It isn’t surprising that Seymour’s Steve Arnold developed a love for midget racing that would last a lifetime.
He is the eldest son of famed midget owner Bill Arnold and spent much of his youth in the back of a Ford station wagon that towed the family’s midget.
Steve Arnold bought a low-buck Edmunds midget with a Chevy II engine and continued to upgrade his equipment, but he always seemed to be a step or two behind what it would take to be competitive. Beyond that, he couldn’t get the seat time necessary to get competitive even if he had solid equipment.
A couple of years ago, after years of urging by his friends, Steve Arnold decided to switch to TQ midgets. Since then, he has attacked the learning curve to become a successful TQ racer. It took some time for him to work his way through new car gremlins.
However, everything came together last Saturday night at Brownstown Speedway. Competing in the King of TQs program, he won his heat race and went on to win the feature. He was followed across the stripe by Caleb Faulkner of Columbus, Dustin Wheeldon, Bobby DeWitt and Corey Eaglin.
The No Way Out 40 attracted 51 sprint cars. C.J. Leary set quick time; and Bryan Clauson, Brady Short, Brady Bacon and Robert Ballou won the heat races.
Those unable to transfer to the feature through their heat race would have a tough road to get to the feature from one of the hooligans. Only two would transfer from each hooligan. Those who nabbed the transfer spots were Hunter Schuerenberg, Jordan Kinser, Bradley Sterrett and Tyler Courtney.
Clauson drove to a convincing feature win trailed by Jon Stanbrough, Short, Courtney, Kinser, Daron Clayton, Kevin Thomas Jr., Aaron Farney, Sterrett and Bacon.
Devin Gilpin of Columbus has ruled modified competition for the last few years. However, Saturday night he made what I believe to be his first appearance in a sprint car. Although he finished back in the pack, he did make the feature. For his first outing in a sprint car, that wasn’t too bad.
Ryan Thomas won the modified feature ahead Dave McWilliams, Brad Barrow, Joe Godsey and Levi Kissinger.
USAC Hall of Fame
The United States Auto Club has long been the premier sanctioning body for open-wheel racing. However, its history goes back even further than that as it was born when AAA got out of the automobile racing sanctioning business in 1956. USAC’s formation was born out of necessity as a team had to be in place to sanction the 1956 Indianapolis 500. However, the Indianapolis 500 was only one of the dozens of races that USAC was to sanction during its first season.
For most of us, USAC has officiated most of the races that we remember. Consequently, their Hall of Fame should and probably does contain the most meaningful participants in the sport. USAC has recently announced the newest eight inductees in their Hall of Fame.
The new inductees are George Bignotti (chief mechanic), Don Branson (driver), Larry Dickson (driver), Norm Nelson (driver), Don Smith (race organizer), Bob Stroud (official), Roger Ward (driver), and Bob Wente (driver).
As a chief mechanic George Bignotti engineered seven Indianapolis 500 victories and six national championships. Among the drivers who drove Bignotti engineered cars were Freddie Agabashian, Marvin Burke, Johnny Boyd, Earl Motter and Bob Sweikert. As a chief mechanic, Bignotti won the Indianapolis 500 with A.J. Foyt (1961 and 1964), Graham Hill (1966), Al Unser (1970 and 1971), Gordon Johncock (1973) and Tom Sneva (1983). In 1964, Foyt won the first seven races in the Champ car season and 10 out of the 13 race season.
Don Branson won the last AAA sanctioned race, an indoor midget race at Fort Wayne. In addition to being a successful Champ and sprint car racer, he also excelled in midget competition, winning the Hut Hundred in 1958 and 1966. In addition, he won the first midget races contested at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 1966.
Branson competed in the Indianapolis 500 eight times, with his best finishes being a fourth in 1960 and a fifth in 1963. He was the 1964 sprint car champion. He won 13 sprint car races before losing his life in a sprint car race at Ascot Park in 1966.
Larry Dickson is probably best known as being half of the feared “Larry and Gary Show.” He and Gary Bettenhausen finished first and second numerous times from 1968 to 1971. He scored 45 sprint car wins, which leaves him tied with Tracy Hines for fourth place on the all-time win list. He also won the prestigious Little 500 at Anderson Speedway in 1975. In his eight Indianapolis 500 starts, his best finish was a ninth in 1969.
Norm Nelson started his stock car racing career in AAA-sanctioned events, and he won 35 races in the USAC stock car series. Nelson also would often field a second USAC stock car. Some of the team drivers were Roger McCluskey, A.J. Foyt, Jim Hurtubise, Paul Goldsmith and Lloyd Ruby.
Don Smith was a Terre Haute businessman and a great promoter of USAC races. Probably his most significant event was the Tony Hulman Classic, long one of the high points of the USAC racing season.
Smith was the director of racing at the Terre Haute Action Track from 1953 through 1980. The inaugural Tony Hulman Classic was run in 1971. The race was preceded by a dinner that featured a “Calcutta” type auction of the drivers who had qualified during preliminary races. The proceeds of the auction were divided evenly between those who had “purchased” the winning driver and the prize fund for the race.
The Calcutta was discontinued after the death of Tony Hulman. However, the prestigious event continued. The trophy for the event was a custom rifle. Cary Faas won the event in a sprinter owned by Steve Chrisman of Edinburgh; and the rifle remains Chrisman’s most prized possession.
The Tony Hulman Classic was one of the first sprint car races televised; and it was often televised as part of ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” Smith also often promoted the Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
Bob Stroud was one of the behind-the-scenes guys who mostly wasn’t noticed by race fans. But had he not been doing his job, everyone would have noticed. He served in several capacities with AAA; and he later took over the management of the stock car division.
Roger Ward won the Indianapolis 500 in 1959 and 1962. He finished second in the 500 in 1960, 1963 and 1964. During a period of seven years, Ward never finished lower than fifth in the championship points standings.
Ward served for several years on the USAC Board of Directors; and he was a part-owner and a founding partner of Indianapolis Raceway Park.
Bob Wente finished second in USAC midget points in 1960, 1961, and 1962. He then took the championship in 1963. He won 78 USAC midget features, placing him third on the career win lists behind Mel Kenyon’s 111 and Rich Vogler’s 95. Included in his wins was the 1963 Hut Hundred.
Wente had three sons, all of whom competed in USAC midgets.
An additional four people will be selected by the fans for induction in the USAC Hall of Fame from a list including Rollie Beale, Clint Brawner, Russ Clendenen, Jimmie Davies, Sam Hanks, Bob Higman, Gus Hoffman, Lindsey Hopkins, Dick King, Jud Larson, Fred Lorenzen, Tom Marchese, Roger Penske, Eddie Sachs, Shorty Templeman and Johnny Thomson. Fans may vote for their favorites by going to the USAC home page at www.usacracing.com.
Tim McKinney writes a weekly racing column for The Republic. He can be reached at 379-5632.