By: USAC Racing
As we look forward to this Saturday night’s “Jim Hurtubise Classic” at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track, which marks the Midwest finale for the series before heading out west, we can’t help but reflect on what a superb season this has been.
A breakthrough 2016 season has welcomed a bevy of new names and faces to victory lane for the first time in their USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car careers.
Josh Hodges’ recent series victory at Lawrenceburg two weeks ago marked the seventh different driver to have raced to his initial series win in what has proved to be an unpredictable year, including Scotty Weir (Gas City), Tyler Courtney (Gas City), Kyle Cummins (Kokomo), Brent Beauchamp (Bloomington), Carson Short (Tri-State), C.J. Leary (Kokomo) and Hodges.
After thumbing through the records and statistics in the USAC vault, this wide-open season is, surprisingly, a bit in the distance behind the season that produced the most first-time winners: 1967.
That year, 11 different new winners claimed their first USAC National Sprint Car Series’ wins, with eventual champs Rollie Beale and Sam Sessions headlining the list.
The class of first-time winners in 1967 combined for a total of 86 USAC Sprint Car wins with the aforementioned Beale and Sessions as well as Jerry “Scratch” Daniels, Bob Wente, Mickey Shaw, Ralph Liguori, Billy Vukovich, Mike Mosley, Bruce Walkup, Sonny Ates and Bob McCoy.
None from that group of 11, however, got his first at the Terre Haute Action Track – a place where 19 drivers have scored their first triumphs since 1961 (second most of any track behind Eldora’s 31). The namesake of this Saturday’s event, Jim Hurtubise, was the first to do so, driving the Sterling Plumbing Special to the win at the “Action Track” back in June of 1961.
Series champs Gary Bettenhausen, Sheldon Kinser, Dave Darland, J.J. Yeley and Jerry Coons, Jr. all had their breakthrough wins at Terre Haute. This quintet is responsible for 180 combined USAC National Sprint Car feature victories and nine USAC Sprint titles. Two of those, Darland and Coons, will be in action this Saturday night at Terre Haute.
Three of those 19 broke into victory lane during the “Jim Hurtubise Classic”: Rusty McClure (1992), Yeley (1997) and Tony Jones (1999).
Bobby Marshman clicked off his first and only career USAC Sprint win at the controls of Wally Meskowski’s no. 9 in August of 1963 – a year in which each of the four new series winners never won again.
Sadly, for three of the four, their flourishing racing careers came to an end just as they were getting going. Allen Crowe perished less than a month after his Eldora victory. Marshman passed away after a testing accident at Phoenix International Raceway just over a year later. Johnny White was paralyzed after a racing accident at Terre Haute nine months after his Allentown victory.
One driver fairly new to the scene is Aaron Farney, who’s certainly one to keep an eye on this Saturday night, although it’s been a trying sophomore season for the reigning USAC Sprint Car Rookie of the Year, who calls Brookston, Ind., home.
One place he has looked comfortable is on the flat half-mile dirt ovals, and Terre Haute meets that criteria. His lone top-five finish this season came at Terre Haute during “Indiana Sprint Week,” but last summer, he became the latest driver to get his first USAC Sprint win at Terre Haute and the first to do so at the track since Richard Griffin in 2000.
Now teamed with the Michael Dutcher Motorsports team, Farney looks to recapture the glory of victory he found one year ago.
Or, perhaps, it will be yet another new name who finds his way to the front for the first time, someone like Jarett Andretti whose legendary great uncle, Mario, won his first USAC Sprint Car race just a little more than 100 miles from the Terre Haute Action Track, at the Salem Speedway in 1964.
The eighth first-timer of 2016 could be lurking right around the corner, eagerly awaiting his turn in the spot light. It’s been a wild and unpredictable season thus far. It’s wise not to count anybody out. Especially this Saturday night in the “Jim Hurtubise Classic” at the Terre Haute Action Track, a venue where eight drivers – Marshman, Jim McElreath, Mel Cornett, Chet Johnson, McClure, Terry Pletch, Griffin and Farney – have caught lightning in a bottle for the one and only time.
Pit gates for Saturday night’s event open at 3:00 p.m., with front gates opening at 4:00. Hot laps get underway at 6:00, with ProSource Qualifying set for 6:30 and racing beginning at 7:00 p.m.