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    by Kevin Oldham

KO's interview with the Hurst Brothers is HERE

Volume 17, Number 10

Stoking the Fire

As they say in the scheme of interpersonal relationships, passion may be fleeting, but true love is everlasting.

If this realm of relationships expands to include feelings for open wheel action, in the introductory stage of our unhealthy addiction there is an overwhelming desire to satisfy an insatiable need for speed. Placing everything else in our lives at risk to temporarily eliminate this urge, such an obsessive, fanatical following is indeed categorized as passion.

But, like everything else in life, passion fades away and as it diminishes, even the most ardent midget, sprint, and champ dirt car supporters would like to believe that they have the power to walk away at any time with no regrets. The truth is, we simply cannot quit cold turkey as there are some massive withdrawal symptoms to overcome, eventually luring us back for another onslaught of guilty pleasure. Naturally the associated feelings may no longer be as fiery as that introductory phase, but a fondness and desire is still present, signifying true love.

After spending the last thirty years around this scene, my true love status is still evident, confirmed through regular attendance and columnist contributions. However, I can honestly say that my passion for local Indiana competition has been fading into the sunset, enough that a standard sprint car contest can indeed go on without me.

Maybe it is the pressure of perpetuating this state's rich history with this sport that curbs my enthusiasm, but my heart tells me that there is simply something lacking locally. Whether it be car counts, drivers, personalities, quality of competition, or level of excitement, like a loaf of bread with its bag left open to the elements, the scene has grown stale and moldy. Thankfully there have been no permanent closures, but it should be noted that nearly every Indiana venue has cut back its unsanctioned schedule, leaving Lincoln Park Speedway as the only one hosting consistent weekly contests from April through September. With USAC’s expanded slate requiring its sprint squads to conserve inventory and budget, the miniscule purses found on the local level tend to curb participation from these big dogs. However, it is these big dogs who I want to see compete, hence my regular Sunday night Kokomo Speedway attendance. Although car counts have risen to respectable levels of late, the influx of new competitors has not exceeded the natural attrition, leading to future concerns.

Once an inferno, if the flames of the Indiana bullring scene are now reduced to a smoldering pile of ashes, leave it to an enthusiastic Sean Buckley to stoke the embers and attempt to get those flames flying high once again. Announcing his six race Indiana Sprint Car Series prior to this season’s start, the key aspect of Sean’s concept was television coverage, specifically half-hour, tape-delayed productions aired on MAV TV. In this age of instant gratification available through handheld devices, there is still something significant about the exposure gained from national television, a huge tool that teams can still use to lure sponsorship. Piggybacking special unsanctioned events, although Buckley didn’t add anything to the purses except for additional heat race and B-main money, feature winners do get a new right rear tire while both the championship winning car owner and driver stand to collect some substantial prizes. The car owner scoring the most points after six races earns a new DRC chassis kit, a full set of Wilwood disc brakes, and four Factory Kahne shock absorbers. The number one driver receives a Butlerbuilt seat, a Hinchman HTO suit, plus a wicked Rock Star paint job on the helmet of his choice.
Starting the series with 37 cars at Kokomo Speedway on the fifth of July, it’s been a long while since that many machines populated Kokomo’s pits for a just a regular program. Initially convinced that Buckley’s series reinvigorated and united the local scene, unfortunately the second stop at Lincoln Park Speedway’s 28th annual Putnamville Clash challenged that theory. Only 25 sprint car chauffeurs showed for $4,000 to win, with competition for cars coming from nearby Paragon, Lawrenceburg, Plymouth, and Waynesfield (Ohio). Beyond that mammoth first place prize, Putnamville’s purse was otherwise standard, business as usual for the Clash. And, as has been the case for more than a decade, budget-minded sprint car racers go where they think they can be most competitive. With the USAC contingent on holiday, naturally the top talent was expected to populate in Putnam County. Regardless of such rare television exposure, the threat of the big dogs ultimately impacted the number of participants.
Back to Kokomo one night later for Indiana Sprint Car Series round three, a solid field of 27 showed for the Bob Darland Memorial, ten less than the series opener when the winner's share was $1,600 less. Remaining encouraged that the local torch was still lit, before the imminent showers arrived Justin Grant (Hery 40) was quickest from three groups of hot laps/qualifying. Chris Windom (Pollock 21), Tyler Courtney, and Scotty Weir (Baldwin 5) gained heat race glory while Cole Ketcham scrambled to scoop the remains of his sprint car into his trailer after clobbering the concrete and a fence post in between corners one and two. With no hope of waiting out the weather, the BDM was moved to Sunday August 2nd.
The third stop of the Indiana Sprint Car Series was now the following Friday in Gas City, the fifth of six events in the track's limited 2015 campaign. With USAC midget and Silver Crown regulars confined to Kansas, again that impacted Indiana driver and car counts, eliminating mainstays like Grant, Coons, Leary, and Cottle. Still able to gather 25 respectable machines, where were all the racers from south of I-70? If this were 2005 and Bloomington were dark, there would have been 15 to 20 more in the house, many of them from a great distance away. Say what you will, but times have changed in ten years.
Despite the notable absences, it was still an outstanding feature made possible by an even better I-69 Speedway surface. With top, middle, and bottom in play, action was intense for this Gas City Shootout. Beginning heat three winner Chris Gurley and Hunter Schuerenberg (Walker 11) from front row seats, once Hunter immediately slid sideways at the exit of the fourth corner, fourth-starting Robert Ballou suddenly found himself in first place, a lead he would never relinquish. However, such a story would be too boring to tell for an Indiana sprint car contest, even without USAC sanction.
Starting seventh and eleventh respectively, Jon Stanbrough (Batcheldor/Fox 53) and Tyler Courtney (Eberhardt 23) added the proper seasoning to make the final Friday of July flavorful. After an early caution for heat one winner and third-running Travis Hery, Jon jumped to fifth after Thomas Meseraull (Hazen 57) wagged his tail in turn three. Despite tilting on two wheels, Tyler immediately elevated to eighth thanks to a recent Jeff Claxton under hood overhaul. Stepping upstairs, Stanbrough gathered fourth from Gurley while Courtney slid to sixth past Meseraull. The Silent Gasser showed vintage Fox 53 flash when aggressively overtaking Logan Jarrett for third, soon securing second once Hunter Percent overextended turn one’s cushion.
With the top-five operating on top and thick pockets of traffic looming, Jon began to explore other avenues. With just a few laps left, Ballou had a brief moment overtaking Todd Gnat, allowing Stanbrough to completely close the gap. Slipping off the exit of two on the final tour, as if he sensed Jon’s presence, Robert chose the bottom of three, barely holding off the veteran at the 9:47 PM checkered.
Courtney claimed the final podium position and despite receiving a post-race ramming, Schuerenberg held off Jarrett for fourth. Sixth through tenth included Meseraull, Casey Shuman (up ten spots), Gurley, B-main winner Tyler Hewitt (up seven), and Max McGhee. Gas City’s next go is also its final of 2015, taking place on Friday September 4th.
The exciting feature capped a satisfying evening, made even better when spending quality time with the Columbia City brotherly trio of Jason, Scott, and Aaron Orr. Back in Gas City's glory days of the late '90s/early 2000s, Jake and Scott were Gas City sprint car regulars, now aiding their younger bro who nearly stole the modified feature from Randy Lines.
For the first time in eight years, I was thrilled to bump into master metal crafter John Hajduk, Jr., a former sprint car shoe who with his brother Larry fielded midgets, sprints, and champ cars for a number of talented chauffeurs, owning the distinction of setting the final one-lap record at the old Kokomo Speedway with Dave Darland (2004). Recently moving back to Westfield from Peru, he still builds body panels for John Godfrey, hauling them to the west side with his ex-Team Automotive ’97 Toyota T-100 pickup that proudly shows 390,000 miles on its odometer. Currently working his English wheel and applying his collection of hammers and dollies to vintage Ferrari metal, John’s recent Motorkraft, Ltd. projects included crafting a fuel tank for a Bobby Marshman roadster, also massaging a former Greg Weld champ dirt car powered by Plymouth. I remain in awe of John's talents as his line of work, made famous by guys like Jerry Weeks, Don Brown, and all those roadster builders from the '50s and '60s, is truly a lost art.
Saturday August 1st saw 138 traditional sprint cars spread out at six different speedways, but just 23 of them made their way to Kokomo Speedway in an attempt to complete an entire Bob Darland Memorial and earn more MAV TV exposure. The fourth chapter in this Indiana Sprint Car Series novel, much like Gas City, there might have been a shortage of competitors. However, one more outstanding Kokomo finale continued to give reason to believe that the flames from the local Indiana scene had not been extinguished just yet. Thirty thrilling laps for $3,000 and an early exit – what more could you ask for in Sunday night entertainment?
First heat winner C.J. Leary (family 30) and Logan Jarrett represented two of Indiana’s up-and-coming gas men, sharing the front row with their DRC/Claxton combinations. Separated by a complete restart after a Lukas Smith/Kyle Robbins altercation, a pair of turn two sliders from Leary were immediately answered by Jarrett. Up front for six laps, Logan overcooked turn four and smacked the wall, falling to third. Transferring the lead to Leary, by lap 13 his advantage measured a half-straight over fourth-starting Justin Grant. Five laps later, C.J. had lapped up to 12th, but Justin was now in his wake. Operating around fifth, Jarrett scaled the right rear of New Zealand newcomer Stephen Taylor (Walker 11) and took a nasty tumble in turn four. After extricating himself from the wreckage, Logan marched to Taylor’s parked machine and out of frustration, slapped his visor shut.
Restarting with 11 to go, the advantage was all Grant, as he is an expert in sensing where the cushion ends and wall begins, especially when the surface starts to get slippery. Two laps into the final sprint, Justin sized up his competition and successfully slid for the premier position through turn two. Never challenged the rest of the way, he built a half-straightaway buffer upon reaching the 9:16 PM checkered flag, taking his third Kokomo trophy of 2015 and second in the Bob Darland.
With Brian Cripe assisting, Leary settled for a solid second while Chris Windom produced third for Rick Pollock. Ballou and Darland (from 10th in a second Walker 11) rounded out top-five. Cottle, Weir (from 13th), Stanbrough, Robbins, and Shuman secured sixth through tenth.
Early Sunday night excitement saw Parker Frederickson fold the right side Maxim downtube of the Wee3 in a qualifying crash. Previous night Plymouth winner and fast qualifier Tyler Courtney flipped in his heat after some contact from Kyle Robbins. With the B-main scrapped, all hands were on deck in repairing Tyler’s ride. I counted as many as nine men from five teams replace a front axle, right rear birdcage, Jacobs ladder, and a few shocks in short time. Unfortunately, Courtney succumbed to steering issues in the A-main.
Kokomo’s next contest is Wednesday August 26th, the makeup B and A-main from the July 11th Indiana Sprint Week show. For those not in attendance on July 11th, the best news for the fans is that general admission is free! Thursday, Friday, and Saturday encompass the titanic Sprint Car Smackdown, certainly one of the most anticipated events in all of open wheel racing.
Much like Sean Buckley and his Indiana Sprint Car Series, Lincoln Park Speedway owner/promoter Joe Spiker has been doing his part to stoke the local Indiana sprint car fire as well. The only local sprint car venue to offer a consistent weekly program, on the sixth anniversary of his taking the reins at LPS, he and his wife Jill went out on a limb to celebrate the occasion with a true fan appreciation night. Boldly opening the gates on August 1st with a free general admission offer, the Spikers were rewarded with the largest crowd in the track’s history, as the fire marshal literally had to send people away. With an estimated five to six thousand people filling every piece of the property, including laying in the grass in turn one to watch from underneath the signs, concession and souvenir sales were literally through the roof. Such a wildly successful experiment proved that there is indeed fan interest in local dirt track action, especially if you give people a reason to get their butts off the couch.
You will find very few promoters who are as gung-ho as Joe Spiker, constantly making major improvements to his facility, adding race dates, and making minor tweaks to bring in new fans while keeping his loyal customers satisfied. Willing to roll the dice, Spiker added an odd Friday night program for August 7th, as no other tracks were in action. A smaller than usual crowd attended while just 21 sprinters came calling. Outside of Bloomington regulars, perhaps the rest of Indiana’s blue-collar racers have resigned themselves to work a full day on Friday and hold out for Saturday? Listening to Joe discuss his future plans on a recent Racin’ with D.O. podcast, it’s easy to be optimistic if you gauged local Indiana energy and enthusiasm off Spiker.
Friday’s top-three included Brady Short, Shane Cottle, and Jeff Bland, Jr. Ironically that exact trio finished in the same positions during Saturday’s MSCS meeting, which attracted 29 and paid a tasty three grand to the winner. The king of the Southern and Western Indiana bullring scene, Saturday’s score was Short’s 12th of the season, six in MSCS action and third in a row.
Bland and Mitch Wissmiller secured Saturday’s front row, which was a result of a redraw of the top-six in heat race passing points. If heat race passing is emphasized with points, why not ultimately reward the one who works hardest by starting them straight up?
With the surface slightly slick despite a thirty minute revamp, how in the world could anyone stop Short? His buddy Bland held him off in the heat and nearly got it done in the feature, leading the majority of laps in the eye-popping Burton-mobile. Jeff nearly got swallowed up by a spinning Mario Clouser, allowing Brady to close the gap from his third starting spot. Over the cushion in two, Jeff’s lead shrunk even more. Short looked low in three and four several times, his third time being the charm. Brady’s brief lead held up despite a caution for fifth-place Friday finisher Stephen Taylor, who passed the most cars of all in Saturday heat race action. Restarting with 11 to go, third-place Cottle tried three times to execute a turn two slider on Bland, finally finishing the deal but simply running out of time to make a dent in Brady’s lead. Posing on the front chute in front of another sizeable Saturday crowd, Short and car owner Cam Pottorff must be loving life right now.
Following in the footsteps of Saturday’s podium placers, Brent Beauchamp bagged fourth while A.J. Hopkins hailed fifth. Casey Shuman, Nick Bilbee (from 13th), Brandon Mattox, Donny Brackett, and Scott Hampton secured sixth through tenth.
After three decades of tracking tail tanks across the Hoosier state, it’s admittedly tough to maintain the same level of passion in this unreasonable pursuit of open wheel satisfaction, especially as times change and the scene becomes stale. After so many years of strength in this hotbed of traditional sprint car activity, those once robust flames have actually begun to flicker, almost to the point of extinguishment. Thankfully, there are people in this sport who still care and are willing to do something about it, boldly taking a big stick and trying to stir those red-orange embers into a roaring fire once again, thereby allowing longtime fans to maintain their everlasting love. As much as I state that the Indiana scene is no longer the same and envision a day when I might have the courage to completely walk away, thanks to those inextinguishable flames inside my soul, I am not quite ready to give it up just yet.






Gorgeous – A Central Indiana sunset after our second trip to Bonge’s

Volume 17, Number 9

Dream Destination

From my experience, vacation preferences for men and women are worlds apart. Literally.

A sophisticated lady whose passion involves traveling to exotic locales where warm weather, breathtaking views, and incredible cuisine are par for the course, my wife recently spent her summer vacation on a two week Mediterranean cruise that stopped in Spain, France, Italy, Turkey, and Greece. On the other hand, her counterpart is a motor head whose primary passion is absorbing open wheel action, also quite the homebody. In a slight bit of irony, by the time said wife arrived on home soil, my own summer vacation had officially begun, owning a simple plan of chasing sprint car tail tanks across the Hoosier state, feasting at unique eateries along the way, and sleeping in my own bed each evening.

Action Track – Chad Boespflug scored his best Sprint Week finish of 4th in Terre Haute


Allowing outsiders to scoff at such pedestrian vacation plans, the polar opposite of exotic is USAC’s Indiana Sprint Week. My dream destination of choice, judging by the usual healthy assembly of campers and motorhomes that continue to caravan from track to track, I am not alone in my odd taste of getaways. Fans from England, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand share my sentiment, as do a trio from Holland who toured Sprint Week for the very first time. Introduced to flying Dutchmen Jerome Heijmans, Mark Frenken, and Peter Sijben thanks to across the pond resident Stephen Cording, it’s crazy to think that so many people from so far away have a keen interest in this stuff, let alone spend a ton of time and money traveling to see it in person.

As much as I yearn for and cherish the freedom of summer vacation, by the time Tear-Off Heaven Fotos photographer Steve Lafond and his daughter Korie suddenly appeared at my doorstep on Sprint Week eve for a requisite celebratory kick-off at Bonge’s Tavern, as busy as I had been in the preceding weeks I was in absolute disbelief, unable to comprehend and appreciate its arrival. Equally unwilling to deal with the aftermath of its departure, that dreaded sick to my stomach feeling that comes from vacation’s end plus the painful separation anxiety of having to say goodbye to such great friends, I can’t begin to describe the sadness that comes with Sprint Week’s conclusion. Year after year, it’s still the same exhilaration and agony all in a week and a half’s time. Sigh…but on a much brighter note, a special thank you goes out to Steve and Korie’s photographic contributions to this blog, as their passionate pursuit of excellence literally added tons of color.

These are without a doubt the quickest nine days of the entire year and unfortunately I was unable to get into a solid Sprint Week rhythm in that first weekend because of Saturday and Sunday’s threat of rain and the unfavorable forecast for the next seven days. As so many know by now, Kokomo's Indiana Sprint Week date is my absolute zenith, a day that easily exceeds Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even my birthday. Rain should be outlawed on such a special day, but we were indeed interrupted during Kokomo’s B-main and despite a valiant effort from the O’Connor boys, the remainder of the program was moved to Monday evening. Sunday’s forecast for Lawrenceburg was even more dreadful than Kokomo, but we still made the hour and forty minute drive on a wing and a prayer, crossing our fingers the whole way. Luck was on our side as storms stayed away, but it still took a big effort for Dave Rudisell and his crew to make it happen as an inch and a half of rain fell on the day of the race. Continuing the trend, Monday’s make-up was also washed away by a massive mid-day storm, rescheduling the feature events to the Wednesday preceding Smackdown. It wasn’t ideal for Sprint Week visitors, but it’s not a bad consolation prize for those returning in August.

At least when the sun is shining, it’s always hot and humid sitting in the Lawrenceburg grandstand and once the series resumed on Wednesday in Terre Haute, it was back to this typical Indiana Sprint Week weather. Quite a contrast to Gas City’s chilly opener when I desperately needed additional outerwear once the sun sunk into the sky, I sweated through t-shirts at both Putnamville and Bloomington long before hot laps ever commenced. Finally getting into the groove after two consecutive evenings of sprint car drama, Sprint Week momentum was spoiled yet again in Bloomington when an ugly mass of black clouds swept in from the northwest. The checkered flag had just fallen on the B-main when it began to pour and after hustling to the car and heading for home minus yet another main event, before I knew it we were making that lengthy haul to Haubstadt for the finale. As I ask every year - where in the hell did the time go?

Big Daddy – Seventh in points, Chris Windom led 15 laps at Haubstadt and finished 3rd


Not since 2006 had we lost two complete shows to rain, but at least this time we got to see more than half the programs at Kokomo and Bloomington. Regardless of the untimely weather and the interruptions that spoiled my usual Sprint Week state of mind, my summer break was still an enjoyable time filled with good racing, great food, and even better friends, easily eclipsing my best day at work. Always beginning with so much optimism thanks to a 46 car field at Gas City, car counts were solid all week long. Kokomo also collected 46 while Lawrenceburg landed 39. For the second half, Terre Haute surprisingly attracted 37 and Putnamville produced the week-long high of 47, but Bloomington could only boast 37 while Haubstadt slipped to 34. Averaging just over 40 machines, a total of 78 different drivers competed, only bringing one west coast USAC-CRA competitor in the form of Jake Swanson, who performed for veteran car owners Tom and Laurie Sertich.

Having a rough go of it in his first Sprint Week, Jake joined every one of the seven consolation events and it wasn’t until Putnamville that he took part in an A-main, ultimately flipping in the feature after folding his front end during heat race combat. Also making the field at Haubstadt, Swanson was seemingly on the cusp of A-main status every night, surprised that that the CRA provisional rule was not in effect as in years past.

Aside from Swanson, special Sprint Week appearances came from Hunter Schuerenberg (back for another go with Tony Epperson), Scotty Weir (with Jeff Walker, who had help from former competitor Kurt “The Rooster” Hawkins), Chris Windom (with Rick Pollock), ARDC midgeteer Tony DiMattia (wrenched by Frankfort’s Brian Cripe), and defending Silver Crown champ Kody Swanson (with Dave Stensland at Gas City and Lawrenceburg).

Bonge’s Babes - Angie, Amanda, and Dawn always make for a special evening at Bonge’s Tavern

Satisfaction – Bonge’s Tavern owner and chef Tony Huelster is the man responsible for all these smiles

Perkinsville – Far from exotic, this is one of my favorite places in the world

One rather noteworthy appearance came from Banbury, Oxfordshire’s Tom Harris, a 26 year-old BriSCA F1 stock car driver who teamed with Bob East for an albeit brief summer break. Never before had I witnessed a Brit strapping into a sprint car but Tom certainly carried some heavy credentials, as over the last five seasons he acquired nearly every accolade in F-1 stock cars, a full-contact sport that competes on all kinds of surfaces. Son of another stock car racer Mick Harris, Tom is also a car builder, as his Tom Harris Motorsport chassis are highly coveted, with customers often put on a waiting list for his pavement pieces. Hoping to broaden his horizons on a more international level, he attended the Smiley Sitton sprint car school and was recommended to East, with the two teaming for the 2015 Chili Bowl. Whetting his appetite enough to formulate a three-race Indiana Sprint Week slate, Tom acquired both a chassis and engine from Bob. Used to much heavier, tube-frame machines with 700 horsepower, F-1 stock cars ride on rock hard rubber mounted to 18 inch wheels, so naturally this was an altogether different experience for Harris, having never driven a sprint car without aerodynamic aid. Literally thrown to a pack of wolves while attempting to figure out how the thing handles, Tom was involved in numerous skirmishes at Gas City. Undaunted by the enormous challenge, he eventually found comfort and speed in Kokomo’s qualifying race (C-main) but just as he was approaching a transfer position, he crushed turn four concrete and flipped. Landing right-side up, Tom might have missed the next night of activity in Lawrenceburg but he was more enthused than ever, acquiring another chassis for a forthcoming Smackdown assault.

Even though we missed two of the seven A-mains, Sprint Week still had a lot to offer for 2015. The biggest item on the agenda was crowning a new king, as two-time and defending series champion Bryan Clauson had moved on to greener pastures, only making one Sprint Week appearance this year at Lincoln Park. Sure, we still had all-time ISW feature winner (18) and three-time champ Dave Darland in the fold, not to mention Jon Stanbrough, a two-time champ and the man closest to Darland in series wins. But, the last Indiana Sprint Week champion prior to Clauson and now-retired Levi Jones was Chris Windom back in 2011. Would we see Darland and Stanbrough continue their stranglehold, or would we see someone like seven-time 2015 USAC winner Robert Ballou, national point leader Chase Stockon, last year’s national champ Brady Bacon, or three-time 2013 ISW winner Kevin Thomas, Jr. step up and assert themselves as the new Mister July?

Bacon Bit – Preparing for Terre Haute, Brady Bacon came awfully close to his first ISW title


Some sixty miles from Indy’s northside is Gas City I-69 Speedway, host of the Sprint Week opener for the umpteenth time. Stockon initially appeared to be the one to assume the role of Mister July, as he started the feature fourth and ran down early leader Jerry Coons, Jr., whose Monte Edison Motorsports squad assembled an older Spike to replace their destroyed unit from the previous Sunday. Battling side by side with Jerry, Chase led at lap 8 and took over for good on the 13th tour, challenged by a super soft surface that over time developed all kinds of character. Besieged by serious storms in the days leading up to Sprint Week (as evidenced by the flooded farm fields on the way up north), unfortunately there wasn’t much that the O’Connors could do to remedy the situation. A photographer’s dream as countless cars bicycled, flipped, or executed massive wheelies, Stockon handled the unpredictable imperfections like a champ and started his Sprint Week in style with his first-ever Sprint Week score, also his first USAC victory of 2015. Steering his usual Superior Tank and Trailer DRC/Fisher, Showtime was shadowed by Hunter Schuerenberg, who circled a bicycling Coons on the second to last lap to snatch second. Robert Ballou and Kevin Thomas, Jr. chased Coons for fourth and fifth. Positions six through ten included pole sitter Scotty Weir, Shane Cottle, Dave Darland, hard-charger Brady Bacon (up from 19th), and Brady Short.

Just fifty minutes north of my humble abode is Kokomo, Indiana, the shortest trip in this dream destination. Exotic only in name, there is no tropical paradise that the Beach Boys sang of in the late '80s, but rather the most badass bullring in the world – Kokomo Speedway. Before B-main rain ruined my zenith, I enjoyed a lengthy conversation with competitor Steve Thomas and some delicious barbeque bites from a Half Moon Brewery spread in the Spencer Racing pit thanks to super fan Frank Daigh, undoubtedly one of the most benevolent souls in this sport. Pro Source qualifying was without question a thrill-a-minute endeavor, but opening night winner Chase Stockon and Robert Ballou (going out last) dug themselves a huge hole after timing 20th and 23rd. Eventually earning a reprieve thanks to Ma Nature, Sprint Week points were not counted. 25th in the qualifying line, Justin Grant earned the $100 bonus for his heart-stopping 12.805 second tour of the tacky quarter-mile. However, that $100 would only cover a fraction of the cost to repair the damage that occurred to Mark Hery’s DRC chassis when he was swept into a turn three mess, ignited when C.J. Leary cracked concrete and tumbled, taking fifth-quick qualifier Meseraull along for the ride. All three cars inverted, but Grant’s ride was toast after suffering serious frame damage on the right rear corner. In addition to the thrash found in the Leary and Meseraull pit, second quick qualifier Tyler Courtney had his employer Bernie Stuebgen jumping in to assist after “Sunshine” packed his right rear wheel with mud, the vibration so severe that it obliterated the right rear bird cage.

California Cool – Complete with Ascot hat, Chad Boespflug sports the California look


After biting his tongue and injuring a rib during a humongous Gas City bike ride, a less than 100% Dave Darland dominated his Kokomo heat and would have started from the pole of the feature, but he’ll have to wait until August 26th to capitalize. With rain 45 minutes away, the C-main from hell effectively drove the final nail into this evening’s coffin. First, Nathan Moore massacred the turn one wall and tore out fencing in two. On the next start, Tony DiMattia cracked the concrete in between one and two and helicoptered down the bank, swallowing Jamie Frederickson. And then there was the aforementioned Tom Harris tumble, which left very little time for the B. Once rain subsided, the Kokomo crew nearly got the track back, but the plug was eventually pulled as more wet stuff was on the way.

Located along the Ohio River in the extreme southeast corner of the Hoosier state, Lawrenceburg, Indiana effectively served as the location that concluded Chase Stockon’s Sprint Week title hopes after he cartwheeled during the B-main, the second consecutive night for a rare three-car calamity. Jake Swanson and Tracy Hines were also involved, the impact breaking a rib for Hines and ending his Sprint Week altogether. It was abnormally rough stretch for Tracy, who was not completely healed from the broken collarbone (clavicle) suffered a month earlier in a Lawrenceburg Midget Week incident, also going on an upside down excursion in Sun Prairie one week prior to this ordeal. As for Stockon, he would have to revert to his backup car and utilize a provisional to start the feature, with those points not counting towards the ISW title. Far from any kind of vacation, Sprint Week was quickly turning into a nightmare for “Showtime”.

Pole sitter Kevin Thomas, Jr. led the first Lawrenceburg lap, but Aaron Farney bravely stepped upstairs to circle him through turns three and four, pacing the next five circuits. Timing second and starting sixth, Brady Bacon used a lower line to eventually work his way underneath Farney, officially leading the final 24 laps. It was far from simple task for Bacon, who encountered heavy lapped traffic around the halfway mark. With just under ten to go, Brady blasted the rear of Landon Simon’s ride in turn four and allowed second place Robert Ballou to briefly bag the top spot. However, Bacon immediately recovered and split both Simon and Ballou to retake the position at the start/finish. Better through traffic than Robert in this edge-of-your-seat affair, Brady bagged his first Indiana Sprint Week win and his fourth score of 2015. USAC win number 90 for the Hoffmans, it was their first Sprint Week triumph since Bloomington 2008 with Jerry Coons, Jr. The big bounty also moved Bacon to within one point of Ballou for the Sprint Week lead while Thomas was still within striking distance, some 13 in arrears. Behind Ballou and Bacon at stop number three came Justin Grant and Dave Darland, both overtaking Farney on the final lap. Thomas, Jarett Andretti, Jon Stanbrough, Chris Windom, and Hunter Schuerenberg were scored sixth through tenth.

Back Home Again – Kyle Cummins came from 16th to 7th at Tri-State Speedway


After Kokomo’s second cancellation, a Racin’ with D.O. radio show and post-show feast at North End Barbeque and Moonshine were leisurely Monday highlights for Steve, Korie, and myself, also enjoying a serious lightning show and Todd Frazier's triumph in the home run derby (yes, I am still a Cincinnati Reds fan despite a miserable 2015 campaign). Tuesday's bright spot was the second Sprint Week trip to Bonge’s Tavern when in addition to our bleu-cheese wedge salads, world famous tomato soups, and assorted entrees (I enjoyed Loup de Mer – an exotic and delicious Mediterranean Sea Bass), we enjoyed a Perkinsville Pork appetizer and my all-time favorite dessert of cherry and pineapple dump cake specifically prepared by owner/chef Tony Huelster based on a Thursday evening request. I can’t thank the staff at Bonge’s ( enough for making these two outings extremely memorable. As if the amazing food and awesome atmosphere weren’t enough, the owner and his friendly crew truly went out of their way to treat us like royalty. Even though White River was well over its banks in Perkinsville, there were no rain outs at Bonge’s, which remains as my favorite place to eat and hang out – anywhere! It is a truly special place.

The next stop in my dream destination was the famed Terre Haute Action Track, just seven miles from the Illinois state line and site to some of the most legendary battles in the history of this sport. My first trip here in 2015, ride-hopping was the name of the game in this Don Smith Classic. Sprint car musical chairs had C.J. Leary moving back to his family-owned number 30 while his mechanic Derek Claxton stayed on with Kenny Baldwin, Claxton noting that the split was simply a “parting of the ways”. Justin Grant’s car owner Mark Hery could not make these final Sprint Week rounds, allowing Justin to temporarily fill the seat in his former ride (a permanent replacement would come post-Sprint Week). After Lawrenceburg, Thomas Meseraull was in search of a ride, as his Todd Keen 18 was suddenly out of commission. It only took T-Mez a day to find work, as Matt Goodnight offered a seat in his potent DRC/Kistler combo. Seen adjusting his throttle linkage pre-Terre Haute, Thomas stated, “I’m not quite as picky as Tracy Hines, but I do like my throttle a certain way.” Finally, Shane Cottle subbed for a sick Max McGhee, as a second Paul Hazen 57 (the one involved in the recent Paragon Speedway crash) would be ready in time for LPS, with Paul not wanting to test his less potent bullet on the Action Track’s huge half. After hitting a hole and losing his steering in Lawrenceburg qualifying, Cottle’s turn four impact tried to pull the engine out of Hazen’s DRC, which was at Joe Devin’s shop for repairs to its lower frame rails and front motor mounts.

Big Mover – Robert Ballou’s Putnamville surge from 13th to 6th was a key moment


With just sprint cars on the card in Terre Haute, it was certainly a nice change of pace. As I have always stated, this is not Indiana modified week but rather Indiana SPRINT Week. Due to the absence of back gate boredom, time was allotted for interviews with heat race winners. Robert Ballou used a last lap slider on Hunter Schuerenberg as an opportunity to blast track operator Bob Sargent on the subject of track prep. One of the few who speaks with no filter, the old-school Ballou boldly stated, “The track did the exact opposite of what USAC told them.” Truth be told, Terre Haute’s surface was definitely dry, much more so than any other Sprint Week stop. And although Sargent did apply plenty of water throughout the evening, the parched playing field didn’t stop the racers from putting on a supreme show. A prime example was the B-main, when Thomas Meseraull came all the way from 17th to win, also enjoying a 9th to 2nd run by Shane Cottle. That was indeed some good stuff!

Terre Haute’s feature was all Aaron Farney, quite a shock as I really had not expected him to win on such a slick surface with a thin cushion, truly a track that benefits the seasoned veterans. Leading all thirty laps from the pole, he easily held off his mentor Robert Ballou who had blasted from 9th to 4th on the first tour and actually assisted on the race winner’s feature setup. Even after a lap 17 red flag for Thomas Meseraull, Farney built over a straightaway advantage on Ballou, a dominating display in which he not only flirted with the fence, but also negotiated lapped traffic like a true professional. Operating on the edge and occasionally over, the 19 year-old farmer from Brookston, Indiana shocked the world. On July 15th of 2015, it was all car number 15, scoring not only his first USAC victory, but also his first sprint car win of any kind. In my era, I can only think of Cary Faas pulling off the same feat when he scored a win at the October 1992 Tony Hulman Classic. Faas was one of my all-time favorites to watch, so that’s some good company there.


Fruits of Labor - Robert Ballou relaxes in the rocking chair after claiming his first Indiana Sprint Week title


Behind Farney and Ballou were Darland, Chad Boespflug, and 16th-starting Chase Stockon, who continued to fight the good fight for that national title. Jon Stanbrough started 10th and claimed sixth, with Brady Bacon (from 17th), Justin Grant, Jerry Coons, Jr., and Shane Cottle (from 21st) rounding out the top-ten. ISW points now had Ballou ahead of Bacon by 16 and Darland by 22.

Just who is Aaron Farney? Now a third-year sprint car driver, he is the son of Loren and Theresa Farney, a farming family hailing from Brookston, the small town just north of Lafayette that is home to Camp Tecumseh, site of overnight school trips for yours truly in fifth and seventh grade. Loren Farney is the brother in-law of Dan Brettnacher, whose family was nearly unbeatable in 1990s mini sprint action. As for Aaron, he started in junior sprints at the tender age of 4 and a half, eventually moving to 600 cc and 1000 cc mini sprints, winning on a regular basis as well.

Foreign Soil – British F-1 stock car racer Tom Harris found comfort and speed at Kokomo


As neighbors to Kenny Baldwin, Aaron and Kenny had a friendly wager going in the winter of 2013. The agreement was, if Aaron enjoyed continued mini sprint success in Florida, Kenny would give him a ride in his full-size sprinter. That ride became reality in an early 2013 Gas City show, but Robert Ballou was the full-time driver. In a key life decision, when asked if he wanted to go to college or race sprint cars, Aaron chose the latter, with the family purchasing equipment directly from Ballou. Extremely competitive in a Paragon practice session directed by the Rocklin Rocket, Robert has literally taken Aaron under his wing, providing priceless setup and driving advice. Going for USAC’s rookie of the year honors in 2015, he’s been strong at Eldora (fourth) and Lawrenceburg, with Terre Haute providing proof that such consultation is indeed paying huge dividends.

Also situated along the National Highway, some 37 miles east of Terre Haute is the tiny town of Putnamville, named after Revolutionary War hero Israel Putnam. More famous for being the place where Abraham Lincoln stayed overnight while en route from Washington D.C. to Springfield, Illinois, Putnamville is also home to Joe Spiker’s Lincoln Park Speedway. This vibrant facility enjoyed the largest Sprint Week car count of 2015 and perhaps their largest crowd of all-time, as every available parking spot was filled. Stop number five of seven, by now the Sprint Week picture was finally coming into focus, with Brady Bacon ready to exorcise his Lincoln Park demons with an outside front row start.

Circular Reference – Steve Lafond shoots his daughter Korie who in return is shooting Steve


Starting alongside Max McGhee, Bacon immediately seized the lead but once out front, he wisely pointed his Triple-X/Williams-Mopar to the bottom, as conditions were very similar to those found on the Fourth of July. Slick through one and two but sporting a much healthier curb in three and four, after a dismal 17th place showing just 12 days earlier, many would never expected such a strong showing from Brady. Fifth in ISW points and firing from fifth, Kevin Thomas, Jr. finally began to show his Sprint Week mettle. After an early caution for Carson Short and Chad Boespflug, KTJ became embroiled in a scuffle for second with McGhee and seventh-starting Jerry Coons, Jr., the winner of that 7/4 affair. One lap after a red for Jake “from State Farm” Swanson, Coons snuck underneath Bacon and led lap 13, but the Okie immediately circled the Triple Crown champ in turn two. One more caution came a few laps later for Shane Cottle, allowing a hungry Thomas to climb upstairs in three and four to make a serious bid for first. Hauling it deeper and deeper into the heavy cushion, Kevin would inch ever-so-close at the line, but he couldn’t find any kind of bite on the slippery south end to pull off the pass.

In the end, it was Sprint Week win number two for the Broken Arrow, Oklahoma native, topping Thomas, Coons, quick-qualifier Hunter Schuerenberg, and Brady Short, the latter going the alphabet soup route. Advancing from C to B to A, Short was literally shot out of a cannon when charging from 19th to 4th in the B. Touring from 22nd in the A, in just a few more laps who knows how much further he could have advanced. Sixth through tenth included Ballou, Stanbrough (up from 16th), Windom, Darland (from 17th), and Stockon (from 23rd). Tightening the Sprint Week belt once more, Ballou now held a one point advantage over Bacon. Thomas was 29 out of first while Darland and Schuerenberg trailed by 31.

Slinging Clay – Bryan Clauson’s lone Sprint Week appearance came at Putnamville


Silent Gasser – Sixth in points, Jon Stanbrough climbed from 16th to 7th at Putnamville


Macho Man – Brady Bacon scored his second win of Sprint Week at Putnamville.


KTJ – Finishing second in the last two outings, Kevin Thomas, Jr. came within 17 points of his first ISW title


Hunter Percent – Hunter Schuerenberg started the week 2nd at Gas City, was quick-time at LPS, and ended the week fifth in points


With the battle heading south on 231 and east on 46 to the home of the Hurryin’ Hoosiers, Bloomington Speedway played host to round number six. Momentum was clearly in favor of Bacon, who was first in line for qualifying and proceeded to rip the lip for a new USAC one-lap record (10.854), topping the charts for six key points while his nearest pursuers Thomas and Ballou tripped the loop for third and sixth. While challenging for fourth in his heat, Brady blew turn one and was relegated to B-main status. Tit for tat, Ballou also missed the cut, but Thomas did not. Heavy storms finally turned into reality when the B-main was checkered, spoiling a front row A-main opportunity for Chad Boespflug and Aaron Farney.

After quite a bit of debate, by Saturday morning it was decided that Bloomington’s feature would not be finished, leaving Haubstadt to crown another Indiana Sprint Week king. Requiring some crazy scenarios for Thomas, Darland, and Schuerenberg to secure a championship, the title would realistically be decided between Bacon and Ballou, who were separated by a mere three markers. KTJ was the only one of contenders to qualify in the quick-six and after the heats were run, Robert was able to gain a point on Brady, with the pair beginning the thirty lap finale from eighth and tenth.

Beginning Brady Short and Chris Windom from front row seats, Big Daddy reached the backstretch first after fanning three-wide with Short and Thomas. Hoping to bookend Sprint Week with wins, Chase Stockon moved Sweet Feet back to fourth while a championship scan found Ballou bursting at the seams, already up to 8th while Bacon retreated to 9th. One by one, Robert continued to will his way forward, scored sixth very early.

Cowboy Up – Robert Ballou rode out a big bounce in Kokomo qualifying


Back up front, a fine high/low battle pitted Windom against Thomas, Chris still holding the position as they hit lapped traffic a third of the way through. Side by side for a handful of circuits, Cullman (AL) slayed Canton (IL) with supreme scoot off the turn two cushion, moving Mike Dutcher’s Maxim/Fisher to the premier position at lap 16. With the groove inching further towards infield tires, naturally Brady Short re-emerged as a contender, showing how low one can go with ten laps left. Two tours later, Kevin was boxed out by a half-spinning Hunter Schuerenberg, allowing Short to squirt by on the bottom. Brady eventually built a half straightaway advantage by the end, taking the checkered first in the all-green flag affair that just took over seven and a half minutes to complete. Short’s first USAC win since Brownstown Sprint Week of 2010, it was also the first USAC win for Cam Pottorff, owner of the flaming Maxim/Spec. Thomas settled for second-best two nights in a row, with Windom enjoying his best run of the series by collecting the final podium placement.

While Brady Bacon dropped one more position to 11th and came three cars from being lapped, Robert Ballou scaled six spots to flag fourth. Chase Stockon landed inside the top-five for the third time in five Sprint Week attempts while Hodges, Cummins, Grant, Stanbrough, and Leary earned sixth through tenth place money. Speaking of Cummins, he did it from 16th in his familiar family-owned Spike. Suffering a blown engine in Hank Byram’s similar numbered Mach-1 at Lincoln Park, it was quite a thrash to assemble the machine in enough time, having to borrow an engine from Rick Pollock in the process.

Given Ballou’s clutch performance, he easily scored enough points to secure his initial Indiana Sprint Week crown, mentioning afterwards that he changed a front axle and radius rods before the finale, as his trusty Maxim chassis just didn’t feel right after some Bloomington wheel-banging. Thomas actually leapfrogged Bacon to secure second in the series standings, with Darland and Schuerenberg staying fourth and fifth. Stanbrough, Windom, Stockon, Grant, and Boespflug were a distant sixth through tenth.

Domination – This is the view everyone had of Aaron Farney in Terre Haute’s feature


Remembering a Robert Ballou Indiana Sprint Week t-shirt of old that stated "Arrived on vacation, left on probation", this time of the season is hardly a vacation for the competitors, a true grind that drains every imaginable resource. But for a guy like Ballou who’s been a series veteran since 2007, I'm quite certain that he'd want to be nowhere else than the heart of the Hoosier state, spending a week and a half traveling to and from Indiana dirt tracks while somehow squeezing in nearly a full day's work prior to each event. Robert and his mechanic Derrick Bye are extremely well-versed in how to survive the nine day thrash, calling in extra help from Keystone state racer Jon Stewart as Bye pulls a 7 AM to 3 PM shift at his normal job as well. Arriving second in points, they not only left ISW as the national point leader, but they also exited as a first-time Indiana Sprint Week champion, a huge feather in Ballou's cap as he is calling the shots, doing things his way with his own team.

Seven times a winner in USAC competition prior to Sprint Week, Ballou’s series championship certainly didn’t come as a shock, but the fact that he wasn’t able to win in the five features was. A model of consistency, he generally drew poor qualifying pills but still timed inside of the top-ten on five of seven occasions. Enduring just two B-mains, he impressively passed 26 feature cars to finish fourth, second, second, sixth, and fourth from starts of eighth, fourth, ninth, thirteenth, and tenth. Compared to years past when he had to thrash by swapping engines at the track or burn the midnight oil to construct cars from bare frames, the Mad Man’s 2015 Sprint Week had to seem like a vacation of sorts, enjoying a clean week free from serious mechanical ills with his Maxim chassis and Don Ott engines. USAC might have been in search of a new Sprint Week king, but it was Ballou who stood tall and stepped up to become the successor. After decimating the competition in Pennsylvania’s Eastern Storm tour, Robert is making this a career year.

Filling In – Ending the week in Kenny Baldwin’s 5, Justin Grant finished 3rd with Mark Hery at Lawrenceburg


Just 17 points behind the champion was Kevin Thomas, Jr., coming on strong in the last two showings with runner-up finishes. The only one to qualify inside of the top-ten at all seven stops, unfortunately a sub-par showing at Terre Haute where he retreated from 3rd to 12thproved to be his undoing, that coming after an impressive 15-minute pre-heat race thrash to replace an engine and rear end by his Mike Dutcher Motorsports army. Fifth at Gas City and sixth at Lawrenceburg (where he led one lap), had Kokomo and Bloomington run their features, the Sprint Week standings could have been different as Kevin was slated to start fourth and fifth. But for the second time in three years, instead of a thrilling vacation ISW proved to be another disappointment for KTJ.

It was an up and down Sprint Week for Bacon, such a surprise that he fell from 8th to 11th at Haubstadt, a venue where he and his Hoffman 69 clearly performed up to task in April. Charging from 19th to 9th at the Gas City opener and claiming The Burg from 6th, at Terre Haute he elevated from 18th to 7th before producing at Putnamville. Timing inside of the top-ten in five outings, the two times he didn’t absolutely buried him at Gas City and Terre Haute and cost him the crown. Much like Thomas, one has to wonder if the standings would have changed had he started Kokomo and Bloomington from sixth and seventh.

Still in search of USAC victory number 100, Dave Darland had a respectable Sprint Week showing in Steve and Carla Phillips’s DRC/Foxco, his fourth place in points reflective of 8th, 4th, 3rd, 9th, and 12th place finishes. However, his qualifying performances were too inconsistent to keep him from contending for the championship, timing 6th, 11th, 14th, 4th, 21st, 10th, and 18th, having to switch cars at the last minute at Haubstadt. Naturally a pole position at Kokomo could have resulted in a win, as Dave was flat-out hooked up in his heat race and any up front start at his home track is like a trip to the ATM. After all these years, the fact that Darland is still a Sprint Week factor night in and night out is still an amazing feat. As they say, they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.

Double D – Dave Darland was 4th in Sprint Week points, taking third and fourth at Terre Haute and Lawrenceburg


Beginning on a high note at Gas City (just his third wingless start of 2015), it was an otherwise quiet Sprint Week for Hunter Schuerenberg and car owner Tony Epperson. Taking 10th at Lawrenceburg, 11th at Terre Haute (from 19th), 4th at Putnamville (after clocking quickest), and 15th at Haubstadt, those up and down finishes were good enough for fifth in points.

Sixth in the standings was 2006 and 2010 series champ Jon Stanbrough and aside from Lawrenceburg where he timed 3rd, the rest of the series was a qualifying struggle. Clocking 20th, 14th, 10th, 19th, 18th, and 12th at the other rounds, that generally put him behind the eight-ball come feature time. Unable to capitalize on that third-quick time at The Burg when he could not avoid a stopped Kody Swanson in his heat, he flattened a right front tire and bent a front axle, having to come through the B. Claiming an uncharacteristic 17th at Gas City, the remainder of his finishes were a consistent 8th, 6th, 7th, and 9th. If only he had started further forward…

For seventh place Chase Stockon, it was quite the opposite week enjoyed by Ballou, far from a dream and definitely not a vacation. Gathering the Gas City opener, it all went downhill at Lawrenceburg, where his B-main blunder forced a provisional start. Salvaging 16th, he began from that same spot at Terre Haute after a late qualifying draw. Elevating eleven spots to 5th, he had to work overtime to keep his championship hopes in check. The next stop continued his Sprint Week struggle, as his Charlie Fisher mill was not up to par for LPS qualifying. Swapping the piece after failing to transfer through his heat, it still wasn’t quite right for the B. Finding the problem to be a clogged fuel filter (the first time he has an encountered such an issue), for the second time in three outings he would have to utilize provisional status to start the A, hustling to take 10th. Ending the week fifth at Haubstadt, he still exited his challenging week within shouting distance of Ballou, some 40 markers out of first. A character builder for sure, I’d fully expect Chase to be a contender for next year’s ISW honors.

Crowd Pleaser – As expected, Thomas Meseraull mashes the gas at Haubstadt


I'm quite sure many believed that C.J. Leary would have achieved his initial USAC triumph in this seven race stretch, but given his trying week, it is a sure sign of just how humbling this sport can be. Climbing through the cage of five different cars for three different owners, the first half of the week he was still employed by Kenny Baldwin, taking 12th at Gas City, flipping in his Kokomo heat, and landing 18th at Lawrenceburg. After moving back to his family-owned 30, he missed the show at Terre Haute and finished a dreadful 23rd at Putnamville, where engine issues were eventually diagnosed. Picking up a ride in Scott Pedersen's Spike for the final two outings, he made the A at Bloomington and finished 10th in the finale. Without Derek Claxton turning wrenches on his number 30, it will be interesting to see if the talented youngster can achieve the same results. Either way, he's still a gasser and such a blast to watch compete.

Say what you will about winged and traditional sprint car racing, but for organizations that stage two-lap, single-car qualifications, it is still key to one's success on any given night. Such solitary Indiana Sprint Week success was achieved by Chad Boespflug, Justin Grant, Shawn Westerfeld (at his home track in Lawrenceburg), Mitch Wissmiller (first in the qualifying line at Terre Haute), Hunter Schuerenberg, Brady Bacon (also first in line at Bloomington), and Grant again (first in line at Haubstadt). Although Kevin Thomas, Jr. missed out on his initial Sprint Week championship by 17 points, he was the king of qualifying, timing inside of the top-ten in all seven outings, five times within the coveted quick-six. Ballou, Bacon, Stockon, and Grant clocked inside of the top-ten in five of seven outings. Chad Boespflug reached the top of the charts at the opener for Chuck Amati Racing, earning top-ten times at three more Sprint Week stops. With Bob East and Tipton's Kyle Dautrich assisting on the Superior Auto Beast/J&D, Jarett Andretti showed top-ten qualifying prowess on three occasions. Coons, Darland, Windom, and Courtney were in the same boat as Andretti.

B-town Hustle – Despite no series wins in 2015, Dave Darland still drove the wheels off the Phillips 71

Despite heat races that seemed to lack the intensity of Sprint Weeks of old, it was still a difficult task to earn a direct transfer to the main event. With all seven contests completing their heats, just two men did not have to face the stress of a B-main, namely Chad Boespflug and Chris Windom. Ten guys made all five A-mains without the aid of a provisional, and they included: Ballou, Thomas, Bacon, Darland, Schuerenberg, Stanbrough, Windom, Boespflug, Weir, and Meseraull.

A few years ago, USAC changed their rules so that the six fastest qualifiers who transferred through their heat would only be eligible for the feature inversion, differing from years past when one of the quick qualifiers could come through the consolation and still be eligible for the invert. Nowadays, it's interesting to keep track of just how far back in the qualifying field one has to go to earn the pole. At Gas City, it was Scotty Weir, who was 12th best from time trials. At Kokomo, it would have been 11th-quick Dave Darland. Lawrenceburg pole sitter Kevin Thomas, Jr. timed 9th while Terre Haute pole man Aaron Farney clocked 8th. At Putnamville, Max McGhee was 10th in the qualifying rundown but earned P1 while in Bloomington, 11th-quick Chad Boespflug was slated to start from the premier position. Given the thinning of the Sprint Week herd at Haubstadt, only one of the quick-six couldn’t make it through the heats, leaving 7th-fastest Brady Short with the pole.

The five feature winners came from fourth, sixth, first, second, and first, definitely not an indicator of just how competitive wingless competition is. However, passing was still plentiful further rearward, as the hardest Sprint Week chargers were Stockon (up 11 at Terre Haute and 13 at Putnamville), Bacon (up 10 spots at Gas City and 11 at Terre Haute), Short (up 17 at Putnamville), Darland (up 7 at Lawrenceburg and 8 at Putnamville), Ballou (up 7 at Putnamville and 6 at Haubstadt), Stanbrough (up 9 at Putnamville), and Cummins (up 9 at Haubstadt). Putnamville’s abundance of overtaking certainly shows that its feature was most entertaining of all, but I truly enjoyed Haubstadt’s green to checker sprint, also enthralled by Bacon and Ballou’s battle at The Burg. As far as providing the biggest thrill and most exhilaration, Aaron Farney’s surprising decimation of the field was hard to top. You just can’t beat the excitement of a first-time winner, you know?

On The Bike – Jarett Andretti made four of five Sprint Week features, scoring a solid 7th at Lawrenceburg


In addition to hard charges, seven sprint car contests had its share of spills. Gas City’s challenging surface resulted in a serious Josh Hodges cartwheel and some big-time qualifying bikes from Travis Hery, Kyle Cummins, and Colten Cottle, also inverting Mike Gass, Jarett Andretti, and Travis Welpott. Naturally, Kokomo’s titanic three-car tumble and three major qualifying race incidents will make the highlight reels of Loudpedal Productions. Lawrenceburg started with a serious Shane Cottle qualifying shunt and was followed by another three-car calamity in the B plus some Bill Rose gymnastics in the A. Robert Bell and Thomas Meseraull landed on their lids in Vigo County, but Cole Smith’s massive turn three tumble at Lincoln Park might have been the most violent incident of the week, temporarily knocking him unconscious. Andretti, Grant, and Swanson were also Thursday night flippers, minor in comparison to Smith. Landon Simon ended his Sprint Week upside down in Bloomington, as did Chris Babcock, Lee Dakus, and Nick Bilbee. Last but not least, Donnie Brackett bit the Haubstadt boiler plate and called it an evening.

Family Tradition – Korie Lafond catches her father Steve in action at Terre Haute

My dream destination is as much about the people as it is the racing. Plenty of names and faces from the past were spotted in Sprint Week grandstands and pit areas, some of whom I have not seen for years. I managed to bump into former sprint car shoe Bart Grider at Gas City. West coast crewman Joe Godoy, ex-Justin Marvel assistant “Big” Mike Thacker, and driver/car owner/chief mechanic/team manager extraordinaire Jim Whiteside (along with wife Cindi) all shared conversations with me in Kokomo. I saw Little 500 king Eric Gordon (and son Jake) at Lawrenceburg but didn’t want to be rude and interrupt his conversation with the Hoffmans. I enjoyed a lengthy post-race Putnamville analysis with former car and track owner Kent Evans, the brains behind today’s Indiana Sprint Week concept. And finally, while her Man of Steele remained back in Florida, there was Lynn Bunn Steele sitting in the pit grandstand at Haubstadt, not far from her original Olney, Illinois home where her sister’s wedding plans were surprisingly scrapped. A couple of new names I encountered included the extremely polite and well-spoken Bloomington Racesaver competitor Luke Bland (thanks to his mechanic Steve Rone for the introduction) and former Kasey Kahne webmaster Doug Larsson, a blast from the past who calls Seattle, Washington home.

Whether they be far away or close to home, vacations, like all good things, must come to an end. Returning to the grind where an inbox full of e-mail, performance reviews, and endless paper trails had to be endured, there was no more time to sleep in as long as I would like, missing out on the ultimate independence of coming and going as I pleased. All that zigzagging across the Hoosier state racked up nearly 1,500 miles on Steve’s rental car, wearing me down to the point where I nearly needed another vacation to recover. After saying goodbye and offering heart-tugging hugs to my guests, upon arriving back to my employment several individuals inquired as to my vacation destination. My response of “all over Indiana” may have seemed cheap, mundane, and far from adventurous, but unless you’ve experienced an entire nine days of Indiana Sprint Week for yourself, you may never understand its worthiness of dream destination status, filled with freedom, fun, and extreme levels of excitement and enjoyment, completely removed from the stress and worries of everyday society. Worlds apart from an ordinary vacation that most outsiders could never comprehend, this week simplyisn’t for everyone. But, after so many years of trying to justify to others its lofty status in my life, I’m actually ok with such exclusivity. Counting down the days to next year, I am more than ready to take this same trip all over again.

Opening Night – Chase Stockon reaches for the sky and passes Jerry Coons, Jr. for the win at Gas City

Character Builder – C.J. Leary started the week with Kenny Baldwin, ran his own car for two races, and ended with Scott Pedersen, taking 10th at Haubstadt

So Close – Had it not been for his 12th place at Terre Haute, Kevin Thomas, Jr. could have made things even more interesting

Southern Man – Shown at Bloomington, Brady Short ended a five-year USAC win drought at Haubstadt

Steve and Korie – Sharing Indiana Sprint Week with these two made it extra special

Stomp and Steer – Scotty Weir made all five Sprint Week features in Jeff Walker’s 11

The Other Short – Illinois’ Carson Short is hard on the hammer at Haubstadt

T-Mez – Thomas Meseraull won Terre Haute’s consolation race from 17th

Touching Moment – Aaron Farney poses with his parents in Terre Haute’s victory lane

Walking the Tightrope – Chad Boespflug needs only one wheel to get through Kokomo’s turn one

West Coast Rep – Making two of five features, Jake Swanson’s first Indiana Sprint Week was an adventure

Winning Combination – Mechanic Derrick Bye and driver Robert Ballou relax at Kokomo




Volume 17, Number 8

Prep Time

Let's be honest: without passion, life really isn't worth living. However, as much as we would wish to spend every waking hour pursuing our desires, this is just not realistic, as the best of part of our days are expired earning wages to acquire the most basic necessities, but also indulge in these outright obsessions.

Luckily for me, and perhaps unlucky for those close to me, I own many passions that completely fill the remainder of my days and nights. As a kid, it was trains, Hot Wheels (not any other brand, because they simply weren’t cool enough), basketball (Hoosiers), and baseball (Reds) but over the years, the list has been expanding. Naturally, there is my fanatical following of short track open wheel racing that dominates, but I also enjoy anything to do with classic cars, photographing old buildings (preferably railroad depots), collecting antique petroleum signs and cool timepieces (Tag Heuer will only do), listening to the legendary rock trio Rush, maintaining a manicured lawn, and physical fitness, to name just a few.

The primary reason the latter would ever make the list is only because it allows me to indulge in yet another one of these preoccupations without blowing up to the size of a blimp – and that is tantalizing my taste buds with outstanding food and drink. Forever in search of the ultimate sprint, midget, or Silver Crown feature event, I am also always trying to one-up my most epic meal. However, not just any food and drink will do and if given the choice, it will never be a national, corporate chain, preferring the mom and pop originals. This has resulted in a lengthy list of places I wish to sample as the Indy food scene has simply exploded in the last five years. Clearly preferring to dine out rather than eat in, if I were to try and duplicate these meals at home, it would require far too much prep time (work), frustration, and ultimate disappointment to make the overall experience enjoyable.

If the seven race in nine night Indiana Sprint Week is akin to fantastic food, then just like the daily grind of those operating the mom and pop eating establishments, our beloved sprint car chauffeurs, mechanics, and track operators must put in their prep time to get ready for their biggest week of the year. A decade or so ago, the period leading up to Sprint Week was very quiet. Not so in recent years, as tracks and teams now take full advantage of the time to perfect their craft before the spotlights burn bright.

Besieged with rain since the final night of Midget Week, June’s Indiana bullring scene was virtually silent for the majority of the month. Sampling a scintillating Ohio Sprint Speed Week stop at Eldora Speedway on father’s day weekend (featuring a fantastic three way fight for first between Danny Holtgraver, Steve Kinser, and eventual winner Greg Wilson), my 25th Sheldon Kinser Memorial (missing only two since 1989) would have to wait until August 21st thanks to more showers. Dodging raindrops for essentially two full weeks, a Saturday morning surprise signaled a green light for Paragon Speedway’s Chuck Amati Classic, moved one week from June 20th. My first trip to Keith and Judy Ford’s slice of Morgan County heaven since this event two seasons ago, Paragon is unfortunately no longer be a part of Indiana Sprint Week. Although it wasn’t a true test and tune for USAC regulars, its $3,000 to win, old school 68-lap affair was simply too much fun to turn down for a handful of the state’s finest. Despite competition for cars from Haubstadt MSCS (22) and Lincoln Park (39), the Amati still attracted 34, showing signs that the local sprint car scene might just be alive once again.

Three inches of overnight H2O meant that Mr. Ford had to put in some serious prep time to keep from pulling the plug on this particular contest for the second week in a row. Reaping the rewards from his work, the grounds and surface were in prime shape for this speedway’s signature event and the crowd was solid. Perhaps the first time for such a sight at the legendary 3/8ths mile, Keith even enlisted his trusty road grader to smooth undulations found in turns three and four.

Paraphrasing post-race text messages from my 28 year-old nephew, it was a rather appropriate perspective on the evening that I thought I would share. Speaking of Paragon’s seclusion and simplicity, he mentioned how a visit here allows veteran race fans to truly feel at home, more so than any other venue in this state, offering a unique ambience for what the Indiana scene is supposed to be like. A time capsule where virtually nothing has changed in the last 30 years, thankfully Paragon still remains untarnished and unblemished in that respect as there are no billboards, no scoreboards, and no corporate suites. Simply put, it’s pure dirt track racing and it is good to know that such a place still exists in this modern world.

Four heat races and twin B-mains conformed to Paragon’s peaceful, laid-back atmosphere, even though Amati Racing’s Chad Boespflug managed to defeat Dave Darland (Walker 11) by winning his heat from fourth, feeling increased intensity when Jon Stanbrough slipped past Shane Cottle to claim his from fifth. Amidst a field of Saturday night regulars, these men stood tall and set the stage for the fever-pitched finale.

The lengthy 68-lapper supplied a front row containing Bloomfield’s Chris Babcock (guided by Brian Cripe) and perennial Paragon champion/2012 Amati winner Josh Cunningham. Chris led early while Stanbrough, Cottle, and first heat winner Andrew Prather fanned three wide, interrupted by Brandon Mattox mayhem in corner two.

Restarting second to Babcock, Cottle pulled even at the flag stand and found supreme forward bite off the bottom of two, placing Paul Hazen’s famed 57 in the coveted P1. While Boespflug’s ex-Steve Kinser mill blubbered and backed him up to tenth, Stanbrough slid Babcock and immediately caught Cottle. Dueling through traffic very early, The Throttle successfully defended his turf until contacting the lapped machine of Jeremy Potts at the exit of corner four. That left the door wide open for The Silent Gasser, whose MP Environmental Spike surged to first. Meanwhile, Boespflug’s bullet began to clear and allowed him to find his rhythm on the top shelf, blasting past Darland and Prather for fourth and third.

Despite the loss of the lead around the halfway mark, Cottle refused to lose, pulling even and pilfering the premier position a few laps later. However, Stanbrough immediately returned the favor and even after a brief caution for Brazil’s Nate McMillin, Shane was still not done, as the veterans jousted lap after lap in extremely tight, wheel-to-wheel combat. With Shane staying low and Jon manning the middle, unfortunately the thrilling duel came to a dramatic and frightening conclusion on lap 41 when the two locked wheels on the back stretch. Like a punted football, Cottle was launched high into the sky, wildly riding out a set of gyrations to the concrete blocks that guarded the pit area. Stanbrough’s ride was equally brutal, enduring a vicious set of end over end tumbles, landing close to the pit entrance near turn three. With a little help, both were able to exit their tattered remains, both fuming at the loss of not only a certain victory, but all important inventory at such a crucial juncture of the season. Depending on which camp you talked to determined who was at fault. I honestly did not see the start clearly enough to make such a statement, but the end result was that this terrific race was ruined.

As it was, Chad Boespflug inherited first place and led the final 27 laps to easily produce his first Paragon triumph in only his second attempt. More importantly, it was his team’s first Chuck Amati Classic score in six years of trying, significant as team owner Shane Wade is the grandson of the late legend, who I watched dominate the 1988-1990 southern Indiana scene in Daryl Tate’s 66. With tons of family, friends, and sponsors on-hand, it was an opportune time to showcase this squad’s talent, dedication, and renewed commitment to traditional sprint car competition. Switching from Shane Cockrum and briefly employing Daron Clayton and Thomas Meseraull (who won at LPS on the eve of the Indy 500), their latest find is Boespflug, who quickly became available after exiting Kenny Baldwin’s 5 in the middle of Eldora’s Mother of All Weekends. Recently putting Ethan Barrow on the payroll to maintain their fleet during the week while Donnie Gentry calls the shots at the track, the combination has clearly clicked, putting in the proper prep time for Indiana Sprint Week.

Elevating from eighth, the 2005 SCRA 360 champ and 2011 Lawrenceburg lord was chased by seventh-starting Dave Darland, tenth-starting Chris Phillips, Babcock, and Bub Cummings. Sixth through tenth included Prather, Jordan Kinser (up from 14th in the Hurst 9T), Josh Cunningham, Kent Christian, and Camby’s Matt Brannin.

Off to Kokomo Speedway to complete the month of June, amazingly this would be the first regular program here since Memorial Day weekend. Needing to get back into a sprint car groove just in time for Indiana Sprint Week, it is doubtful that the O’Connor clan forgot how to ready a dirt course for fierce competition over the span of a few weeks.

Nevertheless, the significant gap in contests (thanks to rain) resulted in some pent-up demand for the racers, as 28 heavy-hitting sprint car combatants vied for 20 feature spots. Perhaps the most surprising of the stout entries came from an extremely familiar combination, as Steve and Brad Fox bolted their power plant into a DRC chassis belonging to Monticello, Indiana’s Mark Batcheldor, who admitted that he had an idle ride that he was tired of looking at, thus getting the band back together one more time. Sticking Jon Stanbrough in the saddle, they will race whenever and wherever they please.

Still appearing weary after Saturday night gymnastics was Stanbrough, but so too was Cottle, nursing a huge headache after a serious bell ringing. Shane’s condition was worsened when breaking a rocker arm in his qualifying session, also having to miss his heat. Preparing to kick some B-main booty by devouring a cheeseburger and Payday candy bar while washing it down with a blue Powerade, this must have been proper medicine as he was a man on a mission. Successfully slipping beneath a titanic front stretch tumble from Nixa, Missouri’s Devon Huff, after banging wheels with “The Savage” Kurt Gross (first time he’s been out in a long while) he slipped past leader Brian Karraker when BK broke in the final corner, blitzing the field with an 11th to first burst. Playing through the pain, nobody can ever claim that Cottle is not old-school.

Kokomo’s Sunday night soiree was one rough and tumble affair. Punctuated by six upside down excursions, the first was a double-dipper when Chris Gurley served a slide-for-life to Lynsey Ligouri during the second heat. Chris pulled off the bold move without contact, but he couldn’t keep his DRC from crushing concrete. Bouncing off the boards, of course he rebounded directly into the path of Ligouri, who likewise inverted and tweaked her Spike chassis. Upon exiting, Gurley hustled to the push off lane to respond to some taunting, but didn’t get too far thanks to timely track personnel. Ligouri might have been finished but Gurley was not, as a recently engaged Brian Cripe, Robert Ballou, and Scott Ronk assisted in swapping out a rear end, drive shaft, torque tube, and Jacob’s ladder just in time for the B, also making the A from deep in the B. Michigan’s Joe Bares and Aussie Gary Rooke dumped during the third heat, while the aforementioned Huff and Jarett Andretti performed acrobatics in the B and A.

The finale to June 2015 Indiana sprint car competition was also appropriate preparation for Indiana Sprint Week, as the primary players were in the house. Jon Stanbrough and Brookston’s Aaron Farney pulled front row pills for the 25-lapper, with the Silent Gasser drawing first blood. After the early red for Andretti, Stanbrough made the middle lane work while Dave Darland and Robert Ballou flew by Farney to make it a three car corral. After Ballou bounced through turn one and fell to fifth, Justin Grant (Hery 40) moved to the show position and put his name in the contending hat.

With a thick cushion on both ends, it was only natural for Darland to head upstairs to rip the lip in Jeff Walker’s Maxim/Claxton. Just before the halfway mark, he swept past Stanbrough on the front stretch but not before the two rubbed wheels, mangling Dave’s left rear. Grant’s patented diamonding of three and four sent him to second through the next set of corners, but a Josh Spencer stoppage sent him back to third, leaving eleven laps to decide the deal.

Grant again had to get by Stanbrough for the runner-up spot on the restart. One lap later, massive momentum from the top of turn four sent C.J. Leary (Baldwin 5) past car 53 with a lengthy slider, leaving Jon with the unenviable task of holding back Kevin Thomas, Jr. and Robert Ballou. The last five laps were déjà vu for Grant, rewinding back to last year’s Indiana Sprint Week and Smackdown features as he applied all kinds of heat to the king of Kokomo. Even through one and two on laps 23 and 24, Justin diamonded three and four to wage a wheel to wheel war under the white flag. Pulling alongside on the north end, lapped traffic loomed to the south, with the Lincoln legend choosing to carve through the congestion via the middle lane. Grant crawled through an opening on the bottom and nearly stole the win, pulling alongside at the thrilling conclusion.

Completed by 9:13 PM, after Darland and Grant came Leary, Thomas, and Ballou. Stanbrough settled for sixth while Jerry Coons, Jr., Cottle (up 8 spots) and heat race winners Max McGhee and Aaron Farney filled the top-ten. With Sprint Week and Smackdown approaching, I would expect that each one of these men will make some serious noise in these next two months, as they proved on this particular evening that they are more than prepared.

Working later than I wished on Thursday, so much that a trip to Terre Haute was simply not feasible, common sense prevailed in my passing on the Sumar Classic, thinking I wouldn’t be missing that much after last year’s Kody Swanson shellacking not only at the Action Track, but almost all dirt dates. Boy, was I ever wrong, as Shane Cockrum’s second series win turned out to be fine show from everything I’ve read. Luckily, a full Indiana sprint car holiday weekend would serve as a superb substitute, spending the next two evenings at Joe Spiker’s Lincoln Park Speedway for the first annual Bill Gardner Sprintacular.

First introduced to Bill about 15 years ago by fellow friend Joe Snyder, Bill was of course crewing for Brian Hayden, who had just helped form the MPHG Promotions conglomerate to keep his sprint car dreams alive. I was recently informed by team principal Dallas Mulvaney (the M in MPHG) that the first time Bill openly discussed a website to bring traditional midget, sprint, and Silver Crown fans together was at Jo Godby’s wedding (the G in MPHG) back around 2000/2001. Taking a while to transform his vision into a reality, by now of course we are all familiar with the former and current, the go-to site to find out what’s happening in our world. It is indeed the people and friendships that make our sport so wonderful, so many of them cultivated thanks to Gardner’s vision of a harmonious racing fraternity. All of us are bound by the same insatiable pursuit of information regarding our preferred pastime, with Bill’s legacy living through not only his site, but the camaraderie that currently exists in our community.

Friday found 29 MSCS sprint cars populating Putnamville’s pit area for the $4,000 first prize, with competition for cars coming from North Vernon and Bloomington. Saturday’s count increased to 40 for a $5,000 to win USAC union, with Paragon providing the only opposition. This Sprintacular was prime Sprint Week prep time, as surface conditions turned slick on both nights, par for the course in the 7 race/9 night grind. Slick was not all bad however as passing was plentiful, spotting so many hard charges from the rear on both Friday and Saturday.

Polar opposite in formats, MSCS meets line up heats by the draw and award passing points, sending the top-16 accumulators to the feature while pulling pills once again for the first six spots. USAC still stays old school with two-lap qualifications to line up heats, sending the top-four to the main where the fastest six who initially transferred are inverted. With back to back nights, this offered an excellent opportunity to examine which provided premier action. My feeling is that USAC’s format produces more heat race drama, as from a fan’s perspective, it is nice to know when a pass is imperative for a feature berth. Although each MSCS overtaking could be vital, without keeping score it is nearly impossible to know when it is noteworthy.

Nine times a winner in 2015 prior to Friday, it was quite apropos that long-time MPHG pilot Robert Ballou would claim night number one of the Bill Gardner Sprintacular, impressing in his MSCS heat when he sliced from sixth to second on the first tour. His MPHG predecessor Hayden was in also action in the mods, putting four wheels in the turn one fluff to move from the back to third. I counted no more than four men on night number one who eclipsed three or more machines in their heat. However, Saturday’s early action was far more entertaining, spotting heat wins from first (Max McGhee), sixth (Robert Ballou), fourth (Chad Boespflug), and third (Chase Stockon). Only two of Saturday’s top-six qualifiers made the cut (quick qualifier Carson Short was not one of them), having to go all the way back to 13th (Jerry Coons, Jr.) to snag the sixth fastest A-main transferee. Last year on this date at this venue, Coons led 29 of 30 from the pole to lay claim to Monte Edison’s fourth USAC victory. This year, Coons again commenced from the pole and one-upped last year, leading all thirty tours for Monte’s fifth USAC score.

Backing up to the consolation events, both Friday and Saturday offered last lap drama for the final feature ticket. Friday’s frolic saw Aaron Farney steal the final pass from Brandon Mattox thanks to a low side lunge off turn four on the final tour. After Saturday’s extensive post-heat race tilling, positions four through seven fit snugly under one sweaty blanket. Tracy Hines just missed the key sixth place position, even after spreading three wide on the back stretch in an attempt to overtake Chris Babcock and Tyler Courtney. Other notables missing the cut from Saturday’s super-stacked consolation included Lawrenceburg winner Logan Jarrett and C.J. Leary, whose Claxton engine coughed and sputtered in qualifications. Timing 38th out of 40, digging such a huge hole ultimately left him five positions from a transfer.

Despite the differing formats, MSCS and USAC feature action was similar, thanks in part to drier than usual conditions and the absence standard two foot Putnamville curb service. Friday was definitely the more entertaining of the two features, with the shaded turns three and four offering far more grip than the bone-slick one and two. On Saturday, the aforementioned pre-B feature rework helped some, but by the time the A-main pushed it was even more slippery than Friday, the victim of back to back showings and a sun-splashed afternoon.

Darland drew Friday’s pole and shared front row seating with Mike Gass. A Lincoln Park legend known best for his top shelf tactics, on this night Dave was a bottom feeder in Jeff Walker’s 11, up front for 17 circuits until Robert Ballou climbed upstairs to track him down. Immediately pointing to the bottom once he seized the lead, Ballou had just survived a serious threat from eighth starting Max McGhee, who advanced to third fairly early but climbed Robert’s left rear in between corners one and two. In the ensuing mess, Mitch Wissmiller could not avoid contact and turned over. Given his thrilling heat race joust with Tyler Courtney and an outstanding out of the gate feature performance, McGhee laid claim to a special “Hero Award” organized by Brian Hayden. Netting him a cool $1,030 and a new right rear tire, Max could thank Hayden, Joe Spiker, Jerry Shaw, and a number of fans who donated dollars.

Ballou would lead the last 13 tours on Friday, but it simply wasn’t that easy. Once the bottom was blown off, 14-starting Kevin Thomas, Jr. stepped upstairs and made some serious noise. Kevin’s super-sized slider through three and four on the final go-round did not nearly have enough mustard on the hot dog to get the job done, but it sure made for an exciting ending. Robert reached ten wins with his premium Putnamville performance as Darland settled for third. Paragon protagonists Jon Stanbrough and Shane Cottle were fourth and fifth. Stanbrough again steered the Fox/Batcheldor 53 and used the middle lane to move from 13th to as high as third. Primarily playing up top, Cottle was second at one point in the Hazen 57. Boespflug, Leary, Coons, Courtney, and Farney secured positions six through ten at the pay window.

Coons dominated Saturday’s feature and displayed the veteran finesse and patience required to maneuver around the infield tires, putting an end to what has been a frustrating campaign for Monte Edison’s Spike/Claxton backed by Crume-Evans Insurance. Robert Ballou was again a factor, up to third early and was challenging for second when he broke a left rear torsion stop and spun in turn three, unable to make repairs in the work area. Saddled with a 23rd place finish, when coupled with Chase Stockon’s sterling sprint from 14th to 3rd (through the middle), Robert exited Lincoln Park with 12 point deficit.

Princeton’s Kyle Cummins fired from fifth in Hank Byram’s Mach-1/CRE and offered a brief threat to Coons in the waning stages. Unable to further close the gap, he equaled his best-ever USAC finish of second. Stockon, Boespflug, and 17-starting Jon Stanbrough (he was last in the qualifying line) placed inside of the top-five. Tyler Courtney, Casey Shuman (Krockenberger 21k), Darland, Cottle, and Hines (hauling from 23rd) were scored sixth through tenth.

After plentiful Putnamville prep time, the final pre-Sprint Week test came in Kokomo, a post Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza that also lit the fuse for the Jackslash Indiana Sprint Car Series, televised on a tape-delayed basis via MAV TV. The first of six rounds, additional dates include the $4,000 to win Putnamville Clash on July 25th, Kokomo’s $3,000 to win Bob Darland Memorial on July 26th, the $2,000 to win Gas City shootout on July 31st, the $3,000 to win Dick Gaines Memorial at Lawrenceburg on August 14th, and Bloomington’s $3,000 to win Sheldon Kinser Memorial on August 21st.

Series creator Sean Buckley is not adjusting the feature purses, but instead has gathered prizes for both the championship car owner and driver, also offering heat race and B-main bonus money. The winning car owner gets a new DRC chassis kit, a full Wilwood disc brake kit, and a set of FK shocks. The winning driver receives a Butlerbuilt seat, a Hinchman HTO suit, plus a Rock Star paint job on the helmet of his/her choice.

Thirty-seven cars showed for this first-time affair, a huge shot in the arm for not only Kokomo Speedway but local racing as well, as some non-standard Sunday night faces appeared for the first time this year. Throw in the ambience from a huge crowd, Rob Klepper microphone work, and some balls-out heat racing action, and what you had was an Indiana Sprint Week feel.

Talking about that feeling in the air, those Sunday night heats sure felt like we had fast forwarded six days to Saturday’s Sprint Week bout. Hard driving, especially for the second and final redraw position was especially evident in the fourth contest, as Robert Ballou, who spends the majority of his time prepping his and others’ cars for battle, was the center of attention. First meeting with Logan Jarrett, the second incident came when Robert’s right rear met the left front of Josh Hodges on the back chute. In this intense combat for second, Hodges, who is guided by mechanic Jake Argo, slid sideways near the pit exit, leaving a rapidly approaching Jerry Coons, Jr. with nowhere to go. Slamming the left side of the New Mexican’s Maxim, Coons endured a rough ride, with a couple of shots to Kokomo clay permanently rearranging the front half of Monte Edison’s Spike. As Doug Wolfgang once said, “One day you’re a hero. The next day, a zero.” Unfortunately for Monte and his group of volunteers, Indiana Sprint Week prep time would be ramped up a notch or two.

After a pair of B-mains were claimed by Muncie’s Cole Ketcham (posting the night’s quickest qualifying lap of 13.204 before blasting Kokomo concrete) and Jon Stanbrough (Batcheldor/Fox 53), Max McGhee led the first 20 laps from his pole starting spot, earning a full-straight advantage in the early stages while a white hot war was waged between fellow front row starter Landon Simon, Tyler Courtney, Thomas Meseraull, and C.J. Leary. After a brief T-Mez/Leary slide fest, slight contact between Courtney and Leary and then Leary and Meseraull sent C.J. to third. Literally driving the wheels off of Kenny Baldwin’s DRC/Claxton, Leary was fearless in his turn one attack, challenged by a slight hump at corner entry. Catching second place Simon in no time, another volley of slide jobs eventually shot the Greenfield Grenade to runner-up status. Landon then had his hands full with Meseraull for third, the two of them trading the position five times before Thomas finally solidified the spot.

