By Jay Hardin Track Enterprises Staff
(Indianapolis, IN April 19, 2017)-Five times since 1953 the Hoosier Hundred has been contested in a year ending in the number seven. In four of those events a first-time winner crossed the finish line, while in the other a repeat victor had to battle a rookie fast qualifier and a unique engine in order to secure the victory. What will happen in 2017 is yet to be determined as the largest entry list in over a decade, with a large number of first year teams, invades the Indiana State Fairgrounds for the traditional Hoosier Hundred May 25 as part of USAC’s “Week of Indy” for the Silver Crown Series.
Race day in 1957 was sunny and mild for the fifth running of Jo Quinn’s creation on the Indiana mile. Jimmy Bryan had won the last three Hoosier Hundred races while mechanic Clint Brawner and owner Al Dean won the first race as well with Bob Sweikert. A fifth consecutive Dean Van Lines win appeared likely as Bryan would start fifth on race day. However, front row starters Jud Larson and Johnny Thomson stole the show with Thomson leading the first 57 laps from the outside front row before giving way to “Earth Mover” Larson who set a new track record in qualifications. The big Okie beat Bryan to the line and set a new 100-mile record in the process. Missing the show was none other than rookie A.J. Foyt.
Foyt was hardly a rookie in 1967, having won the 500 three times and four national championships. His chief rival was two-time national champion and defending Hoosier Hundred winner Mario Andretti. Bruce Walkup smashed the track record in qualifying in a car built by Grant King and carrying a normally aspirated Ford V-8 Indy Car engine. Andretti lined up second with Foyt third as the two were locked in battle for the national title. Walkup led the first 14 before Mario took over and unlike last year when he inherited a late lead as Foyt’s brake pedal broke, Andretti dominated the remaining 86 circuits giving owner Al Dean and chief wrench Clint Brawner their record sixth win in the prestigious event.
Mario and Bobby Unser were gone from dirt track racing by 1977 and so were the mighty uprights from the championship trail having formed their own series in 1971. USAC’s Dirt Track Division still drew large fields and big names as evidenced by Foyt, Al Unser, Johnny Rutherford and Jim Hurtubise appearing on the entry list. Second generation driver Pancho Carter won the pole with a time just over 35 seconds while Big Al held on the 24th and final spot. Foyt, Rutherford and Herk were among those too slow to make the top 24, however promoter Don Smith added the first ever last chance race in the history of the Dirt Division due to the large entry list. Steve Chassey won the semi while Foyt and Herk were eliminated in a third turn shunt with Arnie Knepper, the accident marking the first time since 1957 that A.J. missed the show. Pancho bolted from the pole in the finale and was never headed giving the Hoosier Hundred another first time winner.
Jack Hewitt came to the 1987 Hoosier Hundred having won practically everything in the now named Silver Crown Series. He won all the dirt races in 1986 and two on the dirt miles in 1987 so far. Combined with the Silver Crown machines was the USAC Midget series and the prestigious Hut Hundred, the first time it had ever been contested on a mile. 1984 USAC champ Dave Blaney set a new track record as the fastest of 48 cars with Jeff Swindell starting second. Hewitt lined up fifth as Blaney jumped to the lead at the start and appeared to have the machine to beat. On the 85th lap Blaney slid high and Kenny Jacobs sailed by leading the final laps for his first ever series victory.
By 1997 economic conditions forced promoter A.J. Foyt and the Foyt group to move the Hoosier Hundred from its traditional September date to the May date occupied by the Hulman 100, two nights before the Indianapolis 500. The first race on dirt for the Silver Crown cars brought a large 500 weekend crowd out and a big entry list to boot. Indiana’s own Russ Gamester set fast time while two-time winner Chuck Gurney started second. Gamester led the first 26 before Gurney took over through lap 81. Much to the delight of a partisan crowd Hoosier native Chuck Leary took the lead from Gurney and was never headed, becoming a first time winner of the Hoosier Hundred.
Even when Mother Nature intervenes, the Hoosier Hundred makes history. In 2007 thirty-two cars drew for qualifications and just as it appeared things would be ready for time trials the skies opened up and turned the track into a quagmire. A suitable rain date was not available, for the first time in history the Hoosier Hundred was not able to be contested.
Who enters the 2017 edition as one of the favorites? The field could be wide open and a large entry list is expected May 25. Kody Swanson could make history that day. Last year he joined Al Unser and Jim Bryan as drivers who won three consecutive Hoosier Hundred races. This year he could join Unser as the only two to win four in a row.
Defending USAC Silver Crown champ Chris Windom broke through the barrier and won his first 100-mile race at DuQuoin last September. He won the April opener at Terre Haute and could be a first time winner at the Indiana State Fairgrounds May 25. Others in the hunt could include three-time winner Dave Darland, two-time DuQuoin winner Shane Cockrum, C.J. Leary (the son of the 1997 winner), USAC Sprint champ Brady Bacon and second generation driver Casey Shuman.
The 2017 Hoosier Hundred takes place May 25 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Practice is slated to begin at 5 p.m. with qualifications after 6. Tickets can be obtained by calling Track Enterprises at 217-764-3200. A three day special Superticket for the full week of Indy including the Tony Hulman Classic at Terre Haute, the Hoosier Hundred, and the Carb Night Classic at Lucas Oil Raceway is also available at https://usacracing.ticketspice.com/2017-week-of-indy.