Engines, Joe Gaerte Racing, and Bryan Herta Autosport (winning the Indianapolis 500 in 2011 and 2016), after opening with finishes of 1st, 7th (where he was the quickest Kokomo qualifier), and 2nd, TC again topped the timing charts at Lincoln Park Speedway (once owned and operated by his grandfather) but suffered a similar first lap fate after jumping Justin Grant’s right rear.  Romping from the rear to 8th, unfortunately the results from Courtney’s next two races ruined his championship chances.  Flipping wildly over the south bank of Bloomington at the beginning of his heat race and having to revert to a backup for the B, he missed the show and relinquished his point lead.  Undaunted, the team hauled to Haubstadt still in the hunt, but a sub-par 22nd place finish absolutely eliminated them from the chase.  Completing the week third at Terre Haute, the fact that Courtney chose to bypass the entire Kings Royal weekend for a chance at Sprint Week supremacy was yet another breath of fresh air, as everyone knows that the big money exists in the winged world.  The fact is, USAC racing needs more likeable talent like Courtney and as fans, we can only hope his skills aren’t wasted on the dark side.   

Far from his first Indiana Sprint Week rodeo, Chase Stockon closed out the week with his second USAC win of the season at Terre Haute, securing a fourth place in points after making all seven shows without the aid of a provisional.  That stat was in jeopardy at Lawrenceburg when Chase qualified an uncharacteristic 26th, needing the last corner of the last lap to slip under Shawn Westerfeld for the final transfer from the semi.  Admitting that this particular Terre Haute win was perhaps his biggest to date as the finale paid homage to his former benefactor Don Smith, Don was not only the long-time president of the Terre Haute First National Bank and a former Indy car owner, but he was also the Action Track promoter in its glory days, always in support of racers from the area.  Wearing homegrown Haubstadt Dewig Meats decals on the hood of his brightly colored DRC chassis, Chase opened Sprint Week with extremely disappointing finishes of 13th, 14th (running up front at Kokomo before being swept up in an incident with Windom and Clauson), and 12th.  Although he also struggled to a 19th at Bloomington, his second half finishes were far superior with a 2nd at LPS (leading two laps), 3rd at Haubstadt, and of course the win at THAT.  One of USAC’s better qualifiers, in four of the seven contests Chase timed inside of the top-ten.  By virtue of his respectable Sprint Week, Showtime leapfrogged to third in national points.

Leaving Lawrenceburg tied for second in Sprint Week points after opening with finishes of 3rd, 9th, and 3rd, Chris Windom’s championship chances were rock solid, especially after his killer Kokomo performance in which he led the first 21 laps before a turn four meeting with leader Kyle Cummins attracted Bryan Clauson and Chase Stockon, having to restart from the tail to take 9th.  Having already claimed one ISW crown for Kenny Baldwin in his banner year of 2011, second half Baldwin Brothers Racing expectations were not unreasonably lofty and although CW drew poorly at Putnamville, like a true pro he worked his way from 22nd to 9th.  Unfortunately, a flat left rear with five laps remaining dropped him to 19th and spoiled his championship chances.  Qualifying struggles continued at Bloomington and Haubstadt, where the orange crush settled for sub-par finishes of 14th and 18th.  Timing third and taking 6th at Terre Haute, Windom wound up a respectable fifth in points.      

Sunset - By the time Indiana Sprint Week heads to Bloomington, the sun is sadly beginning to set on my favorite time of the year.

Sunshine – Although Bloomington wasn’t a stellar qualifying performance for Tyler Courtney, he qualified quickest at Kokomo and Putnamville and was second-best at Lawrenceburg.

Surprise Opening - Tyler Courtney came from deep in the field to score the surprising opening night win at Gas City.

The Mecca – My favorite place in the world to eat is Bonge’s Tavern, where Steve Lafond and I annually celebrate our start to Sprint Week. We’re both happy campers, if you couldn’t tell from the photo.

The Other Short – Marion, Illinois is the hometown of Carson Short, no relation to Bedford, Indiana’s Brady Short. Both Shorts were 2016 Sprint Week winners.

The Short Way – Brady Short shows that the shortest distance around an oval is the bottom, where he whisked from 11th to win at Lincoln Park.

T-Mez – Thomas Meseraull is generally all smiles, as evidenced by this pre-feature pose for Steve Lafond.

T-Squared – Oklahoma transplant Tyler Thomas made six of seven features in his first Indiana Sprint Week appearance, scoring a best feature finish of 10th at Lawrenceburg.

Turning Point – The beginning of this Bloomington heat race flip was the turning point for Tyler Courtney’s Sprint Week title hopes, winding up third after sitting atop the standings for all of the series.

We Salute You – It’s tough to find an empty seat in Kokomo’s grandstand for this four-wide salute.

We’re Back – Bonge’s Tavern is so special that Steve Lafond and I have to make a second stop on the Tuesday off-night.

Wheels Up - Chris Windom finished 5th in Sprint Week points, leading 21 laps at Kokomo and finishing on the podium at Gas City and Lawrenceburg.

Sixth through tenth in Sprint Week standings included Kevin Thomas, Jr., Chad Boespflug, Jarett Andretti, Jerry Coons, Jr., and Kyle Cummins.  Of these men, Kevin’s Sprint Week expectations may have been highest due to the serious damage he inflicted on his Indiana bullring competition in May and June.  Climbing through the cage of Jeremy Ottinger’s rock-solid DRC/Speedway combination, KTJ was far from a dark horse given his seven 2016 feature victories.  But with finishes of 23rd, 3rd, 10th, 9th, 4th, 9th, and 21st, his Sprint Week had to be a bit of a bummer.  A tale of what could have been, he qualified in the top ten in five of the seven shows, firing from 10th, 1st, 7th, 21st, 7th, 8th, and 8th.  Up to fourth at Gas City before hitting a hole and damaging a right rear shock, sliding Windom several times for the lead at Kokomo before untimely yellow flags were flown, and rebounding from a sub-par LPS qualifying performance to secure a feature start and top-ten finish, had it not been for that faulty shock or the Terre Haute DNF, the Alabama assassin could have been in the hunt for his first-ever crown.   

Already tallying a trio of USAC triumphs for his new-for-2016 partners Chuck Eberhardt and Fred Zirzow, wrapped in fresh PAC Springs colors Chad Boespflug was looking good in early ISW action at Gas City.  Blasting off from fourth, Chad was prepared to pounce on early leader Hunter Schuerenberg until his machine mysteriously shut off, discovering that a severe engine vibration had loosened the spark box and allowed it to fall into the kill switch.  Attempting to locate the cause of the vibration post Gas City, the team of Davey Jones, Bryan Stanfill, Jason Keefer, and Boespflug were up all night in their unsuccessful search.  Luckily, Dan Pace came to the rescue with a Dave Conn power plant used on opening night by Jon Stanbrough.  Completing a 5 AM engine swap, the combination was then tested on Pace’s chassis dyno by 9, ultimately rewarded with Kokomo’s fourth-quickest qualifying time and a sixth place finish.    Unfortunately, the team’s Sprint Week title hopes were severely deflated at Lawrenceburg after drawing last and posting the 31st-quickest lap in a field of 42.  Unable to dig out of that hole, a provisional was needed to participate in Sunday’s feature, earning them zero ISW points.  Rebounding with fifth quick time and a third at LPS, Boespflug rewrote Bloomington’s one lap record with a sizzling 10.737 circuit but was unable to capitalize after an 11th place finish.  Strutting southwest to Haubstadt, he was again a qualifying beast (2nd) but fell to 8th at the 30-lap conclusion.  The excitement was far from over however, as post-race discussions (heat and feature) between certain members of the Boespflug and Kevin Thomas, Jr. squads escalated into some serious fireworks and a scuffle.  Cooler heads eventually prevailed, but not without its share of unfortunate drama, which so often occurs at some point during Indiana Sprint Week.  The Boespflug rollercoaster ended 12th at Terre Haute, definitely a disappointment given his supreme qualifying prowess (five for seven in top-ten times).  Unfortunately, his average feature finish of 11.86 could only net him seventh in the ISW standings.

If there were ever a most-improved Sprint Week award, it would unquestionably go to Jarett Andretti, who made all seven feature events without the aid of a provisional.  Scored 15th, 8th, 11th, 13th, 9th, 5th, and 18th, it was his opening night performance at Gas City that spoke volumes on how far he’s come.  Timing 29th out of 47, after struggling in his heat he won the lowly C-main, allowing him to advance to the 12-lap semi-feature where he would be slotted 15th.  Following the bottom of a slicked-off surface, Andretti impressively advanced 13 positions to 2nd, pulling off the improbable climb from C to B to A along with A.J. Hopkins.  Timing inside of the top-ten twice, he could not take advantage of a front row start at Haubstadt but settled for a still-solid 5th.  Switching to a DRC chassis several weeks before the start of Sprint Week, his 8th place in points and second local feature win of the season (7/23 at Lawrenceburg) show that he is becoming a threat to win, any time, anywhere. 

Jerry Coons, Jr. and his Edison Motorsports posse might have been missing in action at Lawrenceburg and Haubstadt, but they still had an excellent five race showing.  Scored sixth from ninth at both Gas City and LPS, Jerry impressively found fourth from 22nd at Kokomo.  Again advancing three spots in Bloomington (11th to 8th), he elevated from 18th to 8th at Terre Haute, nailing ninth in points.       

Kyle Cummins collected the tenth spot for car owner Hank Byram after a week of extreme highs and lows.  After opening 14th at Gas City, Kyle drew last for Kokomo qualifying but still produced the second-quickest lap.  Maintaining his sixth starting position for most of the contest, after a restart for Brady Bacon’s spin the pride of Princeton suddenly found some serious bite off the bottom of turn two.  Picking off opponents one by one, by the back stretch of lap 22 he had pilfered P1 but swung his Mach 1 a tad too sideways at the exit of corner four.  Leaving the door wide open for Windom, Chris made heavy contact and collected contenders Clauson and Stockon, moving KTJ and Ballou up to second and third.  Both breathed heavily down Kyle’s neck for the remainder of the affair and to make matters worse, the final lap contained a four car crash that mandated a two-lap shootout.  In search of that elusive first-time USAC score after 13 years of trying, Cummins refused to lose, skillfully hitting his marks and fending off a ferocious advance from the defending Sprint Week and national champ.  Robert indeed showed how low one can go at Kokomo, but his last turn lunge came up inches short.  The elated first-time winner was returned to reality at Lawrenceburg after timing 27th.  Required to rally from 10th to 5th in the B just to advance to the A, he again worked overtime to earn a respectable 8th from 21st.  With his Cummins Racing Engine starved for fuel in Lincoln Park qualifying, Kyle was again behind the eight ball after clocking 26th.  Unable to recover, his missed the main and was thus eliminated from Sprint Week contention.  Uncharacteristically struggling to a 16th at Bloomington, he was back on home turf at Haubstadt after timing third, starting fourth, and applying serious heat to pole sitter and race-long leader Carson Short.  Giving Carson everything he had, the Flying Illini made all the right moves through traffic on the heavy surface, forcing Cummins to settle for second-best.  Absent from Terre Haute activity, if there was one Sprint Week positive for the self-employed machinist, it was that he was finally able to shake that USAC monkey from his back.  One of the most underrated racers in the country, this kid still owns all the right tools to get the job done on a national level.  

In addition to those four first-time winners plus Stockon, Bryan Clauson cleaned up at Lawrenceburg while Brady Short romped from 11th to land in Lincoln Park's victory circle.  Only competing in four of the seven ISW contests, many, like myself, would have predicted a Clauson clean sweep.  It's nearly impossible to be perfect during Sprint Week however, having to hustle back to second after losing the lead in his Gas City rim-riding exhibition.  Eliminated in the Windom/Cummins/Stockon scrum at Kokomo while lurking in fifth, he blew a right rear at Terre Haute while operating in third.  Topping timing sheets at Lawrenceburg and Terre Haute, he snatched the lead baton at the Burg from Hunter Schuerenberg by lap six.  Securing USAC national sprint car win number seven on the season, he’d have to first fend off advances from New Mexico's Josh Hodges and Tyler Courtney, schooling his former pupil on a restart with three laps left. 

As for Short, he was enjoying a family vacation for the first half of Sprint Week, launching his initial attack at LPS.  In these last six or seven years, Brady has become the absolute master of Indiana dry slickies, clearly evident on Thursday when he began 11th and lifted the lead from Dave Darland by lap 12.  Losing a full-straightaway advantage thanks to a caution with five to go, three late race restarts did nothing to diminish his lead.  Laying claim to his fifth career Sprint Week score, this one came ten years to the day of his first at Bloomington in 2006.  All five of Sweet Feet's ISW celebrations have taken place at different venues, including the aforementioned Bloomington, Lawrenceburg ('08), Brownstown ('10), Haubstadt ('15), and now Putnamville, the same place where he advanced through the alphabet last year and finagled fifth from 22nd.  Oddly enough, Short was off-song at his final two Sprint Week stops of Bloomington and Haubstadt, taking 12th and 13th. 

Indiana Sprint Week meltdowns are far from a first-time occurrence, as this seven race stretch has historically tested the limits of every aspect of a sprint car squad, whether it be human or mechanical.  Entering the grind second in points and an LPS MSCS feature winner as recently as July 2nd, Thomas Meseraull and Amati Racing were not immune to this Sprint Week syndrome.  Taking 22nd at Gas City after losing it late in corner four, the longevity of this combination took a serious shot during Kokomo’s A-main where again Thomas looped his red racer.  Recovering to claim 11th, some harsh words were reportedly shared between driver and crew chief during a trip to the work area.  To add insult to injury, the next afternoon had the Amati rig stopped along I-74 with a flat tire, arriving in Lawrenceburg just as qualifying was about to begin.  Of all days to draw fourth, they were only allowed one lap at the end and could only muster 39th out of a 42-car field.  Second in the C and 16th in the B, they cashed a provisional but could only claim 18th, dropping one more spot in the national standings.   By Monday afternoon, news of the Amati/Meseraull split sent shockwaves through the sprint car community, an unfortunate end to a productive pairing that secured seven victories, four of them under the USAC banner.  Ultimately unable to mesh the personalities of an outspoken Meseraull with crew chief Donnie Gentry, Thomas immediately found work in Landon Simon’s Mt. Baker Vapor DRC.  Earning an emotionally-charged 5th from 18th at LPS, he again found 5th at Bloomington.  Meseraull’s last two showings, however, were a forgettable 19th and 14th.  Given his propensity to stand on the gas, I'm sure T-Mez will eventually land somewhere solid. 

Amati owner Shane Wade reunited with Jon Stanbrough for the final four programs, taking 24th at LPS (after losing brakes), 17th at Bloomington (popping a provisional after timing a horrific 35th), 12th at Haubstadt, and 15th at Terre Haute (reverting to a backup car for the feature after encountering engine difficulties). 

The Sprint Week syndrome also bit Justin Grant and Phillips Motorsports, who permanently parted ways after Bloomington.  Joining in mid-May but never quite jelling, their best Sprint Week showing was 6th at Lawrenceburg.  Qualifying solidly at Gas City (5th) and Putnamville (6th), an early spin at The Gas granted Justin 20th while Putnamville produced a disappointing 17th.  A DNQ at Bloomington and Kokomo, after the split Justin jumped into a completely unfamiliar ride (DKM Motorsports) and took the WAR feature win in rather dramatic fashion at Winston, Missouri, completing his winning move through the last turn of the last lap. 

That pre-Sprint Week sense of something noteworthy taking place smacked me right between the eyes after Gas City's semi-feature, as the two winningest drivers in ISW history failed to transfer by a wide margin.   A changing of the guard has slowly been taking place over the last decade, but never before had it been more evident when Dave Darland and Jon Stanbrough fell several spots shy of A-main status.  Dave would later tag the tail thanks to a provisional but Stanbrough had no such luxury.   

Darland did manage to compete in all seven Sprint Week features while Stanbrough started six, but their overall struggle to be competitive was the ultimate shocker.  Two exceptions for Double-D involved outstanding outings in Putnamville and Bloomington, where he propelled from the pole each time.  Leading nine laps at LPS before yielding to Short, a broken tie rod bolt on the final lap dropped the Jeff's Jam-It-In Storage Maxim from third to tenth.  The People’s Champ was officially ahead for nine more tours of Bloomington where a classic high-low battle was waged with Brent Beauchamp, resulting in the most lead changes since the 2001 LPS Sprint Week show that Dave ironically lost in a photo-finish to Stanbrough.  Darland ripped the lip but as turn two’s cushion pushed wider and wider, he just couldn’t surge in front of the smooth and steady Beauchamp.  Despite those two solid performances, Dave's other five finishes were nothing to write home about:  16th (Gas City), 15th (Kokomo, where he spun at the white flag), 16th (Lawrenceburg, where he was mounted by Nick Bilbee), 24th (Haubstadt), and 13th (Terre Haute).

As for Stanbrough, he started the week driving Dan Pace’s Maxim/Competition Welding but after an uncharacteristic DNQ at one of the venues where he truly excels, he was back in his own Spike for Kokomo and Lawrenceburg before finishing out the week with Shane Wade’s DRC.  Qualifying seemed to be his biggest issue, as he timed 27th, 16th, 16th, 14th, 35th, 10th, and 19th.  That 35th came at Bloomington, where he slipped off the edge while taking the white flag, effectively killing both laps which later required a provisional pass into the A.  In speaking with a candid Silent Gasser in the Gas City pit area, I learned that this is a different man than the one who took the 2006 and 2010 Indiana Sprint Week titles.  Yes, he still enjoys the competitiveness of racing, but with 2016 funding limited due to a major sponsor loss (MP Environmental), he has learned to enjoy other aspects of life like camping, something before this year that he’d never, ever tried.  Commenting that he was fine without being at a racetrack on some weekends, after so many years of being so focused and intent on winning, who can blame the guy for wanting a bit of a break?   