McGhee’s full straightaway advantage was halved just past the crossed flags, reduced even further when Leary could not avoid a spinning Kyle Robbins in turn four, clobbering Kyle and ending his winning bid. Setting up a McGhee-Meseraull-Grant seven lap sprint, unfortunately for Thomas his right rear tire lost air pressure under caution. Once green, he pulled to the infield, yielding his position to Grant. Getting through turn one better than Max, Justin served a rather patented and clean slide job on the north end, building a half-straight advantage at the end of 25 tours.

Grant parked on the Kokomo front stretch concrete ramp for the second time in 2014 for Mark Hery, defeating McGhee, Darland (from 8th), Courtney, and Ballou (from 12th). Farney (up from 14th), Stanbrough (up from 18th), Josh Hodges (only his second time to Kokomo), Jarett Andretti, and Chad Boespflug (from 16th) made up the second half of the top-ten. Aside from the usual first place prize, Grant and Hery hauled a new Hoosier right rear tire and a super cool metal trophy created by Jeremy Farmer’s Hog Wild Motorsports back to Piqua, Ohio, extremely prepared to defend their turf when Indiana Sprint Week pays a visit.

A special shout out goes to “Sunshine” Tyler Courtney, pairing ninth and sixth place performances at Putnamville with a fourth at Kokomo, only his third outing with Wisconsin-based owners Chuck Eberhardt and Fred Zirzow. Many may not realize, but this was the same squad that fielded a machine for Bryan Clauson’s 2014 local Indiana outings, debuting late in the ’13 campaign. Notching a Kokomo Speedway track championship with this same Maxim/Wesmar combination, this particular Maxim was part of the fleet during Bryan’s Mike Dutcher regime while the Wesmar mill once belonged to Coleman Gulick. While his driver Kevin Thomas, Jr. was competing with Keith Kunz at Angell Park Speedway, Dutcher advised and assisted in this Kokomo collaboration.

With so many in action over an extremely busy holiday weekend, Monday through Thursday evening maintenance added even more prep time for the upcoming grind of Indiana Sprint Week that would begin on Friday in Gas City. However, much like my feeling of satisfaction after enjoying an epic meal at a recently discovered Indiana mom and pop original, that feeling of conquering the world when a victory or top-five is achieved against the stiffest of competition is the intended reward from Sprint Week warfare. If one does not succeed in the first round, thankfully there are six more nights to get it done. Unfortunately, the endless hours of prep time in this passionate pursuit of excellence never ends. But without such passion, could we ever imagine a life where we are passing the hours just going through the motions? For us racing folk, this is just not a likely scenario. Now that Sprint Week has reached the halfway mark, I will see you at the final four rounds. Enjoy!




Volume 17, Number 7


Have you ever tried to squeeze ten pounds of “stuff” into a five pound bag? This happens most often when I am packing for vacation, as I prefer to be prepared for any possible weather condition, no matter the climate or time of season. After narrowing my selections to what I consider the bare minimum, no matter how hard I try to make it fit, all of that “stuff” is inevitably spilling out the top and sides of my trusty suitcase, enough that the zipper won’t begin to think about budging. Simply stated, it’s just not going to work and adjustments have to be made.

Truth be told, after pulling into my driveway at ten minutes till 1 AM after night one of the United States Auto Club's eleventh running of Indiana Midget Week, that’s exactly how I felt. Trying to force five nights of midget and local sprint car doubleheaders into a schedule that required 8 AM to 5 PM duties from Wednesday through Friday, judging from my arrival time I knew that this just wasn’t going to work either. Already mentally and physically drained from the thought of how much fatigue I would be feeling at work on Thursday, my condition was made even worse from an apparent stomach virus, nursing all day ills after an odd Wednesday morning breakfast meeting clearly didn't agree with my insides. Still feeling down for the count when I awoke for work several hours later, for the first time in nearly ten years I waved the white flag and called in sick, hoping that the additional rest would allow me to cleanse my system and recharge batteries for the rest of the hectic week. Unfortunately, that plan didn't come together either, as even though I began to feel better by mid-Thursday, I was still feeling weak and wiped out with zero appetite. Forcing nourishment in order to achieve energy for Midget Week round two in Putnamville, that was a huge mistake, as just a few hours later I was feeling even worse, miserably making it through the midget feature, but just barely. Unwilling to sit through a modified main before sprint cars came calling for their finale, for the first time that I can ever remember I enacted my own curfew, making for the longest hour and ten minute ride in history, counting each mile with the lone hope that I could make it to my home base without retching. Also missing work on Friday, there is something to say about having one’s health because when you don’t, not even the best racing action nor the most entertaining company could magically make things better.

Sensible folk might wonder why I didn’t just stay at home when I couldn’t even make it into work, especially with the recent arrival of traditional Indiana summertime heat and humidity. Well, this is Indiana Midget Week and aside from Indiana Sprint Week or the days leading up to the Indianapolis 500, this is just something that I don’t miss and won’t, unless I happen to be on my death bed. Well, I felt pretty damned close to such lowly status, so to say that I might be crazily obsessed with this mini-series would be an understatement.

Aside from semi-regular meetings in Montpelier, the buzz of midget madness is such a rare and exotic treat in this state. If I were to miss Midget Week, I’d literally have to wait another year or travel several hours into another time zone to get my fix. And to be quite honest, it just wouldn’t be the same, as the international ambience provided by the countless visitors from across the globe make this a must. I have come to know a great many of these travelers thanks to tours conducted by former driver and New Zealand native Bryce Townsend, so to miss the opportunity to say hello and renew acquaintances would be an unforgivable sin. The only problem is that Midget Week’s sheer excess of open wheel action has never been and never will be suitable for a working man’s regimen.

Such was my dilemma for 2015, thanks in part to the timing of month-end financials and the healthy fields on-hand. Beginning with 41 midgets and 35 sprints at Gas City, 42 and 25 of the same variety gathered for Thursday’s Putnamville production. Friday found a week-long high of 44 midgets and 24 sprints accumulating on Bloomington’s south side while Saturday saw a week-long low of 24 midgets and 27 sprints landing along the Ohio River in Lawrenceburg. Simply stated, it takes a huge chunk of time to conduct sprint and midget doubleheaders, even if fields are reasonable in size. Figuring up the time it takes for hot laps, heat races, and features for each class (midgets even required a C-main at the first three showings), the real time crunch comes from USAC’s traditional single-car, two-lap qualification session for the midgets. As much as I enjoy this singular spectacle of man and machine versus the clock, the hour-long endeavor is just not feasible with a heaping helping of midgets.

Adding in time for accidents (it happens with hard-charging midget chauffeurs), issues with the surface (Gas City and Putnamville required extra ironing), and odd delays for an ambulance exit (Bloomington) or inefficient tow truck (Putnamville), this is time that you just can’t make up later, ultimately infringing on one’s sleep, health, energy, and mood the next several days. The first three evenings had heat races commencing around 8:30 PM, pushing the midget feature checkered flag to an unsavory 11:38, 11:29, and 11:15 PM, further emphasizing the need to be ready to roll at the advertised start time. Sprint car main events were held last on every night except the first, going well into Friday morning at Lincoln Park. For those having the luxury of a camper or motorhome in the parking lot – of course it’s a non-issue. But for the average patron who has to punch the clock the next morning, unfortunately it requires a painful decision to prematurely exit stage left. The unpredictable nature of this form of racing has always been a deterrent, something I have lived with for thirty years. Sometimes it’s not a problem but sometimes that law of averages bites you in the rear end. If Midget Week fields continue to burst at the seams, similar to reducing the number of items I can stuff into my suitcase, perhaps some program adjustments have to be made in the interest of supplying a manageable show that can neatly fit into a four hour window.

Midget Week has traditionally produced healthy front and back gate receipts, leading me to question the need to schedule a third division for such a special event. Whether it is a couple of heats of modifieds or a baker’s dozen of 305 winged sprints, time is still such a precious commodity in this game and the 15 to 20 minutes it takes to hot lap and run heat races is simply not what the majority of paying customers want to see, often times resulting in a trip to the pits, restroom, or concession stand (perhaps the latter is the intended goal). Some say this extra class is needed to allow those double-dipping drivers a chance to get ready for their next contest, but that number was no more than a handful (6 at Gas City was the highest of the week), so that theory is effectively null and void. If I had my choice, Midget Week would just be sprint cars and midgets. It’s a simple formula that works, so why water it down?

Despite its inherent issues of cramming too much content into a tight time window, Indiana Midget Week remains an awe-inspiring five day festival, jam-packed with thrills and chills. Unfortunately this year’s series was reduced to four rounds after rain ruined the Kokomo finale on two separate Sundays, truly a shame as this particular evening is one of the most highly anticipated in my fifty race campaign. One of three periods when the sport actually seems alive and well (counting Chili Bowl and Illinois Speed Week), cars literally come out of the woodwork for Indiana Midget Week when they would otherwise sit idle. As usual, special appearances were of the international variety, namely a New Zealand contingent of Brad Mosen (Buckley 1), Brock Maskovich (Daum 5) and Hayden Williams, not to mention Aussies Nathan Smee, Brett Thomas, and Nick Rowe (in another Daum 5). Josh Ford Motorsports hauled a pair of TCR/Esslingers from the golden state for Brady Bacon and Trey Marcham, with Bacon’s ride lasting just two-thirds of the way through Gas City’s feature until laying down some serious fluids. Additional left coast cars were controlled by Ryan Bernal (a BOSS/Toyota directed by Jack Yeley) and Chase Stockon (a Breka/Ed Pink Toyota for Jerome Rodela). A Kansas contingent consisted of Tucker Klaasmeyer and Chris Cockran while the Keystone state contributed Brenden and Alex Bright (the latter in Shane Hmiel’s 56), Steve Buckwalter (only for first 3 nights), and Tony DiMattia. Closer to home, Jeffersonville’s A.J. Felker dusted off a pair of home-grown FSC/Esslingers for twice-west coast midget king Ronnie Gardner and Oklahoma’s Chett Gehrke. Those making cameo appearances included local hero Dave Darland (only the first three nights in Mark Bush’s 2 – with limited Esslinger ST horsepower), twice Midget Week champ Shane Cottle (Ecker 57), Davey Ray (Putnamville and Bloomington), and Justin Grant (4th in the Gas City opener, piloting Larry Gardner’s ancient but still potent Stealth/Gaerte combo).

All of the aforementioned, including national championship contenders Tracy Hines, Darren Hagen, and Jerry Coons, Jr., scrapped for Midget Week supremacy against a slew of black bandits from two separate squads. Of course the biggest and baddest black attack came from the omnipotent Keith Kunz Motorsports, so tough to dethrone these last few seasons. Keith and his partner Pete Willoughby carried as many as four Bullet/Speedway Toyotas to the track and as few as two. Series regulars Tanner Thorson and Plymouth winner Kevin Thomas, Jr. led the brigade, but a pair of heavy hitters were brought in for backup, namely Christopher Bell and Rico Abreu, the two most recent USAC national midget and Indiana Midget Week champs. After Thorson led laps 1-30 at Gas City to nail down his first USAC victory in two years of trying, his violent front stretch tumble at LPS landed him in the hospital overnight and knocked him out of rounds three and four. Moving his number 67 to Bell for Bloomington to protect owner points, Christopher promptly responded with a win. When Bell had to be in Madison, Illinois on Saturday in preparation for his NASCAR truck debut the following week in Newton, Iowa, Abreu annexed those same digits for Lawrenceburg and appropriately produced his second consecutive Midget Week score on the 3/8ths mile high banks.

Bryan Clauson and ace mechanic Rusty Kunz, older brother to Keith, made up the second half of the black brigade, armed with a single Spike/Mopar SR-11 for Joe Dooling. Elevating from eighth to second on opening night, he took the trophy from tenth in a perfect Putnamville performance. As high as second but settling for third behind Bell and KTJ at Bloomington, he scratched and clawed for the same show position at Lawrenceburg, using every trick up his sleeve to stay in the fight. And what a fight it was, truly a dramatic display of how awesome midget racing can be. If you haven't watched midgets at Lawrenceburg, you just don't know what you're missing.

Although Bryan had the best average finish of the 33 different drivers that competed in Midget Week’s four features (2.25), Rico Abreu took home his second consecutive crown with his average finish of 3.5. Leading nine feature laps, Clauson’s finishes of second, first, third, and third compared favorably to Abreu’s fifth, fourth, fourth, and first, with Rico up front for 29 tours total. The difference ended up being better qualifying and heat race performances from the St. Helena, California native. Rico timed inside of the top-six every night (2nd, 3rd, 1st, and 1st) while the best Bryan could do was 4th, 14th, 2nd, and 2nd. BC also had a couple of heat race issues that relegated him to B-main status at Gas City (touching wheels with Brett Thomas and spinning) and Lawrenceburg (a freak DNF) while Abreu successfully transferred through all four of his heats. Had the series finale took place at Kokomo, who knows what could have transpired, as both excel on Indiana’s baddest bullring.

Keith Kunz Motorsports currently has midget racing by the jugular, as they arguably have the best setup man, the most potent power plants, and a bevy of top talent behind the wheel, a lethal combination if there ever was one. However, as I wrote about in my Kokomo Grand Prix column earlier this year, there are no more midget super teams to provide adequate and consistent competition. Case in point: Bob East is no longer involved in midget madness, spending his time directing Jarett Andretti’s sprint car effort. Don Fike has effectively mothballed his stable of once-potent equipment. RW Motorsports is idle, not to mention long-time participants Greg and Mark Wilke. Aside from part-time competitor Clauson, where does Keith’s competition come from?

Normally, I would be quick to answer with Tracy Hines, as he led USAC points after the last round in Plymouth. Beginning the week on a high note with quick time at Gas City, he ended the night with a disappointing ninth place. Clocking fourth and finishing third at Putnamville in his usual Parker Machinery Spike/Stanton-Toyota, the second half of the series was a complete role reversal, literally turned upside down in Bloomington after being victimized by a Trey Marcham heat race spin. Recovering with a B-main score and an eighth in the A, the week only got worse for the 2001 National Midget Driver of the Year. Timing tenth at The Burg, lady luck again frowned upon the man who is still searching for that elusive USAC midget championship to round out his 2000 Silver Crown and 2002 sprint car titles, colliding with Spencer Bayston in the feature. Wildly flipping through turn four, the impact not only ruined his ride, but it also broke his collarbone. Despite the rough week, Tracy still holds a slim 9 point advantage on Kevin Thomas, Jr. in the national standings, wondering if he’ll be ready for the next round in Angell Park on July 5th.

Perhaps the biggest ray of sunshine to result from Midget Week was the performance of Collinsville, Oklahoma’s Tyler Thomas. Entering Indiana’s series with a win at Belle-Clair, T-squared wound up third in the IMW standings, the highest ranking “non-black” machine (although his American Racing Wheels Spike does sport black on its top half). Garnering the B&W Auto Mart hard charger award at three of the four stops, the lone exception was Lincoln Park. Surging from 17th to 8th at Gas City, he propelled from Putnamville’s pole after Brad Mosen was late to staging, leading the first two laps before biking over the turn two curb, settling for seventh. Winding up the week with a 17th to 7th blast in B-town and a 15th to 2nd lurch at Lawrenceburg, that impressive second place showing served as his best career USAC finish to date. Tyler’s rock-solid runs certainly gives reason to believe that a family operation (with Esslinger power) can still make some noise in this division. Thinking in terms of Clauson, Larson, Bell, and Abreu, could he be the next big thing?

Cullman, Alabama’s Kevin Thomas, Jr. entered IMW with great optimism after tallying his first USAC midget triumph in Plymouth. One of the four feared Bullet Boys, he was the only one of the four to not score a win. Opening the week in disappointing fashion after qualifying 15th and finishing 13th, his second effort was only marginally better, timing 8th and taking 10th at LPS, where he was the sprint car victor for Mike Dutcher. Bloomington’s third place timing light tango was a step in the right direction, pacing the first 21 tours before giving way to teammate Bell after a brief volley of sliders, still frustrated and dejected to end second-best. Seventh after Lawrenceburg time trials, Kevin was one of several in the hunt for the win on Saturday. Leading the first eleven laps, he was fourth at the conclusion, the same place he was positioned in final Midget Week points. Second to Hines in the national standings, Thomas licked his IMW wounds with another righteous sprint car stroll atop Lawrenceburg’s skyscraper banking, winning a wicked-fast rubber-down deal for his second score of the week.

2007 Indiana Midget Week king Jerry Coons, Jr. had a fantastic four race series and like Tyler Thomas, was another pleasant surprise, giving hope for anyone wishing to combat the Keith and Rusty Kunz juggernaut. Jerry finished fifth in the mini-series and had it not been for a flat left rear tire at Lawrenceburg, it could have been even better. Elevating eight spots to seventh at Gastronomical City in Todd Heffner’s Triple-X/Esslinger, he clocked second quickest at LPS but had to come through the B, scored fifth at the end of thirty. Seventh quick in B-town, Coon Dog corralled the pole but immediately lost the lead to fourth-starting KTJ in turn two, forced to settle for a top-five for the second consecutive evening. Again earning the pole at The Burg, much like the previous evening he lost the lead to Thomas, gaining it back on a lap 12 restart and holding it for nine more until Rico Abreu slid him for good in three and four. Unfortunately that flat left rear rubber left him dead in the water, but he sure showed he still has what it takes. Now fourth in national points, he’s only 17 markers out of first.

Midget Week positions six through ten included Chase Stockon, Tracy Hines, Spencer Bayston, Chris Bell, and Brad Mosen. Stockon had super consistent finishes of 10th, 8th, 9th, and 5th while young Bayston impressed in his first Midget Week with solid 3rd, 9th, and 6th place showings in his first three outings. By the way, that third place performance was Bayston’s career-best in USAC circles. Bell began ninth at Gas City and was preparing to take third before scaling Bayston’s right rear. Going for a rough ride and spoiling my Kiwi Tour Sweepstakes trophy chances (more on that later), Chris countered with a stout 16th to 2nd lunge at LPS before bagging Bloomington. Late to staging, Brad Mosen missed out on a golden opportunity to blast off from Putnamville’s pole, saddled with a less than stellar 18th place result after landing on his side in a late-race scrum in corner one. Brad’s other three battles netted placements of 15th, 10th, and 8th.

Mosen’s Kiwi counterpart Hayden Williams had a respectable initial Indiana Midget Week, qualifying mid-pack or better (13th, 16th, 16th, and 17th) despite having never raced on any of these ovals. Making each of the four features (using a last lap pass to get it done in his Gas City heat), his first three finishes of 17th, 13th (suffering a flat right rear at LPS, also involved in the same incident as Mosen) and 15th (flipping in Bloomington) were just ok. However, he saved his best performance for last, moving past ten Lawrenceburg machines to claim seventh at the conclusion.

If asked to pick my favorite evening of the four, the answer was easily Lawrenceburg, despite the sweat-inducing sunlight reflecting off aluminum bleachers and resulting daytime conditions for qualifying and heat races. Leading off with a dominating performance from Tanner Thorson, the features only got better as the week progressed. Putnamville was all Rico Abreu early on, only to be overtaken in the final third by Bryan Clauson. Just like Putnamville, Bloomington had Kevin Thomas, Jr. lead most of the way, only to be surpassed by his teammate Bell, again in that final third. Lawrenceburg’s wicked slide-fest was simply an edge-of-your-seat thriller, counting 13 attempts at the lead, two of them of the two-for-one variety from third place. In the last seven laps, I counted ten overtaking maneuvers in the raging roust for second and third. But those first 23 tours – holy cow, what a show! Interrupted by separate, bone-chilling spills involving Hines and Bayston and then Alex Bright, who nearly landed in the turn one grandstands, laps 14 through 22 were the best I’ve seen, containing the majority of those 13 shots taken at the leader. Again, for anyone thinking Lawrenceburg is too big for midgets, you don’t know what you’re missing! Trust me!

As mentioned earlier, the sprint car winner on night two and four was Kevin Thomas, Jr., of course sporting primarily black livery. Bryan Clauson, teaming with Max McGhee in a second Sam McGhee Motorsports Maxim, won the other two rounds in Gas City and Bloomington. If you had to guess his color and you sensed a recurring theme for winners, yes, it would also be black. Starting third in Gas City, Clauson collected the lead when Shane Cottle slipped over the edge of a thinning turn two cushion around the tenth tour, building a full straightaway advantage on Cottle by the end. KTJ, Thomas Meseraull, and Kyle Robbins completed the first five. I was around long enough to write down Thursday’s sprint car lineup at Putnamville, but I couldn’t afford to wait until Friday morning to watch, reading afterwards that Kevin Thomas, Jr. claimed the 25-lapper from second. Brady Short surprisingly settled for runner-up status while Chad Boespflug blasted from 12th to 3rd. Dave Darland (Walker 11) and Brady Bacon (Hoffman 69) followed the Hanford Hornet. After witnessing two-time All Star champion Kevin Huntley chase Sondi Eden to the 305 checkers, Friday’s 410 sprint car main offered a front row of Bryan Clauson and Nick Bilbee (another black car), with four-time 2015 Bloomington victor Brady Short (this time in a red car) firing from sixth. Aside from a turn four slide job from his front row mate, Clauson led the whole thing, beating Bilbee, Darland, Short, and C.J. Leary (Baldwin 5). Much like the midgets, Lawrenceburg’s sprint finale was easily the best, counting four slide jobs, plus contact, in the first two laps between front row starters C.J. Leary and Kevin Thomas, Jr. Two cautions came in the first three tours and after that, rubber began to adhere on both ends of the banks, still stacked by mountains of clay. I’m not sure if I have ever seen a surface so quick come feature time, so wild to watch the top three of Thomas, Leary, and Meseraull weave through the field of 27 (yes, all started), nearly wide open as they abused those lappers and the cushion, battling like this thing paid $10,000 to win rather than $1,500. At the end, nobody had anything for the Alabama assassin, but T-Mez truly put on a show to score second, the absolute master of the Lawrenceburg slide job. Jerry Coons, Jr. (Nolen 20), Leary, and Shane Cottle completed the top-five.

For this scribe, Indiana Midget Week would not be complete without a visit from Townsend Tours, led of course by two-time New Zealand TQ champ and Western Springs World 50 lap winner Bryce Townsend, an Indiana Midget Week competitor as recently as 2007 and a complete dominator of a whirlwind Indiana TQ midget tour of 2000 when he waxed the best that the UMRA had to offer (including the entire Goff clan), winning six times in nine starts. Bringing 21 of his fellow Kiwis for a nearly two week tour of Indiana, Illinois, and briefly Missouri and Kentucky, the centerpiece was of course POWRi’s Illinois Speed Week and USAC’s Indiana Midget Week. Stuffed into two vans manned by Townsend and semi-retired stock car racer Dean “Oogie” Mulholland, these folks are the all-time kings of jam-packing a maximum amount of fun and entertainment into a 24 hour period. Trying to follow Townsend in a van filled with tourists can be quite a challenge, perhaps serving as practice for Deano who still competes in off-road buggies. Eyeing a 1,000 kilometer event (500 KM over two days, making ten laps of the island) in September, Mulholland always seems to be having the time of his life – so enjoyable to be around.

Townsend and Western Springs announcer/midget car owner Aaron Drever arrived a few days early to take in a two-night USAC midget meet in Plymouth, living it up at Tony Elliott’s lakeside digs in Warsaw. Campaigning Tracy Hines in the 2014/2015 International events at the Springs, Drever recently sold his squad to Seamount Racing’s Brett Morris, New Zealand’s equivalent to Steve Lewis who once fielded as many as four cars for Townsend, Michael Pickens, Tony Elliott, and Dave Darland. Raising the bar for preparation and professionalism, his empire also constructed Breka chassis and became the only authorized rebuilder of Ed Pink Ford engines outside of Southern California. Brett abruptly exited the sport in 2006 to focus on business interests, as he is New Zealand’s primary contractor for distributing and warehousing glass bottles. For this two-car Seamount reincarnation, Townsend was named team manager and Drever the marketing and PR manager, sliding Taylor Clarke (a former Seamount quarter-midget shoe) through the roll cage of an Aggressor chassis powered by Esslinger. The other driver will be named later.

Many may know Aaron as “The Voice” (also the “Rolls Voice”) of New Zealand’s Western Springs Speedway, now the third longest tenured announcer at the world’s most famous midget racing venue. When not assisting Brett Morris in reconstructing midget racing royalty, Drever is a real estate agent by day for a Ray White franchise, selling well enough to become the sixth-best agent out of 1,400. Recently building a brand new house of his own, it features a three car garage complete with bar and finished concrete flooring, walls plastered with a massive mural of Western Springs Speedway. Parked inside that garage will be a former Steve Lewis Beast/Pink Ford that Kasey Kahne and Jason Leffler drove to a respective nine and two victories each, one of them being Kahne’s 2000 Belleville Nationals score. Also parked in Aaron’s midget racing museum will be the last-ever LTC chassis constructed by Red Caruthers, driven to three USAC wins over a period of 1981 to 1987 by Lonnie Caruthers. Then, there is an ex-Larry Howard Challenger/Pontiac once driven by Stan Fox. Simply stated, there might not be anyone more passionate about midget racing in this universe than Aaron Drever.

After an opening night dinner at Rick’s Boatyard Café on Indy’s west side, the second night of the tour sent the group to a Kokomo World of Outlaws war, indeed an incredible way to ring in this celebration of American dirt track combat as six cars (including Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, and Rico Abreu) battled under a blanket for the majority of the forty tours, thrilled by a late race slider from Joey Saldana that finally dethroned Donny Schatz. Pointed west for midget madness in Quincy, Jacksonville, Macon, and Belle-Clair, some, like travel agent/racer Tim Malone, only sampled the Illinois portion. Offering endless sightseeing in between the Illini affairs plus two full days in Chicago, I lived vicariously through these passionate people, following their every move via Drever and Townsend’s hilarious Facebook posts (the master of manipulating photos, Bryce even shot pool with Michael Jordan in Chi-town). If there was a mall or obscenely large retail establishment along the way, the tour would take the time to stop and shop, winding up with truckload of goodies to take home. Some rather obscure sights were enjoyed at Kirby Smock’s Speedway, Indiana residence (an old Steve Lewis Beast chassis rests in a mulch bed in his front yard) and a classic muscle car junk yard near Springfield, Illinois, but of course there were numerous visits to racing shops, museums, wineries, breweries, and distilleries, awarding a well-rounded view of the Midwest.

On tour last year and back for another, one of the 21 tour members was Graeme “Drumbo” Drummond, a former sprint car chauffeur who still offers a midget for son Ben. And, back after a two year tour hiatus were Steve and Pam Shanley. Townsend acquired their last midget for his Open Wheel Driving Experience (, but since 1985, Steve and Pam both owned midgets, one piloted by Pam for 18 seasons! Arguably the biggest fan of Michael Pickens, female midget racing fanatic Lee Williams was also back on tour for a second consecutive summer. Could we see Lee for a third next year?

Many new faces joined the group for 2015. One of them was veteran radio and television broadcaster John Cardwell, owning nearly four decades of experience covering a wide spectrum of sporting events, including the Olympic games. John was also the voice of Western Springs Speedway for five sporadic seasons, the last two under the Willie Kay regime. A lifelong fan of midget car contests, John even remembers being carried up the hill at The Springs as a toddler.

Another newbie was the always jovial Trevor Panapa, who met Townsend through his driving school, having leased a car from Bryce and joking that he was his longest-serving pupil. Introduced to midget racing through driver Wayne Green, Trevor has crewed on cars and has two boys who follow in their father’s footsteps. Quarter midget, TQ, and midget car owner Stu Taylor was yet another who took in these two weeks of midget mania for the first time, having fielded a midget for his son Jarred until an untimely accident sent him to the sidelines. Stu has had other people pilot his quarter midget and TQ, having just purchased a vintage early 1980s Buck Buckley sprint car chassis for himself.

Speaking of car owners and first-time Townsend Tour members, 78 year-old Ray Bull had an extreme desire to visit the United States for the first time. Joined by son-in-law Ray Guilford and 13 year-old quarter midget racing grandson Max, Ray owned midgets for famed drivers Brett Horrobin, Barry Butterworth, and Calvin Bonney. Despite having trouble with his breathing after recently quitting smoking, one could easily observe that Bull was having the time of his life.

Outside of Townsend and Drever, perhaps the biggest character of all was the ageless Ron Bow, a former car dealer who simply bubbled with personality and side-splitting stories. A former TQ racer who owned and drove his own machine, talk about a late bloomer, but his start in the sport came at the age of 49! Considering purchasing a full midget even after a hard crash in the TQ, although his time behind the wheel was brief, at one time Ron also managed the New Zealand team effort against the United States.

Delightful couple Tony and Anna Cross were also enjoying their initial Open Wheel Speed Sport Tour, Anna disputing the claim of Lee Williams about being the number one fan of Michael Pickens. Before Michael became a midget racing maestro, he had considered purchasing a trailer from Tony and Anna for a pending mini sprint purchase. However, the Cross contingent convinced Pickens to forget about mini sprint racing and instead step up to a full midget by acquiring their 1992-1993 Canaday/Cosworth combination. These days Tony is proud owner and pilot of a rather historic Formula Ford – a Lola T340 that is actually chassis number one, adorned in striking John Player Special livery. Looking like a mini-F1 machine, this pristine piece has claimed four New Zealand and two historic titles, as Tony has proudly campaigned this car for the last 13 years.

Joining the expansive list of first-time tour members was Deon Antsy, a former TQ racer who once claimed third in the New Zealand championship, now welding up Aggressor and Breka chassis at BSL. Deon had Michelle Starns alongside, Michelle’s claim to fame coming from her New Zealand female heavyweight boxing title, having never lost a round to a woman from her native land.

One of the most intriguing Midget Week conversations came at the tour’s last supper, supplanting the highly-anticipated yet washed-out Kokomo finale. Meeting Matthew Percival for the first time, Matt, who brought his sister Suzy along for this adventure, is essentially the New Zealand equivalent of yours truly, having so much in common. During the day, Matt is a Manager at the Marley Loft accounting firm but by night, he is a racing columnist and internet forum moderator. Blaming his grandparents for his midget racing introduction, he’s been attending events for his entire 32 year existence, spending the last ten authoring articles for New Zealand Dirt Track Racing magazine and contributing written work to Percy’s NZ Speedway (, also moderating the Macgor’s Speedway Forum site ( This was not, however, Matt’s first time to North America, having attended the 2014 Chili Bowl, also spending several months working in Toronto, Canada.

Having attended all but one of Bryce Townsend’s tours of the Midwest, Alf Bidois was just an honorary tour member this year. Arriving in the states at the same time as Bryce and Aaron, this year he assisted Tracy Hines’s efforts as a crew member. Starting with Plymouth and doing the full Eastern Storm sprint car slate, he of course played a role in Tracy’s Midget Week assault. Dropped off in downtown Indy by Zach Daum’s team after Hines broke his collarbone at Lawrenceburg, naturally Alf had an absolute blast and learned a ton from midget racing’s number one driver/mechanic, a true perfectionist if there ever was one. Laughing about his numerous trips to Wilkinson, Indiana’s Pizza King, Alf’s sense of humor is also a hallmark, as he constantly had to endure the ribbing from his fellow Kiwis, labeled the “spanner to the stars”.

And last but not least, there was James Selwyn, the absolute king of all crammers who jam-packed more racing and sightseeing into 28 days than most humans could ever imagine. Having met James way back in 2000, 2001, and 2003 when he attended the NAMARS 5-Crown with his uncle Mike Nicholson, it was Mike who actually connected me to the New Zealand racing scene. A professional photographer, graphic designer and video creator by trade (check out his awesome work at, Selwyn even creates album covers for various New Zealand musical artists. Attending 17 events in these 28 days, he hit seven in the five that surrounded the Indianapolis 500, including the Hoosier Hundred, Carb Day, Plymouth All Stars, IRP Silver Crown, Little 500, Indy 500, and Kokomo. Fully credentialed at each speedway in his itinerary, it would have been eight in six for the extremely articulate Selwyn had Terre Haute not rained out.

After Indy, James set out on his own adventurous expedition, doing a circular 3,500 mile, ten state tour of the western United States, driving as far west as Pikes Peak and as far south as New Mexico before arriving back to join Townsend Tours for Kokomo WoO and Illinois/Indiana Midget Weeks. Commenting that the Little 500 was indeed the coolest contest of all this tour, he felt that the POWRi tracks were a tad too small, enjoying the more spacious USAC venues, so honored to walk across the clay of Bloomington and Lawrenceburg, noting that The Burg’s lighting was out of this world. Thrilled by the rush of standing so close to Silver Crown cars nearly rubbing the inside rail at the Indy Mile, he traded his orange vest for blue at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, able to shoot outside of the concrete walls in the short chutes, so in awe of such speed.

Perhaps the number one aspect of James’s lengthy tour was the fact that he was crowned the Kiwi Tour Sweepstakes champion for 2015. Finishing third, third, first, and sixth in the four outings, he easily outdistanced Stu Taylor and Bryce “Scooter” Townsend for the honors of having his name attached to the famed trophy, an ex-RFMS racing nose piece that resides at Alan Rush’s Speedway, Indiana residence. Drawing grid number 15 for the Kokomo finale, Selwyn was truly relieved by the second consecutive Kokomo cancellation. Honored to be the two-time and defending champ, my draws simply stunk this year, happy to hand over my crown to James.

Hanging out with the Kiwis before their last supper, they agreed that the best feature of their tour was without question Lawrenceburg midgets, with the best overall evening coming in Jacksonville. The worst evening was Macon – way too many classes of cars (six, including a race for pastors!). The best track food was found in Lawrenceburg (Drumbo loved the chicken wings) and the best commentary was provided at Bloomington (Cardwell and Drever truly enjoyed Brad Dickison and Pat Sullivan). The best racer to watch all tour was Tyler Thomas while the best and worst looking rides belonged to Dave Darland (best – for his Jeff Walker sprinter) and Brenden Bright (worst - they didn’t like his eye-popping purple and green). The Kiwis were also not keen on the Indiana Midget Week format, as they mentioned that it was too late to start heat racing at 8:30 PM.

Despite that format, everyone, including myself when I wasn’t feeling ill, had so much fun. Looking back, I only wish that I had unlimited vacation time, as I too would like to sample the same sights, sounds, and overall experience of one of these Open Wheel Speed Sport Tours put on by Bryce Townsend. Extremely fiery and competitive when it came to his TQ and midget racing endeavors, I learned that BT is equally on target with a pool cue, cleaning my clock by sweeping all five eight-ball games when he and Alan Rush paid a visit a couple of days after the rest of the group had flown home.

Townsend’s tours are all about jam-packing as much entertainment into a two week span. Trying to cram as much racing into an extremely limited amount of time, much like packing a suitcase for vacation or typing this blog, this is indeed the essence of Indiana Midget Week as well. Somehow surviving this short burst of maximum sensory overload while attempting to maintain my usual routine, it still wears me out just thinking about it. However, when next year’s series rounds the bend, once again I will of course be more than willing to tempt fatigue and illness with such a daunting endeavor, as it feels like such a victory to make the impossible possible.




Volume 17, Number 6

I Remember

I readily admit that my interest in blogging continues to wane with each passing season, but the fact that I can still find inspiration in the strangest of places manages to keep KO's Indiana Bullring Scene alive for yet another installment.  Case in point:  I was headed west on Interstate 70 on an odd Thursday afternoon in mid-May, destined for the Gateway to the West where the fourth night of Rush’s R40 Tour would celebrate 40 years of work from this legendary Canadian trio.  Immediately outside of Terre Haute and virtually the rest of the way to St. Louis, heavy I-70 construction slowed my pace, more than once to a complete halt.  Feeling stress as I feared the delays would destroy my grand plan for a pre-concert feast at Pappy’s Smokehouse, concert tunes of old continued pumping from my iPod, helping to maintain a positive outlook. 

When pulling up to the rear bumper of a semi-trailer in one of those construction zones, I couldn’t help but notice its tag from Quebec.  Ultimate irony should have found me behind a truck from Ontario, which of course is the home of Rush, but as it was, Quebec’s license plate mottowas “Je me souviens”, which when translated to English is “I remember”.    From my years of high school and college French courses, sadly I could not remember such a simple phrase, but naturally the remaining miles to my destination gave metime to research that statement and ponder its significance to this time of the year.    

Some say that I have a great memory, but I counter that statement with the notion that I only remember things that are meaningful.  Between the highs of the Indianapolis 500 (and all of its surrounding events) and the lows of my mother's passing four years ago, the month of May will always be a time I will remember. 

My solo flight to St. Louis was indeed memorable, as everything went to plan, including the bodacious barbeque from Pappy’s, a little pre-show sightseeing (Busch Stadium and the old Union Station), and an obligatory t-shirt purchase for what many are saying is Rush’s final tour of this magnitude.  Eagerly anticipating the show from my 20th row floor seating, I remember quite well the first time that I recognized the band’s music on the radio.  Either 1980 or 1981, I was outside of the Noblesville McDonald’s when a late ‘60s Pontiac LeMans or GTO came rumbling by, hearing “The Spirit of Radio” cranking from some serious speakers.  Right then and there, I just thought that was the epitome of cool, still maintaining such a stance to this day. 

As for the concert, any Rush fanatic would naturally state that their performance was out of this world.  Of course I was in agreement.  Reveling in the fact that the playlist went chronologically in reverse, their second set hit that 1981 to 1976 sweet spot.   Although I would have preferred that the usual tunes be skipped for those more obscure, the mere fact that they played “Jacob’s Ladder” for the first time in a long while (perhaps 1981) made this a trip to remember.  Staying the night in nearby Collinsville and making the leisurely drive home on Friday morning, I was still amped up, a rather nice change of pace as I usually sink into a funk at this time of the year, remembering all those dreadful days leading up to my mom’s death and wishing I had that time back.  

Arriving home just in time to leave for the “May Meltdown”, this USAC sprint car contest at Gas City I-69 Speedway was the second effort from Jim O’Connor’s family.  Getting off to a slow start as excessive moisture could not be adequately packed by lightweight sprint car footprints, hot laps commenced about an hour later than planned – just fine with me as the rest of the show ran like clockwork.  In all honesty, the incredible Gas City surface that resulted truly revived my interest and enthusiasm for this speed plant, as this was unquestionably my favorite place to be in the early 2000s.  Three of the four heat races were outstanding (Six cars raced under a blanket for the win in heat two!) and the feature was without question one of the most exciting I have ever witnessed in my 18 years of attending, helping me to remember my first trip here in August of 1997 when Terry Pletch laid claim to his first career sprint car score, celebrating the momentous occasion by tossing nearly every item of his racing gear into the crowd. 

No, we didn’t have a first-time USAC feature winnerin the 28-car field, but this was about as close as it could get.  Pole-sitter Thomas Meseraull got the jump on Jon Stanbrough and led the first 12 tours in the Keen 18, setting a blistering pace in the low to middle groove before a lap seven caution for Kyle Robbins restacked the deck.  As action resumed, both Meseraull and second place Dave Darland began to slip in that lower lane, but T-Mez’s missteps were enough to allow the all-time USAC sprint car feature winner to procure the premier position at the bottom of turn three some six laps after that last yellow.  Meanwhile, quick-qualifier Brady Bacon (11.855) climbed the stairs and said hello to Fonzi, circling Stockon for fourth and slipping past Stanbrough and Meseraull with little trouble.  However, an ill-timed caution at lap 14 came for Casey Shuman, sending the Hoffman 69 back to fourth. 

Once green lights glared, Brady again rode the rim and blew by Stanbrough and Meseraull, dipping beneath Darland with a shocking turn two dive bomb.  A corner four counter from The Deputy was no good, but Dave did manage to hang with the Union City, Indiana resident the rest of the way.  With the surface now slicking-off through the middle, passing was plentiful, seeing C.J. Leary to surge from 16th to 5th.

Lapped traffic finally came into play in the latter stages of the 30-lapper, moving a hard-charging Meseraull immediately back into consideration.  T-Mez took the high road in three to drive past Dave.  Nearly burning Bacon with his turn two top shelf tactic, had it not been for a pair of lapped machines Meseraull would have found first.   Tossing a bold but effective slider on both back markers, the former BCRA midget champ suddenly had a sniff of first as the white flag was waving.  Following the leader through one and two, Thomas turned to the bottom of three and considered a cutthroat move to the top of four, pulling up early when Brady moved down a lane.  At the 9:29 PM checkered flag, last year’s national sprint car king laid claim to his third score of this young season.  Meseraull maintained my epic weekend with his thrilling thrust to runner-up status.  Darland settled for third while Stanbrough and Leary landed inside the top-five.  Positions six through ten were owned by Robert Ballou (recovering from an early race shunt), Chase Stockon, Tracy Hines, Shane Cottle, and Kevin Thomas, Jr. 

Much like that Rush concert the previous evening, Friday night went by in a flash, taking only one quick tour of the pit area where I spotted future hall-of-fame mechanic Phil Poor assisting usual one-man band Robert Bell while journeyman sprint and midget campaigner Dean Franklin lent a hand to fellow Okie Frank Flud.  Spending the rest of the efficient outing atop turn four with Roger and Barb Tapy, not only was I thrilled to beat impending storms with such a scintillating finale, but I also shared an enjoyable extended conversation with former Indiana bullring bandit Marvin Deputy, who just so happened to be situated to my right.  Reliving the glory days of mid-to-late 1970s Saturday nights at Lawrenceburg, when not wheeling his own equipment, Marvin recalled strapping into the Brewer 14 (with Chevy power) along with occasional stints in hardware provided by Dizz Wilson, Mike Gross, and the Law Brothers, who happened to be stationed in the same tiny town of Commiskey in rural Jennings County.  After retiring from driving duties in the mid-1980s and ending his 31 year employment at Cummins, Deputy still stayed active in the sport by driving the Law Brothers hauler to the race track.

While making my way to the parking lot, I couldn’t help but notice those GYATK (that’s “Get Your Ass To Kokomo” for the uninformed) t-shirts in the Gas City souvenir shop.  After this epic outing, I had to wonder if the O’Connors would also be printing up some GYATGC shirts as well, as this show really has me looking forward to their next outings, Indiana Midget Week on June 10th and Indiana Sprint Week on July 10th.  Yes indeed, you also need to get your ass to Gas City! 

All available sprint car meets for Saturday May 15thwere a no-go, so naturally a trip to Bonge’s Tavern( with my wife, nephew, and his wife was a perfect way to spend a damp, overcast evening.  Sampling such incredible cuisine and atmosphere twice in the last two weeks, it simply doesn’t get much better than that.Those who have taken me up on my tip have thanked me later. 

Perhaps the only thing that is better than a Saturday at Bonge’s is a Sunday at Kokomo Speedway.  On the way up north, I had the radio dial locked on to 1070 AM for Indy 500 qualifying, biting my fingernails in hope that three cars would time slower than Bryan Clauson.  My wish was not granted and by the time I got to the track, all 33 spots had been filled.  A half hour later, the final row, plus Buddy Lazier, would have to go through one final meat-grinding shootout to determine who would make the race.  Thankfully I did not have to endure the anxiety of listening to such session, relieved to hear the good news while sitting in the Kokomo grandstand.  After the disappointment of his 2012 500 crash, I hungered for better fortunes for Bryan, not only to prove ABC announcers Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear wrong about USAC racers, but to also solidify his stance as one of the world’s best wheelmen.  From an outsider’s perspective, it would appear that the teams he has been matched up with are unable to give him a setup that helps him exude the same confidence he has at places like Kokomo Speedway. 

Naturally with all of the panic and chaos at the big track, there were no new one-lap track records and the thought of an all-time qualifying mark being achieved for the 100th running seemspretty far-fetched.  But back up at Kokomo, they nearly set a new record for the completion of a sprint car feature.  Standard Sunday night outings are always efficient, but an 8:11 PM exit was pretty impressive.  Pushing the program forward to beat Mother Nature, had it not been for the wet roads on Kokomo’s south side, I could have gotten by without turning on my headlights the whole way home. 

Bending the ear of former car owner Rodney Reynolds who just so happened to be sitting a couple of rows beneath me, we passed the non-sprint car time recalling his racing life and unique observations on the sport for a future Flat Out column.  As for the on-track sprint car product, 22 chauffeurs were split into three heats (claimed from the front row by Shane Cottle, Logan Jarrett, and Casey Shuman), no B-main necessary.  Shoving off an A-main front row of Jarrett and Cottle by 7:50, Cottle reached the top of turn two first, his sprint to the finish interrupted only once for a turn four tip over by Conner Donelson. 

Exclusively riding the rim in Paul Hazen’s DRC/Kercher, the hometown hero skillfullycaressed the cushion and paced all 25 tours.Briefly held up by Dustin Smith’s DRC (once belonging to Chris Hoyer) in the last half of the affair, Shane endured serious heat from front row mate Logan Jarrett, who searched high and low for a way around.  Logan’s threat was thwarted after he crushed corner two concrete.  Cottle went unchallenged the rest of the way but as for Jarrett, he immediately relinquished second to fifth-starting Kevin Thomas, Jr., temporarily tossing third to eighth-starting Justin Grant.  Grant wound up fourth and C.J. Leary, who also waxed the wall in two, settled for fifth, this after exchanging fourth four separate times with KTJ.  Operating as high as third, Dave Darland (Walker 11) fell from fourth to sixth in the final few circuits.  Jerry Coons, Jr., Casey Shuman, Jarett Andretti, and Max McGhee settled for seventh through tenth. 

I’m not old enough to remember Kokomo Speedway conquering from Paul Hazen and Jim Elliott, nor was I around to recall if Hazen achieved any K-town triumphs with Louie Mann, but I do remember so much Sunday night success with Tony Elliott, Kevin Thomas, Robbie Stanley, Jon Stanbrough, Billy Puterbaugh, Casey Shuman, and most recently before this evening, Thomas Meseraull (9/5/2010).  Adding Shane Cottle to this elite list only seems natural, noticing how luck was on their side as their right rear tire went flat while being pushed back to the pits. 

Always a feel-good feeling when exiting the front gate, I couldn’t help but grin when remembering Rodney Reynolds’s statement as the checkered flag fell.  “This sure beats a Sunday night bowling league, doesn’t it?”  Yep – you’ve got that right Rod!

Terre Haute’s Hulman Classic for Wednesday was a wash, so Thursday’s 62nd running of the Hoosier Hundred rang in my Indianapolis 500 week.  My initial Indy 500 came in ’85, as did my first Silver Crown experience at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, but that was the Hulman Hundred.  I remember my first Hoosier Hundred from ’86, when Jack Hewitt and Bob Hampshire were embarrassing some stiff competition with their Stanton chassis nicknamed “Gussie”.  Nearly thirty years later, although Hewitt and Gussie have long been retired, Hamp and his number 63 are still alive in the form of an equally potent Maxim owned by DePalma Motorsports, driven in dominating fashion by last year’s series champ and defending Hoosier Hundred winner Kody Swanson. 

Winning the opening match of the 2015 Silver Crown slate in Toledo, Kody was quickest on the one-mile sand box, his 33.223-second clocking nearly two seconds off of Johnny Parsons, Jr.’s 1995 mark.  Kody’s lap came second to last in the order, sad that we have to wait for rubber in order for this oval to come alive.  Proving that the faster cars came near the end of the line, Shane Cottle (Williams 81) timed last and was second best while A.J. Fike was third after going out fifth from last.  Unfortunately for Cottle, he had to have a push to get fired and could only begin the feature from 14th

Remove their American Racer tire advantage and it still doesn’t matter, as Swanson and Hampshire have this deal figured out.  Once the racing groove widened to a car and a half, Kody tiptoed past race-long leader A.J. Fike, on the outside of turn one no less, and led the final 33 laps to take his second consecutive Hoosier Hundred, duplicating what Hewitt did for Hamp in ’88 and ’89.  The last to win back to back was Jerry Coons, Jr. in 2011 and 2012.

After Brian Tyler’s Classy Chassy entry failed to take time (succumbing to an oil leak from what I was told), he started dead-donkey (27th) in Randy Bateman’s 55.  In old-school fashion, Tyler found his way to the front.  Tenth by lap 39, he found the top-five at lap 54, taking third on the 74th circuit.  With five laps left, Brian slipped underneath A.J. Fike to score second.  Overtaken with a very bold outside move in turn three by Aaron Pierce, he fell to fourth after yet another turn three outside attack, this time from DuQuoin winner Shane Cockrum.  However, Cockrum’s right rear rubber gave way on the final tour, allowing Tyler to salvage third.  Maybe my memory is slipping, but I don’t remember such a dramatic charge through the field at this Hoosier Hundred in my thirty years of attending. 

Behind the podium of Swanson, Pierce, and Tyler came Fike, Justin Grant (Carli 8), Cockrum, Rickey Hood (Fox 56), Patrick Lawson, Jacob Wilson, and Brady Bacon (also losing a right rear late).  Dave Darland (Longworth 19) and C.J. Leary swapped Hoosier right rears under the open red for Steve Buckwalter and were subsequently docked a lap, claiming 11th and 12th.  Notable retirees included Tracy Hines, Russ Gamester, Levi Jones (Rogers 57), Shane Cottle, and Jerry Coons, Jr. (up as high as 4th in the Nolen 20).  With the caution flying on lap one for Chris Fetter, Kenny Jacobs’s 1987 100-mile mark still stands. 

Already mentioning Rickey Hood in Galen Fox’s 56, it made me wish it were 1986 all over again.  Nonetheless, even though the field of 29 was several cars short of an entry list that showed 34, the reemergence of Hood, Tyler, and Jones gave hope for the return of even more big names.  Of course I remember Silver Crown fields being a who’s-who of racing, with qualifying races eliminating the field fillers that currently make up the last several rows.   Happy to see a better crowd but still hoping for more, I again applaud the work of USAC’s Andy Hillenburg in breathing new life into this series.  Although I would like to see more “names” in the field, the fact that several new dirt chassis were constructed over the off-season is indeed positive (I counted new Maxims for Cockrum, Byrne, and Cottle, plus a new DRC for Leary).  If I have one last request, it is this:  can we please return to two-lap qualifying instead of just one?  Without a qualifying race, why the concern for time savings?   

Friday evening sent me south for Bloomington’s second annual Josh Burton Memorial, an MSCS meet that also added King of Indiana Sprint Series status.  A huge event for this community, of course the large turnout and superb weather made it hard to find grandstand seats, especially at my less than desirable arrival time of 7 PM.  Bumping into Bill Baker for the second time in two nights, with a half hour until heats started I took a rare tour of the pits where a healthy contingent of 38 sprinters had accumulated. 

Immediately spotting Jim Mills’s sharp looking 305 winged car, it was pushed to the chute by long-time wingless wrench Jim Forman.  Enjoying conversations with Kevin Briscoe (guiding305 racer Kendall Ruble), Kent Christian assistant Kelly Greeson (back after heart issues), car owner Jeff “Oly” Olson, and longtime KISS coordinator/track scorer Dawn Moss, intriguing B-town pairings included Chad Boespflug/Amati Racing and Joss Moffatt/Hurst Brothers. 

Heading back to the hill just in time for some dramatic pre-race tributes, I found a seat five rows from the bottom of turn four, remembering this exact vantage point from my 1982 Bloomington indoctrination.  Sitting so close to the action for heat race activity, a massive ride by Michael Koontz over the banking in three and four (and all the way past the ditch) once again opened eyes to sprint car violence.  Father of Josh, Jerry Burton’s iconic 04 sprinter was wheeled once again by Jeff Bland, Jr., who unfortunately had a rough go on the red clay.  Bland had been mired outside of a transfer position in his heat, eventually claiming fourth and was approaching third until spinning on the final lap.  Things got no better in the first of two B-mains.  Saddled with an unsavory eighth starting spot, the substantial ledge that stacked on both ends allowed Jeff to jump to third on the last lap, nearly stealing second from Logan Hupp through the final corner.  Perhaps not realizing that the checkered flag had already fallen, Bland’s wicked slider in turn one sent him into Hupp and over the edge, too little too late as it was. 

Absorbing the action with Little 500 Hall of Fame inductee Max Dolder and Jim LeConte from the asphalt just in front of the concession stand, this is indeed the best Bloomington vantage point, remembering posting up here with Paul Wilson as far back as 1998.  B-main number two came complete with two nasty tumbles, the first by Bradley Sterrett (Krockenberger 21) as he was sweeping past Cole Smith for third on the north end.  Smith was the second victim after banging wheels for the final A-main ticket one too many times with Brandon Mattox. 

Offering a four-wide salute for the thirty lap finale, a premature jump by pole sitter Nick Bilbee was called back.  Who could blame Bilbee for taking the chance when five-time track champ Brady Short, who had already won the previous two outings here, sat beside him on the front row?  As it was, Brady took the lead and after an early yellow for Brandon Morin, waved goodbye as he built an insurmountable half-track advantage by the time a lap 23 caution came for Shane Cottle.  In a fierce fight for fifth, Cottle was on the receiving end of a ruthless Robert Ballou slider that enraged the former AMSA mini sprint champion, climbing Robert’s right rear before exiting.  With two lapped machines between himself and second place Bilbee, Short would not be shortchanged, tallying his third consecutive Bloomington bounty and second KISS collection of the season.  Bilbee was second-best, earning the position after an intense race-long war was waged with Shuman, Cottle, and Darland.  Darland was third in Jeff Walker’s Maxim, edging 11th-starting Chad Boespflug and Kevin Thomas, Jr.  Securing sixth through tenth were Shuman, Stanbrough, Ballou, Christian (up from 15th), and Babcock.  After winning the next Friday from tenth, the big question is:  can anyone stop Brady Short in Southern Indiana?  Right now, that answer appears to be no. 

Bypassing the Tanner Swanson IRP Silver Crown benefit in favor of my niece’s high school graduation celebration in downtown Indy (held in conjunction with the Indy 500 parade), my nephew, his wife, and myself made the short bike ride from Washington and Meridian to Virginia Avenue artisan distillery Hotel Tango, where we sipped on an early afternoon craft cocktail and shared an interesting conversation with Steve Conforti, who admitted his father-in-law was a member of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.  After prying a little further, Steve stated his wife’s father was the late Elmer George, 1957 USAC sprint car champion.  Only in Indy does such a thing take place. 

After riding back to Dan’s pad at 13th and Central, the 67thLittle 500 was next on the agenda, truly one of the most cherished events on my extensive racing calendar.  One of only a few pavement contests that I attend each year, it’s still the wildest and most exciting format ever conceived:  33 sprint cars starting three-wide on a tight, high-banked quarter-mile, circling 500 times with two mandatory pit stops thrown in for good measure (and some wacky push truck drivers adding to the insanity).  Enjoying old-school ingenuity with its run-what-you-brung rulebook, I will always be in love with the sheer chaos that ensues in those first 125 laps.   Another positive aspect of the Little 5 is the people, enticing attendance from my brother Greg, “Coach” Randy Moss, Greg Koons, Fred and Ande Possman, and Gerry Olson, who noted that he will be promoting a huge $12,000 to win ASCS national contest at Sedalia, Missouri on August 23rd

Seated in turn one with Alan Rush thanks to the generosity of Kroger advertising assistant Kevin Kotansky, I chose not to take notes until the very end, wanting to take it all in just like I did in my early years of attendance.  Remembering my first Little 5 from 1988, it was a struggle to follow as I was unable to identify the majority of Michigan, Ohio, and Florida based competitors.  Much like ’88, I spent the first half of this edition familiarizing myself with the unknowns.  Each year, the Little 500 field only gets stronger, noting that names like Donnie Adams, Jr., Russ Gamester, and Brian Gerster were unable to crack the starting lineup because of mechanical gremlins.  

With such a strong field and such an unpredictable event, of course there are a number of stories that unfold and eventually eliminate the long list of contenders.  A huge turn one pileup on lap 83 took out eight, started when Jerry Coons, Jr. spun in his own oil and backed Gene Nolen’s Beast into the turn one wall.  Big names like Cottle, Pierce, Hollingsworth, Helberg, and Elliott were either wounded or eliminated altogether.  The next ordeal came on lap 161 when pole-sitter Bobby Santos, III and Caleb Armstrong, operating in first and second at the time, were swept into the turn three wall after two-time winner Brian Tyler again had engine issues in the Contos 44. 

After Santos and Armstrong exited, Kyle Hamilton (Klatt 5) dominated the middle stages, leading laps 178 through 347.  After finishing fifth last year, Kyle noted afterwards that a radio problem cost him crucial time on his second pit stop.  Floridian Mickey Kempgens pitted early in the second segment and would up with the lead after Hamilton’s second stop.  Mickey worked overtime to fend off Dave Steele and Hamilton, both of whom were attempting to get back on the lead lap, reminding me of similar charges from Eric Gordon, Bob Frey, and Bentley Warren.  Kempgens stayed up front until Chris Windom (Goacher 51) slipped underneath in turn three on lap 427, thrilled that the top-four were on the same lap.  Kempgens tangled while lapping Ryan Burdette on lap 448, effectively creating a three-car, fifty-lap dash for the big prize. 

Expecting Steele or Hamilton to challenge, the threat never materialized, still a surprise that the “Man of Steele” was even in contention after battling engine issues all week long (the problem turned out to be a kinked fuel hose).  Like David, Chris was now a two-time winner, giving local car owner Jason Goacher his first, a dream come true for Jason who along with his father Bill have been trying to win this race since 1983.   The true definition of perseverance, nobody can question Goacher’s passion for the Little 500, thrilled that he was able to achieve a life-long goal all these years later.  Outside of Windom, Steele, and Hamilton came fourth place Jacob Wilson, whose race was ruined on lap 37 when he had to pit for a flat left rear tire, losing six laps in the process.  The two-time and defending champion wound up two laps in arrears.  Three laps down in fifth and sixth were Shane Hollingsworth and Davey Hamilton, Jr., the latter landing rookie of the year honors.   The rest of the top-ten included Kody Swanson, Kempgens, Nick Hamilton, and Jimmy McCune. 

Heading to the pits with Mr. Rush to soak up post-race atmosphere with photographers Steve Remington, David Sink, Robert Gill and New Zealand visitor James Selwyn, this was my first time to see James since he last landed for the NAMARS 5-Crown with Mike Nicholson, sacrificing crucial luggage space to bear gracious gifts from his home country.    There are no better race fans in this world than Kiwis. 

Easily arriving at my Indy 500 parking at 38th and Georgetown by 9:30 AM the next morning, I made the 1.3 mile trek to my turn three seats where I was joined by father Drew (his 69th season at IMS), brother Jeff, and nephew Danny.  Despite all the media negativity from week-long crashes caused by aero kits and parts failures, this 99th Indianapolis 500 was again a fantastic affair.  Slightly soured by Conor Daly’s pace lap fire and Bryan Clauson’slap 62 turn four crash (after slipping in the marbles), the last 15 laps saw one of the best Indy 500 battles I can ever recall.  In the past, I remember a bunch of two way wars – Mears and Johncock, Mario and Sullivan, Emmo and Little Al, Michael and Mears, Little Al and Goodyear, Lazier and Jones, Danica and Wheldon, Marco and Hornish, Franchitti and Sato, Castroneves and Hunter-Reay, just to name a few.  This year’s three-way joust between Montoya, Power, and Dixon was truly one to remember.  Say what you will, but these last several years of Indianapolis 500s, dating back to Wheldon’s improbable 2011 win, have indeed upheld the statement that this is the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.  Truth be told, as much as I despise the looks and sounds of these cars, they do put on an unbelievable show on this massive oval.  However, if I have one request like I have with the Hoosier Hundred, please bring back a recording of Jim Nabors signing “Back Home Again in Indiana”.  Yes, I might have still received those same goose bumps when Straight No Chaser sang this year’s rendition, but the tears did not flow as in years past. 

Making that long walk back to the car with my nephew, even with two stops we still made it in time for 7 PM Kokomo hot laps, continuing my Indy 500 double tradition that dates back to 1992.  In addition to the huge holiday weekend crowd that filled the grandstands, two busloads were here for Bryan Clauson, the first driver in my time who raced a sprint car the same day as the Indianapolis 500.  (Although, I have to wonder if his Jonathan Byrd Racing forerunner Rich Vogler did the same with a midget or sprint car. Where is Kevin Eckert’s database when I need it?) Thirty sprinters showed for the $2,000 to win and $200 to start Kokomo Klassic, an impressive turnout given that a KISS contest was held four hours away in Haubstadt. 

Having the feel of a huge event, of course all eyes were on Clauson, who was quickest in his hot lap session but could only muster a fourth place finish in his heat, imagining the transition from Indycar precision to sideways sprint cars on a heavy track (complete with cushion) had to be challenging.  Electrified by a Chris Gurley two-for-one overtaking for first place on the final lap of heat four, for the first time this year a sprint car B-main was held at Kokomo, with new father Josh Spencer taking the final transfer, thanks to assistance from Scott Benic and Scotty Weir as father Jerry was ailing. 

Starting an hour later to accommodate Indy 500 fans, the sprint car feature wave lap came at an appreciated 10:22, even with four other classes of hot laps and heat races.  Redrawing the top-two from each heat, the first four rows contained Coons, Cottle, Andretti, Thomas, Gnat, Gurley, Leary, and Darland.  Clauson commenced from 13th

Previous week winner Cottle reached the turn two cushion first, up front for the first six frenetic laps before a Travis Hery spin brought caution.  In those six laps, Kokomo KISS victor Justin Grant had already advanced six positions to fourth while ninth-starting Thomas Meseraull, a SaturdayLPS MSCS winner with Amati Racing, was up to sixth. 

Coons and previous evening Angell Park producer Kevin Thomas, Jr. engaged in a multi-lap, side-by-side duel for second, with KTJ finally procuring the position with a low side launch off four.  Kevin soon saw the lead when The Throttle hammered the healthy cushion in turn two.  Smelling blood in the water, Monte Edison’s man, who was still limping after his Little 500 incident, challenged for second while Grant lurked in fourth.  After Darland climbed the curb in two and plummeted to eighth, Grant scaled the same mound of dirt a lap later and slowed to a stop, moving Clauson all the way to fourth. 

C.J. Leary threw his name into the hat when he briefly coaxed fourth from Clauson on the restart.  After Clauson and Cottle split a slowing Coons, Bryan bolted to second and brought Leary with him.  KTJ built another big lead, but the advantage was halved when he overextended turn two.Led by Frankfort’s Brian Cripe, Chris Babcock’s turn two tumble with ten to go only thickened the plot, leaving room for a storybook ending. 

Bouncing through turn one on the restart, Bryan yielded second to Leary. Five laps later, the man of the hour had regained his rhythm but yet another yellow, this time for Brian Karraker, restacked the deck and added even more drama and intrigue.  As expected, Thomas was strong around the rim in Mike Dutcher’s 17, but after a brief battle with Leary, Clauson had solidified second and was closing quickly.  KT sensed BC’s presence and switched to the bottom of one and two.  Coming to receive the white, Clauson inched closer through three and four, surging slightly ahead as the duo exited turn two.  Thomas hauled it into the high side of three while the Indy 500 hero stuck to his guns on the bottom.  The dynamic duo reached start/finish in side-by-side fashion; however, thatstorybook ending just wasn’t meant to be, as Bryan had to settle for $1,000 second place money after his sterling surge from 13th.  Leary, Darland, and Cottle completed the first five at the 10:44 PM finish.  Jarrett, Gurley, Andretti, Spencer, and Hery were sixth through tenth. 

Sad that yet another Indy 500 weekend had come to a close, Kokomo’s thrilling conclusion was a fitting end to what has traditionally been a memorable week and month in many respects.  By no surprise, 2015 added yet another chapter to an already overflowing vault of archives.  Beginning with the “rush” of an audio extravaganza from my favorite trio and ending with a surge from a scintillating sprint car contest in Kokomo, as I say goodbye to spring and hello to summer, good and bad this continues to be a time that I will always remember, as it truly defines my existence. 





Volume 17, Number 5

Worlds Collide

In the spirit of the late Earl Baltes, leave it to movers and shakers at Eldora Speedway to still be able to dream up a one-of-a-kind promotion and turn it into reality. 

Billed as the “Mother of All Sprint Car Weekends”, Eldora Speedway’s Mother’s Day weekend pairing of World of Outlaws and United States Auto Club sprint cars wasn't completely unique, however.  Aside from sharing alternating evenings of a Four Crown billing since 2007, the last time the two groups worked together was in 1989, when USAC’s winged sprints were scheduled for a co-sanction with the World of Outlaws at the brand new half-mile dirt oval constructed at Canada’s Mosport Park.  USAC midgets were also on the card at this “Ascot of the North”, but unfortunately the huge stones that littered the clay surface were deemed too dangerous, resulting in a complete cancellation of the program and an immediate paving of the oval.  The only other time that USAC and the World of Outlaws sanctions were offered at the same track on the same day came in 1982 at the Springfield Mile, but Silver Crown cars were the USAC flavor of the day.  

When Ted Johnson formed his fledgling World of Outlaws organization in 1978, I would imagine most racing folk didn’t give it much of a chance to survive in an open wheel world that was dominated by the almighty United States Auto Club.  As many are aware, back in those early WoO days they competed winged or wingless based on the track’s local rules, a cool concept that I believe would be insanely popular in current times.  Up until the mid-1980s, outlaw drivers could still be found moonlighting with USAC on rare off-nights, especially those aforementioned Silver Crown contests that paid bigger money than most WoO programs.  However, somewhere along the way Ted deemed it necessary to protect his brand by imposing restrictions and penalties if his drivers chose to race elsewhere.   So much for outlaws being outlaws, right?

Since that point in time, there has been a distinct division between winged and wingless chauffeurs and fans alike.  Thanks to the advent of internet message boards, fans suddenly became extremely vocal and defensive regarding their preference, hard to find those that simply enjoyed sprint car racing in the general sense.   By the late 1990s, most wingless enthusiasts, or at least the ones I interacted with, had completely turned their backs against the winged world because of the single file racing, the tendency for dusty, dry-slick race tracks, the overabundance of open red flag periods, and the preference given to high-dollar traveling squads.Believing that their favorite traditional drivers had more talent because of the absence of aerodynamic aid, over the years I have heard so many state that they wouldn’t walk across the street for a winged sprint car contest.   Proponents of the winged warriors often argue that wingless racing is too slow, too dangerous, and that the drivers, teams, and equipment are inferior.  Given the difficulty of dragging unusually stubborn fans to a racetrack to see the reason for opposing preferences, this rare opportunity for the two biggest sanctioning bodies to be featured on the same evening allowed these two separate worlds to briefly collide.  The big question was:  could those hardcore aficionados from each side of the fence be convinced to attend an event of the other variety after this weekend? 

In the last 25 years, the number of venues hosting both winged and wingless exploits on a national level have shrunk considerably, but Eldora Speedway has always been one.  Leading up to Friday's fling, since 1962 there had been 187 USAC sprint car contests at the Big E, with 72 different winners in 53 years.  As for the WoO, 150 races have been held along highway 118 since 1978, with only 37 different victors in those 37 years.  Right away, the comparison indicates that USAC action is clearly more competitive, as Eldora outlaw activity has traditionally been dominated by Kinser, Swindell, Wolfgang, Haudenschild, Blaney, and Saldana.  I have to wonder, without Eldora dates, would either series have flourished as much while on the flip side, without USAC and the WoO, would Eldora be as famous and successful?  Either way, the crowds were strong for both Friday and Saturday showings, as a plethora of campers laid stakes in the ground despite unfavorable Saturday afternoon weather.  While waiting out those Saturday showers, I'm sure the campers rehashed the age-old debate about which brand of sprint car competition was superior.  The remainder of this blog will analyze the pros and cons of each, at least in terms of this Mother of All Sprint Car Weekends.   At the end of the day, it's all about personal preference, but it's still fun to draw the comparisons.      

Eldora has always separated the men from the boys, so car counts in recent years have reflected the fact that there aren’t as many of those boys who are willing to tame the beast.  Friday’s car count favored the wingers by nine (39 to 30) while Saturday’s difference of 13 again favored the cars wearing cowboy hats (34 to 21).  Saturday’s less than stellar turnout of traditional equipment further highlights the Indiana/Illinois/Ohio issue that exists when multiple wingless sprint car venues within a reasonable drive are all in action.  Sad to say, in all of my years here (30 to be exact), I can never recall a lower count for a USAC sprint car contest than the one on Saturday.  On a side note, one name missing from the winged roster was Jac Haudenschild, having to ask his wife Patty the last time he wasn’t in an Eldora WoO field.  The answer:  the spring of 2003.  Said to have been contacted by Jeff Walker for a wingless ride, Jac had already committed to helping son Sheldon, so he had to turn down the offer.  As a result, Walker was watching the action from up top. 

If speed is your thing, then wings at Eldora are your cup of tea.  Once the mile tracks disappeared from the outlaw schedule (Springfield ’98 was the last appearance), other than Florida’s Volusia County there hasn’t been a faster track on the circuit than this Western Ohio speed plant.  Craig Dollansky’s April 2002 all-time mark of 12.707 seconds (equating to 141.654 MPH) surprisingly still stands after this weekend, despite the fact that both nights of qualifying conditions were smooth, sticky, blindingly fast, and around the bottom.  Paul McMahan (fourth in line) was the first to use a wide arc around the inside wall to top Friday’s charts at 12.913 seconds while Rico Abreu (three cars from the end of the line) lit up the scoreboard and crowd with the number one mark on Saturday, tripping the timing loop in 12.989 seconds.  Both McMahan and Abreu were the lone 12-second bracket busters each evening, with the top-ten separated by .324 seconds on Friday and just .147 on Saturday.  Perhaps the Outlaw scene is more competitive these days (everybody has lightweight cars and stout power plants), or it’s a breeze to keep your foot to the floor and run a clean line under “locked-down” conditions. 

Also motivated by high horsepower but further emphasizing large attachments, USAC qualification times were naturally two-and-a-half to three seconds slower than the WoO, but with the traditional machines going first the surface was still greasy, especially on Saturday when wheel spin was an issue, evident when Aaron Farney’s wounded engine allowed him to clock second best while ultimate low-buck racer Brandon Whited was credited with fifth.  An aggressive Chase Stockon was number one on both nights, 15.587 on Friday and 16.432 on Saturday in his DRC/Fisher combo.  USAC’s top-ten times from Friday were separated by a half-second while Saturday’s variance was well over full second.  As always in USAC circles, there is a huge gap between those who aren’t afraid to flirt with Eldora’s fence and those who would rather operate a lane or two lower. 

Akin to Formula One on dirt where overtaking rarely comes after the first lap, winged heats were essentially an afterthought, but that aspect has not changed in the last two and a half decades, especially on half-miles.  On Friday, Kody Swanson, Kerry Madsen, and Gary Taylor won from the front row, but Rico Abreu provided a favorable change of pace with his scintillating score from fourth, aided by a caution for a Jacob Allen engine explosion.  Saturday’s super sticky soil saw McMahan, Jamie Veal, Donny Schatz, and Shane Stewart hit pay dirt from the front row.  WoO heat winners are locked into the trophy dash, but additional dash participants are comprised of the fastest qualifiers who transferred through their heat, a highly irritating aspect from a fan’s perspective, as is the slim four car heat race invert, which clearly promotes qualification prowess.  My plea to WoO officials:  why not just take the top two from each heat and keep it simple so that the average fan caneasily follow the format?  Honestly, I think this would help make the heat races much more exciting too.   But, what do I know?

Unless you enjoy parades, the most entertaining of the Mother of All Sprint Car Weekend heats was without question the wingless variety.  Inverting six as usual, on Friday Chase Stockon and Jerry Coons, Jr. scored from 6th while Dave Darland and Chris Windom (Pollock 21x) won from 3rd.  Although two of Saturday’s three heats were claimed from front row positions, action was still air-tight, as one of the heats even fanned three-wide at the finish. 

Unfortunately a lack of USAC quality and quantity made Friday’s B-main a disappointment, as the front row of C.J. Leary and Brady Bacon could have lapped the field in just a few more circuits.  Kent Wolters was the first outside of Friday’s wingless A while Kraig Kinser (overtaken on the last lap by Chad Kemenah), Lee Jacobs, Danny Holtgraver, Craig Dollansky (first ride in the Roth 83), and Sheldon Haudenschild were a few of the well-known names missing Friday’s winged cut.   The first to miss Saturday’s winged main event was Kevin Thomas, Jr., one of three men to double-dip on both evenings.  Brady Bacon (timing 8th with the wing on Friday after nearly winning the previous Sunday in Haubstadt) and Kody Swanson (scoring the previous weekend with Silver Crown in Toledo and wingless at Waynesfield) were the other two, which brings to light that thirty years ago, there would have been so many more who would have shed wings (and vice versa) to make more dough.  Hopefully this event returns next year and if so, could it be possible to revive the notion of sprint car versatility by dangling a $10,000 or $15,000 carrot to someone sweeping both events in one night?  If so, then worlds would truly be colliding.  

Sporting a cushion one groove off the wall on Friday and another further down on Saturday, the danger factor of wingless racing was almost a non-issue all weekend.  Almost – unless you ask Brandon Mattox, who nailed the turn three wall in Friday qualifying and helicoptered down the banking.  Almost – unless you ask Jarett Andretti, whose horrific Eldora Speedway fortune continued with a high-flyer through turn one in his Friday heat.  Almost – unless you ask Logan Jarrett, who flirted with disaster after connecting with Travis Hery in turn one of his Friday heat.  Spinning, tagging the wall, and somehow continuing on his way, Jarrett was absent the rest of the weekend.  Almost – unless you ask Brady Bacon, who received an ill-timed turn one heat race slider from Dallas Hewitt that resulted in a ride to the concrete and resulting flip atop Hewitt’s machine.  Bacon began Friday’s A from 11th and was up to 5th before blasting backstretch concrete, ending a dynamic drive in the Dynamics 69.   On the flip side, aside from a few tire issues, wings were clean all weekend. 

Given Friday’s heavy surface, wingless and winged features weren’t exactly what the fans had hoped for concerning overtaking, as both were essentially runaways for the win.  Robert Ballou obliterated the competition, up front for all thirty tours after beginning from the coveted outside front row spot.  Jon Stanbrough was a distant second, best in class as Ballou was literally in his own area code, fearless in his cushion-crushing expedition.  C.J. Leary also likes a curb, strutting from seventh to third after trading multiple slide jobs with fourth place finisher Thomas Meseraull (Keen 18).  Tracy Hines hauled from tenth to fifth, with Jerry Coons, Jr., Dave Darland (up from 13th), Shane Cottle, Aaron Farney, and Chase Stockon (involved in a turn three incident with Grant and Meseraull) securing sixth through tenth. 

If the feature looked like easy work for Ballou, it was a far cry from the effort that went into presenting his car for the feature.  Needing to change an engine after his heat race, a huge dilemma ensued as Robert’s only spare bullet was in his backup car.  Removing engines from the primary and backup car and re-installing the good mill – the thrash was complete by the time the horn sounded for the feature, barely enough time to get heat in the engine.  Leave it Ballou and his crew chief Derrick Bye (with the assistance of supporter Dan Clifton and a host of others) to figure out a way to complete an impossible task, even under the most pressure-packed conditions.  

Benefitting from a third quick qualifying time, a third place finish in the heat, and a second place finish in the dash, Donny Schatz needed 14 laps to initially work past Kerry Madsen on the south end.  Kerry would immediately counter in three but Donny returned the favor in four, all she wrote for win number seven on the season.  Fourth-starting Shane Stewart did have Schatz in his sights but with 11 to go but could not exceed the lapped machines of Jamie Veal and Craig Dollansky (Roth 83), essentially costing him any chance at victory.  One final caution with four laps left saw a single-file restart that sealed the deal for the six-time Outlaw champion, tallying his first Eldora triumph since the King’s Royal of 2009.   Stewart held off Rico Abreu, Paul McMahan, and 12th-starting Greg Wilson.  Madsen survived late race contact with McMahan to score sixth, with Dale Blaney (up seven spots), Daryn Pittman, Jason Sides, and Brady Bacon filling out the top ten.  Perennial Eldora stud Joey Saldana was uncompetitive in his 24th place finish, burying himself early with a 30th place qualification effort that resulted in an immediate engine swap. 

Operating under even heavier conditions than Friday due to a 3 PM shower, Saturday’s features truly showcasedthe positive aspects of USAC’s wingless sprinters, as this traditional Branson/Larson Memorial was a literal barnburner.  C.J. Leary fired from the pole and brought fellow front row starter Justin Grant in tow, as the two best Sunday night Kokomo cowboys showed how to run the ragged edge against a large ledge.  For the majority of the first half, Grant was all over Leary and even attempted a slide for the lead in turn one with 12 to go, as Tracy Hines watched from the catbird seat in third.  With ten to go, C.J. successfully cleared a gaggle of lappers that held up Justin, enough that the son of the 1997 Hoosier Hundred winner seemed destined to claim his initial USAC triumph on the series’ biggest stage.  But, leave it to Grant to not give up as five laps later, he was suddenly in the game once again. Heavy congestion was again an issue with two laps remaining and as the lead tandem ducked under the white flag, Justin dove low and used Chris Windom’s machine as a pick, pulling off a daring and dramatic three-abreast slider in turn one to steal the win in his DRC/Claxton-Chevy. 

Also in a DRC/Claxton (but a Mopar), Leary had to swallow the bitter pill of another second place finish, but he is more than ready to kick in the door to that first national score.  Hines was right there in third in his DRC/Stanton while Aaron Farney had his best USAC run to date in fourth, holding off his mentor Robert Ballou.  Sixth through tenth included Dave Darland (up four spots), Jon Stanbrough, Brady Bacon (also up four spots), Chase Stockon, and Kevin Thomas, Jr. (he too was up four).  The thrilling finish more than renewed my enthusiasm for wingless racing at Eldora Speedway, as like chocolate and peanut butter this is truly a match made in heaven.  Not only can these machines race close and competitive on a huge, fast half-mile, but they can do so in dry and wet conditions.  One thing I’ve always liked about wingless competition is that the field is filled by a majority of blue-collar squads like the one belonging to winning owner Mark Hery, truly emphasizing the amount of talent with wrenches and steering wheel and not the size of one’s bank account. 

