2018 Indy 500 & Midget Madness Blog
Day 1 – Tuesday May 22nd
Contrary to the tour group, who arrived ahead of schedule into Indianapolis this afternoon, the tour host had landed the night before at 1.00am. It was an eventful trip for me which started at the gate lounge in Sydney. Delta decided to host an impromptu celebration for the Captain who was retiring the moment after he landed the 777 aircraft in LA. Which just happened to be his 65th birthday.
A compulsory retirement age for all commercial airline pilots it appears. Anticipation built amongst the passengers as we figured it might be party central on board as we crossed the Pacific Ocean 35,000 feet below in the dead of night. But no, we were wrong. It was still beef, pasta or chicken salad for dinner, the queue for the toilets was just as long as it’s always been and the coffee was still cold.
But as usual the Boeing jet eventually drifted down through the clouds off Catalina Island and at 6.00am the magnificent Los Angeles freeways came into view below us. And yes even at that time they are as congested as they always are every hour of every day.
It was the 481st time the Captain had done the return LAX / Sydney flight and as he again stood at the door and shook hands with all 375 people as we filed off the choc-a-bloc aircraft, he looked as tired as I felt when I trudged off ….
One passenger however (never identified) would have been happy that he or she actually made it to the Americas still alive. An hour or so into the flight it was announced there were no peanuts on board because said person was totally allergic to nuts. Can you imagine not being supplied with the obligatory dozen packets of peanuts on a plane. Unheard of.
The long layover in LA waiting for the Salt Lake City flight didn’t help the cause, nor did the three hour delay to connect with the Indy flight. It was on this latter sector that the peanut person popped up again and supplies of the precious little gem were once again prohibited.
But the tour group had no such nut problems on their flights arriving early and excited following 18 hours in the air. After all, 20 races in the next 21 days is a major itinerary. As the huge sign at the airport says. “It’s May! Welcome to Indianapolis, the Racing Capital of the World.”
We had a fabulous dinner at Scotty’s Brewhouse during which we found out about each and everyone of us. Family, work life and Speedway background were all covered. We sure have some talented folks on this tour. Everyone of them passionate about midgets and speedcars.
It’s gunna be a fun tour this one. Tomorrow is “securing phones day”, a visit to the Don Smith Museum in Terre Haute and the USAC sprintcars at the Action Track for the Tony Hulman Classic.
PS. For those who have travelled before and enjoyed the Bourbon Street Distillery across the road, you would probably know it closed down 15 or so months ago. Well it has now re-opened as Stixx, an Asian cigar friendly bar. I’ll provide a report shortly.
Day 2 – Wednesday May 23rd
I’m not sure if the tour members look at weather forecasts for the time they will be in the speedway heartland of America, but the tour leader sure does. For the last three months or so I’ve been keeping an eye on the long range stuff which forecasts a year ahead. Now you might say they can’t get it right 24 hours ahead of today, so what use is there looking at predictions six to 12 months out. Well let me tell you my spirits rose when I saw a weather almanac forecast that the week of Indy in 2018 would be fine and hot. But then they sank when it showed thunderstorms and rain for the rest of the two weeks we will be here. Time will tell about that one ….
This morning dawned (not that we were up that early) with a picture perfect azure blue sky and did not change all day. The temperature hovered around 82F degrees (28C) and did not alter until the sun went down. The delightful Bree at T-Mobile fixed the guys up with phone and/or SIM cards in her usual honest and skilful manner. From there it was into Wal-Mart (not for the last time I’m sure) before returning to the Hotel to prepare for Terre Haute.
Because the weather in the US in March and April has been extremely cold, I thought hoodies would be the way to go this time instead tour shirts. Well the hoodies haven’t seen the light of day yet because there is just no need for them. In fact everybody is of the opinion that they hope they never have to put them on whilst on tour, despite them being superb garments.
The drive to Terre Haute was our first into rural Indiana and an introduction to the US freeways and their resident truck population. The objective this arvo was the 500 Museum of Wheels which displays a smart part of the late Don Smith’s extraordinary collection of historic dirt track cars. Which is now unfortunately being sold at auction and the collection will be split up for all time. His nephew Henry had told me it wouldn’t be open, but we decided to drive past it at least to say we had been there. To our delight on arrival, sitting outside the Museum was the first of many car transporters that will be needed to shift everything to the auction location.
We didn’t need an invitation, so piled out of the Chevy and I headed for the Curator Geoff Martin to reacquaint a good friendship that has been cemented over the years. Geoff was just completing the loading of a transporter and he warmly invited us in. We saw everything we could and then settled into a session with him of who could tell the best story!! The Yanks call it bench racin’…..
The Action Track at Terre Haute was next for tonight’s Tony Hulman Classic for USAC non-winged sprintcars. The day was still as perfect as the moment the sun came up this morning and our spot under a parking lot shady tree was perfect for our first session of tailgating. No matter whether it’s a Ford or a Chevy, the $1 beer esky and fold-up chairs fit into both.
Understandably though, being the first race on the itinerary folks are keen to get into the track and the pits just to walk around and soak everything up. So it wasn’t long before they were all gone. After a few more races though, the esky might prove to be more attractive ….
Terre Haute (like tomorrow night at the Indy Fairgrounds) allows the fans to watch from the grassed infield. Cheaper in there than a grandstand ticket, but we always provide the grandstand tickets to allow the flexibility of both. This track simply drips history from every beam of the decades old covered grandstand. It is not difficult to shut your eyes and listen to the cars and imagining that it’s Unser, Foyt, Branson, Rutherford and Bettenhausen duking it out in cageless sprintcars of the 60’s, rather than today’s youngsters. But after “waking up”, it was a young Tyler Courtney, aka ”Sunshine” who took the win from Kevin Thomas Jnr and Shane Cottle. Sunshine’s reward was the cheque and a yes, still in this day and age, a rifle for first place, believe it or not.
Day 3 – Thursday May 24th
I didn’t think it could be possible. But the weather is better today than yesterday ….
Although we aren’t Indycar fans per se, if you’re in Indianapolis towards the end of May then there is no place to be other than the racing capital of the world on the corner of 16th Street and Georgetown Road. Here sits 560 acres of land, as close to the city of Indianapolis as the SCG is to Sydney. On part of it is a 2½ mile (4 km) paved “rectangular oval” race track. Imagine a paper clip and that’s the shape. Each straight away is one mile long and the corners at each end are ¼ mile. The dimensions have remained unchanged since 1909 when Carl Fisher designed and built the track.
Bitumen was relatively new in 1909 and certainly untested for racing. Therefore Fisher decided he would use an oiled dirt surface. It was fine on opening day when new track records were created and spectators turned up in droves, but two of the competitors left the track in a hearse. Dust had become a major issue. The third race saw two spectators and another driver leave the premises in the same manner. Fisher promised to rectify the conditions and he did by ordering 3.2 million 4.5kg bricks to be manufactured. These were carefully laid and the gaps sealed with mortar. The locals were quick to nickname it the Brickyard, a name which has stuck to this day.
As there is virtually zero public transport servicing the area, the rest of the 560 acres serves as car parking for the 440,000 fans who turn up to watch the 500. It becomes chaotic to get to the track and even worse to get out post-race. But the fans just keep on coming because it is an iconic event. In fact, it is by far the largest one day sporting event in the world.
But more about that on Friday and Sunday.
Yesterday the guys had their first glimpse of Indy Speedway, fondly referred to as “the big track”. We had to call in to pick up the tickets for the weekend and it was easy to see the excitement in their eyes. So it was only appropriate that today we called in to tour an Indycar team’s raceshop. That team is the well-established Chip Ganassi operation. We knew that all their cars would be down at the big track after qualifying in recent days. We also knew that the Ganassi sports car team was already in France preparing for Le Mans. However as usual Grant Weaver still gave us an in-depth and insightful tour of how the team operates. The rear bay of the shop where the used race cars are housed was the highlight as always.
