News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Sports Columns

June 6, 2012

TRACKSIDE: USAC Midget Classic not nearly as revered as it once was

HAUBSTADT — It might be three years removed from its birthplace but the Hut Hundred USAC Midget Classic still holds a special place in the hearts of Wabash Valley racing buffs.

Not surprisingly, a number of area fans made the trip to Haubstadt over the weekend for the 60th running of the Midget Classic.

When Terre Haute promoters threw in the towel on the race several years ago, highly respected promoter Tom Helfrich and his wife Loris jumped at the opportunity to bring the Hut to their immaculate quarter-mile dirt oval.

By their own admission the task of breathing new life into the once strongly attended show has proven to be a challenge even to the best in race promotions.

 But those who know the Helfrich family and their longstanding support of racing say if there is anyone capable and willing enough to keep the event alive it’s those in charge at Tri-State Speedway.

The latest version of the Midget Classic served up a highly competitive and entertaining card worthy of its rich and longstanding tradition. It had a strong field, its share of spills and thrills, and a climactic last-lap finish.

Young and up-and-coming driver Brady Bacon pulled out the win after Jerry Coons Jr. led most of the 100-lapper. A flat rear tire on Coons’ car opened the gate for Bacon to grab the lead with only two laps remaining.

Coons’ misfortune dashed what looked like a rare back-to-back feat of winning both the Hoosier Hundred and Hut Hundred in less than a week for the Arizona driver.

The event shared joint sanctioning with USAC and POWRi, combining to attract 41 entries. To no one’s surprise, it was the USAC contingent that pretty much ruled the night.

While the car count was more than adequate, spectator attendance fell short of expectations, leaving Helfrich searching for answers. It’s obviously painful for longtime followers of the Hut to see the event struggle to maintain its once proud image.

Helfrich addressed the attendance issue following the event.

“[Attendance] was better than it was last year but it’s not what we would like for it to be,” confessed Helfrich.

Helfrich, who owns and runs the Midwest Sprint Car Series circuit for sprint cars, is puzzled why the smaller but equally competitive midgets don’t have the drawing power of the bigger sprint cars.

“Why there is not the carryover from the sprint car fan base to the midgets, it’s really surprising,” voiced the puzzled Helfrich. “It’s open-wheel racing. You have 33 cars racing three abreast. It doesn’t get much more exciting than that.”

Helfrich concedes that tradition alone will not carry a show in today’s ultracompetitive entertainment market.

“The Hut Hundred offers some really good racing, but sometimes tradition goes by the wayside,” Helfrich said. “You don’t have the new generation of race fans like those who followed the [A.J.] Foyts, the [Don] Bransons, the [Mel] Kenyons over the years. Sometimes you have to go in a different direction.”

Does this mean he is prepared to drop the Hut from the crowded Tri-State schedule? Not anytime soon, although he concedes he is weighing his options.

“I don’t know what the future holds,” said the former Action Track Late Model feature winner. “I don’t have all the answers. I do know the people at USAC and POWRi want to see it go. It’s something we will work on together.”

Don’t be surprised to see the Hut return to its former fall date down the road.

“The timing of the event is not locked in,” said Helfrich.” When you’re dealing with two sanctioning groups, scheduling can be very tricky. We’ll start early working on next year. The scheduling will be a big topic.

“We all want it to be a success. We’re committed to see that happen.”

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

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