Saturday’s winged feature was nearly a runaway by Donny Schatz, who is turning the World of Outlaws series into his own playground, clearly in a class of his own.  Only timing 11th best, “Tequila” Schatz did what he needed to do in his heat, winning it to earn a spot in the dash where he drew the pole after a six invert was drawn.  Naturally, he won that and claimed pole position for the thirty lap finale, sharing the front row with Aussie Jamie Veal, who is doing a fine job subbing for Jason Johnson.  The only cautions of the entire Saturday evening (going green to checker for seven heats, a dash, two B-mains, and the 30-lap USAC main) were in the WoO main event, caused by a slowing David Gravel (early) and tire issues for both Shane Stewart and Logan Schuchart (late).  Donny had driven to a full-straightaway advantage by lap 21, but the underdog effort of Gary Taylor managed to close the gap and keep the “decimator” honest, especially at the green/white/checkered conclusion, which was a minor miracle in itself as Taylor had to pit for safety reasons after dragging debris during that final caution. 

As it was, Schatz ruled the roost in that final two lap sprint, earning win number eight of the season.  Taylor, McMahan, Saldana, and Madsen (up seven spots) took second through fifth while Sides (up five), Abreu, Pittman, Veal, and Christopher Bell (up five in the Keith Kunz 67) scored sixth through tenth.

Amidst a slight chorus of boos as he exited his nearly perfect Tony Stewart Racing/Chevy Performance/Bad Boy Buggies J&J/Shaver, despite the dominance Schatz actually sounded pretty humble in his winning interview.  He and crew chief Ricky Warner are unquestionably in that zone like Steve and Karl Kinser were in 1987 and Doug Wolfgang and Davey Brown (Sr. and Jr.) in 1985.  Unable to see anyone except Shane Stewart who can put up a consistent fight, in my mind, you might as well write him another championship check, as we haven’t even gotten to August yet!  The bright spot to the winged side of the ledger was without question Gary Taylor and his Jason Fausey team.  Reminding me of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s efforts of Lee Brewer, Jr., this small squad operates on a fraction of the budget as Schatz and TSR, certainly having the heart, smarts, and ability to get the job done.  We did not see David slaying Goliath on this evening, but how many times has that happened in big-time winged racing at Eldora in the last 25 years? 

So, did the Mother of All Sprint Car Weekends determine which type of action is superior at Eldora Speedway?  Under wet and heavy conditions, given the excitement provided by Saturday night’s USAC feature, it could easily be determined that wingless is way better.  But, when traction is limited, I’ve seen some unbelievable winged wars here as well.  Overall, the answer to that question is “it depends”.  Hardcore fans aren’t easily swayed by one or two races, so stubborn and stuck in their ways.  As I mentioned earlier, it’s all about personal preference.   This weekend was an extremely rare opportunity for these two segregated worlds of fans to briefly collide, producing an electricity in the air that I last felt for the Mopar Million of 2003.  Now, if we could only promote more crossbreeding with the competitors, then I believe we would truly know the answer to that long-debated question.  Given their ability to turn a vision into reality, I can only dream that Eldora Speedway will make that happen as well. 




Volume 17, Number 4


I despise traffic - always have, always will, as it is a major impediment to progress and pleasure.    Any attempt to escape north side Indianapolis gridlock is an enormous test in patience, especially on Friday afternoons when dreams of reaching a dirt oval seem all but unattainable.  Such was the case on this first Friday of May, as a less than desirable 5:45 PM exit from my Castleton employ reminded that in order to get to Gas City, I really needed a half day of vacation or else a helicopter ride.  Making matters worse, I first had to detour northwest to Carmel, hard to imagine that I would ever see the 7:30 PM first heat green flag given my inability to make any of the stoplights on a heavily traveled 146th Street.  At this frustrating stage of the trip, I had actually considered giving up and turning around, as my appetite for racing isn’t what it once was, at least not when I am subjected to so much pain and punishment beforehand.   

Relieved to finally reach state road 37, unfortunately this highway narrows from four lanes to two just north of Noblesville, so it wouldn’t be until the outskirts of Elwood when I could finally operate my vehicle at my own chosen pace.  While impatiently waiting behind a line of seven cars, I again began to wonder why I still go to such great lengths to chase races, believing that I may have actually reached a crossroads in my life as the rewards from such stressful excursions have thoroughly diminished.  However demoralized my state of mind had become, something still pushed me to that "sprinter in the sky" along U.S. 35 and state road 22, as this would be the O’Connor family’s first foray in their six race 2015 Gas City I-69 Speedway experiment.  If they were willing to stick their necks out for owner Jack Himelick to save his racetrack from extinction, then I should be willing to suck it up and deal with some untimely traffic.   Reaching their own crossroads over the off-season when choosing the promotion and operation of this Grant County quarter-mile over the legendary Terre Haute Action Track, let’s hope Jim O’Connor and his family’s roll of the dice comes up big again. 

My usual scenic route of 37/26/500 East/35-22 ended in the tall grasses of Gas City's back forty, easily in enough time for the first heat as Reece O'Connor was slowly circling the speedway with a tractor and sheepsfoot.  After sprint cars completed their packing of an abundance of H2O, hot laps rolled off an hour later at 7:48, perfect for this late arriver.  But once underway, the remainder of the evening went non-stop, with no further interruption from farm implements.  Even with four heats, one B-main, four support classes, and four major B and A-main incidents, the thirty lap finale checkered less than three hours later.  Despite the difficulties with the super heavy surface, a decent crowd showed up and even stayed for the modified feature.  The new staff’s second attempt is a big USAC sprint car bout in just two weeks (May 15th), so things get serious in a hurry. 

This second King of Indiana Sprint Series round of 2015 collected 31 sprint cars, a rather respectable assembly but still a much lower number than hoped given that Bloomington Speedway was dark some two and one-half hours south.  It seems like it wasn't that long ago when KISS conventions attracted fields of 40 to 50, but truth be told, somewhere between 2006 and 2015 the numbers began to take a dive.   Indicative of a changing local sprint car landscape, teams rarely stray from their comfort zone these days, even if KISS contests still incent with a $2,500 to win and $250 to start carrot.   A couple of rare exceptions on this evening included Bedford’s Brady Short and Mitchell’s Dickie Gaines, with Dickie's Jason Soudrette Racing ride coming all the way from Cincinnati.  However, it is still my belief that this KISS format came to a crucial crossroads several seasons ago, having remained virtually unchanged since its 2001 inception.  Unfortunately, even at this stage a format alteration would have little or no impact on participation, as nothing seems to be stimulating car counts these days.  

Given that it is already May, it seems as though the local scene has reached its own crossroads where a field of 20 to 30 is the best we can expect.  The lower numbers might not signal an end of the universe, but on nights like Saturday when Waynesfield, Montpelier, Lawrenceburg, Putnamville, and Chandler were all in action, the effects of this year’s lower numbers were clearly evident, especially with the population of 15 Montpelier MSCS sprinters.  Yes, it might have been an all-star cast of 15, but wouldn’t we all still enjoy some heat race and B-main drama?      

Friday’s feature winner was Jon Stanbrough, who by my calculations collected sprint car victory number 185 and his first as a car owner since sometime in the mid-1990s.  Beginning the feature from the inside of row two, the Silent Gasser snatched the premier position on lap two when Logan Jarrett toured turn two on just two wheels (Wow - that’s a lot of twos!).  After scaling from fifth to second, Max McGhee clipped an infield tire in that second bend which sent him on his lid, upsetting his younger brother Sammy who serves as crew chief.  Powered by an ex-Damion Gardner Shaver, New Castle native Kyle Robbins then moved to the runner-up slot and in the mid to late stages seriously closed the gap as the leader had issues putting Chris Gurley and final B-main transferee Frank Flud (the Oklahoma mini-sprint ace making his first Indiana sprint start for Dave Stensland) a lap down.  One final caution for a Shane Cottle bike and subsequent center punch from Gurley set the stage for a two-lap showdown between brief 2014 teammates Stanbrough and first heat winner Kevin Thomas, Jr.  JRS tilted on two wheels in two, allowing KTJ a golden opportunity to seize his first Indiana feature of the season.  However, Kevin hauled it into turn three a tad too hard and handed KISS triumph number 22 to Jon, who led Robbins, second heat winner Thomas Meseraull, Dickie Gaines, and Robert Ballou (elevating from 11th) to the checkered.  Sixth through tenth included Jarrett, Thomas, Weir (Pedersen 4P), Darland (Walker 11), and Boespflug (from 18th). 

Reaching a crossroads at the end of last season when a dream matchup with Mike Dutcher dissolved after a less than satisfying campaign (they still wound up with 8 wins), in order to stay alive Jon began the bold and arduous task of building his own team from scratch.  Starting with veteran Bloomington mechanic Daryl Tate, he also attracted maintenance and at-the-track assistance from Chris Hoyer, Kevin Price, and Chad Smith, the latter lending a financial hand as well.  With backing from MP Environmental, A.E.D. Motorsport Products, MPHG Promotions, Dan Pace, the aforementioned Smith, and a boatload of product sponsorships, Jon and his wife Melinda are somehow making it work.  An up and down 2015 campaign suddenly turned satisfying with Friday's smooth and steady drive on a tricky track, as local scores like this are not easy to come by when slim fields are still stacked with talent.

When not watching the action from the top row of the third turn bleachers with Joe Higdon, I spent the bulk of my Friday evening reminiscing with three generations of Mosleys (Chuck, Aaron, and mini sprint racer Evan, who claimed fifth place with just a stock 600), long-time Mosley assistant "Diamond" Dave Bromer, Paul Hazen, and six-time USAC sprint car champion, two-time USAC Silver Crown champion, and one-time All Star champion crew chief Phil Poor.  In speaking with an enthused Hazen, who is feeling extremely revived after a second hip surgery last winter, Paul was also excited to note that he has a new backer for this season who prefers to be anonymous, supplying a second DRC rolling chassis and a very stout mill to fit between the frame rails.  It was a rough Friday for Hazen and his chauffeur Shane Cottle, who also led at Terre Haute the previous Sunday before a front shock became detached.   Saturday was much smoother for this combo, claiming their first triumph of 2015 at Montpelier.  A few pits down, long-time Gas City supporter Roy Jackson installed his 17 year-old grandson Seth in his familiar 42.  With just three practice sessions under his belt and no other racing experience, it was a wild night for the youngster, spinning a 360 in his heat and tumbling over the turn three bank while trying to avoid a huge calamity involving Spencer Bayston (Clauson 7) and Dallas Hewitt.  Flipping wildly into the catch fence that guards the pit area, Jackson emerged unscathed, but it was a rude awakening to just how lethal these machines can be. 

Skipping all Saturday sprint car options for yet another enjoyable trip to Perkinsville’s Bonge’s Tavern on a picture perfect evening (I enjoyed their unbelievable key lime pie for the first time in four years), a second weekend KISS would be collected at Kokomo Speedway on Sunday night.  The World of Outlaws were also in action at Haubstadt’s Tri-State Speedway, but having to choose between a 50 minute or three hour drive home with a busy work week ahead was not a difficult decision, even though I do enjoy the jetfighters in a gymnasium aspect of winged sprint cars on quarter-miles.   People might advise that you can sleep when you’re dead, but at my age, I just can’t afford to live on four hours, as it just ruins the rest of my week.

In this season’s Indiana Bullring Scene blogs, I have literally worn out the topic of car counts, further beating the dead horse with the discussion regarding the long-unchanged KISS concept.  Naturally, I was not the least bit surprised to learn of a 22 car turnout for Kokomo’s first Sunday night of the season.   As long as the major players were in the house (which they were), I was fairly confident that the feature event would be worth the small investment in time.  Par for the course in K-town, I was not disappointed in any way, preparing to hit the road at 8:45 PM and sending final results to my nephew as he relayed information on Steve Kinser’s first heat at Haubstadt. 

Watching Kokomo heats with former sprint car shoe Josh “GQ” Slone and Max McGhee (showing no ill effects from his Saturday night concussion at Putnamville), reigning KISS champ Shane Cottle, Brady Short (with assistance from Brian Cripe), and C.J. Leary each rode the rim and won from front row starts.  Gas City heat winner Conner Donelson climbed the wall between turns one and two and inverted, but his crew, led by father Randy, was able to get the machine back in order for the thirty lapper.  Third the previous night at Putnamville, Austin Prock was not so fortunate in his heat three incident, snagging the backstretch wall and going for a wicked helicopter ride to the bottom of the third turn.  The damage to his Wingo brothers Maxim was substantial, nearly clipping the entire front half of the frame at the radiator, wiping out all bolt-ons, and even shearing the studs in the cover for the quick-change gears.   Prock hung his head in disgust as his squad figured out how they were going to get the tattered remains into their enclosed trailer.  Dan Pace came to the rescue and allowed the use of his open trailer, but the horrid Wingo luck at Kokomo continued.  

With no B-main necessary, the A-main wave lap came at 8:34 PM, again finding a seat next to Lafayette antique archaeologist Joe Higdon.  With the top-two from each heat redrawing for the first six spots, those initial three rows were assigned to Short, Grant, Cottle, Thomas, Stanbrough, and Leary.  Joe’s driver Dave Darland began from the outside of row four, alongside 2013 Kokomo KISS winner Robert Ballou.   Always asking for my feature prediction, I advised Joe to look out for Leary, as the cushion was the way to go, having won the last two times here.  However, I also needed to give Justin Grant consideration, as he has been the best against a healthy Kokomo curb for the last several seasons.  

Third on Kokomo’s opening night, Grant galloped past Short and Cottle through the first set of corners, entertained by a seven car scrum for second as high, low, and middle lanes were equally effective.  A rocket around the rim, Justin constructed a full straight advantage in just a few laps, growing to half a lap on Short in the mid to late stages as the race pace was frenetic, all green to that point.  Literally stinking up the show, Grant was essentially gone, focusing on a fine tussle for third between Leary, Stanbrough, and Thomas.  Out of the corner of my left eye, a white car had spun a 360 in between turns three and four, incredulously identifying that machine to be that of Grant.  Nearly collecting second place Short, Justin gave up the top spot to the 2009 and 2013 KISS champ and also surrendered second to Leary.  C.J. and Justin swapped the position three more times in an attempt to keep pace with Sweet Feet, but in doing so Grant also had to deal with the adversity of a right front wheel that was bouncing uncontrollably due to a dislodged right front AFCO by Benic shock, impairing both vision and control. 

After blowing two engines thus far and spinning from second the previous night at Lawrenceburg, it has been a trying 2015 season for Justin Grant and car owner Mark Hery.  With this particular race seemingly in the bag, misfortune again was the name of the game with the spin and shock issue.  But, perhaps Justin and Mark had reached their crossroads, as Short’s engine suddenly expired with two laps remaining.  Logan Jarrett also blew up in a big way, as the entire speedway was now enveloped in a thick fog of smoke, with a distinct ode of fried Chevrolet invading my nostrils.  Amidst the extreme chaos, Grant had inherited first but was immediately overtaken by Leary at the white flag, but not before flagman Brian Hodde waved a caution for Jarrett’s stoppage, gifting Grant the premier position once again.  With attrition now taking its toll, Kevin Thomas, Jr. exited at turn one with a flat right rear, also noticing Dave Darland’s Jeff Walker ride parked in the infield. 

Leaving two laps to go, Justin withstood a last lap surge from a bottom-feeding Jon Stanbrough to take the breakthrough win in his DRC/Claxton, with Thomas Meseraull sweeping past C.J. to take third.  Leary limped home with just three pounds of air in his right rear, edging Robert Ballou for fourth.  The second half of the top ten contained Cottle, Chad Boespflug, Coons, KISS point leader Kyle Robbins, and Thomas, whose Mike Dutcher led-crew swiftly swapped right rear rubber.  If you haven’t gotten your ass to Kokomo thus far in 2015, they are open for business the next two Sundays (May 17th and 24th). 

On a weekend that began with a frustrating trip through traffic that nearly sent me back home before I ever got close to Gas City, all that reflection, self-doubt,and thoughts of serious life changes had been erased with yet another thrilling Sunday night convention in Kokomo.  Reaching my own crossroads on that peaceful drive home, I was thoroughly revived and refreshed, ready for a two-night twin bill of USAC and World of Outlaws at the legendary Eldora Speedway.  Simply put, there’s not a better feeling in the world than the glow that is achieved from an epic dirt track open wheel adventure.  As much as I want to believe that I will be able to one day walk away from this stuff, I know that I’m not quite ready for that exit just yet. 





Volume 17, Number 3


As veterans of the English language, we have become extremely familiar with the term “gung-ho”, often using it to describe an enthusiastic or overzealous individual.  The amazingly handy Wikipedia claims its origin comes from China, as gōng hé is a shortened version of gōngyè hézuòshè, which when translated comes to mean "Chinese Industrial Cooperatives". 

The term was picked up by United States Marine CorpsMajorEvans Carlson from his New Zealand friend, Rewi Alley, one of the founders of the aforementioned Chinese Industrial Cooperatives.  Going all the way back to 1943, Carlson hoped to instill the same sort of working spirit he had seen in China where all of the soldiers dedicated themselves to a common goal, relaying to his men about the motto of the Chinese Cooperatives (Gung Ho).   

Oddly enough, the idea for this week’s theme came from a conversation with retired CSX Railroad employee Joe Higdon.  Upon my Haubstadt, Indiana arrival for what was my third USAC sprint car outing of 2015, I naturally asked Joe how many sprint cars were in the house.  After hearing the number to be 24, I was a tad bit shocked, especially this early in the season.  Joe agreed, firmly believing:  “If you were a gung-ho mother f-----, you’d be here at Haubstadt.”  Judging from this particular assembly of open wheel equipment, I suppose that there aren’t as many gung-ho sprint car racers in this state as I would like to believe, at least compared to years past when early season USAC pit areas were flooded with eager participants. 

USAC’s other two Indiana sprint car meetings for 2015 collected 36 (Lawrenceburg) and 35 (Bloomington) contestants.  It just so happened that those rounds had no competition for equipment while Haubstadt’s stop had to split cars between Putnamville (20), North Vernon (16), and Lawrenceburg (22).  Attracting the most machines of the four Saturday selections, Haubstadt’s feature purse exceeded the other three Hoosier haunts by a whopping $14,750, $14,150, and $13,175, respectively.  So, why weren't more at The Class Track? 

For anyone who has been around the Indiana bullring scene for the last 15 years, he or she might initially believe that money is a de-motivator for the average Indiana sprint car racer.  Simply looking at 10th place on back, Haubstadt paid $4,870 more than Lawrenceburg, $5,175 more than North Vernon, and $5,425 more than Putnamville.  Other than the longer drive to this southwestern corner of the state that burns a lot more fuel, what’s the deal with the not-so-gung-ho attitude towards USAC and MSCS sprint car competition at one of the finest facilities in the country?

Could it be USAC’s temporary permit (entry) fee of $40 that keeps racers away?  Could it be the fact that $100 is deducted from one’s winnings if the owner or driver collecting the check is not a USAC member? Could it be the hour time difference for the majority of teams making the long tow, as Haubstadt is on Central time while the rest of the state is Eastern?

Even if a team were to burn $100 additional fuel for their tow rig, incur the $40 entry fee, and have $100 deducted from last place feature pay, assuming that all of these factors were in play my math shows that they would still come out ahead of where they would be at either of the remaining Saturday stops.  All four choices essentially paid the same if you didn’t make the main, so perhaps it’s the mindset of believing one can win or place inside of the top-five when the big dogs are absent.  I suppose I would have to take a poll of every participant that wasn't at Tri-State Speedway to find out the real reasons.  Either way, the situation continues to needle me, but it’s a free country and racers have every right to do what pleases them most.    

With Bryan Clauson and Hunter Schuerenberg defecting to the winged wars for 2015, it’s only natural to compare USAC’s standard feature purse to that of the All Stars, NSL, and MOWA.  I could not find a standard MOWA payout on the web, but a standard $5,000 to win All Stars show offers a total feature purse that exceeds USAC by $2,720 while a standard $3,000 to win NSL show only exceeds USAC’s feature purse by $150.  Dangling a carrot in an attempt to entice loyalty, when races are held outside of the Hoosier state, USAC’s AMSOIL Dominator Incentive program offers a $150 bonus, a free pit pass for both driver and car owner, and an entry fee waiver for the top-twelve in points.  Inside of Indiana, the $150 bonus goes away and the free pit passes and entry fee waiver only apply to the top-ten in points.   Both of these scenarios assume that you have paid your annual membership fee and that you have not blasted the sanctioning body in interviews or social media.  

Despite all the questions and number crunching, there are still a dozen (substituting one or two) teamsthat regularly follow the USAC circuit, essentially the same number as last year.  If that’s the case, then the perceived reduction in the number of competitors I have observed in 2015 could be a direct result of a diminishing local scene, which I seem to crow about each week.  Thus far, people are either slow at having their cars ready for action, they are picking and choosing events close to home, or they simply aren't bringing their equipment out at all.  If the latter is the case, where is the new blood to replace them?  

Say what you will, but those dozen or so followers are still pretty gung-ho, especially guys like shoestring racer Robert Bell, who has towed to all events on an open trailer from Colfax, Iowa.  Talk about gung-ho, Saturday's winning team of Hoffman Auto Racing has been a USAC loyalist since 1988, still passionate about their pursuit of feature wins and championships.  Then there are all of the mom and pop squads that continually find a way to scrape by, forever in pursuit of the perfection that will reward them with supreme levels of satisfaction.  Those mom and pops are spending a lot of money and given their sacrifices, they certainly qualify as gung-ho.  It just would be nice if there were more of them, but this stuff only gets more expensive as the years roll by. 

The Bloomington/Haubstadt USAC/MSCS double required 500 miles of windshield time to travel back and forth from my humble abode.  Any reasonable human being would have considered crashing in B-town to cut back on gas and mileage, but my dad was only wishing to partake in Friday’s round, thus requiring my return to Indy’s north side.  Thankfully Bloomington’s efficient evening offered a 9:53 PM sprint car conclusion, easing me into that mental grind that would hit me square in the face post-Haubstadt.   

Disappointed to see so much unnecessary butchering of beautiful and rugged Southern Indiana landscape along state road 37 to make way for a wider Interstate 69, the green grass and bright red-orange clay of Bloomington Speedway was without question a sight for sore eyes, arriving just in time for hot laps despite a stressful suicide mission through rush hour traffic.  No time for a pit lane stroll, a jammed grandstand found me rubbing elbows with gung-ho sprint car chaser Gary Parker (cousin to Bill Rose).  I also happened to be stationed directly behind 2000 Lincoln Park and Tri-State Speedway champion Eric Burns, with fellow Brazil battler Jared Chastain flanking him to his left.  Burns again has plans of competing locally on a limited basis, first in a Stealth belonging to Bill Gasway and then in the nearly world-famous $1,300 Craigslist car of Doug Rolison with which he won the second King of Non Wing feature at LPS two seasons ago.  As if to spread his wings a bit, Burns even mentioned he has a Bob Pierce modified chassis that may see some action this summer.  In attempt to upgrade his power plant, Rolison has acquired numerous engine components from Shawn Krockenberger, who has said he has retired from sprint car competition.  “Burnsy” may not race as much as he used to, but you can never claim that his optimistic outlook is not gung-ho. 

That sticky Bloomington soil was in top shape for the track’s 92nd season opener, with Brady Bacon’s 11.056 second circuit (third in line) topping the timing charts.  KTJ, Bryan Clauson, C.J. Leary, Shane Cottle, and Chase Briscoe (back after Brownstown engine issues) comprised the quick six, nice that USAC had its portable scoreboard in operation so that I could record qualifying times as they clicked off.  Top-ten pleasant surprises included Brandon Mattox and Carson Short, but the Terre Haute terror broke a piston in his heat and eliminated himself from further weekend action.  Proof of how much grip the red clay had, Jeff Bland, Jr. could not keep his Josh Burton Racing DRC on four wheels, tumbling over the turn three and four bank.  The same corner bit Daron Clayton in heat four, as the 2006 Sheldon Kinser Memorial winner executed three or four barrel rolls in Tony Epperson's Spike.  Both drivers were ok, but only Bland would return to battle in Haubstadt on Saturday, which was certainly a shame as DC is definitely worth that three hour drive.

If those lightning-quick laps turned during qualifications didn’t already get the juices flowing, Bloomington heats did the deed.  The best of the bunch was the first, when Brady Bacon sizzled from sixth to steal a win from Kyle Cummins with a last turn, last lap blast around the top.  I kept my eyes glued to Kevin Thomas, Jr. in the second, involved in three separate skirmishes that sent him to the semi-main and cost him a third row feature start. 

I caught my first glimpse of Bloomington Racesaver 305 winged action on Friday, as a field of ten was reduced by one when Brownsburg’s Eric Crouse had a big “off” into the turn four earth embankment during his heat race.  Although I didn’t stay for the feature, eventual winner Ryan Tusing had a fine tussle with Ethan Fleetwood in one of two heats, making the downtime for USAC action disappear very quickly.  Enjoying the fact that this class will elevate hornet drivers like Luke Bland, it is of slight concern if it cannibalizes wingless competitors such as Fleetwood and Fox (Jared).  Hopefully these guys bring two cars on regular shows. 

Observing a thinning of the meaty cushion as the night progressed, it was still a factor for Friday’s thirty lap finale when Marion, Illinois’ Carson Short used it exclusively to pace the first dozen circuits.  After an early caution for Aaron Farney, the top-five all rode the rim until third row starter Bryan Clauson began to experiment with the bottom, as the absence of infield marker tires have made radical lane changes that much easier.  Taking third with a south-end slider on Bacon, a low-side launch off corner four hoisted him past Hines to second.  Soon finding first with a similar slider on C. Short through one and two, the rest, as they say, was history, as BC built up a big enough lead that a last lap, over the cushion expedition did nothing to diminish his huge margin, earning the top prize with his Priority Aviation Maxim/Parker.  

After firing from the inside of row five, Jon Stanbrough appeared extremely comfortable and confident when employing high, middle, and low lanes to score second in his Spike/J&D, his best effort in his new role as owner/driver.  National point leader Chase Stockon extended his advantage with a sterling sprint from 11th to 3rd, squeezing underneath of Hines late in the going to procure a podium in his DRC/Fisher.  Tracy took fourth in his DRC/Stanton while Bacon bagged fifth in a Triple X/Williams Precision Mopar.  Securing sixth through tenth were two Shorts (Carson, then Brady), Ballou (from 15th), Cottle, and Darland (from 18th).   

Friday was USAC win number 67 for the former California kid uprooted to Noblesville, Indiana.  Cutting his hardcore sprint car teeth at Bloomington 11 years ago, he's appeared extremely happy (maybe even gung-ho) doing this short track stuff for the past six years despite his taste of the big time at Daytona and Indy.  Scheduled for well-over 100 races this year in everything from Indycars to midgets to winged and wingless sprinters, it was good to have him back in the USAC fold for one more evening. 

Unusually warm and bathing in bright sunshine, a gorgeous Saturday afternoon was spent strolling to the faraway land of Haubstadt, leaving early enough to employ my preferred route of 67/57/50/241/41 and stop for a coney dog, onion rings, and pineapple shake at Mason’s Root Beer Drive-In, celebrating its 64th season on the east side of Washington, Indiana.    Disappointed to hear another Reds loss to the Cardinals on the radio, this journey to the furthest corner of the state did manage to brighten my spirits.  Truly savoring the scenery and even slowing down to snap a few iPhone photos, I paid particular attention to Newberry's pair of iron bridges over White River that are soon to be extinct.  One of my favorite portions of this tour, one could say that I’m a little gung-ho regarding Indiana two-lane highways that deposit me at dirt tracks, as there’s always so much to see in those small towns.  

Since I flew solo for this excursion, I again spent the majority of my evening with "Railroad" Joe, without question the most passionate Dave Darland fan outside of the Darland family.  Slightly surprised and disappointed by the low car count, we were even more surprised by Dave’s quick qualifying time of 13.677, as both of his laps seemed somewhat ragged.  If there was ever a track that gave the People's Champ fits, it would be Tri-State Speedway, as year after year he seems to struggle come feature time.   A winner here back in 2005 with Jeff Walker, despite the chart-topping qualifying time, it was more of the same scenario in 2015.  Going through all 20 of his helmet tear-offs in his heat, after starting the feature in sixth he soldiered home seventh, still in search of that magical setup to move him forward. 

Haubstadt heat winners came from fourth (Ballou), third (B. Short), and sixth (Bacon), with each of the quick-six qualifiers making the cut.  I was most impressed with the pride of Princeton Kyle Cummins and his third place run in heat three.  Exhibiting strength in all three lanes, such diversity most certainly made him a feature favorite as he would begin from the coveted pole position, still looking for his first USAC feature victory.  Hooked up with Hank Byram's Rock Steady Racing, Kyle's own engine (three years from a rebuild) was bolted between the frame rails of Hank's Mach 1 chassis while a new Rock Steady power plant was awaiting completion, with Kyle's father Mark doing the construction.  Hailing from nearby Fort Branch, Tim Spindler still spins wrenches on the 3R. 

Cummins was joined on Saturday night's front row by Tracy Hines, who for the second evening in a row would enjoy such honor.  After breaking a rear end in his Friday Bloomington blunder, Jeff Bland, Jr. rebounded as second quick on Saturday but was moved back two rows for being late to feature staging.  On this picture-perfect 69 degree evening that did not even demand a sweatshirt, an 8:45 PM wave lap led to an efficient 9:03 PM checkered flag, with extremely limited track preparations necessary between events.  

In between the green and checker, Hines paced the first two tours while Cummins collected the premier position with a turn three slider on the third circuit.  Bacon and Ballou were hot on the lead duo's heels and immediately pounced on Hines, sending the 2002 Haubstadt USAC victor back to fourth.  The next time by, Bacon's Hoffman 69 got a good bite through the lower regions of three and four, propelling him to the premier position.   By the time they reached turn two, Ballou had bounced Cummins back to third with a solid launch off the bottom.  At lap ten, Robert was all over Brady, who suddenly had serious congestion ahead of him.  Slicing through those lappers with a surgeon’s precision, Bacon still held the lead at the crossed flags.  Things got extremely heated on lap 19, as Ballou and Bacon went three wide while putting Logan Jarrett a lap in arrears.  Dipping his left front below the infield markers on the exit of turn two on lap 22, the Mad Man escaped with first place for a short while, only to have Macho Man regain the spot on the front chute.  Third-running Kevin Thomas, Jr.'s 360-degree spin while lapping Logan Jarrett caused the second caution of the feature at lap 23, but in that final sprint Ballou was unable to make a move on Bacon, especially after pushing the front end with five to go.  He got close, but that only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and slow dancing.  As it was, it was an entertaining battle for the lead on this tight little bullring, nearly everything I expected it to be.

Officially up front for laps 4 through 30, Brady bagged USAC win number two of 2015 and on my walk to the car, I overheard Robert’s comment that an unaddressed brake issue from Friday cost him $2,500 on Saturday.  Still looking for that first USAC triumph, Cummins was still solid in third.  Brady Short and Chase Stockon (maintaining his point lead from 12th) scored fourth and fifth while Hines, Darland, Thomas (recovering from that spin), Leary, and Carson Short completed the top-ten. 

Refueling mind, body, and machine at the Fort Branch Huck’s, I first encountered Scott Granby (son of John who took care of the Bowen Oldsmobile sprint and champ cars) and the aforementioned Doug Rolison, both on their way back to the Terre Haute area.  Scott and I drove Doug’s non-downtube Stealth at Paragon in 2005, with Rolison confirming his purchases from Shawn Krockenberger.  Inside of the store, I saw high school music teacher Dave Nearpass, who moonlights as racing photographer and writer for Sprint Car and Midget magazine.  On the way out, there was Cicero’s Ryan Uhrick, who assists Robert Ballou and naturally follows in his father Jason’s footsteps of being intimately involved in the sport.  I can remember Ryan as a young buck in the Putnamville pit area on July 4th of 1999, when his dad’s car, driven by Ande Possman, narrowly defeated Tony Elliott and Dave Darland.  Mentally bracing myself for the long journey home, while headed east to I-69 I couldn’t help but think of Joe Higdon’s statement that started the evening.  To consistently stay this interested in sprint car racing for this long, weall might be a little crazy, but in the end, we are just gung-ho. 





Volume 17, Number 2
April Showers

April showers might bring May flowers, but if you happen to be a dirt track fanatic who maintains a home in the Midwest, you know firsthand that it also brings its share of rainouts. Because of that dose of reality, we have learned to loathe Mother Nature, especially in this fourth month when we are raring to get out of the house and spend some long-awaited quality time at the track. History has shown that about half of April’s events might actually go off as planned, as wet weather seems to most commonly arrive just in time to spoil weekend plans.
This particular second week of April featured several of those iconic Indiana thunderstorms, pounded by two days of relentless rain that would eventually force O’Connor family hands in pulling the plug on night number one of its season-opening Kokomo Grand Prix. Thankfully, Saturday was still a go, halving what would have been a heavenly weekend double-double of sprints and midgets. But, one is better than none, as was the case back in 2013 when the Grand Prix was nixed altogether, again thanks to that early season overhead faucet being left on too long.
In addition to May flowers and rain outs, those April showers often bring soft surfaces filled with character, showcasing the bravery of those young bucks who without a second thought will don a set of spurs and cowboy their car against or above a huge cushion of clay. Much like watching The Masters to see who will be the next Tiger Woods or Jordan Spieth, the dawning of a new season, especially at the Kokomo Speedway, tends to showcase who just might be the next to make some big noise. In the last dozen years, Bryan Clauson, Brad Sweet, Brady Bacon, Cole Whitt, Hunter Schuerenberg, Justin Grant, Christopher Bell, and Rico Abreu are just a few who aggressively attacked this quarter-mile early in their career and opened eyes to their potential.
Despite all of the pre-Grand Prix rain, Kokomo’s facility and surface were actually in superb condition for Saturday night's lid lifter, certainly no surprise given the miracles worked during last year’s Smackdown. Bypassing a rare chance at a B&K Root Beer coney dog and ice cream float in favor of hot laps (it’s never open on Sundays), once inside of the main gate the only sign of storms was a set of undulations that would eventually develop atop turn one, as the quarter-mile was otherwise wide, tacky, fast, and dust-free all night long. Those who dared to tempt fate and hammer through this rough spot were ultimately rewarded while those who chose to play it safe had to settle for second-best.
That was indeed the case for Kokomo’s first two feature winners of 2015. Outside front row starter Justin Grant and third-starting C.J. Leary battled for the title of “king of the cowboys” in a superb 25-lap sprint car clash, both employing the same strategy of diamonding turn three to exchange the lead position four times before their race-long wheel-to-wheel joust was ultimately interrupted by a gigantic two wheel tilt by Grant at lap 15. Essentially gifting the win to 18 year-old Leary who kept fourth-starting Kevin Thomas, Jr. in his wake, “The Gunslinger” is quickly developing a reputation for having the heaviest right foot on the circuit. Looking so comfortable and confident courtesy of his Derek Claxton setup and AFCO by Benic shocks, C.J. hammered his family owned DRC/Claxton through that treacherous turn one as late as the white flag flap, taking a bow atop his roll cage as this was his second trip to Kokomo’s victory lane in successive attempts. After Leary and Thomas came Grant, Dave Darland (who had a sniff of the lead on multiple occasions in Jeff Walker’s 11), and pole sitter Jerry Coons, Jr. Sixth through tenth included Logan Jarrett, Kokomo sprint car newcomer Zach Daum, Chris Gurley (back in his own 12), Josh Spencer, and Isaac Chapple. On an evening when Lawrenceburg landed 22sprint cars while Putnamville produced 27 (for $4,000 to win MSCS), Kokomo’s collection of just 14 was the lowest I can ever recall since the 2005 reconfiguration. Ten years ago, there could have been over 100 sprint cars competing in this state on Saturday night. These days, that number is not realistic, truly a sign of the times. Nonetheless, whether that number is 14 or 44, there is never a concern with regard to intensity, entertainment, or quality of competition.
As for the Grand Prix's primary course, 2012 USAC national midget king Darren Hagen (Brown 17) fired from fourth and emulated Leary’s aggressive line at turn one’s summit for thirty tours. Thanks to the second upside down excursion of the evening from Alex Bright (Hmiel 56), The Hawk had ample opportunity to apply pressure to early leader Davey Ray, serving a big long slider through turns one and two to procure P1 on the seventh circuit. After an excellent back and forth frolic between Ray and pole sitter Zach Daum, a lap 12 pause for Tyler Thomas bunched the field and supplied quick qualifier Kevin Thomas, Jr. (13.175 in the Keith Kunz 67k) with a shot at the runner-up slot. Six swaps of second place ensued between KTJ and Daum before yellow laundry was again displayed, this time for Lebanon’s Spencer Bayston. The Cullman, Alabama charger then took his fight to first and traded the position four times, never once leading at the line however. A turn two half-spin, much like Grant’s sprint car gaffe, cost KT a victory, as he was promptly drilled in the left front by Daum and wound up with too much negative camber.
Despite a trio of bobbles from Hagen, two of them in the treacherous turn one, plus a late race red flag for ARDC visitor Ryan Gerth, Tracy Hines could never offer a serious threat. Armed with BOSS/Esslinger ammunition, a hungry and aggressive Hagen was top dog in this initial USAC midget meeting, slaying Hines, 11th-starting Tanner Thorson, Steve Buckwalter, and Ray. Darland (up from 14th in the Rusty Kunz 63), Tyler Thomas, Jerry Coons, Jr. (Heffner 27), and Tyler Courtney (having to swap his Kenny Irwin, Sr. ride with Robbie Parish after hot laps) secured sixth through tenth at the 10:12 PM checkered.
Notably absent from action were USAC's two prior midget champions Chris Bell and Rico Abreu. Subtracting these two from the regular scene results in a completely different scenario for competitors, opening the door for so many and possibly even giving the little guys a shot once again. Wide open for a new star to emerge such as Tyler Thomas or Spencer Bayston, naturally this year offers a unique opportunity for full-time Keith Kunz combatants Kevin Thomas, Jr. and Tanner Thorson to step into the shoes of the aforementioned absentees and produce. It also gives Tracy Hines great odds at finally notching that elusive USAC midget championship that keeps him from Triple Crown status. Scanning the 30-car field for would-be series regulars, I couldn’t help but notice the wide array of cars from all over, namely: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Just how many of them will show for the remaining 17 rounds is a question that begs to be answered.
Some people prefer midgets at Macon or little Belleville, but my preference is right here in K-town. Preliminary action was prime proof for my stance as three of the four heat race wins were scored from sixth (KTJ, Felker, and Hagen). The only one that was not was actually taken from fifth by Steve Buckwalter, offering a four-wide fan for first through turn two and a swap of second three times on the final lap between Justin Grant (in an old Stealth/Gaerte for Larry Gardner) and Tyler Courtney. Whenever midgets are on the card at this racy joint, this is what I consider must-see entertainment.
As always, it felt great to be back in Kokomo, but local hero Shane Cottle probably could not say the same thing after his awful evening. His initial 2015 pairing with Paul Hazen (he actually drove for Paul on one occasion several seasons ago) started off rather unceremoniously, first with some slow hot laps (idling around the bottom) and then pulling pit-side without taking the green in his heat. A no-show for midget qualifying and the heat race in the Bill Ecker 57, just when he was in contention for a feature transfer, Shane was forced to retire to the infield, suffering a similar fate in the sprint main after elevating to eighth. Let's hope the second weekend is altogether different for The Throttleas he's a true crowd pleaser, especially in his adopted hometown.
Unfortunately my Kokomo Grand Prix started off on a sad note when immediately learning of the passing of Larry Shively, father to one of my all-time favorite sprint car chauffeurs Eric Shively. In a bit of irony, it was here at Kokomo in June of 2000 when I was first introduced to Larry and Eric through Brian Cripe, taking an instant liking to both given their extremely laid-back and modest personalities. A literal jack-of-all-trades, Larry most certainly had a love for anything mechanical, constructing his own modified midget chassis back when he and Eric were a part of that scene in the mid-1990s. After gigs of farming and punching the time clock at Caterpillar, the senior Shively eventually opened his own welding and repair shop in his barn, exhibiting an iron-clad work ethic and an innate skill for creating things with his imagination and bare hands, two qualities that were clearly passed to his son who gave up the thrill of racing sprint cars for the sensibility of a thriving mini-sprint engine building business. Learning of Larry’s serious health issues a year and a half ago, I would hope that his declining health did nothing to dampen his positive outlook and outstanding sense of humor, as those were two of his most endearing qualities. An extremely generous man who in just a few weeks of friendship allowed me to fulfill a life-long dream of driving a sprint car just so that I could gain a better perspective on the sport, the years I spent around him were indeed some of the best of my life. At just sixty-three years of age, Larry Shively most certainly left this Earth far too soon. I can only hope that the hearts of his wife Joyce, son Eric, and daughter Lisa will soon feel whole. Rest in peace my friend - you will be missed but never forgotten.
Getting back to those April showers, they are without question a necessary evil, one of those rites of spring that eventually yield all things green, namely grass, trees, and green flags at Indiana dirt tracks. The extremely soft surfaces that are often a result of these deluges might not yield perfect conditions, but they most certainly showcase who has the largest set of attachments and who may be the one to keep our eyes on for several years to come. April rainfall is not often ideal in its timing, but it sure beats that other alternative in the precipitation department.



Volume 17, Number 1

Priming the Pulse

Wintertime, downtime, dormancy, hibernation mode, the offseason - whatever you want to call it, it’s an agonizingly extended break from the thrills, chills, and potential for fulfillment that comes with Indiana sprint car contests. If you do the math, it’s 162 days between Kokomo’s Klash and Brownstown’s No Way Out 40, 20 days short of half a year.

Pressing the rewind button to recall every major event endured between those dates, of course there was a ridiculous Thanksgiving day gorging, the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, an unusually eventful New Year’s Eve (as I was a groomsman in my nephew’s wedding), and finally the pressure of the number one Hallmark holiday of all: Valentine’s day. Then there were all kinds of work demands, including fulfilling hours upon hours of continuing professional education, surviving a year-end close and subsequent audit, and the selection and implementation of a new credit card processor, with those ten hour days in the office followed by two more at the gym, five to six nights a week. Thankfully, there were two mini-vacations to warmer climates in that 162 day span, otherwise I might have mentally imploded from the monotony.

However you wish to slice it, the overall weight of this winter break was a great one to carry, as the feeling of freedom from daily stress was in extremely limited supply. Content to get through my workouts to reach a warm bed, unfortunately once the alarm buzzed at 6:30 AM, it was time to do it all over again. With all of that time spent on the treadmill, elliptical, stair climber, and stationary bike, naturally my resting pulse rate again registered fairly low for my February health screening. But, was it any surprise given the circumstances? A new season of IMSA and NASCAR (yawn) had just begun, soon to be followed by NHRA, Indycar, and Formula One. None of the above had the pizazz to get the blood pumping. Heck, not even a live Chili Bowl telecast could get the job done.

Much like adding water to prime a pump or squeezing the bulb to squirt fuel into a carburetor, what I needed to prime my pulse was just a small dose of outdoor open wheel entertainment, preferably traditional sprint cars slinging sticky Hoosier clay. Unfortunately my work schedule mandated that the earliest such a mood lifter could come was late March or early April, when warming temperatures, budding trees, and greening grass not only signal springtime, but race time as well, and I'm not talking about the dumbed-down versions served to television audiences on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. What I'm referring to is sprint car racing, one of the last bastions of genuine motorsporting madness, allowing one to go as fast as his or her bravery, skills, and equipment will allow with fairly limited intrusion from politics, rules, and regulations.

Despite some desperate, last minute overtures from Old Man Winter, late March finally arrived and just like last year, the lid lifter better known as Brownstown's No Way Out 40 morphed from a Saturday evening to a Sunday twilight affair, this time because of temps that were expected to tumble into the twenties. However, with Sunday afternoon's foreboding forecast for showers and cool temps, this certainly didn't do the Brownstown Speedway staff any favors, as both the front and back gates took a beating (51 sprinters showed for last year. This year: 28.) With such a hefty purse to pay, a wise businessman would have pulled the plug because of such questionable conditions, but amazingly the dice were rolled anyway. Unfazed by post-race news that the sprint car purse was adjusted beyond the $7,500 first place prize, hindsight is always 20/20, but I am quite certain that most people would have understood the reason for such a cancellation. As it was, it was a noble effort from the Brownstown bunch to make an attempt. But man oh man, those wide open spaces in the grandstand were painful to see, easily the sign of a potential financial bath. As we say in accounting, the numbers never lie.

Regardless of the risk of traveling nearly two hours to get wet, I filled my gas tank, plopped down my $25 admission fee, and finally broke out of my boring routine, hoping to converse with some long, lost acquaintances, sniff some methanol fumes, have my eardrums blasted by small block sounds, and feast my eyes on more than a few slide jobs. As it turned out, my own roll of the dice resulted in a jackpot, as Brownstown did indeed beat the rain with an efficient show that was completed in about two and a half hours, effectively priming my pulse for the following Saturday's USAC Midwestern opener in Lawrenceburg. Along with last year’s POWRi midget meeting, this was undoubtedly one of the most exciting features I've witnessed at this facility, aided by the ample moisture and massive cushion. This wasn’t your father’s Brownstown dry slickie by any means.

Aside from an epic fourth corner bike ride from Dave Darland (enjoying another cameo in Jeff Walker’s Maxim/Claxton) and a titanic tumble through the same corner by Logan Hupp (own 94), preliminary action was fairly tame, as each of the three heats were claimed from the front row by Jeff Bland, Jr. (Burton 04), Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Dutcher 17RW), and Brady Short (Pottorff/Short 11P). Slightly entertained by a pair of modified heats in which Hurst Brothers sprint car shoes Bradley Sterrett and Devin Gilpin showcased their versatility, after a brief 8-car sprint consy and a couple of TQ heats, the big forty lapper rolled off at 6:20 PM. Thanks to a feature redraw, the first four rows aligned Thomas, Bland, Short, Chase Stockon (own 32), Casey Shuman (Barnhill 2x), birthday boy Robert Ballou, Darland, and C.J. Leary.

The first nine laps were reeled off before Michael Koontz and Brandon Morin accounted for the only two cautions. Prior to the illumination of amber bulbs, KTJ constructed a full straight advantage on Ballou, who scooted from sixth to second and pushed traditional Brownstown bad ass Brady Short back to fourth and front row starter Bland to fifth.

The final 28 tours went uninterrupted and those first few laps of this green flag segment were worth the 162 day wait. With the top shelf proving to be the quick way around this super-wide quarter-mile, Ballou tossed his Maxim/Ott underneath Thomas’s Maxim/Fisher for the lead in turn one. Kevin countered with a similar strategy in three, only to be squashed by a Mad Man crossover in four. KT didn’t waste any time with another turn one attack, but there was Ballou again, slipping underneath at the exit of two. In this insane volley of sliders, Kevin made yet another move for first through three, only to be bounced to second when Robert returned the favor in four, this time with a slight rub. In just two laps, the lead was exchanged seven times! Pushed to the edge of my seat while attempting to jot all this down in my notebook, I had to crack a smile, forgetting how alive this stuff can still make me feel after all these years. This is what I call living!

Taking a lap or two to regroup, KT hurled another massive slide for life through one and two but couldn’t keep his car from scaling that massive mountain of clay stacked atop the second bend. This left the door wide open for Ballou to bag the premier position, but not without contact as the two so desperately wanted the same piece of prime real estate. That was lap 17 of 40 and by lap 26, Robert completely ruled the roost with a full straightaway advantage. With two to go, tenth place Dave Darland became lapped traffic, prime evidence of just how hooked up the leader was on this afternoon. The former Rocklin, California resident who now calls Westfield, Indiana home celebrated his 26th birthday in style with a $7,500 score. Thomas, Bland, and Short secured second through fourth, with ninth-starting Jon Stanbrough edging Stockon, Leary, Kyle Cummins (up from 11th in the Rock Steady Racing 3R), Shuman, and Darland at the 6:37 PM checkered. After Ballou had checked out, that battle for fifth through eighth was the only one to watch.

Afterwards, KTJ parked on the front stretch, gesturing to Robert and walking to victory lane to discuss the supremely intense joust. I’m not quite sure what was said between the two combatants, but handshakes were eventually extended, making me believe that 2015 will be a similar scenario as this opening afternoon, as both drivers appeared awfully hungry. Either way, it was one heck of a way to shake off the rust.

Less than one week later, I was strolling southeast on Interstate 74, exiting at state road 1 for the most scenic 15 miles en route to any race course in this state. Lawrenceburg Speedway was of course the destination for USAC’s Midwestern sprint car opener, still basking in the glow and momentum of the Brownstown bash. Much like Brownstown, Lawrenceburg’s ultimate potential finally showed its hand come feature time, as the preliminary on-track activities proved to be fairly tame due to a surface saturated by a Southern Indiana deluge two days prior.

Quickest of 36 machines was Jon Stanbrough at 14.081 seconds, his time posted nearly halfway through the order. Acting as silent partner on Jon’s MP Environmental/AED Spike is Dan Pace while Daryl Tate again plays a major role, serving as chief mechanic at the track, also towing his red DRC chassis as a backup. Getting the old band back together, Jon’s crew once again has a Frankfort, Indiana feel, as Chris “Flash” Hoyer and “KP” Kevin Price assist Tate. Back when Jon fielded his own 81 in his formative years, he actually held the Lawrenceburg USAC record for seven years (1992 to 1999) in his trusty ’85 Gambler.

Second through sixth quick qualifiers included Chase Stockon, Bryan Clauson (back in a Maxim prepared at his BCI shop with backing from Priority Aviation), Travis Hery, Tracy Hines, and Dave Darland. Hery definitely impressed with his timing light tango, as did top-ten surprises Landon Simon and Ted Hines. Exemplifying just how challenging it was to complete a pass in the heat, only two of the top six qualifiers (Hery and Darland) transferred while just four from the top ten could make the cut, stacking the B-main with heavy hitters. Darland’s heat race run did not come without drama, as a leaky left side valve cover spewed oil onto hot headers and led to several spectacular flashes of orange and red.

Stanbrough’s crew was put to the test in the first heat after a half-spin from Aaron Farney swept Casey Shuman, Tracy Hines, and JRS into one fine mess. Only Stanbrough was able to continue but couldn’t find fourth, first having to swap a left rear tire and right front shock. Reverting to a backup after his primary steed suffered frame damage, Hines started from the rear of the consy but came just three spots shy of the A, needing to pop a provisional to take part in the finale. After landing on his lid, Shuman came back to claim one of six B-main transfers, as did Stanbrough.

That first heat was without question the most active of the four, first with a Scott Hampton (Ottinger 4J) oil down and then a C.J. Leary spin, assisted heavily by KTJ. Even though Kevin took the checkered first, third place C.J. was quite eager to remind him who was number one. By no surprise, all four heat race winners came from the first two rows, including a new pairing of Daron Clayton and Tony Epperson.

Ted Hines was the first car to miss the B-main cut, another being Indiana State University senior J.J. Hughes, whose first race in three seasons broke in a brand new Roger Williams power plant. Clocking 32nd out of 36 cars in qualifying, Chris Windom’s first Indiana outing in Hans Lein’s DRC/Stanton was a disaster, battling engine issues all night long to take 16th in the B. Like Tracy, the guy they like to call Big Daddy had to cash in a provisional pass to continue his evening.

One lane heat race conditions led to 12th quickest qualifier Kyle Robbins securing the pole for the 30-lap finale while 11th-best Logan Jarrett joined him on the front row. A number of teams, seven to be exact, were late to staging and were hit with penalties that adjusted the lineup. Most notably, Landon Simon and Travis Hery were scheduled to begin from rows two and three, moving Dave Darland, Robert Ballou, and Chase Stockon up to fourth, fifth, and sixth.

Gaining the green at 10:13 PM, Jarrett earned the advantage in turn one when Robbins slid sideways. Almost immediately, Logan’s task became a bit easier when Bryan Clauson retired to the infield on the second tour. With the surface sporting some “character” through the middle lane, it was basically a fight for the bottom for most of the field. Jarrett was not in that majority, able to traverse the rough stuff thanks to a forgiving setup applied by driver-turned-crew chief Scotty Weir, who also built the AFCO by Benic shocks attached to all four corners of Logan’s DRC.

Jarrett enjoyed a full straightaway lead by lap seven, his nearest pursuers being Ballou and Darland, as Robbins had already been shuffled back to sixth. The J&J Trucking number 29 encountered back markers at lap 12, the same tour that saw Ballou nail a marker tire between turns three and four, having to cut the infield just to keep second. Lap 13 had Dave drive by Robert in turn three, but Ballou refused to go quietly and retrieved the runner-up spot in turn one, only to relinquish the position again at the exit of two. By lap 18, Dave had reached the same straightaway as the leader but a caution on lap 21 for Travis Hery allowed him to pull all the way to the back bumper.

A rash of three cautions, two of them from Landon Simon, only enabled the race to advance one circuit, but the pauses allowed plenty of time to analyze who had worked the hardest. None had moved up more than 2013 track champ C.J. Leary, who had been toiling above the rough stuff and was found in fifth after starting 17th. All those cautions did not do Darland any favors, as each time he had to find a way around the lapped machine of Chad Boespflug (Baldwin 5). Meanwhile, the air pressure in his right rear had been rapidly decreasing because of a slice, causing the veteran to switch to survival mode.

In that last eight lap dash Jarrett was still in his own zip code. Once again building a full straight lead, he was never seriously challenged over the 30-lap distance. The intensity of the battle behind him was cranked up several notches, as Darland did his best to preserve his position with that troublesome tire. Leary’s diamond of one and two bounced Ballou back to third while a last lap scrum for fourth had Kevin Thomas, Jr. taking the position over Darland, Stanbrough, and Stockon. However, KTJ was disqualified for missing the post-race scales (similar to Kokomo's 2013 Smackdown), spoiling an excellent elevation from 11th. Brady Bacon, Tracy Hines (from the final row), Justin Grant, and Jerry Coons, Jr. (from 19th) were paid for seventh through tenth.

But getting back to the man of the hour, into his fifth sprint car season the 2011 National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum rookie of the year laid claim to his first career USAC national sprint car victory – his first of ANY without a wing – at a track that bit him badly after a taking a vicious 2012 tumble in turn three. Showing extremely well at the end of last year when he led a majority of the BOSS finale at Eldora, the only previous sprint car triumph on Logan's resume came from a 2013 winged war in Plymouth. Afterwards, the elated son of former Kokomo Speedway champion Tony Jarrett had this to say to Dillon Welch: “I don’t even know if it has set in yet. I can’t believe it. It’s a dream come true. (Starting out front) It was a big key tonight. The track was kind of rough and you just had to hit your marks. I got lucky a couple of times there – I about dumped it over but thank goodness we didn’t and we’re right here in victory lane.”

After giving some props to the winner and his father, a verbose and openly critical Robert Ballou ruffled more than a few feathers with his assessment of track conditions and USAC rules allowing electronic tire bleeding technology, earning a chorus of boos from the robust Lawrenceburg crowd on the chilly 43 degree evening. Outside of USAC contests, it will be interesting to see if Robert returns for battle at The Burg, as there are numerous solid paying events sprinkled throughout the 2015 Lawrenceburg regular schedule.

After Brownstown’s appetizing serving of sliders, Lawrenceburg’s first-time winner, hard charges from deep in the field, and post-race controversy confirmed that my pulse was completely primed for the 2015 Indiana sprint car campaign. Revved up and ready to roll to the next contest, spring time in Indiana also means race time, so those dark, depressing days and restrictive schedule of the offseason seem like ages ago. Officially a thing of the past, it feels so good to be back!




Volume 16, Number 13

Take Me Home

Say it isn’t so! Like a silent assassin, October snuck up from behind and wrenched the last remaining visages of summer from my heart and head, abruptly flung head-first into an autumnal frame of mind.

Let’s be honest - once a jacket becomes requisite attire for the morning drive to work, the fun and freedom from warm weather activities are a thing of the past. Of course it’s not the end of the world just yet, as there are plenty of positive forecasts to treasure before old man winter becomes a permanent fixture, enjoying the eye candy of fall foliage before those mature maples and oaks shed their summer coats and create a massive mess. Trading a lawn mower for a leaf blower and rake and swapping outdoor open wheel action for non-stop football from my favorite lounge chair, October is certainly all about change. A season for sweatshirts and Sunday night soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, I instantly associate this time of the year with apple cider, chili cook-offs, the scent of burning leaves, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, as this was my favorite item to achieve from a night of trick or treating.

High school and college homecoming football games are another October mainstay and although springtime is the homecoming for open wheel addicts, this tenth month of the year does indeed take me home – not back to Hamilton Southeastern or Ball State, but rather to the place where I merely slept, showered, mowed the lawn, and did my laundry for the last six months. Returning to a life of normal existence, it is always nice to have a place to call home, but if I needed any more comfort from this bittersweet conclusion to my 2014 outdoor campaign, it's that my October excursions came at two venues that have served as my home away from home for the last three decades: Eldora Speedway and Kokomo Speedway.

Any trip to the Big E is automatically special, as this was THE place that cemented my passion for this sport. In the late '80s and early to mid-'90s, any scheduled sprint car contest, whether it be USAC, World of Outlaws, and especially the All Stars, meant mandatory attendance, making the 184 mile round trip an average of a dozen times each season. But, once my preference for sprint car entertainment eliminated aluminum airfoils, those trips to Eldora were severely slashed, leaning more towards Kokomo where wingless sprint cars never went out of style. First experienced some three seasons after my Eldora indoctrination and truly earning favor in the early ‘90s, this venue was the source of my sprint car driving dreams, wishing to earn a college degree and make a decent living so that I could go head to head with Tony Elliott, Dave Darland, Kevin Thomas, Gary Fisher, Mike Mann, and Tray House. Undergoing significant ownership and configuration changes since that first visit back in 1988, Sunday nights are even harder to miss these days, so thankful the track is only 45 minutes from my front door.

On Saturday, October 11th, Speed Ball and I made that oh-so-familiar trek across U.S. 36 for the second time in three weeks, wondering just how many times we’ve duplicated this Eldora excursion since 1985. It has to be in the hundreds, logging tens of thousands of miles in the process, ultimately amazed that our appetite for such habitual activity has yet to diminish. Motivated by the season-ending University of Northwestern Ohio Sprintacular, an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of sprint car activity that was easily one of the best events in all of 2013, it closed the campaign for the All Star Circuit of Champions, the NRA 360 winged warriors, and the traditional Buckeye Outlaw Sprint Series. Their respective counts of 34, 25, and 53 machines might have fallen short of last year’s 37, 29, and 54, but the fun and excitement failed to disappoint.

Celebrating the 135th All Star appearance at Eldora, it came as no surprise when twenty-time 2014 winner Dale Blaney topped the time charts at 12.990 seconds in his George Fisher wrenched/Tony Kennedy owned 14k. Having completely dominated Buckeye area sprint car proceedings this season, all Blaney had to do was take the feature green flag and he'd be guaranteed a record-setting fifth series crown. Moving from sixth to fourth in his heat, the former Los Angeles Lakers draft pick flew from third to first in the trophy dash, setting up a start from the pole for the thirty lap finale. Fully expecting an additional score for the tall cool one, the final results certainly proved the point that nothing is a given in this sport, as one of today's most thrilling chauffeurs one-upped the veteran and again added to the legacy of Eldora exhilaration.

The young man I am speaking of is 22 year-old St. Helena, California native Rico Abreu, who qualified sixth and began the feature from fifth, able to stay with the leaders thanks to an early caution from Derek Hagar and a wicked red flag for a failed Lee Jacobs slide job on second-quick qualifier Gary Taylor. Jacobs flipped wildly but was able to exit under his own power, immediately sprawling out on the ground and writhing in pain as he was later diagnosed with fractures to his T11 and T12 vertebrae in his lower back. Given my own back issues, I have to feel for Lee.

Restarting fourth behind Blaney, Randy Hannagan, and Greg Wilson, Abreu made quick work of Wilson with a north end slider and immediately set his sights on The Hurricane, boldly threading the needle between Hannagan and the turn two wall to snatch second. Halfway through the thirty lapper, lapped traffic aided Abreu in eliminating the gap to Blaney’s rear bumper. While Dale astutely picked and chose his passes, Abreu’s attack was more like a machine gun, automatically going where the back markers weren’t. With Jim Nier and Paul May serving as the moving pick, Blaney cleared both with a bodacious two-for-one slider through turns three and four, surely a tough act to follow. However, Abreu’s tremendous run off the turn two cushion provided ample turn three momentum, firing his own two-for-one slide job that included not only Nier, but also leader Blaney! Twelve laps remaining, Dale was ready to return the favor as they lapped Jac Haudenschild (Miller 6), but during the overtaking he brushed the turn four wall, allowing Rico a brief respite.

Traffic continued to keep things close for the two front runners over the remaining ten tours. Numerous times the Hartford, Ohio hot shoe would pull even at the exit of turn two, but Abreu's high side momentum maintained a slim margin. With two to go, an approaching gaggle of cars containing Danny Smith, Travis Philo and Dean Jacobs (Leidig 59) would be the deciding factor. Rico circled Smith through one and somehow stole the bottom of three from Philo, brushing his right rear against Travis’s left rear. Exiting turn four three abreast, Abreu pointed to the top and dipped underneath the white flag, able to cruise to his second career All Star victory and his second tally of the weekend after taking top honors in a MOWA match the previous evening in Lincoln, Illinois.

After a disastrous weekend at the Four Crown Nationals when he flipped both his winged sprint car and midget, his second visit to Eldora’s victory lane served as redemption for the 2013 Four Crown midget winner. Climbing atop his wing with steering wheel in hand, I haven’t heard Eldora cheers this loud in a long time, his noise exceeding that of mentor Kyle Larson’s incredible Four Crown sweep of 2011. (Bear in mind, I haven’t attended a Kings Royal since 1996 or a World 100 since 1986.) As a fan, I was caught up in the moment as well, distinctly feeling that same rush of adrenaline that pumps through your system when you know you just experienced something special.

When asked what it was like to beat Dale Blaney at this place, Rico exclaimed, “Yeah, that’s pretty damned cool. Dale’s been the guy to beat all year long – him and Donny. We haven’t raced against them much this year but to get him here at Eldora – I had a terrible Four Crown and crashed a lot of stuff. I was just really timid all night until the feature. I got my confidence built back up in those first seven laps. I knew my car was really good. I just kept getting my wing back and made sure I was patient and had really good restarts. I got to Dale and was just judging where he was going to go. It’s so awesome to win here at Eldora in a sprint car and a midget. I’m just so happy with this team. I’ve gotten so many great opportunities this year. You’ve just got to take advantage of them.”

Continuing to reflect on his memorable score, Abreu added, “I knew Dale was right there. When you pass him, you know he’s going to step it up. I just tried to get through traffic as well as I could. It was tough with those guys running side by side and then I got into the side of Philo. I apologize for that. I just got really excited there at the end. It could have ended really bad but it didn’t. Thanks to all these fans for coming out tonight. It’s a great event that draws a lot of cars and hopefully they keep it going in the later years.”

With win number 23 of 2014, Abreu joins an elite list of individuals who have claimed Eldora victories in both midgets and winged sprint cars, as Jack Hewitt, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart (360 winged), and most recently Brad Sweet have also done the deed.

Blaney settled for second while Hannagan, Wilson, and Knoxville points champion Ian Madsen rounded out the top five. Fourth-quick qualifier Christopher Bell (Fox 53), Chris Andrews (up 15 spots from 22nd), Travis Philo, Danny Smith, and Dean Jacobs scored sixth through tenth. It was a tough road for the 57 year-old Smith, who broke an axle in his heat and slammed the turn one wall, needing to come through the B where he just squeezed the final transfer. Like Smitty, those suffering hard luck in their heats included Ryan Myers (climbing the wall in three and four while leading heat two) and Rob Chaney (blowing an engine during the fourth heat while running second).

Disappointed with his runner-up finish but happy to be a five-time All Star champion, Dale Blaney appeared to have the car to beat, commenting, “I was pretty good but it’s hard to be good here. On this track, you try to run straight and smooth – get it as much as you can around the top, but not enough where you are going to wear the tire out. Maybe I was a little bit too patient. I think I maybe got the wing back a little bit too far and got tight getting into three. I really struggled with getting through the center of three after that. Rico did a great job. He’s been really fast all year. He did a great job here and he got the win. But five (titles) is really neat. To be able to do that, it’s a testament to the guys I’ve driven for. I’ve had great cars. George has been with me now for 12 years. He gives me a great car every night. Five is pretty special. We’ll savor that for a little bit and try to get six next year.”

After the All Stars came a 20-lap NRA feature, with all eyes focused on six-time Eldora winner Randy Hannagan, again proving to be the man to beat after qualifying quickest (14.154). Slated to start from the outside of row three, by the sixth circuit Hannagan had caught fourth-starting Butch Schroeder, who had been out front since the second lap. Patiently shadowing Schroeder over the next four laps, Randy made his move on lap 11 in turn one. Despite his extensive Eldora experience that dates back to the mid-to-late ‘80s, there was nothing Butch could do to catch the Dennis Yoakam 22, as Randy ruled the Eldora NRA roost for the second time in 2014 and seventh time in his career. Dustin Daggett, Greg Wilson (in the Ron Hammons 6 normally piloted by 2014 NRA champ J.R. Stewart), and Ronnie Blair rounded out the first five while pole sitter Hud Horton, Mitch Brown, Devin Dobie, all-time Eldora 360 winner Tim Allison, and Knoxville visitor Jon Agan completed the top-ten.

Leaving the BOSS 410 wingless sprinters to close out Eldora’s 61st season, that impressive 53 car field was narrowed to 24 through six heat races and a pair of B-mains. Initially impressed by Thomas Meseraull’s 9.4 second gapping of second place Derek Hastings in heat one (T-Mez was in Todd Keen’s DRC/Claxton), C.J. Leary also scored high marks with his win from ninth while Dallas Hewitt also opened eyes with a seventh to first squirt in Jim Simon’s double-deuce. Also claiming a win was a resilient Jarett Andretti, who flew from fifth to first in his familiar Superior Auto Beast. Under the guidance of mechanic Mike Dutcher, this came one night after flipping high and hard at Waynesfield. Additional heat winners included Brandon Spithaler (from fourth) and Landon Simon (from second) while Bill Rose (Kissel 320) moved from 9th to 3rd to take one of the 18 heat race transfers. Six more were sent through the consolations, won by Travis Berryhill (doing it on less than eight cylinders) and Kent Wolters, the second contest seeing an outstanding two-by-two tug of war between Wolters, Steve Irwin, Joss Moffatt, and Huston Hewitt.

Logan Jarrett and Travis Hery fired from the front row of the BOSS 25-lapper, with championship contenders Dustin Smith and Mike Miller beginning 15th and 9th respectively. Already a BOSS champ in 2012, Russiaville, Indiana’s Smith held a slim seven point advantage entering the feature, needing to finish just one spot behind Miller to sew up his second crown. Difficult to pick an all-out favorite for the feature, former Eldora wingless winners Justin Grant, Matt Westfall, and Luke Hall blasted off from 11th, 16th, and 18th.

Grant was the first to exit the affair after ramming the rear of the Meseraull’s machine in turn three of the first tour, nailing both the outside and inside walls after losing his steering linkage. After a complete restart, Jarrett again got the jump to the top of turn one, with third-starting Dallas Hewitt securing the runner-up slot on the second tour. While Travis Hery and Derek Hastings were falling backwards, sixth-starting Leary, Miller, and eighth-starting Meseraull were on their way up, slipping and sliding, dipping and diving for third and fourth on the smooth and slick surface that still held some dark dirt on top of the north and south ends. Miller was as high as third but could not contain either Leary or Meseraull, who extended their battle to include Hewitt. Taking a page from Abreu, T-Mez moved from fourth to second with a slick two-for-one slider in turn one. C.J. tried to counter in three and four, pulling even yet failing to complete the pass.

It took no time for Meseraull to run down leader Jarrett, who had it his way for the first half of the affair. Pulling to Logan’s tail tank with ten laps remaining, Thomas teed up yet another patented turn one slider. Using the entire corner to make his move, he even sprayed some loose dirt at the exit of turn two for added style points. Leary followed with a slide job on the opposite end, securing the runner up slot before the second caution flew for Andretti.

The scoreboard showed nine laps were left and a top-five that contained Meseraull, Leary, Jarrett, Hewitt, and Miller. Dustin Smith was mired back in ninth and desperately needed to make something happen but immediately after restarting, he slipped too high in turn one and kissed concrete, ruining any chances at that championship. Back up front, Leary tried to move past T-Mez in three and four but was far too courteous, allowing Thomas to ride the tight rope and circle him through a treacherous turn four. Just a little bit further back, the battle for sixth through twelfth was an absolute free for all, seeing Spithaler, Fischesser, Hastings, Irwin, Rose, Westfall, and Smith scattered from top to bottom.

But when it was all said and done, T-Mez made it three for three for Northern California natives at the Sprintacular, besting Leary, Hewitt, Jarrett, and Miller, the latter dialing up his first BOSS championship in a clutch performance. Fischesser, Spithaler, Rose, Irwin (up 13 spots from 22nd), and Westfall secured sixth through tenth at the 9:52 PM checkered. Dustin Smith had to settle for an unsavory 12th.

Afterwards, an animated Meseraull commented, “Every time I come here, I tell everybody I suck, because I do. I kind of figured out how to go straight. I was over there talking to Stan Courtad. Courtad – he’s won some races here – he said, ‘Just drive it straight. I know you can’t do that, but drive it straight.’ Well, how was that Stan Courtad? I just want to thank Todd Keen and Scotty Weir. Scotty and him fell apart a couple of weeks ago and let me be in the car. Todd’s got a nice car and his son was sick and couldn’t make it out today, but I’ve just got to thank all the help: Triple-A, Spirit, Claxton Engines, DRC chassis. Thanks to all the fans who stayed and watched. Please drive home safe.”

“Thanks to the winged cars, we knew it would be really slick and smooth to the fence. It was nice. Usually in the USAC shows, I’m in the back, so I can’t see that good. It was nice being up in front and having clear vision. It was pretty awesome to race with C.J. Leary. He’s kind of a rookie. He’s been racing the last four years but he’s come a long way. It was a pretty awesome night.”

Unfortunately I missed the interview with Wapakoneta’s “Magic Man” Mike Miller, formerly a 2002 Lawrenceburg champion who can proudly add hardware from a hard-fought 2014 BOSS championship to his trophy room. Hidden talents like Miller have the perfect stage on which to play with Aaron Fry’s BOSS series, as a family man who consistently punches the time clock from Monday through Friday can still make some noise without spending a fortune.

Rewinding a bit back to Eldora hot laps, an interesting evening had just begun to unfold for Jason Holt, who returned to the cockpit of Dave Stensland’s 41 after a three year absence from the sport. While slowly circling this same speed plant where his father Boyce’s famed number 51 set a one-lap USAC track record with Johnny Heydenreich in August of 1997, Jason spread his father’s ashes into this sacred soil, this coming just a few weeks after delivering the eulogy following his September 24th passing. Emotionally charged by the experience, Holt attacked Eldora’s infamous banks with fury and fervor, undoubtedly the best he’s ever appeared here. Unfortunately, his night would come to a premature conclusion when pulling to the pit area as he was promptly t-boned by a push truck, the damages proving to be beyond racetrack repair. Remembering back to that August of 1997 evening when Boyce’s car was the favorite to win the feature, unfortunately bad luck befell the number 51 when the hood flew off just as it was preparing to take the lead. So ironic that Jason would have the same sort of luck as his father at this same venue, both had to be left wondering what might have been. Either way, I have to believe that his extremely hard to please father would have also been impressed with that brilliant hot lap performance.

Eldora’s efficient proceedings certainly served a good purpose as temperatures had indeed dipped throughout the evening, but an even bigger bonus was sending us home with enough time to take a detour through Greenville, as Maid-Rite’s drive-in was open until 11 PM. The last time for a sack of loose-meat sandwiches in 2014, if I had to go home, it might as well be with a happy tummy. Such an easy drive across U.S. 36, I certainly was in no rush for it to end.

Six days later, the eighth edition of the Kokomo Klash would serve as my 17th and final visit to the City of Firsts in 2014. Recalling how difficult it was to fathom that the Brownstown opener had arrived in late March, I was in equal denial about the Indiana outdoor farewell. Enjoying a warm and sunny downtown Indy lunch, by the time I was exiled from my sales and use tax seminar it was overcast and blustery, a rather rude greeting for this final go. Clearly indicative of the evening ahead, those wicked winds from the west would of course be hitting me face-first while stationed in Kokomo’s front stretch grandstand, an unpleasant proposition for even the most hardcore follower.

Loading up on layers of outerwear, a much bigger surprise than the plummeting temperatures was the sight of 2001 track champion A.J. Anderson holding court in the parking lot. Tanned from staying an extra week in Florida after his sister Leslie got hitched, it’s been ages since A.J. last competed in Kokomo, suddenly reminded at how the young group of racers that I first wrote about are now no longer a part of this scene. When you’ve spent your life savings and been burned out in more ways than one, I suppose it is much easier to walk away from sprint car racing than someone like me who has very little invested.

Observing hot laps/qualifying for the 34 sprint cars with Renaissance man Brent Goodnight, while raining sticky clay I still managed to record the quickest times from the four sessions, reminded of Brent’s early season donation of City of Kokomo leaves that were then mulched into the surface over the most recent off-season. 2010 Klash winner Scotty Weir (Simon 23S), Justin Grant (quickest overall at 12.752), 2007 Klash winner Brady Short, and C.J. Leary topped each of the four groups, with the fastest four inverted as usual.

Indiana’s season finale has a history of some interesting pairings, and this evening was no different. Three former Klash kings exchangedchariots, as Jon Stanbrough completed his Hoosier campaign with Daryl Tate, Shane Cottle worked the pedals of the Wingo 77, and Dave Darland drove for Jammin’ Jeff Walker for the second weekend in a row, reuniting for a Waynesfield win one week prior. Bob Darland Memorial victor Robert Ballou also wrangled a ride with Ray Marshall in his Buckeye Machine Maxim. In addition to providing hardware for Weir, Covington, Ohio’s Jim Simon maintained a Maxim for Dallas Hewitt, with Dallas’s deal towed old-school style on an open trailer pulled by Steve Simon’s pickup. With two separate tow rigs, that late night haul back to Ohio on desolate two-lane highways meant twice the opportunity for infamous “deer dog” sightings for the Simon set.

Friday’s night’s Klash docket was completed with 24 midgets, a slim collection of 600cc mini sprints, and a full array of Detroit iron. Notable midget maniacs included last year’s winner Cottle (Ecker 57), Darland (RW 17), Thomas Meseraull (Sandy 16), Shane Hollingsworth (family owned 85), Chett Gehrke (Moore 10), 2014 Montpelier champion Tate Martz (Alexander 2), Roselawn, Indiana’s Kurt Mayhew (aided by Crankin’ Craig Dori), and a pair of BCI Spike Esslingers for Trey Marcham and Spencer Bayston.

Ditching the wind by abandoning my usual up-high vantage point, I moved down to the first ten rows and found the sprint heats quite entertaining, conducted on an extremely heavy surface that has become par for the course in this season-ender. Cottle was the winner of the first from fifth, flirting with the infield marker tires as he distanced himself from Stanbrough, who actually lost the redraw position on the final lap after a turn one front end push. Donning some spurs, Dave Darland dominated his heat from third, putting all four wheels in the fluff in true cowboy fashion. Behind Darland, Chad Boespflug had secured a feature transfer until his Kenny Baldwin 5 caught fire, having to exit the event to extinguish flames. Additional sprint heat stars included A.J. Hopkins and Chase Stockon (in Chris Gentry’s DRC), seeing current Kokomo track champ Bryan Clauson (Eberhardt 7) get on the bike and have to come through the B. Midget heats contained Austin Nemire gymnastics and an unexpected Shane Cottle shut off in the final turn of the final lap while leading. Gifting a win to Spencer Bayston, that sent a steamed Cottle to the consolation. Twin sprint B-mains were no picnic, as the challenging surface kept Jarett Andretti, Max McGhee, Chad Boespflug, and Josh Spencer out of the A, the latter two earning provisional passes thanks to late season Kokomo kindness.

With World of Outlaws microphone maestro Johnny Gibson finding a seat prior to Indiana’s ultimate sprint car finale, heavyweights Darland and Cottle earned front row starts thanks to the luck of the draw. Given Dave’s dynamite heat race performance, how could anyone not pick him to win?

However, just like for Eldora’s All Star event, the consensus favorite failed to “park it”. Dave did lead early, but when Shane slipped sideways in four it triggered a chain reaction that collected last year’s Klash conqueror Jerry Coons, Jr., who bounced like a basketball and scaled the infield tractor tire, flattening left rear rubber. Also gathering Justin Grant, both Coons and Cottle pitted and were required to retire, as a special rule change for this evening eliminated the work area.

Darland was chased by Leary, Meseraull, Stockon, and Hopkins when amber bulbs were exchanged for green. While eyeing Stockon’s tussle for third with T-Mez and fight for fourth with the Silent Gasser, Leary emulated Grant’s patented turn three diamond to slip underneath Deputy Dave. After the action was paused for an errant marker tire, Meseraull would move past Darland with a surprise backstretch sweep. Attempting to keep pace with the leader, Thomas joined Leary in a four-wheel cushion trampling exhibition, an Eldora role reversal from the previous week.

Slowed for one final caution at lap 15, Double D soon slid Thomas in turn one, swatting the Keen left front with Walker’s right rear. However, there simply was no catching C.J., who was in full-attack mode all feature long. So hooked up these last few weeks of the season thanks to Derek Claxton, the teenager easily sliced through lapped traffic and constructed a full straight advantage, obtaining his fourth score of ’14. Darland, Meseraull, Ballou (up 10 spots from 14th), and Stockon tallied top-fives while Clauson (up 12 from 18th), Stanbrough, Jarrett (up 9 from 17th), Grant, and Boespflug (up 11 from 21st) secured sixth through tenth.

Discussing his first career Kokomo sprint car score with Rob Goodman, C.J. said, “This is a dream come true for me and my team. Derek (Claxton) has really been wanting to get a win here again. He and my dad set the car up great. It was on kill all night. This is one of my biggest career wins and it’s very prestigious. Dave is one of my biggest heroes – I grew up watching him and all. I’ve got to thank my dad and my mom. She couldn’t make it tonight but hopefully she can make the next one.” Given the exclamation point Leary put on this conclusion to the Indiana campaign, I wouldn’t be surprised if that next one comes in California.

