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    by Kevin Oldham


KO's interview with the Hurst Brothers is HERE

KO's interview with Phil Poor is HERE


Volume 19, Number 12

Indian Summer

I have always had a love-hate relationship with September.

In my youth, its arrival meant that the serenity of summertime had sadly become ancient history. Bringing with it the drudgery of never-ending homework, it also heaped upon me tons of pressure to perform on tests and quizzes. Now as a middle-aged man, September simply means it’s time for football, declining daylight, and memorable end-of-season racing events, counting down to the empty feelings experienced at the mid-October outdoor open wheel curtain-closer.

If September weather happens to be warm enough to be considered an Indian summer, naturally I’m still stuck in a June/July frame of mind. So, with the recent rash of 90-degree days in the first few days of fall, one could say that I am in no way ready to pack up my t-shirts and shorts and put the wraps on this year’s racing agenda.

I began this last full month of the season with a ride to Du Quoin, Illinois for the Ted Horn 100 USAC Silver Crown contest at the picturesque one-mile circle of soil. I say ride because my nephew (a.k.a. Ironman) did all the driving just like he did in our June journey to Knoxville. After finding a Pineapple Whip along the midway, much to our disappointment the surface took rubber early into the 100-mile grind, moving the groove way down from the outside concrete. Kody Swanson gift-wrapped a third Silver Crown championship with his first victory in this event since 2010. Just like last year, Jeff Swindell came close to glory until Swanson turned up the heat in the waning stages, reminded of how successful his chief mechanic Bob Hampshire has been in this discipline over the last 31 years. Swindell’s superb showings make me wish that additional Outlaws (his older brother, Kinser, Wolfgang, and Blaney) would join him in these endurance contests.

A MOWA/POWRi Spoon River double was originally on my agenda for the next weekend, but my initial visit to those high banks was put on hold when my nephew needed to stay closer to home, as his wife was expecting to give birth to their first child at some point this month. Not wishing to make the late night return on my own, the desire to do something different resulted in our first sampling of the Indianapolis Speedrome’s Three Hour World Figure 8 Championship. So impressed with the extensive improvements to the 76-year-old facility thanks to new owner Kevin Garrigus and track President Jonathan Byrd, other positive aspects included the humongous crowd, huge purse ($20K to win), and old-school atmosphere. It was indeed an entertaining evening, enthralled with the sophisticated equipment and fearless competitors, many of whom refused to lift while approaching the crossover. In those three hours, I was shocked to see that no one was t-boned as they met in the middle, with the winner ultimately being determined in the final five minutes. Introduced to a whole new world that I had no idea existed, this diversion was truly an eye-opening experience.

Back to my usual sprint car stuff on Friday the 15th, a post-work dash across interstate 70 to “The Hut” only cost me hot laps and a handful of cars from qualifications for the Jim Hurtubise Classic, arriving to enjoy the remainder of the 27-car USAC contingent tripping the timing loop. Robert Ballou came out 18th and even with rapidly deteriorating surface conditions produced the top time (20.477) in his BOSS chassis, such a rarity for Robert. While Jon Stanbrough strutted his Terre Haute talent in tenth, Brady Bacon (Dooling/Hayward 63) produced one of the slowest times (21.986) thanks to a clogged nozzle line, adding insult to injury when I later read that his time was disallowed.

Fresh from California Sprint Week were Chad Boespflug (sixth) and Kevin Thomas, Jr. (eighth), both operating under the guidance of new crew chiefs. Boespflug had ex-KTJ crewman Robert Brown, Jr. calling the shots on his Mean Green Maxim while ex-Boespflug chief Davey Jones was now dialing in Kevin’s Jam-It-In Storage DRC with CSI’s Brad Alexander. In years past, Jones and his son Dalton had worked with Thomas, interesting to note that Kevin and Davey were embroiled in a pit area altercation at last year’s Tri-State Sprint Week stop. These intense competitors either have short memories or are extremely forgiving.

Gaining his annual Terre Haute fix was 2000 Tri-State and Lincoln Park track champion Eric Burns, who timed 26th in Bill Gasway’s old Stealth that sported 20-year-old leftover parts and steel block power underneath the hood. The same machine I piloted last October in an open track play day at LPS, this time the engine was way off song, spoiling any real fun that could be had. Eric’s 15-year-old son Harley was on-hand to assist and observe, having encountered his own engine issue at the recent King of Non-Wing contest in which a broken piston punched a hole in the block. After selling his bomber earlier this season, Harley became a first-year sprint car competitor at both Putnamville and Paragon, logging laps in Doug Rolison’s Stealth that also dates back a couple of decades. Many people might forget, but Eric Burns was just a few laps shy from becoming a Hulman Classic winner in 2001 before being overtaken by Tracy Hines.

Aside from the equipment that Burns brought to battle, vintage open wheel hardware was on-hand to take a few leisurely laps around the legendary half-mile. Phil Poor towed his 1989 Stoops Gambler from his Anderson, Indiana home to take part in the festivities. Firing his pristine machine for the first time in a long while after being on loan to the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame/Museum in Knoxville, Iowa, the detail that went into Phil’s restoration was second to none, able to retrieve many of the car’s original parts and thus making it extremely period-correct. Back in 1989 the Terre Haute Action Track was rampant with weeds and had not been active since May of 1987, a month in which Phil swept both USAC races with driver Steve Butler.

With heats won from fifth (Chris Windom), fourth (KTJ), and third (Chase Stockon), Justin Grant and Jarett Andretti were the only ones from the quick six who failed to take a heat race transfer. Because of Justin and Jarett’s dilemma, Kevin Thomas would propel from the pole of the 30-lap finale, joined on the front row by Scotty Weir (Gass 17). For the first 26 laps, it appeared that Kevin would keep his hot streak alive, having claimed three of the six California contests. The only one who could hang with him was Ballou, but a cut right rear tire ruined Robert’s evening and put the action on pause with just four laps left.

After the lengthy caution for Ballou, it became a tale of two races, with the final four tours altogether different than the first 26. Action turned hot and heavy, rife with cutthroat sliders, contact, and a rather nasty ending for one competitor. After his mentor’s misfortune, fifth-quick qualifier Aaron Farney sat second on the restart and was the immediate recipient of a Chris Windom slide job, not once but twice as an Isaac Chapple stoppage influenced the third amber illumination. On that second slider, Windom flew past Farney and pulled even with Thomas, driving his Baldwin Brothers DRC deep into turn three and past the nose of Kevin’s car. KTJ was unsuccessful in his attempt to cross over and by the time he reached turn two, he mysteriously slowed. Farney was unable to avoid rapping the rear of Thomas, leading to backstretch calamity that claimed just one casualty, that being the Hazen 57 of Shane Cottle.

One final restart with three laps left saw the 9K run completely dry of fuel. Kevin coasted to the front stretch infield pit entrance, victim of a thirsty “Godzilla” engine (as per Davey Jones), a 25-gallon fuel cell, and some lengthy yellows for Ballou and Chapple. Boespflug jumped at the chance to steal second from Farney in turn four, followed one lap later by a similar maneuver involving 16th-starting Tyler Courtney. On the final go-round, Justin Grant forced his way underneath of Aaron (with contact) at the entrance to turn three for the fourth position. The wheel banging was far from over, as the two would meet again on the expansive front stretch. Locking wheels on a half-mile rarely results in a happy ending, as Aaron was the unlucky one who rode out a wicked flip to the inside concrete guarding the infield pit exit. The Brookston, Indiana charger was carefully extricated from his mangled Maxim and had to spend the night in a local hospital, released the next day.

The bottom line is this: the ruthless racing witnessed at the conclusion leads me to believe that if this activity is not curtailed, someone is bound to pay a far heftier price. Back in the days of Jack Hewitt and Bob Kinser, these things would have worked themselves out with a black eye or bloody nose, but we’re a long way from those days with so much police interference.

Windom tallied his third consecutive USAC Terre Haute triumph dating back to last October. Boespflug, Courtney, Grant, and Farney rounded out the top-five. Chase Stockon (from 12th), Brady Bacon (from 22nd), Weir, C.J. Leary, (from 18th), and Dave Darland (Dutcher 17) scored sixth through tenth on the slicked off surface that offered quite a bit of overtaking in the late stages.

Terre Haute’s next event is Saturday October 14th, with the running of the Tony Hulman Classic. Hoping for equally nice weather as last year, some damp dirt would also be welcomed, as promoter/operator Bob Sargent always seems to be working from behind on race days to offer some semblance of a surface.

Instead of staying overnight, I headed east for another Saturday morning routine of barber shop, gym, and yardwork, on my own in this next Haubstadt adventure. Aiming for a first-time visit to Bo-Mac’s dairy bar in Shoals along the way, while on the west leg of 465 my MINI’s GPS advised that the fastest route was State Roads 67, 39, and 37 to U.S. 50, requiring a painful single lane path south of Martinsville as I-69 construction had recently ratcheted up. Feeling some stressful sweat with the slow-going on 37, I began to feel better south of Bloomington, especially when eyeing a classic 1950s convertible at the Oolitic stoplight. Could its driver have been the one and only Karl Kinser?

Stepping on the pedal on the gorgeous tree-lined U.S. 50, I had just enough time to make a pit stop for a strawberry malt and Bo-Mac’s Rox Burger, a double-cheeseburger topped with an onion ring that was named for Jug Rock, the country’s largest free-standing table rock formation east of the Mississippi that is found near the east fork of the White River, just west of Shoals. Also hoping to take the scenic route to U.S. 41 via State Road 241 and Decker (I recently enjoyed a world-famous Decker melon for the first time – no doubt the juiciest I have ever experienced), I was advised to take the yawn-inspiring I-69 to State Road 68 if I had any hope of finding a place to park at Tommy Helfrich’s Tri-State Speedway. Even with 30 minutes to spare, I was forced to park in the modified pit area, so for once I was thankful to have heeded the advice of new-fangled technology.

A humongous crowd was already on-hand to witness the $12,500 to win Haubstadt Hustler, with the $2,500 addition to the top prize coming from sponsor Unique Breedz. The tenth running of this event would once again feature a co-sanction from USAC and MSCS, with the latter format reigning supreme. Timed hot laps arranged heat races with the fastest four inverted and while normal MSCS meets could invert as many as 12 feature starters, this one only selected six. $500 was available to the quickest overall qualifier (Kyle Cummins – 13.624 in the Byram 3R), with Roger and Barb Tapy awarding the 13th fastest (Chet Williams) a new Hoosier right rear tire.

A hot and humid day/night more reminiscent of late July, Indian summer was in full effect for this final fling before fall’s arrival. Recalling my most recent Tri-State trip when Kyle Cummins shocked Kevin Thomas, Jr. with a last turn, last lap pass to steal the Sprint Week win, it was only appropriate that the highest paying first place prize in the Hoosier state would involve these same two.

After Thomas Meseraull and Chet Williams won the first two heats from the first and second position, it was also rather appropriate that Kevin and Kyle would claim the third and fourth heats from the third and fourth positions. Clearly the quickest two cars from preliminaries, they were set to start the 40-lap main event from the second row but when C.J. Leary shot to the lead and suddenly slowed, that awarded Cummins a front row seat.

I fully expected Kyle to lead all 40 laps and although he did pace the first three, it would be Kevin who would stay out front for the majority, gaining the advantage with a low-side launch off turn two on the fourth lap. Officially up front for the final 37 circuits, KTJ was kept honest by six more cautions involving Short, Ruble, Cottle, Stanbrough, Jackson, Darland, Stockon, Hodges, Brackett (a front row starter), and Chapple. Just as he did in July, Cummins was finally able to shake his tight condition with under ten to go, finding increased speed when stepping upstairs. The final restart left just two laps to determine who would take the cake, truly a dejà vu experience for this dynamic duo as Cummins immediately pulled the trigger on a turn two slider that collected too much cushion and allowed Thomas back by. Almost scripted, the final two corners of the white flag lap were once again extremely dramatic. Kyle literally came out of nowhere to slide Kevin through three and four but in a reversal of roles from July, this time it was Thomas who crossed over and nipped Cummins at the line. Unable to locate a larger fuel cell in time for this 40-lapper, Thomas ran out of fuel for the second night in a row, this time coming after the 9:47 PM checkered flag had fallen.

Surging from sixth, Thomas Meseraull trailed the tandem in the Chase Briscoe Racing 5. Local boy Chet Williams fired from fifth and maintained fourth for the entire grind, perhaps his best effort to date. After being unable to take a time in his heat, Tyler Courtney scored a heat race transfer and flew from 14th to 5th in the finale. Sixth through tenth included hard chargers Chris Windom (from 16th), Brady Short (from 21st and after involvement in the second caution), Robert Ballou (from 18th), C.J. Leary (involved in the first caution), and point leader Justin Grant.

Brady Bacon’s sub-standard weekend continued at The Haub when he was two semi-feature spots shy of cracking the A. Utilizing a provisional, he was unable to move forward and was credited with 18th. It had been a couple of years since Scotty Weir strapped into a sprint car for both Terre Haute and Haubstadt, having last competed at both venues with Jeff Walker in 2015. Although he earned 8th at the Action Track, he was one spot short of A-main status at Tri-State.

While operating in a transfer position in the second heat, Brian Karraker bicycled into a big-time flip, landing in a precarious upright position between the boiler plate wall and the billboards just beneath the scoreboard. Requiring the use of Helfrich’s 1970s Ford boom truck to retrieve BK’s battered machine, despite a destroyed chassis Karraker was otherwise unharmed in the incident. I would venture to say that few, if any tracks have such equipment on-hand to handle such an issue.

With the largest wingless sprint car crowd that I can remember, how ironic was it that sprint car racing’s one and only King of the Outlaws was actually in the house? Steve Kinser noted to my nephew at the King’s Royal that he “doesn’t get off the property much” these days, so naturally it was great to see Steve at Haubstadt, sitting just a row beneath me for the feature. With wife Dana selling various Kinser apparel in the parking lot, even with such a crowd Steve was not pestered for autographs or pictures, spending the bulk of his time affectionately caring for his grandchildren.

One final Haubstadt note: in a world where customer-friendly aspects are too often ignored, I feel extremely fortunate that a place like Tri-State Speedway still thrives. I am confident in my assessment that there are few other dirt tracks in this country, if not this world, where the ownership is so concerned with so many small details. The facility always looks immaculate, the restrooms are always clean, the concession stands consistently provide solid options for snacking, and the quality of the racing surface is never a question. I know some people gripe about Tommy’s tractor show and his never-ending quest for the perfect surface, but I will say this: I have never once had to worry about a lack of effort from the Tri-State staff when making the long drive to visit. More often than not, the feature action is well worth the distance traveled, as evidenced by last-turn, last-lap overtaking in my previous two trips. Other than starting earlier so Indy folk could arrive home sooner, who could ask for anything more?

Two days after Tri-State, my nephew became a proud papa to Graham Frederick Oldham, actually allowing me to hold him in my arms less than one day after the little guy entered this world. That was quite an eye-opening, impactful, and overwhelmingly heartwarming experience for yours truly, gaining a greater understanding of what is really important in life. However, just three days later while Danny was the responsible one tending to baby and wife, it seemed odd that I would be the one heading to Eldora’s Four Crown Nationals weekend to camp overnight and soak up event atmosphere with Cleveland chum Tom Percy. In due time, I’m sure the Oldham family Eldora tradition will extend another generation when Graham will be entering through the front gate with his father, great uncles, and perhaps great grandfather. I’m quite certain that he’ll grow to love this place like all of us Oldhams do.

Although Four Crown Nationals history dates back to 1981 when former USAC official turned car owner Johnny Vance convinced Earl Baltes to roll the dice on what was then a bold concept, I was formally introduced in 1985, which also happened to be my initial indoctrination to this palace of speed. With Johnny’s recent passing, I couldn’t help but get a little choked up when a new Johnny Vance Four Crown trophy was unveiled at this year’s opening ceremonies. Some 30 years ago, I vividly recall buying an Aristrocrat Products t-shirt out of the trunk of Johnny’s Cadillac in the Four Crown pit area, unbeknownst at the time of his influence on this very event.

Aside from 2003 when the Mopar Million took its place, I have only missed one of these classics since 1985, choosing the competing Winchester 400 in 1986 as I was then a hardcore ASA fan. With oh-so-many fond memories generated in the last 32 years, naturally the Four Crown remains near and dear to my heart, a tradition that makes the struggle of September something to look forward to. Given that Eldora hosts only one other USAC weekend on their calendar; attendance is vital to my happiness and satisfaction.

Once again, the Four Crown weekend would feature separate Friday/Saturday programs. As has been the norm since 2007, Friday’s top billing was the World of Outlaws while Saturday offered the obligatory standard of USAC’s midget/sprint/Silver Crown divisions along with the All Star Circuit of Champions. 2016 was the first year since 2006 that four features would be run on one evening, both becoming marathons for completely different reasons. 2006 rain delays resulted in features concluding around 6 AM. As for last year, heat racing began at an ungodly 10 PM after a two hour surface revamp, ultimately concluding at 2:49 AM.

In an effort to condense the program and prevent a repeat performance, Eldora management announced some minor tweaks to this year’s Saturday format. They included: eliminating midget qualifying (lining up by the draw and using heat race passing points), cutting All Star time trials to just one lap per car, slashing five laps from the All Star feature, and pitting Silver Crown cars outside of the track. Slated to start Saturday hot laps at 4:30 PM (hot laps were later changed to 5:40), would these changes shave off enough time to end earlier and allow for requisite surface maintenance? As soon as I read the news of the adjusted schedule I knew that they wouldn’t have a huge impact, but that didn’t stop me from attempting to enjoy every single Four Crown moment.

In addition to my first time to camp here since the year 2000, many things stood out in this 36th Four Crown Nationals weekend. First and foremost, my statistically focused mind focused on the dominating feature drives all weekend, beginning with Tim Shaffer’s wiring of the field in Friday’s “BeFour the Crowns Challenge”. Tim led all 30 laps in the Rudzik Excavating Triple X to earn his fourth career World of Outlaws Eldora achievement. On Saturday, all four winners were first-time victors in some way, shape or form. It all started with Spencer Bayston, who propelled from the pole position and reached the top of turn one first. Piloting the Keith Kunz Motorsports IWX sponsored Bullet by Spike/Toyota, Spencer controlled all 25 USAC midget feature laps for his initial Eldora score, collecting a cool $5,000. After winning his heat and the trophy dash, Brady Bacon bolted from his pole starting spot to an immediate advantage in the All Star Circuit of Champions 25-lapper, never letting up as he secured his first-ever All Star win in the Bacon Marshall Motorsports Triple X. Not to be outdone, outside front row starter Tyler Courtney beat pole sitter Kody Swanson to the top of turn two and paced all 50 USAC Silver Crown tours in Hans Lein’s pristine DRC, his first-ever win at Eldora and first in Silver Crown competition. The lone feature that offered any overtaking up front was the USAC sprint car tilt, which saw third-starting Justin Grant split Chase Stockon and Robert Ballou to snatch the lead by turn one. However, eventual winner C.J. Leary claimed the premier position on lap two and held back Brady Bacon for his first Eldora triumph, having given away a May 2015 USAC win on the last lap to Justin Grant.

A second 2017 Four Crown memory will be the summer-like weather, with its sweat-inducing temperatures the hottest ever felt at this event. With the thermometer reading 92 degrees when arriving on Friday afternoon, the opening night surface was surprisingly wet for such scorching conditions, enough that Shane Stewart’s quickest qualifying time of 12.899 seconds came dangerously close to Craig Dollansky’s 2002 track record of 12.707. With the surface staying solid all throughout Friday evening, that certainly gave hope for a superb Saturday. Unfortunately, the combination of a 120-car contingent, more 90-degree temps, and the second day on the soil took its toll. Super-slick conditions finally attracted rubber and created a one-groove parade during the latter half of the USAC sprint car feature. Even with the less than desirable conditions, I actually found the racing to be entertaining, especially the early stages of the USAC sprint car finale that featured the top-six cars fitting under a blanket, also offering a fierce fight for second between Grant and Bacon.

Truth be told, the smooth, slick, and ultimately rubber-down conditions failed to provide the old-school Eldora experience that veteran fans so desperately desire, but it’s also unreasonable to expect them to wait out an extensive surface revival on an already lengthy evening. Although the top and bottom grooves were scratched during Saturday’s opening ceremonies, even without extensive maintenance the idea of sending the non-camping patrons on the road in the wee hours of the morning is far from ideal. In its current form, the one-day Four Crown format is a no-win situation that only offers one sensible solution: spread it out over multiple days so we can get back to the basics of enjoying a balls-out Eldora on-track experience, the very thing that brought all of us here in the first place. Eldora already offers a world-class big screen scoreboard, the most amazing pyrotechnics show, fan-friendly admission and concession stand pricing, a full-service bar, and undeniable atmosphere. Such an inviting, intimate setting, the only thing left to improve upon is the racing itself.

For the first 25 years, except for rare issues with rain, Four Crown activities spanned over two to three days. No doubt necessary in those early days due to massive car counts, these last two years have certainly seen no shortage of equipment, attracting 126 (2016) and 120 (2017). To Eldora’s credit, they did manage to run extremely efficient programs on both Friday and Saturday. Friday concluded at 10:10 PM and despite Saturday’s numerous wall-bangers and flips, all festivities ended at 1:13 AM on Sunday morning, 1 hour and 36 minutes sooner than 2016. The difference essentially equates to last year’s two hour surface revival. However, with the impossible task of practicing and qualifying 120 cars and running 17 different racing contests, there just isn’t enough room in the schedule for rain delays, serious accidents, or surface revamps. I am extremely passionate about the Four Crown Nationals and Eldora Speedway and hope that my comments aren’t construed as harsh criticism. I simply want to see this event survive and thrive for decades to come, hoping that someone in a key position sees this and agrees that action must be taken.

A third major aspect of this 2017 Four Crown involved the massive crashes coming on Saturday. Beginning with hot laps and qualifying for the 36 USAC sprint cars in attendance, due to the slim margin for error on both ends there were ample opportunities for right rear wheels to become ruined by unforgiving concrete. In time trials alone, Nick Bilbee, Josh Hodges, and Austin Nemire made significant contact but did not turn over. Once was apparently not enough as Nemire later cracked concrete in the same spot in turn one during Silver Crown qualifying. Both times, his squad made necessary repairs to return to battle.

Whether the surface is heavy or slick, All Star Circuit of Champions hot laps showed how serious Eldora accidents can be. Tyler Esh caught the backstretch wall exiting turn two and helicoptered down the banking, promptly drilled in the cockpit by Dane Lorenc. Transported to Dayton due to the need for a trauma unit, Tyler had bleeding on the brain, a bruised lung, and a cracked T1 vertebrae. Eventually air lifted to Lancaster, PA, although he did not require surgery, he’ll have to wear a brace for three months. 2017 FAST 410 champion D.J. Foos was the only other All Star to spill on Saturday after climbing concrete between one and two.

Even Eldora experts had their issues, as evidenced by 2013 and 2016 Four Crown midget maestro Rico Abreu catching the turn one wall at the start of the second midget heat, barrel rolling several times. Rico was able to exit under his own power but his accident was anything but tame, calling it quits for the rest of the evening as he was eventually transported to a local hospital for an overnight stay. Sporting some seriously black eyes a few days later, he tweeted that he was taking time off to properly recuperate. The only other major midget miscue came in the finale, when second-running Justin Grant was attempting to track down Bayston but caught the wall between turns one and two, pirouetting down the bank.

Silver Crown crashes were far more spectacular and serious. After heats for sprints, midgets, and All Stars were completed, the champ dirt cars finally qualified but did so on a seriously slick surface, far more treacherous than USAC sprint and All Star sessions. A razor thin cushion was available in one and two, but the wall was the only thing to lean on in three and four. Joss Moffatt was the first to pancake the perimeter in three and four. As previously mentioned, Nemire again got the wall in one and five cars later, Patrick Bruns pounded concrete in one, cartwheeling and landing upside down with engine screaming. Bruns was transported to Greenville for a foot fracture and cut that required some stitches, with surgery scheduled on Monday in Dayton.

The first of two Silver Crown feature crackups came when C.J. Leary attempted a two-for-one slider on second place Dave Darland (Phillips 27) and the lapped machine of Aaron Pierce through turn three. Leary’s right rear wound up being the weapon that propelled Pierce into the outside wall. C.J. would soon retire with a flat right rear. After shedding tears while graciously accepting his third Silver Crown championship, early in the feature Kody Swanson flirted with the fence in the same spot as Bruns, Abreu, and Grant. Such flirtation eventually bit him in a big way on lap 32, going for a rough ride in his DePalma Maxim. Kody was thankfully ok but his machine had certainly seen better days. Previous to Eldora, his worst Silver Crown finish all year was fourth.

A fourth aspect ascertained from this year’s Four Crown involved the continued showcasing of the most bad-ass, versatile talent known to mankind. It all started in 1981 when Steve Kinser subbed for an injured Rich Vogler and claimed both sprint and Silver Crown contests from the rear for Johnny Vance. Years after, such mastery at multitasking became the ultimate Four Crown honor and tradition. Larry Rice doubled-up in ’85 as did Rich Vogler in ’86, Hewitt in ’91, ’96, and ’97, Stewart in ’95, Darland in ’99 and ‘04, Yeley in ’01, Windom in ’13, and Bell in ’15. Of course we all know that the only men to triumph more than twice in one night were Hewitt in ’98 and Kyle Larson in ’11. Back when late models and modifieds served as the fourth class, Jack Hewitt was the most willing to climb through the window of one, racking up a jaw-dropping 19 wins in this event alone. Dave Darland’s seven scores sits second on the list.

In the spirit of Dew-It Hewitt, Brady Bacon was the only one finding rides in all four classes, even finishing 24th in Friday’s outlaw feature. Bacon’s best Hewitt impersonation ended with solid Saturday showings: third (midget), second (sprint), first (All Stars), and fifth (Silver Crown – from 18th in the Gormly 199). The fact that true car owners are dying on the vine makes duplicating such foursome feats a tall task.

A fifth and final major takeaway from this 2017 Four Crown was the massive crowd on Saturday, without question the largest I have ever encountered for this contest. I said the same thing last year and despite the long night in 2016, they came back in even greater numbers one year later. Having already rehashed this year’s difficulties, will the fans be as forgiving for an even more impressive assembly in 2018? Let’s hope so.

Friday’s BeFour the Crowns World of Outlaws war attracted a field of 42 and as I am always amazed with the current WoO format, qualifications clearly means everything. Dividing the field in half for two qualifying flights, the heat races offer no inversions, starting the fastest straight up. With the aid of a lightning fast surface, the end result was that every single racing event, except for the C-main, was claimed from the pole position. From the four heats, the front row starters finished in the exact same position, moving them to the all-important dash. Aside from qualification performance, the luck of the draw in the dash inversion ultimately determines the winner. The inversion of four placed Tim Shaffer and Jason Johnson on the front row. Shaffer scored the win while fourth-starting Shane Stewart secured second.
Stewart attempted to hang with Shaffer in the finale until shredding a right rear tire on lap 13, causing the second and final caution of the feature. Donny Schatz restarted second and whittled away at the Steel City Outlaw’s lead, nearly pulling even around the bottom of turns three and four in the final three laps. But, it wasn’t enough to shoot him underneath the 2010 Knoxville Nationals victor. Behind Tim and Donny were Joey Saldana (Indy Race Parts 71), Jason Johnson, and David Gravel. Brad Sweet (from 11th), Rico Abreu, Brent Marks (from 22nd), Chad Kemenah (from 19th), and Jac Haudenschild made up the second half of the top ten finishers. Abreu had been operating in third until cutting a right rear tire on the final lap. Parker Price-Miller was 17th in his debut drive with Destiny Motorsports, beating out Cap Henry (Neumeister 11N), Tony Stewart, and Spencer Bayston for the final feature pass from the Last Chance Showdown.

Saturday’s population of 120 machines was subdivided into the following classes: 18 midgets, 36 sprint cars, 23 Silver Crown, and 43 winged All Stars.

After his seventh to second heat race romp, Bayston’s beat down was his third USAC midget triumph of the year that also included a big Belleville bash. Indiana Midget Week champion Shane Golobic snatched second place from Dave Darland’s grasp, with Dave dropping one more spot after Brady Bacon took third from seventh. Darland settled for fourth in a second BT Machine Spike/Esslinger, topping ninth-starting Tanner Thorson. Sixth through tenth in the 17-car lineup included Holly Shelton (from 13th), Chad Boat, Tanner Carrick, Tyler Thomas, and Alex Bright.

USAC sprint car qualifying saw Brady Bacon clock quickest (16.893), using the low groove in three and four. Never before do I remember an Eldora fast qualifier utilizing anything but the top shelf, but I suppose there is a first time for everything. Dave Darland (Hery 40) also dove low in three and four and was the only other to operate in the 16-second range, remembering how 30 years ago quick time was in the low-16s. In an incident-free A-main, Leary’s late race turn one slider on lapper Tyler Thomas secured the win over Bacon, pole sitter Robert Ballou (who was extremely open, honest, and critical of the surface in his post-race interview), Kevin Thomas, Jr. (from 10th), and early leader Grant. Scotty Weir (Simon 22s), Chris Windom (from 15th), Thomas Meseraull (from 18th in Stan Courtad’s 9x), outside front row starter Chase Stockon, and Matt Westfall (from 21st) were sixth through tenth. Bill Rose was 19th in George Kissel’s 320 while Dave Darland dropped to 22nd after beginning fifth.

First heat foes Rico Abreu (14.669) and Joey Saldana (14.759) were the quickest two qualifiers in the entire All Star field. Fully suspecting these two to fight for top dog status in the 25-lap finale, once Abreu was absent for his heat that expectation was thrust solely upon Saldana. Joey went old-school with his breathtaking ride around the rim to conquer heat one. Tagging the wall between three and four during the dash, Saldana scored second to Brady Bacon and surprisingly fell to fourth at the start of the feature. Back up to second through three and four but again back to fourth by the flag stand, Joey again smacked the wall several times in the first two laps and was never a factor for the win. Underdog Bryan Nuckles started third and finished a strong second, operating a lane lower than Bacon and occasionally showing his nose. Yet another virtual unknown in the winged 410 world scored third, that being All Star rookie Max Stambaugh. Lee Jacobs elevated from 11th to fourth while Hunter Schuerenberg scooted from 13th to fifth. Sixth through tenth included additional unlikely suspects Dan McCarron, last year’s winner Ian Madsen, Saldana, Caleb Armstrong (from 22nd), and John Garvin.

In the Silver Crown closer, although $8,000 victor Tyler Courtney was never seriously threatened, things got a bit too close for comfort on the final few laps when Chris Windom and Shane Cottle pulled to within a couple of car lengths, as Courtney’s right rear rubber appeared ready to give up the ghost at any moment. Dave Darland operated as high as second but fell to fourth at the end, with Bacon making the big blast to fifth. Sixth through tenth included Grant, Schuerenberg, David Byrne, Ballou (Klatt 6), and Jerry Coons, Jr.

No, it may not have been the mind-blowing Four Crown I had been thirsting for in this sweltering Indian summer, but that did not mean I could not find a way to have a great time. Enjoying both nights in the grandstands and around the campground, I spent some long-awaited quality time with my good friend Tom as we joked, laughed, and shared interesting observations about life and racing. No matter how long the evening extends and how parched the playing field, it’s still the Four Crown and it’s still such a special event showcasing some amazing talent. USAC racing at Eldora is unfortunately an endangered species and no matter how everything plays out, I will still want to be a part of it, continuing my long-standing September tradition.

As I finally finish this piece after dragging my feet for the last two weeks, although the temperatures and weather are still respectable, perhaps it is coincidental that the passing of the Four Crown and a slightly rare Indian summer have occurred at the same time. With just a couple of September shows and some random October outings remaining, fall has been flung into my lap, with the countdown to hibernation mode becoming an all-too-real thing. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to worry about homework, tests, quizzes, and the worry of waking up with a pimple on my face, but all these years later the love-hate relationship with this ninth month continues. As much as I love the specific racing events that are associated with this time of the year, I truly hate the thought of turning the calendar one more time. A change of seasons means a change of feelings, one that I’m not quite ready to deal with yet.

 

 

Volume 19, Number 11

Contents Under Pressure

At some point in our past, we have all been advised to refrain from shaking and then opening containers filled with carbonated beverages. If you were anything like me however, your curiosity eventually got the best of you, dying to experience the cheap thrill that came from the ensuing explosion of showering soda that inevitably made a mess of everything in its path.

Kokomo Speedway’s Sprint Car Smackdown is analogous to that shaken can of Coca-Cola. A four-day festival of highly-concentrated on-track activity, after three consecutive evenings of its prickly participants being prodded and poked, by the time the Saturday feature is about to unfold the Smackdown lid is more than ready to burst from the accumulated energy bubbling beneath.

Such was the case in this spectacular sixth edition, truly living up to the humongous hype and then some. Swelling in intensity with each successive slide-job, the $10,000-to-win 40-lap finale was capped by a final two tours that contained some of the most cutthroat competition known to mankind. Prior to those last pair of laps, the Saturday finale was dominated by the cushion-crushing, throttle-stomper Tyler Thomas, who commenced from the outside of the front row thanks to a runner-up finish in the King of the Hill contest. A relative newcomer to the Indiana sprint car scene, Tyler literally stunk up the show for the first 39 laps in Michael Dutcher’s Maxim, appeared headed to a rather significant initial USAC sprint car score. However, just as he was about to take the checkered flag, an untimely caution for a spinning Brady Bacon put his celebration on ice. Much to my surprise, with 39 laps in the books USAC officials reverted to lap 38 to create a green-white-checkered finish, a new rule that has apparently been in effect since July. Unknown at the time, I had a hard time understanding how there were two laps remaining. I must be completely honest: although it may simplify the procedure for race endings and assist in thrilling finishes, I cannot say that I am in favor of such a rule, simply because it reeks of NASCAR manipulation a bit too much. Again, that’s just my opinion, which won’t change anything. Thankfully, the 2017 Smackdown will ultimately be remembered for the exciting ending, not the fact that a new rule allowed for it to happen.

Winner of Wednesday’s #GYATK feature (worth $3,000 plus another $630 for being an organ donor) and Saturday’s $400 B&W Auto Mart King of the Hill contest, defending Smackdown boss and second-place performer Kevin Thomas, Jr. immediately pulled even on the ensuing restart but didn’t generate enough steam to pilfer P1. Once again receiving the white flag, TT was unapproachable in his final turn one attack. But, behind him was a completely different story, as a Chris Windom second place slider was followed by rare KTJ cartwheels that did serious damage to his Jeff’s Jam-It-In Storage sponsored DRC, enough that a new chassis had to be assembled before departing for his California Sprint Week tour.

Because of Kevin’s gymnastics routine, once again we were sent back in time (to lap 38) for a second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish, with Windom now applying the heavy heat. While T. Thomas tagged the wall between one and two, Chris pulled the pin and lofted a bomb to briefly seize the lead. The Oklahoma native immediately returned the favor in three while Friday’s feature winner Tyler Courtney bombarded the bottom to squeeze into second. Serving as the meat in a Tyler sandwich, Chris instinctively cranked his Kenny Baldwin DRC/Claxton to the left and somehow slipped beneath both to lift the lead at the white flag. Big Daddy attempted to seal the deal with another slider but like a telegraphed pass from a quarterback, TT intercepted and turned down the hill, pulling even at the entrance to the back chute. Too close for comfort, Thomas ramped over Windom’s left front while Courtney landed the knockout blow, sending the orange crush into the spin cycle as Chris’s front end had completely folded. The defending Silver Crown champion was none too pleased with the outcome, angrily tossing his steering wheel in the direction of Thomas, requiring USAC officials to remove the errant object from the Griffin’s Propane/Indiana Underground Maxim/Fisher before going back to green.

Re-racking for a third attempt at the final two lap dash, Thomas took off far too early between turns three and four, so surprised that the start was not called back. However, the Collinsville, Oklahoma native made the mistake of restarting from the top side, ultimately leaving the bottom wide open for second place Tyler Courtney who seized the day with a slick slider through one. TT tilted on two wheels in three, ready to rally with another first turn heave. Courtney clearly had other thoughts and boldly circled past, resulting in his second-consecutive victory of the weekend, his first career Kokomo conquests. Robert Ballou rounded out the podium while Scotty Weir (from 13th) and Dave Darland (from 15th) were fourth and fifth. Positions six through ten were populated by Justin Grant, C.J. Leary, Jarett Andretti, Chad Boespflug, and Chase Stockon.

Similar to that shaken soda, as the cap was loosened and its contents suddenly ready to spew, so too was the rage within Windom. After having heated words with Dutcher at the entrance to turn one, once the checkered flag was waved Chris headed straight for Thomas, landing a few blows to the still-seated driver. As fireworks were shot into the sky, all kinds of anger erupted near the black number 17, as Windom, several crew members, and officials (both Kokomo and USAC) were seen scuffling and rolling around in the dirt. How Chris ever made it onto the track in the first place is beyond me, but nevertheless it certainly added to the insanity of this scintillating Smackdown ending. If this wasn’t considered the most important event in traditional sprint car racing by now (outside of Indiana Sprint Week), these high emotions elevated it into another stratosphere. People will always pay for the potential for drama and this race has proven that such a possibility always exits.

While Tyler Thomas and Chris Windom were swallowing bitter pills and experiencing the dreaded agony of defeat, that elusive thrill of victory was being savored by Tyler Courtney, a worthy winner who kept his nose clean for the entire affair and ultimately came through in the clutch. However, the four-day stretch was anything but a walk in the park for Sunshine and his Topp team led by crew chief Mark Shambarger. Most of their Smackdown was actually a meat grinder, having to stressfully diagnose engine issues early on Saturday evening. Hustling from 13th to 5th on Wednesday’s saturated surface, Courtney began Thursday’s feature from 16th but flat right rear rubber just past the halfway mark saddled him with a finish of 17th. Second quick thanks to his first lap of Friday qualifying before two-wheeling his Maxim/Topp-Gaerte into turn four concrete, it took a small army (including personnel from Clauson-Marshall Racing and Sam McGhee Motorsports) to replace front and rear axles, numerous radius rods, and all four shocks just to be ready in time for the second heat. Missing the transfer after a stirring joust with Justin Grant, a B-main blast slated him seventh for Friday’s finale. Only ten laps were required to finagle first from Hunter Schuerenberg, with Tyler widening the arc of his low-side launches to withstand a blistering attack from 18th-starting Brady Bacon and the almighty KTJ. Batting .500 on the week was indeed a sweet reward for all that Smackdown indigestion, as Sunshine celebrated his fifth USAC sprint car victory of the season in the grandest style imaginable.

I’m still shocked that Tyler Thomas didn’t come away with the ultimate Smackdown prize, but to be perfect on three consecutive green-white-checkered restarts is no easy feat. However, since joining forces with Mike Dutcher in the first weekend of August, he’s literally been the man to beat. Opening 8th at Haubstadt’s Hoosier Sprint Nationals, one night later he was top-five material at the Bob Darland Memorial. After sweeping an MSCS weekend at Shady Hill and LPS, he was absolutely on fire at Bloomington’s Leon Gentry Classic. Clocking quickest, winning his heat, and building a half-track advantage in just eight feature laps, his lone mistake cost him big when scaling the massive turn four ledge and spinning. Until that miscue, Thomas was in a league of his own, much like he was for the first 39 laps at Kokomo’s big-money finale. Unfortunately for this potent combination, they could not cash in on either occasion.

Although their Smackdown week didn’t exactly go to plan, TT truly stood up in the seat, thrilling fans with his rides on the razor’s edge, attacking lethal cushions like there was no tomorrow. Involved in an early incident in Wednesday’s feature, after a right rear tire was swapped he still charged back through the field to earn 11th. Second-quick in Thursday time trials, a broken rocker arm in his heat relegated him to B-main status. Starting the A-main from seventh and operating as high as sixth, a cracked wheel in the late stages resulted in a 14th place finish. Tyler topped time trials on Friday (12.754), started sixth, operated as high as second, but settled for fourth. Fourth in points heading into Saturday’s finale, after claiming two of three King of the Hill match races but losing out to Kevin Thomas, Jr., I’m quite certain that many expected the Alabama assassin to lead laps 1-40. Although he didn’t win, Tyler laid it all on the line and made a massive impression.

Similar to a mini-Indiana Sprint Week, so much happened over the course of these four Smackdown days that it’s difficult to quickly summarize the remainder of events. Thankfully free from weather after last year’s near miss with the infamous Wednesday tornado, it was definitely chamber of commerce weather in K-town, warm during the day but cool at night, not only requiring sweatshirts/jackets but long pants as well. Long pants in late August – are you kidding me?

Colossal crowds on Wednesday and Saturday and the impressive assembly of campers automatically added even more flavor, but I once again noticed that reserved seating rows, especially on Thursday and Friday, showed far too many open spaces. My hope is that the incredibly dramatic ending on Saturday helps fill those gaps in 2018, wanting to see this thing grow to epic proportions.

Enjoying healthy car counts for all four shows despite Saturday competition for sprint cars coming from Putnamville, Paragon, and Waynesfield, with Wednesday’s American Racer tire option and incentives available for new competitors, naturally the opening night car count of 44 was the best of the bunch. Thursday and Friday each attracted 38 while Saturday still showed 36, not bad given the normal attrition that occurs due to blown engines and upside down excursions. Car counts would have been slightly better had it not been for Wednesday issues involving Corey Smith (engine) and Clinton Boyles (barrel rolling big-time in his heat). Shane Cottle broke a camshaft in that Wednesday opener, but Matt Goodnight came to car owner Paul Hazen’s rescue with an engine loan for the second time in a little over a month. Even with fresh power, Cottle’s luck wasn’t much better: 21st on Thursday (after losing a right front wheel), 18th on Friday, and 22nd on Saturday, commenting that the difference in power between his usual Kercher mill and the Claxton loaner was enough to require a change in how he attacked the Kokomo quarter-mile, evidenced by his pair of spins over the course of three days.

Smackdown pit sightings included legendary Outlaw wrenches Deuce Turrill (Spencer 66) and Scott Benic (Goodnight 39), enjoying reflective conversations with both about the late ‘80s/early ‘90s racing scene. Former sprint car competitors Kevin Thomas, Joe Roush, Brandon Petty, and Ande Possman were in the house, as was ex-Possman/Jeff Walker crew member Jason Hartmann. Former car owners Terry Riggs and Tracy Potter were roaming, as were brothers Brad and Steve Fox and Monticello’s Mark Batcheldor. Batcheldor and the Fox boys are in the process of getting the band back together to field a winged 410 for Brad’s son Braden.

Notable Smackdown absences came from Jon Stanbrough, Leon Gentry Classic winner A.J. Hopkins (in the defending race winning ride of 4J Racing), and Jeff Bland, Jr. Stanbrough was on-hand to observe the action, noting his racing absence was influenced by a desire to make it to the end of this Farewell campaign with his own equipment, fearing Kokomo calamity might infringe upon that. Reminding me that he’s been doing this for over 30 years now, he just wants to back away from a busy racing schedule.

A pre-race favorite to take home the big prize, Thomas Meseraull took tenth in Chase Briscoe’s Maxim on opening night but was unavailable the rest of the weekend after his frightening tumble into the turn one fence during Thursday qualifications. Soon speaking with Thomas and noticing that he wasn’t his normal self, team leader Kevin Briscoe made the call to load up on Thursday. Meseraull’s concussion-like symptoms were re-evaluated on Friday and did not improve, leading to the complete scrapping of Smackdown plans. T-Mez told me on Friday that he was suffering from a seriously sore neck, experiencing pain even when he attempted to swallow water. Convinced by Briscoe that there was too much to lose by trying to race at less than 100%, the soon-to-be father of two was assured that he still had the ride and no one else would be in the car for the balance of the weekend. The fact that Kevin cared enough to offer such assurance proves that Thomas is in a very special situation.