From Ganassi we ventured over to historical Gasoline Alley off Holt Street. It was here that Indycar teams from yesteryear would have their garages framed by two barn type front doors, one of which was constantly open to let the breeze in. When it became time for race day the tradition was that the cars would be fired up and driven down Gasoline Alley, on to Main Street and then into the track. Men and women lined the streets to cheer on their heroes. The ladies holding parasols and the men wearing straw boaters in the style of the day.
While in Gasoline Alley, the usually popular Arizona Sports shirts shop was not so popular. Mainly because it was only day 3 and buyer’s remorse was still evident. The Hinchman racesuit shop is adjacent to Arizona and it occupied most people’s time in looking at the framed photos on the walls displaying those famous drivers from years gone by who wore Hinchman suits. Of particular interest to the “Legend of the Lens” John Stanley, who I know reads the Blog religiously, would be that there are a couple of his fabulous photos in there of the late Larry Rice when he came out to Australia and the Brisbane Exhibition Ground for a midget historical day in 2009 just before cancer finished his life.
Lunch was back at Sarah Fisher’s 1911 Grill in Main Street. Last year we had a poor experience in here, but another chance was offered. This time it was excellent, so I withdraw whatever I said in last year’s Month of Money Blog.
One of the categories of open wheel dirt racing we don’t have in Australia is the Silver Crown car. To the casual speedway fan these cars resemble a non-wing sprintcar. However, so committed are Americans to tradition, these long wheel base “Champ cars” still race occasionally and always on the long tracks. The Indy Fairgrounds is one of those at one mile in circumference. And it was to there we headed this afternoon. The Hoosier Hundred (laps) has been held since time immemorial during the Indy 500 week and is now the only auto race held at the Fairgrounds.
We parked adjacent to the entrance gate off Fall Creek Parkway (under a shady tree of course) and sat and watched the fans roll in. It was just like Field of Dreams. “Build it and they will come”. The stream was continuous and if I was the Promoter I would have stood where we were and counted the heads in each car.
Darren got his infield photographer’s validation and off he went to capture some magnificent photos, a few of which have been shared on the Global Speedway Tours Facebook page. The rest no doubt may well appear in another Darren Bould produced hard cover book about his life on the road on the Indy 2018 tour. The balance of us trotted off to drool over the 30 or so historic sprint and midget cars assembled on public display behind the grandstand.
Racing wise the (very) large crowd were entertained by a race with a few twists and turns to create some drama, but in the end Kody Swanson won his 4th consecutive Hoosier Hundred to equal Bobby Unser Senior, thonly other driver to win four.
Back at the Chevy bar, the number of cars trying to get out of the Fairgrounds caused us to consider that we needed a couple of “traffic clearers”. It was a unanimous decision and we stood there marvelling upon the fact that at 11.00pm on an Indiana evening in May, we were all still in shorts and t-shirts so to speak.
Tomorrow is Carb day at the big track and then off 65 miles south to Bloomington where the Josh Burton Memorial is on for non-wing 410 sprints. Supported by many other classes, including the always entertaining Hornets. More about them later ….
Day 4 – Friday May 25th
Carb Day at Indy doesn’t mean you have to pile into the hot dogs, French fries and pizza. Although you can if you want to. Plenty do. No, it is short for Carburettor Day from those fondly remembered years when it was the last chance for the crew chief to tune the carbies for Sunday’s big race. No such thing in this era, but the day is still regarded as important because it is the last opportunity for the teams to test and tune for 30 minutes out on the track.
Carb Day is also an excuse for the Speedway to reap the rewards from race starved fans who flock there just to watch. Nowadays it is a huge “piss up” as well. No other way to describe it really, with headline bands brought in to entertain an endless party in the Snake Pit for those who wish to indulge. Our lads didn’t of course, preferring to spend their time in the Museum and in the Midway which housed the Historic cars from yesteryear. Their proud owners bring them along in their hundreds to both show them off and to take the priceless opportunity of driving them around the Indy track.
An extremely hot day meant that some weary bodies dragged themselves in to the Chev for the drive to Bloomington, the home of the Kinser clan. I doubt that a race ever proceeds at Bloomington without the Kinser surname being in at least one car. Tonight was no exception as the bright red clay was meticulously prepared to produce an outstanding surface.
The non-wing sprintcar feature race has been described as one of, if not the best, feature that has ever been seen at the track. Huge claims indeed, but who are we to argue with history. We knew it was breathtaking and that’s what counts. The occasion was the Josh Burton Memorial, held for a young driver who lost his life five years ago on turn 1. The eventual winner Tyler Courtney, fresh off his win at Terre Haute on Wednesday night, duelled all race long with Kevin Thomas Jnr and Robert Ballou. Others popped their heads up from time to time, but these three sliced and diced through the field and lapped cars. Sensational skills, and the crowd lapped up every bit of the show. Courtney won by a nose on the line from Ballou and Thomas a car length away third.
The ride back to Indy lasted for the first three quarters of the Richmond / St Kilda game from the MCG which comes through loud and proud on the AFL app ……
Day 5 – Saturday May 26th
Everybody loves a parade and no one does it better than the Yanks. Particularly when there is an event to build it around. The Indy 500 Festival committee must start planning the next one from the day after the last one. The streets are decorated for weeks ahead of the day, portable bleachers (grandstands) are constructed on both sides of the streets on the parade route, chairs are laid out at street level for the elderly and disabled, food vendors arrive en masse and so do the crowds. It is indeed a magnificent spectacle.
Staying downtown as we always do, it was a short 10 minute walk to our reserved seats on Pennsylvania Avenue to await the traditional start. There is no “gentlemen start your engines” announcement, simply 20 of Indiana’s finest on their Police Harley Davidsons who ride the whole route skilfully standing on the bikes, undertaking precision riding routines and thrilling the kids and adults alike. The real reason I reckon for them starting the parade is a security one to ensure the whole route is ready and free from any untoward happenings.
Apart from the 33 drivers who are starting the race tomorrow, all the rest of the celebrities and notables in the parade must be Hoosiers. ie Born in Indiana. Again it’s tradition and as we have come to learn, Americans have a huge belief in their customs and rituals. There would not have been a college or high school marching band left in the state of Indiana. They were all in the parade with cheerleaders out front twirling batons high into the air. Such was the heat of the day, each band had water runners constantly squirting water into the mouths of the band members, all of whom were dressed to the nines in the uniform of the school.
Massive helium filled balloons in the shape of race cars, race drivers, farm animals etc were dragged along in the gentle breeze held down by 15-20 people holding ropes. The biggest became a handful and often dropped down in to the crowd lining the streets, much to their delight. The drivers were presented in their starting rows 11 through to 1. Sitting on the back of gleaming official Indy 500 Camaro convertibles, they arrived sequentially between marching bands and floats. Aussies James Davidson (a one off ride) was starting 19th and regular Indy car racer Will Power was off the front row from 3.
After an hour and 40 minutes, the last person in the parade passed before us and it was time to leave and prepare for the unique event called the Little 500 up at Anderson Speedway some 50 miles north of Indianapolis. There are so many race tracks in Indiana that they reach out like spokes in a wheel. The result is that every time we leave the Hotel we take a different route out of town which adds to the fun and the scenery. This time it was using I-70 east to the ring road I-465 north and then onto I-69 north which eventually finishes up at Fort Wayne. (You gotta talk like that when referring to travelling by car over here!!) It’s shorter to drive straight up Meridian Avenue but it’s choc-a-block with traffic lights and stop signs. Nearly always the longer route, via the city’s ring roads, is the quickest.
Well what can you say about the Little 500? Some facts may help.
Tailgating beforehand is a must. So many people to meet.
Happy people because it’s a beautiful afternoon and evening and they are at the races
It’s always a sell-out. By that I mean maybe 7 to 8000 fans.
