News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 15, 2011

TRACKSIDE: Decision to stick with USAC pays off

Joe Buckles
Special to the Tribune-Star

PUTNAMVILLE — When the 2011 USAC Indiana Sprint Weeks schedule was announced back in January, there were many who expressed their share of disappointment that Lincoln Park Speedway had once again been snubbed for one of the coveted series dates.

LPS operator Joe Spiker hadn’t concealed how badly he wanted one of the shows and later his disappointment of being left off the schedule.

While it would have been easy for Spiler to sever his ties with USAC, the Greencastle businessman shrugged off the rejection from several of his fellow promoters and went ahead and scheduled a regular season sprint date and a midget card with the Indianapolis- based sanctioning body.

While losing out on one of the profitable ISW venues, Spiker and his many supporters at LPS haven’t gone away empty handed.

By sticking with USAC, LPS maintained its spot on the Indiana Midget Weeks schedule, a slate that features five nights of midget racing at the same tracks that host ISW dates.

At the close of last Thursday’s Indiana Midget Week’s show at Putnamville, it was clearly evident that the fans, racers, USAC and Spiker himself couldn’t have been happier with his earlier decision to continue his working relationship with USAC.

Lincoln Park hosted Round 2 of the series, and the night couldn’t have played out much better.

A near-capacity crowd was treated to a great night of racing and a finish that added to the highly competitive reputation that the midgets have established at the 5⁄16-mile dirt oval.

Bryan Clauson, clearly USAC’s hottest commodity these days, provided the large throng with an entertaining drive, one that added to his already lofty driving status and helped propel him to the Midget Week title.

The 30-lap feature offered six lead changes and an eye catching finish that left the crowd buzzing.

His duel with USAC newcomer Kyle Larson had the fans standing over the closing laps as the pair diced nose-to-tale side-by-side the final five circuits.

For a driver who tried his hand in NASCAR three seasons ago and raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway back in May, one might think Clauson would take a midget win pretty much in stride.

Not when they are as hard to come by as the one at LPS.

“What a ride!” Clauson beamed moments after his stirring win. “It doesn’t get much better than that. I don’t care what kind of a car you’re in.”

Using his immense talent and experience, the Noblesville driver stalked Larson in the nail-biting chase.

“It was all about momentum there at the end. He had it and I had to break it. I had to throw some sliders there at the end to break his momentum,” offered Clauson.

Larson would rebound and win the following night at Bloomington, only to have Clauson take the checkered flag Saturday night at Lawrenceburg.

Clauson’s fifth-place finish in the series finale at Kokomo was good enough to edge Larson by a scat six points for the title.

Clauson will have little time to rest on his laurels as the USAC schedule calls for Silver Crown and midget races at the Milwaukee Mile this weekend. A Firestone Indy Lights race also is part of the card.

By virtue of his USAC national drivers championship from a year ago, Clauson was awarded an Indy Lights ride in 2011. He competed at Indy last month, finishing a respectable fifth in the Freedom 100. He looks forward to getting back behind the wheel of an Indy Light machine this weekend.

“It was a great experience at the Speedway, but the mile [Milwaukee] ought to give me a better feel for the car. The Speedway is so wide and smooth compared to what it will be like at Milwaukee,” offered Clauson.

With his racing career shifting into high gear, one could expect the likable Clauson to forget his earlier roots in racing. Not the case with this true grass-roots racer.

“I remember as a kid growing up, all I wanted to be was a sprint-car driver. I love open-wheel racing. I’m very fortunate to have the opportunities I have in the sprints and midgets. I want to make the most of it,” he said.

I I I

n Hulman Classic update — USAC officials are continuing their efforts to find a makeup date for the Hulman Classic that fell victim to rain back on May 26.

USAC official Jason McCord says in the worse-case scenario, the race title name will be tied in with the already-scheduled Don Smith Classic show at the Terre Haute Action Track.

n Racing loss — The Wabash Valley racing scene lost one of its staunchest supporters with the recent passing of Esther Clery. Ester and her daughter Peggy were as much a part of the racing scene at the Action Track as the racing itself.

One could always count on catching Ester and Peggy front and center at the Fairgrounds on race day. Her ever-present warm and welcoming smile and enthusiasm for the sport will be sorely missed.

Joe Buckles can be reached at jbuckles4@frontier.com.