Jason Leffler's return to the roots of his career was both memorable and meaningful, as he hammered to the front in the closing laps to win USAC's Coors Light Hoosier Hundred. The history-laden event for the Weld Racing Silver Crown Series had...
Jason Leffler's return to the roots of his career was both memorable and meaningful, as he hammered to the front in the closing laps to win USAC's Coors Light Hoosier Hundred.
The history-laden event for the Weld Racing Silver Crown Series had a little bit of everything: A heavy dirt track, a rain delay, a seemingly unstoppable romp by Tracy Hines, his run ending in grief, a scary double flip and an ensuing red flag that set up a battle between Leffler and Rich Tobias Jr.
The win was Leffler's first since returning on a part-time basis to Silver Crown while simultaneously running a full schedule in NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series. The truck ride came after Leffler's abortive 2001 Winston Cup debut with Joe Gibbs Racing. Leffler, though, is a certified open-wheel stud, grabbing three straight USAC National Midget titles beginning in 1997 and the Silver Crown championship in 1999.
"This means a lot. It really means a lot," said Leffler. "I haven't driven much dirt the last two-three years except the Chili Bowl. To do this on dirt, and to do it at the Hoosier Hundred, really means a lot."
The race at the iconic Indiana State Fairgrounds dirt mile was billed as the "golden" edition, since not everyone could agree it was actually the 50th. USAC May event for the Silver Crown cars was traditionally called the Hulman Hundred, with the late-summer race during the state fair getting the Hoosier appellation.
More recently, the big, gorgeous dirt cars run just once annually at their spiritual home; the Hoosier Hundred is now an Indianapolis 500 weekend. Regardless of date moves and the like, the race's winner list includes American oval titans like Foyt, Jones, Unser and Andretti. That keeps it significant, something Leffler appreciated.
Shoeing the Beast-chassied mount of longtime A.J. Foyt sidekick George "Ziggy" Snider with Gary Stanton-built Mopar power, Leffler showed his seriousness in a hurry. He was first to time trial and turned in the night's quick lap. Rain showers soaked out a 15-lap preliminary race. USAC started 37 cars straight up based on times.
Hines boomed into the lead on the break, muscling his way to a straightaway lead despite periodic restarts. One was for J.J. Yeley, who had charged from 13th to third before getting spun on lap 50.
Hines, it seemed, couldn't lose if he tried. His left-rear tire lost air just as Ed Carpenter and Terry Pletch tangled in turn three on lap 60 and both flipped, collecting Levi Jones. Some changed tires under the red, but Leffler, of Long Beach, Calif., made more subtle air-pressure and chassis changes.
"We were just trying to tighten it up a little bit," he said.
Hines squirted away again after the red, with Leffler's deficit cut and DIRT Modified veteran Tobias climbing into the top five after starting 11th. With eight of the 100 laps run off, Hines shockingly slowed, out of fuel, handing the lead to Leffler.
Tobias hassled Leffler relentlessly in the closing laps, riding the cushion's tacky ledge of earth but unable to power completely past him. A lap 99 caution when fifth-running Jason McCord lost fire set up a one-lap blitz to the checker that Leffler handled. Tobias, Tony Elliott, David Steele and Tom Capie completed the top five.
Tobias owns a 1992 win in DIRT's big Modified go at Syracuse, and said his big-track experiences have been an asset on USAC's dirt miles.
"Syracuse is an animal of its own," he said. "It's just an old, worn-out, flat cindery race track. Here, they've actually got some clay you can race on. I'm glad I grew up on a mile at Syracuse."