TERRE HAUTE — People gathered to pay tribute to a Wabash Valley drag racing legend at Action City Dragway USA this past weekend.
In a two-day stretch that ran the gamut of emotions for drag racing fans and racers alike, the 10th annual Bernie Mann Memorial went on as scheduled despite a bout with the weather.
Even rain that created a one-day delay for the event could not dampen the spirits of those in attendance Sunday.
While the sport of drag racing lost one of its best ambassadors and fierce competitors nearly a decade ago, the memory of the Terre Haute native remains very much alive for those fortunate to have known and competed against the racing standout.
Several members of Mann’s family were in attendance over the weekend. Sons Troy and Thad Mann both competed and Harry Eversole returned to the drag strip to serve as track announcer for the weekend.
Troy Mann acknowledged that his father would have been proud of how the program unfolded. Especially the fact the race named in his honor presented a 10th different winner in as many years that it has been run.
Bill Hamstra of Greencastle carried off the top prize in the Pro Class championship run. Other winners included Lance Stillwell of Terre Haute in Super Pro, Chad Eaton of Paris, Ill., in Sportsman and Chad Isley of Charleston, Ill., in Bikes.
“I think dad would have liked that very much. That’s quite a record to have 10 different winners in as many years,” offered a proud Troy Mann of Hamstra’s win in the race.
Mann spoke briefly on his dad’s stellar career and what he did to help better drag racing at the ET Bracket level.
“He raced throughout the 60s. He got out of it for awhile. Then at the urging of my brother, Harry got back in it and raced even when he was sick. He raced everywhere. Indianapolis, here, Freedom. He loved to race,” said Mann.
Many of the present day racers learned to compete under the watchful eye of Bernie Mann.
“There’s a lot of guys racing out there today that dad taught to race. The competitiveness, the spirit, the sportsmanship that goes with racing. The sport helped to grow with all he did,” said Mann.
Track officials presented the race winner and runner-up with plaques in memory of Mann. As a tribute to his dad, Troy suited up with his dad’s helmet.
“Dad would have appreciated the kindness the officials and racers showed in his memory and what they did for his family,” offered an appreciative Mann.
• • •
Drag Racing Tragedy — Drag racing and motorsports suffered a major loss over the weekend with the tragic death of NHRA Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta.
The two-time NHRA champion lost his life in a fiery crash at Englishtown. N.J., during the NHRA Lucas Oil Supernationals on Saturday.
Word of the accident spread throughout the racing community and the lost of the talented racer will be felt at all levels of racing.
Possibly no one on the area racing scene is better prepared to speak on the tragic chain of events and the impact it will have on racing than local racing announcer Nick Agresta.
Agresta learned of the tragic accident while announcing at a special event race at Ohio Valley Dragway near Louisville, Ky. Like so many others, Agresta was saddened and shocked when he heard what had happened.
The loss still weighed heavy on his mind several days later when he was asked to expressed his feelings Monday morning.
“It’s a sad day for the sport. Any time you lose someone in this sport it’s a sad day. It’s a sad, sad deal but maybe something good will come out of it. At least from a safety aspect,” said a solemn Agresta.
As is often the case when an accident of this magnitude hits the sport questions abound. Cries for changes will surface then eventually fade away.
Agresta feels that NHRA will probably look in several directions to determine what happened and what can be done to make the sport safer.
“It’s the nature of the beast,” Agresta said of the never-ending search for speed in drag racing. Speeds that have accelerated to record breaking marks on a regular basis in NHRA’s pro divisions.
“They will probably look at two areas. The chutes and brakes. They may be forced to go to three chutes … look at different brakes,” explained Agresta.
As is the way of racing, the sport will move on. Those involved will accept the dangers to do what they do best. Compete and to fulfill their needs to go fast.
“It’s ever present,” Agresta said of the inherent dangers of racing. “When they go to the race track they know what faces them. The threat is always there. Every time you strap yourself in one of those nitro burning cars you know what can happen.”