After an extensive surface restoration to eliminate the colossal curb, midgets were available for their 25-lap conclusion, finding first heat winner Shane Hollingsworth as the pole manin his Spike/Esslinger with Darland again earning a front row start thanks to his win in heat two. Number two in the hearts of Hoosier racing faithful, midgets were actually number one for those Kokomo Klash customers who stuck it out in the unfriendly weather, putting on an outstanding show that featured three lead changes, a tight three and four car formation at the front, and a hard charge from a hometown favorite who nearly pulled off a win from deep in the field.

Hollingsworth’s initial lead might have been short-lived thanks to Darland’s low-side launch off turn four at the conclusion of lap one, but a five-car pile-up in that same corner (involving T-Mez) re-racked cars numbered 17, 85, 39, 10, and 2. (If you are keeping score, those numerals equate to Darland, Hollingsworth, Bayston, Gehrke, and Martz.)

Once back green, Shane and Dave engaged in a wheel to wheel war for first, soon joined by Bayston and Cottle who in just seven laps had advanced to 4th from 16th! Choosing the shortest distance possible around the quarter-mile, Hollingsworth lurked in Darland’s shadows, just enough to offera surprise attack at the exit of turn two to pilferthe premier position. The front four could fit under a snug blanket with ten laps left, but two tours later Darland’s Spike/Fontana somehow found a hole beneath huggy pole Hollingsworth in turn one, taking the lead for good.

With Cottle now third, the scoreboard showed six laps were left when he slithered into second after an inside attack of turn three. However, not even lapped traffic for the leader could aid his further advance. Darland’s second midget victory of the season amounted to overall win number 15, leading a top-five of Cottle, Hollingsworth, Bayston (who half-spun from third in the final corner of the final lap), and Marcham. Gehrke, Martz, Meseraull, Walker (Gage), and Watson (Alex) completed the second half of the top-ten.

Kokomo Speedway’s victory lane has been Dave Darland’s home away from home, visiting this cherished piece of real estate for the sixth time this year. Quizzed by Rob Goodman on his thoughts of the midget action, the king of Kokomo observed, “That was a great race! This place was great again tonight. It’s great every week. With all the rain we’ve had this week, the track preparation was just great. Every chance they had, they were working on it. It started out good and it just kept getting better and better. The O’Connors do a great job with it. It’s too bad 2014 is coming to a close.”

“These guys gave me a good midget. The Steve Weirich RW 17 was great tonight. Even Avart, Craig, and all the guys back there working on it did a good job. They gave me a great setup and the car was fast all night. I’m glad to be here in victory lane.”

After bumping into Aaron Mosley on the way out, I extended the evening for a few more minutes by watching Todd Kirkman claim the 600cc mini sprint main over Kyle Schuett (also 11th in the full midget main), Cole Bodine (son of Kevin Bodine, former Eric Shively sprint car assistant), Corey Smith (yes, the former Kokomo Speedway sprint car feature winner), and Kyle Lock. Following The Outlaw and his five-time U.S. 24 Speedway feature winning son Evan to the parking lot, given the dramatic change in weather and chilled bones that would require several minutes to properly thaw, I could sense that this was it for my season. Taking me home one final time, there would be no trips to Fremont, Chillicothe, or Perris, but for one final gasp of air, there might just be a night or afternoon under the Fort Wayne Expo roof in December.

On one of my drives into work after my season had concluded, thanks to the variety of musical offerings found on satellite radio, I unearthed “Take Me Home”, a 1986 gem from Phil Collins. Written about a patient in a mental institution, while absorbing an uninterrupted listen in the parking lot, my interpretation of the lyrics had more to do with my current frame of mind that comes with October’s massive changes that have accordingly shocked my system.

Returning to a standard existence where work, workouts at the gym, dinners and movies with my wife, and televised football and basketball take center stage, it’s a long time to be locked up until April. Aside from a vacation or two and the multiple holidays, there’s honestly not much to look forward to. However, it’s certainly not all bad, as that extended wait makes me thirst for and appreciate the equally massive changes that come with springtime’s arrival.But if it’s anything like last winter, I could be in for a rude awakening and a bad case of cabin fever, longing for the rekindling of friendships and racing action of any kind. However, no matter how dark that end of the tunnel may appear, there is always optimism, maintaining hope that a microscopic ray of light will soon return.

Sipping on an Old Fashioned and savoring some incredible morsels at Nora’s North End Barbeque and Moonshine on the last evening of October, that bit about continual optimism was put to a serious test. Peering out the window in disbelief at the blizzard-like conditions, not only did this confirm that it was officially the off-season, but I suddenly recalled the mental anguish of the most recent winter. Indiana reality is often so harsh, requiring me to zip up my coat, brave the wet and windy weather, and remove sticky snow from my car’s windows thanks to a scraper donated by Terre Haute First National Bank president Don Smith. Cranking the defroster and seat warmers to full blast and pointing my motor carriage back to Carmel, in search of some level of comfort all I could think about was reaching my humble abode, heading straight for bed, and hope that I would wake up the next morning and find that it was already April.

Of course there would be no such miracle, but nonetheless, at least I was home. There is indeed no place like it in this world and no better feeling when I reach it.



Volume 16, Number 12

Swan Song

Sadly seeing the glass half empty in these waning stages of the season, the weather is far too nice to be pondering the prospects of readying my snow blower for such frequent use. Truth be told, I wouldn't mind the upcoming respite from racing so much if the Farmer's Almanac prediction for this coming winter was more agreeable, as I can find plenty of things to do with my downtime.

Attempting to thread a common theme between the final three Midwestern USAC sprint car contests and a trio of World of Outlaw wars, the only thing that popped into my head was “swan song”, which is not only a record label founded by legendary rock band Led Zeppelin, but also a metaphorical phrase for a final gesture, effort, or performance given just before death or retirement. Yes, these final few races are indeed some of the best of the year but also some of the most painful, as I know with few exceptions that these are my last visits to these facilities, the last time to visit with these friends for six and a half months. I might have plenty of things to do come wintertime, but I do honestly miss these escapes from everyday life.

Wondering where the term swan song has its origins, I thank Wikipedia for such instant gratification, as it refers to an ancient belief that swans sing a beautiful song in the moment just before death, having been silent during most of their lifetime. This belief, whose basis in actuality is long-debated, had become proverbial in ancient Greece by the 3rd century BC and was reiterated many times in later Western poetry and art.

The third week in September is an odd time of the year to be stockpiled with some massive meetings. Just as hectic as Indy 500 week and Sprint Week, this particular six race in eight day grind might just be the best possible rendition of a swan song that I can think of. Beginning with September 13th’s Haubstadt Hustler and ending with Eldora’s Four Crown weekend, in between there was a Tuesday WoO war in Kokomo followed by WoO and USAC sprint car spectacles in Terre Haute on Wednesday and Thursday. Finally finishing the Four Crown on Sunday due to untimely Saturday showers, I was able to take in everything except for the pair of Terre Haute trips. (A chip off the old block, my nephew Danny did it all, reminding me of my younger days.) One week later, a half-day of vacation allowed me to spend a gorgeous Friday afternoon with Danny, basking in Bloomington sunshine at Upland Brewing while awaiting Steve Kinser’s windup as a World of Outlaws regular. The next night, my September was silenced with Lawrenceburg’s Fall Nationals, ultimately closing the USAC Midwestern sprint car campaign.

Two of the six contests consumed over these three weeks truly resonated with the nostalgia of the 1980s and ultimately influenced this swan song theme, as Jack Hewitt’s Four Crown return in 6-R Racing’s final fling and Steve Kinser’s Bloomington, Indiana finale to his Salute to the King tour soothed the eyes, ears, and soul, flooding the brain with so many great memories. However, far too many of these other September showings were simply the same song and dance, as Daron Clayton (Haubstadt) and Bryan Clauson (Lawrenceburg) dominated USAC action, just as they have in the past at these very venues. And when speaking of domination, Donny Schatz simply took the cake. Although Joey Saldana broke up "Donny decimation" with back-to-back triumphs at Eldora and Lernerville, the North Dakota nightmare truly dulled the senses after cleaning clocks in Kokomo, Terre Haute, and Bloomington, taking four of five Outlaw outings in the Hoosier state. Looting the tour much like The King in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Schatz and his TSR squad are clearly the cream of the crop, leaving the rest of the pack to scratch their heads and find an answer. The way it looks right now, they are a long way from finding that solution.

Making a withdrawal from the memory bank in going all the way back to Saturday the 13th, my solo flight to and from Tri-State Speedway made for a very long day, as that ride home is always so mentally and physically fatiguing. Deviating from my usual 67/57/50/241/41 route to the southwest corner of the state, instead I chose State Road 37 to Bloomington, parked in agonizing construction traffic in Martinsville. Making my way over to the new 69 via the scenic twists and turns of State Road 45, I was hoping to see daylight construction progress as one brief stretch of 45 overpasses the new road. However, it still looks like they have quite a bit more work to do. Say what you will about speeding up the Evansville drive time, but there may not be a more boring stretch of Indiana highway than these sixty some-odd miles on 69. There's still something to say about taking the road less traveled, as my stint on 69 completely bypassed the scenic double-spanned iron bridge over White River near Newberry, eliminated a stop at Washington's Mason's Root Beer drive-in, and prevented any possibility of locating one of those world-famous Decker melons, of which the chilled juice served as the source of an incredible Decker Melon Soupsavored at high-end Indy eatery Recess back in late July. Nonetheless, I easily made it to my destination on time, not a bit surprised that just 32 cars would go for ten grand to win.

I was, however, happy to see a reuniting of Hud Cone and the Hurst Brothers, as aside from Clayton there may not be anyone more exciting to watch on this tight paperclip than “Mr. Pretty from Oakland City”. Still calling Salem, Indiana home, 77 year-old Dave Hurst was Hud’s equipment provider, aided by his 49 year-old son John while 53 year-old son Dan took Andrew Prather to Putnamville. Starting his racing career as a jalopy driver way back in 1959, Dave’s duties morphed to mechanical when assisting car owner Marion McCord whose chauffeur just so happened to be Orval Yeadon, winner of Eldora’s first 500-lapper in 1965. Celebrating his 50th sprint car season in 2014, Hurst began fielding his own cars in 1965, so 2015 will be his golden anniversary of sprint car ownership. Still flying beneath the radar in this age of store-bought equipment, the Hurst 9T has seen its share of drivers come and go, but the resourcefulness and resilience of this family shines through each time they arrive at the speedway. Building a unique Buick-headed Chevy for their 2013 Maxim that was recently acquired from Jeff Walker, they traded 32 year-old red oak lumber (retrieved from Salem’s 1982 airport runway lengthening) for credit on sprint car parts owned by close friend Karl Kinser. Quickest in his hot lap session, sixth in the fourth heat, third in the semi, but falling from the feature, handling problems plagued Hud’s evening, but he was still a thrill-a-minute sight in his heat and B, flirting with the boiler plate each and every lap. Regardless of the end result, it's a great feeling to know that the old-school Indiana sprint car scene is still alive.

My solo status allowed ample access the pits, where I bumped into likeable seven-year sprint car veteran Brandon Mattox. A twenty-eight year-old Terre Haute terror employed by Vigo Landscaping and tutored in sprint car competition by former driver/mechanic Travis Thompson, Brandon is one of just a few sprint car racers left from an area that was once a hotbed of open wheel activity. Receiving ample support from Mattoon, Illinois’ Don Searles, Searles was instrumental in the team’s engine upgrade, allowing them to spread their wings and strut their stuff at such high-horsepower haunts as Eldora, Kokomo, and Terre Haute.

Much like Cone, Mad Dog Mattox had a night he’d soon rather forget, folding his front end after heat race contact with Shane Cockrum. Spinning sideways during the B, the slip triggered a three car incident that swept up Hunter Schuerenberg and left both on the outside of A-main status. After popping a provisional, Brandon was unable to avoid a spinning Mitch Wissmiller, tumbling three or four times through the third turn. Miraculously landing on all four wheels, he rolled his machine into the trailer, ending an eventful evening that introduced Evansville energy drink company Liquid Ninja to the sport of sprint car racing. With plenty of samples available for consumption, my early morning drive was fueled by Liquid Ninja, allowing me to stay alert as I scanned both sides of the road for wildlife.

Another intriguing Haubstadt combination paired Jerry Coons, Jr. with Chris Gentry. Offering a DRC chassis wearing specially-crafted gas-charged Pro shocks and powered by a potent Don Ott Chevy that underwent $12,000 in upgrades, the Gentry deuce is certainly no slouch after winning at both Eldora and Putnamville with Chase Stockon behind the wheel. Jerry took full advantage of the opportunity, overtaking Daron Clayton for a heat race win and operating in the top-three for the majority of the forty-lapper, ultimately settling for fourth at the conclusion.

Leading the last 16 laps to score the $10,000 paycheck, it was yet another huge Haubstadt score for Daron Clayton, who by my estimate has taken home 12 trophies from Tri-State, five of them falling under the USAC banner and second this season. Elevating from 11th, his mid-race, side-by-side duel with leader Kyle Cummins lasted several tours, but lapped traffic and an excellent lap 25 restart helped Daron pull away. One would have thought Clayton would be on cruise control the rest of the distance, but with ten laps left he managed to tangle with lapper Nick Hale, who wound up on his head. A second threat came from Robert Ballou, who poured on the coal and applied heavy heat until one final caution at lap 34. Daron uncharacteristically slipped sideways with four to go, but a fourth corner front end push from Ballou sealed the deal. Stabbing and steering his usual Spike chassis propelled by a J&D Chevy, Clayton actually turned down a ride in Scott Pedersen’s machine because he had bills to pay and didn’t want to share his race winnings. Going from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows two days later with the tragic loss of his young son Kinser, I can never begin to fathom the gut-wrenching pain and never-ending grief that Daron and his family continues to endure, but my heart bleeds for them in these trying times. Why these things have to happen, one will never know.

After leading the first 24 laps, it just wasn’t meant to be for third place Cummins, who is still in search of his first USAC win at his home track. Impressively scoring a heat race win from sixth, he began from the outside of the front row and appeared to have the winning car for most of the race. Pressured heavily through chaotic lapped traffic by third-starting Kevin Thomas, Jr., KTJ got extremely close on lap 17, so close that he tapped Cummins and spun from contention, the first of three cautions for Kevin who again had help from Californian Jimmy May. Strapped into his family-owned Spike/CRE, Cummins collected his second consecutive USAC podium at Tri-State, proving two weeks later that his hometown speed was no fluke after scoring his second MSCS victory here in as many years, wrapping up a fourth MSCS crown in the process.

As previously mentioned, Coons was fourth at the 10 PM checkered while pole sitter Chase Stockon (now wearing Factory Kahne shocks) fell to fifth. Sixth through tenth included Jon Stanbrough (up as high as fifth until scaling the cushion), Bryan Clauson (up from 13th), Brady Bacon, Tracy Hines (up from 15th), and Brian Karraker (up from 21st). Entering Haubstadt as the point leader by five markers over Brady Bacon, after finishing 11th Dave Darland exited in second, some three points in arrears. Despite the fact that his Phillips squad received some at-the-track technical assistance from both DRC and Super Shox, Dave’s Tri-State struggles continued, unable to move forward from his ninth place start. Sixth at Terre Haute before his dismal Eldora weekend, one could say that September has generally not been kind to the king of Kokomo, as this particular month cost him last year’s title. A special thank you again goes out to Darland super fan Joe Higdon, who saved me a spot high atop turn one.

Up next was the World of Outlaws in Kokomo, their 23rd visit here since 1978. A reschedule from early June, the healthy 38 car contingent featured the seven winningest men from 2014's open wheel arena, namely Donny Schatz, Rico Abreu, Christopher Bell, Bryan Clauson (Stuebgen 71x), Dale Blaney, Derek Hagar (Destiny Motorsports' new driver), and Daryn Pittman.

Going after Sammy Swindell’s two-year old track record of 10.950 seconds, Cody Darrah’s quick lap of 11.050 came the closest, but the extremely heavy surface resulting from Monday rain wreaked havoc on the winged warriors. Sixteen year-old Quentin Blonde nearly went for a ride during his qualification attempt, biking big and hitting hard when landing on all four wheels. In an attempt to ease the pain, the road grader removed the curb after time trials, but try as they may to pound it into submission, that same old ledge returned with a vengeance. Say what you will, but these particular drivers, cars, and teams just aren’t accustomed cowboy conditions and with most tentatively playing around the middle to bottom, all night long I simply wished someone would step upstairs and boldly put all four wheels in the fluff.

A midget regular and winged part-timer, Christopher Bell was the most aggressive on this particular Tuesday. Stepping slightly above the cushion in turns three and four in his heat, Bell was preparing to steal the final transfer from Steve Kinser with an outside sweep, but Steve’s right rear met Christopher’s left front. The resulting damage sent the Fox 53 to the B, where Bell utilized the same move on the final lap to steal the win from Brady Bacon, seeing 1996 Kokomo winner Dave Blaney snag the final transfer in Joe Gaerte’s 3G.

Come feature time, dash winner Kerry Madsen might have led the first two laps and David Gravel the next three, but by no surprise the smooth and steady Donny Schatz would prevail, taking over on the sixth circuit. Wearing SST “black widow” Pro Shocks on all but the right rear, Schatz’s only threat came late from ninth-starting Shane Stewart, who had two shots at the lead within the final few tours but failed to complete the pass. Dale Blaney, Gravel, and Madsen were third through fifth while Abreu (up from 11th), Darrah, Paul McMahan (up ten spots), Pittman, and Joey Saldana secured sixth through tenth. Christopher Bell copped 11th while Steve Kinser served as lapped traffic in 19th, a huge disappointment in what may have been his final Kokomo contest. I counted seven cautions and one red in this calamity-filled forty-lapper, the lone stoppage coming for Jac Haudenschild’s wall climb and resulting entanglement in the turn two fence. Unfortunately for car owner Bernie Stuebgen, the impact killed both ends of the car and zinged the engine to 10,500 RPMs, requiring a thrash of epic proportions to be ready in time for Eldora as they not only had to construct another car, but the engine had to be hauled to Paul Kistler’s shop for a quick rebuild.

Not knocking the Outlaws as they are indeed the most professional sprint car program in the business, but this particular event highlighted just how great we have it in this wingless world and how much talent truly exists in the usual Sunday Kokomo convocations. A heavy surface such as this is fairly common, routinely producing the most breathtaking action you could ever imagine. Not everyone caresses the cushion, but there are still a few cowboys left who aren’t afraid to attack it. To each his own, but that’s what floats my boat when it comes to sprint car action.

On to the Big E for the Friday portion of the Four Crown, high school pal George Robertson played chauffeur, meeting up with California transplant Tom Percy for a highly enjoyable evening. If you're going to catch the Outlaws on a half-mile, Eldora is definitely the place to be as the all-out speed, ample room to race, and resulting slide jobs provide an optimal formula for fun.

With the cushion well off the wall for qualifications, Rico Abreu was first in line and nearly equaled Craig Dollansky's 12 year-old track record time of 12.707 seconds with his own tour of 12.733. Kings Royal winner Kerry Madsen continued to flex his Eldora muscle by securing the second best time of 12.764. Dollansky made a rare appearance outside of Knoxville to earn 8th, with Donny Schatz one spot behind in 9th. Steve Kinser just missed the heat race invert in 17th, and that invert is the lone hope of salvaging a decent evening with this group unless you post a time near the top of the charts. Fifteen of the 36 cars dipped beneath 13 seconds, blistering fast to say the least.

Sending Schatz to the front row of his heat, naturally that translated to a victory and placement in the dash, where he advanced from 5th to 3rd. Donny has never been the guy to beat at Eldora, but it still took a nearly perfect night from Joey Saldana to interrupt his winning ways. Joey qualified fourth, finished third in his heat, and claimed the dash after the "four" inversion put him on the pole. Up front for all thirty tours, this would be Saldana’s fourth Four Crown win, quite appropriate given that he was once a USAC regular (1991) and that this was the site of his father's final race (1985 Four Crown). Notching Eldora Speedway victory number 23 (actually 24 if you count an April of 1998 WoO Preliminary score), 13 have come under WoO sanction while 11 were with the All Star Circuit of Champions. Either way, he’s number three on the Eldora World of Outlaw win list behind Steve and Sammy and number two on the Big E All Star list behind Kenny Jacobs. Regarding Ted Johnson's ridiculous rule that did not count preliminary feature wins towards career "A-main" totals, my friend Tom Percy made an excellent point: "I never saw them race any easier on Friday compared to Saturday."

Far from a cakewalk, the Brownsburg Bullet first had to contend with both Kerry Madsen and Donny Schatz, as the trio moved in tandem through thick lapped traffic. Enduring restarts for a Brad Sweet caution at lap 12 and separate red flags for Sweet (again) and Abreu at laps 20 and 22, the most serious threat to Dan Motter's 71M came in the last five laps, as Schatz shortened up turns three and four to no avail. Dale Blaney disproved the theory that you have to make the dash in order to reach the podium, as he elevated from 11th, even stealing second from Schatz on the final restart with 8 to go. Settling for third, Blaney was chased by Madsen and Gravel, who reversed their finishing order from Tuesday. Shane Stewart, Paul McMahan, Greg Wilson (up 8 spots from 16th), Cody Darrah, and Tim Shaffer crossed sixth through tenth. Wearing special Bowers Coal colors for Bernie Stuebgen, the two day thrash didn’t pay off for Jac Haudenschild, who bolted from 20th to 9th in just two laps before blasting the turn two wall, the first to retire from battle.

The traditional United States Auto Club portion of the 33rd annual Four Crown Nationals was next on my lengthy list of September swan songs. Assembling 18 midgets, 39 sprints, and 20 Silver Crown cars, the impressive number of sprints was aided by an odd assortment from Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan. Always one of my must-sees as this event is the ultimate showcase of talent, I have only missed one Four Crown since my 1985 introduction. For 2014, six did triple duty, namely Chris Windom, Bryan Clauson, Shane Cockrum, Tracy Hines, Brady Bacon, and Dave Darland. Given Clauson’s Friday night ride, he was the only one to attempt all four true open wheel divisions.

Perhaps the biggest reason for this race's must-see status was my instant connection and fascination with “Eldora’s Favorite Son” Jack Hewitt, who was truly tailor-made for this particular event. Winning 19 different features, including four in his mind-blowing 1998 sweep, it’s an amazing statistic that will probably never be equaled in my lifetime. Returning for 6-R Racing’s Silver Crown swan song, this would be Jack’s first Silver Crown event since his July of 2002 accident at North Vernon, Indiana. Attempting to end his career on his own terms in an October of 2004 Fun Fest sprint car feature at Lawrenceburg, it wasn’t long until he was found behind the wheel of a winged sprinter at Skyline Speedway, also partaking in his own Jack Hewitt Classic two years ago in Waynesfield. In between those three contests, he’s logged countless laps in his two-seat sprint car, even starting at the back of several Waynesfield features and passing a few cars before pulling in.

Amongst a sea of photographers, friends, and general well-wishers, I got to spend a few minutes with the legend before he suited up for battle. Here’s a quick question-and-answer session from Saturday, with more quizzing coming post-race on Sunday.

KO: A lot of people have probably asked you the same question that they have asked me – why do this again?

Hewitt: I just love it, you know? When you get older, you get a little crazy thinking you can do things that make your body start laughing at you. We’ve been driving the two-seater and it’s been teasing me. With it being Eldora – like I said, it’s just because you love it. But as I’ve been telling everybody, it’s just like watching porn. You can only watch it so long and then you want to have sex. Well, I’ve been watching for what, 12 years now, and I’m ready to go and do the real thing.

KO: Eldora Speedway – it’s been kind to you and mean to you over the years. What’s the first thing you think about when you hear the name Eldora Speedway?

Hewitt: Don Hewitt – my dad. He was the first one here. I grew up here, so that just made the place that more special. And, then we were fortunate enough to win a race or two here.

KO: When you’re lying there in the hospital bed in Indianapolis getting worked on back in 2002, did you have a lot of regrets, specifically about not getting to run Eldora again? Is that part of the reason why you are here today?

Hewitt: No. That has nothing to do with it. I knew the risks going in, so I was good with them coming out. I tell you, if I ever have any regrets, it’s that there wasn’t enough of me to go around when I ran Indy. I turned around and missed Eldora Speedway that night because I just didn’t want Indy to end. If I regret missing one race, it was that one night after Indy.

KO: So what’s a bigger deal to you – the Four Crown sweep in ’98 or Indy that same year?

Hewitt: It would be a toss-up. I’d hate to think. They’ve both meant a lot to my career. I guess when you’ve got to go out, if you can go out with a little bit of a bang, it’s something for people to remember. Both of those were definitely highlights.

KO: So what’s the goal for tonight? Is it to be competitive and run up on the wall or just to get the juices flowing and see if you want to do this some more?

Hewitt: I’m here to have fun. No pressure.

KO: Ever since I’ve been coming here, they have called you Eldora’s Favorite Son. I started coming here in the mid-80s and I didn’t know anybody, but just from the fan reaction, I knew you were somebody special. What does that mean to you when they call you Eldora’s Favorite Son?

Hewitt: Well you know, this is home to me. This is my home track. I’m 35 miles from here. Terry Baltes and I grew up together. We’re the same age and everything. I started racing when I was a kid. Terry – he just figured he’d be the promoter here, but he became the announcer. He’s the one that actually came up with Eldora’s Favorite Son. That’s an honor to be a part of that here. To have my name in any form with Eldora Speedway is just fantastic.

KO: You’re back with 6-R Racing. I don’t know how much longer they are going to be doing this. Some say this is their last race – with Darryl and the boys. Hamp is just down the road in the pits. But, how cool is it to do this with 6-R?

Hewitt: Well, this is where I was at when I got hurt. So, I’m back home again and we’ve even had Hamp down looking over the racecar and giving us a few pointers. If I don’t turn a lap right now, I’ve had the best night going.

KO: How did the test go at Waynesfield last Saturday?

Hewitt: We had to make some adjustments on the car for comfort. Throttle and the brake. I wasn’t real happy but we found some things wrong with the car. We’ll see what it does after hot laps. I’ll have a lot more answers after hot laps.

KO: Any other fond memories of Eldora other than the Four Crown sweep? I remember the spin and win with Larry Rice back about ’88 or so. I remember the Kenny Jacobs deal in ’86 which may not be the fondest memory, but it was an honorable thing to do or say afterwards.

Hewitt: If I had a choice, I would like to have said that I won the World 100 because that is the Daytona, the Indy, and the Knoxville for late models. Probably one of the neatest things was the night when we stole the ambulance here. My dad – he was drinking – and he was in the driver’s seat. We ended up taking the ambulance home that night. That was in Earl’s book. We got ‘er back the next day, but we got a butt-chewing. Those are some stories that you just can’t make up.

KO: If it goes well tonight, what does the future hold for Jack Hewitt?

Hewitt: I’ll just have to keep my upper lip moist, because I’ll be grinning all of the time!

Sprint car hot laps and qualifications were up first and perhaps the biggest shock of all came when Dave Darland broke an axle while coming to green. Returning for one lap at the end of the qualifying line in his backup car, he slapped the backstretch wall and ruined another rear end, coasting to the line to clock the slowest time. With the cushion already pushed to the wall in three and four, nearly everyone flirted with the fence and got away with it. The lone exception was local boy Luke Hall, who climbed the concrete and rearranged his front end. Saturday's sprint car quick six consisted of Bryan Clauson (15.557), Tracy Hines, Brady Bacon, Jerry Coons, Jr., Justin Grant, and Robert Ballou (aided again by Oklahoma’s Jimmy Jones). Brandon Mattox and Shane Cockrum also impressed with ninth and tenth best times.

During midget hot laps, things went from bad to worse for Darland when the Fontana engine in his RW Motorsports Beast expired, done for the rest of the weekend in that division. As if things couldn’t get any worse, he was the second of two Silver Crown cars to invert in hot laps, Russ Gamester being the first after tripping over the turn two cushion and tagging the wall. Darland's gymnastics in Marc Longworth's Beast/Toyota were much more dramatic after his steering broke at the exit of turn two. Cracking concrete and launching high into the air, the crash landing drew the curtain on his Silver Crown weekend as well.

Call me an old-school traditionalist, but I can vividly remember when the Four Crown was one of the most prestigious midget races on the calendar. Now only able to attract a miniscule field of 18 machines, as expected the quickest three came from the Keith Kunz stable. Abreu (16.369), Bell, and Thorson led the way in qualifying, with Darren Hagen (Hmiel 56), Clauson, and Hines following. Illinois visitor Terry Babb blew up on his second circuit, further reducing the field to 16.

Silver Crown practice and qualifications were next and only 17 of the 20 entries took time. Surprised at how hard these big cars were being hauled into the corners for hot laps, they were pushed even harder for qualifications, with Christopher Bell’s time of 16.448 (Gormly 99) initially topping the charts. However, his time would be disallowed as his machine measured too wide in the rear. Brady Bacon (McQuinn 14) suffered the same fate as Bell and after the Saturday night rain, his team chose to head back home. Bell’s teammate Jerry Coons, Jr. (16.513) inherited the number one starting spot, joined on the front row by point leader Kody Swanson. Bobby East, Tracy Hines, Chris Windom, and C.J. Leary made up the next two rows.

Reverting back to the September swan song theme, just how did Jack Hewitt look? In one word, it would be respectable. Although he briefly tested the top in hot laps, he generally played it smart by conservatively running right through the middle. His qualifying time of 18.391 was just a tick off of Robert Ballou (suffering a sick engine in the SET 53) but was so much smoother than Patrick Lawson.

With a humongous crowd on hand, what a huge difference one night and the absence of aerodynamic aid makes when it comes to the art of overtaking. Again, not knocking the WoO, as it’s a completely different animal for heat race action, but wingless sprint cars were simply made for Eldora Speedway. The first heat from Saturday offered more passing than all four from Friday, as Clauson charged from 6th to win while C.J. Leary and Kevin Thomas, Jr. swapped too many sliders to count. Hunter Schuerenberg won his heat from 5th while a desperate Dave Darland put on a passing clinic in romping from 10th to 4th. As awesome as this style of racing is here, it’s still dangerous as hell. Just ask Mitch Wissmiller, who wiped out his ride after he blew through the turn two cushion, slammed the wall, and flipped wildly. Jarett Andretti shortened up his chassis after he tagged the wall between three and four and tumbled end over end.

As for the two midget heats, the first one was noteworthy given Rico Abreu's hustle from sixth to first by third turn of the first lap! Unsure if Rico was running full tilt the entire distance, Clauson nearly chased him down. Unfortunately, all of this awesomeness was put on pause when the winds suddenly changed direction and storms rolled in, resulting in a four hour delay that had my antsy father asking me to drive him home. Fearing a repeat of the 2006 all-nighter, rather reluctantly I pulled out of the parking lot at 12:40 AM, praying for more rain. Sometimes prayers do get answered, as twenty minutes into the drive the plug was pulled on Saturday night. Previously committed to a golf scramble with my wife and in-laws the next day (because it’s been 20 years since they ran a Four Crown during the day), how could I possibly convince them that I HAD to be at Eldora on Sunday afternoon to watch Jack Hewitt do it one more time?

After some begging and pleading, I was reluctantly headed east the next morning, just like it was 1994 all over again, the last time they actually ran the Four Crown during the day. Damned if I do and damned if I don’t, unfortunately I couldn’t be happy in what should have been a feel-good drive, knowing that I disappointed three very important people. As a raceaholic, this has been the circular story of my life.

It’s been ages since USAC played a part in an Eldora Speedway Sunday matinee – June of 1997 if I remember right and Kevin Huntley was the sprint car winner. Out of the entire field of 2014’s Four Crown competitors, I counted only four who would have been around in that era to own daytime Big E experience: Dave Darland, Jon Stanbrough, Tracy Hines, and Russ Gamester.

After a dusty sprint car B-main, midgets were up first and due to further attrition from Saturday, only 13 machines would make the start. Beginning 1996 Four Crown midget winner Tracy Hines from the pole with Bryan Clauson flanking his outside, Clauson drew first blood and exited turn two as the pilot dog, fending off an immediate turn three threat from The Hawk. Scooting from sixth to fourth, Rico Abreu dive-bombed the bottom of turn one on lap two, somehow squeezing underneath Tracy Hines. The thin cushion could not contain number 97 however, as Rico crushed the concrete and tumbled down the bank. Snagging Hines, Tanner Thorson piled in and inverted, as did Brady Bacon. Christopher Bell and Chris Windom were also involved, nearly taking out half the field, not to mention all three Keith Kunz combatants. Bacon returned to battle and with right front wheel askew, Hines did as well. After a major thrash, Bell was back, but not Abreu, Thorson, or Windom.

Sadly, just ten cars contested the rest of the race, leaving Bryan Clauson as the leader and eighth-starting Christopher Bell as the big question, wondering if his car was up to the task. By lap seven, that question was already answered as he was up to third, needing nine more tours to slip into second. A two horse race for the final nine circuits, the closest Christopher came was a failed slider through three and four on lap 23. Armed with Spike/Esslinger ammunition from Joe Dooling, Clauson would find Eldora’s victory lane for the third time, the first in a midget. BC outgunned Bell, Hagen, Daum, Cockrum, Bacon, Isaac Chapple, Hines, and Steven Drevicki.

A grueling thirty lap sprint car contest was next, the 187th time this series has taken to these daunting high banks. Unfortunately, the lack of daytime experience was clearly evident in this one, littered with three yellows and four red flag periods. Lots of equipment might have been damaged or destroyed, but thankfully no drivers were seriously injured.

The calamity ensued immediately as they were preparing to take the green, as pole sitter Jon Stanbrough connected with front row mate Robert Ballou, bouncing his Dutcher 37 to a stop. The next attempt had Logan Hupp spinning in turn two, attracting Dave Darland and Matt Westfall. This being the first of three incidents for Dave, after being towed to the pits he had a new right front attached and was able to rejoin the fray. The third and final attempt had Tracy Hines sneaking to the lead from his second row start, falling to third by the exit of two as Ballou and Brady Bacon streaked by. At the conclusion of the first lap, Brandon Whited scaled the right rear of KT, Jr., literally setting off a bomb that sent Whited, Thomas, and a late arriving Stanbrough on their heads, also sweeping up Landon Simon, Scott Hampton, and yes, you guessed it, Darland. Both Kevin and Dave would give it another go.

Finally clean and green for ten laps, Ballou, Bacon, and sixth-starting Bryan Clauson solidified their up-front status, interrupted by a titanic tumble from Chase Stockon, whose turn two slider on Hunter Schuerenberg turned bad after smacking the wall, chucking the tail tank from his DRC.

Clauson sprinted to second once green lights were aglow, moving to the middle of turns three and four as rubber had officially adhered to the clay. Bryan tossed a big slider on leader Ballou on lap 17, only to be countered by a turn two crossover. However, everyone was seeing red when KTJ clobbered the wall and flipped in turn two, his second time to invert in one feature. That’s quite a dubious distinction, as it’s rare to walk away from any Eldora acrobatics.

Leaving eleven laps to determine a winner, Bacon worked on Clauson until a Brandon Mattox spin restacked the deck once more. This time, Brady did manage to slip underneath in turn one. While Bacon battled Ballou (whose right rear was failing), Clauson cranked up the volume, hazing his right rear and bouncing off the backstretch wall with four to go. With the top three bunched tight, Ballou finally slipped enough in turn two to allow the Hoffman 69 to seize the lead. Clauson connected with Ballou which caused the Mad Man to connect with concrete and land on his lid. Darland and Westfall were again victims, crazy to think just how much bad luck Dave had at one of his best venues.

A three lap dash to the checkered could not keep Bacon from bagging his first USAC win at Eldora, taking two in a row after beating Ballou on the final tour of Terre Haute. Clauson, Grant, Hines, and Schuerenberg secured top-fives while Coons, Leary, Windom, Cockrum, and Swanson soldiered home sixth through tenth, a true test of endurance.

If the sprint car contest could be considered a meat grinder, then the Silver Crown finale was for sure a tire grinder. Seventeen of the 20 cars started the 50-lapper, a one-lane rubber-down parade that mandated patience and precision to keep a right rear tire alive for the entire distance.

Pole sitter Jerry Coons, Jr. paced the first 12 laps before point leader Kody Swanson slipped underneath on the front chute, unable to stay in the rubber as he reached turn one. Coons kept the lead for the next six circuits until slipping out of the turn two groove, allowing the famed number 63 to snatch the premier position. By lap 22, the tire parade commenced when Caleb Armstrong slowed with a flat right rear, wearing his American Racer rubber all the way through thanks to the abrasive surface. Davey Ray also exited at this stage with a broken rear axle.

This being the first of six separate yellows for ruined right rears, four laps later Christopher Bell was the next victim. Two more laps and fifth-place Chris Windom slowed for the same reason, as did Jacob Wilson at lap 33. The ring around Bryan Clauson’s right rear meant that it was only a matter of time until he would have to pit, mandating yet another caution without completing a lap. Patrick Lawson’s subsequent spin and tommy tipover turned green lights to red. Once back to green though, C.J. Leary caused the final tire-related slowdown, leaving just five more laps.

Up until this stage, Swanson was absolutely the class of the field, so similar to his Springfield performance. Leading Coons, East, Hines, and Pierce back to green, sixth-place Caleb Armstrong began to explore the lane above the rubber, sweeping past Hines and East to third. Coasting past Coons through the same lane, his fresher rubber propelled him past Swanson on lap 47. Kody’s American Racer right rear tire was now toast, blowing it to smithereens on the final tour.

Armstrong appeared to collect his first-ever Silver Crown score in dramatic fashion, initially topping Coons, Windom, Hines, and Cockrum. The reason I say initially is because afterwards, USAC officials learned that Armstrong’s team changed a left rear tire in addition to the right rear. Violating a specific rule that does not allow a non-flat tire to be changed without penalty, unfortunately this stripped Armstrong of the win and sent him back to 11th place when most of the fans were already headed for home. Reminding me of the early ‘90s when fuel disqualifications were quite common, one such infraction took place during the midget portion of the 1990 Four Crown when apparent winner Wally Pankratz was disqualified, handing the victory to Stan Fox. Although it would have been nice for Armstrong’s penalty to have been enforced during the race, in the future I’m hoping that the sanctioning body will be prepared to police this rule each time a car enters the pits.

Inheriting the pole the previous day, Jerry Coons, Jr. nursed his right rear and was rewarded with a feature win, his first Silver Crown score this season and second at the Four Crown. The third to pit for new rubber, Windom moved up to second while Hines, Cockrum and East (all three with original right rears) were top-five material. Six through ten included Clauson, Pierce, Wilson, Swanson, and Gamester.

Operating in 13th for the majority of his race, Jack Hewitt completed 16 laps before he chose to pull pit side after developing a right rear blister. Catching up with him afterwards, here’s the word-for-word account of his day.

KO: So what happened out there today?

Hewitt: We were geared up for soft tires and we had seen it was taking rubber in the sprints. We made a mad dash to put all of our hard tires on and set the stagger, but we just didn’t pay attention. I’m sure the rest of ‘em were geared up for the hard stuff and we weren’t. We didn’t divot our tire and we blistered it. We got it out of balance. I wasn’t going to tear the rear end out of it and try to hang out there long enough. We just brought ‘er in. It’ll load up. We did what we had to do and we had a ball doing it. Man oh man! We didn’t look like an idiot anyway. I was pretty happy. Pretty happy.

KO: How did it feel before the tire started to blister?

Hewitt: I was riding. I knew we had a good setup and a good car. The two guys in front of me were going here and there. I was just kind of waiting on them. I knew the tire parade was going to happen. I was just trying to save as much as I could do. I wasn’t trying to win it at that time. I was just going for a good finish. Our tires – they looked good. They’ve got a lot of rubber left. We just didn’t do the right thing with the right rear.

KO: How long did it take to get used to it here at Eldora?

Hewitt: Today, the track came down (off the wall). God took care of me when he made the race go from last night to today because I was done. I’d say Jesus and Tony Stewart made my dreams come true today. Matt Westfall was going to drive the car last night because I know I can’t do tear-offs. I’ve never came to a racetrack where I had to be smart but this was the one. If I had come up here and got hurt or anything like that, it would have proved a few people right but then it would have ruined the whole weekend. People might have said ‘I was here for the Four Crown and I was there when he got hurt there the last time’. Well, now they don’t have to worry about that.

KO: How many people were urging you not to do this?

Hewitt: Well, Jody was of course, until Cody bought a motorcycle. Well, that got me out of the heat of the kitchen. But, my biggest problem was Tracy Hines. He was calling up USAC. There were a couple of owners here, and Tracy comes goes up and tells me, “What happens if you crash and you get hurt or if you do something stupid and take me out.” And I said, ‘Well, what about last year when you flipped, leading two features?’ And today, he took three midgets out, including himself. So, I said to Tracy, ‘Everyone makes mistakes and I’m capable of making mistakes, but not this weekend.’

KO: Does this day give hope and promise or is it just satisfaction, for a while?

Hewitt: Well, I’m satisfied, definitely for a while. With the sprint cars, I try to get in and run with kids and I can’t because these kids are definitely braver than dirt today. Like I told them last night, if I could only be 50 again.

KO: Is there any hope to get the two-seater around Eldora? Is that an insurance deal or is it a possibility after this deal?

Hewitt: That’s entirely up to Tony Stewart. I would love to have it up here. If we had this track rented for a week, eight hours a day, I couldn’t take everybody who wanted to ride here. We could charge ‘em a thousand dollars. If Tony and I had the late model and the two-seater up here, just taking rides, it would be unbelievable for everybody. People want to run Eldora Speedway and then if they get to take a ride with somebody special – it would be the ultimate for any race fan.

KO: With this being the swan song for 6-R Racing and Jack Hewitt being in the seat – do you have any thoughts about that?

Hewitt: No. But I tell you what, it was like old home week. When we got hurt, that’s who I was driving for. Not in the sprint car, but they were my Silver Crown owners. For me to come back and do it with them was that much more special. And the neat thing about it, they had as much fun as I did. The fans had as much fun as I did. Well, I take that back. They came close to having as much fun as I did. I don’t think anyone could have the feelings that I have right now.

KO: Does it compare to sex?

Hewitt: I tell you what, it’s been so long and I haven’t had any, so it’s hard to tell. You’ve got to have some to have a comparison.

KO: What was the Toyota like? You ran a little with the Toyota in the two-seater, but this was the first time in the Crown car. What did you think?

Hewitt: Definitely not short on horsepower. I had it in the two-seater for a while and they teased me with it. Then I got to come here and run it. It definitely does run. I wouldn’t have no trouble running a Toyota in anything I’ve got.

KO: You’re a true-blooded American guy. You’ve run Chevys and some Fords your whole life. And now, a Toyota. How does that fit with your image?

Hewitt: I’m not going to eat sushi, but I will run a Toyota motor.

KO: Any final thoughts?

Hewitt: I’m glad everyone came out. They made my weekend that much more special. It’s kind of like Indy. I didn’t want the weekend to end. But it has, and now we’ll go on to whatever we dream up next.

Five days after the Four Crown came Steve Kinser’s equally moving swan song in Bloomington, as both Hewitt and Kinser truly embody everything that has endeared me to this sport. Laying down chairs in the early afternoon hours for fear of the mob of fans who would be wanting one last piece of The King, Danny and I encountered Greg Staab, who was assisting Indy Race Parts’ Bernie Stuebgen in his co-promotion of this affair. Battling brutal throat cancer treatments since his springtime diagnosis, after fighting the good fight day after day Staab was in great spirits, announcing that he was cancer free and would be able to have the apparatus around his neck removed in three weeks. Consistently positive in his outlook and in superb health thanks to his years of being a gym rat, Greg convinced me that attitude has a lot to do with the success of that uphill battle. I can't begin to tell you how fantastic it was to hear such uplifting news!

Heading back into town for a bite to eat, we arrived in plenty of time for hot laps, utterly shocked at the lack of paying customers, especially given the importance of this evening in the realm of sprint car history. Naturally, this day/evening had all of ingredients for a massive turnout: perfect weather, Steve Kinser’s final showing at his hometown track, not to mention zero Friday night racing conflicts. A unique World of Outlaws co-promotion with Bernie and Betsy Stuebgen, these two extended a ton of effort, time and dollars to make this happen, literally sweating out details and weather for nine months. Renting the track, paying the purse, and tacking on advertising, insurance and other assorted items, a WoO show is essentially a $100,000 nut, a huge sum for any successful promoter or businessman. However, the last two times this series was in Bloomington, literally every seat and piece of grass was filled with fans, making this a good gamble. But, the glaring facts showed that tonight’s crowd was significantly less than 2011 and 2012, told that this evening’s attendance came in at 2,859, some 1,100 short of the record crowd from three years ago. Perhaps a victim of too many races in too short of time, thankfully the visibly stressed Stuebgen just managed to break even, driving home the point that there is no sure thing in racing.

This being the 26th World of Outlaws appearance on Bloomington’s south side, the evening started off with a bang as a superbly prepared surface allowed Joey Saldana’s 15 year-old one-lap record to finally fall. Established on 4/14/1999, Joey’s 9.380 second lap was topped twice, as David Gravel’s 9.304 became the new standard. White-hot since winning Knoxville, Donny Schatz was the other to dip underneath the old mark at 9.361. Twenty-eight of the 38 cars in attendance registered in the 9-second bracket, with bonus participation from non-wingers Christopher Bell, Bryan Clauson, Brady Bacon, Hunter Schuerenberg, Kevin Thomas, Jr., Mike Terry, Jr., and Chris Babcock.

This particular swan song had all the makings to be a huge hit, as tonight’s honoree timed 13th, putting him on the pole for the first heat. Taking the checkered first over son Kraig, not even a problem with the front stretch lights could squash his storybook evening. Unfortunately, a six invert screwed Steve for the trophy dash, as he would begin the 40-lap finale from eighth.

Adding even more stress to an already pressure-packed evening, co-promoter Stuebgen fielded two cars. Jac Haudenschild won the third heat in his usual 71 while Bryan Clauson fired from the pole in the other 71, spinning after clipping the cushion when chasing leader Chris Bell. Clauson restarted and salvaged a transfer after a late race surge, but how cool could it have been if Indy Race Parts had both of its entries into the trophy dash? As it was, Haud won that dash and would begin the big show from the pole, flanked by the potent underdog – the Fox 53.

After a Cale Thomas B-main blunder directly in front of our turn four hillside seats (preceded by a massive wingless mini sprint crash of the same caliber), with fog beginning to roll in from the north end, it was time for the moment of truth. Putting my notebook and pen in my pocket so that I could completely soak in this final Steve Kinser showing, The King may not have collected that coveted feature win for the ultimate storybook conclusion, but he came home an extremely competitive sixth. Pole sitter Haudenschild was up front for four laps, yielding to a cushion-crushing Christopher Bell who paced the next 15. As good as Chris was against the curb, one bobble would allow the feature winning robot better known as Donny Schatz to take over and lead the rest of the way, tallying number 23 on the season. Bell moved low to match Schatzbut had issues with a pack of lappers clogging the bottom half, ultimately sealing his fate. Except for Haubstadt, Schatz cleaned house in the Hoosier state, making me wonder who will step up to add excitement to this series and provide a realistic threat to his dynasty. Bell bagged second, Daryn Pittman took third, Brad Sweet scored fourth, while the Wild Child slid back to fifth.

The Midwestern USAC sprint car swan song came the next night in Lawrenceburg, where a field of 32 assembled to contest for the $10,000 Fall Nationals top prize. Regardless of competition from Haubstadt MSCS and Putnamville (where both Jeff Bland, Jr. and Max McGhee were victorious – Max impressively winning his first-ever from 18th), naturally the Burg attracted the heaviest of hitters.

One of those included Jac Haudenschild, his second ride in Jeff Walker’s Maxim in consecutive weeks. After splitting with Destiny Motorsports, it’s been an interesting last few weeks for the 56 year-old Wooster, Ohio veteran, finding work with familiar winged chariots belonging to Bernie Stuebgen and Jamie Miller, both of whom were on-hand to hang with their hero. Never a dull moment with these three, the off-season is going to be quite a bit busier for Jac and Bernie as they are headed to Australia for eight races, the first time Haudenschild will have competed down under in at least 15 years. Focusing on activities at Sydney Speedway, their adventure begins on December 26th, taking them all the way through the Grand Annual Classic. As for this particular evening, Jac was seventh-quick in qualifications, took fourth in his heat (after sliding completely sideways), but was only able to manage an 11th at the conclusion. Regardless of the finish, as usual he was a thrill to watch on such a challenging race track.

Cutting to the chase, the end result of this final September sprint was all too familiar. So similar to the last two seasons, this pressure-packed period of the calendar is when Bryan Clauson shines brightest. Qualifying sixth, scoring second in his heat, and lining up on the outside of the feature front row, after beating fellow front row mate Chase Stockon to turn one and surviving an exciting exchange on the opposite end, Clauson would lead all thirty tours, his fifth win of the season and amazingly, number 30 of his career. Now 51 points behind leader Brady Bacon in his quest for a third consecutive championship, it should be an entertaining final four shows to say the least.

The box score may have displayed a dominating performance from the driver of Tony Stewart’s Chevy Performance Beast/Kistler, but it was anything but easy. Requiring both aggression and precision on a slick but character-filled surface, complete with a chunky cushion stacked against the concrete, Bryan had plenty of pressure applied by third-starting Brady Bacon. In the middle stages of the affair, Bacon was able to hang extremely close, but each time he pulled even Clauson would work his magic through traffic, once again manufacturing a healthy margin. Two late race cautions, one at lap 25 and the other at lap 28, led to further threats through turns three and four from the pilot of the Mean Green Hoffman 69, but it wasn’t enough.

Tracy Hines took third, April winner Justin Grant grabbed fourth, while Jerry Coons, Jr. jerked fifth from Jon Stanbough on the final lap, this after starting 14th in Monte Edison’s Spike. Sixth through ten included Stockon, Stanbrough, Ballou (up from 16th after a post-heat race engine swap), Chris Windom (up from 19th), and Dave Darland, who suffered a flat right rear at lap 25.

Compared to an awesome August capped by his 53rd career USAC sprint car score at Kokomo’s Smackdown, September simply stunk for Dave Darland. Exiting Kokomo atop the point standings, after finishes of 11th, 6th, 13th, and 10th, he is now mired in third, trailing Brady Bacon by 89 as they head west. After his demoralizing Four Crown weekend, things began much better at the Burg when the new resident of Atlanta, Indiana topped the timing charts for the sixth time this season (13.985 seconds). Third in his heat thanks to some authoritative overtaking, he lurked around the top-five for the majority of the feature. However, much like the rest of the month, the night ended in disappointment after losing his right rear tire, needing a caution, some quick pit work, and several miraculous moves to salvage a tenth. Not out of the championship picture by any means, Darland will need some bad luck from Bacon and Clauson to secure his second national sprint car crown.

Referencing an ancient belief that previously silent swans sing a beautiful song before their death, a more widely known definition for swan song is a final act or performance before retirement. Appropriately defining a hyperactive three weeks in September that appropriately put an exclamation point on the sixth full month of this season, this period was highlighted by huge home track appearances from Jack Hewitt and Steve Kinser. Taking me for a pair of pleasant yet emotional spins on a memory go-round that recounted countless evenings of excellence, at the end of it all I’m once again feeling nostalgic about the mid-to-late ‘80s and early 1990s, crediting the role that these two men played in my overnight obsession for open wheel action. Still unable to break free from these chains some three decades later, season-ending events are still bittersweet affairs. However, if you’ve got to go out, do it in such a way that will leave a lasting impression. After all, I’ll need something to hang my hat on for those truly glass-half-empty days when I’m pushing my snow blower, smacked in the face with the hopeless reality of Indiana winter.



Volume 16, Number 11

Retro Rewind

Traditional sprint car supporters hailing from the Hoosier state have had it awfully good for the last decade and a half.  Living high on the racing hog, the multitude of quality options, all within a reasonable drive, have certainly spoiled us.  Able to pick and choose to the point of becoming jaded, such plentiful supply hasn’t always been the case. 

With this year's premature closing of Gas City’s I-69 Speedway, the infrequent August activity in Bloomington, and the quieting of Kokomo Speedway after Labor Day weekend, experiencing a shortage of options in this first September weekend was analogous to a retro rewind to the late 1980s and early ‘90s.  In an era when Sony Walkman cassette players, high-top sneakers, and hair bands still ruled my world, Gas City had shuttered after only three brief seasons, Warsaw had permanently locked its gates by 1990’s summer conclusion, while Bloomington switched to specials-only programs for that same campaign.  Back then, Bloomington, Paragon, Lawrenceburg (often flooded-out for half of a season), and Haubstadt were all winged sprint car haunts.  Terre Haute was closed from the mid-point of 1987 through 1989, leaving Putnamville and Kokomo as the only two tracks in the state that stayed traditional, but it’s not like car counts and quality of competition were all that stellar.  For those who weren't around in that era, they just don’t realize how good we truly have it in this day and age. 

Heading back to the future, my goal on September the 5thwas to take in the final points-paying program of Bloomington’s 2014 campaign.  My first trip south since Sprint Week, miraculously I made it in one piece after a suicide mission through rush hour gridlock, taking a huge risk as I made a last second exit from 465 at state road 37 to avoid a mile-long backup.  Nearly getting t-boned after cutting in line and crossing two lanes of traffic, such a bone-headed move was more common to my testosterone-charged teenage years.   

Much like the early ‘90s, this was the only Friday night option, thus expecting more than the 28 car contingent and surprised at the absence of so many Gas City regulars.  The most notable exceptions making the tow included I-69 champ Chris Gurley, C.J. Leary, Chad Boespflug (Elson 27), Aaron Farney (assisted by Robert Ballou), and Max McGhee, with Chase Stockon serving as the most recognizable outsider.  Pondering a “what if” regarding Gas City’s future, if by chance they chose not to re-open, was tonight an indication that the majority living north of Indy would choose to stay home on Fridays?   

Missing hot laps altogether, I was allowed a leisurely pit lane stroll while locals exercised Detroit iron, spotting Casey Shuman and his assist in an engine change with car owner Shawn Krockenberger.  Hiking to the other side as I prefer the pristine view from the hill, I found a turn four blanket rolled out in my honor thanks to my nephew and his fiancée.  This turn four vantage point reminded me of the same scene in the fall of 1982 when my oldest brother first introduced me to this stuff. 

Acting as Bloomington bandits, visitors Boespflug, McGhee, Simon, and Gurley came away with heat race victories, punctuated by a massive Kevin Chambers tumble over the turn two bank after snapping a rear axle.  With track still lightning-quick, a super-stacked third heat sent four-time track champ Brady Short, Tyler Courtney (Pedersen 4), and Aaron Farney to the B.  "Sweet Feet" stubbed his toe with a flat left rear tire but somehow scampered to the win and produced his fifth track title, capping off a dominating campaign on Southern Indiana soil.  Even more dramatic was Casey Shuman’s surge from the rear to a transfer, this after missing his heat race because of that engine exchange. Courtney’s twin spins kept him from collecting an A-main pass.   

At the 9:56 PM feature wave lap, Bloomington’s surface was reminiscent of those late ‘80s and early ‘90s, stacked by a substantial curb on both ends.   Moving just below the scoring tower for the most optimal view, I took notes as Team Audi/VW sales consultant Chris Gurley beat Landon Simon to turn one.  Simon’s second lap bike ride benefitted Chad Boespflug, who soon had pressure from seventh-starting Chase Stockon.  With Gurley and Boespflug working in the attic, Stockon stayed in the basement, all three operating under the same toasty blanket.  Spoiling the party for only a brief moment, Nick Bilbee’s stoppage illuminated amber bulbs at lap ten. 

The lead trio fanned three-deep after the restart and for a brief instant, Stockon stole the premier position from Gurley by gutter-balling turn two.  However, a huge mess unfolded behind them, spotting Brady Short soaring skyward.  Tagged mid-air by Bub Cummings, Short was joined in the altercation by Shuman, Dakota Jackson, Ethan Fleetwood, and Braxton Cummings, who scored his first career victory the next night in Paragon.

After another restart, northern Indiana’s “Tall Cool One” had his hands full with Stockon once more.  Staving off a turn one threat by staying low, Gurley chose the top shelf in turn three and allowed “Showtime” a shot at the lead.  However, yet another spin, this time by third place Chad Boespflug, restacked the deck for one final time. 

Gurley led Stockon, 15th-starting C.J. Leary, Jeff Bland, Jr., and Max McGhee to the green laundry but by the time they reached the third bend, they were already three abreast.  Chase chose the low lane and Chris manned the middle, but C.J. stormed the cushion to authoritatively steal the top spot, seemingly shot out of a cannon.  Encountering issues with his steering gear, Gurley soon exceeded the generous turn four curb and plummeted to sixth and while lapped traffic allowed Stockon to get close on the final go-round.  However, it wasn’t enough to prevent Leary from landing in victory lane for the third time this year, the first time he's done it outside of Lawrenceburg.  Impressively getting it done from 15th, C.J. was chased by Stockon (who ironically claimed a Lawrenceburg victory last month in the Leary 30), McGhee, ninth-starting Chris Babcock, and Nick Bilbee, who recovered nicely after causing that first caution.  Kody Kinser (from 16th), Gurley, Bland, Jared Fox (up from 20th), and Dakota Jackson rounded out the second half of the top-ten. 

As I’ve forever maintained, a two-groove Bloomington surface is indeed something to get excited about and this final regular showing of the season certainly gives great hope for a solid 2015.  Back here for Steve Kinser’s final Indiana farewell as a World of Outlaws regular on Friday September 26th, I suspect my feelings upon exiting that affair won’t be quite the same as this evening, fearing the finality of the most storied career in the history of the sport.  As far as I’m concerned, sprint car racing will never hold the same weight without a competitive Kinser in competition. 

Unlike Friday, this initial September weekend actually had more than one Saturday night option, with King of Non-Wing at Putnamville, a season-closer at Paragon, the Buckeye Outlaw Sprint Series at Montpelier, and a $15 rain check for a POWRi midget twinbill two and a half hours away in Macon.  After an eleven year absence and in search of something different, Montpelier Motor Speedway was my pick, preceded by a mandatory pit stop at Ivanhoe's, Upland, Indiana’s ice cream institution where 100 shake and sundae combinations make for one difficult decision. 

Given my singular Montpelier meeting of 2003, the bridging of that eleven year gap resulted in yet another retro rewind frame of mind, essentially treating this as a first-time visit.  Reminding me of my first Gas City go in September of 1997, the tiny, ten row bleacherswere filled to capacity, joined in the lower rows by longtime car owner Jason Goacher.  In hindsight, I probably should have ponied up an extra $15 to join my nephew and enjoy increased seating options in the pit area.   Given the size of the crowd, anything bigger than a BOSS battle will require a grandstand upgrade.  However, if the demand is present, it’s a great problem to have, so rare in this day and age.  

My nephew immediately headed for the pits to help push Scott Pedersen’s Spike, as Scott’s son Ryan is one of Danny’s best friends and the team does not have the use of a four-wheeler.  Truthfully, they don’t have the room to haul one either, as their ex-A.J. Watson open trailer is one of the last of its kind outside of Paragon.  Having a vested interest in how the squad would fare, it was upon Danny's suggestion that Ryan and Scott get in touch with 2003 Montpelier sprint car champion Scotty Weir, as the deal was brokered at 10 PM on Friday night.  Pre-2003, Scotty and Ryan were dirt go-kart competitors.  

With racing history dating all the way back to 1903, Montpelier is indeed one of the oldest speed plants in the nation.  Operated since 2009 by Harold and Lori Hunter, they have definitely pumped some money into the facility, most notably with transponder scoring and some first-class fencing and concrete barriers that protect front stretch fans and pit patrons.  Reconfiguring the quarter-mile with added banking in turn one, thatfeeling of being at a foreign facility wasexperienced for an entire evening, so rare as there are only a couple of dirt tracks in my home state that I have not visited.  Checking out the track’s informative website ( that’s filled with all kinds of information including ancient newspaper clippings, there are several photos showing the old covered grandstand, packed to the gills of course.  There’s also a satellite photo from 2012 that shows the outline of the old half-mile configuration, so fascinating to gauge how small the current layout is compared to the original.  Call me a racing geek, but I always enjoy learning how things used to be in their true heyday. 

A fine field of forty sprint cars clashed to become the BOSS of Montpelier, bolstered by big names like Andretti, Stanbrough, Ballou, and Weir, who by no surprise were winners of four of five heat races.  BOSS regular Brandon Spithaler (Burkey 57) claimed the other, highlighted by a last turn, last lap final transfer schooling of Dallas Hewitt by Matt Westfall.  Twin B-mains were bagged by Joss Moffatt and Mike Miller, but most impressive was Logan Jarrett’s jolt from last to second, also enjoying a last turn, last lap swap of the final A-main ticket between Steve Irwin and Adam Byrkett. 

Losing my seat after seeking a sweatshirt, had it not been for some kind souls near turn one, I would have resigned myself to standing room only status for the feature.  After an intermission for tilling, watering, and packing, the 25-lap finale was ready to rock, offering Michael Fischesser and Todd Keen an unobstructed view of the green flag.  Keen conservatively paced the first circuit around the bottom, but Brandon Spithaler aggressively hauled it high into turn one the next time around, leading the next three tours until the tacky turn one bit him in a bad way, flipping from first place. 

Third-starting Jon Stanbrough inherited the top spot but was unable to develop any rhythm when Keen and Josh Spencer met in turn one, resulting in an odd double-flip that landed Keen on all four wheels.   Hot under the collar and painfully limping to express his displeasure with Josh, Sammy had to be checked out later at a local hospital.   

As always in Mike Dutcher’s 37, Stanbrough sailed away to a huge advantage just past the halfway mark, but his first encounter with lapped traffic proved disastrous after tagging the left rear of Derek Hastings while entering turn three.  The contact sent Stanbrough into the spin cycle, passing the lead baton to seventh-starting Scotty Weir.  Try as he may, Scotty could not contain ninth-starting Robert Ballou, whose high-side heroics resulted in his eighth feature win of the season.  Weir held on for second while Jarett Andretti annexed third from tenth.  Logan Jarrett looked good all night, passing more cars than anyone after climbing from 19th to fourth.  Midget and sprint journeyman Travis Berryhill found fifth from 11th while Cooper Clouse (from 13th), Dustin Smith, Fischesser, Joe Liguori, and Stanbrough secured sixth through tenth at the 10:20 PM checkered flag. 

Offering an efficient program and a solid two-groove feature surface, if by chance the folks at Montpelier Motor Speedway were forced to pick up the local Indiana sprint car slack, I feel fairly confident that they could get the job done.  If not, then there’s always a healthy contingent of modifieds and stock cars, with a semi-regular offering of midget action that has indeed begun to revive a dying form of competition in this state. 

Up and on the road by 7:30 Sunday morning, Danny and I were again headed west for the Tony Bettenhausen 100 (Take Two) at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.  After meeting Wendell Smith in Decatur, like last time, we all rode in together but this time, the weather was at the opposite end of the spectrum.  Sun-splashed with absolutely no humidity, much like Jackie Stewart would say, it was a fine day for a motorcar race.  Driving in through the main gate of the Fairgrounds, this was my first time to see this place outside of the state fair, completely void of congestion as we were able to find parking directly along the humongous grandstand.  It was certainly an unusual feel without a Ferris wheel outside of turn one, no stage set up along the front stretch, and no food trailers hawking huge corn dogs and lemonade shake-ups. 

Regardless of the less than traditional Springfield scene, if there’s anything that sends me back in time, it’s a champ dirt car race on a one mile Fairgrounds dirt oval, today being no exception. Down just one car from the previous attempt in August, the assemblage of 24was actually respectable given that DuQuoin’s century was conducted one week prior.  Still, it’s a far cry from pre-2006 when forty car fields were the norm.  Maybe one day I’ll get my wish, but it’s going to take time and stability with both rules and purses in order to attract more competitors.  But, given the rumblings of a return to battle for the vaunted Plastic Express, not to mention new efforts from Robert Galas and one more former California car owner, there is indeed hope. 

Winner of dirt drives in Terre Haute, Indianapolis, and Belleville, aside from an uncharacteristic 13th at DuQuoin, Kody Swanson and his Bob Hampshire-led DePalma Motorsports 63 have ruled traditional Silver Crown proceedings this season.  Serving as a source of nostalgia, the white 63 Maxim/Hampshire Chevy absolutely dominated the day in Springfield, much like Jack Hewitt did with Hamp back in ’86 and ’87 when they sent ol’ Gussie (a Stanton chassis) to victory lane.  Qualifying quickest at 31.999, Kody led all 100 tours and lapped up to ninth place, preparing to put Dave Darland a lap in arrears until backing off on the final go-round.  Building a nearly half-track advantage on second place Tracy Hines, there was zero drama for the American Racer-shod Swanson, who exited the fourth corner so much straighter than everyone else.  The 14th different driver to score on the miles at Indy, Springfield, and DuQuoin, Swanson was the 18th man to claim the Bettenhausen from the pole.  Trailing Kody and Tracy at the end of the 100 mile grind were Bobby East, two-time TB winner A.J. Fike, and Chris Windom.  Bryan Clauson, Jerry Coons, Jr., Dave Darland, Levi Jones (his second ride back from retirement in Galen Fox’s 56), and Brady Bacon made up the second half of the top-ten. 

Passing was extremely difficult on the daytime surface, as the groove was only a car and a half wide at best.  The biggest movers and shakers were Illini chauffeurs Windom and Jones, who advanced six and seven spots respectively.  Sixteen cars took the checkered, counting nine that bolted on American Racer rubber.  The end result had Swanson maintaining his point lead, up 27 on Hines and 54 on Bobby East as they entered the second to last show at Eldora’s Four Crown, where car number 63 has clearly dominated over the years.Will this retro rewind continue for Swanson and Hampshire, or will Eldora high-side experience pay huge dividends for someone like Hines?  Needless to say, I’m very much looking forward to the entire weekend. 

Frequently thinking of the pastthirty years and wondering where they disappeared, there is a constant wish to relive those days when sprint, midget, and champ dirt car racing was far more innocent and simple.  As much as I lived, ate, and breathed this kind of action in that influential era of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, there’s still something to say about the benefits of current times when quality competition and numerous venue options abound.  Amidst all of the noise and negativity found on internet message boards, Facebook, and Twitter, it’s easy to lose sight of just how good we have it as born and bred Hoosier racing fans.  So many people from so far away would give their right arm to be in our position but despite such optimism,it’s scary to fathom such distinct possibilities of losing any one of our current speedways.  As much as I enjoy reminiscing about my own golden days of open wheel activity, twenty years from now I’m almost certain that I will be doing a retro rewind to these twenty-teens, wishing that I appreciated everything that this era had to offer.  So instead of longing for the feelings that have been lost, perhaps it’s time to start appreciating the present for what it is.  Yes, I am spoiled and perhaps I am jaded.  But at the end of the day, it’s only natural to hope that the opportunity to be so choosy will remain indefinitely. 





Volume 16, Number 10

System Reboot

Give me the good news first.

That's all I ask for, as lately the only news I tend to receive is bad, awaking in disbelief to the stomach-churning report of "the incident" that completely rocked the racing world on the night of August 9th. Fearing a full-court press from the media, my deep concerns were justified when every available outlet offered their opinion on a subject for which they had little or no credibility.

Telling myself to ignore any computer and television for fear of instant enragement; I unfortunately could not avoid such contact, as Tony Stewart and Kevin Ward, Jr. were front page news everywhere I turned. In an uninformed world where NASCAR and all forms of auto racing are synonymous, even the so-called experts had no clue as to what they were talking about. Rather than be the first to get the story out, it would have been nice if a veteran sprint car driver could have been interviewed to provide some intelligent insight into what it is actually like to pilot one of these machines.

As sprint car diehards we stick out like sore thumbs in mainstream society, so I'm sure most of you were inundated with questions from co-workers on what might have actually happened. Naturally, only one person knows, so there is no point in speculating any further. Still feeling horribly sick for both sides of this ugly equation, such negative news is clearly a black eye for all of us, as the only time our sport gains national attention is when a guy like Tony gets hurt or someone is killed. Akin to a simultaneous punch and kick to the groin, in the days that ensued I truly felt like my world of 30 years was quickly crumbling. Of course I'd be giving in to the pressure to conform if I decided to back away from my most passionate pursuit, so naturally I would never consider it. But, why is it that we always have to justify our unreasonable love to people who just don't get it? What is wrong with being so caught up in something that provides hope, endless excitement, and a reason to live life to its fullest?

This unsettling feeling of anxiety and anger was quite a contrast to my standard mood that exists in early August. Normally a peaceful time reserved for reflection and relaxation after Indiana Sprint Week, I generally desire two full weeks to decompress and catch up with my writings, also needing the time to generate demand for any kind of racing activity.

After some serious sensory overloads, in order to recharge those racing batteries sometimes you just have to hit control, alt, and delete, rebooting one's system by engaging in some altogether different activities. Pre-Sprint Week, it was my first trip to a Cincinnati Reds game since June of 1996, my first-ever at Great American Ball Park which included a post-game feast at Mount Lookout's The Wurst Bar in the Square, a fantastic find that pays homage to two traditional German Cincinnati favorites: beer and sausage. Post-Sprint Week and in the days surrounding the Brickyard 400, in celebration of my wife's birthday a trifecta of epic eating adventures ensued, including Greg Hardesty's Recess, The North End Barbeque and Moonshine, and a rare summer Saturday at the jam-packed Bonge's Tavern. Two weeks later, instead of the Knoxville Nationals or MSCS at Putnamville, I was committed to a Friday afternoon wedding in Chi-town, spending the next day at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field for the first time since 1981.

In between, the first weekend in August actually served as an effective racing restart, benefitting greatly from a Buckeye Outlaw Sprint Series bout at Liberty, Indiana's Whitewater Valley Speedway and Kokomo Speedway's postponed Bob Darland Memorial. With far too many Saturday options on this particular weekend, I actually decided to stay dark as no fewer than four tracks fought for the same cars and drivers. So instead of sprint car combat, another excellent meal was substituted at Delicia, devouring some outstanding Latin cuisine in the same building where my grandfather once practiced dentistry.

Rewinding the clock to our Friday evening excursion to Liberty, my nephew and I exited the pedestrian and abnormally rough Interstate 70 at state road 1. After crossing U.S. 40 and slipping through Milton, we selected state road 44 at Connersville. Once part of the ambitious Whitewater Canal, rampant with railroads this river city is ripe with history in not only the automotive sector, but also Oldham heritage as apparently a lot of them settled in this area after a lengthy journey that began at the Cumberland Gap. Regarding Connersville’s automotive heritage, it was once known as “little Detroit” as the Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg, Ansted, Empire, Lexington, and McFarlan were all constructed here, not to mention the Willys MB Jeep body and the Roots blower.

Crossing the west fork of the Whitewater River, some five to ten minutes later we climbed the ridiculously steep concrete path that leads to Whitewater Valley Speedway, finding a parking lot at the peak that gave even the best of off-road suspensions a serious workout. Making it just in time for 7:30 PM hot laps, waiting in the ticket line was 2008 Liberty Indiana Midget Week promoter Tony Barhorst, who was on his way home from Cincinnati, stopping to see how the evening would turn out. For those in attendance here in August of '08, Barhorst was the man who gave the most brutally honest and impassioned speech of all time after USAC pulled its sanction due to safety concerns. Some six years later, although the steel rebar that protruded from concrete had been cut and rusting hulks of heavy equipment had been moved from their precarious positions, the concrete footer was still showing along the inside wall and no catch fence had been constructed outside of turns one and two.

None of them were of concern to Aaron Fry’s Buckeye Outlaw Sprint Series, attracting some 35 cars that consisted of a bevy of BOSS regulars who would do battle against a few USAC runners and an odd assortment of locals who call Lawrenceburg, Paragon, Bloomington, Waynesfield, Flora, and even Michigan’s MTS series home. Dare I ask, but where else will you find a pair of Beabers (Johnny and Tony) and Brannins (Matt and Dillien) in competition on the same night?

Given a new lease on life by promoter Bill Wagner, Liberty sports a pristine concrete concourse area, some newer aluminum seating, and a nice scoring tower/concession stand. Those seats offer the most scenic view of Indiana countryside in the state, not to mention a highly intimate setting to sample some intense sprint car competition. Unfortunately, it tends to be a little too intimate, as we had to dodge our share of rocks all night long. And, with a sizeable crowd bunched together, that intimacy meant inhaling far too much second-hand smoke, as for some reason a majority of Whitewater Valley's paying customers dangle a cigarette in one hand and cradle a Bud Light or Mountain Dew in the other.

Regardless of the inconveniences and the lateness of hour (the feature was completed at 11:52 PM), it was still a memorable, thoroughly enjoyable evening highlighted by a well-prepared surface that was stacked with a massive cushion on both ends. Serving up a sizzling feature battle between Logan Hupp (Marshall 2M) and seventh-starting Kevin Thomas, Jr., their edge-of-your-seat slide-fest provided a royal feast for the eyes, as there were far too many to count in a contest that was ultimately decided by lapped traffic. Columbus comet Hupp claimed his second BOSS battle of 2014 over KTJ, 2002 Lawrenceburg champ Mike Miller, Andretti, and Garrett Abrams. Local boy Brandon Whited, Aric Gentry, Scott Hampton, Dallas Hewitt, and Steve Irwin were scored sixth through tenth. After winning his heat with a flat left rear, Chase Briscoe was my pick to win but was eliminated early. Thankfully the feature didn’t go past midnight, as Danny and I were able to place a phone-in order for a Pizza King take-out in Connersville, enjoying our own royal feast for the taste buds on our late night return.

Two days later, the $3,000 to win Bob Darland Memorial brought 24 cars to Kokomo Speedway while I brought my nephew and long-time friend Dean Caldwell along for the ride. Serving as a Smackdown preview, all the heavy hitters except for K-town point leader Bryan Clauson were in the house, including Bob’s son Dave in his Phillips 71 USAC weaponry. Given that this race was postponed one week, track championship points were not being awarded.

Aside from a three-wide squeeze play that sent last year’s winner Justin Grant to the B, preliminary action was fairly tame, that is until the thirty lap conclusion that required four separate starts due to a pair of red flags and one yellow. In un-Jon Stanbrough-like fashion, Jon immediately two-wheeled turn three and promptly inverted Mike Dutcher’s Maxim. The second stoppage came when third-starting Dalten Gabbard biked Kenny Baldwin’s 5 at the first turn entry, sending the orange crush into concrete and eliminating fourth-starting C.J. Leary. Kevin Thomas, Jr., Lee Dakus, Shane Cottle, and Travis Hery were also swept into the altercation. The third attempt to begin the "BDM" was no better, as tenth row starters Adam Byrkett and Josh Spencer tangled in turn one. Unable to post a qualifying time and finishing fourth in his heat, Dave Darland was originally slated to start 11th but after the early race shakeups advanced to sixth before a lap had ever been completed. Likewise, Justin Grant was now 10th after starting 17th.

Finally clean and green, first heat victor and recent Waynesfield winner Scotty Weir (Keen 18) leapt to the lead as Chris Windom (Walker 11), Robert Ballou, Darland, and a white-hot Justin Grant dueled for runner-up rights. Working the lower lane to perfection, Ballou kept Darland in his wake and soon waxed Windom for second. Just before the halfway mark, Robert burst to first with a supreme squirt off the bottom of two while Justin continued his magnificent march, stealing second from Scotty.

With a dozen laps left, the Mad Man and his Maxim may have owned a sizeable margin but just four laps later, the driver of Mark Hery’s DRC had whittled that distance down to miniscule proportions. In dealing with lapped traffic, Ballou's lead had completely evaporated, allowing JG to pull even on the front stretch with just four laps left. Just as Justin was making his move, Robert drifted up the track and squeezed him into the wall, effectively sealing the deal for the former Rocklin, California resident.

Seven for 20 since acquiring a new Don Ott power plant, Ballou's summertime streak continued, taking the 8:45 PM checkered flag first ahead of Grant, Darland, Weir, and Windom. Cottle, Coons, Thomas, Logan Jarrett, and Jarett Andretti secured sixth through tenth. Had it not been for the inadvertent contact, it certainly would have been a highly interesting ending.

Waiting nearly two weeks for my next racing adventure, I had to bypass Bloomington’s outstanding MSCS feature (claimed by a last lap Kyle Cummins slider) in order to be fully rested for my longest day of the year. Originally setting my alarm for 5:30 AM in order to leave by 6:30, a late revision to the Springfield USAC Silver Crown schedule had hot laps commencing at 10 AM Illinois time, leaving me an extra hour of precious sleep. Planning on a Macon POWRi nightcap, as I recall from last year my arrival home was 2:30 AM, making for a 21 hour day. Little did I know at the time, but I shouldn't have skipped Bloomington.

After the demoralizing week of Stewart-gate, I had hoped to reboot my system with a potent combination of one-mile dirt Silver Crown action and a pair of Macon midget features. Even though the weather forecast was clearly not in our favor, because my ticket was supplied for the second year in a row by Sullivan, Illinois' Wendell Smith, I rolled the dice in hope that the storms might break up or simply take longer to get to central Illinois.

Wendell, Danny, and I were rudely greeted by light rain at Sangamon Avenue, but thankfully the showers weren't enough to stop hot laps or qualifying for the Silver Crown contingent. Unfortunately the opening laps of practice, arguably the most entertaining portion of the program, were missed by all of the grandstand ticket holders, as no one was on-hand to sell or take tickets, making me wonder if management’s expectation was a complete washout.

With point leader Kody Swanson clocked beneath Tracy Hines's one-lap record of 29.305 seconds, hope for a new mark went unfulfilled when the chart-topping circuit was only 30.646 (also set by Hines), interesting that just one lap of qualifications was offered to the 25-car field instead of the standard of two. Given the short fields that don't require a qualifying race and the limited bang for the buck in terms of on-track action, it would be nice to see two laps of qualifications once again.

