News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Sports Columns

June 13, 2013

Trackside: Midgets could be on rise in Wabash Valley

TERRE HAUTE — With Indiana Midget Week taking center stage this week at Wabash Valley ovals, it’s time to talk midget racing.

More specifically, it’s time to examine its status in the Hoosier State and what the future might hold for one of open wheel’s most competitive but yet overlooked forms of racing.

It’s no secret the mighty, little midgets have suffered from hard times in recent years. Spiraling engine costs and resulting smaller car counts have led to a sharp reduction in the number of races for the midgets.

Terre Haute Action Track supporters of the midgets know first hand. They lost their popular Hut Hundred a few seasons back and hope of them returning to the local half-mile clay oval remains a question mark.

That’s the bad news.

Now the good news: There remains a glimmer of hope that the midgets just might make a resurgence. The ninth annual version of USAC Indiana Midget Week is bringing the small cars back to where they belong — the Indiana short tracks.

The series was slated to open up Wednesday night at Gas City, then go to Lincoln Park tonight, Bloomington on Friday, Lawrenceburg on Saturday and closes out at Kokomo on Sunday.

The midgets haven’t appeared at the Action Track since 2008 and there aren’t any immediate plans to bring them back any time soon according to promoter Bob Sargent. Although the veteran promoter is leaving the door open for a possible return.

“I’d like to say yes that we’ll have the midgets here in the future, but I can’t say that at this point. We’re only into our second year with the track,” Sargent voiced earlier this week.

“We try to give the fans what they want. We’ll just wait and see. It could happen,” he said.

The seasoned race organizer says there appears to be a rebirth of sorts for the midgets.

“We had 55 cars for our PowrI show this past weekend at our track in Macon [Ill.] as part of the Illinois Powrl Midget Week,” noted Sargent. “There were three races and from what I’ve been told, all three tracks had strong car counts and good fan turnouts.”

“I think we’ve seen sign of growth over the past five years for the midgets, USAC and PowrI are working close together to bring them [midgets] back. There’s still plenty of problems to work out, but I think we might be headed in the right direction.”

One of those problems is engine costs. Today’s midget powerplants can easy go for $35,000.

“They are very, very expensive. That can be a major concern, even for the bigger and better supported teams. It’s something that has to be addressed if we want to get it back to the way it used to be,” voiced the concerned Sargent.

The safety issue for the midgets at the bigger tracks also has been brought up in some circles. Sargent downplays that part of the problem.

“Racing can be dangerous no matter what you run or where you run. It’s just part of the sport. They [midgets] certainly run at tracks as fast or faster than what they would at the [Wabash Valley] Fairgrounds,” he mentioned.

The fan appeal or the lack thereof for the small cars has always been puzzling for promoters — how the bigger sprints can draw so well yet how the small but similar appearing midgets fail to get a fan crossover.

It goes the same for late models, which thrive in Illinois, but lack drawing power in Indiana. It can be the same scenario for the sprints versus the midgets.

“I think that all goes back to what the tracks run on a weekly basis. If they run the sprints like they do in Indiana, then sprint specials are going to draw better. It’s that way no matter what you run,” Sargent explained.

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

 

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