So hard to pick the most memorable race of the seven race stretch, how can you choose from Tyler Courtney’s improbable run from the rear at Gas City, the non-stop chaotic drama of Kokomo where Kyle Cummins prevailed in the most thrilling finish of the week, or the wheel-to-wheel war at Bloomington between Darland and Beauchamp?  Given that I was completely on the edge of my seat at Bloomington where a beautiful two-groove surface needed no maintenance, that race gets the nod.  Happy to see Brent finally break through, I was ecstatic for his car owner Jeff Olson, who is an air traffic controller alongside my older sister.  With the experienced assistance from former driver Ed Hassler, “Oly” provides proof that the little guy still has a place on this national stage, getting some supreme bang out of his bucks.  Competing at only four Sprint Week rounds, Jeff is a working man after all.

What is it about the Bloomington Sprint Week stop that promotes first-time USAC feature winners?  Brad Fox followed the infield tires and found USAC gold here in 1997.  Cory Kruseman got his first one here in Dave Ellis’s bad-fast 21 while A.J. Anderson emulated the line made famous by the original Kevin Thomas with his first score in 2001.  As mentioned previously, Brady Short secured his first USAC win here in 2006 while Kevin Thomas, Jr. etched his name into the USAC record books with his 2012 score.   

A tip of the hat goes to Advanced Racing Suspensions employee Tyler Thomas, an Oklahoma midget transplant who made six of seven features in his first Indiana Sprint Week starts for Jerry Burton.  Missing only the Gas City main, a 10th place finish at the Burg was his top billing, twice timing inside of the top-ten.  Kudos also goes to Kokomo’s Logan Jarrett, who enjoyed his best Indiana Sprint Week of his career.  Also a DNQ at Gas City, Jarrett made the remaining six features, saving his best performance for last with a solid seventh at Terre Haute.  Like T-squared, LJ was a top-ten qualifier twice.  And although the results don’t show it with finishes of 12th, 21st, 19th, 22nd, and 24th, Hunter Schuerenberg was once again a force in Tony Epperson’s deuce despite limited wingless appearances this season.   In three of his five outings, he qualified inside of the top-ten and on two of those occasions (Gas City and Lawrenceburg), wound up with the pole position.  Leading nine laps at Gas City, Hunter led five more at Lawrenceburg but threw a connecting rod while running third on lap 28.  And how about Marion, Illinois native Carson Short?  His first Sprint Week appearance of 2016 resulted in a thirty lap romp at Tri-State Speedway, his first sprint car win of any kind.  Showing flashes of brilliance over the last several seasons, especially when surfaces are heavy, the grip from Haubstadt’s dark dirt did not diminish as much as others expected, which certainly favored Carson.  Still just 20 years old, the other Short worked traffic like a seasoned veteran, unaffected by the pressure to perform on such a big stage.   

Aside from Cummins, the one driver most would have predicted to score his initial USAC sprint car victory during Indiana Sprint Week was Greenfield’s C.J. Leary.  Knocking on the door for the better part of three seasons, C.J.’s Sprint Week was best described as a struggle, competing in all seven features but needing provisionals for Gas City and Haubstadt.  Qualifying in the top-ten on three occasions, he also finished in the top-ten an equal number of times, taking 4th at Lawrenceburg, 6th at Bloomington, and 10th at Terre Haute.  Earning an average feature finish of 12.43, it was definitely not the week that Leary, owner Mike Dutcher, or the experts expected, with rumors flying about a post-Sprint Week split before the series was even over.  

Like Leary, another young man whose week wasn’t anything he’d envisioned was Max McGhee.  Twice timing inside of the top-ten (Gas City and Terre Haute) and taking part in four of the seven features, his best effort was a 7th on opening night.  Utilizing a provisional at Kokomo only to mangle his Maxim after heavy contact with Dave Darland, after qualifying poorly at Lawrenceburg he loaded up early, also missing features at Putnamville and Bloomington.  A character-building week of education and experience for Max and his younger brother/crew chief Sam, after starting off the season strong in Florida as USAC rookies, Sprint Week has a way of humbling racers of all ages. 

New Mexico college student Josh Hodges was the lone western representation this year, guided once again by crew chief Jake Argo.  Enduring a week of mixed results, Josh was a top-ten qualifier in four of his six showings, also making four of those six features before having to return home on the Sunday of the Terre Haute makeup.  The quickest qualifier at the Haub, in the two shows that Josh missed he timed a horrific 34th (Gas City) and 48th (Putnamville).  After fixing his engine issues from LPS time trials, just to take part in the semi-feature required a run from 17th to 4th.  Showing well at Lawrenceburg (5th) and Haubstadt (7th), it was at the Burg where Hodges provided the biggest threat to Bryan Clauson’s lead, looking like he might just be the third consecutive first-time winner.  

2016 Indiana Sprint Week car counts were extremely solid up until the final two evenings.  Beginning with 47 at Gas City and Kokomo, the figure fell to 42 at Lawrenceburg but rose to 50 at Putnamville.  Bloomington boasted 48 and Haubstadt hauled in 39, the first time in a long while that the southern-most stop has enjoyed so many wingless sprinters.  As expected, Terre Haute drew the fewest (32).  A total of 82 drivers competed and those making all seven features without taking a provisional included Bacon, Ballou, Stockon, Windom, Thomas, Jr., and Andretti.  Those making all seven features but requiring provisional passes included Darland, Boespflug, Meseraull, and Leary. 

Qualification performance is a key component of Sprint Week success, and the ones who excelled the most included Bacon, Boespflug, and KTJ, timing inside of the top-ten in five of the seven contests.  Clauson, Courtney, Hodges, and Stockon were top-ten timers in four of seven rounds.  With USAC’s feature invert containing the quickest six who transfer through their heat, four times the pole sitter timed eighth, twice ninth, and once tenth.  Qualifying surfaces were generally excellent, as so many occasions an outstanding lap was turned in late in the order.  At Gas City, quick qualifier Brady Bacon came out ninth from the end but found a moist bottom groove to his liking, as did Zach Daum (34th in line) and Cole Smith (29th in line).  At Kokomo, quick qualifier Tyler Courtney came out 13th, but second and third qualifiers Kyle Cummins and Bryan Clauson drew 47th and 42nd.  At Lawrenceburg, Clauson’s quick lap came early (11th) while second and third qualifiers Courtney and Grant came out 26th and 37th.  And at the hammer-down paperclip in Haubstadt, Josh Hodges was fast time from 7th but Chad Boespflug was second best after going out 38th.  

All Sprint Week surfaces were up to snuff come feature time, with all but Bloomington requiring maintenance at some point throughout the evening.  Despite the heat, most did not go completely dry-slick and so many of the features proved that a poor qualifying time was not of paramount importance.  Earning a $100 bonus from KSE and Bill Wever’s B&W Auto Mart, Tyler Courtney won the opening night’s contest from 16th, really getting it done from 24th after his first lap spin.  Also on opening night, A.J. Hopkins mastered the alphabet, flinging Roy Jackson’s 42 from 10th to 4th in the C, 18th to 5th in the B, and 22nd to 9th in the A.  Jarett Andretti also went from C to B to A, with Shane Cottle coaxing a fourth from Paul Hazen’s famous 57 after beginning 18th.  At Kokomo, Jimmy Light buzzed from 13th to 4th in the C while awesome A-main achievements were turned in by Ballou (14th to 2nd), Coons (22nd to 4th), Andretti (19th to 8th), and the Throttle (17th to 10th).  At the Burg, Robert Ballou blasted from 12th to 2nd in the B and 22nd to 9th in the A, which also saw Kyle Cummins climb from 21st to 8th.  Putnamville produced a ton of overtaking, with Hopkins and Hodges advancing from the C after starting 14th and 17th while Short earned the feature win from 11th.  Ballou (16th to 4th), Meseraull (18th to 5th), and KTJ (21st to 9th) were also lauded for their premier passing skills at the Put.  Haubstadt’s most notable movement belonged to Ballou (16th to 4th) while Terre Haute touted an 18th to 8th charge from Coons.

As expected, Sprint Week crowds were generally at capacity, as the series still attracts visitors from all around the globe.  Quite common to hear just how lucky we have it as Indiana residents, I bumped into two separate parties from Pennsylvania on more than one occasion, namely Chris and Steve Kirner from Hatboro and Ron and Jane Hager from Bechtelsville.  I spoke to Chris and Steve at length at Gas City, learning that the previous Fourth of July weekend saw son Steve make a whirlwind tour of the U.S., first flying from Philadelphia to Indy for a Friday night USAC show at Putnamville.  Then, on Saturday morning it was off to Perris, California for a Saturday night USAC-CRA union.  Then on Sunday, it was back to Indy, only to get rained out for Kokomo's weekly contest.  Now that, my friends, is hardcore!  Able to come and go as they please as retirees, Ron and Jane Hager might be neighbors to Fred Rahmer but they prefer their open wheel action sans aerodynamic aid, traveling to Indiana and the Midwest at least a handful of times each season.  Listening to the excitement in the voices of these fanatics, it reminded me so much of that initial, expanded USAC Indiana Sprint Week when so many of us caught the fever for the first time. 

Naturally, the central reason for the enthusiasm and excitement surrounding Indiana Sprint Week is the on-track product, but more so for me is that I get to spend ten days with one of my best friends.  Once again, Steve Lafond allocated the greatest portion of his vacation time to bask in my Hoosier hospitality and make even more Sprint Week memories.  Ten days might seem like an eternity, especially in the hours leading up to the Gas City opener, but there is never enough time to appreciate every waking moment of this escape from reality.  When not traveling to and from my Carmel home base, Steve’s routine involved endless photo editing while mine involved hitting the gym, running errands, tending to household chores, and attempting to keep up on Sprint Week statistics in preparation for this massive summary that you are currently enjoying. 

Once done with photos and chores, it was time to think about where we would dine for our one solid meal of the day, with an extreme emphasis on exclusivity and quality.  Thrilled to be up at Bonge’s Tavern twice (www.bongestavern.com), as usual the warm and inviting staff (including owner and chef Tony Huelster, hostess Angie Fine, and server Dawn Holowach) welcomed us with open arms, making these two trips as much or more of a highlight as the seven race stretch.  Due to the rarity of offering, both times I chose a massive plate of barbeque ribs as my entrée, without question the most scrumptious racks I’ve ever enjoyed in my life.  Words do not do this place justice and by just writing about those ribs, my mouth waters and begins to beg for more.  In addition to our beloved Bonge’s, Steve and I made stops at The Local, Pizzology, The Pint Room, The Friendly Tavern, Big Woods Brewery (where we bumped into former sprint racers Ande Possman and Kelly Potter), Blu Moon Café, North End Barbeque and Moonshine, Rail Epicurean Market, Nick’s English Hut, Tin Man Brewing Company, and Bub’s Café.  No bad meals or bad tunes, while I often handled the driving chores with this year’s rental car (Chrysler 300 S), Steve often played disc jockey with an awesome selection of songs from his massive and eclectic library, particularly enjoying his playlist in route to Kokomo.  One exception to our routine was the trip to Lawrenceburg, when Texas photog and first-time Sprint Week visitor Pat Grant handled the driving duties with his luxurious and highly impressive Chevy truck. 

Time refuses to stand still when you’re having so much fun and these ten days must unfortunately come to an end at some point.  On that final Sunday brunch, the overwhelmingly painful feelings of a heavy heart and lump in the throat serve as a huge contrast to the unbridled enthusiasm that come with our initial Bonge’s excursion.  With Steve’s flight leaving early Sunday evening, unfortunately he would have to miss the rescheduled Terre Haute finale, leading to that inevitable tearful embrace and goodbye.  Ripping my heart out just as it did the first time he came to visit, some things just do not change.  But, knowing how much both of us live for this week, we wouldn’t have it any other way. 

My favorite memories of racing do involve the early years when my thirst for open wheel action could not be quenched.  These days, I find myself attending races to relive those same memories and earn those same feelings that I enjoyed for the first time some two or three decades ago.  2016 Indiana Sprint Week did manage to ignite many of those same euphoric sentiments from the 1996-1997-1998 era when this mini-series first became a big deal.  2016 was a lot like 1997 with its capacity crowds, outstanding car counts, national championship implications, hard charges, and high drama of emotionally charged drivers, crews, and competitors intersecting.  Throw in the thrill of four first-time winners and the creation of some new heroes and what you had was one of the most memorable weeks in the 29-year history of the series.  Prior to the Gas City opener, I was concerned that Sprint Week had hit a serious lull and needed some sort of revival.  Three weeks later, I realize those worries were completely absurd.  Who knows what the next few years might bring, but either way, I’ll always remember this 2016 edition.  The first time in a long while that I’ve felt this optimistic about the current state of affairs, there is truly nothing like that first-time feeling. 

 

 

 

 

 

Volume 18, Number 6

The Bridge

In some ways, I’m nothing but a big kid at heart, especially evident with my endless fascination for railroads that remains just as strong as those days of growing up in Fishers, Indiana, always having to look out my bedroom window or burst outside when the horn of a diesel locomotive blew on the nearby Norfolk and Western line.   These days as I jog or ride my bike on the Monon trail north of Carmel, even though it’s been 30 years since this path was last in use as a railroad, when the wind is blowing just right I can still hear the awesome sounds of a freight train thundering by.       

Back when this Indianapolis to Chicago branch of the Monon was still active, my favorite place to find a train was these very tracks along Westfield Boulevard, as anywhere from Broad Ripple to 75th Street three separate bridges spanned the Canal, White River, and Williams Creek.  Forever in hope of catching a train snaking across one of these bridges, to this day as I drive down this same stretch and cross the White River, out of habit I still catch myself gazing towards that old railroad bridge in search of that elusive train.  What can I say?  I’m still that same kid, albeit a lot older now.  

If USAC’s Indiana Midget Week metaphorically represents the northern edge of the White River valley and Indiana Sprint Week represents the southern edge, then the four and a half weeks of action in the middle of June and early July serves as the bridge that connects the two periods.  After the overindulgence of Indy 500 week and Midget Week, I was no doubt raced-out, only able to absorb small doses of action so that the remaining embers of motorsports desire could be stoked to become an inferno by the time July 8th rolled around.  

Immediately after Indiana Midget Week’s Kokomo conclusion, up until the afternoon of June 8th I was on the fence about shelling out $37 for a general admission ticket ($32 if I picked up a discount pass from O’Reilly Auto Parts) to a mid-week World of Outlaws meeting at Lincoln Park Speedway.  With my wife away on Chicago business, my racing light might have been green, but it still took some convincing to meet my nephew in Plainfield.  This was the first time since 1988 that this series would pause in Putnamville, missing that pole night show of ’88 in favor of NASCAR mods at IRP, believing that a new one-lap IRP track record would be set which was ultimately denied by a ridiculous rear end gear rule.  Wondering what I missed when Dave Blaney (Nott 48) picked up the win, some 28 years later I decided to finally give LPS a go.  Carrying in lawn chairs in hope that a nice, relaxing evening could be enjoyed on the concrete, we were kindly reminded that lawn chairs could only be placed on grass by microphone master Johnny Gibson.  I’ve got to be honest - for 37 bucks, it would have been nice to rest my back for this five-plus hour program. 

Beginning hot laps a half hour later as excess H2O required additional packing, qualifying for the 30 car field, and the entire evening for that matter, was highlighted by an aggressive Kyle Larson (11.291 in the Silva 57), attacking the insanely heavy surface like he would have in his native NorCal habitat.   With the groove widening to only a car and a half and cushion stacked six to eight inches tall, a majority of the tour regulars requested a complete surface revamp after time trials, as the best in the business prefer not to work in such demanding conditions.  Truth be told, it would have been far too narrow for adequate passing, but what is wrong with a cushion? 

Thus requiring a painful 90 minute wait until 9 PM heat races, this ultimate test in patience was a slightly bitter pill to swallow, especially after the previous week's Midget Week show that went long because of another surface adjustment.  Thankfully with only one support class booked (winged MMSA mini-sprints), we were on the road by 11:40 PM, which meant my head finally hit the pillow past 1 AM.  But, was the infringement on sleep worth it?  

Well, for the first 28 laps, I can emphatically say yes, as the battle through traffic between Larson, David Gravel, and Donny Schatz was some of the best stuff you’ll ever see from the World of Outlaws.  Unfortunately, Larson overcooked turn four, crushed the curb, and turned over, ending his evening far too soon.  And, although Gravel nearly got by Schatz on several occasions, the North Dakota nightmare could not be contained, finding victory lane for the umpteenth time, tying him for the series point lead with Brad Sweet.   A huge pat on the back goes out to my nephew, who claimed victory in the Craftsman "Toughest Man" contest conducted on the front stretch.  Holding a pair of 25 pound Craftsman tool boxes at shoulder-height longer than his two competitors, he went home with a $50 gift card.  Trust me, it’s not as easy as it sounds. 

Three days later, the next June journey whisked me west to Macon, Illinois, meeting up one final time with Townsend Tours and the remaining Kiwi contingent for POWRi’s Illinois Speed Week.  Leery of making the 2 hour and 45 minute drive to a different time zone as my last several Macon showings wound up washed out or rubbered up, I rolled the dice in hope that the dark dirt of the tiny 1/5th mile bullring would be in vintage form.  Vintage form indeed, luck was on my side as a massive cushion stacked against the outside rail, producing some edge-of-your-seat feature action.  Despite having to sit through a seven-car 20-lap late model feature as well as a 20-lap 600cc micro sprint feature, the headlining national midget main was a barn-burner, filled with more than its share of slide jobs.  An absolute animal against that massive curb, pole sitter Carson Macedo led all the way but faced serious pressure from Keith Kunz teammate Tanner Thorson, who slid Carson through turns one and two on the final two circuits.  Successful crossovers each time allowed the Northern California midget rookie to perform celebratory psycho donuts on the front chute.  Macedo and Thorson were trailed by Darren Hagen (Brown 17), Decatur’s Terry Babb (from 15th), and Zach Daum (from 10th).  Even staying for the Division II POWRi midgets as my long-time friend Crankin’ Craig Dori was in the field, despite numerous incidents the racing was actually entertaining, as Patrick Bruns made a late race pass to steal the win.  Kept awake on the late night/early morning drive by a large can of Starbucks energy, satellite radio, and heated tweets in the aftermath of the Robert Ballou/Shane Cottle incident at Port Royal, the biggest downside to any Macon adventure is the time of arrival back home, which was around 2:45 AM. 

