By Brett Bowman
A week ago tonight, the STP World of Outlaws Sprint Cars made their annual visit to the local oval.
Since last week, I’ve been asked numerous times how good the racing was.
Well, at least in my opinion, it was good — for winged sprint cars. Typically a winged race, especially on the ½-mile tracks they run on, is a high-speed parade with very little passing. The Outlaw officials all agreed that last week’s show was probably the best of the year for the series, especially the heat races.
The spectacle of all the big-name stars and cars running inches away from the wall at both ends of Kokomo’s bullring was awesome. As for the flat-out racing, I’d take a non-wing show at the track more often than not. Seeing the Outlaws is awesome since it’s a change of pace, but night in and night out, watching the traditional sprint cars navigate around the track with the right rear clawing for more grip is a much more exciting show.
Bearing that in mind, since the USAC Honda National Midget Series introduced the Indiana Midget Week nine years ago, it’s been fascinating watching the mini-series grow, not only in races but also in prestige.
When it was first introduced there were less than a handful of events for the week, making it seem like an appetizer before the Indiana Sprint Week pushed off a bit later in the summer. Now it has grown to five races in five nights which begins tonight at the Gas City I-69 Speedway and concludes Sunday night at Kokomo.
Sandwiched in between those two shows are stops at Lincoln Park Speedway (Thursday), Bloomington Speedway (Friday) and the Lawrenceburg Speedway (Saturday). Kokomo’s Shane Cottle won the first IMW and followed it up with another title a few years later. Tracy Hines and Bryan Clauson join Cottle as the only two-time Midget Week champions and all three look to capture their third title this season. Darren Hagen, Brad Kuhn and Jerry Coons Jr. each have captured one title.
Clauson has six feature wins in the series to top all others since the mini-series kicked off in 2005.
Also on tap at Gas City tonight will be the weekly sprint car series. At Kokomo on Sunday, the sprint cars and Street Stocks will join the Midget series.
Cottle, Darland score victories
The Kokomo area was represented quite well last week in USAC Amsoil National Sprint Car Series competition on the East Coast as part of the annual Eastern Storm tour for the series.
Sunday night at the Susquehana Raceway Park in Newberry, Pa., Cottle led from green to checkered in scoring his fifth career USAC National Sprint Car Series win.
The win didn’t come without some tense moments, though, for the local standout.
“First it was [Tracy] Hines throwing some sliders at me,” said Cottle upon his return to town Monday. “Then [Kevin] Thomas kept throwing them at me but the car was good and we were able to hold all those guys off.”€
Thomas finished second and Hines third. Bryan Clauson and Robert Ballou completed the top five. Dave Darland was sixth. Darland’s sixth-place showing coupled with Chase Stockon’s 16th-place run gave Darland a 33-point lead in the championship chase (633-600). Defending series champion Clauson is third with 599 points while Thomas (584) and Brady Bacon (582) round out a very tight top-five. Cottle sits ninth with 404 markers despite running a limited schedule.
Saturday night it was all Darland at the Port Royal Speedway in Port Royal, Pa., as the Lincoln native notched his second series win of the season and 42nd of his career. His two wins are the only national wins for his Phillips Motorsports No. 71P team.
Chasing him to the checkered flag was former Kokomo track record holder Daron Clayton and Clauson. Bacon and Stockon rounded out the top five. Cottle piloted his Gene Franckowiak-owned No. 65 to a 10th-place showing.
The opening round of the mini-series kicked off at the Grandview Speedway in Bechtelsville, Pa., in the Jesse Hockett Classic.
Clayton dueled with five-time series champion Levi Jones throughout the 40-lap event, taking the lead for good on the 29th lap.
Clauson, piloting Jones’ old ride, the Tony Stewart Racing/Chevy Performance/Kistler Engines No. 20, got around Jones in the late going to finish second with Jones claiming third aboard Jeff Walker’s Don Walker Special/Claxton Engines/Maxim No. 39. Hunter Schuerenberg was fourth and Stockon fifth. Cottle was sixth and Darland eighth. The second night of the Eastern Storm Tour at Path Valley Speedway Park fell victim to rain.
The series returns to action June 21 at the Terre Haute Action Track.
With a gaggle of events being completed over the weekend, the next column will round up all the other locals and tracks that didn’t make it into this column.
Brett Bowman may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.