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Midget racing set to grab spotlight


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WE are approaching the biggest two weeks of the year for midget racing fans (not counting the Chili Bowl).

Midget racing was to have begun May 31 with the running of the Hut Hundred, which was scheduled to be contested at yet another venue this year — on the 3/8-mile dirt track at Pontoon Beach, Ill. For years the track was known as Granite City. Somehow, the tracks location changed without its having moved an inch.

For decades, the race was conducted at the Terre Haute Action Track. In the glory days of this famed event, it was run Sunday afternoon and featured 33 midgets lined up three abreast.

The most memorable of these races featured a wheel-to-wheel battle between Tony Stewart and Kenny Irwin Jr. Most of the Stewart faithful harbored ill will for Irwin for years to come. I remember when Irwin was killed at Loudon, N.H., that there was talk about what great friends Stewart and Irwin were. I recall thinking that most Stewart fans must have missed the memo.

 

When the 2013 USAC National Midget schedule was released, Pete Willoughby, some of his crew guys and I were discussing the upcoming season. Someone asked about the running of the Hut, and Willoughby commented, “They’re going to have a hundred-lap midget race, but it certainly won’t be the Hut.”

His point was, of course, that there was only one legitimate place to run the Hut, and that was on the wicked-fast Terre Haute half-mile.

At least in part because it can sometimes be tough to attract a full field of 33 midgets, the Hut was being co-sanctioned by the United States Auto Club and the POWRi Midget series. The race almost certainly will be rescheduled, but probably not until after Indiana Midget Week.

Keith Kunz grew up in a family of midget racers from the Springfield, Ill., area. Consequently he is familiar with most of the Illinois tracks, and he is looking forward to competing on them again when they run Illinois Midget Week. The series began Thursday night at Jacksonville Speedway, followed by Lincoln Speedway Friday night, Macon Speedway tonight and Vermillion County Speedway at Danville, Ill., Sunday night.

They will have an off day Monday before starting Indiana Midget Week on Tuesday at Gas City I-69 Speedway.

The balance of Indiana Midget Week will be Lincoln Park Speedway at Putnamville on Thursday, Bloomington Speedway on Friday, Lawrenceburg Speedway on June 15 and Kokomo Speedway on June 16.

Willoughby and Kunz will have first-rate equipment, as usual. Barring undue carnage, they should have both the drivers and equipment necessary to finish up front. Their regular driver, Christopher Bell, can be expected to run the entire series along with last year’s primary driver, Rico Abreu. Their 2011 driver, Kyle Larson, probably also will run one of their midgets when he isn’t tied up running his NASCAR Nationwide car.

Their plan is to add a fourth driver to their team for the midget weeks, and the plan is to keep him with the team for the balance of the season. His name is Tanner Thorson, and he is said to show a lot of promise.

The Keith Kunz Motorsports shop has been buzzing with activity as they have been thrashing to get enough spare parts accumulated to carry them through the midget weeks. They will have a couple of spare cars, but that won’t go very far if they start crashing.

As if all of this weren’t enough, Willoughby advised that they are building a winged sprint car. They ran one a few times 20 years ago or so, but it wasn’t long before they sold it and concentrated on non-winged sprint cars and midgets.

Willoughby made it clear that they certainly wouldn’t be chasing World of Outlaws points. However, Larson and Abreu are very good winged sprint car drivers, and it is possible that one of them will drive it from time to time.

Mother Nature big winner

Racing in the area last weekend was a complete washout. It’s hard to remember a weekend that was so completely lost to the weatherman. However, it is indeed an ill wind that blows no good. Tonight’s program at Twin Cities Raceway Park will feature five makeup features, followed by a full racing program for all classes.

One of the features to be made up is the Mark Clark Memorial championship. Clark was a very popular super stock racer from North Vernon. Two of the drivers scheduled to run are local favorite Randy Petro and Tim Clark, Mark’s brother.

Photo finish at Gateway

The USAC Silver Crown series made its June 1 scheduled visit to Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill. Chris Windom was making his first Silver Crown start on the pavement. However, when he rolled out onto the track to qualify, he looked like a veteran. He turned the 1.25-mile oval in 31.082 seconds for an average speed of 144.779 mph, a track record.

Windom took the lead a the drop of the green flag, but that first lap was the only one that he would lead during the entire race. During most of the race, it was a battle between Bobby Santos III and Bobby East, son of famed sprint car builder Bob East. East was sidelined when he apparently ran out of fuel. He added fuel and returned to the fray, but his chances for the win were over.

As the leaders came down to take the checkered flag, Santos, Windom and Kody Swanson crossed the line as if they were tied together. Santos is a strong pavement driver, and the day was his. Swanson held on to finish second, and Windom scored a podium finish in his first appearance.

Santos said from Victory Lane, “I knew I had a good car, but the motor was laying down the second half of the race, and we definitely almost gave it away at the end with it going away. I didn’t see (Swanson) coming at the end, but I just felt that somebody was gonna be coming and make it close.

“That was a great race with Bobby (East) up at the front, too. We raced each other really hard and clean. I have a lot of respect for him and his family, and it’s nice to race that hard for the lead like that. It means a lot to win here and even get to race here. Places like this are right up my alley.”

Tim McKinney writes a weekly racing column for The Republic. He can be reached at 379-5632.

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