Half-Mile Heroes Hold the Upper Hand at Knoxville

They have big hearts and a whole lot of horsepower.

The familiar refrain from Dave Despain’s opening statement on Thursday Night Thunder rings true of what it takes to go fast in a USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car on a half-mile dirt track.

The series is headed back to the half-mile this weekend, Friday-Saturday, July 5-6, for the inaugural BRANDT Professional Agriculture “Corn Belt Nationals” at Knoxville Raceway, paying $20,000-to-win the Saturday night finale.

No two tracks are exactly the same in shape, banking, surface and other attributes, and that applies to the half-miles as well.  But there is one part of a half-mile that is the same anywhere you go, being unafraid to stand on the gas.

The USAC National Sprint Car schedule formerly contested events solely on tracks a half-mile length or longer throughout its first 25 years of existence before the doors were opened for the series to begin competing on “bullrings” more often, thus changing the look of the championship trail drastically from 1981-present.

However, the half-miles remain an integral part of the tour today, making up around one-third of the schedule, with three races already contested and 10 remaining, including the next three – two this weekend at Knoxville and on July 17 at Eldora Speedway.  

Courtney (Indianapolis, Ind.) won at Knoxville a year ago.  He’s also won two of three on halves this year alone at Eldora and Port Royal, Pa., bumping him up to 7th all-time in that category alongside Bryan Clauson and Jon Stanbrough, who are both in the top-ten in terms of all-time USAC National Sprint Car feature victories.

Chase Stockon has already been victorious on the half-mile Terre Haute Action Track this year, getting the job done in May at the 49th“Tony Hulman Classic.”  The half-miles are where the Fort Branch, Ind. driver has pocketed four of his 12 career series wins.

Nobody in the clubhouse has come close to touching Jack Hewitt’s staggering 28 half-mile wins in the USAC Sprint Car division, 13 of which came at his personal ATM of Eldora Speedway.  Of active drivers who’ve competed with the series in 2019, Dave Darland (Lincoln, Ind.) owns the most with 16 on half-mile tracks. 

Though USAC Sprints have only competed ten times at Knoxville since 1968, the top-three in terms of active drivers, Darland, Robert Ballou (13 wins) and Chris Windom (11 wins), all three past series champs, have yet to win at Knoxville.  Darland and Windom (Canton, Ill.) will have a shot this weekend while Ballou remains sidelined following a fractured arm.

Like Courtney last year, Brady Bacon (Broken Arrow, Oklahoma) earned the sweep at Knoxville in 2011 by recording quick time in qualifying, winning his heat and winning the feature, one of his nine USAC Sprint wins on half-miles.  Justin Grant, owner of six half-mile victories in a USAC Sprint Car, was the head of the class at Knoxville in 2017.

Dickie Gaines (Mitchell, Ind.) won a USAC Sprint race on a half-mile in Iowa, but it was at the one down road at Oskaloosa where he earned a memorable, high-paying victory in 2004.  His father, Dick, won the Knoxville Nationals in 1974.

Additional Knoxville entrants Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Cullman, Ala.), Chad Boespflug (Hanford, Calif.), C.J. Leary (Greenfield, Ind.) and Matt Westfall (Pleasant Hill, Ohio) are among those to have won on half-miles.  In fact, the top seven in this year’s current series standings have all gotten the job done.

Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean somebody can’t step up and get it done for the first time weekend.  Every driver who’s ever won before had to get there first before they could get two, three, or even 27 more on a half.

The right combo, the right driver, the right setup and the right circumstances can lead to a victory anywhere.  But, to do so on this particular weekend, when the stakes are high and you have a chance to leave with a check with that many digits on it, there couldn’t be any accomplishment finer.  After all, these drivers live for this, whether it’s Tuesday, Wednesday, or, yes, Saturday night.

On both Friday and Saturday, pits open at Noon (Central), driver sign in at 3pm, draw closes at 5:45pm, drivers meeting at 6pm and cars on track at 6:15pm.

Prior to racing action getting started at the BRANDT Professional Agriculture "Corn Belt Nationals," the official kickoff begins with a Fourth of July celebration, including a concert and fireworks at Knoxville Raceway on Thursday, July 4.

