The 25th annual version of Indiana Sprint Week is now officially in the record books and the latest chapter will go down as one of the most successful in recent years.
Solid spectator turnouts at all seven venues, strong car counts and the usual, tight, competitive racing made for a special run in the U.S. Auto Club-sanctioned series.
Storylines abounded on numerous fronts, from Levi Jones’ championship run, a pair of couple first-time winners and seven nights of racing that generated six different winners.
The Wabash Valley was well represented with the strong and consistent runs of Sullivan County native Chase Stockon and the startling but well deserved Terre Haute Action Track win by Ray Morgan Racing – all together, a great 10-day run that survived near-record heat, a pair of rain postponements and a troubling economy that is starting to make its presence felt at short tracks across the Hoosier state.
The big winner of ISW had to be Jones, who once again displayed the canny knack of knowing the ins and outs of championship runs. While going winless in the seven-race stretch, the Olney, Ill., driver was always knocking at the door.
“I think we had a second, two thirds, a fourth and two fifths,” voiced the newly crowned champ.
“We got a lot of things figured out with our motors. Car-wise we just went a little too far on some adjustments at times. At other times, maybe not enough. That’s just part of racing.”
Now a four-time ISW champion, one would think Jones would pretty much take his latest title in stride. Not so for the ultra-competitive Jones, who developed the unrentless trait to win during his high school basketball playing days.
“It never gets old winning championships,” Jones said moments after a memorable victory lane ceremony shared with his young son. “That’s what everybody here tonight started the week trying to do. That last corner it was four wide going for fourth or fifth place.”
It was more than family and friends quick to offer congrats to the newly crowned champ. His car owner Tony Stewart took time from a busy schedule to make it to Putnamville Sunday.
“[Stewart] drove all night after driving a sprint car at Williams Grove [Pa.] to be here, so that made it even more special,” Jones said. “He gives the team what it takes to be here so it’s always nice to have him around.”
For feature winner Dave Darland, it was another well-deserved visit to victory lane at a track he has pretty much ruled over the years.
Like Jones, Darland was taking time to relish the moment. He’s been part of ISW since its creation and although he is now a 17-time ISW feature winner, his latest checkered flag was as special as the first to veteran racer.
“It doesn’t get old,” Darland said. “It’s always fun winning sprint car races. I’ve been fortunate to have won probably 250 sprint-midget or Silver Crown races over the years. If you can win the sprint car races, especially during Indiana Sprint Week, it can be a blast.”
Long considered one of the finest drivers ever to pilot an open-wheel race car, the veteran driver is once again teamed with car owner Jeff Walker.
“I’m very fortunate to be driving a great race car,” voiced the elated Darland in victory lane. “Things are going good for Dave Darland. Too bad we couldn’t have got hooked up with Jeff 25 years ago.”
• ISW newsmakers – After several unsuccessful attempts to land one of the coveted ISW dates, LPS promoter Joe Spiker not only succeeded gaining a show but ended up with the deciding championship race.
His car count was third highest for the series with opening night at Gas City at 47 the highest. The low was at the big half mile at Terre Haute, coming in at 30.
Was there a happier or bigger victory lane celebration than the one locally? Daron Clayton propelled Ray Morgan Racing to the win at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds. If the name Ray Morgan sounds familiar, yes, it’s the same Fairbanks racer who was a frequent sprint car racer at area ovals a few years back.
The popular former racer is back in the sport after a 15-year hiatus, fielding cars on the World of Outlaws sprint circuit and teaming with Clayton in area non-wing sprint shows. The Action Track visit and resulting win was the third in a row for the pair that joined forces only a week earlier.
The pair hooked up after Morgan learned of Clayton’s financial struggles that were keeping the Illinois driver sidelined.
“He’s one of the finest non-wing drivers around and when I found out he was sitting because he was underfunded I sacrificed my finances to help him out,” beamed Morgan moments after the Wednesday night win. “It’s been worth every penny so far. We’ve been out three times and we have three wins.”
The win couldn’t have come at a better time or place for Morgan, who now calls Terre Haute home.
“To win at my home track, to win the Don Smith Classic, it couldn’t get much better,” offered Morgan, who survived one of the track’s most spectacular crashes as a driver several years ago. “Don helped us so many times in the past. [Smith] is a good man. It’s a privilege to win a race named in his honor.”
Stockon continues to make his efforts felt in USAC circles. His ISW runs produced four top-10 finishes good enough for sixth place in final points. More on this talented Valley racer, including some high marks given the Sullivan native by his fellow USAC racers in an upcoming column.
Joe Buckles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.