This July I decided to do something different in not attending the European Championship at Northampton. Instead I took a plane to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, picked up a hire car and drove down to Indiana.
What would take me to Indiana in July? Well why go to Indiana at all? – Sprint Cars!
USAC Non-Wing Sprint Cars. I first encountered USAC Sprint Cars on dirt at East Bay, Florida in February 2010 and then again a year later on the dirt of Ocala Speedway, Florida in February 2011.
And they changed my world! I have seen the World of Outlaw (Winged) Sprints and the All Star Winged Sprints. I was blown away by the breakneck speeds these Winged 410 Chevy Powered Sprints race at. They stick to the clay and don’t appear to ‘let off’. The very first time a Winged Sprint flew past me at Volusia Speedway, Florida in 2008 I was left open mouthed, weak at the knees, slightly light headed and deafened!!
Then two years later I was sat on the bleachers at East Bay Speedway, Florida to watch my first USAC Sprint Car Race on a heavy, not perfect track. To this day I’m amazed I did not explode with excitement. These 410 Sprints looked to be not just on the edge, but it appears to be part of the deal to cross over the edge, risking everything time and time again. They may be a little slower than their Winged counterparts but the removal of the Wing and down force this gives opens you up to a world of closer racing, more overtaking, a more equal playing field and more slide jobs than the slide factory in school holidays. Anyway back to Indiana.
The first challenge was to get out of Chicago as quickly as possible. Not that there is anything wrong with Chicago, except if we could beat the traffic, get into Indiana and eat the 180 or so miles South down Highway 65 to Indianapolis and arrive in time for the USAC (Pavement) show at Lucas Oil Speedway, and then check into our first Motel.
From landing to exiting the entire arrival experience at Chicago O’Hare went like clockwork, we followed the signs to the ‘hire car’ pick up point and waited. After watching the various other hire car courtesy buses drive by for a second, then third time a phonecall to Dollar was made.
Top Tip #1 – The Dollar Courtesy Bus at O’Hare airport only comes to pick you up, when you phone using their ‘pick up phone’.
Driving in Chicago is like any major city – congested, and with road signs that appear ‘where you need to exit’ in the belief that you know where your going anyway.
But for those that don’t know, turn left out the parking lot up to the traffic lights take a left, get on the 190 East signed for Chicago (you’re not on it for long keep so in the right lane!!) exit onto the 294 South, then briefly onto the 80, then onto the 65 South. Then Welcome to Indiana!
Top Tip #2 – When getting your dollars make sure you get about $10 in $1 notes. You’ll need this for the toll booths on the 294. – Once in Indiana there are no toll booths.
We arrived at Lucas Oil Speedway in plenty of time, so went for a bite to eat, came out the dinner and the blue sky had been replaced by dark blue rain clouds………parked up at the track and watched the dark clouds blow towards us (and the track). It’ll blow over we’ll be OK, I thought. Yes the clouds blew over, right over the track where the wind stopped and the rain fell, yep over the track. Meeting called. Onto the Indianapolis Speedrome – just in case, did they run Wednesdays? Or was it Thursdays or Fridays? We didn’t know for sure but we were off to find out.
A quick blast round the city ring road brought us to the Speedrome and blue sky (in all directions). The car park was largely empty apart from a handful of cars but the entrance gate was open and there were lights on in the office. We might get racing tonight?
Following the depression of Lucas Oil Speedway being called and the ‘clutching at straws’ drive to the Speedrome I bounded into the office larger than life and full of hope “Hi guys, is there any racing tonight?” to be met with a SSSHHHHHhhhhhh and a whispered ‘we’re live on the radio’. Yep I’d just gatecrashed their radio broadcast – BUT How cool is that? an ‘oval racing radio show’ and I’ve just gatecrashed it, if I’d have known I’d of got in a www dot F one Stock Cars dot com plug.
No, the racing was last night. So in a depressed mood it was off to the Motel – whoopee at least they have SpeedTV.
Friday 8th July
The first night was at Gas City, a small tight almost ’round’ oval. We arrived around 2pm with the ground temp around 98 and a high humidity. Our hope was to mark our place on the bleachers for the night’s show. It is common practice in the USA for the stadiums to be open during race day to enable the public to tape down their blanket or cushions on the bleachers to mark their spot. Sometimes it’s even just the tape with or without an owner’s name. 99.9% of time this claim to seating is fully respected, unchallenged and just part of watching sport in the USA. How very civilised. At a guess I would say the top 15 rows where already fully marked – it was going to be a busy night. We found our spot about half way up the bleachers and towards turn 1.
