HEDGER: The Long Look

Dave Darland (71) battles eventual winner Bryan Clauson for the lead during Thursday’s USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series opener at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla. (Hein Brothers Photo)

OCALA, Fla. — The AMSOIL USAC National Sprint Car Series put on three great shows at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla., winding down promoter “Bubba the Love Sponge” Clem’s ambitious Speedweeks schedule that brought area fans and visiting Yankees the All-Star sprint cars and WoO late models prior to the invasion of the non-winged sprinters.

Of the three, the opener, which saw Bryan Clauson prevail over Dave Darland after a race-long battle, was the most memorable, sending the fans and pitside observers away thinking they may have seen the best show of 2013 right at the beginning of the year.

With that in mind, we asked Darland why the winged sprint series seem to get all the headlines when they put on equally compelling and, on some nights, better shows.

“I honestly don’t know,” offered the Hoosier after some thought. “But we’ve always been the stepchild of the sprint car world and I guess it will always be that way. People who see us know we put on great shows and I love the series, though I wish it paid a little more. You never know going in which of 10 or 12 guys will win until the last lap and we had about a dozen different winners last year.”

When asked if he’s ever driven a winged sprint, Darland’s face lit up.

“Yeah, I’ve won two winged races, but never a World of Outlaws “A” main. I did win the B one night at Kokomo. That was probably my biggest night with the Outlaws because I started in the back and got an eighth.

“To be truthful, I don’t really like them. The driving style is way different. I like finessing the car, where with a wing, you’re balls to the wall all the time. They’re really fast, but I enjoy this more.”

A check of our notes shows that the All-Star and USAC time trials were actually pretty close, with both series in the 12 to 13-second bracket at Ocala depending on how wet the track was for time trials. The winged cars look faster but the sideways action of the USAC cars is also fun to watch.

“You have to be a good driver to win in either type,” said Darland. “Here you have to hook it up and have really good throttle control. With a wing it’s a lot more important to have the right set-up, because you’re only as good as your chassis lets you be. Without the wing, I can make a lot of changes in my style and make up for a bad car.

“The other big difference is that our purse is about half of an Outlaw purse. On our Pennsylvania trip, we run for six grand to win, which isn’t bad, but the travel expenses for five days eats that up and the guys who don’t win get a lot less. I love this type of racing but I’m thinking of starting my own business, maybe a storage business or something similar where you don’t have to be there all the time. Once you get it built and operating, one employee could run it and it would give me some income besides racing.”

When asked if he’s thinking of slowing down, the USAC legend laughs. “Let’s just say I don’t want to have to do 100 races a year forever. I still love it, but I’d like to do a few less races, maybe race for fun instead of to eat.”

Across the pit area, WoO regular Jac Haudenschild was tending to his non-wing ride after a strong run from the rear to 10th the night before. Having run both series this year, what does he think about the disparity between the Outlaw and USAC payoffs?

“These guys should get more,” he said. “I’d like to see them get an Outlaw purse because I like to run where the money is.”

Does that mean he’d run both series when the dates didn’t conflict? And are the cars similar enough that that would work?

“I tell people that winged and non-winged cars are like having a wife or a girlfriend. Life is beautiful either way. It takes the same amount of effort and skill to drive either one.

“When you look at it, we run places we probably shouldn’t run and so does USAC. What we need is TV for our races so we could get sponsorship. Then we could have some races with the All-Star, Outlaw and USAC guys together for a big purse. I like them all. The only thing I don’t like is the 360s. They’re not as fast and they’re no fun to drive because of their weight rule. They’re just too heavy for the engines they have.

“USAC has the same motors we do but without the wing they last a lot longer and you don’t have to mess with them as much. If they could pay a little more, I might run with them a lot more often.”

Wings or not, sprint cars are fun to watch and an entirely different culture than the modified world. Give it a try — you’ll like both the action and the personalities involved.