After having done the auto racing coverage for the Kokomo Tribune for 20-plus years now, it’s hard not to get into the same old routine.

The one where you travel to the race, take notes throughout the evening, get some quotes and hustle to the laptop to bang out a story for the upcoming issue.

I guess after all this time I consider myself a grizzled veteran and the enthusiasm that I had those 20 years ago watching the likes of Tony Elliott, Ray Kenens, Tony Plough, Tony Jarrett, Dave Darland, Kevin Thomas, Mark Cassella, Steve Butler, Derek Davidson, Kurt Hawkins and Terry Pletch just to mention a quick few that come to mind, has slowly faded and the enthusiasm I once had has waned a bit.

However, if there is anything that perks me up and makes me feel like a kid at Christmas each and every year, it is the annual running of the Indiana Sprint Week presented by NOS Energy Drink and featuring the stars and cars of the USAC Amsoil National Sprint Car Series.

It’s grueling for drivers and crews, even fans who can attend each and every leg of the week. It features eight races in 10 nights and in the midst of hot summer nights, it’s not at all uncommon to see emotions flare up as the most talented non-wing drivers in the world are in tight confines nearly every day for 10 straight days.

This year the prelude to ISW will be at the Eldora Speedway in the rain makeup of the event that was originally slated for mid-May before rain showers set in during the heat races. So now, the teams will have to venture to Eldora tonight, and then load up and head west to the Gas City I-69 Speedway in the official opening night of the eight race mini-series.

Following Thursday’s trek to Jerry Gappens’ place, the Plymouth Speedway will host the second leg on Friday night. From there the teams will head south and converge on the Kokomo Speedway on Saturday night before finishing off the first half of ISW at the Lawrenceburg Speedway on Sunday.

After taking a couple days off the action kicks back into gear next Wednesday, July 24, at the Terre Haute Action Track followed by stops at the Lincoln Park Speedway (Thursday, July 25), Bloomington (Friday, July 26) and commencing Saturday, July 27 at Haubstadt’s Tri-States Speedway where a champion will be crowned.

With any of a dozen drivers capable of wearing the crown this year, I’m going to go out on a limb and pick none other than Kevin Thomas Jr. and his Granger No. 19 team.

The reason is simply during the annual running of Indiana Midget Week in June, Thomas was unbeaten in the sprint car portion of the events he competed in, reeling off four straight wins before parking his car as the week wound down.

Others to keep an eye on will be Tyler Courtney, who has been on a mission this season following his series title a year ago. C.J. Leary has been lightning quick all year in his new ride, the No. 19AZ, while Justin Grant seemingly is always in the mix in his TOPP Motorsports No. 4, especially when the series visits Kokomo. Brady Bacon seems to be hitting his stride in the Hoffman Racing/Dynamics/Mean Green No. 69, evidenced by a pair of wins last week at the famed Knoxville Raceway. The Oklahoma standout leads the series in wins with 4 while Chris Windom and Courtney have a pair of feature wins each to sit in a tie for second.

Leary, Grant, Chase Stockon and Jason McDougal each have a single win apiece.

Heading into the grinding next week and a half, Leary sits atop the points ladder using consistent qualifying and top-five finishes en route to tallying up 876 points. Courtney sits in second with 816 while Stockon is third with 811. Windom (810) and Thomas (800) round out the top five and depending on how the next 10 days goes, there could well be a bit of shuffling in the standings following the Tri-States event.

Lincoln’s Dave Darland is far and away the winningest driver in ISW history with 20 feature wins and has been behind the wheel of a handful of cars this season after his stint with Chase Briscoe Racing came to a premature end when CBR lost one of its primary sponsors. In the past few weeks he’s been piloting Dwight Cheney’s No. 42.

Meanwhile, former Kokomo resident Shane Cottle seems to have been sipping from the fountain of youth after scoring a pulsating win at Gas City a couple weeks back aboard the Paul Racing No. 24P, then Saturday night picking up the prestigious Putnamville Clash at Lincoln Park after reuniting with long-time car owner Tony Epperson in the Epperson Painting/PPG Paints No. 2E.

For those fans who are unable to trek across the state following the action each night, keep in mind all the events will be hosted on live streaming video at www.floracing.com. The price of a subscription is money well spent as the channel hosts all the USAC National events in each series as well as events from the West Coast.

No matter who will hoist the ISW crown in just over a week, that driver and his team will certainly deserve it and all the accolades that come along with the title.

After ISW, then the countdown is on for my second-favorite event of the year — the eighth running of the Sprint Car Smackdown at the Kokomo Speedway in August. This time of year is a great time to make a crotchety old guy feel like a giddy kid again.

Looking forward to seeing all you fans in the days to come.

Brett Bowman is the Tribune’s auto racing columnist. He may be reached at brettbowman29@aol.com.

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