TERRE HAUTE —
There might have been a chill to the air this past weekend, but the inclement conditions failed to dampen the spirits or the caliber of racing for the Action Track season opener Sunday.
The man who hopes to revive the enthusiasm and promotional stability to oval track racing at Wabash Valley Fairgrounds was generally pleased with the way the day played out.
Bob Sargent, along with partner Reece O’Connor, had the local half-mile clay oval well prepared for the opener. The track surface held up well considering most of the program came during the sunniest part of the day and blusterly conditions that drew out the moisture on the racing surface almost as quickly as it was laid down.
There were some minor flaws — there were too many yellow flags for the modifieds — but overall it was a well run show that took the checkered flag just shy of 9 o’clock.
A solid start to what Sargent hopes will be a rebirth of sorts for racing at the track.
“I’m well pleased. Proud with the way things played out our first time back,” Sargent said.
“I thought we had a good sprint car feature. The track was real smooth. Had a lot of compliments for that. We got the people out at an early hour. We’re happy,” offered Sargent as the last of the final race haulers exited the darkened Fairgrounds.
• Newsmakers — Robert Ballou emerged the big winner on the day with his $2,500 payday in the sprints. This coming at the expense of fellow racer Chris Windom.
Windom looked well on his way to a third-straight feature win here when his engine expired while leading.
Young Devin Gilpin added his name as a first-time Action Track winner in impressive fashion. It was the eighth feature win of the young season for the Columbus driver.
It was his first visit to the track. He noted that part of his preparation for running the local half-mile was to play the sprint car video games featuring the Action Track. He proved to be a quick learner.
The 21-year-old modified racer gained a $700 paycheck and more importantly valuable points to keep him on top of the national UMP modified points. He led the national points a year ago only to lose the title chase in final two weeks of competition.
The Wabash Valley area was well-represented Sunday with no less than 10 local drivers competing in the two divisions. West Terre Haute’s Blake Fitzpatrick had the best showing in the sprints with an 11th-place finish, while Kenny Carmichael had an eighth-place showing in the modifieds.
Sunday’s field for the combined Midwest Sprint Car Series and King of Indiana Sprint Series sanctioned affair had strong USAC representation.
USAC frontrunners Dave Darland, Jerry Coons Jr, Damion Gardner, Jon Stanbrough, Bud Keading, Windom and defending national champ Levi Jones along with Ballou all made their presence felt throughout the day.
The USAC contingent had competed the night before at Eldora Speedway near Rossburg, Ohio. Tracy Hines shot past Darland on the final lap to win the Buckeye event.
Hines was in attendance Sunday at the Fairgrounds but limited his appearance to an advisory role to newcomer Todd Leary. He will help headline a stellar field for this weekend’s scheduled USAC sprint show at Putnamville on Saturday night.
Tri-State Speedway promoter and MSCS owner Tom Helfrich was on hand to oversee the running of the sprint doubleheader and was all smiles after enjoying a standing room only turnout for his World of Outlaws card at Haubstadt the previous night.
Terre Haute native Josh Conder was back in town helping out with the track push truck and safety crews. The Terre Naute North and Indiana State grad had a rare day off from his chores as equipement manager for the Indiana Pacers.
Having enjoyed his share of winning moments at both North and ISU, Conder is optimistic the Pacers will do well in the upcoming NBA playoffs.
• Richardson remembered — Fellow competitors and supporters of the area stock car scene gathered to pay their final respect to one of their own earlier this week following the recent passing of local racer Darrell Richardson.
A familiar figure at area short tracks, Richardson shared many roles in the sport that he cared so much for. His proudest moment may have come a few years back when close friend Ritchie Hawkins offered him the opportunity to drive one of his race cars.
He preceded to win a feature and in doing so become the first and only black driver to ever accomplish the feat at Lincoln Park Speedway.
Away from the track Darrell will long be rembered for his kindness and ever present smile. He will be sorely missed by all those who knew him well.
Joe Buckles can be reached at email@example.com.