Wednesday, June 13 - We arrived in Indiana at the Indianapolis Airport around noontime and were greeted with sunny skies with temperatures in the 80’s. In other words, great weather!! We were in the Hoosier state for the annual USAC Midget Speed Week contested at five tracks over a five day period. Night one would find us traveling northeast of Indianapolis on I-69 to the town of Gas City where the I-69 Gas City Speedway is located. The 1/4 mile semi-banked black dirt oval has steep wooden grandstands that run the entire length of the homestretch. The track only has guard rail on the homestretch with the turns and backstretch wide open. The third and fourth turns have protection fencing well off the speedway in front of the pit area. As soon as we entered the track we ran into friend, Dave Ludwig from Fleetwood, Pennsylvania who had flown out on an earlier flight today. We would all sit together this evening along with our Indiana buddy, Roger Farrell, who showed up part way into the program.
Action got underway at 6:28 with time trials for the 40 car midget field on hand. They have went back to individual time trials after running the group time trials (which we feel were better) the last couple of years. Royersford, Pa’s Steve Buckwalter was first out for time trials and his time of 12.613 seconds stood up as the fastest of the time trial session which concluded at 7:08. Twenty minutes later the first of four heats for the midgets was trackside and produced some good racing with current USAC National midget point leader, Darren Hagen, winning the first heat with Davy Ray, Kyle Larson who can drive anything with wheels on it extremely well and Australian Michael Pickens looking strong winning heat four. The thundercars were also on the card as a filler running one heat for their eight car field. Wingless sprints would round out the program card bringing 21 cars to the dance. All heat qualifying was completed by 8:42. The midgets ran a 20 car semi main qualifying six with another Australian visitor, Nathan Smee winning this tussle.
Intermission followed with the track crew “farming” or reworking the track surface which he hoped would produce a good track for the midgets to run their feature on as the first several qualifying races became huggy pole which means that everyone dove low and hugged the inside groove with the outer groove being non-existant. What came next left everyone in amazement as management decided to run a 12 lap semi for the sprint cars with only six cars running and five qualifying. Why??? This was a total waste of time on a week night when many locals had to work the next morning. Anyhow this waste ended at 9:55 and by 10:11 we were ready to go with the 30 lap midget main event. The race started off fast and furious but though they were running quickly there was hardly any passing. The first caution waved at the halfway mark and from that point on it turned into a race to protect the inside lane. Darren Hagen led the entire distance fending off second place finisher, Jerry Coons Jr. banging him as he tried to dive under him in the later stages of the race causing Coons to slap one of the inner tires marking the inside of the track. For Hagen this was the second year in a row that he won the midget speed week opener and was good news for his point leading position. Kyle Larson advanced from seventh to finish third with Tracy Hines fourth after starting 12th and Steve Buckwalter rounding out the top five. It was a good night for the five car ARDC contingent on hand with four of them making the feature event with Buckwalter the highest finisher in fifth with Trevor Kobylarz coming in seventh and Alex Bright eighth. Nick Wean finished outside the top ten and 15 year old Austin Burke making his midget debut failed to qualify which was not a surprise as he was running against the best in the business. The youngster looked smooth and steady and did a good job.
Next up was the 15 lap thunder car feature which took just 6 minutes to run. Kaleb Nutter was the winner in a close contest. The sprint cars took the green at 11:08 and a hard flip in turn one brought this one to a quick stop. Once back underway conditions were smoother with first starting Jon Stanbrough taking command. There probably were not many in the house that would have bet against the veteran shoe being passed for the lead but nobody told Levi Jones about that. He pulled a nifty inside outside move through turn one and cleared Stanbrough to take the lead. Jones rode home the winner at 11:36 followed by Stanbrough with Coleman Gulick third (after suffering through a rough Eastern Storm tour flipping two machines during the week), Jonathan Hendrick fourth and Bill Puterbaugh Jr. rounding out the top five.
It was a disapointing opening night of one of our favorite weeks of racing with the midgets going huggy pole in the feature. Here’s hoping things get better as the week progresses. Stay tuned for night two at Lincoln Park.
Saturday, June 9 – It was a beautiful Saturday, sunny, 80’s and no chance of rain and it would be our first visit to Port Royal Speedway for 2012. The USAC sprints were finishing up their Eastern Storm tour at the ½ mile oval. There was a lot of sprint car racing in Central PA as the All Stars were running at Lincoln and we were sure Tony Stewart would be showing up as he did the previous night at Williams Grove. But since we were going to be heading west to Indiana for the USAC midgets we thought it would be good to start the wingless process today. Of course Bruce had already seen the USAC sprints at Grandview and Big Diamond earlier in the week but work commitments kept me from both events. Also the ride up Route 322 to Port Royal was beautiful as always.
We arrived early at 5:15 as the plan was to tour the pits to see how many sprints were on hand as well as the ARDC midgets. It was a total wingless night. We counted 23 sprints and 21 midgets before heading back to the grandstands. The crowd was great considering the other big event at Lincoln. I am sure they also had a great crowd. This just shows that sprint car racing is alive and well in Central Pennsylvania. Time trials for the sprints started at 7:25 and Bryan Clauson set fast time at 19.080. After a break in the action the first of two ARDC midget heats took the green at 8:22.
There were two ARDC midget heats, three USAC sprint heats and two pro stock heats. After this there was an exhibit of restored cars narrated by Lynn Paxton that was quite interesting. Leroy Felty at age 82 was out there in a restored car that he ran back in the day and he was getting around the track pretty good.
The 30 lap feature paying $6,000 to win for the USAC sprints took the green at 10:00 and it was a good race. There was a lot of competition and hard racing. It looked like the race was going to run non-stop. Darren Hagen appeared to be on his way to victory as the battles for position were all behind the leader. Unfortunately there was a caution and that caution was for Hagen as he hit the wall in turns three and four after jumping the cushion ending his quest for victory. Damion Gardner inherited the lead and the win. All eyes turned to Tracey Hines to see if he could pull off the pass for the lead but it was not to happen. Gardner took the win with Hines, Jon Stanbrough, Robert Ballou and Dave Darland rounding out the top five. This was the first time the USAC sprints ever ran at Port Royal. From the size of the crowd and the roar of the crowd I am sure it will not be the last.
But, the wingless show was not over. ARDC midgets still had their 20 lap feature to run and up to this point not a one car got upside down. This ended on lap 2 when Drew Heistand drove up over a wheel and flipped in turn two on lap two. He was OK after his scary ride. Back underway again Trevor Kobylarz came from fifth to first in one lap and took command. Alex Bright broke out of the pack and took up chase. He closed for a while but Kobylarz remained on top. Two cautions at lap 8 and 18 bunched the field but Kobylarz was up to the challenge and pulled away both times. At the checkered at 11:10 Trevor Kobylarz took home his second career win in ARDC, both this year, over Bright with Bruce Buckwalter Jr. claiming the show position.
It was a good solid night of racing not fabulous but entertaining run on a good surface.