Tickets for the inaugural BRANDT Professional Agriculture Corn Belt Nationals are available at www.knoxvilleraceway.com/tickets or by calling the Knoxville Raceway ticket office at 641-842-5431. Tickets start at $20 for adults, $15 for teens and $10 for children 12 and under on Friday. Saturday’s tickets increase by $5.

The inaugural BRANDT Professional Agriculture “Corn Belt Nationals” on Friday, July 5 & Saturday, July 6 from Knoxville Raceway will have dual streaming coverage on Dirtvision and FloRacing.

Both nights of the “Corn Belt Nationals” will be streamed LIVE in their entirety on www.Dirtvision.com, the official streaming platform for Knoxville Raceway.  FloRacing subscribers can catch Saturday’s USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car $20,000-to-win A-Main feature finale LIVE on www.floracing.com.

 

ALL-TIME USAC NATIONAL SPRINT CAR WINS ON HALF-MILE DIRT TRACKS (1981-Present)

(Active USAC Sprint Car Drivers in Bold)

1. (28) Jack Hewitt

2. (16) Dave Darland

3. (14) Tracy Hines

4. (13) Robert Ballou

5. (12) Jay Drake, Bud Kaeding & Rich Vogler

8. (11) Levi Jones, Sheldon Kinser, Chris Windom & J.J. Yeley

12. (10) Rick Hood

13. (9) Brady Bacon, Steve Butler, Jerry Coons, Jr. & Damion Gardner

17. (8) Tony Elliott

18. (7) Bryan Clauson, Tyler Courtney & Jon Stanbrough

21. (6) Justin Grant

22. (5) Jac Haudenschild, Kevin Huntley & Kevin Thomas, Jr.

25. (4) Daron Clayton, Kevin Doty, Steve Kinser, Frankie Kerr, Cory Kruseman & Chase Stockon

31. (3) Rob Chaney, Cary Faas, Jesse Hockett, Tony Jones, Kyle Larson, Danny Smith, Tony Stewart & Josh Wise

39. (2) Chad Boespflug, Derek Davidson, Nic Faas, Darren Hagen, Larry Rice, Terry Shepherd, Mike Spencer, Robbie Stanley, Brad Sweet, Kevin Swindell, Sammy Swindell & Doug Wolfgang

51. (1) Tony Armstrong, Chad Boat, David Cardey, Mark Cassella, Brad Doty, Bob East, Aaron Farney, Dickie Gaines, Rickie Gaunt, Jeff Gordon, Richard Griffin, Chuck Gurney, Kenny Jacobs, Chet Johnson, Bubby Jones, Doug Kalitta, Kelly Kinser, Mike Kirby, Danny Lasoski, C.J. Leary, Brett Mann, Justin Marvel, Rusty McClure, Lealand McSpadden, Thomas Meseraull, Billy Pauch, Dave Peperak, Terry Pletch, Byron Reed, Boston Reid, Brody Roa, Ken Schrader, Ron Shuman, Jimmy Sills, Smokey Snellbaker, Randy Standridge, Jeff Swindell, Kevin Thomas, Brian Tyler, Rick Ungar, Matt Westfall, Cole Whitt, Rip Williams & Eddie Wirth