Gas City, In. Dave Darland of Lincoln, In. led all 30 laps of Friday night’s opener. The win puts him at the top of the ISW standings going into Saturday nights round two at the Kokomo Speedway. Chris Windom finished 2nd ahead of Robert Ballou, Bryan Clauson and Shane Cottle. Darland’s win was the 76th USAC National victory of his career, tying him with Jack Hewitt for seventh on the all-time list. The win was also his 15th in ISW history, an all-time record. Jerry Coons Jnr was the fastest of the 48 qualifiers.
Indiana Sprint Week Point Standings (Night 1)
Darland – 67
Windom – 67
Ballou – 61
Clauson – 59
Coons – 57
Saturday 9th July
The second night was at Kokomo Speedway, just on the outskirts of the town towards the industrial area. Kokomo looked a slightly bigger track than Gas City, and with less seating areas marked we were able to pitch our place high up again looking towards turn 1. Today was a little hotter with the temp blipping at a whopping 107 at 3pm. I have never drunk so much water in my life. But by the time the show started a little breeze had started to cool the air and the temp drops to about 90 by 11pm. Afterwards, I do believe I have just seen the best Sprint Feature EVER.
Kokomo, In. Hunter Schuerenberg, Mo. Won Saturday night’s spectacular 30-lap feature at the Kokomo Speedway, passing Chris Windom five laps from the finish. Windom trailed early leaders Casy Riggs and Chad Boespflug for the first seven laps, then took the lead on lap eight. Boespflug regained it on nine but Windom was back in front on lap 10. Windom then led for 15 laps until Schuerenberg’s race-winning pass. Schuerenberg was also the fastest qualifier. Windom took second at the checkered flag, followed by Bryan Clauson, Justin Grant and Mike Spencer.
Indiana Sprint Week Point Standings (Night 2)
Windom – 131
Clauson – 121
Darland – 108
Coons – 106
Ballou – 98
Sunday 10th July
Saw us move south east to Lawrenceburg. A town with a casino! NASCAR comes to Dirt Racing. You will not believe this place. Brand spanking new with all the mod cons. What other Dirt Track has self flushing toilets, automatic water and hand towels. A dirt track with a casino in town does, that in order to keep it’s gaming license is required to put money back into the town, and this track has just had $5,000,000 yes $5 million dollars invested into it. It’s the biggest track to date and the first thing about the track you think is ‘this is awesome’. The grandstands are huge with back rests, and a roof. We were seated high up once again towards turn 1.
Lawrenceburg, In. Robert Ballou of Rocklin, Calif. Led all 30 laps of Saturday nights feature at the Lawrenceburg Speedway. Chris Windom finished second and leads the ISW standings going into next Wednesday’s race at the Terre Haute ‘Action Track’. Jerry Coons Jnr, Justin Grant and Bobby East rounded out the “top-five”. Hunter Schuerenburg was the fastest qualifier.
Indiana Sprint Week Standings (Night 3)
Windom – 194
Clauson – 174
Coons – 167
Ballou – 163
Darland – 144
Monday 11th July
A rest-day for the Sprint Cars, but we headed to Brownstown Speedway for the ‘Hell tour’ Late Models, a track that has seen short oval dirt racing since 1952. This track sits within the fairground and has the most amazing wooden covered grandstand you’ll ever see at a dirt track. Far too many post’s inside for me to sit, but for a walk around it is a ‘must do’. We pitched ourselves up on the back row of the bleachers coming out of turn 4 for an unrestricted view of the entire track. During the show a storm front(Riders on the Storm) had formed and was slowly moving closer to the track with a light show from God that would put Pink Floyd to shame. Just in time for the feature the rain started – Hot Rain! This warm shower came as a relief to two overcooked Brits on the bleachers, while locals around us hid under ponchos or momentarily retired to their RVs.
The shower didn’t last long and within the hour it was time to get the show back on, following the best kind of track watering system. It was perfect and we were treated to a full on Late Model feature with a little bit of good old Dirt Racin’ emotion.
Tuesday 12th July
Another USAC rest day but Twin Cities Speedway were running a non-wing sprint show. MY GOD IT’S THE HOTTEST MOST HUMID DAY YET!! Think standing in a hot shower in your clothes. We were best buddies with the water seller by the end of the night, and that’s another thing, the concession stands don’t rip you off at these tracks. $1.50 (£1) for a 500ml of ice cold, about as cold as you can go without it freezing bottle of water. Due to USAC restrictions a lot of the on-tour sprints could not race but we were still treated to a fantastic show at a real as it comes dirt track.