Excited that Bryan Clauson (fifth quick), Brady Bacon (ninth quick), and Christopher Bell (unfortunately a DNQ) were part of the Silver Crown cast, champ dirt car qualifications and stock car heat races were complete by 12:30 PM, leaving at least an hour of downtime before opening ceremonies for the Tony Bettenhausen 100. With such a small window of favorable weather, I had honestly hoped for a greater sense of urgency to pull out all the stops and complete the show, rewarding Silver Crown diehards who showed up early and gambled with Mother Nature. But as luck would have it, steady rain started to fall during the pace laps and eventually ended the day, resulting in a mini-meltdown for this particularly disappointed and frustrated fan who really needed some feel-good entertainment. Several days later, news of the first Springfield rain date since 1996 came as a very pleasant surprise.

This being my nephew’s first trip to the Illinois State Fairgrounds since 1992, when coupled with another cancellation in Macon one might believe that six hours of driving was a complete waste of a day, but at least we were not alone in our unsuccessful quest. A rare opportunity to spend some quality time with one another, we also got to speak to people like Wendell Smith, Todd Amstutz, Levi Jones, Ben Andres, Brent Goodnight, Fred Zirzow, and Waukesha, Wisconsin’s Chuck Eberhardt, learning that the latter two are the primary owners of Bryan Clauson’s local Indiana sprint car. Still, this road trip didn’t quite cleanse the soul and purge the poison of the previous week’s detrimental news. Thankfully, Kokomo’s third annual USAC Sprint Car Smackdown was right around the corner.

If there was anything that could restore the luster of sprint car racing and return to my world to normalcy, it would be a three-day show in Kokomo. But even something as routinely automatic as Kokomo satisfaction faced some serious challenges, threatened by an untimely eleven inches of rain that fell from Wednesday through Sunday. Requiring a monumental effort from the O’Connor family in order to complete the full Smackdown schedule, aside from the 2006 Four Crown Nationals at Eldora, never have I been more impressed with the sheer desire and all-out effort of any race track operational team, ultimately restoring my faith in mankind.

Requiring a full Thursday to recover from robust morning showers, upon my 7 PM opening night arrival the entire O’Connor crew was still hard at work attempting to get the show started. However, all that exertion was for naught, as some rather ominous radar proved to be reality for my third racing event in a row. Heavy storms arrived just after qualifications and with just enough time to complete two of four heat races, thunder, lightning, and a torrential downpour sent most of the crowd huddling underneath the grandstand, just waiting for a break in the weather to make a mad dash to their vehicles.

Pooling massive amounts of water in every nook and cranny of Kokomo Speedway, extensive pumping played a pivotal role in making Friday racing a reality. Thankfully the second show was run without a hitch, the only day of the original Smackdown schedule unaffected by weather. Planning an ambitious Saturday with a mid-afternoon continuation of Thursday's festivities followed by a sweeping of the stands and a complete surface revival, before the finale could ever get started yet another storm spoiled the party. Watching the clouds roll in and rain begin to fall at Ray’s Drive-In, unfortunately Saturday evening was pushed to Sunday afternoon.

In speaking with an exhausted Reece O’Connor before Sunday’s show, four more inches of rain fell overnight, requiring the crew to toil until 11:30 PM just to keep the water to a reasonable level. Reece returned at 1:00 AM to pump the "pond", arriving back at the track by 8 to find even more water in the office and concession stand. Not only was this excess H2O removed, but the walkway underneath the grandstand was power-washed to eliminate mud and grit. Again, I can think of very few tracks that ever would go to such extremes to make an event happen. Recalling the mantra of ultra-positive Park City, Illinois sprint car chauffeur Tim Cox, his “gottawannawin” became “gottawannarace” for the O’Connors who also hail from the Illini state. Despite a lower than expected crowd and car count, they pressed on regardless and refused to let the weather win, setting the bar awfully high for expectations in unfavorable conditions.

Thrilled by Saturday afternoon’s feature that offered a tacky track and chunky cushion despite the impossible combination of heat, humidity, and bright sunlight, Sunday afternoon’s twilight show was more of the same, sporting an excellent surface that needed just one revival. Even more amazing was the fact that I didn’t even have to wear goggles, as both Saturday and Sunday’s daylight conditions were dust-free! Given that their weekly Sunday shows are often completed before darkness, one could say that it’s par for the course here. Offering so much praise for all the work that went into removing water from these grounds, somehow the surface did not get ignored.

If such amazing and impressive O’Connor effort didn’t serve to reboot my system, then the record-setting performance of ageless sprint car stalwart Dave Darland certainly should have done the job. As I grew up in awe of so many impressionable sprint car standouts who owned larger than life personalities, were as strong as steel, and could literally walk on water, the common denominator in all of them was their age compared to mine. Turning 48 on September 4th, Dave is one of the few racers remaining from that era, maintaining such hero status in my eyes. To be witness to his tying and breaking of Tom Bigelow’s record for all-time USAC sprint car wins, one that has been the benchmark since the summer of 1981, it was indeed a rare and special scene, as accomplishments like that just don’t happen in this day and age, simply because the longevity of sprint car competitors is not what it used to be.

I was there for Dave’s very first USAC score at Terre Haute’s Tony Hulman Classic in May of 1993, studying during the downtime for a Finance final the next day at Ball State University. Some 11 years after his initial sprint car season (1982), it took 21 more to reach the summit with a record that may never be equaled, again because of the longevity factor. Introduced to this virtual unknown when he claimed the 1987 Putnamville Clash, in the midst of his titanic 19-win campaign in 1991 he received a great deal of fanfare after capturing an Indiana Sprint Week contest at Kokomo. Wondering then if this local stud had the stuff to make it on a national level, although it took a handful of seasons to truly make his mark outside of Indiana, it is amazing that he has remained a winning force for four decades.

USAC sprint car victory number 52 came in the Saturday afternoon matinee, a thriller that saw Dave track down pole-sitter Justin Grant, who led the first 23 laps atop the healthy cushion that had accumulated from all that rain. One bobble by Grant against the turns three and four curb was all it took for Darland to snatch first place, brushing the pride of Ione, California as he squirted past in corner four. However, it wasn’t like Dave could coast the rest of the way, narrowly avoiding a stopped Kyle Cummins in turn one which set up a six lap shootout. Darland might have gotten the restart jump, but Grant dug deep with his usual diamonding of turns three and four to inch ever closer. And, as if we had rewound the Sprint Week clock, they were once again side-by-side at the waving of the white flag. Just like in July, Grant tried a slide job through turns one and two but left enough room around the top for Darland to squeeze by. Giving it one more try through three and four, Justin had to settle for another second place finish.

$5,000 richer and trying Tom Bigelow’s record, after doing some turn four donuts Dave was doused with a cool bottle of water thanks to wife Brenda, explaining to Rob Goodman, “(To tie the record) It’s an unbelievable task. Lucky for me, he retired when he did, otherwise he probably would have won 30 more. It’s truly an honor and a privilege to have done this.”

Beating Bryan Clauson and Chase Stockon to reach the finals of Sunday’s unique three-lap King of the Hill match races that determined the first eight starting positions for the $10,000 to win 40-lap finale, for the second year in a row Darland was runner-up, unable to beat Brady Bacon to claim the pole, $400, a Traxxas R/C truck, and a case of Amsoil. In the iconic Hoffman Auto Racing Mean Green Triple-X Mopar, Bacon would lead the first five laps of the feature but the very next circuit saw the Lincoln legend surge past on the front chute, opening up a half-straightaway advantage before reaching lapped traffic. Even though the first five runners were in close proximity thanks to congestion, a lap 26 caution for Casey Shuman made this a whole new ballgame.

Restarting Darland, Bacon, Stanbrough, Ballou, and Leary, Dave promptly ran off and hid while Robert rushed to second, flinging his right rear wheel cover into the northwestern horizon. Hot on Darland’s heels and ready to make his winning move, Ballou’s bid was initially denied when a final caution flew for C.J. Leary. Permitted three more tours to find first, try as he might, but he couldn’t get it done, as a climb of the turn four cushion sealed the record-setting win number 53, also creating a two-time Kokomo Smackdown champion.

Earning a hug from Tom Bigelow as booming fireworks blasted eardrums, feeling right at home at the very place where he began his career some 32 years ago, a relieved Darland told an excited Rob Goodman, “It is absolutely special. We couldn’t have done it any better than this. It’s a fairytale story. Tom Bigelow is here. He was the one who set the bar for me. The only thing I’m sad about is that he said it only took him 12 years to get 52 wins. It’s taken me twice as long. But, we got here and I’ve got to thank a lot of people. Obviously – my Phillips team. They gave me a great racecar tonight and the night before and the night before and the year before. I’m just having a great time with this team. They do a great job. I’ve got to thank the O’Connors for their track preparation. With all the rain we’ve had, to have the track in this great of condition says a lot about them. It doesn’t matter if it’s a dry summer or a wet summer, they do a great job with this racetrack. I’m just glad to be here. I’ve got to thank my sponsors for supporting us, including Steve Stroud, as we couldn’t do it without them.”

When talking about the need to put 40 perfect laps together, Darland added, “I’ve made a lot of laps around here and there’s always someone breathing down my neck, whether it’s Bacon, Clauson, Ballou, or Justin Grant – he’s on my ass every time. I can’t get away from him as he’s always putting pressure on me. There were 25 good cars here tonight and it could have been any of them.”

When asked if he could have done anything different to defeat Darland, runner-up Robert Ballou told Dillon Welch, “Yeah, I needed a mud cover that would last 30 laps around Kokomo Speedway. We gave it our all. We got beat by the best guy in the business. He’s been doing this a long time, longer than I have been alive. Hats off to him and all the guys on that team that make that thing win. We were a second place car and we were third the other two nights. This ain’t what I come here for. I come here for wins. I felt like if we didn’t have that caution I could have gotten it done, but that’s why they call it racing. I’ve got about 30 or 40 more years left and Dave Darland will be in Bigelow’s position here when I’m still racing, so hopefully I’ll be challenging him for wins if we keep this number 12 going.”

Rattling off his laundry list of backers, Ballou noted, “They’re all little, but they all mean a lot to me and keep this thing on the racetrack night in and night out. Derrick Bye busts his butt. Scott Ronk is the best boss in the world – he lets me leave to go racing whenever I want. I’ve also got to thank the Farney family. They cooked food for us all week so we could stay hearty and upright. It’s been hard because we had some motor issues. And, hats off to the O’Connor family. Nobody else would have put up with this crap.”

Third place finisher Bryan Clauson commented, “We struggled all night just to get it under control. I can’t thank everybody on the Curb Records, Chevrolet Performance number 20 enough. We tried hard but we just needed about 30 more laps. We did everything we could. We took a couple of shots late but it wasn’t quite good enough. I can’t thank the O’Connors enough for their hard work. They fought a lot of adversity just to get this race in. Hopefully everybody appreciates that and enjoyed the show. It was a tough weekend on everybody.”

Further digesting the details, the undisputed king of Kokomo continued his home track qualifying prowess for the pair of Smackdown prelims. Quickest in a field of 36 on Thursday (12th in line at 12.791 seconds), on Friday evening Darland’s 12.712 second tour (5th in line) was again number one out of 34 machines. The only other individual to time within the top six on both nights was Robert Ballou, with Clauson, Coons, Leary, Grant, Bacon, Cummins (Pollock 21x), Stanbrough, and Meseraull representing a mixed bag of top qualifiers on Thursday and Friday. For T-Mez, he did not have a ride for night one but used the second night to make his debut in the Wingo 77.

Darland’s dynamic weekend didn’t start off that way, as he needed to reach Friday’s A through the B after banging Robert Ballou’s left front in his heat race. Starting seventh, he was quickly up to third, utilizing bottom, middle, and top grooves to pick off cars. After a lap two caution for Casey Shuman, he lurked around the bottom of turns three and four until Shane Cottle abruptly exited high. The resulting collision wiped out Dave’s front end, returning to the race some three laps down. Cottle appeared to have some issues of his own, pitting soon thereafter and limping home 12th.

After this incident, Friday was essentially a two horse race between pole sitter Bryan Clauson and fourth-starting Jon Stanbrough. Bryan paced the first 28 laps but could never shake Stanbrough from his shoulder. Jon appeared to be better in three and four, but Bryan was clearly superior in one and two, entering through the middle and exiting high. As Stanbrough stalked, in an odd twist of fate Clauson missed his mark and entered turn one a tad too high on the 29th lap, bobbling on the massive mountain of mud that never budged all night long. The Silent Gasser seized the rare opportunity, leading the last two laps for his fourth USAC victory of the season, his first of any kind at Kokomo since June of 2010. Mike Dutcher Motorsports literally went bananas, with hugs aplenty and high-fives flying. After Stanbrough and Clauson, Friday’s first ten finishers included Ballou, Cummins, Bacon, Stockon, Short, Leary (from 14th), Windom, and Jarrett. Speaking of Stockon, despite being the smallest in stature he was the first of five contestants to devour twenty boneless wings on Thursday night, claiming the infamous inaugural crown of “Snackdown” champ.

Saturday afternoon’s resumption of Thursday contained the third and fourth heat, B-main, and A-main, enjoying a spirited heat race joust for fourth between Shane Cottle and Landon Simon, chock full of bumping and banging, wheelies, and sliders. Qualifying third on Friday but scratching for mechanical gremlins, throttle psycho Thomas Meseraull tagged the tail of Saturday’s B but took a big ride in turn four, flinging his Wingo wagon skyward and tearing out some fencing. The race also resulted in a Jarett Andretti inversion, a Trevor Kobylarz front end folding, a three-wide finish for second between Cummins, Max McGhee, and Tracy Hines, and a swapping of sixth between Hollister, California’s Ryan Bernal (Elson 27), Parker Price-Miller, and Chad Boespflug. After firing from 14th, Boespflug got the spot, having to hustle all weekend long due to some persistent under the hood issues on Paul Hazen’s 57. Not going unnoticed, Boespflug earned a $500 cash bonus for becoming the weekend’s “Passing Master” while Hazen claimed the $300 Bill Gardner “True Grit” award.

Saturday and Sunday no-shows included Scotty Weir and Daron Clayton. After terminal engine failure on Thursday, Hunter Schuerenberg was painfully forced to sit out Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

With skies threatening to the west, Saturday’s feature was undoubtedly the best of the three, with side-by-side and three-abreast action quite common from front to back. At the start, pole man Justin Grant reached the top of turn one first. However, his drive off the turn two cushion chopped fellow front row mate C.J. Leary. C.J. partially spun and forced fourth-starting Bryan Clauson’s stoppage. Using the rest of the race to recover, it just wasn’t BC’s day after suffering a flat left rear tire with six laps left.

Featuring an outstanding scuffle for second between Jerry Coons, Jr., Robert Ballou, and eighth-starting Shane Cottle, Shane got as far as first place, actually taking the lead at the line in Tony Epperson’s Spike before a caution waved for Brian Karraker (Byram 3R). Continuing to give grief to Grant in the early-to-mid stages, unfortunately one costly mistake eliminated Shane from contention.

Storming from 12th and 14th, Chris Windom and Brady Short made a lot of noise with their impressive top-five charges near the midpoint. At the end, Chris settled for fourth, sandwiched between Robert Ballou and Jon Stanbrough. Sixth through tenth on Saturday included KTJ, Bacon, Cottle, Short, and Stockon.

With his two third place finishes, Robert Ballou was the top point man heading into the finale. The select seven who were also locked into the forty-lapper included Stanbrough, Bacon, Darland, Clauson, Windom, Cottle, and Stockon.

After hot laps commenced on a hot and sweaty Sunday afternoon, three heats sent nine more to the feature. With help from DRC chassis constructor Joe Devin, Brandon Mattox attempted to go three for three in Smackdown heat race wins but slid sideways in turn four. Turned straight by Chad Boespflug, Mattox’s luck soured worse in the B after sailing high at the turn one entry. Bouncing into the wall and taking a tumble, the Terre Haute terror’s weekend was over. Jarett Andretti also earned big air in the B, flipping high atop the turn four fence. Appearing slightly dazed on his ride back to the pits, Jarett was otherwise ok.

After turning a long turn three bike ride into a Sunday heat race flip, Max McGhee, his team (backed this weekend by Kenny Baldwin), and a host of others (including welding services from Jon Stanbrough) thrashed to repair his Maxim in time for the B. Max managed to score one of five feature transfers, as Chad Boespflug again eclipsed his share of competitors by winning from 7th. Tyler Courtney, Landon Simon, and Josh Spencer also punched their A-main ticket through the consolation, worth a healthy $1,000. Spencer’s run for the final transfer saw him gallop past Chris Gurley late in the going, made possible when Pennsylvania visitor Trevor Kobylarz (the $500 winner of the best appearing car) tagged Brian Karraker, spinning both from contention.

In between heats and B were the King of the Hill match races, pairing the top-eight in Smackdown points in three lap match races, beginning side-by-side to a white chalk line laid out on the front stretch. Pitting the highest against the lowest seeds, the high point man had lane choice and each time, they chose low. High drama ensued during Bacon’s second round battle with Jon Stanbrough. Battling wheel to wheel to the checkered, Jon was squeezed into the outside wall, spun, and nearly turned over, suffering a flat left front tire in the process.

Sending off the feature drivers in style with old fashioned driver introductions in front of the main grandstands, drivers tossed autographed t-shirts and assorted gear into the crowd as they marched past, an entertaining and thoughtful gesture to reward the fans for their patience and persistence. One lucky fan who caught the t-shirt from the feature winner not only got to stand in victory lane, but also earned $100 in cash and free Smackdown tickets for 2015. Not a bad deal, eh?

As the setting sun provided a beautiful backdrop to the wild celebration in honor of Dave Darland’s incredible accomplishment, Bacon and Stanbrough just missed podium placements but enjoyed solid top-five finishes. Scored sixth through tenth were Grant, Cottle, Thomas, Stockon, and Cummins (who collected $500 for being the event’s “Newcomer of the Year”). Officially closing the book on this third Smackdown weekend at 8:22 PM, O’Connor patriarch Jim along with daughters Jill and Chris stood outside of the front gate and personally thanked each fan for attending. I returned the favor, thanking them for actually going through with it, as I know that the weather kept fan count down while the slimmer than expected car count remained a mystery.

Paying the top-five for all weekend feature laps, outside of the $5,000 and $10,000 amounts for the winners, the most impressive Smackdown dollar statistic is the $1,000 prize offered to start the finale. That alone should be incentive for any team to give this deal a shot, as history shows that attrition takes its toll by the end of the weekend, allowing little guys like Josh Spencer and Brian Karraker a realistic shot at making some decent dough.

The fact is, there is not another race on the USAC calendar that offers more incentives, as USAC’s staff again went out of their way to gather a plethora of cash and product sponsors for countless awards, the majority of them designed for hard chargers, those suffering hard luck, and those not even making a feature. Understanding that August might be a time when budgets are worn thin, without any competition for cars for the first time in its brief history (aside from Paragon), I still don’t understand why more racers have not jumped on the Smackdown bandwagon. Hoping that the word gets out extremely early in 2015 regarding the available prizes, this Knoxville Nationals-style event deserves an overflowing pit area and grandstand.

One week removed from the Smackdown, I concluded my month of August with Kokomo’s last regular season event: the Vince Osman Memorial. Still a Sunday night, the holiday weekend and fireworks actually attracted a bigger crowd than the previous weekend. In brainstorming with Edison Motorsports helper Craig Heathcoat on ideas to attract more fans, we both agreed that fireworks should be a more frequent offering, at least once the weather gets warm. They do cost quite a bit more money, but if it fills the bleachers like it does at every track I have attended, it might be a worthwhile investment.

With a pit area consisting of 24 sprint cars, 14 thunder cars, 12 street stocks cars, and 26 UMP modifieds, given the consistently strong contingent of mods that appear on the holiday weekend shows, like fireworks perhaps they too should be a more frequent attraction. With competition for sprint car talent coming from Haubstadt’s $3,000 to win program and DuQuoin’s Ted Horn 100, Bryan Clauson was unquestionably the biggest name in the Kokomo house, here to reap the rewards of a season-long track championship. For a guy who has started the Indianapolis 500, sat on the pole at both Indianapolis and Daytona, enjoyed brief NASCAR success, claimed three USAC national driving championships, a pair of USAC national midget and sprint car titles, a pair of Indiana Sprint Week and Midget Week titles, laid claim to the Chili Bowl, Turkey Night Grand Prix (twice), the Belleville Midget Nationals (also twice), and the Sprint Car Smackdown, the fact that he placed so much emphasis on this Kokomo championship speaks volumes as to the quality of competition that exists each Sunday night from May through August.

The fastest qualifier (13.394) from three timed hot lap sessions, Bryan ran second in his heat to Shane Cottle, who returned to the seat of Monte Edison’s machine as regular driver Jerry Coons, Jr. was down in DuQuoin. Clauson, Cottle, and first heat runner-up Justin Grant were the three primary players come feature time, engaging in an outstanding battle that highlights the benefits of attending these weekly contests. Surprise heat winners for this final Sunday of the season included Kokomo rookie of the year Garrett Miller and Joe Liguori. Biking in the first heat and landing tail-first in the turn two fence, Canadian Lee Dakus ended his initial Kokomo campaign on the hook. Even earlier, Max McGhee tumbled in turn three qualifications and experienced deja-voodoo for the second time in one week, putting an exclamation point on his evening.

Enjoying a brief chat with former Kokomo throttle stomper Kurt “The Rooster” Hawkins in between the heats and B-main, that B was bagged by Chad Boespflug, with Texas visitor Payton Pierce picking up the final transfer position, just beating out Illinois veteran Steve Thomas. Showing extremely well in the feature (climbing from 20th to inside of the top ten before exiting), aside from a Putnamville appearance the previous evening, this was Pierce's first racing trip to the Hoosier state.

Grant and Miller comprised the front row for the 25-lap tribute to Vince Osman, a contest that was littered by six cautions and one red flag. In between all of the pauses existed a highly satisfying feature, doling out three distinct grooves, two separate cushions, and one thrilling finish claimed by the current king of Kokomo cowboys. Yes, you read that right: two separate cushions, as one existed about a third of the way down the track while another was cut by Justin Grant in never-never land.

Fourth-starting Cottle, Grant, and fifth-starting Clauson provided first-class entertainment with their extreme showcase of talent. After a brief four-wide fan for first at the start and an initial caution for Cooper Clouse, Cottle two-wheeled turn two, recovered to find bite at the bottom of turn three, and narrowly slid Grant through turn four to produce P1. With Shane positioning the Crume-Evans Insurance Spike on the standard cushion, Justin immediately tested the waters elsewhere, stepping even further upstairs on both ends to stay within striking distance. Manning Chuck Eberhardt’s unsponsored Maxim (a.k.a. the family car), Clauson chose the middle lane and eyed the outstanding battle for first. At one point, Cottle biked turn two for the second time and successfully recovered, but not before Grant squirted beneath to take first. Unfortunately, a Josh Spencer spin nullified such a slick move.

Near the halfway mark, Cottle again flirted with disaster against the unruly cushion that had been pounded flat during the intermission. Biking for the third time in turn two, that third time was not the charm for “The Throttle”. Careening off the concrete and coming to an abrupt halt, he ended his evening the same way for the second year in a row, in this very race. Enduring quite a bit of pain from the crash in the following days, it still looked like Cottle had a blast in his reunion with his longtime buddies.

After a Logan Jarrett spin (having earlier elevated from 12th to 4th), a seven lap dash would award Sunday night bragging rights for the final time in 2014. Grant continued his exploration of upper regions while Clauson smoothly attacked the equally effective but less treacherous middle. Each time, they would meet at the turn two exit, coming oh-so-close to touching lap after lap after lap. Building a fairly substantial margin at the white flag, Grant’s high line was suddenly blocked by lapped traffic as he approached turn three, forcing him to go low. Spotting third place Joe Liguori flipping in turn two with one eye, the other caught Clauson sneaking beneath Grant to steal an apparent win.

Although the checkered flag and red lights appeared simultaneously, officials concluded that they needed to go back one lap, as only three cars took the checkered. Amping up the intensity even more, Justin juked Bryan as they took the green and white flag together. Although Grant chose his effective turn three and four diamond, Clauson pulled tight as they approached the flag stand, just missing the win by a nose. Grant gathered his second straight Vince Osman victory, an all-out thriller on what was just another Sunday night in Kokomo.

Clauson settled for second while Scotty Weir worked from tenth to third in Bill Elson’s 27. After having a flat left front tire swapped at lap ten, newly crowned Gas City champion Chris Gurley charged through the field to take fourth, annexing the position from Jarett Andretti. Spots six through ten included Adam Byrkett, Josh Spencer (recovering from a lap ten spin), Logan Jarrett (also recovering from a late race loop), Travis Hery, and 2002 track champ Dustin Smith.

Landing in Kokomo’s victory lane for the third time this season with car owner Mark Hery, afterwards the ever-popular Grant commented, “I’ve been a part of so many races that have been the best race of the year and come up second in every one of them. So, it’s good to finally win a good race. Bryan raced me clean coming off of turn four to the checkered. He could have let that thing go and gave me a wheel, but he didn’t, so I appreciate that. We caught a break there at the end. We got into lapped traffic and Bryan actually beat me to the line when the red came out. He would have won that race but as many yellows and as many chances as he had, I’ll take one break for myself.”

Scoring second and his first Kokomo championship, Clauson received quite a bit of appreciation for his feat, stating, “It’s awesome man! I looked down the point standings here at Kokomo Speedway a couple of weeks ago and they’re the same guys that are battling it out on the national circuit! This is definitely the baddest bullring in the country and I definitely love coming here. The O’Connor family does so much for our sport with all the races they put on for us. To have the opportunity to come out here every Sunday night and run the best racetrack in country, that’s a lot of fun. I wish we could have ended with a win, but we gave it everything we had. We didn’t need a lot of those cautions. He was a little better in the short run and we just ran out of time.”

Beginning my usually peaceful August on a high note with a throwback BOSS battle in Liberty, Indiana, this memorable meeting effectively restarted my sprint car system after another epic Indiana Sprint Week experience. The month ended on an even higher note with an unexpected Vince Osman Memorial thriller in Kokomo. But in between, any benefit from that first race back was negated by some serious negativity generated by the non-stop Tony Stewart witch hunt. The ultimate shock, anger, and frustration was more than I could stomach, searching for any kind of a mental break from the stinging reality of a world turned upside down. Hoping that a road trip to Springfield and Macon would reboot the system once again, a rare double rain-out only intensified the internal strife. Believing that a three day USAC Sprint Car Smackdown could make me forget about everything that was wrong with the world, Mother Nature and her eleven inches of rain intended to continue my misery. However, even she had no clue as to just how much resilience and desire some people have.

Thanks to the superhuman efforts of the entire Kokomo Speedway staff, not only did they prove that the impossible might just be possible, but they also reaffirmed the reason why I became a sprint car fan some thirty years ago. Turning bad news into good, by the time Dave Darland was celebrating his record-setting 53rd USAC sprint car victory I was certainly feeling better, but this fragile soul had already taken a serious beating from such a sickening rollercoaster of emotions. I don’t ask for much out of life, but in order to continue the healing process, could you please just give me the good news first?




Volume 16, Number 9

I'm Alive

Seven races in nine nights! 

To an outsider, such an extensive, intense period would appear to be more than enough time to get one’s fill of the best that traditional sprint car racing has to offer, easily bordering on the excessive.  But for anyone who has previously sampled the intoxicating atmosphere of the United States Auto Club's Indiana Sprint Week, they will quickly advise that this isn’t nearly enough time to relax, take a deep breath, and let it all soak in without worry that the painful conclusion was lurking right around the corner. 

It might be so cliché to state that time flies when you’re having fun, but for someone who revels in making the most of one’s available hours, it becomes far too easy to lose track of time in these nine days.  Of course it's an illusion, but the second hand of the clock seems to pick up speed during Sprint Week, especially after the first three days have expired.  Vividly recalling a hello that came with such unbridled enthusiasm, before you know it the gut-wrenching curtain closer forces us to say goodbye, wondering how it was possible that this precious period had completely disappeared. 

Two Grooves – Hunter Schuerenberg and Dave Darland take two different routes in the battle for Bloomington supremacy

Despite the tear-inducing despair and depression that sets in after it’s all over, I’d gladly repeat the process in a heartbeat, as there is no better time to truly feel alive.  In this ultimate expression of freedom from work and worry, food and drink taste better than they ever have before, music rocks even louder and harder, and the most mundane scenery suddenly becomes beautiful.  More than just about the on-track action, Sprint Week is all about the fans, photographers, and crew members who come from all ends of the globe wearing smiles a mile wide, seemingly in heaven for this limited duration.  A time to reunite and live it up with the closest of acquaintances, such enthusiasm is quite contagious when everyone’s spirits are sky-high.  If it was just another racing weekend without such camaraderie, there would be no reason for such sadness when engines quiet and everyone heads for home.  But, in order to appreciate these highest of highs, the lowest of lows must also be weathered.  Thus, it can be reasoned that Indiana Sprint Week is an accurate representation of life itself. 

Admitting to being burned out on racing prior to this nine day deluge, such feelings went completely out the window upon the Thursday arrival of Campbell, California’s Steve Lafond, who served as my Sprint Week guest for the sixth season in a row.  Not just any old racetrack acquaintance, Steve is absolutely one of my best friends.  Separated by 2,285 miles, even though we appear to be quite different on the outside, on the inside we’re made of the same stuff – responsible, honest, thoughtful, kind, passionately enthusiastic, and a perfectionist to the core.  The one time all year that we get to hang out, his presence automatically upgrades my favorite time of the year to epic proportions. 

Bike Ride – Brady Bacon two wheels Bloomington’s turn one

Absolutely the coolest guy I know, Steve butters his bread as a technical staffer at Silicon Valley data storage provider NetApp but in his free time, he is either panning, clicking, and producing digital images for Tear-Off Heaven Fotos ( or creating rhythm by slamming sticks into his bubinga drum kit for all-original rock band Ded Ringer.  For the first time in five years, Steve and I would not share space with ex-Ron DiDonato/Holbrook Motorsports crew member Tom Percy, who was forced to cancel his Sprint Week plans after his wife Carla lost her grandmother. 

Missing a crucial member of our three stooges, Sprint Week surely felt different, but as usual I handled the majority of post-race driving duties while Lafond worked on photos and served as DJ, selecting appropriate tunes from his eclectic iPod collection.   Reminding me of my younger years when my oldest brother cranked up classic rock on Q-95 and ultimately influenced my musical taste, this year my favorite selection from Steve was the 1979 debut album from Ronnie Montrose’s Gamma, highlighted by the second track entitled “I’m Alive”.  Enamored with the electronic background vocals that evoke the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, this song hit the sweet spot and was officially declared the Sprint Week anthem of 2014, also accounting for this blog’s theme. 

Given that ISW is my own zenith, it should come as no surprise that I felt alive once again, regardless if it required a visit from Steve and a mandatory trip to Bonge’s Tavern on Thursday’s Sprint Week eve.  Feeling like I had just completed my final day of school before summer vacation, although that long-awaited three month break is now just nine days, this particular Thursday at Bonge’s is the zenith of my zenith.  With so much great food, drink, racing, and laughter on the horizon, life could literally not get any better.  I could go on and on about Bonge’s unbelievable cuisine, amazing atmosphere, and generous hospitality, but this particular visit was quite memorable, spending quality time with owner and chef Tony Huelster, whose mentor Dieter Puska (of Carmel's famed Glass Chimney restaurant) sponsored midgets and sprints driven by Larry Fritz.  The pride of Perkinsville, Indiana, Bonge’s is located on the banks of the White River and as I have always stated to Steve, anytime this body of water is crossed, expect great things.  By no coincidence, the White River is encountered in four of the seven Sprint Week stops.  

Bonge’s Sunset – On the way back from Bonge’s Tavern, Steve captured this epic Indiana sunset

It was fantastic to feel alive once again, even better to see Indiana dirt tracks also spring to life for this seven race stretch.  With the exception of special shows and fireworks displays, local sprint car programs in the Hoosier state continue to face serious challenges in drawing decent attendance figures, but that certainly was not the case for Sprint Week.  Forecasted rain for Kokomo and Lawrenceburg might have curbed crowds on the opening weekend, but the beautiful, humidity-free weather the rest of the week helped attract record numbers of attendees, particularly challenging to find open seats at Gas City, Putnamville, and Bloomington.  As for the usual plethora of motorhome and campers caravanning to each event, there was no such shortage for the 2014 version.  Rumored to be in the house at Bloomington, USAC Indiana Sprint Week visionary Kent Evans had to be proud at what he created with Mike Miles, Keith Ford, and Bill Marvel at that fateful meeting over the winter of 1995/1996 at the Martinsville Waffle House. 

Aside from Brownstown’s season-opening slew of 51 and Lawrenceburg’s Midwestern USAC opener of 42, car counts have not exactly been stellar for 2014 either.  However, Sprint Week was again the X-factor, pumping up numbers to their usual standard.  Enthused by the old-school population of 53 machines for the Sprint Week opener at Gas City, subsequent assemblies of 46, 44, 38, 44, 43, and 36 averaged out to a respectable 43.  Solid – yes, but I still miss those fields of 60+ from the late '90s and early 2000s.  Back then, non-qualifier race drama took place every night, as the absence of provisional starting positions meant that the possibility of loading up early was quite high.  Even the low numbers of 36 and 38 at Haubstadt and Terre Haute were encouraging, much higher than expected given recent history.  This being the 27th edition of ISW, 21 cars came to all seven events, with 77 different drivers participating. 

Burnsy – Eric Burns backs it in to turn one at Terre Haute, his first Sprint Week run since 2002

Winner of two national events in 2014 and entering Indiana Sprint Week fourth in points (some 96 behind leader Brady Bacon), it seemed quite appropriate that defending Sprint Week king Bryan Clauson and his Tony Stewart Racing squad would come alive, as they always seem to shine in this mini-marathon.  Starting off an uncharacteristic 16th best in Gas City qualifications and working up to tenth in the feature, Clauson and his Bob East wrenched Chevy Performance Beast/Kistler started to find their Sprint Week stride in Kokomo after timing third and finishing fifth.  Second in Lawrenceburg qualifying before the rains came, he blew by Robert Ballou and paced the final 14 laps in Terre Haute to take his first-ever victory at the famed half-mile, continuing his theme of coming on strong in the second half of the week.  Reversing roles by running second to Robert at Putnamville, he entered Bloomington as the ISW point leader after week-long leader Chris Windom was spun from second by Kevin Thomas, Jr., with Bryan barely escaping the mess after locking horns with both at the bottom of turn one.  Seventh in Bloomington time trials but propelling from the pole after Jarett Andretti failed to transfer from his heat, Clauson’s patience paid huge dividends, experimenting with high and low lanes to keep pace with leaders Dave Darland and Hunter Schuerenberg.  After a red flag for Tyler Courtney with six laps remaining, second-place Bryan used the moist bottom to surge to first.  Consistently hitting his marks to take the huge win, the clutch performance kept him ten points ahead of Darland as they entered the Haubstadt finale.

History shows that the Bloomington Sprint Week winner goes on to take the title, as eight times such a statistic has held true prior to 2014.  Eight became nine when Clauson qualified third and finished fourth at Tommy Helfrich’s Tri-State Speedway, as Darland could not mount a worthy challenge after struggling to an 11th place feature finish, ultimately falling to third in the ISW standings after Ballou bagged the finale.  2014 was the third year in a row that Tony Stewart Racing has claimed the crown, the sixth for the team since 2003.  This being Bryan’s second in a row, he’s the first to do the deed since TSR’s Levi Jones (’08 and ’09).  Now third in national points and only 34 out of first, this sets up another title showdown between Clauson and Darland, adding second place Brady Bacon to the mix.  Looking forward to the next USAC outing at Kokomo’s titanic Sprint Car Smackdown on August 21st through the 23rd, we all know how well both Bryan and Dave have performed there in the past two years.  Although so many people tire of seeing the same winner, years from now when Bryan has moved on to greener pastures, we can most certainly look back at this period and say that we were witness to greatness. 

Calm Before the Storm – Some of Sprint Week’s most intense action takes place right here

Other than Clauson and TSR coming alive, the biggest story of Indiana Sprint Week was that of Robert Ballou.  Still on his self-dubbed Empty Pockets Tour and essentially down to his last car and engine (a ten year old Maxim chassis and a fairly new for 2014 Don Ott mill), for the first four races he had Oklahoma’s Jimmy Jones calling the shots.  Having enjoyed the majority of his wingless sprint car success with Jones back in the MPHG Motorsports days, the two of them were known for their fiery relationship that often resulted in many loud and harsh words.  Schooled by Karl Kinser in the science of sprint car mechanicals and the art of driver motivation, Jones told me, “They don’t hear ‘ya unless you’re yelling.  You’ve gotta make an impression!”   

Robert’s father was also in town to assist for the entire grind and although things started off slowly with a 16th to 14th showing at Gas City, the next night in Kokomo restored confidence with a 14th to 7th surge.  Seventh-best in Lawrenceburg qualifying, that statistic served as a ray of hope as Robert’s Achilles heel the last several seasons has been sub-standard qualifying performances.  Topping the timing charts at Jimmy's last outing in Terre Haute; this was certainly a sign of things to come as they led three laps near the race’s mid-point.  Robert was quite disappointed in his post-race interview after settling for second, but I highly doubt he and Jimmy were doing any yelling afterwards. 

Sans assistance from Jones, he was seventh-best in Lincoln Park time trials and was slated to start third, but after Chad Boespflug’s car failed to appear at the staging line within five minutes of the sounding of the USAC horn (a new rule instituted at Terre Haute), that bounced Ballou to the front row.  Taking full advantage, he led all thirty tours atop Putnamville’s gigantic curb and narrowly held off Clauson, a humongous score for such an underdog, shoestring effort.  Robert’s victory lane interview was one of the most memorable I’ve ever heard, holding nothing back as he burst into tears when relaying just how difficult things have been of late, relegated to working a full-time job for Kokomo’s Scott Ronk to pay the bills and somehow keep a sprint car rolling.  Advised by his dad to “not do anything half-ass”, Robert also spoke about spending a great amount of time assembling equipment for Aaron Farney and Parker Price-Miller to “give these kids a chance”.  If you weren’t already a fan of The Mad Man, after that interview you had to at least respect his effort, desire, and genuine passion, as there is no one that works harder as an owner-driver combination.  I, for one, got a little choked up in listening to just how much this win meant to him. 

Chase – Taking part in two features, Chase Briscoe qualified a solid fourth at Bloomington

Winding up Sprint Week with a 21st to 6th blast at Bloomington, Ballou led the first six circuits at Haubstadt, yielded to Kyle Cummins for eight, and then led the final 16 en route to his third consecutive Tri-State triumph.  Closing Sprint Week second in points to Clauson, Robert most certainly had to be feeling as alive as he ever has, wishing that that week did not have to end so soon. 

Gunning for his fourth Indiana Sprint Week title and the consensus pick to win it all, Dave Darland was in the hunt all week but just did not have the consistent finishes of Clauson to get the job done.  Starting sixth after qualifying quickest at Gas City, he was the lone soldier who attacked the top groove and was lucky to wind up eighth.   

Moving to Kokomo, his autobiography with Bones Bourcier was officially released in the afternoon, quickly countered by an epic qualifying effort that saw his Phillips Motorsports DRC/Foxco set not only a new USAC track record, but the ultimate one-lap mark as well, stopping the clocks at 12.405 seconds.   

Come feature time in K-town, Kevin Thomas, Jr. bolted to an immediate advantage from his outside front row starting spot, leading the first five tours.  Dave wasted little time in posing a threat to KT, diamonding the second bend on lap five to briefly lead before the Cullman, Alabama assassin retook the position at the stripe, soon seeing Kokomo’s all-time leading feature winner prove just how large his attachments are when threading the needle between Kevin’s car and the outside wall in turn two.  Officially leading the rest of the way, it was far from easy for Dave, who had his hands full with a sizeable ledge, heavy lapped traffic, and a lightning quick Justin Grant, who rocketed from eighth to second just as soon as Darland drove to the lead.  Whenever there is room between the cushion and Kokomo’s outside wall, few are better than Justin, who first had to fend off Kevin before sinking his teeth into Double-D’s lead, pouring on the coal with 12 to go.  After Dave’s front end washed out atop turn four at lap 21, Grant gave a classic Kokomo slider in turn one, only to be countered by an immediate Darland crossover.  With seven to go, Grant gave it another go in one but didn’t have enough mustard on the hot dog.  Two more untimely bobbles from the hometown hero, one of them in turn four with the white flag in sight, allowed the pride of Ione, California one more shot in turn one, offering a slide for life that easily cleared the leader’s front end.  Both cars seemingly came to a stop to avoid exceeding that cantankerous curb, the brief pause giving Darland a chance to crank his front wheels to the left and mash the gas.  The resulting backstretch drag race saw the cagey veteran point to the top of turn three, chopping Grant who correspondingly diamonded three and four to come just inches short.  Dave capped off his huge day with USAC sprint car win number 51, now just one short of tying Tom Bigelow for the all-time record. 

Check it Out – Kyle Cummins’s lone Sprint Week appearance resulted in a second place at Haubstadt

Regardless of the winner, it was an epic duel to the finish that further elevated Kokomo’s status as Sprint Week’s centerpiece.  However hard to imagine, I’ve actually witnessed local shows here this year that offered far better features (Mother’s Day Mudslinger), encouraging anyone and everyone to sample Sunday night local contests.  Enjoying a post-race parking lot beverage with Lafond and Randy Jones as we basked in the glow of the thrilling feature finish, I’m not sure if we felt as alive as Darland did at that moment, but we were pretty damned close.  Now, if we could only bottle up these feelings and uncork them six months from now, I’d be on to something. 

The rest of Darland’s Sprint Week didn’t quite go to plan, although he did leap-frog Chris Windom as the Sprint Week point leader after clocking fourth at the Lawrenceburg rain out.  Dave was slated to start Terre Haute’s thirty lapper from the outside of the front row, but USAC’s brand new rule required presenting one’s car to the feature staging lane within five minutes of a horn being blown.  This new rule bit the Phillips team in the behind by moving them back two rows, interesting to learn that only nine cars presented in the proper timeframe.   Creating mass confusion with wholesale lineup changes, Darland charged to third by lap ten but faded to seventh, quite uncharacteristic given the 71P's dominance here in May.  After finishing fourth, Chris Windom was back atop the ISW throne, at least for one more night.   

Suffering a flat right rear in Putnamville hot laps and tipping over after his 15th place qualifying performance, another feature lineup shakeup actually benefitted Darland, who was supposed to start 13th but instead took the green from 10th.  Never contending for first, he instead kept his nose clean and claimed a respectable fifth, now sixth points behind new leader Clauson. 

Coon Dog – Jerry Coons, Jr. was one of 10 men to make all 6 Sprint Week features without employing a provisional

Sixth fastest on a lightning-fast Bloomington surface, Dave fired from the outside of the front row in Friday’s feature, starting alongside Clauson.  Pacing the first ten tours and moving from top to bottom, he was first circled by Hunter Schuerenberg and after a turn four miscue, then it was Clauson, settling for third at the checkered.  Hoping for change of fortune in Haubstadt where he hadn’t won since May of 2005, he began the feature from eighth but immediately struggled to find his groove, backing up to a disappointing 11th.  However “unalive” he might have felt after the conclusion, Sprint Week wasn’t a total loss for The People’s Champion, entering the series 29 points behind Bacon but exiting five ahead. 

After their up and down Sprint Week tour, Jon Stanbrough and his Michael Dutcher Motorsports bunch certainly know all about the highs and lows of feeling alive.  Scoring the pole for the Gas City opener after qualifying ninth, Jon was the pilot dog for all thirty tours by utilizing the lower regions of the slick I-69 quarter-mile, just edging a quickly-closing Justin Grant who made one final swipe atop corners three and four.  Winners of three of the last four USAC events, confidence was high heading into Kokomo, but a disappointing qualifying result left them 16th in the rundown, forcing the Silent Gasser to start 15th and claim 11th.  Lawrenceburg had been strong point for Stanbrough and Dutcher in 2014, but after flying high in qualifying when nearly everyone else went low, they were saddled with the 20th best time, perhaps a blessing for them that it ended up washing out. 

Second in the Terre Haute timing light tango, winning their heat from sixth, and having made a pass on Bryan Clauson in the feature, a broken piston sent them to the sidelines fairly early, ending any hope of a third Sprint Week crown for the 2006 and 2010 champ.  After an excellent fourth place qualifying effort at Lincoln Park, Jon needed the B to make the A, coming on strong to find fourth after starting seventh.   Continuing the roller coaster ride in Bloomington, driver 37 wound up 17th in qualifying, was roughed up by Carson Short and C.J. Leary at the start of his heat, but came from the rear to claim an authoritative transfer.  Climbing from 14th to sixth in just seven feature laps, unfortunately he was the primary victim of a Brady Bacon spin, brought about when the Hoffman shoe stayed out on a flat left rear.  Still claiming ninth at the end, the end result should have been a podium.  Ending the week with quick time at Haubstadt, Jon settled for a solid third, mentioning afterwards that he burned off a right rear tire too soon.  After the broken piston at Terre Haute and the Bacon blunder at Bloomington, Stanbrough and MDM still salvaged a fifth place points finish, leaving the team wondering what could have been.     

Cowboy – Daron Clayton’s last ride in Hank Byram’s machine came at Terre Haute

One spot ahead of Stanbrough in the ISW standings was Brady Bacon.  A solid qualifier all week, only twice did he time outside of the top ten, reaching the top of the charts at Putnamville.  Consistent feature finishes of sixth at Gas City, eighth at Kokomo, third at Terre Haute (pacing the first 13 tours after being moved to the front row thanks to the "horn" rule), ninth at Putnamville, and sixth at Haubstadt were spoiled by a 17th at Bloomington after his spin.  That incident essentially cost him the national point lead, but it could have been much worse had his crew not thrashed to make hasty repairs after a heat race incident at Gas City (requiring some straightening and welding of the right front torsion tube), also swapping an engine after the Putnamville B.     

Neck and neck early on for the top of the Sprint Week standings, Chris Windom and Justin Grant secured sixth and seventh place chairs at the end of the seven race grind.  Opening with oh-so-close seconds at Gas City and Kokomo, Grant and his Mark Hery 40 stayed in the hunt by galloping from 15th to 6th at Terre Haute.  However, a 21st place in Putnamville did him in, winding up the week 7th and 20th.  Like Justin, Chris Windom began with consistent third, third, and fourth place runs for 1999 Sprint Week champion car owner Jeff Walker.  Holding the point lead after Terre Haute and operating in second at Putnamville , an untimely shove from KT, Jr. tainted title hopes, having to swallow the bitter pill of a 20th place payoff.  Finishing fifth in B-town and 12th at the Haub, at that point it was academic for the 2011 Sprint Week king.  But without the Putnamville punt, Chris could have been a 2-time champ.   

Eighth, ninth, and tenth in the Sprint Week standings were Hunter Schuerenberg, Chase Stockon, and Jerry Coons, Jr.  Schuerenberg made five of six features, his only blemish being terminal engine failure after Terre Haute hot laps.  Hunter started from Kokomo’s front row and finished fourth, nearly won Bloomington, and secured seventh in the Haubstadt finale.  Stockon started his Sprint Week strong, surging from 13th to 5th at Gas City.  Clocking quickest in Lawrenceburg and second fastest in Bloomington, the rest of the week was a qualifying struggle, taking tenth place finishes out of the Hut and Put.  Slamming Haubstadt’s boiler plate and flipping in his qualification attempt, a massive thrash aided by a bevy of competitors allowed “Showtime” to do just that in his heat, swapping numerous sliders with Clauson.  As for Coons, he was inside of the qualifying top ten three times but saved his best feature finish (8th) for last.  The rest of the week resulted in fairly consistent runs of 11th, 12th, 11th, 19th, and 11th for Monte Edison’s hired gun. 

Double Trouble – After his Gas City tumble, Jeff Bland, Jr.’s next race resulted in this wicked flip at Putnamville

Ten men made all six features without the aid of a provisional, consisting of Clauson, Ballou, Darland, Bacon, Stanbrough, Windom, Grant, Stockon, Coons, and Thomas.  Needing one provisional apiece, C.J. Leary and Tracy Hines also participated in all six main events.  Given that such a large number made all Sprint Week main events on their own merit, compared to the late ‘90s and early 2000s when only a handful could boast such a feat, the conclusion I can come to is that the number of competitive local Indiana chauffeurs have simply decreased in the last decade.

One of the most competitive local Indiana machines belongs to Paul Hazen.  Hoping to hit all seven shows, he and driver Chad Boespflug made all five features they attempted, sitting out Terre Haute due to a weak set of valve springs and worn retainers.  Paul had ordered a new set of springs but they did not arrive by Wednesday morning, forcing him to skip the trip as he wasn’t willing to chance it on the big half.  Qualifying inside of the top-ten twice and posting a pair of top-ten feature finishes (8th at LPS and 10th at the Haub), had they presented in time at Lincoln Park, their pole position start could have resulted in an 11th USAC score for Hazen.  If there was one thing that led to irritation during my zenith, it’s that this new rule actually impacted feature results, especially on efficient evenings when time wasn’t a huge concern.    

Finding His Groove – Robert Ballou bagged two wins and claimed second in Sprint Week points

Another solid local performer was Thomas Meseraull and his Dave Stensland DRC/Kercher.  Had it not been for Bloomington engine issues, T-Mez could have easily competed in all six Indiana Sprint Week main events.  As it was, 2014 was still a solid showing for the former BCRA midget champ, nailing ninth at Kokomo and scoring a scintillating third at Lincoln Park after some serious sliders with Chad Boespflug, thoroughly enjoying his interview afterwards.

The key to feeling alive for Sprint Week chauffeurs has so much to do with qualification performance, as feature winners started from the pole position four times, the other two being taken from sixth and third.  So exciting to hear those famous words "IT'S A NEW TRACK RECORD", new USAC one-lap marks were established in Kokomo by Dave Darland and Bloomington by Hunter Schuerenberg.   Darland's 12.405 second clocking not only bettered his own 12.618 circuit from last August, but it also eclipsed T-Mez’s all-time mark of 12.498.  Schuerenberg's sizzling 10.920 second trip around Bloomington’s banks finally beat J.J. Yeley's USAC record of 11.068 from July of 2002.  However, Kevin Swindell still holds the all-time wingless mark from April of 2007 at 10.880.  Timing inside of the top-ten in six of seven outings, Dave Darland was the king of ISW qualifying.  Five for seven included Bryan Clauson, Brady Bacon, and Chris Windom while Ballou, Grant, Schuerenberg, and Stanbrough were four for seven.       

Recalling the all-time king of Sprint Week qualifying, that would be Silver City, New Mexico’s Richard “The Gas Man” Griffin, who set quick time in all six of his 1997 appearances.  Despite participation from Richard and Jace Vander Weerd, Brody Roa, and Gary Taylor (only the first weekend in the Cook 4), ISW 2014 was missing that solid left coast vibe that made Sprint Week so special in the late 1990s and early 2000s, especially when Cory Kruseman came out and did some serious damage. 

Focus – Now a two-time Sprint Week champion, Bryan Clauson appears ready to rumble

This was the third year in a row that the Vander Weerd twins towed to Indiana but unfortunately their results didn’t reflect such experience.  Both skipped Terre Haute altogether, with Richard competing in all five of his features but needing a pair of provisionals to get it done.  Starting off strong at Gas City, he fired from third but ended 13th after a big-time bike, tallying a tenth in B-town.  Jace only competed in one feature (Haubstadt) and needed a west coast provisional to accomplish that.  Provisionals also aided Taylor (1) and Roa (2) but Brody actually impressed with a Bloomington blast up to 12th.  

Josh Ford Motorsports didn’t make it out this year, but their crew chief Jimmy May did, calling shots and maintaining a Spike chassis with ex-Rico Abreu Shaver power for Kevin Thomas, Jr.  Despite feeling far from alive the Sunday before Sprint Week, he decided to make a go of it anyway, painfully trudging through the entire nine day grind with some sort of stomach ailment.  Kokomo (leading five laps and finishing 6th) and Putnamville (up as high as 2nd) were Sprint Week highlights for May and Thomas. 

Indiana Sprint Week might be all about feeling alive, but for a vast majority of competitors there are far more opportunities to feel less than stellar.    One such example was Jeff Bland, Jr.  Five times he’s been a winner with the Burton family this season, but his series started less than ideal after tumbling over the turn two bank during the Gas City B.  Losing his vision for about 30 minutes after the incident (which severely bent his left side head rest), he was examined in nearby Marion where X-rays revealed nothing serious.   Despite a sore neck and some serious bruising on his knee and lower regions, Bland aided the Burtons in constructing a new car on Saturday and Sunday.  Putting the new piece in the show at Putnamville, unfortunately an errant wheel launched him end over end to the Indiana Stone Works billboard in turn three.  Somehow returning for Bloomington in yet another car and qualifying 8th, following a fifth place heat race run they were done for the week. 

Getting Dirty – Thomas Meseraull shined with an impressive third place performance at Putnamville

Bland’s buddy Brady Short had every reason to feel alive after starting with charges of 18th to 12th at Gas City, 22nd to 13th at Kokomo, and 9th to 5th at Terre Haute, but a Putnamville B-main blunder with Carson Short spoiled his Sprint Week momentum, popping a provisional and elevating from 24th to 6th.  Bad luck continued to bite Sweet Feet, who biked in his Bloomington heat and barrel rolled four or five times over the turn one bank.  Miraculously getting his Pottorff-Short ride repaired in time for the B, he exited prematurely and ended his week one day early.      

Always good for some hammer-down highlights, unfortunately Daron Clayton's Sprint Week was nothing to write home about.  Unable to crack Gas City's A in Hank Byram's Mach 1, he took 22nd at Kokomo but blew up in a big way during the Terre Haute B, creating a dramatic fireball that was caught by many cameras.  Reportedly done for the year in the 3R, Clayton moved to Mike Terry’s Maxim for Putnamville but scratched after qualifying, returning for Haubstadt in his familiar yellow Spike.  Charging from 10th to 5th, as usual Daron put on a show but he needed more laps or cautions to contend for the win.   

Mad Max – Shown at work in Terre Haute, Max McGhee saved his best Sprint Week performance for last in Haubstadt

A.J. Hopkins only took part in two shows but literally went out with a bang in both.  In the Gas City B, he exited early after punching two holes through the side of his engine block.  Even more dramatic in Putnamville qualifying, he bicycled into a humongous flip through turns three and four after setting fifth quick time on the first lap.  Tumbling all the way to the photographer’s tower in four, one such photog who was sent scrambling into the woods was Sean Buckley.  Damaging both engine and car in one week, such a double-whammy is never good. 

Speaking of that double-whammy, Tracy Hines suffered such unkind fate in one night at Bloomington.  Encountering a power failure during intense heat race combat with Brent Beauchamp, the two of them flew over the turn three bank, seeing Beauchamp gain big air but somehow landing his Olson 34 upright.  After employing a backup car to begin B-town's feature via a provisional, Hines inverted on the back stretch, adding further insult to injury.  Beginning with a promising fourth at Gas City, Tracy tallied disappointing finishes of 16th, 8th, 11th, 22nd, and 19th.  His older brother’s Sprint Week lasted just three races, as Ted lost his steering and slammed head-on into turn four Lawrenceburg concrete.  That's the second time this season the three-time Speedrome champ has endured sudden stoppage in Lawrenceburg USAC action, having stuck a landing after an ugly flip in early April. 

Filled with as many chills as thrills, Sprint Week was stacked with all kinds of calamity.  Looking sharp with a special fighter plane wrap on his Mount Baker Vapor DRC, Landon Simon appeared for the first four events but was ready for lift off after scaling Dave Darland’s wheel in a Terre Haute heat.  Upon returning to Earth, he permanently rearranged the chassis and was forced to call it a week. Nathan Moore mauled his Maxim after meeting Bloomington’s infamous turn four earth embankment, breaking out his Wolf Weld to finish the series in Haubstadt.  Appearing for the first four shows, skipping LPS and B-town, but returning for Haubstadt, Shane Cockrum’s highlight was a seventh at Gas City.  His lowlights:  inverting Shane Wade’s new Maxim at Kokomo and the Hut.  Qualifying an impressive fourth at Kokomo, after popping a Bloomington provisional Tyler Courtney was yet another who found disfavor with the turn one cushion, wildly flipping the Pollock 21 over the bank late in the feature.  

Mecca – Bonge’s Tavern is the ultimate destination for outstanding atmosphere and awesome cuisine

Appearing at just three Sprint Week stops, Elizabethtown’s Dakota Jackson had an equally disappointing week as the aforementioned chauffeurs.  Suffering push rod issues at Gas City and believing he had it fixed for Putnamville, his Bill Tranter Chevy still wasn’t right, unable to escape the B at Lincoln Park or Bloomington.  One of just a few who campaigns a Keith Kunz Bullet Chassis and living just minutes from Keith’s shop, often times Dakota aids the midget maestro, most notably in Chili Bowl crunch time this past winter when Kunz crafted all-new cars and didn’t have nearly enough hands to finish the massive project.  A veteran of sprint cars since he was 13, come August 29th Jackson heads to Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology to embark on a mechanical engineering degree, hoping to transform his world-class education into an Indycar engineering position.   

Digging through the notebook for random highlights from each round, starting at Gas City Josh Spencer (6th), Richard Vander Weerd (7th) and Max McGhee (10th) enjoyed outstanding qualification efforts.  After timing at the opposite end of the spectrum (37th), Shane Cottle’s C to B to A alphabet soup proved to be quite tasty, surging from 17th to 5th in that B-main blast.  Had he not tangled with Mark Smith and Scotty Weir, a top-ten feature finish could have easily resulted for The Throttle, who had a disappointing Sprint Week after just two top-tens.  Hats off to part-timer Jimmy Light, who digested ninth from 15th in “Gastronomical City”.  While walking the I-69 pits, I enjoyed reminiscing with former sprint car combatant “Nuclear” Nick Corea and the world famous Jackie Dean of Frankfort – both blasts from the past.  A special shout out goes to Lafayette’s Joe Higdon, who not only saved me a seat in the jam-packed pit stands on this evening, but also two nights later at The Burg.  Sharing similar passions for sprint car racing and bygone railroads, we were apparently speaking too loudly as we got “shushed” by some lady in front of us.  Imagine that – too loud at a racetrack!  Gas City’s sprint car checkered came at 11:20 PM.

Mid-Air – Jeff Bland, Jr.’s Gas City heat race launch offered an ugly preview of things to come

With often one support class (most commonly modifieds) and sometimes two supplanting Indiana Sprint Week, the most entertaining support division was Kokomo’s lone offering of MTQRL TQ midgets.  If this were a perfect world and I were king, I’d abolish all Sprint Week support classes.  But, if there has to be one, it might as well be TQs, keeping it all open wheel.  Kokomo Sprint Week heat races are usually the most intense and one of the four truly made an impression, eyeing five successful slide jobs between Thomas Meseraull and Chad Boespflug for the final transfer.  Kokomo’s B had tight packs for first through third and fourth through sixth, but seventh place Josh Spencer wasn’t close enough to mount a threat.  Watching the action with “Terre Haute” Rob Botts for the first time in ages, Kokomo’s sprint car conclusion came at an efficient 10:12 PM, the third earliest of the week behind Putnamville (10:07) and Haubstadt (10:08), although for those of us living in the Eastern time zone, it was really 11:08. 

With sticky and stormy weather surrounding Lawrenceburg Speedway, even though the sun was shining bright it still poured rain about a third of the way through the qualifying line.  Unusually tacky around the bottom, Chase Briscoe was the first to find the fast line while Tracy Hines miraculously saved a huge bike but recovered to time sixth.  Three heats were completed when the rain returned for good, waiting a couple of hours underneath the grandstand before the plug was finally pulled.  Meeting guys like Atascadero, California’s Randy Wright and Canton, Ohio’s Marty Reilly, it made the downtime a little more plausible, but rain delays are rarely ideal, especially during my zenith. 

Opening Night – Gas City’s standing room only crowd offers its salute at the Sprint Week opener

A pre-race Terre Haute pit walk encountered old-school competitors Eric Burns and Brian Hayden.  As an ex-Lincoln Park and Haubstadt track champ in 2000, many may forget that Burns came oh-so-close to winning the Tony Hulman Classic here in 2001 but tonight, instead of watching from the infield he decided to exercise Bill Gasway’s former Hud Cone Stealth that dated back to the mid-to-late 1990s.  With a steel block modified 355 engine supplying power, I can’t imagine anyone would have considered him a threat to make the main event, but if you followed Eric through the years, you’d know that he can cobble a car from throwaway parts and actually be very competitive.  Here to have fun in his first Sprint Week appearance since 2002, Burns had help from Doug Rolison, the owner of the car that he drove to the second King of Non-Wing Putnamville feature win last September. 

Speaking of Hayden, he and I turned the clock back to 1995, the first time he claimed an LPS sprint car title and the year that he nearly beat Terre Haute ace Jack Hewitt at the Jim Hurtubise Classic.  Further rewinding to 1993, we laughed about an incident at Kokomo when Jack took out his front end, perturbing Brian enough that he stood at the edge of the track and flipped him the bird.  Immediately afterwards, Jack barked, “Go ahead and hit me big boy!”  Not wishing to spoil his status as a three night a week racer, Hayden surprisingly held back.  Once enemies, the two eventually became friends in their Bill Biddle tenure of 1998.  Cut from the same mold of characters who have no filter and are willing to settle matters with their fists, Brian’s KMD Motorsports name comes directly from Hewitt’s irate Macon, Illinois interview from August of 1996, confirming that KMD stands for Kiss My (you know what).  Racing extremely hard for that final Terre Haute feature transfer in the B, Hayden successfully held off Brandon Mattox.  An old school breath of fresh air, I’ve said it many times but I’ll say it again:  sprint car racing needs more people like Brian Hayden. 

Packed House – Huge crowds like this one in Kokomo were par for the course for Indiana Sprint Week

Enjoying the sights and sounds underneath the Action Track front stretch roof with Sullivan, Illinois visitor Wendell Smith and my nephew, Terre Haute’s checkered flag fell on Bryan Clauson at 10:33 PM, amazing that this was his 61st USAC national triumph.  Where the hell have the last ten years gone? 

How about Putnamville’s humongous cushion, especially in corner four where a sprint car could be swallowed whole!  Yes, I call that old-school Putnamville curb service.  Hot and heavy heat one action for the final transfer between Chris Windom and Brady Bacon was certainly Sprint Week worthy, wishing that this year’s series was filled with this level of intensity.  The two traded fourth place twice in the final lap, with Chris stuffing it in under Brady in turn three, forcing the Hoffman 69 up the track and to the B-main. 

With former NASCAR competitors Kenny Wallace and David Stremme here to race their modifieds, I was intrigued by Kenny’s not-so-tall trailer that tightly stacked two modifieds on top of one another.  Signing autographs and selling reasonably priced ($20) t-shirts in the concrete concourse during sprint car activities, later on Wallace easily claimed the mod feature.  Interviewed on the front stretch, he was his usual boisterous self but actually made some extremely valid points in his rant, earning a huge round of applause from yours truly when he advised:  “Love your sport.  Quit bitching and moaning on the internet.  Go home and brag to people about how much fun you had at Putnamville tonight.”  Bravo Kenny.   

Happy Family – Kokomo was a big night for the Darlands, as Dave set a new one-lap record and claimed a thrilling feature win over Justin Grant

Continuing our Bloomington tradition of devouring a full Stromboli at Nick’s English Hut, Steve and I shared beverages and stories with an enthusiastic group of Australians, namely Adrian Densley, Greg Densley, Andrew Chivell, and Lafond’s pal Daniel Beard (photographer for website  Nick’s ran a little long, making me sweat the prospect of finding a solid grandstand seat.  With less than an hour to spare before hot laps started, I hustled to lay down a blanket six rows from the bottom of turn four.  In the process, I bumped into Stephen Cording, who again enjoyed the festivities with Ailsa Haigh.  Coming from across the pond (England), Stephen makes at least two trips a year to the States, mentioning how he enjoyed his Sprint Week off days in a Brown County cabin.   Advising that John Lawn and Jenny Baker were also here from England, he noted that a man from Germany was absorbing the week as well.     

Joined by my nephew and Matt Pedersen, Matt was extremely vocal regarding his admiration of the tallest cushion Bloomington has built in several years, throwing so many for a loop in turn one.  I was thrilled by the ten second qualifying laps, pleasantly surprised by solid top-five qualifying performances from Jarett Andretti, Chase Briscoe, and C.J. Leary, the second time C.J. timed inside of the top-ten this week.  Happy to bump into former Kokomo resident “Coach” Randy Moss at the bottom of the hill, Bloomington’s checkered flag dropped at 10:33 PM. 

Aiming for the finale that comes in the southwest corner of the state, in order to make a stop in Washington for a butterscotch shake at Mason’s Root Beer stand, I took my usual path of state roads 67 to 57 that actually parallels the new Interstate 69 near Elnora.  Using 69 on the return ride, in the process of following a foggy state road 45 back to Bloomington, I can’t tell you how eerie it was to see such blindingly bright lights of I-69 construction at 1 AM on a Sunday morning.  Pleased by Haubstadt’s car count of 36, guys like Max McGhee (winning heat two) and Logan Jarrett (scratching after qualifying) made their first trips here.  Able to walk the track after the feature was over, Danny and I were amazed at the amount of mulch that is embedded into the Tri-State surface.  Stacking the dark dirt nearly five feet high on both ends of the paperclip, it’s too bad the racing line was mostly through the middle and bottom lanes. 

He’s Alive – After his recent struggles in the USAC ranks, Robert Ballou proved that he was more than alive during Indiana Sprint Week

Becoming a broken record for mentioning how much I enjoy this week, while feeling so alive I couldn’t help but feel a little less than such when reading the shocking news of Gary Lee’s passing on the Monday night of Sprint Week.  Everybody instantly associates Gary with ESPN’s Thunder Series that showcased USAC racing to the world, as he and Larry Rice teamed to become one of the best play-by-play and color combinations in all of auto racing.  My recollections also include his work as the sportscaster for Channel 4’s nightly news in the early 1980s, also lending his voice to the IMS Radio Network and ESPN International’s replay of Indycar events in the 1990s and early 2000s.  Having driven sprint cars and midgets and owning a go-kart venue in Whiteland, Gary certainly knew what he was talking about when it came to racing, as there were few in the television industry who oozed more passion.  However, whenever the name Gary Lee comes to mind, I envision those trips to the Indiana State Fairgrounds, Springfield, and DuQuoin, hearing his booming voice over the loudspeaker, hanging on his every word at such iconic Silver Crown events.  To me, his name is instantly synonymous with a time when the United States Auto Club was at its peak, playing a vital role in developing my most cherished racing memories.  Dr. Pat Sullivan gave a great tribute before the Putnamville Sprint Week contest that made me pause to reflect, wishing that I would have thanked him for his immeasurable contributions to making this sport so much more enjoyable.  Gone far too soon, he will indeed be missed.   

Just two weeks later, we lost longtime Brian Hayden sprint car crew member and Indiana Open Wheel creator Bill Gardner, finally succumbing to his lengthy battle with cancer.  At Terre Haute, Hayden was quite frank in his assessment of Gardner’s condition, commenting on the insufferable pain Bill had been enduring of late and the dim prospects of eliminating it.  At no point do we want any of our friends or loved ones to leave this world, but just like with my mother and the cancer that ravaged her body and ruined her quality of life, my only solace is that Bill no longer has to suffer.  Naturally, everyone in the wingless sprint car community has been morning Gardner’s passing, as his passion for sprint car racing and unselfish desire to unite thousands of people has made a huge impact.  Leaving a legacy much larger than the creation of an internet message board, his refusal to give up in the fight for life offers endless inspiration, as I have not encountered anyone who handled the ups and downs of such a battle better than he.  I often wonder why people must suffer so much but as hard as I rack my brain for an answer, it will never come.  However, crossing paths with people like Bill Gardner reminds me that regardless of the adversity, life is always worth living.         

I’m Alive – That smile tells the story, as I was thoroughly enjoying Terre Haute festivities with friend Wendell Smith

Trying to end this article on a much higher note, I click on iTunes and open up "I'm Alive", originally a 1965 number one hit in the UK for The Hollies that was remade in 1979 by Ronnie Montrose and his band Gamma.  Recently introduced to this tune on my Sprint Week tour, I was reminded:  “Now I can breathe, I can see, I can touch, I can feel.  I’ve never felt like this…I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive.”

Serving as the primary inspiration for encapsulating my zenith, there is no better time to appreciate being above ground than this nine day span.  Joined in this jubilation by photographer and close friend Steve Lafond, even though Steve was under the weather with an irritating cold for most of this period, both of us could breathe, see, touch, and feel better than we have all year long.  Tasting and eating should have also been included in the song’s lyrics, as this world-class assembly of sprint car contests contained an equally world-class tour of eateries, sampling my all-time favorite Bonge’s Tavern not just once but twice, squeezing in some epic stops at North End Barbeque and Moonshine, The Pint Room, Café Patachou (where Tony George sat within earshot), Bluebeard, Northside Kitchenette, Nick’s English Hut, The Local, and of course, Bub’s Café for the final meal before we went our tearful separate ways.  Of course it could go without saying that we had a great time.  And yes, we will do it all over again one year from now. 

For the dirt track venues that participated, for drivers like Bryan Clauson, for teams like Tony Stewart Racing, and for fans who traveled from all over the world, Indiana Sprint Week is THE prime time to feel alive and truly savor all of the best things in life.  Seven races in nine nights might seem like a lengthy and exhausting grind, especially for those who work on racecars or spend all waking hours of the night doctoring photos, but for those of us who are lucky enough to treat this as a welcomed respite from reality, it is not nearly enough time to acknowledge its positive effects before the sands have already slipped to the bottom of the hourglass.  Thankfully, there is always next year to look forward to feeling alive once again but until that time comes, we’ll just have to make do with whatever tiny treasures come our way. 

More Photos............

Jam It In – Chris Windom led Sprint Week points for the majority of the series, but a Putnamville punt removed him from championship contention

Tradition – Shooting from the turn one tower in Terre Haute, this may be sprint car racing’s most traditional vantage point

Tough Start – California’s Richard Vander Weerd fired from third at Gas City but bicycled fairly early

T-Mez – Shown backing it in at Gas City, Thomas Meseraull made four Sprint Week features in five outings

The Legend – Tending to his famed 57, Paul Hazen and his pilot Chad Boespflug produced a pair of top-ten finishes in five starts

The Champ – Bryan Clauson came on strong in the second half of Sprint Week, taking two wins, a second, and a fourth

Sweet Feet – Lifting the left rear in Lawrenceburg, Brady Short scored two top-ten Sprint Week finishes

Sunshine – On the hammer at The Hut, Tyler Courtney’s fourth-quick qualifying performance in Kokomo served as his Sprint Week highlight

Silent Gasser – Winning the Gas City opener and taking third in the Haubstadt closer, Jon Stanbrough wound up fifth in points

Showtime – Chase Stockon’s Indiana Sprint Week didn’t go as planned, claiming ninth in points

Rough Ride – Brady Short’s Bloomington barrel rolls served as an evil twist of fate for the four-time track champ

Pleasant Surprise – Bonge’s Tavern greeter Angie Fine poses with Steve Lafond, showing us the surprise dessert of the evening: dump cake!

White River – Whether it’s on the way to the races or Bonge’s Tavern, anytime this body of water is crossed, good things are bound to happen

Wheel to Wheel – Claiming second and third in the opening two rounds, Justin Grant and Chris Windom were literally inseparable

Looking Good – Jarett Andretti’s Sprint Week highlight was his third-quick qualifying run in Bloomington

K-town - Kevin Thomas, Jr. and Dave Darland display typical Kokomo feature action

KT – Making all six features, Kevin Thomas, Jr.’s best finish was a sixth at Kokomo


Volume 16, Number 8




“There are seven days in the week.  Someday is not one of them.”


This was the somewhat sarcastic note that was recently tacked to a co-worker’s cubicle wall, referring to the fact that we’re always short on time, putting off lengthy projects until someday when we hope to have a proper amount of hours to devote to them.  As this particular co-worker has experienced, someday might as well be never.  A great reminder to be opportunistic and efficient, the moral of the story is that if a task needs to get done, there’s no time like the present.


Sprint car racers are the ultimate examples of opportunistic individuals, never concerned with the notion of yesterday or “someday”, solely focused on the here and now.  Hardcore examples of living life to its fullest, as my 1990s Jimmy Sills t-shirts stated:  Life is short.  Race hard. 


Since joining the sprint car ranks as a teenager in 1982, Dave Darland has never waited for someday to get things done.  Less than ten years into his career and competing against many who had twice or three times the amount of experience, he started making some serious noise with a 19 win season in 1991.  Moving from the local to USAC ranks, he eventually became a champion in each of their top level divisions but despite such consistent success, career advancement was never a real option.  Pouring some salt in the proverbial wound, a recent ARCA opportunity for Daytona actually resulted in a test around the famed 2.5 mile tri-oval, but when push came to shove, the money required to race never materialized.  Now 47 years of age, trying to keep up with the kids becomes more difficult with each passing season, not to mention finding and keeping rides.  The fact that he's a full-time racer makes him an endangered species, so tough to survive and support a family from such meager income, thus requiring consistent wins and podium placements.  


His recent score at Bloomington’s Sheldon Kinser Memorial (June 27th) served as a reminder of just how hard he is willing to work for his money.  Like a predator in the wilderness just waiting to pounce on its next victim, Darland doesn’t think about tomorrow, seizing and taking every advantage when they become available.  After qualifying quickest in his timed practice session, he would win his heat from fourth, gaining a gift when front row starters Jordan Kinser and Ethan Barrow tumbled over the turn one bank.  Redrawing the pole position for the forty lap feature, Dave again got a lucky break after pushing through turn one slop at the start, slipping over the bank and dropping to mid-pack.  However, an immediate Brandon Mattox spin awarded him a mulligan, getting it right on the second attempt as he beat Hunter Schuerenberg to the top of turn one.  The rest, as they say, was history, as he led all forty laps to take the $3,000 first place prize.  His second win in this 26th annual event, the first came back in 1997. 


Outrunning Bloomington bad-ass Brady Short, Jeff Bland, Jr. (who hustled from 17th to 3rd), Jon Stanbrough (going from 10th to 4th), and Shane Cottle, it wasn’t easy for the Hoosier legend.  After a pair of early cautions for Casey Shuman and Hunter Schuerenberg and a wicked red for Dalten Gabbard, the last 35 laps went all green, a taxing workout as the red clay was still tacky from an extensive pre-hot lap shower.  Darland huffed and puffed as he told Kimb Stewart what it was like to constantly work lapped traffic and keep Short behind him. 


Such heavy feature surface conditions, where clay was consistently tossed skyward, are a rarity these days, a far cry from the mid-to-late 1980s when it was the weekly norm.  Much like Darland, afterwards engines were breathing heavy as well, as it was literally wide open for forty tours.  Can you say bad ass? 


Attending all but two of these memorials since its 1989 inception, this year’s feature purse was $11,225.  Offering $3,000 to win and $200 to start, the original formula from 25 years ago paid $300 to start, plus it was interesting to note that  the following week’s Fourth of July feature actually paid out $1,400 more.  Remembering that 1989 version that attracted nearly 60 cars, I was naturally disappointed by the slightly low turnout of 27.  With Gas City serving as direct competition for cars (they actually attracted the same amount), the gentleman’s agreement that existed for this show between Gas City’s Jiggs Thomason and Bloomington’s Mike Miles was clearly no longer in effect due to the turnover in operators.    


Bumping into former sprint car engine builder Ben Snyder in the pre-race pit area, I sat with the Cummins engineer for the entire evening and had a blast, reminiscing about the past and catching him up with the present, as Ben has only attended a handful of events in the last eleven years, successfully completing his mechanical engineering degree after going back to school. 


The fact that the entire evening even happened was a huge bonus, as after the rain subsided track operator Danny Roberts could have easily pulled the plug when noticing just how empty the grandstands were at 6:30 PM, a decision that could have been just as easy given the lower than normal sprint car count.  However, to Danny’s credit and his track crew, they pressed on regardless and quickly worked the surface into shape, starting heat races an hour later than normal.  A decent crowd did come out, treated to an old-school, high-speed endurance contest filled with thrills, chills, and spills.  However, it’s hard to imagine that the attendance was enough to pay the added purse, handing it to all operators who are willing to roll the dice on a consistent basis. 


The old-school surface gave rise to some old-school incidents, the first being that double-flip in heat one that swallowed Jordan Kinser and Ethan Barrow, the latter having direct relation to the race’s namesake.  Precipitated when lapper Jordan Blanton pushed up the track after hitting the bottom-side slop in turn one, Kinser climbed a right rear first and flipped all the way to the fence.  Barrow did what he could to avoid Darland and flew off the top of turn one, going for an even bigger ride than Kinser. Reminiscent of Robbie Rice’s 1999 tumble to the parking lot, luckily both drivers were ok but both were done for the evening.  


In heat two, sixteen year-old Ethan Fleetwood was also reminded what the turn four earth embankment can do to a sprint car chassis, an expensive lesson that essentially killed a car. Ethan was also ok, but all he could do afterwards was look at his mangled machine in disgust. 


Scratching the B due to the aforementioned incidents, feature action was a bit calmer than those first two heats, but only after the red flag for Kenny Baldwin’s Dalten Gabbard, who was slated to start in the first eight positions but was penalized for a muffler infraction.  After the second caution, Dalten was up to seventh but scaled Nick Bilbee’s left rear and went for the ride of a lifetime.  With eyes focused on the front of the field, all of a sudden an orange blur soared into sight, shedding parts and performing as many as four or five wickedly quick snap rolls before landing in the grass outside of turn three. Reminiscent of Danny Holtsclaw’s 2003 accident that broke his neck, the fact that Gabbard immediately popped through the roll cage might just have been a miracle.  Without question one of the worst crashes I’ve seen here since becoming a regular attendee in 1987, these things can indeed bite in a big way.   


Skipping the long haul to Haubstadt for POWRi midgets and MSCS sprints in favor of another epic meal at downtown Indy’s Bluebeard, I waited for the final Sunday night of June to achieve my usual Kokomo sprint car satisfaction.  Just a short 45-50 minute stress-free stroll from my Carmel abode combined with the efficiency of an early exit (this night was 9:08), Sunday nights are simply no-brainers.  As Sean Buckley has tweeted so many times, “GYATK” (get your ass to Kokomo) is something I advocate as well, fearful of what I might miss each week. 


