Notes from the 51st Hoosier Hundred. What a great weekend it was for 6R Racing and their staff! Healthy fields at both Indianapolis Raceway Park and the Indiana State Fairgrounds, good crowds in both places, good weather and national TV in the...
Notes from the 51st Hoosier Hundred.
What a great weekend it was for 6R Racing and their staff! Healthy fields at both Indianapolis Raceway Park and the Indiana State Fairgrounds, good crowds in both places, good weather and national TV in the form of the Speed Channel made this a memorable two day USAC Silver Crown show. Throw in a well advertised $50,000 bonus for the man that could win both events, and you can see why the people at 6R are well on their way to restoring the prestigious Hoosier Hundred to it's glory days.
After 49 cars showed up at IRP for the Hoosier Twin 50's, 40 machines signed into the pit gate at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Several new combinations and cars were out Friday night, including the new Beast of Randy Bateman, Teddy Beach's new Beast, a new Beast for J.J. Yeley, a newly purchased Oz-Car for Dana LaLiberte, as well as a new car for Rookie Murray Erickson. Aaron Fike has taken over the Zarounian 67, while younger brother A.J. made his first mile dirt appearance in the family 39. Of course, Friday marked the much anticipated appearance of World of Outlaw shoes Donny Scahtz and Tyler Walker in the Kele team cars. Kenny Jabocs showed up in the twenty-year old DePalma Gambler, Jerry Coons has taken over the Brad Fox 53, Levi Jones has a new mount from ITI Racing, while Brad Noffsinger has changed numbers and paint schemes on the Curb Records entry.
Terre Haute neophyte Kevin Newton took over the Mataka 31 for the pavement and dirt events, while Dave Darland slid back into the cockpit of Galen Fox's traditional 56. Rich Tobias switched numbers on his car from 74 to 17, and Russ Gamester returned his Stealth chassis to the familiar 51, after using the family 46 during the last year.
A mild surprise was the appearance of Jack Hewitt, not in a car but as a track announcer. Jack looked great and says he feels pretty good, but was disappointed at missing his target date of a return to racing at the Hoosier Hundred. Jack said that he isn't quite ready yet for competition, and hopes to return to the dirt cars by Springfield or DuQuoin. If not, look for him in next season's Hoosier Hundred.
Eldora Promoter Earl Baltes was grand marshal of the Hoosier Hundred Friday night and indicated he thinks he will be around the ½ mile speed plant for a while. Earl, whose age is around 80, said that plans for September's MoPar Million sprint car race are moving forward with a large crowd of cars and people expected.
One driver who was suited up, but changed into street clothes during hot laps was the only three-time USAC Silver Crown National Champion Jimmy Sills. Looking trim and fit as he nears the half-century mark, the "Professor" concentrates today on running his California racing school, but hasn't officially retired from competition. Sills was helping Murray Erickson sort out his new car, and the plan was that if Erickson didn't feel comfortable during hot laps, Sills would take over. Erickson apparently felt fine, and the "Professor" was out of a ride.
A number of celebrities were in the crowd or roaming the pits, including Johnny Boyd, 1963 Indianapolis winner Parnelli Jones, and a rumored sighting of two-time winner Rodger Ward. Also in attendance was two-time IRL champion and crowd favorite Sam Hornish, who indicated he might like to take a ride in one of the dirt cars some day, saying "it looks like a lot of fun".
Notable absentees from the 51st Hoosier Hundred included defending winner Jason Leffler, former pole sitter Michael Lewis, Bobby East, Ron Gregory and Nick Lundgreen. Missing machines were the Bob Galas 12, the Gus Sohm 83, Gary Irvin's 48, and Rod Holshauser's 91.
Another notable absence was the Hoffman 69 and their driver Ed Carpenter. Ed won the Freedom 100 Infiniti Pro Series race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and announced he was quitting the dirt. He has apparently backed away some from that statement, indicating recently that he may have some dirt starts in his future. Ed is the current one lap track record holder at DuQuoin.
Another person not seen on the stage but on the grounds was two-time USAC Silver Crown champ and 1981 Hoosier 100 winner Larry Rice. Rice normally assists mike man Gary Lee on the P.A., but with his duties as the driver-analyst on Speed Channel, was relegated to the T.V. booth.
Lady luck ran out on several people at the Indiana State Fairgrounds Friday night. First, the track bit Donny Schatz as he slid out of the groove due to a stuck throttle and dumped the J & J of the Kele team, twisting the chassis and ending his night. Hot laps also took out the Harley Davidson sponsored car of the ageless veteran and fan favorite Roger Rager, and apparently Cory Kruseman in the Aviators car as well. It was thought prior to 2003 that Cory might end up as a Silver Crown teammate to Jay Drake on the Snider-Stewart team.
