Doug Boles pitched it, Mark Miles pushed it, Kevin Miller sold it, Phil Grove paid for it, Reece O’Connor designed it, Mike Harding brought in the dirt for it, Scott Petry built it, Bill Price supplied equipment for it, NOS Energy Drink and Driven2Save Lives sponsored it, Jeff Stoops invested in it, NBCSN televised it, Levi Jones helped save it and open wheel fans embraced it.
That was the tale of the tape from last week’s inaugural USAC midget race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The Driven2SaveLives BC39 presented by NOS in the memory of Bryan Clauson was a hit in every way – competition, attendance and all the teams, safety people, Yellow Shirts and USAC pulling together in some challenging conditions to pull off one of the coolest events in IMS history.
After two nights of excellent short-track dirt racing USAC style and a pair of packed houses, it’s time to reflect on what was accomplished.
“I guess I was a little surprised the vibe was so good considering all the rain but it turned out to be a great show both nights,” said Boles, the IMS president who got the idea from Tony Stewart a couple years ago. “The racing was fantastic and the crowd dealt with all that rain and stayed here all night. Nobody left, it was amazing.”
Miller, the USAC president who made the bottom line work by securing money, equipment and help from several friends, was confident USAC’s brand could be a winner.
“We knew all along it should be successful,” he said. “We read stories that called the track a paper clip or there were too many rocks and it was too narrow. But we knew we had something and we knew people would come.
“Our biggest fear was how it would race, but after Wednesday night we knew we had a home run on our hands.”
The process of turning Turn 3 into a dirt track required 50 days and lots of Good Samaritans.
Grove, who owned Allegiant International (one of Ed Carpenter’s IndyCar sponsors), funded the track to the tune of about $220,000 (walls, fence, lights, grandstands) and IndyCar owner Harding delivered the dirt.
O’Connor, who owns and operates Kokomo Speedway, laid out the track, and using free equipment provided by Price’s Westside Tractor, began spreading dirt while Petry Excavating grooved it and moved it in addition to applying ample amounts of gravel around the outside of the track and installing drainage tiles inside the quarter mile.
Opening night was nothing short of spectacular as 15-year-old Zeb Wise (driving No. 39 like his mentor Clauson) put on a cushion clinic running up against the wall and charged from 18th to first in the Stoops-sponsored $10,000 pursuit race.
Yet by late Thursday afternoon two driving rainstorms had turned the quarter-mile dirt track into a quagmire. There were supposed to be eight qualifying races followed by E-D-C-B and A Main events, but the odds were nobody was going to turn a wheel.
“At 7 o’clock Reece came to me and said it can’t be done,” related Miller. “I said, ‘we’ve got to run, so he, Levi and Petry went to work. They had a couple little skid steer tractors and Petry drove out to Greenfield and got two more. They scraped off that top layer of muck and shoved it all to the inside of the track.”
Jones (pictured), a five-time USAC sprint car champion who is now USAC’s competition director, is one of the calmest, most positive people on the planet (and he was that way when he raced), but in this case he wasn’t optimistic.
“I’ll admit it looked pretty doubtful after that second rain but we borrowed a Toro air blower from the (Brickyard Crossing) golf course and Reece and Scott did their thing and (the track) started coming around.”
Added Miller: “Those drains Petry put in saved us. Without them we would have been flooded and no way could we have run.”
With time every bit as much as the enemy as track prep, USAC had some tough decisions to make. The record 114 entries towed from all over North America and the rumor was spreading there wasn’t going to be anything but an A Main because of the weather.
But Miller and Jones never said that and did the right thing and ran all the qualifying races so everyone entered got to race at least one more time on Thursday evening.
Boles was up against an 11 p.m. sound ordinance and spent an hour on the phone trying to convince people they were going to be finished any minute even though the BC39 didn’t start until after midnight.
And the wait was worth it as Brady Bacon stormed from seventh to first to earn a huge payday for midget racers ($15,000) while Chad Boat bolted from 10th to second, and together with pole-sitter Kevin Thomas Jr. that trio put on a helluva show – ripping in and out of traffic, sometimes three wide.
“Doug’s heart is in it and IMS was great and I think we proved to a lot of people who had never been to be a dirt track race this thing could work,” said Miller. “USAC had a lot on the line and risked a lot and we had to make it a no-risk situation for the Speedway. Did we beg, borrow and steal? Hell yes. But I thought if we ran a class operation, people would come, we could create excitement, and make money.”
But making money needs a major IMS re-adjustment before next year. Ticket prices of $55 and $60 are ridiculous for a midget race. Ditto for $20 to park or $9 for a beer or $7 for a water. These are grassroots, working class folks who are use to spending $30-$40 total at Paragon, Bloomington, Gas City, Kokomo, Putnamville, Lawrenceburg or Haubstadt.
“We didn’t know what to expect so we’ll re-evaluate things,” Boles said in relationship to attendance and prices. “We had a few seating issues and the restrooms were too far away so we’ll learn from our first year.”
Boles said racing next May isn’t in the cards because of Indy 500 parking and reckons one race a year would likely be perfect and Miller agrees, although his phone has been ringing off the hook since last week.
“The World of Outlaws called and wondered about a date and we’ve heard from karters and micro-midgets, everyone wants to run at Indy,” continued Miller. “Our original plan was to run Indiana Sprint Week but I’m glad we didn’t because this is a perfect midget track.
“Our plan is to keep it special and if we have one big event a year, that’s great.”
Asked if he heard anything negative about the BC39, Miller replied with a laugh, “Just one NASCAR person. He said we were getting too much publicity.”