ARGABRIGHT: Windom Best Of New Breed Of Hoosier Shoes

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FISHERS, Ind.

Chris Windom has been prominent on the Indiana open-wheel scene for what seems like a long time, yet he won’t turn 20 until Christmas Eve.

The Canton, Ill., driver enjoyed a breakout year in 2010, capturing the Kokomo Speedway track championship, scoring his first USAC National sprint-car win and winning the Oval Nationals at Perris Auto Speedway just a few weeks ago. He and car owner Jeff Walker visited victory lane 10 times this past season, including three hard-fought wins at Kokomo.

Indiana can boast a multitude of tracks running weekly sprint-car shows, and all are highly competitive. But Kokomo is particularly challenging because the Sunday night format allows a number of hitters to run big races throughout the region yet get back to Kokomo every Sunday night.

This year in the Kokomo points race, for example, Windom edged Shane Cottle, Jon Stanbrough and Dave Darland — Indiana legends all — as well as promising young driver Andrew Elson.

“After the first couple of races we decided to run every Sunday night and go for the championship,” said Windom. “It’s so competitive there, we knew winning it would be tough. If you beat those guys for a championship you can really say you’ve done something.

“Plus, I love that track, it’s probably one of my favorite tracks in the country. So it’s pretty cool to have the chance to race there every Sunday, and do well enough to win the championship.”

Windom cut his teeth racing with Don Kenyon’s regional midget series, winning the Kenyon midget title in 2006. Since then he has steadily progressed, and when he connected with longtime Indiana car owner Jeff Walker and the Jeff’s Jam-It-In Storage sprinter they found some chemistry and have been strong together.

Windom is a prime example of the new breed of young sprint-car racers. Yes, he’s had some financial backing from his family to get himself started, but he certainly does not fit the stereotype of the spoiled rich kid. The fact is, Windom has spent countless hours in the shop with Walker, and has as much sweat equity invested in his career as anybody.

He spent 2009 just inches from a breakthrough win, and several times was bitten by bad luck while leading in the waning laps of big races. But he stuck with it, and was rewarded in 2010 with a very satisfying season.

Walker, who enjoyed a rewarding career behind the wheel before focusing on car ownership some 15 years ago, has always enjoyed mentoring young racers in his car. He and Windom have clicked both professionally and personally.

“It’s been a good relationship,” says Windom. “We get along great, and we’re friends as much as car owner and driver. We have a lot of fun on the road, he’s a lot of fun to be around.

“Most of all we’ve figured out how to work together without any drama. We don’t argue, and when something goes wrong we get through it and go on. It’s been a good situation for both of us.”

For Walker, it’s another good season in what is becoming a recurring story. He is among the most successful Indiana car owners in recent years, and can look back on great years and lots of wins with the likes of Tony Elliott, Darland, Windom, Hunter Scheurenberg, Ricky Stenhouse, Brad Sweet, Levi Jones and others.

Walker has parlayed longtime relationships with people such as Jeff Claxton’s engines, Hoosier Tire, SuperShox, Murray’s Body Shop, Schoenfeld Headers and Hinchman Racewear to keep his program going strong.

Windom’s win at the Oval Nationals was Walker’s third at the prestigious event.

“Jeff has won that race twice before, so I felt some pressure to hold up my end of the deal,” said Windom. “But we had a great car and led every lap, and that was an awesome night. That’s the biggest win I’ve ever had and it’s hard to describe what that feels like.”

Indiana continues to offer intense sprint-car competition spanning a number of great tracks, and the emergence of young stars like Windom mean that it isn’t going to get easier any time soon. That’s good news for the thousands of fans who flock to the traditional Hoosier tracks every weekend.