TERRE HAUTE — It started as a mission to give the youth of Terre Haute an outlet to pursue their racing dreams in a controlled environment.
Six decades later, that mission has become a generational right-of-passage on Terre Haute’s south side at the Hulman Mini-Speedway.
The Terre Haute Quarter Midget Association has survived the myriad of changes in auto racing from its formative years during the Eisenhower administration and continues going strong today.
Quarter-midgets, as the name indicates, are about the quarter of a size of a normal midget car. The track has records for 17 different kinds of classes from junior novice all the way up to Heavy AA. Prospective racers from five-to-16 can participate. Most of the cars use Honda engines.
“This is a stepping stone for kids to get into other types of racing. There’s lots of drivers racing in midgets that started in quarter midgets. We’ll have kids that go from here to 600 winged sprints,” said Jeff Fisher, who is the safety director for Quarter Midgets of America Region 5 quarter midgets in a five-track territory in Indiana and Illinois.
The track — long a fixture at the southeast corner of 13th Street and Lockport Road — is celebrating its 50th anniversary this weekend, though there’s some debate about the timeframe of its origins.
A June 7, 1958 Terre Haute Star article heralded the coming of a new form of racing — micro-midgets — at a track “two miles south of Terre Haute on the east side of U.S. 41.” In those days, U.S. 41 was today’s 7th Street, so it’s unknown whether the article is referring to today’s track. A June 4, 1960 Terre Haute Star article indicates that the first THQMA race took place in 1960 under the auspices of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Fisher said the association has quarter-midget records dating back to 1956 at various tracks in the area, including a long-gone track on 10th Street.
One way or another, racing has been going on there for three generations. This was the cause for Saturday’s anniversary celebration.
“We really weren’t honoring anybody specifically, but we wanted people who have raced over the years to come out so we could recognize them throughout the day,” said Jeff Fisher, who is the safety director for Quarter Midgets of America Region 5 quarter midgets in a five-track territory in Indiana and Illinois.
The track was known as the FOP Track in its early years, and later, was renamed the Hulman Mini-Speedway.
Jim Hill was an early president of the THQMA and he remembers the organizations formative years fondly, as a time when its attempt to cobble together the fief-like quarter midget organizations in the region eventually came to fruition.
“Kenny Campbell and I took the bylaws from other tracks — Westlake, Casey, Marshall — we picked out all the good points and called a meeting in my home so we could work together instead of working against each other,” Hill said.
Records of famous quarter midget alumni at the track are sketchy, but the most famous agreed upon alum of the Hulman Mini-Speedway is Pancho Carter, the 1985 Indianapolis 500 pole-sitter and 17-time participant in the 500.
Much has changed since the formative years of quarter midgets.
At one time, quarter midgets had hand brakes, and like their bigger automotive brethren at the higher levels of racing in the 1960s, safety features on quarter midgets back then were primitive to non-existent. There were no seat belts and roll cages did not exist.
Cost has changed drastically too. Fisher estimates that today’s quarter midgets costs between $300-$1,000 for the motors alone. Factor in the chassis and necessary items like tires and the cost can easily range from $3,000-$5,000.
“Some of these haulers you see, you’d think World of Outlaws was coming in. Double-decker trailers and all of that,” Fisher said.
Hill said it was vastly different when his sons were racing in the early 60s.
“You built your own chassis back then, it would cost about $125-$150 for the body, and about $120 for the engine. Your whole car, including everything, was $250-$500. Those days are long gone and I think its kind of eliminated the average man out of it,” Hill said.
During the Saturday anniversary celebration, cars and trailers lined up on the west side of the facility as they have for many years. Fisher said he had 150 cars racing at the facility as racing went on late into Saturday night.
“Things are going great. The track is holding up and we’re pleased with that given how warm it is; this track starts tearing up just like the big tracks do,” said Fisher, who noted there was a table of pictures and THQMA paraphernalia through the years for fans to look at. “We’ve had some past racers stop by to say hi. It’s really great when drivers who are 46 years old walk in and see a picture of when they were 9 years old and racing.”
TERRE HAUTE — It started as a mission to give the youth of Terre Haute an outlet to pursue their racing dreams in a controlled environment.
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