What follows is an informal listing of random thoughts I’ve had since the opening night of Indiana Sprint Week. They jumped out at odd times and I tried to make notes as soon as a thought popped into my head before it popped out. A lot of it is opinion. May we all be discerning enough to know the difference between my own opinion and whatever facts are slipped in here.
The cap that was put on the race entries, 48, was in general a good idea. But my guess is that Gas City, Kokomo and Lincoln Park could have attracted quite a few more cars. (Not a complaint.)
I was not exactly a whiz kid at sociology or economics. It’s interesting to me at least how a team can be considered a well-funded team for a regular show, but come Sprint Week time the definition of well-funded changes. This impression can be applied in many other ways as well.
Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time standing away from the crowd, whether it’s the pits or the bleachers. It is somewhat like school in that the people who run the entire USAC schedule, be they competitors, officials or fans, tend to congregate together. It’s not necessarily a clique or some secret society. It’s just a group of mostly young people who are taking similar paths. It’s a form of fraternization within the tiny community; regulars or at least semi-regulars tend to associate with each other more often than with a backmarker. A sociologist could explain it a lot better than I could. Like most things, it isn’t necessarily good or bad; it’s what people make of it.
Running just one class has been a popular decision by USAC and the promoters. I wonder if fans would mind paying an extra five bucks. My buddy Railroad Joe, a fellow retiree, says that he would dig a little deeper in those deep pockets of his to see that repeated.
I first noticed it at Kokomo, but it could apply to any of the ISW tracks. As I walked around the pits and parking lots, I had a very faint memory of early 60s NASCAR races I went to with my dad. The atmosphere is laid back—until the drivers’ meeting or when fans exit the parking lot and head to their seats.
This was long before the corporations decided to remake what was an obscure regional sport into, well, a made for TV event, complete with subtle manipulation of rules and competition. If USAC ever gets to that point, and I’m still alive, I’m not sure that I’d be a USAC fan anymore.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen the advent of new rules such as a mandated green/white/checkered finish (probably not Chase Stockon’s favorite rule change), lapped cars tagging the field on late yellow flag periods, provisionals and fourteen-car heats. Those changes haven’t always been popular with fans, but we’ve learned to live with them, if not to embrace them as they would embrace a cold adult beverage.
Lots of newer fans this year, but several who have taken life’s checkered flag or who were unable to make an appearance this year. First names only: Marv, Bob, Monica, Tim, Leroy, Ted, Gregg, Todd, Leann, Carolyn, Freddy, Susan and several more.
I’ve learned to love the rituals, seen and unseen. Drivers’ meetings are usually routine, mundane and sometimes downright boring. But, like everything else, you never know what will come up. One question seemingly out of the blue will ignite a lengthy—and occasionally spirited—discussion.
There’s the wheel packing/engine heat session. I enjoy it as it’s another step to things starting to get real. Smiles and joking don’t quite disappear, but one sees less of it. Hot laps are right around the corner.
Some fans wait until wheel packing/engine heating begins before they come to claim their seats. Others hold off until the flagger waves the green for hot laps to begin. Still others wait for time trials and there are holdouts who wait until the National Anthem is performed.
Speaking of the Star Spangled Banner, that, along with a pre-race prayer, is another ritual. Most everyone stops what they are doing to stand at attention for a couple of minutes. Occasionally someone will be oblivious and not notice at first. The Anthem’s renditions range from inspiring to painful. Some are recorded while others are local singers. Prayers are offered at the end of each driver’s meeting and again just before the race. Typically, whoever gives the invocation asks for safety, not just for those assembled but for our troops and safety personnel—from the local track to the other side of the planet.
A lot of what’s described above is ramped up for Sprint Week. And a lot of what’s described above wasn’t quite the same this year. Things have been a bit different this year. Let us do what we must to ensure that 2021 will bring yet another “new normal,” but let us make it an even better one.
As this essay is being edited and wrapped up, I’m headed to my first post-ISW race. I still feel the anticipation of going, even though it will be another long night. As long as I’m able to go, off I go.
Reminding Louis Gohmert that the mask is meant to cover the mouth and nose, not the eyes, I’m…
The Hoosier Race Report: Inches
Not only is life a game of inches, so is racing. We all know this, but we still weep and wail when we clip a curb, wishing that we had not made the turn so tight. One can’t blame Jason McDougal for moaning about coming up short to Jadon Rogers on Saturday night at the Lincoln Park Speedway. Rogers held off a late charge by McDougal to win the 25 lap feature, leading every lap.
The pits were jammed with 127 race cars, 40 of which were sprints. There were a few cars and drivers I’d not seen before. There was one car I had seen the night before at Gas City. The Jamie Paul car ended Friday night with a victory with Shane Cottle behind the wheel. On this night, another Shane, namely Mr. Cockrum, would be the chauffeur. His path would be challenging.