One week later, the 68-lap Chuck Amati Classic sent me back in time to rural Paragon, Indiana where a sizeable 38-car field formed for the $3,000 to win show, easily the season highlight for this 30th anniversary season of operation for track owners Keith and Judy Ford.  Now that the KISS series is no longer, the Amati might be the only time all season when national names test their skills on the legendary 3/8ths mile paperclip, as the field contained notables such as Meseraull, Bland, Hines, Cottle, Rose, Windom, McGhee, Stanbrough (Pace 44), Short, and Welpott.  Won from sixth (Meseraull and Cottle), third (Short), and second (Windom), even with surface grip vanishing the four heats offered their share of entertainment, as did hillside conversations with long-time racers Joe Roush, Ande Possman, and Fred Possman. 

Starting Max McGhee and Brandon Morin from the front row, the unusually lengthy feature was a tale of two races.  Max McGhee led the first quarter but as rubber quickly adhered to the middle/bottom lanes, it was virtually impossible to keep Brady Short from coming to the front, surging from seventh to snatch the lead thanks to superior negotiation of lapped traffic.  Slowed only by trio of cautions, the rest of the field was literally no match for the Pottorff/Short Maxim, as Sweet Feet leaned on his smoking Hoosier right rear to claim his second Amati Classic over McGhee, Windom, Bland, and Josh Cunningham (from 13th).  Cottle, Meseraull, Stanbrough (from 15th), Rose, and Welpott scored sixth through tenth at the 10:34 PM checkered flag.  Before it is all said and done for the Fords, it is my wish that a USAC Indiana Sprint Week show would one day return to their homestead.  Yes, it might be a challenge to handle the current-day Sprint Week crowds and influx of campers, but there is just such a unique old-school Southern Indiana sprint car vibe that is earned by spending a Saturday night on the hill, virtually unchanged in all of my years of attendance.   If given the opportunity, I have faith that Keith can still produce a surface worthy of Sprint Week expectations.     

Headed north to Kokomo Speedway for an Indiana Sprint Week tune up the next afternoon, unfortunately a phone call of appreciation, recollection, and love was the only gift I could give my dear old dad on Father’s Day, as the bright sunlight and ninety degree heat were his motivations for enjoying an evening in the controlled climate of downtown Indy’s Shapiro’s Delicatessen. 

Truly feeling like summer as I made the grandstand climb to find a suitable seat for combined hot laps and qualifications (Josh Hodges was quickest at 13.091), a surprising nudge was received from videographer Dean Mills, who returned to the Hoosier state for a short stint after shooting a massive mini-sprint meeting in Marion, Illinois.  Dean reminded that it was on Father’s Day of 1986 when a 19 year-old Dave Darland picked up his first-career sprint car score of any kind at Kokomo.  Thirty years later, could Dave duplicate his feat in Jeff Walker’s 11?   

In order to do so, the Lincoln legend would have to defeat yet another star-studded 21-car field that included his one-time protégé Corey Smith.  Corey has been racing sprint cars since 1994 and after making a recent return to the sport one year ago, he’s still attempting to find the sweet spot of an otherwise finicky Spike chassis.  Staying in shape by going to cross fit three times a week, when not tending to his 14 year-old son’s micro sprint or attending his daughter’s gymnastics competitions, after 22 years Corey continues to punch the time clock at Chrysler in Kokomo, having to head back to work at midnight on Sunday in fact. 

Needing no B-main as a result of the short field, the A-main line up was reduced by two when previous night Lawrenceburg winner C.J. Leary (own 30) lost an engine in hot laps while Shane Cottle suffered an oil pump failure in his heat.  Hiding from the sun underneath the grandstand while awaiting the announcement of the feature line-up, lengthy conversations with Kevin Bledsoe and Kurt “The Rooster” Hawkins helped pass the time.  I was introduced by Hawkins to Kokomo Speedway legend Don Walker (father to Jeff), who showed me a laminated copy of the 1954 Hoosier Racing license once required to compete at Kokomo Speedway.  As would be expected, Don’s photo from ’54 looks exactly like a younger version of son Jeff. 

Kokomo’s Father’s Day feast featured a 25-lap finale conducted under daylight conditions.  The intriguing front row was an all-Southwest affair, as second place finishes in heats two and three allowed 21 year-old New Mexico Tech student Josh Hodges to start alongside Tucson, Arizona native and USAC triple crown champ Jerry Coons, Jr.  Both teenage phenoms in completely opposing eras, Hodges stepped up to sprint cars in 2008 and one year later became the youngest to ever annex an ASCS feature at the age of 14 years, 4 months, and 23 days, eventually earning 360 rookie of the year honors from the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.  Flanking Hodges was Coons, the 2008 National Sprint Car Hall of Fame driver of the year who terrorized the combined USAC and Arizona midget racing circuit in the late 1980s, long before he held a driver’s license.

High side momentum propelled Monte Edison’s man to an early lead, pacing a snarling pack containing Hodges, Darland, Jarrett, Thomas, Windom, Andretti, and Grant (Phillips 71), all of whom chose to operate upstairs.  Six tours in the books had Windom exiting early and just four laps later, Hodges had pulled even with the leader by choosing the moist middle.  Just past halfway, a turn three slide job awarded Josh a brief taste of first, but Jerry immediately retrieved the spot with a turn one bomb, distancing himself thanks to lapped traffic.  Darland crept into the lead picture with ten laps left but once Hodges finally extricated himself from a trio of back markers on lap 18, it suddenly became a two car contest.  With five to go, Josh jerked his Maxim underneath of Jerry in three and four and leaned his right rear into the Edison Spike, unable to seize the lead.  With three to go, Coons dipped even lower at the entrance of turn one and temporarily impeded the path of his New Mexico nemesis, whose bodacious bite through three and four earned him the number one position that he would not relinquish.  In the thrilling all-green affair, Hodges and Coons were chased to the 8:23 PM checkered by Darland, Jarrett, and Thomas.  Grant, Andretti, McGhee, Farney, and Karraker (who flipped in his heat) secured sixth through tenth place money. 

Looking good in his Indiana debut last summer and showing even better in his return, the impressive Hodges is once again guided by the capable Jake Argo, clearly showing that he can win anywhere and offering more than a glimmer of west coast hope for Indiana Sprint Week.  Rarely leaving these grounds disappointed, tonight’s early exit and tight finish again maintained such a positive stance, eagerly anticipating my annual zenith on Saturday July 9th

Bypassing a stressful Friday night drive through rush hour to reach a June 24th twenty car Bloomington homecoming ($1800 to win and $300 to start) claimed by Kevin Thomas, Jr., I instead opted for $5 hamburgers at Recess as part of Indy’s Burger Week promotion.  Sorely missing the days of old when stacked fields of sprinters came from all over the state to spray red clay into the B-town grandstands, I am still bothered by the fact that with just one track operating on most Fridays, car counts are still abnormally low.  Of course I will return for Sprint Week’s July 15th stop, as there is nothing quite like standing on the asphalt in front of the concession stand while basking in the glow of a battle for the win on a two-groove surface.   

Saving my racing activities on this fourth weekend of June for Eldora’s final stop of Ohio Sprint Speed Week, such a decision became a slam dunk when an already slim field of sprinters (78) would be divided among four Hoosier haunts (Putnamville - 22, Paragon - 19, Boswell MSCS – 20, and North Vernon - 17).  With USAC away in Minnesota, Nebraska, and Kansas, that meant the Indiana offerings would be further diluted.

After an obligatory Maid Rite sandwich stop in Greenville, we were easily in the gates for 6 PM hot laps.  Enjoying an ultra-efficient evening of 36 All Star Circuit of Champions sprint cars plus a slim field of Eldora stocks, a little over three hours later (9:10 PM) we were packing our belongings after an extremely exciting feature, pondering a stop in Winchester where the King of Wings played host to a paltry ten car field.  Unfortunately by the time we were approaching the famed high banks on state road 32, the mass exodus of cars meant we just missed our opportunity for the rare half-mile double. 

The eighth race in nine days for the All Stars, just like days of old the Speed Week finale ended at the Big E and offered $10,000 to the winner.  Feature winners form earlier in the week represented a who’s-who of both young and old, namely Kyle Larson (Attica and Atomic), Sheldon Haudenschild (Waynesfield), Dale Blaney (Millstream), Rico Abreu (Wayne County), Bryan Clauson (Sharon), and Randy Hannagan (Lima).  Larson led points upon his exit to Sonoma NASCAR, handing the lead baton to young Haudenschild, who held a narrow two point margin over Chad Kemenah.  Added Eldora bonuses included Hall of Famers Jac Haudenschild and Dave Blaney, with Blaney returning to battle at the place that bit him big time in May while Haudenschild was back for the third time this year in the Phoenix 59, the same ride he steered to victory in June of 2013.  On this evening, Blaney and Haud were the bridge to my sprint car beginnings, so cool that both were major players in the ‘80s.  And although their current schedules are curtailed, they still remain threats to win, as both timed in the top-six. 

The All Star format is intriguingly different from all the rest, somewhat of a mix between weekly Kokomo Speedway and the World of Outlaws, as time trials are divided into segments that correspond to heat race participants, inverting the fastest four for each heat.  However, you will need a pen and paper to figure out who is “dash eligible”, as one must generally finish in the top two of his or her heat.  But, from the way I understand it, if you don’t make the top two but still take a feature transfer and your qualifying time is quicker than one of those already finishing in the top two, then you’re in the dash and they are not.  Confused?  I think I might still be.   

Kraig Kinser was quickest of all 36 (13.377) but began to belch some serious smoke in his heat, just making the transfer but requiring an engine swap in time for that dash, which was fully inverted at eight.  As was the case with the heat races, the top two finishers in the dash came from the front row, as Kemenah defeated Tim Shaffer.  Relegated to winning the B after receiving a first lap Cap Henry wheel in his heat, a livid Dave Blaney’s evening was essentially ruined as a result of his heat race, as he would have to start the A-main 19th.  After getting lapped very early, the Buckeye Bullet wisely pulled the Motter 71M pit side.  Dave’s younger brother Dale had an equally frustrating evening, oddly spinning while lining up for the feature and being forced to tag the tail.  The first to exit the event, I was unaware of the issue that cost the perennial series champion his point lead. 

As for that A-main, it was vintage Eldora and vintage Jac Haudenschild.  Jac might be 58 years old, but his age and the track’s character-filled entries to turns one and three did not slow him one bit, as the Wild Child was elbows up for the entire thirty lap distance.  Starting fifth and immediately sliding fourth-starting Randy Hannagan through corner two, Haud somehow saved his Maxim from a half-spin and immediately gathered it up to toss yet another slider at turn three.  Just after Jac had inched past Shaffer to secure second on lap nine, son Sheldon blew a right rear sky high while operating in fifth, relieving him of his impending Speed Week title.  The second blown tire of the night, Lee Jacobs had one go at the B-main conclusion and cost him a feature transfer, sounding like a bomb went off.  

Restarting with 18 laps left, the leaders were working lapped traffic just five laps later, allowing the elder Haudenschild to use one of those slower cars as a front stretch pick to lift the lead from Kemenah.  Grazing the turn two wall with seven to go, Haud’s lead suddenly vanished as second place Tim Shaffer was showing some serious late race speed.  Third place Kemenah also gained ground as the lead trio weaved their way through traffic over the final five tours, as one breathtaking move after another wowed even the most jaded fans.  However, the most jaw dropping maneuver of them all came with two to go, as Jac followed lapper Cap Henry through turn one but literally turned his car on a dime, diamonding the middle of the corner to wrap up his 10th career All Star win at Eldora and 30th with the Ohio-based series.  Shaffer would have to settle for second while Kemenah collected third, good enough for Chad to secure his second Ohio Speed Week title.  Hannagan was fourth while Danny Holtgraver was fifth.  Sixth from 15th was Tyler Courtney, followed closely by Aussie Jamie Veal (Indy Race Parts 71), Kinser, Dominic Scelzi, and another Aussie in James McFadden (from 18th).  Exiting in daylight after such a thrilling thirty lapper, I was more than satisfied with my decision on this particular Saturday.

My final race on this bridge between Midget Week and Sprint Week was an otherwise odd Friday night of USAC sprint car competition at Lincoln Park Speedway.  The first of a two night Bill Gardner Sprintacular that would also offer MSCS sprinters on the more traditional Saturday, with the need to finish up some work chores I was unable to arrive any earlier than midway through qualifications for the 32 car field.  Missing a Josh Hodges quick lap of 12.633 seconds (nearly three-tenths better than second place Chase Stockon), I did however catch Robert Ballou’s pivotal sixth place performance around the bottom, allowing him to begin from the front row of the feature later on.  Robert would be joined by seventh-quick Chad Boespflug, who was able to capitalize from C.J. Leary’s failure to transfer from heat one. 

Enjoying four entertaining heats, two of which were decided on the last corner of the last lap (Boespflug barely beat Jon Stanbrough while weekly point leader Shane Cockrum nipped Jarett Andretti), action was equally intense for the final transfer from the semi-feature, as Casey Shuman (Krockenberger 21), Aaron Farney, Max McGhee, and Brandon Mattox (own 28) duked it out in wheel to wheel fashion.  Maddox just missed it while McGhee pulled off on the final go-round, requiring a provisional pass that started him 23rd but moved him all the way to 9th at the end of thirty laps. 

Abnormal to spend a Friday night in Putnamville, cool weather in early July was also highly unusual, requiring a sweatshirt to watch the B and A-mains in comfort.  Slowed by only one caution for second place points man Thomas Meseraull who pounded the wall exiting turn four after breaking a steering arm bolt, Ballou faced serious heat on the slicked off surface from Boespflug, who was wicked fast atop the traditional ledge in three and four.  Robert’s slight bobble at the entrance to turn three allowed Chad to pull even in the waning stages, but it wasn’t enough to keep the reigning series champion from win number four of an otherwise frustrating season. 

Done by a respectable 9:45 PM, Ballou and Boespflug were trailed by the ultra-consistent Brady Bacon, who maintains a healthy 104 point lead on Meseraull, who recovered from his mishap on Friday to claim Saturday’s $3,000 MSCS score, which amounted to his fourth conquest of the year.  Shane Cottle (from 12th) and Dave Darland (from 14th) rounded out Friday’s first five.  Sixth through tenth included Chase Stockon (third in points), Hodges, Hunter Schuerenberg (Epperson 2), McGhee, and Chris Windom (from 22nd).

Rain ruined my Sunday night racing conclusion to this holiday weekend and with those Kokomo and Tri-State cancellations, the gap between USAC’s Indiana Midget and Sprint Week had completely been bridged.  Briefly resting on the other side of this racing valley on this Fourth of July holiday, I’ll need to endure another three and a half days of stressful work before beginning the best ten days that the calendar has to offer.  Doubtful that there will be any train watching in this span, instead there’s plenty of other items that will keep me occupied.  Indulging in an unbeatable combination of fun, freedom, friends, food, beverage, and the best that traditional sprint car racing has to offer – this is my adult version of summer vacation.  Just like when I was a little kid counting down those days to the end of school, I’m eagerly anticipating Sprint Week's arrival.  Knowing all too well of the devastating depression and sadness felt at its unfortunate conclusion, I guess I’ll just have to cross that bridge

 

 

 

Volume 18, Number 5

Too Much

Some might say that you can never have too much of a good thing.   

Back in the day when I was filled with boundless energy, such a statement could easily apply to my open wheel intake, as it was virtually impossible to quench my thirst for this thrilling pastime.  But as I grew older, lost some of that energy, and tastes matured, something as overwhelmingly exciting as sprint and midget car racing somehow managed to lose its zing, especially noted after I overindulged.   

Lately, the three times of the year when my intake could be deemed excessive revolves around the Indianapolis 500, Indiana Midget Week, and of course Indiana Sprint Week.  Normally occurring in May, June, and July but with a little interlude in between, 2016 scheduling sandwiched the seven race in six day Indy 500 grind with six consecutive USAC midget and local sprint car doubleheaders of Midget Week.  Yes, if one so chose, he or she could absorb 13 contests in 12 crazy days.  Could even the most hardcore fanatic consider that overindulging?  Isn’t that simply a little too much?  

As much as I hunger for the 500 and Midget Week, when the schedules were released in early December, instead of rejoicing for such a concentration of awesome activity I can honestly admit that the instant emotion was dread, as an inability to dip into a severely limited stash of vacation days and a history of chronic fatigue syndrome already curbed my enthusiasm.  Arriving home around 1 or 1:30 each morning only to be greeted by a 6:30 alarm for an 8 hour workday, call me a wimp but it takes me weeks to recover.  Yes, I am glutton for punishment but unless I was hospitalized, nothing was going to stop me from making it through this two week marathon, as this was must-see stuff.  I could rest when I’m dead, or when these two weeks were over, whichever came first.

After such a monumental Indy 500 week filled with signature events such as the 46th Tony Hulman Classic, the 62nd Hoosier Hundred, the 68th Little 500, the 100th Indianapolis 500 plus added bonuses of the Josh Burton Memorial and Kokomo Klassic, I sacrificed Lawrenceburg’s World of Outlaws war on Memorial Day to rest up and mentally prepare myself for the stress of making every Midget Week stop.  The irony of my absence meant missing what might have been the most awe-inspiring feature of the entire two weeks, as a Shane Stewart/Rico Abreu slide-fest was one for the ages as evidenced by a WoO video highlight package.  Once Lawrenceburg Midget Week was a wash and Kokomo was complete, my final tab showed 11 races in 12 days.  Not bad, but I know many, including the nearly two dozen visitors from New Zealand who booked Bryce Townsend’s world-famous Speed Sport Tour, who took in all 12 without even breaking a sweat.  

