WALTZ: A Tour Of Indiana’s Short-Track Heritage

Keith Waltz
Keith Waltz

HARRISBURG, N.C. — During our annual journey to Indiana for the holidays, we stopped at 16th Street and Georgetown Road to check out Hoosier Thunder: Indiana’s Short-Track Heritage at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.

The extensive display features an array of racing memorabilia along with more than 40 open-wheel cars, ranging from Dave Darland’s quarter midget to one of Steve Kinser’s No. 11 World of Outlaws sprint cars.

As expected, the collection is comprised primarily of USAC midgets, sprint cars and Silver Crown machines, several of which were wheeled by native Hoosiers such as Tony Stewart, Rich Vogler, Ryan Newman and Tony Elliott.

Our favorites were the No. 20 Grant King sprint car driven by Sheldon Kinser and the beautiful No. 4 Steve Stapp sprint car wheeled by Pancho Carter.

While the display is impressive and undoubtedly took a tremendous amount of time to assemble, we were disappointed that a significant element of the state’s open-wheel history was not recognized.
During the 1960s and early ’70s, Indiana was a hot bed of “outlaw” supermodified and sprint car racing with drivers like Dick Gaines, Allen Barr, Rex Mitchell, Roy Robbins, Don Nordhorn, Orval Yeadon, Bobby Black, Calvin Gilstrap and Butch Wilkerson making headlines. Bob Kinser is the only driver from the era of the old South Central Indiana Racing Ass’n mentioned in the museum’s exhibition.

The Hoosier Thunder: Indiana’s Short-Track Heritage display runs through April 21 and it’s well worth the $10 admission price.
n  Twenty-five years ago — on Feb. 11, 1994 — racing lost a true gentleman and one of its greatest spokesmen when 47-year-old Neil Bonnett was killed during a practice session for the Daytona 500.

In his story for the Feb. 16 issue of National Speed Sport News, Benny Phillips wrote: “More than anything else, he wanted to race again. He wanted more than just to be around stock car racing, more than a television career in the sport. He wanted to drive again, and he wanted 1994 to be his comeback year.

“Those hopes and dreams ended for Neil Bonnett Friday afternoon at Daytona Int’l Speedway.”

Driving for car owner James Finch, Bonnett planned to run six NASCAR Cup Series races in the No. 51 Country Time Lemonade Chevrolet during the 1994 season after a severe head injury suffered in a 1990 crash relegated the Hueytown, Ala., driver to the role of television host and commentator.

Part of the legendary “Alabama Gang,” Bonnett was much more than a winning driver at NASCAR’s highest level. He was also a father, a husband, a friend and an ambassador for the sport of auto racing.
n In a sport based on the principle of building a better mousetrap than your competitors, it’s interesting that Ford Performance and its three NASCAR Cup Series teams worked together in transitioning from the old Fusion race car to the new Mustang.

“From the beginning when we decided to do this, it’s been all in. All four organizations — Ford, Stewart-Haas, Penske and Roush Fenway — have been equal partners,” said Pat DiMarco, NASCAR supervisor for Ford Performance. “Everybody has contributed equally and it’s been seamless. Now that we are getting into where the guys are building cars to go to the race track, they are going off on their own and putting their tweaks into things. But leading up to the submission (to NASCAR) and beyond, it was a four-car team, four organizations, with all of us working together equally and sharing everything.”
n  Had the chance to visit with midget mavens Keith Kunz and Pete Willoughby while in Columbus, Ind., as the Keith Kunz Motorsports facility was abuzz with final preparations for the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals.

It’s amazing how the KKM operation continues to grow and Kunz tipped that he and Willoughby are “looking” for a larger building in the Columbus area to house their multi-car midget team. Kunz indicated that in addition to more work space, they want a facility that will allow them to park their transporters inside out of the elements.