TERRE HAUTE —
In its storied past, the Tony Hulman Sprint Car Classic has generated a fair share of memorable moments. Whether it’s been the close competition or stellar individual performances, the event has seldom fallen short of its lofty billing.
The latest chapter of the Classic unfolds amid the usual array of question marks and interesting storylines.
Can Levi Jones become the first four-time winner of the event? Can Jon Stanbrough and Damion Gardner renew that spirited chase to the checkered they had less than two weeks earlier at the same half-mile clay oval?
Will Gardner follow in the path of fellow West Coast standout Cary Faas and make it to winner’s circle adding to what has been a fast start on the USAC sprint circuit?
Coming from the same mold and background as Faas, Gardner is making his presence felt in a big way early in the campaign. Gardner has posted four top eight finishes in five events including a win at Perris Auto Speedway in California.
A solid run has given him a 34-point lead over Jones heading into the Classic. Gardner neither shuns or belabors the comparisons made of the similar efforts made by Faas.
After pretty much accomplishing everything there was to gain on the West Coast sprint car scene, Gardner ventured to the Midwest five seasons ago to take on the USAC contingent.
The move has not come without its challenging moments, but the it’s starting to produce results.
“When I made the move here I knew I could beat anyone on my turf (California Racing Association). I had little to prove. When I came out here I made the commitment to my people around me. I’m trying to prove I can run with anybody in the country,” voiced Gardner.
“I wanted to beat the best. The national guys here at USAC. It’s been tough. It’s gone from where it was five guys to beat to 10-to-15 guys. You have to have the right guys behind you. Commitment to gain the confidence you need to succeed,” he said.
An element that is not in short supply at Tony Stewart Racing where Jones is going without a teammate on the sprint tour this season.
Although he is yet to break into the win column in 2010, Jones has been a model of consistency finishing no lower than seventh in five races. He’s ready to accept the challenge of repeating as national driving champion.
“I think we’re more prepared than we’ve ever been. You have to be confident. Our plans are to win. If we’re not a contender I would be highly disappointed,” said the Olney, Ill., competitor prior to the season opener.
“Not much has changed from a year ago. Same cars. Same engines. We hope to start off the year the same way we ended the season a year ago,” added Jones.
No driver in USAC probably has a greater appreciation for the history of his sport than Levi Jones, especially for the Action Track.
“Our sport is passion driven,” confided Jones. “When I exit off I-70 on to [U.S.] 41 it’s like it’s the place to race. You think of the guys who have won there. It’s the place where you want to win.”
While Jones and Gardner rate among the many pre-race favorites today, Stanbrough — with his stellar runs here over the past two season and having won three of last four non-wing sprint features — remains the man to beat.
Already with five wins to his credit in 2010, Stanbrough enters the shows with a wealth of experience and measure of guarded optimism. Nobody is better prepared to tackle the ever-changing ways of dirt track racing than Stanbrough and his FoxCo Motorsports team.
“Dirt is never the same. The weather has a lot to do with it. It’s always something different. About the only thing that doesn’t change is the walls,” explains Stanbrough.
“When you go dirt track racing, sometimes it’s more about racing the track than the guys around you. You’ve got to be able to read the racetrack. That’s something my team and I have always been able to do.”
As a two-time winner of the Classic, the Brownsburg driver is well aware of the prestige that goes with winning a race of such stature.
“It’s such a historic race. It’s known all over the country. The Hulman Classic is to non-wing racing what the Knoxville Nationals is to the wings. It’s one you want to win,” voiced the 10-time Action Track victor.
“When you look at names that have won it, it’s always nice to know your name is among them,” he added.
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• Successful show — Not to be outdone by their cross town rivals, Terre Haute South High School staged its annual car show last week. Like the show at Terre Haute North earlier in the month, this event was a solid success.
While the South show is slightly less racing oriented than the one at North, a number of area racers made an appearance with their cars adding to the festive atmosphere of the event.
Glen Andrew was on hand with his late model and modified that he and his son Brett compete with at O’Reilly Raceway Park throughout the summer.
Daren Krockenberger had his sprinter on display, Ronnie Smith his stocker and veteran car builder Dale Ridgeway had several of his mini-sprints for the students to view.
Local attorney Guille Cox had his sharp Jaguar on hand, which drew a steady audience throughout the day. While no longer competing on the vintage racing circuit Guille stills follows racing with keen interest.
A current school board member for the Vigo County School Corporation, Guille is well-versed on both the past and present happenings of road racing.
Joe Buckles can be reached at email@example.com