The stands are the steepest and closest to the track I’ve seen.
They are also the rickettyest (is that a word?)
The track is a high banked quarter mile bitumen oval.
The race is for non-wing sprintcars.
It is not sanctioned by any organisation, hence the specs can be different.
‘Run what ya brung’ comes to mind …
They start 33 cars three abreast and run 500 laps
It is full of strategy and it all plays out right in front of the fans
Pitstops are required and cars are pushed back onto the track without a yellow slowing traffic.
An absolutely unique experience which saw the Hoosier Hundred winner from Thursday night Cody Swanson take his third major win in as many nights. Cody had won the Silver Crown race at Lucas Oil Raceway last night while we were at Bloomington.
Home at 1.00am and a 6.00am departure tomorrow morning for the Big 500, followed by Kokomo at night, makes for a long day indeed. But that’s OK, four hours of sleep is enough …..
Day 6 – Sunday May 27th
Two years ago the 10km drive from the Courtyard Marriott to the Indianapolis Speedway for the Indy 500 took 4 hours and 55 minutes. We left at 7.00am and parked it at 11.55am. In the meantime every passenger but one had vacated the bus and walked the remaining miles to the track. No we didn’t breakdown. It’s just that 440,000 people all want to go to the same place. A place that is not serviced by public transport.
“There will be no such issue this year guys”, said the Tour host with fingers firmly crossed behind his back. “You will only get about four hours sleep the night before because we won’t get home from the Little 500 until 1.00am, breakfast in the Hotel will be forgone and we will leave at 6.00am on the dot”, were the instructions from the same Tour Host with fear and trepidation in his voice.
We couldn’t control the traffic, but we could manipulate breakfast. After the parade yesterday, Rusty and Doug assisted with the shopping. We were going to have a breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausages and hash browns grilled in the Indy parking lot upon arrival. We had even borrowed a BBQ to do it, but the idea was abandoned when we decided that the beer would taste better with hot chicken off the supermarket rotisserie, bread rolls, tomato (sliced with a Swiss Army knife), lettuce, cheese and glazed donuts to finish as sweets. Except for Russell, who we had just learned is the only known person on earth who doesn’t eat chicken. So ham, along with roast beef would fulfil his hunger.
So there we were standing in the Hotel parking lot at 5.59am with everything loaded on. Some faces were clearly wanting to ask why the hell are we up this early to go to a race. But they didn’t say anything. Nor did they say anything when for the first six kms there was virtually no traffic. But of course it happened, just like it does every year. The bright red stream of brake lights in the distance indicated that we were about to hit the wall. We slowed and then we stopped. Stopped for a long time actually and visions of last year flooded in. But the hour earlier start helped considerably and we were only in the incredibly dense traffic for about 90 minutes this time.
Around 8.00am we rolled into Lot 1B off Georgetown Road. Needless to say the parking attendants directed us to a spot they wanted us to go to. There is no chance at the Indy 500 of a stuffed kangaroo or koala gift getting you a perfect spot adjacent to an exit ready for a quick getaway to the sprintcar races at Kokomo tonight. You go where you’re told. These parking attendants would make great Border Protection officers at LA Airport…..
Our spot was good. Very good in fact, because the folks next door loaned us a life size cardboard cut-out of Danica Patrick for a couple of hours. Plenty of photos were taken with her by us and passers-by. The two chickens were torn apart, the tomato sliced, the souvenired butter, pepper & salt, mustard and mayonnaise from the Hotel magically appeared, plus Russell’s ham and Roast beef slices were put on the paper plates along with the cutlery. We won’t say where that came from. Oh and two one gallon bottles of apple juice. We were set and at 8.30am we sat back in the chairs and watched the world (and I mean the world) roll into the Indianapolis Speedway precinct.
The lads went in to the track around 10.30am to take in the atmosphere, but with strict instructions to be back in the parking lot ASAP after the race end, so we could make a quick exit for Kokomo. You see, the speedway authorities open the gates at 6.00am to allow the first of the diehards to get into their seats. So there is a six hour window to get 440,000 people inside. That’s clever. But at the other end of the day when the race is over, 440,000 people all leave at once. It is utterly chaotic. But I had a carefully crafted exit plan ready to go, but it totally depended on the boys being back at the bus super quickly.
The race itself? Opinions vary of course and watching 200 laps for 500 miles in weather that made it the hottest 500 in history, tested the resolve of many. No ambulances were needed on the track, but off the track they were busy with spectators collapsing from heat stroke left right and centre. Hydration was the name of the game, and I don’t mean beer (for us) although thousands of young Americans see the need to watch the race through an alcoholic haze and then remember nothing about the experience. One of the two Aussies in the 500 was James Davidson, whose departure from the race was around lap 50 when he tangled with the Japanese driver Takuma on turn 4. We saw this one from our seats in turn 3, however casual fans need to know that there is no seat in the Speedway where you can see the whole track, such are the dimensions of the joint.
It’s no secret now that the other Aussie, Will Power from Toowoomba, went on to take victory in an historic first for our country. Well before the end I had already left the grandstands and had walked back to the car to make friends with the cop who was allocated duties for the exit that we wanted to use to get out of the joint. The Chevy was re-located to a spot which gave an easy access out. The Australian flag was hung proudly from the back, not just to celebrate Will Power’s win, but to signal where the Chevy was now parked for those returning.
One by one they promptly returned and hopes were high that we would easily get out before the massive avalanche of people started walking up Georgetown Road. It was going to be tight. But one guy was missing. It’s not fair to mention any names, but the peanut farmer from Kingaroy had stopped at a food outlet to buy a $6 bottle of water which took him 20 minutes. The fact that we had 36 bottles of water on board the Chevy for free was apparently forgotten in the excitement of the moment.
By the time he appeared at the van we were a shot duck and for the next hour we waited and watched from the parking lot as what was probably 180,000 people completely smothered the road. Putting traffic on there as well would have been disastrous. So the friendly cop’s instructions from above were to simply stop anyone exiting the car park. It was now going to be touch and go to get to Kokomo but eventually the crowd mass allowed the gates to be open and we were amongst the first to get out.
But of course all those 180,000 pedestrians had now reached their cars that were parked in streets and private houses on front lawns for $60. They were now on the road, so for another hour we inched our way forward for miles up to Lafayette Avenue and eventually onto the beltway (ring road) I-465. It took us to US31 up to Kokomo and we pulled in around 7.30pm. The race had finished four hours ago. Fortunately Kokomo delays their start time to allow for exactly what happened to us.
As always this little bullring provided superb racing and in all sections, although the lads are already tiring of the Modfied racing which is always the support category to the sprintcars at most tracks. Chris Windom won the BC Double, held in memory of the late Bryan Clauson who, after driving in the Indy 500 would slip up to Kokomo to drive his beloved sprint car …. just because he could.
Thus ended a very long day ……
Day 7 – Monday May 28th (Memorial Day)
After six days in Indianapolis and the same hotel, it was time to hit the road and show the guys what it’s like progressing nightly between hotel rooms. The heat of yesterday had lessened somewhat, but it was still a magnificent morning. Just how long can this keep up for? The hoodies are still yet make an appearance by the way. We drove southeast down I-74 eventually taking the exit to Lawrenceburg along the beautifully named Purple Heart Memorial Highway. A very scenic route indeed as it meanders its way in between historic old houses with barns as old as life itself in the USA it appears. Critters were abundant, some dead on the road and others hopping around in the fields on either side of the roadway.
It’s always difficult to fulfil everyone’s lunch preferences each day, but one way to do it is to stop at a Golden Coral all you can eat buffet. Scattered all across the country, these very inviting restaurants are extremely popular, except in Lawrenceburg it appears. Theirs closed down a few months ago. But no matter we just drove into the neighbouring state of Kentucky and ate at one of theirs!
