In a season that has generated more than its share of down moments for Wabash Valley fans and racers, last Saturday’s “King of non-wing Sprints” program at Lincoln Park Speedway served notice that there are still a few positive storylines to be found in the wild and unpredictable sport of sprint-car racing.
One such storyline unfolded this past weekend on the rough and challenging 5⁄16-mile Putnamville dirt oval. That’s where the runs of Eric Burns and Blake Fitzpatrick sent fans home feeling that if the season has to come to a close, it couldn’t end on a happier or brighter note.
Fitzpatrick provided the large and appreciative fan turnout with a near-flawless winning drive in taking his first checkered flag of the year and Burns delivered probably the biggest upset and most popular win of the year.
Yes, Valley fans can now put behind them the countless number of rainouts and all the tragic events that plagued racing this summer and savor one good night at the race track in 2013.
While Fitzpatrick’s winning drive in the First Financial Sprinter garnered the biggest trophy and largest paycheck — and rightfully so — it was Burns’ improbable run that stole the limelight at night’s end.
If you’ve followed the area sprint-car scene over the years, you know that the pairs’ racing careers have little in common with the exception that are both proven winners.
Their route to success have taken different paths to victory lane — Fitzpatrick as the young, promising newcomer and Burns as the cagey veteran who over the years has earned the reputation of making the most out of the least of any driver to ever strap himself in a sprint car.
Burns’ latest venture in frugality just might be his best ever. The likable Clay County racer has the knack of taking second-hand parts and manufacturing them into a front-running piece of equipment, no matter what or where he might run.
The veteran Brazil racer has teamed with long-time supporter Doug Rolison to assemble his latest winning drive, one that had insiders questioning out loud how does the guy does it.
The competition was even more amazed when the pair revealed that their winning effort was put together in less than a month at a price tag of less than $2,500.
“We bought the car on Craigslist for $1,300 just for the parts,” revealed Rolison, who lives in Poland, Ind. “Eric had parts of a motor laying around, so we decided to put it together. The only thing new was probably the gaskets for the motor. We may have $2,100 total in it.
“You know 90 percent of the success in sprint-car racing is the driver. And Eric Burns can flat out drive a race car. We don’t have a lot of money, but we’re sure having a good time.”
After getting out of racing full time more than 10 years ago, Burns has made occasional track appearances to help a fellow racer dial in their race car. He hadn’t made it to victory lane in 12 years until Saturday night.
His latest approach to the sport is no different today than when he won track championships at Tri-State and Lincoln Park speedways back in 2000: Enjoy the moment and make the most out what you bring to the race track.
Surrounded by family members and many of his fellow racers, Burns took time to savor the moment minutes after his surprising win.
He conceded his feature lineup comprised mostly of many underfunded teams like his own and a number of younger drivers out to get valuable track time.
Although he had a vast amount of experience on the upstart field, the likable Brazil’s businessman wasn’t about to give back the winning trophy or winner’s check.
“I don’t care if it had been the third feature of the night. We had a blast. Probably the best part of the night — the kids [son Harley and daughter Destiny] got to see that their dad was still a guy capable of winning sprint-car races. … We went home with a winning race car, a trophy and the winner’s check. How can you ask for anything more than that?” questioned the smiling racer, who will turn 46 next month.
Joe Buckles can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.