Just minutes before Wednesday hot laps commenced, Briscoe arrived after an overnight trip to Reading, Pennsylvania where he had just purchased a fresh Rider engine from Gene Franckowiak. Needing a backup bullet after Leon Gentry Classic hot laps, the damaged piece was the same one recently rehabbed from the Bob Darland Memorial. In Kevin’s run to Reading, that same engine was once again deposited at Charlie Fisher’s Columbus, Ohio compound. Although only one car was entered for the Smackdown, Chase Briscoe Racing fielded a pair of machines at the Gentry (August 18th), the other for California outlaw karting king Logan Seavey. After Meseraull encountered engine difficulties, he graciously swapped seats with Seavey and sat out the evening. Making what may have been his first wingless sprint car start, Logan was an early caution in his heat but went from tail to transfer, also sprinting from 12th to 5th in the feature. After such an impressive debut at Bloomington, could Seavey be the next to make a big splash on Hoosier soil?

Wednesday’s overflowing field was bolstered by those who hoped to capture the incentives available to first-time Kokomo competitors, not to mention those loyal to American Racer rubber as their MC-3 right rear was legal for this lone contest. American Racer is rumored to be an option for weekly Kokomo competition next season, with pit side scuttlebutt pondering that USAC might also considering a similar move, both hoping to bolster car counts as so many have been turned off by the four-corner Hoosier rule. Proof of such a stance was that every one of the American Racer contingent chose not to return on Thursday.

A trio of Paragon regulars showed well on Wednesday, namely Pendleton Heights Industrial Arts teacher and American Racer dealer Travis Welpott (assisted by open wheel legend Tray House), recently crowned track champion Josh Cunningham (a six- time champ now), and “Touchdown” Jake Scott (a three-time champ). Noting that he only competes where his tires are legal, Welpott won the sixth heat and drew the outside of the front row for the feature but quickly became entangled with Tyler Thomas. Cunningham caressed the cushion and claimed third in his heat, steering an old Stealth chassis that looked to originate from the early 2000s. Although Scott could not crack the A, he was in the hunt for a heat race transfer. Paragon proponent David Hair didn’t fare so well, but he showed off his new CS-9 chassis, a departure from his homebuilt four-coil creation.

Smackdown Wednesday was my first time to speak to Tray House in nearly a decade. House was three years removed from a serious 2014 neck surgery that reversed a 1999 procedure needed after a nasty Putnamville spill that effectively ended his driving days. Throughout this latest ordeal, Tray learned that the older surgery was botched quite a bit, finally getting a clearer picture as to why he was in such pain for all those years. Since this most recent procedure, Tray’s doctor has severely restricted his activities, so much that he’s had to abandon his self-employment as a brick mason. Now choosing to spend the majority of his time piddling on Larry Contos owned sprint cars, due to his limited mobility two weeks are often required to complete tasks that used to take just one day. When quizzed about his son Cole’s racing endeavors, any future plans are on hold after riding out a wicked tumble earlier this year at Lawrenceburg. Living a full life as a new father and CPA at the Indianapolis-based firm of Somerset, even though Cole desperately wants to get back in the seat, the reward of such risky business may not be worth it.

Three of the four first-time Kokomo competitors made out like bandits on Wednesday. For finishing ninth in the B, Chet Williams earned a $750 bonus, with another $630 tacked on by Tim and Diana Clauson for being an organ donor. Using a 305 cubic inch knife in a gun fight filled with 410s, Colin Parker earned an extra $300 for being the second-highest finisher in his initial Kokomo foray. Ben Phillips was the third best and took home a new Hoosier right rear.

Kevin Thomas, Jr. was Wednesday’s USAC special event winner, leading the final 21 laps to take top honors on an extremely saturated surface that proved hard to pass. Fourth from eighth on Thursday, he was third from ninth on Friday, accumulating the second-most points from the two preliminaries. So rare to see him crash on Saturday, Brad Alexander still leads this squad, but longtime car owner Jeff Walker not only donated dollars but lent a hand as well. Now fourth in national points, he’s still only 178 points out of first after missing many early season events.

After leading the first six laps on Wednesday, Chris Windom was schooled by a KTJ topside sweep and collected second, his best finish of the week. So close to claiming Saturday’s big score, Chris may have been feeling a bit of pressure to perform when car owner Kenny Baldwin chose to stay home on Friday and Saturday. Believing his team should be a factor to win every evening, Kenny was extremely upset over their Thursday performance when they could only collect ninth from 15th. Struggling again on Friday (taking 10th from 13th), a win in Saturday’s third heat earned him a grid position of 11th. After 15 laps had been recorded, Windom had only overtaken one but by lap 28 he was up to fifth, taking two more positions in the final five laps. Currently 93 points out of first in national points, with 11 races remaining Baldwin need not panic just yet.

Coming to the white flag, Robert Ballou wrenched third from Dave Darland on opening night, finding the bottom lane to his liking after beginning tenth. Ninth to third on Thursday and 21st to sixth on Friday (Ballou was one of 15 drivers docked one qualifying lap after being late for wheel packing), he started seventh on Saturday and was up to second before clobbering concrete in corner two, settling for the show position. Extremely complimentary of his new BOSS chassis, after missing the first few months of the season it looks like Robert is truly back.

Dave Darland’s fourth place finish on Wednesday was his best result in the four day festival, certainly a surprise given the amount of excellence achieved since manning Mark Hery’s DRC/Claxton full-time. Saddled with unsatisfactory qualification runs on Thursday (19th) and Friday (22nd), he could not crack the top ten on either night, finessing from 15th to fifth on Saturday when the fast way around was up on the wall. Since 1993, Darland has won a USAC national event each season, wondering if he’ll find a way to keep the lengthy streak intact in these final few weeks.

As previously mentioned, Tyler Courtney elevated eight positions on Wednesday to find fifth while C.J. Leary scored sixth from 11th. Speaking of C.J., he began from Thursday’s pole position and made the most of the situation by leading all thirty tours, enduring three cautions to fend off fourth-starting Brady Bacon. Again a solid qualifier on Friday, Leary launched from fourth to first in the span of two corners but after reaching turn one for the second time tilted on two wheels and tasted concrete. Even with the incident, his points from Thursday and Friday locked him into Saturday’s A-main in which he fired from fourth, ran as high as third, but settled for seventh. C.J. has been with quite a few crew chiefs over the last several seasons, but lately he has performed best with Donnie Gentry at the helm, responsible for all four of his USAC scores. Given just how much input C.J.’s father Chuck has on the team’s operations, I have to imagine a great deal of their success can be attributed to the fact that Donnie and Chuck see eye to eye on most things.

Despite second place finishes on Thursday (from 4th) and Friday (all the way from 18th) that accumulated the most points, Brady Bacon could not capitalize on Saturday and still has not claimed a USAC sprint car contest at Kokomo. Starting his Smackdown with a lowly last place finish on Wednesday, his Matt Hummell-led crew actually had to swap engines after their Thursday heat race. So effective in his Friday march, many expected the Dooling/Hayward 63 to be a factor come Saturday night, but they were off just a tick and were never contenders. Bacon was at best a sixth place car when midway through his right rear tire began to lose air pressure. Heavy contact with Josh Hodges mandated a swap of that same right rear, but he uncharacteristically spun in turn four on laps 29 and 40, producing 20th place pay.

Several endured roller-coaster rides in this four day stretch, namely Hunter Schuerenberg, Kyle Cummins, Scotty Weir, Jarett Andretti, Justin Grant, and Chad Boespflug. Schuerenberg was paired with Brady Short on the Reinbold/Underwood squad from Arizona, led by former driver Andrew Reinbold who stands a towering 6’ 7” tall, making him the world’s tallest sprint car chauffeur. Despite 13th and 11th place efforts on Wednesday and Saturday, Hunter was able to adapt to the Spike/Wesmar with fifth place performances on Thursday and Friday, leading eight laps on the latter evening.

Back in Hank Byram’s Mach-1 for the week, the Cummins report card showed 8th (from 16th), 7th, and 7th on the first three nights. Starting sixth on Saturday, he was operating in that same spot until his right front tire went flat during the KTJ incident, later scored 16th. After sub-par showings on Wednesday and Thursday, 2008 track champ Scotty Weir rebounded with ninth and fourth place finishes in the Mike Gass Maxim. Eleventh on Thursday and Friday, Jarett Andretti book-ended his week with seventh and eighth place efforts.

National point leader Justin Grant’s Smackdown series began in a bad way after making Wednesday contact with Schuerenberg while coming to the green. Rather than deal with a back of the B-main assignment, Sam McGhee Motorsports loaded up and headed to the car wash. Despite qualifying quickest and starting sixth, Thursday’s ending wasn’t much better when Justin’s front end folded after intense combat with Bacon and KTJ, ending up 22nd in the final rundown. Falling from third to eighth on Friday but salvaging the week with a 12th to sixth sprint on Saturday, Justin is still in the driver’s seat for the national championship.

As for Boespflug, he was 21st on Wednesday, sixth on Thursday, 16th on Friday (using a provisional after losing a left front brake line in the B), and ninth on Saturday, continuing the rash of inconsistency that has plagued this team all year. Could wearing the number 69 be the curse for CB? Other than losing crew member Bryan Stanfill (Bryan was twisting wrenches for Mario Clouser), the car number and sponsor are the only things that have changed from 2016 to 2017.

Those frustrated over the four day stretch included Brady Short, Josh Hodges, Chase Stockon, Kody Swanson, Isaac Chapple, and Logan Jarrett. Short missed Wednesday’s feature and despite 12th place performances on Thursday and Friday, he was overtaken for Saturday’s final feature ticket on the last lap of the semi-feature by Marion’s Tyler Hewitt. Brady’s consolation prize was $625. Before his dramatic sweep that earned him a cool grand, Hewitt began Friday’s feature from the outside of the front row but could only cop 21st.

Hodges had his best finish of tenth on Thursday, but his Saturday prize for elevating from 18th into the top-ten was denied after both he and Bacon banged wheels. Stockon’s tenth on Saturday was his lone highlight, still struggling to find the handle on his DRC chassis/Pro Shock combo with finishes of 14th, 16th, and 15th.

Du Quoin Silver Crown stud Kody Swanson had a slightly bumpy ride in Tony Epperson’s Spike, highlighted by an excellent eighth on Thursday. Failing to make Wednesday’s feature and flipping on Friday, Kody rebounded by sticking the white deuce into Saturday’s main event, placing 13th.

As for Chapple and Jarrett, they seemed to suffer the same fate. On Wednesday, both failed to find their way into the feature event. In Thursday’s semi, Chapple (with backing from Elwood’s Tin Plate Fine Food and Spirits) boldly attempted to squeeze beneath Jarrett in turn three for the final transfer on the final lap. Unfortunately both wound up going for a big ride, requiring serious thrashes on Friday. Chapple’s DRC chassis was transported back to Joe Devin’s Gasoline Alley shop for numerous repairs, allowing him to crack the A-main code on both Friday and Saturday. Jarrett’s DRC also required some major work by as many as four men, with Logan’s father Tony having to haul ass in the truck and trailer just to arrive at the track a few minutes past 6 PM, still needing to attach a rear bumper and two shocks. Logan’s Smackdown struggles continued with a 13th place run in Friday’s semi and another inversion on Saturday. Likewise, Chapple’s finale ended on a sour note after being roughed up by Tyler Thomas, literally scaling the fence in turn two before flipping.

After failing to make Thursday’s cut, English export Tom Harris spectacularly won a Friday heat and was later credited with 19th in the A. Embroiled in a battle for Saturday’s final transfer from the semi-feature, he landed on his lid at the turn one entrance after an unsuccessful game of squeeze play with Mario Clouser. Even with the incident, Tom had to be happy with the massive improvement enjoyed since embarking on this sprint car journey two short seasons ago. If he is able to make gains in qualifications, could Harris contend for a win in another year?

In conclusion, the vigorously shaken can of soda better known as Kokomo Speedway’s Sprint Car Smackdown might now be residing in the recycle bin, but the sticky residue resulting from the explosion of extreme emotions at the end of Saturday’s main event still remains. For the fourth time in six years, Mount Kokomo erupted with serious Smackdown drama, proving once again that it might be too much to ask its competitors to be on their best behavior when faced with the pressure of four consecutive evenings of intense combat. Although the racers might be the ones popping the bulging top and making a mess of things on-track, the fans are the ones who stand to benefit the most; so privileged to witness the release of such unbelievable energy. Wondering if there will be another eruption, twelve months might be a long time to wait until Sprint Car Smackdown number seven unfolds, but that’s plenty of time for the pressure to build once again.

 

 

Volume 19, Number 10

Still Got It

Out with the old and in with the new.  Well, not so fast… 

Just when you thought a changing of the Indiana sprint car guard had all but occurred, a pair of grizzled veterans managed to lay that theory to waste.  

As an ardent viewer of assorted television sitcoms in my most influential years, Happy Days was one such program I enjoyed watching with any one of my seven siblings.  Remembering Ralph Malph cracking a joke and stating, "I still got it”, I was reminded of such exclamation when longtime sprint car studs Shane Cottle and Dave Darland nearly swept Indiana's local scene for the last weekend in July, cleaning up at Liberty, Paragon, Putnamville, and Kokomo.  Unlike Ralph, Shane and Dave didn't attend these venues for the amusement of others, but rather for racing matters that they still take quite seriously.  The fact is, these guys still have what it takes and for someone in the same age range as these two, it feels good to know that they are more than relevant in what is widely considered a young man’s game.

So difficult to convince my spouse that I need to be gone three nights a weekend when it's not Indy 500 week, USAC’s Indiana Midget Week, or USAC’s Indiana Sprint Week, I chose Liberty and Kokomo as my first two contests since Sprint Week's conclusion, skipping a trifecta of Saturday July 29th options claimed by Cottle (Paragon’s King of Indiana Sprint Special), Darland (Lincoln Park), and Jordan Kinser (Lawrenceburg BOSS - in the Hurst 70).  Darland's victory was especially noteworthy as this was the 30th Putnamville Clash, a race he won all the way back in 1987 when it was known as the Wabash Clash.  That contest paid the same $3,000 to win in '87 as it did in '17, and both editions involved interesting back stories. 

In '87, Dave did not have a ride when he showed up to the track, borrowing a fire suit, shoes (several sizes too small), and car from competitor Jamie Casey, beating such big names as Bob Kinser, Steve Butler, and Tray House.  This time, Dave's original plan had been to pilot Mark Hery's machine at Lawrenceburg for a BOSS battle.  However, a broken crankshaft while leading Liberty moved him to Mike Dutcher's Maxim, requiring Mike to figure out a way to get the car to Putnamville after his Sprint Week accident trashed his toter while in route to the same speedway.  Corey Smith kindly loaned his truck and trailer on Saturday while on Sunday, Perkinsville's Joe Perry came to the rescue, offering the use of his Dodge pickup and old-school open trailer for the short tow from Cicero to Kokomo.  Back to the Clash, Darland held back Jeff Bland, Jr. (Waltz 66) and Thomas Meseraull (Briscoe 5), admitting the next day of his relief when the race had finally ended.  Although his triumphs may also not be as frequent as he would prefer (winning with T-Mez at LPS in April), despite such adversity Dutcher still has an overwhelming desire to race and win.  I can't help but admire such drive and passion, as the absence of equipment to pull his trailer wasn't going to stand in the way of a win. 

Friday’s launch for Liberty eventually reached a renamed Route 44 Speedway, as the former Union County Speedway was reopened under new management in 2017.  My fifth visit since 1991 to this rather remote setting tucked into the hills of East Central Indiana, it was also my first since a spectacular BOSS bash from 2014 involving winner Logan Hupp and Kevin Thomas, Jr.  Another scheduled meeting from Aaron Fry’s Buckeye Outlaw Sprint Series was reason enough to roll the dice on the unproven commodity of a new ownership group hosting a sprint car special for the first time.  The risk of another late night (hot laps weren’t due to begin until 7 PM) obviously didn’t impact my decision.  In the last decade, as fans we have become quite spoiled and jaded by such efficient programs and solid surfaces offered at the usual Indiana bullrings.  So often, those are primary reasons why I rarely step out of my comfort zone.

Nonetheless, the lure of Liberty and the notion of seeing something different was too much to overcome.  Tackling the massive grade at the track's entrance, I have no idea how so many tow rigs can climb such a steep hill.  But, they obviously got the job done as an impressive assembly of 35 sprint cars made the Friday night flight for just $1,500 to win.  All those sprinters were joined by modifieds and a scant few modified lights and hornets. 

Truth be told, it’s a good thing that I didn’t have to be anywhere early on Saturday morning, as the suspicion of a late night became reality almost immediately.  Route 44 staff believed that the presence of the world-renowned Lawrenceburg Fire and Safety Crew meant that an ambulance would also be part of their arrangement.  Thus, sprint cars had to wait for a meat wagon to arrive before hot lapping and because of the delay, the first heat wasn’t pushed to the track until 9:15 PM, that coming after the completion of a make-up hornet feature.  In my younger days, I would have been both angry and vocal on having to wait so long for sprint car satisfaction.  As I have matured, so has my patience and tolerance for missteps, using the down time to grab lawn chairs, don additional clothing due to an unusual wind chill, talk with a few racers, and knowing there would be no way to reach Connersville’s Pizza King before closing time, take a trip through the lengthy concession stand line.

Thankfully a righteous racing surface was prepared for this lone sprint car appearance of 2017 at Route 44, with a massive cushion in play on both ends all night long.  Such a primo playing field played right into the hands of Dave Darland, who naturally salivates at the sight of a cushion.  Ironically the USAC Triple Crown champ had never raced at Liberty before, slated to pilot a midget back in 2008 before USAC pulled the plug on the Tony Barhorst promotion.  Nine years later, Dave brought longtime wrench Brian Cripe to assist car owner Mark Hery with his two DRC/Claxtons, the other assigned to Mark’s son Travis.  Both Hery and Darland began from the front row of heat two, sweeping the top two positions which guaranteed a feature redraw for the first four rows.  After numerous attempts were made to address the crackle in Darland’s engine, these teammates would once again align themselves in the same row (two) for the 25-lap finale. 

Michael Fischesser, Kyle Simon, and Matt Westfall claimed the other three entertaining heats from either the first or second row, with Aaron “Mid Air” Middaugh drawing the pole alongside Simon (Kyle).  Kyle’s cousin Landon was unable to fire for either his heat or B.  Prior to the feature, the drive of the night undoubtedly belonged to local boy Brandon Whited, who in his first race of 2017 scaled from seventh to win the second of two consolation affairs.  Other than Landon Simon, the two most notable names missing the Friday night main included Travis Welpott (spinning before a Garrett Abrams T-bone) and Ted Hines. 

With B-mains complete by 11:11 PM, unfortunately the modified A had to be run first, proving with their nearly hour-long finale that they are still a support class (because as Merrillville Al Longiny joked, they "hold up the show").  Pushing sprints at 11:59 PM, they didn't get the green until 12:16 AM, delayed for a Matt Cooley warm-up mishap.  As for that A, it had a confident Dave Darland's name written all over it, twice seizing the lead from Middaugh thanks to a lap two caution for Kyle Simon's tour of the spin cycle.  The rim-riding Darland was truly in a league of his own, taking to this unfamiliar track like a duck to water.  Unfortunately at lap six, it all came to an end when he pulled to the infield, victim of a broken crankshaft in his Claxton mill.   At the same time, a yellow for a Tony Main spin restacked the running order, which suddenly showed fifth-starting Shane Cottle as the leader.

Although Shane is a master of most low grooves, the top side was truly the way to go.  Except for rare instances while negotiating lapped traffic, Cottle looked more like a 21-year-old by allowing his right rear to take a bite out of such a chunky cushion.  Playing it safe by not forcing the issue with back markers in the waning stages, Shane's prudence allowed sixth-starting Fischesser (Mr. Excitement) to close to his rear bumper on more than one occasion.  Not to be denied, the cool-under-fire Cottle would pull away in the final two tours and claim his fourth victory of the year (number five came on Saturday) in Paul Hazen's 57, celebrating by climbing atop the roll cage at an ungodly 12:28 AM.  Fischesser was impressive in his scoot to second while Muncie's Cole Ketcham was also sharp in his march from ninth to third.  Justin Owen and Matt Westfall finished fourth and fifth.  Pennsylvania's Carmen Perigo, 2012 BOSS champ Dustin Smith, Middaugh, Chad Wilson, and hard charger Garrett Abrams (up from 21st) scored sixth through tenth.

Despite such a trying show and the 2 AM arrival home, I still enjoyed myself rather immensely, happy that Cottle and Hazen could prove that they still have "it" as well.  There’s just something so special about a BOSS event, as the laid-back atmosphere and healthy competition amongst budget-minded racers always makes for an unpredictable evening, reminding me of how local sprint car racing used to be in the '80s and '90s.     

After Cottle’s Saturday success, could he make it a weekend sweep with a win at Sunday night’s Kokomo Klassic?  You’d probably have to go back to his days with Edison Motorsports in order to find a weekend in which he’s won more than once, but given how well he and Hazen have run at Kokomo, such a feat was indeed a distinct possibility given their sudden boost in confidence.  Shane was one of 22 sprint car chauffeurs vying for the $2,000 top prize. 

Darland was another, rejoining Hery Motorsports who installed an ancient yet stout -12 headed engine between the frame rails of the same machine that was in-line to take Friday’s feature.  Engine tuner Jeff Claxton said the mill was older than all of Dave’s kids, for which Dave noted his youngest is 24.  That 12-headed power plant proved more than adequate early on, as the People’s Champ was fastest in his qualifying session while also pulling off a final lap pass to steal a heat win from Colten Cottle.    

After sitting out all of 2016 following a wicked August 2015 Sheldon Kinser Memorial crash, Kent Christian was making his first Kokomo start in quite some time, hoping to show that he still had some ink left in his fountain pen.  Steering a DRC chassis wearing his usual number 1, Christian commented that this was the first new car he has ever acquired, often constructing his own chassis from his Clayton, Indiana shop.  Doubling his pleasure by squeezing into Craig Dori’s Ellis-Ecotec midget, KC was one of 15 midgeteers going for the gold. 

With USAC regulars active in Moberly, Missouri, yet another weekend win for Cottle and Darland seemed like a distinct possibility.  However, Kokomo Sprint Week winner Thomas Meseraull got the call to drive Mike Dutcher’s 17 and stood a great chance of spoiling Shane and Dave’s Sunday night plans.  A Kokomo winner back in September of 2015, Max McGhee was yet another who could cramp their style.  After a frustrating beginning to 2017, lately Max has been dipping his toes into winged waters.  More than ready to show that he still has the stuff to win, he was back with his own Maxim.  Aided by veteran wrench Jim Forman, Max was quickest in the first qualifying session and finished second to Meseraull in the first heat.     

Setting up for yet another thrilling 30-lap finale, the feature redraw contained a top three rows of second heat winner Shane Cottle, Billy Cribbs (quickest in the second qualifying session), McGhee, Darland, Meseraull, and the other Cottle (Colten).  After an 8:30 PM wave lap, four-time track champion Cottle hammered the top and briefly held the point, making me believe that he might just pull off the rarest of rare:  an Indiana weekend triple. However, Max McGhee dove low in three and found big-time bite, leading as they crossed the stripe for the first time.  A few laps later, Max tilted on two wheels through turn two but somehow brought his black 17 back to earth.  In his wake, a huge scrum ensued for first, as Darland threaded a thin needle to take the top spot in three.  Shane secured the lead on the front stretch, but an outside sweep through the second corner propelled TPC to P1.  Second through fourth was hotly contested, with McGee slipping by Cottle, who reached for the sky and allowed T-Mez to take third.  The hot and heavy action was put on pause when a Travis Hery inversion illuminated red lights.  In the process of achieving his PhD at Ohio State University, thankfully Travis and his ride appeared none the worse for the wear.     

Restarting with 21 laps left, Darland was still the leader, but McGhee seemed quite motivated to score the W, applying immense amounts of pressure.  The top two nearly collided at the entrance to the back chute and still jousting side by side at the line, Max pulled off a rather polite slide job through the north end, only to be immediately countered at the entrance to the south.  Jumping on the bike again in turn one, Max slowed and caused a caution to fly with six laps left, learning later that his ride had run dry on fuel.   

Darland was untouched the rest of the way, topping Meseraull, a pair of Cottles (Shane, then Colten), and Logan Jarrett.  Brian Karraker (from 12th), Josh Spencer, Cribbs, and Lee Underwood secured sixth through tenth. 

Much like Dave Darland did the Kokomo sprint car deed on Memorial Day, so did Monrovia’s Justin Peck in the companion midget main event that played by Montpelier Motor Speedway rules but was also sanctioned by USAC's Midwest Thunder division (D2 cars competed for USAC points).  A recent All Star winner in Macon, Illinois, Justin was in a league of his own on this banked bullring.  Stabbing and steering Kenny and Reva Irwin’s Spike, Peck easily won his heat and completely obliterated the feature competition, leading all 20 laps from the pole in his green-to-checker romp.  Peck’s premium production left just four cars on the lead lap, one of them being Greenwood’s Chase Jones who was a half-track in arrears.  Colten Cottle claimed third while Justin Dickerson drove to fourth.  Five-time Eldora Speedway modified champion Scott Orr occupied an ex-Bill Rose Spike/Brayton combination in fifth, the first as one lap down at the 9:10 PM checkered. 

Although Cottle could not follow up his fantastic final weekend of July with an equally awesome initial weekend of August, Darland did manage to keep the momentum rolling in a big way.  Both worked in Waynesfield, Ohio and Kokomo, Indiana for the Jack Hewitt Classic and Bob Darland Memorial, and both outings paid a cool three grand to win. 

2017 was the first-time for the “Hewitt” to fall under sanction, as the BOSS brigade attracted 43 sprinters for its ninth running.  Much like Liberty, nearly everything was dominated by Darland – everything but the one lap that pays.  Once again manning Mark Hery's DRC/Claxton, Dave was quickest in his combined hot lap/qualifying session, fanned three-deep on the first lap to score a convincing heat race win, and rocketed from his outside front row feature starting spot to earn an early full-straight advantage, tackling the top like there was no tomorrow.   

Dave’s fellow front row mate was Drew Rader, a thirty-year-old Findlay, Ohio concrete worker who won his first-ever sprint car feature at Waynesfield on June 10th.  Winner of the fourth heat, Drew fell to fourth in the early stages but was clearly in attack mode for the second half.  Dialed in for diminishing traction, the Rader 74 whisked past Scotty Weir (quickest overall from qualifying in the Simon 22) and Matt Westfall to wrench third and second.  While Darland oddly chose lower lanes to navigate the unruly congestion, Rader railed the top, completely closing the gap when Double-D glanced his right rear off of Dallas Hewitt.  On the white flag lap, Drew deviated from his norm by bombarding the bottom, pulling even as the two combatants dueled wheel to wheel all the way to the checkered flag.  Gaining some great bite off the bottom of the final corner, Rader moved up and rubbed nerf bars with Darland, inching him out by .005 seconds.  Drew’s second career feature victory was indeed one of the biggest upsets I’ve witnessed in quite some time, quite a shocking slaying of one the sport’s all-time greats.   Anyone that’s ever dreamed of driving a sprint car has to envision such a landmark victory.  A dream come true for Rader, if you happened to be in attendance that is indeed a name you’ll remember from now on. 

Saturday night regular Kyle Simon scaled from 13th to take third while Westfall and Weir settled for fourth and fifth.  Sixth through tenth included Dustin Ingle (from 16th), Dustin Smith, Carmen Perigo, Cody Gardner, and Luke Hall.  First heat winner and 10th-starting Shane Cottle was a distant 13th, involved in the only caution of the contest when Dallas Hewitt spun at the top of turn one.  Cottle and Silver Crown stud Kody Swanson (Wolters 21) had nowhere to go and connected with Jack’s nephew, eventually eliminating Swanson from the feature equation. 

Aside from Rader, Darland and Cottle, Hewitt and Swanson also scored heat victories.  A pair of B-mains were bagged by Tyler Hewitt and Dane Lorenc, with the New York native strapping into a wingless sprinter for the first time as teammate to Matt Goodnight.  The most serious incident of the evening came in the second heat when Steve Little (“The Quiet Riot”) and Paul Dues made contact in their scuffle for second, shooting Steve into the turn three fence.  Although it took a while for fence repairs, Little exited under his own power.  Notable names missing the "Hewitt" finale included "Chocolate" Chad Wilson, Matt Cooley, co-point leader Justin Owen (no right front shock), Goodnight, Travis Welpott, and 2014 BOSS champion Mike Miller (blown engine).   

In terms of on-track success, Kokomo Speedway's Bob Darland Memorial has traditionally been a thorn in Dave Darland's side, having claimed this contest only once in his career prior to 2017.  Enduring a similarly frustrating season this year as last, despite losing his Phillips Motorsports USAC sprint car seat for the rest of the season Dave’s campaign took a turn for the better post-Sprint Week.  Every single time he’s climbed through the cage, whether it be hot laps, a heat race, or feature, he’s been a force to be reckoned with.  Against a Sprint Week-like field, Bob's son was clearly up to the task, highly motivated to capture the win after letting one slip through his fingers the previous evening.

In addition to the usual suspects, the stacked field of 27 sprint cars contained Grant, Windom, Boespflug, Ballou, Leary, Meseraull (CBR 5), Cummins (Pollock 21x), Weir (Gass 17), Andretti, Thomas (Tyler - in the Mike Dutcher Motorsports 17), and Bilbee.  Windom also doubled his pleasure in the midgets, as did Kent Christian, who once again shoehorned himself into Craig Dori’s 38 special.  The midget contingent totaled 21, battling for bragging rights in yet another USAC Midwest Thunder meeting that invited all types of inventory, with equipment propelled by production-based and motorcycle engines along with the almighty purpose-built pieces.  Cast in overcast skies, Kokomo clay started an ideal dark chocolate in color and stayed that way for the entire program.  As a result, the action was epic and heart-pounding!  Pinching myself the entire time, I remain thankful yet thrilled that such outstanding entertainment is less than an hour from my front door. 

The all-time King of Kokomo was on his game from the start in the Hery Motorsports DRC/Claxton, qualifying quickest in his group, scoring second to Tyler Thomas in his heat, and redrawing fourth for the 30-lap feature event.  Dave would eventually claim the $3,000 top prize in the 30-lap finale, but it was far from a slam dunk, as up-front intensity achieved its usual, white-hot Kokomo standard. 

Outside front row starter Chris Windom spent the most time as pilot dog, leading 19 laps while pushing pedals in his usual Kenny Baldwin DRC/Claxton combo.  Fellow second row starter Chad Boespflug (own 69) gave Darland all he could handle for the runner-up slot in the early going, counting seven position changes in just four tours.  With a healthy cushion in play, Darland drove it far too deep into turn two’s accumulation, falling to third just before the first of three cautions came for Logan Jarrett, who looped his new DRC in three and four.  Logan was the source of the second slowdown a few laps later, setting the stage for a 12-lap showdown. 

After Windom showed a bit of smoke, Boespflug seized the day with a cordial slider through the second corner.  Bringing Darland and Ballou into the lead mix, a few laps later the hometown hero climbed the curb through the north end and allowed the Mad Man to briefly snatch second.  Eyeing flag man Brian Hodde’s display of just one hand with extended fingers, suddenly it was time for Diamond Dave to get real.  Ripping the lip in typical Darland fashion, he applied heavy heat while Chad alternated high and low.  Boespflug’s sideways slip through three and four would wind up serving the lead on a silver platter.  Leaving just a couple of laps left, Robert Ballou seemed equally motivated to take the trophy as he breathed down his nemesis’s neck while the white flag flew.  Although Robert’s path around the bottom became blocked and appeared to seal his second-place fate, Jarett Andretti suddenly slowed in turn four and caused one final caution.   

In that final one lap blast, there would be no fight for first as Ballou’s right rear tire lost air pressure and allowed for Boespflug’s bolt to second.  However, feature drama was still not finished as Nick Bilbee sat sideways in the middle of the second corner just as Darland came charging out of turn four.  This time Hodde had twin checkered flags flying, signifying that the son of the late Bob and Joan Darland took top billing in his family’s race for the first time since 2008.  Celebrating with turn four donuts, the Lincoln legend who now calls Atlanta, Indiana his home was clearly ecstatic.  So happy to be on top of the sprint car world yet again, when interviewed by Rob Goodman you could hear just how much this victory meant to him.      

Boespflug, Ballou, Windom, and Tyler Thomas secured hard-fought top-fives.  The second half of the top ten contained Grant, Cottle (from 16th), Cummins, Weir (from 18th), and Leary.  Leaving little to nothing on the table, all feature contestants were engaged in hardcore, cutthroat Kokomo combat.  That’s something you’ve just got to love. 

After such a sterling showing to end the month of July (two wins and a third), Shane Cottle’s fortunes soured after August had advanced.  Involved in an early Waynesfield feature caution to eventually claim 13th, he was forced to the infield in Kokomo qualifying, finishing one spot from a feature transfer in his heat.  Burying the competition in the B, he advanced nine positions from his outside row eight feature start.  All was not lost however, as another Mansfield mauling on August 12th allowed both he and car owner Paul Hazen to pocket $5,000 after claiming the BOSS portion of the Great Lakes Dirt Nationals.  Their sixth win of the season was the fourth on Buckeye soil, third under BOSS sanction, and second in a month at Mansfield.  

One early Kokomo casualty included quickest qualifier Thomas Meseraull (12.899), who pulled to the infield while leading his heat.  Quizzing team leader Kevin Briscoe as to the verdict, it was a rocker arm shaft pulling up that allowed the push rods to fall out.  CBR’s Sprint Week winning engine was constructed by Columbus, Ohio’s Charlie Fisher and Briscoe plans to have Charlie repair this particular piece (starting life with TSR, then Brady Bacon, then Paul Kistler) in time for the Kokomo Smackdown weekend.  Kevin also commented that he hoped to have a third engine to add to the team’s rotation.   

As for the midgets, the 20-lap finale boasted heat winners Justin Peck (Irwin 7k) and Chris Windom (Baldwin 5) as front row starters.  First heat winner Ray Seach and second heat race flipper Anton Julian were two of three cars unable to make the feature call.  In a contest littered with four yellows (two from Ohio’s Alex Watson) and two reds (Justin Dickerson and Jon Watson inverted), surprisingly enough Peck could not repeat for the second week in a row despite showing supreme speed. 

Windom was the first to find the bottom to his liking and quickly picked off Peck, who lap after lap pounded a treacherous top that proved to be his undoing.  Just past halfway, Justin tilted on two wheels through turn four and climbed the front stretch wall, sinking to sixth.  All race long, the trio of Windom, fifth-starting Chase Jones (aided by Isaac Chapple), and Peck were the cream of the crop and that’s what the end result showed, with Kyle O’Gara moving from 12th to 4th and Aaron Leffel advancing five spots to 5th.  Given that Aaron was operating a USAC-spec Midwest Thunder midget, he earned top billing in their press release. 

Now that Dave Darland is hotter than a firecracker, Kokomo Speedway focuses its attention on its Sprint Car Smackdown weekend.  The sixth running of this high-profile production begins with a bang on Wednesday August 23rd (#GYATK Night) with a free general admission program that consists of sprint cars only, showing up on USAC’s schedule with special event status.  Thursday and Friday are full USAC sprint shows paying $5,000 to win, with the highly entertaining King of the Hill match races and the mammoth $10,000 to win feature concluding on Saturday.  Winged 600cc micros (Thursday), Montpelier style midgets (Friday), and UMRA King of the TQ midgets (Saturday) serve as the undercard. Pit and grandstand gates open at 3 PM each day. 

At the ages of 45 and 50, hardcore racers Shane Cottle and Dave Darland might be two of the elder statesmen in today’s youthful sprint car scene, but lately these big-time bad-asses are showing little signs of slowing down.  Despite recent years when feature victories have been hard to come by, a refreshing twist of multiple weekend wins for these two may have given new life to an Indiana scene that so many had assumed had already undergone a changing of the guard.  Proving indeed that they’ve still got it, perhaps the saying should be:  out with the new and in with the old. 

But wait, there’s more…

Wrapping up this blog with a report on the Midwest Sprint Car Series and its August 12th "Return to Putnamville", car owner Mike Dutcher continues to prove he's still got it, enjoying a second-half resurgence and a second consecutive weekend victory with his most recent hire Tyler Thomas.  Topping a slim 17 car contingent on Friday in Medaryville, Indiana (Shady Hill), Mike and Tyler also slayed a surprisingly slim 21 car assembly on Saturday.

Qualifying second-best in his group, winning his heat from third, and starting the 30-lap feature from sixth, after a caution for a second lap Brady Ottinger spin Thomas tackled a gnarly cushion and reaped the rewards of such a risky endeavor, flying from fourth to first in just one lap.  But, in order to park the Griffin's Propane Maxim on the front stretch, he was required to endure restarts after four additional amber illuminations.  Three of those four were of the double-file variety and each time he was up to the task, fending off the advances of previous week LPS victor Brent Beauchamp (Olson 34) and Brady Short. 

Beauchamp led the first two laps but fell to third after the restart for that initial pause.  The only one to have anything for T-Squared, B-Squared ran him down in a 14-lap green flag stretch.  After an over the cushion expedition in turn four, Beauchamp earned a reprieve when Kyle Cummins, Brandon Mattox, and Aaron Farney congregated in turn two.  A failed slider on the leader was followed by another launch over the ledge in three and four.   A.J. Hopkins (Ottinger 4J) had nowhere to go when Beauchamp reentered the playing field, climbing over car 34’s front end and spinning to a stop.  Beauchamp was never the same after the incident.

The eventful evening of four-time 2017 LPS victor Hopkins was also a story.  Quickest in his qualifying group, A.J. spun off the top of turn four while operating second in his heat, falling just one spot shy of the top-two redraw.  Starting seventh in the finale, he spent a majority of the feature battling with Robert Ballou.  The two were initially embroiled in a fight for fourth and made contact in turn four.  Then came A.J.’s caution and although Ballou was not involved, he pulled to the work area.  After restarting ninth and tenth (MSCS rules allow lead lap cars to restart ahead of lapped traffic), they once again connected on the back stretch, the heavier contact causing Hopkins to perform a mid-air pirouette.  Although Hopkins had to settle for tenth, he was quite the show, as no one hustles a car harder at this venue.

So confident in leaning against that ledge, once removed from a single-file lap 27 restart Tyler Thomas constructed another full straightaway advantage, nailing down his third sprint car feature victory of 2017 and fourth of his career.  Trailing Thomas were MSCS point leader Brady Short, Beauchamp, Ballou (his second race in a new BOSS chassis), and Jamie Williams.  Aaron Farney, Matt McDonald (from 20th), Jon Stanbrough (Wingo 77), Brandon Mattox, and Hopkins were scored sixth through tenth at the 9:19 PM conclusion.  Koby Barksdale started outside the front row, led briefly, but was credited with 18th.  Daron Clayton had a night to forget in the Burton 04, suffering a flat right rear in his heat and snapping his left front wheel at the start of the feature, listed as the last place finisher.  Lincoln Park Speedway hosts sprint cars for the next seven Saturdays, with a special Friday night show on September 22nd that includes the UMRA King of the TQs, mods, super stocks, bombers, and you guessed it:  sprint cars. 

September 22nd is also the date for Bloomington’s recently announced special non-points event:  a double-feature for traditional sprint cars and RaceSaver winged 305s.  Both divisions will run similar programs and the fastest from each group qualifying session will not only earn $100, but will automatically transfer to the main event (with a redraw taking place of those fastest qualifiers).  Multiple 15-lap qualifying races will be conducted for the remaining starting positions.  Inverting the finish of the first 25-lap feature, the second will see 30 laps.  Points will be tabulated for both races and the highest accumulator after the pair will earn a $4,000 pay day ($1,200 for RaceSavers).  Anyone claiming both ends of the double will earn a $1,000 bonus ($500 for RaceSavers).    With an open tire rule in effect for traditional sprinters, in an even more interesting twist both traditional and RaceSavers must run the same right rear tire in both features.  All in all, it sounds like a lot of fun.    

With a multitude of Indiana sprint car options in Bloomington (Leon Gentry Classic), Lawrenceburg (Dick Gaines Memorial), Putnamville, and Paragon, Saturday is also Springfield’s Tony Bettenhausen 100 along with POWRi midgets at Macon.  Decisions, decisions…

 

 

 

 

Showtime - Chase Stockon’s finished ninth at Gas City and here at Bloomington, his best ISW efforts.

Comeback Kid – Enjoying a strong second half of the series, Chad Boespflug’s best finish of Sprint Week came at Bloomington, scoring second.

Volume 19, Number 9

Bargain

By the time I get around to writing these racing blogs, the subject matter is more than old news, it is ancient history in the realm of today’s social media blitz.  Perhaps that’s why I’m always in a reflective mood.  I’m always writing about the past, after all.  

When realizing that 2017 represented the 30th Indiana Sprint Week, naturally I couldn’t help rewinding to the past, thinking about those days when this time of the year suddenly became the center of my universe.  Without a doubt it was 1997, one year after Kokomo, Bloomington and Paragon promoters Kent Evans, Mike Miles, and Keith Ford met at the Waffle House in Martinsville to discuss adding USAC sanction to this series that randomly alternated between winged and wingless varieties from 1988 to 1995.  Evans’s vision of emulating the All Star Circuit of Champions Ohio Sprint Speed Week came to fruition in 1997 and the expansion from three to seven rounds attracted all of the SCRA stars from the west coast, recreating the fabled CRA Midwestern tours that I loved so much.  Such a tantalizing prospect coerced me to skip Eldora’s Kings Royal for the first time in 1997 and due to consistent conflicts, I haven’t been back since. 

Forced to keep normal work hours for ’97 Sprint Week, this was when I skipped my one and only date since USAC has taken control.  Hauling ass just to arrive home at 1 AM on Thursday morning from a late night in Terre Haute, I had no choice but to bypass another extended evening in North Vernon, missing Kevin Thomas’s premature retirement after flipping in qualifying, another quick time from Richard Griffin (he was quickest qualifier at 6 of 7 stops), and Kevin Doty’s victory in Steve Chrisman’s 25.  Not wishing to make that mistake again, from that point forward my vacation time always revolved around Sprint Week.  As a kid, my two and a half months of summer break was the most sacred time of the year.  But, now that I only have three weeks to spare from my daily grind, this precious time is cherished infinitely more, so much that when I know the end is near, I get that same sick feeling in my stomach as I did when dreading the first day of school.     

With Campbell, California photographer and close friend Steve Lafond staying as my Sprint Week guest for the ninth summer in a row, that dreaded haul to Haubstadt signals that same sorrowful feeling when we know we’ll have to end our respite from the realities of life.  Steve was at the wheel for the three hour tour when I was bestowed the honor of playing DJ, selecting drive time tunes from his iPhone.  The moods generated from said music made for one of our most memorable journeys, with one of the first selections being The Who’s Bargain.  Always in search of a theme for these blogs, more often than not it is influenced by a certain song that strikes a chord.  Listening to Bargain a few days later to pull me through the doldrums of my return to the working world, it reminded me of the countless sacrifices endured each year for the opportunity to bask in these ten glorious days of fun, freedom, fellowship, food and beverage, and fantastic sprint car entertainment. 