Lawrenceburg Speedway has banking like few others. A 3/8th mile clay oval it has hills in the turns with 37° banking but zero in the straightaways. Ohio sprintcar driver Chad Kemenah describes it as “like racing in and out of a funnel”. It wasn’t always like this. From the 1950’s to 2009, Lawrenceburg was a tight ¼ mile bullring, until the Casino across the road moved into town. One of the pre-requisites for the owners to seal the deal for a casino in Lawrenceburg was to financially support local sport. To the delight of all speedway fans they chose to offer money to the owners of the tired old joint across the street and it is now in most people’s top 25 tracks in the country.
The Outlaws were there tonight and for once it didn’t rain on their parade. They have had dreadful luck of late with many cancelled races. A terrific night’s racing saw Brad Sweet swoop through the field from 8th to take the lead with around five laps to go. Everyone always likes to beat Donny Schatz and tonight he did just that with David Gravel in third.
Our hotel for the night was the Quality Inn & Suites. On its corner is a Burger King which became the scene of some amusing moments ordering via the drive through late in the evening in a minibus.
Day 8 – Tuesday May 29th
Lunching with Dave Argabright back in Fishers, Indianapolis was today’s first objective. A later than usual departure from the Hotel was permitted, even though we were going to avoid the interstates to get there. 101 north was the chosen route because it would take us through various State Parks on the way and show us typical out of the way American towns where good houses cost $60,000 and bad ones cost $10k. The way of life in these places makes you want to stop, find a bar and have a drink with the locals. Mind you though when I think about it, we actually do that every night at the race track…..
We met up with Dave in a craft beer restaurant called Four Day Ray Brewing. Still haven’t worked out why that name. Dave was on time, we were on time and a great 2½ hours were spent listening to his speedway tales and experiences from an author’s perspective. Dave is now a respected TV commentator with Lucas Oil and MAV TV and is often away from home, so we were lucky to catch him on a “day off”.
After bidding farewell we continued on to Gas City up I-69 where our Hotel beckoned for the next two nights. Midget Week starts tonight at Montpelier, just 12 or so miles away. Tomorrow it’s at Gas City followed by Putnamville, Bloomington, Lawrenceburg and Kokomo. The weather was still incredibly perfect, but there are concerns it may not stay that way.
The tour lads were about to meet another legend today. Dave A was first and S Phillips (aka Stubb) was tonight. This dude from Ohio is amazing and has become a great friend of Global Speedway Tours over the last 14 years. Whilst we were driving the short distance from Gas City to Green Acres (sorry Montpelier), Stubb was dutifully cooking away on his grill (read BBQ) preparing dinner for the troops. Well most of them. On the grill were monstrous chicken pieces which made our tour person who doesn’t eat chicken look sideways. Oh well, it’s track steaks (also known as hot dogs) for him tonight.
Not only can Stubb cook, he can drink and talk at the same time. Plus he has a unique ability to be able to see people coming from any direction and if he knows them (which is nearly everyone) he’ll yell out to them to come on over and meet the Aussies. We had an endless line of folk pass through the camp including, late in the night after racing, one guy with a wooden leg on a scooter and his mate with a hook on his prosthetic arm. Both were Vietnam vets. Stubb has a heart of gold and just loves meeting the folk from Downunder on every tour. We’ll catch up with him again further down the road.
Kyle Larson put on his dirt racing driving suit for tonight only and smashed everyone out of the park. Quick time, new track record, heat win and the A Main victory was the sum total of his night. Batting a thousand as they say, but we won’t see him again in Indiana Midget Week owing to his NASCAR contractual commitments with Chip Ganassi.
The racing was fantastic. Montpelier is a big fast sweeping 3/8th mile and the speeds are remarkable. The young kids driving these cars today look like jockeys and have just come out of high school. Many are recruited from the Outlaw Kart ranks in California where their Dad has funded them into paid rides to develop their skills. The next step is the midgets and then maybe sprintcars before heading down the NASCAR trail to the big money.
Nevertheless these kids give it their all and until they take their helmets off, the fan would have no idea how old they are.
Anyway, we’ve got many more nights (we think) to admire their skills.
Day 9 – Wednesday May 30th
It’s not every day when you open the curtains, stretch and yawn at yet another beautiful morning, that you also see a sprintcar transporter down in the parking lot having disgorged its contents all over the bitumen. The two non-wing cars of RJ Johnson and Thomas Meseraull were in various stages of disassembly while being washed and checked over. It was only natural that all our people (and me) would go down there and ‘bother’ them while they worked. But of course that’s the most incorrect word you could use. Drivers love receiving visits from fans, especially ones from Australia. Hence a very pleasant half hour or so was spent with them.
Not a lot to do in Gas City and surrounds, however one small town called Fairmount beckons us every trip. Note that during every one of the last three trips for me to Fairmount, it has rained. The odds worsened even further today when the pending afternoon thunderstorm started whilst we were at the delightful James Dean Gallery in North Main Street. Lennie the host and his dog Cleopatra welcomed us as always. One was wagging their tail and both were smiling as we entered through the front door.
Now James Byron Dean is well known to most baby boomers, but younger folk usually have no idea who he is. He was of course an actor and film star who was born in nearby Marion, Indiana in 1931 and raised on a farm outside Fairmount before finding fame on the silver screen and moving to California. That move was both good and bad for young James. Good because he raised his profile even further through a couple of blockbuster movies such as “East of Eden” and “Rebel without a Cause”. Jimmy had the looks, the appeal and a serious attitude towards his profession. He was expected to go a long way in the movie world.
However he also had a desire for extreme sports, one of which was auto racing. Warner Brothers Studio chiefs forbade him to engage in any kind of racing but he chose to ignore them. He purchased a Porsche Spyder 550 for $8,000 during the filming of his next movie, “Giant”. Whilst trailering it to a sports car race in Salinas, he decided the car needed some miles under it before putting it on the starting grid. So he and his mechanic took it off the trailer and James was driving it on the public roads when a car appeared out from an intersection and the resultant collision killed him instantly. At the time of his death, he had nine movies locked away for future production at US$1,000,000 per film ….. in 1955.
The Gallery itself is a beautiful three story house (four if you count the basement) with leadlight windows and an aura about it that makes it a most desirable home. Lennie said it’s not for sale, but if it was then probably $180 to $200k would get it for you!! Then you can live in Fairmount for the rest of your lives in tree shaded north Main Street.
A quick visit to his gravesite, where visitors are encouraged to have a smoke and a beer whilst there, was curtailed by the rain which had now become very heavy. The tour members at this point became quite subdued as the appearance of rain on race day is never pleasant, especially when we are the most travelled people of all at the track.
There is no more to write for today to be honest. The rain had become lighter, but surely the damage had already been done to the Gas City racing surface. We drove into the track and the occupants of the RVs already there were huddled inside. Usually they would be outside under the awning, sitting in picnic chairs enjoying the sunshine. But not today.
The pits had a few transporters in there and although it was already 2.30pm, the race meeting had not yet been cancelled, but no one really held out much hope. The rain had stopped entirely 30 mins later when the news came through about the cancellation. Some may have wondered why, but the Yanks really do know their very short term weather forecasts. More was expected at 6.00pm and on cue it came thundering down again.
A late lunch was at Payne’s Restaurant specialising in British cuisine food and to further complete the cosmopolitan nature of today’s menu choices, we ate Mexican for dinner. The latter was a Global Speedway Tours shout as we always do when there is a rainout and tickets have not yet been purchased.
Day 10 – Thursday May 31st
As usual the Gas City t-storm had passed quickly after dumping its load and once again the day dawned fine and sunny. The problem is the humidity which builds during the afternoon creating unstable air. When enough is enough up there in the Apple iCloud, the accumulated moisture is released as rain usually accompanied by lightning and thunder. When it’s finished doing its thing the day is as beautiful as it was to start the morning. That’s fine when it’s not race day, but not when it is. Who knows what will happen tonight at Putnamville for night 3.
