TERRE HAUTE —
Devoted race fans hit the pavement running Thursday, as Sycamore Engineering boxed out the competition in the inaugural Mini Terre Haute 500.
Clabber Girl Corporation’s east parking lot was packed by 4 p.m., as 23 teams plus friends and fans showed up to race.
Each team had been given a large cardboard box upon registration, tasked with converting it into a race-car inside which a “driver” would run, organizers explained. The community-wide event was hosted in conjunction with the 100th birthday of the Indianapolis 500, as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will donate $25,000 to the Hoosier community which best promotes this year’s race.
Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce director Rod Henry said the crowd which filled the back parking lot was deceptively large, falling a little shy of 900.
“This is a racing community and people came out to participate,” he said amid sunshine and breezy temperatures in the 60s. “And where will it grow to next year?”
Funds raised in the event will go toward beautifying the downtown area, as well as decorations celebrating the Indianapolis 500.
Rachel Leslie, vice-president of the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce, said about 26 communities are currently battling in the IMS contest, and the home-town isn’t finished yet, handing out more decorations for local businesses to display.
Standing in the lot which arguably started it all, where the Hulman Family expanded the company which would eventually bring forth the IMS, Henry said contest or no, Terre Haute needs to celebrate its own ties to the race.
Meanwhile, Thursday afternoon’s 2-hour affair kicked off about 4 p.m. as the teams arrived in the back lot.
Creativity had run amok among participants, with car designs and decorations ranging wildly. In addition to the race itself, a live parade featured former pace cars from the world’s most famous race. Corvettes from 1978, 1998 and 1967 were parked alongside 1969 and 2011 Camaros.
Mike King, the “Voice of the Indianapolis 500,” joined Toronto-based driver James Hinchcliffe, who hopes to qualify in this year’s event, to narrate the race about the parking-lot sized track.
Each team was allowed one runner, who had to wear the team’s box, as well as a pit crew. After completing one lap, the runner had to make a pit stop, change shoes and guzzle a container of water, before hitting the pavement to complete the second lap.
Justin Kunz started the race from the pole position on behalf of his employer, Sycamore Engineering, maintaining his lead throughout and ultimately winning. Guzzling a bottle of milk amid a checkered flag, the 25-year old project coordinator expressed confidence that he could have won a longer race as well.
But the bumping rumble of boxes knocking about gave a tumble to the crash gates around the first turn, as nearly two dozen runners tried to navigate the narrow track, their bodies surrounded by cardboard.
Toyota of Terre Haute came in second, with the Terre Haute Police Department’s entry, operated by Chief John Plasse, coming in third. The Indiana State University football team came in fourth, followed by First Financial Bank in fifth.
Taking the prize for “Most Creative Car” was the Pfaff Family, all of whom dressed as characters from “The Flintstones.”
Old National Bank took the prize for having the entry which most resembled an Indianapolis 500 car.
Josh Hogan, crew chief for the Terre Haute Young Leaders team, said fund raiser is a great way to keep the Indianapolis 500 spirit alive in Terre Haute.
“It was fun. I thought it could have been a longer race,” he chuckled, noting he was a crew chief, not a runner.
Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.