The Herald Bulletin

November 6, 2013

Ken de la Bastide: Saving pavement sprint car racing

The Herald Bulletin

---- — Back in the 1970s when I first moved to the Hoosier State, pavement sprint car racing was sanctioned through USAC, with plenty of racing on tracks in central Indiana. Since then, times have changed.

Racing fans can still remember the Thursday Night Thunder programs on ESPN that showcased pavement sprint car racing to a national television audience.

Two years ago, USAC dropped paved ovals from the schedule for the sprint car division, opting instead to run all the races on dirt tracks.

The staple for pavement sprint car racing has been and remains the annual Pay Less Little 500 at Anderson Speedway, the richest pavement in the world.

The newly formed United States Speed Association stepped forward and sanctioned several races in 2012 at Anderson Speedway and continued again this year with sponsorship from the United Auto Workers Union.

During their annual banquet last Saturday, the tentative 2014 schedule was released with four sprint car races on the schedule, including the Glen Niebel Classic on April 13, the Pay Less Little 500 on May 24 and an Oct. 4 date at Anderson Speedway and a visit to Angola Speedway on July 26.

Series champion Aaron Pierce put things in perspective when he accepted the hardware for the championship.

Pierce, who has never lost a USSA race at Anderson Speedway except for the Little 500, commented that he’s fortunate his favorite track is close to home.

“This whole series is really good,” he said of the efforts of Mel and Don Kenyon, Eric Bunn and Norm Shields and Rick Dawson, owner of Anderson Speedway, to keep pavement sprint car racing alive.

“Keep it going,” Pierce implored. “If we don’t have a place to race, there won’t be any pavement racing left.”

The USSA sprint cars need to return to such Indiana tracks as Winchester and Salem Speedways and Lucas Oil Raceway. The tracks in Toledo, Ohio, and Berlin, Michigan, would also be good locations for sprint cars on pavement.

In Florida, a track has committed to running the sprint cars on pavement once a month and to encourage teams from the Sunshine State to make the trek to Anderson for the Little 500.

Officials with the UAW indicated their desire to continue their commitment to ensuring the roaring and lightning fast sprint cars will continue to compete on paved ovals. I, for one, hope this effort is successful.

At the USSA banquet, Spencer Bayston was honored as the Mel Kenyon Midget Series champion based on his dominating season in which he recorded 10 victories.

Bayston, 15, is a driver to keep an eye on in the future. He is competing in a midget series on dirt and is attracting attention from car owners connected to open wheel racing.

Alexandria’s Clayton Gaines was named rookie of the year in the midget series, and Florida driver Garrett Green won the honor in sprint cars.

Dawson received the Jimmy Nell award from USSA for his selfless contribution to motorsports.

“This is a surprise,” Dawson said in accepting the award. “This means a lot to me. It’s truly an honor.”

In other racing news

Chase Elliott captured the All American 400 at Nashville Speedway USA last weekend. Elliott in recent years has won the Winchester 400, Snowball Derby and World Crown 300. The son of former NASCAR champion Bill Elliott is putting together an impressive resume as he climbs the stock car racing ladder.