Today’s journey took us along SR37 to Noblesville. Could have taken the Interstate, but there’s way too much to see on the State Roads. Bryan Clauson was born in Sacramento, California in 1989 but the family moved to Indiana to allow him to maximise his talent at steering dirt track race cars.
He lived in Noblesville until the time of his death in a midget at Belleville, Kansas on August 7th 2016. In between those dates he accomplished plenty. Three time USAC national midget champion, twice USAC national sprintcar champion, three time national champ for all divisions of USAC. At Indycar level he raced in three Indy 500’s. Bryan was attempting to complete an incredible 200 races in 2016 when he was killed, but his most lasting legacy was as an organ donor. Five different people are living today with parts of Bryan inside them.
In Forest Park at shelter #7 is a marker monument in his honour. Along with a long, bench style seat with the inscribed words of “Park it”. A perfect invitation to sit down and reflect upon his short life.
Next up was a quick visit to the legendary Longs Bakery on 16th Street in Indianapolis. Magnificent donuts, cakes and pastries. Those of you who have seen the “Soup Nazi” episode on Seinfeld will identify with this place. The line to purchase extends out of the shop and down Tremont Street, sometimes for 100 metres. People wait patiently in line because they know just what’s at the end of it. They must think about their choice while waiting because the ten or so staff behind the counter won’t tolerate you deliberating over what you want once you get in front of them.
In our case for example, Maggie in the T-Mobile shop we had visited earlier, said we must choose a Cinnamon Fry. A donut cake if you like, filled with a custard base and cinnamon sprinkles. I was on the end of our group separated from Russell by one person. A big jovial African American. As we filed carefully to the front taking just one step at a time standing sideways, I could see that the quantity of Cinnamon Frys were reducing in the window as one by one our group and others selected them. As I approached the donut Nazis behind the counter I was rehearsing my order, whilst at the same time carefully counting the number of cinnamon frys left. There were four. I’d be OK.
To my eternal dismay, my new found friend the African American ordered a dozen cinnamon frys. I was devastated, as was he, when they said, “sorry sir, these are the last four in the bakery.” It was at this point I broke all the rules and stepped out of line and shouted “but I wanted just one. Hey my friend can you maybe take just three of them home, along with nine of something else”? About now the bakery went silent as staff and waiting customers looked at me aghast. I looked around slowly becoming mindful of what I had done. Would I get thrown out and ear-marked as never to return?
After what seemed like three minutes, but in reality was probably three seconds, the big fella issued an instruction to the staff to remove one cinnamon fry from his bag and give it to me. I added in one ordinary glazed donut, paid the $1.79 and left the building in as an orderly fashion as I could manage. In reality I was trying to suppress my laughter as I really think everyone in the shop was as well. Once outside I met up with the others and was describing the whole episode to them when my new found friend pulled up at the kerb in his battered old Chev pick-up truck. He wound the window down and gleefully wished me the best and said he now has a story to tell the wife when he gets home with just three cinnamon frys, when it should have actually been 12.
From there we checked out Lucas Oil Raceway which was originally closed when we arrived at the gate. But as usual on these tours, from out of nowhere came a friendly employee who pushed a button to let us in and we had a free run around the entire complex. The half mile paved oval and the dragstrip which hosts the US Nationals in August.
The Pit Stop BBQ and Grill was next for lunch. As we pulled up the sound of thunder rumbling from the direction of Putnamville came to our attention. Looking southwest showed that it was a dark and foreboding sky. Harold in the Pit Stop was again happy to welcome the group to his restaurant as he always does, but unfortunately unlike last year there were no celebrities lunching this day.
As we departed, some were analysing the multiple weather apps they have on their phone hoping to find one which would say it was fine weather in Putnamville. Those who don’t know what an app is were simply using the old fashioned method of looking at the sky. Irrespective we headed there anyway and much to our delight the sun was shining and remained so until it disappeared to the west around the start of the midget A main.
Chad Boat won from the front row but as always with these guys he held off multiple challenges from maybe eight other drivers who all poked their nose under Boat’s car to let him know the wolf pack was chasing. Justin Grant finished second with Tyler Courtney in third.
On the hour and a bit trip to Edinburgh for tonight and tomorrow night’s sleep-out in the Hampton Inn, we reflected that last night Mother Nature won at Gas City, but USAC outsmarted her tonight. We really should have been rained out.
Day 11 – Friday June 1st
You could call it Legends, Shopping and Rogue storm day today.
Our first port of call this morning was 9.00am at the Keith Kunz Motorsports race shop in Columbus, Indiana, a mere 15 minute drive from our Hotel in Edinburgh. I won’t be putting the address on here as they are very protective of their location. In fact there is not one skerrick of sign writing on the building. But inside, it’s wall to wall midgets. 17 complete cars ready to go, including three non-wing sprintcars.
I must acknowledge and thank the effervescent Barry Lane from Queensland for arranging the visit after setting it up with Keith in the pits in recent nights. The KKM team are extremely well known in USAC National Midget racing as they generally field a team of eight cars at every USAC race throughout the season. They are meticulously maintained Toyota Development cars and the drivers who run for him are all top notch, including Kyle Larson when free of NASCAR commitments.
The eight which ran last night in Putnamville were in the shop having been transported back there in the middle of the night where a separate set of employees washed and cleaned them, put them up on blocks, then stripped them back to the bare chassis and engine. Around 6.00am another team comes in to begin the task of setting them up for tonight’s race. They are then loaded back into the transporters to head for the next track, which in tonight’s case is Bloomington.
The shop could well pass as a Hoosier dealer judging by the hundreds of tyres in racks completely covering the western wall. Stowed away in a corner of the shop are the Chili Bowl cars of Larson, Abreu, Bayston etc. The Chili Bowl allows different specs for that race so they just sit there waiting for next January to come around before they are fired up again. In another three rooms are hundreds of trophies the KKM team has won over the years. All dusted, polished and gleaming under the lights. Keith was generous with his time for us and I believe enjoyed the small break from the pressure of preparing such a mammoth team of cars.
By the way, apart from the Clauson-Marshall team, most other racers shudder these days when the KKM transporters turn up at a race …..
Not only is Edinburgh a central spot between race tracks to put our heads down for a couple of days, it is also home to the largest Outlet Store complex in Indiana. So after the KKM visit the lads were dropped off there to explore and shop. I reminded them of that old adage, “the more you shop, the more you save”, but it didn’t quite rub off on this tour. Some jeans and a few gifts for back home were about the sum total of the camp. Plus a couple of small presents from Doug for Darren, in case he needed them tomorrow night when Stubb stays with us in Lawrenceburg. If you’re confused, just ask any tour member for an explanation when you next see them.
Bloomington was next, some 46 miles away along some very picturesque country roads. Ian Speed (otherwise known to the world as Speedie) had kindly arranged for us to visit with Steve and Randy Kinser at the King’s sprawling ranch in Bloomington. Steve’s shop that he operated out of for the entire 45 years of his racing career, was here on the property.
When we arrived there was chaos in the street after last night’s storm which must have hit Bloomington harder than anywhere else. A huge tree had fallen straight through all the power lines in the Kinser street. Unfortunately for Steve and Dana Kinser it was one of their trees that had done all the damage. Contractors were cutting up the giant tree, electricity workers were there trying as best they could to restore power and the cops were controlling everything.
When the tree fell some time during last night it caused all seven garage doors in the race shop to spring open. The King decided he needed to stand guard all night outside the shop as his property is well known in the area. Hence when we arrived Steve was nowhere to be seen except fast asleep in his bedroom. So we missed out on meeting the greatest sprintcar driver in the world, but his wife Dana was gracious in showing us around, as was his brother Randy. Even Michaela Dumesny, girlfriend of son Kraig, popped in to say hi to the itinerant bunch of Aussie travellers.
