When the name “Martin” is given to a Hoosier race fan, after scratching his head for a minute, they would probably come up with Mark Martin.
A more mature fan might arrive at Larry Martin, a successful USAC sprint-car racer of two or three decades ago. However, probably nobody would come up with Mike Martin. A search of points standings reveals that Martin ranks 61st in USAC West Coast Sprint Car points.
Martin, of Yuma, Ariz., piloted his own sprinter to the 12th-fastest time in qualifications for the 12th annual Hall of Fame Classic in Peoria, Ariz. Under normal circumstances, that would put him just back of mid-pack for the start of the sprint-car feature.
However, when racing got under way the inverted starts in the heat races took their toll on the fastest qualifiers. Dave Darland, Hunter Schuerenberg, Brody Roa, Chase Stockon and Charles Davis Jr. all failed to finish in the top four in their heat race to earn a berth in the championship feature. Instead, they were lined up behind the six-car invert for the start of the feature.
All of this combined to put R.J. Johnson and Martin in the front row for the start of the feature. When the green flag fell, Martin charged into the lead that he would hold all of the way to the checkered flags. Robert Ballou slipped past Johnson to take second.
A half dozen laps deep in the race, Darland made contact with another car and did a “Tommy Tipover,” ending his chances of sweeping the weekend; however, he was able to continue. At about the same time Bryan Clauson suffered a cut left-front tire in a separate altercation. Fortunately for Clauson, the left-front tire gets very little work, and he was able to drive it on to a seventh-place finish.
As he passed the halfway point, Martin continued to hold the lead. He was aided by a duel that had developed behind him between Ballou and Damion Gardner for second. Chris Windom passed Schuerenberg to move into fourth place after starting 13th.
Shortly after taking fourth place Windom spun and collected Darland who was working his way back to the front.
Martin held the lead to take the checkered flags followed by Ballou, Gardner, Schuerenberg, Jon Stanbrough, Rip Williams, Clauson, Thomas Meseraull, Tracy Hines and Johnson.
Another item of supreme importance in these late-season USAC races is the effect that they will have on the battle for the USAC National Driving Championship.
In addition to the prestige that this title carries, it has offered an entry into the next level of competition. Last season, it gave Clauson a ride in the Indianapolis 500.
Going into Canyon Speedway Park at Peoria, Ariz., Clauson held a 71-point lead over Hines, 102 points over Darland, 113 points over Levi Jones — who is taking the rest of the year off due to injuries — and 128 points over Darren Hagen.
Since none of the drivers who are top contenders for the NDC finished high enough to change their points totals, it would seem that Clauson remains a heavy favorite to win the title again.
In the support race, the Challenge Cup sprint-car feature was won by Kiley Fellars and trailed by John Brinkley, Brian Swinehart, Matt Lundy, Johnny Shelton Jr., Josh Shipley, Tom Lee, Mike Visser, Larry Gibson and Dan
USAC win No. 40 for Darland
Darland and Kevin Thomas Jr. shared the front row for the start of preliminary Hall of Fame Classic feature. When the green flag dropped, Thomas charged from the pole position into the lead against Darland.
In the opening laps it became obvious that the bottom of the track was the fast way around and that Thomas intended to hold that line. If Darland was going to get past him, he was going to have to do it up against the cushion.
However, after a rash of yellow flags, Darland continued to trail Thomas looking for an opportunity to take the point. On Lap 18, Darland managed to slip past Thomas, and he turned in flawless laps all of the way to the checkered flags.
During the closing laps, Clauson moved up to challenge Darland for the lead; however, a last-ditch effort on the final corner of the race failed. Clauson was forced to settle for second. Thomas held on to finish third ahead of Mike Spencer, Ballou, Hines, Meseraull, Windom, Josh Hodges and Damion Garner.
The win was Darland’s 40th USAC feature win. This tied him with Gary Bettenhausen for sixth on the all-time USAC feature win list.
Tim McKinney is an auto racing columnist for The Republic. He can be reached at 372-3936.