TERRE HAUTE —
For once, the Terre Haute Action Track and the U.S. Auto Club got a weather break Wednesday night, a window amidst threatening conditions to allow the 44th Tony Hulman Classic to go off without a serious hitch.
Some might say Dave Darland got a break too, but most would agree instead that the veteran sprint car driver has learned to make his own breaks by this time. He won the Classic for the second time in his career — the first coming in 1993 — and is a three-time USAC winner this season while no one else has won more than once.
“Terre Haute is a great place to win races,” Darland said afterward. “Great racecar drivers win races here.”
Darland certainly belongs in that group. Wednesday’s win was his 50th in USAC, putting him just two behind all-time leader Tom Bigelow.
“Fifty is obviously a great number to have,” he acknowledged after the race. “Only one other driver has more.”
Darland started the 30-lap feature on the outside of the first row, but pole-sitter Kevin Thomas Jr. was the quickest on every start and immediately took the lead.
A yellow flag after 10 laps enabled Darland, sitting comfortably in second, to get another chance on the restart, but Thomas was still fastest. The longest stretch of racing without a yellow flag caused both Thomas and Darland to catch the cars at the back of the field, however, and Darland outmaneuvered Thomas in the lapped traffic to take the lead on the 22nd lap.
Darland survived two more restarts, Thomas providing a serious challenge at the bottom of the first turn on the second of them, but the veteran shut the door and pulled away.
Brady Bacon, who broke Braylon Fitzpatrick’s track record with a 19.225-second qualification run, was third, with Jon Stanbrough fourth and Sullivan County native Chase Stockon fifth. Terre Haute’s Brandon Mattox finished 19th.
The 21-year span between Tony Hulman Classic wins is an all-time USAC record for biggest interval between wins in the same race, according to USAC director of communications Dick Jordan.
Tracy Hines, who was among the leaders until spinning out early, came back to finish eighth, but that wasn’t his most impressive driving of the evening. In the third of three sprint-car heats Hines — starting sixth because of the inverted grid used — went from sixth to first in the first lap.
Darland’s win was greeted with considerably more enthusiasm than that of Jacob Poole in the UMP Modified feature race.
USCA veterans Ken Schrader and Kenny Wallace drove modifieds Wednesday and each was given pole position and won their respective heats. Poole got by Wallace early in the 20-lap feature and threatened Schrader on several occasions, but Schrader shut the door effectively — until getting spun by Poole on the fourth turn of what would have been the last lap.
“It was pretty much my fault,” said Poole, who held off Wallace in the one-lap green-flag, white-flag restart. “We got together, and I’m real sorry about that.” His apology didn’t seem to mollify the booing grandstand crowd, however.
Fast qualifier — Brady Bacon 19.225 seconds (Action Track record).
Heat winners — Hunter Schuerenberg, Shane Cottle, Tracy Hines.
Feature — Dave Darland, Kevin Thomas Jr., Bacon, Jon Stanbrough, Chase Stockon, Chris Windom, Robert Ballou, Hines, Cottle, Bryan Clauson, C.J. Leary, Shane Cockrum, Daron Clayton, Schuerenberg, Jarett Andretti, Aaron Farney, Carson Short, Chris Gurley, Brandon Mattox, Justin Grant, Mitch Wissmiller, Mark Smith, Jerry Coons Jr. NT.