So what’s in the Kinser race shop? Heaps!! Randy estimated there are enough parts lying around to build seven new engines, there are race suits, helmets and trophies galore scattered through the length of the shop in different rooms, a dyno hidden away in the back and significantly more, including massive amounts of sponsor products as yet unopened. It’s fair to say that the Steve Kinser race shop absolutely drips in history, but you couldn’t eat your lunch of the floor as they say in the classics. But to us, it looked just like we’d always imagine a race shop to be like.
And then it was a short two mile drive to Bloomington Speedway for tonight’s Round 4 of Indiana Midget week. The sun was shining, the breeze was gentle and the complex was groomed to the nines awaiting the start of racing. As usual we arrived around 4.00pm and with time to kill, you tend to do that with a beer. In this case it was with Speedie, Randy Kinser and any number of folk who drop in or have their motorhomes near. In fact unexpectedly we were fed dinner by a great couple Frankie and Carol. Frank loves fishing and had some fish from Lake Erie specially earmarked for breading and deep frying tonight at Bloomington. There was tons of it. Talk about feeding the multitudes with fish. Frank did it in fine style with coleslaw, potato chips and even tartare sauce. (John didn’t eat that last bit.)
The GST troops went into the track to watch qualifying while others kept a wary eye on the weather from the safety of the RV awning. Talk about another epic biblical happening. A rogue thunderstorm cell (as the Yanks like to call them) had built up out of nowhere and before long it burst. Noah and his ark would have been very handy at that moment to get people back to their cars and RV’s. But since he wasn’t around, everyone had to do it on foot. Thus ended our night at Bloomington. Mother Nature 2, USAC 2. We’ll try again down at Lawrenceburg tomorrow.
Day 12 – Saturday June 2nd
Some last minute shopping for a few and the others walked, washed or woke up late before loading up luggage which is becoming larger each day. Lawrenceburg was the destination and because we had been there last Monday, we took a different route. On that note it’s great to listen to Americans arguing the point about which is the best way to get from A to B. There are endless ways to get to the same end point and I’m proud to say that I can now join in the debates and contribute. Once I even won the argument …..
It was the same hotel, the same speedway but this time instead of the winged Outlaws in their sprintcars, it was the midgets who held centre stage. We have had two rain outs, but there was no chance tonight as we nosed the bus into a shady spot next to Stubb who had the grill going preparing bratwurst sausages for dinner. We also had a special guest appearance from Andrew S Quinn, previously known as the most hard core sprintcar fan in the country.
For a couple of decades ASQ used to consistently attend 100 + races a season. A phenomenal number when you consider for half of that time he lived in Maine on the Atlantic coast north of Boston. There ‘aint no sprintcars up there so every weekend Andrew used to set off in POS van #1 to far away States which had them. Thousands upon thousands of miles went beneath the wheels. Enough to cause POS van #2 to be ordered as he “wore out” the first one. If you’re wondering what POS stands for, then think of the legendary Jan Opperman from the seventies who called his sprintcars “Shit-box” 1, 2, 3 etc. Andrew figured he would therefore call his vans “Piece of Shit” 1, 2, 3 etc.
And then almost overnight, eight years or so after moving to Indianapolis to live in the suburb of Speedway, Andrew lost the will to keep it up and simply stopped going to the races. He can’t explain it to himself, let alone anyone else. His knowledge is still razor sharp however, as our resident historian Barry found out in a 60 minute conversation with him. When we got up from the campsite to go into the races, Andrew got up too, jumped in 1940’s Ford coupe and drove home!!
Inside the cauldron, we took up residence in the top row of the stand on Turn 2. Thanks go to Darren and Bakes for taking over Russell Blackman’s job of marking out our seating territory in the stands on arrival by taping a carefully torn up bed sheet to the selected aluminium bench. Speedy and his crew were up there as well and fun times were had as always. Spencer Bayston took his first win of the USAC season from Tanner Thorson and Chad Boat. Bayston, by virtue of his win tonight has moved into third in the Midget Week standings and appears to be a real threat.
Day 13 – Sunday June 3rd
Americans respect and admire their military so much. Get on a bus and old ladies give up their seat to a young man in uniform. At the track they are asked to stand and others applaud. Veterans are acknowledged with discount, or even free meals and drinks at restaurants and sporting events. And deservedly so. I read recently that being an active serviceman or woman across the last two decades, meant that statistically 52.2 people would die out of each 100,000. By the way, the only pastime and occupation with more lethal odds is (would you believe) fishing at 55 people and the worst by far is tree logging at 133 deaths per 100,000.
So this morning we visited the US Air Force at its spectacular museum in Dayton, Ohio. Always a favourite on the tour, today was no exception. With several aircraft enthusiasts on board with us, the four hours passed quickly in these four unbelievable giant hangars on the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. By the way I should point out that tour member Doug really has defied life’s odds. Firstly he flys his own plane and secondly he worked in the tree logging business all his life!!
Kokomo was calling our name and as we arrived into the parking lot Speedy and our new American midget week mates in their RV’s were in clear view. They now keep a spot for us! Again it was hot, but windy. Apart from rain, one thing you don’t want at the speedway is a strong swirling wind. It picks up dust and sends it everywhere, but a true speedway fan expects dust from time to time, so we all take it in our stride. The housekeeping ladies in the hotel probably don’t when they pick up the towels the next morning after we have gone.
It was the final night of Midget week and the racing was electric. The night was peppered with surprises, but the last one was the biggest of all. Before the A main started the Midget week points’ battle was between team mates Tyler Courtney and Tanner Thorson. Others were still a mathematical chance, but these two had it between them.
Courtney had shot out to a significant lead and it looked over, game set and match. Indeed to further cement his position another title contender Spencer Bayston collided with Zeb Wise on turn 2 and although able to restart, Bayston was of course sent to the rear. Meanwhile, Kevin Thomas Jnr in the Joe Dooling owned car was ‘a-comin’. He was flat out on the top, while Courtney inexplicably stuck to the bottom like a catfish.
Then in a mad scramble for position on lap 25, Justin Grant tagged the turn 1 wall and flipped. And guess who he took out with him? Yep, the two points leaders Courtney and Thorson. What seemed like a straight forward points calculation had now been torn apart. It was a flat out, free-for-all final five laps with multiple drivers able to take the points honours.
In the end Kevin Thomas won the race, but the final corner pass of Logan Seavey by Spencer Bayston for second gave Bayston just enough points to take the 2018 Indiana Midget Week Title. It couldn’t have been scripted any better.
Day 14 – Monday June 4th
We actually have a night off from racing tonight, so it was off to Chicago and the spectacular W Hotel on Lakeshore Drive overlooking Lake Michigan. It should have been two racing free nights, but last Wednesday night’s rain out for the World of Outlaws at Fairbury, Illinois, meant they were re-running the race tomorrow night. A few moments of discussion as to whether we should forfeit our pre-paid tickets for the baseball, or drive two hours to Fairbury and two hours back for the Outlaws, was a no brainer.
Lunch at Hooters in Merrillville, plus photos out the front with the girls was an important task before commencing the freeway follies in order to get into Chicago. It’s worse to get out of the city by the way. Knowing our rooms would not be available before 2.30pm and also gaining an hour in the time change, meant we had to find things to do. One of those was to locate a commemorative marker on a stone in Jacksons Park. Barry had read that this stone marked the spot of the very first auto race staged in America in 1895. We found it surprisingly easily.
The Hotel was next after which the Chev was put to bed in the Valet carpark and tour members were left to their own devices from then on, except for a group dinner tonight. And that occurred in “Dick’s Last Resort” a restaurant overlooking the Chicago River where the wait staff are trained and encouraged to be as rude as they dare to the patrons. Of course it’s our job to return serve and Aussies can be pretty good at that. Our waitress’ name was Felix apparently, or at least that’s what she said it was. But I didn’t believe her when she said her brother’s name was Betty Boop.
