TERRE HAUTE —
When the U.S. Auto Club Silver Crown contingent motors into the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds this weekend for the SUMAR Classic it would appear that Jerry Coons Jr. would be the odds-on favorite to win Sunday’s 100-lap main event.
After all, the veteran driver has all the credentials to make him a winner. He currently leads the Silver Crown division in points. He also won the only the dirt-track race for the big cars this season and is a former winner at the local half-mile clay oval.
Impressive credentials, yes. Enough to make him a favorite Sunday? Probably not. At least not to a few skeptics who feel Coons’ expertise is in the smaller midgets and sprints, not the bigger Silver Crown machines.
Despite being a four-time national driving champion, Coons remains one of racing’s most underrated and overlooked drivers.
Maybe he’s the “Rodney Dangerfield” of his profession: A proven winner who is highly regarded among his peers but not fully recognized for his achievements in the champ cars.
Like fellow USAC driver Dave Darland, Coons has never been one to toot his own horn. He pretty much lets his driving speak for itself.
Labeled a midget driver by most, the Arizona transplant has won his share in the sprints (14) and big cars (4); but it’s his 18 career midget wins that have earned him a reputation.
He faces a continuing challenge to shed the misaligned reputation that his skills are better suited for the midgets and sprints and not Silver Crown racing. All of this despite being the circuit’s series champ in 2008.
It’s a reputation Coons has learned to accept with a measure of pride.
“The midget thing is pretty much my own fault,” he said. “I’ve said more than once I feel more comfortable in a midget. Love driving them. I don’t see much wrong with that.”
Reputation aside, Coons would like nothing better Sunday than prove his skeptics wrong, once again.
He’ll lead a field of 30 cars into a rare daytime event at the Action Track. It’s been 18 years since they’ve raced without the lights at the Fairgrounds.
The last driver to make it to victory lane in daytime was Tony Stewart when he won the Hut 100 for car owner Rollie Helmling back in 1993.
Racing in the daytime at the clay oval will offer up a new challenge for most of Sunday’s field, one Coons says will present an interesting afternoon of racing.
Skeptics are already predicting a program plagued with dust, which is a potential headache that Coons says could play into the days activities.
“They [Action Track promoters] have had their share of ups and down with the track prep in recent years. Fortunately there’s always been a decent surface at the end of the night,” Coons said.
“Track prep is different for the big cars that go 100 laps. Not like the 30 laps for the sprints. Hopefully everything falls in place for the SUMAR. Track prep is always weather driven,” added Coons.
Coons will carry a slim 11-point advantage over a surging Bobby East into Sunday’s show. Like Coons, East will have a reputation of his own he’d like to dispel in the SUMAR. His is of being more a pavement driver than a dirt driver.
“You hear that Bobby can’t run the dirt,” Coons said. “He’s getting better all the time. He’ll be one of 10 guys that can win at a place like Terre Haute.”
Tight point races are not new for Coons. He’s been in his share of title chases. “I try to not get caught up in the points. You race to win. Win and the points take care of themselves,” he said.
“At the same time the division is so competitive you have to make the most of any opportunity. There will be days when you’ll have a seventh or eighth place car. You don’t do something stupid. Accept what you have and go on to the next race.”
The Silver Crown circuit has had its share of problems in recent years. Some say the big cars might be on the endangered list.
Coons addressed the issue. “We’ve got our share of problems. Attendance isn’t what is should be. We’ve got to break that cycle. We’ve got to get fans in the grandstands.
“Its a tough deal. I don’t have an answer but we have to keep working at it. I’m old school. We’ve got to keep the big cars racing. It’s part of our tradition,” he said.
I I I
n Infield pitting – In a throwback to earlier days, the SUMAR will offer infield pitting, giving the fans the opportunity to get a close-up look at the big cars, their drivers and crews.
Sunday’s timetable calls for drivers meeting at 10:30 and practice at 11:30, followed by qualifying and the 100-lap main event.
Joe Buckles can be reached at email@example.com.