So how in the heck do I attempt to summarize far too much racing now that I am nearly three weeks removed?  That would, of course, mean keeping my observations short and sweet.  Here goes nothing… 

My personal version of circular insanity began on Wednesday May 25th, the date of Terre Haute’s Tony Hulman Classic that would best be remembered for an awe-inspiring mid-race slide-fest involving defending USAC champion Robert Ballou and pole sitter Thomas Meseraull, as the two exchanged the top spot as many as eight times, playing on and around the extreme top shelf of the legendary half-mile.  Catching the action with “Tornado” Townsend and his wife Jenny underneath the roof near turn one, Meseraull officially led the first 16 circuits in the Donnie Gentry-wrenched DRC belonging to Shane Wade, interrupted for one lap by Ballou before taking over again from 18 through 21.  The final nine tours had the former Rocklin, California resident ruling the roost, building a full-straight advantage on the San Jose transplant.  Beginning from the front row in his own 81, 2002 Hulman Classic hero Jon Stanbrough ran as high as second and held off quick qualifier (20.514) and point leader Brady Bacon for third.  Chris Windom also had a night to remember, taking Kenny Baldwin’s DRC from 20th to 5th.  2013 Hulman Classic winner Jerry Coons, Jr. claimed ninth, but his flight from 15th to 5th in the first four laps was equally impressive.  Unfortunately for Jerry, his bottom groove became blown away far too soon as the entire track went dry/slick.   

Done by 9:40, before blasting USAC for docking him one qualifying lap for missing the horn, Robert posed with crew chief Jimmy Jones on the front stretch, reinforcing the notion that this combination remains just as potent some ten years later.  Although Jones is most often found winging it with Parker Price-Miller, luckily for Ballou setup advice is just a phone call away.  Robert became just the third guy to go back to back with Hulman Classic wins, as “The Butler” did it in 1987 and 1988 while Levi Jones pulled it off in 2008 and 2009. 

Battling brutal Carmel High School graduation traffic also headed for the Fairgrounds Coliseum on Thursday May 26th, I missed Hoosier Hundred practice altogether, plopping down my thirty bucks just behind former Bloomington bandits Jon Sciscoe and Danny Holtsclaw.   Say what you will, but for one lap of qualifications from a 33-car field and a 100-lap feature, this is a rather lofty price to pay.   Thankfully, there are people like myself who are still willing to support the event, which enjoyed solid attendance figures for this 62nd running.  Still wanting to know why the drivers aren’t offered two laps of qualifying, if time is the biggest concern, then just drop the modifieds (only six showed up) and give the fans more of what they came to see in the first place.

Enjoying a full-field of machines, unfortunately five of them did not make a qualification attempt, reinforcing my opinion that this series needs a slight upgrade in both teams and equipment.  And, despite a mid-day deluge that made the one-mile oval damper than normal, Brady Bacon’s quick lap of 34.396 was over three seconds slower than Johnny Parsons, Jr.’s 1995 record.  Throwing rooster tails as he attacked the upper lane, Bacon’s lap was visually spectacular, wishing that the corners contained more clay than sand. 

My reason for such minor complaints has everything to do with my memories of what this race once was.  Even so, this 2016 version was quite good, as the top-five raced in tight formation for most of the affair.  With five official lead changes, outside overtaking was plentiful, entertained by performances from Jerry Coons (who led 32 laps in Gene Nolen’s new Maxim), Bacon (who led 25 laps in the Martens Machine Maxim before an untimely DNF in the final third), Shane Cottle (who led 9 laps in the Curtis Williams Maxim), Bryan Clauson (in the hunt for the entire grind in the Bob East/Terry Klatt entry) and Justin Grant (who ran the high line up to 3rd but slowed with 14 to go in Chris Carli’s DRC). 

But, like a cat playing with a mouse, Kody Swanson bided his time and patiently picked off car after car in the middle stages, eventually finding his way to first by lap 67, just as he did in the 2015 and 2014 version.  Joining Jimmy Bryan (1954-1956) and Al Unser (1970-1973) to become the third man to win this race three years in a row, Swanson can tie Big Al next year if he scores yet again.  Given that he’ll probably be back in the Bob Hampshire wrenched DePalma 63 Maxim, it’s nearly a safe bet, as Hamp is indeed the Karl Kinser of champ dirt car racing. 

With feature action coming to a close at 10:16 PM, the hundred miler was interrupted by two red flags for flips by series veterans Russ Gamester and Jeff Swindell.  A 1991 and 1993 winner, Swindell’s effort was noteworthy as he was piloting a Mark Swanson owned Maxim/Toyota guided by team manager and three-time Hoosier Hundred winner Jack Hewitt.  Arriving with only 15 minutes of practice left and having his sixth-best qualification lap disallowed due to an improper tire compound on the right rear (they mistakenly used a sprint car medium Hoosier), it was still great to see what I consider a big name driver in the field.  To make me feel that the series is completely back, I’d like to see more of these big names, both new and old, participating.

The evening hours of Friday May 27th were spent in Bloomington for the unsanctioned Josh Burton Memorial, where an excellent field of 28 sprinters battled for their share of an increased purse paying $3,004 to the winner and $404 to anyone who could crack the A.  Mods, streets, and Racesavers all raced for extra dough as well, as the speedway and Burton family went out of their way to pay homage to the life that was lost here three years ago.   With Dave Darland, Robert Ballou, Chad Boespflug (back in the Hazen 57 for the weekend), Kyle Cummins, Thomas Meseraull, and New Mexico’s Josh Hodges in the house, hopes were high for a fantastic feature.  Extensive pre-race festivities had me fired up but unfortunately too many classes of cars on a much drier than normal surface took its toll on the quality of racing, as smooth/slick heat race conditions and the slight scent of rubber served as a stark contrast to two weeks prior when it was old-school heavy.  Dirt track racing is hardly predictable and such low-key evenings are always a possibility, but this does not deter me from giving Bloomington Speedway another shot, as my passion for this piece of real estate will always burn brightly. 

Featuring a front row of Boespflug and Jordan Kinser (Hurst 70), it only took three corners for Brady Short to shoot from third to first.  Early on, Jon Stanbrough maneuvered the middle to whisk the Wingo 77 from tenth to third, but in just a few laps the bottom had completely rubbered-up and rendered the quarter-mile a one lane affair.  Rather than tear tires, fourth-starting Robert Ballou pulled off early.  Short had a half-track advantage on Kinser at the 10:35 PM checkered flag, securing his third Bloomington bounty of the season.  Stanbrough maintained third while Meseraull and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top-five. 

A rather rare double of Bonge’s Tavern and the Little 500 awaited on Saturday, bringing Bryce Townsend and his Speed Sport Tours group to the destination eatery for the first time.  Way back in February, I made a 4:30 PM reservation for a party of 24 and thankfully the experience was a huge hit, as tour members still raved about the food, fun and atmosphere three weeks later.  A chef in her own right, visitor Erin Tripp (yes, wife to Sleepy) even had positive things to say, which speaks volumes in itself.  So pleased that the group enjoyed their visit to one of my favorite places in the entire world, although I once again ate far too much, it was indeed an awesome way to kick off one of my favorite evenings of the entire year.  A huge thank you is extended to Bonge’s owner/chef Tony Huelster and greeter/coordinator Angie Fine for making this glowing memory a reality.

Off to Anderson where light rain showers were skirting the speedway, the slight drizzle attempted to spoil the start but a huge rainbow over turns three and four gave hope that things would work out in the end.  Slowed by one red flag for an odd backstretch crash that rearranged concrete barriers protecting the pit area, the entire event was completed by 10:58 PM. 

Always a race of what-ifs, the rabbit rarely wins, as the smooth and steady approach of 9-time champ Eric Gordon offers plenty of proof.  Eric (as spotter) and his former tire expert Sam Brooks assisted two-time winner Jacob Wilson, but Jacob fell victim to that lone red flag, eliminated along with Donnie Adams, Jr. as the two were trying to avoid a spinning Travis Welpott.  IRP Silver Crown winner Tanner Swanson was first out in Brad Armstrong’s 99, but could he have been a factor at the finish?  2008 winner Shane Cottle is always fast at Anderson, but a flat right rear tire on lap 44 put him behind the eight ball.  After crashing into a spun Tom Paterson in practice prior to qualifying, Shane’s Contos Beat required serious chassis repairs from Thursday to Friday, just lucky to put it into the show.  Defending winner Chris Windom was inside of the top-five car and could have been a contender if not for losing his right front wheel and smacking the turn one wall around lap 152.  Wheeling an ex-Chet Fillip ride now owned by Randy Burrow, Billy Wease could have been on that leaderboard as well, operating in second when he was unable to avoid a crashed Ryan Litt. 

After leading a large chunk of the race and on his own lap for a little while, around lap 450 Bobby Santos III began running out of fuel and needed fresh rubber, thus requiring the punting of Doug Dietsch to force a yellow flag for his pit stop.  Word had it that Santos didn’t get enough fuel on his first stop.    

And how about the fate of pole sitter Caleb Armstrong?  Seemingly in the catbird seat to collect his first win, he recaptured the top spot after the final Santos pit stop.  Armstrong’s subsequent duel through traffic with Kody Swanson (Hoffman 69) with less than thirty to go was intense, so much that Caleb’s contact with a lapped car in turn four broke something in the front end.  Little 500 luck says that you must lose one before winning one. 

Swanson was able to hold off a hard-charging Dave Steele to claim the huge win, the first time the race has been won by a Californian and the first time that the Hoffmans have found victory lane.  Beneficiary of Armstrong’s issue, Swanson was fortunate when he looped a 360 in turn four on lap 379, causing the caution that actually allowed him to make his final pit stop. 

At the end of 500 circuits, the turn two scoreboard showed Swanson, Steele, Jerry Coons, Jr. (Nolen 3), Kyle Hamilton (Klatt 51), and Santos (DJ Racing 22), with the lead trio operating on the same lap.  Perhaps the biggest surprise was sub-par performance of Aaron Pierce, who encountered what appeared to be fuel pickup problems mid-race and settled for tenth, some six laps in arrears.  But getting back to Kody Swanson, he's building quite the resume, especially on this Memorial Day weekend after impressively collecting the Hoosier Hundred, Little 500, and Sunday’s Fremont, Ohio BOSS feature.  His only blemish was a runner-up showing to his younger brother on Friday at IRP.  

Still too many cars on too small of a track racing too many laps, the sheer chaos that ensues is what continues to makes the Little 500 so attractive, so addictive, and so much fun. 

On the road the next morning by 7 AM for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, after parking at 38th and Georgetown and walking the requisite 1.3 miles, we were up in our seats by 8:25, easily in time for all of the festivities that again, brought tears to my eyes and goose bumps on my arms.  Doing the same Sunday double as Bryan Clauson, naturally I would have liked to have witnessed a better showing for Bryan than 23rd place, but it was vitally important for him to finish in his third attempt.  And finish he did, even leading three laps under a mid-race caution.  Proud of his persistence as the month-long search for speed, comfort, and confidence kept him incident-free, I was even more proud of what he was willing to attempt on Sunday evening. 

As for the 500 outcome, for those complaining about a fuel-mileage finish, lest they forget that the 2011 conclusion came down to the same scenario with J.R. Hildebrand finding himself in the lead thanks to the same strategy as 2016 winner Alexander Rossi.  The only difference was Rossi didn’t stuff his car into the turn four fence on the final lap.  Everyone wants to win the biggest race in the world, so how can you fault them for having the guts to go for it?  Not every race can end in a shootout, happy that Indycar officials did not influence the outcome like NASCAR, which surely would have thrown a caution at some point in those final ten laps.  Interesting that Dan Wheldon was the beneficiary of Hildebrand’s error in 2011 (the 100th anniversary) for the same Bryan Herta-owned number 98 backed by Curb-Agajanian.  In yet another surprise ending, Herta’s number 98, again backed by Curb-Agajanian, won the 100th running.  Is that a little too much symmetry for you?

As for Sunday night, my nephew and I passed a handful of the Clauson tour buses while northbound on U.S. 31.  Already with a sizeable crowd on hand, the five bus loads were somehow squeezed into Kokomo Speedway’s main grandstand, giving the evening a distinctively special aura.  With competition for cars and drivers coming from Haubstadt ($2,500 to win) and Fremont ($5K to win), Kokomo regulars like Dave Darland and Shane Cottle were over in Fremont, as were Robert Ballou and Brady Bacon.  This being the Kokomo Klassic, 22 cars competed for the $2,000 top prize, with special appearances from Carson Macedo (who lost an A-main left front wheel in the Stuebgen 71), Justin Grant (Phillips 71P), and C.J. Leary. 

Offering three heats but no B-main, Chad Boespflug (Stensland 41) and Bryan Clauson drew front row seats for the thirty lap finale after finishing inside of the top-two during their heats.  Boespflug managed to fend off Clauson’s advances for ten laps, but a successful diamond of corners three and four propelled BC to P1.  With Bryan flying high through traffic, five laps later his advantage was erased as the Baldwin Brothers five of Chris Windom came calling.  Chasing the tail of the Dooling/Hayward Spike the rest of the way, Big Daddy could not get close enough to make a move, as the rest of the top-five contained Thomas, Hodges, and Andretti at the 10:21 PM conclusion.  Leary, Jarrett, Boepflug (one lap down), Coons, and Grant scored sixth through tenth. 

With the humongous throng reveling in the storybook conclusion, it was truly a big deal, so appreciative of the bridge that Bryan has built between the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and short tracks like Kokomo Speedway.  Writing about this three weeks after the fact, I can’t help but smile as his feat was exactly the same as I had dreamed up when I was a wannabe racer sitting in high school class back in the late ‘80s. 

After my much-needed Memorial Day diversion, Indiana Midget Week was the next item to attack on my insane two and a half week agenda.  Defying the logic of normal, everyday folk, there was absolutely no rest for the already weary.  Thankfully able to leave work an hour earlier on Tuesday and Wednesday to avoid north side I-69 gridlock, on Thursday and Friday I left shortly after 5 PM and still managed to make it in time for the end of hot laps despite such unsavory suicide missions through rush hour traffic.  Friday's feat was a minor miracle, choosing State Road 67 all the way to Paragon Road, thus bypassing the frustrating backups for 37 construction just past Martinsville. 

Hitting all six stops and still making it into work by 8 AM certainly felt like a tall task as I perused Montpelier’s jammed pit area on Tuesday, finding 45 midgets, 25 sprints, and 27 modifieds.  Much to my shock and amazement, all venues except for Gas City offered a third class of competition.  Stepping up onto my soapbox, I can never understand the logic, especially when there are two classes that require push starts and one that contains single car qualifying.  Adding one more unrelated class is an absolute back-breaker in terms of time, as delays are common in these sprint/midget doubleheaders (flips, track re-works, or even worse, rain).  Back in the day, double-duty for sprint and midget chauffeurs was quite common, so much that this third class could give those competitors a chance to wipe their brow, take a swig of water, and apply tear-offs.  Not to say that those days are completely over, as Gas City had seven men/women doing the deed while Montpelier had six, but the remainder of the shows did not see much doubling up, sometimes as few as one.  With midget counts of 45, 45, 43, 40, and 33 and sprint counts of 25, 27, 32, 28, and 27, these were already full programs.  Indiana Midget Week is a premier attraction for the fans, wishing that the operators/promoters would give it the same respect and courtesy as Indiana Sprint Week.  Let's face the facts here - people come from all ends of the globe for sprints and midgets, not modifieds or stock cars.          

Trying to cram too much racing into one evening has always been the Midget Week mantra but with the majority of dates being mid-week, it’s definitely far from working-class friendly as my exit times (post sprint car feature) were 11:45, 10:28, 12:05, 10:53, and 10:52.  Three of the five were completely respectable, the other two, not so much.  All except Kokomo required an 80 to 90 minute drive home, which generally meant getting into bed somewhere in the range of midnight to 1:45.  Call me grumpy, but maybe I’m getting too old for this stuff?  But, given that midget racing of this magnitude is so rare, even though my ass was dragging, I just had to be there. 

While maneuvering that muggy Montpelier pit area, I was thoroughly amazed by the assembly of eight omnipotent Bullet/Toyotas belonging to Columbus midget maestro Keith Kunz.  Already campaigning Tanner Thorson, Spencer Bayston, Carson Macedo, Ryan Robinson, and Holly Shelton on a regular basis, Keith added the ridiculously talented triumvirate of Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, and Rico Abreu for selected Midget Week shows.  Larson was the premier attraction at Montpelier and Gas City, but NASCAR truck regulars Bell and Abreu were actually available for all six, although Chris chose to skip Lincoln Park.   Unsure of how Keith and his scant crew of Big Al Scroggins, Pete Willoughby, and Chuck Gurney, Jr. kept track of setups for all cars let alone handled the strict maintenance requirements (Speedway Engines employee Chris Tramel was on-hand to assist), the organization and detail required to pull this off was truly awe-inspiring.  Never in my time of attending races have I ever witnessed a larger effort in one evening, but I do recall writing about the seven car midget assault of Parker City's Lew Morgan in the late 1940s immediately before the Offenhauser engine revolution. 

All eight of the Kunz cars made Tuesday’s feature, seven of eight started Wednesday (thanks to one provisional), all six took part in Thursday’s A, six of seven fired off in Friday’s feature, while all seven made Kokomo’s finale.  Only Carson Macedo (Gas City) and Ryan Robinson (Bloomington) missed out on A-mains. 

