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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.
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