Twenty-four sprinters represented this standard showing, with Shane Cottle (Walker 11), Casey Shuman (Elson 27), Hunter Schuerenberg, and Columbus charger Joss Moffatt acting as deviations from the norm.  Beginning calmly with three timed hot lap sessions (Max McGhee was fastest of all at 13.380), two of the three heats were taken by pole sitters Scotty Weir and Jerry Coons, Jr., with young McGhee impressively manufacturing a win from fourth in the final fling.  A nine-car B-main sent five more to the A, highlighted by a cutthroat Moffatt slide job on Canadian sprint car rookie Lee Dakus through turns one and two. Showing distinct signs of improvement, Dakus did not flinch and climbed concrete, winding up on his lid.  In its tenth season of Kokomo reconfiguration, the term “Kokomo slide job” is now synonymous with the all-too-common “Eldora slide job”.  Say what you will, but “slide or be slid” has become a Sunday night mindset for most serious racers.      


On a three race win streak with his driver Chad Boespflug (Putnamville, Plymouth, and Gas City), I spent a few minutes with Paul Hazen prior to heat race action.  Paul might not be a numbers guy, but he thought it was kind of cool that he was 75 years of age at the start of his 57th season of competition, flip-flopping the numbers that also reside on his tail tank.  Now 76, he is another example of sprint car racing’s refusal to wait for someday to achieve ultimate satisfaction, especially after admitting as to how much pain he’s currently suffering with his left hip, which is a bone-to-bone situation that will require surgery in the off-season.  Breaking his ankle after falling from the top of his trailer towards the end of the 2013 campaign, he’s currently surviving the season on pain pills and injections from doctor and sponsor Dave Stensland, Jr. (of Fort Wayne’s Physical Medicine Consultants).  Commenting further, Hazen opened up by stating, “It doesn’t hurt quite as bad when we’re winning.  If you keep winning every now and then, it keeps the blood flowing.  But, as I’ve always said, racing is worse than drugs. You can get help for a drug addiction, but until you go broke, there is no cure for a racing addiction.”  Winning five times thus far in 2014, Hazen and Boespflug will boldly make a full attempt at Indiana Sprint Week, even bolder when considering how little help the team will have at the track.    


As is usually the case for Kokomo Sundays, everything comes to a head in the 25-lap finale.  Beginning Max McGhee and Jerry Coons, Jr. from front row seats, Jerry drew first blood, but it was McGhee who would officially lead lap one.  By turn two, the familiar red number ten was again out front but immediately behind a three car congregation for third saw the position swapped three times in just two tours, involving Logan Jarrett, Scotty Weir, and Shane Cottle.  After taking off from tenth, Saturday Haubstadt victor Robert Ballou bicycled into a flip in turns three and four, putting the usual Kokomo intensity on pause. 


Sweeping outside of Coons on the backstretch, McGhee snagged the lead for a brief instant but slipped sideways in corner four, thus opening the door for another exchange.  Max continued to keep pace with the USAC triple crown champ until a lap nine spin for Garrett Miller.  Just six laps later, Miller spun again and eliminated the large lead that Coons had constructed. 


Restacking a front-five deck containing Coons, McGhee, Cottle, Schuerenberg, and Clauson, The Bullet began his forward march, bombarding the bottom to sneak past Schuerenberg and threaten Cottle for third.  With just five laps left, Bryan’s bottom feeding shot him to second.  Cutting into the Coons advantage with every lap, at the two-to-go signal Clauson actually inched ahead as he exited the second bend.  Once amber bulbs illuminated for a Chris Gurley spin, this fueled the fire for even more Sunday night drama. 


Deviating from his race-long top groove, once back to green Jerry pointed to the bottom of turn one.  However, Bryan showed just how low one can go at Kokomo, surging forward at the exit of turn two to steal both the lead and win, his second of the sprint car season here.  Coons had to settle for an unsavory second, with Chad Boespflug elevating to third from 11th.  McGhee mastered fourth in his best Kokomo performance to date, with Cottle completing the first five.  Weir, Schuerenberg, Dave Darland (from 14th), Kyle Robbins, and Logan Jarrett secured sixth through tenth. 


Similar to Darland, Bryan Clauson is yet another open wheel warrior who has no time to dwell on previous attempts at furthering his career.  Having already made a favorable impression in both NASCAR and Indycar, the fact that he’s still slinging clay at Kokomo on Sunday nights highlights just how screwed up big-time motorsports is, which concerns itself with money and marketability rather than talent.  


Wasting no time wondering about his future in racing, he’s already lined up a deal with Jonathan Byrd Racing for next year’s Indy 500.  Having competed eight times in 2014 for the Buffalo Wild Wings winged sprint car team belonging to Sioux Falls, South Dakota’s Todd and Susan LaHaise, he discussed the potential for becoming even further entrenched in the winged wars next season.  Let’s face it, for a full-time racer like Clauson, it only makes sense to migrate to where the money is.  Winged start number nine was to have come the previous evening in Knoxville, Iowa if not for rain, so he’ll return to the sprint car capital of the world on July 26th, his second-to-last opportunity to prep for his second Knoxville Nationals.  With no time to wait for someday when he might get another call from a NASCAR owner, for now he lives the dream of racing anytime and anywhere.  But at the same time, he’s also pouring his future foundation.      


Moving forward to Thursday, July 3rd, I was able to exit employment at 5:30 PM for a three day holiday weekend.  However, such frustrating lane restrictions for U.S. 31 construction around Westfield nixed any chance to catch the first session of Kokomo Speedway hot laps.  Lucky to make it to my happy place in one piece, evasive action was required to avoid rear-ending a Subaru near 196st street.  There’s nothing like nearly swallowing one’s heart to be reminded that maybe, just maybe, someone is looking out for me. 


This special Thursday night soiree kicked off an unusually busy weekend that precedes the Hoosier state’s most intense period of sprint car combat.  Corralling some 26 contestants, this negates the notion that sprint car racers are willing to conserve resources, energy, and equipment in anticipation of someday (otherwise known as Sprint Week).  Just four nights after the previous Kokomo contest, USAC regulars C.J. Leary and Chase Stockon served as added bonuses to the usual stout cast of characters. 


Missing all but the final session of hot laps/qualifying, that final group had Jerry Coons, Jr. stopping the clocks at 13.009 seconds, best of evening in the hometown backed Crume-Evans Insurance/RG Enterprises Spike.  Leary (from 1st), Cottle (from fourth in the Walker wagon), and Clauson (from second in the family sled) tallied heat triumphs, the hardest charger being Logan Jarrett, who was initially clipped by a bobbling Dave Darland and spun to a stop.  Restarting from the rear, he blew by a trio to steal the final transfer.   


Just like Sunday, the B-main began to bubble with intensity after an upside down excursion from Garrett Miller and a ragged ride by Dalten Gabbard, his first race back from a wicked spill over Bloomington's banks.  Having his hands full with a completely different car for Kenny Baldwin, Dalten spun and later connected with Adam Cruea in a failed attempt to earn a feature berth. 


With a packed grandstand (and parking lot) primarily here for pyrotechnics, those inside the gates surely picked their feature favorite from the first five rows of Grant, Leary, Cottle, Stockon, Coons, Clauson, Darland, and Boespflug.  Taking the green shortly after 9:20, Kyle Robbins and Brandon Mattox (his first-ever Kokomo appearance) touched wheels and ignited their own fireworks, sending “The Tall Cool One” (Chris Gurley) skyward. 


The first seven circuits served as a Cliff Notes version of the 25-lap finale, as Justin Grant and Shane Cottle traded the top spot twice before a lap seven spill spoiled Josh Spencer’s 29th birthday.  Flipping his red, white, and blue Half Moon Brewery and Restaurant machine all the way to the turn one fence and zinging his brand new Ott/Rider/Claxton engine in the process, thankfully his Spike chassis took the abuse as opposed to his body and brain.  To help get him back on track, on the return home I stopped at Chris Roegner’s Half Moon for a late night feast with both of my nephews, catching Knoxville sprint cars and Oswego supers on MAV TV.


Prior to Josh’s nasty spill, Dave Darland had scaled the large ledge that existed in turns one and two, soon pulling to the infield and putting his track championship hopes in jeopardy.  Compared to his early season outings in the Stensland 41, Dave’s last three local Kokomo contests have oddly been sub-par.       


After Spencer’s red, Cottle collected first thanks to a low side launch underneath Grant through three and four, up front at the feature’s crossed flags.  With ten to go, Justin sampled the turn three cushion with his right rear, diamonding three and four to chop Shane’s lead in half. 


With low-riding Lee Dakus serving as a backstretch pick on Cottle, Grant was able to gather P1 with an outside sweep, scooting away with six laps left.  Shane was able to stay close with some solid tours through three and four, but one and two was an issue.  Cottle inched even closer as the white flag waved, but more lapped traffic lurked around the bottom and prevented a last lap surprise.  Grant parked Mark Hery’s DRC/Claxton in Kokomo’s victory lane for the second time in 2014, leading a top-five of Cottle, Coons, Clauson, and Stockon.  Weir, Boespflug, Leary, Shuman, and Jarrett were paid for positions six through ten.      


For the second year in a row, my Fourth of July was spent sitting in a lawn chair in downtown Putnamville, Indiana, sans fireworks as the United States Auto Club’s final Sprint Week tune up offered an intimate preview of the forthcoming marathon.  A rare Friday night offering at this traditional Saturday night stop, the slim car count of 24 was a direct result of going head to head with Bloomington’s $2,000 to win/$500 to start spectacular that actually offered the big boomers. B-town boasted a vast majority of Lincoln Park locals including winner Brady Short, Jeff Bland, Jr., and newlywed Dickie Gaines, who hustled from 12th to 3rd in the Pedersen 4.     


Walking up the gravel drive and encountering long-time sprint car supporters Roger and Barb Tapy, they exited a fully decked out Chevy HHR that wore vinyl decals advertising their new venture:  Customized Service Trucks.  As you may remember, Roger sold his Trucker’s 24-Hour Service business back in October of 2010, immediately signing a three year contract to help ease the transition of power.  However, he and the new management parted ways in January of this year and needing something to occupy his time, Roger’s new deal fabricates, outfits, and sells service trucks, just like the ones he used to employ at Trucker’s 24-Hour.  Putnamville USAC would be Roger and Barb’s second sprint car outing of 2014, as family and business have certainly kept them busy this year. 


Cutting ties with sprint car ownership after selling the business, the Tapys still stay involved by supporting Dave Darland and Hunter Schuerenberg, also awarding a new right rear tire to a random feature finisher from positions 11 through 20 on each night of Indiana Sprint Week.  Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on sprint car racing since becoming the owner of Jim Whiteside’s machine back in 2001, Roger and Barb are sprint car loyalists who refuse to wait for someday to give back to the sport that they adore so dearly. 


The Tapys have employed quite a few sprint car chauffeurs in their time, many of them competing on this gorgeous Friday evening that featured such perfect, humidity-free weather.  One of them was Jerry Coons, Jr., a Putnamville sprint car producer for the Truckers team in August of 2002.  Fast forwarding to July of 2014, after top-six time trialers Max McGhee and Jon Stanbrough failed to transfer through their heat, eighth-quick Coons earned the right to propel from the pole position in Monte Edison’s red rocket.  Yielding first place to Lincoln Park legend Dave Darland for one lap and working overtime to keep a smoking Bryan Clauson in his wake (Bryan actually led lap 26), this would be Jerry’s 15th career USAC sprint car triumph, number four in USAC circles for car owner Edison.  A reversal of fortune after losing late to Clauson in Kokomo on June 29th, it was a feel-good night for the savvy veteran, as a large contingent of in-laws (who hail from nearby Greencastle) and Edison’s number one sponsor (Sherry Evans-Hord) were on-hand to catch the action.


Entering the evening as USAC’s point leader, Brady Bacon spun early and recovered to take 13th, seeing his 48 point lead shrivel to just 29.  While operating second, Darland blew a golden opportunity to capitalize after half-spinning in turn two.  Killing his engine in the slip-up, a huge stroke of luck had Chris Phillips rap the rear of the Phillips 71, restarting its Foxco engine and allowing for a fifth place finish.      


Comparable to its Midget Week surface, Putnamville’s paperclip was heavy on the bottom for the fourth of July, serving as the preferred lane for both Coons and Clauson.  Having his hands full with the former Noblesville Miller, Jerry was nearly perfect in his pursuit of the checkered, making just one wrong move in traffic.   However, Clauson’s low lane was immediately clogged by lappers in one and two, allowing Coons to circle BC and seal the win.  With the ode of fried Chevrolet quite prominent, both C.J. Leary and Shane Cottle were able to get around the heavily smoking Clauson late.  Fresh from a pair of USAC scores in Minnesota and Wisconsin, Jon Stanbrough settled for sixth while Boespflug, Hines, Windom, and Shuman secured seventh through tenth.  Late arriver Robert Ballou was the hard charger, chugging from 19th to 12th.


Finally putting the finishing touches on this pre-Sprint Week wrap-up after arriving home from Lawrenceburg’s washout of ISW stop number three, if there ever was such a thing as “someday” for sprint car fanatics and contestants, that time was most certainly now.  Serving as traditional sprint car racing’s center stage, this is the ultimate opportunity to go for the gusto and let it all hang out.  But before engaging in such a costly endeavor, one would think that fans, teams, and drivers would conserve some resources to properly prepare for the seven race in nine night grind.  Given the participation from all parties the previous two weekends, nothing could be further from the truth, as such a sweeping statement defies the very essence of the sprint car community.  The purest examples of those who take full advantage of the present, they have zero time for yesterday, let alone someday.  Fully embracing the sentiment that life is short, they indeed race hard. 





Volume 16, Number 7




Some might say that you can never have too much of a good thing, but in the heart of wingless sprint car country where three nights of intake can so easily be achieved, it doesn’t take long for the senses to get dulled.  Akin to devouring a medium-rare, dry-aged rib eye steak for dinner each night, even something as mouth-watering as sprint car competition loses its flavor, especially after over-indulging from two months of non-stop 2014 activity.  Readily admitting to being “raced out”, which happens to me several times each season, I can attribute these feelings to an internally generated pressure to post fresh and original ponderings after each attendance, so tough to keep up with my impossible schedule.  As much as I enjoy being a part of the scene, sometimes I simply have to step away in order to stoke flames from so many charred embers.    


Despite a distinct sense of burnout after my Indy 500 six race in five night binge, like any addict I could not turn down a true open wheel treat, namely a rare double dip of POWRi midgets and traditional sprints at Bloomington Speedway on the final Friday of May.  Enjoying it so much, I had to have a second serving of midgets the next evening in Brownstown.  Some might question this deviation from my usual norm, as this would be the first time I missed a King of Indiana Sprint Series soiree in Paragon since 2006.    However, sometimes you just have to do something different and "shock the system" in order to get the blood pumping again.   


With four-cylinder engines screaming at a 10,000-plus RPM redline, midgets simply have a unique way of doing just that, ultimately rekindling my racing romance.  I'm obviously not alone, as ever since this form of entertainment was introduced back in 1933, midget madness has had a similar effect on an entire nation of Americans, Aussies, and Kiwis, without question the most popular spectator sport prior to and immediately after World War II.  My own introduction came at such iconic venues as Winchester, Fort Wayne's Allen County Memorial Coliseum, Terre Haute’s Action Track, and Indianapolis Raceway Park, but what ultimately hooked me were Thursday night USAC regional contests at the Indianapolis Speedrome back in the mid to late 1980s, enthralled by Rich Vogler's innate ability to make an impossible outside lane work with just three wheels.   


Throughout time, midget car racing has indeed been buzzworthy, which Oxford’s online dictionary defines as something that is likely to arouse the interest and attention of the public, either by media coverage or word of mouth.   Speaking solely from an American perspective, the sport's popularity waned once the Offenhauser engine became the norm, as the 1950s also saw stock cars and "roadsters" steal the spotlight.  Making a spectacular comeback with ESPN’s Thunder series in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and early 2000s, once live television disappeared, so did the buzz, with the lone exception being one week in January when all attention is diverted to Tulsa’s Chili Bowl.   


For the last ten years, USAC’s Indiana Midget Week has been slowly helping to restore the luster with its spectacular five race mini-series.  Paired with local, unsanctioned sprint cars, even with limited promotion it has continued to grow in all aspects, as evidenced by packed houses and equally cramped pit areas at each one of the 2014 rounds.  The abundance of motorhomes and campers on the grounds seemed to be more evident in 2014, a sure sign that it has achieved must-see, event-level status.  And as has been the case since its inception, it's an international affair, bringing racing junkies from the all around the globe.  After all these years, Midget Week's sufficient word of mouth advertising automatically qualifies it as buzzworthy, otherwise how would it have grown to this stature?  Supplanted by POWRi’s Illinois Midget Week the week before, this month for midgets certainly stirs up interest in June, but what about the other months?  Outside of Montpelier, Indiana, I still feel like this sport needs a local, weekly venue to maintain year-round momentum. 


Rewinding back to the final weekend in May in my lead-up to Indiana Midget Week, Bloomington and Brownstown were the final two showings for POWRi's inaugural Midget World Championship, the brainchild of Western Springs Speedway director Bill Buckley.  Spanning three countries and six speed plants, the first four contests were held at the Springs, the next four took place at Australia’s Lismore and Brisbane Speedways, with the final eight slated for Sun Prairie (times two), Bloomington, Brownstown, Quincy, Lincoln, Macon, and Belle-Clair.  At the time of planting my behind on Bloomington pine, I had completely forgotten that this Indiana weekend was worthy of world status, also unaware that Illinois Midget Week had been bounced from Buckley’s schedule.  Constantly working from behind on these articles and wrapped up with my day job, I literally had no idea that Rico Abreu’s Bloomington absence was due to a humongous flip over the Angell Park fence.  Like the old Hall and Oates song goes from the ‘80s, I’m out of touch (and clearly out of time).  It would probably help if POWRi press releases conveniently landed in my inbox. 


Winning eight of ten POWRi productions thus far, as expected Keith Kunz Motorsports was represented in Bloomington by Sun Prairie winners Christopher Bell and Tanner Thorson.  So, it should come as no surprise that one of these two would wind up winning from this field of 33 after Bell blasted from eighth to second in his heat, Thorson doing one better by scooting from sixth to first.  Both Bullet/Toyotas fired from Bloomington's feature front row, with Bell ringing the lead from his outside starting spot.  However, the Minden, Nevada youngster took the measure of his more experienced teammate, swiping the top spot by slipping underneath in turn four.  Chris immediately countered with a slider on the other end, only to suffer the same fate in the fourth corner as green lights soon gave way to yellow for a four car entanglement. 


Back to green, Bell bolted from the turn two cushion to beat Thorson to the bottom of turn three, never to be touched again.  Exclusively working the low lane and enduring three more cautions, number 71 scored for sixth time in 2014 under the domestic POWRi banner, easily distancing Bryan Clauson, who had lived the high life and elevated from ninth in the Dooling 63.  Thorson settled for third while B-main battler Kevin Thomas, Jr. slashed from 17th to 4th in a Kenny Brown BOSS/Esslinger.  Reigning series champ Zach Daum found fifth while Kiwi Michael Pickens (RFMS 3), Salem’s Seth Motsinger, Andrew Felker (from 21st), Tyler Thomas (from 16th), and Kiwi Brad Mosen (from 19th in the Buckley Breka/Esslinger) were scored sixth through tenth at the 10:16 PM checkered. 


Solid competition came from a pair of 5IVE-6IX, Inc. Great Clips Beast/Esslingers for Darren Hagen and Danny Stratton, which is of course Shane Hmiel's effort overseen by seven-time USAC giant Levi Jones.  Despite engine difficulties, Hagen won the first heat with his teammate trailing.  Stratton worked as high as third in the feature before losing a left rear wheel while Hagen exited a bit before.  After winning the opening night of Illinois Midget Week, much to my surprise this squad was a complete no-show for USAC’s Indiana version.  


Hailing from the sunny side of Louisville in Jeffersonville, Indiana, another two car corral came from A.J. Felker, who brought his own number 37 for Casey Shuman while maintaining a full-time POWRi piece for Daniel Robinson.  Although Shuman missed the show by one spot, A.J.'s aiding of Robinson led them to tonight's feature, with their recent run from 22nd to 5th at Little Belleville showing promise from this pairing.  A constructor of FSC chassis, A.J. is equally known for his engine services, as he now has use of his own engine dyno and can rebuild an Esslinger or any other midget mill. 


Enjoying Bloomington heat races with New Zealand visitor Alf Bidois, who skipped out on the opening act of Townsend Tours to take in this Indiana POWRi pair with Aaron Drever, we both were shocked at the altitude and length of flip involving his fellow countryman Scott Buckley.  Locking horns with Davey Ray at the exit of corner two and landing outside of the entrance to turn three, as Alf so aptly noted, "When a left front meets a right rear, the right rear always wins."  Conscious and alert but battered, bruised, and swollen, Scott took a ride to the local hospital for observation, no surprise that he was a no-show for the rest of the tour. 


Numbering 21 in total, sprint cars were also on hand and with surface conditions vastly improved over the previous week, heat action was quite entertaining, watching Jeff Bland win from 5th, Carson Short claim top honors over Brady Short, and Chase Stockon (Gentry 2) fend off the ferocious advances of Christopher Bell, who was wheeling the same Fox 53 that had won a WoO war at Jacksonville just a few weeks prior.  Launching off a massive curb in turn two, Bell would repeatedly get great runs down the back chute and attempt to beat Stockon to the bottom of turn three.  Operating in extremely tight quarters, the two touched once and looked like they could have a few more times if not for some self-restraint.   


As for the sprint A, it was all Jeff Bland, Jr., with the Springville Splasher (coined by Rob Klepper back in 2008) collecting his third consecutive feature victory in Jerry Burton's DRC.  This being the first-ever Bloomington sprint car score for the hometown Burtons, their driver propelled from the pole position, operating a smooth and steady line around the infield tires (ala Kevin Thomas) that kept the competition scrambling for 25 laps. 


Seven cars scrapped for second early on, with a feisty Chase Stockon dueling with Dakota Jackson and fifth-starting Christopher Bell.  Reverting to his heat race tactic, Chris chopped Chase at the bottom of turn three, but their battle was hardly over as they swapped the position no fewer than five times.  In the mid-to-late stages, Bell sliced Bland's lead and once caution lights came on for Nick Johnson at lap 19, I fully expected some late-race drama. 


Not everything in life goes to plan however as Christopher clobbered the big curb in turn two, allowing Brady Short to seize second and mount a threat for first.  Rolling the middle, Sweet Feet turned up the heat on the final lap but slipped off the edge through four, allowing the eye-popping 04 to take the victory.  Bell took second while seventh-starting Chase Briscoe collected third in only his second start of the season.  Two Shorts (Brady and Carson) completed the first five while Stockon, Jordan Kinser, Kevin Thomas, Jr., Casey Shuman, and Nick Bilbee solidified sixth through tenth at the 10:44 PM checkered flag.  Had this victory been the previous week, the noise could have been heard all the way to Indianapolis but with tonight's sparse crowd, the applause was hardly noticeable.     


After aligning with Alan Rush for a Brownstown bash, we met Western Springs announcer Aaron Drever and Alf Bidois in Seymour for some traditional American pre-race grub at Cracker Barrel.  A quick in and out allowed us to easily make hot laps under the old-school covered grandstand at the Jackson County Fairgrounds, having no idea how midgets would handle this traditional dirt late model venue as in all my years, I cannot remember anything other than sprint cars, TQs, or mini-sprints attacking this extremely wide quarter-mile layout.  Just shooting from the hip, I would imagine that the long-defunct CORA midget group probably held races here, but that would have been at least 30 years ago. 


Holding my expectations to a minimum for this evening’s action, I love it when those expectations are exceeded, as this was one of the most entertaining outings of all of 2014, perfectly providing a buzz for both Illinois and Indiana Midget Week.  A field of 32 midgets were joined by UMRA TQs, mini-sprints, and modifieds, making for an all open wheel show.  The biggest reason for such positive reflections on this evening had everything to do with the surface.  Normally pounded smooth and slick for tin tops, it was 180 degrees of different and absolutely perfect – heavy on the water and light on the packing, producing a massive cushion that oozed with entertainment.  Sure, the end result was another Christopher Bell win, but if you happen to find the short 1 minute and 18-second clip on You Tube courtesy of Jack Slash (Sean Buckley), you’ll understand my reason for associating the word buzzworthy with midget racing.   Narrated by an animated Aaron Drever, such intensity is a prime reason to remain hopeful that this sport finds a way to survive and thrive.   


The huge cushion that greeted midget combatants bit Kevin Thomas, Jr. in a big way during hot laps, tumbling over the turn four bank which set the stage for a memorable turn of events for the Alabama throttle stomper.  After repairing the car in time for the second heat, a DNF forced him to begin from the donkey’s tail (15th) of the B.  Slicing through the field like a hot knife through butter, a two-for-one turn three slider awarded Thomas the lead and the win – an extremely impressive showing of drive and determination that got this fan fired up.  Claiming 7th from 17th in the A-main, if there was ever any doubt if this Thomas kid could drive, tonight should have silenced any critics. 


Kiwi heat wins from Mosen and Pickens had to please Rush, Bidois, and Drever, but the best heat race performance came from Hagen, who slithered from seventh to first.  Andrew Felker should be commended for holding off both Keith Kunz cars in the fourth heat, as nobody could stake that claim a few hours later.  The same cushion that captured KT also sent local boy Logan Arnold for a ride over the same bank in three and four.


As the night wore on, the mammoth ledge had diminished, as had surface moisture.  Still plenty racy, I was surprised to see some pre-feature grooming, as both top and bottom lanes were scratched and splashed.  However, the boys in Brownstown knocked it out of the park yet again as the feature was out of this world, with those two grooves accounting for the bulk of the action. 


Just before the green flag fell at 10:39 PM, fourth-starting Brad Mosen was forced to pit for an ill-sounding Esslinger.  Darren Hagen immediately led low but by the third lap, Michael Pickens showed everyone which groove was superior, climbing upstairs to blow off The Hawk.  A lap six yellow for Nick Knepper and Danny Stratton allowed eyes to focus on the third and fourth place machines of Bell and Thorson, who immediately attacked once green lights blinked. 


Shot out of cannon, Thorson authoritatively slid from fourth to second through one and two, preparing to go after Pickens until amber bulbs illuminated at lap nine.  Restarting Michael, Tanner, and Chris, Tanner tried Michael through turn two to no avail.  One lap later, Thorson again attempted the same maneuver, allowing his teammate to seize second.  For two consecutive circuits, Tanner tried to take it back through three and four but could not get the job done. 


Now, it was Bell’s turn to crank up the heat on MP, pulling even at the top of two with an attempted slide job.  With his inboard brake rotor glowing on the Don Fike DRC/Esslinger, Pickens got the better run off the top.  Another slider in two was oh-so-close, but again, it wasn’t enough to clear Michael's left front.  The lead trio exclusively rode the rim, eyeing Bell's perfectly executed overtaking through three and four.  Pickens immediate crossed over through four and by turn one, they fanned three deep as Michael tried to slide Bell while Thorson made an even bolder attempt underneath Pickens.  Michael and Tanner connected at the top of two, allowing Christopher to construct a large margin before a final caution waved for Shane Hollingsworth. 


Leaving just six laps, Bell and Thorson managed to put a half-track on third place Hagen, as Pickens miraculously saved a big bike through three and four but fell to fifth, one spot behind Tyler Thomas, who toiled from tenth.  Felker, Kevin Thomas, front row starter Terry Babb, Zach Daum, and Colten Cottle secured sixth through tenth. Book-ending the POWRi World Midget Series with feature wins, Christopher Bell was crowned the inaugural champion, hoisting the sterling silver cup in the bright lights of Brownstown’s victory lane.


Outside of attending awe-inspiring SVRA vintage activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I did not wish to kill my Brownstown buzz for Indiana’s Midget Week opener in Gas City, intentionally avoiding local sprint car contests on the first full weekend in June.   Heavy rain on Tuesday and an ugly forecast for Wednesday might have spoiled the opener just to the west of I-69 up in Grant County, but it did not dampen enthusiasm for Thursday’s performance in Putnamville.  As for that Gas City washout, it continued a painfully frustrating campaign for promoter Mel Botkin, who had no choice but to pull the plug fairly early.  


Now reduced to four outings, how would one sum up Indiana Midget Week for 2014?  Aside from this article's theme, it might be just be Rico Abreu, as the “Little Giant” has been equally buzzworthy, owner of nine 2014 feature victories heading into the five race festival.  Despite nursing a broken collarbone suffered in that Sun Prairie shunt on the eve of Memorial Day, he was consistently quick in qualifying and a factor for each feature win.  Timing first, fourth, second, and first in traditional two-lap time trials, he had a sniff of first place and opened with a third at LPS, secured a second behind his teammate Christopher Bell in Bloomington, landed in Lawrenceburg's victory lane amid a chorus of boos via an aggressive slide job on Alex Bright, and wound up the week by leading ten Kokomo laps before yielding to eventual winner Bryan Clauson, settling for a solid third.  Such incredible consistency netted him his first Midget Week crown, becoming the eighth different driver to own such honor.  The unique combination of diminutive stature and heavy right foot has Rico's exploits on everyone's radar, especially after beginning this year with a bang by taking a World of Outlaws tussle in Tulare and completing a two night sweep of Kokomo's Grand Prix.  Now that he has conquered Midget Week, what's next?  Selfishly speaking, a wingless sprint car would be nice…


With the triumvirate of Abreu, Bell, and Thorson, yet again Keith Kunz Motorsports provided quite the buzz for Midget Week competition.  Qualifying quickest in all four affairs and winning a pair with Bell and Abreu, had front row starter Tanner Thorson not spun at the start of Putnamville's feature or Christopher Bell not tumbled over the turn one bank in his heat race at the same stop, they might have taken three of four.  Over the four nights, Thorson had the most inconsistent finishes of the three (20th, 5th, 22nd, and 8th), but he was still a force to be reckoned with after topping the timing charts twice.  Plus, his fifth place finish in B-town came after an early spin, carving up the field in his charge from the rear.  Say what you will about their potent Speedway Engines Toyota power plants, but Keith has his Bullet Chassis hooked up with tried-and-true Advanced Racing shocks.  Given the long-standing success Keith and everyone else has had with ARS, it is interesting and surprising to see that the majority of the midget field has strayed with offerings from Factory Kahne and Competition Suspension. 


My own Midget Week buzz is due in great part to Auckland, New Zealand’s Bryce Townsend, who again organized a massive tour of the United States for a large group of 20-plus individuals, always incorporating Indiana Midget Week as the cornerstone event.  Dominating his own Indiana tour of TQ midget racing back in 2000 (which rocked the almighty world of the Goffs), Townsend is a two-time New Zealand TQ champion and also claimed victory in full-size midgets at the famed 50-lapper at Western Springs, amassing over 80 victories before hanging up his helmet after a devastating crash in 2008.  An Indiana Midget Week competitor in 2007, when not serving as a tour guide of the U.S., he operates his own midget and sprint car driving school (, aptly named Bryce Townsend’s Open Wheel Driving Experience. 


Townsend Tours of 2014, better known as the Job’s On Tour, brought 24 Kiwis stateside, filling two vans manned by Townsend and Dean “Oogie” Mulholland, a veteran of New Zealand Super Stocks who now gets his jollies piloting Class 1 off-road buggies (powered by a 2-liter, 400 horsepower Subaru engine).  First driving to Detroit for the Indycar Grand Prix, they headed to Chicago on the way back for some sightseeing, arriving back in the Hoosier state just in time for a Kokomo World of Outlaws washout.  Venturing across the border for POWRi’s Illinois Midget Week, they were entertained in Quincy, Lincoln, and Belleville, having to kill an evening in the land of Lincoln's capital city after Macon’s rain out.  Upon exiting Belle-Clair, they turned southeast to Nashville, Tennessee for two more days of sight-seeing before encountering even more moisture while en route to the Indiana Midget Week opener.  Thankfully the wet stuff stayed away for the next four nights, satisfied that they had crammed as much as they could into nearly three weeks.  Visiting numerous museums, stores, and bars, they gained plenty of photo opportunities for their “J0BZ0N” signs, with noted holders including Scott Dixon, Mel Kenyon, and a Saturday night Springfield wedding party. 


Intrigued with the wide array of racing fanatics on this particular tour, included in the group were Max and Jason Butterworth, so honored to meet the brother and nephew to iconic New Zealand midget and sprint car champion Barry Butterworth, a former USAC midget rookie of the year and Haubstadt feature winner.  1979 and 1980 New Zealand TQ champion Murray Worboys was here with his wife Ngaire, noting that their son Carl was the 2004-2005 NZ midget champion.  Western Springs steward/official Wayne Morris was yet another colorful character touring the states, as was Western Springs push truck driver Anthony “Crusty” Christini.  Andrew Groshinski (the name is actually Polish, much like Dollansky) enjoyed the festivities immensely, gathering ideas for his V-6 powered wingless sprint car that enters its third year of competition back home.  Graeme “Drumbo” Drummond was on tour once again, pondering the possibilities of bringing son Ben and his midget next year.  New Zealand Super Stock royalty Paul Wade (with wife Raewyn) was included in the group, now a midget car owner for his nephew Jared, who is also a Super Stock star in his own right.  Sporting a pristine Steve Lewis racing t-shirt, Pete Neale was a new addition for 2014, an ex-modified pilot (which look a lot like sprint cars) who stepped away from the cockpit to crew for midget racer Blair Bertran, whose father was a multi-time mod/sportsman/sprint car champ.  Midget Week only whetted his appetite for excitement, as Pete was headed to North Carolina to strap into a stock car.  Fans like Kevin and “Chardonnay” Pam Wilson, 81 year-old Don “Howl at the Moon” Helm, Lee Williams, and Liz Liddle toured with Townsend for the first time, joining veterans Ron and Lois Shearman, Aaron Drever, and Alf Bidois.  And, for just one night (Putnamville), Erin Tripp, wife to Sleepy, was back in Indiana for the first time since 1997, having joined the group in St. Louis.  So impressed that these people spent so much money and time for what was primarily a racing excursion, I will admit that I’m not half the hardcore fan that they are.   


As the all-time Midget Week win leader and twice a champion (2009 and 2011), it's hard to imagine that Chili Bowl winner Bryan Clauson could be considered an underdog in this game, but such is the case for 2014 given the Keith Kunz juggernaut.  Even with Keith's older brother Rusty calling the shots on Bryan's Spike/Esslinger, it just seemed like Clauson had to hustle extra hard each night just to stay in the game.   Normally an outstanding qualifier, BC clocked in 22nd, 9th, 11th, and 8th, forcing him to charge from 18th to 4th at LPS, 8th to 3rd at Bloomington, 10th to 4th at Lawrenceburg, and 8th to win at Kokomo, good enough to score second-most Midget Week points.  The only one to consistently ride the rim in B-town, a restart with two laps left gave hope for an upset but after banging the cushion in turns one and two, he allowed Rico Abreu to score second at the stripe.  Gaining redemption two nights later, thanks to some extreme Kokomo savvy he tossed a slow motion slider on Rico at lap 16, walking away with a big win on Midget Week's center stage, celebrating his 25th birthday in style.  I know that Bryan's skills have not diminished and Rusty K. is no slouch with the wrenches, so could it be that their choice of power is holding them back?     


An Indiana Midget Week co-champ with Brad Kuhn in 2010 and an outright champ in 2008, Tracy Hines had yet another solid showing in 2014.  Third in points, he didn’t score any wins over the four days, but he qualified in the top-six three times and tallied three runner-up placements (Lincoln Park, Lawrenceburg and Kokomo).  After qualifying a sub-par 15th at Bloomington, he wound up an uncharacteristic 10th at the checkered, serving as the lone outlier in a superb mini-series for the pilot of the familiar Parker Machinery Spike/Toyota.  Third in national points behind Abreu and Bell, Tracy is still in search of that first USAC midget title to round out his “Triple Crown”, hoping he can one day cross that task off his list.  The consummate professional yet still candid in his comments, I enjoyed his assessments of the action each night he landed on the podium. 


Fourth in the Midget Week standings was 2001 and 2002 USAC midget champion Dave Darland, who had Jimmy May fly in from California to spin wrenches on the RW Motorsports Spike/Fontana.  "The Rave" started his Midget Week in style with a wire-to-wire win at Lincoln Park, becoming a front row benefactor after outside front row starter Tanner Thorson spun in turn one at the start.  Taking the lead from a wheels-up Steve Buckwalter at the conclusion of lap one, Dave had to contain serious pressure from both Tracy Hines and Rico Abreu while slipping through traffic to claim top honors in the most hotly contested of all Midget Week meetings, all while keeping his rear wheels contained in the tacky middle to bottom lanes.  Qualifying poorly at both Bloomington and Lawrenceburg, he might have only finished 14th in B-town but he was able to scoot to 6th at The Burg, winding up the week with a quiet fourth in Kokomo.     


One of three Kiwis to contest Midget Week, Michael Pickens certainly had a good showing with a fifth in points, but if Lawrenceburg could have ended differently, it would have been a great week for MP.  As has been the case in previous years, this mini-series again left New Zealand’s number one export unsatisfied.  Hooked up with RFMS Racing, the 2012 Midget Week and national championship squad, he was paired alongside Chris Windom in nearly identical DRC chassis powered by Gary Stanton overhead-cam Mopars (MP ran FK shocks while Windom wore ARS).  Moving from 12th to 5th at Putnamville, he started and finished 7th at Bloomington.  Traditionally strong at Lawrenceburg and Kokomo, Pickens did not disappoint, starting fourth and leading 15 laps at the monstrous 3/8ths mile.  Slowed by lapped traffic and allowing pole-sitter and lap one leader Alex Bright to stay within striking distance, Bright served a massive slide job on Michael through turns one and two, crowding the Kiwi into the concrete and forcing a run through the spin cycle, spoiling his evening and week.  Starting second and leading one Kokomo circuit, he wound up sixth on Sunday night.  Regardless of whether it was Pickens or Windom behind the wheel (Chris made all four features and had a best finish of 4th at Bloomington), the RFMS squad is still searching for that same magic from 2012.   


Speaking of what could have been, Christopher Bell’s attempt to duplicate his 2013 Midget Week title was washed down the drain after tumbling over Putnamville’s turn two bank during heat race action.  Going where they weren’t with four wheels in the fluff, Bell biked his Bullet and snap-rolled to a stop, taking a long while for the paramedics to remove him from his battered machine.  Attempting double-duty in a Fox 53 sprinter, CB completely bowed out on Thursday, lucky to return one night later in Bloomington.  His Keith Kunz hauler might have been the last to arrive on Friday afternoon, but he and his equipment showed no ill effects by going from zero to hero in 24 hours, slipping underneath Damion Gardner in turn four of lap five to lead the rest of the way.  Uncharacteristically qualifying 9th in Lawrenceburg, again patience was a virtue on the big banks, climbing all the way to third after fireworks were literally set off in front of him.  Timing third at Kokomo, the same place where he wowed the world last year with a defeat of wonder boy Kyle Larson, he was waging war with another of his teammates (R. Abreu) when close-quarters competition appeared to slice a left front tire.  Returning to claim 12th, IMW 2014 was a far cry from 2013 for Bell, leaving one to wonder what could have been had it not been for that over the cushion excursion.  


Putnamville’s midget field of 44 was the best of the week, followed by Bloomington’s 38, Kokomo’s 36, and Lawrenceburg’s 35.  That latter number proved to be one of the biggest surprises of the week, as previous years had car counts dip dramatically when budget-minded racers stayed home.  Never once did sprint cars outnumber midgets, as the counts were 23, 31, 27, and 30.  Four men competed all four evenings, namely Aaron Farney, Dave Darland, Jon Stanbrough (Dutcher 37 for three nights and Fox 53 for one), and Kody Kinser (son of Kelly, making some rare wingless starts for Aussie Gary Rooke).   When midget rides were plentiful, Midget Week double-duty was a common occurrence but in 2014, only three did the deed on the first two nights.  Five doubled their pleasure at The Burg while seven found work in two Kokomo classes. 


And speaking of classes, what’s up with a third class of cars at each event?  Aren’t full midget and sprint fields enough to pay the bills?  Modifieds made up the third class the first three nights, with a slim field of ten street stocks serving as a bathroom and concession stand break at Kokomo.  LPS had the latest ending at 12:06 AM (a two-day show for the price of one), followed by The Burg’s 11:29, Bloomington’s 11:25, and Kokomo’s solid 10:33 conclusion.  Truth be told, modifieds didn’t account for the lateness of hour at Lincoln Park or Lawrenceburg, the former being caused by a marathon midget B-main that took nearly 40 minutes to complete thanks to three yellows and two reds.  Lawrenceburg’s lateness was due to a one hour sprint feature, chock full of reds and yellows as well.  Putnamville's lengthy evening was compounded by three yellows and three reds in the midget heats, not to mention a hot lap tumble from Mooresville High School baseball star Justin Peck, whose coach is Dave Rose, younger brother to baseball icon Pete.  Having to work on Friday morning, five hours of sleep is simply not enough at my age.   


Being buzzworthy, naturally Indiana Midget Week offered a few surprise showings from all ends of the country and globe.   In addition to usual participation from New Zealand’s Michael Pickens, Leyton Kendall and Brock Maskovich also came from Kiwi country, with Maskovich joining Oklahoma’s Trey Marcham (USAC’s Western Midget points leader) under Bryan Clauson’s banner.  Brock made mains in in Bloomington (squeezing the final transfer from the B in a four-car photo finish) and Lawrenceburg (taking 10th) but was a DNQ at Putnamville and Kokomo.  His teammate Trey was also an LPS DNQ but followed with feature finishes of 13th, 18th, and 13th (from 24th at Kokomo).  As for Kendall, he copped a ride in a Kenny Brown Spike but had a rough time of it.  Unable to qualify for any of the features, he ended the week with a bang after clobbering Kokomo’s turn four concrete in qualifying, sending him to the hospital and accounting for his second tumble of the week.


A trio of Aussies provided further proof of Midget Week’s international flavor, namely Nathan Smee, Domain Ramsay, and Jamie McKinlay.  Steering a former Danny Lendich Spike for Mark Cooper, Smee was 11th and 12th in the first two rounds but was a DNQ for the final two.  Ramsay was 19th and 17th and LPS and Lawrenceburg but failed to crack the A in Bloomington and Kokomo.  As for McKinlay, he turned over three times with his only A-main appearance coming at The Burg, where he was scored 16th.  Regardless of your homeland, just making a Midget Week main event is an accomplishment for any underdog. 


Damion Gardner served as a surprise visitor for the first two nights in a familiar Terry Klatt Beast/Chevy wrenched by Bob East.  Earning 8th each time, before heading west to protect his USAC CRA point lead he led the first four laps in Bloomington, taking his heat race transfer on what sounded like three cylinders.  Further Golden State representation came from Ronnie Gardner, Alex Schutte, and 16 year-old James Edens, the latter in a second Daum Motorsports entry.  Ronnie made three of four A-mains, topped by a 13th at Lawrenceburg.  Schutte only made one of four features, timing an impressive third at Lawrenceburg but was unable to capitalize after dropping out of the feature early.  Recently moving to the St. Louis area to regularly compete in crate late models, Edens (known as the “California Flash”) faced a steep learning curve at so many speedways that he’d never seen before.  Present for the first three Midget Week meetings, he turned over in a Lincoln Park heat race and naturally was unable to transfer from any of the B-mains.   


Representing ARDC’s proud east coast contingent were Steve Buckwalter, Alex Bright, and Alex’s younger brother Brenden, each making three of four feature events.  After propelling from Putnamville’s pole position, Steve’s best showing was a 7th.  Dropping a cylinder in his Lawrenceburg heat, he was scratched from the rest of Saturday but Sunday saw him in a second Scott Ronk entry.  By the way, Ronk’s stepson Parker Price-Miller made three of four features, a 9th at Bloomington being his best showing. 


Eliminated in a first lap LPS incident with Tanner Thorson, starting fourth in Bloomington but later folding his left front wheel, and crashing out at Lawrenceburg on the final lap, when factoring in his  Kokomo DNQ Alex Bright had a highly disappointing week.  However, Lawrenceburg continued to highlight his talent on high speed joints, nearly winning for the second time in three years.  Firing from the pole position, he led lap one before yielding to Michael Pickens, stalking him through traffic and throwing a massive slide for life through turn two on lap 17.  Leading 17 through 26, Alex could not contain a similar slider from Abreu, as the two touched wheels in nearly the same spot.  Staying with the leader until scaling the east end cushion on lap 29, one last ditch effort in turn three of the final go-round titled him on two wheels, sending him straight to the concrete.  Bouncing off the barrier and tumbling down the bank, his calamity caused the event to end under caution.  Walking to victory lane to congratulate the winner, Alex was given a roaring applause, saluting the crowd in return.  Maintaining a family tradition, Alex’s brother Brenden was a Bloomington DNQ but finished 23rd, 14th, and 18th in the other three rounds.  Tony DiMattia was yet another PA visitor, but unlike the others he failed to crack any of the four A-mains. 


Additional Midget Week entries came from usual sprint car combatants Brady Bacon, Tyler Courtney, Chad Boespflug, Shane Cottle, Justin Grant, and Jerry Coons, Jr.  Wheeling the Wilke-PAK 11, Brady Bacon made all four A-mains, blasting from 18th to 5th at Lawrenceburg, his third place Putnamville start spoiled by a Tanner Thorson spin.  Sliding into a Spike chassis belonging to Plainfield’s Scott Hampton (no relation to the younger Scott Hampton who occasionally races a sprinter), Tyler Courtney made three of four A-mains.  Chad Boespflug and two-time Indiana Midget Week champion Shane Cottle were Bill Ecker teammates for the final two rounds and although Chad failed to make the cut in either attempt, Cottle collected 8th (from 16th) and 14th.  Strapping on a Stealth for Anderson’s Larry Gardner, Justin Grant appeared at three of the four Midget Week shows, but an 11th at Kokomo was the best he could do.  Exemplifying just how hard it is to land a ride, 2007 Indiana Midget Week champ Jerry Coons, Jr. only found work for one outing, unable to stick A.J. Felker’s 37 into Bloomington’s A-main after qualifying a disappointing 35th from a field of 38. 


Much like he did in the final two POWRi World Series shows in Indiana, Kevin Thomas, Jr. some Midget Week buzz.  Popping a provisional for Putnamville, he elevated from 18th to 11th at Bloomington, launched from 22nd to 11th at Lawrenceburg after flipping in qualifying, and ended the week with a 16th to 7th surge in Kokomo.  Zach Daum had a similar week as KT, starting off slow by needing the other LPS provisional.  Scooting from 16th to 6th at Bloomington, he ended the week with finishes of 9th and 5th, leading six Kokomo circuits from his pole position.   


Some two weeks later as I attempt to put a period on 2014 Midget Week, Lawrenceburg definitely sticks out as the most memorable of the four evenings.  Dejected by the Gas City cancellation, Putnamville proved to be a long night filled with far too much midget mayhem.  Shocked and surprised by Christopher Bell’s titanic tumble over the turn two bank, once turn one and two's slimy bottom finally came in for the feature, the action was amped up as Darland, Hines, and Abreu battled under a blanket for the entire thirty laps, which was all green after two first lap incidents.  With Rico riding the unruly cushion to nearly snatch the premier position from Dave, I couldn’t help but be amazed at his bravery, tempting fate after breaking his collarbone just two and a half weeks prior. 


Bloomington also showed the resilience of Chris Bell, who dominated the feature event before a late race caution allowed Bryan Clauson one last shot at the lead.  When not watching Clauson, my eyes were glued to Tanner Thorson, whose charge from the rear showed me that he too has potential for future greatness.       


Pleasantly surprised with Lawrenceburg’s tremendous midget turnout, a few surface imperfections in turns three and four made qualifying quite a show.  Countless cars got big air, including Kevin Thomas, Jr. who flipped cage-first into concrete.  To avoid the hole, many, including Tracy Hines, stepped completely above the cushion.  Aerifying the lower lane and injecting H2O from top to bottom, the Burg’s surface revival paid huge dividends, easily providing the most entertaining midget and sprint features of the week.  As has been the case since the track was expanded to a massive 3/8ths mile for 2008, Midget Week slide jobs and drama are supremely showcased in Lawrenceburg, where Michael Pickens pulled a bold two-for-one slider under Hines and Bright to take the top spot on lap 2.  Bright breathed down Pickens’s neck for the next 16 laps, making a bold move of his own in turn two to take the lead, only to suffer the same fate 11 laps later. 


The huge crowd offered some big-time boos for Abreu, but even more drama awaited with the sprint cars.  The 100th sprint car feature held on the new configuration since June 14th of 2008, Chris Windom (who pulled off a Saturday triple when factoring in his Silver Crown run at Gateway) came away the winner in one of the most hotly contested races I’ve ever been witness to.  Counting 16 slide job attempts at the lead (which included numerous crossovers), all but a few were successful, and that did not even include the ones further back through the field.  With the cushion stacked just below the wall, sprint car contestants raced like the winning payout was $15,000 instead of $1,500. 




Concluding Midget Week with a bittersweet outing in Kokomo, I get pumped up for this race as much as any other on my calendar, but it is so difficult to say goodbye to friends who I only get to see once a year.  Eyeing Indycar star Scott Dixon walking in during midget qualifications, hearing Chuck Gurney, Jr.’s four year old daughter Ella sing the national anthem was worth the price of admission alone, enjoying heat three’s first turn, first lap six-wide fanning of competitors.  Yes, you read that right - six-wide! 


With a stiff wind out of the southwest, unfortunately Kokomo’s surface could only take so much abuse, pounded black through the top lane of turns one and two.  However, those first ten midget feature laps were indeed awesome, with so much three-wide action that there was no way to get it all down on paper.  To exemplify how crazy it was up front, Daum led lap 1, Pickens took the point on lap 2, Daum rebounded to lead 3 through 5, Abreu came from sixth to lead laps 6 and 7, Daum reclaimed P1 for laps 8 and 9, only to have Abreu gain it back for 10 through 17 before he was served a surprise slider from Clauson.  A very thin and treacherous top shelf was equally effective as the moist middle and low lanes, even at the end when Tracy Hines gave winner Clauson all he could handle.  Mentioning afterwards how this was his favorite place in the whole world, there was no better birthday present for BC, who had an oil filter pull apart after taking the sprint car checkered flag in fourth, emerging from a huge fireball unscathed. 


Speaking of sprint cars, they certainly played second fiddle to midgets, their feature action paling in comparison because of diminished surface conditions that existed after the midget mains had run.  Chad Boespflug easily claimed Putnamville from his pole starting spot, caressing the cushion and leading all 25 laps in Paul Hazen’s DRC/Kercher combination.  Going green to checker, Shane Cottle (Epperson 2) scooted from 9th to 2nd, with eighth-starting Casey Shuman (Krockenberger 21) earning third with a last turn, last lap overhaul of Jerry Coons, Jr. (Edison 10).  Jon Stanbrough started and finished fifth after rising as far as second place. 


After a brief side-by-side scuffle for first with pole-sitter Dave Darland, Brady Short built a full-straight advantage and bagged his third Bloomington sprint car feature of 2014 in an entirely green flag affair.  Smooth and slick surface conditions aided Short’s effort, using top, middle, and low lanes as Darland refused to surrender the top.  Chase Briscoe again impressed with another third place showing in his family owned number 5, continuing his trend of podium finishes in limited 2014 outings.  Shane Cottle and Jeff Bland, Jr. were fourth and fifth.   


Digging into Lawrenceburg sprint car feature details, Windom (Walker 11) and Kevin Thomas, Jr. first had at it, trading slide jobs as if they were playing ping pong.  However, that dance was short-lived when KT flamed out on lap six.  Next in line to tango were Windom and Robert Ballou, with Dave Darland and Justin Grant joining the party.  Dave and Justin bothered Ballou with equally-intense slides for life and at one point, Grant slid Ballou at turn three but was promptly drilled in the rear and turned sideways, causing the Mark Hery 40 to bounce off the fence.   Robert ran down the leader but couldn't shake Dave from his shoulder.  After a furious slide-fest with the Lincoln legend, Robert's night was ruined after crunching concrete and inverting in turns three and four.  Ballou's upside down excursion was the third of the hour-long A-main, which also dumped C.J. Leary and Travis Hery. 


Grant and Darland engaged in their own crossover craziness for second before the fifth of six cautions turned up the intensity to yet another degree.  Three separate slide jobs and crossovers between Grant and Windom wowed the crowd before the final yellow waved for Chad Boespflug, who ran out of fuel and plugged Paul Hazen’s 57 into the turn three wall, the first time Hazen has visited The Burg since Casey Shuman wiped out a car several years back.  A final two-lap dash saw Darland drive to second, allowing Windom to score his first feature win of 2014.  Chris was chased to the checkered by Darland, Grant (from 13th), Kody Kinser, and Landon Simon, with 25 cars starting after the B-main was scrapped. 


The Midget Week sprint car conclusion in Kokomo was all Justin Grant, leading all 25 laps from his pole position.  Shadowed most of the way by Robert Ballou, Robert attempted a slider in turn one with nine laps left but cracked concrete for the second night in a row, leading to a Chris Gurley turn over.  The top lane unfortunately attracted rubber and allowed Grant to go unchallenged for his fourth score of 2014.  Ballou, Boespflug, Clauson, and Coons completed the top-five.  


Two weeks after the fact, Indiana Midget Week is still on my mind, continuing to follow the Facebook exploits of those who spent the better part of three weeks with Townsend Tours.   One such contributor is USAC Honda Ridgeline pace truck driver Bryce Townsend, who posted a picture of me holding the Kiwi Tours Sweepstakes trophy from Kokomo's pit area while vacationing with his family in Hawaii.  Demanding an audit of the results as this would be the second time I claimed the Sweepstakes in six years, just like in golf the lowest point total wins our game.  Pooling money each night for a random draw of starting spots, I pulled number four on the first evening (Dave Darland) and pocketed a cool $110.  Others who enjoyed solid paydays included Wayne Morris, Alf Bidois (becoming the all-time nightly winner with 6 scores), and Pete Neale.  Call me magic fingers, but after drawing starting spots of 1, 9, and 10 the final three nights, my accumulated 33 points just edged Jason Butterworth by 1, Bryce by 2, Alf by 4, Alan Rush by 6, and Kevin Wilson by 6 as well.  With point fund absent, at the end it’s all about the glory of becoming an International champion and getting one’s nameplate pop-riveted onto the unique trophy, which is a Beast nosepiece from a former RFMS midget.  If the racing entertainment and camaraderie wasn't enough, the chance of making some noise in the Sweepstakes makes this period even livelier.     


While holding the trophy, enjoying a cold beverage, and sharing a few more stories with the Kiwis late Sunday night before our impending departure, the number one question asked, as it is every year, was when I was headed to their corner of the world so that I could experience the International series, so similar to Midget Week and the Chili Bowl when it comes to being buzzworthy.  Trust me, it’s already a bucket list item – having enough vacation time to do it right and keep my job (which I actually like) ends up being the primary problem.  Given that eleven individuals have already signed up for next year’s Townsend Tour of the United States surrounding Indiana Midget Week, they must know what they are talking about when it comes to arousing interest and excitement.  As the saying goes, you can never have too much of a good thing and when such a statement is applied to midget car racing on an international level, they might be right.  Once a year is just not enough.     





Volume 16, Number 6

Circular Reference

Wondering what accountants do most of the day, the average person might believe it involves pushing pencils and operating a ten key calculator. Only partially true, the majority of the time we’re actually assembling and examining figures inside of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and if you work with them long enough, you’ll inevitably encounter the dreaded circular reference, which happens when a formula attempts to refer to its own cell value. Creating an endless loop that continuously requires recalculating and can never be resolved, this is a minor annoyance that requires fixing the formula or removing it altogether.

Given my passion for all things four wheels, of course I can put my own racing spin on circular references, especially with regard to the Indianapolis 500, an event that ultimately serves as my foundation for chasing tail tanks across the Midwest. Growing up in a household where my father and three brothers were humongous fans, whether I initially enjoyed it or not I simply had no choice in the matter, as a deep-rooted passion seeped into my system and bubbled to the surface once I finally had the opportunity to attend my first 500 at the age of 13. Preceded by another first-time visit to the Hulman Hundred two nights earlier, I learned at an early age that Indy’s monumental week meant more than just the big show on Sunday, as this is of course the racing capital of the world.

It only took a couple of years, but my fire for the Indianapolis 500 and the surrounding influential events grew to become a blazing inferno, eventually engulfing the Hulman Classic, Hoosier Hundred, Night Before the 500, Little 500, and any kind of open wheel action that was offered in this limited timeframe, making for one massive week of motorsports.

Even though the 500 and Indy car racing drastically changed after the infamous split of 1996, I still feel strongly about the month of May. But, as the years have progressed, I have often wondered if the 500 would mean as much if I didn’t attend every one of the preceding short track contests that has its own rich history. Or, would the week have as much meaning if I attended each one of these other events but stayed home on Sunday? Would the overall impact be the same if I didn’t try to do the impossible and hit them all? Indianapolis 500 week is thus my personal, circular reference.

Normally preferring to be off of work so that I could take it all in without worry of missing hot laps or feeling dreadfully tired each day, for the second year in a row I would not have such luxury. Too busy to keep up with this column, I must back up to the weekend before the 500 when I chose to absorb a Lawrenceburg King of Indiana Sprint Series soiree and a regular event in Kokomo, with Dog Aid 44, a fundraising benefit for the recently cancer stricken Greg Staab, sandwiched in between. Making for eight races in nine days, it could have been nine in ten had I made it back to the Burg on Memorial Day for the World of Outlaws. But somewhere in between, my energy and immune system took a hit, developing a sore throat and feeling miserable enough to ponder the possibility of staying home one evening to recharge batteries. Memorial Day was determined to be my day of rest, missing out on another Donny Schatz score while I watched the 500 banquet on TV. Nearly two weeks later, I’m still dealing with that cold, so go figure.

To recap this week of circular references, I am determined to keep my summaries and comments to a minimum. Starting with Saturday May 17th, I actually had free reign to make whatever racing choices I wanted, as my wife was vacationing with college friends in Florida. Having to decide between Indianapolis 500 qualifying, the Mecum classic car auction at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, USAC Silver Crown and Hall of Fame ceremonies at IRP, BOSS sprint cars at Eldora, local action in Putnamville, and a double dip of POWRi midgets in Macon, my decision was made a bit easier with a Macon washout. Coming to the conclusion that The Burg would be my safest bet for satisfaction, on the drive down I enjoyed listening to Indy qualifying on the FM equivalent of WFAN (formerly WIBC), with Paul Page performing the play by play. Growing up on Indy car racing in the 1980s, Paul was THE voice of Indy car competition so to hear his genuine enthusiasm on the IMS Radio Network, it returned a certain legitimacy to the entire sport. So many criticized Indy car officials for this year’s qualifying format, with constant activity being so risky (and costly) to both drivers and teams. However, if you were listening on the radio like I was, there was never a dull moment. Heck, I enjoyed listening to Saturday's activities so much that I tuned in for Sunday’s run for the pole via radio.

I was initially concerned with my Lawrenceburg decision when spotting only 21 cars in the pits but once the feature had concluded by an efficient 9:23 PM and was relaxing at the Batesville Skyline Chili with a regular three way and two cheese coney dogs, there was little doubt that I had made the right call. Daron Clayton (from fifth), Jon Stanbrough (lapping three cars), and Brady Short claimed three quick heat races, with Greensburg’s J.T. Stapp leading that third until kissing concrete exiting the second corner. Mount Baker Vapor backed Landon Simon also smacked the turn four wall in that final contest, ruining rubber and a right rear wheel in the process.

Enjoying conversations in the downtime with Landon’s father Chris, Mike McGhee, Bill Moffatt (father to two-time track champ Joss), and Bobby Shutt, I learned from Chris that his son was the one who did all the legwork in attracting his Washington state based sponsorship, this sort of backing being extremely rare in this age of sprint car competition. Commenting on the black number 17 that his son Max had piloted previously at Kokomo, McGhee stated that the car is actually owned by himself but is housed and maintained at Mike Dutcher’s Cicero, Indiana shop, a true cooperative effort. Heading over to say hello to Billy “Brush” Moffatt, he played with tires and stagger while relaying that Joss would be getting married in October. Still enjoying power from St. Paul, Indiana’s Williams Precision Engines, Moffatt added that Roger Williams and his small staff were now working on the Mopar powerplants for Cincinnati’s most famous racing family (the Hoffmans), enjoying some early season success. And finally speaking with former Bill Baker/Rob Botts socket spinner Bobby Shutt, these days he helps Daron Clayton and a host of others, relaying that his Indy 500 week would be a little insane, still needing to finish assembly of a Fred Gormly owned ex-Bud Kaeding JEI dirt Silver Crown car with Joe Liguori. Other activities in Bobby’s dream week included Wednesday’s Hulman Classic with Clayton, Thursday’s Hoosier Hundred with Liguori, Friday’s Josh Burton Memorial with Clayton, Saturday’s Little 500 with Gormly sprinter Bobby Santos III, and Sunday’s KISS/MSCS meet in Haubstadt with Clayton.

Aligning Clayton and Short for Lawrenceburg’s feature front row, the track surface was smooth and wide all the way around, dangerously fast but still racy enough to encourage overtaking. Tacky on the bottom, slick through the middle, and stacking a slim cushion just below the wall on the east and west ends, Dave Rudisell had the place prepped perfectly. Clayton rocketed to an immediate advantage from the pole, but third-starting Jon Stanbrough showed his hand by immediately sliding Brady Short for second in turn four. The thirty lapper boiled down to a hard-fought, balls-to-the-walls contest of bravery between Daron and Jon, a true edge-of-your-seat nail-biter. Interrupted by just two cautions, lapped traffic became a factor by the ninth tour and ultimately determined the outcome.

After a lap nine yellow for a fire involving Shelbyville TQ grad Jamie Ross, Jon slid Daron through turns one and two, only to have the king of the cowboys cross over and rub the left front of the black and silver number 37. After another failed slider in one, even though the top shelf was the preferred lane, Stanbrough experimented with three and four's soggy bottom, sometimes slipping too far sideways and losing ground to Clayton. Action behind them had C.J. Leary and KISS point leader Shane Cottle going at it for third but once the final caution flew for Jeff Harris (Soudrette 44), it restacked the deck and set up a final 14 lap dash. Daron not only had his hands full in holding off Jon, but pesky lapped traffic spoiling his top shelf tactic. With five laps to go, Clayton had serious issues lapping Dustin Webber, killing his momentum enough to propel Stanbrough to P1 after a nice low-side launch through three and four.

After so many podium placements in April and early May, the six-time KISS king gathered his long-awaited first victory of the season in the MP Environmental/Indiana Underground Construction/Griffin’s Propane Maxim/Fisher. Nailing win number 20 in his KISS career, he was able to hold off Clayton (who was quite candid about lapped traffic in his KISS press release interview with Mike O’Leary), Leary, Cottle, and Short. Jerry Coons, Jr. (his first ride of the year in a Spike for Gene Nolen), Kevin Thomas, Jr. (his first ride with Jeff Walker), Joss Moffatt, Landon Simon (all the way up from 21st), and Shawn Westerfeld took sixth through tenth.

After watching and listening to Ed Carpenter win the 500 pole for the second year in a row, I headed out to Brownsburg to spend some time with seven-time Lawrenceburg Speedway champion Mr. Gregory J. Staab. Despite his recent bout with throat cancer, the usually stout Staab still appeared to be in great shape and was in good spirits, with the Dog Aid 44 benefit raising funds to help with his cancer treatments. One of my all-time favorites from the world of racing, I can only hope that Staab’s German stubbornness will allow him to beat the disease and continue his lifelong pursuit of all things racing. If you still want to donate to help Greg pay for his chemo and radiation, access this link:

Back up to Kokomo for the third Sunday in a row, I arrived after hot laps/qualifying and found cars and drivers parked on the front stretch for fan appreciation night. After the previous week’s epic sprint car feature, perhaps warmer weather attracted the larger crowd. Having 32 sprinters on hand and a slightly larger field of stock cars made me feel a bit better for the O’Connor family, as this evening had to yield better financial results than the previous three.

Three of the four heats were hailed by front row starters (Carson Short, Scotty Weir, and Dave Darland), with the fourth taken out by second row starter Chad Boespflug. Calling Marion, Illinois home, newcomer Short successfully held off Stanbrough (Dutcher 37) while Weir did the same with Bryan Clauson (BCI 7), surprised to see Chris Windom (Walker 11) maul the turn two wall and have to come from one of two B-mains. Claimed by Windom and Shane Cottle (Elson 27), consolation excitement came from a double-flip involving Sammy Keen and Landon Simon and an even wilder ride from Edmonton, Alberta’s Lee Dakus, who twirled a 360 in turn two before tagging an infield marker tire and going for a big ride in four.

After an 8:46 intermission, the 25-lap finale was set to go a half hour later, as the previous week’s major players Jon Stanbrough and Dave Darland would again reserve front row seats. Jon led to turn one, but Dave aimed for the top shelf in turn three and would lead the rest of the way in the Stensland 41, unchallenged except for a pair of cautions involving Shane Cockrum, the second of which contained C.J. Leary. Stanbrough trailed by a full straightaway before that first caution, biking big time in turn one after the restart and slipping to sixth. Eighth-starting Clauson was a man on a mission, using the bottom to work over Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Walker 11) and pilfer the runner-up position. The final caution with three to go set up an ultimate Sunday night showdown between the 2012 and 2013 USAC championship contenders, but Dave "The Rave" simply drove away to his second consecutive Kokomo victory, amounting to number 51 of his career here, giving credit to Dave Stensland Senior and Junior, part-time midget driver-turned-mechanic Mike Fedorcak, and engine builder J.R. Kercher.

Done by an always efficient 9:31 PM, my immediate thought afterwards was that starting Dave Darland from an outside front row spot on a Kokomo track bounded by a big cushion was like putting a 90% free throw shooter on the line late in the game. Simply put, the end result should be an automatic score. Clauson (up six spots), Coons, (up nine spots), Thomas, and Grant (up five) secured second through fifth while Stanbrough, Boespflug, Gurley, Weir, and Spencer locked up sixth through tenth.

Given the questionable weather forecast for Wednesday May 21st, the 44th Tony Hulman Classic in Terre Haute appeared iffy at best. Forced to leave work at 5 PM and meet up with my nephew in Plainfield, it had been raining for most of the afternoon on Indy’s Northside, surprised that a favorable weather window existed at the end of the rainbow in Vigo County. Last year’s Hulman Classic was washed out in May and postponed to Labor Day weekend and much like that day, I encountered heavy showers most of the way over, only to find sunny skies near the Brazil exit on I-70. So similar to last August, the bad weather seemed to surround the Action Track but managed to stay away.

Arriving just as qualifications were about to begin, Terre Haute soil was super heavy. But even so, I was still surprised to see J.J. Yeley’s ultimate one lap mark of 19.329 seconds (from 2003) finally fall the wayside. Brady Bacon blasted around the legendary half-mile in record-setting 19.225 seconds, of course while working the wheel of the famed Mean Green Hoffman 69 Triple X/Mopar. I guess all that horsepower from Williams Precision Engines must have worked wonders for Bacon, who sizzled to his fifth quick time of 2014. Watching from under the roof in turn one, the sensory overload of amplified audio was worth the long trip through relentless rain. Chase Stockon, Tracy Hines, Stanbrough, Darland, and Thomas (again in the Jeff’s Jam-It-In Storage 11) rounded out the quick six.

With just 23 cars on hand, a trio of sprint heats and all modified events would be held before the legendary Tony Hulman Classic. The mod feature included a front row of former NASCAR stars Kenny Wallace and Kenny Schrader, with Schrader leading all but the last two corners, slammed in the door and spun out in turn three by Jacob Poel. Coming around after the checkered to shake his fist (and probably a finger) at Poel, despite the defeat Schrader still looks like he’s having a blast in the twilight of his career. Selfishly speaking, I only wish it came in true open wheel cars. Also in the modified field were former sprint car combatants Gregg Dillion and Kenny Carmichael (both Junior and Senior). Dillion’s former Britt Tool teammate Eric Burns even stopped to say hello at the conclusion of the evening, mentioning how he’d be running at Paragon on Saturday in an ex-Kevin Thomas/Guy Applebee machine.

With all cars starting the feature, Terre Haute heat races only mandated a top-five finish to make the A-main invert, with Tracy Hines coming from the deepest starting position (sixth) to win. Adding an international flair to the evening, Danny and I were unexpectedly joined under the turn one roof by former New Zealand native and Indianapolis resident Alan Rush and his small Kiwi contingent of Dean Mulholland and Alf Bidois. Fresh off the airplane just an hour earlier, Dean and Alf came to Indy a little early to check off some bucket list tracks like Terre Haute, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Anderson, and Eldora, set to join Bryce Townsend’s U.S. tour after the 500.

With lightning flashing in the distance at the 8:58 PM wave lap, KT Jr. and Darland led the field to green and by no surprise, the race boiled down to a battle between these two, just as it did here last July. Even though the cushion had been knocked down in preparation for the feature, it was back in short order, the line of choice for the majority. Thomas beat Darland to the top of turns one and two and dominated the early stages, with Dave settling into the runner-up position on lap two after a brief battle with Stanbrough. Caution lights were flicked on at lap ten when 2001 Hulman Classic winner Tracy Hines suddenly slowed, able to refire his machine after pitting in the infield.

Thomas and Darland soon separated themselves from Stanbrough and Bacon as action for first began heat up. Darland kept poking his nose underneath in turn three and just like for the Lawrenceburg KISS match, lapped traffic ultimately determined the outcome. Thomas chose the bottom of turn one when trying to overtake Justin Grant, leaving the outside wide open for Darland. Boxed in by Grant, Kevin lost the lead on lap 22, awarded an opportunity to redeem himself thanks to a Hunter Schuerenberg spin.

Caution came again with four to go for Carson Short and although Thomas tried to make a move in one and two, it wasn’t enough to propel past Darland’s Phillips Motorsports DRC/Foxco. Earning his third USAC sprint car victory of the season and number 50 in his career, Dave is now just two away from tying all-time leader Tom Bigelow. Chasing him to the 9:23 PM checkered flag were Thomas, Bacon, Stanbrough, and Stockon. Chris Windom, Robert Ballou, Tracy Hines (in a nice recovery from his caution, even with a deflating right rear), Shane Cottle, and Bryan Clauson made up the second half of the top-ten. The most dominant driver of 2014, Darland’s second Hulman Classic victory came 21 years from his first, which ironically resulted in his first-ever USAC score. Oh how the years have flown by…

Thursday afternoon was much drier than Wednesday, sunny and windy as my dad and I traveled south on Allisonville Road to meet up with Binford Boulevard, a hop, skip, and jump away from the Indiana State Fairgrounds where the Hoosier Hundred would be taking place for the 61st season. Hopeful for a full field of thirty competitors thanks to the efforts of new USAC series coordinator Andy Hillenburg, we wound up four short of that goal (26), still a huge improvement over the past two years when a contingent of 20 or so consisted of far too many field-fillers. Again we were missing names like Bryan Clauson and former winner Shane Hollingsworth, but Jon Stanbrough was back in the fold for his first ride in Galen Fox's 56, quite a famous car owner and number achieving ultimate success in this event with Steve Chassey (1984), Kenny Jacobs (1987), and Dave Darland (1995, 1996, and 2004). As you may recall, Jon sat in Steve and Brad Fox’s Silver Crown chair (number 53) in 2003/2004.

Unfortunately for Stanbrough, his first Silver Crown chore in two years appeared to be just that – a chore. During practice, he oddly spun in turn one on the slippery surface and spun again at the start of the main event after connecting with Kody Swanson, bumping the inside guardrail and losing a lap in the process. However, USAC deemed that he was on the same lap as the leaders, a huge break for Jon's hopes to produce an elusive Silver Crown win on one of the dirt miles. Dakota Jackson also made wall contact in that first lap incident while Dave Darland climbed a wheel. Dakota was out, Dave struggled to a 15th place finish, and Jon nursed his ride to 14th, hoping to see this combination later in the year at Springfield and DuQuoin.

With modified qualifications taking place before the championship dirt cars, Kenny Schrader’s 36.104 second lap set the mod standard. Amazingly, Schrader’s time topped Tracy Hines’s 36.266 second circuit, which was the best in the USAC’s field of 26. Can anyone tell me when a UMP style modified qualified quicker than a USAC Silver Crown car on a one-mile dirt oval? Say what you will, but to me, that is sacrilege! At no point did I hear the cars hit full song down the back or front chute, so perhaps the copious amount of sand in the surface reared its ugly head again. Most of the cars timed in the 37 and 38 second range, but the quick time of 36.266 doesn’t even average 100 miles per hour! That's a long, long way from Johnny Parsons Jr.’s all-time mark of 31.379, set back in 1995 in the Phil Poor-prepped Hoffman Auto Racing Oz-Car.

One of the reasons I like watching these cars on these huge one-mile ovals is for speed but if they’re just spinning their tires, what fun is that? Call me a traditionalist, but I was hugely disappointed after qualifications, especially after Wednesday's rain gave hope for a decent surface. Is it too much to ask for a well-prepared track for this Hoosier Hundred, or is it absolutely impossible given what Bob Sargent has to work with?

Heading to the top of the grandstands to watch the modified feature with my nephew and Matt Pedersen, we turned our backs and gazed at the Indianapolis skyline in the distance, amazed at just how high up we were. With some extra water applied to the high groove after qualifications, the added moisture made all the difference in the world for Joey Kramer, who beat Kenny Schrader to the top of turn one and held him at bay for the rest of the race. That water also paid huge dividends in the Hoosier Hundred, as so many used it off turns two and four to get good runs down the long chutes.

Two-time and defending series champion Bobby East started outside of Tracy Hines in Tony Stewart’s Maxim/Chevy, the same machine that Levi Jones won with one year ago. Getting the jump to turn one, East led the first 77 laps and built nearly a full-straightaway lead over his nearest pursuers. Now that Bobby has slashed his racing schedule to just the Silver Crown slate, I found some irony in the fact that his dad’s final racing event came in the Hulman Hundred in May of 1989 at this same race course, attempting to keep pace with eventual winner Rich Vogler until encountering fuel pickup problems in Gary Runyon’s number 7, falling to sixth place at the end.

Still in search of his first one-mile dirt oval achievement, East will have to wait until Springfield, as his huge lead was erased by a mysterious caution for a Randy Bateman backstretch tank-slapper. April Sumar Classic winner Kody Swanson was hot on East’s heels in the Radio Hospital/DePalma Motorsports Maxim/Hampshire, having moved through the pack thanks to some breathtaking outside passes. Kody made his winning move outside of turn one and brought the crowd to its feet, so reminiscent of Jack Hewitt’s runs here in the ‘80s and ‘90s. A winning white 63 wrenched by Bob Hampshire, American Racer rubber, and those bold outside moves, the only thing missing was Jack Hewitt and sponsor J.W. Hunt.

Chasing Kody to the 10:17 checkered flag were East, Hines, Coons, and Windom, with Zach Daum, Aaron Pierce, Chris Urish, A.J. Fike, and Christopher Bell collecting sixth through tenth. Just like the winner, Joe Liguori made some daring late race moves on the outside to take 11th in his first Hoosier Hundred. Swansons (Kody and Tanner) are now three for three in 2014 Silver Crown action, with the series turning its attention to Gateway International on June 14th.

Given the dramatic outside passes from Kody and several others, I am a firm believer that this form of action can indeed be interesting and entertaining if they are given a proper playing field. Remember the Hoosier Hundred of 2001? What about DuQuoin's first two night races, not to mention their offering last year? All of those examples had great racing surfaces, complete with a cushion. It seems like a simple solution but of course it's not that simple.

Continuing on my week of circular references en route to the Indianapolis 500, Friday May 23rd was my first trip to Bloomington Speedway for 2014, good to come back home to the place that introduced me to sprint car racing (1982). The only such race course that has listed me as an employee, I scored for an entire season (1995), which earned me an announcing gig with Mike O’Leary for the season-ending bomber, street stock, and modified festival when Pat Sullivan and Brad Dickison took the day off. All these years later, Pat and Brad are thankfully still in the booth.

Anxious to see all of the changes that my nephew and photographer Chris Pedersen had raved of regarding the revised Bloomington layout, light rush hour traffic and a 5 PM exit of work meant arriving in time for the first set of hot laps, missed as I was changing clothes alongside Fairfax Road. Pleasantly surprised by the difficulty of being able to find a suitable parking spot, locating a grandstand seat proved to be even more of a challenge as a full house was on hand to honor the life of Josh Burton, taken from us far too soon on this particular Friday one year ago. Regarding those off-season track changes, I did notice taller banking, slightly more racing room, and a flatter bottom lane, but to the naked eye, Bloomington Speedway seemed to be the same old Bloomington.

Rivaling an Indiana Sprint Week crowd, nearly everyone was wearing their brightly colored Burton Memorial t-shirts, as pre-race ceremonies included a line of drivers forming in turn two and stretching all the way to turns three and four while Pat Sullivan provided some thoughtful words, calling for a roaring round of applause in memory of Josh. Next, a live rendition of “Get Your Shine On” was performed by Jake Todd and Craig Coons, followed by the playing of Taps and a military-style rifle salute from the Monroe County Honor Guard. Thinking back to this very Friday one year ago and gazing at the massive throng of people who gathered on the hillside, I couldn’t help but feel a little emotional, wondering how the Burton family felt as they readied their familiar white, orange, and green machine for battle.

Falling under MSCS sanction, a fine field of 43 sprinters paid homage, with a back gate bolstered by healthy fields of modifieds, street stocks, and hornets. Heat race transfer positions were determined by passing points, and those earning the most included Hunter Schuerenberg, Bradley Sterrett, Kyle Cummins, Dave Darland, Jon Stanbrough, and Seth Parker, with Sterrett, Cummins, and Stanbrough eclipsing four cars each. After sliding off the bank and losing the lead before a yellow flag provided a mulligan, Parker’s heat race victory was overshadowed by a brief post-race altercation involving Chase Stockon (Gentry 2) and Darland, as the two had apparently made contact earlier in the event. Notable heat race winners included local boy Levi Shields and Jeff Bland, Jr., who held appropriately held off Brady Short in the Burton 04, much to the capacity crowd’s delight.