The dance card would be five heat races with the top three advancing. Two B mains would add three players from each, making a 21 car feature.
Jadon Rogers led all the way to win the first of five heats with the top three moving on to the feature. Travis Berryhill was second and Blake Vermillion scooted to the show after A. J. Hopkins was determined to jump a restart midway through the race and docked two spots.
Shane Cockrum came from the last row to win the second heat over Mitch Wissmiller and Nic Harris. All three are from across the Indiana/Illinois border.
Jake Scott, Dave Darland and Brayden Fox, who came from the back row, all made it to the feature after the third heat.
The fourth heat was wild with the number five. Bloomington winner Tye Mihocko, number five, led Matt McDonald, another five, and Brady Short, from last, advanced. The third car with the popular number, Colton Cottle, headed for the B.
Recent Paragon winner Koby Barksdale won the fifth heat, taking Jason McDougal and Terry Babb to the A main with him.
It was quite a gap between the sprint heats and the semi features. I knew that dinner would occupy my time for a while and I debated on whether to watch the support classes or amble out to the truck and read a book.
Retired racer Steve Rone and part time racer Kurt Gross made my decision for me. First Steve and his friends stopped by to eat with me (and maybe see if I had any leftovers). He’s always a hoot.
Right after they left, Kurt stopped by to do some catching up. He ran much of Sprint Week and said that his head took a beating. Kurt has had issues (concussion like symptoms) for several years and he’s pondering his next move.
My next move was to check the lineups and have a look at the heat races and wait for a pair of last chance races.
The first last chance race was won by A.J. Hopkins with Evan Mosely second. Michael Clark kept Josh Cunningham at bay to grab the last spot. The second saw Colton Cottle triumph over Hunter O’Neal and Jesse Vermillion. Keivan Clotfelter, one of those guys I’ve not seen race, flipped in turn one. He exited his car under his own power.
The feature was at hand. Rogers and Cockrum were the front row, but not for long. In turn one, Mihocko tapped Cockrum just enough to send him spinning in front of the rest of the mob. Somehow everyone missed the Chief, but he would now re-start on the tail with Mihocko, who was sent to the back.
- Hodde waved the green and Rogers began a great imitation of a flying rabbit, with everyone else chasing. Berryhill had maneuvered his way to second from sixth and tried in vain to keep up with the leader. Darland was third and McDougal was on the move. Having started tenth, the Oklahoma native was fighting for a place in the top five in the first five laps.
Rogers’ lead was close to a full straightaway lead as lapped traffic came into play on the seventh lap. McDougal had passed Berryhill for second by then and began to chase Rogers down. But it wasn’t going to be easy for two reasons.
First, Rogers is a racer. Like McDougal, he’s still a young man and already has some experience at this game. Catching him, let alone passing him, would not be easy for JMac. For quite a while, Rogers was maintaining his large lead in lapped traffic. But McDougal wasn’t about to give up. He, too, is a racer and racers, from the backmarkers to the leaders, don’t give up—at least not voluntarily.
As the final laps played out, Rogers encountered heavy lapped traffic, not unlike I-465 on a Friday afternoon. McDougal closed in, not able to choose the quickest line around the 5/16 mile dirt oval due to the lappers. But he was on Rogers’ bumper in turns three and four on the last lap. Brian Hodde had been busy with the so called “courtesy” blue flag with the yellow strip for the lapped traffic. He had to get the checkered flag quickly for the leaders and he did, of course. McDougal came out of four and found an opening next to Rogers. Coming to the line, McDougal gave his all and was side by side as they crossed under the checkered. He came up a couple of feet short as Rogers held onto—and earned–a hard fought victory.
Weekly shows typically interview the winner while a USAC race interviews the top three finishers and the hard charger. I mention that because McDougal’s comments might have been interesting. He should have been pleased that he had tried his best, but my guess is that his overriding emotion was frustration. Again, racers race to do well, sure, but most race to win. Losing is never pleasant but losing by such a small margin can be crushing. But, you can bet that someday soon McDougal will be back and might well be interviewed post-race after winning.
Rogers and McDougal were followed by Darland with Berryhill taking fourth. Hopkins made lemonade out of lemons as he came from his heat race demotion to win his B main, start 16th and finish fifth, earning the Kenny Clark Hard Charger award. Jake Scott was sixth and Wissmiller took seventh. McDonald annexed eighth place with Nic Harris taking home ninth place money. Brady Short was tenth.
The top ten were the only ones on the lead lap. Shane Cockrum, whose race went south early, battled back to 11th, the first lapped car.
But for a few inches, McDougal might have been the one interviewed.
The sprint feature was over before 11:30. Despite the inevitable delays, the show moved right along. This tired puppy enjoyed the view on the way home. The moon hovered over the eastern sky as I headed southeast. It shown benevolently over Indiana cornfields, strip malls, small towns –and a race track here and there.
Eagerly waiting for my Kanye West for President t-shirt, I’m…