By Joe Buckles
TERRE HAUTE — It may not have been the Hut Hundred with its traditional 33-car field of midgets, but the final USAC program of the season at the Action Track didn’t disappoint those in attendance Saturday night.
The sprint car card offered all the classic factors needed for an entertaining night at the races.
Under near perfect weather conditions, the show offered a strong field of cars, some excellent wheel-to-wheel racing with a finish that sent a nice fan turnout home buzzing.
Not to mention some bumping and shoving among frustrated competitors and a tinge of controversy that may have added to the lore of USAC racing at the Action Track.
By evening’s end tempers were flaring and the action off the track was at times as heated as that on the half-mile dirt oval.
Jon Stanbrough found a way to make it to victory lane with a late race charge, notching his ninth feature win at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds.
Toss in the inspired ride of Sullivan County driver Chase Stockon, the controversial run of current points leader Levi Jones, and all too long 30-lap main event made for an evening fans are sure to savor during the lengthy off season.
Those close to the Wabash Valley racing scene are well aware of the trails the Stockon family has gone through this summer.
If they needed an emotional boost Chase certainly provided a run that lifted the spirits of the family rich in racing tradition.
The final results list Stockon with a 15th-place finish in the 30-lap feature, but those in attendance will attest that the young Sullivan County racer displayed all evening that he has the determination and talent to run with the best USAC has to offer.
The Sullivan-based race team used the Action Track show as a test and tune session for their upcoming attack on the USAC Four Crown Nationals to be run at Eldora Speedway in two weeks.
They couldn’t have gone away happier with the way the night played out. If only a series of caution periods hadn’t led to a near 50-lap marathon, Chase wouldn’t had run out of fuel costing him a well-deserved top five showing.
The talented young racer graciously accepted the fate that cost him a better showing in the main event and was upbeat on how the medical fortunes were improving for his mother Laura and grandmother Rosie Stockon.
“Mom is cancer free. She has one more round of chemo and grandmother is getting better. It’s something you think about every day but when you get to the race track you have to put that behind you,” voiced Stockon.
No one will question the third-generation racer’s commitment and concentration to the task at hand when he gets behind the wheel of his Terre Haute First Financial sprinter.
In a relative short time span, Stockon has enjoyed his share of memorable moments. He rates his recent Action Track performance as one of the highlights of his brief racing career.
“It was probably one of the best nights I’ve had in the six years I’ve raced sprint cars,” he would say moments following the Action Track main event.
“You pull into one of their [USAC] shows with your small truck and trailer and people look at you funny. But to qualify fifth and run as many laps up front the way we did out there tonight had to turn a few heads. It really feels great to have been able to do that,” said Stockon.
“Ever since I was a little kid I enjoyed watching USAC races here. I never thought I would get the chance to run up front with these guys much less have a chance to win. This was a good one to lead,” offered Stockon, leader of the first nine circuits of the 30-lap feature.
“That was a heckuva battle I had with Jon [Stanbrough]. He raced me clean. I knew I had the best USAC has to offer chewing at my butt. If it hadn’t been for all those yellows we could have finished the race … maybe with a top five finish,” Stockon added.
It was a rightfully proud father who critiqued his son’s effort. Sam Stockon Jr. never questioned his son’s ability to run up front Saturday night but conceded he never thought the evening would be as rewarding as it played out.
“We missed on the setup all night. That was all driver out there tonight. He put his foot into it. He’s told me all along if we had the right motor in this thing we could run with them. He drove the wheels off the car,” offered the proud dad.
“With what the family has gone through with Laura and mom we needed this big time. It was a boost for everybody’s morale for sure.”
I I I
Disgruntled racers — There are few givens in racing but knowing you’re not going to please every driver is about as close as you’re going to get. Just ask Action Track officials.
Several drivers took track officials to task for what they termed the lack of organization at Saturday’s program.
Their biggest complaint was the work of the wrecker crew. The normally efficient crew had more than its share of anxious moments on the night that made for a longer than normal feature event.
Several competitors charged the extra laps they ran during slow extractions caused them to run out of fuel thus altering the final outcome of the race.
Frontrunners Levi Jones and Jerry Coons Jr. were the most vocal.
“Unfortunately the wrecker crew wasn’t on their game tonight. It caused a lot of guys to run out of fuel. This is the best race track in the country but you can’t have cars out on the track for an hour and half and still send the fans home happy,” voiced Jones, the current sprint points leader.
Coons was one of those who came up dry at the end costing him a chance at the win.
“It doesn’t matter we ran out of fuel because other guys had the same problem. It was an issue of the track being unorganized. They’ve done some great things here but they’ve got to use a little common sense. They made us look like a bunch of amateurs out there tonight,” voiced the unhappy Coons.
Then there was the voice of the big victor on the night, winning car owner Brad Fox.
“This is not NASCAR where you have your own push and safety cars. It’s still sprint car racing,” Fox said amid all the bickering. “You can’t expect [track officials] to have every problem that pops up to be covered. You take care of your own deal and work it out.”
So the USAC portion of the 2009 Action Track season draws to a close. Yes, the Speedway-based organization has its problems, but who in the sport doesn’t? USAC has its shortcomings but at the end of day it’s best thing the Action Track has going.
Here’s looking forward to their return in 2010.
Joe Buckles can be reached at email@example.com.