With that kind of talent holding steering wheels and wrenches, was I surprised that Kunz cars swept all five Midget Week main events with five different drivers?  Absolutely not.  Keith is absolutely dialed in on setups, he's got great horsepower, and he has some serious studs standing on the gas.    Larson (Montpelier), Bayston (bagging his first USAC score at Gas City), Thorson (exorcising his Lincoln Park demons of last year), Bell (Bloomington), and Abreu (Kokomo) took home the hardware, but an even more impressive stat is that KKM cars led 122 of 150 feature laps, with their perfect week spoiled by Dave Darland (leading the first six at Bloomington in the Gray 11) and Chad Boat (pacing the first 21 at Kokomo in the Tucker-Boat 84). Out of his group, Bell (twice) and Abreu (twice) were quick qualifiers, with Brady Bacon offering the only chart-topping interlude at Lincoln Park.  Clauson, Tyler Thomas, Darland, and Boat were the lone four who interrupted an absolute KKM Indiana Midget Week podium sweep. 

But, aside from Bryan Clauson (Rusty Kunz), Brady Bacon (FMR Beast/Toyota wrenched by Bob East), Shane Golobic (led by Tim Clauson), Chad Boat, Zach Daum, Jerry Coons, Jr. (Hmiel 56), and Tyler Thomas, who was left to keep the Kunz brigade honest?  Once again, let's face the facts here:  this might have been one of the weaker Midget Week fields in recent years, but truthfully not much has changed in the midget racing landscape of the last several seasons.  With no Steve Lewis, no RFMS, no RW Motorsports, no Wilke-PAK, no Klatt Motorsports, no KKR, and no TSR – except for Kunz the days of the midget super squads are long gone.  To expect tiny mom and pop teams to slay the proverbial Goliath, tell me, how is that ever going to happen?  Exciting drivers sadly missing for 2016 included Pennsylvania's Alex Bright and Auckland, New Zealand's Michael Pickens.  In fact, not one racer from the Kiwi contingent competed, although Australia was represented by Jimi Quin (assisted by Anderson's Marc Girard) and Dayne Kingshott.   Bringing Oklahoma’s Harli White to Indiana for the first time (doubling in midgets and sprints), Anthony Nocella (Seymour 29), hauled from Massachusetts.  Additional odd Midget Week sightings included owners Kenny Irwin, Sr. (with Justin Peck) and Kenny Baldwin (offering an ex-Tracy Hines Spike powered by Ford for Chris Windom). 

By the end of this Midget Week madness, it’s tough to beat supreme talent, experience and consistency, which was best exemplified by Bryan Clauson's feature finishes of second, second, second, third, and sixth.  Having to swap cars after Bloomington heat race engine issues with his Stanton Mopar SR-11, Clauson came from the back of the B to easily secure a feature transfer.  That performance alone showed what this young man is made of, a key moment in collecting his third Indiana Midget Week title.  The hottest and most versatile open wheel driver in the world, Clauson maintained his white-hot status in his familiar Spike sprint car after finding victory lane in four of the five features. Perfection was prevented at Bloomington, where Kevin Thomas, Jr. ripped the lip to snap BC’s four race win streak after Bryan could only advance from 8th to 6th.  So smooth and always in control, I still cannot fathom how some big-league team down south wouldn't want to take their chances with Clauson. 

Unfortunately Mother Nature nixed what has consistently been one of the most exciting Midget Week stops (Lawrenceburg), but as expected the other five shows were nothing to sneeze at.  Naturally Montpelier’s USAC midget union was a first for the Speedway, Indiana organization, so my own expectations were kept in check all the way up to feature time.  I will admit to being frustrated by the mere presence of modifieds, as my concern for arriving home late was only compounded by the untimely half hour-plus rain delay during sprint heats.  But, when expectations start out so low, that’s also a golden opportunity for a very memorable evening.  And, after tilling the top shelf just before the midget main, a nice, chunky cushion helps as well.    

The Montpelier box score may have only shown three official lead changes between pole sitter and eventual winner Kyle Larson and Tanner Thorson (leader of 24 laps), but their own battle took place over three separate stages of the thirty lapper.  Two of the three intervals featured far too many slide jobs and crossovers to count and because of those bombs, Bryan Clauson was also in the mix, serving his share of sliders for second and first before a big-time “Rock Hudson” from Thorson sent him from first to fourth, ultimately settling for runner-up status.  After his involvement in a first lap caution, Christopher Bell recovered to take the final podium placement.  A last turn, last lap altercation prevented teammates Thorson, Macedo, and Robinson from crossing the finish line, promoting Jerry Coons, Jr. (from 14th) and Brady Bacon to top-five status.  Due to my unfortunate vantage point from a fourth row bleacher seat and my first night to attempt to differentiate between similarly numbered and adorned KKM cars that were slicing and dicing in the same pack, it was virtually impossible to take notes and still follow the race.  However, it was indeed a mouth-watering/breathtaking contest, about as good as it gets.  Was this the race of the week?  It would certainly have my vote, but Lincoln Park’s feature was a thrill a minute as well, especially if you are a fan of ruthless slide jobs. 

Gas City’s midget main was all Spencer Bayston, leading the entire distance from the pole to produce his first-ever USAC feature victory.  No easy stroll down Broadway, Spencer successfully held off the best of the best, as he was closely trailed by his mentor Clauson, who had his hands full with Kyle Larson.  A Reece O’Connor pre-feature massaging of the quarter-mile’s dark dirt made it a fast and furious affair around the middle and bottom lanes, interrupted once for a flipping Chase Johnson (Wood 17) and another for a Tanner Thorson stoppage.  Zach Daum and 11th-starting Christopher Bell found fourth and fifth. 

Greeted by the familiar face of Putnamville’s long-time pit shack boss Jack McCullough on Thursday, I decided to catch the end of midget hot laps in the pit grandstand, which is exactly where I found Toledo, Ohio’s John Nolan.  Earlier in the afternoon at the driver’s meeting, USAC’s Levi Jones awarded a plaque to John, commemorating his 2,000th USAC race attended.  Turning 78 years young the following Sunday in Kokomo, Nolan’s first USAC event came with the 1956 Indianapolis 500, with Milwaukee champ cars his first USAC contest outside of Indy.  Citing the Springfield Silver Crown show as his favorite event of this day and age, it is doubtful that there will ever be anyone as loyal as John, who refuses to see any other type of sprint, midget or champ car race unless it is sanctioned by the United States Auto Club.  Kind of like his million-mile 1967 Volvo 1800 S coupe that was used to travel to the majority of these events, they also don’t make race fans quite like they used to.    

Extremely arid conditions plagued Putnamville, so much that an extensive rework was ordered after the midget C.  Despite the absence of moisture, a huge curb developed and the racing was actually decent, impressed by a Zach Daum heat race haul from 11th to 4th.  Joined for the heats by former RFMS and Steve Lewis team leader Glenn Martin, Glenn said that he was headed back to his homeland in New Zealand to live for the first time in 16 years.  After a Tony DiMattia flip in the midget B, Chad Boat bagged one of the top six spots, going C to B to A.    

Much like Montpelier, the LPS midget main was chock full of flavor but if you read the box score, you’d have no clue.  Filled with six cautions and one red (Shane Golobic), Northern California newbie Ryan Robinson led his first USAC laps after propelling from the pole and pacing the first thirteen tours.  Tanner Thorson took over from there and led the rest of the way, but as I said, the stats don’t come close to telling the story. 

After a dozen laps were recorded, fifth-starting Thorson had reached Robinson and the two engaged in a brief joust just as their teammate Bayston tried to go from fifth to third by launching a massive two-car bomb.  Just past the halfway mark, another KKM counterpart Rico Abreu had been pulling the pin on a few hand grenades of his own, bombarding Bryan Clauson with a bold move that sent Clauson over the edge in two.  Rico was soon up to second, throwing Thorson a slider in three after Tanner had trouble in two.  Unfortunately, one of those six cautions flew at the wrong time, ordering the Little Giant back to third.  Always relentless in his pursuit of P1, another Abreu annexation of first was denied by yet another amber illumination.  Once green, Rico and Tanner would swap first in a classic slip-and-slide, dip-and-dive maneuver.  However, T-squared would keep the spot and with BC back in the battle, he returned the favor to Rico with a serious slider in four and an even more cutthroat overtaking in two that sent Abreu over the bank.  Trying to get it all back through three, Rico completely blew the cushion and fell to fifth.  Although Clauson pulled even with Thorson at the end, it wasn’t enough to derail the KKM freight train.  Tanner and Bryan were trailed by Tyler Thomas (from 10th), Abreu (from 12th), and Bayston.

Bloomington’s beautiful red-orange clay was groomed to perfection on Friday, as for the second time this week (Montpelier was the other) Christopher Bell set a new one lap record in qualifications (11.301 seconds), both times coming at the very end of the order.  With rain in the area, USAC and Bloomington beat the odds and served up an extremely efficient show, as the midget main was ready to take the green by 9:55 PM.  On that lightning quick surface that flung clay into the grandstand, five of the top six qualifiers failed to transfer through their heat, which included third-best Ryan Robinson who biked into the biggest flip of the week over the turns one and two banking.  Suffering from a misfiring Mopar in his heat, Clauson’s B-main surge from 18th to 5th was the most entertaining drive of the night. 

Beginning 11th-fastest Dave Darland and Shane Golobic from the front row of Friday’s finale, the surface was still in sterling shape.  Not only was a healthy cushion still standing around the perimeter, but generous strips of moisture existed around the infield tires, enough to fit a full midget.  Nearly everyone except Clauson played huggy pole in the latter stages, which included a hungry Darland and eventual winner Bell.  Dave hustled his Gray Auto Spike/Esslinger for the entire thirty lap distance, unable to keep seventh-starting Christopher behind him as the NASCAR truck series regular used all lanes to move himself into contention early.  Bell swept around the outside of Darland exiting the fourth corner on lap 7 and would never be headed.  The best race was for second between Darland and Clauson, as Bryan had the spot twice, one of the passes nullified by the fourth and final caution.  After Bell, Darland, and Clauson, Bloomington’s top-five also contained Golobic and Spencer Bayston. 

Moving to the Kokomo finale after Lawrenceburg’s washout, all-day Saturday storms and Sunday mid-day showers left a soft and saturated surface filled with character.  Thankfully, the event was still a go, as this has become one of my most anticipated evenings of all season. 

Sunday’s story was without question Rico Abreu.  Although he was a contender to win at Lincoln Park, he was definitely showing some midget rust by virtue of his most recent feature finishes of 14th, 6th, 4th, and 10th.  Owner of Kokomo’s one-lap record, he might have been three-tenths off his record in qualifying, but it was still good enough for number one.  Battling a choppy surface in his heat, Abreu spun once on his own in turn four, body-slammed Dayne Kingshott with an inside dive in turn one, and nearly spun again in turns three and four.  Still, he managed to escape his heat race with a feature transfer. 

After the final sprint car heat was completed, the Kokomo staff ordered a complete surface smoothing, the end result certainly improved maneuverability come feature time.  Chad Boat and Bryan Clauson occupied front row spots for the Midget Week conclusion and with Bryan only needing to finish the event to prevent Spencer Bayston from stealing the series crown, he played it conservative as Boat used the middle lane to move to first.  One early caution (Tyler Nelson, Gage Walker, and Dave Darland) and one red (for a big-time Nelson tumble entering turn three) kept Bayston, Bell, and Abreu hot on Boat’s heels.  With the top-four tight, Bayston would contest the lead for a brief moment before yet another red put the action on pause when Holly Shelton climbed the front stretch concrete and inverted, chucking her fuel cell all the way to the turn one pit entrance.  Restarting Boat, Bayston, Bell, and Abreu with 13 to go, in one fell swoop Rico slid Bell through three and bounced off of Bayston in four, sending him to second.  One final debris caution with ten to go set the stage for the winning move, as a turn three slider produced P1 for the two-time and defending Midget Week king on lap 22.  Operating above the cushion in the last eight tours, Abreu successfully slayed Bayston, Boat, Bacon, and Bell, as Clauson’s sixth place finish was easily enough to secure his third Midget Week title over Bayston. 

After shooting from ninth to fourth in his Montpelier midget heat, the 15 cars that Dave Darland eclipsed in Tuesday’s feature (22nd to 7th) was the most of Midget Week.  Chris Windom’s 21st to 8th mauling at Montpelier earned honorable mention.   Struggling to qualify well, Tyler Thomas dug deep to charge hard at Montpelier (20th to 10th) and Bloomington (21st to 9th).  Other notable performances came from Steve Buckwalter (16th to 7th at LPS), Jerry Coons, Jr. (21st to 9th at LPS), Chad Boat (20th to 10th, also at LPS), and Carson Macedo (17th to 8th at Kokomo). 

Sprint cars definitely played second fiddle during Indiana Midget Week, as they were generally left with less than desirable surfaces that failed to peg the excitement meter like the midgets.  Bloomington’s sprint car battle for first was fantastic, as was Gas City and Kokomo.  But overall, it was Bryan Clauson’s week to shine, his job made much easier when so many of USAC’s sprint car elite stayed away from these standard paying shows to prepare for Eastern Storm.   Interesting to note was Dave Darland’s sprint car situation, finding work with Mike Gass for Putnamville and Bloomington after operating his usual Jeff Walker Maxim on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Closing the week with Rick Pollock at Kokomo, they struggled mightily and failed to crack the feature lineup. 

Beginning at Montpelier, Clauson cruised to an easy victory by leading all 25 laps from the pole.  Josh Spencer started alongside Bryan and was set for one of his best showings in years until being forced to exit early.  A great battle ensued for second, with Brady Bacon (own 99) beating Coons, Darland, and Boespflug (Stensland 41) to the finish.  Scotty Weir was sixth in a second Goodnight 39, with Piqua, Ohio’s Travis Hery following the bottom to seventh. 

At Gas City, Bacon led low from the pole as all eyes were glued to Clauson, who fired from fourth and nearly spun twice before falling into a steady rhythm.  As surface grip began to disappear, Brady and Bryan soon battled wheel to wheel, Bacon high and Clauson low.  Bacon’s dip to the bottom of three had the two connecting, sending Brady into a 360 degree revolution that allowed Bryan to escape with a full-straightaway advantage at the 25-lap conclusion.  Again in the Goodnight 39, Scotty Weir scored second.  Darland drove to third from ninth while Bacon settled for fourth.  Waynesfield regular Kyle Simon had a nice drive from 13th to 5th, making a rare start outside of Ohio. 

Forced to sit through a super stock feature before the sprint cars concluded at Lincoln Park, the front row consisted of April 23rd winner Shane Cockrum and Bryan Clauson and although Cockrum drew first blood, it would be Clauson who would snatch the lead off the bottom of the slicked off surface.  Fourth-starting Kevin Thomas, Jr. kept things close but blasted the turn two cushion with two laps left, handing yet another victory to the Bullet, number 17 on his circular insanity tour of 2016.  Cockrum collected third with Boespflug fourth and once again, Kyle Simon fifth (from 16th).

The big question at Bloomington was if Clauson could sweep the sprint car portion of Midget Week.  After winning his heat race, his feature redraw of eighth would be a true test as the front row contained May 13th winner Nick Bilbee and KTJ.  Offering a second row of Darland and Short, Thomas took advantage of that outside start, leaning on the substantial cushion that thankfully still existed.  Slightly tight up top, Kevin crushed that cushion on many occasions and with lappers coming into play, that allowed three-time 2016 Bloomington winner Short to close the gap.  With Thomas’s high road blocked, so was Short’s, but ultimately it was Kevin’s bolder moves through thick traffic that took him to victory lane for the fifth time with team owner Jeremy Ottinger.  In the entertaining all-green flag affair, Jeff Bland, Jr. stole second from Short while Shane Cottle (from 9th) and Darland filled out the top-five.  Clauson could surprisingly do no better than sixth, silencing his four-race sprint car win streak. 

After finishing second in two of three Kokomo sprint car heats, Colten Cottle and Bryan Clauson found themselves on the front row of Sunday’s Midget Week sprint finale.  Cottle, Thomas, and Clauson were in close proximity early and the hot battle between Colten and Kevin saw KTJ slide the Ron Lambertson chauffeur through turn four, only to be successfully crossed upon exit.  Although Thomas exceeded the cushion on the other end, a great run down the back chute sent him to turn three with a huge head of steam.  A low side lunge had his right rear meeting with Cottle at the exit of four, shoving the Flying Illini into the outside concrete and allowing Clauson to escape with not only the lead, but the win as well.  Taking his fourth sprint car feature of Midget Week, Clauson defeated Thomas, Tyler Courtney, Bacon (Paul 24), and Tyler Hewitt. 

As I put the finishing touches on this lengthy synopsis, it seems like it has been ages since I was in Terre Haute to begin this crazy adventure of far too many races in far too few of days.  Following nearly every racing step of Bryce Townsend’s Speed Sport Tour that included Indy 500 week and Indiana Midget Week, it too contained POWRi’s Illinois Speed Week.  From my perspective, there can never be too much time spent with Bryce and his bunch, joining them once again in Macon, Illinois for one final evening of midget mayhem.  So envious of all the racing and touristy stops that Townsend takes them to, yes, it is always a goal to get down to New Zealand so that he can show me around his homeland, but I’d love nothing more than to be a member of his United States tours, as he manages to squeeze as much enjoyment out of one day as is humanly possible. 

Beginning with a group of 19 for the 500, Townsend offers the flexibility of picking and choosing which segments of the tour one would prefer to attend, as Graeme Drummond, Marcel Facoory, and Andy Gray left after the Indy 500.  Bryce’s wife Jenny (post-Bloomington), John Cardwell, Tim Malone, Pat Brosnan, Ross Karlsson, Nicole Waugh, and the voice of New Zealand midget racing Aaron Drever exited after Indiana Midget Week, with John, Nicole, and Aaron heading off to additional adventures elsewhere.  Long-time tour member Alf Bidois arrived after Indy for Indiana and Illinois Midget Weeks while many hearty souls absorbed the entire three week tour, which happened to include long-time guide and fellow chauffeur Dean Mulholland, Sharron and Owen Larsen, Lee Williams, Murry and Ngaire Worboys, Barbara Lawler (the first time for an Aussie to take part in a BT tour), and Dick Webb.  Erin Tripp enjoyed a few days in the early part of the tour, as Bonge’s Tavern, the Little 500, and Indy 500 were new experiences for the majority.  While reflecting at Macon, Townsend believed that Lawrenceburg’s World of Outlaws and Montpelier’s midget meetings offered the most exciting racing, with Bonge’s serving the best food.  Truly the trip of a lifetime, too much racing and too much enjoyment are words you’d never hear spoken by any of them. 

