By Brett Bowman
Auto racing columnist
— In the 67 years of the Kokomo Speedway’s existence, there have been many big events and some very big events. However, few if any compare to what is going to transpire over the next three days.
Beginning Thursday night and concluding Saturday night, the United States Auto Club Amsoil National Sprint Car Series and all the stars and cars will visit the local oval for the first in what looks to be an annual event, the Sprint Car Smackdown.
“For years the World of Outlaws and all the winged sprint cars have had marquee events like the Kings Royal and Knoxville Nationals,” said USAC official Jason McCord, the mastermind behind the three-day show. “Our hope is that folks will talk about going to the Smackdown in the same way that the winged sprint car fans refer to the Kings Royal and the Knoxville Nationals.”
McCord went on to explain how his idea came to fruition.
“Like I said, we [USAC] put on a great show,” he explained. “Myself and Kirk Spridgeon were tossing around ideas and the Smackdown format came up. It is a great plan for the drivers and the fans. The fans can bring their campers and hang out for a few days and take in all the activities that will be going on. During Sprint Week, most of the same people are at each show, but there is the travel of going from track to track. This way, they can bring their campers and just park them for a few days and have a great time.
“My guess is that there are going to be fans coming in from all over the country,” he continued. “I’ve been around racing for a long time, but in talking to fans, drivers and car owners it seems like all of them are very excited. It’s like Christmas is coming early for everyone who loves non-wing sprint car racing.”
McCord spoke about exactly why the local track was chosen over all of the other tracks across the state and noted that his plans are for the event to be held here in the future as well.
“Whenever we first came up with the format the next thing was getting on the phone and making some calls,” McCord stated. “So, I called up Reese [O’Connor, of the local track] and was expecting to have to work on him to get him on board. Within about a minute or two of talking to him about it, he was completely on board. It’s a big endeavor taking on the challenge of this show and there is a lot of money at stake, but I have no doubt it will be a huge success.
“And, with the way that Reese puts together a race track, there is no doubt in my mind that the racing will be incredible. It always is at Kokomo. I can honestly say it would be very hard to remember a bad race at Kokomo since the O’Connor family took it over.”
With the points battle nearly as tight as possible, the three-day event could go a long way to determining the 2012 series champion. Jon Stanbrough holds just a six-point lead over five-time series champion Levi Jones. Lincoln’s Dave Darland is third, just 99 points out of the lead.
“It’s going to be a very interesting three days,” McCord stated. “The first two nights will be regular points programs like all the other races. However, on Saturday, only feature points will be awarded. It’s going to be interesting how things shake out, especially the way that Darland has been running up there this season.”
Darland, who seems to have pushed the sun back in the sky this season since reuniting with car owner Jeff Walker, is not performing like a man in the twilight of his career but rather like one of the young guns who fans were saying were taking over the division the last couple of years.
When the dust settles on the Smackdown, it is possible that the popular veteran could be the new leader in sprint car feature wins all-time in the track’s history. By all accounts available, he trails Tony Elliott by just one feature win to tie the multi-time track champion in career victories.
“Dave has already won more features this season than any other driver did all of last season [in USAC competition],” said McCord. “So you know he is going to be one to watch. But I know that Kyle Larson is going to be there along with [Levi] Jones, [Damion] Gardner, Stanbrough. It’s pretty much going to be all the best of the best there and there might be a few surprises. I have talked with some drivers who aren’t regulars with the series that are trying to make arrangements to be there.”
Expect a huge turnout all three nights and tickets to be limited. Visit the track’s website at www.kokomospeedway.net for more information.
• Brett Bowman may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the sports department.