In its rich 43-year history, the Tony Hulman Sprint Car Classic has long carried on a strong local racing tradition.
From its early beginnings starting in 1971, the U.S. Auto Club-sanctioned event has been the annual centerpiece of the racing calendar at the Terre Haute Action Track as well as a key stop on the USAC sprint schedule and one of the most sought after wins in big league sprint-car racing.
While the event is hosted locally, the event has been dominated by the best open wheel racers from across the country, with area drivers and teams pretty much relegated to the roles of field fillers.
There’s been strong Wabash Valley representation over the years but only once has a Wabash Valley racer made it to victory lane in the Classic.
That came in one of the biggest surprises in the annual sprint classic back in the spring of 1982. A virtual unknown from nearby Denninson, Ill., stunned the USAC contingent with his storied last lap pass to victory.
Chet Johnson literally stole the victory from current NASCAR star Ken Schrader on the final turn of the white-flag lap to gain the improbable and popular win.
While certainly no stranger to area fans, Johnson, the veteran sprint car journeyman of Indiana and Illinois sprint car scene, was cast in the role as an “outsider” in USAC circles,
Making his win even that much more surprising and rewarding for area supporters on his way home to Dennison following the race, Johnson decided it would be a good time to walk away from the highly unpredictable and dangerous ways of non-wing sprint car racing.
Now, as the latest chapter of the Classic is about to unfold at the Action Track, the same question arises. Is there the possibility of another upset looming on the horizon.
With only limited local participation expected, it would appear the odds of a “hometown win” seem very remote. But not totally out of the question.
First the first time in Classic history an area driver is cast in the role as a pre-race favorite. Although he now calls Elizabethtown his home, Sullivan County native Chase Stockon will always carry the tag as “hometown favorite” in the eyes of his Wabash Valley followers into tonight’s scheduled Hulman Classic.
A more legimate upset win would come from the car fielded by the Terre Haute-based Krockenberger Racing entry of Shawn and Leslie Krockenberger with veteran Casey Shuman behind the wheel.
Both car owners and driver concede they might fall in the “underdog” role for the Classic but are upbeat about their chances of pulling off the upset win.
When asked about their odds, Shawn was quick to respond on an optimistic note. “With Casey Shuman your driver how could not expect to win,” voiced Krockenberger, who surrendered his role as driver to car owner this season.
Behind every successful racing venture is a wife — or this case a lady car owner — and Leslie beams with the potential of taking the checkered flag at “our hometrack.”
“We’ve never had much luck at the track but we have all the confidence that with Casey we’ll have a great night. We might not have the funding of some of the bigger teams but we have the same equipment. With Casey, I’m 100 percent certain we can get it there [victory lane],” Leslie Krockenberger said.
“It all starts with qualifying. Especially at a place like Terre Haute. Like most USAC shows, if you don’t start up front it can make for a long night. Shawn has given Casey the tools he needs to go forward. We’re looking for a great night,” she said.
Shuman would like nothing better than to add a second Shuman to the list of Hulman Classic winners. His dad Ron Shuman won the Classic in 1985, driving a car with the number 21 — the same number that Casey will sport Wednesday night.
He too feels his team is capable of getting him to the checkered flag this evening.
“You’ve got to have the right pieces to win a race as big as the Hulman Classic. You have to put together that complete night. Starting with qualifying. Running up front in your heat just to make the feature,” stressed the Rattlesnakebend, Az., driver.
“We may not have the financial banking of a Tony Stewart or Hoffman Racing teams but I think we have what it takes to win. Yeah we’re probably an underdog but we’ve got the right equipment to get the job done,” predicted the veteran racer who came all so close in giving the team’s its first win while running second at Lincoln Park Speedway this past weekend.
Joe Buckles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org