As for that coveted Kiwi Tour Sweepstakes championship that has played a vital part of Indiana Midget Week for Townsend’s tours, it was a tight battle to the end.  Going into the Kokomo finale, ten people had a mathematical shot of having their nameplate attached to the famous Aaron Fike nosepiece.  Owen Larsen ended up collecting $220 for winning two of the five nights, with Dean Mulholland ($110), Aaron Drever ($110), and Lee Williams (also earning $220 after Lawrenceburg’s money was rolled over to Kokomo) taking the other three.  Although Larsen held the lead, I sat in second, unfortunately drawing poorly for that final round (grid 19).  But, one by one, each one of the other contenders’ drivers had issues, as 19th starter Dayne Kingshott took 12th and allowed me to secure my third championship with a narrow five point margin over Dick Webb and Larsen.  Feeling slightly guilty for winning as I keep track of Sweepstakes points, although there is no money attached to the title, it is still so much fun to be a part of.      

Sporadically taking in racing contests at Lincoln Park (WoO), Macon (POWRi), Paragon (Chuck Amati Classic), and Kokomo in the two weeks that followed, coupled with work stress of closing May’s books, by June 19th I was still feeling the fatiguing effects of this intense concentration of automotive action that took place in late May/early June.  However, when attempting to summarize its content I always manage to look back with an extreme amount of fondness, wishing that I had the chance to do it all over again.  So, if I were questioned at this moment in time if one could ever have enough of a good thing, despite my weariness my answer would easily be no, as you only live once.  To steal Wade Garrett’s (Sam Elliott) line from the movie Road House, “Doc, I can get all the sleep I need when I die.”     

 

 

 

 

Volume 18, Number 4

The Thrill of Victory

While readying for a usual Sunday afternoon stroll up U.S. 31 to Kokomo, I flipped on the tube and managed to catch some of ABC’s coverage of qualifications leading up to the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.  Listening to color commentators Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear offer their insight and attempt to prove one another wrong, for some odd reason my immediate thought focused on the telecast itself, unable to remember any other network owning the rights for this event since I have been alive.  Back in the early to mid-1980s when my auto racing interest grew exponentially, ABC didn’t cover much motorsports and it often showed in some clumsy productions, irritated but sometimes amused by the warring words of co-color commentators Bobby Unser and Sam Posey. 

However critical I became of their coverage, I completely missed the days when ABC actually offered some unique action on their long-running (1961 to 1998) Saturday afternoon Wild World of Sports program.  Several times, they featured USAC sprint cars from Eldora and Terre Haute, odd that big-time talent like Al Michaels or Keith Jackson would be willing to get their signature yellow ABC blazers coated in dust from an afternoon affair.  Even if it has been decades since I last caught Jim McKay’s famous introduction, I can still hear the words from that signature introduction like it was yesterday:  “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport…the thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat…the human drama of athletic competition.  This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports!” 

The thrill of victory (as Mario Andretti holds up a huge silver trophy) and the agony of defeat (as a ski jumper crashes off the ramp) – that phrase has been etched into the fabric of society, always appropriate to revisit when attending the world’s most important automobile contest, not to mention all of the significant open wheel activity that surrounds it.  Pleasing so few and disappointing so many, there can only be one winner in auto racing.  But that thrill of victory - naturally that is why these guys are so passionate about putting so much time and effort into the dusty, dirty, dangerous, and ridiculously expensive world of short track, open wheel competition. 

Enjoying a decent amount of success on the local Indiana bullring scene as he became a journeyman driver jumping from car to car, the elusive thrill of a USAC victory is one reason why Scotty Weir has continued to do battle for 13 seasons, finally finding his pot of gold at Gas City I-69 Speedway on Friday, May 20th.  Offering the truest definition of persistence, Scotty patiently bided his time on the bottom groove of a slicked-off surface and waited for a mistake from the leader, pouncing at just the right moment.  That thrill of victory is why Kevin Thomas, Jr. abandoned, at least for now, his visions of becoming the next stock car idol by teaming with Jeremy Ottinger to have some fun, which is exactly what they've been doing as in an eight day span, they took three of four feature wins (Kokomo, Brownstown, and Kokomo) and charged from 14th to 3rd in the other contest (Gas City). 

But that agony of defeat - it simply comes with the territory, as you can't win them all, nor less a majority in an 80 to 100 race grind that typifies a season for full-time racers like Brady Bacon, the 2014 USAC sprint car champ who had to settle for an unsavory second place at Gas City after leading 24 of 30 laps.  Losing the lead with two to go after encountering difficulty while lapping Dallas Hewitt, it had to be a bitter pill to swallow.  Beginning eighth at Brownstown the next evening, again Brady was second-best to Kevin Thomas, Jr. (his third USAC runner-up in a row), coming on strong but simply running out of time.  And speaking of an agonizing defeat, how about Shane Cottle's sudden surprise when KTJ cleaned off Kokomo concrete with three laps remaining in the scintillating 25-lap feature on Sunday May 22nd?  Taking the lead and putting together two solid laps around the bottom, Cottle's final corner wheel stand ultimately cost him, unable to fend off a top-side surge from Thomas.  A fantastic finish if you are a fan, but if you're the driver scoring second, not so much. 

Iffy Friday weather restricted a normally overflowing Gas City crowd, still under O'Connor family operation as this was their first time to swing open the gates in 2016.  Spitting rain through qualifications and the feature, the show was moved forward in an expedient manner, taking the checkered at 9:14 PM which wound up being just in the nick of time, as rain showers became much more steady afterwards.  Highly pleased to see one of the underdogs finally break through for his long-awaited initial USAC victory, I couldn't help but feel Scotty's same thrill of victory due to the simple fact that the show was actually completed!  Saturday Brownstown and Sunday Kokomo weather were picture-perfect, incredibly overjoyed by Sunday's mouth-watering feature action and 8:57 PM checkered flag (even with one red flag).  Yes, Sunday night Kokomo regular contests continue to offer some of the most thrilling racing in the world, with this particular installment maintaining such a bold stance.  If you haven't attended a sprint car contest in Kokomo by now, what are you waiting for?  Get your ass to Kokomo - pronto!   

The field of 40 Gas City USAC machines turning out for this "May Meltdown" was the largest thus far in the 2016 campaign, containing all the usual contenders with added attendance bonuses from Colten Cottle (timing fifth-quick in Ron Lambertson's DRC/Kercher), Justin Grant (moving to Tony Epperson's Spike), and former midget maestro Mario "Speedwagon" Clouser. Still missing, however, were big-time southern Indiana suspects like Brady Short and Jeff Bland, Jr.  Coming out ten cars from the end of the qualifying line, Thomas Meseraull's 11.720 second lap in the Marion Underground/Amati Racing DRC/Dynotech topped the charts, joined in the quick-six club by Robert Ballou, Chase Stockon, Kyle Cummins, the younger Cottle, and Brady Bacon.  Eventual winner Weir was seventh in the Todd Keen DRC/Claxton but benefited with a feature pole position when Cummins failed to transfer from heat four.

Heat highlights were aplenty, enthused by late race charges from Colten Cottle (stealing fourth on the final lap from Max McGhee), Brady Bacon (who spun a 360 but swept past Chris Windom to collect fourth at the waving of the white), Scotty Weir (flashing past Jarett Andretti at the finish to finagle fourth), and Justin Grant (circling Jerry Coons, Jr. for the win through the final turn of the final lap of heat four).   Heat lowlights had A.J. Hopkins hopping on the bike in turn three, unable to bring Roy Jackson's DRC back to earth without incurring end-of-evening damage from his ensuing tumble.  Another unsavory incident came when Tony DiMattia tangled with Kyle Robbins, sending the New Castle native on his head for the second race in a row.  The C and B-mains were run without incident, the latter containing yet another last turn, last lap pass for the win, this time by Dave Darland.  Aaron Farney punched the final feature ticket by finally stepping upstairs to steal the sixth position from Muncie's Cole Ketcham. 

Four-wide at 8:58 PM, Bacon led from his outside pole perch for the first 16 circuits, interrupted by one caution for a solitary spin by second place Chase Stockon and one red for Jon Stanbrough, who had surged from 16th to 7th before bouncing into a rare flip at the bottom of turn three.  On the following restart, Bacon switched to the top lane and handed the lead baton to Weir, who was in front for laps 17 through 20.  Brady built a respectable margin but with four to go, second place Scotty still managed to stay within sniffing distance.  Weir's supreme patience and Gas City experience suddenly paid off when Bacon had issues lapping Dallas Hewitt.  With his high side blocked, Brady chose the middle through three and killed momentum, finally sliding Hewitt through the east end.  However, by that time Weir had launched perfectly off of the bottom of two and suddenly held the upper hand.  Try as he may, Bacon could not overcome the momentary slip-up, handing the Marion, Indiana native his first series win in 115 starts.  New point leader Bacon, Thomas (from 14th), Max McGhee (from 9th), and Tyler Courtney completed the top-five.  Sixth through tenth were Colten Cottle, Cummins, C.J. Leary (from 13th), Windom, and Darland (from 17th). 

A 2003 Montpelier and 2008 Kokomo sprint car track champion, while enjoying a beverage and receiving constant stream of congratulations from fans and fellow competitors, a beaming Scotty Weir had this to say afterwards:  “I’ve been trying to do this since ’03 and I’ve been close.  I can’t finish and I fu** it up or somebody else messes it up.  It just never seems to work out my way.  Today, unfortunately that was Brady’s bad.  He got held up in lapped traffic and that let me win the race, about like the end of last year here.” 

“I’ve probably got more laps than anybody here.  This place, it’s always hard for a new guy to come in here and win.  Like tonight, the race track almost starts off at track record pace and by the end of the night, the guy wins by running six miles an hour around the infield.  You’ve just got to know what it does because the dirt changes so much.”

Comparing his USAC win to an end of 2015 season Gas City victory with the same Todd Keen 18, Weir added, “It was a lot the same.  I told him (Todd) that when we figured out that we were on the pole, that it would probably be the same way.  The bottom would get faster as the top got blown off.  He kind of looked at me and agreed, so that’s what we went for.  The first half of the race we were too tight.  I couldn’t run it in straight enough to stay around the bottom.  But at the end, as long as you can hit the last infield tire and catch the mud, it will always beat them down the front stretch.”

Asked what a USAC victory means after years and years of trying and attempting to find his place in the sprint car community, Scotty stated, “It finally means that I count.  There’s a lot of guys that raced sprint cars that didn’t win a USAC race.  At the end, you always figured that those guys count.  There’s only about 30 of those races a year and the same guys win 2/3rds of them every year.  It’s a pretty cool club to be in.”

Making a day of Saturday's Brownstown USAC stop, my nephew, along with our respective better halves, stopped in Nashville, Indiana to enjoy some fine food and beverage at Big Woods Brewery, which just opened a larger version of this same institution on Speedway's Main Street.  Opting for an excellent Hare Trigger Double IPA along with an appetizer of smoked pork nachos and a James Beard award-winning burger, as expected everything was excellent, highly recommending a stop at any of the Big Woods outposts. Enjoying the 32 miles of twists and turns of 135 between Nashville and Brownstown, we even passed through the tiny town of Story, where the famed and haunted Story Inn serves as yet  another destination eatery that I must one day sample. 

Kevin Thomas, Jr. made a shambles of Saturday's green-to-checker feature, requiring only 7 minutes and just over 32 seconds to tour this southern Indiana quarter-mile thirty times, leading all thirty laps from his pole starting spot.  In just the third USAC showing for 4J Motorsports since forming in late April, it was of course the first USAC win for owner Jeremy Ottinger while it became Kevin's first USAC conquest since February 2015, easily outdistancing Bacon, Darland, Meseraull, and new one-lap track record holder C.J. Leary.  Brady Short, hard-charger Robert Ballou (15th to 7th after requiring a post-qualifying engine swap), Aaron Farney, Tyler Courtney, and Kyle Cummins (from 16th) scored sixth through tenth. 

Not your father's dry-slick, stop and go Brownstown Speedway better suited to stock cars, big-time banking had been added to turns one and three.  The track changes manufactured both speed and excitement, as so many cars ripped the lip thanks to the healthy cushion that existed all night long.  Leary's one lap record of 12.899 came at the very end of the order, topping Dave Darland's early session standard of 12.994 and easily blowing away Brady Bacon's 14.305 USAC record from 2008, not to mention Max McGhee's mark of 13.407 from March of this year.  Leary and Darland became the first to tour the Jackson County Fairgrounds in under 13 seconds, even eclipsing the new dirt late model record of 13.002.  Undoubtedly the mark will dip even lower when the All Star Circuit of Champions pay a visit in August.  

Blasting off from the pole after Leary failed to transfer from heat one, the win may have looked awfully easy for Kevin, but afterwards car owner Jeremy Ottinger noted how the team's Speedway Engine loaded up with fuel throughout the feature, so much that it was spitting out its oil overflow.  Requiring some Sunday morning service by Speedway employee Chris Tramel, obviously the problem was remedied as evidenced by another Kokomo victory. 

On to Kokomo the next day (May 22nd) for just a regular Sunday night soiree, come feature time there is nothing regular about this place as the action is absolutely off the charts.  Under sunny skies and 77 degrees, 24 quality sprint cars contested this affair, with the warmer weather making it feel like the racing season was officially in full swing. 

Offering three timed hot lap sessions to line up heats, Dave Darland’s 12.927 second lap was best of all.  Heat races were hotly contested, especially for the top-two spots that served as feature redraws.  Thomas (from 2nd), Coons (from 2nd), and Darland (from 4th) were winners, with Windom, Grant (Epperson 2), and Tyler Hewitt claiming the all-important second position.  Piqua, Ohio’s Travis Hery made the cut from heat one but broke a piston and unfortunately had to scratch for the rest of the evening.  Sunday night intensity was ratcheted up several notches after a last lap tangle in heat two that involved Jarett Andretti and C.J. Leary.  Andretti hauled it into three and four and pushed up into Leary and although contact was made, both continued to the finish.  Unfortunately, the incident escalated into on-track shoving and eventually a heated post-race discussion between the two young chargers.  Reports varied as to what took place between the crews and of course the track police performed their due diligence.  The bottom line is this:  no matter if you are a fan, driver, or crew member, everyone seems to get amped up over a Kokomo contest - it just comes with the territory!  While wandering the pits, I encountered Scotty Weir once again assisting Logan Jarrett while Jake Argo lent a hand to Jimmy Light. 

After Hery’s scratch, a brief B-main moved six more to the A, won by South Dakota’s Bret Mellenberndt on what sounded like seven cylinders.  Chad Boespflug (Stensland 41) overcame early night steering issues to take third.  Flip victim Matt McDonald was only one of three to miss the finale.   

Of course by now everyone knows that Kevin Thomas, Jr. scored his second consecutive Kokomo feature victory on Sunday, May 23rd but in retrospect, those 25 laps, like the Andretti/Leary incident, were truly something to get worked up over.  Still amazed at how the fangs come out for these local features some 11 years after the O’Connors reconfigured the legendary Howard County oval, rarely do I ever leave without raving about what I witnessed.  Exciting, breath-taking, and simply awesome, this is the epitome of sprint car competition. 

You knew it was going to be a dandy when the leaders fanned three-wide for the entire first two laps, as Grant, Thomas, and Windom were after blood extremely early.  Outside front row starter KTJ eventually procured P1 thanks to his high side momentum.  Behind them, scooting from sixth to third was Dave Darland, as his backstretch sweep of Grant reaffirmed Kokomo confidence in Jeff Walker’s Maxim/Claxton.  Fifth-starting Jerry Coons, Jr. found the bottom to his liking in Monte Edison’s Spike and sent Justin back one more position, but Grant had no reason for concern as second through fifth was one huge mob scene.     

As those four men went at it tooth and nail for runner-up rights, Kevin constructed a decent lead in Jeremy Ottinger’s DRC.  However, as the race wore on Thomas’s torrid pace took him into lapped traffic that by the halfway mark, had erased his enormous advantage.  Windom was now breathing down his neck, with the heat was further intensified after a red flag for an untimely turn four meeting between Justin Grant and Jerry Coons, Jr., sending Grant upside down and out of the contest.   

With 12 to go, Thomas, Windom, Darland, Coons, and Cottle had their numbers lit up on the turn three scoreboard, with the volume of intensity cranked full-blast for these next seven circuits.  Kevin continued to lead, but Dave and Chris exchanged second three times in two tours.  The People’s Champ overextended the cushion in three, allowing Big Daddy to loft a turn two bomb.  Dave returned the favor in three, but Chris fired back on the front chute.  Shane Cottle even joined the party, but Darland split Cottle and Windom with a spirited turn three lunge.  By the second bend, a relentless Cottle got a big bite off the bottom and surged to second, still a long way to go to catch Thomas, however.  Thanks to Jarett Andretti’s climbing of the concrete in turn two, the subsequent left rear peeling of rubber from rim caused caution with five laps remaining. 

Reverting to the last scored lap, Darland sat second and attempted to influence the outcome by packing the cushion under caution.  One more incident involving Boespflug, Jarrett, and Ketcham delayed the inevitable, as the final five laps would contain even more action.  Fully expecting a Darland slider, Dave instead attempted to overtake through the moist middle.  Unfortunately, the plan backfired when he promptly blew the cushion in two and fell to fourth.  However, his packing of that cushion may have caused Thomas to clean off the wall between one and two with three to go, propelling the pilot of Paul Hazen’s 57 to first.  Cottle stayed low and Thomas toured high in these final two laps.  Although Shane continued to lead at the waving of the white flag, the two were even by the middle of the backstretch.  The Throttle's wild wheel stand at turn four’s exit, coupled with a perfect outside sweep by KTJ awarded the win to the black 4J, by just a nose!  WOW – what a finish and what a race!  Seriously! 