“Nitro was never designed to be confined in an internal combustible engine. When they discovered the power it made, well the rest is history,” Agresta said of the monumental discovery years ago.
One that makes for the fan appealing speeds but an element that has generated greater demands on the drivers and the equipment of today.
Joe Buckles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
TERRE HAUTE — People gathered to pay tribute to a Wabash Valley drag racing legend at Action City Dragway USA this past weekend.
Joe Buckles: Fitzpatrick back on track, returns to winning ways
Following a self-imposed hiatus from the Wabash Valley sprint-car scene for most of the summer, Fitzpatrick Racing out of West Terre Haute has returned to action and the results over the past two weekends have been nothing shy of spectacular.
Trackside: Burns, Fitzpatrick provide fun moments at Putnamville
In a season that has generated more than its share of down moments for Wabash Valley fans and racers, last Saturday’s “King of non-wing Sprints” program at Lincoln Park Speedway served notice that there are still a few positive storylines to be found in the wild and unpredictable sport of sprint-car racing.
One such storyline unfolded this past weekend on the rough and challenging 5⁄16-mile Putnamville dirt oval. That’s where the runs of Eric Burns and Blake Fitzpatrick sent fans home feeling that if the season has to come to a close, it couldn’t end on a happier or brighter note.
Trackside: Stewart proves versatility is one of his strongpoints
At a time each summer when stock-car racing takes center stage in the heart of open-wheel racing territory, it was Tony Stewart who emerged the big winner last weekend.
No, not Tony Stewart the race driver but Tony Stewart the owner. He’s the undisputed leader on two racing fronts — the car owner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series with Ryan Newman as his driver and the owner-operator of Eldora Speedway. The popular Indiana native posted impressive showings in both ventures.
Trackside: Sprint Week is fun week for USAC fans
With three rounds down and four to go, the 2013 version of Indiana Sprint Week is ready to take center stage at the Terre Haute Action Track tonight — weather permitting, of course.
It’s hard not to mention the elements when talking racing at the Action Track this season.
Race organizers Reece O’Connor and Bob Sargent have felt the sting of Mother Nature worse than most Midwest promoters this spring and summer with all five of their scheduled shows washed out.
Finding best talent the key to all sports, including auto racing
The success of any sporting franchise often rests with the ability of owners to find and mold talent into a winning combination.
Trackside: Midgets could be on rise in Wabash Valley
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.
TRACKSIDE: Bad weather gives time to reflect
With weather-related issues continuing to plague the Wabash Valley racing scene, the lack of on-track activity presents an opportunity to offer an overall assessment of the 2013 campaign to date.
TRACKSIDE: Burton’s death shows tragic side of racing
The tragic chain of events that had unfolded the previous night at Bloomington Speedway had cast a pall over what should have been an enjoyable night of racing at LPS.
Word had circulated the Putnam County racing facility that earlier in the day that young Josh Burton had succumbed to injuries from an accident the night before at Bloomington.
TRACKSIDE: Chase Stockon hopes momentum stays with him in Terre Haute
Momentum, an element that can be as elusive to a race driver as that perfect setup, can spell the difference in winning or running at the rear of the pack.
It’s a force difficult to achieve and maybe even harder to maintain. One learns quickly to make the most of the opportunity when it comes his way.
It’s something Chase Stockon will carry with him coming into today’s Jim Hurtubise Classic at the Terre Haute Action Track.
Only days following the biggest victory of his young and promising career, the $10,000-to-win USAC feature at Lawrenceburg, Stockon followed that up with another rich payday this past weekend at Tri-State Speedway.
TRACKSIDE: Stanbrough continues points chase after recent skirmish with rival
Veteran sprint car driver Jon Stanbrough has never been one to hide his distaste for chasing point championships. It simply doesn’t bode well with his style of racing.
TRACKSIDE: Brett Andrew plays role in developing NASCAR's new body styles
The recent announcement from NASCAR regarding the approved body styles for the 2013 Sprint Cup Series follows extensive wind-tunnel testing that was a year in the making.
