Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE —
A look back on the 2011 Wabash Valley auto racing season reveals the best and worst of times the sport has to offer.
A year that generated stellar individual performances, competitive racing and sadly the loss of one of open wheel racing’ s brightest stars.
A campaign that opened under a cloud of uncertainty — mostly thanks to a troubled economy — survived potential financial pitfalls and constant bouts with the elements to offer fans, racers and officials alike a season not soon forgotten.
Those factors played key roles in determining the top 10 stories of 2011 for Valley racing buffs, whether the action was on the local, national or international scene.
Trackside Top 10 stories of 2011
No. 1 — Sadly, in the often unpredictable and violent world of motorsports, death took center stage as the year drew to a close.
The tragic loss of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon in the IndyCar finale in October stunned those in and outside the sport.
Cries for changes in IndyCar racing soon followed leaving the country’s premier open-wheel group searching for answers regarding the future of racing on the few ovals that remain on the IndyCar scene.
No. 2 — Ironically, Wheldon’s storybook last lap-final turn pass at Indy that won him his second 500 win generated its share of excitement and hopes for much needed momentum for IndyCar racing through most of the season.
No. 3 — In most years, storylines surrounding the action at the Terre Haute Action Track drew top attraction, but in 2011 the talk was as much about the lack of action as what unfolded at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds.
Inclement weather and questionable off-track decision making resulted in a disappointing and abbreviated two-event year.
No. 4 — Unfortunately, for a second straight year the future of oval track racing at the Fairgrounds was left in limbo as officials were searching for yet another new promoter as the year drew to a close.
USAC released its 2012 schedule revealing four tentative dates at the track but contract negotiations between Fair board officials and a new promoter remains ongoing.
No. 5 — Valley racers shined on several fronts bringing home track titles and a host of wins throughout the summer. None were brighter than the achievements of area driver Levi Jones who netted a record-breaking fifth USAC sprint title to go along with a second Silver Crown championship.
No. 6 — Fears that a sluggish economy would hurt the sport failed to materialize with figures showing only a slight downward trend in track attendance and racer participation.
No. 7 — Valley fans lost two of their most popular short track events as it is announced that the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck events at Indianapolis Raceway Park would not be part of the 2012 schedule.
No. 8 — Former Action Track competitors walk off with NASCAR’s two biggest prizes. Tony Stewart and Ricky Stenhouse won nailbiting finishes in their bids to win the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series crowns.
No. 9 — If one was to name a driver of the year at the Action Track, there would be little debate who earned the honor. Newcomer Chris Windom dominated the racing, winning both features, leading 56 of a possible 60 laps.
No. 10 — The year draws to a close with a host of high profile driver-team changes on the NASCAR Sprint Cup series circuit.
Parade of track Champions
Valley racers won their share of wins and carried off track titles on several fronts whether it was on the ovals or at the dragstrip. Tracks of interest and their champions include:
CROSSROADS DRAGWAY USA — Champions include: Tony Virgilo-Fast 33 @330, Derrick Troxell Super Pro, Pro-Dustin Brenton, Adam Price in Sportsman, Amara Tewell in High School, Kevin Adams Jr. Dragster and Toni Price Pink Ladies series.
TERRE HAUTE QUARTER MIDGET ASSOCIATION — Jr. Honda-Carson Dillion, Jr. Honda-Colton Wallace, Sr. Honda-Ben Kelly, Heavy Honda-Shelby Van Gilder, Jr. Stock-Carson Dillion, Sr. Stock- Douglas Dillion, Jr. Animal- Reece Reichart, Light World Formula-Cameron Parr, Heavy Wt. Formula-Jonny Newgent, Lt. 160-Gage Pohlman, Heavy B-Josh Schneider.
LINCOLN PARK SPEEDWAY — Sprints- Ethan Barrow, Modifieds-Paul Bumgardner, Super Stocks-Kenny Carmichael and Bomber-David Bumgardner.
In the always highly-competitive Saturday night of weekly racing at LPS, the sprint division produced 15 different feature winners. Casey Shuman (sprints) and Carmichael (stocks and modifieds) were the most prolific winners with each collecting six checkered flags. Area drivers C.J. Bryan and Cullen Goodman were repeat feature winners.
COLES COUNTY DRAGWAY — Super Pro-Bob Paul, Pro-Tommie Harlin, Sportsman-Eric Cooper, Motorcycle-Chad Isley and Nicole Little-Jr. Dragster.
BAKERSFIELD RACEWAY PARK — Hornet-Jeffery Shimmell, B Mods-James Wise, Jr. Sprints-Jadon Rogers, 600 Sidewinders-Zack Teike, 600 Uprights-Sam Borden, 4 Cyl-Jessie Cooley, Wingless 600-Nate McMillin, Restrictor Class-Creed Friz.
LYONS RACEWAY PARK — Super Pro-McColley Young, Pro-Eric Bowling, Sportsman-Bill McCarty, Jr. Dragster-Nathan Jones, Motorcycle-Bill McCarty. Fast 8-James Schantz, VP Fuels Quick 32-Al Peavler.
PARAGON SPEEDWAY — Sprints-Josh Cunningham, Super Stock-Steve Hollars, Bombers-Mike Ham, Pure Stock-Josh Litton.
BLOOMINGTON MOTOR SPEEDWAY — Sprints-Brady Short, Modifieds-Clint De Moss, Super Stock-Jeremy Hines.
The year 2011 will indeed go down in record books as a prosperous and rewarding year for area competitors and their many fans and supporters.
Joe Buckles can be reached at email@example.com.