News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 23, 2010

After strong showing, Lincoln Park Speedway could become USAC fixture

Joe Buckles
The Tribune-Star

Putnamville — Two of the more pressing issues for Wabash Valley racing fans in recent months have been the uncertain future of USAC midget racing at Hoosier ovals and whether Lincoln Park Speedway could remain a viable fixture on the Midwestern motorsports scene.

The results from last week’s Indiana Midget Week gave a clear indication that the fate of the series and track operation is headed in a positive direction.

Round two of the “USAC Indiana Midget Week” series at Lincoln Park drew solid numbers at the back gate for USAC and in the stands for promoter Joe Spiker.

The rare mid-week special sent racers, fans and officials home feeling good on what the future might hold on both fronts.

The future of the midgets has been a major concern for followers of the circuit in recent years. The cost for running the midgets has been spiraling out of control for many car owners.

Dwindling car counts on half-mile tracks such as the Terre Haute Action Track have reached a point to where many of the larger half-milers have disappeared from the USAC schedule.

The mechanical demands on the midget power plants at bigger ovals have led many car owners to simply park their cars for events such as the Hut Hundred.

If the results from the Midget Week are any indication of where the midgets might be headed then the division appears to be getting back on solid footing-at least at the short-track level.

The five-race series drew an average 33-car count with the Lincoln Park show drawing a high 40 cars.

Considering the high number of flips and normal attrition rate throughout the week those numbers offer a strong glimmer of hope that midgets are on the rebound.

Putnamville race winner Brad Sweet addressed the reasons for trouble times for the midgets but expressed guarded optimism that the smaller cars will not only survive but prosper in the right setting.

“That was an awesome race track out there tonight,” gleamed the elated Sweet moments after taking the checkered flag. “The weather was great, the crowd good. It’s good times for the midgets.”

In his fourth season of running the USAC circuit the Grass City, Calif., transplant says the midgets seem to get more competitive each time out.

“It’s a very competitive division. I’ve been out here four years now. It’s the strongest I’ve ever seen it,” he said of the midget circuit.

“It’s a rough sport, always has been, always will be. It’s a national division and it’s tough just getting here. I fought my way to get to this point. Having a night like tonight makes it worth the effort.”

A three-time winner already this season, Sweet says he sees brighter days ahead for the midgets.

“The economy is coming back. There are guys who are coming back racing again. There were 250 cars at the Chili Bowl so you know the cars are out there.”

He concedes the half-milers such as Terre Haute, Eldora (Ohio) and Belleville. Kan., will still feel the blacklash of small car counts.

“Running those half miles is a lot harder on the guys, harder on the engines. Some of the guys just aren’t comfortable running the bigger tracks. These cars are smaller. When they tip over they can take some wild rides,” offered Sweet.

USAC official Jason McCord couldn’t have been happier with the way the night played out at Lincoln Park.

“This was our [USAC] first experience working with Joe [Spiker] and his staff. They gave us a great race track. I think we put on a whale of a show for the fans,” voiced McCord.

“I don’t think he [Spiker] had worked the midgets before. He’s always been a sprint guy. I think we showed them the midgets can put on a great show.”

Like the USAC contingent, Spiker was pleased with the way the Thursday show played out. He looks forward to working with USAC in the future.

“You look at the cars we have in the pits and the size of the crowd we have on a Thursday night and a guy would have to be crazy not wanting to have a USAC date,” said Spiker.

“We look forward to working forward with them in the future. We’ll have their sprints here the night before the Brickyard [400]. When I see USAC coming here, I think it shows we’re doing something right.

“We can’t wait to get on the Indiana Sprint Week schedule next year. That’s our goal,” voiced the second-season LPS promoter.

• Pit notes — USAC Indiana Midget Week served up some excellent and competitive racing.

The five shows produced five different winners. Tracy Hines and Brad Kuhn tied for the points championship with Sweet only two points shy of making it a three-way tie for the title.

Despite some rough and tumble nights there were no serious injuries reported over the well attended five nights of racing that was run in hot and humid Indiana Sprint Week type conditions.

Former Terre Haute resident Chuck Cornelison was on hand to provide tech support for drivers Chad Boat and Steve Hmiel.

Many may remember Cornelison when he worked with Dave Peperak’s RAM Racing USAC sprint car efforts. The likable Cornelison went on to work for Roger Penske and later for Group 44 Racing, which fielded a Jaguar at the prestigious 24 Hours of LeMans.

He currently has his own business restoring former Formula One cars in his Danville shop. Of course, Cornelison still tries to find time to make it to the short tracks despite a tight schedule.

Joe Buckles can be reached at