All-Star Circuit of Champions Taking 'Week-to-Week' Approach to 2020

Eric Walls, the director of the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions, is as anxious to go racing as his 410 Sprint Car tour’s drivers, team members and fans. He understands, however, that he’s unlikely to hear the roar of race car engines as soon as he, and everyone else, would like due to the coronavirus pandemic that has overtaken the country.While the 410 Sprint Car series owned by former NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart hasn’t yet announced any event cancelations or postponements due to the crisis, Walls admitted this week that decisions will soon have to be made on upcoming races starting with the April 10-11 Spring Nationals doubleheader at Attica (Ohio) Raceway Park. He certainly wants to remain as positive about racing as he can be, but he knows the opposite will likely be the case with the series, which in 2020 has all of its events slated for live broadcast to FloRacing subscribers.“Yeah, we’d love to race,” Walls said. “But when reality sets in, let’s be honest, we’re not gonna race till May probably.”Walls is monitoring the ever-developing landscape on a “week-to-week basis,” keeping open a sliver of hope for competition to happen if the spread of the coronavirus were to slow enough for government and health officials to relax existing stay-at-home and mass-gathering orders that are keeping racetracks shuttered. But reports of positive coronavirus cases have been escalating in recent days — including in the states of Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania that are slated to host the All Star events scheduled for April — so a quick return to normalcy seems unlikely.“We love to race, and if we get the ‘all clear’ (from government officials), we’ll go racing,” Walls said. “But just for the safety of the fans and the drivers and everybody involved (in the running of a race), we’re gonna take this one week at a time and make sure everybody’s safe and ready to go back to action here.”Walls has been in contact with the promoters of the tour’s April events that begin with Attica and go on to Virginia Motor Speedway in Jamaica (scheduled for April 16), Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pa. (April 17), Port Royal (Pa.) Speedway (April 18), Bedford (Pa.) Speedway (April 19) and Wayne County Speedway in Orrville, Ohio (April 25). All the track operators have their facilities ready for what would be an attractive and lucrative stretch of racing for the ASCoC, but the crisis supersedes all the best-laid plans.According to Walls, the response he’s giving to All Star drivers who call looking for information on upcoming races basically tells the story of the circuit’s current status.“I’ve had a few drivers reach out to me, just for their travel plans,” Walls said. “A couple of our drivers fly to different places so they wanted to book their travel.“Not that I knew what was gonna go on as far as what the government is gonna do, but it was just my opinion to them that I certainly hope that April 10 we’re racing, but I’m a realist. I can’t see the government from state-to-state lifting this ban until later on in the season.“It’s just giving them my opinion on it and they can book their travel if they want to, but at the end of the day we’ve got to use some common sense when we’re looking at this too.”Walls is already scouring the 2020 calendar to consider makeup dates for races that might fall to the coronavirus situation. That includes the April 16 stop at Virginia Motor Speedway, a $12,000-to-win special that VMS and All Star officials worked together to schedule during the NASCAR weekend at nearby Richmond International Raceway — a weekend that NASCAR has already postponed to an undermined date.“It’s just going through the schedule to where we’re thinking racing is potentially not going to happen and trying to look down through our schedule and reschedule races,” Walls said.With the kickoff of the 2020 ASCoC season in February at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., and East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, Fla. (both tracks ran two races), Walls started his second year as the tour’s director on an uplifting note. He never could have imagined having to deal with the unprecedented crisis that has presented itself, but he remarked that some trying stretches during his rookie campaign at the helm helped prepare him for curveballs thrown at him.“If you could look into the future, I guess (Ohio Sprint) Speedweek last year really groomed me into this position this year,” said Walls, a native of Chambersburg, Pa., who now lives in Brownsburg, Ind., near the Tony Stewart Racing shop that houses the ASCoC office. “With Speedweek, it was just rain every day. We got to the point where we knew we needed to race and Speedweek was a unique opportunity (with teams in one general area), so we started reaching out to racetracks and saying, ‘Hey, it’s not gonna rain there … do you want to race?’ We just took the schedule and moved it all around and got as many races in as we could.”Calling what has come up this year “a challenging time for sure,” Walls anticipates that he will have to do some creative scheduling once again this season. Adding races at tracks that are already bringing the series back later in the season? Extending the season past the planned finale on Sept. 26 at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio? Everything might have to be on the table.“It will certainly be a unique year,” Walls said. “I think from not only our series but other series as well, including USAC and the (World of) Outlaws, you’re gonna see something different that no one’s ever seen before.“Our schedule’s a little bit unique. We go to a lot of the same racetracks at different times of the year, and we can certainly throw in an extra date here or there. But just looking down through our schedule late in the season, there’s not very many open weekends. And the open weekends we have built in, they’re for bigger races so our guys can go travel to race with different series. That’s something we built in there this year for our guys to go race for some bigger money in between during the season.“To lose some big money races this early on, it’s gonna make the season rough,” he added. “But I think we’re gonna motor through it and hopefully we can get to racing by the end of April or the first of June and everything goes smooth from there on. It certainly will not just be a flip of the switch (to return to normalcy for the country), that’s for sure. If I had to guess, it’ll be a slow process of going back to full time, but we’ll be ready when it happens.”

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