TERRE HAUTE —
They call Daron Clayton, “The Modern Day Cowboy.”
On Wednesday, during the Don Smith Classic, he rode off into the sunset.
Clayton led all 30 laps in the Don Smith Classic, part of USAC’s Indiana Sprint Week. Jon Stanbrough was second and Tracy Hines was third.
Clayton, a three-time winner at the Action Track, was never seriously threatened. West Terre Haute’s Blake Fitzpatrick chased him early, Coleman Gulick and Bryan Clauson chased him in the middle portion of the race and Stanbrough chased Clayton to the line.
But none could catch the Sikeston, Mo., driver. Clayton’s most recent win at the Action Track came in 2006.
“I feel very relieved. That’s the longest race I’ve done in my life. I led every lap, but I tried every line,” Clayton said. “It’s hard to be a three-time winner here, but I got it home.”
The only setback for Clayton? When he blew his engine during his celebration on the front straightaway.
Clayton started from the pole and began to pull away from Fitzpatrick. Gulick caught Fitzpatrick — who finished 16th — by the fifth lap and it remained a Clayton-Gulick top two until the only yellow flag of the feature flew. Dave Darland, who was charging through the field, blew his left rear tire.
Clauson caught Gulick on the restart. But a persistent engine problem that plagued Clauson throughout the evening eventually knocked him out of contention.
Stanbrough caught Clauson with four laps to go, but couldn’t mount a serious threat to Clayton.
“It was our tires again. Once you’ve wasted those tires, it’s hard to come back. I was going through the corners pretty good, but once I got to the straightaway, I lost all my forward bite,” Stanbrough said.
Jones, who finished fourth, widened his Indiana Sprint Week points lead. He has 224 points, 23 better than second-place Stanbrough.
Clauson seemed poised for a big night after he was the fastest qualifier; he developed a fuel leak just prior to the first heat. Clauson went to his backup car and had to start the heat from the back of the field.
That first heat produced another surprise as Damion Gardner did not automatically transfer to the feature in a top four position. Sullivan’s Chase Stockon won the first heat flag-to-flag.
The second heat had national sprint leader Jones and second-place Stanbrough in the field, but neither transferred. Shane Cottle won the heat.
The first major accident of the night occurred in the third heat. As Wes McIntyre took the checkered flag, Darren Hagen — in the last transfer spot — lost control of his car exiting Turn 4. He collected Matt Mitchell, who did several barrel-rolls on the front straightaway before coming to a stop. Mitchell emerged sore, but was not seriously injured.
Chase Windom won the fourth heat.
Stanbrough won a loaded semi-feature. Clauson finished third with smoke spitting out of his stricken engine from the midway point of the semi-feature to the flag.
West Terre Haute’s Braylon Fitzpatrick, just 16, was third-fastest during hot laps with a time of 19.781 seconds. He had to scratch out of the feature.
Indiana Sprint Week continues tonight at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville.
Racing returns to the Action Track on Sept. 1 as it hosts the USAC Sprint cars in the Jim Hurtubise Classic.
Don Smith Classic
USAC Indiana Sprint Week
Qualifying — 1. Bryan Clauson 19.538, 2. Jon Stanbrough 19.733, 3. Darren Hagen 19.753, 4. Coleman Gulick 19.845, 5. Damion Gardner 19.855.
Heat race 1 (top four transfer) — 1. Chase Stockon, 2. Kevin Thomas Jr., 3. Blake Fitzpatrick, 4. C.J. Leary, 5. Damion Gardner.
Heat race 2 — 1. Shane Cottle, 2. Justin Grant, 3. Chad Boespflug, 4. Robert Ballou, 5. Jon Stanbrough.
Heat race 3 — 1. Wes McIntyre, 2. Hunter Schuerenberg, 3. Jerry Coons Jr., 4. Dave Darland, 5. Dakota Jackson.
Heat 4 — 1. Chase Windom, 2. Tracy Hines, 3. Daron Clayton, 4. Coleman Gulick, 5. Kyle Cummins.
Semi-feature (top six advance to feature) — 1. Jon Stanbrough, 2. Levi Jones, 3. Bryan Clauson, 4. Darren Hagen, 5. Damion Gardner, 6. Braylon Fitzpatrick, 7. Thomas Meseraull.
Feature — 1. Daron Clayton, 2. Jon Stanbrough, 3. Tracy Hines, 4. Levi Jones, 5. Coleman Gulick, 6. Robert Ballou, 7. Damion Gardner, 8. Jerry Coons Jr., 9. Bryan Clauson, 10. Chris Windom, 11. Darren Hagen, 12. Shane Cottle, 13. Dave Darland, 14. Chase Stockon, 15. Hunter Schurenberg, 16. Blake Fitzpatrck, 17. Wes McIntyre, 18. Thomas Meseraull, 19. Chad Boespflug, 20. C.J. Leary, 21. Kevin Thomas Jr., 22. Justin Grant.
Indiana Sprint Week points — 1. Jones 224, 2. Stanbrough 201, 3. Clauson 199, 4. Gardner 185, 5. Darland 183, 6. Schurenberg 175, 7. Coons Jr. 164, 8. Stockon 161, 9. Hines 159, 10. Gulick 151.