Closely trailing Kevin and Shane to the conclusion were Coons, Windom, and Darland.  Leary, Brent Beauchamp, Tyler Hewitt, Light, and Josh Spencer were sixth through tenth.  Yet another fun and fully-satisfying evening, one week later it’s hard not to be ecstatic after such an electrifying feature.  With Sunday night Kokomo Klassic (Bryan Clauson Indy Double) and Midget Week dates approaching, I would encourage you to arrive early to obtain seats. 

Feeling that elusive thrill of victory may be the ultimate reason why sprint car racers continue to risk life and limb and invest enormous sums of money and time in such a crazy quest for satisfaction.  But, it’s also why we as fans religiously chase their tail tanks up and down Indiana highways, hoping to experience the highs of a rare weekend triple like the one I just enjoyed.  Although our little victories may not be as significant as those achieved through feature wins, over time they become an addictive force, luring us into this never-ending search to add spice to an otherwise mundane existence. 

 

 

 

 

 

Volume 18, Number 3

Locally Grown

I’m not sure why I’m always thinking about food when I’m attempting to summarize the most recent week of sprint car racing, but it’s a fact.  My increasingly demanding schedule is such that I’m not completely home until about 9 or 9:30 PM on most weeknights and once I finally get settled down enough to open up the laptop and type a few lines, my mind immediately begins to wander as my stomach longs for some long-awaited satisfaction, as most often I have been to the gym and have not eaten in eight or nine hours.  Plus, to be honest, whatever I most recently consumed clearly wasn’t that memorable.     

When not attending racing events, one of my other passions is exploring Indianapolis’s bursting-at-the-seams food and drink scene, as countless one-of-a-kind restaurants, craft breweries, bars, and distilleries seem to be popping up each week, so many worthy of swoon status.  For all the places I want to visit in this city and its surrounding counties, it might take all 52 weekends of the year to get that accomplished and if there was one common theme in these dozens of establishments, it’s that everything is fresh and proudly made from scratch, with nearly all ingredients locally grown or sourced.  It’s all good stuff and when there’s a racing off-night, I can hardly wait to expand my epicurean horizons.   

Other than its food, football, and basketball, Indy is for sure all about auto racing and those infatuated with the niche market of sprint car racing know full well that the Hoosier state is the capital of the traditional variety, led by the well-known national offering from the United States Auto Club.  Locally grown on bullrings in Bloomington, Gas City, Haubstadt, Kokomo, Lawrenceburg, Paragon, and Putnamville, what would big-time wingless sprint car racing be without drivers, cars, and fans originating from these legendary locales?   

Back when I began writing these blogs in the late ‘90s, traditional sprint car racing was on its way back in a big way.  A couple of years into my columns, two options for Indiana action existed on Fridays, with three or four on Saturday, and often times two on Sundays.  Averaging 30 to 40 per show with as many as 150 cars competing on Saturdays, things could literally not get any better.  Like today’s Indy food scene, locally grown sprint car competition was thriving and so was USAC. 

But my how times have changed, as the economy still has not recovered from the 2008 downturn and only so many people can afford to race and spend at this extreme level.  As a result, all but two of the aforementioned speedways have seen operational turnover and there might be one track open for business on Friday, two or three on Saturday, and maybe, just maybe, one on Sunday.  Normally assembling 20 to 25 machines each time, unfortunately in 2016 the count has dipped as low as 15, lucky to have 60 to 75 in action on Saturdays.   Once Paragon starts their season, the numbers will certainly increase but that’s a night and day difference from 2001.  Thankfully there are still tracks, competitors, and fans who avidly support what remains and don't get me wrong - this isn't a doom and gloom story, as things aren't horrible.  But, they are not what they used to be either.         

Aside from Indiana Sprint Week, back in that 2001 season the newly-formed King of Indiana Sprint Series was the pinnacle of local competition.  Unable to move the needle the last several years, the series died on the vine, survived by a select few local shows that offer a substantial increase in purse.  Two of them took place in the middle of May, as Lawrenceburg’s King of the Midwest and Kokomo’s appropriately named King of Kokomo contests served as a co-promotion of sorts between Lawrenceburg's Dave Rudisell and Kokomo's O'Connor family.  Lawrenceburg’s feature paid a healthy $2,500 and $250 to start, offering a total payout of $11,225.  Kokomo’s feature paid the same $2,500 to win but was $300 to start, offering a total payout of $11,450. If any driver could win both features, there was an extra $1,000 available. 

Friday night was undoubtedly the best weather of the weekend, at least from Indy on south as impending rain nearly ruined a unique USAC regional midget/World of Outlaws doubleheader in Plymouth.  Bloomington’s regular program still only attracted 24 machines however, noticing a theme of the difficulty in luring northern sprint car competitors to the red clay for just a regular payout.  Could it be I-69 construction or could it be other factors in play?  Overnight rain, chilly temperatures, and pesky Saturday morning showers pulled the plug on Putnamville and Paragon, leaving Lawrenceburg as the lone traditional show in the state (Haubstadt hosted a WoO war). 

Could the pent up demand from such lousy springtime weather be responsible for the impressive turnout of 37 machines on Saturday?  Sunday weather was less than ideal but a 32-car Kokomo corral certainly gave hope that the local scene was far from dead.  Lawrenceburg and Kokomo car counts represented huge improvements over recent years of KISS competition.  But, perhaps an even better indicator of local health is the small number of new competitors sprouting on the scene.  It might only be three or four, but any addition is good. 

A USAC off-weekend had Saturday’s Lawrenceburg field bolstered by national names like Boespflug (Stensland 41), Cockrum (Paul 24), Cottle, Cummins, Darland, Leary, Meseraull (in a second Simon 24), Simon, Stanbrough (own 81), Thomas, and Windom (Baldwin 5), battling Lawrenceburg lords Jarett Andretti (last week's winner), Joss Moffatt (April 23rd winner), Shawn Westerfeld (April 15th winner), and Dickie Gaines (Soudrette 44). 

The only man to claim sprint titles on the old quarter-mile and newer 3/8ths, three-time and defending Lawrenceburg Speedway champion Joss Moffatt was pitted next to Whiteland’s Patrick Giddens, who performed the necessary repair work to the front half of Joss’s ex-Jeff Walker 5-bar Maxim after an untimely incident last week with a lapped car cost him a feature win.  Giddens was in Moffatt’s machine from last year, originally wiped out in a brutal BOSS B-main flip at Eldora.  A pit road wandering saw Danny Drinan assisting his pal “Shaggy” with Tony DiMattia's effort (Tony had Big Al Scroggins advising on Sunday).  Frankfort's Brian Cripe consulted with Dickie Gaines while Jake Argo assisted Shawn Westerfeld.  Jake noted that he will eventually be back with Josh Hodges who will return to Indiana on Memorial Day weekend and sporadically through the summer as he has committed to a college internship in New Mexico. 

Each of Saturday's four heats were won from the front row (Cottle, Thomas, Cummins, and Moffatt), with three of the four offering their share of drama.  Jasonville's Brandon Morin lost power entering turn three in heat two and immediately angled into concrete.  Heat three had Terre Haute terror Brandon Mattox mauling the wall on the exit of two, performing several end over end somersaults down the backstretch.  Miraculously, Mattox and his Burton Racing bunch successfully performed major repairs to be ready in time for one of two B-mains.  Finally, in the fourth heat, drama for Dave Darland and owner Jeff Walker came in the form of a freeze plug working its way loose from the block, pouring hot water on Dave's feet and forcing him to pull off prematurely.  Sending Jeff and his scant crew into thrash-mode, with the help of engine builder Jeff Claxton and Kenny Baldwin's engine hoist, they were able to get the job done, ultimately leading to Dave to punch the final A-main ticket from the second B.  Similar to the heats, Saturday's twin B-mains had their share of incidents as well, the first contest flipping Lee Dakus into the fence after scaling a Drew Abel right rear.  The second had DiMattia drilling Darland in corner two, leaving original pole sitter Matt Brannin with nowhere to go but upside down after climbing a wheel.   

Spending quality time once again with Lafayette's Joe Higdon, Joe and I absorbed a 25-lap finale that went green to checker.  All-time King of Indiana Sprint Series feature winner and six-time series champ Jon Stanbrough propelled from the pole in his familiar blue 81, a Spike chassis actually owned by Chad Smith.  Alongside the Silent Gasser was defending BOSS champ Shawn Westerfeld, who immediately launched to the lead as they exited turn two.  Hiking the front end of his Spike three laps later in the same spot in which he found first, Shawn’s brief pause allowed Jon to capitalize with some serious momentum and a turn three slider.  Jon built a decent lead but never could break away from Westerfeld and eighth-starting Kyle Cummins, as this lead trio remained tight for the final ten tours on a surface that was now slicked-off but was extremely smooth.  Experimenting with a new set of Pro Shocks (except for the right rear) on Hank Byram's Mach 1, Kyle collected second with two to go and closed on the leader in those last two laps, simply running out of time to make a difference in the final rundown. 

As it was, Stanbrough picked up his first win since August of last year, when he won for the Fox Brothers on this same speedway. Having last won in the 81 at Gas City in May of 2015, the victory was a huge confidence booster for the small squad that tonight consisted of himself, wife Melinda, and heavy lifters Chris Hoyer and Kevin Price.  Trailing Cummins and Westerfeld were Cottle and C.J. Leary, who found fifth from 12th.  Windom, Thomas, Bloomington winner Nick Bilbee, Michael Fischesser, and Andretti were sixth through tenth.  Satisfied upon my 10:33 PM exit, as I was passed by Chris Hoyer’s Dodge Dakota pickup on I-74 just past Greensburg, I couldn’t help but think of how satisifed and relieved Chris must have felt for his pal Jon, as that grind of being a car owner, driver, and mechanic can take an extreme toll on even the best.  

Sunday evening offered even better competition, with so many of Saturday’s talent present and accounted for.  Subtracting Stanbrough and Cummins but adding Ballou, Beauchamp, Clauson, Coons, Courtney, Jarrett, Grant (debuting in the Phillips 71), Hopkins (Jackson 42), and Robbins, to name a few, it was an all-star cast to lift the lid on Kokomo's 2016 campaign.  Although his night was cut short early, Brazil, Indiana’s Nate McMillan, not to be confused with the new Indiana Pacers head coach, was a welcome addition.  This being his first visit to Kokomo Speedway, the 22 year-old micro graduate and second year sprint chauffeur was hot off a fifth place finish on April 23rd at Lincoln Park, driving a machine formerly owned and operated by his neighbor Doug Heck.  Also pals with Brazil sprint car legend Eric Burns, thanks to “Burnsy” Nate took his first sprint car laps in Bill Gasway’s Stealth a few years back. 

Boasting a spotless and eye-popping truck and trailer, Tyler Courtney's Topp Motorsports Maxim was equally impressive with its on-track performance, clocking quickest in the four hot lap/qualifying sessions at 12.903 seconds.  As usual, Kokomo heats inverted the fastest four and had winners coming from second (Thomas and Darland) and third (Andretti and Clauson).  The number one heat highlight came in the final contest, as an outstanding high/low battle between Clauson and Hopkins pushed me to the edge of my seat for several circuits, with BC eventually winning after widening his arc on the exit of turn two to thwart Hopkins high-side momentum.  The number one heat lowlight came when newlywed Kyle Robbins ramped the turn four wall and flipped, taking Logan Jarrett for a ride as well.  Logan would return for the B but finished one spot shy of A-main status, as did Bret Mellenberndt. 

After a redraw of the top-two heat race finishers, Jarett Andretti and Kevin Thomas, Jr. were the ultimate beneficiaries pulling front row pills for the finale.  Waiting for the sun to set beyond the turn two bank, massive amounts of opening act anticipation began to build as the field formed, offering a first four rows filled with heavy hitters Windom, Leary, Courtney, Beauchamp, Clauson, and Darland.  Usual Kokomo contenders Grant, Cottle, and Ballou began 9th, 11th, and 14th.  Yep, the candle on this local Indiana bullring scene seemed to be burning awfully bright on this evening, easing previous concerns about the sport’s longevity.

Thanks to his outside start, Thomas got the jump to turn one as the top shelf was undoubtedly the preferred lane for the entire thirty lap distance.  As cars fanned as far as five-wide through the corners, amidst the chaos Windom snatched second while Leary, Andretti, and Courtney debated over third. With eyes scanning the speedway for the best battle, I was only able to catch a glimpse of an explosion of activity as one machine hurtled into the turn one catch fence.  Having to watch a video replay hours later to dissect the incident, C.J. Leary moved up into the path of Dave Darland, who checked up and was promptly drilled by Justin Grant.  The contact sent Darland tumbling end over end into the turn one fence while Grant crushed concrete and helicoptered down the bank, completely wiping out the right front corner of the Phillips DRC.  While countless others scrambled to avoid the carnage, Jerry Coons, Jr. was turned around, eventually able to restart Monte Edison’s Spike and return to the top-ten before breaking a rocker arm.  With the rear bumper of the Walker 11 stuck in the fence and its pilot hanging precariously upside down for several minutes, safety crews eventually figured out how to safely remove the car and driver without harm. 

Leaving 27 laps to crown the King of Kokomo, the huge accident spoiled what should have been a fantastic fight amongst eight or ten drivers.  Going green the rest of the distance, it was essentially a two horse race between Thomas and Windom, but like everyone else was fully expecting Clauson to offer a threat in the latter stages.  Kevin and Chris toured the top and flirted with the fence lap after lap and as the leader played rabbit and worked lapped traffic, by lap 12 2010 track champion Windom had closed the gap significantly, aided even further when Thomas had trouble with the tricky turn four cushion.  One of those bobbles came with the white flag in sight, but KT’s successful negotiation of the north end sent him to Kokomo’s victory lane for the first time since May of 2015.  In his third ride back with Kenny Baldwin, Windom earned $1,250 for second while Bryan Clauson took home $1,000 after finally solidifying third with three laps to go, embroiled in a ten-lap, intense wheel to wheel war around the bottom with Tyler Courtney, who collected $700 for fourth.  Shane Cottle made $600 after elevating from 11th to 5th.  Sixth through tenth included Beauchamp, Ballou, Andretti, Leary, and Boespflug (from 17th). 

Driving a DRC chassis with potent power from Rick Long’s Speedway Engine Development, this was Kevin’s second score since joining 4J Motorsports in late April.  With sponsorship from Franklin Equipment (based out of Columbus, Ohio) and CEP Concrete Construction Corporation, the team is headed up by Danville, Indiana native Jeremy Ottinger, a transportation and operations manager for Indianapolis firm Denney Excavating, which specializes in major demolition projects as it took down Indy’s Keystone Towers, the GM Metal Stamping plant, and Winona and Wishard hospitals.   Many may remember Jeremy for his long-time assistance of Kent Christian, but in his first year of car ownership (2015) he was the Lincoln Park Speedway track champion with Scott Hampton. 

In speaking to Rob Goodman afterwards, the extremely grateful winner stated, “I’m not very good at seeing through the dust so it’s always good for me to lead.  If you make one mistake, and I made a few in three in four, it will cost you a win.  This place is really tricky.  You’ve got to run the two corners completely different.”

“This team, last year, they struggled a little bit.  We got connected together and I’ve had more fun racing with them than I ever have my whole life.  It’s very fun doing this.  These guys, they are a treat, so it’s nice to see all their hard work pay off.  They’ve been doing it for a long time, so for us to come right out of the box and be fast and  get a win, at the hardest place to win, it’s a blessing for sure.”

Out the door by 9:18 PM, the Indiana sprint car season was now officially in full swing.  Satisfied by a quality-filled weekend double of Lawrenceburg and Kokomo, the would-be short drive home only had me thinking of food a few times.  Due to a ten-plus minute wait for a rare train creeping across U.S. 31, in the interest of arriving home at a reasonable hour I resisted the urge to stop for a snack at Cone Palace.  Feeling content to wait until I got home, my mind wandered to reflect on the previous two outings of local sprint car competition.  These positive and energizing evenings certainly changed my outlook on the future of this thing that has consumed my life for the last three decades, having hope that weekends like this continue to be the norm.  Beaming with pride when out-of-state racing visitors rave about the same mom and pop eateries as I do, equally important is the pride with which local Indiana sprint car competition continues to contribute to the national scene of the United States Auto Club.  More than just a trendy thing to lure consumers, locally grown is truly a way of life here in the Hoosier state.    

 

 

 

Volume 18, Number 2  

Take Two

Some might consider me extremely picky, but I prefer to label it as having a discerning taste for the finer things in life.  Either way, I know what I like and rarely compromise in my quest for complete satisfaction.  Whether it be food, drink, or material possessions, once I have my heart set on something, my decisions rarely waver.  

However, there may be instances when more than one attractive option is laid out on the table and when the consequences of making an incorrect decision are minor, that’s when my alter ego kicks into high gear, second-guessing the simplest of choices as the fear of dissatisfaction weighs heavily.  Always wanting the best, naturally I hate being disappointed.      

Unless it’s Formula One or sports cars, auto racing may not be one of life's finer things, especially if your preference, like mine, is getting dirty while watching traditional sprint cars slither sideways and sling sticky clay into the grandstands.  Such a razor-sharp focus on this one form of motorsports makes determining which racing event to attend fairly straightforward, as anything offered by the United States Auto Club takes top billing.  However, if USAC is not an option, much to the surprise of many I might just consider something from the opposite end of the sprint spectrum, which happens to be a winged World of Outlaws affair.  But, what happens when both options are offered on the same evening at arguably their premier venue, both within a reasonable driving distance?  Luckily the indecisive Kevin did not have to obsess over such a decision on this first full weekend of May, with Eldora Speedway serving as the common denominator courtesy of its USAC/World of Outlaws two-night twin bill entitled “Let’s Race Two”.  If it sounds like deuces were wild during this highly-anticipated affair, you would be right on the money.   

