Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE —
Two of the biggest challenges facing race organizers are the constant bouts with the always unpredictable ways of the weather and trying to please the insatiable appetites of a fickle fan base.
It’s a pair of imposing obstacles veteran promoters Bob Sargent and Reece O’Connor go up against this week with Wednesday’s scheduled running of the UMP Summer Late Model Nationals at the Terre Haute Action Track.
With a season that has already generated four rain forced postponements at the local half mile clay oval the pair face yet another iffy forecast in their attempts to stage their season opener.
This while trying to attract a sizable fan turnout to a card that features a brand of racing that traditionally been a tough sell on the Indiana racing scene.
While it appears they face an uphill battle with the elements long-time followers of the late model racing say their odds of winning over the fans should be much brighter.
There is probably no bigger fan or more vocal supporter of the late models on the area motorsports scene than racing buff Dan Miller. The stockers garnered Miller’s fascination as a youngster when he plotted rides to the races with area racing standouts Don Duncan and the late Ed “Slick” Griffin.
Now some 35 years later the appeal of the late models remain as strong to Miller as his earlier visits to late model shows at Lincoln Park Speedways back early 1980s.
For Miller and the few but loyal area supporters of the late models, tonight’s scheduled stop on the annual “Hells Tour” Summer Nationals couldn’t come quick enough.
In fact, several have already got a jump start in attending the demanding 31-race series that stretches over a grueling 39 day time span.
Unquestionably one of the most demanding venues in all of racing, the late model contingent tackle the daunting task of racing six nights a week at short tracks scattered across Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.
Hell Tour officials figure their crews will travel over 5,000 miles in making all 31 shows. With his visit to Haubstadt Sunday night, Miller made his seventh race of the tour. He has nothing but praise and admiration for the late model crews.
“Who ever came up the “Hell Tour” label really knew what he was talking about. We went four nights in a row at races in Illinois. Went back to the motel each night, not having to work on a race car and were still exhausted. I don’t see how they [race teams] do it,” praised Miller.
A pipeline welder by trade, Miller dabbled in street stock racing in his younger days and knows a little about the ins and outs of late model racing. Like many outside the late model scene, Miller is puzzled by the lack of popularity for late models at Indiana ovals.
Sprint car racing — non-wing sprints-in particular — rules the Indiana tracks. Only two Hoosier ovals offering dirt tracks stock car racing with any regularity — Brownstown and North Vernon.
Miller urges the sprint-car contingent to give the late models a look over at the Action Track.
“I think they will like what they see,” predicts Miller. “They [late models] are every bit as competitive as the sprints. When you go to a late model show you will find 14 to 15 guys capable of winning. Maybe two or three guys in the sprints.”
He also likes the race-day format of the late models versus that of the sprints. “The late models go 50 laps. The sprints 25 to 30 and you can count on getting the fans out 15 to 20 minutes sooner when you run the late models. Race cars have starters,” jested Miller.
An obvious knock on the sprinters who require time consuming push starts to go racing. He says the fans have an easier time relating to the stocks. “The late models look more like what they drive to the race track. You can’t say that about a sprint car. They [fans] can identify with a stock car.” he said.
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• Mods Share Card — The Summit Racing Series for UMP modifieds will share the card with the late models today, and local competitor Kenny Carmichael is expected to be among the field for the event.
Like several other area drivers he hoping to get his first race of the year at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds.
“The rain has been a problem everywhere we’ve gone this summer. Not just at Terre Haute but everywhere. Hopefully we’ll get break with the rain. There will probably be 25-30 cars. You can count that the show will every bit as competitive as the late models,” predicts the North Terre Haute racer.
“Kenny Wallace was at Haubstadt Sunday night and was telling the fans he was running Terre Haute. You know Devin Gillipin will be here so that tells what you can expect on how close the racing will be,” said Carmichael.
Joe Buckles can be reached at email@example.com.