By Joe Buckles
With the area circle track season rapidly drawing to a close, fans will have a pair of attractive USAC sprint car cards to attend this weekend.
Back-to-back shows at Lincoln Park Speedway and Terre Haute Action Track not only offer fans a final opportunity to see the sprints in action one final time, but they also serve as pivotal stops in the chase for the USAC sprint car drivers championship.
Current sprints points leader Levi Jones will carry a 72-point cushion over his closest challenger, Damion Gardner, heading into Friday’s Billy Marvel Classic at Putnamville Friday night and the Jim Hurtubise Classic the following night at the Action Track.
Several drivers took an opportunity to get a final tuneup for the Putnamville show this past weekend with the running of the King of the Non-Wing Sprints special at LPS.
Blake Fitzpatrick, Jon Stanbrough and Dickie Gaines Jr. joined a field of 35 sprints and total night turnout of 130 cars for the well-attended show.
At the end of the night it was Fitzpatrick that stole the show with a flawless drive that resulted in a well-deserved $2,000 payday.
The West Terre Haute hotshoe was nearly untouchable all night as he captured his fifth feature win of the season.
Kenny Carmichael won the second sprint feature of the night and in doing so spoiled what could have been a Fitzpatrick family sweep as Blake’s 14-year-old brother Braylon battled the veteran North Terre Haute driver the entire distance for a close second-place finish.
It’s been one of those breakthrough seasons for Blake as the wins and plaudits keep pouring in for the relative newcomer to the sprint-car ranks. He added win No. 6 Sunday night in the Midwest Sprint Car Series at Haubstadt.
The man who directs the Fitzpatrick Racing operation, Bubby Jones, offers nothing but praise for the driver he has developed over the past two seasons.
Like many other insiders, Jones is not surprised by Fitzpatrick’s success.
“I saw this [winning] coming a year ago. You could just tell it was coming. He was maturing that much as a race driver,” offered the legendary driver.
“He drives hard. He’s getting smarter. He’s just a smart kid,” praised Jones.
Nobody is a better judge of talent than veteran car owner and former driver Brad Fox who fields cars for Stanbrough. He too likes what he sees with Fitzpatricks’s progress in recent times.
“He’s come a long way. He’s getting where he can put a bunch of laps together. Getting where he puts 25 to 30 laps together and is still there at the end,” said Fox.
“He doesn’t get flustered. He runs his own race. He’s getting better and better with each race,” praised Fox.
Despite his youth, Fitzpatrick continues to show maturity on and off the track. He’s looking forward to a pair of strong showings this weekend.
“I think we’ve got this place [LPS] figured out. Hopefully we run as well with the USAC guys as we did tonight,” he said moments after taking the checkered flag.
He credits much of his recent success to a new Spike chassis that Jones acquired and molded to fit Blake’s driving style.
“Bubby called them [Spike] and told them what we wanted. He pretty much designed the car himself. It works pretty well,” voiced Fitzpatrick.
When asked to assess his season Fitzpatrick says it started out strong, was a struggle at midseason then blossomed during Indiana Sprint Weeks.
“With our win at Haubstadt everything just sorta fell in place. We’re getting better. The car is getting better. We’re hitting on all cylinders. Now that we’re winning, Terre Haute is the one we really want,” voiced the optimistic Fitzpatrick who is in his freshman year at Indiana State University.
Jones likes their chances for Saturday night. “We’re on a roll. We’d be elated, more than elated … so would our sponsor Don Smith if we could pull it off,” offered the seven-time Action Track feature winner.
Joe Buckles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org