TRACKSIDE: Stockon takes giant step forward in USAC
One of the more impressive and welcomed storylines of the recently completed Indiana Sprint Week was the emergence of area driver Chase Stockon on the national sprint car scene.
TRACKSIDE: Indiana Sprint Week rises above heat, rain, poor economy
The 25th annual version of Indiana Sprint Week is now officially in the record books and the latest chapter will go down as one of the most successful in recent years.
TRACKSIDE: Late models may have no long-term future in Indiana
Reflecting on what was billed as the biggest week of the summer for dirt-track stock-car racing … while preparing to shift gears for the busiest week of the year for non-wing sprint-car racing in the Wabash Valley.
TRACKSIDE: Summer heat has made this ‘The Hell Tour’
It is fittingly billed as “The Hell Tour” for many of the Midwest’s leading late model stock car drivers and their crews.
TRACKSIDE: Retired driver LaJoie spreads the word of safety
In his roles as past driving champion and television analyst, Randy LaJoie has rightfully earned the reputation as a major contributor to the sport of auto racing.
Trackside: Stanbrough on track at midseason
When veteran driver Jon Stanbrough ushered in a new season in Florida back in February, he found himself facing a pair of unfamiliar challenges.
TRACKSIDE: Clauson bucks the IndyCar trend
On the surface, the distance from the dirt oval at Lincoln Park Speedway to the massive, paved Indianapolis Motor Speedway may appear only a few miles apart.
TRACKSIDE: USAC Midget Classic not nearly as revered as it once was
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.
TRACKSIDE: What could have been: Indy’s folklore got richer this week
It’s a question that will linger for years and only add to the folklore of the Indianapolis 500.
TRACKSIDE: Sprint car event could generate close racing
One of the hottest and most competitive weekends of the 2012 motorsports season gets under way tonight at the Terre Haute Action Track with the scheduled running of the Tony Hulman Sprint Car Classic.
TRACKSIDE: Mulling over the biggest weekend in motorsports
We’re approaching what has traditionally become one of the busiest and most prestigious weekends in all of motorsports.
TRACKSIDE: Helfrich: Short-track racing has good future
When questions arise regarding the current state of sprint car racing, whether they be at the local or national level, one doesn’t have to search much further for the answer than veteran promoter Tom Helfrich.
TRACKSIDE: Near-capacity crowd turns out for opening night of racing
Opening night at one of the midwest’s premier short track operations can be like no other time of the year.
TRACKSIDE: Racing season has promise
With several “test and tunes” sessions and season openers having already taken the green flag, it’s a sure sign the Wabash Valley racing campaign is shifting into high gear.
TRACKSIDE: Valley racing showed best, worst of times in 2011
A look back on the 2011 Wabash Valley auto racing season reveals the best and worst of times the sport has to offer.
TRACKSIDE: Menard's victory at Brickyard momentous for family, race fans
Who says one of those familiar bright fluorescent-colored Menards race cars can’t find its way to victory lane at Indianapolis?
TRACKSIDE: After a delayed start, the Terre Haute Action Track gets season cranked up
Its arrival may have been delayed by several months — for a host of reasons — but the 2011 Terre Haute Action Track season is finally out of the blocks.
TRACKSIDE: Changes come up on Indiana racing scene
With the highly anticipated USAC Indiana Sprint Week sprint card on tap at the Terre Haute Action Track tonight and the Tony Hulman/Don Smith Classic and a host of events leading up to the Brickyard 400 looming on the horizon, it would appear that it’s the best of times for Wabash Valley racing buffs.
TRACKSIDE: Fortunes of dirt track racing at Action Track can be written in the dust
In the 40 plus years of covering motorsports, it would appear the process of writing this weekly race column would come together rather routinely.
- More Trackside Headlines
- Joe Buckles: Fitzpatrick back on track, returns to winning ways