I'd gladly lose me to find you, I'd gladly give up all I had.  To find you I'd suffer anything and be glad.

I'd pay any price just to get you, I'd work all my life and I will. To win you I'd stand naked, stoned, and stabbed.

I'd call that a bargain, the best I ever had.  The best I ever had!”

Although I’m not quite sure if I’d stand naked, stoned, and stabbed just for seven sprint car contests, this is a special time of the year that always generates memories.  2017 was no exception, maintaining its claim as one of the best bargains of my entire existence.  Despite the fact that three of our racing excursions (Gas City, Terre Haute, and Putnamville) and our lone off day were impacted by rain, the notion that we were on vacation was not lost. 

Figuring out ways to make the most of each day, after the opening night Gas City gusher we made stops in Fairmount (Bad Dad Brewery), Noblesville (Deer Creek Brewery), and Fishers (FoxGardin Family, managed by former USAC regional midget champion Scott Thoman).  On the Tuesday off-day, we not only paid a visit to the new Clauson-Marshall Racing headquarters in Fishers, but we made our second excursion to Bonge's Tavern in Perkinsville, which rain or shine is always guaranteed to be an outstanding evening.   After the Action Track’s torrential downpour, we found our way to the ancient Terre Haute Brewing Company (second oldest brewer in the country) where former flagman and on-track competitor Steve Parkes was encountered on his way back home to Gary.  Interestingly enough, THBC, with its taproom dating back to the 1800s when it served as a warehouse for the original brewery, is located next to longtime sprint car entrant Hannig Construction.  Having over-ordered for Thursday's pre-race feeding at Fat Dan's Deli in So-Bro, I was in no shape for another search for unique food and beverage after Thursday's Lincoln Park deluge, so we headed for home base, with I-465 slowed by flooding from the heavy downpour. 

Despite the plethora of good times encountered, while brunching for our Sunday farewell, I still could not comprehend how the sands of time had somehow slipped through our hands so easily once again.  Always wishing that the clock could somehow slow down during this highly anticipated interlude, there are never enough hours to savor Sprint Week. 

Given that it took nine trips to achieve six of the seven rounds, this 30th edition will go down in memory as the wettest on record, such an odd occurrence as July has traditionally been one of the driest months in the Hoosier state.  As much as I have downplayed such claims from the media, perhaps we are in the midst of a fundamental climate change?  When it wasn’t looking like rain, of course it was sweltering hot, as evidenced by a 94 degree arrival in Terre Haute.  The odd weather certainly had a slightly negative impact on the series, as the rescheduled rounds for Gas City and Putnamville suffered with much smaller car counts (32 and 24) and crowds.  Unfortunately ending on a whimper rather than a roar; that makes two years in a row that the rescheduled finales failed to pack a proper punch.  Thanks to Ma Nature, Sprint Week was unable to build any kind of momentum in 2017, but by no means did that mean I didn’t have a good time.  The fact is that expectations for excitement are always high for this Super Bowl of traditional sprint car competition, so it’s easy to be disappointed when things don’t quite go to plan.  

2017 will of course also be remembered for the cementing of Kevin Thomas, Jr.’s status as an upper echelon traditional sprint car chauffeur, finally laying claim to the Indiana Sprint Week title that eluded him in 2013 and 2015.  Driving his family-owned DRC/Speedway combination with limited backing from David Abreu and Jeff Walker, key crew help came from Brad Alexander and Robert Brown, Jr.  Thomas was clearly the most consistent Sprint Week performer; on his game for qualifications, heat races, and features.  His worst time trial effort was 10th (Lawrenceburg); otherwise he was inside of the quick six on each evening, twice qualifying quickest (Kokomo and Putnamville).  Earning feature transfers from each one of his heat races, that statistic was in serious jeopardy at Haubstadt when he suffered a flat left rear tire on the opening lap.  Thanks to a front stretch fence scaling and sprint to the work area by crew member Brown, he was able to assist Alexander with the swap and allow his driver to make an impressive run from the rear to take the win.  Thomas’s average feature finish was 5.33, scoring seventh at Kokomo, third at Lawrenceburg (from 9th), 14th at Gas City (turned sideways early), first at Bloomington (leading the last 28 laps by riding a blackened rim just beneath a colossal curb), second at Haubstadt (losing by a last corner, last lap pass from Kyle Cummins), and fifth at Putnamville.  That fifth at LPS was indeed a hard-fought nail-biter, needing to finish eighth if second-in-points Robert Ballou happened to win.  Actually dropping to eighth early after climbing cushions and wheels, Kevin regained his composure to claim the crown, overcoming his fear of losing the championship in the last race (that happened in 2013). 

Foreign Flavor - Ryan Bernal was one of two west coast drivers adding flavor for 2017 Sprint Week.

After starting the season with a brief defection to the winged world, once KTJ returned to familiar turf the end results have been so similar to 2016, nailing down nine feature victories this season.  Climbing a daunting sprint car mountain since 2007, it’s been a very long journey for the Alabama native who in those early years struggled mightily.  But with this Sprint Week title, he’s now effectively reached the summit.  The only thing left to accomplish is a national championship and after missing the Florida rounds in February, he’s currently fourth in the standings, some 161 points out of first which is not completely out of the realm.

Thomas’s nearest Sprint Week championship contender was Robert Ballou, who actually enjoyed a better average feature finish (4.83).  What ultimately cost Robert the title was qualification performance, as only twice he timed inside of the top-six as opposed to KTJ’s five.  Comparing heat race finishes, while Kevin made the cut each time, Robert missed it once (Lawrenceburg), with Ballou bagging three heat race wins to Thomas’s one.  As for feature finishes, he blasted from 22nd to 10th at Kokomo (coming from 9th to 3rd in his heat), landed fifth at Lawrenceburg, and led five laps at Gas City, settling for second after banging wheels and exchanging gestures with Chris Windom.  The last half of the series saw him finish fifth at Bloomington, sixth at Haubstadt, and pace the final 29 tours in route to the win at LPS.  Reverting to a pair of older chassis for this six race stretch, although not quite returning to 2015 ISW and national championship form, the Mad Man is inching closer. 

Last year's Sprint Week stretch served as the time to take notice of Tyler Courtney, who shocked the world with his win from the rear at Gas City and led the points until an untimely Bloomington tumble.  Though not as spectacular in 2017, he and his Topp Motorsports team led by Mark Shambarger showed signs of consistency, taking third in points with their Maxim/Claxton combo thanks to an average feature finish of 6.67.  Ironically, Tyler's two poorest performances came where he was best last year:  Lawrenceburg (12th) and Gas City (11th).  Timing inside of the top-ten three times, his other feature finishes included a fourth at Kokomo, eighth at Bloomington (from 14th), and two strong performances of third and second at Haubstadt and Putnamville.   Given such solid showings in this year's Midget and Sprint Week marathons, it’s only a matter of time until Sunshine takes home one of these titles.  

In only his fourth outing in Chase Briscoe's Maxim/Fisher, Thomas Meseraull began the series with a huge bang in Kokomo, snatching the lead from pole sitter Carson Short on the ninth lap and crushing the competition with a four wheels above the cushion exhibition.  Harkening back to the early days of its reconfiguration, Kokomo was a true cowboy track for Sprint Week’s opening round, no one more willing than T-Mez to take his car to its ultimate limit on such a challenging surface.  After claiming Kokomo from the seventh starting position (the furthest of any in 2017 ISW), he finished seventh at both Lawrenceburg and Gas City, leading 18 laps at the latter until exceeding the thin cushion immediately after a lap 20 restart.  Thomas was just  13 points out of the series lead when heading to Bloomington, where an outside front row feature start signaled a potential Sprint Week title, as ten times previous the Bloomington winner went on to take the crown.  However, a poor initial start allowed both Robert Ballou and Kevin Thomas, Jr. to pull alongside on the back chute.  Resulting contact from KTJ folded Meseraull’s left front wheel, relegated to a lowly 24th place finish that whisked his Sprint Week title hopes out the window.  Fifth at Haubstadt and 11th at LPS, thanks to his qualifying prowess (four times in the top-six), he was able to accumulate the fourth most series points.  There’s no more of a crowd-pleasing driver in all of sprint car racing than Thomas Meseraull and no matter the price of admission, it is one of life’s best bargains.    

2011 ISW champ Chris Windom had a fairly quiet series with mechanic Derek Claxton and the Baldwin 5, as his average feature finish of 7.50 was only good enough for fifth in the standings.  Only once did Chris qualify inside of the top-ten (Gas City), which of course meant he had to pass his share of cars come feature time.  Beginning 14th and finishing 9th at Kokomo, he elevated from 11th to 6th at Lawrenceburg.  Briefly leading at Gas City from his eighth starting spot, an untimely 360 degree spin by Tyler Thomas relegated him to third on the resulting restart, winding up in that same position at the end.  He was again on the move at Bloomington, strutting from 13th to 7th which briefly vaulted him into the national point lead.   Not able to advance from his 11th starting position at Haubstadt, he ended ISW with a 16th to 9th Putnamville production.  Despite missing heat races at Gas City and Bloomington due to magneto related issues, he remains in the hunt for his first national sprint car crown, some 23 points behind Justin Grant as the series turns its attention to an end of July weekend double in Kansas and Missouri. 

C.J. Leary’s breakout performance with back-to-back wins was another 2017 ISW takeaway, the first time anyone has won consecutive Sprint Week shows since Bryan Clauson did it when closing out the 2013 series.  Jeff Walker started the year calling the shots for this operation, but for one reason or another the combination failed to click and the two groups parted ways.  Donnie Gentry agreed to assist during Sprint Week, having won with the Greenfield gasser last August during the Smackdown.  Applying gas Pro shocks to all four corners of the Leary Construction DRC, Gentry’s change in philosophy resulted in a renewed chauffeur.  C.J. was immediately competitive at Kokomo, qualifying seventh and finishing eighth.  Third in Lawrenceburg time trials, Leary was so sharp at his best venue (2013 track champ), easily winning his heat and leading the final 28 tours, his nearest pursuer (Brady Bacon) a full straight in arrears.  Clocking fifth fastest and starting from the outside of Gas City’s front row, after a caution with ten to go C.J. tip-toed around a thinning top shelf to lift the lead from Ballou.  Despite losing the advantage to a bottom-feeding Windom, a timely caution put him back out front, able to hold on for the win in the final five laps.  Leading Sprint Week points entering the second half of the series, those last three shows were hardly a bargain after substandard showings of 20th, 12th, and 20th.  Crushing the turn three cushion and inverting in that Sunday finale, C.J.’s end result of sixth in points was hardly indicative of how well he ran. 

Curb Service – Just before the feature, Bloomington’s curb looks quite substantial.

Seventh through tenth in the Sprint Week final standings included Chad Boespflug, Dave Darland, Brady Short, and Justin Grant.  ISW was essentially a nightmare for national championship contenders Boespflug, Grant, and Stockon, as all three had to utilize provisionals fairly early which essentially eliminated them from Sprint Week title contention.  After 2007, Sprint Week points have not been awarded to provisional starters. 

Chad Boespflug's Sprint Week championship hopes vanished quickly.  Beginning with a disappointing 15th at Kokomo, for the second year in a row he missed the show at Lawrenceburg and had to cash a provisional pass just to take part in the feature for which he finished 19th.  After a pair of flubs, his finishes in the final four contests represented a huge improvement and allowed him to achieve an average feature finish of 8.50.  Hustling from tenth to fourth at Gas City, he started first and finished second at Bloomington, fell from fourth to eighth at Haubstadt, and settled for third at LPS after leading the initial lap.   Qualifying is key for ISW success and in the opening two outings, Chad’s struggles started when he clocked 20th and 13th.  In his final four shows, the worst he timed was tenth.  Qualifying might only be one-third of the battle at a USAC union but as KTJ proved, those qualification points are crucial.

Despite enduring a difficult season in his return to Phillips Motorsports, 1998, 2001, and 2007 Indiana Sprint Week champion and all-time ISW feature winner (18) Dave Darland enjoyed a solid opening two rounds, giving hope for a record-tying fourth series title.  Qualifying fourth and finishing sixth at Kokomo, Double-D clocked quickest at Lawrenceburg and claimed a respectable fourth in the feature.  Unfortunately things took a turn for the worse for the final four rounds.  Starting 7th and finishing 12th at Gas City, the loss of power steering was to blame for the end result.  Beginning 15th and ending 11th at Bloomington, for once Haubstadt was going well as Dave was fifth fastest from time trials and was operating in 10th when he lost a set of rear end gears on the final lap, dropping him to 21st in the rundown.  The dreaded black cloud of mechanical gremlins that has plagued this squad over the last several seasons reared its ugly head again at Lincoln Park, as an engine let go in hot laps and called a premature end to the 2017 campaign for this sprint car combination (Phillips and Darland will run the last three dirt Silver Crown contests).  Luckily, Dave was able to scrounge a ride in Mike Dutcher’s backup, starting 17th and soldiering home 10th.  Earning eighth in Sprint Week points was hardly a bargain for The People’s Champ, not to mention Steve and Carla Phillips who have sacrificed so much to field a competitive piece.  

Normally staying in the Southern half of the state for the rest of the year, Bedford’s Brady Short branched out a bit and appeared at all six Sprint Week stops, averaging a feature finish of 11.0 which was good for tenth in points.  Short’s best showing was saved for the Lincoln Park finale, when he started 10th and earned a sniff of the lead until fading to fourth after the red flag for C.J. Leary.  Qualifying was again an issue for Brady, who started 20th at Kokomo, 12th at Lawrenceburg, 22nd at Gas City, 22nd at Bloomington (driving up to 10th in the A), and 14th at Haubstadt. 

After national point leader Justin Grant opened his Sprint Week by qualifying second at Kokomo, his previous month of struggles seemed to be a thing of the past.  Unable to crack the top four in his heat, unfortunately the rear end in his Sam McGhee Motorsports Maxim picked the worst possible time to fail:  the semi-feature.  Forced to pop a provisional right off the bat just to keep his national title hopes intact, he could only muster a 21st place finish at his best track on the tour.  Starting third at Lawrenceburg, a turn four slip cost him dearly, falling to 14th at the end.  Gaining hope with a 13th to 8th gallop at Gas City, Bloomington was a big-time struggle after starting 21st and finishing 16th.  Back in business at Haubstadt where he was the quickest qualifier, a fourth place finish was his best of the series.  Justin completed the ungodly grind with a sixth at LPS, still able to hold a slim margin over Chris Windom in the national standings and keep that championship dream alive. 

Another USAC regular enduring a Sprint Week nightmare was Fort Branch’s Chase Stockon, who averaged an uncharacteristic feature finish of 12.67.  Topping the qualifying charts at Gas City, on two other occasions Chase actually clocked inside of the top-six.  The one race he would like to forget was Lawrenceburg, where he timed 30th but also endured mechanical issues, having to pit before starting the semi-feature.  Finishing four spots shy of a transfer, he had to cash a provisional pass.  Stockon’s feature struggles were notable, falling four spots to 13th at Kokomo, three spots at Gas City to 9th, and five spots at Putnamville to 12th.  Unfortunately his other three showings weren’t much better, as he advanced one position at Lawrenceburg to 22nd, gained two at Bloomington to 9th, but stayed constant at Haubstadt (15th).  Chase has yet to score a national feature win in 2017, instead claiming two MSCS contests at his home track in Haubstadt.         

Celebrating his farewell tour as a full-time competitor in 2017, Jon Stanbrough's Indiana Sprint Week success is well-documented:  twice a Sprint Week king (2006 and 2010) and number two in all-time series victories (16).  This time around Jon split time in his own retro-decaled Spike chassis (crewed by Chris Hoyer, Kevin Price, and Chuck Rodee) and Jimmy and Mike Wingo's Maxim.  Unfortunately, each night's outcome failed to satisfy hardcore fans of the Silent Gasser, especially the ones who loudly chanted “King of Indiana” during his victory lane interviews of 2010.  Appearing for all six of this year’s shows, Jon was able to crack the A-main code for just three contests (16th at Lawrenceburg and Haubstadt and 21st at Putnamville).  Missing main events at Kokomo, Gas City, and Bloomington, such a performance is extremely uncharacteristic for one of Sprint Week's all-time studs.  Getting behind the eight ball because of poor qualification performances (33rd at Kokomo due to magneto issues, 28th at Bloomington, and 22nd at Putnamville), he did manage to time respectably at Lawrenceburg (15th), Gas City (12th), and Haubstadt (10th).  His Gas City feature miss was the biggest shocker of all, as his most recent Sprint Week success came here in 2014 and 2013.  If 2017 is indeed a farewell to this particular king, I will most certainly remember him for the days when not only he was an underdog in Paul Hazen’s 57, but also for the days when people complained that he was winning too much.  Long live the king…   

Out of the 73 different drivers competing in 2017 Indiana Sprint Week, only nine men made all six main events without the aid of a provisional, well within the normal range as lately the number has been between six and ten.  The nine notables making this year’s Sprint Week Dean’s List were:  K. Thomas, Ballou, Courtney, Meseraull, Windom, Leary, Darland, Brady Short, and Josh Hodges.  Brady Bacon, Kody Swanson, and Brody Roa were not present for all six shows, but they made each main event on their own merit.  Boespflug, Grant, Stockon, Ryan Bernal, and Jarett Andretti make all six main events but employed one provisional pass in order to do so.  The highest car count of the week was Kokomo's 45, with the lowest being Putnamville's 24.  For the six shows that ran to completion, the average car count was a little over 36. 

Big Daddy - Shown at Gas City where he earned his best finish of the week (3rd), Chris Windom was 5th in series points.

Last year’s Sprint Week offered far more drama and intrigue in terms of feature action, dramatic finishes, first time winners, and number of different winners.  The majority of 2017’s events (Kokomo, Lawrenceburg, Bloomington, and Putnamville) were runaway wins.  Gas City was one of two exceptions, offering several different leaders (Shane Cottle, T-Mez, Ballou, and Leary) and a nail-biting finish, not only for the outcome on the track but for beating the imminent stormy weather that was rapidly approaching.  USAC and the O’Connor operating team pushed the sprint car feature to completion at an amazing 8:51 PM, undoubtedly a Sprint Week record.  Gas City was also the only event where tempers even attempted to flare, as Ballou and Windom banged wheels while battling for the lead and exchanged heated gestures under caution.  At no point in the six race span did I witness any pit area altercations, which makes me wonder if the volume on Sprint Week intensity has been unintentionally turned down.    

Tommy Helfrich's Tri-State Speedway was another exception to the 2017 norm of so-so features.  Commencing third, Kevin Thomas, Jr. led the first 29 laps, chased all the way by outside front row starter Kyle Cummins.  Reuniting with Hank Byram for a Sprint Week run, Kyle had installed his own engine in the Rock Steady Racing Mach 1 and enjoyed a fine fifth place at Kokomo.  Struggling at rounds two, three and four, after missing the main at Bloomington a deeper inspection identified a bent rear end, suspected after Lawrenceburg wall contact.  In that Haubstadt 30-lap hustle, both Thomas and Cummins had operated around the bottom lane until the first caution flew for a lap 28 Donny Brackett spin.  On the ensuing restart, Kyle tried to slip underneath of Kevin but there was no budging of the Alabama assassin.  KTJ was apparently headed to a second consecutive Sprint Week score until yellow lights were lit for Darland's DNF.  Setting up a two-lap dash to the checkered, Cummins was convinced he needed to try something different.  Driving it deep into the cushion of turns one and two, he suddenly pulled even with the leader.  Using his newfound momentum to shoot to the bottom of three, Kyle's path was keenly blocked by Kevin.  With the white flag waving once again, Kyle dug deep and hauled it harder into one and two, building even more momentum as they approached the south end.  Cummins initially chose the high line while Thomas toured low.  But, once the leader turned to the top through four, Kyle quickly diamonded the corner and was able beat him to the finish.  The partisan Tri-State crowd literally went nuts, as they love the Pride of Princeton and aren’t afraid to show it.  Such an electrifying moment, sprint car finishes don’t get any better than that, undoubtedly the highlight of my 2017 Sprint Week.        

Already mentioning the two biggest thrills, there were also a few nasty spills along the way.  In the six race span and also including Terre Haute hot laps, only four inverted.  Isaac Chapple's turn three bike and resulting flip into Terre Haute concrete was far from tame, having to spend the night in the hospital with a concussion and some severely bruised lungs.  Owning a serious set of red eyes, Isaac was actually on-hand and in good spirits at the Putnamville finale.  A chain reaction incident in Bloomington's semi-feature had Brandon Mattox absorbing an errant right front wheel from Kyle Cummins.  Mattox then connected with A.J. Hopkins (Ottinger 4J) who proceeded to perform an end-over-end tumble through the fencing that guards the parking lot.  Hopkins landed between a concrete barrier and a pair of spectator vehicles, extricated and transported to a local hospital for observation.  A.J. was sore but otherwise ok.  Rounding out the slim flip count, fifteen year-old Tyler Clem tumbled in his Haubstadt heat while C.J. Leary nailed the turn three cushion at LPS and ended his week on his lid. 

Given the age of this information, there's no need to provide results from each Sprint Week stop.  However, some special performances should be noted, including Brady Bacon's elevation from 11th to 3rd on a "king of the cowboys" Kokomo surface.  Finishing second at Lawrenceburg and fifth (from 11th) at Gas City, Bacon (Dooling-Hayward 63) only ran three races but averaged finishes of 3.33.  California's Brody Roa had to go home after Haubstadt and although his week was generally less than stellar in terms of feature finishes (averaging 17.40), his 8th place effort at Lawrenceburg shined brightest.  Troy, Ohio’s Lee Underwood made only one Sprint Week appearance but he certainly made it count.  Qualifying ninth best at Bloomington, Lee started the feature eighth and quickly found the bottom lane to his liking, working up to second before falling to fourth.  For a while there, I thought we might have another Sprint Week upset like in 1997 (Brad Fox) and 2001 (A.J. Anderson).  Like Underwood, Jeff Bland, Jr. also made just one Sprint Week appearance, that also coming in B-town.  With former ally Daryl Tate spinning sockets on the Waltz 66, Bland started 12th and finished 6th.  After an outstanding Sprint Week debut last year, Tyler Thomas appeared at five of the six shows in Jerry Burton's 04 and made three features, placing on the podium at his team's home track in Bloomington.  Credited with 20th at Haubstadt, Donny Brackett’s B-main blast from 14th to 3rd had to be highly encouraging, especially after riding out two wicked tumbles at Haubstadt (April) and Brownstown (June).  Brackett was wheeling the same Eagle from Brownstown after Donnie Gentry straightened the front half of the frame.  Speaking of the Gentry family, Aric qualified 8th at Haubstadt but failed to make the B-main cut.   

Shane Cottle only competed at half of the programs, beginning from Gas City’s pole to score a sixth place finish for legendary car owner Paul Hazen.  When speaking to Hazen prior to Thursday’s round, he wished to express his appreciation for the extremely kind gesture offered by fellow competitor Matt Goodnight.  Paul was down to just one engine after his best bullet failed while leading a Kokomo heat race.  Skipping Lawrenceburg, it was after the Gas City feature that Goodnight, who suffered engine problems of his own on Monday, loaned his remaining engine to Hazen with no strings attached, even offering a car if he needed it.  Post-Bloomington, Hazen skipped Haubstadt and aimed for Mansfield on Sunday, earning a $5,000 payday with The Throttle. 

Sprint Week has a habit of chewing up and spitting out sprint car squads.  2017 remained true to form when Phillips Motorsports exited after Putnamville hot laps.  With zero top-ten runs, Hunter Schuerenberg and Pace Motorsports also exited after Bloomington.  Veteran open wheel wrench Rob Hart, who recently noted that he's worked with over 200 different drivers and teams in his career, left Jarett and John Andretti's team on Tuesday, having worked with them since the Brownstown opener in March.  Former Andretti assistant Kyle Dautrich got the call to come help at the initial Putnamville program before the rains came. 

Gettin’ Dirty - Spraying clay at Lawrenceburg, Brady Bacon’s three ISW appearances resulted in finishes of third, second, and fifth.

Mike Dutcher Motorsports also endured quite a bit of drama during Sprint Week, but it wasn't actually on the race track.  Hollister, California's Ryan Bernal was Dutcher’s driver of choice and having been back here a couple of years ago for Josh Ford, many expected big things from Bernal.  Mike's week turned from frustrating to terrible when he became involved in a chain reaction highway accident while driving the truck and trailer to Putnamville on Thursday.  The toter-home portion of the tow rig was damaged beyond repair, rendering Bernal rideless until Mike Gass came to the rescue on Friday.  By Saturday, Dutcher was able to retrieve his trailer thanks to an assist from Pennsylvania car owner Tom Buch, loaning his toter-home for the final two programs.  As it was, Bernal's best finish of the week came at Haubstadt, where he started from the pole and wound up ninth.  Ryan's other results included an 11th at Kokomo (after starting 2nd), 13th at Lawrenceburg, 22nd at Gas City (nosing into the turn four guardrail after taking a provisional), 14th at Bloomington (after qualifying 2nd), and 13th at Putnamville.   

Two weeks removed from my annual zenith, now that the weather has finally calmed down my instant recollections from Sprint Week 2017 were the relentless performances of KTJ and Mother Nature, as both had a huge impact on the outcome of the series.  The unfavorable forecasts most certainly tested my faith and patience, but lucky for me I had Lafond along for the ride.  Spending ten days in close quarters with any individual might drive one to insanity, but the fact that both he and I genuinely enjoy our time together is proof that our friendship goes much deeper than racing.  In addition to sharing great conversations and a similar sense of humor, we both lust after fine automobiles, enjoy eclectic rock and roll music, have an insatiable need for speed, and are constantly striving for perfection in whatever we do.  Such commonalities are reasons we don’t end up strangling one another by the end of the week. 

Oh, and there’s also our unending hunger for outstanding meals at one-off restaurants that make our Sprint Week tour such a satisfying thing.  Kicking it off in fine fashion with a Thursday trip to Bonge’s Tavern, this continues to be our most anticipated day on the entire calendar.  Like little kids on Christmas Eve, we’re both grinning from ear to ear in anticipation of the unbelievable food, thrilling racing action, and great times that lay ahead, not thinking about the painful ending that always comes far too quickly.  In addition to the other places I already mentioned, our pre-race feasts at The Local (Westfield), Wagner’s Village Inn (Oldenburg), Pizzology (Carmel), Friendly Tavern (Zionsville), Taxman Brewing (Bargersville), Napolese (Indy), and Open Society Public House (Indy) were all awesome. 

Over the years, Indiana Sprint Week has unfairly raised the bar in our expectations for enjoyment.  So naturally when things don’t go to plan, it becomes so easy to become disappointed, disillusioned, and just a little bit stressed, as evidenced by this most recent 2017 edition when outside factors attempted to get in the way of good times during our precious summer escape. 

Putting things in perspective on that normally dreadful drive to Haubstadt, we certainly could have it a lot worse than missing a few races to rain and having to go back to work.  Thankfully, we still have our health.  We have our freedom.  And, we have the opportunity to make each day better than the last.  Even in 2017, it’s safe to say that Indiana Sprint Week still holds a magical power of enhancing every aspect of my existence.  For the small price of admission on each one of the seven nights, I’d call that a bargain, the best I ever had.

Hang On - Jon Stanbrough’s best qualification effort of tenth came at Haubstadt. He scored 16th in the A-main.

Packed House - Kokomo’s Sprint Week crowd was undoubtedly the largest in the track’s history.

People’s Champ - Despite a DNF at Haubstadt, Dave Darland earned eighth in series points.

Game Changer - Thomas Meseraull was in-line to take the Sprint Week point lead at Bloomington until contact from KTJ ended his night.

Big Ride - The most dramatic incident of the week involved A.J. Hopkins, who took a ride all the way to Bloomington’s parking lot.

Perfect Formation - Four-wide at Bloomington is such a fine sight!

Calm Before The Storm – Just before he rode out a nasty turn three flip, Isaac Chapple hustles his car through the east end of the Action Track.

Pride of Princeton - Kyle Cummins was Mr. Excitement at Haubstadt, winning with a last turn, last lap pass of KTJ.

Doubling Up - C.J. Leary took his second Sprint Week win in a row at Gas City.

Satisfaction - Track owner Tommy Helfrich and winner Kyle Cummins appear to be happy campers.

Second Best - 2015 ISW champ Robert Ballou averaged feature finishes of 4.83, scoring second in series points.

Silent Gasser - Two-time Sprint Week champ Jon Stanbrough already has his game face on at Bloomington.

Solid Showing - Brody Roa made all five Sprint Week features he attempted, earning a best finish of 8th at Lawrenceburg.

Sunshine - Tyler Courtney claimed third in ISW points for the second consecutive year.

The Champ - Kevin Thomas, Jr.’s lone Sprint Week win came at Bloomington. Eleven times the Bloomington winner has gone on to claim the ISW crown.

Too Short - Brady Short was one of nine men to make all six features without taking a provisional.

Winning Combination - The championship winning Sprint Week squad of Brad Alexander, Kevin Thomas, Jr., and Robert Brown, Jr. celebrate in Bloomington’s victory lane.

High Hopes - Seen at his hometown Kokomo track, Dave Darland started the week strong with finishes of sixth and fourth.

High Note - Tyler Courtney’s best two Sprint Week outings came in the final two shows at Haubstadt and Putnamville, scoring third and second.

King of Kokomo - Thomas Meseraull kicked off Sprint Week in fine fashion, completely dominating Kokomo’s feature.

Lord of Lawrenceburg - C.J. Leary killed the competition at The Burg, beating Brady Bacon by a full straightaway.

Mad Man - Robert Ballou’s return to USAC racing certainly adds color and excitement.

Mood Lifter - Justin Grant’s best Sprint Week effort came at Haubstadt, qualifying quickest and finishing fourth.

 

Volume 19, Number 8

Summer Dazed

While lounging in my lawn chair from Paragon Speedway’s grassy hillside during the recent Chuck Amati Classic, the impact of Indiana’s 2006 adoption of daylight savings time once again became clearly evident.  Gazing into that expansive western horizon during the quickly concluding stock car preliminaries, I suddenly realized it was already 9 PM, shocked that evening hours were rapidly dwindling despite skies that were just barely beginning to darken.  While the second of two sprint car B-mains had already taken the green flag, Keith Ford, a former SCIRA sprint car competitor, Indiana State Trooper, and the track's owner/operator for the last 31 seasons, decided it was high time to finally flip on the switch for the lights.  

Going back to my teenage years when I became so enthralled with the sprint car scene, I’ll never forget some rather lengthy evenings spent in the grandstands at places like Bloomington, Paragon, and Putnamville, waiting out class after class of back gate heaven just to sample another sprinkling of sprint car entertainment.  Looking back on that influential era, the surest signs of Indiana dirt track summer evenings were the slippery slopes from the formation of evening dew and the attraction of an entire population of insects to the illuminations emanating atop each light pole.  Nowadays, with significantly smaller fields of support classes and darkness that does not descend until 9:30 or so, those old-fashioned summer evenings from my youth are effectively a thing of the past. 

Taking a stroll around Paragon Speedway’s 63 year-old facility, it’s such a shock to realize that so little has changed in the decades that I've been coming here, impossible to fathom how such an antiquated form of entertainment still exists in an age when almost everything else centers on smart phone technology and instant gratification.  Mr. Ford continues to offer his rolling piece of real estate for sale, but I wonder who else would be willing to come forth with the cash, endure the constant criticism and complaints, and shoulder the humongous risks involved in keeping such an age-old tradition alive.  Much like drive-in movie theatres, will rustic and rural race tracks like these continue to become a thing of the past?  While admiring Keith's fascinating collection of Paragon signs from the '50s, '60s, and '70s displayed in the concession stand (I loved the hand-painted pieces showing the one-lap track record and season-long points from 1971 and 1972), I couldn't help but feel nostalgic and wish that time would stand still for once.  Thankful that the opportunity still exists to soak up this kind of atmosphere, in order to keep it rolling all we can do is support it as often as possible.        

Paragon's most significant contest of their 2017 season attracted healthy attendance, encountering so many of the hardcore sprint car faithful from the other Hoosier haunts.  While USAC was away on their Eastern Storm, 31 sprinters aimed for the Amati Classic's $3,000 top prize.  The additional coin attracted Jeff Bland, Jr. (own 38), Kent Christian (in a new for 2017 KC chassis), Brady Short (Pottorff 11P), birthday boy Max McGhee, Shane Cottle, Ethan Barrow, Brandon Maddox, Travis Welpott, Bill Rose, Jon Stanbrough (own 81), and Jadon Rogers (wearing the number 66 donned by Amati in his Daryl Tate days).  Former Fourth of July 1999 LPS sprint car winner Ande Possman was spotted in the stands with his father Fred and brother Jamie, boldly predicting a 1-2 feature finish by Rose and Welpott.  If Ande came through on his prediction, the reward would be as many beverages he could handle at Big Woods in downtown Speedway, the last place I had actually encountered Possman nearly one year ago.  Wishing myself that it was 1999 all over again, despite the presence of Rose, Stanbrough, and Troy Link, so much has changed with the Indiana sprint car scene.  Bumping into Joyce Stanbrough before the sprint car feature in which her son would begin from the pole, I still find it difficult to deal with the fact that this is Jon’s last season as a full-time competitor, watching him beat Bob Kinser to win his first feature at Bloomington’s Non-Winged Sprint Car Classic in June of 1991.   That seems like yesterday but in fact it was 26 seasons ago.     

Once it came time for the field to align two by two for the 68 lap finale, it was finally pitch dark in rural Morgan County.  With another summer evening in full swing, as tradition would have it the bugs were back in force, buzzing around those light poles like there was no tomorrow.  In addition to wondering where all those insects come from, the more time appropriate question was, could anyone stop Brady Short from becoming a three-time winner of the Amati?  With Short starting from inside of row two, I expected an uphill battle for the rest of the field. 

As is normal for most higher-paying Paragon productions, several of the lower-buck Saturday night loyalists stayed away while the outsiders swooped in to steal the big money, with Indiana outlaws stealing all four heats and the feature.  While the sun was still high in the sky, heats were hailed from third (Bland and Barrow), fourth (Short), and fifth (Stanbrough), leaving Paragon top talents like Josh Cunningham and Jake Scott (winners of the last 7 track championships) to scoop up remaining transfer spots.  June 3rd winner Kerry Kinser was the lone competitor to land on his lid, unable to make the call for the twin consolation affairs a little later.  Despite the evening’s domination by the big names, locals Charlie Belden and Ben Knight bagged both B-mains.  Littered by six cautions, Knight was actually one of them, coming back to claim a win after a Jadon Rogers spin cost himself and recent ISU grad Daylan Chambers feature starting berths.  Greenville, Ohio’s Josh Cooley was also the cause of a caution but was able to tackle a tricky top shelf to take a transfer. 

As for the answer to that question about who could stop Short, outside front row starter Shane Cottle rose to the occasion and then some.  Having tumbled down the backstretch in 2015 while battling for the lead with Stanbrough in this very event, Shane wrenched the premier position from Jon on the initial lap and never looked back.  Rarely wavering from the bottom lane, “The Throttle” led all 68 laps to take the win in Paul Hazen’s 57, hot on the heels of putting fifth-place Stanbrough a lap down as he flashed underneath the checkered cloth.   In a contest encumbered by only two caution flags, Short never was a factor for first.  Having to settle for third behind his buddy Bland, both Brady and Jeff were rarely on the same straightaway as Shane.   Max McGhee and Stanbrough rounded out the first-five.  Rose, Christian, Ethan Fleetwood, Cunningham, and Aric Gentry gathered sixth through tenth place funds. 

On the way home, it occurred to me that I have never witnessed Paul Hazen’s famous 57 sprint car winning at Paragon until this very evening.  Landing in victory lane after a Lima BOSS battle earlier this month, at 79 years of age Hazen somehow still finds a way to not only field a competitive sprint car on a limited budget (social security income), but also to win.  Normally towing a sprint car by his lonesome self from his Columbia City home to Indiana ovals two and three times a weekend, who else at 79 has the energy and enthusiasm to drive several hours home late in the evening (and early morning), arise a few hours later to wash the car and perform the requisite maintenance, only to load it back in the trailer and do it all over again? 

Starting his racing career as a Warsaw Speedway stock car driver all the way back in 1957 and claiming Warsaw’s 1965 modified championship, after suffering a serious racing injury he determined that it was wiser to hire someone else to handle the driving chores.  Switching to sprint cars for 1968, Jim Elliott was his first chauffeur and ever since, he’s never had a reason to look back.  Except for rare seasons in 1990 (going to work as mechanic for Larry Contos), 1991, and 1998, a number 57 sprint car owned by Hazen has been a regular Indiana pit area fixture.  A couple of years ago, I had written a recommendation to the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame regarding Paul’s credentials and the possibility of getting his name onto the ballot for induction.  Although I am not one of the voters, I know how convoluted the process is, tweeting after the Paragon win that I hoped the panel was paying attention to this win. 

For their benefit, let me again reiterate the statistics I know that make Hazen Hall of Fame worthy.  I have documented dates of 172 feature victories, but in a January 2010 interview I conducted with Paul, his conservative estimate was in the 200-plus range, as we all know just how shoddy recordkeeping is of historic sprint car stats.  Victorious as a sprint car owner in each of the last six decades, ten of the documented 172 victories fell under USAC sanction (’87 Four Crown, ‘02 Hulman Classic, and ‘03 Eldora were his biggest), twice winning live, nationally televised events (’87 Santa Fe and ’03 Lawrenceburg).  As an owner, he’s tallied 15 Indiana sprint car track championships with drivers Jim Elliott, Louie Mann, Tony Elliott, Jon Stanbrough, and Thomas Meseraull.  One fact many people do not know is that Hazen played an integral role in Robbie Stanley’s 1992 USAC championship run, providing Robbie’s dirt ride for the last half of the season.

A list of Hazen’s hired guns is a literal who’s-who of the sprint car fraternity.  Here’s a rundown of 58 men who I know have piloted Paul’s 57:  Jim Elliott, Don Hewitt, Louie Mann, Rocky Fisher, Ed Angle, Mark Caldwell, Richard Jackson, Chuck Mosley, Butch Wilkerson, Tony Elliott, Jeff Gordon, Tony Ploughe, Tim Bookmiller, Gary Fisher, Larry Rice, Steve Imel, Kevin Thomas, Robbie Stanley, Brad Marvel, Tim Champlin, Johnny Parsons, Stevie Reeves, Kent Christian, Tray House, Dave Darland, Russ Gamester, Brian Tyler, Bill Tyler, Tony Jarrett, Joe Roush, Brian Black, Mike Mann, Sheldon Kinser, Jr., Derek Davidson, Aaron Mosley, Bill Rose, Ted Hines, Jay Drake, Tracy Hines, Jon Stanbrough, Jason Robbins, A.J. Anderson, Casey Shuman, Bryan Clauson, Kevin Briscoe, Billy Puterbaugh, Josh Spencer, Matt Hardin, Bryan Stanfill, Marc Arnold, Critter Malone, Shane Cottle, Shane Hollingsworth, Thomas Meseraull, Travis Welpott, Jon Sciscoe, Scotty Weir, and Chad Boespflug.  I would imagine that there are more, but that is indeed quite a list. 

With all those wins, championships, hall of fame hires, and longevity of competitiveness, why shouldn’t Paul be in the Hall?    

After rain outs at Kokomo (June 18th) and Terre Haute (June 23rd for USAC’s Tony Hulman Classic) came the arrival of Brownstown Speedway’s MSCS meeting and completion of the March 25th No Way Out 40.  Given that it was already June 24th, unfortunately that also meant that summer days and the month of June were disappearing at a far too rapid rate.  Featuring four other classes of competition (TQ midgets, 305 RaceSaver sprints, crate late models, and pure stocks), those rather frustrating, far too lengthy summertime racing evenings of old were relived once again, no doubt getting my $20 worth of on-track action as the MSCS sprint car checkered flag did not arrive until 11:52 PM.  Naturally, the four other classes had yet to conduct their features by the time I bailed but it’s a good thing I exited when I did.  Once reaching Indy’s south side, I was already feeling extremely groggy, barely making it home in one piece.    

All of those extra classes resulted in plenty of double-dipping.  Chase Briscoe debuted a new sprint car squad consisting of himself and Thomas Meseraull.  In addition to his new number 5 (taking 21st in the A), Chase climbed through the window of a crate late model for the first time, winning a heat race and finishing fifth in the feature.  Like Chase, Steven Godsey did work in a late model and sprinter, but quite the contrary, Steven was making his sprint car debut.  Dakota Jackson, Ethan Barrow, and Kendall Ruble strapped into traditional and winged 305 sprinters. 

Even though Chad Boespflug was the leader at lap eight back on March 25th, a complete restart of the No Way Out was ordered by track officials.  Such a call allowed Brady Short to return to the outside of the front row despite an off-track excursion on lap one of the original start.  With 17 of the 20 machines returning, the smaller than expected field was further reduced when Dave Darland immediately inverted Mark Hery’s 40 in turn two.  The unfavorable restart decision did nothing to deter Boespflug, who immediately slid front row foes Bland and Short in turn two and wound up leading all forty tours.  Chad had to endure one caution and another red, the latter for Kyle Robbins who had earlier spun during the combined hot laps/qualifying session and was clipped by Donny Brackett, who dumped hard down the back stretch. 

In the waning stages, second position served as the hot seat as one by one, Short, Bland, and C.J. Leary surrendered the runner-up position through turn four in successive laps.  Tyler Courtney, Shane Cottle (starting 17th after replacing Ryan Bernal in Mike Dutcher’s 17), Leary, and Short finished second through fifth.  Justin Grant, Bland, and Nate McMillin also survived to see the checkered.  For Boespflug, victory circle was quite a welcome sight, as he and his Mean Green team have been struggling to return to their early season form for the last two months, hauling home a whopping $7,500 for their triumph.    

With hot laps and qualifying for the regular MSCS show already being conducted before the big 40-lapper (Carson Short was quickest of all at 13.323), I failed to understand why another two groups of sprint cars were sent out to hot lap after the feature concluded.  Resulting in ridiculous dust clouds, a complete rework (water and sheepsfoot) was now mandatory.  Rather than being besieged with boredom from watching a tractor show, I took a leisurely stroll through the fairgrounds parking lot where I encountered two-time All Star champ Kevin Huntley.  “Pup” was here to lend a hand to a 305 competitor and echoed my sentiments when noting how it was going to be a very long night.    

All that downtime must have turned the sprint car natives restless, as yellow flags were unfurled nine times in the resulting four heat races.  Countless cars overextended a thin cushion and some rather rough driving was displayed in what turned out to be completely cutthroat contests.  In the blue Waltz 66 for the nightcap after toiling in his own 38 for the 40-lapper, heat three left Jeff Bland hot under the collar after being shoved into a turn four marker tire, this occurring after an awkward attempt at an initial start.  The fourth heat had five cars scrambling for second:  slicing and dicing with a few roots and gouges thrown in for good measure.  Max McGhee (4J) was the cause of two cautions while Tyler Thomas (Burton 04) was shoved off turn four and into the front stretch concrete.  Although both men were motivated to make the main, Tyler took second while Max was one spot short.  New for 2017, the MSCS double-file restarts definitely did not help with the road rage, as the old adage of cautions breeding cautions rang true.  The sprint B moved four more to the A, but Justin Grant and Thomas Meseraull were notable no-shows.  Bland blasted from 12th to third while Travis Berryhill (Wingo 77s) held off a snarling pack for fourth. 

