TERRE HAUTE —
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.
If early-season results on the U.S. Auto Club sprint circuit offer any indication, the annual 30-lap Classic might generate some of the closest racing in the 42-year history of the event.
Following last weekend’s Larry Rice Classic at Bloomington Motor Speedway, the USAC sprint-car division had generated five different feature winners in six races. Only Hunter Schuerenberg has been a repeat victor.
USAC officials Jason Smith and Jason McCord are not only expecting a strong car count for the Classic. but they say it will be a wide-open field when trying to predict a winner.
“I look for 30 to 35 cars. We had 38 at Bloomington, so it ought to be a strong field for the Classic,” voiced McCord. ”The Classic has always been a race our drivers want to win. It carries a lot of prestige.”
As for picking a potential winner, McCord says that’s up for grabs.
“It’s wide open,” added the former driver-turned-official. “Realistically, there’s anywhere from one to 15 different drivers capable of winning. It’s like that anywhere we go. The division is that competitive these days.”
“You look at some of the guys still looking for that first win this year with us [USAC] and you know there could be a new name to the list,” Smith mentioned. “Levi [Jones] and [Jon] Stanbrough are still looking for a win. How can you count them out what with all the success they have enjoyed at Terre Haute?”
Jones and Stanbrough are multi-time winners of the Classic, with Stanbrough looking to tie the late Rich Vogler as the winningest driver in track history.
Both say Chris Windom ought to be a strong contender for the win, noting that Windom won both USAC shows here a year ago and appeared a sure winner here in April. He was running away from the field until his engine expired in the Midwest Sprint Car-sanctioned event.
McCord warned not to overlook several relatively new drivers to the sprint division.
”Kevin Thomas Jr. is really coming on strong and you can’t overlook Blake Fitzpatrick,” McCord said. “It’s his home track, so you know how bad he wants to win.”
Another Wabash Valley driver also is making his presence on the USAC scene early in the season. Young Chase Stockon, formerly of Sullivan, has a pair of top-five finishes, an eighth-place finish and runs in the top 10 in points thus far on the young USAC season.
“It wouldn’t be a big surprise if Chase could pull it off,” praised McCord. “There’s a lot of talent there and he has shown he’s capable of running up front.”
Newsmakers – Local promoters Bob Sargent and Reece O’Connor face a hectic schedule this week. In addition to prepping the Action Track for the Classic, they also face the task of preparing the dirt mile at the Indiana State Fairgrounds for Friday’s USAC Silver Crown Hoosier Hundred.
• Is there any driver hotter than local competitor C.J. Bryan? The Terre Haute driver has notched four straight feature wins in the Bomber class at Lincoln Park Speedway in recent weeks.
• Unless both sides can reach an agreement, the much-anticipated sprint car opener at LPS tonight may not carry a USAC sanctioning. USAC officials hope to make an announcement regarding the future of the makeup event at the Hulman Classic.
• They will pay honor to one of their finest with the running of the Bernie Mann Memorial at Crossroads Dragway this weekend at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds.
Considered by many as one the finest ever to take to the locally sanctioned NHRA drag strip, the late driver will have a day set aside to remember his many achievements while the track offers up a $4,000 payday for the winner in the Pro class. A regular card of ET series track championship points will share the card. Action gets under way with time runs at 11:30 a.m.
Joe Buckles can be reached at email@example.com.