TERRE HAUTE —
Looking for a potential dark horse winner in tonight’s scheduled running of the U.S. Auto Club-sanctioned running of the Tony Hulman Classic at the Terre Haute Action Track?
The task is indeed a challenging one. The USAC sprint circuit offers some of the most competitive forms of racing anywhere in the country and picking a potential winner out of a field that has at least eight to 10 drivers capable of making it to victory lane is very much a guessing game.
Recognized as the premier non-wing sprint car series in the nation, the tour has generated seven different feature winners in the eight events staged in 2014. Veteran driver and former Hulman Classic winner Dave Darland has been the only repeat winner thus far.
Although the event no longer has live national television coverage like it did 44 years ago or offers the rich payday as it did back then, it still remains one of the big prizes on the USAC sprint-car scene.
As attractive as it might be, the current trend of smaller fields — due in large part to the rising costs to go racing, especially at the bigger half miles like that at Wabash Valley Fairgrounds — may lead to a smaller car turnout than in previous years, especially from the area sprint-car contingent who tends to shy away from the bigger and more dangerous and half-mile dirt ovals.
Only one driver from the Wabash Valley area has been fortunate enough to make it to victory circle in the Classic. That was in 1982, when Chet Johnson from nearby Dennison, Ill., stunned the USAC contingent with his surprising final-lap victory pass.
It took another 18 years before it appeared that a Wabash Valley driver had a shot of winning the Classic. That came in 2000, when Brazil’s Eric Burns led in the early going of the 30-lap feature.
The likable short-track racer, when asked to recall how many laps he led that day, joking responded, “Just long enough to time to figure out what 40 percent of $4,000 was” — a reference to what the driver’s share of the winning purse was.
This year’s running will have Wabash Valley representation. Krockenberger Racing and its entry for driver Casey Shuman; Brandon Mattox from nearby Cory; and local favorite Chase Stockon will carry the Valley colors.
Shuman would like nothing better than add his name to the list of Hulman Classic winners, joining the list with his dad Ron Shuman, who won the Classic in 1985. He knows his locally based team faces a stiff challenge.
“There will be legimately 10 to 15 cars with the chance of winning the Classic. When I first started coming here [to the Action Track] you could look in the pits and say, ‘There are the three guys that’s going to win here tonight.’ Now you say there might be 15,” voiced Shuman.
“The competition has got that close. Its within a tenth to two tenths of a second in qualifying,” added the driver of the locally sponsored VP Racing Fuels Sprinter.
Shuman says the race still has special meaning for those who drive sprint cars. “[The Classic] is still one of those races that has meaning. It’s still at Terre Haute. There’s not many races like that anymore. So many of the traditional races have moved to different tracks. They keep renaming races and its not the same as the one here,” he added.
Stockon likes to think he has a shot of winning tonight, and for good reason. His performance here in recent years have been solid.
“Having won here [in Terre Haute] gives us confidence. Maybe some see us as a decent threat. We’ve always seem to run reasonably well here. We haven’t seem to struggle in the handful of years we’ve been coming here. I think we should be pretty tough in the Classic,” predicted the Sullivan County native.
“The [Action Track surface] hasn’t changed that much over the past couple years what with the great job the O’Connors have done in preparing the track. D.J. [Orr], my crew chief, and I have a lot of confidence with the way we prepare the race car for Terre Haute. The setups have worked out well for us,” said Stockon.
Although he will not compete in the Classic, local driver Seth Parker of West Terre Haute deserves a tip of the hat for his stirring final turn-last lap to win the sprint feature at Lincoln Park Speedway this past weekend.
It was his second career feature win, both coming at the 5/16-mile dirt oval at Putnamville.
Racing won’t be limited to the oval track at Fairgrounds this weekend. Crossroads Dragway will host two big days of racing. Friday’s racing will offer its regular Friday Fun Night card while the annual Bernie Mann Memorial Big Bucks No-Box Classic and the regular ET Series Track Championship points racing will take center stage Saturday.
Joe Buckles can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Tony Hulman Classic
What: The Tony Hulman Classic for USAC sprint cars will be run today, along with a UMP Modified card.
When: Pit gates will open at 3 p.m., with grandstand and infield open at 4 and hot laps at 6.
Admission: $25 for grandstand, $15 for infield, $35 for pit passes; children 10 and under free with paying adult.