As for Brownstown’s 25-lap A-main, the MSCS invert was 8 which meant Tyler Thomas and Brady Short would hold front row seats.  Unlike the previous week in Paragon, this time Short could not be stopped in his quest for yet another victory on familiar turf.  Working the pedals in his usual Cam Pottorff Maxim/SPEC, Brady beat Tyler to the top of turn two and that was all she wrote.  A green to checker romp for his fourth victory of 2017 was worth $2,000, with the lone incident occurring on the final lap when Thomas, who had been operating in second and third for the majority of the affair, was turned sideways just past the flag stand.  Tyler was promptly pounded by Dakota Jackson, who literally had nowhere to hide.  In the confusion of the checkered flag, green lights eventually turned red when Dakota rode out a tumble that decimated his DRC.  One of Thomas’s crew members added to the drama by attempting to get a piece of Jackson and had to be forcibly restrained by track officials.  

Tyler Courtney scored second yet again, this time from seventh.  Shane Cottle tallied third, also for the second time this evening.  Up from ninth, Jon Stanbrough (Wingo 77) limped home fourth with a flat right rear tire but was able to hold off fifth place Bill Rose.  Sixth through tenth included Carson Short, Boespflug, Darland, McGhee (from 17th), and Barrow.  Special thanks goes out to Rich Winings, who graciously kept me entertained in the grandstands for the entirety of the evening. 

Rained out of Friday options yet again on June 30th (LPS USAC and Kokomo All Stars), rather than pointing to Putnamville, migrating to Macon, or hauling to Haubstadt, I chose to spend some quality time at home on Saturday and Sunday given that the fuse for Indiana Sprint Week lights on July 7th at Gas City.  Thus, my lone racing intake on this extended Fourth of July weekend wound up coming at Kokomo on Monday the 3rd.  Reading about Kevin Thomas, Jr.’s eighth win of the season at Lincoln Park, Kyle Cummins’s first of the year at Haubstadt, and Kyle Larson’s incredible start to PA Speed Week, after eyeing some enticing USAC midget video from Macon I was more than ready to absorb some open wheel action of my own. 

The bridging of the gap between Midget Week and Sprint Week concluded with Kokomo’s fireworks extravaganza, as a triple card of sprint cars, modifieds, and hornets preceded the requisite pyrotechnics, gathering a rather significant crowd of casual fans.  With Sprint Week starting just four days later and several contestants competing in a Springfield, Illinois USAC midget bout, a short field of 19 sprinters was not a shock.  What was a shock was a Kokomo sprint car contest going off without Paul Hazen’s 57, no doubt spending this time prepping for the 7 race in 9 day marathon.  With the later than normal 6:45 PM start to hot laps/qualifying delayed by a pop up rain shower (Rain, at Kokomo?  Come on, you’ve got to be kidding!), an already saturated surface was made even more wet and stayed that way the entire evening.     

The old-school heavy surface resulted in a rapid run of racing contests, as the two heat races and 25-lap sprint car feature contained zero caution flags.  Even the 33-car modified field conducted four heat races free from calamity (the feature did have at least one incident however).   I read on-line about grumblings from veteran fans regarding the feature redraws on the front stretch concrete.  One thing to keep in mind:  with such intimate involvement from younger fans who earn the rare opportunity to cement relationships with drivers, this small investment in time is a must-have to insure a future fan base for our sport.  Getting to hear from the drivers and watch them interact with the paying customers, I actually enjoy such candidness. 

Continuing the theme for each one of the sprint car feature events I witnessed since the close of Midget Week, pole sitter Chris Windom inched ahead of outside front row starter Matt Westfall at the exit of turn two and led every lap in Kenny and Margo Baldwin’s DRC/Claxton, a crushing blow to the competition in which he lapped all the way through fifth place.  Working the top shelf in one and two and the bottom of an extremely narrow three and four, Chris’s job became so much easier when outside row two starter Kevin Thomas, Jr. (winner of heat two and the last two Kokomo contests) retired the Gass number 17 to the infield on lap three.  Even if KTJ would have remained in the fight, it is doubtful if he would have had anything for Big Daddy, as Chris was clearly in the zone come feature time thanks to a spot-on setup from crew chief Derek Claxton. 

Windom’s seventh sprint car score of 2017 came at the expense of sixth-starting Jarett Andretti, who was a full straightaway in arrears at the conclusion.  Isaac Chapple, with aid from veteran wrench Brian Cripe, started fifth and took third.  After beginning from the front row, Matt Westfall was the last car on the lead lap, with Marion’s Tyler Hewitt rounding out the top five. 

Muncie’s Cole Ketcham finished sixth in his first Kokomo appearance since early April, having sat out the bulk of the season because of engine issues encountered in that Kokomo opener.  Unfortunately for Cole, an under-the-hood issue reared its ugly head immediately after Monday’s checkered flag, going up in another costly ball of flames. 

English Formula One stock car standout Tom Harris, showing spectacular flumes of smoke while impressively holding off Chris Windom to win heat one, scored seventh in his Beast chassis after starting third, preparing for his annual Sprint Week onslaught.  Ted Hines, Matt Goodnight, and birthday boy Josh Spencer rounded out the top ten finishers.  One word of note for Sprint Week fans, the new Kokomo backstretch bleachers are now open, allowing for even more patrons to pour in come next Saturday.  My favorite day of the year, the juices are already flowing when thinking about Sprint Week at Kokomo. 

Done with the sprint car feature by 10 PM but deciding to wait out modified and hornet finales for fireworks, it was the first time in a very long while that I have actually done so.   Observing a large portion of the city of Kokomo’s population congregating along Davis Road for the light show, as a result of the congestion I was forced to wait out the extremely long line of traffic to turn left on Morgan Street.  Rather than be annoyed, in a rare festive mood I decided to roll down the windows and soak up the sounds of a traditional summer evening, as the bullfrogs were having a field day along the old neighboring Pennsylvania Railroad mainline.  Sending me back to days of old but also making me appreciate my current existence, if those sounds aren’t the surest sign of summer, then I don’t know what is. 

 

 

Volume 19, Number 7

Marathon Man

It’s a notion that's been beaten to death for the last 19 years in these columns, but it bears repeating one more time.  No one goes to greater lengths to fulfill a fix than racing folk.  No one!        

Case in point:  who else would be willing to arise at 4:45 AM on a Saturday, drive (or ride in my case) six and a half hours to the middle of Iowa to watch sprint cars go around in circles, only to immediately turn around when it was all over and arrive home at 7:30 AM on a Sunday? Already weary from such a grueling expedition, two days later who else would also be crazy enough to start a six day stretch of racing events while simultaneously logging 40 hours with one's employer?  Requiring bold moves through rush hour traffic just to catch qualifications, an equally energetic pace was mandatory on return trips to maximize precious hours of shuteye.  Repeating such a procedure might be the definition of insanity and to do it four days in a row, let alone six, is absolutely unfathomable to any outsider.  

However, given that this was all undertaken to accommodate USAC Indiana Midget Week, suddenly it all should seem understandable and acceptable.  If you’re an open wheel freak, you’ll do whatever it takes to be there in the flesh and for a large contingent of Kiwis and Aussies, it involves a rather pricey trip halfway around the world.  To be completely absorbed in that chaotic atmosphere of screaming inline four cylinder engines, there is simply no substitution for the real thing.  

But what about sleep?  Well, apparently that's an entirely optional aspect of Indiana Midget Week.  As I continue to burn the candle at both ends, my biggest fears regarding this series, for when I am not on vacation, have always revolved around the possibility of late nights during mid-week programs and the exhaustion that ensues for weeks afterwards.  Even on the most efficient evenings, the fact of the matter is that sprint and midget doubleheaders simply take a long time to complete and any additional class of cars are completely unnecessary, especially in the first few shows when car counts are highest.  Unfortunately this year, the latest nights were Tuesday through Thursday, as Montpelier, Gas City, and Putnamville ran midget features first but checkered their sprint car finales at 11:19, 11:05, 11:03, still respectable but not ideal when another 75 to 90 minutes of driving was required. 

Cursing and prying myself out of bed from Wednesday through Friday when that alarm clock buzzed way too early, Midget Week is indeed a world class grind, requiring the utmost of endurance to make it through those Tuesday to Friday programs.  Ten times tougher on the crews who have to drag the trucks and trailers to and from the track, wash the equipment, perform routine maintenance, mount and demount tons of tires, and deal with the pressure of six consecutive race meetings, just like Ohio Speed Week and Indiana Sprint Week, Indiana Midget Week is one of the truest tests of mental and physical strength.  But, at the conclusion of all that effort comes the possibility of some significant rewards, as it has to be infinitely satisfying to claim a Midget Week championship, let alone win at any one of the six stops. 

Beginning with Montpelier, a parched and tightly packed surface mandated a full one hour track rework after sprint heats were completed at 8:30 PM.  When combined with the extra offering of modifieds, this meant extending well past an 11:00 PM curfew, as those mods still had B and A-mains to complete by the time I exited.  Without that additional class and the track rework (it still ended up taking rubber for midget and sprint features), it would have been an early evening, something infinitely appreciated by those few working folk who were crazy enough to attempt all of the Midget Week outings.  Arriving home at 12:50 AM and starting this series under distress for the second year in a row, I seriously need more vacation time in order to accommodate a racing habit that is still far too healthy for a high profile accounting career.  Otherwise, I may be resigned to picking and choosing like a normal human.   

Track owner Jack Himelick again entrusted his I-69 Speedway to the O’Connor family for just two 2017 shows, with Indiana Sprint Week being the other of course.  Given the track's inactivity dating to July 2016, surface preparer Reece O’Connor had his hands full with several soft spots on Wednesday.  Requiring a slight amount of downtime to tend to those troublesome areas, six red flags for flips slowed an otherwise efficient evening.  Dumping Andrew Felker during qualifying, Brady Short in his sprint heat (unceremoniously debuting a Reinbold/Underwood Spike), Tony Main in his sprint heat, Brad Kraus in the midget C, Ryan Greth in the midget semi, and Chance Morton in the midget main, countless tilts on two wheels or less could have led to even more red lights.  Obviously without those aforementioned stoppages, Wednesday would have ended earlier as well.  Thankfully the O'Connors continue to cater to their open wheel faithful by simply scheduling sprints and midgets on these special shows.  My own worst enemy, I stopped in the pit area for a brief bit of congratulations to the winning midget car driver and owner, further delaying my Carmel arrival to 12:45 Thursday morning.  On an emotional high from two thrilling features, obviously my judgment was ruled by my heart and not my head!  Either way, Gas City needs more races scheduled.           

Despite a massive curb that wasn’t the most conducive to midget right rears, Lincoln Park Speedway track owner/operator Joe Spiker had the foresight to keep it in place on Thursday.  This not only saved time but ended up pegging the excitement meter in action-packed midget and sprint main events.  LPS was one of four Midget Week stops to offer a third class of competition (in addition to Montpelier and Lincoln Park, Bloomington and Lawrenceburg were the others) selecting self-starting winged mini sprints over the usual modifieds.  A miniscule amount meant only two heats and one main event, but unfortunately a lengthy red flag during their feature (won by Rico Abreu) spoiled what was destined to be the earliest IMW exit at this locale.  Here's a proposition to all promoters/operators:  if there must be a third class, why not make it a feature-only event?  Still riding high on adrenaline from that incredible conclusion to the midget main, my arrival home from night number three was a commendable 12:10 AM, which isn't far off my usual routine. 

Just my luck, the earliest Midget Week endings occurred when resting hours weren’t as crucial, with Bloomington and Lawrenceburg concluding at 10:54 and 10:25.  Needing to say goodbye to friends from far away but still hit the road at a reasonable hour, Kokomo wrapped up the series at an appreciated 10:26. 

Having focused on just how tough and tiresome Indiana Midget Week can be, what will be most remembered from this version was the thrilling racing action enjoyed every single night.  Filled with so many dramatic ups and downs and so much intrigue, two weeks later I'm still buzzing about it. 

Last year’s series called a consistent yet winless Bryan Clauson as champion for the third time despite a sweep of feature wins by Keith Kunz Motorsports.  Even with the fairly consistent beat downs by the Kunz clan, Midget Week continues to grow in popularity, now nearly reaching Sprint Week proportions with front gate gatherings.  With news that Rico Abreu and New Zealand’s number one export Michael Pickens would be competing in all six rounds of this 13th edition, lofty expectations rose even higher when Kyle Larson confirmed he’d again be available for the first two.  For the first time in a long while, parity was a distinct possibility as the KKM Spike-Bullet/Speedway Toyotas have not been dominant with its current crop of full-time chauffeurs (Tanner Thorson, Spencer Bayston, Ryan Robinson, Holly Shelton, and rookie Tanner Carrick).  Adding to the mix a talented Clauson-Marshall Racing trio of Tyler Courtney, Justin Grant, and Shane Golobic in Spikes powered by Stanton Mopar SR-11s, Kokomo Grand Prix king Brady Bacon (whose Beast/Stanton Toyota was under the guidance of former CRA studs Bob East and Brad Noffsinger), Chad Boat, Alex Bright, Tyler Thomas, Petry-Goff teammates Dave Darland and Jerry Coons, Jr., and four-time USAC Western States midget champion Ronnie Gardner (in Jerome Rodela’s King/Pink Toyota), this made Midget Week even more interesting, enticing, and ultimately intoxicating.  Truth be told, it lived up to all of the hype and then some. 

Convinced that this was the best-ever series in its fairly short history, the parity between the Keith Kunz/Clauson-Marshall super teams and the other notable single-car entries was easily evident given that nine drivers were still eligible to claim the week-long title when the series switched to the Kokomo finale.  Entering that final round, the spread between first place Michael Pickens and ninth place Chad Boat was only 57 points.   As it turned out, the gap was widened to 79 but even that final evening featured a roller coaster ride of unpredictability. 

Given that I was once again seated with Bryce Townsend’s group from New Zealand as I was administering their 9th annual Kiwi Tour Sweepstakes, the feature endings from Gas City and Putnamville were clearly the most memorable given that their homeland hero Michael Pickens reached victory lane.  Gas City was great, as Pickens led the final four laps in his Seamount Racing King/Graham Racing Development Toyota after starting 11th, docked two rows for missing the call for feature staging.  Already irritated after having to come through the semi, the penalty only intensified the aggression within the 34 year-old.  His Gas City feature was the equivalent of a bar room brawl, as every corner of every lap involved some sort of a scrap for position, able to confidently execute every one of his moves thanks to a near perfect setup from car builder and crew chief Justin Insley. 

As good as Gas City was for the flag waving Kiwi contingent, Putnamville’s ending was even better, as Pickens and Lebanon, Indiana’s Spencer Bayston exchanged the top spot five times in the last two laps. Read that again:  I said FIVE TIMES!  Honest to goodness, that LPS conclusion might have been the most memorable I have ever witnessed in my entire thirty-plus years of regular racing attendance.  After starting sixth and operating in or around that position for the first 16 laps, Pickens put all four wheels over the chunky cushion in turn one, using the momentum gained to drive down the hill and through the slick middle lane of turn two.  One by one, he managed to surge past Rico Abreu, Brent Beauchamp, Alex Bright, and Chad Boat, with a final caution at lap 25 setting the stage for the epic slip and slide/dip and dive duel to the finish.  Once “Slim” gained enough ground through one and two to finally seize the lead, he pulled a similar attack out of his hat at the third turn, using it on the final two tours.  Slipping sideways above the cushion in turn one on the final circuit, the application of that turn three tactic was truly a shocker, stealing a win that should have belonged to Spencer.  I can’t even begin to describe the rush of adrenaline that surged through my veins when the checkered flag flew on Thursday.  Sleep or no sleep, you only live once and you live for races like this one.  It was simply awesome!   

Speaking of Bryce Townsend’s Speed Sport Tours, he and his group again accounted for a large majority of Midget Week's international flavor, also making a massive impact on my Midget Week mindset.  Including Bryce, a dozen absorbed both Powri Illinois Speedweek and USAC Indiana Midget Week, a figure that was surprisingly down from previous years.  Prior to midget mayhem, a small group even assembled for Indy 500 week and several took it all in, which amounted to a staggering 18 race in 19 day extravaganza that also included stops for various sightseeing opportunities.  A dream come true for so many of these first time visitors, the incredible success enjoyed by Pickens (four wins in 11 outings) only added to the allure, creating unforgettable memories that will undoubtedly bring them back at some point in time.   Meet so many friendly guests for the first time, I certainly hope we can meet again very soon. 

When thinking of that incredible run by Michael Pickens, it’s amazing to think it all started with a random Facebook post by Townsend, proposing that fans pony up some dollars to help send Pickens to the states for both Illinois and Indiana midget weeks in his usual Seamount Racing ride.  Michael and team manager Justin Insley took the ball and ran with it, gathering over 350 supporters, each of whom were listed on the side of the car.  Cindy Elliott and the Tony Elliott foundation were notable supporters and with a minimum donation of $20, the total amounted to $25,000 New Zealand dollars, helping to offset the massive travel and operating expenses for the two week tour.  Through further funding by car owners Brett and Leigh Morris and their loyal sponsors, the entire trip became reality.  All in all, it was a pretty neat deal.     

A world class effort from such a small squad (just one car, two engines, and three crew members), they certainly had their ups and downs, winning the Powri Illinois points on the strength of two wins, one second, and one third (two wins should have been three if it weren't for a less than tidy last turn/last lap Lincoln lunge from Logan Seavey).  Opening Indiana Midget Week with two wins (his third and fourth career with USAC) and a second, despite a sub-par ninth at Bloomington (expecting the track to rubber-up) and an early feature spin and scrum at Lawrenceburg, they were still in the driver’s seat to claim the crown up until the point of an all-timed hot lap flip at Kokomo.  With countless teams coming to their rescue and exuding the true spirit of "speedway", the car made a miraculous return for qualifications.  Unfortunately its Sunday speed was simply lacking, falling to third in the final standings after a seventh place conclusion.  From my vantage point, Michael Pickens and his Seamount squad ultimately made Indiana Midget Week 2017 extra special.  Let’s hope he can return next year to make even more memories.   

Any additional thoughts of 2017 Indiana Midget Week must automatically include Lawrenceburg.  Despite being washed out last year, the Burg has become the showcase for midget madness thanks to its features being consistently filled to the brim with breathtaking slide jobs.  This year was no different and in fact, it may have been the most thrilling main event in the history of the series.  Never before in my life have I witnessed as many sliders, crossovers, and assorted attempts for first than this particular contest, which involved the most likely of suspects (Rico Abreu) and least likely (Holly Shelton).  With my eyes locked on the battle for the lead, naturally I missed the beehive of activity going on throughout the field, as I can only imagine just how insane it was beyond the top three positions.    

Thanks to a cushion that was pushed to the wall of the skyscraper banking, the action was both fast and furious.  The wrath was officially unleashed when pole sitter Ryan Robinson promptly lofted a bomb at fellow front row mate Holly Shelton through one and two.  As was commonplace this entire battle, Holly would regain command with a drive down the hill to the back chute.  Things remained calm up front until a lap ten yellow, but immediately after that is when sixth-starting Spencer Bayston slid past Shelton through the east end.  Of course she would immediately return the favor but all that action opened the door for Rico Abreu, who had started tenth but was making quick work of the field with titanic two-for-one tosses.  While Spencer continued pull alongside for first; that would leave the door wide open for Rico, as they proceeded to swap second six times before a flat left rear for Dave Darland put the action on ice at lap 21. 

That’s when things began to get REALLY interesting.  Bayston immediately slid Shelton in one, but Holly crossed over in two.  Bayston did the deed again in three, only to have her return the favor in four.  With the top three extremely tight, Holly (low) and Spencer (high) were dueling for the same real estate as they approached turn one.  The lead duo touched wheels and nearly took out the top three in one fell swoop, but somehow everyone averted disaster.  Well, not everyone, as the big-time bump left Bayston with a bum left rear.  Having to swap the wheel and tire, he stormed from the rear to eighth.   

Seven laps were left to determine if Holly could make history as the first female to claim a USAC national event victory.  Could she somehow perform the impossible task of holding back Abreu, the sultan of Lawrenceburg sliders?  Truly an edge-of-your-seat affair, those last seven laps simply sizzled.  Shot out of a cannon, Abreu’s turn three slide for life was countered, but Shelton would climb the cushion in one and two.  That allowed another turn three attack, but not before a dip and dive sent Abreu back to second.  Rico then pulled the pin on a turn one grenade, but Holly tossed it right back into his lap.  One lap later, yet another costly bobble by the leader in one and two allowed another overtaking in three, but like a hotly contested ping pong match the volley was yet again returned.  Rico's winning move would eventually come through one and two on lap 28, as for the first time Holly could not cross over.  I counted at least eight times that she was able to fire back, but she just didn’t have enough mustard on the hot dog to get this one done.  Unable to contain a second place assault from Tanner Thorson, nevertheless her third place performance sent the crowd into a frenzy, as they offered a genuinely enthusiastic standing ovation for a job well done.  In all sincerity, I was thoroughly impressed with the young lady, gaining a new respect for not only her talent but her ability to keep cool under the most stressful of situations.  This was truly a race for the ages and when penciling in dates for next year, trust me, this is one that you won't want to miss.  The third time in a row that Abreu had reached an Indiana Midget Week victory lane in Lawrenceburg, amazingly this was KKM's first USAC conquest of 2017.  

The performances from Pickens and the lights-out Lawrenceburg feature might be the details I will instantly recall from 2017 IMW, but the big picture will show that this year was just like last in that the title came down to the wire, with the champion once again chalking up his crown to consistency rather than feature wins.  Perhaps the most understated of the Clauson-Marshall convoy, Fremont, California's Shane Golobic flew beneath the radar all week but was up front when he needed to be, taking the title by a mere six points over teammate Tyler Courtney thanks to a Kokomo quick time and a late race overhaul of Sunshine.  Unable to wrangle a W but averaging a fine finish of 4.83, he scored sixth at Montpelier, earned eighth at Gas City, and secured sixth again at Putnamville, ending the series with excellent finishes of third at Bloomington, fourth at Lawrenceburg, and second at Kokomo.  In order to get those results, he had to work extra hard on most evenings after beginning 14th, 16th, 8th, 3rd, 16th, and 6th, respectively.  Perhaps the most amazing story of Golobic’s Midget Week title run was his sterling Friday performance despite having spent the better part of the day in an emergency room receiving intravenous fluids, this after suffering from the stomach flu.  Some ten years removed from an Indiana summer in which he won a sprint car feature on the old quarter-mile Lawrenceburg configuration, Shane is not only a long-time friend of the Clausons, but he’s also cut from the same mold, about time that he would finally earn some high profile recognition outside of the NorCal winged scene. 

Post-Kokomo, the mood had to be bittersweet in the Clauson-Marshall camp, elated to have earned the top prize but naturally reflective.  Spotting Tim Clauson soaking up the peaceful post-race scene with Rico Abreu at Kokomo’s first corner, Tim told me last year that Bryan had specifically requested that his team be kept intact and for his father find a way to keep racing if for some reason he were no longer around.  Topping the Keith Kunz Motorsports juggernaut in such a grueling war is no small feat, so Tim and his trusty troops should indeed take a bow and feel a humongous sense of pride with what they accomplished.  Given the headaches of tending to multiple cars on one evening, the inherent logistical challenges of traveling to and from six different racetracks, and the drastically different layouts, surface conditions, and setups required, I'd say a Midget Week title might just be tougher to claim than the elusive Chili Bowl driller.   

Comparing Midget Week results for Clauson-Marshall Racing to Keith Kunz Motorsports, both teams won two races, both had two top-five points finishes, and both also had one points finish from sixth through tenth (Grant was seventh and Thorson was eighth).  Interestingly enough, both CMR and KKM took seven podium placements in the six races, with both teams sweeping podiums at Bloomington (CMR) and Lawrenceburg (KKM).  The only advantage the Kunz cars had on Clauson-Marshall came with quick times from qualifications, as KKM had three (Larson took two and Tanner Carrick one - the latter at the Burg) while CMR had one (Golobic).  But, the big difference was that CMR took the top two spots in the standings.    

On the strength of his first two USAC national midget victories and three more top-fives, Tyler Courtney accumulated the second-most Midget Week points.  Finding Montpelier’s high road through one and two to his liking before it took rubber, Courtney led the final 25 tours and was clearly the class of Tuesday’s field, no better way to bounce back from a massive Knoxville flip just three days earlier when he nearly launched his Topp 23 onto highway 14.  After timing in 12th, he flogged from 11th to fourth at Gas City before an untimely engine issue forced him pit side.  Exhibiting some true mettle by hustling from 20th to 3rd after timing 25th at Putnamville, Sunshine exorcised his Bloomington demons with his second win of the week.  Scooting from seventh in a hurry by employing middle and top lanes on severely blackened red clay that so many thought would tear tires, he built a half-straightaway lead over his two teammates and set a new USAC thirty lap record in the process.  Fifth from eighth at the Burg, Tyler led a total of four feature laps at Kokomo and dueled side by side with winner Bayston in the final 12 lap dash.  Yielding the runner-up spot to a bottom-feeding Golobic with three laps remaining, that one position ultimately cost him the title.  Despite such a bitter pill to swallow, Courtney continues to impress in his rapid rise to the upper echelon of USAC talent.  Midget Week was prime example of how he’s in it to win it more than ever before.         

Leading the Midget Week standings by just one point entering the Kokomo finale, Michael Pickens could ill afford any slip-ups with so many breathing down his neck.  Biking into the concrete and flipping through turns one and two during hot laps, the resulting thrash to simply get the car on the track may have cost him the title after he could only qualify 11th.  Able to advance four feature spots to seventh, his 19th place at Lawrenceburg ultimately did him in, winding up 20 points in arrears in third.    After timing in third, fourth, first (without hot laps at LPS), and fifth in the first four outings, qualifying outside of the top-ten at both Lawrenceburg and Kokomo seemed out of place, as did his two major incidents.  Such a competitive mini-series in 2017, in order to claim the title of Indiana Midget Week champion, mistakes had to be minor.      

Finishing fourth in the standings was Rico Abreu, one of two KKM cars to claim victory in what can be considered an odd run of races for midget racing’s juggernaut.  Starting features from 10th, 5th, 3rd, 10th, 10th, and 4th, Rico’s respective feature finishes were 14th, 4th, 4th, 8th, 1st, and 6th, commenting in Lincoln Park’s mini sprint victory lane that his setups had been far too loose for his liking.    Leading 13 laps of a thrilling Gas City feature, he may have only paced the final two at Lawrenceburg, but they were enough to maintain his lofty label as best on the big tracks.  With a pair of Indiana Midget Week titles (2013 and 2014), a USAC national title (2014), and a pair of Chili Bowl victories (2015 and 2016), Rico’s midget racing bar has been raised so high in recent years that anything less than a win or a championship is sub-standard.  If anyone would have predicted just one win in six outings, no one would have ever believed it. 

Amazingly with just one USAC national win to his credit before 2017 Midget Week, Spencer Bayston was oh-so-close to gaining number two at Putnamville and Lawrenceburg.  Sealing the deal with a dominating performance atop Kokomo's tempting yet treacherous cushion, Spencer led 16 Lincoln Park laps before having his pockets picked through the final corner. Up front for one Lawrenceburg tour before suffering a flat left rear after contact from Shelton, he led the first ten Kokomo laps, lost the premier position to Courtney for two laps, regained the lead for seven more, lost it again for two, and then reaffirmed his stance atop the scoreboard for the final nine.  Three sub-par qualification efforts hindered his week, but in addition to the Kokomo triumph he also scored 10th (MMS), 5th (Gas City), 2nd (LPS), 16th (B-town), and 8th (Burg), good enough for fifth in IMW points.

Sixth through tenth in the standings included Brady Bacon, Justin Grant, Tanner Thorson, Chad Boat, and Alex Bright. 

Boasting the only Beast chassis in the field, Bacon enjoyed the best time trialing average of the week at 3.67, but those superb starts did not translate into equivalent feature finishes for various reasons, coming home 4th, 2nd, 8th, 6th, 16th, and 5th.  Slated to start 5th at Lincoln Park, Brady had to pull to the work area before the start, thus requiring a run from the rear that eventually earned him 8th.  After Pickens had his Lawrenceburg issues, BB was primed to take the Midget Week point lead until he mysteriously slowed on lap ten, saddled with a DNF.  Nursing a sick Toyota power plant for his Sunday heat, a swap of cars and resulting run from the rear of the semi to 4th helped salvage his week.  Had it not been for the problems at LPS and the Burg, the Midget Week standings could have been vastly different.    

Seventh in points but owning the fifth best average finish (6.67), had it not been for a Gas City two wheel tilt from 3rd to 15th, Justin Grant may have been in the running for the series crown as well.  After qualifying disappointments at Montpelier (third from the end of the line on a worn out surface) and Lincoln Park, he toiled from 12th to 7th and 13th to 5th, respectively.  Solid in qualifying the rest of the week (6th, 3rd, 4th, and 2nd), he scored 2nd at Bloomington, 7th at Lawrenceburg and 4th at Kokomo (where he reverted to a backup machine for his heat). 

Defending national champion Tanner Thorson had an up and down week with finishes of 8th, 3rd, 20th, 15th, 2nd, and 9th.  Leading 12 laps in two spurts at Gas City, he was the one that Pickens passed for the win.  Winning last year at Lincoln Park, Tanner had a forgettable outing at the same venue one year later.  Timing 21st and spinning on lap ten of the feature, the crushing blow received from Ronnie Gardner ended his evening in 20th.  Bloomington was far from a picnic as well, qualifying 14th and finishing 15th.  Stout at the Burg and beginning from a Kokomo pole, Thorson hung around the top-five for the majority of the finale but mysteriously fell to 9th. 

No one passed more feature cars in Midget Week than Chad Boat, earning him 9th in series points and the week-long B&W Auto Mart Perseverance Award from benefactor Bill Wever.  Qualifying 19th, 17th, 9th, 1st (Bloomington), 13th, and 20th, his Lawrenceburg time was nullified when he weighed one pound too light at the scales.  Still searching for speed early in the week with finishes of 11th and 12th, the final four outings showed vast improvement:  7th, 5th, 10th (from 22nd), and 8th (from 18th).  

Rounding out the top ten in Midget Week standings was Alex Bright.  Unable to capitalize from feature pole position placements at the first three outings, his finishes of 5th, 11th, and 9th were unfortunately the highlights of his mini-series, leading 4 laps at Montpelier and 12 at Putnamville.  The wheels fell off the former IMW cult hero in the second half, ending his week 20th, 21st, and 11th. 

Speaking of heroes, Kyle Larson certainly made a splash at his only two Midget Week outings.  The quickest qualifier at Montpelier (new track record) and Gas City, surprisingly Yung Money could only muster a third place at Montpelier and spun from the cushion once reaching 2nd place at Gas City, proving that this winning machine is indeed human. 

Scouring my notebook for noteworthy Midget Week performances, Ronnie Gardner made all six features, his best outing coming at Gas City where he nailed 9th from 18th.   Tyler Thomas also made all six with his Spike/Esslinger combo, but the best he could do was 6th at Gas City.  Chance Morton made just one feature, but he did it in style after climbing from C to B (15th to 5th) to A, ending his stellar run with a turn one tumble.  2007 Midget Week champ Jerry Coons, Jr. made all six features in his Petry-Goff Spike/Stanton Toyota, tallying a pair of 10th place finishes and a fine fourth at Bloomington after leading the first 17 laps.  Jerry’s teammate Dave Darland made five of six main events, but the best he could do was 13th (Lincoln Park), unfortunately never on pace the entire week.  Brent Beauchamp made just two Midget Week starts (Gas City and LPS) but he made them count, qualifying in the top-ten on both nights.  Scored seventh at Gas City, he was inside of the top-five at LPS with under ten to go before suffering a flat left rear. 

Midget Week car counts topped out at 41 for Montpelier and Gas City and dipped to a low of 25 at Lawrenceburg, averaging 34.5.  Sprint cars have always been a part of the Midget Week equation, but the minimal purses resulted in minimal car counts, ranging from 31 at Gas City to 20 at Montpelier and Lawrenceburg, averaging 23.3.  As much as I love midget and sprint doubleheaders, after 13 years I tend to think midgets could actually stand on their own.   

Speaking of sprints, several of the six main events were actually memorable despite being dealt less than desirable surface conditions after the midgets completed their portion of the program.  Kokomo was the only one to offer the sprint feature first. 

With rubber down conditions and just one spin for Parker Frederickson, Montpelier's sprint feature only took ten minutes to complete.  Brady Bacon started Todd Keen's DRC from the pole and held off Chris Windom (Baldwin 5), who was close to overtaking on three occasions.  Kevin Thomas, Jr., Shane Cottle, and Isaac Chapple rounded out the first five.  Having watched him in action at Knoxville just a few days prior, Aussie Gary Rooke made his first Indiana appearance of 2017 in 16th, commenting to Gary that it's not officially summertime in the Hoosier state until he is encountered in a pit area.  Also competing at Williams Grove as a part of Eastern Storm, it was a dream three week span for Rooke. 

At Gas City, Bacon again began from the pole and led early, only to lose the premier position to a bottom-feeding Shane Cottle on lap 8.  With both top and bottom grooves going away, the high side was the best option thanks to a healthy curb that still existed on both ends.  Bacon leaned on that ledge to circle Cottle through one and two on lap 16, with Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Gass 17) doing the same to Shane through three and four on lap 24.  The third and final caution came on the white flag lap and set the stage for a two lap shootout between Bacon and Thomas.  With white flag waving once again, KTJ hauled it into one and overextended the cushion, diamonding that east end.  The resulting momentum shot him side by side with Bacon on the back chute.  After the two banged wheels, Kevin quickly tossed a turn three bomb that registered, shocking the world with an unbelievable ending.  Bacon, Cottle, Justin Grant, and Robert Ballou (from 9th) rounded out Wednesday's top-five finishers.     

Featuring a front row of Brady Short (using the day to make Spike chassis repairs) and Chris Windom, Thursday's sprint car finale was definitely worth the wait.  Short initially led low in the blue 19, but Windom would quickly be rewarded with the top spot, employing the same turn one attack as midgeteer Michael Pickens.  After an early spin for Matt McDonald, fourth and fifth place runners Chad Boespflug (Hoffman/EZR 69) and Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Gass 17) bumped bars on the back stretch and eliminated defending track champ Shane Cockrum and Lee Underwood.  Later, both Tyler Thomas (Burton 04) and Boespflug shot past Short, with Tyler and Chad exchanging sliders/crossovers for second.  Windom's advantage equaled a full straightaway on T-squared, who soon fell to fourth after biking over the turn two ledge.  Tyler also took it too far into three and came to a rest, causing caution number three.  With six laps left and despite two lappers between himself and the leader, Chad quickly chased down Chris.  Entering turn three on the 23rd lap, Windom bobbled and suddenly slowed, leaving number 69 with nowhere to go.  After exiting the car and surveying the damage, CB narrowly escaped injury when Tim Creech spun into the scene and clipped the Mean Green machine.  Leaving three laps to determine a winner, although Kevin Thomas, Jr. attempted to duplicate his last lap Gas City heroics, he was unable to get the job done.  After Windom and KTJ came C.J. Leary (from 16th in Scott Pedersen's Spike), Shane Cottle, and Short.

Compared to my other two trips to Bloomington in 2017, the dry-slick Midget Week conditions were night and day different.  Of note, Alex Bright made his sprint car debut for Pennsylvania car owner Rick Kaylor, who provided a sharp looking CS9 mid-tube chassis numbered 13K.  Bright boasted tenth place feature finishes at Bloomington and Lawrenceburg.  B-town's slick conditions proved to be a handful for some, as A.J. Hopkins spun twice in his heat while Michael Koontz flew straight off turn four and into the earth embankment.  The sudden stop was a very hard hit, so the beaten and battered Koontz skipped the midget semi feature.    

After the 305 feature, the forthcoming traditional sprint car finale would unfortunately be conducted under rubber-down conditions.   Bland and Chapple shared the front row but it wouldn’t be long until Jeff and his Bedford buddy Brady Short (from inside row 2) took off and hid from the rest of the field, quickly constructing a full straight advantage on Max McGhee.  Hurst brothers hustler Jordan Kinser manned the middle and scooted from seventh to third.  With under five laps left, Bland and Short hooked along the front stretch, with the miscue allowing Kinser to steal second from Sweet Feet.  Offering a turn four rub to Jordan at the two-to-go signal, Brady would seize the spot.  Short then swept to the outside of Bland as they dipped under the white flag, stealing the lead as they entered turn one and bagging his 100th sprint car feature victory in the Reinbold/Underwood 19.  Kinser recaptured second while Bland had to settle for third.  Ethan Fleetwood found fourth from ninth while McGhee maintained fifth.   

Lawrenceburg pre-feature sprint car drama saw Justin Grant tangle with Dickie Gaines in turn three, dumping his McGhee number 11 and calling it an early night, as the onset of Eastern Storm would come in just three days.  In that same third heat, Logan Jarrett caught fire, scratching him from further Saturday action (although he would return for a hometown Kokomo bout on Sunday). 

As for Saturday’s feature, Kevin Thomas, Jr. drew the pole in his own number 44 DRC chassis.  Serving an immediate turn one slide job to fellow front row mate C.J. Leary (family 30), Kevin was quickly in command.  Fifth-starting Dave Darland (Hery 40), who topped Thomas to win his heat on a last lap surprise slider, exchanged second with Leary five times before a timely caution for Tony DiMattia set the stage for a first place showdown.  Back to green, Dave beat Kevin to the top of turns one and two, but Kevin would successfully cross over.  Darland did the same thing in three, but the Alabama assassin again returned the favor.  Thomas would not be headed the rest of the way, chased to the checkered by Darland, Leary, Nick Bilbee, and Jordan Kinser. 

Wrapping up in Kokomo, heat race intrigue had asphalt expert Aaron Pierce racing hard for fourth but cracking Kokomo concrete and inverting.  In replacement of the machine he destroyed at Knoxville, Tyler Courtney tried out a new Maxim in anticipation of Eastern Storm and won the first heat.  But in order to preserve equipment, he withdrew from the feature and apologized to the large crowd on hand.   

As for the sprint car finale, Brady Short and Shane Cottle would share front row honors.  Three laps in, Isaac Chapple and Logan Jarrett locked wheels and tumbled, continuing the rotten run of luck for Logan.  Back to green conditions, Shane would lead his nephew, who soon became embroiled in a battle with sixth-starting Kevin Thomas, Jr., back in the Gass 17 for the third time this week.  Thomas soon took second but climbed the cushion in two and fell to fourth.  After yet another yellow at lap ten, Brady launched low and rocketed past Colten for second.  Continuing to go low, Short would actually lead the pack at the halfway mark, but not for long as the "original" Cottle captured the keys to the basement in turn one.  With a handful of laps left, KTJ occupied third but was far from finished, even after climbing the cush in turn two.  Circling Short, Thomas dove under Cottle through one and two and pilfered P1, making it two in a row at Kokomo and three wins during Midget Week.  Short secured second on the last lap while Cottle dropped to third.  The younger Cottle was fourth while Dave Darland drove to fifth.  Still competing at Kokomo, Montpelier, and Gas City every chance he can get, Josh Spencer earned eighth from 12th. 

What a blur this month of June has been, literally flying by while I have attempted to document the details of these last few weeks and somehow catch up on rest.  Beginning with a one day trip to Knoxville, Iowa for the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame induction ceremonies and accompanying USAC sprint car contest, it was a highly enjoyable deviation from my summertime norm, watching and listening as idols Tony Elliott, Dave Darland, and Dr. Pat Sullivan were honored and inducted into the hall, spending a couple of hours soaking up the magnificent museum exhibits, and then kicking back to watch the racing action with former car owner turned Kokomo Speedway owner/operator Kent Evans.  Sure, the race for first was non-existent as Justin Grant walked away, but Tyler Courtney was truly the show before flipping from third, challenging the curb like there was no tomorrow.  Visually pleased by the slide-fest for fifth between C.J. Leary and Chris Windom, the ultimate highlight was hearing the oohs and aahs from the large crowd, perhaps not used to such daring overtaking maneuvers, especially so early in the evening.  A true iron man, a special thank you goes out to my nephew, who willingly offered to do all of the driving both to and from.   Oh - to be young again!

As for Midget Week, it too was well worth the sleep deprivation.  Trying to encompass every detail and emotion in this article has been nearly as daunting as completing the week of races without vacation time.  So much excitement, so many stories, and so many surprises were jam packed into the six day span that I get exhausted just thinking about attempting it all over again next year.  In the end, it was a highly memorable journey that reached its destination in the Kokomo pit area where for the fourth time in nine years, by complete luck of the draw I was crowned Kiwi Tour Sweepstakes champion!  Entering the final night eight points behind the leader, of course it doesn't look good when the scorekeeper/treasurer pulls a rabbit out of the hat and miraculously wins once again, but as an honest accountant bound by a strict code of ethics, there's no way that I would risk my license for the small amount of glory gained.  When viewing the photo snapped with the trophy (an Aaron Fike Beast chassis nosepiece), from the gleam in my eyes and ear to ear grin on my face, despite my weariness I sure do appear to be happy. 

Wrapping up the tour with a Monday night Rick's Boatyard Café sendoff for Bryce Townsend in which I finally got to meet the infamous Doc Tyler and listen to some fabulous stories from both he and Davey Ray, in the end the marathon of Indiana Midget Week might have once again subtracted a year or two from my life, but I suppose I can get all the rest I need when I'm dead.     

 

 

Volume 19, Number 6

500 Fever

Despite growing up under the influence of gear heads, one might be surprised to learn that for the longest time, auto racing was not my preferred pastime.  Early on, baseball and basketball were the two things that mattered most but priorities would soon change once my oldest brother began work with ESPN's Indy-based Speed Week staff in 1984.  Ultimately, my change in preference can be pinpointed to the pre-race pageantry and festivities leading up to my first Indianapolis 500 of 1985.  Truly a life-changing event, the enormous weight of this sacred ceremony flipped the switch, becoming the root cause of what would quickly become an incurable addiction to all forms of motorsports. 

Prior to 1985, I had endured countless IMS Pole Day outings but being far too young to appreciate the significance of the occasion, I can honestly state that I never looked forward to them.  Even though I would often hear announcer Tom Carnegie bellow "It's a newwwwwwwwwww track record", I never got too excited until rookie Teo Fabi surprisingly stuck his Forsythe Racing Skoal Bandit March/Cosworth on the pole in 1983.  From then on, I was completely enthralled with record-setting timing light tangos but once the 1997 IRL stock block formula eliminated any possibility of a new track record, I completely lost interest in qualifications but never the event itself.  Even if Indy and big-time racing is still light years away from 1985 significance, for me the 500 will always be a big deal for the simple fact that race day always moves my needle. 

With month-long mayhem now condensed to just two weeks, the associated short-track activities have likewise been squeezed into a limited timeframe, with the days leading up to the Indianapolis 500 now making one of the most diverse, hectic, and satisfying weeks of the year.  Formerly conducted on the first weekend in May, Terre Haute’s Hulman Classic, a tradition dating back to 1971, is now the lid lifter for 500 fever.  With roots reaching back to 1953 and once the second most significant contest on the Championship Trail, the Hoosier Hundred takes place on Thursday, a variance from the former Hulman Hundred held on Fridays.  Sadly, Saturday's Night Before the 500 midget mainstay at IRP has morphed into an asphalt Silver Crown chore contested on Friday.  But, it’s good to know that some things don’t change, as Anderson's Little 500 continued for the 69th time in 2017.  Naturally, weekend dirt sprint car options are aplenty in Bloomington (Josh Burton Memorial), Putnamville (MSCS), Haubstadt (MSCS), Kokomo (BC's Indiana Double), and Lawrenceburg (WoO).  Daytona may bill itself as the world center of racing, but it has nothing on Indianapolis, especially in this magical month.   