Still racy, Bloomington’s surface polished completely smooth and slick by the conclusion of sprint car heats. Obviously not what the speedway staff had hoped for, they opted to take the necessary time to disc the dirt and apply water after the three support classes finished their heats. Delaying action by a little over an hour, I’m sure this was a bitter pill to swallow for so many in attendance, but in all honesty the resulting feature event was a good one, not sure if the track would have been a one-lane tire-eater had they left it alone. Having attended the POWRi event the next Friday (which will be covered in my next installment), the surface was improved and required no additional maintenance, so the learning curve continues for Henry, Kris, and the rest of the boys in B-town. All I know is that I’m glad I’m not in the track preparation business, especially in this state where the critics are waiting to attack at any moment.

After adjustments were complete, fast and frenetic were applicable adjectives to describe the resulting B and A-main action. Twin B-mains sent four more to the feature, impressed when Brent Beauchamp aggressively circled both Bub Cummings and Chase Stockon to find first.

For the second time in six days, Darland and Stanbrough held front row feature seats and with the Burton 04 pacing the field on the parade laps, like everyone else I hoped for a Bland win to truly make this a Cinderella story. Stanbrough rolled the top from his outside starting spot and led early, including the fourth lap that paid an extra thousand dollars thanks to the Burton bunch. Separate spins by Clayton and South Dakota visitor Bret Mellenberndt kept Stanbrough honest, as Hunter Schuerenberg had moved from fourth to second and was already looking like a legitimate threat.

Laps eight through 25 went uninterrupted, a fine high/low duel that saw Jon turn to the bottom as Hunter rode the rim. The lead officially changed hands at lap 14, with the last 11 amounting to a dizzying duel of threading needles through traffic. Each driver employed both lanes in those latter stages, but Schuerenberg never officially surrendered the point. Stanbrough's last second sweep around the top of turn four came up half a car length short, thus creating a thrilling ending.

Awarded a Henry rifle in victory lane at 11:47 PM, Hunter offered his positive memories of Joshua Lee Burton after his second MSCS score of 2014, leading a top-five of Stanbrough, Kyle Cummins, Dave Darland, and hard charger Brady Short (up 9 spots from 14th). Sixth through tenth included Bland, PA visitor Mark Smith, Sterrett, Robert Ballou, and Casey Shuman. Aside from a win by the Burton family you really couldn’t ask for more in this feature event. Winning the next three evenings in Putnamville, Haubstadt, and back in Bloomington, the Bland and Burton combination had clearly jelled, providing the best feel-good story of 2014.

With all the talk of Kurt Busch joining the elite list of individuals who have done Indy/Charlotte double, perhaps an even rarer and more obscure feat was my own Saturday double. Somehow scrounging an open table at a jam-packed Bonge’s Tavern at 4:30 PM so that my trio of Kiwi friends could sample this fine food and atmosphere for the first time, naturally this was the ultimate pre-Little 500 feast. This last minute decision was made possible by the fact that Alan, Dean, and Alf decided to skip the 11-car Night Before the 500 in favor of the Little 5, a first for each of them. Given USAC’s 2013 decision to separate dirt and pavement midget points, it should come as no surprise that the car count for this race has rapidly shrunk to such an embarrassing level. Held in Kokomo during the 1960s, perhaps it’s time to add dirt to IRP or move the Night Before the 500 to an Indiana bullring?

Beginning with a Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale and a group appetizer of Perkinsville Pork, after our requisite wedge of lettuce (topped with a red pepper and creamy bleu cheese dressing) or choice of world-famous tomato soup, Dean special-ordered the 16 ounce prime rib with two large skewers of shrimp. Alan arranged for his own slab of prime rib, Alf chose the lamb chops (which ironically came from New Zealand), and I hankered for the always tasty Harger duck. Ending with some spectacular sweets, for once I actually had dessert envy as Dean and Alf picked the strawberry/rhubarb pie, so amazingly fresh as chef/owner Tony Huelster had just picked the rhubarb from his garden. After Dean divulged that this was the best day of his life (bear in mind he had just arrived from Mo’s Vintiques in Lebanon), Bonge’s may just become part of Townsend Tours in a couple of weeks.

After our meal concluded, fifteen minutes later we were parked at Anderson Speedway, its lot filled to the brim an hour and a half before the scheduled 8 PM start. Featuring a front row of Bryan Clauson (Hoffman 69), Aaron Pierce, and rookie Jerry Coons, Jr., much like Indy there were just enough cars to fill the field (Anderson had one alternate). Missing "Mr. Little 500" Eric Gordon as a driver for the first time since 1991 and 1999 winner Chet Fillip, two-time winner Brian Tyler trashed his Contos Racing machine in a violent turn three practice crash on Wednesday but landed a ride in Mike Bowman’s Beast. Firing from ninth on the grid, BT exited just past the halfway mark after losing the front timing cover in a cloud of oil smoke.

A mini-Indy 500 with its own pre-race ceremonies, there are few things in life that still give me goose bumps and Anderson's parade lap is one of them, so thrilled to see the perfect formation of eleven rows of pavement pounding sprint cars, three deep on the tiny, high-banked bullring. Too many cars on too small of a track according to my dad, such insanity and imminent danger is the allure of this old-school classic.

As always, the name of the game in the Little 500 is staying out of trouble, and for some reason the rabbits usually find it first while negotiating non-stop traffic. Aaron Pierce certainly knows his way around Anderson and should have won this race more than once already. But again, 2014 would not be his year after rocketing to the lead for the first 43 laps before climbing the right rear of rookie Doug Dietsch, stuffing his number 26 Beast into the wall between turns three and four. Armed with one of the most interesting front bumpers I have ever remembered, obviously it didn't prevent him from his unfortunate incident.

Bryan Clauson inherited the lead from Pierce but it too was short-lived. Up front until lap 123, he nudged the rear of Tom Paterson’s lapped machine as they exited turn two. Clauson somehow spun and collected Paterson, who then scaled the nose of the number 69. Putting Bryan in the hole some five laps, any thoughts of winning this race were effectively over but the team and driver did not give up. Back up to fourth despite bad brakes, his late race run-in with Mike Blake pilot Danny Smith, yes, the same Danny Smith who won this race as a sub for Wayne Reutimann in 1979, only added insult to injury. The Hoffmans spared no expense to win this race in 2014 and despite their difficulties, let’s hope they make another run for the gold in 2015.

2008 winner Shane Cottle was the next big threat to fall victim to bad luck, blowing an engine for the second year in a row in the Larry Contos number four. Last year the engine expired while attempting to chase down leader Jacob Wilson in the waning stages. This time, it happened while leading at lap 387. Dave Steele might have been the Mario Andretti of the Little 500, an early winner in his career but having so much bad luck in the years that followed. Steele ended his Andretti curse with a win in 2009. Cottle now appears to be the one carrying that torch after Steele.

Starting fifth and running quick and clean in the first half of the race, defending winner Jacob Wilson was always in the hunt and ready to strike, thanks in part to some timely and error-free pit work. The second half of the race was more the same, as the handling on his Beast chassis was spot-on. With a second killer pit stop for fuel and rubber from a veteran crew led by his brother Clint, he seized the day when Shane Cottle exited with engine problems. The final 113 laps saw the Crawfordsville native run away with the win for the second year in a row, despite being beaten and banged by lapper Bobby Santos in the late stages.

Jacob became the first person to repeat as winner of this race since Eric Gordon did the deed in 2004 and 2005. Running a very Eric Gordon-like race by showing his hand only when he needed to, ironically Gordon was in Wilson’s pit on race night, serving as his spotter. Going one step further, tire expert Sam Brooks also joined the Wilson team for this race, crew member in eight of Gordon’s nine Little 500 scores. With an all-star cast supporting him, young Mr. Wilson did not disappoint, coming through with a very heady drive, so impressed with his unique combination of speed, patience, and stealth-like smoothness. Doubtful that anyone will ever reach Eric’s winning record, Jacob does show that he has the right mindset to get the job done, so you just never know.

Outside of Wilson, I was most impressed with the performance of second place finisher and outside front row starter Jerry Coons, Jr. Named the Little 500 Rookie of the Year, many may forget that he was supposed to compete in this event one year ago until early engine issues in practice nullified the effort. Quietly quick all night long in Gene Nolen’s V-6, he was on the leaderboard for the entire grind, the only other driver to finish on the lead lap. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, even after all these years Jerry remains one of the most underrated racers on the planet, truly professional and never given enough credit for getting the job done.

Those finishing behind Jacob and Jerry included Jo Jo Helberg (2 laps down), Geoff Kaiser (5 laps down in the Speedchaser 64), and Kyle Hamilton (7 laps down in Bob East’s number 5). Chris Neuenschwander (Kohler 10), Shane Hollingsworth, Bobby Santos III, Jason Fuller, and Mickey Kempgens were scored sixth through tenth, with less than half the field running at the end.

Thoroughly enjoying the anticipation of events leading up to the Indianapolis 500 race, my pre-race morning tradition involves waking up just before 8 AM, leaving a little before 9, arriving at 38th and Georgetown by 9:30, and making the 1.3 mile walk to the turn three gate, avoiding any and all traffic. Scooping up my nephew from his Central Avenue pad, we were up in our seats with tons of time to spare, pleased that my 80 year-old father made it yet again (he’s been a Speedway regular since 1946). Joined by my older brother Jeff, the four of us represented three generations of Oldhams whose worlds still revolve around the greatest spectacle in racing.

Enjoying the parade of former winners wheeling vintage equipment, the coolest thing I’ve seen in quite some time were the STP turbine Indy cars taking a three-wide parade lap, so enthused by the sights and sounds and ultimately making me wish I was around in the late ‘60s to see such ingenuity and rapidly changing technology.

As much as I get a charge out of the race, the traditional pre-race festivities truly make this the special event that it is. Mentioning earlier how the Little 500 parade lap consistently generates goose bumps, the one thing that blows this away is the playing of Back Home Again in Indiana, sung for the final time by Jim Nabors. An Indy attraction since 1972, once the 83 year-old Nabors started into the song, a steady stream of tears flowed from both of my eyes, overcome with emotion as yet another sacred segment of my life was going to permanently change. These types of changes are a normal course of life, but with all of the massive modifications that have taken place with my mother and father in the last three years, I had a hard time accepting that this too would become a distant memory. It might just be a song, but for me it’s a tradition that’s become completely intertwined with this event, without question my favorite moment of the entire year.

Of course I am biased, but I believe Indianapolis 500 momentum has more than returned, as the last several 500s have been truly enjoyable. Kept up to date thanks to the IMS Radio Network, the first 149 laps went caution-free, a record pace that was eventually spoiled when Charlie Kimball crashed in turn two. Cautions do breed cautions as the rest of the race saw several incidents, the most disappointing of them coming when Ed Carpenter was taken out in turn one after becoming the meat in a Townsend Bell/James Hinchcliffe sandwich.

Still, the last 50 laps were a literal barn-burner, ultimately coming down to a dogfight between three-time winner Helio Castroneves, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Marco Andretti. Somewhat reminiscent of Little Al and Emmo in 1989 and Rick Mears and Michael Andretti in 1991, the battle intensified after the first-ever red flag for something other than rain since Swede Savage’s horrific incident from 1973. After Bell blasted the turn two wall with eight laps left, instead of risking another yellow flag finish like last year, 500 officials flipped on the red lights in order to fix the fence and Safer Barrier, giving the fans a better shot at a green flag conclusion.

As much as I despise the notion of emulating NASCAR, at least they didn’t extend the race beyond 500 miles. Plus, those last 8 laps provided some high drama, as it was a battle royal between Castroneves and Hunter-Reay. Ryan’s ballsy move in turn three may have shocked “Spiderman”, allowing him to have the upper hand when the winning pass was completed as the white flag waved. Becoming the first American to win the 500 since Sam Hornish, Jr. (2006), I was certainly happy for Ryan, who was bumped out of this event in 2011 by his own teammate.

Worn out from a week of late nights, a couple of early mornings at the gym, walking to and from 38th Street, being in the sun all day, and still dealing with what might have been a cold, Kokomo's nightcap was still a requirement for making my week feel complete. Since 1992, I can think of only a few times when I chose not to complete a Sunday double, pleased to see a stout field of 23 sprinters sporting USAC equipment for Dave Darland (Phillips 71) and Bryan Clauson (Stewart 20). Nearly all the usual suspects, including Chris Windom, Justin Grant, and Jerry Coons, Jr., were in the house for this $2,000 to win Kokomo Klassic. Going head-to-head with a combined MSCS/KISS contest in Haubstadt, hometown hero Shane Cottle drove four hours to protect KISS points.

Out of the eight races I witnessed in these last nine days, this one might have been the most intense, so hotly contested that it seemed like they were racing for twenty grand instead of just two. Dave Darland’s first heat decimation offered a preview of coming attractions, so hooked up around the top that he put a full straightaway between himself and second place Scotty Weir. Other early winners included Chad Boespflug (Hazen 57) and Chris Gurley, who narrowly fended off a quickly closing Justin Grant.

Union City’s Sammy Keen owned the B, with the second to last transfer being taken by Mitchell’s Dickie Gaines, still struggling to find the handle on the Pedersen number four. Three generations of the Pedersen family swapped rear torsion bars in an attempt to produce some left rear drive for Dickie, including former Silver Crown owner Red, his son Scott, and Scott’s son Ryan. Despite the frustration of an unhappy Spike chassis, the former KISS and Lawrenceburg Speedway champion was still all smiles, announcing that he was getting hitched to Autumn Emberton at the end of June.

Grant and Boespflug led the field to green for the thirty lap finale to my monumental week. The Hanford Hornet drew first blood but Grant gathered the gold on lap two, rolling to a big lead over the two by two formation of Boespflug, Weir, Windom, and Darland before Tyler Hewitt spun with six laps in the books.

Grant, Boespflug, and Windom fanned three-deep for first through turn four on the restart, with Chris surging from third to first before Gaines looped his ride in turn two, scoring seven laps. With the intensity preparing to ratchet to another level, Darland’s DRC came alive, wrenching third from Weir and closing the gap to Grant in no time flat. Tossing the most cutthroat slider of the season on Justin through turns one and two, Justin wisely cracked the throttle in order to prevent a massive mishap. Like spanking the bottom of a misbehaving child, the California charger rapped the rear of the Lincoln legend as they sprinted to turn three, with Darland closing the gap to his former Walker ride with a little more than half the race remaining. Now wheel to wheel on the back and front chute, Windom worked low while Dave chose to live the high life, par for the course in Dave's 32 year career. Throwing yet another too-close-for-comfort slider on lapper Tyler Hewitt in turn two, Darland briefly blasted to first before the Canton cannonball reassumed the premier position in three.

The all-time king of Kokomo followed his nemesis along the bottom of one but attempted to serve a slider the next time around, unable to seal the deal and thus gave Grant one more opportunity to blast his bumper. Ten laps were left to decide this Kokomo Klassic, eyeing another Clauson charge from eighth to fourth as Windom continued to hold a slight advantage up front. Chris attempted to put the race in the bag with some bold moves through traffic, but a nearly impossible fourth corner slider on Logan Jarrett turned bad. The two cars firmly connected and left Walker’s wagon with a flat right rear. An extremely frustrated Windom might have expressed his displeasure with Jarrett, but this altercation was completely tame compared to Saturday evening fisticuffs on Anderson’s front stretch after his Goacher 5 was eliminated by Rex Norris III.

Leaving seven laps left, Darland inherited the top spot and ballooned his lead thanks to a legendary launch off turn two. Two laps later, a Landon Simon/Adam Byrkett twin spin restacked the deck, but before action would resume Simon and Josh Spencer could not agree where they needed to be in the lineup. Eyeing plenty of rooting, gouging, and finger pointing, Spencer brake checked Simon and stopped in turn four, lighting Landon’s fuse as he too stopped and unbelted. Popping through his roll cage and venting to a pair of track officials, things started getting heated between Landon and the two track dudes. Big boss Reece O’Connor came in to bring order, but things got even more heated before the former Buckeye was ordered back to his pit.

After the insanity had concluded in turn four, Darland cruised to his third consecutive Kokomo score, leading Grant, Clauson, Boespflug, and Coons to the 10:15 checkered flag. Weir, Gurley, Dalten Gabbard (Baldwin 5), Spencer, and Travis Hery rounded out the second half of the top ten. The biggest crowd of the season witnessed the wildest and most tension-filled feature of the season on what should have been just a quiet Sunday night. Truth be told, there is rarely such a thing on Kokomo Sundays and that's why it is so hard to skip these regular programs, as you just never know what might transpire.

Putting a wrap on this massive week, much like a hangnail, circular references in spreadsheets are a minor annoyance that if left alone, will continue to be a pain until they are addressed. Circular references in racing are hardly problematic, especially if referring to the week of the Indianapolis 500. With so many opportunities to sample some of the most historic contests in midget, sprint, and Silver Crown competition, each one of these events exists due to the influence of the biggest race in the world. However, would an Indy 500 week be complete without the Hulman Classic, Hoosier Hundred, Little 500, and Night Before the 500? Regardless of whether you want to believe that these events have anything to do with one another, it’s still an awfully special period of time when a healthy appetite for so many varieties of open wheel racing can be satisfied. A day at the racetrack beats a day at the office on any day of the year so I’ll gladly deal with such circular references, certainly a good problem to have in this day and age when all things old and meaningful seem to be fading to oblivion.




Volume 16, Number 5

Best of Both Worlds

As a lifelong Indiana resident, I can attest to the fact that we are extremely passionate people. But, when the topic concerns our time-honored traditions of basketball and auto racing, there is no word that can accurately describe our fanatical feelings. A function of genetics or something in the water, it's nearly impossible to prevent these emotions from bubbling to the surface.

We're only human for wanting to be a success in whatever it is that we strive to achieve. It’s what is driven into our heads from an early age and continues through our careers and the materiality of today's society. Even if it's something as frivolous as a friendly discussion about which basketball squad or racetrack is superior, Indiana folk simply want to be right and have the last word.

With family ties to Indiana University, I was born a fan of the Hoosiers and in my first full season of avidly following their basketball endeavors, they were 1981 NCAA champions, thus setting the bar unreasonably high for future expectations. But living in the middle of the state, naturally there were those who rooted for arch-rival Purdue and I can’t tell you how much I dreaded going to school the day after the two teams played and Purdue won, as the ribbing would be unrelenting. Even if their basketball programs are a shadow of their former selves, we are still extremely divided on which team we support, yet to encounter anyone who rooted for both.

In the early days of the internet, a similar rivalry divided the sport of sprint car racing into winged and wingless factions. When I was first introduced to this craziness in the early ‘80s, there was no such separation, as drivers and fans switched back and forth with no thought whatsoever. If there was a high-paying event held within a reasonable driving distance, you simply showed up and loved every minute of it. But in this day and age, and much like IU and Purdue, depending on where you live and how you were raised, this determines not only what flavor of sprint car racing you prefer, but also which racetracks receive your seal of approval.

The second weekend in May provided a rare opportunity to sample the source of so many sprint car debates over the last decade, taking in a winged World of Outlaws event at Tommy Helfrich’s Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Indiana on Saturday and a standard Sunday night wingless sprint car show at the O’Connor family’s Kokomo Speedway. The age-old argument revolves around which form of action is more entertaining and which set of drivers are more skilled, but lately message board banter frequently concerns which of these two speed plants is the best in the state.

I firmly believe that the positive attributes of winged sprint car racing are showcased on tight, banked bullrings like Tri-State. And, when it comes to mouth-watering, modern-day traditional sprint car excitement, there is no better venue than Kokomo – again just my opinion. I got the best of both worlds this weekend and having a week to reflect, I can weigh the merits of both and settle the arguments once and for all. When pigs fly, right?

When initially faced with the dilemma of choosing between the first-ever Grand Prix of Indianapolis or a World of Outlaws affair at Haubstadt, it was a painful decision to abandon my Indianapolis Motor Speedway roots, but my reasoning was rationalized during some Saturday iron pumping, coming to the conclusion that having someone to look up to and revere still means a great deal in my racing realm. Initially idolizing Indy 500 names like Foyt, Andretti, Unser, Rutherford, Johncock, Mears, Sneva, Sullivan, Fittipaldi, and Rahal, the only form of racing that still offers an opportunity to see lifelong heroes in action is winged sprint car racing. Possibly the last time to see Steve Kinser or Sammy Swindell in the southwestern corner of the state, my decision was cemented. It was Haubstadt or bust.

Normally doing the drive back and forth on own or with my nephew serving as sidekick, this journey was indeed rare as I rode down with writer-extraordinaire Dave Argabright, allowing me to relax and enjoy the sights and some deep conversations. Taking State Road 37 south to Bloomington and angling over to the new I-69 via 45 and 58, the trek still amounted to a solid three hours, including a brief bathroom break at Steak ‘n Shake where I couldn’t resist one of their famous ice cream concoctions. Interesting to spot freshly cut swaths where the new 69 plowed through pristine Southern Indiana wilderness, in my head I debated the merits of such a highway when the amount of traffic on the new road was still slim to none.

One of the first truly hot days of the year when a sweatshirt was not needed, after scrounging to find a seat I immediately began to feel a slight panic. Call it a mid-life crisis, but I suddenly realized that it had been almost twenty years to the day that I had first attended this very speedway for this same stop on the WoO tour, riding as a passenger to photographer Steve Remington. May of 1994 was also the twenty year anniversary of my graduation from Ball State University so as a huge lump in my throat began to develop, a flood of emotions made me ponder where the time had escaped. Recalling a similar farewell to “King” Steve Kinser at Terre Haute in October of 1994 as he headed to an albeit brief stint in NASCAR land, how ironic was it that two decades later we again were offering another Southern Indiana salute. Sick to my stomach for feeling so old, such feelings of nostalgia created a magical air about the evening, wondering if we would be celebrating with The King much like we did in late '94.

I have forever embraced the “jetfighters-in-a-gymnasium” analogy of winged sprint cars attacking quarter-mile high-banked bullrings. The frenetic action is second-to-none, as traffic is always an issue. So hard to use all that 900-plus horsepower, it still gives the little guy a chance, as evidenced just days before in Jacksonville, Illinois when car owners Steve and Brad Fox realized lifelong dreams by winning a World of Outlaws war for the first time with driver Christopher Bell, a feat that they were never able to accomplish with their hall of fame father Galen. Unfortunately we would not see the Fox 53 in action at Haubstadt, as Bell was fulfilling USAC midget duties in Belleville, Illinois. However, this highlights a huge disadvantage for any World of Outlaws program that is held in the wingless-centric Hoosier State: there just aren’t enough local competitors to bolster the field or offer any kind of threat to the full-time travelers.

Chris “Critter” Malone, Robert Ballou, Brady Bacon, Kody Kinser (back in father Kelly’s 4k), and Paul May were the only ones putting up a fight and willing to take the $800 start money, with Illinois invaders Paul Nienhiser, Joey Moughan, Blake Nimee, and Russell Borland also making the tow. In the field of 26, we were missing Jac Haudenschild and Shane Stewart, but names from the past like Danny Smith and Jeff Swindell offered additional intrigue. Unfortunately, when attending any World of Outlaws meeting in this state, you know who is not going to win. Back in the ‘80s, that wasn’t always the case.

Speaking of Jeff Swindell, this was his first time to Tri-State since 1999, the site of his first-ever sprint car triumph. When quizzed on the year, he could not recall but noted, “I think Jesus was here though.” Remembering pitting in the infield and receiving tips from his brother Sammy about driving four wheels above the cushion for qualifying, as we will learn later another meeting of the minds between these two would play a pivotal role in this evening’s outcome.

Saying hello to Critter Malone for the first time in ages, the long-time midget madman is primarily a winged sprint car combatant these days, competing with the MOWA group the previous week in Flora, Illinois. First encountering Malone at the Lawrenceburg, Indiana Hut Hundred in late 1989, he still punches the clock at Howerton Racing Products on Gasoline Alley, welding up headers for Indycar and NASCAR teams, claiming Hendrick Motorsports and Michael Waltrip Racing as customers. As far as locals were concerned, Malone made the most noise and impressed even the most jaded sprint car critics with his feature performance, using the no-man’s land middle lane to scoot from 21st to 5th before being swept up in an incident with Cody Darrah with just five laps left. Malone would have to settle for an unsavory 13th, a $1,400 pay cut from what should have been. Nonetheless, it was one whale of a drive.

Born and bred on the bullrings of Bloomington, Paragon, and Haubstadt, Joey Saldana entered the evening with a nine point lead over Daryn Pittman, with only 27 points separating himself from fourth place Paul McMahan. After the last three nights of competition at Eldora, Jacksonville, and Wilmot, the points lead had exchanged hands each time so needless to say, there was parity in 2014 Outlaws action before Pittman went on his East coast tear.

One of the best attributes of winged sprint car racing is that new track records are still possible but on this evening, no one would approach Sammy Swindell’s 2004 standard of 11.110 seconds. Out third, Paul McMahan topped the charts for the fourth time in 2014, clocking in at 12.188. Sammy was second, Saldana third, and The King fourth, one of the best qualifying performances I’ve witnessed from Steve in quite some time. With an ancient -12 head engine, Brady Bacon was an impressive fifth quick in his own number 99. Victim of a detached nozzle line, Donny Schatz crawled across the line as the slowest qualifier, a rare slip-up from his TSR crew. But on even the worst of evenings, Schatz somehow turns lemons into lemonade, certainly the stuff of champions. Tonight was no different.

Observing some surprised looks on Outlaw drivers’ faces as they witnessed a pre-heat race complete surface revamp from Tommy Helfrich, the preparations allowed even more time for fans to get their hero cards and t-shirts signed by Kinser, who graciously agreed to countless photo ops as well. Saluted by series microphone maestro Johnny Gibson (for 22 Tri-State tallies and 58 top-fives) and Helfrich in pre-race ceremonies, Steve even carted off a case of German bratwursts from race sponsor Dewig Meats. Receiving a standing ovation from the capacity crowd, yes, it’s good to be king.

Heat races were up next and from a fan's perspective, this amounts to a bit of a downer as they only invert four, resulting in the fast cars running off and hiding without much overtaking. Representing the Indiana locals in style, Robert Ballou timed 12th and started from the pole of heat three, needing a win in order to make the dash and have a shot at scoring some sizeable sums of cash. Ballou did a credible job of fending off second row starter Joey Saldana for eight laps, but an overtaking from the Brownsburg Bullet was inevitable. Heat two had its moments as Kody Kinser tilted on two wheels into turn one, flipping and landing on four wheels as his throttle stuck wide open. Kody was ok but scratched his machine for the balance of the program. Continuing his frustrating outing, Donny Schatz spun in the fourth corner but successfully rebounded for the final transfer, faced with an uphill start from the outside of row 11.

After finishing fourth in his heat, drawing the pole for the dash, and narrowly holding off his long-time nemesis Sammy Swindell for the win, all the stars seemed to be aligned for an October 1994 duplication for King Kinser. Watching the dash and feature atop turn one with the talented trio of Kurt Gross, Kevin Briscoe, and Eric Davis, it was if the entire Tri-State assembly was unified in their hope that The King could conquer Haubstadt one more time.

So apropos that the feature would start Steve and Sammy from front row seats, the Tennessee terror beat the Hurryin’ Hoosier to the top of turns one and two. Into lapped traffic by lap seven, Sammy was more than prepared to spoil Steve’s going-away party until impatiently scaling his brother’s left rear wheel as they entered turn one on lap ten. Spinning Sammy up the bank and sweeping Saldana into the mess, after a front wing swap Joey would continue but The Slammer was finished. Again, could things not be falling into place any better for an epic salute?

Paul McMahan moved to the outside of the front row for the double-file restart and just like Swindell, he beat Kinser to the top of turn two, as the preferred lane remained around the rim. By the halfway mark, Steve continued to pressure Paul, even as they weaved in and out of rush-hour traffic. Separate incidents for Kasey Kahne cohorts Daryn Pittman, Brad Sweet, and Cody Darrah (also collecting Critter) allowed Kinser three more opportunities to steal a win, but each time he didn’t have enough mustard on the hot dog to pull off a massive slide for life.

McMahan cruised to his second score of 2014, heading off Kinser, Kerry Madsen (up from 11th), David Gravel, and Saldana (in a sterling run from the rear). Hard-charger Schatz (up 16 spots), Bacon, Sweet, Kinser (Kraig), and Sides were scored sixth through tenth at the 10:12 PM checkered flag. The cutthroat action witnessed from tenth to third is what I have come to expect for winged bullring action, but the battle for first simply never materialized. Regardless of the outcome, the benefits of absorbing a WoO war, regardless of the size of the playing field, include the prompt professionalism of organized officials and the polished presentation of one Johnny Gibson. Simply put, it’s always a show.

Even the best laid plans do not always come to fruition and as I have learned in the last 20 years, life, love, and sprint car racing rarely wind up with storybook endings. Akin to losing the homecoming game and feeling slightly defeated, perhaps I was still stuck in 1994 as a naïve college graduate, thinking that nights like these are just meant to work out. Back when I regularly shot baskets as a kid, I could never end my session without a perfect swish so luckily for Kinser, he still has four more opportunities (Lawrenceburg, Kokomo, Terre Haute, and Bloomington) to go out in style in his back yard.

The opposite end of the Indiana sprint car spectrum took place the next day, some four hours northeast in Kokomo. The Mother’s Day Mudslinger offered the same number of competitors (26) as Haubstadt, but for only a fraction of the purse. I counted a dozen legitimate WoO winners on Saturday and ironically on Sunday, a nearly equal amount could be considered threats to take home a trophy.

Those showing smoke signals during combined hot laps/qualifications included Josh Spencer, Jamie Frederickson, and Jerry Coons, Jr. Coons might have qualified quickest in the third session but a broken intake valve ended his evening prematurely while Frederickson ventilated an engine block in what was his season debut. Spencer might have had to win the B-main to take part in the A, but at least his smoke was not terminal. Bryan Clauson (BCI 7) was quickest overall at 13.231 seconds.

Just like the Outlaws, Kokomo’s regular programs invert the fastest four in the heat races, but at least the top two finishers are available for a feature redraw and have an honest shot at making headlines later. Also like Haubstadt, two of three Kokomo heats were won from the front row (Darland and Cottle), with Kevin Thomas, Jr. (own 9) claiming the other from fourth, appearing quite motivated to fend off his former Mike Dutcher Motorsports mount. Sunday heats were way more interesting than Saturday, as the trio of Jarrett, Thomas, and Stanbrough each held the lead in one single tour during the first contest. Clauson used a dramatic last turn, last lap lunge under C.J. Leary to lift the final redraw in the second event while in the third, Justin Grant (Hery 40) diamonded turn two on the last lap to steal second from Jarett Andretti.

Back gate stock car support remained minimal on Mother's Day so the show was run with its usual Sunday night efficiency, as evidenced by a B-main completion at an astonishing 7:38 PM, pushing out the A by 8. This compared to Haubstadt’s 9:45 PM (10:45 Indy time) wave lap, but their heat races didn't start until 7:30 or so. Walking the pits one last time before the green flag fell, it was interesting seeing Davey Jones’s son Dalton wrenching on KT Jr.'s machine with Tanner Thorson, as Davey and Kevin had already cut their ties (Davey was now helping Dallas Hewitt). Last week’s villain Daron Clayton was tightening wheel nuts for final B-main transferee Mike Terry while Daryl Tate pushed Carson Short’s 21 to the lineup chute (probably old news but the first time I noticed this 2014 pairing).

USAC sprint car national championship contenders for the last two years, Bryan Clauson and Dave Darland (Stensland 41) held front row seats for the 25-lap finale, with first heat protagonists Thomas and Stanbrough (Dutcher 37) beginning a row behind. Starting Darland on the outside of row one and with a cushion to lean on is like handing a thief your debit card and PIN, as many would like to believe that this was automatic money in the bank. But as Dave can attest, Sunday nights in Kokomo are rarely that academic.

True to form, Darland immediately surged to first while Stanbrough maneuvered the middle to streak past Clauson. As the early laps quickly clicked off, the Silent Gasser snuck up on The People’s Champ and managed to lead low at the start/finish just before Parker Price-Miller flipped wildly atop turn two, somehow emerging from the wreckage to step into the ambulance. When looking back, it could have been a lot worse, as evidenced by the fuel cell sitting atop his roll cage.

With 11 of 25 in the books, Darland led Stanbrough, Clauson, Grant, and Thomas back to green, but almost immediately amber bulbs were illuminated when newlywed Josh Spencer abruptly slowed in the second corner and was hammered by Tyler Hewitt and Carson Short, both of whom inverted over the 66 that had lost its power steering in the B.

Leaving the last 14 laps to decide Sunday night bragging rights, for certain these were the most thrilling of the 2014 season, so difficult to capture the true essence of the action with just pen and paper. If you have any doubts about the thrills and goose bumps that a regular Sunday night Kokomo feature can generate, check out Sean Buckley’s website ( for a recap. If you aren’t already a subscriber, I highly recommend it, if only for catching these final 14 tours. I might be slightly biased, but this one was indeed epic.

When green laundry was dangled, Grant, Thomas, and Cottle foamed at the mouth like a wild pack of dogs fighting over a fourth place bone. Meanwhile, Stanbrough and Darland were wheel-to-wheel under the flag stand for the premier position, which became a central theme for this final sprint to the checkered. Jon kept his nose clean, scratching and clawing at the lower half of turns one and two and hoping for some huge forward bite while Dave circled the top to lead off two. Like a pair of ping pong players immersed in an intense back and forth volley, for the next four circuits Jon would haul it into three and launch like a rocket ship off four, briefly surging to first. But every single time, Dave would live the high life through one and two and propel to P1 by the backstretch. A big bounce through turn one did not derail Stanbrough’s quest for his first win of the season, digging deep to slip underneath the all-time Kokomo feature winner in turn four. The Brownsburg fabricator even led on the exit of the second corner, but Atlanta, Indiana’s full-time racer flew past in three, only to see that black and silver 37 squirt ahead as they straightened their wheels.

Able to cut the impending drama with a knife, Clauson and Grant were making hay on the high side and had joined the party at the front of the pack. For a change, Darland officially led the next lap by the narrowest of margins but Grant whipped Claxton horses into shape by claiming second on the back chute, battling tooth and nail with Stanbrough as they both breathed heavily down the leader’s neck. Coming to the white flag, they fanned three wide as they exited the fourth corner, with Justin turning from the middle to bottom at turn one. Dave’s Physical Medicine Consultants DRC/Kercher kept the lead thanks to traditional turn two momentum, but Justin early apexed the third turn entry and straightened turn four, coming up a few inches short at the start/finish.

The scorers turned to the transponders to confirm a dramatic Darland conquest, as Dave’s son Trenton and famed midget driver turned sprint mechanic Mike Fedorcak sprinted to victory lane to celebrate. Grant grabbed second at the 8:30 PM checkered flag with Stanbrough, Clauson, and Thomas taking third through fifth. Positions six through ten contained Boespflug, Cottle, Leary, Jarrett, and Gurley. After removing his hard hat to the raucous support of his hometown crowd, the winner relayed to Rob Goodman, “I just kept running the top. That’s what I do for a living. This place wears my ass out for 25 laps, but I love running here.”

Comparing Haubstadt World of Outlaws to Kokomo wingless sprint cars is a similar argument to IU versus Purdue, akin to the proverbial apples and oranges. Both are great schools and both are tasty fruits, but you may be hard pressed to find someone who loves both at the same time.

In my maturation, I have expanded my palate to savor more than just pizza or hamburgers, as quite often I do have a taste for something different. As a diehard fan of the Hoosiers, I have even developed a sense of admiration for the teams that Purdue's Gene Keady put on the court, wishing that both Indiana and Purdue programs would fully return to their former elite status. And when it comes to my preferred form of racing entertainment, I started as a generic fan of sprint car racing, eventually transforming to become a staunch supporter of traditional, wingless combat. Recently switching back to my original state of overall enjoyment for both varieties, there is no right or wrong, as personal preference will ultimately dictate which style suits you best and which track you will frequent the most.

But with Haubstadt primarily in operation on Saturdays and Kokomo on Sundays, an ambitious fan can actually have their cake and eat it too. When awarded such options, that's the best of both worlds, truly coming to appreciate my Indiana address that much more.



Volume 16, Number 4

Feel Like a Number

A thankless, black and white profession filled with rules and regulations that stifle creativity and individualism, such is the reality of a career in accounting. Week after week and month after month, there are far too many accounts to keep reconciled, customers to bill, vendors to pay, books to close, and results to report. The insanity never stops, as by the time you are actually done, it is time to do it all over again.

Switching jobs in November for the second time in less than a year, the first six months in my new, uplifting environment has been a blur, just now starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel after a long winter filled with far too many challenges worthy of a quick discussion. Finally complete with first quarter figures, I was so mentally exhausted from producing them that I could not relate to my superiors what they actually meant. When you’re mired in the muck of so many accounting details, it can be quite a challenge to see the forest through all of the trees.

As much as I enjoy my weekend respite from crunching numbers and keeping records, whether I realize it or not, I’m still surrounded by these things in my racing realm. Car number and driver combinations, qualification times, figuring heat and feature lineups, and analyzing everything afterwards in order to produce these articles, I have a hard time turning off my brain even when I’m in my happy place. Nicknamed “stat geek” a long time ago by the one and only Anthony Stewart, as much as I cringe at such a description, it is certainly an accurate account.

Hoping to escape these numerical nightmares on this first weekend of May with a double-dip of Eldora Speedway World of Outlaws and Kokomo Speedway King of Indiana sprint cars, by the time that Shane Cottle had inherited first place on Sunday night, my mind was already back to work. Doing some quick figuring in my head and attempting to make sense of everything that transpired, I had already confirmed that deuces were wild and the entire weekend's theme surrounded the number two.

Rained out the previous Sunday at Terre Haute, the 2014 KISS series would begin the following Friday in Bloomington where Cottle served up a supreme surprise for Brady Short, blasting underneath B-town’s best as the white flag was waving. Ending Short’s streak of three straight on the red clay, on Friday the 2nd Shane scored his second feature victory of 2014, this time in Tony Epperson’s white deuce after gathering Gas City’s opener two weeks prior.

Tired from toiling all day at work, although I would have loved to have sampled Shane’s win in person, I read about it while resting from one of the most epic meals I have ever enjoyed, this one coming at Indy’s Late Harvest Kitchen. Everything was extraordinary, including a pair of craft cocktails and my shockingly delicious entrée of rabbit biscuits and gravy (which ironically was served with carrots!), paired with a side of ridiculously addictive hand-cut kennebec fries, coated in smoked bone marrow and sprinkled with jalapeno peppers. Ending with one of my all-time favorite desserts in maple chomeur, after numerous visits I am still convinced that chef/owner Ryan Nelson is a God. As much as I savor a killer sprint car race chock full of slide jobs, a meal like this is equally satisfying.

Receiving text message updates from my nephew who was just over the border in Rossburg, also on Friday May 2nd another white deuce would drive to victory lane. Shane Stewart steered the Kyle Larson and Justin Marks’s machine to its first triumph in World of Outlaws action in just the team’s second outing. The next evening, that lucky numeral made its impact yet again, as my second trip of the year to the Big E saw David Gravel grab his second World of Outlaws victory of 2014 in just his second start in the Roth Motorsports number 83. How many times has number two been mentioned thus far? I seem to have lost count.

Proving that it’s all in the numbers, one day later my second visit to Kokomo resulted in Cottle’s second KISS celebration of the weekend in the Epperson number two. Can you guess what Shane’s other finish of the weekend was? If you guessed second, then you’ve clearly been paying attention. Oddly enough, the same number of sprint cars (33) appeared for KISS contests in Bloomington and Kokomo.

Rewinding back to Saturday’s Outlaw adventure, the traditional drive across US 36 through eastern Indiana was a bit out of the ordinary, experimenting by exiting just east of Lynn, Indiana at Arba Pike. In all my years of driving or riding to Eldora, I have always noticed the sign pointing south to Arba and Crete, realizing that the latter was once home to Jim Jones, author of the freakish 1978 Jonestown massacre that saw 909 members of his People’s Temple commit mass suicide. Defying the urge to see what type of town could have bred such a monster, I instead turned north and slowed for the sad remains of the circa 1908 Spartanburg High School, as just a few walls were left intact after a March 2012 inferno. Hooking back up with 227 and then Greenville Pike, a quick stop at Maid-Rite was ultimately successful, avoiding the 118 Ansonia detour by substituting route 49 to McFeeley-Petry Road, interrupted by an eastbound 103-car CSX freight hauling the mail on the famed double-track.

Easily making it in time for hot laps, I made several circles around a corral containing a stout contingent of 34. World of Outlaw pit areas are traditionally packed with gawking fans who want to gain a glimpse of such rock-star-like icons. I have to admit, I was one of them on this afternoon, often just standing and staring in awe of their every move. Although many of the legendary mechanics from those glorious late ‘80s and early ’90s have long since retired, some road warriors still finding work include Scott Benic (leading the Destiny 9 for the Wild Child) and longtime Haud mechanic Dean “Bonzai” Bruns, who on this evening aided Jac’s son Sheldon. Unfortunately for Dean and Sheldon, their collaboration was short-lived after blowing up in qualifications. Overseeing the Roth 83 for new driver David Gravel was ex-Selma Shell socket spinner Sonny Kratzer, who was back for yet another stint with this squad after parting ways midway through last year. How many times have both drivers and mechanics returned for tours of duty with the revolving door of Roth? I’m quite positive Kevin Eckert could recount such a statistic.

Feeling the need for speed, once engines were warmed I headed to the inside of turn three for a reminder of just how quickly these beasts can blast around a half-mile. Ears deafened by 900 horses that needed no breathing, I headed to turn one for qualifications, of course bumping into Aaron “The Outlaw” Mosley, who just dropped over $15,000 on a new Triple-X mini sprint for his son Evan, who will enjoy enriched horsepower at Logansport thanks to an Eric Shively rebuild.

Also watching from inside of one in the early evening hours was Keith Kunz midget partner Pete Willoughby, here to observe his hired gun Christoper Bell steer Steve and Brad Fox’s 53. Good for 12th in the rundown, Bell’s best lap was 13.639 seconds, showing no signs of fear by flat-footing it through a choppy cushion. Speaking of Willoughby and Kunz, former pilot Jay Drake was also spotted roaming the pits, sporting some Keneric Racing gear.

Reminded that deuces were still wild this weekend, for the second night in a row Keneric contestant Kerry Madsen’s 13.296 (15th in line) was atop the qualifying charts, propelled by a potent Brian Morrison mill housed inside a California KPC chassis. Unfazed by some strong winds that actually toyed with the drivers, perennial qualifying standout Paul McMahan and his GF1/Kistler Chevy stood second while GF1/Speedway Engines ammunition earned the next three spots for Brad Sweet, Joey Saldana, and Daryn Pittman. David Gravel also enjoyed Speedway Engines horsepower, clocking sixth in a KPC chassis. Steve Kinser was a respectable 7th but his TSR “teammate” Donny Schatz was a subpar 21st. So many came awfully close to clobbering the turn two concrete in quals, but all were clean except Trey Gustin, who waited to do the deed in turn three. Early scratches included the younger Haud and Brandon Wimmer.

Stopping to say hello to the familiar faces of Steve and Brad Fox, their dually pickup and small trailer harkened back to days of old when the size of the hauler had no correlation to on-track performance, reminding me of when Lee Brewer, Jr. used to show everyone how it was done here. Without question an underdog effort at this venue, the last time that I can remember this brotherly duo hauling a winged chariot to these hallowed grounds might have been 1991. Remembering pit lane photos snapped of the Gohr Racing 56 from 1989, on this cool evening Steve donned his signature flannel shirt, nice to know that some things just don’t change. With backing from Bloomington’s Hinkle’s Hamburgers, unfortunately the best the boys could do was 20th on Saturday evening, aided by Monticello’s Mark Batcheldor and former midgeteer Tim Mehner.

Talking about things not changing, Bobby Allen’s tow rig and racecars appeared just as they might have when he hung up his driving gear in the late 1990s. Never one to win any beauty awards, these functional pieces still get the job done for grandson Logan Schuchart and 19 year-old son Jacob Allen, who was born and raised in Indianapolis and was a graduate of Brownsburg High School. Interestingly enough, Pennsylvania native Logan is actually a year and a half older than Jacob and has quite a bit more seat time in 410 sprinters. Both failed to crack Friday’s feature but Saturday was a different story, as Logan transferred through his heat while Jacob found the final transfer out from the B, gaining the spot when Caleb Helms fell to the wayside. Still, the youngest Allen managed to outperform Paul May, Brent Marks, Trey Starks, Greg Wilson, and Trey Gustin in only his second Eldora outing. There’s that number two again…

The World of Outlaws are always an entertaining proposition on the wide, sweeping banks, so blindingly fast yet requiring so much finesse when flirting with the fence. Much like Formula One, their heat races are won on the first or second lap, often stretching out to parades that leave wingless sprint car fans swearing off this brand of action. Emphasizing qualifying performance with a miniscule four-car invert, of course heat winners will come from those first two rows. Third row starter Jac Haudenschild nearly got to heat two victor Paul McMahan, flying higher than anyone else would dare on the south end of the speedway. Aside from a few sliders between Dale Blaney and Joey Saldana; that was the lone heat highlight. The lowlight was low buck racer Brian Paulus’s turn two dump, wondering when we’ll see him again.

Thanks to an inversion of six, David Gravel started on the pole of the dash, easily beating last year’s May Eldora winner Daryn Pittman. However, like I always remember Sammy Swindell stating a couple decades ago, he’d rather finish second in an Eldora dash to line up on the outside of the front row for the big money. Speaking of the feature, that’s when these cars and drivers truly shine, especially as surface grip begins to diminish. Observing General Manager Roger Slack recommend tilling and watering around the bottom of turn four after Matt Westfall claimed another modified feature win (Matt says he’ll be going for Lima and Eldora track championships that pay $6K and $2K respectively), I was surprised that water was not added anywhere else. However, after witnessing another wicked slide-fest through relentless traffic between reigning WoO champ Daryn Pittman and David Gravel, I have a hard time questioning Slack’s formula for frenetic feature action.

Just like Sammy professed, Pittman’s outside front row start propelled him to a lead of 18 tours, with third-starting Joey Saldana offering an early threat before being blown off by a turn three slider from Gravel. After a lap 11 right rear tire pop by a concrete-kissing Kerry Madsen, that’s when things began to get interesting. Pittman might have constructed a half-straight advantage in a heartbeat, but it completely vanished when reaching back markers. Gravel gathered the spot with an aggressive attack of turn three, but Pittman would immediately return the favor in one. The very next lap, David again drove deep into three but once they reached the opposite end, Daryn ducked underneath. Pittman’s advantage lasted no more than a split-second, as the Connecticut charger immediately crossed over.

The fun was far from over as a few laps later, Gravel had his hands full with lapper Haudenschild, his brief hesitation allowing the Kasey Kahne combatant to pull the trigger in turn one. However, David instinctively fired back with a slip and slide, dip and dive through turn two, essentially sealing the deal. Meanwhile, behind this dynamic duo, seventh-starting Randy Hannagan was making hay on the bottom, benefitting from that turn four moisture laid down by Roger Slack. Operating the middle to bottom lane like a modern-day Bobby Allen, Hannagan’s Neumeister 11 was absolutely hooked, scooting to second on lap 25 and beginning to breathe down Gravel’s neck before fading to third, reminiscent of his stunning performance here last October in the All Star Sprintacular. Always great to see a David versus Goliath story in a World of Outlaws war of money, a podium placement might as well be a win.

Nailing down his fourth-career WoO win, Gravel led Pittman, Hannagan, McMahan, and hard charger Donny Schatz (all the way from 19th) to the 9:55 checkered flag. Dale Blaney blasted from 18th to 6th while Danny Holtgraver hauled from 16th to 7th. After the tire change, Kerry Madsen maintained his standing as one of the best on these banks, coming from the rear to 8th. Brad Sweet and Steve Kinser collected 9th and 10th while Kraig Kinser advanced ten spots to 11th. Traditional Eldora heavyweights Saldana, Swindell, and Haudenschild struggled in 12th, 18th, and 19th.

On to Kokomo for the second half of my weekend double, I could honestly say that the racing season was now in full swing, such a special feeling as there are few things more highly anticipated than spending Sunday nights with the O’Connor family. Truly becoming the benchmark for sprint car excitement since the speedway’s configuration was completely revamped over the winter of 2004/2005, this particular showing was bolstered by appearances from Bland, Clauson, Clayton, Short, and Stanbrough. In reality, it was just another standard Sunday night program that paid more purse due to its KISS connection.

Upon exiting the VehiCross, my nephew and I immediately applied layers of clothing to fend off that wicked wind from the east. May 3rd felt more like March 3rd, but at least rain was out of the equation. The cooler temps kept Kokomo’s dark chocolate clay in tip-top shape, but unfortunately it also kept attendance to a minimum. Wondering what it takes to put butts in the bleachers these days, apparently all the stars must be in alignment to achieve a full house, as I can’t imagine any legitimate sprint car aficionado wanting to stay away from their sprint car opener.

The long-standing KISS format of lining up heat races from the blind draw remains the same since its 2001 inception and as a fan, I’d like to see the series officials spice things up and differentiate these races with qualifications and a deep heat race inversion. That probably won’t happen but with the blind draw, sometimes you’ll have races stacked to the hilt with hot shoes while others can be less than stellar. As a prime example, tonight’s first event had Clayton, Weir, Thomas, Ballou, Stanbrough, and Grant fight for the first four spots, bouncing Ballou and Grant to the B. Clayton, Clauson (in his own number 7), and local hero Josh Spencer took three of the four heats from front row starts, while in the other, Shane Cottle struck gold from sixth. All-important redraw spots (that would be finishing position number two, of course) were earned by two-time track champ Scotty Weir, C.J. Leary (up from 7th), Jerry Coons, Jr., and Jeff Bland, Jr. (Burton 04). Helping his father Tony assemble a new DRC after his previous week Gas City shunt, Logan Jarrett learned just how much grip the Kokomo clay offered after bicycling atop turn one. Climbing the wall and lightly tipping over, Logan’s initial hometown showing of 2014 was over far too soon.

Staying up in the stands to catch Jim Darland’s thunder car debut, it was B-main time before we knew it, as the Kokomo staff has a nice habit of keeping their regular programs moving rather quickly. With the surface still sticky and cushion stacking even higher, Max McGhee bicycled from the lead on the north end in another Mike Dutcher machine. Marion’s Tyler Hewitt clipped the cushion in the same spot as Max, tipping on two wheels and flipping his number 97. Feature passes were eventually awarded to Darland (Stensland 41), Ballou, Grant, and Dalten Gabbard, who wheels a Kenny Baldwin 5 wrenched by Frankfort’s Fred Click.

Although the Outlaws put on a great show at Eldora, my second race of the weekend refused to play second fiddle, as it surely had its moments as well. Offering a front row of Leary and Weir, Coons, Spencer, Cottle, and Clauson comprised rows two and three. And from that coveted number two starting position, Weir would lead via the top shelf after his cohort Leary tilted on two wheels.

Early in the thirty lapper, the race for second was vintage Kokomo, worth braving the chilly winds as Cottle and Clauson came from the third row to show their hands around the infield tires. Plenty tacky around the middle to bottom, Bryan, Shane, and C.J. fanned three-wide for second on a couple of occasions, exchanging the spot at least five times in seven laps. Clauson would come out on top, soon whisking underneath Weir for the premier position with a nice launch off the bottom of turn two.

Cottle followed suit and soon had second, but it was hardly academic as this position was the most hotly contested in the entire twenty car field. Scotty, Shane, Daron, and Jerry fought tooth and nail through the crossed flags, hard to tell who had the advantage until Mr. Excitement (Clayton) found a sweet spot through the middle to separate himself from the snarling pack. Although “The Bullet” had fired to a full straightaway advantage and disposed of lapped traffic like Dave Darland with five to go Clayton was coming. And, when C.J. Leary spun to a stop on the final lap, just as Clauson took the checkered flag the yellow reverted the field to a single lap dash to the conclusion.

Restarting Clauson, Clayton, Cottle, Coons, and Short, Daron attempted to sweep to the outside in turn one and immediately cut underneath Bryan. However, Clayton’s move did not go as planned as the Rock Steady Racing pilot poked the unsponsored number 7 in the rear, spinning himself and shredding Clauson’s left rear. As the field went nuts trying to avoid the mess, seventh-running Jon Stanbrough swerved right and couldn’t get stopped, tipping the Indiana Underground Construction number 37 on its side. While under red, BC calmly hiked to DC’s car to discuss the move, but at this stage, nothing could overwhelm the bitter taste of a near-certain victory being wrenched from his grasp.

Friday winner Shane Cottle inherited first place and the win, holding off Coons, Short (up 8 spots), Thomas (up 5), and Weir. Gary Taylor (Cook 04), Ballou (up 11 spots), Boespflug (up 6 after a bump from Ballou and a flat left rear), Grant (up 10), and Kyle Robbins (up 5) soldiered home sixth through tenth at the 9:06 PM waving of the checkered cloth.

Crediting chemistry with mechanic Jim Forman as the reason for his early-season success, Cottle also commented, "Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. You've got to put yourself in a position to win." A four-time track champion in the O’Connor era, there is little doubt as to just how good Shane is when it comes to Kokomo, but it never hurts to have lady luck smiling in your direction and aiding your effort. Two for two in 2014 KISS competition, after May 9th's rainout at Gas City "The Throttle" will attempt to remain undefeated at Lawrenceburg on May 17th.

After looking at figures non-stop since my November 11th hire date as the new Controller for Kittle's Home Furnishings, I was beginning to feel like a number, having survived a whirlwind of activities surrounding a new system implementation, year-end closing, and a couple of audits. Ready and willing to turn off my accounting brain for weekend racing activities, unfortunately there is no such switch for this hard-wired functionality, as evidenced by my recent breakdown of events in Rossburg, Ohio and Kokomo, Indiana. Whether or not some higher power had influence on the results or if it was all just a coincidence, it's a lot easier to make sense of numbers when they involve a passionate pursuit of pulse-quickening, sideways-sliding, mud-slinging machines as opposed to the usual revenues and expenses. In either scenario, the numbers will never stop being manufactured and there will always be a resulting story to relate. Call it job security, but that’s what butters my bread.




Volume 16, Number 3


If there was anything to be learned from the trio of United States Auto Club sprint car contests at Eldora, Gas City, and Haubstadt, it’s that in order to eventually succeed in this sport, one must first take his share of lumps.  Feature winning chauffeurs Dave Darland, Tracy Hines, and Daron Clayton have certainly been around the block and established themselves as consistent threats to win, but in the early stages of their USAC careers, they endured a fair bit of adversity before finally breaking through to the other side. 

After setting the local Indiana bullring scene on fire with a scintillating 19 win season in 1991, Darland’s initial USAC triumph came at 1993 Tony Hulman Classic, upsetting the awe-inspiring Cary Faas after his fellow Valvoline-backed bandit fell to the wayside.  A month and a half later, Darland proved his Terre Haute tally was no fluke after another big win in Kokomo but the true barometer for USAC success has always been Eldora Speedway.  And, no matter how hard he tried, he simply could not conquer the beast, ten years of enduring any and all kinds of misfortune on the famed high banks.  But, thanks to some tips and tutoring from Jack Hewitt, Dave finally pulled into victory lane on May 24th, 1998, just a handful of hours after his mentor finished his first Indianapolis 500 in 12th place. 

Staying afterwards at Indy to sign autographs, Hewitt may not have been in the house when Darland finally struck gold, but he was there in spirit.  Addressing the crowd after his April 19th win at the Don Branson/Jud Larson Memorial at Eldora Speedway and looking like a modern-day Hewitt in his dominating performance, Dave divulged, “Thank you Jack for all of your knowledge.  You had a big hand in what I do.” 

Aside from Tracy Hines, no one gets around The Big E better than Darland.  His fifth USAC sprint car victory at the Western Ohio speed plant was also his 48th overall in the same series, just four wins away from tying Tom Bigelow for the all-time mark.  Adding to his midget and Silver Crown scores, it was his 11th Eldora success story.  Quizzed by USAC intern Dillon Welch as to why this place suits him so well, Dave admitted, “It’s the speed, the wall…it’s treacherous and it scares the hell out of me every lap.”

Some may have forgotten that this place threatened his life after a frightening Four Crown Nationals crash in 2001, but no one would have ever noticed in this early season outing.  Eight cars from the end of the order, he clocked fourth fastest in a 31-car field, driving deep into turns one and three.  Charging from sixth to first in less than two laps, he easily owned heat four.  Starting from the inside second row for the thirty lap finale, his only obstacle was pole sitter Chase Stockon.  Chase outdragged fellow front row mate Dallas Hewitt (Simon 22s) to turn one and led the first five laps before Hewitt flipped atop turns three and four to force the first stoppage of the affair. 

Bouncing hard through turn three immediately after the restart, Stockon’s bobble allowed second-place Darland to pounce and pilfer P1 through turn four.  However, Dave’s lead was brief as Chase returned the favor in turn one, closely sliding the People’s Champ and forcing the veteran to stab the brakes to avoid contact. 

As for Eldora’s other maestro, Tracy Hines qualified third after going out last and also won his heat from sixth.  Firing from fifth, Tracy had now closed the gap to the two leaders, further aided by a red flag for a wicked flip for Jarett Andretti, who skied as high as the fence in turns one and two.  

Unbeknownst to this author, Stockon had lost his right front torsion arm after bouncing through turn three after that last restart.  When green lights glowed again, Chase did his best to deny Dave, who threatened in nearly every corner before finally sliding past in turn three of lap 12.  Amber bulbs illuminated for Aaron Farney’s wall contact in corner four, keeping things close for a bit up front.  But clearly in a league of his own, Darland would soon construct a full straight advantage in his Racer’s Advantage Store DRC/Foxco, awarding car owners Steve and Carla Phillips their first Eldora trophy.  Showing no fear of the concrete wall, Stockon successfully held off Hines for second while Jerry Coons, Jr. and quick qualifier Brady Bacon (15.069) found fourth and fifth.  Sixth through tenth included Bryan Clauson (still searching for his first Eldora sprint score), Jon Stanbrough, Justin Grant (up from 13th), Robert Ballou, and Scotty Weir.  An extremely efficient evening, we were headed to the car at 9:36, reminding me of the good old days when Earl Baltes ran an extremely tight ship, especially on these early-season offerings. 

Stopping to talk to Earl’s son-in-law Joe Schmitmeyer on the way out, Joe relayed that Earl was in attendance and would be celebrating his 93rd birthday in the coming week.  Honestly, it doesn’t seem that long ago when he was still in charge, readily admitting to Joe that the corporate image of today’s Eldora Speedway has trumped the raw, innocent charm that seduced me into becoming a sprint car fanatic.  Regardless of the change in feeling, it’s still a highly enjoyable place to watch a race and as I will always maintain, my season has not officially begun until I walk through these gates. 

Gaining goose bumps while watching hot laps from the outside of turn three, pit road observations included long-time Eldora ace mechanic Phil Poor assisting Texan Nathan Moore while Tim Clauson called the shots on Shane Cockrum’s 66.  Remembering when Dave Darland drove his number 91 at Terre Haute’s Jim Hurtubise Classic in July of 1992, Scott Hull stopped to say hello, still readying his sprint car for 2014 action.  Scott noted that his 13 year-old son has his eyes on a mini-sprint but until then, look for the South Whitley native to take his number 48 to some winged Michigan meets before unbolting the airfoil for Indiana action. 

It’s only natural that an Eldora visit came with a conversation with its favorite son Jack Hewitt, who had arrived back home in Troy, Ohio just days before, this after spending the entire winter in sunny Florida.  Here with his wife Jody, a tanned Hewitt made light of his wintertime escape, cracking a smile as he joked, “The only white stuff I want to see is dandruff!”  The absolute king of the one-liners, still in rare form Jack was here to offer whatever advice his nephews Dallas and Huston would accept.  When noting how both have impressed with their previous Eldora outings, Jack admitted that he too liked what he saw from both but warned, “They’ve got two strikes against them.  They’re kids and they’re Hewitts.  They don’t want to listen.” Wondering if he would ever get back behind the wheel of a racecar at his home track, he said he actually turned down an offer to drive a modified for Columbia City’s John Orr at last year’s NASCAR truck event.  Believing he could still get it done in a truck or in a Silver Crown car, perhaps there is still a chance that he might have one more Eldora outing.  But until then, Jack says that he has his grandkid, his two-seat sprint car, and fishing to keep him busy, in that order.  Nudging me to note that he wasn’t quite finished with his statement, he added, “I would still like to have some sex in there too, but I’m getting old.”  Still laughing after that comment, Hewitt is truly one of a kind and in thinking back to what made my early trips to Eldora Speedway so special, a lot of it has to do with this man. 

In honor of my nephew’s 27th birthday, we stopped in Greenville for Maid-Rites before arriving at the speedway.  Joined by my father, my brother Greg, and his son Alek, Eldora is always an Oldham family affair.  Speaking of my nephew, he made a good point when asking, “Why don’t they have a Jack Hewitt Classic at Eldora Speedway?  Good question Dan O.  Good question. 

Another USAC racer who has withstood the test of time is Tracy Hines, who made his 1000th start with the Speedway, Indiana sanctioning body one week later in Haubstadt.  The night before in Gas City, start number 999 resulted in series sprint car win number 46.  Tying him Hewitt on the all-time list, he is now just six short of Bigelow’s record (and three behind Darland).  A second generation racer who began his career in the shadows of his father Jim and older brother Ted, I can faintly remember reading his name in Indianapolis Speedrome results as early as 1992, but by the time he branched out to the national scene one year later, on more than one occasion I can recall his machine already sitting on jack stands when I had arrived, done for the day after crashing in practice. 

Learning through the school of hard knocks, by 1995 Hines finally started showing some real promise, finishing fifth in points after a pair of second place runs.  One week after suffering severe burns in a frightening June of 1996 Richmond, Virginia crash that was televised to the world on ESPN, Tracy showed what the Hines name is all about when he steered Chuck Leary’s backup to his first-ever USAC victory on Winchester’s treacherous high banks.  Suddenly on every car owner’s short list for employment, Tracy even branched out into sprint car competition with Boyce Holt midway through 1997, eventually becoming a Silver Crown and sprint champion in 2000 and 2002.  Heading south for NASCAR duty from 2003 through 2006, nearly all of his truck and Busch rides were low-buck efforts, unable to truly showcase his talent. 

Giving up his big-time dreams for reality, happiness, and satisfaction, he was back for a full USAC tour with Tony Stewart for 2007.  Time-tested once again, his golden opportunity to shine was cut short before the season truly got started after crashing his motorcycle into a fencepost on his property, fracturing his pelvis and left femur while also dislocating his right knee.  After a painful period of recovery and therapy, he nearly bagged that elusive midget championship in 2008, losing the points lead in the waning moments of the season.  The odd-man out when Stewart cut his sprint car roster in half, the bad news did not faze the strong-willed Hines, who returned in a fleet of rides for all three divisions.  Still in search of that midget title to complete the triple crown, he quietly does it all these days, maintaining the machines during the week, driving the tow vehicle to the track, calling the shots on setups, and last but not least, belting in for combat.  Much more humble these days, although the wins are much tougher to come by, he is still a legitimate threat to win on any given night.  

Gas City emphasized that point dramatically.  Starting tenth after qualifying eighth and having to come through the B-main, for the first half of the feature Tracy failed to advance his position. But, one by one the front runners, who had been attacking the treacherous top shelf with reckless abandon, removed themselves from contention while he found the bottom groove first.  After a mid-race restart for an incident involving Dave Darland, Hines restarted fifth but was up to third with ten to go.  Patiently following the infield tires, he surged to first on lap 25 thanks to a supreme, low-side launch off turn two, propelling past previous week Gas City winner Shane Cottle (Epperson 2).  Tested once more for a Jon Stanbrough red flag in turn four, the former "Fastest Man Alive" took the checkered flag in front of Bryan Clauson, who restarted fifth after the Stanbrough red but snatched second from Weir through the final corner.  Weir matched his best USAC finish to date with a solid podium placement in the Keen 18 while Cottle and Chris Windom were fourth and fifth.  Done by 10:45 PM, sixth through ten included Chase Stockon, Kevin Thomas, Jr., Coons, Hunter Schuerenberg, and C.J. Leary (up from 19th). 

Sporting a massive cushion all night long (circa 1999 when guys like Brandon Petty and Eric Shively lived the high life), limited A-main preparations left a slick bottom lane, altogether different from the last eight years when Jiggs Thomason and his crew routinely ripped up the track in response to daylight savings time difficulties.  Beginning from the outside pole and leading the first lap, many believed Bryan Clauson would cruise to an easy score in the TSR 20.  But, two-time track champ Shane Cottle had something to say, finding his way underneath BC to take the point for the next six circuits, placing Tony Epperson’s deuce on the top shelf.  Circling Cottle like he was tied to a post, a hooked up Brady Bacon (quick qualifier at 11.934 seconds) was in his own zip code, looking like a world beater until bicycling in turn three and spinning, victim of the vicious curb.  Soon thereafter, third place Dave Darland bounced to a stop in the same spot, but not before a distinct connection came from Scotty Weir.  After that point, it was an entirely new race, quite an intriguing thirty lapper that saw a little bit of everything. 

Having to leave my Castleton employ at 5:30 PM, after a suicide mission through ungodly Northside rush hour traffic, I was greeted by red flag qualifying conditions after Landon Simon tumbled in turn two.  A little later in the heat races, PPM Titanium employee Robert Ballou crashed for the second week in a row in Grant County, this time ripping the front clip from his Maxim after he blasted the front stretch guardrail.  Miraculously, Robert reappeared the next night in Haubstadt with another car, not sure how he makes it happen week after week when doing it on his own dime.  And, a black cloud continued to follow Logan Jarrett, who crashed in the consolation but exited his tattered number 29 unscathed.  

On the flipside, memorable heat race runs came from Josh Spencer and Nathan Moore, each taking a final transfer position, the former holding off Tracy Hines and the latter taking the spot after Justin Grant’s right rear tire lost air pressure, earning him his first career USAC feature start.  Thomas Meseraull also pulled off a last second pass to crack the A, with Travis Welpott being the B-main victim. 

Parting ways with team owner Mike Dutcher after Lawrenceburg, Kevin Thomas, Jr. was back in his own number nine at Gas City, steering a Spike chassis that had Davey Jones turning screws.  Also assisting were Tony and Tyler Courtney while Matt Hummel managed a set of Factory Kahne shocks that came from his Indianapolis shop.  Qualifying second-best and operating as high as third in the A, his seventh place feature finish was not indicative of how strong of an outing he had.   

Like Eldora, Gas City has a different feel as for the first time in my days of authoring this article, Nona Thomason was not there to greet me at the front office while her do-it-all husband Jiggs was not even on the grounds.  Former sponsor and car owner for three-time track champ John Wolfe, Mel Botkin is the new man in charge and several insiders have said that had it not been for Mel wanting to take the reins, the place would not have opened for 2014.  Although I was not in attendance on opening night, from all accounts it was a difficult indoctrination as nearly everything went wrong.  But in the end, the fans and racers were rewarded with an incredible sprint car feature that saw the top four finishers of Cottle, Stanbrough, Cockrum, and Darland come from 14th, 12th, 15th, and 19th.  Botkin has some new ideas to spice up the local scene, adding midgets to the weekly card, reinstating single-car qualifications for sprint cars, and experimenting with Delaware double-file restarts.  We’ll see how it all pans out but Mel’s second night seemed fairly seamless in comparison.    The KISS sprint cars come calling on May 11th, so all eyes will again focus on Gas City.  Here’s hoping that Mel knocks it out of the park.

Missing from Gas City was Rock Steady Racing pilot Daron Clayton, perhaps saving his best stuff for a bout at his beloved Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Indiana.  If that was the intent, then the plan was executed to perfection as Daron rocked everyone’s world, lucky enough to start from the pole after qualifying seventh but wiring the field in a thirty-lap romp that left only six cars on the lead lap.  Seventh place and one lap down was quick qualifier Bryan Clauson (13.365 seconds), overtaken on the final tour. 

So many times in the last ten years at this southwestern Indiana bullring, I can recall equally impressive performances from Clayton.  There was Labor Day weekend of 2006, when he began mid-pack in a new Maxim wrenched by Bubby Jones and lapped about half the field.  Or, there was the Hoosier Sprint Nationals from 2008 when he found work with Tom Busch, improbably taking the lead in an unfamiliar car, only to throw it all away with a turn one tumble.  In September of 2012 for the Haubstadt Hustler, Daron was unable to find a fire for hot laps or his heat race, tagging the tail of the B and making some bold moves to actually make the A at the last minute.  And after beginning 18th, he charged through the pack for a dramatic $10,000 score, truly the stuff that becomes legendary tales.  Learning setups and a different way to attack this particular speedway from Ol’ Bub, his unorthodox early apexes still seem to work magic, as he has scored 11 times here in the last decade. 

Remembering his first Indiana visits around 2002, from 2004 through 2006 no one stood on the gas harder than Daron.  But to his own detriment, no one tore up as much as equipment, effectively spending his father out of the sport.  For a brief while, he found rides with the Hoffmans and Jeff Walker, but he always seemed to be at his best when he was in his own stuff.  Returning to the winged wars in order to earn a few more bucks, the experiment was short-lived, coming full circle as a poor-boy, journeyman racer.  To his credit, I can think of few other drivers whose attendance guarantees increased front gate admissions, putting butts in the seats with his balls-out driving.  Time-tested like Darland and Hines, as fans we can be thankful that someone like Hank Byram keeps him in the game.

Cutting some incredible celebratory donuts in turn four after the checkered flag (and nearly flipping his Mach One chassis in the process), Daron’s parents joined him on the front stretch for victory lane photos.  Brady Bacon bolted from 11th to second, but he was still more than eight seconds in arrears at the 9:48 PM conclusion.  Jon Stanbrough rounded out the podium while Hunter Schuerenberg and front row starter Brady Short took fourth and fifth.  Grant, Clauson, Leary, Andretti, and Stockon were scored sixth through tenth in a feature that was paused just once for a caution that eliminated an irate Kevin Thomas, Jr.   

This being owner/operator Tommy Helfrich’s 63rd birthday, a USAC/MSCS co-sanction netted 31 cars with no real surprises.  Hot laps saw Jeff Bland, Jr. and Carson Short blast the turn three wall, the latter flipping his number 21 but returning for a second place finish in his heat.  Helping to get the juices flowing, I enjoyed a five-car fight for second place in the first heat, not to mention an impressive flash from fifth to first in the second event by early season bad-ass Brady Short.  The final heat was punctuated by a violent first lap incident involving Shane Cockrum and Wes McIntyre that reminded just how quickly things can take a turn for the worse.  From my front stretch vantage point, Cockrum dive-bombed the bottom of turn three and climbed the left rear of McIntyre, sending the McCordsville chauffeur head-on into Haubstadt boiler plate.  So tired of redneck NASCAR announcers calling crashes into safer barriers "hard licks”, had they been witness to McIntyre’s contact that turned the front half of his chassis into a banana, then they might actually understand the meaning of their overused term.  I did not make it back to the pit area to see if tempers flared, but if these were the days when Bob Kinser or Jack Hewitt raced, an eye or two would have been dotted and some blood would have been shed.   Nevertheless, this stuff tends to happen quite often on these tight bullrings, but the presence of police pretty much guarantees that immediate paybacks are a thing of the past.

Energized by Clayton’s stirring performance for our long drive back to Indy, my nephew rode shotgun as I employed I-69 to U.S. 231, fueling up in Bloomfield with a king size Whatchamacallit and a Red Bull.  Hearing the thunder of a westbound Indiana Railroad locomotive on the former Illinois Central line, on the way out of town I saw a sign on the right pointing to the tiny White River town of Elliston, which was once home to an extremely rare three-way railroad crossing.  Hoping to one day explore Elliston in daylight hours, I plan on bypassing the upcoming Indianapolis Grand Prix for a return to the Class Track for the World of Outlaws, saluting The King one more time.    

As I have learned from the rollercoaster ride of my own life, to gain anything of significant value requires patience, persistence, and a heaping helping of work, stress, and sweat.  All recent winners with the United States Auto Club, Dave Darland, Tracy Hines, and Daron Clayton are living proof, as each had to initially survive a difficult stretch of proving that they belonged in the upper echelon of short track open wheel racing.  Even as they became established stars, they were continually challenged by injuries, crashes, a significantly changing landscape of nearly extinct car owners, and an onslaught of young gassers that pushed the envelope of speed and danger.  Still effective all these years later, Darland, Hines, and Clayton are the epitome of time-tested talent, adding further fuel to my insatiable desire for dirt track action.    




Volume 16, Number 2

Formula Diminutive

Back in the early 1990s when Diamond P Sports covered Phoenix International Raceway’s Copper World Classic for The Nashville Network’s American Sports Cavalcade, I will always remember a particular technical segment involving the late Steve Evans, who highlighted the intricacies and evolving technology in what was then a vibrant and robust midget racing scene.  Back in that incredible era, there were so many different chassis and engine builders, so many colorful car owners, so many talented chauffeurs, and if you can remember, so many great races, especially on the big mile at PIR which served as midget racing’s Indy 500.  So genuinely enthused about the equipment, instead of naming these intriguing and sophisticated machines midgets, Steve suggested a more appropriate name might be “Formula Diminutive”.  

Without question, those were some rather fond memories of this sport, its popularity ignited by the white-hot exposure achieved from ESPN’s Thursday and Saturday Night Thunder series.  But after Thunder and live TV disappeared in the early 2000s, so did a large number of those car owners and all that ingenuity, especially after engine and chassis costs skyrocketed to another stratosphere.  Currently on life support and on the verge of extinction, USAC pavement midget competition is completely splintered from the dirt division, paying separate points with a paltry seven race schedule serving as the charred remains of a high-profile feeder division.  How long the asphalt assignments will exist is debatable, but just like traditional sprint cars, fan and competitor interest has switched to dirt bullrings.    

Thanks to the cooperation of groups like USAC, POWRi, and BMARA in co-sanctioning signature events, there seems to be a slow but steady midget resurgence outside of the Chili Bowl.  Thriving contests such as Indiana Midget Week, Illinois Midget Week, and the Gold Crown Nationals serve as prime examples, not to mention the efforts of promoters in Montpelier and Gas City, Indiana, where midget madness is offered in its purest form on a semi-regular basis.  And, the return of California’s famed Turkey Night Grand Prix to its soiled roots certainly has re-injected interest. 

When speaking of the words Grand Prix, this term is not normally reserved for midget car contests but rather Formula One affairs, as featured in James Garner’s famous racing flick from the 1960s that bears the same name.  In the spirit of Turkey Night, Kokomo Speedway concocted a Midwestern version involving both USAC and POWRi, serving up an early April spectacular dubbed the Kokomo Grand Prix.  Back for a second attempt after a complete washout in 2013, it’s only appropriate that this meeting would feature Formula Diminutive, as this track was originally constructed for midgets back in 1947 and was once host to the Night Before the 500 classic from 1959 through 1961 and 1965 through 1968.  

Paying handsome sums of $4,000 and $6,000 to win Friday and Saturday showings, I missed the first round in favor of the comedic routine of one Jerry Seinfeld, whose NBC sitcom still ranks as my all-time favorite.  Seinfeld tickets went on sale in February and given that there was only one show, I pressed the purchase button, believing that rain is all too common on April Fridays.  Warm, bright, and sunny on the drive to the Murat Theatre, an extremely enjoyable evening of laughter and hilarious observations actually helped me forget about Formula Diminutive for 90 minutes.  Jerry’s act was one week after sampling the act of Steve Hytner, whose most famous role was that of Kenny Bania on the same Seinfeld show.  Although he doesn’t do his Seinfeld bits in person, Steve might just be the funniest man alive, providing the best medicine after some rather intense work weeks. 

Before Seinfeld started, my nephew texted an impressive Friday car count of 46 for the USAC national midget series opener, denoting that Dave Darland was quickest of all in the RW Motorsports Beast/Fontana Spec 6.   By the time I got home from the show, I could have actually made the drive to Kokomo for the B and A features, but house guests and an impending Saturday morning at the office meant waking up to a text that read Rico Abreu leading all thirty tours, with Darland and a first lap bicycling Christopher Bell rounding out the podium. 

Saturday was more of the same, but it wasn’t quite as easy for the “Little Giant”.  He still led a majority of the affair (laps 14 through 40) but his cause was helped when teammate and leader Christopher Bell bounced through turn three and broke a right rear torsion stop while at the same time, second place Kevin Thomas, Jr. (who led laps 4 through 8 after overtaking Tyler Courtney) flattened a right rear tire.  Waging war with new leader Bryan Clauson for two tours, Abreu swept the top shelf to propel to P1, but the race was anything but over at that point.  Facing heavy heat from Clauson as lapped traffic became an issue, after restarts with 13 and 11 to go Bryan bounced through turn one irregularities and was mauled by Michael Pickens (RFMS 3) and Darren Hagen (Hmiel 56).  Setting the stage for a ten lap dash to the checkered, Rico kept his two Keith Kunz Motorsports teammates behind him for the big score. 

It’s been a killer 2014 for Abreu, who began the year with impressive showings in New Zealand and the Chili Bowl.  Winning both ends of the ASCS national opener in Yuma, he backed that up with a Silver Cup collection in Chico along with a humongous World of Outlaws win in Tulare and a Stockton open competition 360 score.   After adding two more triumphs in Kokomo and a King of the West war in Placerville, it becomes easy to see who is currently the hottest man in the short-track, open wheel arena.  Being a black and white, debits equal credits kind of guy, I like things that fit together and make sense.  So, the fact that the smallest man in the pit area would be the inaugural king of Kokomo’s Grand Prix for size-challenged machinery seemed rather appropriate. 

Thrashing all day Saturday at work and feeling some incredible amounts of tension as the clock crept closer to 5 PM, I still needed to head home, get changed, and gather my gear before bolting north.  Finding heavy U.S. 31 construction traffic through Westfield and nearly having a nervous breakdown,  thankfully hot laps commenced much later than anticipated, allowing for a full program and a chance to finally unwind. 

