Chaves Impresses in Midget Racing Debut

Five-time U.S. Auto Club National Sprint Car champion Levi Jones' strongest advice to Gabby Chaves was imparted before the initial practice for the Tony Stewart Classic Midget race at the Lincoln Tech Indianapolis Speedrome.

"Relax. Have fun," Jones told the Verizon IndyCar Series' Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate, who had not sat in a Midget before accepting the invitation from Honda Performance Development to compete in the inaugural event July 25 on the one-fifth-mile paved oval racetrack.

The Midget's steering wheel is twice the size and with significantly fewer gauges than the one in the No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda Chaves drives in the Verizon IndyCar Series. The driver sits upright, there's no paddle shifting and the Honda engine is in the front.

"The crew laughed when I went for the seat fitting and (looked around the car)," said Chaves, who turned 22 on July 7. But, as competitors and spectators discovered in the heat races and the 100-lap main event, Chaves was quickly up to the task.

"A race car is a race car," the 2014 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion said.
He qualified 11th for the final and was running third at the mandatory 75-lap break for tires and chassis adjustments. That's when Chaves was presented another opportunity he couldn't refuse.

Shepherd Insurance was offering a $10,000 bonus to the driver who would restart from the rear of the field and make his or her way to the front in the final 25 laps. When the first- and second-place drivers declined, Chaves endeared himself further to the crowd by accepting the Tail Gunner Challenge.

"It was worth a try," said Chaves, who stormed back to finish fifth. "I wasn't quite sure what to expect in the beginning of the race, but after a few laps I felt very comfortable, felt very quick and saw that I could really challenge any of the guys up front. We put on a great show and I am very happy and thankful for the opportunity that Honda and HPD gave me. I had a blast."

Kyle Hamilton of Danville, Ind., took the victory, leading Laps 14-100. Kyle O'Gara, a development driver with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, started 18th and finished seventh. CFH Racing team manager Andy O'Gara, Kyle's brother, placed 25th.

NASCAR star and 1996-97 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Tony Stewart earned his first USAC feature victory at the Speedrome, which has hosted USAC racing since 1958 when Gene Hartley, the winner of USAC's first-ever race in 1956, won a 50-lap Midget feature.

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