Another fun night as always, sitting outside on the patio overlooking the passing parade on the river. Followed by a long walk back via different scenic points in Chicago. It looked to me that the most popular was the L Train passing over our heads every 90 seconds on the century old steel overhead tracks. Actually it’s mine too! Probably why we went there …..
Day 15 – Tuesday June 5th
The morning hours were devoted to personal choices. Some went on the Hop on Hop off sightseeing bus around Chicago and thoroughly enjoyed it. Others went walking and one caught the train to Wrigley Field to collect the tickets for tonight’s game from the Will Call office. I had successfully negotiated the sale of four of the tickets to the Dan Biner family, so needed to get them earlier to undertake the transaction. I had a fun time riding the trains…..
Around 3.00pm we set off south down I-57 headed for Fairbury where the Outlaws were backing up following last week’s rain out. It was two hours both ways, but that doesn’t matter, after all it is a racing tour. The Fairbury American Legion Speedway is a neat joint. Called FALS for short, its biggest race of the year is the Prairie Dirt Classic for Late Models in mid July.
After qualifying 21st, Sheldon Haudenschild finished 2nd in his heat and then won the dash to start off pole. Just shows it can be done. To put the exclamation mark on it, he then went on to win the A Main. Kyle Larson was racing as well and he put on the show of the night.
The ride back to Chicago was very silent with only the driver awake. Plenty of M&M’s kept him alert.
Day 16 – Wednesday June 6th
Having driven 130 miles north on I-55 late last night, it was time to do it again when we said our goodbyes to this great city as it was time to get back into midget racing. We took the same route, only it was south to Joliet, famous for its location shots in the Blues Brothers movie. Further on from there is the Chicagoland NASCAR complex which also includes the Route 66 Dragstrip and the half mile Dirt Oval. The latter is now back in play for sprintcar, midget and Late Model racing after laying idle for many years hosting only demolition derbies and school bus racing!!
Charlie Lindsay wasn’t expecting us, but as always this great guy dropped everything to show us around. They had just hosted a drag race meet last weekend and the strip was as sticky with rubber as I’ve ever seen it. We probably spent too much time at Chicagoland so had to hightail it the next 260 miles to Belleville, Illinois. No, not Belleville, Kansas. This track southeast of St Louis is fondly referred to as Little Belleville. At 1/5th of a mile it is high banked and truly spectacular when the midgets take to it.
To everybody’s surprise including the promoter I’d say, 48 national midgets checked in. Just so you are aware, very rarely do teams nominate to be at a race in the US. 95% of the time, the promoter has no clue who or how many are going to turn up. In addition tonight, there were 48 600cc Micro Sprints which I will confess are mind-blowingly good. They just get faster and faster each year I see them. Belle-Clair Speedway is situated within the Fairgrounds smack bang in the middle of town. Irrespective, no mufflers are required. In fact I cannot recall one track on this tour where mufflers must be used.
To be brutally honest, words in a Blog cannot do justice to the spectacle that these drivers serve up night after night, with the average driver age being probably 17-19 throughout the field. The youngest is Blake Carrick at age 13 ….
The USAC Midget Week point-score winner Tanner Thorson continued on from where he left off to win a thriller. In all, eight midgets came to grief and finished upside down throughout the night with Holly Shelton scoring a 9.5/10 for her gigantic flip in turn 2 almost disappearing out of the park. I have a feeling that on the tighter Illinois bullrings this maybe a common occurrence.
Later that night we had a few drinks with Kevin Frisbie in the parking lot of the Hotel post race. His son Jackson Frisbie races #38 in the Micro Sprints (like an Australian Formula 500). Kevin raced with the WoO for a while and his Dad owned cars for Jan Opperman, amongst others. Good luck for the rest of Speedweek Kevin, if you happen to read this.
Day 17 – Thursday June 7th
Sightseeing galore today in St Louis on a very hot day. At ground level it was cruising the Mississippi on the Tom Sawyer Riverboat for an hour and in the air it was 230 metres (63 stories) above ground in the Gateway Arch. Riding the tiny tram up the north leg to the top can be a claustrophobic experience indeed, hence some understandably declined.
Once up there however the view is phenomenal. Particularly today when the air quality was superb allowing 60 km views into Illinois and Missouri. 400 metres or so from the base of the Arch is Busch Stadium, the home of the Cardinals baseball team. Too far away to see a strike thrown, but a pair of binoculars would have done the trick.
With only a limited number of people allowed up there at any one time, 10-15 mins is plenty to see what you want to see. Until that is when glancing out over the Mississippi, we see a traditional river barge plying its way upstream. Not just one of course, but 15 tied together and pushed by a 10,000 horsepower reverse tug boat. It’s quite a sight to see from land, let alone 63 stories in the sky.
Each of the 15 barges hold 1,500 tonnes (of anything) and the whole kit and kaboodle is 304 metres long and 55 metres wide. The tug boat captains are amongst the highest paid people in the country, such is their skill in manoeuvring these behemoths up and down the 3,712 km river and through 29 locks. Thank goodness for these things as they remove the need for a few thousand more trucks on the Interstates.
A tour of the Budweiser Brewery was followed by lunch in the Biergarten with a few complimentary Buds courtesy of the brewery. A very pleasant way to prepare for the 90 km drive to our Holiday Inn Hotel in Vandalia and then on to Brownstown and the Fayette County Speedway for night 2 of Illinois Speedweek.
One task that gets undertaken every second or third day is to secure more beer for the $ esky. It appears that a good old can of Bud is no longer the staple diet on this tour. A few of the guests have decided they now need Coronas in bottles with lime and lemon. I can’t tell you what the others (mainly the host) call this beer, but it rhymes with Woofta. All in jest of course …..
The urgently purchased Coronas entered the front gate of the Fayette County Speedway in the Chevy, along with their owners ready for our 17th race in 18 days. Bodies are getting weary now, but all are determined to see it through. Tonight was to be the last time they would drink with and be entertained post race by their new found friend Ian “Speedy” Speed. Hence a couple or four cold ones were compulsory before entering a track that no one, including the Host and Speedy had ever been to before.
Spectacular accidents have to occur when cars and drivers race at the speeds these guys do. 6 inches off the fence and seemingly out of control. But they are not. They know what they are doing and do it very well until a slight misgiving causes the car and fence to become one. I’m pleased to say that 16 year old Presley Truedson was released from hospital overnight and will be back in a new car tomorrow night at Jacksonville. Holly Shelton hasn’t been seen since her massive flip at Belle-Clair.
Tanner Thorson won his second consecutive feature and looks a sure bet for the Speedweek title.
More cold drinks on a hot night again with Speedy and other (new) friends met over the last fortnight, until it became time to farewell all concerned who, like us, were moving off in different racing directions tomorrow.
Wonderful people indeed …. and none of them drank Coronas ….
Day 18 – Friday June 8th
Over the last couple of weeks our Russell Baker has been spending time with Joe Dooling of midget and sprintcar ownership fame. Joe sat with us a few nights ago at Belle-Clair and during the conversations he invited Russell and the tour group to his home and raceshop in Illinois. Today was the day.
Joe and family have been building midgets and sprintcars for drivers since 1963. Dooling Machinery cars on the USAC trail are nationally known and well respected. All the best have driven for them, including Bryan Clauson when he was killed at Belleville, Kansas in 2016 in the Dooling car. The accident hit the family real hard, but Joe decided they had to continue the legacy he and his late wife Darlene had created. Hence they now have Sunday night’s Kokomo winner Kevin Thomas Jnr in the seat.