The best of USAC, POWRi, and ARDC appeared 45 cars strong on night number two and for the second consecutive evening, Darland clocked quickest at 13.319 seconds, just a tick slower than Friday’s standard of 13.299.  Dave drew second to last, with the qualifying rundown indicating that no matter where you drew, a good result was still a possibility.  Coming out 31st, Caleb Armstrong took Terry Klatt’s Beast/Chevy to second, a strong effort aided by legendary wrench Bob East, who roamed the concrete concourse while his wife Janice rooted from the stands.  With Beast chassis one and two in qualifying and Bob and Janice in full view, this reminded me those glory years of the early ‘90s when Formula Diminutive and Steve Lewis Racing was all the rage.   

Out 12th was third-quick Rico Abreu, followed by Tracy Hines (out 6th), Kevin Thomas, Jr. (out 5th in Kenny Brown’s 17), and Christopher Bell (out 19th).  A solid seventh was female sensation Taylor Ferns, lassoing SR11 Stanton Mopar horses for chief mechanic Kevin Besecker.  Tyler Courtney (Wilke 11), Zach Daum, and Chili Bowl hero Bryan Clauson rounded out the top-ten.  From qualifying alone, I counted five different engine makes and five different chassis manufacturers.  It may not be quite the same level of diversity and individual ingenuity as those early ‘90s, but nonetheless it’s still positive news to report.

Catching up with former Thunder in the Dome midget winner Besecker after qualifying, the well-spoken wrench divides his time taking care of equipment for both the Ferns and Armstrong families.      Dropping a bit of a bombshell, Kevin noted that the two groups acquired a fleet of four rolling Maxim chassis formerly operated by Craig Dollansky, switching their focus from midgets to dirt winged sprint cars.  Dipping toes into Southern Ohio waters first, Kevin commented that his goal was to get Caleb sharp enough to compete with the World of Outlaws by Charlotte’s World Finals.  Noting how the Armstrongs were completely selling out of midget inventory, the reason for the switch was disenchantment with the outrageous spending, frustrated by the power differential that exists between the Toyotas constructed by Rick Long’s Speedway Engine Development (as found in the trio of Keith Kunz cars) and the rest of the field.  Ever since the late 1940s when the costly and purpose-built Offenhauser overwhelmed the Ford V-8 60, Formula Diminutive has always been an expensive endeavor, so not much has changed in some seventy-plus years. 

Each one of Saturday’s four heats was won from the front row, the closest finish coming when midget rookie Spencer Bayston (BCI 39) held off mentor/car owner Bryan Clauson to claim heat two, seeing Clauson contemplate a last lap slider until wisely recoiling.  Speaking of sliders, Shane Cottle’s (Ecker 57) attempted overtaking of Christopher Bell came with heavy contact, bouncing Bell to the B-main.  The best prelim was heat three, where a seemingly unlimited supply of slides-for-life were swapped between Andrew Felker and Rico Abreu.  Seven or eight times, the two traded the final transfer with all-out aggression, but the Little Giant secured the spot.   

In between heats and C, I spoke to Levi Jones for the first time in a long while, now caretaker and crew chief for Shane Hmiel’s squad that again had Darren Hagen installed in the seat.  Reinventing his career after abruptly retiring as a driver late last June, the five-time sprint car and two-time Silver Crown king has a full slate as a true working man, tending to his family’s chain of Rural King farm and home retail stores and spending time as a doting father to his wife and two children.  Getting his thrills through team management, maintenance programs, and successful setups, he even serves as a consultant to Jarett Andretti’s sprint car effort and plans on fielding a Jack Rogers racer for some lucky soul later this year.  Quizzed if he missed stabbing and steering, the obvious answer was yes and when asked how his repaired neck felt after his September 2012 surgery, his response was fine, although he indicated that his left arm was still fairly weak and one of the fingers on his left hand was completely numb.   Earning his first dirt mile Silver Crown win at last May’s Hoosier Hundred, Jones admitted that the fire to win on both home state one mile ovals in Springfield and DuQuoin still burns deep, throwing out the remote possibility that he might get back in the saddle in a family owned Silver Crown car if he can find enough sponsorship for a decent engine.  Here’s hoping that such a statement becomes reality, as the open wheel scene just isn’t the same without Levi playing a pivotal role in the outcome.  

Kokomo calamity began with a C-main spill by Isaac Chapple, followed by a pair of upside down B-main excursions by Rumble in the Expo winner Justin Peck.  Spencer Bayston also inverted in the A, which could have easily swallowed more given the treachery of the top shelf.  But, such surface character didn’t stop guys like Michael Pickens (whose inboard brake rotor glowed bright orange) from making hay.  Going back to the B, Taylor Ferns surrendered a transfer on the white flag lap after suffering mechanical gremlins.  Davey Ray also had a feature spot in hand before dropping two spots to Andrew Felker and Shane Hollingsworth, both on the final tour.  Luckily for Ray, he was able to tag the tail thanks to a provisional pass.  Ecker associates Shane Cottle and Jerry Coons, Jr. were the biggest names to miss Saturday’s cut, surprising given just how historically strong both are in Formula Diminutive, especially at Kokomo. 

The A-main ended up being a survival of the fittest, as just half of the 26 starters finished the forty-lapper.  Outside of the Keith Kunz podium sweep, Tracy Hines made it a Toyota foursome with his fourth place effort.  Tyler Thomas (from 15th), Kevin Thomas, Jr. (back from his flat right rear), Andrew Felker (from 18th), Zach Daum, Parker Price-Miller (from 16th), and Shane Hollingsworth (from 24th) finished fifth through tenth.  Crowd favorite Dave Darland dropped like a rock from his third row start before exiting stage left around lap 24.    

Although a vast majority of its players have changed since the early 1990s, in the big picture the midget racing song remains the same.  Engine and chassis diversity still exists, but yet another super team with huge horsepower and mind-blowing talent holding steering wheels and wrenches tends to dominate proceedings.  Many might see that as a negative, but car and fan counts are rising and the racing is still as exciting as ever, thanks to successful outdoor events like the Kokomo Grand Prix.  Packing such a huge entertainment punch and generating a lot of noise from such a small package, it might be cooler and more politically correct to label them “Formula Diminutive”, but I’m ok with just calling them midgets.  




Volume 16, Number 1

Opening Day

Is there anything more sacred, cherished, or eagerly anticipated than the opening day of a new sports season?  Back in the day, the last day of school or the Christmas season were high on my list of things to get excited about but now that I’m a working adult who has nearly everything he wants (except for a pool table or a Ford Raptor pickup), it’s all about the extracurricular activities.  Of the stick and ball variety, I find football and basketball the most entertaining, but given the gloom and doom of Indiana winter weather that eventually arrives with each, I honestly don’t get that pumped for either.      

Baseball and Indiana sprint car competition offer an altogether different feeling.  Sharing the same seasons, the beginning of both give reason to believe that life is actually worth living.  Having endured one of the worst winters in at least two decades and a pathetic season of Indiana University basketball, day after day of blowing snow and frigid temps tended to get a little monotonous.  Indiana Pacer pride was a ray of sunshine in an otherwise gray off-season but just when you thought we had seen the worst of weather, another winter storm warning was announced.  Even an official change of season was no guarantee for better weather, as the very day that the Indiana bullring scene was scheduled to blast off saw a massive morning snow shower.  Waiting five and a half months for some outdoor open wheel action and even longer to hear Marty Brennaman announce a Cincinnati Reds game on 700 WLW, there is no surer sign of hope and happiness than the traditional Major League Baseball opener in Cincinnati or the first race of the season in the Hoosier state. 

For the second consecutive season, Brownstown, Indiana played host to Indiana’s initial outing with its No Way Out 40.  A tribute to the late Jesse Hockett who claimed this event in 2010, it was only a month and a half later when his life was tragically cut short after being electrocuted while working on his race trailer.   Moved from a damp and chilly Saturday to a sunny Sunday twilight affair, I scooped up my nephew from his downtown digs and some seventy minutes later, a packed pit area was within sight, hard to believe that opening day was finally a reality.   Pondering the postponement to Sunday, I had to be thankful that a rain date was actually considered, such a rarity in this day and age of inflexible, jam-packed schedules.     

Motivated by 7,500 George Washington portraits, a whopping 51 sprint cars paid tribute, one of the best turnouts for a non-sanctioned affair in recent memory.  Populated by an impressive contingent of cars and stars, one of them included Jesse Hockett’s family-owned machine.  Decked out in Easter-egg hues of pink and blue, its driver was USAC triple crown champ Jerry Coons, Jr., who carried the American flag as he slowly circled the quarter-mile paperclip during the playing of the National Anthem.  Unfortunately for Jerry and the Hockett clan, it just wasn’t their day after falling several spots shy of the A-main.  Say what you will, but this isn’t NASCAR, where a phony, feel-good story is right around the corner for timely, positive publicity.     

Call me old-school and crotchety, but a Midwestern sprint car opening day just doesn’t feel right or get the juices flowing if it’s not in Rossburg, Ohio.  But to cure a bad case of cabin fever, beggars can’t be choosy and Brownstown would have to do.  In all honesty, this first sprint car contest of the season has as much to do with the sights and sounds as it does the social aspect.  Case in point:  three times during the course of the afternoon/evening I attempted to make my way back to my car for additional clothing and then to the pit area, but each one of those times I bumped into friendly faces like Brent Goodnight, Jimmy Hypes, and John Hoover, stopping to converse until the sounds of sprint cars called us back to our seats.  I never made it to my car until the feature was over, but feeling so good to be back in my element and amongst so many friendly fanatics, this is why we must come back week after week, year after year. 

Arriving ten minutes before hot lapping commenced, from the turn one stands I cleaned cobwebs from the brain by jotting down car numbers and names as they flashed past for single-car, one-lap qualifications.  Divided into four segments and setting heat race lineups in straight-up fashion, each of the four heats had pole sitters in the form of 2013 track/series champions, as evidenced by Lawrenceburg lord C.J. Leary (wrenched by Derek Claxton), Bloomington baron Brady Short (still wearing a cast on his right wrist after an Ocala spill), MSCS king Jon Stanbrough (making his Indiana debut for Mike Dutcher), and the consensus People’s Champ Dave Darland (in a second Stensland 41 to Thomas Meseraull).

Despite the massive amounts of moisture from the previous day, Brownstown soil was packed tight and sealed shut as damp conditions turned to dry towards the end of the qualifying line.  Such transformation was not a shocker and had the surface been left open, Sunday would have been spent watching the Indy car opener at home.  Lightly spritzed for the heats, all but one of them was claimed from the front row, the lone exception being Brady Bacon’s score from the second row.  Surprised to see him in the Hoffman 69, its unsanctioned appearances are just as scarce as Sunday afternoon rain dates.  Bryan Clauson (Stewart 20), Short (half-tracking the field), and Robert Ballou were the other winners, with spirited drives coming from two-time and defending UMP national modified champion Devin Gilpin (transferring through heat four for the legendary Hurst brothers - his second-ever non-wing sprint showing), Aaron Farney (9th to 2nd in the same heat), and Chris Gurley.  After being punted by Dakota Jackson in the first heat and stretching through his roll cage to flip him the bird, Gurley came through the field to score the final transfer. 

Twin consolations were claimed by Hunter Schuerenberg (joined by socket-spinning Jake Argo in a new collaboration with Gene Nolen) and Bradley Sterrett, as Jordan Kinser and Tyler Courtney (in Scooter Ellis’s coil-front F5/Twister) finagled the final feature seats. Including Coons, some of the notable names loading up early included Darland (spinning three 360s in his heat), Meseraull, Christian (in the one down tube sticker car), Briscoe, Hupp, Jarrett, Boespflug, East (back in a Klatt Enterprises Beast), Hayden, and Gaines (unable to fire Scott Pedersen’s 4).  Just two spots from a transfer was Muncie, Indiana mini-sprint graduate Cole Ketcham, looking very solid in his initial sprint car showing.   

Much like the very next day in Cincinnati, come feature time the cream rose to the top in the form of two-time defending USAC national sprint car champion Bryan Clauson.  Battling side-by-side for the first ten laps with fellow front row mate Brady Short, Clauson eventually pulled away, comfortably constructing a half-straight advantage on seventh-starting Jon Stanbrough and Short to claim the big check and reaffirm his stance atop the sprint car throne.   

Just before going green, a four-wide salute left the pole open to Jesse Hockett and aside from the first ten laps, feature action was fairly tame on the wide, slicked-off surface.  Short tried to advance with his signature off-the-backstretch adventures, but because progressive off-camber banking had been altered over the off-season, Brady’s bid for first was denied.  Three cautions for Casey Shuman (Krockenberger 21), Chase Stockon, and Hunter Schuerenberg kept things interesting, allowing last row starters Jordan Kinser and Tyler Courtney to impressively advance all the way to fifth and fourth respectively.  Daron Clayton, Kevin Thomas, Jr., Aaron Farney, Bradley Sterrett (from 18th), and Brady Bacon were sixth through tenth at the 9:06 PM checkered. 

A little further east on U.S. 50, another monumental opening day took place the next day in the Queen City.  And once again, the St. Louis Cardinals proved that they are still the benchmark for success in the National League Central division, blanking the Reds 1-0.  It should be noted that the home team was already decimated by key injuries, but as a diehard Reds rooter it’s extremely frustrating to know that even with a managerial change and limited roster moves, the red legs still can’t hold a candle to the red birds, who took two of three in the opening series.  It’s hard to know if their respective roles will be reversed over the course of a brutal 162-game season but nonetheless, this is why I enjoy my racing activities, as it numbs the day-to-day agony of the baseball season. 

As much as I’d like to see Bryan Clauson earn another shot at the big time, even if he manages to dominate another Indiana summer, that’s more than ok with me.  Like a fine wine, the kid from Noblesville just keeps getting better with age and it’s easy to feel good for his success, as there is such a positive aura that surrounds him.  I can’t say the same thing for the equally impressive Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, whose neck tattoo automatically qualifies him as the villain.   

The next Saturday dawned bright and sunny, perfect weather for the USAC Midwestern sprint car opener in Lawrenceburg.  Hitting the road in timely fashion and flipping on the radio to hear how the Reds finished off the Mets for their second win of the season, much to my dismay I learned that a 3-2 ninth inning lead turned into a 6-3 defeat, as reliever J.J. Hoover coughed up yet another grand slam.  It’s a good thing that The Burg was on the horizon, otherwise I might have been in a bad mood for the rest of the weekend.  Nabbing my nephew in the shadows of Wannamaker’s former Big Z quarter midget course that spawned so many famous careers, about an hour later we enjoyed the trip down the always-picturesque State Road 1.  Noticing that Dover’s Horseshoe Inn had closed, we were happy to see running water in the adjoining creek/river that’s normally dry.  Somewhat surprised to see snow sticking to the slopes of Perfect North and with most of the foliage still brown, early April appeared more like early March. 

As angry as I still felt for the choke of epic proportions from the Reds, I can only imagine the frustration felt by Jon Stanbrough at the conclusion of Saturday night’s feature.  After taking the lead from pole sitter Dave Darland on lap ten, quick-qualifier Stanbrough worked traffic to perfection and opened up a straightaway advantage on second place.  His first win of 2014 was well in sight until a lap 28 caution flew for C.J. Leary.   But, that once-certain win was now in doubt, as Jon now had eleventh-starting Justin Grant breathing down his neck after finding the tricky and treacherous top shelf to his liking.  Bouncing through a mysterious hole in turns one and two immediately after going green, Jon fell to fifth as Grant galloped to the big win, a fitting ending to celebrate his reunion with car owner Mark Hery, with whom he shared great success two seasons ago, including an Indiana Sprint Week score at this same venue.  As bad as I felt for Stanbrough and his Mike Dutcher super squad, I felt equally good for Grant and his underdog effort, highlighting the benefits of sprint car fandom.  There might just be one feature winner, but there are so many other stories that offer intrigue and satisfaction.  The same thing couldn’t be said for my baseball misery, at least in these first few weeks of the season. 

Backing up to the beginning of the Burg’s opening evening, a fine field of 42 benefitted from Putnamville pulling its season-opening plug, as heavy rains pounded the Hoosier state late in the week.  Making my first pass through pit lane this year, there really were no surprises, as the scene had not changed much since my last USAC union at this same speedway last September.  Pleased to see legendary mechanic Bob Hampshire back in a USAC sprint car corral with a familiar number 63 for Kody Swanson, one change I did notice was the presence of former Jeff Walker wrench Kyle Dautrich calling the shots for Jarett Andretti.  Off-season Andretti analysis had help coming from seven-time USAC champ Levi Jones. But in speaking to Levi one week later, he admitted sending setup sheets to the Andretti compound awhile back, planning on being at the track to assist whenever possible.  Tonight was not one of those nights, however.      

Predicting world dominance from Clauson after he was clocked quickest in hot laps, time trials proved that even the best are human after he wound up ninth in the rundown.  I was also incorrect in believing that the surface would be toast towards the end of the order, as Jon Stanbrough topped the charts (13.727) after going out second to last.  Back in the Keen 18, defending Gas City stud Scotty Weir was second while Jerry Coons, Jr. (also back in the Edison 10), C.J. Leary (out first), Thomas Meseraull, and Brady Bacon completed the quick six.  Upon congratulating Coons for his solid performance, Jerry noted that when not in the red 10, he’d be in a similar Spike for Gene Nolen, who acquired an engine from the Jonathan Hendrick camp. 

Lawrenceburg’s lightning-fast surface proved challenging for overtaking, but three of the four heat race winners (Clauson, Justin Grant, and Chase Stockon) came from the second row and only one of the quick six (Bacon) failed to make the cut.  Opening eyes with solid second and third place finishes in the final heat, Jarett Andretti and Travis Hery even impressed this jaded fan.  Come B-main time, action intensified thanks to Mister Excitement Daron Clayton, who started 12th but drove the wheels off Hank Byram’s Mach 1 to gain an apparent transfer, only to be denied thanks to two yellows, one red, and undisclosed issues that forced an early exit.  The choppy and tacky track bit Brady Short (biking from third to eighth) but favored Logan Jarrett, who stole the final transfer from Jeff Bland, Jr. on the final tour.  Just missing the cut was Landon Simon, who was looking good thanks to new sponsorship from e-cigarette company Mt. Baker Vapor.  Spotting him at the same Batesville Skyline Chili later that night, the young Simon must have good taste. 

Aside from Stanbrough and his fall from grace, there were a host of others singing the blues after Saturday night’s feature.  Chris Windom would be one such soul, surging from tenth to third in just five laps in Jeff Walker’s Jam-It-In Storage Maxim/Claxton.  But, during a caution for an Andretti-Hery entanglement, Chris’s left rear tire chose a crappy time to go flat.  Expecting a better recovery, Windom only worked his way back to 13th.  Outside pole-sitter Thomas Meseraull also pitted under the same caution and never returned to battle.    

Teammate to Stanbrough in the Mike Dutcher Motorsports brigade, Kevin Thomas, Jr. had a night he’d rather forget, a vast departure from this race one year ago when he claimed a scintillating score thanks to a last lap lunge.  Timing a disappointing 14th and missing a feature transfer through his heat, after a B-main barrage he gathered an A-main seat outside of the seventh row.  Thomas’s lackluster start to the season was further intensified after being swept up in a Bryan Clauson bicycle.  KT cartwheeled while Clauson clawed his way back to ninth.   

And last but not least, the Hines family had a horrific showing on Saturday night.  Proudly wearing Carolina Nut colors, Tracy encountered some under-the-hood issues that caused him to miss his spot in the qualifying line, coming out last to claim the 22nd spot on the charts.  Gaining a feature transfer through his heat, Tracy took the green flag from the 20th position and looked to improve his position through attrition.  But, his A-main performance was simply not up to snuff, adding insult to injury after suffering an exasperating DNF in the last two laps.  During the B-main, Tracy’s older brother Ted clipped an infield marker tire entering turn one and dumped his DRC in a big way, the sudden landing somewhat concerning for the 52 year-old.  Thankfully, Ted walked away from the mess unscathed.    

Chasing Grant’s DRC/Claxton combination to the 10:18 checkered were Darland, Coons, Bacon, and Stanbrough.  Stockon, Weir, Schuerenberg, Clauson, and Jarrett (his best USAC effort to date) represented the second half of the top-ten.   Heading into this weekend’s Branson-Larson Memorial at Eldora, Darland leads Grant by just one USAC marker.  Weekly wingless sprint cars rule Lawrenceburg Saturday nights through May 17th, which happens to be a KISS contest.  The World of Outlaws come calling on Memorial Day, with the month of June consisting of just two dates, a BOSS bash on the 7th and Indiana Midget Week on the 14th

Two weeks have transpired in this 2014 season for the boys of summer and if I have learned anything, it’s that my long-standing belief that stick and ball sports do nothing but disappoint has been upheld.  It’s not that I have to win every single day of the year, but I just can’t stand losing and owning such an attitude will never allow me to get to September without a massive amount of stress.  So for the sake of my own health, it’s a good thing that the sprint car season is also in full swing, as each dirt track date is an escape from reality and a winning feeling regardless of who takes the checkered flag first.  Now into my 16th consecutive season of submitting my thoughts through this website, for the first time in a long while I can genuinely state that I am excited to get this season started.  Gentlemen:  instead of pushing piles of snow let’s push-start those engines please!  




Volume 15, Number 7


Still stuck in a 1970s rock and roll world, although I thoroughly enjoy listening to this particular genre, I own zero talent in the musical arena whatsoever. The seventh of eight offspring, I paved my own path by refraining from playing an instrument for the middle or high school band, the first in my family to make such a decision. I still have no clue concerning musical notes, nor can I discern sounds from different brands of guitars. All I know is that this style of music soothes my soul when faced with life’s most stressful situations.

Continuing to reflect on those awkward teenage years, I can remember the dread of a deadline for a book report or a paper, as words flowed as smoothly for me as the process of pulling stubborn teeth. Writing was painful but perhaps the subject matter was the issue, as I rarely expounded on the things that I was most passionate about. So ironic that I currently find refuge in expressing myself through words, often times I brainstorm titles and themes by listening to lyrics from those beloved bands from the ‘70s. This edition is one such example.

The weekend following the final Indiana outdoor sprint car contest was an odd one. Suddenly chilly and overcast, I found myself alone on a Saturday afternoon with a long list of tasks to complete. Uncharacteristically postponing routine yard work and exercise for later in the day, instead I headed west on state road 32 to the Boone County seat of Lebanon to visit Mo’s Vintiques, the recently opened haven for nostalgic motor heads. While staring at the open road and the barren farmland that stretched to infinity; with the blink of an eye I envisioned the final few laps of the previous Friday’s Kokomo Klash sprint car feature. Easily identifying the machines of Dave Darland and Jon Stanbrough as they tracked down leader Jerry Coons, Jr., after a millisecond or two those same images completely disappeared, reminding me that the lonely offseason had suddenly been thrust upon us.

Perhaps I simply have an excessive case of racing being on the brain, but I also could have just experienced an afterimage, which by definition is a type of optical illusion in which an image continues to appear briefly, even after exposure to the actual image has ended. Granted this notion may be a little far fetched as my exposure to the Kokomo Klash came eight days prior, but the reason I was able to associate with this technical term is my passion for music from the Canadian rock trio Rush. Coming from their 1984 album Grace Under Pressure, Afterimage was written by drummer/lyricist Neal Peart as a dedication to Robbie Whelan, a close friend of Peart who passed away but had worked as an assistant engineer on some of the band’s earlier albums, most notably Moving Pictures and Signals. As the song goes, “Suddenly you were gone…from all the lives you left your mark upon.”

Yes, the racing season suddenly was gone, leaving me in a state of reflection on this slightly gloomy Saturday. states that an afterimage can retain the colors of the original stimulus (a positive afterimage), or the colors might be in reverse, like a photographic negative (a negative afterimage). The conditions favoring the production of afterimages are either brief exposures to intense or very bright stimuli in otherwise dark conditions, or prolonged exposures to colored stimuli in well-lighted conditions.

I could definitely identify with the last explanation for my sprint car afterimage, as an intense 48 race campaign spanning from March to October served as my prolonged exposure to some highly colorful and entertaining stimuli. Continuing to follow 32 into Lebanon and bypassing the tempting Milky Way dairy bar, I eventually hung a right, which led me to the courthouse square, a path that I encountered on my first day of driver’s education in 1987. Making another left on Main, this pointed me in the direction of a beautifully restored 1930’s era filling station flanked by a pair of vintage Mobil gas pumps out front. With a classic cage-less quarter-midget resting on the roof and an Offy Owners Association sign above the door, I knew that I was in the right place. Eyeing an awesome high-wheeled bicycle as I walked to the building, the tiny station was chock full of petroleum signs, vintage mini bikes, go-karts, cast-iron toys, tether cars, slot cars, Hot Wheels and Matchbox die-cast cars, games, clocks, license plates, patches, racing pictures, programs, trophies, and posters – all of it available for trade or purchase. If you enjoy testosterone-charged stuff with a checkered past, then this is the place for you, as proprietor Kyle Moody shares a similar passion for sprint and midget racing. Located at 319 West Main Street and open from Thursday through Sunday, stop in for a visit, give Kyle a call at 765-481-2133, or check out his Facebook page at

Conversing with Kyle regarding my last two racing excursions of 2013, I again blinked my eyes and those afterimages appeared and disappeared in an instant. Sending me back two weeks to Eldora’s University of Northwestern Ohio Sprintacular, I still get fired up when recalling the details of that day.

Basking in the glow of 75 degrees of unseasonable warmth, I scooped up Speed Ball and exited I-69 at Pendleton, where we both noticed that the former Boles Chevrolet and most recent Stoops used car outlet was empty once again. Two names in open wheel circles that were responsible for four USAC sprint car championships (’86, ’87, ’88, and ’95), a Silver Crown title (’95), and an All Star Circuit of Champions crown (’90), drivers like Steve Butler, Tray House, Terry Shepherd, and Tony Stewart piloted equipment either owned or sponsored by Willie Boles and Jeff Stoops. Following the all-too familiar route of U.S. 36 to the state line straddling 227, after a few miles north I deviated from the Union City norm by angling east on Greenville Pike, which surprisingly became Ohio route 502. My first time on 502, the primary purpose was to acquire a sack of Maid-Rite loose meat sandwiches. Skillfully devouring several as we passed through Ansonia and Rossburg, soon we rolled up the concrete driveway that once belonged to the Earl of Eldora, where tonight a whopping 120 sprint cars would pack the pits.

Unencumbered by modifieds or tin tops and divided into three classes, the winged 410 cubic inch All Star Circuit of Champions served as the headliner, joined by the 360 cubic inch winged NRA Sprint Invaders and the BOSS wingless warriors. The All Stars earned 37 cars and the NRA numbered 29, but can you believe that the BOSS boasted 54? Without cubic inch, minimum weight, or tire rules, car and driver combinations literally came out of the woodwork for this wingless match, so many machines that I had never previously witnessed. It’s been ten years since I last recall such an impressive turnout of traditional sprint cars on this property, so naturally I had something to be excited about right off the bat.

Reminded of those glorious mid-October Eldora All Star finales from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s that featured nail-biting, drama-filled championship deciders, this was once again their season-ender as three-time reigning king Tim Shaffer and Dale Blaney would battle for both Ohio region and national honors. Although Butch Schroeder had already wrapped up the 2013 NRA title, the ultimate BOSS bounty would be awarded as well. Five men had a shot at that, including leader Tony Beaber, Brandon Spithaler, Mike Miller, Aaron Middaugh, and Kirk Jeffries.

Wielding his own winged 410 and wingless weapons, Brady Bacon was the only one to test all three disciplines after teaming with Randy Hannagan in a second Dennis Yoakam 360. As for those doing the double, I counted ten. Seven operated exclusively with airfoils, including Kevin Swindell (in a pair belonging to Bernie Stuebgen), Shane Stewart (in Joe Gaerte’s 3G and a previously unseen number 29 for 360 duty), Tim Shaffer (adding a Ron Hammons 360), Lucas Wolfe (whipping both 410 and 360 horses for Destiny Motorsports), Ronnie Blair, and Mark Smith. Three more split time between the 410 winged and non-winged ranks, namely Brandon Spithaler, Brent Matus, and Brandon Matus. Almost time for hibernation, like a squirrel in search of nuts before snow blankets the ground, this was truly an all-you-can-eat sprint car smorgasbord. Quantity may not always equal quality, but on this evening, you actually got both, so impressed with an All Star field that also contained South Dakota standouts Mark Dobmeier and Justin Henderson (Jessup 7k), Trey Starks, Brandon Wimmer (Hammer 24), and Sheldon Haudenschild (Marshall 33).

Because temperatures are normally twenty degrees cooler at this time of the year, hot laps were scheduled to roll off at an early 4:30 PM. Hearing how the thermometer was warmer than the June Ohio Sprint Speedweek round, the whole thing seemed too good to be true. June’s winner was Jac Haudenschild, who began the night in fine fashion by clocking quickest at 13.032 seconds in Tom Leidig’s 59. Coming four cars from the end of the qualifying line, Haud’s number one lap was even more impressive when figuring that the first four cars in line timed third (Cole Duncan), second (Danny Holtgraver), fifth (Ian Madsen), and sixth (Rob Chaney). NRA 360 artillery was up next, timing four at a time in seven separate sessions. Over a full second slower than the 410 All Stars, Dennis Yoakam’s driving contingent of Randy Hannagan and Brady Bacon swept the top-two 360 spots.

The BOSS sprinters did not clock in but hot laps still offered intrigue, as you had no more than a dozen drivers with significant Eldora experience mixed with a majority who might have been touring these vaunted banks for the first time. As I remember reading on Warren Mockler’s sprint car dashboard in 1985, nobody wins hot laps, but if you manage to step over the edge, you can sure lose a lot. Just ask Tony Beaber, who blasted the turn two wall, flipped, and destroyed his ride. Luckily for Tony, he was able to keep his title hopes alive after climbing into a car that should have been driven by his famous father Johnny.

Despite the plethora of sprinters, the track was still solid for All Star heats, highlighted by a sixth to first cushion-crushing performance by Jac Haudenschild and some cutthroat sliders from Shane Stewart. NRA heat highlights included a win from fifth by Kevin Swindell while Randy Hannagan worked overtime after starting from the rear, docked two spots for jumping but still finding his way to third.

Unpredictable, chaotic, edge-of-your-seat exciting, and punctuated by so many sick sliders, the best of the BOSS heats was saved for last when Brady Bacon surged from seventh to make a last lap lunge on last year’s winner Luke Hall to take the win. Additional victors included first-time visitor Drew Abel, Dallas Hewitt (subbing for Chad Wilson), Jarett Andretti, and Matt Westfall. After swapping slide jobs with Andretti and losing a right rear torsion bar stop, Adam Cruea endured some major chassis lean but still held on for a transfer. Not so fortunate was Huston Hewitt, who appropriately piloted a white numbered 63 and rocketed to an early advantage. Unfortunately for Huston, he plastered third turn concrete, climbed the wall, and slid down the bank, only to blast the inside barrier as well. Towing with an open trailer, Hewitt’s tattered ride was immediately loaded for home via the wrecker. Another BOSS blooper came in heat four when Thomas Meseraull (Stensland 41) immediately scaled the car of Kent Wolters in the third turn, inverting Kent and swallowing a late-arriving Steve Thomas.

Next up was an All Star dash that was dominated by the Wild Child, as championship contender Dale Blaney would test the engine changing abilities of his George Fisher crew after ventilating a mill. Placid All Star and NRA B-mains were bagged by Cole Duncan and Mark Smith, the latter taking the final All Star pass as well. The first of two BOSS consolations was an all-out rout from fifth-starting Dustin Smith, who stepped upstairs and lapped four machines with just 305 cubic inches at his disposal courtesy of car owner Mike Burkin. Slowed by a Bill Griffith dump, the second BOSS B saw T-Mez take the win, trailed by sixth-starting Tony Beaber. Aaron Middaugh missed the cut and eliminated any hope of becoming the premier BOSS for 2013.

The 30-lap All Star affair was the 132nd at Eldora, offering a contrasting front row of an elder Haudenschild and a younger Swindell. Tim Shaffer owned a slim three point margin on Dale Blaney, whose engine swap proved quite successful. Blaney began from sixth, some four rows ahead of the Steel City Outlaw.

Swindell got the jump, steered low, and led through the first set of corners, but even he couldn’t hold back a highly motivated Haudenschild, who swept past in three and four. Needing seven laps to reach back markers, despite such traffic Jac easily moved away from Kevin. Lap eight had Caleb Helms tumble in front of the leader in turn one, forcing the 55 year-old veteran to take some rather evasive action. Looping his 59 in a perfect 360 and somehow avoiding Helms, Haud came away clean. Swindell wasn’t so fortunate, as he too spun a 360 but suffered top wing damage in the scrape. Mitch Harble piled into the party at the last minute and flipped his number 15, the sixth such inversion on the evening.

Eight laps were recorded when lights were switched from red to green, with Haudenschild heading Swindell, Chaney, Hannagan, and Blaney. As if smelling blood in the water, Chaney slid Swindell, as Kevin’s ragged wing spoiled the aerodynamics on his Maxim. Hannagan and seventh-starting Shane Stewart also blew by the four-time Chili Bowl bandit in short order. Randy then stole second from Rob and immediately set his sights on Jac, who had heavy traffic on his agenda at lap 18. A brief slide-fest between Stewart and Chaney sent Shane to third and with ten laps to go; suddenly it became a three car corral for first. Quite adept at pulling off patented Eldora slide jobs, Stewart served yet another to Hannagan to secure second with eight laps left.

Two tours later, the 3G closed the gap on the fan favorite, pulling all the way to Haud’s rear bumper with five to go. A turn four slide job came up short but when dealing with Mark Dobmeier in turn one, Shane bumped bars with Jac and reached turn three first, briefly producing P1. With Dobmeier still in the mix, cool as a cucumber Haudenschild fired back in the first corner, sliding both Mark and Shane in one slick move. Meanwhile, Hannagan continued his forward march, lifting third from Stewart after a thunderous move in three. Capitalizing on the confusion was Dale Blaney, who sent Shane reeling to fourth. Gaining huge ground as the white flag waved, Hannagan surprisingly reached the rear of Haudenschild’s car in turn three. Driving down the bank in four, Randy pulled even but was unable to win the drag race to the checkered flag. Having to shake my head at what I just witnessed, without question that was one of the most exciting Eldora features I have ever witnessed, as those last ten laps were literally out of this world.

The Wooster, Ohio native nailed his ninth All Star win at Eldora, his second of the season in the number 59. This would surprisingly be his last ride in the 59 as just a few days later; Jac announced he was moving to the Destiny Motorsports number 9. Hannagan had to settle for second in the Neumeister 11, with Blaney’s late race run netting him both the Ohio region and national All Star titles, joining Frankie Kerr, Kenny Jacobs, Chad Kemenah, and Tim Shaffer as four-time series champs. Stewart held on for fourth while Shaffer’s rally from 14th to 5th was too little, too late. Chaney, Danny Holtgraver, Lucas Wolfe, Ian Madsen, and Kevin Swindell secured sixth through tenth.

Due to the excessive amount of carnage, there was no way that the NRA 20-lapper could live up to the awesomeness of the All Star event. Jared Horstman propelled from the pole while Shawn Dancer started alongside, but the crashing commenced when third row starter Brady Bacon slid sideways in turn two. The same calamity corner where he flipped at the Four Crown just three weeks prior, Bacon was blasted by Beau Stewart, ending what should have been a promising showing in the Yoakam double-deuce.

While working lap two, Dancer broke an axle and lost a left rear wheel in the middle of three and four, wreaking havoc by collecting the other Yoakam 22 of Randy Hannagan and Ryan Ruhl. Dumping both Dancer and Ruhl, this accounted for flips seven and eight.

Two laps after the restart, Butch Schroeder found first while seventh-starting Kevin Swindell snuck up to second, shadowing Schroeder on the top shelf. Traffic became a huge concern for the leader at lap 13 and when Butch was blocked by Hud Horton and Tim Allison, Swindell seized the day by aggressively sliding all three with a dramatic dive bomb of turn three. Schroeder’s right front nearly launched over the left rear of Swindell when they reached turn one, but that was as close as anyone would come to Kevin, who had to endure two more yellows (one for Shane Stewart and another for Ron Blair) and a red for Devon Dobie, who slammed the wall in between turns three and four and landed hard on his lid. Dobie’s dump was the ninth such incident of the night.

Chasing Swindell to his first-ever Eldora score was Schroeder, New Yorker Chuck Hebing, Horstman, and 12th-starting Bryan Sebetto. Mark Smith (from 17th), Max Stambaugh (from 15th), Horton (from 18th), Blair (from 19th), and Tim Allison rounded out the top-ten in the survival-fest.

Leaving only the BOSS 25-lapper to sample, Justin Grant (Elson 27) and Luke Hall held front row seats for the excitement. Talent was spread all throughout the 24-car field, as Four Crown victor Chris Windom began from 12th, Gary Taylor 14th, and Thomas Meseraull 22nd.

Hall held the advantage through one and two thanks to his outside start and was soon trailed by second row starter Matt Westfall, who worked past Grant at turn three. Hoping to redeem himself after his 360 slip-up, eighth-starting Brady Bacon had already advanced to fourth by the second tour, getting by Grant on the back chute to take third. Meanwhile, Jeff Walker wheelman Windom was now sixth and had his eyes on fifth; soon embroiled in a volley of slide jobs with Jarett Andretti. Trading the position as many as four times in two laps, this action allowed Hall, Westfall, and Bacon to pull away.

Brady first tried to slide Matt in turns one and two to no avail. One lap later, Bacon bagged second with a similar yet successful maneuver. The lead trio then fanned three-wide for first through three and four, as Westfall and Bacon would soon swap second twice more. Briefly back in third, Matt boldly blasted by both Luke and Brady in a slide job of epic proportions! A two-for-one slider is as rare as they come, but lightning struck twice as Bacon did the same, attacking turn one to overtake Hall and Westfall in one fell swoop. Holy cow!

By the halfway mark, Windom was up to fourth and soon had third after mounting a massive slide for life on Hall. While Bacon built a big lead and continued to craft crazy sliders through traffic, Windom stole second from Westfall with an authoritative move through one and two. Continuing to chase Brady’s tail tank, Chris needed just four laps to pull the rear bumper, leaving six laps to figure out a way by. Bacon and Windom attacked the top shelf and flung dirt with reckless abandon, but Brady’s negotiation of traffic could not be matched, rewarding him with his first Eldora triumph like Swindell.

Windom, Westfall, 10th-starting Dallas Hewitt, and 14th-starting Gary Taylor were scored second through fifth. Grant, Hall, Andretti, 16th-starting Brandon Whited, and Kody Swanson secured sixth through tenth at the 10:40 PM conclusion. Operating green to checker without any interruptions, ironically this wingless feature was the cleanest of all three, so surprising given the slick surface and the absence of aerodynamic aid and Eldora experience. By virtue of his 17th place finish, Tony Beaber became the second BOSS champion, capping a crazy evening in style. Congratulations to Tony for coming through in the clutch and refusing to throw in the towel, even in the most trying of times.

Still savoring the final ten frantic All Star laps featuring some unbelievable action between Haudenschild, Stewart, and Hannagan, still amazed by Kevin Swindell’s breathtaking three-car pass for first in the NRA feature, and still blown away by the two-for-one sliders from Matt Westfall and Brady Bacon in the BOSS finale, the positive afterimages of this evening are burned into my brain and continue to be accessed nearly one month later.

Naturally firing me up for the Friday portion of the Kokomo Klash that arrived in less than one week, I was still undecided if this would be my own curtain call for 2013, as one more local opportunity existed the next evening in North Vernon. Hustling from Indy’s north side after 6 PM, an exchange of shirt/tie/dress pants for jeans and sweatshirts (yes, plural) came in the packed Kokomo parking lot, amazed at how the season instantly turned from Indian summer into fall/winter with the disappearance of daylight. Late afternoon temps in the low sixties morphed into the mid-forties in the span of three hours. Perhaps my five layers were overkill, but that stiff wind from the west still stung, such a shock to the system after the previous weekend’s pleasant temps.

Arriving just in time for sprint car heats, a solid contingent of 32 warmed the soul with wicked fast rounds, extremely difficult to overtake as the surface was sticky from top to bottom. Gas City champ Scotty Weir came the furthest to claim his heat (fourth), as the other three were won from the front by Lawrenceburg lord C.J. Leary, Kokomo king Wes McIntyre, and MSCS maestro Jon Stanbrough. All important redraw positions were annexed by Gary Taylor, Jerry Coons, Jr., Josh Spencer, and Bloomington baron Brady Short. Truly representative of a local Sunday night program, several heats were super-stacked with talent, as additional feature berths were acquired by Chris Windom, both Fitzpatricks, Dave Darland (despite a blubbering engine in the Stensland 41), Shane Cottle (Epperson deuce), Robert Ballou, and Josh Spencer. Aaron Farney’s third heat connection with Justin Grant provided feature passes for Adam Byrkett and Travis Hery.

Intrigued to see former midget chauffeur/fabrication wizard Mike Fedorcak tending to Darland’s ride in shorts and pair of rubber boots, I also noticed the Daryl Tate 66 of Jon Stanbrough wearing fewer decals on the hood, pulled by a much smaller truck and trailer. Preparing to head west for work in the Josh/Keith Ford 73, Jon confirmed that the team’s partnership with Shane Wade was over after clinching an MSCS championship at Haubstadt one week prior.

As is always the case for the open wheel portion of the Klash, midgets, TQs, 600cc mini sprints, and thunder cars packed the pits, hoping for more than the 14 midgets that appeared. An odd mix of youth and experience, long-time competitors Kurt Mayhew and Ken Drangmeister served as stark contrasts to 2013 Kenyon midget champ Spencer Bayston (Clauson 39), 2012 USAC Midwest Ford Focus dirt and pavement midget champ Ross Rankine, and Parker Price-Miller. Price-Miller and Shane Cottle (in the 2013 Badger championship ride, the Ecker 57) succeeded in the pair of “formula diminutive” heats.

Even after the myriad of classes completed their heats, the track was still in tip-top shape for the twin sprint car consolations. Bordered by a big curb, Kyle Robbins and Mike Terry, Jr. were the winners, with Jarett Andretti able to keep an aggressive Chris Gurley from a feature transfer in the first hooligan. Front axle folded from Aaron Farney contact and bolt-ons taking a beating from a Jamie Frederickson t-bone, Bill Elson and crew made sufficient repairs to allow Justin Grant to take the final transfer in the second. Gurley and sixth-place finisher Logan Jarrett earned reprieves thanks to generous and unexpected provisional passes.

When not hanging out underneath the grandstand to block the breeze, the majority of action was caught from a top row seat saved by recent CSX retiree Joe Higdon. Former Washington native Gary Taylor was still in search of his initial Indiana victory in Mark Hery’s 40, earning another prime opportunity with his pole starting spot. Jerry Coons, Jr. joined him on the front row, having a solid last two months and always a threat in the hometown Edison-mobile. Sitting with Darland super fan Higdon, even Joe had his doubts about Darland’s chances of scoring from tenth.

After an opening lap Adam Byrkett tour of the spin cycle, Coons circled Taylor at the exit of the second bend. More chaos was soon caused when third-starting C.J. Leary looped it in turn four, watching fourth place Wes McIntyre make contact while everyone else did their best to avoid the incident. This restart actually moved Dave Darland all the way up to 4th, giving Higdon hope that his hero would make soon make some more noise. However, Jerry Coons was doing his best to stink up the show, building a big lead by skillfully managing a large cushion of clay. Jerry’s advantage was erased at lap six after amber bulbs illuminated yet again for Byrkett. My eyes immediately flashed to the scoreboard, noticing that Taylor, Stanbrough, Darland, and Weir were chasing the red 10.

Dave dashed to third after briefly jousting with Jon in the second corner, taking runner-up rights from Taylor in the same spot one lap later. Gary gathered his senses and fired back in three, only to see The Rave return the favor in four. Taylor immediately took it back in one and two, but the Lincoln legend somehow found a way underneath at turn three. Rather unfortunate, this jaw-dropping spectacle was interrupted by a Wes McIntyre whirl in turn two. Amazingly, 18 tours remained in this already thrilling affair, just as excited in recalling the details several weeks later, creating an onslaught of afterimages in the process.

Coons continued to play pilot dog when the green lights glared, with Darland taking his place behind Taylor as Stanbrough and Windom salivated at upcoming overtaking opportunities. Like letting a pack of wild dogs out of the cage, Darland immediately slid Taylor in three, only to have Gary dip and dive to regain the position in four. One lap later, Scotty Weir, who had restarted sixth, came out of nowhere to steal third from Darland with a surprise third turn slider. However, Jon Stanbrough was in the mix as well, bombarding the bottom to drive by both. Darland continued to work in the attic, sweeping past the Silent Gasser who simply would not go away. Jon had clearly found his rhythm and gained some great bite off the bottom, surging past Dave and Gary to gather second with 14 laps left. Stanbrough turned to the top to protect his position while Darland and Taylor again traded third, all while Coons constructed a full straight advantage. If that race for second and third wasn’t enough action, if you moved your eyes a little to the left, you would find an even better battle for fourth through eighth between Taylor, Weir, Ballou, Windom, and Cottle.

The People’s Champ was back to second with nine to go, but his duel with the Brownsburg bulldog was far from over. While heavy smoke poured from Cottle’s soon to be expiring power plant, Stanbrough stole second yet again. As lapped traffic became a bigger factor, Jon and Dave closed big time on Jerry. Darland’s Physical Medicine Consultants DRC was extremely stout when leaning against the ledge and it would be the all-time leading Kokomo feature winner pulling to the rear bumper of Coons’s Crume Evans Insurance Spike as the white flag waved. Both banged the cushion in one and two on the final tour, but the Tucson tiger held on for his sixth victory of the season, his second at his team’s hometown haunt. Ecstatic to hold off the fierce charges of his veteran comrades, Coons cut some rare donuts in turn four, commenting afterwards about the confidence he has developed in this car and team.

Darland had to settle for second while Stanbrough, hungry for his first Kokomo victory since June of 2010, nailed down a solid third. Windom (from ninth) and Taylor took home top-fives. Weir, Ballou, Brady Short, Kyle Robbins (up from 17th), and Jarett Andretti (up from 19th) were sixth through tenth. After beginning dead last, Chris Gurley had a nice run to eleventh, victorious the next evening in Flora, Illinois.

Chilled to the bone while waiting out the beating and banging of the final thunder car contest, 2013 Montpelier feature winners Billy Wease (Moore 10) and Shane Hollingsworth (own 85) held front row seats for the midget 25-lapper that was immediately interrupted for a Spencer Bayston spin. Wease got the jump for the second time, initially leading low before Hollingsworth hauled it into three on the top shelf, thusly rewarded with the premier position. As fourth-starting Shane Cottle began to make some noise, a Tate Martz/Michael Koontz meeting of the minds caused caution. Mysteriously stopping on the front stretch was leader Hollingsworth, who was pushed back to the pits but reappeared several laps later.

Wease led Cottle, Price-Miller, Mayhew, and Rankine back to green, but another one bit the dust in the form of Price-Miller, who suddenly slowed and stopped just as Cottle worked his way past Wease. 22 laps were left when action resumed and it didn’t take Cottle long to coax first place from Wease. Billy hung tough on the bottom and initially gave a good fight, but in a couple of laps Shane flexed his muscle and moved away to a comfortable margin. Behind the leader, Ross Rankine was working the high side and had caught the former Penske pilot. They exchanged the runner up slot a couple of times before Ross overextended turn four, falling to fifth in the process. Demotte, Indiana’s Kurt Mayhew was now second and held off a ferocious pack containing Chett Gherke, Wease, Rankine, Bayston, and Hollingsworth, who appeared to be having a blast despite his laps in arrears.

At the finish, Cottle held a half track advantage and finally collected a Kokomo feature win in 2013, as Mayhew and Gherke jousted wheel to wheel to the checkered. Kurt’s Buzzard chassis inched ahead while Gherke, Bayston, and Martz filled the first five. Rankine, Wease, Koontz, Isaac Chapple, and Gary Gibson were credited with sixth through tenth.

If only time could stand still on such a fantastic evening of feature action, due to the cold weather it was time for Railroad Joe and I to bid farewell. Still undecided as to our Saturday race status in North Vernon, Mother Nature ultimately made the call for us.

Ending the outdoor season on a pair of extremely high notes, as I settle into hibernation mode and think about the months that must expire before another true racing opportunity presents itself, I will figure out ways to stay busy. Obviously I still need my day job to help pay the bills, but some items on the agenda could include exercise, a few Flat Out articles to compose, several books to catch up on, new music to sample, a classic car to tinker with, and some basketball and football to enjoy.

Of course I will spend more time with my extremely patient wife, continuing to unpack and hang pictures in our new house. I’m quite positive that there will be a few trips to Bonge’s Tavern and other high-end, one-off restaurants. And if I’m lucky, there will even be a vacation to some exotic locale with a warmer climate.

If I find myself needing a racing fix, there are always December indoor midget meets in DuQuoin and Fort Wayne that can be sampled. If I can’t make it to either, then there are always the afterimages of Eldora and Kokomo to further digest. Just the blink of an eye away, they can transform an otherwise drab day into one filled with passion and positivity. Five or six months might be a long time to wait for the next sprint car contest, but when the images and memories are still so vivid and inviting, I can take all the time I need to savor them that much more. Generating energy for an even greater 2014, it’s always good to have hope and optimism.



Volume 15, Number 6

Stretch Run

Beginning in late March, ending in October, and offering a regular season of 162 games, major league baseball is one massive marathon. Filled with so many highs and lows, if as a fan you allow each one of the injuries, losses, and temporary setbacks get you down in the dumps, it makes for an awfully stressful six months. If your favorite squad happens to be in the hunt during the September stretch run and actually makes it to post-season play, then of course all of that stress and worry is acceptable. But, if that same team somehow finds a way to implode in these waning stages, I can’t envision many more agonizing things.

Case in point: the 2013 Cincinnati Reds, who performed just well enough to get them to the playoffs for the third time in the last four years but abruptly ended their season after a one game wildcard loss to Pittsburgh. Sending me to insanity with their rollercoaster ride, they failed to win their last six games which ultimately led to the dismissal of manager Dusty Baker, who over the last six years made the Reds relevant once again. This 2013 stretch run only confirmed that stick and ball sports consistently crush hopes and inflict unnecessary pain.

Local Indiana sprint car contests also start in the latter part of March and end in October and if one so chooses, the opportunity exists to attend nearly as many races as there are baseball games; that is if one doesn’t achieve some level of burnout along the way. Easy to achieve happiness and satisfaction in more than just winners and losers, by the time I was a teenager I finally figured out that any kind of auto racing was a positive escape from the frustration of a sub-.500 summer of baseball. With the Reds having some awfully lean years from 1996 through 2008, the September stretch run often meant nothing to me other than the fact that the end of the racing campaign was rapidly approaching.

United States Auto Club sprint car competition has its own stretch run and it too starts in mid-September. Beginning with a trio of events that finish off the Midwestern portion of the nearly nine month slate, Haubstadt’s Hustler Sprint 40, Eldora’s famous Four Crown Nationals, and the City of Lawrenceburg Fall Nationals make for a memorable final few weeks.

Thinking back to the February Ocala openers, Tracy Hines took two of three rounds but once the series steered back to its Midwestern base, the next three and half months were dominated by both Mother Nature and Kevin Thomas, Jr. Last year’s championship combatants Dave Darland and Bryan Clauson began breathing heavily down Kevin’s neck during Indiana Sprint Week and once Thomas blew a fuse after night two of Kokomo’s Smackdown, it became crystal clear that the 2013 title would again be a two horse race (although Brady Bacon briefly threw his name in the hat). Before leaving Lawrenceburg for the four west coast contests in Canyon and Perris, in order to remain a contender neither Dave nor Bryan could ill-afford any flub-ups in these final Indiana flings.

Three consecutive sunny Saturday afternoons provided some pleasant excursions to these USAC unions. Flying solo for two out of the three, this included Haubstadt which is the most scenic in daylight but the most dreaded in darkness, particularly if my passenger seat is empty. Getting a late start for this three hour tour, the trip was further delayed by some untimely state road 67 construction that directed me into downtown Mooresville. Following Steve Hair’s open-trailered sprint car that was en route to the Paragon finale, in the interest of time I took 67 all the way to Vincennes, sacrificing a sacred Mason’s Root Beer Stand stop in Washington and my favorite road in the entire state: the endless twists and turns of 241. Once hooking up with the pedestrian four-lane U.S. 41, I needed only thirty minutes to reach Tommy Helfrich’s grain elevators, where Sullivan, Illinois Caterpillar retiree Wendell Smith awaited. Last meeting Wendell for the Tony Bettenhausen 100, our expectations for entertainment were unquestionably upgraded for this affair, as there is never any doubt about a lack of effort in track preparation, nor is there any question regarding the possibility of some rock-em, sock-em slide jobs at this racy little joint.

Paying $10,000 to win this combined MSCS/USAC program for the sixth year in a row, Helfrich was once again denied a proper car count for such a substantial purse. With competition coming from Putnamville, Lawrenceburg, and even Paragon, some 29 sprint cars still towed to Tri-State. No, that’s not bad, but it leaves me with the same feelings and questions I’ve had for more than a decade regarding higher-paying special events in this state. Aside from a larger grandstand gathering, what could be any track operators’ motivation for putting up such big bucks? Regardless of the questions, there’s still just something about a big-buck race that gets the juices flowing. When thinking back to last year’s improbable win from 18th for Daron Clayton, I have to wonder if the more mature and dollar-conscious Daron would have been as motivated to drive that hard and take that many chances for just $2,000 to win.

As has been the case in each of these Haubstadt Hustlers, heat races were lined up by the blind draw, moving the top-16 passing masters to the 40-lap feature. Point leader by 18 over Bryan Clauson and the most recent winner in West Memphis, Dave Darland was now tied with Jack Hewitt for the second-most USAC sprint car conquests. In search of his first Tri-State triumph since May of 2005, Darland drove from fourth to first in the initial heat, where behind him sliders were as plentiful as those found at Golden Corral’s endless buffet. Most surprising was the struggle of traditional Haubstadt heroes Chase Stockon and Daron Clayton, forced to come through the B where they would eventually claim first and second, Clayton finally finding comfort and confidence by charging from 9th in his Mach One machine. Although Brady Bacon’s fourth corner, last lap lunge under Seth Parker rewarded him with a win in heat three, the other two contests (claimed by Tracy Hines and three-time 2013 TSS titan Kevin Thomas, Jr.) were fairly tame, witnessing sixth to third charges from Jon Stanbrough (who had his hands full with Shane Wade’s J&J) and Brady Short. In heading to the early 8:32 PM intermission, in addition to Stockon and Clayton those who reserved A-main seats out of the B included A.J. Hopkins, Tyler Courtney, Robert Ballou (recovering from contact with a wheel-standing Jeff Bland, Jr.), and Bland.

Needing to stretch my legs before the feature and the subsequent three hour haul home, I bumped into ex-sprint car owner Rodney Reynolds, who fondly reminisced when he and driver Pete Abel would make the two hour haul from North Vernon to compete against the likes of Gary Hayhurst, Lee Dunn, and J.C. Sulawske for Sunday night winged sprint car bragging rights. Owning one of the best sprint car brains outside of Kevin Eckert, out of left field Reynolds questioned the whereabouts of 1981 Eldora USAC winner Dave Peperak. Little did we know that Peperak was actually competing on this evening for the first time in 2013. Dave wound up ninth in one of two features at Paragon.

On a cool and crisp evening, the intermission between the B and A was the only time that Helfrich exercised his John Deere equipment and by ten after nine, they were already lining up the main event. The first three rows of the Hustler aligned Short, Hines, Thomas, Darland, Bacon, and Stanbrough and although Hines held the lead through turn three of the first circuit, it would be Short who drew first blood at the line, in search of his first USAC score since Brownstown 2010. Nine times a winner in 2013 at a trio of tracks, Brady did his best to make it an even ten at four venues, narrowly holding off the snarling pack of Darland, Thomas, and Bacon for 26 hard-fought tours.

With a substantial cushion stacked at both ends, at times either Brady or Dave would push the front end if they didn’t enter the corners just right, allowing Short’s lead to shrink or grow accordingly. Heavy lapped traffic would allow Bacon and Thomas to make it a four car foray and while waiting for an aggressive Darland to make his pass for P1, Bacon and Thomas would swap third place at least six times in ten tours. KT secured second at lap 26 with a turn four slider, immediately making his winning move in turn two by cranking underneath of Sweet Feet. One lap later, Dave mysteriously slowed and exited the affair, a huge blow to his championship drive. After Dave’s departure, it was all academic for Thomas, who was able to find grip even through a slicked-off middle lane. Cruising to his fourth Tri-State Speedway triumph of 2013, this one was worth a healthy ten grand, number seven with the Speedway, Indiana sanctioning body and number ten overall.

Short secured second while Bacon, Stanbrough, and Kyle Cummins (from 12th in the Pollock 21) had a nice tussle for the top-five. Scored sixth from 17th was Chase Stockon while Daron Clayton collected seventh from 18th. Hines, Clauson, and Shane Cottle earned eighth through tenth at the 9:31 checkered flag. By virtue of Darland’s dropout, that allowed Clauson to take a five point advantage to Eldora’s Four Crown while Bacon was only 56 markers from first. With an immediate departure back to Carmel, zero stops for fuel, food, or drink allowed me to arrive home at an appreciated 1:30 AM, never once yawning or feeling the effects of six hours behind the wheel.

No September stretch run would be complete without a trip to Eldora’s Four Crown Nationals. Missing only a handful of the 32 showings, those were only because I had no inkling of what dirt track racing was about in the early 1980s. Sad that I missed the initial 1981 running when Steve Kinser subbed for Rich Vogler in Johnny Vance’s Aristrocrat Products sprint and Silver Crown cars and won from the back in each, thankfully I have seen additional superhuman performances in this ultimate test of adaptability and diversity, with Jack Hewitt and Kyle Larson’s improbable sweeps of 1998 and 2011 immediately coming to mind. Not to be shorted in their accomplishments, there have been many who have doubled their pleasure on one afternoon/evening, namely Larry Rice (’85), Rich Vogler (’86), Tony Stewart (’95), Dave Darland (’99 and ‘04), J.J. Yeley (’01), and Tracy Hines (’06). Also doubling up in ’91, ’96, and ’97, Hewitt’s record 19 Four Crown victories will likely never be touched, as Dave Darland’s seven scores comes closest.

This would be the first time all year that I have shared a vehicle with my father. At 80 years old he doesn’t get out like he used to but like me, can never turn down a Four Crown invitation. Given the rich relationship that both Eldora Speedway and the United States Auto Club have shared since 1962, it still comes as a shock to realize that this was the only opportunity to catch this combination in 2013, as the April event was weathered out and never rescheduled. Regardless of the fact that these races aren’t quite the moneymakers like they once were, Saturday’s crowd was quite substantial. Selfishly speaking, one USAC/Eldora meeting per year is simply not enough, as there are few venues where the positive attributes of wingless action are highlighted better than here.

The Friday Four Crown featuring WoO wingers and UMP modifieds was erased by rain, as was the Gas City points finale (congrats to Scotty Weir for picking up the title), but rain or shine it wouldn’t have mattered as there would have been no way to attend due to work commitments. Happy to get the rain moved out and gain a little extra H20 for the Saturday surface, back in the day a trip to the pits would be absolutely necessary to know who was in what car, as there were so many drivers lining up one-off rides. These days, there are so few car owners in search of hired guns that no pit lane stroll was necessary. Dave Darland was one of the few who provided some deviation from the norm by scrambling to grab a last-minute Silver Crown chair in the Sam Pierce Chevrolet number 26. With a midget ride in the RW number 17 and his usual Steve and Carla Phillips sprint car seat, Darland was one of four who did triple duty. Tracy Hines, Chris Windom (in a second Don Fike midget), and Jerry Coons, Jr. were the others who tackled all three disciplines.

The sprint car count was of course the highest at 36, adding Bill Rose and Jac Haudenschild as unexpected surprises. Haud traveled to Lernerville in anticipation of a WoO war but was washed out early enough to wind up in Jim and Steve Simon’s 22. An increase from previous years, midgets numbered 20, as did Silver Crown inventory. USAC upped Silver Crown start money to $1,000, enticing participation from Oklahoma newcomer John Hunt, Joe Liguori (in an old Mucci/Matczak 99), Matt Westfall (Longworth 19), and longtime competitor Jerry Nemire. I didn’t get a chance to quiz Jerry on his last Silver Crown start, but if I had to guess, it was the late 1990s. Jerry has been showing off his impeccably restored ex-A.J. Foyt number 14 on the vintage trail over the last several seasons and on this evening, he actually stabbed and steered both the orange 14 and his own 176, the 176 of course reserved for competition.

Sprint car hot laps and qualifying were up first and by no surprise, Tracy Hines immediately rose to the top of the charts and stayed there. Boasting nine sprint scores at the Big E since 1999, including a two-race sweep of 2012, Tracy’s time of 15.088 (7th in line) put him in his own area code. Nearly three-tenths of a second quicker than Hoffman 69 shoe Brady Bacon, the rest of the quick six included Chase Stockon, Darland, Haudenschild, and Daron Clayton.

Midgets were up next and Rutherford, California’s Rico Abreu was the ultimate rocket, just edging out Hines for the number one spot and continuing the Toyota power/Keith Kunz Motorsports domination of dirt. Showing so well at Belleville, Kansas where he won on opening night and led 11 laps in the finale, Abreu’s Kings Royal experience had to help as well. Defending national champ Darren Hagen, Darland, Bryan Clauson, and Bobby East were also inside the quick six. Seventh on his first tour, Brad Kuhn bounced through a choppy turn two and could not save his Mason Cook Beast/Toyota from impending doom, clobbering the wall and flipping big. Brad climbed out ok, but his car was crushed.

After dominating DuQuoin before running out of fuel, Robert Ballou’s streak of Silver Crown sour luck continued in Four Crown hot laps, tumbling the iconic number 63 in turn two. Luckily his Radio Hospital crew would have plenty of time to make repairs, as the dirt champ finale would roll off several hours from the incident. Defending series champion Bobby East, who entered the evening five points up on Jerry Coons, Jr., was unequaled in qualifying prowess after touring the high-banked half-mile in 16.517 seconds. Again Tracy Hines was second in time trials, some 16 points away from East in the championship chase. Christopher Bell (6R Racing 21), Matt Westfall, Chris Windom (fourth in points and only 21 out of first), and Coons would begin from rows two and three. Seventh in qualifying and only 29 points from first, Kody Swanson also had a mathematical shot at the title, offering some high drama for the forthcoming fifty lapper as the points protagonists all started in close proximity.

Sprint car heats did not disappoint thanks to a solid surface, clearly evidenced by a Tracy Hines triumph from sixth. Hines executed numerous signature Eldora sliders, as did Daron Clayton (winning from fifth) and Bill Rose, whose duel with Bryan Clauson provided ample entertainment. Gary Taylor (from 2nd) and 2007 Four Crown czar Robert Ballou (from 4th) were the other winners while Jerry Coons, Jr., C.J. Leary (bumped hard by Bacon), Dallas Hewitt, and Dave Darland were drop-outs, the first three operating in transfer positions. After encountering steering issues, Dave had to tag the tail of the B after his team busted out a backup car, instantly creating an uphill championship battle.

Surprised to see Rico Abreu serve a cutthroat slider to teammate Tanner Thorson through the final set of turns on the final lap of midget heat one, Tanner was not rattled in his initial Eldora encounter, immediately turning beneath Rico to take the win. This was also Christopher Bell’s initial Eldora outing and he too would claim a heat win over Bryan Clauson while Chris Windom easily collected the third, trailed by Wilke warrior Brady Bacon.

Needing to pull a rabbit out of his hat just to stay alive, Darland started dead last (tenth row) in the sprint B and moved to second by the end, easily making the top-eight. Aided by one caution when he nudged USAC rookie Tyler Courtney into a spin, Dave only trailed Dallas Hewitt while Adam Cruea was one spot shy of A-main status.

At just past ten PM, the 25-lap midget main was first to fire and offered a front row of Bobby East and Bryan Clauson. Twice a Silver Crown winner here but never in a midget, Clauson surged to first while fifth-starting Hines fell to seventh. Even worse, third-starting Darland dropped like a rock to fourth from the end. With six laps recorded, Abreu annexed second by sliding East through the south end. Bobby returned the favor on the back chute, only to have Rico rock his world through three and four. One lap later, Clauson suddenly slowed with mechanical issues, instantly awarding first to Abreu who now had his teammate Bell breathing down his neck (after beginning eighth).

The Keith Kunz comrades owned a half-straight advantage on East, Hagen, Windom, and Hines. Now working lap eleven, Bell blasted by Abreu with a breathtaking dive bomb of corner three, countered of course by an Abreu crossover exiting the fourth bend. Bell immediately attacked with another slider through one and two, but again Abreu had an answer. One lap later, Christopher came back and pulled the trigger in turn one, but Rico refused to lose, turning underneath and beating him to turn three. While encountering lapper Stratton Briggs, Abreu suddenly slowed and gave Bell another opportunity to overtake in turn one, but for the fourth time, the diminutive driver instantly found his way back to the front. Only a caution for Darren Hagen’s blown right rear with ten to go would interrupt the excitement, as this race was so reminiscent of the outstanding 2008 duel between eventual winner J.J. Yeley and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.

Two laps after the restart, it was more of the same action: Bell sliding Abreu through three and four, with Abreu crossing underneath to retain P1. Bell gave it one last shot through turn one with two to go but could not complete the pass, killing his momentum and sealing the deal for Abreu, who became the 100th different USAC feature winner at Eldora Speedway. The KKM companions were chased to the checkered by Hines, East, and a resurgent Darland. Six through ten included Thorson (up from 13th), Coons, Alex Bright, Hagen, and Caleb Armstrong.

Bryan Clauson and Daron Clayton held front row Four Crown sprint car feature seats and thus things appeared quite bleak for Darland, who would have to rally from 24th in order to stay in the game. Clayton cruised to the early lead while “Showtime” Stockon shot from fourth to second after dramatically sweeping past Haudenschild and Clauson through a productive turn three. BC blew smoke signals on lap four, shooting some substantial flames but was able to keep motoring on. C.J. Leary’s spin put the action on pause at lap six, with the scoreboard showing Clayton, Stockon, Clauson, Haudenschild, and Hines.

Fifth-starting Brady Bacon leapfrogged from sixth to fourth, taking third after The Bullet blasted the backstretch concrete in Tony Stewart’s 20. Soon thereafter, Dallas Hewitt illuminated amber bulbs after losing his right rear and waxing the turn four wall, leaving 16 tours to enjoy.

After a big jump by the Modern Day Cowboy, Bacon immediately overcooked the cushion and crushed the wall, wiping out the Hoffman 69 (and his championship hopes) in turn two, so ironic that this machine would suffer the same fate in the same corner two years in a row. But before going green, eighth-running Robert Ballou pitted for a fresh right rear while Chase Stockon relinquished runner-up rights due to a mysterious under-hood ailment.

Clayton now led Clauson, Hines, Chris Windom, and the Wild Child, with Tracy taking second from Bryan thanks to a standard turn three slider. In just two laps, BC was bounced back to fifth while Hines turned up the heat on Clayton, kissing backstretch concrete but still making some serious headway. With ten to go, Windom now worked in third and with just six laps left, Dave Darland finally found his way inside of the top-ten. Lapped traffic in the form of Tyler Courtney was giving the leader fits, enough that Daron desperately slid “Sunshine” through one and two but in the process, hammered the wall, flipped, and flushed a first Eldora win down the toilet. Dangerously driving beneath the cartwheeling number 35, Hines now held the lead.

In the final dash to the checkered, Tracy was initially pressured by Jeff Walker’s chauffeur but was able to pull away in the final few tours. Meanwhile, Darland was finally heating up, restarting 8th but flying past Gary Taylor, Justin Grant, and Jon Stanbrough as the track got tricky. Aggressively attacking turns one and two and flirting with the fence on the white flag lap, Tracy seemed destined for USAC sprint car career win number 46. But with a narrow cushion stacked against the concrete in three and four, somehow the modern day master of Eldora climbed the turn four wall, spun, and flipped with the checkered flag in sight. A rather rare error from the New Castle native, whether or not you are a fan you just had to feel horrible for him, as no one works harder at staying alive in this sport.

In the race that nobody wanted to win, Chris Windom was now the leader and with just one lap remaining, he would go untouched and finally lay claim his first win on these famed high banks. Jac Haudenschild scored second while Dave Darland dive-bombed turn three and took third from Clauson, completing an amazing drive from 24th which cemented his stance as a championship contender. Clauson settled for fourth and took a two point lead to Lawrenceburg. Robert Ballou bagged fifth, a solid effort after changing a tire and restarting from the rear at the halfway mark. Jon Stanbrough, Gary Taylor (from 16th), Justin Grant, Kevin Thomas, Jr., and Jarett Andretti (from 20th) were scored sixth through tenth.

At 11:30 PM, all that was left was the Silver Crown fifty-lapper, the final say in the 2013 series championship. East and Hines had an unobstructed path to turn one, but Bobby got the jump in Tony Stewart’s Maxim/Chevy and led the first three tours until a caution came for a spinning Mitch Wissmiller (RW 7), who was promptly drilled by surprise DuQuoin winner Chris Urish.

Restarting double-file behind leader East were Christopher Bell and Chris Windom. Windom’s RW Motorsports Beast/Toyota beat Bell to turn one and squeezed underneath East, taking the lead before yet another caution was caused, this time for Kellen Conover and Jerry Nemire. More yellow lights arrived at lap seven, offering a top-five of Windom, Bell, Hines, Coons, and East.

Chris and Christopher pulled away from the pack, seeing Bell serve a lap 16 turn one slide job that was immediately countered by Windom, who surprisingly spun in the same corner one lap later. In the process, Bell had nowhere to hide and blasted the black RW Beast, but this talented tandem somehow kept their machines moving and briefly handed Hines first place. The Four Crown sprint car victor was able to retake the top spot just before Bell blew his right rear to smithereens, resulting in caution number four.

Windom, Hines, Coons, East, and Shane Cockrum lit up the scoreboard, with the runner-up slot alternating between Tracy and Jerry for a couple of laps. After beginning dead last (20th), Ballou restarted seventh and blew by Taylor Ferns, Cockrum, and East, soon collecting third from Coons. Mysteriously slowing at lap 23, Jerry’s championship hopes vanished into thin air while Ballou exited stage left on lap 25, his DePalma Maxim showing sparks as it dragged the rear end on pit lane concrete.

Operating exclusively upstairs, Windom and Hines were all alone at the crossed flags. With ten to go, it was more of the same, still a rather close encounter. After falling back at the start, Matt Westfall was making the bottom lane work in Marc Longworth’s 19, securing third without the aid of stopping power. Back up front and threading his way through traffic, Windom drifted away from Hines, whose unsuccessful lunges kept him from mounting any serious threats in the final ten laps. With two laps remaining in turn four, it was déjà voodoo for Tracy, who climbed the wall and flipped much higher and harder this time. Climbing out of his trashed ride, as if the guy wasn’t already disgusted with his previous incident, how could he not want to crawl in a hole and hide for a couple of weeks? After commenting on the P.A. earlier in the evening about his Carolina Nut Company sponsorship and the elimination of the long-time racetrack superstition regarding peanuts, it seems oddly coincidental that Hines had such horrible Four Crown luck at arguably his best dirt venue.

Finishing 14 minutes into Sunday morning, Windom would not be denied his very first Silver Crown victory, entering his name into an elite list of Four Crown winners who doubled their pleasure. Westfall collected second while Cockrum, Ferns (up from 13th), and Darland took third through fifth. By soldiering home sixth, East clinched his second Silver Crown championship in a row, joining Larry Rice, Gary Bettenhausen, Jack Hewitt, Steve Butler, J.J. Yeley, Dave Steele, and Levi Jones as two-time Silver Crown champs. Those who have won this title two times in a row include Hewitt, Yeley, Steele, Kaeding, Jones, and now East, owner of three separate USAC national championships. One final and interesting Silver Crown stat is that for the first time since 1990, the series had a different winner in each of its events. Reaching unparalleled lows for 2013 car counts despite rescinding its controversial ethanol mandate, one can only hope that more owners can be enticed to break out their mothballed equipment for 2014.

Remembering this 2013 Four Crown for such a fantastic midget match, the Chris Windom double, and Tracy Hines’s unfortunate flips, it was time to move on to the Midwestern USAC sprint car finale in Lawrenceburg. With daytime temps in the 80s and evening temps in the low-70s (it was 70 degrees as the feature took the green), you couldn’t ask for better weather. Paying another sizeable sum of $10,000 to win, the pit population of 37 machines was slightly lower than previous years due to competing contests at Haubstadt, Putnamville, and Flora, Illinois. The Midwestern Sprint Car Series previously co-sanctioned this City of Lawrenceburg Fall Nationals event but after dropping its support, added another event at its home track. Although there were only 17 cars competing at the opposite corner of the state, four of them included Jon Stanbrough, Brady Short, and both Fitzpatricks.

In this epic title fight between Darland and Clauson, Lawrenceburg was still the place to be, as all night long further intrigue was added to this stretch run storyline. In two lap qualifications, Dave went out second-to-last in the order while Bryan drew dead last. Dave’s clocking of 13.427 seconds was good for that magical sixth-quick time while Bryan’s 13.308 topped the charts. Those timing between this tandem included Kevin Thomas, Jr. (biking on the first lap), Gary Taylor, local Shawn Westerfeld (biking twice on his first lap), and Justin Grant (Elson 27A). Other notables performances came from Matt Westfall (7th), Kyle Robbins (10th), Chad Boespflug (11th in Mike McGhee’s 17), and Jarett Andretti (12th).

With Penske shocks attached to all four corners of his Chevy Performance charger, Clauson managed third in the first heat, trailing winner Aaron Farney and Joss Moffatt. After falling to sixth, Darland used consecutive sliders on Robbins, Thomas, and Windom to make a bold statement in claiming a third place finish in the second heat, which was won by a smoking C.J. Leary. C.J. promptly stopped his machine on the back stretch, unbelted, and rolled on the ground after an oil line came loose and set his car, and himself, on fire. Second row starter Chad Boespflug was the only one of the four heat winners to start beyond the front row, as fourth and final prelim was claimed by Tracy Hines.

Some big names in the B included Thomas and Brady Bacon, whose Hoffman team uncharacteristically missed the call for the first heat. These two claimed the top two spots, leaving big names like Robert Ballou and Thomas Meseraull beyond sixth place when combined yellow and checkered flags fell for a final lap scrape between Cody Gardner and Travis Hery. Ballou was hot on the tails of Kyle Cummins for the final transfer when the caution came out, unable to complete the lap. As it was, Robert tagged the tail of the field through a provisional pass.

Going four-wide in their 9:25 PM parade lap salute to Breast Cancer Awareness, just like at Kokomo’s Smackdown Chase Stockon and Dave Darland comprised the front row for this thirty-lapper. Unlike Kokomo, this time it was Stockon who got the jump, sliding from the bottom to top in the first set of corners. Chase and Dave drove away from third place Justin Grant, who soon lost the spot to Bryan Clauson, interesting to notice that for the second race in a row Clauson’s Chevy blew big smoke early in the race.

Stalking Stockon for several circuits, Dave dove beneath Chase through turns three and four to snatch the premier position. His lead was short lived as Stockon returned the favor in the same spot on the next lap, with Clauson closing big-time on both. After Darland scaled the healthy turns one and two cushion on lap nine, the bobble gave his championship nemesis a clear shot at second place, immediately taking advantage in turn three. Dave returned the favor while exiting the fourth corner but again had trouble in turn one, bicycling back to third. With Stockon in the middle, Clauson in the middle to low lane, and Darland up top, the lead trio operated in close confines at the crossed flags. On the 17th circuit, the People’s Champ once again tripped in turn one while The Bullet found his way beneath Stockon on the back chute, finally pulling away from last year’s Lawrenceburg winner on lap 19.

Despite making right rear contact with Joss Moffat on lap 20, Clauson scooted even further away from Stockon and Darland but lapped traffic allowed Chase to reel him in five laps later. So hooked up in the low lane, BC consistently hit his marks in the final five tours and constructed a half-straightaway advantage at the 9:35 checkered flag. In the all green flag affair that took a little over seven minutes to run, Stockon, Darland, Thomas, and Grant trailed the number 20. Taylor, Coons, Boespflug, Bacon, and Windom were sixth through tenth.

Heading west to Canyon where he has clearly excelled over the last couple of seasons, Bryan Clauson now owned a 13 point lead in the championship battle after finishes of 9th, 4th, and 1st in these final three Midwestern meets. Entering the three week swing 18 points up, Dave dropped out of Haubstadt, suffered more setbacks in his Eldora heat race, and had trouble with the cushion in Lawrenceburg. But aside from his DNF, Dave did not fold under the pressure, doing what he needed to do to stay alive in this stretch run. For the second year in a row it has come down to these two, wondering if age, experience, and a budget-minded mom and pop team of Steve and Carla Phillips can overcome such raw talent, youthful exuberance, and the championship juggernaut that is Tony Stewart Racing.

Reverting back to my baseball comparison, whether you are loyal to the Reds, Cardinals, Pirates or any other outfit, unless your team ends up winning the World Series you’re going to wind up hugely disappointed after hanging on every win and loss from April through the end of September. Depending on the outcome, it’s a polar opposite feeling that more often than not results in extreme heartbreak. For fans of stick and ball sports, that’s the nature of the beast.

One of the things I like best about sprint car racing is that it represents automobile racing in its purest form. In the lengthy season that spans from spring to fall, there is no gimmicky playoff or artificial championship chase, as the driver who consistently outperforms the rest is the one who winds up king. Depending on how much you idolize the exploits of Dave Darland or Bryan Clauson, you might just be crushed by the national championship outcome after the Oval Nationals. But regardless of which driver ends up on top, chances are you should have been able to find something to feel good about from this stretch run of races leading up the finale.

As for yours truly, recalling the details of these three events certainly helped ease the sting of Cincinnati’s painful wildcard one and out. Baseball is officially over in my book and sprint car racing is sadly not far behind. Ready for some football and basketball, unfortunately that also signals some potentially unbelievable highs and some devastating lows. Hoping to avoid even more pain and suffering, perhaps I can hibernate until the arrival of springtime, as I’m not sure that my heart can handle the abuse.




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