Schatz' fellow outlaw and teammate had a steep learning curve in the dirt cars as well, Tyler Walker timed in 21st in the Curb Records J & J, and ran 5th in the qualifying race. He ended the night 23rd in the Hoosier Hundred.
Lady luck also let down several drivers in the 100-mile main event as well. After allowing the first 25 miles to be run in about 14 minutes (an average speed of over 107 miles an hour), she left Randy Bateman to get upside down in turn one damaging his new Beast. The green had barely been shown when point leader Dave Steele got entangled with Tony Elliot and John Heydenreich in turn three, sending Elliot and Steele to the trailers, Steele with a bruised knee. It was especially costly for Steele, his 29th place finish dropped him from 1st to 4th in the points, now 45 behind Yeley.
Dave Darland also caught a bad break late in the race. Going with a softer right rear during the lap 25 red, Darland moved the Foxco 56 into second and was hunting down Yeley past halfway. It looked as if Darland had something for Yeley, closing down on him several times, but all the hard charging and the abrasive surface wore the right rear out, and it popped coming off of turn four on lap 84. Darland ended the night 19th , after a great run the night before at IRP in the Bob Hoerner 92.
If Yeley was cruising around and being patient during the 100-miler, it would be eye-popping to see what he would have done had he pushed the car. Yeley qualified at nearly a half second faster than his closest pursuer, ran the first 25 miles at a near record pace and appeared to be on rails most of the event, leading all 100 miles. In fact, the only time it appeared he was having any trouble was at the very end of the race, when the car seemed to get a little loose.
An engine war of sorts seems to have invaded the Silver Crown series, much to the delight of some of the racers, teams and fans. Ford has taken and interest in the dirt cars, as well as the midgets and seems to be interested in grooming young guns like Yeley for a move up the ladder, the same way they took an interest in Kasey Kahne. Kahne was interested in running the CART series and tested with Bobby Rahal. Kahne ran a few Toyota Atlantic events, but his interest in running CART wasn't equaled by any of the CART owners. Kasey now runs the BUSCH Series in NASCAR, and was in the top ten in points.
Ford's interest, however seems to pale in relation to that of Chrysler. Several teams had the powerful MoPar plants under the hood, with Tracy Hines and the Snider car of Jay Drake painted brilliantly in the Team MoPar colors. There were a number of fans heard questioning why Chevy, Toyota and Honda couldn't take a similar interest and prepare some of the USAC guys for a run in the IRL as some are really itching to try an Indy Car and a run at the Indianapolis 500.
Young guns abound in the USAC series, so many that Dave Darland at age 36 is considered a veteran! Young Matt Westfall, the midgeteer from Ohio continues to impress in his new ride, Bill Biddle's Hannig Beast, and Teddy Beach and the Beach Boys team wowed the crowd with his top 5 qualification run. Infiniti Pro Series shoe Aaron Fike also qualified in the top ten.
While the youngsters show speed, many times it's the veterans running at the top at the end of one of the grueling 100-mile contests. The 100 mile dirt races tend to favor experience and patience, and at the end of the Hoosier 100 veterans took most of the top slots.
Rich Tobias has become the "Harry Gant" of the Hoosier Hundred, recording another second place finish in the event. Tobias thought he had an excellent chance of winning after last year's fine finish and moved to second late in the race, but the car did not seem to hook up in the corners as well as the past couple of years. Rich's design may be a car of the future, he has taken many of the ideas he learned in the modified ranks and applied them to the dirt champ car. It has produced an unusual looking car, and one person was heard to say that if the "car was a girl, you'd say she had a nice personality".
Perhaps 2001 titlist Paul White's luck has changed now that he no longer carries the number 1 on the Builder's Electric Beast. White's luck last year as national champion was pretty much all bad, suffering a number of mechanical problems while defending his national crown. Adding a "0" to the 1 for the number ten seemed to help, Paul qualified 7th and finished a strong third in the Hoosier 100.
Veterans Brian Tyler and the ageless Johnny Parsons each gave their mounts great rides in the 100-miler, Tyler came from 25th to 6th, while Parsons brought home Ricky Nix's red Beast in 7th after starting 23rd. Parsons, known for his thrilling cushion rides, made use at times of a treacherous outside groove to make a few passes on his way to the front.