Owning four 500 tickets but only having two takers (myself and my nephew), I extended an invitation to Campbell, California’s Steve Lafond, as his bucket list has always included Indy.  The lure of the Hulman Classic, Hoosier Hundred, Bloomington, Little 500, and Kokomo, along with a pair of visits to Perkinsville’s Bonge’s Tavern, were added bonuses, making for a quality-filled quest to satisfy a serious need for speed.  Monday’s Lawrenceburg WoO war was also discussed as a possibility if enough energy existed. 

Hoping to share this jam-packed week with a first-timer, of course Mother Nature had her say in the matter.  Heavy all-day rain on Wednesday not only took down Terre Haute, but it also rendered the Indy Mile unworthy of Thursday activity thanks to a sloppy mixture of sand and clay, nixing such a rare opportunity for a heavy Hoosier Hundred surface.  Taking a peek at the extended forecast through Monday, the rest of the holiday weekend was in serious doubt as well, stressing me out beyond belief.  If there was one thing I was reminded in these six days, it was to only take a look at the forecast one day at a time, as Indiana weather will change with infinite frequency.  Why I chose to subject myself to such premature misery is beyond me, as there’s nothing more foolish than fretting over something that’s completely out of my control. 

Working half days from Wednesday through Friday to preserve precious PTO, after the Hulman Classic call Steve and I hustled to the IMS museum to absorb an outstanding A.J. Foyt exhibit.  In awe of A.J.'s assembly of midgets, sprints, champ dirt cars, front engine roadsters, rear engine Indycars (including the tub from his 1990 turn one Road America accident), sports cars, stocks cars, engines (I loved the original 4-cam Ford V-8), artwork, trophies, and other memorabilia, I enjoyed every aspect of this extensive inventory, wishing that the 1967 LeMans winning Ford GT-40 Mark IV and 1983 Daytona 24 Hour winning Porsche 935 were also present. 

Bumping into three-time MSCS champion Alex Shanks who now assists in the operation of Patty Bateman’s Silver Crown chariot (to be piloted on Thursday by Casey Shuman), Alex noted that his fellow Bateman Racing team members purchased an Indy brick in honor of their recently deceased driver and were using this rainy afternoon to stumble upon it.  Alex introduced me to Randy’s wife Patty, who wiped away tears while commenting that she remembered celebrating a wedding anniversary at this very museum just a few short years ago, adding that one of her husband’s final wishes was for her to keep the racing team intact.  Emotional yet resilient, Patty has indeed had a rough go of late, having lost her brother just one month after Randy passed.  Just like Indy 500 week weather, I'm sure Patty would agree that when it rains, it indeed pours. 

Because of Lafond's Tuesday flight schedule scrambling, Wednesday's trip to Bonge's Tavern was the first of the week, no doubt the best-possible scenario for any racing rainout.  As always, the food, service, and atmosphere were incredible, enjoying an excellent morel mushroom appetizer and New York Strip Stroganoff entree for the first time.  Thursday morning's overcast skies yet absence of precipitation gave hope for that elusive heavy Hoosier Hundred, but while lunching at the nearby Pint Room we received the shocking news that it was not to be, instead hustling in anger to Anderson Speedway to catch Little 500 qualifications.  Even on a high-banked asphalt surface, traction was impacted by the previous day's deluge, as weepers on the backstretch continually wreaked havoc.  Chilly and windy conditions also contributed to the difficulty in warming up tires to proper temperature.  Qualifiers get three shots at taking the green flag and the early theme had car after car waving off attempts in the mid-11 second bracket, only to find out on their final run that the surface actually slowed down.  Fifteen cars would lock in from Thursday's two hour session, resulting in a front row of Caleb Armstrong, Kyle Hamilton (Klatt 5), and last year's winner Kody Swanson (Nolen 4), all in Beast chassis.  C.J. Leary served up a pleasant surprise in 4th (Fordyce 4) but the biggest news was the inability of Aaron Pierce, Brian Tyler, Tony Stewart (Hoffman 69), and Ken Schrader (Armstrong 99) to register a top-15 time.    

While I worked my final hours before the big weekend, Steve joined my nephew for some crazy Carb Day camaraderie.  Reconvening in Bloomington for the Josh Burton Memorial, we were finally able to catch a real race thanks to beautiful Friday weather.  A stacked field of 35 sprinters boasted visitors such as Andretti, Ballou, Boespflug, Cottle, Cummins (Pollock 21x), Darland (subbing for Chris Windom in the Baldwin 5), Leary, Mark Smith (Byram 3R), Stanbrough (Wingo 77), Sussex, and Thomas (KTJ), all vying for a $14,090 feature purse paying $3,504 to win and $404 to start.  The extra four dollars to start and win were of course in honor of Josh Burton’s numerals, with the Jerry Burton Masonry DRC piloted tonight by Okie Tyler Thomas, who already has a Kokomo Speedway score in 2017.   It’s hard to believe that four years have expired since Josh’s passing at this very venue on this very evening before the Indy 5.

Under overcast skies, much like April's USAC union Bloomington's surface started heavy and actually ended the same.  Inverting the fastest four from timed hot laps (Tyler Thomas, Stanbrough, Ethan Barrow, and Lee Underwood were quickest), heat race overtaking was sacrificed in favor of a fantastic feature.  Each of the four heats were won from the front row (Leary, Shane Cockrum (Paul 24), Kyle Cummins, and Brandon Maddox), with the fourth row being the furthest anyone traveled to take a transfer (Hunter O'Neal). 

Passing became plentiful in a pair of B-mains, taking three out of the first and two out of the second, the odd number occurring because C.J. Leary lost a power plant in the process of his heat victory.  The continuation of a hugely disappointing season thus far, Leary was slated to start from the feature pole position.  Darland, Sussex, and Boespflug moved on from the first while fifth-starting A.J. Hopkins and Jarett Andretti annexed the final feature transfers from the second.  Andretti ousted Shane Cottle, slipping underneath the 1992 AMSA mini sprint champ who always excels around the bottom. 

Firing Cockrum and Cummins from the feature front row, the outside of rows six, seven, eight, and ten contained Thomas (Kevin), Short, Darland, and Boespflug.  Offering four different leaders in Cockrum, Cummins, Jordan Kinser (Hurst 70), and KTJ, the top was treacherous in turn one as evidenced by a pair of dances with disaster by the pride of Princeton, Indiana.  Cummins circled Cockrum for the lead through three and four fairly early but bounced through turn one’s choppy cushion and erased his advantage.  Rebounding for yet another three and four sweep of Shane, Kyle clipped that same tricky turn one cushion and bounced into a spin on lap 12.  Cummins quickly called it quits on the restart, right before a three car scrum dumped Barrow, Bland, and Cole Smith, also leaving Mark Smith spun.  While under red, Kevin Thomas, Jr.’s Pace 44 caught fire on the front straight.  Kevin unbelted and frantically tried to get the attention of safety personnel, but it would be photographer Chris Pedersen arriving first with an extinguisher. Kevin was able to restart from the sixth position.   

At the crossed flags, Jordan Kinser blew past Cockrum at turn three and collected the lead.  One lap later, Tyler Thomas and fourth-running Robert Ballou tangled at the bottom of turn two, sending Ballou to the infield grass and edge of the track to influence one final caution, under which he expressed his appreciation to A.J. Hopkins. 

KTJ restarted fourth and quickly disposed of Maddox, Cockrum, and Kinser with some high-side heroics.  Restarting fifth from an original start of 17th, Hopkins proved that his B-main blast was no fluke, aggressively attacking the top to secure second.  Tyler Thomas took an eventful third place after a final restart of eighth.  Both leading laps, Kinser settled for fourth while Cockrum collected fifth.  Sussex, Stanbrough, Darland, Short, and Ballou were sixth through tenth at the 10:20 PM checkered flag, only the third Bloomington show of a water-logged 2017 campaign.  After Brady Short's first win of the season on June 2nd, Bloomington's next bout is this coming Friday for the fourth stop of Indiana Midget Week. 

Saturday was of course all about Anderson’s Pay Less Supermarkets Little 500.  Notified by text message of a mid-day sellout, it’s the first time in my 26 years of attending that I can remember such a thing.  Thankfully, I had a trio of tickets thanks to 43-year Kroger marketing assistant Kevin Kotansky, who has always been so generous in extending such a benefit to this accountant who only pretends to write about racing.  Retiring from the grocery giant immediately after this event, Kotansky was heavily involved in Kroger’s philanthropic and community affairs and if he had to go out, he might as well have done it in such grand style.  Obviously thrilled to wave the green flag to the field of 33, one could easily discern that this lifelong racing fanatic was having the time of his life. 

But before the unleashing of Little 500 fury, Steve and I were able to dine at Perkinsville’s Bonge’s Tavern one more time, bringing Rob Botts and a group of nine New Zealanders led by Bryce Townsend.  All twelve of us occupied the back room and this time around, I chose the much more manageable surf and turf as my entrée, with the highlight of the meal undoubtedly being chef Tony Huelster’s dessert made especially for our group:  strawberry rhubarb pie.  Completely going out of his way to grab some fresh rhubarb from a friend earlier in the day, Tony went above and beyond to fulfill my special request from Wednesday.  Although I may not be an official connoisseur of excellent eats, I have to say that piece of pie was one of the best things I’ve ever devoured in my life.  No joke - it really was that good!  And to top it off, they actually had dump cake (my all-time favorite up to now), so I was obliged to take a piece of that home too!  Much like a trip to the Indy and Little 5, any excursion to Bonge’s is extra special and if you have not been, what are you waiting for? 

Getting back to Anderson, parking was unusually challenging thanks to the sellout.  Scrounging to find a spot west of the track and on the opposite side of a very active CSX railroad line, thankfully my vehicle was unscathed upon return.  Forced to sit in our assigned seats in section B on the front stretch, unfortunately this wasn’t my preferred turn one vantage point, mentally noting that I’ll have to order seats for next year.  Elated for track owner Rick Dawson that the race was a sellout, undoubtedly the additional crowd came to see Stewart.  Kenny Schrader was just a bonus for veteran fans who haven’t seen him in a midget, sprint, or Silver Crown car in ages. 

It’s always an agonizing thing to summarize something as frenetic as the Little 500, as far too much happens over the course of these three hours, not to mention the fact that I hate taking notes as the action unfolds.  But in the simplest summary imaginable, albeit in a completely different ride, last year’s winner Kody Swanson was once again the man to beat but lost the race on pit strategy.  Swanson snagged the lead from Shane Cottle (Contos 14) around lap 285 and stayed out front until lap 468, when he became the caution he so desperately needed in order to make his second mandatory pit stop.  That caution came when Cottle was exiting pit road at the entrance to turn one just as Kyle Hamilton was preparing to overtake Swanson for the lead.  Kyle wound up being the meat in a three car sandwich and connected with Kody.  A resulting tour of the spin cycle removed Swanson from contention, as he lost a pair of laps in the process of being pushed off and then pitting.  Hamilton had pitted during the most recent yellow on lap 351 but Swanson and Santos chose not to.  The subsequent lengthy green flag run of over 100 laps cost Kody and Bobby dearly, as they had last pitted for fuel and rubber on lap 194.   

In the final 26 lap sprint, Santos was able to get back on the lead lap while Swanson expressed his displeasure with Hamilton by ramming his rear bumper on lap 496.  At the conclusion, only Hamilton and Santos had completed 500 laps, with Tony Stewart soldiering home third in his maiden Little 500 voyage, two laps in arrears.  Swanson settled for an unsavory fourth, also two laps behind.  Floridian Mickey Kempgens collected fifth and was three laps behind the leader.  Pole sitter Armstrong, Scotty Hampton (Powell 59), Cottle, two-time winner Jacob Wilson, and Schrader (12 laps down) rounded out the top-ten finishers. 

After starting 21st, Stewart’s finish of third looked good on paper, but he was at best a fifth to tenth place runner, first falling a lap behind on 355 and losing yet another on 396.  Saving his best for last, he turned up the heat in the final 100 rounds and got aggressive while taking back one of those laps from leader Swanson.  Aided by an all-star crew that consisted of nine-time winner Eric Gordon, the question is:  will Stewart and the Hoffmans do it again next year? 

The Little 500 is always a race of what-ifs and buts, with so many contenders falling by the wayside.  Inside row two starter and race rookie Austin Nemire climbed a wheel on lap 29 and pounded the turn one wall in the Sam Pierce Racing 16.  Perennial contender Shane Hollingsworth and his Nolen 20 nearly swallowed a Nemire wheel, taking him out of contention with an early pit stop.  Brian Gerster led some laps but was out on 226.  After reverting to a backup car in order to qualify, two-time winner Brian Tyler showed smoke and retired on lap 255.  Jerry Coons, Jr. was out on lap 262, spinning after his front end was folded from contact with teammate Kody Swanson.  

A throwback to carefree times when racing was much more dangerous and far more interesting, the fact that the Little 500 still survives and thrives could have something to do with the notion that fans need something real and exciting to fill the void.  Having their senses dulled by the same-old, same-old, this race is anything but that.   I fell in love with the Little 5 a long time ago and all these years later, the flames are still burning bright. 

If one were to solely have relied on the dreadful weather forecasts for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500, the belief that the greatest spectacle in racing would become the greatest spectacle in raining would have been reason enough to sleep in on Sunday morning.  Even as late as Saturday night, the prediction for Sunday showers still loomed large, enough that many, including myself, had given in to the idea that the race would be conducted on Monday.  However, much to my surprise, Sunday dawned sunny, with meteorologists suddenly guaranteeing that the 500 miles would be completed without fail.   With such sophisticated technology allowing accurate, to-the-minute predictions of when rain will fall, how could something so certain all of a sudden be so wrong? 

At this stage, I don’t need any explanations.  This felt like a gift from above and suddenly all was right with the world.  Even better, the race and everything that comes with it did not disappoint one bit.  Kicking off such a special day with several of the vintage A.J. Foyt cars being driven around the oval (Tony Stewart and Davey Hamilton were a pair of pilots), I was thoroughly in awe of the 101st Airborne Division “Screaming Eagles” helicopter exhibition in which a pair of helicopters lifted into the sky a dozen or so linked-together troops who had swooped down earlier to deliver the green flag.  The playing of Taps stirred emotions and drew tears as it always does.  However, the supercharging of emotions to an all-time level came courtesy of Indiana University school of music alum and Chicago Blackhawks performer Jim Cornelison, as he was entrusted with the singing of Back Home Again in Indiana.  Words cannot describe just how incredible Cornelison’s rendition was, hoping that the Speedway will lock him in to become a new tradition.  And last but not least, I was so happy to hear Tony George give the command to start engines.  Just like his grandfather, I’m hoping that this too becomes the new normal at IMS.  Raceday is all about the details and just like the 100th lap tribute to Bryan Clauson on the scoring pylon, Indy always delivers. 

If all the pre-race stuff wasn't amazing, then there was the on-track product.  Passing was plentiful all day, with the 15 different leaders becoming a new record for the race.  So impressed with Andretti Autosport's race day speed, I was certain that either Hunter-Reay, Alonso, or defending winner Rossi would win.  Unfortunately, each had issues that cost them a shot.  Scott Dixon's flight into the fence after launching over Jay Howard's left rear was as scary as I have seen in my decades of attendance.  So lucky to walk away with just minor injuries, the crash capped off an up and down week of cheating death after Scott and Dario Franchitti were robbed at gunpoint at a 16th Street Taco Bell the same night of capturing the pole position.  As always, Dixon handled each adversity like a pro.  Helio Castroneves's outside turn three overtakings in the final sprint to the finish were truly breathtaking, enough to convince me that we'd have another four-time winner.  The last of those passes involved a fearless Takuma Sato, who regained his composure to strike gold at turn one's entry a few laps later.  In a role reversal of 2012 when he was doing everything he could to squeeze underneath Dario, Takuma had to step it up to fend off the advances of the cagey Brazilian.  It's always great to see a first-time winner of the 500, especially when the driver is overcome with genuine emotion like Sato.  The only downside to the day was that the rain that was forecasted did finally arrive, just as we had completed the drive to Kokomo Speedway for Sunday night's BC Indiana Double.  Moved to Monday, obviously any shot at landing in Lawrenceburg was nixed, as I wanted to once again bask in the glow of Bryan's post-500 victory one year prior, especially after watching and reading the various tear-jerking pieces produced by ESPN to commemorate the impact of Clauson's organ donations.

So odd to be back in Kokomo on a Monday afternoon, 27 sprint cars competed for a double purse ($2,800 to win) and double points, joined by a very slim cast of ten midgets.   Those 27 sprinters represented a who's-who of Indiana's best, with Jon Stanbrough (Jimmy and Mike Wingo 77), Max McGhee (family owned 17), Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Gass 17), and Dave Darland (Hery 40) serving as surprises in their respective rides, joined for the first time this year by local Logan Jarrett in his usual 29.  Bumping into Stanbrough assistant Kevin Price, he was still glowing from his tour around Indianapolis Motor Speedway early on Carb Day morning.  Taking seven or eight leisurely laps, Price had the pleasure of piloting a front wheel drive Miller/Offenhauser.  Now owned by Frankfort’s Billy Miller who operates Goodwin Funeral Home, this particular piece was actually driven to a second place finish in 1946 by rookie Jimmy Jackson.  1946 happened to be my father’s first 500. 

With cars on the track before 5 PM, the entirety of this BC double was conducted in daytime conditions.   Thankful to have remembered to slap on some sunscreen for the second straight day, those harmful rays were not only of zero concern for my skin but also for surface conditions, as Reece O’Connor’s clay only turned to dust during the B-main.  Justin Grant posted the top time from three group hot lap/qualifying sessions (12.758) while Justin Peck (Irwin 7k) was the best from two midget (13.557).  Inverting the fastest four as usual, the trio of sprint heats were hailed from either the first or second row by Chad Boespflug, Dave Darland, and C.J. Leary.  The all-important second spot guaranteed a redraw and some dandy battles ensued between Jarett Andretti and Max McGhee (heat one) and Tyler Courtney and Robert Ballou (heat three).  After falling to fifth in heat two and struggling with the handling on his Maxim, Justin Grant had to have given up on the idea of that redraw.  However, a red flag for Parker Frederickson allowed him to discuss in-car shock adjustments with crew chief Sam McGhee, who was barking out orders from the concrete concourse.  Grant would eventually grab two spots after the restart, indicative of how this combination continues to click at a high level.  In addition to Frederickson, Stevie Sussex (Dutcher 17) dumped in the first heat while attempting a turn four sweep of Stanbrough.  The younger Frederickson was not finished, landing on his lid once again in the B.  Said consolation was claimed by  Chris Windom, who had a right rear go down in his heat.  Sussex returned and made the main, as did Tim Creech who kept the still-rusty Jarrett out.  Somehow surviving a concrete kiss between one and two, Peck would win the first midget heat while May 7th winner Davey Ray snagged the second. 

With a complete revival in order for the A-main, the final event of my week of 500 fever would turn out to be wet, wild, and wicked fast.   Dave Darland and Tyler Courtney drew the front row for this thirty-lapper but given the 2017 success of sixth-starting Justin Grant, I’m not sure just how many would have picked either to win from the front.  As it turned out, Dave led all but one lap and scored his first win at Kokomo since August 29, 2015.  Remembering intense USAC championship battles between Darland and Clauson in 2012 and 2013, I also recall a rather significant statement from Dave regarding Bryan at the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum Sprint Car 101 session held last December at Hoosier Tire Midwest.   Dave mentioned that records are meant to be broken and he fully expected and wanted his to be shattered by Bryan.  Just writing that once again gives me goose bumps, but those words immediately came to mind as he parked it on the victory ramp on Monday.  The win was Dave's first of 2017, hoping to build momentum to add one more year to his streak of consecutive seasons with USAC triumphs that dates back to 1993. 

The win was anything but easy for Darland, as Tyler Courtney would give him a run for his money.  With the top four of Darland, Courtney, Andretti, and Grant mired in heavy traffic with 13 laps left, Sunshine used Tyler Hewitt as a pick and circled The People's Champ at the exit of turn four.  The lead was short lived however, as Dave immediately served a successful slider through one and two.  Launching similar bombs to get through turn one congestion, they seemingly aided Darland in sealing the deal.  Never advised to count chickens before they hatch, a late race flip from C.J. Leary bunched the field for a two lap sprint to the finish.  Courtney would inch extremely close coming to the white flag but when preparing to pull the trigger on a titanic slide for life through one and two, Tyler's Topp Motorsports Maxim tilted on two wheels, allowing the Mark Hery owned DRC/Claxton to escape with the W.  Courtney returned to earth and collected second while Grant gathered third.  Andretti and Ballou rounded out the first five while Windom (up 10 spots), McGhee, Cottle, Boespflug, and Tony DiMattia earned sixth through tenth place money.

The accompanying 20-lap midget battle was won by pole sitter Justin Peck, who led every lap despite imminent threats from Davey Ray and 14 year-old Clauson-Marshall Racing protégé Zeb Wise.  Wise once again showed no fear in attacking Kokomo's top shelf, slipping over the cushion between turns one and two on more than one occasion.  Ray launched one final bomb in turn one on the last lap but couldn't repeat his earlier May success.  Seven cars finished the affair with the top three of Peck, Ray, and Wise the only ones to complete all 20 tours.  Jimi Quin and Logan Arnold rounded out the top-five. 

Still dragging after a same day ride to and from Knoxville, Iowa for National Sprint Car Hall of Fame induction ceremonies and the USAC sprint car contest, (my nephew - a.k.a. "Iron Man" - drove the entire distance), I decided to skip Kokomo Speedway's June 4th outing (claimed by Kevin Thomas, Jr.) to rest up and prepare for Midget Week, which concludes in Kokomo on June 11th.  Planning ahead, please be sure to get there early, as there will most certainly be a packed house on hand with backstretch seating still not available.     

By now, it's mid-day Wednesday, several hours removed from a lengthy evening spent in Montpelier, Indiana and a 12:50 AM arrival at my abode, only to be waken far too soon by a 6 AM alarm clock.  The cumulative effects of a bustling Indy 500 week, an insane one day excursion to Knoxville, and the onset of Midget Week, all while attempting to arise for work every week day, might just be the death of me.  Some say that you can sleep when you're dead, and I guess they would be correct, as nothing is going to get in my way of these all-important weeks of racing insanity.  Thinking back to a statement made by my sister in-law many moons ago, she claimed that I'm not just a racing fan, but rather a "fanatic", perhaps implying that something is a little off in my mental make-up.  In my own defense, all I can do is shrug my shoulders and blame my condition on 500 fever, an affliction I've been dealing with since 1985.  Still under the influence in 2017, it is truly a hard habit to break. 

 

 

 

Volume 19, Number 5

Night and Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Volume 19, Number 4

Crowning Achievement

Time flies when you're having fun. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Volume 19, Number 2

Twice as Nice

Once is great, but twice is even better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

 

Volume 19, Number 1

Here I Go Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

Loving Every Minute of It – The Greg Staab Story

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  Evendale?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  So they were pretty big?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GS:  October 27th, 1979. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  He was a bad-ass huh!

 

GS:  Pretty much. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GS:  Mmm, MMM!  Mmm, MMM!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GS:  Tri-County!  Tri-County Speedway. 

 

KO:  When it was dirt?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  You had to be pumped.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  Man!  It was a different world.

 

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

 

KO:  Too many guys getting killed…

 

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

 

KO:  Safety just wasn’t even a consideration.

 

GS:  Um-hmmm.  

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  Tough love from Mel?

 

GS:  I’d say that’s a good one! 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  What’s Don’s last name?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  Is Timmy Martini any relation to Denny Martini?

 

GS:  Brother. 

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  Rich Vogler?

 

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

 

KO:  Who did you like to race against? 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  Anybody else you remember like that?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  Go hard or go home!

 

GS:  Um-hum. 

 

KO:  No provisionals either.

 

GS:  It wasn’t even heard of.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GS:  Bad…really bad.

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  But you did it the class way.

 

GS:  I backed off and ran second.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GS:  Yeah.  That was the greatest one. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  And where would that have been?

 

GS:  That was at Lawrenceburg. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  And be able to keep chasing that dream…

 

GS:  Oh yeah!  Exactly.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  It’s amazing what confidence can do.

 

GS:  Oh, it was incredible! 

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  Were you running huggy pole then?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GS:  Absolutely.  With Jim McQueen wrenching.

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  How did you land that deal?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  How long did that relationship last?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GS:  Yes.  Very same one. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GS:  Schrader was right out ahead of me. 

 

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

 

GS:  Yep. 

 

KO:  In the Data Processing Solutions number 71. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  A hard guy to figure out I guess?

 

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

 

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

 

GS:   Yeah, you don’t question it. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  Oh WOW! 

 

GS:  (Laughing)

 

KO:  Unbelievable!

 

GS:  Yep.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  So did you like backing it in?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  Bruce Flanders?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  Very nice!

 

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

 

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

 

GS:  OH YEAH! 

 

KO:  Any of them we talked about previously?

 

GS:  OH YEAH!

 

KO:  Any guys that won championships?

 

GS:  Uh huh!  Uh huh! 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GS:  ’87 was wings. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GS:  Well thank you!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

GS:  Leslie Bremer!  Ha ha! 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GS:  Yes they do!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  Okay.  Yeah, I can check that. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  But definitely a fast little joint.

 

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

 

KO:  Pretty good?

 

GS:  Very good.  Very good.

 

KO:  Do you still make them up here?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  That had to make you feel special. 

 

GS:  Oh, it was great!  Great! 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO: So definitely your hardest crash?

 

GS:  Oh, no question about it! 

 

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

 

GS:  I was off ten days or nine days.

 

KO:  Still pretty groggy when you got back?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  Man, that would have been awesome! 

 

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

 

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

 

GS:  Yay! 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GS:  Very good.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  So that’s still in there?

 

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

 

KO:  That takes some balls.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

   

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  It sounds like it could happen.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  So you like German food then?

 

GS:  Yes I do! 

 

KO:  Any good places in Indianapolis other than Rathskeller?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  The right way to do it.

 

GS:  Absolutely. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  Another Cincinnati guy. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GS:  Um-hmm. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  Did you miss working with Rollie Helmling?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GS:  Correct. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GS:  No sir.  No marriages for me. 

 

KO:  Married to racing?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  But it stuck!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

He said, “Ok.  If you say so.” 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GS:  My favorite racetrack?

 

KO:  Yeah. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  Awesome!

 

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

 

KO:  So Ascot just had everything?

 

GS:  Including Leslie Bremer! 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GS:  That’s Ralph.

 

KO:  Hey Ralph! 

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GS:  Wow!   

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  That falls into the respect deal obviously. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GS:  Yeah.  It encompasses so many. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Just crazy.  Crazy!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GS:  I don’t think so.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  Was there an Offy in that?

 

GS:  That was a flathead V-8 Ford. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  So how is life in Indianapolis?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  I just wondered about the Bengals’ stadium. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  There’s only one Tony Dungy. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

GS:  Yes. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

 

GS: Yeah.  Like a Speedrome.  Yeah. 

 

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

 

GS:  They run those Lucas Oil modifieds out there.

 

KO:  I’m still admiring this schedule.

 

GS:  Brutal, wasn’t it?

 

KO:  Yeah.  It was brutal. 

 

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

 

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

 

Obviously the DARF driver of the year award.

 

KO:  1983.

 

GS:  It’s a great big one.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

KO:  Kneeling down…let’s see…

 

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

 

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

 

GS:  That was from when I retired.  John Capels presented that to me on the front stretch when I left the sport as a driver.

 

KO:  A lot of HARF awards.  Of course 25 years of service, 2004, City of Cincinnati.  You were probably glad to get that one!

 

GS:  Pooey! 

 

KO:  And how about these Certificates of Appreciation from USAC?  Down there in the corner, it looks like Dick Jordan gave those. 

 

GS:  I have to see which ones they are.  I’ve lost some of them.

 

KO:  It says, “For his contributions to the United States Auto Club through generous cooperation with the USAC news bureau in regards to pre-race publicity.”  There’s one from USAC – ’91 through ’96.  So what about those?

 

GS:  Those are both track related.  When I had the Lawrenceburg Speedway, I cooperated with them on various items there that they are speaking about.

 

And I’ve got trophies down below but I don’t have a place to put them.  The one I’d like to put up there is that big, old Volusia County one.  It’s that (motioning) tall. 

 

KO:  That’s cool.

 

GS:  Ledford had one made for me.

 

I don’t know if you saw the helmets or not – there’s every helmet but two that I ever had.  I’m sorry – three!  One’s in the Knoxville Hall of Fame.  Two of them Bell kept because they were broken too bad. 

 

KO:  So who painted your helmets?

 

GS:  Dale Burton did the first couple.  And he did another one too.  Chip, up in Dayton, did some of them too. 

 

KO:  Another thing I forgot to mention was that your home base for racing was Sayler Park, Ohio.  In speaking with you, Dave Rose, and your friend Jackie Litchfield, I had no idea of the amount of racers that called that area home.  Much like Indy’s west side contains the vast majority of racers in this state, the same could be said for Cincinnati’s Sayler Park.  Can you mention some of the names that pop out in your head as members of the Sayler Park racing community?

 

GS:  Oh gosh!  Sayler Park…the last little ville west of Cincinnati on River Road, which is U.S. 50.  I think there’s a list of about 35 names that I know of that came from Sayler Park.  There was Ross Smith, who ran ARCA and USAC stock cars – and sprint cars too.  There was Jim Bob Luebbert.  Denny Martini. 

 

A lot of Lawrenceburg promoters were from Sayler Park.  Charles “Shotgun” Noppert, Joe Noppert, and Roy Mattlin, who were all three promoters at the same time, came from the area.  Craig Stevens, father of current sprint car driver Brad, was also a Lawrenceburg promoter from Sayler Park. 

 

Let’s see who else I can remember…of course I already mentioned Roy Mattlin, but there was also Donnie Mattlin, Tommy Mattlin, and Scotty Mattlin, who now races modifieds.  Tom Soudrette and Jason Soudrette.  Jason now runs sprint cars at The Burg.  Dwayne Spille.  Larry Beck.  Bruce Stevens.  Timmy Martini.  One of my old crewmembers Mike “Lunch Meat” Litchfield.  Nick Litchfield.  Brian and Jeff Litchfield.  Ollie Zimmerman.  Don Woodworth.  Pat Patrick. 

 

Every one of those names had involvement in racing.  And every one of them had ties to Sayler Park. 

 

KO:  Wow!  I never knew so many people could come from one area.  And I thought Cincinnati wasn’t a racing town!  That’s very impressive. 

 

Well, that’s all the questions I have.  I guess that’s a wrap!  I’m officially worn out.  Let’s shut this baby off. 

 

GS:  Sounds good!  Thank you. 

 

As I usually state after every lengthy Q&A piece from the Bullring Scene, if you have made it this far, you are to be congratulated!  I hope you enjoyed the ride and please come back again soon.  Feedback is welcomed at bullringko@aol.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

End of an Era:  The Extended Version

 

While the vast majority basked in the glow of a thrilling 2016 Indiana sprint car finale which also happened to be one of the best battles anyone has ever witnessed in the rich history of the Terre Haute Action Track, little did they know just how much this event would alter the Indiana sprint car landscape that we have become so accustomed to for the past two decades. 

 

Settling for third behind that dynamic duo of Chris Windom and Chad Boespflug was Jerry Coons, Jr. Immediately after Jerry completed his front stretch interview for the frenzied fans, Coons’s car owner Monte Edison took a deep breath and began that long trek back to the pit area outside of turns three and four.  At that particular time, only a select few knew that this was his last hurrah as an active participant and although it would have been truly storybook to exit with a win, the former electrical engineer had to feel a small sense of satisfaction after also taking third the previous night in Kokomo, in the hunt until the very end.  Breaking the shocking news to the rest of his team and anyone that was within earshot once that hike was completed, naturally it was a time to celebrate a solid run and reflect on an awesome career.  As they say, all good things must come to an end. 

 

Quite fitting and rather ironic that Monte’s 22 year career as a sprint car owner would conclude at the same place it all began back in May of 1995, his red racer, first numbered 79 for Gary Fisher, then 37 for Mike Mann, and eventually 10 for Mark Clark, Bill Rose, A.J. Anderson, Shane Cottle, Scotty Weir, Jon Stanbrough, Casey Shuman, Billy Puterbaugh, and Jerry Coons, Jr., could be counted on to not only compete but also be a factor in the final rundown on any Friday night in Gas City, any Sunday in Kokomo,  and any time big money was on the line in the Hoosier state.  Winners of 12 track championships and 89 feature victories (5 under the USAC banner), the thought of an Indiana sprint car contest without the familiar Crume-Evans entry just doesn’t seem correct, but such is the current state of affairs in racing.  Nothing stays the same and the times are indeed undergoing a massive metamorphosis, with old-school car owners like Edison disappearing at a far too rapid rate.      

 

So consider the 2016 Indiana sprint car curtain closer as the end of an era, as the last two decades of local competition have been dominated by this team and the man whose modest vision eventually became a motorsports dynasty.  Wishing to commemorate his extremely productive career, obtain the lowdown on his decision to call it quits, and gain his thoughts on the sport, I made the short drive north to Kokomo to share an extended discussion with Monte Edison on an otherwise gorgeous, sun-splashed November afternoon.  Over the years, I have always enjoyed the brief moments when I was fortunate enough to gather a few words of his wisdom but after a couple of hours, I found Monte to be even more wise, understated, and interesting.  Making my own feeble attempt to lure him back as an owner, he had clearly made up his mind and wasn’t taking the bait.  For an individual as rock-solid as Edison, I would not have expected anything less.    

 

Not nearly as lengthy as my usual Q&A sessions, this extended version of my Flat Out column from the February 2017 issue is still a fun look back on Indiana sprint car racing’s glory days.  Enjoy! 

 

KO:  How long had you been thinking about leaving the sport as a car owner? Was it just this year or had you been mulling it over the last two or three years?

 

Edison:  I was mulling it over.  I made a conscious decision about two or three years ago to try and cut back.  I didn’t want to be running 50 to 60 races a year.  That kind of limits you a little bit. I just didn’t want to be tied down to it 100 percent of the time. 

 

KO:  What was the ultimate deciding factor in calling it quits after 2016?  Was there one factor – the straw that broke the camel’s back so to speak? 

 

Edison:  Laughing.  Yeah, there was.  During the Smackdown this year, we wrecked on the second night.  We didn’t run very good the first night.  We ran like 15th.  And you know, to say you didn’t run very good, at a USAC race, running 15th is not a black eye.  If you would have started up front, you would have run in the top five or ten.  If you start in the back, just getting into the top ten is hard, because every pass is tough.  But, we wrecked the second night, on the first lap of the heat race.  The whole driveline was torn up.  We had to change the rear end and the torque tube, etc.  I was like, “Well, we’re not anywhere on the points…” So, we just came home and washed the car.  And, the next night when I went to the race, I thought to myself, “We could have made the feature.”  That triggered back to two years ago.  We had a motor problem that second night and still made the feature.  I looked at the format and yeah, if you got in the wrong heat race, you might not make it.   But, you probably would, the way the format is. 

 

I just didn’t have the drive that I had two years ago.  (Two years ago) We packed up, went home and changed motors, and came back, and it was hot out.  I thought, three years ago, there would have not been any question.  But, if you don’t have the drive to fix your car and get back to the races, you need to think about going another direction. 

 

KO:  It’s early November.  The weather is still nice.  All that equipment is sitting out in the shop.  The truck and trailer are in the driveway.  Do you think there will be any second thoughts once it turns nice come next spring?  Maybe you’ll have all the stuff sold by then…but have you had any second thoughts whatsoever?

 

Edison: The short answer is no, not really.  As soon as that got out, you get a lot of texts and phone calls.  Sometimes people expressed their gratitude.  You almost feel like you are letting people down.  After I got through that, then it was ok.  My grandkids, they don’t want me to quit.  They like to go out and sit in the car and go to the races.  I kind of relate that back to when I was their age.  In the early 1950s, one of my uncles had a team of horses.  We’d go out in the barn and sit on them horses.  We’d climb up in that stall.  You could get three or four kids on one of them horses.  When he sold the horses, I was heartbroken.  I can kind of relate to how those kids feel.

 

But you know, there were other things that had a factor.   There were other things happening in the sport that I was not in favor of.  I don’t think it’s any secret that I don’t like tire rules.  I think tire rules, if they were done the right way, could be beneficial to the racer.  But the way it is right now, it just costs us more money.  If they had more than one supplier, that would keep the prices down.  As soon as you go to one supplier…

 

KO:  They can do whatever they want?

 

Edison:  Well, not whatever they want.  They still want to maximize their profit.  The people that have studied economics have advised that monopoly prices are about 30 to 50 percent, somewhere in there.  You can buy a Hoosier left rear for $230.  I think just about anyone can walk up to the American Racer dealer and buy one for $150 or $160. 

 

KO:  That adds up after a while.

 

Edison:  I don’t think it’s ever going to go away.  I think some of the sanctioning bodies, and not so much the local tracks, depend on that income.  Some of them get pretty big money for that.

 

KO:   Talk about how you got started as a car owner.  Who or what convinced you that you should make such an investment and get so intimately involved in this sport?  Was it Kent Evans?  Was it your kids?   Was it Tom Chalk?  Or, was it just your own desire?

 

Edison:  It was me.  I wanted to do it.  I don’t think anyone ever approached me or encouraged me to do that.  In fact, a lot of people said, “Do you know what you are getting into here?”  And when we started out, we never really envisioned where we ended up.  We wanted to go to Kokomo and race.  We wanted to go to Putnamville, Bloomington, and Lawrenceburg on occasion, when they had a big race.  No one ever envisioned us going to California or Florida.  We stepped into something and it got way out of control as far as our original intentions.  But, it worked out and I think that all the guys enjoyed doing that.  Some of them even thought that we should go back to California one last time. 

 

KO:  How did you get to know Kent Evans?  Once he bought the Kokomo Speedway, you bought his sprint car equipment.  But, how did you get to know Kent?

 

Edison:  He grew up just down the road from here, in Greentown.  A couple of my friends, well, one of them worked part time for him in the liquor store.  That’s the way that I started helping.  I’d go over and help Gary (Fisher) in his shop for several years before.  After Kent got out, I thought, "Well, we could just keep racing.”  It was just one of those things we got into.

 

KO:  How much was that investment to get started?  I think that was over the off-season after 1994.

 

Edison:  They had two cars, some wheels, and one motor.  I think we gave like $18,000, which wasn’t bad.  We had everything we needed to go race.  All we had to do was clean things up, repaint it, and go racing.  It’s really the best way to get into racing – to find someone who wants to get out.  Now, we were running with an open trailer, but a lot of people were at that time. 

 

KO:  If your intention was to just go to Kokomo with a few trips to Putnamville or Bloomington, there’s nothing wrong with that.  California, it’s a whole different deal.

 

How many wins did you end up with?

 

Edison:  I believe the number was 89. 

 

KO:  I counted 12 track championships…is that accurate?

 

Edison:  I thought we had 13, but 12 may be right.  I’m not a good record keeper. 

 

KO:  We can go over the stats at the end, but regardless of the exact number, you won a lot of races and a lot of track championships.  Were your initial expectations to have that much success?

 

Edison:  Well, the first time we won a track championship, that was a pretty big deal.  Of course, that happened over at Gas City.  Gas City opened the second year we raced.  We had Mike Mann driving for us at that time and that guy was just born to drive at Gas City.  He liked the place.  He was good there.  He could beat anyone there.  We started behind J.J. Yeley one time and hell, he passed him on the second lap and pulled away.  J.J. was kicking everyone’s butt at the time and he got to Gas City and it was a different story.  You know, Mike could beat anyone at Gas City.  He didn’t like Kokomo so well because it was flat.  You could see the change in attitude between Friday and Sunday.  He’d walk in Gas City like he was the man and walk in at Kokomo and he’d be like, “Eh, we’re at Kokomo again…” And that makes a big difference in how a guy drives.  He did win a track championship at Kokomo for us one year.

 

KO:  What were your initial expectations when you bought the equipment?  Was it to go have fun or was it to win races and championships?

 

Edison:  I think all the guys are pretty competitive and want to win.  As you know, it’s hard to win.  I think it’s harder to win now than when we first started.  Especially at Kokomo, because people don’t go to Kokomo on Sunday night and have to get up for work on Monday morning unless they think they can win.  That sorts out a lot of people.  It’s almost like a USAC race every Sunday night. 

 

KO:  Before helping out Kent Evans, what was your involvement in racing? 

 

Edison:  I started out drag racing in 1970 and 1971.  The first year, I just helped a guy who I had worked around.  At the end of the year, he wanted me to drive the car.  And the next year, we went out to the track and he never drove it again after that.  Drag racing is not that hard.  We were running a four speed transmission.  Some people can’t shift gears, for whatever reason.  You have to have a little coordination.  He wasn’t very good and he wasn’t very good on the Christmas tree.  You have to have a sense of timing to be good on the tree.  After drag racing, I got involved with a late model guy.  If I drag raced on Saturday night, I was at Kokomo on Sunday night watching the sprint cars.  Or, if Eldora had a race on Sunday, I’d be over there.  Circle track racing was always number one.  I went to a lot of ASA races and late model races in the ‘70s and ‘80s. 

 

KO:  I did too!  It was a big deal back then.

 

Edison:  Bob Senneker.  Randy Sweet.  I actually played American Legion baseball with Ray Dillon.  We grew up in the same neighborhood.  He went to a different school. 

 

KO:  I remember Mark Martin living up there in North Liberty, building cars with Ray, after he first quit NASCAR in the early 1980s. 

 

Edison:  I think the announcer, Larry McReynolds, was up there with him.  He married a girl from Walkerton and used to stop and see my brother. 

 

KO:  So you did the drag racing and then you helped out a late model driver.  Was it an asphalt late model?

 

Edison:  Yes, it was asphalt.  He ran mostly at Baer Field.  Sometimes he’d go over to Bryan, Ohio.  Actually, that guy raced dirt at Kokomo in the early 1970s. 

 

KO:  Before we started recording this, you mentioned Laporte and South Bend from when you were growing up.  What was your hometown growing up? 

 

Edison:  It was North Liberty – close to it.  We’re country.  Farm boys. 

 

KO:  Where did you end up going to school?  I know you have an engineering background.

 

Edison:  Purdue.  Electrical engineering.  And then, I got an MBA from Ball State.  Up at the air base, they had a deal with Ball State.  Undergraduate and graduate degrees.  They brought professors up here to teach.  You could just drive 12 or 14 miles up the road and go to class on the base.  I think I took two or three courses at the end, just because they were being offered, down in Muncie.  I ended up getting my MBA. 

 

KO:  Was Delco, in Kokomo, your first job right out of school?

 

Edison:  Yes.  That was my whole career – start to finish.

 

KO:  With your engineering education, did that influence your methods of operating a sprint car team?  Would that be safe to say?  I know you were very religious about maintenance on the car, especially on Saturdays and that often prevented you from racing in the middle of the weekend.  Can you add anything more about applying your engineering background to sprint car racing?

