TERRE HAUTE —
In the storied history of the Terre Haute Action Track no name is more synonymous with winning and dominance than the late Jim Hurtubise.
At a time when sprint car racing could be as deadly as it was competitive no driver ruled the local half-mile clay oval like the colorful North Tonawanda, N.Y., driver.
His impressive five-feature USAC sprint win streak of the early 1960s remains the standard even today.
Thus, it seemed only fitting the most recent winner in the race that pays tribute to the Hurtubise name would win in the dominating fashion as he did Saturday night.
Young Chris Windom literally blew away the competition en route to a fifth national sprint car win and his second in a row at the Action Track.
The 20-year-old Illinois hot shoe shrugged off several restarts and a hard charging Levi Jones to lead all 30 laps of the main event. This on the heels of a similar performance earlier this summer in the Tony Hulman/Don Smith Classic.
Not only did Windom win both shows at the Action Track this season, he led 56 of a possible 60 laps. His run Saturday night pulled him even closer to Jones in the tight points race for the sprint car driving championship.
Only 16 markers now separate the pair heading into this Saturday’s show at Haubstadt.
While Windom may not surround himself with the storied exploits of Hurtubise, he was well prepared to offer his thoughts of a night that he simply dominated an outclassed field.
“The car was perfect. You don’t get many nights like this in this business,” beamed the jubilant Windom.
“We sorta lucked out starting on the front row but we had an awful fast race car out there tonight,” offered Windom in what was probably the biggest understatement of the night.
While he is a relative newcomer to the USAC scene, the reputation of winning at Terre Haute has already left an indelible mark on Windom.
“It means a lot winning at Terre Haute. It’s really a cool race track. To have been able to win both races here is really awesome.”
He now turns his efforts to chasing down Jones in the points chase – one he says won’t be easy.
“It’s tough. We’re trying our hardest,” conceded Windom. “It’s hard to beat him [Jones] as consistent as he is. We win a race and he finishes second. All we can do is to continue to run as well as we have. I think we have a shot at [the title].”
“We still have 10 races. We’ll have to stay consistent, have as many good runs as possible. With the type of year we’re having I feel confident about our chances,” he said.
Jones is prepared for the championship run focused on the stretch drive that he hopes will make him the first five-time USAC sprint car champion.
“I’m really hungry to get this one,” stressed Jones. “This is the one to break the record. Steve Butler was a great race driver, a Hall of Famer. I don’t want to wait till 2012 to try and break the record.”
“We’re ready. We’ve got a new car on the way. What happened last year doesn’t count,” voiced the winner of the past two sprint titles. “This is an all new year. Windom has a lot of races under his belt. They are having a great year. Chris has become a heckuva race driver,” Jones said of his closest point rival.
While Jon Stanbrough (now 68 points back) suffered an off night Saturday, Jones cautions not to rule the Avon driver out of the championship picture.
“You can never overlook that Fox team. Jon has been one the finest sprint car drivers in the last 10 years. He knows how to win races.”
Jones looks forward to the final drive in the points chase.
“It’s got me pumped. It makes me want to get up and play with the kids each morning. I’m more excited to go to the race track than I have been in a long time,” revealed the obviously upbeat title contender.
• CLASSIC NOTES – The car count for the Classic was a slimmer than expected 26 entrants. The most notable absentees were the normally front-running machines of Keith Kunz and Scott Benic.
It was nice to see the local entries of Chase Stockon, Blake Fitzpatrick and Brandon Mattox competing here. All had their moments in front of their hometown fans: Stockon winning his heat in convincing fashion and running 11th in the 30-lap feature; Fitzpatrick adding to his already rising stock with another top 10 finish.
Mattox continues to be an inspiration for all the young drivers hoping some day to run at the Action Track. He raced himself into the main event with a well-earned third-place finish in his heat. He went on to run 20th in the feature.
With the high profile USAC teams slowing while departing the darkened pit area, Mattox took time to reflect on his most recent outing at the Action Track.
“I know some guys think that maybe I shouldn’t be running here, that I don’t have the equipment or experience to run a big half mile like this. But this place is why I go racing. This is where as a kid I grew up watching races dreaming that someday I’d race at the Action Track,” confided Mattox.
• LOOKING AHEAD – When the checkered flag fell on the Classic it brought to a close another unsettling year at the track, it’s future once again up in the air.
The fair board was scheduled to meet earlier this week. Hopefully the fate of racing was one of the subjects on its agenda.
Word circulating the pits over the weekend was that USAC, which served as promoter at the track this season, would not return in that role in 2012.
USAC official Jason McCord downplayed the talk Monday, stating that the sanctioning body “would do whatever it takes to protect the interest of USAC racing at the track.”
The team of Reece O’Connor and Bob Sargent once again provided the racers and fans with an excellent racing surface. For the fifth time in the past two years the pair had been called in to bail out track promotions with their track prep expertise.
The pair attempted to gain promotional rights to racing at Wabash Valley Fairgrounds this past winter but had their bid rejected. According to Sargent, they have submitted a bid for the 2012 season.
“They have our proposal. It’s up to (the fair board). USAC has told us they won’t return in a promotional role. That might provide us some leverage that we didn’t have a year ago when made our bid,” said the veteran promoter.
Joe Buckles can be reached at jbuckles4@ frontier.com