Sitting here with my laptop thinking back to the just completed second running of the Sprint Car Smackdown, I felt the need to put some of my thoughts and observations on the event in print since, like a little kid the day after Christmas, I'm fighting the post-race blues.
First, it was so cool to see two of the oldest drivers competing, Dave Darland and Shane Cottle, put on a show. For Darland, he claimed his 48th and 49th career non-wing sprint car feature wins at his home track in the biggest event of the year, surpassing Tony Elliott for the most all-time. In addition, he set a new USAC track record en route to advancing up the all-time USAC Sprint Car Series feature wins. Darland now has 44 feature wins to his credit in the series, just six behind the great Tom Bigelow and two behind Jack Hewitt.
On Friday night the run Cottle put on in the B-main was simply worth the price of admission. The humble Kokomo driver started last in the 22-car race and managed to not only win the 12-lap last chance race, but simply dominate it. He then went out in the feature that night and secured a top-five run. Over the course of three days, he passed more than 50 cars, which is a testament to his ability. In Saturday's finale he again put on a show with a spirited run to finish second to Darland.
Both of those drivers are arguably the most humble of any two men that one would be fortunate enough to have the pleasure to know. Talking with fellow announcer Rob Goodman from the infield during the 40-lap main event, we both commented on how it would be tough not to see either of them stand in Victory Lane as there are not two more deserving drivers.
So for that, Shane and Dave, thanks for making the weekend one that I will be telling anyone willing to listen about until the time comes that either my memory is long gone or I'm 6 feet under.
The entire weekend was filled with so many different stories that there is simply not enough room in these pages to print them all. It was sad to hear of long-time sprint car fan Randy Mortland losing his battle with cancer early Saturday afternoon when Brent Goodnight passed on the bad news.
One other thing I won't soon forget is the ovation given to long-time car owner Paul Hazen when the officials of the track set out to finally get Hazen inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame. His induction is long overdue.
Ten years ago, I wrote an article on Mr. Hazen for Sprint Car and Midget Magazine and at that time he said he had no idea just how many feature events his cars had won. If I were to have to guess, I would venture to say it has to be close to 500 events.
So for those of you who read this column, here's a favor I'm asking, and those who know me know I hate to ask favors. It won't take more than a couple of minutes. I'm asking you to send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and vote for him. For the last 57 years he's been fielding sprint cars and truly deserves to be recognized.
The fans in attendance did just that, giving the soft-spoken car owner a prolonged standing ovation prior to the feature. Although Mr. Hazen hates being recognized, watching him during the ovation gave me goose bumps and still does now when I think about it.
Overlooked is the awesome show all the support divisions put on as well. The non-wing 600 Mini-Sprint feature was very entertaining. Although Bryan Clauson picked up the win, Aaron Davis of Sharpsville made it interesting for the defending USAC Amsoil National Sprint Car Series champ.Then the Street Stock feature on Friday was the best the track has seen in years. Scott Hufford picked up the win but by and large, the racing was riveting for all 20 laps. More often than not the leaders were running three and four wide, slicing and dicing.Then to top it off, Jeremy VanNess' last-corner, last-lap pass coming to the checkered flag was about as thrilling as one could ask for.The final thing was the attention to detail and track preparation all three nights.It's one thing to have a racy track in Indiana one night a week, but to do it three straight nights with the sun beating down on the surface two of those nights is unthinkable. Reese O'Connor and "Rowdy" Phil Doud deserve pats on their backs and thank yous come Sunday night when the track hosts it final regular-season raceBefore the feature even pushed off Saturday, Goodman was talking about how the track was going to make Smackdown III even better yet. Now, thanks to Dean Mills of Mills Video Productions and Brandon Tooley with his YouTube posts, we can all watch what just transpired and count down the days until next year's version is here.
Brett Bowman covers the Kokomo Speedway for the Tribune. He may be reached at email@example.com or through the sports department.