O’LEARY: Hoosier Pit Pass
STANFORD, Ind. — It seems like every year, racing promoters try new events and new ideas. With each attempt, they are hoping to strike gold, like Marion Robinson, Emmett Hahn, Lanny Edwards and Earl Baltes did with the Knoxville Nationals, the Chili Bowl and the King’s Royal.
Most of the start-ups disappear after a year or two, for one reason or another. Now, a Hoosier racing program appears to have some staying power.
One of the highlights of last summer’s Indiana racing scene, the Sprint Car Smackdown at Kokomo Speedway presented three nights of great non-wing sprint car racing featuring the AMSOIL USAC National Sprint Car Series.
The second edition of the event, Smackdown II, returns to Kokomo Aug. 22-24.
The Smackdown consists of Thursday and Friday preliminary nights and Saturday’s main event. While the preliminary shows are similar to regular USAC programs, Saturday’s format provides several interesting twists. The top finishers from the previous nights are locked into the main event, and will compete in a King of the Hill, consisting of two-lap one-on-one races with the winner moving on. The winner of the last race starts on the pole and the rest line up according to the King of the Hill results.
In 2012, Bryan Clauson and Chris Windom won preliminary features with Clauson taking Saturday’s Smackdown honors and $10,000 paycheck. It was a close battle with Dave Darland and Kevin Thomas Jr. pressing each night, but the victory helped propel Clauson to last year’s USAC sprint car title.
Two keys to success for any big event are the level of competition and the stakes being competed. Indiana Sprint Week completed a month ago and many of the same contenders will unload when the gates open next week. Clauson scored the Sprint Week title and Darland heads the national points, so the Smackdown could again play a pivotal role in the driver’s championship.
Jon Stanbrough is coming off a huge win in the Ultimate Challenge. But there are at least a dozen other drivers who have to be considered contenders, including Thomas, Tracy Hines, Brady Bacon, Chase Stockon, Hunter Schuerenberg, Shane Cottle and Robert Ballou. Not only would the Smackdown II trophy be a prized addition to any of their trophy cases, but as they turn toward the homestretch of the racing season, the victory would provide additional travel funds and a lot of momentum.
Most think that the Kokomo oval is an ideal venue for an event like the Smackdown. If your vision is of a bullring with everyone right around the bottom, rooting for a passing lane, get over it. Kokomo repeatedly provides a very raceable track with not only a quick bottom line, but middle lanes that come in frequently, and a very quick, tricky cushion right around the fence.