The oval dirt track part of the 2011 Wabash Valley racing season came to a highly successful and climactic end over the weekend at Lincoln Park Speedway.
In a campaign that was surrounded in a season-long bout with near-record heat, the season finale came to an end late Saturday in cold and blustery conditions.
For those gathered, the conditions offered only a slight distraction to the heated on-track competition .
The 2011 season at LPS will rightfully go down as yet another highly successful year in the Putnam County facility’s climb back to respectability and popularity among the racers, fans and a visibly relieved and optimistic track operator Joe Spiker.
In his second year at the helm of the dirt oval, Spiker spoke in terms of optimism and appreciation for those who he says helped contribute to another successful chapter in the track’s continuing rejuvenation.
“I think we’re back on the map. I couldn’t be happier with the way the year has played out,” offered the elated Greencastle businessman.
When Spiker took over promotion rights to the track two years ago, he faced an uphill struggle to regain the confidence and support of the fans and competitors who had abandoned the track after years of neglect under previous management.
Spiker would be the first to admit that he and his wife Jill faced an uncertain future in their attempts to restore the track to its once popular status.
“There were many who had written Putnamville off. People who said they would never come back. When you looked at the place it was easy to see why many felt that way,” conceded Spiker.
The task to get the weekly Saturday show back in favor with the racers hasn’t come without its moments. The season got off to a shaky start with the weather and deteriorating track conditions.
“Those first couple nights the track was terrible. Fortunately [the racers] had enough faith in us to keep coming back. Things are progressing. It’s encouraging to have the support we’ve had,” said Spiker.
With the roar of engines blaring in the background from the first portion of a hectic night of racing, Spiker offered his thoughts to what 2012 might have to offer to his loyal band of supporters.
A tentative 2012 schedule that he says will look much the same with possibility of an addition of few new specials.
“I like what I see with the USAC midget week. We’d like to get a Sprint Weeks show but I don’t know what’s going to happen there. I’m hoping to get some POWRi [midgets] and work with the MSCS again next year.”
“I’m just grateful for the way the people have come out. It’s something to build on for next year,” he added.
• Shuman shines — If there was any driver happier and more appreciative of the rebounding fortunes of LPS, it is West Coast sprint car driver Casey Shuman.
Shuman was nearly untouchable at LPS over the summer, winning six features in a highly-competitive season that produced 13 different victors. What made Shuman’s effort even more noteworthy was that he drove to victory in five different cars.
Quite a remarkable feat in a time when the sport has become so specialized.
You won’t find a tougher competitor than Shuman. The son of legendary driver Ron Shuman is a born racer who will find a way to go racing. His resume of different rides over the past couple years bears this out.
“I’ve been lucky. I’ve probably had eight or nine rides this year. Kinda doing what I have to do to go racing. It’s so expensive not many [car owners] can do it full time anymore,” offered Shuman.
His bid to stay active has taken him all over the country. He returned home to run in Arizona last week and has traveled from Pennsylvania to Florida throughout the year.
Jumping from ride to ride can provide its interesting, if not challenging moments. Something as simple as getting comfortable in a car can be a task.
“Sometimes you have to stuff pillows, blankets, whatever you’ve got to do to go racing,” confided Shuman.
More importantly the ride swapping means adjusting to ever-changing car setups and crew chiefs.
“You really have to be versatile,” Shuman said. “Every car feels different. Every crew chief sets his car up different. We’ve pretty much been all over the spectrum with car setups.”
He’ll make 75 to 80 races over the long season. Not surprisingly, Lincoln Park has become one of his favorite stops.
“I really like this place. I think my first race here was in 1998. It’s always been one of my favorites. It was one of my dad’s favorites when he raced back here,” Shuman said.
Speaking of following in the footsteps of his father, considered one of the finest of his time, the second-generation racer says having a famous last name can have its pluses and minuses. It’s what one makes of it.
“Any pressure I had with the last name was what I put on myself. He’s Ron Shuman. I’m Casey. I just hope I can win a couple of those big races that he did. I’d be happy with that,” he said.
He says the racing at LPS can be as competitive as anywhere in the country. “Sometimes when you pull into this place it looks like a USAC show. That’s a credit to Joe Spiker and what he’s done for this place. It’s a credit to his work to get the guys back here.”
Joe Buckles can be reached at email@example.com.