Thunder in the Dome Report

Well, race fans, I don't think you'd want to be in Promoter Ted Hollingsworth's shoes on this chilling night in March. The weather inside the Hoosier - pardon, RCA Dome, is picture perfect but outside, that's another story. How would you like...

Well, race fans, I don't think you'd want to be in Promoter Ted Hollingsworth's shoes on this chilling night in March. The weather inside the Hoosier - pardon, RCA Dome, is picture perfect but outside, that's another story. How would you like to have your biggest race of the year, yea, your only race of the year hit by the worst snow storm forecast of the year.

The snow season in Indiana has been very sparce, to say the least, and the TV stations were all chomping at the bit to activate their "Storm Teams." It's their job and they do a dandy piece of work but it sure plays hell with race attendance. Not that the warnings weren't justified. Radioman Mike King was over two hours making it from Terre Haute because of jacknifed semi's on I-70. Others said the visibility on the highways was near zero in the pure white. But, alas, over 5,000 hardy souls braved the elements and strode into the 'Dome looking like they'd been out in an all day rain as the wet, sticky stuff melted and streaked their faces and hairdo's.

The prelims which greeted fans as the doors opened at 5:00 PM were varied and entertaining, even if one didn't really know who was in the cars. The Dome public address leaves a lot to be desired. The sound echos around the building and the first names is coming back at you as the next one is announced. The system really can't be called state of the art. Hollingsworth presented an undercard before the Invocation consisting of a Kenyon Car exhibition 20 lapper. These are standard midgets with Legend Car engines. Next was 20 rounds for the Mini-Cup Cars which are one lungers that look like NASCAR stocks. Capping the prelims was a 20 lapper for the AORA go-karts.

The six USAC Midget heats set the order for the 40 lap Team Indiana and Team USA Features. These were won by Tracy Hines, Mel Kenyon, Mike Mann, for the Hoosiers, and Kevin Besecker, A. J. Fike, and Mike Streicher for the Outlanders.

The Team Indiana feature was first class for 40 laps and the win went easily to Johnny Parsons, Jr. in Dick Myers Autocraft VW which looked offset left to the the last notch. Critter Malone was second and Dave Darland third, followed by Tracy Hines and Michael Lewis.

Fifty five year old Parsons is not really an active USAC driver although he says he has never officially retired. In this field, only Mel Kenyon is older at 66. Parson's car was on rails as he sauntered out for a Saturday drive and passed everyone in sight motoring in the second groove. He served notice for the main event.

Mike Streicher has been absent from 'Dome lineups for seven long years but he drove his Jim Streicher VW, a car of his own design to a heat win which put him on the pole for the USA feature. Streicher got plenty of heat from elder statesman Jim Hettinger in the Don Smith VW and despite some interference from backmarkers was able to negotiate those rolling chicanes and hold on until the 26th lap when 46 year old Hett went sailing by cleanly on the outside and gave his notice as a main event contender. Streicher had nothing more for him and fell out on the 31st lap. Aaron Fike brought the family Esslinger home in second, followed by Besecker, Boorse, Ronnie Johncox, and A. J. Fike in the other Esslinger in the Fike stable from Galesburg, IL.

In the 100 lap feature lane choice from the heats was determined by coin toss. Parsons got to make the call and he made it right and drew the inside. This could be a mixed blessing since he was working better on the outside. The charge into turn one will be a shootout with Critter Malone and Aaron Fike in the row right behind.

Keeping with tradition, the feature report from here in the 'Dome will be 'blow-by-blow' as we see it from the press box. They're off and JP held the inside line very well with Hett immediately behind. after several rounds of side by side.

JP was moving through backmarkers by lap ten and Hett was right there waiting. The 70 of Justin Marvel gave him several laps of squirmy fits but he soon broke free. Parsons is using the rail now and moving out only to clear lapped cars. Next is Tony Elliott but JP quickly disposes of him. A yellow flies on lap 29 which frees up Elliott to return to the back of the pack and the leaders will have to deal with him again.

Robbie Rice is the victim of a spin in turn four and pushes off to a tail end position. Elliott is called in for inspection and allowed to resume his spot in the running but he is not a contender tonight. On the restart parsons clips a marker tire and his left front wheel is cocked at 45 degrees. Hettinger stalks he cripped No. 11 which is three wheeling it very nicely. It is only a matter of time. Parsons is hurt but Hett will wait for more lapping to occur before strinking his blow. Malone is well behind the two front runners and backing up which says a lot for Parsons three wheel driving.

Darn, Hett clips Tony Elliott's wheel and nose dives into the ventilators coming out of turn 2. His bid for another 'Dome win is gone. Mysteriously, Parsons left front has started rolling straight again. Because of the need for medics to remove Hettinger, Bill Shipman flies a red flag with 48 good laps.

Good news from the accident scene. Hett felt pretty shook up from his sudden stop at the ventilator grating but was not seriously hurt but went to hospital for precautions. Meantime, Parsons was allowed to repair his No. 11 and he now has four wheels pointing in the right direction.

With two laps to go before halfway Parsons is safely in the lead with a clear road ahead. He has lapped Nemire and is working on Kenyon who is hard to pass anytime. JP lets his tires cool a second and then moves out to lane two again. Malone shows JP his nose for a sec but JP is soon off to lap Rice and Ted Hines. Now its Elliott ahead. Tony gets racy and passes Gibson. JP tries again and Elliott moves him out. There, he gets by the 3 and with Lang disposed of has a clear track ahead agin with ten laps to go. As Aaron Fike looms ahead Parsons is able to hold No. 1 and brings home his first 'Dome win in 12 tries.

Parsons previous results here was second in 1985, second in 1989, and three fourths in 1988, 1990, 1991, and 1992.

Critter Malone gutted out a second followed by Ryan Newman, A. J. Fike, Kevin Besecker, and Tracy Hines, all on the lead lap. One lap down was Aaron Fike, Robbie Rice, Dan Boorse, Kevin Olson, Tony Elliott, Matt Westfall, Dave Darland, Ted Hines, and Ronnie Johncox. In 15th with 98 laps was Justin Marvel followed by Mel Kenyon and Michael Lang.

The 16th Thunder-in-the-Dome is finished. It was an excellent program, the fans seemed happy, all the drivers walked away, and everybody now has to fight their way homeward through the slippery stuff. Let hope all make it safely.

On reaching my car in a nearby lot I found only three inches of snow, max. But it caused a 20 car pile up in Terre Haute and two semi's stalled in New Castle. Better it was to stay home but you missed a darn fine RCA Dome race.

Len in Indy

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About this article
Series USAC
Drivers Ryan Newman , Michael Lewis , Dave Darland , Tracy Hines , Tony Elliott , Aaron Fike , Ronnie Johncox , Johnny Parsons