We spent nearly two hours with Joe, both in his workshop and his home across the road. Like Steve Kinser’s, the extensive garage is a genuine racer’s shop. Manufacturing machinery occupies more than 2/3rd’s of it and was used to make all of Joe’s home built cars in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s until “cookie cutter” factory built models became readily available.
You can just imagine what a guy like Joe can accumulate. The famous Dooling car number of 63 reflects the year he started as an owner builder in the United States Auto Club. In his lounge room across the street are multiple examples of “stuff” collected and retained from 55 years of competing at the highest level in the sport. The lounge room isn’t big enough. So parts of his bedroom help in that regard. In particular the wheels that Russell needs for his Offy midget back home in Melbourne.
The next room in the house was the garage, but the original garage has been superseded by the new garage built where the carport used to be. Please try to keep up. The original and new garages contain old race cars, dozens of rare and original pedal cars and an almost complete collection of Tether cars made in the 1940’s by Joe’s Dad. Like me, if you’re not sure what a Tether car is then click here. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tether_car.
And then watch this video. https://youtu.be/61DUJ1KQ35E
A memorable morning spent with a guy that took a year off in 2016 to mourn a good friend and race driver. But one who has come back stronger to return to the top echelon of the sport. Thanks Russell Baker for organising the visit. Joe has confirmed that future visits to the Dooling shop are assured during our Indy tours to come.
20 mins up the road from Joe’s is the Country Classic Cars collection on 1-55 at Staunton. Yes that’s right, the one which partly burnt down last year along with Bob Whittle’s Corvair which he had bought several days before. All the destroyed cars have been replaced and it’s business as usual again. The group checked everything out but no one went as far as Bob did in actually purchasing a car. But they did buy lunch (and pie for dessert) at the fabulous old Ariston Route 66 Diner in Litchfield.
The end of the day and the beginning of the night happened at Jacksonville Speedway for night 3 of Speedweek. Once again a Fairgrounds track right in the middle of suburban Jacksonville. The open headers (no mufflers) didn’t seem to bother the Baptist church goers across the road as they went about their business. Again, like most Illinois tracks, this one was tight at maybe a smidge under a 1/4 mile. Young Zeb Wise found out how tight it was in his heat. When leading he forgot to turn left soon enough in turn 1 and smacked the wall, flipping hard 6 or 7 times. A broken collar bone will render him unavailable for selection for six weeks.
The win tonight was taken by Logan Seavey from Ryan Robinson and Zach Daum. Joe B Miller was the star of the night finishing 4th in the midget feature and winning both the non winged sprintcar A Main as well as the Micro Sprint feature.
And that, as we would find out over the next two days, was our last race. Rain would be the only winner from here on in.
Day 19 – Saturday June 9th
Waking up in the Ramada in Springfield wasn’t pleasant. In fact it was a horrible morning. A brief peek through the curtains revealed big black lines of thunderstorms to the south which were moving fairly quickly to the northeast right across the top of Springfield and then on to Macon.
Pronounced as in Brady Bacon, Macon is a track that everyone was looking forward to. But it was hammered by the storms and around 10.00am they waved the white flag and cancelled. Very disappointing. Most of Illinois and Indiana had had the T-storms so there was really no alternative track running that we could go to. Most had also surrendered to the rain.
For something to do we hopped in the bus and lunched at Jungle Jim’s diner out near the State Fairgrounds. Great fun again with mine host Jim Davison holding centre stage with jokes and stories once the Aussies had rolled in.
Naturally we also took a good look at the one mile track at the Fairgrounds and came across the weirdest of sights. The infield is all grassed and maybe 200 or more tents were pitched there. The occupants were all people dressed in medieval clothing and fighting each other. Jousting sticks (yes, we told ‘em they were dreaming) were in abundance along with literally anything else that could be used to belt the crap out of whoever was standing near you at the time.
We got the hell out of there quick smart and headed to another place that has weird people inhabit it. It was Wal-Mart, as I had figured that if we can’t get to a race, we can at least watch the World of Outlaws live from Jackson, Minnesota on DirtVision. Hence we needed red wine, cheese, biscuits, salami, potato chips and (eventually) pizza home delivered. Macon Speedway missed out on their admission money from GST, but it went to the local suppliers in Springfield instead.
The Hotel breakfast room was commandeered, the laptop was hooked up to the TV, the esky was wheeled in on a luggage trolley, the red was opened to breathe and five family size pizzas were ordered. Prior to the racing we watched the Global Speedway Tours two hour movie of the 2012 Month of Money tour. Folks were engrossed by the whole night. And just like clockwork, the pizzas arrived and of course nothing could be surer than Donny Schatz winning when US$40 grand is on the line for first.
PS. The preferred pizza was the EBA. See if you can guess what that is?
Day 20th – Sunday June 10th
The morning was always going to be a free one before we checked out of Springfield and headed for Lincoln. Early on it was dry and overcast and maybe there was some chance of Lincoln Speedway being able to run tonight. Most of us watched the storm clouds gather and waited until it inevitably smashed into Springfield. Usually we ignore it and hope that the brewing thunder bumpers in the sky will go away.
Strangely enough however the storm appeared to have stalled, so we packed up the luggage and left for Lincoln. Which was a mere 29 miles north. To while away some time we visited Abraham Lincoln’s tomb in Oak Ridge cemetery. A more impressive structure you couldn’t imagine with it being the final resting place of President Lincoln and his wife Mary, together with three of their four sons.
Next we called in to the Speedway at the Fairgrounds just in case it did get rained out. At least the lads could say they had seen it. The temperature was hot and the climate muggy and I reckon everyone knew what was coming. Even though the promoter was still optimistically pouring liquid into the track with the water truck.
A little further north of Lincoln is Atlanta. No not Atlanta, Georgia but Atlanta, Illinois. A town of 1,614 people, plus one giant man holding a hotdog. It was also the home of Angel who served at the Palms Grill Diner in 2014. Adam and Angel would have made a great couple back in 2014. If only Adam had moved to Atlanta, then Angel wouldn’t have seen the need to run off to Canada with a local father of four and now be spoken of only in hushed tones by “them thar townsfolk”.
Maybe Angel had upset the gods somewhere, because we had just arrived outside the Palms Grill for lunch and the guys were wandering over to the 30 foot high Hot Dog Dude, when a huge clap of thunder signalled the start of it. Enough rain came down on Atlanta and (we were to find out Lincoln too) that the promotion had no choice but to cancel racing altogether.
And all of a sudden, that was it. Tour finished. 18 races in 21 days was pretty good however. To do that in late May, early June in the Midwest is actually quite remarkable.
Farewell drinks took place at the Chevy Bar on the lawn of the Hilton’s Hampton Inn in Lincoln. The skies had cleared which allowed us to enjoy our last drinks under the stars and to finish off the assortment of varying bottles and cans of alcohol we had accumulated over the last three weeks. We were unsuccessful in that regard however, due to the proliferation of those ‘woofta’ drinks insisted upon by some members of the group. And hence, for only the second time in Global Speedway Tours’ history, the esky was not emptied and it will be reopened again in five weeks time when the Month of Money commences on July 19th.
I can only hope that the incoming tour members like Coronas …..
Day 21 – Monday June 11th
Up early this morning to get Russell and Barry to the AMTRAK station for their 7.00am ride north to Chicago. They are on their way to Lincoln, Nebraska to visit the Speedway Motors “American Museum of Speed” founded by ‘Speedy’ Bill Smith. Two days up there for them before returning home to Oz on Friday.
Meanwhile the rest of us concluded the tour with the drive through to Indianapolis where everybody flew out of the racing capital of the world for home
…..until next time of course …..
To Barry, Russell, Doug, Darren, Russell and John, thanks for making the 2018 Indy tour such a wonderful three weeks. Your company was exceptional.
This same tour is on sale now for 2019. Subject to dates being the same for race meetings and events, the tour itinerary will be identical to what you have read on this Blog.