By Joe Buckles
It may have been six weeks in the making, culminating in a long drawn out afternoon-evening of racing, but the Don Smith Classic for cars and drivers of the Midwest Sprint Car Series is finally in the record books.
The third time was indeed the charm for the event promoters and feature winners Jon Stanbrough, Steve Barnett and Robbie Shuttleworth.
Following a second postponement of the event, the non-wing sprints and late models did their best to reward a patient crowd with some excellent racing.
It took yeoman efforts on the part of the local track crew headed by Chris Novotney and Tim Wolfe, along with the expertise of Tom Helfrich of MSCS, to work the half-mile dirt quagmire into shape.
While there was a fair share of spills and thrills, most everybody went home happy having had the opportunity to run, and in some cases, survive, a rough racing surface brought on by too much rain.
The end results demonstrated why Stanbrough ranks among the best to ever strap himself into a sprint car at the Action Track.
There appears to be no end to the talent of youngsters making their way into racing these days.
Stanbrough’s eighth feature win here came at the expense and frustration of west coast standout Damion Gardner, who conceded his narrow loss to Stanbrough was due in large part to a pair of costly mistakes he made in the closing laps of the 30-lap affair.
A tough interview under the best of times, Gardner didn’t hide his disappointment or frustration afterwards. One would not expect anything different from a driver as competitive and talented as Gardner. He came to the Midwest a few seasons ago after earning a well deserved reputation on the west coast. He’s as good as many thought he would be.
But sometimes even the best will have an off moment.
“I messed up there at the end. I ran as hard as I could I just got a little wide there in [turn] two that gave him the momentum,” confessed the 2005 CRA champion.
“Its Terre-rut. Isn’t that what they [the Action Track]? They did the best they could with the conditions they had to work with,” he said of the track conditions and the prep that went into making it raceable.
For winning car owner Brad Fox and Stanbrough, it was naturally a different story.
“It was definitely exciting. The guys did the best they could to get the track in shape. We’ve had a slow start to the season, but everything is starting to fall into place for us,” Fox said.
“We’ve teamed with CSI Suspension. They’ve given us some awesome shocks. Everything is starting to click,” Fox said.
A former racer himself Fox is well aware of the contributions the man that that race was named for.
“The trophy alone says what this race means. Its probably one of the coolest trophies we’ve got. The man (Don Smith) has done a lot for racing in this area and all around. We want thank him for what he has done here at the Action Track,” said Fox.
While he savored yet another win at the local half mile dirt oval, Stanbrough offered a measure of condolence to Gardner.
“I feel for him. I know how it feels. I’ve had a few taken away from me on that last lap before,” said Stanbrough.
As his impressive record at the Action Track continues to mount, the soft spoken Stanbrough says he still has some unfinished business at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds.
“Hopefully someday I will come down here and win another Hulman Classic and take home one of those rifles. I’ve won the race twice, but never got one of those guns. I definitely would like to hang one of those on my wall,” Stanbrough said.
• SCORA — The second sprint feature of the night was equally as exciting.
The upstart Sprint Car Owners Racing Association main came down to a wild last lap finish with young Robbie Shuttleworth surviving a stiff challenge from local racers Chase Stockon and Dusty Wright.
In the end, the 15-year-old New Yorker stole the limelight.
Although he had never seen the Action Track before this past weekend, the high school sophomore looked right at home at the dirt oval.
He left his New York home last Wednesday to race here and had to return for two more weeks of school exams.
His first impressions of the Action Track drew mixed reviews.
“I’d always heard of the place but I never thought I’d get a chance to run here. At least not for a couple more years. I played all the video games that they have on this track. I don’t remember those holes in two and four on the games, but it’s a night I won’t soon forget,” Shuttleworth said.
He plans to return to the Midwest after his exams and run as many selective events as possible over the summer.
Alex Coonan, the driver involved in the nasty two car tangle resulting in a series of flips at the end of the SCORA feature, has been transferred from Terre Haute Regional to a Joliet, Ill. hospital. He was scheduled to undergo surgery to repair damage to several vertebras Tuesday.
• Late Model — Although the Late Model portion of the tripleheader probably won few friends with their time consuming restarts, feature winner Steve Barnett’s drive was that of veteran he is. This was his second win here.
The weather and resulting track conditions played a major role in the show that ended at 10:39 p.m.. but the lack of adequate wreckers made for far too many time delays.
If wasn’t for the hard working efforts of Mark Kearscher and Terry Troxel of Durr Wreckers Service the night would have been much longer. The pair deserve a lot of thanks from fans, competitors and race officials alike.
• Thoughts and prayers — Our thoughts and prayers go out to good friend and fellow Tribune-Star columnist David Hughes and Laura Stockon of the Stockon racing family in the upcoming days.
Both face some difficult and uncertain times. If there is anybody up to making the best of difficult times its David and Laura. Here’s wishing them both the best.
Joe Buckles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.