News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Auto Racing

May 28, 2010

Jerry Coons Jr. wins 40th running of the Tony Hulman Classic

TERRE HAUTE — Once again, the Terre Haute Action Track lived up to its name late Thursday night.

Jerry Coons Jr. won the 40th running of the "First Financial Bank Tony Hulman Classic presented by Budweiser and 500 Express" after passing Levi Jones on the 28th lap and holding off the three-time Hulman Classic winner on the final two laps.

For driving his orange and white No. 69 Hoffman Auto Racing F-5 Gaerte to victory in the U.S. Auto Club non-wing sprint feature, Coons received a check for $5,000.

Coons, 38, of Tucson, Ariz., was asked to rank this among his career victories.

"It's definitely up there," he said after putting down his young son Cale, whom he had held for post-race photos. "You know, we've had a few here in Terre Haute get away from us, with running out of fuel and flat tires and stuff, that we feel like we should have won. So it¹s a little bit of redemption after all that."

Because of wet conditions on the half-mile clay oval Thursday evening, hot laps didn't begin until 9:20 p.m. Qualifying was canceled, but eight-lap heat races — won by Justin Grant, Tracy Hines, Hunter Schuerenberg and Coons — set the stage for the feature to begin a little before 11.

Coons started from the No. 1 position, but the first attempt to log a full lap failed because of a wild multi-car collision approaching Turn 2 that brought out the red flag. Jon Stanbrough and Henry Clarke flipped and Chris Windom also was involved, but no injuries were reported.

After the restart, which took place at 11:10, Coons jumped in front and stayed there through seven laps, then the car of Justin Grant shot over the 4-foot-high outer wall and made contact with a passenger car parked outside the track. Again, no injuries were reported.

After this restart, Jones passed Coons on the inside between turns 3 and 4 to lead the eighth lap, but Coons returned the favor to lead the ninth lap — all the way through the 21st lap.

On the 22nd lap, Jones slipped by Coons down low as they exited Turn 4 and Jones continued to set the pace through the 25th lap. But on what would have been the 26th lap, the yellow light came on because of a stopped car on the track.

That set up a five-lap shootout for $5,000 on the restart. Coons regained the lead on what turned out to be the real 26th lap, but

Jones went high in Turn 3 on the 27th lap to seize the advantage. On the 28th lap, Coons slid inside in the fourth turn to find himself in front again — this time for good.

Asked if it was fun to battle Jones so closely, Coons said it was, "until I fell back to second to him."

"Levi's one of the toughest guys here," Coons continued. "He's always good here. I knew he was hounding me. I didn't know if I had anything for him. He got by me, then I kinda found something on the bottom after he went by me and it stuck. So I'm just happy to get this win. It was a lot of fun."

Coons tried to describe the final five laps, but found it difficult.

"It's kind of a blur, those last five laps," he admitted. "He got by and I did everything I could do to dig — found a little bit on the bottom and just kept diggin¹ and luckily I was able to get back by him."

Coons said he and Jones get along well off the track, but he doesn't feel bad for keeping Jones from becoming the first four-time Hulman Classic winner.

"You never want to waste opportunities," Jones said of his near-miss of a fourth Hulman Classic victory. "We were just racing each other back and forth and we came up on the wrong end of the slide jobs."

Finishing second through fifth were Jones, Dave Darland, series points leader Damion Gardner and Hines respectively.

Attendance estimates from track promoters ranged from 4,000 to 5,000 fans on this warm, muggy weeknight.

Next up for the Action Track will be the "First Financial Bank Indiana Sprint Week" event July 14.

                                 * * *

Track notes - On the first warm-up lap before the feature race, drivers lined up in 'missing man' formation to honor driver Jesse "The Rocket" Hockett, who was electrocuted in a non-racing accident in his garage Wednesday at Warsaw, Mo.

Hockett, 26, was planning to compete in this year's Hulman Classic at the time of his death.

"It's hard to put into words," Coons said of Hockett after winning the race.

"We really want to celebrate and we're happy to win, but certainly keep his family in our hearts. He was one of the best competitors — wing or non-wing — it didn't matter. He was a true racer. He's certainly going to be missed. I had a lot of respect for him."

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