TERRE HAUTE —
The eyes of the racing world may have been focused on Indianapolis, Charlotte and Monte Carlo this past weekend. But for Terre Haute area fans and racers, the attention was directed at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds.
That’s where activities at the Terre Haute Action Track and Crossroads Dragway took center stage. News and results surrounding shows at the two venues offered some encouraging news for the future of racing at the southside facilities.
That’s good news at the oval for no other reason than promoters Bob Sargent and Reece O’Connor finally won a bout with the elements.
The big story, however, was the highly successful two-day run at Crossroads, where racers turned out in large numbers to help “christen” the newly revamped drag strip.
A much-needed new racing surface and host of changes to the infrastructure at Crossroads may provide Dr. Randy Peters and his staff the boost needed to win back Valley racers. These are changes that will hopefully open the door for even bigger and better days ahead for the drag-racing contingent.
It was no secret that the future of drag racing at Crossroads lied in the balance when the season drew to a close last fall. Fortunately for all parties involved, Peters and the Wabash Valley Fair Board reached a “mutual” agreement over the winter that resulted in a seven-year contract between both parties.
It’s a partnership that serves up a win-win scenario for all involved.
If the strong car turnouts for the scheduled Friday Fun Night and the special Bernie Mann Memorial show the following evening is a sign that racers are willing to return on a weekly basis, then there is good reason for optimism.
It had been a long and demanding 48-hour time span for Peters and his hard-working crew when action drew to a close Saturday evening. The smile on the Indiana State University professor’s face pretty much told the story.
Peters’ decision during the off-season to continue his involvement at Crossroads came at high costs — financially and emotionally. He spoke on both at the conclusion of Saturday’s racing.
“This is probably scariest thing we’ve done in a long time,” confessed Peters. “We spent a lot of money. It’s quite an involvement and commitment for myself and the family. The whole process got to be very emotional at times.”
When racers arrived at Crossroads over the weekend, they found a host of changes, including a newly paved 1/8-mile racing surface, one that had not been repaved in more than 40 years. Pit-side new restrooms facilities, power hookups in the pits and new seating for the fans were all welcomed additions.
All of which came at a high cost. Under the new contract, the fair board paid for the resurfacing while Peters picked up the tab for the off-track improvements. He feels confident that the changes will pay off, not only for himself and his family but for the Fairgrounds and racing as a whole.
“This is a major step and hopefully a kickoff to what we hope to accomplish,” Peters noted. “We know what has to be done to take the track to the next level. This is not for just me and [wife] Tami. It’s for the whole Terre Haute community.
“We want to make this a fun and safe place for our racers to run. I think we’re on the way to reaching that goal. At the same time, what we’ve done is only the tip of the iceberg in what we want to achieve.”
As expected, the improvements were greeted with open arms by the racers, many of whom were returning to the strip after a several years’ absence.
When you’re the big-money winner of the weekend, you’re expected to heap praise on the track and promoter who just paid you the winner’s share.
But one could tell from the remarks of newly crowned Bernie Mann Pro class victor Chris Walters, the compliments aimed at Peters and Crossroads were indeed sincere.
“I race at probably 20 different strips over the season and I can’t say enough about that new surface. It was awesome. The conditions were near perfect,” praised the New Whiteland racer, who had to take a second-round buyback to continue his path to his second straight Bernie Mann win.
Valley drag racers joined in on praise for the changes at Crossroads.
Greg Smith was one of many racers making a return to the strip after a long hiatus. Like many others, the Seelyville racer had concerns about track safety in recent years. He joined many who traveled elsewhere to do his racing.
The improvements may have won him back.
“That smooth surface should improve the racing,” predicted the veteran racer. ”Once the word gets out, I’m sure we’ll see bigger car counts, bigger purses.”
Brad Doan, a longtime competitor at the strip, couldn’t be happier or more impressed with the improvements.
“I can’t remember the starting line or surface being as smooth as it was out there today,” he said. “I can’t believe how consistent my car has been. You don’t have to worry about a rough surface like it has been here in the past.”
“There’s a lot of guys out there with cars in their garages that have stayed home or traveled to other places to run because of the safety issues here in past. There’s no need now for them to travel 50 to 60 miles to race someplace else.”
Nobody has made more successful passes at the local drag strip than the guy they call “King Kenny” James, the seemingly ageless and winningest driver in track history.
He too liked what he saw over the weekend.
“I know they’ve been putting over a 100 hours a week getting the place to where it is,” James mentioned. “This is as good, if not better, than I’ve ever seen it here.
“What they’ve done here can’t help but get the guys coming back. If this doesn’t win them back and they [Peters and his helpers] don’t make it, we won’t have anyplace to race.”
Joe Buckles can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.