Hoosier Hundred Still Reigns Supreme for Short Tracks
It was 11 oâ€™clock on a Saturday morning and I was tired of job hunting. Since graduating from college the previous spring my time was consumed with courting my lovely bride-to-be and finding a job. But thank goodness, this particular Saturday was set aside for fun.
The date was September 13, 1986. I was looking forward to spending the day with the greatest man Iâ€™d ever known â€“ my father. Weâ€™d had so much fun at the Hoosier Hundred the year before that weâ€™d decided to go again.
So the pressing issue at hand was making sure we had plenty of Dr. Pepper in the cooler (remember the pull-off tabs on the old aluminum cans?), sunglasses, seat pads, an appropriate motorsports-related baseball cap, and all the other sundries necessary for a day at the races.
And my camera. I dearly loved my camera. In the days before digital photography, my wonderful mom had spent weeks searching for the best 35mm camera to purchase for me as a college graduation gift. They decided on a Minolta X-370 complete with an adjustable zoom lens and I had spent the summer shooting everything I saw with four wheels (that camera would serve me well for the next 20 years).
Stop for a moment and consider what I saw that day.
I saw the late Larry Rice, an Indianapolis 500 co-Rookie of the Year who would later become a good personal friend when we entered television broadcasting together. Larry was in the prime of his career and would finish a close second in the race to another all-time open wheel driver, Jack Hewitt.
I saw Jeff Bloom and Steve Cannon, two great drivers that I would later meet on the racetrack in competition. I am not ashamed to say that both were better than me. They were better than a lot of people. That puts me in good company.
I saw IndyCar drivers Andy Hillenburg and Steve Chassey escape a fiery crash in Turn 3 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds legendary one-mile dirt oval.
I saw Warren Mockler fulfill his lifelong dream of driving racecars as a full-time living. It would be another ten years before I saw Warren again, this time as a restorer of classic cars operating his own shop.
I saw Bob Cicconi and Sheldon Kinser, who need no introduction to anyone who has ever followed open wheel racing.
I saw Rick Hood, who ran the high line at Paragon Speedway in a sprint car unlike anyone Iâ€™d seen before or sinceâ€¦ and Iâ€™ve been going to Paragon since I was 11 years old. Rick was super nice and autographed the photos I brought him on pit road at the Hoosier Hundred that day in 1986. Rick later tried for NASCAR but never made it big time. Iâ€™ve often wondered what happened to him when he hung up his helmet. I still have a circular pin-on button of his sprint car hanging on my garage wall today. He was my favorite driver when I was a kid.
I saw Johnny Parsons, Jr. who had scored a top-5 finish at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the year before. Johnny attended the same church as my sister and I got to know him a bit while he was rehabilitating after his horrible 1987 IndyCar crash.
I saw George Snider, Steve Butler and Gary Bettenhausen, whose individual stories would take up volumes in themselves.
I saw all of this because I took a few dollars (about the price of two fast food meals) and spent it on something genuine. I invested it in one of the sportâ€™s premier events, and in time with my Dad.
It remains one of the best investments I ever made.
The 59th running of the Hoosier Hundred will be held this Friday, May 25th. NASCARâ€™s Ken Schrader will be there. So will Indycarâ€™s Brian Clauson. And USAC champ Levi Jones of Tony Stewart Racing.
You get the idea.
This is your chance to see the great oval drivers of this generation. Itâ€™s still at the dirt oval at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, where itâ€™s been held since 1953. Bring your kids. Bring your camera. See something authentic; something that doesnâ€™t require a screen and an electrical outlet.
Iâ€™ll be there with my two sons and I hope to see you.
Oh yeahâ€¦ my dad will be there, too.
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