 

Edison:  Yeah!  It’s all physics.  If you have a technical background…when I first started, there were a lot of people that said that weight matters in winged cars but not so much in non-winged cars.  And I thought…naw!  After the first year, I always tried to build them as light as I could.  And maybe the second year, you could see it made a difference when we started taking weight off the car.  We hadn’t paid that much attention to it since they put in the weight rule.   I think weight rules are good.  People were doing stuff too light.  We tried some things that just wasn’t enough.  When they tried using aluminum spuds on the front ends, we broke one, so our car tumbled down the straightaway and bounced into the fence.  When a wheel passes you going into the corner, that’s not a good sign. 

 

KO:  So the weight and the physics aspect were aided by your engineering background, but was there anything else? 

 

Edison:  Well, yeah.  You sit around all winter and think of ways to make it go faster.  All the guys are pretty competitive.  I’m competitive.  When you get involved in racing, when you don’t win, you come home and you can’t sleep because you’re going over the race in your mind.  You try and figure out where you went wrong.  And, when you do win, you’re so excited that you can’t go to sleep. 

 

KO:  One way or another that makes for a long Monday at work!  So, take me back to 1995.  Gary Fisher was still the driver.  Mike Mann came the next year.  So, when and where was the first race for you as an owner?

 

Edison:  Terre Haute.

 

KO:  Was that a USAC show?

 

Edison:  Yep.  

 

KO:  What do you remember about that first show?

 

Edison:  We tore up some stuff.   Nothing bad…bent up nerf bars, stuff like that.  I don’t remember where we finished, but one of the things that stuck in my mind was the trailer not towing very good.  (Laughing) Even on the interstate with the crowns in the lanes, when you’d pull out to pass, the trailer would try and steer you.  When you’d pull it back in, it would try and steer you. 

 

KO:  Gosh, I’m trying to remember if you got any wins in that first year.  I don’t remember!

                                                                                                                                                                     

Edison:  No, we didn’t.  We ran decent.  We didn’t have any wins.  We came close a few times.  But, we were green.  Gary knew a lot more about it than we did.  We were in a learning situation.  You know, Gary is a good driver.  And, he knew a lot.  I learned more from Gary than any other single person.  I worked with him a couple of years before that when Kent owned the car.  I spent a lot of time working out in his garage.  Gary was a good fabricator.  He was a good welder.  He had a tubing bender.  He made all the nerf bars and bumpers.  He could repair frames.  Kent would buy stuff and Gary would make it look like new. 

 

KO:  I don’t remember when and why you and Gary split up.  It sounded like you two got along just fine.  What was the reason for the split?

 

Edison:  Yeah, we got along pretty good.  I don’t know.  We just went in a different direction and got Mike Mann.  And at that time, Mike Mann was hitting his peak. 

 

KO:  Right off the bat, you guys got a Gas City championship and I’m sure a bunch of wins along the way over there.

 

Edison:  I think we had five wins that year and the bulk of them were at Gas City.  In a three year period when Mann drove for us, I’m trying to remember if it was Brad Dickison or Pat Sullivan, but it was written in the HARF newsletter that in that three year period, Kevin Thomas or Dave Darland had won the most races in Indiana.  Mike Mann won the third most.  He won 20 races in that three year period (’96, ’97, and ’98). 

 

KO:  Mann definitely was on top of the world in that timeframe.  Three Gas City championships, a Kokomo championship in ’97, and a ton of wins as you just mentioned.  When you’re doing so well, what causes people to go in a different direction? 

 

Edison:  Actually, what happened there was Mike wanted to race more.  We really, financially, were not capable of racing more, at that time.  That’s what ended that.  If I was winning as many races as Mike was, I would have wanted to race three nights a week.  I was still working.  Racing three nights a week is a rough deal.  And, there were times we raced three nights a week.  You get off work early on Friday.  You get home around midnight.  You get up, wash the car.  And if you’re racing Saturday night, from here you’ve got to drive two or three hours.  So, you’ve got to be ready to go shortly after lunch.  And then, come home, get up the next morning, wash it again and go to Kokomo.  You get home from there at whatever time.  And at that point in time, I was working in Anderson.  I had to get up at 5:30 in the morning to be at work at 7:30.  That was a tough weekend.  And then, I’d have to come home on Monday night and wash the car all over again.  I’d be out there in the shop until 11 or 12 o’clock every night.  I’d get back up at 5:30 in the morning and drive to work. 

 

KO:  I remember Mark Clark being your next driver for 1999 and then midway through the next season, A.J. Anderson was hired.  Mike Mann had been around racing forever with his dad and I’m sure he knew what he wanted with the car.  Compared to Mike, did the team dynamics and amount of decision making change once you had Mark and A.J. in the seat? 

 

Edison:  With Mark, he was probably the hottest new driver going, at that time.  He was not really good at setups yet.  So, I learned a lot about looking at the track.  I always had the philosophy of the driver needing to know what you’ve done to the car once he gets in it.  I learned a lot because Mark agreed with everything I said.  He started getting better.  But then Mark got hurt in our car at Kokomo.  That hurt him physically, and mentally too.  When you get hurt like he did, it affects the way you drive.  That was the downfall in that relationship.  We just weren’t moving ahead.  I like Mark and Mark is still a good friend.  That’s one of the things with most of the drivers, we still have a relationship and consider them friends. 

 

KO:  So was there something you were looking for in your drivers back in ’99 and 2000 compared to current day?  Were you looking for the hottest guy that might still be crash-prone or were you looking for the hottest guy that would take care of the equipment too?

 

Edison:  Well, we were always looking for someone who would take care of the stuff and was good.  The criteria for picking a driver back in ’99 and 2000 was different than in later years, like 2013.  In 2013, having the driver’s schedule fit what I wanted to do weighed in pretty heavy, and still get a good driver as well.  Jerry fit pretty good, since he had the Silver Crown and midget stuff.  Instead of racing 50 to 60 races a year, it got us back to the 30 to 35 range and still have a good driver who wouldn’t tear stuff up all the time.  And I have to say, most of the drivers we had were not reckless and didn’t tear stuff up because they were overaggressive. 

 

KO:  Going back to that timeframe, the combination of your team with A.J. Anderson seemed like a good fit right off the bat.  Of course, you got your first USAC win at Bloomington during Indiana Sprint Week in 2001, plus you won a Kokomo championship that year as well.   No matter what year it was, a USAC win was and still is a big deal.  I remember A.J. following the infield tires and doing what needed to be done at Bloomington.  Are there any memories of that first USAC win that stand out?

 

Edison:  That was really exciting.  We traded around running third, fourth, and fifth.  We started in the invert.  We were kicking around there.  Then, he got into third place and he traded that back and forth with someone for a while.  But, towards the end of that race it was Jay Drake and J.J. Yeley in front of him.  He passed Drake first, as I recall.  I heard A.J.’s dad say, “Now go after Yeley!”  When he got around Drake, Yeley was a little bit out in front.  He tracked him down and passed him!  I think he caught Yeley off guard.  I’m not sure.  But he passed him in three and four and I think they banged wheels a little bit.  I don’t think Yeley was very happy because he made a comment in the interview.  It was one of them deals:  both guys were racing.  He might have caught Yeley off guard when he drove in on him like that.  But, I’m glad he did it!  That was exciting! 

 

KO:  A USAC win at that time, especially during Sprint Week, was huge.  I’m sure you were looking down on cloud nine.  I don’t know how life could be better! 

 

Edison:  We were all up on the trailer and I don’t know how it stayed upright! 

 

KO:  The USAC sprint car scene is still fairly strong today, but it was super stout at that time.  You had a lot of good local racers making up the scene back in 2001, but you had a lot of professional, full-time racers as well.  There was a lot of money involved back then too. 

 

Do you have any other fond memories of racing with A.J., other than that USAC win?

 

Edison:  You know, he won quite a few races for us and we got along good and had a good time…probably too good!  Sometimes we stayed up late at the track afterwards, especially Kokomo.  It was good.  But, things got stale there and we weren’t moving forward.  I think both of us were ready to do something else.  We just needed to do something different. 

 

KO:  And then the time came…

 

Edison:  Yeah, and Cottle was pretty much an unknown in the sprint car. 

 

KO:  I remember him winning once with Ron Lambertson at Gas City in 2003 but for the longest time, he lived in Illinois and wasn’t a household name in Indiana. 

 

Edison:  One of my friends said, “You’ve got to look at that guy.  You’ve got to look at that guy.”  He finished second at the Chili Bowl, and I’d seen him run a midget when they were running with the sprint cars.  I saw him running one of those 1200 cc mini sprints and he was always running up front.  I thought, “Well, we’ll give this guy a try.”  I hadn’t really seen him enough to know whether or not he’d tear up a lot of stuff.  His father in-law told me that he didn’t tear that much stuff up, but that was after he drove for us a time or two.  Shane is a very, very talented driver, and still is.  I’ve always felt that if he’d been in the right place with the right people, we’d probably be watching him on TV.  I think he had that kind of talent. 

 

KO:  I saw him from the very beginning in the early ‘90s with those mini sprints and I would certainly agree.  No doubt about it though, you guys clicked right off the bat.  I don’t know that he’d ever driven a coil-front sprint car before. 

 

Edison:  No!  And, that was the first year that we had one.  I don’t know that we knew what we were doing either.

 

KO:  You guys just meshed right off the bat.  It didn’t matter if it was Gas City.  It didn’t matter if it was Kokomo.  I remember a strong run at Eldora, and that wasn’t his favorite place. 

 

Edison:  I believe Levi won that race.

 

KO:  It didn’t matter where you went.  You guys were fast.  Terre Haute was one of those places too.  What was it about Shane – obviously you mentioned his talent.  But, was it driver input?  What made you guys go so fast, so quickly?

 

Edison:  I think it was mostly Shane.  People would come up and look at the car and some were noted mechanics.  When we were down at Terre Haute, he kind of set a new track record.  They didn’t recognize it as a record but it stood for a long time.  It was on the second night of a two-night USAC show.  They put a little asterisk there. 

 

People would come up to the car and look at it.  We’d be sitting back in the trailer.  I’d say, “Someone go out there and tell them they’re looking at the wrong thing.  Tell them to go look at Cottle.  He’s what makes it go fast!” 

 

I don’t know what it was exactly, but I think it was the way his dad taught him when he was driving quarter midgets.  We’d miss the setup and Shane would say, “Well, I did this and it wasn’t working and I did that and it wasn’t working.  Then, I started driving it this way and it started working better.” Somehow he’d get a good finish for what should have been a bad night.  He never came in and said, “Well, that car was junk!”  And, sometimes it was!  I think, the way he grew up, his dad told him, “When you’re out there and the car doesn’t work, I can’t do anything about it.  You’ve got to do something!”  And, I think that’s the attitude he carries when he gets in a sprint car.  I was impressed. 

 

KO:  You had the on again/off again relationship with Shane, but it was always a strong relationship.  I’m wondering how many more wins and championships you might have earned had he not gone the direction he did with Contos and Walker.  Do you think it would have gotten stale, or do you think it would have kept going up the ladder?

 

Edison:  I think we would have kept going up the ladder.  Really, during that time period, he wanted to race more.  And, that was really driving the change.  I didn’t want to hold the guy back.  When he went with the Contos bunch, they had the capability of taking him a lot further than we could have.  We never had arguments or anything.  It was always good. 

 

KO:  Do you think you had more fun with Shane than anyone else?  Can you say that with all fairness?

 

Edison:  We won more races with Shane than anyone, but I think we had fun with everyone in the car.  We got along so well with all the drivers, so I can’t say anything bad about anyone.  Probably a couple of them could say some bad things about me, but that’s ok.  I had one driver that I got angry with, not really at him, but at the situation.  I changed drivers and I shouldn’t have.  He didn’t drive very long for us and he’s a good guy.  It’s probably the age gap.  He sent me a text message.  We tore the car up pretty bad and by Wednesday, I had the car back together.  He sent me a text that he had a chance to drive somewhere else, two or three nights.  And, I was planning on running two nights.  I said, “Ok, I’ll put someone else in it.”  Today, that wouldn’t have bothered me so much.  But at that time, I didn’t expect to get that kind of message in a text.  That’s just the age gap.  They just don’t talk on the phone these days.  Today, it wouldn’t have bothered me. 

 

KO:  Cottle went with Contos in 2008.  You had Scotty Weir as your driver and you won another Kokomo title.  Then, Cottle came back and you won even more races and championships.  Then in 2012 you began with Scotty Weir, had Casey Shuman for a little bit, and then Puterbaugh finished the season.  Jerry Coons, Jr. joined the team for 2013 and that first year with Jerry was a good one.  

 

Where I am going with this is that you got a huge win with Jerry at Terre Haute in the 2013 Hulman Classic.  In 1995 you started your car ownership career at the Hulman Classic.  In the 1970s the Hulman Classic was the biggest race on the USAC sprint car schedule.  I know you already got a Terre Haute win with Cottle in KISS competition, but a USAC win there is an infinitely bigger deal.  When you think back to that night, what immediately comes to mind?   

Edison:  Actually the Hulman Classic had gotten rained out and they rescheduled it for August with the Hurtubise Classic.  We kind of got credit for winning two races, but we got the rifle.  I didn’t know, but they give out two of them.  One to the car owner and one to the driver.  My boys are arguing about their inheritance and who is going to get the rifle.  I suggested they saw it long-ways down the middle, mount it on a board, and they can both have that. 

KO:  That’s an idea!  Well, one thing about Jerry, he was always good at Terre Haute.  That might have been the first place I ever saw him race back in 1997.  But in your mind, what was so special about Jerry at Terre Haute? 

Edison:  Well, there again, one of the tracks he grew up on was Manzanita.  And they are pretty similar.  Jerry is good on all the big tracks.  I really don’t care to race on the big tracks that much, mostly because the speed is so much higher and the chance of a driver getting hurt bothers me.  And, it costs more to run the big tracks.  You pretty much had better plan on buying at least three new tires and it could be more if they don’t get the track prep right.  We’ve gone over to Eldora and blistered tires in the heat race.  It’s not like you’d think.  You’d think if the track got slick, that’s when you’d blister the tires.  But at Eldora, if there’s bite in the track, the tires get hotter and blister, which kind of surprised me.  Traction makes heat.  A lot of times, usually when the track is wet, you don’t hurt the tires as much. 

I think it takes a special kind of track to do what Eldora did.  When Tony Stewart first bought the track, he tried to keep it fast.  Earl liked to let it go slick to keep the speeds down.  Earl didn’t like to see people get hurt.  I think they are kind of going back to that because the track prep isn’t like it was for a while.  That track was super-fast.  I think the non-wing record is like 14.8.

KO:  Yeah.  And it is ten years old now. 

Edison:  Jerry might still hold it.

KO:  Yeah, he does!  But once again, Jerry at Terre Haute was something special. 

Kind of switching gears here, but it seems to me that you’ve had a lot of the same sponsors and names on your car over the last 22 years.  Obviously Crume-Evans Insurance immediately comes to mind, having the connection with Kent Evans and his sister Sherry, who has the insurance business. 

Edison:  And Sherry’s son Wes has always worked with us. 

KO:  Flook’s Napa has been on the car for a long time too.  Was it on there every year?

Edison:  I think that started the second year.  We were friends with him and he said, “I ain’t sponsoring any racecars!”  So as a joke, we had space on the car and we just put his name on there.  One of the things we thought was that the street stock guys would come in there and bug him because of that.  It was a joke.  But then, he started buying oil filters for us and gave us a pretty good price on other odds and ends.  I don’t know if you knew Paul Bozard.  He had racecars back in the 1960s and 1970s.  He had kids that ran quarter midgets.  You know, the quarter midget track is just down the road. 

KO:  That Bozard name – isn’t Jim Whiteside married to Cindi Bozard?

Edison:  Yes.  Paul came to the races, and he saw that on there.  He had a business, really pretty close to here, hauling around show cars for quite a while.  He made a good living doing that.  There were probably ten or twelve trucks and trailers he used to haul around all kinds of NASCAR show cars, drag race show cars.  He hauled them all over the country, to Texas, California, Florida.  Of course he bought a lot of parts.  He saw that sticker on my car and did a lot of business with Flook's.  So, that was one of them things that the NAPA store was happy about. 

Sherry Evans-Horde, with the insurance company, she talks about name recognition.  That’s hard to put a number on.  One of her motivations was – she liked racing.  Only until recently, she rarely missed a race.  She was always there and man, if you happened to sit too close to her, she was always waving her arms and stomping her feet. 

KO:  RG Enterprises was another name on the car for a long time.  Who was that guy?

Edison:  That was another friend of ours, Ron George.  He actually won the Illinois lottery, before Indiana had a lottery.  Unlike a lot of lottery winners, he was wise with his money.  Several of our team members went to high school with him and played high school football.  He was good friends with Stan since high school.  He had race horses so we had the horse emblem on the car.

KO:  You have maintained some solid relationships with sponsors and drivers.  Does that all just come back to your upbringing?  Did you have any kind of mantra for the team, like, if you are going to be a part of our operation, then you’re going to do things with class and respect?

Edison:  Yeah, and I’ve told the guys, “Hey, we don’t want to be involved with that.  We want to be the guys wearing the white hats.”  When we were trying to get help from people like the Crume-Evans people, that was part of our story.  We’re going to be the good guys.  We’re not going to be a bunch of race track bums.  Now, there were some times late at night…but there weren’t many watching at two o’clock in the morning. 

KO:  Team members – you mentioned Wes has been there since the beginning.  Are there any others that have been there that long?  Craig Heathcoat has been around the team a long time.  Has there been anyone else with that kind of tenure?

Edison:  I knew Craig because he’s about the same age as one of my sons.  He wrestled and played baseball in the same timeframe.  I knew he was interested in racing, but the first time I saw him was at D.O.’s Racing Fest at Bloomington.  He came walking through the pits and he went to IU – that was his first year there.  He was with another kid that I had on my Babe Ruth baseball team.  That following summer, Craig was with us all the time. 

Of course, I have to talk about Stan Johnson.  He was with us from the very start.  He, at times, was working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and he barely missed a race.  It didn’t matter where it was at.  If it was at Bloomington, he was there.  Since he retired, he’s here every Monday morning and we work on the car until it is ready to go.  He’s here all the time, all winter long, putting the car together.  You can’t find a harder working, more loyal friend than Stan Johnson.

KO:  How long have you known Stan? 

Edison:  I knew him maybe eight or ten years before that, when I joined the Legion Post in Greentown.

KO:  That’s yet another sponsor of yours. 

Edison:  Well, kind of, because when RG quit with his horses, he just said, “Put Post 317 on it.”  So, that’s where the 317 comes in.  And, we have a lot of pre-race and post-race debriefings at the Legion Post.  In fact, I was down there a couple of nights ago and they had a birthday party.  They were all in there including Pat, the guy with the stiff neck that hangs around a lot.  He’s got arthritis really bad.   When you’ve raced that long, you wear out a lot of your crew guys.  And you know, like Craig and John Glentzer, they find girlfriends, get married, and have kids. 

KO:  Well, your two boys, Doug and Tim, have families now.

Edison:  And, they still like to bring their kids but they have other obligations.  We had a boy named John Shepherd, who lives really close to here.  I saw his grandfather one night.  He said, “Well, John’s not so much of a help anymore, is he?”  I said, “Well, John’s got his priorities in the right place.  He’s married and got two children.  You can’t be running all over the country when you’ve got little kids.” 

Little kids take time.  They do things you want to watch them do.  So, you do go through some crew men.  You wear them out.  Family obligations get in the way and they should get in the way.

KO:  From 1995 to 2016, what did you see as the biggest change in the sport?  Was it costs?  Or, was it anything like safety?

Edison:  The safety is definitely better.  The seats are better.  The HANS device makes it safer, and that’s a pretty big change.  They made the cars a little stronger.  The left side arm guard, I think, is a good deal.  And, even the right side arm guard is good.  We had one car with one on both sides.  But, as far as making your car go around the track, it is the shocks.  In-car adjustments on the shocks…I think it makes it harder to win.

When the track went slick, the driver might say, “Oh, I hate that!”  I’d say, “No, you should embrace that, because if you’re good on a slick track and know how to set it up, that takes away half of your competition.”  All the young guys come out there and stand on the throttle.  They’re fast when the track is fast.  But, when it goes away, boy, they are terrible.  And you know, it just takes away half of your competition.  I think with being able to turn those knobs inside the car, you would see a lot of races where you weren’t so good at the start but would run away at the end.  You don’t see that happen so much anymore.  Guys that start up front stay up front.  Every now and then you see someone make a charge, but not as much as you used to.  I remember winning from 12th and 13th and 14th one night with Cottle.  We got mixed up with a lapped car with like seven laps to go.  There had been a lot of carnage in that race and there were only like 12 or 13 cars on the track.  And, he was back in the lead in like four laps after spinning and going to the tail.  Every now and then you see that, but not as often as you did back in the day.  But, the ability to change your setup with the turn of a knob, you can make a tenth place car into a third or fourth place car. 

You asked earlier if Cottle hadn’t have left, if we would have kept climbing the ladder.  I had never counted up, but I counted between A.J. and Cottle, they finished second 15 to 25 times to Jon Stanbrough. 

KO:  When Jon was on his game, it was tough to beat him.

Edison:  Oh yeah!  The guy is a Hall-of-Famer.  You know?  Actually, he drove our car about four times.  In the times that Jon was in our car, you could go look at the tire after a race and tell that it wasn’t what you’ve been used to.

KO:  Just by the way he drove?

Edison:  Right!  He didn’t wear the tires hard.  Jon was on his game in his prime.

KO:  With the tires, was it just certain areas of the tire that wore based on how he drove it into the corner? Or, did they just not wear at all?

Edison:  No, they didn’t wear as bad.  He had the touch to spin them just right.  He didn’t over-spin them and he didn’t under-spin them.  In his younger days, you could see him blasting around the top, with the motor screaming.  When he was driving Paul’s car, that’s when he really started winning a lot of races.  And with the Fox boys, gee! 

KO:  When you’re on the other side of the fence, running second, does it drive you nuts?  Is it that same old routine of going to bed and thinking long and hard about what you can do to beat those guys?

Edison:  Oh yeah.

KO:  You guys were at that same level in that timeframe and could win your share.  How much of finishing second so many times drives you to re-engineer and make things better? 

Edison:  Well, you’re definitely trying to make things better.  Sprint cars have been around so long that it is hard to come up with something new.  We tried something for several years.  When people were starting to go to adjustable shocks, we put the Shadow weight jackers on.  It would actually change the ride height.  We did that for several years.  There were other guys around that did the same thing.  I saw them on champ cars over at Eldora.  We had three of them on the car.  The right rear was the only one we didn’t adjust.  A lot of people had them on the left rear.  Not many had them on the front.  But, on a sprint car, our car was the first one that I saw that had them on.  And, then there were several local guys looking at that.  They were like, “Look at what Cottle is doing!  He’s killing us with that stuff!”  I guess that Shadow place went out of business.  Their building burned down.  All of the old stuff I had I gave away to someone that wanted one for a champ car. 

KO:  How much does it cost to race one of these things for one night?  I don’t know if you’re the type of guy who would amortize an engine rebuild into your nightly costs, but there’s tires, fuel, pit passes, fuel for the truck.  To go to Kokomo on a Sunday night, what is it going to cost you, out of pocket?

Edison:  $1,000.  The way I always did it, and I don’t know if this might go back to the elementary accounting class I took, but when I did my taxes for the year, I took everything I spent over the course of the year and divided it by the number of races.  And, it always comes out way bigger than you think because it has your engine rebuilds and the things you have to do to update your car to stay competitive.  We didn’t spend money on anything we didn’t have to.  I think now, racing the way we did, I would say $1,400 per race.  It would cost somewhere in there.

KO:  Man, that’s a lot of money! 

Edison:  I haven’t done that for a couple of years, but I used to do that every year.  And, when we first started, it was about $1,000.  It can be a race between your pocket book and how quickly you learn.  One of the things, most racers are gearheads.  They will work their butt off on the racecar.  You really need a guy that is kind of an advertising guy who can go out and get money.  No matter how smart or skilled you are, if you don’t have any money, you can’t do it.  The car actually generates cash flow over the course of the summer, unless you are tearing a lot of stuff up.  Your bank account usually goes up over the summer because the things you do over the winter.  Everyone takes their car apart at the end of the year.  Besides what they have to do and what they think they need to do to get better, all these guys go around and trade their used parts and come back out and go at it again.  I see some guys that really aren’t running that good and tear up a lot of stuff and I know they are spending more than we are.  We aren’t tied to one driver but if our driver was tearing up a lot of stuff, we could go get another one.  But, if a driver is driving his own car or if it’s a family deal and the driver is a given, if you want to get better, either the driver has to get better or the equipment has to get better.  In sprint cars, Dave Darland can get in a car and make a difference.  I remember seeing Tony Elliott get into a car that everyone called the penalty box and win. 

KO:  I remember Tony winning in Walt Fisher’s 96 car in about 1994 at Kokomo.  Was that the car you were talking about?

Edison:  Exactly!  In fact, Shane’s dad told me that down in Ocala, Shane won his first race on this track.  Yeah, in fact he was driving a car that some guy from Kokomo owned.  It was Walt Fisher!  Shane never told me that! 

KO:  Budget-wise, was there a certain amount that you were willing to spend in a season?    

Edison:  There were just a few times, and one of them might have been the first year, that if we would have had another bad crash, we would have been done for the year because the bank account couldn’t stand it.  I started this when my oldest son graduated from college.  And, I still had two kids that were still in school.  One was in high school and one was in college.  The one that was in college ended up being there seven years and getting a doctorate degree.  And then, my daughter was three years behind him and they both graduated at the same time.  At Purdue, when you are accepted into graduate school, the tuition doubles.  He applied for the pharmacy program and as soon as they accepted him as a junior, they doubled it.  So, tuition-wise, it was like having three kids in school.  The housing is every bit as much.

KO:  I understand where you are coming from!  My dad had five in college at once back in the early 1980s.  He was working a lot – three jobs in fact.  But, to be able to race and have college costs to worry about, that’s a pretty big weight to shoulder.  And then, somehow you have to convince your wife that you need to have a sprint car too! 

Switching gears again, other than the USAC wins, are there certain races that stand out more than others?

Edison:  Yeah, one of the wins was down at Lawrenceburg in the fall – the one that pays $10,000.  It wasn’t a USAC race and it was in 2006.  Jerry and I had a discussion about this, because he was leading the race.  Well, as I recall they had 81 cars there that night.  We started at the back of the seventh heat. 

When I saw the lineup, I said, “Geeze, we should have stayed home!”  I think we started seventh in the seventh heat.  Cottle won the heat!  After winning, that started us seventh in the feature.  At the beginning, we were fast.  He got up to third really quick.  Coons was leading in the Hoffman car.  Levi was right behind him.  It was on the old track and Shane caught them.  It was slick and it was around the bottom.  It was a 50-lap race.  I think it was on the 28th lap, because I always count laps on my fingers.  Jones spun Coons.  Coons did a 360 and kept going and Cottle got around them both and led the rest of the race.  It worried me that they never got into lapped traffic after that.  Shane was a little quicker than Levi and he would pull away from him on every restart, but if Shane would have come up on the lapped traffic, he was going to get spun out. I don’t know why Levi did it so early in the race.  The only thing that saved Shane was that he got around them and was faster than both of them.  

Jerry and I had a conversation about that in the trailer one night this summer.  We were talking about it.  I said, “Did that tick you off?”  He said, “Well, kind of!”  And he said, “He spun me out and won the race!”  I said, “No, he didn’t!”  He got on You Tube and looked it up and said, “You’re right!” 

You can’t forget a race like that.

KO:  For sure, especially when it pays like that.  Of course, those USAC wins are ones you’ll never forget either.  Although you didn’t get one in 2016, you did get three in three years:  ’13, ’14, and ’15. 

When you think about your time in sprint car racing, what are the things that give you the greatest sense of satisfaction?  Is it the wins or is it something altogether different than that?

Edison:   Of course you are happy that you won enough races so that you can say, “Yeah, we were pretty good.”  We had our spells.  I think though, a lot of it is the guys that helped you, the dedication that they had to racing and to our team, and the friends you made.  I said a lot of times that some of the most memorable things you have in racing didn’t have anything to do with the racing.  It was other things.  The ornery things that the kids did.  We’d be out washing the car on Saturday morning and they’d be talking about riding the go-karts somewhere.  The stories always ended the same way:  they never got kicked out.  They always got asked to leave.  Like, “Hey, it’s time for you guys to go.”  It was more like an angry, “Get the hell out of here!” 

KO:  The people are the best part of the scene.  It’s what keeps bringing me back.  Maybe you’re the same way?

Edison:  Well, you know, some of the best friends we made were especially in the last four or five years at Kokomo.  We always park in the same place, right by Chris Gurley and Kenny Baldwin and Mike McGhee.  You get to know those people.  I like to tease Mike McGhee’s boys.  I go and talk to them.  I walk up to Max and say, “What are you doing here?  The driver’s meeting isn’t for another hour and a half.  You don’t have to show up and do all this stuff!  You need to talk to some of these other drivers.  You just have to get here in time for the driver’s meeting!” 

Mike is going, “Don’t tell him that!” 

One time I said that to Max and he said, “They left the motel this morning and I didn’t have any other way to get there.”  I said, “You could have called one of those girls!  (Pointing to another driver) You need to go talk to him!  He’ll tell you how to operate!  You don’t have to have a car!” 

It’s things like that.  Every week when you see people at the race track, you look forward to seeing them every week.  The racing community is really great.  If you wreck your car, there will be three or four guys come over and say, “Hey, if you need anything or if you need us to help…”  Those kind of things definitely come to mind.

KO:  Even when you were doing your drag racing, you were at Kokomo Speedway on Sunday nights.  Thinking about next April or May, what is it going to be like walking around the pit area?  Are you going to bring some wrenches with you?  Will you be willing to help someone out or do you just want to sit back and truly enjoy this deal for once, without having to worry about anything?

Edison:  I wouldn’t mind working a little bit but I don’t want to wash any dirty cars on Monday morning. 

KO:  As you think about the start of next season, what’s your game plan as of this moment in time? 

Edison:  I don’t know.  I’ll just go to the races and see everyone, talk, and have a good time.  I don’t see me not going to the races every weekend.

KO:  It’s still in the blood, right?

Edison:  Yep.

KO:  I think it always will be.  Once you are exposed, it is so hard to get away from it.

Edison:  Yes.  I’ve walked up and down the stands on the few nights, for whatever reason, when we didn’t race.  I’ve heard people talking about our team.  They are saying, “They did this, this, and this.”  I’m like, “What?  Where did you get that information?”  And, that’s fans.  But, we couldn’t get along without fans. 

KO:  Talking about those Monday mornings, but how long has it been since you were retired from Delco/GM/Delphi?

Edison:  2003.

KO:  So, on those Monday mornings in your retirement years, normally you’d be working on that car, trying to get it ready for Friday night.  What’s going to be your new Monday morning thing? 

Edison:  Well, I don’t know!  I’ll go out and eat breakfast.  I don’t know yet!  I’m not sure how I’m going to fill my time in. 

KO:  But, you’ve got grandkids, right?  Maybe they didn’t get as much of your time previously.

Edison:  Yeah.  I can’t tell you how many family weddings I have missed because of racing.  I’ve been reminded several times by the bride’s mother, “Well, you were racing!”  I’ll never understand someone living here their whole life and going off and getting married on the beach, on Sanibel Island or somewhere like that, expecting everyone to travel 700 or 800 miles to the wedding.  I guess that’s the thing now. 

KO:  My thing is, any wedding should always be scheduled in the off-season so that we can maximize the amount of time at the racetrack.  My time at the track is essentially my vacation time.  Everyone gives me hell for not going down to New Zealand or the Chili Bowl.  I’ve only got so much time to take off of work.  This is it around here.  I would love to go to New Zealand, but on the whole, Indiana summers are truly the place I want to be.   

Edison:  We never went out west or to Florida until after I retired.  I have to say, for the guys, they flew out west.  Some of them flew back home and flew out the next week.  I was retired at that time, so it didn’t matter.  I wasn’t obligated to be here.  That’s a big thing when you have more flexibility.  You can do things like that. 

KO:  What do you think is the best advice you got while in racing and who gave it to you?

Edison:  Well, my financial guy told me one time:  “It looks like you will be in pretty good shape unless you spend it all on that racecar.”  I don’t know, I think I learned a lot from Kent Evans.  I got a lot of good advice from Tom Chalk too.  Tom Chalk, if you ask him his opinion on something, he’ll give you his opinion.  And, sometimes if you don’t ask him, he’ll give you his opinion.  It will be exactly what he thinks.  It won’t be what he thinks you want to hear.  He’ll give you exactly what he thinks and sometimes that’s not what you want to hear.  You know, a friend like that, is special.  It might cause you a little grief, but you shouldn’t let that hinder your friendship.  They are giving you their honest opinion.  And Tom has always been that way with me.  Sometimes I didn’t necessarily do what he advised me, but he didn’t hold that against me.  I appreciate a friend like that.  At first, you’re not going to like it, but when you stop and think about it, he’s really doing you a favor.  Even if he’s not right, he gave me his opinion and he didn’t tell you what you thought you wanted to hear. 

I got a lot of advice from Tom, and most of it was good. 

KO:  Can you think of something that Tom said that still stands out, to this day, as great advice?  He knows a lot about A LOT.  You’ve had a great relationship with him, running a lot of his products and winning with them.

Edison:  One of the first things he told me about racing was, “You’re not going to make money at this.”  Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, you could have made money.  People that ran up front, not counting their time, came out ahead.  You can’t do that now. 

KO:  What was the worst advice you ever received?

Edison:  When you first get a racecar, people you don’t even know walk up and give you advice.  You just discount that stuff most of the time.  But, the quote that you said about “this is where it all started and this is where it ended”, my oldest son walked out on the track after the last race at Terre Haute and said that to me.  That kind of almost knocked me down.  And then one of my friends took a picture of us walking off the track.  Two of my grandsons and my oldest son were walking with me.  That was kind of emotional.  I told my son and he said, “Well, I didn’t mean it that way.” 

KO:  Was ending things at Terre Haute even part of the plan?  Did you realize that ahead of time?

Edison:  No, not until he said that.

KO:  Well, it seems rather fitting then.  A win would have been great, but a third place wasn’t bad.

Edison:  Well, you know, watching that race, I was thinking, we could win this.  Those guys put on one heck of a show.  I don’t think I have seen a more exciting race at Terre Haute.  Well, with Windom, and how he came through the pack at the start of the race.  A year ago when we were there, we started 18th and Jerry got up to 4th.  And then by the time the track got wore out, a couple of cars passed him.  Then, he moved up and lost his rhythm for a second.  When he moved up, he got slid by the guy he pulled up in front of.  He had to let up and then he got slid by the next guy.  That’s where he finished.  If he could have gotten up there quicker, we would have had a better finish. 

But, Boespflug and Windom were phenomenal.  They were so close together.  From the infield, I didn’t see how good of a race it was until I watched the highlights.  You could see them trading it back and forth down the back stretch and down the front stretch.  You can see three and four pretty good from down in the infield.  You didn’t see it all until you watched the replay. 

KO:  So, are there any potential buyers for the equipment yet?  Have you marketed it yet?

Edison:  I haven’t advertised it yet.  But, I need to do that.  It would be nice if I could sell it all at once.

KO:  Kind of like what happened when you got into the sport?

Edison:  Yep. 

KO:  Did the truck and trailer come with the package when you bought in?

Edison:  The trailer did. 

KO:  I remember Kent towing with a van.  But now, you’re like, “Take it all, except for the trophies?”

Edison:  Right! 

KO:  So after 22 seasons, we’re saying you earned 89 wins and 13 track championships?

Edison:  We counted them and there was one year that Cottle drove our car for all but three races at Kokomo.  He finished the season in Walker’s car.  We counted that one. 

KO:  Mike Mann won the Gas City title in ’96, ’97, and ’98.  Was Mike with you all the way through the end of ’98?

Edison:  Yeah. 

KO:  Going through my list of your track championships, in 2004 and 2009 at Gas City, you won titles with Cottle.  At Kokomo, Mike Mann won the title for you in ’97.  A.J. Anderson won it in 2001.  Then, Cottle in 2004 and 2005.  I also show 2007 and 2011 with Cottle.  But, I’ve also got Scotty Weir in 2008.  All told, I have five at Gas City and seven at Kokomo.  2012 could be partially counted with Weir’s title at Kokomo and Puterbaugh’s at Gas City, given that both drove your car for a partial season.

But anyway, it was one hell of a run.  It really was.

Edison:  Yeah!  Starting out, we were just going to race at Kokomo and a couple other places.  Then, Gas City opened back up and that had us two nights a week, every week.  And, three nights some weeks.

KO:  Did you ever fire your car up here at the house during the week?  I’m wondering how your neighbors felt about this racing thing. 

Edison:  We never had a complaint.  And you know, when I was helping Gary Fisher, he lived in a little town called Center.  It is straight south of here.  I think the only thing they’ve got there is a convenience store.  And there’s a school on the edge of town.  We would push it down the alley, come out and go around the corner, and back in the driveway, time it, push it in the garage and stand in there.  Sure enough, about 15 minutes later, a sheriff’s car would come by.  Every time, someone would call the police.  But, we never had that happen here.  We always tried to put our headers and mufflers on.  There were times that we had a bunch of friends who had kids racing at the quarter midget track.  I’d go down there in the morning, push it off, and go back there and time it under a tree.  We rarely started it more than once or twice a year.  Always in the spring and then a lot of times when we would change motors, we’d do it again.  We tried not to.

KO:  And you’ve been at this house for how long?

Edison:  ’71.  I got married in ’70.  In the fall of ’71 we moved here.  It was like this time of the year.  I remember I didn’t have a lawn mower and the grass was about six inches high.  And those sycamore trees make a lot of leaves. 

KO:  So, you’re basically burned out and that’s the reason for exiting?  I know you said that racing used to be the last thing on your mind when you went to bed and the first thing on your mind when you woke up.  Did you have any revelations in between?

Edison:  I don’t know when the revelations happened.  We used to go on vacation and when I was helping the guy with the late model, I’d take the technical book on pavement track setups. 

KO:  I remember the Jimmy Sills video on sprint car setups from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.  I watched that a couple of times.  That was around the time that I really wanted to get involved and have a car.  But, it was always about the priorities.  I just couldn’t sacrifice everything I had to go do it.  I just wasn’t willing to do that. 

Edison:  Well, when you go into it, it’s always one of those things where you think, “Geeze, can I really swing this, money-wise?”  You’re trying to do everything you can to make it happen.  And after you do it awhile, you realize that this is what you’ve been doing and it’s worked out ok.  There were a couple of times if we were to tear it up, we were going to have to pull the plug on the rest of the season.  Fortunately, that never happened. 

KO:  The previous Sunday, I actually got the chance to get in a sprint car for the first time in 11 years.  Eric Burns called me up on a Friday and said he was renting Putnamville on a Sunday afternoon and asked me if I’d like to come out and drive.  Eric won the championship there and at Haubstadt in 2000.  He still drives a sprinter on occasion for a guy named Bill Gasway, but he has a bomber for his 15 year-old son Harley.  Anyway, the car I got to drive was an old Stealth with a steel block 355.  Well, to make a long story short, I guess I wasn’t that bad because everyone was like, “When are you going to get one of these things?  Why haven’t you raced one of these by now?” 

It always comes down to that same thing.  Money.  One crash, and my life savings would be down the drain.  No insurance. 

Edison:  See, I’ve only driven our car once.  We were going to rent the track to try some things out on the coil-over cars. There were some things that Chalk wanted to know.  That was the year that Logan Jarrett started.  We split the cost three ways to rent the track.  Chalk was always on me.  “You ought to drive that.  You ought to drive that.  Get in and drive it.  Go ahead!” 

If I would have been 35 years old when I got that car, I would have driven it.  I did autocrosses and stuff like that.  I had a Corvette.  I did well.  I won a lot of them.  I won one every year for several years, and I didn’t run that much.  Well, one of the biggest things about autocross is learning the course – to know where you were going and how fast you could go. 

When we got all done, Tom asked if we wanted to try anything else.  I said no, I think I’m done.  So he said, “Come in here.”  I walked in the trailer and he said, “Here’s your uniform.  Here’s your shoes.  Here’s your helmet.  Get that shit on.  You’re driving!” 

I just putted around.  I didn’t like that wall at Kokomo.  When you look up there and see it, you think, “If I hit that, it’s going to hurt.”  You can tell it will.  I didn’t want to tear the car up.  I’d have much rather done it at Gas City or Putnamville. 

KO:  I felt like I was getting close to that front stretch wall at Putnamville a couple of times and that worried me.  I didn’t want to have to pay for something I hadn’t planned on.  But, as always, when you get out of that car, it’s just such a rush!  I totally get why people feel like they have to do it.  But, I’m to the age now that it’s just not worth the money.   

Edison:  The guys were kind of teasing me.  They said, “We were giving you hand signals.  Didn’t you see it?”  I said, “You saw how fast I was going.  I had my hands full.  I couldn’t have beat Tom Davies.”  They said, “We had the clock on you.  You couldn’t have beaten him.”

KO:  Well, getting in a car for the first time or the first time in a while, you just want to be careful.  Right?

Edison:  They are kind of evil.  They are out there driving like that and the reason they are is because you have to drive one like that.  You just pick up the throttle and it moves.  The left wheel drives you for a while and then soon enough, the right wheel is driving you. 

KO:  The track was dry for my first session so I didn’t drive too aggressively.  But, they watered it before my second session and it was nice to be able to go out there and gas it.  However, it’s one thing to be out there on the track on my own, trying to figure it out.  It’s another to be out there with 20 other guys, going at the limit. 

Edison:  I think pavement racing is a lot different.  I did that Richard Petty thing at Las Vegas.  Driving around the track, it’s no big deal.  They put dots out there to show you where to go.  You can see that at a lot of the NASCAR races.  Those dots are still there.  It blows my mind how they do that with 40 other cars on the track. 

KO:  As you mentioned with Kokomo, it is like a USAC show on Sunday nights.  They aren’t racing for much money at all and given the numbers you just told me about how much it costs to run one of these cars, it’s a losing deal unless you plan on winning.  And yet, they still get about 25 cars.  What worries me is that eventually there won’t be those same people willing to run on Sunday nights for limited dollars. 

Edison:  Back in ’05, ’06, and ’07, the economy was pretty good. There were a lot of sprint cars around.  During Sprint Week, it wasn’t unusual to have 60 cars.  I used to hate that because you could get lost in the numbers.  I saw Jack Hewitt one night, he didn’t get out of the non-qualifier race.  And, then he won the next night.  You’re just a victim to the numbers, or you can be.  Or, you see a lot of guys, like Dave Darland and Tony Elliott come out of the non-qualifier race and end up being a factor in the feature.  But, we don’t see those numbers anymore.  Now, it’s 35 or 40 cars and if you get 45, that’s a good night. 

KO:  If you get to 50, chances are it’s not sanctioned and there’s no entry fee.

Edison:  Another thing that baffles me, a USAC race pays $5,000 to win.  And you go over to Eldora, this is like two or three years ago.  Well, I remember one night they only had 19 cars.  But, they get 30 to 35 cars.  Later in the season, they have that BOSS series running over there, racing for $1,500 to win.  They have 45 to 50 cars. 

KO:  And most of those BOSS guys are extreme, low budget racers.  Yet, there are still big guys that go over there and try and win the race, like this year with Windom.  It was a hell of a race actually, one of the better ones they have had recently.

Edison:  The BOSS guy didn’t go with a four tire rule because a lot of those guys run American Racers. 

KO:  I wish USAC would follow that lead but it probably makes too much sense, but not enough dollars for the powers that be. 

