News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Sports

October 2, 2013

Joe Buckles: Fitzpatrick back on track, returns to winning ways

TERRE HAUTE — Following a self-imposed hiatus from the Wabash Valley sprint-car scene for most of the summer, Fitzpatrick Racing out of West Terre Haute has returned to action and the results over the past two weekends have been nothing shy of spectacular.

Having not sat behind the wheel of a car since Indiana Sprint Week in July, Blake Fitzpatrick returned to the fray two weekends ago for the “King of the non-wing sprint“ special at Lincoln Park Speedway and literally blew away the field in  impression fashion.

He followed up that stellar performance this past weekend by winning the Midwest Sprint Car Series special at Tri-State Speedway, near Haubstadt, on Saturday night.

Team owner John Fitzpatrick and his driver-son combinations of Blake and Braylon are quick to attest that the 2013 campaign — as infrequent as it’s been — has presented a roller-coaster ride for drivers and crew alike.

Like many others in recent years, the team has struggled to make it to the race track due in large part to the loss of sponsorship support so badly needed to run up front on the highly competitive sprint-car circuits across the Midwest.

Setting aside the financial burdens that goes with fielding such a winning effort, the team is now focused on finishing out the current campaign by running selected events at Kokomo and Haubstadt and then reevaluating its objectives for 2014.

It was a process that the team took on earlier this season when long-time sponsorship support went missing and the tragic loss of a fellow driver to injuries left the team and its driver searching for answers.

“With the limited budgeted we had to work with and what it cost to run USAC, we knew we had to sit back and take a serious look at where we were headed,” John Fitzpatrick said. “We wanted to be at the race track, but we didn’t want to just show up and not be competitive night in and night out. We set our goals and I think we’ve gone in the right direction.”

The layoff took a toll on Blake, who confessed that jumping back into the race was more physical than he expected.

“Those first couple times out, I was huffing and puffing at the end of the night,” the 21-year-old racer admitted. “I couldn’t believe how out of shape I was. It takes awhile to get your timing back down. It was tough getting up to speed.”

The death of fellow racer Josh Burton early in the season also weighed heavily on the team’s objectives.

“It’s something [death from a racing accident] you always know can happen, but it was a reality check for all us in racing,” explained Blake, who is majoring in political science at Indiana State University. “I really had to reevaluate what I wanted to do, not only in racing but with my future.

“After our attempts to run USAC full-time, we knew financially it was a burden that wasn’t going to give us the rewards we were looking for. I love racing, but my ultimate goal is to finish college and get into law school.”

With those prospects still several years away, fans can still expect to see the familiar black Fitzpatrick racing machines running up front at Valley ovals. Blake’s younger brother Braylon already has established himself as a frontrunner and one expected to challenge big brother in the years to come.

The younger Fitzpatrick already has made his presence felt in the sprints. He stunned the USAC sprint-car contingent a year ago when he became the Terre Haute Action Track’s qualifying record-holder.

Faced with the possibility of running a limited schedule in the future, the team remains optimistic it can meet its primary goal of fielding a winning combination at all levels of competition.

At the top of that priority list is a win at the Action Track and one for long-time supporter Don Smith.

“One of our goals has always been to win at Terre Haute,” John Fitzpatrick mentioned. “Win one for Don. He has done so much for not only us but for so many racers around here over the years. It would be nice to win for him.”

Joe Buckles can be reached by email at jbuckles4@frontier.com.

 

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