By Joe Buckles
Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE —
The stage is set for what annually has become the biggest event of the year at the Terre Haute Action Track.
Round four of the U.S. Auto Club-sanctioned Indiana Sprint Week is slated to roar off this evening amid a host of track managerial changes and highly competitive field of cars and drivers.
When fans, drivers and crews arrive at the local half-mile clay oval tonight, they will be part of the first show under the promotional efforts of veteran promoter Bob Sargent and the Reece O’Connor family of Kokomo.
Sargent is certainly no stranger to Wabash Valley fans as his Track Enterprise promotional efforts have staged events locally in the past and hosts USAC shows at Indiana, Illinois and DuQuoin State Fairgrounds throughout the summer.
The O’Connor family is noted for its successful track operation at Kokomo Speedway.
Sargent hopes to get racing back on the right track at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds after the sudden collapse of Action Promotions, LLC, which will still be involved in the two races at the Action Track.
“We’re looking forward to getting that first race under our belts. See what happens and go from there,” said the optimistic Sargent.
“We’re hoping for good weather. We want to give the fans a great show run in timely fashion. That’s what the fans can expect and deserve to see.”
The veteran promoter is hopeful that problems surrounding track preparation for the two events at the track earlier this season can be put to rest.
“We came in last Wednesday and worked in the track,” Sargent said. “Everything is ready to go. From what I’ve been told the first three [ISW] shows have had great racing and good crowds. We’re looking for a great night.”
• • •
• Impressive start — The opening week of ISW produced three different winners with Levi Jones (Kokomo), Jon Stanbrough (Gas City) and Dave Darland (Lawrenceburg) taking checkered flags in three nights of racing.
It’s highly unlikely the perfect streak will be extended over the next four nights, especially with the success Jones and Stanbrough have enjoyed at the Action Track in recent years.
“With the way Levi [Jones] is running, it would be hard to bet against him. He’s really on a roll. He had first-, third- and fourth-place finishes last week,” voiced USAC director of communication Dick Jordan.
“He’ll have a 32-point lead going into the Terre Haute. That’s really unhearded of, considering how competitive the series is. He won it last year by just a point.”
Two drivers who would like to add their names to the winners list are Valley competitors Blake Fitzpatrick and Chase Stockon
While relatively new to the USAC scene, the pair have made their presence felt over the past two seasons.
Fitzpatrick is coming off a strong start in 2010 ISW series. The West Terre Haute driver has posted a pair of top-10 finishes and qualified second quick in the Kokomo show.
Sullivan County’s Stockon made the USAC regulars stand up and take notice a year ago when he led most of the Hulman Classic. Although he struggled in first two nights of ISW, Stockon rallied with a better showing at Kokomo, where he made the main event.
Both Fitzpatrick and Stockon welcome the opportunity to compete at their “home track” but know the pros and cons of doing so.
“It’s always nice to run in front of your hometown fans, but you have to approach it as just another race at just another race track once you unload the hauler. Things don’t always go the way your fans would like. But they understand that,” Fitzpatrick said.
He knows that first hand. The West Terre Haute driver was involved in a violent crash in last year’s ISW Action Track event.
His night ended early when he spun in hot laps and had a fellow competitor land on top of his car, causing his fuel injector to stick and sending him head-on into the fourth-turn wall.
“It was probably the hardest hit I’ve had in racing,” recalled Fitzpatrick.
Like Fitzpatrick, Stockon will have his share of supporters both in the stands and pits tonight. He says it’s always special running at the Action Track.
“With the history of the place, you always want to do well. It means more to run up front here than any place we might race. You know everybody is going to be at the top of their game. The place is that special,” offered the Sullivan standout.
Although the ISW fields have been somewhat smaller than in past years both drivers agree than the caliber of competition is as stiff as ever.
“On any given night you might find anywhere from 35-40 guys capable of winning when your running USAC. Wins are that hard to come by whether it’s in your heat or feature. The racing is that close,” Fitzpatrick mentioned.
“You really have to have your ducks in row. Your car well prepared when you run USAC,” Stockon added. “You can be off a 10th of second and the competition is going to jump on it.”
“Just making a USAC feature can be an accomplishment. To make one during Sprint Week [is] even more so. Everybody is so fast. It’s the best of the best.”
Before tonight’s 30-lap ISW feature, there will be four eight-lap heat races and one 12-lap semi-feature. Total prize money is $20,650, with $5,000 going to the feature winner.
Gates will open at 4 p.m., with hot laps starting at 6 and qualifying slated for about 6:30. Promoters hope the feature will start at about 9:30.
Joe Buckles can be reached at email@example.com.