Wednesday 13th July
Back on with Sprint Week. Terre Haute, a huge half mile track within the fairgrounds. We marked our places high up coming out of turn 4 then off for a look around the fair. A relaxed, fun afternoon admiring the pigs, sheep, goats, art work, project, spaghetti eating competition and indoor air conditioned flower show that the locals of Terre Haute were proudly displaying. Terre Haute has a huge grassed infield area that sees a huge gathering of race-fans in their deck chairs with families enjoying ‘family time’ – picnics and playing ball. The racing is fast and brings meaning to the phase ‘checkers or wreckers’ and left me holding my breath lap after lap as the cars exited turn 4.
Terre Haute, In. Chris Windom of Canton, Ill. Has a 40-point lead in the ISW standings after winning Wednesday night’s 30 lap feature at the Terre Haute Action Track. Windom started seventh and grabbed the lead from pole starter Dustin Morgan on lap two. He relinquished the lead to a hard-charging Keith Bloom Jnr on lap 15 but regained it three laps later and held off repeated challenges from Bloom to the win. Windom had finished second in the three preceding ISW features! Jon Stanbrough took third ahead of Robert Ballou and Shane Cottle.
Indiana Sprint Week Standings (Night 4)
Windom – 194
Clauson – 174
Coons – 167
Ballou – 163
Darland – 144
Thursday 14th July
Back to Brownstown for the USAC show. The track was not helped with the continued ‘hotter than the sun’ weather or the Late Model show only two days previous. But Brownstown has a very unique feature. On the back straight, the track rises towards the outside and instead of a fence it slopes down with a grassed area before the wall. This hump or lip sees the back of the Sprint Cars ‘disappear’ with only the front two wheels and the nose visible! A wreck is sure to follow? NO the cars re-enter the track going into turn three at what I can only describe as ‘stupid speeds’
Brownstown, In. Casey Riggs of Shelbyville, In. scored his second career National Sprint Car feature victory Thursday night in round five of the 2011 ISW at Brownstown Speedway. He trailed pole starter Chad Boespflug for the first 16 laps then took over the lead on lap 17 and led the rest of the way rim-riding. Fast qualifier Levi Jones took second by inches over Brady Short, while Tracy Hines and Bobby East rounded out the “top-five” at the chequered flag. Chris Windom finished 14th and continues to lead the ISW standings by 29 points over Robert Ballou going into Friday’s race at Bloomington Speedway.
Indiana Sprint Week Standings (Night 5)
Windom – 293
Ballou – 264
Clauson – 243
Coons – 229
Darland – 213
Friday 15th July.
With the points being close it was still anybodies championship. And onto Bloomington Speedway with its beautiful red clay from Georgia. Certainly the prettiest track to date. The track glowing red sits in a basin of freshly cut green grass, so the infield looks more like a bowling green. The bleachers are at ground level up the grassed bank and around this ‘wooden seating’ area many of the fans space out on lawn chairs giving a real out-door theater vibe to the place. Like Brownstown there is no fence around the track, though here at Bloomington the entire track has a lip and sometimes cars that get the high line go just too high to ride the lip, often skidding down the grass bank. Some are able to re-join the race while for others that’s the end of the race.
Bloomington, In. Hunter Schuerenburg of Sikeston, Mo claimed round 6 of the 2011 ISW at Bloomington Speedway, leading the final 20 laps of the 30 lap race. He took the lead from Wes McLntyre on lap 11 and led the rest of the way to beat fast qualifier Dave Darland, who caught Danny Holtsclaw at the line on the final lap to take second. Bryan Clauson and Jerry Coons Jnr rounded out the “top five” at the chequered flag. Chris Windom finished 12th but takes a 35-point lead over Bryan Clauson into Saturday night’s ISW finale at Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, In. A seventh-place finish at Haubstadt would assure Windom of the ISW Championship.
