O’LEARY: Hoosier Pit Pass

Jerry Coons Jr. on track at Lincoln Park Speedway Friday afternoon. (Gene Crucean Photo)
Jerry Coons Jr. on track at Lincoln Park Speedway Friday afternoon. (Gene Crucean Photo)

STANFORD, Ind. – Small town America is a great place to be for the 4th of July. If you aren’t on the Interstate, the roads to Putnamville, Ind., weave between fields green with corn and other leafy crops, and farmers busy bailing the first cutting of hay.

For many of these towns, the nearest racing venue is the traditional gathering place for celebrating the country’s birthday. Lincoln Park Speedway gave fans a “two-for,” hosting USAC’s AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series on Friday and their usual fireworks and racing program Saturday night.

Many looked at Friday’s program as a tune-up for Indiana Sprint Week, just a week away, but it is difficult to say whether very much was learned. With a heavy track, the speeds were high, but it seemed to depend on where you finished as to how difficult the 30-lap feature was. At the end of the day, two of the smaller teams had the best nights, which is always popular with the fans.

As usual for USAC, qualifications had been critical. The format inverts the six fastest qualifiers who transfer through their heat races for the main event. When Jon Stanbrough and Chad Boespflug didn’t run in the top four in their heats, Dave Darland and Jerry Coons Jr. were moved to the front row.

At the green, Darland jumped into the lead, with Coons, Bryan Clauson and Shane Cottle right on his bumper. Dave Darland has earned a Hall of Fame seat by running the high line and that was his preference as he worked about two lanes off the bottom. But Coons and Clauson found the lower lane quicker and both barged past in turn four on the second lap. For the next 11 laps Coons held a slight lead as Darland and Clauson battled intensely behind him.

On the 12th circuit Darland’s machine suddenly leaped sideways at the top of turn two,and nearly stalled before a bump by another car kept it rolling. USAC threw the yellow, but since Darland hadn’t stopped, he restarted fifth. Darland later said that while he was racing up higher than the others, they kept throwing loose clay up into his line, more than he had expected. He fought it, but finally he hit “that hole that you shouldn’t hit” and it jerked him around.

For the next 14 laps, Clauson chased Coons. Two very experienced and capable veterans, both with championships in USAC’s sprint car and midget divisions on their resumes. Clauson was wheeling Tony Stewart Racing’s No. 20 GM Performance Beast and Coons at the keyboard of the No. 10e Crume-Evans Insurance Spike for the much smaller team of Monte Edison. Clauson knew that eventually they would have to deal with slower traffic and that could provide an opportunity to take advantage of the leader.

Several times they encountered backmarkers and negotiated past quickly and cleanly. Then, with just five laps remaining, they caught Kevin Thomas Jr. and Aaron Farney engaged in their own turf war. Coons tried everything, including the chrome horn, and couldn’t make a hole to squeeze through before Clauson was beside him.

While Clauson grabbed the lead off the bottom of turn four, the silver lining appeared to have a dark cloud, as a plume of smoke suddenly trailed the new leader. While he was momentarily out front, Coons quickly reclaimed the point as the smoke increased and small flames escaped beneath Clauson’s powerplant. While Coons opened a straightaway lead, Clauson kept his right foot flat on the floorboard of the struggling machine. C.J. Leary took second and a lap later Cottle claimed third, which is how they took the checkers.

The No. 20 slowed to a stop on the backstretch, spewing smoke and liquid, a frustrating end to a valiant effort. Back in the pits, Chase Stockon admitted that he was worn out from the heavy track. A surface with a lot of moisture in it gets rough and the tires build bumps and ruts, and it had been a work out.

But a lot of that depended on your perspective, and after the victory ceremonies, Coons reported, “Actually, it wasn’t that difficult if the car was OK. We were a little bit on the snug side, so, it just kind of got narrow, which made traffic real difficult. Other than that it was a pretty fast paced race.”

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