My first two trips of the season to these hallowed grounds, instead of camping overnight and soaking up rural Darke County night life, I did the Indy/Rossburg commute as I was requested to scoop up Speed Ball from Fishers for Saturday’s slice of sprint car heaven.  First exiting my Castleton employ at a tardy 4:37 PM on Friday, I hauled some serious ass on I-70 to reach Richmond and state road 227 about an hour later.  Recalling a near-death experience on this route with driver “Dyno” Joe Snyder back in April of 2000, this particular stretch of 227 from Richmond to U.S. 36 might just be the most dangerous route in all of Indiana, as countless steep rises serve as ridiculous ramps that could be lethal if one chose to ignore the recommended 45 MPH speed limit.  Experience advised to keep momentum to a minimum before passing the sign for the highest point in Indiana, allowing me to arrive for USAC qualifying in one piece and without a citation for speeding.  Saturday’s stroll was at a much more leisurely pace with my pop alongside, allowing for a mandatory Maid-Rite stop in Greenville where Renaissance man Brent Goodnight was encountered.  It does not surprise me at all that Goody still knows where all the hidden gems around racetracks lie.    

Harkening back to the ‘80s and ‘90s when USAC and World of Outlaws contests were separate early season Eldora schedule mainstays, it is still odd that my first trip of the year just over the Indiana/Ohio state lane comes in May.  Nonetheless, it’s something I had to take full advantage of, as there are just a handful of opportunities to catch any kind of sprint car action at my all-time favorite arena.  Two nights of the best of both sprint car worlds, Let’s Race Two was indeed all about the deuce, a rather appropriate theme given that USAC’s portion celebrated a pair of first-time Eldora sprint car scores for both Bryan Clauson and Chad Boespflug. 

Clauson nearly claimed last year's Four Crown before wall contact spoiled his debut in the Dooling/Hayward 63, still difficult to comprehend that since June of 2005, not one of Clauson’s 37 USAC sprint car scores have occurred in Western Ohio.  (You may remember that in that first outing in ’05, he had to take an untimely helicopter ride after a nasty spill.) Despite tallying three Four Crown trophies (2 Silver Crown, 1 midget), Friday was a humongous moment for the guy who has won nearly everything else in USAC circles.  His third national sprint car score of the young season, Bryan began the night by clocking quickest at 16.611 seconds, doing so on an abnormally dry-slick surface, odd for so early in the season.  Firing from sixth in Friday's finale, Clauson chased outside front row starter C.J. Leary and Thomas Meseraull for the majority of the thirty lap grind, as this lead trio weaved in and out of traffic and provided some top-notch, edge-of-your seat entertainment.  It wasn't until six laps were left when BC was able to finally blast by T-Mez after tossing a turn three bomb.  Two laps later, Leary slapped concrete in corner two and opened the door for Clauson, who executed one of the longest and cleanest slide jobs you'll ever witness.  However, a near-certain victory was left in doubt when green lights were soon switched to red, as fourth place Robert Ballou banged the wall in two, flipped, and landed on all four wheels, collecting Saturday Lawrenceburg winner Jarett Andretti. 

Leaving a three lap dash to the checkered, Clauson’s Eldora demons haunted him yet again when he made a heavy concrete connection in turn four.  Second place C.J. simply could not capitalize on the miscue, again having to settle for second best after leading 23 laps in Mike Dutcher’s Maxim/Fisher.  As you may recall Leary nearly won last year's Saturday finale to the Mother of All Sprint Car Weekends but gave way to Justin Grant on the final lap.  Chasing Clauson’s Spike/Stanton-Mopar were Leary, Meseraull, an impressive Dallas Hewitt (who led the first three laps in his own 16), and Bacon.  Tyler Courtney (Topp 23), Boespflug, Shane Cottle, Dave Darland, and Kody Swanson (DePalma 63) made up the second half of the top-ten. 

Having entered Eldora as the national points leader, an extremely ill Chase Stockon stormed from 23rd to 12th but in the process relinquished his top spot to T-Mez.  Ironically, Stockon and previous second place points man Kyle Cummins were forced to take provisional feature starting spots after being way off in the speed/handling department the entire evening. 

Immediately after Dave Blaney’s ugly World of Outlaws qualifying flip, Logan Jarrett nailed the wall in turn one and took a nasty tumble, chucking his tail tank in the process.  Logan emerged from the wreckage ok but the same could not be said for Dave, who took a ride to a local hospital but was eventually released, albeit extremely sore.  Blaney’s blast was one of the most violent in recent memory, rarely recalling any upside down endeavors in his career, especially at Eldora.  With the WoO qualifying groove just a half of a right rear’s width from the wall (this essentially stayed that way for the balance of Friday despite some post-qualifying maintenance), car after car flirted with disaster.  With literally no margin for error, Blaney’s Motter machine mauled the wall between one and two, going for a big ride that upon landing zinged his Speedway engine to the highest RPM limit that I have ever heard.  Running only a limited schedule this year, naturally the battered and beaten Blaney did not return to race on Saturday.

Chad Boespflug’s first career USAC victory came on the Fourth of July 2013 at Lincoln Park Speedway, steering the famous 57 for legendary car owner Paul Hazen.  Chad’s second USAC score came on the sport’s biggest stage on Saturday, his first in his 2016 partnership with Chuck Eberhardt and Fred Zirzow.  Chuck and Fred call the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area home, a pair of hardcore racing fans who met while bowling.  Chuck used to drive and own asphalt modifieds at Slinger Speedway and is the current operator of a bowling pro shop.  An avid bowler himself (averaging over 225 per game) and follower of all things open wheel, Fred is a long-time bartender who manages a bar at a bowling alley.  After Fred showed Chuck what racing was like in Indiana, Chuck got the bug to get further involved, first putting a small team together at the end of 2013 to become local car owners for Bryan Clauson.  Winning at the Gas City closer in their first foray, the following season saw Chuck, Fred, and Bryan bag the Kokomo Speedway track championship.  Last year, Eberhardt and Zirzow had Tyler Courtney in their car for the second half of the season, winning a race at Plymouth and showing well the rest of the year.  Pooling their resources with Boespflug’s assets for a 2016 USAC run, the team benefits from the mechanical minds of Davey Jones and Bryan Stanfill.  Being the son of Bubby, Davey owns massive amounts of experience, best known for his success with Bud Kaeding in the early 2000s. 

Chad was ninth in Saturday qualifying, benefitting from a feature pole perch when Thomas Meseraull, Max McGhee, and Bryan Clauson had heat race issues and had to come through the B.  Meseraull jumped C.J. Leary’s right rear and the resulting entanglement flipped both and forced backup cars to be rolled out.  McGhee also inverted and bent his Maxim like a banana after his fight with the fence.   Boespflug got the early jump and disappeared for the early portion of the finale, interrupted after the third lap for a red flag incident involving Robert Ballou and fast qualifier Chris Windom (Hery 40).  Robert’s too-close-for-comfort turn one slide job sent both into the wall, causing Chris to helicopter down the banking.  Under the red, Windom jogged all the way to turn three to discuss the matter, as both were sidelined far too early.  Bryan Clauson spun to avoid the mess but was able to restart.  Say what you will about the jinx of wearing that number one, but Robert’s two consecutive evenings of Eldora misfortune continued his subpar season since the series returned to the Midwest.

With seven laps in the books, Boespflug built a full straightaway advantage on Kody Swanson, entering lapped traffic four laps later.  The battle behind car 98 was fierce, as tenth-starting Brady Bacon was already up to second by lap 13, which featured a trio of sliders between himself and Swanson.  The two-time Silver Crown king soon had to contend with Thomas Meseraull, whose big-time bomb through three and four found the Amati 66 climbing the wall.  The wild ride barely interrupted Meseraull’s march however, immediately making his final move to third in turn one.    

Boespflug’s big lead was blown by a lap 17 debris caution, having run a stellar, error-free race against a treacherous cushion to that point.  Three lappers separated first and second place, but Bacon cleared all of them in one lap, making it a real race as the top three now ran in line with ten to go.  But, how agonizing must it have been for Chad to endure three yellows and one red in those final ten laps?  First, there was a flat right rear for Tony DiMattia.  Then, there was wall contact and an upside down excursion for Dallas Hewitt, the new driver for Kenny Baldwin after Justin Grant left the team after yet another disappointing performance (17th) on Friday.  The final two cautions came for the famous Frenchman (debris) and Dave Darland, the latter climbing the turn two wall in his fight for fourth.  All that action kept Boespflug’s elbows up on those restarts but like a true professional, the pressure to win at Eldora never affected his poise.  Running his Maxim/Claxton to its limits, he even flirted with the turn two wall on the final two tours. 

A huge feather in the cap for an underdog squad (void of major sponsorship on its hood) and a dream come true for new owners Eberhardt and Zirzow, Eldora victories with the United States Auto Club are indeed some of the most cherished, so naturally this was a very big deal.  Bacon’s surge from tenth to second also moved him to within five points of Thomas Meseraull, who needed two cars to score third.  C.J. Leary also needed two horses to take fourth from 13th while Tyler Courtney copped fifth from 11th.  Clauson came back to claim sixth while Swanson, Carson Short, Stockon, and Weir (from 18th) scored seventh through tenth.  After Eldora’s USAC double, the top-three in points (Meseraull, Bacon, and Stockon) are separated by just 21 markers while Cummins and Darland are fourth and fifth.  With weekend car counts of 35 and 28 (up from 25 at Haubstadt and Montpelier), my hope is for a similar assembly at this coming weekend’s rounds at Gas City and Brownstown. 

Much like Donny Schatz’s double from last year, 2014 Kings Royal winner Kerry Madsen did the same deed and swept the World of Outlaws weekend, leading all sixty feature laps and taking home a cool twenty grand for his efforts.  Thanks to his confidence-inspiring Keneric combination of a KPC chassis and Morrison power, the original Mad Man aggressively attacked a thin cushion atop Friday’s super-slicked-off surface.  And although Saturday saw heavier conditions that were a bit more forgiving, still no one could hold a candle to Kerry, who was nearly in a league of his own.  The Aussie was the second to sweep a WoO weekend this season, having not scored a win in this series since August of 2015.  Four-time All-Star champion Chad Kemenah charged from 10th and 11th to secure second on both Friday and Saturday.  Mostly employing low and middle lanes to pull even on several occasions, Chad was the only one to offer a serious threat to car 29. 

My first time to sample the World of Outlaws and their new-for-2016 racing format, when fields are large (45 on Friday and 40 on Saturday) qualifying is divided into separate flights that only determine heat race starting positions, which offer no inversions whatsoever.  The top two finishers from each heat make the trophy dash but interestingly enough, feature starting positions beyond the dash contestants are earned based on heat race finish, with B-main transfers tagging the tail.  Encouraging drivers to be extremely aggressive in their heat, unfortunately qualifying well still means everything with the Outlaws. 

While describing the new format and reminding fans of Craig Dollansky’s one-lap track record of 12.707 seconds from April 13th of 2002, WoO microphone master Johnny Gibson announced that for World of Outlaws purposes, Eldora Speedway’s official measurement is .427 miles.  With Dollansky’s mark only equating to 120.972 miles per hour (which was different from last year’s announcement of 141.654 MPH), the 20-plus mile per hour average speed difference just doesn’t seem right, as the winged cars scrub off very little speed at this high-horsepower showcase.  The first time I have ever heard anyone formally announce that Eldora was not a true half-mile, I found it interesting that this tidbit was not repeated on Saturday.   However, I’m still curious where the .427 measurement was taken.  Was it from Google Earth?  Was it on the bottom?  Was it through the middle?  Was it just beneath the wall?  Inquiring minds want to know, as the news of this distance burst my 31-year Eldora bubble. 

Regardless of its distance, nothing will ever take away the fact that in my tiny little world, Eldora is and always will be the most demanding and awe-inspiring dirt track in the world.  Its allure is further maintained by stories from car owner Jim Simon, who relayed a tale from 1961 when he pulled all night from the first-ever Knoxville Nationals to a Sunday afternoon 100-lap affair at Eldora.  Simon recalled the crazy story of driving a pickup truck with a single-axle trailer as wide open as possible on narrow and curvy Iowa roads through the middle of the night.  That trailer contained Jack Steele’s Dodge Hemi powered supermodified, which ended up winning that big race at Eldora after missing qualifying and starting dead last.  Simon’s driver that day was New Carlisle, Ohio’s Jay Poland, with such a story only confirming how much desire racing people once owned. 

Joey Saldana (Roth 83) topped the timing charts on both nights (13.947 and 13.160), unable to capitalize after finishing third and second in his heat races, the latter after being docked a row for what was ruled a jumped start.  Sixteenth on Friday and 24th on Saturday, that latter showing had Brownsburg’s bullet attempting to pierce fourth corner concrete after tangling with David Gravel.  Doubly-disappointed had to be defending series champ Donny Schatz, who backed up from second to ninth on Friday, also unable to advance from seventh on Saturday.  Still, Donny cut into Brad Sweet’s point lead after Brad could only muster 12th and 9th place finishes.  Gravel and Daryn Pittman grabbed a pair of top-fives as they swapped finishing positions, David third on Friday and fourth on Saturday while Daryn was fourth on Friday and third on Saturday. 

Kraig Kinser enjoyed a decent double dip in his Arctic Cat DRC, 12th to 5th on Friday and 16th to 8th on Saturday.  Oddly enough, Kraig’s father Steve was not spotted in my Saturday stroll of pit lane.  After struggling all season long in his first full-fledged Outlaw assault, September 2015 Eldora WoO winner Greg Wilson obviously enjoys home cooking, shooting from 23rd to 7th on Friday and 18th to 10th on Saturday.  Brady Bacon had an excellent Outlaw showing, bagging 8th in his own 99 on Friday after taking third in the dash, also finding 14th from 24th on Saturday.  Second in Friday’s first qualifying flight, Cole Duncan finished an impressive 10th but was a Saturday no-show. 

Those having a forgettable Eldora two-night stand included Sammy Swindell (20th on both nights), Paul McMahan (22nd and 17th in the Destiny 7 wrenched by Scott Benic), and Jac Haudenschild (25th on Friday and 13th in Saturday’s B).  Wingless converts Tyler Courtney (who like Clauson and Bacon did the USAC/WoO double), Jacob Wilson, Hunter Schuerenberg, and Parker Price-Miller had disappointing weekends as well, with Courtney’s sixth place B-main finish the best of this bunch.  Clauson’s winged weekend netted finishes of 11th and 12th, solidly coming from 22nd on Saturday.  

In retrospect, the second showing of Let’s Race Two was another highly enjoyable weekend, two nights of the best that sprint car racing has to offer on the sport’s most famous dirt track stage.  The entire event did little to disappoint, offering its share of surprises, intrigue, outstanding stories, and captivating competition, helping to maintain Eldora Speedway’s claim as the world’s greatest dirt track.   So when questioned if I would rather attend a United States Auto Club or World of Outlaws event on the same evening, as long as the early May option exists in Rossburg, Ohio, I will always take two.    

 

 

 

Volume 18, Number 1

New Roads

Given my six month longing for a sprint car fix, vacationing at a time other than the off-season sure seems like a rookie mistake, as the possibility of missing the first two outdoor open wheel weekends in the Midwest is the furthest thing a thirty-year fanatic would ever agree to.  But on a gorgeous and sun-splashed Saturday in late March, there I was soaring over Brownstown Speedway and its lid-lifting No Way Out 40 while aiming for Atlanta, the lone stopover on my initial European excursion to Ireland.  Still in disbelief as I reviewed hot lap times while waiting to board for the eight hour haul to Dublin, despite the knowledge that Indiana events can indeed be conducted without my presence, I was still experiencing a slight bit of withdrawal, reliving my worst nightmare ten years prior when I was infinitely more addicted.   

Unable to relax enough to earn some well-needed shuteye to forget about this sudden onset of paranoia, I spent the bulk of the eight hours absorbing all of the automotive-related media available on the flight which included a pair of wonderful documentaries, the first being Steve McQueen:  The Man and Le Mans and the other being Winning:  The Racing Life of Paul Newman.  I was so moved by the McQueen flick that I had to watch it again on the return home.

Once setting foot on foreign soil, my stubborn, one-track mind was finally opened to the idea of enjoying such a unique experience chock full spectacular scenery (forty shades of green and rocky cliffs tumbling to blue oceans), quaint villages crammed with fantastic bars, pubs, and eateries, historic castles, churches, and architectural ruins from centuries ago, and hospitable natives so happy to have visitors from lands afar.  My motoring mind was also entertained with all of the previously unseen automotive makes and models not available in the States (like the hot, new VW Scirocco) and all those narrow, winding roads that seem to go nowhere.  All in all, it was a truly enjoyable journey, one that I will never soon forget.  

Despite some warnings to the contrary, the food was fantastic as European influence weighed heavily.  And of course there were all those beverages to sample, first taking a tour and titling a few glasses at the Jameson's distillery near Cork.  In addition, there were countless craft brews that were unique to each town, much like the rage this industry has become in my Hoosier homeland.  Most notable were breweries in Wicklow and Dingle, the former creating St. Kevin's Red (you’ll never make a saint of me) and the latter making Tom Crean's 18/35 (An Antarctic explorer and true Irish hero - not the IU basketball coach).  Crean's Irish Lager is only available outside of Ireland in Boston and aboard Aer Lingus flights, but one could only imagine the killing they would make if it were marketed in Bloomington and Indianapolis. 

If I have one regret from the trip, it’s that I did not insist on getting behind the wheel of my father in-law’s Open Insignia rental for a brief stint.  Instead playing navigator, I now wish that I could have experien