Indiana Sprint Week Standings (Night 6)
Windom – 330
Clauson – 295
Coons – 285
Darland – 279
Ballou – 265
Saturday 16th July
The Final night took us to Tri-State Speedway. A paper clip track. This looks like it could be fun!! Sat up high on the exit of turn 4, it felt strange to look across to a full back straight bleacher. Apart from a quite small ‘pits’ bleacher the tracks up to now have only had seating / viewing from the home straight. The place was rammed for the Final night of Sprint Week and the track was prepared to an almost obsessional perfection. The tight turns and straight straights brought out a totally new style of driving which I’ll simply call ‘mental’ the idea seems to be throw your back end into the turn get as sideways as you can just before the car reaches a point where it will spin out, give it full throttle exiting the turn, lifting both your front wheels off the track. Remain like this down the straight and repeat.
Haubstadt, IN……..Chris Windom of Canton, Ill. and Damion Gardner of Concord, Calif. celebrated in victory lane Saturday night at Tri-State Speedway at the conclusion of the 2011 AMSOIL USAC Indiana Sprint Week championship. Windom claimed the seven-race series title with a 10th-place finish in the 30-lap finale, while Gardner sped to victory in the feature event, passing Tracy Hines on lap five and leading the rest of the way in his Pace Lighting Eagle/Shaver. Windom’s Baldwin Brothers team also claimed the $3,500 Bridgeport Rocker from John Youngs as the car owner champions. Windom’s point tally was 29 better than Bryan Clauson’s as Clauson claimed second in the standings after his seventh-place finish in the finale. Daron Clayton took second in the final feature ahead of fast qualifier Jon Stanbrough, Casey Riggs and Brady Short. AMSOIL National point leader Levi Jones was sixth.
Indiana Sprint Week Final Standings (Night 7)
Windom – 371
Clauson – 342
Darland – 302
Stanbrough – 301
Coons – 299
Ballou – 266
Jones – 253
Spencer – 251
Bosepflug – 249
Schuerenberg – 244
Sunday 17th July
Something had to go wrong on this perfect trip. The non-wing show at Farmer City, Illinois was canceled. No idea why but thank goodness for the free Wi-Fi in Super 8 Motels. A short eight hour non-stop drive got us up to Angell Park (Firemans Speedway) in Wisconsin.
For the 75th anniversary BADGER Midget show. 75 years of racing!!! So it wasn’t really ‘something had gone wrong’ more of just a long drive. Lovely track with the Midget Hall Of Fame that is housed in the same building as the club house, ballroom and bar and catering area. Well worth a look, a simple yet fascinating display. Seeing the pictures of pre-world war II midgets our drivers today look like knights in armour! A relaxed friendly evening of racing with what had to be the world largest collection of flying fire flies. But was it any cooler up north? Sadly No, at 11:30 the outside temp was wait for it 101.
And so our Racing Holiday comes to a close. It’s been really hard trying to keep myself in check on my return to the UK. I just want to scream from the roof tops “USAC Rules and Indiana is brilliant”. This comes not just from the racing (and in my honest opinion it was some of the best oval racing I have ever seen) but the people we met night after night. Every night, American race fans wanted to talk to us about why we’re here, what do we think of the racing, and what racing do we have back in the UK. Luckily I took out with me a wad of Photo’s with F1Stockcars.com stamped on them.
Our American cousins ‘loved’ our ‘big sprint cars with skinny tyres’ and hearing about our way of racing. We were made to feel so welcome, and I felt like a mini-celebrity waving and chatting to a score of people night after night. Add to that the hospitality we were shown at every restaurant, diner, gas station and supermarket. And the interest the drivers and teams showed us in the pits Indiana truly exceeded my expectations.
Yes it is hot and humid but that is a small discomfort and if managed properly it’s not too bad (Drink water, avoid alcohol at the tracks and eat salads) and this inconvenience of being cooked or boiled alive everyday becomes meaningless once the 410 USAC Sprints roll onto the track for hot-laps. To begin a night of 100mph + non-wing on the verge of out of control Sprint Car heaven.
Heating turned down, 40w light bulbs fitted, take-aways and nights down the pub cancelled as every penny is saved for Indiana 2012.
Report by: Stephen Cording [July 2011]
Indiana Motor Speedway
No trip to Indiana can be complete without a visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or ‘the brickyard’ , and this trip was no exception. The Hall Of Fame Museum is a ‘must do’ and at only $5 entrance it is a can do. We also took the $5. track tour which for five-bucks gives you what you want; a lap of the famous raceway. Entrance to the museum is via the cool under track tunnels. I don’t want to spoil your visit or experience other than to say for $10 you have a pretty awesome morning, afternoon or full day out at one of the worlds most famous and iconic Speedways. And if Indy car Racing is your thing – allow plenty of time!!