The last chance race was star studded, with Tyler, Parsons, Tony Elliot, Kenny Jacobs, "Hot Rod" Heydenreich, Sport Allen, Noffsinger and the "Pup" Kevin Huntley all having to run the hooligan. Jacobs won the event in 12 ½ minutes, and ran to 11th in the 100-mile main event. Huntley, nursing a sick sounding SC Racing entry, made use of the slick surface to transfer to the main, and finished 14th.
While the MoPar powered cars carry a ton of horsepower, they never could hook it up to the slick track during the main. Jay Drake started ninth and finished 8th, while Teddy Beach ended the night 20th. Tracy Hines started third, but dropped back and ended the race in fifth slot.
With the $50,000 bonus check, J.J. Yeley's take of over $60,000 for the Hoosier Hundred alone was a record, and the total for 2 days for Yeley exceeded $70,000!
Yeley's win marked the first win for a car carrying the number 9 since Jimmy Bryan in 1954, and the first pole for car number 9 since Jud Larson in 1958. It also marked the first win for a Ford engine in the Hoosier Hundred since Tom Bigelow took the top slot in 1975 on one of the 255 cubic inch four cam monsters. Yeley's powerplant, however is a stock-block creation that exceeds 350 cubic inches.
J.J. added his name to a list of thirteen championship drivers who have won races on the "Big 3", the dirt miles of Springfield, DuQuoin and Indianapolis. J.J. won for the first time at Springfield and DuQuoin last year, but missed joining and exclusive list of drivers (Jimmy Bryan, A.J. Foyt, Jack Hewitt) who won all three events in the same season! With his first Hoosier 100 win, J.J. joined a very exclusive group of drivers who not only won on all 3 of the Midwest dirt tracks, but took a win at Syracuse as well.
J.J. became only the sixth driver to lead all 100 laps of the Hoosier Hundred, and the first since Jack Hewitt in 1988.
Car builder Bob East has become the modern day A.J. Watson, Grant King, Eddie Kuzma or Wally Meskowski when it comes to dirt car construction. Twenty-two of his creations started the Hoosier Hundred, and Beast cars filled nine of the top ten finishing spots. This marked the 8th Hoosier Hundred win for a Beast chassied car.
The promotion efforts of 6R racing did not go unrewarded, either. A good crowd at IRP and an TV courtesy of Speed Channel was followed by a great crowd at the fairgrounds, one of the largest seen in many years, as well as the cameras of Speed Channel. This was the first appearance of TV at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in many years, and perhaps the first telecast of a champ dirt car race from one of the dirt miles in about 20 years!
Not only did 6R keep the ticket prices a respectable $25, they also had sponsor Kroger doling out $5 off coupons as well! Throw in the fact that kids under 12 got in free, and a family could easily afford the night out. General admission seating was a good idea, as well as the FREE program courtesy of the Trader Paper. These guys sure know how to do things the right way, hopefully they can return not only the race to it's glory days, but bring other events back to the State Fair mile as well.
The 6R people did a great thing again this year, instead of sending the guys from the hooligan who did not make the top ten home, they allowed anyone capable of running to start the event. Thirty-two cars started, down slightly from last year's record 36.
This year saw a tough and fast field, with only 1.414 seconds separating the top 20, and less than a second separating the top 13.
Now that the Indiana State Fair has a race promoter that has stepped up, perhaps it's time for a little investment in the infrastructure of the racetrack itself. One can understand the lack of available cash due to the present economic times, and the state of Indiana has invested in a user friendly walkthrough tunnel, as well as concrete and a new catch fence along the back stretch. However, the race track really needs to have the concrete wall and catch fence raised all the way around the facility, and the lighting system, once one of the premier in the country, needs work as well. Some of the lights do not work or put out very little light, and it was necessary for 6R to bring in portable highway lights in turn 3 for the TV cameras. New clay has been brought in the last few years, but it would be nice to see work on a separate pit lane, rather than having the cars pit on the half-mile gravel training track on the infield. And, a renovation of the infield auto tunnels in turn two or turn four would go a long way to eliminating the nasty dip that develops in the entrance to turn one, the big rigs having to cross over the track to make it to the infield.
Up next for the Weld Racing Silver Crown Series is the Sumar 100 at Terre Haute June 14, part of the USAC racing weekend that includes the prestigious "Hut Hundred" for the USAC midgets on June 13. Under the guise of Springfield and DuQuoin promoter Bob Sargent, the "Action Track" is undergoing it's own facelift, with a concrete wall gracing part of the oval replacing the old red, white and blue guardrail.
The 51st Hoosier Hundred can be seen on Speed channel on June 12th, at 10 eastern.