Coming from behind to win an auto race is special. Passing on the last lap for a victory is spectacular. But making the pass for the lead from third place coming out of the final turn of the final lap, a few yards from the checkered flag,...
Coming from behind to win an auto race is special. Passing on the last lap for a victory is spectacular. But making the pass for the lead from third place coming out of the final turn of the final lap, a few yards from the checkered flag, is exceptionally rare, especially when made in a car that had been wrecked barely an hour earlier.
That's the reason the fans at the Indianapolis Speedrome got worked up over Tony George's Friday night victory in the 50-lap Hoosier Legends feature. George, of Speedway, who had come riding into the track on his Harley with fellow racer Jeff Smith of Terre Haute, had just missed a qualifying spot in his heat race.
George was going for second place in his semi-feature when he was caught in a wreck not of is own making. Trailer salesman Bruce Litton, who had just lost the lead, yawed out of control leaving the fourth turn, smashing the left front of his Legends car into George's right front. Both machines needed to be towed from the track, but were repairable.
Grant Fritz wasn't as lucky. The 22-year-old driver from Carmel, who had moved into the series' top five with a feature victory - and had spun out his father in the previous week's feature - was racing Mark Downey hard for the lead in their semi-feature. Fritz was on the outside of Downey in the second turn when the Legends cars touched. Rubber-on-rubber contact slipped Fritz' car on its roof, sliding upside down and backwards into the second- turn wall. Fritz jumped out before the car was rolled back on its wheels, but he was faced with the job of rebuilding the car for next week's race.
Back in the pits, George and his crew put the right-front corner of his car back together. Whatever they did seemed to make it faster than before. In the 25-lap last-chance race, George stormed from last in the 11- car field to first in seven laps and won going away.
George's hopes for success in the 50-lap feature seemed to evaporate in the opening lap. When Steve Daughtery, last Friday night's feature winner (and the brother of David Daughtery, Nissan factory driver in the Bridgestone Supercar series who had won a feature in the same Legends car two weeks earlier) spun in the third turn of the first lap, George had no place to go and bumped him as Smith spun and hit the wall. Daughtery was out for the night, but George and Smith drove away and retook their starting positions.
On the second start, the lead was taken by Doug Greig, second-ranked driver in America's Figure-Eight Challenge. Greig, who had driven the Legends car in Florida and at Rockford, Illinois, took over for car owner Mike McGreevey. Larry Fritz, Grant's father and points leader in the Hoosier Legends championship with five feature victories, ran a close second. Despite the opening lap confrontation, George moved past Jack Arute to third but was a quarter lap back at one point.
In heavy traffic, Greig was boxed in by slower cars and lost the lead. Fritz used the traffic as a moving pick and stormed to the outside to steal the lead. George was still a straightaway back.
Then, two cars tangled in three-abreast racing, bringing out the last yellow on lap 32. It put Larry Fritz, Greig and George nose-to-tail for the final third of the feature. On the restart, Greig put heavy pressure on Fritz, bumping the leader as they started to cut through traffic.
With two laps to go. the leaders were caught in a clump of slower cars. With no move-over flag in the Hoosier Legends series, Fritz had to pick his way through the traffic. But, where he was able to trap Greig in the first third of the race, Fritz was having trouble in the final laps.
Fritz was stuck behind a slower car, and Greig, seeing his predicament, jumped to the outside and ran wheel to wheel with Fritz. In the third turn of the last lap, George saw an opening to the inside of the two cars. Bumping his way through the opening as they passed the exit of the fourth turn, George led only the final 60 yards of the feature to beat Fritz and Greig by less than a length.
Behind them, Arute held off Smith for fourth.
In the accompanying feature in the USAC Speedrome midget series, Darryl Campbell led flag-to-flag for his first feature victory in years, followed by Mike Hurst and Mel Kenyon. Roy Caruthers, who had crashed his car in the last-chance race, wrestled his ill-handling racer from next-to-last to sixth in the 50-lap main event.