The Herald Bulletin

May 21, 2013

Ken de la Bastide: Stellar field for Little 500

— Since returning to Indiana in 1973 there have been very few Pay Less Little 500 races that I’ve missed in 50 years, but the field for the 65th running on Saturday can only be described as stellar.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s the Little 500 starting grid was filled with some of the best names in pavement sprint car racing, names like Jim Childers, Stan Butler, Frank Riddle, Bob Frey, Gary Fedewa, Bentley Warren, Doug Hevron, Jason McCord and the late Donnie Adams.

For years drivers had to choose between running the Little 500 or USAC’s Night Before the 500 at Lucas Oil Raceway. Both races will continue this weekend, but with USAC running few pavement races for Midgets, a number of drivers will be at Anderson Speedway.

The rookie class for 2013 reads like a who’s who in short track racing. Bryan Clausen, who raced in the Indy 500 last year, Bobby East and Jerry Coons Jr. tops the list. Dave Darland and Jimmy Kite are returning after being gone for a number of years.

Five former winners are entered including nine-time champion Eric Gordon, three-time winner Jeff Bloom, two-time winner Brian Tyler, along with Shane Cottle and Chet Fillip.

The list of drivers that are seeking that first Little 500 win is equally impressive, Tony Hunt, Tony Elliott, Brian Gerster, JoJo Helberg, Jacob Wilson, Ryan Litt and Shane Hollingsworth.

What will make this year’s running of the classic special is that Gordon has announced this will be his final Little 500 in the driver’s seat.

Pole day qualifying takes place on Thursday from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. to lock in the fastest 15 drivers and the field will be filled on Friday’s “Bump Day” from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. With 33 teams already entered it appears likely there will be 40 drivers looking for a spot in the field.

Helberg has a unique opportunity this week at Anderson Speedway. After winning the Must See Racing Winged Sprint race at Winchester Speedway on Sunday, if he can win the Winged Sprint race tonight starting at 7 p.m. and the Little 500, Helberg will receive a $50,000 bonus from Must See Racing.

This could be a Little 500 for the history books and one race fans won’t want to miss. There is an autograph session on Saturday starting at 6 p.m. and the Little 500 rolls off at 8 p.m.

Picking a Little 500 is like guessing the winning Powerball numbers, but I think it will be one of three drivers, Gordon, Elliott or Hunt.

•The past two Indianapolis 500 races were determined on the final lap with J.R. Hildenbrand crashing in the final corner in 2011 and Takuma Sato crashing in turn one while challenging for the win.

Another year of last lap drama is not a sure thing, but the “500” should be another great race. I believe the magic is back at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The big story line swirls around Helio Castroneves and Dario Franchitti as they both go for a record tying fourth win. Will Andretti Autosport get a win this year with rookie Carlos Munoz and Marco Andretti starting on the front row? Not to mention three teammates are in the front three rows.

Can Ed Carpenter win from the pole? Will Tony Kanaan get that first win, which would be popular with the fans?

This should be an outstanding weekend of racing action in central Indiana. My pick for a winner is Ryan Hunter-Reay driving for Andretti Autosport.

Ken de la Bastide’s weekly auto racing column appears on Wednesdays.