Edison:  I think that’s a big part of their budget.   

KO:  Anything is something.  Despite all the changes, I still find a reason to go.  As Joe Roush once said, I have zero invested.  But, I have my time.  A lot of people have a lot more time and money invested.

Edison:  I think Joe got real cynical, especially after his dad passed away.  He was always a little bit that way, but after his dad passed away he got pretty cynical.  I’ve run into him a couple of times since and I always enjoy seeing him. 

KO:  He’s mellowed out big time.  I sat next to him at the Chuck Amati race at Paragon.  Of course he still had his opinions.  He’ll never not be Roush without them!  But, he wasn’t as harsh as he used to be. 

Don’t you guys have a Roush rule, by the way?  What is the Roush rule?

Edison:  If you go to the track and you pack the cooler, if you get rained out, you have to drink all the beer in the cooler!  It don’t matter if you haven’t even left the house or if you get to the track, you have to drink the beer! 

KO:  Awesome!  So the rule is, if you get rained out, the cooler must come back empty?

Edison:  Right!  Joe was always the last one to leave the track.  If we outstayed him at the track, we always said, “We Roushed ‘em!” We thought we Roushed ‘em one night at Kokomo.  And when we were pulling out next to the road, there was Roush in the parking lot with a bunch of fans.  He was still there!  We thought we Roushed him, but we didn’t! 

We always enjoyed Roush.  You know with Joe, most of the time he built his own chassis.  He built his own engines.  He did everything!

KO:  And, there was a time in the ‘80s that he was building rear ends.

Edison:  Well, yeah!  I think he worked for Jones for a while.  And so, he did a lot of rear end repair. 

KO:  He knew every aspect.  You just don’t have guys involved like that anymore.  He used to be winning midget races all over the country.

Edison:  And he was young back then!  Even sprint car races.  The Kokomo Klassic that they used to run on Wednesday night, they started that with Bill Lipkey.  The way that Bill Lipkey ran his races, you had to qualify in the top-18, and they inverted six.  That was the 18 that ran the feature.  And then they divided up the heats – fast, middle, and slow.  There were usually about 25 cars.

KO:  So if you timed outside of 18th, were you done? Did they even need a B-main then?

Edison:  I can’t remember for sure, but the heats were the fast heat, the next fastest, and the slowest.  When my kids were little, they liked to watch the last heat because that’s where the crashes could be.  Tim told me that one time.  “The last heat is my favorite because sometimes they crash!” 

KO:  Towards the end, I remember they took 16 from qualifying and then only took two out of the B-main.  So, they were able to keep the guys there and give them something to shoot for.

Edison:  And every now and then, if there was a fast car might have qualified badly, a lot of times they would have offered him starting money so there might be a rush from the tail.   

One of those Kokomo Klassics, Joe Roush was the fast qualifier.  They started that race straight-up.  They had the heat races and they didn’t mean anything.  Joe hauled it in there, got over the cushion, and got into the wall.  He tore the rear end up.  Tore the front end up. 

KO:  Was he done?

Edison:  He was done for that night.

KO:  Wow!  And he was supposed to start from the pole on a big money race! He must have been sick to his stomach after that!

Edison:  The first Kokomo Klassic, I think Chuck Amati won.  He got out of the car and he had those boots on.  The One-Armed Bandit.

KO:  That’s one regret I have.  I didn’t get exposed to this early enough to see a lot of those real characters in their prime.  I started going in ’85 but really heavily in ’87.  Once I got my license in ’88, I could go anywhere I wanted pretty much.

Edison:  Well, you and Spridge.  I know Spridge was like 13 or 14 years old and he’d be over here on Sunday nights.  I don’t know how he got here.  He might have come with his dad, but he might have hitched a ride with someone. 

KO:  He was from Van Wert. 

Edison:  I used to drag race at Van Wert.  If you go up 69, take 224 over and go through Decatur and it’s really not too far over the state line.  I used to drag race there.  In fact, the last place I raced when I drag raced was at Van Wert, and we won.

KO:  Well, that’s about all I’ve got for questions.  Thank you for taking the time today to get this recorded.  I just wanted to do something to document your time in the sport, as you most certainly had a significant impact.  I just hate that the red 10 won’t be out there anymore.  I guess it’s true:  all good things must come to an end. 

 

 

 

Volume 18, Number 11

Closing Comments

Although Indiana weather has been unseasonably warm for late October and early November, it has been more than two weeks since the curtains were closed on the Midwest sprint car season. Nearly one week ago, Major League Baseball’s incredible World Series came to a conclusion as well, leading me to wonder where the last six months have escaped. Given that both pastimes are big time benefits of the spring, summer, and early fall seasons, it would seem appropriate to finally put the finishing touches on this encapsulation of the last month of my 2016 open wheel calendar. Still hanging on to the memories of my favorite time of the year, no matter the season my workweek is consistently crammed, never leaving enough time to sit down, relax, and get creative with my comments. And, whenever there is something else occupying my Sundays, it pushes my writings even further into the future, making them even less relevant once published.

Case in point: I had planned on using the final Sunday of October to hammer out the remainder of this piece, but a Friday afternoon phone call from Eric Burns asked if I was interested in driving his modified, the bomber belonging to his son Harley, and Bill Gasway's sprint car, all three available on a beautiful autumn afternoon in downtown Putnamville, Indiana. Like a Junior Mint, who would turn down such an enticing offer? Definitely not this dreamer, as I have always wanted to strap into a sprinter on a more regular basis, even if I don't have the dollars or skills to make it a reality.

As difficult as it is to deal with the season’s end, it's equally impossible to comprehend that it was over three decades ago when I was first introduced to the concept of hardcore race chasing, as National Speed Sport News photographer Steve Remington served as my tour guide to a wacky world that I previously had no idea existed. With his annual attendance of coast-to-coast contests consistently exceeding triple digits, I'm not sure how it was humanly possible but Remington also managed to punch the time clock at his full-time factory gig at Guide Lamp while also maintaining a marriage to his faithful and forgiving wife Barbara. Extremely obsessive compulsive regarding his lawn and landscape, Steve even found time to mow his yard on a daily basis, at least when he was wasn’t shooting sprinters in a far-away locale like Ascot or Manzanita.

This completely wide open lifestyle of an open wheel fanatic was further romanticized when Steve led me to such colorful characters as Ken Coles, “Mad” Max Dolder, “Sexy” Rex Staton, and Kevin “The Sleaze” Eckert, all guests at the Remington ranch at one time or another. So fascinated with Eckert's singular goal of getting from racetrack to racetrack, if it weren’t for my own desire to afford material possessions and the luxuries of life, as an impressionable teenager I might have followed the same path.

Believing that a college education was the key, I soon gained my Ball State diploma and full-time accounting employment, able to afford a solid set of wheels capable of hitting the high road when not polishing a desk chair with my rear end, reaching as many as 83 events in 1995. But, at some point the proverbial wisdom and experience of maturity made me realize that quality should be emphasized over quantity. Closing out my 2016 campaign right at 54 events, it’s still a sizeable sum of hours to be away from home if you ask my wife, who like Barb Remington is extremely faithful, forgiving, and understanding as she only chooses to occupy the passenger seat on rare occasion.

Following Lawrenceburg’s Fall Nationals, my final four outdoor flings involved high-quality offerings in Rossburg, Kokomo, Terre Haute, and Chillicothe, hard to comprehend how I could not convince anyone to join me on these journeys. Choosing Eldora’s Sprintacular over Haubstadt’s MSCS finale claimed by Kevin Thomas, Jr. (with a third MSCS title taken by Brady Short), three classes of sprint cars, an ultra-efficient agenda, and a much shorter drive home solidified my decision. With 118 machines packing the upper and lower pit areas, this huge sum was slightly down from last year’s 126, led by 49 from the topless BOSS brigade. 40 chariots from the All Star Circuit of Champions and 29 from the Ohio-based NRA 360 group also participated, with all three rosters containing numerous names that I’ve never even heard of. Action was literally non-stop from the 4:30 PM hot lap start, witnessing a final checkered flag at 10:27 PM, which was two minutes quicker than the 2015 finish of 10:29 PM. Once again, this early exit allowed me to reach Greenville just in time for Maid-Rite’s 11 PM closing, grabbing a large Coke (so incredible over shaved ice), chocolate shake, and a sack of sandwiches to go. Yep, I was saving my appetite for this special occasion, knowing full well that this might be my last visit to this awesome little eatery for six solid months.

In addition to acting as Eldora’s final event, Sprintacular served as the curtain closer for BOSS and NRA, with Guilford, Indiana Gasser Shawn Westerfeld and Jared Horstman already wrapping up their respective crowns. With three series wins on the season, Westerfeld became the first to repeat as the boss of BOSS. The All Stars still had an Atomic altercation after Eldora, with four-time champ Chad Kemenah leading six-time champ Dale Blaney by 20 markers.

Ian Madsen (14.193) and Randy Hannagan (15.356) topped the charts in All Star and NRA time trials, thus beginning the quest to complete 21 racing contests in four hours. The furthest that any winged heat winner came from was fourth, no surprise that the BOSS blind draw produced the most entertaining action on the extremely smooth and slick surface. Reinforcing the competitive aspect of traditional sprint car action, heat wins were registered from first (Bill Rose – Kissel 320), second (Chris Windom), fourth (Dustin Smith), fifth (C.J. Leary), and eighth (Ray Marshall’s Matt Westfall and Stan Courtad’s Thomas Meseraull). T-Mez was scheduled to fire from fourth but missed the call. Tagging the tail, of course he offered some unexpected crowd-pleasing drama. Missing from heat action altogether were Coleman Gulick (NRA) and J.J. Hughes (BOSS). Turn one hot lap wall contact broke the Jacobs ladder mount on the Hughes Triple-X while Gulick fought unknown mechanical gremlins from the get-go. Although his action was impeded, this was the first time to see the Iceman in the flesh since the Gas City USAC show in April of 2013. One has to hope that he still has the desire to return to the wingless world next season, as we could certainly use a further influx of talent and excitement.

Due to the serious limitation on traction, Sprintacular preliminaries were predictably tame, with an initial upside down excursion coming in the first of two BOSS B-mains when C.J. Holley piled into a Justin Owen/Bret Mellenberndt mess. After consolation conquests from eastern Indiana boys Brandon Whited and Drew Abel, unfortunately there was no time for a much-needed surface revival similar to the one conducted at the Four Crown. Heading right into the thirty-lap All Star finale, the first four rows were of course lined up by the trophy dash finish. That meant Chad Kemenah propelled from pole while Sheldon Haudenschild flanked his outside. A loaded field from front to back, Rico Abreu began third, Sammy Swindell (LaHaise 82) 13th, and Jac Haudenschild (Miller 6) 24th. In speaking with Jamie Miller, he advised that his engine was giving up at least 50 horsepower to the top teams. This made a win from the rear a tall order, even if your likeness belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Eldora excellence.

Redeeming himself quite nicely after his Four Crown flub, Abreu took full advantage of Sheldon Haudenschild’s concrete smudge on the initial start. Finding an open avenue at the top of turn one, the St. Helena, California charger circled Kemenah to escape with the back stretch lead. Unlike two weeks prior, this time there would be no relinquishing of that top spot, as Abreu’s task was made somewhat simpler when the groove moved to the middle through three and four just before halfway, clear evidence that rubber had already adhered. The opposite end of the speedway soon suffered the same fate, watching second place Dale Blaney pull to Abreu’s rear bumper when Rico was unable to overtake lapped traffic. Having to stay in the rubber much like the leader, Blaney was unable to find a way by and shadowed the blue 24 for the final 14 tours. Far from the mouth-watering, rim-riding Eldora conditions but somewhat expected given the number of machines on hand, at least the ending offered some close competition. After both the All Star and NRA main events, track crews finally came out to scratch the surface above the rubber, making for much more lively action in the final two contests.

Up front for all thirty in this non-stop, green-to-checker, nail-biting affair, Abreu locked up his second All Star victory at the Big E, admitting afterwards that he occasionally took a peek at the big screen to aid his on-track decisions. The artist formerly known as the “Tall Cool One” finished one spot ahead of his championship nemesis Kemenah. Cap Henry found fourth from 19th, advancing all 15 positions in the first five laps by bombarding the bottom. Cole Duncan drove to fifth in his debut of a brand new ride, said to be a collaborative effort between the Neumeister family and engine builder extraordinaire Charlie Fisher. Positions six through ten were garnered by little Haud, Madsen, Travis Philo, Kraig Kinser, and Eldora newcomer Aaron Reutzel. The reigning ASCS national champion, Reutzel’s first Eldora evening was indeed memorable, taking Joe Seeling’s 97 to a B-main win from fifth and eventually advancing 11 spots in the A.

Aaron’s adventure was far from over however, clearly the dominant force in the 25-lap NRA finale. Starting third in his usual Triple X/Shark, by the third tour he had already scooted past Eldora veteran Butch Schroeder for second just as Randy Hannagan cracked turn three concrete after scaling Devon Dobie's right rear. Taking a rare but terrible tumble in Dennis Yoakam’s double deuce, Randy exited from the wreckage unharmed. The ensuing restart saw Reutzel slide by Dustin Daggett with authority, immediately soaring to a massive advantage. However, huge drama began to unfold for this leader as his hood started coming apart with 18 laps remaining. Serving as a huge impediment to his vision and focus, one had to wonder when track officials would wave the black flag. As it was, no black flag was displayed and even with rubber returning on both ends, Aaron eventually increased his margin to a half track. The late stages saw Schroeder slide Daggett for second, as Tim Allison, yet another Eldora vet, found fourth. Dobie would dine on fifth place money. On the microphone, an obviously enthused Reutzel had a lot to say about his initial Eldora experience, giving credit to Brad Benic for his Momentum Racing Suspensions shocks. In addition, he acknowledged Christopher Bell, who has apparently been promoting Aaron's talents to the rest of the open wheel world.

Closing out the 2016 Eldora campaign with a 25-lap BOSS bout that awarded $1,500 to the winner, given the heat race intrigue it came as no surprise that this contest would be the most spectacular of this Sprintacular. After a redraw of the top two heat race finishers, Dustin Smith drew the number one pill for his Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania car owner Louie Gagliardi, whose Dom’s Gulf DRC continues to wear throwback John Wyer Racing livery. However, it would be fellow front row mate Dallas Hewitt (Keen 18) who got the jump to turn one, still in search of that elusive Eldora victory. Behind Dallas and Dustin, Thomas Meseraull and Chris Windom wasted no time in making forward progress. Launching some big-time bombs, Thomas immediately tackled five men to find fifth while Windom worked past three to take third.

By lap seven, Smith made an unsuccessful bid for first through turn one, allowing Windom to completely close the gap. Two laps later, Chris continued his slide job clinic with a surge to second through one and two. With leader Hewitt now navigating traffic, positions two and three made it a three-car corral up front. Dustin soon surprised Chris for second as T-Mez joined the party and made it a foursome. Just past halfway, Hewitt increased his advantage while the Hustlin’ Hoosier suddenly had to deal with a turn one slide-for-life from the Flying Illini. Dustin instinctively crossed over but one lap later he again had to defend another attack from the orange crush. This time, it was both Smith and Meseraull who chose to cross Windom's path. One lap later, Thomas took a shot at second but Dustin defended his position for the umpteenth time. Meseraull made it stick in turn three however, with Smith slipping to fourth after Windom whisked by in turn four.

With seven laps left, another entertaining scrap for second saw Chris and Thomas swap the spot three times in one tour. Thus allowing Dallas a bit of breathing room, the question of Hewitt being able to finally do it became even bigger with Shane Cottle’s caution with five to go. Restarting Windom, Meseraull, Smith and Westerfeld behind the black 18, Chris immediately made a bid for the lead in one. Dallas kept the spot with a bold outside sweep but with three to go was unable to contain the new Silver Crown champ, as the Baldwin DRC wrenched by Derek Claxton reached Eldora's victory lane for the first time in its existence. Meseraull wrenched second from Hewitt’s hands while Smith and Matt Westfall filled out the first five. Westerfeld, 15th-starting Michael Fischesser, Rose, Justin Grant (McGhee 17), and Nick Bilbee (from 17th) nailed sixth through tenth. Emotionally charged as I attempted to reach Greenville before 11 PM, after being witness to such a bodacious BOSS bash I truly wished that traditional sprinters had more opportunities to strut their stuff at Eldora.

The following Friday (10/14) found me in Kokomo, Indiana for the 15th and final time in 2016, as the first night of the 10th annual Kokomo Klash offered a classic doubleheader of 24 sprints and 31 midgets, always an unbeatable combination but especially so here. 103 cars packed the pits for Friday’s open wheel agenda while Saturday’s exclusive stock car docket attracted 207 machines. Naturally I would not be present on Saturday as USAC sprinters at Terre Haute took precedence.

Hurrying to change from work clothes into dirt track attire along the old Cincinnati to Chicago main line of the former Pennsylvania Railroad, I was invited to a top row grandstand seat by loyal patron Bart Langevin. As usual sprint cars conducted timed hot lap sessions to line up their heats and rather appropriately, newly crowned track champion Kevin Thomas, Jr. clocked quickest from the three groups. Leading the standard five-car Keith Kunz Motorsports brigade, recent Gold Crown Nationals victor Tanner Thorson (13.274) was the best from three midget sessions, as this event carried USAC Indiana regional sanction and signaled the end to its initial campaign.

If there was one thing that stood out from this year’s Klash, it would certainly be the plethora of king-sized crashes. Beginning with a bang in midget hot laps, Chris Windom’s right front wheel met with Mitch Wissmiller, winging Wissmiller into a turn one tumble that included catch fence contact. Mitch’s maiden voyage in a second Sara Fisher/Hartman Racing ride was over just like that, with the frame suffering left rear damage. Even worse, at the time of writing Wissmiller was still suffering from blurry vision, having visited several specialists in hope of finding someone who could offer hope for a full recovery. Needless to say, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Mitch.

The second of six upside down excursions took out third heat contestant Kevin Thomas, Jr., who sunk his right rear into a chunky turn one/two cushion. That giant ledge tilted the 4J Motorsports DRC on two wheels, tumbling Thomas into three or four barrel rolls. Kevin’s first sprint car red flag of the season, the driver was just fine but the impact with earth tweaked the front half of the frame to the left by a couple of inches. After a thorough inspection and some quick repairs, Kevin and car owner Jeremy Ottinger readied their ride for the B, eventually scoring second. Fresh off his first Haubstadt win as a mechanic, Jeremy noted that this particular frame once belonged to Wes McIntyre and had been clipped on four other occasions. A fifth would unfortunately be required.

The other four flips came in sprint and midget main events. Three laps into the sprint car finale, Ted Hines connected with Corey Smith and managed to turn over. Thirteen year-old Jadon Rogers, with assistance from Frankfort’s Brian Cripe, didn’t see the red and hauled it far too deep into turn three. Rogers went for a ride but landed on all four, requesting that a ruined right rear shock be replaced. Thomas Meseraull (Burton 04) was the fifth victim in a similar scenario to KTJ. While chasing leader Shane Cottle, Meseraull biked on the big curb in one and two. Landing hard on the left rear and hurled into the fence, he looked the worse for wear the next day in Terre Haute. The final red flag involved Spencer Bayston and Dave Darland, both of whom were battling for third on lap 19 of the 25-lap midget feature. Resembling Windom and Wissmiller, Dave’s right front stabbed Spencer at the entry to turn one. The Lebanon young lion would take a wicked ride along the wall, able to exit unharmed.

All sprint and midget heat winners came from either the first or second row. Dakota Jackson (Waltz 56) scored in the sprint B while Tony DiMattia shared the same honor in the midget B after overtaking Kiwi Anton Julian (Pace 44), the latter having Indy Car standout Scott Dixon urging him on from the pit stands. 2013 Klash midget winner Shane Cottle (Ecker 57) encountered mechanical gremlins in heat and B and thus failed to transfer.

While mini sprints took to the track, I enjoyed a quick conversation with Lawrenceburg Speedway legend Greg Staab, who was leisurely watching from the main grandstands. It was been a trying last few years for Staab, who successfully beat throat cancer in 2014. Heading into the 2016 New Year, an early morning fire claimed the life of his girlfriend Penny and a couple of pets. Completely gutting his house and all of its contents, serious smoke inhalation required a nearly two week hospital stay. Since then, cancer came back in his liver and lungs, having to endure extensive chemo since April. Given a clear sign from his doctor just the day before Kokomo, the cancer spots stopped growing and have actually shrunk, with no testing or treatments required for the next ten weeks. Always in positive spirits, the Sayler Park Racing Hall of Fame inductee is still stoked about sprint car racing, having campaigned a yellow number 44 for Joe Ligouri this season. Winning his 80th event as a driver/owner/mechanic earlier this year at Charleston, Illinois, one night after Kokomo Joe would give Greg victory number 81.

Thomas Meseraull and Shane Cottle shared the sprint car feature front row, with Cottle taking the early advantage as 2010 Klash winner Scotty Weir (Simon 22) immediately exited, having earlier encountered issues with engine timing and a broken brake line. Difficult to develop any rhythm for the first eight laps due to a pair of cautions and reds, Cottle led eighth-starting Jerry Coons, Jr., Justin Grant (McGhee 17), Chris Windom, and Jarett Andretti back to green after Meseraull’s fence mauling. When Shane and Jerry chose to go low, Justin and Chris stepped upstairs. Coons and Grant briefly scrapped for second, but JG stayed true to his top shelf tactic and gained the advantage. Pulling even with last year’s winner on the 12th tour, one lap later Justin was all alone out front, quickly constructing an insurmountable lead in just two tours. But, lapped traffic would allow Cottle to close in the waning stages, going as low as he possibly could on both ends. However, it would not be enough to keep Grant from his first Kokomo conquest of the season. Before taking home $5,000 from Findlay the next evening, Cottle settled for second. Coons, Windom, and Andretti annexed third through fifth. Dave Darland (up from 11th in the Walker 11), Matt Westfall (Marshall 33), Dakota Jackson (from 16th), Kevin Thomas, Jr. (from 17th), and Kyle Robbins secured sixth through tenth.

Ryan Robinson and Dave Darland earned front row seats for the accompanying midget main event but it would be third starter Chris Windom who would draw first blood in Kenny Baldwin’s Spike/Gaerte-Ford, using the moist bottom of turn two’s exit to launch to the lead. A turn three lunge on the second lap sent seventh-starting Tanner Thorson into a spin that also swallowed Tony DiMattia and Jerry Coons, Jr. (Petry 25). One more yellow (Julian and Cole Fehr) and red (Bayston) interrupted Windom’s 25-lap romp. Chris would wind up leading them all up top but behind him a fine battle was waged for second, with fourth-starting Carson Macedo and Robinson engaging in slip and slide/dip and dive maneuvers for two consecutive circuits through one and two. With second through seventh operating under one cozy blanket, Tanner Thorson was included after recovering from his early incident.

A final restart on lap 18 saw Darland bombard the bottom to snag second, closing on Windom with every lap. With two to go, first and second were almost even but it wouldn’t be enough to alter the outcome. Hard to believe that this was Chris’s first-ever full-size midget victory, he proved that Toyota power is not essential to achieve success. Thorson barely beat Gage Walker for third while Holly Shelton scored fifth. Davey Ray ran sixth, this after needing to construct a new car after his Granite City crash. Positions seven through ten were taken by Robinson, Macedo, Chett Gehrke (Moore 10), and Kyle O’Gara. Done by 10:34 PM, yet another incredible Kokomo campaign was in the books, eagerly anticipating what the speedway's schedule will show for 2017.

Rescheduled from September 16th, Terre Haute’s Jim Hurtubise Classic was contested on a gorgeous Saturday evening in which no jacket was required, so odd to enjoy such picture-perfect weather in the middle of October. Tempted by a Millstream Speedway winged 410/wingless 410/winged 305 offering the same night, although I missed out on a new track I'm glad I stuck to my Terre Haute guns as this may have been the best race I have ever witnessed at the legendary Action Track. True story.

Initially disappointed by the slim 22-car assembly as names like Andretti, Cummins, Cottle, and Short were notably absent, surprise participation from Carson Macedo (Krockenberger 21) somewhat masked my dismay. Sixth in the qualifying line in his usual DRC/Fisher combination, July feature winner Chase Stockon wound up number one for the sixth time this season with his 20.424 second tour of the huge half-mile. Towing on an open trailer with mechanical assistance from Donnie Gentry, Thomas Meseraull was fifth fastest in the orange 9x supplied by Stan Courtad, suffering from a sore neck and living on ibuprofen after his Friday night flight. The biggest shocker: point leader Brady Bacon could do no better than 17th.

With no need for a semi-feature, the only question left to answer was whether the quick six qualifiers would earn a feature inversion, needing to simply finish fifth in their heat. All six did the deed, but Meseraull came closest to missing that cut after a half-spin. Stopping to force a caution, with a little work he finally overhauled Issac Chapple’s seven cylinders for fifth. Windom, Tyler Courtney, and Jon Stanbrough all won from fourth.

Missing out on massive modified mayhem as I shared a quick conversation with Ray Kenens, Jr., Kenens commented that this was the first year since 1982 that he had not competed in a sprint car contest. Spending the majority of the season assisting Justin Grant on his Chris Carli Silver Crown car, since Du Quoin he has served as USAC’s truck driver. Dusting off his ride for a dozen or so laps at Boswell, Indiana a few months ago, Ray let Rossville, Indiana mini-sprint sensation Cole Bodine get his feet wet in a full size sprinter, mentioning that the kid looked good. Cole is the son of Kevin Bodine, former crew member for 2001 Gas City and Lincoln Park track champion Eric Shively.

Making it back to a seat saved by "Railroad" Joe Higdon just in time for the 8:25 PM feature push, Justin Grant and Thomas Meseraull held coveted front row starting spots for the $5,000 to win thirty lap grind. With surface already slick and cushion pushed to the wall on both ends, given my indecision in choosing a feature favorite; that should have offered a clue as to how interesting the action would be.

Grant got the initial jump and took T-Mez to task at the top of turn one. Third-starting Chad Boespflug stayed low to secure second, good enough to go wheel to wheel for first on the opposite end. White hot over the last month, 2011 Hurtubise winner Chris Windom immediately found the bottom to his liking, literally coming out of nowhere to slice from seventh to third. Boespflug bolted from bottom of one to the top of two to find first on the third tour. But, after a brief battle with Stockon, Windom went from third to first with consecutive sweeps along turn two’s inside rail. A lap eight caution for J.J. Hughes kept Chris honest, but in just four furious laps he began to build a bridge between himself and second place Boespflug. In an attempt to keep the leader in sight, CB changed his line through three and four and charged the concrete. This extreme top shelf tactic was working wonders and by lap 17, number 98 was back in the lead.

Although Chris was king in one and two, he suddenly couldn’t touch Chad through three and four, forced to follow suit around the rim. After two laps of gaining some great forward bite off turn two, Windom’s massive momentum shot him past Boespflug at turn three. Chad immediately returned the favor and slammed the door on his former ride at the entrance to turn one, still not enough to keep The Bear from growling again at the entrance to turn three of lap 23. Despite some fourth turn interference from Joe Bares, Chad still kept his EZR Maxim/Claxton out front. Boespflug miraculously split the lapped machines of Chapple and Corey Smith through one and two but Windom made his usual back stretch surge to offer even more third turn drama. Chris slipped and slided while Chad dipped and dived, but the high side momentum maintained by the Baldwin 5 was more than enough to officially lead lap 28.

The last two laps went uncontested for Windom, flagging his fourth win over the last three weeks and his second USAC sprint car score of the season. Boespflug settled for second, easily his best Terre Haute showing due in part to effective half-mile setups from Davey Jones. In what was later announced as car owner Monte Edison’s final contest in a 22-year career containing 89 wins (5 of them USAC) and 12 track titles, Monte’s driver Jerry Coons, Jr. started fourth and finished third. Chase Stockon and Justin Grant looked good early but wound up fourth and fifth. Tyler Courtney, Brady Bacon (up ten spots), Jon Stanbrough, C.J. Leary, and Aaron Farney made up the second half of the top-ten. With such great weather, an even greater race, and an early exit at 8:58 PM, who could ask for anything more from a closing contest?

Regardless of whether it was a Thursday or Friday, I chose not to make the brutal drive to the Jason Leffler Memorial, knowing just how difficult it is to get back home from Southern Illinois at a decent hour and not feel completely worn out for the next week. Although I could have easily concluded my outdoor campaign on a high note from such a terrific Terre Haute tussle, only hardcore race chasers know that a racing soul gets even greedier once it is witness to an awesome event. Feeding the beast with one last bite, I angled southeast towards Chillicothe, Ohio where Atomic Speedway’s All Star Circuit of Champions finale offered one final fling. Owning original plans to meet up with my Cleveland comrade Tom Percy, once rain reduced a two night show to one and sliced the winner’s share in half to $10,000, Tom bailed, leaving me in my solace to enjoy my last journey before hibernation mode sets in.

Having only traveled twice to the former K-C Raceway, both times I played passenger, the last time for a 2009 World of Outlaws outing with my nephew. The first was way back in 1993, riding with Steve Remington, Dave Sink, and a few others to the USAC sprint car contest eventually won by Jack Hewitt. Finally figuring out how to use the navigation in my newest MINI, once I punched in the address of 2535 Blain Highway in Waverly, Ohio, I was advised that the 216 miles could be covered in perfect time – scheduled to arrive at exactly 5 PM for the start of hot laps. The first two hours to Dayton via I-70 and I-75 were a breeze, but it was those last 90 minutes on US-35/23 that seemed to take forever. Instantly recalling that initial trip with Remington when a highly irritated individual in the lane next to us decided to display his firearm, in honor of Rem and his love for late 1960s rock and roll, instead of satellite radio I switched over to my iPhone and listened to all 20 tracks of The Future Starts Here: The Essential Doors Hits. There's just something about that band and its distinctive sounds that sends me back in time, wondering what sprint car racing was like in the 1970s when it was filled with far more outlaws, gypsies, and free spirits who might have listened to these same tunes.

Spotting gorgeous fall foliage sprouting from steep hillsides surrounding Chillicothe, it truly felt like I was entering a completely different world, partially understanding why a Hoosier like Danny Smith might want to migrate here. Easily finding my turnoff on Rozelle Creek Road only to immediately fork left at Mount Tabor Road, the next 3.6 miles of twists and turns were definitely not suited for today’s super-sized sprint car haulers. Left again on Blain Highway, my trusty navigator advised that my destination would be on the right in less than a mile. Parking outside of three and four and making the long trek to the pit shack, I remembered that my 1993 ride with Remington was rewarded with full access, as Steve was extremely tight with the Karshner family who at that time called the shots at K-C. Plopping down my pair of yuppie food stamps for pit access, I found it quite ironic that the person who signed the waiver ahead of me also owned the last name of Karshner.

This was indeed a throwback evening, revisiting an era (late ‘80s and early ‘90s) when I was so infatuated with the winged sprint car scene. Making a quick tour of a pit area packed with 49 sprinters, Jac Haudenschild’s car owner Jamie Miller was first to recognize my out of place presence when asking if I was lost. Of those 49, of course you had all of your usual All Star regulars, with Dale Blaney trailing Chad Kemenah by 18 points in the championship chase. A large contingent of locals was led by Danny Smith, but all-to-familiar names from the past included Todd Kane, Jimmy Stinson (Slone 4x), Cale Conley, Dave Dickson (a Truesports Racing employee back in the day with my brother Chris), and Mark Imler. Old-school outlaws included Haud, The Dude (with Guy Forbrook still spinning wrenches) and Keystone state invader Brent Marks. Another interesting matchup paired car owner Kevin Swindell with midgeteer Spencer Bayston for the second time.

Given the propensity for hardcore racing folk to cover any kind of mileage to absorb this type of action, naturally I wasn’t the only Hoosier in the house. Landon Simon was spotted in the Swindell speed lab. Indy Race Parts proprietor Bernie Stuebgen was busy lending a hand and a set of shocks to Hunter Schuerenberg. Now numbered two and adorned with old school graphics, Hunter debuted a new Eagle chassis in style and was up front all night. After the action had ended, longtime Danny Smith benefactor Allen Kiger graciously offered to fuel my stomach for the long ride home, but the unfortunate 11:15 PM ending left me no choice but to get on the road. Kiger commented that Smith’s decision to stay off the half-miles in 2017 wasn’t because of age or skill, but rather competitive equipment concerns. Kokomo Honda’s Lynn Reid paced the pits, as did Elliott Trailers employee Tony Courtney. Now calling New Castle, Indiana home, Kevin Besecker even took time out of his evening to say hello, overseeing a winged Bob East creation for Caleb Armstrong who required a rear end swap after hot laps.

If I remember right, USAC hot laps in 1993 ended the evening for three men, one of them serious enough to require an immediate trip to the hospital. 23 years later, this All Star assembly also eliminated a trio from hot laps, with Bradley Howard, Cody Gallogly, and Ronnie Blair inverting and calling it an evening. A long night characterized by calamity, 15 separate sprint car chauffeurs inverted, very few of them categorized as tommy-tipovers.

As expected, Thursday’s significant accumulation of rain left the 3/8ths mile oval soft and choppy in spots. Down low in one and two and through the middle in three and four, the latter location claimed 11 of the 15 flips. After the three from hot laps, only one went over in qualifying (Danny Holtgraver) while heats took their toll on Paige Polyak (rearranging the front torsion tubes on her frame) and Caleb Helms. A trophy dash connection with Schuerenberg landed Lee Jacobs on his lid. Local Jessie McCreary was roughed up by the inside berm in the C while Dallas Hewitt (Jessup 7K), Ryan Broughton, and Nate Reeser were B-main casualties.

Slated to start from the pole of the dash was Jac Haudenschild, with all signs pointing to a Wild Child feature romp as these old-school heavy conditions were right up his alley. But, things went downhill in a hurry after Jac lost an oil filter o-ring while lining up for that dash. Also requiring Jamie Miller’s scant squad to drain and refill the machine’s water supply just in time for the A-main, Haud lined up 8th for the 35-lapper but immediately bounced into a flip atop turns three and four, truly a shame as he would have been wicked to watch.

After hitting the rough stuff wrong between turns one and two on the ninth lap, Cap Henry took a violent end over end tumble over the banking. Caleb Armstrong was a bucking bronco rider in turn four about a third of the way through and became flip number 14. This particular red flag turned into a fuel stop for the thirsty sprinters that now boast between 900 to 1,000 horsepower but are still fed by ridiculously small fuel cells. Spending most of my evening with Greenville, Ohio resident and former sprint car competitor John Buchy, John and I came to the agreement that we both despise the breaks in the action caused by these red flag fuel stops, wondering what paying customer wants to see such nonsense. Why can’t the movers and shakers in the winged sprint car community demand that their teams find a way to complete the feature distance without the security blanket of fuel stops? Perhaps requiring a return to the days of larger fuel cells, if such a hard stance were taken on limiting fuel stops, teams might not be encouraged to build such exotic engines. Thus able to go longer between rebuilds, this might actually save the sport in the long run. Benefitting the fans and the teams, this seems like a common sense solution but as it currently stands, the inmates are essentially running the winged sprint car asylum.

The final flip took place about 15 to 20 feet from my grandstand seat, about as dramatic and close in proximity as I can remember. The hotly contested race for first between quick qualifier (11.282 seconds), dash winner, and race-long leader Cole Duncan and outside row one starter Sheldon Haudenschild turned ugly just past the flag stand on lap 32. Just before that fateful moment, the lead duo had met for several consecutive circuits on the front chute, often far too close for comfort. Unfortunately the final meeting saw Sheldon attempt to squeeze between the wall and Cole’s ride, resulting in contact that turned Duncan’s number 12 completely sideways. Flipping on top of the wall and into the catch fence, the three race old Neumeister owned Maxim was wiped out while its Charlie Fisher mill was taxed beyond its intended RPM range. A tough break for Cole, he had hoped to win this race for his recently deceased grandfather who had planned on attending.

As it was, Haudenschild went on to score his ninth All Star win of the season, leading a lightning-quick Hunter Schuerenberg and 12th-starting Danny Lasoski to the finish. Brent Marks moved from 20th to 4th while Spencer Bayston, who endured a loose top wing in his heat, elevated from 18th to 5th. Sixth through tenth in this survival of the fittest included Bill Balog (from 17th), Kraig Kinser (from 16th), Chad Kemenah, Dale Blaney, and Caleb Helms (from 22nd). Operating as high as second in the main event, Danny Holtgraver could only claim 19th after bouncing through the holes in one and two, slowing enough to incite some serious blows from both Jimmy Stinson and Tim Shaffer. Kemenah’s conservative run was good enough for a 20 point cushion on Blaney in the final standings, awarding car owner Randy Hammer his first series crown and Chad’s fifth, his first since 2005.

Despite all those incidents, the need for two feature fuel stops, and the later than desired ending, it was still an enjoyable evening, as one rarely gets to see winged activity on such a heavy surface. To ensure that I arrive home without interruption or incident, I still needed to make my own fuel stop for my MINI and my mind (two cans of Starbucks energy tend to do the trick). Keeping my speed to a minimum, I finally hit my driveway at an unsavory 3:30 AM, but at least my racing soul was adequately fed for the winter. With end of 2016 indoor open wheel options in Du Quoin and Fort Wayne, although the season may not be officially over, it might as well be.

Time to wrap up this final 2016 column with my own closing comments, although lamenting the fact that I would miss the season’s first three Indiana outdoor events while vacationing in Ireland, once back on home soil it was an immediate transition to full-on race mode, as week after week seemed to offer countless can’t miss contests. Other than two complete weekend washouts in April and two weekends in August to rein in my emotions following the horrific Bryan Clauson tragedy, the entire season was one big blur. Although I am a little sad that it’s over, I’m actually ok with a break in the action, able to effectively recharge racing batteries and relieve work stress by watching college basketball, visiting long-lost friends and family, and going away for a couple extended weekend vacations. Even though both boys of summer (sprint car chauffeurs and Major League Baseball players) have come and gone, thanks to these final few journeys and some unexpected seat time in an actual fire-breathing sprinter, my love for the sport will still remain strong in these long winter months, ready to hit it hard come late March and early April.

 

 

Volume 18, Number 10

Long Time

As a loyal listener of Tom Petty Radio, far too often I’m reminded that the waiting is the hardest part. This is especially true in this internet age when anything you desire becomes instantly available with the press of a few buttons on your wireless device. It wasn’t that long ago when the news of the day would have to wait until the morning and if you’re a racing fanatic, you might remember that Thursdays were extra special, as that was the day the mailman would deliver National Speed Sport News, containing everything you needed to know about all forms of racing. I truly miss those innocent days, as there was something to be said about the benefits of anticipation and actually having to wait for whatever it is that you wanted. Is it safe to say that any kind of extended delay results in a greater appreciation?

The best benefit of living in the vicinity of Indiana’s capital city is the multiple options of open wheel entertainment on any given weekend from April through October. For any raceaholic who needs his fix, there’s rarely a long wait for the next one – unless of course you’re talking about the end of the season. To reach these venues generally requires 90 minutes of driving, with Tri-State Speedway serving as the lone exception. Yes, it might take a long time to get there, but the trip is always well worth it.

For this September 17th haul to the Haubstadt Hustler, my nephew was once again my co-pilot, always making the dreadful drive home a bit more bearable. Sharing a distinct desire to make each journey stand out, this time we set out for Evansville’s Gerst Bavarian Haus, with the sole purpose of finding out if it was worthy of making the top-ten list of best tenderloin sandwiches in the state. Located in an old hardware store on Franklin Street (just west of Tin Man Brewing), I’m happy to report that the Gerst tenderloin was indeed one of the best I’ve ever devoured. In addition to the sandwich, Danny and I also enjoyed a German sausage sampler platter as an appetizer. Paired with a wide array of craft beers from not only Indiana, but all over the country, prices for food and drink were quite reasonable. Checking out their website (www.gersthaus.com), it was interesting to learn that this restaurant is not an Evansville original but rather an outpost from Nashville, Tennessee. Either way, it was a great time and a great meal, ready to give it another go the next time I’m in the area.

In our attempt to reach Haubstadt from downtown Evansville, just like April we once again chose some new roads. West on Franklin, north on St. Joseph Avenue, east on West Boonville-New Harmony Road, north on Darmstadt Road (eyeing the age-old Darmstadt Inn, a future dining destination), and veering right at the fork for Old Princeton Road, in the distance I spotted an impressive spire extending from a rather prominent elevation. As we would soon find out, that steeple belonged to the Saint James Roman Catholic Church, the oldest Catholic congregation in Gibson County. At 5:30 PM on a Saturday, the parking lot was of course packed, interesting to note that the church and its adjoining private school were located in its own hamlet rather appropriately named Saint James. The town of Haubstadt was just one mile north, passing its former high school gymnasium that is still used as a community center. Before reaching the Haub Steakhouse (last visited in 2008 for the early bird special), we were stopped by a thundering northbound CSX freight train, making me believe that this might just be my lucky day as I still love my trains. Once the crossing gates raised, we soon reached The Class Track, where an outstanding congregation of 41 sprint cars vied for the $10,000 top prize.

It’s been such a long time since 41 sprinters populated the Tri-State pits, having recently attracted 39 for the July Sprint Week stop. Such a large number was highly appreciated, as this actually makes the heat races and semi-feature much more meaningful and entertaining. One of those 41 competitors was Daron Clayton, the 2012 and 2014 winner of this event and a crowd-pleasing favorite in this neck of the woods. Entered in a second Jeff Walker Racing ride, it has been a long time since Daron had saddled up in a sprinter, one year to be exact. Requiring hot laps and a heat race to remove rust, the Modern Day Cowboy galloped from eighth to second in the B, good enough to grid him 17th for the big 40-lapper. Living up to his reputation as being worth the price of admission, Clayton did not disappoint. His usual tactic of early-apexing turns one and three continued to be effective, climbing as high as third at lap 36 before a last lap spin spoiled his Cinderella story.

Before on-track action ever commenced, heavy drama involved C.J. Leary and Thomas Meseraull. Leary arrived with his family-owned machine, much to the surprise of his Amati Racing squad that was completely caught off-guard by C.J.’s unannounced departure. Meseraull towed his own number 9x south, but obliged on Shane Wade’s request to rejoin his old team. Leary’s brief tenure in the 66 netted him his first USAC national sprint win at Kokomo, but the possession of that trophy and the monetary rewards were the subject of debate. At the end of the Hustler, C.J. scored eleventh while Meseraull took 21st, victim of an overheating engine.

The substantial field required five heats, with all but one won from the front row. The most impressive heat race performance came from Princeton’s Kyle Cummins, who started fourth, fell back to seventh, but surged to second. This was just enough for Cummins to take part in the feature redraw, as MSCS rules reigned on this evening. A full inversion of ten cars meant that July Sprint Week winner Carson Short would share a front row with 2013 Haubstadt Hustler winner Kevin Thomas, Jr., whose 4J Motorsports squad was wearing the number one for Robert Ballou, assisting Ballou in his quest to maintain his high placement in USAC car owner points.

As expected, Short got the jump and led the first seven laps, but the big cushion that had developed in the heat races bit Carson in a big way. Blasting the turn two lip to bike and then tip over, Short actually restarted and surged back to seventh at the finish. Sixth-starting Tyler Courtney inherited first and led the next twelve tours, but that super-heavy surface that resulted from Friday rain (enough to completely coat the outside billboards with mud) took its toll on Tyler’s advantage. Consecutive Courtney bike rides in turns four and two on lap 19 and 20 allowed fifth-starting Kyle Cummins to take the point in his Rock Steady Racing Mach 1/Cummins, a position he would not relinquish despite a red flag for quick-qualifier Tyler Hewitt and a pair of late-race yellows for Brady Short (big smoke) and Clayton.

Courtney’s career-best Haubstadt effort came up one spot short of victory, overtaking tenth-starting Shane Cottle (Hazen 57) for runner-up rights on the final lap. Kevin Thomas, Jr. and Chase Stockon (from 14th) were fourth and fifth. Chris Windom, Carson Short, Justin Grant, Brady Bacon (from 20th), and Jon Stanbrough (from 22nd) were sixth through tenth at the 10:24 PM checkered flag. In just his second outing in Mike Dutcher’s 17, Aaron Farney won his heat race and was operating in fourth before taking a two-wheeled tour to the turn four wall, rendering him 23rd in the rundown.

Celebrating his long-awaited hometown score with turn two and four donuts, Kyle Cummins began his USAC career with a bang after tumbling over the turn four guardrail at Terre Haute on October 4th, 2003. Having to wait until July 9th, 2016 to achieve the ultimate measure of success with this Speedway, Indiana sanctioning body, that’s nearly a 13 year wait for his first win, imagining Kyle’s enormous relief, excitement, and appreciation. A long time coming, he had been knocking on the door for years and years, especially at Haubstadt where just one year prior he was within five laps of this noteworthy win. An MSCS champion in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2014, Cummins even had to wait a while for his first Haubstadt sprint car score, this coming on June 30th, 2012. Since then, numerous Tri-State tallies have come: 9/27/14, 9/6/15, 9/26/15, 6/11/16, 9/4/16, and now 9/17/16. Just two months and eight days after his first USAC triumph, the wait for his second victory wasn’t nearly as long, but the end result was equally sweet.

With a half-day of vacation scheduled on the following Friday, I chose an Eldora Speedway World of Outlaws pre-Four Crown affair over the Lincoln Park Speedway points finale (won by Brady Short with the track title going to Shane Cockrum). Even with the half day off, I still couldn't head east until 3:30 PM, running into untimely snarls through Carmel and Fishers that made me sweat my Darke County arrival time. Thankfully hot laps were slightly delayed, allowing me to briefly converse with Tim Clauson for the first time since the unfortunate incident. Still unable to convey just how much his son's absence has impacted my thoughts about racing and life, I continue to marvel at just how accessible the family has been given the dire circumstances. Nevertheless, an event like the Four Crown that showcases such supreme versatility was missing Bryan’s presence in a big way, as only Brady Bacon and Tyler Courtney signed up for all four of Saturday’s classes despite the big bonus money that was available for anyone who could win three ($25,000) or four ($100,000) features.

Running so short on time precluded my usual Greenville stop for a sack of Maid-Rite sandwiches, having to wait one more day to indulge in such a guilty pleasure. But, as the Eldora track crew continued their finishing touches, I was allowed a moment to meet up with Tom Percy and his Cleveland camping contingent who had just finished their own dinner. Thanks to Tom, I wouldn’t have to fuel up for the rest of the evening but due to the unseasonal 84 degree temperatures, I did need to wait in line for a liquid refreshment or two.

Greeted by a 42-car field divided into two qualifying flights, Gary Taylor was quickest of both bunches with a 13.036 second circuit, still such a long way off Craig Dollansky’s 12.707 mark from 2002. Gearing up for Saturday’s All Star altercation, Tyler Courtney was clocked 21st while Brady Bacon bolted to the pits when his power plant changed pitch. Courtney’s winged mentor Danny Smith failed to take time and was stuck with a 9th place C-main result, hardly the way a true legend should exit his final Eldora World of Outlaws outing.

Starting heat races straight up by time, I’m still baffled as to how this format promotes better heat racing, as qualifying is still the key to everything. And who is better at qualifying than Outlaw tour regulars? No one, I might add. Kerry Madsen, taking over for Bryan Clauson in Matt Wood’s 17W, was most impressive in Friday heats, defying front row logic with a win from outside row 2. Shane Stewart also made the dash from row two, crazy that I’m writing about someone coming from the second row being a noteworthy heat race performance. Such is the state of affairs in big-time winged racing, as it is hard to pass in the heats no matter the number of inversion. It is common knowledge that overtaking only becomes possible via traffic and bone-slick conditions, which was far from reality as Friday’s Eldora surface was actually quite heavy.

A trophy dash inversion of eight placed Daryn Pittman on pole, but Donny Schatz did the most damage in his drive from sixth to second, going above the cushion in turns three and four to manufacture momentum for passes in one and two. After C and B-main wins by Hunter Schuerenberg and last year’s winner Greg Wilson, the thirty-lap feature was ready to roll by 9:58 PM. Needing four attempts at starting the finale, Tim Shaffer and Jacob Allen tumbled at the turn three entrance, the third and fourth flip victims after earlier inversions from Joe Swanson (heat) and Randy Hannagan (B). Jac Haudenschild’s stoppage of the Brubaker 35 led to a third restart that saw his son Sheldon soar into the turn one fence, punching a huge hole with his top wing. Gary Taylor was the sixth to land on his lid after his lap 24 incident. Thankfully everyone exited ok.

Pittman had to work extra hard to hold off Schatz on those initial starts, the fourth one being the charm. Daryn chopped Donny immediately in turn three, with fifth-starting Shane Stewart dive-bombing the Minot missile in the same corner of lap four. Shane used lapped traffic to completely close the gap to the Great Clips guy, able to make his winning move with a patented turn three slider on lap 11. Building a 3.5 second advantage before GT’s tumble, a double-file restart could not keep Stewart from victory, beating Daryn to the top of turn two and building a full straightaway advantage in just six circuits. Winning for the second time in three days, the 2015 Kings Royal winner climbed atop his Cool chassis and pounded the top wing, praising his team for a superb setup and his Rider Engine for its huge horsepower. Bobby Allen’s grandson Logan Schuchart snuck by Pittman for second, continuing the fantastic season for the ultimate low-buck racer. The 2013 Outlaw champ settled for the podium while Schatz and David Gravel filled out the first-five. Positions six through ten were claimed by Joey Saldana, Kerry Madsen, Ian Madsen, Brad Sweet (from 20th), and Chad Kemenah. Native Hoosiers Kraig Kinser, Caleb Armstrong, and Tyler Courtney collected 13th, 15th, and 17th, respectively.

Heading home Friday night to scoop up Speed Ball for Saturday Four Crown activity, the 4:30 PM hot lap start required an earlier than usual departure, especially to get to Greenville to grab those Maid-Rites. With a line nearly out the door, I was thoroughly impressed that the crew was able to get me in and out in no time flat. Spotting Kermit House (father to Tray) sitting in a booth, I wondered just how many times he has stopped here over the years. I can confirm that this Maid-Rite in Greenville easily blows away the one in Christopher, Illinois.

It’s been a long time since four classes were contested at the Four Crown – 2006 to be exact – and we know how that evening turned out: an all-nighter thanks to Mother Nature. The very next year (2007), the World of Outlaws became the fourth crown for a Friday-only showing while just the three traditional USAC classes were featured on Saturday. So, when it was first announced that the All Star Circuit of Champions would serve as the fourth crown for 2016, I assumed that this group would replace the World of Outlaws on Friday, as there was simply no way to run a complete show for four decent sized divisions in one evening. But, leave it to Eldora Speedway to make a bold attempt to pull off the impossible, as never before has an open wheel fanatic been presented with such a high concentration of high-quality action.

With 126 machines doing battle (25 midgets, 40 sprints, 24 Silver Crown, and 37 All Stars), qualifying alone required 378 circuits if you factor in one warmup lap and two on the clock. Boasting 11 heat races, two B-mains, a trophy dash, and 135 laps of feature action, that’s a lot to squeeze into such a limited time frame. Unfortunately, when you attempt to start a dirt track program in extended daylight, there’s no way any respectable surface can survive the abuse of the sun, huge right rear tires, and high horsepower engines. So, instead of presenting a rubber-down parade that would have been some serious buzzkill for the largest Four Crown crowd I have ever encountered, track owner Tony Stewart ordered a complete surface revamp once qualifying was finally completed at 8:20 PM. The extensive revival was finally finished by 10:01 PM and despite Stewart’s explanation and apology, the natives were growing rather restless. Four hours and 48 minutes later, the final feature took the checkered flag, making for one heaping helping of open wheel overload. Please don’t construe this as a complaint, as I knew all too well that this would be a very late night. The fact is, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Serving as my introduction to Eldora Speedway (circa 1985), I gained firsthand knowledge that this one event can create cult heroes by showcasing such dynamic talent.

My initial Eldora intake was highlighted by Larry Rice’s sprint and Silver Crown double on the same set of rear tires, setting the bar extremely high for impossibility and heroism. However, Jack Hewitt soon became the benchmark in both of these categories. From 1983 to 1998 (not counting the 1984 rainout), there were only two years when he didn’t win at least one Four Crown feature. Double-dipping three times before his magical 1998 sweep, his all-time event win total reached an amazing 19. Kyle Larson’s 2011 sweep of all three features was equally impressive given the fact that it was his first time to compete at the Big E, also earning him extreme worship status. There is no doubt that people will still be raving about these fantastic feats several decades later, thus preserving the prestige of such an intriguing event.

Other than Hewitt, Steve Kinser (1981), Rich Vogler (1986), Tony Stewart (1995), Dave Darland (1999 and 2004), J.J. Yeley (2001), Tracy Hines (2006), and Chris Windom (2013) have also double dipped in Four Crown action. After obliterating this year’s midget field and taking the All Star feature lead on lap 7, Rico Abreu seemed certain to become the next member of “club double”.

Qualifying quickest in his Keith Kunz Bullet/Toyota (17.164) and going from sixth to first in just half of a heat race lap, after a brief exchange with Chad Boat he held the feature lead by lap two. Tempting fate with a choppy cushion through one and two, the slightly cowboy conditions completely suited Rico’s win it or wear it style. Had it not been for a Tyler Courtney (Irwin 7K) caution with four laps remaining, only four cars would have finished on the lead lap, no doubt the most dominating Four Crown midget performance of all-time.

Third in All Star qualifying, third in his heat, and first in the dash, after lifting the lead from outside front row starter and quick qualifier (14.158) Randy Hannagan, Abreu survived a serious taste of turn four concrete on lap ten. Still operating the Abreu Vineyards Eagle on the razor’s edge, he eventually stepped over that imaginary line on lap 28, spinning and cutting a 360 degree donut through a slick turn three before being blasted by Lee Jacobs. Despite his failure to join the same club as the aforementioned Four Crown stars, it didn’t take Rico very long to earn the modern day equivalency of Hewitt’s Eldora adulation. So fearless and so fast, the combination of Rico and the Big E makes for must-see action.

Aside from Abreu, Chris Windom was the other amazing Four Crown story of 2016. Although Chris was already a member of “club double”, he looked to punch his card for a second time and further separate himself as an Eldora elite. Timing third in the Kenny Baldwin DRC/Claxton behind quick qualifier Chase Stockon (16.514) and Brady Bacon, he did everything but flip in his heat after scaling the right rear of Thomas Meseraull (Courtad 9x) through turns one and two. Blasting both wall and fence, the damage was too significant to continue with that car, far easier for crew chief Derek Claxton to bust out a backup for the B. That meant they were slated to start 23rd in a 12-lap affair, needing to reach 8th. Chris clearly had no trouble with that task after finishing 3rd, slicing through the field like the proverbial hot knife through butter with completely authoritative slide jobs.

With USAC’s new-for-2016 rule penalizing the use of a backup car for only one race; that meant the orange crush would fire from eighth. Driving by Darland for third at the one-third mark, he soon had early leader Matt Westfall (Marshall 33) in his sights for second, gaining the spot just before a backstretch blunder eliminated Scotty Weir (Simon 22). Restarting just behind leader Justin Grant (McGhee 17), Big Daddy bolted to the lead with a signature turn one slider, but Justin retained the spot with a quick crossover. Chris immediately reloaded with another bomb in three but didn’t have enough mustard on the hot dog to make it stick. Although Grant briefly pulled away, the last ten laps proved to be a game of cat and mouse through thick traffic. The lead duo boldly gassed it through the rough stuff in one and stayed glued to one another all the way to the checkered. After slipping underneath the white flag, Grant’s turn one slider through traffic sealed the deal, so reminiscent of the move made here in May of 2015 when he shocked C.J. Leary on the final lap. Despite Windom’s defeat, such a strong run was a huge confidence booster as he needed to win to have a real shot at the Silver Crown championship, trailing Kody Swanson by ten points.

Chris’s RPM Motorsports Maxim/Wallace was slotted outside of his teammate Tyler Courtney (JEI/Foxco) for the 50-lap Silver Crown finale, as both shared the same qualifying time and front row. Interestingly enough, Windom’s 18.099 lap came fourth in line while Courtney equaled the mark four cars from the end. However, Sunshine’s other qualifying circuit was better than that of The Bear, costing Chris three valuable points. Jeff Swindell and Kody Swanson occupied the second row, with Kody only needing to finish in the top-three to clinch his third consecutive crown. Much like Abreu with the midgets, the Crown contest was all Windom, as Chris’s crushing performance was easily the most dominating I have ever witnessed in this division at the Four Crown, maybe even the most of all-time in this event. Just three cars were left on the lead lap – three cars! Can you believe it?

With winning his only alternative, Windom whisked to a full straight advantage just eight laps in, already encountering heavy traffic two laps later. Swanson scooted to second, also having to deal with his share of congestion while attempting to keep the leader in sight. Just as Chris was lapping Jerry Coons, Jr., Jerry’s Nolen Racing counterpart Dakota Jackson was being approached by Kody. Attempting to slip underneath in turn one, the reigning champ closed too quickly and made contact, spinning the DePalma 63 to the outside wall. While Kody’s crew changed a left rear tire and removed the remains of a crushed front bumper, they scrambled to address a front end/steering issue, as the left front wheel was showing far too much positive camber (the bottom of the wheel was tucked in way more than usual) as a result of the contact. With car 63 sent back to battle, its driver immediately spun in turn one as the issues with the left front wheel made the car completely unstable on corner entry. In 36 laps, could he get back to third to secure his third championship; or, could he even drive the thing without spinning again? Either way, he had to give it a shot but suddenly the championship outlook took a completely different turn, providing some unexpected late night drama.

Eleven laps later, Windom put Swanson a lap in arrears, continuing his torrid march through the field. While keeping an eye on Chris, the scrum for second through seventh (Grant, Courtney, Bacon, Swindell, Coons, and Darland) was the one race to watch, as plenty of positions were swapped over the final 25 tours. Just as he was about to put his third place teammate a lap down, one final caution with 13 to go saw Windom’s 16.902 second lead over Justin Grant evaporate. Restarting Justin and Tyler at the rear with a ton of lapped cars in between, the race for first was a thing of the past, resulting in Windom’s third series victory of the season. Grant, Courtney, Bacon and Swanson took second through fifth at the 2:49 AM checkered flag. Sixth through tenth included Swindell, Darland, Coons, Cottle, and Bill Rose. That gritty drive by Kody was extremely impressive and commendable given his handicap, but he still came up two positions short.

For the first time in a long while (1992), the Silver Crown championship changed hands in the final race, giving Fred Gormly’s team its first USAC title and its primary driver his first USAC national championship, having claimed a 2006 Kenyon car title and the 2011 Indiana Sprint Week crown. Just as much as the long time spent in the grandstand and late arrival home (5:30 AM), 2016 championship drama and dominating drives by Abreu and Windom will only add further allure to the event.

After national midget point leader Spencer Bayston blew up in the midget main, that further tightened the championship standings as first through fourth (Bayston, Boat, Bacon, and Thorson) were now just separated by 30 points. After a turn one, last lap lunge from Brady Bacon, Tanner Thorson reclaimed the runner-up spot on the backstretch. Toyota power swept the top-five as Abreu, Thorson, Bacon, Boat, and Holly Shelton were all powered by the brand. Davey Ray’s Mopar was first in class B after scoring sixth. Ray was chased by Carson Macedo, whose titanic qualifying tumble at the exit of turn two sent him to a backup car for the heat and feature. KKM’s Ryan Robinson, Jerry Coons, Jr. (Petry/Goff 25), and Dave Darland (Gray 11) rounded out the top-ten. Like Macedo, Tony DiMattia flipped in qualifying, even enduring another big-time inversion in the sprint car semi-feature. That was certainly not the way Tony wanted to remember his Four Crown weekend, having celebrated his 21st birthday on Friday.

The Four Crown was indeed a special evening of redemption for Justin Grant, who had suffered through a miserable season prior to joining Sam McGhee Motorsports in late August. Excited to give the team its first USAC victory on the sport’s biggest stage, Justin certainly has an appreciation for racing tradition, calling his second USAC score at Eldora “an extra kind of special”. After winning his fourth USAC feature of his career, Grant reaffirmed the notion that whenever there’s a challenging cushion approaching the concrete wall, whether it be Eldora or Kokomo he’s a contender to win.

Flipping through my Four Crown notebook, I was reminded of the significance of Matt Goodnight’s sprint car heat race win. Matt’s resulting interview over the P.A. system offered that this was his first heat race win in a sprint car – period.

After qualifying a fine fourth in his wingless sprinter, Tyler Courtney’s Topp Motorsports team had to hustle to ready the ride for the semi-feature after a heat race flip, this coming after Tyler scaled the right rear of Luke Hall.

After four of the quick six from USAC sprint car qualifying failed to make the heat race transfer due to the heavy surface, that meant 11th and 9th fastest qualifiers Thomas Meseraull and Matt Westfall would hold front row seats for the feature. Thomas struggled with the handling on his Hawk chassis, scoring 16th. A 2006 USAC winner here, Matt led ten laps and earned 8th.

Trailing Grant and Windom at the waving of the second checkered were point leader Brady Bacon (now out front of seventh place finisher Stockon by 235 points), Dave Darland, and Courtney. Dallas Hewitt started third and finished sixth in Todd Keen’s 18. Josh Hodges had a respectable Eldora debut, starting 22nd and nailing 9th. Tenth place was Nick Bilbee, in his Dick Newkirk colors that claimed 1993 Four Crown honors with Tony Elliott. May Eldora winner Chad Boespsflug had an odd off-night, running around the bottom to finish 21st.

And finally, only 23 of the 24 Silver Crown cars started the feature, as Brian Tyler’s Galas 12 was a no-show after the pride of Parma, Michigan tagged the turn four wall in qualifying and flipped.

After Abreu’s late-race spin in the All Star thirty-lapper, Aussie Ian Madsen inherited first place and made off with his first Eldora victory in a KPC/Morrison-Rider combination. The untimely yellow for Rico brought out a red flag for a fuel stop, as four previous cautions were the ultimate issue. The fourth caution was rather significant as Dale Blaney folded his front end and handed the point lead to Chad Kemenah, who chased Madsen to the checkered. Randy Hannagan finished third on just seven cylinders. Kraig Kinser and Brady Bacon were fourth and fifth. Jac Haudenschild, Cap Henry, Caleb Armstrong (from 16th), Max Stambaugh (from 21st) and Kerry Madsen claimed sixth through tenth.

I already mentioned that Courtney and Bacon were the only two who performed in all four Saturday night divisions. Aside from his 18th place midget showing, Tyler’s finishes were decent: 5th (USAC sprint), 12th (All Stars), and 3rd (Silver Crown). Bacon had an even better Four Crown, scoring top-fives in everything: 3rd in the midget, 3rd in the USAC sprinter, 5th in the winged sprint car, and 4th in the Silver Crown. Those doing triple duty included Coons, Grant (finding midget work with A.J. Felker), Rose, and Darland. Windom, Shane Cottle, Ray, Leary, Abreu, Swanson, Steve Buckwalter, Macedo, and Jake Blackhurst (in a Felker sprint and midget) did the double.

Last but not least, it’s been a long while since I had taken a trip to Lawrenceburg, hard to believe that my last journey to this southeast corner was Indiana Sprint Week. A lot has happened in the racing world since then, reflecting on these changes when taking a slightly different route thanks to I-465 construction. Meeting up with Interstate 74 via State Road 9 at Shelbyville, the journey through Greenfield and Fountaintown brought back memories of my first job post-college, as I would often use this route home when the time allowed. Having to divert from State Road 1 through Greendale because of construction, more new roads were sampled, pleased to pass through a narrow railroad viaduct that dated back to 1945.

Despite driving through a small bit of rain on the way down, I was greeted by sunny skies and birthday boy Dave Rudisell once I entered his holy grounds. Dave and his wife Kim were awarded with plaques commemorating their tenth season at the helm of Lawrenceburg Speedway, hard to imagine where the time has escaped. Nonetheless, it is great to have two passionate people involved in such a key capacity, as they truly put their heart and soul into this facility.

Of course this Fall Nationals paid its usual ten thousand dollars to win, leaving me somewhat surprised by the slightly lower count of 26 cars which can be attributed to a BOSS battle in Fremont, taking away a handful of Lawrenceburg regulars. I cannot recall the last time that an end of season contest here didn’t attract a large contingent of equipment. Likewise, I cannot recall the last time an initial Lawrenceburg visitor would qualify quickest in a USAC union. Phoenix, Arizona standout Stevie Sussex was the qualifying stud on this first day of October, getting the call to drive the Steve and Carla Phillips 71. Promptly producing with the number one qualifying lap of 13.453, although Stevie did not transfer out of his heat race, he would start seventh and finish eighth in the thirty lap finale. My hope is that he gets another shot as the Indiana scene needs a further influx of new names and talent.

Sussex wasn’t the only one of the top qualifiers to fail to transfer from the three heats, as four of the quick six were in the same boat: Justin Grant, track champion Jarett Andretti, and Chase Stockon. Passing certainly came at a premium the entire evening, but Grant’s miss was caused by a faulty fuel pump spud. Chad Boespflug won the first heat but encountered an oil fire on the final lap when he lost an oil filter O-ring. Because his qualifying time was sub-par and not wanting to risk further engine damage, Chad and crew chief Davey Jones decided to go to a backup car for the feature, only able to advance to 18th by the conclusion.

Tenth-quick qualifier Josh Hodges wound up with the feature pole, flanked by April Lawrenceburg winner Dave Darland, who was clearly hungry for the second win of what has been a hugely disappointing season. Double-D appeared to be well on his way to that win after getting to the top of turn one first, opening up a decent lead by lap 7. But about a third of the way in, even with earplugs inserted I could hear that Dave’s engine was running on one less cylinder, making his task much more challenging due to the hammer-down conditions. Second place Hodges was able to close the gap in a hurry as Darland dipped lower to protect his position. Facing lapped traffic at the halfway mark, Dave, Josh, and Four Crown hero Chris Windom operated under a cozy blanket. Chris copped second with a clever backstretch move, but once Hodges stepped upstairs he was able to work his way past Windom and Darland, seizing the lead on the 18th tour. Building a half-straight advantage, it was enough of a margin to allow for a last lap lurch over the turn four cushion. Becoming the seventh first-time USAC sprint car winner on the season, I cannot ever recall such a statistic in my time of following this series. Setting a new 30-lap record in the process (at just over 7 minutes and 21 seconds), the win was Josh’s third at Lawrenceburg in 2016, his only other outing resulting in a fifth place finish during Indiana sprint Week. Advised on setups by mechanic Jake Argo, if the New Mexico native were to spend a whole season in Indiana, the possibilities could be endless.

Windom wound up second while Darland held onto third despite his horsepower deficiency. Kyle Cummins and Justin Grant gathered fourth and fifth. Tyler Courtney, Jon Stanbrough (who qualified fourth best), Sussex, Bacon, and Andretti were sixth through tenth. Done by 9:06 PM, this allowed an appropriate stop for dinner at Batesville’s Skyline Chili, nervously listening to a tight Indiana-Michigan State football battle on the radio for the remainder of the drive. Waiting in my driveway to hear IU announcer Don Fischer make the call of the game-winning field goal in overtime, it’s been a long time since IU football fans have been able to savor a Big Ten victory of this caliber, going ten years between MSU wins.

In my world, time is always of the essence, as there simply isn’t enough of it to do everything I’d like. Whether it be a drive to another time zone for unique cuisine and a superior sprint car surface, an evening of Four Crown entirety, a USAC sprint car season filled with first-time winners, or an Indiana University football triumph over a ranked opponent, it’s going to take a significant investment in hours, days, and even years to reap such rewards. Although the waiting might just be the hardest part, good things do come to those who are willing to wait. However, in this age of impatience, the question is, are you willing?

 

 

 

Volume 18, Number 9

Forward Progress

Staying focused has been quite the challenge this past month, as my mind has been continuously rewinding to the night of August 6th, still seeking answers to make sense of something that just does not seem real or right.  These diversions essentially put my life on pause, wondering how it would ever be possible to enjoy racing with the same desire and intensity as before.  Even though a thrilling Knoxville Nationals finale provided a brief pulse, despite the fact that Kokomo Speedway’s four day Smackdown was looming, it was no doubt difficult to muster up my usual enthusiasm for this epic event.    

However, the weekend prior to Smackdown contained two key moments that altered my outlook.  One was a live listen of Chris Nunn’s captivating call of Bloomington’s final points paying contest, with Chris’s account of Justin Grant’s surprising victory encapsulating the sheer drama and excitement that can be found at any dirt track across America.  A second was a thoughtful e-mail from Tim Clauson that made all the difference in my mood and motivation.  Relaying a story in the aftermath of Jason Leffler’s tragic 2013 incident, son Bryan had told his father several times that if something similar ever happened to him, he hoped that the racing community could find a way to continue to keep his beloved sport alive, not so much in his memory, but in his honor.  Thanks to Chris and Tim, they gave me real reasons to keep pressing on with my passion, providing the internal fortitude to overcome those sorrowful shadows that had darkened my soul.   

Owning a goal of obtaining some semblance of closure, by mid-day Wednesday I was Kokomo Speedway bound for the Bryan Clauson Celebration of Life and accompanying USAC special event.  So impressed by the turnout of fans, racing dignitaries, and the amount of green, white, and black in the grandstand, tears began to flow after early speeches from Kokomo Speedway’s Jarrod O’Connor and Tim Clauson, who spoke of the massive impact his son’s organ donation had on his family’s hopes and future.  In addition, Bryan’s mother Diana made her mark on my emotional well-being.  In response to the onslaught of grasshopper sightings since her son’s passing, she offered an explanation of the spiritual meaning of the insect, stating, "When the grasshopper appears to us, we are being asked to take a leap of faith and jump forward into a specific area of life without fear. Grasshoppers can only jump forward - not backward or sideways.  So when a grasshopper shows up, he could be reaffirming to you that you are taking the right steps to move forward in your current situation.  Or, it could be that he is telling you to go ahead and move forward, getting past what is hindering you." 

Very heavy stuff, during Friday’s feature one literally flew into and off my chest while I was wearing my Parked It t-shirt.  First instinct advised that it was just a dirt clod, but in the split second that I saw something green going in the opposite direction, I was absolutely shell-shocked, as this was a first-time occurrence for me, anytime, anywhere.   Both Bryan and I shared the same love for this place so if I ever needed a sign to get on with living my life, this was it. 

Had I chosen to drown in my sorrows and stay in hiding for this particular week, sadly I would have missed the most important aspect of the sport that has kept my interest alive for thirty some seasons.  That aspect is of course the people, and you won’t find a better bunch that religiously follow this stuff.  Who else would dodge the most deadly weather conditions to celebrate the life of Bryan Clauson?  With tornadoes touching down just a few miles south of the track, the majority of the large throng rode out the first storm and attempted to dodge the raging river that flooded the only areas available for cover.  Once the torrential rain subsided, the Clauson celebration continued but 90 minutes later we were once again chased off by dark clouds and another round of potential twisters.  Devoted or just plain crazy, there are no more passionate people than racing folk and all four days of the Smackdown came with conversations that would have cost me hundreds of dollars in professional therapist fees, pushing me closer to the heart of this bullring scene.  Whether it was Jarrod O’Connor, Richie Murray, Kevin Bledsoe, Steve Parkes, Jerry Davis, Brent Goodnight, Bruce Wyatt, Dave Roach, Dave Argabright, or Kent Evans, I instantly gained comfort from their company, justifying my own feelings while also processing what they had to say about the current state of affairs.  In the end, it was good to know that I wasn’t alone in my thoughts.

So resilient in their refusal to bow down to Mother Nature, a tip of the cap goes to this O'Connor family which of course operates the Kokomo Speedway, as they might just be the most strong and stubborn people I know.  Digging deep after Wednesday's flooding (it rained every day during the 2016 Smackdown), after hours and hours of pumping, sweeping, and scrubbing by Thursday afternoon the facility was primed and prepared for racing, hard to find signs of the significant mess that was left 24 hours earlier.  However, despite an extremely unfavorable forecast for Friday evening, an even bigger victory came when they pressed on regardless of the weather and in the process manufactured a minor miracle.  Steady showers during the initial wheel packing session and a green-filled radar delayed festivities by over two and a half hours.  Once cars returned to the track to hot lap and qualify (in and out of light rain), heats were finally ready to roll at 10:25 PM.  Such a monumental task would not have been possible without the cooperation of teams who burned countless gallons of fuel, scraped tons of mud, and wasted stacks of tear-offs in making the surface race-ready.  Even as spotty rain served as an imminent threat, the entire program was completed by 12:10 AM.  Exhibiting that gotta-wanna-win attitude that has made believers of so many fans and racers alike, the 100% effort exerted by this family and their loyal staff is why Kokomo Speedway remains so popular some 11 years after they revamped the legendary facility.   If they are willing to give it a shot, then I better get my ass to Kokomo, because I might just miss something significant. 

As with any racing tragedy, the closing of one door is also an opening for others.  After losing Rich Vogler at Salem in July of '90, '89 All Star champ Robbie Stanley jumped ship from the winged world and became the big man on the USAC sprint car campus until his untimely passing at Winchester in May of '94.  After Robbie left, guys like Tony Stewart, Page Jones, Kenny Irwin, and Andy Michner were immediately thrust into national spotlight.  But, Bryan Clauson was not just the face of the United States Auto Club like so many of the aforementioned talents.  Extremely popular with fans and earning the utmost respect from his competitors, he linked all aspects of open wheel racing across the world, whether it was midgets, traditional sprints, Silver Crown, winged 360, winged 410, and even the Indianapolis 500.  His absence leaves an impossibly huge hole to fill as he raised the bar of on-track success and off-the-track decency to a level that may never be approached.  Despite the impossibility of equaling his achievements and his undeniable aura, this is a rare opportunity for someone to assert themselves as the heir apparent.  It will not happen overnight and it may not even happen in the next five years, but in due time, someone will take a huge step forward because history has shown that someone always has. 

Could that next ambassador be Brady Bacon?  There is no question that the 2014 USAC sprint car king and 2016 Indiana Sprint Week champ holds the same versatile skill set, as evidenced when he nearly chased down Rico Abreu for fifty grand in the winged portion of Brandon, South Dakota’s Rock and Roll Gold Cup.  If not Bacon, could Chad Boespflug be that next guy to step up to a whole new level?  Definitely not a winged guy and still learning the midgets, he does own the charisma and has certainly picked up the pace in his USAC sprint car performances since pairing with Eberhardt-Zirzow Racing and crew chief Davey Jones, spectacularly carting home $60,000 from the same Badlands bout after sweeping Saturday and Sunday affairs.  If not Brady or Chad, could that heir apparent in USAC circles be Kevin Thomas, Jr.?  

Leading 65 of 100 feature laps over three Kokomo Smackdown contests, Kevin added his name to an elite list by notching the titanic $10,000 score on Saturday.  Up front for all 30 of Thursday’s feature for another $5,000 payday, these triumphs were number ten and eleven in a superb season that has seen this 4J Motorsports squad separate themselves from the rest of the pack in the wake of BC’s untimely exit.  Aside from Clauson’s incomparable season containing 14 wingless 410 victories, Thomas’s tally of 12 (after the September 2nd Bryan Clauson Celebration of Life) is quite impressive given he joined the team in mid-to-late April.  Kevin collaborates with team co-owner Jeremy Ottinger on setups and their DRC chassis/Speedway Engines combo is almost always effective, but as strong as this team has performed, especially at Kokomo where they have claimed five feature wins, a Smackdown crown, and now a track championship, they are not immune to off-nights, struggling through the Friday portion of the Smackdown when they started 11th and finished 16th.     

Backing up to Thursday, Kevin qualified seventh but earned the pole when quick-qualifier Thomas Meseraull (13.205 in the Dutcher 17) missed the transfer from the first heat.  After an early feature caution caused by a Cole Ketcham log jam, KTJ needed 15 laps to construct a full-straight advantage on Dave Darland, seeing that gap completely evaporate after a Logan Jarrett stoppage.  This proved to be no problem for the Cullman, Alabama conqueror, clearly the class of the field as he went untouched the rest of the way.  Eighth-starting Chris Windom did come on strong in Kenny Baldwin’s DRC/Claxton, working the bottom to steal second from Darland and cut into Kevin’s commanding lead.  Darland procured the final podium placement while front row starter Chase Stockon, after engaging in an intense warfare with Windom, secured fourth.  In the same Sam McGhee Motorsports Maxim as his winning Bloomington debut, recent newlywed Justin Grant gathered fifth.  Sixth through tenth came second-quick Robert Ballou (in a new Eagle chassis), Brady Bacon (with caved-in tail tank), Meseraull, Tyler Courtney, and C.J. Leary. 

Getting back to that freaky Friday filled with wet weather, C.J. Leary finally shook that USAC sprint car monkey from his back by leading all thirty laps for his first national sprint car score in the Amati Racing DRC.  After so many close calls over the last three seasons, Leary’s long-awaited win came in his 140th career start.  After qualifying ninth-best, C.J. benefitted when Logan Jarrett, Cole Ketcham, Jon Stanbrough, and Chris Windom could not transfer through their heat, resulting in a front row start alongside pole sitter Thomas Meseraull.  Three times in the first 15 laps, Leary launched his right rear tire over the gargantuan cushion in the middle of turns one and two, allowing Meseraull and fourth-starting Tyler Courtney several looks at the lead.  However, C.J. was simply flawless in the second half, aided by a bike ride from Sunshine and a slowly deflating left rear on Meseraull.  T-Mez and Courtney still hung for second and third while Shane Cottle collected fourth, up from 12th after missing the show on Thursday when a mag went bad on the Hazen 57 during the B.  After opening 13th on Thursday, Chad Boespflug settled for fifth.  Windom, Jarett Andretti (from 14th), Grant, Logan Jarrett, and Ballou (from 21st) represented the second half of the top-ten.  Logan and Robert bumped bars as they ducked under the checkered, exchanging heated post-race pleasantries before pointing their machines back to the pits.

With no weather concerns for Saturday evening, after fields of 45 and 44  I was surprised that only 30 cars came back for the finale, especially with the opportunity to earn $1,000 for cracking the A-main code.  Thursday and Friday combatants Landon Simon, Jerry Coons, Jr., Mario Clouser, Dustin Smith, Corey Smith, Matt Westfall, Chad Wilson, Stuart Brubaker, Casey Shuman, Clinton Boyles, and Shawn Miller were absent for the third show.  Those missing the cut from Saturday’s B included Brian Karraker, Tyler Hewitt, Isaac Chapple (aided by Jason Goacher), Josh Spencer (after repairing Friday B-main damage), Joe Bares, and Tim Creech.  They were joined on the sidelines by Hunter Schuerenberg, whose Tony Epperson engine expired in hot laps after a connecting rod attempted to exit the oil pan, this coming one night after the same mill expelled oil at the feature conclusion.  A proven Kokomo winner who prefers to step upstairs and play in the attic, Hunter’s misfortune was also a big blow for the fans, who rarely get to watch him go topless these days. 

Bloomington Sprint Week winner Brent Beauchamp was a pleasant addition to the Smackdown field on Saturday, a wise move for Brent and his car owner Jeff Olson as Kokomo attrition takes its toll by the final night.  Olson was recently honored for his lengthy tenure as an air traffic controller, forced into mandatory retirement as my sister who works alongside Jeff will see the same fate in a few years.  Brent took one of nine feature transfers from the three qualifying races, one of which claimed Cole Ketcham as the weekend’s worst crash after cracking back stretch concrete.  Jerry Coons, Jr., Zach Daum, and Kyle Robbins were the only others to invert from Thursday through Saturday, a low number for Smackdown standards.

Speaking of Schuerenberg, a few years ago he tied the knot with Jessica Boyles, the daughter of midget veteran Joe Boyles and sister to 20 year-old Clinton, who attempted the first two nights of the Smackdown in a potent piece from Seth Motsinger.  A 2016 wingless sprint car rookie with Casey Shuman’s WAR series, the young Boyles has been wheeling Jack Hockett’s 75 which contains a 360 cubic inch power plant, often going up against fields filled with 410s.  Earlier this year, Clinton’s sprint car debut at Grain Valley, Missouri was a huge success, winning his heat and charging from 11th to second in the A, soon hitting pay dirt in his fourth feature (Winston, MO).  Also scoring at Lakeside Speedway from 10th, he has only been outside of the top-five twice in WAR action, suffering flat right rear tires on both occasions.  A go-kart and micro-sprint graduate who made a dozen starts in his dad’s ’97 Stealth/Esslinger midget, Boyles was once a top high school soccer defender but after attending two years of college, the Greenwood, Missouri native chose to channel his efforts towards sprint car racing.  Although his Smackdown and 410 debut did not go as planned (9th in Thursday’s B and unable to take a time on Friday), he still has three wingless wins in his first season.  A definite contender for national non-winged rookie of the year honors, regardless of how the voting turns out, the big-picture shows a bright future for this natural talent. 

Thursday and Friday preliminary performances accumulated points, with the top-eight producers locked in for Saturday’s eagerly-anticipated King of the Hill showdown.  These two-car, three-lap match races realigned the first four rows of the 40-lap finale, without question the most exciting and entertaining aspect of the entire weekend.  Meseraull, Grant, Windom, Leary, Boespflug, Courtney, Thomas (Kevin), and Stockon made up this elite eight with Meseraull (over Stockon), Boespflug (over Leary), Courtney (over Windom), and Thomas (over Grant) moving on after round one.  The Courtney and Windom war saw the lead exchanged three times on the final lap, with the bottom-feeding Courtney reaching the line first after a thrilling, side-by-side sprint to the finish.  In the second round, Meseraull manhandled Boespflug and Courtney clobbered Thomas, setting up a thrilling final round that saw Sunshine strike gold despite a last-lap, four-in-the-fluff surge from his counterpart.   

Bryan Clauson’s fiancée Lauren Stewart waved the green laundry for Saturday’s finale, as former BCI team member Courtney shot to the initial advantage before an odd caution flew for T-Mez on lap two.  The Griffin’s Propane Maxim/Fisher made head-on contact with turn four concrete after shearing a pitman arm bolt, the early exit a big-time bummer as Meseraull is unquestionably the most exciting chauffeur when a cushion is in play.  Four laps after the restart, KTJ swept outside of Courtney through three and four and would never be headed, but it was far from easy as Kevin had to be flawless after a lap 14 red for Robbins.  First having Boespflug breathing down his neck, Windom joined the party for the final ten tours as the lead trio negotiated heavy traffic.  Navigating a tricky top shelf in one and two while bombarding the bottom in three and four, in the latter stages Kevin changed lanes on the south end and made all the right moves, executing an absolutely flawless 40 laps.  After Kevin, Chad, and Chris came Darland (from 10th) and Kyle Cummins (from 12th).  Grant, Courtney, Bacon, Leary, and Tyler Thomas (from 18th) took sixth through tenth place payouts.  

Kokomo Smackdown attendance definitely did its part to help me move forward, as did the Bryan Clauson Celebration of Life rescheduled for Friday September 2nd.  Aided by free driver pit passes made possible by generous donations from All Star Performance, a slightly open tire rule (an American Racer MC-3 was allowed on the right rear), and all kinds of monetary rewards, 47 drivers signed in, nine of them being first-time Kokomo Speedway competitors.  Those nine did battle for the $1,000 top prize in the Get Your Ass to Kokomo Challenge, awarded to the highest finishing driver who had never previously competed at Kokomo Speedway.  As a consolation, a $500 carrot was dangled to the second highest finishing driver making his Kokomo debut while a new Hoosier right rear tire was up for grabs for the third.  Those nine included Cole Smith, Josh Cunningham, Cody Clarkson, David Hair, Jared Chastain, Ben McMurray, Matt Cooley, Hunter O’Neal, and Cole House.  Recently completing his collegiate studies to resume his racing dreams, Cole House actually made his sprint car debut at Kokomo.  Cole is the son of former USAC, All Star, and Kokomo Speedway standout Tray House, steering an ex-Larry Contos/Shane Cottle Chalk chassis. 

The house was of course packed with the free front gate admission, as the large turnout was treated to an evening free from support classes.  Starting the program an hour later to allow rush hour drive time for the working class, the chilly night sadly felt like fall was already here, requiring not only a sweatshirt but long pants for the first time since mid-May.  Dividing the field into groups of six, times from the combined hot lap/qualifying sessions lined up heats, with Justin Grant’s 12.957 lap good enough to claim Jerry Shaw’s $200 top prize for quick time.  While many USAC regulars were off to Calistoga for the Louie Vermeil double, interesting pairings for the night included Aaron Farney in the Dutcher 17, Brady Bacon in the Keen 18, Max McGhee in the Pedersen 4, Casey Shuman in the Dakus 75, and Jake Scott in the Tarr 3x (an old 2K4 Stealth). 

Just like normal Kokomo Sunday nights, the fastest four from each session were inverted, allowing heat race wins for Dave Darland, Kevin Thomas, Jr., Jerry Coons, Jr., Jarett Andretti, Tyler Thomas, and Tyler Courtney, all coming from either the first or second row.  Redrawing the top two finishers for the feature inversion, those battles for second were the best of the night, highlighted by bold moves from Brady Bacon and Max McGhee.  A pair of 12 lap B-mains moved six more to the 24-car, 27-lap finale.  After failing to finish his heat, Shane Cottle’s charge from 15th to 2nd was the biggest B-main highlight.  Claimed by Travis Hery and Tony DiMattia, the twin consolations saw their share of calamity with incidents involving Drew Abel and Kyle Robbins (K-Rob crushed concrete for the second night in a row), Jared Chastain, Paul Dues, and last but not least, Jamie Frederickson and Josh Spencer that bent many parts on the Spencer Special.

After a full front stretch driver introduction in which Tim Clauson shook hands and embraced each one of the feature starters, after green fireworks were shot into the sky another Clauson family member waved the green as Bryan’s mother Diana did the deed.  Even though Tyler Courtney picked the pole, it would be outside front row starter Tyler Thomas earning the advantage into turn one on the sticky surface.  Starting third was Smackdown winner Kevin Thomas, Jr., who followed T-squared for two laps before making his winning move through the second corner.  Fifth-starting Dave Darland was also on the move early, fanning three-wide with the two Tylers to snag second.  Hot action for fourth through eighth involved Coons, Grant, Thomas, Bacon, and Andretti, soon adding 20th-starting Shane Cottle to this mix.  The mid-to-late stages saw Courtney and Grant turn up the heat in the scrap for second, as Justin relieved Dave of the runner-up slot just before Tyler Thomas looped the Burton 04 underneath the flag stand. 

With six circuits remaining, two lapped cars separated Kevin Thomas and Dave Darland, enough of a margin that Kevin would not have to worry about the win.  Truly déjà vu for KTJ, he took his third Kokomo triumph in four nights which earned him a $3,000 paycheck, a one-of-a-kind BC Forever trophy (complete with di